California locale just south of Camp Pendleton / WED 9-21-11 / Morlock's counterpart science fiction / Part of rock's CSNY / Pringles alternative

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Constructor: Peter A. Collins

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: INNER CITIES (60A: Urban areas (as hinted at by the circled letters in this puzzle's grid)) — theme answers are California cities (why California? I don't know). Circles inside those cities spell out the names of other cities (*not* California cities)

Word of the Day: Graham NASH (51A: Part of rock's CSNY) —

Graham William Nash, OBE (born 2 February 1942) is an English singer-songwriter known for his light tenor vocals and for his songwriting contributions with the British pop group The Hollies, and with the folk-rock band Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Nash is a photography collector and a published photographer. Nash was inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of Crosby, Stills & Nash and as a member of The Hollies in 2010. (wikipedia)
• • •

This is a mess. Why are the cities California cities? Moreover, why are three of them not-at-all-well-known California cities. I grew up in California, lived there til I was 21, and I've barely heard of three of these—certainly couldn't locate them with any confidence on a map (BAKERSFIELD, I know, though there's no way in hell I'd say its Cal State campus is a salient, identifying feature—there are a ton of Cal State campuses). And the circles?! They aren't consecutive, they contain random city names ... why does this puzzle exist? Even the revealer doesn't make any sense. The circled letters form cities *within* cities. INNER CITIES tells only half the story. If RENO were inside some random word or familiar phrase, then you could say it's an INNER CITY. But you have forced us to come up with these marginal California cities ... why? Why, when the revealer doesn't even require it? They're INNER no matter what they're *in*side. RENO inside PREMONITION would be an INNER CITY. RENO inside GARDEN GROVE is just torture. If you're going to force me to accept spaced-out circles (one of the ugliest things in all of crossworld), then there better be a damned good reason.

RENO can be found inside at least one other California city—one that's better known than all these so-called cities. One that is also a California State University campus site.

Theme answers:
  • 17A: California home of the Crystal Cathedral (GARDEN GROVE) (RENO)
  • 26A: California locale just south of Camp Pendleton (OCEANSIDE) (ENID)
  • 38A: California State University campus site (BAKERSFIELD) (ERIE)
  • 52A: California's Sonoma County seat (SANTA ROSA) (TAOS)

Got thrown by many clues today—California cities were the primary obstacles, but other things also provided resistance. The second "D" in MID-SIZED CAR, for instance (11D: Toyota Camry, e.g.). I was sure the adjective was "MID-SIZE" and so wrote in MID-SIZE AUTO. Grammar aside, it looks like my instincts were justified. Industry standard seems to be D-less "MID-SIZE." So that sucks. LUNETTES?? I don't know what these [Ornamental crescents] are—can't picture them—but crescents are moon-shaped, so OK. RENIN? (54D: Kidney secretion) Forgot. ENUF? (god that's ugly) (28D: Sufficient, informally) Misread clue and wrote in ENOW (also ugly, also commonish in xwords). Stared at [Part of rock's CSNY] and thought "?????????" I know very well who Crosby, Stills, NASH & Young are, but I've never heard them given the university-like initialism before. Absolutely baffling to me. RAMROD and "flintlock" are familiar terms in retrospect, but I couldn't get from one to the other easily at all today (50D: Flintlock accessory). I'd say RUBBER-NECKING or RUBBER-NECKERS caused a traffic jam way, way before I'd say RUBBER-NECKS (which I just wouldn't say) (25D: Causes of some traffic slowdowns). RUBBERNECKS is a verb to me.

  • 20A: Morlock's counterpart in science fiction (ELOI) — more crosswordese (see also every circled city). Nice to see the Morlock out and about.
  • 71A: Pringles alternative (STAX) — never heard of them. STAX is a record label.
  • 1A: Humped ox (ZEBU) — strangely, knew this instantly. I don't know many *kinds* of ox, but I know this one, primarily because it was once on "The Simpsons," as a vocabulary word that Lisa was trying to teach Maggie.
  • 42D: One who deals in rags? (PIANIST) — very tough, but clever. I was thinking rags = tabloids.
  • 35D: The Rolling Stones' "___ You" ("MISS") — could think only of "TATTOO You," which is the name of a Stones album.

  • 13D: Ursula of "The Blue Max" (ANDRESS) — here's the thing about Ms. ANDRESS: If you include her first name in the clue, then no other part of the clue really matters, because there's only one famous Ursula.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. this is so awesome I had to tell you about it right away—Frank Sinatra on how he acquired his crossword habit (personal letter to Eugene T. Maleska, former ed. of the NYT Crossword Puzzle).


PurpleGuy 12:11 AM  

Everything @Rex said. Somehow I knew ZEBU also.

Puzzle was kind of enjoyable to solve. The theme was a great big "meh." Did nothing to aid the solving experience.

Shanti -
Robert Joseph Cain/PurpleGuy

Gill I. P. 12:18 AM  

Let's see: GARDEN GROVE - Ugh.
OCEANSIDE - at least it has an ocean.
BAKERSFIELD -Hotternhell.
SANTA ROSA - well, it's near Napa/Sonoma.
Then we have RENO,ENID, ERIE and finally, at last, something meaty - TAOS.
Didn't like 37A ENS nor 45A ESS. Two cutesy for me.
I think the CORSET(s) was probably invented by a man. I know some French king invented the high heels; probably the bra as well.

Michaela 12:21 AM  

Another vote for knowing ZEBU solely from the Simpsons, and for being a lifelong Californian who's never heard of GARDEN GROVE. I do live reasonably near SANTA ROSA, though. Meh.

ZEBU: It's like an ox, but it has a hump and dewlap.

