TUESDAY, Apr. 8, 2008 - Dave Mackey (SUBJECT OF A 1976 FILM "ODE")

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: Sleepy time - four theme answers begin with words (or phrases) related to going to bed

Tuesdays. My most hated of puzzle days. This puzzle actually held together pretty well, despite a few clunks and creaks here and there. Started out like a Monday, with a super-easy NW corner leading right into the easy theme answer BEDTIME FOR BONZO (easy if you lived through the Reagan era, I should say). The ENE (that's "East-Northeast," not the chemical suffix) had some oddness: unusual adjective crossing TV "star" you (I) have never heard of. While this part of the puzzle caused me to screw up my face (as if to say "Really...?") it did not slow me down much. The strangest part of the puzzle for me was coming to 30A: Doris Day movie, with "The" and being able to think of only one movie, the only Doris Day movie I've seen: PILLOW TALK. Only I knew it wasn't "The PILLOW TALK," so I had to wait for some crosses. This was all before I knew what the theme was. So to have PILLOW TALK turn up as an actual answer only a minute or so later was very, very weird. This is one of only two small quibbles I have with the theme: over-reliance on Doris Day movies (to the point that you are forced to pretend that she is not in one of them). The other quibble: I DREAM OF JEANNIE does not begin with a sleep-related word. DREAM is word 2. As I say, these are very, very small quibbles that I'm not actually holding against the puzzle. Ooh, wait, one more: three movies ... and a TV show? Be consistent or mix it up. Choose one.

P.S. PILLOW TALK is a Great movie, if only for the amazing Tony Randall.
P.P.S. Doris Day is my parents' neighbor. I think she lives just off a golf course close to their home. She may own a (very pet-friendly) hotel in town. My info has not been fact-checked at all.

Theme answers:

17A: Ronald Reagan movie ("Bedtime for Bonzo")
30A: Doris Day movie, with "The" ("Pajama Game")
48A: Rock Hudson movie ("Pillow Talk")
63A: Barbara Eden TV series ("I Dream of Jeannie")

Lots of crosswordian vocabulary today - little words that need to be in the solver's pocket, like OMNI (11D: First Dodge with front-wheel drive) (up there with EDSEL, ALERO, and - apparently - CIVIC (38A: Honda with a palindromic name) as the car makes most worth knowing); AGORA (32D: Ancient meeting place); ENIAC (34D: Pioneering 1940s computer); AFTS (58D: P.M. periods - one of my most hated abbreviations); ROTOS (67A: Old newspaper sections) and, of course, ERNS (56D: Coastal raptors). There's also REA, clued here in its rarely seen cartoonist form (47A: _____ Irvin, longtime cartoonist for The New Yorker).

Tons of pop culture today, from Annabella SCIORRA (36D: Annabella of "The Sopranos") and JABBA the Hutt (31D: _____ the Hutt of "Star Wars") to a host of other modern songs and movies and related answers:

  • 28D: "Spider-Man" director Sam (Raimi) - very crossworthy name.
  • 46D: "Flying Down to Rio" Studio (RKO)
  • 41D: Subject of a 1976 film "ode" (Billy Joe) - this is very nice, very original. Is this related to the "Billy Joe McAllister jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge" song? I think so. (This song has "CHOCTAW" in it)
  • 43A: 2001 title role for Audrey Tautou ("Amélie") - never seen it. The movie poster / DVD cover freaks me out.
  • 12D: Minnelli of "Arthur" (Liza)
  • 1A: Kaplan of "Welcome Back, Kotter" (Gabe)
  • 37A: Greg of "My Two Dads" (Evigan) - wow. This is super duper marginal. I can barely believe this made it into a Tuesday puzzle. This is the answer I blinked at the most - double-checked all the crosses - the only odd one was ZOOLOGIC (10D: Of the animal kingdom), but that was pretty solid. So I left it. This may not be the first time I've seen this guy in a puzzle, but it feels like it. This show is Soooo 80s. EVIGAN's co-star: a pre-"Mad About You" Paul Reiser. "... And Greg EVIGAN as Joey," HA ha. He's the second-most memorable TV Joey of the 20th century!

There's also a bevy of literary answers in the puzzle, perhaps to offset the pop-culturiness of the puzzle in general:

  • 26D: Flaubert's Bovary, e.g.: Abbr. (Mme.)
  • 10A: Emile who wrote "Truth in on the march" (Zola)
  • 66A: _____ St. Vincent Millay (Edna)
  • 29D: It's no short story (novel)

I never read the clue for I'LL TREAT (39D: "It's on me!") and only just this second realized that the answer wasn't ILL TREAT (as in [Handle roughly]).


