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

by Rex Parker, published: Mon 22 Sep 2014 06:00:00 AM CEST.

Favicon Dadaist artist Jean / MON 9-22-14 / Appurtenance for Santa Sherlock Holmes / Coastal land south of Congo / Sweet rum component / Bank heist group / Company downsizings
22 Sep 2014, 6:00 am
Constructor: Ian Livengood

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (**for a Monday**)

THEME: Picket line — first words are all narrow, stiff implements

Theme answers:
  • STICK-UP MEN (17A: Bank heist group)
  • CANE SUGAR (24A: Sweet rum component)
  • POLE CAR (37A: Indy 500 leader)
  • STAFF CUTS (47A: Company downsizings)
  • ROD STEWART (57A: British rocker with the 1979 #1 hit "Da Ya Think I'm Sexy?")
Word of the Day: Bobby RIGGS (27D: Bobby who lost 1973's Battle of the Sexes tennis match) —
Robert Larimore "Bobby" Riggs (February 25, 1918 – October 25, 1995) was an American tennis player who was the World No. 1 or the World co-No. 1 player for three years, first as an amateur in 1939, then as a professional in 1946 and 1947. He played his first professional tennis match on December 26, 1941.
At the age of 55 he competed in a challenge match against Billie Jean King, one of the top female players in the world. "The Battle of the Sexes" match was one of the most famous tennis events of all time, with a $100,000 winner-take-all prize. (wikipedia)
• • •

So I looked up "rod" in my giant J.I. Rodale Synonym Finder, and sure enough, there were "cane," "pole," "staff," and "stick" all listed as possibilities. Still, somehow "stick" and "cane" feel like different animals to me, the former redolent with the aroma of tree-ness, the latter inseparable from its specific status as a walking aid. "Pole" and "rod" seem less organic, more generic. "Staff" seems somewhere in between—probably wooden, but not as arboreal or sculpted as "stick" and "cane," respectively. Am I over thinking this? Of course. It's not like I noticed a theme at all when I was solving. I'm just saying I've seen tighter themes. I mean, why not have a series of answers that start "alpenstock," "quirt," "crosier," "stanchion," and "caduceus"? I mean, aside from the practical consideration that there are no phrases that start with any of those words? Rodale says it's OK! Quirt! Do it!

Why was this measurably harder than your average Monday? I finished in 3:20 (about half a minute slower than average) and noticed that my time would have put me near the top of the leader board at the NYT puzzle site—not a place I should be anywhere near with that time on a Monday. Both the long Downs (the 9s, I mean) were tough for me to get, the first  ("COME GET ME") because of the unusualness of the clue phrase—11D: "I'm stranded and need a ride"—as well as the SPAM / SCAM trap I can't be the only one to have fallen into (10A: Almost any "Get rich quick!" offer); the second (PUTS ASIDE) because the clue carries the suggestion of moving something to the "back burner," and ASIDE is a fundamentally different direction than "back." I get that we're working in figurative language here, but try telling that to my brain.

Do not like the OLE-over-OLE (from POLECAR) in the middle of the grid. STAFF CUTS strikes me as a real thing, but not a very lovely, clean, or tight thing. A [Fight between late-night hosts, e.g.] is, in modern parlance, a BEEF. A FEUD involves Hatfields, McCoys, Clampitts, or Families. I have no idea what "late-night hosts" could have to do with FEUDs, since it's no longer the early '90s. Cross-referenced STATE clue slowed me down, as did the "Where's my dang globe?" quality of 54A: Coastal land south of Congo (ANGOLA). Side note, and true story: my wife bought a globe today. "I saw it at Target … it was $14." Not the strongest rationale, but countries have been invaded for flimsier reasons, so we left it there.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Favicon Drama critic John of New Yorker / SUN 9-21-14 / Glam band with six #1 hits in Britain / Late disc jockey Casey / Posthumous John Donne poem / pioneering song by Sugarhill Gang / Old track holders / Dog for gentleman detective / Germinal novelist
21 Sep 2014, 6:00 am
Constructor: Michael Ashley

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: "Nascar Rocks!" — "Rock" songs that have been subjected to racing-related puns:

Theme answers:
  • WON'T GET FUELED AGAIN (27A: "Hey, what did you think when you missed that last pit stop?" [The Who, 1971])
  • I KISSED A GRILLE (42A: "Did you do anything for luck before today's race?" [Katy Perry, 2008])
  • MOVES LIKE JAGUAR (65A: "How did that new car handle out there on the track?" [Maroon 5, 2011])
  • BRAKE ON THROUGH (93A: "What did you try to do after the caution flag came out?" [The Doors, 1967])
  • LIVIN' LA VEHICLE LOCA (109A: "Are you enjoying your time out on the Nascar circuit?" [Ricky Martin, 1999])

