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Thursday, November 13, 2014

Constructor: Tracy Gray

Relative difficulty: Medium



THEME: ON — Five clues begin "Literally, with X-Across" and the answer is missing an "ON" because the first part of the answer is "literally" ON the other one, so SEAS *ON* PASSES etc.

Theme answers:
  • SEAS(ON) PASSES (17A: Literally, with 20-Across, ski resort purchases)
  • CARS(ON) CITY (16A: Literally, with 19-Across, a Western state capital)
  • SURGE(ON) GENERAL (35A: Literally, with 39-Across, head doctor)
  • CORD(ON) BLEU (59A: Literally, with 63-Across, distinguished chef)
  • HARRIS(ON) FORD (55A: Literally, with 62-Across, longtime action star)
Word of the Day: SAHEL (23D: Semiarid region of Africa) —
The Sahel is the ecoclimatic and biogeographic zone of transition in Africa between the Sahara Desert to the north and the Sudanian Savanna to the south. Having a semi-arid climate, it stretches across the southernmost extent of Northern Africa between the Atlantic Ocean and the Red Sea. The Arabic word sāḥil (ساحل) literally means "shore, coast", describing the appearance of the vegetation found in the Sahel as being akin to that of a coastline delimiting the sand of the Sahara.
The Sahel covers parts of (from west to east) the GambiaSenegal, southern Mauritania, central MaliBurkina Faso, southern Algeria and Niger, northern Nigeriaand Cameroon, central Chad, southern Sudan, northern South Sudan and northern Eritrea. (wikipedia)
• • •
    Again, we have an example of a good theme idea marred by ungreat fill. Here's the thing about fill–It's Most Of The Puzzle. We are very definitely, solidly, in an era at the NYT when fill quality really doesn't matter. Interesting theme ideas are accepted and overall grid quality gets little to no attention. I see claims (occasionally) that fill standards are higher now, but I see almost zero evidence of this. Instead I see corners with ALII and OLEA and RIAS. Sorry, that's one corner, not multiple corners. One, little, nothing corner (the symmetrical corner has ELIA / SDAK issues). I do like KISSCAM, but that corner is already compromised by your theme. So the one bit of interesting fill the puzzle does have ends up crushing the surrounding fill until it squeals. AAHEDAT is a train wreck. I can barely look at it. In fact, the whole area there feels clunky. TEASELS and SAHEL … it's like the grid is *barely* holding together. With AAHEDAT, I'd say it's not really holding together at all.


    Now this puzzle is, both thematically and fill-wise, superior to yesterday's puzzle, but this is the problem. The bar is So Low. People will enjoy this at least in part because it's better by comparison with yesterday's. That, coupled with a truly interesting theme concept, means this one will probably mostly pass muster with solvers. But the fill still needs work. I enjoyed working out the ON answers, but once you grok the concept, they're all pretty easy to get. What's most distressing about the fill quality is this is not a hard grid to fill. It looks like the central theme pairing really put some strain on the grid, but the other four pairs are isolated and have mostly short answers around them. I wonder if it wouldn't have been easier to build a grid where your connecting answer isn't the one ending in -GA (here, RUTABAGA, the root (!) cause of the fill issues in that area), but perhaps one that ends -EL. You'd have to rebuild the grid some, and refill it from nearly the ground up, but more things end -EL than end -GA. Seems like you might buy yourself some freedom. At any rate, the SAHEL / TEASELS / AAHEDAT area, coupled with the OLEA and ELIA areas, really diminished my enjoyment of this one. Theme gets a B, fill gets a C-.
      Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

      95 comments:

      Doc John 12:06 AM  

      I wholeheartedly agree with everything you said.
      That TEASELS/SAHEL crossing is the epitome of Natick. Blecch!

      Greg 12:06 AM  

      AAHEDAT is so astonishingly bad I'm still questioning it as the correct answer.

      jae 12:09 AM  

      Easy-medium for me.  Only one erasure, arid before SERE, and only one WOE,  TEASELS. Luckily I've seen SAHEL before otherwise @Doc John the TEASELS cross was pretty obscure. 

      At deuce hit home because I spent the afternoon watching my granddaughter and her partner advance to the third round of the San Diego County CIF  Tennis Doubles Championship.  They got to the County tournament by winning the Eastern Division Championship  (I just had to mention that). 

      Rex is right,  this one PASSES muster with me.   Cute theme.  Liked it. 

      Steve J 12:14 AM  

      Liked the theme a lot. Just right for a Thursday. Although, when I got my first "on" (with CARS(on) CITY), I wondered if other answers might have over/above/atop/upon/etc. as the representational preposition. Would have been nice to up the difficulty that way.

      One very nice thing with the theme: None of the first halves are nonsense or odd truncations. Actual words. That's not always the case with these things, so credit to the constructor for that.

      Agreed there are some problematic bits with the fill. AAHED AT is clunky at best. I didn't find the NW as bad as Rex did, but it's definitely a little awkward. I have no idea what TEASELS are, which isn't a problem aside from the fact that I always want to put an E somewhere in RUTABAGA, so that cross bedeviled me for a bit.

      But a nice theme and some definitely good fill - KISS CAM, RUTABAGA, SCARFED - leaves this a good puzzle on balance for me.

      retired_chemist 12:17 AM  

      Thanks again to @Clark and @nyer for solving my problem yesterday. Thought that was going to get me the system preferences panel and didn't even look at it. D'oh!

      Easy. Once you saw the trick the theme answers all fell right out. Momentary pause (milliseconds) when I spelled it MOjAVE and wondered who jARRIS(ON) FORD was....

      Slowed down a bit by iota # 34A and swe @ 38A. Once fixed, I wondered what BAND B was and how it related to a motel. Oh,B AND B. Well, then. Fine. (D'OH AGAIN)

      Thanks, Ms. Gray.

      Steve J 12:17 AM  

      By the way, SAHEL isn't terribly obscure in terms of contemporary references. The terrorist/fundamentalist group Boko Haram operates primarily in that region of Africa, and it's mentioned more than a little in news coverage, especially a few months back with the stories of the kidnapped Nigerian girls.

