SUNDAY, Nov. 16, 2008 - Merl Reagle (Meshed foundation in lace / "Song of the Islands" co-star Jack / Iron Man co-creator Larry / "Loverboy" actress)

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: "Sounds Like Somebody I Know" - puns on the names of famous people

This puzzle will be featured - in some fashion - in tonight's all-new episode of "The Simpsons," which is all about crosswords (FOX, 8pm). Read more about it here. [There's lots of talk of a "hidden message" in the puzzle ... I just learned that there are actually two of them, which almost certainly explains why the puzzle feels so wonky in places ... anyway, watch the show tonight!]



Well, this has Merl Reagle written all over it. Feels like Will really handed over the reins on this one, because there is an insane playfulness that NYT puzzles normally don't have - and as is typical with actual insane playfulness, the results are both exhilarating and disastrous. Nobody can run two long theme answers right alongside each other like Merl Reagle - I feel like this is a signature move of his. His Philadelphia Inquirer Sunday puzzles are often full of long, gutsy, punning answers that stretch the limits of the imagination (and, occasionally, good taste). The man is an artist, and I take the good with the bad happily. I wish more people wrote puzzles with the verve, panache, and some other fancy noun that Merl does. (Which reminds me - be sure to check out today's Philadelphia Inquirer puzzle - another Merl creation, and another "Simpsons"-themed puzzle; if you solve with Across Lite software - which you can download for free via the NYT Premium Puzzles site - you can access Merl's puzzle from here)

The punny theme answers are almost uniformly fantastic, and as we all know, I'm not a pun fan. I learned a new word today: PTOMAINE (!?) (from MARISA PTOMAINE) - I could barely bring myself to fill in the letters, so strange does the word look. Botched RAYMOND CHANNELER at first because I thought it was supposed to be CHANDELIER and then because it wouldn't fit I figured I just screwed up the spelling of CHANDELIER. My favorite theme moment is NIKITA CRUISE CHEF over LINDSAY LOW HAND. Painful yet gorgeous. I have not read much of anything about tonight's episode of "The Simpsons," so I'm not sure how all this is supposed to play out. I'll just wait and see. But kudos to Merl for working both D'OH! (35A: Exclamation from a blockhead) and BART (115A: Driving alternative in S.F.) into the puzzle.

Theme answers:

  • 17A: "Loverboy" actress who made the cast sick? (Marisa Ptomaine)
  • 21A: Seance-loving crime writer? (Raymond Channeler)
  • 40A: Hall of Fame golfer who invented the all-plastic club? (Arnold Polymer) - it only just occurred to me that "club" here refers to a golf club. I was thinking "Who or what would belong to an all-plastic club?"
  • 53A: All-telling gossip queen who repeats everything she says? (Rona Parrot)
  • 72A: Avant-garde composer who sat around a lot? (Erik Settee)
  • 82A: Passionate tennis star? (Monica Zealous)
  • 105A: Moscow V.I.P. who like to cook on a ship? (Nikita Cruise Chef)
  • 111A: "I have no face cards" actress? (Lindsay Low Hand)



There were some moments that made me wince, though, I have to say. First of all, there were just a Lot of words I'd never heard of - I probably should know PTOMAINE, but RESEAU (33A: Meshed foundation in lace)!?!?! That seems arcane and technical beyond belief. Beyond tolerance, even. I read comics, but who the hell is this LIEBER guy (90D: Iron Man co-creator Larry). Besides the co-creator of Iron Man, I mean. How many people besides hardcore comics nerds know that? That (rough) SE corner brings me to another gripe I have: OH HELL (88A: "Rats!")? First, that seems awfully close to profanity for a NYT puzzle. It does not offend my sensibilities at All, but I was Not expecting it and went with OH HECK and stayed with OH HECK for quite some time. I had another good reason for going with OH HECK, besides prudishness: "HELL" is in one of the clues - 106D: Hell _____ handbasket (in a). That makes "HELL" what we call a "dupe" and dupes are NONOS (86A: Some etiquette rules).

More gripes: two horrible crossings. I am four square against crossing foreign words unless one or both are super common. Thus the SEHR (103D: Ilse's "very") / SOTTO (103A: Lower than: It.) crossing irked me. I inferred it from the SOTTO in the phrase SOTTO VOCE, but SEHR I did not know (no German, sorry Ulrich et al.). Not cool. No crossing foreign words. The other crossing that blew (for me) was ROOTED (85D: Rummaged) / ROLL (85A: Yaw relative, on an aircraft). I had LOOTED / LOLL, not knowing what the hell the "Yaw" clue was going for. It never occurred to me that "LOOTED" was not the absolute right answer, though clearly, in retrospect, it's a bit off, given the clue. Stop yaw and roll? And what's with SML (65A: Letters of sizes). That feels awfully made-up. I would have tripped all over the obscure OAKIE (93D: "Song of the Islands" co-star Jack) if I hadn't already tripped all over him earlier this month. ROMANA took forever, but that's my own damned fault (45A: Alla _____ (pasta style)).

Variety Pack:

  • 10A: Attorney's favorite sweets? (tortes) - there seemed to be more of these cutesy "?"-clues than we normally see from Will. I'm guessing most of the clues here are Merl's originals. He's a seasoned editor - he knows what he's doing.
  • 28A: Abbr. after Ted Kennedy's name (D-Mass) - nice to give the ailing legendary senator a shout-out
  • 39A: "O.S.S." star, 1946 (Ladd) - he was just in a puzzle, and that double-D ending can't be many other folks, so I got this easily despite having no idea what "O.S.S." is.
  • 48A: Planned site of the Geo. W. Bush Presidential Library (SMU) - I guessed WACO but it wouldn't fit.
  • 50A: Young wife (age 18) of Charlie Chaplin (age 54) (Oona) - once a crossword staple, now an odd curiosity, like ADIT. This clue is not typical Shortz stuff - this is a trivia / story clue, giving you way more info than you need for the sole point of dispensing curious information. See also 67A: Yul Brynner died the same day as _____ Welles (odd fact) (Orson) - I cannot recall seeing a Shortz clue like this before, where a non-quotation complete sentence has a fill-in-the-blank answer. It just feels weird. "(odd fact)" is right. I love how we apparently need to be told that it's an odd fact. "Oh, odd fact ... I see ... now."
  • 55A: Letters of commerce (GATT) - a treaty. Took me a while.
  • 56A: Laying-on of hands? (back rub) - Also took me a while, primarily because of a pair of kooky krosses - BONEMAN (56D: Guy who digs fossils) and ROSE SLUG (57D: American Beauty pest) - both of which took a while to come and felt iffy when they did.
  • 69A: Relatives of TV host Tom (Snyders) - another one that took some patience, because of the evasive CHOIR BOY (30D: Tenor, perhaps) - I had CHOIR and then No Idea what came next.
  • 81A: Prima donna Norman (Jessye) - at first I was thinking "they call men 'prima donnas?'" Hey look, it's Jessye Norman singing ERIK SETTEE:


  • 104A: Disney pirate, 1953 (Smee) - thought it was a gimme (and it was) but ran into all kinds of trouble in the SW corner that made me second-guess even this.
  • 110A: Eban of Israel (Abba) - ditto
  • 6D: Noriega's weapons (armas) - why even bother changing the name for the next Across clue, 7D: Delgado's rivers (rios)? I feel almost the same way about back-to-back foreign words from the same language as I do about intersecting foreign words generally.
  • 4D: Hall of Fame coach Ewbank (Weeb) - aargh. I wrote in WEBB, forgetting about this guy's phenomenally weird name.
  • 17A: Freeboot (maraud) - OK, that is awesome (see yesterday's puzzle, which featured this clue/answer pair in reverse)
  • 29D: Teutonic name part (von) - this puzzle is sure in love with foreign languages. I ridiculously had "SON" here (where was I, Sweden?)
  • 18D: Old IBM offering (PC, Jr.) - HA ha, was this a real thing? I love this answer: PCJR looks All Kinds of Krazy in the grid.
  • 31D: Enos Slaughter's team for 13 yrs. (STL) - had the "S" and couldn't think of a three-letter abbrev. to save my life.
  • 32D: Roo's donkey friend (Eeyore) - I assume this is a gimme for everyone, but you neeeever know.
  • 35D: "Wagon Master" actress Joanne (Dru) - no clue. She and OAKIE may have starred in pictures together, for all I know.
  • 45D: Patrick Macnee's 1960s TV co-star Diana (Rigg) - funnily enough, wife and I both blanked on her name the other night, and then later both remembered it. So this was a gimme.
  • 37D: Assigner of G's and R's: Abbr. (MPAA) - Motion Picture Association of America
  • 46D: Opus with singing (oratorio) - Opus reminds me of the cartoon penguin of the same name (that's what happens when you read comics voraciously before you learn Anything about music).
  • 70D: Gallantry-in-war medals: Abbr. (DFCs) - no idea. I'm guessing it's way better than a KFC. Let's see ... Distinguished Flying Cross. Looks like this:


  • 63D: Old aviation magazine _____ Digest (Aero) - saw the four letters, wrote in AERO on a hunch. Bingo.
  • 91D: Mythical piper (pan) - true enough
  • 107D: Y.A. Tittle scores (TDs) - His name makes me laugh.
  • 77D: Vacation destination for sandwich lovers? (Delhi) - HA ha. Inventive...
  • 108D: Org. with a five-ring logo (IOC) - International Olympic Committee; wow, in addition to lots of foreign words, there appear to be LOTS of Abbreviations. Price you pay for magical theme answers, I guess.
  • 73D: Big name in tea (Tazo) - cool. Corporate, but cool. Fresh. Current.

OK, I think I'm done. This episode of "The Simpsons" better rule. Crossword puzzles and "The Simpsons" ... My two great passions in life ... colliding? O god, the results can only be disappointing ... no, I must keep hope alive. Yes I Can!

See you later.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

107 comments:

Orange 10:03 PM  

I ranted over at my blog about the MARISA PTOMAINE clue. I looked up that movie, Loverboy.

It played for two weeks.

In four theaters.

Grossing less than $60,000.

And Marisa Tomei wasn't even the lead! She was the most prominent female character in Before the Devil Knows You're Dead last year, but that title's a little unwieldy and long for a crossword clue.

PuzzleGirl 12:02 AM  

Would "My Cousin Vinny" have been too too obvious? And if so, who cares? She also rocked in "In the Bedroom" -- a movie based on a short story by my favorite writer of all time, Andre Dubus. But I don't know if that would qualify as any more famous than "Loverboy."

Now I have Teena Marie's "Lover Girl," Billy Ocean's "Lover Boy" and Loverboy's "Turn Me Loose" all mashed together in my head.

Orange 12:30 AM  

Don't forget Loverboy's "Everybody's Working for the Weekend"...and the Mike Reno duet with whoever that was, "Almost Paradise."

In the Bedroom was Oscar bait, with five noms including Best Picture and a supporting actress nod for Tomei.

Anonymous 12:48 AM  

Desperately wanted GREY for "big name in tea". Have to learn to let go.

Anonymous 1:14 AM  

Agree with Rex on the bipolar response to the puzzle (or is it schizophrenic? I can never tell).

Lovely puns, with Nikita taking the cake.

Hated the number of blocks and some really obscure stuff reseau, jessye, and john of?

But then looked for the other hidden message* and quickly realized why the puzzle was so difficult to make (and needed the 88 blocks and the awful crossings/obscurities).

pgitk

* Did you not want to disclose too much? If so, I will remain discreet.

Noam D. Elkies 1:59 AM  

Argh, that was my least enjoyable Sunday solving in many weeks. If ostentatious theme-answer stacks can only be achieved at the cost of a grid replete with obscure names that require clues like "Wagon Master actress Joanne" (35D:DRU) and "Patrick Macnee's 1960's co-star Diana" (45D:RIGG) and "Song of the Islands co-star" (93:OAKIE), then the constructor is being too fRIGGing ambitious and ought to go back to the drawing board. (None of these can be blamed directly on the hidden message.) More gratuitous obscurity in the clues for 28D:DEANS (do we need Yet Another Random Showbiz Name?), 39A:LADD (random 1946 movie), 107D:TDS (random footballer Y.A.Jot). I suppose the bumper cr*p of proper names in the theme answers is unavoidable, but I don't remember even hearing the name Rona Barrett before, and could only confirm several others to the extent that they sounded vaguely familiar after filling in all the Down crosses.

Re:seau (33A) -- I recognized it as the French for "lattice" or "network", so it made sense here after I realized that the clue's "Meshed" is not an Arabic place name (which it turns out to be as well, for more than one place).

Two questionable musical clues: I suppose a soprano or alto 30D:CHOIRBOY might stay in the choir after his voice changed to tenor, but that's the kind of misdirection I'd expect only on a Fri/Sat puzzle; and 38D:OOMPAH is an old error: the tuba sounds only the OOM, with PAH provided by trombones or other higher parts. (I'm reminded of conductor Jim Marvin's phrase about "an oom from which to pah".)

Anybody else fill in TWA for 109D:SWA? At least that's a legitimate misdirection; even better for 57D, where thankfully "American Beauty" turned out to be one fewer showbzzzz reference than expected.

NDE

P.S. I see that "ptomaine poisoning" is a discredited theory -- the poisons in food poisoning are not ptomaines (nitrogenous products of decomposition of spoiled food) but bacterial products.

Alex 2:17 AM  

I've compared your puzzle to mine three times and I still can't find my mistake. Oh well. I didn't enjoy this one enough to care to make a further effort.

Too many abbreviations. Reading your recap I just now realized that "SML" isn't some obnoxious abbreviation for small but rather an obnoxious abbreviation for Small-Medium-Large.

EER (partial word), DMASS (cool but not among so many), SMU, GATT, SML, NCO, URL, SGT, AAA, USN, PCJR, STL, MPAA, LBO, FAO, ADE (clued as partial word), KOS, DFCS, ETA, ETHNO (clued as partial word), TDS, IOC, SWA.

Those last three are consecutive down answer!

That's just too many for my fun. And it doesn't include VCR and GTO.

Proper nouns are almost as plentiful (in addition to the theme answers) but fortunately those don't bother me like some people (six of the first fifteen down answers are proper nouns and you again have a cluster of three with ELMORE, WEEB, and HAYES consecutively, which are then followed by two foreign word answers and then an abbreviation. Do I mention that the sequence was preceded by an odd job with RUINER?)

I actually enjoyed several of the theme puns but the rest generally annoyed.

jae 4:29 AM  

I actually found this easier than last weeks Paula Gamache effort. My only real problem was the multiple foreign words in SE aligned with the English duke. I walked away from it, CHANNELED some German movie characters, and came up with SEHR GUT (very good) which gave me SOTTO and JOHN OF. RESEAU was my only WTF.

