Drink name means little water / THU 1-20-11 / Bowl mixing wine water ancient Greece / Onetime Facebook president Parker / Ostensible backdrop Devil

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Constructor: Michael Shteyman

Relative difficulty: Medium


THEME: ASS Backwards ... etc. — common crossword cluing phrase "opposite of" is used to mean "read in reverse": thus,

  1. "opposite of 18-Across [ASS]" means SSA (SOCIAL SECURITY / ADMINISTRATION)
  2. "opposite of 32-Down [FAR]" means RAF (ROYAL AIR FORCE)
  3. and "opposite of 58-Across [AIM]" is M.I.A. (MISSING IN ACTION)

Word of the Day: KRATER (12D: Bowl for mixing wine and water in ancient Greece) —
A krater (in Greek: κρατήρ, kratēr, from the verb κεράννυμι, keránnymi, "to mix") was a large vase used to mix wine and water in Ancient Greece. // At a Greek symposium, kraters were placed in the center of the room. They were quite large, so they were not easily portable when filled. Thus, the wine-water mixture would be withdrawn from the krater with other vessels. In fact, Homer's Odyssey describes a steward drawing wine from a krater at a banquet and then running to and fro pouring the wine into guests' drinking cups. An interesting sidenote to this is that the modern Greek word now used for undiluted wine, krasi (κρασί), originates from the krasis (κράσις, i.e. mixing) of wine and water in kraters. Kraters were glazed on the interior to make the surface of the clay more suitable for holding water, and possibly for aesthetic reasons, since the interior could easily be seen. (wikipedia)
• • •
Very clever theme—tough to uncover, and then not so tough at all, unless, like me, you are a failure at reading, in which case, possibly tough again. My "see this" "see that" vision is terrible, in that my eye either fails to find the right place quickly, or else finds the wrong place. Today, I flew down the west coast of the puzzle and then moved into the center without having any clue what the theme was supposed to be. At some point, enough of MISSING IN ACTION became clear that I filled it in, discovering its heretofore not understood connection to AIM, and then thought I'd fly through the rest of the puzzle. But I shot myself in the foot, not once, but twice. First, instead of looking at FAR for the clue to 35A (ROYAL AIR FORCE), I looked at ... 37D: AOL. So ... LOA? What's a LOA? [Hawaiian for 'hello' and 'goodbye,' badumbum!]. My guess: ROYAL AIRLINES (wah WAH). Worse, I somehow thought SSA stood for ... SOCIAL SERVICES / ADMINISTRATION. And of course it fit, perfectly. Dear lord. The fact that I got it all sorted out in only slightly above average time means that the puzzle can't have been that hard, at least not for the unexhausted / thinking clearly crowd. That's you, right?



Northeast corner was the bear for me, mainly because my access was seriously blocked by my dual theme answer GAFFEs (33A: Putting one's foot in one's mouth, e.g.). It's a tough corner even if you don't make it hard on yourself. First, KRATER! Eeks. Second, toughish, vaguish clues on DATIVE, HEAVES, and CHAFF. OP ART was a gimme, and I eventually unraveled things from there, but not without some struggle.

There wasn't much in the way of unpleasantness. Crossing SER with SERIA and LIP with LIPPI makes me a little squirmy, but the words in each case are unrelated, and anyway there's hardly any other weak bits of fill in the whole grid. BOSON and CESTA are slightly unusual words, though they must be fairly crossword-common, because I don't think I know them from the real, non-grid world. I'm not familiar with this SADIE (61A: "All the King's Men" woman) or these SEANs (57A: Onetime Facebook president Parker and others), but those are common enough names, and easy to get from crosses (assuming you know a little French, specifically TASSE, 49D: Thé cup, maybe).

Bullets:
  • 1A: Ancient gathering place (AGORA) — always nice to get a big, fat softball thrown your way on the first pitch, especially on a Tricky Thursday.
  • 9A: Drink whose name means "little water" (VODKA) — Shteyman, your roots are showing! (I like it)
  • 40A: Odysseus saw him as a shade in the underworld (ORION) — yeah, he saw a lot of people. Further ... dang, this is one ancient puzzle. AGORA and KRATER and Odysseus and the ARGO (48A: Ancient Greek vessel)...
  • 3D: Veal shank dish in un ristorante (OSSO BUCO) — another easy early answer, gettable with just a few crosses (or maybe not even that many if you know your meat).
  • 66A: Prefix with sound (INFRA) — not in my world. But in a dictionary, undoubtedly, which is good enough.
  • 6D: Obsolescent alternative to broadband (DIAL-UP) — Love this answer, mainly because I love remembering that I once lived in what is now the digital equivalent of the Middle Ages. All the whirring and beeping. So magical.
  • 9D: Ostensible backdrop of the 2003 roman à clef "The Devil Wears Prada" (VOGUE) — I should've known this. Never read the book, never saw the movie, thus could think only of MOGUL when confronted with -OGU-. I knew (vaguely) that the book/movie was about the fashion industry, so "VOGUE" got in there eventually.
  • 47D: Org. that rates members of Congress on their liberalism (ADA) — Why in the world does my dentist care about how left-leaning Congress is??? "Yes, they will be more permissive, leading to a more permissive society, and thus more people will eat sweets ... yes ..." [tenting fingers, grinning menacingly] ... oh, ADA stands for "Americans for Democratic Action" (!?!?!). OK...
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]

