THURSDAY, Sep. 27, 2007 - Peter Wentz

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: "The Shift Key" (61A: What is being held in 17-, 32-, 38- and 45-Across)
- theme answers are all symbols found on numbers on a keyboard

I wasn't too thrilled by this theme, and the rest of the fill didn't do much to increase my level of enjoyment. The theme is clever enough - I like the numbers as clues, and I really like the main theme answer, THE SHIFT KEY. But for some reason I can't get very excited about symbols on a keyboard, even exclamation mark! Too ... ordinary. Workaday. "Please press the 'pound' key ... now." Yawn.

Theme answers:

  • 17A: 90 (parentheses)
  • 32A: 3 (pound sign)
  • 38A: 1 (exclamation mark)
  • 45A: 7 (ampersand)

Wanted TINA but got IKE (60A: Turner in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame) - enjoy his funky hairdo. For some freaky reason, PELOTA (35A: Jai alai ball) was one of the first words I put in the grid. I don't speak Spanish, so I have no idea why the word for "ball" just came to me like that. The very first answer I put in was DOT EDU (1A: End of many college addresses), which I got instantly, but ... is potentially objectionable. We say "dot edu" but we don't write "dot." I actually like the answer for its funky look. Just seems nonstandard. One answer I'm going to object to is IDS (69A: Walletful, informally). First, the clue makes No sense. Is "Walletful" formal? No. It's barely a word, so while it's true that IDS is informal, it's not an informal word for 'walletful.' Second, do people really have wallets "full" of IDS? I have a driver's license and a University ID. I have many cards with my name on them, but those don't normally count as IDS. In other objection news: officialDOM (11A: Suffix with official)? I know it's a word, but god it's ugly, and when your first hits at Google are all dictionary sites assuring you something is a word ... I say pick another word. Would you ever call anyone an ULTRA (6D: Extreme sort)? I thought not. Also, I groaned at 37A: Lake _____ (trout). It's clever in a way that puns are clever and yet I usually don't like them. "Oh, good one ... I was thinking TAHOE, but I see you were using 'Lake' adjectivally. That's some nice work." Etc.

On to the fun stuff. Loved 58D: It's rarely seen under a hat (afro). Had the -RO for a while and couldn't figure it out. Clever. The ubiquitous ENO shows up again, this time in one of his many disguises: [musician who is responsible for something you've never heard of ... in three letters ... guess who?]. Today, 16A: "Another Green World" musician. I would enjoy SOUR Skittles if I still ate candy (50A: Skittles variety). I did enjoy Graham GREENE's "The Power and the Glory" when I chose it for my ill-fated book club's first book (68A: "The Power and the Glory" novelist, 1940). I was the only one who liked it (women readers ... whadyagonnado? I'm kidding!), and it provided a phrase that I still use, occasionally, facetiously, to refer to my wife: "... the small, set mouth of an educated woman." I like the sound of the words DAP (1D: Drop bait lightly on the water) and DENALI (11D: 20,320-foot Alaskan peak - also known as "Mt. McKinley") and ONE GIG (12D: Capacity of many a flash drive, informally - it's a very informal day today in the Times, it seems). In the category of "World's Strangest Way to clue 'MISSOURI,'" we have 8D: _____ Valley Conference in college sports. Is Alan Jay Lerner a singer? "SHE Wasn't You" sounds like a country song (7D: Alan Jay Lerner's "_____ Wasn't You"). Oh, he's THAT Lerner. Gotcha. MOLIÈRE (30D: Pseudonym of Jean Baptiste Poquelin) is a fabulous playwright, though his name always reminds me of a Judd Nelson / Molly Ringwald / Anthony Michael Hall exchange in "The Breakfast Club":

JN, tearing up a book, speaking sarcastically about the value of literature: "It's wrong to destroy literature. It's such fun to read. And ... [looks at spine of book] 'Molay' really pumps my nads."

MR, smiling: "Molière."


AMH, sincerely: "I love his work."

[JN throws book at AMH]

Lastly, I do not thank the Times for forcing me to remember one of the stupidest times in all American politics: the late 90s - 31D: _____ Report of the 1990s (Starr). Let us never mention 1997-1999 again, OK? Good.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

PS Happy 4th Anniversary, honey.


wendy 8:22 AM  

I didn't enjoy this puzzle, and I won't bore anyone with all the reasons why.

Rex, I thought "extreme sort" meant in the adjectival sense, which is the only way ULTRA works in this context, per your remarks. Although probably an 'of' would be required after 'sort' in that case.

