THURSDAY, Feb. 21, 2008 - Peter Collins (POLITICAL HOSTESS PERLE)

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: "Mixed Nuts" - 55A: Party snack (and a hint to this puzzle's circled letters) => circled letters in theme answers form anagrams of different types of nuts

This puzzle was reasonably easy, except for the center, which was dead hard for me. At one point, the 3x3 square whose north side is formed by the 31, 32, and 33 squares was complete empty, and I could not think of how to get in. The theme itself was cute, if obvious: I figured it out in the first 30 seconds or so, as soon as I got SAUCE PANS. The one theme answer that threw me for a loop was FILTER BASKET, first because I could not think of what word could follow FILTER in a familiar phrase, and second because I could not tell you what a FILBERT is to save my life. That's like some mythical nut I've heard of but never seen, the nut equivalent of a ROC or PHOENIX. Apparently they are very similar to the common hazel nut. That's what Wikipedia tells me, at any rate. ALMOND and CASHEWS were much easier to see in their anagrams. FILBERT sounds too much like DILBERT for my taste (tomorrow is the 6-week anniversary of the Dilbert/ASOK puzzle I loved so much - can't wait to see how people solving the puzzle in syndication respond; my guess is they probably love their daily "Dilbert" even more than you same-day folk, which means I could be in trouble).

Theme answers:

  • 16A: Farberware set (sauCEPANs) => PECANS
  • 22A: Coffee maker component (FILTER Basket) => FILBERT - so unknown was this nut to me that I actually had to "cheat" and check Crossword Fiend's blog to see what the anagram of FILTERB was supposed to be. Something about the fact that you just have to switch two letters to get your anagram is bothering me. Seems not a proper anagram. Not enough anagramminess.
  • 44A: Longtime ABC newsman (SaM DONALdson) => ALMOND
  • 36A: Bothers (CHEWS At) => CASHEW - since when is CHEWS AT a phrase that anyone says? Something might GNAW or EAT AT you, but CHEW AT. I guess if you are a corpse and the vultures are "bothering" you, then yes, this works.

Staying with CHEWSAT for the moment: what the hell is going on in the middle of my puzzle? CHEWSAT anchors a nexus of words / phrases here that are all tough-to-befuddling. Let's start with this jerk AHERNE (31D: 1939 Academy Award nominee), which was the name that finally, finally broke the center open for me. His name came to me out of the blue, from puzzles gone by. I'm quite sure I've blogged about not knowing him before. I mean, the clue didn't even give a movie title?! Not that it would have mattered, but still ... little help? Right next to AHERNE is the weirdest answer I've seen in a while. First, I don't understand the clue: 32D: Political hostess Perle. What is a "political hostess?" Is that a euphemism for "call girl?" Sounds like someone hired to attend a political fund-raiser and keep the donors "happy." Then there's the answer: MESTA. MESTA? That's not a name, that's a cracker. MESTA? Wow. OK. Had to struggle to get the front end of AMNION (31A: Embryonic membrane). Now that I think of it, I think this center area went down in this order: RESTED (39A: Post-vacation, say), AMNION, AHERNE, NWT (33D: Yukon neighbor: Abbr.), then CHEWS AT, with that "E" being the last letter I needed in MESTA. MESTA. I need to repurpose this name. Sounds like something you shout when you shout during a game, like GIN or SORRY or YAHTZEE!

Your other answers of note:

  • 5A: Some exam practice (PSAT) - the PSAT is an exam! I had PREP here.
  • 15A: "Hard Cash" author Charles (Reade) - this is also the name of some Victorian writer dude I had never heard of until I started doing crosswords. Congratulations on finding an even more obscure READE (oh, no, you're right, he's famous, I'm sure. My bad)
  • 35A: HBO's "Da _____ G Show" ("Ali") - gimme! This answer can be wicked when it's not just ALI but the full ALIG. ALIG looks nuts in the grid. Nuts!
  • 40A: Home tool maker (Skil) - almost as befuddling as MESTA to me. I checked and rechecked the crosses just to be sure. I guess that second "L" was just too costly to print on all their products.
  • 49A: Sony subsidiary (Aiwa) - this was what I call a no-looker, in that I had AIW- and wrote in the "A" without looking at the clue. Admittedly, the level of difficulty there was low.
  • 53A: It's often turned upside down when not in use (canoe) - this, I like.
  • 2D: Off-white shade (opal) - so badly wanted trust ECRU.
  • 7D: Owner of The History Channel (A and E) - I need a word for this type of entry; you know, AANDE, AANDW, CANDW, RANDR ... the stuff I inevitably get mail about, from people claiming never to have heard of such a word...
  • 11D: Words with a familiar ring? ("I do") - how is the ring "familiar?" Presumably, the bride/groom has not had the ring for very long, and is putting it on for the first time at the moment "I do" is uttered.
  • 12D: "S" on a French shaker (sel) - that's salt. Add SEL to your "French words you must know to be able to solve crosswords easily."
  • 17D: "_____ Coming" (1969 Three Dog Night hit) - This was one of the first clues I saw and it made me happier than you could possibly imagine.
  • 26D: Susan who wrote the best seller "Compromising Positions" (Isaacs) - along with READE and [choke] MESTA, another name I did not know.
  • 27D: Sighter of the Pacific, Sept. 25, 1513 (Balboa) - and, presumably, any number of Native Americans and Asians.
  • 31D: Yen or yuan (Asian money) - this is a self-standing phrase now?
  • 47D: Singer of the anthem "Sang till Norden" (Swede) - Every day when I check my site traffic at Google Analytics, I like to play a little game called "Battle for Scandinavia," wherein I see which Scandinavian country generated the most traffic for me that day. Usually the battle is between Denmark and Norway. I don't think Finland has ever won, despite the fact that everyone there speaks perfect English and could probably do the NYT puzzle at least as competently as your average American. Yesterday's winner in the Battle for Scandinavia? DENMARK! Six visitors, to Norway's four. Two apiece for Sweden and Finland.
  • 53D: Red letters? (CIN) - really great clue that mystified me for too long. CIN = Cincinnati Reds (baseball team).
  • 56D: _____-turn (No U) - few things look more feeble in the grid than NOU.

