Deadhead icon — WEDNESDAY, Jun. 3 2009 — Restaurateur Toots / Banned apple spray / Retired Mach 1 breaker

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Constructor: Samuel A. Donaldson

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: TWENTY-SIX STATES (36A: What this puzzle's perimeter contains abbreviations for) - state codes line the perimeter of the puzzle, from MA to HI in the north, from IA to ME in the east, from NE to DE in the south, and from MO to IN in the west

Word of the Day: OLMEC (41A: Early Mexican) - n., pl. Olmec or -mecs.

  1. An early Mesoamerican Indian civilization centered in the Veracruz region of southeast Mexico that flourished between 1300 and 400 B.C., whose cultural influence was widespread throughout southern Mexico and Central America.
  2. A member of any of various peoples sharing the Olmec culture.

I just don't understand: Why does this puzzle exist? Is it TWENTY-SIX STATES Day? Why TWENTY-SIX? Please don't tell me it's because that's exactly how many state codes could fit around the perimeter of the puzzle, because that is not a good enough answer. Yes, there is a mild "look what he did" factor today, getting the state codes to ring the puzzle, with none of them repeating, and corner letters having to do double duty. But, again, I ask "why?" This is a completely pointless concept, especially when your central answer is something as arbitrary as TWENTY-SIX STATES. Why, that's almost as arbitrary as, say, AGE TEN (44D: What many fifth graders have reached) (an answer I hate so much I won't even speak of it ... I'm just glad to know that AGETHREE, AGESIXTY, and AGEEIGHTYEIGHT are all valid crossword answers now; that should be interesting). Knowing that the perimeter is made of state codes does nothing to help you solve the puzzle — unless, like me, you can't spell GANDHI to save your life, in which case maybe there was a small point to the state code thing after all (9A: Title role for Ben Kingsley). After I finished the puzzle, I could look and say, "boy, those sure are ... TWENTY-SIX STATES." That is not what I would call a payoff.

Moreover, the fill in this puzzle is manifestly subpar. I'll start by saying I love MALARIAL (1A: Like some fevers) and TJMAXX (21D: Discount apparel chain) as answers, but that's about where the praise ends today. First wince came at ETTES (22A: Diminutive endings). Suffixes aren't likable, but they're tolerable. Plural suffixes, however, should go straight to hell without passing Go. Then we have the equally unlovable variant spelling of EMIR - today, EMEER (31D: Mideast bigwig: Var.). Then there's IRANIS (60A: Farsi speakers), which is standard crossword fare, but I'm under the influence of veteran constructor and onetime "Simpsons" guest star Merl Reagle, who is on record as saying, and I quote:

EERY and IRANI: I would not use them except as a last, embarrassing resort. My main reason is that the mainstream press doesn't recognize them as acceptable, and thus readers don't either [...] I read a lot. I follow domestic and world news. I keep notebooks on words and usages. I have never see IRANI outside of a crossword. Period. This doesn't mean I myself have never used it in a puzzle. I've been making New York Times-style crosswords for thirty-one years. I've used practically every crappy word on anyone's crappy word list. Volume 3 of my Sunday crosswords has EMEER in it twice, both times clued as a variant ..." (from "The Crossword Obsession" by Coral Amende, p. 226-27)

I know you have 61 squares of theme fill, and are thus compelled to make some compromises, but come on. All this crosswordese. All this iffy stuff like STAC. (49D: Opposite of legato, in mus.) and CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps - news to me - 58D: New Deal inits.). Oh, and then there's the fact that the "state code" thing has been done to death in puzzles over the past few years. And then there's the ASMARA / JAGR crossing, which I got because JAGR (45A: Hockey's Jaromir) is very famous, hockey-wise, but ... I can imagine some people hitting those two crossing proper nouns, the first of which is certainly not that well known (34D: Eritrea's capital) and the second of which is very well known only to sports fans, and thinking "what ... goes here?" The "R" is not exactly inferrable (to Americans) in a name like JAGR. So, to conclude, IN RE: this puzzle — boo.

