Italian sculptor Nicola / SUN 9-5-10 / Wielder of sword Tizona / Short-billed rail / Starting material coal formation / Kazakh land feature

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Constructor: Will Nediger

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: "TURNING BACK" — second word in familiar two-word phrases is "turned back," i.e. reversed, creating a wacky phrase, clued "?"-style

Word of the Day: EXOCET (10D: Antiship missile used in the Falklands War) —

The Exocet is a French-built anti-ship missile whose various versions can be launched from surface vessels, submarines, helicopters and fixed wing aircraft. Hundreds were fired in combat during the 1980s. (wikipedia) [I inferred this answer from AVOCET, which I thought was also a missile but which, it turns out, is a bird, as is CRAKE (29A: Short-billed rail), which intersects EXOCET, and which I know only from the Margaret Atwood title "Oryx and CRAKE"]
• • •

Would have liked some unifying principle, some phrase, some idea, something to account for reversing the second word. Lots of words can be reversed to make other words, so presumably this theme could go on forever. So the whole concept doesn't feel tight enough to me. That said, I like most of the chosen "wacky" phrases, and the grid overall feels predominantly smooth, and contains lots of high-interest longer (6+) answers, so I enjoyed solving it. [Full disclosure: I have a puzzle coming out somewhere, some time, that has a vaguely similar gimmick, though it's far more thematically focused than this—I doubt it's better, however; it was the first puzzle I ever had accepted] Had one lethal crossing today: PISANO (61A: Italian sculptor Nicola) / TORR (55D: Unit of pressure). Total guess for me. Thankfully, a correct guess. So I guess it wasn't "lethal" after all. Just potentially lethal. Found the NE corner pretty dang thorny (misspelled both TIRANE (TIRANA) (48A: Capital of Albania) and POMELO (POMOLO) (16D: Fruit with a thick rind), for example), but otherwise, found the puzzle to tilt considerably toward the Easy side of the fence.

Theme answers:
  • 23A: Taking the dimensions of busybodies? (MEASURING SNOOPS)
  • 42A: Done swimming? (OUT OF THE POOL)
  • 45A: Giving an award to the wrong person? (PRIZE SLIP-UP)
  • 70A: Slandering a Thanksgiving side dish? (TURKEY TORT) — this is my favorite wacky phrase, by far
  • 74A: Othello, before Act V, Scene II? (LIVING MOOR)
  • 99A: Comment in a woman's mag? (COSMO REMARK) — one of two "Seinfeld" references today. Huzzah... (see also 4D: Surname of TV's George, Frank and Estelle=>COSTANZA)
  • 101A: Summary of "Raiders of the Lost Ark"? (INDIANA RECAP) — uh, ARKS is in the grid (89D: Torah holders). No biggie.
  • 123A: Pious spouse's ultimatum? ("LOVE ME, LOVE MY GOD") — honestly, this doesn't sound wacky at all. I'm not sure if I could have told you before this puzzle which one ("god" version or "dog" version) was the common phrase. I can totally imagine some religious ... let's say "stalwart" ... saying this very thing.

[I have no reason for playing this except I love the song —by John Prine— and this is the best version I could find]

Here's some stuff I didn't know. ST. OLGA — she's new to me. Had the ST. part and exclaimed "Aw Come On! That's no help!" Figured ANNE was most likely, given her common letters, but no (36A: Her feast day is Jul. 11). Have certainly heard of EL CID, but had no idea that he was the 67A: Wielder of the sword of Tizona). I don't know anything about "La Vie en Rose," so ... oh, wait, I do. It's about EDITH Piaf, right!? Sure, *now* I get it. Ugh (121A: Marion's "La Vie en Rose" character). Wait, who's Marion? Ah, Marion Cotillard, who somehow won the Best Actress Academy Award while I wasn't paying attention. Ymir is only vaguely familiar, so I had to wait out some crosses before I got NORSE and OGRE (131A: Like Ymir + 132A: Ymir, for one). I wrote in PUPATE on faith—faith in my ability to make up plausible words from parts of other words (35D: Metamorphose, as a larva). I didn't know the picture of Jordan jumping was called a "Jumpman," so 40D: Sneaker with a Jumpman logo (AIR JORDAN) confused me for a bit. Else, smooth sailing.

