WEDNESDAY, Oct. 31, 2007 - Ken Stern

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: Trick or Treat - rebus puzzle where six different squares function as both "TRICK" and "TREAT" - one way on the Across, the other way on the Down

This puzzle is genius. It's a bit on the easy side for a Wednesday - far easier than yesterday's puzzle - and there's a couple of minor structural weaknesses, which I'll get to, but overall, I was blown away by this puzzle's theme. Seems an incredibly difficult feat to pull off, especially considering that the rest of the grid was not compromised at all by the strictures of the theme. Very nice work.

Only annoyances, and they probably couldn't be helped:

1. Near symmetry - I like symmetrical, and I like asymmetrical, but there's this phenomenon of near symmetry that bugs me the way a slightly tilted picture hanging on a wall bugs me. Here, the theme squares are symmetrical in the middle, symmetrical in the NW and SE, and then ... not, in the NE and SW. There's some attempt made at balance, with both theme squares being three columns in, and at the bottom of their respective answers. But that's not quite the same as perfect rotational symmetry. Again, I can't complain much - I'm just sayin'...

2. I prefer when the theme words - here, TRICK and TREAT - are integrated into theme answers in ways that are not literal, i.e. non-TRICK and non-TREAT contexts, i.e. PEACE [TREAT]Y has nothing to do with a TREAT. This appears to be hard to do with TRICK, as both CARD [TRICK] and [TRICK]S OF THE TRADE pretty much take trick literally. I don't mind literalness in the central theme answer, [TRICK] OR [TREAT], but elsewhere, I would have preferred that the literal meaning of those words be lost / buried in the theme answers. Again, this criticism couldn't be more minor if it tried. I'm just sayin'...

Theme answers:

  • 20A: Professional secrets ([trick]s of the trade)
  • 4D: Stain looseners on washday (pre-[treat]ments)

  • 11D: Mid-March honoree (St Pa[trick])
  • 27A: Off-site meetings, mabe (re[treat]s) - this threw me because ST PAT is frequently the complete answer for [Mid-March honoree], so until I got the theme, I had to wonder what the hell kind of crap business lingo RETS was.

  • 33A: Formal discourse ([treat]ise)
  • 33D: Something said while holding a bag ([trick] or [treat])
  • 44A: Hockey feat (hat [trick])

  • 53A: U.N. ambassador under Reagan (Jeane Kirkpa[trick])
  • 39D: War enders (peace [treat]ies])

  • 49D: Entertainment from a magician (card [trick])
  • 65A: Plea (en[treat]y)

Quickly, the things I liked:

  • 6A: Johnny Fever's workplace, in 1970s-'80s TV (WKRP) - you could have stopped at "workplace"; that show was great.
  • 28A: Promoted, as a pawn (queened) - haven't played chess in earnest since I won the 6th grade championship in ... 1981, beating out the South African Graham Gitlin for the title (if memory serves). My other memory of that year is that lots of boys liked KISS. Not me. I was more of a Neil Diamond kind of boy (no, shockingly, I didn't get beat up every day of my life)
  • 42A: Large, at Starbucks (Venti) - so pretentious. Oh, and their coffee Su-ucks. Well, their regular coffee does, anyway. It's always burnt. Yuck.
  • 24D: Hawaiian dress (muu muu) - so many "U"s. One of my favorite "Simpsons" episodes of all time involves Homer's wearing a muu muu. He makes himself clinically obese so he can declare himself "disabled" and then work from home. His muu muu is floral. I have a toy of King-Sized Homer on a shelf in my bedroom. Inherently comical.
  • 38D: Like The Onion (satirical) - I get daily emails from them. Unfailingly funny, especially about sports. Ben Tausig edits The Onion's xword puzzle, which you should be doing, as I've said many times.
  • 46D: "Sexual Behavior in the Human Male" author (Kinsey) - I have a subset of my paperback collection dedicated to books that use "Kinsey" in their cover copy as a way to lend scientific legitimacy to their efforts to peddle softcore. You'd be surprised how large this subsection of my collection is.
  • 54D: "Get Smart" org. (KAOS) - mmm, Klassic TV acronyms. Steve Carell will be playing Maxwell Smart in the movie adaptation, due out next year some time, I think.
  • 25D: Organism needing oxygen (aerobe) - here's something spooky: this word appears in the Sun puzzle today, too (it's a Patrick Blindauer puzzle, btw, and it's quite good).

