SATURDAY, May 19, 2007 - Byron Walden

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Relative difficulty: I'd rather not talk about it

THEME: If only (which is to say, no, none)

75% awesome, 25% flat out disaster - that is how I describe today's Saturday solving experience. No, scratch that. What's 35/225 ... 7/45? OK, now convert to percentages...

84.4% awesome
15.6% flat out disaster

Just to be precise.

I barely have the energy to write about this puzzle right now. I had to Google an answer, and still struggled, and then when I was all done, I had a wrong answer in a completely unexpected place. And all this after I had such amazing initial success.

My struggles aside, this wasn't one of my favorite Byron Walden puzzles (I consider him one of the greatest constructors alive ... or dead, I suppose. What do I know?). Not as much hotness, too much off-ness. That said, it's still better than your average puzzle, and there are some very winning clues and answers. Let's get down to specifics.

The southwest

I understand that The Southwest is a wide open, arid place where very little grows. It's also home to the world's largest hole in the ground. Either image will do very nicely for my experience of this puzzle's southwest. It was blank - except for pitiful little ODESSA (47D: Birthplace of Yakov Smirnoff) - for what felt like a significant chunk of my life. In retrospect, I had a good chance to blow the southwest wide open - if only I'd stuck to my initial instincts and kept METED (50A: Parceled) in place. But I couldn't get a damn thing to run through METED, so I second-guessed it, which led me straight into the worst pit of quicksand I've been in since I started this blog. Here are the various clues of the southwest, and the various answers I tried to shove in there before I finally solved the puzzle:

38A: Acoustic instruments (jugs) - first, aren't all instruments, technically, "acoustic?" I had, let's see ... UKES and SAWS (I like that the actual answer is as hillbilly as SAWS)

46A: Grp. founded in part by the Y.M.C.A. (USO) - only one thing I wanted here: BSA. My refusal to let BSA die absolutely killed me.

55A: Lighter (barge) - a million years wouldn't have helped me with this one. Apparently a "lighter" is some kind of sea vessel. I wanted FLAME, and, at one particularly desperate moment, FORGE.

59A: Doesn't deviate from (obeys) - where to begin: STAYS, HOLDS, KEEPS, etc.

62A: Strikes abruptly (claps) - and again: SLAPS, SWATS, SPURS, etc.

40D: Lost the frivolity (got real) - oh, it's a very good answer, but not one that I could see at all. Even when I could imagine GOT in there, the only word that wanted to follow was DULL.

64A: Mississippi's _____ State University (Delta) - Googled it. Ugh. Ugh! Thankfully, when I saw the answer, I did not recognize it as a university I'd ever heard of (though DELTA ... I coulda worked that out from the @#$# state of Mississippi. It has a pretty famous river DELTA)

38D: Institutional investment (jumbo CD) - not a term I'm familiar with. The only word I wanted here was DEPOSIT (very lame, I know)

39D: Fit (useable) - when I got this answer, I wilted. So banal. I wanted IN SHAPE. Real bad.

51D: The Bible's Mizraim, today (Egypt) - this is the answer that makes me most sad, because ... the fact that I couldn't come up with a modern geographical place name, in the Middle East, five letters, starting with "E" - when it's The Most Obvious Answer to fit that category ... it hurts. Physically hurts.

So that's the southwest. My one ultimately incorrect letter in the puzzle came in an entirely different section, right around the Sorth Carolina section of the puzzle:

  • 45D: Breathing trouble (dyspnea)
  • 54A: Brief salutation (sirs)

This is the kind of crap that drives me crazy. Never heard of the breathing disorder, and since DYSEPNEA sounds much more like an actual word, and SIRE is just as good, if not better, as a "brief salutation," I had an "E" where the "S" should be. Harumph.

Thank god for:

23D: Soprano's repertoire (arias) - "I think you're lost, little clue. The Monday puzzle is thataway."

35A: Like the Supremes and the Go-Go's (all-female) - a gimme of sorts. The gist of the clue was easy enough to deduce, but the phrasing? Not very -in-the-language. "Girl" is far more pop-music standard language than "female," however much it may ruffle feminist feathers.

22A: Sitcom set in Houston (Reba) - I love that this answer is so common, and yet I can guarantee you that fewer than 1% of people who solve the Times puzzle watch this show, or have Ever watched it. Speaking of crap that Times readers know squat about, how about 52A: Christian pop singer Tornquist (Evie). Am I saying Times readers tend to be atheistic Northerners ... yes. Don't write me letter telling me otherwise. Trust that you are the exception that proves the rule and let it go.