  • 22A: Cuban boy in 2000 news (Elian) - ugh. I will admit that the news, post-9/11, has been frightening and horrific and designed to scare you / lull you into a consumeristic stupor, but ... do you remember pre-9/11 news? It wasn't a lot better. I'm surprised some station didn't spin-off an all-ELIAN network during this "saga."
  • 25A: Chat room shorthand for "Here's what I think" (IMHO) - In My Humble Opinion. Rarely ever Humble. This is why I like to use the Rex Parker original IMOO - In My Obnoxious Opinion (TM). It's more honest.
  • 33D: Maxim's target audience (males) - have I mentioned my extreme dislike for MALE and FEMALE as substantive adjectives (unless the subject is, say, livestock). I guess you have to use MALES if the group to which you are referring includes guys under 18??? Still, it's icky to me. As is "Maxim." As Jon Stewart once so eloquently put it, "Maxim" (and similar mags) are basically "porn for guys who are too scared to buy porn."
  • 51A: Deuce beater (trey) - I do not like "beater" at all here.
  • 52A: Bonkers (loco) - I would like LOCO, SANE, and especially SANO to take a few months off.
  • 1D: Mongolian expanse (Gobi) - like "beater," "expanse" is weird to me here. Apt, but ... odd.
  • 3D: "Venerable" monk (Bede) - being a medievalist occasionally comes in handy.
  • 5D: Colgate competitor (Aim) - first thought the clue meant Colgate University.
  • 6D: Equestrian competition (dressage) - I think I had this answer in a puzzle yesterday. I forget which one. Weird word to see twice in two days.
  • 71A: Have-_____ (lower economic group) (nots)
  • 8D: A world without 71-Across (Utopia) - a UTOPIA is a world without NOTS?
  • 50D: Informal greeting at a breakfast shop (mornin') - I love this answer, though I'm trying desperately to think of something better than "breakfast shop" for the clue. I would never ever ever say "I'm going to the breakfast shop." I would say "I'm going to IHOP."

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Peter 8:45 AM  

Knew it wouldn't fit in the theme, but for a while I had ??LL???AL? on the third theme answer and wanted Roller Ball ever so badly.

I'm betting that this will seconded, but AMELIE is one of my all time favorite movies.

ArtLvr 8:49 AM  

HI all -- I got this one, in spite of weird EVIGAN, but the last cross was pure guess: AMELIE and RAIME. Why put two pop clues together like that, when Amelie could have referred to adorable penguins?

Looking forward to some outdoor clean-up today, as we bask in real spring warmth for a change!


arb 9:04 AM  

Rex wrote:
41D: Subject of a 1976 film "ode" (Billy Joe) - this is very nice, very original. Is this related to the "Billy Joe McAllister jumped off the Tallahassee Bridge" song? I think so. This song has "CHOCTAW" in it)

The song inspired *that* film, a 1978 comedy w/ Barbara Eden, "Harper Valley P.T.A.," and her 1981 TV series of the same name.

HARPERVALLEYPTA also fits for 63A,
but makes no sense with the crosses or theme (unless you count the many MALES who wanted to sleep with Barbara Eden).

Kathy 9:13 AM  

Wow, how the hell did I remember Greg Evigan immediately, even though I know I never watched that show? Curious, I googled him, and can you imagine that he has a web site, with pix, bio, etc.?! Greg Evigan?! Too funny...

Rex, I thought of you when I put "loco" in the grid!


kratsman 9:15 AM  

Billy Joe jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge.

In addition to Harper Valley PTA, and in the same southern narrative style of song, The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia came along a few years later.

Anonymous 9:23 AM  

I suspect that many of us immediately thought of Rex when LOCO and ERNS came up. What power you hold, Dear Leader!

That being said, I agree that LOCO and SANO should go away for a while.

Joe in NE

Ulrich 9:38 AM  

Did anyone else notice that the theme answers are in a logical sequence? It's BEDTIME, you put on your PAJAMAS (if you must--I don't), then put your head on the PILLOW, and are ready to DREAM.

Good Tuesday fare IMHO.

jannieb 9:40 AM  

I thought this was a Monday - couldn't type fast enough or I'd have beaten the 4 minute mark. Some days all the pop culture, lit, and theme entries are right in the front of my brain. Today was the day.

I remember the Pajama Game as one of the first Broadway musical cast albums that I listened to - and had nearly all the songs memorized. Loved the score. Why they ever ruined it by filming it with Doris Day I have no clue.

Let's send loco, sano, sane, whacko, etc. back to the asylum for a well-deserved Spring break.

Hugh 9:41 AM  

ASCAP didn't make any sense to me until I realised BMI doesn't just stand for Body Mass Index.
What are ROTOS, though?

Orange 9:45 AM  

Artlvr, the penguins are ADELIE, AMELIE was huge for a foreign movie, though.

Ulrich's right—the theme follows the progression of "at BEDTIME, you don your PAJAMA (the singular is in the dictionary), put your head on the PILLOW, and DREAM." It's not just "titles with sleep-related words in them."

Greg EVIGAN was in Tiger Beat magazine when I was a girl, after "B.J. and the Bear" made him (temporarily) famous. He was cute.

jannieb 9:55 AM  

@hugh - there used to be a photography section in the newspaper called the "rotograveur" (not sure of the spelling) - now abbreviated "rotos". If you recall the song "In Your Easter Bonnet", you'll find that you're in the rotograveur!

emjo 9:56 AM  

coastal raptors!!!(my favorite cluing of ern ever)

PhillySolver 9:56 AM  

From Wikipedia

Rotogravure (roto or gravure for short) is a type of intaglio printing process, in that it involves engraving the image onto an image carrier. In gravure printing, the image is engraved onto a copper cylinder because, like offset and flexography, it uses a rotary printing press. The vast majority of gravure presses print on reels of paper, rather than sheets of paper. Stop the Presses! We're on a roll.

