Canonized fifth-century pope / MON 8-22-11 / 1982 Harrison Ford sci-fi film / Landon who lost to FDR in 1936 / Doughnuts topologically speaking

Monday, August 22, 2011

Constructor: Milo Beckman

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: Directions — theme answers start with the words RIGHT, LEFT, STRAIGHT, UP, and DOWN, respectively

Word of the Day: ALF Landon (38A: Landon who lost to F.D.R. in 1936) —

Alfred Mossman "Alf" Landon (September 9, 1887 – October 12, 1987) was an American Republican politician, who served as the 26th Governor of Kansas from 1933–1937. He was best known for being the Republican Party's (GOP) nominee for President of the United States, defeated in a landslide by Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1936 presidential election. (wikipedia)
• • •

This is a very nice-looking grid, especially for a 78-word Monday puzzle. The short stuff was largely inoffensive, and the longer stuff felt very fresh. Didn't see theme until I was done—the theme itself was the only part of the puzzle I wasn't thrilled about, mainly because ... well, spatially, it was bugging me. These are directions ... where? In relation to what. I told me wife, "if there's an UP and a DOWN, and a RIGHT and a LEFT, then there should be a STRAIGHT and a BACK. I mean, there are three axes, and we get opposed directions on two of those axes, but only one direction on the third." To which my wife responded, "Oh, believe me, I know. That's the shape I make with my toes." I told her I was going to quote her, and I just did.

I stumbled badly in the beginning of the puzzle with that LEFT TO ROT error and an even more stupid AORTA error at ATRIA (21D: Heart parts). Still, I managed to recover and tear through the rest of the grid, coming in at just under 3 minutes.

Theme answers:
  • 18A: Anti-abortion position (RIGHT-TO-LIFE) — so much for the NYT puzzle being an instrument of liberal propaganda. This puzzle even has a "Life begins at conception" clue on FETUS (55D: Baby-to-be)
  • 24A: Abandoned, in a way (LEFT TO DIE) — morbid. I had LEFT TO ROT at first.
  • 39A: Not shown in theaters (STRAIGHT-TO-VIDEO)
  • 51A: Satisfactory (UP TO SNUFF)
  • 60A: Having no illusions or pretensions (DOWN-TO-EARTH)

As if LEFT TO DIE weren't disturbing enough, we have the lovely image in the 1-Across clue: [Handkerchief stuffed in the mouth, e.g.] => GAG. Not the most upbeat way to start your Monday: with abortion controversy and images from a horror film. If [Superannuated] means OLD, why in the world does anyone ever use the word "superannuated?" Also, why is "Cry to a horse" even part of the clue at 20A: Cry to a horse that's the opposite of "Giddyup!" ("WHOA!"). Presumably [Opposite of "Giddyup!"] would work just as well. I mean, who else are you saying "Giddyup!" to??? Hmm. On second thought, don't answer that.

Lil' Kim : Whoa by BLACKMUSICS

I like "BLADE RUNNER" (28D: 1982 Harrison Ford sci-fi film) and I especially like the novel it's based on: Philip K. Dick's "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" I'm in the middle of the (epic) comic book adaptation, which threatens to go on forever. I also like doughnuts, topologically speaking or otherwise (TORI).

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


foodie 12:16 AM  

I liked it even though it was imperfect.. May be it's the Wabi-sabi of it all that I perceive...

I do agree, Rex, that one of the poles of the third dimensions is missing. I also wished it was more consistent geographically. So, LEFT and RIGHT were well located. But UP and DOWN, were stratified correctly (i.e. UP was above DOWN) but not oriented correctly.

And there was a politically charged facet to it... RIGHT TO LIFE, PETA, and this life and death dimension...

And yet, as you say, it still felt like a nice puzzle. It had a Monday vibe, may be what Andrea calls "accessible" and certainly not boring.

Anonymous 12:29 AM  

The topologist in me likes TORI. So I can't really complain.

The New Girl 12:36 AM  

Slow down Rex, you move too fast.
You've got to make the puzzle last.

I enjoyed this one. With 15, 11 and 9-letter theme entries, I was surprised to see the 11-letter downs. All-in-all, it left me Feelin' Groovy.

