Mandrake the Magician's sidekick / THU 2-18-16 / Land of ancient Ephesus / Rarest of 50 state birds / Devastating namein 2005 news

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Constructor: Bruce Haight

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: "I"s — Black squares form two large "I"s, which act as the letter "I" in the Across answers that run into them and extend away from them.

Word of the Day: LOTHAR (47D: Mandrake the Magician's sidekick) —
Mandrake the Magician is a syndicated newspaper comic strip, created by Lee Falk (before he created The Phantom). Mandrake began publication on June 11, 1934. Phil Davis soon took over as the strip's illustrator, while Falk continued to script. The strip is distributed by King Features Syndicate. [...] Lothar is Mandrake's best friend and crimefighting companion. Mandrake first met Lothar during his travels in Africa. Lothar was "Prince of the Seven Nations", a mighty federation of jungle tribes; but forbore to become king and instead followed Mandrake on his world travels. Lothar is often referred to as "the strongest man in the world", with the exception of Hojo — Mandrake's chef and secret chief of Inter Intel. Lothar is invulnerable to any weapon forged by man, impervious to heat, cold and possesses the stamina of a thousand men. He also cannot be harmed by magic directly (fire bolts, force bolts, spell incantations). He can lift an elephant by one hand easily. // One of the first African crimefighting heroes ever to appear in comics, Lothar made his first appearance alongside Mandrake in 1934 in the inaugural daily strip. In the beginning, Lothar spoke poor English and wore a fez, short pants, and a leopard skin. In a 1935 work by King Features Syndicate, Lothar is referred to as Mandrake's "giant black slave." When artist Fred Fredericks took over in 1965, Lothar spoke correct English and his clothing changed, although he often wore shirts with leopard-skin patterns. (wikipedia)
• • •

An old gimmick, and one that was very easy to pick up. I've seen this done with other letters ... I seem to recall a Sunday-sized puzzle with a giant "H" in it. I'm sure the black-squares-as-letters thing has been done many other ways as well. Is there a phrase or concept or anything that is being illustrated here? The "I"s have it? Seeing "I" to "I"?  Once you pick up the gimmick, then it's just a matter of solving the puzzle as if it were a themeless, with the letter "I" provided for you a hell of a bunch of times. That's it. Seems a bit cheap to use the "I"s as first-person pronouns twice. As for the fill, it's pretty gunky, though perhaps not as bad as I'd expected. I don't understand why (some) constructors don't take the time to learn to polish their grids, but the bigger mystery is why the substandardly filled puzzles keep getting accepted and run without the "fixing" they need. There was "fixing" in the cluing, of course. There always is (see the MAZ clue, for instance—no way that's the constructor's, for a host of reasons) (9D: ___ Kanata, "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" character) (original clue was probably something like [1960 Pirates World Series hero, familiarly]). But -ICAL and -ENCE in the same grid? That's criminal (actually, either one of those suffixes on its own is pretty bad). ERST TOG CRU? WHO'S EFTS? SRI EEO? On and on. The central crossing wants to pass itself off as winky and self-referential, as opposed to just two more tired bits of fill. Sure, why not? Knock yourself out. But overall this puzzle has a general concept with no specific sense of purpose (i.e. it's just "I"s ... just ... 'cause), and the fill is a problem.

[ridiculously good]

I didn't have much trouble with this one, though I did have to work a little due to a few mistakes, most notably TO-DO for TOUT (14D: Ballyhoo) and IODIZING for IONIZING (17A: Like some radiation). I don't think repetition of little words matters much, but three ITs, two of them on top of one another (IN ITSELF, IGNORE IT), seems a little much. Kate BEATON is a wonderful, popular comics artist—she has been all over the NYT "Graphic Books" bestseller list for her collections "Hark, A Vagrant" and "Step Aside, Pops" (with both books reaching #1). Her work is amazing and I have at least two t-shirts and one refrigerator magnet designed by her and you should definitely check out her smart and hilarious comic-strip takes on literature and history. Like, now. This is all to say that seeing BEAT ON clued as 49D: Pummel was very, very disappointing.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


jae 12:09 AM  

Pretty easy for a Thurs. Ben Tausig's AV Club 2.5 out of 5 was much tougher than this one (I did not know who Kim Kardashian made a sex tape with and after getting the answer through the crosses I still don't). I knew ADELPHI and, once I realized that LITERATI had neither two Ts nor two Rs, I had the theme.

The only erasure was BEAT up before ON.

Interesting grid but not enough crunch for a Thurs.

Anonymous 12:14 AM  

A fairly forgettable effort. Nothing put up too much of a struggle. The trick was quick to figure out and made the puzzle play very easy. Would prefer more out of a Thursday but there wasn't anything too offensive to get worked up about. Meh.

Trombone Tom 12:18 AM  

@Rex nailed it. I got the theme early on and it just didn't seem like a big payoff.

Thank you ever so much for including Anita O'Day's version of Those Eyes. I could listen endlessly to Oscar Peterson. Brings back great memories of playing and listening to others play jazz back in the 50's.

