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

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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.

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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, July 19, 2016: “Full Count”

It’s “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” Tuesday, and today’s crossword will have you on the edge of your seats. ALL OUT (20A: 100%, as effort) in the top and it’s the bottom of the ninth, sweat dripping down the BRIM (14A: Hat part) of your YANKEE (22D: Ruth, for one) cap, two outs, score tied 8-8 (or maybe OCHOOCHO) (41A: Spanish eight), and AT BAT (9A: Up), the STAR of the team. Ball… strike… strike… ball… ball… and it’s FULL COUNT

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Solving time: 39:19 because it took me forever to figure out the theme, but it was smooth sailing from there on out.

Theme: The aforementioned FULL COUNT (63A: 3-2… or what’s represented by the answers to this puzzle’s starred clues?) meant that 3 BALLs and 2 STRIKEs were hidden throughout the puzzle.

Balls:

  • Apparently a game Will Shortz played as a child, BALL IN A CUP (11D: Children’s toy that tests dexterity). I imagine this was popular among the youth before the advent of smartphones, right up there on a definitive ranking of pastimes next to blankly staring at walls and domesticating wolves.
  • BALL JOINT (17A: Car part that works in a similar manner to the human hip). More to come on this later.
  • The aptly-timed CANNONBALL (29D: Cry just before hitting the pool). I wish I were at a pool now. 😦

Strikes:

  • STRIKE BACK (37A: Retaliate) as well as
  • RENT STRIKE (42A: Tenants’ protest) both fit nicely in the puzzle and set up the neat motif of all the ball clues going down and strike clues across.

Additionally, I found a bunch of baseball-themed clues scattered throughout, the majority of which I mentioned in my intro. The theme was creative and original, especially for a Tuesday, and I had a lot of fun solving this crossword!

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High School Musical’s BODACIOUS (38D: Attractive, informally) Corbin Bleu doesn’t want to be a STAR (60D: Hollywood Walk of Fame symbol), he just wants to play ball!

Head-scratchersWhile I do enjoy listening to NPR’s “Car Talk” during long car rides, I felt wholly unprepared with identifying a BALL JOINT or intuiting VTEN (24A: Dodge Viper engine). Autonobile, more like it.

NANU nanu?? (48A: When doubled, a sitcom sign-off) This gif came up when I Googled it, and I am potentially even more confused than before. Any and all explanations are welcome.

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Clue of the day: My only critique of the puzzle was that there was only one pun; namely, ATLAS (65A: Place setting?), which could have been used to enable another Latin/Greek-themed clue. Alas, you can’t have OMNI (39A: Upscale hotel chain and another missed opportunity for Latin)

Greek of the day: Switching it up while sticking to the Classics, we have Trojan HELEN (19A: Mythical abductee). This clue wasn’t the apple of my eye because of its vagueness, but I still appreciated the shout-out.

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This pretty much sums it up.

 

Friday, July 15, 2016: “Unionized Turkey”

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Solving time: 53:25, which is right around my average time for a Friday. There were a couple clues that I definitely should have solved much quicker, given that I had more than enough letters when I was trying to figure them out. So this is like medium-ish but also kinda easy.

Puzzle quality: On a scale from EINE to … uh … uh … the [PETE] BEST possible score, with EINE being a TAPE of an OPIATED TURKEY smoking SPEED while dancing to DEVO‘s “Whip It” and the [PETE] BEST possible score being a TAPE of an OPIATED TURKEY smoking SPEED while dancing to DEVO‘s “Whip It,” a solid 7.5.

Whip it good.

Themeless.

Thought of the day: When the AFRICAN DODO’S ROBE OPEN[ed] IN whilst he RAN HOME, his COVETED eggs GOT spilled onto the GREASY STOREY; as Jay LERNER EXAMINE[d] them, he wrote the most ADMIRED lyrics of his career:

dat egg got a sweet AROMA for a DODO
like fine potato dough doe


First, I just wanted to say that my heart goes out to all the victims of last night’s attacks in Nice. Such a senseless tragedy must have been totally unexpected on a night of celebration and rejoicing for the hundreds of families who were observing the Bastille Day fireworks next to the beach.

