FRIDAY, May 25, 2007 - Mike Nothnagel

Friday, May 25, 2007

Relative difficulty: Hard

THEME: none

Least enjoyable Nothnagel puzzle ever. Pains me to say that, as I am a very big Nothnagel fan, but something about this puzzle was off. The metaphor of grinding gears, or slogging through mud, comes to mind. First problem was the fill, which did not sizzle, but sort of ... lay there. Second problem was the cluing, which seemed unimaginative.

World's Worst Board Meeting

When your longest answers are stale phrases you might hear in any meeting of boring, besuited people in any wood-paneled or cubicle-divided room in America, then your puzzle has problems. Both FISCAL QUARTER and BEGS THE QUESTION are utterly forgettable. Their best attribute is that they intersect at the "Q" - fancy. Consider how much tepid business- (or potentially business-) speak is in this grid. I would make a little short story out of it, but the thought of doing that just makes me tired. . . alright, I changed my mind:

"Corporate Leadership: A Play in One Scene"

"Phil, what's on the AGENDA (28A: Part of convention planning) for today's meeting?"

"Well, our investment strategies plan is DUE BY (31D: Expected before) the end of the next FISCAL QUARTER (33A: Subject of a financial report), so let's start there."

"Yes, that is important. Our last plan received a MERE (25A: Simple) A MINUS (2D: It's less than perfect) from the Board, and we want only GRADE A'S (13D: Good eggs)."

"You know, sir, it would be EASY (47A: Skill level option) to EDIT (6D: Mark up) last quarter's plan .... perhaps if we include Bill's idea about the PYRITE (52A: Source of sulfuric acid) mine in WALES (5D: Its flag has a large red dragon)..."

"... and don't forget to mention the NEW ORDER (12D: Government reorganization) of MEAT (25D: Chuck, say) from QUITO (53A: World's second highest capital)..."

"Those ideas suck. No wonder this company has AILED (30A: Hurt) these past couple of years .... profits continue to EBB (41A: Shrink)... we need an investment TSAR (15D: Plot target of the Decembrists)! We don't have NINE LIVES (55A: Feline gift), you know?"

"Well, sir, we do, IN A SENSE (11D: Not fully). I mean..."

"LORD (42A: Prayer opener), do you ever stop bullshitting?"

"That's just not fair, sir."

"Oh shut up, Phil. The only good idea you've ever had was upgrading the office from AOL (50A: Part of AIM) dial-up to a cable MODEM (37A: Kind of port) system so that we could receive CALLS (24D: Secretaries often hold them) and work on-line at the same time. And what was that? 7 years ago? Yet you get paid how much? Too much, if you ask me. Driving around in your SAAB (20A: "Born from jets" sloganeer), with your purebred FOXHOUND (33D: One followed on horseback) and pet MACAQUE (37D: Monkey with cheek pouches), listening to Alannah MYLES (49D: "Black Velvet" singer Alannah _____) ..."

"I don't have to sit here and listen to this."

"You don't like what I'm saying - SUE ME (38A: Snide challenge)."

[Phil leaves in a disgruntled rage]

"Remind me to fire that creepy LONER (16A: One not mingling much) - never liked him. In fact, I'm thinking of bringing in a team of AXEMEN (39A: Guitarists, slangily) to fire all of you ridiculous HIRELINGS (17A: Flunkies) unless you start pulling your weight. We've got a lot of work ahead of us, so get comfortable - we're going to be here a while. In fact ... ROZ (10D: "Shoe" waitress), run out to Starbucks and BRING (9A: Sell for) me back some CHAI (46A: Starbucks option). Any of you folks want anything? Frank?"

"No thanks, sir. I'M ON A DIET (14A: Words that often follow sweet offers?)."


I'm sure that I could have worked the absolutely unheard of DIESES (45D: Double daggers, in printing) into that dialogue if I could have figured out what the hell it means (looked it up, still mystified). Also never heard of NOB (56D: Cribbage jack) - like bridge, cribbage is game I've never played - from a bygone era, as far as I'm concerned. And why in the world would you refer to MY LAI (49A: Hamlet in 1969 headlines) as a "Hamlet?" I do get 100K+ hits when Googling [My Lai hamlet], but about seven times more for [My Lai village]. HAMLET seems painfully and aggressively English - although the "Unofficial Dictionary for Marines" (!?!?) does specifically define HAMLET thusly: (Vietnam) A village of less than 100 residents.

