THURSDAY, Feb. 28, 2008 - Matt Ginsberg (TWININGS COMPETITOR)

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: Antagonyms (words that can mean opposite things)

This was an original concept for a Thursday theme, I thought. Not terribly tricky, but interesting and entertaining nonetheless. I did not like the central phrase (NOTHING IS BETTER), both because it is not a single word, like the other theme answers, and because it is hard to hear it as a condemnation. I understand that it could be used to describe a situation wherein nothing has improved, but it doesn't have much colloquial clout as a self-contained phrase. Anyway, that's a nit. The rest of the puzzle was just fine. Apologies for the short write-up today, and pre-apologies to tomorrow's constructor, who will also get a short write-up, and Saturday's and Sunday's constructors, who may see their write-ups delayed til Monday. We are bringing the laptop to Brooklyn, but I have a feeling that there won't be a lot of time dedicated to blogging over the weekend. I will try to post at least once, possibly with pictures. But I promise nothing.

Theme answers:

  • 19A: Begin operating or stop operating (go off) - this feels a little ... off.
  • 20A: Confirmation or uncertainty (reservation)
  • 30A: Unchanged or novel (original)
  • 38A: Words of praise or words of condemnation (nothing is better)
  • 45A: Approve or penalize (sanction) - liked this one best, for reasons I don't quite understand
  • 55A: Easy to see or impossible to see (transparent)
  • 60A: Entangle or disentangle (ravel) - also a fine composer
  • 1D: Last under use or erode under use (wear) - had to read this a couple times, as "Last" kept reading like an adjective to me
  • 13D: Remaining or gone (left)
  • 52D: Add to or remove from (trim) - weird ... never saw this clue. Read it for the first time only just now. Other clue I never saw (thankfully) was 34A: Kobold (elf). I say "thankfully" because I have never seen the word "kobold" in my life. Maybe it was in my D&D "Monster Manual" back in 1980, but if so, I clearly have forgotten about it.
  • 59D: Move gracefully or move clumsily (trip)

Assorted comments:

  • 1A: Sari, e.g. (wrap)
  • 15A: Asian princess (rani) - nice that these two are close together. My first guess for 1A was WRAP, which isn't shocking, but it means that my solving instincts are reasonably sharp. A good sign heading into the weekend.
  • 5D: Grounds for legal action (gravamen) - this is the kind of thing I fear in tournament crosswords: I'm flying along with the greatest of ease and then Bam, crazy long word I've never heard of. Maybe I'm alone on this. I had it down to GRAVAM- and thought "well, that's wrong." Not wrong, just Latin.
  • 16A: Dodger All-Star pitcher Eric (Gagne) - he's not a Dodger anymore. He was on the Red Sox last year - Worst Mid-Season Acquisition In The History Of Major League Baseball. Single-handedly tried to lose them the division. He was every fan's worst nightmare.
  • 18A: Deuce follower (ad in) - I play tennis, and this still made me think a little. I blame GRAVAMEN.
  • 27A: Belief in a life of harmony with nature (taoism) - had the -ISM and went looking for something much more esoteric.
  • 35A: Repeated setting for Georges Seurat paintings (Seine) - the "repeated" was throwing me off, as I thought somehow the answer was a word that, when repeated, comprised the setting in questions. Like PAGO PAGO or BORA BORA or something.
  • 50A: Deborah nominated for six Academy Awards (Kerr) - wouldn't have gotten this nearly so fast had she not been among the honored dead at the recent Academy Awards ceremony. Award for Best Dead Person went to Heath Ledger.
  • 64A: Comedic title role for Renee Zellweger (Irene) - "Me, Myself, and Irene" - yeah, I didn't see it either.
  • 68A: Olaf's girlfriend in Lemony Snicket books (Esme) - Sahra has never been into these. I gave her a three-book set at one point in her life, and she dipped into them a bit, but they never took. She eventually gave the books away to her friend in one of her weird fits of generosity. Of course, her first idea was to sell the books to her friend ...
  • 2D: "Hurlyburly" playwright David (Rabe) - Never remember this guy's name. There's a great mid-century crime fiction writer named Peter RABE. There's also broccoli RABE.
  • 6D: Gary Burghoff role of TV and film (Radar) - one of the crucial sitcom character in all of puzzledom, both for cluing RADAR and for cluing the strangely tenacious NEHI soda.
  • 7D: L., B. or J. (init.) - as in "initial"
  • 10D: Jiang's husband (Mao) - no idea. I mean, I know who MAO is, but his wife's name, no.
  • 8D: Revealing garment (mini-dress) - frowny face. I understand that this is an actual garment, but MINI SKIRT is what we were all hoping to see.
  • 11D: Like kids at a circus, maybe (agog) - great clue for this weird word.
  • 36D: "No nation is permitted to live in _____ with impunity": Jefferson ("ignorance") - great quote, got it off the I-N...
  • 39D: Equine ankle (hock) - had HOOF and thought "that can't be right."
  • 41D: Dr. _____ Hahn of "Grey's Anatomy" (Erica) - no way. Not watching this, ever. ERICA is also a genus of flowering plant (like - but not exactly synonymous with - heather).
  • 46D: Twinings competitor (Tetley) - I drink a lot of tea, but it's all loose leaf. And yet these names are both very familiar.
  • 53D: Fabled slacker (hare) - excellent clue for this guy.
  • 56D: Converts to a cause, briefly (neos) - "converts" = noun, aha.
  • 58D: Fictional submariner (Nemo) - I love this guy. Revenge!

