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

by Rex Parker, published: Thu 24 Apr 2014 06:00:00 AM CEST.

Favicon Public-road race / THU 4-24-14 / Wassailer's tune / Scratch-card layer / Finnair rival / Spillsaver brand / Conan nickname
24 Apr 2014, 6:00 am
Constructor: Stanley Newman

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: four-syllable clues — Only theme answer = 20A: The theme, part 1 (EVERY ONE OF THE / CLUES HAS EXACTLY / FOUR SYLLABLES)

Word of the Day: RALLYE (48D: Public-road race) —
Rallying, also known as rally racing, is a form of auto racing that takes place on public or private roads with modified production or specially built road-legal cars. This motorsport is distinguished by running not on a circuit, but instead in a point-to-point format in which participants and their co-drivers drive between set control points (special stages), leaving at regular intervals from one or more start points. Rallies may be won by pure speed within the stages or alternatively by driving to a predetermined ideal journey time within the stages. [I have no idea why the French spelling, with the terminal "e," is (sometimes) retained …] (wikipedia)
• • •

Stan is a fine editor (Newsday) and a veteran constructor, but I don't understand this. Who cares if a clue has two or three or seven syllables? How hard is it to write four-syllable clues? I mean, people do entire puzzles where the first letters of clues are just one letter, or where the first letters of clues, in order, spell out elaborate crap. Four syllables? I would think any good constructor could do that for most any grid. Also, this grid is not demanding, and the fill is just OK. Nothing exciting or special. And given that the backbone of the whole puzzle is just … instructions, I fail to see where the interest lies. Why is this interesting? Is this fun? I certainly don't find it bad or offensive, but its reason for existing—why anyone might think this an entertaining idea—is totally beyond me.

This one played pretty easily for me, but then again I had just finished a much more intricate, much harder puzzle (this week's Fireball—a barnburner), so piecing this together felt like child's play. There were a few hang-ups. Wanted LIFE VESTS then LIFE BOATS for LIFE BELTS (which … I don't really know what those are, but I can imagine). NORA (47A: Mrs. James Joyce) and RALLYE (48D: Public-road race) and AMANA (41D: "Spillsaver" brand) were not easy for me to pick up, so coming down out of the middle into the SE was tough. Also, I had TEN- at 37D: Break time, perhaps, but couldn't conceive of writing out O'CLOCK, so remained baffled for a bit. Had ROUE for RAKE (68A: No gentleman). Would never have thought of a scratch-off layer as made of LATEX (though I'm not doubting the science) (3D: Scratch-card layer). Thought 32A: French department was going to be a generic word for the category rather than a *specific* department. Considered RYDER for FEDEX (22D: Golf cup sponsor). None of this is that remarkable or interesting. Just your ordinary snags. Really wish there were something juicy to talk about here, but I don't see it.

The NYT feels like it's in a pretty bad rut at the moment. Monday's puzzle aside, it seems like all the really good work is coming out elsewhere. Hope that turns around soon.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Favicon Very high trumpet note / WED 4-23-14 / Keyboardist Saunders / River of Hesse / Unstable subatomic particle / "Luck Be a Lady" composer/lyricist /
23 Apr 2014, 6:00 am
Constructor: David J. Kahn

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: MERCURY / SEVEN (71A: With 1-Down, first American astronauts) — last names of all seven astronauts populate the grid, clued by their first names, which are in all caps FOR SOME REASON. There are a couple random extra theme answers: SPACE RACE (12D: Old U.S./Soviet rivalry) and ROCKET (9D: NASA vehicle).

Theme answers:
Word of the Day: KAON (38D: Unstable subatomic particle) —
In particle physics, a kaon /ˈk.ɑːn/, also called a K meson and denoted K, is any of a group of four mesonsdistinguished by a quantum number called strangeness. In the quark model they are understood to be bound states of a strange quark (or antiquark) and an up or down antiquark (or quark).
Kaons have proved to be a copious source of information on the nature of fundamental interactions since their discovery in cosmic rays in 1947. They were essential in establishing the foundations of the Standard Model of particle physics, such as the quark model of hadrons and the theory of quark mixing (the latter was acknowledged by a Nobel Prize in Physics in 2008). Kaons have played a distinguished role in our understanding of fundamental conservation lawsCP violation, a phenomenon generating the observed matter-antimatter asymmetry of the universe, was discovered in the kaon system in 1964 (which was acknowledged by a Nobel prize in 1980). Moreover, direct CP violation was also discovered in the kaon decays in the early 2000s. (wikipedia)
• • •

