Outermost Aleutian island / WED 12-18-13 / What Charlie rides in 1959 hit / Serengeti speedster / Longhorn's grid rival / Clark's Smallville crush / Adopt-a-thon's adoptees

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Constructor: Ed Sessa

Relative difficulty: Medium (leaning toward Med-Challenging)


THEME: Definite article breakaway — Phrases that begin w/ indefinite article "A" are clued as if that "A" were affixed to the beginning of the subsequent word. As for cluing: There Will Be Wackiness!

Theme answers:
  • 17A: Plaque from a governor? (AWARD OF THE STATE)
  • 36A: Mime's motto? (AWAY WITH WORDS)
  • 59A: Arrive via a red-eye? (ALIGHT IN THE DARK)
Word of the Day: ATTU (15A: Outermost Aleutian island) —
Attu (AleutAtan) is the westernmost and largest island in the Near Islands group of the Aleutian Islands of Alaska, and the westernmost point of land relative to Alaska, the United States, and North America. The island is currently uninhabited.
The island was the site of the only World War II land battle fought on an incorporated territory of the United States (theBattle of Attu), and its battlefield area is a U.S. National Historic Landmark. (wikipedia)
• • •

Pretty thin theme means fill has to be good, and it isn't. Really isn't. There's just no excuse for the north—specifically, that ATTU / ATTN crossing. ATTU is the worst kind of prehistoric crosswordese and should only come out In Case Of Emergencies. But these are tiny little sections we're talking about. 3x4 stuff. Every constructor I know can fill that section better, within a matter of minutes, possibly less. Consider also the almost-as-terrible southern section (180 degrees from the ATTU disaster). You're crossing IRE and IRAE? Really? Really??? Aside from IRAE's sucking and IRE's being dull, there's the somewhat glaring fact of their being So Closely Etymologically Related They May As Well Be the Same Word. Constructors I know wouldn't want IRE and IRAE to be *in the same grid* let alone crossing each other. It's actually kind of mind-boggling how lazy this sort of thing is. Dear lord, just go to SASHES instead of GASHES and watch the possibilities for a non-IRAE universe open up! Again, it's a tiny section. You can gut it and refill it Over and Over. Why subject your subscribers to such half-assert?


Longer Downs are solid enough. Really like SHOEBOX and its clue. Longer Acrosses were just confusing—answers that long are usually themers. Very distracting. Not as distracting as Getting The Hamlet Quote Wrong (44A: "Something is rotten in Denmark"), but distracting nonetheless. For whatever reason, I found this one slightly harder to move through than most Wednesdays. My first problem was misreading 1A: Good ol' boy (BUBBA) as [Good ol' cowboy] (???). Then there was the Aleutian island thing (old school solvers know that AT-- has *two* viable Aleutian answers). Real problems around USE BY—had UNTIL there, and also wanted RACE or HEAT for DASH and EMIT for SPEW. Otherwise, no real difficulties.

Nominated for permanent retirement: ATTU, BAHA

Good day.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

105 comments:

Brian B 12:12 AM  

... not to mention that 66A is incorrect. The Longhorns and the AGGIEs don't play each other in football anymore; their last game was in 2011, right before Texas A&M jumped conferences.

Anonymous 12:23 AM  

Refilling the Northern section isn't as easy as it looks: I don't think you can do much better without significant backtracking.

Which brings up to Crossword Construction Error #1: Being too lazy about trying a different version to see if it will come out cleaner. There are so many different grid designs that could have been chosen, almost certainly one of them would have resulted in super-clean and fun fill.

Of course, as long as these puzzles continue to get accepted, why will constructors ever want to improve?

bhikkubum 12:30 AM  

Hmmm. "Medium leaning toward medium-challenging." And yet vitriolic ridicule follows.

Oh I get it: #bitchy #catfight #hipper than thou.

And unbelievably the captcha is "hatenow." ROFL

Steve J 12:35 AM  

Really enjoyed the theme. If you only look at the answers, indeed the theme is kind of thin (it's still more robust that yesterday's). But the cluing for two of the three was absolutely brilliant, making those answers sing.

Other good stuff: SHOEBOX (both answer and clue), BUBBA, I SMELL A RAT (even if oddly clued - although it appears that this phrasing is a relatively common misapplication of the original quote when used as an idiom), WAFERS (the conflation of that with thin immediately sent my mind off to the Mr Creosote scene from Monty Python's The Meaning of Life - "It's only wafer-thin ...").

The clue for XEROX was one of my favorites in a long time.

There were indeed some spots of bad fill, notably the aforementioned IRE/IRAE (agreed that having two words cross that have essentially the same meaning and root is poor form) and the ATTU/NTH crossing (linguistic quibble: While NTH - which is barely a word - is spelled without a vowel, it is not vowelless phonetically). But, while I would have been happy not seeing either of those crosses, I don't think they were enough to weigh down a healthy amount of good stuff going on here.

jae 12:43 AM  

Easy-medium for me.  CUTE theme plus a bit of zip...BRADSHAW, BUBBA, Anne Romney's sport, TUSH, I SMELL A RAT, BOATEL...

Part of the movie The Big Year was shot on ATTU.  A  movie worth seeing and a visually interesting place.

The problem with USE BY is that, according to my bride, once you open what ever it is the date is meaningless. 

Liked this way more than Rex did. The theme and the zippy stuff more than make up for the fill problems for me.

Nice Wed. Ed.

Questinia 12:51 AM  

Attu is the adit to the etui of the mind.

Questinia 1:00 AM  

Sorry, just caught part of @ jae's comment:
Anne Romney's sport
tush I smell.

A bit of zip indeed. Hold the Gestalt.

