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

by Rex Parker, published: Wed 01 Oct 2014 06:00:00 AM CEST.

Favicon Violinist Leopold / WED 10-1-14 / Apollo Daphne sculptor / Robert Redford's great 1975 role / Lexicographer James who was OED's first editor
1 Oct 2014, 6:00 am
Constructor: Elizabeth C. Gorski

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: INSIDE DOPE (61A: Lowdown … or a hint to 17-, 24-, 36- and 53-Across) — letter string "DOPE" hidden inside four theme answers:

Theme answers:
  • GRAND OPERA (17A: Genre of Verdi's "Jérusalem")
  • AVOCADO PEAR (24A: Guacamole base, in British lingo)
  • PRIED OPEN (36A: Used a crowbar on, say)
  • WALDO PEPPER (53A: Robert Redford's "great" 1975 role)
Word of the Day: "The Great WALDO PEPPER" —
The Great Waldo Pepper is a 1975 drama film directed, produced, and co-written by George Roy Hill. Set during 1926–1931, the movie stars Robert Redford as a disaffected World War I veteran pilot who missed the opportunity to fly in combat and his sense of dislocation post-war in the America of the early 1920s. Margot KidderBo SvensonEdward Hermann and Susan Sarandon round out the cast. […]  Leonard Maltin noted that the film disappointed at the box office … (wikipedia)
• • •

Wow, the bulk of this puzzle must've been waaaaay on the easy side, because I finished with a Tuesday-like time despite not having any clue about two of the theme answers (AVOCADO PEAR, WALDO PEPPER). Why would add the "PEAR" part, British people? What other kinds of AVOCADO are you distinguishing it from? Puzzling. As for the Redford movie, you have to be reasonably old and/or a Big fan of Redford (and/or aviation) movies to have heard of that movie, I think. I was alive in 1975, but at six years old, not really the target audience for the Redford movie (I'm guessing). I love doing Liz Gorski puzzles because I know I'm in the hands of a pro. If you're a fan of hers, or if you're just looking for another good easyish (M/T-level) puzzle to do each week, you should really check out her Puzzle Nation puzzles (subscribe here). She is perhaps the only independent constructor I know dedicated to making good Easy puzzles.

This puzzle didn't excite me as much as some of her other puzzles, for a number of reasons. The short fill is too often quite stale and the longer Downs don't have as much character as I'd like (though the NW is pretty decent, and I like the pair of longish Across answers that she manages to squeeze into the grid: BRUCE LEE and LIME TREE—not easy to do in a grid already crowded with five themers). Also, this theme was overly familiar to me. I've seen a version done with INFO (it was a Sunday puzzle actually titled "INSIDE DOPE" from five years back). I then wrote a response-puzzle with a similar title ("Inside Dope, Part 2"), but with a completely different theme (you can get that puzzle here) (or just read about it here). So the theme didn't strike me as original—but I do a ****-ton of puzzles, so that's not that surprising. As an example of its kind (the hidden-word theme), it's nicely done. Only non-theme answers I had trouble with were MURRAY (which I got entirely, albeit quickly, from crosses), BERNINI (whom I confused with Roberto BENIGNI and Brunetto LATINI and whoever BELLINI is simultaneously), and OWLISH (which is … not a word I know) (47D: Studious looking).
    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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    Favicon Friend of Gandalf / TUE 9-30-14 / Marbles British Museum display / Canadian comedy show of 1970s-'80s / Mineralogist for whom scale is named
    30 Sep 2014, 6:00 am
    Constructor: Kyle T. Dolan

    Relative difficulty: Easy

    THEME: "THE PRICE IS RIGHT" (35A: Long-runninggame show with a feature spelled out clockwise by this puzzle's circled letters) — circles spell out "SHOWCASE SHOWDOWN"; other theme answers are a "modern host" and a "longtime host" of the show:

    Theme answers:

    Word of the Day: ELGIN Marbles (58A: ___ Marbles (British Museum display)) —
    The Parthenon Marbles, also known as the Elgin Marbles (/ˈɛlɡɪn/ el-gin), are a collection of classical Greek marble sculptures (mostly by Phidias and his assistants), inscriptions and architectural members that originally were part of the Parthenon and other buildings on the Acropolis of AthensThomas Bruce, the 7th Earl of Elgin obtained a controversial permit from the Ottoman house to remove pieces from the Parthenon while serving as the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire from 1799 to 1803.
    From 1801 to 1812, Elgin's agents removed about half of the surviving sculptures of the Parthenon, as well as architectural members and sculpture from the Propylaea and Erechtheum. The Marbles were transported by sea to Britain. In Britain, the acquisition of the collection was supported by some, while some critics compared Elgin's actions to vandalism or looting.
    Following a public debate in Parliament and the subsequent exoneration of Elgin, the marbles were purchased by the British government in 1816 and placed on display in the British Museum, where they stand now on view in the purpose-built Duveen Gallery. (wikipedia)
    • • •

