SATURDAY, Jun 6 2009 — Nematodes piercing mouthparts / Creator of Stupefyin Jones / Killer * green-skinned Batman villain / Space-scanning proj)

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Constructor: Doug Peterson

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: none

Word of the Day: NEMATODE (7D: Nematodes' piercing mouthparts => STYLETS) — n.

Any of several worms of the phylum Nematoda, having unsegmented, cylindrical bodies, often narrowing at each end, and including parasitic forms such as the hookworm and pinworm. Also called roundworm.

[From New Latin Nēmatōda, phylum name : NEMATO– + New Latin -ōda (alteration of -oīdea, from neuter pl. of Greek -oeidēs, -oid).] (

I have spent many an agonizing / exhilarating Saturday afternoon wrestling with Doug Peterson's themeless puzzles before — he is a frequent contributor to Newsday's "Saturday Stumper" (follow link from here) — and so it was with shock and awe (the good kind) that I Tore This Puzzle Apart. We're talking early-career Mike Tyson bout fast. Fastest Saturday I've done in recent memory. Without racing (I rarely speed on late-week puzzles), I finished in just over 8. That's ridiculous. Took me twice that long to do yesterday's puzzle, for instance. I should fault the puzzle for being so damned easy, or for its (relatively) high word count — I'm used to the wide open grids late in the week, not this choppy, black-square heavy stuff — but the puzzle is so damned likable (if you like what I like, which Doug apparently does), that I have to give it admiration and respect, even if I think it was better suited to a Friday (not Doug's decision).

Started at 1A: Creator of Stupefyin' Jones, which I did not know-know, but at this point in my solving career, having seen names like "Moonbeam McSwine" used to clue "Li'l Abner" creator AL CAPP, it was easy to plunk down that very educated guess (note: Stupefyin' Jones is a super hot woman-"robot" whose beauty mesmerizes men — see clip from "Li'l Abner" movie here). AL CAPP got me LEER (2D: Satyric expression) and CAEN (3D: Columnist who wrote "Baghdad by the Bay") bam bam (I just featured CAEN as my Word of the Day not too long ago — you're welcome), then PIG, with its UGLY (43A: Hard to watch) clue, 6D: Source of blood for blood pudding. After that, the NW was done in short order, and the two 15s were easy to pick up from there. Well, "LEAVE IT TO BEAVER" was a piece of cake (15A: This and Sputnik were launched on the same day), while SEEING-EYE SINGLE might not have been, especially for non-baseball fans (17A: Soft ground ball that finds its way between infielders). It's a very real thing, and one of my favorite recent grid-spanners. Once you had those 15s, the NE was practically done, so no trouble there.

The first place my (metaphorical) pencil stopped moving was somewhere around the Bay Area of the puzzle's west coast. Off of AVIONICS (4D: High-tech navigation), I got CROC (32A: Killer _____ (green-skinned "Batman" villain)) and then C-CUP (32D: Bikini spec) no problem ("Batman" + boobs = my wavelength), but then I had PEN----- and could think only of PENHURST. I'm not even sure if PENHURST is a real place. I eventually had to circle back to pick up PENZANCE (44A: Cornwall resort port), and from there, I descended into the only part of the puzzle where I struggled even faintly. I had one of the 15s down south — "ITSY BITSY SPIDER" (63A: Determined one in a kid's song) — but for the other I had * POTATOES (59A: Nitty-gritty) and no phrases were coming to me. Just SMALL POTATOES, which was wrong and didn't fit. So now I'm caught between POTATOES and PENZANCE and I glance at the timer and it reads something like 6 minutes and so of course I freeze up (hint, don't look at the timer, ever, or your mojo will fly out the door). I drop in HOTS for 54D: Cutting-edge set, even though it's a horrible answer. I imagined a People magazine sidebar called "HOTS" and "NOTS." That was my justification. This made things worse and hid the first part of the POTATOES answer from me even further. Finally I deciphered the clue at 45D: Poles work for them ("them" = units of currency), and from there it was simply a matter of remembering/spelling correctly ZLOTYS. A few seconds later I had everything but the entirety of 51A: On. I had to get it Entirely from the crosses, and even now "On" seems a poor fit for its answer, AS TO. I guess you have an opinion ON something, and you have an opinion AS TO something. Bah. A horrid way to end an otherwise joyous puzzle.


