Friday, August 22, 2008

Relative difficulty: Challenging

THEME: none

Must hurry today. Driving family hither and yon this morning (work, gymnastics, doctor's appointment, etc.).

Kevin Der is a great young constructor - and, according to Facebook (yes, I have a Facebook page now, dear god), he is also my friend (of which, according to Facebook, I have exactly 15, which weirdly sounds about right). So he will presumably still like me at the end of the day when I say that I really didn't like this puzzle. Well, first, there's the fact that I failed to solve it correctly, due to one of TWO places that violate the original "Natick Principle" - which involves the crossing of uncommon proper nouns. I guessed correctly at the ALICANTE (13D: Spanish city and province on the Mediterranean) / SENTA (26A: Actress Berger) crossing (having maybe possibly once heard of the former and never heard of the latter), but I never saw the mistake I had at the RIC (29A: Four-year sch. of higher learning in Providence) / COLOSSAE (31D: Ancient city to which Paul wrote an Epistle) crossing. Never heard of either. I had RIT / TOLOSSAE, the latter being hilariously wrong, but the former being a well known institution of higher learning (sadly, just not in Providence).

[Gratuitous puppy picture]

This puzzle is what can happen when you go for the showiness of stacked 15's. You pull it off ... but to what end? Forget the super rough crosses for a moment. Check this out: FOUR PLURAL NAMES and THREE SUPER-ODD JOBS (an "Odd Job" being a word ending in "-er" that you would rarely if ever use)

  • 26D: Some Rockerfeller Center murals (Serts)
  • 10D: Ex-senator Sam of Georgia and others (Nunns)
  • 19A: "Lucia di Lammermoor" lord and namesakes (Enricos)
  • 43D: Baseball's Joe and others (Torres) - hey, next time I recommend [Chocolatier Jacques] ... well, I'm not entirely serious, I just love visiting his store when I'm in Brooklyn
  • 49A: Ham, e.g. (radioer)
  • 30D: Idea person (imaginer)
  • 3D: Burlesque-goer, typically (starer)

There are the stacks of 15, which are good, and then everything else, which ranges from merely inoffensive to bad. This is why I rarely if ever mention physical feats of construction - I don't care. I want an enjoyable puzzle. "Look at how few black squares there are!" The fact that a grid is super difficult to pull off does not make the end result pleasing.

Other things:

  • 1A: It has 33 letters (Russian language) - really wanted ALPHABET to be in this answer
  • 20A: Oscar nominee for "My Man Godfrey" (Auer) - Mischa AUER is fast becoming one of my favorite bits of crossword fill. He likes to sneak into the corners of late week puzzles.
  • 32A: Condomless vis-a-vis protected (unsafer) - I spent many minutes staring at "condomless" wondering how it got in the puzzle (not that I mind, just surprised). I spent many more minutes staring at UNSAFER (I minded).
  • 37A: Rio _____, multinational coal-mining giant (Tinto) - never ever ever etc. heard of it.
  • 40A: Chaotic place (mare's nest) - I love this expression for its apparent silliness
  • 47A: Gun, to Guillermo (pistola) - Used my minimal Spanish skills to guess this one
  • 53A: Health form field (nearest relative) - could not, for the life of me, understand the clue at first. Then when I did, it still took me forever to piece the answer together from what I had.
  • 1D: Neck ties? (riatas) - I had NOOSES
  • 4D: Mantilla wearers (senoras) - spent much time believing "mantilla" meant "yellow" (I was thinking of "amarillo")
  • 5D: Setting of the 2007 animated film "Persepolis" (Iran) - one of my few flat-out gimmes. Why this wasn't clued in relation to the graphic novel, I don't know. This may be one of those movies where more people (still) have actually read the book. Just a guess.
  • 8D: New Guinea port (Lae) - no way. Needed all crosses.
  • 15D: Freebie on some airplane flights (eye shade) - this is a nice answer. I was not offered one of these on my way to or from New Zealand.
  • 33D: Angels are sometimes seen over them (fir trees) - really rough. I would have said "on" or "atop them," as that would have been more accurate.
  • 36D: "Love is reciprocal _____": Marcel Proust ("torture") - oh boo hoo. Is remembering things past so hard?
  • 42D: Pack in a ship's hold (steeve) - a great verb
  • 48D: _____ Ishii, character in "Kill Bill" (Oren) - yikes. Hard. I knew it, but it's hard. At least the answer here isn't UMA (again).
  • 52D: High-quality vineyard (cru) - later in the day, I will post the picture of the chocolate bar I bought solely because it featured the phrase "premier CRU" on the label. [here it is]

I've only ever seen the phrase "Premier CRU" used for wine. I am a sucker ... SUCKER ... for superdark (>80% cocoa content) chocolate, and a double sucker for a well designed or interesting label. Now that you know that, go out and buy me presents. My birthday is in four months. Good day.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

PS here are a few photos of my recent trip to Baltimore

Me at Poe's grave

Dead rat at Poe's grave

My friends Kim and Matt at ballgame (Matt is short, but it should be noted that he's also standing one step down from Kim)

Me rocking the personalized Rex Parker / Red Sox gear while contemplating the M&T Bank building from the upper tier of Camden Yards (thanks, Matt!)

PPS Woo hoo, I'm "Blog of the Week" at a pretty little site called "Readerville Journal" (note to Ron Rosenbaum: that's "READERville" ...) - The write-up makes it seem like I have guest bloggers a lot, which has been true over the past month, but which is not the norm. Before I went to NZ, I hadn't had a guest blogger in ... forever. So if you've only recently discovered this blog, like it or lump it, it's (mostly) all Rex from here on out. Wonderful surrogates will step in only when I a. leave town, or b. clearly need a time-out. Thanks, "Readerville Journal."


