Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: "Kitty" - "Kitty" is the clue for four 15-letter theme answers

Another super simple puzzle with next-to-no stumbling blocks. Weirdly, I had just finished solving another puzzle with this very same conceit (same clue for all theme answers) before I started this one. It's not a favorite of mine, in that the answers are not usually clever, but instead are simply descriptive, and they often lead to answers that feel slightly off in terms of their colloquial aptness. Today's answers are mostly fine, though I think of "Kitty" as an affectionate name one calls any cat, as opposed to a nickname (though I am sure that there are people who have nicknamed their cat "kitty"). I don't know anything about Kitty Carlisle except that there was a "Simpsons" joke once about the head of Kitty Carlisle. Oh yeah, it's in "Bart Gets Famous" - acc. to Wikipedia: "A dream sequence has Bart playing Match Game 2034, where Bart sits next to "the vivacious head of Kitty Carlisle" in a jar." I think of BARKEEP as inherently masculine, so it took me a while to get it as the second word in Miss Kitty's job description.

Theme answers:

  1. 17A: Kitty (actress Carlisle)
  2. 27A: Kitty (poker table money)
  3. 46A: Kitty ("Gunsmoke" barkeep)
  4. 59A: Kitty (nickname for a cat)

Smooth fill all around, for the most part. The worst letter in the whole puzzle is the far NW corner - the last letter I filled in, largely because I completely forgot about it. Thought I was done, but no. DINTS (1A: Forces)????? When is the last time you, or anyone, used that word in the plural, or in any way excepting in the phrase "by DINT of" something or other? Ugh. And I guess some locks have DIALs (1D: Lock feature). [Combination lock feature] would have been nice. The one clue that puzzled me the most was 39D: Corporate gadfly's purchase, maybe (one share). Gadfly? What ... why? What does "gadfly" have to do with a small stock purchase? How is such a purchase annoying? I'm sure there's a reason, but it's lost on me.

We've got some good clue lingo today, with both "denizen" and "hiree" making appearances (4D: Terarrium denizen and 13D: Wedding hiree). "Spherule" is not nearly as common, but I've seen it before (27D: Soup spherule). Tiny sphere. PEA. Cute. Am I the only one who wants SHEAFS to be SHEAVES (53A: Binds in a bundle) - oh, wait, it's a verb! Nevermind. I mean, that's a weirder word, but at least it doesn't scream rule violation. "Dupes" (50D) is also a weird word - as is its answer: REPROS. I guess we're dealing with "duplicates" and "reproductions," but "dupes" sounds like there's intent to deceive involve. Coincidence, I guess. I knew OTIS made elevators, but not "moving walkways" (like in airports? - my daughter loves those, and escalators) (66A: Maker of moving walkways). She does not love "Sesame Street," and neither did I when I was little, which may explain why I had GUS for GUY for so long at 43A: _____ Smiley of "Sesame Street".

There seemed to be a lot of fill-in-the-blank answers today, and easy ones at that. I guess there are just six. Is that a lot? I don't have stats. The point is, I guess, that they were all - except GUY :( - complete gimmes, making this puzzle much easier than it could have / should have been.

What else?

  • 6A: Show off at the gym, say (flex) - gimme. Watched weight-lifting for a little bit today. Scary. Always looks like some part of the lifter's body is just going to snap / explode.
  • 10A: Fingered, briefly (I.D.'ed) - sounds OK, but looks all kinds of wrong when you write it out. "Fingered" is on my list of least favorite words.
  • 41A: Gasoline choice: Abbr. (reg.) - really? Still?
  • 55A: Humble reply to praise ("I try") - that is what's called mock humble, i.e. not humble, i.e. someone showing off or playing the @#$#ing martyr.
  • 65A: Members in a 100-member club: Abbr. (sens.) - again, super-easy. Too easy. What else has exactly 100 members?
  • 67A: Pesach feast (Seder) - Does "Pesach" mean "Passover?" WHOA, I just learned that Pasch (which, as a medievalist, I always knew as Easter) is simply the Christian spelling of "Pesach," and that "Pasch" can also mean "Passover." Interesting (to at least one person, i.e. me)
  • 5D: Like an inscribed pillar (stelar) - "Stelar! Stelar!" Learned STELA from xwords. Never seen the adjectival form before.
  • 18D: Spring Air rival (Serta) - never heard of the mattress in the clue. SERTA, on the other hand, is a frequent grid denizen.
  • 61D: Sumter and McHenry: Abbr. (fts.) - lots of "abbr." today. Or so my typing fingers tell me. The abbrev. for "Fort" always strikes me as odd, given that it's the same as the abbrev. for "Feet"
  • 48D: Vitamin in liver (niacin) - I hope it's somewhere else, because liver is nasty. I didn't even see this clue today, for which I am grateful. YES I am (56D: "_____ Can" (Sammy Davis Jr. autobiography))

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Bill from NJ 1:24 AM  

I didn't care much for this puzzle and I'm not sure exactly why. Maybe because the theme seemed to just lay there with no sparkle. How long ago was Kitty Carlisle an actress? I remember her as being pretty much used up and doing game shows and was married to who . . . Moss Hart, I think. And this was the late 50s, for God's sake!
And speaking of the 50s, that was the decade of the Gunsmoke "barkeep" Miss Kitty, who actually owned the Saloon.

In my opinion, the theme just laid there, flat as a board and there was no fill to speak of that could have redeemed this puzzle. Maybe a little Celebes Ox or harem room might have helped.

Lets see, no fill, bad theme and it was EASY, which, I think, was the worst insult of all.

We've all seen puzzles that were easy to complete but sparkled on some other level and I don't think this one sparkled on any level.

I just spent more time WRITING about this one than I spent on DOING it. So I think I'll stop.

jae 2:06 AM  

I, on the other hand, thought this one was OK. Four 15 letter theme entries are fairly impressive. Ms. CARLISLE and Amanda Blake (Miss Kitty) came immediately to mind when I saw the theme and, sure enough, showed up. Yes, it was easy but reasonably clever, in my opinion.

