Sunday, July 31, 2016: “Make That A Double”

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Solving time: 1:32:00. It might have only taken me just over an hour and a half (not all that unordinary for me when it comes to solving Sundays), but I thought that this puzzle would never end. It felt like an infinite slog. More on that later in today’s blogpost.

Puzzle quality: 

I would make a pun involving the [IT] rebus right now, but right now:

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Theme:

“Make That A Double,” where double means … two [IT] rebuses per theme answer. OK. Like. What. Can we acknowledge how arbitrary that is, especially given the title of the puzzle? I also have major problems with the theme revealer. More on that later. For now, here are the theme answers (ugh):

  • SW[IT]CH POS[IT]IONS (22A: Flip-flop). See how there are … two [IT]s? And how those [IT]s were turned into … rebuses??

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  • CRED[IT] OR DEB[IT] (31A: Question asked at the cash register). The one amusing answer in today’s entire puzzle. I’m not entirely sure why it’s amusing, but it just seemed original. Also, the [IT] rebuses had a nice ring to them because they were both placed at the end of each long word in the answer.
  • IN[IT]IATION R[IT]E (59A: Occasion to learn a secret handshake).
  • L[IT]TLE WH[IT]E LIE (80A: Fib). I forgot that “fib” could be a noun in addition to a verb, so I kept thinking that the answer would be some variation on TELL A WHITE LIE. Unfortunately, there aren’t two [IT]s in that (incorrect) answer.
  • PATERN[IT]Y SU[IT] (107A: Way to get to know a father in law?). The question mark is very applicable here, not only because of the pun, but also because the theme answer makes no sense. What?? What does a father-in-law have to do with a paternity suit? Isn’t that a suit where the relationship between a father and a biological son is disputed? Can someone explain this to my dim-witted mind?
  • SECUR[IT]Y DEPOS[IT] (16D: Landlord’s request). I kept thinking that the answer would have something to do with paying the rent on time. As usual, turns out that I was wrong.
  • [IT]SY B[IT]SY SPIDER (58D: Climber in a children’s rhyme).

    Theme revealer: KEEP [IT] TOGETHER (118A: Stay cool … or a hint to this puzzle’s theme).


Welcome to the fourth week of Popular Discourse’s blog posts on the New York Times crossword, and welcome also to this week’s game of “Find Multiple-Word Phrases that Have the Word “It” Embedded in Them Twice.” Never mind whether the two “It”s are symmetrically placed in the phrase. Never mind whether the two “It”s stand alone as their own words. Never mind whether there’s any theme that ties the phrases together other than their arbitrary inclusion of the word “It.”

This might have been one of the most excruciating crossword puzzles that I’ve ever completed. The theme revealer is incredibly problematic (KEEP [IT] TOGETHER), for three reasons:

a) There aren’t two [IT]s in the phrase, unlike every theme answer
b) The phrase “KEEP IT TOGETHER” explains nothing about why there are two [IT] rebuses per theme answer.
c) The [IT] in the revealer stands alone as its own word, whereas the [IT] rebus in every theme answer is part of another word.

The awfulness of the revealer almost borders on unprofessional.

Besides, the clues for each of the theme answers aren’t even particularly clever or punny. As I mentioned above, 107A: “Way to get to know a father in law?” hardly suggests anything about a PATERNITY SUIT. I mean, I suppose if your spouse isn’t sure about who her father is and gets involved in a PATERNITY SUIT, that would be a way to “get to know a father in law.” Other than that, I can’t see any relationship between answer and clue.

 

On top of that, the fill was remarkably boring. It’s sad that the most interesting clue also had to be the first one that I solved – 1A: What an urgent message might be in (ALL CAPS). SONS is clued with 27A: Juniors. AGREE is clued with 35A: Match. 71A: Q neighbors (RST) tests your knowledge of the alphabet. What else is new? 63A: Opposite of fast, EAT, was funny, but I saw through the pun immediately.

Sometimes the same clue gets repeated twice in a puzzle for witty effect, but three is certainly too much. Yes, there are three different carbonated drinks in today’s crossword – POPSODA, and ALE – all packed together in the upper third of the grid.

33D: “<<” button: Abbr. got clued as just “” on my iPhone app for the New York Times crossword, so I was very puzzled when I found out that the answer was REW. 

A PURL is a “stitch,” as 65D: puts it, because it can refer to a “knitting stitch made by putting the needle through the front of the stitch.” OK, NYTimes, always trying to think of obscure definitions that nobody is aware of. To anyone who didn’t understand the answer, FROG, to 45D: Throat problem, the idiom “have a frog in one’s throat” means “to lose one’s voice.” I had forgotten about that phrase, just like I’ll forget about this puzzle as soon as the Monday rolls around.

Signed,
Kenneth, lowly serf of Crossworld

 

Saturday, July 30, 2016: “A Hunger Artist”

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Solving time: 43:44, which puts today’s puzzle as the second fastest Saturday that I’ve ever completed. Easy as performing a BIT PART (53A: It doesn’t have much to say) in a movie.