  • 9A: Its slogan begins "15 minutes could save you..." (GEICO) — if you don't know this, then you watch precisely Zero television. Ubiquitous.
  • 20A: Ship written about by Apollonius of Rhodes (ARGO) — right over the plate for me. Mentioned voyage of the ARGO in class just this past Thursday. Other fat gimmes include "STAN" (38A: Eminem song that samples Dido's "Thank You"), which is a pretty great song, and CRISTAL (6D: Champagne often mentioned in hip-hop songs), which made me feel like years of enduring rap cliches had finally paid off. Here's a song with a CRISTAL reference:

["Cristal by the case men, still in they mother's basement"]
  • 31A: Starting material in coal formation (PEAT) — didn't know. Due to misspelling of POMELO ("O" for "E"), nearly left misspelled as "POAT."
  • 56A: Indian guy in National Lampoon's "Van Wilder" movies (TAJ) — yes, there are "Van Wilder" movies, plural, for some reason
  • 63A: Follower of White or Red (SOX) — this eluded me til I got the "X."
  • 81A: Many Maurice Sendak characters (BEASTS) — true enough, esp. in "Where the Wild Things Are"
  • 129A: Drink in "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" (OUZO) — Greek drink, four letters, not tough (never saw the movie)
  • 12D: Cloak, in Córdoba (CAPA) — tried CAPO at first. Many other, better clues for that.
  • 15D: Wearer of a famous ring (THE POPE) — "The Precious!"
  • 44D: Hit 1989 biographical play ("TRU") — crosswordese. See also "TABU" (70D: Brand advertised as "the forbidden fragrance")
  • 53D: Dish with greens and ground beef (TACO SALAD) — are the greens something other than lettuce? Because "greens" threw me. Was trying to think of something much fancier.
  • 78D: Cuckold's purchase, perhaps (SPYCAM) — ooh, drama.
  • 96D: Sweetheart's telephone comment ("I MISS YOU") — aw, sweet.
And now your Tweets of the Week, puzzle chatter from the Twitterverse:

  • @psyence53 I really should stop doing crosswords and go to sleep. I shall get changed, and do crosswords in bed, then. Addicted much? Oh dear.
  • @kristine_lang Pleased to announce that this morning, in under 30 minutes, I, Kristine Lang, completed the NY Times crossword.
  • @Nerdandahalf1 So absorbed in my crossword, I got on the wrong train... And I actually was going to make it on time
  • @DangerChicken Stop calling me old. I'm only doing crossword puzzles, not dancing the Charleston. Although.....
  • @ladonnaDOLCE Look at queena being collegiate with her crossword puzzle
  • @TommyHB Enjoying a latte and crossword outside Edinburgh castle. Would it be rude to tell the bagpiper to shut the eff up?!
  • @Edwin6Biscuits There's this old white lady who works in Rollins and all she does is READ her crossword puzzle and stare at us... Can I have ur job?!? Lol
  • @iLoveTaraBriona Ima have my mom do this crossword puzzle this is bullshit! Ugh I give up!
  • @ryangrammatico This guy next to me in this waiting room has his eyes open, doing a crossword puzzle but he sounds like he is sleeping #heavymouthbreather
  • @TheRules Rule No. 771: Finishing the New York Times crossword is at least 900% more impressive than finishing the USA Today crossword.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


Joe 12:21 AM  

Crake? CRAKE???!!!

Joe 12:25 AM  

And crossing EXOCET???? F that.

des 12:27 AM  

I totally agree that LOVE ME LOVE MY GOD could be the "correct" version, so even though that was the first theme answer I found, I kept struggling to figure out the way in which "Turning Back" would work. Considering that we just had a much more complete and more satisfying version of this same concept on Thursday, I was not impressed.
I also found a lot of the fill to be on the "clunky" side - not only such impossibilities as CRAKE and ST OLGA (excuse me, was she Jewish?), but such crosswordese words as TUN, TOT (which we needed to find the unknown TORR), and UEES - PL-EASE!

chefwen 1:41 AM  

This was a very tasty puzzle with POMELO topped with a little ASIAGO, some soy CURD on the side, a yummy carne ASADA taco, we will forget about the POI (nasty stuff) but let's dig in to the lovely TACO SALAD, all washed down with some OUZO. That stuff can take paint off the walls, imagine what it does to you gut.

Great puzzle, not too easy, not too tough, just right.

dls 2:06 AM  

The mathematician in me automatically filled out _IMS ("Family of games") as NIMS.