I also tried GUS and PRECEDED for PREFACED. Other than that (and briefly staring at DINTS/DIAL) a smooth solve.

@Rex -- My take is that a corporate gadfly buys ONE SHARE so he/she can attend shareholder meetings and harass the management/board of directors.

acme 2:34 AM  

Once again I had almost word for word (letter for letter!)your solving experience, with D on the dubious "DINTS" as the last letter put in, yet first one in the puzzle...

Tho I am old enough to remember Kitty Carlisle from even before gameshows bec I once saw her in a Marx Brothers film (warbling?)and thought "Wow! That's the lady from "To Tell the Truth"!"

It was the first time I realized gameshow panelists had lives beforehand.

I guess their modern equivalent would be the same B-C listers as "Dancing with the "Stars"".
I'm sure millions only know Jerry Rice thru his post-sports career.

I liked Kitty Carlisle-Hart.
She was very witty.
Always had to recuse herself bec she knew somebody thru show biz...

OK, Mr. Non-Jewish:
quick pedantic lesson:
Yes, Pesach = Passover but Pesach literally refers to the springtime and Passover refers to the passing over of the houses marked with the blood of a PASCHAL lamb.

So Pesach isn't a direct translation of Passover...
Pesach is referring to the lamb, the time of year, etc.
Is that less confusing, or more?

(I'm sure most Jews who know the word Pesach don't even think about what it translates to literally).

Obviously it also gives us the name Pascal (as in Blaise Pascal)
or Pasquale.
Paques in French is Easter, (with the little hat over the a, meaning in the old French there was an s).

You know, in Hebrew without the vowels it would have been written PSCH roughly so you easily can get either PESACH, or PASCH, etc.

Oh! the puzzle...I too just tried to make one with four entries, one clue (Originally for the opening puzzle at the ACPT they were all clued as "Cheers!") but you are dead on that it usually ends up being a bit flat.

But they are quite hard to make and yet fun to try and do so.
It's fun to think of one word having so many different I thought this was really nice.

And you didn't make one pussy joke!
(Can I say that on TV?)

Barry 7:06 AM  

Morning, folks!

I agree that this was another easy puzzle. I did have one minor stumbling block in the SE corner when I put PREPARED instead of PREFACED for 38D, which left me with NICKNAME FOR A RAT for 59A and SHEAPS for 53A. At first, I was thinking, "What the heck kind of nickname for a rat is 'kitty'?" and briefly thought of accepting SHEAF as one of those obscure words that are used in crossword puzzles but which I've never heard before.

Fortunately, it was only a few seconds before I remembered that a sheaf is a bundle of wheat (although I've only seen the plural form as "sheaves" before) and that got me PREFACED and, of course, NICKNAME OF A CAT.

Seriously, who would name their pet rat "Kitty"? Some people.... ^_^

Crosscan 8:15 AM  

Well I was going to say yes, Pesach means Passover (or perhaps more accurately, Passover means Pesach) but acme has enlightened me as she always does. They never explained that in Hebrew School.

Cute puzzle. I raced through this in one of my lowest competitive times on the applet ever.

jae beat me on the share explanation.

Only thing I can add is Miss Piggy has always claimed that she and Kermit are more than pals.

Joyh in ct 8:37 AM  

DINTS? oof... I stared at that for a long time before I was convinced that I had filled in all the crosses correctly. ONESHARE also threw me. We're having some amazing weather in CT for August, cooler than normal with low humidity. I'm going to go enjoy it. I hope everyone can do the same...

dk 8:38 AM  

1a&d were the last fills for me as well.

The rest of the puzzle was smooth sailing.

Advice, do not put your SALARY on a resume.

RNA should be transfer RNA if I recall my microbiology. @foodie or @Doc John, what say you,

@acme, thanks for the EXOTICA,

alanrichard 8:43 AM  

I agree - easy puzzle. I just saw Kitty Carlisle in a Marx Brothers movie on TCM. She was a singer before she became a GAME SHOW DENIZEN. I also remember Amanda Blake from Gunsmoke and I believe the story is that Paley of CBS cancelled Gilligan in favor of Gunsmoke. (7:30 Monday ???)
Miss Piggy's interest in Kermit is both passionate and scientific. Not only was there an obvious attraction, but Miss Piggy was interested in being the grand dam of flying & leaping green pigs

Anonymous 8:47 AM  

Barlady. Bargirl. Barfly. So I found a way to stumble at the bar. Thought it was ok and would have liked it more without DINTS. I also misspelled SEDER. Why?

PhillySolver on a train.

Ulrich 9:03 AM  

Unlike others, I like these same-clue answers--perhaps b/c they teach me lingo I didn't know before. This one turned out easier than i thought at first sight.

Speaking of cats: I've discovered the pleasure of living with cats late in life and have become interested in cat lovers through the ages--a very interesting bunch. Here are some of the names I've come across (I've posted these before somewhere else):

The Prophet, Leonardo da Vinci, Hemingway, Mark Twain, Théophile Gautier, Lenin.

Poets who wrote very affectionate cat poems (and loved cats, by implication): Theodor Storm, Baudelaire, Torquato Tasso, Colette, T.S. Eliot, Alastair Reid.

Shamik 9:13 AM  

Happily, Arnold sat on my lap instead of the keyboard. Still, her presence involved one hand, so I could only enter answers with one hand and had a longer time. How's that for an excuse?

POSE for FLEX. MERELY for LITTLE. EYETEETH for INCISORS. GUS for GUY. SPAS for TUBS. TRY for TAP. CENT for SENS (centurion?). So not so easy for me.

alanrichard 9:22 AM  

Speaking of cats: I have a cat and 2 dogs. They work with me on a singing act. The song is Take Meow to the Ballgame and the dogs chime in on the Root Root Root part!!!

ArtLvr 9:26 AM  

I tried for Kitty Carlisle's full first name (Catherine) before getting ACTRESS. I remembered her best as a witty guest panelist on "What's My Line", though she was a regular on "To Tell the Truth". Her film with the Marx Brothers was "Night at the Opera", and she was still touring with her nostalgic one-woman show a couple of years ago! She died in April 2007 at age 96! What a great trouper...

