Monday, August 22, 2016: “Taste Makers”

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Solving time: 11:37, marking the first time that I’ve surpassed 10 minutes on a Monday puzzle in a long time. Hard for a Monday.

Puzzle quality:

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Theme: The first word in each of the theme answers (or, in the case of 39A, the first half of the first word) is a type of taste, resulting in the revealer TASTE MAKERS (61A: Influential sorts … or a hint to the starts of 17-, 23-, 39-, and 50-Across). Theme answers include:

  • BITTER ENEMY (17A: Archfoe)
  • SALTY LANGUAGE (23A: Profanity)
  • SWEETHEART DEALS (39A: Golden parachutes, e.g.)
  • SOUR PATCH KIDS (50A: Popular movie theater candy)

Welcome to the last-ever Popular Discourse blogpost on the daily New York Times crossword puzzle, at least for the foreseeable future. It’s been a pleasure serving all of the zero average daily readers of our crossword blog.

I actually wasn’t familiar with the phrase in one of the theme clues, specifically 39A. Apparently, a “golden parachute,” which I’ve never heard of before, is “an agreement between a company and an employee (usually upper executive) specifying that the employee will receive certain significant benefits if employment is terminated,” according to Mr. Wikipedia. I didn’t know of the phrase SWEETHEART DEALS either, which are “abnormally favorable contractual agreements.” Mr. Wikipedia actually gives a golden parachute as an example of a SWEETHEART DEAL, so the theme answer is clearly very fitting for the clue.

While I have definitely heard of the phrase SALTY LANGUAGE before, it took me a long time to get that answer from the clue 23A: Profanity, even when I had the letters SALT filled in and a couple of the letters in LANGUAGE filled in as well. I also had SOUR PATCH but was missing the last four letters, until it finally hit me that there’s a specific type of the candy called SOUR PATCH KIDS. My struggles in getting the theme answers were probably the primary cause of my above-average solving time today.

On top of that, there were some rather outdated non-theme answers, including ALL WET (35A: Completely wrong), which I couldn’t seem to get right (hah!) until I had all but one of the letters filled in from the surrounding downs. I’m used to seeing ELIA in crossword grids, but typically paired with the clue “Director Kazan” or something else referring to ELIA Kazan. This time, the clue came in the form of 37D: Charles Lamb’s “Essays of __,” which is apparently a collection of – you guessed it – essays that I’m unacquainted with. Apparently “Put up your DUKES!” is a phrase? If somebody told me to do that, I’d be like what? I’ve heard “duke it out” before, meaning to exchange fists, and apparently “putting up your dukes” has a similar definition of putting up your fists.

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Having LEAK instead of DRIP for 44A: Faucet problem and forgetting the word GELD (26D: Neuter, as a stud) didn’t help my time either.

Resigning from the post,
Kenneth, eternally lowly serf of Crossworld

Sunday, August 21, 2016: “Wonder-Ful!”

 

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Solving time: 55:34, under-average but with the help of several Internet cheats. Medium-ish.

Puzzle quality:

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Theme: This puzzle commemorates the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the National Park Service. It includes several landmarks from the US National Parks, which are represented in circled letters that have the same shape as the landmark itself. For example,

  • Denali is in the shape of a mountain, I suppose … except the left side of the mountain is longer than the right one because the first letter, D, hangs outward.
  • Old Faithful literally erupts upwards through YELLOWSTONE at 32A.
  • Half-Dome is shaped like … a half-dome. Actually, not really. Compare the shape of the crossword’s circled letters to that of the actual Half-Dome in Yosemite, and you will soon realize that the crossword has the image flipped vertically. Anyway, among the landmarks, we have:
  • Arches National Park is represented here in the shape of, you guessed it, arches!
  • And the Grand Canyon looks like a… basket.

Not much time today, and also the Internet was super slow so I didn’t even finish the crossword until much later than usual.

The reason why the “puzzle quality” image is that of Half-Dome is not just because Half-Dome is one of the puzzle’s circled phrases and not because this puzzle is anywhere near as beautiful or majestic as that natural landmark, but instead because this puzzle was “half” of what I thought it could be. I did appreciate the overall bear-like image of the grid, but virtually everything else about this crossword was mediocre; see above for my problems with the circled “theme” phrases.

To meet the requirements of the grid, there’s a ridiculous number of three-letter answers, which inevitably results in tons of ugly crosswordese, including two words which literally just consist of one letter repeated three times – AAA (58A: Highly rated Bond) and OOO (28D: It’s as good as XXX). Seriously, OOO? The clue was a good attempt at a raunchy pun, but when your options are so constrained that even a skilled crossword constructor like Jeff Chen has to resort to OOO, that’s when you know that the proverbial sh*t may have hit the fan.