  • 38A: Classroom groan elicitor (pop quiz) — another magical moment; with the entire east and southeast wide open, I went REPO (28D: Certain seizure) to POP QUIZ to QUIXOTIC (39D: Not at all practical) with no hesitation.
  • 40A: Rice-Eccles Stadium athlete (Ute) - would have been hard, but I had the "U"
  • 41A: Subatomic particle in a collider (Hadron) — a name that's been in the news, though I wanted to spell it like Tippie HEDRON.
  • 55A: Prepares to shoot, as an arrow (nocks) - vaguely remember this terminology, maybe from summer camp.
  • 54A: Film editing technique (dissolve) — hard to see until I changed HOTS to HDTV (54D: Cutting-edge set); then it was easy.
  • 7D: Nematodes' piercing mouthparts (stylets) — the one clue that was a total baffler, though once I had the STYL- part, there were limited possibilities. I was dismayed that neither STYLUS nor STYLI no STYLUSES would fit.
  • 10D: Strung souvenir (lei) - coulda been a UKE.
  • 14D: Lithium's numero atomico (tres) — you know how the Spanish love their lithium...
  • 24A: Astrological gray area (cusp) — didn't know the CUSP was as vague as all that.
  • 37D: Resident near the Isthmus of Kra (Thai) — sounds soooo scifi, that isthmus.
  • 47D: The Delaware Prophet's tribe (Lenape) — tribe name I learned ... from crosswords.
  • 52D: Space-scanning proj. (SETI) — Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, which I also learned from crosswords.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


HudsonHawk 8:47 AM  

And you want to be my LATEX salesman?

This was definitely faster than yesterday for me, but maybe closer to Easy-Medium. I started with POP QUIZ and worked through the North after that. The West Coast down to the southwest were the last to fall.

I wanted OWL for the Rice-Eccles athlete, which made me think the Bikini spec could be an A-Test misdirection for K-TON. CAUSTIC solved that and then coming up with the Polish currency was the last hang-up. Fun puzzle.

retired_chemist 8:50 AM  

Fun. Kudos to Mr. Peterson. It has been a very good week. – Nice writeup too, Rex.

Liked a lot of things about this themeless Saturday puzzle. Although the cluing was less brilliant than yesterday’s, it was quite good. FOUR grid-spanning answers – nice. Entirely possible to solve, despite (or perhaps because of) lots of different frames of reference: from baseball to kid lit to science to 50’s pop culture to …… whatever.

The first across pass got AL CAPP (1A), LASERS (33A), POP QUIZ (38A, although POP TEST was a backup if crosses contravened that), HADRON (41A), PENZANCE (44A), and nothing else. Just kept CHUGging (29D) and turned the Q in POP QUIZ into QUIXOTIC (39D), confirming 38A and opening up the SE. 46A was ELISE, 49A had to be LATEX, and that toehold got me LENAPE (47D).

LEAVE IT TO BEAVER and Sputnik were launched on the same day? How cool is that! Who knew? As an MIT freshman in Oct 1957, I was interested in Sputnik but much too busy to think of Beaver at all.

SEEING EYE SINGLE (17A) - WTF? But Urban Dictionary backs the constructor up, so I accept it. STYLETS (7D) is a new one – nice. NOCKS (55A) and DOZY (31D) – if you say so.

Rice in the clue for 40A led me to OWL (Rice mascot), but nooooo…….. it ‘s UTE. Liked the clue for 45D ZLOTYS. The clue was messing with my head and trying to get me to think of something dealing with magnets when my epiphany occurred. I’m in good company here: Amy Reynaldo reports the same two false starts on her blog. Adding HH's comment, it looks like OWL will be popular today.....

I-20 (59A) MEAT AND POTATOES and I-10 (63A) ITSY BITSY SPIDER were well clued but it took my filling in more than a third of each via crosses to get them.

Anonymous 9:00 AM  

Sadly this was not easy for me ... I got the top third OK but had to google 4 answers to finish (CROC, ELISE, THAI, and LENAPE). I had LAKOTA for the latter and have never heard of NOCKS, so I wasn't going to crack that corner.

Dough 9:10 AM  

@chemist wrote the perfect definition of a nerd without even a wink: "As an MIT freshman in Oct 1957, I was interested in Sputnik but much too busy to think of Beaver at all." Nice.

I thought this was fairly easy. But I found myself solving the long entries to get to the short entries. Not my favorite way of doing a puzzle.

I blundered with Killer BROC (hey it's also green and makes perfect Batman sense!) crossing B-CUP. Sheesh.

But you've got to love the word QUIXOTIC, so all is well.

retired_chemist 9:13 AM  

@ Dough - it wasn't without a wink... :-)

dk 9:20 AM  

@chemist, I was 7 and more interested in LEAVEITTOBEAVER, but grew up to be more interested in Sputnik. Recently vacationed at the Very Large Array. Thus SETI was a gimmie.

Imagine my dismay when as a 10 year old my bus driver's name was Eddie Haskill (sp?).

The Southern hemisphere gave me trouble as I kept thinking of ants building dams and Little Engines that Could... spiders never came to mind until MEATANDPOTATOES dropped on my plate.

