WEDNESDAY, Feb. 13, 2008 - Elizabeth C. Gorski (AIDA AND NORMA, NOTABLY)

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: "SOUP to NUTS" - puzzle contains a WORD ladder, starting with SOUP in the NW and ending with NUTS in the SE; theme is encapsulated by a central 15-letter Across answer: 38A: From 1- to 67-Across (The Whole Shebang)

This is a lovely, lively puzzle - 6 rungs to the WORD ladder, plus two different theme-indicating entries: WORD and THE WHOLE SHEBANG. I was very, very lucky to have worked this puzzle down the western seaboard. I got WORD (62A: Kind of ladder exemplified by the answers to the seven starred clues) before I had any part of the WORD ladder besides SOUP, and I then immediately jumped from to the starred clues, picking them off easily until I hit CUTS (56A: Salon styles), which for some reason mystified me. Had the clue, obviously, and knew that the answer was just one letter different from COTS, and still couldn't figure out what to do. Weird. Hardly mattered, though, because I got 38A almost immediately thereafter, guessing that the word after THE WHOLE had to be SHEBANG (as ENCHILADA would not fit). "From SOUP to ..." that answer had to be NUTS, so I wrote in NUTS in the SE and worked the word ladder backwards, thereby cornering the elusive CUTS.

Theme answers:

  • 1A: *Salad partner (soup) - first thing in the grid, very easy
  • 16A: *Takeover (coup)
  • 21A: *Pen (coop)
  • 25A: *Cote calls (coos)
  • 48A: *Sleep lab purchases (cots) - what a weird clue...
  • 56A: *Salon styles (cuts)
  • 67A: *Fanatics (nuts)

I feel as if I've seen the SOUP to NUTS word ladder before in some other puzzle from my misty puzzle past. The two non-ladder theme answers take this puzzle from merely clever to ingenious.

School is delayed today, so I need to write quickly. Much as I love writing this blog, I'd rather hang out with my daughter.

Checking my wife's puzzle this morning, I noticed that her three difficulty spots were the ones I'd anticipated solvers would encounter: vindication! I would have rated this puzzle EASY but for the three thorny parts, which aren't Terribly thorny, just treacherous enough to derail an otherwise smooth solve.

Thorny part the first: Far North

Had the -CES or would not have known that PISCES was the "last sign" (5D: Last sign). Even with the PIS in place, I still had trouble making PANSY (5A: Velvety bloomer) and especially ILENE (15A: Graff of stage and screen) appear. I got ILENE confused with ILONA Massey (a mistake only a crossword solver could make), and the 7, 8, and 9D run was harrowing for me, as 8D and 9D wouldn't come, and I just guessed at 9D: It's issued by the Nippon Ginko (yen). Had to guess educatedly at 7D: Charles Laughton's role in "The Sign of the Cross" (Nero) - helped that I just taught Julius Caesar and so have Roman history on the brain - and SNIP (8D: Sassy one) is an idiomatic expression I've never heard used quite this way. I prefer [Barber shop sound] as a clue for this word.

[This just in - schools are all closed - looks like it's "Family Day In"!]

Thorny part the second: Iowa

The upper midwest felt oddly treacherous. I got through it, but felt ... well, have you ever hit a patch of ice while driving, and nothing goes terribly wrong and you come out of it just fine, but you're all pumped full of adrenalin and just grateful because things could have gone a whole lot worse? Well, that's what getting through this part (and the SE) was like, only with a little less adrenalin, probably. Thankfully FRA was a gimme (27A: Monastery title) because the two major Downs in this region, particularly the main artery CATH (25D: Like J.F.K.: Abbr.), were tough for me to get. I had CAT- and still didn't know what I was dealing with. In my mind, J.F.K. was an airport, I think, not a CATHolic person. And ROSA (28D: Monte _____, highest point in the Pennine Alps) ... well, in order to know that, I'd first have to know what the Pennine Alps are.

