Thursday, May 31, 2018

Thursday's New York Times puzzle solved: May 31, 2018

My time: 14:45.

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Dominick Talvacchio speaks for us all when he says, IT'S ALL GREEK TO ME.  What's "Greek" about the themed answers are the hidden letters in the convoluted, absurdist phrases he's invented.

How convoluted?  "Wager one's sculpture of the Virgin Mary cradling the body of Jesus?" is BET A PIETA, and it hides beta.  Or try "Hired vehicle that's only as big as a potato crisp?"  That's CHIP-SIZE TAXI, which holds zeta.  Then there's "One-millionth of a meter along a spiritual path?" which is THE TAO MICRON.  Last, but certainly not least wordy, is "Inst. of higher learning dedicated to the statistical analysis of young sheep?"  And that's LAMB DATA U.  Whew!

Tough to figure out, but I did it!  Go me! Gadzooks!  On to the rest...

I didn't know that one of GHANA's claims to fame is being the first sub-Saharan country to become independent.  This happened on March 6, 1957.  It had been under formal British control as the Gold Coast since 1844.

Hank AARON is the MLB career leader in total bases gained.  He has 6,856.  Stan Musial lags at second with 6,134.

ESCAROLE is a bitter green with wide, wavy leaves.  It's related to endives and radicchio.

"Locale of Rome and Syracuse" is NYS which I suppose is an abbr. of New York State, but I don't think people use that abbr.  At one point Rome, NY produced 10% of all copper made in the United States.

One answer that may as well be Greek to me is ALEPH-null ("the number of natural numbers").  It's a measurement of the size of the set of natural numbers.

Actress and singer PATTI Lupone is mostly known for her work on stage, though she has had minor and guest roles in Witness, "Oz," "30 Rock," and "BoJack Horseman."

"It has dots for spots" is MAP.  This clue tries too hard.

"Cher, e.g." is AMI.  I don't get this.  The French word cher doesn't mean AMI, though you can call your friend "dear" if you want. The words go together, but cher isn't an example of AMI.

I didn't know that SEIKO is a Japanese company.  They don't just make watches, but other electronic equipment, jewelry, and even semiconductors.

Did you know ATARI has an online-only museum?  Me neither.

"Inti worshiper" is INCA.  Inti is the all-powerful, benevolent sun god in Incan mythology.  He is married to the moon Quilla.  As the Inca empire expanded in size and power in the 1400s, sun worship was incorporated into the religions of the conquered peoples and used as an imperial propaganda that the Inca were the people with a divine right to rule.  The rulers claimed direct lineage from Inti.

I sort of remembered Boston Symphony conductor Seiji OZAWA had appeared twice in the puzzle, last time on January 3, but couldn't come up with his name without crossfill.

The Florentine river ARNO last appeared December 23, 2017, as flowing through the Piazzale Michelangelo.

Clever clues: "Kitchen drawer?" is TAP, which I guess "draws" water?  "Stacked quarters?" is APTS.  "It takes a toll" is E-Z PASS.  "What might help you beat the heat?" is FIRE EXIT --- I first approached it thinking heat might refer to police.  "Mouthful?" is SASSY.  "Lauder making some blush" is a very winking clue, since reading it "wrong" is based on the word lauder meaning "one who praises," but since the name is much more well known than the word, it doesn't come off nearly as clever as it is.  "One whose office has an opening to fill?" is DDS.

Well, that's the whole shebang, A TO Z.  It really should have been alpha to omega.  Anyway, BYE NOW.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Wednesday's New York Times puzzle solved: May 30, 2018

My time: 6:28, pretty good!

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Today's puzzle, by Sande Milton and Jeff Chen, has a big smiley face in the grid just like this Monday's, but it has nothing to do with any happy or smiley wordplay.  No, this puzzle is about SCRABBLE.  There are four PLAYERS represented in the grid, each themed word being behind a triple row of black squares to represent the rack, facing each other in a square.  The other answers are JUMBLED, ARRANGE, and LETTERS.  These four answers are clued as jumbled letters of their answers, i.e. "rack #1: AELPRSY" for PLAYERS.

But that's not all!  A sixth themed answer is MIXED BAG, representing three other anagrammed answers in the middle of the squared off PLAYERS: these are ISLET, STILE, and TILES.

Very clever!  So here's to you, Sande and Jeff, for toasting Alfred Butts and his Lexico game.

In other fill:

An "approach shot in golf" is a CHIP shot.  This is a ball played from close to the green, popping the ball up and over some small barrier such as the last bit of rough, so you can get close enough to putt.

Evo MORALES has been the president of Bolivia since 2006.  An indigenous Aymara, he was a coca grower and activist before becoming a politician.

The BEEB, of course, is the BBC, but I didn't remember at first that Sky UK is another British TV channel.

For "yawners, in sports" I initially put *ROUTS but it's... ROMPS?  Merriam-Webster defines it as "an easy, winning pace" synonymous with runaway, so I guess so?

The Spanish city of AVILA, capital of the province of the same name, is noted for its 700-900 year old walls, the most complete fortifications in all of Spain.

In other foreign city news, I couldn't remember offhand the name of BASRA.  Its in the southeastern part of the country, on the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates, about 70 miles north of the Persian Gulf.

"Irish Rose's love" is somewhat opaque, but I'd read somewhere that "Abie's Irish Rose" is a play by Anne Nichols about the wedding of an Irish Catholic woman, Rosemary Murphy, who marries a Jewish man, ABIE Levy, over the objections of their families. There were two film versions made. 

"The Runnin' Rebels" of the NCAA is UNLV, whose sports teams bear that tedious name.

Did you know U.S. ROUTE 50 goes from California to Maryland?  Me neither.  It's about 3000 miles long, with some stretches called "The Loneliest Road in America."

The Miracle Mets appeared in a puzzle on February 21, but today they want one of the players.  It's Tommie AGEE, an outfielder who made two of the greatest catches in World Series history, and both were in game three of the 1969 World Series.

It's well known that all the great detergents have monosyllabic names.  Bold.  All.  Cheer.  Biz.  Gain.  Fab.  Proctor & Gamble's entry is ERA --- two syllables!  They dare to break the mold.

Scotland's Firth of TAY appeared on May 8, but today we learn that the River TAY is Scotland's longest river.  It's 117 miles.

"Big name in nail polish" is ESSIE.  Never heard of it!

I didn't know that there was a path in the Andes called the INCA Trail, but it makes sense.

"1953 Leslie Caron title role" is LILI.  Lili Daurier is an orphaned young woman who joins a puppet act and starts a relationship with the antisocial puppetmaster.  Caron also played Gigi in Gigi.

SAS, when it comes to airlines, stands for Scandinavian Air Systems, headquartered in Stockholm.

TEENA Marie appeared, along with the clue that she sang the 1985 hit "Lovergirl," on April 30.

Clever clues: "Key" is ISLET.  "It has a head and hops" is ALE.  "Links things" is TEES.  "Car nut" is LUG.

I'm very surprised I did this so quickly, considering that long list of new concepts!  I guess it's all that practice ENABLING me to make better guesses.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Tuesday's New York Times puzzle solved: May 29, 2018

My time: 5:03, pretty good!

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John Lieb has fun with the word TRIDENTS.  Five themed answers have triple letters, but not just any letters --- taken in order north to south, they spell D-E-N-T-S.  The themed answers are ODD DUCKS, FREE EMAIL, SUE ANN NIVENS ("Betty White's role on 'The Mary Tyler Moore Show'"), PITT THE ELDER, and DRESS SIZE.

For "fedEx alternative" I fell into the *UPS trap but it's DHL.  A German company headquartered in Bonn, it was founded by Americans.  The name is a combination of their last names' initials.

LATTE ART is "craftsmanship from a barista." I like that fill.

A SONATINA is just a shorter, lighter, easier sonata.

October has two choices for birthstones: you can go for tourmalines or OPALS.

DANA Perino is another of those blonde eye candy talking heads on Fox.  Ugh.

The SAAR Coal District is a region in the state of Saarland.  Changing hands with French a few times in its history, was famed for its coal production.  Not so much anymore.

I saw the movie Rent but I'm not a BOHEMIA nut or anything.  MIMI Marquez is the character who is the HIV-positive junkie exotic dancer who pairs up with Roger.

"Cherish those hearts that HATE thee" is advice Wolsey gives Cromwell in Shakespeare's "King Henry VIII."

UNIcode is a computing industry standard for the consistent encoding, representation, and handling of text expressed in most of the world's writing systems.  The system is maintained by the creepy-sounding Unicode Consortium.

Clever clues: "Place for a sweater" is SAUNA.  "Snitch" is SING.

