WEDNESDAY, May 16, 2007 - Patrick Blindauer

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: Tic-Tac-Toe - three theme answers begin with "tic," "tac," and "toe" sounds, respectively. Fourth theme answer alludes to theme: 60A: "Piece of cake!" (and a hint to the starts of 17-Across and 11- and 27-Down) ("child's play"). The cherry on top: 3x3 grid at dead center of the puzzle contains nothing but X's and O's.

Yesterday's NY Sun puzzle (by Alan Arbesfeld) went into my Best Puzzles of 2007 folder under "Best Tuesdays," and now today's NYT puzzle goes into that same folder under "Best Wednesdays." There are flaws with today's puzzle (detailed below), but given the exceedingly high degree of difficulty and cleverness on display in this puzzle, I am more than willing to overlook them. The tic-tac-toe grid in the puzzle's middle turned a cute puzzle into a kind of masterpiece. My favorite part of the puzzle is that the "winning" column in the tic-tac-toe grid is 34D: Adults-only (XXX) - "And the winner is ... porn!"

Theme answers:

  • 17A: Thrill (tickle pink) - great phrase no matter how you clue it; first theme answer I got, and I figured I'd be dealing with some kind of color theme
  • 11D: Part of a dash (tachometer) - a Great clue, as the first dashes that came to mind were "-" and a foot race
  • 27D: Do what is expected (toe the line) - a nice, colloquial phrase; the only downside here is that TOE stands independently and is spelled just like it is in the game tic-tac-toe, where the other sounds ("tic" and "tac") are buried inside other words - this is, admittedly, a very minor quibble. [Oh, here's one more: two of the tic-tac-toe answers were rather arbitrary - 33D: Kiss and hugs, in a love letter (xoo), and, especially, 38A: Part of a coach's chalk-talk diagram (oxx). Clearly this arbitrariness didn't disturb me that much. Just something I noticed.]
I have many appointments today, so I have to keep this brief today (for real, this time). It's as if this puzzle were written with me in mind, as I get both a secondary "Simpsons" character - 62A: One of Homer's in-laws (Selma) - and my favorite breakfast place - 53D: Breakfast spot, briefly (IHOP). Crosswordese or not, I will never tire of IHOP.

14A: Bad time for Caesar (Ides) - yesterday was the "Ides of May." Completely coincidentally, I heard some sports analyst say that on one of those tired talking-head shows on ESPN that I sometimes watch when I'm bored. I have no idea why he said it.

20A: Close communication? (tête-à-tête) - why is there a question mark on the end of this clue? Anyway, this is a nice phrase that I don't recall seeing in the grid recently, if ever. As opposed to ACETATE (5D: Film overlay), which I think I saw just last week, and DYAD (22A: Couple), which I've seen several times before and should have seen this past weekend. Instead, I saw DUAD. Ugh.

28A: Heartless one? (Tin Man) - another throwback to this past weekend, when the actor who played the Tin Man, JACK HALEY, was in the grid. I like that this clue is followed immediately by 31A: Companion of 28-Across (Lion), even if the lack of the modifier "Cowardly" makes the parallelism a bit ... unparallel. If you follow.

37A: Seaport of New Guinea (Lae) - this puzzle's one concession to the God of Insane Arcana.

45A: Bernstein's "Trouble in _____" (Tahiti) - staying in the South Pacific for the moment ... I have never heard of this piece of music, but I guessed it with the final "-TI" in place. For another unusual terminal "-TI" word, see 21A: Emmy winner for "Chicago Hope" (Lahti).

59A: Athens's setting (Ohio) - grrr. If the Athens in question is not in Greece, I really want it to be in Georgia (one-time home of R.E.M. and the B-52's ... I think). Athens, OHIO, in the southeast quadrant of the state, is the home of OHIO University.

10D: Huffington who wrote "Fanatics & Fools" (Arianna) - she is a famous political commentator now. I think she used to be married to some closeted Republican in California who ran for Senate. I also think that I know someone who gave money to ARIANNA's own run for office (I forget which) and then wanted his money back when she dropped out rather early.