All around, this week’s Friday was an enjoyable puzzle, with quality clues in every section of the grid. 15A: Hugh who played TV’s House (LAURIE) was a Monday- or Tuesday-level gimme on the UL (upper-left) of the puzzle, and figuring out GLACIAL (1D: Beyond slow) from the “L” of LAURIE and then AMISS (26A: Off) from the second “A” of GLACIAL gave me confidence that I might finish the puzzle under 40 minutes. Alas, that didn’t come to pass, but for a moment there in the UL, I felt like a Rex Parker Jr. conquering the crossword universe.

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YEAST was clued brilliantly with 6D: Rising generation?, which refers to the fact that generations of YEAST rise when you bake bread, and its placement next to AROMAS (4D: Agents in some therapy) in the grid reminded me of my grandma’s cookies. LEE (31A: Gray head) was a solution that I didn’t understand until I had finished the entire puzzle; all the times that I was scrolling through my Facebook feed in history class must have made me forget that the Confederates wore gray uniforms in battle. All that Internet surfing didn’t help me with STASSEN either (14D: Nine-time presidential contender of the 1940s-’90s), whom I didn’t know about until today’s grid. That brings me to the UR (upper-right).

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In this section of the puzzle, we have one clue that’s too general and another one that’s too precise. I got NAIROBI (13D: Safari Capital of the World) just from the “I” in OPEN IN (34A: What exterior doors typically do), since there are very few African cities I know that end in “I.” However, I must say that AFRICANS was a weak answer for the clue that cross-referenced NAIROBI, 7A: 13-Down natives, e.g. A clue about Nairobi’s natives should really have KENYANS for a solution, since AFRICANS is just far too broad. Oddly enough, I thought about India when I first read the clue 18A: Subcontinent wide but thought that an answer involving the country would be too specific. Lo and behold, the solution was ALL INDIA, even though nothing about the word “subcontinent” by itself suggests India. There are other subcontinents too, aren’t there? 30A: Trial cover-up should have definitely had a question mark at the end of it, since the answer – ROBE – is a pun, and a fantastic one at that (the judges that adjudicate at trials wear ROBEs). I was convinced that 21A: Many new car drivers (LEASERS) would refer to teens who are driving a car for the first time, but instead the clue was alluding to new cars and not new drivers.

I loved the double-cross-referencing 36A: See 19- and 37-Across (UNIONIZED). A CHEMIST (One from whom 36-Across has four syllables) would pronounce UNIONIZED as UN-IONIZED, as in unconverted into an ion and hence the four syllables. A PLUMBER (One for whom 36-across has three syllables) would pronounce UNIONIZED as, well, UNIONIZED, as in formed into a labor union and hence the three syllables. My friend Ellis told me that he heard that joke from a TV show, so maybe it’s not a crossword original. As a matter of fact, I just found the pun floating around on the interwebs.

Screen Shot 2016-07-16 at 1.41.32 AM.pngScreenshot taken from this URL:
https://www.reddit.com/r/Jokes/comments/27kz3p/how_can_you_tell_the_difference_between_a_chemist/

Chemist: If we don’t unionize the water that makes up toilets, nobody should be using them!
Plumber: If we don’t unionize the people who make toilets, nobody will be using them!

Other stray notes:

  • Is EMPTIES (55A: Recycling bin fill) really a word? Mr. Oxford tells me that it’s “informal” to use the word as a noun. Bleh.
  • If you’re going to reference Perry Mason, a detective character from the 1930s-’60s that probably zero of my friends know about, through 56A: Creator of the lawyer Perry (ERLE), then at least mention a more modern literary protagonist in the same grid.
  • EINE, the answer to 46A: Mozart title starter, refers to “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik” (which gets translated into English as “A Little Night Music”). It’s the second day in a row that that word has appeared in an NYTimes crossword.
  • A STUB (52A) can be considered “Admission evidence” because you need to show it to an usher or a ticket agent or a who-have-you in order to enter, or be “admitted” into, a show or a concert or a what-have-you.
  • I had a suspicion that ISSUES would be the answer to 47D: Time after Time? but was reluctant to write it into the grid. I thought that the solution would involve some timestamp in the back cover of a Time magazine issue and failed to see the much simpler pun that lay in front of me.
  • I’m pretty sure – but not completely sure – that SIRE, the answer to 33D: Top of the line?, signifies the fact that a SIRE is a male animal used for breeding. Thus, it would be at the top of a genealogical line.

