Egypt's third-largest city / WED 4-7-10 / Destination for ferry from Livorno / Follower who does dirty work / In arms of Morpheus

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Constructor: Richard Silvestri

Relative difficulty: Challenging

THEME: RAT (58D: Chinese calendar animal ... or the key to this puzzle's theme) — "RAT" is added familiar phrases to get wacky phrases, clued wackily ("?"-style)

Word of the Day: JACKAL (5D: Follower who does the dirty work) —

2 a : a person who tends to the routine needs of or performs menial tasks for another: DRUDGE b: an individual who for mercenary or self-seeking ends serves or collaborates with another esp. in the commission of base or sordid acts (Webster's 3rd Int'l Dictionary)

• • •

Toughest Wednesday of the year for me (high 6's). Never ever could get a real rhythm going, and most all of the cluing had this weird, ickily off feeling to it. Like ... just past its sell-by date. Probably edible, but not appetizing. MEANT clued as [Had in view]? In America, we'd say [Had in mind], "view" being used here solely to try to trip you. That intentional trip-you vibe ran through a lot of clues. I don't mind trippiness if it's clever, but today it felt forced. If it's got nothing to modify, LOCAL (to me) is a train, not a bar (10D: Neighborhood pub). I would call a LOCAL pub a "LOCAL pub." Need the "pub." Maybe this stand-alone usage of LOCAL is British. EDIT gives you the old "verb for adjective" switcheroo with 11D: Ready for release. EMIT gets you in mind of guns with 53D: Shoot out. Was all this forced cleverness an attempt to distract from the really awkward theme? Add-a-"RAT?" Adding-a-whatever is fine when the phrases work, and two are OK, but ERRATIC THE RED makes no sense on any level. The "nickname" part of ERIC THE RED is "THE RED" .... so ... if you call this hypothetical person ERRATIC THE RED, is his "real" name ERRATIC ... and then THE RED is the part signifying his Communism? So he's sort of *all* nickname? THE ERRATIC RED might be someone's nickname. But ERRATIC THE RED is just glop. At 78 words and (thus) with no non-theme answers longer than 6 letters (!?!), the grid doesn't hold much interest. My favorite part was probably the clue on TANKER (45A: Ship of fuels). That's a joke that comes off. The rest of this, fill-wise, feels just ordinary, and the cluing feels like its trying too hard to compensate for that ordinariness.

Theme answers:
  • 20A: One who plunders boatloads of jack-o'-lanterns (PUMPKIN PIRATE)
  • 37A: First-rate chastisement? (SUPREME BERATING)
  • 48A: Nickname of an unpredictable Communist? (ERRATIC THE RED)
I'm not sure I understand why, when there are only three theme answers of 13, 15, and 13, the grid isn't much more interesting, with fewer, but more interesting words. Why do you make a 78-worder (the upper limit), when you have So Much Non-Theme Space to work with?

  • 5D: Follower who does the dirty work (JACKAL) — this killed me. First, I had no idea this was a meaning of JACKAL. Second, I had -ACK- and wrote in LACKEY, without blinking. I feel this had to be intentional (cluing that suggests LACKEY and, apparently, JACKAL). Again, didn't feel clever. Just annoying.
  • 14A: Ward who played Robin (BURT) — First, instinctively wrote in SELA. Second, changed SELA to BERT.
  • 41A: Destination for a ferry from Livorno (ELBA) — ELBA and ELBE (48D: Hamburg's river) in the same gird. I'd have tried like hell to keep that kind of near-twin crosswordese nightmare from happening.
  • 46A: "The tongue of the mind": Cervantes (PEN) — even with the "N" this didn't come easily. Whole SW was a disaster until I stopped reading the end of 48A as -TCHERED, changed AS TO to IS TO (50D: Part of an analogy), and finally figured out the ghastly ERRATIC THE RED.
  • 61A: Egypt's third-largest city (GIZA) — a city that I always want to call either GAZA or AGRA.
  • 45D: Home of the Azadi Tower (TEHRAN) — interesting, and new to me. Is this a building I should know for some reason? Ooh, yeah, it's super-cool looking. Like a giant alien craft. According to wikipedia, it's the symbol of TEHRAN, and marks the entrance to TEHRAN.
  • 9A: Was in the arms of Morpheus (SLEPT) — nicely complemented by WOKE (35A: Shook out of dreamland)
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


lit.doc 12:31 AM  

@Rex, your write-up was dead on as to difficulty rating, attitude, and particulars. Took me 21:30, with a good five minutes of it chewed up by that SW corner.

Best of Show clue was “Ship of fuels”. I was thankful that the answer wasn’t the dreadful OILERS for a change. I concur in consigning 10D “Neighborhood pub” = LOCAL and 38D “Had in view” = MEANT to Dante’s WTF circle of hell.

One other grouse, about which I will cheerfully defer to disagreement by constructors. 13D “It’s game” = “It is game”, but the intention of the clue is clearly “A game involving [you’re] ‘its’”. Misdirection should be more clever than mere obfuscation.

PurpleGuy 12:43 AM  

This was a rather strange puzzle. Agree with Rexis write up. The entire SW was my last area to fill, and was a bear.
I liked the puzzle, and had no real snags, except the SW. That messed up my time.
ERRATICTHERED was the hardest theme answer to piece together.
It's a pangram. That's probably it's biggest plus.
I had a pair of gerbils in college at CU in Boulder. Of course that led to a rather large clan after a while.
If there were frequent flier miles back then, they would have racked up a few. This goes back to the days of TWA. They were my flight home after VietNam, and I even worked for them.
OK, enough rambling.
I guess I have to say that I enjoyed this puzzle,except for the SW.

JF 12:44 AM  

@lit.doc, the "It's Game" clue meant "the game that IT is in", just like saying "quarterback's game" to mean football. So the possessive works just fine in the clue.