26D: Rope with a slipknot (riata) - if I haven't mentioned it before, or even if I have, I will tell you now that I have RIATA / LIANA confusion. Like crazy. The confusion can also extend to the simple word LASSO. RIATA and LIANA are words I know only from doing crosswords, and both describe kinds of ropes. It's just that a RIATA is a rope you'd use to catch a steer in a rodeo, where a LIANA is a rope that Tarzan would use to swing from tree to tree (i.e. a jungle vine).

43D: June 14 (Flag Day)

Nice, terse clue. To show you how embarrassingly unpatriotic I am (at least where honoring the flag is concerned), I will tell you that what FLAG DAY reminds me of most strongly is not Old Glory, but a 1985 pop song by the British band The Housemartins - the band whose music most heavily dominated my early college years.

Enjoy the rest of your Wednesday.

Signed, Rex Parker King of CrossWorld


ScottK 9:22 AM  

As soon as I filled in EXXON I realized we were playing Tic-Tac-Toe; I breathlessly filled in each of the other center answers, wondering how the heck they were going to pull it off. I thought OXO was a master stroke; they make the world's best potato peeler!

A also enjoyed HOJO and IHOP sitting side-by-side, like a couple of eggs over easy, in the lower left.

DONALD 9:42 AM  

OXX beer from Germany would be a much better clue than "part of a coach's chalk-talk diagram", and there is a computer service or program called XOO (and a band in Europe). Why quibble, great little puzzle! I goofed bigtime with "tow the line", profphil set me right!

janie 9:42 AM  

33d -- x (kiss) and hugs (oo), in a love letter.

or maybe you mean that 38a coulda been clued as "hug and kisses" and 33d as "part of a coach's diagram."

regardless -- *great* wednesday fun!



Rex Parker 9:49 AM  

I know that x=kiss and o=hug. I just think that there is nothing *to* that particular combination. It's an arbitrary combination of those letters, where, say, XOXO wouldn't be (but then again, that wouldn't fit). Again, no biggie.


Anonymous 9:52 AM  

I took the question mark on "close communication?" (tête-à-tête) as playing off the literal translation of the phrase: "head to head" (or even "head against head.") A tête-à-tête as we use the word would be a private chat, but not quite so "close" that the participants' heads actually touched.

Linda G 10:33 AM  

I went head to head with someone once over *toe the line* versus *tow the line* -- she insisted the latter was correct. This was before the Internet, so I wasn't able to present Google results. If I could remember who she was, I'd send them to her now.

You really kept it brief today, Rex. Good job ; )

JC66 10:44 AM  

Terrific Wednesday puzzle.

Linda, tow the line makes no sense to me. When getting set to start a race, one "toes the line" - no?

Rex, I think the English lariat comes from the Spanish la riata. Hope this helps.

Anonymous 11:17 AM  

Thanks for the laugh on 'the winner!'

And fwiw, my submitted clue for XXX was [Diesel explosion of 2002?]. Doesn't really work, but I thought it was cute.

Glad you liked my word-baby!


DONALD 11:24 AM  


Linda's remark would refer to my error, which I straightened out many years ago, but slipped back into today -- for the record:

A lot of people who don't know the origin of the phrase picture someone pulling a rope, cord, or some other "line"--"tow the line"--as a way of working for whomever the "line" belongs to. Thus, if the administration has a "line"--i.e., a "party line"--then those who side with the administration help to pull it ("tow" it) along.

The phrase "toe the line" is equivalent to "toe the mark," both of which mean to conform to a rule or a standard. The Oxford Dictionary of Word Histories (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2002; ed. by Glynnis Chantrell) says, "The idiom toe the line from an athletics analogy originated in the early 19th century" (514).

The specific sport referred to is foot-racing, where the competitors must keep their feet behind a "line" or on a "mark" at the start of the race--as in "On your mark, get set, go!"

So one who "toes the line" is one who does not allow his foot to stray over the line. In other words, one who does not stray beyond a rigidly defined boundary.

Does that cover it all?

For a good look at my error, visit The New York Times Crossword in Gothic.

Included is a picture of Vin Deisel's XXX for PBlindauer, and OXX German beer for everyone!

Alex S. 11:29 AM  

For me, the niceness of the tic-tac-toe grid was rather seriously damaged by the weakness of the coach's diagram and hugs/kisses clues.