My main problem with the puzzle, difficulty-wise, was a deep, deep pit of my own making that it took me an eternity to crawl out of. A perfect storm of three wrong answers kept the NE completely blocked for at least as long as it took me to solve the entire rest of the puzzle. After I got LONER, I saw 9A: Sell for and wanted FETCH, but that did not sit well on top of LONER. And yet, for a while, I couldn't decide which to keep and which to ditch. Worse, 9D: Mass looked like this: -L-B; and, perhaps because FETCH had given me an "F" in 9D's first position, I thought FLAB would be a perfectly good answer. Then decided no, impossible, the answer must be ... SLAB. So SLAB was road block one. Road blocks two and three were on the other side of the NE quadrant: 22A: One's native land and 25A: Simple. I had SHE and MEAN. The answers are SOD and MERE. Thought one of them might be wrong. Never dawned on me (not for a long while, anyway) that they might BOTH be wrong. I object like crazy to SOD. I have never referred to my "native land" as, simply, SOD. "Today, I leave Cancun and return to my SOD." No. Not "one's" native land. Try, "one pretentious Englishman's native land."

Answers I liked included:

1A: Actor with an L.A.P.D. auditorium named after him (Jack Webb) - Took me a while to get it. Couldn't get EASTWOOD out of my head, even thought I knew Dirty Harry was on the S.F.P.D. "Dragnet" is the classic L.A. crime show, and though it's a good 20 years before my time, I should have gotten this answer more quickly.

58A: Way of turning (to one side) - it's a bit forced, but playful in a way I kinda like.

18A: Vienna State Opera music director starting in 2002 (Ozawa) - great name. Was kicking myself when I finally changed SLAB to BLOB and got the initial "O" here, which finally allowed me to see OZAWA. I'm no classical music specialist, but I know enough to know that Seiji OZAWA is super-famous.

43D: Title pig of Ian Falconer kids' books (Olivia) - total gimme. Fabulous books. Reminds me very much of reading to my daughter at bedtime (we're deep into Harry Potter now, which I love, but I sorta miss the sweet simplicity of OLIVIA).

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


DONALD 10:03 AM  

Good stuff -- give this mess credit though, it elicited two entirely different tales -- mine takes place in a holding cell with Friday interrogating the Crossword Puzzle Butcher -- "Just the facts, Ma'am."

Orange 10:56 AM  

Loved your one-act drama! Could benefit from a little more of a Glengarry Glen Ross vibe, though.

I always think of Ireland when I hear "old sod." And you think of England. Anyone else associate other countries with "old sod"?

DONALD 11:31 AM  

It was better than "Glengarry Glen Ross"!

Howard B 11:42 AM  

Brings a lump to my eye, and a tear to my stomach - strike that, reverse it. Good stuff, Rex!

I did like the clue "skill level option" for EASY - I don't think I've seen that sort of clue before, makes me think of the (misspent?) video-game playing part of my past :).

Had a mistake that laughed at me for a while, but didn't think this one was too evil, otherwise.

Anonymous 11:44 AM  

Nice little story. Almost made it worthwhile, don'tcha think?
Here's something funny. Until I read your story, I had just thought, "I thought it was spelled ANIMUS...oh well." As in ANIMA-ANIMUS. Didn't think too hard about how that might mean "less than perfect." Something about soul mates being incomplete until matched I guess.
Haven't played cribbage lately, but it's a good card game if you enjoy card games. I like card games 'cause they give you something to do as you sit around talking with your buddies.
I thought the term was NIB(s). Apparently, I'm not the only one. Have a look at the entries for NIBS and NOBS at
Yeah, I found SOD to be in the realm of...hmm, I think I've heard that before, no, yeah, maybe...SOIL is much more present in my active vocabulary. But of course that doesn't fit. How about this for a clue? [Act outlawed in 37 States, quickly]. (37 is an arbitrary figure.)
Orange, about old sod...oh, never mind.

Anonymous 11:45 AM  

Orange, I'm with you equating SOD with Ireland. Maybe cuz it's so green?

My undoing was RAMP for [Interstate sight], having the M in place from AXEMEN (a term, btw, I've never heard in ref. to guitar players). That left me with C--P for [Starbucks offering], and though I don't think much of their coffee, I wouldn't expect Will and Mike to agree to such an extent they would slip an -RA- in there...

