Hebrew letter before samekh / SUN 9-27-15 / "I Am Not ___" (1975 show business autobiography) / Site of the "crown of palaces" / Author ___-Rene Lesage / Beezus's sister in children's literature / Charge of the Light Brigade event / Site of the U.S.'s only royal palace / Royale carmaker of old / Wahoos of the A.C.C. / Romanian currency / Tax amount per $1,000 / Greek portico

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Constructor: Tom McCoy

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (and I imagine it's even tougher if you don't see the Note at the top of the puzzle)

THEME: Mark My Words — A sort-of double-rebus puzzle in which six quotes have quotation marks (" ") at their starts and ends in the Across direction. The quotation marks should be interpreted as ditto marks (″ ″) in the Down direction, which means that the letters in those squares in the Down direction are the same as the squares directly above them. Did you get that? If not, let me try again with the puzzle Note: "When this puzzle is completed, 12 squares will be filled with a certain keyboard symbol — which will have a different signification in the Across answers than it does in the Downs."

Theme answers:
  • 29A: Magical phrase in an old tale ("OPEN SESAME"). First ditto mark represents a D in the Down direction and crosses the double-D in CHEDDAR (4D: Money, in modern slang). Second ditto mark represents an L in the Down direction and crosses the double-L in PULL-TAB (21D: Soda can feature).
  • 50A: Schwarzenegger film catchphrase ("I'LL BE BACK"). Crossing Down answer: 33D: Art critic, stereotypically (SNOOT)
  • 58A: Comment after a betrayal ("ET TU, BRUTE?"). Crossing Down answer: 34D: Not seemly (UNMEET).
  • 74A: Catchphrase for one of the Avengers ("HULK SMASH!"). Crossing Down answer: 70D: How one person might resemble another (EERILY).
  • 84A: Repeated bird call? ("NEVERMORE"). Crossing Down answer: 77D: Wool source (LLAMA).
  • 103A: What the ring in "The Lord of the Rings" is called ("MY PRECIOUS"). Crossing Down answers: 85D: ___ rate (tax amount per $1,000) (MILLAGE) and 95D: Be a gentleman to at the end of a date, say (SEE HOME)
  • 31D: Assistant number cruncher (SUBBOOKKEEPER). Runs through all quotes.

Word of the Day: UNMEET (34D: Not seemly) —
Not fitting or proper; unseemly. (The Free Dictionary)
• • •

Hey there, this is Evan Birnholz. I'm holding down the fort here in Philadelphia during Popestravaganza 2015 -- it's supposed to be a madhouse when the Pope holds Mass on Sunday. Francis might not have time to solve one of my Devil Cross puzzles while he's here -- the name of my site probably doesn't do it for him either -- but lately I've been publishing some Sunday-sized crosswords just like today's, so check 'em out on this fine day.

I've been a fan of Tom McCoy's previous puzzles, and I'm all for crosswords that force you to think outside of the box. But unfortunately, this puzzle (ahem) missed the mark with me. It's a bizarre theme, to say the least. I get that each of the six long Across answers are well-known quotes and that quotation marks can sorta approximate ditto marks in appearance, but I can't shake the feeling that the puzzle is missing something. It could be because I've been solving a lot of meta puzzles recently, but I really, really wanted the "trick" letters in the Down direction to spell something relevant when you read them in order -- some phrase that might help unify the theme, like maybe QUOTE UNQUOTE or MIXED DOUBLES. Even another famous 12-letter quotation would be something. Instead, those gimmick letters are just the same letters as the ones right above them and otherwise have no extra layer to them. That felt like a missed opportunity.

There is good stuff in there, to be sure. The six quoted theme answers are all solid -- I love "HULK SMASH!" especially -- but for something this different, it just wasn't a tight enough theme concept to really grab me. It's basically: six relatively random quotes, quote marks look like ditto marks, you get some double letter pairs .... I just wanted more out of it, and the marquee answer in the grid that (literally) ties everything together (SUBBOOKKEEPER) doesn't strike me as a strong enough hook. It's a linguistic curiosity in that it's apparently the only one-word term that has four consecutive repeated letter pairs, and that can help you grok the theme. But if you don't know that, then it just appears like an otherwise dull term that got jammed into the grid for some unknown reason. It doesn't get much play in dictionaries; the sub- prefix makes it look like someone just made that job title up. SUBBOOKKEEPER! INTERPOSTMASTER! MICROSECRETARY! There's a theme in there somewhere.

In addition, something about the puzzle's presentation seems off. The puzzle Note (if you chose to read it beforehand) gives away a major piece of information about the theme in that several squares work differently in both directions. Generally I think it's better to let solvers discover that bit of trickiness on their own, and of course you could ignore the Note while solving. But even with the Note, I still had a tough time making sense of the theme when I was done. I never saw the quotation marks as ditto marks; I just assumed that the trick was that the quote marks could be replaced with whatever letter fit the crossing Down answer, not the same letter as the one in the square directly above it. So it felt like I had to solve the corresponding Down answers with no help from the Across letters (for instance, I had UNME_T at 34D and got completely stuck, not least because UNMEET is a word that no one ever uses). Maybe others had similar confusion? At the very least, that bit of trouble gave me the fun chance to interpret some of the Across theme entries as though the quote/ditto marks were never there, so "OPEN SESAME" and "I'LL BE BACK" became DOPEN SESAMEL and BILL BE BACKO. There's probably not a theme in there anywhere.

I'm also told that, while I solved this one on paper, this puzzle does not work well for solving on a computer or other electronic devices. To get the correct solution, you apparently have to enter the word QUOTE in Across Lite in the relevant squares instead of the appropriate symbols. So for electronic solvers, you may have already lost the two-way quote/ditto mark gimmick, which a few people mentioned to me had been pretty frustrating.

Now, with all that out of the way, let's talk Fill. This puzzle has 132 words -- well below the NYT's generally accepted maximum of 140 for a 21x21 puzzle. That means you can get some nice longer fill answers like OH CRUD, NBA STARHIMALAYASKARAOKENO SERVICE, CUE STICKS, ANGEL HAIR, and FIG LEAVES, the latter of which has a pretty funny clue (27A: Ones doing a decent job in the Bible?). But it also means you might get some rather cringe-worthy answers like:

  • 20A: Got up again (REROSE— I'm fine with RE- answers that you might hear in the wild like REREAD or RESEND or REMIX, but REROSE isn't one of them.
  • 24A: Takes out, as some beer bottles (UNCASES— It makes sense, but do people say this? I think you're more likely to say "Let's take the beer bottles out" than "Let's uncase the beer bottles." There's also UNMAKES at 34A: Takes apart.
  • 38A / 30D / 110A (NT WT / ESTS / SCHS) — Strange abbreviations, all of them. There's really no reason the word "net" in NT WT should be abbreviated. Three letters was too long and so we made it two? Seriously?
  • 52A: Amazon's industry (E-TAIL) — This probably isn't the worst E-something word you'll find in crosswords, but I still rarely see people use it. 
  • 81A: Like some storefronts (TO LEASE) — That's a weird one. FOR LEASE and TO LET are much more common to my ear.
  • 83A: Farmer, in the spring / 121A: Ones making an effort (SOWER / TRYERS) — Those "add -R or -ER to a verb to get a strange noun" answers, where the definition is just "one who [verb]s." Thus a TRYER is one who tries. You can just hear a coach telling his team, C'mon guys, you gotta be tryers out there if you wanna win!
  • 14D: "What ___!" (cry after some spectacular goalie play) / 53D: "Lord, is ___?" (A SAVE / IT I— I've never been a fan of partial phrases, and while IT I is common enough in puzzles, A SAVE sounds pretty arbitrary to me.
  • 17D: @@@ (ATS) — AT SIGNS, yes. ATS, no. It's just not as common.
  • The aforementioned, obscure UNMEET. I wish I could unmeet this word.
  • 69D: One seeking the philosopher's stone (CHEMIC) — Yikes. I want to unmeet this one too. Surely I wasn't the only one who thought this would be a Harry Potter-related answer.
  • 82D: Romanian currency (LEU) — Though it's probably a better currency to use in crosswords than the outdated ECU.
  • 92D: Dictation takers (STENOGS) — Is there some industry standard for the shortening of "stenographer"? I know STENO isn't a whole lot better than STENOG, but can't we just stick with one of them? Are we going to start calling them STENS later on?
  • 97D: Where many shots are taken (IN A BAR) — This feels arbitrary as a phrase, like IN A STORE or IN A CASINO would.
  • 111D: Greek portico (STOA— A classic piece of crossword-ese that I haven't missed much.
  • 112D: 1940s prez (HST) — He's well-known, of course, but Truman's monogram isn't anywhere near as ubiquitous as FDR or JFK.
  • 116D: Stand-___ (INS) — This isn't necessarily a terrible answer per se, but it seems strange to have INS as its own entry when you've already got IN HERE and IN A BAR.

That's quite a few sub- and sub-sub-par entries to swallow in spite of the longer, more sparkly answers. All of this is to say: 140 words in a 21x21 grid is tough enough to handle as it is. 132 words can be downright hazardous. In fact, I'd personally be in favor of raising the NYT's maximum number of words on Sunday puzzles to 142 or 144. If it helps clean up the fill, all to the good, I say.

MORE Bullets:
  • 12A: Cassio's jealous lover in "Othello" (BIANCA) — I got my "Othello" ladies confused; I originally had EMILIA here.
  • 59D: C equivalents (B SHARPS) — Just can't not think of "The Simpsons" here. 
  • 93A: Travel over seas? (PARASAIL) — Nice clue.
  • 95A: Be a gentleman to at the end of a date (SEE HOME) — The clue's a tad awkward for my taste, and the word "gentleman" shares a bit of a duplication with GENTLER at 28A.
  • 85D: ___ rate (tax amount per $1,000) (MILLAGE) — I suspect this one could be a stumper for many. I wondered for a while why this word wasn't MILEAGE since that fourth letter was just a quotation mark in the Across direction, but that's where the "ditto mark/letter above it is the same" part of the theme kicks in.
  • 109A: Hebrew letter before samekh (NUN— Uh, alright. Kind of a curveball to throw at us non-Hebrew speakers when many other potential clues are available, but it's fairly crossed.
  • 117D: Monopoly token that replaced the iron in 2013 (CAT— I did not know this. I did, however, know that there was a Cat-Opoly version of the game that one of my friends got for Christmas many years back.
  • 122A: Contraction with two apostrophes ('TWASN'T) — I actually have a certain fondness for this word. I can't really explain why; maybe it's just wacky enough that I'd laugh if someone used it ironically in regular conversation.
• • •

Finally, an announcement: if you live in the Tampa area, there's going to be a memorial on Sunday evening (that's tonight) celebrating the life of the late, great crossword legend Merl Reagle, hosted by his wife Marie. It's from 5-8 pm ET at the University of Tampa's Vaughn Center and it's open to the public. There's more information here, if you're interested in attending.

Signed, Evan Birnholz, Earl of CrossWorld

[Follow Evan on Twitter @devilcrosswords].


Brett Chappell 7:01 AM  

IPad solving: Very irritating to fill in the twelve squares with rebus QUOTE.
I tried apostrophes, using the pencil function, etc. to no avail.
The whole exercise added 15 minutes to my solving time.
I think I preferred << Après moi, le déluge ! >>
Quel merdier digitale...

Dean 7:13 AM  

Has anyone figured out how to make the iPad app accept the quote/ditto marks? I've tried
- doubled apostrophes using the Rebus function;
- single apostrophes;
- the actual letters in the down answer.
I don't know what else to try.

Lewis 7:16 AM  

@evan -- Thank you for filling in and for the terrific detailed review. I am with you with everything you said, except for your main point, that the puzzle feels like it's missing something. I thought the double use of the quote marks was plenty adequate. Missed opportunity, yes, but that could be said by imagining metas for many non-meta puzzles. I think "double rebus" is plenty good.

I found the theme to be clever, using the symbol as quote and ditto marks in a rebus style. I greatly liked the clues for CUESTICKS, IHOPS, BTEAMS, INABAR and something non-airportish for ETA, and the answers LACUNA, NOMERCY, and NEVERMORE. Not happy (as with Evan) with UNMEET, REROSE, UNMAKES, TRYERS, and STENOGS, which looks ugly.

I usually feel like I'm off Tom's wavelength and I enter his puzzles with trepidation, but today I seemed to find his groove.

If you've never read Barbara Kingsolver's "The LACUNA", you are missing a treat. Thank you for the good workout, Tom!

Dean 7:22 AM  

Ah. Never mind. It's right there in Evan's blog entry: Rebus the word QUOTE.

Anonymous 7:29 AM  

That review, friends, was exactly why I follow this blog. Great job, Evan.

Once I figured out that there were some blank spaces before and after the six long answers I lost interest in figuring out what would go in the spaces. Since sub bookkeeper doesn't exist as a real thing, I failed to take the bait. Oh well. Maybe if the fill had been better, or if there had been something to tie it all together. By the time I got to "My Precious" I knew I'd wasted an hour.


Anonymous 7:33 AM  

Thank you Evan for a through and thoughtful write-up! It was such a relief to hear some of my thoughts on this puzzle echoed. I'm a big Sunday puzzle fan and it was disappointing to feel like this one was such a slog. Actually my big break was that my teenage son gave me "Hulk Smash" -- between that and "my precious," he got a kick out of knowing some key clues (maybe it's time for some Terminator movies.....or maybe not..
Anyway, thanks again!

Anonymous 7:43 AM  


ArtO 7:52 AM  

Thanks, Evan for a thorough and thoroughly needed write up. Never got the quote/unquote and ditto until coming here and found the cluing and more than a few answers less than familiar. Totally challenging if you ask me. Fortunately, get the paper puzzle on Saturday and had lots of time to work on this toughie.

George Barany 8:00 AM  

@Evan Birnholz, there's not much to add after your thorough critique of @Tom McCoy's "puzzle" -- nice plug for your "Devil's Cross" on the day Pope Francis sermonizes in your fair city of Philadelphia, the thoughts of the crossword community are in Tampa, @Rex is in the Mini-Apple, aka Minneapolis (my adopted hometown), and I am seeing friends in the Windy City.