Thorny part the third: Florida

It takes some kind of guts to cross BETATRON (40D: Particle accelerator) and OORT (64A: Astronomy's _____ cloud), especially when you already have ORTS in the puzzle. OORT is a word I know only from crosswords, and I think I know it only from one, fairly recent crossword. If I hadn't learned the acceptability of OORT, I would have been second-guessing that initial "O" (from BETATRON), though ultimately I probably would have stuck with the "O," because as silly as OORT looks, all other vowel-ORT variations look sillier. Other problems down here include not living in Chicago (61A: Chicago's Dan _____ Expressway (Ryan)), and being a very negligent lawn-tender (50A: Lawn care tool (aerator)).

I have focused on "thorny" parts a lot today, but I should make it clear that "thorny" is a relative term, and this puzzle was not, in the end, all that tough. Pleasantly pesky, I'd say, but not hard.

The rest:

  • 37A: Knickers wearer (lad) - not in the U.K. .... I mean, probably. Unless you're a British man who's into that sort of thing.
  • 42A: Jong who wrote "Sappho's Leap" (Erica) - just write [Jong], because anything after that is irrelevant. There is only one JONG, and her name is ERICA. Clue may as well read [Jong who woke up this morning and ate cornflakes].
  • 59A: Aida and Norma, notably (opera roles) - hmmm ... not sure this holds together well as a self-standing phrase. I started to write in OPERETTAS at first (!?).
  • 43A: Woodcutter's tool (wedge) - wife had to explain to me what this means.
  • 44A: Many a turban wearer (Sikh) - something about the terminal "KH" pleases me.
  • 65A: Finishes, as cartoon artwork, with "in" (inks) - I didn't know the "in" was necessary. Actually, in comics, the person who INKS doesn't do the coloring "in" - that's for the colorist to do.
  • 2D: Sock material (orlon) - I found this baffling for about three seconds. The word wouldn't come, and then just felt wrong.
  • 4D: Buzzer on "This Old House" (power saw) - nice answer. Goes well (I think) with WEDGE, in that handy people (unlike me) would probably know how to use both of them.
  • 24D: Joe Jackson's "_____ Really Going Out With Him?" ("Is She") - love this, mostly because I love this song and most things Joe Jackson has ever done. I have a live double album by him that is probably the best live album I own besides, maybe, the recent Lucinda Williams live album, which is damn near perfect. Saw her in NYC in 2005 - best concert-going experience of my life, by far. OK, where was I? Oh, right, IS SHE was a great colloquial two-worder to complement OH HI (33D: "I didn't think you'd be here...") and TO YOU (51D: Conclusion of "Happy Birthday").
  • 52D: Eye-popping canvases (op art) - a very, very common art-related answer. If it hurts to look at or appears to be moving even though you know it's stationary, it's OP ART. Or you are high. Or both.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

Today's other puzzles:

  • LAT (C) 6:10 - Russell G. Brown: very clever theme, but man, there was some iffy / rough fill in there. Three words I've barely ever seen, but all of them very handy to know. Worth doing, especially if you are in training for the tournament.
  • NYS (C) 7:24 - Robert H. Wolfe, "End to End": not until the very very very end did I realize what the exact nature of the theme was. Hard to believe it did not dawn on me sooner, given how many times the same, rare letter appears in the puzzle. Nice clue at 36A: Pole vault unit? - my final hurdle.
  • CS (C) - 3:26 - Martin Ashwood-Smith, "Cerealization": whoops. Error. Stupid. Must calm down (any time I think I have a shot at breaking 3 minutes, I tend to spaz out).


Anonymous 8:52 AM  

I think the theme answer between soup and coop was 16a, coup.

Peter 9:00 AM  

Liked the word ladder aspect of this puzzle. I had ROPE ladder for a few minutes, trying to figure out how cots fit into that theme...

