Saxophonist Al / THU 12-12-13 / Town in England Nevada / Boomer born in 1961 / Band parodied by Weird Al Yankovic's Dare to Be Stupid / Certain bullet train rider / Samson Delilah director / Energy-filled chargers / Munchies from Mars / Borg contemporary

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Constructor: David Steinberg

Relative difficulty: Challenging


THEME: ERASE Rs

Note: "After this puzzle was created, the constructor did something to 11 squares - as suggested by a two-word reading of 63-Across before alteration."

Certain squares are blank. Solvers are given no initial clue as to which squares these are, or that blank squares are even in play. It's not until you get to 63A: Moderates (E-ASE-S) that, using the "Note" provided, you can infer that the "two-word reading of 63-Across before alteration" is ERASE Rs. So: a hypothetical original grid has its Rs erased, giving us an R-less grid, which is clued (without any indication that the grid is going to have holes where the Rs were). The real feat here is that the "original" grid and the R-less one both make sense, i.e. with or without Rs, there are coherent words/phrases in the grid.

Word of the Day: Al COHN (47A: Saxophonist Al) —
Al Cohn (November 24, 1925 – February 15, 1988)[1] was an American jazz saxophonistarranger and composer. He came to prominence in the band of clarinetist Woody Herman and was known for his longtime musical partnership with fellow saxophonist Zoot Sims. (wikipeidia)
• • •

[DEAR SYNDICATED SOLVERS. Please listen to the following pitch. Also, feel free to write me with any comments or concerns. You're well over half my total audience, and yet I hardly ever hear from you. Thanks!]

THE PITCH — [You can scroll down if you've already read it]

So … it's January, the time when I make my annual week-long pitch for financial contributions to this blog. Actually, I didn't make the pitch last year. I used last January to raise money for other causes instead (and it was my pleasure to do so). But this year I once again ask you (especially you regular readers) to consider what the blog is worth to you on an annual basis and give accordingly. As I've said before, as much as I love writing this blog, I treat it like a job— answers and commentary go up every day, without fail, usually at 12:01 am, but certainly by 9am at the very latest. This has been true for seven straight years. I know that some people are opposed to paying for what they can get for free, and still others really don't have money to spare. Both kinds of people are welcome to continue reading my blog, with my compliments. It will always be free. I have no interest in cordoning it off, nor do I have any interest in taking advertising. I value my independence too much. Anyway, if you are so moved, there is a Paypal button in the sidebar, and a mailing address here:

Rex Parker
℅ Michael Sharp
54 Matthews St
Binghamton NY 13905

Maybe I'll stick a PayPal button in here for the mobile users. Let's see...

I think that worked. Cool.

For people who send me actual honest-to-god (i.e. "snail") mail, I have this great new set of thank-you postcards that I'm hoping to burn through: "the iconic Pantone color chip design in 100 brilliant colors." Who will be the lucky person who gets … let's see … Pantone 19-2025: Red Plum? Ooooh, elegant. It could be you. Or give via PayPal and get a thank-you email. That's cool too. Anyway, whatever you choose to do, I remain most grateful for your readership. Now on to the puzzle …

Update: I got my first snail-mail donation —look at the cuteness:


• • •

This is really quite clever, though I suspect many will have found less than enjoyable to solve (given that it was twice as hard as a typical Thursday and the "note" accompanying the puzzle was less than clear). Completely filled in, this thing is a rather dull themeless. But the ERASE R'S gimmick makes it a perilous adventure. Quality of fill still matters—and the fill here is definitely solid—but the enjoyment here is in the find-the-blanks challenge, not in the "wow" of the fill or the revelation of clever theme answers. The puzzle produces a very delayed gratification—you have to imagine a grid that's not actually (all) in order to appreciate what was done to it. In fact, you have to infer the revealer, ERASE R'S, from a. the empty squares in your grid and b. the note, which tells you that there is a "two-word reading of 63-Across before alteration." This means you have to look at E-ASE-S and figure out how the pre-altered version looked. Blank squares throughout the grid should put the concept of erasure in your head, so I don't think it's that hard to get to "ERASERS" from E-ASE-S. Still, even knowing the gimmick helps you only slightly, since none of the pre-altered (R-containing) words are clued as such. Only the altered (R-less) versions are clued, so you have to get those answers and then determine where the blanks are based on where an "R" *could* go to make a plausible word / phrase. But you can use that "R" logic only after you've picked up the ERASE Rs gimmick. Before that, god help you. There's no real way to know where blanks are going to go except by feel.


I first began to pick up on the missing letter thing with A T-EST. I had the -EST part and knew it had to be H- or A-TEST but … too many squares. Same thing for SAGE. I didn't fully get the missing letter thing, though, until I had inferred enough of [Kind of ray] to know that it *had* to be GAMMA (or G-AMMA-). That let me put in SA-GE, and then … well then at least I sort of knew what was up. Blank squares. Randomly placed. Not until much later did I get the revealer and see that if you filled those blanks with Rs, they made plausible answers (to the imagined, "original," not-clued-here grid).


Just talking about this puzzle is making my head hurt. Easy to grasp through experience than through description. I am most grateful that the fill was totally inoffensive. I don't love "I AM A" (54D: "___Rock"), but it's an outlier, badness-wise, and it also helped me change ANEMONE to ABALONE (one of my bigger post-getting-the-theme hold-ups) (58A: Awabi, at a sushi bar). I finished in the NW and was, briefly, afraid I wasn't actually going to get into that corner. Finally grokked CEDILLA from -ILLA (had wanted MANILLA…) (1A: Letter attachment?) and that was that. Ended with the "Y" in EYEBOLT (24D: Fastener with a ring-shaped head). Now I have to go rest my eye pits.
    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    146 comments:

    jae 12:04 AM  

    Well my Tues. wondering about the rest of the week being tough is coming true.  Four in a row so far.  

    I completely missed the note and was left staring a 11 apparently random blank squares wondering WOE?!  It then occurred to me that there might have been a note and sure enough...

    CEDILLA was pretty tough way to start.  It wasn't quite a WOE, but I could not remember the precise meaning.

    JANN evokes Miami Vice for me.

    Did not know that NED and TED are both nicknames for Edward.

    Very clever fun solve.  I love and hope for a tricky Thurs. and this was excellent.  Thanks David!

    wreck 12:07 AM  

    ...and I thought Wednesday was tough!! I can't wait until everyone comes here to tell us how easy it was.

    Questinia 12:22 AM  

    Once I defined " moderates " as mitigates then it all fell into place. The difficult part for me was the directions to follow before the solve. But then I always have problems with directions.

    Fun solve!

    chefwen 12:28 AM  

    @wreck - I will NOT be telling you how easy it was. Holy Mother of God, challenging was an understatement (for me) Did not see the note, not that it would have done me any good. And I was looking forward to cutesy, fun, little Thursday rebus. Maybe next week.

    Anonymous 12:39 AM  

    Well, I screwed up thinking it was erase Es and so had Es instead of Rs. If I knew it was Rs maybe I would've gotten the NW which was insane with cedilla, luego, ely, eyebolt, nui, elle, and others.

    However, I missed the trick so I have to deal with the fact that I'm slow and I suck, which shouldn't really come as a shock considering my place in society.

    And some people still claim that it's working hard that decides your status not genes. Yes, and that's why you see so many 5' professional basketball players and 6' jockeys.

    retired_chemist 12:47 AM  

    Did not see the note but, after a longtime, I got a correct solve. The insertion of R's indeed gives a set of real words, with no garbage, but when that is done the words with the R's in have no relation to the clues. Unpleasant. Reinforces mt idea that it is more irksome than it is worth to do a David Steinberg puzzle. I nearly didn't......

    mrfugu 12:50 AM  

    Loved this. Devilish.