CHEMIC I don't think so. NUN, prefer the Catholic sister to the Hebrew alphabet. UNMEET crossing UNMAKES? Doesn't "MY_PRECIOUS" come up in "The Wizard of Oz"? Among Shakespearean BIANCAs, I'm much fonder of the sister in "The Taming of the Shrew." When will LEU be clued as the amino acid abbreviation, rather than the Romanian currency?

Casco Kid 8:04 AM  

100% correct solve, or 24 errors depending on how you count it. I didn't see the note so didn't get the trick so felt pretty stupid groping for the ways to interpret DOPENSESAMEL as a marked word. Well, it is an anagram of LAME DOPENESS. Exactly. 1:45. FriPuz-SatPuz dual win goes for naught. NERTS. OHCRUD. And a few stronger sentiments.

Anonymous 8:13 AM  

Quotes become ditto marks? Are you kidding me. That's the stupidest idea in the history of crossword puzzles. Punctuation in a puzzle is fine, but since when is a single double quote used to signify the repetition of a letter? The entire puzzle is a fail.

NCA President 8:47 AM  

My first inclination, when I read 20A (Got up again) that it was going to be RE-something. And then I thought ROSE? REROSE? That can't be right So I left the RE there and ignored the rest of the squares for a long time, hoping that I was wrong. After a while it became clear to me that it was indeed REROSE. It reminds me of the climactic scene in Peewee's Big Adventure when he is saving animals out of a burning pet store. He goes in and passes the snake terrarium and shudders each time as he brings out kittens and puppies and all the cute animals. He puts off bringing out the snakes until the very end. REROSE was, to me, the snake terrarium. Each time I passed over it I shuddered and moved on to the cuter parts of the grid. Eventually, it was inevitable that I had to fill it in. I nearly collapsed on my couch (Peewee style) out of exhaustion and relief it was over.

I agreed with Evan on all of the fill notes he had especially adding ER to verbs to get nouns, STENOGS, UNCASES and UNMAKES. I don't know if it's a written rule, but I don't think it should be OK to just make up words in a xword puzzle. If I can't use the word "worser" in everyday language, then xword constructors shouldn't be able to add UN or ER to words willy-nilly.

And FWIW, (which is not very much), but I finished today faster than my Saturday average. I guess it was easy...?

Anonymous 8:52 AM  

As a kid raised in the Lutheran church we would recite something that contained the phrase "It is truly meet, right, and salutary". Now 50 years later I know what two of those words mean.

Sheik Yerbouti 9:06 AM  

At the beginning, I predicted the symbol would be #, with it meaning hash in one direction and pound in the other. Oh well. Once I figured out the theme, it wasn't much fun.

Teedmn 9:14 AM  

NERTS! I TRAIPSEd through this like the HULK through ANGEL HAIR. Does that make sense? No, and I'm feeling a bit incoherent right about now. I forgot to print the puzzle out last night so I decided to solve it in AcrossLite. I was in the "BILLBEBACKO/DOPENSESAMEL" camp when I finished and didn't get the Happy Pencil. The "only" errors I had were the "QUOTE" squares so a technical DNF but I don't give a FIG LEAVES.

I didn't mind UNMEET, something I'm likely to see in the fantasy genre books I read, but REROSE? I have NO MERCY for REROSE, nor for TRYERS.

I liked the clues for NEVERMORE, CUE STICKS, HEARSE and PARASAIL. Liked seeing ACUMEN, HIMALAYAS, CERTAINTY and CHALICE. But I feel a bit like a NiTWit, not seeing the quote thingy.

Thanks, Mr. McCoy, for an interesting exercise.

Imfromjersey 9:15 AM  

I was one of those solvers that across lite woudldnt let me put " into a square. Since there was a note, they could have noted that some features of the puzzle may not work for electronic solvers.

Nancy 9:19 AM  

A brilliant conceit and I flunked. That is: I missed all of the ditto/quote marks. So that I simply wrote down the second of the ditto letters in the down answers and ended up with doozies like:
Came here to find what on earth was going on. And there was a real "aha" moment when I saw. Unfortunately it was Evan B's "aha" moment, not mine. Sigh. But kudos to Tom McCoy for this amazingly original and challenging puzzle.

Jim M 9:21 AM  

Dnf as I didn't see the note and had no idea what to put in the " boxes.
I use Shortyz (I don't recall how I came upon it...) and it doesn't show notes. Recommendations on the best crossword app?

Anonymous 9:25 AM  

Do not understand why host = slew.
Also, the NY Times app does not have a " key, thereby precluding credit for a complete solve as best as I can determine. Perhaps someone knows a fix for this serious problem.

Mohair Sam 9:44 AM  

Spent over an hour staring at this thing with only a few answers. Finally went back and read the note. Spent another half hour staring. "That has to be MYPRECIOUS, that has to be ILLBEBACK, that has to be NEVERMORE" . . . . and the light came on thanks to LLAMA. From there the puzzle filled quickly. Liked it a bit more than Evan, but probably because we always like different, and probably because we don't solve online - that had to be unrewarding as all heck. Looking at the quote marks makes the puzzle work.

Certainly hope no art critics do the NYT puzzle, sheez. Had emiliA for BIANCA for a few seconds, just like Evan. Surpised I remembered both names. We use the term SUBBOOKKEEPER every day in this house, don't you? Great clues for PARASAIL, CUESTICKS, and FIGLEAVES. Remember the fanfare for Carter dry-docking the Presidential yacht? Good for him.

HULKSMASH new to us - but knew of the Hulk of course, so easy to suss. Our Avengers would have said (after cracking an urn over a bad guy's head) "You look SMASHing today Mrs. Peel", and replied, "As always Mr. Steed."

Couple of minor disagreements with Evan - Seems like we see ETAIL ad nauseam, especially in puzzles. And my sister owned a deli and the letters NT WT were all over the place on packaging - so it's common enough.

Lobster11 9:46 AM  

This is the first Sunday puzzle I've really enjoyed in a long time. I thought the theme was clever, with the same symbol representing quote marks across and ditto marks down. Also, reading the note/hint at the top first produced a difficulty level that was just right for me: I had some idea of what to expect, but only in a vague sense. I can't imagine how difficult it would be without reading the note/hint. When I finally sussed it out, I had the kind of aha! moment that I've been missing in recent months.

Sure, there was lots of ugly fill, and Evan's bullet list pretty much matches mine. Entries like UNCASES and REROSE look like made-up words that you would never encounter outside a crossword puzzle. However, I personally would much rather see stuff like that than a slew of obscure proper names and foreign-language words which, unless you're up on your movie/TV/geography/opera trivia, can stop you dead in your tracks.

Noreen 9:46 AM  

Got it all! but missed the 'ditto' effect in the downs. Also, had cleric instead of chemic (69 D). Otherwise, enjoyed all esp.(84A) repeated bird call clue -- 'Nevermore.'