Anonymous 12:21 AM  

Agree with Rex on the theme. However, I think CSNY is at least as common as CCR or ELO, for example. Maybe Rex just isn't old enough!!

Did anyone else get stuck for a time on Bottlenecks instead of Rubbernecks???

Pat 12:26 AM  

What is "home inon?"

syndy 12:26 AM  

And isn't it a MIS SIZE SEDAN anyway? Even if you allready hate circles this was a reason to hate circles! ...And my cat does not hum! I asked her and she said "no friggin way!" and everything else rex said including ENOW Captha unwicas-will not be celebrating all-hallows

lit.doc 12:51 AM  

Puzzle would have been much stronger if the INNER CITIES had been uncircled, sequential letters (even if of differing lengths), and I’d be surprised to learn that Mr. Collins didn’t explore that possibility during the evolution of this theme.

And imagine the wow factor if the embedded cities were, indeed, the barrios/ ’hoods/ ghettos/ gentrification zones of the cities in which they were letterally embedded.

Imagine whirled peas while you’re at it. The gods of felicity are fickle indeed.

On the bright side, ZEBU! Was delighted to learn, at long last, what Bos indicus meant. (Harkening back to yesterday’s discussion of LEANT, shouldn’t that perhaps be “meaned”?)

Rube 1:03 AM  

Had no idea about 1A and had to "check" to find out whether it was jIG or ZIG for 1D. I apparently missed the seminal Simpson's episode.

Having lived in California for 40+ years, I've heard of all these cities and live reasonably near Santa Rosa. However, the only thing these cities have in common is that they are in California. The "INNER CITIES" have absolutely nothing in common.

Had no idea what Ocasek is/was and also got misled by the academically sounding CSNY. Had Pisa before ARNO and MAll before MART. Know what kidneys secrete and RENIN is not the first thing that pops to mind. However, except for the Z in square 1, everything was gettable w/o Googles, so I can't complain.

BTW @Pat, I too questioned Home INON, but eventually parsed it as "Home IN ON".

Anyone heard what's up with the Crystal Palace? Last I heard it was on the auction block.

Detour 1:06 AM  

CSNY is definately how I know the group. Who wants (wanted?) to write the names all out on their taped casettes? I'm guessing @Rex didn't record music on tapes?
Home in on = 1) move in on e.g. "Not cool to home in on someone elses girlfriend" 2) home in on a signal

Tobias Duncan 1:18 AM  

Ummm, Taos is a lot of things but a city is not one of them.I dont know what the official cutoff is, but we have less than 5,000 residents here.Our official seal says Town of Taos.Now Santa Fe! There's a city!At about 70,000 we bumpkins feel pretty high tone when we head up there for some opera or one of them "rock n roll" shows.You can tell when one of us is headed to Santa Fe or Albuquerque because its the only time we wash our cars.

"Car is looking pretty clean there Tobias, you headed out of town?"

"Nope,just got back"

Masked and Anonymous 1:26 AM  

ZEBU looks like a blast from a fifties-era puz. Made me wax all nostalgic. ZEBU has a nice inner U, also; one of 7 of the little jewels in the whole puz. Too bad the last six rows ran dry. And to top it off, ZEBU (an ox) + Lon (a Chaney) = a Pike. So kinda an inner ox lip, there.

This could start a whole new wave of circled themes: inner cities, inner ears, inner sanctums, inner selves! OR... inside jobs, inside jokes! Wow, 31 -- solid gold! Har.

Anonymous 1:32 AM  

So totally was I in agreement that I sent you some $. Either I think you're really smart or I think I must be really smart. Whatever. I did know CSNY right away, but totally blanked on ZEBU. I live in California and took little local pride in having my state featured. Maybe because I know a bit about Garden Grove and Bakersfield. Simply could not figure out what the point of the circled 'inner cities' was; nothing clever, just a seeming random assortment of letters that happened to be in sequence so you could make short words. Ugh.

The New Girl 1:34 AM  

I like the revealer entry of INNER CITIES. Good one! Unfortunately for me, I had to google three of the California cities to make it thru the puzzle. Meh.  I now know that Morlocks go with the ELOI, which I only know from crosswords.  Maybe I should read the book. A couple of clever clues gave me a chuckle.  20a It may be felt by a blackboard ERASER - Ha!

I need to come up with my own rating system, but for now, this one is a "some-good-some-bad-had-to-google-but-still-found-the-puzzle-worth-the-effort" crossword. 

I didn't know ZEBU, but I did know CSNY. And I thought the expression was "hoNe in on" and not "hoMe in on"?

CoffeeLvr 1:34 AM  

I knew CSNY, but I am not sure that is because I remember the abbreviation (of course, I remember Crosby, Stills & Nash, and then when Young joined in, and then left, etc., etc.) or because I just read "Fire and Rain: The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, James Taylor, CSNY, and the Lost Story of 1970." If you remember the era, you might like the book. I got it from the library, which is what I would recommend. I'm glad I read it; I am also glad I didn't buy it.

Oh, the puzzle. Yes, @Rex, the second D in MIDSIZED is not used in the industry, so I left it off and finished with auto until NASH forced a correction.

I found this puzzle to be just okay. Struggled with RENIN, and found ENCODE obscure.

Greg 1:52 AM  

Ha! Loved it! Four long ones I could get with no or few crosses. Dem's the breaks. Sometimes (read every freakin' week), you get 18th largest town in Bupkus County, Vermont and sometimes (read this once), you have to know something about somewhere east of the Mississippi.

retired_chemist 1:56 AM  

Hand up for not knowing LUNETTES. Took _ASH and made it CASH - CASH (something) of New York. Never heard Crosby et al. referred to as CSNY. So, LUCETTES. Bah. All fair enough - just my bad.

