1934 novel Maw'id / SUN 1-2-11 / German photographer Bing / 1968 hit song Nazad / 1985 hit song Neung Keun / 2003 film Érase una Vez

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Constructor: David Levinson Wilk

Relative difficulty: Medium


THEME: "Works in Translation" — Easy to understand, but hard to describe. The theme answers are titles with the pattern "Something in Somewhere." The "Something" is translated into the language spoken in "Somewhere" to create the clues. Got it?

Word of the Day: AVEDA (79D: Skin care brand ) —

Aveda (pronounced ah-vay-da) was founded by Horst Rechelbacher in 1978. In 1970, Rechelbacher, on a trip to India, was introduced to the healing properties of Ayurveda (the Hindu science of longevity) and the vision for his company (and the name Aveda) was born. Horst had formulated the first product, a clove shampoo, in his kitchen sink. Today Aveda is part of Estée Lauder Companies, Inc. According to the company's website, "Aveda" is Sanskrit for "all knowledge," but in fact means "no knowledge." (Wikipedia)
• • •

Greetings, Rexites. This is Doug Peterson, in the house with PuzzleGirl, and ready to do some semi-serious crossword blogging. We're filling in for Rex today, but I can assure you that he is not drunk. However, there was a rumor going around that he's been hopped up on goofballs all weekend.

I'm very glad to be talking to you today. You wouldn't believe the hoops I had to jump through to become an official Rex Parker contributor. There was a background check, blood test, retinal scan, and … a couple other things I don't want to talk about right now. But it looks like I've been approved and am good to go. If the RP security goons drag me out of here before we're done, PuzzleGirl can finish up by herself.


The reason we're doing team blogging today is that we usually solve the Sunday puzzle together. Personally, I just got tired of Sunday puzzles several months ago. They're just too big! For some reason I really feel like I'm just slogging my way through a 21x21. So Doug suggested we solve together on the New York Times “Solve with a Friend!” applet and we've done it that way ever since. To make it interesting, one of us solves only the acrosses and the other does only the downs. We try to stay in the same general area as we're making our way around the grid, but sometimes that doesn't work too well. If you look at the grid we posted, you'll see that some of the letters are green (those are the ones I entered) and some are blue (those are Doug's). Sometimes when we're all done, the whole grid is pretty much Doug's color and that's embarrassing. When that happens, I usually come up with some lame excuse about how my kids were bugging me or the smoke alarm went off or something. I'm pretty sure Doug knows I'm lying when I do that, but he's too nice to say anything.

Theme answers:
  • 27A: 1934 novel "Maw'id" (APPOINTMENT IN SAMARRA).
  • 38A: 1968 hit song "Nazad" (BACK IN THE USSR).
  • 47A: 1985 hit song "Neung Keun" (ONE NIGHT IN BANGKOK).
  • 68A: 2003 film "Érase una Vez" (ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO).
  • 90A: 1951 film "Une Personne des États-Unis" (AN AMERICAN IN PARIS).
  • 99A: 1912 novella "Morte" (DEATH IN VENICE).
  • 114A: 1943 novel "Whaddya Tink? A Sapling Stays a Sapling Fuhevah?" (A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN).
(Note: The bulleted list above contains English-alphabet versions of the clues for 27A, 38A, and 47A. The original clues are shown in the image underneath. Thanks to the NY Times and its Wordplay blog for providing the image. We tried to insert those funky foreign letters into our write-up, but it wasn't working at all. Apparently English is the official language of the Rex Parker blog.)

If you're wondering who came up with that wonderfully lame theme explanation up top, it was me, Doug. Some of you may still be confused, so let's look at an example, say, 99 Across. "Morte" is the Italian word for "death," so the word "Morte" is literally "Death in Italian" or specifically "Death in Venice." The rest of them follow the same pattern. "Maw'id" is Arabic for "appointment," "Nazad" is Russian for "back," etc. Very clever! And the last one, written in Brooklynese, is the most awesome of all. I love when the constructor saves a killer punchline for the last theme entry. Well done!

