Folk singer Griffith / WED 11-24-10 / Performer dubbed Great Dane / Tampa Bay gridders / Infomercial host Gibbons

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Constructor: Allan E. Parrish

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: SHUTTLES — names of six space shuttles are clued only by their # (i.e. #1, #2, etc.), which represents the chronological order of their first launches. Circles, forming what I imagine to be some kind of elliptical orbit, spell out the word SHUTTLES.

[Puzzle note reads: "When this puzzle is done, read the eight circled letters clockwise, starting with square #24, to identify this puzzle's theme"]

Word of the Day: CAT'S PAW (52A: Tool) —

n., pl., cat's-paws, also cats·paws.
  1. A person used by another as a dupe or tool.
  2. A light breeze that ruffles small areas of a water surface.
  3. Nautical. A knot made by twisting a section of rope to form two adjacent eyes through which a hook is passed, used in hoisting.

[From a fable about a monkey that used a cat's paw to pull chestnuts out of a fire.] (

• • •
Interesting puzzle, built solely because of the neat coincidence of the possibility for symmetrical grid arrangement. I don't think the circles do much for the puzzle—they add another theme element (good), but look a mess (bad). Maybe there is some rationale for their arrangement that I am missing. At any rate, it's a solid puzzle with an interesting, widely divergent array of pop culture clues scattered throughout the grid. Songs from the '60s (11A: Car that was the subject of a 1964 top 10 hit), '70s (11D: Andy with the #1 hit "Shadow Dancing"), and '80s (44A), TV shows from the '70s/'80s (12D) and '00s (39A), movies from the '90s (33A: Co-star of Hanks in "Forrest Gump"), and ... Victor BORGE (46A: Performer dubbed "The Great Dane").

Theme wasn't too hard to pick up. Took a good deal of clawing away at short answers, but once I got COLUMBIA, options narrowed down pretty quickly (Ivy League schools?). Once I noticed CHALL- and DISCO- hanging out there, I knew what I was dealing with. I had no idea that ENDEAVOUR had British spelling. That seems ... weird. Unamerican, even. According to wikipedia, "Endeavour was named through a national competition involving students in elementary and secondary schools. Entries included an essay about the name, the story behind it and why it was appropriate for a NASA shuttle, and the project that supported the name." Did they think the "U" made it ... fancy? Worse than spelling Americans writing "theatre," I think. CAT'S PAW has shown up several times in recent years in clues, but never as the answer. That answer took me longer to get than probably any other in the grid. Misspelled BANZAI (as BONZAI) (55A: W.W. II battle cry), never heard of this version of THOR (65A: Old space-launched rocket), couldn't remember if Mrs. Bush was née WELSH or WELCH (9D: Laura Bush's maiden name), and thought CRABBY (23A: Cantankerous) was ORNERY at first. Otherwise, nothing too troubling.

Theme answers:
  • 30D: #1 (ENTERPRISE)
  • 18A: #2 (COLUMBIA)
  • 3D: #3 (CHALLENGER)
  • 6D: #4 (DISCOVERY)
  • 60A: #5 (ATLANTIS)
  • 36D: #6 (ENDEAVOUR)
  • 14A: Sesame seed-based sauce (TAHINI) — tasty, and an important component of hummus.
  • 2D: Folk singer Griffith (NANCI) — saw her twice during my grad student days in Michigan. Super-talented, with an impossibly sweet voice.

  • 69A: Team with a big B on its helmets (RAVENS) — "B" stands for Baltimore. They have a pretty good team this year. Playoff quality. Tied with the Steelers atop the AFC North.7-3 record, same as the other football team in the grid—the BUCS (7D: Tampa Bay gridders, for short)
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


PurpleGuy 12:10 AM  

For some reason, this seemed rather easy for me, and I breezed through it.
had the same misspelling on BANZAI as Rex.
The circles seemed rather haphazard to me, also. Don't quite see why the particular placement.
Not much else to say.
Haven't commented in a while because of the remodeling. Chaos and dust.

Happy Wednesday all. Over the hump day !

Shanti -


The Bard 12:13 AM  

Othello > Act I, scene I

IAGO: O, sir, content you;
I follow him to serve my turn upon him:
We cannot all be masters, nor all masters
Cannot be truly follow'd. You shall mark
Many a duteous and knee-crooking knave,
That, doting on his own obsequious bondage,
Wears out his time, much like his master's ass,
For nought but provender, and when he's old, cashier'd:
Whip me such honest knaves. Others there are
Who, trimm'd in forms and visages of duty,
Keep yet their hearts attending on themselves,
And, throwing but shows of service on their lords,
Do well thrive by them and when they have lined
their coats
Do themselves homage: these fellows have some soul;
And such a one do I profess myself. For, sir,
It is as sure as you are Roderigo,
Were I the Moor, I would not be Iago:
In following him, I follow but myself;
Heaven is my judge, not I for love and duty,
But seeming so, for my peculiar end:
For when my outward action doth demonstrate
The native act and figure of my heart
In compliment extern, 'tis not long after
But I will wear my heart upon my sleeve
For daws to peck at: I am not what I am.

Anonymous 12:14 AM  

When I first saw the circles I was looking for a rebus with aces in the holes, but not even close. Thought it interesting that the constructor could get all the shuttle names in a puzzle and otherwise agree with Rex's commentary, including what the circles added or didn't add. Nice solid Wednesday....


Anonymous 12:22 AM  

Was it really necessary to have CHALLENGER going down?

Robin 12:38 AM  

I don't know how you know all this stuff - like space shuttle names. I don't know this stuff. I mean, vaguely, hazily, somewhere in the distant past, I may have known it. Rex, you are amazing.

