Volcano on Kyushu / WED 10-16-13 / Telephone system hacker / First to stab Caesar / Indy racer Luyendyk / Creator of Fearless Fosdick / Ranchero's hand

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Constructor: Samuel A. Donaldson

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging


THEME: THROW IN THE TOWEL (35A: Call it quits ... with a hint to 17-, 23-, 48- and 56-Across) — theme answers are common phrases that have had HIS or HERS added to them, creating wacky phrases, clued "?"-style.

Theme answers:
  • 17A: Blow away singer Johnny? (FLOOR MATHIS)
  • 23A: Boars? (BACON FATHERS)
  • 48A: Sala? (HISPANIC ROOM)
  • 56A: Toddler raIsed on chocolate? (HERSHEY BABY)

Word of the Day: NIDI (38D: Spiders' nests) —
NIDUS—n.pl.-dus·es, or -di (-dī).
  1. A nest, especially one for the eggs of insects, spiders, or small animals.
  2. A cavity where spores develop.
  3. Pathology. A central point or focus of bacterial growth in a living organism.
  4. A point or place at which something originates, accumulates, or develops, as the center around which salts of calcium, uric acid, or bile acid form calculi.
[Latin nīdus.]


Read more: http://www.answers.com/topic/nidus#ixzz2hqbZloLh
• • •

One of those puzzle where I never could figure out what was going on with the theme, possibly because after moving through most of the first three theme answers, there was no discernible pattern emerging. Only when I was done was I able to see the whole picture. I really like the concept, though the connection between the central "hint" answer and what's happening with the theme answers is pretty tenuous. One might find HIS or HERS on towels, yes, but technically you're "throwing in" the embroidery on the towels, not the towels themselves. But close enough for horseshoes etc. This one definitely played hard, mostly because of the theme toughness, but partly(for me) because of NIDI, a gruesome word not seen in the NYT in nearly a decade. Significantly pre-Rex Parker. And every prior occurrence of the word appears to have come in a Thursday or later puzzle, which makes sense becuase that word's slightly nuts—a Latin plural of a name for a spider's nest that I am quite certain very few people know. It's desperation fill, and it's especially rough crossing HSIA. If you aren't certain of your Chinese dynasties, you could easily blow that cross. Other rough stuff included perennial and perennially forgettable stuff like ASO (4D: Volcano on Kyushu) and ARIE (25D: Indy racer Luyendyk), plus multiple LEONAS, an awkward quatrain form, and SYL.


Never seen PHREAK before (5D: Telephone system hacker)—I doubt the majority of solvers will have any idea what that's about, but it's certainly phresh, so I can't hate on it too much. I CHOKED / I RAISE pairing is nice. Long Downs are solid but not scintillating. I had a few self-inflicted wounds today, like misreading 49D: First to stab Caesar as [First stab, to Caesar], and writing in OR TEA (!?) for 7D: End of a lame pickup line (you have to admit, it's pretty lame). Tough and entertaining overall. Thumbs up.


Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

90 comments:

JFC 12:10 AM  

Two thumbs up....

JFC

Evan 12:10 AM  

Unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy this puzzle very much. It’s pretty tough for a Wednesday, but that’s not why I didn’t enjoy it. I like a mid-week challenge. The theme concept is fine, the revealer is great, but that fill -- ugh. Even with some of those cool long entries, there’s SYL., AUG., AHS, O.A.S., ACHT, ONS, LEONAS, RTE., ASO, ARIE, AT A, IS ON, ABAA.... way too much dreck for my liking, and all of that before HSIA crossing NIDI. That crossing should never have seen the light of day.

As for the rest of the grid, there’s a lot of really tough, ambiguous cluing up top. Is it UH OH? AH ME? Nope, it’s OH MY. EKG? EEG? No, it’s MRI. MEAL? No, FARE. Elsewhere, I had WAIT before WHOA and RASH before CYST.

Then there was the stuff I couldn’t dredge up at all for a looooong time, like PHREAK (which I'll admit is a fun word), whatever word was gonna end that pick-up line at 7-Down, HORSE SENSE (which I’ve still never heard anyone use, though I could be mistaken), and....CO-OP, a city dwelling? I am parsing that right, yes? Not COOP? If it’s CO-OP, it’s a little weird to see that with COHABITANT in the grid too, but whatever. Anyway, I think I had AM/FM, MAP, and MOO SHU on my first pass in the north, and that was it before I skipped it all and came back to it later.

So, not really my cup o' tea. Maybe next time.

Anonymous 12:20 AM  

Four thumbs down.

JFC 12:34 AM  

Two thumbs and two big toes up....

JFC

jae 12:38 AM  

Medium for me except I DNF.  It's been a while since that happened on a Wed. 

Yes, the NIDI/HSIA cross.  Went with an O which seemed logical given I'm dynasty challenged, although I've probably seen HSIA before...it just never stuck.

Liked the theme but I'm leaning more @Evan's take on this one...plus I really did not like the DNF.

wreck 12:41 AM  

I actually liked the play on words:

FLOOR MAT HIS
BACON FAT HERS
HIS PANIC ROOM
HERS HEY BABY

This one grew on me AFTER I finished -- but it took me about 10 minutes longer than my normal Wednesday.

okanaganer 12:46 AM  

One thumb down and one thumb up! (Clue: looking at your watch while hitchhiking?). "Wacky phrases" is not my favorite type of theme, and the theme answers were not too amusing. Kinda liked HISPANIC ROOM, though.

