WEDNESDAY, Oct. 24, 2007 - Patrick Blindauer

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: Latin phrases

Patrick Blindauer is perhaps the most ambitious puzzle constructor out there at the moment. Some of his recent puzzles for The Sun, for instance, have been masterpieces of ingenuity - one of them ended up recreating in the grid the layout of the 80's video game "Frogger" (I couldn't begin to explain how, but it worked). So, he's experimental and inventive, which I admire a lot. The one criticism I have (and it's not one he should really pay any mind) is that sometimes there's an element of "Trying Too Hard" (or "TTH," as I like to call the phenomenon in all its puzzle- and non-puzzle-related forms). In order to make an ambitious theme work, sometimes answers are forced and elegance lost. I felt this today, where the impressiveness of 6 long Latin phrases - each of which either intersects or runs directly parallel to another theme answer (actually, two answers do both) - is undermined by the fact that three of the phrases are quite ordinary, where the other three are Way outside the language. I think everyone knows these:

  • 18A: *Solid ground (terra firma)
  • 20A: *You should have the body (habeas corpus)
  • 31D: *Without which not (sine qua non)
But tell me the last time you used, or saw, or heard, any of these:

  • 4D: *Behold the proof (ecce signum) - who says this, geometricians?
  • 59A: *The die is cast (alea iacta est) - gamblers in Old Rome? This one was murder on me. Even with a couple years of Latin, I stared at that run of four vowels and got dizzy trying to parse the phrase.
  • 62A: *Always the same (semper idem) - I want a bumper sticker for my car that says this.

I do like this puzzle - I'm a sucker for Latin, even when it befuddles me - but I'm struck (somewhat negatively) by how divergent the two above sets of theme phrases are in terms of their general familiarity. Oh, I left out one other Latin phrase in the dead center of the puzzle - one that seems to hover, curiously enough, between the two poles represented by the above sets of answers: 40A: *From the beginning (ab ovo) - AB OVO is not especially common in everyday speech, but it's quite common in crosswords (or at least reasonably so).

No time for a big write-up today. So ... Kwik Piks:

  • 27A: Big pet food brand (Iams) - yuck ick ack. I don't normally jump when PETA says jump, but the more I read around about this company and animal testing, the less I like. I would like to take this occasion to plug "Dominion" by Matthew Scully. The best book that I've ever read about the importance of opposing animal cruelty. Oh, and Scully's a former Bush speechwriter and conservative Christian - in case you thought this issue broke only along political lines.
  • 32A: Erica who wrote "Any Woman's Blues" (Jong) - When it comes to Ms. Jong, I know "Fear of Flying" and that is all I know.
  • 39A: Schoenberg's "Moses und _____" (Aron) - I knew this had to be the German equivalent of "Aaron," but that made the first vowel a kind of guess for me. I know next to no German.
  • 43A: "The Taming of the Shrew" setting (Padua) - saw this clue and instantly wrote in PARMA (!?). And it worked ... for a while.
  • 67A: "Camelot" actor Franco (Nero) - No idea. This is better than yet another Roman emperor clue, I suppose.
  • 3D: Nellie of opera (Melba) - Nellie MELBA is one unfortunate name.
  • 25D: _____ Grove, N.J. (Penn's) - I'm sure this is well known to locals. I assure you that it is not well known to non-locals. Not this non-local, anyway.
  • 32D: Black lacquer (Japan) - this just looks wrong. Even when I had it in the grid and it fit and everything, I thought "shouldn't one of the vowels be ... different ... somehow?" JAPON? Maybe the "lacquer" part was making me think French. Who knows? I had an error when I first submitted the puzzle, and I thought it was this word, but it was a stupid mistake at AB OVO (I had AB OVA - forgetting that AB takes the ABlative (hey, I never noticed that coincidence before) and not the objective case).
  • 34D: Alertness aid (No-Doz) - flummoxed I was by this. Briefly. I forgot about this product. The Age of Red Bull is upon us (for the record, I've never taken NO-DOZ and never even tasted a Red Bull - not sure why I felt the need to say that, but there it is).
  • 48D: Round dance official (cuer) - I was proud to get this off just the -ER, but it's one of those words I can't look at too long without its hurting my head. It looks like a typo. Possibly the shortest "Odd Job" in the book.
  • 8D: He said "Slump? I ain't in no slump. I just ain't hitting" (Berra) - that one's for all the depressed Yankees fans. "The sun'll come out ..." Things look bleak, I know, but I think the Yankees will be back to destroying everyone in sight in about 1-3 years. Til then, I just pray that the Red Sox can get in a World Series or two, while the gettin' is good.
I generally root for underdogs, so I am very confused right now, as a Red Sox fan, with everyone talking about the Sox as Goliath to Colorado's David. If the Rockies win this one ... well, it's really hard to hate those guys. I mean, finally a National League is playing dominant ball. The late success of the Rockies is the only part of the whole season that doesn't make the National League look like a fantastic joke. I'll feel way better about a Rockies victory than I did last year about the worthless Cardinals winning it all. Worst World Series Champions Ever. Really, you should have to win at least 90 games during the regular season even to qualify for the playoffs. Disgusting.