As to puzzle its ownself: wanted hoisin for tahini, don't know why; also wanted cranky for crabby, but of course we needed those two bees.

Is anyone else frantically trying to get ready for Thanksgiving, or are you all just tranquilly solving the crosswords?

Robin 12:40 AM  

Isn't that like the third time we've had Iago this week? Sneaky little bastard.

Tobias Duncan 12:42 AM  

Lots of pop culture I did not know. Sports I am used to guessing on but damn, Bucs ? Really ?That is just plain ugly. Love the shuttle theme, goes perfectly with my particular brand of nerdy patriotism.Glad I was not the only Bonzai buffoon today.

JaxInL.A. 1:14 AM  

Inspiring puzzle. Really loved the theme and the fill, esp. TAHINI, BANZAI, and especially that brilliant Victor BORGE. (Alas, after several weeks of no problems viewing videos, I'm stuck again with nothing showing except NANCI Griffith. Sigh.) Lots of new and unusual stuff to love about this offering. Thanks, Mr. Parrish!

I developed my love for the shuttle program when my dad took me to see the first landing at Edwards AFB in California's high desert. What a thrill!

Gotta get the sweet potatoes that we forgot (@Robin, no tranquil solving here: squeezed in as needed break). Just want to say I enjoyed this puzzle.

foodie 1:28 AM  

Nerdy patriotism (a la @Tobias Duncan) and healthy, tasty food (TAHINI, Gazpacho Soup)-- what else could you want?

The only WELCH's I know is the grape juice brand.

If you squint your eyes just right. the circles form a cylinder getting ready to take off flying through the NW corner.

@Robin, you mean you're not completely ready?

Actually, I was asking my daughter today why we don't have an official Thanksgiving Eve with the day off and everything. I think I'm going to declare one for my lab.

Matthew G. 2:30 AM  

I really liked this one. Picked up the theme after finishing the NW and coasted through thereafter. As a space buff, I loved the theme, and I think Rex is right that the circles and form an elliptical orbit, which is nice (and hence I'm confused by his later comment "[m]aybe there is some rational for their arrangement that I am missing" ... I think you already got it!).

Enjoyed seeing CAT'S PAW pop up, as just a week or two ago I had a conversation with a colleague about that expression and its origins.

Never actually seen a Victor BORGE show, but knew his name because Comedy Central used to endlessly run commercials about his shows. The only gag I remember is one where he would fall off the piano stool and then pull out a seatbelt to buckle himself in.

Had a friend in college who had a weird obsession with Weird Al's "DARE TO Be Stupid." Never saw the video until Rex posted it today, and I suddenly realized what should have been blindingly obvious to me from the song itself --- it's a general style parody of Devo.

Nothing weird about BUCS. I'd wager more people call them that than actually say "Buccaneers." Add me to the list of those who could have sworn BANZAI was BONZAI, though.

The Challenger explosion was my generation's "JFK" moment. I can barely remember anything about the hallways of my school then, but I can remember to the very details of the wall bricks where I was standing when I heard another student shout "The shuttle blew up with the teacher inside it!"

r.alphbunker 3:22 AM  

Isn't it a bit unusual that more of the theme answers are downs than acrosses? The puzzle would still be symmetric if rotated 90 degrees (although this hard to verify on my iPhone because the puzzle reorients itself when I rotate the phone.) My guess is that it is supposed to look like they are on the launch pad.

CECI/RUBIN made this a DNF for me.

andrea crabla michaels 5:56 AM  

Yes, launch pad! It's amazing that there are 6 shuttles all with parallel number of letters AND that he could get SHUTTLES to form an orbit!!!!!!!!!!!! Brilliant.
Brilliant to notice the three pairs, even more so to construct. I'm always so surprised that people aren't almost ready to faint at the serendipity of it all!
I mean ALL this would have been for naught had the shuttles had four or five letter names, or even one letter off!!!!!!!!
Plus lots of bonus fill.

The puzzle felt very hyper-masculine to me, ie space theme + lots of sports trivia: BUCS, ONSIDE, RAVENS, + BOWL clues, combined with WAGE (war), and car stuff: GTO, MSRP, SUV.

And before I get jumped on for the boy vs girl info and all the exceptions to the rule, I say ask a random man to name as many shuttles as he can, then ask a woman and tell me if it's not 6:1.
(And the CHALLENGER prob more so bec of the tragedy than for the accomplishments)

Bizarre that I feel I never once heard Laura Bush's maiden name.

And we have had the BONSAI tree, BANZAI war cry discussion a few times before, no?

Had to run the alphabet 3 times to get the THO?/MS?P cross, and THOR finally just felt like an educated guess (or uneducated one in this case).

I don't mind proper names at all, tho I suspect these were on the tough side for many: CECE, RUBEN as cited above, WELCH, NANCI, SINISE, BORGE (if you are under 50) and to a lesser extent LEEZA and GIBB.

SO, for me, super super bravo on the idea and the construction... some reservations about the overall tone and fill.

Anonymous 6:40 AM  

on the launchpad? Of course! brilliant.

My association with the shuttle program is that the Challenger blew up on my birthday .... so I will always remember that.

IAGO again ?!?!

Brendan Emmett Quigley 7:06 AM  

Wow. Just sayin': that Weird Al video is all kinds of amazing.

TGM 7:07 AM  

In the newspaper version, did anyone else find black circle instead of a black square at the intersection of 22 & 40 Down and 33 & 35 Across?

Anonymous 7:26 AM  

What exactly is MSRP? Never heard of it.