Benko 1:00 AM  

I saw a documentary a few years ago about the original "phone PHREAKs", a bunch of young males who, in the 60s, figured out how to get free calls on pay phones. It was a strange, nerdy subculture where people would just try to see how long-distance they could talk to someone. Harmless, really...but now they are seen as a sort of precursor to computer hacking.

August West 1:10 AM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
August West 1:13 AM  

Funny how a puzzle just...hits ya one way or another. I became literally ANNOYED and shat all over Jeff's Sunday offering for just the sort of "dreck" highlighted by @Evan above. But, I thoroughly enjoyed this one. Yes, the HSIA/NIDI cross is woeful, and then there's SYL, but I barely noticed them as they filled themselves while I was busy doing...other stuff.

I flew through this one, as there were enough gimmes in the NW to reveal FLOORMATHIS in seconds. "So, we're putting HIS at the end of things. Whatever." But then BACONFATHERS came 'round. "Oh, it's a HIS/HERS thing. That's better." Which made me really grin at the reveal, and appreciate that the bottom add-ons were at the beginning of their bases.

The vertically stacked 10s were all great, I thought, rendering their less than stellar crosses forgivable, imo.

Momentarily lIRE for EIRE, even as I realized that: 1) PHRL couldnt be going anywhere, and; 2) the euro replaced it, moron! Never heard the term PHREAK, but it had to be so when EIRE went in and ICHOKED proved correct. Know ASO and ARIE from crosswords, each showing up enough to have made their way to the gimme bank. CASCA, COE, PTBOAT and TAFT are just in my wheelhouse, and so were not the impediments they might prove to have been for others.

Smooth, real fast sailing and a very satisfying solve. Two LEGGS up.

mathguy 1:29 AM  

Liked it. Learned what a pumice raft is. I may have seen PHREAK before but enjoyed meeting it again. Took me too long to see HORSESENSE even though I had some letters. Having a bad clue for MAN didn't help. Ambivalent about the theme.

PK 1:37 AM  

I still don't get it. What does throwing in the towel have to do with the his and hers thingy? And yes, thank you, Rex for the helpful illustration of towel monograms, but I still don't get it.

Anonymous 1:38 AM  

It took a long time after finishing the crossword to get HIS and HERS. I'm not good at the meta type reveals or 'puzzle within a puzzle' gimmicks.

-2 on a Wednesday. Don't know when I last did not finish a Wednesday, but it's been a very long time.

With every gimmick / theme that has ugly crosses, you have to ask if the DNFs will be worth it. I reckon so, but I was never going to get this one and am extremely experienced. The failure rate will be high today.

Over at Crossword Info, the constructor specifically mentions LEONAS, NIDI, and ACHT as iffy fill.

Even worse though, were the crosses on NIDI and ACHT. I went down on HSIA / NIDI, which would suck as entries and/or crosses even on Saturday. I also went down on CASCA / ACHT. Both crosses were vowels, which gave me a chance but guesses never go well for me.

Shortie (or is it Shortzy?) mentioned concern for I CHOKED, but it is totally fine by me. Of course, HE CHOKED is more in the language for me.

Anonymous 1:39 AM  

-- Typ0 --

Shortzie or Shortzy?

Steve J 1:44 AM  

This went about as smoothly as driving on a flat tire. Clunky short fill throughout, a theme that took forever to become apparent. As I filled, I thought it was inconsistently applied, because I saw two answers where HIS or HERS preceded the rest of the answer, but only one where it trailed. That was because I already had BACON FATHERS, which I couldn't connect to a towel to save my life when I filled it in.

Didn't help my cause by dropping in LOFT instead of CO-OP. I definitely didn't help my cause when I failed basic math and decided that zwei cubed had to be VIER, not ACHT (maybe I should be happy that I can make stupid math errors in multiple languages).

HSIA/NIDI was a complete Natick. Only got the "puzzle completed" sign once I did vowel run.

Regarding PHREAK: I finished reading Exploding the Phone: The Untold Story of the Teenagers and Outlaws who Hacked Ma Bell a few weeks ago. It's about phone phreaks (so, needless to say, the word dropped in straight away for me), and it's fascinating. They were the start of what we now call hacker culture, and several of the early personal-computer pioneers were phreaks (Steve Wozniak, who built the original Apple and Apple II computers and cofounded the company with Steve Jobs, was a phreak who built contraptions to hack into the system - and Steve Jobs helped him sell them). It was interesting to take a trip down memory lane (I'm just old enough to remember when "the phone company" literally was *the* phone company), and it's interesting to see how huge companies haven't changed how they respond to disruption at all in 50 years. Highly recommended.

Kudos for including PHREAKS, but the rest of the puzzle fell flat for me.

Arie Casca Mooshus 1:47 AM  

Loved it! So clever!
It was super hard for me to figure out what was happening, but once it was all parsed out, super super impressed.

You needed two or three steps all along the way...
Boars to pigs to BACON
"Coffee tea or me?" to "your place or mine?" to " come here often?" to OFTEN

Towel? How is towel related? Aaaaah, throwing in HIS or HERS.
Love this!!!

Even which Johnny? Cash? MATHIS? And to see Johnny BEGOOD!
Never heard of PHREAK but love it!
And it talks to you!
OHMY, AS IF, I CHOKED, AHS, BEGOOD, NOT YET, you wish!

Sam, it's great! Enough on the focusing of one or two words that aren't perfect!
I know NIDI from Scrabble, lifesaver.
And i knew ARIE from the Bachelorette! Hottie. And ODOM from People mag...thank god all the sports figures are also tabloid fodder.