Fun, pretty easy puzzle with a very pleasing theme.  I didn't get the record, but you have to try hard and ERN that.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Monday's New York Times puzzle solved: May 28, 2018

My time: 7:33, nearly a minute slower than average!  Boo, me!

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Alex Eaton-Salners found my one weakness with this devious puzzle that relies on knowledge of a musical!  Apparently the song "PUT ON A HAPPY FACE," by Lee Adams and Charles Strouse, is featured in the musical "Bye Bye Birdie."

(Extra crossword synchronicity tidbit: Chita Rivera, an actress I learned about in yesterday's puzzle, originated a role in this musical on Broadway and the West End.)

"What you might do if you sing" this song is BREAK INTO A SMILE, and "how you might feel if you sing" it is FULL OF GOOD CHEER.

It wasn't until I finished the entire puzzle that I realized that the grid has a large smiley face --- eyes, nose, grin, even eyebrows ---- formed with the black squares.  I really ought to be more observant.

The hinged part of an airplane wing is AILERON, a word I've heard before but had trouble spelling.

The town of OCALA, Florida appeared on January 3, but here it's part of OCALA National Forest, the southernmost forest in the US, famous for its sand pines.

Prince ALY Khan was the son a Pakistani sultan, the third husband of Rita Hayworth, and representative of Pakistan to the UN.

Staying on the subcontinent, PALAK paneer is an an Indian dish which is basically just a purée of spinach and cheese curd.

"Bit of jewelry on the side of the head" is EARCLIP.  Not in my vocabulary.

Clever clues: "Untagged, in tag" is NOT IT.  "Medium strength?" is ESP.  "Ones whistling while they work?" is REFS.  "Big top?" is AFRO.

There was very little new material here for me to stumble over; I just had a needlessly hard time with the theme.  I should have been more open-minded (and open-eyed); I may have subconsciously given up when I saw the clue about a musical.  I'm not HIP TO those kinds of OLD show tunes, though I have nothing against them.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Sunday's New York Times puzzle solved: May 27, 2018

My time: 22:24.

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Andrew Chaikin celebrates the number "21" in this puzzle and all it stands for.  Six clues read only "21" and their answers are AGE FOR DRINKING LEGALLY, NUMBER ONE ALBUM BY ADELE, GUNS IN A MILITARY SALUTE, SPOTS ON ALL SIDES OF A DIE, and WINNING BLACKJACK TOTAL.  If some of those answers seem stilted in wording, that's because the last "21" reveals that there are 21 LETTERS IN THESE ANSWERS.

Well done!  That's some very devious cruciverbiage!  Not only that but there's lot of other nods to 21 throughout the puzzle.  Why didn't this puzzle run on a Sunday of the 21st?

New Hampshire has the tiniest COAST!  Only 21 kilometers.  Ha ha!  Look at its tiny COASTline!

Never heard of actress CHITA Rivera.  She's mostly known for musical theater.  She did have a film role in the film version of Chicago.

Democratic politician J. James EXON was governor of Nebraska 1971 to 1979, and senator from 1979 to 1997.  He never lost an election.  He is the only Nebraskan besides George W. Norris, the architect of Nebraska's unicameral legislature, to win five consecutive statewide elections.

Remember the Maine!  It sunk in HAVANA harbor in 1898, precipitating the Spanish-American War, and that's why we allow Puerto Ricans to have practically all the rights of fourth-class citizens today.  Also it's probable that we sunk our own ship.  'Merica!

I had forgotten the name of David Ogden STIERS, who played Major Winchester on "MASH."  He was the second-best character on that show (after Potter).

Fascinating fact: I had no idea that every Baha'i temple is a NONAGON.  They also have nine entrances.  Nine is a sacred number in this faith, which emphasizes acceptance of all people and a peaceful global unity.  Their nine-sided houses of worship are open to all, and they do not deliver sermons.

"Take the 'A' TRAIN" is a is a jazz standard by Billy Strayhorn that was the signature tune of the Duke Ellington orchestra.  Ella Fitzgerald did it too.  It begins, "You must take the "A" train / To go to Sugar Hill way up in Harlem."

An ENGRAM, in neuropsychology, is a theoretical means by which memories are stored.  Richard Semon, the German evolutionary biologist, coined the term and believed that engrams allowed cellular changes that could be passed on genetically.

I knew that SYDNEY was the Summer Olympics (2000) host after Atlanta (1996), but I didn't know it was the capital of NSW.

More towns: TERNI, Italy, is where St. Valentine is said to have been born and become a bishop (enbishoped?).  It's also known as "The Steel City" and "The Italian Manchester."

Having lived in the Big Apple during the '80s, I know the Guardian Angels, bless 'em, but I didn't know Curtis SLIWA.  He's a fascinating figure. he embellished many Angels exploits as well as his own role in them and fabricated stories about being kidnapped, but also survived a real assassination attempt against him by John Gotti.

CLEA duVall is an actress who was in 21 Grams and "Veep" and I even saw her in "Better Call Saul," but I don't remember her in it.

We all know Pol Pot, but we don't know his palindromic countryman, LON NOL.  He was the Prime Minister of Cambodia twice and president of the Khmer Republic.  He fled the Khmer Rouge and died in exile in California.  He appeared on November 9, 2017, but I had forgotten all about him.

ETHANE appeared (as C2H6) on November 23, 2017.  Here it is clued as "component of natural gas."

AT. NO. (atomic number) was used on October 10, 2017.  Here it's the answer to "Scandium's is 21."

Clever clues: "One might be cast in a Harry Potter film" is SPELL (I kept thinking, owl?).  "Raiders' org." is ATF, I guess because they raid houses?  "It starts with E, in two different ways" is EYE TEST.

ALL TOLD, this was puzzle was A BLAST, and I was quite impressed by the complex construction required to make the theme work.  That took BRAINS!

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Saturday's New York Times puzzle solved: May 26, 2018

My time: 15:43.

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Pete Wentz constructed this themeless that had me saying, "NERTS!" every time I got some answers wrong.  Some nice novel and fun though, like THE LEGO MOVIE, CROWD PLEASER, STARBASE, POP A PILL ("easy way to ease pain"), PHONE SEX, and PLAY THE PONIES.

For "about a third of South America" I wanted to put Patagonia but that makes up about 1/18th of South America's land area and anyway it doesn't fit.  It's actually AMAZONIA, a word I'm not familiar with but which refers to the river and its rainforest, plus other regions.  It's also called the Amazon biome.

The capital of TONGA is Nuku'alofa, which I shall endeavor to remember, I guess?  It is located on the island of Togatapu.

The Beatles had their last US TOUR in 1966.  It was their last major tour at all, and was overshadowed by the infamous "more popular than Jesus" comment.

The three states in Nineteen Eighty-Four are Oceania, Eurasia, and the one I forgot about, EASTASIA.  This is the newest and smallest of the three powers.  We have always been at war with Oceania.

I'm not sure that "Republican politico George" is enough of a hint for George PATAKI.  He was the governor of New York from 1995 to 2006.  What about "He followed Cuomo"?

Retrovir is a trade name for Zidovudine, an HIV drug also branded as AZT, which stands for azidothymidine.  There will be a quiz on this tomorrow.

In music, LARGO means "slow and dignified."  Literally "broad," it indicates the slowest of tempos, although others in previous eras placed LARGO between adagio and andante.

ED ASNER was born to play Warren Buffett, in the HBO movie Too Big to Fail.

I forgot that Margaret Thatcher's husband's name was DENIS.

"Never stop improving" is a slogan used by LOWE'S.  It replaced "Let's build something together," which, let's face it, is kind of blah.

Clever clues: "Part of some shortcuts" is ALT --- that's some programming humor there.  "Bottom of the sea?' is KEEL.  "Typing center" is HOME ROW.  "Not leave at the end of the line" is REEL IN (I had a hard time thinking about leaving people waiting in a queue).  "End of a presidential address" is DOT GOV (I initially put *AVENUE).

Well, this wasn't a record-breaking time, but I didn't do too badly for a Saturday.  And I quite enjoyed the clues and fill.  LET'S BE honest, they can't all be speedy times.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Friday's New York Times puzzle solved: May 25, 2018

My time: 14:02.

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I'M STUCK was definitely this frustrated solver's cry on today's puzzle by Jeff Chen.  For whatever reason, the clues were just not clicking with me, although I had a good chuckle or two at their cleverness after the fact.

The theme today is football, sort of.  The grid shows a big football goal Y in the middle, and right under that is an "important case for national security" --- the NUCLEAR FOOTBALL.  Funny!

(We've seen this two-pronged black shape in the grid before, on December 21, 2017.)

I knew that INDIANA was known as the "Crossroads of America" because US Highway 40 and US Highway 41 intersect there (specifically at Terre Haute), but I didn't know it was the state motto.