Music man 9:57 AM  

I really really hated this one :/ especially after I saw REROSE and UNMAKE. Never heard of SUBBOOKKEEPER so this meant absolutely nothing to me.

demit 10:02 AM  

Never got the theme. That's because quote marks are different symbols from ditto marks. Different from inch marks, too. Additionally, the "close quote" is a different symbol from the open quote. But that's typography, and who cares about that anymore?

Billy C 10:05 AM  

Oh look, it's 10am and I'm the first commenter!

I'm sure I'll be at least the 10th person to say something like this: It's a good thing Rex has the day off, because I think this puzzle would have caused him to rupture an aneurysm in his brain. Bad gimmick, bad clueing, terrible fill. A Rex Parker trifecta!

MDMA 10:08 AM  

The iPad app has no double-quote on its keyboard. There is, however, a boldface centered dot, which I'm not sure what you'd ever use it for.

It doesn't accept the down-only letters, it doesn't accept a rebus of two apostrophes (aka single quotes). The only thing that works, as mentioned, is the rebus "QUOTE", or just plain letter Q.


TWASNT is a contraction of "it was not" so the correct spelling would be 'TWASN'T, not T'WASN'T.

Z 10:09 AM  

Ugh. SUBBOOKKEEPER just ain't worth this. How about a puzzle using a pilcrow (¶) theme next?

UNMAKES? UNCASES? US OF A? Flagrant Foul 2 for U Abuse.

I'll say this about the themers, they raise the question of why modern artistic culture frames masculine heroism around caricatures like HULK SMASH and I'LL BE BACK. When the subtly corrupting power of power is most widely seen through the allegory of the LOTR's it is no wonder that we have to look five hundred years in the past for powerful story-telling.

GPO 10:25 AM  

Medium-challenging, I will go along with that.

Except I had completely filled in the entire grid, every single square, and was staring at those 12 squares thinking "WTF is the trick?" for a full couple of minutes before I finally -- finally -- got it, changed the repeated down letters to quote marks, and declared victory. What a relief.

Why does the blog author say that a ditto mark is only "similar to" a quotation mark? Don't you use the exact same key for each?

The Rhino 10:31 AM  

I solved it on an iPad, so I could not figure out how to get the quote/ditto marks to show up. Held the ' mark, double tapped, kept pressing the ABC 123 button. Finally, I had to punt (which, you'll notice, doesn't mean 'quit') and pressed the reveal square. So I technically received a DNF. But I'll be okay.

Besides that, the puzzle was fine. Hard. Entertaining. Weird. I liked the quotes themselves. I didn't like TRYERS or STENOGS.

Any particular reason that honeymooners go to an ISLE?

gcedwards10 10:46 AM  

Thanks for the heads-up re having to put in QUOTE ... That's what you have to do in the iPad NYT crossword app as well. Very frustrating, I would have never dreamed that's what you had to do, and a pox on whatever idiot at the Times set it up that way. The Times needs to figure out a way to convey that sort of info to users of the app without giving away the solution.

chefbea 10:46 AM  

Couldn't do this one at all. Had to come here and read Rex's review. Now I'll go back and try. Guess everyone else is having the same trouble

Carola 10:55 AM  

Loved it - I thought it was creative and witty, with SUBBOOKKEEPER as a good you-gotta-be-kidding-me joke. I read the Note, which I appreciated; I didn't think it took too much away, as it didn't tell you which symbol and you had to identify the right squares. Anyway, I caught on with "ET TU..." and then went back for "OPEN.." Knowing the theme didn't help me with the Avengers, though, as up to the end I had KHUL..., which I thought might be some superhero version of "cool." AHA at that spot at the very last moment.

Many other treats, too - LACUNA, PTOLEMY, CHALICE, TEMPERA, HIMALAYAS.... Top-of-the-line Sunday, I thought.

GeezerJackYale48 10:58 AM  

Well, it's 10:51 and I appear to be the first commenter. Comment moderation must be backlogged. Anyway, I was wondering how many solvers besides me immediately discovered and quickly dismissed the " theme because so many of the clues were quotations but were not involved in the premise. So I was a little disgruntled when it all came to light.

Steve J 10:59 AM  

I found this to a be a fairly clever idea that collapses under the weight of an incredible amount of truly awful fill.

My subjective reaction to a puzzle's quality essentially comes down to 1) how often I roll my eyes or saying things like "really!?" to myself, and 2) whether the theme has a sufficient aha moment to outweigh that. The theme got an "oh, so that's what's going on; that's kinda clever" reaction. But the fill got more than eyerolls and quiet reactions to myself. Things like REROSE, UNMEET, UNCASES, TRYERS, ATS, TO LEASE (Evan's right - it's "for lease" or it's "to let") made me start saying, in increasing volume, things like "oh, come on," "you've got to be kidding," and, at the puzzle's lowest point (at UNMAKES, if I remember right), "for fuck's sake."

It takes an incredibly strong theme to overcome fill that warrants that's so bad it eventually reaches the level of that last one. This theme wasn't that strong. The end result was an aggressively unpleasant Sunday puzzle.

joho 11:04 AM  

@Evan, excellent write-up! And thank you so much for explaining the theme! I never read the note and never figured out why those irrelevant letters were on either end of the theme phrases. I couldn't make any rhyme or reason out of them. And even if I had been brilliant enough to put quotation marks there I wonder if I would have also seen that those doubled at ditto marks. I doubt it. I kept thinking all phrases would start with a T and end with an M for Trademark. As I said, I was desperate!

@Evan, you also pointed out the good answers and clues which I enjoyed, too. And the bad: REROSE and UNMAKES in particular. BTW, STENO and STENOG can't be shortened to STEN because that's already an archaic British gun!

I blame my dnf totally on my stupidity but in the end I thought to myself, "OHCRUD! This puzzle showed NO MERCY .... NEVERMORE!"

Anonymous 11:07 AM  

Thank you, thank you, thank you, for explaining the magic trick to get the puzzle to complete in Across Lite. They really need to improve how that works for future rebus puzzles.

jberg 11:10 AM  

I was really floundering until I noticed the note; then it was too easy. I spent a little while trying to read the " as INCH in the downs, but once I got the ditto idea, it gave me a whole bunch of free letters.

Definitely some fill to groan at, and lots of green TEMPERA, as #Evan points out. And I can see the neatness of SUBBOOKKEEPER -- it's just not really a word, is it? Also, since the puzzle has symbols in it, I'd have left out the apostrophe reference for 122A, and the @@@, for the sake of cleanness.

Perversely, though, I kind of enjoyed the NEARER/NEATER crossing.

RAD2626 11:22 AM  

Thought the puzzle was fun, and the gimmick clever and fairly easy to figure out. Frustrating on my iPad but just did Reveal Puzzle when done and got error marks in the correct 12 boxes. No big deal.

Great writeup. Agree with almost all the cringeworthy comments, especially STENOGS, which is not acceptable, in my opinion, although Google seems to not mind. Stenos is only acceptable abbreviation. Not to mention being a POC. I think ETAIL is now firmly in the vernacular and "what A SAVE" reminds me of the old Boston joke: "Jesus saves! Esposito scores on the rebound!"

