Cousin of a camel — WEDNESDAY, Jun 10 2009 — Locale of famous playing fields / Euro predecessor / Old Dead Sea kingdom / Obsessed mariner

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Constructor: Richard Silvestri

Relative difficulty: Challenging (took me Well over my normal Wednesday time)

THEME: FORTY-FOUR (55A: See 18-, 23-, 35- and 49-Across) — four theme answers are all in some way associated with the number "44" (except SUPER BOWL, which has the number 44 only on the date mentioned in the clue)

Word of the Day: ROSEATE (30A: Promising) — adj.

  1. Rose-colored: the roseate glow of dawn.
  2. Cheerful or bright; optimistic: a roseate outlook.

[From Latin roseus, rosy, from rosa, rose.]

A mostly joyless experience today. The mutually referential theme clues meant that you could get none of the theme answers without crosses. OK, maybe you could infer HANK AARON (what other truly famous Atlanta Braves are there) or SUPER BOWL (the date mentioned in the clue is a hint), but when all the theme answers want you to see 55-Across, and 55-Across says "see the theme answers" ... well, I lose interest slightly and start in on the non-theme fill. And today, for whatever reason, a lot of it seemed very vaguely or trickily clued, such that ... well, virtually everything N and NW of ROSEATE (30A: Promising) was patchy-to-empty for a while. Never heard of RUTHENIUM, so that was never going to come on its own, or with help from 55-Across. Can't think of a use for TAURO- (7D: Bullish beginning?) as a prefix (though that answer, I got), didn't know ETON had "playing fields" that were at all well known (6A: Locale of famous playing fields), OFTEN got a tricky clue that looked more noun than adverb (8D: A lot), RAFT got a similar (and similarly vague) clue (15A: Whole lot), and NTH got a great but very tricky clue as well (9D: Nonacademic degree). The NW was a disaster too until I finally saw the clue for TIN EAR (2D: Musical liability), which is practically crosswordese it's so common, and then it opened up. This is all to say that the puzzle felt more Thursday or Friday than Wednesday, especially in these northern climes.

But difficulty is not a knock against the puzzle. My main complaint is about the theme. First, why is FORTY-FOUR interesting? Should I look forward to puzzles just like this with other numbers in there. THIRTY-TWO? EIGHTY-EIGHT? Seems a very loose theme, especially with SUPER BOWL in there, which is a terrible answer. All the other theme answers are genuine "44"s. SUPER BOWL is not "44". It's just not. Next year's SUPER BOWL is 44 (or XLIV). So three theme answers are definitively "44," while one is "44" only with a qualifier found off-grid (i.e. in the clue). Bah. Publishing this puzzle during the run-up to next year's SUPER BOWL might have saved this answer. Might have. Even then, though, this answer would have been the ugly, clunky, misshapen duckling. Not sure what makes FORTY-FOUR an interesting theme. Maybe if the core answers were really fascinating and provocative. But when RUTHENIUM and SUPER BOWL are half your arsenal ...

Theme answers:

  • 18A: Element number 55-Across (Ruthenium)
  • 23A: Atlanta Brave who wore the number 55-Across (Hank Aaron)
  • 35A: President number 55-Across (Barack Obama) — had the terminal "A" in place and that was enough; one of the few answers that went down quickly today
  • 49A: Feb. 7, 2010, the date of this event's number 55-Across (Super Bowl) — clue is oddly phrased, as if the date were the clue. Feels like there should be an "is" after 2010.

The grid is otherwise reasonably filled, with more stumpers than I'm used to on a Wednesday. Didn't know RUTHENIUM or GUANACO (40A: Cousin of a camel) or BORMAN (45D: Apollo astronaut Frank). Had GUANACA right to the bitter end, when I realized MAAB was probably not the [Old Dead Sea kingdom] in question. So sad, considering GUANACOS was my "Word of the Day" a while back! So overall, solving was slow-going, without much pleasure in the process. I simply wasn't on this puzzle's wavelength (despite the "American Idol" bone it tossed me — 24D: "American Idol" judge DioGuardi).


  • 16A: Obsessed mariner (Ahab) — possibly the first thing I put in the grid. Nope, I take that back. First thing was the delightful MCCI (10A: Start of the 13th century). Shortly thereafter, I filed in the equally delightful ENE / NNE crossing (ENE tries, and fails, to pretend that it is not also a direction)
  • 31D: Euro predecessor (écu) — by a couple centuries, yes. The ECU ceased being an official currency unit during the French Revolution.
  • 20A: Bygone compact (Geo) — had nothing here. Wasn't GEO the make (not model)? Were all GEOs "compacts?"

  • 10D: Capital founded by Spanish invaders, 1571 (Manila) — nice Pacific Rim mini-theme up there in the NE.
  • 21D: Music section (passage) — another good example of late-week cluing. This killed me, as I was looking for something like BRASS or WOODWINDS or STRINGS.
  • 32D: Abbr. on a blotter (AKA) — took me a while to process "blotter"
  • 43D: Tony winner Tyne (Daly) — best known to me as Mary Beth Lacey on "Cagney and Lacey"
  • 56D: Term of a address in a monastery (Fra) — FRA Angelico was an Italian Renaissance painter, while FRA Diavolo was a "guerrila leader who resisted the French occupation of Naples" in the early 19th century (wikipedia). He also lent his name to a spicy pasta sauce.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Duke 8:15 AM  

"The Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing-fields of Eton"

Unknown 8:25 AM  

I was relieved to see a "challenging" rating. Thought I had gone stupid last night.

