MONDAY, Mar. 5, 2007 - Fred Piscop

Monday, March 5, 2007

Solving time: 4:10
THEME: Dirt - all theme answers begin with a synonym of DIRT, or in the case of 17A, DIRT itself: 17A: Planter without hired hands (dirt farmer) [this phrase is new to me]

One of the most disappointing, poorly conceived Monday puzzles I've ever experienced. Its awkwardness didn't slow me down much, but I winced multiple times. Once I'd finished and had time to review the whole grid, I confirmed that the whole thing looked a mess. Where to begin. First, for a much better, more coherent DIRT-themed puzzle, please see Byron Walden's Thursday, Nov. 9 puzzle of last year. Now, a brief survey of the hurricane-ravaged grid.

4D: Cleanses (deterges) - king of the bad answers. I would kick this word out of almost any grid - might allow it on Friday or Saturday, but only in the case of a constructing emergency. I can say that never in my entire life have I encountered this word in verbal form. "Oh, you spilled soup on your shirt, let me DETERGE that for you." No. There's DETERGEnt, and that is the only time the letters D-E-T-E-R-G-E should appear in succession in any word in the English language.
24A: Fabrics for towels, robes, etc. (terries) - another word that never sees the actual light of day in ordinary human conversation. It's another one of those violent plurals (see AVARICES from this past weekend) that one finds only in xword grids. This answer is made worse by its intersection with the aforementioned DETEREGES. "Mommy can't help you with your homework just now, Junior; she's too busy DETERGING TERRIES. . . . oh, don't cry. Why are you crying, honey? Was it something I said?" Yes.
32A: Nests, for birds (homes) - I just don't like the clue. It's not offensive, but [Great Lakes mnemonic] = so much better.
19A: Game-stopping call (time) - irky, if not totally unapt. I had FOUL and then TILT (!?) before TIME. Colloquially, one does indeed "call" TIME if one is a player or coach. Refs and umps make "calls," so this clue is very misdirecty - which is part of the game, I realize. Alright, I have nothing against this clue/answer pairing. Moving on.
53A: Popular drink mix (Nestea) - killed me, mainly because NESTEA is not "popular" anywhere, or with anyone, that I know. Wanted KOOL-AID, then had NESTLE (thinking maybe it was the name of a hot chocolate mix).
37A: _____ Brothers, who sang "Rag Mop" (Ames) - who? Not Monday fill, that's for sure.
38A: Fur tycoon John Jacob (Astor) - Jingleheimmer Schmidt? Like the AMES Bros., Not Monday Fill.
51D: One iron, in old golf lingo (cleek) - you're kidding, right? Absolutely insane. Wasn't CLEEK the name of the Wonder Twins' pet monkey? Damn! That was GLEEK. So Close!
38D: Emphatic words of agreement (Amen! Amen!) - this is just lazy. Why not [Sherman Helmsley comedy mini-marathon]?
45D: Small seed (nutlet) - This was where I sighed "ughghghch" out loud. How many completely ridiculous words are you going to torture me with on a MONDAY!? I don't even have the energy to complain about SORRENTO (40D: Bay of Naples tourist city), so wiped out am I by the DETERGES-CLEEK-NUTLET trifecta.

Lastly, no single grid should ever contain both OMIT (42A: Leave off) and EMIT (63A: Give off) - two tired bits of fill that most decidedly do Not taste great together. Their resemblance here is made worse by both clues' having @#$-ing "off" in them. The EMIT/OMIT ban is a hard fast rule as of right now. Violate it at your peril.

Better luck tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Anonymous 9:48 AM  

This is the puzzle that employers love -- employees get right to work because the puzzle was easy. That's part of the reason the Monday-Saturday gradation evolved, the NYT being well aware of the exigencies of getting back to business on Monday. If you've never worked in an office and hidden the clipped-out puzzle under your ledger, you haven't lived! Kindness to the Monday puzzle is in order, no matter how hackneyed it may be -- it's the people's puzzle, your Majesty!

sonofdad 9:56 AM  

I don't think the John Jacob Astor clue was too obscure for a Monday, at least not for native New Yorkers. There's Astor Place, Astor Plaza, Astoria, Queens, and I know I'd heard or seen the guy's full name in reference to Astor Plaza in ads or something. I didn't know he was a fur tycoon, but how many tycoons named John Jacob are there? So maybe Astor is obscure for most of America, but he should pretty well known for much of the Times' readership.

Other than that, though, I thought you were dead on, especially with deterges(!?) and terries.

Rex Parker 10:05 AM  

OK, Chris, not terribly obscure, I'll grant you, but ... just because a guy's name is on everything doesn't mean people know he was a fur trader. If you follow. And non-NY-ers do the puzzle too. It's true! I would never have balked at ASTOR if it weren't for the other, much worse off-ness of this puzzle.

little guy - I hear what you're saying about the Monday, but I can't let any day of the week off the hook. I've seen excellent Mondays. I know it can be done.


