SATURDAY, Feb. 2, 2008 - Natan Last (FORMER GIANT ROBB _____)

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: none

I wonder if Natan Last will become such a prolific and brutal puzzle constructor that vexed solvers all over the country begin to hope that each puzzle is his Last. [wow, that was horrible] The first time one of his puzzles appeared in the Times, I was in Mexico (I think). The next time was the Trigonometry puzzle a couple Sundays back, to which I was fairly indifferent. Today, a Saturday - and despite its over-easiness and its heavy reliance on 3- and 4-letter words, I really really liked it. I especially love the cascading long Downs in the middle. ON TOP OF THE WORLD (7D: Ecstatic) isn't the most exciting phrase in the world, but it's flanked by the vibrant LOST ONE'S COOL (6D: Snapped) on one side and JE NE SAIS QUOI (21D: Quality that's hard to express) on the other. This makes for a formidable triumvirate. BRING TO JUSTICE (20A: Convict) is also a nicely colloquial phrase, and VENTRILOQUISTS (46A: Seemingly silent types) makes me especially happy as it reminds me of one of the most absurd characters in the history of television, a character who is currently featured on the soap opera I may or may not watch / fast forward through once a week. The character is an apparently amiable but ultimately sociopathic VENTRILOQUIST, but when he's doing his act, the camera only ever shows the dummy (but don't call him a "dummy" because he's clearly possessed and will cut you), or if you do see the VENTRILOQUIST, you can totally see his lips move, which makes him the worst VENTRILOQUIST ever, and yet "kids" "love" his "act." The man talks to his dummy when he's alone. And somehow I'm still watching.

As I said, this puzzle was easy for a Saturday. Wasn't it? There are twelve 3-letter answers and twenty-two 4-letter answers, a huge amount of short fill for a Saturday (or so my brain tells me). Short doesn't necessarily mean easy, by any means, but on the whole I find it easier to guess short fill than medium- to long-sized fill. Started this one with the obvious TIS (37A: "_____ now the very witching time of night": Hamlet), our second Hamlet clue in as many days. This got me the "S" for USED (35D: Drew on), which got me the "U" in STU (33A: "Rugrats" dad) - which I didn't know, but final "U" in a three-letter name ... pretty much has to be STU. Guess Mr. Last didn't want to use Disco STU yet again (see his "Trigonometry" puzzle, where you had to divine the COS hidden inside Disco STU). STU gave me the initial "T" in TIRESIAS (34D: Prophet of Thebes, struck blind by Athena when he accidentally saw her bathing), which was a gimme for me, and I was off to the races. Didn't have to jump around at all. Got the long Downs from the bottom up, and the entire puzzle was accessible from there (another element of its easiness).

Lots of clues to get to. Let's start with the gimmes:

  • 15A: Southern university whose campus is a botanical garden (Elon) - One of the most common universities in the world of crosswords, and about the most common university without a noteworthy Division I sports program. Appropriate, then, that it's on the opposite side of the grid from KSU (57A: The Wildcats of the Big 12 Conf.).
  • 36A: Easter-related (Paschal) - I was helped by having the middle of the word done before I ever saw the clue, but I think I'd have gotten it anyway.
  • 41A: Coup d'_____ (survey made with a glance) (oeil) - not sure I'm familiar with the expression, but the answer was very easy to infer. I mean, if you know the French word for "eye," which you should if you want to continue solving crosswords with any success.
  • 42A: Part of a moonscape (mare) - learned from crosswords. Not exactly a gimme, but I got it with a cross or two. I believe this was a word I blogged about not knowing, back in the day.
  • 45A: Like clayware (fired) - again, with about one cross, this became evident.
  • 55A: Like haunted houses, compared to ordinary houses (eerier) - love the clue, but the answer was maybe a little too obvious.
  • 1A: Hoelike cutting tool (adz) - if it's a [cutting tool] or a [wood-shaping tool], try ADZ (or ADZE) first.
  • 9D: Smeltery input (ores) - again, obvious. Usually don't see this in the plural, but still not hard to figure out.
  • 30D: Gymnastics move (roll) - had an "L" and kept thinking ROLL but then as often kept thinking "nah, too easy for a Saturday." Wrong.
  • 47D: Oscar-winning French film director _____ Clement (RenĂ©) - even if I didn't know this (which I did), I would have guessed it. Super-common French man's name with super-common letters in it. I probably would have started with RENE if I'd had to play the guessing game.
  • 48D: Article in Hoy (unos) - semi-easy. You don't see UNOS much (except perhaps as a pizzeria chain), but it's easy enough to infer if you have even the most rudimentary knowledge of Spanish (and it doesn't get much more rudimentary than mine).
  • 51D: Robert Morse Tony-winning role (Tru) - this play wins the OBIE for most appearances by a play in a crossword (billions). I like that TRU, STU, and KSU are in the puzzle together.