Agreed on the level of challenge, but mostly because some clues had decent alternate answers. LACKEY took a long time to become JACKAL because it shared enough letters to get me to most of the acrosses.

Plus, the natick of BLOOD / ELBE, which I had as BROOD / ERBE for the longest time. RAM / STEM was only a momentary distraction from RAT / STET, but may have been left in place if it didn't refer to the theme.

Not my slowest Wednesday, but definitely not a walk in the park. Otherwise, no complaints other than the aforementioned "LOCAL".

PurpleGuy 12:51 AM  

My hand is also raised for LOCAL. It's either a train or a bus when clued as it was.
I think I'm now ready to surrender into the arms of Morpheus. With a nod to @Jesser !

Nate 1:05 AM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
Leif Eriksson 1:18 AM  

Why on earth wasn't 48A clued as "Name for an unpredictable Viking?" because it might actually mean something? Are Erics intrinsicly pinkos, or is Eric some codeword in the FBI for pinkos? When you subscribe to The Daily Worker do they protect your privacy by addressing it to Eric, Apt 23, .. just to fool Hoover?
Eric The Red was a Viking. And a hell of a dad.

retired_chemist 1:25 AM  

I am pretty sure LOCAL for a pub is common British usage, so I have no problem with it. Agree that ERRATIC THE RED s**ks, for Rex's well stated reasons.

Lucked out by guessing YEMEN at 62A - made the SW easier than it should have been.

Medium. Not challenging. And fun. Thank you, Mr. Silvestri.

Steve J 2:48 AM  

I felt like I must have somehow borrowed Rex's brain as I was reading the writeup, as nearly everything he experienced I did. Slowest Wednesday in ages. Same writeovers (e.g. LACKEY and ASTO). Same feeling that this never quite worked, and that (as lit.doc put so well) the cluing was more about obfuscation than misdirection.

The only thing I was kinda-sorta impressed with was the grid itself, which allowed very few entries into the corners and edges. You pretty much had to deal with each area on its own. In a good puzzle, that's a nice challenge. Here, it just added to the frustration.

Comments on some specifics:

LOCAL is indeed very common British parlance for one's local pub (people are much more apt to say they're going to their local than they're going to the local pub; in fact, people will ask each other sometimes, "What's your local?"). However, this is an American crossword, and the anecdotal evidence so far is that that particular Britishism isn't widely known on this side of the Pond (a Britishism that is, on the other hand, widely known).

@JF: I disagree with your explanation for "It's game." It makes sense only as long as you forget that "it's" is *never* possessive. The possessive is always "its," sans apostrophe.

@Leif Eriksson: The reason it wasn't clued as such (which at first glance does seem much better) is because there is no Eric the Red. It's Erik the Red. I'm guessing finding a crossing word starting with K was considerably tougher.

chefwen 3:43 AM  

Pretty slow Wednesday for me also. Filled in gaza before GIZA, tether, as in rope, before GERBIL, sash before JAMB, which gave me hump before BUMP. Funny thing, we have a road near the fish ponds in Nawiliwili, that had a sign that said Speed Hump ahead, someone added a Y to speed and an ER to hump, it was really cute until the authorities fixed it. Took them about 5 years, not too quick on the uptake.

Clark 5:50 AM  

I feel that I must defend the clue [It’s game]. “It” in the clue is not a pronoun; it is a noun (although the “it” that comes after my semi-colon is a pronoun -- but I digress). See, e.g., Webster’s New World College Dictionary: “ it noun 1. the player in a game who must do some essential thing, as the one in a game of tag who must try to catch another.” Hence, the possessive of this “it” is “it’s.” Or?

And now I too must surrender into the arms of Morpheus. I hope semi-puzzle partner doesn't mind. (This Morpheus guy sure gets around.)

Elaine 7:12 AM  

Now my head hurts. Thanks a LOT! Yes, apostrophe-s IS the way to construct a possessive-- except when it comes to IT. Because of the confusion between 'it is' and 'belonging to it,' the general agreement is, IT'S means IT IS, and ITS means BELONGING TO IT. And no matter how much I've written, I have to stop and think Every.Single.Time. And, apparently, so should Will.

I thought this puzzle was fun, but not a walk-over. I got my toehold with 63A's OXEN, then moved from that section to the SE corner and got the Chinese calendar's RAT, which did assist me. I tried EVADE before ELUDE, POST (as in post-and-lintel) before JAMB, TURN and then HUMP before BUMP. Sheesh. Last letter in was the Q, accompanied by a 'D'oh!'

Thanks for the picture of the tower, Rex. Must find a close-up, as it looks like there might be some Persian tile-work in the arch...

Elaine 7:21 AM  

Oh, and P.S.
To find out what PRIDE *really* goeth before, check Proverbs 16: 18.
Now, that would have been a hard clue!

joho 7:45 AM  

I have a feeling that not be a speed solver helped with liking this puzzle. Seeing as how I don't care how long it takes me, I enjoyed a lot of the fresh words packed into this pangram: QUIP, JAMB, JACKAL, GERBIL, TEHRAN, YEMEN, GIZA, COAX and SMIRK.

I did not like "Had in view" for MEANT. But I sure liked this puzzle a lot more than our leader.

Thank you, Richard Silvestri!

Rex Parker 7:55 AM  


I don't know if you're right about speed solvers disliking it more, but it did strike me as one of those puzzles that would produce very different difficulty ratings in the speed and non-speed sets. Looking over grid, there is nothing krushing; it's the way that it's clued that produces the "difficulty" for the racer. I'm still trying to put my finger on what it is about, say, Bob Klahn "difficulty" that ends up pleasing me, when other "difficulty" (like today's) just annoys me. It's like the difference between being seduced and being pawed. Or maybe it's not ... I just made that analogy up on the spot, but I probably don't want to think about the implications too much. So I'll go now.


jesser 8:01 AM  

Humph. I was percectly happy with BrOOD crossing ErBA.