    Steve J 1:22 AM  
    This comment has been removed by the author.
    Steve J 1:24 AM  

    I really don't know what I think about this one. Part of me loathed this. Part of me is a bit amazed.

    I'm just wondering how you all figured out that there were supposed to be Rs in the missing spots. I saw that there were clearly missing spots in some answers. But because the revealer contains Rs - and there's no way of knowing to put that letter in (unless, I suppose, you have a lot of 63A filled in, which I did not) - I just don't think I ever would have gotten there.

    I never did get there. Gave up after a very long time where nothing was making sense.

    Again, I don't know what to think. Part of me leans toward its being too clever for its own good. Part of me think it's just clever.

    All of me thinks it was brutally difficult. And none of me enjoyed it.

    Agesago Cedilla Mariners 1:47 AM  

    Missed the note, but got it at GrAMMAr

    Weird and fun that M & Ms becomes MR and MRS!

    I kept thinking once you added the Rs it would still be related to the clue, because RAMBLER is someone who AMBLES, so it seemed to still fit the clue...

    So at one point I actually thought maybe Mars made a candy called MR and MRS!

    Had put in NEdD also, because EDD is a variation of Edward as well, so I thought maybe NEDD was too.
    O-v-e-r-t -h-i-n-k.

    Somehow I think the clues should encompass both elements... Like CONDORS CONDO (Bird house?)

    MR AND MRS M AND MS (Married folks' chocolate treats?)
    CONES CORNERS (Tips of the ice (cream) bergs?

    Something like that.

    I liked that even tho both ESIASON (my first answer!) was over another (sports!!!) name, there was still wordplay to the clues, not just such and such football player/such and such tennis player.

    Anonymous 4:00 AM  

    I'll just act like I'm the only one that saw CONDO-S and had CONDOmS in there for a hot minute.

    Danp 6:36 AM  

    Seems to me the theme is there are a bunch of blank squares randomly placed in the grid. Some at the ends of words, some in the middle. Some have one blank, others two. The R's are a complete misdirect. While it is brilliant that you can put R's in all the blanks and get other words or phrases, there is no benefit to knowing that. And therefore, telling the solver to focus on 63A is bizarre. You can't get the revealer without first figuring out the theme. And then you have no reason to know what letters were erased.

    In sum, the construction was masterful. The theme, however, was only half developed.

    baja 6:43 AM  

    Grrrrrrrrrrr! Thats the only place my r's ended up. Not a clue but very clever. Hats off to all who got this.

    Jim Finder 7:15 AM  

    I sort of finished this thing, but with Es instead of Rs in the blank squares. Don't know how that happened. As danp pointed out, the theme is really "random blank squares." There's no reason you have to fill the blanks with Rs or any other letter. With blanks, 63A will simply be EASES as clued.

    With Es instead of Rs, and given the note, 63A became (sort of) EASE Es, which seemed plausible enough.

    AliasZ 7:40 AM  

    Two remove-the-letters themes in five days? But this was a terrific, utterly ENGAGING puzzle by the kid wizard of Cruciverbia.

    The timed online applet did not have a note attached. It said "See Notepad" but there was no note, so I decided to go ahead anyway. I caught on in the NE where I had ESIASON and NASTASE, ISAO, SAMOANs and OSAKAN. G(R)AMMA(R) rays, of course! As I worked my way around the grid, I realized that the words with R's are clued without the R's. But why? Then I got to the revealer at 63A. Aha! I had great fun with it, better than with the note.

    Speaking of the NE, at first I thought there were too many sports names, and SAMOANS next door to OSAKAN was a little too close for comfort, but I didn't mind it due to the virtually junk-free fill (well, except III). Lots of G, A, S, E and O's in that top center triangle though, rather GASEOus, I'd say. What does KNITS spell backwards?

    I had ELITISM before EGOTISM but it didn't last long. I loved CEDILLA, EPAULET, YOU LOSE, Cecil B. DEMILLE, MANIACS, and virtually everything else about this puzzle. Maybe I'll have PADTHAI for lunch.

    I think the EYEBOLT is what you use to lock your eyepit with. But then IAMA TWIT. Which brings up my favorite crossing: KNITS-TWIT.

    Speaking of removing letters, can I play too? Let me remove all adjacent YS-es from the grid, see what happens: S[YS]TEMS and ISA[YS]O. No good, we already have ISAO at 10D. I give up.

    Happy Thursday!

    loren muse smith 7:45 AM  

    Wow. I was doomed before I even started. You know those weeks where you're off a day? For some reason you think all week you're a day ahead or a day behind? Well this is one for me. I've been a day ahead all week, so when I saw David's name, I immediately was solving a Friday themeless. AND I, too, failed to see any note. I print out the AcrossLite version, and I *still* don't see the note.

    You can imagine the trouble, then. I had ESAISON, KNIT, SYSTEMS, KASEM, PINE, and I SAY SO. I did notice stuff like SARGE, COVERT, GRAMMAR. . . and was just so, so lost.

    Kept revisiting PAD THAI, checking again that "paella" wouldn't work. You probably don't garnish that with a lime anyway. (You do get a lime with MacDonald's Southwest Chicken Salad, and it's a pretty good salad, I have to say.)

    @Tita – Hall Hall is great, as is "who in the hall do you want?" Hah!

    @AliasZ - you're really clever. I always slow down when I come to your remarks.

    Mom's middle name is 48D.

    @jae – I'm impressed that you solved it and left those squares blank. I'm not there yet in terms of confidence. I see the clue "wise," see SARGE and immediately decide that it's some kind of term/concept that I don't know. Sheesh.

    I'm sooooo disappointed I couldn't solve this from the right perspective! I absolutely love the idea! To have no R's in the grid is really, really elegant. I submitted an R-less grid (don't look for it – it wasn't good enough), and filling it was a bear, let me tell you.

    "Bullet train" – funny. I've forgotten so much Japanese, but three nouns are always right there in my brain, ready to use – shinkansen (bullet train), jisaboke (jet lag), and jidouhanbaiki (vending machine). Fodder (fare?) for terrific conversations. Kind of like David Sedaris' French "bottleneck" and "ashtray."

    CEDILLA crossing LUEGO, SABE, OSAKAN. . . man o man this looks like a crunchy Thursday. I applaud the idea and its execution. Way to go, David!!

    John Child 8:12 AM  

    Sometimes a puzzle is he cat's meow for me. This was the pewit's eye pit. It makes my brain hurt, mommy.

    If the reveal had been more like ADDeRS I might have got it. Or circles where the Rs go?

    Well no probably not even then... Way, way over my head.

    jberg 8:13 AM  

    I wish I could agree with the opinion that it's OK to leave the blank squares blank- since that's what I did - but really, that's a DNF. The clue may be murky, but it's not ambiguous - you have to read the revealer as 2 words, and you can't do that without the Rs. So I enjoyed solving it as far as I did, and figuring out where the blank squares were (except that, not getting it, I had RAMBLE for stroll at 17A, not noticing that CORNE S made no sense).

    No idea who ESIASON is, nor how he or she is a boomer. @ACME says sports, so does he hit home runs or something? Gettable from crosses, once I dredged up ISAO, but a blank to me.

    Fun writeover: sGt before TGI for "Friday's precede." Also OzArk before OSAGE, but I should have known better. And, not knowing the work of Weird Al all that well, DEad before DEVO.

    @Loren, my son lived in Japan for six years, so I visited whenever I could and picked up a few words here and there. My biggest revelation came when we were having breakfast in a coffee shop and I asked him to order a glass of orange juice for me - whereupon he turned to the waiter and said "oranju jusu."