I misread the clue "When the tempest occurs in 'The Tempest'" as "Where the tempest occurs" and put *ASEA.  It's ACT I.  Whoops!

I didn't know that IHOP is a sister chain of Applebee's.  They are both owned by Dine Brands Global.

"World Cup cheer" is a terrible clue for USA.

For "just treatment" I had *FAIR SHARE which sowed me down quite a bit.  It's actually FAIR SHAKE.

"Fictional work that eschews literary conventions" is ANTINOVEL.  The term was popularized by Sartre.

MACON, Georgia is home to Mercer University.  I accidentally put this as *MASON for a while. Founded in 1833, Mercer is the oldest private university in Georgia.

I'm so not a sports guy that I had to guess at the football term D-LINE.

Bulgaria's TSARS Simeon I and Simeon II appeared on January 26.

Russian-French artist ERTE appeared on September 27, 2017.  Today he is used in a clue as an example of DECO art.  In 1915, Erte began an association with "Harper’s Bazaar" by designing covers of each of their magazines for the next 22 years.  The influence of his work as a result of the high visibility of this periodical influenced an entire art movement that was to become known as Art Deco.  He said, "Art Deco, of course, is the confluence of Cubism and Art Nouveau."  Of course!

Clever clues: "Projected expense for a roofer?" is EAVE.  "Get cheeky with?" is MOON.  "Rice left on a shelf, maybe" is ANNE.  "Hit with big charge" is TASE.  "Reality show whose contestants must be good with numbers" is THE VOICE.  "Long range" is ANDES.  "How bugs may be eaten" is ON A DARE.  "John in England" is ELTON.

I was definitely not saying "AH, BLISS" at the end of this puzzle.  But I did enjoy the surprise theme and the plethora of devious clues.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Thursday's New York Times puzzle solved: May 24, 2017

My time: 14:47.

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Erik Agard and Andy Kravis have fun with SPOONERISMS.  In that capper answer, the first five letters are circled, because all of the themed answers, if un-spoonerized, are used with spoons.

So, we have "horse races?" which is WHINNY MEETS, made from the base phrase Mini-Wheats.  "Seinfeld's stringed instrument" is the JERRY CELLO, which is from cherry Jell-O.  A "particularly pale Ph.D. ceremony" is PASTY HOODING, which was the first themed clue I got, even before I realized that we were doing SPOONERISMS.  The joke is based on hasty pudding, which is gross oatmeal corn mush, or porridge in the UK.   Worst thing with pudding in the name ever.  The last themed answer is PAY GROUPON, which means to "pony up for a certain online deal."  Might you have any Grey Poupon?

A very well done theme, or should I say, a theme that is very dell won.

I can't believe that I had such a hard time remembering Filipino strongman Ferdinand MARCOS, not to mention Imelda and all her shoes.

For "hot gossip" I had *ITEM but it's DISH.  For "compete in a harness race" I had *DRAG (I was thinking about an Iditarod dog team harnessed up)  but it's TROT.  I had largely forgotten the specific horse race meaning.

Did you know the OBIES, the Off-Broadway Theater Awards, first started in 1956?  Me neither.  "Absalom Absalom" won for Best New Play and "The Threepenny Opera" for Best Musical.

"Catherine, to Jules et Jim" is AMIE.  Those are names of the three characters in the tragic love triangle depicted in François Truffaut's 1962 movie Jules et Jim.  Spoiler: there is a lot more murder in this movie than I imagined there would be.

A spinning jenny is a multi-spindle spinning frame, so its output is YARN.

"Hostlers' workplaces" are INNS.

Bad clue: "provoke a fight, colloquially" for STIR IT UP.  No one says that, right?  Stir things up, maybe?

The center of the 1890s Klondike Gold Rush was apparently DAWSON City, in Yukon, Canada. Its official name is The Town of the City of Dawson, which seems pretty stupid, really.

I'm not up on the modern music of today that the kids enjoy.  I didn't know that THE WEEKND is an R&B singer (I'd imagined him [them?] to be a DJ or electronica type maybe?), and I've heard of the song "Can't Feel My Face," but I haven't actually listened to it.

"Cousin of a meadowlark" is an ORIOLE.  They are both in the family Ictiderae.

I know what EDAM cheese is, but I've ever heard of its name in Spanish speaking regions, queso de bola, literally "ball cheese."  Heh.

I'm quite ashamed that I couldn't put together that TACOMA is on Puget Sound.  I lived in the Pacific Northwest for many years!  I suck at geography.

UNADON, a type of eel dish with rice, appeared way back on October 4, 2017.

"Happy Days" actress ERIN Moran appeared on February 4.

Clever clues: "Doctor or engineer" is RIG!  They're verbs.  "Parts of springs" is MAYS.  "Opposite of a poetry slam?" is ODE, ha.

I enjoyed this theme very much, but I was SRSLY slow this time around.  I need a SPA DAY.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Wednesday's New York Times puzzle solved: May 23, 2018

My time: 8:14.

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This one was constructed by David Steinberg.  I really didn't understand the theme.  The puzzle has four unrelated phrases, clued as if they've been "expanded" by adding extra letters that form a new, unrelated word.  "Beginning, expanded?" is STREET ART.  That's start with tree put in it, I guess?  Or maybe reet?  "Forming a crust, expanded?" is CALIFORNIA KING.  That's... caking with lifornia inserted, or maybe aliforni??  "Choose in advance, expanded?" is PRESIDENT-ELECT.  That's preselect with ident jammed in there for some reason?  And finally, "Inspiration for something, expanded?" is SOUTH PARK.  That's spark with outh in it.  What??

It took some internet searching to realize that the "expansions" are of abbreviations of words in the answer.  So STREET ART is built from St. art, or beginning.  CALIFORNIA KING is Ca. king, or forming a crust.  I get it now!  Pres. elect and S. park!

...Eh, not worth the trouble.  I did appreciate some of the fill, like PONY KEG, APERITIFS, and EXONERATE.

For "bottoms" I put *BVDS but it's BUMS.  For "drag show props" I put *WIGS but it's BOAS.

"_____ group" is a terrible clue for GIRL.

Are NOSES really "things counted at meetings"??

I wasn't quite sure about filling in LENOVO, though I certainly have heard of the brand.  It's a Chinese company, originally founded in 1984 as Legend.

Who calls a Superman-like stance" a POWER POSE?  No one.  It's arms akimbo, maybe.  Or Supermanspreading, that would be a good one.  I mean, I'll concede that power posing is a real, albeit discredited concept.

I've heard of IGGY Azalea, but didn't know she had a song called "Fancy."  I kind of like it!

Did you know there's a Disneyland in TOKYO?  I won't be going.

Clever clues: "Like naughty privates?" is AWOL.  "Head covering" is SCALP (not *SCARF).

This was an unpleasant solving experience for me.  A weirdly challenging and baffling theme, backed by a few misleading or insufficient clues.  There was almost no new material to learn here, just time-draining difficult theme answers.   I know I need to grow A PAIR, but I'm going to give myself a PASS on this one.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Tuesday's New York Times puzzle solved: May 22, 2018

My time: 7:57, not that good.

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Jeff Stillman created this puzzle, where a part of URSA MAJOR, a.k.a. the GREAT BEAR, is created within the puzzle.  Seven letters, A-G, are circled and the represent the stars that make up the BIG DIPPER, the asterism within the constellation.  The first themed answer is clued as "constellation next to Draco" --- this being a never-setting constellation first described by Ptolemy.

Finally, the solver is asked to draw a line from circle F through circle G and imagine the NORTH STAR, which of course the BIG DIPPER points to ("follow the drinking gourd").   All in all, pretty clever!

For "part of a gig" I wanted to put *TYRE as in a carriage, but it's BYTE, as in gigabyte.

"2008 Benicio del Toro role" is CHE.

I needed some crossfill to come up with U-Haul competitor RYDER.

I'm not quite sure why "took the cake" is WON.  They're... not quite equivalent, are they?

Somehow out of the recesses of my mind I dredged up the name of Dame Myra HESS, a British pianist who was prominent in the 1930s and '40s.

Crossword constructors love the prefix TETRA-.  Here, Jeff Stillman cites TETRAhydrozoline, an ingredient in eye drops and nose sprays.  This is a word that every man and women on the street is familiar with, surely.

More fun with chemistry! "Compound in synthetic rubber" is BUTENE, also known as butylene.  I was told there would be no chemistry on this exam.

