Longtime battler of Mongols / FRI 4-9-10 / Heavenly neighbor of Scutum / Flimflam's antithesis / Lyricist Dubin / Floating brown algae

Friday, April 9, 2010

Constructor: Ned White

Relative difficulty: Challenging


Word of the Day: AL Dubin (10D: Lyricist Dubin and others => ALS) —

Al Dubin (June 10, 1891 - February 11, 1945) was a Jewish-American Swiss-born lyricist. He was born in Zurich, Switzerland and died in New York City. [...] He is perhaps most famous for the 1933 musical film 42nd Street to the music of Harry Warren. Other famous movies included Footlight Parade and all five Gold Diggers films. Together, Warren and Dubin wrote 60 hit songs for Warner Brothers. In 1980 producer David Merrick and director Gower Champion adapted 42nd Street into a Broadway musical that won The Tony Award for Best Musical for 1981. (wikipedia)

• • •

Wow, talk about getting the day of the week wrong. This came in as a hard Saturday for me, and the second-hardest Friday of the year (after my Jan. 1 debacle). Initial times at the NYT site are stratospheric. I have no idea how multiple test-solvers said, "yeah, this is a Friday." It's not. Annoying. The grid itself is fine, though the clues seemed a bit dull and the general tenor of the puzzle felt staid and old-fashioned — except AS IF I CARE, which is a very nice, fresh answer (32D: "Whatever"). Worst quadrant for me was the NW, where, despite a great initial guess of J.S. BACH at 1D: "Original father of harmony," per Beethoven, briefly, I couldn't get any of the Acrosses. At All. Forever. BUCK ROGERS battled Mongols? (17A: Longtime battler of the Mongols)? ... JASMINE TEA is a "refresher"? (1A: Flower-scented refresher) ... I had no idea how to come up with an opposite of "flimflam" (15A: Flimflam's antithesis => SQUARE DEAL) as I didn't know if the word referred to the type of talk or the talker or what. AQUILA? (2D: Heavenly neighbor of Scutum) — No idea, so "Q" stayed hidden til bitter end. EDGAR Guest is ... a person? A writer, maybe? Pfft. No idea. A MASS can simply be EARLY? That feels completely bogus. I had MASS early, but I did not have EARLY MASS til late (9D: What a priest may say shortly after waking up). Lyricist Dubin? No way. And on and on. Total fail — except that I did manage to finish. Just took forever.

No time for extended write-up, as I gotta get up super early tomorrow. So — straight to hi/lowlights.

  • 19A: It flows through Knottingley (AIRE) — that is a suffix for "billion," not a river. Ugh. I had AVON. More Geography Fail — ARTOIS (25D: Historical region on the Strait of Dover). I have heard of Stella ARTOIS, the beer-maker. That's the only ARTOIS I know.
  • 31A: World leader whose full name included Abdel twice (ARAFAT) — no idea. Had NASSAR (!?), which isn't even spelled right, I don't think.
  • 58A: Locale of the radial notch (ULNA) — Nope, nothing.
  • 20A: Chicago Sting's org. (NASL) — North American Soccer League. Defunct. I considered WNBA.
  • 3D: Former Ecuadorean money (SUCRES) — I know SUCRE as a capital, but as coinage, no. Maybe I've heard of it, but ... no. Ditto GOURDE (46D: 100 centimes).
  • 14D: Floating brown algae (SARGASSO) — would have been stumped but had the SAR- before I ever saw the clue and guessed it (solely from knowing the title "The Wide SARGASSO Sea").
  • 34D: Something that's the most luxurious of its kind (CADILLAC) — this would have been good had it not been for the "most." CADILLAC = luxuriousness, but not superlative luxuriousness. That's why there are "CADILLAC health insurance plans." "Plans," plural. They can't all be "most luxurious."
  • 35D: Capital on Gulf St. Vincent (ADELAIDE) — noooo idea. Is this in Australia? I thought CANBERRA was the capital of Australia. Ah, it's the capital of the *state* of South Australia. Are Australians required to know Carson City in order to solve their crosswords? I hope so. That will make me happier.
  • 42D: He wrote "I will show you fear in a handful of dust" (T.S. ELIOT) — sounded familiar but couldn't place it. Needed many crosses. Came across this T.S. ELIOT letter to his young nephew (via some Twitter feed I follow — NY Mag's "Culture Vulture" blog, probably). Anyway, it's pretty adorable.
  • 55D: Phenomena after retiring (R.E.M.s) — hate this in the plural.
See you soon,

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


deerfencer 12:29 AM  

Haven't even seen the puzzle yet and most likely won't attempt it as Thursday is usually my cut-off day but the Eliot poem is wonderful stuff. Thanks for posting the link, and keep up the great work!

PurpleGuy 12:49 AM  

I somehow got in the mind-set of Mr. White as this puzzle fell fairly smoothly for me. Only trouble was the SW.
Got JASMINETEA from the J in JSBACH.
Took Astronomy at CU in Boulder, so knew AQUILA.
STEIG was one of the authors I included when I taught 1st grade.
@Rex-"Are Australians required to know Carson City in order to solve their crosswords ?" LOL !!!!!!
I second your feeling.(or emotion, as the song goes.)

I still cannot quite believe that I finished a Friday NYT puzzle.
Thanks, dad, for the training !

newspaperguy 1:03 AM  

One of the toughest of the year, and not even much fun, given the number of truly obscure answers.