    Back to grading.

    Michael Hanko 8:14 AM  

    This one was just up my alley—I love a puzzle that makes me struggle till the very end to figure out what is going on. After a work-out like this, my brain feels that pleasantly sore sensation that my muscles enjoy after a challenging session with my trainer.

    Thank you, David. And Will, please keep these super-difficult puzzles coming Thu-Sat!

    Susan McConnell 8:20 AM  

    Loved it! Struggled, for sure, but it was sooo fun. Starting in the SE helped a lot.

    joho 8:32 AM  

    I missed the note and still got the gimmick but thought that David had just created a puzzle with random blank squares ... at which point I thought, "How original and oddly dissatisfying." I blanked out on the theme.

    Learning that E ASE S brilliantly becomes ERASE RS makes all the difference in my extreme appreciation of this puzzle.

    Will somebody please make a tee shirt with EYEPIT? I'll buy it.
    I'm thinking nEw York timEs with a capital PI over timEs. What do you think?

    Glimmerglass 8:40 AM  

    @danp has it exactly correct. The "trick" today is to figure out that some answers have blank (transparent, perhaps) squares. It is an interesting quirk that adding Rs in the blanks makes other, not clued, words or phrases, but the "revealer" is no revealer at all. I solved the puzzle (with great difficulty, thank you very much) without ever noticing that adding Rs would make other words. It wouldn't have helped if I had. SUrE is not another kind of "seek damages"; it's a wrong answer to the clue. It would have been very cool if other answers had had a connection like AMBLE and rAMBLEr.

    wordie 8:50 AM  

    I really wanted Gore for 23A. Clever puzzle, though very frustrating before one realizes some squares are just blank. Like others, I DNFd with just blanks, as I didn't get that Rs were supposed to go there. I thought the revealer was erase squares. I've been unable to come here much for a few weeks as I broke my leg and it's very hard to carry my iPad (or anything else) with the crutches.

    John V 8:52 AM  

    The note was not present on the print out of the AcrossLite version and I inferred nothing. Worst DNF in a very long time, particularly on a Thursday.

    My streak of not being able to solve David's puzzles remains intact.

    Gill I. P. 8:52 AM  

    Well, god didn't help me!
    I can't even remember where I figured out there was a missing "R" but I sort of did. Then when I got to 53A I, without hesitation, wrote in CALAMA[R}I/ C{R}AVE and thought how smart I was.
    @ACME. I agree with you. I would have enjoyed this so much more had the clues covered both elements. I think it would have been a big wow factor. Instead, I just gave up....and I hate that!

    FearlessKim 8:56 AM  

    Solved in record-breaking Thursday time: 29 minutes. And by record I mean record high. Ouch. Yet fun. The random placement of the blank squares made me question every potential answer -- "seven letter answer, or really six? Or five?" Fun to finish a puzzle and still have 11 blank squares. Also fun to go back and slam down all the Rs and watch the screen light up. Thanks, David!

    Anonymous 8:56 AM  

    I couldn't get the print function to work properly. Tried Mac and PC. Anyone else with that problem?

    Z 8:57 AM  

    I'm with @Steve J on this one. I can't decided if I like it, hate it, or both.

    Let's see - The constructor did a grid, then erased all the Rs in the grid, then clued the grid for the words without the Rs. Okay, that part is pretty cool.

    ESIASON on top of NASTASE being crossed by ISAO. That's pretty bad.
    OSAGE/SAGO/SA[R]GE/AGES AGO - any more AGE combos we can cram into a little section.
    OK'D and NUI
    RRN III
    M AND M'S again.

    But then again, there is some cute cluing like "Joint application," and "Gas with or without an 'm'".

    But then there is Bath, MA[R]INE[R] and [R]ELY, NV.

    I never did grok what was going on with the missing R's, so I'm willing to accept that sour grapes may be playing a role, but on the whole this is still on the "do not like" side of the ledger. If, at the end of the day the comments break down into "got it/liked it" and "didn't get it/hated it" camps I will admit it was just sour grapes.

    Beer Rating - Imperial Hatter IPA - Assertive construction provides an aromatic telltale nose, indicative of the robust, bitter symphony to follow. Bold character with lively notes.

    Shamik 9:02 AM  

    Well, I hope this constructor is happy. I'm happy to solve a puzzle. I'm even ok to get a few squares wrong now and then. But a Did Not Finish?

    Give me something to complete. Amaze me. Make me laugh. Make me groan. Make me think. It's my belief that a solid Thursday would have clued the words that are actually filled in and then add ERASE RS to see that the puzzle makes good sense without the R's. Alternatively give both clues.

    Count me as very sour grapes on this one.

    jeffc 9:16 AM  

    I'm sorry... CONERS? Really?

    Not happy with this one. For one thing, a number of the answers don't seem to make any sense, and the whole ERASE RS thing just became annoying. Challenging? I'm going with Demented.

    Anonymous 9:19 AM  

    A bit too clever for its own good.

    Norm 9:20 AM  

    @ Glimmerglass: I believe the answer to "seek damages" is SUE, which is quite correct.

    Nice gimmick; not a very enjoyable solve.

    chefbea 9:23 AM  

    too tough for me!! DNF

    Danp 9:25 AM  

    @jeffc - Not coners, but cones. Same thing went through my head, though.

    Carola 9:32 AM  

    Well, at least I'm consistent, in that I've never finished a David Steinberg puzzle. I got as far as the blank squares, but I misinterpreted the note: I thought that 63A "before alteration" was EASES, that is, the word with no blanks. After it had been altered it was E_ASE_S. Obviously, I didn't get very far with understanding "ease 'S'"! Nice to come here and see how nifty it works with the Rs. Hats off to those who finished!

    bhikkubum 9:35 AM  

    First DNF in quite awhile. As others have suggested, very very clever but not much fun.

    Questinia 9:39 AM  
    This comment has been removed by the author.
    wreck 9:45 AM  

    Maybe it is more fitting for David to an "EINSTEIN" puzzle.

    quilter1 9:46 AM  

    DNF even though I got a lot of it, including blank squares, but never caught on to the trick. I liked some of the fill we don't often see, like ABALONE.

    grabbag 9:47 AM  

    Arbitrary puzzle. Not enjoyable.

    Anonymous 9:47 AM  

    Will somebody somewhere remind our newspaper editors that these are crossWORD puzzles, word being the operative feature. WORDS as in language, speaking, communicating. Todays puzzle comes from the code breakers at Bletchly square in WWII who solved the German enigma machine. But that was a machine, not words. It seems I am rewarded by doing the puzzles Mon, Tue, and Wed. Thur, Fri, Sat have little to offer me but aggravation. Sunday is usually rewarding if I do it together with my wife. I may just drop my entire NYT subscription.

    NCA President 10:11 AM  

    The puzzle itself gets an A for cleverness and cheekiness...but I give it an F for clarity. It's sort of like playing a game where you guess what I'm thinking. I'll only tell you that whatever I'm thinking is a word you probably know. Go. Oh, and you get three guesses. After your third guess, I tell you and you say, "Aha! I know that word!"

    It would have helped to have had some kind of order to the missing letters, or at least made the clues a tad easier. Just...needed...some...kind of...leg...up...

    Yeah, no. Too much back tracking for me. Not to mention CEDILLA, RAMBLER, ESIASON (whom I know very well as a football fan, but still...when you have random squares missing, ugh), MAAS (??), JANN Wenner, BATH in Maine.

    There was no joy in finishing this puzzle for me. It wasn't that it was too hard...it was that it seemed that it was intentionally made too difficult.

