Onetime South African PM Jan / WED 3-17-10 / RKO film airer / Polynesian paste / Glittery glue-on

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Constructor: Patrick Merrell

Relative difficulty: Challenging

THEME: ST. PATRICK (37A: March figure ... or, when split into three parts, a title for this puzzle) — puzzle involves wacky phrases created by swapping ST for PA in familiar phrases, i.e. by performing an "ST" / "PA" TRICK.

Word of the Day: Jan SMUTS (42A: Onetime South African P.M. Jan) —

Field Marshal Jan Christiaan Smuts, OM, CH, ED, KC, FRS (24 May 1870 – 11 September 1950) was a prominent South African and British Commonwealth statesman, military leader and philosopher. In addition to holding various cabinet posts, he served as Prime Minister of the Union of South Africa from 1919 until 1924 and from 1939 until 1948. He served in the First World War and as a British field marshal in the Second World War. // For most of his public life, Smuts, like many other native South Africans of white Afrikaner heritage, advocated segregation between the races and was opposed to the unilateral enfranchisement of the black majority in South Africa, fearing that would lead to the ultimate destruction of Western civilization in the nation. However, in 1948 the Smuts government issued the Fagan Report, which stated that complete racial segregation in South Africa was not practicable and that restrictions on African migration into urban areas should be abolished. In this, the government was opposed by a majority of Afrikaners under the political leadership of the National Party who wished to deepen segregation and formalise it into a system of apartheid. This opposition contributed to his narrow loss in the 1948 general election. (wikipedia)

• • •

Hmm. A pretty (self-)indulgent puzzle. Your name's Patrick, it's St. Patrick's Day. Good for you. Pat (!) yourself on the back.

This is really a Thursday puzzle masquerading as a Wednesday, but I've got no problem with that. Today is the holiday in question, so why not just go for it? Fine. The problem is that, while I admire the puzzle's ingenuity and cleverness (turning the name of ST. PATRICK into a puzzle "trick"), I didn't enjoy solving it at all. When I finally got the gimmick, I sort of winced / groaned as I fixed the answers that needed to be fixed. And the theme answers?? TAKE-HOME STY is almost funny, but the others are either lifeless (STRING KNIFE) or borderline nonsensical (STIR SKATING) — oh, and it's not PAIR*S* SKATING??? I always thought there was a second "S" in that phrase. In my world, there is. Also, in my world, no one says LIE OVER (57A: Be postponed). I know the term "LAY-OVER" from flying, but LIE OVER lives only on the outskirts of my vocabulary, and I don't even know how it got there. In other news, SMUTS (42A: Onetime South African P.M. Jan) is yet another in an apparently endless series of P.M.s I've never heard of.

Biggest impediment, solving-wise, was my putting in OIL PAINTING without even looking at the clue. Well, maybe I barely looked at it, but since wackiness was involved, I didn't think about it too hard. It fit, and I couldn't imagine any other phrase going there (for good reason, it turns out). Anyway, 25D: Make up galleys for printing (SET TYPE) and 26D: Layer (TIER) were completely mysterious to me as a result. Actually, SET TYPE was mysterious to me even after I corrected OIL PAINTING. TYPESET is a more familiar action to me, and SETTYPE looks mildly crazy in the grid. Other issues included ON LEASH for ON A LEAD (40D: Being walked, as Fido), and just a general, all-around vagueness / toughness to the cluing. 44D: End of life as we know it? (SILENT E), while not hard for me to get, was annoying, in that "as we know it" is ridiculously superfluous. Classic example of Trying Too Hard (TTH)™. Those clever-clues need to be spot-on or they're just irksome. I kind of like the made-up-seeming EX-FBI (9D: Like some private dets.), but TIKES, ISLS., HISTO-, MAGNI-, EAP, and (very worst of all) -ICAL had me wishing wishing there was more bland crosswordese like EPEE, TSARS, OTTS, PEI, etc. Lastly, I wish there hadn't been any other "ST"s or "PA"s in the grid — which, I realize, is a lot to ask, but if you're going to play a TRICK, play it, control it, contain it.

Again, I really like the basic premise of the puzzle — the execution just didn't cut it for me.

Theme answers:
  • 17A: Twine cutter? (STRING KNIFE) — from "PAring knife"
  • 24A: OPEC production cutback? (OIL STINTING) — from "oil PAinting"
  • 50A: Pen for a pet pig? (TAKE-HOME STY) — from "take-home PAy"
  • 60A: Ice hockey in prison? (STIR SKATING) — from "PAir skating"

  • 1A: U.S. political scandal involving a fictional sheik (ABSCAM) — see, at this point, I was thinking, "this puzzle's gonna be a piece of cake." Nice long gimme at 1A. Moved right into COIL and AMNIO. Then worked my way to STRING KNIFE and thought "uh ... what?" Mostly limped through the grid from there.
  • 20A: Words after cross or down or over (THE LINE) — this, I like. Not intuitive, but once you get it, undeniably accurate.