Zeke 1:09 AM  

This puzzle was easier for me than yesterdays. Perhaps watching Wide Sargasso Sea, with its scene of a sailor drowned by floating algae, last night helped. Not knowing that the NASL has folded probably helped some more. Perhaps having things I didn't know which when crossed with other things I didn't know but were actual, real words helped.
Waugh's A Handful of Dust is a favorite novel of mine, though Eliot didn't come to mind as the source of the puzzle until I had the TSE__. Yes, I even needed the E. In brief it was about the disipation of an upper class British family, to the point where one of them was doomed to reading Dickens aloud to his captor for the rest of his life. That fate is in fact the ultimate of despair, where one sees fear in a handful of dust. Reading Dickens aloud for the rest of your life.

SethG 1:24 AM  

Apparently, I swam in St Vincent's Gulf. Who knew?

ALS/SLA is cute. SETSEYESON looks like it can't possibly be words, and AAR looks like it can't possibly be a word. Given what I don't know, I have no idea how I solved this puzzle correctly.

sendy 1:49 AM  

puzzle written by Ming the Merciless.Edgar guest floated up from the depths; and if i go ,i go to early mass but what a slog. i need a cadillac margarita!

lit.doc 2:37 AM  

Full disclosure: it was so apparent so quickly that I was in waaay over my head on this one that I started googling after only one across/down pass. Still took nearly an hour. That being said, and with due deference to the judgments of veteran solvers who post after I’ve keyed this postmortem, it seems to me that the WTFactor for this one is extraordinarily high.

This is not to say that I didn’t enjoy the puzzle. Despite what seems like a cataclysmic constellation of unusually obscure know-it-or-don’ts, there’s lots here to love. Misdirection, e.g.: 17A “Longtime battler of the Mongols” (gotta be an historical figure, no?) and 25A “Historical region on the Strait of Dover” (gotta be in England, no?). And how ‘bout the “club” mini-theme (63A, 13D, 44D) and the volcanic side-by-sides 57D ISLE / 60D MTS (islands being undersea mountains)?

And then there were the two missed opportunities along the way [cue fantasy sequence music]. The perfect answer for 29A “They utilize high bands” would have been CONCERTS, crosses be damned. And wouldn’t 16A have been pure joy clued as “Baba ___” (what, you weren’t a SNL fan?).

andrea debriefs michaels 2:43 AM  

HARD HARD HARD...needed a ton of help...

Stacks of tens were cool with SQUAREDEAL and TROGLODYTE, very colorful and hard to pull off.

I guess I'll be the first to point out that 3D SUCRES is the same word as 45A SUGARS...
Ecudorean must be one of those cultures that bartered with sugar before having money...

AND SO MUCH WATER! Rivers and drinks... For every one I guessed right (AAR) I would put in an Avon for AIRE.

WET WET WET, either geographical or drinkable:

AAR, AIRE, SARGASSO, Volcanic ISLEs, MTS, ADELAIDE on the Gulf of St Vincent, Strait of Dover, WAWA, JASOMINETEA, even URNS (presumably filled with coffee...) plus MAINSTREAM!
and yet, mysteriously, smack in the middle: DRIED!

Clark 3:45 AM  

I can't believe I got the whole thing. I won't say how long it took. It took a really long time.

SE fell first. Then CABANAS got me the SW. daiLY MASS became EARLY MASS. (Former Catholic school kid and altar boy here, there definitely is such a thing as EARLY MASS. It was 8am on week days and 6am on Sundays.) Memories of seeing BUCK ROGERS as a serial over the course of a film festival back in the day wafted up together with the smell of JASMINE TEA. Then, sheer determination to finish the bloody thing got me URNS under RADIOS, TWO IRONS and SARGASSO and I was home free.

That was a fluke. And I love this puzzle cause I was able to finish it. Otherwise I was going to hate it.

Elaine 6:17 AM  

This puzzle cleaned my clock. I had a nice little start in the SE, with RENATO and STAMEN (very cute!)....moved up to put in JSBACH and JASMINE TEA. Usually this would be enough to get the ball rolling. Noble gas, check; IRRegular, check; EDGAR Guest, check....then desolation! The grid looked like the path of a tornado, with tattered oddments scattered across the field. There were just too many clues outside my knowledge base--albums, obscure movies, 'Shrek,' Haitian money. Yes, I ran home to Google. Some of my margin notes proved correct, and I had taken out ONE IRONS--half right.

Lowest point: I actually considered SEAL HUNTER for 63A.

As someone noted, sometimes you're the windshield, sometimes you're the bug.

r.alphbunker 8:08 AM  

Looked up "centime" in my American Heritage dictionary. Otherwise I miraculously did the rest unaided. The "w" of "wawa" was the last to fall. Had "kawa" initially which is a Polish word for coffee. But "skat" didn't work for clock so somewhere I dredged up that "clock" can mean hit and "swat" followed. Definitely more than a Friday.

Bob Kerfuffle 8:19 AM  

Ouch! Great puzzle; took me almost 40 minutes!

One write-over: had CLEO before AMOR for Antony's love.

32 D reminded me of Car Talk's optometric supplier: C. F. Eye Care.

jesser 8:21 AM  

I finished, but WOW. The SE was the first quad to fall, without much problem. TROGLODYTE made me giggle, thinking of how PO'd the Geico Caveman will be when he tries this puzzle.