It just felt deflating for four of the components to be legitimate and then the last two are just made up random sequences. So it is a subjective call but I withhold my praise on this on.

I knew neither LAE nor RIATA so it was just random vowels until the grid was accepted. Fortunately it was the first vowel tried so anybody watching over my shoulder would have thought I knew what I was doing.

The weirdest moment doing this puzzle for me was a weird brain fart. I had decided that 3D had to be SECT but I just sat there staring at it saying "what kind of word is SECT? That can't be a real word, can it? It just looks stupid." Of course, it is a word I know well but some temporary aphasia completely blocked it.

Anonymous 11:47 AM  


As I got Hojo, I thought Rex will like this. And when I then got the abutting IHOP, I thought Rex will be in heaven. I even imagined that the constructor was throwing you some bones, so to speak.

Anonymous 11:52 AM  

Once solved, this puzzle didn't seem nearly so daunting, but in fact it gave me a lot of trouble. Very slow going for a Wednesday puzzle. Many wrong turns. One of the best (or worst) was DRILL for 15A (Word with press or Marine). Not completely far-fetched.
Also (ha ha), had BALLS for 51D soothers (something that would soothe a baby, I reasoned) and tried DELLA for 62A (one of Homer's in-laws). Finally, I thought 60D (General Lee's cause) must be CSA, but SELLA didn't seem likely...then I remembered how BALLS had been clued and I was done ("thank you for playing").
Other wrong turns...
Blanched - PALED.
Feature of the earth TOPO. (Any port in a storm.)
Conservatory graduate - MUSICO.
Rope with a slipknot - NOOSE.
My one quibble (to add to the abovementioned randomness of the XXOXXO clues). I don't think a LEER is a passionate look so much as a hungry or lascivious look.

The toe vs. tow discussion brings to mind "champing" vs. "chomping" at the bit. It's slightly harder to justify insisting on the former as the latter means essentially the same thing, but somehow "champing at the bit" just seems better because it's right. I know, I know, I'm drifting off topic, so...hey, nice puzzle today, don't you think?

Anonymous 11:54 AM  

Profphil said...
"I even imagined that the constructor was throwing you some bones, so to speak."
More like pancakes (yuk).

Tom 12:13 PM  

maybe I'm just brain-dead, but I don't get "toped" for "imbibed." help anyone?

Anonymous 12:48 PM  

Hi Tom, lists this first definition of tope that refers to drinking.

I actually balked a bit at HOJO. It's always refered to as HOJO'S, never without the possessive in my memory--short for Howard Johnson's.

Anonymous 12:50 PM  

I was very unhappy with "toped" as well, although accurate, I do not recall ever seeing it in a puzzle.

I do, however, have some vague recollection that "toe the line" is based in the theater...the mark on the stage that indicates where the actor should place his/her toe.

Anonymous 12:52 PM
("to drink liquor to excess")

And though Webster's online fails to mention this usage, in my experience "imbibing" most often refers to consumption of alcoholic beverages--and not just absorption of any old liquid.

Anonymous 12:52 PM  


It's an old crossword familiar. Tope means to drink (or drink much) alcohol. It's not really used except in crosswords. When I saw "imbibe" I thouhgt toped but since I have not seen it in a long time decided on drank first. Corrected it later, though.

Anonymous 12:58 PM  

Oh yeah, that was another one of my wrong turns. I had DRANK (6D) crossing DRILL (15A).

Anonymous 1:16 PM  

Dear Patrick and Rex--


Loved the puzzle, love you both!

JC66 1:50 PM  

Anonymous, an actor "hit's his mark' or stands or walks where she/he has been directed to.

Anonymous 2:34 PM  

Just realized that x looks like two lips kissing > < = X. And 0 encicles like a hug. After all these years it took a crossword to make me see the obvious: Eureka!

Anonymous 3:00 PM  

Very enjoyable puzzle, and no googling! And I grasped the theme before the end! Yee-haa!

First: If someone LEERs AT me, they can take their 'passion' elsewhere. I'm picturing one of those guys R Crumb is famous for drawing with drool coming out of his mouth.