Steve J 1:49 AM  

The ICHOKED answer reminds me of one of my all-time favorite sports quotes.

In 1984, the Minnesota Twins had the chance to win their division and go to the playoffs for the first time since 1970. They had a 10-0 lead against Cleveland in a game on the last weekend of the season. They lost the game, and the chance to go to the playoffs.

Gary Gaetti, who made a crucial error that enabled the Indians to win, said this after the game:

"It's hard to field the ball when you have both your hands around your throat."

loren muse smith 5:04 AM  

I have a friend who periodically fusses at me because I don't really ever complain about things in grids here. We've recently corresponded again, so I've been trying to pay more attention to the fill and less attention to the theme in an attempt to get all hot and bothered with everyone about crosswordese, partials, abbreviations, etc. But even trying to be cognizant of drek, I get so caught up in working to suss out the theme, I forget to notice. When someone posts a list like @Evan's today, my reaction is, "Wow. How did I miss all those not-so-great entries?" Agreed. They're not so great. But if they're there to glue together this grid, then they're fine by me.

We're all so different. I'm stunned that anyone would complain about today's FARE. This comes from a heartphelt admiration of the theme and reveal – not because I'm some phawning Donaldson sycofantic phan. I loved it. But I'm starting to pheel self-conscious about liking all the puzzles so much. Sheesh.

I agree – the HSIA/NIDI cross was really tough. I had to guess, too. But I guessed right!

BE GOOD, YOU ARE HERE, OH MY, I CHOKED, WHOA, NOT YET, NO HELP, SCARES AWAY, HORSE SENSE - @Evan – those are the ones that jump out at me.

Little known fact – MOO SHU pork was discovered in the HSIA dynasty.

My cornbread is terrific. I keep BACON FAT in my fridge. You do the math.

PHREAK was new to me, too. And we probably all know about those evil low-lifes (lives?) who phish. . .So what are we doing in English with taking a word that begins with f and coining a new word with an ickier meaning and starting it with ph?

phaux – not really not real?
pharm – place like where I live – kind of a farm wannabe?
phlour – I've been playing around with making bread from spelt. It's not quite as good as the real deal. (Revisit BACON FAT remark and try to decide what kind of eater/cook I am.)
phlea - @M & A? suggestions?

Sam – I liked this puzzle a whole lot. Surprise, surprise.

Sam Donaldson 6:18 AM  

Thanks, Loren. It's fine to be a phawning Donaldson sycofantic phan, by the way. There's always room for more.

PhreakPhreind 6:33 AM  

My Brother was a Phone Phreak in college until an expected visit by the FBI! He Was an acquaintance of one of the original Phreaks, Captain Crunch, who discovered that the tone of a prize whistle that came in a box of cereal of the same name, when blown into a phone, opened up a trunk line, allowing him to make long distance calls for free.

MetaRex 7:31 AM  

Ooh, yes!...v. purty! Slip-slid smoothly by MRian standards thru this...saw the theme only after the fact...mmm, mmm, good.

The combo of CO-OP, COHABITANT, OFTEN as clued, LEGGS, and HEY BABY gives a v. nice Sex and the City/Bridget Jones vibe to this one...

As a Maleskan dinosaur who once used RAMI in a puzz, NIDI/HSIA is AOK by me :)

How about those 3 x 3 boxes in the N and the S?...vaguely recall whining about that subject just the other day :)...not a prob today for me...overall this is a nice grid w/ the long downs and only 34 black squares.

MetaRex 7:34 AM  

Self-correction...36 black squares in this one...

Mohair Sam 7:35 AM  

DNF Wednesday here. Guessed the "I" on the evil NIDI/HSIA cross, but thought Ireland had skipped the Euro and guessed lIRE trying to fill the unknown PHREAK.

In spite of our failure I really enjoyed the puzzle, although the theme was not found until reading Rex.

In the biography "Jobs" it is pointed out that Jobs' and Wozniak's first profitable venture was hacking long distance service - were they the original PHREAKS?

jberg 7:36 AM  

As I recall, some phone PHREAKS went beyond free calls; there was a story, at least, of someone who used codes to get some expensive switching equipment delivered to a manhole, then walked away with it. Anyway, I loved seeing that there, but you do have to be of a certain age to appreciate it.

This one grew on me, too -- at first I was put up by the weirdness of the theme answers as actual phrases, but they grew on me. It helped - a lot - that I had the S from IS ON when I got to the dynasty. I think all the other 4-letter ones have either H or U in that position.

lots of writeovers: NOne before NOON, NO good before HELP, ABAb before ABAA (which is not really a "simple" form); and MOO SHi before MOO SHU (a spelling one saw in the 1960s, when Beijing was Peking).

@Rex, have you decided AL CAPP is crossworthy after all? Surely Fearless Fosdick is more obscure than Mammy! So obscure that I first tried to remember who drew Dick Tracy, the strip Fearless parodied. Even more nostalgic than the PHREAKS.

John V 7:41 AM  

Liked this one just fine. Actually thought it easy for a Wed, save for the HSIA/NIDI/WHOA/ISON bit which was, um crunchy.

Good theme, good one from Sam Dnaldson!

joho 8:31 AM  

Wow, talk about an original concept!

I wonder how many wanted to THROWINTHETOWEL while solving?

I had a much harder time with the top themers than the bottom two which I got pretty quickly. I was trying to make sense of THROWINTHETOWEL and then HIS and HERS jumped out at me.

