Almond syrups used in cocktails / SAT 9-5-15 / 1978 covert bailey best seller on exercise diet / treacly spirit of unity / aria from Faure's requiem / remarkably humanlike fingerprints / Hidalgo honorific / Classic novel whose title means wanderer / Old Pittsburgh work areas

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Constructor: Byron Walden

Relative difficulty: Challenging

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: ORGEATS (7D: Almond syrups used in cocktails) —
A sweet syrup flavored with almonds and orange blossoms, used in cocktails and food.

[French, from Old French, syrup made from barley, from Old Proven├žal orjat, from ordj, orge, barley, from Latin hordeum.] (
• • •

Yikes. This started easy and then ... I just fell into a pit. I was stuck, everywhere, for a long time. Looking back (and this is unfortunate), the difference between this puzzle's being pretty doable and this puzzle's being merciless was ORGEATS. Never heard of it, and, now that I have, no amount of pleading is going to make me think it's "good." I think it's "acceptable" in a very tough, low word-count puzzle such as this. But to have the dealbreaker be an obscure word like that, one that is likely in the grid only because it's the only word that could make the grid hold together—that's a bit of buzzkill. No one ever though "Oh, it's ORGEATS!" Only "Oh ... it's ORGEATS ... what's ORGEATS?" Unless you knew it, in which case I'm guessing you knew it immediately and didn't have to puzzle over it. My point (in the end) is that had I known that answer, the whole solve would've been very different. Much, much easier, I think. It would've dominoed me down into the SE, and I would've come up and around into the SE and would've eventually pinched the puzzle to a close somewhere around HAHA. As it was. I went from here:

to here:

in no time, but then that was pretty much it for many, many minutes. Many. I got AGR- at 11D: Farm-related prefix. Then I got URGENT (16A: Pressing). *Then* I got STEEL (yay) MILLS (boo). That second word became many things before it became YARDS. Here is a screenshot entitled "millionyearslater." As you can see, at this point, it's STEEL SHOPS (!?):

As you can also see, I imagined there was a "best seller on exercise and diet" entitled FIT TO FAT. Somehow never occurred to me that my version of the title had reversed the direction of typical diet book claims. "Tired of being in shape? Wish you were much, much heavier? Well get *on* that couch and change your life with my revolutionary diet book, FIT TO FAT!" Sigh. But before that, even getting the SE was a bear. Couldn't anagram RY COODER (wanted ROY somebody). Couldn't figure out the crocodile place (that is an insane / hard / arbitrary clue for ORINOCO) (39D: Home to 15-foot-long crocodiles). The only thing I could do, eventually, was guess most of ONONDAGA (I am never sure about which vowels go where), because they're an [Upstate New York tribe] and I'm an Upstate New York person. Oh, and I had NOG. NOG was easy. In the beginning, there was NOG, and I had it. And it didn't matter much. Eventually I scratched my way out. I settled on the -NYM suffix, then tested TREMORS and was able to get (finally) SMOG TEST and RY COODER. Then I built to what you see above. Then I sat some more. Why did I think TEA came from the Virgin Islands? I don't know.

[Whoa, flashback to peak-MTV-watching early teens ...]

The rest of the puzzle was solved via alphabet-running, starting with the square before -HOS in 44A: Certain hash ingredients. Luckily, I didn't have far to run, as "A" gave me IDAHOS and that gave me a Huge boost of momentum: SW done in a matter of seconds. Then it was up and smack into the ORGEATS wall. Wanted BAPTISTERY, but wasn't sure that was a thing. Ran alphabet again at -IRE, until I hit "D" for DIRE, which gave me IDEAL MAN, Open MRI, all of it. Turned corner with KUMBAYA (9D: Treacly spirit of unity) and not long after that ended up at the STEEL SHOPS / PUT TO A STOP / FIT TO Fat mess. In retrospect, the whole thing feels like an Easy-Medium Saturday, with this terrible eternal wandering in darkness part shoved in the middle. Again, I blame ORGEATS. "Where the orgy at?" Is that how you pronounce it? I don't care. I hope I never see it again as long as I live.


Oh, and I think the grid is really quite good for 66 words. ORGEATS is really the only thing I hate, and it just *happened* to be the solve-destroying answer. Sucks for me.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Muslim magistrate / FRI 9-4-15 / Important Peruvian crop / Green Hornet trumpeter / Major in 1973 David Bowie hit / Once-popular alcopop

Friday, September 4, 2015

Constructor: David C. Duncan Dekker

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: none — I don't thing those 3 Qs on a diagonal count...

Word of the Day: QUIFF (28A: Man's do with upswept hair in the front) —
Chiefly British
A tuft of hair, especially a forelock.
Origin of quiff
Origin unknown.
A woman regarded as promiscuous.
Origin of quiff
Origin unknown.(Amer. Heritage Dict.)
• • •

I'd say AVERAGE is about right. There are lots of X J Q-type letters, but they aren't doing much of anything interesting. That Q-run is mildly cool, and I kind of like how KAMIKAZE komes krashing down there in the NE. "WHY YES!" gives the grid a little life down below. But three out of the four corners (all except the NE) are pretty dull. They are adequate. They are reasonably clean. They exist. Don't tend to love when grids have sections, like the NW and SE, that are sooooo cut off from the rest of the grid. Those sections end up playing like mini-puzzles, which would be OK if there were some inherent interest. But those sections aren't that lively. The real danger with such isolated sections is that they can kill you in a truly difficult puzzle—nowhere to run to, nowhere to hide. But today's cut-off corners weren't that tough. Did take some effort to get at the NW, but that was offset by how easy the SE was—that corner couldn't have taken me more than 30 seconds.

I had a couple of miscues. First when I put in QUAKES at 24A: Trembles. Took one look at 8D: Muslim magistrate, realized it couldn't end in -RKF (what could?), and took out QUAKES. Guessed SHARIF and then put in QUAILS. Then moved down the grid a bit and put in QUAKES where it belonged (28D: Country rockers?) (that's a decent "?" clue for QUAKES). I also had a mistake at 35D: Slight sights. Turns out there are (at least) two answers that can fit in there *and* that start GLIM-

I went with GLIMMERS. It was actually the first thing I dropped into that section. The above-pictured grid captures the moment just after I realized my mistake. The ATP (48A: Court sport org.) is the Association of Tennis Professionals, btw. Lastly, just one quibble with the clue on ZIMA (38D: Once-popular alcopop). I think they meant "Once-available" or "once-marketed," 'cause ZIMA was never "popular." (Except, it seems, for a hot second in 1994 when Coors threw a ton of marketing money at it). Popular drinks, uh, survive. To be fair, though, ZIMA did hang in there for an awfully long time. According to Modern Drunkard Magazine: "Despite almost universal derision by the public in general and the drinking press in particular (see Real Drunks Don’t Drink Zima MDM Nov. ‘96), Zima managed to gimp along for an astonishing 15 years." Did you know Miller's answer to ZIMA was QUBE!? How did I miss that? Why is QUBE never in puzzles? I'm so disappointed in all crossword constructors right now. (Actually, I'm not–I can't even find a picture of QUBE on the whole of the Internet, which maybe says something about QUBE's crossword viability. But it turns out there are a bunch of other products out there trying to make QUBE happen, so there's always hope).

MASON JARs, on the other hand—MASON JARs are popular. Chances are you have had an (actual, non-ZIMA-related) alcoholic beverage in one in recent years. A touch of folksiness for hip urban faux-back-to-the-landers. Artisanal free-range MASON JARs for all!

Good day.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


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