Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: BALLS (seriously, BALLS - 38A: Word that can follow the starts of 17-, 21-, 58- and 64-Across and 3- and 40-Down)

My wife can tell you that I giggled through half of this puzzle. As soon as I got to BALLS, it was hard for me to keep a straight face. I'm immature like that. I was really hoping to see a theme answer like BLUEBIRD or BLUEBEARD, but no luck. If there was one kind of BALLS I really wanted to see (!) in this puzzle, it was SNOW. But these BALLS are all pretty good. I think I like HIGH BALLS best although MEAT HEAD is clearly the best of all the theme answers. The puzzle contains an impressive six theme answers (including two pairs of intersecting answers). The non-theme fill was so-so (VEE and DEE? TIERING?), but that hardly mattered. The theme alone ensured that my overall solving experience was a good one. The best BALLS-related moment for me was that my first stab at 58A: Artists' smudge remover was DRY ERASER ... but then I wondered what kind of horrible, heretofore unheard-of malady DRY BALLS was ... and figured my answer must be wrong.

Theme answers:

  • 17A: Fund-raiser wear, perhaps (BLACK tie)
  • 3D: "All in the Family" nickname (MEAThead)
  • 21A: Yellow flower (BUTTERcup)
  • 58A: Artist's smudge remover (gum eraser)
  • 40D: Cajole (SOFT soap) - learned this odd expression from ... crosswords
  • 64A: 1952 Gary Cooper western ("High Noon") - one of my very favorite movies, hurray

Today's puzzle is loaded with useful crosswordese, from low-end common stuff to high-end gold. It's a testament to how many puzzles I've done that I got 25A: Metric volume measure (stere) instantly, with no crosses. I confused my crosswordese at 5D: Little Giant of the Giants, writing ORR where OTT belonged. No puzzle is quite complete without an OBI (29A: It may be tied with a bow) - I get searches for [Sapporo sash] on a regular basis; it must be a clue that every crossword puzzle in the universe uses for OBI. ERG (54A: Work unit) is so crossword-common that there was once an ERG rebus puzzle - I'm all for the repurposing or otherwise inventive use of crosswordese. If it's architectural, recessed and/or vaulted, it's an APSE (67A: Vaulted area, often) - a word I associate with OGEE, perhaps because they are both four-letter architectural terms that I learned at roughly the same time (under the tutelage of Eugene T. Maleska). The real wheat-from-the-chaff answer of the day, however, was ATLI (14A: Chief Hun, in Scandinavian legend) - an answer that inveterate solvers likely nailed and everyone else likely gawked at helpessly / worked out from crosses. I'm writing a little something about the language of crosswords, and just yesterday I was thinking about this rare but vital word and whether it was worth mentioning. I guess so... if ATLI knocked you down, you'll want to be on the look-out for ATRI and ATRA and possibly ATKA ... wow, I've got a real crosswordese word ladder going there.

I tripped right out of the box on this puzzle, putting in FOAL (4A: Stable newborn) and then following that up with FRAUDS for 4D: Quacks. Actual answer: FAKERS. FRAUDS is so much better that it took me a while to get rid of it. After making a first pass through a bunch of the Acrosses up top and not really getting anywhere, I thought the puzzle was going to be hard, but then, I don't know, something clicked and I took off like a shot.

Grand tour:

  • 19A: Superlawyer Gerry (Spence) - that's a word? "Superlawyer?" Unless you don a cape and can fly, you really should put the "super" away.
  • 43A: Fancy dancer (stepper) - isn't any dancer, technically, a "STEPPER?"
  • 15A: Bygone political council (Soviet) - I never think of this word in any concept except "The SOVIET Union." Feels odd to see it standing on its own. So lonely. "Where is my Union? Where are my SSRS!?"
  • 49A: Photo badges and such (IDs) - yesterday, NO ID, today ... IDS. Nice coincidence.
  • 63A: Cure-all (elixir) - I never like this clue for ELIXIR, though I've seen it before and it's technically valid. PANACEA = cure-all. To me, an ELIXIR is just a medicinal or even magical drink of some kind.
  • 66A: Lucy or Ricky, to Fred and Ethel (tenant) - entertaining clue.
  • 6D: Out (alibi) - wow, that's some vicious cluing. I'm just glad I got Midori ITO early (24A: 1989 world champion skater), giving me the terminal "I" in ALIBI.
  • 1D: Lettuce variety (bibb) - man I hate that third "B"
  • 11D: Like the contents of egg rolls (minced) - excellent clue.
  • 16D: Hide-covered abode (tepee) - now I'm no TEPEE expert, but ... I thought the hide was the abode.
  • 36D: Fingers (tells on) - this feels off. Kids "tell on" each other. Ratfinks and hoodlums "finger" each other. The use of "finger" as a verb is hereby officially grossing me out.
  • 44D: Arranging in rows (tiering) - ugh to the nth power.
  • 47D: Repeller of evil (amulet) - "repeller" is getting that little red underline that occurs when Blogger (or any writing program with spellcheck) hates a word. This was the answer that helped me change DRY ERASER to GUM ERASER.
  • 51D: Aqualung, e.g., in the 1971 Jethro Tull album (lecher) - whoa. Whoa. Really? That's what Aqualung is/was? I always felt you had to be kind of high - or really like the flute - to listen to Jethro Tull. I'm vaguely tempted to listen to this song now. OK, here goes. Mmm, theatrical. I feel like I'm at a Renaissance festival ... after dark.
  • 53D: Either President Bush (Texan) - I always feel like they are kinda play-acting at being TEXANs, but I guess there's a literal truth to this clue.
  • 65D: Fed. property agency (GSA) - stands for ... I have no idea. Government something, surely. Nope: General Services Administration. I'm having déjà vu about not knowing this answer. I expect that will happen more and more as the years roll on ...