Took me f-o-r-e-v-e-r to give up on the est suffix for 34D, but once I did -- and sprinted far away from the box in which I had previously been thinking -- CADILLAC bubbled up, and that killed that corner. It also helps that I love Sarah McLachlan (although I probably always spell her name wrong).

One I gave up on oneIRONS in the NE, that area slowly emerged. Without crosses, 14D would remain a Forever Mystery, like boilermakers. I had Cleo for far too long at 18A, and I wanted deck for 11D. That corner is extra extra blue with gel ink.

At 8D, I had putS OFF for a long time, and finally decided It Had To Be Wrong. Like a gay Republican. In both cases, I was right, and that change paved the way for JASMINE TEA, which gave me JS BACH, which gave me CLERK, and so on.

BUCK ROGERS battled the Mongols? Brillig!

I can go my whole life without ever seeing the klan (I refuse to capitalize it) in my puzzle again.

Hoali! (What the golfi men aim for) -- jesser

nanpilla 8:41 AM  

This is exactly how I like my themeless puzzles. Hard, but ultimately gettable. Even though there were many things I did not know:
and many of the clues, the crosses were fair.
On my first pass, I think I only had IRR, ILL and BRA. Not a very good beginning, but 43 minutes later I was done. So much more satisfying than yesterdays, where unfamiliarity with the poem left little hope of fun.

For 30d, would have preferred "horse with dorsal stripe", but that's just me.

foodie 8:42 AM  

Shoot me!

Except I'm off to Turkey and I would like to see it before I die.

I will lick my wounds during the long flight. Maybe I'll be able to see you all from way over there...

PS. Rex, you're right. REMs in the plural is wrong. It's really REM sleep and it's a phenomenon. I know the scientist who observed it and named it. His name is Bill Dement. For true.

Andrea, I love your observation about the water everywhere and the dry spot in the middle of it all.

The Corgi of Mystery 8:44 AM  

Sounds like I struggled less on this than most others for whatever reason. The NW was tough though -- I made an intelligent guess of JASMINE TEA off just the TE_ at the end figuring that there's usually some Scrabbliness in the top quadrant, and that turned out to (luckily) be dead on.

[Alternative to alternative] is cute.

Howard B 8:51 AM  

Rex, for what it's worth, I also had NASSER for a long time. I was sure that was right. I'm now very sure it's wrong. Holy mother of Maleska, this one was a killer.

It also didn't help matters any that I entered JASIMNE TEA and didn't catch my typo for a while. (What the heck are IAKERS?!? Oh. Crud.)

By the way, my word verification to submit this post is 'XYLOMODS', which I think would have fit perfectly in this grid.

Orange 9:16 AM  

I will boldly rebut @foodie. I've edited a lot of sleep medicine papers and the doctors do indeed use the plural REMs. During polysomnography (a sleep study), the electro-oculograph records eye movements including the REMs that signal the transition into REM sleep.

@Howard B, I'm not sure you're allowed to agree that a puzzle was a killer when you (unlike me) actually finished it in a non-appalling time.

@Andrea, the sucre unit of currency was named after A.J. de Sucre. Who knew?

foodie 9:48 AM  

@Orange, I accept what you say.I am sure that usage has moved in this direction, and there is nothing grammatically wrong with it. I guess I find it jarring because I always think of the original sense of it, which was adjectival-- REM Sleep vs SW Sleep (or SWS), meaning Slow Wave Sleep.

But your comment brought back an old memory. I enrolled my son when he was a few months old in a developmental sleep study at Stanford and he was given a T shirt at the end that said: "Ask me about me REMs".

So, I stand corrected. Thank you!

Captcha: "redie"-- Die again? or Red Eye? Not sure I like it either way.

Anonymous 9:52 AM  

Edgar Guest was a famous poet born in Eng. but moved to Detroit, Mi. at an early age and wrote for the Det. Free Press. His son Bud Guest had a 15 min. radio program on WJR for many years called The Sunnyside of the Street. Golfballman

ArtLvr 10:23 AM  

Really tough! I worked it out without a peek anywhere, but stopped the clock when TIME wasn't the answer to the 11D Clock clue. Nothing seemed right in the top half except FM RADIOS.

Thus I completed the bottom half first, from MTS and MAINSTREAM and knowing the radial notch had to clue ULNA. Every tiny bit counted, including C starting the Roman numeral and IDS crossing DRIED. The GOURDE was new to me.

Fortunately, I'd just read a column on today's oped page which mention "Crash Course", a book by Paul Ingrassia, in which the multiple follies of US car makers were epitomized by the Cadillac with tail fins nearly as high as the roof!

When I got back to the top half, I got the EARLY MASS and TEES OFF, then realized that Guest in the library was like Waits in music yesterday -- a person! Also that the sippy cup meant kiddie stuff, therefore WAWA, too funny. Thanks for the workout, Ned!


p.s. Great comments, @nanpilla and @andrea et al. Also bon voyage to @foodie. My visit years ago to Istanbul left more mixed feelings than I'd ever felt before -- very nice people, but child beggars too, bought young and deliberately deformed by rings of criminals in pursuit of greater returns via pity. I hope and expect that's a thing of the past!

David L 10:26 AM  

Took me probably ten mins to get a handful of random words here and there, but then sectors began to fill in and I was done in 28 mins. Several words I didn't know, but I came up with them from crosses and they seemed plausible, which I guess is a tribute to the puzzle's maker.

