Monday, June 18, 2007

Relative difficulty: Medium-Hard

THEME: Campus Compass Points - four theme answers are homes of colleges, with NORTH, WEST, SOUTH, and EAST in their names, respectively; further, every answer is a city followed by a two-letter state code

Didn't see the compass point aspect of this puzzle until about two minutes ago. I found the whole puzzle a bit befuddling - doable, but full of all sorts of weirdness. I'm including the theme in the "weirdness," as there are three different features that link them all, though technically only one of those features is the theme, I guess. We have the compass points, plus the college/university angle, plus the state code angle. Kind of a mess, conceptually, though I like the way the city+state code looks in the grid.

• 20A: Home of Smith College (Northampton, MA)
• 29A: Home of the U.S. Military Academy (West Point, NY)
• 44A: Home of Notre Dame (South Bend, IN)
• 52A: Home of Michigan State (East Lansing, MI)

Having spent 8 years of my life at a major university in the midwest, I got the last two of these answers immediately. For some reason WEST POINT, NY took a while to come together, and NORTHAMPTON, MA was not familiar to me (though inferrable with a few crosses).

But on top of the theme weirdness, there are plenty of INSANE (47D: Ready for the rubber room) non-theme answers. Let's start with:

26A: 100 square meters (are)

I was dead certain this was wrong. ARE??? Talk about dressing a toad up in a tux and teaching it to dance ... WTF? ARE is a linking verb. The fact that it also has this esoteric meaning in some farming quarters does not mean I should be subjected to said meaning. When I finished the puzzle, I actually Googled ALONSO (26D: "The Tempest" king) to make sure I'd remembered my high school Shakespeare accurately, and thus that the "A" cross on ARE was correct. It was. ARE! Man oh man.

41A: Unicorn in a 1998 movie (Nico)

Again, huh? It's Tuesday and you're giving me unicorn movies Nobody Has Heard Of!? I for one would like to see NICO killed and burned to ashes, so that we can return him to the URN from which he apparently escaped. NICO's one virtue is that it rhymes with BIKO (9D: Steven _____, real-life subject of the 1987 film "Cry Freedom")

25D: Colorist's vessel (dye pot)

This sounds medieval. Do modern colorists really call their "vessels" DYE POTs? It's a super-ugly phrase.

11D: Former lovers, e.g. (ex-partners)

Not fond of this one, mainly because the answer is not a very in-the-language phrase. [Conan O'Brien and Andy Richter, e.g.] might have made this answer work. For me.

6D: Mingo player on "Daniel Boone" (Ed Ames)

Where do I begin. After I stopped laughing at the very word "Mingo," I realized I would never get this without crosses. I've seen ED AMES in the puzzle before, which is the only reason I was able to fill his name in. "Daniel Boone!?!" Oh sure, I used to watch that when I was negative 10 years old.

34D: Nova _____ (Scotian)

SCOTIAN? I can't recall seeing a partial used this way, where the missing part is modified to a less-used, less common part of speech. Kind of icky. Gettable, but :(

46D: Naysayer (denier)

The clue - you'd use that word. The answer - no, not so much.

Took me forever to get EARED (23A: Flop or lop follower) and I balked at the cluing on REGALE (5D: Wine and dine). I always think of REGALE in the context of story-telling, as in "so and so REGALEd us with stories of his time on the high seas" or whatever.

On the brighter side, there is a handful of hot fill in this grid. I especially like the bad movies, including AEON FLUX (61A: With 64-Across, 2005 Charlize Theron title role) - never saw it, but I own the comic book tie-in that came out around the same time ... for some reason - and "Blame it ON RIO" (49A: "Blame it _____" (Michael Caine film)), which I watched many times on HBO in the early-mid 80s. It had breasts in it. I was 14. Now you know.

Lastly, I commend the near juxtaposition of PLANETARIA (59A: Sites for stargazers) and SPHERE (66A: Ball).

Good night / morning.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

Orange

Damn you, Rex Parker! *shakes fist* I meant to mention the URN + NICO = UNICORN thing myself.

My grandma never played Mingo—only bingo.

Denier is also a unit of measure used in the world of pantyhose and tights. Better than "one who denies"?

You know, you might've known that 100 sq. meters were an ARE if you'd spent more time in your youth doing crosswords instead of cruising HBO for boobie movies.