Franck Hanselman 11:24 AM  

I solve on the iPad and got really annoyed that the iPad version's keyboard doesn't have a quotation mark. I tried putting in an apostrophe instead, but that wasn't accepted. I tried the Rebus function to enter to apostrophes and create my own quotation mark, but that didn't fly either. I had to use the Reveal Puzzle function to complete the grid, which was the only qay to make quotation marks appear in the twelve empty squares. Grrrr!!!

floatingboy 11:29 AM  

Just did your linked puzzle. Thanks! It was fun. One question (and I see this all the time but not usually so pronounced): how did you manage to have two answers--"NBASTAR" and "PSHAW"--that the NYTimes also had today? Seems like it can't be coincidence!

Kalisa 11:35 AM  

How do you enter the quotation marks on an iPad? The app keyboard doesn't have that option.

Meg Greer 11:46 AM  

The ditto sign is a generational thing. My thirty-something kids don't get it. It dates back to the pre-cut-and-paste era, when we learned its usage in elementary school. Good for lists. So once I got "open sesame", after coming up short with abracadabra, the rest was a bre"ze. (Except for hulk smash. The Avengers was a 60's spy show with Diana Rigg, now seen on Game of Thrones.)

AliasZ 11:49 AM  

Excellent write-up, Evan. Thank you.

Nice diversion, and just tricky enough to take me some time to figure out what the trick was. BILL BE BACKO gave it away. I did not know "HULK SMASH" (or is it "HULK'S M*A*S*H"?) and "MY PRECIOUS" but they were easy enough to get from crosses.

SUBBOOKKEEPER was iffy at best, a MUWOC [made-up word of convenience] at worst. Would you call a marine commander's assistant a submarine commander? Or the stance instructor -- the sensei who teaches proper posture in karate -- and his assistant the substance instructor? Inquiring minds want to know.

All the UNwords made me cringe, as did all the words made longer by adding a preposition, or re- and -er, before or after. I counted about 15 of these, not taking the CANT-INCANT repetition into account. REROSE was the worst of these. What does it even mean? Oh, I know: Jesus rose from the dead, then a few weeks later he rerose into heaven.

-- At 19D for "Paint type" I wanted to enter GREEN, but it wasn't long enough.
-- STENOGS: I did not realize Saint Enogs even existed, let alone that she took dictation.
-- CHEMIC? Why not? If we have comic, chemic should be OK too. Or chemedian, or chemologist, or chemician, or chèmebrûlée. Anything goes.


Enjoy your Sunday!

Paul Johnson 11:59 AM  

How do you enter quotation marks with Across Lite? ESC-Shift-Apostrophe comes up blank. And ugh to PULLTAB. They haven't been on soda cans in about 30 years (because they can slice you up), though there are POPTOPs. And yes, RNA is genetic material IF YOU"RE A VIRUS. Or know something about cellular transcription. But I'm betting the average Joe, never heard of it. And TRAIPSE is so much more than "go on foot". This from my Mac Dictionary which almost never has comments:

"David Auburn
No other synonym for walk conveys a value judgment. Amble, stroll, saunter, mosey all refer, more or less neutrally, to velocity (or, in a stretch, rhythm). Only traipse is morally loaded: it hints at disapproval, even contempt for the ambler's lazy, aimless ways. Superficially innocent words that let you get in a dig below the radar should be treasured."

terri h 12:02 PM  

If you solve using the iPad app, you can't complete this puzzle because there is no quotation mark in the crossword apps keyboard. :(

Roo Monster 12:07 PM  

Hey All !
First off, excellent writeup Evan! Pretty much how I felt, with the exception of missing the theme! You were funny and critical in a nice way.

Second off, completely missed the theme. Had actual letters for the quote marks, so was trying to suss out something with the end letters standing for something. Never would have figured out the ditto part. And took a DNF on the themed Down, as had AlA for AKA and TOpcASE for TOLEASE. So that left me SUB_O_L_C_PER. What in the world is that? was my question. Even if I had the correct letters in, probably wouldn't have gotten SUBBOOKKEEPER. Is that even a word?

Third off, besides the wacky theme, there were some nice clues and answers. OH CRUD is funny. Clue on CUESTICKS is good. Know there are others, but not going to hunt them down.

Fourth off, did you see CANT and INCANT? And all the UN____answers ? Great for M&A, not so much for the rest of us. Just sayin.

Congrats to all who grocked the theme. If you did, I'm impressed!


cwf 12:08 PM  

SO was QUOTEUNQUOTE from Friday sort of a premonitory clue for today's puzzle?

I know the NYT would prefer that solvers use their on-line puzzling tool when solving with a computer but I'm still pretty surprised no one tests-solves these things in Across Lite. The fact that it would not accept quotation marks made the quote/ditto trick essentially undiscoverable. I didn't read the note until I was done and still it was no help.

old timer 12:10 PM  

There must be a lot of comments backed up.

I think Mr. Birnholz did a fine job of emulating OFL, and I appreciate the Inside Crossword approach. But I really did like the puzzle, though I had to come here to appreciate that the quote mark, across, meant "repeat previous letter" (ditto) down. Clever, when you think about it. HULKSMASH was the only quote I had absolutely Never Heard Of. And the reason I knew the Arnold's quote was, he used it in his campaign. He was really no worse than his Republican predecessors, but I for one am glad to have an older, but wiser Jerry Brown back. The state has never been better run, and as anyone who followed the career of Mr. Brown in his *first* pair of terms knows, he is very tight with the buck -- in fact, far more fiscally responsible than Ronald Reagan, either in Sacramento or Washington.

Yes, NT WT seems silly. But I've seen it. CHEDDAR I have not, in that sense. There were many clues that left me with a grin when I finally got them: In addition to the Garden of Eden clue, the ones for HEARSE and CERTAINTY. And, though the clue was easy, who could not have a rueful smile, remembering what you get with no bars on your phone?

The downside was, as Evan notes, a lot of bad fill. Or at least fill that made *me* wince. Not just REROSE, but also ETAIL and NERTS, and IHOPS, which should just be a singular IHOP, IMO.

duaneu 12:22 PM  

Another big "screw you" to electronic solvers. Even if you figure out the gimmick, how are you supposed to guess what is supposed to be entered into the rebus squares?

Virginia Lady 12:25 PM  

I solve on paper, but did not notice the "note" until I read your blog. It was a lot easier, once I realized you had to skip the first and last boxes, but still didn't understand that the quotation marks were ditto signs.. I am surprised you didn't mention amscray for 94 down. Do kids still learn Pig Latin or am I showing my age my knowing this?

Rabi Abonour 12:27 PM  

I dug this one. Annoying that there's no quotation mark on the iOS keyboard, though. I guessed that quotation mark very early, but didn't figure out the ditto mark thing until the absolute end. Kind of a strange theme, but I dug it. There definitely are some clunker answers, but enough really good fill and cluing to keep me happy.

GILL I. 12:27 PM  

What friggin note????
@Evan said it all for me but let me add my two cents.
I still can't decide whether I really disliked this intensely or rather enjoyed the constant head scratching.
LACUNA (of all things) was the most difficult word for me to come up with - ergo that whole section is so white and so empty and so...UGH and ICK.
@Nancy...I left you a [SNORT] comment in yesterdays post....! Please don't say anything about okra!