  • 39A: Buzzer in the kitchen, maybe (HOUSE FLY) — this one didn't trick me. I think I had the "-FL-" before I ever saw the clue.
  • 67A: Some valuable 1920s-'40s baseball cards (OTTS) — a guess with no crosses in place. Figured it had to be plural (i.e. end in "S"), and then I just put in the first three-letter baseball player I could think of.
  • 8D: Polynesian paste (POI) — Here is a band with POI in their name. I used to own an album of theirs in the early 90s. I haven't thought about them since (like most of the early '90s)

  • 12D: Mexican beer choices (CORONAS) — What about [Round contents at a Mexican restaurant, perhaps]? ... something about "choices" feels off to me.
  • 13D: Glittery glue-on (SPANGLE) — Unusual in the singular. You so rarely see just one SPANGLE.
  • 36D: RKO film airer, maybe (TCM) — I enjoy good old movies, so this was easy. TCM is the only movie channel I watch with any regularity. Everything else I watch comes from Netflix.
  • 58D: One of four Holy Roman emperors (OTTO) — came upon this while I was struggling in the SE. Wrote in OTTO with no crosses. Like OTTS, it was an educated guess born out of experience with thousands and thousands of crosswords. Just glad it wasn't OTHO, who was also a Roman emperor. Unholy, it turns out.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]

***P.S. It's NCAA Basketball Tournament time. Join my ESPN Tournament Challenge Group, "All Hail OOXTEPLERNON" (password: obolsmiff). Winner will get a copy of Bob Klahn's new crossword book, "The Wrath of Klahn" (unused!). Go here to sign up. [Crossword publishers should always feel free to send me swag that I can give away, hint hint]


chefwen 12:46 AM  

I kind of liked this one after I caught on to the theme. Helped me toward the end, but while solving, I just kept thinking, HUH? Took me a long time to hack it all out, but in the end, victory was mine.

Happy St. Paddy's Day to all.

ArtLvr 12:49 AM  

I really liked the wackiness here, even of it felt more like April Fool's than the expected maudlin Irish...

The only hesitation was at 12D CORONAS, as I was unsure if that was a beer as well as a cigar. What's the phrase? Close but no cigar... I got the words but not the music. Thought I was looking for a diagonal or an anagram TRICK to cap it off, nada.

Needing sleep, I couldn't wait till daylight brought further illumination.. So congrats to Patrick and all who saw the switcheroo, and I hope Pat is up at bat on April First too!


PurpleGuy 12:59 AM  

This puzzle was not fun. I am in total agreement with Rex in his writeup.
Did not get the theme until I came here.
The whole experience was just meh.

Today is my dad's 103 birthday, so will be partying hearty.
Yes, there are good genes in my family !

Happy St. Patrick's Day to all.
Erin Go Braugh !!!!!!!

PurpleGuy 1:07 AM  

I forgot to mention that my mom is Irish, and my dad was born on St. Patrick's Day, so it has always been a great day to party in my family.

Plenty of Jameson, Bushmills, Guinness draught,
and green water for chasing down !

My best to all my friends here.

Steve J 2:24 AM  

Intensely disliked this. My reactions are very similar to Rex's, but I didn't like the theme answers at all. Which made a lot of bad fill that much less tolerable. I can easily forgive some stuff that falls flat if the theme pays off, but it so didn't pay off in this one.

To me, letter-replacement themes only have a point when the resulting phrases turn are really clever or turn out to be other phrases that are reasonably well know. These really just seemed made up in order to have the letter-replacement theme.

And the less said about EAP, the better.

CoolPapaD 2:38 AM  

@PurpleGuy - Happiest of birthdays to your awesome Dad!! 103 ROCKS!

Once I got the theme, I groaned, and then had a big old smile on my face. I thought the idea was clever, and was clued about right for a Wednesday. Nice to work BOSTON into an Irish-themed grid.

I've always thought epee referred to the instrument used in the sport of fencing - did not know that it referred to the name of the sport. I could read about it, but I'll allow tptsteve (or others) to fill me in.

Happy ABSCAM week to all!

andr eap michaels 2:59 AM  

Enough said.

Well, maybe not quite enough, as we had COIn not COIL, so neighbor Nick "Smuts" Baugh and I could not make sense of "Cross the nINE", "Down the nINE"...
Thought maybe the second N was wrong and maybe it was "Down the Nile"/MAGlI!

Idea was great, but the resulting phrases? PAT, (Silent e)r, ICK!

andrea sassier michaels 3:07 AM  

And furthermore, I'll bet ONALEAD has never been uttered outside the UK, except for a visiting guy named Simon walking his English Sheepdog. Arf!

chefwen 3:31 AM  

Happy Birthday Purple Dad, have a Guinness for me!