  • 1A: "The County Chairman" playwright, 1903 (Ade) - I'm going to guess that Will changed this clue, and that it originally had to do with a refreshing summertime drink of some sort. I do not know this ADE person. Google tells me his name is George.
  • 38A: Norm of "This Old House" (Abram) - nope, uh uh. All from crosses.
  • 54A: Where the utricle is (ear) - Had the -AR before I ever saw the clue, so I "knew" it, but did not Know it. If you follow.
  • 5D: Two-time figure-skating Olympic gold medalist Protopopov (Oleg) - no clue. None. I knew that OLEG was a name. That was enough.
  • 26D: Father of Harmonia (Ares) - why was TIRESIAS a gimme while this was not? Grrr...
  • 27D: Former Giant Robb _____ (Nen) - this is one of those answers that crept up out of nowhere to suggest itself, but I have next-to-no recollection of who this is. Watch enough ESPN, and names just stick in your head like bugs on a windshield on a cross-country trip.
  • 45D: Amendment that prevents being subjected to double jeopardy (fifth) - married to a U.S. History teacher and I still don't know @#$# like this.

Now, for the smiley faces, and there are a surprising lot of them:

  • 14A: Spinners, for short (DJs)
  • 28A: Fifth qtrs. (OTs) - fun with abbreviations. I especially like DJS, as it creates a very tiny but very colorful far northwest section.
  • 17A: Having the most pizazz (zippiest)
  • 19A: Cap and bells wearer (jester) - "The ZIPPIEST JESTER" sounds like an amusing children's story.
  • 31A: Italian mine (mio) - not the kind of "mine" where you find ORES? Aha ... good one.
  • 32A: Has as a foundation (rests on) - I got distracted trying to substitute these for one another in a sentence.
  • 44A: Tetris objectives (rows) - very, very nice.
  • 50A: "She's gonna blow!" ("Run for it!") - if "she" is a volcano, OK.
  • 52A: Ferris Bueller's girlfriend (Sloane) - so annoyed that this wasn't a gimme. All I could think of was "boy's name ... sounds like a boy's name."
  • 2D: Neighbor of Somalia (Djibouti) - one of the top ten best country names on the planet. So happy to see it in a puzzle, finally.
  • 3D: Brewed drink (espresso) - embarrassing how many letters I had before I got this. I could think only of tea and beer.
  • 8D: Options for wings (Cajun) - "Buffalo" wouldn't fit, so ... CAJUN.
  • 11D: A jiffy (no time) - I just like the inclusion of "a" in this clue, which is entirely necessary to make the answer truly parallel.
  • 18D: British P.M. when the U.S. Constitution was signed (Pitt) - my ignorance hurts me sometimes. This was easy to get from crosses. All it makes me think of is the time Barney got in a bar fight at Moe's over who was the greatest P.M. of all time, Lord Palmerston or PITT the Elder.
  • 22D: Event for a king and queen (prom) - my first frame of reference: chess.
  • 33D: 1979 film with sequels II to VI ("Star Trek") - took me way Way too long. Had the ST and the K and still couldn't get it. Only movies with sequels I could think of were horror movies: "Friday the 13th" and "Nightmare on Elm St."
  • 36D: Popular dish in an Asian cuisine (Pad Thai) - love it (as an answer and as a food)
  • 42D: Protein-rich paste (miso) - and the Asian cuisine just keeps on coming.
  • 39D: Zyzzyva, e.g. (beetle) - woo hoo! ZYZZYVA was an answer in the puzzle back in 2006, so I knew (vaguely) what I was dealing with. I was thinking WEEVIL - I was close.
  • 44D: Certain softball pitch (riser) - And, as always, thank you, ESPN.
Now, if you'll excuse me, coffee and cinnamon muffins await.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

PS Happy Birthday, Dad!


jls 9:29 AM  
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Jim in NYC 9:58 AM  

Dang! 27D could have been AEN, NEN or HEN. I chose HEN.