I'm not a flower type guy, so I didn't know that a pansy is also called a heart's-EASE.  Flowers and fish must be the things with the greatest divergence of names, I think.  This one is viola tricolor, also known as Johnny-jump-up, heart's delight, tickle-my-fancy, Jack-jump-up-and-kiss-me, come-and-cuddle-me, three faces in a hood, or love-in-idleness.  Those would make good names for fairies in a child's fantasy book.

The 1962 Paul Anka hit "ESO BESO" last appeared on April 15.

The poem form RONDEL came back to me from its appearance on April 6.

Clever clues: "Start of a decision-making process" is EENY.  "Lab warning?' is ARF.  "Caesar's world?" is ORBIS.

That's a LOT of new stuff for a Tuesday.  I wish I'd done this one with a little more SPEEDO.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Monday's New York Times puzzle solved: May 21, 2018

My time: 5:09.

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I didn't finish Saturday's puzzle, though I came very close.  It all came down to two different common baits --- red worm vs. rag worm --- crossed with two actual names of German rivers --- Eder and Eger.  I'm disappointed, but also irritated at the cluing and editing of Saturday's.

Anyway, enough dwelling in the past, man.  Today is a tabula rasa, I always say.  Hannah Slovut gives the five stages of humans in this puzzle: BABY ALBUM, CHILD PRODIGY, ADULT SWIM, SENIOR MOMENT, and, finally, GHOST TOWN.  I like that last one.  I suppose corpse pose would have been too macabre.

"Levi's material" is JEAN, singular.  That's a bad clue.

"Request to a waiter" is also a bad clue for NO MSG.  No one asks that.  They ask whether something has MSG, maybe.  You can't ask that they take out the MSG.  And really, any waiter?  Not even, say, a waiter at a Chinese restaurant?  Why not make this clue "Sign at a healthy Chinese restaurant"?  There.  Fixed it.  I'm Rex Parker!

I know the car model Gran TORINO from the Clint Eastwood movie, but I didn't know that Ford made them.  The Ford TORINO is the descendant of their earlier model the Fairlane.  It's named after Turin, considered the Italian Detroit at the time.

I'm quite familiar with the word ROOD (crucifix), being an archaic word maven from way back, but I'm surprised at its inclusion on a Monday!

Did you know ABBA won the 1974 Eurovision contest?  Me neither, but I saw "Swedish pop quartet" and put it right in the grid.  They won for their song "Waterloo," which in my view remains their highest achievement.

I've vaguely heard of R&B group DRU Hill.  They had seven top 40 hits and were led by Sisqó, who went on to be someone whose name I recognize.

Onetime electronics giant AIWA still exists, after having been bought and sold by Sony.  It now produces mainly audio equipment.

Albert Einstein was born in ULM, Germany.  The town is also famous for having the church with the tallest steeple in the world.

A TETRAhedron is just a fancy name for a triangular pyramid with four faces.

I did not recall women's golf champ Lorena OCHOA from November 21, 2017.

LEM, the Lunar Excursion MODULE, appeared on April 16.

Prince Valiant's son ARN appeared on September 15, 2017.

Pontiac's GTO first rolled out on October 9, 2017.  The NYT crossword loves the GTO.

And here the commentary ENDS.  This was a fun puzzle.  A bit hard for a Monday, but then they can't all be a snap.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Friday's New York Times puzzle solved: May 18, 2018

My time: 19:01, just shy of average.

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I was really walloped by this rather difficult themeless by Ryan McCarty.  It's a very nice grid with fun fill (NOT ONE IOTA, SOUND MIXERS, WAR STORIES, RARE JEWELS, INTERWEAVE, WATER TAXIS) and some devious clues, but I just couldn't get my head around large chunks of it.  Still, no resentment here; the puzzle was tough but fair.  Some days the bear gets you.

I started off poorly with *BOOK 'EM for "declaration of Sgt. Joe Friday" (even though as I wrote it I knew that this was not a declaration but an imperative, and assumed it was a mistake on the constructor's part, rather than mine --- oh, how we pay for our arrogance!).  It's the much more prosaic I'M A COP.

Right next to that is "it's not damaged by being broken," which is LAW.  This joke has truth to it, of course, but it's not true if the LAW in question is the bedrock of a nation's principles, and the nation's own leaders are flouting their illegality openly and contemptuously.

The ancient Sasanian Empire, or Sasanid, was the last Persian Empire (224-651) before the rise of Islam; it covered modern-day IRAN, Iraq, the Levant, Eastern Arabia, the Caucasus, parts of Turkey, and even Central Asia.  A huge swath of Earth, and an even wider cultural reach.

I don't use the term STARTER SET ("collection of four plates, four saucers," etc) very often.

"Senators' grp." is NHL.  I was tricked again by sports lore.

"Queen ANNE style" refers to late Baroque architecture or furniture of the early 18th century.  It describes an elegant, simple style rather than the ornate, not necessarily comfortable, styles of previously.

I've never heard of OWLET MOTHS.  Insects of the family Noctuidae, their larvae are also known as cutworms or army worms.  Geez, I prefer the cute name.

We all know Edison's MENLO Park, but I had no idea that the original one is in California, and this one is the home of Facebook.  Their street address is 1 Hacker Way.

Hey, do you like perfume?  Do you like smelling like TABU, by Dana?  Smell like a big no-no!

I was also slowed by putting *GRAD for "____ school" and sticking with it for too long.  Then I lamely put *PRE-K until finally I realized it must be PREP.

"Canyon producer" perplexed me.  I wondered if it might be *EON, but realized that wasn't good crosswordese.  It's GMC, of course.

HYSONS is a terrible faux plural referring to green teas from the Anhui province, also called Lucky Dragon teas.  The name Hyson tea may be a corruption of a Cantonese phrase, or it may come from an English tea merchant, Phillip Hyson.  Did he found the tea company of the same name?  Probably.

Ron INSANA is an economic commentator who was on the air on CNBC mostly in the early 2000s and then started his own failed hedge fund.  He seems relatively unknown for inclusion in a New York Times puzzle.

"I call the question," for example: a MOTION.  This baffled me also.  It is a proposition that members stop debate on an issue and immediately vote on it.

CORPSE POSE is lying flat on one's back, in yoga.  It's also called savasana.

"Like a ballerina performing bourrée" is ON TOE.  Me, an intellectual: you mean en pointe??

I filled in the LOS part of LOS Padres National Forest pretty quickly, though I've never heard of it.  It's in California.  The only US states the NYT puzzle recognizes are New York and California.

The ORIONIDS are an annual meteor shower that lasts about a week in October.  So named because they appear to come from the constellation Orion, they are produced by Halley's Comet!

The ABC sitcom "The Real O'NEALS" ran for two seasons.  It was about an Irish Catholic family harboring a few embarrassing secrets (gay, anorexic, wanting divorce, atheist).

ASPISH: "venomously biting."  Oh, come on.

It took my brain a bit to see the first word in "ready for inurnment" as a verb and not an adjective, so CREMATE fit (while cremated doesn't).

"Inflection point" is CUSP.  Here it's a math term.  In mathematics a CUSP, sometimes called spinode in old texts, is a point on a curve where a moving point on the curve must start to move backward.  An inflection point is a point on a plane curve at which the curve crosses its tangent; that is, the curve changes from being concave (concave downward) to convex (concave upward), or vice versa.

"University of New Mexico symbol" LOBO appeared on November 14, 2017. but I didn't remember.

Clever clues: "Hog's squeal?" is MINE.  "Outmarch?" is PRIDE PARADE.  "In the cloud, say" is STORED.  "Industry filled with press releases" is WINE MAKING, ha ha.  "Like this puzzle, we hope" is SOLVABLE.  "Match" is SEE.

Well, it took quite a while, but I managed to RUSTLE this puzzle to the ground.  And I did it MY WAY.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Thursday's New York Times puzzle solved: May 17, 2018

My time: 12:48.

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In this exceedingly clever puzzle, David J. Kahn showcases two cities that were founded in MAY 1978: NEW ORLEANS and SAN ANTONIO.  Crossing the former is a sight found at the latter, the ALAMODOME, while crossing the latter is the Big Easy's famed JAZZ BANDS.

What makes this theme particularly fun is the use of numerals in the grid.  Crossing the year in the center date are NOT 1 BIT ('zero"), 7-UP ("soft drink whose logo features a red circle"), 1-L'S ("law school beginners"), and 8-BALL ("it's bad to be behind it").  I loved this!  It's a new idea to me, and I admire the theme's cohesion and symmetry.

I have never heard of ILYA Frank, Russian winner of the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1958 for his work on Cherenkov radiation, which has to do with energy released when a particle moves faster than light through a medium, or something.

NFL Hall of Famer MEL Blount is not someone I know.  He played for the Pittsburgh Steelers and is considered one of the best cornerbacks of all time!  Uh... and what's a cornerback, then?

