THURSDAY, Mar. 1, 2007 - Steven E. Atwood

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Solving time: untimed - I'd rate this puzzle medium-to-easy for a Thursday
THEME: "Mean(s)" - Every theme clue is [Mean] or [Means]. That's it. There are sixteen such clues.

This wasn't much fun. An impressive number of theme clues, but half the fun of doing puzzles is getting to experience clever cluing, and here - well, it was like I was being bludgeoned. "Oh, [Mean] again ... great." The one real hard part of the puzzle, for me, was the great Northeast: I'll start there, give a few additional observations, then stop, as I am super-pressed for time this a.m.

11D: Prefix with -hedron (icosa-)

..... ..... ???? .... [scratch head, scratch head] .... [make unamused, disappointed face] ....

This answer - Andrew, please to be explaining for el presidente, because that is not a prefix I recognize. My -hedron prefix vocabulary runs out at dodeca-. I just found out from a quick Google that ICOSA- is a prefix meaning "twenty." This is a prefix Apple would use if it sponsored the mafia. (I hope you got that - I swear it makes sense, if only in my head). This "answer," if you wanna call it that, absolutely torpedoed my NE corner for a while. I wanted (correctly) 8A: Facility in Phila. or Denver to be US MINT and 19A: Mean to be DENOTE, but that gave an I-O-- to 11D, and that just seemed nuts. Eventually I just wrote US MINT and DENOTE in for the hell of it, to see what would happen, and other answers started to fall into place (including 10D: "Whew!" ("Man!"), which I really like for unknown reasons). I have tiny quibbles with a couple of other answers up there. First NET WT (12D: Contents meas.) - I don't like that constructors can apparently decide arbitrarily whether this abbreviation has an "E" in it or not. I have seen this phrase abbreviated more often (I think) as NT WT. I like it that way. Also, something about the phrasing of 25A: Some standardized coll. exams (LSATS) bothers me. They aren't really "coll. exams," the LSATS. You may or may not take them when you are in "coll." And you take them not to get into "coll." (in the generally understood meaning of that term: an undergraduate institution), but to get into a post-graduate university. And I know that many law schools are probably called "College of Law," but still. Icky phrasing.

More things that made me wince a little:

41A: Surplusage (overs) - clue and answer equally yucky
42D: "Et _____!" (voilĂ ) - a huge stretch as a phrase any English speaker might use. VOILA, yes. "Et?" Eh? Eh? NON (15A: Oui's opposite)
50D: Playing loudly (ablare) - "And the rockets' red aglare, the bombs bursting ablare" - I'm sure this word is legal, and I got it quickly enough, but it's not a pretty word to my eyes / ears
65D: "Oh wad some power the giftie _____ us": Burns (gie) - while I normally love All Things Scottish, Burns's poetry tends to make me Cringe. This is far too far to have to go to get GIE. If you have to go to GIE, you should really think about rewriting the grid.

Here's a infelicitous pairing of intersecting abbreviations:

63D: Genealogical abbr. (desc.)
73A: Short and detached, in mus. (stac.)

They intersect at the "C" - the letter in the far SE of the puzzle. This just highlights the fact that you couldn't get a real word to fit down here, which highlights a certain straining the whole grid seems to have - all to accommodate the dictatorial theme. Was it worth it? I don't know. As an experiment, it's kinda cool. But if the little things about a puzzle aren't right, I'm not apt to appreciate the big things as much as I should.

I'm outta here. Work calls.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Linda G 10:49 AM  

I got the NE but had to assume that ICOSA was the answer. My downfall was the SW where a couple of wrong answers threw me. Banks also hold LOANS, not just LIENS. G.I. chow can also be MESS, although I love the term MRES. Made for a strange-looking SW.

While this theme was very clever, it absolutely drained me. Very oppressive (bludgeoned was a good word) to see the words over and over.

Lani Teshima 11:54 AM  

This particular puzzle was a real pain. We didn't like the theme one bit. Some of them seemed to be a real stretch, too.

Alex S. 12:15 PM  

ICOSAHEDRON is a term I know from my limited early days of role playing games (my friends were much more into them than I was) where use of a 20-sided die is somewhat common.

So, once tetrahedron was ruled out it fell in pretty quickly for me (the NE was the first corner to fall for me).

I technical challenge, the theme was, but I really didn't like a lot of the clues. I can only vaguely see how SHOW and POOR relate to "mean" and not at all how EQUAL does. I assume it is referring to an arithmentic mean (average) but still don't see how that results in EQUAL.

All complaining aside, though, with the help of my beautiful wife Lani (above) we got through it.

sonofdad 1:01 PM  

I think mean = equal in a definitional sense, like "etui means needle holder" ("means" could be replaced with "equals," even though no one would actually do that). It's a stretch, for sure, but that's what I made of it.

I didn't really like this puzzle. Thinking of 16 different meanings for "mean(s)" was taxing (but not in the fun way), especially when some of the answers were pretty strained. Also, the stac/desc crossing bothered me as well. I hate those music clues to begin with, and crossing an abbreviated music term with a genealogy abbreviation (what does the genealogy abbreviation equal anyway?) was a little much.

Anonymous 1:11 PM  

Add me to the list of those who didn't like this puzzle, and for all the reasons already stated. The sense of strain dominated throughout -- the gimmick was artificial and uninteresting (and frequently just wrong, as in the EQUAL example cited above).

To pick up on an earlier Rex criticism of a post I made (and he isn't the first to make this observation; nor is he wrong), I do think Will Shortz has ruined the NYT crossword puzzles, at least for me, and this puzzle is a prime example of why and how. The puzzle serves as a vehicle for the tricks rather than the tricks contributing to the enjoyment of the puzzle.