Got tinear but then wandered bewildered throught the grid until teabag and the rest of the SE corner and plugged away at it from there.

I might have had more fun if I knew I was doing a "Thursday" when I started.

Blackhawk 8:28 AM  

Thought this was an unusually difficult puzzle for a Wednesday, but also a lot of fun. I really like the puzzles in which the theme is revealed very slowly. And in which you learn a few new things. Bravo to the constructor.

Definitely not a "joyless" experience -- more like a nice 5 minute voyage of discovery. I had the opportunity to remember that ruthenium is used in various industrial processes as a hardener (in electrical contacts) and anti-corrosive agent as well as as a chemical catalyst.

Guanaco was a new word for me. And fwoiw, I would love to see "teabag" as the answer to "One-armed 'Prison Break' bad guy".

And ... any puzzle connecting Hank Aaron, President Obama and the Super Bowl just has to be strangely cool.

Leslie 8:31 AM  

Man. The northwest corner was the very last to fall, although I had "tin ear" early on. The H in "Hank Aaron" had me stumped as to what word for "snub" could have an H near the end.

I watched the moon landing on TV, along with the rest of the world that day, so felt guilty that it took lots of crosses to help me remember Frank Borman.

And YES, YES, YES on Rex's comments about the 49 Across clue. Very clunkily expressed.

@Blackhawk: What with the recent Republican protests, I can think of yet another clue for "teabag" . . . ;-)

Anonymous 8:34 AM  

Could it be a secret homage to the 44th best crossword solver...?

Leslie 8:34 AM  

(Not that Frank Borman had anything to do with the moon landing. He CIRCLED the moon. I just meant that I felt I ought to have remembered his name for being part of that era.)

Neil 8:51 AM  

Amazing. I normally find the puzzles more difficult than Rex's ratings. This one, however, was not particularly challenging to me. In fact, I thought is was pretty easy. My only hang-up -- and it was a pure guess -- is the Ness for one (Fed) crossed with Absolutely (Dead). I still don't get that. Oops! It just came to me -- Eliot Ness. Doh. But Dead for Absolutely is still a stretch.

pinky 8:51 AM  

Being an obsessed lunatic, Frank BORMAN was as easy as AHAB. Also gave me FRA (as in Fra Mauro highlands, the landing site for Apollo 13)

Frank Borman's slapshot mission to circle the moon (without the lunar excursion module) was even more daring than the lunar landing.

Remember, these were the days of radio tubes and rotary phone technology. The computer they used to navigate 250,000 miles into space and back was about as powerful as a modern calculator - and kept crashing. It's a miracle their spacecrafts didn't...

bookmark 8:52 AM  

I thought the puzzle was difficult for a Wednesday, but I didn't mind the 44 theme. Since this is my birth year, how could I not like it? Seriously, though, this number theme is another way to be reminded of Hank Aaron's number, Obama's being the 44th Prez, and perhaps I'll keep the Super Bowls straight now. I wouldn't mind more of these.

I first learned of the Duke of Wellington's famous phrase, that the Battle of Waterloo was won "on the playing fields of Eton" when I first taught John Knowles' A SEPARATE PEACE to 10th graders. Phineas, one of the prep school boys, says competing on their own playing fields was preparing them for the '44 Olympics.

Jeffrey 8:56 AM  

Carl Morton, Bombo Rivera, Ken Hill.

Name 3 Montreal Expos who wore number 44.

Does a camel see a GUANACO and say "Hi cousin!"? Do they have the same grandparents?

KARA is Supergirl and never should be clued otherwise.

fikink 9:00 AM  

ROSEATE was my last fill today; thought ECU referred to a council not an old coin, must be thinking of EEU

Playing on the apocryphal quote of the Duke of Wellington, Noel Coward once wrote:

"While Waterloo was won upon the playing fields of ETON,

The next war will be photographed (and lost) by Cecil Beaton."

The man had a RAFT of them!

retired_chemist 9:17 AM  

Liked it. Good Wednesday workout. Medium-challenging. Required thought all over the place.

The theme of FORTY-FOUR (55A) was fun. For some reason, HANK AARON’s number (44) had stuck with me, so I grokked two theme answers right off the bat. Then I had GEORGE W BUSH @ 35A, to fit 33D CWT (hundredweight) – both wrong. Rethought: Bush was 41 and Shrub (cf. Molly Ivins) was 43, so BARACK OBAMA must be 44. SUPER BOWL XLIV (49A) followed easily, but I needed some crosses for RUTHENIUM (19A). No, I do not know atomic numbers after the first transition series. Thanks for asking, though.

Liked MANILA (10D) next to CHINA SEA (11D). Novel clue for ERIE (59A) – nice. ROSEATE (30A) – never thought of the word as anything but def. 1 (pink hued) but def. 2 is as clued. “Rose-colored glasses” would have provided a confirming hint if I had thought of it in time. GUANACO (40A) was a WTF but it’s nice to learn new words.

From HUMID (57A) I got HIP for 57D and was reasonably confident of it since POKER was a good answer for 64A. Having TEA POT for 44A, with TEA CUP as the backup, and not thinking of TEA BAG at all, meant Dixie was FUBAR for too long. Eventually worked almost all the way through it, realizing I used an Earl Grey TEA BAG this morning and will use more later. Almost means 45D/54A was BODMAN/DNA instead of the correct BORMAN/RNA. I call a Natick, almost, since BODMAN is a legit name and the clue fits either DNA or RNA. I really should have thought of Borman though. It’s not like I never heard of him, although remembering an exact name from a famous event in 1968 does seem challenging. Wikipedia reminds that he was CEO of Eastern Air Lines later.

