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

by Rex Parker, published: Sun 21 Dec 2014 06:00:00 AM CET.

Favicon Actress Strahovski of 2000s TV / SUN 12-21-14 / Computerdom informally / Roy Rogers's real last name / Risky chess move / Zion National park material / Tree whose pods have sweet pulp
21 Dec 2014, 6:00 am
Constructor: Joel Fagliano

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: "Season's Greetings" — add "HO" sound for wackiness:

Theme answers:
  • HO HUM DINGER (22A: Homer that leaves people yawning?)
  • HOKEY WORD (24A: "Shucks!" or "Pshaw!"?)
  • BLACK-EYED HOPIS (42A: Southwest tribe after a fistfight?)
  • DESPICABLE HOMIE (67A: Backstabbing pal?)
  • NO-MONEY HOEDOWN (91A: Barn dance that's free to attend?)
  • CROSS HOBO (114A: Vagrant after getting kicked off a train, say?)
  • HOKUM TO PAPA (117A: Stuff your dad finds ridiculous?)
Word of the Day: MARA Liasson (111D: ___ Liasson, NPR political correspondent) —
Mara Liasson (/ˈmɑrə ˈl.əsən/; born June 13, 1955) is an American journalist and political pundit. She is the national political correspondent for National Public Radio[1] and also a contributor at Fox News Channel. (wikipedia) (I will never not make public radio correspondents my WOTD … I'm coming for you, Ira Flatow …)
• • •

If you never solved a Christmas-themed puzzle in your life before today, this one likely seemed cute to you. And it is, without a doubt, a well-made puzzle, with a consistent theme and very good, fresh fill. If Joel (who works for W.S.) is being groomed for Will's job, well, fine by me. He's super-talented and lives in the 21st century, so thumbs-up. But back to the theme—I knew what it was before I started. Or, rather, I said to myself, "It's not just adding 'hos' to things, is it?" And then that's exactly what it was. Very good HO-adding, for sure, but very predictable HO-adding nonetheless. Either I am some kind of psychic *or* I've seen this theme before at least once. I mean, seriously, it was the most obvious / cliché theme I could think of off the top of my head, so it must've been done more than once. Still, though, these answers are new to me, and pretty funny on the whole. And you'll struggle to find bad fill here. The future looks bright. Here's to more careful editing, better attention to detail, and cleaner fresher fill in 2015. Not sure why I'm making the New Year's speech now, but I am.

My coup of the day was remembering SLYE (14D: Roy Rogers's real last name). Took me just 25 short years to commit that old-school GEM to memory. Yay me. TIM COOK (5D: Steve Jobs's successor at Apple) and EBOLA VIRUS (16D: Cause for quarantine) give the puzzle a very up-to-the-minute feel, while YOGA POSE and SOY LATTE show that the NYT *knows* its demographics. KUDOS also to BAR SCENE and its clue (11A: Likely feature of a college town). Took me a lot of crosses too see it, but when I did: your prototypical "aha" moment.

PUZZLE NEWS: Matt Gaffney's (amazing) Weekly Crossword Contest is going to a subscription-only basis in 2015 (and good for him—good puzzles are worth paying for). 52 top-tier meta-puzzles for just $26. All the details here. For aficionados and aficionados-in-the-making. Get some.

See you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. SOY LATTE anagrams to SLYE TO A T. Like, when you describe a young Roy Rogers perfectly. "That's SLYE TO A T!" she said, delightedly.

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Favicon Literary/film critic Janet / SAT 12-20-14 / Plato portrayer in Rebel without Cause / Flying female fighters in WWII / Dr archenemy of Fantastic Four / Jazz/funk fusion genre / Faddish food regimen / Practice with Book of Shadows
20 Dec 2014, 6:00 am
Constructor: Kevin G. Der and Ian Livengood