Puzzle quality:

“But his happiest moment was when the morning came and an enormous breakfast was brought for them, at his expense, on which they flung themselves with the keen appetite of healthy men after a weary night of wakefulness.”

-“A HUNGER ARTIST” (34A: 1922 Kafka short story)

No theme.


I don’t have very much time today to write a full blog post, so it’s fortunate that I also managed to solve the puzzle quickly.

This was a beautiful puzzle, like an enormous breakfast after seven consecutive and tiring nights of drab puzzles. It struck a deft balance of proper noun arcana, snappy puns, and tough vocabulary. While my solving experience felt incredibly fluid, there were still multiple points where I had to stop and think carefully about the challenging clues.

My first mistake was to write in METAMORPHOSIS for 34A: 1922 Kafka short story, but I was doubtful of that answer from the start; it was too much of a gimme for a Saturday, since “Metamorphosis” is probably Kafka’s most famous work. Besides, the title for that story is “The Metamorphosis,” so that answer technically wouldn’t have been correct.

Nonetheless, I was able to fill in TINA FEY for 18A: “Mean Girls” screenwriter on my first go around the grid, and I also caught on to the pun at 8D: “F and G, but not H” (NOTES) very quickly. After that, the UR (upper-right) corner of the grid flew by fairly quickly; as a patent-holder myself, I enjoyed the answer to 8A: Basis of a patent, NEW IDEADEFEATIST is such a Saturday-level answer for 12D: “Glass half empty” sort, which most people would answer with the word PESSIMIST. It’s hard to get, but at the same time, it’s not so obscure that hardly anyone would be familiar with the word. You would think that the clue 16A: “Something John Adams and John Quincy Adams each had” would refer to the familial relationship between the two presidents, but instead the answer referred to the fact that both only had ONE TERM.

I was reading Matt Gaffney’s post about today’s puzzle on Mr. Rex Parker’s crossword blog; it suggests that some long crossword answers are “better” than others. I thought about the arbitrary nature of Gaffney’s criteria. Who’s to say that the phrase CHANCE MEETING (32A: Start of many a romantic comedy) is a “good” or “bad” phrase? Why is AEROSOL CAN (29D: Sprayer) uninteresting? I can understand why you would say that certain short answers are objectionable; traditional crosswordese like “EEG.
“ATTU,” or “ASL” are icky because they are phonetically quirky or unpleasant to pronounce, but that obviously isn’t true for a phrase like PLATELET COUNT (35D: Hematologist’s measure). The act of counting platelets or studying hematology might be uninteresting, but the phrase itself can’t be classified as intrinsically bland. Gaffney suggested that words with higher Scrabble value are more compelling. Does that mean that an excellent grid-spanning answer has to have a “Q” or an “X” or a “Z” somewhere in it? If anything, those could make the words uglier, at least on a phonetic basis.

Just food for thought.

Friday, July 29, 2016: “Teachable Moment”

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Solving time: 56:55. It’s pretty surprising that my solving time for today’s puzzle almost exactly matched my Friday average. Since I had filled in less than half of the grid by the 40-minute mark, I was almost certain that my time was going to exceed 1/24th ODAY. But here I am. And here you are. Reading this. Blog.

Puzzle quality (see 5D):

If you represented crosswording as a game of Texas Hold ‘Em poker, then solving today’s puzzle would be like getting this card:

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Unthemed.


I mean, like, I guess. I really don’t know what to make of this.

For the first time since I started blogging about the daily New York Times crossword, I have relatively little to say.

Maybe my mind is still overwhelmed by the intense amount of stupidity that it exhibited on yesterday’s puzzle.

So today’s post will be a series of three connected haikus, incorporating words from the puzzle (I chose not to bold words from the grid this time):

Shack, a tramp’s kingdom
Manor, mannered for a prince
A tomb filled with air

His gleaming baubles
A bandage for the slit wrists
On porcelain skin

The tramp’s rank chest hair
Hides only from concealment
Pretense bears no odor

OK, I admit that that’s a cop-out. Here is some actually commentary on today’s puzzle:

  • The NYTimes crossword was actually the place where I learned that “to hot up” is a real phrase, where “hot” is used as a verb. So naturally, I was inclined to fill in HOTS for 1A: Gets steamy, with “up,” especially since I knew O was the second letter from ONE PERCENT (2D: Target of the Occupy Movement). That, on top of the fact that I couldn’t get SPY KIDS even though I saw its sequel in theaters, screwed up the UL for me and probably cost me a lot of time.
  • I realized almost immediately that 5D: Figure in a dark suit was a reference to cards, but somehow … couldn’t come up with SPADE. More wasted time on the upper portion of the grid.
  • I learned today that the letters INRI were inscribed on Jesus’ crucifix. In Latin, it stands for Iesus Nazarenus, Rex Iudaeorum. This means “Jesus the Nazorean, King of the Jews.”
  • ELSA is the most popular “Frozen” reference on the NYTimes crossword, but occasionally you will also find ANNA (33A: “Frozen” princess) lurking in the grid. I’m not sure how many “Godfather” references you can find, on the other hand, but the bodyguard Luca BRASI (24A: Luca who “sleeps with the fishes”) appeared in today’s puzzle.
  • I’ve heard the word CHURCH countless times in my life but never CHURCHY (23A: Intolerantly pious). I’ve also heard the word HANG and DOG countless times in my life but never the two paired together (32D: Like losers’ looks is HANGDOG).
  • Constructor John Guzzetta is cheating by including the entries TORIC (40D: Doughnutlike) and QAID (52D: Muslim judge of North Africa). The first one just doesn’t sound like a word, and the Oxford English Dictionary doesn’t recognize the second one as a word. QAID also violates the rule that all words starting with the letter Q must have U for their second letter (unless you’re QATAR and a boss).
  • Black rails are birds that live in marshes. Hence, 19D: Rail hubs? is MARSHES.
  • The days of the week are named after gods. Tuesday, for example, is named after the English/Germanic god of war and sky. Hence, 60A: Eponyms of the week? is GODS.

Peace out fam,
Kenneth, lowly serf of Crossworld

 

Thursday, July 28, 2016: “Lost Art”

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Solving time: 1:00:57, which is above average for me by only five minutes. Nonetheless, I cheated an *ungodly* amount in order to complete this puzzle. Looking over the grid now, I realize that I consulted Mr. Google at least ten times to finish clues that I had only partially answered. No bueno. Very, very bad day for me. I can’t tell whether the fill was hard, or whether I was just exceptionally stupid today, so I think I’ll peg this one as a medium. The grid does not have a ridiculous amount of arcana for a Thursday (though there are bits of obscure knowledge here and there), so it was probably the latter. More on my idiocy below.

Puzzle quality:

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Theme: There are eight theme answers in today’s puzzle that have literally “lost art”; they were words that had the word “art” subtracted from them, resulting in new, still English words. Among them, we have:

  • CAR THIEF – ART = CHIEF (1A: Auto booster). One of the more obscure definitions of “booster” is “shoplifter,” which I didn’t know.
  • PARTIES – ART = PARTIES (10A: Has a ball)
  • BARTENDER – ART = BENDER (33A: One making the rounds?)
  • THE ARTIST – ART = THEIST (44A: Black-and-white Best Picture winner)
  • PART ONE – ART = PONE (67A: Series opener). Pone is a type of “unleavened cornbread … prepared with water by North American Indians,” according to Mr. Oxford.
  • MARTINIS – ART = MINIS (69A: Bond orders). As in, James Bond orders from a bartender (who lost his art earlier in the puzzle).
  • PARTISANS – ART = PISANS (6D: Ones taking sides). I guess a Pisan is a citizen of Pisa, Italy, even though Mr. WordPress is underlining it in red.
  • RESTARTED – ART = RESTED (48D: Went back to square one).

    Theme revealer: LOST ART (39A: Letter writing, they say … or a hint to eight answers in this puzzle)

Sidé noté: Now that I look at them, six out of the eight theme answers had their “ART” removed from them starting from the second letter of the word.


Oh boy. No memes or cartoons today, just a story of the struggle I went through.

So I get SOBS (40D: Breaks down) and GETTY (28D: L.A.’s __ Museum) right off the bat  (I’ve been to the latter a couple times and have experienced the former too many times to count) and assumed that the last letter of 26D: Lady of Brazil (DONA) was A, since women’s names in Portuguese typically end in A. Already, I have three of the seven letters (_ _STA_ _) in the theme revealer.

Hmm … I think to myself. RESTART? BEST ART? Neither of those make sense. OK, let’s move on to another part of the grid. 44A: “Black-and-white Best Picture winner.” Ah! That must be “The Artist,” the silent movie that was released in 2011. But wait! That title is nine letters, and there are only six available letters in the across. There must be a rebus! Where could it go? Filling in some of the surrounding downs (OH HIWETSASST.,), I realize that the rebus is probably in the second letter, meaning that the answer to the clue is T[HEAR]TIST. Oh, the theme must have something to do with putting the word HEAR in a rebus! How wrong I was.

The next twenty minutes or so were spent in futility as I tried to put HEAR in a rebus. Nothing worked. Often, I came to a part of the grid where only one letter was remaining, but I couldn’t figure out what it was. Take the LL (lower-left). I had every letter except the one at the intersection of 55D: Give gratis (COM_) and 67A: Series opener (_ONE). I didn’t know that COMP isn’t just short for “a composition,” but can also mean “to give (something) away free.” And I couldn’t think of a single letter to put at the start of 67A. Maybe TONE? But how could a tone open a series? The only other option was to put the HEAR rebus at the intersection, but that would’ve resulted in COM [HEAR] and [HEAR] ONE, neither of which made any sense.

