Saturday, March 8, 2008

Relative difficulty: 1/4 Challenging, 3/4 Easy

THEME: none

I've been asked many times if I finish every puzzle - am I able to complete all of them? No, not always, but the vast majority of the time yes. Today is a good example of one of those rare days where I got stuck and never got unstuck. In fact, I must admit, virtually the entire NW remained wide open until I looked up 1D: Prolific suspense novelist Woods (Stuart) - by the way, if you Google [suspense novelist woods], he doesn't show up on the first page of results til near the bottom. Sadly, though, even looking this up didn't help. The problem was a combination of

a. my ignorance (this is a constant, and always a factor)
b. obscurities
c. crossing Broadway clues
d. horrible, horrible cluing

Worst mistake, and this one is all mine - I had COAL BARONS for RAIL BARONS (10D: Cornelius Vanderbilt and Jay Gould). Not only that, when I thought COAL might be wrong, I Couldn't Imagine A Right Answer. I thought SOIL, but only 'cause it rhymes with OIL. So that was a huge problem. Then there's PONGEE (2D: Soft, thin silk cloth), which immediately skyrockets to somewhere near the top of the ugliest words I know. Never heard of it. Then the Broadway ... OK, here's the thing. I get it. You love NY and imagine that Broadway is important. Many of you crossword types live there and even work in the industry. Good for you. I'm sure you enjoy your insiders' knowledge, as we all enjoy our pet expertises. But for god's sake - two in one quadrant!? And intersecting, at that? That's too much cute insidery NY bull@#$# for me. There is literally no part of 15A: Song sung by Mehitabel in Broadway's "Shinbone Alley" ("Toujours Gai") that I understand. Not the character, not the show title, not the song, nothing. I ended up with "TOUJOURS MAI" and thought AMT a pretty sorry answer for 9D: Insurance fig. (Agt.). Patti LUPONE I've at least heard of (3D: 2006 Tony-nominated "Sweeney Todd" actress).

Bad clues:

  • 23A: Nickelodeon nut (Ren) - I had REN at one point and thought, "No Way ... that show hasn't been on in over 10 years and that clue is way too vague to describe a character from a Long Defunct animated show." Now that I look at it, if I'd put REN in and kept AGO (19A: Since) in place, I probably would have gotten both STUART (1D) and LUPONE (3D). But that didn't happen. I kept wanting STUART to be ROBERT and then AGO became ERE (!?), etc.
  • 17A: Traitorous (unpatriotic) - not loving your country is not "traitorous." This is idiotic. "Traitorous" implies active, serious betrayal, where UNPATRIOTIC implies a more general state. Plus, "traitor" implies underhandedness, where UNPATRIOTIC ... could be very open, and is usually used as a blanket term to describe everyday beliefs or stances ("not supporting the troops," say). Further, "traitorous" can be used in a number of situations, where UNPATRIOTIC is specifically country- (patria) oriented. These words are clearly related, but not nearly enough to be a decent clue/answer pairing. If someone was actually a traitor to this or any country, UNPATRIOTIC would be a laughable euphemism.
  • 20A: Algorithm component (step) - all kinds of ugh. Billions of things (well, lots, anyway) have STEPs. Massive anticlimax here.
  • 8D: Sports biggies (US Opens) - my most hated of today's clues. I don't know where to begin. "Sports"? Do you mean golf? Tennis? Both? When would you speak of the US OPEN in the plural (!?!) unless you were being sports-specific, i.e. "Tiger Woods has won two U.S. OPENS." I had the -ENS here and Killed myself thinking of every potential plural in the sports world (well, not Every one, apparently). Hateful horrible hatefulness. A "biggie" also really wants to be a person more than it wants to be a (rarely pluralized) event.

The rest of this puzzle was pretty easy - yet another problem with the puzzle, in my eyes: unevenness.

Quick list:

