THURSDAY, Aug. 2, 2007 - Robert Dillman

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: Atomic Phrases - common phrases that contain elements (e.g. iron) have those elements replaced in the grid by their atomic symbols from the Periodic Table of Elements (e.g. FE)

Didn't take me long to figure out the theme, but not knowing the symbols for "tin" and "lead" off the top of my head really killed me - made the N and the W of the puzzle very sloggy. Otherwise, just a few odd names and some slanted cluing - nothing terribly difficult.

Theme answers:

  • 17A: "Shake a leg!" ("Get the PB out!") - knew the phrase, but initially thought "rebus," and so had "Get the lead [out]," with out crammed into one square. But that put "out" in the third position of a four-letter word in the cross, which seemed highly doubtful. And was.
  • 11D: Try to win (go for the AU) - the final "U" was what tipped me to the theme.
  • 24D: Christmas song since the 1950s ("AG Bells")
  • 28D: Songwriters' home (SN Pan Alley)
  • 59A: Sound out? (cast FE alibi) - this one threw me, mainly because I had no idea what the clue meant. "Sound" = adj. and "out" = n. Rough. Even with "cast FE" in place, I was slow on the uptake. Couldn't make "skillet" fit (or make sense).

The current Barry Bonds mania made STEROID (21A: Target of some testing) easy (once I had a few of the end letters). Bonds could tie Hank Aaron's home run record tonight. In fact, he could be tying it as I type. I hope so. Anything to kill the hype / controversy. I'm bored.

Did not watch "Seinfeld" with any regularity (i.e. I hardly ever watched it), and so SAAB (32A: Car driven by Seinfeld on "Seinfeld") was something I just inferred from crosses. First instinct: YUGO. The "Seinfeld" clue joins a handful of other quirky pop culture clues in today's puzzle. 16A: 1992 U2 top 10 hit ("One") was a gimme - their only hit in three letters, I think. Mary J. Blige and Bono did a duet of this song for Katrina relief a couple years back and it was unfathomably great. Her contribution made the original version sound soporific by comparison. 38A: Ayres who played filmdom's Dr. Kildare (Lew) was a mystery to me, as was 56D: "_____ Baby" ("Hair" song) ("Abie") - original way to clue the old school crosswordese ABIE (of "Abie's Irish Rose"... fame?). And in 19th-century popular culture, we have ELIZA (18D: "Uncle Tom's Cabin" woman), which I also, sadly, didn't know.

Some old to ancient stuff gave me fits, including 26A: Sobriquet for Charles V, with "the" (Wise). I wanted BALD. Was expecting something much more esoteric or shifty from 6D: Like old Rome (imperial). I swear to you that I seriously considered ARTERIAL (as in ... all roads lead to Rome, so ... it makes sense from a Dept. of Transportation perspective). Made a good guess on 5D: Prophet who predicted the destruction of Nineveh (Nahum), not because I'd ever heard that name in a biblical context, but because I had -AH-- and I knew of the name NAHUM from poet / librettist NAHUM Tate (wrote libretto for Purcell's "Dido & Aeneas" - and I said I knew nothing about opera!).

EDINA is probably the most famous suburb in all of CrossWorld, and I like it 'cause it reminds me of my friends who live in St. Paul. I challenge 34D: Some fraternity men (etas); or, rather, I claim that it is stupid to call yourself an "eta." The most unmanly sounding Greek letter I can think of (besides Mu, I mean). After wading through Many pictures of pretentious bars, I finally found an I-BAR (27D: Letter-shaped part of a grate), just to confirm that there is in fact something particularly I-shaped about it. I was thinking "aren't all bars kind of shaped like "I"s?" Lastly, screw cribbage - 7D: Certain jack, in cribbage (nob).

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

34 comments:

Alex 11:20 PM  

GO FOR THE AU should have tipped me to the theme but unfortunately I put in GO FOR BROKE as a gimme (started with downs and it wasn't until I was staring at GET THE -B OUT that I figured it out.

Me dim.

