TUESDAY, Sep. 2, 2008 - Stanley Newman (12th-15th century European tongue / Equivalent of 20 fins / Dudley Do-Right's org.)

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: "Travelin' MAN" - five 15-letter answers feature the letter string MAN, which begins at the far left of the first theme answer and then moves three spaces to the right in each successive answer

It took me a little bit of post-solution thought to figure out what the hell the theme answers had to do with one another. While I was solving, I kept waiting for that theme-revealing clue, but it never came. Eventually I saw all the MANs (MEN?) and noticed the pattern. This is certainly an oddball puzzle, but a. it's Tuesday, so you have to give it a little leeway (we're always happy when Tuesday manages just to get across the room without falling on his face), and b. it's by Stan Newman, editor of the Newsday crossword and puzzling legend, so you know his fill is tight. No one but no one except Stan Newman is going to have the balls to throw MIDDLE LOW GERMAN at you on a Tuesday. Or to put UNARMS (50D: Deprives of weapons) right alongside UNMET (56D: Not yet realized) and then casually walk away like nothing even happened. I like my Tuesdays reasonably easy AND out of left field, and this satisfies both those requirements.

Theme answers:

  • 17A: Newspaper V.I.P.'s (MANaging editors)
  • 23A: Laundry pen, e.g. (perMANent marker) - I am not familiar with this particular "pen." I thought it was a pen that you might get on your clothes, thus requiring that they be laundered, but Will told me otherwise.
  • 39A: Exodus 20 subject (Ten ComMANdments)
  • 51A: User's guide (reference MANual)
  • 62A: 12th-15th century European tongue (Middle Low GerMAN)

Note also that "MAN" never stars as itself in any of the answers. That is, there are lots of MANs, but no men.

The puzzle evoked both Virgil and Dante for me ... it's like seasonal allergies with me. September comes around and I see Virgil and Dante everywhere, largely because I'm teaching and thus rereading them for the umpteenth times. Today's puzzle had 61A: Division of an epic poem (canto) - Inferno has 34 cantos, a number whose significance I could go into for a while but I have to save something for the kids - and 52A: One who's persona non grata at home (exile) relates both to Dante (a political and spiritual exile) and Virgil's Aeneas, who frequently speaks of himself and his fellow surviving Trojans as EXILEs, as he travels the Mediterranean looking for their new homeland.

"Now that it pleased the gods to crush the power of Asia
and Priam's innocent people, now proud Troy had fallen -
Neptune's city a total ruin smoking on the ground -
signs from the high gods drive us on, exiles now,
searching earth for a home in some neglected land."

-Aeneas, recounting his journey for Dido and the Carthaginian court at the beginning of Aeneid III (tr. Fagles - an absolutely killer translation)

The rest:

  • 1A: Dudley Do-Right's org. (RCMP) - Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The "RCMP" could occasionally be seen on a big banner at the entrance to a wooden fort that functioned as "RCMP" headquarters. This clip bears a surprising resemblance to the first season of "Rescue Me," which I just finished watching.

  • 9A: "Lost" airer (ABC-TV) - "airer" is one of those common/horrid clue words. And everyone still calls ABC-TV just "ABC."
  • 14A: Airline that flew humanitarian Operation Solomon (El Al) - one of a billion clues for this crossword common airline. EL AL has a King David Lounge as well. I learned that from xwords.
  • 49A: Half of Mork's sitcom sign-off (Nanu) - I love "Mork & Mindy," but I want to see *half* of a catchphrase only very, very rarely. I feel like I'm seeing NANU more and more.
  • 59A: It might be stuck in a log (axe) - I had a several-second hesitation at the "X" here. No good reason.
  • 2D: County north of Limerick (Clare) - in Ireland, one of three foreign countries the Republican nominee for Vice President has been to in her life (Kuwait and Germany are the others).
  • 9D: Avia alternative (Adidas) - I think that's back-to-back days for ADIDAS. That's the kind of coincidence that makes anti-commercial solvers ("What are these brand names doing in my grid?!") get very grumpy and suspicious.
  • 47D: Threat ender (or else) - usually we just get the ELSE.
  • 55D: Equivalent of 20 fins (C-note) - olde-tymey slang is always welcome. "Fin" is one of my favorites.
  • 63D: Person who's always feeling down in the mouth?: Abbr. (DDS) - OK that's pretty good. At first I didn't get the "feeling down" part, but then ... I did.
  • 65D: Modern dashboard attachment, for short (GPS) - one of the few changes made in this puzzle from first typeset draft to final draft was in this clue, where "windshield" was (rightly) changed to "dashboard."