Second: In re: today's Ohio factoid, as Rex notes, Athens, Ohio, is the home of Ohio University (and not much else). Not to be confused with my alma mater, what we like to refer to as THE Ohio State University, in Columbus.

Third: Broccoli RABE was neat. I'm always excited to see the vegetable world given its just desserts, as it were.

Fourth: I think ARIANNA Huffington had one of the first mainstream blogs, the Huffington Post. At least it was the first one I was ever aware of. One of my favorite memories of her (not that she's dead) is in the recurring sketch Strange Bedfellows, a bit on Bill Maher's old show Politically Incorrect. She and Al Franken would do political commentary on the 1996 presidential race while sharing a bed on the stage. Hilarious. This is back when Al Franken was actually funny.

Fifth: SELMA Bouvier. Love her! Julie Kavner nails those two. (Patty being the other one.)

Sixth: I don't get HILLS for Roman septet. What does it mean?

Seventh: Liked "mas with baas" as a clue very much. Also "quahog".

Anyway, very fun.

Anonymous 3:41 PM  

Wendy, it refers to the seven hills of Rome before Rome was actually a city.

Anonymous 4:04 PM  

back to porn... ;-)

if you don't know the show "avenue q," there's a terrific tune called "the internet (is for porn)" that is very amusing indeed. here's a link (that you'll have to cut and paste, i fear) to lyrics for the entire show:

it's spot on -- enjoy!


Anonymous 5:06 PM  


Greetings from Columbus!

From one OSU alumnus to another, I think that the official name of the school in question actually includes the "The".

Tom 5:24 PM  

Ah, many thanks--"tope" is a brand new word to me, which makes for a grand day!

Anonymous 5:45 PM  

grander if you tope

Anonymous 5:47 PM  

This is a famous painting...

Anonymous 5:52 PM  


Hey fellow Buckeye! I think the THE must have become official long after I graduated; I was never sure if it actually did happen or if people just joked about it, as though it *should* happen. I do laugh whenever I hear the commentators on ESPN say it, though, with absolutely no irony whatsoever. ;) So it must be real!

Anonymous 6:19 PM  

prof phil, brilliant observation on the origin of X and O! Thanks!

Very clever cluing on "mas with baas"! Funny, it took me forever to get it. Probably because I kept trying to make clue "ba-aa-aad" into an ovine action verb (past tense). Du-uu-uuh.

Linda G 10:46 PM  

mmpo and Wendy -- We were on the same page with LEER AT. I think I used the word salaciousness on my blog (Madness...Crossword and Otherwise). Rex has a link to it, and he won't get mad if you visit ; )

Anonymous 1:10 AM  

If a constructor really wanted to please Rex (and me!), I'd suggest cluing OXO with "Whirly Girl band"

Anonymous 6:11 PM  

Just discovered this page. I'm only now venturing beyond the Tues. NYT puzzle, led on by a crossword-temptress daughter. I loved reading the blog and relating to so many of you. It was fun reading Patrick's response-I always try to picture who makes up the puzzles that are such a time-sink-pleasure for me.
Toped 6D was a new one and I thought B-a-a-d must be a current way to say the opposite of bad.
I'm looking forward to coming back here but not for T,F,S or S. Maybe someday on those.

Anonymous 11:22 PM  

I recently came across TOPE in a Bob Klahn Friday puzzle in the NYTs Crossword Challange book. It was clued "Lift one's spirits?." When I finally got it from the crosses (I had OPE and came up blank with the alphabet game) I said "Whaa....?" and looked it up. For future reference a TOPER is a sot/drunk/etc...
Great puzzle BTW.

Anonymous 8:49 PM  

Friday afternoon here. Catching up on the backload.

Great puzzle. I might accept the quibble about the coach's diagram, but I feel compelled to defend XOO as a very valid clue/answer pairing given one kiss and two hugs.

I feel I must take exception to the quibble of mmpo regarding LEER AT. I submit that both "hunger" and "lasciviousness" are passions. (I still possess the former, and remember the latter) Interestingly, all the quibblers of this are female. :)

Anonymous, I bet those seven hills are still there. :)

Rex, your blog today was short and sweet.

The door is coming along nicely.

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