Elaine 5:13 AM  

I am scowling over TAKE HOME STY, the repeat of ABSCAM, and TIKES instead of 'tykes'.... This puzzle was a lot of work for a very unsatisfying pay-off.

39D [Came out of one's shell] was the only redeeming bit, and it wasn't nearly enough.

I knew SMUTS, though I thought of him more as a military ruler than a PM. He is depicted in the movie "Ghandhi," freeing the troublesome prisoner who opposed the treatment of Indian residents of South Africa. Didn't realize Smuts had been voted out of office...

Thanks for the write-up, Rex. Wear something green, or you'll get pinched!

fikink 7:15 AM  

@PurpleGuy - 103?!!! That's wonderful The FIL (88) sends his best wishes to your father. (I'm on my way for an Irish coffee.)

As to the puzzle, I never got this very convoluted theme until I read Rex this morning and then felt as if I'd been had. Not a great way to start the day, but the sun is shining in Iowa so I am laughing ;)

Anonymous 7:40 AM  

One of my best Wed. times ever,but like everyone else left me kind of Meh. Erin Go Braugh. Third time this week for ABSCAM. Golfballman

Anonymous 8:10 AM  

Had no idea what the theme was until I came here; just a bunch of WTF phrases masquerading as a puzzle. Hated the 3 letter fill, and pluralizing Mel Ott.

On the plus side, there was beer, yeast and Boston in a St. Paddy's puzzle, and I appreciated an accurate clue for 1A.

Not one of my favorites, needless to say.

@PurpleGuy- HPD to your dad.

PurpleGuy 8:20 AM  

The day is starting off well. Supposed to be in the 80's today, so I'm off for my morning walk.
Then, baking some Irish Soda Bread. Tonight it's my special corned beef and cabbage dinner.

Thanks for all the wishes. I will certainly convey them all. Yes, 103 sure rocks !

jesser 8:20 AM  

@PurpleGuy: Please relay good wishes and green beer from the Land of Enchantment! 103 is quite an achievement!

That said, if I live to be 103, I doubt I'll see a puzzle I dislike as much as this one. TIKE? With an I? ON A LEAD? A detective, yes. A dog, not so much. SMUTS? I'll take the prime minister of porn for $400, Alex.

Maybe I'm just grouchy, because I really *did* like AT STUD and ROXY and TEST CASE and THE LINE.

Oh, but wait: HISTO?

No, I hate it.

Happy St. Patrick's Day, everyone. I'm wearing my Margaritaville tie, which is plenty infused with green and gaiety.

Quirana (my lesbian friend is named Ana!) -- jesser

Brendan Emmett Quigley 8:21 AM  

Would have preferred Toto's "Hold the Line" over the Stones. I know, my taste in music sucks.

mac 8:26 AM  

Rex's write-up, word for word. No pleasure. May do a few Sumptuous Thursday crosswords to make up for it.

I'm going to put on something green to get into a more festive mood. People often think I'm Irish (coloring and accent).

joho 8:36 AM  

Oh, I so wanted to love this STPATRICK's Day puzzle. But I sure didn't. The theme is beyond "forced" all the way to unintelligible to me. I filled in all the squares correctly but never saw why or what for. I congratulate those of you who got the ST/PA switcheroo ... you are way smarter than I. I was even looking for anagrams and almost got RISKTAKING out of STIRSKATING but that didn't mean anything either.

This puzzle does not rate a parade.

@ArtLvr ... "expected maudlin Irish" ... excuse me!

@Purple Guy ... please add my best wishes to your amazing Dad!!!

Happy St. Patrick's Day everybody!

Ulrich 8:58 AM  

Had to give up my beloved oil painting, too. In total agreement with most about the theme--off-beat idea that just didn't pan out.

@Purple Guy: You, on the other hand, have reasons to celebrate!

@PIX (as per late last night): If you send me an e-mail, I can clarify wovon vs worüber--doing it here would probably stretch the patience of this crowd more than today's puzzle, i.e. beyond endurance

dk 9:18 AM  

Happy Birthdays to the purples.

Had fruitfly instead of HOUSEFLY to start and stared at OILSTINTING longer than one should.... otherwise--easy for a Thursday.

I get forcing a St. Pat theme. BOSTON & CLERIC covers the religious aspects. I only wish we had a snake reference.

Interesting article on privacy and social networks in todays NYT. As a researcher I am amazed that ethnographic studies that once took months/years can now be done in hours.

Is green beer a breakfast food?

** (2 Stars) 2 Easy

Barbara 9:22 AM  

Got the ST/PA trick and managed to complete the thing, but -- maybe I'm just being thick here -- I still don't get STIRSKATING's relationship to ice hockey in prison. Help?

chefbea 9:24 AM  

Got all the St. clues but like a lot of us, didn't get the theme til I got here. Had to google smuts.