Bruce Haight 12:34 AM  

"An old gimmick" - I don't think so Rex. There have been a number of puzzles with letters or numbers in them, and some where all the clues started with the illustrated letter, but I challenge you to find another puzzle in any publication where a grid letter is part of any puzzle words.

chefwen 1:41 AM  

Other than the shout-out to my little avatar at 15D this was pretty un exciting. With the theme smacking you right in the face it was almost too easy, I like a little more trickery in my Thursday puzzles. Two write overs EEO over EOE (always have to fix that one) and TOUT over TOOT. Thank you MAUI and NENE.

Looking forward to Friday and I don't often say that.

phil phil 4:01 AM  

IREBUSSED the 'I's so dnf as the happy pencil didn't appear.

Loren Muse Smith 4:12 AM  

Rex – I appreciate your thoughts on some kind of concept being illustrated here. I'll suggest "side eye" - what I kept giving those two black crosses, thinking they might be part of the trickery, too.

I agree that once you see the trick, it solves pretty quickly. I got it early on with SAMURAI and OPERANDI because the I's in the middle were such a huge hint.

Really liked ID BADGE, ICE MAKER, and HOT CHILI.

That LOTHAR/TROI cross could be tough, but even this non Trekkie kind of knows TROI. Still. "C" could've worked there in a blind stab.

Hey, @chefwen – Hawaiian islands have become quite the grid darlings of late, right?

GNITES looks like a viable word. Like a swarm of itty bitty little gnats. LITE RAT looks funny, too. Like what a wolf who's counting calories would seek out. Alas, I'll just have the broiled LITE RAT and an order of braised EFTS – GNITE sauce on the side, please.

Bruce, nice little Thursday romp. I always like puzzles that use the black squares, so I'll go stand over in Rex's "the I's have it" group!

Chuck McGregor 5:06 AM  

A couple of days ago, I was going through some box of “stuff,” long overdue to be sorted through (a sort of POEM that last phrase). I came across a picture of my great uncle who, many years ago taught at ADELPHI, So I typed that right in....until I ran out of squares. Not yet seeing the two “trees” in the forest, I cleared that and moved on.

ICE tray worked well for a NE start but, with that in, got nothing else there right away.

Looked at the center getting the OHO/AHA cross. OH OH, I sense someone was out to “get” me (that would be that SIR, Mr. Haight);

Wandering to the SW, 61a / 65a / 67a HAD to be what they were so I wrote them in, missing end letter and all, thinking Thursday rebus or what else is going on? Hmmm, all missing the “I,” Leans back idly staring at the overall puzzle to ponder this new found bit of information....Need I go on except to say I said OHO!! Then AHA!!

From there a fairly easy Thursday for me and what I thought was a fun solve. Then again, it’s always fun when I’m able to solve one!

Now, I finally did have to do a reveal for square 38, but got the rest. Just ‘cause I didn’t even know Will Smith had a son and a study of martial arts ranks hasn’t made any of my To Do lists for some reason, I am not going to give myself a DNF. (Not sure if those preceding negatives all work out right, but you get the idea.)

Wow! Do ya think GOTTI could ever say, ” I LIED?”

PONTIONIA and TROIOTA. Aren’t they a couple more of those little countries no one has ever heard of (cf. ANDORRA)?

MAUICAL Jolt Cola (”All the calories and twice the caffeine”), Hawaiian style.

OPER AND GNOREIT -- A kazoo-playing, "a due” vaudeville act in the 1920s, completely unmemorable for some odd reason.

ADELPHI ITEM ONE – See first paragraph in this post.

SAMAURI IGNITES – That just can’t be good!

One of my nephews is JAMES. Theoretically, if were JAMES II*, a future son might be JAMES III.

HOT CHILI IN ITSELF – Common name for the rare Capsicum Narcissum pepper, prized in cooking for its self-absorbing qualities.
n.b. the use of ITALICS*

* (All I got for the 27a / 28a combo)

LITE RATICE MAKER – Machine for lo-cal, Portuguese sausage, always a favorite on the MENU.

“AND SO, DO IONIZING if you must. I prefer to do tasing, but that’s just me.”

ALAS, all this being TOLD, I should be IN BED. ERGO, this ERSTwhile KNAVE has PLANS to SO DO AND SO DO I SEGUE ON BEAT FEET to my usual short, not LONG:


Glimmerglass 5:54 AM  

Disappointing review. "It's been done" might be a passing comment, not a discovery of a major flaw. The weak criticism of the theme is supported by petty gripes. Not a fair commentary on a clever puzzle. (I have no connection to the constructor.)

smalltowndoc 6:27 AM  

I was hoping that 34D, 35D and 36D were fragments of three consecutive 5 letter words starting and ending with "I". That would have been neat. But, ALAS, that's asking too much, "I" guess.

John V 7:07 AM  

This was the final puzzle at Westport, Saturday a week ago. Glen Ryan turned in a stunning 5:48 at the whiteboard to take first prize. The Is just leaped of the grid. Nice pic.

Congrats. Bruce on the double header today, NYT, LAT.

Anonymous 7:47 AM  

Come on guys: this was a fun puzzle. A little easy for a Thursday, but amusing with some interesting definitions. So what if we've seen "nene" before: who knew it was the rarest of the state birds? This blog begins to sound like a meeting of grumpy retirees saying that the world has gone to hell.

cwf 8:00 AM  

Kate BEATON and Anita O'Day in one post? Thanks, @Rex! This puzzle was horrible. And in what world was England's last Catholic king not Henry VIII? He had to be Catholic as a prerequisite to severing ties with Rome, no?