Crosscan 8:18 AM  

I'm right with you on this one. I could not finish without the dreaded googling, due to some very poor crossings. I was screaming NATICK all over the place (I hope I didn't scare the neighbours).

Unlike last Saturday which was hard but ultimately gettable, this one was impossible. I look at the finished grid and realize several crossings were beyond me.




It felt like half this puzzle wasn't in English.

Cool to have so few black squares but the price to get there was too high.

Anonymous 8:54 AM  

Love the Sox shirt; agreed the puzzle disappointed today.

Your biggest fan,
Her HighlyCitedness

Anonymous 8:55 AM  

Love the dead rat! E. A. Poe

Orange 9:01 AM  

Aw, the dead rat looks so...soft and cuddly (except for the flies). Why does the fur industry not utilize the rat?

I have 63 Facebook friends. It's so strange to gather together acquaintances from such disparate places in one spot. High school and college, women's blogs and crosswords, lexicographers, high school best friend's college roommate found via the friends list of the Wordplay's really a small world.

Anonymous 9:21 AM  

Had to google also. Made some initial mistakes a la Rex (nooses, etc).

Finally understand health form field which I finally got but was viewing it as near rest relative(duh).
Hope tomorrow makes up for today

Ulrich 9:26 AM  

I agree that some of the answers ending in -er were ugly. But what struck me personally as more remarkable was that for once, my background payed off. True, I had Agnes (Berger) as the actress b/c I couldn't believe Senta, an Austrian, I believe, would make it into an American puzzle. Still, she was a big star in my youth, and I had her always in mind in case Agnes didn't work out. Same with Alicante--got it with a few crosses. Same with Colossae--remembered Paul's epistle to the Colossans (?) and only had to figure out the spelling of the place. Enrico--almost a gimmie (fab opera, by the way--greatest mad scene ever written). TINTO and PISTOLA I got on first guesses, and other difficulties remained hidden b/c I never saw the clue or until I came here.

I agree that 15-stacks are not valuable in their own right, but I do like the guessing game involved--trying to figure out the long answers from as few clues as possible b/c if you get them early, the whole puzzle becomes a cinch. And you have to admit, MATH got a great clue.

What held me back more than anything was that I held on to INDEED instead of AGREED for far too long.

joho 9:39 AM  

Der is no Der Der.

I know, means nothing, but so did this puzzle to me. Got most of it, but had to Google to complete and felt no satisfaction when done.

I am definitely looking forward to tomorrow which is what I said yesterday. Monday was my favorite puzzle this week and not because of its ease but because it was a delight to do.

dbg 9:40 AM  

I'll be curious to see how many people of a certain age will say that Senta Berger was a gimme. I was born in the 50's and she is one of those actresses that you just know, even though the only movie I ever saw her in was "Cast A Giant Shadow". In fact, I think she showed up pretty regularly in older NYT puzzles.
As for the rest of the puzzle, while there was a lot of stuff I really didn't know, I found it fairly easy to make some educated guesses.

Barry 9:41 AM  

Hey ho!

[Is that sufficiently effusive for you, Orange?]

God, I was so relieved to see Rex's rating on this puzzle. I'm usually able to finish these puzzles unassisted, and it depresses me to no end when I have one that defeats me and I come here looking for sympathy only to discover that Rex has rated it "easy." I've been working my way slow backwards through the archives, and here's a perfect example. And yes, I know all about the "relative difficulty" concept, but when a puzzle has me staring at huge swaths of white space for an hour and eventually drives me to Google, it's not what I call an "easy" puzzle regardless of what day of the week it is.

All of which is, of course, to say that this particular puzzle was real bear. I'm actually very proud of myself that I did manage to get through most of it unassisted after many, many passes through the clues. Yeah, some of the clues were forced, but there was a lot of cleverness and great "AHA" moments as well. The bottom section was the first to fall, once I finally got GREENHOUSE GASES (I originally wanted GLOBAL WARMING, but it didn't fit). I had first URI (University of Rhode Island) and then RIS (Rhode Island State) for 29A, but finally got RIC (despite the fact that I've never heard of it) once I realized that 31D was referring to Paul's Epistle to the Colossians.

The top section fell next, albeit much, much later. I was lucky enough to guess GAVOTTES, NUNNS and UPTIMES right off the bat, which helped a bit. Like Rex, I wanted ALPHABET as part of 1A, but once I guessed LANGUAGE it finally started to crack open a bit. Never heard of LAE, but got it via the crosses. Wasn't particularly happy with UNSHUT, but what ya gonna do?

I thought the clue for 23A was particularly clever (one of those great "AHA" moments when I got it, especially since I originally put METS despite the fact that there probably isn't any place actually called "Mets Field").

But, in the end, I just couldn't close the deal. I correctly guessed ENRICOS for 19A despite not being familiar with the opera in question, but I simply did not know the name of the Spanish city/province in 13D. Even after getting ALICA_TE, I couldn't guess correctly. And so I looked it up in my encyclopedia. Once I had ALICANTE, I was able to pry SENTA Berger from the deep recesses of my brain (please don't ask what she was doing there). But that still left me with no idea for the crossing of 26D and 37A. To me, SERTS/TINTO was the real Natick violation of this puzzle. Even had I remembered SENTA up front and been able to guess ALICANTE without looking it up as a result, I never would have guessed SERTS/TINTO. Never, never, never.

Overall, I did like this puzzle (although it felt more suited to a Saturday). Despite some of the iffy clues and obscure crossings, most of the puzzle was very rewarding once I figured things out. And, as I said, I really felt a sense of accomplishment that I was eventually able to get as much as I did.

Alex 9:47 AM  

I assume NEAREST RELATIVE is a synonym for NEXT OF KIN? Never heard the former and it sounds like they're asking who lives closest.