      Casco Kid 1:09 AM  
      This comment has been removed by the author.
      Casco Kid 1:12 AM  

      Challenging again. Several googles made it possible for me to finish the grid, but I still had an error at AAwEDAT/SAwEL. My bad???? C'mon!!! I started with WENTOOH for AAHEDAT. With a bit mor the creativity I would gave held it through to the end.

      I had the ON in the last letter rebus and wondered why the down clues weren't using them. Clever. Ya got me there!

      SE was hardest. I committed to navAho for MOHAVE. I also guessed utAh for SDAK. ROBE and ROLE were fairly clued but I so badly burned by that point that I was blind to any subtlety.

      Third bad DNF in 24 hours. My best showing of this period was the AVC today. 65 min. 2 errors in NE.

      Sadly, my head is off warranty. Gonna hafta keep it and make due.

      Whirred Whacks 1:28 AM  

      Interesting theme idea.

      Haven't seen or heard UEY in a long time. Made me feel like I was back in high school. "Pull a u-ey at the light."

      SCARFED was worth +10 points, but AAHED AT is just plain wrong (-50 points).

      Question about 66 across: CLAP. Has the NYT ever clued it with "STD"?

      Jisvan 1:38 AM  

      Found this pretty easy going for a Thursday, with a cute, get-able theme, which is a rare late week treat for me. It was low on sports trivia and names of folks I never heard of, except for DERECK, whom I tried to Google sans sucess. I did like the 50s TV vibe of BELTWAY and SMACKER, and OXEYES and RUTABAGAs are always nice on the fall holiday table. Can't wait to see what Chef Bea will make with the roots, maybe purée them with beets?

      chefwen 1:47 AM  

      @Rex - Don't mess with my RUTABAGAS, cannot have Thanks giving without them. Norwegian mother introduced them to us at Thanksgiving and we have had them every year, mashed with lots of butter, salt and pepper. Yummo!

      Got the trick with CARS (on) CITY and was off to the races.

      Super fun puzzle, which we both enjoyed. Thanks Tracy Gray





      jae 1:52 AM  

      @Steve J - Hey, I only know SAHEL from crosswords.  Now I did stop watching CNN over a year ago in favor of real estate porn on HGTV, but I do watch all three major network nightly news casts  (an odd benefit? of San Diego TV).   That said, I usually do crosswords when the news is on so I may have missed the SAHEL references....OK, never mind...

      @Jisvan - John DEREK is probably most famous for being the husband of "10" star Bo Derek.

      GILL I. 5:08 AM  

      Hmmmm. I always have problems with liking a puzzle that tells me to "see" another area. I don't like leaving my spot.
      I'm not sure why, but this felt like walking into a lovely boutique only to be overwhelmed by a very strong smell of cinnamon.
      Finding the ON wasn't that difficult but penning in AAHEDAT ALII, ATOP and A TEIT, made me want to do a UEY.
      I'm with @Rex on this ONe.

      GILL I. 5:13 AM  

      p.s. @jae: Smiles being sent your way....Does the heart soar?

      musicforwolves 5:50 AM  

      Looking at the grid, with that ??????GA placement, I'm wondering why the constructor didn't go with a more reasonable partial, rather than compromising the surrounding fill like that. Something like ATHENS, GA isn't particularly pretty, but it makes 30A seven letters starting with AS, rather than AA, and that's gotta be an improvement over what we've got.
      Out of curiosity, does anybody ever idly try and refill bad grids to see if there's an improvement? I mean, I know that this isn't great, and I suspect it could be better, but I'm not really sure...

      Charles Flaster 6:08 AM  

      EZ but enjoyable theme with many possible themers. After CARSON CITY others were gettable.
      Winced at AAHED AT, UEY, NBCTV.
      CrosswordEASE--OKIE, ORT, RIAS, ELIA is usually the essayist.
      Enjoyed cluing for SURGEON GENERAL and
      SMACKER.
      SAHEL is known from National Geographic .
      Teasels is a good Boggle word.
      Here are a few of many possible themers that first hit me.
      Rad ON test
      Up ON further review
      Double themer-- Mas ON Dix ON line.
      Seventies trivia--Sit ON it Malph!!
      Thanks TG.

      George Barany 6:55 AM  

      Is it just me, or do others cringe when the KISS_CAM is displayed on the jumbotron at a sporting event? Baseball, especially, is plenty entertaining enough without subjecting the restless audience to all these other gimmicks, including shooting T-shirts into the crowd, and races among mascots. And don't even get me started on $7 for a bottle of beer. As to the invasion of the privacy of two individuals, who for all we know may be incredibly shy, or not even romantically involved (other than sharing a love of the game) ... well, I hope you get my point.

      As to the question of could the fill have been improved? Probably, but what's the point -- that ship has sailed. The constructor has given the theme her or his best shot, built a grid and accompanying clues around it, and submitted something that excited the editor. Congratulations to that! The editor and the people who help and advise him all take additional PASSES at the puzzle, perhaps improving it, and have all signed off on it. It is left for the solvers and the bloggers and the blog commentators to muster whatever enthusiasm they can for the published product, and respond in whatever way they choose. They may heap praise or scorn, provide astute analysis, or let the puzzle provide inspiration for additional fun (like my riff about one of the answer words, as per the previous paragraph).

      JFC 6:56 AM  

      When I saw AAHEDAT my first thought was Rex ain't gonna like that. Just bragging....

      JFC

      RAD2626 7:13 AM  

      Agree with all that has been said about theme (good) and fill (bad). Put EON as a rebus with SURG first but got it with CARS(on) CITY a moment later. My particular issue was unevenness of cluing. Well over half were Monday like clues. And the fill-ins: "Bay AREA" and "IT'S a miracle" were dreadful.

      Joseph Welling 8:00 AM  

      And of TIEDUP could just as well have been TIED. This puzzle felt easy (for a Thursday), but not very satisfying.

