Actress form mixed martial arts champion Carano / WED 2-22-27 / Puccini title heroine / Portmanteau in 2016 world news

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Constructor: Kyle Dolan

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: familiar phrases clued as word ladders — clues are "rungs" on a word ladder leading from first word in themer TO final word in themer:

Theme answers:
Word of the Day: GINA Carano (1A: Actress and former mixed martial arts champion Carano) —
Gina Joy Carano (born April 16, 1982) is an American actress, television personality, fitness model, and former mixed martial artist. [...] Outside the ring, Carano performed as Crush in the revamped 2008 television series American Gladiators. Carano has pursued a career in acting since she retired from competition. Her film debut was in Steven Soderbergh's 2011 action film Haywire, and she is currently best known for her roles in Fast & Furious 6 (2013) and Deadpool (2016). (wikipedia)
• • •

OK, so word ladders are the last refuge of a crossword scoundrel. Just a terrible idea, in general. But I will give this puzzle credit for taking the typical, tired crossword word ladder (where 1A changes to a new word, over the course of many subsequent Across answers, one letter at a time, until you get to the destination word at the final Across, ugh) and doing something new with it, i.e. putting it in the clues and not in the damn grid (where all it does is take up space and reek of awfulness). And though the theme is not scintillating, the grid is not bad, and the clues put up a reasonable fight in several places, so this one gets a marginal pass from me (though it may be benefiting by comparison to the recent string of subpar puzzles). There are probably a lot of other phrases that one might've used in a puzzle like this. "LIVE TO TELL." ROAD TO HELL. CALL TO ARMS. GONE TO SEED. Etc. But these are the ones that were used. Arbitrary, but such is life. Can't you go straight through TMEN to get from AMEN TO THAT? If you're gonna allow OPED (I assume that's OP-ED and not OPED as in some "poetic" form of "opened") then you should allow TMEN, and then it's just three steps: AMEN ... TMEN THEN THAN ... THAT.

I finished in a pretty normal Wednesday time (low 4s), but felt like I struggled a lot. Always hurts when 1A is a total mystery, and I blanked on GINA Carano. Turns out (after googling her) I know (vaguely) who she is. But between not knowing her and the vagueness of 4D: Hordes (ARMIES), I flailed a bit up there. Flailed again in the east with both LIMBO (tenuously clued as 33D: Gray area) and FLINT (I can see why it would be useful to *some* campers ... but not most) (34D: Camper's tool). Worst struggles came at the end, though, all along the mysterious REPORT CARD (30D: Progress indicator, of a sort). [___ department] and it's REC!? A cellphone replaces a CLOCK!?!?! Are you sure you don't mean "watch"? CLOCK? I don't carry a CLOCK around with me. And then I couldn't remember where Matt Damon was stranded in a 2015 film. Oh, and CEO as the answer to 44D: Board hiree, for short, was never coming. I had no idea what kind of "board" was at issue (condo board?) so CEO never occurred to me until it was filled in from crosses. Nothing stood out as great today (I feel like I've already seen BREXIT too much for it to be special anymore). But it was OK. Fine. Tolerable. That is, better than most every puzzle from the past week.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


George Barany 12:12 AM  

What hooked me on @Kyle Dolan's puzzle was quickly typing in WORDLADDER (right number of letters) for 17-Across, and then having to backtrack when several of the crossings made no sense. Plus, I'm sure it's just a coincidence, but thanks @Kyle for getting my wife's name into the puzzle for her birthday (see 5-Across). Tennis clues for 45-Across and 28-Down, an opera clue at 51-Across ... NEATO!

Charles Flaster 12:19 AM  

Like word play so I enjoyed this one.
My first entry was word ladder but immediately saw nothing would coincide.
As soon as NOTE TO SELF was sussed, the remainder was a breeze.
Liked ADAM crossing EDEN although I have seen it in a recent puzzle but not sure where.
No CROSSWORDease which is difficult for a Wednesday.
Thanks KD.

jae 12:22 AM  

Pretty easy once I caught the word ladder theme.

GINA as clued was a WOE and, I had Peel before PEDI and Zoom before ZERO.

Clever, funny, liked it. Jeff almost made it the POW.

Anonymous 12:50 AM  

I think the iPhone clue was talking about an alarm clock, since most people use them nowadays for that. Still a bad fill, but not totally from left field. Easy puzzle once you knock out the first clue answer.

Larry Gilstrap 12:56 AM  

I could care less about word ladders, but an actual blow by blow of the actual ladder, and a phrase that actually makes sense? Come on man! I glazed over all those capital letters and had no desire to approach the theme until all the other squares were filled. Me being me. Fun!

I do puzzles, who doesn't? Portmanteau is one of those words I see from time to time. Yeah! Something to do with a name, yeah, that's the ticket.

I'm a Moby-Dick head, so I'm quickly scurrying to the text to get a ruling about the Five OCEANS. Quintet is five, n'est ce pas?

Whirred Whacks 1:08 AM  

I watched this past Sunday's CBS feature on Will Shortz's passion for the sport of ping pong.

It seems that Mr. Shortz plays ping pong for at least two hours a day, every day, 365 days a year.

I wonder if Mr. Shortz chooses his opponents by the days of the week in the same way he clues his puzzles, that is, easy opponents on Mondays, slightly more challenging ones on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, all the way to the toughest opponents on Saturdays.

CDilly52 1:09 AM  

Word ladders annoy me. In my mini-fit of pique I threw in WORDLADDER which only increased the figurative sucking sound of the NW quicksand as it nearly closed over my consciousness, making my chances at a finish today go from SLIMTONONE, or so it seemed. NOTETOSELF: hubris will out. Kept slogging away and finally did finish and...wonder of wonders enjoyed the twist on the formerly despised word ladder concept. Nice work Mr. Dolan. One of my music professors at Illinois encouraged open-mindedness, but cautioned that he had kept his mind open so long his brains had fallen out but that consequently every day was a new day with a clean slate. Once my mind opened, the sun came out and all was well today...AMENTOTHAT!