87 comments:

r.alphbunker 12:53 AM  

Had better luck than RP on this one. The puzzle fell as follows
ADMIN from crosses expanded to ADMINISTRATION
SiC seemed wrong (had OSSiBUCO)
Changed it to SOC
This lead immediately to SOCIAL
Which lead immediately to SECURITY
Got the theme at that point
RAF and AIM immediately produced big payoffs

All of the above are straightforward except for the feeling that SiC (sic) was wrong. It was as if there was some pattern matching going on at a subconscious level that rejected SiC. I see now why foodie recommended "On Intelligence" a couple of days ago. It is a fascinating book that proposes that the brain does pattern matching rather than computation.

syndy 12:54 AM  

Oh sure the puzzle was a medium IF one refrained from shooting ones feet.started with meson and opus for ovum so that closed off the nw corner. oh and I had ssa for dmv so that really messed me up!slapped in macy for saks and cosmo for vogue and I won't tell what I put in for ohdear! finallt worked it all out except for that dratted ne.put in opera took out opera lost cosmo not much help,finally dredged krater up from the basement which gave me vodka (and lost me eso)last letter was the s in ser and seria and a guess at that? ta da oh yeah medium (Hah)

Neophyte 12:57 AM  

Great LATimes puzzle yesterday. Congrats on that.

I hesitated on a gimme like AGORA because I was thinking "ncaa" instead of ROTC for [March organization?]. I've been watching too much college basketball lately.

PurpleGuy 1:19 AM  

Totally agree and relate to Rex's writeup. Had the exact same mistakes and slip ups.
Still don't understand ABD as the answer for 2 letters. Anyone ?
@syndy - had the same mistakes and fill. were we channeling each other ?
Guess I shot myself in both feet and several other places which shall remain unmentioned.
The NE section was the last to go down. By far the hardest of the puzzle.

Being a VietNam vet, 7down was a slap in the face and a dose of reality. We still have so many MIA's.

I make/serve a damn good osso buco. With the remodeling fin ished, should be much more pleasant cooking with gas. Let's have a Rex party. I offer my facilities.

Rex, thank you for a great writeup that made me smile, and gave my 102yr old mom a laugh. thank you for that, more than mere words can express.

Happy Thursday to all. Remember to enjoy life while you can, because it's way too short !!!

Shanti -

Bob/PurpleGuy

PurpleGuy 1:22 AM  

That should be ABC. I really don't understand the clue/ answer. Anyone ? What am I missing ?

Campesite 1:28 AM  

PurpleGuy, ABC are the letters on the 2 button on your telephone keypad.
Nice to be in this lovely online neighborhood. I've been living in the French Alps near the crossword river Isere, but now I'm in LA and will be at the crossword puzzle tourney.
Best,
Mark

Clark 1:39 AM  

I got lucky and got into the groove pretty early on with SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION. Fun puzzle.

OSSO BUCO will always mean a fabulous meal at the table of our own @chefwen. Yum! Or, should I say, Yum!!!

jae 1:57 AM  

West - easy plus East - challenging equals medium for me. Had GOV for DMV at first. Liked the theme. Who the .... Is CARLORFF?

jae 1:57 AM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
Octavian 1:59 AM  

This was a blast. Somehow got Social Security Administration and Missing in Action quickly, but then stumbled around trying to figure out what the theme was all about. Once it tumbled, was a great aha moment, turned "Royal Airports" into "Royal Air Force" and it was all good.

This felt like a very fresh theme idea, and it was well executed. Bravo, Mr. Vodka.

Rube 2:20 AM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rube 2:27 AM  

A toughie, all doable except ABC. had no idea what a jai alai catcher was so guessed sESTA with ABs. THx @Campesite for solving that mystery.

That C in the NW and the NE were rough going. Got DATIVE easily and, (embarrasingly), OPERA SERIA slowly. Guessed SER although I thought it was essere, (some Italian speaker?). My WOTD is the meaning of VODKA, although KRATER was also new to me. Speaking of water, SHUI was also new to me. Will have to investigate the origin of the term "feng shui".

So @chefwen, your talents go beyond marvelous muffins. My first encounter with OSSO BUCO was during a lunch break from jury duty in NYC. The bartender had to point out to me that I was supposed to eat the marrow.