I quite literally stopped doing the puzzle when I got UNSAFER and RADIOER in quick succession. I decided it was time for bed and I'd finish in the morning. Then when I got up (15 minutes ago) I decided I still didn't want to push on.

By the time I had finished almost all of the bottom half (minus the SENTA/SERTS crossing and with a lucky guess on RIC/COLOSSAE. Wanted RUSSIA LANGUAGE up top but was dissuaded by having INDEED instead of AGREED.

HudsonHawk 9:47 AM  

UNSAFER? Ick. Ditto for the other -ER words. I was okay with RIC, since URI isn't in Providence (it's in Kingston). ALICANTE and TINTO were fine for me, but I can see how they would trip up some solvers.

My biggest problem was the "Health form field". I kept staring at NE_R_S and wanted something that started with NEUROS.

Overall, I have to agree with Rex and the earlier comments--not a great puzzle (and I rarely slip into my alterego, the Crossword Curmudgeon).

Joon 9:51 AM  

i just thought i would point out, since nobody seems to have done it here, that this puzzle doesn't just have a small number of black squares--it's the fewest ever for a NYT crossword. in that light, some of the icky fill is understandable, although i can certainly still sympathize with rex's viewpoint that he'd rather have a smooth and fun solve than a visually impressive grid.

Ulrich 9:54 AM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ulrich 9:59 AM  

@alex: I took "nearest relative" as in "nearest relative to notify in case of an emergency".

As I look back on the 1A clue, I figured out why I don't like it: A language does not consist of letters--it consists of words that. in turn, are made up of sounds (phonemes). The alphabet (you had the correct intuition, rex) used to represent those phonemes is made up of letters.

Anonymous 9:59 AM  

"Unsafer" is not now, has never been, and never will be a word.

Anonymous 10:12 AM  

Shouldn't 13 down be "Spanish city OR province..." if Alicante is singular?

ArtLvr 10:22 AM  

I got almost all of it -- just gave up a tad too soon on the top of the SW! All I was missing was RIC and PALOS (had "Altos"), but felt I'd run out of time and patience... Darn. If only this had been Saturday, I'd have persevered. One for the record books, anyway. Congrats to Kevin Der!


Anonymous 10:28 AM  

@dgb --- I'm in your age group, Senta was a gimme --- eliminating Natick #1.

Knowing Colossae eliminated #2

@alex / urich: as it was explained to me, Nearest Relative [not living with you, genrally], as well as your SSN, is mostly for the bill collector when you skip town. Next of kin is usually phrased as *who to notify if we mess up*


Actually worked this top down vrs your bottom up, as they say, different strokes etc. Also Sert has come up more than once, and as I recall, even in connection w/ Rock Center. File Sert away with Miro, they'll be back.

While not on my top ten fav list, found this puzzle ok, done in my avg time for Fri, w/o *help*.


mac 10:33 AM  

I felt awed when I opened the paper to this white, white puzzle, but in the end it wasn't too bad. I also wanted a language in 1A, had opines instead of emotes (35A) and indeed instead of agreed (9D). On the other hand, some answers came surprisingly easily, like 54A just from -----us----, who knows where Senta came for, I don't even know what she looks like, must be crosswordese; Alicante because Spain is a major winter destination for the Dutch, and Gavottes. I like mare's nest, allergens, steeve, drag, venerable and colossae. The last area to fall was Northern California; I ran outside to see a large hawk in the maple trees and when I came back it just all fell into place.

For 36D, I first had "censure", doesn't that feel a little nicer?

tintin 10:35 AM  

This puzzle should have been a Saturday, and it would have been a rough one at that. Somehow I finished unassisted, but I almost threw in the towel, and I rarely become that discouraged. The last letter I put in was the S in SERTS/SENTS. "No whammy...Stop!" Too much obscurity and Natickness here.

I had my first malapop (post-ACME coinage) trying to fit "emoter" in to satisfy "Ham, e.g." Of course it doesn't fit, but that never stopped me before. Anyhow, there was EMOTES at 35A.

On another note, haven't we seen an unusual number of ALLERGENS this year? Seems like it. Maybe there's a high pollen count due to all the greenhouse gases.

What, no EyeGore clip? Mr. Feldman's performance would be a perfect pseudo-macabre compliment to EAP and the dead rat.

And yes, DUMBO's own Jacques Torres rules!

Jane Doh 10:41 AM  

Sorry to say I didn't care much for this either. There's inevitably some less than stellar fill in a wide-open puzzle, but a critical mass of ickiness has been exceeded here.

TORTURE = solving this puzzle, even though I knew almost everything (factoid learned = PISTOLA). The 15-letter answers are really nice, but so much of the rest is ugh-ly.

The Odd Job classification is delighful, unlike the collection of odd jobs in the answers. Too many awkward plural names. Is REPIPING a legit word? Is RADIOER a legit word? Is UNSAFER a legit word? I wanted that answer to be MESSIER.

Time to go to the beach to GET A TAN. Will bike over AS AN ALTERNATIVE to driving to avoid creating ONE IOTA of GREENHOUSE GASES.


Noam D. Elkies 10:46 AM  

Congratulations on the new record!

Yes, this requires some compromises in the fill (and might have been a better fit for Saturday). But I don't think it's fair to complain that a late-week puzzle is so hard that we couldn't finish it unaided: only a tiny fraction of the audience for NYTimes puzzles expects to solve a Friday puzzle unaided, and for the casual solver who must look up (say) TOSCA it is no harder to find 19A:ENRICOS.

3D:STARER could also be clued as "American composer and pianist Robert". Years ago I had one of his texts for ear-training exercises. I suspect that even Rex wouldn't prefer this clue to the burlesque-goer one (all the more so with "goer" possibly hinting at the odd job).

