Friday, August 8, 2008

Relative difficulty: Challenging

THEME: none

While it's true that I hadn't had more than 5 hours sleep for almost four days when I solved this puzzle last night, I think it would have been rough for me even if I had been well rested. I came to a complete halt at least three times. The kind of halt that's a true halt - complete with the stunned look, the dubious eye-scrunching and head-tilting, the brow-furrowing, etc. Lots and lots of pop culture here, and yet it helped me very little. Long answers like SUPERSIZE ME (4D: Hit 2004 Morgan Spurlock documentary) and AXEL FOLEY (59A: 1985 Golden Globe-nominated role for Eddie Murphy) were complete gimmes, but did little to increase my forward momentum in this puzzle. And though I had to endure some iffy fill like ORZOS (40A: Soup pastas) and ADOZE (38A: Catching a few z's) and ED. IN (34D: _____ chief (publ. honcho)) and HOER (13D: Crop cropper), as well as the redundantly T'd SETTS (47A: Paving stones), I really enjoyed the challenge that this puzzle presented - even the loopy NE, the site of my final showdown with this puzzle, which is where I'll start.

If "DOCTOR WHO" (6A: TV series featuring a robotic dog named K-9) was a gimme for you, I'm imagining the NE was a hell of a lot easier than it was for me. A couple of key crosses might have tipped the whole thing for me fairly early, but they were not forthcoming. Instead I had a bunch of O's, including one where it didn't belong - in the first position (having convinced myself that 6D: U.K. decorations must be OBEs - never heard of DSOs). I mean ... I nailed @#$#ing OONA (7D: 1998 biography subtitled "Living in the Shadows") and that got me nothing!? None of the Downs up there, except ODE (10D: Dedicated lines) would budge, and the other Acrosses? Forget about it. I had the nearly correct but awfully stupid ON ONE'S TOE for a while at 18A: Waiting for the starting gun, say (on one knee) (speaking of which: Olympics start today, if you're into that sort of thing). Other issues in the frozen NE:

  • Took forever for my brain to accept SAME as an answer for 20A: Very
  • Had a million different plausible answers for 8D: Not tread lightly (clomp), none of which were correct - TROMP, STOMP, etc.
  • Couldn't imagine a conductor would ever have to deal with anyone who had a TIN EAR (9D: Conductor's bane) - why would such a person ever bother becoming a musician?
  • Completely overthought the relatively easy RFK (11D: 1960s atty. gen.)
  • Had YSER and EDER where ODER belonged (14D: The Szczecin Lagoon is an extension of its mouth)
  • Entertained BAA for BRR (21A: Seasonal sound) in what were a series of ovine-related mistakes - BAA for BRR, misunderstanding the "stock" in 30A: Sold all one's stock? as a synonym for livestock (e.g. sheep), and then RAMS (53D: Ones going head to head?), which actually wasn't a mistake at all, so that's good.
  • GOT BRONZE seemed better than WON BRONZE to me (12D: Got beaten by two people?), considering the clue emphasizes the opposite of winning.

The SW was where I ended up starting - built my way into the middle of the puzzle and worked from there. Getting the RAZOR part of RAZOR BLADES (25D: Cutting-edge technology?) would have been tremendously helpful, but the "technology" part had me thinking way more futuristically - LASER BLADES? Ugh. After a while I got into and took care of the NW, but the SW, the far East, and the NE would not go down without a serious fight.

The SW came very close to violating the "Natick Principle" (that a proper noun that fewer than 25% of solvers are likely to know should not cross other proper nouns unless they are very well known). I'm not sure either AXEL FOLEY or Mary LYON (57D: Mary who founded Mount Holyoke College) count as "very well known," but since the "Y" was the only plausible letter at that point, I'm not calling foul. I should add that I had no problem with the "Y" in LYON - it was the "O" I had a problem with (I had her as Mary LYNN, which is my sister's mother-in-law's name, which is another story entirely). LENO (56D: "You're not famous until my mother has heard of you" quipper) is famous enough, as another proper noun cross for AXEL FOLEY, not to pose a real problem. LENO is also crossword mainstay "ONE L" spelled backwards. Then there was the lovely MANO-A-MANO (63A: Without assistance in a fight), the parsing of which was well nigh impossible. I had the middle, and never would have thought to break the word between the "O" and the "A." Other problems down here:

  • LEI for LOA (60D: "Mahalo nui _____" ("Thank you very much," in Hilo))
  • Drawing an absolute blank on the second half of LOVE SCENE (35D: Shoot with steam?) - I initially wanted PORNO FLIC... but it wouldn't fit (!)

The far East has ZENDA (37A: Title castle town of book and film), which I only just this second realized is from the book "The Prisoner of Zenda" and not the video game and probably also book and film "The Legend of ZELDA." UDON (31D: Soup pasta) is not normally called a "pasta" (UDON = Japanese, "pasta" = Italian). The major problem over here, though, was having ALLERGIES for ALLERGENS (42A: Causes of some breakouts). That just ... hurt.

The Rest:

  • 1A: Many a stuntman's sequence (chase) - I had FALLS. Remember "The Fall Guy?" How was I supposed to take Lee Majors serious in anything when he wasn't worth at least 6 million dollars?
  • 16A: Something to chew on (solid food) - despite the loopiness of this answer, it's the one that saved me in the NE. If it hadn't clicked into place, four to five other answers would still have empty squares up there.
  • 22A: Pump alternative (T-strap) - nailed it! Easy, as was "LOLA" (28D: 1970 hit with the lyric "Girls will be boys and boys will be girls"), HINDI (50D: "Thug" and "loot" derive from it), and SKINS (66A: One side in an informal game)
  • 24A: Kitchen gizmo (parer) - RICER? DICER? CORER?
  • 27A: Termagant (scold) - Great word. I wanted SHREW.
  • 39A: Jed's first chief of starr on "The West Wing" (Leo) - "The West Wing" - man, I must have seen that show, like ... twice.
  • 2D: Alternatives to wraps (heros) - I had the similar-sounding and much more wrap-like GYROS
  • 23D: Food often described using the number of fingers it takes to eat it (poi) - total guess, but ... three letters, eaten with fingers ... there weren't a lot of options.
  • 29D: Old-fashioned argument enders (duels) - Nice to have this and Aaron BRR in the same puzzle.
  • 43D: Historical war zone: Abbr. (ETO) - basic crossword answer ... yet I had DMZ at first (?!)
  • 52D: Some cricket matches (tests) - wanted INTERMINABLE. Cricket is huge in NZ, but its rules are massively perplexing to me, and the gear they wear ... are you playing a sport or going on a picnic? Make up your mind.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

