TUESDAY, Jan. 8, 2008 - Malia Jackson and Noah Snyder (QUITO'S LAND: ABBR.)

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: UFO - three theme answers are things one might mistake for a UFO (all clued [What you really saw?]), while the fourth answer is 52A: What you thought you saw (flying saucer)

No idea if this is a debut puzzle from these folks, but if so, it's a decent first effort. The non-theme fill is tepid and clunky (to mix metaphors) in several parts, but the general thematic conception is sound, and clever. I'm beginning to think that the main thing that separates the very best constructors from the merely good ones is the way they handle peripheral fill - that is, the stuff that is Not the puzzle's centerpiece or showcase. Not the theme answers, not the flashy answers, but the stuff that fills the gaps between them. Your short fill. Your innocuous-looking little corners. It's gotta be Very tough to make those areas of the puzzle interesting. I'm not faulting this particular puzzle in this regard - it seems about average in the quality of its non-theme fill. I'm simply suggesting that the difference between good and great might have something to do with overall, stem-to-stern polish. If real craftsmanship goes very deep, I tend to appreciate the puzzle more. Sometimes a knockout theme or concept can compensate for weak or rudimentary non-theme fill, but not usually.

OK, that said, let's look at this puzzle.

Theme answers:

  • 20A: What you really saw? (meteor shower)
  • 28A: What you really saw? (weather balloon)
  • 46A: What you really saw? (cloud formation)
  • 52A: What you thought you saw (flying saucer)

Sound thematic fill - No real laughs here, though. The [What you really saw?] answers are all so ... banal, which I realize is sort of the point, but I would have loved to imagine someone confused by something slightly more outrageous or ridiculous, like, I don't know, FLOCK OF GEESE or FLYING SQUIRREL or something (I know, you can't use FLYING twice ... I'm just saying ...).

As I've said, most of the rest of the puzzle is fairly ordinary, though there are some high- and lowlights. I'll mix them together here:

  • 32A: First secretary of homeland security (Ridge) - a lowlight for me, as I totally forgot this guy's name (until I got the back end of it - then it came quickly). This guy used to be governor of Pennsylvania.
  • 34A: Quito's land: Abbr. (Ecua.) - I find answers like this painful. ECUA is such desperate fill - a rotten abbreviation - but you can see why it's here. There's not a lot you can do about it without Completely remaking the eastern part of the grid.
  • 36A: Z's (shuteye) - this stymied me for a bit because I Could Not parse S-UTEY-. I mean, look at that. I though for sure that I had an error.
  • 50A: "Super!" ("Terrif!") - nobody says this, so stop putting it in my puzzles (to its credit, however, it's not half as bad as "MARVY!," which I saw in one of my puzzle books yesterday).
  • 58A: Tiny hairs (cilia) - nice answer. The word disturbs me a bit, because it's so close to being a palindrome, but it's not. It's like an itch I can't scratch. I wanted to write SETAE here because I do Far too many crosswords.
  • 68A: Circus barker (seal) - the SEALs need to get a union rep to wage a PR war against their current undignified puzzle image as a bunch of captive barking idiots.
  • 4D: "Hello" sticker (name tag) - like it. I've worn one of these before - only slightly more dignified than a barking seal.
  • 8D: Challenge to Congress (veto) - political answers in a political season make me happy. This one goes nicely with one of its crosses: 18A: Boot from office (oust).
  • 21D: Hall's singing partner (Oates) - as I do each time OATES appears in my puzzle, I have gone to my iTunes and cued up a Hall & OATES song. Today, "Kiss on My List," my very very favorite song when I was 11. 6 years away from kissing anyone.
  • 25D: With 13-Down Pa. range (Pocono / Mts.) - the answer (POCONO) that I blame for ECUA (above).
  • 28D: Part of a nun's habit (wimple) - this word makes me laugh.
  • 30D: Judge of sex and violence in films (rater) - Odd Job, so ugh, but at least there aren't more like it...
  • 37D: Peeved and showing it (huffy) - This answer had the "H" I needed to parse SHUTEYE. HUFFY was also a (cheaper) model of bicycle - or at least it was when I was 11 (today's subtheme, for me: 1981)
  • 58D: It may have a medallion (cab) - wanted VEAL. I actually had to look up what this meant when I was done. Being a non-urbanite, I was not familiar with the concept of a "medallion" as a permit to drive a CAB.
See you tomorrow,

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[drawing by Emily Cureton]


lislepammysue 9:08 AM  

Liked the cross between WEARY and SHUTEYE.

