Veracruz's capital / WED 7-7-10 / Czar of Russia between Feodors / Relative of aardwolf / Symbol of simple harmonic motion

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Constructor: Will Nediger

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: Composer commands — common phrases are changed to include a pun on a composer's name, and then clued as a "command" of some kind


Word of the Day: TOKAY (33D: Hungarian wine) —

Tokaji (Hungarian: of Tokaj) is the name of the wines from the region of Tokaj-Hegyalja in Hungary. The name Tokaji (which is of Protected Designation of Origin) is used for labeling wines from this wine district. This region is noted for its sweet wines made from grapes affected by noble rot, a style of wine which has a long history in this region. Tokaj is mentioned in the official national anthem of Hungary. Tokaji is a Hungarikum, a term used to refer to uniquely Hungarian products, especially cuisine.

• • •
NE (of the United States) is still hot as @#$%, so, once again, my time here will be brief. Technically, I could take this laptop into the little air-conditioned bunker where my wife and I are sleeping until the heat breaks, but then I'd be type type typing and I doubt my wife (who enjoys her sleep) would appreciate it. So, I'm here under a nearly completely impotent ceiling fan, banging this out as fast as I can.

This was a good bit harder than recent Wednesday offerings, mainly by way of the inclusion of odd / obscure / exotic proper nouns. JALAPA (1A: Veracruz's capital) was not a pleasant way to begin. Needed every cross. Heard of Uccello, but had no idea his first name was PAOLO (22A: Uccello who painted "The Battle of San Romano") (that whole NE corner, small though it is, was the roughest part of the grid for me). There was apparently a non-Muppet named ELMO at some point in history, so that was interesting to learn (65A: Adm. Zumwalt, chief of naval operations during the Vietnam War). A tsar named BORIS? OK. Lots of great BORISes out there, but ... whatever. You want a tsar, you got a tsar. Oh, wait, I see that today, it's a "czar" for some reason. Arbitrary (55A: Czar of Russia between Feodors). What else? Oh, Jacques Cousteau's middle name? It's YVES. Some agent is named ARI (shocker) (23D: Talent agent ___ Emanuel). Okay TOKAY (33D: Hungarian wine). Then there were the heaps of familiar names. Awfully namey, overall. Theme-wise, the puns didn't quite come off. They're supposed to be commands, but they do Not sound like commands unless you really force the issue, and punctuate the answers differently in different cases, e.g. BIZET exclamation point SIGNAL exclamation point, but THROW comma BACH period. The puns range from perfect (HAYDN) to way off (BACH). In the end, the "command" feature just doesn't work for me, as a unifying principle. Seems forced, and the puns aren't good enough to redeem it. I will say that I liked the added challenge on a Wednesday, and that the grid, despite being exceedingly name-heavy, is at least interesting. Spicy. Scrabbly.

Theme answers:
  • 17A: Command to a French composer at an intersection? (BIZET! SIGNAL!)
  • 30A: Command to a Hungarian composer at the piano? (PLAY, LISZT.) — nice that the Hungarian composer crosses the Hungarian wine.
  • 46A: Command to a German composer on a baseball diamond? (THROW, BACH.)
  • 61A: Command to an Austrian composer on a scavenger hunt? (HAYDN! GO SEEK [that thing that you are supposed to be seeking]!)



ABS OF STEEL (11D: Hard core?) is a commercial product, and the only reason the phrase is in the language at all. Clue was way, way too vague for me to pick on until the very end. Also tough up in that corner: the aforementioned PAOLO; the Really vaguely clued EXPO (13D: Fair — I had SO-SO); and the semi-toughly clued APE (11A: Bonobo, for one). If you think I'm exaggerating about the name-i-ness of this grid, consider this: there are nine (9) names stacked (however jaggedly) on top of each other in this grid: LISZT on YVES on LOREN (39A: Sophia of "Marriage Italian-Style") on SAKI (43A: Author who famously ended a short story with the line "Romance at short notice was her specialty") on BACH on DAISY (50A: Jay Gatsby's love) on BORIS on HAYDN on ELMO. Beat that.


Bullets:
  • 7A: Its motto is "Semper paratus": Abbr. (USCG) — not an abbr. you see too often in the grid. Had the "G" from GAL PALS (10D: Bachelorette party attendees), but was really, really doubting it for a little while.
  • 8D: Symbol of simple harmonic motion (SINE WAVE) — this is nice. I keep reading the clue as "harmonic convergence," which was some New Agey thing that allegedly happened ... when? The 90s? Nope, late 80s. Most hilarious claim on the wikipedia page for "Harmonic Convergence": "The convergence is purported to have "corresponded with a great shift in the earth’s energy from warlike to peaceful."
  • 26D: Relative of an aardwolf (HYENA) — another very tough clue. I can't even picture an aardwolf, so no help there.
  • 28D: Truth, archaically (SOOTH) — when you read a lot of Chaucer (as I did, at one point in my life), this becomes an ordinary, everyday word. Like "EEK" for "also."
  • 29D: 1939 title role for Frank Morgan (WIZARD OF OZ) — got very quickly despite not knowing who Frank Morgan is. When you have WIZ- in place, your options are limited.
  • 32D: 1964 title role for Anthony Quinn (ZORBA) — I wanted ZORBA right away, but I had AMEBA at 49A because I'd written it in the wrong damned slot (should've been spelled differently and then shoved in 44A: Cell on a slide). Then I read the clue correctly (49A: Lessen, as fears), and promptly wrote in ABATE. It's ALLAY :(
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]

95 comments:

Anonymous 12:20 AM  

D_Blackwell -

Are Snap, Crackle, and Pop really elves? I immediately wondered, and an initial search suggests that they are gnomes, though it also appears that a lot of people want them to be elves. Can anyone document, definitively, one way or another? I wonder if the ELF people are free-riding on the gnomes' turf.