And I'm done. Again, sorry for the all-bullet format today (and tomorrow). We'll return to normal mode on Monday.

If you are going to the tournament and have not yet identified yourself to us all, why not do that now - go here and post a Comment. Thanks.

See you tomorrow,
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


parshutr 9:17 AM  

Thought this was very easy for a Thursday. My only quibble (as a practicing Taoist) is that Taoism cannot be defined as anything! That's the message of the very first verse of the 81 verses of Lao Tse.
But generally a very enjoyable puzzle, and good luck to all in the Tournament.

artLvr 9:21 AM  

Well, good luck to Rex and all at the tournament... At least I've finally got the puzzle on the computer at -- No wonder the mavens' times can be pared down so much, with highlighting and automatic cursor and all. It's a whole new world.

GRAVAMEN came only with the crosses, neat word!


James F 9:45 AM  

This puzzle was an enjoyable take on the quirkiness of English. I tripped right though it, wondering what non-native speakers make of all this contradictoriness.

Bill D 9:47 AM  

Loved today's puzzle! Excellent theme in which the clues were intregrally involved. Some nice clues for old standards, too. I methodically worked through it, ultimately finishing up in Nevada, as seems to be my wont.

Yes, Rex, KOBOLD was in your D&D manuals - all I remembered about them was they were dog-faced, or dog-like, or dog-something, and I knew DOG was the wrong 3-letter answer! I let the downs settle it.

A little bit of baseball, only one word (GRAVAMEN) that I never heard of, and pop culture held to a minimum (amazingly got KERR right off, couldn't come up with KOJAK's first name until the end, and, had I not had enough crosses to negate it, would have tried "Nurse BETTY" for the Zellweger character [don't ask.]) Great week of crosswords so far - maybe Shortz is juiced up for the tournament as well and is counting us down in style!

Good Luck to all you brave tourney-goers! Have fun and don't forget your ampersandwiches!

Norm 9:48 AM  

I liked NOTHING IS BETTER for the center of the grid. Reminded me of the letter of recommendation that isn.t E.g., "No one would be better for the job" or "I recommend X with no qualifications
whatsoever." A different type of antonym, if you will, but I thought it topped off the puzzle nicely.

artLvr 9:49 AM  

p.s. RAVEL brings to mind MacBeth, of course:

"Sleep that knits up the ravell'd sleave of care..."

but you might like to know that this image does not refer to a frayed part of clothing covering the arm -- to the Bard, the reference is to the tangled skein of sleave-silk which is unusable until separated into smooth spinnable filaments.


SethG 10:02 AM  

I really enjoyed the theme.

