SUNDAY, Nov. 30, 2008 - Richard Silvestri ("Also Sprach Zarathustra" hitmaker, 1973 / Herringlike fish / Darius the Scamp? / Endor inhabitants)

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: "Uh-Oh" - "UH" sound is changed to "OH" sound in several common (or at least vaguely familiar) phrases, resulting in wacky phrases, which are clued with "?" clues

Rough. That is my word for this puzzle. The theme was humdrum. Basic. Bland. Unmemorable. As much bad stuff (LOAM AND ABNER, really? - 52A: Dirty radio sitcom?) as good stuff (PEACH FOES - 47A: Fruit flies?). It's got what feels like a remarkably low theme density. Only seven theme answers, and two of those are remarkably short. "ARE WE HAVING PHONE YET?" is godawful, especially for a central answer - the longest in the puzzle. The other wacky phrases are at least phrases that make a kind of literal sense. OK, maybe not the krappy LOAM AND ABNER, but the others at least seem imaginable, envisionable. "ARE WE HAVING PHONE YET?" has the unfortunate effect of both sounding like something uttered comically by a non-native speaker and evoking the torturous Verizon catchphrase, "CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW?" Ugh.

But the real story of this puzzle is the Bizarro fill, esp. in the N by NW section of the puzzle. The hardest section for me, by far, was the NW, where I had to endure a phrase no one has used since 1975 ("NO JIVE" - 19A: "Honestly, man" - which I was Sure was "NO JOKE," a much more current and in-the-language phrase) and a word no one has ever used (GNAR - 1D: Sound like an angry dog) . Then there's the seemingly invented ATONIC (23A: Not accented) and the never- before- seen- by- me DECEM (6D: X). If I hadn't known RAMIS (32A: "Stripes" actor, 1981) - and even that one took a second to come to me - I'd still be working on the NW. Never mind that everything else up there besides "Get A JOB" (3D: "Get _____" (doo-wop classic)) is clued in some weird, slightly off way. Not a pleasant experience.

A very close second on the lunacy scale is the MENHADEN (9D: Herringlike fish) / DEODATO (39A: "Also Sprach Zarathustra" hitmaker, 1973) crossing. I've never heard of either. If I hadn't known some Latin, I'd still be staring at a blank space where these words collide. I believe I might have seen DEODATO in a puzzle or clue, maybe once before. I have Never seen MENHADEN Anywhere ever. I'm still shocked that these two obscurities were allowed to collide. OK, not ASEC/PSEC shocked, but shocked nonetheless. The SHAVUOT (62D: Spring Jewish holiday) / LANARK (63D: Historical Scottish county) pairing gave me some grief in the Colorado region of the puzzle. I think I'd heard of the Jewish holiday before, but probably never seen it spelled. LANARK is a book I know, but I don't know what "historical" is supposed to mean in relation to a county. It existed in "history," yes. Lastly, in the gripe department, there's IANA (120A: Suffix for a collection) and CYTE (124A: Cell suffix) involved in some ugly suffix mating ritual down there in Louisiana.

Theme answers:

  • 29A: Helpful comment to a judge? ("There's the ROBE")
  • 47A: Fruit flies? (peach FOES)
  • 52A: Dirty radio sitcom? ("LOAM and Abner")
  • 67A: Jokey question to a Verizon technician? ("Are we having PHONE yet?")
  • 82A: Darius the scamp? (Persian ROGUE)
  • 88A: Pot-smoking cleric? (Friar TOKE) - two pot references this weekend! I had PRIEST ---- here for a bit. That damn "-RI-" suckered me in.
  • 105A: Result of excessive rowing (pain in the BOAT) - I really don't want "butt" in my puzzle, however disguised.

Last of the leftovers:

  • 7A: Web programmer's medium (HTML) - OK, so now it's a "medium." I can live with that. I remember there was some controversy over labeling a while back.
  • 21A: Economist Janeway (Eliot) - ELIOT reminds me of T.S.... or "Phone Home." Haven't heard of this economist.
  • 44D: Turkish inns (imarets) - thankfully, I'd seen in before. Otherwise - ouch.
  • 58A: Polonius's hiding place (arras) - aw yeah. Turns out they are not sword-proof.
  • 61A: Do some grapplin' (rassle) - turns out there's one thing I really like about this puzzle: this answer! I try to get my dogs to "RASSLE" every morning. They usually oblige.
  • 66A: Weapon in the Charge of the Light Brigade (lance) - ah, the Crimean War. Never goes out of style, somehow.
  • 75A: Cowgirl Dale (Evans) - a flat-out gimme. Huzzah! She is in good company. One of my other flat-out gimmes was ... COATI! (91A: Raccoon relative). $100 to anyone who can produce a picture of Dale EVANS with a COATI. No photoshopping!
  • 80A: Output of une legislature (loi) - for our Canadian solvers.
  • 93A: The story of the aftermath of Oceanic Flight 815 ("Lost") - I just spend several minutes looking for this "story" ... only to realize that the "LOST" in question is the TV show. Until just a few minutes ago, I was thinking that "LOST" was that movie about plane wreck survivors who eat each other. That's "Alive."
  • 92A: Endor inhabitants (Ewoks) - Endor is a forest moon. Like Oceanic Flight 815, it is also fictional (part of the "Star Wars" universe)
  • 113A: Hairy TV cousin (Itt) - easy enough. Most "cousins" are ITT in the puzzle.
  • 115A: _____ Torrence, American sprinter who won three gold medals at the 1992 and 1996 Olympics (Gwen) - came to me instantly, for reasons I don't understand. I don't follow track and field at all.
  • 121A: Henry Fielding novel and heroine (Amelia) - never read (or heard of) it, but I have friends who undoubtedly have. They make you do crazy !@#@# in grad school.
  • 5D: 1979 Broadway hit with the song "On This Night of a Thousand Stars" ("Evita") - luckily the answer is familiar, because the clue means nothing. In other musical news, I watched "Guys and Dolls" yesterday. Yes, I voluntarily watched a musical. And loved it (but I love hard-boiled fiction, and so the style and lingo and dames and what not were right up my alley). About halfway through, daughter came in the room: "What are you watching?" So she watched the rest with me. Is it wrong that I went back and specifically made her watch "Pet Me, Papa"? I thought she would love the cat suits (and she did).