Aketi 1:14 AM  

I liked NOIR crossing SLIM TO NONE over PERISH and RAZE crossing ZERO over ENDS.

Fountains of Golden Fluids 1:40 AM  

Does anyone remember laughter?

Hartley70 1:53 AM  

I don't care for the average word ladder but I enjoyed today's twist on that tired theme. Very nicely done to the constructor!

Additionally, thanks to this puzzle, I learned some new information already today. GINA Carano exists and TROPE is a thing. UDON is a noodle and TOSCA is a woman. I'm abashed I had that last one wrong. I'm just getting around to opera in my dotage. BTW, thanks to @Numi for that gorgeous Flower Duet video yesterday.

Anoa Bob 1:55 AM  

I thought it was a nice twist on the word ladder theme and the resulting ____TO____ phrase were all spiffy, although the last NINE intervening words in the ladder clue to get from AMEN TO THAT was a tad inelegant. Can't we get from any four-letter word to any other four-letter word with that many intervening words? Too lazy to do the math.

SYNAPSE at 39A, "Impulse transition point", caught my eye. It's one of the central concepts in modern neuroscience and, in a bit of synchronicity, there's a review in the on-line NYT, in the Science section, of a recently released book about the late 19th, early 20th century Spanish neuroscientist Santiago Ramón y Cajal, who first proposed the idea that individual neurons could communicate with each other and that the SYNAPSE was where that happened. Here's a link to the NYT article: The Beautiful Brain: The Drawings of Santiago Ramón y Cajal.

Trombone Tom 2:05 AM  

An interesting variation on the normal word ladder. I figured out pretty quickly that dropping in WORD LADDER wasn't going to work.

Not much to comment on as it all flowed smoothly. I did run into a hiccup when I dropped in STYLus before AMEN TO THAT, which clearly showed that STYLET was called for.

Fun Wednesday from Kyle Dolan.

Thank goodness for a day of less rain to allow for some run-off in the flooded areas. The "Glory Hole" at nearby Lake Berryessa is overflowing and making for some interesting photos.

Laura Hoke 2:37 AM  

I enjoyed it. I like solving word ladders and it was fun to combine it with a crossword. Rex, I truly hope that your current misery is only present after doing puzzles. "Terrible idea," "tired," "ugh," "reek of awfulness," "not scintillating," "marginal," "string of subpar puzzles," "arbitrary." I have terminal cancer and I'm one of those cloying people who believes that every day, every moment is a gift. I used to really look forward to your wisdom, insight and commentary. Lately you're just so bloody miserable and negative that your blog is a complete buzzkill. Yes, we're stuck in challenging times, but what if you found out tomorrow that you had months to live? We have to make the best of the hand we are dealt because whining and moaning is just a waste of the only commodity that's truly of value...time.

Charles in Austin 4:16 AM  

@Rex's hatred for word ladders is well known -- and pathological. But I thank him today for his grudging, faint praise of this puzzle, and not totally ruining my mood with his venom and cruelty.

Love and Peace to you, @Laura Hoke. As a fortunate recipient of a fragile lung transplant, I know what its like to have one's life ahead hanging in the balance.

Passing Shot 5:10 AM  

This was delightful. I don't have the same visceral reaction to word ladders as OFL, and this was a fun twist. Never heard of GINA Carano but everything else was fair. Thank you, Mr. Dolan.

Conrad 5:55 AM  

AMEN TO THAT and Godspeed to you, @Laura Hoke

andrea carla michaels 6:05 AM  

Thought this was the most original idea I've seen in a while and loved it!!!

I too did not know TOSCA was a woman, despite hanging out at Tosca's in North Beach on a regular basis!
Nor did I know GINA
Always freak out if I don't know the first word as I'm a 1Across solver...

But I loved how figuring out the theme totally helped getting the phrases... Otherwise My chance would have been SLIMTONONE

(Oops typo just came out SLIMY ON ONE... New theme seed?!)

Anyway, loved it

@Laura Hoke
Thank you for the sobering reminder and yes yes yes. NOTETOSELF and AMENTOTHAT!

smalltowndoc 6:52 AM  

Very clever puzzle. Fun to discover the answers to the themed clues. Fill okay.

Lewis 6:53 AM  

Much more than a "marginal pass" from me. Terrific idea. I'm guessing it's never been done before. Yes, other phrases could have been used, but what is wrong with these? They are in the language and they don't feel stale. The theme wasn't needed for the solve, but for those who figured it out early, I'm sure it made the solve faster. Bravo, Kyle -- this one was memorable!

I like seeing SPEW where SMEW was Monday.

And God bless you @laurahoke for your sentiments, for your lesson about making the most of the minutes rather than dwelling in the negative or wallowing in self pity. Your words are a gift, they have affected me deeply, and I am more-than-words-can-express grateful.

Forsythia 7:05 AM  

Did anyone else "cheat" and just put in the first and last word of the later ladders (once I knew the theme)? And then I figured out the downs and which letter was incorrect. I enjoyed the aha as I figured out the ones that weren't just obvious to me. -to post for the first time early (before I finished my first cup of coffee!) meant I was rushing through. @Laurahoke-blessings to you for the reminder to appreciate the small joys!

Anonymous 7:07 AM  

Lena Dunham raped her sister. Where's the outrage ?

Passing Shot 7:09 AM  

Wise words, @Laura Hoke. Thank you.

