Danish kroner topologically speaking / THU 1-6-11 / Application letters / Genre for Spice Girls Oasis / Capital ENE of Jerusalem / Symbol above 5

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Constructor: Mike Nothnagel

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: BREAK / RANKS (9A: With 65-Across, go against the group ... or what the circled squares literally do in the answers to the starred clues) — circled letters are embedded inside a military rank, which is in turn embedded inside a larger theme answer

  • PERCAPITAINCOME —> (17A: *Average national earnings)(circled "I" inside of CAPTAIN)
  • AMMANJORDAN —> (26A: *Capital ENE of Jerusalem)(circled "N" inside of MAJOR)
  • PERCENTSIGN —> (44A: *Symbol above a 5)(circled "T" inside of ENSIGN)
  • MARSHMALLOWPEEP —> (59A: *Easter basket treat)(circled "M" inside of MARSHAL)
Word of the Day: BRIT POP (39A: Genre for the Spice Girls and Oasis) —

Britpop is a subgenre of alternative rock that originated in the United Kingdom. Britpop emerged from the British independent music scene of the early 1990s and was characterised by bands influenced by British guitar pop music of the 1960s and 1970s. The movement developed as a reaction against various musical and cultural trends in the late 1980s and early 1990s, particularly the grunge phenomenon from the United States. In the wake of the musical invasion into the United Kingdom of American grunge bands, new British groups such as Suede and Blur launched the movement by positioning themselves as opposing musical forces, referencing British guitar music of the past and writing about uniquely British topics and concerns. These bands were soon joined by others including Oasis, Pulp, Supergrass, Sleeper and Elastica. // Britpop groups brought British alternative rock into the mainstream and formed the backbone of a larger British cultural movement called Cool Britannia. Although its more popular bands were able to spread their commercial success overseas, especially to the United States, the movement largely fell apart by the end of the decade. (wikipedia) [Spice Girls??? They have almost Nothing in common with the bands in this blurb, besides being British]

• • •

I like the idea of this puzzle. I don't think I much like its actuality. It's an interesting variation on the embedded word-type theme, but ... there are several problems. First, the circled letters. When you a circle a letter, you draw the solver's eye to that letter, emphasizing its letterness. These letters, however, are meaningless *as letters*. They spell MINT, but I can't believe that's related to the theme. Is it? Maybe there's a rank at the U.S. MINT called "Marshal," because I can't find a U.S. military rank with that name—which brings me to another problem: theme consistency. "Marshal" is a military rank only in other countries, as far as I can tell. Three ranks that are native, one ... that isn't. I've been reading Patrick Berry's "Crossword Challenges for Dummies" over the past couple of days—by far the best guide to constructing puzzles I've ever seen, and particularly good for the novice / aspiring constructor. He spends a lot of time on themes and the importance of getting them Just Right. You do not want a "which of these four is not like the others?" reaction from the solver. "Marshal" sticks out badly in this lot. Next, there's the grid construction, which demonstrates very poor connectivity (another issue Berry highlights). Turn just one more square black (and its symmetrical counterpart, of course), and the two halves of the puzzle don't interconnect at all. Do that just one more time and you've got four islands. I really felt the narrowness of those passageways in the middle of the grid. Ended up feeling as if I'd solved two puzzles. Got the whole top half and had to reboot in the SW. Not ideal. Lastly, MARSHMALLOW PEEP, in the singular, seems weird. And are there non-marshmallow Peeps??? Fill in this puzzle is very smooth, without an obscurity in sight, and only MISDO (32A: Screw up) makes me want a do-over, so thumbs up in that regard. But themewise, this felt ragged around the edges.

Puzzle felt very easy overall, with only the poor connectivity and the supervague clue on NMI (related problems) holding me back at all (29D: Application letters). Somehow remembered the gymnasts' names today (HAMM=>30A: Olympic gymnast Paul or Morgan), and despite having no idea what the TORI clue was getting at (TORI are roughly the shape of donuts) (48A: Danish kroner, topologically speaking), the crosses were pretty kind. Lots of "?" clues today, but they didn't provide much in the way of vexation. Intersecting ones up top proved a little tricky (JINX (5A: Hurl curse words at?) / X-RAYED (8D: Saw right through?)), but only a little. Wanted ADAGE or MAXIM for MORAL (41A: "Slow and steady wins the race," e.g.). Hate A CAT, but like that A CAT is intersecting TAMER (48D: Circus chairperson?).