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

PS I really like the SW corner of this puzzle. Maybe it's the fantastical AMULET / ELIXIR crossing (the salt) combined with the biblical BEGET (the sweet) and the downhome BAD TEXAN (the spice). Anyway, it tastes good.


Anonymous 8:52 AM  

Yes, I giggled a bit, like Rex, but....

ID's from yesterday? As in LECHER? A super-expressive word said to derive variously from "to lick" or "to lust" in Middle English, Old French, and/or Old High German -- and it gets a super-twisted clue? (51D ”Aqualung, e.g., in the 1971 Jethro Tull album”). Good thing I got it from crosses before I ever saw that silliness. Another tortuous clue, abbreviation for ""NL West team, on scoreboards"), showed up at 68A for the quite familiar little name ARI, as in Onassis or a Uris book, etc. Grrr. And a third over-stretch, TIERING, at 44D -- what a peculiar verbal concoction!

In spite of the above, I did the puzzle easily and thought the -BALLS theme was well done... Lots of B's in the western half from BIBB/BUM and BEGET/BAD to EBBED, BASRA, and BEAR. ALIBI at 6D was an example of a good clue: just "out". OBI at 29A not so much as "It may be tied as a bow"?

The names weren't awful: MEATHEAD next to CHARLES not very p.c., perhaps; ATLI not clued as Gudrun's husband; DOMINO not clued with apostrophe S? However, I did like LIEUT, lawyer SPENCE, and the idea of plain TEXAN for the two Bushes, though of course the elder was merely a transplant....

What did I especially enjoy? BLATANT, OVERT, AVERSE, GRIPE, ELIXIR, SOFTSOAP, LAPSES. We may all need some REHAB when the EMOTE overkill of election rhetoric has faded. At this point I think of the Brit expression, "It's a balls-up", i.e. mess.


Pythia 9:18 AM  

"Balls," said the queen. "If I had them I'd be king."

So many balls to choose from, but this is a nice set. A nice selection of crosswordese as well.

And a LECHER! Was my favorite clue. Here, for the uninitiated, are the Aqualung lyrics.

Sitting on a park bench
eyeing little girls with bad intent.
Snot running down his nose
greasy fingers smearing shabby clothes.
Drying in the cold sun
Watching as the frilly panties run.
Feeling like a dead duck
spitting out pieces of his broken luck.
Sun streaking cold
an old man wandering lonely.
Taking time the only way he knows.
Leg hurting bad,
as he bends to pick a dog-end
he goes down to the bog
and warms his feet.
Feeling alone
the army's up the road
salvation à la mode and
a cup of tea.
Aqualung my friend
don't you start away uneasy
you poor old sod, you see, it's only me.
Do you still remember
December's foggy freeze
when the ice that clings on to your beard is
screaming agony.
And you snatch your rattling last breaths
with deep-sea-diver sounds,
and the flowers bloom like
madness in the spring.

Larry 9:29 AM  

The Gerry Spence as "super lawyer" feels like a paid product placement to me. I like that Xwords are neutral on controversial issues, and super lawyer feels like the opposite of "scuzzbag trial lawyer." How about renown trial lawyer or Silkwood mouthpiece?

Anonymous 9:37 AM  

The term "superlawyer" is pretty common in legal circles. I don't think that merits a ding. "Tiering" however was a definite ick. I wrote it in immediately but really hoped I was wrong.

Anonymous 10:00 AM  

I tripped right at the starting gun, putting in CAD for "no-good." This meshed beautifully with COBB for 1-down "lettuce variety." Moving right along, I had FRAUD for 4-down, and then things ground to a halt. Oh well, solving (correcting) backward is slower than solving forward, but it get you there in the end!

Orange 10:01 AM  

Jane Doh, thanks for sharing the lyrics. Wait, Aqualung's no lecher. He's a pedophile. That's a whole different level of creepy (and illegal). Ick and eww.

Our team won the six-week trivia contest last night ($600! Whoo!) with our usual team name of Badass MC. (Uh, not my suggestion.) Once when the team was just Tyler and me, we named our team ATLI. We alone got the joke.

Continuing Rex's word ladder, ANKA, ANOA, ANON, ARON, ARAN, ARAL, URAL.

Unknown 10:14 AM  

C. W. Stewart seems to have a talent for themed puzzles. He is pretty new and when I looked up his recent debut, I read a short note about a planned movie with Sandra Bullock as a crossword constructor. Anybody else heard that?

The puzzle had a few tricky clues, but it wasn't too difficult. Other than being tired last night and at first misspelling eraser and adding gumm to complete the fill, I only entered correct fill. That is pretty unusual for me as I often guess wrong. I noticed the same things as artlvr and kindly decided not to compare Charles to a meatheat or express my concerns about 62d considering the theme.