32A:UNSAFER is ugly, but sufficiently in the language that Google turns up two or three headline usages among the expected dictionary definitions and the like.

@Anonymous 10:12 -- since the city of Alicante is the principal city in the province of the same name, the singular feels fine, as in "city and state" for NEW YORK.


jannieb 10:53 AM  

This puzzle really gave me a good workout - I'm old enough to have heard of Senta Berger, and from that "T" got gavottes. Had very little working for me in the NW, except I did get straggled (nice!), senoras and net sales across the top.

Moved into the southern hemisphere where, oddly, fir trees just popped out of my brain, as did RIU, enokis, insurance broker and greenhouse gases.

Felt good to get through it but agree, there was a lot of clugy fill. Love the term "odd job". Add that to ampersandwich, malapop, Natick, and we could start our own dictionary - or at least another sidebar!

Barry 11:08 AM  

A few more comments/responses for my second permissible post of the day...

@Glitch: I didn't actually start at the bottom and work my way up. I started at the top and wasn't able to fill in a blessed answer until I got to the bottom.

In general, I try to use the sage crossword advice (offered by Orange, I believe) to ignore the long fills and focus on the shorter cross clues. In this case, however, the shorter cross clues were almost completely ungettable until I first figured out the long fills. Which, of course, made this puzzle double challenging for me since I had a real hard time getting a foothold anywhere for awhile.

I originally wanted MADNESS for 36D. I wasn't familiar with the quote, but it seemed an appropriate sentiment.

I didn't have a problem with UNSAFER since it was the first thing that came to mind when I read the clue. If using a condom is "safe sex" and not using one is "unsafe sex," then logically not using a condom is UNSAFER than using one. I also thought STARERS was fine, once I finally figured out what the clue was asking for. However, I agree that RADIOER is just hideous and, as I mentioned earlier, I wasn't too thrilled with UNSHUT, either.

While I recognized "mantilla" as a Spanish article of clothing, for some reason I was thinking it was part of a bullfighter's outfit (his cape, perhaps) and had TOREROS instead of SENORAS at first. Oops.

I struggled with STRAGGLED for the longest time. I had ____G_LED early on and guessed that the word ended in GGLED, but my mistaken TOREROS made it OGGLED instead of AGGLED and it just wouldn't come to me even after I got the first letter from RIATAS. I mean, seriously -- what kind of word can you make from S__OGGLED? In fact, since I hadn't figured out ALLERGENS or AGREED yet, I actually erased the final G and D from the answer thinking I must be way off track.

In closing, I just want to thank Mel Brooks for letting me get IGOR for 44A, my High School Spanish teacher for PISTOLA in 47A, and Quentin Tarantino's wonderfully over-the-top "Kill Bill" for OREN in 48A. Without those little tidbits stuck in my brain, the puzzle would have had a lot more empty spaces at the end.

evil doug 11:37 AM  

I can tell you where Senta Berger came from: A pictorial in the first Playboy I ever saw, circa 1969. At that point, home of origin and other details became superfluous....

Beyond the All-Star game, regular season interleague play diminishes the Fall Classic.

City and state? New Yorks.
City or state? New York.

@ Barry: No.
@ Rex: Maybe there should also be a word limit....

Speaking of limits: If there are more than three "Anonymous" posts in a day, how do you know it's more than one person?


Rex Parker 11:50 AM  


I would love a word limit. Sometimes comments run (or seem to run) as long as the write-up itself. I tend not to read those (very closely). Or, rather, I scan them for my name (or others' names), and read only those parts. Just being honest. Short and sweet is better than on and on and on.

@nde - TOSCA and ENRICOS may be similarly difficult to some, but not to the vast majority of people who do puzzles more than once a week. TOSCA is everywhere, ENRICOS ... well, it's now in one place that I know of.


Shamik 11:52 AM  

Dear God:

Thank you for letting me finish this puzzle correctly in 27:23 minutes.

Dear Rex:

Thank you for calling it challenging.

That said, whew!

@dbg: Yup. I was born in '54 and SENTA was a gimme.

Letters:Alphabet as Word: LANGUAGE

Had a lot of similar false starts and stops as everyone else did.

My gimmes (is that a word?):

IGOR--my all-time favorite movie

Sometimes just the sea of white makes it look daunting.

Rex Parker 11:54 AM  

@whoever was going to GET A TAN,

Terrible idea. Manifestly carcinogenic. Of course I'm particularly sensitive at the moment, having just walked out of my dermatologist's office, where I had, let's see, 1, 2, 3, 4 ... 5 actinic keratoses (sp?) frozen off various parts of my body (they're tiny, no one's going to notice much). And I've never sought out a TAN in my life.


chefbea1 12:04 PM  

very hard puzzle today - lots of googling

@dbg i was born before the 50's and knew Senta.. also knew sert

No more time to chat. Have a busy afternoon

foodie 12:15 PM  

I inadvertently cheated because this site opened up in error this morning as I was firing up my laptop, and I saw the word RUSSIAN. Remarkably, it hardly helped. I promptly added ALPHABET with great certainty, and made a mess in the northeast, which took forever to clear up. But I shocked myself as I sailed through the entire bottom two thirds, unassisted, making wild guesses which panned out.

I don't know if we have a name for the phenomenon whereby you put the wrong answer but it still helps you get a cross? I thought for sure 54A would have GLOBAL as its first word, which of course was wrong, but that initial G, trivial as it is, along with PALOS suggested REPIPING and opened the southwest.

Re the construction: I agree that there was some inelegant fill mixed in with the impressive long answers. But I really like it when a constructor experiments and does something this unusual. I too loved the math clue, which I got right away, and many other unusual combinations of clues and answers. Congratulations Kevin.