Anonymous 12:01 PM  

I know I've seen "Axeman's Jazz" as an album title. But I'm not familiar with The Beasts of Bourbon who (it turns out) put it out.
A jazz musician might refer to his or her instrument as his or her ax(e). As in, "We're playing at Joe's. Bring your ax, and you can sit in on a few tunes." I never knew that it might mean guitar specifically. In fact, I don't think it does. To my ear, words like *ax* and *cat* belong in the bebop era, and it feels a bit contrived to use them now.Which is not a criticism of the clue, just an elaboration on the explanation for evad.

JC66 12:05 PM  

Tough puzzle (DIESES?). Great short story.

mmpo, I stared at AMINUS for what seemed like forever before A MINUS revealed itself to me

"The Old Sod" (Ireland) is the only context I've heard it used. Maybe in Bing Crosby/Barry Fitzgerald movies?

Anonymous 12:15 PM  

Forgot to mention that since I had DIESIS in singular form and NIBS instead of NOBS, when the applet rejected my puzzle, that was the first place I tried to fix. Which I did fairly quickly, but I was still getting rejected...Then I remembered my GERE for 29D was pure conjecture, and thought...GORE? Oh. An Inconvenient Truth. (I assume this is the film referred to in the clue.) And I was done.

Anonymous 12:16 PM  

Note to RP--more of Olivia and less flab...not a great image to usher us into the feeding frenzy of barbecued delights this Memorial Weekend has in store...

Orange 12:30 PM  

Howard, your misspent youth will serve you well in solving this week's Jonesin' puzzle (PDF download).

Campesite 1:47 PM  

Hilarious short story today, I was very impressed.
This puzzle was difficult, but I didn't mind it. It had some clever, multi-word answers such as SUE ME and I'M ON A DIET, and a cool lead off batter at 1 Across with JACK WEBB.

Looks like SAAB is looking for a nomination into the Auto wing of the Pantheon.

Anonymous 2:01 PM  

Today's story was quite a bodice-ripper, Rex. Well maybe not, but it certainly depicted the soulless nature of business.

Isn't it NEW 'world' ORDER in this context? Also I must have been using the phrase BEGS THE QUESTION improperly all these years because 'commits a logical fallacy' is not generally what I mean when I say that. My dictionary says, "to use an argument that assumes as proved the very thing one is trying to prove." I'm so confused now: can anyone give me an example of begging the question as they see it?

For the 1969 hamlet, I was going for the hamlet where Woodstock was held, Bethel, NY, but of course that didn't fit. MY LAI is rather a bizarre answer to that clue, methinks.

The only answer I could get to start off with was Alanna MYLES, and I couldn't even hum one of her tunes to save my life. Not a good start for a Friday.

Anonymous 2:50 PM  

Begging the Question:

Abortion is the unjustified killing of a human being and as such is murder. Murder is illegal. So abortion should be illegal.

The argument assumes that abortion is the killing of a human being and thus begs the question whether it is indeed just that.

Arguments about god often beg the question as well.

Steve M

DONALD 5:51 PM  


If only the unborn could beg for their lives, a great cry would be heard!

Anonymous 5:57 PM  

"Least enjoyable Nothnagel puzzle ever" So, Rex, how do you really feel?

I've read quite a few comments -- here and in other places -- and received a bunch of e-mails...this puzzle seemed to really divide people, in terms of its perceived difficulty.

I thought DIESES was a great word. NOB came into my head only because I was beaten badly at cribbage while I was constructing the grid.

Until next time...

Rex Parker 6:15 PM  

O Mike, you know I feel bad. If I'm not honest about my gut instincts (and if all I do is praise you and DQ to the skies) then I ... I don't know, lose credibility? Lose my edge? Who knows? You are a great themeless constructor and you know it.

In the end, this puzzle would have been FAR less difficult for me if I had simply entered BLOB where I had entered SLAB. ROZ would have become certain, OZAWA and BRING would have shot across the page, and those long Downs would have caved in short order. But alas...

Your fan,

Anonymous 6:48 PM  

Rex, I hear you -- people come here for your opinion and to talk about puzzles. That's what it is.....and folks seem to like it~

Mike: I just want to say first that I am also a big fan. I can only imagine what comes into play when constructing a puzzle. I really am in awe of it.

I don't expect every puzzle to light me up....I don't expect every puzzle to be fun....I don't expect every puzzle to be personally challenging. I know I've said this b/f: a puzzle that might make me crazy -- guess what someone else loves it! I see this over and over again in the blogs.

