THURSDAY, May 31, 2007 - William F. Stephens

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: BACK (55D: Missing word in 21-, 31-, 40- and 50-Across, applied literally) - four theme answers are the tail ends of phrases that begin with BACK; the actual word BACK is "missing" in every instance; further, the theme answers appear BACKwards in the grid.

Better late than never. It's well after noon - It's been a long time since I waited til this late in the day to write about the puzzle. Stayed out late last night watching the Indians destroy the Red Sox at my friend Murph's house - it's one thing to see your team lose, it's another, worse thing to have to suffer through that losing for nearly four hours as the opposing team racks up an embarrassing, astonishing eighteen hits. Ugh. We kept ourselves entertained, however, by scoring the game, which is a practice I've only recently taken up - and now I'm quite addicted. Here are my scorecards for last night's game (I'm still getting the hang of the shorthand, which can get quite complicated if you let it).

Then this morning I got up late and had to take Sahra to school, then had a 10am appointment, then had lunch. And here I am. As for the puzzle, it took me way longer than it should have to figure out that the theme answers were running backwards, and even longer to figure out that BACK was a key feature of each answer.

Theme answers:

  • 21A: From the beginning again (eno erauqs ot)
  • 31A: Revived (daed eht morf)
  • 40A: 1985 Michael J. Fox film ("erutuF eht ot...")
  • 50A: Controlling things once more (elddas eht ni)

I got TO SQUARE ONE (i.e. ENOERAUQSOT) without even remarking that the phrase is BACK TO SQUARE ONE. Wasn't til I hit TO THE FUTURE (i.e. ERUTUFEHTOT) that I realized something was missing.

Non-theme wise, there is much to admire here - lively phrasing and some choice obscurity - but there are a few rough spots as well. Actually, much of this puzzle's fill walks the line between impressive and annoying. Take AMOS Burke (19A: Burke of TV's "Burke's Law") and ILONA Massey (47D: Massey of "Love Happy") - the former is known to me only because of my weird interest in the history of American Crime fiction, and the latter is not known to me at all. And yet I don't hate them. In fact, I have a weird affection for AMOS, as I do for all characters from short-lived TV shows of the 20th century. ILONA I can tolerate because I'm almost certain I've seen her before, and complained about her before, so, I figure, why complain twice.

Then there's the krosswordese krossing of EIRE (61A: U2's home - U2 are from IRELAND; can the leprechauny pretension) and ERIE (51D: I-90 runs along it). Part of my brain just goes 'yuck.' But the other part is amused by the anagrammic quality of the crossing, and also by the fact that ERIE (the worst kind of common fill) is kind of given new life by being echoed twice in this grid: not only anagrammically, but also geographically (via I-90, to OHIO - 54D: I-90 runs through it). So the fill's all kind of terrible, but through the magic of creative cluing, I magically don't care. In fact, I'm vaguely entertained by it all.


25A: 1960s greetings (V signs) - briefly thought this was PEACE signs and that the puzzle was a rebus of some kind, maybe with WAR and PEACE ... but no. V is for ... well, peace, right? Or, if you're Nixon, Victory of some kind.

29A: Classic walkways (stoas) - not sure where I retrieved this answer from. I always thought STOA was the plural. I guess not. It's Latin feminine singular, thus pluralized -AE.

26A: Like pawpaw leaves (oblong) - all hail the return of the pawpaw plant to the puzzle. It's been too long. OBLONG is a fantastic word.

29D: Plant diseases (smuts) - Not my kind of SMUT. SMUT looks really wrong in the plural. SMUTS. Sounds like, I don't know, a blue (bluer!) version of The Smurfs.

35D: Preceders of snaps (huts) - a fantastic clue, and one that it took me way too long to figure out. For those non-sports fans, the quarterback in football, will often say "hut" several times before the ball is "snapped" to begin a football play.

42D: Subject of a Debussy prelude (Faun) - Mr. Tumnus! Actually, this is not C.S. Lewis's faun, but some anonymous woodland creature. "Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun" is a beautiful piece of music that I am listening to Right Now.