Andrew Goodridge 7:43 AM  

I really, really enjoyed this! The first theme clue just looked like a bunch of shouty nonsense, so I made a NOTETOSELF to focus on the downs and deal with the theme if and when it was necessary. But the theme turned out to be the best part of the solve. Fun puzzle -- thank you for your hard work and creativity, Kyle!

Anonymous 7:46 AM  

I liked this one because the theme helped in the solve. Cleverness for its own sake is overrated.

Irene 7:49 AM  

Totally loved it. Word ladders are fun for me, and this one was added another layer. Except for Gina, who I still don't know after being told who she was, the clues were just off enough to be challenging. Slim to none puzzled me until I added "chances", after which it made sense. Terrific puzzle.

RAD2626 7:57 AM  

I thought the puzzle was clever and terrific. Surprised it did not get Jeff Chen's POW, as this is the type of changeup he seems to like. Bodes well for at least one day later this week. Not sure I liked two tennis clues. Can't make up my mind so I will say I liked them. Nine step word ladder a little bit of a reach but overall puzzle great fun. Liked it a lot.

Happy birthday to Bar Bar Bar Bar Bar Barany (if that is her last name and with apologies to The Beach Boys).

Arlene 7:57 AM  

Count me in as enjoying this variation on word ladders. Always found them fascinating.

Lobster11 8:01 AM  

I'm with those who enjoyed this because it (1) was a clever twist on the word-ladder theme and (2) contained an unusual amount of challenging cluing/wordplay for a Wednesday.

@George Barany: Thanks for confirming that I wasn't the only one who confidently filled in "word ladder" for the first theme clue I saw!

wgh 8:02 AM  

Anyone else put WORDLADDER in on the first one, before seeing the second? Tricky. Overall good puz

CDilly52 8:03 AM  

Thank you for the reminder that time is precious! As a survivor, I can vouch for the value of a positive outlook. Best wishes.

Brenda 8:03 AM  

Can someone explain WOE and POW please? Thank you. BTW - I thought this puzzle was clever and fun.

Z 8:04 AM  

I did not even bother to look at the ellipsis/string of words in all caps/ellipsis until I had 75% of the first one done, saw what was going on, and then ignored everything but the first and last words as I solved. I know others like word ladders. I am not one of them. Word ladders are to word play what NASCAR is to sports - Hey look, words are made up of letters - Hey look, cars can turn left. Meh. Not my cuppa. Maybe if word ladder were ever made with 8-letter words I'd find it interesting... Nope. Yes, this is an interesting variation on the game, but not a game I care to play.

I also didn't like this grid. We get two corners dangling by a single square, which is never good, separating out two short fill only sections totally unrelated to the rest of the puzzle. The fill itself is decent in those corners, but I've never seen isolated corners improve a puzzle.

Finally, STYLET? Had to fix STYLus (which definition actually uses "engrave" you'll notice) then I google post solve and don't see anything engraving related in the top hits. I'm not claiming wrongness here, but both the word and clue seem sub-optimal to me.

Z 8:09 AM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
Z 8:10 AM  

@Brenda - WOE = What On Earth - a kinder, gentler version of a WTF, indicating something outside one's ken.
POW = Puzzle of the Week - has pre-publishing access to each week's puzzle and indicates which is the best of the week according to Mr. Chen.

We have a new term for these that I like - gridioms - coined stealthily by @Lewis.

QuasiMojo 8:14 AM  

"Note to self." Word ladders are "here to stay." Chances they will stop appearing in the NYT? "Slim to none." "Amen to that."

r.alphbunker 8:17 AM  

Easy Wednesday. Details are here.

meg oliver 8:19 AM  

i am a reasonably intelligent college educated english/spanish teacher turned RN who does xword puzzles every day(admittedly w/far less success than a rex parker or my most fav man on the planet - jon stewart) and i thought this was the stinkiest puzzle i have ever worked - oops, not worked, and i am 71 years old. that whole rung sequence which you tried to explain makes NO sense whatsoever. i don't understand even after you explained. i tried so many sequences that actually made sense. and this is wednesday!!!!
boooo kyle!!!!

Glimmerglass 8:22 AM  

@Laura Hoke. Your comments put our petty squabbles, incuding but not exclusively @Rex, in perspective. Keep using time positively. You are a good person.

Z 8:32 AM  

@Meg Oliver - I suspect you are overthinking it. For the answer SLIM TO NONE, the clue is a word ladder missing it's first word, SLIM, and last word, NONE. Ergo, SLIM TO NONE: SLIM, slid, said, sand, sane, sine, nine, NONE. Changing one letter at a time to get new words gets you from SLIM TO NONE in 8 words. The goal in word ladders is to get from the first to last word with as few words in between as possible.

Do I have to count answering questions as my own posts?

Hartley70 8:34 AM  

@Laura Hoke, as so often happens here, @Lewis said it to perfection. God Bless and thank you for giving us true perspective today.

Anonymous 8:34 AM  

@Laura Hoke-

Thank you and bless you for the life-lesson that reminds us all of what is important in each of our beings.

May your message inspire Rex to see his glass as half-full from time to time.

Numinous 8:39 AM  

Thank you @Laura Hoke, thank you. I really needed to hear what you said today! I should tattoo that on the inside of my eyelids as a NOTE TO SELF. I often forget that.

Years ago i heard a story on NPR. It went something like this: a young reporter was interviewing a centenarian on her hundred and third birthday or so. As the interviews wound down she said, "I have one last question."
The old woman said, "You want to know what is the most important thing in life?"
"Um, yes." The reporter replied.
"Whatever is most important to you"

I didn't find this puzzle particularly hard. I got the word ladder idea early on but didn't get the idea that the ladders led to common phrases until close to the end. Completing the this TO thats was pretty much the last order of business for me. Ordinarily I would groan and grumble over a word ladder puzzzle but this twist was amusing in retrospect. I don't usually pay a lot of attention to the theme as I solve so looking back over the puzzle is when I get to appreciate a theme the most. This one was a nice surprise.