I call a RIP SAW a "saw."

"Plant bristles" is AWNS, not a word I encounter on a daily basis.

Are the SIERRAS considered a particularly jagged mountain range?  Well, there are many ranges called by that name across the globe, and since the name means "saw," I suppose most are pretty jagged.  The ones in the Sierra Madre don't look all that jagged to me, but the Sierra Nevada mountains seem pretty saw-toothed.

I've had a bit of rum in my life, but not TIA Maria, a rum-based coffee liqueur.

"St. Lawrence and others" is SEAWAYS.  I was not expecting that!  It's a system in Canada and the US that allows ships to travel from the Atlantic to the Great Lakes.

Did you know president John TYLER has 15 children?  This is because he had eight children with his first wife.  After she died, Tyler began courting 23-year-old Julia Gardiner (30 years his junior), and had seven more children.  The old goat!  He also has two living grandchildren.  That's because he had his third-to-last child at 63, and that child, Lyon, had his son at 72.  Why don't we learn these tidbits in school?

"Big shake" is SEISM.  Ugh, this is like "plasm" and "poult" from three days ago.

We all know that saucy minx Anaïs NIN, but I'm not familiar with her work.  Winter of Artifice is her second published book, a volume of novellas, including the controversial "Djuna" and her account of an incestuous relationship with a father.

Giuseppe Verdi's opera AIDA is set in Egypt, and takes place near the temple of ISIS.

IONE comes up a lot in puzzles.  This time it's as a Nereid, a sea nymph, as on August 11, 2017.

Democratic Congressman ADAM Schiff last appeared on September 26, 2017.

Actress LILI Taylor appeared on November 28, 2017, as having a role in Mystic Pizza.  Today they cite the 2009 Johnny Depp vehicle Public Enemies.  She does not have high billing in that film.

I was briefly puzzled by "ORD listing" (ETA), but ORD is Chicago O'Hare, and first was used in a clue on January 17 (and was again used January 21).

Clever clues: "Ink spot?" is TATTOO.  "Make a submarine disappear?" is EAT.  "Expert spelling?" is VOODOO.

Wow, this was a very clever, and equally challenging, puzzle!  I didn't do too badly, either, considering its relative difficulty.  I'm going to give myself a hand --- CLAP! --- and if I were to grade my performance, I'd say I get a RED A (like Hester Prynne).

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Wednesday's New York Times puzzle solved: May 16, 2018

My time: 7:52.

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Jonathan Schmalzbach and Bill Albright put a FRENCH TWIST on some famous names.  "Nickname for a glitzy author?" is JEWELS VERNE.  A "clumsy composer" is CLOD DEBUSSY.  My favorite is the "sloppy painter" TOO-LOOSE LAUTREC.  And finishing the set is "fiery philosopher" BLAZE PASCAL.  To a Francophone like me, this theme is delightful!  Very clever, messieurs; I doff my chapeau.

"What a current flows through" is ANODE.  An anode is an electrode through which the conventional current enters into a polarized electrical device. This contrasts with a cathode, an electrode through which conventional current leaves an electrical device. A common mnemonic is ACID for "Anode Current Into Device."  Thanks, Wikipedia!  I thought of this one: CLAIM, for "Cathode Leaving, Anode Into Machine."

I forgot the monkey in Aladdin is ABU and not *APU.

John AMOS played the older Kunta Kinte in "Roots."  He was also in "Good Times," which is where I know him, I guess, but he's had a great deal of other work.  He was in Die Hard 2, Coming To America, and 22 episodes of "The West Wing," which I don't recall him in even though I've seen the whole series.

I've never heard of AUDRA McDonald, graduate of Julliard and actress/singer.  She's mainly known for Broadway work, though she's done some television which I haven't seen.

"Get Happy" composer is Harold ARLEN.  The song has been sung countless times, by Sinatra, Ella, and even Rufus Wainwright, but it's most associated with Judy Garland.  It's very much in the tradition of Christian revival and blues songs ("Hallelujah, get happy, before the Judgement Day").  Harold ARLEN wrote the music for dozens of songs embedded in the popular consciousness, such as "Over the Rainbow," "Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea," "It's Only a Paper Moon," "That Old Black Magic," and many others.

Never heard of A LA Grecque, which in cooking means served in a sauce made of olive oil, lemon juice, and several seasonings.

"City where trap music originated" is ATL.  It's a kind of dark, synthesized rap music.  The term "trap" is used to refer to the place where drug deals are made. The term originated in Atlanta, Georgia, where rappers Cool Breeze, Dungeon Family, Outkast, Goodie Mob, and Ghetto Mafia were some of the first to use the term in their music.

We all know Indian prime minister Jawaharlal NEHRU, but did we know he was addressed as "Pandit"?  Wiki says it's due to his roots with the Kashmiri Pandit community, while others say it is just Hindi for "teacher."

I didn't know Pennsylvania zip codes start with ONE.  I shall endeavor to remember this crucial fact.

More car trivia: The Toyota coupe sold from 1970 to 2006 is the CELICA.  The name is supposed to come from the Latin for "heavenly."  And Hyundai makes the SUVs Santa Fe and Tucson.

DULUTH, Minnesota.  It's a port on the west coast of Lake Superior.

"Old blues singer" Johnny OTIS is not the old black man you're picturing, but the son of Greek immigrants, born as Ioannis Alexandres Veliotes.  He wasn't just a singer but a composer, arranger, bandleader, talent scout, disc jockey, record producer, television show host, artist, author, journalist, minister, and impresario.  He is called "the Godfather of Rhythm and Blues."

The term PEG in baseball means a hard fast throw to take a runner out.

I remembered chair designer Charles EAMES from August 29, 2017!

Clever clues: "It contains MSG" is NYC!  "The bay in the fifth, for one" is TIP.

Man, that is a lot of new and uncertain fill for me!  But I still didn't do too badly, timewise.  Figuring out all the themed answers before the rest of the fill helped.  ONCE I got those letters in the rest just fell together.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Tuesday's New York Times puzzle solved: May 15, 2018

My time: 7:10.

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Ross Trudeau and genius cartoonist Garry Trudeau collaborated on this puzzle, which features STAND-UP COMICS.  Not the Dave Chapelle and Jim Gaffigan kind, though.  These are the comics like Trudeau's "Doonesbury," featured "standing up" because they are all Down answers: TIGER, POGO, BABY BLUES, MUTTS, OPUS, GARFIELD, DICK TRACY, and L'IL ABNER.  Being the long-time student of the genre that I am, I've heard of all of these, so the theme didn't puzzle me.

I do, however, have the complaint that while most of the themed answers are clued as other than comics (TIGER is "feline in a zoo," POGO is "bounce on a stick"), both DICK TRACY and LI'L ABNER are clued as the properties they are (one describing the detective character, one describing the 1959 film of the comic).  I wish the constructors had made the theme cohesive by substituting two different comic strip names that could also be clued synonymously rather than by definition.

Still, though, I enjoyed this one.  On to the fill.

I'm not old enough have played Tank or Tank II, when they came out on ATARI, but I did play its successor Combat.

Super Bowl III-winning coach for the NY Jets WEEB Eubank's name is just silly enough that I mostly remember it.

"Kitchenware brand with a hyphenated name" is T-FAL.  A French company founded in 1956, its name outside the USA is Tefal, which is a portmanteau of the words Teflon and aluminum.  DuPont would not let them use that name in the US so they shortened it to T-FAL.

Well, we've seen the classic Pontiac models GTO and the Grand Prix in crosswords, and now it's time for the GRAND AMS.  They were Pontiac's best-selling car and were later replaced by the G6.

I haven't seen the seminal 2004 comedy Mean Girls, so I didn't know that Rachel McAdams and Amanda Seyfried played a MEAN GIRL each, Regina and Karen respectively.

Clueless actress STACEY Dash appeared on November 1, 2017.

ASANA, the term for yoga poses, appeared in the plural on December 26, 2017.

Clever clues: "Something to stand on" is LEG.  "Played at work?" is DJ'ED.

I did pretty BUONO on this one.  SOY contente.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Monday's New York Times puzzle solved: May 14, 2018

My time: 5:19.

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Andrea Carla Michaels celebrates the seminal 1999 Brad Pitt mindbender FIGHT CLUB with four themed clues that bring to mind dirty fighting, including KICK-START, SCRATCH AND SNIFF, and PUNCH BOWL.  The one I didn't suss out at first is "end of a drinking hose" BITE VALVE.  I've never heard that term before.  Do you physically bite it to open the flow of water?

I was also slowed by POULT, "fowl raised for food."  I knew there wasn't a rebus in just one corner, but I've never encountered that word without the -ry added. 

