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Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle
A Crossword Blog...

by Rex Parker, published: Sat 01 Nov 2014 05:00:00 AM CET.

Favicon Academica author / SAT 11-1-14 / 1979 comedy set at Camp North Star / Husband of Elisheba / European Parliament locale / Porter Ally McBeal role / 1989 AP Female Athlete of Year / 1977 law school memoir / Apostle of Cuban Independence / Subject of tribute album every man has woman
1 Nov 2014, 5:00 am
Constructor: Trip Payne

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: COVERT OPERATIONS — That's the title this puzzle was *designed* to have. Also, blurb was to have read: "No one said there was going to be math!" But fate and other nonsense intervened to give us this untitled puzzle with a condescending blurb.

Anyway, the basic idea is that the numbers in the themers relate to the numbered boxes in the grid, so you need to substitute the answers from those numbers and *then* read the equation out loud in order to make sense of the clues, ID EST

Theme answers:
  • BATTLEFIELD (19A: 81 ÷ 27)—i.e. PLACE (81A) divided by WAR (27A), i.e. [Place divided by war]
  • NEUTROGENA (34A: 61 + 86)—i.e. PERT (61A) Plus RIVAL (86A), i.e. [Pert Plus rival] ("PERT Plus" being a brand name)
  • REPEATEDLY (63A: 56 x 42)—i.e. MANY (56A) times OVER (42A), i.e. [Many times over]
  • GROSS PROFIT (83A: 33 - 21)—NET SALES (33D) minus COSTS (21A), i.e. [Net sales minus costs]
Word of the Day: NELLE Porter (37D: ___ Porter, "Ally McBeal" role) —
Nelle Porter is a fictional character on the Fox television show Ally McBeal. She is portrayed by actress Portia de Rossi and appears in Seasons 2 through 5 of the show. A Boston-based lawyer, Nelle joins the fictional law firm of Cage & Fish with the ambition of someday becoming a partner. Romantically involved with partner John Cage during Seasons 2 and 3, she later appears mainly as a source of comic relief. She is also notable for her close friendship with Ling Woo, one of the show’s most remarked-upon characters. (wikipedia)
• • •

Title-less-ness and lame-blurb-ity are just two of many indignities this puzzle has suffered over the past year. This puzzle is semi-infamous in crossword circles—it's the puzzle that was supposed to be an American Crossword Tournament puzzle (hence it's non-standard size), but Mr. Shortz decided to leave it out for cameras to see during a TV profile, and since it was (if memory serves) clearly labeled as a tournament puzzle. Ah, here we go … it was a  "Business Insider" profile. Shows the completed puzzle and everything. Big gaffe. So puzzle couldn't be used, and then [drama redacted], and here we are. It's a wonderful puzzle, and I don't think the title is necessary for many top solvers and regular meta-solvers. Actually, it may not be necessary at all, from an ease-of-solving standpoint. Whether you know the title is "COVERT OPERATIONS" or not, you still have to figure out that you aren't actually doing "math," but using the answers associated with the numbers to create phrases that would make appropriate clues. Cosmetically, I prefer the puzzle with the title. But you get what you get. And this is good stuff (back story aside).

I had no idea what was going on until I was done. Until after I was done. Like most of you (probably), I actually did the math. But I was bugged by [81 ÷ 27]. Why write it that way? Why not simply [9 ÷ 3], if we're just doing math? Made no sense… and that was beginning of the thinking that got me to look at the boxes with the numbers in them (the same way you had to look at the boxes with the numbers in them to make sense of the Patrick Blindauer meta-challenge from last month). When I noticed that the "56" in the clue for REPEATEDLY (63A: 56 x 42) was the clue number for MANY (56A: ___ a time), I thought "'MANY times …' aha!" and then sure enough, the "42" part was OVER (42A: Supervising). So REPEATEDLY is [MANY times OVER]. It sure is.