If I ever construct a puzzle it will include as many URSULAS as I can fit in: URSULA Theiss, Saint URSULA, URSULA from The Little Mermaid, etc.

Nonetheless a fun puzzle. Thanks, Mr. Collins.

Gareth Bain 3:12 AM  

"...there's only one famous Ursula."
Le Guin?

chefwen 3:34 AM  

I was surprised at the rating Rex gave this puzzle because I found it very easy. I think it may have helped that I spent 20+ years in California, much of it near Oceanside. With just a few crosses the rest of the cities were easy to get, for me. My only snags were not checking 24D and slapping in faR out at 7D before YER out and BUtt at 34A
before BUMS, thought the clue should have been pluralized (is that a word?)

Anyway, no complaints here.

Anonymous 4:44 AM  

I agree the theme is rather weak. Consecutive circled letters, or commonality with the answers would have been better.
Anyway I would not complain; completing a puzzle within breakfast time is satisfactory enough to start a day.
From Bangna/Bangkok

Anonymous 5:48 AM  

oh puzzles, I suck at them :D

shrub5 6:28 AM  

Came up with the CA cities (with one brief diversion to riverSIDE on the way to OCEANSIDE) rather easily as I'm a lifelong Californian. Finding the inner cities within was underwhelming. Agree with those who thought theme would be improved if the inner cities' letters were consecutive or maybe were all CA cities.

Before RENIN, I had urine which I questioned as being 'secreted' but INNER... began that correction.

Played the Stones "MISS You" more or less incessantly in its time. Never heard of ZEBU or LUNETTES until today. For a moment I considered 1D might be the beloved 'uey' but it was just a ZIG.

@syndy: LOL at thought of humming cat !!

AnnieD 6:51 AM  

So cranky, y'all! I actually liked the theme and found the inner cities idea cute. I never lived in CA but managed to get the names fairly easily.

I found the puzzle smooth and approachable and just my speed for a Wed. I esp liked the one dealing with rags...immediately thought of Joplin. Was only surprised at 4 letter references...els, ens, ess, and eta.

Z 7:00 AM  

Pretty crunchy for a Wednesday. Thought the theme was going to be "four letter cities known to crossword solvers."

Garden Grove was fairly easy because Schuller is fairly popular in my home town, being a Hope College grad and RCA minister and all. Still, I agree with RP that these cities are pretty random.

Wanted MIDSIZEsedan or MIDSIZEcar, neither of which fit.

Have seen STAX at the grocery store and wondered, "does the world really need two brands of highly processed shaped potato product?"

@Gareth - Love your Ursula. "The Left Hand of Darkness" should be required reading.

Nice article on the NYT front page about the Marines recruiting in Tulsa.

Hungry Mother 7:08 AM  

Just plodded through as usual on Wednesdays. Happy to be finished.

r.alphbunker 8:03 AM  

Aren't all the inner cities crosswordese? Perhaps this was necessary to get it to work, but it seems like a sly thing to do, having theme entries be crosswordese.

I have heard of BAKERSFIELD and the others just seem to be generic names of California cities and were easy to guess.

I liked the puzzle.

Evan 8:06 AM  

Agreed on pretty much all Rex said, with the exception of having heard of the CSNY acronym (don't they have an album by that name?). I once built a puzzle just like this -- separated circles with a commonality running through each -- but then decided not to send it anywhere. I've never been published before, but even I knew it wasn't that good of a puzzle. The thematic 15-letter answers were all unrelated except for those circles, and there wasn't any reason to split them up except for the fact that it was impossible to come up with enough plausible answers to put the circles together (to create the word BORON, by the way).

Nobody's yet complained about OFSORTS, so I'll do it. What on earth? How does it mean "After a fashion"? OFSORTS looks like a really ugly partial phrase (as in "Out of sorts"), and who uses it in conversation in any other way? It's only been used once before in the Will Shortz era, and that was on a Saturday puzzle in 2000. You'd think that with such a friendly collection of 1-point Scrabble tiles that it would be used more in the crossword, but nope, it just looks bad. In fact, if you change it to ASSORTS, you'd get APE at 41A and SIRS and 47A -- seems better than the partial OFSORTS, no?

jackj 8:07 AM  

I’ve been twitting Peter Collins for a long time that his puzzles seem to have a Sisyphian tinge which keeps them from reaching the top of the puzzle hill but today his “rock” gets within shouting distance of the elusive acme.

Starting with what seemed an inside joke, featuring that legendary Maleskan ox, ZEBU, and then ZIGging down to Coltrane’s SAX, they were bookends for some invigorating fill which complemented a very clever double-dipper theme.

Cluing was generally inspired; the auto oriented clues especially, which gave us RUBBERNECKERS and MIDSIZEDCAR.

Then, the clue “View from the Leaning Tower” for PISA seemed downright brilliant until it wanted to be ARNO but it was a fun non-misdirect misdirect for this solver.

In the same vein, “Kidney secretion” got a chuckle of surprise when URINE fit perfectly but, alas, SANTAROSA’s “R” quickly turned it into RENIN. No matter, there was still the Snuffy Smith approved version of “Sufficient” with the cutesy, ENUF.

The themed California cities were no problem for someone familiar with the Golden State but might have been a (golden) bear for one who was not. (And, who knew RENO could co-exist so nicely with the Rev. Schuller in GARDENGROVE).

Peter, old friend, mazel tov; you did good.