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: none

Word of the Day: Dock ELLIS (50D: Dock ___, Pirate who claimed to have thrown a no-hitter on LSD) —
Dock Phillip Ellis, Jr. (March 11, 1945 – December 19, 2008) was an American professional baseball player. A pitcher, Ellis played in Major League Baseball from 1968 through 1979 for the Pittsburgh PiratesNew York YankeesOakland AthleticsTexas Rangers, and New York Mets. In his MLB career, he had a 138–119 win–loss record, a 3.46 earned run average, and 1,136 strikeouts.
Ellis threw a no-hitter on June 12, 1970. He later stated that he accomplished the feat under the influence of LSD. Reporters at the game say they do not believe the claim. Ellis was the starting pitcher for the National League in the All-Star Game in 1971. That year, the Pirates were World Series champions. Joining the Yankees in 1976, he helped lead the team to the 1976 World Series, and was named the American League Comeback Player of the Year in the process.
Ellis was an outspoken individual who advocated for the rights of players and African Americans. He also had a substance abuse problem, and he acknowledged after his retirement that he never pitched without the use of drugs. After going into treatment Ellis remained sober and devoted the remainder of his life to counseling drug addicts in treatment centers and prisons. He died of a liver ailment in 2008 at the age of 63. (wikipedia)

• • •

Wow, Christmas is coming early this year. Or maybe it's the eight great puzzles of Hanukkah. Just a crazy Friday/Saturday themeless constructor line-up this weekend. Wilber/Peterson yesterday, Der/Livengood today. Makes me want to ask "Where the hell have y'all been lately?" But let's focus on the wondrous bounties of the present moment. I found yesterday's a snappier puzzle than this one here, but this one here is still lovely. A little sturdier, a little more inside-the-box, but still packing a decent wallop, and hiding a few real surprises. Biggest surprise (the one that came closes to knocking me flat on my ass) was UNO DUE TRE (13D: Italian count?). Try parsing that **** from the back end. Me: "What the hell ends in -UETRE!?" Had me doubting DEA and everything. Didn't help that the Italian answer was abutted by the highly questionable MANSLAYER. I mean, really, what is that? Murderer = slayer. MANSLAYER is redundant, at best. What, is it supposed to remind me that I'm not dealing w/ Fenimore Cooper's "The Deerslayer"? Manslaughter, I've heard of. Maneater, same (watch out boy, she'll chew you up). But MANSLAYER, choke yuck ack. I had the -SLAYER part and still struggled to get that. I teach crime fiction: no MANSLAYERs up in there.

Still, there's great answers APLENTY here. REAL GOOD stuff. Speaking of APLENTY, not so easy to see when you have decided 36D: Caterwaul is HOWL. Had 35A: In abundance ending in -ENTH for too long. Also went for NINJA over WICCA (9D: Practice with the Book of Shadows). Even in retrospect, seems plausible. The only thing I'd really never heard of was "NED'S Declassified" (54D: "___ Declassified" (old Nickelodeon show)). But then I never even saw the clue. That corner, and its symmetrical opposite, were pretty easy. It was the other corners that smacked me around a bit. 6x9s somehow way harder to piece together than the 5x8s. Puzzle started out very easy with a gimme at 1D: Tagliatelle, e.g. (PASTA), with the "P" then confirming my suspicions that 1A: Where much grass grows was POT-related. There were a sizable number of Gimmes today: PASTA, MOLIERE, SERAPE, novel-ETTE, Dr. DOOM, Janet MASLIN. Still, puzzle clocked in only slightly faster than usual. I think the clue on ABBA (5D: Ones repeating "I do" in 1976?) was my favorite, though I don't think it needs a "?", actually. Clue is pretty damn literal.

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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    Favicon Major media event of '95 / FRI 12-19-14 / Almost any character in Jon Stewart's Rosewater / Never-seen neighbor on Mary Tyler Moore / Novel subtitled Parish Boy's Progress / Scimitar-horned creature / Fictional school bully with henchmen named Crabbe Goyle / Dr. Watson portrayer on CBS's elementary
    19 Dec 2014, 6:00 am
    Constructor: Brad Wilber and Doug Peterson

    Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

    THEME: none

    Word of the Day: LINE CUT (41D: Black-and-white engraving) —


    An engraving from a drawing consisting of solid blacks and whites, without gradations of color. (oxforddictionaries.com)

    • • •

    This is stunning work. This is what the "best crossword in the world" should look like All The Time—or at least most of the time. Fresh fill, vibrant phrases, clever cluing. There's a host of suboptimal fill—NEC SST ANI AMO ETD ENE DIR—but it's largely innocuous and it's holding together these gorgeous banks of longer answers. Looping, cascading, dancing—the lovely, crafted quality of this grid stands as a sharp visual rebuke to most recent NYT puzzles. Now, it's not really fair, as today we have not one but two of the very best constructors working today. No exaggeration. Can't remember the last time I did a puzzle by either of these guys where I was like "[frowny face]." At worst, good; mostly, great. Haven't seen a lot of their work in the NYT of late. They have been working other venues, for a variety of what I'm sure are very good reasons. But it's great to see them here. OJ TRIAL! Even their dated stuff sounds fresh!

