(GOOD SIGN ON A LAWN) MONDAY, Jan. 14, 2008 - Robert Dillman

Monday, January 14, 2008

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: Good signs - theme answers are generally uplifting or otherwise positive phrases one might see on various types of signs

I think there is a play on words here with "sign" referring to the literal, physical, tangible sign, as well as the fact that that sign indicates (i.e. is a "sign" of) something good (positive) is ahead. So a literal and metaphorical meaning of "sign." I mean, would you really say that a box of candy has a "sign" on it? No. If none of the preceding made any sense to you, forgive me. It's early yet. I just think the phrasing on the clues is interesting / odd. The theme never cohered for me while I was solving - and I'm not sure that it had to. In the end, the clues were all pretty literal. I do have to say, though, that PRIZE INSIDE is a "good sign" on a Cracker Jacks box, specifically, not a "candy box" generally. Having the generic "candy box" in the clue seems awfully disingenuous. Are there prizes inside other boxes of "candy?"

Theme answers:

  • 17A: Good sign on a highway ("End Road Work")
  • 11D: Good sign on a car trunk ("Just Married") - Good for whom?
  • 25D: Good sign on a lawn ("Free Kittens") - this one threw me completely. "Good sign on a lawn?" Uh ... "Vote Obama?" "Your kids won't be poisoned by pesticides if they play here?" "Freshly awned?"
  • 60A: Good sign on a candy box ("Prize Inside")
  • 26D: Good sign at a motel ("Vacancy") - "Under New Management?" "Hourly Rates?" "Free Ice?"

This is a solid Monday puzzle overall, with little of the tedious, common fill that tends to annoy me when it piles up in early-week puzzles. Just look at the NW corner - nothing startling, but UMASS (1A: Bay State sch.) over TENTH (14A: Sophomore's grade) crossed by STRATA (4D: Layers) and SHOVED (5D: Acted rudely while line, perhaps) could be much duller. PLUMS (6A: Juicy fruits) over HOSEA (15A: Old Testament prophet) is nicely contrasting, as is ... well I don't know what ASSENT (12D: Concurrence) / WEENIE (13D: Ineffectual one, slangily) is, exactly, but it's unusual, at any rate. There are a lot of these 6+-letter pairs throughout the puzzle. My favorite is PLUNKS BESSIE (51D: Sets (down) + 52D: Nickname for Elizabeth), as I imagine some 40's-era woman baseball player getting nailed by a high and inside pitch, perhaps thrown by an ornery pitcher named ZOE. "Oh my goodness, ZOE PLUNKED BESSIE. Get the SLEDGE (55A: Heavy hammer), we're rushing the field, ladies." Those were some tough broads.

My geological eras are ... well, they're non-existent, except for JURASSIC, so TRIASSIC (47A: Arizona's Petrified Forest dates from this period), while it rang a bell, did not come to me readily. I hardly ever use a rasp, so ABRADE (29A: Use a rasp on) was tough to conjure as well. WEENIE just seemed ... off, clue-wise. I only just learned who ZOE Caldwell (62D: Actress Caldwell) is, and I still didn't get this except off of crosses. So there were some speed bumps along the way in this one. My favorite moment of the puzzle - which I'm guessing was a speed bump for Someone out there - was SATRAP (49D: Despotic ruler), which I just got through telling you all is one of my favorite words in the English language. It's fun to say, and so exotic. And here it is, in a Monday puzzle. Wonderful.

Other things:

  • 21A: Like the season before Easter (Lenten) - a common 6-letter crossword word. It's shorter cousin LENT is of course far more common. I like the word "Lenten" as it seems edible to me - it somehow evokes "leavened" bread and "lentils" at the same time. Can you tell I did not grow up Catholic?
  • 40A: Catnip and fennel (herbs) - arbitrary, but exact, clue-wise. Weird to mix your cat herbs and your people herbs, though. Do cats like fennel?
  • 1D: Western tribe (Ute) - ha ha, not OTO! UTE is also short for a "Sports UTILITY Vehicle."
  • 10D: Hot Japanese drink (sake)
  • 45D: Dish often served with 10-Down (sushi) - mmm ... if we weren't trying to get through January spending only $400 total on food, I would Love to go out for SUSHI and SAKE tonight. Fuji-San! Seriously, if you live in the Confluence, NY area, they're great.

Best wishes,

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

Today's other puzzles:
  • LAT 4:31 (C) - Doug Peterson - had GROSS and SPIN where they didn't belong; cost me.
  • CS 3:26 (C) - Thomas Schier, "Clean Slate"
  • NYS 3:42 (C) - Mark Feldman, "Pushing the Envelope" - no idea who 17A is; didn't matter.
  • Newsday 3:45 (C) - Sally R. Stein, "What's Up"

[drawing by Emily Cureton]


jls 8:43 AM  

ooooh, that earwig -- yikes! ;-)

60a -- good sign on a box of candy[-coated popcorn].....hmmmm.

googling "candy & 'prize inside'" leads to a story of a guy who found gold in a mars bar... of course it was a gold tooth. his...

it's a stretch all right.

sweetest of the signs? imoo, that'd be "free kittens." and believe me, i'm not a serious animal lover. just liked the way it made its appearance in the puzzle. and its proximity to "spca."

happy monday --


lislepammysue 9:04 AM  

FREE KITTENS is NOT a good sign. First of all, the owner did not have his animal fixed, thereby allowing more unwanted animals to come into being. Obviously, they are unwanted since he is giving them away for FREE to whom? And for what purpose? VERY,VERY BAD clue.

