FRIDAY, Apr. 11, 2008 - Manny Nosowsky (Singer Jamie with the 2001 #1 country song "When I Think About Angels")

Friday, April 11, 2008

Relative difficulty: Challenging

THEME: none

Very little joy in this puzzle for me this morning. Too many one-word clues, too many non-sparkling answers, too much fill that felt forced or slightly off. The stacked 15s of course look fabulous, but none of those answers is very inspiring or lively. There are two towns no one has heard of in the grid. A mysterious "country" singer, a marginal Ava Gardner role, the most marginal Jackson ... I don't know. It was just tough. I normally adore Nosowsky puzzles. Not so much today.

My first big "ugh" was for PORK BARREL BILLS (17A: Sources of government waste). Now, the PORK BARREL I get - good stuff. But I've never heard the phrase with BILLS on the end. PORK BARREL SPENDING, yes. PORK BARREL POLITICS, of course. I am not kidding when I say that I had PORK BARREL B-LLS and had to run the vowels through my head to get it - thought the Volkswagen was a GTO, but PORK BARREL BOLLS? I had the sad distinction of having the front ends (first three letters) of Every Single 15-letter answer, and yet knowing None of them without getting more crosses. the IMP- at 16A: Have cosmetic surgery, for example gave me IMPROVE ... something, probably, but who knows what. The HAS at the beginning of 1A: Is blessed with many assets, before "him" or "her" could have been anything as far as I was concerned. The NAT at the front of 52A: Gross domestic product producer [pause to wince at the phrase "product producer"] was likely NATIONAL ... something. 55A: Some bank offerings - TRA .... TRADE? TRADING? 56A: At every point - ALL ... well yes, "every" and ALL go together, now what? So, in short, the answers did not snap. Almost every one of them took some laborious hacking, and almost none of them was worth the effort. I think I like TRADITIONAL IRAS the best, and I know I like IMPROVE ON NATURE the least. Most people who get cosmetic surgery done are not "improved" - they just end up looking like people who've had work done in a desperate attempt to look younger. Very sad, really (Unless you have a cleft palate or other deformity, I suppose). I would put up a picture of Michael Jackson or Joan Rivers, but, you know ... the breakfast test. I think the whole plastic surgery issue bugs me most because I have a little girl, and any industry / magazine / man / peer group who suggests to her that she's less than perfect the way she is can well and truly go @#$# themselves. There are too many girls with eating disorders in the world for me to feel very friendly toward the fashion / cosmetic / plastic surgery industry. Thankfully, this is America, and you are free to disregard my feelings completely and do whatever you like to your body. I wouldn't have it any other way.

Two Turkish titles - 18A: Old Turkish title (Bey) and 47A: Turkish title (Agha) - that was pretty cute, especially since we just had BEY last week and it threw so many people. Lots of obscure pop culture today too, including 37A: 1954 title role for Ava Gardner (Contessa) - "The Barefoot CONTESSA" was probably a big deal 54 years ago, but today ... no - and 41A: Singer Jamie with the 2001 #1 country song "When I Think About Angels" (O'Neal). I am willing to bet that the song "When I Think About Angels" would make me actually, physically gag. No offense to angels - all offense to contemporary country. Oh yeah, I'm gagging a little ... plus, she does this horrible Meg Ryan thing with her nose right near the beginning of this video. Yikes. Whoa ... this song features the mandatory dramatic key change at the 2/3 mark. Generic! Watch at your peril.

One uncrossworthy place name per puzzle should be the outer limit. Today we get not only LORAIN (42D: Ohio city on Lake Erie) (!!!!?!?!?!?!) but GARDENA (24D: California city with a horticultural name), which, I assure you, is nowhere. I wanted POMONA, the Roman goddess of fruit. EILAT (23A: Gulf of Aqaba city) was a total @#$#, but at least it's a place that a. one might actually go (tourist town), and b. has been in xword puzzles before. Fun fact: GARDENA and EILAT are almost exactly the same size, population-wise (mid-50K).

I started this puzzle with everyone's favorite three-letter Bowie collaborator, ENO (48A: Onetime Bowie collaborator), which got me RETOTAL (36D: Double-check, as figures) pretty quickly thereafter. I futzed around the California part of the puzzle for a while until I had the weirdest looking partially-filled grid I've had in a while - the entire first three columns were filled, and very little else. A smattering of filled squares around Utah, but that's about it. Struggled mightily to get POLENTA (34D: Alternative to pasta), because I eat pasta a lot and almost never eat POLENTA, and because I always think POLENTA is Spanish (confusing it with PAELLA). SAHARAS (22D: Vast arid wastes) was rough too, as I put in DESERTS quite early. And then ESTHESIA (29A: Sensitivity) ... I just crossed my fingers on that one. And as for NASAL (25A: Like an "eh," maybe) - let's just say I am currently sitting at my desk saying "eh" in a thousand different ways, trying to figure out what this clue is getting at. I guess I can do it NASALly. I have to say that the puzzle loses style points for the NASAL / ESTHESIA stacking. Sounds unpleasant. Also sounds like a horrible malady.