Lewis 8:05 AM  

Once the coin dropped, this was an easy solve, with only the NE giving me crunch (I didn't know EMILIA or MAZ). But I loved the theme idea and I thought it was worth the fill compromises. I liked the backward GOT crossing GOTT, and the BIG east, plus the clues for FEET and ITALICS. I thought the AND in ANDSODOI was superfluous but not egregious. Any puzzle that gives me a satisfying AHA/OHO and a decent execution is a joy in my book. So thank you for that good feeling and experience, Bruce!

chefbea 8:16 AM  

Saw the I's immediately and knew what was happening. DNF...too much I didn't know
@smalltowndoc..I'm with you...wanted the three in the middle to start and end with I

GILL I. 8:16 AM  

I wanted PONT(I) in a bad way but I hadn't yet figured out the I yet. I got it at GOTT(I)....I almost wish I COCO IN OVILONGI were a title to a book or something.
I liked the HOT CHILI IN ITSELF and SAMURAI IGNITES little corner at the bottom. The puzzle was just fine for me. I always brace myself on Thursday and cross my fingers hoping I can figure out the little Modus OPERENDI our constructor is feeding us. About the only thing I didn't really care for was the AHA and OHO. I still liked trying to pen an "I" in each little black square though.
I always thought TOUT meant "praise."
Ballyhoo, JAMES... you KNAVE.

DeeJay 8:23 AM  

Oh, aren't we just too too with it, Rex? Come on, it's a frigging puzzle, and the point is to solve it. Given the drop dead visual clues--capital I's and Plus signs--this should have been ridiculously easy for advanced solvers. And, according to Rex, this has been done numerous times before.

So, why the medium? What in this puzzle wasn't dead easy for advanced solvers?

And I'm so impressed that Rex has refrigerator magnets illustrated by Ms. Beaton, whose books are so popular they have reached #1, albeit in a category established, like many others, only so the NY Times can boost its ad revenue.

I digress, but my point is thank you, Rex, but.

r.alphbunker 8:26 AM  

I agree with @Glimmerglass. I see the +s in the grid not the -s.

Cassieopia 8:33 AM  

Thank you for OPER AND GNOREIT - made me laugh! :)

Tita 8:38 AM  

So here's my Westport Thursday!
When we walked back into the room after completing our third puzzle, we saw the three easels with this grid hand-drawn onto the whiteboards. While the scorers scored off-stage, and Will regaled us with q and a and puzzles, we had plenty of time to realize that the I's were a thing.

Anyhow, I liked this puzzle, despite the DNF at JAtEN/tAN. The clue for EFT is cute. And I really got a kick out of AHA/OHO!
I did not like ITEMONE...way too arbitrary.
I got the trick at LITERAT.

@Chick McG...pls splain the Portuguese sausage reference...

Thank you Mr. Haight!

Z 8:41 AM  

For those of you keeping track, this is one of Rex's nicer Haight reviews.

I wouldn't disagree with Rex about the thinness of the theme, but I like the visual and I do feel as though figuring out why nothing fits will be a good puzzle for many. It wasn't until ID BADGE that the Oh So obvious "I's" clicked into view for me, ERGO things went much quicker.

Nevertheless, I do have some complaints. I'm not at all sure MAZ Kanata is crossworthy. Current, yes. But I saw the movie, knew immediately which character was being referenced, and still needed all the crosses. TOUT from "Ballyhoo?" Bah! JAMES II? I guess I could be glad there's only I RRN. I'm not. WTF is Carlo PONTI? LOTHAR? Rimsky-Korsakov (I just translated the clue to "random Slavic first name")? Everything is fairly crossed except maybe that LOTHAR/OPERANDI spot, but this seemed unnecessarily obtuse for a Thursday to me. Of course, I might just be upset that I conflated Bianca, EMILIA, and Beatrice so took much longer than I should have in the NE.

I also think an opportunity was missed at 11D, "Rarest of the 50 state birds, except in crossword puzzles.

Z 8:54 AM  

PPP Analysis*

Rihanna Clue
Grapes of Wrath Clue
MINSK (completing the PPP Quintuple in that section)
ELIE Wiesel

That's 23 of 76, 30%

Pop Culture, Proper Names and Products

Tita 8:54 AM comment of the year!
And a reminder that I was really trying hard to work those +'s and -'s into the theme. (Side-eye lookin' at you, @lms)

And btw, re: a day or two ago...I did the asymmetrical runtpuz, and it was great. Symmetry adds absolutely no value to the solving experience, and in fact, being able to create a grid without it might even improve fill quality.
So why is it such a deeply embedded requirement?
(Please...spare me the "slippery-slope" arguments")

h_lina_k 9:02 AM  

PONTI was brutal, because I had no clue who he was and HADA[S]IP is also a legitimate answer going down.

Bob Kerfuffle 9:09 AM  

What did the poetically inclined sailor who was studying German say upon spotting an egg?

"Aye, I eye 'Ei'."

No puzzle for me today since this was #4 at Westport 2/6/16.