One of the few things I liked for no reason I know of was the -DOM as the official suffix. Yes, no one says it, but it was unusual.

Where's the "my day at the local prison" update? As someone whose work (work, people!) has brought her into a prison and jail or two, I'm waiting with baited breath (not to be confused with bad breath, which is what a lot of people in prison have - oh you have no idea).

wendy 8:23 AM  

Or maybe that was, bated breath. Baited, now that would be really bad breath, wouldn't it?

I'm leaving now. ;)

Anonymous 8:40 AM  

I liked the theme -- although I would have been stumped had the number "2" been a clue and the answer been anything other than "at sign".

I am told that "the at sign" is what this "@" is really called -- but I have trouble believing it.

Does anyone out there know the proper name for @ if there is one?

Anonymous 8:50 AM  

I've always called it "at". It was an abbreviation in writing long before the internet as in "the meeting's @six"

I had trouble with the entire south portion of this puzzle, a lot of the clues were original. My fav was "one helping". I tried every version of "aider" I could think of.

Also thouht ANATHEMA was ANE which held me up for a while.

I don't remember ever seeing FEIGN in a puzzle. AWAY games also got me.

It was nice to see ETNA clued differently.

As for the theme: I got that right off but for some reason I kept looking to the left of the 1 key and assumed that the lower character was a DIACRITICAL MARK which really screwed me up.

Unknown 8:50 AM  

I liked the puzzle with one tiny objection. I have always thought of it as an exclamation POINT, not an exclamation MARK.

Looking for support for my opinion I read this on Wikipedia:

The mark was not featured on standard manual typewriters of the 1970s; instead, one typed a full stop, backspaced, and then typed an apostrophe.

Does anyone else remember this?

Life without exclamation points???!!! Hard to imagine.

wendy 8:51 AM  

Sam, if you wikipedia "at sign" there is an unbelievably lengthy discourse on this topic.

Alex 8:56 AM  

After Napoleon's exile from France, if I'm remembering my history, a reactionary group of royalists, sometimes called the (proper noun) "Ultras," came into power. The word has stuck around in some political commentary, with a small "u."

OVA, EWER, SMEE, ENO, ALPO, the undying OLIO... not too much fun for me up top. Same thought as Mary about "exclamation POINT" sounding right.

Unknown 9:18 AM  

I couldn't get "dot edu" to save my life. Even when I had it filled in, I kept thinking it said, "do te du." Brilliant, I know.

For the record, Another Green World is probably the best Eno album. It's worth the price of admission for the song "St. Elmo's Fire" alone.

Anonymous 9:21 AM  


Yes, and it seemed more emphatic, although the result was identical.

Rex Parker 9:26 AM  

"I can feel St. Elmo's Fire burning in me ..." God I loved that movie. When I was 16.


Anonymous 9:49 AM  

@ appears to be the "at sign" and nothing more. Read more here if you're interested.

Anonymous 10:21 AM  

re. @
I looked up arobas, the French word for the at sign, in the Termium terminology database. Termium offers...
at sign
at symbol
commercial at
strudel [exclamation point]

Yes, I started to write exclamation point too, but when that wouldn't fit, I switched to mark. I think in my case, it was an incursion from the French point d'exclamation. Whatever the case, I had cracked the code at this point, so I wasn't backing down!
I had a nice little cluster of slightly-off answers with
37A TROUS (There must be a Lake Trous--Holes in French--in some godforsaken corner of Minnesota...)
28A ALII (I know it's actually et alia and that even this wouldn't really fit the clue, seemed plausible at the time)

I liked this puzzle, but once I cracked the code, the theme answers were giveaways...unlike the wordplay puzzles where you still have to figure something out.

Anonymous 10:27 AM  

I'm proud to see the Times stare the 'ad controversy' in the face by including MoveOn in the puzzle. Thank god 1A wasn't Dot Org, or Rudy would be suing.

Anonymous 10:30 AM  

About the at sign --
From PCMAG encyclopedia:
The at sign (@), which is shorthand for the word "at," has become widely identified around the world due to its use in Internet e-mail addresses. Officially known as an "asperand," the at sign separates the recipient's name from the domain name; for example, In 1971, Ray Tomlinson of Bolt Beranek and Newman chose the @ sign as a separator symbol for one of the first e-mail systems.