Ba da da da da da da,

Omniart 12:59 AM  

I liked it. But what bugged me about the theme answers is that the first two (RIGHT-TO-LIFE and LEFT-TO-DIE) were contrasted on both halves (right vs. left and life vs. die); well, so now I notice that life and die are not precisely opposites, which nixes my complaint, but for what it's worth I was irritated seeing earth vs. snuff. But the fill was lively.

santafefran 1:12 AM  

@The New Girl--you've got me hummin!

Some nice fill but I didn't care for the right-leaning vibe of this puzzle.

Did like DYE/DIE ELF/ALF for no good reason. DOWN TO EARTH and UP TO SNUFF were favorite theme answers

Anonymous 1:21 AM  

When I look STRAIGHT ahead I can see UP and DOWN, and RIGHT and LEFT, without turning around. What's behind me is out of the picture.

If you insist on opposites for each axis, the missing pair would be FRONT and BACK.

I liked it as is.


GLR 1:22 AM  

I think the "straight" answer is a little out of place in the theme. Up/down and left/right are "directional," but straight isn't. Maybe forward/backward would work.

Even if you think in terms of a three-dimensional coordinate system, I don't know that there's any common-language terminology for the third dimension.

I see we have an extra "up" at 15A.

The theme (which I didn't see until I'd finished) aside, I enjoyed the puzzle

syndy 1:29 AM  

Didn't EXACTLY make me GAG,but an odd vibe! I thought double "T"'s or just double letters -no just directions.

atria carla michaels 1:43 AM  

wow, @Rex called it exactly for me...
I mean, how can you start out with such a startling and ugly brain-searing image of being GAGged and LEFTTODIE???!!!!

I mean, esp when GAG can have such a lighthearted definition of "Practical joke" or something.

That coupled with RIGHTTOLIFE sort of spoiled it all for me, but I loved STRAIGHTTOVIDEO spanning the grid.

Made the same Aorti/ATRIA mistake and wondered why ALF the puppet wasn't the clue, but that would have been quite the pop culture pileup in that section with BLADERUNNER, ELLEN, DAFOE, IRENE...
so ALF bumps it up to History and Politics... Was he really 100 when he died?
That ALF plus PlugOLA and OLD made the puzzle superannuated.

Wish I had a wife who would make charming/weird toe comments while I was solving! I have to resort to this blog instead.

milobeckman 2:01 AM  

Hey all,

I have some comments on the puzzle. I just came back here after writing the rest of this comment and it turns out I have a lot of comments, actually. So, if you want to read my ramblings, go ahead.

For starters, I'll respond to what seems to be the main complaint of "why these directions?" by explaining what I originally had in mind. I was imagining these to be phrases one could see on a sign post in some strange department store with LIFE, DIE, VIDEO, SNUFF, and EARTH departments – right to here, straight to there, etc. Makes sense that there's no "back" direction in that mindset, but then how is the solver supposed to know what I'm thinking?

Well, I originally had the revealer answer SIGN / POST at 10A / 69A, and the S and T you see in SALAMI and REKNOT are vestigial traits of these earlier grid. I guess that could have helped explain my thought process, but it got removed in the editing process to make for slightly better fill in those two corners (though I do cringe whenever I see OLIO).

Next, the morbid tone – the combination of RIGHT TO LIFE and LEFT TO DIE is 100% my fault, but I can take no credit for the double take-worth clue at 1A. My original hint of "Keep quiet" is... less interesting, to say the least.

As for the conservative slant some people have picked up on (Rex included) – I can't help that RIGHT TO LIFE and FETUS worked well in this puzzle. If anybody cares, I'm staunchly pro-choice, and my original clues of "Buzz phrase at an abortion protest" and "Baby of the future?" feel a bit less pandering.

Lastly, I should say that I can take no credit for the vast majority of the fill in this puzzle. My original fill, while having two nice wide-open sections in the N and S, had an unfortunate crossing or two, so Will sent it to the great Frank Longo. He moved two squares around and sent back the current fill, which is a significant improvement on the original. So sadly I cannot take credit for GET OFF TRACK or BLADE RUNNER.

~ Milo

chefwen 2:06 AM  

The old high school cheer came to my mind solving this one. Lean to the left, lean to the right, stand up sit down, fight, fight, fight!