Also had CAPO/CROKE instead of CAPA/CRAKE ....

r.alphbunker 2:18 AM  

exodet/drake, pinano/nims, spar/raj
Exocet felt right but crake did not. Nim is a game, Pinano seemed Italian enough. Although spar was weak, I couldn't give up Raj. Guessed right on several others. Theme didn't compensate for these.

Anonymous 3:23 AM  

I feel really dumb about this, but I don't get the Roosevelt or Truman clue... I had DEM, but that's obviously wrong. Why DAM?

jae 4:12 AM  

@donna, because 110a was Roosevelt or Hoover which are both DAMS.

This was more easy-challenging for me because of two pure guesses (TORR and UBU). I finally asked my bride to choose between UDU (PARTD) and UBU (PARTB) and she went with UBU only because it was a Sun. puzzle. I also got slowed down in NE, NCentral, and SCentral (Ymir?).

Bottom line, nice puzzle but not a piece of cake (CRAKE I knew) for me.

I really thought some of the theme answers (e.g. COSMOREMARK, LIVINGMOOR) were quite clever, so this one goes in the like it column.

Fitzy 4:32 AM  

First of all, thank you Rex for recommending Lollapuzzoola 3 a few weeks back... it was my first time ever entering a crossword competition... Ryan & Brian run a great event... and even as a newcomer(I placed 97 out of 107 & was even shocked by that!) everyone made me feel very welcome and there was definitely "just do your best" spirit so I never felt the least bit intimidated... a very fun day & I look forward to Lollapuzzoola 4!!! ... I found the fill on this week's puzzle very tough... my one quibble is w/ 128 Across: "Had a hunch" = "knew"... that bug anyone else?... PS Am proud to say that I rightly held off on 116 Down "City in Nevada" thinking it might just be Elko & not Reno :-)

Fitzy 4:42 AM  

PS: Norah Jones does GREAT covers (on top of her own great stuff)... you should also check out her & Willie Nelson covering "The Wurlitzer Prize" (as Waylon tribute I imagine)@ Willie's 70th b-day...

The Bard 7:06 AM  

Othello, Act V, Scene II

OTHELLO: I kiss'd thee ere I kill'd thee:
no way but this; Killing myself, to die upon a kiss.
[Falls on the bed, and dies]

Ruth 8:00 AM  

I laughed at PRIZE SLIPUP--the theme may be a little random, but I admire a brain that can see potential humor in little tricks like reversing a word. It was fun. Thanks, Will N! And I read ORYX AND CRAKE for my book club so I knew that.

Evgeny 8:13 AM  

It's always fascinating how cultural differences influence the perception of some answers as hard or easy. St. Olga, the fourth (and the first female) ruler of Russia (Kievan Rus', actually) - an absolute gimme to a Russian. Same for the "La Vie en rose"-clue; It was a pretty big deal for Europeans that a French movie - in French - won a best actress Oscar. Also a surprise it wasn't renamed "Freedom Song" for American box office purposes...

GEICO - not so easy for someone who - as Mr. Parker points out - watches precisely zero American television! Cross that with EXOCET, which I just plain never heard of, and here we got the one letter in the puzzle that was impossible to get. Also got UEYS from crosses. When i now look at the clue... U-turns? Is that correct?

On that note, I live in Germany and have a tip for the constructors: Germans don't use "ach!" nearly as much as it comes up in the NYT crossword puzzle. And when they do, it's never in the sense of "Mein Gott!". It may have been used that way roughly at the time Othello was still alive, but it certainly isn't anymore.


Anonymous 8:33 AM  

Anyone alive at the time knew EXOCET. As Woody Allen says, 90% of life is doing the NYT puzzle.

Smitty 8:51 AM  

Easy/impossible for me since I was DNF in the Oxfam/Crake/Exocet area

Rex said: 9A: Its slogan begins "15 minutes could save you..." (GEICO) — if you don't know this, then you watch precisely Zero television. Ubiquitous.

I watch Zero television.

Glimmerglass 8:57 AM  

Loved "Cosmo remark."

Anonymous 9:04 AM  

Dozy? Come. ON.

joho 9:08 AM  

I thought it was a fun Sunday even with one mistake at the "X" in EXOCET. I went with a "V" thinking EvOCET was a play on the bird avocet as both birds and missles fly.

