Ancient amulet inscription / SAT 12-11-10 / What Tito shows in opera / Kodak film used surveillance / Backwoods sibs / Calais closet

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Constructor: Paula Gamache

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: none

Word of the Day: ABRAXAS (28A: Ancient amulet inscription) —

The word Abrasax (Gk. ΑΒΡΑΣΑΞ, which is far more common in the sources than the variant form Abraxas, ΑΒΡΑΞΑΣ) was a word of mystic meaning in the system of the Gnostic Basilides, being there applied to the “Great Archon” (Gk., megas archōn), the princeps of the 365 spheres (Gk., ouranoi). In Gnostic cosmology, the 7 letters spelling its name represent each of the 7 classic planets—Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. // The word is found in Gnostic texts such as the Holy Book of the Great Invisible Spirit, and also appears in the Greek Magical Papyri. It was engraved on certain antique gemstones, called on that account Abraxas stones, which were used as amulets or charms. As the initial spelling on stones was 'Abrasax' (Αβρασαξ), the spelling of 'Abraxas' seen today probably originates in the confusion made between the Greek letters Sigma and Xi in the Latin transliteration. The word may be related to Abracadabra, although other explanations exist. // There are similarities and differences between such figures in reports about Basilides' teaching, ancient Gnostic texts, the larger Greco-Roman magical traditions, and modern magical and esoteric writings. Opinions abound on Abraxas, who in recent centuries has been claimed to be both an Egyptian god and a demon. The Swiss Psychologist Carl Jung wrote a short Gnostic treatise in 1916 called The Seven Sermons to the Dead, which called Abraxas a God higher than the Christian God and Devil, that combines all opposites into one Being. (wikipedia)

• • •

Piece of cake, especially compared to yesterday's painfest. Any time I finish a Saturday in under 10, it's an Easy day—I think it played easier for me than it will for most, hence "Easy-Medium." I benefited from hitting on BUZZER BEATER (6D: Thrilling hoops shot) very early, with just the initial "B" in place. That opened things right up. Started with CDC / CTS, but that led nowhere so I moved over and guessed BRERS (4D: Backwoods sibs) / BEBES and that gave me BUZZER BEATER and I was off and running, with no real sticking points the rest of the way.

The alliterative BUZZER BEATER and MAIN MAN are the real highlights of this grid. The rest is fairly smooth, though somewhat over-reliant on esoterica — by which I mean CLEMENZA (17A: What Tito shows, in opera), ABRAXAS, and ASTATINE (54A: Element between polonium and radon on the periodic table) ... and perhaps TMAX (38A: Kodak film used in surveillance), though I picked that up entirely from crosses, no problem. I wonder if people found 20D: "The die is cast," to Caesar (ALEA JACTA EST) to be esoteric. It's a familiar phrase to me, but I think that's just because I've seen ALEA clued in relation to the phrase in several crosswords before. My initial inclination was ALIA LACTA EST ... so, you know, ballpark. Very lucky to remember that "J" because otherwise, that JOB / GAB / ABRAXAS nexus might have been my undoing. As it was, I was half-guessing (never having heard of ABRAXAS before ... that I can remember ... that convoluted wikipedia entry, above, isn't likely to make it stick). But I was helped in that same section by the lovely XOXO. Hey, I wonder who the first person was to use XOXO in a NYT grid. I wonder ... [squiggly picture / flashback sequence] ...

I think my favorite part of the puzzle is the way it ends—with an undoubtedly affectionate nod to me (52D: Playmate for Spot).

  • 16A: Setting of muchas islas (OCÉANO) — only trouble here was whether the word was masculine of feminine. NO SALE cleared that up (13D: Register message).
  • 24A: Comic with the 1955 album "At Sunset" (SAHL) — '50s comic in four letters shouldn't give a regular solver any problems.
  • 26A: ___-robe (Calais closet) (GARDE) — toughie if you don't know French. Seven years of French here and never heard of GARDE-robe, but the crosses were easy and I could infer the "G."
  • 42A: Quinceañera treat (TACO) — There's an awful lot of foreign words in this puzzle. By which I do not, in this case, mean TACO. I mean "Quinceañera." And ESTOS EINE OCHO BEBE OCÉANO GARDE ZEIT ALEA JACTA EST
  • 57A: Matt Dillon title role of 1982 (TEX) — Right over the plate of my adolescence. No problem.