Besides, I was already starting to discover that my rebus wasn’t holding up. 23D: “So there!”, which crossed with 44A: T[HEAR]TIST, had to be TAKE THAT. As a result, I had two conflicting letters/phrases at the intersection of 23D and 44A. I had the from TAKE THAT and the [HEAR] rebus from T[HEAR]TIST. Which would it be? I chose not to reconcile the difference and moved on, still hanging on to my (very erroneous) belief that there were HEAR rebuses hidden in the puzzle.

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OK, I lied. There’s going to be one gif.

Some brief recollection of childhood memories caused me to remember that MR. TOAD must be the answer to 37D: Squire of “The Wind in the Willows.” After some more time, I correctly wrote in FEEL FREE for 25D: “Help yourself.” So now, I had six out of the seven letters in theme revealer: (LSTART). Oh! Of course, my single-celled brain thought, the revealer must be LIST ART. Yes, I actually thought of LIST ART before LOST ART. Even though LIST ART is literally a meaningless phrase. Unless you’re making art out of lists. Which isn’t a thing.

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OK, maybe multiple gifs.

In spite of the fact that I had this nonsensical (!!) answer for the revealer and that this answer had absolutely to do with the word “HEAR” (!!!) and that there were no other “HEAR” rebuses besides the one that I’d found in 44A (!!!!), I was still confident that the HEAR rebus was linked to the theme of the puzzle. Ugh.

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I think these gifs are better at expressing my doltishness than I am.

Finally, about forty minutes into the puzzle, I knew that I was wrong. Much like the LL, I had almost all the letters filled into the UM (upper middle), but I was missing the intersection of 6A: It lends a smoky flavor to Scotch (where I had _EAT) and 6D: One’s taking sides (where I had _ISANS). EUREKA! I found the other rebus! Except this time, it wasn’t “HEAR”! It was “PART”!  Yes, only then would I have the answer to 6D: [PART]ISANS. Forget the fact that [PART] EAT makes no sense for 6A. Also forget the fact that [PART] EAT is, much like LIST ART, a gibberish phrase.

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Ayá.

So the conclusion from the UM was that there were rebuses in the puzzle, but they didn’t all involve the word HEAR. Somehow there was a connection between HEAR and PART. And both of the rebuses were also related to LIST ART, a phrase that didn’t have any meaning to start with. Right…

More evidence of my incompetence: On the UR (upper-right), I had all but one letter for the answer to 10D: Guiding light – _OLARIS, and needed to ask Mr. Google in order to get P as the missing first letter. My ineptitude at its best (or worst, I suppose). It took me over ten minutes to fill in ADAPT for 66A: Evolve (definitely one of the easier clues in this puzzle), even though I had two letters from the downs. I had the five starting letters (PATR and an incorrect I) to 21D: Keep the beat?, which crossed with LIST ART. From that, I filled in PATRIA, even though that had nothing – repeat, nothing! – to do with keeping a beat.

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And then my prokaryotic brain finally had its (only) bright idea of the day. Maybe… maybe … the I was incorrect! Maybe … maybe … the I was actually an O! So the answer to the revealer was, in fact, LOST ART. Oooooooh. Right, people say letter writing is a LOST ART, not a … LIST ART, whatever that is. Got it. But I still didn’t put 2 and 2 together and see that all eight of the theme answers had lost the word “ART.” Instead, I was now trying to connect my two incorrect rebuses to a “LOST ART” theme.

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After I recognized that the “Rock of Ages” in 17A wasn’t referring to the musical but rather a Christian hymn (obscure much??), that AEROFLOT is the largest airline in Russia (evidently I don’t fly enough, even though I’ve been to 8 different countries in this summer alone!), and that KNORR is a “big name in soup” (evidently I don’t eat enough, even though I ate 3 different meals yesterday alone!), I had finally finished the majority of the puzzle. I had left empty spaces where I thought there was a rebus, but I couldn’t figure out what those rebuses were.

So I had [PART]EAT in 6A, PI[unknown rebus]S in 10A, T[HEAR]TIST in 44A, and [unknown rebus]ONE in 67A. I certainly had enough context to get the theme, but it somehow kept eluding me. From their surrounding downs, I had penned in the theme answers CHIEFBENDERSMINIS, and RESTED. Yet I didn’t grasp that those words had “lost art” – to me, they were just baffling.

Finally, after crossing the one-hour mark, I raised a white flag and resorted to Mr. Rex Parker’s blog. And then I uttered one big…

Theme of the day: I’m a *facepalm* ignoramus.

Signed,
Kenneth, chief dunce of Crossworld

 

 

 

US-Cuban Relations: Historical Significance and the Paradox Behind It

 


By JOSHUA CHANG || July 27, 2016

In the spring of 2016, President Obama traveled to Cuba to meet with Raúl Castro, its president. In a historic summit a new connection was laid between both countries after decades of Cold-War era hostilities drove an indomitable rift between them. The thawing of hostilities has been accompanied by more economic liberalization on Cuba’s part, as it increasingly shifts away from the socialist command economy promoted under the ancien regime under Fidel Castro, Raúl’s brother. Driven by stronger economic ties and the statesmanship of both leaders, the United States and Cuba are entering a new era of reconciliation. The US has begun to lift the trade embargo it placed on Cuba in 1962, flights from the mainland to the island country are now permitted, and exchange in both communications and commerce is flourishing.

