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

by Rex Parker, published: Fri 06 Mar 2015 06:00:00 AM CET.

Favicon Bespectacled chipmunk / FRI 3-6-15 / Actress Anna of Mom / Cozy lie per Susan Sontag / FiveThirtyEight owner / Schwarzenegger movie with oxymoronic title / Success is great deodorant speaker / Onetime 2600 Jr maker / Divine trees in book of dead / Washington's first secretary of war / Jazz fusion artist with Elektric band / Bassist Cook of Creedence Clearwater Revival
6 Mar 2015, 6:00 am
Constructor: David Phillips

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: none

Word of the Day: Anna FARIS (2D: Actress Anna of "Mom") —
Anna Kay Faris[1] (/ˈɑːnə ˈfærɨs/;[2] born November 29, 1976) is an American actress and singer. She is known for her comedic roles as Cindy Campbell in the Scary Movie film series (2000–2006), Kelly in Lost in Translation (2003), Shelley in The House Bunny(2008), Serena in Waiting... (2005), Hannah in My Super Ex-Girlfriend (2006), the voice of Sam Sparks in the animated film Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (2009) and its sequel Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 (2013), Rachel Johnson in Yogi Bear (2010), Ally Darling in What's Your Number? (2011), Zoey in The Dictator (2012) and Chloe in I Give It a Year (2013).
On television, she has played the role of Christy Plunkett on the CBS sitcom Mom since 2013 and appeared as Erica in the final season of the NBC sitcom Friends (2004). (wikipedia)
• • •

Not interesting enough, not hard enough. The clusterf*ck of names in the NE (TOKLAS, KNOX, ATARI with a CORP somehow attached…) took me a little effort to put together, but otherwise, every corner's long answers fell one-two-three. Slightly ridiculous. Actually, I botched AFC SOUTH out of the gate (I had AFC NORTH because … I still can't accept Indianapolis as a Southern city …) but got AMPLE and FARIS and realized my mistake very quickly thereafter. Easy entree to the middle, and once EY- dropped into the front of 33-Across, I knew before looking at the clue that I was dealing with EYE-something. Clue made answer, and the cross-referenced answer, instantly obvious. I might have been aided there by *just* having read a 1980 Doonesbury collection entitled A Tad Overweight, But Violet Eyes to Die For (Trudeau did a run of strips making fun of Taylor's then-husband, Republican John Warner, during his bid for the Senate in Virginia in 1978), but I think I would've nailed that one regardless. So, very quickly, my grid looked like this:

The remaining corners were done with virtually no thought. We don't have DEL TACO out here, so that DE---CO took some thinking. That was virtually the only remaining answer that took some thinking. TWOS and DEL TACO gave me enough to get all the Acrosses along the top of the SW, and then all the Downs immediately thereafter. No struggle.

Junky fill down there made the remaining few squares tougher than the entire rest of the corner had been, but even LIGERS and COREA and SML and ANADEM and MEDI (frowny faces, all) weren't *that* tough. That left just the SE, where pretty much the same thing happened. Got front ends of long Acrosses, then *all* the long Acrosses in quick succession:

Ten seconds later, the puzzle was done. It's not just that the puzzle was easy—it simply wasn't that engaging. Entirely adequate, but also ho-hum. Nothing more to say. See you tomorrow.
    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    P.S. if any of you know the screenwriter Akiva Goldsman, please let him know I have mail for him. Someone sent something to him care of me, for reasons that remain Utterly Mysterious …

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    Favicon Japanese mat / THU 3-5-15 / CSA general Stuart / Funny Silverman / Jean-Claude Van Damme film set in 1994 2004 / Kona catch / Jose to friends / Great Wonder Woman cry / Session meeting after legislative dissolution
    5 Mar 2015, 12:34 pm
    Constructor: Jim Peredo

    Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

    THEME: FALLING BEHIND (38A: Lagging … or a hint to 17-, 19-, 56- and 61-Across) — several Across answers "fall" (i.e. go Down) at their tail end … the parts that "fall" are all synonyms for "behind":

    Theme answers:
    • BABY AL(BUM) (19A: Record of infantile behavior?)
    • DONALD T(RUMP) (17A: Who said about himself "Women find his power almost as much of a turn-on as his money")
    • UNAMERI(CAN) (61A: Hating baseball and apple pie?)
    • GORY DE(TAIL) (56A: Part of a story you might not want to know)