Objections: 57 and 60 dn: it's/they're often volcanic. Um, no. Very few mountains are volcanic. Not so sure about isles, but I'd wager that most are also non-volcanic in origin.

Captcha: haerse. How a deceased dyslexic goes to the grave.

nancywithane 10:37 AM  

googled only 4 answers - that's a win for me on a Friday.

JayWalker 10:39 AM  

Yeah. What "he/she" said - but louder and with a lot more whining. For WHATEVER reason, I finished the SW and the center but completely blew out the NE. Googled my way to bliss everywhere else. Crappy way to end the week, speaking cruciverbalistically.

chefbea 10:40 AM  

Two really tough puzzles in a row!!! What will tomorrow bring??? Hope something a bit easier.

Two Ponies 10:54 AM  

The clubbing mini-theme was apppropriate for this (non)solver.
Like @lit.dic. it was very clear from the start that I was in over my head.
WAY too much obscure geography and foreign money. Toss in quite a few proper names and I had to quit.
Just to try and learn a few things I did some googling. One nit to pick after that was the river Aar which I could only find as Aare.
My sincere congratulations to anyone who cracked this nut.
@ Elaine, I also had the seal hunter thought with a wave of nausea. Actually the entire puzzle ruined my breakfast.

Anonymous 10:56 AM  

One clue was wrong. It was Flash Gordon who battled the Mongols, not Buck Rogers. I was thinking of Turks, Tartars, Several Chinese dyanasties, and the like for this one.

Stan 10:58 AM  

Even the poetry gimmes (Eliot and Guest) couldn't help me today. Hearty congrats to those who finished!

"Square Deal" always makes me think of this (not far from Rex):
Johnson City Arch

If you're interested in corporate/labor history, just Wiki "Johnson City Square Deal"

Tinbeni 11:06 AM  


The puzzle ... well it has LICE.


Best part was its crumpling and SWAT across the room.

Joni 11:07 AM  

I liked this one, but it was really tough. Once I gave up on Nasser, Avon, and Cleo, it finally fell together; I'm glad I'm not the only one who tried to make these wrong answers work. My pets have never had lice, thank goodness.

joho 11:12 AM  

Definition of NW today is "no way."

I'm glad @Rex and others here view this as a Saturday. Ugh.

The good news is now I look forward to tomorrow because it will have to be easier and more fun than this!

I did like TROGLODYTE.

fikink 11:13 AM  

This puzzle SWATted me upside the head.

Was up reading parts of The Wasteland at 4 this morning thanks to Ned!

@Zeke, did you really watch SARGASSO last night? Wow! Music of the spheres!

@Clark, hearty congratulations! I thought of you as I considered the clue at 36 Down - I had CRITICAL for too long.

Nice mix of the erudite (TROGLODYTE, SARGASSO, RENATO) and the hip (HASSLE, SWAT, TEES OFF)

Wanted TAUPE so bad for DUN, to the point of reinventing this puzzle as a rebus.

@2ponies - yes, the seals crossed my mind and stomach, too.

Good puzzle, Ned White - UNCLE!!!

Masked and Anonymous 11:16 AM  

@Anonymous (hey, get a mask or somethin'!): Buck Rogers did indeed battle Mongols in the funnies. See www.ilovecomixarchive.com/B/buck-rogers, if interested.

Tough puz. Got all but one letter (R). Rex is right. Hard even for a Saturday.

lit.doc 11:16 AM  

@jesser, LOL re your perspective on the Log Cabin dudes. Do you suppose the RNC at least uses impersonal lubricant?

@Elaine, me too re ONE IRON before TEN. We don't play golf, do we.

@David L, congrat's on the best explication of a captcha I've yet seen!

DianaH 11:31 AM  

Thanks, Rex. I get disheartened, then I read your post and am encouraged by the fact that I had the same problem areas that you did. Makes me feel not so inept.

Martin 11:42 AM  

Flash battled residents of Mongo, not Mongols. They were very Chinese-like, so it's easy to forget they're aliens. Buck Rogers battled real Mongols on 24th century Earth. They were just Chinese. Can you say "Yellow Peril"?

Crosscan 11:44 AM  

I found this easier than Thursday,

raidodaze 12:12 PM  

Five googles and alot of fun!

BTY, I think calling ARAFAT a WORLD leader is a bit much. Mideast , mabye.

JaneW 12:25 PM  

My husband met years (and years) ago in a "History of Mongolia" class at UCLA. So we puzzled and puzzled over the "Longtime battler of the Mongols" clue at 17A. Needless to say, BUCK ROGERS was not covered in that course!

This one took a lotta googling.

Moonchild 12:25 PM  

Crap. Here is a run down of what I thought as I scanned the clues.
Feel free to skip over me.
Knottingly sounds like England.
Sting an unknown sports team.
Writer of a movie I never saw.
Adbul some foreign Muslim guy.
Song from an album i never heard.
Yeah, that's what I need, a Roman numeral.
Some secondary Shakespeare character.
A constellation I've never heard of.
Old South Amer. money, right.
Some Catholic thing.
More English geography.
More geography.
Oh great, another river.
I like Johnny Cash, don't know this one.
Handful of dust sounds like another Muslim or Arab in a desert.
Oh good, more foreign money.
With that score card I knew I was toast. Geez Louise.

retired_chemist 12:38 PM  

This one cleaned my clock. I had all the false starts Rex and others mentioned, plus a few of my own (MOZART @ 1D, FLOWER @ 49D, MILK for 16A, ODOR for 59A, and more!). LICE (59A) are actually not common on dogs and cats.

