Modern dweller in ancient Ur / TUE 6-15-10 / Francis old game shows / Aid for skiing uphill / Quadraphonic halved

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Constructor: Jill Winslow

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: SWITCH POSITIONS (62A: Trade places ... or a hint to parts of 17-, 27- and 48-Across)— three theme answers are phrases containing both "ON" and "OFF"

Word of the Day: ORNE (6D: River of Normandy) —

The Orne is a river in Normandy, within northwestern France.[1] It discharges into the English Channel at the port of Ouistreham. Its source is in Aunou-sur-Orne, east of Sées. The Odon is one of its tributaries. // The Orne formed the Eastern flank of the Allied landings in Normandy during World War II on 6 June 1944.

• • •
This theme is fine, but that second theme answer is so awkwardly executed / clued that it's hard to notice / remember any other feature of the puzzle. Like the majority of humanity (I'm vainly guessing), I wanted GOES OFF ON A TANGENT. See, [Leaves] is an active verb, where [IS] ... isn't. Asking me to get "IS" from "Leaves" is asking a lot. Too much. Not that I couldn't figure it out. I could see that GOES wouldn't fit, and so went straight to 27D: Last step at a bakery to check the cross, got ICING, and quickly figured out what was going on (for a different, far far stupider kind of ICING, go here). But don't make a puzzle, however clever you think the theme is, if you can't get all the answers/clues to work. Admittedly, it would be hard to clue IS OFF ON A TANGENT properly, as you can't use "IS" in the clue. Wife (also annoyed by this clue/answer) suggested [HAS LEFT the main topic temporarily], which, while awkward, is indeed more accurate-seeming. To conclude, "Leaves" ≠ IS. Boo.

Theme answers:
  • 17A: Intermittent, as a relationship (ON AGAIN OFF AGAIN)
  • 27A: Leaves the main topic temporarily (IS OFF ON A TANGENT)
  • 48A: Start to exit an Interstate (GET ON THE OFF RAMP)

PEGLEGS = big winner of the day (10D: Limbs for movie pirates). There are some issues with the rest of the fill. And the cluing. What the hell is up with the clue on ROPETOW (44D: Aid for skiing uphill). If it's pulling you uphill you *aren't* "skiing." And if you find yourself on skis and going uphill, you're Doing It Wrong (cross-country skiers excepted). I might have done just about anything to keep NOVEM out of my (Tuesday) puzzle (33D: Caesar's nine). I had a couple years of Latin and I couldn't come up with it. Wanted NONES, mainly because that's one of the canonical hours (along with matins, lauds, etc.). Admittedly, N---M words are hard to come by, but if they're that hard, then switch the positions of your theme answers before you build the thing. I mean, you've got SAREE (28D: Delhi wrap: Var.) and NE'ER (43A: ___-do-well) on the other side, so it's not like you (probably) couldn't do better. AAAA = AAAARGH (11D: Tiny battery). ORNE, ENNE, EFTS (40D: Terrestrial salamanders), and EFOR are pretty phoned-in. I am surprised, also (this time in a good way), by the clue on ELENA (32D: ___ Kagan, Obama nominee to the Supreme Court). Way to be (very) timely! That clue will probably have to change for the puzzle's eventual book publication, as by summer's end she'll simply be a Supreme Court justice. My friends Liana and Robert had a baby girl just last week and named her ELENA. I told them, if she does anything the least bit noteworthy, she'll be a crossword answer some day. This is why I'm naming my next child OOLA.

  • 25A: Plumlike fruit (SLOE) — an important bit of crosswordese. My first guess here was POME (?). SLOE is almost TANGENTial to SLOW today (37A: Apply brakes to). But not quite.
  • 39A: Gearbox option (REVERSE) — this is literally true. I like the clue. Actually, I like the word "GEARBOX" — wish *that* were in the grid.
  • 66A: Smuggler's unit (KILO) — I'm not the biggest fan of cross-referenced clues, but I'm surprised there's no KILO-NARC tie-in today (49D: Crack officer?).
  • 67A: Francis of old game shows (ARLENE) — like SLOE, an important bit of crosswordese. Only other ARLENE I've seen is Dahl. I have amended my future child's name to OOLA ARLENE ...
  • 25D: Quadraphonic halved (STEREO) — the clues are more entertaining than the answers today.
  • 47D: Modern dweller in ancient Ur (IRAQI) — went with IRANI [buzzer!] then realized the thing I was being asked to stick in my ear was a Q-TIP (58A: Stick it in your ear). They mean your outer ear. I hope.
Assignment: discuss the relative merits of [dweller] and [denizen] as a clue word.