  • 36D: Tiger Balm ingredient (MENTHOL) — I ... don't know what this is. Some kind of heat rub.
  • 41D: Foot-washing ceremony (MAUNDY) — I knew about MAUNDY Thursday (just after Fat Tuesday), but I never bothered to ask what the hell "MAUNDY" meant.
  • 46D: 1983 Joel Schumacher film ("D.C. CAB") — this took a bit of thought, as I had -C--B and could think (at first) only of SCRUB. Which is not a film. That I know of.
  • 48D: Storied slacker (HARE) — gimme.
  • 49D: Analog oscilloscope parts: Abbr. (CRTS) — an abbrev. I've seen but don't know the meaning of. Aha. Cathode ray tubes. Now ... what's an oscilloscope?
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


andrea clemenza michaels 1:14 AM  

4 letter '50s comic should be no, unless you had gotten XOXO, REX< TMAX, OXEN first...then one might guess FOXX...and be majorly screwed for a while!

So I also thought 47A "What a Yankee is unlikely to have" would be something about Red soX something...
Penant? Jacket?

so the lovely 3 Zs, 4Xs was actually initially my downfall, bec I thought the whole grid would have, like, 10 more!
(Altho it helped me correct my spelling of LUCREtIA, and then everything fell into place)

Clues like 8A "I got ____"
(Rhythm? Nobody? You Babe?) sometimes trigger a whole new puzzle idea for me...

And I'm so Jewish, that even tho Jesus flashed before my eyes briefly in terms of foot-washing, I started to put in Mikvah off the M!

One question, BARITONE what? Sax? Is Baritone by itself an instrument name?

THANKS for the BUZZERBEATER clip, it made me cry...and not from TEARGAS.

D_Blackwell 2:52 AM  

Easy? I suck. I especially suck at Gamache themeless crosswords; always packed with lots of stuff I don't know; and much of it I don't care to know:))

BARITONE was interesting. I don't know how I've never heard of it. For a while I wanted HOWITZER; 1812 Overture and all that.

THREE POINTER for awhile. BASIN for DRAIN for awhile.

Ulrich 5:40 AM  

And here I thought Rex would complain about his name being tied to a dog:-)

Caesar at the Rubicon got me off to a flying start, and then Lucrezia Borgia helped me correct my initial "three pointer" (thank God I wasn't alone with that!) at 6D. And just like that, I had a toehold in all parts, which happens rarely for me on a Saturday. Never knew what "maundy" means, though, but filled in IBO instinctively--somewhere in my brain, a little niche for Xwordese seems to be forming.

Why the "?" at the clue for 44A?

BTW EINE (fem. nom. sing.) agrees with ZEIT--cool!

bossche 6:56 AM  

Abraxas is familiar to my generation. It was the title of a Santana album that was, I think, their biggest hit.

Anonymous 6:57 AM  

Maundy Thursday comes just before Good Friday. It's many, many weeks after Fat Tuesday. The latter comes just before Lent begins and the latter is at the very end of Lent.

Anonymous 6:58 AM  

The baritone is a brass instrument that looks like a small tuba. My older brother used to play it in marching band before moving up to the sousaphone.

Anonymous 7:01 AM  

Okay, screwed up latter and former. Fat Tuesday is before Lent and Maundy Thursday is at the end of Lent. Signed, Lapsed Lutheran

Rex Parker 7:32 AM  


I love dogs, so it's hard for me to see the dog clue as an insult.

Some info on JACTA v. IACTA (from

"In Roman times, there was no J in Latin; the letter I served both as a vowel and as a consonant similar to Y. In the late 15th to early 16th Century, a variant form of I -- which we now know as J -- began to be used to differentiate between the vowel and consonant forms of the letter. Thus Iulius became Julius, and so on. Even at that point, the two were seen as variant forms of one letter; the two became entirely separated only in the 19th century.

As the function of J has changed, editors have made different decisions about how to present texts that were written before the distinction was made. Editors working while I and J were considered two ways of representing the same letter tended to print it as J whenever it was being used as a consonant: thus, Alexander's comment was presented as "jacta alea est." Editors working now that I and J are seen as distinct letters usually keep the words the way they were written at the time: thus, "iacta alea est." The phrase is exactly the same in both cases; the only difference is in how it's presented on the page."

Ruth 8:09 AM  

LUCRETIA led to BUTTER BEATER for a while.

glimmerglass 8:32 AM  

I thought this was really hard. French, Spanish, German, Latin words. Esoterica like ABRAXAS, ASTATINE, MAUNDY. Many crossed by the difficult ALEA JACTA EST, which I didn't know but was able to workout from five years of Latin in school (jaceo means "throw"; alea has to agree with jacta, etc.) and the crosses I did know. I think I was more lucky than smart to complete this one (I made some lucky guesses). Anything but "easy."

retired_chemist 8:37 AM  
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mmorgan 8:43 AM  

I first thought we had NENE again (for 4A)! (It would have been as welcome to me as MORITAT!) But I finally gave in and changed it to BEBE.