Cabbies buy the medallion and then get license plates with the same number!

Time for some shut eye. I am weary of hauling out the garbage and feeding the cats.

paul in mn 9:10 AM  

Rex, I echo your comments about construction. As I finished solving last night, I felt this was not a great crossword but certainly adequate, especially if it's a rookie effort. One of these days I'd like to try my hand at construction, but for now I'll have to tip my hat to anyone who takes on the constructor odd job successfully enough to be published in the NYT.

I remember HUFFY bikes too from my childhood, but I enjoyed the "Peeved and showing it" cluing today. Very fresh.

And Rex, I enjoyed the picture of the CLOUD FORMATION (or is it?) on today's write-up. You do a great job of pulling together just the right images to accompany your daily musings. I must even say it's TERRIF, if I were prone to saying such things.

Orange 9:16 AM  

And the medallion, at least in Chicago, gets bolted to the hood of the taxi.

I gotta start saying "Marvy!" more.

Pinky 9:21 AM  

Nice to have a bit of a challenge on a Tuesday - I usually don't get interested until Thursday. And while I got the theme easily, the answers weren't a total gimme.

Pet peeve -abbreviated answers that are "Part of" an even more abbreviated clue (see NRA).

Pinky 9:30 AM  

Can someone come up with another tune so I can stop singing Rex's "Kiss is on my list" song?

jls 9:33 AM  

"I'm beginning to think that the main thing that separates the very best constructors from the merely good one is the way they handle peripheral fill...It's gotta be Very tough to make those areas of the puzzle interesting."


that's part of what's given me a whole new appreciation for a great themeless puzzle -- and not only the many smart/clever/punny/"aha"-filled themed puzzles we're treated to today.



Whitey's mom 10:03 AM  

Funny, the first thing I thought when I finished the puzzle was: Marvy! Actually the first thing was: cute. So I guess I didn't hate it.

PuzzleGirl 10:06 AM  

Agree with everything. A fine puzzle, medium difficulty. Where else will you see St. Francis of Assisi, Tom Ridge, and Motley Crue in the same place? Love it.

@ pinky: Maybe Orange will treat us to her rousing rendition of "Copa Cabana."

Anonymous 10:55 AM  

hey rex-

what's with All the Caps? are you German or Something?

Jim in Chicago 11:04 AM  

Agreement with the previous comments. A good effort for rookies, but it won't win the 2008 "best of" award.

I was really hoping that my favorite, SWAMP GAS, would get in the grid somewhere, and it would have been really nice if one of the middle three letter slots had been UFO.

Anonymous 11:05 AM  

Wimple was my favorite answer. Also liked Tush. Nice science fiction ties of Orwell and yeti along with the UFO theme. Pinky - I can't shake Pinball Wizard from my head. Wanna trade? Two Ponies

BT 11:13 AM  

For some reason I really did not like this puzzle.

In NYC cab medallions, btw, cost about $300,000 to $400,000 to obtain a single one. Then they go up in value. I haven't quite figured out how the whole scam/corruption thing works, but clearly something is amiss in NYC.

marcie 11:16 AM  

This was more a Monday medium or Tuesday easy for me. For some reason I blazed through it, with only brief stops at Mr. Ridge and for a minute trying to figure out how one re-creates a web or what one calls something re-created on the Web. slapupsidethahead!

I enjoyed the theme, but got huffy at ecua.

PhillySolver 11:18 AM  

So, I learned something new...a nun has a wimple...does it show when she smiles?

BTW, Occam's razor is the real key to this puzzle. The simplest explanation for unusual things in the sky will be things like clouds and swamp gas and meteors. There is no need to postulate complicated explanations like Flying Saucers and UFO's. I think the theme from that view is very clever and this team should get another go. Well done.

Leon 11:21 AM  

In NYC the medallions are also bolted to the cabs. Current price over $600,000.

Based on my crossouts, weary and huffy gave me problems ar first.

Lots of Cs in the puzzle.

parshutr 11:59 AM  

What I saw and described to a USAF investigator, 1972, turned out to be an experimental aircraft of the USAF.
I love how people deride those of us who have been UNlucky enough to catch a glimpse of a UFO as nuts, while clinging to all kinds of belief in the afterlife, supernatural beings...

campesite 12:10 PM  

The theme is also obliquely referenced with 9A OCCAM's Razor, in regard to distinguishing between equally explanatory theories. Nice.