An educational and enjoyable puzzle. Good Thursday fun.

Don Byas 2:28 AM  

Great puzzle , but there is no KRATER love.

andrea carlorff michaels 3:00 AM  

That CARLORF? left me debating INtRA vs INfRA for a long long time, so thank god I don't time myself! Nary a word about him, @Rex? Almost a blank square for me.

This was one of those where I got all the words but took a very long time to understand the theme...
Tried to take out the letters A I M from MISSINGINACTION to see if that meant anything. But nice AHA when it happened!

Also had meSON for too long...

Tons of subthemes, with ANcient Greece, etc. but my fave was the meaning of water/little water in two different languages...what is FENG then?

Since I started with OSSa BUC? I went with raCIALsomething and tried to stretch out EQUALITY in there...

I only learned about SEAN Parker recently from "The Social Network" film; that apparently the Justin Timberlake character was an amalgamation of a couple of different guys, but everyone else was who they were... Maybe that way he couldn't sue the filmmakers for defamation of character, making him out to be a druggie, etc.
(Slightly off topic, what was with Sorkin's Golden Globe speech kissing up to Zuckerberg and then trying to undo the mass sexism of the film by telling his daughter it was ok to be elite and smart??? I'm surprised he didn't show up with a Chinese woman and thank her, after portraying educated Asian-American women as hotties who turn into psychobitches who set your bed on fire!)

ANYway, strange but sophisticated puzzle today.

retired_chemist 3:08 AM  

Tough puzzle. The theme was opaque to me and only after I finished did I invest the energy to suss it out. Stuck with CON for ASS way too long.

CARL ORFF was a gimme, as was MAYO CLINIC, and most of the other long answers, theme or non, yielded to crosses eventually.

Lively fill (15A III notwithstanding), good writeup. Chuckled at Rex's ADA vignette.

sillygoose 4:40 AM  

@ purple guy - I was about to ask that same question, the "2 letters" wasn't making sense. I had put meSON for BOSON and sESTA for CESTA, so I had Ams and GeESOVER. It didn't look right but I had just guessed CARLORFF (with no idea how to parse), so I was just trying to go with the flow.

Thanks @campesite and @retired_chemist for clearing all of that up for me!

Cool puzzle theme wise, the meat of the puzzle went very very quickly.

Joe 7:06 AM  

Hand up for ABC/CESTA. I ran through the alphabet to get Mr. Happy Pencil. Then stared at it forever to understand the 1D clue. Didn't. Then came here. Thank you, @Campsite! So, it was a trifle more Challenging than Medium for me, I guess.

Sam 7:23 AM  

Never saw the theme... after all, at a rifle range if you don't take AIM you could be MISSING IN ACTION. So I stared forever trying to figure our how FAR was the opposite of ROYAL AIR FORCE. And the tea? LOCAL... What's LAR?

And for those who didn't find CARL ORFF a gimme, stop right now and listen to the first two parts of Carmina Burana (ten minutes or so). You've heard it many times in movies, ads, etc... and if you start I bet you won't stop listening to it until it ends. A "driveway moment" for me the first time I heard it.

ArtLvr 7:27 AM  

I had everything okay except that ABC and now I feel really foolish, as we've seen that sort of keypad clue many times in the past! Egads. Next time will I tumble to it?

The slowest moment was at the composer when I had F as the penultimate letter -- I kept asking myself who else besides Ferdie Grofe? No way! It took several crosses to find CARL ORFF. Oof...

Like Rex, I wasn't quite with it so early in the a.m., but it was a very good puzzle anyway.

∑;(

Smitty 7:51 AM  

I got the theme in the same place Rex did (AIM) and was stumped in the same places...so how come I found it challenging for a thursday?
Lots of guessing.
1-Guesses only confirmed by crosses (HEAVES, KRATER, SEANS, SADIE, COB, BOSON, DATIVE)
2-Guesses that couldn't be confirmed by crosses...
THE LIP/LIPPI
3-Wrong guesses/wrong crosses
CARLORFT/INTRA
OPERA SERIE/ERGO
ACS/AGORA, COSON, SESTA

joho 7:53 AM  

My AHA moment was getting that AIM meant MISSINGINACTION. It was interesting to see ASS again but not as much fun without its wHOLE.

I had roc before ORC, so odd with all the same letters.

Tougest part of the puzzle for me was finally figuring out OPERASERIA.

This was definitely different and well done.

Anonymous 8:05 AM  

That NE corner... Let's Carl the whole thing Orff.

The Big E 8:07 AM  

@Rex et al- another interesting pairing is that you have AOL as the IMing pioneer, and then below that you have AIM (the product which means AOL Instant Messenger).