  • 1A: Big flap on the road? (splash guard) - despite my having huge trouble getting it, I love it.
  • 12A: Yearbook div. (srs.) - gimme! Things were going so well when I got this. I laid down AJA (4D: 1977 Steely Dan title track) and then this one, SRS. Then nothing happened. Then I found the BEAGLE (48D: Charles Darwin's ship H.M.S. _____), and the ball got rolling quickly from there.
  • 21A: Forgoes a cab, say (legs it) - beautiful colloquial phrase. Wanted HOOFS IT, but it didn't fit.
  • 24A: Rijksmuseum subject (Rembrandt) - had most of this in place before I ever saw the clue.
  • 30A: Poetry Out Loud contest org. (NEA) - educated guess. Got it straight off.
  • 33A: Est., once (SSR) - tricky! "Est." = Estonia.
  • 41A: Abba's "_____ the Music Speak" ("I Let") - ick. This is really dredging the bottom of the Abba barrel here...
  • 45A: Sponsoring publication of TV's "Project Runway" (Elle) - had no idea, but fashion publication in four letters ... yeah, that's a gimme.
  • 54A: Host and winner of the 1966 World Cup (Eng.) - had ECU, then changed it.
  • 55A: With 59-Across, it lasted from about 3500 to 1000 B.C. (Bronze / Age) - see, easy. This is what I mean - compare this (where you can at the very least infer the AGE part) to the NW corner. Miles apart in difficulty level, and this clue gives you openings in two separate parts of the puzzle.
  • 56A: Defeater of Schmeling in 1933 (Baer) - not hard. As crossword boxers go, this one's just behind ALI.
  • 61A: Dedicatee of "The Muppet Movie" (Edgar Bergen) - my only proud moment, not because I knew it (I didn't), but because I was able to guess it off the initial "E" and final "GEN." I don't get proud for knowing stuff - I get proud for figuring out crap I have no business getting.
  • 65A: Dish with coddled egg (caesar salad) - after I took out CREME BRULEE, this one fell pretty quickly.
  • 66A: _____-Mere-Eglise (D-Day town) (Ste) - gimme. Never heard of it, but come on. It's French ... even one cross should have tipped you off here.
  • 7D: member of the 1960s Rams' Fearsome Foursome (Grier) - sadly, I couldn't come up with this. I know very well who Rosey GRIER is - my memories of him involve ... well, THIS. I can't listen to this without feeling unadulterated happiness, a la a 5 year old, which is what I was when "Free to Be You and Me" first appeared.
  • 27D: Bizarrely hellish (Dantean) - describes my NW experience aptly. By the way, DANTESQUE is the preferred adjective. At least it's my preferred adjective.
  • 5D: They're often fried (sots) - yeah, that's good. I wanted only EGGS. Then WITS.
  • 29D: Mardi Gras, in the U.K. (Pancake Day) - Unimaginative, but Delicious name.
  • 28D: Aussie's place of higher learning (Uni) - being married to Kiwi helps sometimes. This was a gimme.
  • 12D: Dangerous swimmer with an oar-like tail (sea snake) - sounds mythical. Don't these have a more specific name?
  • 37D: "Born to be Blue" singer (Mel Torme) - The Velvet Fog! Had -ORME in place and knew the answer even before reading the clue.
  • 40D: Lead-in to a sheepish excuse (see...) - I'm ambivalent on this. Love/Hate.
  • 52D: Language in which "k" and "v" are the words for "to" and "in" (Czech) - when you have the "Z" in place (see BRONZE AGE), this one is no trouble at all.
  • 53D: Kitchen gripper (saran) - took me a few moments. Wanted a device (a vise, an opener), not a wrap.
  • 57D: It rises in the Cantabrian Mountains (Ebro) - crosswordesey! Forced me to change CREME BRULEE to CAESAR SALAD. EBRO may be my favorite crossword river, despite its ubiquitousness.
  • 67A: Order of ants (hymenoptera) - whoa! No idea, but, as this part of the puzzle was well constructed, I could piece it together from crosses.

The End.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Anonymous 9:11 AM  

I had to Google half of dozen of these to break it loose. Never heard of Stuart Woods, don't know any Shinbone Alley tunes, never heard of pongee, didn't know about sea snake, and can't ever get any sports clues. I can't even remember which one is Ott and which one is Orr, though apparently they are the answer to every three-letter sports clue, so that helps. And a language whose second letter is "z" makes me think "Aztec" -- though come to think of it, I suppose it didn't use an alphabet I would recognize.

Anonymous 9:12 AM  

I'm sure you'll get a gazillion explanations for Toujours gai so I'll let those with a way with words do the honors. Surprisingly, not a bad puzzle for me.

Whitey's mom

Rex Parker 9:17 AM  

I should have been clearer - I know what TOUJOURS GAI means, literally (seven years of French helped with that). I just have no idea what it's about, why it's in French in a show with the exceedingly English title "Shinbone Alley," etc.

And good for you on knocking this one out, W's Mom. It's possible I'm the only one who found the NW a bear. I have idiosyncratic (and shifting) blind spots.


PhillySolver 9:19 AM  

I couldn't finish this last night and not because of the NW. "Always Happy" in French came to me from knowing the phrase, not the song. I may go to You Tube, but may not in protest. I even guessed USOPENS early. I went wrong by having FSU and EUR not knowing SKEE ball, failing to think of tribal conflict in the Dark Ages of Europe for GAULS and remain convinced I never heard someone say I am going to LEGIT. (Hoof it, for me) I didn't like the ant variety even though I got it from downs because it isn't something I have ever had a conversation about. I also do not know LIMNING and had to go through the alphabet 3 times to settle on DANTEAN as it isn't something I know either. So, I would say, I didn't know a number of things and maybe I learned them, but I did not enjoy the puzzle very much. However, if I did learn something and I get a chance to reflect on it, I might find it grows on me. SKEE you later.

Karen 9:19 AM  

Awful puzzle for me, both the NW and the SE sections. And the NE. But now I know a little more about the European Economic Community (started in 1958!)and ANA Ivanovic (um, she's tall). That cross of ANA and UNI is nasty.

Speaking of nasty, I had fried TOTS there for a while, like the taters. SEAFLUKES lasted way too long.

wendy 9:21 AM  

Speaking of REMBRANDT, the Onion's AV Club blog has a Rembrandt-ized portrait of Homer Simpson. Check it out!

My primary memory of Rosey GRIER is not sports-related. He was a bodyguard for Bobby Kennedy when the latter was running for President in 1968. The night Bobby was assassinated, Grier was guarding Ethel Kennedy, who was pregnant, but he was close enough to grab the gun from Sirhan Sirhan, break his arm, but also fend off the mad throng who looked like they might cause more violence. A real hero in what is for me one of the saddest chapters in modern American history.

One thing I enjoy about these puzzles is when the same clue appears more than once. More often than not, I see the repeated clue after I've already filled in the first answer, and invariably ask myself, didn't I already fill that in? Gets me every time.

Bill from fl 9:21 AM  

I haven't read any Stuart Woods, but I knew the name from browsing in Borders. From there, "unpatriotic" was a big help, although it's not really synonymous for traitorous. My wife, just back from a visit to the UK, gave me "pancake day," which helped me fill "attackers," then "czech."
I agree about Dantesque, because I remember the "Dantesque levels of meaning" from my Milton class in college, many moons ago.
Overall, hard, but not really that clever. My biggest laugh was for "SSR."

johnson 9:30 AM  

NW was last to fall, for many of the exact same guesses as you, Rex.