Good job, Mr. Silvestri.

Orange 9:17 AM  

I thought it was of standard Wednesday difficulty, even though I had no idea that (a) HANK AARON played for the Braves or (b) wore 44. See? That's exactly what I was talking about in today's L.A. Crossword Confidential post. A woman had complained to another xword blogger about the male bias of sports and cars in the NYT puzzles and wanted more traditional womanly stuff. The present puzzle sure doesn't have any, and one could argue that HANK AARON's number and team are known only to hardcore baseball fans—which surely does not approximate the solving population as a whole.

ArtLvr 9:42 AM  

Agree with Rex that this was hard to keep getting footholds in all the broken-up segments of the grid. FRA let me know that the end of the number sought was four or five, and UVULA and PERES made it FOUR for sure... BACTERIA led to FORTY.

Then I got careless with our 44th President and tried to fit in Bill Clinton! Same B to start with and same number of letters, how dumb? REASON and REBATES got me back to OBAMA. GUANACO made me think of Guano, bird-poop, not a camel cousin.

I worked the NE from -IUM for the ending of the Element, and knowing ETON and TAURO helped me remember RUTHENIUM, which might as well have been related to a ballplayer's ancestor? At least HANK AARON was gettable, and with TIN EAR got me through to a KARA (who?), and a limping finish.

Trickiest were DEAD-on without the "on" for clue Absolutely, plus the Bag part of TEABAG since GLADES was eluding me, STUFF for This and That, and OFTEN for A lot. I'm readier for more open spaces after this puzzle... And maybe I should go back to drinking coffee!


slypett 9:43 AM  

On Wednesdays I begin to struggle...but not this day. Today was like a Tuesday, except for TEABAG, which started as teapot, then teacup. I enjoyed the Morse code clue.

Mike 9:46 AM  

Man, did I have a different solving experience than most. I breezed through this one. Once I saw the HANK AARON answer, I instantly realized what the theme was, and got every theme answer pretty much right away except for RUTHENIUM. I admit that some of the fill was tricky, but the cluing felt easier to me than usual for some reason. Also, like retired chemist mentioned, I had TEA CUP at first instead of TEA BAG, which threw me for a little bit.

Also, @Orange, I'm not a hardcore baseball fan at all; I don't pay any attention until the playoffs, and couldn't quote stats if you paid me. However, Hank Aaron's number is very famous, at least to most even casual baseball fans of a certain age. I'm twenty five, and instantly knew it. I'm in total agreement with the male bias aspect of crosswords, and I would like some variety too, but this particular example strikes me (no pun intended) as something that isn't unfairly obscure, just unlikely for someone to know if they don't follow sports at all.

treedweller 9:59 AM  

I almost always go for the non-theme stuff first, so it didn't bother me that I had to do it here. I would have called it easy-medium based on my time, except I got burned on the BOdMAN/dNA mistake mentioned by r_c. Took me almost two minutes to fix that, as I tried to make (re-write, actually) GUANACO/MOAB into the GUANACa/MaAB mentioned by Rex and then couldn't find anything else to work on for awhile. Took me awhile to remember RUTHENIUM from my college days--saw the R______UM and wondered how I was going to make rhodium fit in there. And KARA? Gimme for Rex, WTF? for me.

As a man, @Orange, I did not feel much advantage on this. Briefly thought I messed up when I put in the AA, then figured out it must be HANK, but had no idea who he played for or what number he wore. SUPERBOWL should have been obvious, as Rex said, but I can't get too interested in that, either, so I missed the connection. I can see where the point is somewhat valid as a general rule, though (is opera more woman-friendly? Are other male NYT solvers more "manly" than I? Which sex benefits from obscure geography clues {certainly not me}? Clearly a topic ripe for in-depth discussion that Rex would probably prefer to see take place somewhere else).

Anyway, I thought it was pretty fun. Nice combo of standard fill and inferences to get the whole theme worked out.

Blue Stater 10:05 AM  

Um, in what sense is a fax "transmit[ted] electronically" (5D)? Does being sent over phone wires count as electronic? I don't think so. That item was part of a horrendous NE that was mostly over the top. As for the rest, ROSEATE? RUTHENIUM? GUANACO? On a Wednesday? C'mon.

Blue Stater 10:07 AM  

Sorry, make that "horrendous NW."

joho 10:07 AM  


NW and NMiddle was the last to fall. I guessed at the "S" in ROSEATE which finally let me see PASSAGE ... for the longest time I was looking for something ending in AGE like New Age. PASSAGE brought me HANKAARON with the two "AA's." Everything else became clear after that.

There was just too much contrived STUFF here for me to enjoy.

Oh, I also had lurid for HUMID for a while, just me?

fikink 10:27 AM  

@joho, I love your response to "steamy"!
(Can't wait til Dr. DK gets here.)

HudsonHawk 10:43 AM  

My first entries were in the SW, so I got the theme right away. But it still took me longer than normal, largely because of RUTHENIUM and the rest of the Dakotas and NW. The other theme answers were gimmes. Thanks to RP's write-up, I now know the eponym of the Shrimp FRA Diavolo we OFTEN enjoy. OK puzzle.

bookmark 10:46 AM  

@joho, I also had LURID instead of HUMID.

Rex Parker 10:56 AM  

Another LURID here.


Scott Gunther 10:58 AM  

Actually, the ECU was around until 1999, the year the Euro replaced the "European Currency Unit."

