Targets of naphthalene / SAT 12-17-16 / Andy Taylor Homer Simpson for two / Pop group whose name is exclamation / Reading material for French fashionistas / Brett who directed Rush Hour / Ben legendary Washington Post editor / Omnivorous lizard or its genus

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Constructor: Zhouqin Burnikel

Relative difficulty: Easy


THEME: none 

Word of the Day: SAMP (51A: Corn porridge) —
noun
 US South African
noun: samp
  1. coarsely ground corn, or porridge made from this. (google)
• • •
SPECIAL MESSAGE for Solvers in Syndication (for the week of January 15-January 22, 2017)

Hello, solvers. A new year has begun, and that means it's time for my week-long, once-a-year pitch for financial contributions to the blog. The idea is very simple: if you read the blog regularly (or even semi-regularly), please consider what it's worth to you on an annual basis and give accordingly. In making this pitch, I'm pledging that the blog will continue to be here for you to read / enjoy / grimace at for at least another calendar year, with a new post up by 9:00am (usually by 12:01am) every day, as usual. Despite my regular grumbling about puzzle quality, constructor pay, and other things that should be better in the world of crosswords, I still love solving, I still love writing about puzzles, and I love love love the people I meet and interact with because of this blog. Well, most of them. Some I mute on Twitter, but mostly: there is love. The blog turned 10 in September, and despite the day-in, day-out nature of the job, I can't foresee stopping any time soon. The community of friends and fellow enthusiasts are all just too dear to me. You can expect me to be here every day, praising / yelling at the puzzle—independent and ad-free. Some people refuse to pay for what they can get for free. Others just don't have money to spare. All are welcome to read the blog—the site will always be open and free. But if you are able to express your appreciation monetarily, here are two options. First, a Paypal button (which you can also find in the blog sidebar):

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Now on to the puzzle!

---------------------------
Feels like it's been a while since the Saturday puzzle (or any NYT puzzle) has been truly hard. Maybe there's been a kind of dumbing-down at the high end of difficulty, in order to broaden the puzzle's appeal. Or maybe I'm just better at puzzles. That last part is undoubtedly true, but I've been making my way through a forthcoming book of Fireball Crosswords this week (ed. Peter Gordon), and those puzzles (true to their name) will go past you before you can swing, or else come right up around your chin and knock you down. Sometimes they get their difficulty primarily from obscure/minor names, and that's infuriating, but mostly the clues are just pitched hard All the Time, in every way. If you know someone who just doesn't feel Challenged enough, you might consider a volume of Fireball Crosswords as a holiday gift (there are many to choose from). Or a digital subscription—those are nice too. Anyway, this puzzle was very nice—its construction likely aided by what appears to be a very robust wordlist. I fumbled around in the NW a bit, largely because "Andy Taylor" (1D: Andy Taylor and Homer Simpson, for two) means something very different to me than it does to most of you (you think, rightly, "The Andy Griffith Show"; I think, wrongly, the guitarist for Duran Duran) (sadly, not a joke—I sincerely had VIRGOS in there at one point). So the NW was a bust, initially, but once I ran SOARS ERROR SALAMIS SERRANOS, I had the SW pinned in and I was off and running steadily after that.


Ambiguity was the only real problem for me today. Went back and forth on many possible answers to clues like 20A: Makes advances (LENDS) (LOANS? LEERS?) and 22A: Ready to serve (DONE) (ONE A? A ONE? ABLE?) and 48D: High (STONED) (didn't even try to guess what meaning of "High" this was until I got a bunch of crosses). Never heard of SAMP, but all the crosses were easy so I barely noticed it. Had BRADLEE spelled with a "Y" for a short whyle (8D: Ben ___, legendary Washington Post editor). Don't really know anything about TEANECK (14D: New Jersey town near the George Washington Bridge), but I've heard of it, and I had that terminal "K" from the (dumb) answer ECOFREAK (33A: One who's extremely green?), so getting into the NE ended up being easier than it looked like it would be. Always hard to enter a section from the back ends of the longer answers. So a konveniently-placed "K" can do a lot for you. Overall, this is what I think an average Saturday should be (except for the difficulty, which should probably be ramped up a bit). As it is, given the current state of things, this is an above-average Saturday.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]

94 comments:

NCA President 7:13 AM  

I didn't know RATNER or BRADLEE, so there is that. I'll admit it...I Googled Mr. Ratner. Once I had that in my back pocket, I finished easily and inferred Bradlee from VOGUEPARIS to LENDS to SELL.

Just a couple of groaners today. Apart from those two names next to each other in the NW, I'm just going to go on record as saying that ODD was clued not only oddly, but poorly. 2017 is indeed an ODD number. There are an infinite number of odd numbers, equal to the number of even numbers...so what? 2017 isn't exactly "new" yet, which I suppose was what ZB was going for, so I knew "new" wasn't it. But going literal there was gratuitous, IMO. Honestly, if there is any year that will go down in the annals of human history as odd, 2016 is it, NOT 2017. At least I hope 2017 won't be as odd, weird, or downright dastardly as this past year has been.

I grew up in Nebraska where we do lots of things with corn...hundreds of things...not one of them is, to my knowledge, called "SAMP."

RAMIN...I used to eat that a lot in college. There is a ramen joint around the corner from me...at $12 a dish, I doubt many college students can afford *that* kind of ramen.

Speaking of EEK, (we were, weren't we?), several years ago I ended up in the hospital just checking out some chest pain thing I was having. Turned out it was nothing to do with my heart...maybe gas?...but after a full day and night in the hospital, doing all kinds of tests to be sure that if I died on the way home they couldn't be sued for not checking everything out, I racked up a few charges. About three days later (!) I get a call, personally, from the hospital telling me how much I owed them for that little visit. Three days after I was being checked out for a heart attack, they call me on the phone and told me that I owed them a *lot* of money. EEK was the least of my reactions. And I guess the bill collectors there aren't told why people end up owing them all that money, but it seems that heart patients would get put in a separate pile so they could be "eased in" (and not RAMmedIN) to the idea of paying the equivalent of a new car sometime soon...preferably now...over the phone...and hey, if you pay over the phone, we'll give you a discount!

Yeah, it was a for-profit hospital. EEK is right.