    Word of the Day: DRAY (58D: Farm cart) —
    1. a truck or cart for delivering beer barrels or other heavy loads, especially a low one without sides. (google)
    • • •
    Hey, this works. I wasn't so sure at first. I wasn't having a ton of fun cutting through the grid (even though the fill was OK), and when I saw that BABY AL(BUM) drop I was like "man, didn't we just see this idea? … answers that turn or bend or whatever … this better be good." I had no real hope that it would, in fact, be good. I could see that the Acrosses made nonsense but the Downs made real words—or, rather, that the Acrosses made sense if you threw in the Down bits. But I honestly didn't see the connection that all the Downs had until pretty late, because I didn't get the front part of the revealer until pretty late (3/4 done). This is all to say that when I did, finally, fill in FALLING BEHIND, I did, in fact, have a genuine AHA moment. (I think I'm going to call the opposite of an AHA moment an "AHI moment," as in "Oh … I get it … that's fishy.")

    [Profanity, but mostly incomprehensibility, ahead]

    So the theme wins—makes a tired concept (bend-the-answer) interesting, and BEHIND ends up having a cool double-meaning (i.e. the part that falls means "behind," *and* comes at the "tail" end of the answer). The overall grid has pretty solid bones, and GALACTIC and (esp.) WE'RE LOST add a little color. Not much to complain about in the fill. Suboptimal stuff is pretty spread out. Things get a mite dicey in the NE (with the two 5-letter prefixes and the French and the two abbrevs.), but whatever bad taste is up there doesn't linger. Very decent Thursday.

    • 45A: José, to friends (PEPE) — José Le Pew?? I had no idea. 
    • 62D: Low (MOO) — last letter in the grid were those "O"s, both because I forgot exactly what James DOOHAN's last name was, and because (predictably) I misspelled DIARAMA thusly.
    • 3D: "Hurray" or "alas" (IAMB) — very, very tough clue. I spend much of Tuesday explaining exactly what an IAMB is to my 17th-century lit class, and *I* didn't get this until virtually everything around it was filled in. Unstressed stressed. "Eclipse," "Today," etc. The opposite (stressed unstressed, e.g. "tailor," "panic," "Batter (my heart three-personed God…") is a TROCHEE, which we somehow never see in crosswords.
    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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    Favicon Wild Duck dramatist / WED 3-4-15 / Bow-toter on seasonal cards / Title woman of 1957 #1 Paul Anka hit / Popular Japanese pizza topping / Walrus mustache feature
    4 Mar 2015, 6:00 am
    Constructor: Jeff Stillman

    Relative difficulty: Medium

    THEME: puns involving male movie roles  — familiar phrases are clued as if they have some relation to roles played by famous actors

    Theme answers:
    • BOND TRADERS (17A: Connery and Lazenby, between 1967 and 1971?)
    • ROCKY START (11D: 1976, for Stallone's rise to stardom?)
    • TRIPLE AXEL (29D: Eddie Murphy, after 1984, 1987 and 1994?)
    • PLAYING SOLO (64A: What Harrison Ford was doing in 1977, 1980 and 1983?)
    Word of the Day: SERIN (44A: European finch) —
    1. a small Eurasian and North African finch related to the canary, with a short bill and typically streaky plumage. (google)
    • • •

    Inconsistent. Off. Wonky. I just couldn't get into this one. The fill skews old and stale, too (SE is particularly gunky), so there wasn't much for me here, except CETOLOGY (big Moby-Dick fan) (27A: Study of whales). So what, exactly, was wrong? BOND TRADERS was OK. A little thinky (i.e. you have to know that the role of Bond went from Connery in 1967 to Lazenby in 1969 and then *back* to Connery in 1971 …). Even then, the answer's a little forced, but I could roll with it. But both the answer, ROCKY START, and its clue (11D: 1976, for Stallone's rise to stardom?) felt off. It's *Stallone's* rise to stardom. But it's the franchise "Rocky"'s start. Stallone got his start (stardom-wise) playing Rocky, but ROCKY START does not capture that. Also, ROCKY START … isn't the tightest phrase. No tighter than "rough start," which means roughly the equivalent. Then there's the role-outlier, AXEL (Foley), which belongs in this puzzle not at all. Those movies did big business, but compared to James Bond, Rocky Balboa, and Han Solo, the name "Axel" just doesn't rate, fame-wise. Worst of all is PLAYING SOLO,  which isn't a phrase. Or, it is, but it's weak. GOING SOLO or, better, FLYING SOLO, are better, more solid, more real things. PLAYING SOLO … meh. Also confusing that the three years quoted in the clue for TRIPLE AXEL mattered (i.e. three years relates to "TRIPLE"), but the three years quoted in the PLAYING SOLO clue … didn't. So lots of little junky things about the cluing and answer quality just kept this from being that entertaining to me.