STRING TRIO and OPERA ROLES don't really excite me that much. Huge amount of fill that I've never heard of before - OORT, BETATRON, TPK, FRA, TSA, GPO, SIKH, NUIT, EPOS - had epic for a long time. I reckon I need to learn these to have any chance on these post Tuesday puzzles.

Did really enjoy UPON being clued as up on, and OH HI was great.

NYTAnonimo 9:26 AM  

Liked the way Timothy Ferris's book, THE WHOLE SHEBANG, about the cosmos and cosmology, crossed with BETATRON which crossed with OORT. Enjoyed reading that book and that was one of the first clues I got-so I was looking for an astronomy theme. Hardest area for me was the upper right corner-tried to make bean salad the side dish and had lilly instead of pansy in the upper middle section.

Bill from NJ 9:34 AM  

Finished in near record time even though I had never heard of the word OORT.

Most of the fill was part of my "common knowledge" and gave me no problem.

My courage is bolstered for the end-of-the-week puzzles (I hope}.

PuzzleGirl 9:50 AM  

Immediately after solving this puzzle, I went to bed with my recently purchased crossword book, "Will Shortz's Greatest Hits," opened it randomly and solved the April 27, 2000, puzzle which has ... this same theme. Weird.

pinky 10:19 AM  

Just goes to show you - One man's 'lively, lovely' is another's 'clunky, klutzy'

more than one word sticks in my craw...unapt, oh hi, blot, tope, epos...i won't go on.

I admit the theme was gnostic, though (see-i can pull clunky words out of the thesaurus too!)

Jim in Chicago 10:57 AM  

A thoroughly enjoyable Wednesday puzzle, with a few places one could easily go wrong (and I did).

My first problem was putting in TURK instead of SIKH, followed by FLAKE insteak of FLECK (thinking momentarily that ERICA must actually be ERIKA (sigh)) EKED for EDGE and most mysteriously of all JANETS for "James and Jackson" instead of JESSES.

These errors made my final puzzle look like sort of an ink blob.

PhillySolver 11:01 AM  

Not sure I want to dine at Ms. Gorski's house. In between SOUP and NUTS she serves CORNSALAD, COLAS for the kids and a few PINTS for the adults, some type of cold CUTS and maybe a lettuce WEDGE. I imagine no one HOARDS that which results in a large bag of ORTS. However, it all may be just ATEST.

I thought it was very clever and I enjoyed the ladder even if it was a reprise.

Oh, and if you think two Os looks odd, try these two European villages...KAANSOOOJA and SOOOTSA.

Orange 11:42 AM  

I liked OH HI because it reminded me of LOLcats.

Rex, I liked the evocation of the Joe Jackson song too, but really, partial entries (a couple words extracted from a longer phrase, for those who aren't hip to the lingo [Rex is]—like IS SHE and TO YOU) are the obnoxious drunks of the grid. They get shoved to the corner with the three-letter abbreviations, and everyone wants to know who invited them, anyway.

pomegranate 12:00 PM  

It seems like a lot of you were familiar with TOPE. I was mystified, assuming that I had some unidentifiable error in the southeast. So right after checking myself against Rex, I looked it up. It turns out one could practically write an EPOS with all the variants of TOPE (abridged from the OED):

1. An agricultural measure (of corn, etc.)
2. Small species of shark
3. Local name for the Wren
4. Grove of plantation of fruit trees (in E. Indies)
5. Ancient masonry dome to preserve relic or commemorate a fact (E. Indies)
6. To tilt, to cause to tilt, to fall asleep
7. To drink copiously and habitually
8. An exclamation used in drinking, equivalent to "I pledge you"

I immediately guessed 7 followed as an idiomatic usage of 6 (had images of sailors helping their stumbling comrades away from an exuberant shore leave of drink and song "mate, you're mighty toped"). But the OED pegs 7's first usage in 1654, origin unknown. 6's first know appearance was 1669.