I don't really understand why this puzzle exists. It does nothing. It lists a bunch of names, only a handful of which are legitimately famous. There is no anniversary here. The theme is dense, but so what? The fill is consequently Tortured. This is just baffling. What is the point? Why are the theme clues (the astronaut names, anyway) in all caps? That makes no sense and follows no crossword convention that I know of. When I got SCHIRRA for 1A: WALLY I was like "… ??? … is there some wordplay involved here? Do I have the answer wrong? What is a SCHIRRA?" Later I hit an astronaut name I recognized, so I had to just go on faith that SCHIRRA was a name (see also CARPENTER, COOPER, SLAYTON (?); I knew SHEPARD, GRISSOM and GLENN. Good thing GLENN is famous, because that SE corner was threatening to be undoable for a bit there. A ridiculous obscure Dickinson for WHEREON? Even with WHEREO-, I wasn't entirely sure of the last letter. Thank god I remembered MERL Saunders (*not* in everyone's crossword bag o' tricks, I assure you). That at least kept me in the game down there (62A: Keyboardist Saunders).

Never heard of SUPER C (48A: Very high trumpet note). Again, *thank god* -OOPER was inferable as COOPER, because that letter after SUPER could've been anything, as far as I was concerned. Figured C > H, since C, unlike H, is a note. So C. LOESSER … (69A: "Luck Be a Lady" composer/lyricist) … again, pure crossword muscle memory there. Ugh. I stared at NOTO- / -AON for many seconds before deciding on what letter could possibly go there. THE DIE is a terrible partial. I've never seen ACETALS, or maybe I have, but it looks like a ton of other acetyl / acetate / acetone answers I've filled in over the years (18A: Volatile solvents). DOODLER I like (26D: School desk drawer?); also ATROPHIED (21D: Weakened due to inactivity). The rest is just an absurd exercise in symmetry. Baffling.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

PS same theme published in NYT in 1998:

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Favicon Music critic Nat / TUE 4-22-14 / 1963 John Wayne comedy western / Onetime SNL-type show / Smoky-voiced Eartha / Insurer with duck mascot /
22 Apr 2014, 6:00 am
Constructor: Ed Sessa

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: Tick Tock — circles in theme answers spell out TICK on left side and TOCK on right

Theme answers:
  • TICKLED (17A: ___ pink)
  • COMMON STOCK (23A: It's not preferred for investors)
  • TICKED OFF (32A: Peeved)
  • "MCLINTOCK" (42A: 1963 John Wayne comedy western)
  • TICKET BOOTH (48A: Spot at the front of a theater)
  • BUTTOCK (62A: Half moon?)
Word of the Day: "MCLINTOCK" —
McLintock! is a 1963 comedy Western directed by Andrew V. McLaglen and starring John Wayne, with co-stars including Maureen O'HaraYvonne De Carlo, and Wayne's son Patrick Wayne. The film, produced by Wayne's company Batjac Productions, was loosely based on Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew. (wikipedia)
• • •

Less than enjoyable solve for me, though this was not entirely the puzzle's fault. For some reason, the .puz file I downloaded had a glitch that turned all apostrophes and quotation marks into "â". This added an annoying interesting level of difficulty to the solve. But then there was the puzzle, which had a somewhat dull theme, the execution of which resulted in a highly unpleasant, radically segmented grid. God, those 4-long black blocks (two on each side) are deathly. They create these mini-puzzles which can't help but be dull and tragically crosswordesey. See the eastern block in particular, with its RATA AROO EEKS (!?) and AOKS (!?!?). Who pluralizes those!?! Theme answers were not special or interesting—except BUTTOCK. Thumbs up there … so to speak. Why not go with TICKETS and TICKLED PINK? Or … I don't know, something different? Concept here is mildly interesting, but the grid design is fatally flawed, and the execution slightly awkward. This grid really should've been rebuilt, or the theme answers reconceived entirely.

Never heard (or barely heard) of COMMON STOCK, so that took a lot of crosses to bring down. Everything else was reasonably familiar. I did blank on KAMPALA right out of the gate, though. Had to go immediately to crosses, but even with the "K" I was like "… ? … KINSHASA doesn't fit … where is KINSHASA? … gah!" I put it together pretty fast, but I'm highly self-disappointed at not getting that answer straight off. Thought Tony Soprano might be a MOB BOSS (42D: Tony Soprano, for one) … I mean, he was, just not in this puzzle. HENTOFF, however, was a gimme (8D: Music critic Nat). I've been reading a lot of old Cosmo magazines lately (don't ask) and was stunned to see that he was actually Cosmo's music critic back in '79. He covered some pop and rock, but also a whole lot of other music I didn't expect to find in a late-'70s mainstream women's magazine: jazz, blues, classical, reggae. His columns are an interesting window into the music of that era—beyond the pop charts.