That said, what defines you as a "pioneer?" AOL acquired the bulk of the technology and an absurdly large user list when they acquired ICQ (I seek you), so I tend not to think of them as an IMing pioneer!

Happy Thursday!
Greg

jackj 8:22 AM  

Yesterday's LA Times got a well deserved 5 Star rating from this poster! Congrats, Rex.

Nice to have Michael Shteyman again bringing us his own, special brand of mental mischief.

Finally, for those who will inevitably want some clarification, on 42 down, "XXX part", think Tic Tac TOE.

Glimmerglass 8:25 AM  

Hard for me. I don't recall seeing "opposite of" in the sense of "backwards." Didn't catch on until very late. The NE was hard. Didn't see DATIVE (and I used to teach Latin!) until the last square; never saw KRATER.; didn't like the clue for GET AT (Friday-level clue). Didn't know why ABC was right until Campesite explained. Got it all, but this one made me sweat.

imsdave 8:38 AM  

Post puzzle google confirmed that LATIVE case was indeed a thing. I wondered about the really obscure clue for GRATER too. Oh, wait - it's not VOLGA?

Never mind.

Fail

captcha - bacta (the drawing board)

mitchs 9:19 AM  

Loved it, but I was sure I'd see "Challenging" as the rating. For me it was the fill in the E/NE that was killer. The theme fell on MIA and I got a kick out of it.

aaron 9:24 AM  

@jackj: Thank you. I was wondering what on earth that XXX was. (I suspected it was not related to foot fetishes.)

nanpilla 9:27 AM  

Definitely a challenging here, making almost all of the mistakes outlined not just by Rex, but everyone else, too! It's a miracle I got it all correct in the end.

@joho - call it a malagram?

The '2 letters' got me thinking about how much longer telephone keypads will have letters on the numbers. Smart phones already don't have them ( or only one each).

That type of clue always takes me too long, and I always swear I'm going to remember it next time...

Anonymous 9:50 AM  

For one who normally needs Google help midway through a Thursday puzzle I did very well indeed today (don't ask for time though). I got MISSING IN ACTION and AIM early on but could not figure out the significance of it all. Having ASS and ADMINISTRATION still had me clueless. I finally had the "aha moment" when there were enough letters to guess SOCIAL SECURITY. The FAR and ROYAL AIR FORCE then came easy.
The NE and NW were a bit tricky. No idea what BOSON and CESTA are. Having a blank on realizing that the "2 letters" clue referred to the phone keypad did not help.
I have no idea what KRATER is and never heard of DATIVE let alone DATIVE being a kind of case.
Either I am getting a bit better or this was an easier than usual Thursday puzzle. I loved the theme and puzzle despite some intersecting obscure trivia words.

Ulrich 9:55 AM  

Let me join the choir--I loved the puzzle, even if I changed ABC to ABS in the end b/c I, too, could not, for the life of me, remember that sort of cluing which I have seen gazillion times--perhaps I was distracted last night b/c I was (re)reading True Grid in parallel--excuses, excuses....

The tiniest of nits: The placement of FAR has no symmetrical theme answer, whereas all the other theme answers form a perfect bilaterally symmetric composition. My guess is that the best our friend Shteyman could do was clue the answer symmetrical to FAR, FOG, in a way that made it flight-related.

@anonymous: dative is another term for the indirect-object case.

David L 9:57 AM  

I began to see the theme answers before I understood the theme, so just filled them in and plowed ahead -- and finished in an easy-to-medium Thursday time. For once, I worked out the theme before coming here, but needed the explanations from others for ABC and TOE (like others here, I've seen that trick for ABC so many times, and yet it still trips me up...)

I don't know who these SEANS and SADIE are, but they appeared easily from crosses.

So SHUI means water. What does FENG mean? (Maybe 'fire,' as in VODKA...)

quilter1 10:03 AM  

I, too, wondered why the nation's dentists would keep track of liberal congress people. Puzzled also by INFRA preceding sound. But those are just blips in an otherwise satisfying solve. Didn't see the gimmick until I was almost done and too late to help me. Foo.

Sparky 10:19 AM  

CESTA and CARLORFF gimmes but DNF anyway. Bottom came along okay. Never caught on to what opposite of meant. Tripped on ABC like @Ulrich and others. Big hole in center around ROY what?. Sigh. Good challenge but gave up. There's always tomorrow which will probably clobber me too. Have a good day.

smk4 10:44 AM  

Are we all pretending that the Rocky clue wasn't there?

Two Ponies 10:50 AM  

Orcs are mythical?
Does that mean Middle Earth isn't real? Say it ain't so!
Like @ joho I had roc for awhile.
My WOTD was not an answer (lots of choices today) but in a clue.
Roman a clef. Cool phrase.
Lots of odd and interesting words in the grid. Big Aha moment in the end. More on the harder side of medium for me. I love knowing what vodka means. Good one.