Otherwise, what everyone has said. Never heard JACKAL or LOCAL defined in these odd ways. GERBIL made me think of Richard Gere, and even though that's probably a myth, it's a funny myth (unless you're the gerbil).

Loved SMIRK at 31D, and the clue for EMIT was fresh. BURT Ward came easy. I should rephrase that. Aw, hell widdit.

Happy Hump(er) Day everyone!

Prooe! (what one orders at one's local, after one has already had six. I'll have another prooe!) -- jesser

Anonymous 8:08 AM  

SW threw me off as well, having filled in brood instead of blood. I thought the theme was a clever one, when I finally got to 58D and realized what was going on, and unlike @RP, chuckled when I filled in 48A.

@Clark- I'm with the its crowd, though your impassioned defense of the clue was noble, indeed.(I had the crosses there, so I didn't notice the clue until I came here)

Sandy 8:11 AM  

Not a speed solver, not fond of this puzzle. "Add-a-letter and clue resulting whackyness" puzzles are so common that they better be awesome.

I did the puzzle on the computer for the second time ever last night. Someone welcome me to the 20th century!

Megan P 8:41 AM  

Loved this puzzle. Tricky and fun.

Parshutr 8:59 AM  

Not a speed solver, loved this one. Had BACKUP instead of JACKAL, the IP led me to put in CATNIP instead of GERBIL, but this was all untangled when I realized that BAMB could -- should -- be JAMB.
Pumpkin Pie, Supreme Being, and Eric the Red all cleverly transformed by adding RAT? Great stuff!

Dough 9:14 AM  

Thought the puzzle was fun. Thank you, Richard Silvestri, for another fine outing. My only objection was the "Ship of Fuels" clue which has been the theme entry of so many puzzles already. Repeat clever clues are like rereading a murder mystery. Anyway, in the old days I never solved against the clock and I'm beginning to think that speed solving, while good at tournaments, is bad for the enjoyment of the puzzles. What do others think?

PuzzleGirl 9:27 AM  

I think I'm with Clark on the "It's" question.

Can't see the word jackal without thinking of my girl C.J. Cregg.

Hey, I have an idea. Let's talk about whether speed-solvers actually enjoy the puzzle. I'm sure that's a topic the speed-solvers never get tired of.

fikink 9:31 AM  

I mainly know Richard Silvestri through his Cryptics, so maybe we had a mind meld - I found this puzzle a frolic.
Have to disagree with you on this one, Rex.

David L 9:38 AM  

Surprised at the rating on this one -- for whatever reason, I found it kinda easy. Even some of the wackier solves -- 'had in view,' 'it's game' -- came quickly. No doubt I will pay for bragging tomorrow.

I have a suggestion, though. Can we put a moratorium on 'alou' for, oh, a year or two? It's become a lazy gimme.

chefbea 9:41 AM  

Tough Wednesday puzzle. I knew rat was in each long answer but didn' realize the wackiness til I came here.

retired_chemist 9:46 AM  

Count me among those who thought "It's game" was a brilliant and correctly parsed clue. I didn't get it myself at first and then understood it after an interchange with Joon on Orange's blog. "Ship of fuels" was also a cute clue, but it didn't particularly float my boat.

PIX 9:51 AM  

thought it was a fine puzzle and average for a Wednesday...Giza is a reasonable clue because of the Sphinx and the pyramids there.

mitchs 9:52 AM  

I really enjoyed this Wednesday offering. As someone pointed out in Wordplay, tough clues for ordinary words. My favorite formula.

(Except for that "local". What the...?)

I dunno Rex, I think you might be onto something with your seduced/pawed analogy. A comparison of some of the cluing might be interesting.

Elaine 9:55 AM  

Wouldn't 'whackyness' (@Sandy) have something to do with being beaten about the head and shoulders? Oh, you New Zealanders, with the spelling wackiness.

See everyone tomorrow, but plan to stop in tonight to see how the ITS/IT'S voting went. Even though as far as its correctness--it's not subject to a vote.

Parshutr 9:58 AM  

@Dough...I've proved to myself that even just keying in the answers to a puzzle I've just solved, I'm not as fast as Rex, so what's the point of speed?
Speed solving is analogous to trying to hit a golf ball farther than your ability. Your best hit is your best hit, whether it's 150 yards, 250, 350...and today's puz had 122 words, so if I had missed one or two, that would still be satisfying.

addie loggins 10:02 AM  

I'm with Clark as well (and I swear I intended to say so even before I saw PuzzleGirl saying so).

This was my fastest error-free Wednesday of the year. I liked several of the clues/answers: I didn't like that ERRATICTHERED was spelled with a C rather than a K, but the other two theme answers were great. Lots of good fill. Wanted SUPRA for ABOVE, but the crosses convinced me otherwise.

I knew that a corner pub is called a LOCAL. There's a English pub/restaurant in Minnespolis called The Local, and the explanation of the name is right there on the menu, so that's probably how I know it.

Oh, and while PG is on the line -- how the heck did you pick Duke??? Well done (but honestly, don't you wish that last Butler shot had sunk?). Congrats on 9th place in the 2010 OOXTEPLERNON.

fikink 10:04 AM  

Have to second @Clark and @Retired Chemist on their parsing of the "It's" clue.

@lit.doc: "obfuscation" is pretty much the point of Cryptics, so I think your reading this puzzle as an exercise in obfuscation, although not enjoyable to you, is spot on.

Glitch 10:21 AM  

IT is game = TAG (verb, i.e. the *winning* action)

IT'S game = TAG (noun, the game played by "IT")

Either works for me.

No prob w/ LOCAL as "Britishism" (as @SteveJ pointed out) as "pub" is the flag in the clue. Obscurity factor perhaps more the issue.

Not sure if I found the misdirections refreshing or too cute (annoying), probably a mix.

Average time, my hang up was actually the SE, mostly because I pondered too long before remembering to read 58D.


