MONDAY, Aug. 20, 2007 - Lynn Lempel

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: Trios of rhyme - theme answers are all famous trios from nursery rhyme and song

Theme answers:

  • 17A: Fortune-seeking trio (Little Pigs)
  • 11D: Trio at sea (Men in a Tub)
  • 36A: Grass-eating trio (Billy Goats Gruff)
  • 33D: Trio on the run (Blind Mice)
  • 57A: Gift-giver's trio (French Hens)

Which of these theme answers is not like the other? Which of these five just doesn't belong? Answer below.

This puzzle is weird. Fun, but strange. The theme does not hold together very well, for two reasons. First, none of the trios is clued in relation to what they are best known for, or they are clued so vaguely that the correct answer does not jump to mind. A little difficulty is fine, but ... when I think of the three LITTLE PIGS, the first thing I think of is the wolf trying to blow their house(s) down, not the fact that the pigs are "fortune-seeking." And the BILLY GOATS GRUFF are clued in relation to the fact that they eat grass?! That's pretty weak. But the bigger problem here is with one answer: FRENCH HENS. All the other answers are from children's songs or rhymes, but those HENS are from "The Twelve Days of Christmas," which is a carol for everyone. Moreover, the HENS are not anthropomorphized in said carol, while all the other featured TRIOS are people (the MEN IN A TUB) or people-like animals. Lastly, and most importantly, all the other TRIOS are CENTRAL to their rhymes - the rhymes are ABOUT them. But the HENS? They are only one of twelve gifts, and they don't even DO anything. Which of these theme answers is not like the others? The answer is FRENCH HENS.

Three of the four long non-theme answers here are really good, in that they are colorful and I needed more than a couple of crosses to get them. 9D: Peaceful interludes (respites) tricked me because "peaceful" seems an extreme way to describe RESPITES, which I think of as mere lulls. But it's accurate enough, so fine. I had the GLI- in 38D: Minor hang-ups (glitches) and still had to go fishing for other crosses before it came to me. Lastly (or firstly, if we're talking about the order in which I actually solved them), there's MALARKEY, which is a hell of a word to try to uncover with only a few crosses. I don't normally think of MALARKEY (5D: "Nonsense!") as an exclamation the way "Nonsense!" is. "That's a bunch of MALARKEY." So there's a lot of slant cluing going on here, but it's not over the line.

The longer Across answers were pretty sweet too, with three of them being two-word phrases and the last being a titter-inducing lake I remember from 7th grade Geography. 24A: Hits the roof (sees red) goes nicely with 43A: Pedestrian's intersection warning ("Don't Walk"), as the pedestrian who sees a DON'T WALK sign literally SEES RED. SAT DOWN (48A: Took a load off one's feet) is nice insofar as it crosses SANTA (48D: December list keeper), and one might sit down on SANTA's lap. And what's not to love about Lake TITICACA (28A: Peru-Bolivia border lake)?

I'm not fond of WANLY as it's clued (50D: In a weak manner), not because it's a bad clue, but just because I'd never ever say WANLY. When I think WAN, I think pale, and even if I were describing something or someone pale, I probably wouldn't use WAN unless I were being deliberately hyperbolic or old-fashioned. I'd use ASHEN before WAN. Not a fan of WAN and its related word forms - that's what I'm telling you here in these words that I am somehow writing a lot of. Also not fond of the way that NARC is clued (54A: War on drugs fighter). That overly politicizes what a NARC does. Even to describe drug-law enforcement as part of the "War on Drugs" (a phrase that didn't exist before the sloganeering of the Reagan administration, as far as I know) is to put the activity into the stupid and ineffectual language of politicians who have done nothing but FAIL to deal very successfully with America's drug problem. I think the "War on Drugs" was the first fine-sounding but theoretically eternal and unwinnable "war" that we as a country declared. I think Reagan also invented the idea of a Drug Czar. Czar? Of all the titles we could adopt. Criminy. I can only pray that we have better luck with the so-called "War on Terror." All I'm saying is that if you frame matters in terms of war, then you better have a realistic and compelling vision of how to win and what winning looks like. Otherwise ... try another metaphor. If OBAMA (14A: Politician who wrote "The Audacity of Hope") gets elected, maybe he'll have some fresh ideas. Until then (and perhaps long after), constructors will happily continue to welcome him into their puzzles, as his name is a sweet new five-letter combo never-before-seen in CrossWorld.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Anonymous 10:52 PM  

war on poverty,anyone?

Anonymous 11:30 PM  

I'll always remember Lake Titicaca from the Geographical Fugue. When I was in our high school or college chorus, it was one of the most popular things to "sing" - and this was years before Rap.


Malarkey 11:53 PM  

Hey Rex. I'm a long time reader, first time commenter. Love the blog.

You seemed a little exasperated about this one... First the hens, then the word wan (I was sort of pleased with the weirdness of wanly when I figured it out), and finally the (apt) tirade about the war on drugs.

As much as I enjoy reading your specific comments about the puzzle, I equally enjoy speculating about your mood when you did it.

Were you a little bit tired for this one?

GK 11:53 PM  

Holy cow, Rex, you rated this nearly as difficult as Saturday's puzzle, which I worked on for well over an hour, aided by three other people and even Googling for a couple of entries. Today's puzzle took 5:30 with virtually no backtracking. I ignored the theme entries until there were enough crossings to get them almost without paying attention to the clue, which might as well have been "three [blank]."

korova 12:27 AM  

As a favor to Rex, I'll write what he would otherwise write: the level of difficulty is described in light of the day of the week. So whatever adjective used means "[adjective] for a ---day." Reminds me of the White Stripes song, "You're Pretty Good-Looking (For a Girl)."