41A: Band name heard in Morse code on its single "Secret Messages" (ELO) - way to dress up your crosswordese in fancy, informative clothing.

This is a very Eastern Bloc puzzle, with the Yakov Smirnoff clue (see above) and then
  • 17A: Language of 47-Down (Ukrainian)
  • 12D: Place to spend drams (Armenia) and
  • 26A: Simeon the Great and his successors (tsars)
I didn't know the following:

29D: Golden Slam winner of 1988 (Graf)

She was actually the very first answer I wanted, and I think "Golden Slam" refers to winning all the major tennis tournaments, just not in one calendar year [wrong: Golden Slam = all majors and Olympic Gold Medal in the same year - thanks for the clarification, Byron]. Still, "Golden Slam" sounds like something they serve at Denny's.

15A: With 16-Across, title time in a 1961 #1 hit by Gary U.S. Bonds ("Quarter to / Three")

44D: Eighth-century pope in office for 23 years (Adrian I) - oh great, a pope. What random name + Roman numeral will it be today!?

60A: Noted Joffrey Ballet dancer of the 1980s (Ron Reagan) - so awesome. How did I not know this?

37D: McCallister of "The Story of Seabiscuit," 1949 (Lon) - Chaney's better!

34D: Biggest part of a certain belt (Ceres) - as of now, I'm not sure what this means. I'm guessing it's astronomical, somehow... ah yes, CERES is the largest asteroid in the "Main Asteroid Belt"

My favorite clues and answers:

All the Downs in the NW are fabulous:

1D: WD-40 applications (squirts)
2D: It's one funny thing after another (yukfest) - alternative clue: [What Yakov Smirnoff is not]
3D: Classic chocolate treat (Mars bar) - got it off the "B" in REBA - god bless that cross-eyed hick diva
5D: Narc tail? (otic) - sososo much better than [Related to the ear]
9D: Debussy's "La Mer," e.g. (tone poem) - I do love the TONE POEMs, Debussy's in particular.
8D: Say something to which people reply "Duh!" (state the obvious) - not the most amazing grid-spanning answer I've ever seen, but the clue is imaginative.

And then there's ...

65A: Woman who flexes her muscles (Ms. Olympia) - "MS.," HA ha. You do Not want to call her "Miss," believe me.
18A: "Homey!" ("My man!") - how very ... street. Why do I want "Homey" to be spelled "Homie?" Aha, it's because of the "Simpsons" (as usual) - there was an episode called "Homie the Clown" (in which Homer goes to Clown College). "Homey the Clown" was a recurring character on "In Living Color."
33A: Terse identification ("Her!") - Perhaps the best way this innocuous-looking little pronoun has ever been clued. It's got all kinds of accusatorial drama built into it.
34A: Rank informality? (Cap'n) - Aye aye! Cereal box spelling!

Spelling trouble

28A: Foul smoke (stogy) - not STOGIE?
42A: Tabooed (forbad) - not FORBADE? (oh, and since when is TABOO verb?)

I'm done. Enjoy your day.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Linda G 9:26 AM  

Rex, we had some of the same wrong answers and had difficulty in the same areas. I still thought it was a good puzzle, though. Any time they can stack that many answers with that many letters, they've done well.

I was lucky enough to guess DELTA from the A, but that didn't help much. I'm glad to know that RON REAGAN stumped someone else. Thought I might be alone there.

Norrin2 9:49 AM  

Rex had to Google something? Let me grab on to something, it feels like the foundations of CrossWorld are crumbling : )
Oh, and there's another way to mess up the South Carolina portion of this puzzle. I had DYAPNEA at 45 Down. Well, I knew apnea was a breathing problem, so dyapnea looked like a possibility. That gave me SIRA at 54 Across, but I reasoned that might be a brief form of the salutation SIRRAH.

Norrin2 9:53 AM  

Oh, and by the way, according to the NY Sun, you comment on every clue, and by my reckoning you had something to say about only 40 of the 70 clues today. That's (percentages are too hard) 4/7ths.

Anonymous 10:35 AM  

I, likewise, had a helluva time with the SW section. I could have sworn after getting "meted," "obeys" and "delta" that the institutional investment was "ibmbond." Alas, not to be! Also, for the longest time I had "obese" insted of "nerdy" for the Eddie Murphy clue. Wasn't Norbit a fat guy? All in all, not a backbreaker like last Saturday, but it helps to be old, ala Gary U.S. Bonds. I remember it well.

barrywep 10:46 AM  

ARIAS actually fooled me. Nah, too easy I thought.