Anonymous 10:21 AM  

Just wanted to chime in as a New Yorker and let you know that everyone I know refers to their favorite neighborhood bar as their local. Maybe it's a Brooklyn thing... Or a still-just-barely-under-40 thing...

Crosscan 10:29 AM  

Holy 5:18 Batman!

As a speed-solver, I want to know if a GERBIL is a RAT (or vice-versa).

Broken-down Grammarian 10:30 AM  

Let's use a test:
The dog's game ended in a tie.
Its game ended in a tie.
Tom was It, and he caught everyone. It was certainly Its game.
The possessive is intact, and 'its' is spelled correctly (sans apostrophe.) It's not open to a vote, in the same way that we don't get to vote on whether a DWI should be subject to arrest.

Alternative construction for that clue: [ITs game]. I think people would still have had to pause....some would have thought, "Institute of Technology's game?".... or maybe they'd have gotten it on crosses anyhow (as I did.)

SethG 10:37 AM  

Yup, super awkward overall. Not as much trouble in the SW, but having PARK for the [Car wash gear] just killed me in the SE. I wanted RAM for the longest time, too, even though a RAT.

I've been to The Local, but I maybe didn't study the menu well enough. I do know they sell more Jameson than any other establishment in the world and that PG's right about The Jackal.

retired_chemist 10:43 AM  

@ BDG -

I disagree.

It as a pronoun is neuter - no gender. "It" in tag is used as a noun and refers to a person, so it has a gender (Mary is It, e.g.). Must be a noun, and in effect a proper noun since it names a person. Noun possessives are formed with an apostrophe.

As ArtLvr said elsewhere, suppose tag spelled it Itt. One would say Itt's game.

Once Tom tags one person he is no longer It, so your sentence violates the rules of tag, but that's beside the point.

Steve J 10:48 AM  

@Mac: You're welcome.

Regarding the "It's" debate:

I started off with a longish pseudo-rant about this, and in the process talked myself into a different conclusion than I originally made. While sparing everyone the whole saga (which would bore myself to tears, let alone all of you), here's where I came out:

Suppose you named your pet dog "It." How would you write about your dog's favorite toy? Would you write, "That's its favorite ball"? Or would you write, "That's It's favorite ball"?

Personally, I'd write the latter. The capitalization would tip me off that I'm dealing with a proper name. And it's a common crossword cluing convention to use the initial capitalization of every clue to cause misdirection for proper nouns.

So, I've come around to thinking it's not an incorrect clue. However, that does not in any way indicate I think this is a good clue. It's not. (Pun intended.)

Rex Parker 10:55 AM  

TAG is clued perfectly.


Anonymous 10:59 AM  

'local' as a drinking establishment is the first entry in the urban dictionary.

Personally, I found the puzzle super easy.

Two Ponies 10:59 AM  

Not a bad Wednesday. The theme answers, except for the third one, were kinda cute. The clues were a bit edgy for a mid-week puzzle and added to my enjoyment. I savor my puzzles and have no desire to be a speed solver.
I'm also tired of the Alou family but I see their usefulness with all of those vowels.
Saw a new clue to a crossword standard yesterday. "Her name can be typed entirely with the right hand." Yoko Ono. That sort of clue/answer would have fit right into today's puzzle.

Rex Parker 11:01 AM  

PS today's puzzle did not have 122 words. Not even close. As I said in the write-up, it had 78, which is the maximum for M-Sat.


archaeoprof 11:06 AM  

My German friends will sometimes refer to a pub as a "Lokal," but I've never heard it in English before.

Ulrich, what do you think?

@Elaine: right you are about PRIDE.

I misread the clue for 48A as "nickname for an unpredictable columnist." In what sense was Eric the Red a columnist, I wondered.

edith b 11:09 AM  

I picture a stout Englishman, pulling on his moustaches chortling "Quite, quite." as he wrote these clues. There is a difference between "misdirection" and "obfuscation.

I am not a speed solver nor want to be but I do not begrudge speed solvers their ability to enjoy their puzzle their way, something I detect going on here.

Lanier 11:15 AM  

I didn't think it was that bad, but I'm slow and, like Rex pointed out, there was nothing crushing. Last to fall for me was ALL IN. That was up there with MEANT for me, i.e., weird clue.

John 11:19 AM  

Agree with Megan, tricky and fun. No problem with British lingo. Nobody seems to mind French and Spanish, etc. ... so why not? Strongly disagree with "it's" criticism. Replace it with a name, like Bob. So it's Bob's game or a game with Bobs. "It" was capitalized, so it was grammatically quite correct. When speed solvers get frustrated, they blame the construction. "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in the stars" ... and blah, blah, blah.

Howard B 11:20 AM  

I think aspects of a puzzle that can make it more difficult for speed-solvers is that of the cluing and fill commonality. The more familiar and commonly-used clues and fill words, the faster the solve. It's like smoothing the ice on a speed-skating track, or something like that.
Take the same fill words, alter the cluing to use some never-before-seen or infrequent wordplay, misdirections, and maybe a few awkward or tricky phrasings (good or bad), and you throw some ruts and rocks onto the ice; you can't 'translate' the clues as quickly. If the fill is less common with less frequently-seen letters, you also can't depend on pattern matching to fill in those blanks without clues.

Here, words like JACKAL, GIZA and even SMIRK throw a bit of lessfrequent fill in there, and the clue for TAG, say, is a great misdirection that doesn't lend to automatic filling.

Just my two cents. This one took a little longer than usual, although didn't strike me as extremely tough for the day.

John 11:22 AM  

I forgot to check. Did anyone have a bracket with Butler and Duke in the finals, with Duke winning? Who won the book?