Brutal crossing there.

Tobias 9:27 AM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tobias 9:30 AM  

I had forgotten about the aching beauty of Lauren Hill.
First Sunday I have done in a while, I just cannot put my finger on why I dont enjoy them more.
Favorite part of the puzzle was the cuckold clue . Is the spycam suppose to help him discover the truth or does he have a cuckold fetish ?

Evgeny 9:32 AM  

btw this is something i meant to say for ages but didn't get around to. Mr. Parker, in his August 17 puzzle, clues 8d. AUS as "Neighbor of Ger." Now, I can see that Ger. is not written GER so probably it's not the three-letter country code and that Aus. may be a legitimate abbreviation for Austria, although I never ever have seen it.
Still, wouldn't it have been more elegant to come up with some clever clue for Australia and actually use the country code AUS? Any thoughts?

It's probably not the right place to write this, but now the weight is off my shoulders :-)

Van55 9:33 AM  

I really disliked this one for many reasons. For example, why is THEPOPE more acceptable as an answer than SETOFCLUBS? Never heard of OXFAM. Never heard of Enoch ARDEN. DOZY sucks! Cuckold is almost anachronistic as a word, yet Nediger has him purchasing a SPYCAM? Who the hell is Alfred Jarry? Who is Jumpman? Who is familiar enough with the Eminem songbook to know STAN samples Dido's "Thank you?" For that matter who knows Dido's songbook that well? Who can listen to the words of enough hip-hop songs long enough to know that CRISTAL is ever mentioned?

In short, for many of the clues, I had NOIDEA.

Rex Parker 9:47 AM  

I was alive at the time (of the Falklands War), and I did not know EXOCET. Clearly, if early returns are any indication, neither did many other reasonably sentient people.

I guarantee you that EXOCET will be among the five or so least known words in today's puzzle.

Not that it's not a fine word.

Sparky 10:11 AM  

Moving backwards: finished Friday-yea!; totally stuck on Saturday-boo! DNF today--brain freeze in the OXFAM spot and the PISANO/ONEOR cross. Aside from that enjoyed the ride. I remember Edith Piaf not the movie. Age works sometimes. Happy Labor Day.

Shacklett 10:13 AM  

Exocets were a big deal because they were sold to the Argentinians by the French and almost sunk a couple British ships. So weapons made and sold by one NATO member were being used against another. I was only 14 at the time, but remember being amazed by this.

miriam b 10:24 AM  

I went with TIRANA at first, but soon saw that that final E was required. Feeling dubious, I PPG'd (post-puzzle Googled) and found that both spellings are used. I saw no indication that either one is a variant of the other.

My captcha: riting = performing routine tasks

miriam b 10:31 AM  

Further investigation reveals that the final E in TIRANE is topped by an umlaut, or whatever it's called in Albanian.

JC66 10:33 AM  

My solving experience paralleled @Rex's, but at a much slower pace. Didn't know PISANO or TORR; misspelled POMELO and stayed with TITANa until coming here (I think TIRANA was in one of yesterday's puzzles - Il Papa = THEPOPa?).

Agree with @des that Patrick/ACME's Thursday effort was far superior to today's which begs the question: why would Will schedule the two puzzles only three days apart, forcing the comparison?

DBGeezer 10:40 AM  

I lived a few years in India, so OXFAM was a gimme. A great relief agency that spends very very little on itself.

I hoped to see in your instructive remarks an explanation of COSMOREMARK. Of what common phrase is that a variation?

chefbea 11:01 AM  

We just did a puzzle like this!!!
Found this very easy however never got the X til I got here

@Chefwen agree with you about a tasty puzzle. Loved all the food and beverages.

And didn't we have Bogey yesterday??

Anonymous 11:04 AM  

@Van55 AMEN!!! How about 46D ebra, ing,one, etc all follow Z. Eta follows Zeta in the alphabet and you need eta to spell zeta. This clue flat sucks.

ArtLvr 11:10 AM  

I found this a medium-oof, trying to go with some Costello folk before seeing COSTANZA, and ending with a dubious Udu Roi, since the recent Medicare add-on was Part D for Drugs reimbursement. Who was UBU? What is TORR? Never mind, the rest was quite good!

re Rex wanting a unifying principle to tie themes together? That little 133A UEYS at the very end might have served the purpose, though not so indicated...