PK 1:06 AM  

A Light In The Dark was the only thing that did anything for me. Thought Botel would be WOD.

PK 1:10 AM  

@BrianB You are quite right. No longer a rivalry between those two teams. Hook em Horns!

John Child 1:26 AM  
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wreck 1:27 AM  

Last week, I struggled. This week, easier than my normal times. What can I say -- I am always the opposite of the regulars here. I mentioned several months ago that I started doing the NYT Crossword again this year after about an 8 year hiatus. Maybe that is why ATTU, ADIT, and ETUI fall in my wheelhouse!

John Child 1:28 AM  

I rarely complain, since puzzles generally are fun. But the dreck did bother me today - several mental "yuk"s.

I really dislike inaccurate clues, so to other complaints on that front I add that PYRES are piles of combustable material, not "Funeral flames."

wreck 1:31 AM  

The Aggies and Horns don't play anymore -- but they are still hated rivals!!

Anonymous 2:06 AM  

All I can say after reading Rex's write-up is: ♪♫ ♪♫ It's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas... ♪♫ ♪♫

Signed Dex Parker-Rex's right hand cross

Benko 2:12 AM  

I am mostly disappointed by the wiki quote at the beginning of @rex's review. All these years of cross wording, I assumed that ATTU was a major Aleutian island, being closest to Russia, and I thought at least a military base would be there. Now I find out it's an uninhabited lump of rock. Oh yeah, I like the word DRESSAGE.
@stevej.--"Wafer thin" will always have that connotation for me too.
@bhikkubum--Are you saying that if @rex finds a puzzle to be relatively difficult for that day of the week, he must automatically like it?

chefwen 2:17 AM  

I solved this one from the TUSH up and thought it was fun. Loved BUBBA, one of our many names for Avatar, he has about seven.

44A was one of Mom's favorite sayings "something's is rotten in Denmark" another was every time she heard a siren "somebody's run afoul of the law. EVERY TIME!!! Brought back fond memories.

Looking forward to a fun rebus tomorrow, anyone else? Joho?

MetaRex 2:46 AM  

A speedy middle of the night solve by MRian standards....not yet back to normal sleep after returning from Singapore on Monday

AWAY WITH WORDS!...I like that answer...fits my predilection for trying to evaluate puzzes quantitatively...the PIEDMONTESE number for today is here.

Anoa Bob 2:51 AM  

I love ATTU. It's an actual place, right there on the map, and it's a welcome foothold for me that can sometimes open up an otherwise tricky section. Kinda like 10A EBON, 10D ETTA, 49A SERE, & 65A IRAE. These old school crossword staples are part of the seasoned solver's arsenal.

Quite a few POCs here, including three with a two-for-one, helper (cheater) square equivalent ending S at 38D IRA/51A AL, 43D XE/54A ST & 47D ABATE/68A PET. Makes me wanna say BAHA.

Ellen S 3:05 AM  

I'm guessing the Romneys never strapped the horse to the roof of the car. So that's alright then.

The fill did somewhat IRE me but the puz was easy enough that I got done in time to come here, so I guess that's a good thing. Looking at the news, every day at least one guy somewhere grabs a gun and goes to school or to work and takes out his frustrations on people who did nothing to him; people in Syria who are lucky enough not to have been blown up are freezing to death and starving. If the worst we have to complain about is crossword puzzles with lousy fill we should count ourselves fortunate.

I guess all that short fill wasn't really so much lousy as unoriginal. Like buying a knitting magazine and discovering it is filled with patterns for twinsets. People still wear those things? Can't they think up something else? How about a sweater with only one sleeve?

Andes Cuter Marines 4:02 AM  

AWAYWITHWORDS is a perfect grid-spanning across for puzzle theme answer! Esp during the 100th anniversary week of crosswords!

Loved that it started with BUBBA!
And that double AA AARON crossing with BAA was fun.

Had problems bec bYahAir shares crucial letters with EYELASH; spent a long time trying to figure out what Blob could be SH--B?

And yes, those long nontheme acrosses made me put in ASMELLARAT at first and ASCAPEPLAN, trying to parse those into wacky phrases!

Had never heard of a BOATEL till this summer when I saw one in Stockholm, it was a hostel on a boat and I thought that sounded exciting. But I was warned that it was uncomfortable and noisy.

Loved SHOEBOX and its clue.

One of my PETS was a sweet black dog named AGGIE. I had rescued her and had her for 7 years.
I lived in a Korean neighborhood in LA and many of the folks were afraid of dogs, so I named her AGGIE.
When children would be tugged away by their parents (needlessly instilling fear) I would say "Aggie Aggie" (which sounds like the Korean word for baby) and cradle my arms and that helped...a little.
When she was hit by a taxi, it broke my spirit and I left LA and moved up to SF, 20 years ago. Not a day goes by when I don't miss her.
Who let the dogs out...or in this case, in? In any case, it was nice to see her name in the puzzle today.

George Barany 4:53 AM  

A few random comments:

(1) As others more scholarly than I have pointed out, the actual line as penned by the Bard is "Something is rotten in the state of Denmark" but perhaps from the context of this specific puzzle, that would clash with theme answer 17-Across, AWARD_OF_THE_STATE. I do not have a problem with editing down the clue, since after all, "brevity is the soul of wit."

(2) As nice as it was to see a fictional BRADSHAW in a clue, the sports fan in me was hoping for a real-life Hall-of-Fame quarterback turned TV commentator, about whom some (Dallas) Cowboy named Hollywood Henderson quipped, before Super Bowl XIII, "He [Bradshaw] is so dumb, he couldn't spell cat if you spotted him a C and an A."