NIDI made me cringe as I'm a most definite arachnophobe. I didn't know the word but did recognize HSIA so disaster avoided there.

I guessed right at FLOOR/PHREAK but never parsed those correctly until I read @wreck's post: thanks!

And thank you, Sam Donaldson, for your delightfully different entertaining creation!

Susan McConnell 8:41 AM  

Did it, got the theme, but am still deciding whether I liked it or not. I'm just not sure.

dk 8:43 AM  

Man when the cute girls say they like your puzzle look what happens!

Erratic solving experience pour moi. Got NIDI but counter punched by misspelling CYST which left me wondering what is a MAs and how is that a bub... difficult being dim witted let me tell you.

����(2 Stars) This one BEGOODer with smoother edges.

Anonymous 8:46 AM  

i can't remember the last time i googled for answers on a wednesday. but hey, it doesn't matter how many times i run the alphabet, that chinese dynasty ain't gonna fill itself in...

leglegl 8:54 AM  

Is the author of this puzzle the Sam Donaldson?

Lindsay 9:15 AM  

Not good for someone who doesn't know from China. Guessed correctly on the MOO SHU/ASO cross, but wrong on HSIA/NIDI.

Other writeovers: 36D Wait >>> WHOA, 15A Food >>> FARE, and 1A ALCott >>> AL CAPP. Thought maybe Fearless Fosdick was one of the Little Men.

OISK 9:27 AM  

HSIA was a 50-50 guess for me, but got it right, for a change. I found this puzzle challenging, but I liked it. I dislike pop-rock clues, but even I have heard of U 2, (although my first thought still involves a downed plane) and I have heard of Bono, who I assume is not the same one who was married to Cher. I could not name a single think they sing, nor recognize any of them, but no matter. If you have to use pop culture clues, this one was certainly not obscure. I liked the theme, too, though not figuring it out until I was nearly done. Minor point, Floormat his, Baconfat hers, his panic room are perfect, but hers hey baby is not quite as good, I think.

baja 9:27 AM  

Loved the theme - for me theme and reveal usually trump tricky fill and dreck. My knowledge base is never going to be well rounded or remotely complete so DNF's are part of the game. Just enjoying the ride! Thanks to all who post here.

Z 9:27 AM  

PHREAK, to me, looks like the name for someone who twerks, making Miley a Super PHREAK. I didn't see her in the video, though.

@LMS - Huh? If everyone just said the same thing this would be a very boring place.

Hand up for DNF at HSoA/NoDI. NoDI looks like it could be some odd plurality and the damn Chinese don't use RRN so who cares about their damn dynasties? Not that I'm bitter.

Had STREE written in before I realized street smarts wouldn't fit (count squares? Not me) and then went with BEhave before BE GOOD, so the SW is a mess. Also had raSh before CYST, so this definitely played hard. Loved the theme, hated the fill.

Anonymous 9:30 AM  

PHREAKS!! My freshman year in college ('69-'70) there was a 26 year old "anarchist" living in my dorm (Soto House, Stanford U) named Willard. He was the child of some diplomats and delaying graduation as best he could by taking one course a quarter. Thin and pasty with long, stringy hair, in retrospect he was a prototypical geek/nerd. My roommate (Doug from The Dalles) fell in with Willard's group and we ended up with a locker full of telephone circuitry in our room. This consisted of a bunch of mechanical relay switches that clicked and clacked all night long. Otherwise occupied, I was not in on the fun, but I know it involved the phone system and they were gleefully calling all over the world. I recall it somehow all ended abruptly one day, with the locker and Willard disappearing.

I managed to get through the puzzle by guessing right (for once) on the HSIA/NIDI cross. Didn't figure out the theme until after I had filled everything in and looked at it a while.

Jake

OISK 9:41 AM  

One more thing - the objections to the German "acht," Had it been a Spanish clue, leading to ocho, I don't think anyone would have brought it up. Since I speak German, und kein spanisch, it is nice to see the occasional Wort pop in. (acht is an interesting word in German, because it means both "eight" and "attention." A line from a favorite operetta is "O habet Acht, habet Acht, vor den Kindern der Nacht" Loosely translated, Oh, watch out for the children of the night!)

Anonymous 9:43 AM  

Way way way way way way way too much crossword crap.

Milford 9:44 AM  

Took forever to "get" the theme, even with the two bottom theme answers filled in. I'm kinda with @Rex that the connection of there being a TOWEL THROWn in each theme answer is a little shaky for me, but I may just be over-thinking it.

I did actually DNF on this, I thought at the NIDI/HSAI cross, the last square I hesitated to fill in. Turns out my errors were at the CoSCA/oCHT and AnOD/EInE crossings.

@lms - I'm usually in the happy camp with you - it's pretty hard for me to be disappointed in a puzzle. Doing the crossword everyday is a treat I give myself, and I'm just happy to complete it.

My mom played a lot of Johnny MATHIS records when we were little, so I loved the La Mancha clip. Liked I CHOKED, I RAISE together. PHREAK is another word I learned from movies, I'm sure.

Anyone else enter GPS at 20A before MAP, and then get to smile later at 44D?

chefbea 9:54 AM  

No time to read all the comments. Did not get the puzzle - his and hers. Saw floor mat in 17 across and Bacon fat in 23 across and figured that was the theme...but no!!!

Sorry - did not like the puzzle

Bob Kerfuffle 10:17 AM  

Very clever; loved it.

One write-over: 47 D, NOT NOW before NOT YET.