Rex Parker 7:29 AM  

Manufacturer Suggested Retail Price

Anonymous 8:06 AM  

I note a couple of subtle – or not so subtle - references to the Challenger in the center: ICES and PYRE “sandwiching” Ruben [groan].

MCL – an abbreviation for McAuliffe? Christa McAuliffe was the teacher who died when the Challenger exploded in 1986. A BOWL of what -rice? Donna Rice was the girl with Gary Hart on the yacht named Monkey Business. The scandal ended Hart’s bid to be President in 1987. What did Ms. McAuliffe and Ms. Hart have in common?


glimmerglass 8:21 AM  

Medium Wednesday for me. Didn't catch the theme until late. I get TAHINI and tabuli mixed up. Got ATOM before BANZAI so didn't fall into the trap Rex did. A CATSPAW is also a carpentry tool (it's used to pull nails). I'd heard of both CECE and RUBEN, but didn't know how to spell either (guessed the common E just from symmetry with the E at the end of ELEVATE).

fikink 8:22 AM  

Really enjoyed this one.

Find I always spell Gary SINISE's name incorrectly. First saw him with a very young John Malkovich in Sam Shepard's "True West."

Agree about the testosterone injections, @crabla, and about the need for a Thanksgiving Eve, @foodstuffs.

Loved the devoish clip, @Rexall.

Solid puzzle, Mr. Parrish.

Howard B 8:31 AM  

Thank you, thank you for the Weird Al video. I remembered it hazily from a friend's VHS tape in grade school, but got to experience it anew. Suppose I've lived by that motto subconsciously ever since.

I think the circled letters are somewhat elliptical, loosely simulating an orbital path. Kinda cool.

David L 8:37 AM  

This seemed easy to me, although the clock on AcrossLite didn't run for some reason -- but I breezed through it with hardly a pause. I was an enthusiast for rockets and space probes in my youth, so that helped.

A little googling suggests that the space shuttle Endeavour is so spelled because it is named after Capt Cook's ship Endeavour. I've noticed that the New Yorker seems increasingly fond of Brit-style spelling (theatre, fibre etc), which I find irksome. As a reformed Brit who grew up on antiquated spelling, I prefer good ol' American conventions these days.

Teresa S 8:45 AM  

I think the white circles form the shuttle's orbital path around the earth, which is the black circle.

Art Hochner 9:02 AM  

The HMS Endeavour was one of the most famous ships of discovery in history. It was the ship commanded by Captain James Cook when he "discovered" Austrailia and New Zealand. Some of the other shuttles were also named after historic sailing vessels, such as Enterprise and Challenger.

joho 9:07 AM  

I'd be really interested in how Allan Parrish came up with this theme. Nicely done!

I had never heard of MSRP or NLRB but they were easy to get via crosses.

I actually saw the CHALLENGER blow up in real time and will never forget the looks on the viewers faces when they realized what had just happened.

Anne 9:13 AM  

This is so clever - one of the best Wednesdays in a long time. It was so interesting and unusual to keep finding something new. I loved it.

quilter1 9:13 AM  

Got the theme about one third through. I thought this was a great fun puzzle. Liked CATSPAW and also wrote over BANSAI. @Robin, Lots o' cooking today to prepare for tomorrow but not so frantic. Pulled my turkey from the brine early this a.m. I am responsible for bird, dressing, potatoes and gravy and a couple of appetizers for 10 or so. Then haul it all over to Mother's tomorrow.

Ross 9:16 AM  

Sounds like a fun puzzle. For some reason, the iPhone app claims it's an unsupported puzzle. So no Wednesday joy for me

John V 9:16 AM  

About medium for me. Picked up the theme right away and last filled endeavour/SE. Had little clue on the proper nouns but they fell into place with the fills.

Cathyat40 9:17 AM  

The New York Times crossword puzzle: All Iago, all the time!

Anonymous 9:23 AM  

I agree with Teresa S -- the circles are orbiting the earth, represented by the black dot. I guess you could only see that in the print version?

mitchs 9:27 AM  

@Joho - the contructor talks about this puzzle over on Wordplay.

Van55 9:31 AM  

I count 35 proper names today, including the 6 theme answers.

I wasn't sure if it was RUBIN or RUBEN crossing CECI or CECE, but I guessed right.

Should I simply shut up about the random Roman numeral? I probably should, but I can't. Overall, the three letter fill is pretty iffy, in my opinion: MCL, EMB, SUV, OVO, NOL.

KooKooKaChoo 9:32 AM  

I thought the circle in the middle was a rebus--part of 33A and 22D--but couldn't imagine EARTH or PLANET forming part of anything. Finally figured out it was acting as a black square....groan. Also took me forever to figure out 64A NOR (fish-fowl nexus), even after it filled itself in. ( Brain already roasted. Back to pies....)

Still, loved the puzzle. Thought it was very clever/fun/challenging.

Happy Thanksgiving, all.

Paul 9:48 AM  

Silly Rex, H.M.S.Endeavour was the ship that Captain James Cook sailed on his incredible journey of discovery in the South Pacific. The Space Shuttle was named in honor of, and in the spirit of that vessel, not because the name looked fancy

Evgeny 9:50 AM  

@Art Hochner: thank you, that's what I was thinking when reading Mr. Parker's write up... i don't think naming a spaceship in the hono(u)r of Cpt. Cook's vessel is unamerican.

Is anybody else bothered by the fact that THOR is a space-launch rocket (i. e. used to space-launch other stuff) and not a space-launchED rocket as the clue suggests?

SethG 9:56 AM  

I don't care much about space shuttles, but the puzzle was fine.