Evan 8:10 AM  

Also, I'm not sure if anyone else has had this problem lately, but my Across Lite timer disappeared and I can't seem to get it back! I've looked everywhere on Google for a solution but can't find one. I once remember having this problem many months ago though I was able to fix it by fiddling with the Windows registry keys, but that's not something you want to do without a guide from a professional. I can't seem to find that guide anymore.

Can some tech-savvy crossworder help me out?

joho 8:13 AM  

Wow, @Rex, I was surprised at how you ripped this apart, literally shredded it.

A native Californian I knew the cities but even somebody born in Tuscaloosa should be able to figure them out. And the theme, INNERCITIES, is ably executed with the circles.

Having never worked in the car industry, MIDSIZEDCAR sounds fine to me.

I wasn't crazy about ESS and ENS and agree that RUBBERNECKS should have been RUBBERNECKerS. But I sure wouldn't rate this puzzle a worthless mess.

I enjoyed it. Thanks, Peter!

@Gill I.P... mayb the French king invented high heels so he could wear them himself!

Skua 8:29 AM  

50d is also the name of a Bruce Springsteen song . Furthermore, another meaning is sexual in nature. It was the name of a gay bar that used to be on 394 West Street, near Christopher Street in NYC, where a maniac killed a doorman and wounded many others with an Uzi in the eighties..

Hey, little dolly with the blue jeans on
I wanna ramrod with you honey, till half-past dawn
Let your hair down sugar and pick up this beat
Come on and meet me tonight down on Bluebird Street
I've been working all week, I'm up to my neck in hock
Come Saturday night I let my ramrod rock

PETER 8:42 AM  

@ jackj: Thanks. You are invited to my birthday party.

@ Rex: You are NOT invited to my birthday party!

- Pete Collins

SethG 8:44 AM  

You're right, Rex, RENO _is_ in SACRAMENTO.

evil doug 8:46 AM  

Jay ("Rocky and Bullwinkle") Ward added "George of the Jungle" later. George---a moron---lived in a tree house in the jungle with his wife Ursula, who he called "fella" because he thought she was a man.

I think "secretions"---or even better, "excretions"---would be a fun theme. BEQ material?

CSNY: Cal State-New York. I mean, if they've already got Cal State-Stanislaus then they must be flat out of places in California to jam in more campuses.


ArtO 8:57 AM  

I'll join those who felt Rex was a tad cranky in his write up but do agree with his rating and some of the rants - but not the cities. I'm not from CA but knew them all.

A tough Wed but fun solve.

jesser 8:59 AM  

I didn't find it as difficult (or as annoying) as Rex did. I gotta love a shout out to my old stomping grounds of TAOS, and I must agree with Tobias that calling TAOS a city is simply unforgivably wrong.

Writeovers were ZaG before ZIG at 1D, I RuN before I RAN at 3D, and pisa before ARNO at 5D.

I've never heard of SANTA ROSA, but you can't be a Buck Owens or Dwight Yoakum fan without knowing BAKERSFIELD by heart. I'm guessing @ArcheoProf and I will be humming all day.

MountainManZach 9:03 AM  

Can someone explain AMIE to me? Was Guy supposed to clue "French"? Is there some famous Guy and Amie couple I'm not aware of? Not sure if it's ever been done, but Pure Prairie League should be the only way to clue that word.

retired_chemist 9:03 AM  

So the only problem remaining is to decide which is URSULA MAJOR?

edwords 9:23 AM  

I liked the puzzle too, though I acknowledge all of Rex's complaints -- but things like rubbernecks and midsize car were easy enough to tinker with and get. Didn't know ZEBU but got it from crosses. My reasons for posting are a) to defend the constructor a bit from Rex's thrashing, and b) to challenge his assertion on the URSULA answer -- along with others, I would suggest two Ursulas I prefer to Andress (who ain't half bad, don't get me wrong): Le Guin and the, um, whatever she is who steals the Little Mermaid's voice. That URSULA gave my kids nightmares for about 3 years.

kaby 9:32 AM  

@lit.doc: every constructor has had this idea and tried (as you said) to get inner cities in sequence without circles...but then trashed the idea because it didn't work. Nobody thought that random cities spread out among randomly placed circles would ever be an accepted NYT theme. But apparently it was!

Anonymous 9:32 AM  

@MountainManZach - Guy (pronounced gee) is a common enough French name. His girlfriend would be an AMIE.

Ursula Hegi. Thought Rex is 100% correct that there's only one Ursula, though reflexively I always believe her last name is Undress, not Andress.

About time 9:34 AM  


A solution, of sorts, to your timer problem might be go to OPTIONS, select the TOOLS tab, click on the timer entry, and click ENABLE.


chefbea 9:37 AM  

Puzzle was a little tough for a wednesday. I too wondered why the inner cities weren't in California.

But I now know what I will have for dinner tonight. Rump roast with Bordelaise sauce (not pan gravy from last week). and of course green peas

quilter1 9:41 AM  

I didn't think it was that hard, nor did I find it annoying. I knew all the cities, although I am a lifelong Iowan. We have a Garden Grove, too, and we drive through Santa Rosa,NM on our trips to CA. When I spotted the theme I just thought, oh, California towns. This should be easy. I ignored the circles, though.

Anyway, zipped through and enjoyed it. Enjoyment is the point, right?

quilter1 9:46 AM  

Oh, yes, I forgot to vote for LeGuin as a famous Ursula, whom I prefer to Andress.

John V 9:51 AM  

Well, here's a different angle. I have been a **pencil** solver for something like 40 years. To my horror, I discovered at the train station this morning that I'd left my pencil **and** my pen at home. Only thing available was a beat up pen, borrowed from my newspaper guy at the station. So, pen was the only option, short of waiting until the evening -- not an option.