  • 22A: "Hooked on Classics" record company (K-TEL) — their pop compilations were a staple of TV advertising when I was growing up. I think I own a K-TEL record, the lead song of which is "Him" by Rupert Holmes (of "Piña Colada Song" fame)

  • 37A: Organ donation site (EYE BANK) — Had EYEBALL ... that lost me precious seconds for sure.
  • 67A: Ciudad del ___ (second-largest city in Paraguay) (ESTE) — luckily the word was easy to get, because that's some nearly pointless trivia right there. The parenthetical part is like a parody of the kind of esoteric clues non-solvers believe (mostly erroneously) are the crossword's bread and butter.
  • 3D: Medieval close-combat weapon (WAR HAMMER) — I don't remember this from either my Dungeons&Dragons days or my medieval studies grad school days, but it's a simple description that seems right enough. I was looking for something more technical, like a halberd or pollaxe or falchion or something else only nerds would know.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


Anonymous 12:13 AM  

So, who was the guy who invented SPLITPEA soup? Must have been one impatient dude. Whole peas take only minutes to turn into fetid slop, was it really necessary to split them in half to speed up the process?

[blah..blah] topographically [blah..blah] = TORI/TORUS

Anonymous 12:17 AM  

I read Rex’s commentary before posting and found it interesting, but as a solver who does not get into the nitty gritty of constructing these things, I found this puzzle mind-blowing. I cannot wrap my mind around someone’s thoughts who would conceive this structure. I cannot image how or why they would think of this in the first instance. Had some trouble in the SE, but otherwise no sweat. Agree with some of Rex’s concerns but MARSHALL is a common rank in Europe, so I see no difference from using foreign words as clues. Frankly, I am just in awe of this concept and while not the most fun in solving, it is a winner in my book for a Thursday.

Go Bears

I skip M-W 12:25 AM  

Ok puzzle, not too exciting though, but failed to understand what was special about circled letters. That's clever, I think.
@Rex, topologically and geometrically are quite different adverbs. A teacup, topologically, is the same as a krone, but not geometrically.

CoolPapaD 12:29 AM  

This former resident of Cleveland Heights, Ohio, salutes the constructor on a wonderful puzzle! The quality of this puzzle was enough to bring me out of my posting slump. How someone can come up with a phrase (such as BREAK RANKS), and then find four theme answers with symmetry, that fit it so perfectly is beyond me. I personally don't care that MARSHAL isn't a US rank - everyone's heard of it, and it fits beautifully. The cluing was clever, just tricky enough, and quite original / fresh. My only beef - ELIOT Spitzer should have crossed PORK.

When I asked my nephew why he was yelling into his Easter basket, he said, "I'm giving a shout-out to my Peeps!"

@saintpeg 12:41 AM  

I vehemently object to the presence of the Spice Girls in the BRITPOP clue. It's simply incorrect. Britpop is a very specific genre with which the Spice Girls have never been associated.

chefwen 12:41 AM  

I got off to a very slow start on this one, I think I will blame the 2 hour, semi liquid lunch I had today with @Rube and Mrs. Rube. So much fun, lots of stories, much laughter.

Anyway, I did Google a couple of things to get going, which I am loathe to do on a Thursday, and it sure didn't help that I slammed chocolate rabbit in at 59A, needless to say, that was going nowhere fast. Finally got into a groove and finished in a ridiculous long amount of time.

fikink 12:48 AM  

Thanks for the Marshall Crenshaw, @Rex - a real amalgam of Everly Brothers and early Beatles.

Enjoyed the puzzle and once again, got the theme early and it helped to solve the MARSHMALLOW PEEP area.

My reading tells me that AY CARAMBA is now the way Craig Ferguson is censored, accompanied by a little Spanish flag over his mouth. Is this true? It is on the Internet - it must be.

This went pretty quickly for a Thursday and a Mike Nothnagel puzzle. So I'd have to agree with your easy-medium rating.

RARIN was hard to look at without the apostrophe.

@CoolPapaD, funny nephew!

Thanks, Mike.

andrea ^ michaels 12:50 AM  

What @CoolPapaD said +
if you put a little "'" on RARIN'
(50D RARIN' to go) you get RAN'KS
so you "BREAK RANKS" a second time!

Not sure I would have TORI bec then you have ITSOK and ITSSIMPLE in the same puzzle...and a crazy non-Spelling clue for TORI.

(I'm envisioning Kroner have that little circle in them, which makes them the cutest coins ever, plus suitable for making necklaces)

What's with this bleedover SLUE?
Only got it today bec of its appearance a few days ago. Weird word. A slew of slues.

Couple of Js, couple of Xs to boot!

I would have thought Rex would have fallen madly in love with this at AYCARAMBA.

That 23A "Era of ARA" was tough bec you'd sort of have to know about ARA Parseghian/Notre Dame coach, which is DEFINITELY crossword-sports-ese.

Keep meaning to do a puzzle about all the sports I know only bec of crosswords. It would be filled with ALOU, ARA, ALER, etc.