PuzzleGirl 10:43 AM  

I loved this puzzle. The first time through I only got about five answers, but I ended up finishing it without googling. I love when that happens. Also, I learned to type when I was very young and my typing speed has been more than 100 wpm since junior high (the dorky girl taking the trophy in the typing contest? yep, that was me) so I always love anything typewriter-related. I liked the QWERTY Keyboard-themed puzzle earlier this year too.

And, mary, yes! The exclamation points (or marks, whatever) were tricky. And remember there wasn't a number 1 on the keyboard either? Had to use the lowercase L!

Anonymous 10:56 AM  

I particularly liked how the answer to 26A (Prime Cuts maker)= ALPO sat right on top of the theme answer POUND SIGN. Nice touch!

Anonymous 11:10 AM  

I remember typing an exclamation point with period-back space-apostrophe. I even remember doing these puzzles without Google. It's good to recall these hardships occasionally.

I have a walletful of IDs -- museums, health insurance, transit pass -- in addition to the obvious ones.

Anonymous 11:11 AM  

This was clearly a much more interesting puzzle to do with pencil and paper -- a keyboard nowhere in view.

Orange 11:31 AM  

Rex, you do know that Brian Eno's album and song are completely unrelated to the movie, St. Elmo's Fire, I trust? Really not his ambient vibe. (Boy, Rob Lowe was a snappy dresser in that movie.)

Maybe one of these days, DOM will get clued in the Onion puzzle or another of the alt-weekly crosswords with a fill-in-the-blank: [___/sub].

Anonymous 11:33 AM  

I had wad for 69A which makes more sense. Didn't really know what skittles was and only knew it as part of the phrase "beer and skittles" and suspected it was a game. I looked it up in the dictionary and is a game of ninepins. It's a candy? I could only think of Etna as Mt. Etna and had a vision of vines up and down a volcano. Cheated by looking at the keyboard for ampersand. Got the clue but couldn't figure out what came before key--shift key--aha THE shift key.

Anonymous 11:49 AM  

I did this one on paper so the theme was a bit more challenging as I resisted the temptation to go look at my keyboard. I got a little hung up in the south when I put ASTI for ETNA and CAPSLOCK for THESHIFT. I also did not like IDS but generally enjoyed the theme. I agree with alex though, quite a lot of routine fill.

I did a fair amount of writing on a typewriter in the 70s but don't remember needing to back space for an exclamation point. I was using an IBM selectric with a ball which may have had more characters.

Anonymous 11:55 AM  

Thanks Sweetie.

Anonymous 12:16 PM  

My first goof was sticking with TAHOE too long. I had DOTEDU and didn't know what I had until reading Rex. Like ayoung, I had WAD in IDS spot. Always have trouble with IMAMs and David Bowie' wife's name. I wasn't at the keyboard and tried to fit AND into 17a (90) PARENTHESES thinking there would be two symbols in the answer.

I just googled # and got a blank screen (not even a "no hits" message). I never thought of this symbol as the "pound sign" (though I knew it was referred to as such). WIKIing revealed it is regional: "In some regions of the United States and Canada, the symbol is traditionally called the pound sign, but in others, the number sign."

Does anyone know when/how the cent sign was deleted from keyboards? What took its place?

I remember reading, in the 60s, about a new punctuation symbol, the Interbang. It was to be used after rhetorical question/statements. It combined the question mark and exclamation POINT symbols. I guess it failed to catch hold. Google reveals some articles about it. One is "Esquire's Seventh Annual Dubious Achievment Awards for 1967".

How did we come to refer to the period as "dot" as in "" Is this from mathematics? I recently ordered a bottle of SDOTPELLIGRINO at a restaurant and the waiter was way confooozed.

Anonymous 12:54 PM  

Love your site. Your comments are right on!

Anonymous 1:04 PM  

I too got dot edu right off the bat. But I complain about it not. Nor should a blogger who offers his email address as
rexparker [at] mac [dot] com !

Campesite 1:10 PM  

Orange, I was thinking ___ DeLuise until I googled your suggested clue. Yours is better.
For some reason, the thing about Brian Eno that I find most interesting is that he composed the Microsoft chime (more useless info learned from the puzzle).

Anonymous 1:41 PM  

Ditto re wallets NOT being full of ID'S. Never heard of dap before today

Orange 1:45 PM  

In some other puzzle (maybe the Onion or Ben Tausig's weekly puzzle), I learned that DAP is also the word for that friendly fist/knuckle knock thing you might see two teammates do after they score.

