Blues chanteuse Washington / THU 12-10-15 / Disney friend of Flounder Sebastian / Poet who won 1967 Pulitzer for Live Die / Turkish pooh-bah / Pithecological study / Classic Mercedes roadsters / Storied assassin

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Constructor: Timothy Polin

Relative difficulty: Medium, maybe a tad harder

THEME: STUMBLING BLOCKS (36A: Obstacles seen four times in this puzzle's completed grid?) — four black squares (or "blocks") actually represent the letter combo "ER" (which is a "stumbling" sound one makes when speaking)

Theme answers:
Word of the Day: SLS (31D: Classic Mercedes roadsters) —
The Mercedes-Benz SL-Class (formerly known as the SL Roadster prior to 1994) is a grand touring roadster manufactured by Mercedes since 1954. The designation SL derives from the German Sportlich-Leicht, (English: Sport Lightweight) and was first applied to the 300 SL, often referred to as the "Gullwing" due to its gullwing or upward-opening doors. // The term SL refers to the marketing variations of the vehicle, including the numerous engine configurations spanning six design generations. (wikipedia)
• • •

I had a weird moment early on where I got very (mostly mock) angry at the answer PCLABS, which is one of my most hated answers For Some Reason, so I took a screenshot and called it "IHatePCLABS"

Then I got AXIS OF EVIL and thought "What kind of theme has an 'L' going in one direction and an 'X' going in the other ...?" No type of theme, it turns out. Because 1D: Spots for computer users, it turns out, is PIXELS. Cute. So I took another screenshot and called it "NotPCLABS"

Anyway, right around that time, I got the "ER" square gimmick, and then a little bit later, I figured out STUMBLING BLOCKS. I didn't know they were all going to be "ER"s ... but then they were. I think I would've liked and "UM" block and an "UH" block, though the latter would've been Very hard to pull off. "E" and "R" are Such common letters and rarely lead anywhere good, fill-wise, but I thought this puzzle managed to squeeze out some decent "ER" answers (like ERNIE BANKS and RINGLEADER) as well as some decent other fill (AXIS OF EVIL and ANNE SEXTON, both great). There was some stuff I didn't care for—ERIEPA is bad enough as straight fill. But -IEPA, yikes, no. SLS, blargh. But honestly, this is mostly clean. It's hard to get that excited by a bunch of "ER" blocks, but the concept is clever.

  • 9D: Go on and on and on (CHATT[ER]) — I had PRATE here at first, which certainly fits the clue much better. I don't think of CHATTER as being related to how long one goes on. I think of it as idle talk. At any rate, that corner was Rough to get into. Wanted BRAT for PEST (12D: Trying type). Only got traction up there because I *eventually* got HYGIENIC, though staring at -IENIC, I wasn't sure any word I knew would work.
  • 63A: Reputation (ODOR) — ????????? .... ?????????????????
  • 65A: One-named R&B singer with the hit "1, 2 Step" (CIARA) — I predict this will be the Proper Noun Least Known in this grid. I have an album by her in my iTunes. I don't remember why.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


jae 12:15 AM  

Medium for me and just about what a Thurs. should be.  DANCE and AXIS OF EVIL were gimmes so I caught the ER trick quickly, but it still took some work to finish.  

ULTRA HOT does not seem like an astrophysical term.  "Like Mila Kunis" might have been a better clue. 

ODOR....@Rex ?????

Spelling HYGIENIC is not easy.  Even Jeff Chen gets it wrong at Xwordinfo. 

A little crunch, a bit of zip .... a fine Thurs.  Liked it a lot.

Anonymous 12:32 AM  

I found this puzzle atrociously hard--easily 2x my normal time for a Thursday. I am not a fan of these gimmicky puzzles; I can appreciate the work that must have gone into it, but this to me felt like so many Times puzzles (and particularly Sunday puzzles): so challenging and so not worth it. If this had been a Saturday puzzle, I would have found it challenging--for a Thursday it's just ridiculous. Still more evidence of the contempt Will Shortz et al. have for the average NYT solver.

Anonymous 12:47 AM  

Black boxes that are "filled in" always seem to be a problem but especially when the puzzle itself is problematic: Ciara, Asana, Erie PA, odor, etc.

Karl 1:24 AM  

15 minutes for me. I thought the gimmick was clever and it still took me a while even after I figured out the four squares were "ER".
I enjoyed this one.

Charles Flaster 2:59 AM  

Medium with a fun solve.
Broke the theme at SHOER and was not completely sure until ERROL.
ASANA is my CrosswordEASE for the day.
Write overs: GRILL for pRobe. PDA for Pro ( not Pc), CHATTER for twiTTER.
Liked cluing for AEIOU, GRR, MOI, and SESAME.
Thanks TP.