Two Ponies 11:00 AM  

Agree with the rating today but between the puzzle itself and the interesting comments I can say I learned a few things today.
Thanks to pinky for the informed lunatic data.
I expected more info from r_c regarding ruthenium (news to me) but Blackhawk "stepped up to the plate."
Like joho I got Hank Aaron from the double aa's.
I suppose there tends to be a male bias to a lot of puzzles but being more of a tomboy than a "girly girl" I think the puzzles are fine as they are. Femmy stuff probably would be more of a stumbling block to me.

PIX 11:12 AM  

The european currency unit, ECU for short, was an artificial "basket" currency that was used by the member states of the European Union (EU) as their internal accounting unit. The ECU was conceived on 13th March 1979 by the European Economic Community (EEC), the predecessor of the European Union, as a unit of account for the currency area called the European Monetary System (EMS). From Professor Google.

Fun puzzle; fun theme.

Roger von Oech 11:13 AM  

Yippee! I'm the 44th commenter today. I like themes like these.

humorlesstwit 11:15 AM  

As a man, I am incapable of recognizing the male bias in almost everything. As a white man, I am incapable of recognizing the white bias in almost everything. As a heterosexual white man, I am incapable of recognizing the heterosexual bias in almost everything. As a thin heterosexual white man, I am incapable of recognizing the weight biase in almost everything. I could add another five attributes, but you get my point.

99% of the time when someone identifies bias, they're probably correct.

PIX 11:18 AM  

I sort of assumed Ruthenium was named after a scientist but it turns out "the name derives from Ruthenia, the Latin word for Rus', a historical area which includes present-day western Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and parts of Slovakia and Poland". {As per Professor Google} What do you have to say about that, Retired Chemist?

fikink 11:19 AM  

@Scott, Pix - whoa! that's interesting!
All this time I thought the clue referred to the old French coin
(with an accent ague,
which I have not learned to do)


william e emba 11:29 AM  

There were numerous little stories commenting on HANK AARON, BARACK OBAMA, and FORTY FOUR a few months back. Do a Google, you'll see.

Wayne Rhodes 11:29 AM  

Re 56D: Term of address in a monastery: my wife's first thought was "Bro", which makes a lot of sense!

archaeoprof 11:45 AM  

Hard NW for me too, with FAX the last to fall. Somehow faxes seem a bit antiquated these days, don't they?

Absolutely (dead-ly?) never heard of RUTHENIUM. Maybe it hadn't been discovered when I took chemistry.

Hank Aaron is first all-time in home runs, and third all-time in hits (behind Pete Rose and Ty Cobb). Not bad.

Barry Bonds is first all-time in asterisks.

Anonymous 11:47 AM  

ruthenium?! cmon...

i started this puzzle and then checked what day today was on the calendar. for a wednesday this was definitely a toughie.

Lance 11:49 AM  

"Wedenesday"? Really?


PuzzleGirl 11:59 AM  

Raising hand for TEAPOT and DNA.

This took me a little longer than the average Wednesday, but not much. I scanned through the acrosses and wasn't getting anywhere until I guessed that 35A just had to be BARACK OBAMA, which also gave me the reveal answer. I turned 44 this year. I like to think of it as my own personal tribute to our president.

The only baseball numbers I know off the top of my head are 42 (Jackie Robinson), 7 (Mickey Mantle), and 9 (Roger Maris—he was from my hometown). I always thought it would be interesting to to find out what is truly common knowledge. The only thing I've been able to come up with is Michael Jordan.

@Neil: I ran a race once and finished absolutely last.

retired_chemist 12:10 PM  

@ ruthenium fans everywhere:

Wikipedia tells us most of what I know about Ru. Its complexes, most notably the tris(bipyridyl)complex (you DID ask! ☺), were "hot" in solar photochemical research some years back. It looked like they could be part of, or at least a model for, water splitting (to hydrogen and oxygen). If realized, this could be the solution to the world's energy and environmental woes in one fell swoop. The hydrogen and oxygen could be recombined in a fuel cell to produce electrical energy, with the only chemical product being water, so it was worth a (long) shot. As of yet, there has been a lot of interesting basic research but no practical devices.

Gotta share Bill Gates' commencement quote on nerds: "Be nice to nerds. Chances are you will end up working for one."

Anonymous 12:24 PM  

Many of you sound so resentful when the puzzle doesn't fit your fields of knowledge for the particular day.
Why not relax and just enjoy the Challenge? After all, it's called a PUZZLE.


Alex S. 12:27 PM  

Except for RUTHENIUM the theme entries were gimmes. BARACK OBAMA was the first I tried to see if his presidency number would fit and it did so I left it there until proven otherwise and never was.

Didn't remember HANK AARON's number but he fit so I left him in too and never had to bump him. SUPER BOWL came to me immediately for some reason.

Still couldn't finish though because ROSEATE and GUANACO were simply words unknown to me and ECU did not come to mind since I was stuck trying to think of a currency replaced by the EURO. So I thought it might be an abbreviation (ROSTATE and GLANACO seemed reasonable even if TCL wasn't a currency I could think of).

Another spot of trouble was BORMAN and BODMAN seeming almost equally reasonable (and RNA/DNA being equally correct) but I guessed right.

Karen 12:41 PM  

I feel like I've seen TAURO in plenty of crosswords. Taurus, Minotaur, um, tauromachy. Red Bull contains taurine, which was first isolated from bull bile. I'm never drinking that stuff. Although they sponsor a good air team. But not a good soccer team.

I had to look up that GAH comic to be sure it wasn't a parody...I liked that show a lot growing up.

BODMAN here too.