      Susan McConnell 8:06 AM  

      Hate to agree with such a harsh review, but I have to. AAHEDAT is so horrible that, like someone else already said, I still don't believe it's the right answer. The theme is just not so over-the-top fantastic to let such drek stand. Ugh. Shame on me: DESK was the third answer I thought of for 68 across.

      chefbea 8:12 AM  

      Never heard of teasels or kiss cam but have of course heard of all the foodie things in the puzzle - the chef, rutabaga, Bacardi, gobbled down etc.

      Why did Rex put a picture of a melon baller in the write-up?

      Should 48 down be Arizonian???

      wordie 8:15 AM  

      Carson City is not "literally" CARS ON CITY. I couldn't see it so maybe this is clouding my judgment.

      Also, how is AT ONE "In agreement with"? I have never ever heard this phrase used in this sense.

      Meh.

      Mohair Sam 8:19 AM  

      So about 20 years ago I had business dealings with the Fort Mojave tribe. Asked a member of the Tribal Council which was correct "J" or "H" and he was vehement about the J. Said all the "H" spellings were Americanizations and invalid. But since there s no jARRISON FORD I went with the H. MOHAVE could have been clued as Arizona County and I'd have no beef, btw.

      AAHEDAT is terrible on at least two levels. One AAH's at a Monet and ooh's at fireworks.

      Agree with two consecutive @Rex negatives, very rare. Yes, well executed theme - but at a steep price in fill - or am I just over-reacting to AAHEDAT?

      Never took Latin so could easily have naticked at "L" in ALII/OLEA, but L felt right.

      And yes @Steve J - I avoided SAHEL/TEASELS natick for the same sad reason.

      jberg 8:20 AM  

      I'm a little slow this morning -- went with ALIa, and was left wondering what a KaSS CAM was. I even toyed with making it a mASS CAM/WORm, but never questioned the vowel.

      About SAHEL -- the true advantage of solving the puzzle in the paper is that then you have the paper on your hands, so you might as well read it, and you end up knowing these things. So I kind of liked it, andliked RUTABAGA a lo.

      I spell MOHAVE with a J, but fortunately I've driven from Boston to Mondtana, via I-90, about 15 times (and back), so I knew which states it goes through. Otherwise I'd have gone with s DAK and jAR_RIn, and still be staring at it.

      Off to Denver tonight, won't be back until Monday. Have a good weekend, everyone!

      AliasZ 8:25 AM  


      This fun puzzle could have been a lot more enjoyable without all that DEREK in it. AAHEDAT especially ATEIT. I had a touch of initial aversion entering a seven-letter partial, thinking that no way would Will allow such monstrosity. In this case I think Mr. Shortz could have been more EXACTING. Partials are rarely good fill, call them necessary (evil) glue, and only if the letter count is three or four, five is stretching it. But six? No. Seven? NO NO NO!. Even after seeing that it could be nothing other than a seven-letter partial, I entered OOHEDAT at first. Why? Because OOH always precedes AAH during fireworks.

      The worst effect of this and other below-average fill like OLEA, ELIA, ALII, RIAS, SERE, ORTS, etc. is that these are all people will talk about regardless how charming the theme, and how good the rest of the puzzle is. It takes the focus away from great entries like KISSCAM, BACARDI, TEASELS, MAESTRI, ACCEDE, the gangster's MOLL and RUTABAGA SMACKER.

      But I still liked Tracy Gray's puzzle.

      I say MOHEL, you say SAHEL, I say Mojave, you say MOHAVE, let's call the whole thing Orff.

      Here is a central triple themer that could have made it symmetrical: BOST(ON) COMM(ON) GARDEN. The problem is, BOST and COMM are not good fill. And some others: Ant(ON) Chekhov, Marl(ON) Brando, Gord(ON) Lightfoot, Huds(ON) River, pois(ON) sumac, Stratford (ON) Av(ON), return (ON) investment, et ALII.

      Let me close with the CREDO from Messe Nr. 2 in e-MOLL (Mass in E minor) by:

      ANT
      BRUCKNER.

      Cheerio.

      NCA President 8:27 AM  

      I echo the sentiments of AAHEDAT. I knew it was right, I hoped it was wrong, and I couldn't wait to read the blog today to see what Rex thought of it. I was not disappointed.

      TEASELS and SAHEL...seriously? What in the utter heck? Oh well, add those two words to the "Words I only know from NYT xword puzzles" list.

      STOMA (and all botanical terms) continue to trip me up despite being in puzzles so (freaking) often.

      MAESTRI. No, just no. Now you're not even trying...ALII is bad enough (why do I think the term is "et alia?"), but to just take a random Italian word and make it plural is silly.

      Does BACARDI make a spiced rum? If not, they don't technically compete. I don't think Captain Morgan makes a high-octane rum either.

      I actually thought Rex was way to easy on this puzzle. I didn't like any of it. The theme was meh, and was completely overshadowed by the AAHEDATs and the SMACKERs and the NBCTVs (?) and OLEAs. Ugh.

      WASP was just a tad off-color. "Upper-crust sorts" don't need to have a religious component...there are RCs, Jews, Muslims, even Hindus who live in the lap of luxury. Not to mention people of color, Asians, or even (gasp!) hispanics. WASP is a word that refers more to uptight people...people with particularly tight sphincters who don't live life loosely and who live in neighborhoods of like kind and conform to the house, wife, 2 kids and a dog with a white picket fence stereotype (since we're stereotyping).

      TL;DR: Lots of issues with this puzzle.

      Bird 8:49 AM  

      Liked the theme but not the fill.

      TEASELS crossing SAHEL?!?! TEABELS seems a reasonable answer if you don't know 23D
      AAHED AT?!?!

      We have NBC and CBS (I know), but no ABC or FOX?

      Sir Hillary 9:03 AM  

      The TEASELS/SAHEL cross is as bad as I have ever seen on a Thursday. AAHEDAT is simply dreadful. The clues for NOR and ATONE are goofy and unnecessary. Short junk abounds, as pointed out by everyone.