Anonymous 5:08 AM  

This was good. Very clever concept. At first I thought it was a rebus. Ernie Banks was a given, so counted back from the bottom and tried that. Close, but finally had it sussed.

Not sure about 19A "nether." Didn't care for "odor," either. Oh well.

If, as Rex suggested, someone could pull off a quad of hesitations (er, um, uh, like), that would be impressive. KnowwhatImean? KnowwhatI'msaying?


OldCarFudd 6:55 AM  

I started out hating this because I couldn't figure it out. Once I caught on, I thought it was terrific. I do a bit of gentle old-geezer yoga, so I knew ASANA. I am familiar with ODOR meaning reputation only in a negative sense: He was in bad ODOR.

Anonymous 7:24 AM  

I hated this one. Just never saw the trick; don't go to Disney films; never heard of Ciara or Ernie Banks: filled in most of the non-ER spaces but was still lost.
OTOH odor is a good, if slightly old-fashioned, synonym for reputation. He was in bad odor. Really.

Anonymous 7:28 AM  

I sailed through this one for some reason. Every ambiguous clue I just guessed the answer right the first time; I spotted the theme at the Blofeld clue and figured out the exact ER thing a few clues later. The funny thing is that I did this at three in the morning and I'm completely hammered. I am both awesome and stupid and a nerd. I guess that's three things.

Karen Bruce 7:48 AM  

"Odor" only works as reputation in one particular idiom -- "in good/bad odor" -- so it's strange that they did not clue it in a way that reflected that. Especially since that idiom is rather archaic.

Overall, though, I liked it. It was reasonably clean and not that difficult to solve (by Thurs standards). My experience may have been colored by the fact that I actually saw the trick early this time, which I have never done in the past.

Adam Prince 7:54 AM  

I usually don't mind cheater squares, but here I think they are problematic because they are standalone blocks and should therefore be ER squares. No?

Anonymous 8:08 AM  

Great puzzle! Challenging, but clever and fair.

Lewis 8:14 AM  

I knew there was something going on with ER, but was stuck on it as being a rebus and never made the leap to the more elegant solution. Should have stuck with it longer, but alas, first pure DNF in quite a while. It's a terrific concept with some tricky and wonderful cluing: PEON, FOSSIL, GRR, SLICED, PIXELS, and mostly clean.

I actually love it when a puzzle, fair and square, shakes my mind out of complacency and keeps my hat size from expanding. Great one, Timothy!

The Rhino 8:23 AM  

I kind of hated it. Like last Thursday, it was just too hard for it to be much fun for me.

jberg 8:32 AM  

ODOR was fine with me--if you are " in good odor" you have a good reputation. I think it's in Shakespeare.

I got the theme partially wth NETH(et)NIE BANKS. But I didn't realize the ER went 4 ways and was thinking the missed p from OTIC ARTIST must be pasty of the trick-- so I stumbled on until I was forced to replace linchpin with RINGLEADER.

@Anonymous , if you hate Thursday puzzles why do them?

Mr. Benson 8:41 AM  

"PCLABS" couldn't pass muster as a possible answer since the C stands for computer, a word that's in the clue.

quilter1 8:48 AM  

Not feeling this one so much. ODOR in the sense of reputation is pretty 19th century, I think. On to BEQ.

Sir Hillary 9:09 AM  

Very nice puzzle.

The Blofeld clue let me know immediately that something was afoot, but I initially assumed rebus. ER, no. I soon figured out the UTT[ER]NST/AMB[ER]ASURE cross, but even then didn't see the full picture. For example, based on that section, I dropped in ronsANto, another Cooperstown Cub -- a case of having way too much sports knowledge for my own good. Other GOOFs didn't help -- FEed at 66A, NItti at 58D (just watched "The Untouchables" last week).

As the central revealer was coming together, I noticed that the ER squares were not connected to any others. My first thought was "Orphan Black". (OK constructors, have at it!)

Not crazy about the ME/MOI sorta-dupe, but no other complaints.

Was Van Gogh and OTICARTIST?

Steve M 9:10 AM  

Traumatic Thursday

Roo Monster 9:22 AM  

Hey All !
I agree on the clever concept. I actually liked it once I wrestled out the theme. Started as a rebus at (ER)ROL, had ER, RO, L going down, but once got to GLASS SLIPP(ER) (what else could it have been?), scratched my head and said maybe the blocks are hiding something? Continued on, and finally did figure out the ERs. So pretty neat!

Managed to get this puz 100% correct! WooHoo! Tough 'un that started slow, got a touch easier as I went on, but still a good fight even after finding the theme.

Writeovers aplenty: emeer->PASHA, say->UTT(ER)(before sussing theme), aRf->GRR, CIsco->CIARA, and finally, which I thought was hilarious, for 50D, had ASsup for ASANA! Was gonna make a goofy comment on that one!

