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

by Rex Parker, published: Sat 30 Aug 2014 06:00:00 AM CEST.

Favicon Mercury's winged sandals / SAT 8-30-14 / Synthetic purplish colorant / Musical title character who made us feel alive again / Outlook alternative / London's onetime equivalent of Wall Street / Cloud Shepherd sculptor / Funky Cold Medina rapper / Beverage with triangular logo /
30 Aug 2014, 6:00 am
Constructor: David Steinberg

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: none

Word of the Day: TALARIA (57A: Mercury's winged sandals) —
Winged sandals such as those worn by Hermes and Iris as represented in Greco-Roman painting and sculpture.

[Latin tlria, from neuter pl. of tlrisof the ankles, from tlusankle.] (thefreedictionary.com)
• • •

This has some good stuff in it, but the marquee answer (ZZZQUIL) is something I've seen in puzzle(s) before (pretty sure BEQ did it first), and once you've seen ZZZQUIL once, the zing kind of goes out of it. How easily did I get ZZZQUIL? Here are the first two entries in my grid—and yes, I actually stopped solving to take a picture:

One, two. Bam, bam. As you can imagine, once you drop a word like ZZZQUIL in your grid, things get remarkably easy, at least for a little bit. Had no trouble with any of those Z-crosses. In fact, the momentum from that word propelled me all the way down the western seaboard until I hit the bottom, where I hit a wall (more on that later), and then easily across the grid into the NE and on down to the SE, where things got a little trickier. Across the whole top of the puzzle, I was entering answers pretty much as fast as I could type. The NE in particular just gave way. It was kind of disorienting, actually. On Saturdays, I'm geared up for resistance. Not finding any was bewildering. But I got a dose downstairs, first in the SE, where I couldn't get any of those Downs to work, except ATOM ANT, which I stupidly had as ATOM MAN. Never used AOL MAIL or been to a TRIPLEX (!?), wanted "If I HAD …" (as in "… a hammer …"). So there were problems. Also, the ROGAINE clue flummoxed me. I wanted something to do with styling gel. But JEAN ARP and ROSANNE Cash helped me eventually get it sorted.

The big problem was in the SW. Actually, that's where the problem had its source, but its negative ramifications extended up and over to the lower center of the puzzle. Faced with A-E at 47D: Aldous Huxley's "___ and Essence", I really thought the answer had to be AGE. That was the only word that seemed to pair sensibly with "Essence." But then I was looking at 50A: Ones with issues? being SAGAS, and try as I might, I couldn't justify that. Plus, I really wanted 50D: Worked with to be PLIED (spoiler: it was). But PAGAS … didn't compute. So I kept trying to find ways to make that answer work, and failing. Eventually, I put PLIED in definitively and checked all the other crosses. AGE was the only one I wasn't certain about. Pulled it, and voila, PAPAS became clear (though I can't say I was 100% certain of "APE").

That left me with The Guessing Square, id est TAL-RIA (57A: Mercury's winged sandals) crossing -NC (58D: Party concerned with civil rights, briefly). I figured it was a vowel, but honestly wasn't certain. I entertained DNC and RNC, even though they are parts of parties, not parties themselves. The only other "party" I knew of that might qualify was the African National Congress (or ANC), but [Party concerned with civil rights, briefly] seemed like such a phenomenally vague and narrow way to construe the party that had been in power in South Africa for twenty years (i.e. in charge of All Things, not just 'civil rights'), that I really doubted it could be right. But I was out of options. So cross fingers, brace self, enter "A"—and I got the Happy Pencil! Puzzle Solved. But that's not what I would call an ideal cross, and not a positive note to end on. Puzzle is mostly very solid overall, in terms of grid construction, but between the aftermarket ZZZQUIL at the beginning and the outright guess situation at the end and the astonishing easiness in between, my enjoyment was diminished somewhat.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. Whoa, I just discovered the definitive history of ZZZQUIL in crossword puzzles. Who knew!?