OINK! (59A: Cry at Old MacDonald's)

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Anonymous 8:23 AM  

You had to have been born a long time ago to recognize Perle Mesta. Merv Griffin used to talk about her all the time. She really was a hostess, maybe with the mostes'.

Rex Parker 8:25 AM  

Until this second, I thought MESTA was her first name (hence my amusement / bewilderedness).


SandyB 8:45 AM  

Seems like I remember Perle Mesta from the Maleska days. Thank you for explaining CIN !!!

dk 9:06 AM  

I had the mixed nuts answer before I had the build clues. My only chore was I wanted cashews to be acorns for some reason.

Happy to see oink instead of the usual eieio for an Old McDonald's clue.

Most of all I liked Balboa and adding one more tic to my Ute (seems to be the answer of the month) count.

Only 2 below this AM and those of us in the mighty midwest had a clear view of the lunar eclipse last night.... life just can't get any better!

Orange 9:16 AM  

Perle Mesta used to entertain the Pantheon all the time. You knew the party was getting out of hand when the anoas started stomping on the ernes.

How about "stealth phrases" for the short multiword answers that look like incomprehensible words?

Dang, I forgot to gripe about the PSAT clue. You're absolutely right that it's an exam, not practice. It's the only way to qualify for National Merit Scholarships, isn't it?

Gnarbles 9:19 AM  

What is UTNE Reader?

treedweller 9:23 AM  


Utne Reader is like Reader's Digest for smart liberals, without the condensing.

And I second the thanks to Rex for explaining CIN, and for protesting PSAT as test prep.

PhillySolver 9:47 AM  

Oh, my age catches up here...I knew of Perle Mesta from the 50's. My mom called her the "Hostess with the Mostess", but I think that came from the print media. She was known to host the powerful in the Eisenhower Administration. Many hotels in the 1960's would have a Perle Mesta Suite, which one booked to entertain a group of people.

PhillySolver 9:59 AM  


I am taking up the gauntlet and proposing the _and_ words be called a clANDestine phrase, as it contains the hidden AND.

CHI could be white letters? (assuming Chicago can be abbreviated two ways here)
BOS could be red letters, too
CHG could be black letters (Black Hawks)
TOR Blue letters
AMY Orange letters


Greg 10:03 AM  

I had twenty minutes in the allergists office to finish this puzzle after getting my first cat allergy shot so I can survive the nights better at my girlfriend's apt! Not a problem to finish, but I also had a bugger of a time finishing that center area! I thought of all the nuts I could and ultimately was able to think of and unscramble Cashews! Blech! "Chews on?" I mean, you can say "Chew on this," if you want someone to think something over, but as a clue for "Bothers?" Lame.
I had the reverse reaction to "Eli's coming" though, as I am a lifetime Redskins fan, and it pained me to live in NY and see them win! :-)
happy puzzling!

Ladel 10:10 AM  

During the early fifties whenever we visited grandma she'd put out a bowl of nuts (in the shell) one type of which we called Hazel nuts, aka Filberts.

Anonymous 10:25 AM  

I like that an answer like Ali G is balanced with Perle Mesta, the latter being a gimme for the older set. The musical "Call Me Madame" was based on her persona.

Karen's Mom

Doug 10:28 AM  

Agree, mostly easy, but some stumpers. "Aherne" was new to me. As was Charles "Reade". Thanks for the CIN explanation, I had no idea what that was. Maybe it's regional, but hazel nuts and filberts are used interchangeably where I'm from. Avril follower had me stumped, but now I see it, Avril/Mai - April/May - D'oh!

miriam b 10:34 AM  

I was annoyed by show UPAT (attend). It seems off kilter as a clue and awkward in any case. IMO, this puzzle was not generally not Thursday material.

Filberts (hazelnuts) are good, but they taste best if you remove not only the shell (duh) but also the rather bitter brown skin around the kernel. The delicious product Nutella, originally concocted in Italy, is a chocolate-hazelnut spread.