Teedmn 7:39 AM  

Double DNF on today's easy puzzle - I figured 21A could be either jAM IN or RAM IN so I left a little rebus R/J there. And the SAMP/SeMP/SiMP/SoMP/SuMP (okay, I was pretty sure that last one wasn't it) crossing Donna whatsername ended up as SeMP, only because SHALALA looked wrong. Once I saw SAMP over at XwordInfo, it looked like something I should have known but oh well.

I had an X-ray last week (arthritis) and got the bill, expecting to say EEK but it was less than $100 - I was shocked, in a good way.

I hesitated at IGUANA because a co-worker's daughter had one and the co-worker said it was very sweet, and it just ate lettuce so I wasn't associating IGUANA with omnivorous. I was wracking my brain with that IGUANA sound/look-alike we had in a grid not all that long ago but couldn't dredge it up (IPANA? IKANA? ANY IDEAS??) (none of those would fit anyway.)

'T'is the season where getting GLASSY-EYED is ALL THE RAGE. ORDER NOW and you can self-MEDICATE all you'd like. I'd go SO FAR AS to say, WOOHOO, poke me with a fork, I'm DONE.

And I am. (DONE).

Thanks, CC, congrats on your pan-week accomplishment.

Loren Muse Smith 7:45 AM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
Loren Muse Smith 7:48 AM  

Like Rex, I’m finding Saturdays easier and easier and wondering if it’s just that I’m getting better or that the puzzles are less dastardly. Like @jae, I go back when I have time and work some themelesses from the ‘90s, and he’s right – they’re much harder. So I guess I’m not getting that much better. Hah.

It kinda reminds me of women's clothes sizes. I shop at Talbots because their 4 is Boston Proper’s 12. So if I shop only at Talbots, I can run around bragging that I’m a 4 thank you very much. Likewise, if I stick to recent NYT themelesses, I can feel clever and smart.

An early dumb “health care” for 59A gave me “on weed” before STONED.

I got a kick out of ODD for 2017. Fun misdirect.

Hard not to notice some great crosses:

STONED/GLASSY EYED – Yo, pass those brownies and Salt-n-Vinegar chips.
TRIAGE/HEALTH PLAN – right? A plan of action for hurt people?
ALL THE RAGE/HOT SPELL – remember those leg warmers from the ‘80s? Hot spell indeed.
ECO FREAK/OIL SLICK (“spill” first) – yikes

I’ve never heard the expression ECO FREAK, but I immediately thought of a woman I know who is a quiet, lovely, not in-your-face eco-freak. I went to her house for a dinner party and noticed out back what I thought were little squares of cloth toilet paper hanging on a line to dry. I went cold inside, reviewed how much fluid I had drunk prior to the party, did a frantic little mental inventory of my purse to make sure I had little Kleenexes. Turned out they were Tibetan prayer flags. Whew. In my defense, these were small – the size of a square of Charmin – and really faded.

I bet a lot of us thought of Thursday’s 8-LA rebus when SHALALA fell. According to Ms. Shalala La La Land is worth a look. That’s only five, though.

I had a dnf because of “JSS Feed/jam in.” (Hi, @Teedmn) I won’t lose sleep over that. I’m always struck with CC’s command of English. That clue for ANY IDEAS (“I’m stumped – what do we do now?”) is perfect.

Ron Stanford 7:52 AM  

The puzzles ARE getting easier. In the old days (last year?) I often couldn't solve much after Thursday. Now I regularly do pretty well on Friday and Saturday. It makes me feel like a genius, then I see that you've rated the puzzle easy or medium.

Thanks for the reality check, Rex! You're doing wonders for my crossword puzzle self-esteem. But you are accurate in your observations.

gruffed 8:09 AM  

Jammed up in the NE corner with TIFF and FORTLEE. Can't blame Christie for this one.

George Barany 8:13 AM  

So nice to see the byline of my Minnesota friend and neighbor Zhouqin (C.C.) Burnikel, who with this contribution has now had a New York Times puzzle on every day of the week. Congratulations!

Calibrated to my personal records, this one played easy, but as @Rex and some of the early commentators points out, multiple hypotheses are consistent with the data. The EEK answer reminds me of a long-long-ago Mad cartoon, where someone survives a harrowing hospitalization routine, only to conk out upon receiving the bill.

Left-over from yesterday, thanks so much for the preponderance of kind, thoughtful, and thought-provoking comments that accumulated throughout the day on the public forum, via social media, and privately. Much to digest, but we'll have to do that another time. Today is @C.C.'s to shine.

Sasha Nove 8:17 AM  

Definitely too easy. I do archived Saturdays for practice and they're tough; there's been a clear decline in difficulty level over just the past couple years. I'm looking for a challenge and instead I'm met with something that plays like a hard Wednesday and offers little satisfaction upon completion.

r.alphbunker 8:22 AM  

@Casco Kid will be proud of me. I extricated myself from numerous plausible wrong guesses, i.e.,

12D. {Affianced} PROMISED from PROM_ _ _ _
PROMOTED-->PROMISED

39D. {To the extent that} SOFARAS from _ _FARAS
ASFARAS-->SOFARAS

29D. {Zippo} NONE from _ _ _E
NADA-->NONE

37D. {Summer stretch} HOTSPELL from H_ _ _PELL
HEATWAVE-->HOTSPELL

47D. {Priority protocol} TRIAGE from _R_ _GE
LASTIN-->TRIAGE

57A. {South America's ___ Negro} RIO from RI_
RIA-->RIO

21A. {Force to fit} RAMIN from _AMIN
JAMIN-->RAMIN

22A. {Ready to serve} DONE from _ _ _E
RIPE-->DONE

4D. {Hardly a racing boat} TUB from TU_
TUG-->TUB

9D. {Hazard for marine life} OILSLICK from OILS_ _CK
OILSPILL-->OILSPECK-->OILSLICK

24A. {Persuade} SELL from S_LL
SWAY-->SELL

20A. {Makes advances} LENDS from LE_DS
LOANS-->LEADS-->LENDS

21D. {Source of news and blog postings} RSSFEED from RS_FEED
JOBFAIR-->RAWFEED-->RSSFEED

I have not reached the stage where a puzzle like this is easy and I guess that is good because a hard-won clean solve is very satisfying.