And, with apologies to @jberg, one Wrong Thought That Never Made It To Paper: First glance at 1 A had me thinking Chester Gould, who did Dick Tracy, but when that was obviously wrong, I realized I was thinking of Flattop, who was a Tracy villain, instead of Fosdick.

michy 10:29 AM  

When I got FLOORMAT and THROWINTHETOWEL I briefly thought the theme was types of towels - or things resembling towels you might find in a bathroom?

DNF due to the HSIA/NIDI cross, but still never got the theme until I came here.

I'm having a dense day, I guess!

Call Me Scrooge, but ... 10:33 AM  

There's a point where cluing and answers change over from clever & creative to awkward & stinky; couple that with obscure words, Nattick-like crossings and then an uninteresting and a retrospectively barely recognizable theme? Presto: today's puzzle. DNF, rare on Wednesday, but this one was DOA despite that. No sour grapes, but not a decent puzzle.

Wasn't perceived as clever over MY breakfast.

Z 10:35 AM  

When does a motif become a trope?

Fearless Fosdick also sounds like someone who would twerk.

mac 10:59 AM  

Nice, crunchy Wednesday, which I appreciate more now than during the solve. Even think "often" is the funniest answer!

I'm usually pretty positive about the puzzles, also, @Loren, and don't get worked up about crosswordese, weak fill etc. as long as the theme is fun and I'm having a good time. I do realize, while solving, which clues/answers will get the most flack!

Write-overs at not now and street wise for horse sense, but good old Arie was not a problem.

@leglegl: no, this is OUR Sam Donaldson.

Carola 11:05 AM  

Clever, goofy, playful, and fun. Puzzled over the TOWEL connection until I got to the HISPANIC ROOM. Needed crosses to remind me of PHREAK and HSIA. LIked learning NIDI - sounds creepily ominous, to go with my arachnophobia (hi, @joho).

Anonymous 11:13 AM  

I never thought of myself as a phreak; just a poor college freshman with a boyfriend four hundred miles away. Figuring out how to get free phone calls was better than acing physics, which I didn't do. Sadly, I no longer remember just how we pulled it off, but it had something to do with a coin and a string

Gill I. P. 11:15 AM  

I thought this was loads of fun.
Didn't have any problems with HSIA/NIDI (although I hade NIDe at first) and not a thing ANNOYED me.
All the entries are darn right fun and it's begging for a story....
HISPANIC ROOM
I'll take this type of puzzle every Wed. thank you very much.

Sarah 11:28 AM  

Weak theme. I understand what the puzzle is trying to get at, but it just doesn't work...

And OMG...WTH happened with the fill?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?

SYL, EIRE, CRAG, AHS, OAS, HSIA, UTES, ACHT, ONS, LEONAS, RTE, AMFM, ASO, ARIE, ATA, NIDI, ABBA and finally, CYST (which definitely fails the breakfast test)

And then there are FOUR dupes in a single puzzle. WTF????

-IRAISE/ICHOKED
- NOHELP/NOTYET
- ONS/ISON
- Amfm/AbAA/Arod/atA

None of the long down answers are particularly sparkly either, other than PHREAK.

And then there's the cluing. Some of it just feels a little bit off.
PUMICE: Rock that MAY float?

Stonker? Nope, definitely a stinker

Masked and AnonymoUUUs 11:29 AM  

His and Hers theme answers? What's not to like? Well, one thing... U Week phthrew in the towel and ended adash early. sniff.

fave fillins:
* HSIA. Would be acceptable, if puz also included a HREA dynasty.
* NIDI. I think U phreaky, and I like U not a lot.
* ASO and OAS. Of all the random permutations of these letters, I believe AOS is the only one still available for a grid debut. Possible AOS clue: "New Zeland police branch". So, saddle up, constructor dudes. Don't bother to thank me, 4-Oh.
* SYL. Sounds Frenchish. "I'll have the second SYL, bu play..."
* I CHOKED. Cool clue, too. Hey, @lms--
clue: "I'm always losin mah hound" ... answer: MYDOGHASFLEES. har.

Fun puz. thUmbsUpward.
M&A

Sarah 11:39 AM  

On a more general note:

1: I don't know why Will Shortz and crew continues to accept these puzzles. Ever since I've been published a couple months back, I've noticed my puzzles have never needed an array of junk just to get in. All I've seen crosswordese do is make the puzzle artificially harder, and deters new solvers.

2: Why must the same clue/answer combos show up? Other than a few hundred entries (partials mostly), there is not really any need to see the same clues again in a 10-year period. There are over 1000 ways to clue ERA, clues like "Historical period" don't need to show up every year.

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Sandy K 12:19 PM  

The TOWELs I visualized were just like Rex's picture cuz my parents had them...the HIS and HERS were embroidered into my mind!

So I caught on to the theme right away and liked it... and just as Rex predicted, I CHOKED at HSIA/NIDI!

That ANNOYED me, but YES, I still thought the puz was clever!

M and A also 12:23 PM  

p.s.
@4-Oh...
Top lame pickup line endins:
* ...ORMINE
* ...SIGN
* ...WITHAPEWIT
* ...ANDTHATSYERRODEO
* ...MORETHANFOURHOURS
* ...UNDERARREST
* ...UNTILOURBRAINSEXPLODE
* ...ortea
* ...OFTENLY
* ...PHLEAS
* ...BIPARTISANDEAL
DAY-um, this might have as many possible clues as ERA. OK, @Sarah darlin -- show yer stuff. Letsee yer top 100 list.

Again, 4-Oh, no thanx necessary...
M&A

gifcan 12:52 PM  

Guessed right at the NIDI cross and actually finished the puzzle.