Anonymous 10:37 AM  

AHERNE and MESTA are crossword stars from the Maleska era.

R. Kane

Anonymous 10:52 AM  

How about "compounded abbreviations" for 7D type words?

Jim in Chicago 11:00 AM  

Checking in a little late this morning - work intervened!

I've decided that I have accept PSAT. While it certainly is an exam, and is indeed the deciding test for the National Merit program. The P stands for preliminary, and the College Board site includes this statement:

It's a standardized test that provides firsthand practice for the SAT Reasoning Test™.

Doug 11:01 AM  

As for "MESTA", I'm surprised that Rex didn't know that one, It seems like I see that a few times a year, it's one of those that has a part of my permanent crossword dictionary.

Janet 11:06 AM  

When I was a kid, I often brought a lot of friends home and I once overheard my Dad complaining to my Mom, "Who does she think she is, Perle Mesta?" Not having Google at that time, it took me awhile to find out who she was, but when I did I had a good laugh.

Bill D 11:14 AM  

Up the middle gave me trouble too. I figured GNAWS AT was not gonna give me a nut, so I finally anagrammed CASHEW. My middle order went AMNION, NWT, CHEWS AT, RESTED. Took ECRU out immediately to make UP AT fit (agree that clue is lame), and had APED/ABROAD at 21 so FILTER BASKET came easily. Upper center was the last to come around. Thought "red letters" was a good clue (couldn't make SSR work!) Having CAT (-erpillar tractor) atop SKIL (saws) was a nice touch, but AHERNE and MESTA (I thought it must be the first name, too) were just not cricket - I never heard of ERROL Morris either! Generally not all that inspiring a puzzle.

Rikki 11:14 AM  

I remember Perle Mesta from the Maleska days. She was quite influential and apparently even hit the cover of Time. Here

Chews at? Nah. Except for parts of this puzzle. I'm ready for my duh of the day. Put shells in = load? I don't get it. Is that nut shells? New word of the day for me is orle. Must be very crosswordesey, but not familiar to me. Likewise Aherne, Reade, and Errol. Isaacs and Balboa were my gimmes. You can't live in San Diego without being reminded of Balboa.

I liked hardknocks.

@Jim in Chi, I thought the P stood for Practice, so even though it is a test, it's also practice for the SAT.

Arianna H must have been one of the original bloggers. She rocks! Check it out. Here

There should be a law that if you use Ott, you can't also use Ute. Oink!

mottsmith 11:17 AM  

How about "combonyms" for 7D-type words?

An acronym is just initials. This type of term combines initials with a full word ("and"): a combo.

Anonymous 11:25 AM  

The Irving Berlin musical comedy "Call Me Madam" was a thinly-disguised take off on Perle Mesta. There are some familiar songs from it, at least familiar to those of us who are old enough to remember the show in the first place.

joaneee 11:26 AM  

@mottsmith - Like it! (combonyms).

@rikki: Put in shells as in load a shotgun, I suspect.

Grew up on a filbert farm in Oregon, so that was not a mystery, but I struggled with with the NW because I couldn't remember for the longest time Frank Baum.

Bill D 11:30 AM  

PS - Like many songs made famous by Three Dog Night, "Eli's Comin'" was written by someone else, in this case the great NY singer/songwriter Laura Nyro. Other Nyro songs (and their cover artists) include "Wedding Bell Blues" (The 5th Dimension), "Stoney End" (Barbra Streisand) and my favorite, "And When I Die" (Blood, Sweat, and Tears), the song which made David Clayton-Thomas...

Michael Greenberg 11:43 AM  

Couldn't close it in the NW because of OPAL -- I kept thinking of the iridescent, "precious opal" and wanting 2D to be ECRU, which ruined UPAT (one of my first answers), which which the end, I definitely gave myself a good kick when I saw SAUCEPANS.

Not the most fun Thursday ever, but I enjoyed this week more than last week's HEART rebus. Anyone else notice that this is the second Thursday in a row with DIXIE?

Anonymous 11:54 AM  

Back in the days before either SAT prep courses or multiple SAT attempts were commonplace, some people developed the idea that it would be useful for students to practice SAT-type tests without fear of the results "counting." And so they developed the idea of the PSAT -- "P" for "pre" -- which was intended as "exam practice" in the same way that many teachers, particularly in high school, give their students practice exams. Scores on this test were not reported to colleges. Back in those days there was a separate test, known as the NMSQT (an obvious acronym, pronounced as "nimsquit"), to qualify for the National Merit Scholarships. These ancient times of which I write extended at least into the early 70s, perhaps later.


Orange 11:56 AM  

If you haven't heard of ERROL Morris, you've missed plenty of terrific documentaries. I've enjoyed Gates of Heaven (about super-quirky pet cemetery people), Fast, Cheap & Out of Control (an engaging look at robotics), and The Fog of War (a long conversation with Robert McNamara about his life, the Vietnam War, regrets, and statistics). I haven't seen his others yet.