PS My wife blogged the hell out of our recent trip to NZ, so I won't bother doing much of that here, but I did want to pass on one crossword-related pic. Here is a restaurant I saw in Dunedin with a name so potentially crosswordy, it should have had "(Var.)" in it. It's in the [Turkish poo-bah] family of crossword answers - you've got your DEYs and BEYs and AGAs, and then there's PASHA, and now there's this:

And here's the lead track from the album I bought solely because it had a song called "OMERTA" on it: the song is "Bright Grey," by the Phoenix Foundation, from their album "Happy Ending." This video is awesomely lo-tech. My favorite fact about this band (acc. to Wikipedia): "The band gets their name from a fictional organisation on the popular television show "MacGyver.""


PhillySolver 8:17 AM  

The puzzle was great, but my solving experience was not and I had an error. That was no surprise. I had about six fills that I couldn't help but doubt. However, I am surprised to see it was SOLI/SITBY. Doesn't the seemingly past tense clue word 'involved' sound like a SAT rather than a SIT. As to SOLI, WHAT??? SOLI is a city, its Latin for soil, its a word in several languages. I have read about an evening of Solos, but never 'come hear the aria soli.' Sour grapes, bah. I can't defend sola though, so I give.

SETTS? ADOZE? I wanted Harpie or something for termagant as I never think of it as a verb. Some/SAME? ONONEKNEE is not a required position in a starting block. I would have preferred a clue about a marriage proposal. Begging for joy? perhaps. Challenging indeed and I don't want to see tomorrow's puzzle if it is harder than this one.

David 8:29 AM  

I think I had mostly the same experience this one, but with a couple lucky answers that kept me alive.

I've only seen a few episodes of DOCTOR WHO, but one of them thankfully included K-9, and so that one was a gimme once I saw it. The W gave me the rest of WON BRONZE, which prevented me from ruining the E too much. The R also made me finally realize that not all attorney generals are random unknowns, like popes. Doy.

I took a wild stab at MANO A MANO before any crosses, in one of those guesses that you love, but are also ready to erase as soon as something goes wrong. Having that early absolutely saved the SW for me. I wasn't confident enough about Eddie Murphy to fill 59A in without a few crosses, though, and I had SLAPPED ON at first, which took a bit of time to fix.

Getting LOVE SCENE, which had a great clue, made the rest of W and SW fall into place. Getting ENERGY DRINK early got me a foothold in the east, too, but, yeah, it took forever to figure out the first half of 25D. I think I tried 3 or 4 alternatives, each one getting me a letter closer.

Fridays are still always challenges for me, but this one managed to be challenging without being...unapproachable. And even without much obscure crosswordese. I can only imagine how tough that is to pull off, and with some very nice fill in there. I think the ? answers, especially, fit very well. Great puzzle from Mike Nothnagel.

male chicken 8:35 AM  

Also started with OBE, but DOCTOR WHO was a total gimme. Didn't help with my motherland's decorations though, just changed it to DBE. Cricket rocks! More cricket clues! Sure there is room for cluing on CHINAMAN, GOOGLY, SILLY SHORT LEG, MIDOFF, LONG LEG, etc. Oh, I doubt I'll get it, I'm in the wrong place. Although I made a pointless plea yesterday for clues for Khmer words, little expecting that I would have to speak Hawaiian today.
Found this hard but managed to get through it, unlike yesterday.

kjones 8:42 AM  

This is the price you pay for not watching Dr. Who.

It is a just punishment.

P.S. I officially hate Oona, now.

Wait, now I don't hate Oona anymore. It's much better when one O is capitalized and one isn't. It looks like crazy-eyes some cartoon characters sometimes get. Oo

Barry 8:44 AM  

Morning, all!

God, I'm relieved to see that Rex found this puzzle challenging. I'm not sure what I would have done had he rated it easy, since I simply could not complete this puzzle without numerous visits to SeƱor Google.

For the record, I got DOCTOR WHO right off the bat (as well as AXEL FOLEY) and it didn't help me a bit in the NE corner. I've never heard of DSOS, didn't know somebody wrote a biography of OONA Chaplin (although I know who she is), couldn't think of a 60's attorney general with a three-letter name (I wasn't thinking initials), couldn't think of a river beginning with "O" other than OISE (which even I knew was in the wrong part of the world), and had confidently (albeit erroneously) put AT THE LINE for 18A instead of ON ONE KNEE.

The rest of the puzzle was just as bad. I had no freaking clue whatsoever who founded Mount Holyoke college, who said the quip about his mother, what the &@$! a SETT was, what type of shoe a T-STRAP is, what on earth a TERMAGANT is, who the heck Morgan Spurlock is and what documentary he might have made, what language THUG and LOOT derived from (actually, I did know that THUG came from THUGEE cult, but I thought the clue was asking for a common root word and not a language), etc., etc., etc.

I also had PIKED instead of DIVED for 41A and thought I was oh-so-clever for getting it. Which, in turn, gave me PAPA instead of DADA for 33D and made 33A absolutely ungettable.

I'd love to call a foul on the cluing for 31D, since UDON noodles are Japanese and therefore not technically a form of pasta, but given my poor luck with the rest of the puzzle I don't suppose it really matters.

I'm sure ADOZE is a perfectly cromulent word, by the way, but I don't like it one whit. The same goes for the abominable HOER.


