SUN., Dec. 28, 2008- P. Berry (BBC panel show regular Phill / Cloak-wearing "Star Wars" race / Controversial 1987 expose by ex-MI5 agent Peter Wright)

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: "Going Around in Circles" - grid represents the ORBITS (7A: What this puzzle's eight concentric rings (uncircled and circled) represent) of eight PLANETs (124A: One of these can be found reading counterclockwise somewhere in each concentric ring)

Hey, everyone. Rex here. Funny thing happened on the way to California ... long story short, I'm sitting in PuzzleGirl's home in Arlington, VA. I was supposed to be in Carmel by now, but, well, there was fog, then a "broken printer" that meant my pilot couldn't get his weather report (what century is this, again?), then a sprint to a gate in D.C. where, though I arrived there five minutes before official take-off, I was told that the doors were shut, our tickets given to stand-bys, and that's it. Actually, I was not told this. Wife was told this. I then waited in front of the guy who told her for about five minutes before the guy bothered to mention that we should go to Customer Service to rebook. At Customer Service I found a line a city block long. Waited there for a bit then a guy comes out and says "You're all International, right?" And I said, "No." Then he said "There's a much shorter line at D Concourse." Then I went there and picked up a phone, and then a lady told me "No flights to Carmel til Monday" and I asked her what she was smoking, sort of, then hung up, then waited in the shorter Customer Service line, only to be told "No flights to ANYWHERE NEAR Carmel until Monday." We could go back home, or we could wait in DC On Our Dime (their claim that the delay was "weather-related" was a horrible half-truth) until Monday. So ... I said "I'll call PuzzleGirl, she'll know what to do," only I didn't have her number; I had Andrea's number. So I called Andrea (whom I was supposed to have dinner with on Monday) in S.F. and she, miraculously, had PuzzleGirl's number. I called and left PuzzleGirl a woeful message. Not five minutes had passed before PuzzleGirl called back, said "I'll be right there - you can stay with us." And here we are. For 36 more hours. And we couldn't be happier. Well, maybe we'd be happier if we'd made it to Carmel on time, but this way we got to extend our vacation, and hang out with PG and her family for a couple days. Our daughters seem to love each other (despite the screaming I keep hearing from the basement), and PuzzleGirl and PuzzleHusband are exceedingly generous and kind. It's ridiculous, actually. We had a crappy, crappy day and then got Really, Really lucky. Hurrah.

OK, so the puzzle. It's a Patrick Berry creation and it's intricate as all git out. Very impressive in many ways. I think my favorite answer of the puzzle is ELEVATOR MUSIC (61D: Tunes that might make you want to get out on the floor) - the clue is admittedly a bit tortured in order to be misdirective, but the answer itself is fantastic - unusual but familiar, colloquial ... just great. I also like "SPY CATCHER" (49D: Controversial 1987 expose by ex-MI5 agent Peter Wright). Only wish I had heard of it.

"Gopher-wood? What's gopher-wood? Wood made from a gopher?"
"No. Dogwood isn't wood made from a dog."

These are the kinds of conversations I'm having this evening [see 52A: Gopher-wood construction (Ark)]

There is a horrible, terrible, alarming violation of the NATICK PRINCIPLE, except for the part where knowing the theme helps you infer the correct letter: JUPITUS (111A: BBC panel show regular Phill) x/w JAWA (111D: Cloak-wearing "Star Wars" race)!!?!?!? That is just wrong. But ... knowing that JUPITER's gotta be in that particular orbit somewhere should have helped you, eventually, fill it out correctly.

My favorite moment of the night so far was watching PG's nine-year old step up to the puzzle, look at 1A: Harry's pal at Hogwarts, and scoff: "Pff, that's easy, it's RON." He then walked away, as if to say "My work is done here."

PuzzleGirl points out that you might expect to see a lot more crappy fill in a puzzle with this amount of thematic density and intricacy, and yet (with the exception of that SE), it's overwhelmingly smooth. We were both impressed by the inclusion of MOON in the puzzle, and only just now realized that it's in EARTH's orbit. Very cool. In fact EARTH and THE MOON overlap in the grid.

Besides crazy Mr. JUPITUS, there were several other names that were new to me, including BARNETT (20A: 1968 N B. A. All-Star Dick) and PULASKI (23A: Georgia's Fort _____, site of an 1862 surrender), and POOLE (120A: Grace _____ ("Jane Eyre" character)). I knew Connie SELLECCA, but would never have imagined that her name had that many letters in it (65A: Actress/model Connie). "I can't believe that she spells her name like that!" Me either, PuzzleGirl.