46D: Kisses from grandma, say (pecks) - well, let's hope so. If your grandma has her tongue down your throat ... part of me wants to say "You might be a Redneck," but I'll just say, something is very wrong.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Anonymous 1:36 PM  

Oh dear. I discovered you only last but miss you when you are late. Tomorrow I must use ink, I think.

barrywep 1:40 PM  

So you have time for theRed Sox but not for us. At least we now know your priorities:
1. Red Sox
2. Daughter Sahra
3. Loyal Rex fans

Burke ran three seasons, much more than "short-lived" by today's standards.

Anonymous 1:49 PM  

Somehow I think it will be a while before we see "POG" clued in reference to your score sheets... :)

Anonymous 1:50 PM  

Very impressive use of the backward K for a caught-looking strikeout. I don't remember ever using it when I was obsessed with keeping score whenever Hank Aaron and the Milwaukee Braves were on the tube.

Steve M

Orange 2:16 PM  

Barry, Barry—your pouting is unseemly. Plus, the Red Sox don't get seven-days-a-week, 52-weeks-a-year attention, and the crossword does. (As for the TV show guy, all I know about the show is what I learned from IMDB, where it appears to be a one-season '90s show based on a three-seasonish '60s show. The '90s one came up first in my Googling.)

If Rex were a British war hero and the DSO were bestowed on him, his name could become Red Sox. If only medals were given for entertaining blog posts!

Anonymous 2:26 PM  

Dice-K finally got his comeuppance, eh? 'Bout time his high ERA (over 5 in the last 7 games) fell victim to less-than-stellar run support.

Harleypeyton 2:32 PM  

The Sox lost, yes. But Dice-K is the real problem. Betcha Phil Hughes wins more games over the next five years!!

Oh, wait. This is a crossword blog. Never mind.

Alex S. 2:43 PM  

I love scorekeeping, though I only do it when physically at the game. I've never done it from home.

I was very disappointed in how slowly I glommed onto the theme. Had enough letters to know that no Michael J. Fox title I knew would fit so I decided it must be a rebus with much futility ensuing.

Got caught up on that and so it was quite a while before I happened to read the second to last down clue which immediately clarified the whole thing.

Campesite 2:49 PM  

Rex, very funny comment about Grandma's kisses, should have cross-referenced 'smuts.'
I tend to start my puzzles in the Northeast section so the peace sign went in straight away. For a little while I too was thinking it could be a rebus, but I reckoned a peace sign followed by the word 'sign' would be redundant.
Orange is right, Rex does deserve a medal.

Anonymous 3:06 PM  

>his name could become Red Sox<

RE(d so)X!



Anonymous 3:10 PM  

orange -- forgive me for running that into the ground!!


Anonymous 4:09 PM  

I got everything today except for the NW. The only way I got the theme was because I'm a Back to the Future freak and I know that MJF didn't make any other movies in '85 because he was too busy with Family Ties. Once I figured out how to fit Back to the Future in there, the other theme clues fell into place.

Anonymous 5:23 PM  

I really enjoyed the puzzle today. Though, a little aggravated with myself for taking too long to figure out the backwards deal....

When I figured out 58A and 62A I got 55D "back" and that's what sealed the deal. Everything made sense.

Got tied up by not knowing how to spell "Picabo" is there a "k" a "u" what??? Made the SW tricky for a bit.

Clever puzzle. And fun!

Linda G 7:23 PM  

Back to the Future was also my tip-off, and I tried (like how many of you?) to put in TO THE FUTURE. What finally straightened things out for me was knowing that 30D was TOFU...and then it hit me.

Did anyone else have trouble writing backwards? My letters look horrible on the theme entries!

Howard B 8:14 PM  

Puzzle constructors never cease to amaze and amuse me.
I do love these kinds of themes - that little touch to mess with your mind.
I'm glad I was doing this one in the applet and not on paper, since much like Linda described, my letters would have looked more like a shaky Greek alphabet than anything resembling English characters.
As it was, I found it easier towards the end of solving to reverse the letters in my head, and type them left-to-right. Trying to fight the left-to-right moving cursor in the applet otherwise wasn't worth the trouble.

dfan 9:21 PM  

I loved this one. The clever theme plus lots of fun "something has got to be wrong" answers like NOMSG, VSIGNS, CDROM.

Anonymous 9:24 PM  

My friend had to explain 18A: C CLEF to me. That was highly embarrassing, as C clef is the clef violists read. In fact, it is almost exclusively read by viola players. As Howard B points out, the little touch to mess with your mind...