There’s also a ton – and I mean a ton – of arcana peppered throughout the puzzle. W. BOSON (102A: Subatomic particle named for the weak force) is really esoteric scientific knowledge, even for the standards of the New York Times crossword. I doubt that anyone who isn’t a quantum physicist will be able to get that answer from reading the clue alone. Who on God’s green earth is SLOCUM (14D: Henry W. __, Union major general during the Civil War)?? Here’s a good test: search “Henry W. Union major general” on Google and you will literally find the last name of a different general for the entirety of the first page.

With the exception of LADY PALMS (48D: Indoor plants popular in waiting rooms) and VEGAN DIET (84D: Regimen adopted by Bill Clinton in 2010), not a single answer was memorable enough for me to write about here, nor were any of the clues punny or witty enough to make me laugh. It’s possible that I’m just being too harsh, but when you’ve got a grid filled with ERITU VII SEI NIH it’s hard to be creative.

Signed,
Kenneth, lowly serf of Crossworld

Saturday, August 20, 2016: “Watertight Azalea Tree”

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Solving time: 39:25, nearly 40 minutes under average with relatively few cheats. Fácil.

Puzzle quality:

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Theme


AMES (41A: Hawkeye State city) is one of the entries in today’s puzzle. But besides a space-grant research university and the birth-site of the world’s first electronic computer, this college town boasts relatively little. Oh, it’s also home to the largest federal animal disease center in the US. But besides that, there’s really nothing that spectacular about this town; its downtown main street carries that same brand of dreary charm as any other in the country. It’s a convenient crossword answer, much like some of the answers in today’s puzzle feel like they belong in a crossword more than they do in a real-life context. There are some landmarks here and there, but other than that, the grid is just a passing attraction.

By landmarks, I mean AZALEA TREE (15A: Colorful ornamental with a trunk), which is obscure but in a delightful way and sounds like just about the prettiest thing that anybody could ever have in his garden.

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I want that.

Reading Rex Parker’s blogpost on today’s puzzle, I was once again struck by the arbitrary nature of his evaluations; what qualifies a certain answer to be “clever” or “enjoyable,” given that only a clue and not an answer can ever possibly be a pun? Does such an answer have to have lots of “high-value” letters – in other words, letters like “X” and “Z” that score you more points on Scrabble? Rex mentioned that he thought there were too many “adjective-noun” combinations in today’s long answers; METAL STAMP (12D: Imprinting tool) and RUMBLE SEAT (57A: Old-fashioned auto feature) satisfy that pattern, for example. But what’s wrong with adjective-noun two-word phrases? It seems totally groundless to discriminate against them. I think that answers with bounce or spice consist of rare-but-common words. What do I mean by that?  SMOKY TOPAZ has some nice bite to it because of the cool sound of the phrase in general and the rare-but-common nature of the word “topaz”; in other words, the word topaz hardly comes up in our day-to-day lives, but it sounds familiar to all of us because we’ve definitely seen it before somewhere. It sounds exotic, but imminently accessible. That rare-but-common vibe should characterize all the long answers in themeless puzzles, in my opinion. Phrases like ART BOARD (20A: Backing for a cartoonist) because both of the words inside them are too ordinary. Sure, if you juxtapose them together, they might result in a semi-obscure combination, but the sum of the parts isn’t worth much more than the parts themselves in this case.

What else? 1A: Like a Navy seal (WATERTIGHT) was a funny pun; notice how the letters in “seal” aren’t capitalized, meaning that the word isn’t referring to the special operations force but instead any type of substance that binds two things together. That clue, coupled with its adjacent across – 11A: Tall tale producer (IMAX, whose screens are really tall) – resulted in a fairly humorous top row. But DTEN (18A: Battleship guess) was arbitrary af, given that it’s just a random spot on the “Battleship” board, and references to ANSON Williams (22A: __ Williams, Potsie player on “Happy Days”) and ’50s cowboy character HONDO (42A: John Wayne title role) reminded me that Will Shortz and his crossword constructors are from the STONE AGE (50A: Primitive). OK, maybe not the STONE AGE, but at least several generations ago.

It’s only been six days since the last mention of MERINO (31A: Quality wool source) and nine days since that of Edmond DANTES (43D: Edmond __, the Count of Monte Cristo). Where’s the originality??

I’M DONE,
Kenneth, lowly serf of Crossworld

Friday, August 19, 2016: “Bring It On, It’s Go Time”

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Solving time: 36:10. Well under average – about 20 minutes or so – although I closed the puzzle for quite a long time after attempting to solve it the first time, rather than trying to solve the grid in one go. Anyway, breezy.