On the bright side, I got EXTRA CREDIT right away for 5D and thought it was brilliantly clued. Of course, I then erased it after getting EDGED and GO APE for 1D and 17A, respectively.

I also thought 42A was TRANS FAT and thought that was "Cause of some breakouts" was a pretty clever clue. And it was a pretty clever clue. Just not for the answer I thought it was for.

All in all, I thought this was a ridiculously hard puzzle. Maybe par for the course for a Saturday, but definitely not for a Friday. But that just probably speaks to the gaps in my personal knowledge set more than anything else.

Anonymous 8:55 AM  

Gotta agree on a few prev. points.
I, too, had allergies & I know what
udon is and it does NOT fill the pasta clue IMO.
Also, got dived but is that really
acceptable; shouldn't it be dove?
totally bombed in Upper Northeast.
no clue re Dr. WHo
but enjoyed the rest of the puzzle
-- good Fri one.

ArtLvr 9:05 AM  

I painfully teased out everything without a google, but then hit the SW corner and just couldn't get it. I have a feeling that ENERGY DRINK [Jolt] has been used before, but I'd forgotten it totally. Energy surge, energy shock? Having the potential cross as "ousted" for 49A OLD HAT sealed my fate... It would have taken too much more time to unravel. GRR. Great puzzle though!


@ philly -- A SCOLD is indeed a noun!

Karen 9:25 AM  

The DOCTOR WHO love here warms my heart. K-9 even got a small cameo appearance in the DW finale episode this year. Not bad for a character created 30 years ago.

I wanted HARPY for termagent. And I tried ARCED instead of DIVED. I fell into the ZELDA trap too. I knew the cricket TESTS thanks to BBC radio. Tough puzzle, but I could get it all without googling.

How is very=SAME? And can anyone use SETTS in a sentence?

jannieb 9:45 AM  

I always feel like we've been given a special treat when Nothnagel is on the by-line. Another solid puzzle - and definitely challenging. Doable, but challenging.

I kept putting in answers and erasing them (Axel Foley, on one knee, dived) only to put them back in again. Do colleges have "rec halls", or are they mostly referred to as the Student Union? I kept wanting "The Quad) in those two spots, but that was a waste of mental energy.

The NE was devilishly difficult but last fill for me was "Love Scene". I kept wanting to make espresso or cappuccino or something. And setts wins my WTF for the day.

I'm off to a bridge tournament. Enjoy the weekend all - and welcome back to our Fearless Leader!

Crosscan 10:22 AM  

I had a similar start to Rex but never got out of the NorthEast. I was staring at 11 blank squares and 10 others that turned out to be wrong.

Felt alone and helpless and resorted to my only remaining friend on this puzzle, Google, who obliged with DOCTOR WHO, OONA and ODER.

I had OBES, STOMP, BAA, BAH, GOT BRONZE and BAR CAR for TIN EAR, thinking of a train conductor.


TGIF? Not for me.

Olympics are shown live on Canadian TV. Do you have to wait for "prime" time?

Twangster 10:39 AM  

Oddly I didn't have much trouble with one and am surprised to see it rated challenging (usually I'm on the other side of the fence with weekend ratings).

I got 99% of it without cheating, although I called in my girlfriend for soup aid. She took one look and said, "maybe allergies should be allergens" and gave me orzos and udon.

With that, I thought I had it done but then had to spend 20 minutes finding one wrong square ... which turned out to be that I had entered OONO and SOME instead of OONA and SAME.

Anyway, I was glad to see the Kinks make an appearance with LOLA, seemingly presaged by my comment yesterday (although disappointed to see Ray didn't merit a photo in the write-up).

Anonymous 10:45 AM  


Whether they are cobbles, cubes or setts, they are excellent paving products and will last for many, many years; in fact, some of the stones currently covering the streets of Britain have seen over 200 years of continual use.

Courtesy of


SethG 10:48 AM  

Why, SETT is the very word I looked up in the dictionary to find that it's a rectangular paving stone!

This was yet another MN puzzle that I liked but could not do. I was on pace for my fastest Friday ever. For about 30 seconds, after filling in SUPER SIZE ME and EXTRA CREDIT with no crosses. But then, not so much.

I knew Beverly Hills Cop came out in '84, so using the award date threw me, but not for long. By RAZOR BLADES for longer. I filled in RAZOR early, but was also thrown by "technology". I like that this (includes oaths) was my first google hit for 'razor blades', and this was third.

Problems in the center, where I've never heard of termagant.

Big problems in the NE, where I choked on SOLID FOOD. Didn't help that I wasn't confident at all about ON ONE KNEE, which isn't actually a sprinter's position, that I didn't get HOER, or that I had BAH for a long time.

And big problems in NorCal, where ADOZE/DADA/ED-IN got me but good. Did _not_ have the right publ. in mind.

DELIRIOUS gives us an Eddie Murphy mini-theme,

Ulrich 10:52 AM  

Now imagine how hard this was for someone without any gimmies. Guessed ___BRONZE and ORZO and with that got started in the NE and painfully clawed through the rest--googled three times, not bad, considering.

What threw me completely was the wrong clue for POLER--at least in Venice, gondolas are not poled--the water is too deep. They are propelled by a very long oar, whose handling, I presume, is a real skill.

In what sense are cricket matches tests, as opposed to other sports?

Barry 11:00 AM  


The only way I can suss out very=SAME is to think of the expression, "The very one." As in, "Is that the bag you saw on sale last week? Yes, the very one."

Of course, that expression is often rendered, "The very same one", which would make it awfully redundant if "very" and "same" are, in fact synonyms.

Oh, I'm so confused....

hereinfranklin 11:04 AM  

Northwest fell in about 30 seconds so I was expecting great things. But then reality set in. When will I learn to trust my first answer? Had both ADOZE and DIVED right off the bat, and then took them out because I was sure that EARLY POP was ADAM. Had to google. Bad solver.

foodie 11:05 AM  

I am amazed I had a very similar solving experience to Rex's. Same errors and stumbles, but I had to give up and google in the northeast. Still I was delighted to have done most of it on my own. Terrific puzzle.

