Thursday, January 23, 2014

Constructor: Michael Hawkins

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: BLOCKs — solvers have to supply 3 BLOCKs as well as the missing numbers for the post-BLOCK Acrosses and Downs, which don't actually appear in the grid.
• NEWKIDONTHEBLOCK
• SUNBLOCK
• BLOCKSOUT
• BUTCHERBLOCK
• BLOCKPARTIES
• CINDERBLOCK
• BLOCKQUOTES
• ICEBLOCK
• BLOCKBUSTERMOVIE
• CELLBLOCK
• BLOCKAGE
Word of the Day: IDAS (53D: One of the Argonauts) —
In Greek mythologyIdas (Ancient GreekἼδας Ídas) was a son of Aphareus and Arene and brother of Lynceus. He and Lynceus loved Hilaeira and Phoebe and fought with their rival suitors, Castor and Polydeuces, killing the mortal brother Castor. He was also one of the Argonauts and a participant in the hunt for the Calydonian Boar. He kidnapped MarpessaApollo also desired her andZeus made the girl choose. She chose the mortal Idas, fearing that Apollo could abandon her when she grew old. With Marpessa, Idas had one daughter named Cleopatra. (wikipedia)
• • •

When you have an elaborate concept like this, it's really, Really important for the execution to come off without a hitch. While this puzzle represents an interesting variation on the rebus puzzle, the bit where the solver also has to supply missing numbers in the grid and figure out those unnumbered (in the grid) Acrosses and Downs—that was far from enjoyable. I finished the puzzle and had no idea that those post-BLOCK answers (i.e. BLOCKade, BLOCKs out, BLOCK parties, etc.) were even clued. At all. This is because I, like many constant solvers, do not read the clues like a book, from beginning to end. We look at the grid and let the grid tell us what clues to look at. So there was no way I was ever going to see 23-Across (in the clue) because there is no "23" in the grid. It's a pretty simple problem. And, the thing is, I didn't even need the clues (23A/D, 39A/D, 56A/D). I realized that the answers would simply be "words/phrases starting with BLOCKS" and figured them out from crosses. The awkwardness of the numbering, combined with the inessentialness of the numbering, proved a huge distraction. Mainly, it made the solve more puzzling (not good-puzzling, more WTF-puzzling), and less enjoyable than it might have been had the core concept just *snapped* into view. As I was solving, I was thinking "OK, something's coming, some revealer, something that will explain the unclued stuff and tie all this BLOCK stuff together." But the shoe never dropped. Later, someone pointed out that the missing clues are actually there—they're just not numbered in the grid. Oh. OK. That seems more a design flaw than a design feature.

Fill is not good, but it's a pretty dense theme, so I can let it slide (though every part of me wants to rag on "TSU," Whatever That Is) (Holy Crap, it's Texas Southern University, not Texas State, as I'd imagined) (TSU hasn't been clued this way in 20 years, BTW). OK, no, I do have to perp-walk IDAS, ELOI/ELEA, TSU, ENOW, LUNE, OXI, and INO. OK, that is all.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

Mohair Sam

Played difficult for us. DNF because we were dead sure that 41a was AZUr, 40a was AkABA, and 60a was chAR. Add to that LANDO whatsizname. We never had a chance.

Billy Dee Williams has played Billy Dee Williams for the past 40 years, who remembers his characters' names?

Crashed and burned. Maybe we should stick to over breakfast solving. Off to bed.

jae

Took me for ever to notice the missing clue numbers in the grid.   If you have a tendency, as I do, to mismatch clues and grid squares, then this was tough.  I didn't notice what was going on until I realized I'd been reading 23d for 22d and then couldn't find 23d in the grid.  A true "a ha" moment for me.  So, I was less annoyed than Rex.  He's right about some of the fill, but the theme was fun.

WOE: IDAS

Cute and tricky, liked it.

JFC

Rex,

You posted:

"When you have an elaborate concept like this, it's really, Really important for the execution to come off with a hitch."

I think you meant to say "without a hitch."

Did the puzzle with AL and it sounds like it was a better experience.

JFC

Aqaba Cinder Mimis

Wow, each BLOCK had to serve as the word BLOCK in FOUR different phrases!!!!!!!!

SO three BLOCKS x 4 = 12 BLOCK phrases!!!!!!!

THAT is a BLOCKbuster of construction...
It was a nice challenge, I didn't notice numbers or lack of, you completely don't need them

Love the name AQABA, just learned that fact on Jeopardy! the night before. Tried to name a cafe AQABA for some Jordanian friends here. Just love the word.

Wait! Is this a pangram? Let me check"
STYX/OXI, AZUL /ZOE, AQABA, JAMIN, KIX/SMIRK... be still my heart....yes! Practically a double one!

So, another WEEBIT extra dollop of elegance and loveliness!

Michaell Hawkins, you are now my favorite new Kid on the BLOCK!

Steve J
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Steve J
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wreck

I solve with the ipad app Magmic and did not have the choice of downloading the pdf version. After reading the write-ups, I'm glad I did not have to grapple with filling in numbers. I realized fairly soon that this was rebus puzzle using "block." I then figured out where the "split" theme clues down and across would intersect and guessed that square would be a rebus.
It came together fairly well after that. Pretty challenging, but I got a lot of satisfaction from this one.

Steve J

I can't even begin to assess this one, as I floundered everywhere. It was like suddenly my brain regressed to several years ago, when Tuesday was about as far into the week as I could get with NYT puzzles.

The theme struck me as similar to the oil-and-water puzzle from a few weeks ago, perhaps because the "missing" numbers were treated the same way in both puzzles in the app I use, and that used heavy lines within the grid, rather than blocks (visual blocks in print, rebuses online). It also came to me pretty easily (after I corrected SCREEN in the NW to the correct BLOCK). It was everything else that I struggled with. I can't even begin to guess why. There's nothing here that I don't know, but it all stayed stuck in my brain and refused to come out. I googled more than I typically do on Saturdays.

I almost want to go find the USA Today puzzle just to soothe my bruised puzzle brain.

Garth

Reading the comments so far, it's interesting how different puzzles can be difficult for different people on any given day. While I had a dnf (NW), I saw the theme fairly quickly and didn't have too many difficulties with this one.