My cat's name is Minou, which is "kitty" in French.


p.s. Rex is right to doubt SHEAFS -- the verb is "to sheave". (The noun's plural is likewise "sheaves").

HudsonHawk 9:31 AM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
HudsonHawk 9:36 AM  

@acme, that's funny, I remember thinking vaguely the same thing about the panelists on To Tell The Truth. Who knew that Jaye P. Morgan from the Gong Show had been a notorious financier before her big break in game shows?

@dk, I agree and call foul on the clue for SALARY. I've never seen a resume with salary data. Usually, salary histories can be separately provided upon request.

On the other hand, I liked the clue for IMITATE. I had to look it up, but the phrase "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery" is attributed to Charles Caleb Colton's 1820 book, "Lacon, or Many Things in Few Words, Addressed to Those Who Think".

Norm 9:55 AM  

Buying one share was a useful protest tactic during the Vietnam War so that antiwar groups could, for example, attend annual meetings of GE and the like and raise Cain.

evil doug 10:00 AM  

We’re talking about the New York Times. The Newspaper of Record. No funnies. Ads for Cartier, not for escort services or psychic readers. The New York Times.

One can find the full content of the Times on line, no charge---except for the crossword. The exclusive nature of this puzzle demands it be held to a higher standard. It’s not for the weak of spirit. It should strike fear into the hearts of novices, even on Monday. On Friday and Saturday even the most capable puzzler should feel the need to put on a fresh pot of coffee and a serious game-face before sitting down to do battle. And everyone should expect to depart the arena with a sense of satisfaction, bemusement and stimulation.

How is this accomplished? The single most important factor is cluing that affords several legitimate---and equally clever---solutions. Nothing is more rewarding than falling in love with an answer, working around it for hours, and ultimately biting the bullet to crawl backwards against our momentum and give up on our sure thing as we have that “aha moment” on the true solution.

I’ve been doing the Times puzzle since, I believe, the mid ‘70s. When I was overseas in the Air Force, I’m pretty sure I first discovered it in the military daily newspaper Stars and Stripes. While I still feel tested and generally rewarded by most of the late week puzzles, it seems to me that many of the recent crosswords have lost their energy and elegance. Perhaps after all these years I’m jaded, harder to surprise and please. But it’s only been the last couple of years where I don’t blindly plunk down my money for an early-week Times. I wouldn’t have imagined perusing the grid before buying the paper, but now it’s my modus operandi---at least through Wednesday or Thursday.

So is it just me? Do any of you other long-time puzzlers feel like the bar has been lowered? Look, I’m not an elitist on this. I’ve already admitted my multi-hour---even multi-day, timed-by-a-calendar-instead-of-a-stopwatch---slowness. But I have always benefited from and continue to be educated by puzzles that make me stretch and sweat.

I’m not trying to eliminate our novices---we were all there once---but rather to let them relish that great sense of achievement when they’ve successfully accomplished a real test, not a gimme. When even they blog that a puzzle is “easy”, I think it’s time for Will Shortz to demand a little more of both his puzzle creators and solvers.

Rex Parker 10:03 AM  


Maybe the puzzles are as difficult as they ever were and you're just ... better. It happens.


evil doug 10:09 AM  


I've considered that possibility, and presume it to be part of the answer. But what first got me started on this line of thought was the relative difficulty I've had on the published collections of old NYT puzzles, as compared to the new ones in the paper.


Anonymous 10:15 AM  

@evildoug & @rex: I, too, am a long time solver and understand what evil doug is saying, but agree with rex that it's probably because he's improved his skills. If you go back into the archives you'll see that the puzzles were easier back then. I think the early week puzzles are supposed to be easier and while that's frustrating when one is looking for a real challenge, it's just not the right time. Be patient, wait for Friday and Saturday ... and then complain if the puzzles don't measure up.

Crosscan 10:16 AM  

@evildoug: I am also struggling on older (10 year old ) puzzles but it seems it is caused mostly on the topical clues about recent events that are now long forgotten.

I find the older puzzles greatly inconsistent in quality, much more so than today.

joho 10:17 AM  

That's funny evil doug and I disagree about the old puzzles.

PuzzleGirl 10:33 AM  

I thought this was an awesome puzzle. I really enjoy this kind of theme for some reason. I don't know. It just floats my boat I guess.

I, too, remember Kitty Carlisle only from "To Tell the Truth." I had no idea back then that she had been an accomplished actress. I thought she was some high society lady. Not that I really knew what that meant, living in Fargo, North Dakota.

I liked the clues for INCISORS (I initially had "eyeteeth" and was so proud of myself), ASNER (oh that Grant), IMITATE, and OTIS. I love the word TAP used as clued here (make use of). I had "predated" for PREFACED at first, which sorta makes sense but not really.

I didn't notice it at the time, but looking back on it, I see that "reproduced" is in a clue and REPROS is an answer. I used to work for a small publishing company and there was a guy with a small business called Jason Repro who shared office space with us. Jason was a total cutie, so I always think of him when I see the word REPRO.

I also have fond memories of everybody's favorite game show host, Guy Smiley. Coincidentally, my daughter is off with her grandmother today seeing a Jim Henson exhibit.

Joon 10:33 AM  

i disagree with pretty much everybody about today's puzzle in particular. it was tough for me. the theme was absolutely no help, as themes of this type are, especially as i had never heard of two of the theme answers. DINTS was a crazy 1A. this is also a new SERTA clue for me; i thought it was going to be an airline. SALARY is very strangely clued, as other have noticed. NOTTAKEN seems more like two words than a standalone phrase to me. STELAR--need i say more? (no, but i will. yesterday at the doctor's office i was reading a national geographic about ancient nubian kings that included the word STELAE.) so the entire NW save for INOUT was totally blank for a long time, which pretty much never happens to me on a weekday.

actually, not totally blank--i had ETCHED instead of STELAR, thinking the answer would be, you know, a word. (i didn't trust [Forces] enough to believe that it ended with an S. and i was right to mistrust it, even though it did end up being an -S word.)

fpbear 10:49 AM  

After 50 or so conversations with people at the NYT over 4 months I finally convinced them that my computer record was corrupt. They fixed it, and I downloaded Times Reader. I load crossword with no issue, and all the fill-in stuff seems fine. My problem: Help says that you can check solutions by using the Solution menu or the Check button. Solution has everything grayed except for "unlock solution". Check is totally grayed. Finally got to the point where I usually finish Fri and Sat and would love to time things. Can anyone help?
Thanks in advance.