I cannot recall a puzzle in which SO many answers were outside my ken. A Swiss town of 15,000? Never heard of it, and it's near Basel, where I have been several times. So was its river AAR, EXE, DEE,..... ? BUCK ROGERS and Mongols? Something from "Surfacing" (ADIA)? Don't know As You Like It well enough to know Adam. Guessed GOURDE, didn't guess SUCRES. Didn't know STEIG.

Turned the timer off and Googled before the halfway point. Haven't done that in a year or more. At least Mr. White provided an equal opportunity #%*&ing, in contrast to yesterday. But without lube.

Elaine 12:49 PM  

Oh, more to tell: NASSER, check; MILK, check, followed by bad-mommie COLA; CLEO, check.

If only the clue had been [wren genus] I'd have gotten TROGLODYTE like a shot.

You mean the puzzle cleaned YOUR clock, too? I can't believe I got up at 4 in the morning in order to get Buck-rogered like this.

On golf, I'm with Mark Twain: A good walk, ruined.

retired_chemist 1:03 PM  

One complaint - don't think the clue "Snipe, e.g." is appropriate for GAME BIRD. In the literal sense, snipes are not commonly hunted AFAIK the way ducks, partridges, pheasant, doves, etc. are. In the figurative sense (which would need a question mark anyway IMO), a snipe hunt is a practical joke, not a game.

Sure, I suppose snipes are hunted, but so are raccoons. That doesn't make raccoons game animals.

OldCarFudd 1:16 PM  

If I had been willing to Google, I MIGHT have finished. My whole NW is blank, except for dailymass, which is wrong. I got the rest, but WOW! It was miles over my head.

JF 1:20 PM  

Given the number of gimmes (ADIA, NEON, BRA, IRR, etc), I thought my quick conquest of the SE meant a speedy Friday. How wrong I was. Similar experience to most. I wavered between NASSER / ARAFAT, CALAIS / ARTOIS, MOZART / JSBACH, and more. The realization that the name "Mozart" isn't "brief" gave me the leverage into the NW that finally slew the dragon.

I actually enjoyed the challenge, and while it was a difficult one, I thought it was well clued. I had no problems with the "game" in GAME BIRD. I guess the pranksters find it a game, while the target finds no such pleasure.

Martin 1:20 PM  


That's Troglodytes.


Snipe hunting is a respected passtime. The difficuties involved in bagging this tasty little birds gives us the word "sniper," as well as "snipe hunt."

Anonymous 1:20 PM  

According to the dictionary and the New York DEC, SNIPE can be game birds.

PETA 1:41 PM  

@Martin - Respected by whom? Others who get glee from killing little birds?

clark 1:44 PM  

I got my Flash Gordon mixed up with my Buck Rogers. One I know from films; the other from a book collecting Buck Rogers comic strips. Funny how the mind will save us the details and just deliver up the right answer sometimes.

@retired_chemist -- Solothurn Stadt is pretty small. But Canton Solothurn has a population of 250,000 or so, and that is what makes the name of the town so familiar -- to some.

jae 1:47 PM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
jae 1:48 PM  

I got this but it was an overnight struggle. Indicative was putting in TWOIRON, then erasing it for CLEO and ONEIRON, and finally getting it right when AMOR clicked in. What helped in SW was that I've seen ADIA recently (maybe in a BEQ). I liked this one. BUCKROGERS, ASIFICARE, TROGLODITE, et. al. made it fun.

bunnyreader 1:57 PM  

Friday's are always hard for me, but this puzzle made me feel young and stupid. I do think it's hilarious, though, when I break down and turn to google...only to find that enough people have done the same to generate an auto-filled search. Happy weekend!

babslesley 2:02 PM  

Very difficult puzzle that I started last night and got as far as I was ever going to just now. In view of the difficulty, I'm just going to take some satisfaction that I got as far as I did. Probably gave up on 12 clues. So while you're all beating yourselves up, I'm saying "yeah for me."

dk 2:07 PM  

This one took two sittings. Pre and post Lyme's test. This wilderness rescue stuff is killing me.

Two LOL moments. The first was the reference here to seals as when I saw clubbing the first thing that came to mind was a t-shirt statement: Nuke the gay baby seals. The second was thinking about making some lame post comment about Andrea and DEBRIEFS... she beat me to the punch.

On to the puzzle: As a cub scout who grew up on Apulia road AQUILA was the one and only (albeit remarkable) gimme. My final fill AAR was a complete guess. The rest was just plan tough.

A Saturday puzzle on a Friday, very nice.

A note to those who stop on Thursday. I used to be happy if I got 3 or 4 words on a Friday and 1 or 2 on a Saturday. I would google both days with a vengeance. And, look at me now -- shamelessly flirting with the Queen of Mondays. Err, maybe not.

**** (4 Stars)


retired_chemist 2:10 PM  

@ Martin and Anon 1:20 - agreed snipe are game birds, but not common. The clue IMO exemplifies the obscurity of some of the cluing in this puzzle. I found the obscurity over the top, and I usually do not have a problem with that. This time I do.

If half the obscure clues/answers referred to by the participants on this blog were replaced by less obscure ones, it would still be standard Friday difficulty IMO. Example: "Duck, e.g."

dk 2:27 PM  

@ret_chem, Obscure clues!