Totally with @Aqaba Cinder Mimis. It was a lot of fun (almost) solving a puzzle that is such an admirable feat of construction.

August West

Magmic eliminated the whole "Number the rebus BLOCK" thingy by simply cluing all themers thus (using 35A as our exemplar): "Kitchen counter option/Some street gatherings." So, BLOCK is in the middle. Gotcha.

Too much ELOI, not enough....um...hell, there is no sparkly fill to be found in this entire grid. Quick, too easy for a Thursday, pablum bland.

okanaganer

Personal rule: when the note says "read the PDF", I always...wait for it...read the PDF, even if I don't solve with it. On it, the "missing" answers have separate numbered clues. Except... the numbers don't appear on the grid... not that it really helps much.

32D says it all: Huh?

Oh, well, kinda fun anyway!

AliasZ

Wow, another excellent debut, the second day in a row. This one was also overloaded with theme entries, and three nifty, symmetrically placed BLOCKs. Plus it's a pangram, no less. I solved it in the timed Java applet, which had no unnumbered squares or clues. Both clues for the theme entries were listed under the first number with a "/" separating the two parts. It did not give the visual, but it still took me a while to figure out what the constructor was going for. Once I got it, it was a true aha! moment, and a pleasant surprise.

The fill had some snap to it as well. I liked INVERT, FIENDS, SLURRY, APOGEE, SMIRK and a few others. However, TSU, SHE crossing SHEB, DUO and DUETS (in one puzzle?), JAM IN, AS THE world turns and a few others, not so much. The Greek INO, STYX, IDAS and ELEA were a WEEBIT much, but I liked to see EVA under the FIG leaf. I absolutely loved the clues for MRED (Black-and-white horse?), and BRA (It might be under a tank) crossing BUXOM (Top-heavy). Snazzy!

I had two Naticks: the SHEB and TUBEPAN and the IDAS and DONALD crossings. SHEM, TUMEPAN? SHEL, TULEPAN? IRAS, RONALD? I know none of these words as clued, so both crossing squares were total, unadulterated blind guesses. Well, RONALD/DONALD was a 50-50 chance, which is pretty good odds. The Lil' JON and Little NEMO crossing was almost a Natick, but somehow I managed to scrape up a vague memory of Little Nemo from the dark, musty corners of my brain.

Wasn't only yesterday that I mentioned NUDE & Natural, the publication of TNS or The Naturist Society? Call it synchronicity. I can't decide which is worse: TNS or TSU.

Here are a few of the 44 DUOs for Two Violins by Béla Bartók. This amazing collection of violin DUETS composed for young violin students based on folksongs and dances of Eastern Europe, is specially known for its rhythm, its dissonances, its canons and inversions, and its variety in using the whole gamut of the violin. Give it a listen.

Kudos, Mr. Hawkins for a fine debut.

Carola

Wow, tough and terrific! Away from home now, without a newspaper or printer, I've been using AcrossLite on my iPad, but when I saw the Note, I pulled up the PDF, went and got my graph paper (always travel with it as a diagramless solver), pencil and eraser. Since I had to make my own grid, I sure noticed the missing numbers! Still, it took me quite a while to figure out how to COPE - finally caught on with SUN🔲 / 🔲SOUT. Loved the 4-way 🔲AGES! With some tricky cluing on top of the rebus, this was a real challenge for me, in the best way.

Thank you, Michael Hawkins!

chefwen

Didn't see the note and printed it out in Across Lite as is my wont. Didn't notice missing numbers/clues. It took me a while and I finally (got it) with ICE BLOCK/BLOCK BUSTER, I was then off the races where I had BUTCHER already in place. AH yes BUTCHER BLOCK, couldn't live without mine.

Can't speak for anyone else, but I'm having a great puzzle week. Friday and Saturday, don't let me down.

Speaking of BLOCK BUSTERS we are having swells in epic proportions. 50 footers on the North Shore, all the beaches are closed from where I live on the East Shore to the end of the road. There is a constant stream of cars heading north, just to witness. Biggest they have been in 30+ years. Fun and beautiful to watch, but dangerous, don't ever turn your back to the ocean.

chefwen

I've been off the races every time I go see the ponies run, but here, I believe I meant off TO the races. Makes a little more sense.

Mark

If you haven't read Fforde's _The Eyre Affair_, do yourself a hilarious favor. It's even worth it to re-read Bronte's version first if you don't remember it well.

John Child

Difficult clueing and a bunch of things I didn't know forced me to Google at the end. A struggle rather than a joy here, but a nifty puzzle in retrospect.

Evan

I solved this on paper but I had a very different solving experience than Rex -- I struggled for a while, and though I too never went looking for 56-Down in the clues, my eye caught it by accident, and then I noticed that the number 56 wasn't in the grid. That broke the puzzle open. It was one of the bigger a-ha moments I've had while solving a puzzle, so I really enjoyed this in the end.

The lack of numbers in those three squares didn't bother me; I thought it made the puzzle trickier, which I liked. The Across Lite version shows two clues for one entry separated by a slash mark, which I think takes a little bit away from the a-ha moment since it tells you straight up that there's something funny going on with the long answers. The paper version forces you to figure that out in a tougher way: to get the crossing answers and see that the clues are numbered "incorrectly."

That's not to say I don't have some quibbles with the puzzle. Rex's list of less-than-stellar fill is well-taken, and in fact, I tinkered with the south and wondered if this might have been a little better, if only to dump ELOI and ELEA. I also found NEW KID ON THE BLOCK to be odd in the singular -- yes, it's inferable, but I feel like you'd never say it even if you were talking about one of the members of the band; you'd say, "He's one of the New Kids On The Block," not "He's a New Kid on the Block." The clue on DUO is also a little awkward. I get what it's going for, like the Comedy Central duo Key & Peele (which I highly recommend checking out -- this skit is hilarious), but the word "Its" in the clue makes it sound like it's talking about a specific DUO. Which name is written with an ampersand? Which DUO? Just strange, that one.

But overall, I really appreciated the solving experience on this puzzle. Thumbs up.

Evan

I should add -- even after getting the BLOCK trick, when I circled back to 45-Down, I figured that the name written with an ampersand should probably be H&R BLOCK. It wasn't to be.