My puzle was full, full, full, empty.

I was upset with two sport clues adjacent in the NW (Grier and USOpens) as that tends to be my blind spot. I also was married to COALbarons.

Finally, i battled it out, no googles, to find out here that ToujoursMai was incorrect. At least i'm in good company!

Great weekend to all.

Ephraim 9:32 AM  

Like you, I was totally stuck on the NW. Like you, I googled "suspense novelist woods". Unlike you, I found the fourth hit (the first relevant one) was your blog! Google should hold up on indexing those spoilers. But I knew it would be a spoiler, trekked on to find STUART Woods, and everything came together. My only self-made obstacle was having ESTimate for insurance figure instead of AGenT.

BTW, my puzzle pointers page gets a steady stream of referrals from your blog. You're a popular guy, Rex.

Crosscan 9:35 AM  

I had the same experience as you. Sailed through most of it, and left with a giant blank white space in the NW. Couldn't find a way in. I got RAILBARONS but that was no help.

PhillySolver 9:44 AM  

On a more fun note, I toured Normandy for the 50th Anniversary of D-Day and went through Ste Mèrie-église. They have a replica parachute draped on the small church steeple to commemorate the paratrooper who landed there and became entangled on the roof. I loved the friendliness of the towns along the coast. The citizens loved the Americans who liberated their villages.

I was in Liberal, Kansas once when they had their annual race by housewives running around the town square flipping a PANCAKE in competition with a town in England (Liverpool, I think). That was how I got PANCAKEDAY.

Kathy 9:44 AM  

I feel better that others had the same difficulty I did--Karen, I was with you on the NW and SE. And thank you, Rex, for your Broadway rant--Toujour Gai????! It's sad when you google everything you can and still can't finish the damn puzzle.

[Feelings of abject failure....]


Chris Zammarelli 9:47 AM  

Shinbone Alley is a really obscure Broadway musical, co-written by Mel Brooks. It ran for under 50 shows in the 50s. Now, I know that, but I'd be damned if I would know ANY of the songs from the show.

Alex 9:48 AM  

The NW was my really bad spot but a wrong answer lead me down a very bad path when I started to Google.

For Steely Dan I had put in "Peg" not "Aja." Though Peg is on the Aja album, it was not the title track. But I've never owned a Steely Dan album so I don't know what they're named.

I knew STUART Woods and based on REN (I too couldn't believe such a vague clue but it was the only three letter Nickelodeon character I could think of) I guess LUPONE.

So that was it for the NW. The first thing I decided to Google was the Shinbone Alley song and the letters I had were:


Guess what? There's another song in Shinbone Alley that fits those letters: TRUE ROMANCE

Needless to say, the three letter fit rendered its correctness unassailable. Finally I decided ----BARONS had to be rail barons and that triggered another round of Googling up there which fixed AJA and then I got through it.

The more amusing mistake on my part was for "Rijksmuseum subject." I habe R--BR---- and for some reasons the only thing that came to mind was RYE BREADS. I was so desparate at the time that I actually convinced myself it was reasonable for the Dutch to have a national museum dedicated to rye bread.

Otherwise, I'd like to thank the South for being easy so that I didn't have to start Googling with a near empty grid.

rick 9:49 AM  

The whole north gave me fits although I did finish unlike yesterday.

Stuart Woods is one of the authors I pick up as soon as a new book of his comes out. Usually a light and fun read.

barrywep 9:58 AM  

Traitorous for UNPATRIOTIC must be an example of the NYT trying to get some cred with the right wing after their recent beatdown over McCain-gate..

Orange 9:58 AM  

Rex, amen on the traitorous/unpatriotic discussion (refusing to say the Pledge for principled reasons, or being disappointed in your government, is not treason!) and the TOUJOURS grumble.

Wendy, thanks for the info on Rosey GRIER's history—I never knew! It was good to see that Brett Favre learned Rosey's lesson, that it's all right to cry.

So glad I didn't think of COAL BARONS—at least OIL and STEEL wouldn't fit so I couldn't put those down.

My husband's college band had a Stuart Wood, which is the only reason the name Stuart Woods got into my head at all.

I hear the performance fabric the top table tennis players wear is ping-pongee.

DONALD 10:05 AM  

Eartha Kitt, who sang Toujours Gai (actually called the song of mehitabel)fostered a persona as a sex kitten, and still does ("Santa Baby, climb down my chimney tonight") at a very ripe old age! Agree on the obscureness, and am not fond of Patti LuPone -- TOUJOURSGAI is merely a nasty jumble of letters for a sadistic Saturday stumper. Incidentally, today was one of your very best rants!

Partial lyrics:

"do you think that i would change
my present freedom to range
for a castle or moated grange
wotthehell wotthehell
cage me and i d go frantic
my life is so romantic
capricious and corybantic
and i m toujours gai toujours gai

i know that i am bound
for a journey down the sound
in the midst of a refuse mound
but wotthehell wotthehell
oh i should worry and fret
death and i will coquette
there s a dance in the old dame yet
toujours gai toujours gai"

Eartha Kitt is 81 and appeared on Broadway just last year.

There is life in the old dame yet!