Puzzle quality:

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As evidenced by the fact that this blogpost probably won’t be published until after midnight, I’m low on time today, so this one will be a quickie. Actually, maybe I can indeed publish this before the clock strikes 12. Let’s try.

The NE corner of this puzzle vanished very quickly – in under 2 minutes, actually. I knew the answer to 14D: Nonactor with cameos in 20 Marvel movies (STAN LEE) as soon as I saw it, and a clue similar to 18A: “Bleeding Love” singer Lewis (LEONA) appeared in a fairly recent puzzle (can’t remember which one). On top of that, a three-letter clue about an art medium – 25A: Medium for many 13-Down – is bound to be OIL; I mean, what else could it possibly be?

There’s a Beach Boys song called “California Feelin,'” which idealizes the Southern California landscape and weather. It has a line in it about how you have to remember sunny California when it’s cold and gray in New York. With that East Coast-West Coast contrast in mind, I was able to fill in I LOVE LA astonishingly quickly for 38D: Song that starts “Hate New York City / It’s cold and it’s damp.” I also saw through the pun in 37A: Person with a lot on his plate? and immediately knew that it had to be BIG EATER, even though that’s a phrase that I don’t use particularly often (though it is quite common, I suppose).

The UL corner had me guessing for quite a while, since I only had STEM (19A: Non-humanities acronym) in that section of the grid after my first couple go-arounds. But once I figured out WHAT’S THAT (1A: “Come again?”), it disappeared pretty fast. I don’t have enough time to check now, but I’m almost certain that ESTATE TAX (17A: Trust issue?) has been recycled from an older puzzle. I sorta frown upon that, since phrases longer than four or five characters really shouldn’t turn into banal crosswordese. There are enough permutations of vowels and consonants once you pass the threshold of five characters that you shouldn’t have to reuse particular words over and over again.

A couple of tricky clues:

  • Mostly because my family was never the type to use boxed food mixes, this was the first time that I heard of RICE-A-RONI (15A: Brand whose first commercial featured a cable car) which is apparently “pilaf-like” and “consists of rice, vermicelli, pasta, and seasonings” (Mr. Wikipedia).
  • Is it just me, or do I keep seeing references to “All My Children”? I swear that this is my fourth or fifth time this summer that the TV show has appeared in a grid, this time with ERICA (26A: Emmy-winning Susan Lucci role).
  • I thought that diner lingo in the clue [28A: “On the hoof,” in diner lingo] was referring to the answer and not the phrase “On the hoof” itself. Whatever. Anyway, “on the hoof” means “any kind of meat cooked rare,” according to this website.
  • I didn’t understand the reference in 27D: Batman? (CASEY) until I looked up the words “casey” and “bat” together. Apparently, there’s a poem called “Casey at the Bat” about baseball. I’m assuming it’s famous.
  • I don’t think anyone who doesn’t do crosswords regularly would know that a “rush” doesn’t just mean a hurry, but rather a “marsh or waterside plant with slender stemlike pith-filled leaves.” Like, do you expect me to be a plantologist, Will Shortz? What’s the actual word for plantologist? Oh right, botany. Anyway, that’s why REED is the answer to 46A: Rush, e.g.
  • I was almost certain that 8D: “On end, to Donne” was one of those foreign language clues where the constructor is asking you what a word means in the language of the person whose name is in the clue. I thought Donne might be a French name, which left me hopeless since I don’t know any phrases in French. But no! This clue was asking us to examine the relationship between “on end” and “Donne” – the two words are ANAGRAMs of each other! Bruh.
  • 56D: Beatles title girl with a “little white book” is a reference to “Lovely Rita.” I would post a link, but the song isn’t on YouTube?? Copyright issues???

Lovely Rita, meter maid…
Kenneth, lowly serf of Crossworld

Thursday, August 18, 2016: “Temperamentally Noncommunicable Reconsideration”

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Solving time: 46:09. Under average but also with a little bit of help, if you know what I mean *nudge nudge wink wink.* Medium.

Puzzle quality: 

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Theme: Each of the three grid-spanning theme answers is one word that consists of three smaller words, clued by a pun that defines all three sub-words literally. Here’s what I mean:

  • RECONSIDERATION (17A: Not the main food allotment for one on an intel mission?) = RECON (intel mission) + SIDE (not the main) + RATION (food allotment).
  • 1401306296tempe1 + SlowCooker-Pork-Ramen_0 + tallymarksTEMPERAMENTALLY (36A: Noodle count in one of Arizona’s largest cities?)
  • NONCOMMUNICABLE (53A: Sarge’s “Sell my city bonds!” telegram?) = NONCOM (sarge) + MUNI (city bond) + CABLE (telegram). This theme answer was probably the most difficult one to get, especially if you didn’t know that noncom was actually an abbreviation for noncommissioned officer (and not noncommercial) and that muni is short for municipal bond.