Word of the Day: John LAHR (19A: Drama critic John of The New Yorker) —
John Henry Lahr (born July 12, 1941) is an American theater critic, and the son of actor Bert Lahr. Since 1992, he has been the senior drama critic at The New Yorker magazine. (wikipedia)
• • •

This puzzle had its work cut out for it with me, as few things interest me less than "Nascar." Hunting, Dr. Who, "The Bachelor" … these are also possible Sunday theme topics that would hold no interest for me. But today, Nascar. [Deep breath]. OK, let's do this. And … they're off? Is that right? Or is that horse racing? Start your engines!?

So here's the thing. Well, several things. First, puns. Always an uphill battle there. There *is* a pun sweet spot that I do believe exists, somewhere between "obvious/corny" and "ridiculous/nonsensical," but it's so hard to hit. Today's were a mixed bag, with the first three arguably successful, the fourth way too spot-on to be interesting, and the fourth a total train (or today, car) wreck. "Vida" and VEHICLE sound nothing alike, the resulting phrase makes no sense on any level, etc. Total fail. You're supposed to end with your strongest themer. Maybe there's a subtlety to the theme that I'm missing—like, you know how people (allegedly) watch Nascar because they *want* to see crashes!? Maybe this last answer is so terrible because it's trying to give the people what they want: flames; wreckage; car-nage. It's a theory.

And what's up with there being only five themers!? That's absurd. I've seen (many) daily puzzles with more theme answers. You'd think we'd at least get a fascinating, zippy grid as some kind of payoff for the super-low theme answer count, but no. The fill is probably a bit below par, overall, with some notable exceptions in the longer fill: "THE FLEA" (one of the most brilliant poems ever written, I teach it next month, etc etc, though the "posthumous" part is weird—all of Donne's poems appeared in print only after his death, but circulated relatively widely in manuscripts before that … so "posthumous" is correct only where *print* is concerned, and gives a false impression about the poem's public life and popularity during Donne's lifetime … is what I'm saying) … where was I? Oh right, good long stuff: "RAPPER'S Delight …

 DOGGEREL, and the symmetrical, improbable double feature of "ANIMAL HOUSE" and "CITIZEN KANE." Mostly, though, it's EHS and ERS and NEEDER (!?) and on and on with less-than-great stuff. Also, SCOUT MOTTO is a clue, not an answer. I don't even know what WAGNERIANS are? Fans of Wagner are called that?? I'd've gone with "Wag hags" or something at least slightly catchy. Anyway, the theme has some charm, but is less than expertly executed, and inexplicably slight. Fill is so-so at best. I will give the theme credit, however, for having a wide range of "rock" songs, including a couple from this century. Often, with pop culture, constructors tend to favor their own comfort zones. So hurray for breadth (even if that does mean that I'm kind of half-way hurraying for Katy Perry).

Puzzle of the Week this week is a meta puzzle contest puzzle by Neville Fogarty—the guest constructor this week at Matt Gaffney's Weekly Crossword Contest. You should go do it. Still plenty of time to enter. The grid is nicely made, but it's the meta part of the puzzle that's truly impressive, at least to me. It's quite a toughie, though, I should warn you. Many people I know are still struggling to figure it out. This is not uncommon with MGWCC—sometimes the metas are a walk in the park, and other times, less walk more crawl, less park more tundra. Still, if you manage to get the meta, I promise you'll have a nice "aha" moment (as well as a pretty sizable feeling of accomplishment).

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Favicon Professor who tries to kill Harry Potter / SAT 9-20-14 / Red juice hybrid / Word with deux nous / Nobelist Frederick pioneer in radiochemistry / Home of Unesco World Heritage Site Fatehpur Sikri
20 Sep 2014, 6:00 am
Constructor: Erik Agard

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: none … whoops, sorry, I mean CTR (56D: Abbr. found a the 56-Down of this puzzle's four longest answers)

Word of the Day: Frederick SODDY (32A: Nobelist Frederick ___, pioneer in radiochemistry) —
Frederick Soddy FRS (2 September 1877 – 22 September 1956) was an English radiochemist who explained, with Ernest Rutherford, that radioactivity is due to the transmutation of elements, now known to involve nuclear reactions. He also proved the existence of isotopes of certain radioactive elements. (wikipedia)
• • •

[Note: I did this entire write-up without realizing that there was a theme… see bracketed note following the original write-up, below]