I liked the puzzle, but ten names on a Tuesday and two or three of them fairly obscure, made for a slower solve. I admire the construction because despite the arcane names, the puzzle fell pretty quickly.

arb 9:57 AM  

@9:41 AM Hugh said...
What are ROTOS, though?

A reference to a section of a newspaper filled with photographs.
These days, think Parade or the NYT Sunday Magazine.

As Irving Berlin wrote:
On the avenue, Fifth Avenue,
the photographers will snap us,
And youll find that you're
in the rotogravure.

ryanfacestheworld 9:59 AM  


Totally agree with you on Tony Randall. He is flippin' hilarious in that movie.

And I totally agree with Peter, Amelie is one of my favorites too. Yes, the poster is a little freaky but the movie is wonderful and will keep you skipping and happy for at least a week.

Anonymous 10:00 AM  

Three objects, bed, pajama, pillow, result in dream. Bedtime not.

Alex 10:04 AM  

I'd have to go with at least 3rd most memorable TV Joey of the 20th Century.

1. Joey from Friends
2. Joey "Woah!" Russo (nee Lawrence) from Blossom.
3. Maybe Joey from My Two Dads

And yet, this one was a gimme. I remember him from My Two Dads, but he is better known to me as BJ in BJ and the Bear.

Bill D 10:07 AM  

My turn to be ripped - although I flew through this (remember when I say breezed, flew, etc, it means I kept steadily filling in answers without too many hiccups but not in Orange/Rex-like time) the intersecting names, especially obscure pop culture ones, really honked me off. EVIGAN came from crosses, and I had to keep convincing myself that the E in MME was correct. When I worked through the puzzle I had left A_NE (composer), _AI_I (director), A_EL_E (movie) & SC_ORRA (actress) all intersecting each other! OK, I realize "Britannia Composer: ARNE" is crosswordese, and I dutifully filled in the R, and the Italian actress's name looked best with an I after the SC, but the M in RAIMI and AMELIE was a pure guess on how those words looked on paper. If this is the pop culture we're getting now I'm ready to go back to Ally McBeel (allegedly)!

Otherwise, I loved the theme & theme answers, MORNIN without "Top o' the _", a REA that was not "Actor Stephen", AIM as a noun, and most of the rest of the fill and cluing, save for the unfortunate MALES crossing MASC, and not to mention LOCO and ERNS again. GABE Kotter and I DREAM OF JEANNIE offset the awful EVIGAN for me.

Second day in a row with a Z keystoning the NE corner...

ArtLvr 10:17 AM  

Yes, Orange, I realized afterward that the penguins are Adélie and the film was Amélie, but my subconscious gave me Raimi anyway... as a more likely name.


miriam b 10:20 AM  

I was also perplexed by BMI, as I thought immediately of body mass index. ASCAP fit, of course. Now that I've done 2 seconds worth of research, I see that it's Broadway Music, Inc.

dk 10:30 AM  

Another speedy day for me as well. All the clues just rolled out except for the Two Dads/Greg one.

Not owning a TV (insert smug superiority about here) for the last 15 years sorta wipes me out on pop culture related to the tube.

The sleepy theme was fine for me and I always love to see ROTOS.

I got LOCO the same way I got SANE yesterday: Four years of grad school, one year residency and several more years of continuing ed. credits. And, they say education is not important - hah.

Was today brought to us by the letter O? Quite a few in this puzzle.

Gotta say the Maxim girl is cute (insert snorting pig noises about here).

Wade 10:31 AM  

Art and Kratsman, I think you're off base in the Ode to Billie Joe/Harper Valley, P.T.A. connection. Both are songs, written by Bobbie Gentry and Tom T. Hall, respectively. OTBJ is a weird, sui generis song narrated by a presumably teenage girl about a boy who jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge for reasons only the girl suspects she knows. It has a very slow, bluesy pace that evokes the Mississippi Delta where the song is set ("It was the third of June another sleepy dusty Delta day/I was out pickin' cotton and my brothers were balin' hay . . . .") The big mystery of the song is what Billie Joe threw off the Tallahatchie Bridge when he and the girl were seen walking up there, and there's a small cult of people out there still discussing the song on the internet. The song is quite haunting and evocative and spooky. Bobbie Gentry isn't really known for anything else she did, if anything.

Harper Valley PTA is a one-joke Tom T. Hall song (about small town hypocrisy, (a word I can never spell) and which actually mentions Peyton Place in the lyrics.) It was a hit for Jeannie C. Riley. Tom T. Hall did much better stuff: "The Year that Clayton Delaney Died," "Homecoming," "I Flew Over Our House Last Night." He's also a close friend of ex-pres Carter.

Both songs were made into movies. I remember seeing OTBJ when I was a kid but can't vouch for whether it was any good. I think it was made for TV. I never saw the HVPTA movie.

I pretend to know a lot about a lot of stuff, but really all I know much about is country music.

arb 10:35 AM  


Pete M 10:42 AM  

I'll add my recommendation for Amelie. Definitely worth seeing, Rex, and (not that this in itself is much of an endorsement, but...) it's currently ranked in the top 40 highest-rated films of all time in IMDB. :)

Rent it.

Hydromann 10:45 AM  

Rex, one other fact you need to check about Doris Day...concerning her being your parents neghbor. This may once have been the case, but it is doubtful that it remains so. You see, she passed away ten years ago!