I was derelict in my test-solving duties, in that I failed to comment on the fact that "treats" is in the clue for an answer (ACNE - 45D: Retin-A treats it) that the word TREATS (44A: Dog biscuits and such) actually intersects! None of you noticed that, though, right? Words shouldn't appear in both the grid and the clues (with obvious exceptions for most articles, prepositions, etc.). This rule should probably be more stringently applied when the clue and answer in question are in such close proximity.

  • 36D: Trunk in your trunk (aorta) - "Make sure you say that's a terrible clue" - done and done.
  • 106A: Where a pin may be made (mat) - you have no idea - No Idea - how seriously the next room is taking the issue of finding a picture to go with this answer. "Too bad Metcalf hasn't pinned anybody good." These are words coming out of PG's mouth. She and her husband are insane college wrestling fans. I have never met such people. It's fascinating. It's completely unironic, in case you're wondering. [Update - ten minutes later, the conversation about what image to use is Still Going On ...] [Update - it's half an hour now that they've been scrounging for the perfect PIN pic. They're so ... earnest]
  • 4A: Hit 2004 film with many sequels ("Saw") - no desire to see these. They are gruesome, as I understand it. I have a friend who likes this kind of movie.
  • 22A: _____ Adler of Conan Doyle's "A Scandal in Bohemia" (Irene) - her full name was an answer in a recent late-week puzzle, so no problem here.
  • 56A: King famous for frightening people (Stephen) - First thought: "Larry?"
  • 72A: Exterior decorator? (tattooer) - wow, that's a word? TATTOOIST is what I would have thought. Blogger appears to like both of those just fine. Weird.
  • 117A: Something it's not always wise to share (opinion) - Lord, don't I know it.
  • 54D: Oatcakes popular in Scotland (bannocks) - whoops; I think I tipped you all to this answer a few days back when we had "bannocks" in the clue and OATCAKES as the answer. I said I had just done a puzzle where they were reversed. It appears I was speaking of this puzzle.
  • 47A: Formulator of the Three Principles of the People (Sun Yat-Sen) - very gettable, though hard to parse if you are looking for a two-part name (according to my wife)
  • 80A: Treasure sought in "Titanic" (necklace) - I forgot about this part of the picture. I just remember ... oh, I remember the necklace on naked Kate, I think. Then I remember the wreck, and floating.
  • 92A: Husband, in Hidalgo (esposo) - possibly the best Spanish word I've seen in the grid. Seems very lively, somehow.
  • 93A: "_____ 911!" (comedy series) ("Reno!") - PuzzleGirl's sister apparently lives there. I just learned this tonight.
  • 8D: "Gaspard de la Nuit" composer (Ravel) - don't know it. Let's listen:

[starts about the 1 min. mark]

  • 14D: Yossarian's tentmate in "Catch-22" (Orr) - 'cause Bobby's too easy. ORR is crosswordese of the highest order as is ULEE (113D: Big-screen beekeeper) and ELENI (77D: Nicholas Gage memoir) and "ADIA" (73D: Top 10 hit for Sarah McLachlan).
  • 21D: Bigelow beverages (teas) - Not my brand, but I recognized the name.
  • 64D: Romeo's reckless friend (Mercutio) - yep, reckless. Ends up dead by Act III.
  • 92D: What Mr. Spock suppressed (emotion) - I never thought of it as "suppressed." I thought it just wasn't there.
  • 102D: _____ stick (trick-or-treater's accessory) (glow) - much discussion about whether this should have been "GLO" (answer: no)
More from the Unamerican part of VA tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld (with my wife, PuzzleGirl, and PuzzleHusband somewhere in the background)


Jeffrey 9:57 PM  

I should love this but I don't, and I don't know why. I am the love-the-gimmick-puzzle-dispite-the-fill-guy. This is cool in structure and execution, with bonus points for MOON in its rightful place.

A bit of repetition with SUN and SUNYATSEN, but the latter is the back half of VENUS so that isn't it.

I solved it quickly so no issue there.

My travel plans weren't messed up like yours. Hmmm.

Maybe it is all the letters in SELLECCA that's throwing me off; I didn't enter it for a while because it seemed too short.
Maybe I'm ASKing FOR THE MOON.

Conclusion - the puzzle is great; the solver is on another PLANET today.

Unknown 10:06 PM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown 10:07 PM  

The fact that your travels had you going round and round with the system is most appropriate tonight. I am sorry for your travel delay, but lemonade was made out of some lemons in DC today. PG is great, but I think she was just tired of doing all of the work and arranged the whole thing.

Please take note of the outlying PLUTO in the SW corner which was once again kicked out of orbit.