And just under that new word is Port St. LUCIE, a town in southeastern Florida, which I didn't know and originally rendered as *LUCIA.  So that didn't help.

I've heard of LIL' KIM, but not her 1996 double-platinum debut album Hard Core.  I really hate the spelling of her name --- it should be Li'l Kim.

Is a "handyman's inits" really DIY?  Wouldn't it be in a handyman's interests not to tell you to DIY?

"Certain red dye" is EOSIN, which I have never heard of.  I'll let the chemist editors at Wikipedia attempt to lay it out: "Eosin is the name of several fluorescent acidic compounds which bind to and form salts with basic, or eosinophilic, compounds like proteins containing amino acid residues such as arginine and lysine, and stains them dark red or pink as a result of the actions of bromine on fluorescein."  Ah.  That clears things up, then.

I was briefly slowed, too, by the word PLASM for "blood fluid," since, as with POULT above, I don't think I've seen this word isolated without the -a at the end.

UCLA has come up a few times in the puzzle, but I don't believe we've ever learned that their team is the Bruins.

It's time for one of my rare disagreements with a clue.  I deny that "TEST" is a word repeated while tapping a microphone.  I would have accepted "testing," "check," or "is this thing on?"  But I don't believe people generally say "test... test..." while tapping a mike to see if it's broadcasting.

"Banned pollutant" is PCB, which stands for polychlorinated biphenyl, a carcinogenic coolant outlawed in the US in 1978. 

In my opinion, this was decidedly hard for a Monday.  Mondays OUGHT to be a SNAP and this one had some pretty abstruse material in it.  Well, on to the next.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Sunday's New York Times puzzle solved: May 13, 2018

My time: 16:47, a new record for Sunday --- and my fifth record-breaking time this week!  That's cray cray!

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Neville Fogarty and Erik Agard teamed up to create "Love at first Site," a puzzle that imagines various dating sites with punny names.

"A deep kissers' dating site?" FRENCH CONNECTION.  "Dating site full of hot dudes?" STUD FINDER.  "Extreme sports dating site?" ACTION ITEMS.  "Carpentry dating site?" BOARD MEETING.  "Dating site for lovers of natural foods?" ORGANIC CHEMISTRY.  And so on!  Ha, puns.  This theme is a keeper!

On to the other stuff!

We all know IAGO is the villain in "Othello," but I'd forgotten that Brabantio is Desdemonda's father.  He doesn't like Othello or Iago!

The Palais Garnier in Paris is a 1,979-seat opera house, built in 1875 to perform OPERAS.  It was named after its architect, Charles Garnier.

I knew there was a Manning named ELI, but I didn't know he had the "second-longest QB starting streak in NFL history."  He's right after Bret Favre.  But what is a start for a QB?  I don't know.

"Actor whose first and last name look like they rhyme, but don't" is exactly what I always think when I see SEAN BEAN's name.

"Emerald or aquamarine" I thought might be *JEWEL but it's BERYL, a type of mineral.  Yellow beryls are called heliodor and colorless beryls are called goshenite.

I'm not familiar with George MASON University, a research school, initially founded as a branch of the University of Virginia in 1949.

TRINIDAD is the southernmost of the Lesser Antilles, an island group that includes St. Lucia, St. Vincent, Barbados, and Dominica among others.   They curve southward to form the eastern boundary of the Caribbean Sea.

Robert MONDAVI was the influential founder of a Napa Valley winery.  From an early period, Mondavi aggressively promoted labeling wines varietally rather than generically. This is now the standard for New World wines. The Robert Mondavi Institute (RMI) for Wine and Food Science at the University of California, Davis opened October 2008 in his honor.  I wanted to put Robert *PALMER, as that's the only Robert associated with wine I knew.

"UTEP team," which sounds Mesopotamian to me, is MINERS, the sports team of the University of Texas at El Paso.

I can't say I've watched a whole lot "Trading Spaces," so I certainly don't know the host, PAIGE Davis.

China's core leader (head of military, state, and party at once) Xi JINPING is a name much in the news, but I had a little trouble with it anyway.  

Thanks to George Harrison, we in the west know about the SITAR, but I haven't encountered the term mezrab very often, to my knowledge.  A mezrab is the plectrum used to pick the instrument, and it's worn on the finger like a ring.

TESSA Thompson is another actress I've never heard of.  She was in Creed, Thor: Ragnarok, Selma, and Dear White People.  All films I have heard about but not seen.

It doesn't surprise me that the EPA has a flower logo, but it's not something I knew right off.  Scott Pruitt thinks it looks like a marijuana leaf, because he's a colossal moron and tool.

Do we have all the US Vice Presidents memorized?  No, we do not.  Have we heard of HENRY Wallace, veep from 1941-45 under FDR?  No, we have not.  Are we sadly unfamiliar with our own country's major political figures?  Possibly.

"Arcade hoops game" NBA JAM appeared March 9.

North Carolina liberal arts university ELON last appeared October 8, 2017.

NPR host ARI Shapiro last appeared November 9, 2017.

Clever clues: "Went through channels?" is SWAM.  "Patty alternative?" is TRISH.  "The rite place?" is ALTAR.  ' is FEET. 

I really can't believe I did a Saturday so quickly.  I guess this entire week I was just in tune with the creators.  AREN'T I the clever one? BOO-YAH!

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Saturday's New York Times puzzle solved: May 12, 2018

My time: 7:26, another record, the fourth this week!  This time I beat my old record by four minutes!  Lawdy!

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Anyhoo, Alex Eylar constructed this whorl-shaped themeless.  I was just in tune with this one; every time I put a maybe answer down, like HOEDOWN for "event with fiddling," or LOWLIFES for "riffraff," it turned out to be right.  Lucky.  Saturdays are not usually this forgiving of the first go-round.  I liked the answers NO-TELL / MOTEL, MOONIE, FALSE BOTTOM, LOOK BACK ON, and HORSE HOCKEY.

I didn't know who said the H.L. MENCKEN quote at first, of course.  But the idea that puritanism is "the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy" sounds like him.

I wanted to put *PYRITE for "faux gold" but it's OROIDE, a new one on me.  This term just refers to an alloy of copper and zinc or copper and tin

Place of eternal happiness isn't *HEAVEN but AVALON, of Arthurian legend, where Excalibur was forged.

Jamaica's St. ANN'S Bay is a town most famous for being the birthplace of Burning Spear and Marcus Garvey.  The parish of St. Ann was named after Lady Anne Hyde, the first wife of King James II of England.  So what happened to the E??  A mystery that applies equally to Massachusetts' Cape Ann.

We've all heard of the play "The Vagina Monologues," but the author, Eve ENSLER, is not a household name.  She seems to be a bit of a one-hit wonder.  Not that there's anything wrong with that.

My weak geography-fu fails me again, as I have never heard of BELEM, Brazil.  It's the capital of the state of Pará, and an important port, the gateway to the Amazon River.

I had forgotten about Lake Superior's SOO Canals, or SOO Locks as they are sometimes called, despite encountering them as recently as January 10.

Clever clues: "They may hold the solution" is BEAKERS.  "The last pair you'll ever wear?" is CEMENT SHOES.  "Something the Netherlands has that Belgium doesn't?" is CAPITAL N.  "Beat someone" is KEROUAC --- that's a good one.

I very much enjoyed this puzzle!  It wasn't TOUGH at ALL for me; I was just in sync with Alex Eylar, I guess.  Such a quick solve is definitely an ANOMALY for a Saturday.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Friday's New York Times puzzle solved: May 11, 2018

My time: 8:59, breaking the new record by 25 seconds!  This has been quite a week for beating my times.  Tuesday, Thursday, and now today!

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Sam Ezersky and David Steinberg teamed up to construct this fun themeless.  Interesting fill this time around is IVORY SOAP (I'm old enough to remember "it floats"), TOP-TIER, SPIN A WEB ("try to catch someone, metaphorically"), GULF WAR, AEROBES, STIFFED ("left without leaving anything"), PTA MEETINGS, SMALL OJ, and GUMMY BEAR.

For "adds horsepower to" I had *REVS UP but it's SOUPS UP.

"Mariana Islands neighbor, for short" is IWO.  My geography blind spot strikes again.

I totally forgot that the Wright brothers were from DAYTON.

I had the glimmer of a maybe-memory that Shaquille O'Neal played at LSU, and it turned out to be right!  A sports fact!  In my brain!  Amazing.  Did you know he has a doctorate in education?

The Scandinavian monetary unit KRONA has been seen before, along with its 100th piece, the ORE, on December 13, 2017.

The spelling UEY ("quick turnaround?") appeared September 21, 2017.