Rikki, Arianna Huffington wasn't an early blog, Heck, I had a blog before she did. Where she broke ground was assembling a bunch of celebs as contributors.

Orange 11:58 AM  

SDS: Sometime before 1982, when I took the PSAT, the NMSQT had been merged with the PSAT. So the clue is about as retro as Perle Mesta!

Greg 12:04 PM  

Back in MY day, we had to walk 30 miles uphill through the snow, both ways, to attend a Perle Mesta party AND take the PSATs! You young whipper-snappers all have it too easy!

Rikki 12:10 PM  

Joanee... I knew I'd be slapping my head. I had nuts on the brain.

O... I thought I recalled a previous online thing Huffington had before this one. I wish I'd found yours sooner!!

Noam D. Elkies 12:17 PM  

If FILTERB isn't sufficiently well mixed because it's just switching two letters from FILBERT, then CEPAN is equally disappointing for PECAN. Then again, having those two as the first two theme answers would make the theme easier to see -- except that it was ridiculously hard (for a Wednesday puzzle) for me to get far enough with the top to reach those two theme answers. I eventually had to get MIXED NUTS and use the theme to put together those two entries.

Yes, the PSAT is itself a test with nontrivial stakes. I didn't realize this in high school, and thus didn't take it seriously and did much worse than I would a year later on the SAT.

For AANDE, RANDR, and similar r&omness, how about DAMNPERSAND? ;-) BTW the presence of AND at the end of AMPERSAND is no accident; look up the etymology.


P.S. In cryptic crosswords "mixed" and "nuts" are both used as anagram indicators. Maybe one day we'll see the same clue for a puzzle whose theme answers contain anagrams of MIXED...

Gunnar 12:18 PM  

"Sång till Norden"

As a Swede, I should certainly have recognized "Sång till Norden" as our national anthem.

But in fact, I have NEVER heard it called that. We call it "Du gamla, du fria".

Some research has shown that it was actually initially called "Sång till Norden" but that this name has not been in use since the early 1900's.

Anonymous 12:27 PM  

Very sorry to sound geographically pedantic, but I must comment on your morning Scandinavian country count. By most persons' estimation (most of all the Finns), Finland is not technically a Scandinavian country. While Finland is indeed a Nordic country, Scandinavia actually consists of just Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Iceland. Unlike Finnish, the Scandinavian languages are all related. Yet, speaking of the Finish language and for future reference, there are actually two (and only two) perfectly good Finnish words that have entered the English language: the easy ond obvious "sauna" and the more abstruse and now archaic "sisu" which is a distinctive character trait of many Finns that differentiates them from their Scandinavian neighbors.

karmasartre 12:28 PM  

@greg -- you had to walk uphill both ways?

Anonymous 12:52 PM  


I was clueless as to Cin being red letters but filled it in anyway and decided it was short for cinamon (which is red). Baseball is a foreign language to me, albeit a non-Scandanavian one.

Anonymous 1:06 PM  

I can't let Perle Mesta, probably deservedly unknown except by xword constructors as the Truman appointee Ambassador to Luxenbourg, go by without more comment on 'Call Me Madam'.

Opened on B-way 1950 with book by Lindsay and Crouse, music and lyrics by Irving Berlin directed by George Abbott, choreography by Jerome Robbins, and starring Ethel Merman. Made into an Oscar and Golden Globe award-winning movie in 1953.

Winner of many Tony Awards, it includes three evergreens: 'It's a lovely day to day (so what ever you're going to do)', '(you're not sick,) you're just in love', and 'The best thing for you (would be me)'.

Friends, the names above are the meaning of 'Broadway Musical' before staging spectaculars for the groundlings @ $100 a pop became the game.

You can look it up.

Humming the tunes on the way out to the lobby,

Old Fart in Hood River.

Jim in Chicago 1:19 PM  

I also had no clue about why CIN was the Red Letter answer, which I really wanted to be SIN as in the Scarlett Letter.

PhillySolver 1:29 PM  

We have a few proposed names for a phrase like RandR, but a friend tells me it is a form of initialism as opposed to an acronym. With that info, I went to Wikipedia and found this completely useless entry, but I feel left out because I was not remotely aware of the controversy in ITEM one.

* The longest acronym, according to the 1965 edition of Acronyms, Initialisms and Abbreviations Dictionary, is ADCOMSUBORDCOMPHIBSPAC, a United States Navy term that stands for "Administrative Command, Amphibious Forces, Pacific Fleet Subordinate Command." Another term COMNAVSEACOMBATSYSENGSTA which stands for "Commander, Naval Sea Systems Combat Engineering Station" is longer but the word "Combat" is not shortened. This has led to many heated discussions on the midwatch on which is the longer acronym.
* The world's longest initialism, according to the Guinness Book of World Records is NIIOMTPLABOPARMBETZHELBETRABSBOMONIMONKONOTDTEKHSTROMONT (Нииомтплабопармбетзелбетрабсбомонимонконотдтехстромонт). The 56-letter initialism (54 in Cyrillic) is from the Concise Dictionary of Soviet Terminology and means "The laboratory for shuttering, reinforcement, concrete and ferroconcrete operations for composite-monolithic and monolithic constructions of the Department of the Technology of Building-assembly operations of the Scientific Research Institute of the Organization for building mechanization and technical aid of the Academy of Building and Architecture of the USSR."