Hartley70 9:12 AM  

@chefwen, your pooch made it in today as well as a family member of mine. It's that personal touch that makes a puzzle "special", isn't it?

On behalf of Katrinas everywhere, it might be time for The National Weather Service to cease identifying hurricanes by first names. What's wrong with numbers? I mean 7 isn't apt to mind if for the next 16 years new acqaintances make a sad weather comment upon being introduced to her. And imagine the plight of the unfortunate Katrinas who live in Louisiana and the Gulf coast rather than New England. Time for those girls to move. Heaven forbid, the next massively destructive apocalypse could be named after you!

Otherwise, I enjoyed this puzzle. I didn't see the theme until I reached OPERANDI and then I had to scurry back up and change CWPost to ADELPHI. I thought JADON was JAyDON. DAN is a huh? All the i answers were reasonably sussable. I also was hoping to find some meaning in the black crosses, but that absence didn't hurt my enjoyment very much. This was a nice change for a Thursday puzzle.

Sir Hillary 9:15 AM  

This was fun. Even with the big pair of Is staring at me, I didn't notice them at first. Figured it was a rebus of some sort when neither Hofstra nor Adelphi fit at 1A. But I was getting nowhere, so I started again at the bottom, and SAMURA(I) finally awakened me to what was going on.

-- The left-side themers. Words ending in I are cool. Naturally, Latin abounds.
-- Clue for (I)TALICS. Gets me every time.
-- Clue for PLANS. Has a wryness to it that is rare in the NYT.
-- Row 11 mash-up: GOTTILIED. Ya think?
-- My HADAsIP/HADANIP writeover. Another for the Schrodinger archive.

Didn't like:
-- (I)CAL. Terrible in any puzzle, worse here as a themer.
-- Now I have to have seen Star Wars: The Force Awakens to get short junk?

Absolutely loved:
-- The constructor coming here to call out OFL on his as-yet-unsubstantiated criticisms.

Jennifer Freeman 9:27 AM  

James I was in the sandwich order following Elizabeth (Henry's daughter) and the son of famously Catholic Mary Queen of Scots.

OxfordBleu 9:27 AM  

I loved this puzzle. @Rex, I wonder why you even bother doing the puzzles if they are universally so tedious to you. "Grumpy retirees" (@Anonymous) seems to be the theme of this blog. Hardly a glowing recommendation to get a younger generation into crosswords. Maybe at some point Will will retire and the NYT crossword will die, and then you'll have to moan about something else instead.

@cwf JAMES II (1685-1688) was significantly after Henry VIII (1509-1547). Henry founded the Church of England, Mary returned the country to Catholicism, Elizabeth I back to Anglican. Fast forward to the restoration of the monarchy where James II reigned as a Catholic king, the last one.

Nancy 9:32 AM  

I got the theme immediately. There was no room for ADELPHI and there was no room for LITERATI, but which letter was to be dropped? AND THEN I SAW THE BIG "I". I am putting this accomplishment in full caps, because my main puzzle weakness has always been seeing spatial patterns. But I saw this "I" (and the other one too) from the 10th second on. And from then on, a puzzle that might have been challenging became much easier than most Thursdays. Still, I liked the trick.

I could have done without JADEN and without EMILIA and MAZ cheek by jowl, and without LOTHAR crossing TROI, but other than that I enjoyed it.

Nancy 9:37 AM  

@Z (8:41) -- Your 11D comment (Last sentence) -- Nice one!

Bruce Haight 9:48 AM  

I did get a kick out of Rex's comment that MAZ was certainly not clued by me. That was exactly correct, and my submitted clue was almost exactly what he said- about Bill Mazeroski, who I remember from childhood. I imagine Joel decided to go with something a little more current....

Carola 10:05 AM  

Starting out, I was blind to the grid's I's, so the Acrosses in the top half were ? ? ?: nothing would fit, even with a few weak stabs at rebus squares. Following my OHO/AHA moment, though, the grid practically wrote in itself, leaving me a little disappointed at an over-too-soon Thursday. But I thought the theme was really nicely done. Post-solve, NIT SELF stood out for me (I tend to pick them).

@Gill I (re: PONTI and GOTTI): Esattemente, anch'io.

@Z (re: MAZ): AHA! But did you see the movie twice?

David 10:05 AM  

My main technical gripe is that HADAsIP seems just as good an answer as HADANIP for 6-down, and the letter where it crosses comes off as a Natick to me. I certainly don't think Carlo PONTI is so well-known or ubiquitous that PONTI should clearly be inferred over POsTI.

Overall, I enjoyed the puzzle. A couple iffy spots, and the theme did necessitate some repetition in the fill, but that didn't really bother me during the solve, due to the extra element---having the repetitive I's in the fill come from the large black letters rather than standard white squares 1) made it feel like a valid conceit rather than a problem and 2) had me noticing it far fewer, possibly because extra effort was going in to factoring in the special letter. For example, ICAL isn't great fill, but it's really *I*CAL, and the answer looks like just CAL in the grid, so it doesn't grate. I've seen black squares spell out letters for the theme before, but, yeah, I don't know whether they've ever actually been used as letters in the fill. Either way, realizing the theme and solving it was enjoyable.

