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

by Rex Parker, published: Mon 25 May 2015 06:00:00 AM CEST.

Favicon Mountain Dew alternative / MON 5-25-15 / Polynesian carvings / Island nation for which distinctive cat is named
25 May 2015, 6:00 am
Constructor: Jennifer Nutt

Relative difficulty: Medium (normal Monday)

THEME: "I NAILED IT" (57A: Appropriate exclamation upon solving this puzzle?) — last words of theme answers describe a manicure (I think): first CLIP, then FILE, then BUFF, then SHINE, then POLISH. I hope I have this right.

Theme answers:
  • VIDEO CLIP (17A: Excerpt shown on TV)
  • CIRCULAR FILE (23A: Wastebasket, jocularly)
  • TRAIN BUFF (33A: Visitor at a railroad museum, say)
  • MOONSHINE (39A: Product of a backwoods still)
  • SOCIAL POLISH (45A: What a boor sorely lacks)
Word of the Day: BABYLON (9D: Ancient Hanging Gardens city) —
Babylon [...] was a significant city in ancient Mesopotamia, in the fertile plain between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. The city was built upon the Euphrates, and divided in equal parts along its left and right banks, with steep embankments to contain the river's seasonal floods. // Babylon was originally a small Semitic Akkadian city dating from the period of the Akkadian Empire c. 2300 BC. The town attained independence as part of a small city state with the rise of the First Amorite Babylonian Dynasty in 1894 BC. Claiming to be the successor of the more ancient Sumero-Akkadian city of Eridu, Babylon eclipsed Nippur as the "holy city" of Mesopotamia around the time Amorite king Hammurabi created the first short lived Babylonian Empire in the 18th century BC. Babylon grew and South Mesopotamia came to be known as Babylonia. // The empire quickly dissolved after Hammurabi's death and Babylon spent long periods under Assyrian, Kassite and Elamite domination. After being destroyed and then rebuilt by the Assyrians, Babylon became the capital of the Neo-Babylonian Empire from 609 to 539 BC. The Hanging Gardens of Babylon was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. After the fall of the Neo-Babylonian Empire, the city came under the rules of the Achaemenid, Seleucid, Parthian, Roman and Sassanid empires. // It has been estimated that Babylon was the largest city in the world from c. 1770 to 1670 BC, and again between c. 612 and 320 BC. It was perhaps the first city to reach a population above 200,000. Estimates for the maximum extent of its area range from 890 to 900 hectares (2,200 acres). // The remains of the city are in present-day Hillah, Babil Governorate, Iraq, about 85 kilometres (53 mi) south of Baghdad, comprising a large tell of broken mud-brick buildings and debris. (wikipedia)
• • •
I know nothing about manicures, but this theme strikes me as both clever and tight. I don't think I know what "SHINE" means. I mean, of course I know what that word means, but the difference between "SHINE" and "POLISH" is lost on me. Maybe there's some clear stuff that goes on before the "POLISH." If my daughter were nearby right now, I could ask. But she's not, so I'm 'just going to trust that this puzzle has the whole manicure verb progression right. Speaking of polish—the fill on this thing looks great. It's not what you'd call zippy, but that's understandable, given that the grid's trying to keep *six* long themers in place without having the rest of the grid go to hell. Failing to go to hell is all the non-theme parts of the grid had to do, and they did that admirably. All in all, a promising start to the work week ... only it's Memorial Day, so nobody's working, so ... just "week."

There were a couple things I didn't understand. One is technical—why are there cheater squares* (black squares before 31A and after 41A, respectively? Those sections should've been awfully easy to fill without having to add the cheaters. But I assume the constructor tried that, and just couldn't get the fill to come out clean enough, and so added the cheaters and got the job done. It's a very minor thing. I'm not even complaining—just wondering aloud, from a constructor's standpoint, why one would resort to cheaters *there*. The other thing I don't understand—why TRAIN BUFF?? I mean ... trains? If you needed "train" for your theme to work, OK, but "train" has nothing to do with the theme, so why not go with the much more familiar MOVIE BUFF? There are millions of MOVIE BUFFs and, like, seven TRAIN BUFFs in the world, so ... that choice mystifies me. Again, not complaining. Just standing here, baffled.

I got slowed down a bit by TRAIN BUFF (had TRAIN and had no idea what could come after). I also took a while to come up with SOCIAL POLISH, since it's not a phrase that stands alone that well. "Social graces" googles about 25 times better, for instance. It's an actual phrase, it's just not snappy or self-evident, hence the delay in my figuring it out. I also hesitated at SEIZE because I Swear To God I never know the I/E order there. SIEGE, I then E, SEIZE, E then I. I can tell myself that now, but in the heat of solving, that knowledge just isn't accessible and I end up guessing / checking crosses.