  • I'm just hoping the whole ... metaphor of that song was utterly lost on her. We watched "Arsenic and Old Lace" on Friday. She Loved that. "I think those ladies are going to kill him (Cary Grant)" - "Uh, no honey, that's their nephew. He's going to be O.K."
  • 8D: Home-run run (trot) - love this. My littlest dog TROTs everywhere she goes. Sometimes we even call her "TROT-TROT."
  • 12D: Celebs as a group (A List) - Interesting counterpart to LINE A (123A: Form beginning). You know what word I don't like: "Celebs."
  • 18D: Plant circulatory tissue (xylem) - interesting X-cross with SAX (16A: Adolphe _____, musical instrument inventor)
  • 36D: "True blue" and gold team (U.C.L.A.) - That's "light blue" to you and me.
  • 66D: Poe poem that ends "From grief and groan to a golden throne beside the King of Heaven" ("Lenore") - Also contains the line "Peccavimus; but rave not thus!"
  • 89D: Mathematician Turing (Alan) - hey, I remembered his name! Now if I could just remember why he's famous ...
  • 90D: Miss Havisham's ward in "Great Expectations" (Estella) - just read this (well, part of this) this past summer. Forgot this was her name.
  • 100D: Fossil-yielding rock (shale) - Washington Post TV critic Tom SHALEs had been around a while, but is not yet a fossil.
  • 107D: 1982 Disney film ("Tron") - this should be automatic. If it says "Disney" or "1982" and it's in four letters - TRON.
  • 111D: War of 1812 battle site (Erie) - ah, my least-understood American war. And yet another way to clue ERIE.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

I'm in my local paper today. Man, my head is huge.


Crosscan 11:59 PM  

This puzzle was awful. DEODATO/MENHADEN?

And the upper left was a disaster.

We are not having phone yet.


Sarah F. 12:27 AM  


Yuck. I know I don't like a puzzle when instead of having the fun of an "Ah ha!" moment or two at the end, I am left thinking, "Decem? As in X-Mas, Decem-Ber?"

A big let down after a pretty fun week.

edith b 2:33 AM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
Buster 2:57 AM  

For some strange reason, I didn't find MOST of this as difficult as I thought I would on the first pass, but agree that the pieces that were difficult were nigh on impossible --- and then not really worth the trouble when you worked them out.

a disappointment

Anonymous 3:02 AM  

In the past, when negative comments have been made about puzzles, I have SIDED (with) the constructors since I am constantly in awe of how they pull this thing off!

BUT, today I am annoyed.

Not at the feeble theme or the non-punny jokes ("are we having phone yet" is neither funny nor cute - and doesn't even make sense).

Not at SHAVUOT, LANARK, DEODATO, or MENHADEN (none of which I knew) - while these words irked me, I gave the benefit of the doubt to Silvestri/Shortz since they understand grids better than most people and would have changed these sections if they could (and I can't tell).

What I AM annoyed about is the lack of interest in improving the puzzle - for example, take the NW corner, the one I usually start with. How difficult would it be to change the corner to get rid of the annoying GNAR, NOJIVE, DECEM crossings?

Since the NW corner is pretty isolated I have tried to create alternative solutions. Let me know if any of them would have been better:

Example 1:


Example 2:


Example 3:


My annoyance stems from the fact that if I could come up with three examples, maybe one of which you find is better than the original (and hopefully one which doesn't duplicate words in the rest of the puzzle - I already see ARTS being too close to ARTY somewhere else in the grid), why did S & S not spend the time on this puzzle to clean this crap up?

Oh well. I feel better now.


edith b 3:03 AM  

This post may make some people angry but it is not directed at anyone so I think it is fair. Well, maybe one person . . . Eugene Maleska.

This puzzle reminds me of what was wrong with Mr. Maleska. His puzzles always contained answers, cheek by jowl, that were arcane, obscure and, sometimes downright stupid (DECEM comes to mind today). And this puzzle was full of that sort of thing.

Well, in for a penny, in for a pound so here goes. There were several answers that exemplify my point and they are ANENT MANHADEN GNAR LOAMANDABNER AMELIA.

ANENT and GNAR are not in the language anymore, in my opinion, and GNAR probably never was.