Got everything in the top half fairly quickly and then.. "NOTHIN" for a long while. (Of course I first had RHYTHM there in 8A but didn't trust it since "got" in the clue had a lower-case G. Ha!)

Was sure that 32A (Bread source) was ATM. Never heard of a BUZZER BEATER but it felt great to get it! Tried to stay with CAMPHOR for MENTHOL (36D -- Tiger Balm, mmmm).

Close but not quite -- couldn't quite wrap up the SE. I thought SOUTHERN ACCENT would open it all up (and also thought it would be Red Sox-related), but alas... Couldn't get Rex (duh!), couldn't finish ASTATINE, and couldn't believe it would just be BARITONE.

One of those puzzles where I was very pleased to have gotten as far as I did.

Smitty 8:49 AM  

DNF for me.

I got so lost in the SE corner, I started inventing new words, like The TIRE TUBA....Don't marching band tubas wrap around the waist like an innertube?

Smitty 8:52 AM  

....I guess it's called a SOUSAPHONE

mitchs 8:56 AM  

Well I was gonna piss and moan about the Latin crossing the inscription crossing the element and then seeing Easy/Medium but I watched the buzzer-beater video and it's just not in me anymore.

retired_chemist 9:00 AM  

Medium-challenging here, though in retrospect I do not think it should have been. For a puzzle in which ALEA JACTA EST, SOUTHERN ACCENT, MERCATOR, ENDORA, and ASTATINE were instant fills, I should have aced it and I didn't.

The BUZZER BEATER gimme was concealed by LUCREtIA BORGIA. Made me want CLEMENTE instead of CLEMENZA, which led me down the garden path to BUTT(something) for 6D.

MENTHOL was no gimme - I wanted CAMPHOR, another acceptable (albeit incorrect) answer. I think they may not use it anymore but they did in my youth.

MIRAMAX was BETAMAX, then CINEMAX. I don't get out a lot, to movies anyway. ABRAXAS was at best a 7 letter pronounceable WTF, and MAUNDY and GARDE were cool once I got most of the crosses. What Rex said on both.

Last fill was the Z in ZEIT/ZETAS, because I fixated on BETAS (Beta Theta Pi, ΒΘΠ). I had thought my mother was one - turns out it is a fraternity, and all these years I have been wrong about it. And then the mysterious Freudian clue became as obvious as it should have been anyway. Fell hard for the trap of thinking what psychological significance Freud placed on time: BAIT? It's just the German word.

A nice puzzle with answers I enjoyed discovering. Thank you, Ms. Gamache.

The Hag 9:09 AM  

Lots of good words and nothing that clunked audibly. A solid medium for me. I only got MAUNDY because I had to Google for it once on a BEQ puzzle and I only got ABRAXAS because of Santana. I needed every last cross for ALEA JACTA EST.

Sparky 9:10 AM  

I am as wet as a mad hen. No paper delivery this morning. I printed it out. But it also means no Sunday mag section. Bah, humbug. I'll be back.

Anonymous 9:28 AM  

@Rex's clarification of IACTA vs JACTA was most likely prompted by my email to him of late last night, consisiting of:

"They require that I know variants on my latin spelling?
They both can bite me."

Just in case anyone was wondering.

dk 9:28 AM  

Greetings from blizzard land.

Once I get back from freezing my butt to save yours I am going to put on Santana's ABRAXAS.

This whole SOUTHERNACCENT, white trash, Uncle Remus (BRERS) theme is going to push some to DELIRIUM.

The puzzle: X rated. Guessed the wrong witch and tried to put Kodak in for the projector even though I had a MERCATOR map on a college apartment wall (yes I was and am a dork). The other poster was a black light version of the periodic table... ASTATINE was a gimmie.

Not so easy for me but I got LUCREZIA B right off the bat... I know my evil woman (lame attempt to form another Santana link).

*** (3 stars)

I send all the X's and O's to... (see first post)

mac 9:49 AM  

My kind of puzzle, although I didn't finish.... the astatine/crts beat me.

Paula Gamache puzzles with all their foreign word actually give me extra toeholds.

I wanted rhythm as well, had butter beater for a while, and Miramar. Love the clue for Oman. We were given a Mercator map of the Americas as a wedding gift.

I'll be smiling all day because of the buzzer beater video.... Thanks, Rex!