Anonymous 12:33 AM  

I think the War on Poverty was probably the first explicit usage, but the idea goes back at least to William James. I recall Jimmy Carter explicitly citing James in calling for increased energy conservation and saying we should address the Energy Crisis as the "moral equivalent of war". Some commentator pointed out that it made for a rather unfortunate acronym.


Orange 1:41 AM  

I daresay the War on Drugs would have gone better if led by a Drug Pasha. Czars are ineffective but pashas? They rock.

I use the word wan in the non-physical sense (wan efforts, wan applause). I haven't been using wanly, but I'll work on that.

My seven-year-old could tell you that the happy ending of The Three Billy Goats Gruff is that after the biggest one chucks the troll into the river, all three can trip-trap, trip-trap across the bridge and go eat the sweet green grass. The grass is their long-awaited award. Of course, we all know that goats will eat trash, so why they worked so hard to get to that grass, I'll never know.

Rex Parker 5:08 AM  

"Relative difficulty."

All difficulty assessments are made in relation to That Day Of The Week.

Today, "Medium" = Medium For A Monday.

"Easy" Saturday is always harder than ANY Monday puzzle. This is why I rate difficulty ONLY in relation to equivalent puzzles (comparing Mondays to Mondays, Tuesdays to Tuesdays, etc.).


Rex Parker 5:16 AM  


War on Poverty. Yes, good one.

Then of course there was Kennedy's War on Hats, and before that, Chester A. Arthur's spirited War on Facial Hairlessness.

I think wars used to be winnable, in some tangible, practical sense, so they made for nice metaphors.


Anonymous 7:52 AM  

Does EKE, EKING, EKE on three successive days qualify as a hat trick?


mmpo 9:45 AM  

Theme in honor of the three amigos summit?

Orange 10:08 AM  

Rex, I think we're going to need a new name for the Iraq war, then.

Beata 10:14 AM  

Abut "three little pigs", for those of you w/ small children might be aware of a cable channel called Noggin. They used to have a program called "story time". Their version of the pig story, started
"three little pigs went out to the world TO SEEK THEIR FORTUNES".

They came to a big city and built their houses

mmpo 10:19 AM  

Just glanced at yesterday's posts and thought I would respond to the calls for a French expert...
French provinces went out with Napoleon. Department is the accepted English translation of departement (acute accent on the first e). The size of a department was such that a rider on horseback could cross it in a single day of riding. Generally speaking, a department is bigger than a county, but smaller than a state. Today's regions sometimes bear the names of former provinces--often more than one. I found this handy map of "old French provinces and the modern French regions," here:

The expression il y a is invariable (no ils y ont, though these words could be pieced together in a phrase, such as "ils y ont vecu pendant dix ans").

Bonne journee !

profphil 10:26 AM  


Thanks for the advice on yesterday's "au" puzzle's double letter. After trying everyone's suggestions to no avail, I downloaded the newer AcrossLite version and I was finally able to insert 2 letters is one square. I tried to post on your site but was unable. "If it's not one thing it's another."

karmasartre 10:55 AM  

Pretty straightforward. Not particularly enteretaining. After inserting WIT where WAG went I was wobbly for a few minutes. That G was the last letter I entered.

Jerome 10:56 AM  


Great post. Really liked your WAN/WAR rant.

Also, agree with Malarkey that it's interesting to watch your "mood swings."

Hobbyist 12:58 PM  

Is lace a frilly material? I think not.

ayoung 2:09 PM  

I kept waiting for three to show up as an answer. This was an easy one for me, Rex. Will is just setting me up for humdingers on Friday and Saturday. Thought I would throw in a humdinger to go along with malarkey as two old fashioned words.

PuzzleGirl 2:55 PM  

Saw a bumper sticker in the grocery store parking lot the other day that fits nicely with your blog today. It said: "At least the war on the middle class is going well."

PuzzleGirl 2:56 PM  

P.S. I can't think of anything frillier than lace.

Fergus 5:01 PM  

It is amusing when written signs or slogans can be reinterpreted contrary to their supposed intent. "Operation Enduring Freedom" made it seem that Freedom might just have to be endured for a while.

mac 8:24 PM  

Even for a Monday, this one was easy. It didn't even last through my lunch, and I'm a fast eater....
Never heard of Billy Goats Gruff, but they just fell into place.
Orange, why are you orange, are you Dutch?

mac 8:34 PM  

btw, Rex, you are doing a wonderful job informing and entertaining us, as well as introducing us to many likeminded people. So happy to have found this site.

Orange 9:34 PM  

mac, I'm a Dutch graduate of Syracuse whose favorite color is orange. Actually, that's not true. But freshly cut oranges and hand-peeled tangerines are among my favorite fragrances. I even buy this air freshener.

Badir 7:15 PM  

Rex, you neglected to point out that TITICACA crosses EROTIC!

Waxy in Montreal 8:27 PM  

6 weeks on:

Gosh, this has to be one of the weakest, easiest, uninteresting, boring, non-challenging, ... NYT crosswords ever, even on a Monday.

The theme answers were obvious and insipid.

On the other hand, maybe its just me having a bad Oct. 1st.

  © Free Blogger Templates Columnus by 2008

Back to TOP