Challenger was my birthday too, and I was at home (snow day on the east coast...) watching. I also had OTOM at first, and had to think for a bit--an ATOM has no orbit. I like soup.

The Cunctator 10:08 AM  

The circles make sense in the newspaper version -- the center square is a black circle (representing the earth) which SHUTTLES is obviously in orbit around.

Rex Parker 10:13 AM  

The center square is the letter "B."

Once again, the NYT creates a puzzle the screws their 10s of thousands of online / iPhone / iPad solvers out of some impt. puzzle feature.

ArtLvr 10:21 AM  

@David L, nice catch on the ENDEAVOUR of Cook!

There was no clock on my puzzle either, but I felt I'd finished in reasonable time, even if several names were unfamiliar. Super theme, well done.

BANZAI is easy to remember if you think of Ban going with bomb and war cry. Bonzai is an art of long patience, (good or Bon in French), which was practiced by my favorite uncle with great success.

Happy Thanksgiving to all...


ArtLvr 10:27 AM  

p,s. meant to say GREENER art for Bonsai, as opposed to art of war. Bonsai, spelled with an s.


Bob Kerfuffle 10:27 AM  

Very nice puzzle. I found that once I got the theme, it helped to speed completion.

Can only say Amen to: Iago again!; CECE/RUBEN would have been a Natick except for the symmetry of CECE; black circle in my paper.

Two Ponies 10:37 AM  

Nice piece of construction but the fill left me cold.
Hand up for pop culture Natick in the middle.
I found the black circle in my print version disracting. I kept wanting it to be more of a reveal.
Maybe I am too dense this morning but what do you mean Rex about the black circle is a B? Is it an on-line solving thing?
Banzai reminded me of an excellant and compelling book I just devoured called Unbroken.
True story of an American in a Japanese POW camp. Highly recommend it.

retired_chemist 10:38 AM  

Medium difficult here. Timer didn't start so I do not know my time, but it was pretty long. Took several crosses to figure out the theme and still think the orbit of circles letters looks to be somewhat off. Not going to bother generating an ellipse to test it.

Filled in EMTICES (typo) @ 5D and, because TAHIMI looks as good as TAHINI to me it took >90 seconds to find the typo and bring a smile to Mr. Happy Pencil's face.

Rex Parker 10:40 AM  


Cunctator: "the center square is a black circle (representing the earth)"

Me: "The center square is the letter "B.""

Only one of us is correct. (hint: it's me/i). Cunctator must have meant that the square roughly in the center of the circles represents the earth. Because, literally, the "center square" is a "B."

jesser 10:42 AM  

I was 22-year-old student intern at Johnson Space Center when STS-1, Columbia, was launched. I still have a piece of the termal tile that was given to me when I left that job.

The puzzle brought back so many memories, it's hard to catalog all of them. Let's just say I liked it, and leave it at that.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. I'm thankful to be part of this group, and I'm thankful to Rex for giving us a place to share our stories as they relate to the daily puzzles.


Mel Ott 10:50 AM  

The white circles seem to form an elliptical orbit around the black circle NEAR the center of the dead tree version, which is a nice touch.

However that is offset by the cluster of offbeat proper names plus Italian Mozart title in the middle of the puzzle. SINISE, RUBEN, UNA URGE, CECE. Why not ROBIN, UNA ORGE, CECI? Also at one point I thought the black circle might be some kind of rebus, so that whole central area was a real slog.

Matthew G. 10:50 AM  

Today's puzzle worked fine for me on the Crosswords app (from Stand Alone Inc.) which I recently switched to because it allows me to aggregate my NYT and BEQ subscriptions onto one iPhone app, along with a handful of other puzzle sources. I like the keyboard on it ever so slightly less than the one on the NYT's native app, but otherwise it is an improvement.

fikink 10:53 AM  

Glad you cleared that up, @Rex. I was about ready to drive to Iowa City for a New York Times in the flesh!

Well put, @jesser. Happy backatcha.

Ulrich 10:54 AM  

Thank God I previewed before I posted: Rex just resolved the contradiction I saw in having both a B and a black circle in the center...

Anyway, I'm not sure the circle adds much--it sounds (can't say "looks" b/c I haven't seen it) like a rather feeble attempt to make the off-center almost-ellipse appear more plausible. I don't think the puzzle needs this type of doctoring.

Whenever I see the former FLOTUS referred to by her maiden name, I remember that in that incarnation, she ran over her then boyfriend with a car. I wonder if W ever stepped behind or in front of a car when the wife was at the wheel...

Jim 11:01 AM  

Lots to comment on here.

SethG, I was in my 4th grade classroom in Massachusetts (the day BEFORE my birthday, as it happens) watching the Challenger live (I think, we could have watched it on replay, but I don't think so) when it blew up. No (or not enough) bad weather there, anyway, to stay home. This mission was a HUGE deal at the time, independent of the subsequent tragedy. Agree wholeheartedly with the JFK comparison.

Andrea, is your point that knowing the names of space shuttles is intrinsically a male phenomenon? Because I certainly had no trouble recognizing the names (although the U in ENDEAVOUR surprised me too). Is this a Larry Summers argument you're making here? I'm interested.

The black dot, which people are telling me represents earth in the orbital pattern of SHUTTLES looks great in retrospect, but at the time all it did was confound me, as I thought it would tie together the four surrounding entries.

I saw some Victor Borge footage during a PBS fund drive and...WOW!! Talent like his is extremely rare nowadays, and I assume it was during his time too. I've never seen anyone combine musical and comedic talent like him and I highly recommend those who don't know him (especially young people) to check him out.