Possibly valid starter reference points, including references direct from Kellog's.

Tobias 12:21 AM  

Bizet signal ? I just dont get it.
Glad to see the medium challenging on this one because it TOOK FOREVER !! Felt like a year and a half.I feel like a big bag of obtuse this week.

PurpleGuy 12:40 AM  

@Tobias-you're not alone. This was just plain miserable. There was no enjoyment at all for me. Wanted to just throw it at one point.

Reasonable 102 year old mom told me to put it down and come back to it later. I did and was still frustrated. Puns weren't even worthy of a groan.
This was just a real slog.
To be terse, this puzzle just sucked.

Sorry Mr. Nediger. Better luck next time.
I'm surprised Will let this mess pass.

Robin 1:13 AM  

Triple digit heat in Yankee Land? If you run out of ice cream sandwiches, I recommend Popsicle Sugar-Free Tropicals.

One error here at 1A, of all places. Had Jalaca instead of Jalapa, b/c I had "cutting" as the green skill rather than "putting," which is pretty embarrassing since I live on a golf course and am married to a golf (what word am I looking for? nut? geek? fanatic? expert?) Anyway, Jalaca sounded just as reasonable to me as Jalapa. And cutting sounded like something someone with a green thumb would be skilled at.

Agree with Rex about the tenuous quality of the theme answers. HaydnGoSeek was the first one I got, so I knew what to look for on the others, but still, kinda lame for me.

Still happy to have hacked my way thru a Wednesday, except for that silly P/C error.

Clark 1:15 AM  

This was a tough puzzle for a Wednesday. I had to work both the acrosses and downs to get it done. I enjoyed it though. I agree with @Rex: "interesting," "scrabbly," "spicy." Like a jazzy, smoky paprika.

@Anonymous 12:20 -- Read some definitions of elf and gnome, then look at snap, crackle and pop. No question they are elves rather than gnomes.

Robin 1:23 AM  

Oh, wow, Blogger gave me the option tonight of having all y'alls comments sent to me as e-mails. Last night, it just did it automatically, which was really weird.

@Tobias, think Bizzay for Bizet, or Busy. Ooh-la-la.

chefwen 1:37 AM  

Ditto to every that @Purpleguy said.
No enjoyment! Someone needs to mail me the cranky pants.

syndy 2:42 AM  

I dunno i kinda liked throw bach though i agree command was not the word they were looking for.Had polo for some reason before pool and i'm old enough to have known (not personally) elmo zumwalt-dosen't he look like a Boris? Still it was okay by me.

andrea tehee michaels 2:43 AM  

Surprised by this skewing negative for the early commenters...I loved it...it seemed super sophisticated.

Agree VERY name heavy, but every letter seemed, as @Rex said, Scrabbly
(starting with a J, FOUR Z's (in mid-word no less!), an X, lots of Ks, V's, SEVEN Y's)
and tons of music an literature and arts.

REALLY liked solving this, as I had to puzzle out each word with a running monologue ("Oh, JALAPA must be related to JALAPENO, which must have been a currency at some point...")


Sidenote, I believe the ARI on "Entourage" is based on this Ari Emanuel, Rahm's brother.

I also put toot before BEEP...I blame @rex!

And Bar before BOX, bec you can have a bar band and a sand bar, no?
I'm not even sure what a band box is.
(Box band? Box of band-aids, yes)

Will + Will, MORE than OKAYBYME.... YIPPEE!

Greene 4:55 AM  

I think one either likes pun puzzles (and forgives them) or one doesn't (like or forgive them). I generally like them and this one had me groaning aplenty. Lots of discovery on the journey, so no matter how stymied I became I just kept grinning. I think BIZET SIGNAL is the weakest of the lot, but HAYDN GO SEEK is pretty darn funny. All told, I had a pretty good time with this one although it skewed very difficult for me.

Didn't know JALAPA and made the JALACA error. Thanks for owning up @Robin. Now, I don't feel quite so stupid. Like @Andrea I had BAR before BOX and did not want to let go. I also had PINKY before PIGGY. Good grief. At least I got WIZARD OF OZ with no crosses.

Daughter Caitlin came home late last night from Bye Bye Birdie rehearsal and had to work the puzzle on her own since I went to bed early after getting my butt kicked. I awoke to an email message from her this morning that read in its entirety: DAMN WILL SHORTZ AND HIS PUNS! God, so my kid.

Sandy 7:19 AM  

Why should you have to forgive a pun? If it is good, it shouldn't need forgiving. I thought the phrases were fine, but agree that the clueing was off.

CaseAce 7:25 AM  

YVES, I would've much preferred to have phoned this in, but of course, I got a BIZET SIGNAL! C'est la vie, Mon Ami

PanamaRed 7:41 AM  

I kind of like this one - puns and all. But DNF - NE killed me (and did some Googling to get that far).

Had BAR at 16A - sand bar being common, and convinced myself that "bar band" was a reasonable term for local bands working at bars.

Can someone explain 19A? Conciliatory gift = SOP? I don't get it.

dk 7:55 AM  

Hi Will N. I think your puzzle is just fine. The puns are strained but then most are My only gripe was PIGGY as I initially had pinky. Favorite fill was ABSOFSTEEL, mine are of aluminum foil. Classic Wednesday. A 7 on my puzzle Mohs scale.

Puzzle memory, once put a blinking green light on the end my dock as an homage to the dream that was DAISEY Buchanan. I was so much older then I'm younger than that now.