Maynard G. Krebs 10:11 AM  

Oh to be as hip as OFL.

jberg 10:24 AM  

I've got to learn to look at the grid before I start. I didn't, and didn't notice the big Is until I got way down to OPERANDI. Since the last Catholic King was definitely JAMES II (@cwf, about a century later than Henry VIII) I was trying all sorts of rebus. When I got to "any letter plus I" I finally noticed them. Doh!

So that was a fun AHA/OHO moment, making me like this one a lot. The rest of you are just too smart!

Mohair Sam 10:26 AM  

So in the interest of saving the earth (and just maybe of saving a ton of money on toner) we print the puzzle with very light gray squares where you on-line and newspaper solvers see black. Hence the "I" structures simply did not jump out at us and we solved this thing as a very confusing themeless with random missing I's. Brutal.

Would have dnf'd but I won the argument here about Will Smith's son. JAlEN is a basketball player named Rose, I insisted.

@Z - Laughter here on your "rare" state bird comment. There's the occasional TIT - but NENE's abound in cruciverbia.

George Barany 10:42 AM  

I never come away from this blog without learning something. Thanks, @Rex, for the tip on BEATON.

Agree with many that the "+I" gimmick, while easily discerned, has not been done this way before, at least not in recent memory. Thanks, @Bruce Haight, for weighing in.

Another semi-regular contributor to this blog celebrates a birthday today -- find out who by clicking here.

And I will cop to having seen a NENE.

Anonymous 10:46 AM  

One of the answers does not actually fit the theme. The food one usually eats on a dare (61A) is a hot chile. Hot chili would be the stew.

OISK 10:48 AM  

Just as I can almost always be counted upon to agree with @ Nancy, I generally (respectfully ) disagree with @z. Rimsky-Korsakov is a pretty well known composer, and Carlo Ponti is a very famous person to my generation. MAZ is a mystery to me as well, but no more so than any song by Rihanna. What matters is that the occasional obscurities are discernible from the crosses, as they were here. ( hardest for me was Jaden with Dan). What also matters is that there was no overreliance on any one genre or time frame.

Compare this lovely puzzle with last week's Badu mess. I solved it, but it combined a jazz trombonist's nickname, with an obscurely clued city, with the "u" of Badu. Kabul occurred to me, or I would have been among the legions of DNF that day.

Last Sunday, when I saw the title I cringed, fearing another Beatle fest. But it was just a "Lovesong" fest, and although I did not know many of the songs, when pop culture is an essential part of the theme, I. never object to it. I don't like it, of course, but that is no reflection on the quality of the puzzle.

Nice, though easy, Thursday today!

Arlene 11:02 AM  

This was a beautiful puzzle to solve - and totally enjoyable. Once I got the theme (my AHA moment - suspicious at ALELPHi), it was a novel crossword experience, definitely something to savor.

Berselius 11:07 AM  

Completed the fill in near record time for a Thursday, but a DNF due to HADAsIP/POsT. Ah well.

Elephant's Child 11:12 AM  

@smalltowndoc, "I" think you may be onto something there.

ILONI can be a pet-name in Budapest, IAHAI might mean something in MAUI and INOVI sounds downright possible in MINSK.

Da Bears 11:14 AM  

As @Z noted, this might be one of Rex’s nicer reviews of the constructor’s puzzles. Below is a sample of my favorite lines from recent reviews of his puzzles:

A Christmas miracle—this was pretty good. I can't say I *enjoyed* it, exactly, and the whole [...] style of cluing is always a little irksome, particularly on a Monday.


I have never liked this constructor's puzzles, so I was braced for wincing, but the wincing actually didn't come. The fill is ordinary, old-fashioned, but nothing here made me go "Oh god no." I consider this progress.


This is mind-hurtingly, befuddlingly, impossibly below what should be NYT standards.


Fascinating! ... is something I didn't say upon figuring out the theme. I don't get how this even qualifies as a theme.


This isn't just bad, it's comically bad. It's like someone set out to write a bad puzzle. It's like a parody of a bad puzzle. In fact … is it a parody? … [checking] … I don't see parody. I just see atrocity.

Gregory Schmidt 11:40 AM  

Had never heard of Carlo PONTI, and HADASIP seemed a reasonable way to "Sample the sauce", especially if "sauce" is referring to booze, so that gave me Caro POSTI (seemed possible). That led to me having to scour the grid for an error. It's always in a proper name, it seems.

Masked and Anonymous 11:43 AM  

Yep! @009 is correct and on-the-nose, themer-wise. This gimmick has been attempted by semi-human constructioneer hands, before. Co-roboratin evidence:

And in the NYTPuz, in a fledglin-sorta way, here:

21 Jan 2015 puz

Coulda swore Jeff Chen did something like this, too … but the M&A is evidently wrong there, memory bank breath.

BUT… It's a great gimmick. Use it! Don't yah 'GNORE IT. PLUS… The Brucemeister takes the whole rodeo to an even higher chute, what with the I+ and +I black square symbols, smiling back at us all.

Kinda liked the runtpuz choice of vowels better, but yer mileage might vary. (yo, @CrosswordFiend)

3 of the lil darlins, today.

'Twas a fun lil puz. Thanx, BH.