Regarding the word list used, only RATNER, BRADLEE, RSSFEED, HEALTHPLAN and VOGUEPARIS weren't in Jeff Chen's word list.

Details are here.

jberg 8:35 AM  

I too thought it was pretty easy while I was solving it; only, I finished with LEaDS for LENDS, giving me the weirdly-named director RATaER at 7D. So no WOO-HOO (corrected from WOO-Hah) for me.

I, too, had jAM IN, but corrected that one. Also intendED before PROMISED.

So I guess two things can be true at once: it was easy, and I was dumb.

Snowing here, maybe all morning, and I have to get all the way across town. Not sure how, but we will figure something out.

Rob 8:45 AM  

Most of this wasn't bad for me, the nice kind of puzzling where you think you're stuck but slowly figure things out until completion. But no, I'm sorry, SHALALA/RAMP is unacceptable. I'm a political junkie and I still think SHALALA is pretty obscure -- the foundation staff isn't all that major a name in the news -- so to cross it with SAMP, which nobody knows because even the dictionary flags it as specifically South African and *not even flag it as such in the clue*, is some real BS. If you get to that point as a constructor you need to rework your puzzle.

Anonymous 8:58 AM  

I have to agree with Rex on the apparent decline in the "challenge factor". Perhaps I am getting a little better at them and more diligent. However, unlike Rex I welcome this new trend if it is indeed a trend.

As one who has been solving the NYT crosswords for over 30 years, I have regularly skipped the Fridays and Saturdays because they are so difficult. They invariably frustrated me and depressed me to the point that most of the time I did not even try to solve them.

Rex, I think there are many more solvers like me than the ones who solve a Friday puzzle in under 5 minutes. I enjoy spending an hour spread over one or two sessions or so in trying to just find an anchor. Most of the times I am an official DNF. But I do not care. I feel like a champion. Sometimes I solve just half of it.

We all understand that you and most of the regular commenters are in a league of your own. But please understand that I am puzzled at your bemoaning over the lack of challenge in your solving experience.

What is so wrong if indeed the NYT is trying to reach the group of solvers below the Masters category?

johnnymcguirk 9:03 AM  

This was the easiest Saturday in memory, but how dare Will Shortz clue depts. Cabinet units: Abbr. without acknowledging the Trump cabinet is filled with alt right kooks. This is outrageous.

Hartley70 9:11 AM  

I had the people in the bag this morning, but the little things got me down. I clung to "ark" before TUB and jAM before RAM for way too long. I also tried "Trenton" and OILSPILL. Of course SAMP followed "pone" because I know there's corn involved in the mysterious pone.

I loved TWITTERBOT and ECOFREAK. I'd never encountered them before, but they're fun portmanteau creations.

This played very fast, but not super easy. It had a breezy quality and I occasionally enjoy a Saturday that doesn't take itself too seriously.

MattG 9:31 AM  

Can someone explain that first comment to me (6:56 anon)? I feel like I must be missing something.

Nancy 9:33 AM  

So which was it at the 21A/21D intersection? RAM IN/RSS FEED? Or JAM IN/JSS FEED? I had no bleeping idea, having never heard of the blog news source. So I said "Eeny, meeny, miny, mo" and wrote in the J. And, therefore, I DNF. (Which would have been an absolute tragedy were I playing for the $100,000 grand prize. But as all of us here so well know, I'm not.)

I thought the clue for EEK (41A) was the best I've ever seen.

This was pretty easy for a Saturday -- but enough thinking was required to make it fun. I appreciate how clean the grid is -- there really isn't much, if any, junk. Enjoyable, and over too soon. And it's snowing outside. What's left for me? Please not the latest awful news of the day splattered across the front page of the Times and beyond. EEK!

QuasiMojo 9:34 AM  

I finished this in less than 15 minutes. A new record for a Saturday. A bit let down but I've got a lot on my plate so I won't complain. As for hospital EEKs. I once had to take an ambulance two blocks. It cost $1000. Being a good citizen, I paid it.

evil doug 9:36 AM  

I think ShaLala! sounds like a pop group whose name is an exclamation. I'm ramin to it! Go,Ya!

mathgent 9:40 AM  

For me, the main fault was in the cluing. A lot of straight definitions, some weak attempts at cleverness ("Like the year 2017?" for ODD), not a single amusing one. It was also too easy (even though I Naticked at RSSFEED/RAMIN).

I've done a lot of Ms. Burnikel's puzzles here and at WSJ and at LAT. I think that she is a prolific constructor. But I can't remember a single one that I really enjoyed.

I'm surprised that Rex thought that it was an above-average puzzle. Perhaps because it didn't contain the name of anyone he hates. I'm giving it a C minus.

DBlock 9:49 AM  

Agree that it was on the easy side even without knowing all that of the names
Also agree that the puzzle is to be savore
I always prefer a good slog to a rapid fill
More importantly agree with Loren re Talbots sizing
I have items from there that are 15 years old or more
Size 4 in 2016
Size 12 in 1996
JJill does that as well
But my aging increasingly saggy body parts know the truth��

Birchbark 9:51 AM  

I do a fair number of archived puzzles going back several years. At my level (<25 Friday/Saturday is par, <15 rare) I don't notice a difference in difficulty between 2016 and earlier years. But my time across the board slowly improves. So I vote improvement over difficulty level)

Passing Shot 9:51 AM  

Got about 60% of the way no problem, then fell on my EPEE in the NE. (And despite being a proud child of TEANECK! Go HIGHWAYMEN!) Tyson, tiff, and fortlee all worked in that corner. That, plus the ambiguity and misdirects gave me a DNF.

kitshef 9:59 AM  


On puzzle difficulty. I think what happens is you adapt to the idiosyncrasies of today's constructors and the editor, so when you see 'Iron production' you know to think pressing, not ferrous materials. Of course, Will's style has changed over the years, so when you do a puzzle from 1994 you are dealing with a somewhat different editor, and mostly different constructors.

Then of course there is the current PPP factor. Today's solver can be expected to know Silento, but thirty years from now that will be as obscure as Mr. Bishop.