MANHADEN is just a fish. If we are expected to know rivers like Aar and Oder that are obscure in their own right but are garden variety rivers in much the same way that MANHADEN is a garden variety fish. Some of us will know fish and some of us won't but I don't think that makes MANHADEN a bad answer.

That brings me to LOAMANDABNER which refers to an old radio show, Lum and Abner frim the 30s and 40s.

We all have a fund of general knowledge that we bring to puzzle solving and some of us have "Old Radio and TV Shows" in that fund and to those people, "Lum and Abner" will be a gimme just as those people who have "18th Century English Literature" in their fund will find "Amelia" to be a gimme.

My point here is that specialists and non-specialists bring all manner of information to bear in solving puzzles and every one has a different group of things in their general knowledge fund: Opera, movies, radio, television, Broadway and legitimate theater, mathematics, geology, architecture, medicine, music both high and low, Russian and French and English literature and on and on into the night.

What it means is that gimmes are relative and that Will Shortz has tapped into knowledge that is more meaningful to the general solver than Eugene Maleska.

Every dog has his day and people like Maleska's have come and gone and so will Will Shortz's eventually.

My intent was not to take shots at anyone and if I offended anyone, I am sorry but all this is my opinion only.

Anonymous 3:15 AM  

@edith b:

But, but, but .... even if you had a deep knowledge of old radio shows, the clue "Dirty radio sitcom?" would not make sense for loam and abner! I can see how Darius the scamp is a "persian rogue", but how the heck is Loam and Abner a radio sitcom? Lum and Abner was a radio sitcom and it was used as the original idea for the theme answer. Shouldn't the final answer stand on its own, without recourse to the sitcom?

What I am saying is .. we agree! This puzzle was annoying in many ways.

Ok, I said I felt better after my first comment. I feel much better now.

But maybe I will have one more comment later in the day ... so I can chill out.


Karen 8:02 AM  

Where's the hatred for IMARETS? It shows up one other time in a puzzle by Silvestri.

What's the definition for DECEM?

Never heard of DEODATA, MENHADEN, or Lum and Abner either.

Anonymous 8:48 AM  

Karen, DECEM is Latin for ten (X).

Andy 9:08 AM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
imsdave1 9:08 AM  

I found this one mostly easy, with the exception of some of the bizarre near Naticks (I actually drove past Natick yesterday, BTW). I knew menhaden as it is used as bait for bluefish and stiped bass on Long Island Sound. Deodato didn't bother me as I recall I was just starting to get into Strauss when that became a hit. We should be thankful it wasn't clued using his first name, Eumir.

If you get the chance to see a live performance of 'Guys and Dolls', go for it Rex. The movie really didn't capture the charm of the stage show.

Andy 9:12 AM  

In a word, "Dreadful." Also frustrating and not fun. Worse, no "ah-hah!" moments nor even "Hah-hah" moments.

No exclamations such as "Wow! Clever!" or "How in the world did they THINK of that?"

Just "Huh?" and a lot of "You've got to be kidding!"'s when I saw the answers. Please!

I expect much higher quality from the Sunday NYT these days. This looks like a recycled puzzle from the 1940's - - and that's an insult to the great puzzles of the 1940's!

JoefromMtVernon 9:22 AM  

Slow, plodding...lots of "Really, those are words?" (most Rex discussed).

The N cross of Lanark and anent...I had an R...did it really matter?

@Rex: Alan Turing is THE man in the field of Artificial Intelligence. His Turing Test is the basis of whether an agent (computer or robot) can be indistinguishable (sp?) from humans.


Greene 9:58 AM  

As I have mentioned in previous posts, I am not a big fan of the "add a letter" style of crossword construction. To that, let me add that I am now officially not a fan of the "change a vowel" style as well -- at least if today's puzzle is any kind of example. We've had some terrific puzzles lately, especially the last two Sundays; I suppose the pleasure I experienced working those gems led to some anticipation for this...thing. All I can say is, "What Happened?"

This was an extremely difficult slog filled with labored, unfunny punning and assorted arcania. I could happily put up with that if the ends justified the means, but here there was no payoff, no afterglow if you will. Hmm...unsatisfying puzzle as a metaphor for bad sex? OK, that I like.

My one bright spot today: Rex watched a musical! Given what I know about your literary tastes Rex, you couldn't have chosen a better title than "Guys and Dolls." It is a wonderful translation of Damon Runyon's punchy short stories into the format of a musical comedy. Frank Loesser and Abe Burrows really caught the spirit and style of that world of mugs and their dames quite perfectly. Nearly 60 years after the premiere, it remains for many (myself included) the ideal example of a musical comedy: a happy, funny, tuneful, sentimental world filled with delight and surprise. And it is ageless to boot. Since it inhabits its own unique musical universe, it never seems dated or tired, even now, and never requires any rewriting in revival.

I have quibbles with the film -- namely the casting of the men and some fiddling with score -- but it's still a pretty good representation of the Broadway original. You really need to see the show live in the theatre to get the full impact. There is a new revival coming to Broadway in the spring of 2009 which will star Oliver Platt as Nathan Detroit (which sounds like interesting casting to me). Rex, you and your family should totally go. You too Fikink. I know I'm going.

JannieB 10:07 AM  

Didn't like it, couldn't finish it, didn't care.