(3) Unrelated, my friend Alex Vratsanos recently interviewed Will Shortz for a school assignment, and those interested can find out more by clicking here.

schmuzz 6:27 AM  

thank you for the interview link @george barany

i found it interesting---looking forward to the 100 year anniversary puzzle!

Glimmerglass 7:33 AM  

There are some very nice things about this puzzle, but some of the clues seem a bit off. One is the clue for ALIGHT IN THE DARK. I've taken far too many redeye flights (I hate them), but west to east, which is when they fly, one always boards in the dark and alights the next morning. The Hamlet clue is wrong. The Longhorns don't play the Aggies anymore. NTH isn't a "word."

RavTom 7:44 AM  

I found this to be one of the more enjoyable of recent puzzles. The theme answers didn't seem "thin" at all; I found them to be clever. The occasional ATTU didn't bother me, not when I got the wonderful new (to me) BOATEL. Level of cluing was spot on for a Wednesday. I hope the NYT keeps accepting puzzles like this.

jberg 7:59 AM  

I like it, despite the doubly offensive IRE - wrongly clued as a verb, and crossing its genitive alter ego in Latin. But the theme was clever, and I've never minded ATTU.

As for Denmark, the clue is one commonly-heard expression meant to suggest another; sure it's Hamlet-related, but that isn't specified, so I wouldn't call it inaccurate.

Isn't BRADSHAW a very famous cricketer?

Finally, here's that WAFER-thin bit we all thought of.

Gill I. P. 8:00 AM  

I too really enjoyed the puzzle. Seemed like a perfectly normal Wed.
BUBBA is more from the South no? It seems like every BBQ sauce I saw had a BUBBA here or there on the label.
Crossword staples don't bother me if the overall result is a smattering of fun words in the grid, then I'm ok with it. If a crossword doesn't sing to me, then I become bored and grumpy.
Like BOATEL, SHOEBOX, TUSH, and IRA/IRE/IRAE didn't bother me for whatever reason.
Agree with @Steve J about the XEROX clue. Also like the clue for 35A USE BY. (wanted see ya)
If someone still signs their name with XES is it legal?
Our son is one of "the Few, the Proud."
PAS to all....

Danp 8:02 AM  

@Andes Cuter Marines - I spent a night in that Boatel in Stockholm. Not terribly comfortable, but great view and interesting people. The next night we stayed in a converted prison. Even better. Made me want to rob a bank. From what I hear, people in Stockholm love bank robbers anyway.

r.alphbunker 8:04 AM  

I barely noticed the crosswordese in this puzzle. The theme answers dominated.

Crosswordese is like the packing peanuts used in shipping. It is a good thing and you don't examine it closely, you go for the goods. However, if a small item comes in a big box filled mainly with packing peanuts that is a cause for complaint.

How about this use of ATTU? {Question asked of a certain Roman politician who had to get away for a while.} ATTU BRUTE?

r.alphbunker 8:04 AM  
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Anonymous 8:05 AM  

The anonymous poster's touching tribute to a sweet dog named Aggie made up for everything. Thank you!

Mr. Fix-It 8:19 AM  

ATTU/DUE->ATTY/DYE is a quick fix in the N. There are many others using DEFERS instead of WAFERS.

Anonymous 8:21 AM  

I thought it was sort of cute and enjoyed the puzzle, as I usually do.

A new reader might wonder if you, Rex, actually enjoy doing your blog or is it drudge work for you? If it is, why do it?

One presumes you do re-read your write-ups before posting them. An earlier commenter used "vitriolic ridicule" in conjunction with today's posting. It might be worth thinking about that comment.

I daresay that many people -- including my friends and me -- actually do the puzzle for FUN.

Perhaps we can (or should) look for another NY Times Crossword blog on the Web somewhere, if there is one you can recommend. Pity...there is a lot of worthwhile analysis in your postings...if the tone were a bit less harsh, reading the blog would be a lot more pleasant.

Do you also take such a tough stand with your students?

Susan McConnell 8:25 AM  

Pretty standard as far as Wednesdays go for me. Best part was that it called to mind the hysterical bit Stephen Colbert did about DRESSAGE. Snort!

joho 8:36 AM  

AWAYWITHWORDS is brilliant!

I liked all of the themers.

Carrie BRADSHAW is heavily into DRESSAGE (not the horsy kind)who has more than one SHOEBOX in her closet.

@chefwen, yes, a rebus would be very welcome! I always laugh when you say your avatar is a dog with many names because so is mine!

@Andes Cuter Marines, your AGGIE sounds like a wonderful dog.

Thank you, Ed Sessa, loved the wordplay!


Mohair Sam 8:38 AM  

Should have been easy here, but we wanted the 10 letter acrosses to be part of the theme and got hung up until IMPALA became obvious. Make it a medium.

NTH a word? Learned something there. Not a constructor, but I thought what Rex said today made sense. How 'bout a rule that small sections be allowed only one piece of crosswordese?

If we hang a map of the Aleutian Islands over the breakfast table will that be considered cheating?

Z 8:50 AM  

I loved the theme, so the ese barely registered here. On reflection, the two crossings Rex points out are pretty bad, but minor quibbles in my book.

I have heard, "Something is rotten in Denmark" far, far more often then the correct line. So much so that I had an, "Oh - that's right," moment when I read Rex's plaint.

"REEDY" is not what comes to mind when I think of bagpipes (since we're doing Monty Python this morning).

@schmuzz - Nice avatar.

A SHOEBOX video for our 90's pop interlude.