Masked & Anonymo3Us

p.s. LITE RAT. har. (yo, @muse)

MetroGnome 11:43 AM  

Absolutely, CWF! Henry was the last Catholic king, even if he didn't remain that way. The clue was misleading/wrong (not mere misdirection). It should have read, "England's last king who was Catholic throughout his reign."

Teedmn 11:45 AM  

This played hard for me - nearly 20 minutes, possibly due to the trifecta of altitude sickness, solving in AcrossLite and wearing my non-reading glasses. The latter certainly led to my wondering why anyone would be eating a HOT CHILI on a date or what animated movie "Lola's cub" appeared in. And I blame the former for looking at the grid and thinking 'barbells'. I considered there might have been a JAMES V that I had missed in my History of England high school course when II was too long

But I got the gimmick at GOTTI and that was all it took. Some crosswordese but I enjoyed this new offering from Bruce Haight.

Anonymous 11:46 AM  

Lothar and The Hand People: Psych/space rock/country band from the late 1960s, doing their song "Space Hymn."

"Lothar" referred to their theremin (the eerie electronic instrument, first invented and used in the 1930s, heard on The Beach Boys' "Good Vibrations").

Wileyfex 11:51 AM  

Thanks, Anon. High time someone called out the grumps.

AliasZ 11:55 AM  

A perfect puzzle for the grideratI.

One way to make the theme a little more elegant would have been to have no word starting or ending in I anywhere in the grid. One over-sized pair of I's was enough, you couldn't IGNORE IT. Only three of these occurred: ATARI, IN BED and SRI. It seems to me, it would have taken little effort to eliminate them.

Otherwise I found the theme cute and easy to figure. I'm ashamed to say that I caught on at NIKOLAI Rimsky-Korsakov. "Aha!" I said, "this is why nothing at the top fits." That's right, I said that.

If one drew a pair of glasses over today's grid, would it be un-PC to call it four-I's?

The IsraelI IlluminatI, composer Ion IvanovicI (1845-1902), architect I.M.PeI, pianist Ignacy Jan PaderewskI (1860-1941), composer Marc'Antonio IngegnerI (1536-1592), painter Camillo InnocentI (1871–1961) and the IraqI have one thing in common: they aren't all IlliteratI, nor ItalianI.

Let's sample some IngegnerI.

Enjoy your Thursday!

SmartJanitor 12:11 PM  

You had something positive to say (about Kate Beaton) today. What a nice change.

How were you able to tell that the clue for MAZ was changed/edited by Will? You say there are a "host of reasons" but I'm curious; none of those reasons was apparent to me.

Roo Monster 12:40 PM  

Hey All !
"I" got it. Get it? :-)
Figured it out at OPERAND(I), wanted to rebus the DI, but TOLD was working, so started thinking, "TOLD I?",because I wanted I LIED for 52A, rebusing the IL. Which got me thinking, "Maybe they're all I-something?" But then saw HOT CHIL(I), and finally the AHA moment. That was alot of thinking for the ole brain.

Put me in the pack who thought the +'s were part of it after getting the "I". Pretty funky grid. 46 black squares, pretty high. But neat nonetheless. This is an example of super-symmetry, BTW.

The center AHA OHO cross was cool. Naturally, had AHA in the Across first... Other writeovers, Rex's TOdo-TOUT, imING-CCING, EDITors-EDITING, and putting EFTS in the wrong spot!

Overall, liked this one. Tricksy enough IMHO for a ThursPuz. Shouldn't 53A have Abbr. in the clue?

OPERA ND- Aida in Fargo?


Anonymous 12:42 PM  

As someone who is a Maleska graduate, I had my usual reservations when I saw all the pop cultural clues. But the very first answer I knew and entered was "James I" knowing his grandson James II should have been the correct answer. Knowing that Will Shortz could never make a historical mistake as easy as this could have been, I saw the "I" trick at once, and filling the rest in gave me my fastest Thursday solve ever. Easy-Peasy.

Anonymous 12:49 PM  

I had no idea about Carlo PONTI, so for awhile I was stuck with HADASIP instead of HADANIP---I should have realized earlier that POSTI was not a likely Italian name.

Charles in Austin 12:53 PM  

Except for MAZ, this puzzle was Tuesday-easy for me once I got the theme -- which I did with IONIA. I feel no resentment toward the Editor, so I can find humor and charm in a little nugget like this.

On another note, I liked the nuanced cluing of OHO v. AHA in the center. Visually, the little plus sign added a cheery note to the lovely, uncluttered symmetry of the grid, "plus" it related to the fun of discovering the theme.

Canis Nebula 1:03 PM  

I got stuck on PONT(I)/TAKEANIP -- I had POST(I)/TAKEASIP...

Evan 1:26 PM  


For the record, I don't mind if a puzzle uses a similar gimmick as another one, provided they're not done exactly the same way. But to answer your question, Jeff Chen's Sunday NYT puzzle on Nov. 25, 2012 had a similar trick, with a big X.

David G 1:56 PM  

Well, I had a chuckle when I saw the Big I's, which wasn't right away, though not all that late either.

Made me think of the "Big W" (say it like Jimmy Durante) in "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World". How can you miss it (once you know it's there)?

Fred Romagnolo 2:16 PM  

Ponti - husband of Sofia Loren. The Brit constitution still bars Catholics from the throne, but they've recently been allowed to be married to one; reason: James II was a terrible king, he was succeeded by his Protestant daughter and her Protestant husband after they agreed to the British Bill of Rights.