    Bob Kerfuffle 10:20 AM  

    Loved it. Fun to have a truly puzzling puzzle! (I realized as I solved that others mighty have a different opinion.)

    Some might quibble with my method, but I circled all of the theme Rs as I entered them, so I finished not with blanks but with both the before and after words in place. This solution was accepted without hesitation by my paper puzzle!

    In the past, helpful people have offered mnemonics for remembering the name of ISAO AOKI. Thank you, but they do not stay in my head. Fortunately, it was (just barely) gettable from crosses today.

    David Cole 10:21 AM  

    @Danp, @jeffc-

    It's not "coners" either, it's "corners".

    Fortunately I immediately fixated in the SE after reading the note, and when "Quien SABE" didn't go right in, I knew something was up. Enough of the other Downs leading to 63A were easy enough to give me the letters to grok the theme. Even then, this was a difficult puzzle, and I loved it. MRANDMRS/MANDMS is just wonderful.

    Game Nerd 10:22 AM  

    ABALONE

    dk 10:25 AM  

    As Cathy might say: blaaacccch.

    I can provide you with codes and algorithms that are tough to crack. However, I would be kind enough not to call them a X-Word.

    ** (2 Stars) Bring me a puzzle.

    Nancy 10:35 AM  

    This one was SO hard that, even if it had been a Saturday puzzle, I think we should have been told where the trick clues were going. This way...worse than challenging. Spent way more time than I should have and was "rewarded" with a DNF (the top of the NW corner and 8A.) And I had to come here to find out the revealer at 63A. I had ERASERS without knowing why, but the clue says the "two-word reading" should come "before alteration." Before alteration is EASES, right? "ERASE Rs"? The clue should read "after alteration." !!!!

    JC66 10:44 AM  

    My last name is COHN and I've been doing the NY Times puzzles for almost 50 years and I never heard of Al COHN before.

    Didn't see the note until I finished (in double by normal Thurs time), but for some reason noticed that M()ANDM()S became MRANDMRS. When I went back and filled in all the other blanks with Rs MHP reared his grinning head. I then saw the note, re-read the clue for 63A and grokked the theme(?). Very obtuse

    Malcolm Gibson 10:54 AM  

    "Delayed gratification" is a perfect description. It was wonderful! Worth the angst, once done. Brilliant, in my view. And the vagueness of it all added to the ultimate pleasure.

    Steve J 10:55 AM  

    @jberg: I had SGT in there for a long time, too, rather than TGI.

    I also had MCENROE rather than NASTASE. That one didn't last long, as the ISAO crossing quickly make it obvious that was incorrect. I was kind of disappointed it wasn't MCENROE. Those Wimbledon finals with him and Borg remain some of the most exciting things I've ever watched.

    Andrew Morrison 10:58 AM  

    A little too obscure for a Thursday. The theme, not the answers.

    Milford 11:00 AM  

    @Nancy - I think we are supposed to assume that David filled this puzzle to completion and had ERASERS/ERASE RS, and then altered the clues to have all the Rs ERASEd. And then the puzzle entries were clued accordingly, as "Moderate"=E_ASE_S was. Confusing, I agree.

    Wow, another David Steinberg puzzle I DNFed. But I didn't hate it.

    This is where the Magmic app comes in handy - the accompanying note is impossible to miss. However, I must have read it 20 times and I still never understood the trick! I got that there were blank spaces at the G_AMMA_S entry, and it was confirmed at the CONDO_S entry.

    However, I pseudo-finished the puzzle with the blanks, and not understanding the note, I entered Xs in the blanks, not having a clue. Thank god for crossword blogs.

    Yes, @Anon4:00, I considered the renting of CONDOmS at a ski lodge also! I don't ski, so what do I know? :)

    Writeover twice at joe - sGt - TGI.

    After the fact, I can appreciate the puzzle for being unique, and that all Rs were erased in the puzzle.

    I agree that the similarities of RAMBLER and AMBLE pair in meaning is something that would have been cool to have with each pair.

    I'm kind of liking the idea of GRAMMAR rays.

    Thanks, David. I'll take a different puzzle over boring any day.

    Z 11:03 AM  

    @JC66 - Marc COHN I've heard of, Al COHN, not so much. Besides spelling his first name the right way, Marc put out a great cover album of hits from 1970.

    It's looking more and more like I'm going to have to admit to sour grapes. I hate when that happens. Now, more study on artists whose names end in -MT.

    Steve Martin 11:06 AM  

    Are those rental CONDOmS made of stone-a?

    DJG 11:20 AM  

    Almost a great puzzle. The execution is tremendous, but the theme doesn't work for me -- clever, but too cumbersome.

    The main problem with it is that the r-filled entries don't figure into the puzzle at all. There's nothing referencing them. They are just there to form a hypothetical grid, but not this grid, because the clues are for the r-less version. Seems like they should play a part somehow other than just being legit phrases.

    If the clues could've been written in such a way that they make sense for both the r and the non-r entries -- THAT would have been an amazing puzzle. Also probably an impossible one.

    bigsteve46 11:21 AM  

    Isn't this Steinberg the 16 or 17 year old? Somebody made a big mistake a few years ago by not giving this brat a baseball glove or a skateboard and said - as Don Rickles once suggested - "Hey kid, why don't you go out and play in the traffic?

    Brett Chappell 11:26 AM  

    It took me a good ten minutes or so to figure out the R-less theme, so prior to that you could say that the wheel was turning, but the hamster was dead, if you get my meaning. Anyhow- I particularly was fond of 35 down, Munchies from Mars: M AND M S or MR AND MRS. It took me twenty minutes to finish the puzzle, afterwards I was obliged to YouTube it to see some funny clips of Tim Burton's "Mars Attacks". I'd rate this puzzle PG-13, as it was hard, but no R was possible..

    Steve J 11:32 AM  

    @Z: I don't think it necessarily has to be sour grapes. I'm settling in on an opinion of admiring and respecting what the constructor did, but not enjoying my experience with the puzzle. It's kind of like my opinion about Hemingway: I recognize the quality of his writing and the importance of his work, but I don't particularly enjoy reading it.

    @DJG: I think you hit on what my main challenge/issue was with the theme: There's nothing in the puzzle or the note (other than E(R)ASE(R)S) that provides any reference to the words with Rs in them. I think it would have been much more elegant were things clued in a way that referenced both entries. It would have made things a little less challenging, perhaps, and people clearly were still able to pick up on the trick without that. But for me, that was the barrier.

    @bigsteve46: No need for ad hominem attacks just because you didn't like the puzzle or you don't find the constructor's style to your liking. His age has got nothing to do with it (I regularly solve puzzles by another constructor of the same age, and I love his). I'm often not a fan of Steinberg's puzzles, either, but that's got nothing to do with who he actually is.

    mathguy 11:43 AM  

    I loved Michael Hanko's observation that doing a puzzle like this gives your brain the pleasantly-sore sensation your muscles have after a good workout. Like going through a strenuous workout, it's not fun doing it. It's what you feel afterward.

    I didn't see that the blanks were all Rs until I read Rex.a

    John Child 11:47 AM  

    The constructor's tenth published puzzle this year. Cheaper by the dozen...

    Anonymous 11:53 AM  

    Kind of stumbled onto the theme due to living in Boston for years, where Rs are dropped (and added) all the time, and the only ray I could think of was Gamma.
    Would have liked the puzzle better if the clues referenced both words.

    In the end, could not finish the NW corner. Tough, tough Thursday!

    Anonymous 11:59 AM  

    I never hate a NYT puzzle but I hated this one. Thought the whole premise was stupid. Pfffft!

    mac 11:59 AM  

    I left them open. I had all the right open spaces, but didn't see the Rs that were erased. Yes, I had erasers at the bottom.