OISK 9:21 AM  

Well, I thought, surely everyone will like THIS one. Wrong again! For me, a perfectly enjoyable, well conceived, interesting puzzle taking me about 10 minutes, which is about average for my Wednesdays. I really like the theme entries, remember documentaries about Attu and Kiska, and can even look past the pop culture I never heard of "Baha?" What in the world is a Baha ?

dk 9:35 AM  

@Danp, Try the Ice Hotel next. Speaking of places to stay: Are the inns in the red light district Whoretels?

My opinion of this puzzle is overshadowed by a colossal error on my part. I forgot about Lana Lang and penned in Lois. I am devastated. I always thought LANA was hot.

I found the crossing of IRE and IRAE CUTER than most but then I am easily amused. And, I enjoyed the theme fill although the theme itself elicited an EGAD.

Off to NOLA in two days where Longhorns are eaten and AGGIES are tossed. My son and sister (who I doubt have ever thrown a football) have become rabid Saints fans: One must endure.

���� (2 Stars) Thanks Ed and LANA I am so sorry.

John V 9:40 AM  

Liked this one just fine, fun theme. DSO/SPEW slowed me a bit. I was a touch confused, thinking 30A and 44A were theme answers because of their length and placement, but no biggie.

Good one, Ed Sessa

loren muse smith 9:42 AM  

Finally, after staring at it for quite a while, I decided that ESCAPE PLAN and I SMELL A RAT weren't themers and then saw it immediately. The fact that those two 10's begin with vowels made it even tougher to dismiss them.

@r.alphbunker – spot -on packing peanuts metaphor.

I have never heard of a BOATEL, but it sounds like something to look into.

I always think it might be "Baja." Always.

And "waif" always interferes with how I want to spell WAFER.

@Steve J – I agree about NTH. How 'bout psst? Vowelless word?

@Acme – sweet AGGIE story. @chefwen. . . I have always found it fascinating what nicknames we come up with for our pets. A lot of the time, there seems to be no rhyme or reason. Some actual examples of mine and friends' – the first is the real name, followed by the nicknames –

Paco- Shwybye, Babesy Ramsey
Fred- Lurvin
Wilson- Winyum, Bill, Tweety
Owen- Toe Ball, Blowie
Hank- Crank Bait, Spanky
Molly- Mall Rat, Gladys

Rex – me, too, for "emit" before SPEW. SPEW feels a lot more forceful. If I'm at a table and swallow some raw carrots the wrong way (yes, there's a story there (hi, Brad), and while I'm at it, talk about a design flaw – the food pipe right next to the wind pipe? Seriously? GGGGG), I would rather "emit" the mouthful rather than SPEW it. And SPEW I did.

See? This is why I still DEEP down think I really can't hang here – I had no idea the "Denmark" clue was off. I wish I could feel all upset about that, too.

The kind of thing I look at and ponder is that the G in GNAT is silent but in its cross it's not. And then I wonder about silent G's, hard G's, soft G's. . . and wonder if constructors ever try to have the crosses be the same - GERMAN/GERBIL, GASHES/GOOBERHEAD, GNAT/GNOME. And then I always revisit the tilde N crossing a non-tilde N complaint. But I never reach any conclusions.

Hey, Ed – I always enjoy your puzzles. I'm going to try to think of another A WARD/ AWARD pair today.

NCA President 9:46 AM  

At the risk of beating a dead horse, I'll (briefly) weigh in on the UT-aTm rivalry.

It is still a big in-state rivalry for at least two reasons: recruits (since they are the two most prominent sports schools in a state full of 5-star HS players) and money. Each school has, for years, tried to beat each other on the field by being dominant off the field in financial resources.

That said, now with Baylor (kinda) on the rise, and the general rise in other Texas schools, UT has its hands full in the BigXII and really can't be bothered with aTm's success. But you can bet, as aTm continues to compete in the SEC, UT is jealous of their "little brother."

Only one meta question with regards to fill...I noticed that Ed Sessa mentioned that he did not do any re-writes to this puzzle. Is this necessarily a virtue? I do music and rarely is the very first try at something not improved by even a small tweak here and there. Also, I was wondering if WS is the final arbiter on ALL puzzles. I know he is busy, and I'm guessing he has assistants help with these puzzles...so could it be that a puzzle like this with the IRAE/IRE crossing (etc) just got by WS?

retired_chemist 9:48 AM  

Easy. I liked the theme answers, plus more of the fill than not.

Bright spots: BOATEL, DRESSAGE, I SMELL A RAT (despite the problematic clue). Crap noted by others above.

I just can't get as mad at perceived weaknesses in puzzles as some can. It's the brain stretching (mental floss?) I enjoy more than the cuteness or elegance. So:

Thanks, Mr. Sessa.

Pete 9:49 AM  

@Rex - How dare you, when you see in three seconds how a puzzle might be objectively improved, say so? Oh, wait. It kind of makes sense that you do.

So, I took up the challenge: GASHES becomes SASHES, IRE becomes IRK, TIP becomes TIE, GNAT becomes SNAG and PETS becoms EKGS. Granted you still have the etymological relationship between IRAE and IRK, but less than IRAE/IRE.

Better? Probably slightly, but then it was 15 seconds and I'm a buffoon. Think what some skilled person could do in one minute.