  • 21A: Awards for J.K. Rowling and P.L. Travers: Abbr. (OBEs) - no idea who P.L. Travers is, so I thought the answer would be some abbreviated version of SMARTIES.
  • 24A: Traps (gins) - yyyyikes. I actually thought GINS before writing in the more sensible PINS (I was thinking wrestling, as I ... often do?).
  • 53D: Home of the Salmon River Mtns. (Ida.) - crucial to my unlocking the bottom of this puzzle. Salmon River = NW = guess a state = IDA.
  • 27A: Something that shouldn't be left open (fly) - as someone who has had his FLY open in front of a lecture hall full of 250 people, I concur. Nice clue.
  • 28A: Three-time Masters winner Nick (Faldo) - 80s golf names stick in my head for No Good Reason. The Masters just started this week. Some guy named Trevor is atop the leaderboard, and Tiger Woods is tied for 19th.
  • 45A: Heads of a tribe? (totem) - another good clue. Nicely done.
  • 49A: Fired pitcher? (ceramic) - hmmm. It's cute, but it's weird to clue a medium with a particular object in that medium, without the "e.g."
  • 51A: Void, in Vichy (nul) - see also NIL (54D: No score), which is what I (stupidly) wrote in here first.
  • 31A: One of the Jackson 5 (Marlon) - Michael, Tito, Jermaine ... and I'm out.
  • 1D: Connector in a song (hip bone) - great clue/answer.
  • 4D: Ham's place (ark) - As in Noah's. Again, great. This puzzle is way better in its small answers (and clues) than in its long ones.
  • 10D: Buzzards Bay, e.g. (inlet) - where is this? Aha, Massachusetts. If Cape Cod is a shoe, Buzzards Bay is right behind its Achilles heel.
  • 14D: "As You Like It" romantic (Orlando) - not my favorite play. Thankfully, the name came easily (due, in part, to ORLANDO Bloom, who remind me of a Shakespearean "romantic").
  • 39D: Words before "a Brain" and "an Animal" in book title ("So Human...") - this wins the "you're kidding, right?" award for the day. Never heard of this ... series? SO HUMAN? Are there degrees of HUMAN now?
  • 46D: Book containing a prediction of the coming of the Messiah (Micah) - didn't know this, but had -CAH, so no problem.
  • 50D: Thomas _____, artist of the Hudson River School (Cole) - no idea. Live and learn ... and likely, forget.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Karen 8:54 AM  

Wait a minute, Cape Cod is like a shoe? Like one of those pointed Turkish shoes? Usually it's described like a bent (left) arm.

Agree with your dislike of this puzzle totally. The one good thing I can say about it is that it is amenable to googling.

Rex Parker 9:03 AM  

Cape Cod is clearly a Leprechaun shoe, yes. Bent arm? Wow, that's one mangled arm.


PhillySolver 9:05 AM  

OBE as in Order of the British Empire. I think it is the plural that makes it obscure as it is in the NYT database over thirty times. I am sure most people thought of a literary award, but they even gave this one to the Beatles.

This was a hard puzzle which provides its value. That it is a lot of white space. I think I will tell you some pork trivia after lunch.

PhillySolver 9:15 AM  

Oh wait, you knew OBE, you meant Travers who wrote Mary Poppins.

ArtLvr 9:19 AM  

It's impressive, after all -- only 21 black squares... And I was lucky to think of 1-A immediately, got the whole top half fast. Liked FLY, TERRIFIC and GORILLA!

The bottom half took more work because of wanting Toledo and Momentum instead of LORAIN and MOVEMENT, so I concentrated on the far SW and SE... POLENTA helped (not sure I've eaten any, but have heard of it), and ANALYSE too, for the outsides of those areas. I knew ECONOMY had to fit, and finally worked out the COLE and rest of Texas/Louisiana -- with a moue at IDA (Salmon River Mountains etc.) Why not an easier clue like "Lupino" to echo the "Ava Gardner" clue?

Finally touched up the GINS, FALDO, FANTA, MARLON in the Mid-Atlantic region, with fingers crossed. Then what did I do? Looked to see if even one ROSE could be found hiding in all that (nada).


JC66 9:22 AM  

Excuse Manny for not making the 15 letter across solutions not immediately apparent to you when you already had the first three or four letters. And on a Friday, no less. When I saw all that white space and MN's name, I knew I was in for a toughie. I struggled through and was rewarded with a demanding. fun puzzle - Manny just being Manny.

Anonymous 9:22 AM  

I had to Google "The Barefoot Contessa," then I thought I had the rest of it made, after a grinding half-hour, but I still had "PINS" and therefore "PARDENA." Well, Pardena means as much to me as Gardena. All that and Faldo and Marlon, too? Too many obscure names in one spot.

"Improving on nature" is a common euphemism, used not only for cosmetic surgery but for cosmetics in generall. In my view, cosmetics and cosmetic surgery are both about equally effective as "improvements" and both deeply mysterious as human trends.

"So Human an Animal" and "So Human a Brain" were written by different authors. I assume "So Human an Animal" came first and "So Human a Brain" was a play on a classic. Never heard of either one, so this answer hung me up for a long time.