And I thanked my lucky stars that Szczecin was in the clue and not in the grid. Way tougher than syzygy, and a major Natick opportunity.

PS. Just googled Natick to remind myself what the heck it was, other than a term in Rexville.

foodie 11:12 AM  
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foodie 11:12 AM  

@ulrich, I had the same response to gondolier, and had "OARER" for a while. Not pretty, but more accurate.

And I had PITAS for alternative to wraps. This is because both pita pockets and wraps derive from non-western bread and represent ethnic sandwiches... I know, I overthought that one.

As to UDON, I was worried I was losing my foodie edge when I could not come up with it for a long time, but I feel vindicated. It really is not pasta. If I were Japanese, I would be even more annoyed by this clue.

joho 11:22 AM  

This was definitely the most challenging Friday puzzle for me in many moons. I did finish but not unassisted which doesn't really count in my book. My word for the day is DINKS.

Barry 11:24 AM  

Did I mention I had SARIS instead of HEROS for "alternative to wraps"? See, I was thinking clothing and it didn't matter that that a sari is, in fact, a form of wrap and not an alternative to one. I just figured that "alternative" meant "the same word in another language."

Besides, shouldn't the plural of HERO be HEROES?

Jim in Chicago 11:24 AM  

Grumble, grumble grumble.

I would have named this puzzle "ADOZE" - what a horrid word.

I have to say that I needed to read Rex before I got T-Strap. I couldn't figure out what a TS-TRAP was, some some of plumbing dizmo that you use instead of a pump?

My real problem is with "REC HALL". Um - I've always heard this called a rec CENTER, never a HALL. Grumble.

I also got DoctorWho right away but even that didn't redeen the rest of the NE, and I also got the Eddie Murphy answer, but wrote in aLeX instead of aXeL, which then gave me no end of trouble.

The NW would have been easier if I hadn't stuck with ROWER for Gondolier for far too long - and, yes I know that they don't row....

Two Ponies 11:43 AM  

So proud of myself for sticking it out and not Googling. Whew! Tough but I made it. Lola got me started.
Wanted Boo for Brr at first thinking of Halloween? Not really a season, I know. Was thinking of some plant I would cook with steam for 35D.
Enough sport clues to make me wonder if the theme was the Olympics.
MN as usual gave us a great Friday puzzle.
A side note - Ben Schott's column this morning mentioned Yggdrasil. A new word to me until the baby naming came up. Reading further I see that I should have named one of my dogs Garm. If any dog would be brave enough to guard the gates of hell it would be him. (Not that he's big enough for the job, he just thinks he is.)

thornibus 11:47 AM  

Would like to have seen 62A. Married w/o children.

Joon 12:08 PM  

sweet puzzle, but yes, it felt more to me like a saturday. perhaps WS in his wisdom placed it today to honor the olympics (waiting for the starting gun/WONBRONZE... ENERGYDRINK?).

SETTS was a new one on me. knew termagant but not that SCOLD could be a noun, so that was my last word filled. also had trouble with the NE, as i too tried OBES instead of DSOS and had (at various times) TRAMP, TROMP, CLOMP, and maybe even QZXMP for 8D.

ulrich, some cricket matches are called tests.

two ponies, you are entering the wonderful world of names from norse mythology! i'm going to see if i can sneak RATATOSK into a late-week puzzle. what other culture has a squirrel of discord, i ask you?

dk 12:16 PM  
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dk 12:16 PM  

Given that Dayleks were an avatar for a while DOCTORWHO was a gimmie as was DINKS because I am one. Then the fun began.

I had all the Rex and Blogger-pal errors.

The real stumper for me was RECHALL. As I recall (a literate back in the day) it was a student union. Surly worth a quibble.

Mike your creation cost me 49 minutes and 34 seconds this morning and if I could figure out how to use termagant in a sentence we could go MANOAMANO.

Great start to a weekend and we should all note the ever increasing food references in the puzzles.

Two Ponies 12:27 PM  

@ joon, Even though I adore the notion of a squirrel of discord if you put it in a puzzle I will have to sic my little Garm on you! :)

miriam b 12:29 PM  

Sure, SCOLD can be a noun. In early New England, a woman could be punished for being a "common SCOLD." The punishment consisted of dunking in the local pond.

This was a very hard but rewarding puzzle. I thought betel nuts were somethihg to chew on, which gave me all kinds of trouble at first. The first two gimmes were HINDI and POI, then it was slow going. I'm glad I didn't time myself.

dk 12:37 PM  

@miriam b, Betel Nut is also a great restaurant in San Francisco

@fergus, could not agree more with your late night post.

@jane doh, your pane series is fine indeed.

@joho, if I get 18a will you try a beet.