*** (3 Stars) YIPPEE off to Ouray tomorrow

joho 8:19 AM  

This was a very difficult Wednesday for me. In fact, I didn't think I'd ever crack that pesky NE corner. I had Bar before BOX, and with both bar band and sand bar being legitimate answers, that was hard to give up. I also had sosO for fair before EXPO which added to the confusion.

That being said, I enjoyed the challenge. "Command" seemed off but the puns were, well, puns. Either you like them or you don't I guess. For me the solve was a lot more interesting than usual which was definitely welcome.

Thank you, Will!

rolin mains 8:50 AM  

i am a musician and have played in lots of bands, but i don't recall ever playing in a BAND BOX. unless that is like a BOOM BOX. or maybe short for BAND in a BOX. or a BOX of BAND-aids. i have no earthly idea what a band box is. i got it, grudgingly.

the only weak themed answer to me was THROW BACH. must be a schwarztenegger thing. "I'll be Bach."

thanks to mr. nediger for picking the second tier of composers from those countries...not ravel/debussey, bartok, mozart, or beethoven. i had to dig deeper into my knowledge of composers to get to these guys.

i also made the JALACA mistake. i figured it was wrong but couldn't tell where...everything that crossed it made sense to me. the "P" for PUTTING was later in the alphabet, and the "C" seemed to work.

and TOKAY is awful...not as an answer, but as an actual drink. ugh.

LOL

David L 8:59 AM  

This seemed easyish to me, for a Wednesday - lots of proper names, but mostly guessable. Random French name? YVES! Random Italian name? PAOLO! Random Russian name? BORIS!

Not generally a big fan of puns, but these were tame and not too groanworthy.

jesser 9:03 AM  

I'm totally on board with all those who found that NE corner to be arduos. I still don't get SOP. And I've never EVER heard of an aardwolf. Writing seems like entering a captcha.

I thought the puns were OK, particularly HAYDN GO SEEK. I laughed right out loud and maybe woke someone up in that cubicle over there.

My favorite clue/answer pairing was 27D, because it reminds me of son Daniel and the magical way he has transformed my life since I took him in all those years ago. And now he's engaged. I'm gonna cry if I don't stop.

Utsno! (Aardwolf Latin for a cold substance that falls from the sky, and which I wish for Rex and his kith and kin in the sweltering NE) -- jesser

Zeke 9:07 AM  

I wrote Ugly on the dust on my screen last night.
I'm always put off when 1A is the most arcane answer in the grid. I'm pissed off when it's a variant, as the name of the capital is XALAPA, not JALAPA. One thing I hate on a par with my hatred of puns is figuring out the spelling of spontaneous exclamations. TEHEE/TEEHEE? YIPEEE, YIIPEE, YIPPEE? Can there really be a correct spelling?
There should be a staturory limit of one random name I have to guess based solely on their nationality. PAULO/OLGA surpassed that, but looking them up, I guess I should know Olga. In a perfect world, that would be biblically.

Anonymous 9:08 AM  

A czar named Boris, as in Boris Godunov; and not just "some agent" named Ari, it's Rahm Emanuel's brother...nice cluing I thought.

Van55 9:13 AM  

I liked this puzzle with it's wordplay on classical composers' names.

Andrea took me to task not long ago for remarking on the large number of proper names in a grid. This one has 17 by my count, of which four are theme answers. And there are six more proper nouns (including IHOP and USCG). But the plethora of names didn't bother me with this one, as I got them fairly easily.

I found it an enjoyable solve.

Van55 9:16 AM  

"sop" n. A conciliatory gift or bribe

Dough 9:20 AM  

I thought the puzzle was uneven (too hard in the NW and NE) and then generous elsewhere. To @Andrea, you wrote, "And Bar before BOX, bec you can have a bar band and a sand bar, no?" My understanding is that Will always has both words either preceding or following the given words. So it would have to be BAND ___ and SAND ___ or ___ BAND and ___ SAND. I don't think he ever mixes and matches befores and afters.

Bob 9:23 AM  

This is the kind of geeky, Trivial Pursuit-y kind of puzzle I love. As a classical musician I finally had an advantage on Rex the English prof. C'mon! "Bizet! Signal!" Images of Inspector Clousseau flood the brain.

Rolin mains: dude! Bach was a second-stringer?

John V 9:33 AM  

Actually, save for NE, found this pretty straightforward. Had BAR for 16 across, which had me stuck. Otherwise, got the themes answers okay. Had absolutely no idea for 1A, just solved for it.

chefbea 9:40 AM  

Tough puzzle. Noticed all the y's and other scrabbly letters. Northeast was the worst for me also. Never head of sop

Bob Kerfuffle 9:44 AM  

I found this puzzle very enjoyable! Noted all the proper names, but with one or two exceptions (the "J" of 1 A & D was my last fill), they were all comfortably within my ken. I also liked the puns, but agree that the use of "command" is quite a stretch.

I was certain that there was a movie titled "The Bandbox", but the only references I can find are to a 1919 silent film.

Falconer 9:44 AM  

Hard but very fun Wednesday puzzle. Amazed people didn't like; thought it was clever, inventive and amusing. I love the extra challenge midweek. Really liked the ''command'' aspect because it created the interesting variations in punctuation of the theme answers. Far from a mess, one of the best Wednesdays of the year!

Anonymous 9:53 AM  

From Webster: Bandbox is a usually cylindrical container made of cardboard or light wood used to hold light articles of clothing. Visualize an old-fashioned hat box.

Martin 9:58 AM  

Tokay essencia is one of the great sweet wines of the world. Along with its botrytized soulmate, Chateau d'Yquem, it is one fo the two longest-lived wines ever produced, improving for at least 200 years. Thomas Jefferson was among the first American appreciators of these wonderful and exclusive dessert wines.