Can TOPE 7 & 8's similarity to topsy (topsy-turvey, print usage 1528) be mere coincidence?

Sorry if you find this tedious or pedantic. I just needed to share my word discovery excitement.

karmasartre 12:09 PM  

Thought the ladder concept was clever and relied upon it in a couple of sticky areas.

I enjoyed reading "The Whole Shebang" by Timothy Ferris. He uses layman's terms to explain cosmology and current theories about the universe.

The ORLONs -- ''Don't Hang Up"! Oh don't choo do it.

For me, power saws operate at a decibel level where the term "buzz" no longer applies.

Time to google Dan Ryan and OORT.

Karen 12:42 PM  

Nice catch, puzzlegirl!

I thought the OORT cloud was a gimme. OPERA ROLES and and CORN SALAD seemed fairly random. I did go wrong with ILONE, and NORO looked wrong but character names can be weird sometimes.

Anonymous 1:00 PM  

seems to me that the last time "lads" wore knickers in the USA was in the 1940's. Haven't seen them since...except in old movies and in old family pictures.

PhillySolver 1:06 PM  

I found this reference to add to the triple O note above and added another tidbit I did not know.

A list of words containing double, triple, or quadruple letters had very few entries for triple-o, but the most impressive is laparohysterosalpingooophorectomy (15 syllables and 33 letters).

A triple-i is found in Wiiitis, which has been suggested as a term for shoulder pain caused by excessive playing of the new Nintendo video game Wii. (Wiiitis was described as a more specific variant of Nintendinitis, a condition first reported in 1990.)

doc John 1:44 PM  

My experience with today's puzzle pretty much agrees with everything Rex said (and then Orange's additions- esp. about TO YOU, which I didn't immediately write in because it just couldn't be right!). Lots of fun clues and new words like NUIT, EPOS, TOPE (kept thinking of "tipple"). And a pristine grid, to boot!

Nice to see YEN clued the way it was. I've been trying to learn Japanese and one of the phrases that I can remember is "Ginko a doko deska?" That means "Where is the bank?" or, literally, "Bank- where is it?" Turns out that the Japanese talk like Yoda! (To us clueless gaijin, anyway.)

The only problem with Wiiitis- that would be inflammation of the Wii. So unless you're playing video games with your nether regions...

Fave clue: [5D. Last sign]=PISCES Who knew?

Frances 1:46 PM  

ORT and OORT form a sort of word chain of their own. An astronomy website ( defines OORT as "a vast zone of leftovers from the solar system," and ORT is a much (much!!!!) smaller zone of leftovers. Even the derivations bear a family resemblance: says about ORT: "from Middle English orte, food left by animals, probably from Middle Dutch : oor, out + eten, to eat." and OORT is eponymic for a 20th century Dutch astronomer.

Anonymous 1:51 PM  

Um, I don't understand what a word ladder is? I finished the puzzle, except for the botton center (roles and cuts eluded me) and liked soup to nuts, but don't get the ladder part.
(too embarrassed to leave my name)

Rex Parker 1:58 PM  

Nothing to be embarrassed about. You change one letter as you go down the ladder, so SOUP goes to COUP, COUP goes to COOP, etc., til CUTS goes to NUTS.


jae 2:34 PM  

This was challenging for me (in that it took over twice as long as it usually takes me on Wed.) for a couple of reasons. First, I had problems in the thorny areas in the Far North and Iowa that Rex already covered. Second, I had only a vague (and partially erroneous) notion of what a word ladder is. This was complicated by doing the puzzle in Acrosslite where I was only able to see the Down clues in a list (I'm sure there is a way to view the across clues in a list, I just don't know it). That made linking the word ladder clues and figuring out what a word ladder is very time consuming. That said I thought the puzzle was quite clever and enjoyable. It helped that I knew TOPE and OORT from previous puzzle encounters.