 

Thursday, July 14, 2016: “Phonetic Alphabet”

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Solving time: 50:47, which is about seven or eight minutes below my average for a Thursday puzzle. I must note that I did get some help from some eager beavers – AKA my fellow nerd friends – while I was solving. (Sidé noté: isn’t it a bit odd that it takes me longer to solve a typical Thursday than a Friday? Maybe it’s because I cheat more on Fridays. Who knows? Certainly not I.) So today’s crossword is, like, medium-ish, with a dash of easiness.

Puzzle quality: On a scale from EINE to TEN, with EINE being the BESTIAL SMELL of a rotting BIRD corpse and TEN being the aromatic SMELL of a cooked pheasant BIRD at the Four SEASONS HOTEL, about a 6.

Theme: NATO’s phonetic alphabet. If you’re not familiar with this, people sometimes say “‘N’ as in ‘nancy'” or “‘F’ as in ‘frank'” when they’re trying to spell out a word over the phone. The NATO phonetic alphabet is an official list that matches each letter in the alphabet to a code word, so that international militaries and other such global organizations have a codified way of spelling words to each other through radio/telephone communications. For example,

  • “P” corresponds to PAPA (3D: *__ John’s)
  • “H” corresponds to HOTEL (28D: *Part of a vacation package)
  • “O” corresponds to OSCAR (50D: *To get one, act now!)
  • “N” corresponds to NOVEMBER (18A: *When daylight savings time ends)
  • “E” corresponds to ECHO (57D: *Quick comeback?)
  • “T” corresponds to TANGO (7D: *Dance craze of the 1910s?)
  • “I” corresponds to INDIA (30D: *Origin of the game Parcheesi)
  • “C” corresponds to CHARLIE (38A: *Angels’ leader)

In other words, each of the answers to the starred clues is the code word assigned to the answer’s starting letter, which is circled in the grid. On top of that, the circled letters spell out “PHONETIC,” which is pretty meta.

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Thought of the day, in cartoon form (brought to you by my atrocious Microsoft Paint skills):

ILLUSTRATIVE CARTOON 7-14


I may have appreciated this puzzle more if the circled letters spelled out “PHONETIC” from left to right, or in clockwise/counterclockwise fashion. As you can see above, the placement of the circled letters in the grid is quite arbitrary. Even the revealer clue – 60A: Like the alphabet that includes the answers to the starred clues … and an anagram of the eight circled letters – admits that the circles are altogether a mere anagram of the word “PHONETIC,” rather than the word itself.

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I was familiar with the NATO phonetic alphabet but couldn’t quite identify it by name, which cost me quite a bit of time on the LL (lower-left) section of the puzzle. I also didn’t know any of the codewords corresponding to the letters of the alphabet, with the exception of “Alpha” and “Bravo.” As such, getting the theme didn’t really help me to solve the rest of the puzzle, though I was able to recall “Charlie” and “Tango” after I cracked their respective clues.

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I didn’t realize until now that Whiskey Tango Foxtrot spelled out “WTF” in the NATO phonetic alphabet. In other words, I’m an idiot.

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I’m an idiot part 2.

While the theme answers all followed a fairly unoriginal pattern – all of them were taken from the same alphabet – some of their clues were fresh and inventive. The clue for OSCAR, 50D: *To get one, act now!, kept me guessing for the longest time. Not picking up on the pun, I was expecting a synonym for the line that paid programmers use to persuade people to buy their product. Of course, you can get an Oscar by acting now, although the clue misses the fact that you’d have to act exceptionally well. I also appreciated the clue for OASES (which crosses with OSCAR), 50A: Spring breaks? The spring breaks aren’t referring to vacations, but rather to the sites in a desert where springs “break out” with water.

 

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I was almost certain that 38A: *Angels’ leader would be alluding to St. Peter or some overseer of angels in heaven. Instead, its answer was CHARLIE of Charlie’s Angels.

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St. Peter gets cuckolded.