Karen 12:35 PM  

I also thought this one rather easy, and got my best Tuesday time on it. Picking up the theme early (from METE...) helped.

Parshutr, did the USAF use the cool blinky red light after they got your testimony?

Chip Ahoy 12:46 PM  

experimental aircraft
John Paul blimp
a guy playing with a mirror
toy mosquito helicopter
space junk that lost its orbit
volcanic belches
Bioplasmic/Psychotronic energy
drug-induced vision
low-orbit satellite
ball lightning
swamp gas
too much tequila
dropped flares
sparks from a nearby campfire.
a very large box kite
vanguard of alien invasion

karmasartre 1:00 PM  

I have a different song playing: "Let Nothing Come Between You", by Warren Zevon, primarily because of 53d --

"I have advice for the young and old
If I MAY be so bold
When you find someone to have and hold
Don't let nothing come between you"

Re. RIDGE, it's a bit shocking how quickly I can repress certain information.

Pretty smooth sailing for me, except that I entered "Ran" where LED belonged, slowing up the SW, and had ECdr for the Ecuador abbreviation, screwing up the mid-Atlantic states.

The cluing at 30d (Judge of sex and violence in films), on first glance, had me thinking of someone rating the sex acts and the violent scenes. Imagined a judge thinking things like "Full backal nudity, I'll give it a 3". Or, upon watching the hyper-violent Chigurh character in "No Country for Old Men", "Aaarrgghh, enough already, give it a 10!".

Anonymous 1:05 PM  

hey rex-
We miss when you would post how long it took you to do your puzzles. Why don't you do that anymore?
your biggest fans

dk 1:24 PM  

Wimple was what I did when I got minuses. Now it is what I do when I spell an ans. incorrectly.

Badges! Badges! We don't need no stinking badges.

A terrif six minutes and 2 seconds for me.

Jim in Chicago 1:36 PM  

Sound of Music - "How do you solve a problem like Maria" - ...and underneath her wimple she has curlers in her hair....

It was the only thing in the movie my mother commented on when she said "stupid, her hair is much to short to hold curlers."

Kathy 2:05 PM  

I agree completely with Rex (and orange!), both of whom wondered if the construction was a first effort but thought it was good. And regarding Rex's comment about the corners--I can only imagine that, when you are a novice, you just want to get the puzzle to work, and as you get better, you work to make it work really well.

My hat (a Red Sox cap, of course, or maybe Patriots knit cap for this time of year?) is off to those who can do it!


PhillySolver 2:31 PM  

@Rex et al

I think the corners are not meant to be fill. OCCAM in the NE is part of the theme/solution. The NW has two words that start "IC" as in I see a bird, no its a plane no its... the SW and SE have words that reverse the IC to CI. Maybe I had an outside hint, but it is all very clever. Did you also note the UC/CU words? Some one mentioned there were a lot of C's...get it?

jae 3:34 PM  

I liked this one. A clever theme nicely executed and fill like OCCAM, TUSH, HUFFY made for a nice Tuesday. Initially had WIPED for WEARY, needed crosses to remember RIDGE, and got slighly hung up is SW by missreading 42d and blocking on DILATE (for some reason DILUTE kept coming into my head -- I'll blame it on age).

I find almost anything by ABBA (especially Dancing Queen) will wipeout those pesky mind tunes.

Orange 4:10 PM  

Philly, I am 99% certain that those things are not part of the theme. Theme components are almsot always symmetrical. And 12 instances of the letter C need not be intentional—the record for most Cs in a daily NYT is 16, and the puzzle I looked at made no special use of its 16 Cs.

PhillySolver 4:26 PM  

@ orange

IC now, but UC where I was coming from. CU disagreed, but CI saw there were too many Cs. OC, I did it again!

All those Cs made me C a sighting theme in the XC. My CO disagrees too.

My AC just came on, but I CA cold front is coming soon.

CU later.

Texter 4:48 PM  

CU See You -or- Cracking Up
CUATU See You Around The Universe
CUL8R See You Later
CULA See You Later Alligator
CUNS See You In School
CUOL See You OnLine

ArtLvr 7:02 PM  

If one is sleep-deprived (zero Z's) and comes to this puzzle at daze end, aces or ices it and then reads the comments -- well, it's a cute one for Tues. and comical to see other internal patterns besides excess C's... Go around corners at SW and SE counter-clockwise for taxi medallion to get "cab badge", and for circus critters barking themselves silly-ah, "seal reel".