And as a final note, my fastest time ever for a Saturday NY Times puzzle is from December 4, 1993, and I imagine most of ya'll would find it easy, too.

Back-to-back DNFs. Today it was LEaDS/RATaER. LEaDS seemed to work for 'makes advances', and the only RATNER I would know is Mark from Fast Times at Ridgemont High.

DOUBLETALK sounds olde to me. DOUBLEspeak is what you hear today.

Almost a really great puzzle. Unfortunately, I do not believe ECOFREAK has ever been uttered or printed before today.

Johnny 10:01 AM  

I loved this puzzle!

I am also in love with Loren Muse Smith, Puzzle Girl, and Andrea Carla Michaels.

Rex and George Barany: you are both college professors so it's bad luck to hit a guy like you.

Evil Doug: you are but a mere Air Force veteran, I am a a U.S. Navy submarine veteran. Don't fuck with me.

I love you all!

Charles Flaster 10:02 AM  

Definitely medium due to numerous changes but also liked the challenge.
Most of these write overs have already been cited:
TUG for TUb for Tow
DOUBLE TALK for balderdAsh
OIL SLICK for OIL SpIll
LENDS for LoanS
SO FAR AS for as FAR AS
HEALTH PLAN for dEntal PLAN (this one really took a long time to amend.)
Had a tuff time wrapping my brain around ORDER NOW based on clue.
DNF at RAM IN. RSS=? but I used Uncle Google and it seems it has some value and might appear again.
Liked cluing for EPEES, EEK, REINS and PLEAT.
WTTW-"Never bet a parlay"
Thanks ZB



Anonymous 10:04 AM  

I agree with AN@8:58 am reply. For us it takes us longer. This was a hard puzzle for me. Only doing them for 2-3 years and still like it because I learn something. Today was RSS [rich site summary] feed among other things. WOOHOO.

Charles Flaster 10:08 AM  

You, too also understand what DNF means. One does not finish a puzzle after receiving any assistance!!
Thanks

Anonymous 10:16 AM  

TEANECK is a couple of miles of meadowland and a ridge away from the GW Bridge. Macy's, Herald Square is closer to the bridge than Teaneck. No NJ resident would say Teaneck was close to the bridge - Leonia maybe.

ArtO 10:18 AM  

i'll take Rex's explanation...getting easier and I'm getting better (doubtful at my age). But, two Saturdays in a row is a record here. Especially pleasing since this past Thursday had me flummoxed.

G.Harris 11:04 AM  

Needed help to get p in samp and a couple of letters in serranos then worked the rest out. Never heard of RSS feed but made the right guess. Therefore not easy for me and I accept that resorting to help means I DNF. Still feel good about it overall.

Laurence Katz 11:05 AM  

As someone whose Saturday solving has evolved from "they're impossible!" to "I can do it!" in the past two years or so, it seems to me that it is inevitable that the level of difficulty will appear to decrease over time. As we all know, the more you do puzzles the better you get at solving them. Nothing easy about today's xword for me. I'd rate it medium-challenging. But I'm sure if I were to do a similar-difficulty puzzle a year from now, it would seem easier.

Greater Fall River Committee for Peace & Justice 11:09 AM  

I've been calling myself an ecofreak for years. I like the assonance.

I had DOUGHYTALK for gobbledygook, which I had never before heard uttered, but it sounded plausible. I didn't quite finish. Starting with GOYA crossing SAGAN made me feel I was going to enjoy it. My sole Hallowe'en decoration this year was a big custom-made banner of Goya's Capricho, 'The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters' which I thought was quite appropriate for the end of election season. And of course there's the old joke, Q. 'Why was Carl Sagan thrown off the school bus?' A. 'He sang a song about bilions and bilions of bottles of beer on the wall.'

relicofthe60s 11:21 AM  

Very easy. Did it in 11 minutes, which has to be my best time ever. Got TVDADS immediately and it was off to the races. It helps not to know a damn thing about Duran Duran.

old timer 11:25 AM  

My last entry: RSS FEED. I Googled to make sure it was right, but that still means I did it without help. Never heard of RSS, myself. Nor did I think of SNIDE until the very end. I don't know if Saturdays are getting easier, or I am just more likely these days to think like a top NYT constructor. Example: NANO came to mind immediately when I saw the clue "Touch alternative". People who don't solve every day would probably not get NANO at once.

I often find that the bottom half of the puzzle is way easier than the top half. Today was no exception, and really the entire bottom, especially the SW was of a Wednesday or even Tuesday level. Especially if you remember Donna SHALALA from the Clinton presidency, which I did. I also had BRADLEE right away because I am a big Watergate groupie -- bought almost all the books about and by the characters, saw the movie, watched the hearings every day. Sent a telegram to my Senator when Bork fired the special prosecutor, the famous "Saturday Night Massacre". Good times!

I may be a robot 11:28 AM  

Re the less challenging, I recently read that the puzzle is now one of the NYT's more reliable revenue sources. If that's true, then there are two ways they can optimize that money maker. One, make it easy enough to be doable for a greater number of people. Two, make it doable for the age groups that do puzzles, preferably on paper. So, you get easier puzzles with clues that mention Andy Griffith and the like. They aren't in it to appeal to the top 3 percent of solvers. It's not your venue if that is you. it isn't personal. It's simply economics.

Lewis 11:33 AM  

CC's puzzles are always polished; the one area where I think she will get better in over time is coming up with clever clues. I'm with Rex. I think the Saturday puzzle should be as tough as they come, but fair. Today's puzzle was excellent but felt more like a Friday puzzle, or a tough Wednesday, IMO. I thought all the 10-letter answers had spark, except for HEALTH_PLAN, and five out of six is terrific. It was a fun solve that I'm grateful for -- thank you, CC!

Carola 11:38 AM  

Challenging for me, at the start anyway, and enjoyable to solve. My favorite clue was "Left-handed": I looked at ?NIDE and wondered what vowel would complete the word (I thought it would be something arcane along the lines of "enate") and laughed when I got the S from RSS FEED. Ended with a DNF (RATaER x LEaDS) and was also in the Heatwave and TUg group.

MOOLAH was a nice complement to the EEK response to the hospital bill. Not at the "EEK" level but a classic of unbundling: a blood lab bill I got which included the charge "Insertion of needle....$16.00."