After that the only rough spot was bottom center. I am not familiar with the phrase CAST FE ALIBI so even with ---- FE ALIBI I was at a lost. And it took me forever to see GOSTALE as two words so POSTALE was the only thing I could think of and I couldn't figure out how Italian post office could be involved.

Wade 12:01 AM  

Rex, I was right there with you today in getting the theme but not knowing the symbols for lead or tin (getting the "alley" bit of "Songwriters home" is what clued me in to the theme, and I knew gold and silver's symbols for some reason), though the puzzle took me over twice as long as you to crack (over 26 minutes).

ARTERIAL is a great guess for the clue about rome--that's inspired stuff. Don't know why I new LEW Ayres--never saw the show but somehow knew that name. I had THYROID instead of STEROID for awhile. Last to fall for me was the California portion--didn't know what Charles V's sobriquet was but eventually got it from crosses (after going for BIN instead of IBN).

Nice puzzle, but hasn't the periodic table stuff kind of been done to death for theme puzzles?

shaun 1:07 AM  

EDINA is a rather ritzy suburb, so the first time I saw it in the Xword many many years ago I thought, "Wow, this place is famous," on a par with Westchester Co. or Greenwich CT, etc. I've since realized that Xword fame has more to do with the usefulness of the letters, and less to do with the remote possibility that a midwestern suburb could actually have some nationwide fame outside of the puzzle. We in Flyover Country are so often disappointed in that way.

Shaun of the Twin Cities

jae 1:28 AM  

I also thought rebus for a while, but the U in GOFOR... finally gave me the theme. It took a while! Wanted BALD for 26d but BISE made no sense. Had to stare at 59a (Sound out?) for a while after I finished before it finally sunk in. I liked FROSTS for 8a ticks off, guess I'm getting bored with irks.

Paulo 2:40 AM  

Being a young 62 I never saw the Dr. Kildare movies but did see many episodes of the TV show. So I puzzled for a while about how to fit "Richard " or "Chamberlain" into three spaces. Finally let the crosses give it to me.

I enjoyed this one. I don't mind being puzzled by a theme, even for a while, as long as I get that "aha."

Anonymous 3:30 AM  

Eliza is usually clued as Henry Higgins' protege, or suchlike.

I was not in a frat, but I believe that the reference to "eta" is to the chapter, rather than to the short name of the particular frat.

Liked the 47D clue of "kitchen coat" for teflon; but would have preferred "the _____ president" (Reagan).

liebestraum 6:51 AM  

I'm nearly deaf, so any music clue just kills me.

I used to major in chemistry, so knowing the chemical symbols was not a problem, but I did not catch on to the theme right away. The "GO FOR THE AU" finally did it, but not after I'd deleted TUSK at least once because I just couldn't conceive of an appropriate word ending in U.

lieb

Wendy 8:02 AM  

Re: ABIE Baby, Rex, in this instance Abie refers to Abe Lincoln. Just one of the many songs from Hair that are embedded for eternity in my memory. If you want to read its rather incendiary lyrics, go here

By far my favorite songs from the play, however, are My Opinion and What A Piece of Work is Man (the best musical rendition of a Hamlet soliloquy known to mankind).

It was nice of the puzzle constructors to include MORON in the puzzle to allow for that glimmer of self-recognition when some of us realize the theme a little too late. I stared at GBELLS forever, knowing the answer had to be Silver Bells, and still it didn't dawn on me.

Wendy 8:04 AM  

I meant My Conviction, not Opinion.

Anonymous 8:38 AM  

I had BALD too, Rex. Charles the BISE didn't make sense, but what do I know?

Question: How many of you google answers to solve th puzzle? How many are just guessing without googling?

jlsnyc 8:50 AM  

and i stared at "g bells" trying to decide how a rebus for "jingle" would work -- even while knowing that "jingle bells" was being sung long before the 50s...

;-)

janie

Anonymous 9:18 AM  

I think I remember from "Shogun" that the "etas" were the lowest of the low in Japanese society. Is there an inference here?