Digression over.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Parshuter 8:56 AM  

I LOVED this one...finally, six years at Boston Latin School has paid off!
But how in Hades does All Alternative become CHEER?
Oh no, keying it in...detergents.
I wear Red Sox about 300 days/year, cautiously hopeful that the 8-day layoff will hurt the Rockies, as it seemed to hurt the Tigers last year.

Sam 9:21 AM  

I liked this puzzle too too.

And -- "I've come to wife it wealthily in Padua" is a wonderful quote from "Taming of the Shrew" but if you like Cole Porter and musicals, check out "Kiss Me Kate" where this is a wonderful number. You can't forget where the play is set after seeing its lighter musical version.

Alex 9:36 AM  

"The Die is Cast" is something I knew as a very important Latin quote; I just didn't know what the Latin was. This is what (supposedly) Julius Caesar said as he crossed the Rubicon with his army, bringing and end to the Roman Republic once and for all.

Finished the puzzle but had an error when submitting. With so many foreign words in the puzzle I didn't even bother to try and find it.

Jim in Chicago 10:00 AM  

Today sees the return on SASHES for pageant attire - didn't like it the first time, and didn't like it today. Other than that a fun puzzle, that I didn't quite finish as I got totally lost on a couple of the latin phrases and zoned out on ATOMIC for type of number. I had MEDEA for the taming of the shrew location which, like Rex's PARMA, worked for awhile, especially as I had ECCESIGNET as a guess that turned out to lead me astray.

Doug 10:06 AM  

One question: I've often seen "The Sun" puzzle mentioned and comments on how good it is. Can someone clarify? What paper? Where do i find it? I developed my habit doing the LA Times puzzles...anyone else a fan of the LA Times? (OK, question two) I've been doing NY Times about 8 months now, and I'm hooked...always looking for good puzzles..."The Sun" had me intrigued.
One comment: I agree, "alea iacta est" is absurd on a it because I got all the crosses.

Rex Parker 10:12 AM  

There's a link to the NY Sun daily (M-F) puzzle in my sidebar (under "Crossword Links").


Rex Parker 10:13 AM  

"Crossword Sites," that is.


Doug 10:16 AM  

Thanks Rex! Right under my nose. Doug

rick 10:23 AM  

Read the clue to 6D and didn't know it so I just put in ALEC and was POd that it worked.

ALEC is too, too, too common and should go the way of ADIT.

Will, you said you checked in here occassionly - please read this and kill that word. Of course you would have a backlog of about 10 million puzzles you couldn't use.

Mary 10:29 AM  

Uckshay! I had to ooglegay everalsay of the rasesphay because I can't ellspay.

But it was fun, nonetheless.

Orange 10:30 AM  

Doug, I blog about the LA Times puzzle every day; the Sun, five days a week. I don't blog about the Sunday puzzle from the LA Times' Sunday magazine—the Sunday puzzle that the LA Times syndicates with its daily puzzles is a different one, and generally a little tougher than the Bursztyn/Tunick magazine offering.

Whiteysmom 10:39 AM  

No googling but missed alea (spelled it alia making cuer cuir which makes no sense whatsoever but decided it was an obscure Latin word.

Rex Parker 10:39 AM  

I want to write a book on the philosophy of xword solving, a kind of Tao ... and I will call it: "The way of ADIT."