Disliked the clue for Ravens...just blah.

Is it me, or are all the conspiratorialists in the audience anonymous (not to mention all obvious University of Beck graduates). Please, your theories are SO tiresome and silly. Nothing redeeming about them at all.

To demonstrate: Laura Bush's maiden name is Welch? Really? Well, that's interesting. Welch...Welch...Welch's grape juice...Grapes of Wrath...Oklahoma Dust Bowl...Great Depression...Laura Bush orchestrated (through her retarded half-brother (prove me wrong)) our current economic depression!! I wanna see a birth certificate!

chefbea 11:08 AM  

No time to finish the puzzle or read all the comments. Off to Raleigh for turkey day.

Victor Borge lived in Greenwich Ct. and use to come into the Super market where I did my radio show. So of course I had him on one of the shows. He was just as funny as he was while playing the piano!!!

Happy Thanksgiving to all. I'll be back Friday

retired_chemist 11:14 AM  

@ Cunctator, Rex, Two Ponies -

The B looks like a plausible focus of the putative elliptical orbit. And indeed it is not a black circle. In AcrossLite anyway.

Mel Ott 11:32 AM  

Doh! That stupid black circle really threw me for a loop. While looking for the rebus that wasn't there, I never loooked at the clue for 40D URGE. Somehow I did look at 35A ICES.

mitchs 11:36 AM  

@Two Ponies: Almost finished with same book. If you haven't read "Seabiscuit", it's a must. Hillenbrand is a great teller of great stories.

Anonymous 11:40 AM  

@retired chemist. There is a black circle in the print version. It just isn't in the actual center square which is filled in with the letter "B". The circle replaces a real black square near the center of the puzzle.

a guy 11:56 AM  

Q: Is it possible that there's anyone still confused about the black circle, the B, or the difference between the print and the on-line versions?

A: No.

Two Ponies 12:12 PM  

@ a guy, Until just now the answer was Yes. My mind was fooled by the optical illusion of where the center square was. Thanks Rex for pointing it out.
Still I find that the black circle adds nothing to my solving experience.

Kendall 12:13 PM  

This was an absolutely terrible puzzle to do upon just waking up (yes, at 11:45 EST). First of all, why even bother having the circle as the center for the orbit if you aren't going to have the circled letters symmetric around it? I'm fairly certain that they don't accurately represent Earth compared to any sort of flight path of these shuttles. It confused me for the entire puzzle and I only figured it out after the puzzle was finished and sat down to think about it. Also, that SW corner was rather tricky for me. I've never seen BANZAI spelled as such and the rest of the answers there just didn't come easily for me. Aside from these things, I actually really liked the puzzle once my coffee kicked in. The shuttles theme was fun and helped me solve the puzzle for once.

Arby 12:25 PM  

Wow. I think its a bit PEDANTic to expect the letters of the word SHUTTLE to be form a perfect ellipse given all the other achievements in this puzzle.

Arby 12:29 PM  

I just reloaded this puzzle in Across Lite and the clock refused to start for me AGAIN. What's the story there? I have noticed that there are times (like today) when I've finished the puzzle and my clock still displays a red 00:00, but I thought it was something I was doing wrong. Now I'm convinced it is somehow related to the encoding of the puzzle.

Arthur 12:29 PM  

LEEZA Gibbons has fallen so far as to be clued as an Infomercial Host?

I was irate, irate I say, that there was no spacial integrity between the diameter of the "earth" (8K miles) and the altitude of the orbit (120-600 miles).

I dislike essentially unclued (#1, #2, ...) theme entries in puzzles to the extent that my enjoyment of the puzzle never recovers once I've found the hidden them. For once the circles helped, so well (ish) done.

captch: bramen. Seriously, there are bra-men? I know there are anti bra-men, but pro bra-men? I don't think so.

PuzzleNut 12:30 PM  

Ack! It's a black hole that is sucking us all in to a parallel universe where people spend all day arguing about angels on pinheads.
Interesting coincidence on the name symmetry. Guessed right on the RUBEN/CECE cross, although we spell our daughter Cecilia's nickname Ceci.
One stupid mistake at MdL and NANdI. Thought mid-century was 1500's and never checked the NANCI cross.

william e emba 12:45 PM  

Rex: THOR, the missile, was in fact your WOTD this past summer.

I had CRAnkY before I had CRABBY.

That was an interesting choice of poem to reference W H AUDEN by. He quickly disowned "September 1, 1939". It's not in his collected works, and he rarely gave permission for it to be reprinted.

The only quibbling nitpick I would make about the theme is that it would have been far more intelligent for the circles representing the orbit to spell out SHUTTLES in a counterclockwise direction (say by reversing across/down). That is the direction the shuttles orbit the Earth when viewed from a vantage point above the North Pole, which is entirely appropriate for US space missions.

And yes, I used to be a rocket scientist.

Ulrich 12:46 PM  

@chefbea: I recently bought Mark Bittner's new, terrific cookbook for the cook in our house, and guess what? I was ordered to prepare his beet tartare (this is "beet" as in "beet", not "beef" as in "beef") for tomorrow--too bad you're not around to sample! Happy Thanksgiving to you and the rest here!

@sfingi (as per last night): In Switzerland, it would be, and in Germany, it is "Uli", a baby name I find totally inappropriate for an almost-70-year-old--but I'm stuck with it over there:-C

Rube 1:14 PM  

For those of us with the dot near the center of the "dead tree version", an explanation for the lack of symmetry is that the dot symbolically represents one of the two foci of an ellipse. Of course both foci of the elliptical orbits of the shuttles are within the diameter of the earth, but there are limits to what can be done in a 15x15 grid.