Alex

Pretty straightforward, I found it.

The only really big issue I have with the theme is that [Home of Michigan State] produces EAST LANSING, MI. I know the clue technically isn't in the answer, but MICHIGAN producing MI seems too close for me.

Of course, the creator was probably painted into a corner with the theme of "compass direction towns containing a post-secondary institution that can, combined with the two letter state abbreviation, fit on a grid."

The only altnernative to East Lansing and Michigan State I can think of is East Orange, NJ, and Upsala College (which closed back in the '90s). Maybe "Town that fits part of the theme but is next door to the town that is home to Stanford" (EAST PALO ALTO CA).

I am officially tired of A TO Z and SCENE I as fill.

profphil

That was the hardest Tuesday puzzle I can reacall. Perhaps it was the 2 glasses of wine I drank before starting the puzzle. However, there were so many answers I did not recognize: Nico, Are, Coreo arreo, Aeon Flux, Terp and INXS (pronounce in excess, who knew?). I know Rex pointed out most of these. I had to Google Aeon Flux even though I had Aeo- and Flu-. Also had to Google Correo Arreo even though I had Arre-. I originally had Dye Kit instead of Dye Pot. I'm complaining as it's only Tuesday and it should not be this hard.

Anonymous

The nice thing about the metric system (as opposed to the English system) is the fact that all units are raised by multiples of ten and given new prefixes. Thus, the area of a square 10 meters on a side (100 square meters) is an ARE (French, pronounced AAR). A square 100 meters on a side (10,000 square meters) is a HECTARE, which is approximately 2.2 acres. This is the standard unit of area measurement throughout the world, except in the few places where the English system of feet, yards, and acres is used.

Anonymous

One pedantic quibble with the puzzler: technically, Notre Dame is in Notre Dame, IN. It's it own town/zip code. It's next to (in fact, surrounded by) South Bend, but not "in" it in the normal sense. Otherwise, had the same trouble that profphil did--couldn't even get Alonso easily, and I'd read it last year!

Wendy

This puzzle kicked my butt all over the map. I haven't had this kind of trouble on a Tuesday since I don't know when. It got to the point where I was laughing out loud at my travails, but I kind of enjoyed the ride.

Other observations besides those already mentioned:

TERP - Feel this is unfair, as U of Marylanders are Terrapins, and TERP is a nickname, which should have somehow been reflected in the clue, I thought. Debatable, I suppose, but I was reluctant to enter the answer at first because of this.

REHABS - Come on. This isn't a noun, now is it? Lindsey Lohan doesn't say, "I'm goin' down to the 'rehab' again for a few hours," does she? You go "into rehab", yes.

I don't usually notice structure, but thought it odd that the directional answers, other than NORTH, didn't appear in position as they would've on a map.

DENIER - That's what a person who says the Holocaust never happened is called.

I must have been living under a rock when AEON FLUX came out. Literally never heard of it.

And finally, I asked for this particular clue for HOSERS a few weeks back when instead it was presented as 'driveway cleaners' or some such weirdness. And here it is! ;)

Greg

Apparently NICO the Unicorn was a Canadian-produced film, so it seems appropriate that it intersects with NOVA SCOTIAN.

Scott

Rex, if you didn't get the ED AMES/Mingo connection from watching Daniel Boone, you might have recalled it from Ed's ax-throwing routine, the single most replayed Johnny Carson bit of all time.

I never met Ames, but I did see Fess Parker and his wife a few years ago when we stayed at his inn in Los Olivos. He was out back trying to get his car to start, without much success.

Norrin2

I wonder if this is the John Underwood who back in the days before zip codes used to get mail addressed to him like this:

Wood
John
Massachusetts

that's John Underwood (under wood)
Andover (and over) Massachusetts

I sailed through this puzzle, near-record Tuesday time. It appears I am out of step with my puzzling peers.

Orange

I'm with Norrin—an easy Tuesday for me. I loves me some pop culture!

And ["Tonight Show" tomahawk tosser] is a clue in today's Sun. ED AMES's alternating consonants and vowels make him attractive to constructors, alas.

TERP has been showing up in crosswords for decades. It's long been a knee-jerk response for me—"Maryland athlete? Must be TERP."