    Clever but not terribly enjoyable. On to the next one.

    joefrombrooklyn 12:00 PM  

    Here's a complaint I have. The note reads: "After the puzzle was created, the constructor did something to 11 squares…" To me this implies that the clues should be for the answers with the Rs included -- not out. The way the clues read now, the creator did not just erase the Rs from 11 squares. He also went and changed the clues for all those answers.

    My other complaint is that the fill is way too difficult for an already challenging theme. The harder the theme, it seems, the more gimmes there should be in the grid.

    CEDILLA, ESIASON, OSAKAN, ABALONE. Those 4 alone feel like Saturday clues.

    Then there is KNITS (as a noun!), OSAGE, ISAO (a frequent clue but one I never remember), NASTASE, NEMESES (I think of an enemy, not an unbeatable agent), OPEN OUT (still do not get that one), LUEGO, SABE, NUI.

    Interesting idea but too hard.



    Davidph 12:10 PM  

    Oh, Oh, Oh! Does my head hurt! Like others, I enjoyed and hated this puzzle at the same time.

    I figured out the R gimmick after much head-scratching, and still couldn't finish, even with Googling. This would have been a very hard puzzle even without the missing Rs, just because of the difficult clueing and some obscure answers. I would have enjoyed the gimmick more if the clues were a little easier -- as it was it seemed a little unfair. I hate that I got the trick and still couldn't finish.

    I disagree with @danp and others -- knowing that the missing letters are Rs does help. It eliminates some potential answers, if supplying the R doesn't also give a word.

    Nastase 12:22 PM  

    I knew I was screwed wehn I bounced between McEnroe and Connors for 16A. Who ever claims anything better than a DNF is lying.

    Anonymous 12:28 PM  

    I read the note I focused on SW corner, so I got ERASURE...
    After that I was at sea

    Masked and Anonymo3Us 12:51 PM  

    Did anyone else notice that this puz solved out kinda weird? Caught onto leavin squares blanked out eventually, about three cinnamon rolls in. Was usin small, circled U's as place-holders, of course.

    Really liked the funky revealer, tho. Hate to reflect on how young this constructioneer is. How's his puzs gonna treat us, as he gets older and wiser and sneakier? Holy Eyebolts!

    haR-less thUmbsUp,
    M&A

    AliasZ 12:56 PM  

    I am surprised at the negativity of some of the commenters, most of whom are long-time NYT puzzle solvers. Some seem to be easily confused, even panicked, by a simple trick that falls outside their comfort zone. Honestly, I expected more of a sense of humor and open-mindedness from such an experienced, sophisticated group of solvers.

    This is what makes the NYT still the big man on the crossword campus: creativity, freshness and ingenuity. What is wrong with a puzzle being a little out of the ordinary? I solved it even without the note, and I said "Wow!" Kudos to David Steinberg the boy genius, and to Will Shortz for giving us something new and different than the previous 10,000-or-so puzzles.

    A respectful statement of disagreement is normally sufficient, as most of us practice it here day after day. No English lesson is necessary, and no personal attack is warranted. I would venture a guess that both David and Will know exactly what the words CROSS and WORD mean at least as well as we all do.

    Keep on solving!

    Shaun White 1:28 PM  

    For those who asked: Ski area CONDOM rentals. (No, really, it's safe to look.)

    Sandy K 1:31 PM  

    P etty inc edible puz. Even afte I finished, I wasn't quite su e I had it co ect.

    Wasn't ce tain Bath locale was
    MA INE ...sounded mo e B itish to me. Also EYEBOLT/ ELY/ ELLE we e the last ones in. Had to think why W alte native was ELLE, but it finally dawned on me.

    Ve y challenging, so t of confusing, but doable and I liked that!

    You' e te ific, M . Steinbe g!

    Anonymous 1:45 PM  

    Given that R is such a common letter, I like this one. ERASEZS wouldn't have as much kick to it.

    Benko 1:46 PM  

    @Mac--Re yesterday's question--
    I lived right in between the Amstel and Utrechtestraat, on Kerkstraat right next to the Magerebrug. I also lived on Wittenburgereiland, once, and in the Indischebuurt for quite a while. Fun times. I still go back and stay for a while every summer when I get a chance.
    As to the puzzle, it was very tough, but doable. I also wonder about the cluing.

    Charley 2:07 PM  

    Later to Luis is tarde. Luego is then. Hasta luego, until then.

    Anonymous 2:11 PM  

    What the heck? "W alternative" is "ELLE"? Help, I don't get it!

    I thought "Gore" was a gimme.

    Charles in Austin 2:12 PM  

    I loved everything about this puzzle! It took me almost forever, but that's fine with me. I found it difficult for all the right reasons: like CEDILLA and OSAKAN. And MRANDMRS was a blast!

    ahimsa 2:23 PM  

    @Rex said, "Before that, god help you. There's no real way to know where blanks are going to go except by feel."

    And that's exactly how I felt while solving this without the note. I always download the .PUZ file but many times, like today, I print it out to solve it on paper. I had no idea that my crossword app would not also print out whatever note was included. (Note to self -- use the PDF version if you want to do the puzzle on paper!)

    After a lot of struggle I figured out that some squares were blank. I even finished it and then stared at 11 blank squares and wondered, what on earth is the pattern for those 11 blanks? What am I missing?

    It was only when I went to check my answer that I saw the Rs. D'oh! I wish I had seen the note first! That would have made it a lot more fun.

    But in spite of that little hiccup it was a fun puzzle! And so impressive. Kudos again to David Steinberg!

    Did anyone else have doLE before ELLE? I was thinking that Elizabeth Dole was an opponent of George W Bush (hence a W alternative) in one of the Republican primaries some years ago. EPAULET fixed that error for me.

    Z 2:30 PM  

    @M&A - Is "Holy EYEBOLT" synonymous with "Pewit Eyepit?"

    @Steve J - I'm mostly right with you. What makes it "sour grapes" for me is that I've been on the other side, loving a tricky puzzle because I got it. I suspect that if I had figured it out my reaction would have been far more positive. So I'm just trying to be fair in saying that a big component of how I reacted is on me, not the puzzle.

    @Alias Z - I re-read all the comments. After I eliminate the anonymice, I thought the commentariat reacted much as they have in the past. There is one "ad hominem" comment that cited Don Rickles, so I think it was intended to be funny, not meant to be in any way serious. At the same time, I think this puzzle is a perfect example of Will Shortz taking GK's advice, "If you cannot please everyone with your deeds and your art, please only a few. To please many is bad."

    @Anon1:45 - Hey, leave those Zs alone.

    @Anon2:11 - ELLE and W are both magazines. Fooled me, too.

    Anonymous 2:38 PM  

    @Joe, don't think of electric fans. and W and Elle are both women's magazines if you will. loved the puzzle! total dnf, didn't like the note as I think it's backwards but still loved it. nemeses? not what I think of them but sussed it out. Ben Gay was so so great! Claire

    Anonymous 2:46 PM  

    this is a complete failure and very boring to me. I gave up early with better things to do with my time

    Mohair Sam 3:05 PM  

    Got it. Educated guesses on the CLL in CEDILLA (a word we did't know) and we can claim a long and painful victory over this Steinberg monster.

    After about 90 minutes I went back to the puzzle page on our computer (we print out AcrossLite version and work with pen and Wite'Out) thinking Will might have a note. Things moved quickly after that, but we still struggled in the NW.

    Quite a challenge and a lot of fun. Somebody send Mr. Shortz a calendar, he's been a day or two off all week - I dread Saturday.

    Anonymous 3:09 PM  

    It's the constructor's 13th this year.