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

PS Here's a free crossword for your solving pleasure - enjoy:

"Don't Blink"


imsdave1 8:44 AM  

I actually thought the theme was 'The Descent of Man' and really wanted DARWIN to show up somewhere in the puzzle. That's also the second time I've seen hole INONE in three days. My playing partner had one on Saturday (209 yards, 7 wood). Nice long answers meeting the theme and a typical Tuesday solving time.

ArtLvr 8:48 AM  

There's one more MAN in 3D MANOR... It was a clever construction, and it took me a head-scratching moment to realize the connection among the otherwise unrelated theme answers. Oh, man!


Crosscan 8:52 AM  

MAN, its a good thing the theme wasn't required to solve this because I had no idea what it was.

The RCMP are still around as Canada's police force everywhere except in large cities and a couple of provinces with their own force. The horses and red coats are just for the tourists now.

Never much to say about a Tuesday. No real snags, no real wows.

I'm off to Ottawa tomorrow for a few days so uncertain on puzzle and blog accessibility. A guest commenter will be in this space.

NANU x 2.

2monet 8:52 AM  

Ok so what did you get? DDS 63D?

PuzzleGirl 8:55 AM  

It was relatively slow going for me today. No particular reason, just good, unpredictable stuff. That Stan Newman is a cool character for sure. Can someone explain how company newsletter = ORGAN?

joho 8:56 AM  

Man, Oh, Man ... I had no idea how clever this puzzle is until Rex explained it to me. I like it even better now that I've been enlightened.

@Ulrich: MIDDLELOWGERMAN ... we haven't seen this before!

Wonderful Tuesday puzzle.

ArtLvr 8:57 AM  

@ Rex -- you thought there were lots of MANs and no "men", but you overlooked MENACE at 42D! That goes well with the threat of OR ELSE....


imsdave1 8:58 AM  

@PG - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/House_organ

ArtLvr 9:02 AM  

@ puzzlegirl -- a company newsletter is often called a house ORGAN... tidbits about milestones for various employees to share with co-workers, etc.

Anonymous 9:02 AM  

There was an "ESE" answer yesterday as well.

Gnarbles 9:09 AM  

Does the "organ" refer to something like tooting your own "horn" as self promotion about all the good things your company does, or is more like a human organ such as an "ear" listening to the company and then "mouthing" out the answer to others?

PuzzleGirl 9:14 AM  

Thanks, dave and artlvr. I've Never heard of that! Huh.

Anonymous 9:17 AM  


I believe that House Organ originally referred to the musical instrument played while the audience was filing into the theater.

It was intented to entertain that audience only, in advance of the main, public, performance.


evil doug 9:22 AM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
mexicangirl 9:26 AM  

Rex, thank you for the Dudley-do-right clip. It actually put good humor up front of my moods list, already making this day (going to the US open today, yay!) a better one.

hazel 9:27 AM  

There's one final MAN in Stanley NewMAN

evil doug 9:47 AM  

@Rex: "...in Ireland, one of three foreign countries the Republican nominee for Vice President has been to in her life (Kuwait and Germany are the others)."

How many has the Democratic nominee for President been to in his life? And if that's the measure of leadership potential, I know some flight attendants who have them both beat, big time.