    Fast start on this as SPA TON and ELK went in 1 2 3, and those long Downs were not far behind. Had trouble rounding the corner up into the NE, as LITERS was not an intuitive answer for me to 5D: Some bottled water purchases (I was looking brand name). But I got STANDS ALONE from just the S-A- and things came together from there. TULLES is not a word I know. I confuse it with TUILES and TOILES and other things that are all jumbled together in my mind in a closet marked "Fabrics." Looks like each successive quadrant got a bit harder for me in this one. Easy NW, Pretty Easy NE, Mediumish SE, and Medium-Challenging SW, where not (exactly) knowing LINE CUT and not getting how SAGA is a good answer for 53D: Novel format and not being completely certain of SPIREA (45A: Flowering shrub whose name comes from the Greek for "coil") had me struggling a little. Also, I thought the "T" in SALT was "treaty" :( It's TALKS (49D: Part of SALT).

    Best little surprise of the day was OPEN MRIS (23A: Tests that accommodate claustrophobes) Plural doesn't thrill me, but the term is very current, very common, and yet nothing I've ever seen in puzzles before. I also liked SENIORITIS, as it is timely (you'd know what I mean if you could see some of the student work on my desk right now…). My biggest hiccup of the day was 43A: Find a spot for, say. I had ADOPT. Later, I had ADMIT. Neither of those was right.

    Gonna go watch the last "Colbert" now and then be sad.
      Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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      Favicon Defunct G.M. division / THU 12-18-14 / Ingolstadt-based automaker / Pharaonic symbol / Stannite cassiterite / TV channel with slogan Get Smarter Now / Dialect in ancient Greece /
      18 Dec 2014, 6:00 am
      Constructor: Timothy Polin

      Relative difficulty: Medium

      THEME: PIG LATIN (62A: Hint to interpreting the five starred clues) — clues are all real words / names that, when heard, can be interpreted as PIG LATIN renderings of other words:

      Theme answers:
      • 17A: *X-ray [i.e. Wrecks] (JALOPIES)
      • 24A: *Ashtray [ i.e. Trash] (RIP TO PIECES)
      • 32A: *eBay [i.e. Be] (LIVE AND BREATHE) (not STINGING INSECT?)
      • 41A: *Outlay [i.e. Lout] (KNUCKLE-DRAGGER)
      • 48A: *Airway [i.e. Wear] (DETERIORATE)

      Word of the Day: George SEATON (67A: George who directed "Miracle on 34th Street") —
      George Seaton (April 17, 1911 – July 28, 1979) was an American screenwriterplaywrightfilm director and producer, and theatre director. […] Seaton joined Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer as a contract writer in 1933. His first major screen credit was the Marx Brothers comedy A Day at the Races in 1937. In the early 1940s he joined 20th Century Fox, where he remained for the rest of the decade, writing scripts for Moon Over Miami, Coney Island, Charley's Aunt, The Song of Bernadette, and others before making his directorial debut with Diamond Horseshoe in 1945. From this point on he was credited as both screenwriter and director for most of his films, including The Shocking Miss Pilgrim, Miracle on 34th Street, Apartment for Peggy, Chicken Every Sunday, The Big Lift, For Heaven's Sake, Little Boy Lost, The Country Girl, and The Proud and Profane.
      But Not Goodbye, Seaton's 1944 Broadway debut as a playwright, closed after only 23 performances, although it later was adapted for the 1946 film The Cockeyed Miracle by Karen DeWolf. In 1967 he returned to Broadway to direct the Norman Krasna play Love in E Flat, which was a critical and commercial flop. The musical Here's Love, adapted from his screenplay for Miracle on 34th Street by Meredith Willson, proved to be more successful.
      Seaton won the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay twice, for Miracle on 34th Street (which also earned him the Golden Globe Award for Best Screenplay) and The Country Girl, and was nominated for Oscars three additional times. He received The Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award in 1961. He directed 1970's blockbuster hit Airport, which earned 10 Oscar nominations, including one for Seaton's screenplay. (wikipedia)
      • • •