Great weekend weather hereabouts. Get outside and enjoy it.

billnutt 9:59 AM  

Rex, I love your blog, but I think even for a Saturday, you should have listed this puzzle as "Easy-Medium" if not "Medium." TIRESIAS? OEIL? (To say nothing of the way BEETLE and EAR, among others, were clued.)

But it's your blog.

I only knew TIRESIAS because of Jack Warden in Woody Allen's MIGHTY APHRODITE. ("Hail, Tiresias, blind seer of Thebes!") Even then I wasn't sure of the spelling.

I thought I was so cool with ZESTIEST instead of ZIPPIEST. And the SW was just a mess, because I had CANCER for "Malignity." And I NO IDEA about Norm ABRAM and couldn't for the life of me think of SLOANE. (I do remember Mia
Sara as the actress who played her.)

Megan P 10:09 AM  

NEN IS an unexpected sort of surname - I'm surprised it hasn't become a xword cliche. I loved "Je ne sais quoi" - AND it has a "q" which I always like. Hoping for "honi soit qui mal y pense" someday.

Isn't Zyzzyva a literary magazine? Hard to relate to the beetle/weevil world. . . a great clue.

I had "zinginess" for a while. . .

Hammy 10:12 AM  

While that trigonometry puzzle had me taking 2 Advil and grumpy for the rest of the day, this one made me happy. Sloane, Rolo, ventriloquist.... such joy.
Nathan may not be such a bad guy after all (Nathan, I'm sorry for the all the evil things I said a couple of weeks ago, never made it to trig and it's had to accept that I was murder-ized by a high school senior) again, no hard feelings :)

Anonymous 10:12 AM  

LMAO @ Barney & Wade Boggs arguing over PM's @ Moe's. And Mr. Burns PH-ing Homer for Daryl in the ninth. "It's called playing the percentages..."
Djibouti??? C'mon I know it's Sat. but Djibouti? Reminds me of Sappa's "Sheik Yerbouti."

jilmac 10:21 AM  

Enjoyed this puzzle and finished it quickly - although I did have to google a couple of cultural blanks for me.

Guess I show my age when I say that gimmes for me were Oleg - the male of a Russian Ice Skating Pair from the 50's(?); Abram - too many Public TV DIY shows: Pitt - School history lessons.

Anonymous 10:30 AM  

Is it my imagination, or are the first two comments actually links to a site named thetwoandonly- dot- com ??!!??

Jim in NYC 10:43 AM  

One of those comments was mine and I got no idea how Rex's interwebs got linked to that other site. Make it go away!

Badir 10:51 AM  

I finished the puzzle in record (for me) time, but am really annoyed with myself for the end. My spelling has never been great, so for the last letter, when I had PASCH?L, I thought, well, it should be an "a", since it's an adjective. But JE NE ... sounds like "say", which seems to me, even though I don't know French, like it would have to have an "e" to have that sound. So "paschel" must be some weird borrowing from German. Even though I don't know any other adjectives that end "el", this must be one. So I put in the "e". Argh!!

Otherwise, though, I had fun with this puzzle. I feel kind of bad, since I would have said I really liked it if I had guessed correctly. And then I would be all happy right now with my fast time. Well, at least now I know that French can have "ai" pronounced as a long "a", and I know I should go with grammar over my understanding of French pronunciation.

Orange 10:51 AM  

Anon, Janie just neglected to close the link tag, so it continued linking got tired of being a link.

Jim in NYC, a rule of thumb: If the clue's a name, usually the answer can't also be clued as a word because usually Will Shortz will opt for the straight-up word. This doesn't always hold true, but often the constructor needs a compelling reason to clue something as a name if the person is not so well-known.

Google tells me Djibouti lies in an earthquake zone. Shake Djibouti!

Wikipedia tells me Robb Nen's full first name is Robert. In an earlier era, I'll bet he would've gone by Bob Nen, two short palindromes.