Michael 10:51 AM  

Thanks for all the funny stories and comments. I find it delightful to follow the solvers' journey to discovering the theme. Some can't figure out why the heck AIM and MISSING IN ACTION are cross-referenced, others are unsure what ASS has got to do with it. ;) That is, until something clicks and the "Aha!" moment resolves the tension.

Judging from people’s posts here and on the Wordplay blog, seems like everyone’s major roadblocks today were the diabolical clue/answer combos at 1- and 42-Down plus the gnarly northeast... and who can forget about CARLORFF?! I bet a lot of you can. ;)

SethG 10:57 AM  

I also got MISSING IN ACTION, thought "you might miss if you don't aim, but that doesn't make it an opposite", then finally caught on later.

TASSE with no crosses. KRATER with six. I like the word CHAFF.

deerfencer 11:04 AM  

Nice challenge and great fun. Perfect Thursday--thanks Michael (and Rex for the very entertaining write-up)!

P.S. Thumbs up on your LAT debut puzzle, Rex and PuzzleGirl!

John V 11:19 AM  

What everybody said, esp 1D 2 Letters (brain cramp, had ABs), and NE: Dative, Krater, Heaves, got all after MUCH staring at the page.

Really liked the them, which I saww with the Social Security Administion fill.

Pretty tough Thursday for me.

JaxInL.A. 11:22 AM  

I must be getting better at this.  I never used to be able to do a Thursday without looking things up. I can do it regularly now, and I really enjoyed this one. Started in the SE and just kept plugging away, examining all of the crosses anytime I got anything.   I even got the very convoluted theme in time for it to help me.  And despite conversing with family, making part of a meal and playing with the cat while solving, the timer on the iPad still showed under 40 minutes.  I find myself amazed because it did not feel easy, but that's a good time for me.

When I showed my husband (who has sleep APNEA) the completed puzzle, he confirmed that this is just not how his brain works, and he does not see the appeal.  Sigh. He did explain that DATIVE is a verb case in Latin, something I know nothing about.  Do other languages use this case?

Thanks for the explanations of XXX and 2 letters.

No comments yet about my least favorite answer/clue of the day: "Rocky ___" = III !?!?!?. Ick and double ick. But who cares with so much to like?

In addition to composing one of the most recognizable pieces of music in modern American culture, CARL ORFF developed a system of teaching music to children (like Suzuki developed a method), and many use it with great success. 

From the www.AOSA.org website: "The American Orff-Schulwerk Association is a professional organization dedicated to the creative teaching approach developed by Carl Orff and Gunild Keetman. We are united by our belief that music and movement – to speak, sing and play; to listen and understand; to move and create – should be an active and joyful experience."

Captcha: hydropr = continuation of the puzzle's water theme?

archaeoprof 11:25 AM  

Wow, this one impressed me.

Like @Ulrich and others, didn't get ABC/CESTA.

In one of those Dos Equis commercials, the most interesting man in the world plays jai alai.

TimJim 11:31 AM  

Very tough for me. DNF due to ABC/cesta, operaseria/ser -- Ugh. Didn't know the Orffmeister, but unlike the others, his crosses were humane. Liked the theme ....

PuzzleNut 11:33 AM  

Fairly esay - seemed like a lot of old-fashioned xwords today (AGORA, ANAIS, CESTA, just to start). Took a while to get the theme, but had a weird experience with 5A. First answer was SSA, which was changed pretty quickly, but there was the theme without me ever knowing it.
Last fill was KRATER/SER. Needed an alphabet run and the R nudged out L for the last letter.

Doris 11:36 AM  

Que Sera, Sera,
Whatever will be, will be

mac 11:38 AM  

Now here's a puzzle that is right in my wheelhouse. Medium, but a nice, gentle one.

Gimmes: osso buco (have some in the freezer), Vogue (saw the film and knew about the connection to Anna Wintour), Carl Orff (son sang in Carmina Burana when he was about 9), Mayo Clinic (friends go there for annual checkups, and the many other-language clues were easy as well.

Just as I was reading Rex's comment about "dial up" and British friend in NY IMsed me: What's the dial up code for the UK.

Thought decaf tea was a little odd; I know you can get it, but most people who want it get herbal.

Macy's is not like Saks. I know Saks probably too well.

Love the answer at 43D: Oh, dear!

Gloria 11:40 AM  

Thank you jackj for clarification of 42D TOE. The best I came up with was: maybe a triple wide shoe has a toe? Since shoe widths aren't expressed usually as X's, I also spent some time with TEE (as in t-shirt) trying to figure out a relationship between sizes and parts.

