Sunday, March 16, 2008

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: Stuff you might say if you won the lottery ... I guess

Well this was the most dreadful Monday puzzle I've done in a Looooong time. As my wife said, "I thought it was a Revolutionary War theme ... and then there was Miss Molly ... and why wasn't her name in the answer like BETSY's and GEORGE's? ..." etc. It's like two themes are trying to become one and failing, resulting in some kind of unspeakable genetic freak of a theme. Witness the inexplicable, indefensible doubling up of OH MY in OH MY STARS and OH MY WORD. Horrific. The "OH" part is completely arbitrary. MY STARS and MY WORD are self-standing. One OH MY I could have tolerated, maybe, but two? Two?? And yet, despite hating every second of my puzzling adventure, I solved it in 3:22, something close to my NYT low. I think the potential of a personal best time was the only thing keeping me interested - but I tripped in the OH MY section of OH MY STARS. Had SAN for SAO (30D: _____ Miguel, largest island of the Azores) and couldn't come up with anything where ATH belonged (31D: Part of N.C.A.A.: Abbr.) - not quickly, anyway. Yuck. Also misspelled MAHER (52D: HBO's "Real Time With Bill _____") as MAHRE (like the twin skiers), and stutter-stepped several times trying to come up with WHOOP (53D: Lottery winner's yell), which, it appears, is kind of a theme answer. Curses!

Theme answers:

  • 17A: What President Washington said upon winning the lottery? ("By George!")
  • 23A: What flagmaker Ross said ... ? ("Heavens to Betsy!")
  • 33A: What Miss Molly said ... ? ("Good golly!")
  • 42A: What Galileo said ... ? ("Oh my stars!")
  • 47A: What the Big Bad Wolf said ... ? ("Well blow me down!") - he did the blowing; he was not blown
  • 62A: What Noah Webster said ... ? ("Oh my word!")
10 Remarkable Clues / Answers
  • 1A: "I saw _____ sawing wood ..." (old tongue twister) (Esau) - my least favorite ESAU clue of all time. Plus, it's super-easy to say "I saw ESAU sawing wood..."
  • 16A: Amp toter (roadie) - love the clue and the answer - a nice bright spot in this puzzle
  • 28A: Colonial Franklin, familiarly (Ben) - again, you can see why one might have thought this puzzle had a Revolutionary War theme
  • 41A: Captain who said "Eat your pudding, Mr. Land" (Nemo) - WTF!?! I don't remember this at all. Of course, since I knew it ended in "EMO," all I really needed was [Captain] ...
  • 45A: "_____ shocked ... SHOCKED!" ("I am") - one of many desperate attempts to hide crap answers behind distracting, weird clues.
  • 2D: Request at a medical exam ("Say ah") - at least it looks interesting in the grid; first time I saw it, I had just the Y and the H - very weird looking partial fill, a lot like ...
  • 18D: Hand-wringer's words ("Oy vey") - this one I encountered with just the V and second Y in place. This phrase makes me think of "Wordplay," one of the funniest parts of which is Will Shortz reading aloud from the mail he receives. I believe there is a letter from a puzzled solver about this very expression.
  • 5D: Porch protector (screen) - wanted only AWNING, and thus lost precious seconds here as well
  • 6D: "Rock of Ages" accompaniment (organ) - threw this in on the fly, but had no idea what it was right. "Rock of Ages" is a Def Leppard song to me.
  • 33D: Commercial prefix with phone (gramo-) - [wince]! All I can say is the theme is neither strong nor consistent enough to warrant the amount of marginal fill in this puzzle. This puzzle has made me look forward to a Tuesday puzzle for perhaps the first time in my life.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


PhillySolver 10:39 PM  

I think the theme clues (which are symmetrical) are variations of a form of pun called Tom Swiftlies. There are not true Wellelrisms, but the things people might say as an interaction between the named person and the action taken. Good Golly Miss Molly being a known phrase would be an example if Molly said "Good Golly. This form of humor would not be attractive to a person disliking puns (e.g. Rex), but I spend a section in rhetoric class compiling these and I am sure many of the readers here can contribute before I start a long "I hate crustaceans, said Tom crabbily."

wendy 11:26 PM  

Sloppy and kooky to the 10th power. Same reaction on GOOD GOLLY ... Miss Molly did not say that! I did like STEADY for high school honey, though. And ROADIE for amp toter.

SATBY drove me insane until I ESAU that it was SAT BY. And GRAMOphone? Isn't that a tad bit long in the tooth to be clued as a commercial name?

Love the Winsor McKay ... just got the Master Edition DVD from netflix.

jae 11:30 PM  

philly -- thanks for the elucidation, it helps anchor the theme. I also had SAN and lost time thinking the wolf was Red Riding Hood not the 3 little pigs. I didn't hate this one but thought it was sorta meh.