I thought RENEGE (a favorite word of mine) next to BREXIT was pretty appropriate. I liked ANTISEPTIC and REPORT CARD. I thought IBN instantly but had to check the downs to see if that was going to work. Overall, a pretty clean and almost glueless grid.

@Hartley, I don't like infringing on @AliasZ's baliwick but when I heard that on the radio it always gets to me and I just felt I had to share. I'm not real big into opera but I do know a little and there are several arias that knock me out. The Habanera from Carmen is one, the Queen of the Night from the Magic Flute is another. Those high notes she hits make me tear up but that is one pissed-off lady! If you like that sort of stuff you might check out Anonymous 4 and Hildegard von Bingen.

Stanley Hudson 9:14 AM  

Nice mid-week puzzle.

@Laura Hoke, thank you and may God bless you dear lady.

Seth 9:21 AM  

I was curious to see if a shorter word ladder existed between AMEN and THAT. I found an online word ladder solver (because of course). Check it out:

In case anyone wants to try to find a shorter ladder on their own, I won't spoil it here. But I'll say that the website found a shorter one, but had to use a few pretty obscure words. It also found a longer one, but I'm not sure why it didn't find the one the puzzle used. OPED is indeed a(n obscure) word according to the official Scrabble dictionary. So I don't think TMEN would be "allowed."

Nancy 9:34 AM  

The most playful and inventive use of the word ladder -- a form I don't ordinarily care much for -- that I've ever seen. It was like a puzzle within a puzzle, and it was the one within that provided the most fun. I'm impressed by the construction chops it took to bring this off, and, for once, the difficulty of construction and the pleasure of the solve were interrelated. As for the rest of the puzzle, it provided some, but not a lot of "crunch". The clues were pretty straightforward. But all in all, an imaginative concept, very well executed.

Anonymous 9:37 AM  

I confidently wrote in 17A WORD LADDER only to realize that I could the words in three other places. Like Rex said word ladders are tedious and in order to enjoy them there must be a payout at the end of the road.
DNF this one because of a concentration of vague clues in the midsection on the right. TMI on top of IBN crossing LIMBO and FLINT made it impossible to suss out that section.

Nancy 9:46 AM  

@Laura Hoke -- The wisdom, courage and beauty of your outlook on life graces this blog. Thank you for reminding us of what really matters.

Pete 9:53 AM  

To the best of my knowledge I don't have a terminal disease.

I've spent the past few days talking down the trauma of friends who had to move, move from the only house their child has even known, because the increased racial animosity directed towards their adopted African daughter.

I have a transgender niece who's experienced increased torment in the past several months.

I have friends terrified that their family will be broken apart because one of them is an undocumented alien.

Please don't tell me to chill out.

GILL I. 9:54 AM  

Ay, @Rex...I'm with @Laura and her buzzkill comment.
Unlike a few, I always read you first because, well, it's your blog and I've learned how and what to appreciate in a puzzle. I thought this was a very clever Wednesday that I never wanted to end and when I read your blah blah write-up, I became sad.
What, I wonder, will @Rex like? This seemed current and upbeat and full of NEATO words. And, I bet @Numi always takes FLINT with him when he goes camping and I bet he takes it with him to the outhouse as well...
If you're already tired of BREXIT, you'll soon be tired of CALEXIT. What can one not be tired of? Let me count the ways.
I watched GIRLS once because I was curious...Don't bother. Sex in the City re-runs is a lot more fun.
I once dated a CHAP who took me to the TATE.

chefbea 9:57 AM  

Took a while to figure out the theme. Too many things I did not know. Had to google a bit

pmdm 10:00 AM  

I also fell into to WORDLADDER trap at 17A but at least I used VERY VERY small letters when I entered them into the grid. Seemed too easy for a Wednesday and turned out it was indeed.

Laura Hoke, as others have noted you make a very good point. There is a big difference with expressing a subjective reaction and objective judgment. I never mind the former (unless a rant rambles on a bit too long or there's arm twisting trying to convince you why the rant is justified) and just that problem sometimes creeps into this site. If you don't read Jeff Chen's comments at XWORDINFO.COM try visiting the site. For me, comparing the write-ups on that site with those here lessens some of the negativity sometimes found on this site.

Numinous: I did not realize you were basing the rating system you mentioned yesterday completely on length of time it takes to solve a puzzle. The gigantic puzzle published recently in the special Sunday Puzzles section of the Magazine Section gives us a good example. Getting the answers to the clues tended to be fairly easy, but the enormous size of the puzzle meant it took very. very long to solve. I don't think there was anything in your comment that suggested to me we use different systems to rate the difficulty levels of the puzzles. If there was, I wouldn't have bothered to respond to your comment since using your criteria validated your levels. I guess it's a case of two people talking through each other.

Speaking of difficulty ratings, once I got the AHA moment and understood the theme, the puzzle seemed closer to a Monday than a Wednesday puzzle difficulty level. For me, an enjoyable puzzle because of the difficulty level but because of the fairly high level of most of the fill.

Mohair Sam 10:00 AM  

@Laura Hoke - Thank you, thank you. A wake up call I needed right now. And God bless.

Puzzle was different. Different always equals fun in this house, so we liked it. Thought the cluing was relatively tough for a Wednesday (starting with GINA), but that was understandable given the near "gimme" nature of the theme once you caught on.

Patricia Highsmith. NOIR? Oh my, there has to be special category for her work - blacker than NOIR. I've read several of her novels and she found something downright evil in the souls of men, and loved to put it in print - great stuff. Eschew the flicks and read "Strangers on a Train" and "The Talented Mr. Ripley". The books much much darker - you'll be hooked.