Yes, everyone should read Orange's blog. Every day. She insists :)

She is currently the only person blogging the Sun puzzle. And doing it well, I might add.


Whiteysmom 10:40 AM  

Oops! There should be a right paren there somewhere. Sorry!

Semper English 11:03 AM  

I'd prefer a limit on the amount of foreign language answers in a puzzle. I don't know from Latin. The crosses were kind, though, everywhere except in the Texas region where that string of vowels made me start looking for the nearest ADIT.

This puzzle reminded me of book 2 of Cormac McCarthy's award-winning "The Border Trilogy", which started nicely with "All the Pretty Horses", but which I abandoned in book 2 ("The Crossing") because so much ot the book was in Spanish. No translation! Ugh.

I entered Pines for PENNS at first. "N.J." = Sopranos = Pine Barrows episode. Damn, programmed by television.

Mary -- very funny entry. For some reason, made me wonder if there are other pig languages besides pig pig German?

Thanks to everyone for yesterday's tips on how to avoid the Buck/McCarver mindlesssness. Still wondering, what is the point of the coaches' boxes if the coaches aren't required to stay in them? Anyone?

rick 11:15 AM  

Hold off on writing your book - then maybe you can call it "The Way of ALEC"

Richard 11:24 AM  

My second (or was it third?) year HS Latin came through, but was thrown for a while because we us used jacta instead of iacta. Also was taught to always use the hard c - Kikero anyone? Is Latin taight any more (outside of Boston Latin)?

Tadpod 11:28 AM  

Ah, the pangs of Auxilium Latinum...enjoyed the puzzle, and special thanks, Rex, for your kind words to the Yankees. After the Times asking last week, "Are the Sox the new Yankees" and the whole Torre high drama, I felt better, and will be rooting for the Sox for the first time ever.

Not to nitpick, Semper English, but it's the pine barrens, not barrows. Thank you, Paulie Walnuts.

profphil 11:44 AM  


Thanks for the ablative explanation vis a vis ovo instead of ova. I first had ova but switched it to ovo from the crosses and wondered , Why not ova?

It's been a long time since college Latin and just reading the word "ablative" makes me cringe. I forgot what it means and don't want to go there.

I was one letter off before Googling the "e" in Aleai crossed by "cuer."

Fun puzzle and enjoyed revisiting Latin.

jae 12:07 PM  

Enjoyable, but I needed to go to mi esposa for help with the more unfamiliar latin phrases. The ALEA/CUER crossing was especially brutal.

Mike Sullivan 12:18 PM  

Ovo is the ablative of ovum, "egg," which is neuter. It's not ova because that is the plural nominative, "eggs," which can't be used with ab.

"Ecce signum" has apparently been widely used in English writing. It's in Shakespeare (Henry IV Part 1) and has 642 hits in Google Books.

I liked the Latin, but hated CUER.

Rex Parker 12:25 PM  

@Mike Sullivan:

Why are you re-explaining what I already explain in my entry?

OVA is the *accusative* plural of OVUM, which is what I *meant* to say in my write-up (not "objective"). And yes, *as I said*, AB takes the ABlative here (not accusative).


Anonymous 12:27 PM  

Nellie Melba was a nineteenth century opera singer from, I believe, England, who was toast of the town everywhere she went. Peach Melba was created for her and Melba Toast was named for her. Isn't that something to be remembered for!!

Alex - You didn't finish the puzzle. You quit.

Harley 12:32 PM  

Quickly. As goes Beckett, so goes the Sox. And given that he's the best pitcher in baseball right now? This Series is probably over in five.

Hank Heijink 1:16 PM  

I love Latin puzzles. Let me take this opportunity to plug the French Asterix series - in which you'll find Caesar saying 'Alea iacta est' at the silliest times and might get you another Latin quote or two for future puzzles. :-)

Asterix is marvelous in French, with its name puns (i.e. Roman soldiers being called Oursenplus = Ours en peluche = teddy bear), but I understand that translations are pretty faithful to the fun of the originals.

Anyway, I like 'em. You can tell.

voiceofsocietyman 1:20 PM  

From the department of nit-picking: Stern THAT bows? I got it instantly and found it cute, but Stern is a 'who' -- which would spoil the clue ("Stern who bows"). I'd have preferred: "Stern with a bow." Now THAT's a good clue! I should write a crossword puzzle!