    Anonymous 3:23 PM  

    Oh my gosh, I was so proud of myself for finishing this one. Man, was that hard.. Thank goodness I had 3 different subway rides today. I needed all of them.

    i agree with joefrombrooklyn, but I still loved it.

    gpo

    Dolgoruky 3:33 PM  

    What c-etin devised this one?

    R. Duke 3:39 PM  

    @jberg Boomer Esiason was a quarterback best known for his tenure with the Cincinnati Bengals back in the 1980s.

    I started with 'lessens' in 63a, so was dropping out Ns. Eventuall changed it to 'erasens'. So I finished, but with the wrong erased letters.

    ahimsa 3:48 PM  

    I forgot to mention that I liked the clue for 46D, ETHANE, since it referred to a missing letter. (Gas with or without an 'm') Very cute to have that in a puzzle that's all about erasing letters.

    Milford 3:49 PM  

    @Charley - I think "tarde" is late, and LUEGO is later (and also then). Yes?

    @jberg - no sure if anyone answered this for you, but Boomer ESIASON was a quarterback for the Bengals, in the 80's. I think he is still a commentator.

    Milford 3:51 PM  

    Oops, sorry @R.Duke, you already answered it! I let the dog out mid-comment, must have taken a while :)

    Anonymous 4:00 PM  

    I too had printout problem. Had to print PDF from one I saved to Desktop. What gives?
    I too had E's in the 11 openings. Well. 10 actually--couldn't finish with #11.

    Anonymous 4:07 PM  

    Isn't the point supposed to be words, as in cross-words? The point of this puzzle was mostly to get the "trick" and then it was fairly easy. But I consider it a waste of time because I don't do crosswords in order to be a cryptographer

    sanfranman59 4:28 PM  

    Midday report of relative difficulty (see my 8/1/2009 post for an explanation of my method and my 10/15/2012 post for an explanation of a tweak to my method):

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

    Thu 26:19, 17:47, 1.48, 96%, Challenging (9th highest ratio of 207 Thursdays)

    Top 100 solvers

    Thu 19:43, 10:07, 1.95, 100%, Challenging (highest ratio of 207 Thursdays)

    It probably comes as no surprise that this puzzle is at the extreme end of the Challenging range. The All Solvers statistics are probably not a reliable measure of the degree of difficulty because there will almost certainly be far fewer on-line solvers than any other Thursday puzzle in my spreadsheet. The previous low was 223 for Milo Beckman's 1/17/2013 puzzle. As I type this there have only been 186 correct solutions submitted.

    I eventually managed to slog my way through this thing, but it was not a terribly pleasant experience. As is often the case with David Steinberg puzzles, I was quite frustrated by the time I hit the Submit button. Next please.

    Anonymous 4:47 PM  

    How did 'Old New Yorker' get on today? I'm in my 80's too, but found today harder.........

    Blue Stater 5:00 PM  

    This is the craziest "puzzle," or whatever it is, I have ever seen. Not good, not bad. Crazy. Nothing to do with a real crossword puzzle. Crazy even for a Thursday. This epitomizes all that has gone wrong with the NYT puzzles in recent years. Enough already.

    The only good thing to come out of it was that I fnally found out how to locate the "note" that accompanies efforts like this one. Of course if it's a real crossword puzzle you don't need the note....

    Benko 5:21 PM  

    @ahimsa--
    The clue for ETHANE was one of my favorite parts of this puzzle too. Very clever.

    Yo 5:36 PM  

    @Sandy K... har. Yer msg looks like my ipad responds to my attempted typings.

    @Z... As eye see it, EYEBOLT might qualify as maybe Mr/Mrs. Congeniality, at a MRANDMRS EYEPIT pageant. PEWIT is on a level all by itself -- and do not stand underneath it.

    It occurs to me that the ERASE-R'S squares are sorta like unchecked squares, unless you count that not bein used in both crossin words is kinda like a check "that's in the mail", so to speak. I'm sure that straightens out, for everyone, why this puz feels and solves so odd.

    Like 4-Oh was sayin, findin out later that R's were in there, until the constructioneer took em out and reclued everything, is sorta anti-climaxtic. I mean, the dude evidently also took mosta the U's outa the puz, but hey -- too late now...

    Still, this puz was real different, and I richly applaud the inventiveness and nerve it took to put it out there for all of us to poke around at. Wouldn't wanna discourage these valiant attempts. Like Einstein says, if it's absurd enough, go for it, dude.

    thUmbsUp to that Sharknado flick, btw. For similar reasons. My bucket goal now is to use "Snarknado" in a future blog comment...
    M&A.

    MetaRex 6:21 PM  

    Wow. Wonderful intricacy.

    By my metric, this puzz is a big winner, helped by its thematic density. The numbers are here.

    J-P 6:39 PM  

    I filled in the SW corner, figuring out the r thing with the condo/Maine cross, but I still had too much trouble with this. I find I can't wrap my brain around clues where I don't truly know how many letters go in (I have trouble with rebuses for this reason). So despite getting the theme and a solid corner, I gave up after half a hour. This was a tough Thursday! Can't tell whether I admire the puzzle or not.

    Anoa Bob 6:57 PM  

    An EYE BOLT is a fairly common type of fastener that can be found in most hardware and home improvement stores.

    Here's one.

    Another, related piece is (I'm not making this up) a SCREW EYE.

    Here's that one.

    Still searching the aisles for an EYE PIT.

    August West 7:58 PM  

    Just can't seem to make it to 12A ET this week. Crazy busy at work, exhausted in the evenings. By the time I get here, all that need be said has been said. I'm with Steve J and Z and Norm, who summed it up best: "Nice gimmick; not a very enjoyable solve."

    I threw this up on Rex's FB page over coffee this morning, in response to his thumbs up or down inquiry: "I appreciated the gimmick after the solve. During, there being no clue to the "hypothetical" words prior to R-moval, it was a PITA. Typical Steinberg, being oh-too-cute. Still, my favorite of his to date."

    jae 8:09 PM  

    There seems to be some question as to which grid (the original or the R-less one) is the "correct" solve. I'd argue it is the one with the R-less blanks. Here's the logic. David created the grid, read 63a as two words and altered the grid accordingly. Then he clued it. It only became a puzzle after it was clued. The puzzle as clued is only correct with the blanks in place. I realize that the online solvers had to put the Rs in to get it accepted, but that's just an artifact of solving on a computer, not necessarily the correct solution.

    Tita 8:11 PM  

    Friends of mine went to a Halloween party as Mr. and Mrs. M&M's... He was the one with the nuts!

    I was hopelessly befuddled, but swore I would finger it out...and so I did! I liked it, in spite of it being too clever for its own good, as @steve j said.

    This was so hard for me because of lots of pop/sports names that I just could not get...a puzzle like this is really tough when the fill is hard to get. I dnf'd at ES—ASON / SAO, though NASTASE was a gimme, or that woulda been a huge train wreck.
    thanks, Mr. Steinberg'

    (I,m playing with a new ipad air...hate it so far'. How in blazes do you get the exclamation point'! Oh ... Finally got it. Why on earth do the keys not show if I,m typing upper or lower case! No thanks, I,ll be sticking with my Nexus...)

    August West 8:13 PM  
    This comment has been removed by the author.
    August West 8:17 PM  

    @jae: Agreed.

    On another note, I appreciate the return of only mildly annoying captchas.

    LaneB 8:44 PM  

    Saw Steinberg's name, did a lot of the right half, couldn't make sense of GRAMMAR, ATM, SARGE and SURE and quit this darling little Thursday number which was impersonating a tough Saturday. A difficult week and can't wait for the rest of it. C'mon, Will! Give us an effing break!