On the mideast edge you get "enact" and mirror-opposite "react", plus a lot more of the theme To Be or Not To Be: "etre", " I may", "am not", "aren't", and "obit", besides "veto" and "oust". Then there are other censors like the "editor" or "rater" or even a "CEO" who may just "scorch" or "sour on" you.

In the end you may be more than "weary" -- they may "cite" you, strip you "nude", leave you flat on your "tush", or report your "minuses" to the head of Homeland Security, in which case you'll be deemed a creation of your own Orwellian delusion and deported to "Ecua", "Assisi" or some "Pocono" arete via "ICBM" or "Aer" as an "orc" or a "yeti".

The "cure"? Don't let things "elapse" further. Pull the "wools" over your head, center on greater Fill of "shuteye", avoid a "bee" in the bonnet and resist growing "huffy" or "muni" over what you did or didn't see. However, it may be a long night of paring knives before the NH results are in! Cheers.

PhillySolver 7:24 PM  

Ok, I have lost control of my life. I am laughing at the developments here and on Orange's blog instead of anything useful. I just read the January 14th New Yorker and the cartoon about the check writer has me thinking about crossword trivia.

I swear tomorrow I will not be back after noon. ;-)

wendy 8:26 PM  

I just have one question - how long before I can distinguish between the various fictionoids out there - i.e., the ents and the ORCs and the urps and the whatever else? Can someone do a tutorial on all these creatures?

Choosing ent made the POCONOS a bit obscure at first; selecting Wimble for WIMBLE was the other problem. I keep thinking of that other word, I can't even remember it, that describes hanging neck flesh on a woman - it was a favorite gag on the much-maligned Ally McBeal show.

Love the flying squirrel!!

wendy 8:27 PM  

I mean wimPle. But you knew that.

Kathy 9:06 PM  

Oooohhh, Wendy, you referenced Ally McBeal on this site! Good thing you didn't mention or ask the name of her roommate! That was one of the first blogs I read on this site--Rex's Ally McBeal rant, and I'm with him 100%. The other show I have no interest in (never watched) that is in puzzles, inexplicably, is Dharma & Greg. Oh, and Friends. Am I missing any?

I'm with you on the training on the Ents and Orcs. And don't forget the Pantheonic Eloi....

fergus 9:13 PM  

Thought this was a pretty good Tuesday challenge since there were quite a number of possibilities for many of the Clues. This sort of forced one to peck around all over the board, double-checking the crosses before making an entry, rather than just make the rapid, almost automatic, fill-in of an ordinary easy puzzle.

OBIT next to NAME TAG had a bit of the morgue air about it -- not suggesting an Emily illustration, though.

jannieb 9:32 PM  

Wendy - I think it was a "waddle".

billnutt 9:46 PM  

Wendy, you're thinking of "wattle," one of Richard Fish's obsessions. Oh, sorry - Rex hates Ally McBeal. Bygones.

How can you not like a puzzle with TUSH? Always happy to recall the glory days of SCTV. (The MacKenzies! Count Floyd! Edith Prickley!) Plus, I liked the elegant simplicity of the cluing for SHUTEYE.

Other than deservedly maligned ECUA, I thought this was a fun puzzle.

Rikki 1:02 AM  

I've been away a week and it's been great fun catching up on the blog and on Emily's wonderful art. Loved yesterday's puzzle and thought this was a good Tuesday and a great effort for a first puzzle in the NYT.

Loved tush and shuteye. Occam is cool. Liked the circus barkers. By the ocean in California you can hear coyotes and seals barking at the same time while watching a meteor shower. Now *that* is terrif!

Wendy... ents are tree-oids, think redwoods with faces. Orcs are vicious and ugly. Elves are all beautiful and have pointy ears. Hobbits are short with hairy feet. Dwarfs are stout with long beards. Urps? The only urp I know is Wyatt.

Re: cabbies. I love the system in London. To be licensed, the drivers must "get the knowledge" which takes them about five years. It is a job for life and they take great pride in their cabs which must be taken off the road once a year to be cleaned, tested, repaired of dents, etc. The cars used to all be black but now, unfortunately, they allow advertising on the sides of them. Sigh...

Lastly, I find it hard to imagine that anything a nun would wear would be called a wimple. Would that be a flying nun?

Karen 8:16 AM  

Wendy, ENTS are good tree-creatures (they can talk and walk) and ORCS are evil humanoid creatures. ORCS can be seen in generic fantasy; ENTS are only in Tolkein/Lord of the Rings. I don't fill these in either til I check at least one letter usually.

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