Zeke 11:28 AM  

This whole speed/non speed solving thing reminds me of when, in high school, they were teaching us how to use slide rules. Yes, I am that old. Anyway, the teacher would write on the board (52,124 x 12,842)/(1,424) and by the time he was finished writing I would shout out the answer, never having used a slide rule. I just understood math, significant digits, etc, knew how to simplify the problem to the point where I could do it in my head. It wasn't as if I walled myself off in a soundproof chamber, took a little crank, and slid my slide rule at superhuman speeds, I just got it.
I don't see how how quickly one's natural solving speed has anything to do with whether or not the clue for ERRATICTHERED sucks or not. The base phrase is Eric The Red, which sticks out among the three as being a legitimate phrase, but one unrelated to the clues. ["Eric the red"] out-googles["Erik the red"] a little over two to one. Even assuming half the "Eric.. " results are stubs to "Erik", they're equivalent. Eric the Red was a viking, that's it. Why try to extrapilate to some ficticious communist? It's bad if you solve it quickly or slowly.

HudsonHawk 11:37 AM  

Enjoyed the write-up and the videos (love World Party) more than the puzzle. But no Aretha? Oh yeah, that was Chain of Fools.

I understand the explanations provided, but I still hated "It's game".

@Zeke, well said.

Tinbeni 11:41 AM  

Liked the SLEPT, DOZE then WOKE

So this slowed down the speed solvers.
I guess their PRIDE is hurt b/c it took 6 min.?
Yeah, there is a SMIRK in there somewhere.

Here, we call the corner pub a bar, LOCALs are the residents.

Anonymous 11:43 AM  

Erratic, the red is.

yoda 11:44 AM  

Erratic, the red is.

Ulrich 12:20 PM  

I have this irrational phobia of rats (is there a name for it?)--the only thing I remember from 1984 is the description of death-by-rats. Don't want to be reminded of it/them before breakfast--and so, this puzzle did not sit well with me for multiple reasons.

@archeoprof: I, too, had never heard of this meaning of "local" and was struck by the similarity with Lokal (stress on last syllable).

Sandy 12:23 PM  

@Tinbeni. When has a speed solver ever smirked at you? I'm so sick of this anti-speed business.

Tinbeni 1:00 PM  

The speed solver's are smirking everytime they feel is is NECESSARY to feed their own EGO by listing their solve time.

Ergo, throwing it in the face of the gliders, snails, whatever you call the average solver who is just trying to complete a NYT crossword puzzle.

When @Rex, @PG or @Orange refer to their time they use it to indicate the puzzle level of relative difficulty.

The other's are patting themself on the back.

andrea she-michaels 1:01 PM  

What an interesting pic of the building in TEHRAN (which I still always want to spell TEHERAN).
It looks like a giant pair of bell-bottoms! I wonder if it was built in the 60's!

Favorite word was SHE-devil and I liked the pangram bec I think maybe Will is beginning to appreciate it more, as adding more flavor.

(I'm also secretly sorta glad someone got away with 13 15 13 again! Makes me feel like there is hope that three is the new four that had become the new three!)

edith b 1:03 PM  


That is precisely the point I have been trying to make but I am not as straightforward as you.

You go, girl!

obertb 1:03 PM  

Clark's defense of "it's" is unimpeachable. So put me down on that side of that debate.

I liked ERRATIC THE RED. Sorry, I just did.

My solve time was longish, but I enjoy a puzzle that relies more on tough cluing than on obscure names--are you listening BEQ?

syndy 1:06 PM  

Erik the Red may have been a fifth columnist.It's okay to be the apollo ono of puzzling but wear your helmet

andrea quip michaels 1:08 PM  

Fear of rats is SURIPHOBIA

(Oddly, it's also the fear that Tom Cruise will continue to reproduce to show the world...something)

Zeke 1:10 PM  

@Tinbeni - I think you were confusing Crosscan's posting of 5:18 as being his time, rather than a sly link to Proverbs 5:18, a benidiction upon Rex and Sandy. Either that or you are getting annoyed at people randomly being honest, gleeful at an unusually good time for them, or whatever.

Two Ponies 1:21 PM  

I agree with @obertb. I'll take tough clues over obscure names any day.
@ Andrea, I see the bellbottoms! you're definitely on it today.
I forgot to mention that I have spent enough time in British pubs that "local" was a gimme. Mine was the Haverstock Arms in London and the Barley Mow in Bath. You gotta love the names.I also frequently heard the pub called "the office." I guess it was to legitimize one's whereabouts when asked where you had been so late.

Crosscan 1:21 PM  

I never use my time to show up a "regular" solver. I will, however, always use my time to show up Mr. former-44th best. He understands.

nanpilla 1:33 PM  

@andrea : too funny!

Puzzle seemed a little lite on theme material, but my only complaint was the clue for BAY. A bay horse is a horse with a reddish brown coat, with black "points" on the lower legs, mane, tail, and edges of the ears. They can be quite dark, but they can also be almost as light as a chestnut. I understand using the phrase dark horse to try to misdirect, but it just isn't accurate.

Hand up for lackey before JACKAL, and not even noticing that I had brood/erbe until I got here.

deerfencer 1:40 PM  

Got hung up on JACKAL/JAMB cross and think both were poorly clued. I second many of Rex's criticisms but in the end still found the puzzle moderately entertaining.

Ulrich 1:44 PM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ulrich 1:49 PM  

@Andrea: I think we just witnessed the Great American Meaning Shift as it refers to the term "suriphobia". Now we need a new term for "fear of rats"... about "ratzangst", formed after Platzangst--German for agoraphobia?

Tinbeni 1:52 PM  

I know your relationship with Rex is such that the 1:21 comment is an "inside ribbing" between close friends.

First off: The only reason smirk came into my 11:41 comment was b/c it was in the puzzle. (31D)

Secondly: I too DO NOT, in any shape or form, begrudge the Speed Solvers.
Different strokes for different folks is OK by me.

Finally: I really don't care if you solve on a computer (or your make of computer), use a pencil or pen or crayon.

Bitch about it, praise it, whatever. The QUIPs here aren't going to cure cancer, get the economy back on track, end famine or social injustice, bring about world peace.
I just hope everyone who does the NYT crossword puzzle has fun.

geez, I need an Avatar.