Other stray notes on today’s puzzle:

  • I’m opposed to APPOSE (1A: Put next to). It’s a technical word that no one ever uses. I think someone wanted to invent an antonym for OPPOSE and then just decided to replace the starting letter. Welcome to the English language.
  • TAPE DECK? (7A: Audio player) Like tape itself, also quite a stretch. It appears that people do use that term to signify an audio player/recorder, but Mr. Wikipedia tells me that CASSETTE DECK is a more common phrase. Idk. Maybe I’m just a tech jejune.
  • I was sure that TOM HANKS would be the answer to 16A: “Bridge of Spies” actor. But instead it’s ALAN ALDA, whom I can recall showing up at least once in every week of crosswords but not a single time in that movie.
  • I don’t think RHO (24A: Aristotle character) is actually a character in any of Aristotle’s works. Since Aristotle is Greek, RHO is just a character in the Greek alphabet. And you thought one alphabet was enough for one day!
  • CDEF (13D: Scale opening) refers to the starting four notes of the C Major scale.
  • Mr. Oxford informs me that to TILT AT means to “thrust at with a lance or other weapon.” So I suppose that explains 29D: Battles against.

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  • Hah. ARE (35D: To be for you?). The conjugation of the verb “to be” for the second person (you) is “are.”

 

 

Wednesday, July 12th, 2016: Tofu Bar

What’s this, you ask? Someone, anyone has looked away long enough from Pokémon Go to do something? Unbelievable in this MODERN DAY (11D: Characteristic of the present) and age. Coming to you live from an 86th street Pokéstop, it’s the Wednesday crossword!

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SWEETIE PIE (30D: Honeybunch)? More like Caterpie.

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Solving time: 31:53, average for a Wednesday.

Theme: Phrases that contain acronyms! So MAMMA MIA (52A: Example of bad parenting?) wasn’t referring to the ABBA-scored movie about the girl who doesn’t know who her father is, it’s “Mamma MIA.” Likewise, we have answers like COMMON ERA (17A: Stat shared by many pitchers?), LETER RIP (26A: “Leave that lady’s tomb alone!”?), DISAPPEARING ACT (40A: Exam that’s losing popularity in high schools?), and PICK ME UPS (66A: Cry from an eager applicant for a delivery job?).

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“Ooh ooh ooh PICK ME, UPS!!!”

Head-scratchers: Not because of spelling or clue quality, DISAPPEARING ACT is just factually incorrect- the ACT overtook the SAT sometime ago in popularity (See here), and while many colleges are considering becoming test-optional, the ACT doesn’t seem like it’s going anywhere for now. Moral of the story, recent high school graduates know a little more than Will Shortz about the college process.

I get that the two anagrams of “D E A N S” were supposed to be clever- SEDAN and ANDES, in 19A and 37A, respectively, but the clues felt like relics from a past iteration of this puzzle, and, in my opinion, didn’t even deserve the question mark denoting its pun status (Order for a “D, E, A, N, S” list?)

NOEL (6D: Rhyme for “Israel,” in a carol) is more of a slant rhyme than an actual one, but maybe I just need to brush up on my caroling knowledge. Finally, I’m not sure what the clue for ATILT (54D: With lance in hand) was supposed to mean, but this is what I pictured:

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ATILT?

Clue of the day: STU (39D: Good name for a guy who’s seething?) I was also thinking “Ira” for this. Runners-up include ASICS (53D: SHoe brand that sounds like a letter and a number) and the foreboding OH NO (14A: Words of dawning realization).

No Latin of the day, to which I say Bye Bye Bye, Felicia.

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NSYNC (71A: “Bye Bye Bye” boy band) gives us an antonym for SAY HI (44A: Be a greeter)

-Maddie

P.S. If you were wondering about the title of this post, think about today’s theme. Tofu bar… or to FUBAR 🙂

Tuesday, July 12, 2016: “Broken Bones”

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Important note: Because of some bug, the NYTimes Crossword online app keeps deleting one letter in the grid after I’ve finished each puzzle. That yellow square should be a “T,” meaning that 34A is GOTTI and 26D is SAT BY.

Solving time: 27:17, which is longer than my time for a typical Tuesday and qualifies this puzzle as somewhere between medium and challenging, leaning on the challenging side.

Puzzle quality: On a scale from 1 to 10, with 1 being the painful sensation of TRIPPING AND FALLING and 10 being getting blessed by Mother Teresa at CALCUTTA, I’d say about a 5.