My style of solving, formed long ago, is to write in the first thing that makes sense and find that that act of writing triggers ideas that may not come by just reading the clues. That works just fine with pencil, but **NOT** with pen. So, this was a very different mental/solving process; much more deliberate and, may I say, slower. That said, save for the CSNY error noted elsewhere (and I grew up with them, having seen the Hollies in concert, for example, at SUNY Buffalo, so no excuse, just didn't see the answer), I aced this one, to my pleasant surprise. Santa Rosa was the giveaway for me, as my son lives there. Growing up in Buffalo, I certainly saw ERIE right away. Mdeium/Easy overall. No problem with the theme. Just a puzzle, after all.

Anyone else have this pencil/pen personality defect? :)

Rex Parker 9:56 AM  


My bad.


Jonathan 10:01 AM  


"Of sorts" is a very common idiom, probably used in writing more than in conversation. Upon googling "of sorts" together with "Hemingway" (in order to limit the field), I got 950,000 results.

The first three of them:

o Hemingway named the headquarters the Schio Country Club. A newspaper of sorts was published by the regiment. . .

o Though Ernest Hemingway often contended that he hated his childhood in Oak Park, he`s making a homecoming of sorts.

o This is the story of my Quixotic search for a literary Holy Grail of sorts, Hemingway's Gott Mit Uns.

It's not really a precise match for "after a fashion", as can be seen by trying to make the substitution in the above sentences, but it's arguably close enough for puzzle purposes.

Best regards - Jonathan

oldbizmark 10:02 AM  

found this one pretty easy despite not knowing two of the cities (they were not too hard to arrive at). I am 33 and know CSNY. agree that it is much more "pop culture" than ELO or CCR or many other oft used band initials. however, despite the ease at which this puzzle was solved, i found it extremely blah for a wednesday. at least i had half of my train ride to read and the whole of it back to continue.

also 10:12 AM  

@Rex/Gareth also Phoebe's sister on "Friends" (and a few other, lesser Ursulas).

@SethG also Fresno

Oh, same age as Rex here and CSNY was automatic. Prepare yourselves also for CSN. Though we all know in the puzzle the only three-letter band is ELO, maybe on a Saturday sometime. . .

No BS 10:29 AM  

NewGirl: Read the book certainly, but also consider watching the movie. Probably my lifetime favorite. In confirming the original (1960) is available on Netflix I discovered a recent remake which I will have to check out.

captcha: inablypo (indigent southerners with physical handicaps?)

Evan 10:29 AM  

@ About time:

I've tried that -- the timer is already enabled. Across Lite just doesn't seem to think it exists. If the timer is still there but somewhere off the computer screen (like say, where my desk lamp is), I have no idea how to click and drag it back.

@ Jonathan:

I get that OFSORTS is used in writing mean "resembling" or "similar to" (as in, "That teacher is so inspirational that he is a hero of sorts to me"), but it strikes me as an ugly partial phrase that would be much better suited to serve as fill for a late-week puzzle rather than a Wednesday. I still don't see how it should be clued by "After a fashion." As in, fashioned after? Resembling a certain fashion? The wording of the clue is unclear.

OFSORTS is the kind of entry that you put in only if it's a wide open grid and nothing else could possibly work in that space. Like I said before, change it to ASSORTS and the fill looks cleaner to me.

archaeoprof 10:31 AM  

Put me in today's rather small "liked this one" group. LOL at 21A.

@Jesser: you bet, and not just Yoakam, but the Stones too. They did some good country, like "Country Honk" and "Sweet Virginia." In his book, Keef speaks well of George Jones.

Two Ponies 10:32 AM  

Easy but boring.
Some of the answers seemed off as many have mentioned. My list also includes undersea. Would anyone say that?
Goodness Rex, You got scratched from Peter's party list?

Oteka 10:34 AM  

Midsized is correct even if we often see it as midsize. So also is iced tea, not ice tea, even though you see that a lot as well.

Lindsay 10:45 AM  

California geography. Okey-doke. Actually, I've heard of BAKERSFIELD because of ..... yes! The Dwight Yoakam song! Said the hater of pop-culture!

GARDEN GROVE and OCEANSIDE could be anywhere. New Jersey, perhaps?

LUNETTES is a perfectly fine word, redolent of the federal era from a decorative arts standpoint. But maybe the Adam brothers failed to make inroads in CA. :~)

Martin 10:52 AM  

The AL timer usually gets lost when you change screen resolution, like when using a projector. The timer winds up offscreen.

To get it back you can use the Windows registry editor. If you're reasonably careful, you won't hurt anything but it's powerful so do be careful.

Before you start, make sure there are no puzzles open.

1. Start the registry editor. Depending on your version of Windows, type regedit in the Run box or the Search Programs and Files box that you get when you click the Windows icon in the extreme lower left corner of your screen.

2. Click Edit, Find... from the regedit menu.

3. Enter xoffset in the find box and click Find next. Wait patiently because the search will take a while.

4.When it finishes, you should see some names in the right pane (including xoffset) and a bunch of folders including LitTimer in the left. If it's not LitTimer, press F3 to search again for the LitTimer xoffset. (You will probably get the right one first time.)

5. Double-click the word xoffset. Type 0 (zero) in the resulting box in the Value data field. Click OK.

6. Do the same for yoffset. Double click and set value data to zero.

7. Exit regedit. (Click the red X.)

8. Open a puzzle. Drag the timer from the upper left corner to where you want it.

9. Print these instructions for next time.

Greg 10:53 AM  

I'm reading "Women in Love", so I know Ursula Brangwen. The first time I read the name, I thought to myself, "I wonder if that will be in a crossword someday?" So far, she hasn't emerged in a bikini from Jamaican waters, so she's not as well known.

jberg 10:53 AM  

Ursula Oppens, too. Same length as LeGuin, so there're two symmetrical entries for the Ursula theme puzzle.