I knew Donna SHALALA from her stint as chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Madison from 1988-1993. We were sorry to see her leave to go to Washington to become Bill Clinton's Secretary of HEALTH and Human Services.

@DBlock, same here on the range of Talbot's sizes in my closet.

jae 11:41 AM  

Yes, very easy except where I got hung up for a while in the NE. I had PROpoSED before PROMISED and it took a while to fix.

I've done a bunch of the Fireball books and they are fun and challenging...a nice Christmas present for your resident puzzle addict.

Liked it, but the difficulty difference between the archived '90s puzzles and what we are getting today makes me nostalgic.

Big Steve 46 11:44 AM  

Actually, Teaneck is considerably closer to the GW Bridge that Macy's at Herald Square: about 5.2 miles from Teaneck and between 8.5 and 9.9 miles from Herald Square. The cultural or metaphysical distance may be different but that's another story.

Cassieopia 11:53 AM  

Loved the puzzle. Had so many misdirects, nearly all of them covered by prior posters except for habanero for SERRANOS. What I really liked was running into a roadblock, putting the puzzle down, then picking it up later and having the answers come to me. The NE corner was the last to fall, with RSSFEED giving me the most difficulty.

It was perfectly pitched to my ability level, which means it took me about an hour to solve but I loved every second of it. I can see why master solvers would find it easy, but for a less accomplished solver like myself, this gave enough of a fight to be challenging, but not so much that I got discouraged. Absolutely a blast

Joseph Michael 12:01 PM  

I usually get stumped on Saturday, but this was relatively easy except fof the NE which was a bear.

Kept trying to make "Fort Lee" work for 14D and thus had trouble with all of the entries crossing it. Finally TEANECK jumped out with an AHA! and the rest fell into place.

However, DNF because I misspelled BRADLEE and ended with a YCO FREAK. Had no idea what that might be, but thought it sounded interesting. Briefly considered NCO FREAK which made more sense from an Across perspective, but knew that there wasn't a Branden at the Post. Should have known it was ECO but was too GLASSY EYED by that point to think on it further.

Liked PLEAT as an iron production, ACRES as a Vatican City 109, and TWITTER BOT as an answer that couldn't have existed in a crossword of yore.

So, WOO HOO, good puzzle overall.

Masked and Anonymous 12:08 PM  

I had JAM-IN problems, too (yo @earlymornin ladies).

Congratz on hittin for the NYTPuz-cycle, @C.C. Thanx for a feisty/fun solvequest. Really liked the 41-A EEK clue: {Cry upon opening a hospital bill}. Before verifying the answer length, M&A thought of several other cool answers. Almost a whole puztheme idea...
1. PAPER CUT!
2. NOOOO!
3. MY HEART!!
4. OWWW!
5. ACCOUNT HEMORRHAGE!
6. NOBAMA CARE! [After sometime in Jan.]
7. PHLOX!
8. BULL SAMP!
9. NANO-HEALTHPLAN!
10. $200 FOR MASK REMOVAL?!!

TEANECK is also where the I-80 road ends, as I recall. Or where it begins, if yer glass is half-onramp.

fave Christmas moment: REINS. staff weeject pick: TUG.

fave FriNite schlockfest flick: "ZombieLand". Has numerous educational rules, for copin during zombie apocalypses. fave rule: "Always check the back seat".

Thanx, Ms. Burnikel. Kept m&e busier than a one-armed RSSFEEDer.

Masked & Anonymo2Us

Adam 12:08 PM  

I think there's a weird hidden theme here, what with the DOUBLETALKing TWITTERBOT filling Cabinet DEPTS to deal with HEALTHPLANs and how we we all soon need to be MEDICATEd--at the very least STONED or, god forbid, needing serious TRIAGE (especially us ECOFREAKs out there). And once the GLASSYEYED people who gave him the REINS (largely due to their RSSFEEDs being filled with fake news) and for whom he is ALLTHERAGE realize he hasn't done many of the things he has PROMISED, they'll look to us and ask "ANYIDEAS?" Which will surely be ODD as that's the last thing THEY want to do.

And SHALALA, she fits in there somehow.

Masked and Anonymous 12:22 PM  

p.s.

@RP: yep. Them Fireball puzbooks are rodeos with all long hard rides. Two of my personal all-time fave crossword puzthemes are from Fireballs. Primo recommendation. Any constructioneer whose theme gets published at Fireball ain't completely right in the head. In a good way.

M&Also


**gruntz**

Crane Poole 12:35 PM  

Zkqarnfted in the NE with TYSON, FORT LEE, produced TIFF across the top.

Masked and Anonymous 12:46 PM  

p.p.s.s.

fave weeject = TUB. Not TUG. (Had it right in the puz, at least.)

Occurs to M&A, that since the Zhomeister has hit for the cycle, she should probably now submit a runtpuz to @r.alph, just for completeness sake. Pretty sure she's already done a Fireball.

Allow me to add my elation, when @CascoKid reappeared, during this holiday season. An early gift. Merry yo, dude.

M&A the third

kitshef 12:57 PM  

Run puzzles are another good example. The fist thirty? fifty? of those I tried were DNFs. Now I finish most of them. You get used to a style. I have done Washington Post puzzles on and off over the years. After a while, they get very dull. But if you take a break, it takes a month to get back on the wavelength again.

Malsdemare 1:08 PM  

I hated the control clue. Now that I see it's REINS as in take the reins, I'm okay, but that "s" just wouldn't fall for forever. Which is awful because I know what an RSSFEED is and had RS_FEED and still didn't get the final S. Headslap indeed. The rest was pretty fine. I had pobRANOS before SERRANOS, MOldS before MOTHS (what do I know about Napthalene?), was slow to get TWITTERBOT and VOGUEPARIS, but eventually, other than that rotten S in REINS, I was good. I got the SE very quickly; I seemed to be on the constructor's wavelength in that part of the puzzle.