Yet progress has not been smooth. Fidel Castro, although no longer officially in charge of the Cuban government, continues to condemn US policy and exhibits an unshakeable mistrust of the United States. Despite progress in US-Cuban relations, he still perceives the Colossus of the North as an imperialist power hell-bent on exploiting Cuba’s economy. But if Cuba’s economy expects to make gains for itself in this new era, and animosities are being cast aside, why does Fidel Castro continue to obstinately refuse to completely trust the United States? What significance does this revival in relations have in relation to the overall historical pathway that has characterized the contemporary Cuban experience?

Although the benefits of newly improved relations between the two countries are evident, this reversal in the trend of the foreign relations between the US and Cuba comprises an ironic paradox that challenges the very foundations that the Cuban Revolution was built upon. Boundaries between past and present are blurred, and one must consider how the future of Cuba will be affected by these recent developments.

 

Revolutionary Tradition

 

To understand the nature of Cuba’s evolution from former Spanish colony to a sovereign Caribbean island nation reestablishing ties with a former archenemy, one must examine the nature of Cuban history from the mid 19th century to the present day. Historians often interpret Cuban history as a series of revolutionary movements that sought to both fend off foreign oppression while simultaneously placing the cornerstones for a new society devoid of inequality and injustice.

Cuba initiated two uprisings against its former colonial master, Spain, from 1868-1878, and 1895-1898. By the second uprising near the turn of the 20th century, the Cuban revolutionaries were on the brink of attaining victory and ousting the Spaniards. This they did, albeit, at a cost.

As most Americans familiar with the Spanish-American war know, the United States intervened in the conflict on behalf of the Cubans, defeating Spain. However, under the Platt Amendment, Cuba became nominally independent, but was subjected to protectorate status under the supervision of the United States.

US businessmen had strong commercial ties with Cuba, especially in the sugar industry. Throughout the 20th century, Cuba retained its status as a single-crop export economy heavily dependent upon the market forces surrounding the popularity of sugar as a commodity. Although the Cuban economy languished, these US businessmen were solely interested in reaping profits, and not further developing the infrastructure of the country or diversifying its economy. Cubans were infuriated not only by the economic doldrums brought on by their dependence on sugar exports, but also by the fact that the United States also manipulated the country’s elections to ensure that local politicians allegiant to US interests remained in power.

After having continued for nearly half a century, Fidel Castro’s Cuban Revolution in the 1950s was meant to overturn the status-quo of the country and uphold the ideals and goals espoused by previous Cuban revolutionaries throughout the decades in their struggles against oppression. Castro even saw himself as an extension of the legacy of Cuban revolutionism in his specific intent to reform Cuban society. Castro’s Revolution allowed him to usurp control, end cycles of political corruption, and consolidate control over US businesses and facilities on the country.

As we know, this resulted in the Bay of Pigs Invasion and numerous attempts by the US to overthrow Castro, as well as the subsequent Cuban movement to the Soviet sphere of influence.

 

The Goals

 

Although traditionalist and revisionist historians have continually debated on the direction that Castro wanted Cuba to move forward, they cannot deny that regardless of the economic issues that arose out of his policies of Cuban dependency on the USSR, the Cuban leader himself wanted to ensure that the United States be excluded from the sphere of Cuban affairs forever. Castro used the threat of US invasion and antagonisms to justify his policies and use of power. The Bay of Pigs Invasion and the Embargo were enough to keep him in power, and Castro furthered ties with the United States’ Cold War rival, the USSR, to ensure that never again would Cuba be trapped in dependency on the Colossus of the North.

Even as the Cuban economy faltered in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, Castro considered his revolution to be a victory so long as the United States was kept at bay.

 

The Present

 

As the United States mends its relations with Cuba, the general fear is that Cuba will revert back to another period of dependency on its larger neighbor through a capitalist system with terms dictated by the US. Castro himself may regard this to be a betrayal of his sacred revolution, and an unraveling of all that was achieved through it. However, to those skeptical of renewed relations between the United States and Cuba, the circumstances are quite different. For one, the United States no longer possesses any monopolies over any industries in Cuba, which means that there will be no unfair economic imbalance when the two start out.

Whereas Cuban suspicion lingered heavily during the Cold War, this is no longer the case as Cubans actively seek foreign investment from other countries to reinvigorate a previously stagnant economy. Tourism from the United States as well as remittances are doing much to lay the groundwork for this revival in the Cuban economy.

Could Cuba be experiencing a post-Castro revolution, albeit one in which it fully integrates itself with the global economic network? One can only hope that the past can be put behind the country for good.