Bullets:
  • 31A: Harold's car in "Harold and Maude" (HEARSE). Herman's car in "The Munsters" would have been an easier reference for me. [Claire's car on "Six Feet Under" for me.]
  • 64A: Electrophorus electricus, for one (EEL). Really? This reminds me of the pseudo-Latin names they used at the beginnings of Road Runner cartoons. Road Runner would be classified as "Acceleratii incredibus" or "Velocitus delectiblus" and Wile E. Coyote as "Famishus vulgarus" or "Apetitus giganticus."
  • 76A: Constellation next to Ursa Major and Ursa Minor (DRACO).
  • 85A: Brilliant display (RIOT). Tricky clue. I've heard the phrase a "riot of color," so it works.
  • 113A: 90% off? (SENILE). My least favorite clue of the day. I don't need to see a "funny" clue for SENILE. People affected by senility are 90% off? That's just cruel.
  • 123A: German photographer ___ Bing (ILSE). Ah, the great Ilse Bing! If you look at the grid, you'll see that this answer, even though it's an Across, is all in green. That means that PuzzleGirl filled in every letter for me.
  • 127A: Classic brand of hair remover (NEET). I learned recently (from Orange's blog) that Neet is now known as Veet. Remember the ads for the hair removal product called Nads? Seriously, Nads? If I weren't so mature, I'd find that name hilarious. I could find out more, but there's no way I'm typing www.nads.com into my browser.
  • 1D: Bike brand (YAMAHA). I wanted SCHWINN. Totally different kind of bike.
  • 4D: It's often visited during a trip (MOTOR INN). Oh yeah ….
  • 5D: Failure to communicate? (PHONE TAG). This is an awesome clue. PHONE TAG is one of those terms that used to be totally hilarious and now it's just like a normal thing to say. Isn't that funny how that happens?
  • 8D: Daily or weekly (ADVERB). This one stumped me for quite a while. I thought it would have something to do with magazines or newspapers or some other type of publication.
  • 11D: Author Steinhauer with the 2009 best seller "The Tourist" (OLEN). No idea. [We already have Robert Olen Butler for our OLEN clues, and that should be sufficient. Now we need to remember another author no one's ever heard of?]
  • 41D: "And who ___?" (ISN'T). One of two relatively snippy colloquial phrases in this puzzle. See also, 81D: "Any day now" ("I'M WAITING").
  • 52D: Area crossed by Marco Polo (GOBI). Wait, Marco Polo didn't travel across a body of water calling out to his crew members to guide him because he was, I don't know, blind-folded or something? I've really had that wrong all these years.
  • 94D: Comic who said "A short summary of every Jewish holiday: They tried to kill us. We won. Let's eat" (ALAN KING). Okay, that's funny.
  • 101D: Gourd (NOGGIN). Here in the PuzzleHouse we prefer "melon," as in "Can you get this shirt over your big melon or is it time to send it to Goodwill?" (That's me talking to PuzzleSon. The first thing I said when he was born — and I'm not making this up — was "Oh my God, it's huge." The boy has a big head, is what I'm saying.)
  • 104D: The Supreme Court, e.g. (ENNEAD). "ENNEA-" means "nine." There are nine Supreme Court justices. Quick — name them! No cheating!
When I found out I was going to be teaming up with PuzzleGirl on today's blog, I told her, "I hope we get a good one!" And today's puzzle was great, so no worries. I thought the theme was fun, clever, and consistent. You can't ask for much more. But I would like to make a request of Will Shortz and future Sunday constructors. Could you please try to make sure you have theme answers running in both the Across and the Down directions? It makes it more fun for those of us who only get to see half the clues every week. I don't have my own cool sign-off yet, so I'll borrow one from Ryan Seacrest: Peterson out!

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter] [or PuzzleGirl] [or DougP]

63 comments:

Doug 2:23 AM  

Nice co-write up, guys. Is that pic of Carson Daly, or Olen Steinhauser?

Also while the SENILE clue was clever, I thought it was un-PC for the Times. A good answer for "90% off" would be RRATED, and an alternative clue for SENILE could be "Grey label?"

Is our fearless leader back shortly? I miss his pithy take on things, e.g. "Crap clue. Crappier answer."

HAPPY 2011 to all of you!

Rex Parker 7:07 AM  

This was very good. Best Sunday of the year!

No, seriously, I really liked it.

Thanks, Doug and PG.

Bob Kerfuffle 7:50 AM  

Fun puzzle, with the noted exception of 113 A.

One write-over: Had KERALT before KURALT, probably because my brain wanted to put in KEROUAC (even though it wouldn't fit!)

glimmerglass 8:36 AM  

Best Sunday puzzle in a long time. I hated the clue for "senile"; loved the Brooklynese and the snippy clues (I'M WAITING and who ISN'T). I keep mixing up Neet and Nair. Once bought a product to kill body lice called Barc (Barc is "crab" backwards). Never herd of AVEDA or ANIS but guessed the A. Loved the Wikipedia reference on AVEDA (I'd like to hear that the phony-balony Sanskrit words for yoga poses are mistranslations, too. Maybe "down dog" really means "show me your butt").