Frances 10:52 AM  

A bad day for someone without a television set. Since "malignity" pointed so strongly to CANCER, that made Old House Norm come out to be ABCAM. Surely the host of a popular show wouldn't be an overhead camera!!
CANCER also caused problems on Ferris Bueller's girlfriend, another blank for the pop-culture-impaired. Oh well! I loved the 26A clue, which seemed to beg for an Arabic completion.

pinky 10:53 AM  

Also liked CORNER and PROM - and my favorite CAJUN for wings option

tripper uppers

jls 11:03 AM  
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Norm 11:19 AM  

Robb Nen was a dynamite closer for the SF Giants. Got a big contract; blew out his arm; couldn't come back. Not as scary as Rod Beck, but oh so valuable to the team when he was on. Made me happy to see him in the puzzle. Thanks, Natan

johnson 11:19 AM  

A fun puzzle.

Another example of how one person's gimmes are another person's torture.

I had finished the whole puzzle and was left with a ASOK moment where MARE crosses with TIRESIAS.

Then I came to the blog to find both clues listed as gimmes!

Loved all the long answers. Keep up the good work Natan!

Orange 11:38 AM  

Re: CANCER: In the last 4,000 or so crosswords I've solved, CANCER has been an answer twice: as a zodiac sign in a 2003 Sun puzzle, and as a constellation in a December 2007 NYT. CANCER CURÉ reworked "cancer cure" as a [French priest born in early July?] in a 2006 Sunday NYT theme entry. There's about a 0.01% chance that the NYT puzzle will include CANCER in a malignancy context—so if you've got CANCER in a grid with a non-star, non-astrological context, triple-check those crossings and see what else it could be.

PhillySolver 11:41 AM  

Fuzzy brain yesterday turned into a nasty cold last night. I hate it and the subsequent struggle with today's puzzle. First fill for me was starwars and all the star stuff worked then KSU was needed, so then I treked off to the middle. Put rots for LOOT which got me the First amendment, but saved by that certain something in French, which I got without a cross. Tried fall for a gym move (my grand daughter does that move in her 3 year-old class more than any other) stumbled and went back to NW. Erred with poems instead of poets and there is no exclude for that, but then entered the PITT. Off to McCain country and tried scarier for the houses, but full of rancor I got eerier (so to speak).

In the NE, in my fevered state, I thought of W when the clue decides became ELECTS, and thought oh, "the decider" becomes the "elector" and thought, yeah, he was the elector in Florida. Conclusion, nice puzzle, but being sicko, made me very slow and the "nen hen aen" choice was my only good guess.

Orange stole my line from the civil upheaval in Africa when we joked about the newest disco tune, "Shake, shake, shake. Shake Djibouti", but laughed anyway.
Off to take Airborne and feel sorry for myself.

joaneee 11:59 AM  

Loved this puzzle. What Rex said all exactly true for me (a reasonable unusual occurrence, actually). You go, Natan! Loved je ne sais quoi in a puzzle.

Anonymous 12:02 PM  

I have to say, I'm in awe of you all. This one was tough for me but, agreeing completely with Rex here, by far the most enjoyable Last puzzle so far. I'm looking forward to following his career.

karmasartre 12:05 PM  

I agree w/ Billnutt -- pretty difficult for me...and I passed Trigonometry! If PASCHAL hadn't been part of that big mess of white in the middle, perhaps progress would have been swifter. Like Pinky, had to undo Roan. And I agree with Johnson about the MARE / TIRESIAS crossing. Also, was debating LPS or CDS for DJS spot. I liked the unusual shape, with the placement of the long answers as they are.

Is it my imagination, or does French get more play than other non-English languages? Perhaps French and Latin.

Nice to see CORNER in a corner. Very enjoyable puzzle.

Rikki 12:35 PM  

Oleg Protopopov and his partner Lyudmila Belousova (who became his wife) were a formidable team of Russian pair skaters who took the gold medal in the '64 and '68 Olympics. As kids we jokingly called them the Protopopovers, but my sisters and I would don our skating skirts and, yes, leggings, and try our best to be Lyudmila. The pair ended up joining the Ice Capades and I saw them perform at the Boston Garden.