DONALD

Excerpt from today's New York Times Crossword in Gothic:

"Favorite in today's puzzle -- EDAMES (6D Mingo player on "Daniel Boone") -- reminded me of his hilarious appearance on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson -- Ames throws a tomahawk into a plywood dummy, and the hatchet lands in the dummy's pelvis.-- view "clip" HERE."

Ron

Wow, I got through this puzzle fairly quick, except for the smaller words like ARE and AEON FLUX (did not see that movie)

Question, Rex - when you post the puzzle answers there is a portion shaded on the puzzle and also a single letter in a different color - what is the significance?

barrywep

I never watched Daniel Boone, though I'm old enough I probably could have.

I remember Blame it on Rio. Having rewatched it lately, I thought it ironic that Demi Moore played the shy, plain girl. How times change.

Anonymous

Ron: I asked the same question when I first found the RPblog. Turns out it's meaningless; has to do with where the cursor was left when the puzzle was completed. Ignore, and enjoy!
Trish in OP

Karen

I agree with Wendy about the directions...I got NORTHAMPTON and WEST POINT, then tried to fit in South Lansing at the bottom and East Bend on the left. Yes, I have a bit of left/right confusion.

I'm going to keep an eye out for TERP, I don't recall having seen that one before.

I'm glad others struggled with this puzzle too.

campesite

I'd agree: for a Tuesday this was tough but doable puzzle. EAST LANSING MI could have been clued as home of the Spartans.
I'd add ARTE to Orange's TERP as an answer which has shown up forever. Are those in the Pantheon?

Rex Parker

ARTE is way more Pantheonistic than TERP. Though ARTE (clued as Johnson) has had a minor resurgence of late, I think of him as bygone crosswordese. Or ... at least somewhat dated.

Anyone who has spent any time watching college basketball knows TERP. Gimme gimme gimme. If I hadn't been a sometime sports fan, though, I would indeed have balked at this answer.

profphil

Knowing almost nothing about sports, Terp was just gotten from the fill. When I double checked it on Google I found out that it was a sports team, Terrapin shortened.

Rex, the clue was collegian, does that mean all students at this university are called Terps or just the sport team?

BlueStater

I'm surprised no one commented on what seems to me to be a flaw in construction. The SE corner has three interlinked and vanishingly obscure entries from one field, popcult (INXS, and the much-discussed AEON FLUX, all totally unknown to me). It strikes me, particularly this early in the week, that this is over the top. Popcult, OK (well, I'll admit I think there's way too much of it in the NYT puzzles), obscurity, OK, even a bunch of interlinked obscure entries, OK. But all from the same field, not OK, I think.

Rex Parker

INXS is a flat-out gimme for millions of people. Plus, it's in crosswords All The Time. Further, "Popcult" seems largely to stand for "stuff people watch on TV or at the movies or listen to on their iPods that I don't know anything about."

NICO, ED AMES, ARTE, DAVE, BIKO (as clued), X'ER, ON RIO, PAC, etc., they're all pop culture, but so are HOWE and ALONSO and JOYCE. The question seems to be "popular with whom, and when?" If "culture" weren't "popular," the puzzle would not exist. If something's "popular," then almost by definition it's not "obscure."

Older solvers appear to get angry not with "pop culture" per se, but with the answers that are not from *their* culture. It's like when I squawk about ED AMES or MACRAE or whatever. I'm under 40, so these names mean nothing to me. I can assure you that far more people know AEON FLUX than know HOWE, and literally millions more know INXS. You may find that sad, but it's true.

INXS was a massively popular Australian rock band in the 1980s and 90s. Their lead singer died of auto-erotic asphyxiation. There was a recent reality show to pick a new lead singer. I'm not making this up. It's common knowledge... I didn't have to Google for any of that trivia.

jlsnyc

profphil -- the students at the u of m are known as "terps" -- as are the members of the various sports teams.

the basketball teams (men's and women's) tend to make the news come ncaa (march madness) time; and i believe the lacrosse team does pretty well, too. [ditto, sometimes, the football team.]

janie (whose hometown is baltimore...)

R. Kane

With all the resources available, one's age is insignificant -- one's interests are what makes the difference.

Kitt

Very well said, Rex!

Amen to that.