Anon 9:28 9:59 AM  

Oh, and I'm beginning to question the authority of Rex's citation. The only Alexander in the history of the universe who can rightly be referred to simply as Alexander is Alexander the Great. You know, the Greek guy, born and died way before Rome, probably didn't speak Latin.

hazel 10:17 AM  

Very nice puzzle. Only 4 things that I did not know, or under any circumstances could have taken a guess at. Turns out that made a huge difference in the fun factor for me. I like AHAs and there are no AHAs on esoterica for me. its just a WHATEVER - unless of course its in an area of interest to me, then it gets a HMM. I like HMMs too.

ABRAXAS was familiar because of the Santana connection. Reading Keith Richards' biography now - it is completely fascinating. I hope Carlos is in there somewhere.

That buzzerbeater video was very touching, helping me out of a mini-funk I've been in.

joho 10:19 AM  

This was difficult for me and I didn't finish correctly, so Paula got the better of me today, but I don't care because I thought the puzzle was really perfect for a Saturday.

LUCREtIA did me in, I won't forget how to spell it again. Also, I'd never heard the term BUZZERBEATER or CLEMENZA. Total Natick there.

@Rex, thank you for the basketball clip ... like @Andrea Clemenza and, I'm sure, others, it made me cry. In a good way.

And thank you, Paula Gamache, for yet another great challenge! And what I would call a johoBEATER!

PuzzleNut 10:24 AM  

Way too much foreign language for this engineer. Not surprised I didn't finish - am surprised I got as much as I did.
basIN for DRAIN, NTSa for NTSB, led me astray for a while. Thought the Yankee didn't have an ACCENT, but the second C seemed improbable for a long time. Finally got the SOUTHERN and wrote in the rest.
bETAS for ZETAS, no idea of bEI? for German time (don't think the Z would have helped).
Had the ?ARDE for the closet and had about four letters that seemed plausible. Liked W the most (warde-robe, from which wardrobe is derived??). Tittle-tattle could have been wAg. ALEA JACTA EST was way out of my league.

PuzzleNut 10:29 AM  

Also, I'd seen the video before and had the same reaction as andrea and joho. Special to me as I have a 15 year old autistic son who many people have shown great kindness.

quilter1 10:42 AM  

As a Drake/Missouri Valley fan I've enjoyed many a BUZZER BEATER including this one. I had to laugh at myself when my first reaction to 57A was "But Matt Dillon is a fictional character." Remember Gunsmoke? Did not know a few things but got them from crosses and hope I remember for next time. Also I couldn't believe I got SOUTHERN ACCENT just from the TH. Thank you, Paula for an enjoyable Saturday.
proil: what you do to the pan before baking

ArtLvr 10:52 AM  

I nearly PLED for mercy, but finished with no googles. Very tough in spots, and I wasn't filling much in at first with the Nene/BEBE confusion in mind. Thank goodness for the GARDE-robe, IBO, ALEA JACTA EST and SOUTHERN ACCENT providing a bit of firm ground fot launching out into space.

Mace can before TEAR GAS? Many other places to get off track, yet GENL for the One with star power finally brought more light. ABRAXAS was somehow familiar, but the witch needed a couple of little transformations! Weird sisters like Greek Fates we had mentioned lately, so the ZETAS were a hoot when I thought of ZEIT-geist. Whew.

I loved SLEUTHED for "Did some digging around", which typified my solving here. MERCATOR helped orient me in the SE or I'd never have discovered ASTATINE -- is that a doggy element?

Anyway, THANKS to Asta and Spot's pal REX for the amusing commentary, and to Paula G. for the arcane MAUNDY, BUZZER-BEATER and other eye-openers.


mitchs 10:56 AM  

I think I'll write a book that nobody reads called "The Persistence of Ignorance". I looked up ABRAXAS and STILL don't have any idea what the hell it means.

hazel 11:32 AM  

The fact that Charles Manson apparently referred to himself as ABRAXAS, both God and the devil, in his 1986 letter to his parole board (Wiki) and that the word has been featured by both Jung and Herman Hesse (from Wiki) kind of says it all. Its mystical, doesn't really lend itself to being understood - without a little help from some merry pranksters, that is.

David L 11:36 AM  

A good deal of foreign and other somewhat esoteric stuff, but somehow I knew most of it and guessed the rest (thank you Carlos Santana) so it was easy-medium for me.

GARDE-robe I remembered because it's the ancestor of the English (British) word wardrobe. Speaking of things British, I have a recollection of seeing the Queen washing a couple of people's feet on Maundy Thursday, in line with some ancient tradition. But I'm guessing they had some serf, vassal, or minion pre-clean the supplicants' feet before Her Maj came anywhere near...