PS I really do wish we could have World Peace.

Crosscan 1:52 PM  

Is the fear of speed-solvers crucivelociphobia?

Oscar 1:54 PM  

Closed-off corners again today, but at least they had Scrabbly letters.

Theme seemed fine to me, if off a few years (it's the Year of the Tiger now).

andrea the erratic 2:00 PM  

This weekend en route to a Scrabble tournament, I was learning 5 letter words that start with D.
(Yes, nerdy!)

I got to DERAT and thought what is DERAT? I was pronouncing it like a French Derra or rhyming with Ferret.

It turns out it's de-rat, to rid of rats!!!
By the way, IS this actually the Year of the Rat? Shuld this puzzle have not been published two months ago? Or is this like a wedding where we have all year to give the gift?

fikink 2:00 PM  

@Two Ponies, love the YOKO ONO clue - and agree it would fit beautifully among the riddles in today's puzzle.
And "Barley Mow" is wonderful. Just listened to Seamus Kennedy sing it on youtube.

@archaeprof, I find myself doing the communist/columnist thing ALL the time...and then I hear Emily Litella saying, "Never mind."

@Crosscan, crucivelociphobia has rhythm. I like it!

Parshutr 2:01 PM  

@Rex...dumb old me, added 64 (as in the last across clue) and 58 (58 down) to get 122...pretty pathetic.

andrea tata michaels 2:02 PM  

Of course! year of the TIger! SOrry, we were typing same time...
Well, TIger is certainly a rat, so perhaps fitting. I can't wait till year of the JACKAL!

Parshutr 2:05 PM  

@crosscan...not fear, nor envy. Dogs and wolves are both canines. Speed solvers are quicker, and the rest of us are just slower. WAWWA.

nanpilla 2:16 PM  

Check out the video link on Amy's blog. @imsdave, @mac and (I think with his back to the camera in yellow) @hudsonhawk are all in there at around 0:33. Good memories!

We are all speed solvers - the speeds just arent't the same!

lit.doc 2:27 PM  

Ok, let’s go at it from a slightly different angle. Accept for the sake of argument the rational(s) put forward for the nonstandard usage of “It’s”, but then pursue the logic of it a bit further. Over the course of a game, there will be greater than one persons designated as “it”. Mustn’t the clue thus read “Its’” to be correct as has been argued?
As to the town and gown, er, um, I mean (following Glitch’s usage) competitive and noncompetitive solver thingy, I JUST DO NOT UNDERSTAND ALL THE SHORT-STROKING. It’s just freaking information. I really don’t think anyone is wagging anything in our faces. If a person has achieved a skill level at which they typically can do a Monday or Tuesday puzzle in three to four minutes and s/he reports that a given day’s puzzle took 30 seconds more or less than usual, that’s a significant variance. I’m at a point where I can usually do a Monday or Tuesday puzzle in about ten minutes, and plus or minus 30 seconds is a fairly trivial variance. Information. That’s it.
Each of the several artists whose recordings of Chopin’s F major Ballade I own plays it much faster than can I, and with far fewer errors. They are not throwing anything in the face of hobbyists like me. They’re just being the best musicians they can be.

chefbea 2:44 PM  

@tinbeni - I'll drink a scotch to that!!!! I myself love doing crossword puzzles. I don't care if it takes all day - and some times it does

Anonymous 2:50 PM  

Information to whom?

ileen 3:12 PM  

I'm another BrOOD/ErBE solver. When my solution came back incorrect, I never doubted that cross for a moment. Time to study my European rivers, I guess.

HudsonHawk 3:13 PM  

@nanpilla, that is me in the yellow sweater in the video! I watched it last night and didn't even notice.

sanfranman59 3:29 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 12:35, 11:51, 1.06, 69%, Medium-Challenging

Top 100 solvers

Wed 6:57, 5:49, 1.19, 89%, Challenging

I hope I'm not stoking the speed vs. non-speed solver fires here! I'm just posting information that I already keep track of for my own interest. I thoroughly enjoy solving crosswords, have a head for numbers and am also the not-always-proud owner of a highly competitive nature. So it just comes naturally to me to solve puzzles as quickly as I can and see how I stack up with others.

I'll keep posting my data as long as (a) Rex permits it and (b) at least a few people out here think it's interesting. As I've said before, if you don't care about the numbers or in any way find them offensive, feel free to skip over my posts. I don't mind.

Howard B 3:59 PM  

Did I say anything offensive in my post? Everyone solves in their own way. There's no superiority complex here, and speed does not necessarily = better solving anyway; Sometimes I may solve quickly, and sometimes I'm completely stumped by themes or puzzles that others calmly breeze through at various paces.

I'm just not sure where the tension arises from. If someone time posting bothers you, then disregard it. Nobody doing so time has ever to my knowledge written or implied any statement such as, "If you didn't solve this puzzle in n minutes, that's sad". People post for their own amusement and comparison, and to create their own relative difficulty scale.

I don't personally post times, but I also don't begrudge others their right either. That said, joke around, but just leave out the snide nastiness in those posts. I'm easygoing, but as one poster said, "feeding solvers' egos"? Not true, and not appreciated.

Sorry for the tangent, but that one just hit me wrong. Thanks for reading, and as always, have fun :).

JenCT 4:07 PM  

Just could NOT see ERRATICTHERED - another DNF.

As to the speed solvers vs. non-speed solvers, wasn't it Will Shortz who said "It's your puzzle - solve it however you like." (or something like that)

Jeff 4:13 PM  

"I walked down to my local" is totally legit and common in Brit-speak.

Sundial wondered? Then 4:17 PM  

Now your daily analysis is useful information.
Just like when Rex gives out his time and "tags" the puzzle with HIS determination of "Relative difficulty" level.