For example, I consider sports trivia "pop culture" and that just isn't a strong point for me. I can choose to get pissed, I can choose to watch more baseball, basketball etc, or I can choose to know more about other things to help me out with the puzzles.

I can EVEN choose whether I want to do the puzzle or not!

To me it's all about choices! Love them choices~

Anonymous

From RH2 re REHAB:
n.
1. rehabilitation.
2. a rehabilitated building.

Also, I understand that "Aeon Flux" was initially a series of shorts on MTV. Aeon's a futuristic assassin who is killed at the end of each episode. Never seen them, but they sound pretty sweet. The movie is so-so, but I liked the twist at the end quite a bit.

Oh, and there's a great Klahn in the NYS today, too, if you didn't see it.

Best,
PBlindauer

David

Hey Rex:
I'm afraid I may be one of those "angry older solvers" you refer to (though my mom still runs rings around me on the NYT puzzles). The agrivation is not with the pop-culture nature of puzzles like today's, but with the overload of names crossing names. These clues where either you know the answer ("gimmes") or no amount of thinking will get it for you, but 10 seconds on google will, just take all the fun out.
Finally just chucked today's in the recycling with at least 8 squares still blank - worst Tuesday I can remember IMHO.

campesite

For me, popular culture references are always welcome in the grid, no matter the era referenced. I'm less forgiving about words seemingly invented to fit the construction, or extremely obscure fill that, say, only a scholar of the subject in question would know.

Orange

Rex, I'd love to see you expand on that comment (maybe more general, with less reference to one specific puzzle?) and add it to your "Important Posts" section. It's a point of view I share, though certainly many others don't, and you stated your thesis (or theses) eloquently. C'mon! Manifesto! Manifesto!

Wendy

Point of clarification ... having once lived 'down the street' from the University of Maryland, I knew TERP as well as anybody. My question was: should it have been clued, 'Maryland collegian, briefly' since TERP is a short version of terrapin. Sorry if I was unclear about my question/observation.

As for the cultural debate: I personally feel I am sitting in the catbird seat because I swing both ways. At the age of 54, I feel 34 mentally, look 40 (or so I'm told), live and work among people younger, older and my age, and make a point of knowing about a lot of things, both because my profession demands it and because I'm wired that way. I don't feel I belong to any culture in particular. I often describe myself as a specialist at being a generalist (probably partly a function of being a liberal arts graduate in the early 70s).

I love the suspense before I start each puzzle, wondering what I'll 'know' and what will be obscure (to me). I don't resent any of it. If I say I never heard of AEON FLUX, I mean simply, I never heard of it! Which is odd because I see so many movies. That's all; not, I never heard of it so it shouldn't have been in here.

Man, if this felt like any kind of chore, I would cut the cord so fast they wouldn't know what hit them. Not sure why bluestater, for example, keeps doing the puzzle if it's such a deep disappointment.

frances

I'm a non-angry older solver who doesn't own a TV set, listens to the radio only for classical music, and has nothing but audio books on my iPod. I could do with a few fewer "pop culture" answers, but I found today's puzzle not-very-difficult.

Is there a blog comparable to this one for the bi-weekly Acrostic puzzles in the Sunday Times? The June 10 Acrostic has one of the niftiest entries I've ever seen. Clue was "Burger replacement" in 9 letters. I wanted "patty melt" which didn't work, and tried to find some sort of "steak." Answer was: "Rehnquist"!

kratsman

I don't know aeon flux from adam and eve, but I just set that image of Theron as my computer's background image. Awesomely cool/hot. (If you haven't figured it out yet, I'm a semi-old fart.)

Fergus

Pop culture or just plain old information are weak clues for me, even though I harbor a fair amount of trivial knowledge. The satisfaction in solving a crossword puzzle, in my opinion, lies in juggling a bunch of synonyms, puns and other wordplay more or less concurrently. Guessing which unknown actor in some 1943 film misses the point, I aver.

Orange

I just looked up Ed Ames on Wikipedia and IMDB. Would you believe he's not dead yet?!? Who knew?

He hasn't had a hit song since the '60s, but he has been on TV several times in the last few decades. I must've blinked and missed seeing him...during my entire lifespan.

Anonymous

I wonder if EDAMES collects puzzles with himself as grid entries. ENYA might do it, too, for all we know.