Gotta go teach.

Happy Halloween.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Anonymous 9:39 AM  

I think I've been reading your blog too much, as I knew you would love this puzzle. Clever theme, no forced crosswordese, good pop culture answers. The only surprise was that you didn't mention [3D] Red Sox. Maybe you are just trying to not rub it in too much to us Yankee fans

Anonymous 9:48 AM  

Something said while holding a bag
was a nice theme clue. Just off-center enough to produce an aha.

Anonymous 9:52 AM  

I too thought this one was genius and I don't usually notice puzzle construction. I guess Rex has ruined me now. I liked that "Jinxed" and "hoaxes" and "wolfed" were in the puzzle as they are all Halloweeny too.

Anonymous 9:57 AM  

I'm glad to see I'm not the only one who enjoyed this clever puzzle. Even thought it seemed more Tuesday-easy than Wed. less-easy, it was fun.

I completely missed the Red Sox (as well as aga), since I got the three letter NW's on the first across run-thru!! smack-my-head!

I liked the crossing of rare and raw at 41 (which some folks would say are synonymous... not me, but some.)

Anonymous 10:02 AM  

Loved the puzzle. I cannot imagine how hard it must be to create something like this. In 39A "Ride the pine" is totally unfamiliar to me, but I assume it is the same as riding the bench. Great Halloween fun.

Anonymous 10:16 AM  

Great puzzle, had fun doing it. I think when you finish a puzzle you should be smiling and not cursing.

This was definitly a smiler.

Unknown 10:17 AM  

Lots of fun. Jeane Kirkpatrick tipped me to the theme.

Happy Halloween, Rex, et al.

Unknown 10:40 AM  

This puzzle's trick was a real treat.Did not see ret until Rex pointed it out although I got the correct answer.Happy Halloween.

PuzzleGirl 10:49 AM  

I started in the North Carolina area, moved downward, got the theme at TREATIES and thought "This is going to be fun!" And I was right. LOVED the puzzle.

profphil: I noticed (and enjoyed) the October birthstone's inclusion too.

rvs: I, too, thought Rex would be thrilled with his team appearing at 3D.

44A (Hat Trick) reminded me of one of my favorite TV moments. Anybody here ever watch Sports Night? Awesome show. I was obsessed with it. It came on right after Spin City and one week they ended Spin City with the Michael J. Fox character and his girlfriend lying on the couch watching Sports Night. Casey McCall (the SN anchor) was talking about someone performing a hat trick in that night's hockey game. Fox had to explain to his girlfriend the meaning of "hat trick" and she managed to make it into something filthy. Anyway. Then they showed the TV again and continued right into the Sports Night episode. I don't know. I thought it was cool.

Anonymous 11:19 AM  

I agree with you about the puzzle. Very ingenious, a lot of fun.

One point about symmetry. The placement of rebus squares usually is not symmetrical. There is usually balance in where the squares go, but not symmetry.

For one thing, it would be much harder to pull off making a rebus puzzle if rebus square symmetry were always required. Also, it would take away some of the challenge -- and fun -- of solving.

The grid is symmetrical, btw, but is a 16x15, which had to be to fit the [T]OR[T] in the center.

Anonymous 11:30 AM  

Got the T and T right away.

The connections were fun although:

I had not heard of ride the pine before. Perhaps we should send that clue to A-Rod

I thought old novels not stories were ten cents.. or is that a rap star.

Trick or treat.