My take on NOTHING IS BETTER is that it was better before you did anything, but you went ahead and FUBARed it. So it's not just not improved, it's actually worse than before you did anything. Yes, maybe weaker than the others but I was okay with it.

My nit: cluing COLL as UNIV.?

My dictionary appears to agree with my interpretation, that a college can be contained within a university or can be an independent institution offering bachelor's degrees, while a university includes a graduate division. Is there some sense where they're identical?

Enjoy Brooklyn everyone!

Alex 10:07 AM  

My interpretation on NOTHING IS BETTER is that the condemnation half isn't saying that nothing has improved (emphasis on IS BETTER) but rather that to have nothing would be better than what is there (emphasis on NOTHING).

You might say it in the face of a really poorly cooked meal: [eating] nothing is better [than this crap].

Anyway, I don't know why but the whole phrase popped right out to me just off the TER at the end.

RESERVATION was the one that I had the most trouble with.

Rikki 10:17 AM  

Another really fun Matt Ginsberg puzzle. (Remember he gave us that great Sunday puzzle with the up, down, lefts, and rights sending us in every direction around the grid?) Clearly Matt's got more up his sleeve than "artificial" intelligence.

Best of luck to you Rex and to all who are Brooklyn bound. Bring home the gold, or at least some good chocolate! > (air colon)

Evad 10:25 AM  

When I saw the ignominious Eric GAGNE make an unwelcome return to my Boston household (luckily this time only on my computer screen, and not the playing field), I made a point to come by and see what invectives you might hurl his way.

It sure hurt to see him clued as an "All Star" as opposed to his more recent role as the closer who just couldn't close.

Anonymous 10:47 AM  

I enjoyed the puzzle and all the comments. But a question occurs, implying my admiration for the complexity of this effort: have we had any other instances of as many as eleven (!) theme entries in a daily 15x15 puzzle? Has there been a daily with even more than eleven?

To my mind, this is a wondrous achievement of construction.

Matt 10:47 AM  

All of this talk about Eric Gagne -- let me just point out that I am a longtime NY Yankees fan, and you Boston guys have been sending more than the usual amount of pain my way recently. So if I get to return some of it, so much the better. :)

And as always, I'm thrilled to see my work getting such a nice reception. Thanks!

jordanboston 11:10 AM  

@Rex, evad, etc... You make me feel better for almost popping a blood vessel in my temple at the sight of the name Gagne. I almost threw the newspaper across the room, as I did with pillows, dishes, and whatever else was close during baseball season. Otherwise, I enjoyed the puzzle. A tough, but solvable, Thursday.

Dan 11:17 AM  

Kudos, Matt! Anon 10:47, I just did this one with 13 theme answers, though none longer than 8 letters. Rare, but possible...

SethG, I think college and university are essentially synonymous in common usage. Dartmouth has grad schools but calls itself a College.

My snag was in the SW where I couldn't let go of Nurse BETTY. Also SNARL for RAVEL, which crossed DAYS for EVES. Thank goodness for gimmes like RABE, GAGNE, and GIANTS.

Though I've never watched "Grey's", ERICA came to me immediately from reading Entertainment Weekly. I even knew that Dr. Hahn is played by Brooke Smith, who's come a long way from putting the #@%&^% lotion in the #$&%^! basket...

jannieb 11:26 AM  

Really fun, new type of theme for me. Enjoyed it and appreciate the art of the construction. Nice job. I wish all of you going to Brooklyn the very best of luck. Wish I could join - but a bridge tournament beckons. Hope you will all post your results on Monday.

Greg 11:29 AM  

I had NO idea that Erica Hahn is played by the lotion girl from SotL! Thank you for that wonderful piece of trivia!
This was by far my best Thursday ever - finishing it in just over 4 and a half minutes! I was very proud of myself, and that was using a pen on paper! :-)
Good luck to everyone, and I look forward to reading the blogs and comments!

Jim in Chicago 11:31 AM  

While I enjoyed this puzzle a lot, it is a perfect example of why I dread Thursdays. Will the puzzle be part of the Thursday/Friday/Saturday set, or will it align itself more with Wednesday? One never knows until you start to work it.