Kalaala 2:45 PM  

I also got stuck for awhile wanting FLAKE instead of FLECK and ERIKA instead of ERICA, hence was doubting myself, like there was some other kind of shebang?
And I'd been on a roll, finishing most of the word ladder (thanks to 38A "From SOUP to NUTS") with only 2 of the fills done (ISSHE and SACRE). Even got THEWHOLESHEBANG with just the H! I'm guessing that this kind of puzzle is probably easier when working with paper and pen as I was.

Speaking of origins, for "the whole shebang" gives some insight.
I remember the phrase from the 50s-60s. Do people use it nowadays?

@Rex, I truly enjoy your blog, thanks!

Anonymous 2:53 PM  

When I saw that the cloud answer was "Oort," I let out a little chuckle, not because of the wittiness of the clue (although I like it) but because of this classic astronomy nerd joke:

Fidel Castro, Vladimir Putin, and the Oort Cloud are riding on a train. Fidel Castro pulls an expensive Cuban cigar out of his pocket, lights it, and then throws it out the window after only a few puffs. Vladimir Putin and the Oort Cloud are both surprised by this and ask "what are you doing, Fidel? That's an expensive cigar!" To which Castro responds, "in your country/post-heliopausal region perhaps, but in my country these are as cheap as dirt." Then Vladimir Putin pulls a bottle of expensive Russian vodka out of his pocket and, after a few sips, throws the bottle out the window. Fidel Castro and the Oort Cloud are both surprised and ask "what are you doing, Vladimir, that is expensive vodka!" To which Putin responds "Pah! In your country/post-heliopausal region perhaps, but in Russia this vodka is as plentiful as rainwater. The Oort Cloud considers this for a minute or two, and then throws a six-mile-wide comet out of the window which, on impact, incinerates everything within a thirty-mile radius, causes massive earthquakes and tsunamis for thousands of miles in each direction, and kicks up a cloud of dust and ash that eventually encircles the Earth wiping out nearly all forms of life in a matter of months.

rick 3:01 PM  


Took me anout twice as long also. Got hung up in the N and NE for no good reason.

I didn't see the theme until I was done because WORD was my last fill.

The heights of the clue boxes in Across Lite are adjustable. Just hold your mouse over the border until the cursor turns into a splitter.

George 3:07 PM  

I agree with Pinky above. I found the cluing and answers to this puzzle annoying at best.
Tope? Never heard of it
Nape? who uses this word
Lad? Bad!
Cots? When I think of a sleep lab, I see a glassed-off room with a fancy bed and EEGs and monitors etc., not a bunch of Army cots
Fleck? Flaky
Cornsalad? No thanks

Liked Pisces and Oh Hi, However...

chefbea 3:32 PM  

could someone please explain 41A some A.L. sluggers? what are dhs??
Thought it was a fun puzzle

jls 3:48 PM  

chefbea -- they're designated hitters.


janie -- who otherwise knows virtually *nothing* when it comes to nitty-gritty sports clues!

ramsey 4:18 PM  

It seems "toper" (one who drinks to excess) has been in puzzles before -- so I figured "tope" must be the appropriate verb.

dk 5:25 PM  

This puzzle took me a while longer as well. I share the joy found in Oh Hi.

The girl I took to the prom sat under a sunlamp for longer than one should. My dreaded sight was her red face. We made it fun by telling everyone she was embarassed to be seen with me.

Fergus 5:41 PM  

From all the discussion about Pluto's planetary status not too long ago, the OORT Cloud still shines brightly -- or casts a shodow.

Wasn't anybody else suspicious of BETATRON? I thought these partical accelerators went by names indicating their shape or, more specifically the amount of energy (or mass) they're dealing with. So what's a BETATRON doing? Well, turns out it was one of the most primitive accelerators, spewing Beta particles (lonesome electrons) at failrly low energy.

And yeah, I also remember a SOUP to NUTS theme, but was the progression also as a Word Ladder?