Happy St. Paddy's day to all and my catpcha is very appropriate.


joho 9:37 AM  

@Barbara ... slang for prison = stir.

deerfencer 9:44 AM  

As Rex and others have noted, lots not to like here. The "trick" answers felt very forced and awkward. Sorry, Patrick, but I'll be lifting a lower cheek in your direction tonight after my corned beef and cabbage. OTOH I will say I liked the way
POETICA, CORONA, AND SPANGLE paralleled each other in the NE corner.

Tinbeni 10:07 AM  

At least the NYT had a
ST.PATRICK Day theme.

Otherwise, Oy Vey, I'm Fercockt.

@dk Green beer isn't, Guinness is.
In Ireland, due to its nutrients, it is classified as food.
"Hey Honey, I wasn't at the Pub, just having a 4 course meal with the guys."

PurpleGuy 10:09 AM  

@dk - "Is green beer a breakfast food?" Works for me.
Especially today.

@jesser - you always make me laugh with your final comment. Today's was just great - Quirana indeed !

nanpilla 10:12 AM  

I have to agree - this felt very forced. Having seven additional STs in there that were not switched out made this feel wrong. Since the reveal did not specify which clues were involved in the theme, I just assumed it was the ones with the "stupid" answers, that were longer than the others.

It was a great idea, but I'm surprised that they followed through on it when it became apparent that it didn't have much of a pay-off. But at least it ran on the correct day.

Ulrich 10:21 AM  

Oh, and if you speak German with a lisp, Schmutz ("dirt") sounds very much like SMUTS--there's gotta be a connection...

Glitch 10:22 AM  

ON A LEAD may be just one of those phrases that are "unsatisfying" because they are not "normally" used in the context of a clue.

OTOH, "On a Lead" is common in horse and dog circles indicating "leading" the animal, while leash (and rein) indicate restraint (as in RP's illustration).

I'm sure our horse and our dog experts will correct me if I'm wrong ;-)


JaneW 10:29 AM  

On the plus side: got it done, and am old enough that SMUTS was a gimme. And being a "dog person" I was familiar with ON A LEAD.

On the minus side: I'm all for celebrating St. Pat's Day -- my great-grandfather is from Ireland -- but this was not too much fun.

SethG 10:34 AM  

The PA->ST restraint turns out to be a lot more restrictive than you'd think. The only other options I could come up with were not gonna make it into the NYT--either STP TEST or something like MATTRESS STD. The best pair I found was PAELLA->STELLA, but that needs a well-known PAELLA phrase to work. Even removing the start-of-the-word restriction doesn't help.

Maybe if you go halfsies, since the theme reveal doesn't require the direction of the switch. PARING THEORY maybe has more interesting cluing possibilities than STRING KNIFE. Maybe. But PAELLA DUBOIS, not so much, and her name's actually Kowalski. PAELLA MCCARTNEY is a 15, though.

the redanman 10:36 AM  


Tedious without much reward

Rick Stein 10:37 AM  

Actually found this puzzle quite easy, but HATED "end of life = silente". I kept thinking it had to be "silence", but that didn't jibe with the "t" in "estate" that crossed it.

Just getting a bit tired of "Ott" (in this case PLURAL!?!) showing up in every other puzzle. Same with "epee".

"Abscam" is starting to crop up in several puzzles I've done lately. It always brings a smile when I think of how utterly absurd that sting operation was.

PlantieBea 10:44 AM  

On vacation in SW Florida, puzzling away this rainy morning with family; I had to come here to see what Rex had to say about this oddball. I am glad I was able to figure out the clever switch-a-roo, but the wacky answers flat green beer. I groaned when once again I got fooled on the SILENT E. Argh! Had to ask somebody about SMUTS. Otherwise, I solved the whole thing and stared to get the trick.

Happy b-day to the 103 YO purple guy. Wow!

Van55 10:50 AM  

When the theme is too elaborate to be unfathomed without help from a blog, it's destined to failure, in my opinion. TAKE-HOME STY is ridiculous. Otherwise, I don't think this one is as bad as the opprobrium in many of the comments would indicate -- at least not for my taste.

Anonymous 10:54 AM  

Always suspected I was an outlier. I kinda liked 'take home sty' and the rest of the puzzle. A lot of times I use the blog to tell me what the theme was, but this one was a gimme for me.

to each his own.

Two Ponies 10:54 AM  

This one stunk.

St. Paddy's Day deserves better.

I was hoping for a xword/Shortz reference for "Will's focus."

fikink 11:05 AM  

@dk, have you really heard a fruitfly buzz?

captcha: immelsic, cousin of an aebleskiver

OldCarFudd 11:11 AM  

I applaud the effort more than the execution.

Congratulations to PurpleGuy's dad. I wish I could give him a birthday ride in my Cadillac; they're the same age.

I don't normally comment on captchas, but mine is faillyar - nuff sed!