      And yet...for me today, the fun theme outweighs all of the above. I especially like how each theme component is a crossword-worthy entry in its own right, as opposed to, say, COMM[on]CAUSE or GENERATI[on]GAP. Obviously, the theme would be a non-starter if this weren't the case, but it's cool nonetheless.

      Not sure if this is a good or bad thing, but I figured out the theme first and entered all five before anything else. While the fun of discovering the theme along the way was lost, that strategy certainly helped me complete the rest of the grid.

      Knowing John Derek primarily as a photographer and husband of glamorous women (Ursula Andress, Linda Evans, Bo Berek) I had forgotten his ROLE in The Ten Commandments -- I put in gaviN at first. Other writeovers were AsONE/ATONE and ROom/ROLE.

      All in all, I'll take it. Thanks, Tracy!

      Nancy 9:06 AM  

      Got the trick at CORD
      BLEU.
      Before that, the puzzle was very hard. After that, it was very easy.

      Guessed right at the TEASELS / SAHEL crossing. Otherwise, I would have naticked.

      Did I find the fill lame? Didn't really think about it. Basically, I don't rate 'em, I just solve 'em ... if I can.

      joho 9:09 AM  

      Yikes, my eyes hurt from reading all the negativity here! Or actually it's more my heart that aches.

      I really liked this theme and was happy to get my Thursday rebus fix. Thank you, Tracy Gray!

      And, thanks to Will for tirelessly reading and editing these puzzles for the NYT. Every single one might not be to your liking, but you have to know all have been meticulously studied and prepared for print. There's nothing sloppy or haphazard about how the constructor puts the puzzle together nor how the editor publishes the end product.

      Andrew Morrison 9:18 AM  

      In order to avoid piling on, I will refrain from making specific comments. I will say that it left me scratching my head about just what, exactly, does a crossword puzzle editor do? The answer, clearly, is not "Edit today's NYT crossword puzzle."

      Arlene 9:27 AM  

      Well, on a positive note, I really liked most of the puzzle. Everything except the parts that contributed to my first DNF in a very long time.

      Yup - the NW got me - and so did SAHEL.

      And I don't think I ever would have put in WASP. Just didn't think I'd find that in a NY Times puzzle with that kind of clue.
      Just the way there are possible answers to 68A that wouldn't make it into the puzzle either.

      So - yes - liked the parts I could do - was frustrated about the rest.

      OISK 9:41 AM  

      Got lucky, guessing "Sahel" because of similarity to "Sahara." Never heard of Teasels. Still, glad to keep my winning streak intact. (perfect for nearly 3 weeks, or since my personal Blindauer disasters) I don't care for the Natick either, but didn't mind "aahedat", I much prefer a contrivance that makes some sense after the fact to a rap group that seems a random collection of letters. Never heard of Kelly Clarkson, but ___you been gone produces "since" pretty easily, even if one has never heard the song. Everything else made sense to me, liked the theme, worked hard to finish. Good Thursday workout. Thanks, Tracy.

      7d5a9b1 9:41 AM  

      Fill is indeed most of the puzzle, but BAD fill is not most of this puzzle or yesterday's. I agree that the crossing of ALII and OLEA is unfortunate--far more so than yesterday's PSSTS. But most of the fill here is fine, and the theme is good. So I am not tempted to conclude, with "Rex," that "We are very definitely, solidly, in an era at the NYT when fill quality really doesn't matter." "Rex" is given to overstatement.

      John Fischer 9:42 AM  

      Agreed with all above, especially the derision for AAHEDAT.

      One important point, though--the Cordon Bleu is NOT a chef! It's a cooking school!

      Oh, and TEASEL is annoying.

      RooMonster 9:50 AM  

      Hey All !
      Summary, as my last post was deleted by hitting the wron button on my phone. Theme:Good. Fill:Bad. I had a puz with MPAA PIC as a filler, Will said too obscure. I think AAHEDAT worse, IMO.

      Don't like CORD (ON) BLEU as clued, just a food, not a person. Chefs?

      Naticks: AcII/OcEA, TEAbELS/bAHEL.

      SMACKER
      RooMonster
      DarrinV

      Z 10:00 AM  

      TEASELS are a WOE and MOjAVE made HARRIS(ON) invisible. Otherwise a fine Thursday.

      At the fireworks people "ooh and aah," never just ooh or aah. At the spa, at the massage therapist, in the bedroom, sure, but not at fireworks.

      Let me posit another aesthetic standard for fill - to challenge one to go beyond. Et al. we all recognize. Some of us know et alia. I know ALII from some interesting past discussions here. Am I going to run into ALII much out in the wild? No. That's okay.

      chefbea 10:06 AM  

      @Roo monster Cordon bleu is a cooking school and I believe chicken Cordon Bleu originated from that school

      Carola 10:14 AM  

      I thought it was marvy. I could even say I AAHED at it (ducks). Terrific how the pre-ON segments are actual words. Today I welcomed old friends OXEYE, RIAS, OKIE, and ELIA - nicely greased my wheels.

      I'm old enough to remember the SAHEL being in the news way back when as a drought-ridden region, as the Sahara crept toward that AREA. TEASELS I envision in various dried flower arrangements.

      Liked CORD x TIED UP and the little "ATOP" hint above CARS[ON] city.

      Thanks, Tracy Gray - lots of fun.

      Anonymous 10:14 AM  

      @John Fischer - No, there was no chef CORDON BLEU. But a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu is a distinguished chef, as in she's a CORDON BLEU chef.

      mathguy 10:27 AM  

      The consensus seems to be that the excellent theme made up for the weak fill. I liked the BROKENRECORD theme much better. Also "SEAS on PASSES" isn't "literally" "season passes." Literally means exactly, precisely, actually. What it has is the same letters in the same order. Literally should have been in quotes.

      I don't mind drecky fill nearly as much as unfair clues. "In agreement (with)" isn't a proper clue for ATONE.