Though a tad easy for a Saturday, Natan gives us yet another really fun puzzle.

Ventriloquists was my favorite long answer and reminded me of Chuck and Bob from Soap. Funniest ventriloquist act ever IMO.

Also like je ne sais quoi crossing coup d'oeil. Had sailor for cap and bells, but they probably don't wear bellbottoms any more.

What!!! No football clues? How am I going to get GO PATRIOTS!!!! into my comments? Even if you hate them, you've got to have a little place in your heart that wants to see them go all the way, eh?

Martin Allen 1:03 PM  

I'm sure George ADE has been in the NYT a few times over the last few years. I've certainly seen him somewhere in a puzzle or two, as he's one of those people I only know from doing the crosswords.

You're usually going to see him clued in relation to his "Fables in Slang," which oddly don't read so slangily at all. So watch out for that.

Blue Stater 1:24 PM  

I found this one challenging but fun (rather Manny-like, indeed, which is the highest praise I can accord) until I ran aground on RANCOR in the SW. There's far too much semantic daylight between "Malignity" and RANCOR, even for a Saturday, seems to me -- particularly embedded, as RANCOR is, amidst the only marginal obscurities (ABRAM, SLOANE, PADTHAI) in the puzzle as a whole.

voiceofsocietyman 1:29 PM  

The wife got STAR TREK as a gimme, and I got the SE in no time.

I remember watching Robb Nen pitch and the announcers mentioning his palindromic name and the fact that his dad and he were the only palindromic father/son MLBers. That's up there on the short list of odd sports trivia that I know, along with 'player whose name starts with N who has the most career homeruns' (Nettles).

I loved the Je ne sais quoi of this puzzle. I knew my immersion in French would pay off one day.

--U names:
LOU, PRU, STU, TRU,... and lest we forget: APU

My funny mistake(s) of this puzzle: Since I didn't know ARES as the father of Harmonica or whoever, I had the equally plausible ARAS. I didn't understand how a CAM could be a butt (yes, RAM makes more sense!), so I was happy to see my new hobby mentioned as 'has as a foundation': CASTS ON. [My wife, the proprietress of the knitting store in New Paltz, taught me to knit last week.] RESTS ON makes sense too.

Great puzzle!

jls 1:34 PM  

okay -- lemme try this again (have removed the offending post). since the blog software will only accept a link when it's correct, am not sure where the problem originated.

regardless (and rikki will bear this out, i believe), if jay johnson is anywhere near you, run -- don't walk:

the two & only

he is *amazing*.



Anonymous 2:06 PM  

No comment on the puzzle, just a big tip of the beret to Rex Parker.. I've been living in France for the past 30 years and occasionally do the Xword in the Herald Tribune...I've actually much better at doing them in French since I no longer have the cultural references needed for the NYT ("Prez on West Wing"????) So many mercis to Rex for his help on avoiding sleepless nights....

jae 2:18 PM  

This one shows the difference between the experienced solver and rookies like me who have been seriously doing the NYT for less than a year. Did not know TIRESIAS, TRU, PASHAL, OLEG, ELON, OEIL, BEETLE, MARE, ABRAM, ADE, and NEN. Parts of this went quickly but mostly I did alot of staring and erasing. Needed the wife's help for spelling JENESAISQUOI (wanted QUA which didn't fit). I also had CANCER and STARWARS for a while. Fortunately, I guessed right on NEN and MARE, so no mistakes but it took a while. Yesterday's was much easier for me.

Oddly, I knew DJIBOUTI from a Leno monologue (I watch Leno very rarely) where he made the obvious jokes about the name.

jae 2:25 PM  

Forgot to say I really did like the puzzle and viewed it as a valuable learning experience. Hopefully I'll remember most of the new to me stuff!

Anonymous 2:28 PM  

Although sexually ambivalent, he should be an ace crossworder solver:

I Tiresias, old man with wrinkled dugs
Perceived the scene, and foretold the rest -

from TS Eliot's 'The Wasteland', first set in type by Virginia Woolf for her and her husband Leonard's Hogarth Press.