Moonchild 11:31 AM  

This was pretty rough for a Wed.
The theme answers were so strained and some of the other clues seemed so strange. For example, if you need "hem" do you need to clue it like that?
"Lie over" is ridiculous as clued.
I never did get the theme. All of the theme answers except one have a K so I was looking for an anagram.
I wanted to like this but it was all work and no fun for me. Bleh.

103? Wow, the things that man has seen come and go. Congrats.

Anonymous 11:53 AM  

Am I right in that one of the airports in South Africa is the Jan Smuts Airport, or is that no longer the case? Seem to remember it from way back. Agree that Smuts was a total gimme, but could be an age/colonial thing.

Did not see theme, never do but liked the challenge of the puzzle.

JF 12:19 PM  

LIE OVER appeared in a Friday or Saturday from last March (I just finished doing the March 2009 puzzles), clued in exactly the same fashion. I hated it then, too.

I actually liked the appearance of Ars POETICA. Made me feel like I hadn't forgotten my days as a professor.

HudsonHawk 12:26 PM  

@SethG, PAELLA ARTOIS? Not much to add, other than it's Amateur Day in the city today. Erin Go Bragh-less.

Cool Dude 12:30 PM  

I agree, I did not enjoy this one. I'm typically a sucker for this sort of theme. But this one was really contrived. St. Patrick? More like St. Paannoyingdigramreplacement.

foodie 12:39 PM  

I agree with Rex's feelings about this puzzle. I don't know if this makes sense, but there are substitutions that feel more plausible or natural than others. ST---> PA was intrinsically bothersome, like watching an arm being twisted. I really don't know why. Maybe because there is no symmetry or resonance of any sort between the pair? And @Seth points out that the actual choices are indeed restricted. So, in the end, it felt forced and unsatisfying. But I always want to applaud constructors for taking a risk...

@Andrea, re your post about Paula's puzzle, that was exactly how it felt- like the $20,000 Pyramid clues! I've always been in awe of the people who wrote them and the people who guessed them!

PIX 12:42 PM  

One of my least favorite puzzles ever for all the reasons noted above. No "AHA!" moment, just a sense of "youv'e got to be kidding".

Otho was an (ancient)Roman emperor and the Ottos were rulers of the Holy Roman Empire, which came many years later (and was neither Holy, nor Roman, nor really an empire.)

william e emba 12:50 PM  

I would have found today's puzzle easy, except I unaccountably got hung up in the Michigan area. That, and I wasted too much trying to figure out the theme as I went along. STP "at" RICK? No, that didn't work. In the end, I had a medium-hard time only.

Today's Get Fuzzy has something highly relevant to a recent puzzle.

Anonymous 12:51 PM  

In contrast to most of the other commenters, I thought this was a wonderful puzzle, starting with the theme, which I got with oil stinting, and used to fill in the other theme answers. Didn't have a problem with tike, lie over, on a lead or any of the other so-called weak fill. Thought 13 seven-letter downs was impressive. Great job, Patrick!

Martin 1:01 PM  

This is my favorite kind of theme -- one that emphasizes the "puzzle" in crossword puzzle. That which some solvers consider poor quality, I see as fresh. Forcing non-linear thinking is my ultimate plus for a puzzle. Earlier constructors like Ernst Theimer and Charles Deber specialized in themes that had to be puzzled out, and I found this in that mold.

I wonder if speed-solvers tends to appreciate these themes less? I hope not, but I can imagine frustration with any thematic opacity when watching the clock.

I was maxed out so I couldn't respond to Rex's comments on my post yesterday, but the "convoluted = poor quality" argument about clues feels similar. Managing the "Venn diagram" of clue and entry cross-reference is a solving subtlety that adds to my enjoyment, even if it makes me slow down. Similarly, if trick questions come loaded ("when did you stop beating your wife?") and not ("how many months have 28 days?") why does the "quality" of the clue hinge on the naturalness of the non-phrase "loaded trick question"?

Faced with a clue or theme that doesn't make sense on the surface, I really enjoy figuring out how it works. I can't help but think that solving for time makes this aspect less enjoyable.

PIX 1:10 PM  

@Ulrich: I have taken you up on your generous offer.

HudsonHawk 1:14 PM  

@Martin, I'm definitely not a speed solver, so I don't think it's much of a factor. This felt clunky to me.

edith b 1:28 PM  


I got the words but not the music

That's exactly the position I was in. I was very literal minded today but that turned out to be a good thing for this puzzle. This seemed to be a very awkward construction- ST/PA substitution?! - but filling in the blanks worked like a (lucky) charm. Some of the clues made very little sense except on the most basic of levels.

I couldn't work up a hatred for this puzzle but I sure didn't like it.