Jo 10:05 AM  

Seems my mind was off rather than clueing. Never got NE done, even though APE and eventually POOl came, could not think of EXPO. Had to cheat on JALAPA. etc. etc. I shall blame my ignorance. Puns were fine and I got all those.
Proud of knowing TOKAY offhand.
What is USCG?

Sparky 10:10 AM  

There's a St. Elmo who has a fire. Expresion "band box fresh." In dictionary it's "A lightweight rounded box originally designed to hold collars but now used for any small articles of apparel." Kind of sweet and old timey. Got this with LISZT which led to ZORBA and TOKAY. Held on to capo 24A for a long time. Had idle for 3D. Which left NW puzzling. Erased entries, looked up capital in dictionary and slid home. Well, over the hump. TGIW
Oh my, the catchpa is bandynu, that's wierd.

JMorgie 10:22 AM  

Incorrect cluing and plain misspelling!

An Abacus is an ADDING MACHINE. its like asking to count on a calculator. duh.

and Perq is short for perquisite. it doesnt get a K -- its a Q. altho Toqay seems like perfectly good Hungarian to me!

Repeating other peoples' errors does not create acceptable usage.

ArtLvr 10:28 AM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
ArtLvr 10:34 AM  

I loved the puns, and wasn't bothered with the obscuring factor of "command". Go Will & Will!

@Jo -- the U S Coast Guard, which has not been getting the funds it needs to be a strong partner in defense efforts. No one sees the point, I'm afraid...

∑;(

Kurt 10:41 AM  

I liked this puzzle a lot. I thought that it was snappy and just right for a Wednesday. The theme answers were perhaps a bit forced, but very clever. I liked them all. Particularly "THROW, BACH!" and "HAYDNGOSEEK"

Thanks Will Nediger and thanks Rex.

Two Ponies 10:42 AM  

I usually like the mid-week puzzles to lean toward difficult and this one did. However ...
Kinda liked the puns but hated the clues.
Too many proper names although they were guessable.
Cutting seemed like a stretch but I left it. I was mispronouncing putting (as in "put that down") so golf evuded me.
At least amoeba was spelled the way I like it.
I thought a band box was one of those gazebos you see in a park where they play outdoor concerts.
@ chefwen, I think you'll be sharing those crabby pants a lot today.

mitchs 10:59 AM  

Truman's daughter described him as so impeccably dressed, he always looked as though "he'd just stepped off a band box."

I just thought it referred to the stage for a band. Not sure, though.

Take Your Pick 11:02 AM  

This little *piggie* went to market, and found:

Definitions of Bandbox on the Web:

a light cylindrical box for holding light articles of attire (especially hats)
wordnetweb.princeton.edu/perl/webwn

a box of lightweight construction (e.g. cardboard, thin wood) for carrying hats or other apparel items
en.wiktionary.org/wiki/bandbox

Band-box - In computer graphical user interfaces, drag-and-drop is the action of (or support for the action of) clicking on a virtual object and dragging it to a different location or onto another virtual object. ...
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Band-box

A baseball field that has shorter fences that makes it better for hitters.
qanda.encyclopedia.com/question/some-baseball-terms-and-definitions-756453.html

A small ballpark that favors hitters.
avonlittleleague.org/Page.asp

Definitions of Perk on the Web:

perks - Naval abbreviation of the word "Perquisites", referring to allowances, either in money or in kind, given with any particular office or appointment.
www.royalnavy.mod.uk/training-and-people/rn-life/navy-slang/covey-crump-a-to-aye/p-a-l-o-putty/

perks - Special benefits for executives that are usually non-cash items.
www.crfonline.org/orc/glossary/p.html

@JMorgi

Definitions of Perq on the Web:


Employee benefits and (especially in British English) benefits in kind (also called fringe benefits, perquisites, perqs or perks) are various non-wage compensations provided to employees in addition to their normal wages or salaries. ...
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perq

P>G>

fikink 11:03 AM  

It has never registered with me that Snap, Crackle and Pop were elves. Guess they kinda do recall Keebler as admen.

HAYDNGOSEEK was the best, imo.

"Spicy" is a good word for this puzzle, to my palate.

"aardwolf" was new to me - will google later in the day.

I liked SOOTH, eek. ;)

Gotta agree with @Andrea on this one.(toot! toot!)

OKAYBYME, eek.

rolin mains 11:14 AM  

@bob: i'm more of a later-than-baroque fan...when i think german composers, i think beethoven on up. and, am i incorrect in this, or was germany even a country when bach was a composer? i think it officially became a unified "germany" in 1871, according to wiki. until then it was a mishmash of germanic states. so, technically, bach was not a german composer, per se.

@martin: as i understand tokaj/tokai/tokay, the "real deal" is ROYAL tokay, and by most accounts, much of the old vines were destroyed in WWII. what you have on your store shelf is not the tokay of old...but an approximation of it. i believe, though, that there have been recent attempts to rejuvenate the real thing.

this is what i love about crosswords: learning.

Shamik 11:20 AM  

Like Rex, I didn't get the command aspect of BIZETSIGNAL. But then I envisioned Mr. and Mrs. Bizet in a car. Mr. Bizet blithely makes a turn while Mrs. Bizet yells: "BIZET...SIGNAL!" Don't know which is more sexist, though...should the driver or the person yelling be a man vs. woman?

Liked this puzzle and agreed on the medium challenging at 7:31. Nice to have a day off. Sorry to all who are sweltering. I will put my jacket on today and hike up to Upper Dewey Lake. Won't need a sweater 'cause it's probably going up to 60 degrees.

retired_chemist 11:20 AM  

Just fine. I am a punophile. SHORTZ shrift for the naysayers.