Vega 11:12 AM  

The theme was cute enough, and I love Cosmo Remark almost as much as I love Cosmo Kramer (i.e., a lot).

But so much stuff I didn't know left me feeling a little grumbly in the end. As an Indian gal, I couldn't let go of raj for the Indian guy, which is at least a real name, and drake was a bird I knew and exocet is something I don't know. Vegetarian that I am, esada was as likely as asada, and I'm not well-versed enough in Presidential history to know that Hoover wasn't dem. I think there's more. Oh, well.

dk 11:13 AM  


Hand up for the no TV (US or otherwise) crowd.

* (One Star) Don't like Sunday puzzle and the wacky phrase theme makes me long for the MCAT.

Rex, thank you for the clip -- love John Prine and like many of my ilk carry a torch for Ms. Jones.

dk is off to the faire.

CoffeeLvr 11:14 AM  

Hand up for PARTd. UdU, UBU, who KNEW. Also TOp (up) still makes more sense to me than TOT (up). TORR, pORR, again who knew. Turns out Torr is eponymously derived from Evangelista Torricelli, a physicist and mathematician who discovered the barometer in 1644! (I learn a lot when I look up my incorrect answers. Maybe I can remember Torr next time.)

My apologies in advance for the following paragraph, both to those who are offended by the content, and to those who are put off by my poor attempt at humor.

Today an AGNOSTIC had the thought, AM I WRONG? She decided to go to the TOP and visit THE POPE to ENTREAT his advice. “I FORGOT my way,” she said. THE POPE replied, “You cannot be NEUTRAL or SOSO about faith, nor can you put ONE OVER on the Lord. He KNEW your DIRT before you did. You come to me as a SINNER TURNING BACK. Don’t LOVE ME, LOVE MY GOD, and pray to ST. OLGA. This will DELIVER you from the RABID BEASTS. Then she woke from her DOZY state, and realized that it was all a FICTIVE FAERY tale. Once again, she had NO IDEA.

David L 11:55 AM  

For some reason I found this a bit of a slog -- I'm inclined to blame that one last glass of wine before bed last night. Can't think of any other reason.

As a (former) Brit of a certain age, EXOCET was very familiar to me. The fact that the Argentinians were firing French-made missiles at British ships caused a good deal of cross-channel grumbling at the time.

My one trouble spot was STAN crossing SPAT crossing TAJ. Had RAJ first, figured S on TAN was more plausible than anything else (although rappers are not exactly known for using standard words and spelling, so who knows, could've been pretty much anything), and only then came up with SPAT -- which I didn't particularly like, seeing as in my book a SPAT is a scene, not a cause thereof.

ArtLvr 12:02 PM  

@CoffeeLvr: Many thanks for the TORR derivation, and your Fictive Faery tale was fabulous!


Rube 12:23 PM  

@CoffeeLvr, your story made my day. Wonderful, the best one, by far, of these xword derived stories I've seen.

Ran the alphabet on E_O_ET and when I got to X knew I'd nailed it, even though I'd never heard of a CRAKE.

Spent so much time agonising over the S in STAN/SPAr, my last letter, that I forgot to question SPAr... could only think of Raj from Big Bang Theory. Never heard of Van Wilder.

Very enjoyable puzzle.

Mel Ott 12:52 PM  

The PARTB/d crossing with UBU/UdU is unfair. PARTD is more plausible in terms of the clue because it is a recent add-on. BTW,what is Medicare Part C? Is there such a thing?

Hate "words" like DOZY. UEYS could plausibly be UEeS. (I think it's usually spelled UieS in crosswordese.) So I took the word "Ready" in the clue for 119D as a verb rather than an adjective and wrote in DOZe. Hey, I'm a geezer! I DOZE, then I NAP.

Mel Ott 12:58 PM  

Also re EXOCET:

I have recently been reading some old Jack Higgins thrillers, including EXOCET, so that was a gimme. Those who have remarked about the cross-channel tension during the Falklands conflict are right on.

PuzzleNut 1:04 PM  

Did not know ASADA, so ended up with ASAcA and cOZY. Trouble with the STAN/SPAT/TAJ corner, wanting rAJ, like many others. "Knew" the missle was an EXOCET, but couldn't get my arms around CRAKE. Last minute changed it to gRAKE, a cross between a GREBE and a DRAKE. UBU????
Agree with @jae - the two best answers were COSMO REMARK and LIVING MOOR.

archaeoprof 1:10 PM  

Sunday should make you smile, and this one did.