Hydromann 10:22 AM  

The legislative body in the old USSR was called "The Supreme Soviet." I expect that's the "bygone political council" to which the puzzle refers.

Ulrich 10:38 AM  

It took me longer than it should have, but that speaks against me, not against the puzzle (with the center the last area to fall, I'm particularly unhappy with the length of time it took me to think of a word that would go with all the theme answers--had no energy left for giggles).

The irony for someone who grew up with the metric system is that "stere" is the only word in the puzzle I didn't know--but why do we need another word for "cubic meter", which says exactly what it means? PS. Why the Americans refuse to adopt the metric system is one of the mysteries of the universe I can't fathom (the military being the shining exception). I did a stint in an arch. office in Boston and believe me, trying to compute the area of a room that's 12'-3½" x 14'-6¾" is a lot, and I mean a lot, more complicated than computing the area of a room that's 3.75m x 4.45m.

Here's another PS, which refers to yesterday's blog, but I didn't want to waste my third and last post of the day for an answer: I'm perfectly happy to answer questions about German that are not puzzle related, but please, e-mail them me so we can resolve them at our leasure w/o bothering everybody else.

Anonymous 11:05 AM  

Like Rex, I'm an immature professor, so I got a little too excited when I figured out BALLS.

Those Aqualung lyrics are making me sick.

Didn't know stere. Reminded me of elementary school when we were taken to a dark room to watch episodes of a television program designed to teach children the metric system. The teacher implied in a scary voice that it was taking over the world and we would be in big trouble as adults if we didn't memorize it.

Joon 11:26 AM  

hey, this puzzle was pretty cool. some nice stacked entries in the NE and SW.

i tried BAD at 1A, which was a BAD start (and the correct B wasn't even helpful, as i don't know my lettuces and BIBB was eventually all from crosses). not only that, i had forgotten that BAD was only my wrong answer rather than already in the puzzle, so i was quite confused when i got to 46A, thinking, "this must be BAD... but wasn't BAD already in the puzzle?" dumb, dumb joon.

i think i would have liked to see STEPPER clued in reference to the motor, rather than step dance. also, they could probably have doubled up on clues for OVERT and BLATANT.

i've never heard of gerry SPENCE, so she (or he?) can't be all that super, right? although, by the same token, i've never heard of the vast majority of superdelegates, so what's so super about them?

TIERING is ... very ugly. i think i would have liked to see TOERING/ODS instead. that's an easy fix that doesn't mess up the lovely SW corner.

i don't think i've ever seen the expression SOFTSOAP as a verb meaning "cajole." i wanted it to be SOFTSELL (tainted love, anyone?). SOFTSOAP to me is liquid hand soap. my mother-in-law has some.

i'm gradually learning that wednesdays are not as easy as i want to think. this one was nowhere near as tough as last wednesday, but it did take me well over twice my time from yesterday.

Wendy Laubach 11:28 AM  

You can tell what musical era I grew up in from the fact that the Aqualung clue was obvious to me. That is, I knew what the clue was looking for, but for the life of me I couldn't think of the actual word "lecher" for quite a while. This was not one of my favorite Jethro Tull songs, but I'm a fan generally. "Stand Up" is a fine album.

I agree Bush pere probably is more a Yankee transplant than a native Texan, but Houston has been full of transplants for many decades: ever since air-conditioning was discovered and the petrochemical industry boomed. (My newly arrived friends used to stuff the local wantads in envelopes addressed to their relatives back home to persuade them to move down and find not only jobs but affordable housing, and no state income tax.) Bush fils, on the other hand, strikes me as a genuine Texan, despite his relatively recent arrival. I'd be surprised if, in private, he reverts to any kind of Yaliness.

"Spence" seemed fair, if a little behind the times. "Superlawyer" usually means one of those very few lawyers of whom even non-lawyers might have heard, the modern equivalent of Clarence Darrow. Or maybe any lawyer colorful enough to be featured or spoofed in a movie.

miriam b 11:43 AM  

TIERING? I dunno.

I agree with you, Rex, about TEXAN. Do real Texans say "tuh" instead of "to"? And, in fact, does Bush the Elder say "tuh"?

Methinks ATLI is a var. sp. of Attila. One of my daughters just hates it when some biddy calls her "hon". I suggested that she encourage such people simply to call her Attila. Of course, this is a Hungarian masculine name still in use, but she doesn't have to tell the biddies that.

@Ulrich: I often find myself thinking in metric when dealing with volumes and weights as a result of college training and work experience.

SethG 12:00 PM  

Wow, Aqualung was a lot more offensive to me today than BRAT was yesterday. Especially in a puzzle with a theme like this. Next up: My Sharona and Sweet Caroline?

Also never heard of SOFT SOAP. As in cajoles--I used to work for the guy who brought the brand, the first liquid hand soap, to market.

ranked #4 in PA in Metric Estimation,
Spring, 1990

Orange 12:02 PM  

PhillySolver, Ellen Ripstein and I both "consulted" on that movie. (The set designer sent us disposable cameras to document The Way Crosswordy Women Live.) Months ago, there were photos online of Sandra Bullock wearing, like, red go-go boots. Those are, of course, de rigueur at the ACPT. (The movie's called All About Steve.)