Al Sanders 12:16 PM  

I also thought the "and" in the Spanish city and province clue should indicate a plural. I threw an "S" in the last square then never went back and checked, since SSE made as much sense as ESE for the direction (does anyone ever actually stop to figure out the directions of those "point A to point B" clues?). Anyway, put me in the "or" category.

Pinky 12:24 PM  

Anyone else have PERSIAN LANGUAGE?

WIKI: Balochi language -
The official written language was Persian ... (33 letters and 2 diphthongs).

When no crosses came, I had to cheat and look at Rex's answer to correct it.

@Rex nice rat - but does it pass the breakfast test?

Blue Stater 12:32 PM  

Agreed about the far-out and linguistically marginal -ER (non)words. But the even farther-out and off-the-margin UN- words were worse: UNSAFER, which has been mentioned, and UNSHUT. This puzzle should not have been published.

miriam b 12:37 PM  

ENRICOS? HOw about "Caruso and Fermi, e. g.)? There were a few similar red herrings in this puzzle, all of which I smoked out.

SENTA Berger is a familiar name, but I wouldn't be able to pick her out of a lineup. I associate her name with that of the sweet heroine of Der Fliegende Hollaender.

Rex, I WANT that chocolate, preferably alongside a dark beer. I don't want the rat.

Doug 12:42 PM  

I amazingly pulled it off, but admit that I had RIP/POLASSAE instead of RIC. Also did not know xENTA/xERTS. But so what, it took me over an hour, and the pieces fell with no Google. Damn--I could have cured actinic keratosis in that hour! Or had a V-8!

This thing was D-Day all over again: Juno, Omaha, Henry Fonda, big white sand beach with little black machine gun nests blasting away at me.

I'm so pleased I could finish that I can't comment on aesthetics. Had the same ALPHABET mistake but NUNNS clearly made it LANGUAGE. Had INxxxLINEBACKER instead of INS_BROKER and that stuck me for a while. Had UNSAFEx and thought it was a rebus UNSAFEsex.

joho 12:50 PM  

@pinky: I, too, had PERSIAN for a bit.

@rex: Did you plant the rat?

Barry 12:56 PM  

All right, well, it was fun while it lasted. And with that, I'm at post #3....

Owen 1:08 PM  

Thanks to all for explaining "health form field!" I managed to have it right have no idea what it meant... And still wouldn't if it weren't for the comments.

dk 1:08 PM  

Drat, my earlier inspired post is lost in space.

I wanted Cyrillic alphabet for 1a and got it, but not the way I wanted it -- which is how this puzzle was for me.

I am doing this at an offsite meeting (office speak for being tongued to death by a knot of toads) and the signal keeps dropping.

Kevin Der this puzzles is a MARESNEST and I like it. One small thing though:

UNSAFER is dick.

@joho find an Invader Zim cartoon and lear the Doom Song from Gir. More fun maybe than you der song.

Cheryl 1:10 PM  

Amongst other issues (it cannot be stressed enough how awful UNSAFER is), I have never heard the expression mare's nest and really wanted maelstrom from the MA.
I ended up with MAgESNEST/FIgTREE, thinking that an angel over a fig tree might have been some sort of biblical art theme from the garden of Gethsemane. The christmas tree angle just didn't hit me and I was desperate to justify putting something in.

Ladel 1:10 PM  

Rex has done a super and fair job of policing his blog, his baby could have easily deteriorated into chaos without him fine stewardship. The three comment limit seems equitable, a word limit might not be practical, tho it could be converted, into say more than one inch on the screen, and you comment is unceremoniously deleted. If you really have this burning desire to be heard, try a little therapy instead of overwhelming the blog with your comments, worked for me.

dk 1:10 PM  

@joho, that is learn the Doom song from Gir as it maybe more fun than your Der song.

Shoot not fast enough with correction ... the spelling police are at my door, time to grab the pistola

dk 1:18 PM  

Limits, limits, we don't need no stinking limits. If something is to long for you ASANALTERNATIVE don't read it.

On another note: All of you on Facebook and other like places, note that you give up the intellectual property rights on anything you post so if you are an IMAGINER (groan) you lose those ideas.

Ashish 1:22 PM  

I want to pass on my congratulations to Kevin - this is a terrific piece of construction, notwithstanding all the legitimate complaints on this forum.

An 18-block puzzle is darned difficult to construct, I have tried. The challenge is to keep the awkard fill to a minimum while providing some excitement in the other parts of the puzzle.

In that vein, the two stacks of three-15-ers are great. I quite liked GREENHOUSE GASES, NEARESTRELATIVE, and INSURANCEBROKER, as well as NETSALES, ONEIOTA, and GETATAN.

The tough nuts have been well-documented, but Manny's 19-blocks puzzle had the following: NOLITION (Unwillingness, in rare usage), GEMMA (Bud, to a botanist). Also, BERATER and STREWER - not as awkward as RADIOER, but the point is this sparse grid needs some -ERs, some UN-s and several plurals to make it work.

Kevin's 18 broke Manny's 19 from 2005, which had previously surpassed Joe diPietro's 20 from 2001. So, this is not a daily occurrence, and hence this praiseworthy comment!


joho 1:24 PM  

dk: Thanks for the clarification ... I think. You know, I hate to be negative to a constructor but I couldn't help myself this time. I'm glad you liked the puzzle. I like the term knot of toads ...

joe 1:26 PM  

The record for fewest black squares is very impressive. Way to go, Kevin!

Crosscan 1:37 PM  

I am reconsidering my first reaction to this puzzle. It is, as noted, a significant feat of construction.

I can live with UNSAFER because it makes sense as an answer, even if it is a lousy word. The clue makes it solvable.

I still have problems with other areas, like ALICANTE and PALOS and COLOSSAE. There is really no simpler way to clue those, but still too obscure (for me) to get.