(And yes, I remember that was the theme of a rebus puzzle from a year ago).

jae

@Garth -- Like @Evan said if you did this without the / clues  there was a true "a ha" waiting for you.  If you did it with the / clues (ala Magmic, Stand Alone, or AL) not so much.

@Numinous - Just checked yesterday's posts, great R2D2 story and schnitzel is definitely good stuff!

Questinia

I solved on the NYT's site. No PDF. I just placed a "B" for block where it was required. I know nothing about missing numbers. So, this was the easiest Thursday I've seen in a while. I suppose I missed an entire dimension of complexity. That's OK. I added enough complexity of my own to yesterday's puzzle.

Anonymous

Perhaps, there's another agenda going on at the New York Times crossword desk that doesn't include how easy or difficult it is for Rex Parker to speed solve a puzzle.

Questinia

@ Alias Z ~ Thanks for the Béla Bartók. I loved playing his "For Children" piano pieces as a child. I particularly remember the rollicking Drunkard Song.

Beaglelover

There is no note in the print version about missing numbers. I didn't know what was going on. Did I have a collectors crossword puzzle like a stamp collector who gets a sheet with a mistake on it?
I guess this is legit for old hands at cross wording and it is a Thursday, but I prefer a puzzle where one must wrestle with the word meanings and not with the construction of the puzzle. Needless to say, this was a DNF for me but then that is the case with most Thursdays.

Anonymous

Sheb? Sheb??!! Come on.
A terrible puzzle with no payoff.

Susan McConnell

Did it as usual in across lite and couldn't understand what the heck Rex was talking about. Puzzle was just ok, not much of a challenge for a Thursday.

loren muse smith

After a bit of an OOZE of a start, I saw NEW KID ON THE BLOCKADE/SUNBLOCKSOUT, and like @chefwen, was off and running. I solve AcrossLite on paper, so absolutely zero problems here with themer clues/numbers and lack thereof. Like @Garth, et al, I enjoyed this and didn't have a lot of trouble at all.

Rex – you said, "I finished the puzzle and had no idea that those post-BLOCK answers (i.e. BLOCKade, BLOCKs out, BLOCK parties, etc.) were even clued." Good grief, you're *way* out of my league as a solver! I had to rely heavily on both parts of the themer clues.

Monday through Thursday and Sunday, I print the puzzle out, and the number one question on my mind is, "What is the theme?" I swear, ninety percent of my focus is to figure that out, and the periphery words are entries I fill in, almost impatiently, distractedly, to further this Theme Cause. That's probably one big reason I don't care about/notice the bad stuff as much. I don't rush to finish, but when I do finish, I stare at the grid and ponder the theme conceit, then stare out the window, wish I had thought of that, wonder if I can copy the idea shamelessly and submit my own in a few weeks, decide, "Nah." (OK, Will – fair ENOW – decide "nah" after those pedestrian NOT, BLESS grids, following Livengood's GLOSS lead - I'm done copying.)

Fridays and Saturdays I face pretty much with only trepidation and a determination to go as far as I can so I can come over here and run my mouth.

For the longest time, I kept checking that "Daffy" didn't fit. It wasn't until ENOW fell that I did a FACE PALM. Duh.

Dead center was last to fall. GGGG – didn't the guys in Jordan and Qatar get the email about no Q without the requisite U?

Hey, @M&A – you got two FINs worth of U's today!

Considered "place" for WHERE and "snake" for SUEDE.

Is FIG really a pudding flavor? So can "bread" and "rice" be pudding "flavors," too? There. I've brought my snark on. HAH!

SLURRY – portmanteau of SLEET and "flurry?" Windy SLEET? "Take extra caution, drivers, for the next few hours; the slurries could get pretty bad."

SMIRK – portmanteau of a "smile" designed to "irk?" Great word. I'm more of a SMIRKer than a
sneerer. But my former Japanese teacher is ABLER than anyone I know at any facial expression designed to make someone a WEE BIT TENSE.

Hey, speaking of Japanese and TENSER – for any grammar/linguistics enthusiasts out there – sometimes the TENSER inflection is attached not to the verb in Japanese but rather the adjective.

Ookii desu. "It is big." (Adjective – ookii/ Verb – desu)
Ookikatta desu. "It was big" (-katta is the past-TENSER and verb stays present). Do WHA????

I despise angel food cake and sponge cake. Always have.

So, Michael, I take it this is your debut. Impressive. How on earth did you get the grid to work this say with the three rebus squares that, as ACME points out, have to work four ways each!?? I still rely on Crossword Compiler for grids. . . I'm guessing you built this from the ground up? Great Job!! Great puzzle!! (Hmm. CLASSIC ROCK/ETTE, THAT'S A CROCK/SALT. . . Nah.) Congrats, Mr. Hawkins!

jberg

Some days you eat the bear, some days the bear eats you. Today, the bear at 10D was the only thing that got me started -- specifically, fixing Tauter at 19A. But it wasn't enough -- I never saw the clues for the missing numbers, and couldn't get past looking for something to finish the counter option after BUTCHER BLOCK. Two of the NEW KIDs ON THE BLOCK lived on the next street -- their family had to put up a huge cast iron fence to keep the young girls off their lawn and porch -- but I was looking, unsuccessfully, for some boy band ending with BLOCKADE.

I have to blame my own denseness, however, for not being able to see DONALD as Daisy's love; and my poor education for not knowing the obvious IDAS. Still kicking myself over that. I can prove I'm not a robot -- at least, I could if you can see this -- but fortunately I don't have to prove I'm not an idiot.

Anonymous

The puzzle wasn't much fun and neither were most of these barely comprehensible comments.

Hasn't anyone noticed that the numbering on Rex's version is different? We're supposed to renumber the whole grid? What on earth for?

jburgs

Rex says "So there was no way I was ever going to see 23-Across (in the clue) because there is no "23" in the grid. It's a pretty simple problem. And, the thing is, I didn't even need the clues (23A/D, 39A/D, 56A/D)."

Other people seem to know what this sentence means but I just don't understand.

Looking at the grid I have 23A, 39A and 56A plus clues for them. Why would he say they need D clues or are not there.

Can someone enlighten me?