Ulrich 11:14 PM  

Had this done early enough to be able to watch Jupitus on youTube--never heard of him, but since Jupiter had to go there, he fell into place, as a side effect. And yes, that picture shows the Dulles Airport building by our friend Eero (Saarinen)--almost as famous as his TWA building at JFK. This may be small consolation for someone stuck there under unpleasant circumstances--but I sure am glad that things worked out in the end for our King, who's not really frightening, even if he barks a bit at times. The puzzle? Fine by me.

Looking forward to the next installment of the unfolding travel saga.

Anonymous 11:23 PM  

I'm missing something here. I see how all the planets are in there if you connect adjoining letters, but what is the significance of the circled letters? I'm guessing this relates to orbits somehow but I don't see the connection. For example, all the letters in AORTA and most of the letters in IRENE are circled. Why? Can someone please explain?

Unknown 11:27 PM  


The NYT printed version is much easier to read. There are alternative shaded and unshaded areas that form orbital paths around the SUN. You find each planet within the orbit,except, as I mentioned above, poor PLUTO, which is gerrymandered in the SW corner. The circles try to emulate the orbits, but Across Lite is very limited. I think Ellen and the editors did the best one can with the limitations.

Jeffrey 11:36 PM  

i think that is what's bugging me. The circles were very distracting in solving. Maybe someone can post the print version so we can see what this should look like?

Greene 11:37 PM  

I'm with Crosscan on this puzzle. I have nothing but respect for the work of Patrick Berry and this puzzle certainly has amazing construction value and is cleverly executed, but I just could not summon up much solving enthusiasm for it. It went down smoothly and quickly and the theme was easily discerned. Was it too easy for a Sunday, perhaps? Not enough Aha moments? Maybe all those orbiting circles just give me a sense of clutter. I can't quite place it.

At any rate, I hope this puzzle doesn't revive the previous debate about constructor versus solver satisfaction that raged last Tuesday. This puzzle seems far more satisfying than that one.

Rex, I truly hope your travel woes are cleared up quickly. Thanks for the oatcake tipoff. I would have never known. Now, how about another post from The Planets in honor of today's puzzle?

Anonymous 12:10 AM  

I know i am blind, but can someone tell me where Mars is? (on the crossword, that is)

Anonymous 12:33 AM  

[Outta town this week, so missed most of the daily puzzles, including alas Tuesday's huge ysrevortnoc]

Fun puzzle in the main; thanks to Pat B. and Will S. for this, to Rex for Gaspard (which is notoriously hard to play well), and to PhillySolver for pointing out Pluto.

At least three 2,1,4 phrases, as it happens all Across and two in the NW corner: 18A:INARUSH, 26A:ASAGIFT, 122A:WIREMEN.

Hey, I liked the "trunk trunk" clue for 36D:AORTA!

"Sic 63A:PASSIM", really? confirms, but I've only seen "passim" without the "sic". There's also a Club Passim near Harvard, but that would be even more obscure than Fort 18A:PULASKI.

To the JUPITUS/JAWA/ULEE mess in the SE, add the intersecting 96D:BRENDA with 121A:WILDONE, both clued via purported "1960s hits". Why The Frug should I care?

Anybody else get the wrong skin disease for 99A? Working from the final three letters I quickly wrote VITILIGO. Not.

92A:ESPOSO must be cognate with "spouse", right? I spouse so (er, suspect so)...

AdiĆ³s amigos,

Anonymous 12:56 AM  

MARS - start at EMT, Hang a left at Israelis.

Anonymous 1:01 AM  

@anonymous 12:56 am

Shanti11 2:34 AM  

Wait until @mac sees 32D. Get ready for it!

Anonymous 2:45 AM  

solved the puzzle google free which is a red letter day for the munchkin esp. on a sunday. Friday and Saturday just gave me a headache.


jae 3:41 AM  

I kinda liked this one. Saw URANUS early in NW and got the theme which helped with the JAWA/JUPITUS crossing. Checked with my 6 yr. old grandson on JAWA and got confirmation. Over all it seemed pretty easy to me. My only real hang up was GAO for GSA (the gov can be confusing at times) which initially gave me ROPE for RAIL.

Still not sure about SET for "go down."

Neuf 3:58 AM  


The sun sets/goes down. Tripped me up too.

It's funny, I had a NATICK moment with JUPITUS and ULEE. Maybe's its cuz I'm younger/newer to the puzzles.

randis mcgee 8:48 AM  

I'm out of sync on this one. I found the grid visually distracting and never got over it. If there are circles in squares the puzzle, I want them to do something (other than define orbits I guess). For me, this took away from an otherwise spectacular puzzle.

Anonymous 9:31 AM  

Spock was/is half human (mother) and thereby had emotions that he had to suppress.
It's hard being bi-racial...