Anonymous 10:50 AM  

Just to further the discussion of Passover/Pesach, PASCHA is also the Greek word for Easter. The Eastern Orthodox Church continues to celebrate Easter according to the old calendar, although most Orthodox churches adopted the Gregorian Calendar by 1927.

dbg 11:16 AM  

I'm with evil Doug all the way. While he has a few years on me, I've been doing the puzzles daily since about 1980, the Eugene Maleska era. I remember quite well doing my first Will Shortz puzzle. Now I know I am going to be killed for this but my first reaction was "Damn, he's dumbed down the puzzle". If I am not mistaken there had never been product names in the puzzle prior to Mr. Shortz. IMHO they cheapen the puzzle. There is a lot more pop culture and while they make the puzzles more fun I believe they make them less challenging.
I agree the puzzles are easier because I'm a better solver but I still have a yellowed copy of a Sunday Times Magazine from Feb.16, 1992 that celebrates 50 years of the NYT puzzles and the older ones are definitely harder. Forget the Margaret Farrar era. Her puzzles were dry and boring but the Will Weng and Eugene Maleska eras were more difficult and still entertaining. I have tremendous respect for Mr. Shortz, in fact my daughter will be starting at Indiana Univ. in 2 weeks. I just think while he gave his puzzles more mass appeal, they are indeed less challenging.

Two Ponies 11:19 AM  

I have recently had thoughts similar to evil doug's and I assumed, as does Rex, that we're all getting better. I do get impatient early in the week for the challenges coming later. The NYT puzzle collection books I buy still have some very difficult puzzles so perhaps it has something to do with the current crop of constructors. I think we have a fair share of genius constructors and certainly have our favorites so I'm not really complaining.
For now I'm going to the pantry to look for spherules. Where did I put those darned spherules?

Frances 11:27 AM  

I filled in the NE corner first, and found myself with the last 7 letters of 27A: (--------LEMONEY). This left me scratching my head over how "snicket" could be worked into the grid. That was before I even noticed the same-word-clue theme, but Ms. CARLISLE saved me from worrying about some obscure 11-letter small island on 17A, and reminded me to read more of the clues more carefully.

Rex Parker 11:36 AM  

I think the idea that the puzzles are easier in absolute terms is a fallacy. They are broader, much broader, in their scope than they were pre-Shortz. They are no longer a barometer of what a smartypants you are / how many arcane words you know (though you still have to know them - STELAR?). They are lively, fun, and entertaining, and if I'd had to blog Maleska puzzles ... I just don't know that the blog would have survived. Puzzles got easier for me, too, under Shortz, but I shortly (!) realized that that was because he'd moved the center of the puzzle's intellectual gravity in my direction (i.e. younger and popward, bless him). He opened it up to popular culture, so that the puzzle was not aimed only at upper middle class white folks who got liberal arts degrees from reasonably-to-very prestigious four-year colleges and universities (though we are still a huge chunk of the puzzle's audience, I assume). This is called democratization, and no, not everyone is going to like it. Not by a long shot. But I love pop art and design and creativity of all kinds, even if it's (gasp) commercial, so I am thrilled with the direction Shortz has taken the puzzle. And Fridays and Saturdays can still steam-roller me but good, so I never (or rarely) get bored. Because of the amount of scrutiny and feedback the puzzle now gets, it's not really that fair to compare editorial eras. In short (!!), despite my daily carping / sniping / informed criticism, I think Will does a fantastic job overall, especially considering he's under almost constant fire from all quarters. I bet he gets far more mail of complaint / indignation than he does fan mail.

Look, if I have to endure opera, you have to endure MTV and youtube and video games and jingles and slogans from the post-Ipana TV era. And that's as it should be.

More obscure rappers!
Long live Bob Klahn!

Spherullically yours,

Artistbab 11:43 AM  

Why am I the only one who has a problem with 50d Dupes = repros?

Why do Persons easily deceived - noun
or verb - to deceive or trick

mean the same thing as reproductiona or a copies????

Somebody please set me straight!

jae 11:45 AM  

I'm currently working my way through a book of 1997 weekend (Thur - Sat) puzzles and, aside from some dated clues, they seem to be about the same level of difficulty as current ones. That said, I've only be doing this for a couple of years and so have no basis for comparing current puzzles to Maleska et. al. era puzzles.

Crosscan 11:45 AM  

Rex: I agree completely.

Think of "Dupes" as slang short for duplicates.

Daryl 11:47 AM  

It's been said, but yes, a gadfly buys one share so that he or she can attend the shareholder meeting. Thought REPROS and XEROXES were too similar, or is that NIT picking?

@dbg - I'm on the other side of the fence, I think the pop culture references are great (even if the use of product names sometimes throws off those living outside America). And there's nothing that says knowing pop culture has to be any easier than knowing about Greek mythology or what a STELA is. But maybe the cluing tends to be more obvious for pop-culture-related clues - I'd have more fun if the clue referred to DUSTIN Diamond and not Hoffman, which I think is quite gettable without being too obscure.

I mean, I'd love to see "Dylan McDermott's stepmom" as a clue for ENSLER someday, or the use of more show-business/fashion industry lingo.

Or maybe we're just too exposed to pop culture, and commenters that don't give a hoot really struggle over such clues.

Artistbab 11:48 AM  

Ah! So!

Thanks crosscan!

Daryl 11:49 AM  

Oh, also, I was hoping they'd somehow work in a Kitty Kelley reference, but I suppose the New York Times has standards.