Evil Doug
Youwanttotalkaboutexperience?, OH

jubjub 9:58 AM  

Nice puzzle. I liked that most of the 15-letter answers were still Tuesday-level.

The only square I didn't like was the intersection of RCMP & CLARE. Unfair!

Didn't we have AROD with almost exactly the same clue like a few days ago?

jannieb 10:36 AM  

Never saw the theme -but it wouldn't have helped. Agree that the 15's were easy enough on their own. A nice, solid puzzle, better than average fare for a Tuesday.

We did have AROD and that same clue quite recently. Next time, how about recycling ACME's more whimsical "fishing stick"?

@2Monet - DDS for 63D = Dentist

dk 10:41 AM  

Took a drilling in the lower left. Begin with expat instead of EXILE and was trying to think of a set of initials for depressing and all I could come up with was RNC.

This Tuesday made it across the room for me, always happy to see Dudley-Do-Right clues.

Agree with @joho on the theme: Not a clue but knowing it makes the puzzle the better for it.

On to Wednesday!

Ulrich 10:44 AM  

I very nice Tuesday puzzle--I had the same reaction Rex had.

@rex: Fagles is a great translator. He's the reason why for the first time in my life, I got through both the Iliad and Odyssey in one stretch.

@joho: I can olny say that since there is Middle High German, there must be Middle Low German. I've also never seen it before, never heard it before, and certainly never read it before.

hereinfranklin 10:46 AM  

Never even noticed the theme. Just like dk, lower left killed me for no good reason. Loved starting the day with Dudley Do-right though...

Puzzle Naif 11:04 AM  

I'm new to this blob and i noticed over the last week or so that you keep referring to Will. Is that Will Shortz, the NY Times puzzle editor? If so, I'm really impressed that you get to talk to him so often. WOW!!!

Anonymous 11:04 AM  

@ulrich: High German was what we learned in High School -- I've never heard of anything else. Interesting to know that Middle High German exists.

foodie 11:07 AM  

I had no idea what the theme was. I probably gave up too quickly (busy day), but I also know that it's hard for me to stop thinking about meaning and focus on some structural aspect as the theme. So, while a felt somewhat grumpy when it was over, I'm coming around to appreciating the puzzle. It's good to have someone shake you up a bit and say: think differently... Or as Apple billboard ads used to say: Think Different!

Joon 11:11 AM  

MIDDLELOWGERMAN surprised me, especially as there have got to be a zillion possibilities for the ____________MAN theme entry. still, it also has to work with the the entry only two rows up, with which it shares 12 (!!) crossing fill entries, so it's a little more restricted than just ending in MAN.

i have that fagles translation. i got about four books into it and then put it down because ... i forget why. maybe it's because ron rosenbaum reminded me that i don't read. it's too bad, because it was pretty good.

i think i've heard "PLASMA TV" a lot more than "PLASMA-screen TV." i wanted FLAT or maybe LARGE.

fikink 11:15 AM  

Would never have gotten the theme if I hadn't read you today, Rex. Great write-up, too.
(@imsdave1 - Descent of Man, love it!)
Thanks for Dudley, almost made me break out my Bullwinkle DVDs, but I have things to accomplish today
@dk - RNC! Well played.
And, oh yeah, Rex, it could have been worse: it could have been Ireland, Canada and Mexico.
@ulrich, when I studied German formally I was never understood by my grandparents who came
from Germany and spoke fluently. I imagine it was TOO formal for them.
@puzzle naif - Welcome!

archaeoprof 11:30 AM  

Thanks for pointing out the theme, Rex. I didn't see it at all. Teaching the Aeneid? Then we should add, "Of arms and the MAN I sing..."

Peter 11:46 AM  

Rex (or anyone else I guess), I've been out of the loop the last few weeks... are you a test solver for the Times nowadays?