John in CT 10:08 AM  

I guess it helps to fish a lot. Menhaden was a gimme. They are more commonly known as "bunker", and are known by anyone that fishes on the east coast. I have some in my freezer if you'd like one Rex. Although I wouldn't recommend eating them, as they are mostly used for bait. I imagine they taste terrible.

Carol 10:14 AM  

Delurking to ask what the deal is with "cyte" being a suffix for "cell"? I googled it, and as far as I could tell, CellCyte is a biotech company, but not an actual word. Does anyone have insight?

Isabella di Pesto 10:39 AM  

These Sunday puzzles are getting more arcane. For years and years I was able to work out a clue and then think--okay, I get it, or yeah, that's correct.

Now the puzzle makers are getting into areas that are know by only a few. Loam and Abner for example. Never, never, heard of Lum and Abner. Never.

Peach foes was just stupid.

What has peach fuzz have to do with Fruit flies?

Bah. Humbog!

steve l 10:45 AM  

@Carol- -Cyte is a suffix meaning "cell," not appended to cell-. (That would be "phone.") Examples: oocyte, leukocyte. In my opinion, with so much to complain about with this puzzle, this is a good clue and answer.

Also, nothing wrong with X and DECEM. Both are Latin/Roman for ten. I thought it was quite clever, actually.

@pgitk--LOAMANDABNER are a dirty radio sitcom just as much as Darius the scamp is a PERSIANROGUE. The cluing is parallel. The real problem is that no one under the age of 60 has ever heard of Lum and Abner.

There's a lot of obscure stuff in this puzzle, and it wasn't very satisfying in the end, but I didn't have as extreme a reaction to it as some did.

On the other hand, it's a quarter to eleven, and no one is here yet for the brunch we have planned. TENAM seems a little early for brunch. That would just be a late breakfast, I think. To me, brunch is breakfast food (plus maybe some lunch food) at lunch time.

Rex Parker 10:51 AM  

I can envision a PERSIAN ROGUE. I cannot envision a LOAM AND ABNER. Is it ABNER standing next to a pile of LOAM?

DECEM has never been in the NYT puzzle under Shortz's watch. Not once. It's got precisely ONE attestation in the entire cruciverb database (a Reagle puzzle), and then as a prefix, and THEN it's marked as an "irregular entry." There is everything wrong with DECEM (esp. given its placement in the wackoville NW).

nanpilla 11:02 AM  

Just a terrible slog with no fun to redeem it. The only interesting thing to me were some of the juxtapositions.

that was cute, especially since I used to live on one (Any Kwaj brats out there?)

I also like to imagine a

nanpilla 11:04 AM  

Sorry, hit the wrong key!
I like to imagine

and the whole puzzle made me want to try a

So disappointing after yesterday's beauty.

HudsonHawk 11:05 AM  

I rarely have the same complaints that Rex posts, and I often find the criticisms by Rex and others here a bit harsh. Not today. I won't pile on, but I agree with most of the negative comments (and I completed the puzzle). Ick.

Anonymous 11:09 AM  

This puzzle was difficult, but it was not rewarding. The answers were forced, not because they were obscure--obscure answers are part of the fun of solving--but because they really didn't make sense. My reaction to many of the answers was "huh?"

Rex, congrats on your appearance in the Press. I graduated from SUNY--now renamed (rather insecurely, I think) BU--quite a few years ago. I majored in English and vaguely remember a professor named Vos, though I never had a class with him. Funny, but the style of articles in the Evening Press--is it still known as the Evening Press/Sun Bulletin?--hasn't changed much at all. Consistency in the editing, I guess. I enjoyed the article.

Ladel 11:10 AM  

OK, we all agree, better to sort your sox or polish your bowling ball than waste too much time on this one. How about a few kudos for Rex' "head" piece in the local paper. His answers made some of the dumb questions look good, well done Rex, and I think I'll leave it alone at that. What a great response to the salad answer.

Anonymous 11:18 AM  

We used mossbunker as bait for blue crabs at the jersey shore never knew they had another name, didn't care. I didn't care for this puzzle.
Briefly scanning it this morning the first clue my eyes lit upon was "pot smoking cleric", thought I was in for a good time, I was wrong.

PuzzleGirl 11:38 AM  

This puzzle was No Fun At All. Someone was definitely asleep at the wheel here. RASSLE and LOST were the only bright spots for me. Oh, and I really enjoyed my mistaken entry of BALLAD for [Beth, for one].

Anonymous 11:38 AM  

Just for the record and constructors who are reading, the complaints today are right on - no fun, no reward. Disappointing for a rainy Atlanta Sunday morning.

foodie 11:53 AM  

To be positive, here's some good stuff that would be fine and even funny in the context of other fill:


and I also liked CORAL on top of ATOLL crossing TROPICAL. It makes me want to go to Hawaii or Australia or something...

@Ulrich, from yesterday, many thanks for the explanation re the ABLE vs. IBLE ending. It makes a lot of sense that it should derive from the Latin origins, and made me realize that one reason I get it straight is because of French.

@ Fikink, I liked the fact that you were "courted" in that old VW van!

@Edith b, I have a feeling that the reason there were quotation marks around "courted" was that some hanky panky went on that courting would not subsume.

@Kathy D, it's interesting that VW vans also evoke political activism!

Shamik 11:53 AM  

I won't rant more than anyone because it's been done. And so it was with the Maleska era. Back then I finally called them "arcane crosses of 'Hawaiian food fish' with 'Burmese monetary unit'." Incessantly.