Enjoy your Tuesday.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


joho 7:40 AM  

Excellent write up. I wrote GOESOFFONATANGENT in the margin and was happy to see @Rex had the same problem with that as I did.

REVERSE in the middle is sort of nice as it ties in the the theme.

For me NAVAHO is just wrong. I know it's the second spelling but doesn't NAVAJO look a lot better?

@Rex, OOLA ARLENE has a nice ring to it!

dk 7:46 AM  

Is a NAVAHO a garden variety NAVAJO?

Is 4as a slur of the playground taunt four eyes?

To be off on a tangent don't you have to go there?

Might not a QTIP be a stick in ones ear?

Inquiring minds want to know!

My cranky pants are on extra tight today and not in a John Travolta Saturday NIght Fever some might think hot way.

* (1 Star) Interesting theme but the 4 EFFS noted above send this one on a trip with the tidy bowl man.

CaseAceFos 7:57 AM  

SHOWER this young lady with praise for her delightful debut and SHOWER we appreciate the fact she got OFF on the right foot and demand a curtain call!

Leslie 8:06 AM  

Sigh. When I agree with Rex point for point, clue for clue, reaction for reaction, there's not much point in posting except to say hi.

So hi, everybody!

Signed, "ovize" (something I don't do anymore, now that I'm post-menopausal--or was that TMI??)

mitchs 8:11 AM  

I was so sure that GO was the verb that I put it in, thinking that the plural clue was a typo. Liked clue and answer for QTIP.

hartless 8:16 AM  

I thought the overall concept was clever, however I agree with the issue at 27A. I liked all the O endings...navaho, stereo, canso, kilo, Leno, paso, (phonetically, ropetow and slow and sloe.)

Golfballman 8:16 AM  

There she is Elena Kagan, I said a couple of months ago, she probably would replace Elena Verdugo in some of our xwords. Not to say they don't make them but I have never come across a 4a battery.

Glimmerglass 8:20 AM  

A rope tow does make one ski uphill. Unlike other lifts (well, maybe a tbar), one's skis are on the snow, and one has to keep one's balance (I once fell off a rope tow and broke my thumb). By the way, Rex, you mean "excepted," not "accepted." Glimmerglass

Anonymous 8:22 AM  

Skiing uphill? 'Randonee'. It almost fit, but never on a Tuesday.

foodie 8:29 AM  

I too agree with the clunkiness of the cluing of "IS OFF ON A TANGENT", but started to realize the challenge when trying to come up with alternatives. The trouble is the inability to use ON, OFF or (as Rex noted) IS in the clue.

"Has delved into a side topic?"

Sandy's solution of using "has" seems to be the best, because it indicates a state rather than an action. I'd be curious to see what others can come up with.

The rest of the write up made me laugh, especially the skiing part.

OOLA ELENA will be a famous designer.

ArtLvr 8:36 AM  

I thought the double meaning of 53A SWITCH POSITIONS was clever, in that ON and OFF change places in sequence from ON to OFF, then OFF to ON and back again.

Also, l liked the implied headache, as REVERSE was crossed with ALEVE! I've done that switching myself, forgetting to check a dimmer position before changing a light bulb unnecessarily! Nice debut, Jill...


Dough 8:52 AM  

Well, I thought this was a terrific Tuesday puzzle. I enjoyed solving. IS OFF ON A TANGENT is a perfectly acceptable phrase -- it's just very challenging to clue. I liked the word choices and the clues. The QTIP stuck in there was fun. I loved the equivocation on the LENO clue. I agree with @hartless that the O's were fresh. Nitpicking is always easy to do with a crossword, but for a new constructor, I would cut some slack. So, bravo to Jill Winslow for a wonderful debut Tuesday puzzle.

Mary 8:52 AM  

Agree with Is off on a tangent, so wanted goes and like another reader thought the clue might be mistyped.

Pome, Rex? A plum is a drupe.

Sandy 9:17 AM  

My "is" v "go" frustration wasn't helped by mis-reading the clue for SAREE as [deli wrap]. D'oh!

I'm pro "dweller", anti "denizen". Denizen's pretentiousness outweights it's coolness. As is so often the case with cool.

abide 9:20 AM  

Comgrats on the debut, Ms. Wunslow.

A little KristOFFersON would be apropros today.

Rex Parker 9:24 AM  

Honey (uh, Sandy), you just missed the Awesomest ending to the NZ/Slovakia match. Gooooooooooal!