Puzzle Veteran 11:55 AM  

Puzzle Naif, I'm more impressed that he knows Andrea Carla Michaels. He said last week that he only test-solved for two weeks, so while some of us are glad to hear a bit more about what went on behind the scenes it appears it won't last. (Unless he was invited to stay on?!?)

But a friendship with ACM "will" last a lifetime!

miriam b 12:22 PM  

I solved this neat puzzle, suspected that there was a theme, ran an errand, came back and looked at the puzzle again, and STILL didn't get it. Usually, allowing time for a problem to percolate helps me find a solution. Not this time. So I join the gang in thanking Rex for the explanation.

In this connection, here's something which has been bothering me for a long time. I once read an article about sleep in the NYT Magazine, I think it was written by Dr. Samuel Dunkell. In it, there is a description of the process by which one sometimes finds the answer to a question by "sleeping on it". In the article, this process was given a specific name. Searches of the NYT website have not unearthed it. All I know is that it did NOT begin with the prefix "hypno", as one might suspect. Anyone who comes up with the answer will receive my grandmother's recipe for pelmeni.

I believe that "fin", slang for a 5-dollar bill, derives from the Yiddish "finf", the origin of which is the German fünf. I'd love to have more discretionary income in the form of a few CNOTEs.

jeff in chicago 12:23 PM  

Excellent Tuesday. The SW tripped me up for a moment. Wasn't sure of SENSE and then guessed DDS and the corner fell.

I, too, did not see the theme until I came here. We seem to like making up terms for things. Maybe we need a word for a theme that's staring us in the face but we don't see it. I have no actual suggestions for said word.

I got a kick out of the Dudley Do-Right clip. Loved that cartoon as a kid. Made me think of Bullwinkle as well. Maybe I can borrow fikink's DVDs. (Any Deputy Dawg out there?)

Love the breadth of interest here. Dante, Virgil and Dudley Do-Right. It doesn't get any better than that!

Crosscan 12:31 PM  

@jeff in chicago:

How about Outcognito?

Z.J. Mugildny 12:33 PM  

Like several others I did not get the theme until I came here. The puzzle was OK, though. I'm with jubjub that the RCMP / CLARE crossing was unfair. It was a total guess for me (and a wrong one at that). At least the clue for RCMP could have indirectly referenced Canada, then I might have had a shot of sussing it out. As it stands I had about a 1 in 10 chance of getting it right.

chefbea1 12:41 PM  

I just thought the theme was MAN. Didnt realize that they were placed the way they were.

We have had Arod , Nanu and Adidas all in the last few days

@puzzle naif - welcome! Do you like beets?

Greene 12:46 PM  

I liked this puzzle quite a bit when solving last night. Like most, I stared blankly at the neat rows of 15 and wondered what these things could possibly have in common. Stared again this morning without much success (might even say I slept on it)...nothing. Now that Rex has pointed out the obvious...wow, I really love this puzzle.

In my teaching days, I always stressed to students to "look again." Didn't do me much good today, but that's why I keep returning to ye ole blog.

I appreciate all the comments and explanations for ORGAN, but I'm with Puzzlegirl...huh?

And finally...I know this is extremely childish of me to trumpet, but I have gone 3 entire days without a single Google, which I regard as some kind of personal triumph. As Kevin Spacey would say "I rule!" (ref American Beauty). Oops, apology to Rex: I know there can be but one king.

Bring on Wednesday!

dk 12:59 PM  

@chefbea1, LOL -- your post (last line) has my milk running out of my nose.

@fikink, I give out Rocky & Bullwinkle DVD's as gifts whenever I can: Metal Munching Mice... who could ask for more.

@puzzle naif, Rex is Will... ok... well he could be, maybe, sorta.

@rex and @evil doug, I await with abated breath the new spin "lack of foreign policy experience is a good thing."