CubHate 10:51 AM  

Rex! See Amelie, it's great.

And Kathy, I too immediately got Greg Evigan, although I was a teenage boy with a crush on the girl in that show (Stacy Keenan) when it was on the air, so I had a distinct advantage there.

I too was shocked to see that Evigan had his own website though. Funny.

As far as the Maxim thing goes, I couldn't get that because dumbasses didn't fit.

miriam b 10:51 AM  

@ Hydromann: Are you sure about that? I believe that Doris Day is still with us.

Anonymous 11:04 AM  

Funny, I know Greg Evigan right away because his daugher Brianna Evigan just starred in the movie Step-Up 2 - The Streets. And, I know this because I have a 10 year old daughter who thought the movie was the best movie she ever saw!

BTW - i now it was a few days back but can someone please explain to me what the MUG HUMP LEMON STEW DASH HALF was about from Sunday's comments? I am lost.


Kathy 11:06 AM  

Wade, the Harper Valley PTA was also made into a tv show starring Barbara Eden, most famous for playing JEANNIE in I Dream of Jeannie.

Cubhate, I spent Way too much time on the Greg Evigan web site, I was just so astounded at its existence!

Loved your dumbasses comment--LOL!


jannieb 11:07 AM  

@anonymous 11:04 It means "my compliments to the chef" if spoken aloud - similar to the theme of Sunday's puzzle.

PuzzleGirl 11:09 AM  

Orange: Thanks for referring to "BJ and the Bear." I knew I remembered Evigan from an old show, but couldn't remember the title. At first, I thought you saved me some Googling, but then I decided I just had to find the picture that was on the Tiger Beat pull-out poster I had hanging in my room way back when. Oh yes, here it is. Hey! B.J. stands for Billie Joe! Huh.

Ray Liotta once played a character named Joey on "Another World." I suppose that Joey is only memorable to me.

Margaret 11:13 AM  

For the record, Tallahatchie is Choctaw for Rock of Waters or Rocky River. Hatchie literally means river. We also have the Loosahatchie River and even the plain old Hatchie River (which of course is redundant.) The Tallahatchie runs into the Yalobusha. Yoknapatawpha may be a fictional county but Tishomingo, Issaquena, Noxubee, and Oxtibbeha are not!

Other thoughts on the puzzle: Bedtime for Bonzo makes me think of Johnny Carson. He would often kid his director Fred de Cordova for having done that film. And Eniac makes me think of my favorite Tracy/Hepburn movies Desk Set where he is installing a computer ("Emirac") into her library. Her character in that movie would've been a crossword whiz...

jae 11:22 AM  

This seemed about right for a Tues. I'd never heard of EVIGAN, forgotten ROTOS, and was iffy on spelling AMELIE and didn't remember how "Concentration" worked but got through in about average Tues. time for me. Thought the theme was cute and well done.

Regarding yesterday’s discussion of speed solving by foodie, howard b, rex and orange: in the jargon of my field, cognitive psychology, it sounds like they are talking about automaticity. This occurs when components of tasks are so well learned they no longer require conscious mediation. It is most common in psycho-motor tasks like typing, playing an instrument, athletics,… Skilled typists, musicians, athletes don’t need to think about physical movements, they “think” about the words, music, performance and, in the words of Nike, “just do it.” Automaticity also happens in more complex cognitive skills like chess. Skilled players develop pattern recognition abilities that become automatic. Apparently, this may also apply to crosswords. While navigation AcrossLite is analogous to typing and can probably be acquired through practice, the pattern recognition skills, as Merl Reagle speculated, may be at least partially hard wired. For example, I’ve interviewed good spellers who report that they can “see” the words they are trying to spell. This is not true for everyone. Anyway, it is interesting to find out that highly skilled speed solvers may be doing something quite different than those of us doing in Rex’s words “methodical solving - observant, mindful solving.”

Kathy 11:24 AM  

Thanks for the link, puzzlegirl! Orange was right, he is cute. But a look at his web site will show that he has moved on to....kinda handsome.


Joon 11:33 AM  

yes, rex, it's deja vu day. DRESSAGE was in yesterday's crossynergy puzzle [11D: Art of horse training], and of course PILLOW TALK was a theme entry in yesterday's NYS [3D: Intimate conversation between lovers], which had a similar theme ("Bedroom sounds").

never heard of greg EVIGAN or annabella SCIORRA, but i still blew through this puzzle like it was a monday. unlike orange, though, i couldn't beat dave mackey's own time. that's just sick, even though i'm sure it's been months or years since he wrote the puzzle.

haven't seen the venerable BEDE in quite a while. he was due, if you ask me, although not as due as the detroit tigers.

rex, i'll third (or fourth, or whatever it is now) the recommendation for AMELIE. strange movie, to be sure, and i totally agree with you about the creepiness of the cover shot, but it's actually extremely cute. tangentially, i know intellectually that tautou is the same actress who was in the da vinci code, but i still can't quite convince myself that it's the same person. that mischievous grin is radically appearance-altering.

alex, i'm with you. blossom joey >> my two dads joey. "whoa!" eh, text doesn't do it justice.