Z

The Dead-Tree version put up a tussle. I saw that clue 23A didn't have a number in the grid early on, but didn't know where to put it. Initially tried to make all the missing numbers work in the 15D column when I got BUTCHER . I was also looking for a specific member of 'N Sync at 20A, which didn't help. Everything except AZUL/UTZ sorted itself out. I don't watch Mad Men and could not yank out the Spanish from the grey noodle. I also struggled with chAR before SEAR. I think of SEAR as putting on a little crisp, but not actually getting to a blackened/burnt point. Finally, AbSorb before ASSUME. You know what happens when you ASSUME.

@Evan - apparently you didn't watch the video on the blog. "You can buy my lunchbox..."

I'm wondering if KIX is the meal of choice crossing the STYX.

@anon8:55 - I am sure I speak for the entire commentariat and grideratti who write here when I say, "thank you."

Anonymous

I loved the idea that the blocks formed "blockage" in the grid. That's about all I liked though.

Z

@jburgs - I think what OFL is saying is that he grokked that the long themers were phrases that ended/began in BLOCK so, rather than read the clues, he got a few of the crosses and deduced the BLOCK phrases from there. That's a speed solver thing - reading all the clues takes time, so strategies to avoid reading clues or reading just parts of clues speed up your solving time. Some eschew these techniques for a more "stop and smell the roses" experience. Others, well, let's just say we would if we could but we can't so we won't.

Five nines, but it is too soon to draw that hand, dang.

joho

It's all been said, but I want to add my kudos to Michael Hawkins. This puzzle is quite a construction feat and truly a BLOCKBUSTER debut! Congratulations!

chefbea

Loved the puzzle. Noticed the missing numbers right away and knew something was amok. Got it at Block buster movie.

Making angel food cake for dessert for Super Bowl and am not using a tube pan. Am of course using my Stadium Bundt pan!!

@Numinous (from last night) You sure you are not Julia Childs???

Nancy

Puzzles like this that other people finish (and also think are terrific) make me realize just how smart many people who post on this blog are. I think of myself as quite an able solver, actually, but this one destroyed me from the get-go and made me give up quite early on. Unusual for me. HOW can Rex possibly call this "Medium"???????

quilter1

Made inroads and got the block thing, but DNF. How am I supposed to know this random Argonaut? I know Jason. I did know ELEA but it did me little good. On to BEQ.

RnRGhost57

Another cool debut. Some days I wonder why OFL doesn't just fall on his sword to end the misery.

quilter1

I did enjoy seeing TUBE PAN in the puzzle.

Bob Kerfuffle

Loved it. Always makes me feel good to have a puzzle which at first seems very intimidating, but ultimately can be solved even by a BLOCKhead like me.

Two Ponies

I enjoyed this clever rebus.
Some things were right up my alley while others had me scratching my head. Good fun in the end.

I agree with @ Mark that if you have not read Jasper Fforde he is worth a visit and the Eyre Affair is a good place to start.

@ chefwen, 50 ft waves? Wow. I've seen 30 footers on the north shore of Maui but nearly twice that?!?

John V

I got the block, but DNF, as much of the fill was outside my wheelhouse.

cascokid san

The rebus was easy enough from the compound cluing in Magmic. Semi-clever. BUT...

Even after 7 googles and 90 minutes of thrashing, I had 15 wrong fills. This puzzle was so hard that even when I had the right solutions, e.g., GOAWAY, the failure to cross led me to delete them.

egG for FIG pudding.
mar for INO
rAMIN for JAMIN
theKIDONTHEBLOCK for NEWKIDONTHEBLOCK
dOPE for COPE
MREg/BLOCKAgE for MRED/BLOCKADE (how is MR ED, the talking horse, black-and-white?)
Letting alone EVA, EYRE, lil JON and other bits of culture that you either know or you don't.

But really. But really. IDAS? There were 85 argonauts. I do not feel a cultural obligation to memorize all of their names. The crosses were plenty ambiguous toWER for SEWER, so without a google there, no hope.

This puzzle leaves me INAPET, and this constructor can GOAWAY.

Anonymous

I notice a constant theme in the comments for any puzzle that uses non-standard formats… Across-Lite and several other apps are incapable of reproducing the constructor's design clearly or at all. I understand the desire to use apps and solve for time, etc. but if you know the limitations, please don't complain about the construction when it's your choice of medium that is giving you altered grids. The same goes if your personal strategy for solving misses an important element of the construction. I don't think today's missing numbers are a design flaw. I think Rex's strategy is a design flaw. If you focus solely on the grid, you are bound to miss something. I simply print out each puzzle from the NYT Replica Edition that comes with my subscription. Sometimes, it is available at 10 pm the night before...

Davidph

Zenith is wrong as a clue for APOGEE (59 across). They're both vaguely astronomical, but that's the only thing they have in common. Zenith is the point on the sky directly overhead. APOGEE is where a satellite is farthest away from earth. The one is from observational astronomy; the other from orbital mechanics. No connection.

dk

Z, I was going to say something to Anon at 8:55 that ended in you but the first word was not thank.

Ok

🌟🌟🌟 (3 Stars) Nice debut.

Had no trouble with any of this puzzle. Solve within the NYT so all was easy to see and my Stabilo fine point can fit the word BLOCK into the tiny square things.

Some of the same moans and groans as Rex with the missing numbers. CINDERBLOCKQUOTES was my aha moment. And, I thought the crossing of BUXOM and BRA was titillating.

@chefwen it is -17 here and they have closed down the ski hills, When I lived in Maine we would don our wet suits and head for the surf on days like today -- which I suppose is akin to drinking and climbing on a snowmobile when it is -17: One just went by. Another Darwin award winner?

gifcan

The comments were confusing at first until I realized there were two versions of this puzzle, the tougher Rex version and the easier (in my case) AcrossLite version.

As an example (AcrossLite) the 9D clue is:

Beach bag item/Represses, as bad memories

There is no missing 23A/D clue. It was not all that difficult to figure out in the AcrossLite version.

Let's DRAIN the STYX and SEAR the ARK and do violence to both ends of the spiritual realm and see who wins.

M Rivers

@loren muse. Jewish friends of ours always invite us papists to Passover and they serve the gefilte fish with fresh ground horseradish. Follow this with a bite of angel food cake, and you'll think you died and went to heaven.