And of course I had LSD instead of ELS.

Fine Saturday fare, thanks Doug.

Leon 9:22 AM  

Thanks Mr. Peterson for a fun Saturday.

The Lenape and their ancestors lived on Mannahatta for perhaps 5000 years before European contact. A new web site: Manahatta Project also has a cool map
that lets you see Manhattan back in 1609 with a slide taking you to the current satellite photo.

Blue Stater 9:23 AM  

I was about to rant at the lack of connection between clue ("Cutting-edge set") and answer (HDTV) in 54D, when it came to me ("set" refers to TV set). This pair struck me as similar to "On" and ASTO, and even with Rex's explanation I still don't get it. Not a happy Saturday, and now that I get the TimesReader edition I can't circle offending clues any more. OTOH (for some reason I don't understand) I'm now able to do the puzzles faster because the TR version lets you do them electronically.

Jeffrey 9:41 AM  

Thursday time for me. Themeless, easy and fun. Loved it.

Unknown 9:55 AM  

How often do you see a Q, an X and 2 Z's in a puzzle that isn't a pangram?

John 10:03 AM  

Much more fun than yesterdays. Filled in QUITEMAD for QUIXOTIC, but soon straightened that out. Didnt get it all right but enjoyed the experience nontheless.

Belvoir 10:10 AM  

8A "Drives obliquely"= TOES

Is that like, cheating at golf or something? Nudging the ball with your foot when no one's looking?

JannieB 10:11 AM  

Really fun Saturday workout. Never did get the LeNape/Nock crossing - I had a "C" at that intersection and never thought to change it.

bill from fl 10:12 AM  

It might have ended up being relatively easy, but I was nervous for while. I got going with REPO and CUSP (a border not really a gray area, but whatever) and POPQUIZ. Fortunately, I knew SEEING EYE SINGLE from listening to Harry Caray's play-by-play for the White Sox back in the 1970's, when I lived in Hyde Park. That was before Harry went over to the dark (north) side.

ArtLvr 10:12 AM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
joho 10:14 AM  

I liked this puzzle even though I didn't complete it without errors. I had AnTi/ZLiTYS thinking that when you're "On" somebody you're anti, against them. I didn't know ZLOTYS. I do agree than "On" was a weak, or even wrong, clue for ASTO.

I also had cOCKS not NOCKS ... which made the Delaware tribe LEcAPE. Oh well, if nothing else, I learned something today.

Oh, and I enjoyed this puzzle very much ... thanks Doug Peterson!

ArtLvr 10:14 AM  

Oops! i had Rape for the Certain seizure at 28D, not REPO -- also Cocks at 55A where NOCKS went. I plead carelessness in the former error, not double-checking at the end, and LENAPE was a tribe I may have known once but couldn't quite recall...

Other than those, I was very happy with the puzzle even if I had the same "small" potatoes bent as Rex for a while... Don't miss the LAT today by the same author, master of wide-open spaces!


PlantieBea 10:30 AM  

It is interesting to see the differences in sovling experiences. Yesterday's puzzle seemed easier by far--orders of magnitude! This puzzle threw up road blocks everywhere. I got stuck for a long while with PENZANCE/ZLOTYS and the O in AS TO. Plus, I had ACERBIC for CAUSTIC (usually think of very BASIC materials such as LYE being CAUSTIC).

In the top, I have never heard of a Seeing Eye Single and it took ages to fit Leave it to Beaver. Didn't know STYLETS, took it way too long to reason out STALWART. And on and on.

Tough, tough, tough. I think I'll go sit in the corner with pecans and ice cream and listen to David Bowie.

edith b 10:31 AM  

It was the form of this puzzle, not the substance that made it a simpler solve than Friday's effort.

The double stacks in the North and South made compromises in those areas inevitable and, therefore, an easier solve. When the 4 15 letter clues showed themselves tha back of this puzzle was broken and I had only the Midlands remaining and the problem I had with HADRON was easily addressable through the crosses.

Form trumped function today.

Glitch 10:33 AM  

I initially had a problem with Acid=Caustic as I "learned" the latter was a Base/Lye/High pH. I now have learned that some reputable places define caustic as acid / acerbic too.

"AS TO" my next nit, my comment would be avionics is a general term for aviation-electronics, some of which are not "hi-tech".

"ON" @Belvoir's question, a carpenter will "toe nail" when he can't drive a nail at a right angle.


joey joe joe junior shabadoo 10:35 AM  

Is an HDTV still considered "cutting edge"? It's been hard to find a TV in stores that isn't HD. Now the cutting edge stuff refers to more arcane specs like 240Hz refresh rate on an LCD or the ability for the TV to connect to Netflix and download movies. HD is pretty pedestrian at this point.