Anonymous 1:47 PM  

It's called an exclamation mark in the UK. Obviously exclamation point wasn't going to fit.

On another UK-related note, why is the hash mark (shift-3) called a pound sign in the USA? If you mean the sign for the UK unit of currency, that's not it.

QP 1:56 PM  

₤ = pound sing in GB (means money)... why do we call # a pound sign in the US?

Anonymous 2:00 PM  

# could be called the "blank tic-tac-toe" grid.

Anonymous 2:07 PM  

Random commens.

I also had trouble with DOTEDU, I know about the EDU extension, and had several letters for a long time before I got the DOT part. I kept trying to think about what happens after the speeches at convocations.

The # (pound sign) is commonly used in the US to indicate a unit of weight, as in "my cat weight 45#".

I am ashamed to admit that I finished almost the entire puzzle, realizing that we were dealing the punction, without figuring out the number on the keyboard thing - and I was doing it online! I got THESHIFTKEY fairly late in the game and only then put it all together.

Anonymous 2:23 PM  

Re @:

@ is shorthand for "at the rate of". Learned this back in typing class in the 1960's. And, yes, I also remember the "!" as "." backspace "'".

fergus 3:03 PM  

Well, I just had to haul out my lovely old Royal manual typewriter. Needs a new ribbon, unfortunately, but where does one find a ribbon anymore?

Interesting findings:

No number 1
2 is paired with "
6 is _
8 is '
-* to the right of zero
1/2 1/4 to the right of P
cents sign @ to the right ;:
And no + or = sign

My favorite key is the MAR REL, whose inclusion in this puzzle would have added some quaintness to a rather drab affair.

Wasn't the pound sign on telephones referred to as the 'hash mark' for a while when the pound and star conventions were being established? Maybe it was something else that had the lead until pound came from behind to establish its preeminence.


NOMADS? Yeah, they would fall into a broad grouping of Hunter-gatherer types, but this is the sort of clue I find irritating since the essential quality of the answer is lost in the larger category of the clue. For want of a name, I'll label it vacuous misdirection, and be done with it.

Anonymous 3:11 PM  

I remember # being called a hash mark and someone also made up the name octothorp which was used for a while.

Anonymous 3:56 PM  

# is a symbol for pounds of weight (or possibly mass, if you teach physics). A recipe might call for

2# ground beef

Anonymous 3:57 PM  

From the OED...
hash-mark U.S. slang, a military service stripe; hash sign [cf. hash-mark: prob. ult. f. HATCH v.2, altered by popular etymology], the symbol #, esp. used before a numeral (as in N. Amer.) to indicate a following number; the ‘number sign’
...and for octothorp:
The hash sign (#), as it appears on the buttons of touch-tone telephones and some other keypads

I'm looking for the interrobang key on my keyboard. What in Tarnation!?

Anonymous 4:03 PM  

I object to "soy" for sauce ingredient. Sauce variety? Sure.

In today's Embarrassing Brush with Fame installment, when the mantis was just a wee insect in Washington, D.C., her mother dragged her to the St. Elmo's Fire set because we knew the make-up artist or something. Rob Lowe walked by with a saxophone hanging around his neck, and my mother asked who it was. I rolled my eyes and told her he was a big star. She asked if he was a musician, and I replied, "No, he's just a hunk." That's right, "hunk." Mother proceeds to run up to Rob Lowe and repeat exchange verbatim in an "ain't kids cute" way that makes the young green mantis fantasize about having the power to die at will.

Anonymous 4:14 PM  


Isn't soy (bean) an ingredient in soy sauce?

Anonymous 4:34 PM  

Why is # called the pound sign? Just a theory: When the Unix operating system first came out, the standard user interface was the Bourne Shell which by default used two different prompt signs: the "$" and the "#". Early on, Unix was popular in Britain. It turns out the the "#" symbol is replaced by the pound symbol (£) on British keyboards. So if a Yankee wants to tell a Brit to type in a Unix command at the # prompt during a telephone conversation, he would say to type in the command "at the pound sign" (as opposed to the dollar sign). Thus, the # symbol came to be known as the pound sign.

William Safire once tried to determine in his Times Sunday Magazine column "On Language" how the # symbol came to be known as the pound sign. He couldn't come up with (to me) a persuasive origin. Perhaps the above is true.

Anonymous 4:59 PM  

Anon 4:34

Actually, Safire considered the "5# bag of sugar" theory the most likely explanation for "pound sign." I have recipes on index cards with that notation that predate touchtone dialing, so I can't imagine why it's even controversial.