So, overall a fine tougher ThursPuz. How can you not like a puz with MOJO, NINJA, SALAMI, ELVIS, some SEX(TON), and an ASs up! :-P


Nancy 9:38 AM  

Loved it! My idea of what a trick puzzle should be: you simply can't do it until you figure out the trick. I got the trick at AMB/UTT and knew there were missing "ERs" long before I got the revealer. (I originally thought the revealer was going to have something to do with Emergency Rooms.) I'm not all that wild about the revealer, actually, but it made no difference to my enjoyment of the solving of the puzzle.

But I must admit, Dear Reader: I had to cheat to finish the NE. I had - - - - ENIC and simply couldn't think of the needed synonym for "salubrious." Nor do I know anything about game boxes, nor did I know what pithecological meant, nor OTICARTIST. So I went to my Roget's to find HYGIENIC. (Maybe it would have come to me and maybe it wouldn't have, but I didn't have all day.) Anyway, only a tiny cheat for a tough puzzle and a very good one.

blinker474 9:42 AM  

This was a great puzzle, and it was fairly easy to figure out the stumbling blocks, so not too hard. My inclination, when I have solved a very nice puzzle like this one, is to thank the constructor and the editor (at least in my mind) and not ever complain about the fill, which will always be open to complaint; that's the nature of crossword puzzles. Thank you, Timothy Polin and Will Shortz. (The red error line appears beneath both these names, meaning that the Times still doesn't know who Shortz is.)

Carola 9:48 AM  

Sup-er puzzle. It took me a while to catch on to those STUMBLING BLOCKS (genius idea): I got the idea at the DINER after having ??? over my head at NETH and an OTIC ARTIST. Checking for symmetry, I tried out ERs in the two remaining matching blocks, and that helped me a lot with the bottom half.


Do-overs: trying to fit in Healthful before HYGIENIC, CLEArS x rIckyhenderson (no way), DEPOse.

@Rex, if you could hear my two-year-old granddaughter, you'd change your mind about CHATTER.

Wm. C. 9:58 AM  

Too hard for a Thursday, even though I Sussed to the "er" conceit fairly early-on.

Lots of questionable clue/fill combinations, several cited above.

Overall, a poor choice and/or poor editing by Mr. Shortz, IMO.

Nancy 10:00 AM  

OMG. So I'm reading all of you and I'm not remembering any ERNIE BANKS answer. And that, Dear Reader, is because I don't have an ERNIE BANKS answer. I have CLEArS instead of CLEANS at 22A, preventing me from seeing that 23D is under an ER square. I never finished that answer, nor 44A, which also baffled me. (Who was it who told me last week to always check my grid? Sigh.) So a DNF for me on a puzzle that I could have finished if I'd been paying attention. That doesn't mean, however, that I don't still love the puzzle.

Tita 10:09 AM  

ULTRA-Challenging for me... Liked it lots. Just what the Thursday doctor ordered.
I wish I had spent more time, as I might have completely understood the theme.

The first one I "got" was in the NE. But I had DIve for Greasy spoon, which made me think "VEER" (DI[VE ER]NES is what was going on.
There was way too much that were not gimmes for this to be easy for me.
Didn't know the singer, the Cub, the chanteuse, EWAN, the setting, kept wanting to jam french toast in at 41A...

To master this kind of trick, you need a critical mass of sure things, and I just couldn't muster that.

@jae - agree with you on ULTRAHOT - kept wanting something like reactive or plasmic or fusional.

Thanks Mr. Polin. A real classic.

Nancy 10:11 AM  

OMG -- And now I look closely at Rex and I see that OTICARTIST is EROTIC ARTIST. I got it, but I didn't "get" it. Guess I'm not as smart as I think I am. (Hi, @Lewis.)

Tita 10:21 AM  

@Nancy from yesterday - thanks for the mention of the Jacques P├ępin article. He is my favorite chef. He is completely genuine, and I've always loved his stories.
One that I read in another of his books talked about what life was like during the war, and how they mostly had only the offal to eat at home, but his mother was such a master cook, that they ate very well.
He reminisced about her serving cow lungs, and how difficult it was to avoid an explosion when the air inside would heat up and explode. Rather than be thankful that he no longer has to eat that, he says it remains one of his favorite meals.
Reading this article illustrates how that is a food preference very highly influenced by memory, and makes even more sense now.

I have now added Complete Techniques to my Christmas list.

Mohair Sam 10:27 AM  

Fun Thursday. Nifty theme, something different.

Just like @Nancy we got it at UTTER/AMBER and things filled quickly from there. Slowed badly in the NE and SE so we have to rate this one medium/challenging. @Rex was right in guessing that CIARA would be a tough noun for us, but she rang a bell on the A in the alphabet run. OK with ODOR here, although I read a lot of old books and @quilter1 has a point. More surprised by NETHER for infernal - anybody of Dutch heritage want to file a complaint here?