That is all.

fikink 9:25 AM  

Enjoyed this effort, but had the same problem with the TANGENT cluing. Isn't this what the editors are for? Ms. Winslow, I hold them responsible. Good work on your part - and clever, too.

in my humble [sic] opinion

chefbea 9:42 AM  

Easy Tuesday puzzle. I'm back from Ct where we frooze and are now back in sweltering NC. Didn't do too many xwords but did attempt Sunday's which was the hardest ever. Will look at the blog to see what all the answers were.

I did do Saturday's with the help of my daughter and NO googling!!!

Bob Kerfuffle 10:02 AM  

One write-over: Had ARESO before CANSO.

Re ROPETOW, I agree with @Glimmerglass that properly done, it does involve skiing uphill. My first encounter with a ropetow was my first experience skiing, long, long ago at a ski area which has long since disappeared. I was not skiing uphill that day, just being dragged, and I wore out a new pair of ski gloves in one day. In my subsequent (and, thankfully, rare) encounters with rope tows, I have for the most part used the proper foot placement and balance to, yes, ski uphill.

Two Ponies 10:18 AM  

I wondered when I saw the constructor's name whether this was a debut. I wanted to be nice but found that I was wearing @dk's cranky pants.
The idea is clever but the experience was not worth the price of admission.

I prefer denizen.
Dweller just sounds like another of the many -er crossword occupations.

SethG 10:45 AM  

Things rhyme with dweller, so you get phrases like 'cellar dweller' and open up tricky cluing possibilities like [Stellar dweller] for ALIEN.

I agree with [Has left...], and hate the grammar on the Q-TIP clue. Q-Tip's grammar, on the other hand...

Couldn't find a way to fit in EFGH?

dk 10:52 AM  

Many ski areas are replacing jacket shredding, shoulder dislocating and glove eating ROPETOWs with a continuous belt thing you slide/hop on to. All I can say is I am happy I don't abuse substances and ski... anymore.

Tinbeni 10:52 AM  

27A IS OFF ON A TANGENT was perfect.
Especially when I read the write-up.
Essentially, it IS where @Rex GOES when he does his critique.

But then again, I guess it all depends on what your definition of IS, IS ...

I also liked the fact that the ON/OFF Switched (or REVERSEd) positions.
I'd say that was clever, but alas, I'm sure, it was just a coincidence.

Sandy 10:54 AM  

I tried to see if I could stream the game here at work, but then I figured I should, uh, you know, work.

JeffCO 11:01 AM  

I am a dweller on (or possibly off) the threshold. /Van Morrison

Oops, went off on a tangent there. Was off on a tangent? Am still off on a tangent? Not a good sine.

Also agree on Elena and Novem, especially since I misspelled her Elana at first and couldn't see how "Ave" was anticipatory though thought it might have something to do with meeting Caesar's nine.

Moonchild 11:05 AM  

Here she is, off on a tangent.
No English words rhyme with
purple, orange, or silver.

The puzzle was way too easy.
(I'm sure I will pay for that remark later in the week.)

Since better clues were found here in about ten minutes I can't believe Will let 27A stand.

AAAA batteries? Yeah, right.

Masked and Anonymous 11:36 AM  

OK TuesPuz. Has this theme been done somewhere before? Got that eerie deja-vuscosity feelin'.

Dweller and denizen both seem kinda nerdy. I'd go with resident. If you held a gun to my head, I guess I'd go with denizen, 'cuz then you got yer Z.

Gotta agree that IS not same as LEAVES. But also gotta argue that IS OFF is pretty much the same as LEAVES. QED, find for the defense.

SethG 11:47 AM  

How, in this use, is IS OFF pretty much the same as LEAVES? Are you saying that "is off on a tangent" should be taken to refer to the initiation of the tangent rather than to a currently tangential state?

If so, I think that's a pretty tortured reading of "is off on a tangent". If not, I don't understand your argument.

Noam D. Elkies 11:55 AM  

Probably the constructor wanted GOOFFONATANGENT but couldn't make it work to her satisfaction.

Nice thing about the clue for 33D:ELENA is that it will still work after she's confirmed and beyond. Souter can be validly clued as a GHWB nominee.

In The Onion 41D:EFFS would probably get a racier clue...


(captcha = "haNDE" = all you need to spell HEH HEH)

Masked and Anonymous 11:56 AM  

Gotta love my "pretty much" choice of words; gives me some leeway here. OK, so LEAVES on a tangent versus IS OFF on a tangent? Well, seems kinda like the same thing to me. Maybe I'm just dumb. Not that "LEAVES on a tangent" is a famous phrase or nothin', of course.

'Nother example: the QB LEAVES the field before the next play. The QB IS OFF the field before the next play. Can argue they ain't exactly the same, but either way that QB ain't gonna score no touchdowns on that next play.