Berkeley Breathed ended the OPUS strip last month.

OHHELL put me off also for the same reasons as Rex.

This one was fun for me puns included probably because stuff like RIGG, SNYDER, ELMORE, OAKIE, LEONI, RONA... were pretty much gimmies.

Wiki tells me that LIEBER is the younger brother of Stan Lee.

Anonymous 7:11 AM  

A good example of how a generation (or two?) can make a big difference. I found this puzzle EASY, but was barely able to finish last week's. What's random for some is pop cultural bedrock for others— Y A Tittle, Alan Ladd, Rona Barrett, Dean Martin, Diane Rigg, and yes, ptomaine, which,come to think of it, I haven't heard used for a long time but used to be just another way of saying food poisoning.

A L P Thorpe

Rex Parker 7:50 AM  

OK, two things:

@Orange ... "whoever that was"???! Mike Reno is the obscure one in the "Almost Paradise" duet. His partner = only the greatest female rock voice of all time: Ann Wilson. "Barracuda!"

and @NDE ... it is my great honor to have one of the most eminent mathematicians in the world go on a froth-at-the-mouth, indignant, puzzle-bashing rampage in the Comments section of my website. Truly spectacular.

RP

male chicken 7:56 AM  

Weeb?

HudsonHawk 8:30 AM  

A nice medium puzzle for me. I'm just old enough that WEEB, RIGG, SNYDERS, and RONA are gimmes. Although the RIGG and MARISA clues were more obscure than they needed to be.

I realize that they both can work, but I would have preferred SAAB clued as Swedish "export".

Loved the shout-outs to Berkeley Breathed and Opus.

@anon 1:14, thanks for the heads-up on the hidden message in the grid. Awesome.

ArtLvr 8:34 AM  

I enjoyed doing this one in the wee hours, with not too much brain-strain after seeing that Chandler had to be CHANNELER. Loved Nikita, RONA PARROT, ARNOLD POLYMER, MONICA ZEALOUS and all the puns, actually.

I wanted "Don'ts" for etiquettte NONOS, was thinking "Backing" for a more political blessing or [Laying on of hands] instead of a literal BACKRUB, and "Reins" for IRONS, but everything came out fine with crosses. I still need to google TAZO. (?)

All I recall about Joanne DRU is that she did a great caricature of a "top drawer" Ivy League type with her hearty handshake on meeting Auntie Mame, and it turned out she was in fact an alumna of Smith College -- rare to find in Hollywood films!

@ noam, a k a Know'em, many thanks for the update on PTOMAINE poisoning!

ArtLvr 8:40 AM  

p.s. I just found the hidden message too -- Fab!

∑;)

joho 8:46 AM  

While solving I kept wondering how and where did The Simpsons fit in here. Except for BART and DOH I saw nothing. So I had to forget about that nonexistent theme and forge ahead with the puns.

My favorite was NIKITA CRUISE CHEF but I guess I wasn't in a very punny mood this morning. Well, in fact, I practically never feel punny, morning or night.

I'm sorry to say I left the "L" where I should have written "R" at ROLL/ROOTED. My only mistake which made both puzzles this weekend off by one letter.

All I can say is OH HELL.

steve l 9:57 AM  

@nde--Got to disagree respectfully with your rant about (these particular) proper names. Diana RIGG was a well-known actress, and DEAN Martin? Come on, he was one of the biggest stars of his time, a main member of the Rat Pack (see the other day) with Frank Sinatra (I assume you've heard of him). Y.A. (Yelberton Abraham) Tittle was a major football star with the NY Giants and others. Would you have liked them to say "Brett Favre scores," or would that have been too easy? Alan LADD was a very well-known movie actor, who was also the father-in-law of Cheryl Ladd, and RONA Barrett was a very famous gossip columnist. Noam, how old are you? It seems these were all before your time. I'm 52, and to me they were gimmes. But sometimes something relevant to the younger crowd is not a gimme to me, so I learn something new from the puzzle. I'm sorry to say that to me, your rant reflects badly on you, not on the puzzle.

@male chicken--sounds like you never heard of the Jets' most famous coach. You might call yourself Weeb too, if your birth certificate said "Wilbur."

Rex Parker 10:08 AM  

@steve l-

NDE is, it's fair to say, a billion times smarter than you or I. He is also nothing if not decent and fair-minded. He was not born in this country (I think) and is not alone (by a long shot) in not liking it when puzzles are loaded with proper nouns from the world of pop culture. Even if you disagree with him, the idea that his comment "reflects badly on him" is absurd, and even if you believe it, why in the world would you be compelled to say it? Just disagree and move on. No one wants to hear your finger-wagging condescension.

RP

P.S. PONCA!

Pinky 10:13 AM  

I totally missed the MOnica Zealous because I had Motorist for Motor Inn....giving me a weird "Passionate Tennis player" named...MOTIVATED LOIS....whoever she is...

Alex 10:16 AM  

I'm not seeing whatever the additional hidden message is, so explanation would be appreciated.

JeanSp 10:17 AM  

OSS stands for Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner of the CIA. Its head was Wild Bill Donovan who occasionally shows up in puzzles in some form or other.

Rex Parker 10:18 AM  

I didn't want to discuss either hidden message because I assumed some people would want to find out for themselves OR find out tonight during the show, when I assume the messages will be revealed.

rp

Alex 10:20 AM  

Never mind, found it. Just had to say publicly that I couldn't for my brain to then immediately see it.

I don't watch The Simpsons so without this blog I would never have begun to understand its significance.

jannieb 10:28 AM  

I agree with steve I - every name was a gimme for me. I thought this was and easy breezy puzzle - was surprised at the rating. My only error was Loll/looted - never even occurred to me that it was wrong.

I realize that on this site I'm speaking heresy - but I have never watched a single episode of the Simpsons. Anything I know about them comes from xwords. And whatever secret message is included in the puzzle, it totally escapes me. But I still enjoyed this puzzle - the puns were really good and the clues were well written.

Orange 10:29 AM  

I rescind my rant about Loverboy being in the clue. Now that Lloyd Mazer has tipped me off about a hidden message, all is forgiven. And also? Loverboy the band recorded "Hot Girls in Love"—if you think the title is bad, wait 'til you hear the lyrics.

@Noam, Rona Barrett is one of the two main RONA options we see in crosswords. There's author Jaffe and there's gossip columnist Barrett. You may not know Ms. Barrett from her work (which I think was largely a '70s thing, or largely absent post-'70s), but you'll be seeing her again in the puzzle.

Greene 11:11 AM  

I was going to complain about the grid seeming cramped again, but then I found the hidden message, so now I think I'll just shut up and enjoy tonight's episode of The Simpsons. Well done, Merl Reagle.

HudsonHawk 11:20 AM  

Wow! Just found the second hidden message. Color me impressed with this feat of construction and cluing.

Noam D. Elkies 11:23 AM  

@steve et al -- I'm 42, and while I was actually born in this country I spent a good part of my childhood in Israel; even during the part that I was in this country I had (and still have) little patience for most pap "culture", b*seball, etc. LADD is indeed familiar, but the clue was gratuitously obscure. "Very famous gossip columnist" -- what next, famous astrologers? Dean Martin's name I wouldn't usually complain about, but with so many other proper names in the puzzle there was no need to go to that well again. (Admittedly I should have ranted only about the gratuitousness of the choice and not included it in the list of obscure ones.) As for Tittle, yes he's a Hall of Famer, but from decades ago, and there must be hundreds and hundreds of those spread across b*seball, basketball, football, g*lf, hockey, and tennis. How much of that trivia can you really expect us to have at our mental fingertips? Heck, we don't even remember more than a small fraction of the names of Nobel prize winners.