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Favicon Doc Savage portrayer / FRI 8-29-14 / Political theorist Carl / Neighbor of St Kitts / Football Hall of Famer Tunnell / Miss Julie composer 1965 / Kroger alternative / Longtime Laker Lamar / Player of Fin Tutuola / Host of 1950s TVs Bank on Stars
29 Aug 2014, 6:00 am
Constructor: Daniel Raymon

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: none

Word of the Day: RERI Grist (25A: Soprano Grist) —
Reri Grist (February 29, 1932) is an American coloratura soprano, one of the pioneer African-American singers to enjoy a major international career in opera. (wikipedia)
• • •

This puzzle gets one major thing right—the long answers in every quadrant are solid, and in a few cases flashy and great. 1A: Poll Internet users on (CROWDSOURCE), perhaps took me way too long, but when I got it, the struggle seemed worth it. There's a wonderful colloquial vibe all over, with IN A NUTSHELL, EXCUSE ME, REST ASSURED, and AND THEN SOME all lending the puzzle a lively chattiness. Good long stuff will make people forget bad short stuff—that's the general rule. Today, though … man, this puzzle really tests that rule. It's not so much that the fill is "bad," in the sense that plural suffixes are bad and variant spellings are bad and random roman numerals are bad (I see you, MMIV). It's just name-heavy. Not just name-heavy. Like, crazy-name-heavy. Laden with names that sound made-up. Names that just don't seem like plausible human names. But they are—they are real. I looked them up. Still, even after having looked RERI up, I'm not convinced it's real. I mean, she is. She's had a notable career. But her name's not famous, and it's certainly *entirely* unguessable (unlike, say, SCHMITT, whom I'd also never heard of, but whose name seemed plausibly human). What is a RONELY? Did he play Doc Savage on the radio? Do most of you even know who Doc Savage (pulp hero of yore) is? Oh, wait … crap. HA ha [seriously, genuine LOL]. It's RON [space] ELY, not RONELY. RON [space] ELY is best known for playing Tarzan. He played Doc Savage in a 1975 film you've never seen or heard of. Other big names in that movie include no one.

Then there's the potentially deathly proper noun mash-up in the NNE. If I hadn't been given the "French for 'the handsome'" part of that LEBEAU clue, that whole area might still be staring me down (21A: Longtime N.F.L. coach whose name is French for "the handsome"). Dick LEBEAU is somebody whose name I've heard, so I don't doubt his crossworthiness, but I wasn't gonna get him from [Longtime N.F.L. coach] alone. So OK, I got him. From French. But if you don't know football and don't know French, you might be in trouble. It seems especially cruel, then, particularly to non-sports fans, to cross the one old-timey N.F.L. answer (LEBEAU) with *another* old-timey N.F.L. answer., this time cluing a name not only obscure, but preposterous-looking. EMLEN? That guy hasn't been in the NYT, or any major puzzle, for 15 years. Thank god I'd heard of "NEVIS & St. Kitts" [by which I apparently mean "St. Kitts & NEVIS"] because otherwise that "N" is Entirely unguessable. And if you don't know the rules of French, you'd be forgiven for perhaps thinking LABEAU instead of LEBEAU. And *then* you'd have a real mess on your hands. Proper nouns, particularly ones that are manifestly obscure and unguessable, Have To Be Handled Carefully. If you must include them, keep them Far away from each other and try not to cross them with other proper nouns at unguessable letters. This is a big danger of a massively name-heavy puzzle (like this one)—you're always dancing through a Natick minefield. I don't think there are any true Naticks* here, but there are definitely some scares. The main issue is that Bizarro names distract from the otherwise high quality of the puzzle.

I didn't even mention LIAT, a name I now know because of crosswords, but … again, a very non-name-seeming name. Sports, opera, geography, cinema: whatever your cultural ignorance, this puzzle has a proper-noun groin-kick waiting just for you. The sports-averse must feel particularly pummeled. Crossing not-terribly-famous N.F.L. names and then a double dose of Bo Jackson!? *And* Lamar ODOM? All In A Single Quadrant Of The Puzzle!?!? I legitimately feel sorry for you anti-sports folks today. I really do.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

*For a definition of "Natick," click the "FAQ" tab up top; in a nutshell, a "Natick" refers to a crossing of relatively obscure proper nouns at an unguessable letter. I coined the term when I encountered just such a situation at the crossing of *N*. C. WYETH (whose name I now know well) and …. NATICK.