Agree it was a little depressing with GAG and LEFT TO DIE, but overall it was a good start to the week, just a little on the chewy side.

Tobias Duncan 2:25 AM  

Milo, I really liked this one. I am not a big theme guy so no problem there.
Glad to hear that you are pro choice.
Snappy fill with very little crosswordese is what I crave on a Monday.
Would have clued 1A Ball____.

Thanks for stopping in with the back story.It really adds a lot for many of us.

Anonymous 4:53 AM  

Actually, a fetus IS a baby, while an a blastocyst or (a bit further along in development) an embryo would be considered a 'baby to be.'

dk 7:13 AM  

What Tobias said, and I add my thank you Milo to this Ams OLIO.

Now, I have to get busy on my RIGHTTOwife campaign so that I may comment on a certain posters toes.

Apropos of nothing... the 59th Street Bridge one of the prettiest bridges in Manhattan and the only one I have waled across.

*** (3 Stars) I am humming "It is not easy being green" as performed by Kermit J FROG.

SethG 7:14 AM  

Horse, frog, bear, emu, cow, canine, bat, whale, ox, fawn, doe, fish, eel. There's more animals than people in this puzzle. Hi Andrea!

joho 7:54 AM  

I really liked the freshness of the theme answers even if LEFTTODIE is a bit macabre. Plus the short fill was not fodder for OOXTERPLERNON.

@Milo, very nice to hear your thought process. And how very different from anything I would have imagined: sign posts in a strange department store?! Anyway, thanks for stopping by and also for your Monday puzzle!

Anonymous 8:08 AM  

Can somebody explain the TORI answer?

M07S 8:24 AM  

@Anonymous 8:08 A torus is a doughnut-shaped surface generated by the revolution of a conic, especially a circle, about an exterior line lying in its plane. ( Tori is the plural.

efrex 8:35 AM  

Anonymous: a TORUS is the geometrical term for a doughnut shape. Plural of torus = TORI.

Highly enjoyable solve. Completely missed the "directionality" of the theme answers (just saw the word "to" in each one). Great long downs and fun stuff throughout.

jesser 8:50 AM  

No writeovers, although as I filled it in, I was thinking, 'What the hell will Rex EMBED in this morbid creation?' I did it mostly from the Acrosses and rarely had to look at the Downs.

PlugOLA? Really?

Overall, I'd say the puzzle was UP TO SNUFF. I'm FEELIN' the groove, and humming along to S&G.

quilter1 9:05 AM  

Creepy but easy. I enjoyed reading Milo's comments, and I guess editing is Will's job, but I think if I were a constructor and a major portion of my clues/answers were changed I'd be upset. Or is it a given that the construction is a joint effort?

Anyway, enjoyed FEELIN' GROOVY today despite being GAGged and LEFT TO DIE. Wish I had a doughnut.

Brian 9:07 AM  

FEELIN' groovy. Nice way to start the week. I was going to complain that the theme seemed too amorphous and that I would have liked there to be a reveal to give it stronger shape, but the note from Mr. Beckman addresses that.

I have to echo the sentiments about RIGHTTOLIFE and LEFTTODIE. A little disconcerting and it surprised me a bit. I was also thrown farther down by the connection I made between SNUFF and VIDEO to "snuff films," and while I'm sure it was not intended, it made me cringe a bit.

And, while I understand it's a Monday and should be accessible, I felt the cluing aimed to hold my hand a bit too much.

Real nice fill, though, and a fine looking grid.

Anonymous 9:18 AM  

many thanks to all who explained the tori answer/clue.

Dave 9:19 AM  

Minor point with theme- it's direction + TO (left to, right to, straight to, etc.). Once I saw that, I was a little more impressed with the theme's tightness.

phillytony 9:25 AM  

my only gripe was PLUG-OLA (43A)? what the hell is that?

hazel 9:48 AM  

i thought this was a great monday puzzle. i will say that if you are LEFTTODIE, you are abandoned period, not just in a way - and, echoing many, THAT is a grisly way to kick off the week.