Noam D. Elkies 10:49 AM  

44A:PENZANCE is known to me only from Gilbert and Sullivan; it was only a few years ago that I looked it up on a map and thought its location explained why pirates would hole up there — though Wikipedia reports that, au contraire, Penzance's only known historical connection to piracy is as target, not source, and "at the time the libretto was written, 1879, Penzance had become popular as a peaceful resort town, so the very idea of it being overrun by pirates was amusing."

Pirates of Penzance is, in turn, the source of the Major-General's Song, and thus of Tom Lehrer's parody "The Elements", which naturally includes lithium. If this 18- or 21-hadron element has a número atómico, though, it's probably written "litio"...


HudsonHawk 10:53 AM  

@Glitch, I took the TOES clue as referring to driving a golf ball. If you hit it off the toe of the club (which just came up a few days ago), the result will not be a straight shot, but rather an oblique angle from the intended (hoped for, in my case) path.

Awww %$#@, I TOEd it!

jae 10:58 AM  

Easy-medium for me. Got the 15s in the south with very few crosses, but the north took a bit longer even with ALCAPP being a gimmie.

Still trying to make ASTO work.

RELIANT came slowly and I needed to check the PENZANCE spelling with my bride thinking that the Brits often use S instead of Z in words.

Orange 11:00 AM  

@joey joe, hey! Let the HDTV keep its "cutting-edge" label. Seemed wrong to me too, but if the NYT says my TV is cutting-edge, I feel better about myself.

Solid Friday solving time for me, whereas Friday's took a Saturday amount of time—but I had two margaritas in me and it was bedtime, so I didn't think it was actually Saturday-tough. You know what's weird? For the speediest speed demons, a wicked Saturday puzzle takes maybe four times longer than an easy Monday puzzle, and an easier Friday puzzle is only about 2 Mondays' worth of time. What's your Monday-to-Saturday multiplier? Is it more like 5 to 10 times longer?

retired_chemist 11:02 AM  

How I saw AS TO = "on:"

AS TO (some topic), I believe......

On (some topic), I believe......

Denise 11:07 AM  

There was so much I didn't know -- and I am in Chicago without my baseball font-of-knowledge husband. I thought "seeing eye single" was going to be some sort of weird theme.

Anyway, in Falmouth, MA (Cape Cod), we have Penzance Point (near Woods Hole). I visited Cornwall once & went to the original Falmouth & Penzance, etc. That, I knew.

I left an error -- had TSAR for THAI, and the crosses didn't help.

Bill from NJ 11:09 AM  

In carpentry, if you don't have a straight shot at a nail and have to drive it in at an oblique angle it is called "toeing in."

Leon 11:22 AM  

In golf, part of the Iron is called TOE, see 29A 06/04/09.

TOE: The verb definition includes the golf and carpentry usage. @Bill from NJ,you nailed it.

fikink 11:23 AM  

Came up with the Zee through Gilbert and Sullivan. Didn't understand why someone would COCK an arrow for a while.

I must admit to trying DUMB IDEA for QUIXOTIC, as a lark.

Speaking of which, loved your images, Rex. Julie Newmar and Dali's Don Quixote - nice...

I tried to make a metal sculpture of Picasso's Don Quixote once...a dumb idea!

Bill, learned TOEING from my dad, of course.

Two Ponies 11:26 AM  

So much to love today.
A little something for every crevice of my trivia-loving brain.
Penzance is a lovely place as is that entire coastal area including its neighbor Mouse Hole. Not as cool a name as Bad Axe but very whimsical.
Loved Quixotic. I always wonder when I see that word why it is not pronounced like the man it describes.
Side note from yesterday re: Martin Ashwood-Smith. A puzzle book I'm doing right now has a puzzle of his from June 5, 1991 and it says he is (or was) a taxi driver from Victoria, British Columbia.
Today was a great, if a bit easy, solve.
Today is also the 65th anniv. of the invasion of Normandy. Thanks to all the veterans out there.

Glitch 11:34 AM  


Not being a golfer, I had to fall back on my junior high carpentry class.

As others subsequently pointed out, "toe" works for both golf & carpentry.

Oddly enough, due to my lack of carpentry skill, I often inadvertantly "drive at an angle" too --- and use the same term as you golfers use ;-)


retired_chemist 11:47 AM  

interesting to see the interchangeability: toe/drive a golf ball/nail. Never thought about it. Does anyone "shank" a nail?

Anonymous 11:48 AM  

@Orange - My average Monday / Saturday multiplier doesn't exist, due to the nature of infinity, whose symbol was coined by someone sometime, as we have all been recently reminded. The fact that to me it still is somebody/sometime explains all.