Jim in Chicago 12:43 PM  

My downfall was the SW, where I almost threw in the towel.

The breakthrough was when I figured out that Pasteur was interested in Bacteria, which gave me --CODE for the "turn 'this' into...." clue. I first put in DEcode, changed that to UNcode before finally settingly on ENcode (to make bEt work). Sigh.

My only other problem was using POKER instead of TONGS as the fireplace tool, which briefly gave me HIP for the characteristic of top 40 recordings.

Daniel Myers 12:54 PM  

I absolutely LOVED this puzzle, but admittedly for the "filler" more so than for the theme.

The famous quote, "The Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton." though often attributed to the Duke of Wellington, is of disputed origin.

What isn't disputed is his remark, "Our army is composed of the scum of the earth - the mere scum of the earth."

DJG 1:03 PM  

If FORTYFOUR would have been 44-across, instead of 55-across, now THAT would have been something. (Of course creating such a grid is probably next to impossible.)

So-so puzzle as it stands. I agree with Rex about SUPERBOWL being odd man out. I'm guessing the constructor put time into it and just couldn't get a better 9-lettered "44".

fergus 1:10 PM  

Yeah, ECU was coyly Clued with 'predecessor' since you never could put one in your pocket, but you could on a computer screen.

One of my fountain pens has a nib composed of a gold and RUTHENIUM alloy, so that was actually my first 44. As a kid we had that Time-Life series of science books, and I liked looking at the pictures and descriptions of all the elements. Makes we wonder if any puzzle on record has used YTTERBIUM, and if so, what sort of response that may have elicited?

Bob Kerfuffle 1:24 PM  

Excellent puzzle to my taste, though the NW was the last to be filled.

I was particularly gratified by 10A, Start of the 13th century, MCCI, since I recently did a puzzle, by a constructor whom I otherwise worship, that had a clue something like, Beginning of the 14th century, for which the intended answer was MCCC. Just one of my pet points.

Denise 1:29 PM  

Well, I think the reason that I will never be fast is that I sort of do the puzzle holistically -- I don't do it section by section -- I kind of go through and fill in ones I know and build off that. So, I realized early on that there was a number that ended in FOUR, and then figured out the theme answers from there.

I was able to use the NYT timer, and was pretty happy with my 13 minutes until I saw that #1 was TWO MINUTES.


edith b 2:07 PM  

44 is one of those sports number that seems to stand out as Reggie Jackson, Willie McCovey and Hank Aaron wore it in baseball and, at Syracuse University, it was worn by Jim Brown, Ernie Davis and Floyd Little. It was retired several years ago. Oh yeah, and Jerry West in basketball.

All this was pointed out to me by a former student of mine who was intrigued by numbers and thought 44 was special and wrote a paper on the subject.

Maybe this student grew up to be a crossword puzzle constructor.

George Gervin of the Denver Nuggets also.

Unknown 2:43 PM  

I am kind of in the middle on this- the theme helped me- I knew Hank Aaron off the bat, and remembered he wore 44. Got the whole south of the puzzle without too much difficulty, but was stuck for a while in the NE and the due north- the clueing on 9D, 15A really vexed me. Glad to see the challenging rating- made me feel a bit better about my stuggles.

Doc John 2:45 PM  

I got the theme easily enough using Rex's reasoning- how many famous Atlanta Braves are there? But the rest of the puzzle still killed me. Had to come back to the Great Lakes region many times before finally exchanging RAFT for rash and trying ETON. Definitely challenging!

Wayne Rhodes 3:13 PM least for today, Douglas Adams was wrong. "44" is the answer to everything!

nanpilla 3:43 PM  

@wsrhodes : LOL !
Kinda nice to have a wed take a little time to finish.
Also had lurid and teacup.

retired_chemist 3:53 PM  

Another # 44 is Robert Newhouse, Cowboys RB and thrower of a famous (here, anyway) TD pass in SUPER BOWL XII (to TE Golden Richards).

mexgirl 4:02 PM  

Hahaha! Good one, wsrhodes!

I agree with Orange and the sports bias in A LOT (often) of puzzles. I set my limit to two entries only, otherwise I know I'll be stumped there forever with no way out in sight. The only number I can remember in sports is Pelé's famous 10 (which was also Maradonna's come to think of it...) and I know that not having grown up in this latitudes makes it even harder to know all the baseball and football clues, as it is, but it still feels like a lot nowadays.

I liked the puzzle all together, though. Very challenging but highly enjoyable.

Wayne Rhodes 4:06 PM  

Thanx Mexgirl.

Maybe we should use the term "author's familiarity" instead of bias. Pele and maradonna are certainly well known (and even more so outside of the US), but I'd bet not many Americans would know that they were #10. To me (a diehard Cubs fan), #10 is Ron Santo. So if I were to create a puzzle using "#10" as a clue or theme, "Santo" would be a natural answer for me, but perhaps obscure to A LOT of other folks. C'est la vie.

ArtLvr 4:20 PM  

@ fikink -- Thanks for Noel Coward's ETON-Beaton quip!

@ Daniel M -- Do you suppose Wellington was misquoted and meant "scrum"? Love that word!

@ Pix -- Glad you looked up the historical root of the Latin Rus-RUTHENIA... I'm currently reading "The First Man in Rome", huge novel by Colleen McCullough which starts in ancient Rome as of New Year's Day, 110 B.C., what's required to buy one's way into political power, etc. Eerily modern!