Anonymous 11:40 AM  

Good theme today, but thought that the crossing of two obscure pop culture words, AMELIE/RAIMI, was unfair. Never heard of either of those.

Anonymous 11:41 AM  

I'm with Alex on the rankings of the Joeys. But I'd stick at least one more on the list before the My Two Dads Joey -- Uncle Joey from Full House!

That makes Evigan at least 4th now.

imsdave 11:45 AM  


Couldn't agree with you more about Doris Day ruining the movie version of Pajama Game. The one saving grace, is that it is the only film I am aware of to feature the great baritone John Raitt (Bonnie's father), even if they did cut the best number in the show, "A New Town, Is A Blue Town". He should also be remembered as the original Billy Bigelow in Carousel, and the second Curly in Oklahoma. Not many baritones with a crystal clear B-flat.

Only answer I needed the crosses for was (you guessed it) EVIGAN - I didn't used to read Tiger Beat. Nice Tuesday though.

Bill from NJ 11:53 AM  

As a 60 year old, these pop culture clues are in my wheel house and this Tuesday puzzle put me back on track. I never stopped writing until I finished this at 4 minutes flat. Had no problems - none! - and finished in a rush.

Curiously enough, I don't really enjoy these kinds of puzzles as they remind me of those third-rate ones you find in local papers.

I'm looking forward to Friday and Saturday even though I will probably be humiliated,

archaeoprof 12:00 PM  

How about the crossing of IRATE with UTOPIA?

Kim 12:20 PM  


I studied cogntive psych in grad school (UCSD)but alas did not finish and ended up teaching science. But my first year thesis (25 yrs ago) was based on visual imagery.

I agree that highly skilled solvers probably visualize the words in a puzzle w/o needing to write them down - this way they can tell immediately if they are correct or not. The more methodical solvers, such as my self, may need to see the word written in the context of the puzzle and then physiclly erase if needed.

Skilled solvers may have a automatic "write and check" mental image that helps them solve faster.

Would be interesting to see what our speed solvers think of this.

treedweller 12:27 PM  

I suspected Shortz was messing with us when we got SANE a couple of days ago. When we got LOCO today, I began to feel certain. If next week we see "Sane in Spain" or some such, I will declare it a Shout-Out.

I am struggling now not to get the theme from "BJ and the Bear" stuck in my head. So far I have been flirting with the theme from "Dukes of Hazzard" instead (can't explain why, but then, do I have to?). I'll take Waylon's pipes over Evigan's any day.

Anonymous 1:00 PM  


thanks so much for explaining that - It was driving me crazy!

mac 1:13 PM  

This was more of a Monday puzzle than yesterday's. I had trouble with the pop culture side of it, several names meant nothing to me and I couldn't always get it from the crosses.
I think treedweller is right, we're being had by Will.
Rex, I automatically filled in IMOO after seeing it so often on this sight......
Go see Amelie, it's an unusual and quirky film, lots of fun.

PhillySolver 2:32 PM  

Although "Bedtime for Bonzo" is a really bad movie, it does not make any of the major lists of worst movies of all times. However, Ronald Reagan did receive a Golden Raspberry for Life time achievement in bad movies. The individual winners by organizations tracking really bad films are:
Golden Turkey: Plan 9 From Outer Space
Golden Raspberry: Gigli
IMBd: The Maize
everyonesacritic.com: Battlefield Earth
Rotten Tomatoes: Ballistic: Ecks vs Sever

I, too, liked Amelie and have a friend (ami) who helped set up the Amelie Tour, which takes many tourists everyday to the sites of the movies best scenes through out Paris.

Bill from NJ 2:36 PM  


Bobby Gentry was part-owner of the Phoenix Suns (NBA) for a time.

I guess there is good money in one-hit-wonders

SethG 3:20 PM  

The song came out in '67. She invested $50,000 in the Suns in '68 (at the age of 25). Despite rumors to the contrary, Bobbie G. and Jim Nabors were just good friends, though she did go out with Bobby Darin a few times.

She was named the first honorary convict in the history of the men's prison in Chino, Calif.

The woman from the Maxim cover is Vanessa Marcil, who was married to Corey Feldman, who was a Goonie.

Amelie does rock,

green mantis 3:42 PM  

Rex, today's Ipod addition should be "Bonzo Goes to Bitburg" by the Ramones. Wry political commentary from a greasy punk outfit? What CAN'T that band do, honestly. Sigh.

Dan 3:45 PM  

Thank you for linking to the My Two Dads theme song! Ah, memories of middle school. Like CubHate, I had a major crush on Staci Keanan. I think she came between Soleil Moon "Punky Brewster" Frye and Danica "Winnie Cooper" McKellar in my Fantasy TV Girlfriends.

Two answers I wouldn't have known were the two clues I didn't see while solving: BEDE and REA. With REA, I would have thought, "crap, I've seen this before, what the hell is it?", which is almost worse. Sort of like when we had OGFU recently, but at least I now have a helpful mnemonic for that one...