Sandysolver 12:32 PM  

And we would chant, "It is meet and right so to do."

Norm 12:47 PM  

Anonymous@8:13 - The use of quotation marks to reflect "ditto" is common in columns, so it was very appropriate for the down entries. I didn't care for this puzzle, but that was not the problem.

Masked and Anonymous 1:11 PM  

At last! The consummate U-Boat Bean Counter's crossword puz!

M&A is just dumb enough to think this was a great theme idea, and that a ditto mark is plenty fine to duplicate a Down letter, in a crossword puz. M&A is just weird enough to figure out that theme fairly early, at UNME(")T/(")ETTUBRUTE("). Dumb and weird are occasionally a dynamite complement of assets -- for solving this here puz -- or for bein a real entertaining Republican Debate candidate.

Fun solve. Thanx, Mr.

Primo, bullet-riddled write-up, EB. Saved old M&A lots of bullet-writin, here. Can go off immediately and root for the Vikes. (Kiss of death fro any team, btw)



edmcan 1:14 PM  

Hated this and DNF. I eventually figured out the quotation marks, but the dittos, well...forget it.

Billy C. 1:15 PM  

@Anon9:25 --

Re: Host/Slew: A host, as in "a host of Angels" is several. Slew is slang for a lot. Interesting combo, one an archaic formalism, and the other modern silage.

Trombone Tom 1:23 PM  

Evan, thank you for giving us such a complete and interesting rundown on this puzzle. I made it through but never tipped to the ditto mark solution. Nevertheless I enjoyed the puzzle and had only a few quibbles. REROSE is kind of lame and no one I know would say UNCASES. One of my fave clues was "Ones doing a decent job in the Bible."

The Bard 1:36 PM  

Othello: Act 4, Scene 1

Let the devil and his dam haunt you! What did you
mean by that same handkerchief you gave me even
now? I was a fine fool to take it. I must take out the
work?—A likely piece of work, that you should
find it in your chamber, and not know who left it
there! This is some minx's token, and I must take
out the work? There; give it your hobby-horse:
wheresoever you had it, I'll take out no work on't.

Anonymous 1:38 PM  

Anonymous old timer said...
"There must be a lot of comments backed up."
Yes, this board has some serious comment constipation.

Roo Monster 1:47 PM  

Hey, just noticed something that moved thispuz up a notch (or three, as it's extremely hard to accomplish).
There are no other repeated/same letters in any other down answer! Wow! And, only three acrosses, two themers, ILL and ETTU, and HONOREE.
So mad kudos for Tom Mc"oy! Now I feel like a SNOOT for not caring for this puz at first!


Ludyjynn 1:55 PM  

OHCRUD, OHCRUD, OHCRUD. Pretty much hated every moment except for OAHU, which is where I pretended to be SITUATEd while navigating this minefield.

Thanks, Evan, for elaborating and saving me the trouble of parsing the deficiencies in this puzzle. And you can " me on that.

Anonymous 2:38 PM  

Nice review. Hated the puzzle. Your review explains why more eloquently than I could.

Vajralady 2:48 PM  

My iPad accepted just the letter Q in those boxes.

Moses 3:16 PM  

One doing a decent Job in the bible would be a whale!

Z 3:20 PM  

@NCA President - Loved that first ¶.

@The Rhino - "I had to punt (which, you'll notice, doesn't mean 'quit')" Huh? looks like you quit to me.

Ditto Mark
Quotation Mark

Bronxdoc 4:14 PM  

Loved the write up, did not love the puzzle. Had read the note, but still didn't get the theme until after finished. Thank you Evan.

Unknown 4:17 PM  

Love the blog. Saved my ass a few times. First time I've felt compelled to comment. Some of the words are dubious and the whole quote thing is iditoic. I appreciate clever and this ain't it.

Fred Romagnolo 4:28 PM  

Took 3 hrs. Never got the ditto marks, but recognized pattern of double letters, and figured this blog would clear it up. Agree with everything the commenter said. Laughed out loud at FIG LEAVES. I agree with just about everyone on the crud answers. But, I did finish, and correctly. An interesting thing about HST: the S doesn't stand for anything; he had paternal and maternal grandpas who both had names beginning with S, but they were different names. So to keep peace in the family they just let it be S. I rank him as one of our great presidents.

Fred Romagnolo 4:30 PM  

@Moses: not Job - Jonah

ANON B 4:41 PM  

Not only is this the hardest and ugliest Sunday puzzle I have ever seen,
but the author has to use the ugly word "signification" instead of
"significance". I had to look it up to see if really is a word.
I can hardly wait to see that my comment has not been accepted.

Blue Stater 4:45 PM  

In a class by itself as the worst Sunday puzzle *ever*. The reason I'm so late with my comment is that it took me this long (six hours) to throw in the towel, something I almost never do, particularly on Sunday. All parties to this shambles should be profoundly ashamed of themselves, but I'll bet they're not.

jae 5:32 PM  

I initially missed the note  which would have really helped make sense of this as I was solving.  I noticed the vertical double letters and realized that all the answers were quotes, but I needed the note to put it together.  

Once I read the note I had a lot more love for this one.  Very clever but I have no idea how hard it was.   As @Evan points out in his excellent and detailed write-up, there was a fair amount of cringy stuff which I guess is the price you pay for the theme and the low word count. Liked it.

Puzzles like this one are why I only solve on paper now.

Anonymous 6:02 PM  

Am I the only one giving sincere thanks to Tom McCoy for providing a clever challenge that required some slogging, numerous write-overs, and a theme that wasn't immediately evident? That's what I hope for in a Sunday puzzle, but don't always find. After my first across/down pass-through (which is how I always start a puzzle, so I can present the pop culture and sports questions to my dearest in one go - and always on paper for Sundays), I had so few answers, I thought this one would be impossible. This greatly enhanced my satisfaction when I finally finished it, two hours later, without having to go to Ms Google for help.

This has come up before: llamas produce fibre; sheep produce wool.

Jim in Chicago 6:20 PM  

USofA needs to go the way of the NENE, hate it!

My big problem is that I can't remember the use of " to indicate the same for a single letter. Just use the letter. Would you ever write rub"er? Even in a column the " is used to save time, so if just one letter the actual letter would be used.

Anonymous 6:27 PM  

Anyone know why the "-" is included in the Note? I kept thinking that the dash was the key to the grid.....

The Rhino 6:28 PM  

@Z. Nope. I punted, which means I kept going but in a less-than-ideal manner. I retreated a bit (by using the reveal cheat) but I kept playing. Because that is what punting is - in football, and in colloquial language.

And now I'd spike the ball if I had one.

Tita 7:13 PM  

Loved it.Clever.
Great fun.

Sure, the UN-s, RE-s, and -ERs were godawful,

I didn't read the note till I was stuck staring at the empty squares where SUBBOOKKEEPPER should go, when QUOTEUNQUOTH, AHA!

was the "Qouth the raven" clue a revealer of sorts?