Actually, I've submitted a few to Willz, but they've been pretty poor, I must say. My most recent attempt is by far the best, in large part due to my fervent reading of this blog (thanx, Rx!) so that I could learn more about good vs bad (clues). Would anyone like to help me beta-test it?

rick 1:29 PM  

warning, pun follows:

When the famous violinist took over as conductor he vowed to leave no "tone unSterned".


Orange 1:37 PM  

Question: What the heck does [Round dance official] mean, anyway?

campesite 1:46 PM  

I guess my 15 minutes of Latin really didn't help.
Patrick B's puzzles are among my favorites, and it seems that they typically occur Thu-Sat. I was able to complete the three obscure Latin phrases with crosses, but it really felt like a Friday puzzle to me.

Penny 1:54 PM  

I got cuer too but have no idea what it means.

My Mepham High School Latin experience consisted of a good teacher (I guess) who took it all pretty seriously. He had just finished his Helen of Troy lecture when he asked us if we knew any phrases honoring Helen. Up went the hand and he called on me. Helen high water, said I.

It's been all downhill since then.

I got Padua by singing

We open in Venice,
We next play Verona,
Then on to Cremona.
Lotsa laughs in Cremona.
Our next jump is Parma,
That stingy, dingy menace,
Then Mantua, then Padua,
Then we open again, where?


In Venice!

rick 1:59 PM  

a CUER is like a square dance caller. There appears to be a version of square dancing called circle dancing in which a CUER is used.

If you do a web search it appears to be very popular. There's even a database of cuers so you can hire one.

jlsnyc 2:08 PM  

more "round dance" info:

cue 'em up



Penny 2:40 PM  

So a CUER in ROUND dancing is like a CALLER in SQUARE dancing. But you knew that.


Penny 2:42 PM  

I mean REALLY knew that. Sorry, Rick. Good God! I read what you said and then two seconds later said the same thing. It boggles the already boggled mind.

Victor in Rochester 2:47 PM  

Richard--Our Rochester, NY suburban high school, Brighton, sill teaches Latin. One of my daughters took a concentrated course, Latin 2-in-1 in which the first two years of Latin are taught in one year, preparing for Latin 3 and Latin 4.

rick 2:50 PM  


I'm starting a religion, would you like to join? You're just the type of person I'm looking for ;)

Anonymous 2:54 PM  

I've got to stick up for Alea Iacta Est. The die is cast is famous enough as a saying to warrent remembering your second year Latin & Caesar crossing the Rubicon.

mruedas 3:09 PM  

I'm with Hank Heijink -- the only reason I got Alea iacta est is because of Asterix. But it's not so much Caesar I remember saying it, as the pirates who always ended up swimming after their boat was sunk.

All in all, I liked the Latin; it's a nice change, and gets you digging deep in the recesses of memory (at least for the hard ones. I agree with Rex that a few of them were gimmes).

Steven 3:35 PM  

OVA can also be the nominative plural (in addition to accusative plural) as the forms are identical for neuter nouns.

As far as the "coincidence" of AB in ABlative: we do derive the word from a Latin compound form, abfero,... ablatus, and it means what you think it does.

We can apparently thank Plutarch for the uncommon "ALEA" in the quote. I only remember TALII from my Latin.

All in all, a grand puzzle.

rikki 3:39 PM  

Whew... never took Latin, but managed to cover the phrases I didn't know with crosses so the puzzle fell pretty easily. Things I learned after the fact: the origin of peach melba and melba toast, that IAMS practices the worst kind of hypocrisy (thanks Rex), that a nene is a kind of goose (see Linda G's blog for a great picture), that there are other ways to clue aloe and nero. Always love seeing my favorite former Bruin (Orr) and knew NoDoz from spending many an all-nighter writing papers or studying for finals under the influence of caffeine and NoDoz.

Have to love Yogi Berra, despite the uniform, because he said some of funniest things ever spoken. Here are a few of them:

Hope the series is an exciting one!

Alex 3:47 PM  

Anonymous 12;27,

Since the distinction is oddly important to you, yes I quit.

I'd think that pretty clear from saying I finished, had an error, and didn't bother to fix it.