I worried to Mrs. M that these Personal Data Assistants were getting too far advanced with their artificial intelligence. She was kind enough to update me on modern slang.

For those of you troubling over misspelling HYGIENIC - I was involved in hundreds of loans to dental practices and can tell you that at least 10% of dentists misspell hygienist. The good news is that no hygienist I met misspelled their profession.

ArtO 10:32 AM  

This was really fun to work out. Since Thursday is often a rebus the ER came fairly quickly but didn't recognize it as going both ways for a couple of minutes. Thought the concept quite clever and provided a reasonably tough solve. Enjoyed it!

Z 10:33 AM  

I got half the conceit at (ER)OTIC ARTIST, but I also wanted "war on terror" and briefly thought it would be some sort of stirred up caviar rebus theme. Finally left MEET in and went on. It was quite awhile later before the whole theme fell into place for me. I never checked the crosses at DEPOse until I got the "oh so close" message from the app.

I guess I never understood the "bad ODOR" phrase. I always thought it was more along the lines of, "I don't know him or his reputation but there's something about him that stinks."

The Bush administration and the media made lots of mistakes in the wake of 9/11, but I think our biggest mistake was a collective mental modeling mistake. If we had collectively decided that we were dealing with criminals instead of fighting a war our response would have been very different and, I think, much more effective. A more insightful reading of the situation in that 2002 SOTU speech could have made a huge difference. I would like all politicians to retire the use of the words "war on" as a rhetorical device and for voters to recognize it as bullshit. We are not fighting a war on poverty. We are trying to deal with a moral/economic issue.

Trombone Tom 10:53 AM  

Clever and enjoyable, but went rapidly once the conceit fell. UTT** just had to be UTT(ER). Liked AXISOFEVIL and (ER)OTIC ARTIST. Had to Google PDA meaning as it still means personal digital assistant to me. Don't understand OFL's ????????'s on ODOR as this is plain to me. Thank you Mr. Polin for a pleasant workout.

Chuck McGregor 11:15 AM  

@ Anonymous 12:32 AM "....the contempt Will Shortz et al. have for the average NYT solver."

I don't "win" (by a long shot) every game of whatever sort I play, but I neither blame the creators of said game for my lack of ability to win nor blame the fact that, (as they say in sports) on any given day, a game may be more difficult to win.

I came close to winning this one. At the start I had almost nothing, a handful of words here and there without knowing if they were correct. Some were not. I had ideas about some others but not enough confidence to fill in without crosses. I was thinking this was ridiculous!! No way. Well I finally revealed the letter in square 1. That got me going in NW as it led to confirming some of my not-entered ideas for answers. Some just did not compute ERROL Flynn?? It HAD to be, but 3 letters? Likewise for SLIP_. It HAD to be SLIPPER. OK, rebuses?

I finally started to write in some answers I, at least, had in mind. Some with a cross or two, some not so as to maybe get traction here and there: DINAH, FETE, CHAP, PUPS, TET, EDDIES, PEON, MELBA, CHAP, PEST.

It took a while but finally got the theme. Early on, one totally, self-induced STUMBLING BLOCK was for 21 Down I had RING___D. Well, an M for 36A could be some kind of MARKS for the theme clue, as I had the KS. So RING - MIND. Mmmmm...RING master and master MIND. Both kinda fit the clue, so a missing "master" as a theme somehow?? Eventually I did get the "ER" theme which helped enourmously.

Some other early written in GOOFs that did not all:

14a Esta? Nope.
16a Rogue State? Nope.
11d A__S Ants? Nope.
40d Revs up? Nope
33d Dos? Nope.
39d Arf? Nope

However, there was
67a EWAN McGregor - For what should be obvious reasons, THAT was a complete gimme!

Cheated by revealing ODOR to get something in the SW. Sort of get the answer, but mostly not. As well, no clue what PDA had to do with eliciting "Get a room." Just Googled it and in a list of 31 the the Wiki PDA (disambiguation) page#30 was: public display of affection. Got it, and more....

It could also can mean:
> Patent Ductus Arteriosus: A heart defect. So get a room at a hospital?
> Private Defense Agency: It's private, so get a room.
> Potato Dextrose Agar: A microbiological media for culturing yeast and fungus. ICK!! YUCK!! Get a room for that stuff.
> Population and Community Development Association, Thailand. Population development? Get a room" !!

(If you GRILLed me about it, I could mention some past PDAs that were the elicitors of "Get a room." But I'll not MESS with the details.)

So it started with not gonna happen to getting easier and easier as various aha moments came with more than a couple of why-didn't-I-think-of-that-befores. Eventually, with only three early reveals of letters and revealing ODOR, I got 'er done and liked it a lot!