Had one letter wrong 'cause I confused MENHADEN with FINNAN HADDIE. This gave me LOAMANDABEER...a much better dirty radio sitcom IMHO since it at least offers a libation.

As brilliant and enjoyable as yesterday's puzzle is as unejoyable as this one is. SoI won't even list my usual mis-starts.

BTW...was in "Guys and Dolls" twice as a teenager. gotta go to NYC and see it on Broadway.

Ulrich 11:58 AM  

When I saw Dummkopf and had the starting "d", I put in "Depp", which is German slang for, well, Dummkopf, especially in the south. I mention this only b/c it is a testament to Johnny Depp's appeal that he could obtain a huge fan base in Germany in spite of having a name that sounds like Johnny Dolt to a German ear.

Re. decem. Would it have been less offensive if it had been clued "X in Rome"? I'm asking b/c that clue was the least of my troubles in this puzzle. The MENHADEN/DEODATO crossing was ungettable for me, but it obviously was gimmie-ish for others--goes to show...

bill from fl 12:06 PM  

Ok, I agree with all of the complaints, especially about MENHADEN/DEODATO, which I just guessed to finish up. And I would have had a clean grid, except for guessing ABBECY/IMERETS, which was obviously wrong in retrospect.

I didn't like DECEM, but it was my foothold in the NW, because it gave me the E and I in EVITA.

Janie 12:08 PM  

seriously ambivalent about this one (if that's even possible...). AREWEHAVINGPHONEYET is my fave of the theme fill -- and i actively enjoyed PAININTHEBOAT. so -- diff'rent strokes for diff'rent folks, etc.

still -- there was something "old school" (and not exclusively "maleskan") about a *lot* of the fill -- which was a bit of a let down. puzzle construction ain't easy, but i sure wish this one had gone back to the drawing board for some more polishing before publishing.

not that anyone really needs to be SCOLDED at this LATEDATE. i managed to enjoy it enuf and solve it all sans artificial intelligence. just that (with XYLEM, DECEM, EGRET, COATI, ANENT, ABBACY, e.g.) this one appears to have more than its share of STRETCHY and/or [sigh] kinda tired fill. no doubt we'll see peppier sylvestri puzzles in the future that'll more than compensate!

congrats, rex, on the local coverage -- and belated happy b'day!


Janie 12:14 PM  

oh -- and re: guys and dolls -- please try to find a copy of the script of the stage show. and a copy of the broadway album (preferably the original, but even a revival). play/listen to the songs as they appear in the script. talk about "cherce"! this is the real deal!!


Justin 12:14 PM  

. . didn't enjoy this Sunday, but I don't blame the puzzle's author. We're led to believe that in a buyer's market, W. Shortz has his pick of the best puzzles in the world. The editor is responsible for CHOOSING this puzzle for publication. I agree with an earlier comment . . where is the editing?

Anonymous 12:37 PM  

Hated the puzzle; agree w/others.
too much obscurity for me.
can some 'splain peachfoes?

Congrats Rex on the ink - nice write-up!

joho 12:45 PM  

When I was kid on the vacation road in the stationwagon with my parents and brother, my mom at some point when we were all miserable would say, "Are we having fun yet?" ... at which point we'd sink even deeper into our gloom.

This puzzle had the same affect on me today.

@rex: loved the article on you. In that photo you look a bit like Elvis Costello ... have you ever heard that before?

jeff in chicago 1:04 PM  

I won't pile on either. Hey...they can't all be winners.

My only amusement came from seeing ODDS and EVANS right next to each other.

@Rex: I agree that you should see a stage version of "Guys and Dolls." But not just any old production. It is a classic musical, but because the main characters are so archetypal, you need a good cast to pull it off. Saw a bad "G&D" once and it was BAD!

@PuzzleGirl: Someone a Kiss fan?

Anonymous 1:06 PM  

would someone pls explain 125A? Thanks.

hereinfranklin 1:06 PM  

Just so dull...almost feel asleep on my laptop. Did love FRIARTOKE though.

Doris 1:37 PM  

"Pet Me Poppa" was written especially for the movie version of "Guys and Dolls." It's not in the original version and is not up to the level of the rest of the score. Can't understand why they needed to put it in the movie. Saw a B'way production a few years back with the incomparable Nathan Lane as Nathan Detroit. But Oliver Platt in the upcoming one should be good, too. BTW, that's why Nathan Lane is "Nathan." He played it once before and loved the name. His real first name is Joseph. And, finally, Jonathan Schwartz on NPR or XM Satellite is playing all Frank Loesser songs this hour. A treat!

Didn't mind the puzzle. Part of the point of puzzles is to have obscure stuff. Didn't know menhaden or Deodato, but knew everything else including, regret to say, Lum and Abner.

Pinky 1:44 PM  

For a while I had
But realized that was more of an "Uh-Ah" than an "Uh-Oh"

pinky 1:45 PM  

Correction - I meant more of an Ah-Oh than an Uh-Oh

joho 1:46 PM  

@ulrich: I forgot to mention before how interesting it is that Depp means Dummkopf. I love Johnny Depp ... I wonder if he knows what his name means? He'd probably think it's funny.