Seemed a tad harder than the Wednesday norm as I was solving, and am relieved that this was also the feeling of others.

Got JALAPA right although I had never heard of it. More usual spelling is XALAPA, per Google.

Thank you, Mr. Nediger.

Jo 11:20 AM  

@ArtLvr: Thanks. Love the Coast Guard, because James Spader and William Shatner got to join it on Boston Legal, the only outfit that would take them.

Shamik 11:21 AM  

And notice....this puzzle is anything but meh.

ArtLvr 11:37 AM  

@ Jo, glad it helped!

re SOP -- An old word from which we get sopping wet! It meant a soaked morsel of bread or other piddling item like a dripping bit of rag. In myth, according to M-W's Dictionary of Allusions, the "Sop to Cerberus", was a trick to dupe the Hound of Hell used by a sibyl when she tossed him a drugged honey and poppyseed cake in order to pass while he slept. Also, Shakespeare had Petruccio toss a sop from his glass in a sexton's face as one of his devious ploys in the taming of his shrewish wife Kate.

Today one would say that tossing a sop to someone is as much a consolation prize as a conciliatory prize, depending on whether you were giver or receiver: something not much valued by the donor. Carnegie wrote that he had given Frick a chairmanship of some board he didn't care about as a sop to keep him in line, for example. Other frequent usages: a sop to someone's vanity or conscience, or even an inner rationalization for taking a course one would not be proud of otherwise.

∑;)

Martin 12:05 PM  

Funny, we never spell their peppers "xalape├▒o."

@rolin mains,

I've never had a prewar tokay essencia, but a '63 I've had is in my personal top-ten. (A group that includes '74 Heitz Martha's, '47 Cheval Blanc, '61 Petrus and '45 d'Yquem, by the way). If you ever get the chance to sample one, don't miss it.

Moonchild 12:12 PM  

I knew aardwolf because I'm such an animal nut. You gotta love those Aussie critters.
Now I have to know the Mexican state capitals too?
I had a notion for a bit that it would be a currency.
Abs of steel and Wizard of Oz were some nice fill.
For some reason I also liked doings. (Looks like a sound effect)
@ dk, Still laughing at your aluminum foil!
Lots of name-dropping to pull this one off.

JL 12:31 PM  

@ ArtLvr: I too was glad to see the Coast Guard reference; my Dad is a USCG vet from WWII so I knew the answer right off. He says to this day that the Coast Guard is the forgotten service. They don't get nearly the respect that they deserve.

Steve J 1:02 PM  

If I leave out the theme, I liked this. It was challenging (NE was tough for me, too), but it was good.

The theme, however. Oy. Nice idea with very poor execution, imo.

It's not that they're puns. I'm generally not a fan of puns, but they can work well in crosswords. It's that of the four theme answers, two of them are just badly off.

The worst: THROWBACH. Obviously punning off of throwback. Problem is, Bach does not rhyme with back. It rhymes with bock. And "throwbock" means nothing. Puns work by playing off of homonyms, and there's no homonym here.

The other one that's off: BIZETSIGNAL. Pronunciation is slightly off but forgivable (it's only a difference in syllable emphasis, rather than having an entirely wrong vowel like the Bach answer). The problem is, the answer does not match the clue. All of the others have match up in subject matter: you seek things that are hidden at a scavenger hunt, a person performing a concert has a playlist, etc. (actually, the Bach clue's dodgy here, too, since the baseball term is a brushback pitch, not a throwback). But there is no busy signal at an intersection. I don't know how you command a busy signal. But if the constructor had stuck with composer puns rather than the unnecessary command motif, this could have been clued appropriately. And it probably would have made the theme better.

Still wouldn't have saved the complete mess that is THROWBACH, however.

newspaperguy 1:04 PM  

I loved this puzzle for a Wednesday. Quirky and challenging without being overly obscure. The theme was an odd selection as it did not reflect the answers--what does busy signal have to do with a road crossing? But a very enjoyable mid-week experience.

deerfencer 1:10 PM  

Lots to love and hate here: ABSOFSTEEL and
HAYDNGOSEEK were great; also, the clue for ACE ("point of no return") gets 4 stars. But I agree with those who found (bar)BOX, SOP, and JALAPA too obscure for a Wednesday.

archaeoprof 1:16 PM  

I hereby cast my vote of approval for this quirky, off-beat puzzle.

It's 97 here, high humidity too. Just another July day in SC.

Go Germany!

Rube 1:52 PM  

Thoroughly enjoyed this puzzle. There was an absolute minimum of bad fill and the theme puns were all acceptable, although the command part of the clues was stretching it in places.

For opera fanciers, BORIS (Godunov) was a gimme. Although the opera is very dark with lots of intrigue & assassinations, Boris was apparently very progressive and well liked during most of his reign. For you oldies, remember Boris Badenov from Rocky and Bullwinkle -- an obvious take-off on Godunov.

Yep, Snap, Crackle and Pop remind me of the Keebler elves, too. On the other hand, I've had a hard time placing Legolas from Lord of the Rings in the same category.

shrub5 1:54 PM  

This puzzle was fun and OKAY BY ME. Enjoyed the theme puns (I'm not as picky as some of you!) I figured hide and go seek was the basis of 61A but I misspelled HADYN as Hayden so there weren't enough spaces. Had PINKY (instead of PIGGY) which placed the N incorrectly. Eventually hammered out that mess and completed the rest OK despite having SOSO before EXPO for awhile.

LOL at @dk's ABS OF aluminum foil. Mine: ABS? I think they're in there somewhere.