When is the best time to see a DDS?

drum roll.... tooth hurty!

mac 1:14 PM  

Had an easy time with the puzzle, but never even looked for a theme. I only do that when there is a reference to it. Is it the rule to have a theme on Tuesdays? Thanks, Rex, for pointing out the travelling man, makes me appreciate the puzzle even more.

Why is there 20 after Exodus? I always say just ABC, are they making the distinction because of their web site? Yuk for a big laugh was new to me. Love the Dudley Do-Right clip, was new to me!

We actually attach our Tomtom to the windshield, not to the dashboard.

@puzzle naif: welcome to our blob.

Joon 1:29 PM  

mac: every NYT puzzle has a theme except on fridays and saturdays. the 20 refers to the chapter of exodus in which the TENCOMMANDMENTS are described.

joho 1:32 PM  

@dk: Ouch!

Anonymous 1:34 PM  

The Magellan GPS navigation systems attach to dash or windshields (with suction cups.)

fikink 1:37 PM  

@dk, put me on your Christmas list.
btw, lovely use of the word "abated"

Victor in Rochester 1:38 PM  

@mac: Exodus verse 20 is where the ten commandments starts.

Anonymous 1:41 PM  

That's it.

Snide political commentary, subtle or otherwise, isn't the reason I come to this blog.

If you want to include it, that's you're prerogative. I'll check back after the election.

Bill from NJ 1:44 PM  

I didn't see the theme either while I was solving but I saw the MANs descending when the puzzle was completed. I thought of Duchamps "Nude Descending the Staircase" and imagine my surprise when I visited Jim Horne's blog and saw the image. I guess I wasn't the only one.

Mac,the 20 after Exodus refers to Chapter 20 of Exodus where the Ten Commandments are laid out.

I had no real problems with the puzzle - aside from MIDDLELOWGERMAN - which was inferable from the crosses.

I know several Irish counties and CLARE is one of them. From my Storehouse of Useless European Geography.

Doc John 1:48 PM  

MAN, was this puzzle interesting!

Rex, nice write-up, as usual. Speaking of 34 cantos, when I was in college I got to read Mann's Doctor Faustus. For some reason it had 3 Chapter 34s. Unfortunately, I can't remember why. Are these two related?

@ miriam b- is the term you are looking for "percolate"?

Rex Parker 2:00 PM  

Snide political commentary is, in fact, not welcome here.

I wonder why a simple, factual statement is so infuriating to anonymous. The last thing I heard about IRELAND (which is in the puzzle via CLARE) was that fact about Palin. I comment on the puzzle based on what's in my head at the moment. I don't self-censor. Much.

PS if the statement is not factual, I apologize. NPR does have a notoriously liberal bias...


Rex Parker 2:06 PM  

OK, to appease to gods of political neutrality, here are some (I guess) factual statements about Obama's experience traveling abroad. From a conservative website called freerepublic.com:

"Barack Obama's two years in the Senate have taken him around the world, from Russia to Iraq to Kenya - an itinerary more costly to taxpayers than any other senator who took office with him.

The Illinois Democrat's travels in 2005 and 2006 cost taxpayers nearly $28,000 as he studied nuclear proliferation, AIDS, Middle Eastern violence and more.

Eight other freshmen senators took office in 2005, and about $19,200 was the most anyone spent for government-paid travel, according to reports filed with the Senate Office of Public Records."

Some people think travel abroad is impt. Some don't. Or value it differently. Who knows?

And we're back to the puzzle.

fikink 2:07 PM  

Sorry, Rex, I think anonymous objected to my acknowledging dk's "pun."
I will behave! promise.

miriam b 2:08 PM  

Doc John, I wish it were "percolate". I seem to remember that it was of Greek derivation and maybe contained "somn-". Or not.

fergus 2:24 PM  

dk, Only sometimes when it's actually around 2:30, and I notice the time, do I manage NOT to think of that little joke.