I didn't know any of the CA cities except BAKERSFIELD, and that was a wroteover after BAKERSvIlle. It was still easy, though, as they were all very guessable from the crosses.

I spent too much time trying to dredge up the names of female characters in 'Guys and Dolls' before I realized it was supposed to be French.

Mel Ott 10:54 AM  

The theme didn't do much for me.

Lots of short crappy fill.

Not much to love here.

I thought the best parts of the puzzle were some of the non-theme downs - usually a tipoff to a relatively weak puzzle. Even some of those were problematic, indicated by the comments about RUBBERNECKS and MID-SIZED CAR.

PuzzleNut 10:58 AM  

The puzzle was slightly better as a diagramless as you can't see the crazy circles. Loved the idea that @lit.doc suggested with ghetto, etc as the "inner cities". That would have been a great theme.
I vaguely knew all four cities, but they were a strange mix indeed. CSNY were big when I was in high school and college, so a big fat gimme. Got NIVEA right away (not NuVEA) based on an earlier discussion on this blog. My only real smile was PIANIST, but at least that.
FYI, enjoyed the LAT puzzle much more today.

mac 11:02 AM  

I have to confess I forgot to look at the circles, they sort of disappear when the grid is filled. Without that part of the theme it was a pretty good puzzle, I thought.

For me, 1D could be either zig or zag, and I just guessed right. Aran is a location too. Where is Walden Grove, or is it fictional?

Rubbernecks was clued wrong, and I also puzzled over the mid size vehicle. Of the four cities, only Bakersfield sounds familiar to me, but I got them all without a lot of difficulty. It was a Wednesday.

My cat used to hum when she was angry, just before a growl or a bite.

Mel Ott 11:05 AM  

61 comments by 11:00 AM EDT. Lots of reaction to this one.

hazel 11:31 AM  

this puzzle has a Tuesday gestalt - not because its Tuesday easy but because its Tuesday weird and today it just seems jarring and random. Random California cities containing random ESE cities/towns seems plain random! Wednesdays should be thematic desserts with delicious themes that make us OOH and AAH as they nudge us in the right direction with their clever oneness.

Because we know the real battle begins on Thursday. The puzzle no longer wants to help us. It prefers to try to start tricking us.

This puzzle just didn't work for me. QED it was not enjoyable.

Jonathan 11:36 AM  

"Of sorts" normally follows a noun, as in the examples I cited above.

"After a fashion" normally follows a verb or an adjective, as in:

"He is clever after a fashion" or

"He knows how to ski after a fashion".

I suspect that "after a fashion" is used more by Brits.

Other than the grammatical difference just cited, "of sorts" and "after a fashion" have similar meanings, in that they extend a standard meaning to a larger context.

Best regards -Jonathan

evil doug 11:52 AM  

John V,

Can't use a pencil---pokes holes, writes too faintly, erasures burn through the paper, so forth. Love the tactile sensation of a Zebra F301 on newsprint. So I always use a pen, but I always make mistakes.

Ergo: Unless I really fall in immediate puppy love with what I think is a clever answer to a given clue, I usually require at least one crossing word that (apparently) fits before taking my shot. Then I print small letters---a fine point pen is de rigueur---that can be obliterated while still leaving room for three or even four ensuing attacks on the square.


evil doug 12:00 PM  

...interestingly on topic, this is from a 1989 letter from Frank Sinatra to Gene Maleska that Michael posted over on Facebook:

"I noticed a man standing next to me on the ferry also doing a puzzle but in the New York Times. And what put me away was the bum was doing the puzzle in ink! Well sir, not to be outwitted, the next morning on my way to work lo and behold I whipped out a fountain pen. And boy did I ever make a mistake. I realized that without an eraser I was in a lot of trouble. After two or three weeks I wasn't doing too badly and I fell in love with "puzzles", and I still am, and I'm proud to say that I threw away my pencil and from that moment on I moved up to ink, and man was I ever in trouble. Obviously trying to rub out ink was impossible. The challenge delighted me.


chefbea 12:13 PM  

Forgot to mention earlier..the window in our guest room has a lunette over the top. We have a fan shaped thingy in it to keep out the sun.

Evan 12:14 PM  

@ Martin:

Thanks, you're a lifesaver! (Or at least, a timer saver...timesaver?). I knew it must have been there, but was way off into distant and unknown space.

I will bookmark this page in case I need it again.

Anonymous 12:17 PM  

Why California? 'Cause we got us only 17 cities in N Dakota of which only three have two vowels.

Anonymous 12:21 PM  

another swing and a miss for pete collins. poor guy

Ed 12:27 PM  

I think the ONLY thing I liked about this one was the cluing for 14A. It very easily could have been something to do with a country, but they didn't go that route.


I also agree with Rex that it should be RUBBERNECKERS or RUBBERNECKING. No one in the history of ever has used "RUBBERNECKS" as anything other than a verb.

Martin 12:43 PM  

I agree that the RUBBERNECKS clue isn't great, but it's in every dictionary as a noun. My beef is that it's defined as either "curious person" or "tourist," not "person who rubbernecks."

However, the overlap is explicitly sanctioned in the unabridged Webster's Third New International Dictionary. The entry for 'rubberneck also rubbernecker, n' includes the citation

two cars had smashed together ... and a cluster of ~s had gathered around

That's enough to make the clue weak but correct.

r.alphbunker 12:49 PM  


I have enjoyed your outspoken posts for quite a while and I have trouble imagining you writing anything small. My wife, who is not a confident solver, occasionally finds one of my puzzles that is not finished and writes in answers in tiny letters for the same reason you do. To me it just accentuates her lack of confidence.