Surprised that many had trouble with SOP. Seems I've seen it in CWs several times with similar clues.

Agree with @TwoPonies re: band box. Old timey, "The Music Man" feeling.

Captcha: candyami: why I don't have ABS OF STEEL.

Jim 2:26 PM  

Wasn't going to comment today, but the general ignorance of the term 'band box' is surprising. Any baseball fan knows a band box is a (usu.) small park, in which many home runs are hit. In fact, it's so commonplace a term, broadcasters who employ it are rightly derided. No doubt this is the sense Mr Nediger meant, despite any other definitions listed.

Incidentally, a full hour of nothing but sporadic, uncertain fill until, an educated guess at USCG (you know, semper paratus instead of semper fudge, er, fi) got me GALPALS and then it was off to the races. Excellent puzzle, had no doubt I'd eventually pull it off, which is about right for a Wednesday (and not at all something I can say about Friday or Saturday). Well done!

Incidentally, can we get a ruling on the term ABBR? Isn't this reserved for actual abbreviations, like SEC for second, or CO for company? Acronyms are never articulated as such; part of the guessing that makes crosswords so interesting (and difficult).

**UPDATE**

OK, I have the definition of acronym wrong. I thought it was any term whereby a series of words was shortened to their first initials (i.e., USCG). Evidently, it's only when they form a word (i.e., ICE for Immigrations and Customs Enforcement). My larger point stands, however. Many times I've seen an example like USCG without any : abbr notice affixed to it. What, exactly, is the convention, and are we to be able to tell one from the other before attempting to solve? Any help would be appreciated.

mac 2:35 PM  

Found this puzzle hard for a Wednesday, which I like, but the theme soso. The "sine wave" kept bringing "Wella" to mind. I also thought peppers with Jalapa, and wanted a 1 in Tokay.

Funny little fact, Rex: also = eek; also is "ook" in Dutch.
Not a bad thing to watch a great soccer match in my nice cool apartment when it's sweltering outside! Then a night flight to London, then Amsterdam for two weeks. Hup Oranje!

fikink 2:53 PM  

@ArtLvr, you have exemplified beautifully @rolin mains' appreciation of crosswords as a learning tool Thank you for all the great info on SOP,
all blandishment aside! ;)

@deerfencer, I agree with you on ACE clue, very clever.

@Rube, big smile is off to you for remembering Boris Badenov!

@shrub5, great "pun" with your captcha!

One of the joys of reading Rex's efforts and those who post here is the appreciation of "play" in the term, "wordplay." Vuvuzela!

Stay safe, Mac!

lokesh 3:04 PM  

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nanpilla 3:08 PM  

@Rube: I never put Godunov and Badenov together - wonderful!

Liked the chewiness of the puzzle, but didn't like THROWBACH or BIZETSIGNAL. They just don't sound right. HAYDNSEEK, however, was great.

@mac Good travels!

Captcha: friesmi - another reason not to have abs of steel.

Van55 3:35 PM  

I can't figure out why some people find the theme to be a stretch today. Rex's write-up makes it pellucid. Each answer is a directive from a third party to the composer in question. Bach is commanded to throw. Bizet is commanded to signal. Hayden is commanded to go seek. Liszt is commanded to play. The resulting puns are common phrases. Sure "Bach" is not pronounced the same as "back" (except by Ahnold the Terminatior) and "Bizet" is not pronounced the same as "busy," but that's the fun of the pun!

Tinbeni 3:45 PM  

@Shrub5 & Van55
SOP, wasn't this in a LAT last week? Seems to me we also had a discussion about SOOTH there too.

OKAY BY ME though it felt more like a Thursday. Maybe just my slog.

GAL PALS, a fave name for my ladies, though they think I use it in the singular. Years ago, I liked the term 'wife' but that proved to be too expensive.

JALAPA (Xalapa) I saw a couple of weeks ago in regard to Hurricane Alex. It's in my Floridian DNA to pay attention whenever these things pop up.

@nanpilla
THROW BACH sounds perfect, especially when referring to a few beers.

sanfranman59 4:01 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 16:06, 11:49, 1.36, 96%, Challenging

Top 100 solvers

Wed 7:42, 5:48, 1.33, 96%, Challenging

By the numbers, this one will wind up as one of the toughest Wednesday puzzles of the 54 in my database. As of now, it ranks #3 for both groups of solvers. I definitely struggled with it but generally like pun puzzles and enjoyed the solving experience. As was apparently the case for others, the NE was the last to fall. Artists names and works are definitely not my forte and I had never heard of Uccello. I'm not familiar with this usage of SOP and I fell into the fair=SOSO trap. I also had trouble parsing HAYDNGOSEEK since I think of the name of the children's game as just "hide and seek".

PuzzleNut 4:02 PM  

I liked this one, but I also like classical music, so the theme answers pretty much popped out. The NE was a bear and JALAPA had to entered from all crosses.
Did this one diagramless and really tough because the whole north was so obscure. The rest of the puzzle wasn't so bad.
Didn't know PAZ - can anyone explain?

chefbea 4:08 PM  

@puzzleNut Guerra=war Pax=peace

DBGeezer 4:10 PM  

Sorry to aggravate the many pun-haters who reported their distaste for those wonderful word plays.

A jester in the king's court so annoyed his Majesty by his puns that the poor jester was condemned to hang. As he stood on the ladder about to be executed, the king repented and said he would pardon him if he stopped punning. The jester could not help saying, "Thank you. No noose is good news."

mac 4:13 PM  

Forgot to mention:
Until yesterday Bonobo was totally unknown to me. Then I read a book review in which it was mentioned being crossed with a human, resulting in a pretty normal girl (only oddities were eating bananas without peeling them and a fondness for climbing trees).