      So for me: unexciting theme, unexciting cluing, unexciting fill, unexciting entries.

      Questinia 10:49 AM  

      Yes. One ooh's at fireworks and AAHs at Manet @ Moose or oohs THEN aahs at fireworks @ AliasZ
      Poor ant on Bruckner Blvd!

      Count me in on the MOjAVE tribe.

      old timer 10:51 AM  

      I thought the theme execution was just brilliant. Note that all of the Tops (to which "ON" is added) are real words, even Harris which is an island as well as a name, after which Harris Tweed was named.

      Like many of you, I saw the AAHED and cringed. But then I recalled that in any fireworks show, there is a moment when the crowd says "AAH" instead of "OOH" -- its usually when the first starburst fills the sky. "So, really, "AAHED AT" is perfectly accurate" I said to myself -- and I liked the answer I was sure I would hate.

      I loved KISSCAM, MAESTRI, and the clue for SMACKER. DEREK was clever. DISNEY was a brilliant mislead for those of us who had planned to write in DENALI.

      I do think Will should have insisted on a different clue for MOHAVE with an H. At this point, that spelling is only right if you are referring to the Arizona county.

      Evan 11:02 AM  

      @mathguy:

      You have to parse it as AT ONE (with), which is a fair substitution for [In agreement (with)], though for my taste, I'd usually prefer to go with an ATONE clue since I think it offers more interesting cluing possibilities.

      As for the discussion about fill -- I'm with Trip Payne when he wrote this:

      "My #1 rule has always been: It's All About The Fill. Of course you want a great theme and clever clues, but the second you resort to weak entries, you’ve lost my interest. A lot of people are willing to 'justify' weak entries because they’re 'necessary' to pull off a wide-open grid or an ambitious theme; I don't agree with that. With enough work, and perhaps a willingness to pull back a little from the original concept, you can pretty much always avoid poor fill.

      Look at Patrick Berry: his themes are great, and you'd have to inspect his puzzles with a microscope to find a weak entry anywhere. That's not magic — he just has high standards and a willingness to put in the work to make his puzzles as good as they can be."

      mac 11:03 AM  

      Good theme, but the rest was not so great. Naticked at teasels/Sahel, I too spell it Mojave, and thought it was oleo, not olea.

      Bob Kerfuffle 11:06 AM  

      Wasn't the A-LII the forerunner of the B-52?

      Ludyjynn 11:20 AM  

      Rex is right ON point w/ his analysis, esp. of the awful NW corner fill.

      Speaking from daily personal experience, I contend that the correct answer to 45A is not BELTWAY, but is indeed 'parking lot'.

      @Questinia, I, too, am a notorious ooher and AAHer at all fireworks displays.

      I got a kick out of BAD being sandwiched in the DEREKy TEASALS/SAHEL/AAHEDAT junction.

      The theme saved this one for me. Thanks, TG and WS.

      Horace S. Patoot 11:25 AM  

      @George B, I find the KISSCAM a bit yucky too. There's the occasional pair who awkwardly don't know what to do and wait for the camera to move on. One guy thought ahead and lifted a sign from his lap that said "She's my sister!"

      @NCA, i agree. I think Bacardi (white or dark) and Morgan's are different products for different markets.

      This puzzle was not my cup of tea.

      Anonymous 11:36 AM  

      I expect teasel haters to find them at roadsides and spray them gold to use in winter arrangementsv,

      Nick 11:59 AM  

      Dreary.

      Guy with access to the Inter-webs 12:13 PM  

      Bacardi makes a spiced rum.

      Fred Romagnolo 12:19 PM  

      I was under the impression that "Natick" implied names of people (usually rappers), but this blog uses it as just two words I don't know. Agree that if you're old enough you remember the reporting on the growing desertification of the SAHEL. I thought the BELTWAY was the Washington D C one; didn't know it has become generalized. What in Hell is a KISSCAM? MAESTRI is precisely clued, got it immediately. Arturo was always referred to as the MAESTRo. The people of Appalachia are WASPs; stereotypically upper-crust? I clued in at HARRIS ON FORD. I wanted to spell it teasle until the crossing reminded me. I, for one, expect fill to be drecky, so I liked this one.

      Z 12:33 PM  

      @Evan - Why even have themes, then? But I have to disagree even further. Let's look at the revered PB1. Among the adulation we will find comments about the lack of challenge his puzzles provide some solvers. His fill is often so clean that his puzzles provide no bite, are "too easy." Contrast this with MAS, who often gets slammed on his fill, yet has many fans who love the challenge his stacks provide. I cannot recall ever reading that a puzzle of MAS's is "too easy." It cannot be "all about the fill." Nor can it be "the theme justifies whatever dreck is in the puzzle." It is yin and yang.

      Looking at the much reviled NW corner - we have 8 of the 16 squares set by the theme. Along with the theme answers we get KISS CAM and WORK crossing WASP. With this we get crossing Latin words and a rarely seen word to finish off the last two squares. Do we give up on 14 squares because some won't like 2? I'd say, "no."

      What else do we get with this allegedly poorly filled puzzle: COLOR HAIKU, OXEYE, RUTABAGA, MAESTRI, SCARFED, SMACKER, BELTWAY. And then there is the BLEU CLAP. This is good stuff.

      Have I seen puzzles where the dreck overwhelms the theme? Sure. This one ain't it.

      Rex's FAQ Page 12:36 PM  

      @Fred Romagnolo and others - There is a definition:

      NATICK PRINCIPLE — "If you include a proper noun in your grid that you cannot reasonably expect more than 1/4 of the solving public to have heard of, you must cross that noun with reasonably common words and phrases or very common names."

      Anonymous 12:46 PM  

      Man, a lot of whining about a moderately difficult word (SAHEL). I guess some folks just want the NYT to dumb down the puzzles.

      Fred Romagnolo 12:50 PM  

      @Rex'sFAQPage: Thanks, SAHEL as a proper noun clears it up.

      Masked and Anonymo4Us 12:53 PM  

      Cute theme variation. Nice how the grid is full of real theme words, even before the trick is applied. Elegant.