Tedious in Hood River,

JA Prufrock

PuzzleGirl 2:36 PM  

The easy rating seems right on for me. With little help from hubby (djabouti, abrams, and ksu -- for which I guessed asu bc I know they're the wildcats but dammit they're noting the big 12!) I ended up with only one blank square. That pesky R that baffled more than just me. When I sat down with the puzzle this morning I told my husband I was about to get beat up by a kid. Then when it looked like I'd finish the whole thing I started getting cocky. Serves me right.

My 6yo is now interested in crosswords. As I worked on this one, she was working on a kids' crossword with a theme of PIGS. She had P******S with the clue "a young girl's hairstyle." After much wrinkling of brow she guessed "precious?" That's pretty good, right? For a 6yo? (I mean, I know it's not the right answer but still....)

Anonymous 2:39 PM  

Hey, I know this is more tedium(a), but I just can't let Jay Johnson and his 'The Two and Only' go by without a tip of the hat to the original 'The Two and Only", Bob and Ray!

... y Balleau at ringside!
On the Finlay Quality network

mac 2:40 PM  

When I first looked this morning, before food shopping for the Super Bowl Party, the puzzle seemed a bear, but after filling fridge and pantry I managed to do it in a decent amount of time without google, although there were quite a few unknowns. The long answers were fairly easy to get with just a few letters. Hope I will have time for the Sunday one between antipasti,baked rigatoni, sausage and peppers, shrimp scampi, chopped salad and profiteroles.....

paul in mn 2:43 PM  

Despite being nigh on twice as old as Mr. Last, I find myself scarily on the same wave-length as him and had my best Saturday time by far of under 20 minutes.

A lot to love in this puzzle starting with the ZIPPIEST of letters in the NW. Truly good to see DJIBOUTI in the puzzle, but scary that this was a near gimme to me.

And should he continue, perhaps we will all come to say that Last is First in the hearts of solvers.

ArtLvr 2:45 PM  

Yes, moderately easy for me -- except I agree with those objecting to NEN when a perfectly good English word "hen" was available for the cross. Also, have heard of an A-TEST and an H-TEST, but never an N-TEST. Think Will Shortz should have cried foul on this.

That said, I'm full of admiration for the fun long words juxtaposed, fair misdirection of spoils/LOOT, and favorite words like JESTER. If you haven't read the witty medieval mysteries by Alan Gordon like "Jester Leaps In", "Thirteenth Night", etc. you are in for a treat. Take-offs on Shakespeare standards, they begin or end outside the bard's timeline: in "An Antic Disposition" you start with Hamlet as a young boy with his new jester York, whom the boy dubs Yorick, and you find out what happens after the end of the play as well!

Fergus 2:54 PM  

Remembered Ludmilla but not OLEG. Also remember the political tension surrounding the 1968 Olympics, but maybe that was since I was just a child alarmed by too many N-TESTS.

Yeah, this wasn't too hard, but it was a satisfying test. Stuck with ETHIOPIA as Somalia's neighbor until the DJS showed up. Knowing that Paques is Easter in French gave me a likely PA start on PASCHAL, which served up PAD THAI. The too obvious EERIER let me stick with the too obvious CANCER, which was the Malignancy in the SW corner. Then couldn't decide on SUE ANE or SHEANE for Ferris's girlfriend, leaving either SEETHE or SEE TUE as possibilities for Zyzzyva. Hmmm. Vague memory that Zyzzyva was a noun and neither of my odd verb terms was going to be right. Maybe ITCHES is all wrong for burns? Something completely different for ADVISE? This was becoming a real mess. Only with a bit or RANCOR did this nettlesome corner get cleaned up.

Could only think of a Fool, so felt like a bit of one when JESTER finally appeared. And took way too long to employ REFEREE as a verb.

The S at the end of the singular Spanish article seems wrong to me. Can anyone explain why this is OK?

Rex Parker 2:54 PM  

NTEST is reasonably common in the puzzle. Not quite as common as ATEST, but far more common than HTEST.


ramsey 3:22 PM  

unas is feminine plural indefinite article. like English some.

chef bea 3:42 PM  

was pretty easy for a saturday puzzle. Didn't get to it til 3:00. busy making chili and all the stuff for super bowl. Big crowd coming over. Go Giants!!!

Fergus 3:43 PM  

Thanks. I don't know why I thought a singular article wouldn't include the plural form. Trop des idees fixes aujourd'hui.