BTW: were we looking for dark chocolate Mounds or Almond Joy?

will nediger 4:17 PM  

@Steve J:

For pun themes, the pre-pun phrases have to exist, and the post-pun phrases have to make sense, but there isn't necessarily a semantic relationship between them. BIZETSIGNAL has nothing to do with "busy signal," so it doesn't matter that a busy signal has nothing to do with an intersection. Just as hide-and-go-seek has nothing to do with an intersection, or throwback with baseball. I think the general consensus is that it's a good thing when the resulting puns are far (semantically) from the base phrases, because it provides a nice surprise.

A lot of the other criticisms of this puzzle are valid (like the fact that back-Bach isn't as tight as the others), but the theme does follow conventions.

Rick 4:45 PM  

I really enjoyed this challenging puzzle, except I had "pinky" instead of "piggy," and thus ended up "kuilty" as charged.

Take your pick 4:55 PM  

@Jim

I guess then your pick was #4 & #5 of my 11:02 am post above.

and your phrase "... general ignorance ..." might best be rephrased if you want someone to catch you up on the ABBR [sic] convention.

Lack of specific knowledge is not ignorance.

Anonymous 5:22 PM  

RE: BANDBOX
The usage that comes to my mind would be frequently seen, for example, in the novels of Louisa May Alcott. "Despite the heat, she appeared as neat as if she had just stepped out of a bandbox." The bandbox was a small, light trunk that carried one's necessities for 'making a toilette.'

It's not that obscure; after all, you still know what a buggy is, or a churn, right?

@Chefbea
Wizard of Ox? I don't think so.

Julie 5:28 PM  

Gotta love the Saki quote though, from The OPen Window. We've long loved that.

JenCT 5:37 PM  

Sorry, I thought this puzzle was pretty poor. Tons of bad, obscure fill to make it work.

@DB Geezer - I like your pun better.

Guess I have crabby pants also today (or should they be shorts???)

I Pick Accurate 5:51 PM  

@Take your pick - Lack of knowledge, specific or not, is kind of the definition of ignorance.

Take your pick 6:14 PM  

@I Pick Accurate:

Thought about that after I posted, and agree with you.

However, additional definitions include:

The condition of:

-being uneducated in general;

-lacking knowledge or sophistication;

-incapable of understanding complex issues;

In the context of the original post, I believe one of the latter was intended.

Nighthawk 6:23 PM  

Just to join the bandBOX discussion, I suppose it all depends on, perhaps, ones age. The small field or toiletries holder usages are for those of us who may be older. For MySpace or FaceBook users, BandBox is a tool that independent musicians can use to embed in their sites and sell their music. http://www.bandbox.com/default/
Sort of a product placement, but so is ABSOFSTEEL.
Who knows which one Mr. Nediger had in mind?

I started in the NW with XALAPA, making that area a tussle for a while until the alternate spelling came to view.

I liked the profusion of names for some reason. Took some time though trying to figure how to squeeze GODFATHER in 4 spaces for 24A before VANE revealed VITO for me.

Makes me want to have a tomato sandwich just thinking of him.

Remembered Zumwalt, having thought at the time he was one of the better Generals of the era.

Tumbled to the theme with PLAYLISZT, and love puns, so, all in all, thought it was a fun Wed.

captch: dronsnah - a toast with TOKAY?

william e emba 7:41 PM  

BONOBOs, formerly called pygmy chimpanzees, are probably best known for their casual, uninhibited sex lives. The book Bonobo Handshake has just come out, and is currently being talked about on various science blogs.

It was my only gimme in the NE, although SOP came pretty easily off of S--. I first had BAR for the word to go with band/sand, then when I was looking at BO-, I tried BOY, and had to go through the alphabet to get BOX.

I had to Google afterwards to jog my memory, as in what the heck is a sandboy, and where have I ever in my life encountered the term that it helped seriously slow me down on a Wednesday?

The answer is Charles Dickens, The Old Curiosity Shop. More Googling reveals that apparently the phrase "as happy as a sandboy" is current in the UK, like "as happy as a clam" is in the US, but outside Dickens, I've never come across it before.

The Frank Morgan I know is a highly regarded mathematician, best known for his proof of the Double Bubble Conjecture.

So, are Snap, Crackle, and Pop elves or gnomes? Well, what a coincidence, today I bought a used copy of A Field Guide to the Little People. The bookstore proprietress told me that it sells instantly whenever she gets a copy. I guess I'll study it carefully.

Sfingi 7:47 PM  

@Rex - My word! - You don't have AC just everywhere? As a heat hater, I had an AC before I had a TV. May I suggest (Oh shut up!) one of those roll-around jobs? Or a sofa at the (air-conditioned) office? Or a lap-top to take to the B&N? At least if it's cold you can put on a sweater. When I'm w/o AC, I feel trapped. I've taken to wearing (yikes) skirts. Viewer be damned.
Go to the movies, now. One more day.

I wasn't going to get the NYT because someone warned me the puzzle was "challenging." But the Yemeni store were wiped out of ice cream sandwiches and even orange cupcakes, and I hate to walk out w/o encouraging them. Soooo.

In the end, I Googled JALAPA, USCG (there were many others using this motto), UCCELLO (never knew his first name - his last means bird), ASWAN, WIZARDOFOZ, HYENA.
Google actually had XALAPA and I had PAx, so I thought there was some sort of X-thing going on.
Finally got the lame over-stretched puns.
Another confuser - where does Hungary end and Austria begin.

Can't believe I got ABSOFSTEEL and PUTTING.

I wanted capO rather than VITO for the longest time. Had PInkY instead of PIGGY for a while.