Roberta 11:29 AM  

This it the kind of puzzle that makes amateurs like myself weep. " Cleek? Deterge? But Monday is supposed to be easy AND make sense, right?" And sukiyaki is served with noodles, for heaven's sake.

Anonymous 1:29 PM  

This was easy enough for Monday despite the CLEEKiness of some of the clues. Somehow everything fell into place around the obscurities.

Rex, I loved your Deterging Terries Rant. You make me laugh at puzzle attributes which irk at the time.

On to Tuesday...

Anonymous 1:51 PM  

as far as HOMES, there is "erie" aleady in the puzzle, so the cluing could have been clever.

not to mention... the omit/emit trifecta also contains an emit/edit crossing.

AND this crossword has the ultimately lazy "EEE" shoe size. does anyone alive have a freakin triple-e shoe? epee shows up

hume cronyn crossed with mortimer something in the same area as james agee made deterges and terries very difficult for a 22-year-old solving this puzzle. just saying.... and titter? sucked.

Anonymous 1:51 PM  

^ trifecta = duo. you know what i meant.

Anonymous 4:38 PM  

Agree, DETERGES, TERRIES, and CLEEK are total aberrations, particularly on a Monday puzzle. But, Rex, Dude, that was quite a rant... did you forget to take you meds again this morning?

Orange 5:04 PM  

Heh. I just checked, the shoe retailer. Not only do they sell EEE wide shoes, they've also got EEEE, EEEEE, and EEEEEE. Eeeeeek!

Anonymous 6:46 PM  

DETERGE, vt, as in DETERGE the wound (from + tergere, to wipe to cleanse, or further, to rub off, wipe off (more at terse) to cleanse). DETERGEnt, a cleansing substance, n. Terse - to clear; terror, frighten; turd, a piece of dung; terra, earth. TERRY, O.F. tirade. Perfect time for a rant! Indeed, let us deterge the terries!

PGregory Springer 8:42 PM  

Mondays I like to try to do the puzzle -- or at least the theme -- without using any writing utensil at all. I read the four theme clues, grasped GRUNGEROCKER right away, then figured out the other three as "dirt" clues, and tossed down the paper in less than a minute. So I never got as far as DETERGE. And I'm surprised you never heard of DIRTFARMER. Maybe it's because I live in the cornfields of the Midwest.

Mike Brady 1:13 AM  

For the record, I wear a 4E shoe. Turns out I was buying shoes that were two sizes too large because they were cut too narrowly. Fie on the media and their standards of foot beauty.

Mike (LaserWolf)

Orange 8:47 AM  

Mike, please give my regards to Carol. How's Alice?

Rex Parker 9:00 AM  

Mike Brady rocked the white man's perm harder than it has ever been rocked before or since.

Anonymous 2:35 PM  

Just chiming in with an anecdote to explain why Monday puzzles have to be Monday puzzles. When I did this one on paper this morning, the "c" in my "icon" (23D) looked like an "L." I finished the grid and came here this afternoon to see what "rile" is and why you might serve it with sukiyaki...

As if that mistake isn't pathetic enough, I feel compelled to mention that I am of Japanese descent. This is the sort of thing I do on Monday mornings, so really, I do need an easy puzzle...

"Dirt Farmer," BTW, is a rather common expression here in the midwest, and folks around here are at least as familiar with Astor as with Carnegie, Hearst, and Rockefeller. So, "tycoon" was enough for me to get that one without resorting to "fur."

Just for the sake of my own cultural redemption, I'll also point out that the word "tycoon" is etymologically descended from the Japanese term, "taikun."

Rex Parker 3:21 PM  

Sorry about your RICE blunder. At least it wasn't switched to LICE, which would have been not only wrong but vaguely racist.

I do not believe you re: Astor being "at least as well known" as those other far, far more famous "tycoons," but I'm sure he is way more famous than I gave him credit for. I spent 8 years in the midwest and had never heard of him. I am most grateful for the "tycoon" etymology.


Unknown 11:08 PM  

Meanwhile, 6 weeks later...

I believe that the OR coastal city of Astoria (at the the Columbia River delta) was named for famous furrier, a.k.a. Jingleheimer Schmidt. I may have to research that one day when not so close to a tax filing deadline.

My 16 year-old son wears a 4E, and just try finding football cleats in that spec. Just so's you know those sizes are really out there.

Over all, this one gave me the CLEEKS for a monday.

Catherine 3:55 PM  

I am on syndication delay, so I generally wander over here a month after the puzzle goes live, but man! Normally I don't need you on a MONDAY. I agree with you 98% (I did get Astor... but I might have had xwords to help).

I've been meaning to leave a comment for a while, though - your blog is great, really cracks me up (and gets me out of crossword jams).

Rex Parker 4:50 PM  

Thank you, Catherine. That's what I'm here for. Come back and comment any time.


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