Anonymous 9:49 AM  

I really don't get this puzzle at all. I guess I can sort of find planets in there, but the circles don't make any sense. Shouldn't cirles in a puzzle spell out something, or be an anagram or something? I've spent way to much time trying to figure out the gimmick here and feel a little dumb, but mainly not interested enough to care any longer. What a clunker. This has to be the worst Sunday puzzle I've ever solved. Yuck.

JoefromMtVernon 9:57 AM  

Well, I guess today is the day we find out who does their puzzles online and who did theirs from the paper.

Yes, I didn't get the entire theme because I counted four rings, never thinking the non-ringed areas were orbits as well.

I disagree with Rex on "Jawa". Many times these last two months, I felt the same way, but lots wrote in "of course, what else could it be?"

Glurge #2 of the week involves Ms. Sellecca. Her uncle was a barber, and he gave my son his first haircut. Back then, she was married to Gil Gerard (who played Buck Rodgers on the NBC show) while she starred in Hotel on ABC.

There is absolutely no reason that oatcake/bannock should be in the puzzle two days apart (even if the clue was reversed).

Originally had "shot" for 6D, then caught Pulazki and, this can't be...luckilly got Saw right after.

Also, after Tuesday's blog, 117-A is a very timely clue.


chefbea 10:14 AM  

I thought the puzzle was great and very easy.

Thanks anonymous 12:56.. I couldnt find Mars either. And we know Mars is the RED planet.

Of course I knew 32D!!

I will probably have a new avatar in the next few days.Am going to her 1st birthday party today so I think we deserve an updated foto

Anonymous 10:39 AM  

I did the puzzle online and then printed it out, and used a yellow highlighter to connect the circles. That helped alot, but I still can't find Neptune! Help!

Anonymous 10:42 AM  

Just to further clarify for those who don't get the hard copy, the paper version does not have any circles around boxes; all the circled boxes in the on-line version are instead shaded, so it's easier to see them as orbits (or concentric circles).

I think what was unintentionally confusing for the online solvers is that the title uses the word circles and there's circled letters in the grid, so it's natural to look for a more direct connection.

Anonymous 10:43 AM  

For the first time ever I decided to ink the circled squares in green and the rest in black to better see what was going on ... and it did absolutely nothing to help. I didn't see the orbits any better even though I knew they were there. I did solve the puzzle correctly with all planets in place and also appreciated the bonus moon.

I only solved JUPITUS by realizing it had to a "J" to get Jupiter.

ELEVATORMUSIC is an out-of-this- world answer!

I liked this puzzle but did not love it. I wish it had more of an impact on me.

Rex and family! How lucky you are to have landed in such a warm and welcoming atmosphere with PuzzleGirl and family. Sounds like you're all having a great time!

Anonymous 10:44 AM  

Anon, NEPTUNE is in the bottom left.

Anonymous 10:50 AM  

Oops...I'm the one who asked where Neptune was...just found it! Didn't think to look in the outermost circle! (for anyone's in the outermost southwest corner)

edith b 11:05 AM  

When I first was out on my own, I had a roommate who graduated from Ohio State University (and never failed to refer to it as The Ohio State University and never failed to remind me of same) and she was an insane college football fan so, Rex, I can understand what you are going through. An unironic fanatic is a sight to behold!

Since I do the puzzle in Across Lite, I had all kinds of trouble actually seeing the grid for all the circles - which I found to be largely irrelevant to the gimmick -and, except for Southern Califonia, did this one all in one sitting in about a half hour.

For some reason TATOOER and PANDERSTO did not come to me and I spent another half hour struggling with this thing until they did.

I figured out the planet scheme at the most apropos spot - the JUPITUS/JAWA crossing which I never would have gotten were it not for the planet JUPITER.

After that, I nearly went blind searching for the planets. Am I wrong in finding PLUTO heading off at a diagonal from the P in INEPT and heading due south at the U in NYU to pick up the T and O at ELTON and POOLE? That's the only place I could see in the SW.

chefbea 11:07 AM  

My times digest version hasnt arrived yet. when it does I will try to post the link to it so you all can see the uncircled version

dk 11:09 AM  

So sad for Pluto. So happy to see BEET get its do.

I hope I never have to miss a dinner with Andrea.

Great fun Mr. Berry.

Speaking of WIREMEN, see the movie Man on Wire for some more holiday fun.

edith b 11:29 AM  

I went to Wordplay and saw Patrick Berry's notes on the construction of the puzzle and it confirmed my guess for PLUTO's location.

Since Pluto actually intersected Neptune's orbit, it makes perfect logical sense.

Alex Greenberg 11:40 AM  

I like your blog, Rex, but I really hate it when people blame airline workers and airline technology for travel problems. If you want to travel over the holidays, then you better be prepared for mishaps. And if you're stupid enough to think that 1) you can beat the weather and 2) in an economic recession in which airlines are cutting flights, that you're not going to have delays at best, then you deserve all the anger comes your way.