    Wait, the ELGIN Marbles aren't … marbles? Like, playing marbles? Little spheres? Aggies or taws or whatever marbles are called? I'm somehow disappointed.

    So, the SHOWCASE SHOWDOWN, if you're not familiar with the show, involves the spinning of a giant wheel with number amounts on it; the contestant closest to one dollar without going over gets to be in the SHOWDOWN, which is this bit where you bid on something fancy … I think whichever contestant guesses value of his/her prize most accurately without going over wins said prize … I haven't watched the show in a while. But here's the thing. The wheel spins along an axis perpendicular to the one represented by the circles in this grid. It doesn't spin like the "Wheel of Fortune" wheel—it spins more like a water mill, with the rim facing outward and the numbers printed on the rim itself. Here—"WOF" wheel:

    And the SHOWCASE SHOWDOWN wheel:

    Point is: this circle is a highly inaccurate of the wheel on "THE PRICE IS RIGHT" (if, in fact, that was what the circled letters were going for, which … I'm not 100% sure).

    Fill continues to be abysmal, or at least far below where it should be. I've seen rejection letters where the editor claims to be upholding very high standards in the matter of fill, but that claim is belied by the vast majority of puzzles that have come out lately. Not that the trend is new. It's just been highly noticeable in the past week and a half or so. Longer stuff is not bad (LOVE BITES and BREWED UP and BEER CAN will do nicely), but shorter stuff is still manifestly subpar. I'll just highlight that southern region, with TERCE and OKSO (?), but there's also MEI and ARIL and SES and ATA and ONDVD and a bunch of stuff that's just OK. Just getting by. No craft, no attempt at polish. Just … good enough! Apparently "good enough" is the new "gold standard." No idea why the puzzle continues to limp along as it does. But it does. Broken theme, below-average fill … oh, Tuesday. Will you never win?
      Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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      Favicon Nixon White House chief of staff / MON 9-29-14 / Hit 2002 film with talking sloths / Racking vehicle on small track / Actor stand up comic Foxx
      29 Sep 2014, 6:00 am
      Constructor: Eric Sydney Phillips

      Relative difficulty: Challenging (***for a Monday***)

      THEME: HOME TOWN HERO (60A: Local success story) — a series of words / phrases related to a hypothetical "Local success story."

      Theme answers:
      • I KNEW YOU WHEN (18A: Words to a local success story)
      • CELEBRITY (24A: What a local success story achieves)
      • HUMBLE BEGINNINGS (39A: What a local success story comes from)
      • MAKES GOOD (49A: What a local success story does)
      Word of the Day: H.R. HALDEMAN (3D: Nixon White House chief of staff) —
      Harry Robbins "Bob" Haldeman (better known as H. R. Haldeman; October 27, 1926 – November 12, 1993) was an American political aide and businessman, best known for his service as White House Chief of Staff to President Richard Nixon and his consequent involvement in the Watergate scandal. His intimate role in the Watergate cover-up precipitated his resignation from government; subsequent to which he was tried on counts of perjury,conspiracy and obstruction of justice; found guilty and imprisoned for 18 months. Upon his release he returned to private life and was a successful businessman until his death from cancer in 1993. (wikipedia)
      • • •

      The grid is 16 wide, so the fact that this played slow is not that big a surprise. But it played Very slow for me. Nearly 4 minutes. That is a Monday-eternity. I don't much care. This feels like it should've been a Tuesday, but close enough for government work. Is that the expression? I'm not sure. That expression feels at least as old as I would've had to have been for H.R. HALDEMAN to have been a gimme. As it was, I needed, no joke, every cross. Of course I've heard of him, but he's one of those "names in the air" that I can't place accurately, and I certainly didn't know (off the top of my head) his first two initials, let alone how to spell his name ("HALDERMAN?"). So my Nixonian ignorance might've played a role in my slowness today as well. I don't really understand themes like this, possibly because you so rarely see them—they're just a loose collection of phrases associated with a very general idea. There's a kind of progression (kind of) from past ("I KNEW YOU WHEN") to present (HOME TOWN HERO), but not really … CELEBRITY appears early, and BEGINNINGS is in the middle. It was all a bit too arbitrary and blah for me. The fill didn't help matters—very generic, except that HRHALDEMAN outlier there. Clue on NINE MONTHS is kind of cute (31D: Pregnant pause?). But I'll take last Monday's puzzle over this any day. I'm sorry I said anything critical about it at all, Ian Livengood. Come back, Ian Livengood, come back! Livengood! … Shane!

      Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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      Favicon Ottoman inns / SUN 9-28-14 / Relative of canary / Chief Justice during Civil War / Synagogue instrument / Flowing glacial feature / Taiwanese computer giant / 2007 purchaser of Applebee's / Shelfmate of Bartlett's / English hymnist / Sparkly topper / Brand with red arrow through its logo / Pituitary gland output briefly
      28 Sep 2014, 6:00 am
      Constructor: Todd Gross

      Relative difficulty: Easy

      THEME: "Four By Four" — theme answers are phrases made out of four four-letter words

      Theme answers:
      • SAME TIME NEXT YEAR (23A: 1975 Tony-nominated play about an extended affair)
      • SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH (46A: The Crossroads of the West)
      • HOLD YOUR HEAD HIGH (16D: "Don't be ashamed")
      • TEAR DOWN THIS WALL (36D: Reagan's challenge to Gorbachev)
      • WITH ARMS WIDE OPEN (92A: Warm way to welcome someone)
      • LESS TALK MORE ROCK (119A: Common slogan for a music radio station)
      Word of the Day: Roger B. TANEY (35A: Chief Justice during the Civil War) —
      Roger Brooke Taney (/ˈtɔːni/; March 17, 1777 – October 12, 1864) was the fifth Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, holding that office from 1836 until his death in 1864. He was the eleventh United States Attorney General. He is most remembered for delivering the majority opinion in Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857), that ruled, among other things, that African-Americans, having been considered inferior at the time the Constitution was drafted, were not part of the original community of citizens and, whether free or slave, could not be considered citizens of the United States. (wikipedia)
      • • •

      I was getting complaints about this one before I'd even opened it, and I can see why. The theme is simply not interesting. You can go to onelook.com (as one of my friends pointed out) and do a search of 4x4 possibilities; that search gives you all these, plus many others (most of them completely unusable—my favorites are LOCK THAT SH*T DOWN, SHUT YOUR CAKE HOLE, and the truly stellar FIST F**K YOUR FACE). I'm not convinced that LESS TALK MORE ROCK is terribly legit, but even if it were, there's just a big "Who Cares?" miasma hanging over this one. There are exactly two things remarkable about this puzzle: NO-GOODNIK, and the fact that this is possibly the easiest Sunday puzzle I've ever done. Got snagged at the very end in the north—a total outlier, difficulty-wise—but still finished in under 8 (!?!?). Otherwise, everything about this puzzle is deeply forgettable. I just don't understand how this would "tickle" anyone.

      I guess if I'm going to focus on any part of this grid, it should probably be that north area, which stands out only because the rest of the grid was So Dang Easy. I started entering answers and just kept going, barely even pausing, tearing up the grid until I hit the far north. There I encountered a whole bunch of things I either didn't know or couldn't see, all in one place. First, ICEFALL (9D: Flowing glacial feature). Then MAXILLA, which I sort of knew and sort of doubted—I know very well that AXILLA is armpit, so even though MAXILLA sounded right for 10D: Mandible's counterpart, I couldn't help thinking that I was confusing the real answer with axilla. MAXILLA sounds like an extreme armpit. "Take your axilla to the max, with MAXILLA!" The clue for ALT is just bizarre (11D: Not the main rte.). ALT corresponds to "main"—it's not the main rte., it's the ALT. rte. ALT by itself suggesting nothing about rtes. I know it as a prefix meaning alternative, as in "alt-country." I was half-expecting DET. (as in "detour"?). Then there was the very last thing I got—the absurd SERIN / TANEY cross. Both of those are obscure, and they cross at a not-too-guessable letter. Even if you think "those aren't obscure," they certain are compared to All The Other Answers In This Grid. Not well-known bird crossing not well-known Supreme Court Chief Justice at a Wheel-Of-Fortune letter? Odd.