I do pen on paper, but sometimes while sitting at my keyboard...
so I peeked at the 5 key to see the % sign. I don't think I ever use that key!
(I count that as 1% cheating.)

And what's this above the 6: ^?!!!
Wow! I've been typing for 30+ years and I don't think I've EVER noticed that in my lifetime!!!

This puzzle now is totally my favorite thing bec of that! ^

jae 1:27 AM  

I liked this one. Marshal seemed a tad off to me also. Still, pretty clever. More on the medium side of easy for me.

@fikink - Yes on the CF censor graphic. He actually uses a few different flags and phrases.

Evan 1:29 AM  

I didn't even understand the theme of the puzzle until I was almost finished. I kept staring at the circles and nearly convinced myself that they were supposed to be left blank. That's what a real break is: a pause, not a letter that just sits there in between. Then when I looked at the letters surrounding the circles, that's when I had the a-ha moment.

Since I'm always a fan of removing abbreviations in favor of using whole words, I personally would have changed the ELEM/LEER/ELF section to EDAM/DEER/ALF. That way we would have ditched the abbrev. for "element" and got a lovable trash-talking sitcom alien in return. Just a thought.

Otherwise, still an enjoyable puzzle. Loved the inclusion of the WARHAMMER, as I've always been a fan of the medieval computer games where you can equip one and, quite literally, go medieval on someone's ass.

Agreed very much with the second commenter: GO BEARS!

Anonymous 1:33 AM  

PS. Great post by @CoolPapaD from a former Shaker Hts. Resident! The circled letters were part of the theme as they went against the conventional usage as explained by Rex. Ara was at Northwestern before ND and had that team first in the polls after six games and would have done better that year except he lost his starting QB after the first game, a 21-0 whooping of a Bud Wilkinson coached Oklahoma team. NMI is a common military abbreviation on forms and I have two Greek (American) friends with NMI and one complains about how easier it would have been when he was in the army to have a middle name or initial. AY CARAMBA reminds me of the cartoon with an obese woman sitting on a stool under which her Chihuahua is sitting thinking Ay Caramba....

Go Bears

Doug 1:45 AM  

Clever theme, and I think it helped with at least two of the theme answers. And I can't think of WAWA without thinking of Gilda Radner and Barbara Walters.

I thought the cluing was quite nice today. If MN checks in today, how much was Will's? And no groaners, always a plus.

I skip M-W 3:11 AM  

@Andrea Many old coins have holes; keeping them on a string or a peg was probably a convenient way of handling them before pockets, change purses, and cash drawers.

protege01 4:34 AM  

Ugh. I could not for the life of me figure out what INTM were supposed to mean. Not a fan of themes that have to be explained after the fact. It's like someone telling you a joke then explaining afterwards why it's supposed to be funny.
I suppose it was a interesting concept, just poor execution IMO.
And I agree with Rex on Marshall. In the US it's not a rank. Seems like he could've worked a little harder to keep the theme in line.

Overall, decent little Medium Thursday puzzle.

r.alphbunker 6:34 AM  

BEQ did a puzzle a while back where the word WIND was broken across two difference answers. One amazing break was ZARQA[WI ND]EBELE

The circles in this one remind me of those medals that soldiers wear on their chests. I think a slang term for the medals is "fruit salad". In an emergency, that could explains the significance of MINT, i.e. a fruit salad has mint in it.

Every phrase in the English language that begins with the word "break" could generate a theme like this one.

Joe 7:12 AM  

As I was solving I thought Rex would have a problem with the fact that the rank did not extend over both words in MARSHMALLOWPEEP. In the other cases you needed both words in the answer to get the rank, but there you just needed the MARSHMALLOW. Dear old PEEP was just window dressing.

Deb Amlen 7:37 AM  

"Maybe there's a rank at the U.S. MINT called 'Marshal,'"

Maybe it's the sleep deprivation, but that line cracked me up :)

leah712 7:39 AM  

Had to come to this blog to understand why a percent sign would go in particular with a 5 (and I'm solving on computer) and the "elem" at 45-down, which I thought of as "elementary," not "element." Thank you, Rex and Rexites!

Anonymous 7:45 AM  

I've dealt with Easter baskets my entire life - 50 years now - and have no idea what a Marshmallow Peep is.


Brendan Emmett Quigley 7:49 AM  

Always bears repeating, I've got your winner of the Mike Nothnagel lookalike contest here.

Geometricus 8:01 AM  

@Anon at 12:13, topologically, not topographically. Topology is a branch of geometry in which surfaces are seen as 'rubbery', stretchy or malleable so any object with one hole is topologically equivalent to any other. A donut is equivalent to a coffee cup is equivalent to a ring is equivalent to a kroner.