Anonymous 10:01 AM  

Hey Pete I'm not buying any bridges today

PhillySolver 10:03 AM  

Thank you for sharing your wisdom.

Hungry Mother 10:18 AM  

Very nice puzzle, easy Wednesday for me (low 20s - I'm sluggish). Thanks for all of the positive comments. When I was studying Spanish near Malaga, one of my early successes was to formulate: Cada dia es un regalo.

The Clerk 10:21 AM  

Great puzzle. Perfect for a Wednesday.

Roo Monster 10:40 AM  

Hey All !
Word Ladders! I'm a fan, in fact, @Lewis gave me a moniker a while back - Verbumleitermaus - as making me (the, an?) official word-ladder dude. Of course, this is Rex's blog, so theoretically I'm just a commentor, but I'll take the honorary title! :-)

Liked the fact you had to guess the beginning and end words, and the fact that the corresponding themers were actual in-the-language phrases. Tres cool. Nice Scrabbly-ness around puz also. Light dreck. Good'un Kyle!

Wanted odds for SETS first, writeover at Inop-IDLE. Otherwise, ZERO errors! NEATO!

There is only five OCEANS, Atlantic, Pacific, Arctic, Indian, Antarctic. There are many Seas, but the quintet clue is correct.


Knitwit 10:53 AM  

Though not a huge fan of word ladders, I thought this was fun and a clever twist to a familiar theme.

Joseph Michael 10:54 AM  

Gee, I solved this without quite knowing what was going on themewise.

When I finally came here and got it, I was: a) impressed with the original take on word ladders; and b) depressed by Rex's typically negative commentary.

Thank you to @Laura Hoke for the wise counterbalance to Rex's glum views.

As for the fill, AMENTOTHAT sounds like an ancient Egyptian pharaoh.

And DOIN is surely a candidate for the DOOK Hall of Fame.

GHarris 11:03 AM  

I had no problem in areas Rex says he struggled yet it took me so much longer to complete than his sub four minutes. How does he do that? Was able to dope out the theme answers without fully understanding the process. Unlike some others I did not write in "word ladder" because the gimmes bon and renege immediately ruled that out.

Ellen S 11:10 AM  

I don't know what to search on (other than "number" which doesn't get me the answer) to see if anyone else has asked what are those three number pairs. The answer to one was SETS, another MATCH. ??? I'm going to feel really stupid when someone tells me

In the same region, I had -- I swear it -- MARS for 28 A, and when I filled in the last letter somewhere, I got the red bleat of shame. I tapped on "Clear All Errors" and what got erased was the "M" in Mars. I ran the alphabet, a bit confused. Puzzled, one might say. I've seen the movie. Was Matt Damon trapped in BARS all along? Not an space traveler, just a drunk? The cross was no help since it was that number triplet. MATCH, bATCH, cATCH etc, none of them made more sense than any others. Finally I gave in and said "Reveal Letter" and it was the "M" I had in the first place. Hey, thanks, Puzzazz!

I liked the word ladder. I usually despise them as @Rex does, but I found this one fun.

puzzle hoarder 11:12 AM  

I had to start with BALE and from the NE corner I worked randomly through the fill until I got the theme and things picked up after that.I still wound up with a KLEM dnf. EDON struck me as strange but thanks to EDO it looked very Japanese. I'd forgotten it by the time I'd finished and was in a hurry to comment as I got up late.
@Laura Hoke I'm very sorry to hear of your condition. Our host is quite a Debbie downer and can really diminish the enjoyment of perfectly entertaining puzzles like today's. If necessary just skip what he says but please continue to comment. Contributions like yours are the reason I come to this blog.

OISK 11:13 AM  

I enjoyed this one, despite clues about Lena Dunham (never watched) and a Rapper clue for "MOS." There are so many nice ways to clue "MOS", MOS Def??? Is that really a thing? Lucky I crawled out from my cave long enough to know who Heidi Klum is, or I never would have known "UDON."

Amused that someone didn't know that Tosca was a woman, but given the pop culture references that are completely strange to me, why should I be surprised that other folks neither know nor care about opera? Trying to expunge my inner snob....

Anonymous 11:13 AM  

@Laura Hoke:

Hang in there lady. Love your spirit! I've only got 2/3s of my right lung, but at least my CAT's are still clean.

@pete: It must suck to be you? You sound like a President I once knew. Well, he claimed he was a president, but not of the U.S.A

QuasiMojo 11:14 AM  

@Mohair Sam, I agree. I've read many books about Patricia Highsmith and all of her novels and can't recall "noir" being used to describe them. They were mostly psychological suspense novels which is a different genre from the much-overused and misunderstood term "noir." I had to laugh the other day because I saw "King Kong" listed as a "film noir." I think some people think it just means it was shot in black and white. Noir usually involves a "femme fatale" and in the case of Highsmith that rarely happened. Even in "Strangers on a Train" the main female character was a positive influence on the protagonist. My favorite Highsmith is "The Blunderer." Her second novel. Check it out if you haven't already.

@Laura Hoke, wonderful post today!

As for the quintet of oceans, yes there are five. But sadly there have been four "Oceans Eleven" movies already (counting the first) and I just hope we don't get another!

Masked and Anonymous 11:18 AM  

Only possible criticism …
Maybe need one ladder clue with that extra-exquisite eyepit appeal. How'bout …
{ … BURN BURS BUSS BUSH …} = TURN TO MUSH. [lil darlins.]