Smitty 8:56 AM  

Thanks all! I enjoyed the write up better than the puzzle (which had it's moments, but too many of them)

My Stare At Without Getting Award:
HEARSE (kept seeing HEALIE)
REASON (kept looking for a 2 word answer like READ ON)

PHONE TAG= best word of the day.

minor kvetch
EACH seems like "Every's" partner. ONE seems like "All's" partner.

joho 8:58 AM  

Fun Sunday and write-up, too!

I had chicK before STORK and wanted Balding for BLOND.

My favorites were PHONETAG and the clue at 114" "Whaddya Tink? ..."

Marky Marko Polo 9:24 AM  

Motorin'! That was funny. I can't hear that song now without (well, puking, yes, but I was going to say "wthout thinking of that awesome, dreadful scene in Boogie Nights.")

Go Frogs!

jackj 9:54 AM  

When the first theme answer became obvious, early on, (as John O’Hara’s APPOINTMENTINSAMARRA), it signaled to me that maintaining the gimmick could mean tired, pedestrian fill, (again), in order to protect the theme answers and, surprise, surprise, that is what we got.

Except for PHONETAG, IMWAITING and NOTSOHOT there seemed to be a definite drought in the non-theme answers. Most glaring example, perhaps, OIS, “____for owl”, c’mon, at least just use Sue Grafton’s “O” title in this totally unimportant clue and get over it; no need to concoct a sophomoric attempt, which is much too cutesy.

In fairness, the Alan King comment was priceless.

mitchs 10:01 AM  

Love the pseudo-Latin reference! I can imagine some good yuks in the writer's room at Looneytunes.
The themed answers were fun...but a lot of the fill wasn't for me.

ELWES/AVEDA? Nattick.

imsdave 10:05 AM  

I think you should call yourselves DougPG when you co-blog.

Excellent write-up (obviously, intelligence guided by experience) of a very good puzzle. I eschewed looking up the foreign spellings and found that it had zero impact on being able to solve the puzzle. Got the theme off of SSR.

I rarely get into the stats thing, but noticed an awful lot of names in this one (many of which were totally unknown to me). My quick count shows that there are 24 - wondering if that's a record.

Constructor Destructor 10:12 AM  

Cute idea, but a couple of theme answers were so obvious I didn't need any crossings. Theme answers should require at least a few crossings, otherwise there's no "Aha." One wrong letter at ITALO/ORAN since I had IRAN, but I won't let it ruin my day.

This constructor is no slouch - he has his own syndicated puzzle, even - but this one used *so* many icky 3- and 4- letter "words" like OLA, OIS, MSGR, ENE, OSE, ANIS, ABIE, ATMO, CDE, OCTA, CRI, and RCMP. There are also a slew of bizarre names like TAMI, OLEN, and KURALT (all crossing the made-up YALEU). Then there's the dupe of ITOR and ITSABET, which could've been easily avoided by making it ITAR/ASE, if anybody had cared to care.

In summation: theme was decent but re-emphasized the deficiencies of Across Lite, and the fill was NOTSOHOT.

oldactor 10:14 AM  

I had a very PC answer for 90% off: ONSALE, but not for long.

Leslie 10:14 AM  

Very fun and creative puzzle. I'm pretty easily satisfied by fill words, especially when I think I'm not going to get them and manage to do so anyway, as with DRACO, NEALS, G.I. JOE (before my time), INKY (after my time) and so forth.

LOL'd at the crack about Rex's goofball habit!

Evgeny 10:23 AM  

since the Russian word is in a theme answer, i gotta be a bit nitpicky today - the clue just isn't right. "назад" means "back", but only in the directional sense, as, for instance, in 'i'm (going) back to the USSR'. In the Beatles song "back" means 'i am (again) back in the USSR' and there's just no way to translate this with "назад". That's why the line goes 'cнова в СССР' ('again in the USSR') whenever the song is translated. Apparently no native speaker of Russian was asked when the clue was written.

A very nice puzzle otherwise, though

retired_chemist 10:49 AM  

I suspect I am not alone in sensing the theme from the first theme answer I got, then assuming (correctly) that the rest were isomorphs. The first one was A TREE GROWS.... The foreign language clues in the pdf were NO help to me. Nor, I suppose, to many of us. But thanks, NYT, for the nod to the AL solvers' problem.

Liked it. Favorite aha moment (After A TREE...) was from the Roman numeral 59D. Knew it would be MD__, saw the Spanish clue, noted that MDX(I,V,L) would fit with *MEXICO, and POW! ZAP! Another long one bit the dust.

Tried UMICH for Ford's law school. Nope... NAIR for NEET. Ditto. RIYAL for DINAR. Ditto the ditto.