Barry 11:55 AM  

Speaking of Passover, Pesach, PASCHA, etc., I remember learning in a Spanish class many years ago that the Spanish word for Easter was "Pascua." Years later, I learned that the Spanish word for Passover was "Pascua de los Judíos." I always thought it a bit odd that the Spanish would basically call Passover "the Jewish Easter," considering which holiday came first...

foodie 12:09 PM  

I only started solving regularly in the last couple of years, but I have purchased older NYT puzzle books at multiple difficulty levels, and my sense is that there is a great deal more diversity of content now-- as Rex eloquently states. There are many areas I know little about, but because of the diversity, it is almost always possible to find a toehold and solve most puzzles, even on days that are quite challenging. So, if you look at it this way, it has gotten more doable, compared to some old puzzles that seemed out and out impossible (and no fun at all). But it is a doable with enough challenge that it's very rewarding, or we wouldn't all be addicted. And if you check on any given day (e.g. today) you find unimpressive solvers like me who thought it easy, while talented solvers like Joon found some rough spots. That says something about diversity in the puzzle that draws out different reactions in disparate solvers.
Finally, this is all the more remarkable given the availability of Google. The puzzles are still puzzling even if someone is willing to Google to their heart's content. This requires much cleverness in both construction and cluing.

dk 12:09 PM  

@evil doug and co-respondents, agree that older puzzles seem harder as the topical references are, well, dated. When I do the Times of London puzzles I have a similar (old NYT) experience as I try to recall vagaries of the Battle of Hastings, etc..

That said another contributing factor to the ease of puzzling is we all know so much more. It is easy to google Nick and Nora to find Asta. Thus the trivia that need to complete the puzzle is ever present. We can thank this site for that as well.

It is easy to think that the newer puzzles are easier and they may be. Every generation believes the one coming after it is lacking in some way and in my work I certainly see the dumbing down of news and information (insert cover of USA Today about here). On the puzzling, I think we are just getting better and if that is the case. Wednesday should be the new Monday.

foodie 12:13 PM  

PS. @dk: Speaking of cluing, I agree that the RNA clue did seem off at first. But in fact RNAs do live in cells and carry... information. So, in that regard, it's a great clue.

dbg 12:28 PM  

@daryl-It's not about not giving a hoot. I like pop culture as much as the next guy. In fact, frequently I do well on those clues. I guess my problem is that those clues rarely make you think. You either know it or you don't. Rex hates opera and Broadway, I eat them up because I usually know them. I'm also not looking for arcane mytholgy or remote cities. My preferences are the misdirections and the stuff that really makes you think outside the box. Let us please remember, however, this is all just simply my opinion.

Two Ponies 12:39 PM  

@ dbg I'm with you on that point. I love expanding my horizons but I'll take clever misdirection over obscure geography any day.

william e emba 1:01 PM  

I thought the puzzle started out easy-medium, although I had to skip the NW first time around. I was blanking out on INCISORS, and could not guess any of the other downs. But the south was way more challenging than I'm used to on a Wednesday. I needed an aha! moment to go from --IS to OTIS the moving walkway maker, at which point I could guess KERMIT, but it was still difficult.

For example, I had guessed GUS, not GUY, for the Smiley character, so YAHOO was unguessable. At some point, I had the partial theme fill -ICKNAMEFORA---, and the first thing that popped to mind was SICKNAMEFORACAT. And then I though, no, that wouldn't be sick, I bet it's SICKNAMEFORADOG. Looking at my finished grid in ink, I see that I got as far as writing in the S before realizing This Was Not The Answer, No Way, No How. Meanwhile, if Johnny Cash can have "A Boy named Sue", how about "A Dog named Kitty"?

What eventually saved me in the SE, was Cheri OTERI. And the only reason I knew that was about a month ago, Merl Reagle had a "Jack Black" theme, where the themes were names whose first and last rhymed, and not only was she in it, I had the greatest difficulty with it and had to bluff my way to finish.

Oddly enough, the first meaning of "dupes" I thought of was duplicates, but I kept shaking that off, trying to force myself to think of synonyms for "fools". Haha, I got duped on that pretty badly.

Regarding the 10D clue: "Rise and Fall of ___ Amin" (1981 film). Is there any point to all the fluff other than Amin?

Although SALARY requirements or SALARY histories are very rarely put on a resume (and all the "experts" so don't ever do so), I have over the years seen tech jobs that require one or the other on the resume. As was once explained to me from someone on the other end, when times are bad a typical tech job opening can get inundated with 1000s of resumes online within hours of posting. They want as many filtering datapoints as they can, and SALARY is one of them.

Doc John 1:11 PM  

This puzzle gave me typical Wednesday problems, the NW being the worst of it. I'm with everyone else on DINTS. I'm also with dbg on the misdirection-type cluing.

I'm also with frances on LEMONY. I was wondering if there were cats in that book series, as I've not read any of them (or seen the movie, even though Meryl was in it).

Growing up, I always loved Ms. Carlisle, even though I only knew her from "To Tell the Truth". I think it was because she resembled my grandmother in both looks and her classy ways.

As for RNA, I'm with foodie. RNA actually acts as a carrier in two ways: messenger RNA carries information from the nucleus to the cytoplasm and transfer RNA carries amino acids to the ribosomes for inclusion in nascent proteins. I'd love to see "endoplasmic reticulum" in a puzzle someday but unfortunately it's way more than 15 letters (I guess it could be in the Sunday JAMA puzzle!).

The Xerox company has got to be shuddering to see 9D. It's been trying for years to "de-verbify" that word so as to maintain a hold on its trademark.

Gotta love those ONE SHARE gadflies- you go, guys! Keep 'em honest!

Orange 1:15 PM  

My grandmother was a fan of the NYT crossword for many decades. In her final years, she'd always ask me if I didn't think the puzzles were getting harder. Nope, not for me! But she was accustomed to the Maleska and Weng modes, so the shift in style and content felt more difficult for her. I find the older puzzles to be, well, not fun. Too many icky little words that nobody knows, that *I* don't know despite having done thousands of crosswords in the last five years.