Anonymous 11:36 AM  

ALEA JACTA EST might as well be OLLIE OLLIE OXEN FREE or UP YOURS (which it probably is). I changed my mind from yesterday. Rex really is mean after all. To rate this easy in any sense is cruel and unusual punishment to me and anyone else who (a) does not speak Latin or (b) isn’t 2200 years old. BUZZER BEATER, LUCREZIA BORGIA, SOUTHERN ACCENT were easy enough, but that helped as much as knowing I’m gonna freeze my arse off tomorrow when I go to Soldier Field to watch Da Bears get their “AMOUNT” asses handed to them by the Pats....

John Who Likes Rex the Dog’s Bite More than Rex the Blogger’s Bark

Mel Ott 12:06 PM  

Let's see: Latin, Italian, French, Spanish, German, Greek....Wow!

I had CLEMENcy & LUCREtIA, which kept me from seeing BUZZER BEATER for the longest time.

Of course, CLEMENZA spoke the greatest of all Godfather lines: "Leave the gun. Take the cannoli."

Mel Ott 12:10 PM  

My Latin teacher of 55 years ago must have been conservative, because she said there was no 'J' in Latin. Therefore the phrase is ALEA IACTA EST. Fair warning: you cross Mrs. Ierardi at your own peril.

Shamik 12:21 PM  

Thought the puzzle was easy except for BEIN/ZEIT; BETA/ZETA and JOB and the Latin phrase which I was never going to get on this good green earth. 15:11 for me, but three wrong letters. Whatever, it's sometimes day of humbling.

Glad to see others think if Santana with ABRAXAS!

quilter1 12:24 PM  

@andrea clemenza michaels I just completed my quilt themed wordsearch using an online resource. Fun and easy. Of course now I'm thinking of more words to put in so it may not be the final version. Thank you so much for your suggestion and kind offer of help.
Cold and snowy so I am baking honey whole wheat bread today.

Two Ponies 12:28 PM  

DNF two days in a row.
Buzzer beater (which I know) started out as butter finger (which I rationalized briefly).
I did not think there was a J in Latin so the phrase stopped me short of the finish line.
Don't know what a mercator is or the element.
Some clever clues and cool words like delirium amused me but I prefer my puzzles in English spiced but not overwhelmed in foreign words.
Saw Jon Anderson's (lead singer for Yes) solo acoustic show last night. He's still got it and I'm still grinning.

Leslie 12:31 PM  

Very educational comments today! I didn't quite finish, precisely because I wouldn't let myself put a J in a Latin phrase. (Hey, and also because I don't know my more obscure elements on the periodic table.)

But I came way closer to finishing than I did yesterday, and had more fun doing so, too.

Sparky 12:55 PM  

The paper turned up but I was already beaten by the printed copy. Had some of the top, LUCREtIA spelled wrong. Amo, amas, amat about my way with Latin. None of the bottom.
Have a good weekend.

Anonymous 12:57 PM  

Please. I don't think I've ever seen a taco at a Quinceañera.

Some Treat 1:14 PM  

I have a hard time thinking of a taco as a "treat" in general, but at a "Quinceañera"?

That's like a bagel and a schmear at a Bar Mitzvah.


Ulrich 1:22 PM  

I thought La Clemenza di Tito was an opera seria, a "serious opera". How come the action takes place in a women's room?

Seriously, I have been listening to Rex's clip and some other Mozart written for the female voice for a while now--it's so gorgeous, it could make a rock weep...

Anonymous 1:24 PM  

Everyone should read Asterix and Obelix. Along with a thicket of terrible Latin puns, they use "Alea jacta est" all the time as a sort of comment on how things are going. That was my first break on this puzzle. Hooray for a youth misspent reading comics....

Masked and Anonymous 1:36 PM  

Glad I don't have to rate difficulty level on this one; lots of stuff I got in a heartbeat, like BUZZERBEATER, mixed with stuff I couldn't get if you held a gun to my head, like ALEAJACTAEST. Jacta? Couldn't they have put at least one stinking letter from "die" into their word? Throw us a bone, Romans! Maybe that's what somebody was desperately tryin' to do with "Iacta"?

Always enjoy Tex-Rex cuisine in the SE. Think I'll still call Rex "44", tho. "Playmate for Spot" is just too dang long.

jae 2:00 PM  

Medium for me. Didn't know the Latin phrase so needed all the crosses. (I too thank Santana.) Debated between JOB and COB (corn bread). If I'd known the Latin I would have rated this like Rex did. Nice Sat. Challenge!

SethG 2:24 PM  

I didn't know the Czech opera, the Italian daughter, the French closet, the Greek amulet, the German time, or the Latin saying. I did know the Spanish baby, ocean, these, 15-th birthday party, and eight, the Nigerian language, the German article, the Southern brother, and all the English stuff.