Prior to reading Rex's write-up I was thinking how well-crafted this puzzle was, but who is this Newman guy? Excellent theme, nice fill, no clunkers; perfectly executed under Tuesday limitations. But now I find out he's a star in a different league. When I've wandered to other papers' puzzles I often see familiar constructor names, and figured that there's pretty much complete free agency in the puzzle racket. I would guess the agency is limited if you're the crossword editor of a major producer, though. Never seen the Shortz byline in the SF Chronicle, for example. Wondering about noms de plume, but I think Rex mentioned that the byline names listed in the NY Times are always genuine. Unlike in England, where it seems de rigueur, to assume a construction name. Classic example is Araucaria (i.e. the monkey puzzle tree).

puzzle-guy-in-the-know 2:55 PM  

To respond to puzzle naif, puzzle veteran and peter, I am forced to take on this anonymous persona, but bear with me since I have the answers! ;-)

- Many on this and other fora know each other via puzzle contests, especially the ACPT which is held annually in Brooklyn, NY. If you are reading this blog, you should consider attending next March.

- Will IS Will Shortz, who does exist in real life and is easy to get along. He loves puzzles of all kinds and as long as you have the same love for puzzles, you will do well with him. And yes Rex does know him on a first-name basis!

- Acme is a delightful person who can engage in long conversations on any topic. She is also firm in her belief that karma or other cosmic forces make certain words appear in the grids, and that puzzle constructors are just being used by the supreme force to put those words in their places.

- Rex, needless to say, is an extremely talented blogger (and solver) who has now been thrust with greatness - i.e., becoming a test-solver. Not too many people (what, 5 -7?) get this honor and I am proud to see Rex being one of them.

That's all about I can disclose at this moment - if there are more questions for the puzzle-guy-in-the-know, please let me know.



Omnie 3:02 PM  

I never got the theme and I thought it had something to do with editing. When I read about what it was I was in shock. Brilliant!

Looking over the puzzle there is little crosswordESE with the exception of DRAM and ELAL. Two days in a row there has been perfect puzzles for those days. Got stopped momentarily in places (like CBSHD for Lost... it took me a while to realize it was ABC!) but nothing major.

Brilliant puzzle!

@RP I was listening to that interview on NPR and when they said the GOP had added Ireland I was laughing so hard. With no offence to Ms. Palin but Germany, Kuwait, and Ireland. Not even Canada?

sasesqretd 3:29 PM  

I loved this puzzle! It wasn't too easy, but I wasn't frustrated. I got the "MAN" theme, but not the position of it in each 15 till reading Rex, and loved that it always was part of a longer word. For some reason, the timer on my computer puzzle has disappeared even though it's selected in the options. Any suggestions?

dk 3:45 PM  

I am Snidley Whiplash and I approve this message.

I have behaved badly all my life.

To that end, was upset that Canada was not mentioned as referenced by @omnie it gives one pause, perhaps our NAFTA neighbors to the south have been visited and not referenced as well.

@pgitk, great post (psst, it was a little long) :)

Now Nell and I will be tied up for a while. See you tomorrow.

jae 4:02 PM  

Like imsdave1 I thought "descent of man" when I got the theme. My only hang up was EXPAT (like dk) which slowed my breezy solving considerably. Clever and subtle makes for a fun Tues.

memphis 4:03 PM  

i'd rather see "half" or "when doubled" more often for something like NANU than solve words like ANT, STET, ALOE, GPS, etc. in every other puzzle.

I guess the fun in those is cluing them uniquely because they are such common words, but I welcome some back to back NANU over those any day.

HudsonHawk 4:30 PM  

_____ screen-TV in the clues, ABC-TV in the puzzle. Hmmm.

Have Messrs. Shortz or Newman confirmed that the theme was "Travelin' MAN"? When I completed it, I figured it was the "Fall of MAN", especially with the center answer being the TEN COMMANDMENTS. Similarly, the "Descent of MAN" that others have mentioned makes sense as well.