Anonymous 9:09 AM  

Sorry, IMHO, free kittens is NOT a "good" sign --- especially if a failure to spay & neuter, or it's on the SPCA's lawn.

rick 9:33 AM  

"Free kittens" would be a good sign if they came with a prize inside.

Anonymous 10:00 AM  

Rick, you made me laugh. And Rex, you made me LOL with my morning coffee. Thanks.

SethG 10:10 AM  

Wonka bars.

johnson 10:23 AM  

I'm the Someone who had a problem with SATRAP; must have missed (or forgotten, more likely) your prior discussion. Easily gotten through crosses, though.

Great drawing, Emily.

Have a good week.

PhillySolver 10:33 AM  

Hope this easy puzzle was the sign of a good week to come. Was caught up in thinking ages had 'oic' at the end and what should have been a record finish took too long.

I have been doing the ACPT sample puzzles as time permits and there must be a way to get faster. I can finish the puzzles, but so far not in the time allocation. "Practice Practice Practice" Oh, wait, I'm not trying to get to Carnegie Hall - just Brooklyn.

Anonymous 10:34 AM  

Cereal box would have also worked in terms of cluing the "prize inside" answer. Candy Box doesn't quite work for me.

jae 10:46 AM  

Nice puzzle short on crosswordese (as Rex pointed out). I also vote for cereal over candy.

Mary 10:54 AM  

You also get a prize inside a box of Red Rose Tea, a tiny ceramic creature. Sometimes it's a kitten.

Hobbyist 11:16 AM  

I'm with the boo to the sign regarding free kittens and, not to get into politics, am secretly delighted with Rex's choice of a good sign and its reference to vote forObama.

Rex Parker 11:41 AM  

If Hillary's camp keeps up the disgusting race-baiting (sending older black people out to call Obama a crack-dealing crack-head in order to scare the white middle class away from him), you may see my advocacy for Obama get stronger. Of course, I have a weird love for Huckabee, so Liberals shouldn't assume anything.

I'm going to go ahead and predict a Romney/Clinton race now - just so I can be on record and say "told you so" ... or admit that I was wrong, whichever.

Clinton eats (free) kittens. You heard it here first. Pass it on.

Back to the puzzle.


Dan 11:53 AM  

"Freshly awned"! Bwah!

I also must have missed - or not absorbed - the last appearance/praise of SATRAP, which slowed me down a tad.

(Been predicting a McCain nomination for months...)

Doc John 12:14 PM  

Let's face it- Cracker Jack is candy. To me, a good sign on a candy box would either be "100% more free" or "sugar free"!

Not thrilled about the cluing for INAPT, as INEPT could have worked, too. Thanks, SPCA!

Also, had AAH for OOH- saw ORR too late and ruined my otherwise clean puzzle. I would more say "ooh" at the sight of a beautiful vista than a pleasurable feeling, anyway.

Hobbyist 12:31 PM  

You go, Rex!!! Your insight is perfect in all things!! Your blog in ne plus ultra. Maybe one day it will pay off in a monetary way so you can have sushi and sake nightly if wanted.

Leon 12:45 PM  

Five semordnilaps or word reversals in this puzzle:.

Pal / lap

garb/ brag

dom /mod

saps/ spas

abut /tuba

puzzlemensch 1:43 PM  

I thought a satrap was what you caught mice with in South America.

ORR, PEASE, SPCA and USO are so, like, last week.

Fergus 1:43 PM  

OOH does seem more a comment of surprise, or even dismay. Too much like EEW, as in grossed out. Pretty nifty puzzle, though.

campesite 2:36 PM  

@ Leon, thanks for introducing me to a new word to me: semordnilap, or palindromes backwards. It seems like the inclusion of all of those must have been intentional.

Anonymous 4:31 PM  

Rex, is it my imagination, or have your 'relative' difficulty ratings been sliding in the general direction of Easy?

chefbea 4:43 PM  

thanks leon. what a great word. You learn something new every day

karmasartre 5:40 PM  

I tried to key in AARON for Burr, but I had just taken a bite of a peanut butter sandwich, and, with no milk at hand, I couldn't get it out.

jordanboston 5:49 PM  

I guess PEASE is the word of the week.

Geometricus 8:18 PM  

For me, "semordnilap" is the word of the week. I love palindromes, and I always devote ten minutes a year to them in all my HS math classes I teach. I play the song "Bob" by Weird Al and show them the words on the LCD projector while its playing. Thank you Leon, and thank you campesite, otherwise I would still be thinking it was some weird Norwegian word I hadn't heard of.

Kayak salad, Alaska yak!

Kim 9:21 PM  

Agree that 'free kittens' is most definitely NOT a good sign and a very poor choice for a puzzle in a newspaper which purports to be enlightened.

Hope the NYT gets a lot of negative feedback on this one.

Michael 10:21 PM  

I liked the fill, but didn't think much of the theme. Emily's drawings contine to be awesome [to use some crosswordese)

Joseph 10:27 PM  

I see a reference to the "NYS" crossword. What is NYS? (Google couldn't figure it out.)

paul in mn 11:15 PM  

Joseph, NYS is the New York Sun. You can see all the puzzles that Rex refers to from the link to Epharaim's Crossword Puzzle Pointers on the sidebar.

martin 5:12 PM  

I got worked on the Alabama section of this one - had PLANTS for PLUNKS and BETHIE (??) for BESSIE. Not knowing ZOE and being shaky on officialDOM, plus the uncertainty of a possible foreign word for KILOS....it took a while and lots of ink was spilled.

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