I learned SOFT-SOAP as a verb from that overly earnest Billy Joel song about the Vietnam War. You know the one I mean, right? I forget the title.

I figured STEPPER pertained to stepping. Here's a video. (The [Fancy dancer] clue...meh.)

dk 12:13 PM  

BEGET, BALLS, LECHER, ALIBI-- I'am just sayin (again) we are all going to heck in a hand basket.

I had spiritgum and thought a yurt was hide covered so that was a problem. Otherwise a fun time.

Setting free my inner 10 year old:

Mary had a little lamb,
She also had a BEAR,
I often saw her lamb,
but I never saw her BEAR

Anonymous 12:16 PM  

There's an interesting counterpoint in this puzzle: something sly and underhanded with BAD, LECHER, FAKERS, ESPY,PSST, AVERSE, ROPES IN, SOFTSOAP, CEDE and TELLS ON (reads like a creepy story) partly balanced by something explicit and assertive with OVERT, BLATANT, REAL and SECURE.

I felt that the main theme, which was fun and lighthearted (MEATBALL being my favorite), was playing against this interestingly equivocal background.

Anonymous 12:18 PM  

re Gerry Spence -- If you watched that messed up murder trial of O J Simpson at any point, you probably saw Spence too, as he was hired by NBC to provide legal commentary throughout, and appeared on other shows too, including those of Oprah and Larry King. He was carefully neutral then.

However, he wrote a book two years afterward, lambasting the so-called "Dream Team" of lawyers who defended Simpson, and everyone else -- and concluded by stating his reasons for believing the not-guilty verdict wrong!

Anonymous 12:21 PM  

At first, I thought of a different 5-letter word for 53D!

Anonymous 12:22 PM  

PS. On a totally different topic, the owner of DOMINO's pizza used to be my neighbor in Ann Arbor, and his daughters used to have a service where they would deliver the Sunday NYTimes along with some fresh croissants... Impressively prompt and reliable, rain or snow.

dk 12:27 PM  

@steveb - VIXEN

Anonymous 12:30 PM  

I can't fly, but I do often wear a cape. It's like my trademark or something. That doesn't make me a superlawyer, though. If I dressed like Natty Bumpo in fringed buckskin, as Gerry Spence does, then maybe I'd be a superlawyer.

I got tripped up by putting COLT instead of FOAL, which made me take a long time to get FAKERS (having HAW instead of HAR didn't help either.) In the SE, LECHER was a long time coming. For those reasons (and the clue for ALIBI, "Out," which I think we saw a few weeks ago but still zapped me here), I'd have rated this one closer to medium than easy.

Anonymous 12:43 PM  

Orange, "Still in Saigon" is the song you're thinking of--I think it was on the "An Innocent Man" album. When I was a sophomore in high school I though the song was terribly poignant. I doubt I would today (but I do think Billy Joel deserves better than the critical derision he gets these days. The guy can sing, he can write a melody, his songs have interesting chord progressions, and some of his love songs are exquisite. "Glass Houses" and "52nd Street" are very good albums. Anyway, I don't mean to start a Billy Joel thread, but that's been on my mind lately. I feel it's up to me to resuscitate Billy Joel's reputation. I bet Puzzlegirl's with me on that.)

Anonymous 12:49 PM  

OK, I'll grant you that anyone who has a residence in Texas can call themselves Texans. Still, I never pass up even the vaguest opportunity to point out that neither Bush is actually from Texas.

The elder used a hotel as his Texas address back in the day (I think he just wanted to claim residence in a state with no income tax). The younger seems to really want to be a Texan, and I expect he will live here a lot of the time after his term is over, but he was born in Connecticut and went to Yale. As a few real Texans have been heard to say, he's all hat and no cattle.

I agree with the Dixie Chick who said we're ashamed he's [claiming to be] from Texas.

You may now return to your discussion of the puzzle.

Teresa 12:51 PM  

Fun puzzle. I too enjoyed the SW corner wit amulet, Domino, gum eraser and elixir.

Tom Monaghan, the founder/ex-owner of Domino's Pizza, once owned the Tigers. When he took the move down his religious path (an interesting story), Mike Ilitch, owner of the Red Wings bought the Tigers, too. Which is just a way for me to get a plug in for the Detroit Red Wings!!

mac 1:14 PM  

I must be an inveterate solver, because I did this one in no time in a doctor's waitingroom. The only slight holdup was in the SE, didn't know about the pedophile, and had softensup before accepting High Noon and dealing with it's letters.

I think, too, that tiering is clued wrong, maybe terraceing, something on different levels, would have been better. Ditto for elixir and panacea argument and the fingering. Amulet is a lovely

I know both Bushes were born in CT, but you may have them, Texas!

Overall a nice, fresh puzzle, on the easy side for a Wednesday, but this week I'm also confused about the days....

Anonymous 1:33 PM  

@jane doh...there's more to the quote, punwise:
"Balls" said the queen, "if I had two I'd be King" ... and the King laughed, because he had to.
Annyhoo, a thoroughly delightful puzzle that I solved without getting the theme. The only problem for me came in the SE; ARI as a NL abbreviation? Guess they got tired of Exodus, the movie; Newman role; other, better cluing.