HudsonHawk 4:30 PM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous 4:59 PM  

I thought the theme was MAN IN MOTION

Rex Parker 6:25 PM  

MAN IN MOTION is making me laff out loud, if only because it makes me want to sing the theme song to "Saint Elmo's Fire." Oh, John Parr, we hardly knew ye...

"You're just a prisoner / And you're tryin' to break free!"

The name I gave the theme is entirely mine. Only Sundays have an official name.

HudsonHawk 6:27 PM  

Thanks for the clarification, Rex. I actually like them all, and maybe MAN IN MOTION the best. Unfortuntely, now I'll have that John Parr earworm with me the rest of the night...

Crosscan 6:29 PM  

David Foster wrote the song based on Rick Hansen, a Canadian who wheeledchaired around the world on a "Man in Motion" tour.


Noam D. Elkies 7:52 PM  

I particularly enjoyed this one because I MANaged to guess the theme from the first two 15-letter entries and actually used it in completing the bottom ~60% of the puzzle. Looking for a common thread between 17A:MANAGINGEDITOR and 23A:PERMANENTMARKER, I eventually noticed the two MAN strings and thought it would be really neat if it covered each of the 5x3 squares of the 15-letter answers in order as we move down the puzzle. And so it did ;-)

I didn't recognize Middle Low German either, but knew of Low German and have seen various dictionary etymologies from MHG (which is one letter too long), so figured there must have been a MLG too.

--NDE [which is also 15 letters but probably not coming to a puzzle near you anytime soon]

chefbea1 8:14 PM  

@puzzle guy in the know. I thought the ACPT was in February!! So when exactly is it in March?? have to get ready for it.

Crosscan 8:19 PM  

Chefbea - it is Feb 27 to Mar 1.

Michael 8:35 PM  

I too was puzzled about the theme. I saw the "man"s but didn't catch that they migrated across the page as one moves down the puzzle.

not-at-all-hard, but more difficult than the average Tuesday, I thought.

VBpuzzler 9:16 PM  

I missed the theme but finished pretty quickly, despite dripping my dinner on the clues. Fun puzzle. But, please, add to the nanu-tabu (alt. sp) list: ARod, eel, or else, Atari or sneaker brands for a bit.

foodie 9:18 PM  

We often return to the question of how come we're totally stuck in trying to solve a puzzle, but when we leave it be for a while, or "sleep on it" we are suddenly able to solve it. There is probably more than one brain mechanism at play.

One is that a given idea inhibits other ideas. We have associations, the very basis of coming up with answers, but they block our ability to make other associations (so if I see "---blocker" and I think BETA, instead of SPAM, it's much worse than if I think "huh??". And the stronger my BETA-BLOCKER connection, the more salient it is and the longer it will take it to die. The brain is constantly choosing what to put in the foreground and what to relegate to the background of its focus. So, we need to let the original set fade, so another one can move forward. Typically, you can do that by going to another spot in the puzzle, then returning to the problem area with additional information (a new letter) that triggers a different set of associations. But if this proves impossible, time will help one idea recede so others can emerge. I imagine that great solvers, beyond knowing a ton of info and mastering crosswordese, are particularly good at shifting gears and not being too inhibited by their first associations.

Another mechanism is a more active one-- you're actually chewing on something and pulling together information that was not pre-associated for you. And sleep can help you do that. But I've already rambled for too long...So, I'll save it for another day (when sleep and dreams are in the puzzle).

fergus 9:24 PM  

There may be a little problem with the level of expertise among those who visit this blog, since it seems we may have outgrown this theme thing. Sure, there's an appreciation in looking back at the construction, but a theme now only appears as a grace note, or so it may appear.

It's a tad ironic, since when I first started discussing the puzzle, among friends or work associates, recognizing that there was a theme was probably the central topic. I'm not sure that we recognized that there was a gradation in difficulty, either.

So here's another welcome mat laid out to the soi-disant naifs.

Puzzle Naif 9:35 PM  


Loved your response.