JD

Pete M 10:24 AM  

I think eta sounds downright studly next to upsilon... :)

Sue 11:09 AM  

Anonymous asked about googling. I almost never let myself google until Saturday, but the exception can come when two crosses are technical terms I don't know. So today I had trouble with the Oregon section because I didn't know Charles V or the symbol for tin. 31a could have been IBN or ABU, so I was stuck. I capitulated and googled Charles V.

It's all part of the humbling process, designed to bring me down after I knew all those Beverly Sills facts yesterday.

Anonymous 11:18 AM  

Wendy - what about "I Got Life"? Great song, and a great version by Nina Simone is out there.

Paulo - I was on the RChamberlain track as well.

Big news: my second day playing against the clock. I finished in eleven hours, eighteen minutes plus! So, I thought I was starting from scratch this A.M., but the software (applet?) knew I had made a feeble start late last night. I hope I set a record.


-- Karmasartre

Wade 12:13 PM  

anonymous, about googling, I think the beauty of doing crosswords is that you answer only to your own code of conscience, and it's impossible to lie to yourself (unless of course a person has deeper problems than can be addressed on a crossword website.) For me, if I "complete" a hard crossword but find out the next day (before I stumbled across this blog I just waited until the next day to check) that one of the vowels is incorrect in a cross of a name I don't know and a technical term I don't know, in my own mind my accomplishment is not greatly diminished. On the other hand, if it's something I "should" have known (again, according to my own expectations of myself), I get a demerit. If I'm just flat-out stumped, then I'm stumped (but I confess I usually maintain in my own mind a belief that I "would have finished" the puzzle if I were willing to stare at it a bit longer, which is admittedly a sour grapes attitude and probably constitutes a lie to myself). Subject to the above nolo contendre plea, if I google, I've given up and can take no credit.

As for how I represent my accomplishments to others, the fun of this board is going into levels of detail about our solving experiences that would likely bore our spouses silly, so I assume everyone is always honest in such a context (and why would anybody lie on an anonymous website? For all I know, everybody on this board might be Rex Parker talking to himself.)

judith8 12:57 PM  

Hi anon and Wade (or should I say Rex and Rex?),

I still haven't solved a NYT crosword correctly. Twice I have been one letter off. My current goal is to complete a puzzle with no errors (I am guessing this event will happen on a Monday).

Given the fact that I haven't solved a puzzle, I do google the answers I can't get. As lunch time nears the end, I stop googling and come to this site to read the blog and comments.

-Judy (not Rex)

Karen 1:10 PM  

I got the theme eventually from TIN PAN ALLEY, when I finally figured out the 'ti' was a 'S'. I like that the elements are all the ones abbreviated by their latin names. An enjoyable puzzle.

frances 1:16 PM  

I do feel that Google-ing indicates slightly frayed moral fiber--but is it so different from sitting in the break room and saying "Anyone know who Silas Marner's adopted daughter was?" If I can complete the grid after Google-ing a single answer, I still have a feeling of accomplishment. More than one really dents the self-esteem but it's still gratifying, even with help, to fill in every square. That said, I'm going to brag and announce that I've gone three whole weeks without resorting to Google! That'll probably jinx me something fierce for tomorrow and Saturday.

easl 1:20 PM  

I always try to avoid googling, but when I really get stuck I find myself enjoying the search engine. In fact, most often I suspend my solving attempt for a while a read the complete Google info about a subject I am not familiar with. It's one way to learn something new every day.

Fergus 2:17 PM  

As it was for Karen, it was SN PAN ALLEY that tipped everything off for me. CAST FE ALIBI was pretty devilish, though. While I have a pretty good recollection of the Periodic Table, it was a commercial for Crest (or was it Colgate?) advertising the use of Stannous Flouride to prevent tooth decay that dredged up the thought of elements whose symbols don't correspond to their English names.

Aren't all the symbols used in this puzzle from the Latin terms? Was 6D, Like old Rome the tip-off?

SLYER, FROSTS and ACES were all fairly dubiously clued, in my opinion.

The game of cribbage must be defended! I think it should really be His NOBS, however, so the answer is a stretch. Canasta is a good card game as well (you get to MELD, which helped with fairly recent puzzle).

And Wade was right on the mark -- this blog must relieve a number of domestic relationships from having to endure irritating pettiness and annoying pedantic asides.