Wednesday's Child 2:18 PM  

Fun puzzle except the GOTTI, TROI, LOTHAR jam. Still got them with the crosses though.

Anoa Bob 2:38 PM  

Thought martial arts level (38A) would be a color of belt, so went with TAN, rather than DAN. With all three downs in that section (25, 26 & 27) being person/product/place names, a more accessible clue for DAN woulda been helpful.

@Roo, from yesterday, congrats! Now the waiting..............

Chronic dnfer 2:53 PM  

Great puz. Dnf'd at locher/croi. Liked it a lot.

puzzle hoarder 2:55 PM  

The theme didn't take long to figure out but I still found ways to slow myself down. I'm not familiar enough with the university to have it pop-up immediately. Maybe then the reason for the big "I" would have been obvious. I saw ALAS and LITERATI instantly but tried bending the the word down and ran out of letters. Thinking 7A could be day ONE I wrote in OKIE, NENE and ERGO. That's when the lightbulb went off. It reminded me of that movie scene where everyone is running around looking for treasure and fighting under the big palm tree "W". It makes sense to see it as the initial letter. It escapes me at the moment but there's a special word for when a chapter starts with a giant letter.
I'm not a theme person but this one gets my vote. Maybe that's because it's not so much a theme as a non-rebus rebus. Glad to see the constructor sticking up for it
While I disagree with @Rex's opinion l want to say thanks for the Anita Oday video. She was recently clued with a "pig latin" reference. The hoard showed me she was "The jezebel of jazz" on 10/8/11. I've been intrigued ever since and her singing didn't disappoint.
A clean grid on a fun solve.

Masked and Anonymous 3:17 PM  

@Evan: yep. U have renewed M&A's faith in his own memory bank. I thought Master Chen had done somethin, in this theme dimension-warp.

In defense of any constructioneer that comes up with this sorta theme, it ain't exactly the easiest thing in the world to check on, for duplications of theme ideas.

M&A Helped Desk


Chuck McGregor 3:20 PM  

@Tita 8:38 AM Wondered if I might get called on that.

True Confessions:

You see, to complete my juxtaposed word game with the themers and after much trial and error, I needed RATICE to mean something. I gave up on LO CAL RAT ICE MAKER. Just too weird.

Well the only thing Google found, outside of it being part of the name of some media organization, was a word in the Portuguese lyrics for a rap "song" and was the same in the English translations of it. I could not find what it meant, other than a possible family name, tough not capitalized in the lyrics.

Sooooo, I decided the thing RATICE would bs for my game was sausage. There are lot of different exotic names and types of sausages and Portuguese anything is usually obscurely exotic, so hoping it might ring true and get ignored.

Silly me. Too many bright, curious, people on this here blog. Lookin' at you, Tita! :>)


Josie Marcus 3:51 PM  

@Barany: Would you also "cop" to having touched a TIT?

Z 4:28 PM  

@Evan - Rex's write-up and the comments of that 2012 puzzle also reference at least two other similar puzzles, one with an H and one with a U. Seems this is likely at least the fourth time the letter thing's been done in the NYT. I'm with you, though, not a bad little trick.

@Oxfordbleu - The NYTX does not target a young demographic. For that try Buzzfeed or some of the indies.

@Carola - So now I have to see Star Wars twice to get short fill? Just once, so far, sadly.

@OISK - on one thing we agree: What matters is that the occasional obscurities are discernible from the crosses, JAMES II and NIKOLAI Rimsky-Korsakov are crossed by three names. Definitely sub-optimal in my opinion.

@MetroGnome - So I'm Christian Reformed? Reza Aslan is an Evangelical Christian? Yusuf Islam is Roman Catholic? Baptist? Greek Orthodox? Nope. Doesn't work. Besides, JAMES II reigned 138 years after Henry VIII. Or are you referencing some other Henry?

Molson 4:44 PM  

Totally Naticked by the HAD A NIP/ PONTI crossing. Nobody says HAD A NIP. It's a sip. And WTF is Carlo Ponti? A film producer from the 50s and 60s most famous for marrying Sophia Loren? What an awful crossing. Carlo Posti seems like just as acceptable a name.

Nate 6:13 PM  

Nobody's complaining that Space Invaders was manufactured and distributed by TAITO, and not ATARI?

Sure the game eventually came out on the 2600, but space invaders was never an Atari property. (That destroyed my grid for quite awhile.)

GILL I. 7:20 PM  

@Anonymous at 10:46. Have you not ever heard of a red hot CHILI pepper? I also like the dish but this calls for the food item.
Wow...I'm really amazed at how many people have not heard of Carlo PONTI. Does Dr. Zhivago, Marriage Italian Style, Two Women, Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow (to name a few) not ring a bell? Maybe TCM can come to the rescue? Perhaps he was better known as Sophia's husband but he was right up there with Fellini and DeLaurentis when it came to Oscar winning movies....[sigh] and I suppose I should know Waka Flocka Flame.

Z 7:31 PM  

@Nate - Did ATARI ever make Space Invaders? Yes. I like to think of the trap you fell into as an "einstein." Too much knowledge can slow you down in crosswords.