ArtLvr 4:26 PM  

@ Rex: Perhaps I thinking A-bombs and H-bombs -- Are you going to say there are also N-bombs? (Neutrino or something?) I'm not going to be surprised...

doc john 4:27 PM  

This one gave me all kinds of problems at first and then I got into the swing of things. Got killed in the SW. Still ended up with a few missed letters, though:

Confidently filled in A TEST and forgot about it, not bothering to check the downs when I got REFEREE and RESTS ON.

Didn't know how to spell JE NE SAIS QUOI at all, so had to get it from the crosses. In the Passover seder, there's a part where the PASCHAL Lamb comes into play.

Also fell into the cancer/RANCOR trap like everyone else. Cancer certainly fell into my medical way of thinking. Thanks too late, Orange, for the tip about cancer. I'll remember that for next time, to be sure.
I knew that Bueller's girlfriend had an unusual name so Sleane seemed perfectly acceptable, as did ABCAM (although a Genesis song did come to mind at that point, as did a notable FBI sting).

I was pleasantly surprised to have guessed right on BEETLE, though. I couldn't get the California town, Zzyzx, out of my mind so was wondering if Zyzzva was another town like that, or maybe the answer had something to do with all the Zs that were in the word, i.e. ZEE---. So after I wrote in BEETLE to finish the puzzle and then googled Zyzzva it came up "weevil" so then I was scrambling to see how that would fit but it didn't so then I thought, "Isn't a weevil a type of beetle?" and it was!

Finally, something Rikki and I don't agree on- as a former Miamian and Dolphins fan, I'm rooting against the Pats. Interestingly enough, I'm in Miami visiting relatives so I get to root with the other anti-Pats. Go Giants! (Like that will help- I'm sure the Pats will crush them.)

Jim in NYC 4:30 PM  

Puzzlegirl, yes, that is extremely great for a 6.


HarrietLou in Philly 4:35 PM  

After reading this blog for weeks, am trying to get past my cyber-shyness and actually post. I've been trying Thursday through Saturday for the last six months and am grateful for an easier one. This blog has really improved both my game and my enjoyment - thanks to all.

Kim 4:38 PM  

Still smarting from this one - had to google x 3. But ya gotta love any puzzle containing "Djibouti".

Young Natan: another impressive piece of work but can't you use that considerable brainpower of yours for GOOD instead of EVIL?

dbg 4:44 PM  

As I recall on the day of the ASOK/BEAN fiasco the puzzle was rated as 98% easy and 2% WTF. Am I the only one who believes that today's puzzle deserves the same rating? An obscure and uncommon name like Nen crossing with 3 possible correct answers seems a tad unfair.
Then you have 2 obscure names separated by a clue like zyzzva and most people staring at _anc_r 2columns over...give me a break. I have been doing this puzzle every day for 25 years and I finally said enough.
And Orange's explanation notwithstanding, I guessed cancer for malignity. While I agree that it is not an answer I have seen much I do believe that in the year 2008 it should not be deemed verboten. I think if we can "break wind" like we did recently we can say the word cancer.

Macha 5:01 PM  

Rex, I just knew that this being the first Saturday crossword that I have ever finished completely on my own, that you would have it labeled EASY however I still opened your site with trepidation hoping against hope that just maybe it would have been a MEDIUM or higher ... but no alas ... someday ....

Michael 5:19 PM  

I found this for the most part easy and enjoyable. I especially like ventriloquists. But I fell into the cancer trap, even though Norm Abcam looked wrong. And I had advice instead of advise leaving me with "cleane" as the name of Ferris Bueller's girlfriend which also didn't seem right (and wasn't).

green mantis 6:15 PM  

Re: cancer "trap": not to be a jerk or anything, but I don't see the "trapness" of this at all. Malignant doesn't show up for malignity except on a medical site; in general usage it shows up as a state of ill will. Rancor fits well with that, in my opinion.

I stared at the empty Ferris Bueller girlfriend spot for a while, thinking, "It's like Paige, or Blaine, or some other appliance-esque word." It finally came to me after I spent some time floating around in that mental space, like when you have to unfocus your eyes to see the spaceship emerge on those posters. Isn't it weird that you can not know something exactly but have a sense of it, its texture? The human brain, mmm.