Capcha: rermuspi (let down your hair)

imsdave 1:29 PM  

The weak theme answers, combined with some abominable fill really made this one less than satisfying. A great constructor like Mr. Merrell should be excused the occasional misstep with a holiday themed puzzle though, IMOO.

Not so glad to be back from my (mostly) sunny Florida trip, but the weather is amazingly nice here in upstate CT.

Dough 1:39 PM  

Well, I'll take the minority position here and say that I thought this was a dandy and enjoyable little bauble of a puzzle. Nothing earth-shaking, but for a Wednesday, surprisingly interesting. I'll take creative and unanticipated over familiar and safe -- especially on special occasions like ST/PA Trick Day! In full disclosure, I almost always enjoy Patrick Merrell's puzzles. They're often a little harder but almost always a joy for me.

Two Ponies 1:42 PM  

@ w.e. emba, Thanks for the cartoon link. Timely and relevant indeed.
@ Martin, Your point is well-stated but does not describe my experience today. Some days, yes, but I am a solver who likes to savor my puzzles. This one just left me unsatisfied.
To each his own.

Two Cents 1:45 PM  

Spangle is a noun?
Much more familiar as a verb or adjective.
The most obvious being "Star Spangled Flag."

Rube 2:00 PM  

My main complaint about this puzzle is the non-symmetry of 39A. This should have had an ST/PA in it to balance 34A.

Remembered SMUTS but couldn't remember how to spell it. At first tried the way it's pronounced, Smootz. Eventually got it.

Wanted rapture for "end of life...". Ended up with a grrr when I got SILENTE.

Still do not understand Tissue = HISTO.

Gray 2:02 PM  

A jeweled headdress would be adorned with jewels, a spangled banner with spangles.

Anonymous, do you consider ISLS, HISTO, MAGNI or ICAL _strong_ fill?

Clark 2:08 PM  

I had more fun with this than many of you, putting me somewhere in the @Martin camp. I didn't see what was going on until I was all done. I only noticed that there were STs in each theme answer. The key moment in my appreciating the puzzle definitely came when the PA > ST switch occurred to me. Not a luminous puzzle, but an interestingly puzzling puzzle.

@Two Cents -- I love it when a puzzle makes me rethink a word. I had the same reaction to spangle. Then I realized that SPANGLE as a verb had to mean to fit out with a SPANGLE.

foodie 2:23 PM  

@Rube, re HISTO, the word comes from the Greek and means tissue. So, HISTOlogy is the study of tissues usually under a microscope...

In my quest to comment from air,trains and automobiles, I'm doing this while on the crosswordese ACELA, from NY to DC.

Olive Riley was the world's oldest blogger. Lived to be 108. Rex could be doing this in 2078... Happy birthday Abu Purple Guy!

Sundance 2:32 PM  

A challenge! I'd never heard the expression "stir" for prison.

andrea still eap! michaels 2:36 PM  

Mattress std!!!!!!!
Ha! You made the whole thing worth it!

the less-than-satisfaction today I'm guessing had less to do with speed-solving and prob more with higher expectations from an expert constructor like Patrick (no one doubts his prowess!) combined with rather icky fill and dull convoluted phrases (as @foodie said, they felt like twisted arms).
I mean, come on, we ALL like puzzling out puzzles, but this was missing that certain something and one of the more puzzling aspects of this puzzle is why it felt so charmless (to many).

God forbid this is the last one the 103 yr old does! ;)

R. McGeddon 2:39 PM  

If Mel Ott had never been born, would there even be a NYT crossword puzzle?

Something to ponder....

Anonymous 2:43 PM  

@CoolPapaD- Each weapon used in fencing- epee, foil and saber- has different rules for scoring, different techniques and different strategies. Thus, I suppose it is not wrong to say each is a different sport, although they all fall under the common term of "fencing."

A similar, but by no means exact analogy, would be skiing, which can be nordic or downhill.

ronfechi-en garde in some other language

Anonymous 3:03 PM  

Since I figured out the trick with the second answer (oil stinting), I thought the puzzle was relatively easy for a Wednesday and fun. Usually I agree with Rex, but not today.

Rapture 3:03 PM  

@ R. McGeddon said...

If Mel Ott had never been born, would there even be a NYT crossword puzzle?

Something to ponder....


His place would be taken by Bobby ORR.

R. McGeddon, hehe...


sanfranman59 3:19 PM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joe 3:31 PM  

I call shenanigans on this puzzle.
I'd like to hit the creator with a
You shouldn't have to sit on a four leave clover to solve this one.

Also, who calls a roll of stamps a COIL?

Mr McFeely and Cliff Clavin 3:51 PM  

We do.

sanfranman59 3:53 PM  

Midday report of relative difficulty (see my 7/30/2009 post for an explanation of my method):

All solvers (median solve time, average for day of week, ratio, percentile, rating)

Wed 13:43, 11:50, 1.16, 86%, Challenging

Top 100 solvers

Wed 6:45, 5:48, 1.16, 84%, Challenging

(corrected "All solvers" numbers from deleted previous post)

DB Geezer 3:53 PM  

Come on folks! Solving crossword puzzles is fun not work. I am surprised at all the negative comments today. Instead, appreciate a good puzzle for ST PATRICK. Maybe you all should have done the puzzle after your having enjoyed My Goodness - My Guiness!