Anonymous 12:08 PM  

Cute, but I agree that the circles were distracting. Would probably have liked it better if they had been left out and 7A had just been clued "what this puzzles eight outermost concentric rings represent" or something like that. 65A and 50D was a Natick, as far as I was concerned. ERIC/ERIK and SELLECCA/SELLACKA. Never heard of either person/character so either was possible.

Doug 12:44 PM  

I didn't get the STEPHEN King significance until I read the blog. And I thought King Stephen was some sort of historical figure.... Here is a SUPRA-funny link featuring scary Larry King with Jim Carrey doing the Letterman Top 10 list. (I'm attempting a direct link, patience please) Scary Larry.!

I'll have to watch ULEE's Gold if I not only need to know Peter Fonda's character, but the plot as well. That little bit of Florida was impossible, and I gave up trying to find the planets with AcrossLite.

Very good stuff all around, great Sunday puzzle.

Paul Horan 12:45 PM  

Also a non-Google effort for me!

I got stuck in the SE because I had JEDI for JAWA for the longest time. (They all wear cloaks too!) Then I remembered that the Jedi were from all different races... And that DIREMEN is not really a word. ;)

I also got tripped up on ESPOSO and had ESPOSA until I realized they were specifically asking for "husband".

Paul in DC

jeff in chicago 12:47 PM  

Interesting puzzle. Few problems in the solve. I can't put my finger on why it felt kinda bland. I am impressed with the construction. Maybe it's because once I figured out the theme, it was just a matter of finding the proper place for each planet. Too easy once the theme is known?


@rex: Hey! How about a spoiler alert? Maybe some here haven't read "Romeo and Juliet"!!! HA!

Anonymous 12:51 PM  

Knowing that JUPITER had to be there was essential for getting the JAWA/JUPITUS crossing. I was grumbling to myself about the crossing until I thought to see if that's where the planet was in that circle. I'll bet adding that little bit of frustration followed by the aha was intentional.

jae 1:34 PM  

@neuf -- Thanks, followed by a head slap!

PlantieBea 1:53 PM  

Sorry for your travel woes, Rex. We have run into the same problem traveling home to Florida. The flights are usually oversold and if you miss a connection to your destination, even if the reasons are not weather but rather AIRLINE related,you are SOL.

The puzzle was fun but not difficult to solve. I too had a tough time trying to keep the concentric rings together on my print-out of the online puzzle. I had to count in and mark some of the corners of the orbital squares. Cute puzzle, overall.

treedweller 1:56 PM  

I am not surprised to find no other references to my problem. I got the JAWA/JUPITUS 'J' okay, but was clueless about the 'S'. I stared at the down clue a lot. Went? Rent? Neither of those makes sense. Went? Rent? No, not those. Went? Rent? I really wanted rent, even though it made the least sense, because it would have made Jupitur, which I can imagine would have been tempting to use in making this puzzle, if only that had been the guy's name.

Of course, I later remembered 100 other times when I've seen essentially this same clue for SENT, but I ended up having to google for the BBC guy before I could recognize it.

I wish I had done it with the shaded squares instead of the distracting circles. I still think it's pretty cool.

chefbea 1:57 PM  

Finally got the new york times digest and not only are there no circles, there are no gray squares!!! Glad I used the dead tree edition. Never would have understood what was going on.

Anonymous 2:28 PM  

Totally confused still...solved the entire puzzle correctly without ever understanding the themed entries. That HAS to be a first, and I hope a last!!! Sounds like it has something to do with AcrossLite's display of the puzzle, but I still don't get it. Solved JUPITUS/JAWA by realizing that JUPITER could be read along that dogleg from L to R, but I still don't get the circles??? My head is swimming trying to see what this is supposed to look like. Missing the themed clues takes all the satisfaction away from having "solved" the entire puzzle correctly.

Anonymous 2:53 PM  

So nice that Rex and family landed happily with PG and family! We, of course, took one look at the schools' vacation schedules months ago and said there was no way we were going to try traveling by plane or rail on the night of Dec. 23 -- good decision, as it turned out. We took turns driving cautiously through the night and half the next day, but at least wound up in Chicagoland before Santa! We may need another vacation to recuperate after our return, however...

The vertigo of the puzzle orbits, as Philly noted, was all too timely. I decided it was their broken lines in AcrossLite, with interruptions due to the black squares in the path of each, that caused the headaches -- We're totally conditioned to treat black squares as black holes, even with extra clues for the across answers at top center, center, and bottom center.

The ancient harmony of the celestial spheres is well echoed with fill like TUNED, TAKES A TURN, DESTINED, AS A RULE, AS A GIFT, ASK FOR THE MOON, MUSE, even THESSALY and ELEVATOR MUSIC (though "BELLY dance" may be a stretch)?

