THURSDAY, Jul. 5, 2007 - Elizabeth C. Gorski

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Relative difficulty: Hard

[Updated, 1:07 pm EDT]

THEME: TBS (45A: Cable channel ... with a hint to the answers to the five starred clues); starred clues all begin with TB.

Second puzzle in a row that I really did not care for. Solving this felt a bit like torture - I kept waiting for the fun, revelatory parts to come, and they never did. Instead, I got odd, occasionally ridiculous fill, mysteriously combined with a lot of crosswordese, to create an overall mess. The fact that you can think of a bunch of words and phrases that begin "TB" does not mean you should build a puzzle around the idea.

Starred clues:

  • 20A: Undersized bats and gloves, e.g. (T-ball equipment) - well before I understood the theme, I had EQUIPMENT in place but had No idea what the clue was going for. I wrote in SMALL EQUIPMENT, which now makes me laugh.
  • 30A: Chophouse order (T-bone)
  • 37A: Founder of Mesa Petroleum (T. Boone Pickens) - Total mystery. Neither wife nor I had ever heard of this guy. Perhaps because he's some rich white oil guy. Great. Another one. Ugh. This is your marquee answer? Again, this "theme" forces some dubious fill. T BOONE PICKENS sounds like a very special guest on "Hee Haw."
  • 42A: Alternatives to rope tows (T-bars) - Crosswordese in your "theme"???
  • 55A: Caucasus capital (T'bilisi, Georgia) - constructors need to fall out of love with T'BILISI immediately. I've seen it twice now, and don't want to see it again until at least 2010.
Featured Five:

2D: Diva's headwear (turban) - come ON. If you are going to use trick cluing, at least let the payoff be worth it. I think Norma Desmond wore one of these in "Sunset Boulevard." But otherwise, if ladies are wearing turbans, I just think of them as sad, old ladies who don't realize how ridiculous they look, not as "divas."

32A: Fixed parts of motors (stators) - ignorance of cars comes back to bite me. Not a word I'm familiar with. Sitting atop of T BOONE PICKENS, this answer probably irked me more than it should have.

10D: Like Romulus and Remus (twin-born) - this is horrible, and you know it's horrible. No one would ever use this adjective, in any context, ever, unless he was deliberately trying to sound like an ass. Plus, more pseudo-clever cluing, as many of you likely fell briefly into the TWIN BOYS trap (I know my wife did).

37D: Stretchy attire (tube tops) - by far the best answer in the grid. Wife had the -UB- and was dismayed that RUBBER PANTS wouldn't fit.

1D: "Gonna Let It Shine" singer (Odetta)

A very hard clue for this fairly familiar one-named singer. The whole NW was particularly difficult. 1A: Revolutionary James _____, famous for saying "Taxation without representation is tyranny" (Otis) was unknown to me. I know OTIS as the drunk on "Andy Griffith" or, you know, the elevator guy. ANE (27A: Chemical ending) wanted to be ENE. If ICE AXE (3D: Mountaineering aid) hadn't come to me out of the blue, I don't know what I would have done with the NW.

I'd like to thank ERIQ (6D: Actor La Salle) La Salle for having that "Q" in his name, which at least allowed me to get the EQUIPMENT in T-BALL EQUIPMENT pretty quickly. One of the few lucky moments I had with this puzzle. MILNE (18A: Children's author who wrote "A fly can't bird, but a bird can fly") shows up in puzzles a lot, and there appears to be no end of insane ways to clue him. Had the (loathsome) "SEX IN the city" for 39D: _____ the city (key to) until I realized the "C" wasn't capitalized and the clue wasn't in quotation marks, so I was clearly wrong. Something about the spelling of KABOB (62A: Serving from a grill) bugs me, namely its alternative and equally acceptable spelling, KABAB. Lastly, BAILOR (46D: Surety poster)? With an "O?" This must be some kind of legalese, 'cause like TWIN-BORN, it's never coming out of anyone's mouth, ever.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

UPDATE: Reader "Liffey Thorpe" sent me the following pic of something called the "Diva Dryer" which appears to be a pink TURBAN for your post-bath experience. "Because wrapping your head in a towel is just too damned hard." The label art is fabulously hideous. Enjoy.:


anne 10:02 AM  

Didn't know T'bilisi and didn't know "dirk"...couldn't finish without your site. Thanks again

Pete M 10:06 AM  

Maybe it's because I grew up skiing in New England, but I don't consider T-BAR to be crosswordese. Granted you see fewer of them these days, as the preference is for high-speed chairlifts or gondolas, but it's still not that obscure, IMO.