Masked and Anonymous 12:53 PM  

'Nother (maybe better) example: 44 LEAVES on a trip to grandma's house. 44 IS OFF on a trip to grandma's house. Either way, he'd better take that hat off, when he gets there.

shrub5 1:01 PM  

Agree with @fikink's comment: I think this is a very nice debut puzzle -- good job!

I looked up batteries in wiki and there is such a thing as a AAAA battery. "Obscure type sometimes used in 'pen flashlights', fishing lures, or electronic glucose meters. Most common use is as an internal component of 9-volt batteries."

Liked SLOE and SLOW. I'm going to have to look in the grocery store for sloes; I've never seen them and am familiar only with sloe gin fizz.

How can you soccer World Cup watchers stand that constant noise that sounds like a ginormous swarm of bees?? (vuvuzelas)

mac 1:46 PM  

@shrub: I am getting used to the humming sound, but I really miss the more interesting clamor usually produced by the fans!

@Sandy: congratulations! I also like your clue for 27A better. Prefer denizen, just because of the sound of the word. How do you feel about Oolala Arlene?

Good debut, but a little too much old, old crosswordese.

I once tore a rotator cuff trying to use a rope tow.

Doc John 1:49 PM  

Shouldn't it be, "cross country skiers EXCEPTED"?

mitchs 2:16 PM  

The first time I skied I grabbed the tow rope with an immediate death grip. Face plant. So, I gotta agree that you need to "ski up".

Steve J 2:22 PM  

I found this really clunky. The dual meaning of the theme revealer is really, really nice. I won't flog the tangential horse any further than it's been beaten, other than I had the same issue. 48A didn't sing for me, since I've always called it the exit ramp, not the off ramp. But it was easily inferrable.

PEGLEGS was great, I liked the cluing for HAIRDO and ROPETOW (yes, you do ski uphill with them). Didn't like the cluing for QTIP, but that was largely my own fault. My brain just didn't consider "stick" to be a noun, not a verb. I've always laughed at the Q-Tip's warning about not sticking them in your ears. What other use is there, really, for those things if you're not using them in your ears? Otherwise, cotton balls tend to be more useful.

The one clue that I did not like at all was for 16A. I read it half a dozen times, and my brain just would not parse it. I still don't really get it (I understand what it's getting at, but the syntax reads like it was written in English, translated by machine into German, and then machine-translated back into English again). It reminds me of a question from the written test on the California driver's license examination when I moved here, where I swear they were throwing in quintuple-negative questions just to try to trip people up. That definitely could have been effectively clued using less-awkward English, instead of trying to be too clever by half.

Didn't realize it was Jill's debut. Mixed bag to be expected, in that instance. She's definitely got some good things going on, though.

My captcha is "caride": one R away from car ride, which would have been really appropriate with all the off ramps and gearboxes going on in this puzzle.

andrea aaaaa michaels 2:25 PM  

not to go off on a tangent, but is AAAAA an association for drunk drivers?

I thought this was fun

Anonymous 3:29 PM  

i don't understand the noun/verb thing with stick? how can it be a noun with it?

sanfranman59 3:34 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)

Tue 8:14, 8:49, 0.93, 37%, Easy-Medium

Top 100 solvers

Tue 4:41, 4:31, 1.04, 67%, Medium-Challenging

There's a large discrepancy in the rating for the two groups of solvers. I'm guessing that will wash out somewhat by the end of the day.

Anonymous 3:38 PM  

@Masked and Anon re 'deja-vuscosity feelin' . . . The one I remember was a Sunday puz by Gorski the Great. On and Off were rebus entries switching between across and down. Not sure the date on that one but it was a beaut.


lit.doc 3:53 PM  

@NDE, I'm sure you're right. I spent a while this afternoon trying to make that section work with GO OFF ON A TANGENT (no constructor here, just puttering). 27D pretty much had to be GOING, though 48A could be to GOT ON, and 35A pretty much had to be O__SO. Putter putter putter. Nothin'. Tough spot, tougher to clue.

IS 4:12 PM  

Does that mean the Lit.doc.

Anonymous 4:53 PM  

@Lit.doc: It is possible to GOOFFONATANGENT, but the results probably aren't going to win any awards.
For instance:
29-D. OSSET (yuck)
49-D. NSEC
53-D. USCG (ditto)
54-D. KWON

Citizen Dain 5:24 PM  

Two days in a row missing by one letter. Put NONEM for the Latin nine because it seemed right, and though EnE looked stupid, EVE stupidly never dawned on me. It is so frustrating to miss by one letter. I would rather get 8 or 10 boxes wrong across the grid then miss by one letter every day. Have to persevere!


retired_chemist 5:28 PM  

Enjoyable enough. Nice debut.