@milo, that department store clarification made this seemingly innocent puzzle a little bit stranger to me. maybe it is just the way you have DIE SNUFF and VIDEO all together in your explanation. hearing your thought process is v. interesting, however. thanks v. much for chiming in.

jackj 9:51 AM  

To quote Rex, " so much for the NYT puzzle being an instrument of liberal propaganda."

To quote Aristotle, (yes, that Aristotle): "One swallow does not a summer make."

An interesting, edgy puzzle and, depending on one's point of view, the only thing worse than LEFTTODIE, to a filmmaker, are the dreaded words, "Your film is going STRAIGHTTOVIDEO".

Lindsay 9:52 AM  

Really really liked the RIGHT TO LIFE/LEFT TO DIE juxtaposition. Theme felt a little inconsistent in that EARTH and SNUFF are not likewise opposites, but that's OK with me as the first pairing carried the puzzle.

I actually read "baby-to-be" as choice-y. I think the lifers prefer "unborn baby". But how would I know.

Thumbs up, Milo

CoffeeLvr 10:00 AM  

Do I have to love this puzzle because my name is in it? (29D)

I guess not, because I like the puzzle, but don't love it. Solved it quickly, and didn't realize there was a theme until I glanced at WordPlay last night. I think the other reason is the DOWN mood engendered by some of the entries, despite the UP beat "Feelin' Groovy."

@SethG, great observation.

@Milo, thanks for stopping by and sharing your initial ideas. Very interesting how a puzzle is a collaborative process.

I know many people who are DOWN TO EARTH in the sense of lacking pretensions, but have plenty of illusions, so the clue for 60A had me scratching my head until I filled in some of the crosses.

@Phillytony, I looked plugOLA up this morning. It apparently was a 50's scandal where products were placed in a scene for money. Not very scandalous these days.

JC66 10:07 AM  

I found the LEFT/RIGHT, UP/DOWN, STRAIGHT theme so weak that I tried to figure out how BLADERUNNER/GETOFFTHETRACK might be part of it.

@jesser & @ phillytony

Payola is the 1950's term used to describe the practice of record companies paying DJs to play their songs.

PLUGOLA, which stems from that, is the practice of advertisers paying celebs to promote (plug) their product on radio or TV.

chefbea 10:08 AM  

easy Monday puzzle. @Milo thanks for stopping by.

Guess I am superannuated - never heard of that word.

Mel Ott 10:10 AM  

Neat old-timey baseball cross with OTT and Casey AT THE Bat.

OK puzzle, but I never even noticed the theme. And didn't care.

@dk: Just once you need to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. Awesome.

Zach 10:15 AM  

Nice and clean, good Monday solve. Which is nice, because I've been battling the Meta on Gaffney's puzzle since Friday... I'm not optimistic.

CAPTCHA: pectici: what the French hen did.

evil doug 11:03 AM  

"I mean, how can you start out with such a startling and ugly brain-searing image of being GAGged and LEFTTODIE???!!!!That coupled with RIGHTTOLIFE sort of spoiled it all for me..."

Yeah, should have leaned to something more pleasant like the right to snuff out life. Damn image of a fetus is a total turn-off, man.

Milo: You should have left well enough alone. You don't have to justify your clues or answers with your personal viewpoints. It's just a puzzle, man. If every crossword was restricted by totally safe, PC, impossible-to-stretch-into-controversy stuff, how boring it would be.


Eve 12:17 PM  

I, too, am disturbed by Milo Beckman's description of how his puzzle was "edited" or should I say "gutted?" A week or two ago I felt the same way when another young constructor came on the blog and said about 70% of his clues were changed. My feeling is that the resulting puzzle is hardly the constructor's work anymore. In today's puzzle, why isn't Mr. Longo then given some credit either as co-constructor or co-editor? Is the desire to have your name on a NYT crossword puzzle so strong that you are OK with having your work substantially changed? I have never attempted to construct a puzzle, however I do realize that if one changes a word in the grid, it often necessitates many changes surrounding it. A few clue improvements here and there is acceptable editing. But when it gets to the extent that these two constructors describe, something is a parent rewriting a homework essay for a child to turn in as his own.

Might I need a reality check here?

Shamik 12:29 PM  

@Milo: Your "rambling" comments were much appreciated. As it was published, the puzzle didn't pass my breakfast test.

Easy-medium, though, once I "got over it."