Anonymous 10:10 AM  

Though the musical "Shinbone Alley" wasn't a biggie, it instantly cued the author/columnist Don Marquis, who wrote about "archie and mehitabel." Archie was the famous cockroach who typed one key at a time, and famous to people alive in the '20s through '40s (and even now). Mehitabel the cat's slogan was "toujours gai." But why am I telling you this when you can read all about it here:


Anonymous 10:12 AM  

Odd finish to the week - I thought Thursday was harder than Friday, Friday harder than Saturday. Only google's for the week were for shinbone and the tennis player.

Nice to see that picture of the Binghamton bus station. I met my wife at SUNY when she was an MA student there. Is that your employer, or are you at Tech? Publishing as anonymous as I am having trouble with this whole blogging thing - previously published as IMSDAVE

Rex Parker 10:20 AM  


I'm at SUNY.

Glad the week got easier for you. I was fresh off the high of solving both yesterday's NY Sun Puzzle and last week's Newsday Saturday Stumper without pulling a muscle, and then ... this. This!

Let me know what your trouble is with posting non-anonymously (privately) and I'll see if I can help.

Dan 10:57 AM  

No argument from me, as a Broadway nut - TOUJOURS GAI is way, way obscure. (LUPONE, of course, a gimme.) The only way I could finish the NW was guessing logical first names for Mr. Woods off of ---A-T. Finally came SPLASHGUARD, which erased my erroneous COALBARONS.

I earlier had OLSEN for GRIER - seems that each of the Ram's Fearsome Foursome had a five-letter surname!

Didn't like the USOPENS clue, but in retrospect I think it's fair.

Anonymous 11:03 AM  

Isn't there also a tennis US Open? Every time one of these puzzles clues a US Open winner, I consider both golf and tennis. That would allow a plural. But it's still pretty lame.

I've never commented before - Don't know how to insert my identity. I'm Gramere - just an old lady, still doing puzzles.

Lex Luthor 11:11 AM  

Apparently this commenting business is counter-intuitive for some. You have a list of options under "Choose an identity" (look ... right down there at the bottom of this pop-up window). So choose Name/URL. You don't actually have to have a URL. You can just give yourself a name.

I'm doing it now, for this comment only...


Joaneee 11:15 AM  

What he said. Excellent unpatriotic rant. Hated that! Had to google a lot in the NW in order to finish. Didn't really like Rijksmuseum subject as a clue for Rembrandt - thinking a subject in the world of painting is what is being depicted, not who is depicting it.

Rex Parker 11:29 AM  

Just torched today's LAT, so I feel a little bit better. I really really don't like not being able to finish a puzzle. It's true that I gave in on the NYT more quickly than I would have because of the time pressure (must ... write blog post ...), but still.


Anonymous 11:39 AM  

I was stopped at the NW Broadway intersection of LUPONE and TOUJOURSGAI and was thinking, "Rex is going to hate this!" And, yes.

arnie 11:40 AM  

Your candid admission to defeat today absolutely delighted me. Not because I wanted to see the 55th greatest crash and burn, but because it made me feel better about my own puzzle solving expertise.

I have avidly been doing these puzzles for many, many years (decades?) now, and I am still struggling w/ Saturdays. (I probably average 3 out of 8 that I dont need to google something to get unstuck).

I have to admit that there is a certain ego thrill that I get when someone chances to look over my shoulder and say "whoa! You do the NY Times puzzle? In ink?" (doing it in ink is my personal challenge, can't hide your mistakes that way) So I used to go around feeling pretty smug about it until I discovered this blog about six months ago.

Reading the comments here, as well as your humorous puzzle analysis, has humbled me greatly. Sometimes I feel like an unworthy mortal sneeking into the halls of the Aesir hoping I'll acquire some of your powers by being in your presence.
So thanks for allowing me to see the "fallability" of the Gods and, therin,re-bolstering my ego.

GK 11:43 AM  

The SE was nicely constructed. At 52 down I had -ZE-- and filled in AZERI, a real language. But the correct answer CZECH is a wonderful entry! According to xwordinfo, it has appeared in NYT four times since 1997.

Southamptoner 11:53 AM  

I wanted "people in a rush" to be something fraternity-related. I guess ATTACKERS are in a hurry in any context, but there's something off about this.

"I'm assaulting this person, but boy i'd better hurry -don't want to miss American Idol!"

Judgesully 12:05 PM  

The NW was a (rhymes with witch...), but doable. My unhappiness came with the TN/NC section. "Est." as Estonia? C'mon! Threw me off for so long! I wanted "meld" instead of "mesh." That gave me "dostess?" and "slr?" Vert uneven puzzle, but they're all fun in the long run. As long as I try, it's worth the battle.

Anonymous 12:09 PM  

Don Marquis' "Archy and Mehitabel" columns were delightfully witty and insightful (see "The Lesson of the Moth") and have been collected in a few books. Anyone who loves language, as crossworders generally do, would luxuriate in these books. They are well known to many -- such as myself -- who were not alive when they first appeared. And they -- not the obscure musical -- were the true source of the clue. Indeed I first learned of the musical from the puzzle. But nonetheless, "Toujours Gai" was my first entry, because, as anyone familiar with original stories knows, the answer had to be part of "wotthehell, toujours gai i always say, and the devil's to pay." By the way, Archie was a poet who had been reincarnated as a cockroach as a penalty for writing vers libre -- a nice connection to 30 Across.

As long as I'm here, I may as well ask why you have recently added a clue to the headline of your blog each day. It doesn't seem to draw any special comment in your post. I apologize if you explained this before and I missed it.

Finally, since you confessed E/W confusion yesterday, I thought I would mention that I have the same problem -- a reference to the NW portion is harder for me than one to the upper left (or should that be "right"?). I have other much more embarrassing geographical issues as well -- when people refer to the "Idaho" portion (for example), I have no idea what they mean. Oh well, toujours gai, I always say.