Rex -- thanks for your support :-)

NDE

P.S. Artlvr -- another bit of PTrivia related with the fill in this puzzle: Bart = Bartholomew is originally Aramaic bar-Tolmay, "bar" = "son of" and "Tolmay" possibly a version of Ptolemy!

Edith B 11:34 AM  

For years and years I did two puzzles on Sundays - the NY Times and the Philadelphia Inquirer so I am used to Merl Reagle's offerings so full of puns and proper names and abbreviations. I actually saw Merl's puzzles as something of an antidote to the Times puzzles which were full of latinate renderings and familiar names out of high culture and opera references, all of which I call High Cult trivia. I used to tell my husband that if I saw one more variation of a "shellac" clue, I would scream.

Will Shortz delivered us from all that by substituting pop cult detritus for high cult detritus and we were better off for it, in my opinion, as it opened up the puzzles to folks who were not classically educated but had a wealth of knowledge of that which surrounded them - moviesandsports, for instance, rather than high-toned plays and operas.

Someone on this blog referred to "Guido's high note" as an example of clues out of the past that used to abound in the Times and I can add Charles Lamb's pen name Elia and Asian nurse Amah to that list of archaic references. Orange and others who remember Eugene Maleska refer to this sort of thing as high-toned crosswordese.

There are lots of folks who feel displaced by the changes that Mr Shortz has made over the years but it is my opinion that he has opened the Times puzzle to countless people and we are better off for it.

I've noticed that Merl Reagle is using foreign language clues more and more often, perhaps as a way to placate our need for obscurity, but better that than another variation on shellac.

mac 11:50 AM  

I had an easy time with this one, except for the ptomaine/PC jr spot. Had to stare at 47 down for a long time, but as happens sometimes, suddenly saw the light. Except for Marisa Ptomaine, I liked the theme a lot.

It was just amazing that maraud/freeboot made an appearance again, to make sure we will really remember. I've got to look up this Tazo tea, never heard of it. As far as my xword puzzle experience is concerned, Chaplin had only one wife.... Ruiner? Thought Rex would complain about that one. Very thoughtful write-up today, though, thank you!

@Noam: thanks for the oom and pah quote. I love those tidbits.

I hate to admit it, but I haven't found those hidden messages yet. Can someone give me a little clue?

Anonymous 11:51 AM  

Puzzle solving clue: whenever the clue is for some obscure actress named joanne, always answer Dru, (similar to when you're watching Jeopardy and the answer is some obscure empire--always answer Ottoman).

I thought this was a relatively easy puzzle (yay for me) but now I have to look for the hidden messages? Sheesh.

steve l 11:56 AM  

@Rex and NDE--I apologize if I came off as condescending, but I had a point to make. I think that the part that you, Rex, are referring to is only in the very last part of my post, and I think I went out of my way to say this in a more diplomatic way than was my initial inclination. In other words, when I read Noam's post, I was hearing in my mind "sour grapes because he didn't know any of the answers" (we've seen that kind of post here before), and I just think, whenever someone comes on and says, the puzzle wasn't fair because I didn't know this and I didn't know that, well, you know. And Noam, it seems you are deadset against pop culture, but you're going to find pop culture in crossword puzzles; that's the nature of the beast. And in my opinion, people in general should look up the things they didn't know, then decide, was it just me, or was this really ridiculously obscure. Maybe I should say that anyone runs the risk of making him/herself look bad when many other people might not have had the difficulty he/she had.

poc 11:59 AM  

Sorry, but ARNOLD POLYMER sounds nothing like ARNOLD PALMER. The rest of the theme answers were pretty good, but this one was a bogey rather than a birdie.

I also liked TORTES and DELHI, which are just straight puns.

However I'm dubious about AIME. "Love in Lille" would normally give AMOUR, which of course doesn't fit, but just sticking in the participle seems a bit of a cheat. I'm sure it will be excused by saying it means "love" as in "I love", but still.

Norm 12:08 PM  

I never look to see who constructed the puzzle until I'm done, so I was 2/3 through this one when I thought "Geez, this is a lot like a Merl Reagle puzzle." Doh! Liked it a lot (better than "his own" in fact), but I'm on record as a fan of puns. I thought MARISA PTOMAINE was delightful. Even if you don't know the movie, you know her. What other Marisa could it be? (Someone will undoubtedly tell me.)

chefbea1 12:09 PM  

A fun puzzle but I kept looking for names like Marge, homer, Lisa, Apu etc to appear.

I did know a lot of the names - of course Enos Slaughter of the Cards.

Loved Nikita Cruise Chef. What do you suppose he made for that cruise?? Russian Borscht???

Looking forward to tonight to find out the hidden messages

Belvoir 12:10 PM  

Larry LIEBER as co-creator of iron Man stumped me too. Wiki says he's Stan Lee's younger brother- Lee had changed his name a long time before.

bill from fl 12:25 PM  

The Shortz Shift in the NYT crossword is also probably responsible for much of the variation in perceptions of the difficulty of his puzzles. I've struggled many times to finish late-week puzzles only to find Rex and many others thought they were easy; today, I thought the puzzle was just easy and hilarious. I'm barely average in my knowledge of pop trivia, but I happened to know all but a few of the ones in today's clues.

jeff in chicago 12:47 PM  

Liked the puzzle a lot. The pop culture was mostly in my wheelhouse. No complaints. I guess I have about seven hours to stare at this thing and find the hidden messages.

"Guido's high note" reminds me of doing the NYT in college during the Maleska era. Usually did it with a girlfriend, and she and I would always celebrate everytime we saw (and it seemed often) the following:

Bitter vetch = ERS

Karen 12:53 PM  

I was surprised at how many all consonant answers in today's puzzle--DFCS, PCJR, STL all in the downs, looks weird when I reviewed the puzzle looking for my mistakes (I had AINE for love and BOTTO for lower). Great puns today.

jeff in chicago 12:56 PM  

Hmmm....just found something that seems more odd than a hidden message. We'll have to wait and see.

Hobbyist 1:00 PM  

I was glad to see "enormity" defined correctly instead of as a synonym for hugeness and the like.
Ptomaine shows up in the hilarious Allen Sherman song, "Hello Mudda, Hello Fadda, Here I am at Camp Granada." Most of you probably are too young to remember this hit.

chefbea1 1:08 PM  

@hobbyist I remember

Claraboca 1:08 PM  

What hidden message??
Baffled

Ulrich 1:13 PM  

I also found something that coheres, but like Jeff in Chicago, I wouldn't call it a message. As to the second message, I have to give up: Can't spend the rest of the Sunday staring at the grid--well, I'm almost done with Puns and Anagrams (how old is Mel Taub BTW--seems as if he has been around forevah)?

jeff in chicago 1:19 PM  

HA! I have found a second...thing. But I'm sure it's a coincidence. Just in case, I will not reveal until after the show.

Anonymous 1:27 PM  

@hobbyist: "You remember Leonard Skinner. He got ptomaine poisoning last night after dinner" has been running through my head all day. Ah Sherman - I knew you would come in handy some day.