Anonymous 11:40 AM  

I agree completely with Rex about this one, except for the minor quibbles about symmetry and denotative meanings of "treat".
Brilliant puzzle that I solved in record [for me] time.
And a moment of silence for Gordon Jump, who played the mama's boy station owner on WKRP, krap in Cincinnati.

Anonymous 11:46 AM  

I join the chorus, great puzzle.

Oh Rex you do not disappoint!
When I got muumuu with all them tasty u's, I too immediately thought of King Sized Homer. I was sure you'd have a picture of him in your commentary. (And just what are those drinking bird toys called?)

I do see there's no treat in finding "trick" in words, so I can only gripe gently about the similarity between Jeane KirkPATRICK and St. Paddy. I too would have preferred a trickle of other uses, but again, the puzzle was fun!

Campesite 12:52 PM  

Great puzzle--I don't recall seeing Ken Stern's name on a puzzle before, but he is obviously quite talented.
Surprised, too, that Red Sox wasn't pointed out by you, Rex.
As boys watching WKRP, my pals lined up in two very distinct categories: you were either in Bailey's camp or Jennifer's (Loni Anderson).
When ordering overpriced coffee at Starbucks it is important to use the terms Small, Medium and Large.

frances 1:26 PM  

DK 11:30 AM--

You misread the clue for 47A. It was "old stores," not "old stories." Long ago, there were variety stores called, variously, "5 and 10s," "ten cent stores" or "dime stores," because everything was supposed to cost very little. Woolworth's was a prime example. Nowadays, I guess the equivalent would be all those "Dollar...." emporiums. Some of us old-timers still occasionally use the expression "dime store" for a cheap-merchandise variety store, even though a dime won't get you very far in any store.

barrywep 2:01 PM  

As I believe I mentioned in my mangled post yesterday, almost all the solvers at the Westchester tourney last Friday (who solved this week's M-Th puzzles) found Wednesday easier than Tuesday. Will explained he had alreadym accepted Ken's puzzle for Halloween when he received gary's Halloween entry which he also liked. I see why he kept Ken's for today since it was a much more elegant Halloween puzzle.
I filled in STPAT and only belatedly realized it should have been STPA[TRICK]. That kept me from a really super time. I wish I had started with JEANKIRK[PATRICK] the gimmee for me which broke open the theme. Ken said the STPAT/STPATRICK trap was not intentional, by the way.
No Halloween puzzle tomorrow, but it is Thursday, so don't be surprised if there's a trick which makes it a treat.

Anonymous 2:03 PM  

When I started doing the puzzle online, at about 1 a.m. pdt, the applet was not working properly. Of course, I thought the problem was my computer so I checked out the chat line and it was filled with bitching about how the applet was not working, so I printed it out with Across Lite, which I never do with Wednesday puzzles. On paper the rebuses were easy to see.

Except that St Pat worked as well as St Patrick, which slightly delayed my discovery of the two-way rebus.

Anonymous 2:05 PM  

I always thought that it was "Ride the Pines" but....
"Youkilis expected to ride the pine"


Anonymous 2:22 PM  

Since I am new to this (and maybe a little dense), can someone explain to me how a rebus works? Is it typical to put the first letter, or sometimes a symbol to represent the whole word? Are there other rebus tricks (not treats) I am missing?

Hungry Mother 2:27 PM  

Loved the puzzle and always love your analyses. Thanks.

Anonymous 2:46 PM  

Great puzzle! I got the rebus on TRICKSOFTHETRADE but didn't see the double until I was almost finished. This was easy enough so you could finish without seeing some clues, e.g. I never saw the SOX or AEROBE clues among others. Could be thats why Rex didn't comment on SOX?