I wish I could remember that LST thing, which seems to come up every couple of weeks. I always remember the "L," then fade. LVT? LTV?

ArtLvr 9:30 AM  

p.s. Like Rex, I disliked the clue for NASAL, and it was right on top of my most unfavorite word ESTHESIA. Sounds like a combo that's unbreakfast-friendly. Someone might also object to the crossing of French and Latin words AVEC and SED, and gratuitous jump-link of MEN and Italian men, SIGNORI.

SO HUMAN? So hohum... medium challenging for me, since I didn't have to google!


Pete M 9:30 AM  

I've at least heard of Marlon Jackson; if it had been Jackie or Randy (no relation to the American Idol judge)I would have had no clue.

I had PIN for GIN, just kind of glossing over that PARDENA must be some obscure plant name. Seemed plausible enough at the time. Also missed BEY, as I spelled SPRYEST with an I. (The -EST part was the first thing I entered in the puzzle).

I actually like IMPROVEDONNATURE the best of the long clues. Whether you agree that it does or not, it's an in-the-language, colorful phrase. Granted there are high-profile people who take plastic surgery to an obscene extreme, but there are also people with clear abnormalities for whom it can drastically improve their lives, both physically and socially.

Wasn't my favorite Manny, but I still enjoyed it overall.

- Pete M

jannieb 9:45 AM  

Very liitle black space today- looking at Rex's grid I see the big X pattern - nice. Had all but the quantitative part of 1A right away - but couldn't decide on "much", "lots" and then finally got "a lot" thanks to lobs. I did the entire southern hemisphere first - ceramic, eno, contessa, signor_, all falling quickly. Then I got most of the northeast from Faldo and the downs (inlet, fulfills, restson). Finally finished in the NW but last clue for me was also Gardena/gins as I just didn't like Pardena. I never had heard the word esthesia before, but figured it out because of its better known opposite (anesthesia). I agree that nasal and amoebas are poorly clued. Not as much fun as a lot of MN's puzzles, but definitely a good challenge.

Alex 9:52 AM  

Had to cheat my way through this one.

Instead of GARDENA I put in BURBANK. This has the advantage of actually being a well known California town and being named after (so I've always assumed) famous horticulturist Luther Burbank.

Burbank gave me the correct crosses of MARLON Jackson and ANION. It gave me the incorrect KHAN (instead of the silly AGHA). Three crosses was more than enough to lock it in.

It wasn't until I googled the Ava Gardner role that it got straightened out.

And, to add insult to injury, I just read the Wiki page for Luther Burbank and it turns out the town is not named after him but rather some David Burbank, a very early dentist that lived in the area.

Anonymous 9:53 AM  

To get NASAL for eh I hust have to think of Tony Randall as Felix Unger.

Jane Doh 9:54 AM  

I enjoyed this puzzle and thought it was on the easy side -- maybe it's an age thing. The grid is to die for, so elegant.

"Pork barrel bill" is in the language enough. Here's Senator McCain on the subject:

"Give me the pen, and I'll veto every single pork barrel bill Congress sends me ..."

Jim in NYC 10:25 AM  

Wow, that "traps" (24A) = GINS is obscure. Glad to learn it.

Stand by for a modified anti-pop-culture rant: Why would anybody care what VW (12D) names their #*($% cars???! OK, it's over.

Enjoyed this puzzle a lot.

Joon 10:45 AM  
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Joon 10:46 AM  

this puzzle didn't have pizzazz (or PIZAZZ, as shortz seems to prefer spelling it), but i enjoyed it nonetheless. stacking 15s is hard enough--multiple extremely lively 15s would be a very tall order. i think, though, tat the grid actually made the puzzle quite easy to crack--i set a friday record for me. it helps that the cluing was only tricky for the short words, as rex pointed out.

have to disagree with everybody here about NASAL--i loved that clue. think of a french person saying "eh bien."

i couldn't commit to MARLON jackson, because i kept saying to myself, "self, that's not a singer, that's a cornerback for the colts." but no, it turns out i was thinking of marlIn jackson. tricky.

+1 on the unfortunateness of EILAT, GARDENA, and LORAIN. then again, geography = yuck for me in general.

anonymous 9:22, i learned LSTS literally five days ago (it was in sunday's puzzle, where i got it from crosses but had never heard of it) and i've used it in crosswords three times since then. hooray for ... crosswords reinforcing crosswordsese. i guess.

thomas COLE is not a personal favorite of mine in specific, but the hudson river school is a favorite of mine in general. probably 5 of my 10 favorite american paintings are HRS works. albert bierstadt is to die for.

jae 10:55 AM  

I liked this one better than Rex did. I don't time myself on the weekends but using Ulrich's criteria from a couple of days ago this was about a medium for me i.e., I worked through it fairly steadily with a few major pauses. The south went pretty quickly with POLENTA, UNSNARL, and RETOTAL giving me two of the 3 15s. I had GARDENA early so I never considered PINS but got GINS solely from the crosses. I also tried OVIOD, BUG (VW), and ANODE early on. I also didn't like the NASAL/ESTHESIA stack and confess to spending some time trying to say "eh" nasally (its harder than you would think).