Bill D 12:11 PM  

Blazed through the south and slogged through the north to get this one done. Divined TEED UP, crossless, early and then saw how wrong I could have been when IN GEAR turned up - sometimes the crossword gods are smiling! As for the "Z" language being a gimme for CZECH, try AZTEC or UZBEK (I did!) Refused to abandon SKEE, which turned out to be a good choice. Tried to think of Vandals' historical enemy, couldn't, and eventually put in WALL. This wasn't a total loss as it gave me SEA SNAKE and SCUTTLES (which had a surprisingly direct clue, unlike UNPATRIOTIC.) Put in and took out STEP about a dozen times, and cycled through COAL, LAND, & RAIL BARONs trying to get FRYER to fit for cook. Once I divorced myself from Merlin OLSEN when it finally dawned on me that Rosie GRIER had the same number of letters I was able to complete the grid, despite the odd-looking (even for French!) TOUJOURS GAI.

I agree with a lot of Rex's comments, but not to the extent of his displeasure - I guess finishing the puzzle will do that for you. Of course, if it were me blogging it you'd see the answers at midnight, so...

Puzzles are better when the cluing is less generic - STEPS was terrible, as Rex notes. However, the clues for AGT and GAUL (eg) are much better in their confined misdirections - EST and WALL being perfectly acceptable, albiet wrong, alternatives.

Thought the pop culture clues were horribly obscure, as were the sports clues, but at least they were easier to divine - I was convinced Ivanovic was male, but ANA was the only three-letter name that made sense.

[An observation on the height of Russian women, tennis players or not: I was in Moscow and St Petersburg in November, and was struck by the young women there who all seemed to be taller and thinner than Maria Sharapova. The older women were built more on the order of Madame Kruschev. Now I can understand putting on a few pounds with age, but where does that 18" of height go?]

Anonymous 12:19 PM  

Ana Ivanovic is h o t.

Orange 12:33 PM  

Bill D: The younger generation probably had much better nutrition. The Dutch are now the world's tallest people, but people who were children during WWII famine years grew to be much shorter adults than the generations that followed them.

Badir 12:34 PM  

Yep, I had trouble with the Washington-to-Wisconsin area, too. I worked through the rest of the puzzle (missing the ANA/UNI crossing, for some lame reason). RAILBARON was a gimme, since I know from playing the boardgame of the same name that Jay Gould ran the Erie railroad. After hacking away for an hour, I looked up TOUJOURSGAI and finished the rest up. Except that I was getting confused with Lupino, so had ASI for 19A. "As I did that, [something happened]." for "since"? Anybody?? :(

jae 12:35 PM  

Not my kind of puzzle. I did it but didn't like it. Needed my wife for PONGEE (again this doesn't bode well for the ACPT puzzles coming in the mail), guessed right on STUART, and found I was also right on TOUJ.. when I checked after finishing. I completely agree with the UNPATRIOTIC rant. Compared with yesterday's delightful Paula Gasmache effort this one had 50% more specific fact clues and 75% fewer "?" clues. For me this makes solving more grueling than fun. That said SE was a good challenge with enough gettable crosses to make stuff like HYMENOPTERA and CZECH inferable. I also take some pride in figuring out stuff I don't really know (e.g. SEASNAKE, REMBRANDT, PANCAKEDAY).

JC66 12:35 PM  


Loved your rant. It made up for a brutal puzzle.


BTW, I went directly to wikipedia and searched Shinbone Alley songs containing a *j* to finally come up with TOUJOURS GAI.

jae 12:41 PM  

Rats --that should be Gamache, sorry.

ArtLvr 2:07 PM  

Rex, me too -- I'm glad you had to google! I entered one query there, I've forgotten which, and the first item was the right one. However, the answers HYMENOPTERA and CAESAR SALAD were on the same line! I couldn't miss them, and this was a bad spoiler.

My opening gimmes were all over the map, from PONGEE and REMBRANDT to ELLE and SCUTTLES, so it was hard to get traction. I even had AGENDA and took it out before putting it back.

Like JudgeScully, I wanted "meld" for MESH; I also was looking for a mountain "rising", not river EBRO. Worse was the "people in a rush", which led to an image of frat-hazes (too cute, for a change).

I am mostly enjoying the change from ink to computer, but the longest clues are hellishly incomplete (DANTEAN) in the download. Example: "55A. With 59-Across, it lasted from about..." Duh. Any suggestions?


Wade 2:17 PM  

I could have written the same column today almost exactly as Rex's; though the non-NW parts didn't come easily and steadily, I did get it all filled. All I could get up in the NW was AJA (gimme, of course) and, with much memory-searching, finally, GRIER. The only difference between my method of throwing in the towel and Rex's was that I Googled the Shinbone song instead of the suspense novelist (which I should have come up with--now I can picture his glossy name in airport bookstore racks with no trouble), and everything filled in after that. I also had the same objections to the traitorous and "sports biggies" clues. This puzzle was below the belt, BW.

Wade 2:17 PM  

I could have written the same column today almost exactly as Rex's; though the non-NW parts didn't come easily and steadily, I did get it all filled. All I could get up in the NW was AJA (gimme, of course) and, with much memory-searching, finally, GRIER. The only difference between my method of throwing in the towel and Rex's was that I Googled the Shinbone song instead of the suspense novelist (which I should have come up with--now I can picture his glossy name in airport bookstore racks with no trouble), and everything filled in after that. I also had the same objections to the traitorous and "sports biggies" clues. This puzzle was below the belt, BW.