["Love I Need" from the 1978 album Give Thankx … seriously: Thankx!]

OK, gotta go finish watching the horrifying documentary on the Hillsborough disaster (the 25th anniversary of which was last week). See you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

PS BEQ's site has been down due to some sort of Typepad meltdown. Here are the .puz and .pdf of his latest puzzles if you want them.

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Favicon Restaurant guide name since 1979 / MON 4-21-14 / TIe-dye alternative / Strike zone arbiter / Longtime sponsor of Metropolitan Opera / Decennial official / Second-oldest General Mills cereal /
21 Apr 2014, 6:00 am
Constructor: John Lieb

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: COUNTER EXAMPLES (58A: They disprove claims … or 17-, 23-, 38- and 47-) — theme answers are examples of people who count:

Theme answers:
  • HOME PLATE UMPIRE counts balls and strikes (17A: Strike zone arbiter)
  • BANK MANAGER counts money (23A: George Bailey in "It's a Wonderful Life")
  • BLACKJACK PLAYER counts cards, sometimes, perhaps (38A: One getting hit in Vegas)
  • CENSUS TAKER counts people (47A: Decennial official)
Word of the Day: BATIK (7D: Tie-dye alternative) —
Batik (Javanese pronunciation: [ˈbateʔ]Indonesian: [ˈbatɪk]) is a cloth that is traditionally made using a manual wax-resist dyeing technique.
Originating from Java, batik is made by drawing designs on fabric using dots and lines of hot wax, which resists dyes and therefore allows the artisan to color selectively by soaking the cloth in one color, removing the wax with boiling water and repeating if multiple colors are desired. Indigenous patterns often have symbolic meanings which are used in specific ceremonies, while coastal patterns draw inspiration from a variety of cultures; from Arabic calligraphy, European bouquets and Chinese phoenixes to Japanese cherry blossoms and Indian or Persian peacocks.
Batik has been used as everyday clothing since ancient times, and it is still used by many Indonesians today in occasions ranging from formal to casual. On October 2009, UNESCO designated Indonesian batik as a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. As part of the acknowledgment, UNESCO insisted that Indonesia preserve their heritage. (wikipedia)
• • •

This seems like a very good Monday puzzle. Do I have the theme right? I think so, but sometimes when it's seemingly simple, I worry I've missed something. Do blackjack players *always* count cards? I don't play. I thought that was … not illegal, but monitored / barred by casinos … somehow? … not that you could stop people … anyway, that's the only answer that seems at all potentially wobbly. Well, I don't know that counting is the primary activity I'd associate with a BANK MANAGER, but then again, to be fair, I don't really think about BANK MANAGERs much. The revealer is a nice play on words. The puzzle is easy but also pizzazzy, which is a word I invented that you are free to use.

Here's where I faltered, however briefly (almost always very briefly). USMA … is not an abbr. that comes to mind easily (3D: West Point inits.). It's better than USM (see my tirade about this non-thing earlier this year). And it is a place. An academy, to be precise. But my fingers typed in USMC anyway, because that is the only USM- answer my brain will accept without manual override. BATIK seemed hard to me (7D: Tie-dye alternative). I think it's kind of bygone, like tie-dye. I would never wear either, so I'm kind of out of my depth here. I love Buster Keaton but do not think of him specializing in PRATFALL (19D: Buster Keaton specialty). That's when you fall on your ass? Or just fall? He did that, yes, but he's a physical comedian of the highest order. PRATFALL seems somehow diminishing. I wrote in ZABAR for ZAGAT (32D: Restaurant guide name since 1979). I couldn't get SULTAN off just the "S," boo hoo. Oh, and I never actually "got" MARKS (24D: A, B, C, D and F). In America, we call those "grades."