Solid, aggressively contemporary offering from Mr. Agard. It has all the hallmarks of an Agard puzzle—hard, modern, trickily clued. I found this one less awe-inspiring and slightly more laborious than I typically find his independent puzzles (which you can experience on a mostly weekly basis at his website, "Glutton for Pun"). But it's nonetheless an above-average themeless. I think my slightly diminished enthusiasm comes from the Harry Potter answer, QUIRRELL (14A: Professor who tries to kill Harry Potter) —a name I don't really remember, and I've read them all (looks like he's from the first book … OK then). Kind of a deep cut. It's original, but it'll be meaningless to lots of people. All the crosses are fair, though, and in fact the fact that the final letter seemed to have to be an "L" really helped me see LG ELECTRONICS more quickly than I would've otherwise—["Life's Good" sloganeer] is a terrible clue; or, rather, "Life's Good" is a terrible slogan. Banal and meaningless. I see that "Life's Good" is a phrase with the initials "L.G." but I doubt that helps anyone remember the connection between slogan and company.

"PROJECT RUNWAY" was a gimme, but with another dull clue (33A: Fashion series since 2004). I was grateful for the easy answer, though. Helped me change SANTA to CLAUS (37A: Asner's "Elf" role)—bit of a cheap trick, that. After that, the bottom part of the grid got a whole lot easier. Got HTTPS right away and closed in on the SW corner from both sides, then ran through the SE corner in a flash (having just come back from ASANA practice earlier in the evening). It was the NE corner that really held me up. Speaking of held up, 8D: Holds up (LASTS) really held me up, largely because I read it as having the sense in which I am using it in this sentence (i.e. "delays"), one of at least two possible (wrong) clue interpretations I can think of there. I had ASPECT RATIO and AGRA and ENTRE, but couldn't get much more to fly up there for a little while. And besides the "S" in SNL (32D: TV inits. since 10/11/75), I had nothing at the bottom part of that NE corner either. Eventually figured out DIET SODA, then SEP., and then got all the big stuff up there, including the lovely and (for a nice change of pace) old-fashioned / quaint-sounding UNWIELDY and PANOPLY.

All that was left was the obscure D&D clue (29D: Dungeons & Dragons attributes) (no idea how "attributes" was being used there; had -WERS, considered only TOWERS) and the even more obscure (to my mind) radiochemistry clue (32A: Nobelist Frederick ___, pioneer in radiochemistry) (had S-DDY). Oh, and 29A: Viewfinder? (I had -OLL). Only by running the alphabet and finally getting POLL did I finally settle on POWERS / SODDY. SODDY seems pretty shoddy to me—he's the QUIRRELL of Nobel laureates—but again, crosses ended up fair, so … I think I'm supposed to be "excited" to "learn new things," or something like that. Anyway, this is all very good, very suitably Saturday. Nothing to geek out over, unless you geek out over Harry Potter (as some do), but with a clean grid, fresh fill, and fiendishly riddlish clues (now Tom RIDDLE, I know), this shows great promise.


[So, there was a theme—CTR at "center" of each longer answer … that explains why the fill wasn't as banging as I expected from an Agard "themeless." This is what happens when you a. aren't looking for a theme because it's Saturday, and b. blow through a corner so easily you don't actually see all the clues. Anyway, the theme is impressive (dead center!)—it didn't add any fun to the solving experience (CTR not being the funnest of answers), but the puzzle architecture is an interesting thing to remark upon, post-solve]

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Favicon Colony in ancient Magna Graecia / FRI 9-19-14 / Alcopop relative / South American cowboy / One living in urban poverty pejoratively / Toon toned down for 1930s Hays code / Divine showbiz persona / Nickname for Oliver Cromwell
19 Sep 2014, 6:00 am
Constructor: Finn Vigeland

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: none

Word of the Day: PEIGNOIR (36D: Negligee) —
A woman's loose-fitting dressing gown.

[French, from Old French peignouer, linen covering used while combing oneself, from peigner, to comb the hair, from Latin pectināre, from pecten, pectin-, comb.]

Read more: http://www.answers.com/topic/peignoir#ixzz3DizUihDf
• • •

This has charm and bounce. It's contemporary, but also features PEIGNOIRs and Oliver Cromwell, so it's got range. ONE POTATO is making me laugh—out of its cluing context, it makes about as much sense as THREE ORANGES. But it recalls singsongy childhood incantations, so even its relative partiality, I like it. SLUMDOG I like less (48A: One living in urban poverty, pejoratively). When it's not part of a movie name, its pejorativity really leaps off the page. The NE corner stands out as dull and weak in a puzzle that is otherwise solid and entertaining. RELLENO and LLANERO are virtual anagrams of one another (just one letter difference), and when combined with all the common fill / common letters in much of the rest of the fill up there (ELEA, TELE, ATEIN, NEO), the result is an anemic corner—though it's anemicness is probably highlighted today by contrast with how good the rest of the grid is, particularly the NW.