Carola 9:53 AM  

Very clever theme, fun to solve, especially at the delightful AWAYWITHWORDS midpoint. Also liked SHOEBOX, EYELASH, BUBBA, ANDES, WAFERS...well, lots - even the IRE/IRAE cross (had never thought of the connection) with IRAS just above. I was duped for a bit by that XEROX clue - had forgotten we'd seen it in a previous puzzle.

joho 9:57 AM  

@Pete, or how about SASHES then TIP, ILE, SNIT going down and ILIE and PETS across?

joho 10:00 AM  

Come to think of it, ILE/ILIE is horrible! Ignore!

oldbizmark 10:05 AM  

M[T]A S[T]AL[A]G and L[A]NA led to a DNF for me. Never heard of STALAG before. Was thinking of a car for "Charlie" and thought Clark's main squeeze was Lois... oh well. Didn't mind it as much as Rex but definitely had some terrible fill.

r.alphbunker 10:07 AM  
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AliasZ 10:08 AM  

For those who thought the theme today was WAFERS thin, here are some more suggestions:

- ahead of steam (before the valve blows?)
- amass for the dead (collect for the departed?)
- asteroid user (one who profits from meteorite fragments?)
- amiss America (the USA gone awry?)
- awry sense of humor (jokes that no one gets?)
- ABATES Motel (diminishes the prominence of a roadside inn)
- acute angina [I am sure we all heard this joke...]

Hard to imagine aCUTER theme with such awry sense of humor. I enjoyed it, as I tend to enjoy all of Edward Sessa's puzzles almost as much as his cute little pooch.

I loved DRESSAGE, EYELASH, SHOEBOX and a few others. IRAS right above IRE crossing IRAE was not pretty, but it was worth it.

Of all musical possibilities today, I am going with The WAND of Youth Suite by Sir Edward Elgar, a rearrangement of music from his early youth, subtitled "Music to a Child's Play."

Enjoy your Wednesday!

tsparrow 10:15 AM  

Enjoyed the puzzle.

@loren muse smith - Liked your comments about pet nicknames ... Here are some of ours

Zoe - Patrolly, ZoeOlah, Zoemeister
Dixie - Pixie, Bug, Doodlebug

James Dean 10:21 AM  

For me there was more to like than not like. And after a run of puzzles last week that made me feel like I had crossword senility this one was refreshing. Some bad fill, yes, but bubba, boatel, bradshaw and the long crosses more than made up for it.

Colleen 10:24 AM  

In addition to everything Glimmerglass pointed out, 24 Across is also incorrect. Bono was indeed made a Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, but because he is Irish he is not entitled (ha!) to use "Sir" before his name. That is a privilege of citizens of the United Kingdom or British Commonwealth countries. The Republic of Ireland is not a member of the UK or the Commonwealth of Nations. It is disappointing that the NYT crossword puzzle could contain as many factual errors as this one has.

PapaLeroux 10:28 AM  

Haven't entered anything here in a long time. Thought I would update my profile.
tsparrow has morphed into Papa Leroux.

Anonymous 10:28 AM  

Do shepards shear? Different skill set,isn't it? Probably done by someone else?

Two Ponies 10:43 AM  

I liked it OK but really wanted alight in the darkNESS. Sounds better to me.
Away with words was my favorite.

Our Simon was pronounced Seemone by the Mexican landscapers so that morphed into Sea monster.

Steve J 10:46 AM  

@glimmerglass: Those clues aren't wrong.

Depending on the time of year, redeyes often do arrive before sunrise. This time of year, for instance, when they days are at their shortest.

The clue for 44A makes no reference to Hamlet. I thought the phrase was off, too, but then I googled it and found it's a common expression that misconstrues the original Hamlet quote. Inelegant clue, but not a wrong one.

"To the NTH degree." That looks like a word to me. Barely, but it still is one.

As far as AGGIES: Yes, they don't play anymore, but they were a big rival (and NCA President points out ways they still are). More to the point, the NYT rarely clues things like this as past tense. I wish I could remember examples quickly, but I see this a lot, where something that was once true is clued without reference to its being something from the past (Big name in ISPs as a clue for AOL or MSN is the best one I can come up with; neither has been an important ISP for many years now, but you wouldn't know that from the clue). I don't agree with the NYT's not flagging such things as formerly true, but it's consistent with how they approach these.

As is usually the case with teh NYT, bad clues are still typically not wrong clues.

@Colleen seems to have found one of the rare cases where the NYT does have a factual error. Pretty quick googling shows that many of the stories about his knighthood mention that he's not eligible for the SIR title.

@NCA President: Agreed with you that the comment about no rewrites was not a badge of honor. Everything can use an edit, and we've already discussed at least two areas that were badly in need of an edit (and @Pete showed how easy it would have been to fix one of those areas). Given what I've heard from other constructors about rewrites they've had to do, I'm really surprised that Shortz took this one as-is. It's still a good puzzle, but it would have been much better if those things had been fixed.

Masked and Anonymo4Us 10:50 AM  

@AliasZ: Primo list. Howbout...
- APARTINTHEMOVIE ... Sharing popcorn the hard way.
- AGAINONTHATPLAY ... Reprising the same old role.
- AFARBETTERTHING ... Off track wager?
You know you've got a cool theme, when everyone else starts wantin to pile on.

Seems like a body could also have a theme where you rotate the idea 180 degrees...
AHEADOFTHEGAME ... Onboard potty for real stinkers.

@4-Oh: Primo BAHA moments. Day-um. Snarknado!
Funny how one chooses all them cool words early on in fillin up a grid, then later on the words start choosin you. Pretty soon, it's ATTU ... Gesundheit ... time. har. The words all start lookin uglier, at closin time.

weejects anonymous: UAW. aw. Little darlin. XES. Sex from the rear!

M&A

chefbea 10:58 AM  

Didn't get the theme!! DNF. Did notice Iras, Ire,Irae - is that allowed???

Doug 11:00 AM  

Agree with Rex on Denmark. I hate that nobody ever uses the full quote. Something is rotten in the state of Denmark. It has euphony. Same thing for Tom Wolfe's famous quote of Chuck Yeager. It's "pushing the outside of the envelope." Not pushing the envelope. Which sounds like pushing your stationery across your desk. Ugh. Help me.

quilter1 11:29 AM  

I didn't mind seeing ATTU as my dad was assigned to the Aleutians serving in the navy during WWII. I did not rate this one medium as I breezed through while also listening to Rachel Maddow from last night. Hilarious. Rachel, I mean.