There are the types of crossword solvers who will hate today’s puzzle, and there are the types of solver who will find it funny and then move on with their lives. I think I’m in the latter boat. I certainly get why there are people in the first camp; all you see is three different 15-letter words that have no thematic coherence (in other words, there’s no inherent relationship between the words RECONSIDERATIONTEMPERAMENTALLY, and NONCOMMUNICABLE other than their equivalent length) and were taken literally by their sub-parts. I imagine, however, that it’s fairly difficult to find 15-letter words that can be divided into three intelligible words that are actually defined in the dictionary. And, on top of that, the clues were great examples of the wacky nonsense that the NYTimes crossword frequently engages in, so utterly bizarre that they proved rather enjoyable. NONCOMMUNICABLE was a bit of a stretch with its two abbreviated sub-parts, but still took a long time to figure out with a rather pleasing payoff at the end.

The top third of the grid offered little to no resistance, with gimmes like 5A: __ Elba and 14A: Kind of flute. It wasn’t until the middle that I started to groan a little, especially when today’s pair of constructors, Parker Lewis and Jeff Chen, threw a curveball with 31A: Pianist Rubinstein. I don’t think anyone knows him as ARTUR. Everyone, even my classical music nerd friends, call him ARTHUR Rubinstein. The Wikipedia page doesn’t even mention this alternate spelling of his name in its introductory paragraph. Seeing that there were only five spaces in the answer rather than six, I filled in ANTON for the clue, another famous pianist who happens to share the same last name as ARTUR. That cost me some time. Tricky tricky!

In a moment of late-Wednesday-night idiocy, I forgot what upholstery was, so 25D: Upholstery’s stock had me like:

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Double references to culinary delicacies, with 22A: Like the cinnamon in babka and 25A: Ingredient in Christmas pudding, and double references to religious “mounts,” with 39A: Mount in Greek myth and 27D: Biblical mount, had me like:

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And then ROSHAMBO (37D: Rock-paper-scissors, by another name) was just like…

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“Am I a rock in this alternate universe? Or a paper?”

See you tomorrow,
Kenneth, lowly serf of Crossworld

Wednesday, August 17, 2016: “Dark Arts”

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Solving time: 21:01, which – although comfortably under my overall average for Wednesdays – is still quite high relative to my recent times for Wednesdays in the past month or so. Some cheating went on in the middle section of the grid for me, so I’m going to peg this one as somewhere between medium and challenging.

Puzzle quality:

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Theme: As usual, the NYTimes crossword takes some phrases too literally sometimes, and today’s grid is no exception. Our phrase of the day is DARK ARTS (38D: What sorcerers practice … or a hint to interpreting five clues in this puzzle). Each of the theme clues contains a five-letter word whose last four letters, -ARTS, are literally blacked out by a bar or, if you’re solving the puzzle online, by four # signs. As such, the clues are literally “dark arts.” Hah. Our five theme clues, and their corresponding answers, are as follows:

  • MARTS -> 20A: M 4544827697_6f73866999_b.jpg 4544827697_6f73866999_b.jpg 4544827697_6f73866999_b.jpg 4544827697_6f73866999_b.jpg -> EXCHANGES. If the black squares were removed, the clue would just be MARTS. “Marts” is sort of a weak clue for EXCHANGES, since I view an “exchange” as a market for currency transactions and a “mart” as just a general type of market. But, of course, today’s constructor, Mark McClain (apparently debuting his first-ever puzzle today) had a pretty limited basket of clues due to his theme – keep in mind that all of theme have to be five-letter words that end in ARTS *and* the theme answers have to be symmetric. So, inevitably, some clues are going to be weaker than others.
  • WARTS -> 51A: W 4544827697_6f73866999_b.jpg 4544827697_6f73866999_b.jpg 4544827697_6f73866999_b.jpg 4544827697_6f73866999_b.jpg -> BLEMISHES.
  • TARTS -> 10D: T 4544827697_6f73866999_b.jpg 4544827697_6f73866999_b.jpg 4544827697_6f73866999_b.jpg 4544827697_6f73866999_b.jpg -> PASTRIES. 
  • PARTS -> 11D: P 4544827697_6f73866999_b.jpg 4544827697_6f73866999_b.jpg 4544827697_6f73866999_b.jpg 4544827697_6f73866999_b.jpg -> MOVIE ROLES.
  • DARTS -> 28D: D 4544827697_6f73866999_b.jpg 4544827697_6f73866999_b.jpg 4544827697_6f73866999_b.jpg 4544827697_6f73866999_b.jpg -> PUB PASTIME. What a fantastic answer. I love how “pub pastime,” at least to my knowledge, is not a very commonly-used phrase, but it fits the clue – DARTS – perfectly.