@ROO MONSTER (yesterday)
I, for one, can't be counted as a "no one clamoring" for your random nonsense finds in the grids. My random word pairing posts were my way of trying to fill that void. I missed yours, so made my own. So there!! :>)

Chuck (most assuredly some distant relative of EWAN) McGregor

cwf 11:16 AM  

Found this one very difficult, even after I got the theme (which was a gimme off of ERNST Blofeld combined with ERROL Flynn). Most likely it's just because I woke up stupid today.

Andrew Heinegg 11:18 AM  

I thought this was a pleasant enough solve but, I got flagged with a dnf in the se. Not knowing Asana was understandable (well, I think it was) but, I live in the Pacific N.W. and have an interest in the local football team, the Seahawks. I do not pay attention to the endless chatter about the social lives of the players. Nevertheless, I have heard Ciara's name because of her association with Russell Wilson, the Seahawks quarterback. Around here, the local sports talk radio folks are heard commenting about just about everything about them. They haven't had sex, their relationship made Wilson get off to a bad start this season, etc., etc. I know nothing about her as a singer and had never seen her name in print. I presumed from the pronunciation that it was 'Sier(r)a. How's that for a lame explanation of my dnf?

Colby 11:32 AM  

The Descendants was set on Kauai, not OAHU. Part of the movie was filmed on OAHU, but much of it was filmed in Hanalei, on Kauai, where the book is set. Seems to be a pretty big error....

Bob Kerfuffle 11:33 AM  

WondERful puzzle; lots of fun!

But it sure had me stumbling until I caught on.

I think there were two problems for me: I started as always on Thursday by trying possible fill mentally, and neither 4 D, SHO, nor 19 A, NETH, made sense as they were; and to me the layout of the grid suggested waves or curves, and I struggled to make things fill by some kind of twists and turns.

Once I caught on, almost too easy.

I get the connection between Infernal and NETHER, but that is an unusual (hellish?)entry!

Numinous 11:42 AM  

At first I wondered if there was a Flynn I hadn't heard of like Ned or something. [ER]ROL crossed my mind but it just wouldn't fit. When I got to Stavro Blofeld, I knew that had to be [ER]NST so I went back up to ROL and wondered if CHATT would end in ER. Then, for a while I wondered if the [ER] bits would turn the corner. Once I figured out the [ER] angle, I felt really obtuse. I had filled in ERIE before I managed [ER]IEPA. Well, it fit but I had to wonder for a while before the "OH" in the clue gave me the PA, At first I was thinking, "Wait, ERIE isn't in Ohio."

Speeling isn't my storngest suite. Didn't get the victory music until I changed CIaRA to CIERA. Wrose, they both are snigers. (Boy that was hard to type. iPad was constantly trying to correct me.)

I was all AT SEA for the longest time but I really enjoy "Tricky Thursday's". I believe the earlier Anon just misses the point. Thursdays are usually a puzzle within a puzzle and thet's just plan fun.

Martel Moopsbane 11:49 AM  

As a nabob of negativism, I really wanted nATT[ER] for 9D, but of course it doesn't fit.

nick 11:49 AM  

I can see the constructor's skill in this one but I'm with the naysayers here. Not much fun, mostly because of the random (and cruddy) quality of the trivia quiz answers. Iepa? Really?

Agree w/@rex on the cute 'pixels' clue and 'axis of evil' was pretty great but my preference for amping up level of difficulty tends to clever wordplay rather than stunts.

old timer 12:14 PM  

Took me a while but I finally got my MOJO running on this one.

Like some of you, I started off writing multiple letters in a white square, rebus style. When that did not seem coherent in the NE. I did the same thing in the SE, and figured out finally that there had to be an "er" in the black square to make erASURE and erNST and UTTer. And like some of you, I had to change "clears" to CLEANS to make room for the great erNIE BANKS. Had "Esta" for ELLA, too, which made room for ELVIS.

I don't think erIE PA is all that bad. It's a real place, and I always did find it strange that Pennsylvania ended up with a port on one of the Great Lakes. There has to be some back story about that -- as you know,the borders of that state are all straight lines, except the eastern border which is the Delaware River. Which gave rise to a great song about Messrs. Mason and Dixon passing the Capes of the Delaware to reach Philadelphia, before setting out on their epochal surveying task.

Roo Monster 12:18 PM  

@Chuck McGregor
I'm HYPEd you like my GOOFs, your UTT(ER)ISMS are GRReat to MOI also! Thanks for taking the RINGLEAD(ER) MOJO, as my STUMBLINGs have SLICED back. This PEONs CHATT(ER) isn't ULTRA HOT all the time! But twixt EWAN I, we'll UNITES and MEET the TEST! Course, might be PESTs in others GRILLs, but we're still in good ODOR!

Oh, and there's an (ER)OTIC ARTIST (ER)ECT, in case you missed it! :-D


Masked and Anonymous 12:19 PM  

Neat theme idea. fave themer: (ER)P UPS, at 1-Across.