Meanwhile, another way to look at a torus is to play Pacman. Everyone knows how Pacman goes off the left side of the screen and comes back from the right or goes off the top and comes back from the bottom, right? That's because Pacman is played on a flat torus. The top edge is "glued" to the bottom edge and the right edge to the left edge. Take a stretchy sheet of paper and 'glue' the top to the bottom to form a cylinder, then glue the left circle to the the right circle by stretching the cylinder around in a circular shape and you've got a donut or torus (just not flat anymore).

You can play tic-tac-toe, chess, or even crossword puzzles on a torus at http://www.math.ntnu.no/~dundas/75060/TorusGames/TorusGames.html
With thanks to the great Jeff Weeks and his seminal book "The Shape of Space".

Geometricus 8:03 AM  

Still don't understand NMI as application letters though.

Raul 8:06 AM  

INTM Interrupt Mode

Anonymous 8:43 AM  

"BABA"? Anyone?

joho 8:49 AM  

@Geometricus ... NMI = no middle name which might be requested when filling out a job or other application.

@Doug, I really liked the cluing on this puzzle and wondered, like you, how much was by Mike and how much by Will. The only clue I didn't like was for 2D, "Green card, in brief." Mine isn't green.

I really enjoyed this Thursday puzzle, thank you, Mike Nothnagel!

mitchs 8:53 AM  

Had BRATPOP which is really pretty good from a fogie's perspective.

And AYCAR A MBA? A? Not U?

ArtLvr 8:54 AM  

NMI = No Middle Initial

My family broke ranks with most -- nobody had a middle name!


jesser 9:10 AM  

I liked it, and for the second day in the row there was a pocket billiards reference! Heaven!

Crazy busy here in sunny southern NM, but I just had to pop in and say hi to my PEEPs!

Subshr! (One who goes to a specialty bar seeking a Domshr) -- jesser

mmorgan 9:24 AM  

Didn't exactly zip through it, especially in the East and SE, but no major problems. Took me awhile to get the SPLIT in SPLITPEAS but then that opened up the rest. I had a strange hunch that 29D was NMI but was reluctant to put it in for a while. Some stuff I didn't know (TORI, HAMM, BRITPOP) came in fairly easily through crosses.

I got the theme quite early, which didn't provide much help with the rest. But I did like the theme, such as it is -- a bit of a gimmick, but very clever. (Although I also feel that MARSHALL does not quite fit with the others.)

Had MAXIM at 41A for a loonngg time. Briefly had WAtA for WAWA at 1A, but changed it with WARHAMMER -- which seems a bit clunky. But I liked many of the answers and I did enjoy doing this one.

@^ndrea, it's cool you found your carat key! Have fun with it!

David L 9:25 AM  

Stared at the circled letters but couldn't figure out the theme until I came here. As is usually the case for me.

NMI was familiar, since I am of that ilk. Didn't care for the two ITS answers, and the SIMPLE/SAMPLE crossing was a minus, I think. I am becoming philosophically opposed to theme puzzles because (a) most of the time I don't get them until I've finished or consulted this blog, and (b) they require less-than-wonderful fill elsewhere.

Technical question: I just upgraded from Vista to Windows 7 (great way to spend several hours...) and I find that AcrossLite doesn't respond quite the same way -- I have to click twice on a square in the puzz in order to highlight the relevant clues. Anyone else have this experience?

joho 9:27 AM  

@ArtLvr ...hey, thanks for clearing up the meaning of NMI as my explanation to @Geometricus made absolutely no sense! (BTW, I also don't have one!)

Howard B 9:30 AM  

BRATPOP - nice!

Well, I can't add much on theme consistency, though the concept is pretty cool (in the category of "why didn't I notice that before?").
I have to diverge with Rex, though, on his stance on Marshmallow Peep. That's a stand-alone, two-word phrase for a unique item distinct from 'peep', which of course is a word with other definitions having nothing to do with squishy, artificially-made edible creatures. (Much like 'cotton candy' vis-a-vis cotton and candy, except cotton candy doesn't look back pitifully at you as you eat it). While the 'Marshmallow' in the phrase is sometimes optional, it's still solid.

I think there could be a separate case made that Peeps are a regional delicacy, as many people have never encountered these sugary beasties. I don't know where in the country they are or aren't available.

Rex Parker 9:37 AM  

Hey Howard,

I know what Peeps are. I'm not sure what your cotton candy analogy means. I know Peeps don't actually peep and are not little birds. The brand name is PEEPS. Yes, you can eat one, and perhaps even buy one individually wrapped. But no one thinks about or talks about them in any way but in the collective (which is what their name seems to want you to do). So PEEP is not incorrect in the singular, and neither is SKITTLE, probably. But...