Had REOS instead of GEOS for awhile...damn car abbreviations. :)

profphil 10:29 AM  


I'm at least glad I'm in good company. I had a really hard time in the NW corner. And I had the recollection that the capital of Georgia started with TB so Googled Georgia to get it and Googled for Odette.

I figured TBS was short for Table Spoon and forced Spoone into Pickens and TTable into equipment. I gave up and went to check Amy's site which I almost never do and felt I lost my cross-word ability but found I was in great company.

Anonymous 10:31 AM  

btw got bailor almost immedately but as I am a lawyer I guess it's legalese.

Anonymous 10:44 AM  

Both Jessye Norman and Maria Callas (two of the all-time greatest divas)frequently wore turbans. I notice, too, that several brands of hair-drying towels (the kind that come with a fastener at the nape so you can "wear" them after shampooing) have "Diva" in their name, presumably referring to the Norman/Callas look.

Crossword puzzles so often make you so cross, I wonder that you keep doing them!


Orange 10:49 AM  

SMALL EQUIPMENT? Geeze, what are you, a moron? Hah! That's so dumb. I had LITTL EQUIPMENT.

If you examine the world's population of TURBAN wearers, I daresay divas account for less than a tenth of a percent of them. Sikhs, oh yes. Ayatollah types, sure. Divas? Not so much.

Anonymous 11:11 AM  

Why is there a colored or highlighted letter in the answer grid?

DONALD 11:17 AM  

ODETTA I knew instantly -- did lighting for a concert in NYC some years back -- one of many "crossword" friends I'm always glad to see -- others (oh, hell, namedropping) are EDIE (as in Falco), REEVE (as in Superman), UTA (as in Hagen) -- others, but it's always nice to see ODETTA, she is such a beautiful person!

campesite 11:25 AM  

I got lucky--I was actually in the Caucasus mountains a few months ago, so that fell quickly.
I hike a fair bit and have never heard of a Bramble until today, I suppose you woudn't want to run into that prickly plant but calling it a hiking hazard seems a bit much.

Anonymous 11:28 AM  

"Why is there a colored or highlighted letter in the answer grid?"

Rex always leaves a colored square in there so people don't accuse him of racism (ever notive how many more white squares there are than black ones?).

Just kidding. The real reason a colored square appears in the puzzle is because Rex likes to let his readers' know that he considers
cheap puzzles like this one to be "blue-light specials."

Pen Girl :)

Anonymous 11:50 AM  

Pen Girl

Give the real reason -- reader's check here for answers, not snide remarks!

Anonymous 12:01 PM  

Orange--I loved your comment. Wiping the tears out of my eyes now. Thanks
Trish in OP

Pete M 12:24 PM  

I use AcrossLite, not the applet, but I believe the colored square represents the current cursor position and, as such, indicates the last square that was filled in.

Jerome 12:28 PM  


I thought the puzzle fairly easy for a Thursday. Didn't know STATORS or TBILISIGEORGIA but they came via the crosses. I love it when you hate the puz...your rants are delightful.

BTW, it seems that every few days, someone asks "Why is there a colored or highlighted letter in the answer grid?"

Why not include a stock answer in the notes at the top of the blog? Just a suggestion.

Anonymous 12:54 PM  

"SWUM"?!?! Are you kidding me? When did the past participle become a triathlon event? I'm with Rex on this puzzle -- just obnoxious.

frances 1:15 PM  

My first thought for "one leg of a triathlon" was "swim." This had me set up to call the Southern Methodist team "the Mistakes", which seems to be the theme for today's comments!

Wendy 1:16 PM  

Yep, this was sucky and unfortunate in the extreme.

I had Squeaks by instead of SCRAPES BY for a good long time, and not being one of those in the know about TBILISI, I put ... KHSTAN at the end of 55A and hoped for the best. The best never happened, needless to say. I wanted Leotards for the stretchy clue.

When it was clear that Twin Boys wasn't the answer even though it should be, and so much else was so whacked out, I wanted to put Mustards in for the SMU team since MUSTANGS just wouldn't come even with MUST in place. Seemed as likely an answer as anything else! The Mustards! Go team!

Why is there no consensus about KABOB, KEBOB, KABAB? Will, pick one, please!

I agree that just because you can clue with TB at the head of the answer, that's no reason to structure the whole puzzle around it. And why is TBS always the cable channel that gets trotted out? It's such a marginal channel to start off with.

Not to be a SMEARER, but let's hope for a funner puzzle tomorrow.

Rex Parker 1:26 PM  

I *could* put an explanation of the colored square mystery somewhere on my blog, in plain sight, but ... people wouldn't notice it or read it, and they'd still ask the question. And I enjoy Amy's (and now Pen Girl's) made-up answers so much that now I really don't want to clarify things. So I won't. For now.