David 3:45 PM  

I really think theNYT sunk to a new low on this puzzle - I have NEVER, in probably 15 years of doing these, seen a puzzle so loaded with proper noun, mostly entertainment related, answers. Do all you commenters who said things like "Monday level" and "cruised through in 4 minutes" really think this makes it a good puzzle? I mean, yes, if this were Entertainment Today, but for the NYT?! The entire 3x5 block in the Oregon/CA region was names-not a single answer there had anything to do with knowing English or "word play", which is what I thought the puzzle was supposed to be about.


foodie 4:00 PM  

Regarding the discussion about speed solving-- I do imagine that the ability to visualize the words would be extremely helpful, and I agree that automaticity is a good way to think about the process. But I think there must be an additional element that is not required for standard automatic tasks like typing but is needed for complex cognitive tasks, like solving crosswords, tasks that require pulling many elements together-- word patterns, specific knowledge, past experience, sense of language structure, etc... you have to find a way to remain in that focused state, which may be automatic but yet needs to be very flexible. I imagine that it requires special talent to remain in that mode as Rex, Orange and the other great solvers do. Rex's description gave a glimpse of what it might take to achieve that optimal state, as it told us what ruined it for him yesterday-- a combination of clues that deviated too much from expectation, proved frustrating, annoying or under par. So, there is an active monitoring of how the solving is going and it has both a cognitive and an affective element-- as long as it's according to expectation and positive, one is humming. If a bit frustrating it can be overcome. If too negative, it can ruin the process.

Orange, you probably underestimate how much talent it takes because it comes easily to you. I have the same feeling about languages. I think it's very easy to acquire them, but others struggle. It's one thing to learn how to do a Monday. But no amount of knowledge and practice will allow everyone to do what you do on a Saturday. That is talent!

Ulrich 4:22 PM  

Not to distract from this, to me, very intriguing discussion, but to add, perhaps, another aspect: I've seen on YouTube a video showing Henman doing a Monday puzzle (can't recall exactly where, but Orange may know). It was filmed from an angle that I found unfortunate, over his shoulder from the back, which made it look as if he was writing at top speed w/o ever stopping to look at the clues. I wished I had seen the process from the front so that I could have seen his eyes moving from clues to grid and back. Or does he maintain a "wide angle" that allows him to see both at any time? Or is he looking back and forth so fast that one doesn't catch it? I'm bringing this up b/c there may be an interesting hand-eye coordination aspect to speed solving.

Ulrich 4:27 PM  

Oops--I meant Hinman of course

jannieb 4:47 PM  

@imsdave - John Raitt was a wonderful talent. Doris Day was the only lead who wasn't in the original Broadway cast. She replaced Janis Page. Some really great vocals on that album. According to Amazon there is a remastered version that includes some additional rehearsal tracks. Might need to update my wish list.

imsdave 5:01 PM  

@jannieb - i was fortunate enough to know John Raitt from the late sixties until his death in the mid-2000's (can't remember if it was 2005, or 2006) wonderful man - I asked him once what he though of Janis Paige's singing, and he answered, "she was the only person I knew who could sing between the white notes and the black notes on the piano, but there is no one I would rather work with on stage".

High praise indeed.

Doc John 5:04 PM  

Nobody has mentioned the "ape subtheme" in this puzzle: Bonzo and The Bear.

Not much else to add to what's already been said, though. I thought this puzzle by Mr. Mackey was "mmm-kay".

Kathy 5:12 PM  

Ulrich, I saw the same clip (it's on youtube.com, just search for Tyler's name), and I completely agree with you. I wanted to see how he was reading the clues as he was writing.

Word Play was the best for this, since the final contestants solve on a big whiteboard (with black squares!), so you can see them looking at the clues and filling in the answers as two separate things.

With the TH video, he probably had a friend using his Sony Minicam from behind and wasn't too concerned with the theater of it all!


Orange 5:27 PM  

Anonymous from 10:00 said Three objects, bed, pajama, pillow, result in dream. Bedtime not. Actually, the constructor intended the progression from bedtime through to dreams. (One doesn't get into bed before donning pajamas, so it's got to be bedtime that's meant.) Dave Mackey left a comment at my blog saying "Glad you picked up on the progression of the theme! I think that's what really sold it to Will - it not only had a theme, but it had one that made logical sense as you read through the theme entries. If I could have found a 15-letter movie that had DREAM in the title, that would have made the theme super air tight."

Foodie and everyone chiming in on the cognitive stuff, I'm loving this vein of discussion. So interesting!

Orange 5:29 PM  

As for why I felt compelled to respond to Anonymous, this cartoon is painfully true to me.

Karen 5:46 PM  

I thought there were too many proper names (especially the half I didn't get). And the Maxim clue was ick for me also.

johnson 6:02 PM  

Doris Day is happily alive.

When this type of controversy arises, as it frequently does in my house for some reason, we go to


Hope others find this useful (if a little off topic).

Ulrich 6:14 PM  

@kathy: yes, I know. I was actually at this year's ACPT and saw this live. But the puzzles there were meant to be difficult, and you could clearly see the finalists not only look at clues, but actually think, i.e. stare at the grid w/o doing anything. In the video, the speed of solving is so utterly amazing that I would be interested in more details--speed being at the core of this discussion.

Doc John 6:19 PM  

When I watched that youtube video, it actually looked like it had been sped up! It was a bonus that he had confirmation with the timer so you could tell that it had indeed taken place in real time. I also agree that it would have been nice to see a view of him looking at the clues. I wonder if he does a "speed reader" type of trick where he takes in a whole block of print at once and processes it on the fly.