Theme: BROKEN BONES.” Essentially, each pair of shaded clues represents a bone that gets “split apart” by the grid. For example, we have “UL” at the end of 24A and “NA” at the start of 28A; combined together, they formed “ULNA.” All in all, there are four broken bones:

  • RESTFUL and NATTERED (ULNA)
  • HASAC and RUMBA (SACRUM)
  • GOTTI and BIAS (TIBIA)
  • TRUE LIFE and MURKIER (FEMUR)

Thought of the day: Life is just a series of SLIPS AND FALLS, made worthwhile by the fleeting BLISS in between.


Not much time today for even an illustrative cartoon of the day, so I’m going to keep this relatively short.

I enjoyed today’s cutesy theme, but it certainly required the constructor to fill the grid with some MURKIER (46A: More obscure) clues than I’ve seen on an average Tuesday. I would be surprised if HAS AC (31A: Is ready for the summer weather, for short) has APPEARED IN (11D: Is part of the cast of) a puzzle before, especially a Tuesday. I thought for the longest time that the clue was supposed to be read as HASAC (without the space in between the “S” and the “A”)  and was almost certain that I was missing out on some cultural reference. USE AC might have been a better solution to the clue, since you can have AC before the summer but not use it until the heat arrives that season. Of course, however, that alternate answer wouldn’t have worked with the theme.

I wrote NATTERED (28A: Went on and on) into the grid after I had a couple letters from the downs, but I was a bit hesitant. As Mr. Oxford English Dictionary says, to “natter” means to “talk casually, especially about unimportant matters.” That definition doesn’t imply anything about going “on and on.” Maybe PRATTLED, which has just as many letters as NATTERED, would have been a more suitable answer.

RUMBA (37A: Cousin of the mambo) is certainly more arcane than its “cousin,” although it did ring a faint bell when I tried to recall it for that clue. Mr. Wikipedia mentions nothing about its relationship to the mambo, but a little bit of digging around on Mr. Google will tell you that the two dances are indeed related to each other.

I also had a bit of difficulty on the UL (upper-left) section of this puzzle. LABATT (1A: Canadian beer __ Blue) is apparently the largest brewer in Canada, a fact that I certainly wasn’t aware of since I couldn’t get the answer to the clue. Then again, I’m also too young to drink. I didn’t know that an ALL-PRO (14A: Distinguished NFL’er) is the “best player of a position during a given season,” according to Mr. Wikipedia. Additionally, I wrote ICE instead of the correct EIS (20A: Winter hazard on the autobahn) for 20A, not realizing that autobahn implied a German solution.

Other stray notes:

  • I appreciated the grid symmetry of SLIP AND FALL (17A: Take a tumble) and BROKEN BONES (55A: Injuries illustrated four times in this puzzle). I’m sure it was intentional.
  • I didn’t realize that “Chrome dome” is a synonym for baldness, so I had a bit of trouble getting BALDY (40A).
  • I thought that 36A: Military sch. would be referring to a specific military academy, but instead the answer was just a general ACAD.
  • RYAN’S HOPE (45A: “__” Hope, 1970’s-’80s soap) gets added to the list of TV shows that the NYTimes crossword has taught me about.

Signed,
Kenneth, lowly serf of Crossworld

 

Monday, July 11, 2016: “Wow Factor”

For a puzzle all about WOW FACTORs, there wasn’t much exciting going on in this Monday’s. I probably spent the majority of my time making up rhyming sentences with the clues (i.e. “OH GEE, SWEDE SNEE, play REEDS like STEVE ZEE!” Also, it was pretty fun to pretend the W-O-W theme was sarcastic and read all the clues in a Ted voice (see below).

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Solving time: 14:52, but only because I misspelled the abbreviation ASSN (5A: One of the a’s in Nascar: Abbr.) Overall, a fairly straightforward solve.

Theme: A lot of W-O-W clues based around WOW FACTOR (36D: Pizazz): WAR OF WORDS (18A: Heated argument), whose clue alternatively could have been “Any Popular Discourse post that mentions politics”; the graceful WALTZ OFF WITH (23A: Take while no one’s looking, say); the awe-inspiring WALKS ON WATER (46A: Exhibits a superhuman ability); and the classic WAY OUT WEST (56A: 1937 Laurel and Hardy romp in the frontier).

Head-scratchers: A little thrown off by the adjective ALGAL (3D: Like some pond growths), mainly because I wanted to pronounce it with a hard ‘g’.