Puzzlegirl -- Sports Night was an amazing show. I think it was Sorkin's first effort. Too bad it never caught on with a big audience. I understand Sorkin could have moved it to HBO but decided to concentrate on West Wing instead.

fergus 2:56 PM  

Thinking that this was dead easy, JUMBLE-like, until wondering why the PAT and RET weren't signalled as abbreviations. Hmmm, something's afoot. Thought some of squares would be Tricks and some Treats, and then the moment of true crossword pleasure that many of us shared upon discovering that they're meant to be both.

Took a moment to get MSRP, and still think that this is poorly clued. The Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price is not really what one sees on the car's window sticker, hence the term sticker price or list price or something other maybe, but not MSRP. That's what you see when Target's price tag is discounted from the manufacturer of Charmin' say, or JIF. Entr'ACTE is way over 65 and should be getting a pension; and I'm sure I'm not the only one to make this observation. Getting a pawn QUEENED while losing my first Queen on the next move happened just last week in suffering (delighting in) my first genuine loss to my 11 year-old.

Eric Selje 3:52 PM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
Eric Selje 3:56 PM  

Eric said...

To be fair, it didn't say the MSRP was on the sticker, just "at the dealership," (possibly only shown to you to show you what a fantastic deal you can get if you sign today).

As a Madisonian, I have a long and loving relationship with the Onion. I loved this puzzle for that and WKRP immediately.

Anonymous 4:03 PM  

Frances, Thank you. Every time I try to get "cute" about the puzzle I misread or mistype. I feel like Roseanne Roseannadanna from SNL.

I remember the dime stores and was present for the final day of the Woolworths in Sante Fe

Anonymous 4:05 PM  

Loved this puzzle like everyone else. Thought at first that the theme might be difficuult letters as the first words I got had x's, j's and q in but then 'tricks of the trade' did it for me too. Easy for a Wednesday - didn't have to google anything which always makes for a good day!!

Anonymous 4:42 PM  

i loved this puzzle too, but the one thing that ruffled my OCD sensibilities was that since the rebuses were switched between trick and treat i remained unsatisfied with the sense that the correct word could never be finally filled in. did anyone else share this sense?

Anonymous 4:46 PM  

Peri, I would imagine thre are dozens of ways people handle rebus squares. My personal preference to cram the whole word in the square somehow (I generally solve on paper), but when I cottoned to the multidirectional nature of the rebus I knew I wouldn't be able to do so, so I just wrote in T/T. Other people just write the first letter and circle it. In AcrossLite, you can hit the insert key and type in as many letters as you want.

I agree that this was an easier-than-usual Wednesday puzzle; I assume it was clued easier because of the Thursday-style gimmick. There's some precedence for that, I think; I seem to remember a themeless Thursday puzzle once, because that week's Friday puzzle was themed.

Oh, and KAOS... looks like an acronym, but they never said what, if anything, it (or CONTROL, for that matter) stands for.

Anonymous 5:10 PM  

This puzzle made me smile not only because of its amazing construction, but because it made me remember the "dime store" in my neighborhood and the "variety store" my grandma always took me to in her neighborhood. Old-fashioned phrases make me feel good (and old at the same time).

Anonymous 5:16 PM  

Peri, if you are using the applet instead of Acrosslite you hit the + key (once for a two letter word, twice for a three letter word, etc). I think the applet only accepts up to a four letter word, so I just put the first initial in. That meant I completely missed the trick/across and treat/down part of this puzzle.

Anonymous 6:21 PM  

In a rebus on paper I will use a symbol and key it to the side unless it is short enough to write the whole thing in, in Across Lite I use the insert key unless it is something like today's (I just left the T/T square blank).

How would this have been handled in the Tournamant?

Anonymous 6:47 PM  

I have decided to keep an ALEC deathwatch. I have deleted all my saved puzzels so I am assuming that the last use was 10/28 (I know it was this week).

So, the ADW is 3.

barrywep 6:50 PM  

I think they are liberal on rebuses in the Tournament. It just needs to be clear you get. This year for M+MS I believe they also accepted MNMS and M-MS or MandMS

Anonymous 6:56 PM  

Aha - not scarier, but definitely more elegant than yesterday's puzzle, don't ya think?

