SATURDAY, Feb. 17, 2007 - Robert H. Wolfe

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Solving time: don't know ... 30?

THEME: none

This puzzle was fairly difficult. Not as much scintillating fill as I'd like to see in a Saturday, and a heavier-than-normal load of made-up-sounding or otherwise barely usable words. Still, it was a reasonably pleasant experience, wherein I heroically recovered from a dreadful, long-lasting mistake on the Very First clue (1A: Facility with many schools) - which I believe HAD to be designed as a trap, given what happened to me. See below.

There is a subtle feminism to this puzzle, with the two long symmetrical Downs containing WOMAN and SISTER:

4D: Miss in a derby? (horsewoman)
26D: Sharer of both parents (full sister)

So SMARTEN UP (54A: Decorate), and be careful whom you call MANNISH (39A: Unfeminine).

The Seattle Aquarium

1A: Facility with many schools (fish farm)
8D: Pronoun for Pliny (mea)

Up in the "Seattle" region of the grid, I fell into an appropriately (for "Seattle") fishy trap. I was so proud to suss out the meaning of "schools" quite quickly (i.e. I knew the clue was going for a fish-related answer), and the best candidate for an answer in this case was, of course, AQUARIUM. I would not have entered AQUARIUM into the grid, however, if MEA, as a Down cross, had not confirmed the final M. That made AQUARIUM solid. AQUARIUM was anchored (staying nautical with my themery ... nice, huh?) further, into a near intractable position, when it turned out that the "I" gave me a very plausible IDOLIZE for the Down cross 6D: Not merely like - didn't help that the actual correct answer, ADULATE, shares three letters with IDOLIZE, but that's neither here nor there. This is all to say that "Seattle" was recalcitrant and ended up being the very last section of the puzzle to go down. Long crosses up there involved a clue/answer mixed metaphor - 13A: Way over the line (in too deep) - and a word that only a sexologist or the most pompously repulsive lothario would ever use: 16A: Further stirring (rearousal). While I'm up here (in "Seattle"), I have a question about clues with parentheses in them, e.g. 7D: Chafes (at). Now, it was my understanding that the parenthetical part would need to be added to the end of the answer to make sense. Here's an example from Thursday's puzzle - 65A: Scratched (out) => EKED. You EKE out an existence. Thus I do Not understand the use of the parenthetical in the Chafes (at) clue, because the answers is RESENTS, and nobody "RESENTS at" something. If you "chafe at" something, you RESENT it. So why not just remove the parentheses?


Here is my long list of answers that made me wince or say 'ouch' or some such equivalent unpleasant reaction:

19A: Toys, for tots (amusers) - a very cleverly worded clue, but it's deceptively over-restricted: presumably toys are AMUSERS for whoever is playing with them. This clue suggests that adults, or even older children, would be something other than AMUSEd by toys. Bemused? Who knows? I don't like that the "tots" part of the clue is there just for the catchy clue, and not for any inherent reason.
36A: Soft, transversely ribbed fabric (faille) - OK, the only reason this one made me wince was that I had never, ever heard of it and it sounded totally made-up. "Transversely ribbed ... for her pleasure?"
48A: Daring adventurer (swasher) - SWASHbuckler, yes (I think that was a word involved in yesterday's puzzle). But just SWASHER? Too close to SWISHER, not close enough to SWASHBUCKLER.
56A: Sullies (asperses) - You cast ASPERSions. You do not ASPERSE! Or, rather, you should not. I do not deny that ASPERSES is a word. Hey, is this word related to ASPS? ASPERSE should mean "to distribute asps."
10D: Like some poisoning (arsenical) - this was inferrable, but again, ouch. "That poisoning was ARSENICAL." I can't hear anyone going that :) "That was ARSENIC poisoning." Yes. I like words that could actually come out of someone's mouth. No problem with a word if it's the only word that will do, or a particularly apt word, but adjectiving for adjectiving's sake? Grumble.
11D: Go back (retrocede) - "I left my scarf in the house." "Well, you better RETROCEDE and get it!" See, the thing about scientists is that they can make any damn crazy damn entity out of various Latin parts they have lying around, and then call it a word. Is my hairline RETROCEDING? (Answer: sadly, yes, slowly but surely)
26D: Sharer of both parents (full sister) - this is a fine answer; but the whole half- / full- / step- differentiation can get on my nerves a little, in that those prefixes carry value judgments that I don't like. I never use the phrase FULL SISTER in relation to my sister. I have, however, used the phrase REAL SISTER, which, maybe, is worse.