@CoffeeLvr: your story made me smile even more than the puzzle!

Hadn't thought of EXOCET in years, yet for some reason knew it at a glance.

Liked CALC and MCAT, maybe because our college starts classes tomorrow. Yes, we start on Labor Day every year.

Lindsay 1:10 PM  

Zero television. Don't own one. Unfortunately, I own a radio, so the snide Geico ads are burned into my brain.

Left the exocet/crake crossing blank, but had been leaning toward "w". Antiship = exowet, it sort of made sense at the time. And wrake didn't look to bad.

Serious objection to the part b/ubu crossing. Like others, I went with the "d".

captcha = honpacs (sweethearts' political action committees)

Capt. Pete 1:15 PM  

63a missed this and i'm a fan and there even playing this weekend argh

Ulrich 1:56 PM  

@Evgeny: If you need a clue for AUS and are in a Germanophile mood, why not use "out in Osnabrück"? I'm influenced by having seen much tennis these last days (the quality of the live streaming for the US Open is terrific if you're used to watching European soccer that way): "Out" is "aus" in German--I'm just saying...

Anonymous 2:00 PM  

To the Anonymous comment from Aug 1 "Play Bargaining" who said,

"66A THE GOLDEN RATIO (PHI). Hello. the Greek letter Pi (the 16th letter of the Greek alphabet) is the symbol for "the golden ratio." Phi is the 21st letter of the Greek alphabet and, I guess, the symbol for "Oh well, it's a NYT crossword."

me thinks you got it right!! The Wikipedia response is 'φ'aulty. The letter φ or phi (pronounced like "fee") is pronounced as an F and has nothing to do with the constant symbol. The letter π or Pi (pronounced like "pie" in English but like "pee" in Greek) is the equivalent to a P in English and indeed is the symbol in question.

I was so glad to see your correction and then so baφφled to see the Wikipedia φoible!!

Although that πuzzle is ancient history now, I just couldn't leave it alone. Can't figure out why no one else was πeeved by it.

Shamik 2:23 PM  

I liked it. A lot of curmudgeonly comments today.

@CoffeeLvr: Loved the story. Well constructed.

Found this one easy-medium at 19:46 and got the theme very quickly which helped the solve. Really enjoyed Rex's write-up. Especially liked the new cluing for OREO.

sillygoose 2:39 PM  

From the movie Top Gun:

-those Migs carry the EXOCET anti-ship missile, they can fire that missile from 100 miles away-

My problem area was the PISANO/TORR section. And I agree that PARTB/UBU was very unfair, even tho I guessed the B, but it was just a guess.

Overall a cute puzzle with a couple of thorny squares.

hazel 2:41 PM  

I NEVER got the theme until after the puzzle was complete. So, the puzzle wasn't dead easy for me. Definitely more pink than red. Still, a very pleasant solve, made better by the fact that I have just canned 9 jars of jalapenos, which are guaranteed to make my winter burritos and quesadillas nice and spicy - which makes me feel very satisfied, smug even.

Braves just tied it up!! And they were down 6-1!! Go Braves!

@Rex - thank you for the John Prine song.

edmcan 3:42 PM  

The cultural references that I didn't know today (Eminem, Seinfeld, etc.) made me feel very old and out of touch. Gee, I'm not that old! Clever puzzle and all that, but a bit a slog for me.

foodie 3:44 PM  

More " backwords" a la Andrea, or what I think of as "mirror words" as they read the other way when held up to a mirror. Many fun answers!

I had FESTIVE in lieu of FICTIVE for a long time, thinking that some people put make up on to feel festive. But SURD was abSURD so I had to rethink.

@chefwen, I agree about all the wonderful food in the puzzle. It opened up many little nooks and crannies for me.

Rex, is your upcoming puzzle a weekday puzzle?

Stan 3:58 PM  

AM I WRONG to feel a dark undercurrent of gossip and mistrust? Notably, there's Othello and the pathetic cuckold with the spycam. Also: a spousal ultimatum, a SPAT, SNOOPing busybodies, a friendship-ending RIFT, reputation-ruining DIRT, and slander (perhaps in a COSMO REMARK).

Just kidding. Fun puzzle, Will.