Personally, I was having to google too much for today's puzzle (and this rarely happens to me on Friday) so I finally gave up and checked out Rex and Amy. I'm glad I didn't put more time into it b/c when I saw the completed grid there were lots of things I never would have gotten -- just didn't connect with.

All of this to say~ Keep up the great work Mike! and you, too, Rex.

Linda G 6:54 PM  

Did this puzzle post-MRI and found it as difficult as most of you. The only gimmes I had (or guesses that turned out to be right) were ROZ, LONER, LORD, NINE LIVES and OLIVIA--which I knew from last year's postage stamps.

Linda G 6:55 PM  

P.S. Great story, Rex. I don't know how you do that.

DONALD 8:01 PM  


Any crossword puzzle that inspires two entirely different narratives is right up there with the best!

Anonymous 8:48 AM  


I re-read my post above, and I certainly didn't mean to come off, hurt as it now sounds to me. Of course you have to maintain your fact, I'd be even more suspicious of your opinions if all you did was praise DQ and I all the time.

Naturally, I'll really believe that you're being objective as soon as I see the commentary on "the worst Quarfoot ever"... :)


Anonymous 10:42 AM  

Usually with Rex's assessment of puzzle but felt criticism here too harsh.

Personally I found the fill sizzled -- maybe not red hot but pretty darned good.

And all those scrabbly letters!

Also love a puzzle that included one of my favourite bands, NEW ORDER.

But I'm glad that you (certainly) do speak your mind -- this is one of my favourite blogs (Hi Amy!) and it is always highly entertaining. Thanks for sharing!


Pen Girl :)

PS: I also thought your story was a little tedious towards the end...I even stopped reading.

Sorry...but we're being honest here right?

barrywep 6:33 PM  

You go Pen Girl! See if Rex can take it as well as he dishes it out!

Anonymous 12:55 PM  

From six weeks ahead --

Rex, the story really added to the enjoyment of the puzzle. Thanks.

I found the puzzle prety difficult, especially the SW corner. I threw in MIA for 54 down (instead of TIN (soldier)) which got me off course. Wanted AXEMEN but had trouble making the X work. Once I changed PAPA to POPS, though, everything fell into place.

GRADEAS (13d) took me longer than it should have given that I had just entered RATEDR (44d)...

Anonymous 3:43 PM  

First time I've seen Rex use "hard." I've only been logging on for a few weeks. For me, Fridays are either headbangers or not all that bad. Today was a headbanger. I thought the pig was Wilbur but my kids are grown so what do I know. Imagine Wales with a dragon on its flag.

Anonymous 8:21 PM  

This goes into the tough but doable BIN (wood holder) for me. Knocked of NW immediatly. JACKWEBB was a gimme as was JIHADS off the J. I got BEGS... with only the B in WEBB. So, I thought it was going to be easy. Unfortunately, I also ran in to the same problem with NE that Rex had but with a different error. I had BLOB but changed it to GLOB when I became convinced that "Sell for" was GROSS. It took a while to undo that one. Also, had SECONDQUARTER for 33a for a while which slowed me down in SE. SW was pretty much a gimme (if you have grandchildern you know about OLIVIA). I knew PENA, LORD, and MYLAI, infered PYRITE and got DIESES, MYLES, and NOB from the crosses.

I enjoyed the clever office story and also liked the puzzle. Its the ones that are overly saturated with obscurity that irk me.

Anonymous 5:19 PM  

Getting caught up, only today's (Saturday) and Sunday's to do before Wednesday. Hanne helped by doing last Wednesdays on her own. I was so proud of her!

I got started fast with JIHAD and IM ON A DIET.

Two cups later I was stalled in Florida. Couldn't decide between LORD and NOW I. Had MY LAI misspelled as MI LAI. suspected a rebus for a short time on the first go-round, then remembered it was "Alannis" not Alannah" Had NINE LIVES early on, but that didn't help. Didn't know the pig was a female, so inferred OLIVER. Had to google the "denizens" of the S/E, whom I did not know, to finish.

I agree that the clue for SOD should probably have referred somehow to Ireland, but I am of Irish descent on Mum's side, and so familiar with the term. Google leans towards Eire.

Didn't catch the GERE/GORE trap, so ended up with one letter wrong.

Thanks Mike. Don't listen to Rex(y). It wasn't boring. :)

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