Brendan Emmett Quigley 11:49 AM  

Nice TOTP Bowie performance.

As for the puzzle: lots of easy stuff, I agree there. What trivia at LEAVE IT TO BEAVER. I too prefer them wide-open, but this one had some fun entries.

Jeffrey 11:53 AM  

@orange - My typical Saturday times are around 7-8 times long than Monday, with a wide variance.

HudsonHawk 12:06 PM  

@Glitch and r_c, given my lack of carpentry skills, I'm pretty sure I could shank a nail (but hopefully miss my thumb). Sadly, I have become skilled at assembling Ikea furniture...

Doug 12:09 PM  

Does the Beav play on TV anymore? I started watching it when we moving from Canada to Racine, WI in '77 and I thought it was some ancient show, not one that was just 15+ years old. Geez, that's how long ago Seinfeld started and I became KEEN on LATEX (@HudsonHawk: "Kramer, say Vandalay, VANDALAY!)

As I just got about 3/4 before the lawn called, it's definitely on the Easy side of Saturdays. Very enjoyable though!

Doug 12:10 PM  

Sheesh "moving"? Time to retake my EFL classes.

Unknown 1:09 PM  

Very easy for a Saturday- for me. Wish I had timed myself.
Being from the Bay Area- 'Caen' goot me going in the North. 'Seeingeyesingle' was a gimme for a baseball-head. "Popquiz" helped in the mid-east while 'itsybitsyspider' wasn't the first thing I though, but it was the second, so it didn't hold me up at all. 'Quixotic' gave me the biggest smile today.

Clark 1:47 PM  

Much harder for me than yesterday. I finished it, but I will never admit how long it took me. Thanks to Rex and recent discussions for getting me CAEN and TOES. LEAVE IT TO BEAVER opened up the top. POPQUIZ / QUIXOTIC opened up the East and South. Having SNIPE instead of GRIPE messed me up something awful in the West/central. Once I figure that out, Gilbert and Sullivan came to my rescue, gave me the Z for ZLOTYS and I was done.

Why is a SEEING EYE SINGLE so called? Is it because it makes the fielders seems blind, as in, the fielders couldn't see it, only their seeing eye dogs could? Or is it that the ball seems to know precisely where to go as if guided by a seeing eye dog? The latter sounds more likely.

fikink 1:58 PM  

@Clark, worse than SNIPE, I had TRIPE at first! (Guess who thinks she is golden? - it was a real mockery of myself!)

slypett 2:02 PM  

Googled Decius, Rice-Eccles and The Delaware Prophet. Otherwise smoothish sailing in a fun sea.

Anne 2:04 PM  

I ended with three errors as I did not get the z or l in zlotlys. I saw lit as stiff only when I came here and I should have known Penzance. Oh, well. And I didn't get the n in nocks. I have never heard of that or Lenape either.

I was not surprised to see Rex tag this as easy because I finished in much less time than usual. I'm still not telling how much time. But I did think it was easier than yesterday and had some clever clues. Very nice.

mac 2:05 PM  

Loved the puzzle and my time spent on it, but it was definitely harder for me than yesterday's.
ELise/LeNape/Nocks were like a double personal Natick. I simply guessed and got lucky.

A few little problems on the way:

Don't know much about Batman, so 32A started out as a frog, until I figured an F-cup was overdoing it a bit. I loved "stalwart" and got it easily, which helped a lot in that corner. Also love 54A "Hah", 18A "or not", quixotic and Penzance, which I remembered, having visited Cornwall. That was actually the problem, I tried Land's End first....

What a great puzzle day, another Doug Peterson on the other coast! I'm going to print it out, enjoy it better that way than online. First to the Farmer's Market.

HudsonHawk 2:07 PM  

@Clark, your last explanation is closest. In the movie Bull Durham, Crash Davis refers to it as a "ground ball with eyes", aka a SEEING-EYE SINGLE. Wiki defines them as "A ground ball that barely gets between two infielders for a base hit, seeming to see the only spot where it would be unfieldable."

chefbea 2:10 PM  

Fairly easy for me but still had to come here to finnish. Loved meat and potatoes and of course the song I sing to my grand daughter all the time "the itsy bitsy spider".

wanted crisco or oleo for shortening.

Better finnish packing. Leave tomorrow for Italy. Hope to get to the blog at some point.


jae 2:31 PM  

Meant to add I liked this one.

@Orange -- I do Mons. in 5-8 min. Weekends sometimes take over an hour (not this one however) so 5 to 10 X seems about right.

Mike 3:39 PM  

I posted this on Orange's blog, but I had an INSANE time on the puzzle, as in just over six minutes; I don't think I've ever had even close to that kind of time on a Saturday. I was completely on Doug Peterson's wavelength, knew most of the obscure stuff in the puzzle, and the long entries at the bottom in particular fell so quickly it was almost scary. Six minutes for me is like a solid Wed/Thur time.