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Favicon Jermaine of NBA / SUN 4-20-14 / Financial writer Marshall / Chaim 1971 Best Actor nominee / ESPN broadcaster Bob / Artist's alias with accent / Fine hosiery material / Renault model with mythological name / Best-selling novelist whom Time called Bard of litigious age
20 Apr 2014, 6:00 am
Constructor: Elizabeth C. Gorski

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: "On Wheels" — theme answers contain words that are also car models. Underneath each model name are two "wheels," represented by circled "O"s

Theme answers:
Word of the Day: Chaim TOPOL (95D: Chaim ___, 1971 Best Actor nominee) —
Chaim Topol (Hebrewחיים טופול‎; born September 9, 1935), often billed simply as Topol, is an Israelitheatrical and film performer, singer, actor, writer and producer. He has been nominated for an Oscar and a Tony Award, and has won two Golden Globes. […] 
Some of Topol's other notable film appearances were the title role in Galileo (1975), Dr. Hans Zarkov in Flash Gordon (1980), and as Milos Columbo in theJames Bond movie For Your Eyes Only (1981). (wikipedia)
• • •

Did not find this as scintillating as I normally find Liz Gorski puzzles. It's just models of cars, with the added, small detail of the "tires" underneath each model name. I like that a circled "O" makes a nice approximation of an actual tire shape. Beyond that, the puzzle was just average. Also, exceedingly easy. Was done in under 9, which crazy fast for me, for a Sunday. True, I did have to chase down two errors, but they were slight—I'd written in STA for STN (12D: Common newsstand locale: Abbr.), and never corrected it when the crossing answer eventually turned into the probably-nonsensical HORA SONATA. Also, I'd written in ROMA, which seemed very reasonable, at 78D: "La Dolce Vita" setting (ROME). This left me with BEATLE BAILEY, which looks Just Fine to my eye. Thanks, Beatles, for making that spelling seem reasonable. Speaking of BEETLE BAILEY, that clue (93A: Walker's strip) was wicked hard, especially compared to the softballs that dominate the rest of the clue list. I needed nearly every cross before the answer became evident. Actually, I don't think it ever became evident—not until I'd finished and went back and looked at the puzzle, anyway. Clever clue, good clue, but jarring clue in comparison to all the rest.

Ah, I just got 96D: City that sounds like a humdinger? (BUTTE). My sister likes to tell the story of the time she and her family went on a road trip and the GPS had pronunciation problems—it kept telling them that they were nearing "Crested Butt." She had (still has) young boys, so as you can imagine, hilarity ensued. This is just to explain why now, when I see BUTTE, I think "butt" and not "beaut!" One other answer that gave me an odd lot of trouble was BRING (54D: Give rise to). That clue was not helping at all. I see now, that April showers BRING May flowers, so it works, but I had -RING and still wasn't really sure what the answer was. Weird.

Puzzle of the Week this week was not close. There were some very good puzzles. A Peter Gordon themeless (Fireball Crosswords) with interlocking pairs of 15s that puts All 15-Stack Puzzles To Shame (read about it here). A beautiful Doug Peterson themeless (Washington Post Puzzler, 4/13) that's fresh and slangy while still being clean and accessible (get it here—make sure you choose 4/13) (read about it here). Another Doug Peterson puzzle—this one co-authored with Joon Pahk ("Party Lines" / Chronicle of Higher Ed., 4/18)—that features ridiculous but truly funny puns (get it here) (read about it here). And a Ben Tausig puzzle ("Odds and Evens") that made me laugh repeatedly with its alternate ways of reading the theme answers (get it here) (read about it here). But the clear winner was this week's American Values Club contest puzzle by Francis Heaney, entitled "Flight Path" (4/16) (get it here for a dollar, or just subscribe to American Values Club Crosswords already. Geez). "The grid below represents a prison, from which you must escape"—that's the opening line of the puzzle's explanatory note. While not terribly hard (it's listed as a 4.5/5 difficulty level, but I'd put it more around 3), it is truly elegantly constructed, and even after I figured out what the general trick was, it was still a great pleasure to watch the solution fall into place. Francis made my favorite puzzle of 2013—another American Values Club contest puzzle called "Seasonal Staff" (read about it here). He's setting the bar for contest puzzles, and puzzles in general, really, really high.

Speaking of contest puzzles, still lots of time to get in on Patrick Blindauer's "Xword University" puzzle suite. He blurbs it better than I could:
Ever wanted to earn your Honorary Bachelor's Degree in Enigmatology? Well, now you can. Patrick Blindauer's 5th Puzzlefest, "Xword University," has a collegiate theme and is available now at patrickblindauer.com. It consists of a dozen crosswords, each of which leads to an answer. Combine all of your answers to solve the meta-puzzle, and email the correct answer to be eligible for the random drawing of puzzle books. (Contest ends at 11:30 ET on April 27 but XU will remain open indefinitely.) For only $15 you'll be guaranteed admission and will receive an invitation to Patrick's College Puzzlefest Google Group where you can access the PDF of puzzles. 
Patrick's puzzles are reliably great, so you should probably enroll now.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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