@009: Yes. Yes. UMs and UHs!

fave weejects: UTT. SLS.

Didn't know ANNESEXTON darlin, so SE put up a fight, what with (ER)IEPA and ASANA and CIARA, which were also kinda pretty slipperyish, in my knowledge book.

GRReat ELVIS clue.

Masked & Anonymo5Us


Anonymous 1:11 PM  

This constructor must be one of Rex's buddies, because it is truly an atrocity, even though he gives it a thumbs-up. The fill is clumsy and the theme falls into the "so what" category. Crossing "er" answers are inconsistent and when you figure out the added "er" there's nothing interesting about the puzzle. Yuk.

Mohair Sam 1:12 PM  

@Andrew Heinegg - Far and away the best explanation for a dnf I've ever seen. Certainly better than @Nancy's today.

Have to run, gotta hop in my Sierra for an appointment with my OTICARTIST followed by some shopping at Niebanks.

Teedmn 1:21 PM  

Funny how you like what you are successful at (at that which you are successful, okay, okay). I was hating this puzzle - along with the dreary, rainy day outside my window, it was clogging my brain like MELBA toast and making me feel like a FOSSIL. Fighting off the urge to cheat, I grabbed my lunch and when I came back to my desk with my yogurt, the four-way "er" blocks let me see the theme. It filled in quickly after that. I like the revealer, and that "ER" is a common STUMBLING BLOCK of speech. Plus very little dreck.

Great puzzle, Timothy Polin!

Leapfinger 1:35 PM  

Like @OldCarFudd, @Karen Bruce et alii: '... in bad ODOR'

Saw SHO as being weird, NETH as having to represent NETH[ER] but forged ahead till the connectER winked at me at the DIN[ER]NES double-cross, and I was in like [ER]ROL Flynn. The lower two blocks were easy fun, given the foci were single black BLOCKS. Especially appreciated the STUMBLING BLOCKS' invoking the quilting pattern seen in several Victor Vasarely works. Given the ongoing events in the news, there's additional immediacy to remembering one of 'ERBLOCK's Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoons

Off-theme, enjoyed the SLICED SALAMI, and the un FETE ERed OTIC ARTIST, whose FETEish is painting ears (it makes his van go). Also the ERstwhile ULTRAHOT quarTET of DINAH Washington, ELLA FitzgERald, DIXIE CartER and CIARA. @Rex, you were wrong about CIARA: viz to wit, "Buona CIARA, Mrs. Campbell".

Thought this a comparatively excellent puzzle by the Polin8ER; traffic moves better with 4-way stoppER signs at the cornER.
Thank you.

Anonymous 1:41 PM  

Figured out the "er" theme pretty early, so this one was child's play for me. I do feel that the placement of the theme "er" blocks (three on the left side of the grid and only one on the right, no symmetry, etc.) was a bit arbitrary. Nonetheless, enjoyed it fairly well. Also helped that, once I ruled out "war on terror" (how did I get that, you ask? Don't ask- I figured it was some kind of a rebus, I guess) for 16A and got "axis of evil" everything fell into place very quickly. Got "dance," "Dinah," etc., then figured out "neth-ER" and "sho-ER" (a crappy word, I'll admit) and I was pretty much home free.

Alby 2:18 PM  

I too would have liked to see more non-ER utterances in the theme. Don't think I've ever seen/heard ER used outside of print, btw. Liked the jumble of Hs, Ys, Ps and Ss in the NW corner. Repetition of letters threw me off, in a good way. CIARA is best known these days as the girlfriend of Russell Wilson.

ScreamingEagle 2:28 PM  

Hmm, I'm surprised how many people commenting here haven't heard of Ciara... that was one of the easiest clues for me to get in the whole puzzle. Then again, I was a freshman in high school when "1, 2 Step" came out, so maybe it's a generational thing.

James Schalkwyk 3:03 PM  

Fun puzzle but I honestly still can't figure out what (Succession within an ethnic group) AEIOU means. Are vowels an ethnic group?

Hungry Mother 4:06 PM  

Enjoyable DNF for me. I figured out the trick, but missed a couple.

Chuck McGregor 4:07 PM  

@Roo Monster 12:18 PM

Thank you, old CHAP, for the backshout [sic, should be a word...sounds better. "Hey, a backshout to your shoutout."]. Coming from you, I consider it quite the compliment - seriously!!

With due DEPORTment, we indeed shall continue even midst the DIN of HYPEd NETHER CHATTER.

(ER)OTIC ARTIST (ER)ECT: While the words are not fully juxtaposed (my own "hard" [heh heh] rule to constrain the possibilities), a great catch!


Anonymous 4:32 PM  

AEIOU - succession within An EthnIc grOUp is bizzare cluing.