But if I had been working on paper I would indeed have finished since I would never have known I had an error.

From now on I'll just work on paper so I need never again experience here stern taskmasterian corrections.

anoa 3:56 PM  

"ecash" egads. egive eme ea ebreak!

Anonymous 4:23 PM  

Speaking of Frogger. Go to and look for monkeyboy frogger. It's funn and to win you have to get monkeyboy to Solid Platinum.

Parshutr 5:39 PM  

Melba was an Aussie, not a Brit.

Karen 5:39 PM  

Alex, that's something I worry about too...I tend not to doublecheck the grid on the computer, since I know it will tell me right away if I have wrong letters. You don't get that in the puzzle contest. Sometimes it seems like a crutch. I am keeping track of which days I don't get it right the first time (usually Fridays and Saturdays, of course).

Mike S, thanks for your explanation of ovo/a. I think it was the clearest one to me (never a latin student).

Anonymous 6:15 PM  

Since this is the spot for nitpicking pedantry, Dame Nellie Melba, née Helen Porter Mitchell (1861-1931), was a celebrated diva from Australia. Her native city was Melbourne, and she took her stage name as a variant of that. Yes, Peach (or Pêche) Melba was named for her. She was about as famous as one can get in her day. One of the first women to receive the title Dame. She is up there with Caruso and Callas as one of opera's legends.

Orange 7:13 PM  

Alex, I forgot to give anonymous a big "phbtbtbt," or however you spell a raspberry (this guy has collected comics that attempt to spell it in various ways—the European Asterix opts for "PRRR"), on your behalf for the drive-by sniping.

Karen. a number of the top tournament solvers (including Trip and Al of Wordplay fame) stick to solving on paper to mimic tournament conditions, but three-peat champion Tyler mostly solves online and it seems to be working out all right for him. If you're concerned about the tournament, just do a lot of puzzles on paper this winter before the tournament, and solve online the rest of the time.

Anonymous 7:19 PM  

Thanks for the comments about my latest word baby. Even if I'm guilty of TTH, I suppose it's better than NTHE. Either way, this one included a last minute grid change to replace UKASE crossing MACHU, which I feel good about. Other entries on my short list:


but I opted for more, shorter entries. I certainly think the amount of theme material caught Will's eye, and I loved the italics for the theme clues (in the print version). I had quotes in my submitted version.


Michael 7:39 PM  

I thought this puzzle was very uneven in its cluing. Some answers were easy and others were tired crosswordese. But then there were the obscure Latin phrases and the Saturday-type cluing of Japan.

Not happy to read about Iams. I went to see what I feed my cats and sure enough...

Johnson 8:25 PM  

Am I the only one who didn't know "nene" and was left with "pen_s"?

mac 8:36 PM  

hank heijink - where are you from?
My source actually says: iacta alea est! What do you think?

jae 9:34 PM  

johnson -- The NENE is the state bird of Hawaii and shows up with some frequency in the puzzles. I was totally ignorant of this fowl until I got hooked on xwords.

billnutt 10:31 PM  

The _________ Grove, NJ clue initially flummoxed me. My first thought was Ocean Grove (on the Jersey shore, site of century-old wooden taberacle that hosts a choir festival where my lovely wife sings). Second thought was Cedar Grove.

I didn't remember Penn's Grove until I got a few more crosses. And I believe that Penn's Grove is where Bruce Willis hails from, but I could be wrong.

The Latin phrases in the South killed me in today's puzzle. I sorta deduced "Ecce signum" from "Ecce homo" (Behold the man). But the proximity of "iacta" over "idem" was just brutal.

I don't want to jinx anything at this point, but the Sox seem to have made a strong start.

Anonymous 12:16 AM  

Patrick and your puzzles rule!

Though this one was hard because of my minimal knowledge of Latin.

It's great to see you posting on Rex's blog. I wish all the puzzle constructers would do that.

Scott 8:48 AM  

Isn't the more exact Latin phrase for "from the beginning" Ab initio?

Semper I', Rex!

Anonymous 7:07 AM  

What I will never figure out is when Erica Jong, Danielle Steel or Jackie Collins writes a book its considered romance, but when Harold Robbins writes a book it's smut.

Aren't the themes of all these novels the same?

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