I just like doing the puzzles and am not that discerning when it comes to construction and word use. This may change as a frequenter of this site.

Yeah, @OISK, Bono is the reincarnation of Sonny Bono. I never thought of it. They are/were both musicians involved in politics. I got U2, babe!

Ray J 1:08 PM  

One day in September of 1996 I was bombing down the PUMICE-covered Plains of Abraham on the side of Mount St. Helens when the front wheel of my mountain bike suddenly washed out resulting in an involuntary dismount and ending in pain the likes of which I haven’t felt since. The HSAI/NIDI cross comes pretty darn close.

Okay, maybe I shouldn’t let one lousy cross ruin an otherwise fine puzzle, but it kinda did. Sorry. Off to pout and lick my wounds.

Evan 1:16 PM  

@Loren:

Not trying to pick on you or make you feel self-conscious, but I wanted to respond to this:

"When someone posts a list like @Evan's today, my reaction is, 'Wow. How did I miss all those not-so-great entries?' Agreed. They're not so great. But if they're there to glue together this grid, then they're fine by me."

Every puzzle has some amount of poor entries, and we can debate whether or not those words I listed are good or bad ones. But for me it's a question of trade-offs: How much less-than-desirable fill are you or I willing to accept to get a clever theme to stick together? Or if it's a themeless puzzle, how many poor entries are okay if they're in the service of fitting some longer, sparkling entries? I don't agree with all of @Sarah's criticisms of the grid, but for my own taste, this puzzle had too much poor fill that I'd rather avoid if I were constructing a puzzle.

Part of that comes from the fact that when I first started building themeless puzzles a year ago, I sent them off to a veteran constructor to check over and he absolutely slammed them for having too much short dreck. Pretty humbling experience, it was. So I'm way more sensitive about it now than I used to be, even scrapping my first version of the 2B puzzle for that reason.

quilter1 1:17 PM  

I had physical therapy today so did the puzzle with lunch. Crunchy but I liked it.

Lewis 1:40 PM  

@m&a second post -- very funny

I thought that the theme answers were meh. I would have preferred actual phrases, say, HERSHEYBARS instead of HERSHEYBABY. Or HERALDTRIBUNE. Or HISTORICFICTION, or HISSYFIT.

That ABAA reminds me of last week's Abba dabba dabba...

I made a dumb mistake for Hellenic X -- put in CII, thinking Roman numeral, instead of XII, and that left me with BACONFATIERS, and I'm thinking, what the heck is a baconfatier?

Bird 1:48 PM  

I get it, but meh. I like 17A because at least the FLOOR MAT is in the same room as the TOWELS. The rest themers were just wacky.

Learned NIDI & HSIA today. Didn’t know the dynasty and thought NODI was right as it was somehow must relate to NODE.

And yes, the fill could have been better.

Guess what day it is . . .
Happy Humpday!

Almstead 1:53 PM  
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M and A's Last Silver Nidi 2:06 PM  

@Lewis: Yo; thanx, dude.
Hey--Almost left off my personal fave PuzEatinSpouse pick-up line endin...

* ... U-SPOT

... to which she normally replies: "TMU".

BACONFATIER sounds Frenchish.

p.p.s.s.
That ...WITHAPEWIT one parses as: WITH A PEWIT, btw.

M&A

Anonymous 2:28 PM  

Speaking of poor clues, what about 31-A: "What may precede one" -- I knew from the crosses that the answer had to be NOON, but "may" just isn't right. Noon ALWAYS came before one on any day I've ever experienced.

Never could figure out the theme because the "wacky" phrases seemed totally unrelated. It's frustrating to finish a difficult puzzle and still not understand why I got it right.

Alby 3:10 PM  

I'd heard of phreaking, but I'd never heard its practitioners referred to as phreaks. (They were phreakers, I assumed.) Phreaking was part of a holy trinity -- hacking, phreaking and cracking -- in the days of bulletin board systems.

My Cousin Vinny 3:36 PM  

Vinny Gambini: It is possible that the two yUTES...

Judge Chamberlain Haller: ...Ah, the two what? Uh... uh, what was that word?

Vinny Gambini: Uh... what word?

Judge Chamberlain Haller: Two what?

Vinny Gambini: What?

Judge Chamberlain Haller: Uh... did you say 'yUTES'?

Vinny Gambini: Yeah, two yUTES.

Judge Chamberlain Haller: What is a yUTES?

Vinny Gambini: [beat] Oh, excuse me, your honor...

[exaggerated]

Vinny Gambini: Two YOUTHS.

wreck 3:38 PM  

@anon

.......uhhhh what about 1am??

Questinia 3:48 PM  

Opposite experience to @Rex and many. Got the theme off HERSHEY BABY and didn't blink at HSIA-NIDI. I also, like @ lms tend to see the puzzle glass half filled (with goodness) and tend to ignore the so-called dreck. But I don't construct puzzles like either @Rex or @ Evan so I defer to those who work in a dimension I am not familiar with.

Anonymous 3:58 PM  

Bacon fathers??? Really???

Doug 4:31 PM  

For the record, the original phone phreak was John Draper who built the first black box to hack Ma Bell for free long distance phone calls. Draper was the inspiration -- and later friends with -- both Woz and Jobs. He got caught, went to jail, and was hired by IBM to write software for the original PC. I met him at a hacker conference organized by Steward Brand in San Francisco in 1981. Sure enough, I spotted him first sitting down while on the only pay phone in the army barracks where we all stayed. What an image. Pure history. As for the puzzle, I couldn't quite finish and never did get the theme, so I agree with all the kvetchers who hated it.