    • 56A: ___-watch (BINGE) — by far the hardest thing for me to get. Not knowing the [Title woman of a 1957 #1 Paul Anka hit] (told you the fill skewed old…) I figured it must be something uncommon like DEANA, so I had BENGE-watch and stared at it and had no idea what part could be wrong. This is especially weird, considering I had just finished watching Season 1 Episode 3 of "Mad Men," which I am semi-BINGE-(re-)watching in its totality, leading up to the series finale this April 5.
    • 55A: Cy Young candidates's stats (ERAS) — ??? … They're every pitcher's stats. The worst pitchers have ERAS. This clue is ridiculous.
    • 34A: Walrus mustache feature (DROOP) — ??? … I see that the wikipedia entry for "walrus mustache" says they have a DROOP (because the lip hair "droops" over the mouth…), but … man, that is a weird direction to go for this clue. If I had to list ten features of a "walrus mustache," that word wouldn't come up.
    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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    Favicon Physicist Mach / TUE 3-3-15 / Flagmaker Ross / 1982 double-platinum Duran Duran album / Treat similar to Yodel / Neighbor of Ricardos / Foot for Greek god Pan / Space station that crashed in 1979 / Likable prez / Event featuring motocross snocross /
    3 Mar 2015, 6:00 am
    Constructor: Kristian House

    Relative difficulty: Easy

    THEME: HUNTER S. THOMPSON (35A: Author of 50-/55-Across) — some answers related to the late writer

    Theme answers:
    • JOHNNY DEPP (18A: He played one of the lead roles in the film version of 50-/55-Across)
    • GONZO JOURNALISM (23A: Writing style popularized by 35-Across)
    • "FEAR AND LOATHING / IN LAS VEGAS" (50A: See 35-Across)
    Word of the Day: SKYLAB (9D: Space station that crashed in 1979) —
    Skylab was a space station launched and operated by NASA and was the United States' first space station. Skylab orbited the Earth from 1973 to 1979, and included a workshop, a solar observatory, and other systems. It was launched unmanned by a modified Saturn V rocket, with a weight of 169,950 pounds (77 t). Three manned missions to the station, conducted between 1973 and 1974 using the Apollo Command/Service Module (CSM) atop the smaller Saturn IB, each delivered a three-astronaut crew. On the last two manned missions, an additional Apollo / Saturn IB stood by ready to rescue the crew in orbit if it was needed. […] Plans were made to refurbish and reuse Skylab, using the Space Shuttle to boost its orbit and repair it. However, development of the Shuttle was delayed, and Skylab reentered Earth's atmosphere and disintegrated in 1979, with debris striking portions of Western Australia. (wikipedia)
    • • •

    Straight-up info puzzle. Just as I enjoyed remembering "The Sound of Music" on Sunday, I enjoyed remembering HUNTER S. THOMPSON today, but as puzzle themes go, this type always feels blah to me. (And, to be fair to Sunday, that had the whole musical scale thing going on, even though, as a very experienced puzzle-maker friend of mine pointed out, SOL should not have been the rebused note in that puzzle, since the lyric is not, obviously, "SOL, a needle pulling thread…" But I really, really digress) Nothing here elevates this theme above the literal plane: this is a man, he did this, he wrote this, this actor played him. The fill is pretty smooth, and there are lots of zingy little answers (HAD A GO, HELL NO, CUDDLE UP, X GAMES), so solving it was in no way an unpleasant experience, but themewise, it's a bit flat. Luckily, the themers themselves are inherently lively, so the puzzle doesn't feel as boring as it might. It's worth noting, also, that, though Kristian House (today's constructor) has published many puzzles in the NYT, this was the first one he ever had accepted (!), way back in 2008 (!?). He actually asked for it back about a year ago so he could clean up the fill some. Good for him for taking that initiative. And as for the editor's holding a puzzle for that long … I don't know, man. I just don't know.