The (far too meager) benefits of an overpriced liberal arts education

40A: _____ of Court (Inns)
- My semi-canonical English Literature education taught me this phrase somewhere along the line
46A: Supplement (codicil) - my big coup of the day. I was elated with this word came to me seemingly out of the blue, with just the final -IL in place. One of those times when you make a big guess with a fancy word and you just know that it's right. (However, cf. AQUARIUM, above)

Assorted observations

GLUM seems entirely too anticlimactic an answer to 30A: Saturnine. Eeyore is GLUM. I guess GLUM is an entirely appropriate synonym, but Saturnine makes me think of Saturn (surprisingly), either the planet or the god, so somehow I expect something bigger than merely GLUM. There were two answers (aside from a few already mentioned) that I flat-out didn't know:

21A: Mine shaft borer (trepan)
47D: Jazz singer Anderson (Ivie)

The latter wanted to be EVIE so bad that I was reconsidering my spelling of CODICIL. TREPAN is an anagram of PARENT. And PRE-TAN. And PANTER. And such and such. Ooh, and ENTRAP. That's enough anagramming. I liked that crossword stalwart ESAI (Morales) is here in a very disguised clue, 34D: Tony's player on "NYPD Blue" - very cruel to have the clue refer to a period of the show's run when no one was watching it any more. I spent many minutes trying to remember what Jimmy Smits's name was. Something about the intersection of MINCES (33D: Lessens the force of) and MANNISH (39A: Unfeminine) seems very, very right. I love the misdirection on 43A: Medical school course (ethics) - expect anatomy, get philosophy. Unlike yesterday's olde tyme film obscurities, today's 44D: "Charlie _____ Secret" (1935) (Chan's) is an answer I can really get behind. Detective fiction with an Orientalist slant (!!)? Bring it on! Not sure how to SEGUE (45D: "On a similar note," e.g.) to my final observation. So I won't bother. I'll just say it: I was very disappointed when 18A: Jude, e.g. turned out to be EPISTLE. I really, really wanted it to be OBSCURE.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Anonymous 11:00 AM  

Ugh. I don't enjoy these contrived sorts of answers at all; it just makes me mad. I could barely get started, and then when I did, I had a wrong answer immediately that I held onto: AND CUT! instead of PLACES for Director's cry. I like mine better. So much of the rest were just, if you'll pardon the expression, GROANERS. And since when does SEGUE mean "on a similar note"? I don't think making a smooth transition is really the same thing, but correct me if I'm wrong.

Anonymous 11:00 AM  

Saturnine -- You're on the right track. From my on-line (mac-attached) dictionary:

saturnine |ˈsatərˌnīn| adjective (of a person or their manner) slow and gloomy : a saturnine temperament. See note at glum . • (of a person or their features) dark in coloring and moody or mysterious : his saturnine face and dark, watchful eyes. • (of a place or an occasion) gloomy.

ORIGIN late Middle English (as a term in astrology): from Old French saturnin, from medieval Latin Saturninus ‘of Saturn’ (identified with lead by the alchemists and associated with slowness and gloom by astrologers).

I don't always agree with your take on the puzzle, but always enjoy the way review and share your solving experience. Terrific blog!