Dolgo 5:43 PM  

I think you have to be of a certain age to get Phone Phreaks.

loren muse smith 5:56 PM  

@Milford, @Questinia, and @Z – yay! It's like @retired_chemist said a while back, "I love all the puzzles." It *was* retired_chemist, right?

@M&A – har!

@Evan – I appreciate your response. This is an age-old question that we can discuss and discuss. When I first joined this blog, I was actually more willing to (gently) complain in my way about some fill – "XXXX made me blink" or "I did a doubletake at XXXXX." Scathing remarks, I know. But hey, I yam who I yam. But over the past couple of years, I've evolved as a solver, and I'm now one who comes decidedly down in the camp of It's a Great Theme So I'll Forgive the POMPS Club. (Take *that* again, CC!) Heck, I could be president of this club. Monday through Thursday and Sunday, I champ at the bit to suss out the theme. Then I look at other grids that day and, uh, digress those themes. Hey, again, @M&A. And just the opposite of you, I'm not nearly as grumpy about drek as I was precisely because I have started constructing. I have learned that unless you're the supreme constructor god of the universe, ahem, it is incredibly hard not to have some icky parts. I am absolutely incapable of filling a grid without a bit of drek, so I feel loath to call someone else out.

Themeless puzzles are of course different. But again, since 30 years from now, I may submit a themeless, I just can't bring myself to complain about some less-than-stellar parts. Ya know what? I'm probably just a big fat chicken when it's all said and done.

For some reason, the conceit of Sam's puzzle today really pleased me, so I was surprised at the lukewarm reaction on the part of so many.

I dispatched that early post and headed to an elementary school to sub in a first grade class. One of their vocab words was "speckle," and right there on the spot, I swear, I realized it rhymed with "freckle" and that "freckles" are "speckles." Let me tell you they were underwhelmed with that beaut. Good times.

Steve J 8:19 PM  
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Steve J 8:23 PM  

Interesting to think about various people's reactions to puzzles, especially ones that tend to like most everything, vs ones who are more thrifty in their praise.

I take it as a given that everyone who posts regularly here - from Rex to all the regular commentators - really, really likes crossword puzzles. Why else would we not only take time to do them every day, but take time to gab about them?

I look at it like pizza: I like nearly every one I've ever eaten. Once in a blue moon, I've had a truly awful one, but it's rare. Once in a while, I have an amazing one. And most of the time, I like some better than others. But it's a safe assumption that I had a favorable enough impression of pizza to keep eating it, both that particular time and in the future. Same with crossword puzzles.

So it's on that relative scale that my general reactions of ugh to meh to awesome have to be placed. But beyond the baseline, some puzzles are simply better than others. They can't all be fantastic. If everything's fantastic, than nothing is.

I think Evan stated it well: Every puzzle tries to strike a balance between good material and the mechanical bits needed to help hold everything together. There's no such thing as the perfect puzzle that is clever, fun, just exactly the right level of challenging and free of clunkier bits. There will always be a few off things, even in the most brilliant puzzle. The key thing is, did the payoff make the off stuff worth getting through? When the payoff isn't there, I notice the off bits much more, and I comment on it. When the payoff is there, I don't care about the off bits and comment that way as well. But it's a safe assumption that there's a basic level of like. At least for me, and I suspect for all of us.

Judith 9:23 PM  

Maybe it's fun, and maybe it's cute. But one thing it isn't --- a crossword puzzle.
Someone should invent some other name for these trendy word games that describes them more accurately.
Hands down.

Z 9:31 PM  

@Steve J - I'd use beer as my comparison. Once upon a time all you could find were variations of the same beer - Bud, Miller, Stroh's, Coors - all variations on a Pilsner. Then along came Shortz microbrew. All of a sudden you have IPAs and Wheat Beers and English Ales and Porters and Stouts and Rebusy American Wheat Pale Ales. Quality is generally much better across the board, but there is so much variety that some sort of standards are needed to make sense of it all. Not everybody likes the variety, not everybody likes every variety, and some brews stand head and shoulders above others. From such quality is criticism born. If we still lived in the time of pilsners we would not need Rex's blog. Beer and Crosswords are now worth arguing about.

Viva Cerveza!

sanfranman59 10:04 PM  

This week's relative difficulty ratings. See my 8/1/2009 post for an explanation and my 10/15/2012 post for an explanation of a tweak I've made to my method. In a nutshell, the higher the ratio, the higher this week's median solve time is relative to the average for the corresponding day of the week.

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

Mon 6:13, 6:07, 1.02, 61%, Medium-Challenging
Tue 7:14, 8:15, 0.88, 15%, Easy
Wed 13:48, 9:44, 1.42, 97%, Challenging (6th highest ratio of 198 Wednesdays)

Top 100 solvers

Mon 3:43, 3:46, 0.99, 38%, Easy-Medium
Tue 4:24, 5:09, 0.85, 6%, Easy
Wed 7:39, 5:37, 1.36, 98%, Challenging (5th highest ratio of 198 Wednesdays)

Gill I. P. 10:04 PM  

I would never, ever, compare my love of crosswords or whatever you want to call them to either pizza or beer.
A filet mignon on the other hand....

Anonymous 9:48 AM  

This retired Latin teacher got "nidi" quickly.