Wade 2:17 PM  

I could have written the same column today almost exactly as Rex's; though the non-NW parts didn't come easily and steadily, I did get it all filled. All I could get up in the NW was AJA (gimme, of course) and, with much memory-searching, finally, GRIER. The only difference between my method of throwing in the towel and Rex's was that I Googled the Shinbone song instead of the suspense novelist (which I should have come up with--now I can picture his glossy name in airport bookstore racks with no trouble), and everything filled in after that. I also had the same objections to the traitorous and "sports biggies" clues. This puzzle was below the belt, BW.

wade 2:24 PM  

Sorry, no idea why that posted three times. I must have really meant it.

Squash's Mom 2:26 PM  

I wanted CAPITALISTS instead of RAILBARONS, but alas it wouldn't fit. I finally figured that one out.

I was also trying to think of a computer language (BASIC?) where CZECH fit. That was a difficult one for me to get past.

Thank goodness for crosses, I never would have gotten LIMNING or PONGEE, I had to look those up after to make sure they were real words.

I don't get how SCUTTLES and Deep-Sixes are synonymous... anyone?

I think I googled a lot more than I've done in a while, but did eventually finish it.

wade 2:34 PM  

Squash's Mom, scuttle and deep-six both mean to pull the plug on something--i.e., kill it, reject it, etc.

I liked LIMNING in the puzzle. It's a dumb, unpronounceable word used only by Michiko Kakutani, NYTimes daily book reviewer, who notoriously pulls it out much more often than the word has a right to be used.

rick 2:36 PM  


If you're using Across Lite the clue appears in a field above the puzzle. You may have to resize the border to see it.


Rush and attack are synonyms. to rush someone is to attack them (outside the faternity and hurry meanings)

rick 2:40 PM  


Scuttle means to sink. In a war the crew would scuttle their boat rather than have it captured.

Deep six also means to sink something.

jae 2:40 PM  

A perspective on the difficulty level of this one is that it took Orange about 3 min. longer to do this one than the infamous Klahn puzzle (see Rex's sidebar).

Anonymous 2:46 PM  

I am in complete accord with His Majesty about the mis-handling of the entry "Toujours Gai." Cluing any reference to the genius of Don Marquis via "Shinbone Alley" is only slightly dumber than cluing any reference to the genius of T. S. Elliot via "Cats."

Bill D 2:53 PM  

Scuttle (in this usage) and deep-six are both derived from nautical terminology.

To scuttle a ship is to sink it intentionally; Hatches covering openings in the deck of a ship are called scuttles (as were the openings themselves), and I assume these were left open in order to help the ship sink when being "scuttled". The literal meaning of scuttle is to sink a ship by making holes in it below the waterline. These holes may also be the scuttles in the verb to scuttle.

Deep-six means literally to throw overboard.

Both have come to mean metaphoically to sink: to reject, to end, to toss out.

Liz 2:54 PM  

I was in despair this morning when I saw how few answers I had after the first run-through: REMBRANDT, CIA, AGE, NEE, especially after having two wrong letters in the Friday puzzle. But I settled down and kept at it until I was done and today without error and without any Googling or other assistance.

TEED UP took a while because I was thinking car not golf, as did SSR. When I made wild guesses, the squares filled and for the most part without having to erase although the eraser did get a workout. I misspelled LUPONE as Lepone which made the NW corner even harder.

Kathy 2:57 PM  

Jae, thanks for the reminder, I love the Wrath of Klahn.

Oh, and Rex, I tried the LA Times puzzle and am having no luck, so thanks for perpetuating the abject failure. Maybe I'll run out and buy TV Guide and do that puzzle?


P.S. Took me three tries to get my name spelled right--oy.

Bill D 3:05 PM  

Interestingly (or maybe not) "eighty-six" means the same as "deep six".

To wit: Col Potter, quarantined with Maj Winchester who is playing Enrico Caruso on the HiFi, reaches the end of his rope screaming "Eighty-six that Eye-talian!"

@Kathy - Don't do it - Too much pop culture!

JC66 3:25 PM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
JC66 3:28 PM  

@bill d,

I think "eighty-six" is an old, short order cook term meaning "we're all out of..." as in "eighty-six on the blue plate special."

jls 3:36 PM  

yes, more shinbone alley...

posted this on the nyt forum, but think there are some folks here who might enjoy this link/info.
the "shinbone alley" reference at 2a sent me here for more info:

shinbone on ibdb

sooooooo much info of interest to theatre geeks!

* the show (based on don marquis's "archie and mehitabel") had a very short life on b'way -- about 6 weeks in 1957. the book was by joe darion (whose next venture was a little skit call "man of la mancha") and mel brooks (hmmm -- whatever became of *him*?!)

* the credits do not list a "director" but do cite a "production supervisor" -- sawyer falk... the show's lack of "director" may be tied-in to the show's lack of legs...

* stars of the show were eddie bracken and eartha kitt (who also had a song titled "be pussycat").

* the very next show for at least three of the cast members (reri grist, elizabeth taylor and david winters) was "west side story." ms. grist, btw, is the one who sang "somewhere" from the broadway pit (so no one ever saw her...) and went on to have an important international opera career.
cheers, all --


mac 4:25 PM  

Lots of Schadenfreude in the comments today.....
I started this one mid-morning, did about half and thought: easy Saturday, let's do the errands first. Hah. The second half, including of course the NW, took a lot longer. Eight clues related to sports, my weak point (by the way, doesn't Rosey knit or embroider?), and several words I simply had never seen or heard. I got pongee by itself, but can't figure out how I knew it. "Born to be blue" made me think of the Smurfs, but thank goodness I got Torme through crosses. I've seen limn, but never limning. Knew uni from all the Australian soaps in England. Toujours Gai was where I had no idea, especially since I thought 4D was spelled Aya.
@alex: the Dutch do eat rye bread, it just looks very different, moist and dark.
@wade: Miss Kakutani seems to have several words she uses much too frequently. Kurt Andersen's blog mentions the
adjective "hallucinatory"!
@Rex: how about calling Mardi Gras IHOP-DAY?