Michael 6:26 PM  

green mantis @6:15 All I can say is that a number of other commentators here also initially wrote "cancer" instead of "rancor." Of course, "rancor" is a completely fair answer, but I think most people would agree that "cancer" would also have been a reasonable answer. And my guess (perhaps wrong) is that more solvers thought "cancer" initially than "rancor."

miriam b 7:49 PM  

@artivr: I think N-test means nuclear test (or, as way too many presidents, ex-presidents and others who should know better have pronounced it, "nucular").

@dick swart: Keep the tedium coming! I have a couple of books which are compilations of Bob & Ray scripts. It's hard to cite a favorite. I really love The House of Toast, but those two comic geniuses never failed to amuse.

I'm a longtime TSE avicionada. You brought back fond memories of the semester in college when I wrote a term paper on The Waste Land. I can still quote long passages, though you'd plotz if I told you which reunion I attended in 2006.

"Now Albert's coming home, make yourself a bit smart. He'll want to know what you done with that money he gave you to get yourself some teeth."

miriam b 7:55 PM  

OOPS - typo. aFicionada

jae 8:01 PM  

@range re 10:51 post. Looks like Will made the exception you were referring to (if I haven't misread you) for 1a which is usually clued "summer cooler" or something similar.

renard 8:18 PM  

Loved this one. What made Djibouti utterly gorgeous was the fact that Somalia's biggest neighbor is Ethiopia -- with the same number of letters. (I had to erase.) Wicked and pretty.

rick 9:13 PM  

I knew ABRAM and still had trouble with the SW. SLOANE is not too many letters apart from SUEANN.

I suprised myself with PASCHAL, didn't realize I knew the word.

I shall call those JimH moments from now on.

Rikki 1:34 AM  

Doc John... I'm going to have to take back some of those nice things I said about you. Prepare to weep.

Puzzlegirl... your daughter is clearly brilliant!

Janie... thanks so much for that link. I love those guys... see there I go. That is one show I will not miss if it comes to town.

Welcome HarrietLou of Philly. And congrats to Macha. I almost fainted the first time I finished a Saturday puzzle.

andreacarlamichaels 3:31 AM  

is it too late to chime in about loving DJIBOUTI, JENESAISQUOI crossed with VENTRILOQUIST?!

Never heard of NEN and wondered why I hadn't stumbled upon AEN before! Didn't even realize I was wrong, which should be filed under Thank-god-for-Rex (TGFR)
what about that other sports palindrome SELES.

I agree, why breakwind and not Cancer? (altho I'd just as soon go the other way and NOT have break wind in any puzzle...even windbreaker is pushing it with me!)

yes, of course French/Latin will be more often! Other than EINE in German, French is rife with vowel heavy short words, a boon for constructors: OEIL, EAU, LIEU and Latin gives us those nice AE endings :)

Orange 3:49 PM  

Jae: Of course, though we see ADE the beverage in the crossword all the time, it's kinda lousy as words go. Lemonade and limeade, sure, but when does anyone in real life talk about having a glass of ade?

There's a difference between the breakfast test of things that are gross or risque or pertain to bodily functions or are considered vulgar vs. Things That Bum People Out. How many hundreds of thousands of NYT crossword solvers have either had cancer, lost a loved one to cancer, or know someone fighting cancer today? Far too many. Just as GENOCIDE and RAPE and MOLESTED could evoke sadness and shock in solvers, so can CANCER. A random FART or GOTOHELL might offend some people, but it's unlikely to sadden them.

william e emba 4:18 PM  

ZYZZYVA the literary magazine is still around. It is intended for West Coast writers and artists. The name was chosen to be the "last word". It debuted while I was a graduate student in California, and I bought the first issue just for the word. I haven't seen it at all since coming back east. (Later issues, that is. That first issue is somewhere safely lost on my shelves.)

I, too, thought it was "weevil".

Anonymous 2:59 AM  

Dizzy Gillespie wrote a piece called "Djibouti," because, I recall, he thought it was a cool name. I agree.

Anonymous 4:33 AM  

I wasn't sure that CANCER was wrong until I saw it was crossing DEAD.

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