Happy with O IS for owl, also would be happy with O IS for Outlaw if clued to indicate Sue Grafton.

@ Doug and adolescent boys in spirit everywhere: when I was in grad school, the Chem. Dept. at Berkeley fielded two bowling teams. One (mine) was the Fatty Acids and the other was - wait for it - the Nads. Can you figure out what their cheer was? I knew you could.....

captcha pized - but not at this one. Thanks, Mr. Levinson.

Vega 10:58 AM  

I so agree: the Brooklyn clue/answer at the end was killer. And as the #1 Beatles fan in the universe, I could kick myself that I didn't get 38A off the SSR. I kept staring at the downs wondering which of them could possibly be wrong. Ugh. I'm gonna guess I'm in the minority on this, but I love "One Night in Bangkok" and could listen to it over and over, both the male and female versions. There, I said it.

Anonymous 11:12 AM  

For the third day in a row enjoyed the write-up more than the puzzle, except I cannot believe you guys are still picking on Rex for his addictions. We all know he is the addictive type. How else could he do all these puzzles day after day and dedicate himself to this blog 24/7? And we know he enjoys a Manhattan on his anniversary, so today’s revelation about other substances came as quite a surprise. As for the puzzle my first entry was 120D – C-D-E....

Captcha was a mink -- perfect for Chicago weather and the game at Green Bay (15 above).

Go Bears

Noam D. Elkies 11:24 AM  

Neat puzzle idea to start the new year, and some neat things besides (yes, 5D:PHONE_TAG is nicely clued, some pretty long stacks, etc., and the puzzle neatly saved the best (Brooklynese punchline) for last). I don't mind 119D:RCMP — better that than trivialities like 95A:ELWES and 120D:CSINY — and I cannot account for the 113A:SENILE clue (I thought there might be an alternative meaning like decile, quintile, etc. but apparently not).

But there's a big whopper in the foreign-language clues, even worse than using the wrong "back" in 38A's назад. The Arabic in 27A is a mess. It's been decades since I studied Arabic, so I couldn't translate "appointment" off the top of my head, but I can still usually pronounce the letters. It seems that they were going for تعيين, which is what Google Translate suggests, and probably sounds something like Ta'in. (Maw'id seems to correspond to the first alternative, موعد, though that looks to me more like Mu'ad, likely cognate with the Hebrew Mo'ed מועד; I can't tell which Arabic word is more appropriate for the 1934 title.) But what's in the clue looks nothing like تعيين. For one thing, the letters are drawn from left to right, while Arabic, like Hebrew, is written R to L; for another, each letter is shown in its isolated form, without the obligatory connections. The resulting effect is comparable to writing the 99A clue as "1912 novella E T R O M". While only a small fraction of the readers will recognize this whopper, but the NYTimes does reach speakers of Arabic, Russian, and Thai as well as Spanish, Italian, and Brooklynese, and usually prides itself on getting such things right...

A small puzzle to reward those who read through that whole rant: find the two English words that are anagrams of "phone tag".

Enjoy, and Happy Prime New Year,
—NDE

retired_chemist 11:30 AM  

2 NDE - two separate 8 letter words?

SethG 11:33 AM  

Great theme, best Sunday in a long time.

PG, nice Night Ranger reference, but I can't believe you passed up So I Married An Axe Murderer. Doug, Nads.com is...about depilatories, but go-nads.com is truck balls.

snail whisperer 11:39 AM  

It doesn't matter which "back" is referenced, as long as it means "back" in the right place. Otherwise, the clues would have to translate the complete titles.

Shamik 11:45 AM  

FUN puzzle....except I had a square wrong for 130A. My abbreviation was DEST as in destination. And it made sense with the royal canadian mountieS. Silly me. Easy-medium time. Really laughed at "ATREE..." My spotty beginning made this one long like it was going to take a VERY long time. But it was really about 17:22 to not getting Mr. Happy Pencil and 19:25 after I'd looked through it and corrected a square or two but couldn't see my final error. Both are in the easy-medium time for a Sunday for me.

Ulrich 12:04 PM  

I don't think some one has mentioned this before, or perhaps it's too obvious to mention, anyway: What I liked particularly about the thematic clue/answer pairs was that they reverse a typical xword pattern: "Never in Nürnberg" could be the clue for NIE; but in this puzzle, it's reversed: "nie" would be the clue for NEVER IN NÜRNBERG.

@snail whisperer: I don't think so. What Evgeny is saying, they used the wrong Russian word in the clue, and that can, indeed, be easily fixed by asking someone who knows the language. I have said this many, many times: Just consulting a dictionary can lead you astray when context matters.