      Not much time to give to this one, as I had to sit here and wait nearly an hour for the NYT's website to behave. So now it's late. Anyway, the puzzle was mostly worth the wait—very clever. I don't usually like the whole answers-as-clues genre of puzzle, but the weird way this puzzle revealed itself made the answer phrases delightful, in a "what the hell?" kind of way. In retrospect, they can seem a bit forced (esp. LIVE AND BREATHE as an answer for the simple word [Be]), but the phrases are colorful and bouncy and I have no problem with them. I do think [Bee] would've been a better clue angle than [Be], but with the theme answers this densely packed, you gotta go with whatever works. The good thing about all the theme answers is that they are all good stand-alone phrases—unlike STINGING INSECT, which would make a fine clue for [Bee], but is no good on its own in the grid. All of these themers are plausible fill—not just clues posing as fill. Yes, this makes a big difference to puzzle quality / enjoyment, at least for me.

      Fill is pretty nice, especially considering theme density. TINORE makes me squish my nose up a bit, but nothing else made me flinch even a little. OK, maybe GSN, which seems to be a casualty of trying to redeem ADEAL (45D) with the cross-reference IT'S (65A). If that's a problem, it's a small one. Favorite clue is probably 30D: Attribute of the 1%? (REDUCED FAT). It's bold, just this side of far-fetched. But that's why god invented "?" clues—to give leeway to boldness. I didn't know SEATON, but the rest of this was pretty much over-the-plate. Approved.

        Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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        Favicon Leakes of reality TV / WED 12-17-14 / Litotes for beauty / Hairy son of Isaac / Ebenezer's ghostly ex-partner / Ancestor of Gaelic Manx / Reporter's question collectively
        17 Dec 2014, 6:00 am
        Constructor: Stu Ockman

        Relative difficulty: Medium to Medium-Challenging 

        THEME: some rhetorical devices — I don't even know, really...

        Theme answers:
        • IT'LL TAKE FOREVER (17A: Hyperbole for an arduous task)
        • MAKE HASTE SLOWLY (22A: Oxymoron for cautious travel)
        • NOT UNATTRACTIVE (45A: Litotes for beauty)
        • AS THICK AS A BRICK (50A: Simile for denseness)
        Word of the Day: NENE Leakes (56A: Leakes of reality TV) —
        Linnethia Monique "NeNeLeakes (/ˈnn/née Johnson; born December 13, 1967) is an American actress, television personality, producer, author and fashion designer. She is best known for being on the reality television series The Real Housewives of Atlanta, which documents the lives of several women residing in Atlanta, Georgia. In 2013, she was commissioned to star in the spin-off series I Dream of NeNe: The Wedding, which focused on the preparations for her remarriage to husband Gregg Leakes.
        Leakes portrayed the recurring character Roz Washington on the sitcom Glee since its third season in 2012, and has also played Rocky Rhoades on the award-winning sitcom The New Normal until its cancellation in 2013. Leakes appeared as a contestant on The Celebrity Apprentice 4, where she finished in seventh place in 2011, and the eighteenth season of Dancing with the Stars. It was also announced that Leakes would be joining the cast of Cinderella on Broadway from November 25th, 2014. (wikipedia)
        • • •

        The best thing about this puzzle is the new, fresh (though totally unknown to me) clue for NENE. I was like "who the what?" but that's pretty legit screen cred she's got there. Nothing I've seen, but the clues can't all be "Broad City" and "Rockford Files."

        [PKW is fill I can get behind…]

        The rest of this puzzle is a disaster. Ill-conceived and weakly executed. We seem to have yet another non-theme. Just a very, very loose assortment of rhetorical devices that have nothing in common with each other, content-wise. They're just rhetorical devices. Oh, and they're all 15 letters long. Which brings us to this puzzle's bigger problem—72 words??? It's hard enough to make a good themeless at 72 words. Why in the world would you torture a themed grid like this if you don't have to. I mean, if you can pull it off cleanly, more power to you, but hoo boy. No. From the DPI / ALT / WELL KNIT (!?!?!) opener to the KEW / KUE (!) / AMI / AH ME (!!) closer, this thing has "No" / "Do Over" / "Refresh!!!" written all over it. EELER?! ADELA! So creaky … ISMANIS! RITTATEE! Boo. Delete. Escape. Reboot.

        HYPER in the grid when "Hyperbole" is one of your rhetorical devices? No.

        I'm done. I hear tomorrow's puzzle is good. So let's hope my intel's solid.
          Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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