It helps that I was actively enjoying the fill too, like HADRONS, QUIXOTIC, ZLOTYS, POPQUIZ, and like many have mentioned, the great clue/trivia for LEAVE IT TO BEAVER.

Kudos to Doug Peterson for a fantastic puzzle!

edith b 3:55 PM  

A variation on SEEINGEYESINGLE is when the commentator says something like "the ball seemed to have eyes" as it got into the outfield.

Baseball has a wealth of those kind of expressions. My favorite is when a pop fly lands just out of reach of both the infielders and outfielders converging on it - it is referred to as a "Texas League" single.

Stan 3:55 PM  

Numerous answers completely unknown to me (e.g., Zlotys, Nock, Hadron) so left with too many blank squares to guess. But I really liked the long answers, complete absence of crosswordese, and standout words like Dissolve and Trounced.

joho 4:07 PM  

I forgot to mention that I loved LEAVEITTOBEAVER as I just discovered recently at this blog that he and I share a June 2 birthday.

@chefbea ... ciao! Have a wonderful time in Roma ... I envy you!

foodie 4:43 PM  

I did this last night, thinking I'd start it, get tired and finish this morning, but it simply unfolded, with one error at the intersection of LENAPE and NOCKS. I really loved this puzzle, and not just because it was relatively doable for a Saturday. It's the Four Fantatabulous Fifteenmers that I Found Fenomenal. I agree with Rex's characterization: A Joyous Puzzle!

@ Orange, I hope that sanfranman59 will complete his data analysis re this week's median solve times on line . It would answer your question. So far Friday seems to be 4-5 times longer than Mondays. BUT there's a major caveat: the number of people who solved late week seems to be half of the number who solved on Mon/Tues. So, there seems to be a lot of self-selection...

re the ratios: I imagine that there's a constant in all solve times: How long it takes a given person to read and enter the answers. The rest is processing speed. I imagine it takes even the fastest people ~90 sec to do the basic read/write part? So, Orange, if you do Mondays in 2 minutes, it's taking you 1/2 min to process and come up with the answers. If you do Friday in 5 minutes, it's taking you 3.5 min to process the content, so 7 times longer. Does this seem like a reasonable way to think about it?

I guess I'm a data junkie. Another perfect definition of nerd(ette)...

chefbea 4:47 PM  

@foodie love that word nerdette

Ruth 5:45 PM  

I put in ITSYBITSYSPIDER with some reluctance, since in my experience the song is EENSYWEENSYSPIDER but I could see where it was going. Sure helped get the lower half. This was fun but, for me, doable but not easy.

fergus 5:48 PM  

Astonishingly easy today -- just one of those weird trances where every wild guess turns out to correct. Felt almost like I had some magical power. Maybe some synchronicity with the Beav' and Sputnik since I was born in that month, too.

Or maybe it was my harsh HS French teacher who got us reading so many classics, including EMILE. It's been 36 years but I could still take a POP QUIZ that required an analysis of how Rousseau and Voltaire differed in their views of human nature. A wrong accent mark or an errant virgule, and no chance of an A for you.

I don't really subscribe to the "Emile" plan, but I am keenly aware of the influence of great teachers.

Bob Kerfuffle 6:30 PM  

Fun puzzle; took me less than 20 minutes at the beach.

One write-over - had BARONET before CORONET.

fergus 6:33 PM  

And I like Foodie's reasoning with respect to mechanical and contemplative processing time. I find myself a little slow in the mechanics, which means I'll never be able to complete a puzzle in less than five minutes. But Monday and Tuesday rarely take me above ten. With today's solve at around 15 and yesterday's around 30, my ratios are seemingly comparatively low.

Raw time: a two or three factor, but with the rescaled adjustment of five minutes of mechanical processing tossed out as a constant in the equation, a variation of up to five or six from Monday to Saturday shows up.

This analysis reminds me of ACME's wish for damnable puzzles in tournaments, since the mechanical part would become ever more diluted. And I'm not meaning to dis the remarkable skills of speed-solvers ...

Dan 6:46 PM  

Thank you, Doug and Will, for including CAEN again so soon, so I can brag about making Herb Caen's column... twice! I bet even Andrea can't match that. Here are the Nexis hits:

The San Francisco Chronicle
SECTION: NEWS; Pg. D1; HERB CAEN; LENGTH: 926 words; HEADLINE: The Galloping Gamut; BYLINE: Herb Caen

ADD INFINITEMS: Newspaper publishers worry that teenagers aren't reading their fishwraps but I know two who do. Daniel Feyer, a 13-year-old eighth-grader at San Francisco Day School, read my item about a fancy anagram the other day and immediately twisted Saddam Hussein into "Damned as sushi." This inspired his pal 14-yr-old Alex Pappademas, who, in 37 seconds, transformed Berkeley, California, into "Fear Icky Neo-Liberal." I am proud to have these young people as readers . . .