I got HOUSEFLY from crosses after MICROWAVE wouldn't fit.

Bill from NJ 3:56 PM  

I saw the two-letter switch at OILSTINTING/OILPAINTING but found the switch itself inelegant at best. I could see it had something to do with St Patrick but couldn't grok what it was. That aspect combined with utterly lackluster fill and a theme that did not sparkle in the least, well, speed solver or not, this puzzle was like Oakland: No there there.

Steve J 4:10 PM  
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Steve J 4:13 PM  

@Rube: I'm not sure what you mean with 34A/39A. Neither is a theme answer, and while 34A has an ST in it, it's not a result of a swap for PA like in the theme answers (unless there's a tepa case I'm not aware of). So, there wouldn't be any expected symmetry. (In fact, there are a lot of STs in the puzzle that aren't resulting from a PA swap.)

@Martin: I'm far from a speed solver, although I do note my times and try to improve. Sometimes people don't like things simply because they don't work for them. Just like one person's Natick is another's gimmee, one person's gem of a puzzle is another's clunker. Or, in this case, a lot of people's clunker.

(I hate when I notice immediately after clicking "submit" that I've left out a word where the omission of which completely changes what I meant to say.)

Parent 4:44 PM  

Guilty admission: for 44D [End of life as we know it?] I thought NEWBORN was a perfect fit. But I don't dare give my name....

Bob Kerfuffle 5:22 PM  

Nope, I never got the theme.

@Anonymous, 11:53 AM - Per Wikipedia -

OR Tambo International Airport is a large airport in Kempton Park, Ekurhuleni, Gauteng, South Africa, near the city of Johannesburg.

It was formerly officially known as Johannesburg International Airport and before that as Jan Smuts International Airport after the South African statesman of that name. The first renaming was done in 1994 when the newly reformed South African government implemented a national policy of not naming airports after politicians. The policy was however reversed later, and the airport renamed again after Oliver Tambo, the former President of the African National Congress.

edith b 5:42 PM  


Interestingly enough, I bought a roll of stamps from the Post Office today after I had finished the puzzle and asked them about the nomenclature. Officially, according to the USPS, they vend stamps by the COIL. They do sell alot of stamps in the flat and I don't know what they call them.

The lady I talked to today told me there were still a lot of businesses who used small contraptions to dispense stamps on a COIL and that usage goes back years.

Glitch 6:27 PM  

@edith b

They're called PANES


JenCT 6:59 PM  

Never got the theme until I got here.

Anyone else have SPARKLE instead of SPANGLE at first?

@deerfencer - LOL at "lifting a lower cheek..."

Plutonium 7:42 PM  

Funny I had little difficulty with this one except thinking it was weird and I never got the point (ST for PA, You mst be vry very young if you didn't know SMUTS. I was born in 1935 and remember him and the rest of segregated South Africa only too well (U.S. too!).

fergus 7:43 PM  

Yeah I toyed with Will's focus being ESTEEM for a while.

And neigher LIE OVER or LAYOVER seem like they fit in that Venn intersection with Be postponed.

But though I agree with Rex that the trick wasn't all that elegantly executed, it still made the puzzle worthy of my ePAeem.

ArtLvr 8:03 PM  

@ Edith B -- Thanks for the memory! My mother's desk set even included a sterling doodad with monogram to house a COIL of stamps! I never asked who'd given her a gift like that... and I don't what became of it. Now I wonder if today's coiled stamps still need licking of the back, or if they are self-adhesive like panes?

Happy St. Pat's to all...


Martin 8:17 PM  

Coils are pressure-sensitive today. That's OK, but some Einstein at the USPS decided to issue them in coils of 50 commemorative-sized stamps instead of 100 regular-issue sized. The whole point of a coil is convenience. The large flags-of-the-states stamps are cute, but a major pita. They don't spool out of the dispenser easily and take twice the storage space.

edith b 8:24 PM  


I actually saw a Sterling Silver Colil stamp holder today at the Post Office! It was an antique looking thing but it was beautiful.

Around 12.00.tionspro

Elaine 8:27 PM  

Aw, I have a pretty inlaid-wood two-part box and my stamps COIL out of it perfectly. I peel off what I need, rip off the excess backing, and she's good to go.

Isn't anyone going to bemoan the lost essence, the gustatory delight, of the lick-'em variety? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

joho 8:32 PM  

@ArtLvr ... I've got a coil-holding golf-oriented thingy on my desk, a gift to my husband from his kids ... and it holds a coil very well and, yes, they do not have to be licked! Now that's progress.