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Favicon Depression Era architectural movement / THU 8-28-14 / Part of spiral galaxy farthest from center / Kitschy quality / Carriage puller in rural dialect / Boutros-Ghali's successor as UN chief / Adolf Hitler according to 1983 hoax / 1920s-30s Ford output
28 Aug 2014, 6:00 am
Constructor: Ned White

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: DOWN / WARD (21D: With 40-Down, how rain falls … or a literal description of the answers to the four themed clues) — four theme answers all run DOWN and all are definitions of WARD:

Theme answers:
  • PATIENT AREA (3D: 21-/40-Down to a doctor)
  • BEAVER'S DAD (10D: 21-/40-Down on 1950s-'60s TV)
  • PRISON WING (28D: 21-/40-Down to a penologist)
  • ACTRESS SELA (24D: 21-/40-Down in Hollywood)
Word of the Day: MODERNE (38A: Depression Era architectural movement) —
Streamline Moderne, or Art Moderne, was a late type of the Art Deco architecture and design that emerged in the 1930s. Its architectural style emphasized curving forms, long horizontal lines, and sometimes nautical elements. (wikipedia)
• • •

I feel like this puzzle's heart is in the right place. Something about its playful spirit makes me want to be fond of it. It's just that there are some core problems, and then a bunch of non-core problems (mainly the fill), that make me want to say, you know, E FOR effort, but nowhere close to A MINUS. (Both the answers mentioned in that last sentence are part of the problem today—EFOR is just terrible fill, and A MINUS is so inaccurately clued that I don't know where to begin. It just is. As someone who grades, a lot, trust me, there's nothing "nearly perfect" about an A MINUS, if only because this would imply that an A is perfect, which, just, no. No no. No.). So let's take the theme. To start, DOWNWARD is one word, not two. Picky? Yes. But with no "?" or … anything to indicate you're snapping a word in half, I don't see how you can do this. So there's that. Then there's the definitions-for-answers, which I don't care for, but I recognize other people's opinions about this feature might differ, and that's fine. It's just … BEAVER'S DAD actually strikes me as quite an interesting and unexpected answer of the Definition variety, where the others do not. PATIENT AREA is a pretty weak/general definition for "WARD." Are "wing" and "WARD" synonymous now? "Wing" signifies to me a sizable architectural feature. Is that what "WARD"s are in prisons? WARDs are "sections" of hospitals, and "sections" of prisons, so making one a highly vague "AREA" and the other an oddly specific and ambitious WING just seems wildly arbitrary.

There should've been "?" or something similar somewhere in all the theme clues. I mean, imagine seeing [Down Ward in Hollywood], no "?", in your clues. Makes no sense. Never mind that having "Down" in so many clues is weird when it's half your revealer. Not sure how you'd get around that, but it feels like a design flaw. Also, [How rain falls]? This is a most bizarre clue for DOWN/WARD. Of all the way rain might fall … down? What *doesn't* fall down? Do other things fall up? Sideways? Man alive there's gotta be some better way to clue DOWN/WARD. [How rain falls] is only a hair's breadth better than [Opposite of UPWARD].

Fill is hurting all over. Currently having a debate online about whether BRA SALE is "green paint" or not. I have no problem with it, but it does have that "yes it's a thing but no it's not a specific enough thing to be an answer" quality. But "bra sale" googles astonishingly well, so I'm going to stand by my pro-BRA SALE instincts. But I won't stand by a lot of this other stuff: STR ARB ARIB ESS (when you already have both ACTRESS and EGRESS in your grid) NO TASTE (?) IN A TRAP DE ORO ITT GES GIS + two RE-words etc. With very little strong fill to offset it. (Note: I liked OFFSETS fine) OUTER ARM is easily the most interesting answer in the grid (23A: Part of a spiral galaxy farthest from the center). Vivid, inventive, good. Rest of it kind of creaks.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Favicon Truckers contest / WED 8-27-14 / Lightning setting / Political alliance of 1958 / Relative of cuatro informally / Do Not Call Registry org / First name of wolf in Big Bad Wolf / Bit of packaging detritus / Oil giant that's part of Tesoro Corporation
27 Aug 2014, 6:00 am
Constructor: Gareth Bain and David Poole

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: -A to -ER — wacky phrases that are homophones of normal phrases if you are British (I think)

Theme answers:
  • CONGER LINES (17A: Libretto for "Eel Trovatore"?)
  • FRANK ZAPPER (24A: Microwave for hot dogs?)
  • CHARLIE THE TUNER (37A: Actor Sheen after starting a new career in piano maintenance?)
  • SALES QUOTER (50A: One who knows the earnings report by heart?)
  • TUBER PLAYER (60A: Actor in a Mr. Potato Head costume?)