Heavenly neighbor of Scutum! What do you mean?

secret word: sactot - children togo

Martin 2:40 PM  


Don't forget killing and eating.


Had the clue used "duck" or "goose," I probably still would have thought verb and not gotten GAME BIRD until I had exactly the same crossings that disabused me of the misdirection with "snipe." It's just a little sparklier, as befits Friday.

Now Scutum is something else. The Shield is not on anyone's top ten constellation lists, but it has that great sniggering thing going for it. Does Aquascutum still make raincoats?

Anonymous 3:11 PM  

head of the path: www.itwpathway.com

Rube 3:12 PM  

Got the SE with only a fair amount of trouble, but looked back at Avon, milk, Cleo, Nasser, and flea instead of LICE. It was Google time.

Didn't like SWAT. When you "clock" someone, you really hit them, hard. You SWAT a fly!

Not playing golf, I don't know what makes a TWOIRON "vintage". Are they just not used anymore, or what? Too much like a putter?

Finished, but with many Googles.

Piggy 3:15 PM  

@Rube - Try looking at that from the fly's point of view.

nanpilla 3:23 PM  

@piggy, good one!

archaeoprof 3:25 PM  

This one whipped me. But it seemed like a fair puzzle, just abusively hard for a Friday.

Used to play a lot of golf, so I tried "two woods" before TWOIRONS.

@Rube: two irons have been replaced by so-called "rescue clubs" that are a lot easier to hit well.

Now that we've had our Saturday for this week, surely tomorrow will be easier...

PurpleGuy 3:29 PM  

Enjoying all the comments. This shows it was a good puzzle.

DEBRIEFS - what one does before getting into bed9especially with me.) ;)

Therefore, my new word(catchpa)- DEBOXERS - the alternative to DEBRIEFS !

Tinbeni 3:45 PM  

Most golf club set of Irons today have the three thru nine iron and pitching wedge.

Then you add your sand wedge, putter and the apply named Woods. Driver, Three Wood, Five Wood, Specialy Thingy and these are made from, well not wood.

Then you update this stuff every year or so for the latest and greatest thing to help your game (and it doesn't). Brag about it on the tee. Tell your buddies about your 300 yard drive (that actually went, maybe 240, probably less). Spend 5+ hours shooting 84 (with 5 mulligans, that under the strict rules was more like 93). Have a few beers at the 19th hole. If you do this just right you have avoided going to the mall and yardwork.

Hence, both the One Iron and Two Iron are quite vintage.

Oh, and one more thing:
Even GOD can't hit a One Iron.

retired_chemist 3:53 PM  

@ dk 2:27 - LOL! Well said.

edith b 4:01 PM  

This not only wasn't a Friday but was a HARD Saturday at the very least. This reminds me of a Maleska puzzle from the 50s with the jarring note that Rex pointed out, ASIFICARE running slightly off-center.

I got off to a great start in the North, not being fooled by the Guest or the Priest clue and, like Zeke, remembered the drowning scene from Wide Sargasso Sea.

I spent the better part of two hours on this puzzle but it was worth it. My brother had a number of the Big Little Books from the 50s, and being the reader that I am, I read the Buck Rogers series and remember his battles with the Mongols, which was what brought Mr. Maleska to mind.

Two Ponies 4:18 PM  

I came back to see how everyone else fared and I see I am in good company.
Looking back at the puzzle I can see why it was such a Royal Pain.
When neither the clue nor the answer has any meaning for me then what am I to do? Primarily I mean Scutum/Aquila, Solothum/Aar. Adelaide I have heard of, of course, but Gulf of St. Vincent isn't much help.
Everybody Loves a Nut does not sound like anything I would expect from Mr. Cash.
If the point of this puzzle was to make me humble it didn't work today. I get that often enough but this was over the top.
I'll give Ned White a bird all right but it's not a game bird.

retired_chemist 4:29 PM  

@ Edith B - Mr. Maleska battled the Mongols?

Rube 4:37 PM  

@Piggy, you got me there.

@AP & @Tinbeni, tx for the explanations. I like the part about avoiding yard work.

Hopefully, the LAT will be doable.

sanfranman59 4:42 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)

Fri 34:42, 26:28, 1.31, 97%, Challenging

Top 100 solvers

Fri 20:27, 12:52, 1.59, 99%, Challenging

I knew I was in trouble on this one when I saw Orange's solve time. As Rex says in his write-up, the median solve times slot this puzzle as a very challenging Saturday puzzle. It's pretty much an outlier as a Friday puzzle. By the end of the day, the median solve times for both groups should be the highest of any Friday I've tracked since last June. I shudder to think what Will has in store for us tomorrow!

Tinbeni 5:00 PM  

You crack me up.
Best laugh I had all week.
Your Write-Up probably mirror's a lot of us

Just curious, were the number of times summited also fewer for an average Friday?
Also, is there a classification level beyond "Challenging" like maybe "Cluster-F**k?"

Masked and Anonymous 5:02 PM  

@2 Ponies: If you really want to hear something that doesn't seem like Johnny Cash, listen to "Boa Constrictor" sometime. Have to stick with it 'til the end, tho.

@sanfranman59: Thanks for the interesting stats. I thought that puz was chewin' on me, more than I was on it...

edith b 5:32 PM  


I guess I was a little confusing at best, but I tend to free-associate when I work on puzzles and I don't know if Mr. Maleska ever battled the Mongols - he may have for all I know - but the Buck Rogers clue brought a Maleska puzzle from my early days of solving to mind.