Fun SHALALA story (which went in instantly because of this tale). My daughter earned her PhD from University of Miami when SHALALA was president. Daughter and I were super excited about me hooding her at graduation (only other PhDs can hood a new grad), only it turned out, for some reason, Miami didn't allow non-faculty to take part in the ceremony. I was shattered, so I wrote the woman a pleading letter, talking about how honored I would be, that this was a mom hooding her daughter, yadayada. And Shalala agreed! Not very nicely (she made it clear that I was sorry sack to have even asked and she was being SO NICE to let me get my way) but hey, I got to walk up on that stage in my Illinois regalia and place the gorgeous hood over my baby girl's neck. Thanks, Donna!

And thanks ZB and WS!

Trombone Tom 1:13 PM  

Glad to see the blog return to xwords!

CC rarely misses and I enjoyed this puz. As noted by @Rex and others this was a tad on the easy side for a Saturday, but pleasantly challenging.

Not sure what an RSS FEED is, but I've seen the expression often enough to posit it as an answer to 21D.

OILSpIll before OILSLICK slowed me down for a while.

Liked ECOFREAK, TWITTERBOT, and SERRANOS.

Thanks Ms. Burnikel for a lively Saturday, but not so hard I needed to MEDICATE.

Tim Pierce 1:21 PM  

@Rob: But no, I'm sorry, SHALALA/RAMP is unacceptable. I'm a political junkie and I still think SHALALA is pretty obscure -- the foundation staff isn't all that major a name in the news

The Clinton Foundation is not what Donna SHALALA is best known for. That achievement would be her stint as U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services for the entire eight years of Bill Clinton's administration. She is definitely not an obscure name and quite fair to include in the puzzle.

SAMP, on the other hand, can go to hell.

Malsdemare 1:22 PM  

@Adam. Brilliant!!!!

MJB 1:22 PM  

From the same Wikipedia article that stated samp was S. African:

According to the American Heritage dictionary (4th edition), "samp" is of Native American origin, coming from the Narragansett word "nasàump." New Englanders since early colonial times have referred to cornmeal mush or cereal as "samp." Webster's International Dictionary, second edition, cites the same derivation.

The American Heritage Cookbook quotes Roger Williams in A Key to the Language: "Nasaump is a kind of meale pottage, unpartch'ed. From this, the English call their samp, which is the Indian corne, beaten and boil'd, and eaten hot or cold with milk or butter." (Indian corn, to distinguish from the British usage of corn, which was the principal grain of a region, such as wheat in England or oats in Scotland.)

Makes more sense it is from an American Indian word since maize is native to the area, not to Africa.

nick 1:31 PM  

Knew it was easy because I finished google-free in one sitting. Really liked it, though any puzzle that wants me to know twitterbot and brett ratner rather than martha rae or some random '70s sitcom automatically gets my vote.

Martín Abresch 1:31 PM  

I strongly disliked this puzzle.

The cluing was limp. That's annoying any day of the week but a mortal sin on Saturday. Much of the puzzle reminded me of Monday efforts: MEDICATE [Treat with drugs], ALL THE RAGE [Extremely popular], TELL [Poker player's blink, say], RAN [Was chicken, say], RANG ["You ___?"]. Several clues tried to up the difficulty by being vague: KNEADS [Works], EPEES [Touching things in competition], SEWS [Does some surgical work].

REINS [Control, metaphorically] doesn't seem right to me. The metaphorical equivalent to the noun "control" is THE REINS. "Take control" (good); "take the reins" (good); "take reins" (bad).

I agree with @NCA President and @mathgent that the clue for ODD [Like the year 2017?] is an odd misdirect. The dictionary tells me that the clue for DOUBLE-TALK (Gobbledygook) is correct. I've never heard DOUBLE-TALK used in that sense: I only know it as a synonym for DOUBLE-SPEAK. (Gobbledygook is a fun word, though.) The clue for SNIDE [Left-handed] feels to me like it was found by assuming a transitive property to definitions (a = b and b = c thus a = c). Snide and left-handed have different connotations for me. They're completely different flavors. Snide is mocking; left-handed is devious. A snide remark is spoken with a sneer; a left-handed compliment is given with a straight face.

Very few clues, in my opinion, showed signs of life. The only ones that I liked were AHA [Pop group whose name is an exclamation], LENDS [Makes advances], EEK [Cry upon opening a hospital bill], DART [Bar flier], MOTHS [Targets of naphthalene], IGUANA [Omnivorous lizard or its genus], and THEY [Anonymous news source].

The fill in the grid was mostly smooth and would seem to be the puzzle's strength, but there are some major problems. The crossing at SAMP/SHALALA was a killer, RSS FEED/RAM IN and TEANECK/ARNE. TEANECK should be an entry of last resort, and there is nothing in that NE that is so amazing as to justify its inclusion.

From the department of infelicities, the SW has six entries that both begin and end with S: SOARS, SALAMIS, SERRANOS, SO FAR AS, SEWS, SMELTS.

As to the actual entries, I liked SERRANOS and RSS FEED. (An RSS FEED reader is still my primary organizer for news and blogs. Also, I still haven't forgiven Google for eliminating Google Reader.) I liked how one of Homer Simpson's favorite exclamations (WOO-HOO!) immediately follows TV DADS [Andy Taylor and Homer Simpson, for two]. I liked learning the name Donna SHALALA. Like @LMS, I was immediately reminded of Thursday's puzzle. I did not like TWITTERBOT. (Let's feature spammy nuisances in 1-Across!) I can't say as adding to PARIS to VOGUE adds anything to that entry. Still, both of those entries are better than the derogatory ECOFREAK.

MetroGnome 1:37 PM  

Okay, so what the hell is a "NANO" and how is it a "touch alternative"?

Mohair Sam 1:41 PM  

You're all wrong, I hold that this was a medium/challenging puzzle. Mainly because I don't want to admit to a DNF on an easy Saturday. REIgn for REINS (gONE makes sense for Zippo, doesn't it?, c'mon). And RSNFEED sounded just fine to us.

We liked this one just fine. Fun sussing out things like TWITTERBOT and ANYIDEAS. Didn't know Donna SHALALA was involved with the Clinton Foundation, but she's a solid Clintonista, so I threw her in off the SH. Hand up with those who lost time by using a "Y" for a while at the end of Ben BRADLEE's name - Ben's tightness to the Kennedy clan (especially JFK) and the intrigue that caused in his life is fascinating history. He got close to a very bright flame.