Clue of the day: As a typeface nerd, I cannot count the number of times I’ve had to explain what a SERIF (7D: Feature of a font) is. Thanks, NYT Crossword, for giving me an excuse to make this nifty graphic:

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Nota bene: the horizontal line-type things on the serif font.

Runners-up include ASWOON (5D: In a faint) because I love adding an ‘a’ at the beginning of a noun and making it an adjective; REEDS (51D: Clarinets and such) because yay clarinets; and GOAD (29D: Prod) because this is how I remembered it when I learned it as an SAT word:

goat

A goat goaded with a GOAD

Latin of the day: Slim pickings, but I’ll settle with the 32D clue “By Jove!”(I SAY). I feel like this expression should make a comeback.

Stay ON WATCH (9D: Doing sentry duty) for tomorrow!

-Maddie

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Saturday, July 9, 2016: “Pirate Ship”

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Solving time: 40:25, which just lowered my Saturday average under the hour-and-a-half mark! (Rex Parker probably thinks I’m a crossword newb for taking that long to solve an average Saturday.) Indeed, despite the abundance of proper nouns, today’s crossword is easy.

Puzzle quality – the clue FAT SUITS (26A: Outfit for big pants) immediately made me think of robber barons and this famous cartoon from the height of the Gilded Age (to be clear, the quality of today’s puzzle is best captured by the faintly smiling robber baron in blue pants on the far right):

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Theme: Like yesterday’s puzzle, no theme! Zip, zero, nada.

Thought of the day: The PIRATE SHIPS spent their SHORE LEAVE CHILLAX[ing] by touching their SANDALS and OARS to the GREEN ALGAE lapping IDLY against the effervescent waves on the OUTER BANKS of the ZANZIBAR coastline.


Ah, ZANZIBAR (23D: Island known for its spices). Like the aroma of French camembert – certainly far superior to that of a mere CHEEZ IT (36A: Orange snack in a red box) – paired with an aging Cabernet. Just kidding. I’m too much of a country bumpkin to know what either of those taste like, unlike Will Shortz, who has probably sampled every single food on the planet during his timeless reign as Most Glorious Crossword Chief of the Universe.

But oh, does ZANZIBAR roll off the tongue. It might be the finest proper noun that I’ve ever seen in a crossword grid. I’ve just added traveling there on a PIRATE SHIP (1A: One might have black-and-white standards) to my bucket list.

By the way, while we’re on the topic of PIRATE SHIP, the “black-and-white standards” in the clue refer to the skull-and-crossbones flags, or Jolly Rogers, that are flown on such ships. One of the more obscure definitions of a “standard” is: “a military or ceremonial flag carried on a pole or hoisted on a rope,” according to Mr. Oxford. Pirates have more standards to raise than you might think. 😉

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Jolly Rogers, who never looks jolly at all.

And while we’re on the topic of pirates (who, I guess, hunt for treasure) the clue for IDOL – 11A: Treasure hunter’s loot, maybe – is a bit too vague for my taste. Perhaps a reference to Indiana Jones, who searches for the Golden Idol in the opening scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark, would have improved the clue.

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The Golden Idol from Raiders of the Lost Ark. I feel like the Aztec gods are going to smite me for writing that caption.

If there is one theme that can be spotted from this puzzle, it is the prevalence of imagery that is vaguely linked to ships, seas, and water. Another clue that also requires us to know a fairly unknown definition is 15A: Stay off the water?, whose answer is SHORE LEAVE. Mr. Oxford again: a shore leave is “leisure time spent ashore by a sailor.” GREEN ALGAE (60A: Film about rock groups?) quite literally lies underneath OUTER BANKS (56A: North Carolina vacation area) both in the grid and in real life, I suppose. The clue, by the way, for GREEN ALGAE is divinely witty. You might be thinking that the phrase “film about rock groups” would be referring to one of the four Beatles films or This is Spinal Tap when it’s actually alluding to a marine life form, since “film” can refer to any thin layer covering a surface and “about” can express an object’s location.

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Katy Perry algae vibes.