    Z 9:01 PM  

    @Tita - Does Nexus do emoji? I've gone from hating to liking the iPad virtual keyboard. I don't know what a Nexus can do.

    Carola 9:09 PM  

    @Tita - I don't care for the virtual keyboard on my iPad, so I got one of these and like it a lot.

    Anonymous 9:11 PM  

    Re Ipad Air keys. If it's any thing like my iphone and ipad mini, the shift key should change from a white to a black arrow when using upper case. There probably many keyboard setting opinions too in the setting icon.

    MASS

    Tita 9:52 PM  

    Haha...@Z...hilarious! Yes, I checked, and in fact I can enable emoji!

    @Carola...if I stick with a full size Air, I probably would get something like that...though I would consider the totally flat version. Thanks for that suggestion.

    @anon...yup...it does that...thing is, in whose universe does white arrow naturally mean uppercase and black arrow mean lower? I suppose I can beat my brain into submission, and eventually align it to this arbitrary and no intuitive way, but it's software...you can make the little keys display what they are actually going to do for you...

    Thanks everyone...I really appreciate the ideas. For anyone else here who might be of the Android persuasion...have you tried the Swype keyboard?
    The number 1 reason why I don think I,ll be able to switch.
    (And where in blazes is the number sign! Ok...I admit it...I am a hopeless android Luddite!��)

    Anonymous 10:02 PM  

    Foul! Did not see the comment, would not have helped. Still trying to figure out WTF is going on in this THURSDAY puzzle. No pointer to 63A having anything to the key for the lock. *'s on those places would have placed it into an enjoyable Thursday class. This thing is "Challenging" for Saturday!

    Boo!

    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 7:35, 6:07, 1.24, 98%, Challenging (5th highest ratio of 207 Mondays)
    Tue 9:34, 8:12, 1.17, 87%, Challenging
    Wed 11:19, 9:55, 1.14, 82%, Challenging
    Thu 26:07, 17:47, 1.47, 95%, Challenging (11th highest ratio of 207 Thursdays)

    Top 100 solvers

    Mon 4:41, 3:46, 1.24, 99%, Challenging (3rd highest ratio of 207 Mondays)
    Tue 5:24, 5:09, 1.05, 63%, Medium-Challenging
    Wed 6:45, 5:55, 1.14, 85%, Challenging
    Thu 18:38, 10:07, 1.84, 100%, Challenging (2nd highest ratio of 207 Thursdays)

    Mohair Sam 10:16 PM  

    @steve j: Had the Mcinroe "gimme" too, any tennis nut would. Loved the Borg rivalry. And kudos on the quote "too clever for its own good." I did enjoy the puzzle, but yes - maybe it was just a little too clever. This is a Crossword world after all.

    Anonymous 10:35 PM  

    SO hard. Ouch.

    michael 12:44 AM  

    Like others, I thought I was done when I completed the puzzle with 11 blank squares. I did think that the blanks were fairly randomly placed and noticed that a couple of the words could have had rs where the blanks were, but then forgot about this when the words with rs didn't match the clues.

    Conclusion - it was clever, but somehow the hint didn't quite work for me. Not sure if this was my fault or not since a lot of others seemed to have had the same problem.

    +wordphan 2:33 AM  

    This week has been like this puzzle. Need I say more? There's always next Monday!

    Anonymous 6:18 AM  

    "A-test " is a banned event? Neither Google nor myself has any idea what this means. Anyone?

    Atoms for Peas 6:26 AM  

    More hoped for than reality . . .

    Jack Lee 7:50 AM  

    Totally didn't finish – think I only got about two-thirds. Do the people who compile the INYT think we're smarter than the average NYT solver? Why are the hints always missing for us?

    Z 9:04 AM  

    Just checked the solution in the printed Friday paper. There are blank squares. If you have R's in your puzzle I guess you are a DNF.

    Captcha is PANTME - What A. Weiner meant to send.

    OISK 10:11 AM  

    Finished it! I gave up last night and tried again this morning. Breakthrough was when my wife suggested "Pad Thai."

    I feel a great sense of accomplishment at having finished this, I that is not equivalent to joy, amusement… I almost didn't even try when I saw Steinberg's name - the author of the all-time worst Saturday Times puzzle - but I finally got it.
    Much too difficult for a Thursday. Like many Steinberg puzzles, too difficult, too cute, and extremely clever. Not my cup of tea - more my cup of hemlock...

    Anonymous 12:05 PM  

    After reading the comments, I'm feeling much smarter than I actually am for having finished, but with much commensurate pain.

    My convoluted mind made real mincemeat out of the clue/theme. I came here seeking a coherent explanation of my interpretation of the clue.

    Erase Rs completed eluded me. My first error was thinking "eases" was the pre-alteration starting point, but, try as I mightily did, that could not parse into 2 words! I didn't let that stop me because I often misunderstand the theme even after solving the puzzle.

    So, looking over the final puzzle, I deduced that eases must refer to R and R (OK, not all the answers had 2 missing Rs, but all at least crossed with a 2 R answer). Again, 2 words does not compute, even after forgiving the abbreviation component, but I chalked it up to my own denseness.

    FWIW, I agree that the puzzle might have been a better Thursday level difficulty if the clues were written for the answers including the Rs. It would have been an astounding feat if the clues referred to both answers (thanks for the very clever suggestions in that vein).

    Eileen

    Anonymous 12:48 PM  

    Am I the only one who thought blank squares should contain an "X" (as in "X"'ed out)? Early on, thought answer to revealer was something along the lines of "exesout". Never got past that first impression.

    With GRAMMAR/SARGE crossing, saw that "R" fit in blank squares to make words, but since answers had no relation to clues, gave up on that avenue. Perhaps if I had put "R" in later blanks, I might have solved this one. Oh well.

    At end, had completed all else but had 63A as "exasexs". Gave up and came here to find out what was up.

    Despite DNF, enjoyed this puzzle. Just wish revealer had been a little clearer. (to me at least)

    Richard

    Dave 4:46 PM  

    Did not like. Felt more like I was solving an obscure logic puzzle, not doing a crossword.

    Just one opinion. And I've been on a roll this week, so this one slammed on the brakes.

    DigitalDan 5:24 PM  

    Didn't see the note. Got the puzzle correct in that the final solution value could be said to be the version after the Rs had been erased.

    I prefer the reveal to be embedded in a clue.

    Anonymous 6:56 PM  

    Got the theme without a note (and thought it was really cute), but the incredibly bad NE fill caused a DNF. The NE acrosses were ... ESIASON, NASTASE, (a theme entry), OKD, MAAS, and JANN. Good lord. Toss me a real word once in a while...

    Anonymous 3:23 AM  

    This was published in the International NYT (used to be the Herald Trib) without a note. Not anywhere. Nuthin'. I consider getting about half way done a triumph under the circs.

    copegal 9:21 PM  

    In the humble opinion of a former English major, retired librarian, NYT cosswords afficiondo since retiring in 2005: Mr. Steinberg must be into sadomasochism.
    Who knew the rules of the game could include random blanks?

    spacecraft 11:16 AM  

    Oh, no wonder I DNF. There was no note of any kind. I did have a feeling that some entries should be shorter, but just figured I needed something else. "Seek damages" (NOT "seeks") seemed certain to be SUE. But what to do with the extra space? Blank the other way fits too, only what kind of puzzle is loaded with blanks? It shot ME down, real enough. The one who finished WITHOUT the note? I am in AWE, brother. You did it and I still can't believe it.

    Anonymous 12:50 PM  

    Considering the remarks above, I would say 'Better Luck Next Time, Mr. Steinberg. This was a stinko as far as I'm concerned. I did about 90% and gave up. Not worth the time.