This one was of the Wednesday/Thursday variety for me, although I did wind up with a blank square at the end.

Specifically, I tanked on DUOS for the Grammy answer, and thought that the french "accord" would be the acronym for some specific treaty, rather than the simple OUI. If I had gone through every single possible letter one more time I probably would have gotten it, but I didn't. Sigh.

Like others, I went with GRAVAMEN, simply because every single cross was clearly correct, but I hate it when I wind up with a word that I'm not 100% certain is correct.

Put me in the "I liked the middle answer" column, since it is the perfect example of false praise, as in "nothing at all would be better than the options I've been given". As someone pointed out earlier, this is one of the classic examples of things you can say when composing a reference for someone you hate, as in "No one would be better for this position than the candidate."

Joaneee 11:43 AM  

Or..."an employee like xxx is hard to find" for the chronically absent. Loved the theme but had my fastest Thursday time ever, I'm sure.

dk 11:47 AM  

We will be clicking our pens to cheer you puzzlers on. Good luck to all of you.

PhillySolver 11:52 AM  

Matt Ginsebrg's comment in the "Going to Brooklyn" writeup on this blog is pretty interesting. How can a guy make great puzzles and be a keen observer of language and not do well at crosswords. I wonder if he is sandbagging? I did like this puzzle and the good at crosswords me showed up again.

I wrote in miniskirt without hesitation, but other than the SEINE and maybe a jetty I guessed a word ending in 'i' was not right. Last entry was THEO/HOCK. Ok, off to the BIGAPPLE (Matt's way to say ACPT), but I will stay up tonight and do the Friday puzzle.

Dick Swart 11:59 AM  

While Eric's girlfriend may indeed be Esme to some, to me she shall always be Salinger's girl with love and squalor and echoes of freshman English. And reading 'Franny and Zooey' in installments on the beach at Race Point in P-town. Whatever happened to the 50's?

Karen 12:23 PM  

I think of kobolds as being underground critters, like dwarfs and gnomes, and elfs as being aboveground beings. I blame Tolkein for this.

I remember THEO Kojak from ACPT puzzle finals.

The antonyms were hard to figure out from the clues. Good puzzle.

jae 12:32 PM  

A fine puzzle and, I agree, more of a Wed than a Fri/Sat. Also had SKIRT, didn't mind the center answer, didn't know GAGNE had left LA, thought COLL was iffy, and had a WTF reaction to GRAVAMEN (googled it post solve to make sure I hadn't screwed up). NEOS was the last fill for me as it took a while for converts=noun to dawn. Good luck at the tourney, looking forward to the post mortem write up.

Matt 12:53 PM  

Phillysolver asked if my claim to suck at crosswords was sandbagging in preparation for the tourney this weekend.

Sandbag? Me?? :)

While I'm probably not above it, it's not true in this case! I love language, but the information in my head appears to be arranged in some sort of nonstandard way that makes it very hard for me to deal with clues other than obvious ones. I can *generate* weird clues; I just can't go the other way (at all). I have nothing but respect for all you folks that just sail through these things -- and I have absolutely no idea how you do it!

william e emba 12:55 PM  

Sciency types all know KOBOLD, because of the etymology of cobalt. Both nickel and cobalt originally annoyed German copper miners, and they both received names reflecting this annoyance. Cobolt=goblin and nickel=devil.

I don't like the ELF answer. I put in "imp" originally. ELF is way too generic for my tastes.

Anonymous 1:09 PM  


Liked the Seurat clue for its synchronicity. When I came across the clue re Seurat I immediately thought Seine as I had just returned from seeing "Sunday in the Park with George" the Sondheim revival. I don't think I would have gotten the answer as quickly if not for that. It is a beautiful play.

Gravamen did not come immediately but once I had a few letters. It's a term I learned in law school but have not come across for a while.

johnson 1:18 PM  

My husband spent much of the weekend working on our leaky kitchen faucet and


Great work, Matt.

Is there a spctator section during the tourney?

MarkTrevorSmith 1:46 PM  

Loved this puzzle, love these kinds of words, circled every "or" in the clues and enjoyed each one. "Sanction" came first for me, and then I expected to find "cleave" somewhere, which to me is the archtypal antagonym.