I thought the puzzle was fun: I love that moment when the penny drops and I know what the constructor is up to. It doesn't matter that fill is so-so or that I know neither rappers or old comic characters and so had JOe crossing eEMO.

It is -19F with the wind chill here, and I have a dog recovering from too much bunny-ingesting, necessitating frequent walks. I love my dogs, honest, but she's a malamute and I a mere mortal. Off to don my Nanook costume.

Numinous

This played beautifully for me. Medium, @Rex? I don't think so. The Magmic cheaters are taking three times longer to solve than usual and while I'm not a speed solver, I like to "smell the roses," I came in thousands ahead of my usual position in the fastest scores category.

I had SUNBLOCK first but the Carolina crosses weren't working so I had to erase BLOCK. It wasn't until, solving in a more or less clockwise fashion, I got to BUSTERMOVIE that I figured out that there might be a rebus that, after my comment yesterday, I really wasn't expecting. I had sort of looked at crosses that would yield BUTCHER, but still wasn't getting it. The ah-ha came at last and I can still recall bygone deliveries of ICEBLOCKs which the ICE man brought into the house balanced on his shoulder pad and held with tongs. He'd open the top compartment of the varnished wooden ICE box and, after removing the remaining little bit of melted ice, slide the new block in. Then, again, I can remember flames leaping out of a burner when its lid was removed to stoke the wood range at breakfast when we ate in the kitchen for the warmth in the winter.

It's beyond me how some of you didn't remember that Daisy is DONALD Duck's chick. Can you call a duck a chick? I seem to recall a Donald Duck cartoon built off the song Bicycle Built for Two.

No googling for me today though I was tempted once or twice. In the end, all the dopey three letter crosses were inferable.

@chefbea, sorry, I'm not Julia.
@LMS, thank you.
@jae, I love schnitzel.
@AliasZ, thanks for the Bartók. In high school, I had an LP of his quartets. Listening to jazz taught me how to listen to classical music. For a little fun well worth three minutes of your time, watch the plucky Amadeus quartet.,

Thank you, Michael Hawkins for a fun morning. Make us a few more, ok?

Billy G.

Rex, I think the clue numbers in your solution do not match the same clues in the NYT puzzle.
But, thanks anyway for unblocking the blocks.

Sandy K

Got the gimmick at the crossing of NEW KID ON THE BLOCK and SUN BLOCK. After that, it was a matter or looking for where the other BLOCKs REVEALED themselves.

Only mental BLOCKs came at INO, IDAS, and SLURRY? WHA?? Didn't know a FIG about them, but crosses helped out.

I always like to JAM IN a rebus- and this was right up my alley.

Gill I. P.

I love the brain that constructed this puzzle...Getting all those BLOCKs to match up! I say WOW Michael Hawkins - good job...
I guess I got the easy stick because I had the slash separating the 2 clues version. Couldn't for the life of me figure out what @Rex was talking about...Thanks @Z for a better explication.
Did you know that FIG pudding is made with white sandwich bread?
@Loren I too look for the themes M-Th. Always - that's my prime objective and that's why the little or so called annoying words never bother me. I am the "stop and smell the roses" type.
@Questinia: HANNI BALINA...HAH!
@chefwen...Those waves have been all over the media - especially if you can capture a photo of the surfers looking amazed as the dolphins jump up beside them. I hope they stay here and don't go to Japan!

Nick

No fun at all.

Got most of it. Didn't quite catch on to the numb numbers dealy. Had AGUA (?) for AZUL. Never ate an UTZ, so no help there. What a mess. Bad case of Solver's Block. And yet I really like the puz, once someone calms me down explains it slowly to me. Weird how that works.

Pangram! Didn't do anything real desperate to eke it out. Still, can't feature why 43-Across couldn't be somethin more benign, like REEL or HEEL. Confuses the M&A.

There B 9 U's here!
This dude knows how to respect his vowels.
Nice debut. Only thing missin was H&R Block Head.

M&A

Z

@dk - I was, too, but decided it would be more semi-magnificent to do it with a misunderstood "thanks."

@sanfranman59 - i've been using up my allotment of three long before you post your results. Two low completion counts makes me wonder if the trend will ever reverse.

@Numinous - your avatar looks a lot like my brother, which means you started out with two strikes in my book. Nevertheless, you are on quite a run of great comments.

Re: the cold. Skiing in Tremblant with a high of -24 F has skewed my perception. 10 barely even fazes me.

Rob C

Med-Chal Thurs for me. Struggled for a while to get the theme. When I finally caught on to the rebus, I thought it was nonsense before and after phrases (New Kid on the Blockade, Butcher Block Parties, Cell Blockage) but I couldn't figure out why they weren't clued that way. Nice aha moment when I finally noticed the non-numbers in the grid.

I agree completely with LMS, Sun-Thurs I primarily hunt for the theme. All of the other words are just devices to get to the theme. Also agree that this is why some iffy fill doesn't bother me as much as many others.

Very nice debut! Dense theme with an aha moment works for me any day of the week.

M and Also and

p.s.
Should be an "and" between down and explains, in that first paragraph of my first comment. Kinda like I think there's gotta be a word missin from 4-Oh's commentary, in this sentence:
"Really important for the execution to come off with a hitch."
Har. Sounds like M&A's own philosophy of puz construction. So QED, it can't be quite right...

M&A

OISK

Rex's answer was posted early, and when I checked my Wednesday at 11 last night, I saw it. Quickly scrolled down, but I did notice the "block" in the center before realizing it was the wrong puzzle. That must have made it easier. I don't mind the blocks, but do mind some of the pop culture and needlessly obscure cluing. Never heard of Lil Jon, and it could have been Ron, but guessed right. Have no idea who the new kids are, but OK, I have heard the term. Surely there are better clues for "idas" though, never heard of Zoe Kravitz , don't know or care which products appeared on Mad Men - wouldn't "wise competitor" be a better clue for Utz? Still, a pretty clever and challenging puzzle.

Notsofast

GreatGreat puzzle! I knew SHEB. The fill was interesting and fun: see BUXOM and BRA. Never had FIG pudding, but liked OOZE, SLURRY,TUBEPAN and WEEBIT. Brilliant! A Standing O for MH!