Rex Parker 2:32 PM  

I love the idea that everyone who comments on this site is actually me in disguise. Very "Being John Malkovitch" (if you've seen the movie, you know the scene of which I speak). I should have T-shirts made that say, simply, "I am Rex Parker"... sort of like the "I am Tiger Woods" slogan, but infinitely less prestigious and not backed up by tons of fabulous Nike $$$.

rp

Anonymous 4:35 PM  

rp @2:32,

How can I be sure that is really you?

Orange 5:52 PM  

Sorely tempted to create a new Blogger ID, name it "rex parker," and use that same picture for the profile. Now, doing that without telling Rex first, and then posting comments—that's what I should have done. Gaslight the poor dear.

What "easl" said is exactly right. Now, I can nearly always finish any puzzle without Googling. I have probably solved 5,000 crosswords in the last few years, and I've been doing crosswords for almost 30 years, so there aren't many answers and clues that will still stump me. But when I get something via the crossings or a blind lucky guess, I'll Google it and read up on it. That's why it takes me an hour to write a blog post—I get distracted while reading up on things. I think looking up the answers you don't know lets you become a better solver much faster than insisting on never Googling does.

Cea 6:10 PM  

This is embarassing. I finished the whole damn puzzle, admittedly with some googling (which is quite acceptable for me on a Thursday) and I still didn't get the theme until I looked up this page. I kept wondering what a p-boat was.

Spartacus 6:31 PM  

"I am Rex Parker."
"I am Rex Parker."
"I am Rex Parker."

Linda G 7:20 PM  

I'm definitely with Orange on the Googling issue. I've been doing the puzzles regularly for a year now after an absence of 20+ years. I'm happy that I can usually get Monday through Friday without Googling...unless the theme is sports or opera.

I think that Google (which some constructors must use on occasion) has helped me become a better solver. I fully expect that I'll have some unfinished puzzles at ACPT...no big deal.

As with everything else, puzzling is a journey...not a destination.

Orange 7:46 PM  

Those interesting trivia clues—the ones where you learn some new factoid about a person, place, or crosswordese thing—do typically indicate that the constructor Googled to find something fresh for the clues. Even brilliant constructors don't have all the world's information stored in their brains.

jae 8:02 PM  

I've only been doing the Times puzzle for about a year. Up until a few months ago I googled frequently. Then, I stumbled on this blog and realized many solvers do this unaided. So, I tried it and was suprised to find that I could do most puzzles unaided. That said, I think all the googling I did help me learn the ins and outs of puzzle solving. There is definately a learning curve to doing this sort of task. My personal rules are much like Wade's with Oranges approach to google, although in my rule space its OK to occasionally ask my wife.

Richard A Overholt 11:32 PM  

Have enjoyed lurking on this blog for a while. Perhaps if I were a chemist, with opera box seats, who enjoyed walking to celebrity ballparks I'd have done better with this week's grids?

Have been solving them the "old-school" way, with pen and offset print, for years. It's great fun to have discovered this group and find out I'm not the only one who had trouble with the periodic symbols for tin and lead. Just hope my father, the chemistry teacher, isn't reading this as well . . .

Thanks Rex, et al, for making puzzle-solving a double-dose of fun.

Anonymous 8:39 AM  

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ANTI-WAR DEMOCRAT 8:41 AM  

Where is puzzle NO. 0801?

It is not listed.

Anonymous 9:07 AM  

It never occured to me to look in July for an August 1st puzzle.

WWPierre 4:04 PM  

Question: How many of you google answers to solve th puzzle? How many are just guessing without googling?

It is generally my last resort. I try to google obliquely, when I must. Today I had to google because I couldn't remember the symbol for tin.
ABN should have twigged me to the fact that BALD was wrong, but I thought it was so clever, and funny, that I didn't find out it was wrong until I came here.

Clue 59a, "Sound out" was my favorite. I am not interested in my solving time, and the BALD/WILD error today hardly bruised my ego; this puzzle still entertained me. The AHA! moment came with the CAST (iron) ALIBI.

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