BTW, I adore beets.

@puzzle guy in the know

Thanks. I know who all (or most all) of the players are.

My post was meant to be facetious since, it seems to me, Rex a has become redundant in taking every opportunity to remind us that he's in close contact with Will Shortz since being asked to be a test solver.

fergus 9:38 PM  


We just crossed posts -- and I concur, except that Orange once said that she went straight to the the first association, and that it was generally correct. For the rest of us, who will never enter her alacrity realm, I know I have to stay on the skeptical side, and like you, let the osmotic brain chemistry work elsewhere.

mac 9:39 PM  

@foodie: wonderful explanation/reasoning on this phenomenon. Not only do I benefit from this, but I will wake up in the middle of the night with great ideas, answers to questions, menu's, lists and problems solved. Does my brain ever stop?

@fergus, you have so many good ideas on topics, you should start a blog so we can discuss them!

Ulrich 9:42 PM  

@fergus: Different strokes for different folks--I for one have definitely not outgrown the theme thing. It's true, themes can be uninspired or executed in questionable form, and then get in the way of enjoying a puzzle. But I do prefer a puzzle with a theme that clicks over a themeless puzzle--the latter appears, to me, as a "mere" exercise in mental gymnastics, whereas the former offers a second level of appreciation and therefore provides a richer experience. Without a theme, I would find the early week puzzles not worth doing--easy w/o a payoff. In fact, I did for years only the Sunday puzzles b/c they had a theme and I didn't even know that themes were there on other days, too.

@foodie: What you say makes sense to me--if we could only find the damned term we are looking for.

miriam b 10:00 PM  

Ulrich to foodie: What you say makes sense to me--if we could only find the damned term we are looking for.

@ulrich: I've become something of a gadfly, it seems. This is not necessarily bad. Is it?

fergus 10:08 PM  

Or horses for courses, Ulrich, ou chacun a son gout. These are all slightly different, though. We need a German phrase for English to mean something similar. My former work associate Astrid once came up with one, but unfortunately it included the delightfully bungled American expression of a ball-point figure.

The term one seeks, otherwise known as a word fugitive, could be a synap -- but that's should only applied con siesta.

fikink 10:13 PM  

naif said:
"My post was meant to be facetious since, it seems to me, Rex a has become redundant in taking every opportunity to remind us that he's in close contact with Will Shortz since being asked to be a test solver."

So you were just deciding to be cruel? How gullible of me!

fergus 10:28 PM  

And I wouldn't presume to trash the thought of a theme -- I was merely commenting on how it has become such an afterthought for adept solvers through so many days of the week, as so many comments today descry.

(Check out the differences between decry and descry, to find what an inexact language we speak; or as my Spanish friend said, Oh, theees Eengleesh?)

Jane Doh 12:02 AM  

Agree, theme was great. MIDDLE LOW GERMAN was horrid. A nice finale for a Tuesday level would have been THE DESCENT OF MAN. I must disagree re UNARMS next to UNMET --ugh-ly, not gutsy.

27A AROD -- did you know that A-ROD's wife's license plate is C-ROD? I heard that tonight.


acme 1:57 AM  

@puzzle naif
How dare you accuse Rex of being a name-dropper! That's MY territory.
Stan Newman told me to tell you to stop!

acme 2:13 AM  

from a German study, of course!

also, NANU ain't going NANU NANU too soon as for the paucity of four-letter words ending in U!
Plus cool opportunity for Robin Williams references (No, I'm not going to tell a story here!)

Cool that you found both MANor and MENace! AND that Hazel spotted Stanley NewMAN.

I thought the theme was "MAN going down..."

obligatory baseball ref:
Good going Stan, the man!

Anonymous 11:39 PM  

Palin was only in the airport in Ireland. It was a refueling stop on the trip to Kuwait.
Incidentally, I too have been to Kuwait, but only in the airport to change planes on a trip from Istanbul to Nepal.


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