I think Will Shortz and his peers really do want to keep crosswords a democratic pursuit—for beginning solvers to find that easy puzzles are eminently doable. Toss in some arcane cultural or crosswordese references to stymie them, and you might turn them off crosswords for life. But give them Monday and Tuesday puzzles they can master, and they'll be hooked forever, encouraged enough to strive to master the tougher puzzles too.

(P.S. My grandma was also showing the first signs of senility around the time she started complaining that Shortz's puzzles were harder, so I worry about people when they insist that the NYT crossword has become consistently harder of late!)

Orange 1:17 PM  

@fpbear: The solution code is locked for 24 hours. When the next day's puzzle is released online, you can visit the NYT's puzzle site to get the 4-digit unlock code for Across Lite. For more instant gratification, you'll need to use the online solving applet (the "Play Against the Clock" option], which will tell you if your solution is right or not.

Anonymous 1:25 PM  

A ONESHARE purchase is only annoying to a stockbroker because they normally execute stock trades in blocks of 100. The broker has to find and aggregate any trade orders of less than 100 shares with like orders having the same bid/ask price until they have a total of 100 before they can get the order filled. Although it's all done electronically, still, it's an irritating little extra step.

dk 1:30 PM  

Me and my cat named dog, err puzzledog.

rafaelthatmf 1:31 PM  

I haven’t clicked in here for weeks and now two days in a row I can’t keep myself from posting: what’s become of me? Again props to evildoug – agreed and agreed! The paper now cost $1.50 and of course that is for nothing more than the puzzle. I know you don’t get a homerun at each trip to the plate and as far as clue styles I say to each their own. Yet I still want my buck and half worth to mental masturbation. I have a W. Weng at home and see much quality variation and yet think the clues have timelessness I see much less anymore. Pop culture comes and goes Greek mythology has some staying power.
Just one point about this puzzle. I may have bought the Kitty as Barkeep when I was 6 and watching the series first run. But after recently watching an episode that has Matt and Kitty walking down the stairs of the saloon, well let me just admit that my first answer was Gunsmokesmadaam.

Anonymous 1:50 PM  

My take on the 'one share' answer is that a gadfly purchases a single share in a corporation so that s/he may attend and vote at shareholders' meetings in order to be a 'corporate gadfly.'

Noam D. Elkies 1:55 PM  

@ Doc John -- the English language will surely verbify Xerox and Google, paying no more heed to corporate trademark owners here than it does when they decree that there's no such thing as "Jello", only "Jell-O brand gelatin".

@ Acme -- au contraire, Hebrew PESACH *does* come from PASACH = "passed over". There is no related Hebrew word meaning "springtime" or "lamb". Pesach is occasionally called CHAG HE-AVIV, "the spring holiday", but PESACH does not mean AVIV. "Paschal sacrifice" [ZEVACH PESACH] is only used in this context: the Israelites in Egypt smeared their doorposts with the blood of a sacrificed animal so that they would be passed over in the 10th and final Plague where all the Egyptian first-born sons were killed.

Oh, and "Pasch" may not sound much like "Pesach" to us, but one might guess that the s and ch sounds in "Pasch" were originally separate -- at any rate in Dutch "sch" is pronounced s+ch rather than a single sh sound.


Alan 2:02 PM  

Had on out of the rain,moat for lock feature,and tittle for little.Otherwise an easy puzzle. I would rate it an easy medium.

Damon G. 2:04 PM  

I loved how wide open this puzzle is. There are very few black squares (30 as opposed to the usual 36 or 38 for an early-week puzzle). Kudos to Victor Fleming for such an elegant, accessible, open fill. It made up for the, in my opinion, very lackluster theme.

Also, after buying a book of about 100 Thursday puzzles from the mid-80s at a used bookstore, my opinion on the pre-Shortz era is that the puzzles were harder and much, much less fun. I didn't make it halfway through the book because the themes were inconsistent and bland, and frequently obscure (not cleverly clued, just obscure) fill crossed, making them virtually impossible to finish on a regular basis. Even with Shortz's Friday and Saturday puzzles I find I can usually eventually suss out the answer, even when I think there is no hope. This wasn't the case for me with the older puzzles.

Lastly, I think Rex's line: "if I'd had to blog Maleska puzzles ... I just don't know that the blog would have survived" is right on the mark

fergus 2:06 PM  

Just the other day I was trying to remember how Ralph Wiggum got confused about a Rat, and then Barry's little error pointed it out: ah, yes, the Pointy Kitty.

My experience was more Joon-like today, so I was surprised by Rex's Easy rating, and the general concurrence. Most of Dixie held me at bay for a while, with lots of tentative entries crossing with each other.

I am glad I didn't scribble in BICUSPIDS right off, since that would really have made a mess of things. When you get beyond eight letters for the entry I find I've reached my limit and need to start counting the spaces.

Since I don't really understand who LEMONEY Snickett is or what he does, I spent considerable time on this long Across. Even with it all correctly filled in I wondered what a POKERTAB was? Maybe LEMONEY gambles???


My take on the issue of the day is that it's impossible to say much about relative difficulty, since all of us acquire a database of information that is highly puzzle-correlated, and this is sort of a continuously moving cloud. Who's to say whether the list of usual suspects is more or less within a period's lingua franca?

But then again, didn't someone say the other day that he was working on a linguistic reference program? Even still, I doubt the possibility of scientifically determining difficulty gradations on something quite so subjective, especially with the subject (and the topics, as well) changing over time.

Crosscan 2:13 PM  

I thought the issue of the day was the status of Kermit and Miss Piggy's relationship.

I bought a Maleska era book once before I understood the difference. It got put aside quickly. As noted above, they were no fun.

Doc John 2:27 PM  

@ noam: I concur that these words will become part of the English language. I was just pointing it out, is all. I've actually seen ads by Xerox in The Hollywood Reporter urging writers not to use the word "xerox" in their screenplays.

I agree that the English language is dynamic and I'm all for it (especially in the case of corporate trademark holders), just as long as usage like "your" for "you are" doesn't become acceptable! (My stand on apostrophe misuse is well-known in this forum.)

acme 2:49 PM  

Oh! OK. I have zero formal training in Hebrew (with the exception of dating an angry Israeli these past couple of years) so I stand corrected.