My faith in Willz is restored ... msrp, wkrp, muumuu, and the beautiful t/t swaps. Completely missed st.pat myself and was ready to nit about rets ....


Anonymous 7:07 PM  

I live in the NW (excluding Alaska (as is the custom in this blogoshere)), home of the "Press Start to Stop" operating system and the "tall" equals "small" cup size designation. Yep, everything is backwards 'round here. Re. S'Buck's "venti" etc., I often enjoy playing with baristas re. the strange marketing gimmicks SBucks dreams up. Ask one to pronounce "grande", followed by "Rio Grande".

I agree the theme/rebus was pretty ingenious. On the other hand, having figured out T/T, the rest were pretty much gimmes. Perhaps that added to the "Tuesday difficulty" sense.

I can see that those who play "Text Twist" could stumble at the STPAT/RETS crossing. IN Text Twist, RET is a word, though ADE, OLIO, and LOO are one might assume RET was right and not look for the Rebus there.

31d "Can. neighbor" (USA) reminds me that this country needs a name. "Canada" is a name. "Mexico" is a name. The United States of America is a description (like USSR and UAR were). Mexico has a bunch of united states that are in the Americas as well, but they went ahead and picked a name. Let's do it.

Anonymous 7:14 PM  

For a ten-minute puzzle, symetry aside, this was one of the best constructed and crafted I've seen in many years.

Rex Parker 7:18 PM  

@john farmer and many others. If you read what I actually wrote, I say that I like symmetry, AND I like asymmetry; it's *near* symmetry that rubs me the wrong way (like the puzzle tried to be symmetrical, but then failed - and it's just a personal quirk, not a rule I'm trying to establish or anything).


Anonymous 7:27 PM  

puzzlegirl, I only discovered SPORTS NIGHT on reruns on Comedy Central, so I never got the SPIN CITY connection you describe. It sounds like a very clever attempt to draw some SPIN CITY viewers to watching SPORTS NIGHT. Didn't work, but at least Sorkin got to write two (terrific) seasons.

campesite, count me in Bailey's camp when it came to WKRP. Yowza.

Do I need to say that I loved this puzzle? Little I can say to add to the chorus.

Michael Chibnik 8:28 PM  

Really great puzzle. My only quibble (and I'm not sure it's fair) is promoted (as a pawn) -- queened. You can certainly queen a pawn, but it can also be made into a bishop, knight, or rook. (I don't think it can stay a pawn). And there is no other way in which promoted=queened.

However, chess players talk about "queening" pawns and never about "bishoping" or "knighting" or "rooking" pawns.

Ken Stern 9:20 PM  

Rex and all -

This is Ken Stern, the author of the puzzle. I was so happy to read all your comments - I'm really glad you enjoyed the puzzle!

Rex: I sometimes share your frustration at almost-but-not-exactly-symmetric theme content - in this case, I did try to make the NE/SW theme squares symmetric and just couldn't do it. (Wanted to do DUTCH(TREAT) or MY(TREAT) and it wasn't working out.) I decided that, as John Farmer put it, balance was enough (and that Will would make that decision for me).

Similarly on the literal meaning of TRICK and TREAT in some theme entries. I did think about just that issue and tried to avoid it - but I just didn't have enough entries of the right length to make it work.

As I've mentioned, the ST PAT confusion was not intentionally misleading, but I did notice it about that entry. I decided it was OK, though I should have perhaps submitted a more direct clue for RE(TREAT)S.

RVS: I'm a Yankee fan myself (though married to a Red Sox fan). I submitted a clue of the "They're red or white in baseball" variety, and would NOT have chosen to feature the Red Sox!

Marcie: I originally had the same clue for RARE and RAW (something like "Undercooked") but one of my test-solvers (rightly, I think) discouraged me from it.

PuzzleGirl: Sports Night is also one of my all-time favorites, though I didn't know about the Spin City connection.