Also there is nothing wrong with having a "competitive nature" and seeing how your time stacks up with others.

I have noticed you never "quote" your time in the twice daily posts.

I assume there is a place somewhere that the Speed solvers can check this.

dk 4:46 PM  

Riden with @twoponies today. Loved this puzzle. Sailed right through (some say RAT is my year) and I am off to the LOCAL (Mpls Irish Tap) for a Black and Tan in about 15 minutes.

Only hiccup was spelling JACKAL as jackel giving me pen for RAN and ppide as going before the fall.

Sigh... stupid is as stupid does. Or, Its my puzzle and I'll cry if I want to.

Because everyone here is smarter than me: Do any of you know of a socio-economic indicator that is not income or consumptive based? I may get a SUPREMBERATING, so please click on my little picture and send any advice my way.

**** (4 Stars)

Secret word: hobitall -- Bilbo on growth hormones

dk 4:48 PM  


fikink 4:53 PM  

@Howard B - No, you said nothing offensive to my ear.

As @dk disGOREged, "It's my party..."

I like contemplating difficult NYT crossword puzzles, Mr. Fikink likes Mafia Wars. We learned long ago not to compare our Zens.

PIX 5:27 PM  

@sanfranman59...I have said this before and I will say it again: I for one am very grateful that you post the times as you do. While it's nice to hear everybody's opinion ("it was easy"; "it was hard"etc.) having actual data is very informative...opinions are nice, actual data is even nicer. The experts such as Rex (as all humans) have their own built in strengths and weaknesses and its very useful to find out how a larger pool of puzzle solvers did with the puzzle. After i finish (as best i can) a puzzle i always take an extra few seconds afterward to see if I can guess how the times you post compare to my assessment of the puzzle. Again, I for one am thankful and appreciative of your work.

archaeoprof 6:18 PM  

@Sanfranman: count me among those who are still very interested.

PurpleGuy 6:28 PM  

@Tinbeni - You said it, man. I couldn't agree more, and my 103 year old dad and I toast you with some equally old scotch. I may alsao have a martini later, but that another story.
He is the one that gave me my love for crossword puzzles, and I really don't care how long it takes. I'm in it for the FUN !

I also agree with @Rex, the cluing for TAG was spot on.

your average blank 6:29 PM  

I thought it had a good beat and was easy to dance to; I will give it an 85, Dick.

Stan 6:35 PM  

Loved the puzzle for its twistiness and found the theme answers all very funny. Must look for Richard Silvestri's byline in the future.

I try to read the whole blog when I come in late, but I'm adopting a new policy: Seeing the character string "speed solv" means that I skip to the next post. Life is just too short.

andrea elbe michaels 7:08 PM  

if you had PEN for 23A you had a malapop!!! Bec PEN appears at 46A.

I must have missed it earlier, as I too had BROOD/ERBE. Damn!!!
Since I don't solve on line, I don't know I've made a mistake till I come here! grrrr. I'd rather die than learn European River names. (Unless of course I need one of them for one of MY puzzles!)

Anonymous 7:14 PM  

Don't know if anyone else thought that 9A was poorly clued--wouldn't someone who was in the arms of Morpheus have DREAMED or DREAMT, while someone who SLEPT would have been in the arms of Hypnos?

mac 7:53 PM  

@Andrea Elbe Michaels: Having lived within walking distance of the Elbe helped today. Also, just talked to a friend who lives right on that river 2 hours ago! There is a lot of traffic on that river, which is so much fun to watch. In Wedel, a few kilometers away, every shipping passing through gets welcomed by their national anthem. On a nice day you can have lunch (or beer or Kaffee un Kuchen) on a terrace and see and hear it all..... I had a wonderful 3 year stint in Hamburg!

Another gaminetu?

mac 7:55 PM  

That was sloppy. In a rush because a clients is arriving at 8.30 p.m.!

Ulrich 8:26 PM  

Re. Elbe for those interested in European river lore: It formed a major portion of the border between the former West and East Germanies. Der Alte, like many of us Rhinelanders, had a built-in aversion against anything that smacked of Prussia, but in his capacity as chancellor of West Germany, he had to take the train to West-Berlin at times, which had to cross the Elbe. Whenever they approached, he told his adjudant, "please close the window curtains--I don't want to see the Asian steppe."

Friend of Bill's 8:26 PM  

I don't mind people posting their solving times. But I wish people would stop "throwing it in my face" about how much they can drink.

joho 8:30 PM  

@nanpilla ... you said it the best: different speeds = brilliant!

You say Poe TATE Oh, I say Poe TAH toe ... we all love crossword puzzles, who cares how we solve them .. fast or slow, doesn't matter.

The Truth Hurts 8:52 PM  

Cite one instance, just one,
where anybody commenting here has
ever, EVER "thrown in your face"
about how much they can drink.


Friend of Bill's 9:14 PM  

POS: That's exactly my point. Posting solving times isn't "throwing anything in anyone's face." And to say that it is, is just as ridiculous as me being overly sensitive about something that's not a part of my life.

jesser 9:38 PM  

I hereby challenge anyone in here to a drinkfest. I pick bourbon. Come prepared.

As for speed solving: I kicked the pills a long time ago, so as much as I wanna, I can't challenge you with a fistful of whites. (That may be a Billy Joel song.)

Has anyone else noticed that pistachio nuts are oddly addictive?

Verstus! ( the excuse my ex used to exit the relationship, to which I called BULLSHITICUS) -- jesser

Martin 9:39 PM  

Re "It's game":

No grammatical rules have been violated.

"It" is the actual name of the person who is doing the chasing in tag. So, if in a (hypothetical) similar game, the person doing the chasing was called "Fred", the game could be clued: "Fred's game".

Also, this is probably about the only time this usage would ever be correct.