steve l 12:40 PM  

I did this puzzle last night to completion, and it took me about a half hour. No errors. After finishing it, I set out to determine whether I thought it was (a) just a very hard Fri. puzzle, or (b) a puzzle that was hard because of many questionable clues/answers. Here's what I decided:
If you think it was hard because you didn't know a lot of the words ("termagant") or didn't get the "atty. gen." clue because you failed to notice the abbrevs., then it was you--your shortcomings in vocabulary, informational knowledge, or puzzle smarts (e.g., figuring out what the misdirection was.) I usually trust my instincts, and when I enter an answer, I assume I'm right, but if I'm stuck, I go back and look for a wrong answer. (I did "allergies" for "allergens," but realized my mistake when the crosses didn't come.)
Lest you think I'm being harsh, I will say that there is an awful lot to complain about with this puzzle.
1. Gondolier: I concur that oars, not poles, came to my mind, too.
2. Termagant: SCOLD as a noun seems out-of-the-language to me.
3. ADOZE: Same here. My spell-check questions it right now.
4. ORZOS: Orzo is a mass noun; it cannot be pluralized. (Don't go the "fishes" route--there aren't different species of orzo.) Ditto on the spell-check.
5. SETTS: I had to comb the online dictionaries to find a mention of it. We call them pavers or cobblestones or Belgian blocks where I come from.
6. REC HALL: I have never heard this term used in relation to a college. They have student unions, campus centers, and gyms. Rec halls are run by municipalities and social agencies.
7. DINKS: I guess it's a golf term, but to me, it means "double income, no kids."
8. TIN EAR: I echo the previous comment--what conductor would even deal with someone with a tin ear? (However, a tin ear might be a good conductor.)
9. WON BRONZE: No one wins bronze. They win gold. They take silver or bronze, not win it.
10. HOER: The tool is a hoe. A HOER might be the loose woman who uses it.
11. RAZORBLADES: A sharp piece of metal is technology? Yeah, if we're in the Bronze Age. Gimme a break.
12. UDON: Are all noodles pasta? Or only Italian noodles? I would never call Goodman's egg noodles pasta, and, though I'm less familiar with UDON, I don't think they're really pasta, either. At the very least, it's debatable.
13. EDIN (Chief): Stretching things a little. The abbreviation "Ed." is usually used alone, in a notation, or in a library catalog.
14. SOLI: Over-erudition. The plural in English is solos. (It.) should be clued.
15. LYON: Too obscure. I imagine few people other than alumni recognize the name. What about the French city?
16. Mahalo nui LOA: Another gimme a break. How far into a rare language are we going to go? Will we one day see a clue for "Haberdasher, in Hilo"? Let's not go past WAHINE and MAUNA LOA (hey, a better way to clue that word!!) in Hawaiian.
17. Considerably = FAR: Show me a sentence in which one can replace the other. This puzzle was considerably/far harder than yesterday's. It's a far/considerably stretch of the imagination that this was a good puzzle. ???
In all, this was the kind of puzzle that I was glad to be able to complete, but even gladder that I was finished with it.

joho 12:52 PM  

@joon: RATATOSK would have been a perfect name for my late, long-haired Chihuahua, Hannah.

@dk: Not even if you used the gun in 18A would I try a beet!

dk 1:18 PM  

@joho, if you are going to bring a gun... 35d

@steve I, as a poseur of little brain (see David Brooks LOL OPED in today's NYT) I object to your short comings references... I think... or do I.

DINKS is a term from my young WASP days and referred to a tennis shot that was very effective for tuna-ing (driving into the net) your opponent in doubles. When I switched to Badminton it was a strategy shot used in singles play (stop yawning I am opining here) to cheese off your opponent.

PhillySolver 1:24 PM  

@steve a good a thoughtful write up. Thanks.
@joon I just read up on the very interesting Ratatosk. Thanks
@dk never too much food in the crossword. Watching Olympic badminton in real life was the most amazing thing. I now think those athletes are among the most talented playing an individual competitive sport.
@ Ulrich MIke N is a very nice guy so I will not make him demonstrate using a Pole on the Grand Canal.

Daryl 1:26 PM  

Man, this was a tough one. Filled up the NW and SE with relative ease - got SUPERSIZE ME, EXTRA CREDIT, ENERGY DRINK, and AXEL FOLEY straight off the bat, and was happy. And then it set in. I figured it was BLADES, but thought of XACTO BLADES, which went well with MIXER for PARER. Ugh, And then I had LOLA and DUELS, so was faced with AL____, and cleverly thought of ALIEN EGGS as the cause of some breakouts. As in Alien and Aliens and Alien-Cubed, and aliens breaking out of people's bodies. And couldn't figure out how everything fit together. When I finally got ALLERGENS it was such a disappointing answer.

SOLI and ORZOS I particularly dislike as a pair. I'd argue that SOLOS and ORZI are the more common plurals, and if we're using uncommon plurals for Italian words, then go with SOLI/ORZI or SOLOS/ORZOS, but not SOLI/ORZOS.

@steve - I agree with your general sense that there was stuff to complain about, but disagree with some of your critiques. Following your numbers:

2. SCOLD as a noun is somewhat underutilised, but it's in reasonably common use still - unfortunately, the use of the word "scold" as a noun crops up too frequently in describing Hillary Clinton's public image (see this Time magazine article).

9. You can win the bronze medal. The Detroit Free Press does use it in that way. And you win bronze in any Olympic sport where there's a third-place playoff.

17. Isn't "This puzzle was considerably/far harder than yesterday's" a perfectly good sentence in which FAR replaces considerably?

Rex Parker 1:28 PM  

@steve l

I think you're wrong about SCOLD and FAR (you answer your own hypothetical with your first example of the "far/considerably" switch), but mostly right about the rest.


Barry 1:31 PM  

@steve l:

I recently read somewhere that a good "hard" puzzle relies on creative cluing and not on just throwing tons of obscure words at the solver. I'm not sure if I agree that obscure words are, per se, bad (since, as you point out, different people have different vocabulary levels and what is obscure to one person may be very common to somebody else). However, I didn't really care for this puzzle since it seemed to combine both aspects of a hard puzzle -- "creative" cluing (some of which was actually quite inaccurate, as it turns out) plus obscure words. Even had I known Termagant, for example, the noun form of "scorn" is likely just way too obscure for most people to know.

To use Rex's [in]famous "Natick" example, it was bad enough that Natick is a relatively obscure word to begin with, but at least the clue was straightforward enough. Had it been clued something like, "Place where Anita would feel at home" (since the word Natick is a Massachusett Indian word meaning "Place of Hills"), it would have been inexcusable.

OK, so maybe that's an extreme example, but still....

HudsonHawk 1:33 PM  

I rocked through the SW (how many early Eddie Murphy characters can you name and how many were nomination worthy? Maybe Reggie Hammond in 48 Hours, but that was 1982). No sweat, plus it's Nothnagel, so Xs and Zs are to be expected. I was confident with the long 4D and 5D, but couldn't finish the Far West because I had "PORN SCENE" mucking things up.

ALLERGENS made sense because I couldn't imagine the long 12D ending in an I. The combo of that with ORZOS and SIT BY helped the long 25D and 26D fall into place and the rest of the East came with it.