Lastly, sadly, Anne Meara died yesterday. I should say Anne MEARA, since her last name has been common crossword fare for decades now. She was also a crossword buff (!) herself, and a nice person to boot. Oh, and a comedy legend, obviously, but I just took it for granted that you all knew that. I hope someone's making a (good) tribute puzzle for her right now. She deserves it.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

*cheater squares = black squares that don't add to the word count (generally added by constructors solely for the purpose of making the grid easier to fill)

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Favicon Kyrgyz province / SUN 5-24-15 / PBS craft show for 21 seasons / Sci-fi narcotic / AI woman in 2015's Ex Machina / Bariton in Mikado / Local theater slangily / Warrior in Discworld fantasy books / Former Jets coach Ewbank / Speed-skating champion Kramer / Sun's 10th planet once /
24 May 2015, 6:00 am
Constructor: Kevin G. Der

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: "A Tale of Many Cities" — celebrating the 142nd anniversary of the publication of JULES / VERNE's "Around the World in Eighty Days"; puzzle note reads:

 Circled letters form a circuitous path around the grid ("world") starting at the "A" in KCAR (93A) and going east, off the grid, and back around to the west side of the grid, ending almost exactly where we began (at the "S" in RAYS (79A)). The circles spell out "AROUND THE WORLD IN EIGHTY DAYS"; further, each long Down clue has an appended clue—a country, followed by word lengths for the city you're supposed to find hidden (in not-always-consecutive letters) in that answer; thus, in the clue 3D: Brooklyn Heights school [U.S.; 3, 9], the [U.S.; 3, 9] part indicates that the hidden city in SAINT FRANCIS COLLEGE is in the US and is two words, 3 and 9 letters long, respectively (i.e. SAN FRANCISCO)

Theme answers:
  • BORN TO BE MY BABY (Bombay)
  • YOU KNOW WHAT I'M SAYING? (Yokohama)
Word of the Day: "THE NEW YANKEE WORKSHOP" (31D: PBS craft show for 21 seasons [U.S. 3, 4]) —
The New Yankee Workshop is a woodworking program produced by WGBH Boston, which aired on PBS. Created in 1989 by Russell Morash, the program is hosted by Norm Abram, a regular fixture on Morash's This Old House. The series aired for 21 seasons before broadcasting its final episode on June 27, 2009. (wikipedia)
• • •


I got the gist of the theme very early—if you get 1D, you get 141D, and very quickly you're down to a finite number of books this puzzle can be about. Here's what my grid looked like less than a minute in:

 [So ... Journey to the Center of the Earth?]

My philosophy on puzzles with "Notes" is "Ignore Them." I like the challenge of figuring out what's going on for myself. So I just plowed forward and had faith that the gimmick would reveal itself to me. And quickly I could see that the letters were spelling out "Around the World in Eighty Days." I didn't stop to see how, exactly, or what the pattern was, but I could tell that's the book I was dealing with. The only question that nagged at the back of my mind for the entirety of the solve was "What do those secondary clues mean?" But I didn't stop to think about it much, because the puzzle seemed to be coming together just fine without my knowing. And indeed, I finished the whole thing and got the Happy Pencil sign and everything and still didn't know what the secondary clues were all about. But shortly after I started thinking about it in earnest, I got it. The numbers had to be word lengths, and the countries had to be places that Phileas Fogg visited ... so, cities. Aha, there's NEW YORK, there's SAN FRANCISCO ... got it. Pretty dang cool. And of course the path of the circled letters, like Fogg's journey, starts and ends in "London" (i.e. 6D), and follows Fogg's globe-circling itinerary—an eastward voyage through SUEZ, BOMBAY, CALCUTTA, HONG KONG, YOKOHAMA, SAN FRANCISCO, NEW YORK, in order—precisely.

It's an oversized grid, so if it seemed to take you longer than usual, that could have something to do with it. Also, perhaps you're like me and you've Never Heard Of several of the theme answers. SAINT FRANCIS COLLEGE? Mystery. Inferable mystery, but still, mystery. "THE NEW YANKEE WORKSHOP"? This is literally the first I'm hearing of it. I know a lot of Bon Jovi songs, but not "BORN TO BE MY BABY." As for SPECIAL COURT MARTIAL ... I'm sure it's a thing, but it's an adjective attached to COURT MARTIAL, as far as I know. And "THE LONG KISS GOODNIGHT" ... well, I confess I knew that one. But I don't know how. In my mind, it co-starred Chow Yun-Fat, but that's "The Replacement Killers," a 1998 movie with Mira Sorvino. "THE LONG KISS GOODNIGHT" co-starred Samuel L. Jackson. I don't think I've seen it, despite the fact that the title is so close to the title of my favorite novel I probably should've seen it now, if only by accident.