    • 1D: Tried (HAD A GO) — this answer, and my initial answer of SEALAB (!?!?) for SKYLAB, and my balking at MERTZ because I thought the clue suggested a plural (it doesn't) (41D: Neighbor of the Ricardos on "I Love Lucy"), meant that my time came out relatively average, rather than well below average, which is what I thought was going to happen. When with only minimal initial help from some crosses, you can fill in the entire set of theme answers without thinking, that puzzle falls under the "Easy" category, no matter what my time says. 
    • 1A: Treat similar to a Yodel (HO-HO) — Wasn't entirely sure. Brain got stuck in between and wanted YOHO initially. 
    • 8D: Aristocrats (GENTRY) — this answer may also have added slightly to my time, as it was a plural clue with a non-"S"-ending answer. Throwing "S" down quickly ended up being the wrong move there, obviously. See the flip problem at 33A: Fragrant neckwear (LEIS), where an apparently singular clue has a plural (and "S"-ending) answer.
    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    P.S. please enjoy this ironic picture I took of my television screen last night:

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    Favicon Colorists / MON 3-2-15 / "Momma" cartoonist / Sign between Cancer and Virgo / Peruvian author Mario Vargas _
    2 Mar 2015, 6:00 am
    Hey, everyone, it's an Annabel day and boy am I excited! Not only was this a great puzzle, but I went to my first convention this month - Katsucon - and it was loads of fun. I got to meet the creator of one of my favorite webcomics, bought a new poster print for my room, and there were so many amazing costumes! Here I am in mine.*

    Constructor: Andrea Carla Michaels

    Relative difficulty: Easy

    THEME: "Triple L" — Theme words had three L's.

    Theme answers:
    • STILL LIFE (17A: Cézanne's "The Basket of Apples," e.g.)
    • CALL LETTERS (23A: Radio station identification)
    • MELL LAZARUS (51A: "Momma" cartoonist)
    • TWO-L LLAMA (61A: "A beast," according to Ogden Nash)

    Word of the Day: ECHOS (52D: Pioneering 1960s communications satellites) —
    Project Echo was the first passive communications satellite experiment. Each of the two American spacecraft, launched in 1960 and 1964, was a metalizedballoon satellite acting as a passive reflector of microwave signals. Communication signals were bounced off them from one point on Earth to another. The Echo satellite program also provided the astronomical reference points required to accurately locate Moscow. This improved accuracy was sought by the US military for the purpose of targeting intercontinental ballistic missiles. (wikipedia)
    • • •

    Definitely one of the most fun puzzles I've solved in a while. Props to Andrea Carla Michaels for using her own NAMES  for that answer's clue (34A: Andrea, Carla and Michael)! Not to mention PHIAL's spelling;  never even saw that before. But OHGOD, am I ready for the era of ERA, especially with predictable clues like  "measure of time" or "time in history," to be over. Also, I ended up stuck on the northeast corner for a while (for some reason, that corner always trips me up?), but I loved the southwest corner with its proliferation of O's.

    Not a lot to say about the theme. Typicalll, simpllle Monday.

    • 61A: "A beast," according to Ogden Nash (TWOLLLAMAS) — Okay, how could I see this and not address the fact that the llamas got lloose in Arizona and everyone talked about it so much that #llamadrama becomes a trending hashtag (the best ever, in my opinion) on Twitter? I mean, come on. The llamas were even crossword colors. Here, have a 26-minute long video of the llama chase...because apparently that exists.
    [but the best part is that I rode on a llama at Homestead Gardens once]
      • 31A: Layered hairstyle (SHAG) — I had honestly never heard of a shag before doing this puzzle and had to guess at this one for a while. My mom was shaking her head at me because my sister was watching Scooby-Doo, with Shaggy and his shag haircut, right in front of me. Maybe she's just old. (Rex, don't tell her I said that!!) 
      • 18A: Exams for future attnys. (LSATS) — Omigod you guys, with this word bisecting EMMETT, Elle Wood's love interest, I just couldn't not post some LEGALLY BLONDE!(This is totally what college is going to be like, right?)
      ["but, first you'll need an LSAT score of more than 174" ...see...posting songs from this musical is totally relevant]
      • *9A: Ponzi scheme, e.g. (FRAUD) — Okay, so I didn't actually link to pictures, I just Rickrolled you all. Because, y'know, I'm a fraud. And also because ASTLEY (50D: Rick with the #1 hit "Never Gonna Give You Up") was one of the clues. The Katsucon part wasn't a fraud, though!! That was seriously one of the most fun things I've ever done. I cosplayed (nerd-convention slang for "dressed up as") April Ludgate from Parks and Rec, and my friend was Tom Haverford. Good times.
      Shout-out to MELL LAZARUS, the "Momma" cartoonist, because it's my "Momma" 's birthday on Thursday! I'm sure Rex will send her a BFF present.

      Signed, Annabel Thompson, tired high school student. Live long and prosper. (To Leonard Nimoy's ghost: I'm sorry about that time I put a figurine of you in my shoe.)

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