Anonymous 11:48 AM  

ire irked me. also would like to add "Alas poor Yorick, I knew him Horatio" for often misquoted. Good "Ol Aggie.

Noam D. Elkies 11:49 AM  

Didn't even notice the IRE/IRAE problem because I was irked by the cluing of IRE: it's a perfectly cromulent noun but I don't remember hearing or seeing it verbed outside crosswords.

Meanwhile, Rex should teach his spell-checker the word "assery" as in the phrase "half-assery" for ;-like behavior. It got "corrected" to "assert". (And it's not the constructor's fault that his surname reverses to "asses".)

NDE

DJG 11:49 AM  

@Anon 12:23 and @Mr. Fix-It,

If DEEPENS is changed to DEEDEE (Ramone) and OPIE to ODIE (Garfield dog), then you wouldn't have that TN ending and that part could be filled much more nicely.

Dick Swart 11:55 AM  

Only really old guys will remember that the Aleution Island answers were hot news in WWII and might have been seen as timely.

MikeM 12:14 PM  

X is such a strange letter . I stared at the few letters I had in for SHOEBOX for an inordinate amount of time, my mind would just not autofill an X at the end. I liked the puzzle, no problem w the IRE/IRAE cross, they are two different words. Only write over was bBc for the Downton Abbey answer.

lee snow 12:49 PM  

Outstanding commentary today.
Far better than normal.
Congratulations, Rex.
Lee Snow

Joe The Juggler 12:53 PM  

Several people have commented on "Something is rotten in Denmark" (as a common misquote of Hamlet), but I don't think anyone has pointed out that "I smell a rat" comes from the same play.

Acme 1:25 PM  

@r.alphbunker 10:07am
Wow, that was utterly fascinating, but perhaps a bit unfair to post here...
I mean, most surveys tend to be skewed to the ends of the spectrum, as those who hated or loved are the most likely to bother to respond (right, @dk?)
But it was super interesting to me to see how much it parallels feelings here across the board...

And I'm aghast they rate professors on hotness...
But happy (for him) he seemed to pass that nightmare of a category!

No surprise he's known to be harsh grader, super knowledg(e/a)ble, witty, does not suffer fools nor slackers, but AM surprised so many of the English majors misspelled "defin(i/a)tely!

Benko 1:31 PM  

@m&A: Excellent clue for XES! Watch it pop up in a BEQ.
@gill-XES for your signature are still legal. I was just talking to someone who makes a smiley face for their signature, and that counts too.
-NTH is a word.
@oisk: A BAHA is someone from the BAHAmas.
@LMS- It's funny how we transliterate our dogs' names as we come up with new nicknames. For my Jack Russell, Bodie: Bo, BoBo, Bub, BubBub, Pup, Puppers, PupPup, Diggy, Digger, DigDog. He knows all of those names are for him.

Acme 1:35 PM  

PS @joho
I think ILE/ILIE beats IRE/IRAE by a mile... Plus ILIE is a tennis player, which is something certain editors love!
(fwiw, the LA Times editor is a serious golfer)

I'm pretty sure Letterman called BONO "Sir" the other night (the other "knight"? The other KNT?!) and was not corrected, tho, of course, Elton John would've made a better clue...or even Paul McCarthy...tho he is of Irish descent!
Bono told an amusing anecdote about meeting Sonny Bono in an elevator, perhaps some wizard can find/embed.
Not glad the mistake was made, but interesting to learn about the whole Irish thing...but What's the point of being knighted if you can't be called "Sir"?
And perhaps this whole being treated badly by the English historically is why Peter O'Toole refused the honour? I just saw a mention of that in passing in his obit.

Bird 1:48 PM  

Despite there being only 3 themers and wishing the longer crosses (which I like), this puzzle was not that bad. Hand up for liking the themers and their clues. There were a few unknowns, but crosses were easy.

Didn’t mind IRE/IRAE or ATTU/ATTN as there seems to be a mini-theme of similarities (ATTU, ATTN, ETTA, alas no ETNA), but didn’t like plural IRAS or ALS.

Good comments today - alternate solutions to ATTU/ATTN, nicknames, etc.

Happy Humpday!

PapaLeroux 1:48 PM  

As an ex-educator, I certainly hope Michael Sharp is hard on his students.

Lewis 2:05 PM  

Wanted HIDEOUS for 69A but it wouldn't fit.

What's the difference between a BOATEL and a cruise ship? (This is not a riddle, just actually curious.)

@M&A -- I laughed with recognition over your observation on how the words get uglier as a puzzle you're making goes along.

There are ten words in this puzzle that become different words when read backwards.

I liked the theme; not thin at all to me. I agree with many that the good easily outweighed the bad in this one.

Anonymous 2:11 PM  

Hear hear! My sentiments exactly. The only person I get annoyed with when doing the puzzle is me. Mr. Parker, do you construct puzzles as well as you deconstruct them?

Xaviera Hollander 2:51 PM  

As a sex-educator, I certainly hope Michael Sharp is hard on (and with) his students.