I think there are two ways that most people view “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” – either a) a magical work of art or b) a movie that didn’t quite live up to expectations but was competently done nonetheless. I can’t really decide between those two options when evaluating today’s puzzle. Part of me really enjoys the theme, which is a break from a lot of the conventional trash that the NYTimes throws around early in the week. But the other part of me has gotten over its originality; I just see four black squares in the place of the theme’s supposed ingenuity. So idk.

Anyway.

I got stuck for quite a bit in the middle, hence the longer solving time. I’ve heard the phrase DOILIES (38A: Dining table decorations) maybe once or twice in my life before, if at all, mainly because I don’t eat at fancy dining tables unlike Will Shortz, who has probably been an aristocrat in one of his incarnations during his EONs-long existence and eaten lots of nice dinners with exquisite nobility in three-piece suits and top hats. Sorry Will. I’m just not at your level yet. Twitter is all atwitter about TRUMP these days but not its homophone TROMPE [34A: __-l’oeil (illusion)], a word that you probably didn’t know unless you’re French or you eat at a bunch of fancy dinners like Sir Shortz and you bandy about phrases like TROMPE l’oeil in your fancy conversations. That and two other musical references (neither of which were that obscure but just served to reveal my own cultural jejunosity) – ARNE (25A: Composer Thomas) and EMIL (30D: Pianist Gilels) – had me mired.

The only other part of the grid that offered much resistance was the bottom middle and right. I misread 52D: Big nits for you-know-what and did a double-take before I realized that fancy-schmancy Sir Shortz would never include such vulgar phrases in his Aristocratic puzzles. I’m very familiar with Kunta Kinte from Roots but not with LEVAR Burton (47D), the actor who played him. I’m not very familiar with baseball and certainly not with STAN Musial (55D). I made a blunder with 42D: Blunder and wrote MISTAKE instead of MISSTEP, and I wanted to answer PEON for 65A: Common laborer but I got its definition confused with that of “paean.” Typical crossword struggles. #thestruggleisreal.

#weout,
Kenneth, lowly serf of Crossworld

 

Tuesday, August 16, 2016: “Artoo Detoo”

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Solving time: 7:16, which might be my fastest time ever for a Tuesday crossword. This puzzle is as easy as they come.

Puzzle quality:

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Sadly, you can’t see R2D2 in this poster.

Theme: Each of the theme answers consists of two words. The first has two R‘s in it, and the second has two D‘s in it. This results in the theme revealer ARTOO DETOO (65A: “Star Wars” droid … or a phonetic hint to what’s found in 17-, 26-, 41-, and 52-Across), which literally has two R’s and two D’s. Theme answers include…

  • SURFER DUD(17A: Guy shouting “Cowabunga!,” say)
  • ROGER MUDD (26A: Onetime CBS News anchor) Factoid of the day: Roger Mudd was the journalist who conducted this famous botched interview with Ted Kennedy, where he struggled to explain why he wanted to be president:
  • NARROWLY DEFINE(41A: Lacking broad application). It’s pretty unusual for a Tuesday puzzle, at least from my experience, to have a theme answer that is so long that it stretches across the entire grid. Nonetheless, this clue was still quite easy to get from the surrounding downs.
  • REAR ENDE(52A: Rammed from behind)

Say hello to the final week of Popular Discourse’s blog posts on the New York Times crossword puzzle, since I have to head off to college. Say hello also to my 100-day streak on the NYT crosswords! Solving the puzzles on a daily basis has certainly been frustrating from time to time with Will Shortz’s giant Rolodex of obscure proper nouns, but overall it’s been a blast.

100 days also seems like a really long time. When I started the streak, I was still a high school senior, drifting from one class period to the next just yearning to graduate. Over the span of those 100 days, I’ve been to nine countries on trips that weren’t even planned until the very last minute, for the most part. I’ve partaken in activities that I would’ve never pictured myself doing (I’m looking right at you, flying trapeze workshop), I’ve overcome some phobias that were ingrained deeply in my psyche, I’ve had exotic cuisine like crickets (which sounds like ew! initially, but actually tastes fine) and deep-fried turtle, and I’m happy to say that I’ve pushed the boundaries of who I am. The puzzles were the one consistent aspect of a summer that was perpetually changing for me, and I appreciated the assurance of knowing that I would solve a crossword on any given day, no matter what part of the globe that I was in and no matter what new risks I was taking.