Greg 1:38 PM  

@karmasartre - just being silly - uphill both ways (as in there and back) to illustrate how much rougher I had it than the young folk! :-p

miriam b 1:45 PM  

As our ambassador to Luxembourg, Perle Mesta would be formally addressed as Madam Ambassador; hence the title "Call Me Madam".

Arianna jumped out at me immediately, as that's the name of my 3-year-old granddaughter.

Anonymous 1:46 PM  

Rock elm?

Mo 1:54 PM  

OK, I give is "START" a "sign of fright" (6D)???

Frances 2:07 PM  

My vote is for "combonyms," which mashes up the obvious combining function with what Wiki gives as the definition for -onym:
"Words in English with the suffix "-onym" refer to classes of words with a particular property. Most of them are classical compounds. For example an acronym is a word formed from the initial letters of other words."

johnson 2:16 PM  

Never did parse A and E, thought hmmmm who's AANDE?

Never, ever , EVER would have understood CIN...thanks again for blogging Rex.

PhillySolver 2:16 PM  

@ mo

"He gave me a start", is a phrase I heard growing up in the South.

Joel 2:36 PM  

Like you, I wasn't thrilled with the idea of the PSAT as "exam practice," as it's now a standalone exam with its own unique stakes (namely, qualification for National Merit scholarships). It uses a (marginally) different scoring scale and doesn't include some of the material that one finds on the SAT Reasoning Test (concepts from Algebra 2, for example). So despite its origins as the "practice SAT," I think it's clued incorrectly here.

miriam b 2:44 PM  

@mo & PhillySolver - I grew up in CT and am familiar with the expression "gave me a start". I assume that "startle" comveys the same meaning. If so, I don't equate this with fear, but with general jumpiness. In my mind, being easily startled is analogous to being ticklish, but there's no word for it. I propose "startlish". I'm pretty startlish myself. If I'm immersed in a book, for instance, and someone in the same room addresses me suddenly, I practically leap out of my chair.

Anonymous 2:58 PM  

For what it's worth, I figured that "CIN" was short for Communist International when I wrote it in (although the Reds reference probably makes more sense).

Chris 3:22 PM  

Arg, I had GLASS for 53A (it's often turned upside down when not in use). This fits with GOP for 53D (red letters), which fits with PROS for 60A (side in a debate).

I was completely unable to escape from that mess.

Bill from NJ 3:46 PM  

Had UPAT almost immediately but dismissed it as Not-ready-for-prime-time which kept me from getting the NW for the longest time.

Had the same problems as everybody else in the Midlands and that prevented me from finishing.

Not a real difficult puzzle but CHEWSAT and UPAT drove my time up to nearly 9 minutes.

Not a good sign for the Friday and Saturday puzzles.

Chip Ahoy 3:48 PM  

Real conversation:

Bo, would you like some peanuts?
No thank-you
Why not?
Because they have "pee" in them.

Would you like some pecans then?
No thank-you
Why not?
Because they have "pee" in them.

Well then, would you like some pistachios?
No thank-you
Why not?
Because they have "piss" in them.

*rolls eyes*
Good thing I didn't offer any shitaki mushrooms.

Which is hilarious because he shifted off the subject of nuts thing entirely.

doc John 3:51 PM  

I have a few different (and, albeit) minor complaints:

One too many instances of unusual proper names being right next to each other (READE/ERROL, AHERNE/MESTA).

CD-ROMS are for reading data only, not for backing up (ROM means Read Only Memory). A piece of software you buy at a store comes on a CD-ROM. But, I guess, since most people think of their CD drive as a CD-ROM, I'll forgive it.

And what is ELM rock? Or is it rock ELM?

Thank heavens for AMNION- otherwise the center would be a big mess, just like the problems Rex had. I always knew that having gone to med school would come in handy someday!

Finally, the answer that I ended the puzzle with (and hated at the time): CIN. Now that I've given it some thought, I really like it.

Chip Ahoy 3:56 PM  

All of those Masters programs have practice tests. Pretty much all bookstores carry them. The GMAT practice books are fantastic puzzle books -- nice and fat, and cover math, english skills, comprehension, logic, etc. Most have a list of vocabulary needed to understand questions that appear with some regularity. A girlfriend of mine and I went through four of them by different publishers. They're fun!

treedweller 4:10 PM  


IMO, you're straying too far from the concept with your color clues. CIN are "Red letters" because the Cincinatti team is called the Reds, not because their uniforms are partially red. I suppose one could argue that it would have been clued "Reds letters" in this case . . . anyway, I clearly didn't have anything to do with the writing or editing of the puzzle, so give this statement all the weight it deserves.

And anonymous reminded me of the elm clue--I never heard any of those three words attached to elm, and I am an arborist. But, then, I probably call several trees by common names that would be unfamiliar to people in other parts of the country/world, so maybe it's a perfectly sensible answer.