      So, what @63 is evidentially sayin..
      * Put themer SEAS (on) PASSES and KISSCAM on one side of the scale.
      * Put OLEA, ALII and RIAS on the other side of the scale.
      * Before U turn the scale on to compare, if U are nervous about how the results will go, you're probably right to be.

      I'm beginnin to sense that a corollary to that theorem would be:
      * When fillin the grid, fill the NW corner (site of solver first impression) first, applyin above theorem just to that corner. If nervousness ensues, stop filling, take two aspirin and refill NW corner in the mornin.

      M&A lemma1: Lemma is a real cool word.
      M&A lemma2: One or two well-spaced out entries of desperation are actually appreciated by a subset of solvers. Example: AAHEDAT. Extra points for an outlier 3-letter "weeject" entry. Example: IAL.
      M&A lemma3: Keep yer U count up.

      QED.

      M&A
      "Bad on, aahedat!"

      beatrice 1:22 PM  

      @NCA President -- 'alii' is the masculine plural (or used when both sexes are being referred to), 'alia' is the neuter plural. 'Et al.' in a bibliography is presumably short for 'et alii', referring to the other authors;it could be argued, however, that the reference is to the other *works*, in which case 'et al.' would be short for 'et alia'. Using 'et al.' 'finesses' the issue (thanks to Wiki for the lovely word here).

      Any readers who are Latin scholars please feel free to comment or correct.
      I've always figured that 'et alia' hopped into English usage mainly because pronouncing 'alii' does not come easily to our Germanic tongues.

      Chip Hilton 1:40 PM  

      I didn't even bother with guesses at the two crossings mentioned by so many. Should've taken Latin instead of German but then I wouldn't have gotten STADT yesterday. 22A. A prickly clue, indeed, and 23D. left me more than semi-arid. I did get AHHEDAT but that doesn't mean I liked it. Otherwise . . . fun. I enjoyed the theme clues. Appropriately Thursday-ish.

      Evan 1:48 PM  

      @Z:

      The reason Patrick Berry's puzzles get the admiration they do is because a) his themes are clever, b) his themeless grids feature lively phrases, c) his clues are clever, and d) there's almost no junk fill in his grids at all. And I've never met any crossword solver (either casual or regular solvers) who said, "I wish there'd be more answers like OLEA and AAHED AT in them."

      I can name Patrick Berry puzzles that I've liked more than others, but I've never found any one of them to be boring. If you wish his puzzles were tougher, okay, but I don't see why that should ever require compromising the fill to do it. It could be that you're on his wavelength in a way that you might not be with other constructors. Besides, a constructor and an editor can always ratchet up the difficulty of a puzzle with appropriate cluing. Look at the Newsday Stumper puzzles. Those have good phrases and wickedly hard clues.

      It's true that there are always trade-offs to consider and that a couple of less-than-stellar filler answers don't necessarily ruin a puzzle. But some dreck answers are worse than others. Sure, KISS CAM is nice, but it requires a partial of a Latin phrase crossing another obscure Latin word. It's a 4x4 corner up there that's almost completely segmented from the rest of the grid, so it should be easier to fill cleanly. I think it's better to sacrifice a flashy answer like KISS CAM if it means avoiding real dreck like ALII crossing OLEA. Or if you absolutely must have KISS CAM, try finding a different theme pair, or moving the existing theme pair to another position. Or move some black squares around, or drop in a pair of cheater squares. Same deal with SURGE(ON) GENERAL/ RUTABAGA producing the TEASELS/SAHEL/AAHED AT combo. Maybe one of those would be okay for a late-week puzzle, though having them all clumped together makes them stick out more and makes the grid less elegant -- and AAHED AT is just plain bizarre no matter when it runs.

      Obviously if you still enjoy a puzzle despite whatever problems exist in the fill, then fine. It's hard to argue with another person's taste. The point is, it is possible to create themed puzzles with smooth fill, at least smoother than what's in today's puzzle -- and I'd bet just about anything that a puzzle with smoother fill would get far fewer complaints.

      As for themeless puzzles -- there aren't any theme constraints in them, so the fill is all you have. Which is where Martin's puzzles come in for me. He's talented and does the quad-stack trick better than just about anyone could, but I find that type of puzzle often makes too many compromises in the fill to get it to work. Just a personal preference.

      chefbea 1:53 PM  

      No one has answered my question. Why is there a picture of a melon baller in Rex's write up????

      Teedmn 1:57 PM  

      I TEASELed out the theme at SURGE GENERAL which helped in all of the corners except the NE where I was blank on CARS CITY. It didn't help that I had upOn, not ATOP, which made pALL for shadow and - LT- for CITY, leading me to suspect a Mexican state capital (a la Alto?)

      Even though I've seen B AND B so many times before, today it read BAND B, very confusing.

      Another after the fact Aha moment was SMACKER for Buck? I was looking for deer references, or considered SLACKER as in bucking the system?

      @Casco Kid, perhaps you should consider "making dew"'. It will explain any deteriorating brain power quite handily! :-)

      AliasZ 2:17 PM  


      @Evan, love your Halloween postcard!

      @chefbea, my best guess is:

      MEL
      BALLER

      M and Also 2:22 PM  

      @chefbea: A reasonable question to ask. All I got to offer is that @63 mighta thought this woulda been a good bonus themer pair:
      MEL
      BALLER

      @63 will do that sorta "meta pic" stuff, now & then.

      Every constructioneer has at least some token (but cherishable) desperation moments. Recent examples, from the two primo dudes mentioned in other comments, today:
      Trip Payne: ONEL, ENL.
      Patrick Berry: DEMOB, TSK.
      That is not an M&A complaint, but rather a celebration of the give-and take demands of the Crossword Gods.

      I have some sympathy for any dear soul earning ten (now fifteen) cents an hour, makin these puzs just for the love of the game. At what point do they have the right to say, "good enough to put my name on it"? Hey, easy for a masked and anonymous runt puzzle nutjob to say.