David from CA 4:25 PM  

Did you get up on the wrong side of the bed today Rex :?) You seemed extremely harsh in your criticisms of Mr. Silvestri's puzzle. Seems to me the vast majority of Xword puzzle themes would be uninteresting by your reasoning. e.g. Yesterday's theme was eight phrases tied together with the word "short": totally arbitrary, but no one asked "why 'short'".
I don't remember seeing this theme (answers tied together by being same number) before, so I thought it was quite nice and refreshing (and yes, quite challenging for me). The SUPERBOWL clue did seem excessively clunky, but just needed some rewording - the answer seems perfectly valid, giving one future case theme answer to balance the past case of HANKAARON.
Was a real shame that 49 across wasn't [Crossword Blogger ranked 55-across in the universe] though!

Clark 4:28 PM  

RHODENIUM sounded good to me. That made RAFT crossing TAURO and OFTEN tough to see. Especially since I thought it was ‘to pour over’ -- you know, you pour over something, touching on all the details the way a liquid covers a surface that you pour it on . . . Rats! I googled once (for RUTHENIUM).

Back away from the following if you don't care about etymology. So 'pore' comes from Middle English 'pouren'. Skeat (Etymol. Dict.) says "The idea seems to be that of poking or thrusting about in a slow and toilsome way." But 'pour' also comes from ME 'pouren', which gets into French as "to purify, clarify, esp. by wringing or squeezing out." So my going through my entire life until now mixing up these two words is not so crazy. All language is just one word with many variations.

@Two Ponies -- Knowing about opera but not baseball (though I spotted HANK AARON from a few crosses) makes me a ‘sissy boy’ I guess.

fergus 4:43 PM  

Well, RHODIUM sits there in the Periodic Table, right next door at #45, and come to think of it, maybe that's what resides in my pen nib along with the gold. (Rhodium has Cobalt and Iridium as electron configuration cognates, while Ruthenium has Iron and Osmium, which by the way I recall as being the densest element.)

Two Ponies 4:43 PM  

@ Clark, I do not confuse culture (be it sports or music) with gender. All I meant, for myself, was that if they publish a puzzle with a female bias I might find myself lost.
Make up, fashion,the View, shopping?
If those sound right up your alley you just might be a sissy boy! :)

treedweller 4:48 PM  

@humorlesstwit I agree--I think we all have some biases. The more enlightened among us are just better at recognizing them and not letting them get in the way of good judgment.

@PuzzleGirl I knew Mickey was 7, but only because of the "Seinfeld" episode. I could list the numbers of a few Dallas Cowboys (another team that was hard to avoid for me growing up), but I doubt many of them would be common knowledge outside Texas.

@Denise Never look at the fastest times. They will always make you feel incompetent.

I never tried "lurid" but did have "teacup" and considered changing it to "teapot" before GLADES gave me the right answer.

Shamik 4:56 PM  

I love bias. Helps me learn new stuff! Medium-challenging today. It was kind of an obscure theme, though.

Clark 5:04 PM  

@Two Ponies -- I was the kid who'd rather play Mozart and make my grandmother's cinnamon rolls than play touch football. The sports bias of puzzles is a noticeable one to me (and I am on the wrong side of it). But its all part of the fun. And when there's an opera question I have a decent shot at it (though I'm can't say I'd do very well with make up, fashion, the View, shopping . . .) :~)

HudsonHawk 5:05 PM  

@PIX, thanks for the info. I had assumed RUTHENIUM was named after Babe Ruth, who is arguably the most famous #3 in American sports.

andrea uno michaels 5:07 PM  

@anonymous 8:34 am
I LOVE that you made that connection that it was a secret shout out to Rex being the 44th!!!!!!!!!!!

You are prob not the mean anonymous from 11:32pm last night (and if you are, for the record, I do not know, have never met, and have no stories about Hank Aaron, Barack Obama, nor Frank Borman!!!)

(altho I did think that Frank Borman was the name of a nazi for half a minute as I was filling it in!)

@Scott Gunther
Thanks for chiming in!
I also thought ECU was the coin, not the European Currency Unit, so that was good to learn...

La lecon de francais et Scrabble du jour:
Think old French coin "ecu", pronounced "ay-soo", so that's how they got the word for the French coin "sou"
(as in "I haven't got a sou")
which is prob how the Vietnamese got "Xu" (Vietnamese coin)
SUPER (Xu-per?) important word to know in Scrabble!!!
(And it doesn't take an S!)

Misspelled BARACK as BARAK so I put an H in there for Hussein!

And I don't know from Braves or anyone's number, but I do recognize an AA when I see it!
As for bias, Humorless Twit at 11:15 am said it all!!!!!!!
(Are you Will???!!!)

fwiw, I'll bet Kara was more known by women than men, tho I wrestled if it was a C or K.

My guess on DEAD is that the editors generally do not like to have DEAD in a puzzle, so clue it "Absolutely", as in DEAD last or Dead wrong.

Am I dead right?

Jeffrey 5:13 PM  

Number of exclamation points on this page prior to Andrea's comment - 25!!!!

Number of exclamation points in Andrea's comment - 32!!!!

Number of exclamation points in Andrea's comment and this comment combined - 44!!!!

Anonymous 5:22 PM  

@ andrea, Last night I was only foolin'
anon 11:35 (aka Kevin Bacon)

Anonymous 5:22 PM  

@Crosscan - number of losing seasons for the Expos? 44!

fergus 5:26 PM  

Sports Illustrated once did an extended article about the most iconic of those wearing uniform numbers from 00 to 99, or Jim Otto to Wayne Gretzgy. Lots of contention thereabouts: Mickey Mantle or John Elway; (32) Jim Brown Franco Harris (or OJ?) in football, while baseball had Sandy Koufax among others; Willy Mays had to own 24 because all the other greats were copying.

humorlesstwit 5:34 PM  

@Andrea - Am I Will? You've got your own damned folder in my inbox girl.

edith b 5:52 PM  

I feel like a Meleska person in a Shortz world when I approach a Quigley puzzle as I frequently find I have little frame of reference to a Quigley, finding, as Rex is so fond of saying, "never heard that word (phrase) in my life."