Orange 4:24 PM  

Rock elm wonderers, wonder no more: see the Wikipedia article on Ulmus thomasii, a.k.a. rock elm or cork elm. (Why y'all ask the question here instead of Googling, it, I'll never know—Googling will get you an answer for that sort of factoid far faster.)

Two Cables and a Frapp 4:26 PM  

I too thought Mesta was the first name.

Catherine K 4:31 PM  

I'd never heard of a rock elm either; here's some info on it.

Orange 4:31 PM  

P.S. As for Scandinavia, the Wikipedia entry says Finland, Iceland, and the Faroe Islands are sometimes included along with Sweden, Norway, and Denmark. Apparently which countries are included depends largely on your perspective. Finland's only been independent since 1917.

Catherine K 4:33 PM  

Looks like Orange and I were posting our rock elm info at the same moment!

Cricket 4:50 PM  

I think "I do" are familiar words in the sense that they pertain to creating a household or family

Doug 4:57 PM  



Phonetic Trancription of Shift-7 Inserted into Synonym


JC66 5:18 PM  

Playing off mottsmith's idea, how about andonyms>

dick swart - Well said!!!

Bill D 6:03 PM  

It just came to me that Laura NYRO would make a good 4-letter name - three consonants together, interior "y", trailing "o" - she can compliment our Italian and Hungarian men from yesterday. I'll bet she's made a solo appearance in the puzzle at some time without Eli!

As for a naming convention for the "A AND E" type of answer (which always throws me), I tried to work out something with conjuctions, but nothing short and catchy came up. Then I hit on AMPERSANDWICHES - silly, not short, but not something you'd likely forget!

beth in ct 6:36 PM  

Orange (and Rex),

It concerns me how readily you and many others quote Wikipedia entries as fact. I have heard at least one conversation on NPR in the past year discussing the issues around the accuracy of this new research medium. Can you offer any insight? I am not trying to be critical, just looking for further explanation as to whether Wikipedia is, in fact, a credulous resource. It seems counterintuitive to me to believe a comment on Wikipedia over a firsthand comment from a person at the source (eg. the Finnish commenter).

I would love to hear your thoughts . . .

By the way, this is my first comment and I am a daily reader. I discovered this blog a year ago. I love it! Thank you, Rex! You have made me a better crossword-solver! A great teacher, you are!

Orange 6:58 PM  

Beth, what on earth makes one individual person of unknown provenance more reliable than the group creation that is Wikipedia? Yes, there's some junk in Wikipedia, and occasionally there are abuses. But in the long run, I think the thousands of Wikipedia contributors will mostly get it right. Wikipedia also has rules about unsupported statements and opinion—whereas individual bloggers or blog commenters have zero responsibility to reflect any sort of consensus.

One partisan making an argument is, I think, generally less reliable as an information source than Wikipedia. You could say, "The very best crossword out there is the New York Times puzzle," but as unsupported opinion, that sort of statement wouldn't stand for long at Wikipedia. (Someone could be quoted as saying it in a Wikipedia entry, but the quote would need a citation.)

I like Wikipedia because, while it's not perfect, it offers a wealth of information that isn't readily found elsewhere on the web. Although Beth, you probably wouldn't dispute the validity of something from the American Heritage Dictionary, which defines Scandinavia as "A region of northern Europe consisting of Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. Finland, Iceland, and the Faeroe Islands are often included in the region." That's fine, but there's a heckuva lot more interesting stuff to read in a long Wikipedia entry than in a dictionary definition. And in the absence of any free, comprehensive encyclopedias online, I'll take Wikipedia.

PhillySolver 7:19 PM  

Coming from Academia I concur with Orange. I find it useful to have so many grad students, TAs and professors distilling volumes of highly specific work into an understandable snapshot. By it's nature, there will be errors, but the controls are pretty good and for the most part the participants are people like those on these blogs who like to share what they know.

Dave2718525 7:40 PM  

I believe technically putting an ellipsis after "etc." is incorrect. But maybe I am wrong, confused, etc. ...

Karl 7:53 PM  

I didnt' enjoy this crossword at all for two reasons:

1) The center sucked horribly.
2) The theme of "mixed nuts" has already been done by this guy Raymond Hamel with much more elan and eclat as only part of a theme, which included other clues such as "Linked arms?" (cannon scrambled with rifle)and "Crossed Swords?" (saber scrambled with epee), and was probably the hardest crossword I've ever done. I didn't do it in the paper, but rather in a crossword book called "Crosswords for the Weekend," which contains only Thursday through Saturday crosswords.

Greg 7:55 PM  

Philly, Orange, Beth, et. al.,
there was a fascinating article three years ago where a study, of sorts, was done to compare Wikipedia and the Encyclopedia Brittanica, shown here:,39024667,39155109,00.htm
I had heard somewhere that this study was redone recently, but can find no such article about it. I personally believe that overall that Wikipedia is a very reputable and reliable source, and have never had a problem with using it for my own enlightenment!

Liz 7:58 PM  

Bill D,

I'll take two ampersandwiches and hold the mayo!