Don't get me wrong, though; the NYT x-word is still the best one I know. But it used to be so much better. Sorry to seem repetitive, but to me this puzzle demands comment and I don't know what else I can say.

Rex Parker 1:14 PM  

DESC. equals Descendant, I assume.

And I am very familiar with the 20-sided die, from my pre-teen D&D days, but ... we only ever called it a 20-sided die. We were nerdy enough to play D&D, but apparently not nerdy enough to know ICOSA-hedron.


Anonymous 2:08 PM  

Okay, you needed one dissenter. I rather like the puzzles which aren't necessarily clones of every other clever construction. This one had me off balance, and that's a good thing.

That said, I had a few pet peeves among the clues, especially SURPLUSAGE. But one great clue was [City with a seemingly contradictory two-syllable name] for HILO.

Alex S. 2:29 PM  

Oh, we never actually said "please pass me the icosahedron so that I can see if I deflect your +4 holy damage."

But it was just some geek knowledge that accumulated to go with it. I also recall that a math teacher once used a bunch of gaming dice to try and drill into our heads the various polyhedron names. Not that I remember anything between dodecahedron and icosahedron.

Alex S. 2:30 PM  

Oh, and if surplussage can be a clue, I eagerly await the day when "pwnage" or "pwned!!!!!" is an answer.

Lani Teshima 3:38 PM  

Ohhhh a puzzle of gamer leetspeak would so totally pwn.

Anonymous 4:07 PM  

It was somewhat of a downer to see the word "mean" over and over, even though sometimes mean meant means, as in an aid to some presumed gain.

I love playing ENESCO ARCO STAC.! Bring on more musical clues!

sonofdad 4:39 PM  

It's good that you don't remember anything between a dodecahedron and an icosahedron because there are no regular polyhedrons between them. The Platonic solids are the only ones that are possible. There are other polyhedrons, but they don't share the same properties as these guys, and their names are usually less simple.

Howard B 5:41 PM  

Yeah, some of it was strained a bit (I especially disliked OVERS), but I enjoy any themes that throw a bit of a monkey wrench into the mental gears, such as using black squares or blanks as part of the grid, letters outside the grid, rhyming clues, etc.

I'm a gimmick person, what can I say? That part of me enjoyed this puzzle, while the part of my brain which deals in abbreviations and obscurities was screaming bloody murder at times. Does that make any sense at all? Liked the crunchy theme shell, struggled with the gooey, tooth-breaking filling.

C zar 6:05 PM  

Not a happy puzzle for me. The "C" in DESC and STAC was the last thing I filled in, pretty much by a process of elimination. South Central did me in, I wanted NOD for "go-ahead" and ABLARE never entered my mind. Thought the repetition of the "mean" was interesting, kinda liked it.

Anonymous 10:18 PM  

Zero fun factor. Didn't even try to finish it. That's a first!

Anonymous 10:42 PM  

Why "pwned" or "pwnage" in relation to "surplussage"? Is that "pawned" or "pawnage" -- of course the clue was "surplusages" with the answer being OVERS -- just curious what you meant?

Actually, when I first glanced at that clue I thought "slurping sausages"!

I was more intrigued by MEAGER AUGUST AUGURS VULGAR surplusages!


Anonymous 10:44 PM  

What does that "mean"?

Orange 11:33 PM  

Technically, isn't it supposed to be "pwn3d"?

(Ouch. It hurts to type a numeral there.)

Orange 11:34 PM  

Technically, isn't it supposed to be "pwn3d"?

(Ouch. It hurts to type a numeral there.)

Anonymous 4:52 AM  


Anonymous 9:30 AM  

For Luis:

"Pwn" is an on-line gamester term. For more, see Wikipedia.

Anonymous 4:51 PM  

I was born 09/12/17 I completed this puzzle W/O too much aggravation. But knowing how use your page relieves all my previous anxieties.

Unknown 12:15 AM  

From 6-weeks-out: "Bludgeoned" was an apt word, considering I was doing this at my desk and couldn't control an audible "ugh" and visual [tic] at each mean/means clue. In general, I dislike a puzzle in which it is almost impossible for me to remember the clue for given A or D fill ("was that one "mean" or "means"? -- look back at the clues and relocate position -- huge waste of time). Also, I still cannot make sense of SHOW for "mean". Can someone give me context?

Thank the King and his Court for a sanity check on this one!

Anonymous 9:29 PM  

I liked it. I liked coming up with all those different meanings of mean and means--no mean feat! And while I get all your grumblings, Rex, none of this gave me any serious trouble. I do agree about LSATS, and SPELLS seems like a bit of a stretch, so...I suppose that might have bqeen a potentially troublesome corner. Oh and ICOSAhedron was certainly not the first hedron to come to mind, but once there, it was faintly familiar enough that I said to myself, "OK, that sounds fine."

Anonymous 11:38 PM  

I loved it. I hadn't yet discovered this blog or any other crossword blogs, but was planning to highlight it on my own blog, which I mean to create one of these days soon.

I was totally delighted with the chance to think about all the various meanings of mean, their nuances and overlaps. The only one I didn't understand was the already-mentioned "equal."

I had no problem with SPELLS. "this spells trouble"/"this means trouble."

As for "icosa" my wife and I solved it in a unique way. (grin) Me: Maybe it means having equal sides, like the triangle. But I alwyas thought that was spelled "isosceles", not "icosales." Her: "yeah, me too." Me: "let's not check it out and just go with icosa."

There seemed to me to be more than the usual number of nice red herrings: Carmen Ghias fits nicely where Carmen the gypsy ended up, and kept me off track for awhile. Nod was more obvious than something as simple as "yes."

I had a hard time with ablare, looking among the adagios and other Italian terms. For some strange reason, with l--ns filled in I thought of liens before the more obvious loans.

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