Cease and Desist: A Farewell to Debbie Wasserman Schultz

It’s important to take up issues that are important to you with your representative, and what my Grandma did one bright sunny day in Aventura, Florida took courage and zeal.

At Bagel Cove deli, while my Grandma was sitting down at lunch probably eating a scooped out tuna bagel, in walks Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the former DNC Chairwoman and congressional representative of Miami-Dade County. She was met with pleasant greetings and by the many that knew her and ignored by the many that knew her and despised her. Unfortunately for Mrs. Schultz, my Grandma was a bit more outspoken than many of the disgruntled patrons. So as she passed by my Grandma’s table, my Grandma said,

“Hello, Debbie.”

And what came next continues to shock me to this day. My Grandma asked her where she had been for the people of Israel, alluding to the fact that Debbie was absent for a recent meeting on Israeli security in light of the discovery of tunnels being dug between Israel and the Gaza Strip.

Mrs. Schultz responded quickly and nervously, noting that she had written an Op-Ed in the Sun Sentinel, a South Florida publication, on the issue. My Grandma replied that she reads the Sentinel and the Miami Herald every week, and had seen nothing written by the congresswoman. Needless to say, Mrs. Schultz left the restaurant. Score 1 for Grandma.

It’s easy to have a bone to pick about something with Mrs. Schultz when you’re a staunch liberal.  Salon posits, “She’s against pot decriminalization, against an “open” Internet, against Edward Snowden, against refusing donations from corporate lobbyists, and skeptical (at the least) of President Obama’s recent nuclear agreement with Iran.” In fact, in 2011, President Obama had her in his office, ready to give her the boot, but her effectiveness as a fundraiser saved her and she continued to hold the position.

This is no longer the case. Recently hacked private emails of Mrs. Wasserman Schultz and her constituency reveals bias in her department when it came to a debate with former candidate Bernie Sanders. She questioned his religious beliefs on a private email server, and a top DNC official even called for someone to corner Sanders on his religious leanings. She tried tipping the primary in favor of Clinton in an unjust way. I guess that didn’t resonate well with the American people after Russian hackers dug up and published the emails on Wikileaks. And now, after being heckled and booed off stage in Philadelphia for her irresponsibility, she has just announced her resignation as the DNC chairwoman.

This scandal is government corruption at its finest, and will undoubtedly have a large impact on the DNC itself. Democratic Nominee Hillary Clinton, who has had her fair share of public shaming, accusations, and federal inquiries into her supposed corrupt use of a private email server, is trying to distance herself from the incident. In statements to reporters on Sunday, Mrs. Clinton didn’t say why the DNC chairwoman had resigned or what exactly was contained within the email, but she did try to cut Mrs. Schultz some slack by allowing her to continue to help with the campaign, which could mean trouble for the presidential hopeful if she doesn’t address the issue tonight at the DNC.

My advice for Mrs. Schultz is to simply apologize to the American people. She will be shamed, and this could mean the end of her life in politics, but the only way to minimize the damage of this scandal would be to be as transparent as possible from this point forward. And to Hillary Clinton: Please talk about this scandal tonight at the DNC, leaving this scandal unaddressed makes you look as though you condone it. Be authentic and real with the American people, and simply state that it will never happen again. This is not representative of the Democratic Party, and hopefully, the next DNC chair will meet corruption with swift and merciless justice.

Wednesday, July 26, 2016: “O”

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Solving time: 9:18, which is 20 minutes (!!) under my usual Wednesday time and continues this week’s trend of duck soup-easy puzzles. I think this might have marked the first time that I solved a Wednesday under 10 minutes, causing my average to drop by about 30 seconds just like my Tuesday average did after yesterday’s puzzle. Then again, my solving time for Wednesdays has been dropping recently – this is the second straight week that I did a Wednesday faster than the Tuesday right before it.

Puzzle quality: 

In honor of today’s theme,

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Theme: Each theme answer is punningly clued as “Place to find [x number of] O’s,” where O represents a circle or ring from a wide-ranging array of cultural icons, logos, and more. Not catching my drift? Not saying “O, I get it now?” Here are some examples, although you could just look at the cartoon above:

  1. THE HOBBIT (16A: Place to find one O). Sauron’s One Ring – or one O, I suppose – is a prominent part of J.R.R. Tolkein’s The Hobbit.
  2. VENN DIAGRAM (22A: Place to find two Os). Seeing double when you look at a Venn diagram? That’s the way it’s supposed to be.
  3. CIRCUS TENT (28A: Place to find three Os). In a “three-ring circus,” acts are happening in three different rings at the same time.
  4. AUDI DEALER (40A: Place to find four Os). Count the number of circles in the Audi logo.
  5. OLYMPIC FLAG (45A: Place to find five Os). Count the…Theme Revealer: RING CYCLE (59A: Wagner work … or a possible title for this puzzle)

In addition, we get several short “O”-themed clues, even though they don’t follow the [Place to find x Os] pattern:

  • I DO (64A: It’s said at the exchange of O’s). O’s, as in, wedding rings that you exchange at the altar.
  • END (30D: A O doesn’t have one). O, as in, circle. As in, that thing that doesn’t have ends because it lacks edges and corners, I think.