The darker EDGE to going around in lofty circles is in the KAPUT, NEGATIVE, EVIL EYE, FURY, DEMON, WILD ONE, BANE and return of WEILL's "Mack the Knife" with MANACLE...

Yes, the 36D clue "Trunk in your trunk" for AORTA was scraping bottom in a way, but I'm sure the Foodies among us enjoyed seeing GOUDA, TEAS and BANNOCKS and the Bee-you-tifull edible red root!

Be well, all... ∑;)

Anonymous 3:03 PM  

Re: Travel

Arrive Houston Sat 20 Dec from Grand Cayman. Most snow since the ice age in Portland, OR. Finally out on Wed 24 Dec. Continental v. poor on info, customer service, wait lists are lotteries like Shirley Jackson famous short story. Houston airport huge with walks of 15 minutes between Terminal C and E. Cacophony starts at 5 am. Air travel at main hall looks like Ellis Island. Avoid having my name changed to Corleone.

Finally get to Seattle and Horizon/Alaska for flight down to PDX. Staff helpful, friendly, free wine and local brew on short 45 min hop.

While weather can't be helped, Continental management did nothing to improve the situation by putting on an extra section when a flight could get out and land at PDX.

Yeah, I know: Gripe, Gripe, Gripe.

Next time I'm carrying a live chicken, just like Borat!

mac 4:13 PM  

This puzzle seemed easy and quick, but my eyes are hurting trying to find the planets. And @Doug, I'm with you, I thought a King Stephen a real possibility. The NE corner caused some problems, as did the SW (Natick for me, this mylou/elton crossing, what is mylou?)

Happy to see the pretty red rood, but there is absolutely NO Gouda cheese that would be considered semi-soft. Even the youngest cheese of that kind is still sliceable with a cheese slice!

Bigelow is a tea company based in Fairfield, CT. The tea is fine, and the owners are extremely community oriented and generous.

Got to go, we're seeing "Milk".

George NYC 4:13 PM  

I admire this construction a lot, but found it more distracting than fun for some reason. As one of my editors used to say, "this is too clever by half."

jeff in chicago 4:26 PM  

If anyone was thinking that maybe Mr. Berry was clever enough to even get the planets in their right locations, I'm sad to report that he did not. That would be asking too much, though. Here is a site that shows where the planets are at any given moment. And I mean MOMENT! (You can set the time to the second!)

And I forgot to mention: mmmmmm...beets!

Dan 4:40 PM  

Had almost the exact same experience as Rex (puzzle, not flying), down to the unfamiliar names. But I knew exactly how to spell SELLECCA, embarrassingly.

The travel-snafu-turned-holiday-miracle-with-a-little-help-from-my-friends story almost sounds like a movie. Except if it were Hollywood, Rex would be recently divorced, and PG a widow, and you can guess the plot from there... (With Elle Fanning as Sahra! Sorry.)

Ulrich 4:57 PM  

@mac: I'm with you 100% re. gouda, but held my tongue b/c I didn't want to steal your thunder. When it's really old, it gets so hard that you can break off layers with a bare hand--my favorite cheese in the world.

Too bad the puzzle was seriously compromised by the way it looks in AcrossLite. As others have noted, it looks very different in the mag. version, where the orbits are shown by concentric squares of alternating colors (white/grey) that look great and make solving pleasurable.

Leon 5:00 PM  

This was a good day to get the print edition. I agree with others that the shading was far better than the circles.

The print edition also had the Lives They Lived - Capsule tributes to some who died this year. Quite a few were crossword answers through the years: Charlton Heston 04/17/2008(Tribute crossword) and four others, Jim McKay
02/06/08 and three others, Levi Stubbs 06/09/07 , 01/25/06 , Philip Agee 08/24/94 , 05/23/2004 , and Bobby Fischer 03/15/94.

Anonymous 5:10 PM  

Easy puzzle. Didn't really care for the theme, which was hard to see and therefore not much fun. Elevator music was the only outstanding clue/answer.

From construction point of view I could see it would be hard but at the same time it seemed pointless.

For pure construction-oriented puzzles I much prefer the one that Rex didn't like the other day -- the one by Joe K where half the puzzle was the mirror image of the other and only 13 letters were used.

fergus 5:55 PM  

Even with the shaded ORBITS, I found this one kinda ho-hum. I wonder, though, whether the positioning of the planets corresponds to the present, or some other date in history? That would be cool. Maybe adding a couple more well-known moons? That would be impressive.