Anyway, onto today’s puzzle. I solved this as soon as my plane touched down in LAX, and I thought that I was going to take longer than usual since I was feeling under the weather, maybe from all that cold Welsh weather. To my surprise, however, this puzzle was incredibly quick for me; this is one of few Tuesdays that I’ve solved in under 10 minutes, and as I noted above, it might in fact be my fastest Tuesday ever. My only mistake was at the very end, when I thought that Trebek’s first name was ALEC and not ALEX (64A: Trebek with all the answers), which is pretty silly of me given that I used to watch Jeopardy! on a daily basis.

There are plenty of novice-friendly clues here, like 19A: Romney’s 2012 running mate (RYAN, but you already knew that) and 50A: Like rappers Wayne and Kim (LIL). The long downs added some spice to the puzzle, including CAR DEALER (34D: One offering test drives) – which hasn’t appeared in the NYTimes crossword since April 2010 – and DO YOU MIND (11D: “Um … excuse me?”) – which has only ever been used twice before as an answer. Quite original for a Tuesday. Oh, and of course, there’s the theme answer NARROWLY DEFINED, which is making its crossword debut today.

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Discounting the theme answers, the only other clues that I had some trouble with were 1A: Sounds from schnauzers (ARFS), since I wasn’t aware that the word “schnauzer” means “a medium- or small-sized dog of a German breed, and 71A: Celtic tongue of the British Isles (ERSE), even though I was closer to the British Isles this past weekend than I ever will be for a long time. Oh, and BLUTO (7D: Popeye’s brawny rival for Olive Oyl), because I just haven’t seen/read *nearly* as much Popeye as Will Shortz seems to have. Maybe I’ll get on that in my final week of summer vacation.

See you tomorrow,
Kenneth, lowly serf of Crossworld

 

Thursday, August 4, 2016: “Boot that Car”

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Solving time: 25:28. Much like with yesterday’s puzzle, today’s crossword might be difficult if you’re a novice and you see a Q in a theme entry that just doesn’t seem to be in the right place. When I filled in SHAQ for 13D: N.B.A. star-turned-sports analyst, familiarly, I immediately became suspicious because the Q in SHAQ meant that the final letter of 21A: Incapacitated Chevy? would have to be a Q, and exceedingly few words end in Q. Thankfully, I kept the Q since I was fairly certain SHAQ was correct, which led me to “get” the theme pretty quickly. (The reason why “get” is in quotation marks will become evident later on.) Anyway, this was again a relative breeze if you get the theme but a tough gust of wind (yes, I’m well aware no one says that) if it just doesn’t catch on.

Puzzle quality:

On a scale consisting of these TV shows in your TV “Q”:

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Theme: Like the dunce I am, I didn’t get the theme even though I had completed the grid correctly, so I had to look it up on Mr. Rex Parker’s blog. In each of the theme answers, today’s constructor, Jonathan M. Kaye, turned the “O” in the name of a popular car into a “Q.” The theme revealer is BOOT (59D: Result of a parking violation … as illustrated four times in the puzzle?) Apparently, in addition to being a type of footwear, a BOOT can also be a “clamp placed by the police on the wheel of an illegally parked vehicle to make it immobile.” This “clamp” is placed on the wheel in such a way that it turns the naturally “O” shape of the tire into a “Q,” as seen in this picture:

20120420-tire boot 3

The theme entries are all clued as “Incapacitated [x car brand]” because the boot on the tire “incapacitates” the car by rendering it unable to move.

Theme answers include:

  • SILVERAD20120420-tire boot 3 (21A: Incapacitated Chevy?)
  • EXPL20120420-tire boot 3RER (25A: Incapacitated Ford?)
  • CHER20120420-tire boot 3KEE (46A: Incapacitated Jeep?)
  • NAVIGAT20120420-tire boot 3(52A: Incapacitated Lincoln?)

OK, New York Times, no.

Bad job.

This is an atrocious puzzle for a multitude of reasons, mostly revolving around the theme.

First of all, I get that this is a Thursday so it’s supposed to be one of the harder themed puzzles of the week, but that doesn’t mean you can just base the entire crossword on a “parking violation” that hardly anyone knows about. I’ve never seen a “wheel BOOT” in my entire life. Yes, I’m a pretty inexperienced kid who doesn’t even have a driver’s license yet, but I’d imagine that other crossword puzzlers – especially young people – will have a tough time understanding the theme. Hell, even Mr. Rex Parker didn’t understand the theme until the very end (although he approved of it, unlike me).