Evan

@Z:

Ah, no. I didn't. I probably would've liked the answer better if it had been clued to that song (which I didn't know), or if the clue had been more generic, like [Child just arriving in town].

@cascokid san:

The show "Mister Ed" was broadcast in black-and-white.

And I realize you're still learning the ropes of solving later-in-the-week NYT puzzles, but don't get discouraged. Trust me, one does get better at them with practice, because you end up seeing the same kinds of answers and tricks in the clues again and again.

My tip: try constructing a puzzle of your own. No, seriously. It's what I tried five years ago. My first few puzzles weren't very good since I didn't know what I was doing, but the process forced me to look up lots of 4- to 6-letter answers and clues that I would have never seen before otherwise -- that's why short stuff like ELOI is sorta automatic for me now. I'd say that after maybe 10-12 months, I was solving Fridays and Saturdays without Google when previously I would have never touched them at all.

hawkins

@AliasZ: Thanks-- I was particularly fond of the BUXOM/BRA crossing and the clues for MRED and BRA too (Will improved my BRA clue).

@Carola: That sounds like a lot of extra effort, so I'm glad it was worth it to you!

@Evan: When the H&R Block puzzle appeared I worried that mine would publish too closely to it. Apparently I had nothing to worry about.

@Loren: Combination by hand and using Compiler. I don't want to think about how many hours I sunk into it. The hardest part was finding a layout to accomodate three BLOCKS, none of which were cheaters. The fill isn't as sparkly as I'd like, but it looks like a fair amount of people are accepting given the theme density.

@Numinous: Thanks! I have a Monday that's been accepted, but probably won't appear for another 12 months. Several others pending approval...

and, thank you to everyone else for general kudos! And to those who didn't care for it, hopefully my next puzzle is more your cup of tea.

Cheers!
Michael

Laurence Katz

I thought the missing numbered boxes was a great gimmick. It greatly added to the mystery and fun as you tried to figure out what was going on. As to Rex not digging it because it didn't play into his solving style, too bad for him. Every puzzle has elements that don't play into particular individuals strengths.
Sheb Wooley, it should be mentioned, not only was a noted character actor in "oaters," he scored one of the biggest hits of 1958 and an all-time classic novelty record: "The Purple People Eater." Rex should have posted his video. Here it is:

mac

It was harder to figure out for me, but I liked this puzzle.

For a while had bear cage at 38D…..

I'd better practice some more before Brooklyn.

mathguy

I thought that it was a terrific puzzle. I have no idea what Rex is talking about when he says that he finished it without knowing the gimmick. It was sure tougher than medium for me and I had to Google EYRE because I forgot SLURRY in order to finish. For me the fun of a puzzle is having to sweat it out.

Anonymous

I like this puzzle BETTER after reading your comments. Playing off of people's puzzle-solving habits to trick them is precisely what brings this puzzle up, in my view. A better reaction on your part, imo, is a tip of the cap to the creator and an acknowledgement that he got you.

Anonymous

Maybe Rex would have enjoyed it more if the rebus had been designed as "cheater square" instead of "block."

It doesn't seem like it was explicitly said, but the design feature for me (as opposed to flaw) was imagining a black square/block where the block was. That then also changes the numbering. I guess I looked at both the print and the web version to figure that out, but I thought it was pretty clever to use the rebus explicitly to remake the grid. Of course I still DNF on some of the fill like AQABA.

Bird

Clever concept. I didn’t mind the ‘work’ involved with figuring out where the extra clues/answers fit, but I didn’t enjoy the solve and was unable to complete because of the cluing in spots (too obscure for me and/or unknown to me) and crosses were no help.

After the first pass I was staring at a lot of blanks, but I worked and toiled until I discovered what was going on while I was looking at 34A and thinking about 9D (did you know that SUNBLOCK fits there?). I then thought I would finish, but no.

Reminder: Tomorrow the NYT is switching puzzles to make up for last Friday's goof.

hawkins

Sorry, meant to say "(Will improved my BUXOM clue)."

Acme

Wow, it was a debut to boot?!?!

For those who found the fill not up to par, IDAS soon point out the BUXOM/BRA pairing for young at heart boys everywhere, AQABA, WEEBIT, KIX/STYX, UTZ, MRED as clued, SLURRY.
Plus Fforde is new to me, which is screaming for a theme inclusion one day.
Also new to me: LANDO, UTZ, SLURRY and I thought the Purple Eater guy was SHEp.

Biggest hangup was realizing cakEPAN couldn't be right since Angel Food CAKE was in the clue. I so don't bake, I actually considered marziPAN and some sort of ??pEcAN.

Still marvelling at the fourway BLOCKage!

Ellen S

@Lawrence Katz - thanks for the link to Sheb Wooley's wonderful one hit. Flying Purple People Eater.. I'm making it into a direct link becuase everyone should become familiar with it if they are not already. It's a critical component of American culture. For reals.

@hawkins, I really enjoyed it. I had, like, nothin'. Like @Bird I had put SUNblock at 9D, right answer, fits, but didn't work. Then I noticed all the things that should have had "BLOCK", like CINDER and BUTCHER and NEW KID ON THE, but where BLOCK didn't work. "What day is this?" I asked myself. Serious question. Eventually doped out that it was Wednesday, which meant I was working the Thursday puzzle, so likely there was a rebus. Okay, but then what. Lucky for me I noticed one of clues that didn't have a number in the grid, located the others, and managed to limp home. Great fun!

Finally, I'm glad to see some people who hate Rex's commentary coming out of anonymity. But still, if that's all you have to say, now that you've said it you don't have to comment any more because we know that's how you feel. It's Rex's blog; he can say what he wants, and as @Numinous pointed out yesterday, he's a mite young to be a curmudgeon, but nevertheless, he's the Andy Rooney of Crossword Commentary. If you don't like it, skip straight to the comments. If you don't like the comments either, maybe you should meet some of us in person and then these conversations will be more fun for you. What I'm sayin' is, GGGGG, don't have a goat!

ANON B

Construction brilliant. But
I don't do puzzles just to
brilliance. I enjoy clever
clues but this puzzle was
too weird. This was a
Saturday puzzle.

Lewis

I like how the if you take the HER from 27D then turn right, you get HERBLOCK, famous political cartoonist.