In any case, I never cease to be amazed at the carelessness with which foreign languages are treated by American authors or editors. For example, I have a collection of Philip Dick novels edited by J. Lethem (not a slouch himself). In the first one, Dick uses some German, and he gets the spelling or the footnotes often wrong. I assumed that Lethem had maintained the original mistakes for reasons of authenticity and would explain them in the footnotes--but no, not only does he not point out the mistakes, he adds new ones!!! In all of these cases, just asking a native speaker would have cleared things up b/c the mistakes are so obvious, but the thought apparently never occurred to Lethem, or the editors of the series. I could go on...

Mel Ott 12:06 PM  

Born in Brooklyn and still fluent in Brooklynese, so I was able to throw down 114A with no crosses.

Entertaining puzzle.

The skin care brand and the actor were a personal Natick for me.

I also did not like the clue for SENILE.

chefbea 12:08 PM  

Tough for me but with a few googles finally finished.

What is Koi pond.???

Loved pitcher of milk!!!

Great write up!!!

Matthew G. 12:16 PM  

What snail whisperer said. "Nazad" means "back" in Russian, which is good enough for purposes of the puzzle. Evgeny is correct about his native tongue, of course, but is neglecting the license that crossword convention allows. The same kind of changed-meaning wordplay would be allowed for a clue entirely in English, so it's fine in Russian-to-English too. Also, the word Evgeny suggests would suffer from the deficit of not obviously looking like Cyrillic when printed in a Roman-alphabet paper: CHOBA. With "nazad" (which I can't replicate on this particular keyboard), no such problem.

I minored in Russian in college, so BACK IN THE USSR was my first fill in the grid after Cyrillic jumped out at me. As others have noted, this is the kind of puzzle where you can fill in most of the theme entries quickly as soon as you have any of them. I had all except APPOINTMENT IN SAMARRA and ONE NIGHT IN BANGKOK filled in in the first minute, I think. Normally, a theme that's too quick to solve counts against a puzzle for me, but in this case the whole idea was so clever (and in some cases, so humorous) that I absolutely loved it. I love David Levinson Wilk's sense of humor. Laughing at the final theme entry probably added a good minute to my solving time.

I rate this easy-medium for a Sunday. Like Puzzle Girl, I'm sort of lukewarm toward Sunday puzzles, having come to prefer the crisp tightness of the mid-to-late-week 15x15s. Sundays, especially heavily themed Sundays, can feel more tedious than fun to me. There's just too much grid to trouble with. But this one I tore through with chortle after chortle. Great stuff, David!

snail whisperer 12:21 PM  

@Ulrich I know what Evgeny was saying. I still disagree. If you ask a Russian translator what the word is in English and he replies, "back," the clue works, regardless of what the context/definition might be. The trick is [English word] in [another language/place]. The fact that they all make actual titles is why it's so clever, but nothing in the puzzle suggests that the English word has to have the same meaning as the foreign one. In fact, I think it is better the way it is (though I don't know enough of any of these languages to have noticed the "error" anyway).

Noam D. Elkies 12:24 PM  

@Ret.Chem.: Yes, there are two different 8-letter words, each of which is an anagram of PHONE TAG (and thus also of the other 8-letter word).

@Ulrich: Nice point about "Never in Nürnberg" etc. But still the answer shouldn't be EIN (unless there's also a reversal theme going on in the puzzle).

נדא

David L 12:29 PM  

Clever and entertaining theme -- my knowledge of various of languages is enough to let me find the answers, not enough to be picky about the precise choice of words. But I agree with Evgeny and Noam D.: if you're going to construct a puzzle like this, you ought to get the foreign words right.

I had an error with AVEDO/OBIE, not knowing either (although AVEDA rings a bell, now that I see it). The phrase "and who ISN'T?" isn't in my vocabulary. And SENILE for '90% off' doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me -- although if the meaning is what I think it's aiming to be, then it's horribly insensitive, to say the least.

Evgeny 12:42 PM  

the clue referenced the 1968 hit, didn't it? so it'd be nice to have the right word from the particular title. @ snail whisperer: following you logic, it would have been ok to take 'спина', which means 'back' (the body part) or 'поддерживать', which means '(to) back' (support) - i could go on. And yet the clue's author took the adverb. All i'm saying: close, but not right. The mistake in Arabic is much worse anyway, if NDE is right.

HEPTAGON and PHATHOGEN 12:50 PM  

@chefbea

Koi is a oriental "goldfish" and many landscapes have decorative outdoor ponds featuring them.