ArtLvr 7:11 PM  

Re 12D [Locale of a 1956 fight for independence], ALGIERS… It happens I was I studying abroad in 1956, first in Paris where the father of the family I stayed with was absent, leading troops in Algeria. Soon after that I was in Geneva, where the lunchroom was bristling with Arabs & Jews glaring across the room at each other during the 1956 Suez crisis. Within weeks, we were also involved with Hungarian students fleeing from the invasion of Russian tanks in Budapest, so 1956 is a year I won’t soon forget! A few years later, I was plucked up and twirled in the air while on the Princeton campus — it turned out to be a Hungarian grad student I’d helped with translation of his school transcripts, and they’d been key to his getting to the U.S. with full scholarship! Wow.

The Cranky Avenger 8:09 AM  

OK, I know what FLOOR MAT, BACON FAT, and PANIC ROOM all are. What is a SHEY BABY? I declare shenanigans.

Bob Kerfuffle 9:10 AM  

@The Cranky Avenger - The add-ons are HIS and HERS, so the underlying phrase is "Hey, Baby!."

spacecraft 12:16 PM  

HEY BABY, the Bruce Chanel hit of 1960; now that's going back there. Well, I have to report that ICHOKED on the natick. I went with NoDI, plural of "nodus," a difficulty. I read "Spiders' nests" as a metaphor. Not in a million years did I dream there'd be an actual word for those. And that crossed with an ancient dynasty? Forget it.

The DNF spoiled what might have been a fun solve. I like themes that aren't so patently transparent. I was at sea until well over half done. HERSHEYBABY switched on the light. It helps that I was born a short drive away, in Harrisburg.

COHABITANT 10's--non-theme--is quite a feat. Naturally, you're going to have to pay for that with some rough fill; that's the way it is. But even saying that, ABAA is...unfortunate. My criticism of bad fill is always tempered with knowing my reply to "How would YOU fix it?":

"Uhh....."

Cluing nit: when you think "This is bad" you say OHno, my only writeover, not OHMY. That's just a cry of surprise, just as applicable to finding the Publishers' Clearing House folks at your front door as to finding a flat tire.

AS IF!

Cary in Boulder 1:43 PM  

HSIA/NIDI got me, too.

Only thing to add is that in my world SYL will always be "___ Johnson who had the original hit with 'Take Me to the River,' 1975." (Bet you thought it was Al Green.)

Solving in Seattle 1:48 PM  

@Z, so is beer your TROPE for crossword deconstruction? If so, pour me one.

@Spacy, surprised to not see a hanky on the field.

Sam, I love your puzzle, if for no other reason than a visit from XENA, the warrior princess. I also had fun with the theme parsing. ODIUM yesterday, ODOM today... what's the diff?

BEhave before BEGOOD.

OH MY, I didn't know HSIA/NIDI, so into HIS PANIC ROOM I went and used my HORSE SENSE, but it was NO HELP. Frankly, I CHOKED and THReW IN THE TOWEL.

Capcha: lernad. What I was after much skooling.

rain forest 2:18 PM  

*Behave* before BEGOOD, and momentarily forgetting that Fearless Fosdick was a strip within L'il Abner, which made me doubt ALCAPP, were the only things that slowed me down in this enjoyable, relatively easy puzzle. I blinked at NIDI, but I knew HSIA, so it had to be.

The theme revealer allowed me to figure out HIS and HERS, and I found it somewhat elegant that those words were at the end of two theme answers and at the beginning of two others.

Did someone say there was crosswordese in here? In a crossword puzzle? Shame!

DMG 3:16 PM  

Struggled through, eventually getting all but the first letter of the German eight! And a full year of Shakespeare didn't give me the down! Somehow we didnt study Julius Caesar. My fun answer was BACONFATHERo, before I checked the downs, and replaced the O. But, I think I like my first answer better! Other write over was ANNOYED where I had ANgerED. Do people really say COHABITANT? I thought they were "roomies"!

Got the revealer off the just the final L, but it didn't help me see the HIS/HERS thing. Maybe HERo held me up there. Or maybe it was HER SHEY? Who knows?

Dirigonzo 4:34 PM  

With a 50-50 chance I'll taker a guess and probably be wrong; when the odds are only one in five I don't even bother to fill it in. That's OK though because the rest of the grid was lively and fun and I figured out the theme before coming here. Now I have to go break the news to my cat that there are other LEONAS in the world - she thinks she's the only one.

@spacecraft - I wanted OHoh before OHMY.

orlyrrn - the numbering system for gates at a certain French airport?

Ginger 4:37 PM  

Oh how I hate a DNF on Wednesday. And...how long it took to not finish, grrr. But, I did like the puz. Didn't see the theme until I was (almost) done, but I think it's clever.

PHREAK was new to me, and I enjoyed reading posts about the original PHREAKers. Other mess was -CHT.

I've said it before, but if crosswordese and drek is the price for a sparkly theme, or crunchy, interesting long answers, I will happily pay that price.

Thanks Sam, it was worth it.

Z 7:01 PM  

@SiS - Beer and Crosswords, a match made in.... Anyway, I've been inconsistently adding my beer rating. You will note a distinct Michigan microbrew bias in my ratings.

Solving in Seattle 7:22 PM  

@Z, here in Seattle we have an International District with a strong Asian flavor. At lunch today had a local microbrew you probably haven't heard of - Nisi Hsia. Taaaasty.

Z 9:28 PM  

@SiS - Are you sure it wasn't a NIDI HSIA? I'm thinking it's a rice based pilsner.

I've had some Pyramid from your region - good stuff. There is so much Michigan craft brew these days that I only drink non-Michigan beer when I travel out of state.

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