Brett Chappell

Magmic's iPad app did not make use of the blocks used in other formats described above, which made for an easier solve it seems. My only real observation during the process was the prevalence of high-scoring consonants in Scrabble.

AliasZ

@Hawkins,

Thanks for stopping by. It is always a pleasure to get the view from the opposite side of the grid. I for one am looking forward to your next creations, be they Monday or Saturday.

@ Numinous,

Thanks for reminding me of the Bartók String Quartets. I haven't listened to them in a while. That "Allegretto pizzicato" in the Amadeus performance is just superb. It reminds us just how advanced Bartók was for his time (1928). This movement is all about rhythm, in which he makes even a string quartet sound percussive. The "Bartók" pizzicato named after the composer is visible and audible shortly after the 1:00 min. mark, and then a few times between 2:20 and the end of the video clip. The string is lifted off the fingerboard instead of being plucked parallel to it, to make it strike the wood, creating a slapping sound, some edgy harmonics and an entirely novel string tone not heard before him.

Mighty Nisden

I couldn't agree more @ okanaganer. Once I looked at the PDF version it was easy to see where the clues were supposed to go. Then when across lite had double cluing, it verified my thoughts.

This is one where speed solving was a hindrance, but slow and steady pulled me through.

I loved the puzzle and seeing how the first clue I got was LANDO which is way down in the grid, I was happy to finish!

Well done MH!!

Benko

I really didn't think there was any bad fill, per se, in this puzzle. Okay, maybe OXI. But there were a lot of obscurities for a Thursday, and while I'm perfectly okay with that, I bet it's what caused consternation with the fill for many other folks.
How many people actually colored in the blocks in the grid rather than printed the word "BLOCK" as a rebus?

Bob Kerfuffle

@Benko - Put me on the list; I colored in the blocks!

Anonymous

Davidph,

Good luck on getting anyone here to appreciate the apogee/zenith distinction. Unforunatley apogee has bbeen so corrupted that it's a lost cause. Neither Will nor Rex understand much of anything in the physical world. Theirs is a world of language and cultural trivia. Of course if either of them spoke or read Greek they'd know apogee is really apogaion: far from Earth. Its opposite, perigee ( closest to Eath) is never used for lowest. Folks that use apogee like this, really believe that the sun is high. Or that the puzzle has a southwest corner. Morons all.

Carola

@Benko - Colored in, plus heavy outline :)

wreck

sigh

wreck

Where is Eath?

Merriam-Webster

APOGEE
Zenith

@anonymous4:30 pm - if one is going to be insulting one could at least not be wrong. Amazing how words used in crossword puzzles sometimes have more than one meaning, isn't it?

Michael

Even after I filled in all the squares (and blocks), I was puzzled by this one. I was about to complain until I saw the missing number-clues explained here. Still not sure I like it, but have to admit that the puzzle is very clever. Sure would have been a lot easier (I had to do some minor googling) if I caught on to the gimmick.

joho

Yep, colored blocks.

Michael, thanks for stopping by. My maiden name is Hawkins and today I truly wish I were related to your brain!

You may not think the fill was sparkly, but it surely is considering the constraints of your very cleverly constructed grid.

I can't wait to see your Monday that's in the queue!

sanfranman59

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 21:35, 19:03, 1.13, 73%, Medium-Challenging

Top 100 solvers

Thu 14:48, 10:36, 1.40, 89%, Challenging

This is another puzzle this week that's probably not particularly well-suited for evaluation by this method. It appears to be headed for another low-water mark in terms of the number of online solvers (181 so far vs the previous low of 210 ... that being David Steinberg's Thursday stumper of 12/12/2013). I made the mistake of solving it using the online applet in spite of the note telling me that I should print out the PDF. So I was unaware of the missing clue numbers aspect of the theme.

Dave

Liked this puzzle. Got stuck with "azur" as well, but otherwise thought the theme was well executed. Interestingly, my 14 year old son was looking at the grid before his piano lesson and pointed out that there missing numbers, so the theme was obvious as soon as I hit the New Kids, which I was ashamed to get so quickly.

Idas?

LaneB

I'mm obviously missing something, but the NYT version I have has different grid numbers than the version printed by Rex on the blog. It starts with 23a which in my version is 24a but the clue on mine is identified as 24a [Fatigue] and my 24a answer as correctly DRAIN. Thereafter, all the clues have different numbers but match the answers in Rex's solution.
Anyway, I found the whole thing impossible and failed to put the BLOCK in the right places.
Moreover, lots of the clues were way out of my ken. e.g., a20, a4, a27, d12, and a67 clued as "do-over" and answered as LET [?] in my version.
If I don't get the rebus, fasilure is sure to occur. Hell, I don't even get the explanation on this one!
Huge pain in the tush.
Perhaps one of you kind [and smart] souls out there can square me away. Thanks.

@LaneB - In the print version the "Block" has no number even though it has a numbered clue. So 23A/23D is at the square in Row 4 Column 12. 9D is SUNBLOCK and 23D is BLOCKS OUT. Rex posted one from an online version that misses this element.

As for most of your questioned clues, pop culture clues. LET is a tennis term. A serve has to land in the square immediately after the net without touching the net to be a good serve. If it doesn't land in the square it is a "fault." If the server "double faults" (misses twice) the other player scores the point. If the serve hits the net but manages to land in the square the server gets to serve again without penalty - a "do-over."

ludyjynn

@AnonB said it best. I left it and came back 3 times and still DNF. Not fun. In fact, I hated it!

Ellen S

@Answer Z, I think what @LaneB and somebody else earlier are saying is that their printed puzzle grid numbers don't match the grid numbers in Rex's screenshot. ANd they don't match the grid numbers in my Puzzazz version. What I have on the fourth row is 20, 21 and 22. The "BLOCK" would be 23, but has no number.
In the clues, 23 is clued as "Supply line cutter."
THen in Puzzazz, Row 5 starts with 24, clued as "Fatigue".
There is a clue for 23, but no grid number.
But Rex shows a grid number 23 at the beginning of Row 5. The answer he has there, at 23A, is "Drain" which Puzzazz says is the clue for 24A. The Puzzazz and dead tree versions make sense - there are clues which don't have corresponding grid numbers. Rex's grid makes no sense. And yet he says he didn't need the clues for 23A, 39A etc -- But he has a 23A and 39A in his grid. ?