I started out pretty fast on this one, but then it turned out that I had to get Every Single Themer from crosses + inference. That definitely slowed me down. Difficulty level otherwise felt more Thursday than Saturday. No tough or obscure fill (except NELLE, ugh—I remain philosophically opposed to any and all "Ally McBeal" clues, and this only gets truer with each passing, blessedly "Ally McBeal"-free day) (37D: ___ Porter, "Ally McBeal role). Toughest parts of the puzzle for me, by far, were those tiny, mostly walled-off corners in the NE and SW. Somehow managed a good guess in the SW with YEARS leading to SPRY and things coming together from there, but in the NE I was not nearly as fortunate. Why? Well, I can't spell NEUTROGENA. I had it as NEUTRAGENA. Still seems reasonable. Anyway, as I had no idea what "Academica" was, 11D: "Academica" author was blank. I had it ending -ERA. So that effectively meant No Access to that NE corner. And since the clues up there were at least slightly vague / hard. I flailed around quite a bit before I put together the correct answers. Managed to finish and still be wrong. Had HOSTS for 21A: Lists for (this seemed reasonable from an Internet standpoint), and so with the NEUTRAGENA misspelling, my author ended up as CIHERA (™, by the way—it's my new pen name, and it's pronounced "Sierra").
    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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    Favicon Actor with line Rick Rick help me / FRI 10-31-14 / Topping for skewered meat / Anthrax cousin / Inuit's transport / Adam's apple coverer / Like words hoagie kitty-corner /
    31 Oct 2014, 5:00 am
    Constructor: Mary Lou Guizzo and Jeff Chen

    Relative difficulty: Medium

    THEME: none except a vaguely spooky Halloweenish vibe created by the two "Cask of Amontillado"-related answers near the grid center... —

    Word of the Day: AWEIGH (26A: Barely clear, in a way) —
    adj. (of an anchor) raised just clear of the sea or riverbed.

    Read more:  http://www.answers.com/topic/aweigh-2#ixzz3HgaqPUsG
    • • •

    Grid itself is solid enough. I liked NO-BRAINER, and the clue on METALLICA (44A: Anthrax cousin). But the solving experience was less than enjoyable, for a host of reasons. First there's the clunk. Not the KLINK. The clunk. That's the sound of the off-brand word COGNOSCENTE. It's a word. But you never hear it used in the singular. Like, ever. I guarantee you a  majority of solvers had no (or little) idea what letter to put at the end there, or had an idea and it was wrong. I considered "O." Graffito, graffiti … it seemed logical. Anyway, COGNOSCENTI is the word everyone uses. Plural. And then there's the massively Variant SATE SAUCE. In case you haven't put it together yet, that's "satay sauce." The way I know it's "satay" is a. every crossword version of the word ever (incl. four times in the NYT since I started this blog, vs. zero times for SATE), and b. this product:

    (I should note, however, that Fireball Crosswords editor and future NYT crossword editor (I assume / dream) Peter Gordon appears to like the SATE spelling; he is the only editor, per the cruciverb database, to clue SATE via the "Asian" "appetizer")

    Then there's the wild unevenness of the puzzle, difficulty-wise. I had that NW corner done in about 30 seconds (ROCK BANDS was my first answer). And while the middle took me a while, the lower corners were easy enough that I could just jump in there, plant a few gimmes (TOONS and KERI in the SE, LES and NOBIS in the SW), and polish them off without too much trouble. But then there was the NE, where I had RAW TALENT and TSA and then nothing. It's possible that knowing that AWEIGH fit its clue would've helped, but I sure as hell didn't know that's what AWEIGH meant, so I just stared at AWE--- wondering WTF. [Book after Hosea]? Blank. Even with terminal "L," blank. That one-off Oscar nominee guy … I had the "T" and could think only of TEVYE (is that right?). I think that's the character name. No hope on Sea-TAC without any crosses. Long Downs and JACK just wouldn't come without sufficient help from crosses. So I sat awhile, until I just guessed that SEPIA was an "effect" of Photoshop and JOEL was maybe a bible book. And that was that. AWEIGH. Ugh. Admittedly, my problems with that corner might be idiosyncratic. It was the difficulty *imbalance* that was bothering me, more than the difficulty itself. Also, TOPOL, yuck. Also, problems up there were related to the whole last letter in COGNOSCENT- problem (above).

    But the worst thing about the puzzle is the factual error at 32A: Like Fortunato, in Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado." I can see how the constructors or editor really really wanted (for some reason) to link the not symmetrical but somewhat centered answers BURIED ALIVE and HORROR STORY. But here's the thing. Two things. A. if you want to go horror, go one or three or none. This 2/3 bit is just awkward. But more importantly B. don't force a common clue term on disparate answers unless the answers can handle them. Now, there are HORROR STORYs out there that feature people being BURIED ALIVE. I'm sure of it. It's just that "The Cask of Amontillado" isn't one of them. Being immured, walled up, is not (not) (not not) the same as being BURIED ALIVE, however underground the walled-up chamber might be. Lots of sites on the Internet will use the phrase BURIED ALIVE to talk about what happens to Fortunato, but, like many if not most things on the Internet: wrong. Wikipedia? Wrong. I kept trying to make WALLED UP fit. Look, I'm sure the clue is defensible, but immurement and being BURIED ALIVE seem to me very, very different things. It's the difference between (quick) suffocation and (somewhat less quick) starvation/dehydration. Both gruesome, yes, but different. Fundamentally different. My friend Amy seems to think you *could* suffocate in a walled-up chamber if the mortar seal were tight enough. Admittedly, murdering folks is somewhat out of my purview. Still, I'm standing by my primary contention, which is that the dude gets walled up, not "buried." Needless to say, the middle was difficult for me not because I hadn't read "Cask," but because I had.