Anonymous 10:49 AM  

Well as your friend M. Murphy says, Good times. Hard as this puzzle was, I enjoyed it as I didn't yesterday's. Reading your post today was, appropriately, like reading a Russian novel, Rex. Your pain was palpable. ;)

I too had missteps out the wazoo and found the SW to be as parched as you did, except I had EGYPT as well as ODESSA. (Come to think of it, that was a good placement for EGYPT, no?) They included:

Brownie for MARS BAR
Girl group for ALL FEMALE
Russia for ODESSA
Although I called for a moratorium on it, Obese for NERDY
Ms America for MS OLYMPIA
Like Robert, Dyapnea for DYSPNEA
Was trying for something-LIAR for SYMBOLIST

Thought SYMBOLIST was odd; to me that's the art movement that my fave Odilon Redon led, but I suppose I can see what BW was getting at. What am I missing with DEFY for Beard? I don't get it. And FIEND for Devotee? Hmmm.

But so many nifty answers, especially RON REAGAN, SQUIRTS, YUKFEST, ONE BC, MY MAN, GLEN, CAP'N, and if we have to endure The Pantheon's own SNL, nice to see Mr. Bill as the catalyst for it. (That's how I knew Girl group was wrong, wrong, wrong.)

Campesite 11:08 AM  

Heavy music puzzle:
Gary U.S. Bonds
Lena Horne
But Evie Tornquist struck me as Out Of Tune.

JC66 11:49 AM  

I agree the SW was rough. Knew BARGE, but originally had STAYS. Then, when I got OBEYS, had COMBOCD.

Also agree with Wendy on DEFY and FIEND.

Linda G 11:57 AM  

Robert, it's .57 (or more precisely, .5714285). But who wants to be that precise ; )

Anonymous 12:59 PM  


Like you, Rex, I tore through this puzzle, then was left dangling with big chunks of tear-your-hair-out emptiness. IN SHAPE came and went a few times, as did STAYS. I couldn't for the life of me figure out what the first letter in 55A (Lighter) should be. Wavered between JUGS and BUGS for 38A (acoustic instruments)...BUMPO CD? Fortunately, I didn't ever seriously consider that 38D might end with SD. Meanwhile, over in the southeast, I went back and forth between DYAPNEA and DYSPNEA, but by the time I'd found my way to JUMBO CD (38D), I'd settled on DYAPNEA (same reasoning as Norrin2) and ended up going to bed with one wrong letter and no "Thank you for playing" message. This had no effect on my dreams, as far as I can tell. :)
So, in the end...close, but no stogy. Oh, and of course, I had the same reaction to STOGY and FORBAD--and for awhile thought this must be one of those puzzles that dropped letters at the end of words, although there was very little sign of that. You know how it goes...
Once again, I'm glad there is Rex--and glad there are all you other folks who enjoy going on about what would otherwise be a solitary (but still enjoyable) experience!

Rex Parker 1:23 PM  

"Diary of a Crossword FIEND" - works for me.

Forgot to mention that ONE BC answer [Time for a fresh start?] - LOVED it.

Norbert is not obese. His would-be paramour is. Not that I have seen this movie.


Anonymous 1:29 PM  

Hi Rex, I just starting doing NYTs puzzles and just discovered your blog. I'm pleasantly surprised I can get through Thursdays pretty well, Fridays soso, and Saturdays with a fair amount of googling. Thanks for your awesome analyses. Looking forward to tomorrow's Sunday puzzle...

Anonymous 1:47 PM  

Graf's Golden Slam refers to achieving the Grand Slam (Australian, French, Wimbledon, U.S) plus the gold medal in the Olympics, all in the calendar year. I imagine it will be a good while before that achievement is duplicated.

"Quarter to Three" is probably best known as the song that Bruce Springsteen used (uses?) to close his concerts. I saw him in 1984 in Murfreesboro, TN. He puts on such a high-energy, high-emotion show. "Quarter to Three" is the perfect finish, because it's so upbeat that every quite literally leaves dancing.

My dictionary gives precedence to STOGY over STOGIE, although Google and the NYTimes go the other way.


Rex Parker 1:54 PM  

Thanks for the "Golden Slam" definition, Byron. Sometimes I forget to do simple things like look up the damned real answer. My own made-up answers can be so intoxicating...