Evan...while tacking an E- to words had afflicted crosswords since the dawn of the INTERNETECONOMY, ETAIL is definitely a standalone thing.

Thank you Mr. McCoy, and thanks Evan.

Evan 7:57 PM  


Just a coincidence, I'm afraid. Last year I had an eerier coincidence when the NYT and I published separate puzzles on the same day and both had ARCADE FIRE as a marquee answer.

mac 8:32 PM  

I quit at "rerose".

Hartley70 8:58 PM  

I'm solving late in the day this week, even so, I got this in a little under an hour and a half. Llama let me in on the gimmick both across and down, and I really enjoyed this
challenge. It was a great Sunday for me.

Z 10:12 PM  

@The Rhino - My own standard is any reference work is a DNF. To each his/her own. I'd only hit "reveal" if I'd decided the puzzle wasn't worth my time.

Leapfinger 10:43 PM  

O my luve is like a RE' RE' ROSE...! Kind of Burns you up, doesn't it?
otoh, it was rather nice to see the nod to STE. NOG, the Quebecoise Patron Saint of Christmas libations.

Let's face it, I can SUBfocus on a handful of contrived prefices, and would rather ignore a few UNMAKEd beds than miss out on a supra-entertaining bit of themery. Working in a two-way rebus that's the (quote) same (endquote) yet differs in Acrosses vs Downs is a tough proposition. There was one a couple of years ago that alternated the word "water" with the chemical formula, but just missed the bullseye by using HHO instead of HOH. There's no such problem here: written double quotes are identical to dittoes, so we're actually lucky that we didn't also have inches and seconds rebussed in on us. I don't suppose that to many people are against rebussing on reprinciple? The thing I'm most pleased about is that (as usual) I didn't see the Note, so I got to gnaw all the juicy goodness out of this myself. If TPTB thought the solve would be too hard without the note, 'TWASN'T.

Lots has been said about the negatives, so here are my positives:
Some clever clues, as for IHOP and PTOLEMY, that old revolutionary;
Discovering REROSE, a sugar isolated from RERs, and TOLEASE, an enzyme that beaks down TOLEs;
Not to mention RUSHAT, a new abbrev for balaclava;
TEMPERA? I gesso!!
Finding ADAM with his disARMing FIGLEAVES. He could have made a WREATH, but it wouldn't be decent to Put a Ring On It. Too EROTIC, without a doubt.

Have to admit that I feared, given UCLAN, that CRIMEAN was another term for a goodfellow; also rather worried we were seeing ANODIC to a CHEMIC.

Look, I can appreciate that some might wish that SUBBOOKKEEPER had never been subborned, but probably more view a HEARSE as worse than REHEARSE. Just hold on to the baby, sez me; you can always run more bathwater.

Anonymous 11:04 PM  

only second time I've left a comment.. this is the very worst puzzle I've encountered in a long time. And to think it's a Sunday puzzle. I gave up and don't even care to know the answers that I couldn't figure out.

Unknown 11:27 PM  

I had the same issue. Read the note and assumed it was the down letters. Sigh. Only Sunday I've finished in a long time, but I didn't get credit due to quotation marks. :(

Leapfinger 12:07 AM  

@Z, LOTR... Luck of the Raw? Last of the Romanians?

@AliasZ, really enjoyed your ChemBrulee, a better batter than IHOPS, if you're looking at just desserts.

Suffering from backed-up commentary, are we? There's an apt cure that parallels today's punctuation themery -- the good old high :IC

Anonymous 1:58 PM  

Any puzzle with "nerts" automatically incurs my wrath. This one incurred wrath in many other ways, as you've (mostly) all pointed out. Subbookkeeper, indeed.

Copy Editor 3:34 PM  

Oof. This was the worst NYT puzzle I've ever seen. I didn't see the note so I had to come here to figure out what the heck the theme was. The theme is stupid and every one of the weird answers I hated is mentioned here. "Unmeet"?? This was a waste of my time. It's the first Sunday puzzle I've had time for in weeks and I'm very disappointed. I hope I can remember this puzzle creator's name and avoid his stuff in the future.

OISK 6:14 PM  

A day later...I did finish it correctly (Hulk smash???). But I caught on to the theme after filling in about 90 % of the grid. There was an "AHA" moment then, which made the slog worth while. By far my slowest Sunday time in recent memory.

kitshef 7:10 PM  

Going against the grain, but I liked it a lot. So often, Sundays are long, joyless slogs. This one was worth the time invested. I'll take the occasional ASAVE or INS for a neat theme. I have to stop short of loved it because REROSE and SCHS, really?

I did love the write-up, which hit all the major points, then kept going with much, much more. @Rex is often criticized for negativity, but I'm OK with that. What I wish, though, is that he would spend more time on the blog and go a little deeper. @evan's write up did that. My only disagreements are that LEU should be considered completely fair game, and quotation marks don't 'sorta approximate ditto marks in appearance' -- they are indistinguishable in many fonts and all handwriting.

Hugh 9:14 PM  

Coming very late to the party as I've been trying to crack this one and finally threw in the towel.

I picked up on the quotes early on but did not come any where near getting the ditto marks....at all. It never would have occurred to me. Does not make it a bad puzzle but but I had no fun at all.

I rarely have much bad to say about fill but "UNCASES"????, "REROSE"??? A bit unseemly. And there were others...

"FIGLEAVES" gets a like but that's about it. I respect what it took to construct this but no joy for me this week. I did enjoy the write-up, though :o)

Hope everyone has a great week!

Maureen Fudger 1:50 AM  

This was complete and utter bullshit. Complete shite of a Sunday without the puzzle. How about thinking up some intelligent clues and stop playing childish games with colors, quote marks, double letters in a box.

Paul Plotnick 10:12 AM  

Rerose is like something I made up - "Deerlot". A place where deer congregate after they cross at the deer crossing. Likewise unmakes and unmeets. Phooey.

Anonymous 1:30 PM  

Cannot believe I got this. Gave up completely and just glanced at it once more and Bingo. BSHARPS and I got BRUTE which gave up the theme. The rest was all fill except ILLBEBACK. Had OSLO instead of ISLE, but it almost fit. Besides, who cares if you CANT spell PTOLEMY?
Best, Jon

Anonymous 12:00 PM  

Totally disagree with Evan, I loved this puzzle, best in months. The complaints are minor quibbles and none of them can't be solved. (I don't mind a "stretch" if it's solvable.) The use of the quote mark as "ditto" is long-established, even though it's for words rather than single letters, the concept's still the same. I didn't find any clue seriously objectionable, though I certainly don't like a pointless word like "re-rose". MEET - In my church we still pray "It is MEET right and our bounden duty. . ." HULK SMASH: This is a catchphrase of mine, used when anyone does something does something totally mindless and potentially harmful (like banging on a computer because it's taking too long, as my roommate is wont to do). Special kudoos are due for the total absence of pop culture, hip hip hooray!!

Brother Michael 6:47 PM  

You confuse Job and Jonah.