Anonymous 1:34 PM  

There is (or was) a Superman, Superboy, Supergirl, Superdog (Krypto), Supercat (Streaky), Superhorse (Comet) and now a Superlawyer (Spence).

How come there is no Superaccountant? Took one to catch Al Capone, didn't it?

Anonymous 1:38 PM  

@ulrich...the reason we don't adopt the metric system is our reactionary clinging to "OUR" way of doing things.
Our educational system is a shambles, with evolution losing ground to creationism, aka intelligent design. We no longer insist that children learn something to be passed from grade to grade, only that they age.
Sad, but every nation has its apex; ours was 1945. It's been downhill ever since.

Bill from NJ 1:41 PM  

Am I the only one who hated I love Lucy? The idea of a grown woman whining and being threatened with a spanking . . . even as a young boy the idea was repellent to me. Besides, I couldn't dredge up the relationship among the four.

This was the only area where I had a problem but once I was able to see ELIXIR, TEXAN soon followed and the abysmal TIERING fell after that and I was able to complete the puzzle.

There certainly was something Maleska-esque about this one with ATLI STERE ESPY OBI ERG and ELIXIR for good measure. When I saw ATLI, I thought of something for your word chain, Rex:


This puzzle was full of "crosswordese" - all of it old style. It took me way, way back

miriam b 1:46 PM  

@parshutr 1:38 - A dreadful state of affairs eloquently described.

Bill from NJ 1:47 PM  


You hit the nail right on the head, to coin a phrase.

If there is one expression I've come to dislike it is:


miriam b 1:54 PM  

@ Bill from NJ - I hated Lucy too. With a passion. I even found myself disliking people who were self-described fans!

I agree about the old-fashioned aura surrounding the puzzle. OBI and ERG have always been standard crosswordese, and there's something about these words that reminds me of ETUI and of the celebrate Celebes ox who hasn't been around for a while, the ANOA.

Anonymous 2:00 PM  

My egg roll was MUSHED inside. If you've got to have an OBI, it seems as if you have to ESPY it. I hope having AVERSE in the puzzle clears up any confusion with ADVERSE, but then I doubt any puzzle solvers would have such a problem.

Prince CHARLES reminds me of a peculiar incident where I had to endure quite a lengthy interrogation by whatever the English equivalent is of the Secret Service. After a polo match at some country estate in Hampshire the grand lavatory was closed off for the Prince to change in private, so us commoners sought relief in the outlying bushes. Looked up to suddenly see these plainclothesmen with much suspicion about what I was up to, or whether this bumbler with an American accent ought really to be attending such an event. Finally managed to secure an affidavit from my cousin who had also played in the match, though he initially thought it was amusing to disown the slasher in the woods.

miriam b 2:01 PM  

Of course I meant "celebrated Celebes ox". Someone recently expressed annoyance over the fact that we can't edit a message once it's posted. I agree. I'm a fast and sloppy typist.

On the Compuserve forums which I frequent - and for one of which I'm a sysop - one can edit sent messages to one's heart's content, even if they've been read. Conceiveably a message could be edited beyond all resemblance to the original, if the poster happened to be in an antic mood.

Rex Parker 2:10 PM  

If you are a white man, then yes, I'm sure 1945 was the pinnacle. You know what I miss: polio. And Jim Crow. Yep, good times.

Nostalgia is delusional and often dangerous. I can't believe any of my readers would be ridiculous enough to engage so blithely in the hell-in-a-handbasket theory of American history - even more startled at the chorus of approval.

Not that the educational system (of which I have some intimate familiarity) doesn't have Huge flaws of fairly recent vintage.

And I am not a big fan of "Lucy," but I can't deny she was one hell of a comic actor.


Anonymous 2:10 PM  

That was a fun puzzle. I must have been a bit tired, though: I did not notice the opportunity to titter at the theme-word 38A:BALLS. Nor would I have expected BALLS to be two or three degrees of separation from Bartók! :-)

A bit surprised that nobody mentioned my favorite clue: "So's ___ mother!" for 42D:YER. So much better than "___ out!", and an amusing juxtaposition of this colloquialism with the high-end 39A:ESPY and 45A:LORE. Has the NYTimes ever printed the phrase "So's yer/your mom/mother"? Maybe in the context of Y tu mamá también...

Yes, 44D:TIERING is ugly but does recognize "tier" as a verb, either transitive or in-. I don't have a problem with the cluing of 63A:ELIXIR; would Rex have preferred "The ______ of Love (Donizetti)" or "Pirelli's product, in Sweeney Todd"?... I see that the word has an unexpected etymology, the el- being the Arabic al- ("the") of algebra and alkali, and the -xir being the Greek root that also gives us Xerox (referring to dryness, not duplication)!


Joon 3:02 PM  

amen, rex. it's getting better all the time.

as for why we don't use the metric system, it's not just arbitrary old-fashionedness. there are significant costs to making huge changes like that, costs that you could put a dollar value on. as for whether they outweigh the benefits, that's for somebody smarter than me to figure, but let's not act like it's all cut-and-dried just because the metric system makes more sense. by and large, scientists and other people who frequently need to make calculations involving units of measure use the metric system anyway. i'm a little surprised architects don't, but i guess carpenters don't.

noam, it's not that TIERING is wrong; it's just awkward. i wouldn't try to challenge TIERING off of a scrabble board (scrabble players love verbs), but that doesn't mean it "works" as crossword fill.

miriam b 3:04 PM  

I for one don't see 1945 as the apex of American civilization in general, Rex. I'm quite sure that parshutr was making specific reference to the decline of our educational system since then, and with that I have to agree.