Rex Parker 11:08 AM  

O Wendy - yes, I groaned a bit myself, as you can see. I think "on a similar note" is an EXAMPLE of a SEGUE, not a definition thereof, per se. AND CUT! is awesome wrongness. I do love great wrong answers. AND CUT! beats AQUARIUM, hands down.

Anonymous - if you always agreed with my take, I'd be very, very worried for you. It's highly personal and often highly irrational, this blog. Meant to provoke as much as persuade. Thanks for the kind words.


Alex S. 12:01 PM  

I barely made a dent in this puzzle.

I too had AND CUT and for some reason wrote in ETHICS without any acrosses so I'm glad to see it was right.

I've never even heard the phrase "full sister" and I'm from a modern family and have two sisters, one half-sister, a half-brother, and three step brothers. Since every condition other than "full" is appropriately modified I guess it has never been needed. So even though the I in ETHICS had me guessing it was something sister I wasn't able to come up with it. And yet it seems so obvious once seen.

Anonymous 1:07 PM  

I'm with Wendy: I hated this one, full of contrived words, marginal clues, and pointless curveballs. A prime example of what's become of a once-great institution. The last two days have been horrific.

Rex Parker 1:31 PM  

Dude, you hate Everything. Your complaints are all variations on the same theme: Will Shortz Ruined The NYT Puzzle. How about some variety?


Anonymous 2:53 PM  

Oops, you're right about the SEGUE, Rex, that's why the 'e.g.' was there. Lightbulb goes on!

Anonymous 3:02 PM  

Rex, I love your blog. I too had "and Cut" for directors cry" and I actually like this answer better for it is a far more likely thing a director would actually shout.
I enjoy your blog daily, but on days like this where I'm struggling, I NEED your blog.

C zar 3:45 PM  

Also smuggly fell into the AQUARIUM, IDOLIZE, MEA trap and considered myself oh-so-smart for nailing the first clue of the puzzle (not!).

IMOO... The clue for PLACES should have been "Stage Manager's Cry." I am a director (albeit a lazy one who makes the stage manager do all the heavy lifting) and I felt pretty dumb taking so long to get this one.

As always, thanks for your wonderful blog. I actually feel smarter for having made the same mistakes as the great Rex.

Anonymous 4:06 PM  

Very boring puzzle today. I agree about resents (at) (Germanic particle?) and other words that seem made up for puzzles but not formal or informal English.

Anonymous 4:07 PM  

Let's go back to yesterday's blog where Rex wrote:

"Is the George Sanders of which you speak THIS guy?

Looks like it. I own two books by him! They were both ghost-written. By women."

Is this just another one of the hallmark Rex Parker sly-isms? Are you just trying to see if we are paying attention ... or what?

George Sand
nee Amandine-Lucile-Aurore Dupin,
later Baroness Dudevant

Linda G 4:51 PM  

A couple of gimmes, including FAILLE (great swimsuit fabric) and MANNISH (though that was probably more of a good guess). Also had ANDCUT -- lots of like minds at this blog. Had FISHTANK and FISHPOND for 1A but couldn't make any sense of 5-8 downs with either.

Didn't do well at all with this one. Will now try my luck/skill at today's syndicated puzzle.

Rex Parker 7:28 PM  

Dear "George Sand,"

No, I meant George Sanders. I own two books of his, both ghostwritten by women: one by Craig Rice, the other by Leigh Brackett. I think I remember George Sand from my 19c. French Lit course in college. She knew ... Flaubert, maybe. But I assure you no reference was intended. Sometimes I just mean what I say.

As for PLACES - I was not bothered by it and did not fall into any traps because by the time I saw it, I already had -ACES. The PL- was thus easy to get and Absolutely Essential to my getting Any kind of hold on the NW.

Howard B 11:05 PM  

Here, have an asp, I insist.
(I personally prefer Rex's definition of asperse, as you can tell).

I'm all puzzled out. Sleep well, and have fun with the Sunday offerings.