The Defiant Marshmallow 10:45 AM  

Surprised no one commented on the clue and answer that made the least sense to me: "NYC Museum, with 'the'". The answer, THE MET, doesn't really cut it. In NYC, when referring to THE MET, most people assume The Metropolitan Opera, not the Museum of Art. Not the biggest annoyance with this puzzle, but just wrong.

rondo 12:14 PM  

DNF as I DNCare. "NEVERMORE" do this to us, please. UNCASES, UNMEET, UNMAKES, and for @ spacey BTEAMS and BSHARP and USOFA. Got this puz half filled and just couldn't take the garbage anymore, so I don't know what all dreck followed.

And poptops replaced PULLTABs about 30 years ago. Terrible answer. PULLTABs are what they play down at the VFW.

It did have RON top center, but even that's not good enough. Hated it.

Burma Shave 1:07 PM  




spacecraft 1:09 PM  

Challenging to the limit for me--not because of the theme but the fill! OHCRUD! NERTS! UNCASES UNMAKES UNMEET REROSE TRY (not I???) ERS: these are...unloved. Plus, I never heard the green guy say "HULKSMASH!" He must have said this in "The Avengers," which I somehow [sic] missed. Tons more unknown; why clue NUN that way? I know it's a New York puzzle, but the odd Gentile here and there does come across it. Give us a break. The grid is littered with crazy partials and those above-listed "unwords." Solving was tedious and not that pleasurable. The satisfaction of completing it correctly inches it up to a C-.

Mini-theme: PICO- and NANO-. Would I do this again? "NEVERMORE."

Torb 1:36 PM  

Finished it without figuring out that quote marks meant ditto of the letter above. Baffled by the theme but still managed to fill it in. Go figure.

AnonymousPVX 2:35 PM  

Least enjoyable puzzle I have encounter in the last 30 years or so...which is when I started doing crosswords. I disliked every aspect of this puzzle so much I decided to not finish solving it. I really don't remember the last time I did (didn't ?) do that. Horrible clueing, ridiculous and strained answers and a gimmick theme. What's not to like, aside from everything?

Ray o sunshine 8:33 PM  

Too many literally non existent or or should I say "unexistent", made up words.

eastsacgirl 11:25 PM  

Even though I finished this was one of my least favorite puzzles of all time. Didn't get the point of the "ditto" letters. Was trying to fit the theme of QUOTES somewhere in down answers. Just unsatisfying all the way around.

Anonymous 3:00 PM  

Not the best puzzle in the world, but I thought it was an ingenious application of the different horizontal and vertical usage of the quotation/ditto mark. SUBBOOKKEEPER isn't the best word in the world, but the fact that it crosses all the themed answers, with it's repeated letters used in four of them, more than made up for its awkwardness. I initially wished I hadn't read the clue, but ultimately I was glad I did.

Andy Nelson 7:29 PM  

How come no one has mentioned that the Shakespearean comment was "Ettu, Brutus" not "ettu, brute"? he is quoting something that was not said!

Anonymous 5:22 PM  

I’m a week late ‘cause I do the puzzle by hand in a small-town paper, but my shock at the tone of the initial review and so many of the comments compels me to add my two cents. Unlike Mr. Birnholz, I found this puzzle to be on the easy side for a Sunday, but still challenging enough to be enjoyable. The theme was clever, entertaining, and easier to work out than most such gimmicks. There was some weak fill, for sure, but on balance the puzzle was reasonable, fair and fun. As someone else has noted regarding the theme answers, the instructions warn us that a “certain keyboard symbol” is used to fill some squares. On every keyboard I’ve ever used, there is ONE key that serves for open quote, close quote and ditto mark, all three. So regardless of one’s opinion on that aspect of the modern keyboard, or how one forms these characters when writing longhand, the theme strikes me as being completely fair and quite clever.

Loved: FIGLEAVES (made me laugh!), IHOPS – (cute clue), NEVERMORE, TWASNT, USOFA (funny, and cleverly clued), CUESTICKS (ditto), CHEMIC (threw me because I missed the hint to archaic usage; in retrospect, fair and clever), PTOLEMY, MILLAGE (despite the complaints, this is standard usage in tax matters).

Special note: HST – I’m surprised at the complaints it generated. This was VERY common press shorthand (FDR, HST, DDE, JFK, LBJ) until Nixon's and Ford’s short last names broke the pattern. It’s neither clever nor challenging, but certainly fair.

Disliked: Re-words and Un-words as others have mentioned. Weak fill, not really words anyone uses. NBASTAR clue needed ref. to the abbr.: e.g., e.g.

Special notes :
UNMEET – a word, but both archaic and quite rare, and should be clued as such. Antonyms of “meet” in this sense are “unseemly” or “improper.”
TRYERS – the accepted form is “triers,” but even that would be weak. I’m told “tryer” is modern urban slang, in the sense of one who tries way too hard, but that is not the sense of the clue.
STENOGS – with this spelling, a quite dated and uncommon abbr. (requiring a period!), as used in “Babbitt” by Sinclair Lewis (1922). It has long been “steno” as a stand-alone shortened word in the more modern usage. Who ever heard of a stenog pad?

paleolith 1:42 PM  

Mostly agree with the objections. However, SAVE is absolutely what a goalie does; stick your head out from under the USA umbrella. If you can't come up with HST as the only 1940s alternative to FDR, then I suggest rereading the part about history repeating itself -- and I mean the part about "I knew a guy in school who had to repeat it twice". Ats? Would you read "billg@microsoft.com" as "bill gee atsign microsoft dot com"? "At" it is.

I don't really mind the "ditto to repeat just a letter" concept. No, it's not used in normal writing. But then, in normal writing we don't write words vertically, and I don't see anyone complaining because that's done in crosswords.

But Across Lite ... I don't know what the NYT keeps pumping this piece of junk. Oh, it does a lot of things quite smoothly, and it has some features the NYT could use but doesn't. But as someone who has been in computer programming for almost 50 years, I can tell you that this is not a complex program -- the only thing stopping me from writing it 40 years ago would have been the inadequate displays.

Have to write QUOTE because Across Lite doesn't let you type a quote? I don't even remember all the features I've noticed missing from AL, not to mention outright bugs. Why doesn't the NYT lean on Literate Software to improve the program, or contract for a replacement? I won't say litsoft is greedy -- it's obviously a very small outfit, and since AL is distributed free, their income must come from contracts with publishers like the NYT. But I'm sure they are making money on it somehow.

I've thought about writing a replacement, as it would be fun to add all the features that should be there. I don't have the motivation though. I'm 66 and have a lot of other things to do.

For Andy Nelson: see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Et_tu,_Brute%3F, which explains that "the name 'Brutus', a second declension masculine noun, appears in the phrase in the vocative case, and so the -us ending of the nominative case is replaced by -e". Of course the article also explains that Caeser probably never said it and that it's known only because of its use by Elizabethan authors, most notably Shakespeare.


manitoba 12:58 PM  

What a waste of time!

AndrewSeattle 4:31 AM  

I was initially convinced the 12 letters were somehow going to spell out DOUBLEQUOTES. I started with D-L-O-E-E... and then another L what?? That might have been the meta payback some of us were hoping for.

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