P>G>

ArtLvr 12:52 PM  

Happy with this Sunday puzzle to start 2011, and I hope we'll have more of this caliber! The cluing in general was better than usual, and the team of Doug P and Puzzle Girl did a super job too!

I laughed at getting off-track with 103D's clue, ___ de coeur, still digesting the HILUM of an organ from yesterday, and my last fill was fixing my 5D Phonetic to read PHONE TAG.

I'd prefer returning to ANIS clued as crossword-dom's favorite Blackbirds, rather than slog through various proper names. Why strain for more people to reference where it's not important?

Something like Too-frequent senior moments might have improved the SENILE clue, but I expect it was irresistible to use one that could misdirect a solver to On sale at first (my hand's up there). It's a tough condition to contemplate in any case, as we found at Xmas when son-in-law suddenly had to fly to Florida to help his dad find a suitable assisted-living accommodation following two scary diabetic crises. Mission successfully accomplished, thank goodness.

∑;)

Faux Laminate 12:55 PM  

Oh, great, a puzzle that invites people to talk about foreign languages. Great.

Matthew G. 1:08 PM  

I think you're still missing the point, Evgeny. How the title of the actual song would be rendered po-russki' is irrelevant to the theme. The concept of the theme is: A single word that happens to be in a title is excised from the context of that title and then translated into the language of a place mentioned elsewhere in the title. Removing words from their apparent context in a clue is always permitted in crosswords in instances like this.

Look at it another way. Assume, for the sake of argument, that Russian, like French or Spanish, were considered well known enough to Times readers that its words could themselves be answers in the puzzle. I guess this happens with NYET, actually, but assume NAZAD also is well known enough to be an answer. A constructor clues NAZAD ?-style with {Back in the USSR?}. You cannot tell me that doesn't work as a clue/answer combo, can you? "Nazad" is a word that means "back" in Russian, and we see the same kind of changed-context misdirection in every language we get in the puzzle. So here, it's the same basic arrangement, with a little extra window-dressing in the form of a year and a description of a format (a song). Yes, he could have chosen a different Russian word for "back," but (1) for the reasons I've just said, he didn't have to do so, and (2) if he'd used the one you suggest people would have thought it was Roman characters spelling something that looks like "choba."

About the only argument I can see here is that the constructor should have clued the theme entries ?-style. But I'm fine with the fact that he didn't, since I don't really demand that additional hint in theme entries, only in fill.

This is not cultural insensitivity or linguistic ignorance at work. It's wordplay, and it's a brilliantly constructed puzzle.

r.alphbunker 1:09 PM  

I liked that three clues used foreign alphabets; I am glad that I took the time to download the PDF.

I really liked the theme and have reread the puzzle several times just to appreciate it.

@Ulrich's point did not occur to me and increased my enjoyment of the theme.

Clue: Jan 2, 2011 minor web event "crasyses"

Answer: meaningless human response in cyberspace.

snail whisperer 1:28 PM  

@Evgeny thank you for understanding my argument. Yes, I believe either of those alternate words for "back" would be just fine. I still don't understand why you don't. Seems like you advocate for Monday-level cluing and I like Thursdays better.

mitchs 1:30 PM  

@Faux: I like these esoteric foreign language discussions on this blog. Don't understand most them, but enjoy them. I'm awestruck by non-native English speakers who do these crosswords.

Who wrote that learning another language is like gaining a second soul?

Ulrich 1:39 PM  

@snail whisperer and Mathew G: I get your point. It occurred to me afterwards that the answer would work, in the reversed order sense I referred to, if you take "Back in the USSR" not as a song title/line, but as a clue of the type I mentioned ("never in Nürnberg").

@NDE: I assume you mean NIE, and I swear I have seen this type of clue in a puzzle that didn't have the reversal theme. BTW The best clue I ever saw for NIE, and for any German word for that matter, was "When German pigs fly"--same basic idea!

Faux Laminate 1:48 PM  

@mitchs, I don't know who wrote that. My guess is that it was a stupid person trying to sound profound. Why do you ask?

mitchs 1:58 PM  

@Faux: Because I can't remember.

Sparky 2:02 PM  

Had most of it. First break, the Brooklyn book, then all but two fell into place. Did not fill in starts of Bangkok and Mexico. Which is to say, DNF. There did seem to an awful lot of names. Did not like YALEU, SENILE. Liked STORK, BLOND. Win some, lose some.

ChefBea: There is a Rum-Beet Mousse recepie in the Times Magazine today.

chefbea 2:08 PM  

@sparky - think I'll stick to plain roasted beets for a salad or a side dish or a soup. Dessert????