And yet, Rex is the 44th greatest crossword solver in the universe! And I end up solving almost all of BEQ's puzzle.

So, finding that I am an older person in a young puzzlers world, I ignore whatever "bias" I recognize in his puzzles and just . . . Keep on truckin'

Charles Bogle 6:02 PM  

My back is still smarting from the whipping I've taken this afternoon trying to get this incredibly difficult (for me, and for Wed) but very intriguing puzzle...

Proud to say got everything-thanks to google-except for upper NW (Rex had a tiff there too), which is impervious to google

Loved the byplay of HANKAARON w RUTHENIUM, as Hank often compared to Babe Ruth; never knew Jolliet discovered ERIE and now think it's more than hackneyed fill; juxtaposition of RAFT and AHAB and Dead Sea-

Speaking of Dead, a fair amt of here: SLAIN, DEAD

...But disappointed I couldn't complete. Have to steel myself for tomorrow

Hungry Mother 6:08 PM  

I'm glad I waited until after my afternoon cappuccino to do this one. I struggled with it, but succeeded and feel pretty good about it.

PIX 6:53 PM  

@RETIRED CHEMIST: Thanks for the info on our element-of-the-day:Ruthenium. Too bad it didn't help solve the world's energy and environmental problems at the same time...too bad.

retired_chemist 7:23 PM  

@ PIX - we should not assume it will lead nowhere. 20 years from now, we WILL have much better handles on alternative energy sources that are environmentally viable. Whether the Ru complexes lead to one, I cannot say. Nor can anyone else.

Stan 7:48 PM  

Very glad that so many others found this difficult for a Wednesday puzzle!

PlantieBea 8:55 PM  

Had lots of running around today so I must have picked this up and put it down 44 times.

I had to put on my dusty chemist cap while sitting and getting a haircut. I knew 44 was likely a transition metal and mentally scrolled through the transition metal trios until I got to lucky group 8 iron, RUTHENIUM, osmium for the bingo fit to the xxxxENIUM.

What tripped me up for a long while was the STUFF like judge KARA, INDEX, and ROSEATE. Roseate spoonbills are beautiful--they look pink from below when they're flying. But didn't know roseate meant promising--just like rose colored glasses I suppose.

Ulrich 9:01 PM  

I'm late--didn't get to the puzzle until I had my late afternoon cup of coffee, and was surprised that I actually liked it b/c normally, I'm not in sync with RS. My proudest moment: finally remembering the "playing fields" quote (albeit not the speaker) that enabled me to fill in 6A.

Certain numbers have special significance (although the puzzle did not make the case for 44), and in soccer, 10 is the most prestigious number a player can wear (it's no accident that both Pele and Maradonna were 10's). Traditionally, the "10" is the play maker, the most-intelligent (i.t. of soccer intelligence) player of his/her team, with superb technical skills (ball control, passing) and a great sense of the flow of the game that enable him/her to distribute the ball at any moment to the player in the most promising position. If the game has primadonnas, they are the 10s.

Nowadays, we see teams without a classical 10 more frequently, and there is a debate about the reasons--is it b/c players with the required skills no longer exist? Or is it b/c the game itself has changed and is no longer in need of this type of play maker? And then again, this may be a chicken-and-egg situation: As teams adjust to not having a 10, the need for one decreases. For aficionados, this is sad, b/c there is no greater pleasure than watching a superb 10 in action in soccer (I think Zidane of France was the last one with superstar status).

Ulrich 9:12 PM  

...and in order to do something about the male bias in Xword puzzles, let me add that the incomparable Marta of Brazil's women's soccer team is a 10 (and Mia Hamm, I think, was one, too).

retired_chemist 9:25 PM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
John 9:26 PM  

Never heard the word RAFT meaning alot. Didnt know Hank Aaron played for the Alanta Braves, Dont watch American Idol. The list goes on and on.Was aware of the Playing Fields of Eton. Hard for a mid week puzzle overall.

retired_chemist 9:27 PM  

@ PIX - we should not assume it will lead nowhere. 20 years from now, we WILL have much better handles on alternative energy sources that are environmentally viable. Whether the Ru complexes lead to one, I cannot say. Nor can anyone else.

retired_chemist 9:29 PM  

I have no idea why my 7:23 post is being repeated. I tried to delete the duplicate at 9:25 and here is ti again at 9:27. Apologies.

44 and out.

ChemProf 9:33 PM  

First ever comment, though I've been reading the blog for a few months.

Just FYI, a ruthenium-based catalyst developed by Bob Grubbs at Caltech earned him 1/3 of the 2005 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. It catalyzes a process called olefin metathesis, and has had enormous impact on synthetic organic chemistry and materials chemistry.

And no, I don't think that's enough to make it Wednesday-level. ;)

retired_chemist 9:42 PM  

@ ChemProf - very nice. I had kinda stopped following most chemistry outside my own area, including metathesis, by the late nineties, so I had thought Dick Schrock's Mo chemistry was state of the art. Nice to hear of the progress.