On the Saturdays are easier front - I think we're all just getting smarter, I least we are in the house.

Fun Saturday Zhouqin Burnikel, thanks.

Anonymous 1:41 PM  

A question for you regulars: what is the highest number of comments generated on a single day? Yesterday we were up to about 130. What was the topic that created the response? Maybe OFL would be the one to answer this. Just curious.

Wednesday's Child

ahecht 1:48 PM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
Z 1:48 PM  

This was probably my favorite Burnikel puzzle to date. Came in challenging for me, but that was mostly due to the BRADLEE/RATNER mash-up, so easy over-all.

@Gill I yesterday - I wish I could blame auto-correct, but no, just my own ignorance. Have I ever mentioned that my mom did not want me to learn Spanish?

@Matt G - I can't, but I think it is meant as some sort of commentary on yesterday's post.

TWITTERBOTs have been lurking on the edge of the news for awhile. Now they are poised to be a big part of headlines for the next few years.

ahecht 1:50 PM  

Funny, I ended up in the same TYSON, TIFF, and FORTLEE traffic jam that @Passing Shot did.

GILL I. 1:50 PM  

Wow, You didn't know SHALALA? She was all over the place under Billy's REINS. Remember when she went right up to him and asked if he was trysting with Monica and he flat out denied it? Said it was a huge lie. She goes to press and said it was nothing but a press ruse. Hah! She was snookered big time.
Does anyone know how many peppers are hotter than jalapenos that fit in that little 39A? Well, I thought of Hidalgos, Tabascos, Poblanos and Pimentos before I put in my SERRANOS (which I love). If you want to have some fun and blow your top off, try the Carolina Reaper....I had it once in some bacon jam. It took we 29 days to get over it.
I started out not really enjoying ZB's crosswords but the more I do them, the more I like her style. She's everywhere - WSJ LATimes etc. Good for her - especially since I understand English is her second language.
GOYA...I studied his 80 etchings for over a month in Art History. I LOVED his work - especially the Hobgoblins. I think I would have enjoyed meeting him over a glass of Rioja or a Fundador.
Good work Ms. Burnikel - see you in a few.

Z 1:50 PM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
Z 1:56 PM  

@Wednesday's Child - Let me suggest that you solve the Thursday, September 11, 2014 puzzle in the NYTX Archive before reading Rex's blog and the 244 comments it generated.

Vincent Lima 2:05 PM  

iPod flavors

Vincent 2:12 PM  

Sounded to me like generic, inarticulate, right-wing. carping. @Rex is a university professor, thus in anon's view, a civil servant who should be training thoughtless peons rather than providing an education. His comments (yesterday) about politics were a betrayal of his calling and deserved mockery. Something like that.

AliasZ 2:19 PM  


'Twas the wEEK before Christmas, when in VOGUE, PARIS
Not a creature was shown, except for SALAMIS;
C.C. has made, as PROMISED, a puzzle with cheer,
In hopes that DOUBLE TALK will never be heard here;

The solvers were nestled all snug in their DEPTS,
While visions of ECOFREAKs danced in their heads.
And Mama in her HOT SPELL, I in my TEANECK,
Sat there STONED, waiting to MEDICATE any SEC—‌

When out in the PARLAY arose such a WOOHOO,
I jumped from the TUB to see what was the doo doo.
Away to the SHALALA I flew like a DART,
I tore open the PLEATs and let out a goof art.

When, what to my GLASSY EYED stare should appeari,
ANY IDEAS? The tiny chef, FIERI.
ORDER NOW, TWITTERBOT! he yelled out loud and quick,
Behind him oozed a giant, glistening OIL SLICK.

[To be continued?]

Anonymous 2:28 PM  

Wow @Z!244 comments! Thanks, I'll check it out. WC

thfenn 2:58 PM  

Somewhat disappointed in having a completion attributable to an easy puzzle rather than an improving skill, but nevermind, it was fun. The NE was tough for me because I wouldn't let go of STUFF for RAMIN. And being left handed I didn't like SNIDE there (or agreement that this trait is associated with being devious). And yikes, I didn't know what 'affianced' meant, but get it now, sort of. And now I know what SAMP is too. Anyway, finishing a Saturday on my own (more or less) in under 45 minutes gets a WOOHOO.

Hartley70 3:03 PM  

@MJB and why not break open a Gansett to have with that SAMP, Neighbor?

OISK 3:23 PM  

First DNF since the "J" in J Cole - how many weeks ago? But that was at least fair, J Cole is currently in the news pretty often; I just hadn't noticed. But RSS feed??? I object to acronyms all the time; if one hasn't ever heard of "RSS" how could one guess? So the choice came down to "jam in" or "ram in." I think "jam in" is the better answer. "The passengers were jammed into the subway car." Rammed???

Food is a weak area, and never heard of Serranos, or Fieri, started out with "As" far as instead of "so" far as, but I was "odd"ly able to correct that one. I object only to RSS. I had no chance to get that right.

Did not post yesterday because I come here for literary discussions, wit, and crossword answers. In The Times the crossword is in a different section from the editorial and op ed pages.

kitshef 3:24 PM  

@Wednesday's Child, @Z. The puzzle of September 15, 2016 is up to 255 comments. Apparently mid-September finds us at our chattiest.

Chronic dnfer 3:24 PM  

Misread now for row and had moot at 11a. Really screwed me up. Cheated there and got going again. Took around an hour but officiallly a guess what? DNF!

ChE Dave 4:07 PM  

Tend to agree that Saturdays have been easy lately. Or I am achieving godlike abilities!

Hated ecofreak and rssfeed. Didn't think anybody used RSS feeds anymore.

Briefly considered Ft. Lee over Teaneck, and Tyson over Sagan, but the stonewall I immediately hit got be back on track.

Mr. Benson 4:09 PM  

Another hand up for tiff/Tyson/Fort Lee. Definitely a traffic problem for me there.

GeezerJackYale48 4:14 PM  

Oh yes it was so easy for all us twitterbots and ecofreaks that I almost regurgitated my samp. Right. Smug, very smug; but maybe not totally honest?