Lewis 12:33 PM  

Zach: Loved your captcha definition!

Anonymous 1:06 PM  

STRAIGHTTOVIDEO is one of my favorite 15-letter answers in a long time. Just great.

-Citizen Dain

Elisa 1:18 PM  

Can we please just talk about Sandy Davenport's toes?

milobeckman 1:56 PM  

Hello again,

I will agree with what some have said about the puzzle in its current form barely being my creation anymore, seeing as I can only take credit for the theme answers and about 60% of the clues. My previous puzzle (a Friday) was changed far less in the editing process, but it is to be expected that an early-week puzzle must be hammered into shape.

If anybody is interested, below is the original fill that I submitted. I was aiming for a Tuesday, so this grid has 76 words and features nice open areas in the N and S. The main issue Will had with it was the ORAN / TAMI / TRIGON area.

My submitted clue for 38D in the above fill, "Like some New York marriages", should also have helped offset the conservative bias some have mentioned. :)

~ Milo

Tobias Duncan 2:02 PM  

I do not like the whole "breakfast test" idea,it makes puzzles bland if you ask me.
I also do not mind Will editing the hell out of a puzzle, he is just aiming to give us the best possible crossword.
As far as pro lifers go, I see them as quite similar to militant vegans.They both wish to call honest citizens murderers.

Sfingi 2:37 PM  

Phillip Dick's Total Recall also became a movie. I try to pick up all I can of his. He and Stanislaw Lem are the best.

Theme was weak, fill much better; puzzle easy.

See a hidden theme - Life and death - including SNUFF, DOWN TO EARTH. And the PETA clue, and, as @Seth pointed out lots of animals. Wonder if STRAIGHT TO VIDEO was changed from something else, perhaps a little more "feisty"?

Seen a lot of ALLY, lately.

@Tobias Duncan - What's a ball GAG?

Two Ponies 3:09 PM  

Any puzzle that has my favorite movie in it is fine with me.
Plus we got lots of constructor comments, always a plus.
I have no breakfast test.
Bring it all on!

Tobias Duncan 3:24 PM  

@Sfingi Sometimes the best way to learn about a new item or even concept is to do a google search and then click images...

quilter1 3:25 PM  

I just looked at Milo's original submission and it looked fine to me. It had credit union in it, which I can't recall seeing before, as well as just dandy things like Purim and pray for rain. But perhaps my ignorance of how these things are done is showing.

Brian 3:42 PM  

I, too, just looked at Milo's original puzzle. Fascinating. Very curious how it was transformed. I agree with @quilter: "Pray for Rain" and "Credit Union" are fun and the fill looked to be fare to middling. Really very interesting insight into the the boiler room of the crossword construction ship.

Ed 3:49 PM  

Giddyup comment is priceless. Thanks for starting my Monday with a laugh.

sanfranman59 4:44 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)

Mon 6:20, 6:51, 0.92, 23%, Easy-Medium

Top 100 solvers

Mon 3:25, 3:40, 0.93, 22%, Easy-Medium

Shameless plug (hope you don't mind Rex) ... If you're in the SF Bay Area this coming weekend and want to see yours truly on stage, I sing in the San Francisco Choral Society and we're performing Mendelssohn's magnificent Elijah at Davies Symphony Hall on Friday and Saturday at 8. If you're coming, please email me through my Blogger profile and let me know.

Elijah 4:49 PM  

@sanfranman59 - I'll be there, save me a seat.

chefbea 5:02 PM  

I can't seem to get the original puzzle. Any help?

william e emba 5:09 PM  

If my memory is correct: Ridley Scott, then only known for Alien, came to Berkeley to talk about and show in preview BLADE RUNNER which was soon to be released. I went, and I was blown away, and it remains one of my all-time favorite films. I have never seen any of the revised versions--frankly, I can't imagine it without the unpopular voiceover or with the unicorn bit or without the not-so-happy happy ending. On the other hand, I'll take the missing replicant.

Brownroach 5:15 PM  

I think I like the original fill better. The Oran, Tami, Trigon area doesn't bother me (particularly if the Tami clue had been "The ____ Show" (1964 concert film)" -- I would have loved that.) It seems weird that "Lahti" is the lone word kept in place from the original fill, though I see "Rte" was moved from top left-across to center-down.)
I am getting weary of "astir."

long suffering mets fan 5:42 PM  

@ Elisa -- "Can we please just talk about Sandy Davenport's toes?"