Otherwise, this here WedPuz was HARD HARE -- (HAR! U!) -- HARE HERE HERD HEAD BEAD BEAT with a stick! Congratz, Mr. Dolan. Different puztheme. M&A really likes different.

staff weeject pick: LSU.
fave ode to Betsy DeVos, and 2-part almost-themer [today's SE corner finale]: NEA TO SPEW.
fave and only moment of desperation: IBN. Coulda stood to have a little more trash in this grid, but then, M&A's needs are somewhat "special"…

Bravo, thUmbsUp, and thanx, Kyle Dolan. Fun stuff. Hey! -- @RP gave yer puz a "tolerable" -- Icing on the cake. Enjoy yer day.

Masked & Anonymo3Us
"Born To Run(t)"


Nancy 11:27 AM  

@Ellen S. (11:10) -- Both are the tennis scores of a three set MATCH, comprised of three SETS.

David Schinnerer 11:29 AM  

I liked this puzzle a lot. I may be a simpleton, but I found it cool that the progressions worked and morphed into the finished phrases.

Man, Rex must have had some terrible things happen to him in his childhood. I suppose his parents expected only perfection from him, because nothing is ever good enough for him.

And again with the "so many other options for word progressions" gripe. Rex...**news flash**... your would-be choices are NOT the only ones that would be acceptable. Hard to fathom, I know.

It's bad enough we have such a narcissistic I have to deal with it here too? (Actually, I don't, do I?) And yet I keep coming back So my bad. Never mind...

John V 11:42 AM  

Really enjoyed this one because it took a it to figure out what was going on with the theme, what with the ellipses and all, which I missed at first glance. Don't remember seeing this idea before. Fun stuff.

Masked and Anonymous 11:47 AM  

@Anoa Bob -- I think the math is somewhat cloudy, on yer neat(o) word-ladder-minimum-steps question.
Fer'instance: FACE TO FACE. Done.
Howsomeever, if all the letters in the end words are different, then you'd have to change 4 letters, ergo it would take at least three intermediate steps to do it. None of today's puzthemer clues was even close to doin that there minimum.
Example of minimum steps in action: TORE TOTE TOTS TITS BITS.

I will put the mighty Masked Research Dept. on to the semi-Herculean task of uncoverin a minimum count, for one of today's puzthemers.

M&A Help Desk

relicofthe60s 11:53 AM  

I'd like more mixed martial arts clues, said no one ever.

Warren Howie Hughes 12:00 PM  

I say, Rex Old CHAP, Are we to gather that with your latest biting and KLUM review of this week's weak Xword offerings, that you're about to TOSCA in the (crying) towel? Perhaps Thursday's outing will bring an ENDS to this BALE of whacks, and hopefully, KELP is on the way? :-)

Anonymous 12:05 PM  

@ Masked and Anonymous:

LMAO! YEOW! TOTS TORE TITS TOte BITS That's gonna leave a mark! TMI.

Anonymous 12:10 PM  


I have visited a number of foreign countries. I always applied for a visa and gave honest answers in the application, then complied with terms of the visa while I was there, like not taking a job, for instance. I think it's reasonable to ask that of anyone asking admittance to another country.

In terms of breaking up families:
Suppose I robbed a bank and used the money to buy a house. When I get caught, does my family get to keep the house because it wasn't their fault I stole the money? Or does the house get sold to repay the money and then I whine about how "they" broke up my family?

JC66 12:15 PM  

@Laura Hoke

Thank you!

old timer 12:21 PM  

I was so delighted with SLIMTONONE that I expected the others to be just as good. They weren't. I actually think some of the other puzzles OFL hated were better, especially the Monday jewel by Stein and Gamache.

Still, this one was pretty good. And where it was crunchy crosses helped.

I lived in SF 1970-1977 and also the Summer of Love. More likely to hang out at the Abbey Tavern or in 1967, the original Old Spaghetti Factory in North Beach. Before I was 21, I thought I would like Vesuvio's but when I was old enough to go, I didn't care for it. My place to go for a good drink and interesting people was Spec's. Tosca? An institution, but not a great place if you were not an opera buff.

Masked and Anonymous 12:21 PM  

Of course, @RP has already suggested one minimal solution…


This is what is known, in the Ladder Industry, as a "desperate word ladder".

Research shows that (extreme) desperation would be involved in all other minimal word ladder solutions, for today's set of puzthemers. staff pick, that has total Official NYTPuz Usage Immunity …


M&A Desperate Facts Desk
"Ladder Day's Ain'ts"

Mohair Sam 12:28 PM  

@Quasimojo - Yeah, "The Blunderer" may be the quintessential Highsmith, I loved it. But my heart belongs to "Strangers" - probably because it was the first of her novels I read. I've never read her full biography as you have. I need to, complex woman - way ahead of her time.

And yes, the term NOIR has become tortured - you put it well.

Anonymous 12:39 PM  

To Laura Hoke and the rest of you pablum loving freeloaders who don't appreciate your generous host Rex but use his blog for your social life: Please move on over to Wordplay with Deb Amlen.

ghostoflectricity 12:47 PM  

A cell phone replacing a clock; when I solved that clue I immediately had a mental image of Flavor Flav, the "hype man" and resident clown of the hiphop band Public Enemy, who is the only person I know of who regularly wears a clock in public.

Minh Khanh Bui 12:49 PM  

i love music
Game trailer 2017 - Dragon quest heroes trailer - The World Tree's Woe and the Heroes You Know

Masked and Anonymous 12:52 PM  

@Anoa dude -- I hope U weren't askin the infinitely harder question: "What is the minimum number of word ladder steps guaranteed to always connect *any* 4-letter word to *any* other 4-letter word?"

Pardon me now, while I scan the den, to recover all the bits of my exploded M&A brain.