Rachel 4:19 PM  

Like a number of others, I also got stuck with TYSON/TIFF/FORT LEE in the NE corner for a while... I think for anyone who grew up in or currently lives in the area, TEANECK makes far less sense as the answer to "NJ town near the George Washington Bridge" than Fort Lee, even if it's not technically wrong (as evidenced by the number of people in these comments alone who thought the same).

I finally stopped trying to RAM IN answers and realized that 21a was most likely JAM/RAM IN, which would work with SAGAN...which in turn easily revealed SPAT and NJ-town-sort-of-near-the-bridge TEANECK.

I'm sure it's been used before, and isn't really a difficult clue, but I found 53a (Bar Flier/DART) delightful.

Nancy 4:37 PM  

SHALALA was quite a notable name back in the day -- and actually it wasn't that far back in the day, either. What, 20 years? Hardly ancient history. I think she's a very legitimate entry. And, @Malsdemare (1:08) -- Thanks for your colorful SHALALA anecdote. Though, am I dating myself in saying I never heard of "hooding" at graduation? Nor of hoods even being worn. We wore mortarboards with tassels attached, and upon the instant of graduation, you turned the tassel from the right side of your head to the left side of your head. Or maybe you turned it from the left side of your head to the right side of your head. (I'm supposed to remember such things?) Anyway, we turned our own tassels; no one -- mothers included -- turned them for us.

@thfenn (2:58) -- SNIDE's not great, but "you people" used to have it so much worse. For centuries, left-handed people were called -- and considered -- SINISTER.

DON'T MISS THIS, EVERYONE! I worked on a puzzle so great today in Sunday's Times Magazine, that I've almost completely forgotten the one above. It's MARCHING BANDS by BEQ and this style of puzzle requires the most intense concentration imaginable. It's sort of like patting your head and rubbing your stomach at the same time. I have a book of these by BEQ which are mostly undoable because there's such a high concentration of PPP. But this one is not like that. It has a very limited number of proper names. I needed only one cheat to finish, and strangely enough it wasn't the female rapper. (I didn't, of course, know her, but she came in eventually). My one cheat was on the Indian loincloths. I love the MARCHING BANDS concept, and when he's not overdoing the pop names, I think BEQ is the equal of PB1 in intricacy of puzzle design. And that's saying a lot.

Malsdemare 4:59 PM  

@Nancy. Hoods are PhD things, the long satin and velvet stoles that drape over the velvet-banded gown and hang down the back almost to the heels. The hooding occurs when you graduate with the PhD and it's full of pomp and circumstance because there are so few grads, relatively speaking, even in huge institutions. Each graduate gets solo time on the stage with president, advisor and official "hooder." Fun stuff.

I forgot to mention I was also fooled into the Fort Lee/Tiff misdirect, but I didn't know Tyson, just Sagan, so ultimately figured it had to be SPAT, which gave me TEANECK.

evil doug 5:19 PM  

Did I ever mention how I got my Masters Degree while I was STILL on *ACTIVE DUTY*? It was SO COOL, y'all! I mean, imAGine! Defending the country - - you're welcome! - - by day, and studying my cute little ass off by night. EPIC, y'all! And at graduation you could see tears in the eyes of allllll my classmates in awe of my achievement!!! They were *so* PROUD of me, knowing that my number could be up at any given moment in the TERRIBLE CONFLICT in which I heroically volunteered to serve! When I took that little tassle and moved it to the right, you know what I did? I *SALUTED* the whole university and strode proudly out TO A STANDING OVATION!!!

Mike Rees 5:27 PM  

All these comments, and no one else has asked how SEC = "not sweet." So either I'm an idiot, or no one else found it query-worthy.

Anyone?

kitshef 5:34 PM  

@Mike Rees - they are wine terms

evil doug 5:55 PM  

Oh - - the puzzle? Sure, it was fine....

Anonymous 5:56 PM  

Which TERRIBLE CONFLICT, @evil doug? At any rate, well done.

Mike Rees 5:57 PM  

Aha. That at least explains it. I'm a beer guy - my mind would have never gone there.

jae 5:58 PM  

If easier NYT Sat. puzzles are a trend rather than an anomaly, I would recommend that those looking for a weekend challenge print out the Newsday Saturday Stumper (just google Saturday Stumper). Those suckers are tough!

Sasha Nove 6:07 PM  

What Vincent said. So stupid and unnecessary.

Sasha Nove 6:10 PM  

I certainly attribute a good deal to personal improvement, but I do 2011's and am astounded by the decrease in difficulty in current puzzles.

Sasha Nove 6:16 PM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sasha Nove 6:24 PM  

There's nothing wrong with that, but there are earlier days of the week for that. It's unfair to say the difficulty level should go down so that everyone can do every day, rather than saying 'hey I'm gonna practice a lot on earlier days and some old Fridays/Saturdays and try to get to a point where I can do those, too,' which is what I did. If you're not even going to *try* the Fridays and Saturdays, then you don't really have a right to complain that they're too hard. I worked to get to this point and I want to feel like I'm actually being challenged. That's a major part of what solving is about for me, and I'm equally as puzzled at your bemoaning over that, considering you yourself commented on the feeling of satisfaction. I, too, like spending a long while figuring out a puzzle, and you're saying I shouldn't be allowed to have that. Am I not allowed to feel like a champion as well? Just because I've worked to get better? Come on.

For the record, I have never gotten a Friday done in 5 minutes. I do Mondays-Wednesdays for speed and everything else I would prefer to cherish.

Peter Sipe 7:29 PM  

Are the Saturdays getting easier? All I know is it sure ain't me getting smarter.

Arjun Nepal 10:20 AM  

The Local Base Trekking Company in Nepal/
Trekking Agency in Nepal and
Trekking in Nepal

Arjun Nepal 10:21 AM  

High light Trekking Route as
Annapurna Base Camp Trek ,
Everest Base Camp Trek and
Annapurna Circuit Trek in Nepal.

Arjun Nepal 10:21 AM  

Special Trekking Route
Upper Mustang Trek ,
Manaslu Circuit Trek and
Mansu Tsum Valley Trek
in Nepal.

midnight madness 4:07 PM  

Left-handed is "snide"? No way. Back-handed would be a proper clue. To be a southpaw is not to be snide. Lefties, revolt!

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