Doris 1:53 PM  

Just noticed Anonymous's (1:06) question. "Beth" is an Anglicized version of the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet: aleph, beth, etc. Or similar to the Arabic alphabet, I believe. Thus the answer "letter." Of course, at first, all I could think of was the sadly deceased sister in "Little Women." Wrong.

jae 2:01 PM  

Yuck! My wife knew MEDHADEN but I still got DEODATO wrong because RUT for "Line at a track" didn't make sense to me. Not fun!

foodie 2:43 PM  

Rex, interesting interview!

What was the name of the cafe in Ann Arbor where you and your friends solved your first Sunday puzzle? If they're still around, they should put up a sign: "Rex Parker Solved Here!"

Anonymous 2:45 PM  

Yes, an irritating puzzle.

Alan Turing was the British mathematician who cracked the Germans' "Enigma Code," leading to the Allied victory in World War Two. Despite having saved the planet, he was persecuted and prosecuted for his homosexual orientation and, as a result, committed suicide. See: "Breaking the Code," a play by Hugh Whitemore.

mac 2:59 PM  

Well, I'm in CT but I guess I don't go out fishing enough. Friartoke was a nice moment in the drudgery of this puzzle. Another one was when I figured the "x" in the top right!

@Rex: very nice article, and good photo. Hey, if you take all the advice given above, you'll be the world's 55th best connoisseur of "Guys and Dolls"!

Thought of the flesheating survivors instead of the tv series as well, and of course Little Women instead of the alphabet.

@Ulrich: when I read the word "Dummkopf" I immediately thought "Esel".

@nanpilla: Fry fez: you want to eat your hat?

Gnarbles 3:00 PM  

For 1 down, was that a Scandinavian dog saying "Gnar"? My dogs say "Grrr". They are a Great Dane, English bulldog, and a terrier mutt. All rescue dogs.

Anonymous 3:00 PM  

a FRIAR is not necessarily a CLERIC. In fact the term originally was specifically non-clerical - BROTHER - as a sign of humility, brothers in Religious orders not being PRIESTS. I only got IMARETS because I am reading The Janissary Tree by Jason Goodwin.

mac 3:03 PM  

@Anonymouse 2.45: there is also a wonderful film with Derek Jacobi about The Enigma (Alan Turing). I was living in London when it was on the BBC, and apparently more people stayed up to see it than any other film that year.

Sancho 3:20 PM  

Darn, I just lost my lengthy comment just before posting it! I think I'm ready to abandon NoScript extension for Firefox...

Anyway, I agree with most of what others have written. This puzzle was a real drag in the NW corner (should have gotten "Decem", but years of Latin didn't help me even when I had four of the letters. Lum an Abner is completely unknown, as is Menhaden (and who the heck is Ranis). So three squares were unfilled, and I was left unfulfilled. Happy I didn't pay $5 for the remaining fish wrap though! The clue for 123 across ("form beginning") was clever.

Speaking of the New York Times, anybody get all 16 animals in "Animal Tracks"? I have 16 answers, but one is "duck", which though technically a female form of the avian waterfowl ought to be disqualified by the same rule that disallows "dog", which is technically a male canis familiaris. I also have "boar" (male pig), though that's also the asexual term for a wild porcus. Should I keep looking, or am I done?

fikink 3:34 PM  

Rex, I would love to think my request for Luck Be a Lady Tonight yesterday was the final crack from the dave-greene-fikink camp to make you take the plunge. (How can you compete with, "A lady doesn't wander all over the room and blow on some other guy's dice?" set to a great score?! )
@dave, Rex watching a musical!!!!! We must take small steps; the movie is, at least, an introduction to the music.
AND greene, thanks as always for the background info and the heads-up on the upcoming production. (We will talk further.)

@JoefromMtVernon - what about Hans Moravec? Where does he fit into AI?

@foodie, you are absolutely right about "courting" - otherwise, I would have referred to Mr. Fikink as a suitor ;-)

As for the puzzle, for me it was a chore, kind of like cleaning the house.

Hi, Doris!

Garymac 3:40 PM  

DECEM/RAMIS was just plain bad. I don't know enough Latin to have heard of DECEM and had never heard of RAMIS, although I have seen several of the movies he was in or wrote. Everything else was at least gettable, even MENHADEN and DEODATO rang some faint bells.

Anonymous 3:41 PM  

Holy Guacamole! Finally gave up on the puzzle, but when I filled in the letters I didn't know with black, I got an almost symmetrical grid again.
We did have Lum and Abner about a year ago, but the Loam/Lum phonetic exchange does not work here in the South. Still, we haven't had a repeat of the Wrath of Klahn, and that thought completes my Thanksgiving weekend.


Jane Doh 3:54 PM  

Uh-oh a grouchy group today.

I kinda liked the theme, but then I love cheesy puns. Except for LOAM AND ABNER (didn't know the base phrase), they were amusing, especially ARE WE HAVING PHONE YET, which brings to mind my hate-hate relationship with Verizon, and PAIN IN THE BOAT, which, as a rower, I can relate to.

Can't disagree with complaints about the fill, even though I knew all the answers. Was a bit of a slog. A lot of the down-words cross two theme answers, so are fairly constrained; still it seems there could have been a better solution for the upper-left corner, where there are no restrictions. I did like the RAMIS/"Stripes" reference -- one of my all-time fave films, and just as cheesy as today's puns.