So that left me staring at 33D and 34D and the confusing __PIRIOUS because of my PORN mistake. I also wanted ADAM and I was thinking publicity rather than publishing for the clue to 34D. Then DELIRIOUS hit me in the face sort of like the 2x4 hitting Chris Farley in Tommy Boy. Done.

I agree with those calling foul on UDON (I was raised with the understanding that there's a difference between pasta and noodles). And ADOZE doesn't make the dictionary I have.

@Steve, DINK would be a very soft tennis shot that just drops over the net and dies. I actually kinda like the word.

kjones 1:34 PM  

It's worth noting that the Sci Fi channel is in the midst of what seems to be a a DOCTOR WHO mini-marathon right now.

Anonymous 1:59 PM  

Somebody throw some water on Steve and let's see if he steams! Calm down, this was the best puzzle all week. It's Friday, it's supposed to be a challenge.

dk 2:15 PM  

@phillysolver, the greatest compliment I ever got was after a badminton tournament when my opponent stated: "you not bad for round eye."

@hudsonhawk, Drop over the net and die: there's a t-shirt.

crackup 2:29 PM  

One of those puzzles where you go through the clues with only one definite, for sure entry, only to find out I was wrong. I think of "pasta" as a broad term for various noodles, not a specific type. Udon, buckwheat noodles, had it been referenced as Japanese "pasta" it would have been easier.
I was stuck on Axel Foley because of date, and had to haul out the dictionary for termagent.
All in all it felt good to have a real challenge today, sice I'm still in my jammies waiting for the sun to come out and it's 11:30am; I do love summer!

steve l 2:43 PM  

I knew that my lengthy post would get some varied responses. My responses to your responses:
@dk: Just keeping it real...that was me, maybe ten years ago. Anyone who has only been doing crosswords for, say ten years, you will have less difficulty with puzzles like these over the years. I did finish, but that doesn't mean I liked it.
@daryl--Re SCOLD: not to me, it's not a noun. Never have used it as such, never have heard it used as such. Maybe it's regional. Re bronze medal: I still think that the bronze (the silver, too) is a consolation prize, not a win. Re considerably/far: I'll concede that one, even though when I wrote it, they still didn't seem synonymous to me.
@hudsonhawk--my bad; tennis, not golf. I stink at tennis, never tried golf. I do remember that when I did hit what I guess is called a dink, it was regarded as poor sportsmanship. Don't know why.
@barry--I may not know much about art, but I know what I don't like. I love clever cluing, and I don't complain that a puzzle took me a long time if it was fun to do, but this one was a clunker in my estimation.
@rex--I take it to heart that if the Rexman agrees with most of what I said, I was mostly right on.
Bottom line folks, I might be in the minority here, but I didn't like this puzzle. I read the blogs every day, but don't always say anything--no interest in discussing beets ad nauseam, and the like, so if you see my opinion on a puzzle, I have something to say.

jae 2:54 PM  

This was a medium for me except for the NE which required a lot of staring. DR. WHO was not a gimmie but figuring out HOER gave me WH and DR. WHO came to mind. Somewhere I must have heard something about the show? I also had OBE, OARER, BOO, STOMP-TROMP for a while. LICE for 53d made the SW slower than it should have been. In spite of some of the iffy cluing (I agree with alot of what Steve l had to say) I really liked this one. MN's are usually pretty doable and entertaining for me and this was no exception. Very nice Fri. Mike!

joho 4:20 PM  

It's amazing to me how we all have such a different read on any given puzzle. To some this is medium and entertaining, others challenging and no fun. Anon at 1:59 tells Steve that's it's supposed to be challeging and this is the best puzzle of the week. I agree that it's meant to be difficult on a Friday, but it should also be FUN. This puzzle was not.

When a puzzle becomes a grind and loses it's entertainment value I don't like it. You may finish without help, but there's absolutely nothing to smile about.

Bah humbug.

OldHand 4:32 PM  

@ Steve I: "Re SCOLD: not to me, it's not a noun. Never have used it as such, never have heard it used as such. Maybe it's regional." -- It's SHAKESPEARE, among other things, for pete's sake. All you have to do is google "a scold" to see multiple references...

Instead of dogmatically reiterating your lack of familiarity with the word as a noun, you might try accepting the prior, more informed comments of fellow responders next time! Who lives may learn...

Nebraska Doug 4:40 PM  

Any time I complete a Fri/Sat puzzle without a mistake is great, but finishing one that Rex rates as challenging is even better. It took me forever, but I finally got it. The NE was the last place to fall. Good way to start the weekend!

Rex Parker 4:55 PM  


For the record, that kind of comment is Right up against the edge of the kind of comment I'm likely to delete. Reeks of pompous pedagoguery, plus it's explicitly personal. And the "who lives may learn" quip is not apt to move anyone (well, it might move someone to punch you, but that's about it). Nobody likes adages, especially those uttered from a position of smug (and imagined) superiority.

You could have / should have deleted the second paragraph. Take it from someone who has learned to delete many a second (and third paragraph) before hitting "send" ...


Rex Parker 5:00 PM  

Damn, should have closed those parentheses after "third."


Anonymous 5:16 PM  

Thank you for moderating, Rex. We are all just trying to have a good time. Let a dead dog sleep. Er, beat a sleeping horse where he lies. Whatever adage makes you happy. Ciao!

fergus 5:47 PM  

The Taming of the Termagent. Because of LOLA, my only true gimmie, it couldn't be SHREW. So how about TROLL? Nope, gotta start with S. I guess you have to accept SCOLD because, yeah, a Termagent is a SCOLD but it's so much more. A scold nags about picking up socks, while a Termagent ... let's not be too vulgar. Shall we say that a SCOLD is breaking balls figuratively while the shrew's treatment is literal.

Northwest was toughest since I had GO APE instead of ERUPT and DID UP for Revived. As well as OARER I was thinking ROWER, but POLER? That reminds me of Mayor Quimby, who was once described as polling the electorate. They only showed the aftermath of the LOVE SCENE.