Rex Parker 9:38 AM  

And as far as I can tell, *all* PEEPS are marshmallow, which makes the answer seem redundant.

retired_chemist 9:42 AM  

What everybody said.

Writeovers: BRIT POP <= POP ROCK (also Chris's dad?), MORAL <= ADAGE, A AND E <= MSNBC [only 5 letter TV channel I could think of at first, even though it seemed (and was) unlikely.].

OK, but not among my favorite Nothnagel puzzles.

mmorgan 9:50 AM  

@David L -- try either downloading a new version of AL, or explore the various options (there are more in version 2.0.5 than what I used before I moved to Windows 7). I've never had that problem. Check various switches under Edit / Options / Solving.

Ulrich 10:09 AM  

What Rex said, for once...

@protege01: If you had read the comments, you would have noticed that people did get the theme while solving and used it to speed up the process (it happened to me, too). It is not a theme's fault when some people are too [insert your favorite insult here] to get it w/o explanations after the fact...I mean, this one was actually pretty obvious with the hints given at 9 and 65A.

davko 10:14 AM  

This puzzle must have been right in Will's wheelhouse, so apropos was its theme of the sort of wordplay he engages in on his Sunday morning radio segment.

This is the first I've learned of the brothers Hamm -- a nice bit of sports trivia. That makes 3 Olympians with that last name, if you count Mia.

DBGeezer 10:41 AM  

Unless kroner (48A) is plural, the answer should be TORUS. Would a better clue have been Danish kroners?

Hands up for not having an inkling of the theme till reading the mighty Rex's comments.

quilter1 10:41 AM  

As I recall the Hamm bros grew up on a farm and their gym was the barn. On marshall, maybe there is no marshall in the military, but there are police officers called marshalls, and U.S. marshalls. Would that be a rank or a title?
Give me a chocolate rabbit over a peep any day. And split pea with ham(m) soup, too. Yum.

Van55 10:48 AM  

Finished with little joy. Theme is way too arcane. I didn't get it until I read RP's commentary. Cluing was too cute by a half. Too much cross referencing. ENOTE sucks. So does NMI. Who the hell is ALAN Rickman?

I did like "Time to give up."

Two Ponies 10:48 AM  

What about a Field Marshall?
I loved all of the ? clues but I feel like maybe I do too many puzzles because some days they come too easily like leer and x-rayed.
I have to admit that I wondered what Mint had to do with it but then I looked closer.
Nice one Mike!
Welcome back CoolPapaD.

Liam 11:00 AM  

@saintpeg: I'm glad someone else shares my annoyance about the Spice Girls' music being classified, in this puzzle, as Britpop. Utterly ridiculous.

Rex: AWESOME selection going with Blur's "Parklife" album cover.

Side note: I hate Peeps. The only thing they are good for is an activity called Peep Jousting, which involves Peeps and toothpicks, and takes place in a microwave.

TORI 11:04 AM  

1 Danish krone = 0.1760 US dollars
2 Danish kroner = 0.3520 US dollars


Shamik 11:11 AM  

@Liam: Can I come to your house this spring and watch the jousting. I could really enjoy the event, but would rather it not take place in my microwave. Haha!

The puzzle? Blyeccch! Figured the theme after solving and felt meh. And totally Naticked with the BRATPOP and NMA. Of course, NMI makes sense after the fact. Blyecch. Nothnagel's done much better.

I love split pea soup!

Anonymous 11:17 AM  

The letters were not circled in the NY Times hard copies NY edition, but the squares were shaded. So the comments about "circled letters" do not apply. The shaded squares make sense.

Cynthia G 11:25 AM  

I just can't seem to break into Thu-Sat. Had to stop with six blanks after 45 minutes (and I'm feeling pretty guilty for investing that much time in it!). Biggest problems were BOER and NMI (thanks for defining that one, Commenters), and thinking that "caramba" was spelled with a U. But I guess I'll never get better at these late week puzzles if I don't keep trying.

Thanks for the music videos--hadn't thought of those songs in ages!

ShortShrift 11:50 AM  

Didn't need the theme to complete the puzzle (another strike against the theme, perhaps?), but thanks to Rex for filling me in. Liked a lot of the fill, too. Happy 2011, all.

Masked and Anonymous Peepsqueak 11:55 AM  

Witness for the defense, here. In particular:
1. There are chocolate-covered mint peeps. (Yum.)
2. Marshal is a rank in (US) law enforcement. So is captain. Puz made no particular claims that the ranks had to be military.
3. If MISDO and ACAT are your worst transgressions in the goo that makes your grid go, I say Keep On Truckin'. ...and, Ay Caramba, while we're at it.
4. Grid connectivity issues: can see the point here, but usually this kinda thing bothers me more, when the road thru the narrow "pass" is real long. ALP and NMI were pretty much gimme's, so in this case, no problemo, dude.