That being said, I too thought the dot was a rebus and DNF because of it, and not knowing SINISE, CECE, or RUBEN, and not realizing 35A & 40D were answers in their own right. Dumb!

Anonymous 1:20 PM  

@Rex: "Once again, the NYT creates a puzzle the screws their 10s of thousands of online / iPhone / iPad solvers out of some impt. puzzle feature."

This makes zero sense to me. You're kidding, right? You're saying that if you were Will Shortz's boss (and who knows, you may be some day based on the success of this blog) you'd tell Will to never include any innovative feature that wasn't available on the lowest common denominator technical platform that happens to support the puzzles? That's insane. The round dot is a nice addition in the print version but it barely, scarcely, hardly at all affects the solving experience.

Anonymous 1:22 PM  

I'm sure that this circle business makes the construction more impressive for somebody, and I can appreciate it, but it doesn't add anything for me. I think that a cool title would be a perfectly fine revealer. Why does Shortz refuse to take advantage titles? It has always struck me as silly to refuse to use titles.

The clock, unusually, was turned off in AL today. I always reset it and start it myself, so was actually happy to see it that way. I publish my own crosswords with the clock turned off.

Геш (gpetrov) 1:26 PM  

A little bonus... Lieutenant Dan (Gary Sinise's character in Forrest Gump) got his legs back using alloys developed for the Shuttle.

Masked and Anonymous 1:34 PM  

Perhaps the time has come for the NY Times to publish an online pic of the dead-tree grid for its subscribers. Then the online puz solvers could see the mysterious "black circles" and other "couldn't do it with Across-Lite" features. They have done this before, on rare occasions; might be time for on all occasions? P.S. on this: puz solution shows a little "earth" version of the dreaded "black circle" square, if y'all are still curious.

Cool theme & fun solve. 8 U's!! McLovin' it. Thumbs up. Happy TurkeyDay, 44, and all you other solver folks.

D_Blackwell 1:43 PM  

"Perhaps the time has come for the NY Times to publish an online pic of the dead-tree grid for its subscribers."

I think it ridiculous that they don't start dealing with software limitations. If the software can't present the 'optimum solving experience' then work up a PDF for everyone else. JFC, it's not that hard.

It's just a matter of time before the optimum experience is digital, but seems unlikely that the NYT will be the leader in the innovations.

Anonymous 1:49 PM  

I enjoyed this puzzle. Though the circled squares are not themselves a perfect circle around "Earth", I understood their purpose after getting Enterprise and parts of the other theme answers. I'd like to see Rex do better.

Rex - has there been a puzzle that you had nothing negative to comment about (besides those created by your alter ego of course)?

Rex Parker 1:50 PM  

@ guy who didn't leave a name,

I am quite serious. Don't expect people to pay quite a bit of money (comparatively) for the privilege of doing your puzzles electronically (again, tens of thousands of people like me—NYT makes a KILLING on its puzzle, which is another reason the Low Pay for constructors is irksome, but that's another argument...) only to shaft them every few weeks with a puzzle that can't be delivered in its entirety.

I have no idea what you mean by "lowest common denominator." The NYT distributes the puzzles electronically (for a price)—therefore, the puzzles should work electronically. If I pay for the puzzle, I should get the puzzle, in its finished, polished, as-the-constructor-intended form. I have no idea how anyone could object to this.

Distribution of .pdf file in cases where the software won't support some grid element—that's a solution.

mmorgan 2:06 PM  

As an AcrossLite solver, I'm still a bit confused from the above as to what exactly is in the paper version. It's referred to as a black dot, black circle, etc., with varying descriptions of where it is. If someone has the technology and a spare moment -- granting that there are for more important things you could be doing -- could you do a quick scan of the paper and post it?

ksquare 2:30 PM  

As a newcomer to the comments I am unfamiliar with Natick and Happy Pencil. Would someone please explain?

ksquare 2:31 PM  

As a newcomer to the comments I am unfamiliar with Natick and Happy Pencil. Would someone please explain?

Helpful Guy 2:34 PM  

@ksquare - The Natick Principle is defined here, towards the bottom, and Mr Happy Pencil is an artifact of solving the puzzle in AcrosLite, appearing when you've correcctly solved the puzzle.

william e emba 3:27 PM  

Hah! My Uncle Marvin was a ZOOT suiter. I suppose I inherited his complete lack of fashion sense.

Victor BORGE is, sad to say, a mostly forgotten comedian. An intriguing detail of his biography not in Wikipedia is that he was, apparently, responsible more than anyone else for spreading the myth about the Danish king/people wearing the yellow star in protest to the Nazi order regarding the Jews in occupied Denmark. In fact, no such order was given, and Borge did not repeat the story after the war.

I again protest the use of "orbit" in association with ATOM. Electrons are not in an "orbit" around an atomic nucleus in any known sense. The word used is in fact "orbital".