Sancho: I have 16 answers, including BOAR, not including DUCK.


chefbea 4:04 PM  

I too agree - not a fun puzzle for a rainy day in connecticut.

Never heard of menhaden - thought it might be some sort of delicacy til I got here.

Did know Lum and Abner (guess that's letting in on my age.)

Also wanted Beth from Little women.

Great writ-up Rex. was the cafe in Ann Arbor - Zingerman's?

Z.J. Mugildny 4:05 PM  

No need to pile on, but I will. Terrible puzzle today, just terrible. A Sunday NYT puzzle has not been this bad since the one with the tree/song theme some months back, and actually this one might be worse.

joho 4:08 PM  

@Sancho: I haven't done it yet, but I believe each animal is supposed to have four legs which definitely eliminates DUCK.

Rex Parker 4:19 PM  

Article got it wrong. I did indeed solve xwords in Ann Arbor cafes, but solved my first Sunday puzzle (with friends) at The Coop on the campus of my college in Claremont, CA.

Gratzi and Espresso Royale were the major, State Street cafes when I was in grad school in Ann Arbor. Solved MANY a puzzle in those places.


PS all the gushing about musicals today is not increasing my taste for them one iota. You all are like ... well, some religious group / cult that wants desperately, relentlessly, annoyingly, to convert you. I won't name one, lest I offend someone.

Ulrich 4:22 PM  

@mac: I also started with "Esel" ("ass") for Dummkopf--goes to show what happens if you overinterpret b/c you know more about the clue than the constructor does.

Re. Alan Turing: I actually saw Derek Jacoby in the role on stage in New York--it was really memorable even if you didn't know much about Turing at the start. For us computer geeks, he is one of our unquestioned heroes b/c he's one of the founding fathers of digital computing as we know it--way beyond artificial intelligence proper.

Sancho 4:23 PM  

Thanks Jone Doh and joho, I finally got it. Truly, duck would not have qualified.

Just when I was ready to throw up my hands, and it was only a three-letter answer.

Whew! Well at least that sense of accomplishment helps to mitigate the sour curds left by the crossword. Splitting Hairs was kind of fun too, thought it flew by in a trice.

Sancho 4:30 PM  

Uh, sorry: JANE Doh. (I'm horribly embarrassed by my numerous typos. Guess I'll never get used to typing on a laptop.)

ArtLvr 4:55 PM  

Like Jane Doh, I found this more enjoyable than most of you -- original puns! Especially PERSIAN ROGUE... Overall, a mind-bending challenge which took ages, but was satisfying like a seven-course dinner: you wouldn't want one every day but it can be great fun on Thanksgiving...


Jay Ballou 4:59 PM  

Hard and not fun, but aside from that most of the complaints are silly. X = dec.. -- what could be more obvious? The second e is a gimme from the xw, as is em from Latin. Fruit flies are peach foes and fit the theme via fuzz -- geez. Loam is dirty so that's the dirty version of the radio show -- ? means something -- jeez. Are we having phone yet -- it's "jokey" -- who needs grammatical? And what 21st century literate doesn't know Alan of Turing machine/Turing test/Enigma/gay suicide fame??? Not to mention cyte -- good grief, get a basic scientific education.

Rex Parker 5:00 PM  


Azim 5:14 PM  

Probably the corniest Sunday NYT's puzzle I've 'solved' in a long while! Surely Will Shortz has some control on the final product, or is 24 across ("Will's opposite") in play here?

mac 5:26 PM  

@Rex: what does "Ponca" stand for again, I forgot.

Glitch 5:54 PM  


I don't think they are attempting a *conversion*, I believe it might be more of an *intervention* --- to rescue you from the clutches of a certain TV cartoon cult ;-)

Anonymous 6:01 PM  

Thanks, Doris, for your response on Beth. I, too, kept trying to make "little" work.

fergus 6:05 PM  

I just misread the the "Leave your comment" as "Leave your complaint." My finished grid was an ugly mess, too. The SE corner offered some interesting possibilities in CAJOLE, DECANTS, but ultimately proved unsatisfying.

J 6:29 PM  

@Azim . .

yes, Mr. Shortz, and every puzzle editor, has complete control over the finalised version of the puzzle. here's an interesting story about the editor

Stan 6:54 PM  

I'm a little upset that everyone disliked this puzzle since I for once solved it in less than a day, despite the near-impossible NW corner and the reference to 'Lum and Abner' which I'm quite sure I've never heard of in my life (and I'm *not* under 60). Also, my wife had to help me with 'Menhaden' and 'Lanark' -- both requiring actual knowledge as opposed to pun-guessing.

To confess, I had even a harder time on SE, because I wanted 'Pamela' for the Fielding novel (yes, I know it was by... Richardson?) and 'wiper' instead of 'decal' -- as usual, a little knowledge is dangerous.

But I am a happy camper to have done it before Thursday, and post on this excellent blog!

Anonymous 7:36 PM  

Yes -- not difficult but really irritating. I did like FRIARTOKE, though. DEODATO was just gratuitous -- for the first time in a while I had to google: "zarathustra 1973 disco" yielded the answer, but usually when I'm resorting to googling at least I have the satisfaction of feeling like a bit of an idiot for not knowing this. I thought knowing that there was a disco version was already pretty good.