    Off to (re-)read Poe. Tis the season.
      Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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      Favicon Nonhuman singer of 1958 #1 song / THU 10-30-14 / Like liquor in Ogden Nash verse / Focus of Source magazine / Covert maritime org / French woman's name meaning bringer of victory /
      30 Oct 2014, 5:00 am
      Constructor: David Woolf

      Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

      THEME: CHIP — CHIP rebus, in a grid shaped like a poker chip.

      Word of the Day: PINEAL (23D: Kind of gland) —
      The pineal gland, also known as the pineal bodyconarium or epiphysis cerebri, is a small endocrine gland in the vertebrate brain. It produces melatonin, a serotonin derived hormone, that affects the modulation of sleep patterns in both seasonal and circadian rhythms. Its shape resembles a tiny pine cone (hence its name), and it is located in the epithalamus, near the centre of the brain, between the two hemispheres, tucked in a groove where the two halves of the thalamus join. (wikipedia)
      • • •

      I'm all jacked up on baseball. The grid looks like a baseball to me. Baseball.

      So it's a chip rebus where the grid looks like a chip, and that's about all I have to say about this puzzle. I mean, it is what it is. Somewhat interesting to look at. Somewhat interesting to solve, in the way that all rebuses are. Or most. Fill has some nails-on-chalkboard moments (EMEERS [ouch] STAC ICEL ONI). I thought ARIZONAN. ARIZONIAN googles better, but then again it is a brand of tire, so … Would've been nice if there were actually a famous VERONIQUE to pin that answer to. Do people still ELOCUTE? Did they ever? My favorite part of the puzzle was finding the "CHIP" in ARCHIPELAGO. That's some nice hiding. Plus I just like that word. SPY CAR feels like a barely real thing. Is anything 007 uses a SPY thing?

      Took me a while to see the rebus, and to get started in general. Upper right went first, but once I got to 26D: Nonhuman singer of a 1958 #1 song, where I had -MU-K, I stalled. Restarted in the west with ECOL, then stalled out at 16D: Tribe of the Upper Midwest, where I had -PEW-. You see the pattern here. Once I built up everything *around* the "16" square (including SPY CAR and PIEROGI), the CHIP thing came to me. Puzzle got easier thereafter. Mainly I was glad to get to quite wondering whether QDOBA was a "spice" (29D: Fast-food chain named after a spice => CHIPOTLE).
        Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

        P.S. Wait. What? This grid is supposed to look like a CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIE!? (56A: Treat represented visually by this puzzle's answer). Well that makes more sense, as it has chips in it, and less sense, as it is easily the ugliest CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIE I've ever seen. Are the black squares also chips? Looks more like a throwing star or a mangled jack-o-lantern or a jack-o-lantern that's been disfigured by a throwing star. Seriously, though, black square destroy whatever cookie visual is supposed to be happening here.

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        Favicon Longtime Prego slogan / WED 10-29-14 / State that borders Bangladesh / Bach composition
        29 Oct 2014, 5:00 am
        Constructor: Elizabeth C. Gorski

        Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

        THEME: "IT'S IN THERE" (54A: Longtime Prego slogan … with a hint to the answers to the five starred clues) — "IT'S" is embedded/hidden in five answers

        Theme answers:
        • FRUIT SALAD
        • QUIT SMOKING
        • SPLIT SCREEN
        • PIT STOP
        • HIT SONG
        Word of the Day: GINA Lollobrigida (19A: Actress Lollobrigida) —
        Luigina "Gina" Lollobrigida (Italian pronunciation: [ˈdʒiːna ˌlɔlloˈbriːdʒida]; born 4 July 1927) is an Italian actress, photojournalist and sculptor. She was one of the highest profile European actresses of the 1950s and early 1960s, a period in which she was considered to be a sex symbol.
        As her film career slowed, she established second careers as a photojournalist and sculptor. In the 1970s, she scooped the press by gaining an exclusive interview with Fidel Castro, the revolutionary Communist dictator of Cuba.
        She has continued as an active supporter of Italian and Italian American causes, particularly the National Italian American Foundation (NIAF). In 2008, she received the NIAF Lifetime Achievement Award at the Foundation's Anniversary Gala. In 2013, she sold her jewelry collection, and donated the nearly $5 million from the sale to benefit stem cell therapy research. (wikipedia)
        • • •