Gill I. P. 3:02 PM  

@Benko. Interesting fact about putting anything down for a legal signature...Hmmm, I think I'll draw a pup with 3 tennis balls in his mouth!
@Acme...I'd leave LA too...:-(

Z 3:04 PM  

@R.alphbunker and @acme - Thoroughly amusing. I loved comments like, "He likes what he teaches and class can be interesting, but his lectures never end and his grading is very harsh. Don't take any of his classes and expect an A," and "ruined my GPA." As if an "A" is somehow a God-given right. I had a pal working as an adjunct at a University very near here be criticized (and, thus, threatened with loss of course load) for being too harsh a grader. The evidence was the scarcity of A's he had given.

r.alphbunker 3:17 PM  

@acme
I just thought that I was saving someone a google when I posted the link. My wife agrees with you though so I have removed the post.

The Internet has really changed the idea of what constitutes privacy. I taught a course on Computer Security and during the lecture on privacy, students were looking up information about me on the Internet and letting me know what they found.

Z 3:25 PM  

@r.alphbunker - One of the biggest challenges for education today is the teaching of critical reading. Lots of the filters of the past are eliminated by the internet. Rating sites exist for everything, and are basically worthless for the very reason @acme cited. Most of the ratings say far more about the (oft anonymous) raters than the person/business rated. While I'm a firm believer in the notion that the cure for poor/wrong/mean speech is more speech, I understand your reason for removing the link.

jburgs 3:47 PM  

Fun puzzle for me.

Just to add some fuel, let me say "the proof is in the pudding"

Benko 3:51 PM  

@z and @ralphbunker-- The link, although a bit personal, was hardly embarrassing. If the worst thing your students can think to say about you is that you make it hard to get an "A", then there's really nothing to be ashamed of.
@gill.--I like it!

Bird 4:10 PM  

@Benko @z and @ralph.bunker - If students are complaining because they are not getting A's, then perhaps they need to review their study habits. Yet, at the same time the teacher might want to review his grading criteria. I had some teachers that were unreasonably harsh when it came to testing and grading. In fact on one test nobody got higher than a B and there were many students who averaged an A. The teacher had an open discussion with the class and everyone, including the teacher, was more enlightened. From that day on the students all studied harder and the teacher graded fairer.

Not saying all teachers/students need to do a self-reflection, just relaying a personal experience.

Also - I checked out the teacher rating site. It does not have a log in so I would not think those ratings are all truthful.

Linda Lewis 4:13 PM  

And I think of a blob as "shapeless" rather than a shape...

retired_chemist 4:22 PM  

One year I taught Organic Chem, following a very popular teacher in Gen. Chem. I found the students ill prepared. I got remarks just about like @Rex did. The most telling was that I "asked questions on tests that were not [directly] from the book or lecture notes." In other words, they actually had to THINK to do well, which they considered unfair.

Many of the students did not even realize that their model of education was that they be spoon-fed facts and tested on such. Learning principles and concepts, then applying them in different yet perfectly fair ways was foreign to them - the popular professor had done them an intellectual disservice, as had almost all their prior educational experience.

I had to educate the undergraduate dean that I actually knew more about how organic chemistry should be taught and learned than the students did, and showed him by sample tests from other Universities that I wasn't out of line.

At the end of the year we gave a nationally standardized exam. My students were well above the national average. I moved on to other duties and Organic fell to a succession of lecturers, all of whom were more popular than I and none of whom were able to take their students above that national average.

The moral - I thought Rex's evaluations were excellent. His complainers were cut from the same cloth as mine.

M and Also 4:47 PM  

@retired chemist: Come to think about it, it's pretty seldom that an NYT puz seems to get an A from Professor Parker. Perhaps he's tryin to raise the quality of constructioneers, just like you were with yer students.

I remember in my last college writing class, on the first paper I got a B+. Then we started tryin to incorporate all the various techniques taught in the class. My papers started gettin mostly low C's, after that. But I somehow managed to get an A on the final big bertha paper, and an A in the course. Teacher seemed to care a lot more about where you ended up, rather than what trouble you were runnin into along the way. That can really mess with yer mind along the way, tho.

Peace on Earth, Good Will toward Teachers.
Who usually managed to outfox me.
M&A

Anonymous 5:16 PM  

Ire is a noun; tee off is a verb; case closed. Verdict: One month in the penalty box.

Anonymous 5:51 PM  

I have to laugh at some of the people here who are lauding Rex's harsh criticism as if it were right. Crosswords aren't chemistry, its not science, there is no objective standard. For all we know Rex's harsh critiques could be less about the puzzle and more about him. And don't think critics can't get petty, cause they can and often do.

Good day.

Carola 6:07 PM  

Thinking more about the theme answers - I liked the way the center one worked sort of as opposites: "AWAY WITH WORDS! Who needs 'em anyway?" vs. A WAY WITH WORDS - what we all treasure in crossword constructors.

Sfingi 6:37 PM  

I liked it. And AliasZ's additional theme suggestions.

I had the hardest time with SHOEBOX, changing it several times. Hubster explained it, which made me gasp at the misuse of baseball cards. Our family made 8G from the sale of one card at Hesse Gallery! If it had been thrown at the wall,etc., who knows?

quilter1 6:58 PM  

@jbergs: I am certain you were joking about the pudding. Nonetheless, I find myself screaming at the tv when this adage is misquoted. I also once worked with a doctor who misquoted at least once per rounds, but I couldn't scream at her that the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Thanks for bringing back memories.

Anonymous 7:12 PM  

This is getting funny...every day I do the puzzle, enjoy it, and then just for laughs check this blog. "What did Rex hate today?" It's always something. Your crankiness is tiring.

Anyone who likes birds/birding knows about Attu.

Anonymous 8:03 PM  

can someone explain why so many self-absorbed people make comments and then remove them? paranoia? narcissism?

retired_chemist 8:18 PM  

@ Anon 8:03 - In my case, and probably others, it involves typos not caught the first time around. Self-absorbed has nothing to do with it.

jae 8:50 PM  

@r_c - Yup, typos.