(It turned out that Alex had plagiarized his anagram from Rolling Stone or somewhere - oops. He's a rather successful entertainment journalist now! GQ cover story, anyone? . . . Apologies for soiling your Google transcript, Alex.)

The San Francisco Chronicle
SECTION: NEWS; Pg. B1; HERB CAEN; LENGTH: 937 words; HEADLINE: Poor Herbert's Almanac; BYLINE: Herb Caen

. . . Daniel Feyer, the 13-yr-old eighth-grader at the S.F. Day School who got hooked on anagrams while perusing this fascinating column, comes up with another dandy. He has rejiggered "World Champion San Francisco Giants" into "Al cons fans. Craig can't win so drop him." More, Daniel, more! . . .

(Al Rosen was the Giants' GM, sometimes appearing in crosswords as [1953 American League MVP] . . . Roger Craig was the Giants' manager, and a different Roger Craig from the S.F. 49ers' star running back in the '80s/'90s. The two Roger Craigs has to be one of the great name coincidences of all time . . . I didn't do any more anagrams, because I no longer had boring eighth-grade classes in which to work on them . . . It's too bad that Larry King's The USA Today column has given "three-dot journalism" a bad name. RIP, Herb.)

mac 7:30 PM  

@Dan: great story. Didn't realize you started the word games that early!

michael 7:40 PM  

I did this relatively quickly for a Saturday for me, but nothing like the six and eight minute times others are posting. I agree with the poster who wrote that it was the form of the puzzle rather than the clue-answer combinations that made this doable.

I'm a baseball fan so seeing eye single was familiar (though not all that common), but it must have been mysterious for most solvers.

sanfranman59 7:42 PM  

This week's median solve times. As predicted by at least a couple people here, today's is better than yesterday's. I've been trying to check the times close to when NYT posts the next day's puzzle, but I didn't do so well yesterday or today because I wasn't near my computer at 6pm Eastern.

If there's interest out here, I'm willing to keep this going for a few weeks to get more stable average times. (Rex, just say the word if this is outside the scope of what you want to see on your blog and I'll cease and desist.)

Mon 7:10 (800)
Tue 8:20 (807)
Wed 9:51 (754)
Thu 15:36 (489)
Fri (< 1 hr) 28:53 (334)
Fri (all) 33:08 (428)
Sat (< 1 hr) 23:05 (298)
Sat (all) 25:13 (343)

michael 8:00 PM  


I wonder if there is a sampling problem here. Note how many more posters there are for the beginning of the week than the end of the week. This suggests to me that the less-skilled posters are not putting up times for Friday and Saturday -- doubtless because they can't finish these puzzles. It therefore seems to me that we can't conclude from this data anything about (1) average solving times; and (2) average ratio of solving times at different times of the week. I find this data interesting (mostly telling me that there are some good solvers out there -- which I already knew somewhat), but have no idea what it tells us.

Alex P... 8:05 PM  

Dude! That was totally uncool!

fergus 8:19 PM  

Dan, untrue, that was totally cool.

Number 33 taking hand-offs from and receiving short passes from the revered number 16 is a memory that lives on, even among those who care not for 49ers.

foodie 9:12 PM  

@ sanfranman59

thanks for doing this! If Rex is OK with it, then another week would be very interesting to see. It would tell us what the level of variation is form one week to the next.

@michael,I think you and I agree that the decreasing number of solvers as the week progresses makes the data harder to interpret. But I feel it is informative.

For instance, I think we can safely conclude that for a sizable number of people, Friday was harder than Saturday. And for ratios, I think we can probably get a sense of their lower limits. Since it's a good bet that the best solvers stayed across the entire week whereas the less experienced ones only attempted early, we can say that Friday took AT LEAST 4 times longer than Monday, but probably more.

A much more demanding but more precise way to analyze the ratio question is to start with those people who completed Friday/Saturday under 1 hour, and work back and find out how they did on the previous days of the week (assuming that they bothered with the easy days). One is then only selecting the best solvers and getting their ratios. But I'm not recommending it given the time it would take.

michael 9:35 PM  


Thanks for following this up. Everything you say makes sense to me.

fergus 9:44 PM  


I'm quite interested in this question, and I like your approach, but I have to think that any methodology would require a conscientious crowd ready to submit honest answers. That's to be found here "on" this blog, where the data might also be selectively mined, but it's probably a much more reliable source than the numbers we've seen from the New York Times.