    Ron Diego 9:50AM PST 1/16

    Solving in Seattle 3:01 PM  

    It was like going to the final puzzle on Wheel and Vanna won't give you the "R."

    Did anyone else notice that @Z took 23 words to precisely explain what the boy genius, David Steinberg, did with this puzzle, while Rex needed about ten thousand?

    CEDILLA came t-o-t-a-l-l-y on crosses, which was held up forever by the misclue of "Later to Luis" that had me write in "tarde." (This, BTW, is my only criticism of the puzzle.) I loved this sucker.

    Had bAAS for 26A. Good miss-direction there, David/Will. Had to do an alphabet run to finally come up with MANIACS.

    Loved the clue for 46D, too.

    @Diri, is Bath, MA INE close to Belfast?

    57D reminds me of a pre-coed exchange between Harvard and Radcliffe years ago. The Harvard men had pulled a prank on the Rad women after which the Radcliffe paper declared the men would get "TIT for tat." The next day the Crimson's headline was one word: "Tat."

    Go Hawks! (And yes, @Ginger, it's going to be a tough game. "It makes me nervous.")

    Solving in Seattle 3:06 PM  

    p.s., didja notice the big "X" smack in the middle of the puz, as in X-out of ERASE?

    This puz gets cleverer and cleverer.

    DMG 4:23 PM  

    Clearly not the puzzle for me! Played with it for a bit and cried "uncle". Got a few answers, but most of the ones I wanted wouldn't fit! Maybe if I had understood 63A. My fill there was Easesup. What can I say? Next to try the Captcha. Just cycled through about eight to find one I think I might be able to copy.

    @Ginger: A lot of good tennis last night, but it seemed stupid (cruel) to keep the ladies playing in that heat. Enjoyed the indoor men's matches more. So far my favorites are hanging in there, so heat or no I'll be watching tonight.

    Cary in Boulder 5:05 PM  

    So far over my head, I now have a permanent stiff neck. I've "only" been doing the NYT puzzle for about 2 years, so I'd like to think there's hope. OTOH, I've been doing yoga for 14 years and there are still plenty of asanas I just can't do very well. I have a feeling that this one will be hopeless even 20 years from now.

    At least I had four 5's in today's game of Captcha Poker. Does that make me a winner? I'm afraid the inevitable answer is YOULOSE.

    Waxy in Montreal 5:15 PM  

    Thought this puzzle was right down my alley, quickly entering ESIASON, NASTASE, ISAYSO, DEMILLE, ENGAGING, GIGI, INB, LOLA and SYSTEMS into the grid. But notice - no R's in any of those words. Thereafter a major stall followed by an inglorious DNF. Like @DMG, never did understand 63A despite the note.

    Used to think David Steinberg was a boy genius. Think it's now time to ERASE the boy part. Whew! (And I'm not referring to the Australian Open.)

    rain forest 6:00 PM  

    Way late here. Have only read the syndi comments, so excuse any repetition. DNF, but a brave one, IMO. I entered all the gimmes and a couple of what turned out to be good guesses, and I had blanks and words that could be correct if the blanks were blanks. When I looked at COVE T, and G AMMA . I realized that there was something to do with R's, and if I had spent more time, I might have finished, but I found it kind of mind-bending, and the NW was closed to me, except for LOLA. Didn't think of that kind of fan--considered putting in IS DRUNK, but that had an R. Agh. Tricky, tricky. And this is Thursday!

    Anonymous 6:29 PM  

    Not even a Friday puzzle! I like to have a laugh after I get it, but this one was annoying. Got most of the bottom, some of the top, and felt I'd wasted enough of the day!

    Dirigonzo 6:37 PM  

    I saw the constructor's name and read the cryptic note and I said to myself, "This is going to take a while". I threw another log on the fire, tuned the radio to some soothing music and set out on the journey. I realized there were to be blank squares long before I figured out the reveal, then saw the grid was "R-less". I still had to take a couple of breaks from the puzzle, during which I was actually quite productive around the house including creating a very tasty meatloaf. Finally E(R)ASE(R)S replaced lesSEnS to tell me what I already knew and I turned my full attention to the NW corner which was the last to fall (I spent way too much time trying to remember who ran against Bush in 2004). I, too, needed all the crosses for CEDILLA.

    @SiS - Bath, MA INE, is much closer to my current hometown of Freeport than to my birthplace, Belfast. Thanks for remembering.

    @rain forest - sometimes the syndi comments are all you have to read - well, those and ACME of course!

    @Cary in Boulder - beats my two pair. I'd like a new deck, please!

    strayling 7:38 PM  

    This was the jazz music of crosswords: Lots of fun for the constructor/performer; less so for the listener/solver.

    Carol 10:44 PM  

    Maa??
    I had "baa" of course! Also Al Gore. Trouble with leaving a comment is that out here in the hinterlands of MN, we don't get the NY Times puzzle until about two weeks later than the rest of you.
    'Twas a fun puzzle.

    Naomi Weber 11:02 PM  

    @ Bob Kerfuffle: totally agree! I always solve the "dead tree" version, and I do it in ink - more because of vision problems than to show off!

    I get the NYT puzzles in syndication, and the Las Vegas Sun does not publish the notes with the puzzles, nor (with the exception of Sunday) the titles.

    Figuring out where the letters in 18A (gamma) went after 10, 11, and 12 down were in was relatively) easy, and the section built around 38A and 36D confirmed that the (to me) "extra" letters were "Rs" -- which I placed where appropriate and circled.

    I actually enjoyed this one enough to make this my first post, even though its 5 weeks late and probably no one will see it.

    Happy New Year, everyone!

    Waxy in Montreal 11:16 PM  

    Welcome @Carol in MN. Actually, far from being in the hinterlands, you're in the same boat as virtually everyone else solving the puzzle who doesn't subscribe to the NYT one way or another. The crossword runs 5 weeks after the fact Monday through Saturday in virtually all other newspapers around the continent who print what's known as the syndicated version of the puzzle (2 weeks after on Sunday). So you'll find the syndilander regulars posting most days towards the end of @Rex's blog and I can assure you your comments will be read.

    Waxy in Montreal 11:20 PM  

    And welcome to syndiland as well, @Naomi. Actually, to the best of my knowledge, you're not being shorted on the titles in Las Vegas Sun as the NYT puzzle only runs them attached to the Sunday version, even in prime time.

    Tita 11:58 PM  

    ETTU, @Diri??? You wound me, and many of my primetimemates, to the quick!

    @SiS - cool!! Hadn't noticed - thank you.

    Welcome, @Naomi, from one of the invisible realtimers. ;)

    Dirigonzo 11:50 AM  

    @Tita, my most profound apologies to you. In my effort to be brief (not my forte) I cited only ACME as read-worthy when in reality there are a number of primetimers whom I regard as essential reading, most certainly including you, @Z and @Gil I.P., all frequent visitors to syndiland. But in truth there are some I regularly skip too, either because their posts are just too darned long to read in their entirety or because their consistent negativity brings me down. So I am sorry for my crime of omission; I will resolve to be more mindful of the primetimer audience in the future.

    @Carol and @Naomi - Let me add my welcome to the comments section here. As you can tell from the previous posts, your comments will always be read and appreciated.

    Deniz Bevan 7:15 PM  

    Eh

    Deniz Bevan 7:16 PM  

    It would have been better if the clues for the words with the missing Rs had made sense both for the Rless and the withR versions. *That* would have been a neat trick!

    Anonymous 7:45 PM  

    that took me four days to finish. I was about to give up when ETHANE finally struck me and broke the SE open. That led me quickly to ERASE RS and finally a hint to where the blank squares were. Toughest Thursday I can recall.

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