Theme answers:

  • 1A: Like some fevers (MA LA RI AL)
  • 9A: Title role for Ben Kingsley (GA ND HI)
  • 14D: Pet food brand (IA MS)
  • 32D: Like items in a junk drawer: Abbr. (MI SC)
  • 54D: Showed up (CA ME)
  • 1D: When repeated, a Billy Idol hit (MO NY)

  • 33D: Gas, e.g.: Abbr. (UTIL)
  • 47D: Self-absorbed (VA IN)
  • 62A: Drink of the gods (NE CT AR)
  • 63A: Retired Mach breaker (CO NC OR DE)

  • 23A: Restaurateur Toots (Shor) - Crosswordese 101. Actually, very appealing, as crosswordese goes — an important figure in the nightlife of postwar New York. I collect vintage paperbacks in large part because so many of the people on the covers look so damned cool, like they've just come from smoking and drinking and generally enjoying themselves at Toots SHOR's.
  • 34A: Banned apple spray (alar) - Crosswordese 101. Not as cool as SHOR.
  • 9D: 1970s-'80s supermodel Carangi (Gia) - Crosswordese ... OK, I'll stop now.
  • 38D: Vegan's protein source (tofu) - first, not all vegans eat TOFU. Second, TOFU is the "protein source" of Anyone Who Eats Tofu (lots of meat-eaters eat tofu). Kill this clue.
  • 43D: Deadhead icon (Garcia) - I was thinking "wasted-looking teddy bear"

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

See Orange's write-up of today's puzzling LAT puzzle here.


Roger von Oech 9:14 AM  

I guess one man's "Why does this puzzle exist?" is another man's "Wow, I think that's really clever how he did that!"

I thought the perimeter's payoff of the state postal abbreviations was inspired. I did this puzzle last night, and when I realized what the designer had done, I got a big smile on my face. Well done!

Anonymous 9:15 AM  

IN RE: "This is a completely pointless concept" - couldn't this complaint pretty much apply towards the entire concept of crossword puzzles to begin with? What do you want in a theme, intercepted nuclear missile launch codes? Anyway, I think the point of crosswords is that they're Neat, and I thought this theme was Neat.

Also, no love for the HOT COCOA poured neatly atop the ICE CREAM?? Delightful!

Steve in CA 9:16 AM  

I think it's fun to sove a puzzle once in a while that lets me marvel at its construction. I really find it incredible that the constructor could piece together 26 state abbreviations, especially in the across answers.

Of course there is going to be awkward fill in this type of puzzle, but it's fun to sit back after completing it and wonder how it was done!

Denise 9:17 AM  

I can't spell Ghandi, but it was not the state theme but rather the crosses that helped.

I left "JAGR" because everything else seemed right. I know a child named Asmara, so that helped.

I eat TOFU and I am an omnivore.

I have to say that "AGETEN" made me smile -- I spent three years teaching fifth grade. Ten year olds are darling.

Orange 9:24 AM  

After I finished the puzzle in standard Wednesday time, I paused to understand the theme clue and said "Wow!" out loud. So I liked it, despite the clunkers in the fill.

I call foul on any Natick aspersions being cast on ASMARA, which is a world capital. Maybe a lot of Americans don't know their world capitals, but they should. (Note: My approval of world capitals as crossword fill does not extend to random little-known port cities, towns located on crosswordese rivers, or obscure counties and small towns in the U.S.)

Anonymous 9:25 AM  

I actually had "ELEVEN" instead of "AGETEN" which worked with the half of the crosses I had at the time. Interesting that I had the right concept but the wrong age.

fikink 9:25 AM  

Rex, I want your Monopoly game. Ya know, the one that says,

Go to hell.
Go straight to hell.
Do not pass go,
Do not collect two hundred dollars!

(there are still tears in my eyes...)

PuzzleGirl 9:32 AM  

I Loved this puzzle. When I got the reveal answer through crosses, then looked around the edges of the grid I was in awe. Very very cool.

ONE-HORSE is an awesome answer. And I love the clue for BEST ("Letter sign-off"). For the Deadhead icon I was trying to think of the name of the skull with a lightning-bolt-thing through it or the dancing bear's name. Pretty sure they both have names. PuzzleSon will reach AGE TEN this week.

Very nice job, Sam.

Unknown 9:33 AM  

I agree that today's theme was as showy yet pointless as last Sunday's (in that it must have been a bear to construct, but added nothing to the pleasure of solving it), but I enjoyed the fill a lot more than you.

Hot Cocoa on top of Ice Cream, all on top of the Concorde (with a nice clue for Arc)? Neither Elway not Peete are groundbreaking, but I like them lined up next to each other.

I personally don't view Iranis as being in the same class as Eery or Emeer; what do you call people from Iran, if not Irani?

I do, on the other hand, wonder what constructors would have done if Ulee's Gold hadn't been greenlit and subsequently been seen by next to no one back in the 90's.

Norm 9:34 AM  

@fikink: ROFL. Thanks.

Anonymous 9:40 AM  

Put me down in the camp that thought the puzzle was definitely worthy of admiration. C'mon RP, 2 each six- and eight-letter legitimate words made from state abbrevs? Not to mention the triple stacks of 6's and 8's in each corner. Seems to be a lot to admire in this construction, IMHO, despite some forced fill (surprised GNAR was not listed among the dislikes).