I did not complete this puzzle. And by the end, I did not care.

PT 2:28 PM  

Another sorry performance...

Had MRROGERS for Projection creator in SE (didn't he always use that technique?) and never could recover!

foodie 2:44 PM  

I feel exactly like @Mac. Things like GARDE-robe are my gimmes and give me a toehold where there would have been none. Perfect Saturday, methinks.

I had ZERO in lieu of XOXO, thinking that the love in the clue referred to tennis. It gave me ABRAzA and MIRAMAr. Sounded OK...

@SethG, thanks for the laugh, I thought about you as I was putting down said GARDE and pondering the number of languages represented in this erudite puzzle.

fergus 3:00 PM  

Along with common CAMPHOR error I stuck with ANTIMONY until I just had to check the Periodic Table. Don't like having to clear up my mess; I MEAN NOW.


Anonymous 3:30 PM  

Close, Rex, but no cigar. If you really "wonder who the first person was to use XOXO in a NYT grid" then check xwordinfo. It was Michael Shteyman in a diagramless puzzle on July 20, 2003.

foodie 3:33 PM  

Rex, thank you for posting the BUZZERBEATER video. It really is inspiring. I just forwarded it to a friend who has an autistic grandchild.

One of the remarkable things in autism is a change in attention/focus. It's not necessarily worse or better, it's like that whole dimension works differently. I imagine that being able to score six 3-pointers in a row, in spite of the amazing pressure, exemplifies an uncanny ability to focus.

A neuroscientist colleague thinks that evolution is always experimenting with various facets of our brain functions, and sometimes a function is enhanced but at a price. He sees autism (at the genetic/biological level) as one of those excursions of nature where some abilities are superior but at the expense of others.

I find this a good way of thinking because it does not just focus on the problems but underscores special gifts that many autistic people have.

fikink 3:58 PM  

Also had THREEPOINTER and BASIN first.
This puzzle was wonderful in its breadth, imo. ABRAXAS came from having the vinyl in the basement; MAUNDY from 8 years Missouri Synod Lutheran schooling; IBO from crosswords; NTSB from news of latest disaster; BRERS from childhood; and TEAR GAS from personal experience.
@Ruth, I hear you.
@Anon 9:28, I was wondering - and I appreciate that your sentiment, albeit intense, led Rex to further enlighten us.
@dk, I like your "lame" reference to Santana. I have a periodic table of desserts above my fridge - does that count as lame humor?
@hazel, you make me want to read Keith Richards' book. Trying to read the new Sondheim book, but FIL won't give it back to me! (Btw, Kesey is the merry prankster you're looking for.)
@foodie, once again your comments re: nature's excursions addresses my current fascination with risky and irresponsible behavior in adults.
Glad you said yesterday's puzzle was a bear @Rex, because I have yet to finish it.
Also, came so close but DNF this one due to the SE.
But it really made my morning, Paula, thank you!

chefwen 3:59 PM  

What @SethG said. AARGH! This one 'bout crippled me brain.

I skip M-W 4:13 PM  

Finished in fairly good time for me. Not remembering details of periodic table, I put in Actinium at first, which was silly, since it's the start of the actinide series, but eventually thought astatine, which has several letters the same. Noted from Wikipedia that Astatine was first discovered in a cyclotron at Berkeley in 1940, only later in ores.

Clemenza di Tito is not one of Mozart's highest ranked operas, but still surprised at how many wouldn't know it.

Never studied Latin, and the J bothered me, but still pretty standard sort of expression, that I've heard before somewhere.

Too many Spanish words though. that seems lazy.

I'd heard of all answers except Espo. Who he?

Evgeny 4:43 PM  

what @ Ulrich said. Lucrezia, Caesar, southern accent and the abundance of foreign words (always happy to see a language i know better than English in an English puzzle :-D) made for an unusually smooth saturday. I. e., a finished saturday.

Still, there just was no "J" in Latin, so it's as likely that Caesar would write the phrase this way as that he'd actually write "the die is cast". Sat there for a couple of minutes, thinking really hard about how IOB may be a sort of flour.

Rex Parker 4:46 PM  

Diagramless? [laughing]

ksquare 4:49 PM  

Two Ponies
Mercator was a mapmaker who found a way to PROJECT a three-dimensional ball's surface (Earth) onto a two-dimensional print.

retired_chemist 5:12 PM  
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retired_chemist 5:13 PM  

@ I skip =

Phil Esposito is a hockey great. AKA Espo.

michael 5:25 PM  

A mix of easy and hard clue/answer combinations. alea jacta est! clemenza!