Thanks to those who have supplied numbers of solving times, but as an an economist, and thus a Statitcstics guy, gradually becoming pleased with the direction the profession is taking after so many years, there's an openness to genuine human behavior.

So you may also be curious about a wider data set.

retired_chemist 9:51 PM  

Despite the fact that my times totally s**k compared to the upper echelon of solvers, I am posting them on Amy Reynaldo's blog. SFman59, where should I post them?

fergus 10:38 PM  

PECANS are a fine accompaniment to one's ice cream, if there's nothing else going on on Saturday night.

Pardon my preponderant stress on "on" but someone had to do it.

Stan 10:52 PM  

@Dan -- Great, interesting, cool post. Also, completely on topic.

nanpilla 11:43 PM  

Loved it!

fergus 11:57 PM  

16 + 33 = 49

-Bill Walsh

Anonymous 12:44 AM  

As re: time-to-completion over the course of a week ... One could probably track the stats posted in real time to the NYT site. If you checked in each day for a week, you could get a pseudo-representative (and comparative) sense of both average rate of completion success and average competion speed. I'd expect in the first instance that the total completing would attrit over a week (and, of course, that the average time to completion would increase.) The data would allow one to say, if nothing else, that among those who completed puzzles for each day of the week, average speed decreased at a rate of x. The total n is large enough to get a fairly robust statistical read. I think. I don't really know what I'm talking about.

sanfranman59 1:00 AM  

I well recognize that the medians I've been posting are by no means a scientifically valid experiment (I too am a statistician by trade). But I don't think they're completely uninformative. I'm sure that there are people at the top of the list who solve the puzzle on paper or, worse yet, wait for Rex (or some other web site) to reveal the answers and then type them into the web interface at breakneck speed. But I think the vast majority of times are probably legit and using medians rather than means ameliorates the effect of extreme values (at least to some degree). Yes, there's the problem of having what is undoubtedly a totally different sample on Monday from that on Friday and Saturday. It might be interesting to look at the median value for something like the 25th through 200th or so best times each day. That should eliminate any cheaters at the top of the list and the unworldly solvers.

Dan 1:27 AM  

There are usually only a few cheaters on any given day (not the same people - repeat offenders often get "banned" from the standings), and they're most evident on Fri/Sat. You could exclude them pretty easily - I or Orange could give you a list of the legitimate top-tenners... :)

@fergus - wow, I never noticed that arithmetic serendipity!, @mac - alas, I took a break from word games from ages 14-29, @Stan - thanks, @Alex P. - hey send me an email, oh, it's not you? darn. (I should really get in touch with him, we were good pals in 7th/8th grade...)

Orange 2:13 AM  

A good rule of thumb is "any applet solver with a faster time than danfeyer is a cheater, unless it's tylerhinman."

Anonymous 5:16 AM  

As to "Bikini spec" I was thinking biger than C CUP.
I was all MTON.

have a nice homey feel,

bring a nice feel of '60s suburbia.

SETI TASS SSRS cold war era stuff..

what's more America than AL CAPP and PECANS?

andrea cocks michaels 4:33 AM  

um...Nexis Herb Caen circa 1984-86
and then write to me with an apology!

(I think we're tied...he quoted one of my jokes about Nancy Reagan being the first artificial heart "donor" and one about Diane Feinstein having the first baboon "hair" transplant...I know, I know, but they were topical at the time! All about Barney Clark and baboon hearts, etc. heady times!)

william e emba 11:12 AM  

For me, LENAPE was a total gimme. I grew up in the Philadelphia area, near West Chester PA, where there used to be the Lenape Amusement Park. Rinky-dink kiddy rides and spook houses and all that, but hey, it was great, and our family went there most 4th of July's.

Like a lot of local names, it was Indian in origin, but I had no idea. But every time there's the littlest news item that refers to one of these Indians, a light bulb goes off. And yes, the Lenape are in the news every so often, and that particular light bulb burns extra bright.

So Delaware + tribe + 6 letters + fondly remembered defunct amusement park gave me LENAPE instantly. In fact, I ended up solving this puzzle bottom up thanks to that clue.

shrub5 3:35 AM  

My education ON sub-atomic particles ended in 1968 (thankfully) so I had never heard of a HADRON.

IMHO, blood pudding (with a contribution from a PIG) doesn't pass the breakfast test.

I had a tough time with this puzzle and was only able to fill in about 3/4 of it. But what I had was correct!!

I liked CHUGS (Downs without a break) but first thought it might be some football term I didn't know....

@Noam D. Elkies: Thanks for the mention of Tom Lehrer's Elements. I looked it up on YouTube. It was delightful and the version that included animation was clever.

  © Free Blogger Templates Columnus by 2008

Back to TOP