Not convinced, however, that we actually disagree and that it's not all linguistically related. Without boring everyone to death, altho I know it's not connected to the MODERN Hebrew of AVIV/Spring, I don't understand how it can not be connected to the ancient Greek/Hebrew/Latin Paques/PASCH/Pasqua thing...

Clearly PASCH and PESACH are the same derivation/related? no?
Since it's only used in that one context ZEVACH PESACH, may I suggest that that is where the Modern Hebrew derived their word for passover from the paschal lamb marking the doorposts, etc. Not to get all talmudic, but this is not that different from what I was trying to explain in simple lay terms...

it's true that Pesach came should see how stunned Christians get when you point out that the Last Supper is a Passover Seder and how you can see the plate with the Passover symbols on the table.

Most do not want to think about or even make the connection that Jesus was a rabbi, so that makes Mary Jewish/eremite, whatever and if he's the son of g-d...
It's not the usual fare for Sunday school!

Again it brings back memories, in 1974, of a fundamentalist Christian church whose kids lived on farms in rural Minnesota and they were bussed in to the big city, Minneapolis, to meet with our temple youth group to see/meet an actual "jew".
One asked, and I kid you not, where were our horns!?!

(Again from that whole mistranslation from Hebrew with horns/rays of light and the statue of Moses by Michaelangelo)

That's why vowels are SO important! Maybe that's what triggered my interest in language!

(re: horns... we explained that's why we had curly hair, to hide them...but "to tell the truth" I'm still in a bit of shock 30 years later.)

Doug 3:05 PM  

Didn't anyone but me get stuck because nobody ever uses the term "kitty" for poker table money? It's not even antiquated. It just isn't accurate. I had ablemoney forever and thought about poker, but it is just plain wrong, wrong, wrong!

Two Ponies 3:31 PM  

I thought "feed the kitty" was rather standard for tossing money into the pot.

william e emba 3:37 PM  

I don't see how a Xerox lawyer could complain about 9D. The clue is "Reproduced, in a way". The "way" in this case is presumably using a Xerox photocopier. The answer is just as presumably "Xeroxed", not "xeroxed".

Would Speedo get upset if someone writes about Phelps Speedoing his way to Olympic gold? I would think not!

Bill from NJ 3:45 PM  


I had roughly the same experience in the late 50s at school in suburban Maryland.

I hoticed a couple of kids staring at me and, when I asked, they said they heard I was Jewish and that their parents told them that Jewish people had horns.

I was only eleven at the time and had never heard that. My parents said they never mentioned that to us because it had been awhile since they had heard people saying that but it certainly upset me.

chefbea1 3:51 PM  

I thought todays puzzle was easy but I don't mind having an easy wednesday puzzle. I too had square one as the last fill - never heard of dints. Wanted bar maid for miss Kitty.

Went to the farmer's market this morning - bought lots of spherule shaped veggies - tomatoes, of course beets, but no peas

@joyh in ct - I agree what a beautiful august we are having here in ct

seaspace 4:12 PM  

Hey puzzlers, I just discovered this new site that has a free NYT Crossword every day:

fikink 4:32 PM  

Have to agree with Rex regarding pop culture in the puzzle. Many of us use the puzzle and this blog as a vehicle to pursue disparate interests and discover previously unknown concepts.
  Jeff’s (Arizona) comments about “Don’t taze me, bro” on Monday’s puzzle had me reading about Internet “memes” all day long. (And I never got the mowing done, a downside to this blog for me.)
Has "meme" ever been a crossword puzzle answer or clue?
Anxiously awaiting the appearance of THOM Yorke!

chefbea1 4:38 PM  

@seaspace i was able to get the puzzle using firefox but it was not todays puzzle. I get my puzzle from the new york times digest delivered to me every day. I just print it out and voila... not viola

joho 4:45 PM  

Very interesting discussion today.
@rex: Regarding Will Shortz having "moved the center of the puzzle's intellectual gravity in my direction (i.e.younger and popward, bless him)." Yes, he has indeed made a world of difference from his predecessors, Maleska and Weng, but I hope you know that we older puzzlers also appreciate that change in direction. I don't think it's a young or old thing, I think it's a matter of relevance and interests. When I'm very, very old I still hope to be interested, relevant and not an old fart.

Will Shortz, instead of being criticized, should be acclaimed and commended for all that he's done.

fikink 5:08 PM  

Right On, joho! Mr. Fikink and I plan to be rickrolling people from our nursing home beds!

ArtLvr 5:23 PM  

@ fpbear -- you can usually find same-day NYT solution very early in the a.m. at by Jim Horne...

jannieb 5:35 PM  

When I first started doing puzzles it was the Maleska era - they were practically impossible at first, unless you owned a xword puzzle dictionary. So much of the fill were words no one ever had any reason to know - minor gods and goddesses who weren't even bit players in any reasonably well-read plays; weights and measures or currency from barely recognizable countries. You could sit and stare at the grid all day and never suss out these answers. After lots of practice you could sometimes dredge up the name of the "Amerind" tribe of the day. I stopped doing the puzzles because they were never fun, too much work with very little reward.

Didn't start up with them again until the Shortz era - what a difference. While I often complain of the early-week puzzles being too easy, I can forgive a lot if the theme is clever, the clues are tricky, and the fill is fresh. The Friday & Saturday puzzles are hard - but they always seems doable. The answers are somewhere in my brain if I can parse the clues correctly. I never felt that way in the Maleska era.

I appreciate being "forced" to learn the names of rappers or car models - at least they are common knowledge in some part of our culture. Knowing what "aten" means, not so much!

acme 6:00 PM  

@bill from nj
My third post and out.

First of all, I'm sorry you had that experience. I've been asked privately what I was alluding to...

Since the Torah doesn't have the vowel marks, there was a mistranslation of the word KR which, depending on the vowel means either "Horns" or "Rays of Light".

SO in some MiddleAges translations, it was written that Moses came down from the mount with "horns" coming from his head...which was mis-translated from the correct "Rays of Light".