Falconer 4:00 PM  

Fantastic puzzle -- right in my wheelhouse as I knew every item of trivia and pop culture immediately, from Geico to Cristal. Figured out the reverse-a-word theme quickly from Snoops/Spoons.

I guess this is backwards words week at the NYT, following the Thursday puzzle. Only paused at ARDEN but English poets are a missing limb on my knowledge tree.

Re EXOCET -- for anyone paying attention to the news during the Falklands War this was a gimme. It was a French-made missle that the Argentines used to great effect against the British. The Falklands conflict saved the political career of British PM Margaret Thatcher, coming at a time when unemployment was at post-WW2 highs and the UK economy was terrible. It cemented her stature as the "Iron Lady," and later Ronald Reagan's soulmate in the Cold War vs the Russians. The conflict in which 250 Brits and 650 Argentins died was a throwback to the colonial glory years for the Brits and quickened the collapse of the wretched Argentine military junta.

The Exocet was named after the French word for flying fish (exocoetidae). They were compact and handy in that they could be launched by air, land, sea or submarine against enemy warships. The U.S. Navy equivalent is the Harpoon, made by Boeing.

Here is a description of the Exocet from a war post mortem by the great NYT military analyst Drew Middleton in July 1982:

LONDON, June 18— The land-based Exocet missile that hit and damaged the British light cruiser Glamorgan was almost the last shot of the air-sea war around the Falkland Islands. This was perhaps fitting since the Exocet was the weapon used in the South Atlantic that has given military planners and ship designers the most to think about.

Senior British and NATO military sources say the war was also a testing ground for several other weapons. Among the most important was the British Harrier jump-jet and the American Sidewinder heatseeking missile with which it is armed. The British land forces also used Rapier and Blowpipe antiaircraft missiles for the first time, and the Royal Navy sank the Argentine cruiser General Belgrano with the new Tigerfish torpedoes. Mirages Did Not Stand Out

For the Argentine Air Force, the major disappointment was probably the ineffectiveness of its Mirage III fighter jets. Even allowing for the fact that they were operating at extreme range and were therefore unable to remain over their targets for long, they proved reasonably easy game for the Harriers.

The first effective use of the Exocet, when it wrecked the British destroyer Sheffield, raised the significant issue of the use of aluminum in ship construction. The metal, according to reports, burned uncontrollably and resulted in the total loss of the ship.

Anonymous 5:10 PM  

Oops!!! Looks like I made the same wrong assumption that the other Anonymous made re: the Golden Ratio. So Phi or φ it is. My apologies. Consider me re-educated.

Evgeny 5:41 PM  

@ Ulrich: yes, I thought about the German 'aus' as well... just went with the Australia suggestion to keep the name-the-country theme. Still, wouldn't you agree that 'Aus.' is at least an uncommon, if not odd, abbreviation for Austria?

Ulrich 6:18 PM  

@Evgeny: yes--when I'm looking at the 3-letter country abbrevs used, for example, in tennis (here I go again), GER stands for Germany and AUS for Australia, as you said. Austria is AUT. The problem is that the cluer(s) wanted to indicate that an abbreviation was called for, and there isn't really a country neighboring Australia that could be used for that purpose. Which brings us back to my point: Why treat AUS as an abbreviation in the first place?

But having done English xword puzzles now for almost 3 years (w/o getting noticeably better), I've learned not to question abbreviations--it's too frustrating b/c some rationale can always be found, and the NYT checks for those (they do get German grammar or history wrong at times, tho). And I have bruises from my battles for better clues for ACH:-). Mind: It's really common in combinations like "Ach Gott!" or "Ach so"!

JJ 11:22 PM  

Córdoba was related to two clues. El Cid's sword was supposed to be from there.

David 11:51 PM  

Bleh, definitely got annoyed by today's puzzle---it seemed riddled with unreasonable answers and crosses.

CRAKE by itself is already a stretch, but a 5-letter word certainly shouldn't have 3 crosses that have to be blindly guessed. I'll give OMSK the benefit of the doubt and assume I'm just unusually slow to memorize the Russian cities, but CAPA's a foreign language, EXOCET is a crazy proper noun that had to be referenced through the Falklands War, and ESHARP could have been any sharp note to non-musical solvers.