      M&A
      "It's like landin on a comet, dude!"

      Z 2:24 PM  

      @Evan - My main disagreement, though, with you (and Payne and Rex) is the seeming absolutism of your "fill is all" position. Of course, I tend to have the same reaction to any seemingly absolutist position. To be clear, I'm pretty sure I have never written that a PB1 puzzle is too easy. But I've seen that comment enough to wonder why. It is pretty clear to me that the source is the super clean fill. Do I want a constructor to add dreck? No. But when you seek perfection in one facet you risk imperfection elsewhere.

      @chefbea - My answer is "I don't know," which isn't much help.

      Norm 2:28 PM  

      I thin one of my New Year's resolutions will be to simply ignore Rex when he complains about OLEA and ELIA and the like. I'll take a sprinkling of old-time real words over made-up rap star monikers any day. AAHEDAT was atrocious, to be sure, but the theme made the puzzle very enjoyable.

      LaneB 2:31 PM  

      Had to guess on the SAHEL-TEASELS cross having no familiarity with either. Got the ON gimmick early and that speeded things along until I filled LAMB instead of the pen name ELIA (which has appeared in other puzzles recently). Agree with Rex and others That much of the fill was clunky and, therefore, difficult. (STOMA? OXEDE? UED?AAHEDAT?---really??). But a win is a win with no DNF.

      GILL I. 2:33 PM  

      I agree with @Z and @Evan...
      @Teedmn...Your post reminded me of being just a bit teed-off at comparing a B and B to a Motel?
      OKIE is just plain racist...

      Hartley70 2:50 PM  

      Thanks for the potential explanation of melon baller. I would have enjoyed the cluing for baller. In my mind I was making little RUTABAGA balls and sautéing them in brown butter and thyme. Glad I don't have to keep considering that!

      Never ever heard of a KISSCAM. What an awful idea. Another rationale for why I don't go to pro sporting events....TMI. Are the kisses AAHEDAT?

      I knew Kelly and SINCE, but did ya'll (see yesterday) actually know PSY? I'm impressed!

      Okay theme, but as always, I want a rebus.

      chefbea 3:08 PM  

      @Z and @M&A thanks. Guess you are right...pretty dumb if you ask me.

      Evan 3:09 PM  

      @Z:

      I mean, if every answer in a puzzle were something like ASSESSES, then yes, it probably wouldn't be that fun to solve. But I don't see a puzzle that balances lively answers with super-clean fill as an imperfection in the least bit. Call that absolutism if you must.

      @AliasZ:

      Yeah, I thought it was pretty funny -- it's from an old BuzzFeed list.

      Ludyjynn 3:43 PM  

      @FredR, the ultra-monstrous road which surrounds D.C. is called the Capital Beltway or I-495. The simply-monstrous road which surrounds Baltimore City/County is called the Baltimore Beltway or I-695. Either way, if you are in a rush, count on being late. Over the years, I have learned to navigate numerous alternate local routes to escape the gridlock which inevitably occurs. TMI? Sorry.

      Z 3:52 PM  

      @Evan - "It's All About The Fill." -> "Seemingly absolutist." I'm just glad @Gill I.P. agrees with me. Glad to have you back - don't be such a stranger.

      @Chefbea - it was @AliasZ, not me. You're still welcome.

      @commentariat - Yesterday I chided a former frequenter here for not weighing in. She pled duty to new position. It sounds like she is doing well (Can't believe the computer thinks "pleaded" is okay and "pled" is wrong).

      I am again over the limit so no one is allowed to write anything interesting until tomorrow.

      Mr. Practical 4:19 PM  

      Anybody wonder how many grids with near-immaculate fill we've never seen, because the puzzle's theme wasn't exciting enough to the editor? And in that case, how does a constructor justify putting in the extra hours on the fill for every puzzle? Just do themeless puzzles? Could this be why most of Patrick Berry's puzzles are either themeless or higher-paying Sunday puzzles?

      Just wondering.

      GILL I. 4:33 PM  

      OK @Z you can reply tomorrow but @LMS has a hell of a lot of nerve using work as an excuse...Really!

      Anonymous 5:32 PM  

      (wakes up from nap)

      Did somebody mention my name?

      (goes back to sleep)


      -MAS

      Dave 5:47 PM  

      The teasel/Sahel cross got me. Guessed it right, but that was a major double-obscurity for me.

      Ernest Nathan 7:09 PM  

      Rex I thought it was a great puzzle. Don't you ever get tired of your constant criticism ? Most of the constructors create great puzzles and you just rip them a new one every day. It must be exhausting.

      LHS 888 7:10 PM  

      I thougt it was good enough. Medium-difficult for me. I, too, Naticked at the TEASELS/SAHEL cross. I had to look up TEASELS in the dictionary, or I never would have figured out SAHEL. I guess that's an official DNF at 52 minutes.

      I figured out the them on CORD(on) BLEU. Like @SteveJ I was looking for over/above/atop/upon/etc. in the rest of the theme answers. My last theme entry was SEAS(on) PASSES. It took me forever to free my brain of "lift ticket" which I knew was wrong because it needed to be plural. KISSCAM is new to me so Ka--CAM was contributing to my woes in the NW.

      Write-overs (a whole lot of 'em):
      sell > WORK
      ALIa > ALII
      lIAS > RIAS
      over > ATOP
      bulb > IRIS
      MOjAVE > MOHAVE
      COok > CORk > CORD
      neuro > SURGE
      surgeon > GENERAL

      Put me in the camp of appreciating the beauty of all themers being words in their own right.
      Favorite words: SCARFED, BELTWAY,SMACKER, EXACTING, RUTABEGA
      Favorite clue: TUNER

      I enjoyed the theme and the challenge. Thanks, TG / WS.

      foxaroni 7:41 PM  

      DNF. NW was a complete blank. I thought 4D was MINICAM. The only ski resort purchase I could come up with was LIFT TICKETS which, of course, didn't fit either the spaces or the theme.