Readers are absolutely free to be kind and provide the correct answer to the question-asker.


PS when I say "crosswordese," I don't mean so much "obscure" as "ultra-common x-word fill, which is also not an everyday word." TBARS is not ELI or EPEE or ESSO or ERE I or SLOE, but it's close.

Anonymous 2:00 PM  

Dear Anonymous:

Sorry if I came across as snide -- I thought I was being funny.

It can be a thin line to walk at times (between funny and snide).

However, it is true that this question gets asked all the time, and it (the question) has been answered (seriously) many, many times before. And because I figured some eager beaver was likely to answer this question (again) anyway, I thought I might provide some entertainment in the meanwhile.

The NYT c-word often incorporates humour into its clues -- and thus gentle ribbing is not, in my opinion, outside of the scope of sensibilities here.

Also, not every reader of this blog comes here seeking answers. I don't. I come here for the snide remarks. Course, It's only I that I speak for...

Pen Girl

PS: Not to imply I breeze through the puzzles -- I'm actually a Google whore -- but if I can't figure out an answer (a la Google) I simply wait for the answers to be printed the next day.

Anonymous 2:29 PM  


I'm sorry to say, but the "Comments" section of your blog has just become too painful for me to read in the future. I long for the old days when it was just the clued-in people that knew about your blog and posted in the Comments area. Now you have the same insipid nit-pickers and total idiots posting their dribble as on the NYT Forum. ("Why are some boxes colored in?" - Why the hell do you think they are idiot? Have you ever done ANYTHING technological before and seen the idea of a cursor highlight? Jesus.) Sigh. Crossword Utopia is spoiled and soiled once again.

Fergus 2:46 PM  

I seem to recall Tigger and Roo having a spot of bother with the BRAMBLES in the 40 acre wood.

Concur with Rex that this was a dull and drab puzzle, even though I did breeze through it ... because I worked in finance in the 1980s and recall TBOONE and his fellow scoundrels like Ivan Boesky and Carl Icahn. Got out of banking because too many of my colleagues thought of these guys as heroes.

Anonymous 2:49 PM  

I think this was one of the easiest Thursday puzzles in a long time. But maybe it's because I spotted T. Boone, Tbilisi and TBar quickly. BTW there's another hidden TB in PTBoat (JFK's command).
As a retired lawyer, I recall from Criminal Law class that a Bailor bails out a Bailee, i.e., posts bail or surety.

Anonymous 2:49 PM  

Hi Pen Girl,

I'm a Google whore too. My husband calls it cheating, but I call it Research


Anonymous 2:59 PM  

Oh that one anonymous was so rude. Can't even distinguish between dribble and drivel. The 2:29 PM type.
I love your blogs and as I work puzzles, tend to think about others' travails re same.
Maybe anon. was trying to be jocular??

Michael 3:38 PM  

I love this blog. Right after I finish the crossword I swing by here to see what your thoughts are.

I'm glad to see your criticism of this puzzle; I had a lot of trouble with it.

I got the TBS theme, but had no idea who or what a T Boone Pickens was. Hee-haw! Funny. I thought it sounded like a cheap wine you buy by the box.

And I shoulda gotten the geography clue sooner, but I thought Caucasus capital was some kind of money for rich southern white people. (T-bill in Georgia?)

B 4:14 PM  

This was, indeed, a sad day for puzzlers everywhere.

Anonymous 4:23 PM  

turban is shabby, very, very shabby. Smearer only a little better. By the time I got stators, I felt exploited. Still don't get Eli for Clinton. But i dont see many other complaints. I do know why theres a colored line on Rex's grid and I'm not saying a word.

Michael 4:43 PM  

Clinton went to Yale. A Yale student or alumnus is called an Eli (after Elihu Yale). That clue was, as Rex would say, crosswordese.

Orange 5:00 PM  

This thread is hilarious!

Rex, I have a question: Why is this puzzle different from the one in my new'spaper? And why don't you include the puzzle number?

kratsman 5:02 PM  

The clue was "Bill Clinton, collegiately." Clinton went to college at Georgetown. He went to law school at Yale. Some find that distinction nitworthy.

Alex 6:12 PM  

For the "Remus and Romulus" clue I thought I was so clever and without any crosses put in FOUNDERS.

Fortunately it was a cross in the BORN part that told me otherwise so I never really considered anything other than TWIN BORN once on the right track.