I usually use a computer to solve puzzles but when I do them on paper I use ink and I write big. Of course, wrong answers leave a mess. But there is a correlation between messiness and satisfaction.

John V 1:16 PM  

@evil and @r.alph Thanks for the vignettes, esp, the Sinatra story.

As a post script to my earlier post, I frequently tell non-puzzlers that solving a puzzle teaches risk taking. Just writing in what first comes to mind, esp late in the week,is a risk of being wrong, but is the only way I get through most challenging puzzles. I can't wait for safe answers; just the way I'm wired.

My non-puzzle friends think/know I'm crazy, of course.

quilter1 1:17 PM  

@chefbea: Our front door has a lunette over it, so that was a gimme. I think they are also sometimes called eyebrow windows. Your dinner sounds delish--wish I could come over. I'm contemplating what to do with leftover pork roast.
That's 3, guess I'm done for the day.

miriam b 1:20 PM  

One of my daughters is a teacher at the Garden Grove Elementary School in Simi Valley, which is in Ventura County, 70 miles from the city of Garden Grove in Orange County.

@Oteka: Waxed paper or wax paper? There seem to be two camps on this.

@mac: Three of my cats tend to pick on the fourth one. Whenever I hear humming, I'm ready to break up a fight.

Ursula LeGuin.

DigitalDan 1:35 PM  

Re: Rubberneck

Even odder: There's an old joke that goes "Lot's wife didn't turn to stone; she turned to rubber." I either don't get it or "rubber" is being used as an even shorter version of "rubberneck." Meh. Hem, even!

If I were racing to beat a time goal, I might like fewer puzzles, too. As it is, I like to worry out whatever oddities the various constructors decide are fun. With Will Shortz at the helm, I can usually get there.

M07S 1:59 PM  

Time was when iced tea, midsized car, waxed paper, were the proper spellings, but times change and ya gotta go with the flow. I noticed when I moved to this area that they serve "toss" salad, or even just "toss". It isn't going to go away.

lit.doc 2:08 PM  

@chefwen, yes, pluralized is a words.

@ret_chem, LMAO at URSALA MAJOR! Nice one.

John V 2:29 PM  

@Rex, loved the Sinatra P.S. Thanks. But, no, I will not be switching to a fountain pen any time soon!

Anonymous 2:45 PM  

gee, i didn't realize we were allowed to criticize REX. won't he get angry and take away our blogging privileges? i am shocked, absolutely shocked, that solvers are using Google. No wonder I can't get past fridays.

Scott 2:50 PM  

I was so close to finishing this but I got stuck on the SW corner. Had SANTAROSA, ONEDGE and TSK but couldn't find PIANIST or OFSORTS going down.

sanfranman59 3:35 PM  

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

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

Wed 13:26, 11:51, 1.13, 82%, Challenging

Top 100 solvers

Wed 6:50, 5:51, 1.03, 89%, Challenging

Sfingi 4:21 PM  

Googled 9. Hard for a Wednesday for me. Probably was all that Cal. stuff. And I don't think I'll remember any of it.
Had "urine" before RENIN. Guess that's what they p**s in Cal.

Had ebay before MART.

Love LUNETTES. Here in the East, Greek Revival houses often have a little window at the eave peak we call a lunette.
We had a little restaurant called the Taino run by a lady from Puerto RICO which served a meat-filled tart that I called a LUNETTE. I think it's really an empanada.

Anonymous 4:26 PM  

St Ursula. Very famous. Very very famous.

william e emba 5:04 PM  

A bit of a struggle, but I didn't mind guessing the names of the California cities whatsoever. As usual, I just don't get Rex's complaints. A bit feeble maybe, but I always like a puzzle where the theme helps me to solve, and here filling out the four-letter INNER CITIES came in handy.

There's also Sister URSULA in Anthony Boucher's mystery novels Nine Times Nine and Rocket to the Moon. (There are other URSULA mystery series out there, but I've never read them.)

I was totally expecting somebody to rip into the appearance of IAN McEwan, author of Atonement. I mean, we saw recently people complaining about Wallace Stegner Angle of Repose as being too obscure. Did you all see the movie, or what?

Almost a year ago to the day (9/22/10), RIC Ocasek was in the grid. He seems to show up once a year--I guess I'll completely forget him until next year's appearance.

Off the F-RS for traditional Christmas purchases, I put in FURS. I fixed it from the cross. How would I know?

Jessica L. Buike 5:44 PM  

This is a fun blog! I talked about you in my blog post today:

Cheerio 8:44 PM  

I thought the ARNO clue was great. I knew Pisa didn't work and had to make an educated guess about Arno. Afterall Pisa is west to the coast from Florence.

sanfranman59 10:20 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 7:26, 6:51, 1.08, 81%, Challenging
Tue 8:03, 8:54, 0.91, 23%, Easy-Medium
Wed 13:27, 11:51, 1.14, 82%, Challenging

Top 100 solvers

Mon 3:51, 3:40, 1.05, 75%, Medium-Challenging
Tue 4:11, 4:35, 0.91, 21%, Easy-Medium
Wed 6:30, 5:51, 1.11, 81%, Challenging 11:29 PM  

Puzzles, ughhhhh!

chefwen 12:06 AM  

Can't remember if I told this story before or not. Once sat next to a guy who was waiting for his wife to be done at the beauty salon, he noticed that I was doing the NYT in ink and asked if that was kind of risky. I told him that it gave me a feeling of confidence, he replied "It looks more like arrogance to me". I moved to a different chair.