Barrywep: It was nice to see you last Friday. I have to add a little self-promotion and note that I think Will already had Gary's Halloween puzzle (which ran yesterday) and moved it to Tuesday in order to run mine on Halloween. I think that's what Will said, and I also know that I submitted mine very much at the last minute for this Halloween. I may be wrong though.

In the tournament, we pretty much allowed anything that made it clear that there was something special in those squares. People who had only a T (which was not uncommon in the ST PAT space) were judged wrong. Jeff (who finished first) actually put a note that [starred] squares are "Trick or Treat."

Again - THanks for all your praise and comments, it's quite reinforcing to a novice constructor (this is my NYT debut and only my 2nd published puzzle). I enjoyed constructing it and am glad you enjoyed solving it!

-Ken Stern

barrywep 10:04 PM  

I am sure you are right. Maybe Will was just being nice to Gary. Your puzzle was definitely the highlight of the tournament for me.

Anonymous 10:11 PM  

I liked this as many others have stated, though less for the Halloween theme and more for the sheer pop culturishness and brand fun of the other bits (venti, WKRP, Jif, Klute, Onion reference, MSRP, KAOS, Ortho). It made me think there might be a future to crosswords after all, despite the fact that they're mostly seen by Gen X and Y as something for grandparents to do.

Unknown 10:36 PM  


Le Master 10:51 PM  

olde school,

Don't fret, there seems to be a surge in crossword popularity as of late. I'm in college and there is a large group of us who do the puzzles daily. While I'm the only zealot (and the only one who does the Times), a lot do the Atlanta Journal Constitution (which uses the daily LA Times) and the USA Today. But nobody looks down their noses at us, everyone looks up to us and my lunch table usually fills to capacity with people trying to help out with answers. Funny thing is that it's mostly us athletes who are the solvers, the "nerds" seem to have very little interest.

Anonymous 11:14 PM  

Happy Halloween all and thanks to Ken for this great puzzle. It was bootiful. (That's right, I went there.)

We called our 5 and 10 the five and dime and I was thrilled each Christmas to get dropped off there with $2.00 in my pocket to buy presents for my family of seven. You'd be surprised how many combs you can buy for two bucks and still manage a nice little bag of penny candies that actually cost a penny apiece.

You go, le master. I first started doing the Sunday Times puzzles with my pals at school over coffee and bagels and it was generally a group effort to finish. I'm not a granny yet, but mine did the puzzles till she was 86 and swore that's what kept her mind sharp.

Orange 11:23 PM  

We girls liked Andy on WKRP in Cincinnati. Sure, Gary Sandy's only two years younger than my mother (!), but his wardrobe was cuter than Venus Flytrap's and he was infinitely cooler than Herb Tarlek or Les Nessman. (We also identified with Bailey, definitely Bailey.)

barrywep 11:01 AM  

I definitely see you as a Bailey girl.

Anonymous 1:44 PM  

This was a terrible puzzle. Yeah, it's a cute idea when you're told what it is, but I never caught on and was left thinking "wtf could hat_ be in hockey?!", and "wtf are peaceties?" The former was especially infuriating since I'm a big hockey fan.

Anonymous 4:29 PM  

Six weeks later ...
Loved this puzzle like everyone else, I'm sitting in a Seattle Sbux with a VENTI coffee right now.

I wondered about JANE being both in the grid and in the clues, I thought that was an X-word faux pas.

Excellent puzzle, very creative.

Waxy in Montreal 10:47 PM  

IMHO, one of the very best NYT crosswords ever.

Thanks, Ken

A variation on hat trick gaining much currency of late (at least up here in tundra-land) is the so-called "Gordie Howe hat trick" consisting of a goal, an assist and a fight in a game. Despite his reputation as a tough guy nonpareil, turns out though that the former Detroit superstar only actually had one such hat trick during his long, long career (1946-1980) in the NHL. Many of the legitimate type of course.

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