Jackie 2:12 PM  

Tonight's Simpsons episode had better be good; that's the only thing that could redeem what I thought was a *horrible* puzzle. Most of it felt like a Monday; the parts that didn't were just lame.

Buster 2:27 PM  

Finished this one more quickly than I expected after the first pass, but agree that in parts in kind of "felt wrong."

NIKITACRUISECHEF was the first theme answer I got and remains my favorite, barely edging out MARISAPTOMAIN and ARNOLDPOLYMER Stuck forever on ROSESLUG (though I knew it wasn't necessarily a movie reference, I kept getting waylaid by the idea of "rosebud".) SML didn't bother me as it did many (though I wanted to put XXL for awhile).

Didn't get stuck with OHHELL but agree that it felt a little bold for the Times. I guess that clue, along with the use of the word "sat" in a clue for "settee" (seems too close to me) and the strange "odd fact" clue for ORSON (which is not a word that's hard to clue in a more normal way) was what bothered me.

Didn't know about the "The Simpsons" episode --- going to set the DVR right now.


But the

Anonymous 2:30 PM  

This was a fantastic Reagle classic, and what a relief after a really bad stretch of Sunday puzzles over the last few weeks. It had so many fun elements, with great puns and interesting facts.

I didn't look at the constructor when I started, but about after about 7 answers I thought, this is strange, it seems like a Reagle puzzle but he doesn't do them for the NYT anymore. And then, bam -- there's the name. It has all his signature fun, and none of the stuffiness that has been plaguing Sunday for awhile now.

Totally disagree w/ most posters about the first clue. I got Ptomaine instantly and thought it was brilliant. Nikita Cruisechef took awhile but it was also great (thought he was going for something w/ "galley") and at first I thought the Lowhand clue, which was beyond genius, was going to be something lame like "Jackless Onassis" or "Steve NoQueen".

All in all, an easy but fun Sunday puzzle, and am looking forward to the Simpsons tonight.

Jet City Gambler 2:30 PM  

"And the head coach
Wants no sissies,
So he reads to us
From something called Ulysses."

You know, I recently moved and uncovered a crossword puzzle book I had purchased probably 20 years ago, Eugene Maleska's NYT Toughest Crossowrds.

Good lord.

I completely agree with Edith B., Will Shortz has made crossowrds so much more accessible during his reign. Check out some of these fun Maleska clues:

Versatile Dutch musician: 1855-1932
Italian poet: 1544-95
__ Hills (HUD head for G.R.F.)
Schisgal drama: 1964
Symphonic poem by Varese: 1965

WTF?

What got me into puzzles was Games magazine, which came out in the late 70s. The puzzles were fun, and accessible, and full of stuff I knew rather than Dutch musicians. The editor, of course was Will Shortz.

Anonymous 2:38 PM  

I made same mistake as others.
Donts for nonos, oh heck for oh hell thinking there is no way NYTimes would allow the word hell,
etc.

Not a pun fan so while I finished most of it not as enjoyable as others altho Merl is a mast constructor.

Plea to Rex: Would you please reveal the 2 hidden messages in tomorrow's blog, pretty please?
thanks
Rhea

Doug 3:00 PM  

OHHELL, I have to coach my kid's hockey practice at 8pm tonight, and I really wanted to watch the Simpsons. My wife's been bugging me to set up a VCR so guess that's in the cards today.

Like Ulrich, was finally about to get off my butt until I read about the "hidden message" so in a fit of discipline I'm going out to rake. But I'll listen to the latest Sunday Puzzle podcast!

SethG 3:35 PM  

Didn't get the DELHI reference 'til I came here, though I'd seen this recently. And I used to teach tennis, but I had a lot of trouble getting Monica Zealous.

Puns in general are not my favorite, and lots of other yuck, but I'm super excited about tonight's episode and I'm sure it will all be worth it! (Yeah, I know it's during the Steelers game...I'll tape it...)

foodie 3:54 PM  

I smiled at the puns and was very proud to sail through them because this was the form of American humor that was hardest for me to get . When I first heard American English (as opposed to the British English that i was taught in school), my main complaint was that words were slurred and each word could be a bunch of others. Perfect examples: Chandler/CHANNELER and Palmer/POLYMER. Really? These sound the same? Not in London. Then I realized that punning was often built on this peculiar feature. I've had to learn to build this margin of error into my hearing to get the jokes, and to actively work on my mispronunciation to sound less foreign (still a work in progress).

@noam d. elkies, I was originally surprised that anyone on this blog would make the association of Meshed with a place in the middle east. The fact that you spent your childhood in Israel explains it to me. Meshed or Mashad (hear Mesh- head) means a place of martyrdom and is typically found in shiite areas. I believe there's a town called Meshed in Israel near Nazareth.

Anonymous 4:01 PM  

Mr. Reagle was hired by the Simpsons show's producer to write today's puzzle:

(http://animatedtv.about.com/b/2008/11/15/secret-simpsons-message-in-ny-times-puzzle-tomorrow.htm)?

Then Mr Short worked with him (and I presume the Producer) to create this cross-promotion piece for a show that seems to have less than universal appeal on this site, and perhaps for NYT crossword solvers in general.

Is anyone else bothered by this?

.../Glitch

PS: The puzzle itself was pretty satisfying to solve, I guess I'm just a bit bugged by the *Today's Puzzle brought to you by The Simpsons and Fox TV* --- unstated, at that.

Chip Hilton 4:04 PM  

A real quickie compared to last Sunday. I had one error, going with the LOLL/LOOTED crossing that Rex mentioned. I, too, had no idea on the yaw clue. Really have to admit that both RESEAU and GATT were total guesses.

Fun Sunday puzzle, wince-inducing puns part of the fun.

Noam D. Elkies 4:44 PM  

OK, having found the other hidden message I must withdraw my complaint about gratuitously obscure or name-heavy clues. They are indeed obscure and name-heavy, but Merl and Will had little choice about it given the constraints on this puzzle. (The other hidden message left a trace mainly in the grid.) I maintain, though, that the combination of constraints must have been much too ambitious if today's puzzle is the best that even Merl Reagle could do under those constraints.

@SteveL: I didn't complain that the puzzle was not "fair", but that it was not fun to solve. "Not fair" would be silly since it's not a competition, and anyway I did solve it (despite being only the ~250th greatest solver), knowing some other bits of trivia that mystified Rex (yaw, SOTTO, SEHR). But "not fun" trumps all the constructional virtuosity that went into this puzzle. Reagle and Shortz of all people know better than that, so we can only hope that the payoff from this evening's Simpsons episode will really, really, really make up for it. What's Marge's maiden name again?

The "Shortz Shift" (to use Bill's nice phrase) improved the NYTimes puzzle in many ways. Replacing one kind of detritus by another, as EdithB put it, is not one of them. Detritus is still detritus. Indeed pop detritus is worse as far as I'm concerned, because pop culture is -- almost by definition -- the stuff we're already oversaturated with. I've ranted enough for one day, so I'll leave further discourse on this topic to another occasion. Instead I'll give a pointer to the interesting origin of the phrase "short shrift", which I learned only recently: http://www.bartleby.com/61/53/S0365300.html

Enjoy,
NDE

P.S. @foodie: Curiously I don't remember "Meshed" from my years in Israel, though my Google search did turn up the Israeli village. Yes, the word is evidently cognate with "shaheed" = martyr (literally "witness", as in the "Shahada" = Muslim creed).

foodie 4:49 PM  

@Glich-- I thought about the issue you raised-- Are we bothered by the fact that Mr. Reagle was hired by the show to create this puzzle. I think it's a reasonable question to ask. But "my answer is No... if that's okay with you" (see previous posts on this by Andrea Carla about this book). No, I'm not bothered, and here's why.