Great great theme. Tried somethin' different. Nuzzlin' niners, vertically. WARHAMMER! (Sounds like a piggies-in-combat sidetheme, along with PORK.) Puz at least admitted to the existence of the letter U. So...thumbs way up!

fikink 12:07 PM  

@Geometricus, wow! thanks for all that. I actually made that torus following your directions - and thanks for the Weeks recommendation. Just ordered it.

@quilter, gmail me please and tell me where you are in Iowa. We may be neighbors.

@Van55, Alan Rickman is an English stage actor who was superb in Truly, Madly, Deeply among other films, including Die Hard. Or were you being funny?

In defense of peeps, they are best if stored on the window sill from Easter until Columbus Day and then, when they are meringue-like stale, smashed into cotton-candy crystals and allowed to melt away on the tongue :)

I love this blog!
Thanks, Rex.

Anonymous 12:07 PM  

another case where I was glad Rex was here to explain the theme to me.

The Big E 12:47 PM  

Enjoyed the puzzle this morning - first time in a while I have sat with a coffee and solved on paper! :-)
Nice puzzle, nice write-up, good Thursday enjoyment.

@DavidL - the other thing to check is if you are using IE 8, you may want to try loading the Across Lite page in "Compatibility Mode" - there is a small button right next to the URL bar. Not sure if that will help or not. The other option is to use Mozilla as your browser and see if the behavior is the same.


The Big E 12:47 PM  

On a side note, I now have a wedding picture on my desk in a "Crossword Puzzle" frame which my wife gave me for Xmas - includes a little magic marker on the back to write in the grid! :-)
My wife wrote in two long clues which intersect at the letter "T":
"save the date" and "March 18th - 20th"
She is paying for me to go to the ACPT this year!!! YAY!!!
Hope to see and meet a lot of you there!

efrex 12:48 PM  

Maybe Nothnagel & I are just in the same brain-wave-zone, but I really enjoyed working through this one. The theme was fairly pedestrian, but the fill was generally rock-solid. I like "?" clues, and would love to see Nothnagel try his hand at cryptics, considering his prowess with "slanted" definitions. Several passes through the clues resulted in a complete grid with no crossouts - a rarity for me on Thursday.

I refuse to get into any kind of discussion of the Spice Girls's alleged "music." They're British, they're pop musicians, hence BRIT POP works just fine for me.

EYE BANK is a bit weird (resisted EYEBALL and finally worked out the last two letters from crosses), but I thought this was just about as good a Thursday as I've seen in a while: tough, fair, and interesting.

Anonymous 12:48 PM  

Was proud to come up with at least 4 different Bart Simpson catchphrases befor getting AY CARAMBA. Sometimes I worry I don't watch enough Simpsons ;)

Was very annoyed at KTEL as I actually owned that single and was going to confidently throw down RCA which is the real record label. Ok I am also slightly embarrassed to admit that but come on, it's not like KTEL signed any of the artists on it's records! I also had one of their compilations which had the Hall & Oates classic "Kiss on my List" and MUCH MORE!

Mike Nothnagel 1:02 PM  

Hey folks,

Thanks, as always, for the feedback.

@Doug: From my cursory comparison of my submitted clues and the published ones, it looks like about half of my clues (including [Time to give up?]) were published as written, and another chunk maintained the spirit of what I submitted, but were re-worded or otherwise tweaked.

Until next time...

Howard B 1:04 PM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
Howard B 1:05 PM  

Thanks for the clarification, Rex.
- Note that the cotton candy reference should have been removed from the post, as it was a comparison used in my original comment that didn't apply once I edited a couple things. Damn that quick 3-minute writing and proofreading.
The persons responsible for this error have been sacked.

N.B. The Just Born company, makers of Peeps, sponsors an official New Year's Eve "Peep Drop", where a single, giant-sized Peep is lowered to ring in the new year. Although granted, it's still not marshmallow, maybe that edges us closer to peep acceptibility.

Jenny 1:46 PM  

Put in cowabungA off the last A in AYCARAMBA. Suffered. Arrgh.

Karen 1:47 PM  

I'm fairly new to this site, so forgive me if this has been raised before: Am I the only person who does the puzzle online and thus sees no circles or shaded squares?

archaeoprof 1:58 PM  

@Mike Nothnagel: today was the first day of my January-term course on the NYT Crossword.

Most of the students are new solvers, so a Thursday puzzle was a challenge.

But this one introduced them to many of the joys of solving, especially the ? clues and the theme.

Thanks for getting us off to a good start!

Anon 12:13am 2:06 PM  

@Karen - What software are you using? Most of us seem to solve on-line, and both Across Lite and the NYTimes app show circles.