I'm sorry I wasn't more clear.

sanfranman59 6:00 PM  

@Tinbeni ... there's definitely a negative correlation between the number of online solvers and average solve time (higher solve times = fewer online solvers). I only keep track of the number of solvers when I last check the times each day. I try to do so as close to the time that they take the times down as possible, but my non-crossword life sometimes gets in the way and I need to check an hour or two before the end of the day. As such, my counts aren't always complete.

That said, before today, the average number of Friday solvers was 449 and we'll get nowhere near that today (as I type this, we're at 343).

retired_chemist 6:18 PM  

@ Edith B - I am sorry. I had got your point. I was just trying to make a joke. Badly, I fear.

Glitch 6:28 PM  

@sanfranman59 (or anyone)


Not being an online solver in the group you "monitor", why the drop on challenging days?

My assumption is that the time doesn't post until finished (correctly), so lower posting #'s indicate fewer completions?

If so (and I understand it's a guess), would indicate more regulars give up on a super-challenging day rather than post a "bad" time.

Just wondering.

As far as today's offering, I agree with all the previous coments, except two.


sanfranman59 7:01 PM  

@Glitch ... You're correct. When you complete the puzzle online, the clock starts ticking as soon as you open the puzzle and it doesn't stop until you submit a correct solution. Even if you walk away for a few hours, the clock keeps ticking. If you start a puzzle and never submit a correct solution, it never posts a time for you. The numbers I post come from the list of solve times. So they don't include the group of solvers who start and don't finish. The reason that there are fewer solvers on more challenging days is because fewer people submit correct solutions on those days. This introduces a source of bias in my stats. I control for this bias to some extent by comparing a given day's median solve time to the average median solve time for that day of the week among all the puzzles I've tracked. It's far from a scientifically sound method, but it's close enough for jazz, government work and Rex's blog.

poc 7:21 PM  

Brutal for a Friday, but I'm not complaining about that. I am complaining about SARGASSO, which is not "floating brown algae" but an adjective for SARGASSUM (in fact it's a reverse derivation as SARGASSO came first, but it's still an adjective).

And what in hell is WAWA? I can't find any definition that makes sense.

Baby Snookums 7:28 PM  

@ poc - WAWA is baby talk for water, though I don't know if modern mothers put that in a sippy cup.

Clark 7:32 PM  


"sargassum (also sargasso) • noun: a brown seaweed with berry-like air bladders, typically floating in large masses." (Compact Oxford English Dictionary [which is just the first dictionary I checked])

WAWA is baby talk for water.

Tinbeni 7:48 PM  

Just what I thought
re: the fewer number of solvers.

I don't think you need to worry about any bias.
Todays fewer "solvers" actually confirms the difficulty level.

I look forward to whether this one was the highest Friday rating since you began tracking. Kind of curious on how it stacks up against the hardest Saturday.

Your data-base and dedication is amazing.

Also enjoyed a LOL moment by your "close enough for government work" comment.
It was a fave expression we use to use back in my
"Big-8, now the Final-4" days.

Two Ponies 8:17 PM  

Having just gotten back from my local I'm feeling more mellow. I got a bit worked up earlier.
@ sanfranman, Thanks as always for your stats. I am a pen and paper solver and have only dabbled in on-line solving. If I was doing the puzzle on the site that you track and I was embarrassed by my time could I opt out of being included in the pool? Could that be happening today?
I've heard the "government work" line but I really like the "jazz" bit. I'm going to use that one!

@ Tinbeni, I was trying to think of some clever new category of difficulty beyond Saturday as well.

Moonchild 8:40 PM  

I just learned a new word that may strike a chord here.
Sapiosexual - sexual attraction to intelligence. Cool, I did not know there was a name for it.

Tinbeni 8:58 PM  

@Two Ponies
The on-line solver could "opt out" just by not entering their last letter, I suspect.

Whether that "embarrassed by their time" is an issue would tend to add bias. The bias that it was even tougher.

But if the average number of "solvers" (non-solvers & pen & paper like us aren't counted) dropped 10% or more, it adds (confirms) to the difficulty level.

Today's comments indicate to me the especially difficult level. I cannot remember a day (Friday or Saturday) when so many of the 'Usual Suspects' here said they had a DNF.

Sapiosexual is a great word.
Always thought the sexy part of a person was "the 6 inches between their ears."

tumblem: What the puzzle did to them.

chefwen 9:09 PM  

@moonchild - I'm still laughing. My thoughts exactly which is why my puzzle was transformed into a paper airplane which I SWATted across the room.

@Foodie - I hope you packed your eatin' shoes cuz you're going to be in for some great food. Have a wonderful trip.

Elaine 9:10 PM  

@Clark, et al.
You know, the clue was [floating brown algae.) Is that different from seaweed, actually? so I thought, and never considered sargassum (a term I know.) Maybe someone has already brought this up, as I'm returning late and only skimmed through.

My children never said 'WAWA' at all-- heaven forbid!--but it's a pretty common baby-talk term. If you asked our daughter if she wanted some water, she immediately collapsed into a sitting position. She was so unsteady on her feet for so long (ischemic spinal cord injury) that I insisted she be seated before I handed her any liquid. No guarantees, but it did help with the damage control. Of course, she always had impeccable enunciation (cough, cough)...as in, "May I please have a cup of water?" From someone about 24" tall, completely incongruous. She still does have lovely manners.

clark 9:27 PM  

@Elaine -- sargassum is a genus of algae.