Anonymous 11:51 AM  

Feng means wind

davko 12:06 PM  

I haven't struggled like this on a Thursday for a long time, and it eventually got the better of me when I made Ulrich's very mistake, swapping an "S" for a "C" at the ABC/CESTA intersection. For the life of me, I couldn't decipher what the 2 meant (modifier for letters spoken by a two year-old?)
@ Campesite 1:28 -- thanks for straightening this out! Commendably clever and elusive, like so much else on this grid.

@ SethG: followed exact same line of logic re AIM before catching up to theme. Shteyman seems to have known exactly what he was doing here.

miriam b 12:08 PM  

This was a lovely puzzle indeed. I was raised in Bridgeport, CT where jai alai is (or was) a big deal. I never had the urge to attend a match - I think it's a guy thing - but CESTA was a gimme. So was VODKA (dear little ВОДА ).

Feng SHUI made me laugh in view of a recent experience. My son, who is lefthanded, decided for unknown reasons to rearrange the stuff in my computer room/office/whilom guest room. I didn't object, because after all he was there to correct a pesky computer problem for me. I'm righthanded, and I'm now so uncomfortable in this room that I'm going to have to move the computer desk around 180 degrees so that the drop leaf is on my right, and move a bookcase from a south wall to a north wall before I can feel safe in here. I understand that the cost of hiring a feng SHUI master can be prohibitive, so I have to wing it.

Already this month I've spent more than I can easily afford having 3 raccoons relocated. Fortunately the trapper charges by the job, not by the raccoon.

And to Michael, БОЛЬШОЕ СПАСИБО.

baluthe: a small Caribbean island off the beaten tour track

william e emba 12:21 PM  

I got KRATER from the (Latin) constellation.

I got the theme from ROYAL AIR FORCE, trying to imagine what its "opposite" was? American Expeditionary Force? This state of confusion did not last long, fortunately.

Finished having no idea what KOA has to do with camping. Wikipedia did not have an entry, but koa.com exists, although it did not explain the name.

Anonymous 12:35 PM  

@Mr Emba - Kampgrounds of America, a franchise of, well, campgrounds.
Here's its Wiki entry.

Anonymous 12:37 PM  

KOA is Kampgrounds of America. A chain of places across the country.
Good for short stays on your way to somewhere else in your RV.

John V 12:40 PM  

@william e emba KOA = Kampground Of America

retired_chemist 12:48 PM  

W Wm. E - I think it may Kampgrounds of America. Presumably you ride around them in GO-KARTS.

Looks like my 3:08 AM comment on III (15A) was too hidden to be noted....

fikink 1:21 PM  

Fun puzzle!

The beginning of Carmina Burana always recalls a fav film, Lion in Winter. Today I learn that the composer of its soundtrack is known for his "Hollywood medievalism" - Hahahahahaha!!

@archeaoprof, did we ever find out if there was a Tres Equis once upon a time?

If "feng" means wind and "shui" means water, guess it IS all about going with the flow - @mac, hard to do "going against the grain" - good luck with that! Reconfiguring be swift!

Masked and Anonymous 1:23 PM  

I vote for givin' the puz more credit for puttin' up a fight. NE corner was a bit . . . wobbly . . . nat-tick-wise. SER being kinda the center of the nat-tick universe, for me. Really slowed me down, even after the theme was cracked.

Thumbs way up on this theme. Really had to nip at its heels quite a while, before getting my little aha/har spark.

Great puz. Hall-of-famer.

nebraska doug 2:13 PM  

Fun puzzle, but the NE stumped me, four answers totally unknown to me, DATIVE, KRATER, OPERA SERIA and SER. Had to guess and guessed wrong. OPERA was easy, but the S in SERIA got me.

Stan 2:35 PM  

Got the theme but then hit the wall of my own ignorance in the upper corners. I'll admit that the theme was original and well-executed.

birnfam 2:48 PM  

anonymous 8:05 am --
that may be the most clever comment I've seen yet on this blog!

Nancy in PA 3:19 PM  

I knew I'd have XXX explained to me if I waited for enough commentary! And I too am always fooled by the keypad-numbers clues...and I had a rotary phone until about 2001. I knew CESTA as it is Spanish for basket--learned it living in Madrid, where the grocery express lines are only for those shopping with baskets, not carts--a better rule than trying to count 10 or 12 or 15 items, I think.

sanfranman59 3:23 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 19:16, 19:00, 1.01, 62%, Medium-Challenging

Top 100 solvers

Thu 10:04, 9:09, 1.10, 73%, Medium-Challenging

chefwen 3:30 PM  

Tough but doable for me, had to Google a couple of things and fell into the head scratching mode with ABC, it's really irritating when one keeps falling for the same old trick. AARGH!!! Also loved 43D OH DEAR!

How many people say @Van55's not going to like 15A Rocky III?

andrea xxx michaels 3:32 PM  

@ret-chem @12:48
THAT is funny!

@Nancy in PA
I meant to say something earlier about XXX as I had put in Ten, thinking Roman Numerals, esp after the Rocky III clue!