OISK 4:52 PM  

Ugh. DNF for me, ending a two week winning streak. Car models, singers I never heard of, Disney characters I never heard of, were all stumbling blocks. Guessed right on Asana and Ciara instead of Asano and Ciaro. Guessed wrong on Ariel with una. I had Oriel and uno. Shed una furtiva lagrima when I saw the answer. Didn't know that the "ora" uses a feminine form, and never heard of the Disney characters. Bad guess. I liked the theme, but not the fill. Too many unnecessary movie references.

Bah. Humbug!

Face Pepl-er 4:57 PM  

Walked into the dry clean-ERs yesterday and the person on the idiot box was the same person who was on the screen in the same shop the week before. Apparently no STUMBLINGBLOCKS exist for the man who would be PASHA. Why don’t the media just speed things up and have the FETE now, they can RAKE IN just as much cash from a new AXISOFEVIL, a new one every day! Put the GLASSSLIPP-ER on the man with the MOJO, 'cause in Eye of the Sparrow, Mittens already “heard there is not going to be a TEST.” The dude who sent “his people to OAHU” for the birth certificate is soon on his way to prove his SEMITE bona fides for the MEET with that great honorary rep, his friend and ours, “Bibi.” The DIN of the two great minds in a DANCE of ISMs hasn’t been heard in AGES, huh, ARIEL? Paris in the 20’s and the King David Hotel, anyone?

Tom Rowe 5:01 PM  

I agree with anonymous. One of the hardest puzzles I have ever done on NYT. Hence, not enjoyable for me.

Unknown 5:11 PM  

I got AEIOU but didn't understand clue. Anyone care to explain?

Suzy 5:26 PM  

Tough puzzle! Could someone please explain 33D, una for early afternoon ora? I seem to be dense today!

Suzy 5:32 PM  

Never mind-- just figured it out-- REALLY don't like that clue!!

DCP 5:54 PM  

First saw ODOR clued as "Reputation" about 50 years ago. Not a fan then, not a fan now, but at least now it's a gimme.

Nancy 5:58 PM  

@Mohair -- You didn't like my DNF explanation today? BUMM! And it was even worse than you think. I didn't have NIEBANKS. I had RIEBANKS. (CLEAr instead of CLEAN.) But remember that I haven't watched baseball since...well, since ERNIE BANKS played. So there COULD have been a Hall-of-Famer Cub named RIEBANKS that I never heard of, right? (No, I didn't really think so, either, @Mohair.)

Chris 6:01 PM  

Anyone notice that RON SANTO could easily have seemed an obvious fit where [ER]NIE BANKS wound up being correct? The N in CLEANS could have been the R in CLEARS to begin RON, and the names share AN-- at the end.

Colby 7:26 PM  

Again, can't believe that OAHU was clued as the setting for The Descendants.

I guess you could make the argument that, since a minority of the film is set in Honolulu, a setting of the movie is technically OAHU. But that's like clueing "Where the Yankees play" and Fenway Park technically being correct.

Way to shortchange Kauai.

Rex Parker 7:29 PM  

The phrase "an ethnic group" features AEIOU in order.


Anonymous 7:39 PM  

Whoa! Okay. Thanks, Rex.

kitshef 8:59 PM  

A DNF for me thanks to the NE. I had HaGIENIC/AlES crossing HalE. I could not figure out for the life of me how HalE was 'build up', and expected to find out coming here. Don't know salubrious, but it sounded like it could have something to do with saints, and I know hagiography, so HaGIENIC seemed plausible, and I don't know Pithecological, so AlES seemed as good as APES.

In retrospect, I should have though of pithecanthropus, which would have steered me towards APES. Then I would have known HaPE couldn't be right, and might, probably would, have worked from there to HYPE/HYGIENIC. But that's candy and nuts.

As an aside, I hated the theme. I was convinced I just didn't get it and that @Rex would explain what I missed. It turns out, I did get it but it's just that pathetic.

Which is a shame, because I liked the rest of the puzzle (except for ULTRAHOT and GRR).

phil phil 9:03 PM  

Unlike rex bad fill isn't as offensive to me as i rate puzzles as good when fair crosses yield unfair or tough ones. Like PB's puzzles. And i think, like this one. I enjoyed it

My proud moment of getting PIETA corrected my unknown PDA.

I used oDA for 'get a room'. Kind of works in some jumbled thinking.

Still Your #1 Fan 9:37 PM  

Who's Russell Wilson?

@Numi, I jest loved your spieling ERrors! (My spellcheck has given up, is seating in corner sucking on thumb-thing

kithshef 8:42 AM  

@Still Your #1 Fan - Russell Wilson is the starting quarterback of the Seattle Seahawks, an NFL team.