Second, when I google “wheel BOOT,” I see five CONSECUTIVE (CONSECUTIVE!!) images in which the BOOT is facing the left of the picture rather than the right:

Inasmuch as the BOOT looks like a Q with a reversed tail, the theme just doesn’t really work on any level.

 
Third, this is just an ugly puzzle. That’s not just because of the phonetically impossible placements of Q’s in the theme answers and because the theme results in a couple of words with awkward “Q”s (QEII, I’m looking straight at you); it’s also because there’s some awful crosswordese strewn across the grid. Granted, most of the puzzle actually looks fairly agreeable, but there are just very dark blotches here and there. I already mentioned QEII (55D: Longest-reigning British monarch, informally), which looks like an unborn child. NDAK and DWI are only slightly less hideous than the consecutive-voweled PRIVATEEYES and SAARINEN, as well as the unpronounceable ESTD. On top of that, I count seven entries whose last letter is “I,” which is disproportionately high considering the exceedingly low number of English words that end in “I.” Who knows, maybe I’m nitpicking. All I know is I couldn’t stand this puzzle, and I’m grateful that I only had to spend about 25 minutes on it.
Angrily signed,
Kenneth, lowly serf of Crossworld

P.S. Maddie Bender will be taking over the crossword blog for the next 11 days.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016: “In Hits, Literally”

Screen Shot 2016-08-03 at 10.51.59 AM

Solving time: 18:58. For someone who is new to crosswords, this puzzle might have been difficult because the theme answers are variations on the spellings of songs and movies. If you had DERO for the first four letters in 31A: 2011 hit for Adele, literally, you might have been scrolling through the tracklist of 21 in your head and been thinking, “Wait … there isn’t a song in 21 that starts with DERO.” Then you might have started to doubt your answers for the surrounding downs, until you realize that they were correct as you had entered them. Anyway, my point is that you might have spent an infinite amount of time trying to get the theme, until it finally clicked (or not). So I’ll say this puzzle is easy/medium for solvers with crossword experience but potentially baffling for novices.

Puzzle quality:

Beautybeastposter

Theme:

Each of the theme answers is a variation on a musical/cinematic hit whose title follows the format “x in the y,” such that the answer itself is spelled with the x literally embedded inside the y. Still scratching your head? Here are some examples:

  • WI BLOWIN ND (17A: 1963 hit for Peter, Paul and Mary, literally). The actual title of the 1963 hit is Blowin’ in the Wind. Today’s puzzle constructor, Neville Fogarty, literally put the word “BLOWIN” in the word “WIND.”
  • Rolling in the Deep -> DE ROLLING EP (31A: 2011 hit for Adele, literally).
  • Dancing in the Dark -> DA DANCING RK (48A: 1984 hit for Bruce Springsteen, literally).
  • Singin’ in the Rain -> RA SINGIN IN (66A: 1952 hit for Gene Kelly, literally).

I enjoyed today’s theme even though embedding one word within another is something that the NYTimes has already tried before. It did take me about 10 minutes before I said I GET IT(21A: Yeah, that makes sense), and I probably would have solved the puzzle even faster if I didn’t get stuck in a little traffic jam on the LL (lower-left) of the grid.

18e4q0

Each of the theme answers looks ugly with their seemingly botched spellings, but there’s beauty inside them all because of their wittiness, I suppose. For today’s “puzzle quality” image, I wanted to upload a picture involving Beauty in the Beast, so I initially tried morphing the Prince’s real face into that of the Beast. That didn’t pan out, so I instead found a film poster of Beauty and the Beast where Belle is facing into the Beast’s body. Eh, it kinda makes sense.

About that traffic jam on the LL (really the ML and the LL):

I had no idea who AL OERTER is, though he seems like he could probably come in handy for a lot of crossword given his vowel-rich last name. His name is just a beast; no beauty inside that. I suspected that Kovacs’ first name was ERNIE (44A: Comedian Kovacs with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame), and I also suspected that I had heard his name somewhere before, though I couldn’t put my finger on it. The congestion (pun intended) of first and last names in that section cost me some time, as did my filling in DANG and then DAMN instead of RATS for 55D: “Consarn it!” Name me one person, by the way, who still says either of those phrases and I’ll give you all the FOUND MONEY (30D) in my old pairs of pants. While you’re at it, name me one person who still uses MSDOS, which is a nerdy compute science acronym for an operating system that hasn’t been updated since 2000.

OPIUM, OPIE, OBIES, OH BYE,
Kenneth, lowly serf of Crossworld

P.S. EVERT (34D: Turn inside out) is a word??