ChemProf 9:46 PM  

No problem. The Schrock catalyst (actually a newer version co-developed with Amir Hoyveda at BC) is also still very useful. :) [and Schrock of course was another 1/3 of the Prize]

We now return you to your regularly scheduled crossword discourse... ;)

edith b 9:52 PM  

In my previous post I inadvertently misspelled Eugene Maleska's name. I should have checked before I published my comment.

Sorry. 3 and out.

mac 9:55 PM  

Full disclosure: lurid and I didn't get Hank Aaron from the AA; I got it from my husband. That opened up my main problem area, the NW. Tauro took a while, as well, with toreo and torea playing a nasty role.

I like them tough, so I had a good time, although I seem to do better in the morning than the evening.
Bias? Sewing-related term, are we getting girly?

@Andrea and Kevin (;-)): IWGA. Keep it coming!

hazel 10:01 PM  

Awesome awesome puzzle. Shouting out to Hank Aaron, one of the humblest greatest men in baseball. As to other famous Braves - Hall of Famers include Eddie Mathews (41) one of the best 3rd basemen to ever play the game, Warren Spahn (21) who has won more games than any left-handed pitcher in history, and Phil Niekro (35), the winningest knuckleballer of all time, a pitcher who astonishlingly won more than 300 games on absolutely terrible Braves teams.

Future certain Hall of Famers who were/are most famously Braves include Greg Maddux, John Smoltz, and Tom Glavine. And Chipper Jones. No doubt.


sanfranman59 10:08 PM  

Here are this weeks's numbers. The number in parentheses is the number of solvers.

Mon (all) 6:55 (856)
Mon (Top 100) 3:43

Tue (all) 8:09 (878)
Tue (Top 100) 4:06

Wed (all) 14:33 (626)
Wed (Top 100) 7:26

This week's Wednesday solve times are quite a bit higher than last week's (median time < 1 hr this week = 13:50, last week = 9:51). The difficulty of this week's puzzle is also reflected in the much smaller number of solvers who completed it in less than an hour (585 this week vs 754 last week). As suggested by several folks out here, today's puzzle is closer to last Thursday's solve times than to last Wednesday's.

retired_chemist 10:45 PM  

@ Hazel - all of your first paragraph players go back to Milwaukee Braves days - none of your second paragraph players do. Dont know what to make of that but it's interesting.

Lisa in Kingston 11:11 PM  

With the exception of Ruthenium (I had to look it up: this ancient chem lab TA has no experience with the more obscure transition elements), I breezed through the rest of the puzzle.
As indicated by an anonymouse hours ago, I believe the 44 theme was not arbitrary, but was in honor of our host's ranking!

fergus 12:15 AM  

C'est presqu'un instant ou je n'sais rien a dire. Parfois, on y danse.

chefbea 1:36 AM  

did this puzzle yestrday in a piazza near my daughter's place while having gelato. Couldnt finish the puzzle but did get all the theme answers.
very busy here. No cooking, just lots of eating

Retak 10:05 AM  

@ PuzzleGirl:
You wrote: “it would be interesting to to find out what is truly common knowledge. The only thing I've been able to come up with is Michael Jordan.”

The interesting thing about this is that in the mid-90s my mother (American born and bred for generations) had no idea who he was. “Isn’t he a shortstop or something?”

@ andrea uno Michaels:
I also misspelled BARACK and put the H in there, so I’m glad to know it wasn’t just me. Which was particularly galling because I thought the blotter word had to be AKA but it just didn’t seem to fit. (I am doing these puzzles waaaay too late at night…)

Did nobody else have TORID instead of HUMID?

I know the numbers of almost no athletes, but I figured that there are no other Atlanta Braves who have nine letters in their names and would be at all likely to appear in the NYT crossword puzzle.

For what it’s worth, I’m female, but I know most of the baseball questions and am somewhat likelier to get the answers from other sports than most of the pop culture questions. Even some of the easy ones are way, way beyond me (I had no clue about the American Idol judge, for example).

Nice to see Bob Grubbs and olefin metathesis (I didn’t even make that connection, so thanks) appear in a discussion about the crossword puzzle! I wonder if he’ll even appear as a clue (there are plenty of obscure Nobelists who seem to pop up now and then).

hazel 10:06 AM  

@RC - Eddie Mathews and Warren Spahn actually debuted with Boston Red Stockings - (Eddie Mathews is the only Braves player to actually play with Boston, Milwaukee, and Atlanta). I think Hank Aaron was in Boston's AAA farm system, but played his first major league game with the Milwaukee Braves. The only thing I think this says is these guys were largely career Braves - in a way that may have been common in the 50s and 60s, but certainly isn't as much so with the advent of free agency (Chipper Jones and a few others not withstanding).

2nd paragraph guys are still in the game or have recently retired - or in the case of Glavine - were ignobly released, and is in limbo right now (been out in the wilderness the past few days so I think he's still in limbo).

So the only distinction I was drawing was between guys in the Hall of Fame (whose careers predate 1966 when Braves moved to Atlanta) and guys I think will be one day....

Karen 12:14 PM  

Fergus, checking at XwordInfo, YTTERBIUM was used once in 2000, and clued as 'one of the rare earths'. My favorite, YTTRIUM, was used once in 1998, clued as element 39.

Anonymous 2:09 PM  

ECU stands for European Currency Unit, a predecessor of the Euro...

Waxy in Montreal 7:56 PM  

Many weeks later, and right after the All-Star game:

In hono(u)r of the newly-identified synchronicity of 44, let this ancient (born 1944) chem grad officially recommend the renaming of RUTHENIUM as AARONIUM. (Of course, a problematic chemical symbol of AA might lead to several "one more" bar requests.)

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