Anonymous 6:04 PM  

Still at work, but the blog delivers me the laughs and the endorphins to keep on.

Isn't it the case that bloggers do the rexparker [at] mac [dot] com style purposely to foil spammers? I've seen that on a lot of other blogs as well.

fergus 6:26 PM  

I, too, bristled a bit at SOY Sauce; not as stenuously as at the NOMADS, but for a similar reason. ROPY Muscles seemed at bit Ropey (in the dated English slang, meaning sort of ragged) but not to any irksome degree.

Anonymous 6:33 PM  

It's not unusual for Asian sauces to have soy as one ingredient in a more complex recipe.

Unknown 6:55 PM  

I agree with Wendy that NOMADS was badly clued. And I'm pretty sure that rexparker [at] mac [dot] edu is to make sure nobody can just search for email-looking strings and then spam them, yeah. Of course, it wouldn't be that hard to search for the words at and dot, but...

I was mildly impressed by the theme's cleverness, but as someone said earlier, there's no element of surprise at all once you get the theme. Plus, in comparison to yesterday's, it felt like there were almost no theme answers at all. 13 is a lot, but 5 is not especially high.

I didn't mind DOTEDU, I'm sick of OLIO, I wanted NEMO to be AHAB for a while, I don't know what game has the king on a HILL, I didn't like IDS (should've been clued psych-ly, I think), and I wish SNIPE were clued a little more colorfully (like in relation to the real definition of snipe: killing people from a mile and a half away, and they never even knew what hit them).

Anonymous 7:04 PM  

I kept going between HOOK, AHAB, and NEMO

Unknown 7:23 PM  

Am I the only person who looks at what most people call the pound sign and sees a sharp sign?

fergus 8:05 PM  

What with all the ring tones on cell phones maybe there ought to be key for the flat sign, too?

Or maybe not. ANATHEMA took a while to drop since it wasn't clued in the only way I ever see it used: "It's anathma to me ... ."
The dictionary I checkd with has it listed as a n. pl. then goes off on the definitions singularly: a thing to detested, etc. So, it's probably time to check more into a manual of style, or Fowler's, or hear from a lexicographer.

Orange 8:51 PM  

Aaron, five theme entries is a tad on the high side, actually. Three is the lowest, and there are a slew of fours. I get modestly impressed with five or six theme entries, personally (unless they're all crappy).

Anonymous 9:17 PM  

for a while I thought what was being held in was a variant of 'your temper' or 'your tongue' with all the symbols standing in for cursewords.

Michael Chibnik 9:45 PM  

I enjoyed the puzzle, which I did the old-fashioned way (no keyboard to look at.) Maybe it is time to give Smee and Eno a break, though. Surely there are other pirates and musicians.

I'm not enthusiastic about "nomads"for hunter-gatherer types. It's not exactly wrong, but usually nomads refer to pastoralists (herders of animals). Hunter-gatherers in the distant past sometimes moved around within a fairly fixed area, though of course they also migrated from place to place.

Anonymous 9:51 PM  


King of the Hill is a children's game, and the phrase was picked up for a funny animated show on Fox.

Anonymous 10:09 PM  

still here, aaron?
King of the Hill
was a game in which one person tried to stay atop a small hill (or facsimile thereof) while others try to push him or her off. Just played it last weekend on a fallen log...

Jean, I don't know it as the sharp sign, but I do know it as diese (grave accent on e) in French--diese being the French equivalent of sharp. So, yeah, sorta...

Anonymous 10:38 PM  

I remember a contest about 10 or more years ago in which people were asked to submit a name for the # sign that's on a telephone keypad. My favorite was BARB - not only because it looks like those sharp things on top of chain link fences, but also becuase it stood for Button At Right Bottom.

Anonymous 7:42 AM  

Receive is SEE?? I don't get it. And, ROPY muscles? Surprised there weren't more complaints about some of these clues.

Rex Parker 8:05 AM  

"The doctor will see you now..."

Chip Ahoy 2:30 AM  

I just now did this puzzle. This is what I live for. (puzzle-wise)

Waxy in Montreal 9:24 PM  

Seepage from syndication:

Wasn't this too easy fare for a Thursday? I mean, once one theme answer evolved (in my case, 17A parentheses, from the crosses), the rest of them were gimmes.

And as a Canuck, 54A. SCREECH could have been wonderfully clued as Newfoundland rum. Really, one of the best traditions of Canada's most recent province (1949).

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