MENHADEN wasn't a challenge -- it's actually one of the most common fish, eaten both by people and by other fish. Don't know if I'd compare it to mackerel, though.

Don't get me started on GNAR.

Michael 8:11 PM  

I'm with the crowd on this one -- especially irked with menhaden/deodato (my one mistake was the d crossing) and decem (yes x = 10, but really obscure, I think).

Just to add one more complaint -- as a long time chess player, I've hardly ever seen knight abbreviated knt. Nowadays N is almost always used; Kt was common in the days of descriptive notation.

Greene 8:36 PM  

ATTENTION ALL MUSICAL THEATRE CULTISTS: Subject has unraveled nefarious conversion plot. Blog coup foiled. Abort, abort!

fikink 8:46 PM  

(Beware the cole slaw on the shark's back!) imitation Hitler,
but with littler charm...
But, oh,... Can that boy fox trot!

SCOTUS Addict 9:02 PM  

I've got a horse right here.

I did not like the puzzle today.
I did not like it in any way.
I did not like it across and down.
I did not like it, it made me frown.

@ Edith B: That's what I loved about Maleska. Sort of like reading old Penguin paperbacks from your parents bookshelf that contain a world now gone.

Honestly man! 9:25 PM  

41 D Tropical drink embellishment
81 D Kind of storm (TROPICAL)
isn't this out of bounds?

Karen 9:29 PM  

I want to see more of the word 'crosswordease' from Rex's article. Maybe that can be the new term for etui, olio, epee, et al. Hah, my spellchecker doesn't like either etui or olio.

sillygoose 9:44 PM  

Sometimes, when I can't complete a puzzle, I call my Dad only to find that there is a generational divide in the cluing, and he has had no trouble at all. NOT TODAY!

Although he had heard of Lum and Abner, which I hadn't, and didn't know HTML, which I did, we blanked on all the same sections, most discussed above.

My Dad and I are 45 years apart, so, I don't know who this puzzle was made for. Not for us, thats for sure.

edith b 10:07 PM  

@Scotus Addict-

Old Eugene T. represented the Gold Standard of Puzzledom and when you reached the point of being able to figure out the crossing of Hawaiian food fish with Burmese monetary unit (as Shamik so aptly put it) Boy, you had arrived.

The puzzle in TV Guide resembles the Maleskan Ideal in its aspect of demanding rote memory over wordplay.

Both had their devotees, I guess, but I prefer what we have today.

Joe 10:38 PM  

Sancho, was the last one STOT?
ps Rex, since you gave a shout-out to Canadians for LOI: LANARK is also a county in Ontario.

Orange 10:38 PM  

MENHADEN! I knew that one. DEODATO came strictly through the crossings (and I wasn't sure that 30D would be RUT and not, say, RUN), as did LANARK. I was surprised to see the combination of ABBACY (crossing IMARETS, which I know from crosswords—the singular isn't that rare in puzzles—but many others did not), old-crosswordese ANENT (jeeze, that one crossed both LANARK and SHAVUOT?), and DECEM crossing ATONIC and NO JIVE. And TEN A.M. is definitely on the early side for brunch; it could fly as a Sunday breakfast time.

jae 11:34 PM  

Thanks Orange. My debate was also between RUT and RUN. I went with RUN (drat!). I'm still having problems with the clue, I can see a RUT as a line in a track but, at a track???

I got Lum and Abner from at least one previous puzzle after it was explained to me by a friend over 80 (I'm over 60). I've also run across ANENT previously.

SCOTUS Addict 12:13 AM  

In college in North Carolina I spent a semester at a Marine Lab downwind from a menhaden processing plant. Some days you were convinced the smell would kill you.

Am I the only one with a vague memory of menhaden popping up in a Shortz puzzle not that long ago? Or was it an airline mag puzzle? Anyone?

@Edith B, I agree that it's a big tent. I'm often torn between the Maleska-pole and the Shortz-pole.
When the word play is devious and subterranean, there's nothing better. When it's precious it bothers me. I also don't like slapstick. One man's ceiling. In my (often incorrect) memory Maleska was not devoid of wordplay. Just extremely dry.

Part of my nostalgia may be explained by the fact that my dad, my first Scrabble partner, insisted that you couldn't use a word if you could not define it. For years I actually believed that was in the Scrabble rules.

So, I was raised dry.

Anonymous 1:48 AM  

Agreed, horrible, HORRIBLE puzzle.

Nebraska Doug 7:45 AM  


okenter 2:07 AM  

@anonymous 11:09am: The paper is now known as "Binghamton Press & Sun Bulletin."

Also, thee were two "celeb" clues this week: 12D and 112D, which was just "celeb."

The Oceania flight question got me, too. I like this blog, and shall continue reading!

kas 5:34 PM  

I agree -- lots of words I'd never heard of -- couldn't even google them.

Anonymous 7:43 AM  

Horrid. Same comments as others, had NO JOKE forever, couldn't believe NO JIVE could be right. Also had ATONAL which was messing me up in the NW.

The good thing is finding out that, Rex, you went to grad school at UM. It elucidates your comment about the UCLA clue, which had me thinking along the same lines. Hey, at least the clue wasn't for OSU for once (blech)! As a Michigander, I was happy to see the Tigers represented.

-Michigal in Iowa

  © Free Blogger Templates Columnus by 2008

Back to TOP