I can't wax nostalgic about very much that I can recall about 1945, though I can certainly remember the sense of relief that washed over us when the war finally ended

Wendy Laubach 3:25 PM  

Why, indeed, should we assume that society or humanity in general is on either a positive or a negative path -- unless you subscribe to an old-fashioned view of diabolical or divine influence. Surely some things get better over time and some get worse? There's no doubt we're better at treating polio, but really, our schools . . . . and I imagine I could find limitless other examples of contrary trends over time. Nostalgia makes no less sense than blind faith in change.

Anonymous 3:33 PM  

Just remembered Beppo the Super-Monkey. Talk about the "good old days".

Crosscan, clearly taking a different path today.

Anonymous 4:33 PM  

artivr: DOMINO had no "'s" I think because it is the logo, which is an actual domino? Not sure, haven't had the pizza in a while....

Ulrich 4:34 PM  

@joon: The issue has (almost) gone away for architects with the advent of sophisticated CAD systems. If you set up your project properly, you can change the units i.t. of which you want to see measurements displayed or entered literally with the click of a mouse, i.e. the units displayed are a modifiable setting of the user interface, not of the underlying persistent geometric model. Insofar, my example was a bit misleading.

Larry 4:38 PM  

P.J.O'rourke has a retort that he offers to anyone who fleetingly seeks to return to a past age: Dentistry.

We all understand the advantages of the metric system, but there is a satisfying scale to imperial measurements: 1 foot equals the length of the terminal part of your leg, a yard is your stride, an inch your 2nd finger joint, and the range in temperature of 0 to 100 corresponds to the heat variations a human is likely to experience. For the same reasons days are grouped in 7s and eggs are sold by the dozen, there are some non decimal groupings that make sense.

Aviation and the oilfield are two areas where imperial measurements are still used.

jae 4:51 PM  

Lots of things needing correcting today. Went for COBB/CAD, LITRE, SOFTENUP, TOUCHES for FINGERS, and GALAS for PROMS. That said, this was on the easy side for a Wed. for me.

Nice to know I'm not the only one who is not very amused by Lucy. I usually say nothing when the topic comes up because everyone else seems to think she's a comedy icon.

IMOO nostalgia is a tad overrated.

chefbea 4:52 PM  

Haven't had a chance to do a puzzle since Sunday. Really liked this one. Didn't know aqualung but I am sure my kids do.

I did like I Love Lucy and of course All in the Family.

Gotta go get the egg rolls, bibb lettuce and the meat balls ready for our next meeting, which I will serve with tongs

jae 5:14 PM  

BTW the state of American eduction is not as dire as Reagan toadies Bill Bennet and Chester Finn tried to paint it starting back in the 80s. Dave Berliner did a good job of debunking this myth around 10 years ago.

Anonymous 5:20 PM  

It's hard to take the measure of an entire civilization, especially at the time, and from within. Having lived in many disparate places in the world, and in many different parts of the US, I have landed on one primary measure: what a civilization values most and how it goes about achieving it. What I see us valuing here are freedom of thought and speech, the willingness to question including oneself and one's establishment, a spirit of exploration and the drive to accomplish, and a remarkable generosity which, especially for the young, has grown to encompass all of humanity. There are many flaws, misconceptions and real setbacks along with stunning accomplishments. But all in all, I feel that the best thing I ever did for my kids is that they are American.

archaeoprof 5:33 PM  

Some American scientists will admit that they can only think in metric measurements when they're in the lab. I have a similar problem. On a dig, everything is metric, and I use it without thinking. But as soon as I get back to the States, my mind reverts to inches and feet, and I have to think in order to remember how long a centimeter or a kilometer is.

fergus 5:51 PM  


I love everything you said, but the same applies to so many other nationalities.

With a slightly different weighting of values, perhaps, the Swedes, Canadians and Botswanans like their own take on freedom, too.

Anonymous 5:56 PM  

I did spend more than two decades as an associate professor at the University of Michigan, (previously assistant prof at CCNY)and so have some acquaintance with the products of our educational system, as does Rex and others.
What I meant by citing 1945 as the apex of the U.S.A.'s position in the world, not all of western or human civilization.
Yes, Dr. Salk's vaccine helped to nearly eradicate polio, and schools have be de jure, if not de facto, desegregated, but we have come to elevate our circuses above our labors. Our athletes, and other entertainers, are ridiculously overcompensated, while we keep making our schools more "fun" for the students. And we decry companies for outsourcing technical support; they do it because they value quality, and our young graduates can't supply that.
But this isn't a political blog. I was overzealous in my answer to Ulrich, but since we value freedom of thought and speech, and the willingness to question oneself and one's establishment, I hope you all can live with my opinion and draw your own conclusions.

Anonymous 6:01 PM  

Gotta love "soft soap"

"No short-haired, yellow-bellied son-of-Tricky-Dicky's gonna Mother-Hubbard softsoap me with just a pocket full of hope."