Sfingi 6:00 PM  

@Rex - so, r u preggers? And announcing here?

I liked this one, though the DOL (Dirty ol "lady") in me is reminded of a dirty ditty which begins with "She offered her honor."

Q-tips has a warning against putting their product in the ear. There goes 90% of their sales. I guess this is to cover liability. What do you use them for?

Clear an ear to hear - The Clancy Brothers singing Maid of the Sweet Brown Knowe
"Come all ye lads and lasses
And hear my mournfu tale..."

I see a double meaning in PAROLE, since it means "word" and certainly comes before the end of a sentence.

@Sandy - I think the only time I'd use denizen is jokingly, and about animals. Though
@2Ponies - the re/er thing does get annoying.

Keep 'em coming, Miss Jill!

chefbea 6:18 PM  

@sfingi I use Q-tips to clean between the letters on my key board. Also some of my rings (jewelry)

andrea f michaels 6:25 PM  

Cool on the whole Kris KristOFFersON!!!

Another thing worth mentioning is Ms Winslow had TEN F's!!!!!!!

(Sometimes I have a pangram that is missing but one F.)

So even tho this constructor got OFF/ON the wrong foot (for some) I say major props on the F-ing construction!

foodie 7:07 PM  

@ Masked and Anonymous, "44 LEAVES on a trip to grandma's house. 44 IS OFF on a trip to grandma's house" is as good a try as any, but the two are still not truly equivalent in my book. Because the first means we're watching it happen, the second could mean that but could also mean he's been visiting grandma for a month.

I think that the reason this substitution feels acceptable to some is because of expressions like "And they're off!", say in a horse race. That implies action, in the moment. But this is a very particular usage. By contrast, the expression IS OFF ON A TANGENT does not imply that we're watching someone just as they start to digress. Hence the disconnect.

This discussion reminds me that the use of prepositions (postpositions? adpositions?) in English is one of the most subtle and nuanced aspects of the language. Look at how many different ways "ON" and "OFF" modify meaning in the various phrases of this theme.

This theme is lovely specifically because it reflects a real appreciation of the quirks of the language -- which is why it makes sense to ask for equal attention to nuance in the cluing.

fergus 7:54 PM  

I'M OFF ON A TANGENT is probably no improvement, but the HAS LEFT discussion suggested TAKES OFF ON LEAVE to fill the space, though that really messes with the rest of the grid. I would have preferred to see all the ON/OFFs adjacent to each other.

Stan 9:06 PM  

Nice puzzle (with lots of good stuff not being discussed). Both Rex and Sandy nailed the problem with 27A and Sandy's "Has left" would have completely fixed the clue.

"Stick it in your ear" however doesn't need fixing. It's a nonstandard clue type (like "Eat it" for DINNER) that doesn't follow normal substitution rules, but is familiar and accepted by most solvers. Plus QTIP is a great answer.

sanfranman59 10:02 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 7:09, 6:55, 1.03, 69%, Medium-Challenging
Tue 8:22, 8:49, 0.95, 44%, Medium

Top 100 solvers

Mon 3:40, 3:41, 0.99, 50%, Medium
Tue 4:33, 4:31, 1.01, 60%, Medium

IS 10:03 PM  

Masked and anonymous
I applaud your attempt to explain why IS OFF ON A TANGENT was an acceptable crossword answer for the clue "Leaves the main topic temporarily."

But once the Rex sycophants got in their "Yes Man" mood you were doomed.
As foodie noted "and they're off" in horse racing implies movement.
"they are off" they being the horses.
Here the speaker makes an aside to his/her speech, maybe it is an example, but the speaker "is off on a tangent" (probably a metaphor to add context).

I guess the solution would be to have someone tell Will Shortz that he is off on a tangent when it comes to his editing the NYT crossword.

Anonymous 10:27 PM  

Was that in English?

Steve J 10:49 PM  

@Anon 3:29 - You're right. I had noticed the "it" in the clue last night when I was solving, and forgot it by this morning. It is "Stick it in your ear." Which makes this not match case with the answer, which seems to me to violate one of the cardinal rules of crosswords. The answer and clue aren't interchangeable in a sentence in this case.

deerfencer 12:57 AM  

Good Tuesday puzzle and impressive as a debut IMO.

There are indeed AAAA batteries, cute eensy-weensy little powerpacks that you would need a gazillion of to power a towrope--not that that's ever been tried.

Did you know there are also F cells--true stat--about 1/3 bigger than D's? I only know this as an avid e-biker who has ridden both, and much prefer the F's for their extra capacity.

Oh, and lithium rules!

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