Ambition and cleverness will get you everywhere, and it will certainly excuse some infelicities in the fill (ATRI is comically crosswordesish, and a few other things are less than lovely, but they just don't seem that significant when the Big Picture is this grand. Wait, what's an UDE ??? (60A: Ulan-___ (capital of a Russian republic)).  That and OSH and EROO and TEA OR and the like are of course unideal, but I still say those hiccups are too small to significantly diminish my enjoyment and admiration today. Sundays have been ... not great, of late. This, *this*, is the level of artistry and complexity the Sunday should be aiming for most if not all of the time. Haven't seen much from Kevin Der lately. If he can make one of these fantastic Sundays only about once per year ... fine. I can wait. Now we just need 51 more like-minded, like-talented constructors to step up.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. we're just one week away from the inaugural Indie 500 Crossword Tournament in lovely downtown Washington, D.C.  Solve six puzzles by some of the top young constructors in the country! Hang out with dorks just like you! Realize you have no hope of winning and realize also that you don't care because that's not why you go to crossword tournaments! (That last one applies especially to me). Also, there will be pie. I have been promised. The puzzles will be good and the vibe will be loose and fun and if you've ever been tourney-curious, this will be a good place to start. All the info you need is here. Hope to see you there: Saturday, May 30, D.C.

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Favicon Maude's cousin on 1970s TV / SAT 5-23-15 / to the stars autobiographer / Mork's supervisor on Mork & Mindy / Led Zeppelin's final studio album appropriately / County of Lewis Carroll's birth / Hollowed out comedic prop / It's not for me to say crooner / Form of xeriscaping
23 May 2015, 6:00 am
Constructor: Peter Wentz

Relative difficulty: Medium (leaning toward the easier side)

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: STEM fields (31D: ___ fields) —
STEM is an acronym referring to the academic disciplines of science,[note 1] technology, engineering, and mathematics. The term is typically used when addressing education policy and curriculum choices in schools to improve competitiveness in science and technology development. It has implications for workforce development, national security concerns and immigration policy. The acronym arose in common use shortly after an interagency meeting on science education held at the National Science Foundation chaired by the then NSF director Rita Colwell. A director from the Office of Science division of Workforce Development for Teachers and Scientists suggested the change from the older acronym SMET to STEM. Dr. Colwell, expressing some dislike for the older acronym, responded by suggesting NSF to institute the change. (wikipedia)
• • •

Nice work from Mr. Wentz, full of all kinds of traps and potholes, but ultimately very solvable. Fill is fantastically polished (except ONEHR, wth?), and the grid is teeming with good-to-great longer answers. It was a light workout, but I'll get my heavy workout (probably) tomorrow with the Newsday Stumper. This one fought me hard enough. I made many mistakes, but none of them fatal. I like a scrappy puzzle that isn't dickishly hard or full of rank obscurities. Here's what my opening gambit looked like:

[Me, after getting 17A: "Is that racist?" Answer: "No, not really"]

Solving this puzzle felt a bit like solving a maze, where I kept going down routes that turned out to be dead ends, then backing out and finding the right way again. Lather rinse repeat. It was a strange experience, being so often wrong but never having the feeling of being frustratingly stuck. How many mistakes did I make? Let's count. So ... I wrote in THIEF for 1D: Member of a den (HYENA). At some point I wrote in ARIA for 19A: "O Sanctissima," e.g. (NOEL). Had YEAH, I'LL BET for YEAH, I'M SURE (15A: "A likely story ..."). Then ENTIRE for EN BLOC (25A: All together). Further, EBAY for ETSY (30D: Modern collection of vendors). Must've had several varieties of wrong answer just trying to find the correct plural at 51A: Swedish coins (KRONOR). I moved over EXIT RAMPS before EXIT LANES (33D: You might move over for them on the highway). And between RAMPS and LANES, I made my last and greatest mistake—a twofer that involved SCARFS for SNARFS (46D: Gobbles) *and* MERCER for LERNER (48A: "My Fair Lady" lyricist). So, how many genuine mistakes is that? [1, 2, 3 ...]. I count nine. Nope, whoops, left one out. I had AGA and ALY before A LA (62D: Lead-in to a chef's name) because I misread the clue. Can you guess *how* I misread it? Yeah, you probably can.