@Denise - same experience in NE, I can never remember where to put the 'H' in GANDHI, but crosses resolved it quickly.


Karen 9:40 AM  

I liked the reveal on this puzzle too. I completely agree with the first three commentators. And I loved that it had MIMI in it, that was our name for our grandmother (I have no idea why, her real name was Ruth.) I did get hung up with the ASMARA crosses but was able to figure them out, including that weird looking GNAR.

Hungry Mother 9:41 AM  

My Dad ran a CCC camp in Pennsylvania, but I got that answer in fallout today. That "R" got me since I didn't know "JAGR".

Glitch 9:43 AM  

Not wanting to beat a dead horse, @Rex, you were much kinder yesterday when you at least said, in part "...and try to do the puzzle justice". Maybe you got too much rest?


Jagr / Asmera WAS a Natick for me, you can't argue with my opinion (tho you discount it)

... and quick, What's the capital of French Polynesia?

[Hint: It's as much of a tourist destination as Eritrea]



JannieB 9:44 AM  

I find Irani no more egregious than Utahn - like @Alex said, how else do you refer to them?

I thought the puzzle very clever - while the abbreviations thing may have been done before - this still felt fresh and very inventive - no whacky puns, no force theme answers.


toothdoc 9:46 AM  

Maybe I've been brainwashed over the last year but I agree with Rex on this one. This puzzle is a construction achievement without regard for the solving experience. I had the same thought with 36A - why 26 states? What's next a theme of 14 letters of the alphabet? Kudos on the construction - meh on the solve.

Frank Price 9:52 AM  

I didn't mind the theme, but what's up with 43A "gnar" (makes a snarling sound)? Is that the sound a pirate's dog makes?

Rex Parker 9:54 AM  


Yes ... yes ... you are feeling very sleepy ... you will agree with everything I say ...

Thanks for submitting to my mind control.

I'm off to work on my FOUR BREEDS OF DOG puzzle. Why four? Who cares!


Ulrich 9:58 AM  

I'm slowly warming to the idea that puzzles may be neat b/c they represent a feat of construction, even if they leave something to be desired from the solver's perspective. How else should I respond to what seems to be a trend? Go away and sulk?

This puzzle was noteworthy to me not only b/c of the construction feat (the theme actually helped me twice in closing some gaps), but because what was a Natick to some was a crossing of gimmies to me--and I'm with Orange: Not knowing Asmara is not Asmara's fault. Jagr, on the other hand, is a household name only for hockey fans (and former residents of Pittsburgh), I admit.

@Glitch: Since I've been to Papeete recently, I can state that it IS a tourist attraction (I was a tourist and definitely attracted to it), but I'm not so sure about Asmara, which I remember not b/c of its charms, but b/c of the civil war that led to Eritrea seceding from Ethiopia.

slypett 9:58 AM  

Enough sleep, but bad dreams? This puzzle's theme was not more or less helpful in solving than yesterday's. In addition, it is much denser and more generous than the meagre SNL of yesterday.

On hte other hand, I thought it was rather easy for a Wednesday.

foodie 10:05 AM  

Rex, I love the purity of your hatreds! Real LOL.

Mr. Samuel A. Donaldson, I hope you'll enjoy the strong emotions you've elicited. Way better than a shrug!

Anonymous 10:06 AM  

Sweet! Eagerly awaiting your FOUR BREEDS OF DOGS puzzle! Maybe your fill can include words whose letters arbitrarily cross letters in other words! ;)

Jeffrey 10:08 AM  

Dear American neighbours:

What is the fascination you guys have with state abbreviations? Is it a required subject in school? “Timmy, George Washington was from what state and what is that state’s postal abbreviation? “

Curious in BC

capesunset105 10:21 AM  

another fan of spelling it GHANDI here. also have no hate in my heart for the construction, that would be very unGANDHI-like. and now the answer HIT ME has me singing the Jay-Z song 99 Problems in my head. but i'm probably alone in that, lol.

slypett 10:26 AM  

@crosscan (orig. starofdavidcan): I think this mania originated when they (the USPS) changed the natural state abbreviations to the two-letter abominations (CA for the elegant Calif., FL for the musical Fla., MS for the delicate Miss., MA for the weighty Mass., e.g.).

poc 10:26 AM  

I'd like to chime in on Rex's side here. This puzzle is another example of a constructor showing off but doing nothing to make the solver's life easier (or indeed harder, which is also good).

I also disliked the high proportion of proper names, which in my book usually indicates the constructor is stuck.

However I don't agree with the disapproval of IRANIS as such. I have seen this usage frequently (though maybe not in American publications) and have always thought it more euphonious than Iranians. Would anyone say Iraquians?

Morgan 10:30 AM  

I disliked this puzzle, but didn't hate it with the great passion Rex did.