Some of John Lennon's most gymastically alliterative, internal rhyming lyrics. "neurotic psychotic pigheaded politicians", and "schizophrenic egocentric paranoid primadonnas".

fergus 6:16 PM  

This blog site is remarkably free of political ardor, so I regret my earlier insinuation about patriotism.

jubjub 6:24 PM  

As far as I knew, Aqualung is a current, rather generic sounding alternative music band; they sound a lot like Cold Play. I've heard good things about them and even downloaded an album, but can't really get into their music. I appreciate that they are named after such a disreputable character. Yay, NYT xword for teaching me something new!

I also giggled at BALLS. Every theme clue sounded a little bit dirty at first. My brain: "SOFT BALLS. What are SOFT BALLS? Oh, softballs..." I got the theme early from GUMERASER, but it didn't really help me.

I made a number of the mistakes mentioned above. SOFTSOAP crossing PEP was the hardest part of the puzzle for me. I wanted something like SOFTtOAd. I don't know. I still don't get why vinegar is PEP.

I didn't like YER for So's YER mother. The correct term is Yo Mama :)

fergus 6:45 PM  

If you were 14 at the time "Thick as a Brick" came out Jethro Tull would have a great deal of relevance ...

Anonymous 6:58 PM  

I love this discussion, as out-of-crossword-bounds as it may be. I've long been conflicted about how to feel about this country, given its million contradictions and polarities, and at the end of the day, maybe that's a sensation I can live with, and an appropriate one: conflicted feelings.

So many backwards things still to be set right, so much work to be done, and yet so much to be inspired by and be grateful for. My grandmother never learned to drive, but a woman (with large balls) made a convincing run for the presidency in these times, for instance. I could complain that other countries reached that goal post decades ago, but the forgiving tender part of me that sees the U.S. as a creative, brave, misguided, frequently insane teenager can't help but cheer it on.

The little egomaniacal engine that could.

Forgive my simplistic contribution--the sun is high and I feel a Daiquiri coming on. A Freedom Daiquiri.

Rex Parker 7:06 PM  


You have come closer to expressing my particular brand of patriotism than anyone I know.

I see your Freedom Daiquiri and raise you a Freedom Beer. Despite the mixed gaming metaphor involved, I am tempted to say 'Check and mate' ... and I haven't even had said Beer yet.


Michael Chibnik 7:23 PM  

I don't think that Bush the elder can be called a "Texan," but this seems ok for the younger. This raises the more general question of how long (or what proportion of one's life) one has to live in a state before being considering "being from there." I'm sure that the age of arriving there is also relevant. The particular state also seems pertinent. Perhaps it is easier to be "from" Alaska or California or Arizona that it is to be "from" Maine or South Carolina.

I've lived in Iowa for 30 yearsv(about half my life), but (1) don't think of myself as being "from" Iowa; (2) don't think most native Iowans would regard me as being "from" Iowa.

JannieB 8:01 PM  

@jubjub - There's an old expression, "full of piss and vinegar" to describe a young upstart or smart-assed kid or someone generally rambunctious. That would, in my mind, equate pep and vinegar.

mac 8:10 PM  

@Fergus: thank you for your first comment. Re your second comment: this blog has little political ardor because a think a lot of us are biting our tongues....

I feel slightly insulted when I hear (sooooo often, check Hardball) this country referred to as the greatest democracy in the world. I think it could do a lot better, and I've seen it better.

@greenmantis: I completely agree with Rex, you put into words what I think about the US when I'm in a magnanimous mood...

mac 8:12 PM  

@jannie b: I've heard "vim and vinegar", is that acceptable too?

miriam b 8:23 PM  

@mac - You may have heard "vim and vigor" which I guess derives from the Latin for "strength and liveliness". There used to be a health food store by that name near Carnegie Hall back when I was in college during the Mesozoic.

Orange 8:40 PM  

Advantages of today's education system: children from a variety of backgrounds might not feel marginalized and ignored by the curriculum. The whole "dead white man" canon of literature has many gems, but dead white guys aren't the only ones who could write something worth reading.

Orange 8:41 PM  

Advantages of today's education system: children from a variety of backgrounds might not feel marginalized and ignored by the curriculum. The whole "dead white man" canon of literature has many gems, but dead white guys aren't the only ones who could write something worth reading.

Anonymous 8:51 PM  

Some coincidences: HIGH NOON was the answer to Jeopardy"s final question yesterday...

And I still need a name for that ESP moment when you fill in something incorrectly (ie today I had BAD for 1A which I soon corrected) but then it appears later in the puzzle...this happens about once a week for me.

If you hate the third B in BIBB I think you are secretly a more of a Scrabble player than you will admit to, young Rex...

Was annoyed by the word TOOTLE, thought TIERING was pushing it...maybe it was trouble with T's bec I had TURNSIN instead of TELLSON and LTCOL instead of LIEUT...
@ Joon
your suggestion of TOERING is hip and fun! Tho whenever I actually SEE one I think they are slightly ridiculous...
and ODS might not have flown...

I had that same reaction when my mind couldn't quite be where it was supposed to be re: BALLS.
I also thought what are SOFT BALLS? what kind of malady are BLACK BALLS? that seemed so rude...

and then I got mixed up about the clue and somehow thought things were supposed to go with BUTTER like SOFT (as) BUTTER and HEAD BUTTER (like in soccer) but then GUMERASER brought me back to reality.