In the context of my work, I'm very careful about the class of issues we call "conflict of interest". Here's a hypothetical situation: Say a company were to give my lab some funds to do research on their latest drug and we got some very exciting findings. If I gave a talk about these results, I'd be honor-bound to tell the audience that this work was funded by the company. Worse yet, if I sat on their board, or owned stock, it would be completely unethical not to disclose the connection. Why? Because I'm seen as an expert and therefore I can potentially influence opinions, and even if my motivation were purely scientific, I may have a subconscious reason to want the company to do well. So, buyer beware!...But where is the conflict of interest in this situation? There is no pretense that Mr. Reagle or Shortz are experts on the Simpsons. Moreover, whatever financial agreement they have made is presumably not contingent on them drumming up business for the Simpsons. Unless we learn that Mr. Shortz owns shares in the Simpsons and is using the NY Times to promote his interests without being transparent about it, I have no problem.

I hope this sounds reasonable. To my mind, it would be great if there were more sponsors for puzzle makers.I don't think they are rewarded nearly enough for their efforts.

Orange 4:52 PM  

@foodie: Just last Saturday, Byron Walden's themeless NYT had the clue [Meshed person] for IRANI. I think Irani ≠ Iranian, but crosswords keep using IRANI to mean "person from Iran." Wikipedia told me that Meshed/Mashhad is an Iranian city. Which is not to say that the esteemed Dr. Elkies didn't know it independently of last weekend's puzzles, because he probably did. But I made the connection in my post on today's puzzle only because of that clue last weekend.

@Glitch: Yeah, but (a) the show has been a bona fide hit for 19 seasons and (b) maybe, just maybe, getting crosswords onto The Simpsons will bring a few new people into the crosswords fold. Anyone who still knows nothing about the show now has been making a concerted effort to avoid reading about it in newspapers and magazines, because The Simpsons has entered the American entertainment pantheon.

steve l 5:02 PM  

@nde--Hopefully, this means we are at peace with one another now, since I really didn't intend to pick a fight, and actually, I think Rex reacted more strongly than you did about this. I do want to say, however, I didn't find this puzzle to be below average on the fun scale, either.

And maybe you thought of "MESHED" as a Middle Eastern word because it was in the puzzle that way just a few days ago. (Sat., Nov. 8, to be exact.) The clue was "MESHED PERSON," and the answer was "IRANI." And now, while previewing this post, I see that Orange has beaten me to the punch, so, Never Mind!

Rex Parker 5:02 PM  

Like foodie, I think Glitch's question a fair one, though the fact that "The Simpsons" has "less than universal appeal on this site" is essentially meaningless, in that I doubt any show would have such appeal. There are reasonable arguments to be made that "The Simpsons" is the greatest American sitcom of all time. It is, at a minimum, one of the very longest-running (20 years next December). FOX built their network on it (for better or worse). Homer is an American Institution. "D'oh" is in the dictionary largely if not completely because of him. I could go on and on and on about the show. The point is, it's not as if the puzzle got hooked up with some fly-by-night show of marginal appeal and dubious quality. Good enough for, let's see, Stephen Jay Gould, Stephen Hawking, Amy Tan, Thomas Pynchon, 50 Cent, Alan Moore (if that name means nothing to you, that's too bad), Tony Blair, etc. ... good enough for me. And certainly good enough for the NYT puzzle.

Now if the puzzle does a tie-in with "The Real Housewives of Atlanta," *then*, I think, you have reason to wonder what the hell is going on?

Rex Parker 5:13 PM  

@steve l,

The personal nature of your initial comment to NDE was uncalled for. The fact that you can't see that ... well, it reflects badly on you.

If anyone had spoken to you the way you did to him, you'd have seen a similar response from me. This is how I keep this Comments section from looking like nearly every other (horrible / unreadable) Comments section out there. I care about your puzzle opinions, but not at all about your judgments of the personal characters of other readers.

rp

Kim 5:24 PM  

Never seen "The Simpsons" - that will change tonight.

Anonymous 6:14 PM  

Dumb question: How are most people (or at least those who don't know about Rex) who do the NYT puzzle supposed to know about the Simpsons tie-in and the hidden message(s)?

Edith B 6:17 PM  

To those of us who are movie buffs or sports fans, are clues that reference Jack Oakie and Joanne Dru and Monica Seles really that much inferior to clues for versatile Dutch musicians and bitter vetchs and Italian poets from the 15th century?

I don't agree with the notion that pop culture represents, by definition, oversaturation. We are talking about familiarity here and obscurity is most certainly in the eye of the beholder.

I think the fact the Mr Shortz revitalized the crossword puzzle and rescued the medium from one particular type of geek and found another, more prevalent type of geek to transfer the medium to, speaks volumes about which direction crossword puzzles ought to be pointed.

To those of us who know more about the Simpsons and other obscurities such as sports figures feel vindicated.

Anonymous 6:52 PM  

@Rex

As you said, The Simpsons is one of *[your] great passions in life*, and that *There are reasonable arguments to be made that "The Simpsons" is the greatest American sitcom of all time*.

This lets me know where you're coming from.

A commissioned (rather than submitted) puzzle running the same day as the referred to TV show that features the puzzle is more than a coincidence.

I agree the relationship can be beneficial to both, (per other blog comments), I just think a *promotional consideration given ...* disclaimer should be somewhere, even if only down with the 900 hint line number.

Once again, I'm not commenting on puzzle itself --- that's been taken care of by others.

.../Glitch

PS: The Cosby Show built NBC's Comedy Night, ran for a good number of years, had numerous notable viewers, and has been cited for it's social contributions.

Then there was Seinfeld, put yada yada in the dictionary and xword.

I don't think either is the greatest sitcom ever. The Simpsons makes 3. ../G

Michael 7:24 PM  

I was going to complain about Monica jealous...never mind...

I haven't seen the hidden messages, but will try to do so in the next 35 minutes.

Anonymous 8:30 PM  

Well, now we know the reason for the tortured Yul Brynner/Orson Welles clue! (Written at 8:30 p.m.)

Va.Beach puzzler 8:31 PM  

Wow, just finished watching "Simpsons" and found the second hidden message. Merle, you are a genius!

imsdave1 8:31 PM  

Wow - just wow.

chefbea1 8:33 PM  

that was great!!

jeff in chicago 8:34 PM  

So I guess what I thought was the second message wasn't one.

If you start at square 66 and go backward down diagonally, you see the name LIESL HOTCHA, which I have decided is Liesl Von Trapp's married name after she ditched that Nazi Rolf Gruber, fled to Italy and married Guiseppi Hotcha. (That's the beginning of my screenplay for "The Sound of Music II: Out of the Trapp.")

I guess that would be hard to work into the storyline.

jannieb 8:40 PM  

Ok - now that it's over, can someone spill the beans? I was busy watching 60 Minutes for probably the first time in forever.

Greene 8:42 PM  

Awesome!!! Did not see the second message at all. I bow to the construction skills of Merl Reagle.

Fitzy 8:51 PM  

Great tie-in w/ the Simpsons tonight!!!

Ryan W. Mead 8:57 PM  

For jannieb and others who did not watch: the basic gist of the episode was that Homer bet against his own daughter in a crossword puzzle tournament, making her furious. According to the show, Homer got Shortz and Reagle's help to create the puzzle as an apology for Lisa.