Anonymous 11:57 PM  

"Right said, Fred," said Right Said Fred.

John Reid 12:25 AM  

This puzzle's theme seemed a little strange - lacking in uniformity, like it didn't quite know where it was trying to go. I was confused when I hit the Miss Molly clue after solving the George and Betsy ones, because I thought I needed to find her name to put in the grid, and I had no idea who she was! Well, it was still fun!

Was the 15A clue also tied in? It seemed to pair well with 53D in particular.

I did like SAYAH, but I didn't like the clue for IAM.

It was a good quick solve though - 3:47 on Across Lite. See you all tomorrow!

Anonymous 3:26 AM  

No St. Paddy's theme this year? Guess solvers will have to do the Sun puzzle.

Rikki 5:56 AM  

Hi all... I'm posting from London where I've slacked off and missed most of last week's puzzles. I'll catch up on the plane home mid-week. Sorry to hear you were ill, Rex. I trust you're back on your game. This was an easy puzzle, but I must agree that the theme was awkward. It seemed to shift mid-puzzle from sayings someone might say that have their name in them to sayings that have something to do with them vis a vis their notoriety. Then Molly's just hanging out there saying something that rhymes with her name. It just doesn't hang together, though otherwise it was typically Mondayish. Happy St. Patty's Day. The revelers were out in full force in the UK!

jannieb 8:12 AM  

Totally agree - a clunky mess of a Monday. Was zooming along with the "theme" clues until I hit Galileo and wasted a ton of time trying to remember his first name and then use it in some trite phrase. Not a great way to start a week, sure and begorrah!

jannieb 9:07 AM  

Not that it matters, but I did just realize that Galileo IS his first name. So much for conformity of theme!

Anonymous 9:20 AM  

'Well, blow me down'
is Popeye's comment
Not the Big Bad Wolf's

Jim in Chicago 9:54 AM  

I feel much better after reading Rex this morning. I thought I was just having a very bad morning.

This puzzle just stinks. Wrap up yesterdays fish in it, and out it goes.

Most of my problems have already been expressed, so I'll just add a couple. While "Rock of Ages" is certainly a hymn (well worn, but still a hymn) and could very well be accompanied by an organ, it could also be accompanied by hundreds of other devices, including a Kazoo. Bad cluing.

While professors certainly "seek" tenure, the way the clue is written makes it sound like it is their one and only goal. Many of us would like to think that we're all about education - right, Rex?

Lastly, the Lottery clue is just stupid. I don't think anyone say's "whoop" in any case, and again there is nothing about a lottery, in particular, that makes one want to yell "whoop".

Oh - one more. The sod IS the lawn, not the base. That would be, um, DIRT!

Ulrich 10:44 AM  

I agree with the comments on the theme. What puzzles me is this: I heard twice at the ACPT that Shortz has a backlog of early-week puzzles--so why did he select this one?

The theme answers broadly show the 50/50 division Orange mentioned before: 3 seem to be governed by the names of people, and 3 by the things people do. But there are inconsistencies within each of these groups bc. each has an outlier. After reading up on the Big Bad Wolf and learning about his habit of blowing houses down, the last in the "action group" can also be seen as self-referential in a way that strikes me as funny.

But still, is this all there is to it?

wade 10:49 AM  

"Bring the prisoner downstairs," Tom said condescendingly.

"I'm very clumsy with chainsaws," said Tom offhandedly.

Anonymous 11:05 AM  

Boy, talk of gloomy Gus, you people are a busload of 'em!

puzzlemensch 11:06 AM  

34D: ROW as a clue for OAR? I don't think so. "Bye dear. I'm going out for an oar on the river. See ya later."

Orange 11:16 AM  

I thought it was kinda fun and liked the inclusion of six theme entries, but noted the double OH MY and the reverse-blowing of the Big Bad Wolf. But then, after I finished it late last night, I didn't have to think critically. I could just get ready for bed thanks to a guest blogger.

Pete M 12:16 PM  

What the vacuum cleaner salesman said after losing the lottery...

Joon 12:19 PM  

"that puzzle was highly unsatisfactory," said tom crossly.

Kate 12:28 PM  

"Whoop?" Oh my.

Anonymous 1:09 PM  

"I dropped the toothpaste" said Tom, crestfallen.

Rex Parker 1:12 PM  

Ugh. At least keep them puzzle-related ...

Joon 1:36 PM  


OAR is also a verb, meaning to propel with an OAR. in other words, to row. check it out.

it's not exactly sparkling as clues go, but it's perfectly acceptable.

karmasartre 1:39 PM  

Didn't mind it at all (for a Monday). It had a nice old-time feel. It doesn't bother me when themes aren't completely parallel or symmetrical or consistent: it's more challenging if they're not, and I've spent many an hour in meditation doing battle with the perfectionism devil.