Kathy 4:50 PM  

But Bill D., I have a better chance of getting One Day ___ Time than TOUJOURS GAI.

As a complete nonsequitur (wow, that looks just wrong) Bet Orange would love this, but what if Bob Klahn and Will Shortz came up with a puzzle with the intention of having no one able to solve it. Then see how the top 15 people in the tournament did on it (and the 55th place finisher!).

It would have to be fair, of course (like no multiple Broadway references crossing each other in one area of the puzzle, not that that would ever happen), but that might be fun.

Getting my mojo back...(no, it's not rising yet, by a long shot, but I'm recovering from this morning)


ArtLvr 5:09 PM  

@ Rick: Thank you for the tip! ("If you're using Across Lite the clue appears in a field above the puzzle.") I never noticed those big red letters changing! It's a bit like playing an organ, coordinating brain and hands and feet and eyes to progress smoothly -- metaphorically, I mean. I'm not actually using my feet on the keyboard, it just feels that way! Many thanks again...


Jim in NYC 5:10 PM  

To all of you, loved your posts today. You all chat so well. Especially Alex and his Dutch Rye.

Jae, 7 out of the 8 ACPT puzzles coming to you in the mail will be easier than this one.

I don't like to boast and/or preen, but when I finish a hard Saturday puzzle, I can't seem to stop myself. But I'm sorry for it afterwards.

Anonymous 5:12 PM  

Rex - as someone who frequently has to look stuff up, it's easier to find authors (and titles) by searching Amazon instead of doing a general Google search.
Didn't know about Rosie Grier's past as a body guard - My non-football memory of him relates to his many appearances on late night talk shows (and Merv Griffen) with his needlepoint.
Harrietlou in Philadelphia

Fergus 5:17 PM  

A lot of toil in this puzzle. Each letter slowly added. Sometimes in a puzzle like this, a full cascade of letters drops in after exchanging EST for AGT, for example, but today it was just drip, drip, drip. But since I was on the porch in the sun, I didn't get too exercised. Which I neglected to get, a la Rex, with respect to UNPATRIOTIC. Couldn't agree more, though.

My BARONS were of the ROBBER variety, which had me trying to shave off two letters. (Also, thought Gould was just finance and not rail guy.) I can't recall ever seeing a Rebus Saturday, and since nowhere else was suggesting a crowded square, settled for RAIL. By the way, when Stanford was dropping the name Indians in favor of the Cardinal for its athletic teams, I think there was some serious consideration given to Robber Barons. Rejected. Anyway, we've still got the UCSC Banana Slugs down here.

billnutt 5:55 PM  

Two Saturdays in a row when I had to Google. I hang my head in shame.

OK, so I know that SHINBONE ALLEY is a musical, but have no idea of the songs in it. And I have the T_UJ and I'm pretty sure it will end with an I. So what fits?

TIUJANA TAXI, that's what!!
Rest of the north didn't go much better.

ANd I was so proud of what I was able to do yesterday! Pride goeth...

Chance 6:00 PM  

The only way the UNPATRIOTIC clue could have worked with that clue is "Traitors, e.g." This would (reasonably, I think) imply that traitors are unpatriotic, but not the reverse.

Ulrich 6:12 PM  

@anonymous re. Ana Ivanovic: I have the strong impression that Dick Enberg totally agrees with your judgment (me, too, BTW). This nice elder person (I've deleted what I had here before) seems totally smitten with her and it's almost touching to observe how he tries not to show this when he is a tennis commentator, e.g. during the US Open. I actually find this quite endearing.

Doug 6:51 PM  

Yes. YES. And YES. Totally agree with Rex on this one. Curse Broadway and it's obscure cast of millions singing songs I have no desire to hear. So am I the only one puzzled by opposite of plaintiff? Is "resp" respondent? I really wanted defendant in there. Growing up in Florida I knew about sea snakes (reputedly the most toxic venom of all creatures) and mud flaps, but had a hard time getting from there to the somewhat more effete "splashguard". I ain't never met no one got them "splashguards" on their pickup. Saran was a (pardon the expression) stretch, but easily made and only the northwest proved truly intractable. Rex, your blog is like seeing my own thoughts set in type. Thanks...

BlueStater 7:41 PM  

What Rex said. I'm glad I didn't have to be the only one in dissent about this puzzle, as I often am on others. I can't imagine why it was published.

John Reid 8:42 PM  

For me, the whole N and NW were almost impossible. I was able to get through the rest without many difficulties. The Y in PANCAKEDAY made me want MYRMID-something for the ant clue, but I gave that up quickly. Had pretty much the whole puzzle finished bar the top three across and first four down, and then stared at it blankly for half an hour or so. Gave up for a while. Took a nap and came back to it. (Sometimes helps.)

I didn't want to give up EST at 9D, and had SOTS, HURT, RAILBARONS, and DICER (was thinking maybe RICER though.) This gave me ----SH--ERD for 1A, and then I couldn't get ALANSHEPERD out of my head (although I don't think this is spelled correctly anyway!) *Finally* I got UNPATRIOTIC, and then saw USOPENS (8D had also been driving me nuts, but now I think it's fair - golf and tennis, so plural is ok.) The U was enough to trigger SPLASHGUARD for me. (Had to give up EST.) Then had enough to guess STUART at 1D. AJA came back as a dim memory, and then the T--JOU-- was enough to guess TOUJOURS.