When I arrived at 16A and filled in the first theme clue (THE HOBBIT), I thought that the theme might literally just consist of words with one, two, three, four, or five O letters in them. (Oddly enough, when I think of one O and The Hobbit I think of the one ring of smoke that Hobbits can make from their pipes. See pic below.)  I thought I was in for another SAD TALE [clue from yesterday] like yesterday’s puzzle and was glad to be proven wrong.

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O, what a fine smoke!

I appreciated the creativity of the theme answers. OLYMPIC FLAG is sorta a gimme, especially since we’re less than a month away from the 2016 Olympics. But CIRCUS TENT evoked memories of childhood (I feel like an old beard-stroking porch-sitting man saying that), which I had forgotten could sometimes include three rings. AUDI DEALER adds flair and spice to two stock entries in the crosswordese vocabulary by combining them together.

While most of this puzzle FLIED (49A: __ out (didn’t make it on base, in a way)) past me – certainly wasn’t LENTO (50D: Slow, in music) this time around – I did get stuck at the very end on the UM (upper-middle) because I wasn’t familiar with PATCHOULI (13A: Scent in incense and insect repellants), nor was I aware that YUBAN (5D: Maxwell House alternative) is a coffee brand. Maybe one day, my crossword hobby will force me to actually drink coffee on a regular basis, especially when it’s late at night and I just have to finish that Saturday. MOIRA (11D: Shearer of “The Red Shoes”) and CORGI (48D: Pet at Queen Elizabeth’s side) were the only other words I couldn’t get from solely their respective clues, but I had enough context to help me out on both.

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A thought: ROMANS might say OMNIA vincit amor (Love conquers all), but when someone you’ve OBSESSED over is no longer DRAWN to you, you just gotta GET OVER IT.

See ya tomorrow,
Kennai, lowly serf of Crossworld

Tuesday, July 25, 2016: “Estée”

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Solving time: 10:34, which was so low for me that it lowered my Tuesday average by about half a minute. However, the fact that I had not one, not two, not three, but four! (Egad!) errors when I filled in the grid could make for a SAD TALE. So perhaps if I were more careful when I was completing the puzzle the first time around, I might have added one or even two minutes to my solving time. Regardless, this one was an easy A.

Refer to exhibit A for puzzle quality.

Exhibit A:

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Theme: All of the theme answers are two-word phrases in which the first word starts with “S” and the second word starts with “T.” Aaaand the revealer is ESTÉE (68A: Girl’s name that phonetically provides the initials to the answers in the asterisked clues), which … literally … does not phonetically sound like “ST.”

The inner monologue that is probably going on in your head right now:

cartoon 7-25


 

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Like, wat. Are you serious.

First things first, Matt Gaffney, who’s filling in for King Rex Parker of Crossworld today, is completely right about the theme revealer (65A: Girl’s name that phonetically provides the initials to the answers to the asterisked clues). There is only one famous person who has the girl’s name ESTÉE, and that’s ESTÉE Lauder. There’s a reason why the name has an accent over the second “e” – it’s pronounced ES-TAY and not ES-TEE. A salesman at a cosmetics counter might not even understand you if you ask for some ES-TEE Lauder.

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So, no, the clue for the revealer is wrong; the name ESTÉE does not provide the “ST,” pronounced ES-TEE, initials to the theme answers. Not only is the theme utterly bland, but it also just does not make sense.

Ay, ay, ay.

The fill is only slightly less unremarkable than the theme itself. TSAR (18A: Winter palace autocrat, a clue that’s just a tad more original than “Nicholas I or II”) and OMAN (14A: Mideast monarchy, a clue that’s as plain as you can get) nearly cross each other to form an authoritarian pair of Eastern political leaders. I would have appreciated the fresh clue 16A: “From your mouth to God’s ears!” (or at least to the top of the ALPS) for I HOPE, if only anybody actually utters that expression anymore with the exception of dusty, musty crossword puzzle constructors. OH HI (10D: “Fancy meeting you here!”) is a sight for sore eyes with its adjacent aitches, but it doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb in a grid that also has AGS (31A: Dept. of Justice heads – this answer makes me want to go AGH!), TBAR (45D: Ski lift, a clue that’s about as dry as a ski slope) and EMLY (47A: “Little” girl in “David Copperfield”), which I thought was *definitely* missing an I. Maybe if I actually read books, I would have known better.

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Me, in a picture.

And on top of all that, this puzzle would have been black-and-white like the grid itself if its pop culture references were any older. ENOW (28D: Sufficient, to a bard), more like, something that no one ever says now. SPOT is clued with 72A: Dick and Jane’s dog. Dick and Jane, for modern audiences like me who were unfamiliar with it, are the main characters in books that taught children how to read from the ’30s to the ’50s (though the books were still in circulation during the ’70s, their popularity declined soon after mid-century). So unless you were in grade school during that time – in which case you’re at least 60 – or you’re a knowledge master, you probably struggled with that clue. But if you are at least 60, then you might have recalled even more childhood memories to remember that BORIS (40A: Foe of Rocky and Bullwinkle) was the character of an animated TV show from the early ’60s. Sorry, Millennials – no TV references for you today.