There's a really cool statue of SUN YAT-SEN in San Francisco. In St. Mary's Square, just above the BofA building. Great place for financial workers to do Tai-Chi, have lunch, or reinvent the tedium of the day during a break, if you know what I mean.

evil doug 5:55 PM  

Travel by air is a miracle.

Think of the physics. Incredible, even in a static vacuum.

Now put the system into motion. The maintenance status of ultra-complex machines. Something breaks. Do we have maintenance people in place capable of the fix? Do we have the part in station? How long will it take to fix it---if indeed we've isolated the real problem? Not that unusual to work for hours, only to find the gremlins continue to spin their alchemy. Somebody here wanted an "extra section"; you think there are just spare airplanes hanging around? If it's flyable, it's out earning revenue.

What about weather? Even if it's great here, how is it upstream? Downstream? Compound our flight with dozens, maybe hundreds, of others fighting for the same airspace when an opening appears.

What about crews? Their duty periods aren't open-ended. Do the delays push them against their FAA limitations? If so, can we get another crew to replace them? There are some reserves in five or ten crew bases, but the number is small. If we find a warm body can we get him/her to where we need them?

Air traffic hardware is practically steam-powered---1950's technology, vacuum tubes, strained to the max. Controllers are pushed to their own limits, often understaffed.

You wonder why employees are fraying at the seams? Any wrinkle appears, and 180 people are at the agent's throat. On the sealed up tube, stuck on a taxiway for hours, the flight attendants are an easy target for anger and frustration, even though they control nothing beyond the galley---and even then the airplane can't budge without every butt in a seat, including theirs.

So the dance goes on, with permutations beyond one's imagination. It's truly amazing that such a huge percentage of flights are successfully---and safely---completed. And at a price roughly half of what it cost in 1979 corrected for inflation.

My retirement flight was in April of 2004. I've been on an airplane four times since, and it's only kicking and screaming as my wife drags me to the airport. Stay home. Enjoy the peace. But if you choose to fly, don't be that whining POS who thinks the world revolves around him....


Anonymous 6:18 PM  

The puzzle itself wasn't too hard, but I am still having trouble with the theme. Even after reading all the comments, I still haven't found earth and uranus.

Can someone help? Thanks!

evil doug 6:22 PM  

Have we really made it all day without any Uranus jokes? Let me help. Michael says, "I still haven't found earth and uranus."

Michael, you don't want to find my anus.


Anonymous 6:51 PM  

I loved this puzzle. I don't understand how anyone who knows the number of planets wouldn't get the theme after reading 7a and 124a. Even the online text of 7a points out what the circles are all about.

edith b 6:52 PM  


For URANUS at the U in SUSIE at 4Down go to the N in ONUS at 2Down,
go down to the S in ASAGIFT.

For EARTH, got to the first E in BEET at 32 Down, turn left at the R in RAE at 38Across, go down to the H in ,HATCH at 53Across.

dk 6:56 PM  

Spaceballs RV bumper sticker: I (heart) URANUS.

dk 7:05 PM  

@joho, Saw Benj. Button last night and we are still talking about it. Any one know the period/events surround F. Scott Fitzgerald when he wrote the short story. I only hope it is not a Rosebud thing (see Citizen Kane and know about Marion Davies for clarity on this point).

chefbea 7:38 PM  

tried to change my avatar. lets see if it worked

fergus 7:46 PM  


I have a nice collection of the stories, which are each introduced with a couple of paragraphs. According to FSF,

"The story was inspired by a remark of Mark Twain's to the effect that it was a pity that the best part of life came at the beginning and the worst part at the end."

The story was difficult to sell because, "I know that the magazines want only flapper stories from me."

Anonymous 8:05 PM  

OK, everyone. I'm sitting on a balcony in Cancun, Mexico, having finished this puzzle (and tomorrow's as well, for that matter) and read everyone's comments. I'm "borrowing" my connectivity from an unknown source, and it's about 75 degrees now. I traveled yesterday, but kept up to date by doing that one on the plane, so I will have to catch up with your comments later. My purpose in this post is to tell you that no one can use travel anymore as an excuse for not keeping up with the puzzle (or this blog). Only a few years ago, even if you just went to a small resort town not far outside the NYC metro area, and you couldn't find a dead tree edition, you were stuck. Nowadays, anything is possible. I an also happy to report to anyone who cares, that a portable Sirius radio picks up the signal all the way down here, even though you're only supposed to be able to get it in the US.
The puzzle? Meh....

Anonymous 8:05 PM  

@edith b Thanks!

@evil doug No thanks!

blackbird 8:07 PM  

Thank YOU.

Home safe...

Mike the Wino 9:22 PM  


I know of which you speak. I work for the company that builds 777's. I'm a flight line you know, we get them ready for their first flights, and then on to delivery to the customer. When the pilots take them up and "break" them, often times it takes us several hours to troubleshoot the issues, and sometimes days to get replacement parts!