Scott 11:03 AM  

I think that, in constructor's on going quest to minimize black squares and minimize clues, their puzzles sometimes lose a level of exactness. I think that happened today. Don't look at the cluing for ALLALONGTHELINE and try to clue it smoothly and reasonably. It is not a self standing phrase. HASALOTGOINGFOR is similarly awkward and these are the two phrases that anchor the puzzle. I don't mind some awkward fill but 15 letter words should, as Rex says, "pop". These leave much to be desired, in my opinion. I want a tough puzzle to have a satisfying payoff, I hate getting a long clue and saying to myself, "I guess that's correct."

dk 11:06 AM  

My wife and I are still laughing at 27 Across: FLY

Cole was the founder of the Hudson River School and if you ever have a chance to see the collection titled American Paradise go.

Tough one, but fun.

Ulrich 11:09 AM  

I'm still too intimidated by 15-letter answers and spent too much time getting the crosses first instead of going right for the jugular, making all kinds of mistakes that kept me floundering (like "lid" instead of "fly"--great clue, though).

Found the bottom half much easier than the top half.

Also had "pins" for the longest time instead of "gins" and changed it only on a hunch--still don't understand the clue.

Anonymous 11:24 AM  

Loved this puzzle, it being the first Friday one that I've been able to do in ages. No googling or peeking at Rex's answers. Smugly finished it and then realized I didn't have a clue as to the answer to 39D as I had nol for 51A. Finding out that nul was the correct fill didn't help with 39D being "so human." Sigh.


Anonymous 11:24 AM  

Loved this puzzle, it being the first Friday one that I've been able to do in ages. No googling or peeking at Rex's answers. Smugly finished it and then realized I didn't have a clue as to the answer to 39D as I had nol for 51A. Finding out that nul was the correct fill didn't help with 39D being "so human." Sigh.


Anonymous 11:26 AM  

Whoops. It seems I can't leave comments either without an error. Sorry.


Stephen 11:46 AM  

LORAIN was my first entry. Of course, I used to live in Lorain County...

Bill from NJ 11:59 AM  

I was really intimidated by all the white space . . . wow!!

I guess the Puzzle Gods wanted to repay me for my mid-week mini-rant about the skill levels of the early week puzzles. I had most of the center around the middle X complete and came to a long pause.

I found the South a little easier than the North. Coincidentally enough, having NUL helped me get HUMAN as part of 39D.

Flashed on 16A which helped me to finish the puzzle in a little under an hour.

Very little Googling and no peeking at Rex.

PuzzleGirl 12:06 PM  

I blazed through the top half (I got HAS A LOT GOING FOR with no crosses, none) but put it aside when I couldn't make any headway in the south. Finished it up this morning and was happy that my SO HUMAN total guess which looked totally wrong was right. (WTF?) My total guess on ESTHETIA / TED, however, was wrong. Ted? I probably could have come up with a better guess.

When I saw Rex refer to MARLON as the most marginal Jackson, I was all ready to jump to Marlon's defense ("But he had that hit record in 1980 with some songs I could still hum along to!") until I realized I had him confused with Jermaine. So, yes, Marlon does get the award. The only reason Tito doesn't get it is that Tito is a cool name.

I would add Cher to the list of plastic surgery nightmare celebrities. Several years ago I saw her on a television commercial and literally thought it was a Cher impersonator.

I do not like Nick Faldo. That's all I'm going to say about him.

I know the Barefoot Contessa as a cooking show. Apparently, it was named after a cookbook, which was named after a specialty foods store, which was named after the film.

PhillySolver 12:13 PM  

Ok, time for pork trivia...

A 'hog' was a nickname for an English schilling and someone willing to buy around for his mates at the pub might have to go whole hog.

The best part of the pig was considered the shoulder portion which the officers got to eat while the enlisted men got the lower parts (pork bellies). The officers thus lived high on the hog.

Early Manhattan had a problem with raiding wild hogs so they constructed a barricade and conducted their business on the aptly named Wall Street.

One of the earliest providers of pork for the newly formed US army during the war of 1812 packed the barrels and stamped his name on it. He was Uncle Sam Wilson. He became synonymous among the troops for the US government.

Pork Barrels were used for decades and kept the meat relatively fresh in a brine solution. It was during Reconstruction that some government funds were appropriated for the newly freed slaves and handed out meat as quid pro quo for votes and support.

Think I will have a pulled pork sandwich for lunch.

Doris 12:25 PM  

The Bard is always an invaluable source for Xword fans. I knew GIN because of one of the lesser known lines from "Macbeth," IV, ii:

Sirrah, your father's dead;
And what will you do now? How will you live?

As birds do, mother.

What, with worms and flies?

With what I get, I mean; and so do they.

Poor bird! thou'ldst never fear the net nor lime,
The pitfall nor the gin.

George 1:13 PM  
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SethG 1:14 PM  

Count me in with the ESTHETIA/TED guess.