@Geometricus - I can't believe I made that mistake. Granted I hated topology in grad school, but outside of chronic insomnia I know the difference between topology and topography.

Ruth 2:31 PM  

The official website for Peeps is at internet address www.marshmallowpeeps.com
I know lots of people who refer to these things as "marshmallow peeps" (a nutty bunch of folks who enjoy making peep-filled dioramas and dressing peeps up in little outfits). It's in the language. It just IS.

mmorgan 2:33 PM  

Peeps are evil, evil things.

fergus 2:33 PM  

Even with the shaded squares, I spent more time puzzling out the meaning of the theme than any break in solving. (I guess the Across Lite version must have phrased 9A with Circled not Shaded.) Good enough puzzle, but noting the constructor before solving left my expectations too high.

A couple of years ago, a puzzle was focused on the marks and signs above the numbers on a keyboard, and it sparked some very entertaining discussion / controversy about the historical placement and replacement of ampersands and asterisks, etc., on the 'standard' array. Several of us went and rooted out our old manual typwriters, which indeed had a lot of variation.

John V 2:55 PM  

@CoolPapaD, 62A Spitzer clue is followed by 63A Clue, "Jerk". Hope this helps :)

sanfranman59 3:30 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)

Thu 17:55, 19:01, 0.94, 45%, Medium

Top 100 solvers

Thu 8:25, 9:10, 0.92, 44%, Medium

chefbea 3:37 PM  

tough puzzle for me DNF.

Puzzle husband loves peeps and has already eaten a 6 pack of them. Can you believe, Easter candy is already out and it's not even Valentine's day???

The Big E 3:40 PM  

@Chef Bea - oh lord... Easter Candy is out ALREADY??? My wife is ADDICTED to these things called "Hide 'em Eggs" - some pure sugar concoction that I find revolting (like I find peeps!)...
Guess I will have to go buy her some and keep them hidden til Easter! :-)

JC66 3:50 PM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
JC66 3:56 PM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
JC66 4:01 PM  

testing new avatar

Anonymous 4:39 PM  

I liked the puzzle a lot. I'm surprised people had trouble getting the theme, unless there was some visual problem with the non print solvers. The reveal was the third clue in and spelled it out very clearly.

mikeish 5:04 PM  

My puzzle didn't have circles, it had shaded squares instead. I thought it was too easy for a Thursday and frankly, kind of dopey!

nanpilla 5:38 PM  

cool! Did you take that picture?

We always "blow up" our peeps in the microwave when they get stale. If you do it on a plate, it doesn't make a mess of the microwave.

Rube 5:43 PM  

Got bogged down for way too long in the North-Central, probably caused by the ecstasy I experienced after eating one of @chefwen's muffins this morning. Highly recommended if you ever get to Kauai. Thanks again for the enjoyable lunch, Chefwen.

Unlike MARSHMALLOWPEEPS, which I've not heard of, but the wife says are so bad she won't use them in Easter baskets.

Really can't find anything to complain about here, except possibly for RARIN'. There should have been some reference to the slang spelling. Had no trouble with BRITPOP since I knew the Spice Girls were British, (and Oasis could be also for all I know).

Will make a personal note that "see" and "through", or some similar variation, in the same clue probably mean XRAY(ED).

mac 5:48 PM  

Fine puzzle, with the theme figured out after I solved it.

Had one mistake: guess I thought it was a Brooklyn toddler and left in wata. Before tarhammer I thought of earhammer...

I may have to make a huge pot of Dutch pea soup soon, expecting a bunch of Dutch friends for lunch.

I have no idea about the Spice Girls' genre, but I got Brit pop without crosses.

n.t. 6:03 PM  

BRATPOP here, too. Lucky for me it was a two-man operation. Also tripped up on ACAT/OCALA.

andrea nmi michaels 7:40 PM  

oh, THAT'S what NMI is!!!
Do NOT have that problem, and anyone who needs help obtaining a middle name, I can help!

OK, so now I see a carat, ^, but what does one use them for except to make a nose in their smiley emoticon? :^)

Kind of dopey???!!!!
Take a closer look at what had to go into making this theme work.

Tangmu 8:08 PM  

I don't understand the concern over "marshal". The puzzle doesn't say MILITARY ranks, it just says ranks. So air marshal, US marshal, federal marshal, fire marshal ...
Wikipedia says Air Marshal is a 3 star air officer rank.

Anonymous 8:13 PM  

Andrea, first, you write like you are in your 30s, not 50s. Second, a carat ^ is generally used in black/redlining to show a word or continuous words have been deleted. Third, Thz for telling mikeish causeas I have previously sdtyated, this puzzle's creation from conception to implementation is awesome. Fourth, the bigger problem with MARSHMALLOW PEEP is not MARSHAL, but PEEP, but, as Marco Polo once said, only an ass needs an s....

retired_chemist 8:15 PM  

@ Andrea - ^ is for insertion. Also for exponentiation (3^2 - = 9, e.g.). Or in French etc as a diacritrical mark,Mcf. bête noire.