My issue is the time-honored tradition of easy Monday through difficult Saturday. After that initial blush of hubris leading to the purchase of a stop-watch, I have established and re-established that I'm in the three-to-four times Orange range in speed, and I am reaching the point, again, where M, T, and W are losing their interest for me. I don't bother with the time challenge any longer. I do look forward to the NY Sun early-week, as I find it 10% more challenging. But (Warning: dead horse ahead) what I really would like is two Times puzzles per day: one of MTW difficulty, one of ThFS difficulty level. Something for everyone, and two things for many puzzlers. I had this e-discussion with Orange at some point, I think I remember her preferring Thursdays and Saturdays: everyone might have their own preference. But the point is to have something challenging to tackle all week. I know there are other sources, I'm just describing my ideal puzzle scenario (which would include a diagramless every Sunday).

Thanks to everyone for the Tom Swifties.

Skylaar 1:41 PM  

Captain Nemo and Mr. Land are from Jules Verne's Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, not Little Nemo in Slumberland. This puzzle was wretchedly easy though.

Fergus 1:42 PM  

Well, I liked the STEADY underneath the TREMOR ...

Fergus 1:46 PM  

Further to Karmasartre's comment, it does seem like many of the other puzzles follow the NYT escalation through the week. I don't do enough other puzzles to know for sure, but perhaps some other papers might consider altering their difficulty gradation sequence?

Hobbyist 1:47 PM  

Oh my word! I thought puzzle had to do w U.S. historical people-Betsy Ross, Molly Pitcher, George Washington and had visions of a blowing flag. My stars, guess we all see things of a different stripe!

humorlesstwit 1:50 PM  

Is a wart really a blemish to a witch? I thought they were de rigeur, maybe even beauty marks.

Rex Parker 1:54 PM  

FYI, I know my Nemos. I put up pics that are unrelated to the puzzle answers (or related in name only) all the time. It's a jokey thing that not everyone gets (or appreciates).


Doris 2:18 PM  

I'm sure many of you, maybe also Rex, know the source of the beloved expression, "I'm shocked, SHOCKED!" It was Claude Rains as Capt. Renault in "Casablanca." But nobody actually Mentioned it. How come? It's up there with "Round up the usual suspects," etc. The puzzle started out looking like fun, but I, too, was disturbed by two "Oh my"s even though I'm not as annoyed with the whole thing as many other posters seem to be.

Doris 2:20 PM  

Whoop(s)! I mean "I AM" shocked, of course. I don't remember if Rains says "I'm" or "I am." Probably the latter, but when I use it, I always say "I'm."

SethG 2:31 PM  

Doris, it seems like he says the former, and you're using it correctly.

This took me almost twice as long as my usual Monday.

miriam b 3:09 PM  

I agree with the rest of the gloomy Guses. My reaction after having sailed through this one was, "Why did I bother?" It was clumsily constructed, and no challenge at all.

"Even a female dog could have solved that puzzle," said Tom bitchily.

doc John 3:20 PM  

I do pretty much agree with what's been said but I, of course, have to add my 2¢:

I also thought the puzzle was clunky with its strange cluing and two OH MYs. That said, the "BLOW ME DOWN" thing didn't bother me as much as everyone else. True, the wolf did the blowing but raise your hand if you really had a problem figuring out the answer. The clue led you to the answer because we all associate the wolf with blowing. (Actually, I associate the Big Bad Wolf with a rollercoaster in Virginia but then again, I'm weird.) Pretty hard to clue this one without either being obvious ("what Popeye says") or being off-theme ("what the straw house said"). Hope I haven't been too much of a BLOWhard!

Jessica LANGE? Jessica Tandy? Both have that AN in the middle. Fortunately, I picked LANGE on the first go-round. I still didn't end up with a pristine grid, though, thanks to "sat in" instead of SAT BY.

Fave fill: OY VEY, of course!

Anonymous 5:27 PM  

Not to be off color/message but could this be the first time the expression "blow me" has appeared in the NYT puzzle? I guess it is all in how it is used.

Reminds me of a personal ad I wrote for a friend on mine. (It was rejected so here it appears fore the first time):

"WELL BLOW ME DOWN! Sailor on shore leave seeks able-bodied shipmate for a mid-night cruse... Anchors aweigh, full steam a head."

dk 6:33 PM  

"Was that a tremor," Tom said shakily.

Leon 7:12 PM  

Vol. 2 of the Popeye DVD set is Well Blow Me Down.

Blow Me Down is also a song from the Altman movie Popeye.

Blow The Man Down is a staple in Sea Shanties for Knocking a Sailor down. It is the tune for SpongeBob SquarePants.


: Come all ye young fellows that follow the sea,
: to my way haye, blow the man down,
: And pray pay attention and listen to me,
: Give me some time to blow the man down.