Lots of amusing, oblique, and clever clues today: "Jolly 'Roger'?" is I HEAR YA.  "Digs in the snow" is IGLOO.  "What's far-sighted" is a SNIPER RIFLE.  "Things that help you go off the beaten path?" is MUD TIRES.  "Timely question?" is AM I LATE.  "Blue in the face?" is SAD-EYED.  "Pop stars?" is NOVAE.  "It's found between the shoulders" is ROADWAY.

I thought this puzzle was a SNAP!  I'M AWARE some people can do these much faster than I can, but I'm proud of myself anyway.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Thursday's New York Times puzzle solved: May 10, 2018

My time: 8:35, a new record, beating the old by two full minutes!

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Caitlin Reid hits the bull's eye with this puzzle.  The center black square is the DEAD CENTER of the puzzle, which also serves to replace the word "dead" in four themed phrases.  Going across into the black square is "break a leg," which is KNOCK 'EM [dead].  Going down into the center is LEFT FOR [dead].  Running to the east out of the center is [dead] OR ALIVE, and going down out of that center square is [dead]BEAT DAD.

A very clever theme, with an additional linked answer; in the place symmetrical to the capper, DEAD CENTER, is "well-aimed" or ON THE MONEY.

For "Monday feeling, with the" I put *BLUES but it's the BLAHS.

For "sordid" I put *SEEDY at first, but it's SEAMY, which still doesn't look right to me.

Tolkien creature.  *ORC?  *ELF?  No, it's ENT.

I needed a little crossfill help to come up with SAG's partner AFTRA.   That's the union formed of Screen Actors' Guild and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists.

We know it's in golf, but I wasn't sure that a football kickoff is also off of a TEE.

Baseball is so full of old characters.  Lefty O'DOUL was a left fielder who played in the 1920s and '30s.  O'Doul was instrumental in spreading baseball's popularity in Japan, serving as the sport's goodwill ambassador before and after World War II. The Tokyo Giants, "Japan's Baseball Team," were named by him in 1935 in honor of his longtime association with the New York Giants.

Continuing baseball, the concept of AAA teams came up on March 7 (featuring the New Orleans Baby Cakes!).  Today it's the second highest level of minor league play, the AA TEAM, such as the Jackson Generals and the Portland Sea Dogs.

ERIKA Christensen is an actress on "Parenthood," which I've never seen.

Marines used to be required to learn the Rifleman's CREED (the recitation that begins "This is my rifle.  There are many like it, but this one is mine").  It was written around 1942 by Major General William H. Rupertus, which is great old Civil War general-sounding name.

I guessed the missing word pretty easily in "The Strife is O'ER, the Battle Done."  It's an opening hymn, translated from the Latin by Francis Pott.

I've heard of RIESEN Chocolate, but needed a little crossfill to nudge me.  They make caramel chocolates, introduced in the US in 1991.

Clever clues: "Something found near a temple" is EAR. "Honey bunches" is BEES.  "Half of none?" is ENS. 

So, yesterday I had one new concept, and didn't do very well.  Today, a handful of uncertain and new fill, and I FOUND IT easy, even shaving two minutes off my best time.  I can't figure it out. 

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Wednesday's New York Times puzzle solved: May 9, 2018

My time: 9:02, two minutes faster than average.

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Jeff Chen has us SEEING DOUBLE in this puzzle --- double letters, that is.  Each themed answer has a double letter, making it not fit the clue.  "Reality TV show, when 59 Across" (that's the placement of SEEING DOUBLE) is AMAZING GRACE.  "Chilled" becomes OVER RICE, "possibly" is rendered as DEEP ENDS, and "aerate" is turned into a VENTI LATTE.

I wasn't charmed by the theme.  It's just some doubled letters, which has been done.  I'd like to have seen some cohesion in the theme; the double letters aren't even in the same spot in the themed answers.  Maybe a little clue tweaking would help?  I can't quite put my finger on it, but just found this theme kind of blah.

I've never heard of Newport steak, which isn't surprising since it seems to have been prepped in the 1940s by a single butcher in Greenwich Village, at Florence Meat Market.  It's a cut from the bottom sirloin, also known as TRI-TIP.  Apparently the name was coined when the butcher decided the steak resembled a Newport cigarette logo.

It's NAS again!  Crossword constructors love NAS.  Here he's noted as feuding with Jay-Z.

Clever clues: "It's gripping" is CLASP.  "Said O-D-O-U-R" is SPELT.  "Line holdup?" is CUE CARD.  "High number?" is EXPONENT.  "Beginnings of some trips" is LSD TABS.

Hmmm.  OMG, there was really only one single solitary item of new material in today's puzzle?  Then why did it take so long??  I'm blaming the theme.  SIGH.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Tuesday's New York Times puzzle solved: May 8, 2018

My time: 4:41, a new Tuesday record!

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Ori Brian shows us how to START A FIRE with this puzzle.  The first words of the themed answers start a phrase or compound word ending in "fire."  The first themed answer I got was Slippery When Wet band BON JOVI for bonfire.  Then SURE, WHY NOT (sure-fire); CROSS-COUNTRY (crossfire); and BACK TO SCHOOL (backfire) all fell into place.

"Patriotic finger-pointer" is a good clue for UNCLE SAM.

Do people put TABASCO in a Bloody Mary?  I thought it was Worcestershire.

For "tortilla sandwich" I put *PITA (not accurate), then *TACO (would have been a good answer), and then finally the correct WRAP.

On January 14 I learned that the Rose Bowl is in Pasadena, California.  Today I learn that UCLA is the school that plays there.

"And we'll tak' A CUP o' kindness yet... Fur... Auuullld... Laaaannnggg.... Syyynnne!"  Sing it!

Speaking of Scotland, we all know the Firth of Forth, but did you know there's a Firth of TAYWater is all right in Tay, for fish and things that live in rivers.  Interestingly, there is also a Firth of TAY in Antarctica.

ARCO is a brand of gas stations found on the West Coast, as well as Asia and Mexico.  Originally the Atlantic Richfield Company, it is known for its low-priced gasoline compared to other national brands, mainly due to an early 1980s decision to emphasize cost cutting (cash/debit-only policy) and alternative sources of income, such as food stores.

The author C.S. Forester, the least famous writer named C.S., was actually named CECIL Louis Troughton Smith.

"Today" host HODA Kotb appeared on October 20, 2017.

And that's it!  I didn't bring my B GAME this time.  I took care of all the FILL in rapid time, SOLO.  NO LIE!

Monday, May 7, 2018

Monday's New York Times puzzle solved: May 7, 2018

My time: 4:55.

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Julie Bérubé used all the crossword-constructing skills in her TOOL BOX to give us this puzzle.  The theme, which I literally had no idea of until I came up for air and actually looked at the circled squares, showcases the names of tools hidden in phrases.  GROUNDS CREW has screw; the Allmann Brothers album EAT A PEACH has tape, STAYS AWAY has saw; TUNA SASHIMI has shim; and so on.

I was a little shaky on the spelling (and pronunciation) of ESPADRILLE, a "shoe that ties around the ankle."  The name comes from the esparto rope that makes up the sole of the shoe.  For some reason I always think this word refers to a kind of dance.

ASH BLONDES ("some women with light-colored hair") is good fill.

On April 26, we got NIMBI, grey rain clouds.  Today it's STRATI: sheetlike, flat, hazy clouds, low in the sky.  Geez, get your clouds right, Michael.

"DuPont fiber" is ORLON, which was showcased on February 26.  I had forgotten.

American Dance Theater founder ALVIN AILEY (holding a nail) appeared on April 19.

Clever clue: "One always making adjustments on the job?" is TAILOR.

This was pretty EASY, and fun.  Still, I can't help wishing I had done it in LESS time.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Saturday's New York Times puzzle solved: May 5, 2018

My time: 12:27, not too shabby!

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It's Cinco de Mayo, although if you were going solely by this themeless from Damon Gulczynski, you wouldn't know that.  Some fun fill in this one, such as HODGE-PODGE, HIGH-FALUTIN' ("fancy pants"), GET UP AND GO, WHY I OUGHTA..., END TIMES, SPUMED, GO HALFSIES, and even DIGERATI ("tech-savvy group," which I am surprised to learn that the Firefox spellchecker recognizes).

One answer crosses the whole grid: "I SAID GOOD DAY, SIR," which is impressive, but I slightly disagree that "take a hike, bub!" is the equivalent.  They're pretty different phrases in their delivery and intent.

I love POGO the possum and devoured all the books as a child and adult, but I don't recall him saying "Having lost sight of our objectives, we redoubled our efforts."  It may have appeared in the mouth of a rather more lucid speaker than the possum himself.

For "Japanese bowlful" I had *RICE but it's SOBA, buckwheat flour noodles.

For "food described in Exodus" I put *MANNA but it's MATZO!