P.P.S. RHO is the Greek equivalent of P in the English alphabet, hence 55A.

 

 

 

Tuesday, August 2, 2016: “-Less”

Screen Shot 2016-08-02 at 12.54.04 PM

 

Solving time: 25:12. Blech. Hard.

Puzzle quality: 

Aug0216-page-001

Theme: Each of the theme answers is clued with “What the [type of person] didn’t want to be?” and ends in -LESS. As such, the entry describes someone who literally doesn’t have the word that precedes the -LESS suffix. Confused? (That probably wasn’t the best wording). Examples:

  • COLLARLESS (17A: What the beat cop didn’t want to be?). The NYTimes crossword exploits this obscure definition of “collar” all the time: “to seize, grasp, or apprehend (someone). So a beat cop wouldn’t want to be someone who is literally “collarless” because, according to that definition, he/she wouldn’t be able to arrest a criminal. Except collar is a verb and not a noun. So grammatically this clue doesn’t really work. -.-
  • RUTHLESS (21A: What the 1920s Yankee didn’t want to be?) Babe Ruth was a very valuable player on the 1920s Yankee teams. This clue would’ve been much better phrased as “What a 1920s Yankee didn’t want to be?” The article the seems to be referring to Babe Ruth himself, and obviously Babe Ruth wouldn’t want to be without himself.
  • ARTLESS (35A: What the museum curator didn’t want to be?)
  • BASELESS (50A: What the G.I. didn’t want to be?) “Base” here is referring to military base.
  • MOTIONLESS (54A: What the trial attorney didn’t want to be?) Motion, as in “an application for a rule or order of court.”
  • HELPLESS (3D: What the mansion owner didn’t want to be?) I feel like the phrase “the help,” referring to a group of domestic workers, is so outdated that I’ve only heard it in a movie set in the 1960s. Does anyone – even a mansion owner – refer to his/her servants and maids as “the help”?
  • SEAMLESS (36D: What the coal company didn’t want to be?) This is a toughie, since hardly anyone knows that a “seam” is an underground layer, as of ore or coal.” Mr. Oxford to the rescue again.

Must I resign myself to the status quo? Must I blindly accept banal crossword themes like these, where the constructor just decides to make insipid puns out of words that end in -LESS? I don’t think a single one of those theme answers actually made me smile or chuckle. The only potential exception was RUTHLESS, which was the very first theme answer that I got. After that, it was all downhill. Seriously, you’d expect that the greatest crossword puzzle publisher in the world would come up with more amusing themes. It’s almost as though the constructors of these puzzles are just sitting in their rooms, thinking of arbitrary suffixes that they can add onto words so that those words can then become long enough for theme answers. Oh, and some of those words have to be have an equal number of letters, so that the grid is symmetric. Oh, and the theme entries should also be clued wittily. But that last part isn’t as important.

As usual when I’m tired, I acted stupidly while I was completing the puzzle, which partially explains the longer-than-usual solving time. I wanted to fill in HAHA for 1A: Reaction to a crack, but something made me write an I as the first letter for 2D: Blood-typing letters (which was clearly ABO – no idea why I wanted that I). That wasn’t the only time I had trouble with first letters. I couldn’t remember the starting letter of A-LINE, the answer to 15A: Fashion cut. Then, first words also became an issue; I thought for sure that CAPE COD would be the solution to 27A: Martha’s Vineyard alternative, but instead today’s constructor (Paula Gamache) went for THE CAPE?? When I google THE CAPE, I get this TV series that apparently aired on NBC in 2011:

Speaking of unusual ways to phrase things, I thought 44A: “Good heavens!” would be OH MY GOD, but instead Gamache went for MY STARS, which no one … ever … says … anymore. Mr. Oxford literally says it’s “dated.” Gamache probably should have stuck an “archaically” to the end of that clue, or something along those lines.

Oh, and I also forgot the word RIAL. It was on the tip of my tongue when I saw 58A: Mideast money, but I just couldn’t recall it.

Sigh.

 

However, there are definitely some difficult clues, considering that this is a Tuesday. 5D: Worry is a pretty vague hint for CARE; not even Google Translate can tell me what ISOLA (47D: Sicilia, for one) means, although I’m assuming it’s a small island; PICT is appropriately clued as 10A: Briton of old because you’d have to be very, very old to get that; and I guarantee you that 99% of solvers who weren’t actually alive at the start of the 20th century (shocker!) would have filled in PRIDE for 28D: Gay ___ and not the 1900-coined GAY PAREE. 

Peace out fam,
Kenneth, lowly serf of Crossworld