Detour 12:19 AM  

@New Girl. HoNe in on of course! There I go making up words again. And I used to make fun of my father for that...

Puzzlemensch 1:39 PM  

NEC is not the Japanese supercomputer maker. It's Fujitsu!

88CalBear 12:17 AM  

My comment didn't get posted, but in case anyone is still reading this and cares:

I didn't notice if anyone mentioned the Bakersfield reference in the Stones' "Far Away Eyes." That song, one of my favorites, and "Miss You" are both on the "Some Girls" album. That can't be accidental, can it?

Anonymous 10:17 AM  

Rubberneckers have RUBBER NECKS. So what's the problem?

"MISS you" crossing BAKERSFIELD is genius when you consider that the B-side of "Miss You" was "Far Away Eyes".

Meanwile, GARDEN GROVE is a song by Sublime, OCEANSIDE is a song by Robyn Hitchcock, and Hitchcock's "Shadow Of A Doubt" was set in SANTA ROSA.

DJ Stone 2:49 PM  

@anonymous 10:18

You're my new musical reference hero. Haven't listened to "Some Girls" in decades, so can't place the Bakersfield reference, but still get the chorus to "Far Away Eyes" stuck in my head at times. Like now.

Haven't listened to Hitchcock in decades either, but for a totally different reason.

Saw Hitchcock and the Egyptians here in Portland, OR, in '85 or '86 with two friends. We were asked backstage postshow by Robyn's A&R rep as she knew one of my friends from his job at a record wholesaler. My other friend, who can talk to anyone because he has an innate ability to find common ground, mentioned to Hitchcock that he had spent a semester in London and that perhaps Hitchcock found the rainy Portland weather to be like home.

Hitchcock, who is quite tall, looked down at my friend and told him coldly that the rainy London weather is a myth. Upon that demonstration of arrogance from a minor-league rock star at what was already a poorly stocked backstage fete, I turned my attention to the beer tub. There were two left. Grabbed them both, gave one to my belittled friend, and told him "Enough of this ass. Time to drink his beer and jet."

Though still a critics darling, it's been nice to notice that not long after that, Hitchcock's career apparently got run down by Brenda's Iron Sledge.

Midj 4:48 PM  

From waaaay over here in syndication land--

23A-- My take on it, an engine can hum or purr. That's the only way it makes sense to me...

I did not find this challenging. Most Wednesdays have me coming back to the puzzle over and over. I got through this one with a bit of work but not a challenge. ref for UMP and CenS for CTRS were my only write overs.

Pen vs pencil? I use red pen, the same one I use to underline grammar, spelling and usage errors (to make fun of our local paper) or to circle fun things for the Mister to read in the evenings. On Fridays and Saturdays, I use blue ink to fill in spaces, starting at the top, from Rex's blog, so I can continue to try to solve after I've given up. Gives me a chance to get crosses and I can then see how much was me vs "cheating".

Thanks to all of you in "real time" land I feel I'm getting better and better at this game of Crosswords. So glad I found this blog a couple of years ago. I enjoy the conversations. Thanks Rex, for being our fearless leader!

Dirigonzo 7:59 PM  

I've been to CA only once, many years ago but still managed to get all the cities with some crosses and a little intuition. Thought the puzzle was a little tuff (Difficult, informally) for a Wednesday, but fun as always. I don't blam Peter for not inviting Rex to his party.

RPDTNYTCP on this date 5 years ago:
- Solving time: 20:23 (on-screen) "Why did I do the puzzle on-screen when I had Just vowed never to do so again? Who knows? Self-inflicted misery. I guess part of me imagines that I will have a massive solving-time breakthrough; instead, I end up stuck in the utterly foreseeable morass of mis-typing and mis-clicking. And once again, my ensuing crankiness is inflicted upon the puzzle and its talented, well-meaning constructors.
- "This puzzle is wonderful in its conception, weaker in its execution (which is almost word-for-word what one of my grad school professors wrote about my written work in a letter of recommendation that I attempted to read by holding the sealed envelope up to the light...)."
- "Ah, my comfort zone. I love all things Theban - it's where all the most horrible things on earth happen, where family does things to family that should Not be done to family (Home of Oedipus REX)."
- "A thousand ways to clue ERE, and these guys decide to go through Milton. God bless them"
- "I want my teeth to GLEAM. GLEEM suggests they will give off some weird, radioactive glow. Good for Halloween, bad for ... well, every other situation one might find oneself in."
- There was 1 comment - if you like chocolate, you might want to check it out.

Anonymous 10:22 PM  

Long time no blog, and, I use ink, real lightly if not so confident. Still gets messy but not so bad. Trick is to find pens capable of light markings...

- - Robert

Anonymous 11:16 PM  

@DJ Stone 2:49 PM

That's surprising. I've met Hitchcock under similar circumstances a number of times (including a show in SF probably the day after your Portland show) and found him to be quite approachable. He does have an extremely dry sense of humor, however.

Anonymous 3:40 AM  

@Gill I. P.: Believe it or not, the bra was invented by Otto Titslinger.
The spacecraft found this one more like easy-medium. A few tricky clues--like for 42d--slowed me down a bit, but I just basically did the puzzle. The circled cities? An afterthought. For a sec I wanted RIVERSIDE, but soon knew that I had the wrong body of water. CSNY was for me an instant gimme, and the Stones' MISS You is one of my favorites. Won't we ever return to good old rock'n'roll?
CTRS is a groaner, but there's not much here to wrinkle one's nose about. Loved ANDRESS over SHE. Didn't she star in that?

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