Cea 8:02 PM  

Confused themes, and no real fun to this one. Apart from the fact the Esau clue was all mixed up for me. The version I know goes like this:

"I saw Esau sitting on a seesaw. How many esses in that?"

The answer -- none. (t - h - a - t)

Samter Petuel 8:09 PM  

Hey Rex,
Just noticed how far you moved up after the latest puzzle tournament.
166th to 55th! Congrats!!

Anonymous 8:31 PM  

Easy, easy, and no unfair clues.

PuzzleGirl 9:13 PM  

Didn't love it, but didn't hate it as much as some others apparently did. Probably because I just didn't think about it much. Now that you all mention it ... yeah, there was plenty wrong with it. At the time it just didn't seem so bad.

doc john: I put in Jessica TANDY at first even though Jessica LANGE might be my favorite actress of all time. Anybody seen "Frances"? I haven't seen it in a hundred years, but I might go rent it tomorrow. It's a sad, disturbing story, but (and?) she's awesome.

And, Rex, I always get a kick out of the "wrong" pictures you post.

ryanfacestheworld 9:27 PM  

Not the first time (and doubtfully the last) that I needed to head over here to figure out a) if there was a theme and b) what the heck the theme was.

Glad to see I'm not the only one who was a bit confused.

Doug 10:51 PM  

Get the MAHER podcast free from iTunes or HBO. If you don't already watch it, it's a hoot even with audio only. And much better since the writer's strike ended.

"Hillary Clinton shouldn't criticize Barack Obama for using someone else's lines. Just last week she used one that came right from Bill Clinton. Who got it from JFK, who got it from FDR, who got it from Lincoln, who got it from John McCain."

"Mike Huckabee finally dropped out and joined McCain. You've got a guy who doesn't believe in evolution, with a guy who was there to see it."

"Raul Castro won 99% of the elderly vote, 99% of the young female vote, and most importantly 99% of the Latino vote."

andrea carla michaels 5:22 PM  

Two OHMYs should never have flown, and mixing George Washington and Betsy...and then switching midstream was well as the wolf thing and on and on.
I too hated this puzzle on every level...
AND I was jealous it got in when so many of mine are rejected if even the slightest thing does jibe.

Normally I want to feel, "Aha! this is so clever, no wonder he rejects 9 out of 10 of my ideas...I wish I could think like (Manny/insert clever constructor's name here) but this was just awful.

However, it DID have six themes! And of course, as (self-proclaimed) Queen of the Threes", I thought "uh oh, maybe now SIX is the new three!"
Thank god for you, Rex, I thought I was being an envious, poor sport, bitter twit, till I read and agreed word for word everything you said!

Baltimoron 2:31 PM  

Six weeks later...

I thought the theme was sketchy as well. I said to my husband, "I can't wait to read the crossword blog about this one." As a six-week-later solver, I feel as though I've missed the commenting party, but at least I have plenty to read once I get here.

Rex Parker 2:54 PM  


About coming late to the party - I am considering creating a parallel blog universe where you all (the legions of you doing the puzzle in syndication) can get the blog fresh, with a clean comments area, so that you can have a discussion without feeling like you're walking among the picked-over bones of the puzzle ... I wonder, if I did that, would 6-weeks-ago people comment more often? I hope so. If the puzzle's new to you, the discussion should feel new to you too.


Baltimoron 4:01 PM  

I think it's an excellent idea. I do see the occasional six-week-later comment in which the commenter says something to the effect of, "Well, nobody's reading this anymore." But yes, we are! It's also true that my thoughts on the puzzle have already been addressed in the comments.

Excellent blog. I think I googled "NYT Crossword" about six or eight months ago and found it. I've been reading daily ever since.

LoneStar (formerly 6 Weeks later cathy) 5:06 PM  

I solved my syndication comment problem by signing up for an online subscription to the puzzle. Now I am in transition and doing both the current and the old one each day until I catch up.

LoneStar (formerly 6 Weeks later cathy) 5:06 PM  

I solved my syndication comment problem by signing up for an online subscription to the puzzle. Now I am in transition and doing both the current and the old one each day until I catch up.

Jet City Gambler 5:51 PM  

LoneStar, I think I'm going to have to do the same thing. Here I was happily doing the crossword in syndication for many years, until someone sent me a link to Rex's blog ... I think there are many other NYT puzzle subscribers who got there via Rex.

I'm looking forward to having six weeks of puzzles to do though, especially the Fri/Sat ones.

As for this puzzle, I don't think it was up to the NYT standards. 42 black squares, you rarely see more than 38 in a NYT grid. Pretty ugly grid, too.

I could see a theme based on "exclamations with names" (like BY GEORGE or FOR PETES SAKE or WHO SHOT JOHN) but the bottom three theme answers were jarring in how off they were from the first three.

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