Anonymous 11:52 PM  

Rex, thanks for making me laugh out loud. Saturday's was a bear for sure, but fun in its way - I liked the juxtaposition of ADULATE, IN TOO DEEP, ETHICS, SEDUCER, and REAROUSAL. !!

Anonymous 11:56 PM  

Sorry; meant to sign previous post! (Can't figure out how to choose an identity when posting) Ultra Vi

Orange 12:21 AM  

Don't be an asphole, Rex...

Anonymous 8:17 AM  

Select "Other" and type "Ultra Vi" and then click "Publish Your Comment" - viola, Vi!

David Glasser 10:31 AM  

Also smuggly fell into the AQUARIUM, IDOLIZE, MEA trap and considered myself oh-so-smart for nailing the first clue of the puzzle (not!).

(OK, c zar wrote that, but it applies to me too.)

Anonymous 5:37 PM  

In case you didn't see it, this was posted on the NYT forum by Mr. Shortz:

"Chafe (at)

Yes, this was a goof ... which I and a lot of people overlooked.

Since "chafe at" = "resent," there should have been no parentheses around "at."

--Will Shortz"


Anonymous 12:07 PM  

Back here in the hinterland, we get the NYT puzzle 6 weeks late, so I'm just doing #0217 on Mar.31. For 14D,I tried LIGHTS, CAMERA, and ACTION; never thought of PLACES. I didn't know anything about mine shaft borers (21A) so had to resort to Google, and that's where I found Rex Parker. Where did TREPAN come from? It isn't in any article about mining.

Anonymous 12:14 PM  

We get the NYT puzzle 6 weeks late so I'm doing #0217 on March 31. I drew a blank on mine shaft borer and finally resorted to Google; that's where I found Rex Parker. How did you know TREPAN? I looked up mining in the encyclopedia and never found it. Also, on 14D I tried LIGHTS, CAMERA, and ACTION but never thought of PLACES and wasted about an hour. I'm definitely not in your league.

Rex Parker 1:11 PM  

Hi Anonymous,

Thanks for reading. An ordinary Google search reveals this definition of trepan.

Please come back and comment any time.


Anonymous 4:05 PM  

our paper in Honolulu carries the syndication so just got this puzzle today Mar. 31. Ugly and below Shortz' standards. Agree with all comments. Hate made-up words like swasher, retrocede, etc. Constructor Robt. Wolfe took short-cuts.

Anonymous 4:50 PM  

My experience with this puzzle was much like yours, Rex. The Seattle area was tough, but as luck would have it, I had Jude down as an APOSTLE, which gave me INEPT, and eliminated the Aquarium.

Where I had the most trouble was the S/E. ANTWERP is AT THE OTHER END of the Albert Canal from LIEGE, NOT ACROSS FROM IT. Sheesh!

Anonymous 4:53 PM  

Ha - ran across your blog for the first time today, as it's one of the few Google hits for SWASHER. So, I'll join the "six weeks late" crew to say "ditto for the AQUARIUM filter, and AND CUT cut me to the quick." Oh, and yes, the thing about Antwerp being *across* the canal from Liege was annoying.

Rex Parker 5:02 PM  

Sometimes being massively ignorant about European geography (as I am) helps. I know that ANTWERP is a Belgian city. That is all I know. A few crosses and I'm good to go.

I am always amused when people assume I must be smart because I can do puzzles. Where puzzles are concerned, there's definitely such a thing as too smart. I don't have that problem.

It's always cool to me to see where others flail around - nice to know what's common and what's not. I had no problem with PLACES because by the time I saw the clue, I had many letters in place already. Those who came at that clue blind tended to stumble madly.


Anonymous 7:13 PM  

I read Rex's blog religiously but seldom comment because I'm six weeks behind. I'm writing this one because of the many people in the same time warp as I am who are commenting.

I really didn't like this puzzle, or yesterday's for that matter. I'm starting to wonder if I'm just not a Friday and Saturday person. This was hard with no "Aha" payoff, no theme, nothing really fun.