Hardest answer for me to get was, oddly, OINK (39D: Word repeated before "here," in song) ("SONG" is in the grid (14D) ... but we'll just let that slide). This is partially because I misread the clue (yet again), and was thinking not "repeated before" but "before and after. Wanted OVER here... then thought maybe O, I AM here ... you gotta get pretty deep into "Old MacDonald" before you hit "with an OINK OINK here ..." It's not exactly a definitive lyric. Hence my struggle. So, yes, many traps, but still not too much difficulty. Fine weekend fare.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. we're just one week away from the inaugural Indie 500 Crossword Tournament in lovely downtown Washington, D.C.  Solve six puzzles by some of the top young constructors in the country! Hang out with dorks just like you! Realize you have no hope of winning and realize also that you don't care because that's not why you go to crossword tournaments! (That last one applies especially to me). Also, there will be pie. I have been promised. The puzzles will be good and the vibe will be loose and fun and if you've ever been tourney-curious, this will be a good place to start. All the info you need is here. Hope to see you there: Saturday, May 30, D.C.

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Favicon 1950s Reds star Ted for short / FRI 5-22-15 / Longoria with two Gold Gloves / Message accompanied by red lips / Peak in eurozone / Saturday in Seville / He partnered with Bear in 1923 / Ancient medical researcher
22 May 2015, 7:03 am
Constructor: David Woolf

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: Fela KUTI (23A: Fela ___, Afrobeat music pioneer) —
Fela Kuti (born Olufela Olusegun Oludotun Ransome-Kuti;[1] 15 October 1938 – 2 August 1997), also known as Fela Anikulapo Kuti or simply Fela, was a Nigerian multi-instrumentalist, musician, composer, pioneer of the Afrobeat music genre, human rights activist, and political maverick. (wikipedia)
• • •

Sleep nearly took me out early again tonight, but I had to be up late because my daughter was getting back from a trip to NYC at close to midnight, so ha, sleep, you lose. Still awake. OK, I might've rested my eyes there for a little, but I'm awake now, which is the point. This puzzle was weird for me, perhaps because of the heretofore mentioned "resting of the eyes." I started in on this puzzle as I usually do with such stack-oriented puzzles: I went for all the Downs up top, one after the other, without even looking at the Acrosses until I'd made my way all the way across the top of the grid. This may not actually be the most efficient solving method—perhaps one ought to at least glance at the long Across clues—but it feels efficient to me, and usually yields great results once I've traversed the grid and finally look at the Acrosses. Even if several of the Downs are wrong (they usually are), I'm often able to see the correct answers through all the muck. Pattern recognition! Anyway, my first pass through the Downs up top yielded very little, so I ended up getting my first real start in the grid at a very odd place—sort of ENE, starting around KUTI (a gimme) and working down toward the middle. Like so:

 ["A CUPS in T TOPS!" Coming soon to Cinemax.]

You can see that my northern grid is a pathetic combination of empty and wrong, with a smattering of right. Don't speak Spanish, so just had the first two letters of SABADO there. I was wrong about KIA; I knew there was a KIA with a short model name (it's the RIO), so I just wrote in KIA and waited. I see now that I could also easily have gone with the equally wrong answer, HYUNDAI. Interesting. I'd be surprised if I was the only one who dropped ADESTE in there without hesitation. As six-letter carol starters go, none ranks higher, grid frequency-wise, than ADESTE (of "Adeste Fideles" fame). IT CAME ... would not have occurred to me (it's by far the most terrible answer in the grid, one of the dumbest 6+ partials I've ever encountered). But KUTI got me going, and then all that failure up top turned quickly to success when I noticed 15D: Many an Instagram had to be SELFIE. With those last three Downs in place up top, the long Acrosses went down fast. Despite the wrong answers I had in place, I saw ALL OVER THE PLACE almost instantly after SELFIE dropped. The -ISS at the end of 1A: Message accompanied by red lips suggested KISS, which then suggested the rest of the answer. And then it was just a matter of LUGGAGE or BAGGAGE CAROUSEL (the latter, it turned out). So after a terrible first trip across the top of the grid, I caught fire and ended up here in what felt like no time:

As for the bottom of the grid, it might as well not have existed. I've never finished that much of a late-week puzzle that quickly. With the first three letters of the long Acrosses in place, I got ON HANDS AND KNEES and then TRACTOR TRAILERS. With one more cross (the "S" from 51D: CSA), I got RUSSIAN ROULETTE. The Downs were helpless at that point. I picked them off methodically without even seeing the shorter Across clues toward the middle there. You're welcome for GALEN, by the way (46D: Ancient medical researcher). (I jokingly brought him up in the write-up of that ANGEL anagram puzzle earlier this week, and now, several days later, he materializes, like some kind of slow-to-respond genie).