 

Some stray notes on today’s puzzle:

  • Even ARES (4D: War force) probably couldn’t have guided the Lost Battalion to victory in ARGONNE (38A: Where the Lost Battalion got lost). They were completely flanked by German forces in World War I and had to sustain nearly hundreds of casualties.
  • I wonder if there’s a MAP (29A: Station display, which I thought was a clue for ETA) out there that indicates the location of a TREE LINE (34A: Certain upper-growth limit), which means the “edge of the habitat at which trees are capable of growing.” If you’re hiking on a mountain and you don’t see trees anymore, that means you should probably head back before your ass turns into an iced dessert for the yetis. Or before the yeti gives you a BLACK EYE (43A: Boxing ring? – like, ring as in the black circle around your injured eye).

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  • I would’ve preferred a more original clue for HOP (48A: Small vault). I got the answer right off the bat since an April puzzle that I was solving recently, which also happened to be a Saturday, had the exact same clue.
  • OLD MASTERS (62A: Bellini and Botticelli) are skilled European painters who produced art before 1800. Yes, that can refer to LOTS (14D: Heaps), repeat LOTS, of painters.

And finally, in reference to TESLA COIL (33D: It causes sparks to fly) and the sexual nature of its clue,

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Who could resist Tesla’s dreamy eyes?

Signed,
Kenneth, lowly serf of Crossworld

 

 

Friday, July 8, 2016: “Bed and Breakfast”

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Solving time: 1:16:03, which is certainly on the higher end for a Friday puzzle. I had the same problem that I did on Wednesday: a slight bit of sleep deprivation, as I’ve been awake for nearly 24 hours now. Nonetheless, I felt that many of the shorter clues were either atypical for a crossword or unconventionally clued. Today’s puzzle is moderately challenging.

Puzzle quality – in honor of the TITANIUM ORE clue (15A: Ilmenite is the chief one), my brilliant prowess at Microsoft Paint, and also Patrick Star’s Googly Pet Rock*:

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*For anyone who didn’t understand the reference (I’m completely unashamed to admit that I still watch Spongebob):

Theme: Like all Friday and Saturday puzzles, today’s is themeless!

Thought of the day: Every place is just a WAITING AREA before you TAKE LEAVE for somewhere else.


Today the NYTimes Crossword Popular Discourse blog ventures into the unknown and treacherous no-theme’s-land territory!

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Such is the unforgivingly harsh landscape of no-theme’s-land. No soul who enters it returns alive! I’m kidding; that’s no-man’s-land, and as the faint smile on that TITANIUM ORE should have indicated, this may have been the most entertaining puzzle that I’ve written about since the inception of this blog last Sunday. That may not be saying much since those other crosswords had set a fairly low bar for my expectations this week and also because today’s puzzle certainly had some issues.

There’s so much repeated vocabulary that it almost seems that today’s constructor, Barry C. Silk, may have embedded a theme into the grid. “Scrap” (clue 19A for ORTcrosses “having a scrap” (clue 3D for AT IT), which could be an unintentional pun because someone in a cross state might go AT IT with another person. MANASSAS (22D) and ANTIETAM (39D) are identically clued with “Civil War battle site.” Side note: Oddly enough, I wanted to write in BULL RUN as the answer to 22D, but the letters didn’t fill all eight spaces. If I had instead recalled the battlefield where BULL RUN had taken place, maybe my solving time would have been cut down. I was almost certain that ORC would be the answer to one of the two identical “World of Warcraft figure” clues, since that’s the usual crosswordese that corresponds to that hint. I can understand IMP (61A) as a solution, since that’s the name of an entire race of creatures in the game. HAG (55A), however, seems like more of a stretch to me since she appears in just one level and is also “obscure,” according to an avid World of Warcraft specialist that I consulted (aka gaming neeeeeerd).

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Though today’s puzzle was no exception to the New York Times’ overzealous obsession with five-letter animal names – from GREBE (26D: Duck lookalike) to TETRA (33D: Bright swimmer) – and with phonetically convenient geographical locations – from ESSEN (32D: European city whose name means “eat”) to YSER (54D: W.W.I. battle site) – there were some clues that I genuinely enjoyed.

I was almost certain that END would be the answer to 12A: It may justify things (as in “the END justifies the means”) and was pleasantly surprised to discover that the correct solution was TAB. As in justified like this paragraph. Get it???