I can only imagine what it's like in service. Safety of flight replacement parts may be hundreds (if not thousands) of miles away. Another plane may not be available. The crew is now past their allowable flight window. (That happens with our test pilots, too.)

I agree with you. I build them, but even though they are so safe to fly on, I'd rather drive.

Mike the Wino 9:28 PM  

Oh, and I really liked the puzzle, even though the circles made my head spin.......

Unknown 9:49 PM  

This puzzle was a big FAIL for me. No challenge, no fun. I solved it in record time without ever having to refer to or use the theme. I'm not a fast solver (often have to put the Sunday puzzle down for a day and come back to it), but I thought this was exceptionally easy based on clues alone. I suppose it's nice to know about the construction feat and see how all the planets fit properly in their orbits, but it was all rather irrelevant post solving. I'm not even bothering to try to locate the planet in each orbit because, well, I just don't care at this point, and if I wanted that sort of Sunday activity I'd do the word search in my local rag. I wish the cluing had been more challenging so I would have been forced to rely on the theme.

Ulrich 10:40 PM  

@evil and mike: Boys, did you ever succeed in confirming every fear I have of flying...and I paid big bucks to get to Tahiti in March for a cruise of French Polynesia on a 4-mast barkentine, which starts with a flight around half of the world and back...thx for getting me into the mood!!!

Mike the Wino 11:10 PM  


Please don't fear flying. The vast majority of flights each day are on-time and glitch free. The only reason I don't prefer to fly is because I can't afford Business or First Class, and most of the airlines Economy class seating is too cramped for me. If I could spring for the upgraded seating, my preference would be to fly.

It's so safe, much more so than driving. (Maybe not as safe as sailing, but I wouldn't know for sure, especially around Somalia...)

The negatives get sensationalized, but they really are few and far between for the number of flights and air miles flown.

I hope you have great flights, and a wonderful time on your trip!

evil doug 3:58 AM  


The point is more appreciation than safety.

But watch out for pirates on that cruise....


nurturing 11:07 PM  

This is the very first time I've done the puzzle (we only subscribe to the Sunday Times) without a single writeover! I always do them in ink and try to keep the grid from looking too messy on completion. That adds to my joy in doing the puzzle, as does forming attractive letters in each space. Not any pen will do, either. I have really good pens for the puzzle. Call me old-fashioned, but it's all part of the puzzle solving experience.

Today -- sheer perfection! I even got all the planets, although that seemed more like a word-search activity to me, and I despise word searches.

I'm so happy I'm going to reveal my formerly "anonymous" identity!

I was thrilled to find in reading Rex's blog that this wasn't a nursery school edition of the NYT Sunday puzzle given as a New Year's gift to us by Patrick Berry. Rex even deemed it to be "medium" in difficulty. For me it flowed almost effortlessly, also a first.

Way to start 2009! Happy New Year, everyone!

Anonymous 9:52 PM  

Phill Jupitus was a gimme for me: he's the host of a very well-known UK show called Nevermind the Buzzcocks and he's a regular on Stephen Fry's wonderfully funny QI. The latter is especially worth watching on Guba or Youtube or wherever it's available.

As for the puzzle, it was very, very good: nicely designed, with some interesting fill. Nice touch by Berry in leaving Pluto out since it has declassified as a planet.

kas 12:00 PM  

Interesting puzzle -- didn't know Jupitus -- but figured out the rest

Anonymous 2:54 PM  

Loved the puzzle. The phrase "tour de force" came to mind. For some reason the Vancouver Sun credited it to Elizabeth Gorski and titled it "Laughing all the Way". Go figger!

Sue O 2:31 AM  

Christmas travel sucks, in the words of my slightly crude offspring. So do syndicated puzzles, because I just got this today (Jan 4th) and whipped it out while watching "Winged Migration" with hubby. I've been following Rex for a while without commenting (or hardly ever) and decided to comply with his ever-so-polite request to join in.
I had a pretty easy time with this, even though I didn't get the twist until almost at the end. I had "pun" in the middle for a loooong time (Thespaly, anyone?) which threw me off rather. Then I couldn't figure out why only eight planets and was searching fruitlessly for Pluto in the inner ring until hubby enlightened me.
I quite liked the trunk in your trunk thing.
Only do the Sundays, so that's it for this week. I finally got caught up on all of the Sunday crosswords I missed in the fall and summer. Yay! Which speaks to being snowbound over the holidays.

Anonymous 2:36 AM  

Oh yes, I meant to say that this puzzle seemed really easy to me, but whenever that happens I always figure that the puzzle-maker and I must think along the same lines. I'll have to start keeping track of such things.

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