Word of the Day: FTC (11A: Do Not Call Registry org.) —
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is an independent agency of the United States government, established in 1914 by the Federal Trade Commission Act. Its principal mission is the promotion of consumer protection and the elimination and prevention of anticompetitive business practices, such as coercive monopoly. The Federal Trade Commission Act was one of President Woodrow Wilson's major acts againsttrusts. Trusts and trust-busting were significant political concerns during the Progressive Era. Since its inception, the FTC has enforced the provisions of the Clayton Act, a key antitrust statute, as well as the provisions of the FTC Act, 15 U.S.C. § 41 et seq. Over time, the FTC has been delegated the enforcement of additional business regulation statutes and has promulgated a number of regulations (codified in Title 16 of the Code of Federal Regulations). (wikipedia)
• • •

Cornball puns really aren't my thing. The clues on the first couple are pretty funny, but the "humor" here kind of went over, or beside, or in some relation to my head other than the intended one. Plus QUOTER's not really a word. I mean, it is, but it isn't, so that answer really clunks. Also, I did not like the last themer, TUBER PLAYER, at all, because of its inclusion of a -ER word that did *not* conform to the theme … unless the guy on "tuba" is in fact a "playa," in which case, good for him. Seems like this theme might have been as funny, if not funnier, in reverse: -ERs to -As. [Like someone who refuses to root for the Lightning under any conditions?] => TAMPA RESISTANT. Huh? Huh? Well, maybe, maybe not. Maybe that's been done. But this didn't amuse me enough to make the mostly uninteresting trip through the rest of the puzzle seem worth it. Fill was overly common and somewhat tiresome to work through, though the long Downs (FOAM PEANUT + WHAT A LAUGH) are pretty charming (11D: Bit of packaging detritus + 29D: "That is SO stupid!").

Puzzle played hard, mostly because of some tough cluing on some short and relatively arcane stuff like ARCO (From *that* clue? No way. I had ESSO at first) (1D: Oil giant that's part of the Tesoro Corporation), and ZEKE (??) (26D: First name of the wolf in Disney's "The Big Bad Wolf") and all the 3-letter answers in the NE. I know the peanuts in question only as PACKING PEANUTS, so without FOAM up there, those short answers were in danger of not coming at all (especially as I didn't know the FTC answer, and can't remember ever seeing that abbr. in a puzzle, though I must've). In the end, there's just too much SETI ERST ERIN UAR TSAR ACHOO MOR LIU UKE EEGS EEO and not enough fun stuff.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Favicon Guitarist Kottke / TUE 8-26-14 / Traveler on silk road / 50th state's state bird / Department store founder James Cash / Tuna type on menus
26 Aug 2014, 6:00 am
Constructor: Victor Fleming

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: MPS (56D: AWOL chasers … or a hint to the answers to the six italicized clues) —all theme answers are two-word phrases where the first word starts with "M" and the second word starts with "P"

Theme answers:
  • MAKE PEACE (5D: Sign a treaty, say)
  • MENLO PARK (56A: Edison lab site)
Word of the Day: MILK PUNCH —
Milk punch is a milk-based brandy or bourbon beverage. It consists of milk, brandy (bourbon), sugar, and vanilla extract. It is served cold, and usually hasnutmeg sprinkled on top. (wikipedia)
• • •

I don't much understand the point of a puzzle like this. Unless the theme answers really bring something new and interesting to the table, then you just have a perfunctory exercise on your hands. This theme type can be done a million and one ways—just pick your initials. DAS? TAS? MDS? RNS? Why limit yourself to people? LPS, CDS, MGS, DTS, all await your entheming. This puzzle is totally serviceable, but completely unimaginative—the kind of thing I'd expect to find in many other venues, where no one expects much beyond a 5-to-10-minute diversion, but not the kind of thing I expect in the (still repeatedly alleged) Gold Standard of crosswords. There's not much to fault here, but not much to praise, either. It's just … here. It does have MISS PIGGY, I'll give it that. And it did teach me that there is such a thing as MILK PUNCH—googles at about 1/10 the strength of "eggnog," but sure, "relatives," why not? I learned a new term. And hey, the NYT says there's a MILK PUNCH "revival" afoot. So maybe you'll want to get in on that.

The only difficulty in this puzzle came at MILK PUNCH, specifically at the part where that answer leads up into the north part of the grid via BERTHS (8D: Playoff spots). Didn't know the drink, and then couldn't make sense of the playoffs clue at first, and so transitioning from one part of the grid into the other … didn't go smoothly. But I just rebooted in the north with DAM and ERA and everything was on track again. Zero hiccups. Oh, I wrote in STEAMY for SULTRY (21D: Torrid). That probably cost me some time. And I needed a few passes at AFRESH before I saw it (36D: Over again). But really, these are all terribly minor snags. Mainly this puzzle came, and this puzzle went.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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