NATIONAL ECONOMY was my first answer. After which I probably erased at least 10 of those letters at one time or another. My good bad answer was STEPPES, which are vast, arid and at least treeless. My bad bad answers included PINS, LOO/NOTATED, GNOCCHI, every 5-letter tool known to man _except_ a LEVEL, NASTASIA/FANTASIA/...

I was irritated enough that I paused mid-puzzle, which I never do, to help someone research something at the coffee shop.

Flight of the Conchords in Minneapolis May 13,

ronathan 1:48 PM  

I have a lot of the same complaints as Rex, and the rest have already been mentioned by others. I will say, however, that as imperfect as some of the answers were, the was one of the more challenging puzzles we've had in a long time. It was nice to be stumped for once.

One answer that I didn't like, which has not been commented on yet, is the answer for 5D "Hardly hard questions" (LOBS). When I see the word LOB, I usually define it as a verb meaning to slowly throw a ball in a high arc. For example, you would LOB a baseball to your 6-year-old son while playing in the park so that he could easily hit it. I don't know if I've ever seen the word LOB used in the context of asking easy questions. Could you say "boy, the teacher LOBBED us some questions on that mid-term?" Or "the good cop LOBBED some easy questions to the suspect after the bad cop roughed him up"? It just doesn't seem right.

-ronathan :-)

ronathan 1:51 PM  


I like your answer of STEPPES instead of SAHARAS. I myself had SAVANA for awhile, before having to erase it. SAHARAS also seems weird to me since the use of the plural seems to imply to me that there is more than one desert named SAHARA, which to my knowledge is not true (which is the reason why I resisted SAHARAS as an answer until it was inevitable).

-ronathan :-)

mac 1:56 PM  

Nice tough puzzle, although not sparkling. Only googled the Ohio city, Lorain, never heard of it. Everything else sort of fell into place.

Rex, I have to agree with you on the cosmetic surgery scene. Did you realise that the fastest growing segment of patients is men?

I loved my VW GTI 16 Valve, fire engine red, which I drove in Hamburg, Germany!

@Karen, I agree with you about the arm, Chatham is always described as being "at the elbow of the Cape".

@phillysolver, wonderful pork talk. The wall of Wall Street wasn't actually a wall but an earthen berm (or wal, in Dutch).

It seems a lot easier to get an OBE than a literary award in the British commonwealth....

Did you all find the word lav acceptable?

The Barefoot Contessa is a wonderful, down to earch cook.

George NYC 2:09 PM  
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Frances 2:09 PM  

@ Phillysolver--

Loved your pork trivia. I always enjoy learning the origins of common expressions/cliches. Do you--or anyone else out there--know where "dressed to the nines" comes from?

George NYC 2:11 PM  

If Buzzard's Bay is an "inlet," New York City is a "town." It's big, is what I'm saying...

PuzzleGirl 2:13 PM  

@ronathan: Once I started thinking about your issue with LOB, I thought, "Yeah, 'softball' is more what I would think of there." But I guess what you do with softball questions is lob them! Here's a recent headline: Volunteer lobs softball queries ...

andrea carla michaels 2:28 PM  

I would have found LAV acceptable, had I thought of it! The L was my only blank letter after an hour.
I thought about John as an anonymous guy, as in John Doe; as a prostitute's customer (a la client #9); as a toilet...and still didn't get it, but then felt bad for a few minutes for folks named John!

Loved Rex's anti-cosmetics rant, you women's libber, you!!!!

And, eerily, my pal Katrina and I were JUST discussing having POLENTA instead of a focaccia sandwich at my favorite place here in SF:
L'Osteria. yum!

I also like that HAM is Noah's son, sounds so unkosher...
ANd still don't know what LST means.

Marlon was the first Jackson that occurred to me, I don't know what that says...but I still chuckle when I think of the New Yorker cartoon with a Venn diagram of overlapping circles labeled:
JACKSON 5 and Yugoslavian dictators and the only overlap is TITO.

Maybe someone can find it somehow and post it!

ronathan 2:28 PM  


I concede your point, but even in the context of the article you posted, the word LOB is used as a verb (in that case, to describe the action of asking an easy question). The phrasing of the crossword clue/answer seems to imply that the word LOB can also be used to describe the easy question itself (i.e. as a noun). That still doesn't seem right to me.

-ronathan :-)

dk 2:40 PM  

@phillysolver, we in the sty are clacking our little cloven hooves together. Thank you for the pig info, I am also trying to dredge up a memory from neurobiology about the similarities between pig and human neurotransmitters.