      I didn't know Duane Eddy was ever on the London label. "Mason Dixon Lion" was perhaps the worst Duane Eddy song I've ever heard. I hope Lee Hazlewood wasn't involved in that mess....

      foxaroni 7:54 PM  
      This comment has been removed by the author.
      chefwen 7:56 PM  

      TEASELS prompted the invention of Velcro. I have a little Christmas tree ornament made from one, I think it's a hedgehog.

      foxaroni 7:59 PM  

      A follow-up. Apparently "Mason Dixon Lion" was recorded on Eddy's Jamie label. I assume it was licensed to London records. The song was co-composed by Eddy and Lee Hazlewood. It was the flip side (yes, folks, the B-side) of Eddy's single, "Cannonball," and was included on his first album, "Have 'Twangy' Guitar, Will Travel." More than you ever wanted to know, no doubt. :-)

      Wendy 8:52 PM  

      My husband is often mistaken for HARRIS [on] FORD, so how lucky am I? Liked CORD [on] BLEU. The theme answers were worth working for. In general, though, the 3-letter fill was a snore, the four-letter not far behind, and "AAHEDAT" is just gross. Eww.

      Rcav 9:15 PM  

      Cordon bleu is not a "chef" since it's not a person, it's a school of cooking. So annoying!

      Anonymous 9:41 PM  

      @Rcav - see @anon10:14

      Leapfinger 4:29 AM  

      MOHEL, SAHEL,
      RUTABAGEL.

      Somehow missed @Evan's Hallowe'en card in its original appearance, so am glad it was remarked on; enjoyed the BuzzFeed array enormously.

      @Z, hard on the heels of @Norm agreeing with many, @Gill I.P. greed with both you and @Evan. Is it possible for three to be AT ONE?

      Am just so abjectly grateful to have connectivity restored that I didn't find anything AAHED AT all about this puzzle. Got it backwards for Indiana Hones and the rum clue went to BACARDI only after
      R
      RICO

      Elegant theme execution and I avoided the commonest fill complaint about SAHEL (wheelhouse) and TEASEL (Shakespeare?), though I first spelled it TEASLE.

      Tracy G, your theme reminded me of that quaint old admiring comment: 'There ain't no
      FLIES
      HIM'. In sectly the same way, there ain't no
      ANT
      IO.

      Thanks for fun!

      rondo 9:57 AM  

      What they all said including near Natick in the midst of TEASELS and it's BAD to see AAHEDAT.
      A thumb up for any puz that includes RON. And a nod to the very Swedish RUTABAGA.
      Had to wade all the way down to HARRIS FORD to get the trick, then the others fell like dominoes.
      Drove the I90/I29 intersect last summer on vaca, so that corner was EZ.
      Going back to the Maleska days I am always amused to see ORTS; there ORT to be a law.

      new captcha device?
      4079 = 20 = 2 is indeed BAD

      spacecraft 12:09 PM  

      Couple of big problems here. BANDB is one of the less objectionable members of the written-out-"AND"-between two-initials family, but still painful. I actually saw a sign like that once: B AND B. Ugh. I'd never stop there.

      Also, spelling MOJAVE with an H is like writing that Hispanic golfer's name "OLATHABL." Just because it's pronounced that way doesn't mean you can blithely sub the right-sounding letter(s) in there. It's MOJAVE, and it very nearly caused a DNF for me. That SE corner gave me fits till I latched onto DESK job, and inferred the NDAK intersection because I know that E-W interstates are numbered from the south "up," so 90 had to be pretty well north. Finally figured out that the action star had to be FORD, which forced me to change the J in MOJAVE to H. No. That is just wrong, and I don't care if you cite listings of alternate spellings. MOJAVE is MOJAVE, and MOHAVE gets the spacecraft flag. Fifteen yards for unauthorized Americanization.

      As to AAHEDAT, yeah, well, it's all been said. It's its own flag.

      Theme was well done. Fill...not so much. KISSCAM, a privacy invasion that we all ought to be getting used to by now, is fresh, but too much trash. My grades are more or less in line with OFL's: B AND C. Yikes, there I go again!

      New captcha format: check the box, THEN get a number. OK, 188. Natural, but beatable. Wait a sec, there's a time limit: my new one is 243! I might like this!

      rain forest 3:09 PM  

      @Spacey - no fair getting another captcha!
      As a Canadian (here I go again), I always have to deal with Americanisms. I hate to see COLOR, but I've learned. So, anyway, MOHAVE, MOjAVE, ah, what the heck. Where did the J come from, anyway?

      I didn't mind the NW corner at all, winced at AAHEDAT, and flat-out guessed at the Natick, putting in the S because I reasoned that SAHEL was somehow related to the Sahara. Lucky.

      Nice theme, though, and pretty fun to solve. OK, now for the captcha, and I'll only use one try. Drat. No numbers at all, just got a check mark

      Dirigonzo 3:18 PM  

      My filled-in grid was so neat, pristine even, that I didn't want to spoil it with a wrong guess at everybody's favorite cross, so I left it blank. I ran the alphabet a couple of times and there were just too many plausible choices so the odds were stacked against me.

      2480 - again, the odds are against me.

      DMG 3:55 PM  

      Winced at the usage, but got the idea from CORD(on)BLEU. From there it was a fairly easy solve for one who started in e Maleska days. TEASEL, ALII, MAESTRI, all reminders of the past. Even OXEYE which I guess must grow somewhere I've never been.

      Strange new Captcha device here. It just says "I,m not a robot". Now,to see if hitting the square willyoield a number... we'll it did, but only 411. Something new every day,

      leftcoastTAM 5:21 PM  

      Naticked at TEASELS/SAHEL cross, and wanted an e in RUTeBAGA. I seem to be in some good company there.

      As for the complaints about use of the word "literally" in the clues, the top word in the theme answers is literally ON the bottom word.

      sdcheezhd 6:10 PM  

      Latin word crossing a Latin word -the worst. Good thing the theme answers were easy once you figured it out.

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