Speaking of the NW—HUMBLEBRAG was an instant gimme at 1A: Self-praise couched in self-deprecation, in modern lingo, and launched me into the grid with such force that I finished the whole thing in roughly a Wednesday time. That might be bragging, but I assure you, it is not humble. I just crushed this thing. Maybe it's because Finn and I are friends … OK, so we just went out to dinner that one time, and it was with a bunch of other people, but that's the closest thing I have to "friends" so just let me have this one, OK? He's my friend! We act alike and think alike and even finish each other's … sentences! That's right? How did you know I was going to say that? Are you and I also friends? No? HOMIES? Hmm. At any rate, I felt a mind meld going on, and consequently I Owned this puzzle.

LENA DUNHAM was on the cover of the New York Times Magazine this week. The clue for her was far too easy, I think. I'd've gone with [something writer actress something blah blah who is writing a four-part story for Archie Comics in 2015]. It makes me almost giddy to know that Archie will be my daughter's gateway drug to LENA DUNHAM. My daughter, having just started high school, having just started having a meaningful SOCIAL LIFE, having (god bless her) no interest in "Twilight" or Taylor LAUTNER, could use, I think, some LENA DUNHAM in her life. But baby steps. Archie steps.

Gonna go watch the Scottish referendum returns. Looks like NAE, but the night's still young …

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Favicon Celebrity couple portmanteau / THU 9-18-14 / Tree in giraffe's diet / Tree-dwelling snake / Unhelpful spelling clarification #1 / Female motorcyclists in biker slang
18 Sep 2014, 6:00 am
Constructor: Joel Fagliano

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: CASEY (16A: Man trying to clarify the spelling of his name in 21-, 25, 38-, 52- and 57-Across) — Theme answers all start "C as in …," "A as in …," etc. with each answer ending (unhelpfully) in a word that sounds like another letter of the alphabet; thus:
The "punchline" being that one might think the fellow's name is "QRCIU" (66A: What the listener might think 16-Across's name is?)

Word of the Day: KIMYE (32D: Celebrity couple portmanteau) —
Proper noun
  1. (slang) The couple consisting of celebrities Kim Kardashian and Kanye West.
Blend of Kim and Kanye. (yourdictionary.com—"Your Dictionary: The Dictionary You Can Understand")
• • •

This was a weird one—mostly in a good way. 16 wide. That's a little weird. I got the basic theme concept early on, at C AS IN CUE. Before I had that answer filled out, I thought it was going to be something playing on different possible pronunciations of "C"—something like "C AS IN CEL." Once I got it, though, I saw that the resulting words were going to sound like different letters. Cool. Funny. And the man's name is going to be CASEY. Great. Let's go. The problem for me was mainly one of let-down. First, the other theme answers, by their very nature, didn't have much playfulness about them and (since I knew the core concept) were in no way surprising. And since the grid has no real sparkle—it's very clean and solid, but it's mostly Monday-level fill with no remarkable longer answers—I worked through it without that much pleasure (except a bit of smug pleasure, which turned quickly to guilty pleasure, at getting KIMYE and YOLO so quickly).

Let-down part II was that the revealer is an absurdity. I don't just mean that QRCIU is literally absurd, i.e. meaningless, but that the core conceit—that one would think that that is how the fictional CASEY was spelling his name—is preposterous. If you say "C AS IN CUE," no one thinks you are saying the first letter is "Q." Actually, scratch that. With "C AS IN CUE," the conceit actually kinda Does work, in that there is a word that sounds like CUE (namely QUEUE) that *does* start with "Q." It's the other letters where it doesn't work. Anyone hearing "blank as in blank" knows that the first blank is a letter and the second blank is a word. Not a letter. A AS IN ARE could not lead anyone to think that the second letter is "R" because there is no word *starting* with "R" that sounds like "ARE." And I see there is a "?" on the end of the 66-Across clue, so … OK, but this is simply not how the "blank as in blank" thing works. I can see now that picking up on the "the last words in the theme answers all sound like letters" concept almost instantly really spoiled whatever the revealer was supposed to do for me. So I started out impressed, but the feeling wore off a bit by the end.

Best wrong answer—66A: What the listener might think CASEY's name is?: QUE SI.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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