[Pick-up Pause]

M&A humbly and shirkingly offers this info on that bigger question, from the pages of wikipedia:

"Donald Knuth used a computer to study word ladders of five-letter words. He believed that three-letter word ladders were too easy (although Lewis Carroll found six steps were required for APE to evolve into MAN), and that six-letter word ladders were less interesting, since relatively few pairs of six-letter words could be connected with a word ladder.[3] Knuth used a fixed collection of 5,757 of the most common English five-letter words, excluding proper nouns. He determined exactly when two words of the collection had a word ladder between them via other words in the collection. Knuth found that most words were connected to each other, and he also found that 671 words of the collection did not form a word ladder with any other words. He called these words "aloof", because "aloof" is itself an example of such a word."

Outlaw M&A Pablum Desk

Teedmn 1:07 PM  

Fresh and well constructed was my thought upon getting the theme today. I even used it to help with some of the crosses. 31A, for example - didn't know LSU and __INT didn't spark any ideas of FLINT so I checked out SELL in the clue - l_INT was not going to work for 34D so the 2nd L must be changing. NOTE TO SEL_ filled itself in, nice!

Of course, this trick bit me down at 64A when I filled in opEN TO THAT and had to rethink it when SALMON leapt in the OCEANS.

I was expecting this would be Jeff Chen's puzzle of the week but no, not yet. But thanks, Kyle Dolan, for a great Wednesday.

@LauraHoke, best wishes to you. I appreciate your eye-opening comment on time.

@M&A, thanks for alerting me to the idea that words can be "aloof".

Teedmn 1:10 PM  

And @Nancy, from yesterday, I do like camping - but I won't touch trail mix with a ten foot pole unless it is mostly M&Ms. And even then, I'll turn my nose up at it if it has [shudder] banana chips.

phil phil 1:32 PM  

Floria Tosca

tea73 1:45 PM  

Like others I confidently wrote WORDLADDER for 17A and then had to erase it almost immediately. I'm not a word ladder fan, but thought this was a cute twist on the theme. I got trapped by stylus and kept thinking that EDICT was some variant of ukase. Oops. Not an opera fan so I didn't put in TOSCA right away, but have done enough crosswords to wonder if it might be the right answer since Aida didn't fit. Liked this one.

Anonymous 2:25 PM  

Saw Tosca in Berlin in 1989. When she flung herself off the parapet, she landed on a trampoline and reappeared flailing in the air for all the audience to behold.

Anonymous 3:11 PM  

shame on rex

Anonymous 3:19 PM  

I thought this was kind of hard, but then again I voted for Maxine Waters.

The angel city kid 3:53 PM  

Hand up for stylus slowing up the SE.

Anoa Bob 5:24 PM  

I think that there are bonus points, so to speak, when a meaningful ____TO____ phrase can be ladderized with a minimum number of intervening words and, conversely, that points are lost if the intervening list becomes too long. I thought that was the case with the last clue which had nine intervening words in the ladder. Well, sure, you can probably ladderize any two four-letter words if you are allowed to use as many "rungs" as you want. So the spectrum for me would run from "Hey, that's clever" for short ladders to "Ho hum" for long ones.

Then I wondered, @M&A, what two four-letter words would require the longest set of intervening words to ladderize. Your post got me to wondering also if there are any four-letter "aloof" words.

Puzzled 5:24 PM  

It takes all kinds, even in 2017 America.

thursdaysd 6:23 PM  

I quite liked this one, made a nice change from word ladders IN the puzzle.

I travel with a tiny Casio alarm clock, but a lot of travelers these days are just using a cell phone as an alarm clock, so I though the clue was fine.

Cassieopia 6:35 PM  

@anon 2:25, how perfect was that - you have painted a happy image that I will carry in my brain for some time. "Flailing"...ah my stomach hurts and people are staring at me.

@laura hoke, your reminder hit very close to home as I'm at this very moment at Memorial Sloan Kettering supporting my brother as he navigates a new and frightening reality. Thank you and bless you.

Using a word ladder to clue common phrases was clever and bright. I thought this was uncommonly decent for Wednesday.

Masked and Anonymous 6:36 PM  

@Anoa Bob - U can get to ONYX from ORYX, and vice-versa. But day-um hard to get to any other word, from either of them. Soo … semi-aloof.


Peter Strauss 7:20 PM  

@Laura -- thank you so much for your words.
I'm in my 80's, I've been through scary, life-threatening moments/diseases, and I similarly have come to relish each day, regardless of what it brings.
I awake to the morning's light, and feel profoundly grateful for another day: to enjoy myself, to live in the loving relationships that surround me, to do yet another puzzle, to relish people's commentaries on same, and just possibly to do something that makes a difference in the world.
I appreciate your perspective, and I wish you all the best.
Peter Strauss
Oakland CA

Mohair Sam 7:48 PM  

@Peter Strauss - Nice. Words to live by, thank you.

@Anon (2:25) - Seconding Cassieopia on enjoying the image of the flailing TOSCA. I've only seen the opera once, about the same time (1990ish) performed by a struggling Russian troupe (in Newark of all places) with stark scenery and, sadly, no bouncing Sopranos.

Paulie Walnuts 8:19 PM  

Jersey Sopranos workin with the Russki's?


Mohair Sam 8:43 PM  

@Paulie - Nice. I wish this blog had a "like" button.

Leapfinger 8:49 PM  

BONE TO PICK, I don't have one.

@LauraH, @PeterS, good thoughts to remember.
PS to PS: Enjoyed your blog

Z 9:36 PM  

Periodic Reminder about Psychoanalyzing Rex.