One of those mysteries we'll never know the answer to?

Anyway, I only came here because I posted the pictures of the trip Gill I.P. and I took to San Fran to visit Acme. With luck, if you click on my avatar, the profile for "My Web Page" will take you there. But just in case (because nothing else worked), I've embedded it here. Nothing special, just a very few pictures of the three of us having fun.

wreck

"Will Shortz notes: This is the second day in a row in which a Times constructor is making a debut. Michael Hawkins hails from Gastonia, N.C. The print and online versions of his puzzle necessarily have different numbering. The print version is the first puzzle I can remember in which the solver is supposed to number some of the black squares — either present or (as in this case) missing!"

Same grid in both on-line and print versions but DIFFERENT numbering.

@Ellen S - That is a mystery only OFL can solve. The grid image looks like a revealed puzzle would look in AcrossLite, and OFL says he uses other programs on the FAQ page. But, I don't know what other software looks like when you reveal clues or even if OFL still uses the same programs.

Nice pics.

odalittlemouse

Why are buffs "fiends", as in 1D?

Comparing Definitions

a person who is enthusiastically interested in and very knowledgeable about a particular subject.
"a computer buff"

a person who is excessively fond of or addicted to something.
"the restaurant's owner is a wine fiend"

Anonymous

I fumbled my way to almost all of the answers. I guessed correctly on AQABA, but I guessed wrong on LUNE. I guessed LUNA, which made me wonder what ABA had to do with "Fin." Now that I see ABE = "Fin," I'm kicking myself.

ulysses

i thought this puzzle was brilliant. maddeningly difficult for a long time, then when i got the blocks, easier but still challenging and fun. i am glad i stuck to it. unlike the rexinator, i noticed that there were numbers that were missing (because it was so hard for me to get started, i did read the clues "like a book") which aided in finding the rebus. great puzzle. think rex missed the boat on this one.

Anonymous

That is not the puzzle in my south Forida edition of the January 24, 2014 New York Times.

Singer

I didn't enjoy this at all. And there was one square that could be answered two ways, one of which was wrong. The only way to sort it out was to assume the constructor intended a pangram. Lil RoN is a rapper. "Ram in" works for the down clue. So how do you know it is Lil Jon and "Jam in"? Never noticed the clues without letters in the grid and had no idea what the post block stuff meant. Also blew the Sheb, tube pan pairing. I thought his name was Shep. Oh well, maybe tomorrow will be fun.

Solving in Seattle

Where's @Spacecraft?

Like Rex, I never saw the unnumbered clues - just slogged along until the post "block" letters made sense.

BRA/BUXOM. WHERE are Beavis & Butt-head when we need them?

Liked APOGEE atop SEWERS.

The latest tabloid item - JON AVEC MIMI. (Could AVEC also mean on top of in French?)

@Diri, no zeros today.

Michael Hawkins, I really enjoyed your debutpuz. Encore!

Two lousy pairs today. @Z's five nines is looking good.

Dirigonzo

Meanwhile back in syndiland where we all solve on paper, I actually do read all of the clues all of the time so I knew right away there were numbers missing in the grid. The SUNBLOCK/BOLCKADE cross showed me how the missing numbers were to be utilized, so off to the races (you know, in a leisurely fashion)! Unfortunately I thought The Graces at 51d might be mUsES and never did go back to fix it, so dnf with TWS.

The puzzle from the NYT daily puzzle calendar today is an ACME/Patrick Blindauer creation that also featured an imaginative gimmick designed to give speed-solvers fits - loved that one, too.

@anony 1:47pm (5 weeks ago) 0 that's because this is the January 23 puzzle.

@Z - since you and your five nines have left the table I'd say my five sixes are looking pretty good.

spacecraft

Well, it was different--and different is good. I understand the way the theme was treated, and as it's laid out, I don't see any other way to present it except what was done. There's a block, and that generates numbers on the east and south faces. Putting a number in a white square not following or below a block would have given away the store. I got #BUSTERMOVIE off just the M, from two terrific Cameron flicks in the clue (the third being ABYSS).

My grid is not without some messiness; OXy had to become OXI, the smidgen was not a tidBIT but a WEEBIT, and my NUDES started out as mUsES. No BRA for them. The fill, though featuring a rapper along with some other WOEs (AZUL, IDAS, ELEA), was overall pretty good. ASTHE is...unfortunate. You didn't like it either, I'm betting, Mr. Debuting Constructor. I give you props for wincing at that, since the rest of it shows you have some serious rookie chops. Stick AVEC it, sir. Just try to keep the rappers to a minimum.

TimJim

I solved this (syndicated) on paper and, like Rex, solved without realizing there were missing numbers -- just thought the second parts were all "words or endings that can follow 'block'" -- which Ithought was kind of lame. So finding the "blocks" was fun, but the rest not quite as much.

Anonymous

I got to this puzzle way late in the afternoon, but enjoyed it. All was completed except the NW corner. Just couldn't get "egg" pudding off the page. IMHO this was fresh and very clever by Mr. Hawkins and I thank him. BTW curmudgeons come in all ages.

Ron Diego 2:20 PM PST 2/27/14

Anonymous

Great puzzle Michael!!

Much ado about the the numbering. Of course the numbers are there - just blocked by the white block that is already in place...

Mike in Syndy

Z

@Dirigonzo - Waiting five weeks for everyone else to take their seats seems a bit much, so your five 6's beat my four 2's.

Donn in NM

A late comment because we get the NYT puzzle a month late. I got the idea of the missing numbers across, but not clues for the second part of the downs was very annoying. Does anyone know what a "block quote" is? And yes, azul/azur and sear/char were snags.

Dirigonzo

@Donn in NM - wiki defines "block quotation" (also referred to as "BLOCK QUOTES" in many reference books) thus: A block quotation (also known as a long quotation or extract) is a quotation in a written document, that is set off from the main text as a paragraph, or block of text, and typically distinguished visually using indentation and a different typeface or smaller size quotation. (This is in contrast to a setting it off with quotation marks in a run-in quote.) Block quotations are used for the long quotation.

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