        Watching World Series Game 6, so don't have much energy to give the write-up tonight, which is just as well, as this is one of the weaker Liz G offerings I've seen in a while. The core is solid enough. I barely remember that Prego slogan, but it rings a faint bell, and it's made into a fine revealer here. Not sure how hard it is to hid "IT'S," but we get some pretty nice theme answers as a result. Nice central crossing there where PIT STOP meets HIT SONG. But the fill here is crusty and dusty in the extreme. Everywhere I look there's half-century-old crosswordese or trite fill gunking up the works. [Deep breath] OLEO EOS ELI SSE RESOD (!) BIOG (!?) SSNS RET ARIOSO ANTE DONEE EVERTS ULNA ASSNS EGIS (Var.!) AGORA OBI REATAS ASSAM ORAN ORR. I want to say SELA too, but we'll let her and LIU slide. Still, that is nutso-level Avoid-If-At-All-Possible fill. I am struggling to understand this. Liz's "Puzzle Nation" puzzles are always much cleaner than this. I wonder if she has tacitly joined the ranks of independent constructors who keep their best work for themselves and dump lesser stuff on the NYT. That's probably inaccurate—again, I think the core concept here is solidly NYT-worthy. But the fill, man, it hurts. WEIRD. [NOTE: apparently this puzzle was accepted for publication 7 or 8 years ago … I can't even begin to say everything there is to say about how f'd up that is …]

        BONGS and KNEE BENDS! Sounds like fun. But I'm gonna stick with baseball for now. See you tomorrow.

        Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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        Favicon First anti-AIDS drug / TUE 10-28-14 / Golden Horde members / Company that owns Ferrari / Luck that's workin for ya / Old-time actress Hagen / That something in Arlen Mercer standard / Subject of massive statue in ancient Parthenon
        28 Oct 2014, 5:00 am
        Constructor: Andrea Carla Michaels

        Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

        THEME: NBA (48A: Org. whose only members with non plural names appear at the ends of 17-, 25-, 41- and 56-Across)

        Theme answers:
        • ALL THAT JAZZ (17A: Related add-ons, informally)
        • "DAYS OF THUNDER" (25A: Tom Cruise/Nicole Kidman racing film)
        • OLD BLACK MAGIC (41A: "That" something in an Arlen/Mercer standard)
        • BEAT THE HEAT (56A: Keep cool in summer)
        Word of the Day: "DAYS OF THUNDER" 
        Days of Thunder is a 1990 American auto racing film released by Paramount Pictures, produced by Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer and directed by Tony Scott. The cast includes Tom CruiseNicole KidmanRobert DuvallRandy QuaidCary ElwesCaroline Williams, and Michael Rooker. The film also features appearances by real life NASCARracers, such as Rusty WallaceNeil Bonnett, and Harry Gant. Commentator Dr. Jerry Punch, of ESPN, has a cameo appearance, as does co-producer Don Simpson.
        This is the first of three films to star both Cruise and Kidman (the other two being Far and Away and Eyes Wide Shut).
        • • •

        It's a very nice theme idea. Just right for a Tuesday. When I hit "N.B.A." I didn't really bother reading the whole clue, and didn't think the theme was very tight. Then, when I finished, I saw the unifying idea. Nice—not just some random NBA teams, but the only four that have non plural names. That gives the theme the coherence and tightness it needs. Found the clue on ALL THAT JAZZ actually a bit tough. I think the "add-ons" part threw me, as I think of the phrase meaning simply "all the related things"; the notion of adding on isn't really a part of it (though I think the clue's perfectly defensible). My only real issue with the theme is that OLD BLACK MAGIC is essentially a partial, a fact which necessitates the weird cluing, with the unexciting "That" in quotation marks at the beginning. OLD BLACK MAGIC just doesn't stand on its own very well. But overall, the theme is reasonably clever and reasonably well executed.

        The fill is more troublesome. This is at least partially the result of the Highly segmented grid. Tons of black squares (40) creating tons of nooks and crannies composed mostly of 3s, 4s, and 5s, i.e. not the most exciting fill on the planet. But this puzzle's short stuff was pretty subpar, even by short stuff standards. In the same little section you have multiple icky answers: I WAS and OSE, GST and IMA, ALLA and ILIAC and OCHRES (plural) and ASTO, EERO TADA and LTYR (!). The ANDI / DVI crossing is particularly shabby. There's more, but why list it? Greater care in overall grid construction would've been nice. Also, I would've said SUBTROPICAL, not SUBTROPIC, but perhaps that's just me. Never lived anywhere where either adjective would apply.

        Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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