It always depends on what angle you come at it on...as sometimes you put in LIE etc and then don't even need the crosses or see the word...but I had LIE in for fishtale and took it OUT to put in Ten for part of XXX.

(weird, my captcha is inaten, and it was there before I posted/noticed it)

I still think Infrasound sounds iffy...or in this case infry

Anonymous 3:35 PM  

woo hoo! i rarely can do thurs. so i am doing my little victory dance. i wasn't up a tree on this one. also i often miss the theme but got it this time. reading rex and my perseverance are paying off and i'm improving. it reminds me of a sign on the window of a neighborhood deli- "Today stuffed cabbage" to which i silently respond, "tomorrow the world!"

quilter1 3:52 PM  

@miriamb: We have relocated lots of raccoons, also possums. My hubby got a catch and release cage and relocates at a lake north of the city. They are so destructive! They were pulling down the soffit and trying to dig through into the crawlspace to winter in the attic. So you have my sympathies. They are filthy and stink, too. We also hung up a decoy owl. I think they have finally given up, but what a mess/expense.

scrists: those who do crosswords with a quill pen

Two Ponies 4:56 PM  

Like @ Anon 3:35, it's days like today that make me realize how far I have come. I can count on one hand the times this year when I have thrown in the towel. Nowadays I never Google (a personal fail) but remember when I did. It has to be the daily practice and the feeling of friendly competition I find here to at least stay with the pack. Thanks Rex and everyone.

Appropos of nothing: I am rereading Barbara Tuchman's A Distant Mirror and learned that the Greek name for a unicorn is a monoceros. Astronomers probably already know this from the constellation.
I'd love to see that is a puzzle!

miriam b 5:18 PM  

@quilter1: Seems that the varmints are gone. I hired a professional trapper who put humane traps on the porch roof. He had a system for detecting the presence of any remaining raccoons. We didn't have smells, just a lot of stomping around above the porch ceiling, and finally a seam of said ceiling opened up a little, revealing evidence of a raccoon latrine (correct technical term, I kid you not). Now the raccoons' entry hole has been closed up and the porch ceiling cleaned up and put back togethr, and I, a gentlewoman in reduced circumstances, am poorer by a considerable sum. I took a photo of a captured raccoon, who, when it evidently became resigned to the fact that it couldn't escape, got bored and started grooming itself like a cat to pass the time.

Afterthought: The Russian language is a veritable thicket of case endings, DATIVE being one of them. I once asked my father, a native speaker, to help me demystify case endings. He (normally a precise and analytical person) shrugged and said, "If it sounds wrong, you know it's wrong." My knowledge of the langauge might charitably be called rudimentary, so all my case endings sound wrong to me.

OHDEAR, it's starting to get dark, so I'd better get out back with the compost lest we be stuck with it during and after the predicted snow. I have a wildlife-proof compost bin.

mativ: one who is possibly a native

Michael 5:52 PM  

I just posted a similar recap on the Wordplay blog and am now going to highlight the wit and humor of this group:

1. "Bravo, Mr. Vodka." 1:59am

2. "andrea carlorff michaels said..." 3:00am

3. "That NE corner... Let's Carl the whole thing Orff." 8:05am

4. "I was wondering what on earth that XXX was. (I suspected it was not related to foot fetishes.)" 9:24am

5. "So SHUI means water. What does FENG mean? (Maybe 'fire,' as in VODKA...)" 9:57am

6. "Didn't know the Orffmeister, but unlike the others, his crosses were humane." 11:31am

Thanks for all the fun today. I really enjoyed reading your comments.

retired_chemist 7:44 PM  

@ Andrea - Infrasound sounds weird to me too, but it is legit.

michael (not the constructor) 8:59 PM  

Like others, I had to come here to understand abc and toe.

I didn't know that the Americans for Democratic Action was (were?) still around. Seems like you don't hear much about this group anymore.

sanfranman59 10:00 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 7:28, 6:56, 1.08, 78%, Medium-Challenging
Tue 11:30, 8:56, 1.29, 99%, Challenging
Wed 10:40, 11:44, 0.91, 31%, Easy-Medium
Thu 19:29, 19:00, 1.03, 64%, Medium-Challenging

Top 100 solvers

Mon 3:57, 3:42, 1.07, 83%, Challenging
Tue 5:29, 4:35, 1.20, 94%, Challenging
Wed 5:13, 5:46, 0.90, 30%, Easy-Medium
Thu 9:16, 9:09, 1.01, 63%, Medium-Challenging

Sfingi 10:26 PM  

Took me a while, but finished w/o Googling. On Thurs.! OPERA SERIA crossing SER was a guess.

Had valise before DATIVE for "a kind of case" for quite an ugly while. Had roC for ORC for a bit.