The first hidden message is very easy to spot. Starting at the first letter of 1-Across, going diagonally reveals the first of Homer's secret messages: "Dumb Dad Sorry For His Bet." The second message, a longer apology to Lisa, is found by taking the first letter of each clue (not the answers, the actual clues).

Besides this puzzle, Reagle also did a Simpsons-themed puzzle for his syndicated crossword today. In a typical example of Reagle punnery, The clue for "Bart" is "Homer's imp son."

jeff in chicago 9:07 PM  

BART as an answer is in the same place in both of Merl's puzzles. Is there no limit to his genius??

Ryan W. Mead 9:13 PM  

Besides "Bart" being in the same place in both puzzles, Reagle's syndicated puzzle also had a hidden message in it, starting from the lower-left-hand corner (okay, it's not really a secret, since he pointed it out in the clue): FABDCAFDBBBCBBBCEFFFF. If it doesn't make sense to you, try taking Merle's advice and playing it in F Major.

Tampa Claire 9:13 PM  

WOOOOOO HOOOOOOO -- what a cool thing -- two of my favorite things in the world intersect tonight -- yea!
Merle Reagle & Will Shortz -- I'm so amazed by the puzzles today and the Simpsons tonight -- what a true true delight --

mac 9:15 PM  

That was just awesome. Got even my husband excited, he taped the Simpsons so we could see the Obama's first, then straight to Lisa. What a tremendous feat! I am just awestruck, I'm putting the whole page on my Wall of Famously beautiful things.

JoefromMtVernon 9:22 PM  

So, I went on the blog to check yesterday's answers at 7:25 tonight (did both puzzles now) and saw the plug for the show.

Saw the show...WOW.

Then I went back to today's puzzle not realizing the tie in with the show. As a puzzle, it went quite smoothly; my only mistake was looted/loll for rooted/roll. (See, I didn't get it from the show; if they said it, I had a phone call during the scene, so I thought it was just a plot twist and not the genuine article). Thanks to Will for the maraud/freeboot back to back.

Not often you see both Pan and Smee in the same puzzle.

I miss Bloom County. Nice to see Opus. Was one of the first stuffed animals I won for my wife when we dated.

alanrichard 9:26 PM  

Wow, the diagonal from 1 across and the lead letter of every clue - wow!!!!!

Anonymous 9:30 PM  

Here on the west coast the show hasn't aired yet, I had to look away from the comments towards the end to avoid spoiling the surprise.

-Lefty

Noam D. Elkies 9:46 PM  

@anonymous 6:52 -- surely in this forum of all places somebody is going to stick up for All in the Family and M*A*S*H alongside Cosby, Seinfeld, and The Simpsons?

@Edith B: since this is my fourth post of the day, *and* I wrote that I'll not address this topic further today, I'll leave my reply to "which direction crossword puzzles ought [sic] to be pointed" for some other time. I'll note only that detritus, be it ERI or ERIQ, is a bug, not a feature; a copout for the incompetent constructor and a compromise for the accomplished one, but always a thing to be at best condoned, not celebrated. Now to be sure every puzzle compromises to some extent. The more constraining the theme, the more compromises ensue; today's puzzle is extremely constrained (two secret messages on top of the stacked theme answers), so it compromises a lot. I'd rather Will allowed a few more three-letter words and black squares, and even the occasional not-quite-symmetrical grid (cf. "LOY under OATH" a few Sundays ago), as the price for banishing ZASU and its (his? her? whatever) ilk from the grid forever -- or at least until Friday and Saturday. (While I'm waiting, constructors might use ZANU instead, as in -PF.) With so many trade names, Internet initialisms (LOL), and newfangled abbrevs. now available, there should IMHO be much less need to resort to detritus of any kind, be it your vetches or my kvetches.

NDE

P.S. "trace" in my previous message was an oblique/geek clue to the diagonal acrostic -- I'm teaching linear algebra these days, where the trace of a square matrix is the sum of the entries on its main diagonal. I'm still hoping to see Lisa learn integral calculus and graffiti "Simpsons rule!" on the blackboard one of these seasons.

P.P.S. 43 minutes for a Sunday? This week's may have been trickier than usual, but Lisa claimed it was her personal best; hard to believe she'd reach the final of a crossword solving contest with such a time...

dk 9:54 PM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
dk 10:02 PM  

Sigh or DOH, found a tv and learned that 8 PM EST is 7 PM in the mighty midwest.

Lovely wife and I found this puzzle easy.

Perhaps HULU will have the Simpsons Episode some time soon.

I have to agree with Rex, assuming someones impression of the puzzle is anything other than "one mans meat" may be more than a little pompous.. and I (aka moi) know pompous.

Good night.

jannieb 10:25 PM  

@ryan - thanks. What an awesome achievement!

hazel 10:42 PM  

I think its important to remember that its just a crossword puzzle - and i don't mean that at all as a put-down to the constructor - i thought this puzzle was brilliant.

The passion with which people argue about fill details and clues that aren't up to some standard or whatever - seems a bit over the top. Its just a puzzle. I've been battling and i mean battling cancer for 3 1/2 years - so to see people get all hot and bothered over a bit of wording strikes me as surreal.

I mean it really seems like some people do get angry about the puzzles or others' reactions to them - which is ??? to me. I'm definitely not trying to be judgmental, just providing my perspective.

treedweller 10:46 PM  

Waco might be a natural-seeming place for the Bush library, since his cedar ranch is not far from there, but he spent most of his time here in West Texas (out near Lubbock-Midland-Odessa). I think they went to Dallas because nobody else wanted them. Well, maybe the aggies did, but they already got his daddy and there's not all that much demand for libarries out in College Station, anyway.

Of course, Austin got LBJ. Some would probably say that's a dubious honor, at best, but we also got Mrs. Johnson's Wildflower Center, so I don't complain.

During college, I wrote papers on a hand-me-down PCJR, then took them (on 5-1/4" floppies) to the computer lab at the library to print them out. I thought it sounded like a goofy name, too, but it worked.

The confluence and collaboration between the show and the puzzle were amazing. I guess I can see now how people thought it seemed forced at times, but I enjoyed it even before I saw the hidden messages. How can you go wrong with MARISA PTOMAINE? I saw the DOH, having heard in advance about the tie-in, but still didn't catch BART, thinking only of buses and trains. well done!

Jason Valarik 10:51 PM  

I completed about 97% of this puzzle and had no idea of the Simpson's tie-in. While watching the Simpson's, when Lisa talked about 77 across, "Loses on purpose," I said, 'hey, that's in today's crossword!" Then it showed the puzzle and I caught the word 'harum' at the top and it blew my mind that the same puzzle was on the Simpson's. I wonder how many of us had that 'oh wow' moment.
I did a search for 'American Beauty pest' and found this blog.

mac 10:54 PM  

@noam: I generally agree with you -detritus has a negative connotation in itself.

@hazel: I am very sorry for your plight, and I am sure that anyone in your situation would find many diversions triffling, but we do no harm, we enjoy our little time on the puzzle and connecting with people who do as well. Most days the comments and the dialogue are very informative, friendly and supportive, in fact to friends with medical problems as well.

mac 10:59 PM  

@jason valarik: stick around!

Janie 11:03 PM  

dk -- hulu should have the episode, but it'll also be available here (fox's own site). it's a very funny episode -- for us cruciverbalists especially.

and thank you, hazel, for speaking to perspective and the placement of passion. hope you're doin' all right, under the circumstances!