This Rex guy is hard to read. Daily Blog and occasional blog. New podcast. Posts all kinds of personal stuff on Twitter. I hear he has a Facebook page, too (I don't facebook so I can't say for sure). Let's see, vacays in New Zealand, Minnesota, Michigan, etc. Daughter is school shopping, liked enough at work to get exciting responsibilities, brags incessantly about former students doing well. Oprah is hanging out near in-laws place right now so lots of "I've been there" comments about her instagram posts. Yeah, he sounds just miserable. Let me offer an alternate hypothesis: Rex posts that puzzles are crap because he thinks the puzzles are crap. Disagree with Rex? Great, I'd love to read your reasons (and you will find others who agree with you). Think Rex is too negative? There are at least two options that are always more positive about the NYTX, helpfully linked to right on Rex's home page. Prefer reading the commentariat to Rex? Cool. You don't have to read Rex. However, psychoanalysis in these comments mostly suggests that the psychoanalyizer is adding 2+2 and getting red.


@M&A - Not enough examples of 6-letter ladderable words? I. Just. Don't. Get. It. Wouldn't that make 6-letter word ladders more interestin? My challenge to you: PEWITS to EYEPIT, no aloofing allowed. (BTW - online solvers don't recognize EYEPIT as a word. Heathens!)

Churlish Nabob 9:55 PM  

Anyone see the way Shortz nailed Michael's balls to the wall a few days ago?

Andrew Heinegg 10:22 PM  

@Laura Hoke-the best of everything to you and humble thanks for putting almost everything in perspective. I once had a nun for a teacher in elementary school (I am old enough that I used to call it grammar school). One day she walked into class at the start of the day and announced that a classmate had been hit and killed by a car while crossing the street about 10 blocks away from the school. She then reminded us what she had said many times before. Live every day as if it were your last. I heard those words more than 50 years ago and my greatest regret in my life is that I did not spend much more of my life with those words firmly in mind.

I did the puzzle and finished it in reasonably short order. Truth be told, I was in the process of making up my mind as to what I thought of the puzzle until I read Laura's comment. Then I realized my own upcoming surgeries of hip replacement, prostate surgery and cervical spinal fusion are small things. Again, the old clichéd story about the person complaining they had no shoes until they meet another person with no feet. Be thankful for what you have and don't have.

Steve 11:20 PM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
Punctuated equilibrium 11:28 PM  

Yes, me too. Just fixed the errors as I went. I found this puzzle impossible and suddenly, I saw the theme and the rest of it was easy.
New(ish) to posting here...hi, everyone!

Burma Shave 10:44 AM  


at the AGE when GIRLS are AGILE, but fat.
When she’s BARE she ADOREs just DOIN’ it for fun,


spacecraft 11:08 AM  

I wonder if the Fearless One will have any reply to the poignant post of @Laura Hoke. That would exhibit real character. We so easily forget how good we have it...may your remaining days be filled with comfort and joy, dear.

I do agree that today's puzzle shines in comparison to recent efforts, but give it a more ringing endorsement than you-know-who. Here's the telling point: there is NO fill dreck! Even the tired IDO moves in the clue from church to courtroom in a desperate attempt at freshness. This alone guarantees a birdie at least.

Like many others, I applaud the "relo" of word ladders to the clue SET. At first I didn't know what he was looking for, so I cast about for a way in (I proudly do NOT ever follow any of the new-fangled "fighting" sports). Thought the cross-reference clue was SHAH and IRAN--quickly scuttled when I saw that the two intersected. That left ADAM and EDEN, and the SW was gone. Got REPORTCARD right away off the -ARD; seemed natural. Not long after the trick revealed itself, and I flew through the rest of the grid. It was so clean, so comfortable--despite a mild bending of a clue here and there, which only added to the experience. I was actually surprised to NOT find a name like Patrick Berry in the byline. Kyle, you are my new hero! You even included a terrific DOD in Heidi KLUM. What else could one want? Eagle!

Diana,LIW 1:20 PM  

As many have commented, I too enjoyed the word ladder twist. And it did help the solve - I even changed an egregious error when I realized one of my phrases made no sense. And I too wanted to write in "wordladder" but immediately saw that there were many of them, so refrained.

Laura's post was spot on regarding health and time. We stress ourselves needlessly with petty complaints. Next time you're waiting in line at the store, look around you. Really notice the people - what are they up to? Read the silly headlines in the tabloids. Smile at them. We are so blessed to have large stores with entire aisles of everything from beans to pet food. And, of course, if you look carefully, Novz Lox.

Diana, Lady-in-Waiting for Crosswords

Diana,LIW 1:34 PM  

Er...NovA Lox


leftcoastTAM 1:58 PM  

This was just too good to have warranted Rex's begrudging critique. But I'm not Rex.

The word progression gave theme answers that made sense, but didn't become too obvious too early. The non-theme crosses needed to get the themers were not gimmes. Then add the SETS-MATCH tennis mini-theme.

There is more: the SYNAPSE/STYLET crosses, with PEAK and KLUM, complicating the lower middle and two of the themers.

As for GINA, didn't know her at all, but who doesn't know that Matt Damon was stranded on MARS? Lots of people in addition to Rex, I guess, but what could be an easier pop-culture clue?

Best Wednesday I've seen for some time.

Anonymous 3:05 PM  

A lot of commenters seriously off task today. CROSSWORDS!

rondo 3:28 PM  

So OFL is always clamoring for new ideas for the grid and when he gets one practically dismisses it. TSKTSK. Go figure. I thought it was pretty good.

Today is actually that CHAP Eric IDLE’s birthday. I suppose a Monty Python themed puz would be too dated for some?

Heidi KLUM and GINA Carano both fall into the yeah baby category. And probably BARB (EDEN?).

A little SPEW today in the place where SMEW was the other day. Let’s see hoe tomorrow’s puz ENDS.

strayling 7:24 PM  

Thanks, that was fascinating. It's also going to be an interview question for programmers :D

strayling 7:32 PM  

Fun puzzle.

... DELL DOLL DOLE ..., Mr Dolan

Blogger 11:07 PM  

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