SethG 6:36 PM  

@Johnson: Thanks for the link. I always used to use whosaliveandwhosdead myself, but now I find it just as easy to google--usually the wikipedia entry will be one of the first results, and the first line, including birth/death dates, is right there.

@Orange: I assume you told DM about the 20+ 15-letter movies with DREAM in their title that could have worked. (Though I'm glad he went with TV--I've heard of none of the movies, and only two seem at all clueable. One was Woody Allen's Cassandra's Dream, which surely came out after the construction, and the other was Elvis' Follow That Dream, and we've had enough of that lately...)

Leon 6:55 PM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tyler 7:03 PM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tyler 7:03 PM  

Ulrich et al.: My eyes are in fact darting back and forth. I just get a very quick look. In a sense, I take sort of a mental snapshot of the words and then do the actual reading in my head, if that makes any sense. This is even more accelerated when I solve on the computer, but that's occasionally TOO fast, as it sometimes leads to a misreading and a nonsensical answer.

Ulrich 7:13 PM  

@tyler: Great to hear from the man himself! Now I'm really intrigued.

Kathy 7:22 PM  

tyler, that has to be an innate ability, and I'd be curious at the cognitive psychology perspective on it (as Orange wrote--a fascinating discussion). Must be akin to a photographic memory.

Nonsensical answers...how have you seen my completed puzzles?!

Fun comments today--thanks everyone. Er...they usually are, though...sorry!


Orange 7:28 PM  

Rex, re: the MALES thing—in my medical editing experience, I've been instructed never to use "male" and "female" as nouns. Ther are infants, boys and girls, and men and women; a group of study subjects of mixed ages could be "the male participants," but not "127 males." So it grates when I hear young people, cops, doctors, and anyone who should know better using those words. "I met a lot of females at happy hour." Ick, no.

Ulrich et al: I'll bet nearly every top speed-solver has a photographic memory to some degree. Not only for looking at clues and a pattern of squares and remembering how you think they fall together, but also for remembering details from what you've read or seen in previous crosswords. When my friend gave me an IQ test as a grad-school assignment, I kicked butt on the part where she read me a sequence of digits and I had to recite them back—whatever cognitive skill is involved in reciting back a list of a dozen or more numbers, I seem to have. Solving a crossword online, let's say I know it's going to be PILLOWTALK and I have PI**O***L* filled in. If the cursor's in the last square, I'll type KLLWTA (with the cursor automatically jumping back to the first blank after K is entered) to fill in the squares pretty quickly, rather than starting from the beginning. Is that commonplace?

Doc John 7:34 PM  

@ Orange: I wouldn't want to challenge you to a game of Simon! :)

Kim 7:38 PM  

Deeper level cognitive processes create the mental image in your head. To say that it is automatic does mean it is neccessarily a rigid process. It's really all about making connections or activating the right neural pathways that lead to the correct answer. Any word may have associated pattern recognitions that are based on letters, phonemes, etc as well as semantics (all related meanings)and simple factual knowledge. The richer the connections to a word (letter patterns, semantics, facts, etc)the more paths there are to get there. The image is just a way of organizing all this information into a coherent piece or gestalt if you will.

I think experienced crossword puzzlers have a lot of different ways of getting to the desired word or phrase. And a lot of it can occur in their head because they know how to organize it visually in a way that most of can't do.

Think about it - some of us rely heavily on meaning and the various shades of meaning that the clues conjure up. Others rely more heavily on what the word looks like or sounds like and can instantly fill in the possible missing letters in their head. And I imagine others split this 50-50 - half meanings and half pattern recognition.

And then again maybe we shouldn't analyze this wonderful creative process to death - but I sure admire those of you who are so good at it.

PhillySolver 8:10 PM  

@ ki

I ov d yo r wr t up. I f nd I am a if y per c t r in te ms o wo d f l.

Im ges r an t r mat r.

Written for the word filling heroes who visit these pages.

jae 8:38 PM  

I agree with foodie that something more is going on with speed solvers than what happens in typical psycho-motor tasks (e.g. typing), which is why I mentioned expert chess players. Orange and Tyler have alluded to a probably hard wired eidetic ability that helps them perform very rapidly. It would be interesting to track Tyler's eye movements and compare them to those of a more deliberate solver. Again, these talents, by necessity, to not require conscious mediation.

@Orange -- AcrossLite skills can probably be improved with practice but I believe visualizing answers and then entering them backwards may be one of those skills you either have or don't. (For the record I don't.)

jannieb 8:44 PM  

This blog is now my favorite cocktail party - definitely the most interesting conversations, wide-range of topics, and diversity of guests. I learn something here every day. Thank you Rex and all who contribute.

Michael 9:05 PM  

I zoomed through this one. But it is humbling (maybe astonishing is a better word) how much slower my "zoom" is compared to the best in the world (whose "explanations" on this blog are really hard for me to understand, much as I appreciate them).

Kim 9:13 PM  


Thanks for giving me another puzzle to solve today. Took me longer than I expected when I first glanced at it. Guess I need to brush up a bit more on my word-fill abilities! You are too cool!

Thanks Jae for further clarification/thoughts - so much metacognition in one day!

scriberpat 9:28 PM  

@imsdave 11:45 AM and 5:01 PM
and @jannieb 4:47 PM

re: John Raitt

thank you guys for remembering him today. I recall watching the Grammys the year they oh-so-too-briefly acknowledged him after his having passed away.