On balance, I think it was a great attempt, but I stand by my opinion in that the problems outweigh the achievement which ruined the solving experience for me. At the end of the day, that is the only measure I can use.

PhillySolver 2:10 PM  

I did this difficult puzzle last night and was fortunate to finish it I think. Orange confirmed that SERTS was a worthy answer even though I thought it was a breath mint. I had some things to do this morning ala Rex, but I wanted ti report on a piece of Trivia hidden in this puzzle, too. Amelia Earhart was last seen in ... (drum roll) LAE!!!

John in NC 2:17 PM  

Ugh. Couldn't even get going. Had REPIPING (which, I can assure you, a plumber would never say -- plumbers REPLUMB things all the time, but I've never heard one say REPIPE) and IMAGINER and a couple crosses in that area, but had to come here to get COLOSSAE and TORTURE just to get moving. Then had to come back to get SENTA and ALICANTE. UGH.

And UNSAFER? As the centerpiece of this impressively constructed though clunky puzzle? Horrible. And the clue is bad too.

John in NC 2:18 PM  

Ugh. Couldn't even get going. Had REPIPING (which, I can assure you, a plumber would never say -- plumbers REPLUMB things all the time, but I've never heard one say REPIPE) and IMAGINER and a couple crosses in that area, but had to come here to get COLOSSAE and TORTURE just to get moving. Then had to come back to get SENTA and ALICANTE. UGH.

And UNSAFER? As the centerpiece of this impressively constructed though clunky puzzle? Horrible. And the clue is bad too.

Two Ponies 2:21 PM  

Has the availability of Google changed the game for constructors? Hats off for the landmark set today and to those who solved it unaided but there was no joy in it for me.
I only Google after I have thrown in the towel and conceded defeat.
Just yesterday, if I recall correctly, Gary H. dropped in to say he was glad when we had to Google. Between that comment and today's puzzle I'm wondering if we are playing on a level field.

Two Ponies 2:51 PM  

P.S. Loved the rat and I'll bet E.A.P. would as well.

Anonymous 2:56 PM  

Allergens for allergies (6D)and language where one might have expected alphabet (1A) were the only really nasty elements in this puzzle. Unsafer is and will remain an ugly word...Ironically I found this puzzle relatively simple; yesterday's was tougher for me.

Ulrich 2:58 PM  
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dk 3:01 PM  

I wonder what red, at times yellow, root vegetable would go well with grilled rat.

Rex, Congrats on Blog of the Week and love the tan on puzzle puppy, yours however... ghostly. And, I just got your shirt. I guess poor spellers are dumb.

Off to drink wine and play in the rain offsite is over: woo woo

Ulrich 3:18 PM  

@two ponies: I've learned that constructors use internet-based databases (not necessarily google) to fill a grid. To even the playing field, solvers sometimes have to do the same, and no, it's not cheating in my book anymore b/c constructors cannot assume that solvers know more than they do.

A really interesting statistic for any tough puzzle would be the number of answer words the constructor did not know before starting on the puzzle.

And a word to all who still believe that letters make a languge: Turkey replaced the Arab alphabet with the Roman (or whatever you call ours) during the reforms at the beginning of the 20th century; i.e. one set of letters was exchanged for a completely different (and I mean, really different) one. So, according to your theory, Turkish became a totally different language--are you serious?

andrea carla michaels 3:23 PM  

Thanks for pointing out Kevin's feat, bec I admit it made me rethink how much I liked or not...

I was so stuck on the fact that whole LANGUAGE/ALPHABET thing that my German soulmate Ulrich has so coheretnly explained.

Not get all Jewish-y again, but I honestly tried YENTA Berger, who nu??? YERTS was enough like YURTS for me to think maybe...

had actually circled all the -ER words in case Rex fell down a well today and I'd be called in!

andrea carla michaels 3:28 PM  

@ Kevin
Ohmygod, I forgot to say CONGRAULATIONS Kevin!
I myself have been trying to go for the record of the MOST black squares... ;)

And since Kevin Der lives here in the Bay Area, I must say, we do see the word UNSAFER here re: AIDS awareness campaigns all the time.

My question has always been why do they call condoms Trojans?
The whole idea behind the Trojan horse was to sneak into the walls of Troy and once inside, open up and attack!
Doesn't make me feel real safe!

Wade 3:42 PM  

I started this puzzle about 6:00 this morning. I finished it a few minutes ago. Take that, Orange.

Hard puzzle. Every bit of it was hard.

My main beef has been noted: languages don't have letters; only alphabets do.

Speaking of letters, I wonder if the Corinthians ever wrote back to Paul?

Also, I had STAGGERED for STRAGGLED and INDEED for AGREED, which made the top third hell. And you know now you don't spell THRONE? "Throan." God only knows how I fell into that temporary trap.

acme 3:48 PM  

As one of the biggest abusers of the too-long post, this WILL be my third and last
(lest Jane D'oh takes a swipe at me!) to actually comment on the puzzle itself:

@ Hudson Hawk
Also had NEURO-something for the longest time, trying to parse that was a bitch.

Is it really an EYESHADE not eyeshadeS or Mask? Were teh shades on tehplane to NZ UNSHUT?

I assume STEEVE is where we get STEVEDORE from? Did a longshoreman steal the other "e"?

Has no one mentioned the awkward CENTR?

And I nominate GLUES as the bleed over clue (third form this week to go with the GOOPs)

Interesting malapop: EMOTERS for Ham. I honestly can't believe how often this happens!

Yes we CAN assume solvers know more than we do!

chris 3:53 PM  

Cute puppy, although the angle makes the little guy (or girl) look gigantic. I have some pictures of my dogs when they were about the length of my forearm, and now they're huge.