@Francis, dressed to the nines sometimes is attributed to pleasing the nine muses, or using the whole 9 yards of fabric it takes to make a suit to the best advantage.

scriberpat 2:46 PM  

Is the "eh" sound Manny is looking for here like the "meh" sound?

opustwotoo 3:03 PM  

So let me get this straight. It's not a foot, it's an arm. So Rex was wrong when he said it's behind Cape Cod's Achilles Heel. He should have said that Buzzard's Bay is Massachusetts armpit?


miriam b 3:14 PM  

I started off with a bang by filling in 16A as GOINGUNDERTHEKNIFE. Fortunately, I exerted the lightest possible pressure on my pen. It quckly became obvious that my assumption was wrong, so I temporarily abandoned the top half of the puzzle and browsed around, finding gimmes: GARDENA (a friend comes from there); LORAIN (somewhere I saw heavy equipment mfd there and it stuck in my mind); ANION, MICAH, LEVEL, CONTESSA, FANTA, COLE, AVEC, among others. Returning northward, I picked up ORLANDO, HIPBONES, AMOEBAS, GORILLA (had to end in a, what with ESTHESIA, so that clnched it). After figuring out that PORKBARRELBILLS was correct (I had thought ...DEALS), everything fell neatly into place. And so I happily finished the puzzle along with a piece of 85% cacao chocolate. Solid satisfaction.

I agree, Rex, that IMPROVEONNATURE is a repugnant concept. Of course I can safely say that, as all my children and grandchildren are goodlooking AND above average.

Seriously, though: The last job I had before retiring was as a cosmetic chemist. I had to go to work, and this was my only opportunity at a difficult time, but often I considered myself a hypocrite and maybe even a sort of industrial prostitute. The marketing tactics for these products are reprehensible. The claims are absurd. The markup over cost of production is outrageous. And so on. I haven't gone so far as to eschew makeup, but I tend to use the cheapo kind, which is just as good as the high end stuff on the whole. Given my druthers, I'd have gone into a food-related industry. Anyway, I'm retired, so that's moot.

archaeoprof 3:47 PM  

If you stand on the beach in Eilat you can see four countries at the same time: Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Israel, and Egypt. Always makes me wonder how many places there are in the world where you can see four countries at once. Anybody know?

Orange 3:51 PM  

The British site The Phrase Finder often has detailed etymological delving into the origins of phrases, including "dressed to the nines." They can't pin down a single likely source for this phrase.

foodie 4:16 PM  

Well, my hat's off to those of you who could finish without googling or cheating. I found this puzzle very hard. I could get a hook on some of the areas (e.g. Northern Cal) but had a lot of blank squares staring at me and got to the point where I lost this "je ne sais quoi" that keeps you hopping. Which brought to mind both our previous discussion on speed solving and a recent interesting article in the NYTimes on the fact that we have only a certain amount of will power, and if we spend it unwisely, we can wind up give up too easily on subsequent matters. Like if you eat radishes when you prefer cookies, you do worse on puzzles. See:

Limited willpower

(my first attempt at a link, so I hope it works)

JC66 4:21 PM  

Per Wikipedia:

Landing Ship, Tank (LST) was the military designation for naval vessels created during World War II to support amphibious operations by carrying significant quantities of vehicles, cargo, and landing troops directly onto an unimproved shore.

If memory serves, it appears fairly frequently in NY Times puzzles.

PhillySolver 4:24 PM  

@ foodie

I wasn't going to write any more, but tell Rex I have been dieting and couldn't help myself.

Anonymous 4:32 PM  

"Eh bien" was a good example of nasal. My first thought (being a frequent visitor to Canada)was just listen to Canadians saying "eh?."

imsdave 4:39 PM  

Very exited when I saw the oh so white grid after some pretty easy puzzles earlier in the week. That exitement diminished quickly however, got ARK and FLY to start, had TENOF for TENTO for way to long. SIGNORS sure looked right for a while. FALDO is a gimme (I never get those in my matches) for a golfer. ONEAL, EILAN, and MARLON are a bit too esoteric for me. Finished in 40 minutes with the ESTHETIA/TED mistake. On the whole, a good time wasted.

jae 4:46 PM  

re: LSTs: These are large ships and shouldn't be confused with the smaller Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel (LCVP) or Higgins boats which were designed to bring a limited number troops or small vehicles ashore.

foodie 4:56 PM  


Haha! Perfect! Passed on your message.


Thanks for the description of the LST's. I've wondered about them but never googled them. I budget my time wisely and procrastinate selectively by reading this blog.

Wade 5:03 PM  

Re imsdave's comment above (TENOF/TENTO), I didn't fall into that trap since the puzzle went from bottom up for me, but I would have. Being married to a Brit, who uses the expression "Half [seven]" when referring to the time, I'm sensitive to those kinds of phrases. (What is half-seven? Six-thirty or seven-thirty? I can never remember. It seems it should logically be 3:30.)

I have heard of Lorain only because Toni Morrison's standard bio entry refers to it as her birthplace.

I share Rex's bizarre memory for 80's golfers though I've never played golf in my life (despite being married to a Scot) and can't stand anything about it.

Never heard of the "So Human" books either and wound up with "SOHEMAN" in the puzzle and didn't question it. I was bored by then. Also had a wrong square at BEY because I thought SPRYER could be SPRIER. That's less forgivable because BEY was in the puzzle very recently.

ALLALONGTHELINE is my pick for worst answer. It's not a terrible familiar phrase. More familiar would be "all the way down the line." I kept trying to make it "ALL AROUND . . ." or "ALL ABOUT THE LAND"

I also thought polenta was Spanish. But it's something like cous cous, right?