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I have seen ARIA countless times even though my crossword career has been relatively short-lived, unlike Will Shortz’s literally IMMORTAL existence on this earth. I appreciated that today’s clue for it (56A: “Eri tu,” but not “Eres tú”) did not refer to some “operatic passage” and instead made me read two esoteric cultural references, stare in bafflement, then return to the clue later once I had filled in more of the grid.

37A: He worked for Hershey in the 1910s-’20s sounds like a clue that requires you to know some hyper-specific proper noun, but the answer (REESE) is one that you can easily intuit if you know that Hershey acquired REESE‘s Peanut Butter Cups (forty years after REESE retired from Hershey’s factories).

I thought that the “spots” in 27D: Spots for air traffic controllers referred to buildings where the air traffic controllers controlled the air traffic, but instead they alluded to the “blips” that each plane represents in a “radar” (RADAR BLIPS).

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Soul and R&B (47D: Soul mate?) are a match made in heaven because they make beautiful children together.

 

Signed,
Kenneth, lowly serf of Crossworld

Thursday, July 7: Airport Security

“Ugh,” you groan as you search for your English-to-Crosswordese dictionary (does this exist? If so, my birthday is November 17). “Not another mention of ASPs (42A: Venomous viper) or the verb to EKE (64A: Scratch (out)). And if I had a dollar for every time the TSA was mentioned…”

Not to fear, disillusioned crossword-goers, today’s puzzle uses Crosswordese unexpectedly- at random CHECKPOINTS, one migh(T SA)y.

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Solving time: 41 minutes, over half an hour faster than my average Thursday time!

Theme: Four CHECKPOINTS (34A: Border stops) with the sneaky sneaky TSA lurking as a rebus. (Personally, I think a hidden rebus of NSA might have been more clever, but I’m not complaining.)

Crazily enough, today was the first rebus puzzle I had ever completed! Before I figured out the reveal, I spent the majority of my time trying to think of a 5-letter way to say “IT’S A BOY” (50D: Delivery room announcement). I came up with the robottish “It boy” before I had a lightbulb moment when “LIGHTSABERS” (21A: Jedi defenses) wasn’t fitting either.

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Nick Cage helps us out with 58A: “Really?!”

Head-scratchers: Or should I say head-latherers: SUDSES (43D: Lathers up), ostensibly the present active form of the verb “to suds,” feels like someone started writing an actual word and got shampoo in their eyes. Also, saying AMEBA (10D: Low life?) is an alternate spelling of amoeba is like saying “ijit” is a colloquial spelling of idiot in order to get a triple letter boost in Scrabble: just no. On an unrelated note, I apologize to all the participants of this past weekend’s Scrabble game.

Finally, the last time I checked, an “outside clearance event”(47D) is a yard sale- how exactly would a so-called TENT SALE work? Are there multiple tents, and are they for sale?

The strangest clue of the day happens to coincide with another of my superlatives, so I’ll mention it later.

Clue of the day: The somewhat baffling Miley Cyrus-ism in 49A- “Pink isn’t just a color, it’s an ATTITUDE!” Runners-up include TOTALER (39D: Summer), since it has nothing to do with the season, and money-laundering OVENS (31A: A lot of dough can go into them).

Latin of the day: 24A’s “Mollusks once known as lepus marinus” aka… SEA HARES. Okay, what? Sure, I know lepus, oris (m) means ‘hare’ and marinus ‘sea,’ but why would you name the animal (right, image) after the bunny (left, artistic interpretation)? And what happened to make these mollusks “once” known as such? So many questions, so little time. Also pictured on left: my first attempts for this clue (sea horse, seashell, and seaweed, respectively).

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SEA HARES, expectation vs. reality.

Today, more than ever, I was grateful for every science course I took in high school, not to mention the physics class I am TAing this summer! From the smallest of small- an ATOM (38A: Focus of quantum mechanics) and the protozoan AMEBA to biochem’s KETONE (60A: Camphor or fructose) to the glorious electricity & magnetism unit measurement of the OHM (31: Volt per ampere), I have never so tangibly grasped the real-world applications of science as today.

Tha(T’S A)ll for now, folks!                                                                                                                         -Maddie

BTW (33D: Incidentally, in a txt msg), congrats to fellow blogger Kenneth Shinozuka for reaching a 60-day crossword-solving streak. Onward and upward, my friend- a swimming sea hare for you!

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