Aaron Riccio 11:32 AM  

Those who hated this puzzle will definitely hate Andrew Ries's from the 10/15/15 BuzzFeed (

Burma Shave 10:09 AM  


Did the EROTICARTIST GOOF and make a MESS or not?
For AGES, ‘TILNOW, her PIETAS seemed cold as a glacier,
but her model’s ERECT NETHER regions were so ULTRAHOT,
so this TEST, and her STUMBLINGBLOCKS, led to an ERASURE.


rondo 11:49 AM  

ER, I don’t know exactly what to make of this puz. It must be tough to build those ERs coming and going from all directions. Kind of stumbled into the gimmick at UTTER, then it became easier to get the othERs.

Potential for lotsa yeah babies today. Years ago I dated a MELBA, a DIXIE, and an AMBER; yeah babies in those times, but 2/3 have not aged well at all. ELLA next to DINAH – both could have been clued as fantastic singers, as well as PIETA Brown. ANNESEXTON, while not ULTRAHOT, was a pretty good looker. Yeah baby Alyssa Milano was the model for ARIEL.

I have toured ELVIS’ Graceland, and still use an ELVIS key ring. ELVIS did record on the RCA label.

Saw the band ERASURE a few years back at the missus’ request. Recognized a few tunes. Too many PDAs for me by some of the fellows in the audience.

Those STUMBLINGBLOCKS were just that for a while. For rebus day this was, ER . . . OK.

spacecraft 12:29 PM  

Like @Sir Hilary, I knew Blofeld's name with committable certainty, so the rebus game was afoot. The first HOF Cubbie I could think of (OK, the ONLY one!) was Good ol' "Let's play two" ERNIEBANKS, and I was just barely awake enough to notice that if you chopped the ERs off both these answers they would fit. Later I saw that the ER emanated in all four directions from each of four STUMBLINGBLOCKS. But come on, is "EROTICARTIST" a real thing? I mean, you could certainly call some artists erotic, but this sounds like an established TERM. "Oh yes, he was one of the EROTICARTISTs." Um, I don't think so. This to me is a serious defect, but considering the restrictions of a dense--and very clever!--theme, allowancees have to be made.

None, however have to be made for the clue "Reputation" for ODOR. Sorry, that one's too far out. I flag it for obscurity. It is so not necessary. Still, the fill is pretty good considering.

Theme: A; execution: B; fill: B. Medium-challenging. Overall: B+.

Longbeachlee 12:50 PM  

Everyone, myself included was happy with erotic artist, probably due to the satisfaction of figuring out the gimmick. On second thought though, I think it is very contrived. Who, pray tell, is known as an erotic artist. Perhaps porn star would have been a better clue?

Diana,LIW 3:15 PM  

Yesterday I was "off line" most of the day while a repair person was here and I was comforting our cats (who were enclosed in a room, much to their disgust. Muttering ensued.)

So I came here today rarin' for a fun Thursday. Got some answers quickly, and told myself "you WILL finish!" Got the ER gimmick quickly, too, but not the fact that it wasn't just four instances, but 4 4-way ERs. By the time I caught on to that I had given up and fallen badly into DNF (cheating) land. My own fault for not following the #1 rule I've learned here - take a walk, be patient, stare a little more and you will get another toehold. So, yes, my fault. Not the constructor's. Not the editor's. Not my husband ;-) , or the cat, or even the repair person was at fault.

Puzzle - A Diana - D (hey, I did get some of it...

Diana, Lady-in-Waiting for Crosswords

leftcoastTAM 3:49 PM  

I liked this one a lot.

Took a while to get the rebus trick, which first showed itself at the GLASSSLIPPER/ERIEPA/RINGLEADER/ERECT cross.

Then it was a matter of finding the others, which wasn't hard because there had to be four intersecting ER words.

The AEIOU fill was a bit hard to see; it and its crosses helped reveal each other.

The most writeovers were in the SE corner.

The theme answer brought a chuckle.

Did I say I liked this one a lot?

Cathy 10:17 PM  

Yikes! Fell flat on my face with this puzzle. Even with figuring out the 'ER' and googling, I gave up. STUMBLING BLOCKS was thumb li tab locks?! And had Jenny (Jennay) stuck in my head for FORREST GUMPS singer friend. I'm all shook up.

Anonymous 1:33 PM  

What a bizarre experience this puzzle was! I gnashed teeth for an hour before the light finally dawned. But once I understood the gimmick, it took only ten minutes to complete the grid. And, yeah, I have a gripe with the clues for NETHER and AEIOU, but those, and some unknown trivia like CIARA, were all easy to get from the crosses.

And it was worth coming here just for the Suzi Q video. I would not have thought RP was of an age to remember our Dee-troit girl rocker. I remember a story Suzi told, years ago, of how she had at long last convinced her mother to come see her perform. After the show, Mom's comment was, "It was very nice, Dear, but do you have to stand with your legs so far apart?"

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