Fergus 8:16 PM  

Coming late to the MESTA AHERNE festival I don't have much to add, except to share in a bit of annoyance, and yet also a bit glee at still being young enough to have these entries offer no significance or reference points.

Had to accept CREOLES after a strong urge to find another way to spell CAJUNS, but like Rex, I was sort of disappointed with the weak coinage of CHEWS AT. The Red letters had me in the SSR, CCP, or even the CIS mode but didn't manage to move from Soviet stuff to baseball. Wrong season ... ?

Nonetheless, the BALBOA entry sprung into mind the superb Keats poem, "On First Looking into Chapman's Homer" where he mistakes stout Cortez for Balboa, to no ill-effect on the little poem. There are quite a few all-star line from this one, and to save the curious from looking it up, you can see it right here:

On First Looking into Chapman's Homer

Much have I traveled in the realms of gold,
And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
Round many western islands have I been
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
That deep-browed Homer ruled as his demesne;
Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
He stared at the Pacific – and all his men
Looked at each other with a wild surmise–
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

Badir 8:36 PM  

With regards to Rex's and Noam's comments on FILTERB -> FILBERT and CEPAN -> PECAN not having enough anagramminess, in National Puzzler League speak, this is called a "metathesis", meaning two letters are interchanged, rather than an anagram (except we would call it a "transposal", since "anagram" has the added meaning that the interchanged letters have to hint the original).

@Noam, of course it was ridiculously hard for a Wednesday--it was a Thursday! :)

And, finally, yes Wikipedia has lots of good info, but it's not always completely trustworthy, and Will Shortz told me that he will not use it as a sole source to check a clue.

Badir 8:40 PM  

Oh yeah, when I was reading today's write-up, I put on "Eli's Coming", off _The_Best_of_3_Dog_Night_. :)

Anonymous 8:43 PM  

Orange is got her nose in everything today.

joe 9:30 PM  

I'm with you, Dave271...

scriberpat 9:41 PM  

@anonymous 12:27 re: sisu

Fun to see your post about "sisu" as had enjoyed reading earlier today NYT page D7 about Finnish-American man created backyard retreat for himself called "mokki" (rhymes with hokey). He had seen mokkis while visiting relatives in Finland.

He credits his determination to have his mokki as his strength of will: sisu.

scriberpat 9:58 PM  

Orange @ 4:24 RE: why we ask questions on Rex's blog rather than googling for fast factoids.

a good example is Catherine K.'s 4:31 link for "rock elm" -- a nice drawing of the tree and one could see how it differs from the two other drawings of other elms. when i googled rock elm i didn't find the site Catherine shares here.

So to answer your question, it is a nice surprise to benefit from what people have to bring to Rex's blog.

green mantis 11:08 PM  

Speaking of cemeteries and dead people (weren't we?), I saw the best bumper sticker today:

"My loved one was Corpse of the Month at Family Fun Funeral Home"

As for the puzzle, i completely tanked the name-y clusterf*ck in the heartland. Thought Perle was the surname too, and could only conceive of "Vesta" for the first part. Very Star Trek, but Mesta? Shirley you jest.

I love all these suggestions for the AANDE stuff. My vote goes to ampersandwiches.

noam d. elkies 11:27 PM  

Yes, Badir, I realized afterwards that I had the wrong day of the week. Still it's been some time since even a Thursday puzzle gave me as much trouble as today's.

As for CEPAN vs. FILTERB, I might have noted that a random 5-letter anagram is much likelier to be a simple transposition(*) than a random 7-letter one, so it's not too surprising that FILTERB would strike Rex more forcefully than CEPAN.

I'll leave it as an exercise to figure out how noteworthy it was for each of today's four nut words to be isograms (words with all letters different).

(*) Hm, is math-speak any more appropriate here than NPL-ese?

mac 11:33 PM  

Sorry I'm checking in so late, but I had to watch the debate.
On first glance I thought red letters might be IOU.
I always think of Sweden, Norway and Denmark as Skandinavia, but I'm often asked if Holland is part of it. About the Finnish language, I think I once read that it's related to Turkisch.

Rikki 12:35 AM  

I'm casting my vote for andonyms.

Fergus 12:38 AM  


How different do you mean?

All the same in different places,
or all different letters?

Fergus 12:42 AM  

Rikki, what about andronyms, or possibly anodymnes? One speaking forcefully, the other relieving the pain of thinking about it?

Pip Harper 2:15 AM  

What is a lisle?

chefbea 8:45 AM  

Pip harper - lisle is cotton thread

I vote for ampersandwiches

ArtLvr 8:52 AM  

Rex -- I vote for keeping the contest open for a while on the word for blankety-blank "_&_" items, though I like "combnym" and "ampersandwich"...

The latter might be condensed to S'MORES, or however you spell the chocolate-marshmallow-grahamcracker treat?