Having the theme in hand by the time I saw the clue I immediately knew it was Tbilisi, Georgia, but I just couldn't remember how to spell it beyond the Tb part. But I also was unhappy with its inclusion with the theme since all of the others are instances of the T being pronounced as a compound word. The pronunciation of Tbilisi does not match all of the others.

Is "epee" a sport or just a category of fencing which is the sport?

NW corner was also the worst for me and that is two days in a row.

Kitt 6:25 PM  

Well shoot, I was going to chime in and say how much I didn't like the puzzle but....everyone else is doing it so I'll dare to be different.

(I have to say first that I agree with Wendy on the "kabob" issue. It's starting to get annoying the various spellings...)

I liked "aura" "tubetops" -- thought the clue for "cold" was good. Really liked "ugly" clued as hostile.

Had no clue about T Boone Pickens....and wasn't as up on my Georgia geography as I guess I should be.

Norm 7:18 PM  

Okay. I liked the puzzle, although I agree with Alex that Tbilisi did not fit (and I expected Rex to pick on that, but his rant was more far-ranging). It was a cute idea, and I don't think ECG should be criticized for trying it. I actually thought it was too easy for a Thursday.

Scott 7:35 PM  

As a twin, I want, on behalf of My People, to join your complaint against TWIN-BORN. We twins (actually we prefer Monozygotic Americans) get enough condescension without having linguistic monstrosities like these hung around our necks.

Somehow, TURBAN immediately sprang to mind for Diva's headware. Probably because the first classically trained singer I ever knew wore a turban all the time.

Orange 9:02 PM  

Monozygotic Americans? Heh.

I just came across the term person of pallor at the Double-Tongued Dictionary and just might adopt its use.

Anonymous 9:31 PM  

Just love your blog and always read it after doing the puzzle, but don't post. Until today, when as a *painful*, *unclued-in*, *insipid nit-picker*, *total idiot* *dribbler* I had to leave something to annoy Mr Anonymous 2:29pm.
Keep up the great work. I love all the posts too. Raspberry to Mr Anonymous.

Unicycle 12:59 AM  

I've just begun lurking around here, but already I can tell that I'm going to like it.

I'm not a xword expert (Scrabble, on the other hand...), but this one seemed terrible given that so many ppl didn't know the person splashed across the center line.

Google helped with ODETTA and OTIS (bad connector).

No one seems to have mentioned that kids don't study GEOG. in elem. sch. these days. That's more for a HS elective. I tried HIST and SPAN at first.

Yes, lots of us know the old T-BARS, Rex. Just one of those things from my childhood ski trips, the sports equivalent of ODETTA (some will know, some will shrug). But STATORS was awful.

Thanks for your fun blog.

Anonymous 5:25 PM  

An epee is a fencing sword as well as the sport of fencing with this sword.

Tbilisi is a slam-dunk for me. That's where George Balanchine was born and is also the hometown of renowned ABT and Bolshoi ballerina Nina Ananiashvili, who has recently become the artistic director of the Tbilisi Ballet. She is also the godmother of Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili's son. If your name ends in "ashvili", or "adze" (Balanchine's last name originally was Balanchivadze), you likely hail from Georgia.

Anonymous 12:01 PM  

From the time warp . . .
The fuss over spelling Kebab/Kabob is a bit, um, parochial. Lots of words in English imported from languages which use different symbols: Greek, Russian, Arabic, Chinese, etc.
So you make up an English spelling that sounds like the original--with a lot of variation over time, place, speaker, accent and so forth.
Getting prescriptive about this is silly, never mind that if successful it would hamper the constructor. Removing items from his tool kit is not the way to get better puzzles.

Anonymous 1:25 PM  


ODETTA and TBOONE were gimmes. Names that stuck for some reason. STATORS was difficult. TWINBORN was goofy. How would you refer to unborn-as-yet twins? TWINCONCEIVED?

I enjoyed reading the six-week old debate / comments today.

TimeT, I agree, it's helpful to know the variations.

Waxy in Montreal 10:02 PM  

As usual from 6 weeks on -

Agree this was one of the least-enjoyable puzzles in some time.

64A: The clue "Brand name that sounds like two letters of the alphabet" (ESSO) is a bit off as ESSO actually does stand for the initial letters of Standard Oil; i.e., S and O. It may be a quibble but the "sounds like" is no coincidence. Though EXXON has long-since replaced ESSO as a brand name stateside, ESSO gas stations still abound up here in the frozen north.

Anonymous 2:09 AM  

Also SWL in San Diego:
Rotors and Stators are parts of electrical motors (and generators), not gasoline engines. Electromotive force causes the rotors to turn within the stator, which then turns some mechanical load (like a fan). It is very useful to understand rotors and stators when you have to work in the engine room of a nuclear submarine.

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