Puzzle wasn't as tough for me as I guess it was for others, but I got the S and N wrong in Senta. I don't really care, though, because it's kind of a ridiculous set of crossings. I had Riskier for Unsafer, since, you know, riskier is a real word that people use and unsafer isn't, but alas.

Crosscan 4:01 PM  

@Rex - that chocolate looks good. And my birthday is Wednesday. Just send it addressed to the guy in Canada farthest away from a bookstore.

My final word on this puzzle is maybe it has proven the lower limit of fewest boxes has been reached. It is too ugly to go lower.

3 strikes; I'm out.

PuzzleGirl 4:02 PM  

I had VISAED for VESTED and I still think it was a pretty good guess.

becky from hatch 4:08 PM  

Did not enjoy this one at all, mostly because it made me feel like a dumb cheater! I had to Google COLOSSAE and ALICANTE and then even cheat via Rex due to the R in UNSAFER and the S in SERTS. Also, the ANAL in ASANALTERNATIVE had me WAY off track!

I assumed Guillermo was Italian. It's still PISTOLA. I feel like I know that word from rap songs.

Got STEEVE by remembering Season II of "The Wire." The tended to steal a lot of what was steeved.

Alan 4:11 PM  

Very difficult puzzle. Glad to see that Rex agreed with me.Had to google three things. Very depressing. Had memerable (notice the wrong spelling)for venerable.Had to google spanish city with one square empty. Should of known vested but this is what happens when you lose patience.Onwards to a medium Saturday puzzle.

mac 4:18 PM  

@Barry: we just learned about Capotes!

Rex just put up a link to "Readville" with a nice piece about "our" blog. I'm going to check out Readville a bit more now.

mac 4:19 PM  

Correction, that is "Readerville"!

fergus 4:26 PM  

Through at last with RADIOER.

What a bunch of complicated linguistics. The RUSSIAN LANGUAGE, and I don't mind INTERLEAGUE PLAY.

This was a puzzle that drove me every which way, and I send great accolades to Kevin Der for occupying far more of a Friday morning than otherwise I might consider.

Two Ponies 4:32 PM  

@ ulrich I assumed constructors had a data base but I guess I was pondering whether access to an immediate info source had "upped the ante." Knowing that the reference books of the world are now at my fingertips is no reason to force me to use them on a regular basis or in such a large quantity in one puzzle. (God forbid I actually open a real *gasp* BOOK.)

dk 4:33 PM  
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dk 4:34 PM  

@acm, trojan as a brand name had something to do with needing cover a large helmet in a limp (pun intended) way to make rubbers more studly.

Trojan is also a brand of seed corn and they used to have salt and pepper shakers shaped like corn ears with the word Trojan on the corn. I will let you just imagine what fun I had with those. One of the best was putting them out a a dinner party my parents had.

nuf said.

bye till tomorrow

fikink 4:34 PM  

Rex, I, too, thank you for pronouncing this one "challenging." I had to walk away from it this morning. And now, reading the posts, it seems I fell into similar traps: Had "indeed" for too long and "spiralled" before I recalled the "stragglers" on school field trips.
Now you physics people can tell me: Wouldn't "spiralled" be just the opposite of wandering from a direct course?

jae 4:41 PM  

I too was not fond of this one and Rex explained why. In my world I can't look things up but I can have a conversation about the puzzle which is how I got ALICANTE. And, the response to my query about TOLOSSAE came back "I think you mean COLOSSIANS." I just guessed right on the SERTS/TINTO cross.

Back to working on a cure for dyslexia.

fergus 4:42 PM  

Rex, post Almond Joy,

... and chocolate; my Italian friend and I overdosed at 82 percent. So I'm scaling back to the seventies, and have been slumming around with Hershey's, who make a good dark almond bar, which is a a reasonably good deal for $1.39 at the local convenience store.

Orange 5:00 PM  

John in NC: One of my blog commenters said that REPIPING (which I had grumbled about too) was completely legit within plumbing circles. It's got a decent Google-hits profile.

Andrea, hey! I never thought about the Trojan brand name like that. This is why they pay you the big bucks as a namer, eh?

Whoever it was who didn't like COLOSSAE and ALICANTE because they were ungettable—well, they're gettable via the crosses. Maybe only through the crosses for many of us, but that makes 'em less unfair.

Philly, Amelia Earhart was last seen in LAE? You don't say. And here I thought it was a completely obscure place name.

Morley Unsafer 5:25 PM  

John in NC: Perhaps REPIPING is regional? Common here is Seattle.

Jerry 5:36 PM  

Rex, you're so young! No wonder there's so much you don't know. On my first run thru this puzzle I got Senoras, Iran and Igor and Enricos (love opera) and that's all. Kept plugging away and surprised myself by completing it without help, but I agree that it is not an enjoyable puzzle if not a "drag."

fergus 5:39 PM  
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Ellen 5:59 PM  
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imsdave1 6:00 PM  

I just finished after 2 hours. Respected the white squares, but hated the puzzle. Nuf said.

fergus 9:41 PM  

The minimal black space was the first thing I noticed, but since there was so much else going on, the initial premise was forgotten.

foodie 9:44 PM  

All day long, I kept thinking that this puzzle is such an accomplishment, but the UNSAFER thing in the middle (SF notwithstanding) is rather unfortunate. So, in between working on my grant application, I played with how to fiddle with the middle without touching the beautiful structure of the whole puzzle. I actually managed it, although you can be the judge of whether it was an improvement.

I wish I knew how to post a puzzle format on my so-called blog, but I don't. Instead, you will just see the words without the grid. But here are the key changes:


GET A TAN became KEPT MAN (My favorite change : )


FIRTREES became RED TREES (e.g. Maples)



Here is the less lovely stuff, which includes a NATICK

TINTO became MESIO (an anatomical prefix which Orange is certain to know)

SENTA became TENTA (as in John Anthony TENTA, the wrestler known as Earthquake).