I thought the grid was superb, but the Cluing was not so hot in too many places, which left me thinking that this puzzle did need some EXTRA CREDIT to go from a B to an A.

Bill from NJ 6:13 PM  

I have a confession to make: I watch alot of the Tonite show and have actually heard Jay make that comment about his mother so that was a gimme. Since I knew SALAD EXAM and guessed RAMS by way of trying to figure out 53A which RAMS gave me and therefore HALL appeared. As a college student of the 60s, I'm not sure when REC HALL changed into Student Union or even if it is a function of the 60s. I was able to do the SW in pretty short order as AXELFOLEY was a gimme and SM****DO* was a guess.

I had SUPERSIZEME and DIVED in California and was able to parse out LOVESCENE from ANEMIA which was an instinct call along with EDIN. I say instinct because they occurred to me straight-away and, since I do the puzzle on a computer, I don't have to worry about erasures as I did in the past so I don't have such a mess to clean up.

I was able to move up the West Coast when DADA gave me DELIRIOUS and EXTRACREDIT and I recognized SCOLD as a noun that was synonymous with shrew which is how I defined termagant, probably from reading Hawthorne.

The NW fell via CREPT and POLER ADULT and I was looking at a puzzle that was 2/3 filled in all in the West.

I finally got a toehold in the East with the Zs in this puzzle ORZOS WONBRONZE ZENDA and was able to dredge up DOCTORWHO.

I'm a fan of celebrity bios and was familiar with Jane Scovell through her biography of Marilyn Horne so OONA was pretty much a gimme along with RFK and BRR. l had the same problem with 8D as the others had but the C in DOCTORWHO allowed me to get CLOMP which gave me PARER and I was able to get the rest of the East.

That left only the SE but I had ENERGY***** and RAZOR****** as inroads into that area and, although it took a while, as HINDI and TESTS refused to show themselves, the puzzle finally fell.

I went with my first impressions alot on this puzzle and they turned out to be correct. It was indeed Challenging but I had some knowledge going in, particularly OONA and LENOand SETTS and LEO and LOLA that gave me a leg up in various sections of the puzzle.

I'm not sure where REC HALL came from but it helped me nail down the East and SE

Michael 6:13 PM  

I am surprised at the passion this puzzle inspired. For me it was a nice Nothnagel puzzle of typical Friday difficulty. It took a while, but was quite possible. I wonder how many clue-answer combos for most Friday-Saturday puzzles could stand up to the type of scrutiny Steve provided. Not that I think he's wrong...

steve l 6:22 PM  

@oldhand--I take it back. Maybe it's not regional. Maybe it's temporal. And therefore it should have an (Obs.) after it. And that's what we mean when we say something is not in the language. This is a trait of the Maleska era, and a reason why the current era is so much better (usually)...not making things so arcane that they lose their fun (cf. joho 4:20). And I did Google "a scold," and most of the uses were archaic, or referred to a scolding (the incident) rather than the person, or a "scold's bridle".

acme 6:38 PM  

Bec I too accidentally put in ALEX instead of AXEL I had LOA starting with an X and thought it was odd since Hawaiian doesn't even HAVE an X.
Always thought it was amazing that they get by with but 7 consonants...
HKLMNPW I mean, even the W is sort of a double-u and more of a vowel.

Also made almost every mistake mentioned above (the drag of getting here so late always, and yet happy to see it wasn't just me...)
Not to be a scold, but it is really irritating (to me)the slight misclues of non-American things we continually face...usually German, but this time ignorance of things Italian between the whole pasta issue and the poling.
Perhaps we should chip in for a trip to Venezia for MN and Will and we'll never see the likes of ORZOS again!

It reminds me of my old Italian boyfriend's mother who could not for the life of her understand that I was a vegetarian and snuck in meat into every meal possible, worrying I would die of malutrition (plus they ran a trattoria).
One night, assuring me my soup/brodo with the stuffed pasta was vegetarian, I distinctly tasted meat.
When I gently questioned her as to why, knowing I'm a vegetarian that she'd serve me meat, she immediately caved and cried (literally), "but it was dead anyway!"

Ulrich 7:20 PM  

@acme: You are a soulmate!

I must say, though, that there seems to be a growing awareness of how tricky a highly-inflected language like German can be for people not used to such a thing (BTW an egregious example occurred in the toughest version of the playoff puzzle at this year's ACPT)--I've less and less to complain about, and just a minute before I read your comment, I had answered the e-mail of a constructor asking for advice on how to clue what's either the indef., female, singular, genitiv article or a seldom used personal pronoun in German--to me, that's progress indeed.

green mantis 7:31 PM  

Gah! Didn't understand SKINS until I googled. Is that common knowledge for everybody?

This puzzle had lots of nice fill, so I'm not sure I agree with the sentiments of some that it was a clunker. NE killed me though; I could not claw my way out of "stomp" for "clomp," so could not wrestle solid food away from its hiding place. Hiding places for solid food include:

Wheat warren
Lima lair
Poi prison
Corn cage
Jambalaya jail
Vittle vault
and pie safe. It keeps the blackbirds secure.

The mention of Aaron Brr gives me an opportunity to teach you a little drunk history. Don't watch if you have a sensitive stomach.

Susan 7:34 PM  

Can someone please explain DSOs and ETO?


fergus 7:44 PM  

European Theater of Operations, and I'm guessing Distinguished Service something or other, maybe Ordination?

Susan 7:59 PM  

Thanks Fergus. Now I'll just go and look those up so I actually understand them.

ArtLvr 8:10 PM  

re DSO -- Distinguished Service Order.

re SCOLD -- last use in a NYT xword but one was Thursday, September 14, 2006 by Karen M Tracey, clued as [Shrew]... so it's doubly okay by Shortz as a noun, without qualifier.

My favorites included SOLID FOOD, any color! (Trying to diet).


Jeff 8:11 PM  

I agree with Michael's assessment of this one. I found it to be a typical Friday, maybe even a little easier. I did this one on the beach this afternoon, and thought I'd get home to read a dozen or so comments about how easy it was. I was surprised to see it rated Challenging.