Carola 8:32 PM  

@Z, I hope you can see it again when it's still on the big screen. I loved it just as much the second time and was able to appreciate much more detail.

kitshef 9:43 PM  

Streuth! That was hard for me. In particular, the NE. Even with TEMONE, OKIE, NENE and ERGO in place, I could make nothing of any of the acrosses or down, other than trying then taking out the odd kaNsanS (7d) or rene (15d). And the aNCE/ENCE conumdrum didn't help. And couldn't see CCING even with the CING in place.

Spent 15 minutes getting nowhere before setting it aside for several hours. Whan I came back, I hit on IONIZING and tried that, not expecting it to be right. Of course that led to the return of kaNsanS temporarily, but COCO led to ICEMAKER and then we were OK. But probably set a record for longest time on a Thursday (for a puzzle actually completed).

Since I usually like a puzzle I have to fight with, thumbs up from here.

My favorite nonword: NITSELF.

Rabi Abonour 10:04 PM  

I'll admit that I always enjoy this conceit, but the fill is stretched to say the least. I'll ignore the rough themers and focus on two other entries:
OHO - This is not a thing. I know crossword constructors think it's a thing, but it's not. No human has ever made an exclamation that sounds like that, and I've never seen it written outside a crossword. AHA? Fine. OHO? Never.
BITTER ALE - This is a thing, but not a particularly good one. "Bitter" on its own is a much more common term than BITTER ALE.

cwf 5:17 PM  

@OxfordBleu: I did not know it had bounced back and forth a couple times over the proceeding century.

Burma Shave 8:56 AM  


Being INBED with KATRINA INITSELF is alright.
Her modus OPERANDI? She PLANS to go ATIT all night.
She’ll get MAD if you IGNOREIT, and MEN,U know why.
A BIG, LONG KNAVE? OHO, she’s all for it, ANDSOAMI.


spacecraft 11:55 AM  

@BS, you continue to amaze. Folks, we gotta get this guy a girl! To the puz. I too wanted PONTI, and LITERAT...35 down! After that it was a lot easier, but there were still pockets of resistance due to SIDK (Stuff I Didn't Know), so...medium, I guess. It took a few moments to suss out the "stress" of ITALICS, for example. I share OFL's dismay at the central crossing; my thought was, oh man, you didn't really do that, did you? Yeah, he did. Oh well.

The theme is pretty dense; there's a ton of things that start with I, but not too many that end with I. Accordingly, the fill is going to go all KATRINA at times, but it could have been worse. The inclusion of super-yeah baby Deanna TROI (I'm in a photo op with Marina Sirtis, truly the highlight of my Star Trek con visit) inclines me to issue a forgiving grade for this one: B-.

rondo 12:09 PM  

ALAS, I saw those two giant capital Is in the grid and knew they were involved in this Thurs-puz gimmick and got it with the LITERATI clue. Then just a matter of determining the I words, got most of ‘em and the rest pretty much filled INITSELF. Pretty easy really.

If Will really had any interest in EDITING to make things more modern, hip, now and wow he could have started on the yah baby front with clues for EMELIA Clarke from Game of Thrones and KATRINA Bowden from 30 Rock. Certainly known well enough and very, very high on the current yeah baby heat meter. But he left in clues for us geezers.

SEGUE: ATIT HADANIP – no kidding, most do. And what’s the opposite of BEATON? This LOTHARio of a KNAVE wants to know.

My former boss (a woman) had a game to play when we went out to Chinese restaurants for lunch. Everyone would have to read their cookie fortune aloud and add the words INBED to it. Often hilarious, e.g. “You will make a new friend, INBED.” Try it sometime.

The missing letter thing is not as bad as cramming a bunch into one square. Interesting construction, and certainly not something to make me MAD.

Diana,LIW 2:00 PM  

Got the conceit quickly and breathed a Thursday sigh of relief. More PPP (see Z's reviews) than I care for, but ultimately solvable.

I'm amazed at how many people didn't know Carlo Ponti - famous director and producer - Dr. Zhivago anyone? And married to the amazing Sophia Loren.

And Jaden Smith - The Pursuit of Happyness is on TV just about every other day! (Maybe I know him cause his dad is a favorite of mine.) Will Smith makes acting look easy. What a talent.

So, a fun Thurs for this LITERAT(I). I was gratedul for some "FILL" that helped me get some unknowns. And believe me, BEATON as Rex would clue it would have been an unknown of the highest order. Although now I will look her up.

Diana, the Lady

rain forest 3:12 PM  

Other than ADELPH, which could have been right for all I know, I got nothin' up top. Had to go to the SE, and after FEET, FEE, ELIE, and EFTS, I noodled around for awhile and than, Bingo!, I saw the I, and that was more or less it.

12 answers ending in I, and 12 answers starting with I. I think that is clever and probably difficult to do. Yes, there appears to have been previous similar puzzles, but this seems to be the only one to have EVERY answer abutting the big letter adhere to the theme.

A small hiccup at the PONT/HAD A NIP cross, but I've heard of the film guy mainly because he's Sophia Loren's husband. Now there's a yeah, baby for you, @Rondo.

Just curious, Rex--must a puzzle have a purpose, other than to provide a pleasant diversion? I found today's pleasant.

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