Mini-mini SIP SOP.

There's a discussion of elves at LA Crossword Confidential, so I won't repeat my stuff.

@Nighthawk - you need a tomato pie - Oneida Co. specialty. It's square pizza with tomato sauce and spices but no cheese, eaten cold or hot. Sold everywhere.

Uccello is cute, and once you see one, you know his style, so I include.The Hunt

william e emba 7:52 PM  

Admiral ELMO Zumwalt has been in the NYT puzzle several times, usually every other year or so. I believe it catches everyone by surprise every time.

ArtLvr 7:55 PM  

Delighted that constructor Will N. popped in! I just wanted to add that puns don't have to "sound" right -- visual puns can be just as amusing. His THROW BACH and BIZET SIGNAL fell into the latter category, for me. Also, I don't mind if there's a mix of aural and visual puns, in service to a theme -- e.g. composers HAYDN in plain sight, as it were.

∑;)

Sfingi 7:55 PM  

The blog said my URL was too long.
Trying again.
TheHunt


If this doesn't fly, look it up.

chefbea 8:04 PM  

@ anonymous 5:22 I meant paz

dk 8:13 PM  

@Martin, ya see Monday is my birthday and all. So I was thinkin what would be great gift.... and you got it right on the nose (pun intended): '45 d'Yquem. Email me and I will send you my address, heck sakes I'll even come and pick it up.

@Will N, if you knew how I drive, HAYDNGOSEEK would have everything to do with an intersection.

michael 8:57 PM  

The first answer I filled in (without crosses) was Jalapa. We all know different stuff..

Steve J 9:02 PM  

@will nediger: Thanks for stopping by and offering some additional thoughts.

I agree that there's no rule that this type of theme has to go in a particular direction. What struck me, however, is that (to my perception) this was internally consistent; i.e., the pattern you established wasn't carried out consistently.

I suspect that this results from looking at the them from different angles. You had clearly set up a "command" structure, and everything definitely fits within that. If you stop there, everything's consistent.

What caught me as I was solving (and was perhaps reinforced by the fact that the first two theme answers I got were HAYDNGOSEEK and PLAYLISZT) was that two of the answers fit topically with the clue (PLAYLISZT is both a command and something that a concert performer of any instrument would use, and HAYDNGOSEEK was both a command and fit the activity of a scavenger hunt). That created a theme/clue parallelism that wasn't carried out in the other two, especially BIZETSIGNAL. It only had the command part. It lacked the parallelism with the clue that the other answers had.

Now, it's entirely possible I viewed this from an angle that hardly anyone else did (in fact it's highly likely, as I'm definitely in a minority in terms of the theme not working for me, and I haven't seen anyone else bring up the consistency angle). But hopefully that sheds light on where I'm coming from in my point of view on this one. It was an ambitious theme, I thought. It just was missing - for me - an internal consistency I expect to see from any theme.

Martin 9:07 PM  

@dk,

Those are all wines from past tastings, so no '45 d'Yquem to share. I do have a couple of '67s in the cellar, though, but they're not worthy.

JenCT 9:08 PM  

@Steve J - well said.

will nediger 10:11 PM  

@Steve J

Thanks for the clarification, I see where you're coming from now. (Though to me, a playlist is still a thing I have on my iTunes, or a thing a radio DJ has, not a thing that a pianist uses, which is sheet music. And hide-and-go-seek and scavenger hunts are different things. Maybe there are dialect differences at work here.)

Anonymous 10:13 PM  

Admiral (not General) Zumwalt was a very respected, hard-working, and effective leader. Tragically, his son was exposed to the Agent Orange attacks that Zumwalt himself agreed to order. The son died of cancers, not long after his child was born with serious birth defects. Zumwalt collaborated on the book about this family tragedy.

I guess only VietNam era solvers recall this name so strongly.

@Moonchild
AARDwolf ...no way it's Aussie. That is a Dutch-derived term, so South Africa/Afrikaans would be the source.

Stan 12:16 AM  

I liked the combination of high culture and lowly puns -- reminded me of classic Times Sunday puzzles.

Anonymous 4:22 PM  

For those of you who knew what a band box was: it made me think of a story that my 90 year old mother used to tell me. A kindergarten teacher told my mother that my older sister always was dressed as if she had just stepped out of a band box. I really enjoyed having that memory evoked.

Anonymous 5:13 PM  

I had to laugh out loud at myself when I came here to find the answer to 29D is Wizard of Oz. Wizardo Fox seemed reasonable to me! 19A's Sop was the last to fall for me, and everything else just worked its way out.

Anonymous 8:44 PM  

@SteveJ,

I saw the same sort of connections and rationalized that many intersections, especially busy ones, have signals.

Anonymous 3:36 PM  

Fwiw, loved the puzzle, even if mine had JALACA in it where everyone else's version seems to have had something else.

Read through the comments and still don't see the controversy with the cluing. Every single one works with just a comma: BIZET, SIGNAL. PLAY, LIZST. THROW, BACH. HAYDN, GO SEEK.

"Back" was off, but "Busy" you just have to think of saying it with a French accent and it works fine.

@other anon,

Er, no. As you can piece together from the difficulty people had with the NE, "bandbox" is wretchedly obscure. @Jim is probably right that broadcasters are discouraged from using the term and a little off on the reasoning behind it. Google pulls up Fenway being described as a bandbox... in a write-up from 1960. So, less on the order of "buggy" or "churn" (or even "sockdolager") and closer to something like "cachexy" or "heam."

Anonymous 3:41 PM  

Oh, & Kellogg's says they started out with a gnome and then got a make-over.

So Snap, Crackle, and Pop are metrosexual gnomes.

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