When Michaelangelo did his famous sculpture of Moses holding the Ten Commandments, he actually gave him little horns!!!!! It's true, you can see it in Florence, I believe.

There are many fundamentalist churches from Minnesota to Maryland that still teach that Jews have horns! All based on a one letter mistranslation from hundreds of years ago!

And we, as little Jewish children either don't know about this, or are left with no recourse but to make lame jokes (like mine) about Jew-fros hiding the horns!

Altho I always try and use it as a linguistic fun-with-words teaching exercise! :)

As for the whole tail-thing, I'll have to leave that exegesis to Noam!

Noam D. Elkies 6:02 PM  

@Acme --

Yes, surely Pasch/Pascua/Pâques is from Hebrew PESACH. But even if one of those words is used to mean "spring" or "lamb", as opposed to "Easter", that meaning must have been added later; it's not in the Hebrew.

I just looked up the Hebrew text in Exodus 12. The sacrificed animal is called SEH "lamb" several times, allowed to be either from either sheep (KVASIM) or goats ('IZIM). There are several verses of instructions on what to do with the animal, concluding with "ye shall eat it in haste -- it is PESACH to the Lord" (verse 11); two verses later, God says the blood will mark the houses so that "I see the blood and pass over [PASACHTI] you". Likewise for the second version of the story: verse 21, "take cattle(?) [TZON] according to your families, and slaughter the PESACH"; verse 23, "God will have seen the blood, and passed over [PASACH] the opening and won't let the destroyer enter and smite".

I suppose it *might* be that PESACH was a word independent from the "pass over" verb PASACH, with a meaning along the lines of "sacrificed animal", linked in this Exodus excerpt with "pass over" via the same kind of pun that related Adam with ADAMAH (earth) in Genesis. But I'm sure PESACH didn't mean "lamb", let along "Spring" -- as far as I can remember the word is never used except in connection with the Passover holiday.


(Sorry for diverging so far from the NYTimes crossword topic. Maybe one of these days MAROR will show up in the puzzle -- seems like a potentially useful letter combo.)

acme 6:02 PM  

oops, it's in Rome and there's a better explanation if you go to Moses (Michaelangelo WIkipedia

alanrichard 6:11 PM  

I've been doing the puzzles since the mid 1960's and there are way more allusions to the media than there used to be. Also as time goes on there is just more things that occurred to write about. heck, when my mom was a kid there was no history -and the only concern was not to get eaten by carnivorous mammals. (The didnosaurs were recently extinct and not a concern).

jeff in chicago 7:10 PM  

I know it's already been pointed out, but Kitty Carlisle wasn't just in "a" Marx Brothers movie, she was in "A Night at the Opera," surely the most famous MB movie. (Some say it's the best; others say "Duck Soup" is tops. My vote goes to "The Cocoanuts," their first [released] and, IMHO, zaniest movie.)

In "Opera," it is really Carlisle singing part of "Il Trovatore." She was quite good. "Opera" is also famous for the "There ain't no Sanity Clause" joke and the oft-duplicated "Stateroom Scene."

More MB trivia (I'm a HUGE fan, and I actually wrote a senior-level college sociology paper on this movie): "Opera" gave the Marx Brothers their first hit song. "Alone," sung by Allan Jones led the Lucky Strike Hit Parade for 16 weeks.

Oh...the puzzle? Loved it. My kind of puzzle. Google-free, but it made me work for it. I kept getting a letter here and a letter there until I was done. Good job, Vic.

Joon 7:16 PM  

re: xeroxed vs Xeroxed

i still think there are no proper verbs in english. regardless of what xerox corp would like you to think (and say, and write), xerox is a regular old lowercase-x transitive verb.

Joon 7:17 PM  

also, somewhat to my surprise, so is google.

jeff in chicago 9:10 PM  

Rex: BEWARE THE OLYMPICS HIGHLIGHTS TONIGHT!!! The clip you have dreaded has happened. I just saw a weight-lifter's elbow snap back in one of the most gruesome things I have seen since Joe Theisman's leg was broken.

Don't say you haven't been warned.

mac 9:18 PM  

Glad to be back online, on the
16th floor of a hotel in Anchorage, although I already miss the ship.... We had a fantastic time and saw incredible things in Alaska, but a diet of USA Today puzzles (our diet otherwise was amazing, have to get back on the treadmill soon!) and missing Rex and all the blog and comments friends got to be too much!

I tore through this puzzle, with no real stops, because I think I was lucky with the order in which I solved it (don't have a copy in front of me, so I can't tell you exactly how I did it), sothat the "lemoney" issue never came up. I liked "dints", although it looks a little odd as a plural. Thought dupe/repro was pretty ugly. The answer involving the cat made me think, @mr. emba, of my brother-in-law's little Siamese cat called Rover....
About the change in the puzzles: I also have tried some old ones, tough and pretty boring, with probably some of that era's pop culture in it which I don't know. I feel that, as long as there isn't a real Natick in the puzzle, almost anything should be allowed. Every day I solve puzzles with clues/answers I wouldn't know on their own.

@noam d elkies: you are right, in Dutch sch is pronounced s-ch, a fairly hard g sound, depending on which dialect you speak. In old Dutch, and in more formal written Dutch of the beginning of the 20th century, sch, when not at the beginning of a word, but in the middle or at the end, would often be pronounced as a simple s. A good example happens to be Pasen, formerly Paaschen, the Dutch word for Easter! The pronunciation is identical.

Doc John 9:27 PM  

@ joon- that's exactly what they didn't want to see: "xerox" in print without the capital X and without the ™ after it! (I don't think Google minds as much. As for whether Speedo does, that's a toss up.)

@ mr. emba- I never said anything about lawyers!

xwords4ever 9:59 PM  

@artlvr and @fpbear: Our Orange also posts the answers (to the NYT and other puzzles) on her blog:

Diary of a Crossword Fiend

Having the answer grid is a new thing for Orange.

Anonymous 1:37 PM  

39D: Corporate gadfly's purchase, maybe (one share). Gadfly? What ... why?

Any person with one share of stock can speak and hold the floor at a stock holders meeting. They have no voting power, but they can disrupt the meeting.

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