PlantieBea 3:31 PM  

No black circle on my puzzle, but it didn't take away anything from the pleasure at seeing the shuttles/orbiters honored. We watch shuttle launches whenever possible--usually from our front yard; it's always a thrill. And when they land, we stop to listen for the double sonic booms. There are only two more launches. No doubt we'll save a bundle of money by eliminating the shuttle program, but we'll still miss seeing them lift off and land.

sanfranman59 3:37 PM  

Midday report of relative difficulty (see my 7/30/2009 post for an explanation of my method):

All solvers (median solve time, average for day of week, ratio, percentile, rating)

Wed 12:57, 11:40, 1.11, 81%, Challenging

Top 100 solvers

Wed 6:33, 5:45, 1.14, 84%, Challenging

Hear, hear, Rex, re your frustration with the NYT treating its online puzzle subscribers as second-class citizens when a puzzle includes a design element that doesn't translate well in the online version of the puzzle. Fortunately, it doesn't happen all that often ... which is why I continue my subscription ... well that, and the fact that I get it as a Christmas gift each year ;^)

andreea caarla michaels 3:40 PM  

@Wm e emba
I always learn so much from you!
That's fascinating about the Danish King/Jewish star thing...So even tho you are telling me it's a myth, it's hard for me to undo that idea in my mind having repeated the story so much myself. Esp I guess when you want to believe something that would be so wonderful had it been true!
And if I had missed your post today, I'd prob have believed it for another 50 years and perpetuated the myth!
Now, of course, it makes me nervous about all the other things I think I "know" that are totally untrue. That's a heavy thought on a Wed afternoon for me, esp bec today I was going to try work on this Jewish puzzle book I've been procrastinating about for 4 years!

LOL about thoughts exactly! Wonder what the story is there...well, the little longevity she has had was probably greatly boosted by her appearances in puzzles.
Spell your name crazily and you increase your chances of appearing as the only possible definition in a puzzle. Take note, NANCI!

Shamik 3:43 PM  

It's great completing the puzzle and reading so much later in the blog to have been able to read all the discourse regarding black holes/circles/dots. Read it through and it's easy to visualize what was in the dead tree version.

However, I agree with Rex that if we're paying for it, we should get the puzzle as it was intended by both the constructor AND the editor. That's something the AcrossLite programmer should be able to address.

Good solid Wednesday puzzle and very enjoyable. But enough IAGO. Please.

Anonymous 4:13 PM  

@Rex: Let's see. "Quite a bit of money." At $40/year and 8 puzzles per week, that's less than 10 cents per puzzle. Seems like a steal.

"NYT makes a KILLING on its puzzle." How could you possible know that? You may know the total number of subscribers (I don't) but you have no idea what their costs are, what they pay editors and fact checkers and bloggers and all the technical infrastructure folks and, for that matter, all the hardware and bandwidth costs, not to mention the share of the overall operational costs for the building and on and on. You have no idea. Maybe they make a killing, maybe they lose money.

And the NYT does supply PDF files when the puzzles are sufficiently different to make a difference. Who cares that clues aren't in italics or we're missing a completely trivial dot in one square?

Remember, no matter how often the iPhone software is updated or Across Light for that matter (and remember, customers HATE updating software) the constructors and editors will always want to innovate. More power to them.

I don't have any of the "identities" or even know what those mean but my name is Kerry.

Anonymous 4:23 PM  

@Anon 8:06 - the answer is they both went down on the challenger.

@ Rex - you are over the three limit....

Sean in Austin 4:24 PM  

Rex, just an FYI.

The Enterprise was never "launched". It was used as a test vehicle for ground training, attaching to the booster assembly, atmospheric landing tests, &c.

It is now at Dulles as a ground display bird.

Loved the puzzle.

D_Blackwell 4:31 PM  

Will Shortz is the J.P. Morgan of crosswords. The NYT cash cow is livin' high on the hog. (Not that there's anything wrong with that.)

"And the NYT does supply PDF files when the puzzles are sufficiently different to make a difference."

Generally, no, they don't, and not particularly well when they do. PDFs (and the like)can formatted to within an inch of their life. Anything less than perfect is inexplicable.

AL is an antique. I, for one, would like to see it become obsolete in use as well as cutting-edge function.

People that don't/won't update their programs choose to miss out on things (like security upgrades and functional improvements). Fine for them.

william e emba 4:36 PM  

For those who want the details of the legend of the Danish king and the Jewish star (which story, apparently, every Jew outside of Denmark learns as a child) you can look up the original article by Jens Lund Indiana Folklore 8, 1975, pp 1-37 or the more recent Vilhjálmur Örn Vilhjálmsson, in M B Jensen and S L B Jensen (eds) Denmark and the Holocaust, 2003, pp 102-117. Both are absolutely fascinating. (Both articles are entitled "The King and the Star".)

Once, about 15 years ago, the Hillel here was going to do a big deal about passing out yellow Jewish stars on Holocaust Remembrance Day, complete with a note containing the legend about the Danish people all wearing the star, and encouraging all students to do likewise. I told the student in charge of the project that the incident never happened, and she freaked, accusing me of Holocaust denial or something. Sheesh! (Of course, pointing to the note and saying "it never happened" probably did not parse too well.)

I went to the library, dug out a copy of the Lund article I referenced above, and gave it to her the next day. She was freaked again, this time apparently by someone who knew how to use a library and who actually had facts and not just an opinion. Or something. They changed their note at least, and apparently did not try to repeat that particular activity in future years.

Anyway, Victor BORGE was well before my time, but his strong mention by Lund has guaranteed that I remember him well, so to speak.

Stan 5:27 PM  

Elaborate construction, mysterious at first, but easy to solve once one or two of the familiar shuttles came into view.

I appreciated the comments from people who were young at the time of the Challenger disaster. It must have been a profound moment for so many kids of that era.

Did this puzzle in the parking lot of a Rochester, NY, Wegman's. Tomorrow, I'm making what I call turnip and what other people call rutabaga or swedes. My wife is making Brussels sprouts (baked with balsamic vinegar).

Happy Turkey Day to all, and remember -- it's only a meal.

Anonymous 5:46 PM  

my husband, an award winning science teacher in the south bronx, was nominated by his district to go on the challenger. he declined being in the competition as he has a touch of claustrophobia. we were so proud of the teacher who was chosen, and felt devastated for her and certainly her young children. it was such a tragedy. it was terrible for all of us that day when we realized what had happened.