One of these days I'll remember that many monarchs have Roman numerals and will stop puzzling over someone like "PETERI" when "PETER" isn't long enough.

john 1:57 PM  

To add to Matt's point, constructing and speed solving are different skills. Solving skills come from (imo) a combination of having the right aptitude and the experience of solving many, many puzzles over time. Then there's speed solving, which is the name of the game at ACPT, but probably not a big deal for the average crossword solver.

Constructing, in my experience, doesn't have anything to do with speed. Some of the top solvers happen to be constructors (Tyler, Trip, Byron, et al.), but most constructors would probably be left in the dust by the speed demons, and by many of you folks, too.

Good work from Matt today. I enjoyed the puzzle.

miriam b 2:12 PM  

Love those antagonyms. I was hoping that my favorite, "oversight" would turn up in the puzzle, but no such luck. Speaking of which, I'll be rooting for you, Rex, and other blog habitu├ęs who will be competing.

pomegranate 2:24 PM  

Add me to the list of admirers of this puzzle.

Good luck in Stamford-in-Brooklyn, Rex and all ACPT attendees!

Anonymous 2:26 PM  

I also was screwed up by expecting 'gravamen' to be familiar. It didn't help that I had 'ahimsa' crossing instead of 'Taoism'.

Good luck this weekend Rex!

Phineas 2:30 PM  

Since nobody has commented yet on JIANG, she is Jiang Qinq, Maos 4th wife and most notably the leader of the Gang of Four (which I could reasonably expect to see in a Fri/Sat puzzle).

Mao went through wives at an alarming rate. He had one wife committed to an asylum in Russia, another he allowed to be captured by the KMT and executed, and he married Jiang while he was still married to his 3rd wife at the time. And then there was a continuous onslaught of, essentially, concubines. Nice fella.

Matt 2:35 PM  

People seem to like these contranym things just for their own sake, so I'm taking the liberty of attaching the full list that I used when I was making the puzzle. There's likely to be some junk in here; I remember that as I built the puzzle, I had to rebuild pieces of it when a particular supposed contranym turned out to clue very poorly.

My apologies if it's inappropriate to post something this long ...

cleave (join/separate)
clip (attach/separate)
inoculate (protect/infect)
cull (select/reject)
alight (settle/dismount)
went off (start/stop)
ravel (tangle/disentangle)
screen (dispaly/hide)
trim (remove from/add to an xmas tree)
enjoin (direct/forbid)
dust (remove dust from the table, add it to the cake)
secrete (give off, conceal)
can (save peaches, fire worker)
settle (move/stop moving)
garnish (add/take away wages)
snap (break into pieces/fasten together)
wear (last under use/erode under use)
weather (wear/survive)
crop (plant/cut)'
custom (everyone does it/just for you)
go off/went off (made noise/stopped)
left (still here, not here)
strike (hit/not hit)
trip (move gracefully/move clumsily)
mad (enthusiastic/annoyed)
wild (enthusiastic/annoyed)
think better of (to like more/to like less)
wind up (start/stop)
fix (solution/problem -- in a fix)
buckle (attach/bend and break)
bolt (secure/run away)
first degree (most severe murder/least severe burn)
flog (whip/promote)
give out (distribute/stop production)
out (visible stars/invisible lights)
transparent (invisible/obvious)
unbending (rigid/relaxing)
variety (specific type/a general type)
act (pretend/actually do it)
bound (moving to/not moving)
commencement (beginning/end=graduation)
cool (agreeable/less than agreeable)
enduring (long lasting/suffering through)
execute (end a person,start a program)
handicap (edge in sports/disadvantage)
lease (lend/borrow)
lurid (pale/colorful)
original (unchanged/new)
rent (buy/sell)
reservation (confirmation/uncertainty)
seed (add seeds/remove seeds)
stain (color purposefully/purposelessly)
nothing is better
mean (poor,excellent)
was blown away [enjoyed an amazing thrill or suffered a horrible defeat]
kicked around [considered or treated inconsiderately]
foughtwith [battled hand in hand or toe to toe]
knock off [copy or eliminate]
blow up [enlarge or reduce to pieces]
a hell of a time

Dick Swart 3:01 PM  

Phineas - Yes, and a great character in Adam's 'Nixon in China".