I just wish CRAKE had been the only area that was so frustrating. PISANO and TORR were another, for sure, especially since TOT still sounds fake to me. I happened to get PARTB and UBU, but that certainly doesn't make the crossing any more acceptable. Even some gettable-through-crosses answers like DOZY and ELKO just seem silly. And though Google finds both, I feel like I've only ever read about YMIR as a giant, not an ogre, so the cluing seemed off to me.

I don't know, huge chunks of the puzzle just felt like the constructor couldn't find legit fill that worked with the theme answers, leaving a mess that I stopped enjoying solving.

ArtLvr 12:47 AM  

Many thanks to @Falconer for the derivation "The Exocet was named after the French word for flying fish (exocoetidae)." I love it when commenters add so much arcane knowledge and I find it at the end of the day...

Thanks also to @JJ too for the EL CID info, and to the Anonymous who brought up the PI correction!

Happy Labor Day, all.


Ira Glass 11:53 AM  

@ Lindsay - Geico ads on the radio? I don't know where you live, but there is probably a very good Public Radio station nearby. Give it a listen. No Geico ads, and plenty of information that might even be useful in completing crosswords.

Anonymous 12:11 PM  

"Grebe" fits nicely where CRAKE should go. And I didn't see any problem with the crosses. Had "ALOES" Not SLOES. What is a SLOE anyway?
I did know about the Dams. and even about CRISTAL. Living Moor was staring me right in the face, but I couldn't see the reversed word.

Matthew G. 5:52 PM  

I liked this one quite a bit. LIVING MOOR is one of my favorite NYT answers in recent memory.

Sadly, I couldn't finish this one without help, having heard of neither CRAKE nor EXOCET previously (I had just turned 6 when the Falklands war began). But I don't mind failing when the puzzle is legitimately hard, and that would be this puzzle.

william e emba 6:19 PM  

We saw PISANO (father and son!) last year, May 3, 2009. (The blog banner gives the day of the post, not the puzzle.) So I got this one off of PI----.

TORR is short for Torricelli, the inventor of the barometer. He's famous enough.

I'm old enough to remember the Falklands War, and I thought EXOCET was a gimme, with one or two crosses to remind me.

I actually filled in CRAKE off of C----. I'm not sure how I know that bird, but it was easy enough.

As for UBU Roi. Well, I'm surprised at the things I just take for granted that seemingly nobody else has ever heard of. Ubu Roi is extremely famous in drama history, and not just because it was a breakthrough forerunner to dadaism and surrealism and the like. No, it's famous for a more fundamental reason.

The opening word is a slightly misspelled and mispronounced curse word. At the first production, on opening night in 1896, King Ubu got as far as saying the first word at which point the audience rioted, the curtain was brought down, the run was cancelled, and the play itself was outlawed in France. I'm surprised this tidbit never(?) made it into the Guinness Book of World Records.

I remember seeing a spectacular off-off Broadway production of Ubu Roi in NY 30 years ago. Loud, intimate, overacted in all the right ways.

BobbyF 10:18 AM  

This was not a good day for me. Too many nits in this puzzle. "Tot"
instead of tote, "taj" instead of
"tan"( I do not wear lipstick, and I am not a Hindu). Despite all this, I aced the entire lower half and got all of the "Turning Backs" correct.

The Last Word 8:10 PM  

Total slog for me a week after everyone else had finished it and moved on. It did not help that I thought I had discovered the theme with TURKEYTalk for slandering a Thanksgiving dish, so I spent way too much time trying to reverse the words in the phrase (ala talk turkey, which makes perfect sense.) Finally with MEASURINGSNOOPS and OUTOFTHEPOOL in place, and a lot of staring I figured out the real theme and that helped a lot. Still DNF with some blank spaces in the mid-Atlantic - wouldn't let go of FICTIon for made-up, and having keg for TUN destroyed any hope of success in that area. No joy today. I am definitely looking forward to our host's debut on the NYT puzzle page - but since I'm 5 weeks behind here in syndication-land it will be a while before I see it.

Anonymous 8:25 PM  

Easy-Medium my a$$! Obscure does not begin to describe this vexing puzzle and its clues/answers!

frenchie 8:28 PM  

Why, in all of these posts has no one mentioned that "ere" is NOT a preposition as described in 72 Across??

Rex Parker 8:32 PM  

ERE is a preposition. Open a dictionary and see.


Anonymous 8:43 AM  

I can't believe nobody else is grousing about Tirana, but I just looked at the Atlas, and it really is Tirane.

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