Elisa AKA Mrs Rex Ryan?

@ tobias -- man, I was really hoping for a more colorful response to Sfingi

Knew that Will changed many clues
Did not know that the answers were also changed -- wonder how much editing is done to Patrick Berry's puzzles -- IMHO, the smoothest constructor out there, anyone?

Brownroach 5:45 PM  

Oops I see that "atria" was kept intact as well. Still, it's surprising to me that the fill was so thoroughly redone.

skua76 5:58 PM  

Milo, I too am totally amazed by the extent of the rework.

Breakfast tests? I could care.

Sfingi 6:20 PM  

Is that what that's called.

@Tobias - no guts no glory.

Humans are the funniest people in the world.

Captcha - cychum. Speaking of sci-fi.

Sparky 7:00 PM  

Easy, yucky with or without breakfast. I expected 28D to have an ON in it. Amount of editing surprising. @Eve made good points.

Onward, if not straight ahead.

KarmaSartre 9:00 PM  

@Milo -- thanks, the comments were very revealing, and interesting, regarding the process and the puzzle's history.

If you cringe when you see OLIO maybe you should switch to looking at BUTTIR.

Z 9:17 PM  

@Sfingi - I don't know about "the" best, but Lem, Dick, and Vonnegut are pretty darn close in my book.

@Tobias - As a well raised Calvinist, the creature "honest citizen" exists in the same land as unicorns and honest politicians. Still, I agree with your disdain of the excessively righteous at any end of the spectrum.

All you Blade Runner lovers may appreciate that I played ultimate on a team named "Nexus 7" a few years ago.

Liked the Life and Death sub theme more than the actual theme. A fine Monday in my book.

retired_chemist 10:44 PM  

An OK puzzle - didn't thrill me. The morbidity was a turnoff, detracting from some solid fill.

Lots of animals - FROG, BEAR, EMU, SHAMU, KID, DODO, DOE, ALF - (OK, that last is a stretch). Nice.

nycscott 11:03 PM  

Is "plugola" appropriate for a Monday? Yes, I see it on Bing, but still...

Are some just looking to make this more "right-leaning" than it really is? If a FETUS is a baby-to-be, obviously this means it isn't a baby yet, which is a position one on the left is more likely to take.

And @Rex, a FETUS is most certainly a baby-to-be, if left to its own "devices." How is this necessarily a "life begins at conception" clue?

the redanman 6:21 PM  

Funny, for a Monday (done on a Tuesday), me of all people a "puzzle snob"

Amazing fact:
Rex and I share a love of Philip K. Dick and Blade Runner (& Ridley Scott)specifically. We watched Harrison Ford last night in Morning Glory ... errr not so good.

-back to puzzlesnobbery:
It felt incomplete with no pair to STRAIGHT

Maybe if the UP DOWN had gone vertically or if there were diagonal answers ...

oh Bother

p.s. PLUG-OLA is just ugly

Anonymous 11:59 AM  

Could someone please explain the doughnuts clue with the tori answer?

Anonymous 12:03 PM  

Never mind. I found the definition of the singular torus.

Anonymous 2:44 PM  

Similar to payola (which is cash/gifts for airplay), plugola deals with talent or programmers promoting products or services for personal gain. OLA was a gimme for me, like most of the rest of them today.

Only writeover = funny story. I'm at 46a, but I mistakenly look at the clue for 45a (Me, Myself and ___"). Another gimme: IRENE. But I look at the grid and there's too many letters. I have _ _ C _ _ M in place, so I quickly reason that there must've been a horror spoof called "Me, Myself and I Scream." Working on the crosses I soon realized that wasn't quite it, and it wasn't until I completed "Me Myself and Rec Room" that I figured I should take a closer look at that clue number.

captcha: reedgess (TV studio chant)

Deb @ 2:53 PM  

Just popping in to say thanks to Milo for not only sharing the background of the puzzle but the link to the original. Quite an eye-opener!

I liked this one mostly because of the dark fill, but I don't have a breakfast test.

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