Anonymous 2:32 PM  

Gotcha on the FIEND/devotee relationship now. How obtuse can I be. Seeing no enlightenment on DEFY/beard, I resorted to looking it up ;) and damned if it doesn't say: to face or oppose courageously or brazenly, as if grasping by the beard. Learn something new every day.

edie 3:34 PM  

i felt the same way- i had to google the ymca one and i woould have never gotten "barge" had i not saw your answers

Anonymous 7:21 PM  

Well, got the entire top half of the puzzle done very quickly! Started feeling confident (for a Saturday) -- even a little bit cocky. But of all that was wiped away in the dang South.

Like others here I ran into serious trouble in the bottom corners. hmmm jugs? Wanted "uke" and wanted it bad. To be honest I've never heard of "jugs" as an instrument. And still don't like it : )

Like you, Rex, I wanted "in shape" for 39D... I had actually seriously considered "useable" and should have used my useable gut reaction.... But struggled on.....never in a million years would I have gotten "barge" and while I had "delta" and figured 38D was some kind of "CD" -- couldn't get it.

Like Norrin and others had "Dyapnea" for 45D and "sira" for 54 A.

Having said that I really liked the puzzle. Loved "onebc" "RonReagan" "marsbar" and "yuksup".

Here's the thing. I still don't get 18A "myman" for "Homey!" what am I missing?

Anonymous 7:44 PM  

For 'Beard' I keep thinking of the expression 'to beard the dragon'. If you google the phrase, it seems to show a lot of bad fiction and game dialogue.

kitt, read it as 'my man!'

I really wanted 'sobered' in the SW corner, and thought Mizraim was a woman's name, like Ester. Which is misspelled.

Rex Parker 7:45 PM  

"Homey" and "My man" are both, arguably, idiomatic expressions of affection for someone one is close to, more common (I'm guessing) among black speakers than white, although there's so much crossover now, who knows?


Rex Parker 7:47 PM  


I too considered entering ESTER (an organic compound!) for the Mizraim clue.


barrywep 8:12 PM  

Well, of course BYRON knows what a golden slam is. He's the one that put it in the damn puzzle.

Anonymous 10:41 PM  

Tough, tough.

I did like all the music, though, even the OUT-OF-TUNE STRING.

Good thing JUGS wasn't clued otherwise, with ALL-FEMALE sitting there so prettily on top...

Orange 7:51 AM  

I almost resorted to Googling this morning when I did Byron's puzzle—that southwestern quadrant was a killer. The puzzle took me 10:30 to finish, putting it in the upper echelon of killer Saturday puzzles. Rex, I shared many of your reactions to particular clues and entries, but overall liked it more than you did (but I would have been grumbling, too, if I ended up Googling). Oh, except DYSPNEA was a gimme because I do copyediting for this.

Howard B 12:12 AM  

SW corner - got EGYPT, METED across, ODESSA going down - and nothing else. No time. No finish. No soup for me.
Never heard of JUMBOCD, Lighter = Barge = ?!?, and the rest exactly as you described. The rest of the puzzle was a fun challenge. That one corner was just the La Byron Tar Pits for me.
Anyone else who got toasted there, you're far from alone :).

Anonymous 2:36 PM  

I still don't get lighter = barge, 6 weeks later!

Anonymous 10:44 PM  

I had much the same experience as all of you. Held on to BSA for too long. Had EARS for JUGS for a while. Got EGYPT off the ED I put in for 50A (debated between DOLED AND METED) and the Y in STAYS (which of course was wrong). Finally figured out GOTREAL and changed BSA to USO. Guessed DELTA like Rex thought he should of and changed SLAPS to CLAPS to get JUMBOCD. SW took a loooong time given how fast the rest of the puzzle went. Did not have to google but it was painful. Agree with the iffy spellings of STOGY and FORBAD and would add ENROL. Always thought it had two Ls. Also, I got BARGE by thinking that Saturday often goes for 3rd and 4th level meanings and somehow remembered that a Ligher was one. I liked this puzzle, tough but doable!

Anonymous 3:01 AM  

Later that same night and a little drunk -- The reason I got DYSPNEA (which I've never heard of) is because the clue said breathing trouble -- Trouble has to be DYS or DIS something! Anyway, good night :)

Anonymous 8:14 PM  

It's the following Thursday. I am falling behinder and behinder.

The best clue/answer combo here was 8d STATE THE OBVIOUS. Hanne gave me ALL FEMALE, and I had to google ADRIAN I. I did know what a "lighter" was, and was familiar with "beard" as a verb. I thought the clue for STOGY should have been "Foul smoke, (for some)

GOT REAL was cute, gave me JUGS, but I can't fathom JUMBO CD.

And the doctor said, "Give him JUG band music, seems to make him feel just fine."
-John Sebastian

The door goes together tomorrow.

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