Anonymous 9:27 AM  

REX, I LOVE THIS BLOG! Life is so chaotic right now that I rarely get to read it until days after the major traffic, but I can't help commenting anyway. This morning your blog had me laughing through breakfast and reading aloud snippets to my spouse. Thanks to Gunnar and Anon12:27, I don't have to comment on behalf of my Swedish spouse, who also had never heard of Song Til Norden, and was semi-outraged that Finland was included in someone's definition of Scandinavia. It can, apparently, be considered a "Nordic" country, according to him. Thanks, Orange, for the Errol Morris info (documentaries are my favorite type of film and and now that we've just joined Netflix, I'm looking forward to checking out a few Errol Morris gems). AND, well, I sometimes amuse myself trying to make up new words, so once "clandestines" were suggested (love it!), I began trying to think of other suggestions, such as (and I cringe.....), "parse-doh!". But none of mine were as clever as "ampersandwich". That's my vote! So many other funny comments. Thanks again, Rex, and all who participate. Rock Rabbit

Orange 11:17 AM  

Another yes vote for Bill D's "ampersandwich." Perfectly apt and funny, to boot.

Noam D. Elkies 11:54 AM  

Fergus writes:

> How different do you mean?

> All the same in different places, or all different letters?

None of PECAN, FILBERT, CASHEW, ALMOND has a repeated letter. That affects the likelihood that a random rearrangement of the letters is a simple transposition.

I'm not sure what "all the same in different places" would mean; is the fact that PECAN and ALMOND both have an N for the fifth letter relevant for this?


doc John 12:51 AM  

Probably nobody will read this but...

This whole MESTA hullabaloo reminds me of the Seinfeld episode with Mulva- the woman whose name rhymed with a body part (turns out her name was really Dolores).

Anonymous 12:54 PM  

REX ,This is in the ABJ 4/3/08 now I know why I don't attempt ,but in a blue moon to work these puzzles on Thursday.Just a novice whom you have helped get better.

Mark Murphy 12:55 PM  

I suppose Brian Aherne isn't that well-remembered because he was one of the second-string British actors who appeared in U.S. movies. And like most of them, he was rather dull. ("Juarez" starred Paul Muni with Bette Davis and Claude Rains; John Huston co-wrote the script.)

However, Aherne did appear -- and do quite a good job -- in a moving "Twilight Zone" episode called "The Trouble With Templeton." It's worth checking out the next time Sci-Fi Channel has a "Zone" marathon. (It also features a young Sydney Pollack as an actor.)

John 6:17 PM  

The March 31st New Yorker has an article on changes facing newspapers which analyses the impact of Arianna Huffington's blog. Here's the site:

Anonymous 6:39 PM  

CAlady said:
Never ever heard of Da ali G show or Aiwa, but I'm sure nobody my age could forget Perle Mesta-she was a famous Washington hostess (parties, that is) and her events were world famous. The Broadway hit musical "Call Me Madam" was inspired by her life.
"I hear singing and there's no one there, I smell blossoms and the trees are bare..." I'll be singing all day!

kas 7:54 PM  

I didn't know sterile meant arid

WWPierre 8:27 PM  

Have the polls closed yet?

Ampersandwich is definitely my vote!

Anonymous 11:20 PM  

This is cody.riggs. Blogger won't let me sign in. Annoying. Wow. Loved the comments about this puzzle (yes I'm in Syndication.) BAUM was my first answer (my favorite series books as a kid.) My partner and I decided that I am the ANTI-REX after today...My "gimmes" are usually Rex's stumbling blocks. (I was a chemistry/music double major, which may explain it.) Today, it was the filbert issue. I grew up in Oregon, the small region of the world where they are NOT called "Hazelnuts," and where 90% of them are produced (and later lived in Germany, where apparently the other 10% come from) So FILTERBASKET was my first theme answer.

The first thing I filled in was AMNIONS, if that tells you something. I never miss a science question on Jeopardy.

Not to mention SAUCEPANS. That was the last theme answer I got. I wanted STEAKKNIVES but it was too long.

I vote for "Stealth Phrases" for the "AANDE"-type answers. The other week "ATOZ" had me going all day...couldn't figure it out even after all crossings. And it's been in the Times OFTEN. Will I ever learn?

Thank God "AHERNE" and "MESTA" didn't cross. Otherwise I'd never have solved this.

CANOE - great clue.

And I must protest as well over the clue for PSAT. It IS a test. I wanted "PREP" as well, so perhaps I'm not the Anti-Rex.

Didn't like "CHEWS AT" at all. I had "GNAWS AT" filled in almost from the beginning, and it was my only mistake. Bad clue. Crossings CREOLES and NWT gave me the answer but only after I realized GNAWSA made no nut anagram.

Loved the CIN clue/answer, and didn't get the connection till reading the blog. Wanted SSR, of course. Big baseball fan here.

Finally, the Finland thing. Strangest vacation I ever took. The ice was a meter thick on the sea...The sculpture of the severed head of Sibelius sitting on the rock...The statue of nude blacksmiths outside the largest dep't store in Europe...The copper church carved out of an "unbuildable" plot (marvelous)...The pronounced double consonants...Most striking, the silence. No one speaks out of turn, and people whisper on the busses. And stunning knowledge of English.

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