I agree that "eh" is not nasal. I'm a Texan and say everything through my nose a la Willie Nelson, who taught me to talk and who I've modeled my life after in every way, as you should too, but I use only my throat when I say "eh."

dquarfoot 5:21 PM  


I'm with you on this puzzle. Not very sparkly. I was particularly disappointed to see GTI at 12D because I distinctly remember Shortz rejecting one of my puzzles a few years back with the line: "GTI? Never heard of it. Ruins the whole puzzle for me." I'm also unclear why the partial phrases SOHUMAN and the entry at 1-Across were accepted. I can understand if the phrase is missing a common word like "the" or "in" - but "him"/"her" seems less trivial, and I don't understand how SOHUMAN is anything but a seven-letter partial. Appearing in two book titles doesn't improve the situation for me. This is like when Nothnagel and I tried to slip the partial ORNOTTO by Will with the clue "Words before and after 'to be' ". (He rejected the puzzle because of that entry, as he should have.)

My thinking on word count has changed dramatically over the years. When I first started writing puzzles, I was obsessed with getting the count into the 62-68 range. Now I rarely stray from 70 or 72 words. Low word/low black square puzzles hold zero interest for me and actually aren't too difficult to construct anymore given hyper-prefixing/suffixing, excessive pluralizing, computer software + extensive wordlists, and sites such as Peter Gordon (NY Sun) even warns constructors about this in the NYS Spec Sheet - suggesting that "words" like REASSESSED and PREEXISTENCES are unbecoming. I'd love to see future constructors avoid low word count grid patterns and triple stacks of 15s.


Ulrich 6:01 PM  

@DQ: Glad to get your perspective b/c my recent forays into puzzle history left me with the distinct impression that getting the black square count in a 15x15 puzzle below 19 is something like the holy grail of constructordom (shucks--one more letter and it would be a 15-letter word).

Anonymous 6:02 PM  

I want to thank everyone at this site...a year ago, I would have looked at this puzzle and rejected it out-of-hand...too many white squares..too tough.

Today, I plodded my way through, no googles, no mistakes. A toughie, but I found it worthwhile.

Have a nice weekend.

mac 6:30 PM  

@wade: does your wife like to be called a Brit?
@imsdave: love your line: "a good time wasted"; reminds me of Oscar Wilde's comment of golfing: "a good walk spoiled".

billnutt 6:41 PM  

The movie HOT SHOTS includes a DANCES WITH WOLVES parody in which Charlie Sheen speaks "Native American" that consists of people's names. I particularly remember when he says "LaToya Tito Jermaine."

I digress. Mainly because this puzzle left me beaten, bloody and (I'll admit it) bowed. Among the first answers I put in were MBES and LOO, rather than OBES and LAV. And it went down from there. (Got ENO, though!)

FLY was genius, as was the way ARK was clued.

Shudder to think what tomorrow might bring!

jannieb 7:50 PM  

@anonymous 6:02 - Congratulations!

Fran 8:21 PM  

I had to cheat.
But...if you take I-90 through Ohio you'll see signs for Lorain. It isn't obscure. It is funny what we each know -- I was surprised at Contessa because it was such an obvious answer & the same with Cole. Marlon too. But I couldn't get going on the top half until I looked up some Orlando & GTI, and verified esthesia. It is hard to imagine PL Travers with an OBE -- she must have held it over her head like an umbrella

miriam b 9:01 PM  

@ Wade: Polenta is Italian: a sort of cornmeal mush. Thickness varies according to taste and intended use.

Couscous is a Moroccan wheat pasta which is so fine that it resembles grain. Israeli couscous is comparatively coarse.

Michael 9:11 PM  

I liked this puzzle. Aside from admiring all the white space, I enjoyed working slowly through the puzzle and eventually getting it all without googling. Just right for a Friday, I thought. And I've always been a fan of Manny's work. This might not be his best effort, but still was more enjoyable than most other constructors' work. I especially liked national economy on top of traditional ira.

Anonymous 9:17 PM  

Thanks for the link to the "willpower" article -- very interesting!

Wade 10:25 PM  

mac, my wife has no problem being called a Brit (since she is one.) Just don't call her English.

Blue Stater 10:39 PM  

After I cruised through this in about 20 minutes with hardly a hitch -- most times that's the way it is for me and Manny's puzzles; I'm really on his wavelength -- I didn't want to come here because I was certain Rex would dismiss this puzzle with "Easy." Amazingly, no.

My guess is the difference is generational. I nearly always find Manny's puzzles a refreshing reminder of what I think of as the good old days of the NYT puzzles under Eugene Maleska, in particular, but also Will Weng -- a time when the puzzles were intellectual feasts, not the self-absorbed grab-bag of tricks, curveballs, and marginal clues that the puzzles have been in the Shortz era, which I greatly lament. Still, this is what the genre has mostly become. I suppose puzzles like this one henceforth will be as rare as the punny, curvy, loosely defined ones used to be.

It's nice to have a chance to do a traditional crossword once in a while -- though I wish those opportunities would come along more often.

Doc John 12:42 AM  

I'm traveling so won't be able to do the puzzle for a few days. I'm sorry I missed this one, though- it probably would have taken me all afternoon!