ArtLvr 2:09 PM  

@ mitchs, you aren't far off! Studies have shown that people using a second language through their middle years have, on average, a five-year delay or more compared with non-foreign language speakers with regard to eventual onset of Alzheimers, if it's in their future at all. Quite interesting, n'est-ce pas?

∑;)

davko 2:13 PM  

Great puzzle, thanks to a catchy theme and lots of nice clues that, lacking crosses, beckoned more than one answer (such as SELLER, VENDOR, or BILLER for an empty 106D).

I even had HEALEY for 31A for a while before realizing there's no way the morbid Harold would ever have been driving around in a sports coupe! No, not even in a PASEO.

Bob Kerfuffle 2:17 PM  

@Ulrich - I may be starting to lose track here, but re: your response to NDE, it has been mentioned in the comment string that some of the foreign, non-Roman character clues ought to have been written backward, so EIN and NIE could also enter that realm, jokingly.

And speaking of jokes, I may have put this out on the blog previously, but, hey, it's a new year:

What do you call someone who speaks three languages?

Tri-lingual.

What do you call someone who speaks two languages?

Bi-lingual.

What do you call someone who speaks one language?

American.

jae 3:26 PM  

I liked it too. Easy-medium for me. Other than ZIP for VIM no real problems. Nice write up guys.

quilter1 4:17 PM  

Just back from CA and AZ and did the puzzle while unpacking, doing laundry, etc. Loved the Brooklyn clue. Loved the theme, although I hadn't heard of some of them, they came through crosses and guessing. Love the language discussion too. It reminds me of when my husband's Aunt Olga visited from Latvia and he became exhausted translating, especially things that really couldn't be adequately translated, like chipmunk. Lots o' laughs. Happy New Year.

You think you're Thor? I'm tho thor I can hardly .. 4:18 PM  

@PG - I'm guessing Doug P overwrites your nice green letters with his blue letters. Remember, his full name is Douglas Loki Peterson.

Anonymous 4:21 PM  

glad someone else picked up on the peculiar Arabic. The letters as printed made no sense. I'm just old enough to remember the book!

retired_chemist 4:42 PM  

@ NDE - got word 1 of your puzzle, got word 2 a bit later, then forgot word 2 for at lest an hour. Then remembered it. I must be getting 113A.

Van55 4:55 PM  

While I agree with Rex that this is the best Sunday puzzle so far this year, I really didn't like it. Strange, almost unfathomable theme. Plus the random geographic direction between cities, plus the stupid and lazy alphabetic run, plus the RRN. I could say more, but I don't need to. I'm too busy reveling and crying, "Skoal."

NATE 5:30 PM  

@RET_CHEMIST at 10:49

Please explain Nads for the name of the other team and
captcha pized

Anonymous 5:35 PM  

hand up sadly for ital/I/ran. otherwise all fine. shoulda known better and did think of the O but...oh well. enjoyed none the less. used to teach middle- schoolers "a tree grows...." and am very fond of that book.

archaeoprof 5:42 PM  

Enjoyed the crossing of ELWES and IMWAITING. Cary Elwes starred in "The Princess Bride," in which one of the laugh lines was "I"m waiting!!!"

Ulrich 5:49 PM  

@Bob K: Ouch--yes! NDE is just too smart for the likes of me.

Falconer 5:53 PM  

This is the definition of a "fun" puzzle. Theme was amazing -- original, consistent and amusing. Some of the fill was forced but that is to be expected from such an elaborate and well executed theme.

''Appointment in Samarra'' was based on a W. Somerset Maughm retelling of an Arab folk tale. It is a parable about fate, and something I often think about when doing something dangerous, like jumping out of an airplane or skiing off a cliff. If it's not time for your appointment in Samarra, you might as well take your chances and have fun. And if it is, well, c'est la vie.

Here is the tale, which appears as an epigraph at the start of the O'Hara novel:

"A merchant in Baghdad sends his servant to the marketplace for provisions. Shortly, the servant comes home white and trembling and tells him that in the marketplace he was jostled by a woman, whom he recognized as Death, and she made a threatening gesture. Borrowing the merchant's horse, he flees at top speed to Samarra, where he believes Death will not find him. The merchant then goes to the marketplace and finds Death, and asks why she made the threatening gesture. She replies, "That was not a threatening gesture, it was only a start of surprise. I was astonished to see him in Baghdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra."

Evgeny 6:01 PM  

@snail whisperer and Matthew G. I see your point and probably have misunderstood the concept of the theme, although i like it less now that i got it. Thanks for the explanations.

mac 6:54 PM  

I feel the way PG does about Sunday puzzles, but haven't given them up. This one was all fun to me. I worked perfectly North to South, got the theme in 27A and enjoyed the whole way down. Lots of stuff and people I had no idea about, but the crosses were doing their job.