Looking on the brighter side, I was INCHes (33A: Move slowly (along)) – er, I guess, seconds – within solving this puzzle under 10 minutes, which is a rare feat for me when it comes to Tuesdays. If I hadn’t written PROD for 33A and STAY HERE  for 9D: *”Don’t go anywhere!” (which I had written in before I caught onto the theme) and also hadn’t made all those errors I mentioned above, maybe I would have crossed the finish line quicker.

MEH at best, and certainly not FAB. 

Toodly doo,
Kenneth, lowly serf of Crossworld

Monday, July 24, 2016: “Hey Joe”

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Solving time: 5:04, which a) might have been my fastest solving time ever and b) finally lowered my Monday average to 10 minutes! A milestone moment in the brief crosswording career of our lowly serf of Crossworld. What lands shall he conquer next on his heroic odyssey? Nothing can bound his limitless potential! So this puzzle was easy-peasy lemon-squeezy.

Puzzle quality: On a scale from 1 to 5, with

1: having your leg strangled by a RABID COBRA
2: getting a CAST for the bone that the RABID COBRA broke
3: finding out that an AGAVE ritual can break the BAD LUCK OMEN that the RABID COBRA snake bite gave you
4: having a MEDIC heal your RABID COBRA wounds
5: slaying the RABID COBRA and a puff ADDER while you’re at it, with some epic ACDC playing in the background

this puzzle was a 3.

Theme: HEY JOE. All four theme answers start with a word that can be combined with “Joe” to form a well-known phrase, brand, or name. Theme answers include:

  • BOXER REBELLION (24A: 1899-1901 uprising in China) – if you stick JOE in front of BOXER, you get “JOE BOXER,” which is a brand of underwear.
  • CAMELCASE (28A: Style of “iPhone” or “eBay,” typographically). JOE CAMEL was the mascot for Camel cigarettes.

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Forget the surgeon general’s warning on the bottom left. Just admire my sunglasses and tan biceps.

  • COOL BEANS (45A: “Great!”). JOE COOL is an alter ego for Snoopy, the Peanuts character.

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Forget the fact that I’m a cartoon dog. Just admire my sunglasses and my sweater, which just emanates cool, literally.

  • BLOW HOT AND COLD (50A: Vacillate). JOE BLOW means average or ordinary guy.

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I smote this puzzle like a Viking would smite a dragon. This might have been the first time ever that I started a puzzle on the first clue in the UL (upper-left) corner and ended on the last clue in the LR (lower-right) corner, without having to go back to other parts of the grid and fix errors. But enough of the ego flexing. Rex Parker’s probably laughing at me right now like:

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In spite of the low difficulty level for today’s puzzle, the theme answers would be hard to get from their respective clues alone. I don’t think most people have ever heard of the typing style CAMELCASE (28A: Style of “iPhone” or “eBay,” typographically), which Mr. Wikipedia tells me refers to “the practice of writing compound words or phrases such that each word or abbreviation begins with a capital letter (and omits hyphens).” COOL BEANS is definitely a popular phrase, but it wouldn’t be anyone’s first guess for a vague clue like 45A: “Great!” I’ve never heard of the idiom BLOW HOT AND COLD (50A), which means “to vacillate.” A brief consultation with Mr. Google reveals that it’s mostly used in English English and not American English, so maybe that’s why.

But the rest of the grid was incredibly standard Monday fill. Aside from some of the theme answers, there were no other new words or phrases that I learned today. Oh, there is one exception, and that’s ATOM Ant (16A: __ Ant (cartoon superhero)), but I was able to fill in that clue from the surrounding downs alone.  OP ART (15A: Dizzying illusions), ALAR (35A: Banned apple spray), URAL (42A: __ Mountains (range east of Moscow)), ETUI (11D: Sewing case), and TARA (53D: Scarlett O’Hara’s plantation) are not only conventional crosswordese but are also clued in the most conventional way possible. Kevin Christian, today’s constructor, made no efforts to integrate any puns, head-scratchers, or even tidbits of arcane knowledge into these clues. Instead, most of the grid just turns into read-and-fill, almost as though Christian were trying to maximize solving speed.

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Even our mighty superhero Atom Ant is rendered powerless when there’s an error in the grid and he has no idea where it is. o_O

One rather unordinary clue that added some spice to the grid: DUE NORTH (38D: 0 degrees, on a compass). I’ve never seen that before in a crossword (although that’s not saying much, since I haven’t been solving the NYT’s puzzles for very long), unlike BAD LUCK (10D: What the number 13 brings, supposedly), which was literally the theme of last week’s Thursday.

See you tomorrow,
Kenneth, lowly serf of Crossworld