Sfingi 9:20 PM  

Didn't know the clues (sports) for OCTET or RTS. Otherwise, was so much better than the LA that I enjoyed it.

Did have "steam up" for BATHMAT when I started, but it became obviously wrong. "rOLL for COIL took a little longer. Also SPArkLE for SPANGLE until I got BOSTON. Thought Will might be S. and couldn't narrow down his focus.

@ArtLover - Corona seems to be THE beer of choice for Spanish in NYS.

@Sundance - "In Stir" is an old-fashioned expression. So is "Up the River," "The Joint," "Turnkey." "Herb" seems to have died out, but "Shorteyes" is still used. These might be good ideas for a theme...
In stir describes the mulling around in the "yard" with nothing to do. "Shorteyes," and other media have kept them busier - and, as a prison teacher for 17 yrs., I hope this includes books.

I went into labor on St. Pat's and gave birth on St. Joe's. Everyone expected me to name my son Giuseppe. So I named him Dante. My husband told everyone he named him Sfingi. Sfingi is one of the St. Joseph's Day Table treats, set up for the poor. I understand it's still done in Louisiana.

I have a tiny bit of Irish. An ancestor, a Scotch Presbyterian minister was dropped into Ireland by the Brits to convert the unwashed. While there, there was some mixing with Huguenots and locals. Finally, he took half his flock to Upstate NY and his brother took the other half to the Ozarks.

@Joho - I don't like licking stamps. My Sicilian father-in-law said "Never let anyone get your fingerprints." Now, he could add DNA.

@Plutonium - Wow! Somebody here older than I. I remember thinking that the Dutch in South Africa really went wrong, against their better nature. Now is that Plutonium-239? What's your half-life?

@Elaine - Yuh. I spell TyKES with a Y.

@Tinbeni - hope you enjoy your "Jug o Punch," "Whiskey you're my darlin' drunk or sober," "There's whiskey in the jar," or Paddy got drunk on fish 'n potatoes." Great drinkin songs!

foodie 9:40 PM  

@Sfingi, my husband told people we named our son Ben Gay...

kate 9:55 PM  

It is most definitely PairS Skating. Very annoying.

fikink 10:09 PM  
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sanfranman59 10:28 PM  

This week's relative difficulty ratings. See my 7/30/2009 post for an explanation. In a nutshell, the higher the ratio, the higher this week's median solve time is relative to the average for the corresponding day of the week.

All solvers (this week's median solve time, average for day of week, ratio, percentile, rating)

Mon 6:55, 6:55, 1.00, 56%, Medium
Tue 9:25, 8:54, 1.06, 69%, Medium-Challenging
Wed 13:58, 11:50, 1.18, 88%, Challenging

Top 100 solvers

Mon 3:30, 3:40, 0.95, 42%, Medium
Tue 4:30, 4:31, 1.00, 54%, Medium
Wed 6:39, 5:48, 1.15, 82%, Challenging

Stan 11:48 PM  

Patrick: Happy St. You Day!

@HudsonHawk (who I think lives on the Upper East Side, though I often mix people up): I have vivid memories of St. Patrick's Days when walking home from 86th and Lex (where the parade breaks up) was like a trip through a war zone. Green beer indeed. Important to watch where you step.

@Bill_from_NJ: Oakland is the new San Francisco.

@Rex: My friend from Austin once dragged me to a Poi Dog Pondering show -- lots of fun actually. Don't remember whether I bought the album or not.

Stan 12:57 AM  

MMmmm, so TRICK has been used two days in a row. If it appears tomorrow, will that be a HAT TRICK?

Ax53 4:20 AM  

I finished this puzzle with a leaden lump in my stomach. I remember once coming upon your site, Rex, while hunting up a clue and returned to see if you thought this fun..... I was relieved to find you hooked on to all the pedestrian weaknesses that sullied my time solving it. I appreciate that you continue to lavish your attention on these puzzles!

sw paul 5:06 PM  

Once again, I'm late to the party. (Here in syndication land, we don't realize what day the puzzle originally appeared.) As these puzzles are still so new to me, I can't say I shared the annoyance. To me they're all difficult. I was well into this one when I figured the theme, and it did help fill the last, even though I knew already it began with stir. I was only stuck on Smut_ and _ilente. Thought it was an s, but didn't see why until I came here. Do agree with the trouble I had reading lieover.

Waxy in Montreal 6:00 PM  

@sw paul: the original date is printed in my paper under the grid as (in this case) No: 0317 indicating March 17th. I always check it first to see if something significant was happening 5 weeks earlier.

JAILSKATING (60A) and SEQUIN (13D) delayed this puzzle for way too long as did TEAPOT followed by CONTRA in 1A! (Feeble excuse - we have enough of our own political scandals up here to keep all the U.S. ones straight.)

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