All in all, excellent puzzle, Will and Will, and excellent blog today, Rexy.

Anonymous 10:11 PM  

yes I had a terrible time writing backwards. Compulsively, I started forming many of the letters pointing to the left instead of the right so they could be read in a mirror (good thing I was solving in pencil today -- uncharacteristic for me). Even so, I thought the puzzle was great fun! So many of the clues were terrific. I've never seen pawpaw mentioned in a puzzle (apparently I haven't been paying attention) but it sure gladdened my heart today! I'm an expatriot southerner longing for summer up here in chilly Wyoming.

Orange 12:05 AM  

Two of my favorite Thursday NYT puzzles from last year hinge on a similar gimmick. Ben Tausig's 3/16/06 puzzle had six reverse theme entries—phrases that start with "reverse" (omitted from the grid) running in reverse. YGOLOHCYSP is a great-looking entry! In the 8/3/06 NYT, Nancy Salomon doubled up with an [UP] rebus and down entries containing [UP] running upwards. The short ones were killers—[UP]DOS in reverse is SOD[UP], and I remember that spot being gnarly.

Both of those puzzles will be in my book, and now I've gone and spoiled two crosswords. There are still more than 60 not spoiled...

fergus 12:13 AM  


So, you are coming to understand the baseball code. You're a Red Sox fan in New York?

I liked 12D today, along with 35A. But for 39A, is designing really SLY?


fergus 12:19 AM  

for 36A I originally thought KNEE then with a shot of bourbon realized DIVE

fergus 12:27 AM  

Backwards was no big deal -- one expects an unusual square or procedure to sort out. My favorite of the Thursday ilk was something from about a year ago, when THINK was not only outside the box, it was out of the grid entirely, and worked perfectly.

Anonymous 5:20 PM  

It took me way longer than usual to figure this one out. Had to put it down last night and finish after work today. Glad to hear I wasn't the only one

Eggmaster 11:40 AM  

Yeah, sports, man.

1) "Hey, Friend, how about those City Sports Team?"

2) "Yeah! Did you see the Sporting Event?"

1) "Booyah!"

2) "In your face!"

Anonymous 8:25 PM  

no·men (n$Æmen), n., pl. nom·i·na (nomÆÃ nÃ, n$ÆmÃ-).
(in ancient Rome) the second name of a citizen, indicating his gens, as “Gaius Julius Caesar.” Not cheap.

Anonymous 12:18 PM  

This is six weeks later, so probably no one but Rex will read it, but that's ok.

Nice to hear you're hooked on baseball scorekeeping. I've been doing it all my life. At games, people initially make fun of me, and then about the sixth inning they start asking me to tell them what the batters did in their previous ups. My dad started me on it as a kid, a way to get me to pay attention during the game.

I have a complaint about the blog, although it's not your fault. Someone posted a comment on the previous day's posting asking "what's the deal with the backward words on tomorrow's puzzle". I guess he did that because you were late posting, but it did kind of spoil the puzzle for me. I don't know if I would have gotten it otherwise.

Anyway, thanks for continuing the blog even though your time is limited. I appreciate it.

Anonymous 1:11 PM  

6WL ::::

Rhonda, I had the same thought about the comment on today's puzzle in yesterday's blog/comments....but,
I had completely forgotten about it by this morning, and the theme took a while to pop out for me.

Also had trouble with the NW, starting with WANTS and WALL instead of ACHES and APSE. And SMUTS, as mentioned above, made me try different vowels in the middle of AUF (not knowing German). And spelled FAUN FAWN till the crosses made it clear.

Very enjoyable puzzle all in all....

Waxy in Montreal 10:21 PM  

Also from 6 weeks later:

I agree with Rhonda from Kansas' comments about the "backwards" reference on the previous day's blog which sorta gave away the novelty involved in today's puzzle.

However, this was an extremely creative & challenging puzzle, especially the NW corner which took me far too long to unravel.

So, on to tomorrow to let the June puzzles begin on Friday the 13th (of July)...

Anonymous 12:18 PM  

I was also annoyed when I read the "hint" to todays puzzle in yesterdays comments, (Who would do that???) Luckily for me I store less and less in my memory banks these days. Even after doing the puzzle I had forgotten about that until reading about it again on here.

This puzzle was fun, I especially liked the clue for 58A, ALOHA!

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