Didn't care for the theme. Not in love with initials.
Did like water mini-theme and Greek mini-theme.

A very similar krater to the red-figured one you show (Also attributed to the Niobid artist) was borrowed by the Getty from Gela, Agrigento, Sicily, once a Greek colony. The Getty has provided a quake resistant case. The Gela is a volute krater. Yours is a calyx krater. Note the handles.
There are several specific Greek vessels, with the amphora and lekythos being more commonly known.

I skip M-W 10:39 PM  

Pleasant, smooth and easy for me, in fact under the average time, maybe a first for me. Though a boson isn't necessarily a subatomic particle (it could be an atom, for instance). And still don't know why xxx part is toe.Stocking?
Just guessed at Rocky III, could have been CIX for all I know( or at least VII) and guessed at Sadie and Sean, just as @Rex did. Dial phones still had ABC with 2, so it doesn't have to be a button.I wasn't certain whether Orff's first name was spelled with a C or K, but cross took care of that.

I skip M-W 10:42 PM  

One more nitpick. I don't think a Tolkien creation counts as a myth, so would not define Orc that way.

Kendall 10:58 PM  

I completely missed the cross at INFRA and CARL ORFF. I've never heard of him and don't know what infrasound is (nor does my spell-checker apparently). I guessed T for lack of a better guess there. Oh well.

I thought that the coolest answer in the grid was MAYO CLINIC. Mostly because the life of a friend of mine was saved there, but it's also a place worth knowing about.

Better luck tomorrow for me...

retired_chemist 11:03 PM  

@ I Skip: x-x-x => tic-tac-TOE

fergus 12:25 AM  

This puzzle would have been really splendid if we could have had an organization or something represented by the acronym GOF (Grand Old Farty?), since that would make it all symmetrical. Well almost ... too much to tweak, including the grid, but that would have really been impressive had it worked out with that further degree of balance.

Aaron 1:47 AM  

no Arte Johnson clue on his b-day like last year...

I quickly scanned the puzzle to find it and never did.

Poor Arte...

Bob 11:48 AM  

One clue/answer I still don't understand (although I did 'get' it) is 32D. How is 'FAR' an answer for "Much"??

acme 1:00 PM  

maybe like you've gone too far, it's all a but much

Stephen 12:15 AM  

Here is evidence that we Xworders are burrowing a tiny little hole in the cultural landscape that we are going to stick our heads into:
"2 letters" == ABC
"XXX" == TOE
The 2 letters one is cute, but the XXX is truly brain mush, and they are both Xword exotica! No one. Repeat NO ONE outside our own little world knows what we are going on about.

And here are two bloggers who promise themselves that if they just squirrel this goop away in their memory banks, life will eventually get better:
"That type of clue always takes me too long, and I always swear I'm going to remember it next time..."
"Next time will I tumble to it?"
Bad news fellas... after we get our brains so pinched up that they tolerate these goofy things, no one will ever speak to us again.

Anonymous 10:37 AM  

Been reading this daily x-word write-up for over a year now, always thoroughly enjoy it but never felt motivated to post a comment - but this from Rex - "I love remembering that I once lived in what is now the digital equivalent of the Middle Ages. All the whirring and beeping. So magical." amused me so much I had to write in and send my apprecation for such an amusing, perfectly worded musing. Made my day.

BTW loved this puzzle.

Cary in Boulder 1:58 PM  

Took a while, but I figured out the theme and made it pretty easily thru the bottom half. I'm sure I saw something by Fra LIPPI at the Uffizi but kept thinking it should be FLIPPI. But I got murdered in those upper corners. Lots of R.O.S. (really obscure s***) for us non-pros. DATIVE? KRATER? OPERASERIA? BOSON? Sorry, not in my world. And so much of this was Greek to me.

Although I somehow know CARL ORFF even if that's definitely not the direction my musical taste tends.

Still and all a good puzzle that mostly responded to my persistence.

Dirigonzo 4:19 PM  

SOCIALSECURITY and ADMINISTRATION filled in pretty quickly for me (I think it's an age thing) so when I looked back and saw ASS was the opposite the theme became clear and the other theme answers were almost gimmes. The rest of the grid challenged me every step of the way but I finally got to the finish line, only to stumble and fall on ABC. When I came here and saw how painfully obvious the answer is, it really hurt.

Still had a lot of fun and there was lots to learn so two thumbs up. Loved to see the constructor show up to comment on the comments.

Marc 8:09 PM  

Nice theme --- took me about halfway through to cotton on, as the British say. The NE was the toughest corner for me, although I did see DEVIL WEARS PRADA. Also I studied Latin and Russian, which both have a dative case, so I should have guessed that one.

I'm glad to see I wasn't the only one who was stumped by ABC.

Anonymous 3:05 AM  

I still don't get two letters. Am I daft?

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