"Unstable subatomic particle" is MUON, a type of lepton with greater mass than an electron.

The Big Red Machine is the nickname for the powerhouse Cincinnati Reds baseball team throughout the 1970s.  George "SPARKY" Anderson is the name of the manager who was with them for eight years of that decade, taking them to the World Series in 1975 and 1976.  Sparky who?

Chateau STE. Michelle is Washington state's oldest winery, located in Woodinville, outside Seattle.

"2013 Best Picture nominee with a major unseen female character" is HER.  No spoilers!  I haven't seen that yet.

A three-letter word for "neutral color" stumped me for a bit.  It's ASH.

I disagree that "sentences" is a necessary or sufficient clue for DOOMS.

Who doesn't love an analogy clue?  "Axilla : armpit :: coxa :" HIP.  Axe body spray for your axilla, Cox body spray for your hip region!

ENOS Slaughter was a right fielder who played in four World Series and ten All-Star games.  He is best known for hitting the winning run in game seven of the 1946 World Series, Cardinals vs. Red Sox.  His nickname was "Country."

"One with a focus in mathematics" is tricky.  It's PARABOLA, which is a set of point equally distant from a point on an axis, known as the focus, and the directrix, which is a separate given line.  So, clever clue, if you're a mathematician.

AMARETTO is an almond-flavored liqueur that is can be an ingredient in tiramisu, though brandy and rum are often used as well.

It seems like there are a lot of swimmers in the New York Times puzzle.  DARA Torres has won twelve Olympic medals over five, count them five, Olympic games.  Let's all take a moment to respect that physical and mental strength.

Old-timey actor and director IDA Lupino first appeared September 26, 2017.

KOA showed up in a clue on February 2.  This time I got it right off.

Clever clues: "Leader of a long race?" is ADAM.  "Code violation requiring an emergency exit" is ENDLESS LOOP.  "Butler of fiction" had me trying to think of a Jeeves-like character but it's RHETT, ha ha.  "Night sticks?" puzzled the hell out of me!  It's ROOSTS, with "sticks" as in neighborhoods. "Start of an intermission?" is ENTR'.

That's a lot of new material.  I'm glad I managed to do as well as I did.  Gotta look on the bright side and not be a SOREHEAD.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Friday's New York Times puzzle solved: May the Fourth Be With You, 2018

My time: 14:39, not so bad.

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Michael Hawkins crafted this tough-but-fair Friday themeless.  There's some fun fill in this one: HACKTIVISM, IMPRESARIO ("one who gets the show on the road"), AT LONG LAST, LET'S DO THIS, ONE-STOP SHOP, XYLEM, STAYCATION ("what's not going anywhere?"), MONEY TALKS, and CARAMEL CORN for example.

Oddly, one of the most troublesome spots for me was "sharp."  I even had AC__ and still it didn't occur to me that the answer was the simple adjective ACID.  In the same vein, there was some block in my head not letting me see that "dim" was a verb (and not an adjective meaning "stupid"), and the answer was FADE.

Former Prime Minister Clement ATTLEE spells his name with two T's which is sometimes hard to remember.

"Some hand waves" is HIS, as in the plural of hi.  Ugh.  That clue and its answer are the picture of INELEGANCE.

"One signatory to the Treaty of Fort Laramie" is SIOUX.  This 1968 treaty, also called the SIOUX Treaty of 1968, ended Red Cloud's war by ceding the Great Sioux Reservation to the Native Americans and pledging for the U.S. to abandon some forts.  However, as anyone who studies Native American-European relations knows, it didn't last long.  Open war again broke out in 1876, and the U.S. government unilaterally annexed native land protected under the treaty in 1877.  To this day, ownership of the Black Hills remains the subject of a legal dispute between the U.S. government and the Sioux.  (SIOUX is crossed with SUE in the puzzle, which is funny.)

In other war news, The Treaty of TROYES, signed in 1420, established that King Henry V would inherit the French crown after the death of King Charles VI of France.  This was part of the back and forth military and political maneuvering of the Hundred Years' War.  The treaty was undermined by the deaths of both Charles VI and Henry V within two months of each other in 1422.  TROYES is a Roman-era city in the north of France.  It is what the troy ounce is named after.

Hey, I guessed that the Kansas City Chiefs were in AFC WEST!  There are only four teams in this group.  I thought they were larger.

Is a LATTE machine really a "restaurant fixture?"  Any restaurant?

I couldn't put together the letters for "freshwater minnow."  I even had the absurd *RESFIN for a while.  It's REDFIN, as in REDFIN Shiner.

For "comparatively twisted" I had nothing until it was filled in: WRIER.  I had forgotten about the definition of wry as "twisted," as in a wry grin.

I put *YENTA for "gossipmonger" but they want the variant YENTE.  I also sometimes confuse it with the story/movie character *YENTL.

For "pool surface" is put *TILE but it's FELT, surprise!

I assumed correctly that LOS was the first word in LOS Olvidados, a 1950 Luis Buñuel film, but what is the film?  Known as The Young and the Damned in English, it's a very bleak tale of poverty-stricken, dangerous juveniles who rob and assault people in the slums of Mexico City.  Buñuel is a great director and visionary, but I can't say I've "enjoyed" the films of his that I've seen.

"Arrivals in Arrival, for short" is ETS.  One of the few films that says, "It's the linguists' time to shine!"

Clever clues: "Gave secondhand?" is REDEALT.  "Stunners" is TASERS.  "DC area?" is KRYPTON (note it doesn't say "D.C." but DC).  "Crown holders" is TEETH.  "Gray area?" is ANATOMY.

I SAY, I really enjoyed this puzzle.  It was challenging and between the new stuff and the vague clues, I had my hands full!

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Thursday's New York Times puzzle solved: May 3, 2018

My time: 11:30, pretty good.

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Emily Carroll manages to cram four COMPACT CARS into one square each in this rebus puzzle.  The first one I picked up on was R[OPE L]ADDER for "access to a treehouse, maybe," because I had most of ladder filled in.  The punchline being in the middle of the puzzle helped me as well.  I also figured that "move along" was unlikely to be a three-letter word; it's PR[OPEL].

I initially had put only *DUMMIES for "self-deprecatingly titled instructional book series," but it's [FOR D]UMMIES, crossed with AF[FORD].  Then there's "European nation since 1993," SOLOVA[KIA], crossed with S[KI A]REA.  (Wikipedia says Slovakia's independence day is July 17, 1992, while a Google search gives you the answer January 1, 1993, so I don't know who's right there).  Finally, there's PL[AUDI]TS for "praise," crossed with G[AUDI]EST.

Fun puzzle!  There's even some good non-theme fill: DANCE AROUND, DIRT CHEAP, OPEN AND SHUT.

I couldn't remember DIDO, who was so ubiquitous fifteen or more years ago.  She also sang "White Flag."

A golfer's goof is a SLICE, but that took me a bit to fill in because I didn't trust myself to know that term without a little crossfill.  Also, although it usually refers to an error, "the slice can be played intentionally."

For "big loss, figuratively" I put *BLOW but it's BATH.

Did you know the OED ends in "zyzzyva?"  Me neither, but that's a great clue.

For "Casey at the Bat autobiographer," neither DeWolf nor Hopper fit, so I quickly realized it was STENGEL.

I've watched maybe an episode and a half of "Glee."  Apparently it's set in (a fictionalized version of) LIMA, OHIO.  That's nice.

I'm getting used to the New York Times' "et ALII."

I'm so illiterate about geography, I could not have told you that the Adriatic is an ARM of the Mediterranean.

San Francisco's COIT Tower is new to me.  Also known as the Lillian Coit Memorial Tower, it is located in Pioneer Park, made of unpainted concrete, and is a tribute to Coit, who left the city money to beautify it.  I'm... not sure this was a good use of the funds?

DULLES airport was apparently designed by Eero Saarinen, who atypically finds himself on the clue side of the puzzle today.

The puzzle defines Carl ICAHN as "financial mogul," but he's actually an amoral sleazebag who profited off of insider trading and hostile takeovers.  I looked into him on November 18, 2017, and afterwards too.

NFL player CAM Newton appeared on October 12, 2017, and I remembered him right off.

I more vaguely remembered TV exec Roone ARLEDGE, who was featured on March 6

Clever clues: "Cellular carrier?" is RNA.  "Piece of cake?" is TIER.

And that's all for today.  Great puzzle, fun theme, fun clues, and I did very well time-wise. All by MYSELF!  I'm IN AWE.

Tuesday's New York Times crossword puzzle solved: June 19, 2018

My time: 5:54 . -- For those snowflake liberals among us who cringe at the free and proud exercise of the Second Amendment (motto: the O...