;-)

janie

Rex Parker 11:16 PM  

"Just a puzzle" - that's verrrry funny.

I doubt that anyone today is genuinely "angry" about anything. Puzzles are a passion for many people (certainly anyone reading this). People argue passionately all the time about non-life-and-death stuff. Thank god.

rp

foodie 11:35 PM  

Wow, this is very cool! I saw the first hidden message, and I did figure out that the second message must have to do with the clues. But I went to the clues that seemed clunky (Yul Brynner, Young Wife of Chaplin) and tried to find a pattern associated with them...Since I'm at a meeting and have limited time, I had to give up.

In spite of being blown away by this feat of construction, I do want to echo what noam d. elkies said, primarily on esthetic grounds. Slightly less ambitious may have allowed more esthetically pleasing. I feel that the truest compliment is to hold someone you admire to the highest standards. So, I hope Mr. Reagle will see this as a sign of faith that he can come close to perfection, producing this level of brilliance while achieving all round elegance.

@Hazel, I too appreciate your perspective. I study emotions for a living, and passions are rarely proportional to their triggers-- that's what makes them fascinating. I wish you the best of luck!

green mantis 11:37 PM  

The Simpsons was great! (I thought.) I felt special knowing the ins and outs of the puzzle in the show and kept shouting out answers to Lisa, much to the nonamusement of my roommates. Loses on purpose kind of got me again today, even though every time it shows up, I remind myself to make a mental note.

I did think Will would be featured more, but whatevs.

Also PG, that Dubus story is one of my favorites. Did a lot of writing about it a while ago for a class about prose-to-cinema adaptations.

green mantis 11:52 PM  

And Hazel (one of my favorite names, by the way), nobody's getting seriously bunged up about the puzzles. This is just where we get to come and debate minutiae while knowing full well we would be gently recommended Ritalin or partial lobotomies in most other arenas.

Having real problems in our lives almost makes it more important to be able to come here and do that.

Orange 12:06 AM  

Noam, Merl's puzzle did have more black squares than usual, and a lot of 3-letter words. Me, I loved the acrostic-style "Easter egg" in the puzzle, but didn't find it as fun to solve as less constrained Merl puzzles.

Let me go on record as liking the pop-culture "detritus" just fine. To me, it's not detritus. (And I'll bet Eriq LaSalle doesn't think his name is detritus.) I wouldn't mind ditching mathematics and chemistry fill, but I'm not calling it detritus just because it's not to my taste. For puzzles with far less reliance on pop culture, there's always cryptics (which I enjoy) and Maleska collections (which I don't).

++++

Hazel, best wishes to you. Cancer always makes me use the F-word.

Edith B 12:11 AM  

Welcome, Hazel, to our little Debating Society where we can discuss what detritus may or may not mean far into the night without rancour.

Good luck in your battle and hope to hear from you again!

ArtLvr 12:13 AM  

@ noam -- thanks for the (possible) derivation of Bartholomew! Much fun -- now tell us what you have for Barack? I read about Barak being "shining" or "lightning" in Hebrew, but something else in Arabic -- I can't remember what. Anyway, I go along with your nominations: I vote for M*A*S*H.

As Orange noted, [Meshed person] was a clue recently, so today's RESEAU made me chuckle. Don't you think the Shortz latitude with popular "culture" clues and answers has been offset for those of us who are short on knowledge of those but longer than some other solvers when it comes to recall of foreign words? Something extra for everyone..

@v chefbeat -- Delicious, your Nikita Borscht!

@ treedweller -- I missed the announcement that Bush Senior's papers are going to Texas A & M, (my friend on the faculty there never mentioned it), but the idea of W's jottings and doodles going to Waco is rather nice if punned a bit into Wacko?

@ foodie -- please don't think that the answers Chandler/CHANNELER or Palmer/POLYMER are supposed to sound completely alike! Or was that a joke? I'm never as WISED UP to other people's humor as I'd like!

∑;)

Hope you all are still checking in, though it's late.

joho 8:48 AM  

@noam: I'll pick Seinfeld to make this an even 100 comments. I know that's silly ... but, seriously, I do think your suggestions are valid, all of them.

Orange 10:14 AM  

@foodie: Merl Reagle is famous for his punning proclivities—and the sound-alikes are often sound-similar-sort-of-but-in-all-different-ways. He may change initial letters, add syllables, change vowel sounds, etc.—and all in the same puzzle. It is the Tao of Merl.

Bill from NJ 12:59 PM  

Hi foodie-
Orange is right.

There is no hard and fast rule governing Merl and his puns.

English is my only language so I'm on unsure footing here but if you let your ear play with the sound of the idea, some of them are delightful, some are groaners and some are WTFs (Pardon my French).
But it's all in what you hear in your mind's ear.

hazel 3:58 PM  

@rex - I too argue frequently and passionately about non-life and death stuff - its usually in person, though where its just easier and more enjoyable because the give and take is more natural and i don't worry about people trying to figure out my "tone".

Based on the responses to my post, and my previous visits here, I'd say the overwhelming amount of "arguing" here is good-natured. In my opinion, though, raw nerves appear exposed from time to time - so I was just trying to make a point to a few that its really not THAT important.

And of course puzzles are more than JUST puzzles. The whole reason I've gotten into this NYT world was because of my medical condition - these puzzles provide a great diversion and challenge for me.

@everyone else who responded about my condition- keep cursing cancer and thinking good thoughts.

Anonymous 6:17 PM  

Thought the puzzle was just "OK" cause I didn't know anything about the Simpson's stuff. (I did it on Saturday and work all day on Sundays so I didn't see the show.)

My husband linked the epi to me and luckily I still had my grid on my desk. What a shock to see the 2 hidden messages. I am amazed! Kudos to Merl and Will for their cameos on my favorite show. If you want to watch it here you go....

http://watchthesimpsonsonline.com/movie/439-2006%20Homer%20and%20Lisa%20Exchange%20Cross%20Words.html

I hope this is allowed Rex...

Noam D. Elkies 7:08 PM  

@artlvr: Neither the Arabic "Barack" nor the Hebrew "Barak" has the Aramaic bar- prefix. The Hebrew indeed has two related meanings, one being "lightning", and the other closer to "sparkle" than "shining". The Arabic name, going by the Wikipedia entry, is "blessed", as in the more commonly seen Mubarak (used also in greetings such as "Ramadan Mubarak" -- a blessed Ramadan). The Hebrew cognates of that name mostly have the soft ch sound of Bach, as in Baruch.

@orange -- Verdi (and Somma) would likewise object to "ERI tu" being called detritus, but for the constructor ERI and ERIQ are both just convenient filler fill that doesn't happen to have a better definition.

NDE

James 5:34 PM  

I enjoy reading your comments on the puzzle every day. What perplexes me, though, is that on many days, when I struggle with it, you rate it easy. When, like today, I went through it with no particular problem, you rate it "medium to challenging". What's wrong with this picture?

Anonymous 1:46 PM  

Ye gads. I don't get the NYT until a week later. (Mpls) There was no indication on hidden messages anywhere on the puzzle page pertaining to the hook-up with the Simpsons. I do the puzzles in ink and cross out the clues when finished IN INK. I really, really, really, have a headache after 144 minutes of deciphering the message. ITS SNOT FAIR as my grandchildren would say. Enjoyed the whole thing, anyway. Regards

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