PuzzleGirl 6:11 PM  

@fergus: Yes, it was also a word ladder, but, other than SOUP and NUTS, it used different words than those in today's puzzle.

Rolis 7:04 PM  

Is it OK to have a clue also appear in an answer- "Salad"

Laura 7:22 PM  

This was the word ladder from Greg Staples' 4/27/2000 puzzle:

SOUP SOAP SOAR (in the 4th row)
BOAR BOAS (in the 7th row)
BIAS BINS (in the 9th row)
BUNS NUNS NUTS (in the 12th row)

This one was a more elegant ladder since it had only 5 intermediate steps, but the words couldn't be placed symmetrically, as the 4/27/2000 puzzle did. Plus, THEWHOLESHEBANG was fabulous.

I sat with NERATOR in the grid for more than a few seconds, wondering what kind of tool that was supposed to be. (NTEST vs. ATEST)

Cea 7:35 PM  

I'm with Rolis on this one. Didn't like the fact that SALAD was both a clue and part of an answer. I am not saying it's actually wrong, I just didn't like it.

And like anonymous above, I don't remember ever hearing of a word ladder, so I finished the crossword without a clue as to the theme.

mac 8:34 PM  

To me the theme was not important, since the clues were so straightforward, and not that hard. Never heard of a corn salad, why try to mess with the wonderful corn on the cob with sweet butter and coursely ground black pepper? My least favorite word was "unapt", best term "oh, hi..". I hope orlon sock have been a decent christian burial.

jae 8:37 PM  

Thanks rick -- that works, but it's not particularly obvious.

Fergus 9:29 PM  

The whole SOUP to NUTS menu seems a bit archaic, even though the expression lives on. My idea of an elaborate meal might start with a few NUTS nibbled with a glass of champagne or a cocktail. Maybe there's a good word ladder that would then go through all its replacement permutations, and finally arrive with a nice cheese plate and a glass of PORT.

Or more indulgent yet, how about starting with CAVIAR and finishing off with COGNAC, CHEVRE and CIGARS?

Rikki 12:59 AM  

I love Elizabeth Gorski puzzles. I agree with Rex - lovely and lively with the theme perfectly played out. I particularly liked rents for high in Manhattan and jet for sleek runway model. Also buzzer on This Old House.

Fergus, you're making me hungry. I'm working too hard and not eating my own cooking or toping nearly enough.

Anonymous @ 1:00... that's about the same time they stopped being called lads too, so it works.

Fergus 2:14 AM  

TOPE was a new word, if not a practice. Finally settling down to a late dinner after fussing over a poem. So I leave you with my reply to the Snow Man:

The Nothing that is still there
and the nothing that won't go away

in spite of the Narcissus in February
the quince blossoms and pink plum trees

Acacias festering their yellow allergies
and some early signs of crabapple flower.

It's still winter in parts that only get a peek
of shagged ice and freezing winds
that claim a snowy tomb

And hold no quest for the hereafter.

Catherine K 4:39 PM  

@ Anonymous 2:53 - Loved your version of that joke!

Just last week, my brother in law told the regular (and racist) version of the joke at a dinner party, and everyone laughed uproariously (too much had been toped by then I think).

Had I come out with your version, I would have been met with blank stares. Just like the time I told one of my favourite jokes, Murphy the Spy.

jpChris 3:09 PM  

"I don't solve puzzles by time, but by distance"

Anyway, I have to take two exceptions to this puzzle:

33D: There should be an underscore "before" the clue. I've never said, nor ever heard anyone say, " I didn't think you'd be here . . .", and then say "Oh, Hi"; it's always the other way around.

40D: The only "particle accelerator" I know of is a Cyclotron — as evidenced by an episode of Futurama where professor Farnsworth purchases a wooden particle accelerator from Ď€KEA, then exchanges it for a wobbly CD rack.

It's nice to know some things will never change.

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