I'm also suprised at the reaction to the cluing. Some of it was certainly tricky in a Friday sorta way. I reacted mildly to a couple things mentioned above ("Heeeey, UDON is a noodle, not a pasta." and "SOLI? Really?"), but I filled it in and moved on. I react much more negatively to crap like ABAA crossing AINU like we had yesterday (I actually boo-hissed aloud about that one).

I guess me and Mr. Nothnagel just happened to be on the same wavelength today. I like it when that happens.

Jeff 8:21 PM  

@green mantis: When I was a kid, shirts vs. skins was the typical matchup for our touch football games. There's a park near the house I currently own where a lot of basketball is played. (None of it by me.). Shirts vs. skins seems to be common there, as well. I just queried my wife, and she's never heard the expression. I guess the ladies would probably use some other means to distinguish opposing sides. (And if they didn't, we 4th grade boys would be hiding in the bushes, giggling our 4th grade heads off.)

foodie 8:30 PM  

I like the Paasha restaurant sign in your PS. I guess it must be an unusual spelling but it makes total sense to me, as it is intended to make sure the emphasis is on the correct syllable.

@Joho, do you know there is a website called "The Evil Beet"?

fergus 8:47 PM  

It's funny how memory works. That ridiculous DSOS sent me off into a Maida Vale state where I was oddly fascinated by amateur Cricket (that required a few pints at the pub and a can of Tennant's hyperbrew in the stands, and then shifting over to Lord's) and watching the Queen's speech, handing out awards, on an unlicensed television. Admittedly, these aren't simultaneous recollections, yet nevertheless, the conflation of their association makes me further realize why I enjoy a good crossword puzzle.

It stimulates a nostalgic hunt about the magical mechanism that sometimes seems to operate merely as a hard drive.

dk 8:58 PM  

@foodie and @joho, how about a pot boiler "Satan's Fruit"

@steve I, started these puzzles at age 12 or so sittin with my dad. And, shoot that was 40 years ago. I have come to enjoy that part of my day where I sit and solve. What I like most about this blog is I can find people who know who Jasper Fforde is, could map a genome before tea, if asked, and love the fact that k9 still appears in Dr. Who. Which is why I like the NYT puzzle and a certain one that appears in a not to be named UK paper.

I also like it when bloggers like you wade (not you @wade) in guns a blazin. In sum here we have room for all. I am sorry you do not post comments on beets. No real point to this comment, although this Chateau Margaux Pavillon Blanc taste great, perhaps if I pair it with....

Good night all.

Daryl 10:03 PM  

@steve l - see the Time magazine article I linked above. A Google search for "a scold" and "Hillary Clinton" brings up, rather unfortunately, many contemporary uses of the word as a noun. So it's perfectly idiomatic in modern English.

On winning the bronze: maybe it's a matter of perspective. Coming from a country that has won 1 Olympic medal in its history, I'd consider getting the bronze a victory...

Daryl 10:05 PM  

By the way, did anyone else get DELIRIOUS from seeing the Eddie Murphy reference? I was going, hmm, Eddie Murphy in the 80s, Raw, Coming to America, Beverly Hill Cops, DELIRIOUS - hey wait!!

Similar thing happened to me for MANO A MANO, which I got from the clue about going head to head that crossed it.

Cheryl 11:38 PM  

I got Doctor Who right away but was so attached to the idea of "obe" and "bubblegum" (to chew on) that I began to wonder if there was another show with a K9.
Also was thinking of "came third" for WON BRONZE but that didn't fit with either of the other options.

For shoot with steam I tried powerwash and jack-knifed as yawed.

Eventually I got it all without google help but did confer with puzzle parents at lunch. They gave me BRR and RFK and LENO and it was just enough to get things going.

I was on the right track wanting epees for DUELS but still wrong. I first had orzo where UDON went, and although I've gotten used to it, really hate the arbitrary dodgy plurals. I'm glad I'm not the only one who went for edged and go ape.

A nitpick about HOER besides it's indelicacy: a hoe is a tool for tilling the soil, not cropping the crops. I resisted putting it in a long time because I thought the answer should be a synonym for scythe or the like.
I still enjoyed it despite picks.

fergus 11:56 PM  

Indelicacy, as Cheryl states, is an exact description.

(Ca, c'est le mot juste)

Anonymous 8:32 PM  

According to my old Webster's Unabridged "sola" is from the Latin for "alone" (referring to a woman) and is an old stage direction meaning "by oneself", which I presume means the actor is on stage alone. So I'm pretty sure "sola" is the answer for 36D and it's "sat by" rather than "sit by" for 46A, making the fill match the past tense in the clue.

L. L. Thrasher aka anonymous because I'm too stupid to figure out how to be a google/blogger or an OpenId or a name/URL

Rex Parker 8:39 PM  

The grid is 100% correct as posted (and verified, as always, by the NYT website). SOLI is definitely the plural of SOLO. It's Italian. And the verb tense has to match, re: SIT BY.


Anonymous 11:22 PM  

Okay. Sorry for my mistake. I thought the clue used the past tense "involved." I must have read it wrong. When I put "sat by" in and ended up with "sola," I checked the dictionary and found out "sola" really was a word so I was happy with my fill. Obviously I should have checked the solution in the next day's paper. Or reread the clue.

I'm so glad I'm "anonymous" so no one knows my name.

L. L. Thrasher

WWPierre 4:42 PM  

If the water in Venice is too deep to pole a gondola, then the gondoliers must be sculling.

I thought the puzzle was great, as it took me 3 sessions to finish it.

Had "some" for 20 across, (Your puzzle was SOME challenging today, Mike!) I knew 7d had to be OONA but couldn't reconcile the 'a'. Barry's explanation cleared that up for me. The VERY thing I was looking for.

If there is a lottery with prizes of $1,000,000, $500,000, and $100,000, is the person drawing the $100,000 ticket a loser?

Perhaps to some :)

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