But the only one I had to google was astatine. I was proud of coming up with antimony and when that didn't work I retrieved actinium from some far corner of my brain. But I don't think astatine has ever entered my brain...

Anonymous 5:26 PM  

Aah, @I skip M-W, ESPO was one of those four letters words I knew. PHIL ESPOSITO was a center for the Boston Bruins back when his brother Tony was a goalie for the Chicago Blackhawks, long ago, but not nearly as long ago as Caesar told the then known civilized world to go scratch because Caesar was coming with his army. Phil ESPOsito was known as the garbage man because he was very big and hard to move and would plant himself at the opponent's goal and wait for rebounds to shove into the goal. He scored many points that way and played around the same time as Bobby Orr played, a player who more often appears in these puzzles. Now, I tell you all this from memory, which means it might or might not be totally accurate. Currently, because I am a slug I am watching Impact, a class C movie on the SciFy Channel about the moon crashing into the Earth and which I will remember about as long as I remember this puzzle....

John the Slug

davko 5:26 PM  

Wow, talk about a house of cards. I was so married to the element ANTIMONY (54A), that when I hit upon URGING ON as an "affirmation of seriousness" (and found myself bereft of the arcana so critical to this corner), I just wouldn't budge. Especially when the all-too-familiar TRI-X (38A) also fit so well!

I now recall when Kodak introduced its vastly improved T-Max to replace the grainier Tri-X, which for decades, was the B&W film of choice for shooting sports and fast-moving subjects.

sanfranman59 6:16 PM  

This week's relative difficulty ratings. See my 7/30/2009 post for an explanation. In a nutshell, the higher the ratio, the higher this week's median solve time is relative to the average for the corresponding day of the week.

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

Mon 6:04, 6:55, 0.88, 8%, Easy
Tue 7:41, 8:55, 0.86, 12%, Easy
Wed 12:32, 11:44, 1.07, 73%, Medium-Challenging
Thu 18:31, 19:00, 0.97, 51%, Medium
Fri 33:56, 26:18, 1.29, 95%, Challenging (5th of 78 Friday puzzles)
Sat 29:22, 30:37, 0.96, 40%, Easy-Medium

Top 100 solvers

Mon 3:18, 3:42, 0.89, 8%, Easy
Tue 3:56, 4:35, 0.86, 6%, Easy
Wed 5:55, 5:46, 1.03, 63%, Medium-Challenging
Thu 8:33, 9:10, 0.93, 46%, Medium
Fri 16:36, 12:52, 1.29, 90%, Challenging (9th of 78 Friday puzzles)
Sat 16:19, 17:26, 0.94, 41%, Medium

And here, all this time, I thought the Times was an English-language newspaper.

Two Ponies 6:59 PM  

I'm glad I checked back in.
@ ksquare, Thanks. Timely info as we just hung a new world map on the wall of the computer room. Not a Mercator however. So cool that I know that now.
@ sanfranman59, English? My feelings exactly.
@ foodie, Wonderful comment. Succinct and insightful as always. So much so that I read your remarks to PuzzleMate after showing him the buzzer beater video. Provocative stuff that I love to ponder.

retired_chemist 7:12 PM  

@ those who are claiming ANTIMONY, ACTINIUM 2 54A, you must remember:

an element never forgets.

PlantieBea 7:39 PM  

Woohoo! I finished this one. Santana's ABRAXAS and ASTATINE saved me. I was just invited (but unable to attend) a quinceanera. Indeed, they were ordering spicy tacos and tamales for this joyous celebration. Liked seeing the SOUTHERN ACCENT and SUN HAT for this beautiful day we spent harvesting citrus and pecans in the groves.

hazel 7:46 PM  

@foodie - i am v. intrigued by your idea of relating evolution to the expression of autism. I've always thought of evolution as the RESULT of the experiments of the process of natural selection - realizing that the so-called experiments are just random combinations of genetic mutations and that evolution itself is merely the record or perhaps expression of those that offer a survival advantage to a population/species over time.  As a geologist, its kind of mind-blowing for me to actually think of this process isolating on brain function  I think I've met my ABRAXAS - or the gin and tonic my husband made has just clouded my senses.