      Reluctant to do a Puzzle of the Week this week, for a couple of reasons. First, I didn't do as many puzzles this week as I normally do, so it's highly probable I haven't even solved some good candidates. Also, I'm still struggling with the Matt Gaffney Weekly Crossword Puzzle metapuzzle, which I'm told is great, but which I can't yet confirm (no "aha" moment for me yet). So I'll just say that the best puzzle I did this week was Patrick Berry's Friday themeless (NYT), though Byron Walden's "Mismatched Socks" (AV Club Crossword) (solution) is also worth a look. Best themed puzzle I did, for sure.

      [Update: Just figured out the meta for this week's MGWCC puzzle ("Repeat Offenders," by Francis Heaney). It is indeed amazing, though I have this small quibble that I can't discuss because the contest deadline hasn't passed … gah! Anyway, the puzzle is pretty epic, and definitely POTW-worthy]

      Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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      Favicon Deep-sea explorer William / SAT 9-27-14 / Name in 2000 headlines / One-man Broadway hit of 1989 / Who said I have wonderful psychiatrist that I see maybe once year because I don't need it It all comes out onstage
      27 Sep 2014, 6:00 am
      Constructor: Martin Ashwood-Smith and George Barany

      Relative difficulty: Medium

      THEME: none

      Word of the Day: William BEEBE (2D: Deep-sea explorer William) —
      William Beebe /ˈbbi/, born Charles William Beebe (July 29, 1877 – June 4, 1962) was an American naturalistornithologistmarine biologist,entomologistexplorer, and author. He is remembered for the numerous expeditions he conducted for the New York Zoological Society, his deep dives in the Bathysphere, and his prolific scientific writing for both academic and popular audiences. (wikipedia)
      • • •

      Seems like I've seen this exact grid, or something very close to it, for many central quad-stack puzzles. I guess the heavy segmentation, which results in a puzzle that plays like three separate puzzles, is kind of inevitable when you have a giant stack in the center. It all felt very familiar. A bit deja vu. I was less surprised or bothered by anything relating to the quad-stack than I was surprised and (mildly) bothered by the less-than-great short stuff up top and down below. I think TAWS OREN PACA TBAR TROP and PICAS are, as a group, worse than the short stuff holding the center together. They're certainly no better, and (the main point) they're far less explicable, since they come (down below) in much easier-to-fill areas of the grid. I enjoyed (and got thrown by) E-CIGARETTE (I had the back end and kept getting frustrated that CIGARETTE wasn't long enough…), but nothing else up top or down below was very remarkable. The quad-stack, on the other hand, has two wonderful entries ("I CALL 'EM AS I SEE 'EM" and "BREAKER ONE-NINER!"), and while ALOP and AMERE and "ERI TU" are no one's idea of a good time, they're certainly reasonable in a quad-stack situation. The strangest thing about my reaction to this grid is that I've grown oddly fond of the seemingly requisite ONE'S answer (today, IN ONE'S SPARE TIME). Some part of me feels like I should ding it, since it's kind of a cliché, but I find myself just nodding at it in acknowledgment, like "Hey, what's up?" or perhaps, even more enthusiastically, "There he is—up top!" [high five]. Perhaps this is because, as ONE'S answers go, IN ONE'S SPARE TIME is pretty dang solid.

      Puzzle is redeemed in its weaker parts by some pretty nice cluing. IBEFOREE does not amuse me, but that clue, 1A: Start of a weird infraction?, is clever (note: "weird" violates the IBEFOREE rule…). Lots of "?" clues today (I count nine)—pushed but did not exceed my tolerance limit for that mode of cluing.  Hardest "?" clue for me was 18A: Mideast pops? (ABBA), as I had no idea ABBA meant "father" in Hebrew, and Really had no idea who William BEEBE was. In the end, I went with the "B" at that crossing because a. no other letters made sense, and b. ABBA Eban is a thing. A crossword thing. Person, actually. Not 'thing.' And he was Israeli, which explained the "Mideast" part of the clue. BEEBE looked hella wrong, but "B" was the best option I had there, and it was the right one.

      Happy 11th anniversary to my remarkable wife. (And thus the crazy week of daughter's birthday / blog's birthday / wedding anniversary comes to an end…)

      Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

      P.S. [Country standard] is a great trick clue for NATIONAL AVERAGE. I was thinking "Country" = music. Then I was thinking "standard" = flag ...

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