Loved the "good time wasted" comment but wasn't it Mark Twain who made the similar comment about golf?

Anonymous 12:23 PM  

I was so sure 1-down was INDYROCK, since the K fit.

kim 6:02 PM  

@doc john,

Twain's definition of golf: a good walk spoiled.

imsdave1 6:21 PM  

congrats to all who caught the allusion to Mr. Twain's statement. Poorly rephrased by me.

edwin 11:37 AM  

It's nice to see "Salmagundi" in the Saturday puzzle, the answer to "mixture". It's our name, thought to be so because of shared stew. A habit when we began, in 1871. But, we don't quite fit the meaning of the word.

According to rumor we said "no" to Jackson Pollack, perhaps as he sailed forth from the nearby Cedar bar. Through the next sixty years we've remained true to our representative roots rather than to take part in what some call modern art insanity. Perhaps, therefore, we end up in the Saturday puzzle, paralleling our near invisibility. But, we welcome committed artists with low membership fees, regular shows and public galleries. Only through good luck and an auction, have we hung on to our historic brownstone on 5th Avenue. Still in the Village, where New York art took root.

member, sculptor

Gila 12:06 PM  

This was my first attempt at a Friday puzzle, but apparently I wasn't quite ready for it. I filled in DOE (42A), MEND (33A), and DESERTS (22D), then realized I couldn't get an additional single clue without cheating. I read through the clues several times and was completely stuck, so I had to look at Rex's answers. I was chagrined to realize that only one of my three answers was actually correct, and somewhat mollified to see that I was not alone in my mistakes. (If Rex thinks DESERTS is plausible, then it is. So there!) I groaned when I saw the correct answer to 23A. I've been to Israel three times, so EILAT is in my vocabulary, but being horrible at geography, I never connected it in my head to the Gulf of Aqaba. 4D (HAM) was another one I should have known. Re someone's comment that HAM seems odd as a Jewish name, the H is actually pronounced with the guttural, back-of-the-throat "kh" sound, and the A is pronounced like an O, as in "far". (Thank you, day school education!) I still don't get 6D: OVATE? What? Since when does that mean "roundish"? I had the OVA from crosses and was actually tempted to put in OVALY! 38D came fairly easily after some crosses, although I initially wanted SIGNORE. Fortunately, I didn't commit to it and waited for another cross to correct the error. Having made polenta myself once (it's good) I felt I should have realized 34D, but I didn't because I don't think of it as an alternative to pasta. Maybe it's just a personal thing, but I never eat plain pasta. I'll stir-fry it with vegetables, bake it into a casserole, or at least add some sauce on top. Polenta, however, stands on its own as a side dish. I liked 40D. I almost wanted ANALYSE for 2D before I realized "studies" was meant as a plural noun rather than a present tense verb. For 45D, I too would have put TENOF rather than TENTO if I didn't already have it from crosses. Again, I should have known 46D. I wanted ISAIAH or JEREMIAH, but they were too long. Overall, this was not very enjoyable for me and very frustrating. I think I'm going to stick to Monday and Tuesday puzzles for a while :)

kathking 3:13 PM  

really liked the puzzle, but then i always like the puzzles, going to rex's blog to see how i've done, even if it weeks later.
perhaps i will get a subscription to the nyt for christmas.

CAlady 4:55 PM  

Love this kind of puzzle, although it is the type that makes me fearful at first glance-all those white squares However, today's cryptoquote was from Henry Ford: "If you think you can, or if you think you cannot, you are right." So, I decided to think I can-and it worked!!! My only hang-up was a reluctance to give up Burbank for the lesser known Gardena, altho we pass it every time we drive from SD to LA.

embien 12:30 AM  

I rarely post since I'm in syndicationville, but I was surprised to see no comments on GARDENA for "California city with a horticultural name". The actual flower is a GARDENIA, so although I filled this in correctly (for the puzzle), I groaned all the while. It's just not correct (if I'm off base here, please clue me in).

Jamie O'NEAL is actually a rather well-known country singer, though the clued song ("When I Think About Angels") is not her best. Her biggest hit is (I think), "There Is No Arizona".

Kathy 12:47 PM  

Rex- I loved your comment about young girls and the fashion industry. I don't know what can be done about the effect they are having on girls' self-images.

Aviatrix 7:06 PM  

I was awed by all the whitespace, and frustrated by the Edmonton Journal not publishing the constructor's name, but finished, albeit slowly, without googling.

I had PINS and LOO, plus TETES instead of TOTEM ("How are the French a tribe?" I asked myself), and was desperate for 49A to be CLAYJUG. I have no problem with ALLALONGTHELINE: think of "point" geometrically, then clue and answer pair perfectly.

Am I the only one who snickered at the LAV/MOVEMENT cross? As for POLENTA, I asked a non-crosswordy victim, "what's a substitute for pasta that starts with PO? It's too long for POTATO and too short for POTATOES." He got it instantly.

And finally it's petty of Rex to dis a well-known modern-day country singer when he has no apologies for baseball players from thirty or forty years ago.

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