Bill D 9:57 PM  

@Orange - I doubt that your ability to fill in the blanks in the order the cursor is moving without thinking is anywhere near common. (I will even repeat already filled-in letters when solving on paper!) Of course your innate talent has been specialized for computer crossword solving, but you must have some kind of cognitive ability allowing you to do what you do.

I can understand the "photographic memory" concept that Tyler alludes to; it must be a benefit to solving. I am a model builder and I have the ability to see the finished product in three dimensions in my mind's eye before I start; many modelers have told me they don't understand that. This skill, however, is more methodical and doesn't help with puzzle solving speed.

Interesting about your IQ test - when I took those tests and aptitude tests in Jr High I did very well in the abstract reasoning types, but the one I flunked was matching the most number strings in a limited time. The same methodology which allowed me to ace the 3-D tests left me in the dust with the number strings, however: Match 12345 - Let's see, 12345 - that looks like answer B); okay, double check: 12345, B) = 12345; okay, mark B) on the answer sheet; double-check to see I marked B) WHAT? Pencils down already? So you see my dilemma...

For an unbelievable example of the "mind's eye" at work, see the film Crumb, a documentary about the underground cartoonist R Crumb. In one scene he draws a complete page of a complex cartoon starting at the top and filling in about ½-inch at a time, like a computer printer. This means he already has the drawing made in his memory, like a computer, and his hand is merely the tool to let the rest of us see it!

kathi d 10:04 PM  

Doris Day is alive, in fact, I believe she just had a birthday, and she does indeed own a pet-friendly hotel in Carmel, California, where she has lived for many years (or in the immediate vicinity).

John Raitt has a street named after him in Santa Ana, California, where he lived for a time. I met his talented daughter Bonnie once and she was pleased to talk about her dad. They were very close, having shared a weakness for the drink (which they both overcame).

miriam b 10:11 PM  

A dear departed relative of mine developed a severe memory problem when she was in her late 80s. Her short-term memory effectively left her completely. Example: On a visit to the nursing home to which she had reluctantly moved, I brought her an item she needed. She thanked me for it, and five minutes later looked at it and asked, "Where did this come from?"

She also had long-term memory loss to such a degree that she usually couldn't remember who had visited her. She had no trouble recognizng friends and family, though, and unfailingly retained pertinent facts about them, including names, relationships, ages, occupations, etc.

She had always been a crossword addict (like most of my extended family). When I realized the scope of her problem, I made the erroneous assumption that her puzzle-solving days were likely over; but to my amazement I found that despite her severe memory deficiency she was regularly doing the NYT puzzles correctly, and in ink! She also tackled the cryptics and the acrostics, and solved them with ease.

Was a specific area of her brain intact? Paging Dr. Sacks, or one of you experts.

PS: My eldest daughter is an autistic savant and an emerging "outsider" artist. She doesn't forget ANYthing. The aforementioned relative was her first cousin twice removed. This connection is probably irrelevant, but it invites speculation by a layman such as me.

green mantis 10:23 PM  

Lol Orange: "Is that commonplace?"

No, I think the term for that is "amazing." It's a kind of mental shuffling and collating and god knows what that is really exceptional, and awesome to see in action. (It occurs to me you maybe weren't being serious when you asked, but I'm going to carry on anyway...)

When I was little, I got to go to a television shoot with my stepfather for a PSA starring Bill Clinton. Mid-take, the teleprompter got stuck, shot ahead double time, started going backwards, and then skipped ahead again. It was a mess, and a situation any other speaker would have responded to by simply stopping and waiting for the snag to be fixed.

Clinton, on the other hand, was able to somehow pick up key info out of the mess onscreen, do a bit of improvisation, and then weave himself back into the restored script seamlessly without ever skipping a beat.

It doesn't sound as impressive as it was when I watched, but it really was a small but telling window into a fast and supple mind--a mind that works differently.

And your example with pillow talk sounds to me like something in a similar neural neighborhood. It's way on the other side of town from where I live.

jae 11:48 PM  

@miriam b -- we have several types of distinct memories. I appears your relative had lost the ability to move info from short-term to long term memory but didn't lose her semantic memory (memory for words, facts, definitions, faces, etc.). If she could also remember past events and life experiences her episodic memory was also still working. The movie Memento is a good example of the short term transfer loss phenomena.

BTW my previous post should have read "do not require..."

jae 11:51 PM  

Shoot! that should read "It appears..." I miss my editor!

Nebraska Doug 10:17 PM  

AMELIE - yes, a must see movie.

juliebee 4:02 PM  

@ jannieb - I agree - what a wonderful conversation I get to overhear every day! I found this site while trying to figure out a clue (of course) and now check it every day even when the puzzle was easy for me. I was away last week, and also see the puzzle in syndication, so am about 7 weeks behind, but this "automaticity" thread is very intriguing to me.

I loved the video of Tyler - while it would have been nice to see his eyes going back and forth, I did feel that seeing his pencil hover (noting even a couple of erasures), and his head bobbing a bit, I could "almost" see how he was doing it. I think I even saw him count letters to see if an answer fit the grid. All fascinating. Just the way I solve,but about ten thousand times faster!

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