Finished with 3 letters wrong. Like Rex, I went with AMT and TOUJOURSMAI (Gilbert & Sullivan's Gondoliers had a lyric like 'all the year is merry May' - so I figured it sounded possible.) And I also confused LUPONE with Lupino, and ended up with ASI for since. It was obviously wrong but I'd had enough. [Doesn't lupine mean wolflike? When I saw AGO on the blog, I felt really dumb!]

A tough puzzle in the top left corner. I agree that it can be really frustrating to burn through a good portion of a grid only to get completely stumped in one section. Kind of leaves you thinking 'Why is THIS part so hard?' Although, let's face it... the whole puzzle could have been that hard in which case we all would have been screwed! I still thought it was fun. I had a lot more luck with the Newsday and LA Times today though.

Ulrich 9:25 PM  

It has been a long day, and it was remarkable in a sense: I do not remember a tough puzzle where almost everyone had the same problem in the same area and almost no problems anywhere else (my experience, too). And more importantly, our fearless leader let his guard down and admitted to googling at times--that, to me, was really encouraging because it gives a mere mortal like me hope. On a personal level, I had to solve this while dealing with an electrical emergency because in cutting through a wall I took out a circuit on which all our computers rely, which forced me to face the furor of other family members. So, I had quite a day, of which the puzzle was a part in some way. Small consolation: As a tennis fan (and sometimes player) I appreciated the references to the US Open, Ana Ivanovic (as I said before) and Serbia (from which she hails). Who's to say that this was bad puzzle?

miriam b 10:10 PM  

The "k" and "y" clued me in immediately. As "Russian" wouldn't fit, I had to think of another Slavic language, and the only 5-letter one that came to mind was CZECH. That was the first word I filled in. As I progressed northward, I hit a few pop-culture-related snags. but did finish, grateful that it han't occurred to me to time myself.

@Orange: That statistic re the tall Dutch is fascinating. I've met a number of people from the Netherlands over the past couple of years. Granted I was working with a small sample, but it seemed to me that all of these folks were exceptionally tall. I got a crick in my neck from looking up at them from my 5'5" level.

Whitey's mom 7:14 AM  

In my defense, Rex, I was pretty sure you knew what toujours gai means; I was referring to the subtext of archy and mehitabel. I don't think anyone mentioned that archy, as a cockroach jumping around the keyboard, couldn't hold down the shift key and type at the same time so everything was lower case. Pretty cool book.

william e emba 5:55 PM  

Perhaps the main reason I could finish the NW without looking anything up was the fact that I got burned on that infamous AJA/JERI crossing earlier this year. Got it now: 3 letter Steely Dan answer is AJA. That, and going through the alphabet about 10 times to get the middle letter of AGT. AMT seemed to fit, but I couldn't believe it.

The rest had way too many gimmes for a Saturday. On top of that, I personally thought CZECH and HYMENOPTERA were gimmes

Anonymous 12:11 PM  

What are "fried sots?"

doc John 12:30 AM  

@ Anonymous 12:11- Sots are drunkards. Fried is another word for being drunk.

(Just in case you're checking back here 4 days later.)

Anonymous 1:27 PM  

I'm a syndicated puzzler. I just got done solving a puzzle and was delighted to see the Hamm's Bear featured (from six weeks ago). My Dad was the genius behind that icon. He didn't invent the Bear, but he did give him personality.
All hail the Land of Sky Blue Water!

CAlady 2:38 PM  

Like most everyone else, I found the NW undoable-too many proper names get me almost every time. Never heard of Stuart, know only big Broadway names (Camelot), and have basically no sports knowledge. Rosie Grier I know only from stories of his needlework!. So this corner was a mass of blank squares before I came here for help. One small advanatage of being 6 weeks out is this blog! And while I never get answers, I have to ask how ago means yet
Will try to take Lex Luthor's advice-never posted with a name because I have no idea what a URL is and how to get one if I need it!

impjb 3:51 PM  

I was stuck on Woods also. I have better luck finding mystery authors on Amazon (Stuart Woods was the second hit).

My only non football memory of Rosie Grier was from this movie, which was incredibly cool to an impressionable youngster such as myself, but horrible when I watched it again as an adult.

Bob 4:24 AM  

"Moray eel" also fit and was my first impulse for "sea snake." As I recall, it also has the distinctive paddle-shaped tail. From my extensive watching of nature documentaries, I've come to believe that all of the sea snakes are closely related members of the cobra family. In fact, there's a banded krait that has evolved to be a sea snake. Again to my knowledge, all sea snakes are highly venomous, but as a general matter, tend to have mild, non-agressive temperaments, unlike their cousins, the black mambas or the taipans of Australia. Which, no doubt, is more than anyone wanted to know...

As with everyone else, NW gave me fits, but fell after Google gave me "Stuart," "toujours gai," and "Grier." I felt badly about not remembering Rosie, who was a favorite and a gentle giant who channeled his violence highly appropriately. On the other hand, who can be expected to remember a defensive front four from almost fifty years ago?

Bob 4:54 AM  


I couldn't agree more with Rex on traitorous/unpatriotic. We all know, e.g., that Obama couldn't possibly be patriotic, because he doesn't wear the flag lapel pin, but doubt he is traitorous (unless, of course, he is actually selling state secrets to Hamas).

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