Cathyat40 9:40 PM  

Not a speed-solver; liked the puzzle, it made me smile, especially "ship of fuels" :)

PurpleGuy 10:02 PM  

@jesser - What brand of bourbon ? Or should I bring my own ?
I have a bottle of Booker's, and I could probably drink you under the table(or whatever) ;)

todd 10:18 PM  

Yeah, sorry folks, but the Brits call 'em locals. Usually in a sentence like 'Oy, let's meet the lads at the local.'

jesser 10:40 PM  

@PurpleGuy: I'm not picky, but Woodbridge is certainly a favorite. In a pinch, I can stretch Evan Williams 18 ways from thin...

PurpleGuy 10:43 PM  

@jesser - "18 ways from thin" Hmmmmm...
I think you have a deal !

Tinbeni 10:56 PM  

Dimple, everywhere else but the good ol' USA.

Then I'm in, fur'sur!

As long as I can have my PINCH!
(ed.note: Not a Single Malt)

PS @PurpleGuy, I toasted you and the 103 Dad at sunset tonight.

captcha: bifinal??? WTH!

Two Ponies 11:02 PM  

I'll drink pretty much whatever you're pouring! Bring it on!

Secret word : woresses. How I'll feel in the morning and vow never to do again. (Yeah, right.)

SethG 11:04 PM  

How is "Took me 14:50" any less germane to a discussion than "PODIA was my first answer" or "I spelled it JACKLE at first, then couldn't get GERBLE TO work out" or "The clue on RAN made me spit out my coffee"? They all speak to the puzzle, and all speak to whatever the commenter finds noteworthy about his process for solving that specific puzzle.

They're certainly all more germane than "My new avatar is a dolphin because I gave up tuna fish" or "I'm going to Omsk, back next week" comments, though even though I'll grudgingly admit that even those might have their place to help foster a sense of community for some. Captcha comments may fall in the same line, beets or scotch, I'm not sure...

There's a point at which that community conversation can overwhelm the puzzle discussion, but it's really up to Rex to decide on the balance he wants. He tries to gently nudge by, for example, asking us to limit our posts to 3/day, but you only need to look at yesterday's comments to see that he's generally (at least publicly) somewhat lenient about that until it becomes a problem.

If you think someone faster than you is posting his time to show his superiority, do you in turn feel superior to those you're faster than? The first time (of very few) posted today was by lit.doc, who said it took him 21:30. If that didn't bother you but a faster time would, why is that? I was faster, but I feel no more superior to lit.doc because of that than I do inferior to someone who solved it in, say, 2:13 (or faster, wink). And, at least for the fasties I know, I don't think they feel superior either.

ArtLvr 11:05 PM  

I have to laugh, coming so late to the party. As @retired_chemist noted, I'd written over at Amy's:

"Pretend a person named Itt is tagged in a game and you’ll see Itt’s It. His game is TAG. Its without the apostrophe would not make sense because a noun antecedent is missing."

I really thought Rex or someone would relate it to the Simpsons' Itt... Oh well. Loved the puzzle, just my speed in every sense of the phrase!


pierap - what the pirate got for stealing the pie.

Tinbeni 11:29 PM  

That was the most cognizant statement
of the day. I salute you.

I do the NYT CW only for FUN.
(just printed it out)

However, when it comes to my Avatar ...
I'm never changing. Plus I like tuna.

captcha: reepa (as in "Don't fear da reepa!")

Moonchild 11:36 PM  

# SethG, I think you might be onto something equating "My first entry was ..." to a solving time. It's all just our personal experience with that particular puzzle.
I'm not sure how today's discussion de-evolved but I think it was WAY earlier when someone tried to make a joke with the word smirk that was in the puzzle. The whole thing just went down the shitter after that.
Can we all just forget about it and come back fresh tomorrow?

Steve J 11:39 PM  

@ArtLvr: Part of what got me to realize the clue is correct - and, as @Martin says, probably the only case where "It's" as a possessive would ever be correct - was thinking about Cousin Itt from the Addams Family.

Bourbon: pity that it's running out, but if anyone has the inclination (and money) try Hirsch 16 y.o. Best whisk(e)y I've ever had. Almost made me cry. (Yes, better than any single malt I've had, although it's a close call compared to a couple.)

Re speed solving: We all enjoy puzzles for different reasons, and we all approach them differently. Comments insinuating that speed solvers aren't having fun are frankly more arrogant than any posting of times, in my opinion, because it says that someone else's way of enjoying the puzzle is wrong. It would be like saying that people who start with the downs instead of the accrosses are doing it wrong and therefore not having fun. And, for the record, I'm not a speed solver. Although I do use time (which the app I use calculates whether I want it to or not) to help me note if I had a harder or easier time than I typically do. But I'm nowhere near what anyone would consider fast.

sanfranman59 11:40 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 7:32, 6:55, 1.09, 74%, Medium-Challenging
Tue 7:45, 8:52, 0.87, 21%, Easy-Medium
Wed 12:32, 11:51, 1.06, 69%, Medium-Challenging

Top 100 solvers

Mon 3:52, 3:40, 1.05, 71%, Medium-Challenging
Tue 4:16, 4:31, 0.94, 39%, Easy-Medium
Wed 6:38, 5:49, 1.14, 83%, Challenging

Tinbeni 11:55 PM  

re: Smirk, that was me.
It could be taken either way.

Did the speed guy smirk b/c his time was slow?
Did the snail smirk b/c the speeder came down to a "regulars" level?

Me, I LOL that it was in the puzzle.

The Hirsch 16yo sounds good, but after 35 years I'll stick with the "aqua vitae."

Toni 3:00 PM  

13 Down: Bogus!
Its is the possessive,
not It's! It's is the
contraction, it is.

WilsonCPU 12:08 PM  

From SyndicationLand:
- One more for BROOD/ERBE. Sigh. First flat-out error in a long time (that I noticed, at least!)... Foo... never even thought about it.
- Just ONE objection to the flat-out error of PRIDE for "Fall preceder"? Proverbs 16:18 "Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall" ... Foo, indeed.

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