Gill I. P. 9:11 PM  

Wow, 11 Anonymous and counting. Too bad you don't say who you are....Some of you are pretty clever with your comments, some are pedantic (which I sort of like) some are irritating. At the end of the day, I'd like to know who you are.
There's always room here for discussion - show your avatar...I dare you.

Anonymous 12:29 AM  

My name IS Anonymnous. Ever heard of Will.i.am? Well, I.Am.Anonymous. My album should drop in A.pril.

sanfranman59 3:03 AM  

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 7:08, 6:13, 1.15, 93%, Challenging
Tue 7:27, 8:12, 0.91, 21%, Easy-Medium
Wed 10:28, 9:56, 1.05, 66%, Medium-Challenging

Top 100 solvers

Mon 4:30, 3:49, 1.18, 95%, Challenging (11th highest ratio of 208 Mondays)
Tue 4:56, 5:09, 0.96, 35%, Easy-Medium
Wed 6:29, 5:58, 1.09, 73%, Medium-Challenging

spacecraft 11:14 AM  

I fall in with the @Steve J camp: outside of a couple of stinkers a pretty good grid. OFL tends to latch onto those "RAT-"iferous items and worry them like a dog with an old rag, often downplaying the better parts.

I think I can understand why. It is frustrating, when one sees how easily a defect can be repaired, to have to stare at it. (Note: "easily" in this case refers to @Rex, not to @me.) It's like my old drill sergeant, when he noticed a smudge on one of my boots during inspection, even though the rest of my gear was in top shape: (jaw almost touching my sternum--he was a head shorter) "Son, when's the last time you rearranged the dirt on your shoes?" Ah, good old KP. To this day, I can't even look at a shrimp.

So, chastise ATTU/ATTN and IRE/IRAE to your heart's content, but don't throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Sorry, guys, I got the nuts: five 9's!

Solving in Seattle 2:15 PM  

My misspelled cheeta crossing with "hog' at 50A morphed into IMPALA/MTA. caTS became generic PETS, and I ALIGHT(ed)INTHEDAwn before DARK.

So, because of my troubles in the South, I declare this more like a themed Fripuz in degree of difficulty.

I SPEWed reading M&A's definition of XES.

I have a friend who goes off ranting about something then apologizes and says she'll "get off her SHOEBOX now."

Liked the fire drill answer crossing PYRES. Clever, Mr. Sessa.

@Spacey takes the pot.

My Capcha: ngsainsu. Oscar nominee for best supporting actor?

Go Hawks!

rain forest 3:03 PM  

The theme, as well as several other fresh answers, outshone the areas which IREd certain people. BAHa to all of them!

I liked this puzzle, and agree with @Spacey about the baby/bathwater thing.

Thanks, @DMG, for the tip about the capcha. But, I only have 4 nines, so @Spacey wins. Strange deck, though, with 9 nines in it...

DMG 3:09 PM  

Thought this one a bit of fun, particularly with AWAYWITHWORDS, which is how I see puzzles.

My full house is no competition for @spacecraft. Maybe tomorrow!

Waxy in Montreal 3:55 PM  

Glad the usual syndiland sanity reigns concerning IRAS, IRE and IRAE. Not sure why certain primetimers are so vitriolic, day after day. In keeping with theme answer 3, far better to light a candle than curse the darkness.

Personally, like @DMG, thought this was a fun puzzle.

Not usually a tennis fan but will be avidly watching the Aussie Open semis tonight as 19-year old Montrealer Eugenie Bouchard attempts to become the first Canadian woman in forever to reach a grand slam final. GO GENIE! (And, of course, GO HAWKS!)

Ugh. Captcha ends with 666. Hope this doesn't mean I'm toast (or a bagel).

Ginger 5:26 PM  

The IRE/IRAE cross is unfortunate, but the rest of the puzzle made up for it. No problem with ATTU, it's a real place, with a lot of history.

14-A brings to mind the wonderful Appalachian Spring and an ear worm I'll enjoy all day. Wanted BAjA men, but they're from the Bahamas, not Cabo.

@Waxy - I saw an interview with your Genie; very impressive. She seems genuine and delightful. I will most certainly watch, and will most certainly root for her! She has a group of fans that have given her a stuffed animal every day she plays. That day it was a wombat!

4 8s and a pair of 4s will keep in long enough to build up the pot for Spacey.

Cary in Boulder 7:24 PM  

I thought this one was pretty easy. Liked the puns. Surprised at Rex's Med-Challenging rating. But then that just means it took him 2 minutes and 49 seconds instead of 2:33. Me, i did half of it while waiting in a courtroom to be dismissed from jury duty. Finished it off when I thankfully returned home before lunch.

Somebody called BAHA did that stoopid song? Huh. What other hits did they have? At least I knew MTA from the old Kingston Trio song. Speaking of old, I remember the old William Holden movie, Stalag 17. To me it seems like such a cultural touchstone that it's hard to believe that someone like @Oldbizmark never heard of the word.

For the bagpipes clue I wanted WHINY, but that would've required a major rewrite of the SE corner, I guess.

Captcha: alzequ Morant. I know he wrote something I was supposed to read in high school English, but I can't remember what.

Cary in Boulder 7:31 PM  

Re: Aussie Open. I'm not a tennis fan, but happened to see Ana Ivanovic wipe the court with a muscular Australian gal before moving on to take out Serena. Ms. Ivanovic left me melting into a pool of drool. She is a cutie; a good enough reason to watch women's tennis.

As far as hulking, tattooed, brain-scrambled male athletes are concerned, it should surprise no one that I would say GO BRONCOS.

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