Fergus 3:30 PM  

This puzzle could have been a real stinker (in a good way!) had the clues not stated the opposition so clearly.

Very tempted to enter CITATION for 45A but that was too glaringly the wrong part of speech. So what is the verb, ending in TION, that's going to fit the bill? Dwelt way to long in Northern California as a result. The Fair housing? took awhile to erect, as well. Then had to relinquish JATTE for SEINE.

Thought about INDOLENCE for Jefferson's quote, but that is perhaps too modern an interpretation. Or maybe not enough indolence produces too much ignorance?

Some one has to come to the defense of Eric GAGNE. He was phenomenal with the Dodgers (wasn't it 88 straight save opportunities converted?), with a crafty set of pitches. Could have been the screwball that messed up his arm, rendering him so hopeless of late. As effective as the best of Rivera for a couple of years. The Red Sox seemed to be using him based on that reputation, not his current stuff.

Hope to find some more to add to Matt's list.

green mantis 3:49 PM  

I love these theme words. Makes me giggle at the English language. Absurdly, the only place I got held up (after a brief "bald" moment with Kojak) was at Grammy winners. Duos is obvious in retrospect, but I had the D-U-_ and thought, "DUIs"? Like Amy Winehouse?

ArtLvr 4:34 PM  

Matt -- Many thanks for sharing your list! It will be fun to suggest additions. One that comes to mind is a PITCH = something tossed/fixed location..


Doc John 6:08 PM  

First off, good luck to all in the tournament. Rex, my I ask that if you don't blog that you at least create that day's page so that the rest of us can post our comments?

Fun puzzle today, Matt. Thanks for your comments, too. I always like to hear the thought processes of the constructors.

Fave clue: [28D. Welcome to paradise?]= ALOHA. Not particularly hard but I thought it was fun.
Honorable mention: [53D. Fabled slacker]= HARE.

Michael 7:21 PM  

A really enjoyable, though easy, puzzle. The only place I paused at was at the very beginning with "Dodger All-Star pitcher Eric." I went to write "Gagne: but then thought (1) he's not a Dodger anymore; and (2) he sure wasn't an all-star last year. Then I figured that time references are often ambiguous in puzzles and wrote in Gagne as my first answer.

mac 8:23 PM  

Go Matt! Go Yankees! Beautiful puzzle.
Dear James F., thank you for your concern but do not worry too much about the non-native speakers doing the NYT cross word puzzle; we get a lot of practice.
I hope all of you brave warriors will do well in Brooklyn. I'm hoping to cross the bridge to watch the last part of the contest, if I can still get it.

billnutt 8:41 PM  

My WTF reaction to GRAVAMEN was compounded by my complete IGNORANCE of tennis. I guess ADIN has shown up in the puzzle recently, but not that I can remember.

MINIDRESS? OK, but "miniskirt" was my first reaction, and I stuck with it a while. (Just heard "miniskirts" in Joe Jackson's "Pretty Girls" on the radio. Oh, and Jackson's new CD is REALLY good!)

I think I wrote this yesterday, but it bears repeating: GOOD LUCK to everyone who's going to Brooklyn this weekend!

Chip Ahoy 10:03 PM  

Rather easy for a Thursday, eh?


*looks up*

Woo to the .puz.

ArtLvr 12:07 AM  

One last possibility for the list:

PALE = weak color/strong enclosure ?


cody.riggs 11:54 AM  

This was my favorite puzzle since the right/left puzzle (apparently the same constructor) Kudos!

Although KOBOLD was a gimme, I had never heard the word GRAVAMEN either.

The middle entry reminds me of a story: after attending a pipe organ recital which was played technically well, but displayed no pizzazz, taste, or emotion, an eminent concertmistress was heard to pay the recitalist the same sort of backhanded compliment: "You've done it again!"

If YOUVEDONEITAGAIN had been 15 and not 16 letters, I'd have written that in with no crossings.

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