Anonymous 7:50 PM  

The center square is the letter "B." ...pick, pick, pick!

43d Nitpicking types PEDANTS

Mrs. Flatus Claus 8:22 PM  

@ Stan, Turnips are NOT swedes aka rutabagas. Between that and the Brussels sprouts I hope I am not next to you on the bus/subway Friday! Yuk!

Sfingi 9:16 PM  

Had to admit, I had entirely too much fun with this. The first one I got was COL-MBIA. Thought it was either South American countries or Ivy League schools. So, I filled in the circles but one and saw it had to be SHUTTLES. So I numbered them along the edge. For some reason, I thought #1 and #6 were ENTER----- and END------ meaning a beginning and an end, so I didn't get them with the idee fixe, as they say around here, in my head.

I also Googled a few and got the wrong Griffith folk singer graCe instead of NANCI and never heard of either. Never heard of any of the sports clues.

I connected the circles and it looked vaguely like a SHUTTLE. Rather clever, if not on my wave length. I don't think humans should go, but I'm a woose(sp?).

My paper had that circle instead of a square between UNA/URGE and SINISE/ICES which was just another thing to throw me.

@Anon1222 - Wow. I was in my 40's and studying for a new career as a math teacher. I was buying a cheese thing at a fast food place and heard it through their drive-through window.

TAHINI is great, but I like to add whole nuts to it because it lacks texture.

@Emba - interesting. That's why every classroom should have reference books - dead tree versions - easy to procure, actually.

Updating stuff - I'm always afraid it's a scam. I have it set on automatic, but once, they interrupted my Triple Klondike and ruined my time.

@Rex - the NYT makes money on me, M-W anyway. I stopped buying the Sun. because the magazine got lame. Now the Science Tues. is getting lame. But Mr. Shortz is not.

Sparky 9:20 PM  

DNF but enjoyed most of the solve. Once I had DISCOVERY and ATLANTIS it gave something to look for with the others. Very clever arrangement. The dot confusing and ugly but once I saw clues for 22 and 40D I just ignored it. Had CRAnkY so missed that corner. Finally said "Oh, heck, hit the blog."
What a merry band today. I enjoy all of it so much, the funny, the erudite, the picky, all of it. All of us.
Went with husband to posh NYC deli chain and bought the whole thing in take away. And a Beaujolais Nouveau. It even beats reservations.
Happy Thanksgiving.

joho 9:43 PM  

@mitchs ... thanks for the tip.

@willima e emba ... loved your line, "And, yes, I used to be a rocket scientist." This is definitely an unique blog.

Sparky ... enjoy, hope you are doing well.

Stan 12:04 AM  

VERY Funny @Mrs. Claus!! Actually, that was pretty funny...

Anonymous 12:21 AM  

I think it was meant as a celebration of the end of an idiotic era of the shuttle. Two launches to go. Hopefully it works out according to public expectation. This is a project that was designed with 1:50 failure rate. And so it did. If only the X15 project could have had a continuation and we wouldn't have had this painful experience. Anyway, celebration is rightful. Thank you to all that pulled this feat off, despite politicians urge to make a pig fly.
As a puzzle it was great. End of an era. I lived it. If you ever stop by Edwards AFB, please check out NASA museum. Look at that X15 and what could have been!
/Rocket scientist

fikink 12:26 AM  

Thank God for having your wits about you, @Stan! This place has become so sadly defensive of late.
Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone!

captcha: alkies...guess!

sw 2:43 PM  

From syndie land, for what it's worth by now. This was a challenger for me on so many levels, but I got it and loved it. Strange blog comments this go-round. Fascinating, too. Thanks for the Nanci Griffith vid. Readers reminded me of my first reaction to the explosion; I was awestruck and my words seemed inappropriate at the time.

Anonymous 7:42 PM  

A relative newbie here & 1st time commenter, but not much trouble finishing today,FOR A CHANGE. Caught "SHUTTLES" early, but not those last 2 words/black circle/rebus. Kept looking for a rebus, then finally saw the actual clue #'s to tell me I had it right. However, after squinting just right a few times more I found 1/2 of a rebus there. It doesn't work as the end of 22D/33A, but if you use "SPL", 40D/35A become SPLURGE/SPLICES (not important, but shows the occasional ramblings of this trivial mind, which solves most crosswords except NYT, without huge difficulty.

Dirigonzo 7:58 PM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
John in Fort Collins 10:32 PM  

I guess I must be slow, but why is "HIC" an alternative to Hawaiian Punch? (4D) Thanks to whomever answers.

Anonymous 11:46 PM  

"Hi-C" is a drink

Nullifidian 4:19 AM  

In from syndication-land, and coming back from a late showing of the recent French film White Material (which was very good, BTW).

As others have noted, Endeavour was named after Capt. Cook's ship, HMS Endeavour. And personally, I prefer the British spelling of theatre, as it reflects the root Greek word theatron.

I liked this puzzle. Solidly constructed puzzle with an interesting theme and fairly smooth answers. Unfortunately, my local paper, the San Diego Union-Tribune, didn't print the note about reading the circled clued clockwise, but being an old astronomy and astrophysics nut from way back, I didn't have any problem picking up on the right way to read it.

I was six-years-old when the Challenger exploded, and I still remember the effect it had on my Kindergarten teacher. Christa McAuliffe's presence on the shuttle caused a lot of teachers back then to follow the shuttle launch. We didn't see it live, but my teacher found out at lunch and she was obviously stricken by the news.

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