@fikink - my husband gave me Life for my b'day.  I likely wouldn't have bought for myself, but I love it so far (I'm in '65 now).

fikink 8:22 PM  

What terrific Saturday night postings! I thought everybody had a party to go to tonight. Fa la la la la, dammit!
@Puzzlenut, @Two Ponies, @hazel - Foodie is doing such cool things re: the age-old question of nature vs. nurture that one day everyone will have a higher consciousness with regard to the autistic. The questions that I have now with regard to one person's disorientation vs. another's clarity of thought when presented with the same environmental cues cause me to think we should concentrate more on E.Q. than I.Q. in raising our kids. I think nurture must be the response to what nature has dealt us. Just sayin'

fergus 8:45 PM  

ret chem

ashamed to have misplaced
ANTIMONY where it should be found

ought to know better

foodie 9:20 PM  

@hazel, fikink and two ponies. Many thanks for your thoughtful comments!

@hazel, you make some great points. Why don't I respond offline so I don't wind up straying too far afield from the puzzle.

@plantiebea, my in-laws, they with the SOUTHERN ACCENT, used to have a lot of pecan trees in their grove, most of which got uprooted by Katrina. I'm so glad you still have yours.

Ruth 9:38 PM  

Checking back in late--didn't watch the Buzzerbeater video this am, didn't realize it was the JMac event, which was a major sensation here in Rochester, NY. I will pull an Andrea and brag that I have met JMac, and his aunt cleans my teeth! (it's not much of an encounter-with-the-famous but it's pretty much all I've got!) He's a nice kid, the clip won some kind of ESPY award as sports moment of the year, and he talks about various buddies of his who call him all the time ("Talked to Peyton (Manning) last night. . ."). He's got a trust fund as a result of all the publicity and a job at Wegman's warehouse that he enjoys very much, and he should be pretty well set for life. In case anyone wonders.

Noam D. Elkies 11:18 PM  

54A:ASTATINE offers some circumstantial confirmation even if one doesn't remember the name of element 85: the -ine ending is used for this whole column of the periodic table (fluorine, chlorine, bromine, iodine) that precedes the noble gases like the clue's radon, and the "astat-" is because the element, like all the really heavy elements, is radioactive, hence unstable.

Is Masked & Anonymous @1:36 subtly punning on the use of some roughly cubical bones as dice in early history?


Anonymous 10:21 AM  

Couldn't bread source be IOB (Indian Overseas Bank an online banking service) That leaves the i in iacta.

lpac 4:04 PM  

Had to google ASTATINE and ALEA JACTA EST; first time in a while that I've resorted to an outside source to finish. I was floored that this rated only "Easy/Medium," but I never took Latin. Guess I should have paid more attention to my kids' Asterix comics.

My knowledge of GARDE-ROBE comes from exploring castles with our kids years ago in England: it's the term for the toilet holes in the castle walls. Was dubious that the French would retain the same word for closet; coupled with the mess-up of IACTA vs. JACTA, IOU vs. JOB, that section of the puzzle was a disaster for me.

william e emba 4:48 PM  

I had NENE at first, but instantly realized the down was BUZZER BEATER. ALEA JACTA EST and ASTATINE and MERCATOR were all gimmes. After that, the puzzle went pretty quickly, with more typical Saturday type challenges elsewhere. (This is a general fact about the Saturday puzzles that I love: the popular culture trivia is mostly over my head by Wednesday. But by Friday and certainly Saturday, the science/history/comic books/Latin/etc cluing is ramped up, which usually means grade school facts in things I'm well educated in come to the fore.)

And as for me knowing ABRAXAS after a cross or two, I credit Alan Moore Miracleman, #6. Mike Moran's wife was kidnapped by the evil Dr Emil Gargunza, so in his superhero form Miracleman he races to the rescue. Only to learn that as his creator, Gargunza had already programmed a codeword into him that turned him back into an ordinary human. That codeword was ABRAXAS!

Yes, I know, this summary is as dopey as it gets. But like all of Moore's work, Miracleman is beyond remarkable. That book is so intense and so over-the-top well-done that even minor details like the above single word are burned into my memory, even twentysome years on.

Gil.I.Pollas 1:37 PM  

Gadzooks, as @Jesser lovingly says. After yesterday's C. Gorski debacle, I had to glue my "G" key back on and just look, it fell off again.
I did manage to finish but only because Google saved me. I did learn a few new word though so thank you Ms. Gamache.
By the way, it's not too probable that you's get *a* taco at a quinceanera. These tend to be pretty extravagant affairs; sort of a prelude to darling daughter's marriage.
And @Lurking Just Behind You at 2:51 yesterday, thanks for not making me feel like an eeejiot by posting some five week void. I always love some company

Anonymous 6:36 PM  

Am I the only one peeved with the pronounciation of OMAN or "OH MAN"? There is no such country pronounced "OH MAN" Alas, I take off my sunhat to Ms. Gamanche for another good Sat. I'll show her some Clemenza."Hey Mikey,tell her you love her, if I dont see you soon Im a gonna die!"

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