@Noam: I went through your whole rant, then the puzzle, to find the 8-letter words.... D'oh. Like
@Shamik, had RCMS, thanks for allerting me.

@ismdave: good one!

@ArtLvr: I like that little study! Gives the citizen hope.


wings!

JaxInL.A. 7:15 PM  

This tag-team write-up really worked for me.  Very funny, nice chemistry between our guest bloggers.  Doug, I'm glad that your DNA and relevant body fluids passed muster.  I had no idea that "solve with a friend" was even an option.  I tried to find the applet by searching the NYT site but got nothing. Finally I found   
href="http://www.nytimes.com/ref/membercenter/help/xwordtogether.html" target="_blank">this instruction page at the NYT (I hope that the link worked, as I am new to this stuff and can't find the nifty guide that i remember on Rex's site last time).  Both players need to have premium NYT crossword subscriptions to use it.  Is that different than a regular one-year sub?  

I'm trying to decide if I agree with PG that the size of a Sunday puzzle takes some of the spring out of the daily experience, or if I like having the extra squares to solve.  Even on Sunday, demands of family, house, etc. can make it hard to find the time to finish, and it just ain't all that much fun if you don't finish.  Hmmm...  Never thought about it that way. I can certainly see the attraction of doing it with a friend.

And PG still did the L.A. times puzzle from Merle Reagle over at L.A. Crossword Confidential. You guys are great!

Yesterday's Rose Parade included a 40-foot tall tribute to Pacman's 30th anniversary, so I had a recent reminder of Pinky, Blinky, Inky and Clyde (the little gremlins). Didn't know they all had names, didya?

Gotta go eat the Jamaican food we just made (ackee and salt fish, rice and gungu peas, chocho, and tart tamarind balls for dessert for any Caribbeans out there). Such burdensome holiday demands continue.

Looking forward to Rex's return, for all that I have enjoyed the guest contributors.  Thanks to everyone for keeping us going in Rex's absence!      

mmorgan 7:38 PM  

I think I just had too many distractions today to fully get into the vibe of this puzzle. I didn't love the theme, but it seems like the Times really and truly got the idea of letting people know of differences between the AL and print versions. That's great. And this time, I'd say it was the AL version that was easier (unlike the episode we had last week).

I did like some of the fill -- IM WAITING, STORK, ITS A BET, NOT SO HOT, RCMP, and more - really nice. But hand up for a mild ewwww over SENILE.

Had one error -- I had STA for STN (44D) so my Pac-man character was IaKY, which I had no reason to doubt. Like @chefbea I have no idea what a KOI pond is (I know, I can look it up!!)

My wife always has lots of Aveda stuff around. No mystery there.

My favorites (as aesthetic works, not answers) are AN AMERICAN IN PARIS (what a film!), BACK IN THE USSR (I'll arm-wrestle you for being the top Beatles fan, @Vega), and ONE NIGHT IN BANGKOK ('Chess' actually has some great music and this song doesn't quite fit the rest of the score but it's a winner for me).

Great write-up, you two.

muntegit - an RCMP figured out 119D

Eric Halsey 2:40 AM  

PHONETAG was delicious indeed, although I was stumped on it for quite a while, having NEILS instead of NEALS for the 43A cross.

I also liked ADVERB for 8D, and spent a lot of time being misdirected by the clever Daily or weekly clue. Baby bird -> STORK and Pitcher of milk -> ELSIE drew chuckles from me.

And, I spent an agonizingly long time having 12D (Use logic) as DEDUCE before I finally regrouped and saw that it would be REASON.

Funny thing about this puzzle is that the theme answers got progressively easier the lower in the puzzle. Now I know this often seems true, as we get more and more "tuned in" to the theme, but here it is literally true: First theme answers were all in more or less incomprehensible (at least to me) alphabets, followed by increasingly friendly European languages that I was progressively more able to translate, and finally the last in (fractured) English!

Eric

PIX 5:52 PM  

@64A..."Electrophorus electricus, for one"...since "Electrophorus electricus" is a scientific name for a species, it should be in italics or at least underlined.

Ralph 3:21 AM  

Newbie here. Last week I had my first success on the Sunday puzzle and thought I would come back for more. I am thankful that Back in the USSR came to me early. It made life a lot easier.

Phonetag was clever but 8D drove me nuts. I went down the periodical path before noticing the "ly" endings.

As for our friend 113A, I'm normally cool with non-PC, but this just seemed cruel.

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