Best,
Pauer

Karen

Frances, Rehnquist replaced Warren Burger on the Supreme Court. That's a clever wordplay clue AND pop culture. (ie I had to look it up too.)

Mark Iverson

The one clue I don't get is "words on an envelope" - "Correo Aereo"? A Google search shows not much at all. Only now as I write this am I guessing that it may mean "air mail" in whatever language "aero" means air. Maybe? Can someone please shed light on this?

Thanks - and fwiw, I dig this blog and the comments. Probably the only blog I visit every day.

Mark

frances

Mark--

Long ago, mail was routinely transported by train or truck, and it you wanted a letter to arrive faster, you sent it by Air Mail. Stationery stores sold envelopes of various kinds, including some of lightweight paper, with red and blue stripes around the edges and the printed legend "Via Air Mail." Since air mail was particularly useful for international mailing, these envelopes usually also had the legends "Par Avion" and "Correo Aereo". I think envelopes such as these are still in use for overseas correspondence.

BlueStater

I'm kinda late with this reply; sorry, but I have satellite web access, and when it rains (which around here in June is frequently and copiously), I'm cut off from the outside world.

Jeez, every time I do my popcult rant it's like turning over a rock. None of my critics, though, answered my objection (at least as far as I can tell), which wasn't to popcult per se (I do have a personal, highly idiosyncratic dislike of popcult beyond a certain amount in what I persist in regarding as the high-cult venue of the NYT crosswords, but that's different from a generic, all-popcult-is-bad, dislike), but to a cluster of mutually essential (there must be a word for this) popcult entries in an early-week puzzle.

My belief that the downfall of Western culture began with the rise of Elvis Presley doesn't mean that I'm prejudiced.

>8-}

Anonymous

As for the South Bend quibble, here is some comments from the Sun-Times:

School officials have obviously heard this dispute before, and find it ridiculous. "In no way is it an important distinction, in our perspective," said Dennis Brown, a university spokesman. "Notre Dame, Indiana is a ZIP code: 46556. It's an address. It is not a municipality. We are not incorporated." Brown said that using a "South Bend" dateline for sports stories is not only correct, but honors a fine tradition.

So if sports stories use South Bend, I think John Underwood should be correct in using it as well.

Anonymous

Six Weeks Later ::::::::

1) Very easy except ARE and ALONSO.

2) Quibble -- TACO (2D: Food in a shell) -- the tortilla (shell) is part of the taco. So this would imply a TACO has a TACO in it.

stucknkc

Greetings, I'm pretty much new to the Puzzle. Gave away my car, riding the bus, need to pass the time.

ZESTS? Too hard to say, too perky, please make it stop.

Rex Parker

How can you not like ZESTS? It's like NESTS, but with a Z. Nothing wrong with perky.

rp

Anonymous

Bluestater makes a point you do not address in your popcult rant: the crisscross of obscurities in the SE is of greater than TUESDAY difficulty. Seems OK to those of you who are more familiar with pop bands than, say, ballet dancers. For me--not so much!
You recently explained that crossing two (possibly obscure) names is an easy way to introduce difficulty to a puzz. Reluctant as I am to agree with the BSer, the point here is not popcult but appropriate difficulty.
TimeTraveller

stucknkc

Guess you're right rp, perhaps it's time to stop wallowing in my self-imposed public transportation misery.

Great blog, see you again soon.

Catherine

I believe proper nouns shouldn't cross. Ever. If they do, it becomes trivia - do you know this person/thing/whatever? Not. A. Fan.

On today...
1. Word re: using MI in the clue and answer
2. ARE? ick.
3. REHABS = pure badness. I thought of that right off, but couldn't believe they'd use it (for one, rehab is an abbreviation).
4. I liked having psych-OTIC and INSANE.
5. I wanted EDENIC (?!) to be IDYLLIC, but I suppose there weren't enough letters.

Also - on HOSERS. Apparently the insult came from hockey pre-Zamboni. The losing team had to stay after and hose down the rink, thus becoming "hosers".

Anonymous

Now that's the kind of stuff I love! I played a lot of hockey in my youth and also enjoyed 2nd City TV, but never knew the origin of the term "Hosers." Brilliant...

- - Robert

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