Despite some iffiness here and there in the fill, this seemed an entirely acceptable puzzle. Too too easy down below, and with no real killer answers, but solid nonetheless.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Favicon Kilim Kirman / THU 5-21-15 / Blue Moon of 60s 70s baseball / Hill by loch / Art Deco icon / Velvet add-on / Darrin Stephens' co-workers on Bewitched / Dada pioneer Max
21 May 2015, 1:33 pm
Constructor: Peter A. Collins

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: RAISED THE BAR (52A: Elevated expectations ... or what this puzzle's maker did to five answers in this puzzle?) — initial letter string "BAR" in theme answers is "raised," i.e. placed atop the first three letters of the remaining letters in the answer. "BAR" thus becomes part of the Across answer above the themer:

Theme answers:
  • RELOFMONKEYS (20A: Metaphor for fun)
  • BARK
  • OQUE (16A: Scarlatti's style)
  • BARE
  • RIERREEF (36A: Shoreline protector)
  • BARO
  • TSIMPSON (42A: Perpetual 10-year-old of TV)
  • BIES (64A: Line of Mattel dolls)
Word of the Day: Blue Moon ODOM (30D: Blue Moon of 1960s-'70s baseball) —
Johnny Lee "Blue Moon" Odom (born May 29, 1945) is a former Major League Baseball pitcher who won three consecutive World Series championships with the Oakland Athletics in 1972, 1973 and 1974. [...] Odom had a 3-1 career record in the post-season with a 1.13 ERA and 27 strikeouts. (wikipedia)
• • •

Had one of those fall-asleep-hard nights last night. Out at 9—missed Letterman's finale :( So it's morning solving for me today, like most of the rest of you normals. My initial experience with this puzzle was not good. Comically so. My first two answers were:

That is not what you'd call an auspicious beginning. I literally laughed and thought "well, the theme sure as hell better have something to do with this." Fill in that section actually got worse, or at least the same (ABBR! BRAGH!), before I eventually backed into (BAR)REL OF MONKEYS and saw what was going on. When you raise the "BAR" this way, you put a lot of stress on the grid, and so the bar for fill quality actually dips a bit. Notice that things tend to get dicey in and around the "BAR" sections. Totally understandable. The "BAR" isn't just raised in this grid, it's raised and then shifted over to sit atop the remaining letters in the answer. But I'm not sure how else you'd do this trick. I feel like I've seen this theme concept before (I know I've seen parts of answers dropped and/or lifted before), but as an easy, straightforward example of this theme type, this puzzle seems pretty good (crummy short fill notwithstanding).

I encountered one tough spot: the NE. But that's only because I did *not* expect to see theme material way the hell and gone up there. You expect the long Across (here, EARTH SIGN) to be involved, but no—fake out! It's the two answers above EARTH SIGN that are in on the game. I didn't realize that Air Quality Index (AQI) was the ABBR. I wanted up there and so ended up with A-I / O-UE. After a few seconds, I was like "Oh, right, the BAR thing." I had a little trouble also with the west, which was where I finished. Couldn't get in from the top or bottom of that section, but then (BAR)T SIMPSON came to my rescue and that section fell immediately thereafter.

  • 5D: A place of prominence (THE FORE) — normally not big on "THE ___" answers, and I probably shouldn't like this one, but I do. I had trouble figuring it out. But then I moved the C-section from the ER to the OR, and there it was: THE FORE. I also like MRS. DASH, a "seasoning brand" I haven't seen advertised since the early '90s. I genuinely like it, despite / because of its retro-ness (which may be only in my mind, but that's the only place it needs to be). MRS. DASH starts with four consonants and is 7/8 consonants. Cool. 
  • 51D: Darrin Stephens's co-workers on "Bewitched" (ADMEN) — Love this. Everyone's all "Don Draper this" and "Don Draper that," but what about "Darrin Stephens this" and "Endora that." The puzzle needs more "Bewitched," is what I'm saying.
  • 45D: Business end of a chopper (AXE HEAD) — first, I just like the phrase "business end." Second, I enjoyed figuring out what followed AXE. I could think only of BLADE (not a fit). You could do a whole theme, say, "corporate mergers," where ordinary phrases are clued as if they were a mash-up of two different brands—in this case, a body spray (AXE) / tennis equipment (HEAD) merger.  Etc. I need breakfast.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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