I usually do the puzzle alone but my husband had to help me with this one. We had trouble with the NW, although we never put in aquarium. I get really nervous about Qs, and could never see any way I would have a down for that.

Anyway, I'm glad so many people commented today. Maybe we could form a "six-weeks-late club".

Anonymous 7:56 PM  

I did this one on th 31st and agree that the last two days have been bears. I was about to give up on NW when I realized apostle was really epistle which gave me fire and in to deep and then the rest. NW was the hardest part of this. (BTW I googled trepan after I got it and came up with auger.)I also don't like the forced stuff (arsenical?). My only error was retrocede. I couldn't get off retraced which obviously didn't fit but I was stuck. Love the blog, and am now checking it Thursday through Sunday in your archives.

Anonymous 11:24 PM  

One more comment on NW if anyone's left to read it. It was harder because I wanted to put resents in for chafes (at) but didn't because of the parens around at. I finally put it in because it was the only fit. My comment is that if Shortz knew it was an error six weeks ago how come he let it go into syndication with the same error?

Rex Parker 6:59 AM  

Re: syndication. I don't know how it works, or how much say Shortz has over the future appearance of the puzzle. I do know, for sure (from hearing things from you guys who are six weeks behind!) that the puzzle occasionally appears with errors that local editors, and not Shortz, have made. One time a clue was Intentionally misspelled (in fact, if I remember correctly, MISSPELLED was the Answer to the clue), and some semi-observant editor "fixed" it, making the clue incomprehensible. Other times the wrong title has been published with a Sunday puzzle, confusing people no end. So ... I don't know who holds the Power in syndication. It's a good question. If someone asks it in the land-of-Not-6-weeks-behind, Shortz or someone who knows might answer it.


Garrett 6:38 PM  

I just worked this Sat. the 31st also. I made four passes through the clues before I felt confident enough to write anything in. My first word: Aquarium. My next, Mea, my third: AND CUT! I could not believe that STUPID could possibly be the answer for clueless, and tried everything else before giving in. I was pleased to figure out that "Jude, e.g." was a reference to the apostle, and wrote that in. Wrong! It was the apostle's epistle! I agree with the remark about the clue "Chafes (at)" also. But when I finally figured out that AND CUT was wrong and so was AQUARIUM I finally began to get this area and I have to tell you the worst groaner in it for me was FOOT PAD for "step on it." That really does not even make sense.

Garrett 6:39 PM  

I just worked this Sat. the 31st also. I made four passes through the clues before I felt confident enough to write anything in. My first word: Aquarium. My next, Mea, my third: AND CUT! I could not believe that STUPID could possibly be the answer for clueless, and tried everything else before giving in. I was pleased to figure out that "Jude, e.g." was a reference to the apostle, and wrote that in. Wrong! It was the apostle's epistle! I agree with the remark about the clue "Chafes (at)" also. But when I finally figured out that AND CUT was wrong and so was AQUARIUM I finally began to get this area and I have to tell you the worst groaner in it for me was FOOT PAD for "step on it." That really does not even make sense.

Unknown 9:30 PM  

Here I am six weeks and a day behind. I managed to complete only the SE corner and I'm proud of it. Every other quadrant contained fill that I positively chafe at. Hate REAROUSAL; hate AMUSERS and never heard of CODICIL (though impressed that our sponsor knew it). I guessed and struggled enough to get the puzzle maybe 3/4 done before giving up. When I looked at the solution (published with the much friendlier 0219 puzzle) I was proud of myself for giving up. I can't remember ever giving up on a puzzle. I may cheat (google), but give up?? This was a giver upper if ever there was one! PFUI PFUI PFUI!!!

p.s. count me in on the 6-weeks-out club!

Unknown 10:40 PM  

...and another thing: I really, really wanted the answer to 10D, "Like some poisoning", to be NON-FATAL. I beat that one to death (praying for a rare Saturday rebus) before surrendering the NE quadrant. Talk about your filler wannabees...

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