Robert of San Francisco 9:34 PM  

Well, I don't feel so bad today, since Rex and the other speedsters found this one as tough as I did. I gave up on it within five minutes and three pathetic answers, but couldn't resist sneaking peeks throughout the afternoon, as is my custom on Fridays and Saturdays. Then, walking down Irving Street around teatime (I mean BRILLIG), JASMINETEA dropped into my brain, and from that point on, the puzzle was tough but fair.

I did recall somebody once calling EDGAR Guest the worst poet of all time. And I distinctly recall Buck Rogers battling Ming the Merciless, but was he a Mongol? Those damn hordes are hard to keep track of.

Ewan 10:03 PM  

This was definitly a beast of a Friday puzzle. Spent last night, this morning and this evening working on it and managed to pull it off.

It was only a fluke that I got the Northwest corner. I put in "Byzantines" for the Longtime battler of the Mongels. It fit perfectly, dispite how wrong it was. But the "B" helped me to get J.S Bach and the NW corner fell easily from there.

sanfranman59 10:16 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
Thu 21:21, 19:37, 1.09, 74%, Medium-Challenging
Fri 35:55, 26:30, 1.36, 98%, 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
Thu 9:16, 9:24, 0.99, 51%, Medium
Fri 19:22, 12:51, 1.51, 99%, Challenging

For the All Solvers group, this is the highest Friday median solve time by more than a minute among the 44 Friday puzzles I've tracked since last June. It's also the slowest median time for the Top 100 (but by only 16 seconds). Both eclipsed Henry Hook's puzzle of two weeks ago. Among the roughly 250 puzzles I've tracked to date, this was the 7th and 4th most challenging relative to the day of the week for the All Solvers and Top 100 groups, respectively. These times would rank as the 4th and 10th highest Saturday for the two groups. Quite a Friday workout!

mac 10:37 PM  

Who in the world is Buck Rogers? Fighting Mogols?

What a beast. I got Bach but couldn't get past airfresheners, got Cleo for amor, deck for swat, and I couldn't finish the NW without peeking at Rex's grid. Instead of Cadillac we use Mercedes (for our Viking stove).

Arafat a world leader??? He would have wished.

Sapiosexual. I've always said the brain is the sexiest organ.

@Tinbeni: excellent question to SanFranMan! Thanks SFM for the additional info. So interesting.

Safe travels, Foodie, and I agree, enjoy the food. I'm sort of on a Moroccan tear, have been making harissa, preserved lemon, and all kinds of dishes with them.

Tinbeni 10:50 PM  

Thank you for the additional information.
Was the number of solver's less than 400?
You said 449 was the avg.

poc 12:10 AM  

@clark: I'll accept the Compact OED, but note that Wikipedia (the universal compendium of all knowledge and wisdom) only allows SARGASSO as an adjective.

@Elaine (and others): so any repeated short consonant-vowel combination is now allowable as an answer? MUMU? NINI? LAMLAM? WOWOW? Ironically, some kind of baby drink was my first choice here, I just couldn't put my finger on what.

matt 1:34 AM  

ok, I'll be the one to say it: am I the only one whose mind turned to current events when reading the priest clue?

Elaine 7:12 AM  

belatedly, so you may never see this: along with many other responders, I answered your question about the WAWA clue. This does not constitute defending it or liking it.
I had MILK, then COLA before getting WAWA.
For what it's worth, think "The Miracle Worker," and Helen Keller's first word when she 'got it' that everything has a name.

Amy 8:48 AM  

Wow, I feel MUCH better after reading your write up. I usually can finish a Friday puzzle with no problems, even if it takes me longer than I'd like. This one left me wondering whether I was suffering from dementia! Glad to know I was not alone...

Now I am brave enough to look at today's puzzle.

poc 9:53 AM  

@Elaine: sorry if I came over a bit strong. I certainly didn't think you were defending the execrable WAWA :-)

william e emba 12:21 PM  

Rex: TSELIOT's line "I will show you fear in a handful of dust" was used by DC in their advertizing for Sandman. When Dream escaped and punished his captor, he was supposed to have made this comment, but it got lost. I don't know if it made it back into the later deluxe/corrected reprints.

Anonymous 9:11 AM  

After Googling various answers that "no-one-could possibly-ever-know", I finished the puzzle in a rather quick fashion.

I can't explain it. Sometimes my brain just thinks like the creators of the puzzles.

Wednesday's puzzle threw me for a loop and I had a hard time with Thursday's. But no problem with today's.

Go figure!

WilsonCPU 12:30 PM  

From Wikipedia, the Last Word from Syndication Land, the Buck Rogers clue is OK:
'Together with his new comrades, the beautiful Wilma Deering and the intrepid Dr. Huer, he struggles to rid the world of evil warlords and "Mongol" hordes.
The sequel, The Airlords of Han, appeared in the March 1929 issue of Amazing Stories. The story's enemy force, the Han, were later renamed Mongols.'
PS: 32 minutes, no errors, no Googles, not much fun.

octoberprairie 12:59 PM  

Edgar Guest was an immensely popular poet of the early 1900s. My parents had an attractive, old-fashioned book by him, which probably belonged to my grandmother, on their bookshelves. The spine read: THE PATH TO HOME - Edgar A. Guest. I thought that was wildly funny when I was a child. Still makes my inner child chuckle.

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