Felt BASRA was a fresh fill, I don't know if anyone's commented on that...
Today's blog seems more about what kind of American was Lucy to marry an Emoting Cuban who used the metric system?
But I must agree, the Bushes are not TEXAN. Odd clue, nice X.

Anonymous 8:53 PM  

Just to be clear-- I did not mean that Americans were the only ones who held these values, nor that other values are not worth holding. Nor did I mean to imply that this is the best that humanity can do-- I hope not! The statement about my children was based on the options I had in my life, the conscious decisions I made as an immigrant. Without being too analytical, if I ask myself: is being an American a good thing to offer my kids, my answer is a clear yes.

I agree with you green mantis, I too want to cheer on not because this teenager is perfect, but because s/he is full of "vim and vinegar, and behind the infuriating contradictions and apparent thoughtlessness is a great spirit and the potential to do wonderful things.

(Sorry Rex, I exceeded my limit today, I will hush now).

miriam b 9:22 PM  

@andrea - TOERING would have been fun; ODS could have been clued as "Serious ER cases" or some such.

Now I have an ancient and hoary song running through my head: Macnamara's Band. In it, somebody TOOTLES the flute ("and the music is something grand" - etc.)

My worst Scrabble experience was as follows: I was kibitzing as two people approached the endgame, and I saw a perfect opportunity for one of them to make a killing. She had the requisite letters and the available space for GORGET, which would have made for a spectacular finish with imaginary confetti and streamers. She didn't see it. I bit my tongue really hard and later surreptitiously looked the word up just to verify thatI hadn't coined it.

misstrish 9:33 PM  

Great puzzle today. Probably my best Wednesday time ever.I guess because of my age I got both the Aqualung/lecher and Hun/Atli clues immediatly with no crosses. Maybe also because I was a huge Maleska fan? Had similar feelings as those above about all the ball answers. Dirty minds think alike?
Can anyone tell me why I can't see weekday themes when I do the puzzle on line? (I always do Fri, Sat & Sun on paper though)
Thanks Rex for all the wonderful enlightenment and entertainment even though you don't get HUGELY compensated as other luminaries.

PS looks like all the anonymice went away for awhile.

Ulrich 10:03 PM  

@andrea, dearest: I saddens me to see you associate soccer players with head butters. Yes, there was the notorious incident when Zinedine Zidane of France, one of the all-time greats of the game, head-butted an Italian defender in the final of the 2006 world championships, supposedly b/c the lout had said something ontowards about Zazou's (as his friends call him) mother or sister (the issue is still hotly debated in soccer circles). But he got red-carded for it (which means he got EJECTed from the match), and the Franch lost the match. Yes, you can head something in soccer, but it's not a head, it's strictly the ball, to get me back to today's puzzle:-)

Anonymous 10:39 PM  

@andrea: To go with your ESP moment, what about when you enter a wrong answer but one letter turns out to be right and it opens up the whole puzzle?


Bill from NJ 10:48 PM  

One of the things I enjoy most about Rex's blog is the absence of political commentary.

When it does appear, I tend to ignore it but today I chose to comment and I felt guilty about it. I'm always afraid that no matter how innocent the commentary, it will provoke a vicious reponse and I do not want to see this spot ruined.

So, no matter how tempted I might be, from now on I will stick to the puzzle and puzzle related . . . stuff.

Joon 12:00 AM  

andrea, ODS would definitely "fly" in the puzzle. not as the scrabblicious "hypothetical forces of nature" but as just plain overdoses. it's been in the puzzle 40 times in the shortz era, appearing most recently three weeks ago.

by the way, even TOERING has appeared twice (most recently on monday, july 9, 2007). it's been clued as [Jewelry for a sandal wearer] and [Ornament that may be worn with sandals].

this is the first NYT appearance for TIERING. we can only hope it is also the last.

Anonymous 7:05 AM  

Nostalgia ain't what it used to be . . .

Anonymous 1:27 PM  

JAE - I've considered and decided against the Berliner book, but I have just ordered a book by Sol Stern on a similar topic: "Breaking Free."

Anonymous 11:15 AM  

I'm so old, I actually went to a Jethro Tull concert in 1971. I also had that album, but I could not for the life of me figure this out. Now that I've been reminded of the lyrics I see that I had blocked them out of my mind. I finally gave up and came here. It did not help that I did not "get" costs for the cross until I stared at it for a good long time.

I thought this was going to be a hard puzzle at first, but like others, it finally came together nicely except for the above.

For a musician, I am too practical (it has been pointed out more than once), and it speaks to this streak in me that I didn't see anything funny about the theme until I read Rex. Sigh

Can an obi actually be tied in a bow? I thought they were too wide and stiff. Somebody else may have mentioned this, but I didn't have time to read the whole blog today, sorry.


Chrisvb 3:01 PM  

7/9 Tiering could have been clued as "assembling a wedding cake" what do you think? Alibi was great. My eggroll was molded for awhile. As for superlawyer, well yes, I did get Belli last week, and would agree with that term for Allred or Cochran as being super wellknown, but I never heard of Spence, so no.

Loved "all hat and no cattle".

Anonymous 2:11 PM  

Yo, Mama works- but baby boomers might remember their folks saying, "So's yer old man or old lady" in a slam.

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