SERTS became TAPIA (as in Johnny, the Pro-Boxing Champ).

Best I could do...Having never tried anything like this, I gained greater admiration for constructors everywhere, and the challenges involved in this particular one.

Michael 9:46 PM  

I didn't find this particularly hard -- really about an average Friday for me and (unusually for this day) I got every letter. I admire the grid greatly, which makes me less grumpy about the dubious "unsafer" and "imaginer."

The hardest crosses for me were ento/enoki and serts/tinto.

fergus 10:11 PM  


Your edits are what this puzzle required to go from good to great. Wow. As If we didn't have something else to do ...

foodie 11:55 PM  


I'm using my last post to say: Cool write up in the Readerville Journal! It was great that the author enjoyed it even though she does not do the puzzle.

@fergus, thanks. It was one way to stretch out between scientific writing bouts...

acme 12:26 AM  


Fabulous! Now you see a bit what we go thru.
If you are interested in this sort of thing, you might love the site and you pay $35 a year or so and become a goldmember with access to the database that shows what words have and have not been used, where and when...

I'm hesitant to say this, however, esp after all the wonderful glowing things you said about me yesterday
(I tried to find your personal email to thank you privately as I had used up my allotment, as I have again tonight)
but I'm afraid you made it LESS likely to get published.
The following words have never been in a puzzle and are not quite likely to be any time soon:

KEPTMAN (tho I love that too!)
and, most importantly, UNSTRIP which is the whole premise for the change! UNSAFER has at least one precedent, and as I mentioned before, I hear it here in SF all the time. Well, maybe not ALL the time...

but yes, as Einstein said, imagination is more important than knowledge! Thank you for noting that!!!!!! A beautiful reminder...I'd long forgotten I even had that on my much outdated website!

foodie 12:59 AM  

Rex, If you're awake, can I count this against tomorrow's posts, since this is already tomorrow?

@Acme, Thank you so much for the input! You've done it very graciously. I've wondered about many of these, although I am surprised about others (If I had any clout, I'd fight for the rights of the KEPT MAN to appear in the NYTimes). May be I will join and learn about all the constraints you all face, although heaven knows I don't need any more distractions... But, all in the name of continuing education!

I really do like the spirit that comes across from your web site. For a scientist, these are words to live by. And it's interesting how they echo something said by a great artist, Fellini: "The visionary is the only true realist".

Anonymous 1:55 AM  

I agree that the puzzle disappointed you today.

Doc John 5:37 PM  

Woo Hoo, I finally finished this puzzle (It's Saturday afternoon)! I'm literally jumping up and down. Unfortunately, it wasn't a clean dismount as I had resorted to "google check" whether Menta Berger was a possibility and right at the top of the results page, "Do you mean Senta Berger?" stared me right in the face. Not that it helped me ONE IOTA. I finally got VENERABLE, which made me change "writer" to INSURANCE BROKER and that was it.

At least the R in "red meat" gave me RADIOER.

I agree with everything Rex had to say. The only reason ALICANTE wasn't a Natick for me is that I actually have a friend who lives there.

Daryl 9:46 PM  

Finally got this (it's Sunday morning over here, but I started on Saturday afternoon)... love the Sox gear. Not that my rabid baseball fandom helped me get INTERLEAGUE PLAY till very late in the crossword. Nor did the fact that I was sniffling while doing this help much with ALLERGENS.

Got OREN, GREENHOUSE GASES, and UNSAFER as my first three clues quickly, but got really stuck in the top half... like Rex, I wanted RUSSIAN ALPHABET. I did like that I went for dinner, came back, and suddenly INSURANCE BROKER and NEAREST RELATIVE came to me.

Other problems: Had INDEED for AGREED, TO UNCLOG for REPIPING, CITI for MATH, GARB for GEAR, and RED MEAT for RADIOER. And had to look up ALICANTE in the end... groan.

I remember COLOSSAE by counting through the Epistles... someone once told me the "Gentiles Eat Pork Chop" mnemonic to remember the Galatians/Ephesians/Philippians/Colossians quartet.

Oh, and I like the use of GAVOTTE in "You're So Vain". But you probably think this post is about you.

Tom Allen 9:43 AM  

Myself, I enjoyed this puzzle. I like wide-open grids with 15-letter stacks. The 15s are usually (as they are here) fun phrases that you have to piece together, a la Wheel of Fortune. But once you get them, they open up the rest of the area, and a dozen clues you'd been stymied by fall quickly. The record low number of black squares was a fun bonus. Congratulations, Kevin!

So I had to Google SENTA Berger to complete it. So what? In the old days of Maleska et al., I had to keep a crossword dictionary at hand for all sorts of obscure fill. Many of the words complained about here (UNSAFER, RADIOER, UNSHUT), while I raised my eyebrows at them, were easily inferrable with a few crosses. Others (SENTA/SERTS, LAE, OREN) are crossword fill that pre-Shortz used to be much more common. We've been spoiled.

Alphabet v. language: I too wrote in ALPHABET first thing, quickly knew it was wrong, but didn't get LANGUAGE till very late (and had PERSIAN for RUSSIAN.) Nonetheless, I think the clue is fair. A written language is composed of letters. When the Turks changed their alphabet, their spoken language didn't change, but their written language changed from having x letters to having y letters (whatever x and y are.)

Tom Allen 9:57 AM  

One last comment: I loved the clues [Men might dress in this] for DRAG and [Field with bases] for MATH.

Yancy 11:35 AM  

I had never heard of a mare's nest.
Usually, hornet's nest for chaotic place.
Very nice puzzle Kevin Der.

Vinnie 1:01 PM  

It looked difficult at first, but 10 minutes later I had it completed. Go figure?

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