Anonymous 8:32 PM  

Ingenious theme, Mike! Enjoyed the solve, too.

chefbea 9:05 PM  

@nanpilla puzzle husband likes stale peeps. We leave them out uncovered for a few days!!

mmorgan 9:55 PM  

I know I'm pushing my three-post limit (does my technical assist to @David L count?), but I just want to say that it's a wonderful day when Andrea learns both about carats and NMI! But sad, in a way... who better NOT to know of NMI??

The carat key is helpful when making global changes in Word documents. For example, tab = ^t, paragraph = ^p, etc. (I was going to say "carriage return" for "paragraph" but some of the young 'uns might have been confused.

And in certain statistical programs, the carat key indicates exponents.

Something truly remarkable: typing ^ into Google produces ZERO hits. Wow!

Luckily, the key has nothing to do with the evil, evil peeps.

sanfranman59 10:02 PM  

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

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

Mon 6:04, 6:55, 0.88, 8%, Easy
Tue 8:36, 8:54, 0.97, 47%, Medium
Wed 10:22, 11:45, 0.88, 27%, Easy-Medium
Thu 18:35, 19:02, 0.98, 52%, Medium

Top 100 solvers

Mon 3:18, 3:41, 0.89, 8%, Easy
Tue 4:20, 4:34, 0.95, 40%, Easy-Medium
Wed 5:19, 5:47, 0.92, 33%, Easy-Medium
Thu 8:01, 9:10, 0.88, 32%, Easy-Medium

Nebraska Doug 10:07 PM  

Speaking as a record store geek, I was glad to see two postings about BRITPOP not being appropriate for The Spice Girls. This makes a third posting, calling The Spice Girls BRITPOP is just wrong.

mac 10:34 PM  

@Andrea^Michaels: don't we know this carat thingy as an accent circonflexe? I just found out is the combination of an accent egu and an accent grave.

Sfingi 10:38 PM  

Puzzle very hard for old purblind fogey Sfingi. HTG, DNF. The only reason I bought the NYT today was that I had a Dr. appt.

@Chefbea - but I know 2 people who like year-old PEEPs. And I have the wonderful, eat-your-heart-out Tshirt which has a picture of said MARSHMALLOW PEEP and the words, "Just hangin' with my Peeps."
Just ate some discounted Xmas candy corn. How dare the origunal price be $4 anyway.

U.S. Marshalls serve things on people, and I gotta get me some cute Kroner.

SethG 10:53 PM  

Aside from the website name, the company also refers to them at times as MARSHMALLOW PEEPS®. Nice that they crossed LENT. And, speaking of brand names, Green Card is one.

If Caramba were Carumba it would be pronounced "ka-roomba".

mac 11:03 PM  

In Holland, Catholic kids used to have to put all the candy they were given during Lent in a special box. My candy had little tiny bite marks.

oldjt 12:14 AM  

In case you encounter it in future puzzles, Rex, don't be confused with your wrong spelling: it's poleax or poleaxe -- not pollaxe.

Rex Parker 2:38 AM  


Chris 10:17 AM  

AY CARAMBA is the correct world-at-large spelling, but in a Simpsons context I'd render it AY CARUMBA.

NotalwaysrightBill 3:49 PM  

Syndi-late as usual.

Hopin' we can all enjoy the SPLIT-up Black-eyed PEAS very soon. "Lovely lady lumps" over here . . . .

I really should figure out this SLUE action better; wonder if it's like how a spaceship uses a planet's gravity to make a hard left or something. Maybe later I'll ask the creature who lives under the old oak in the SLOUGH at the bottom of the back yard. He seems to know lots of weird things.

Never knew there was such an evil PEEPS-savvy culture going on! Fascinating! Seems folks love to go medieval on their little yellow (or minty) asses with the jousting, or maybe using a WARHAMMER; and they even love nuking them! PETA will not be pleased. Wonder if there's a regular PEEPS-abuse convention and everything like the earlier-this-week's puzzle said the PEZ people have?!? Culminating with a stage show where Ozzie goes, well, Ozzie on their asses. Like most people do. Man, I gotta get out more: who knew?

Cary in Boulder 7:25 PM  

To the probably none of you who read the syndication comments ...
Re: peeps
This infamously ridiculous trial of a woman here in Boulder who stuck the grisly little yellow monsters to her apartment door made national news ...

Enjoyed the puzzle, although the theme seemed pretty obtuse. Didn't see it until I got here. But since last Thursday was a huge DNF I'm not complaining. .

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