Also, I LOLed at the Four Dog Breeds idea, because I've been working on a puzzle with almost exactly that theme. Maybe I'll scrap that one ...

Glitch 10:32 AM  


oops, confused Eritrea with Eleuthera (cap. Governor's Harbour) --- my bad

Actually, recalling your trip, I intentially picked a locale that would be a gimme to at least one of the bloggers.


Forget the "hint", and as long as I'm at it, my post should have read ... (tho you MAY discount it)


Anonymous 10:41 AM  

"JOINT" next to "GARCIA" was nice.

Brian Cassidy 10:44 AM  

I too -- while largely agreeing with you about your overall frustration with the puzzle (and I can't spell Gandhi either - where does that "h" go?) -- want to give a small shout-out for HOTCOCOA over ICECREAM. That was rather pleasing.

PIX 10:47 AM  

@Crosscan: Americans have to use abbrievations cause we cant spel.

Theme was fine for a per COIXT RECORDS asking for the nuclear launch codes in each puzzle is a bit much...have to save those for special days...

mccoll 10:51 AM  

Easy for Wednesday. Nicely crafted, but not craftily clued! There is no vitriol in my heart for Sam A. but then there is not much for anyone else either. I have heard Irani on the air a lot. Broadcasters have taken the next step from Iraqui and Omani. Iraquian and Omanian are clumsy, but Iranian isn't.
@ Crosscan. I thought you were from Quebec not BC. Cheers all.

Jeffrey 10:53 AM  

@mccoll: Born in Quebec, now live in BC.

Rex Parker 10:54 AM  

Noticed the JOINT / GARCIA connection shortly after posting. That is indeed good.


chefbea 11:04 AM  

Didn't think the puzzle was so bad.

Is the constructor the same person we see on the news??

Loved hot cocoa over ice cream. @joho did you have lots of ice cream on your birthday??

Two Ponies 11:12 AM  

I am still grinning at Rex's write up. I thought he would hate it less.
No acknowledgment of the shout out to Acme?
Nice to see summer cooler was Not our old stand-by Ade.
Also the retired aircraft was Not SST.
I only knew Asmara because I know an Eritrean woman. Crossing Jagr was tough.(Go Penguins!)
Iraqi yes, Irani no.
This was good Wednesday fun for me.
@ Rex, your powers may reach farther than you realize. Just yesterday I was thinking about a dog breed theme puzzle. Eery!

Unknown 11:24 AM  

Former yet forever an English teacher, I say to all constructors:

Iranian not Irani

Afghan not Afghani

Ghanaian not Ghanian

(even my spell check questions those oft used shortcuts!)

I thought the puzzle was clever! Why should 26 have to be significant????

retired_chemist 11:28 AM  

GOOD Wednesday puzzle. Liked the theme – ingenious and probably not easy to execute. HOT COCOA on top of ICE CREAM - cute. ELWAY beside PEETE – also cute. JOINT next to GARCIA – didn’t notice it until I came here, but also cute. No particular snags. Some nice fill – good to see Ms. ACME @ 50A (well clued, BTW). Also loved LESS (is more) @ 8D.

A nitpick, echoing the implicit opinion of others – too many crosswordese answers that are seldom seen in the real world: GNAR, JAGR, OLMEC, ULEES, EMEER, ALAR, and maybe SHOR. All legit, but still………

Anonymous 11:35 AM  

Absolutely loved this puzzle for a Wednesday. Rex, once again, you are way too grumpy. There is no point to any puzzle, and that is the point of puzzles -- they are pointless fun. C'mon man, lighten up.

I loved the audacity and skill involved in constructing this, and really don't mind the occasional emeer. There was so much great fill, such as Gacia and Elway/Peete, and my favorite, "Less" is "more.

Bravo to the constructor.

PS -- Actually there was one puzzle recently that truly was pointless. Last Sunday's "Nuts Over." Now that was dumb because it forced you to solve a meaningless anagram that had no kick to it. But this one isn't like that at all. Really brilliant.

Anonymous 11:39 AM  

I don't frankly understand how anyone could even think of calling foul on the Jagr/Asmara crossing. We're talking a world capital and one of the most accomplished hockey players of his generation. Most Americans prefer football, sure (ahem, Peete, ahem Elway). But the National Hockey League still has the vast majority of its teams HQed in this country. You don't watch hockey, or care for it? Fine. But you can. It's not like it was a clue for a Polynesian cricket mediocrity, though.

Mike 11:46 AM  

Definitely enjoyed it more than Rex, although I totally understand the point of view about this being arbitrary, more so than most themes. It was fun though, and I am a little stunned by how natural all of the perimeter words felt; I had absolutely no idea that there was anything special about them until the end.

The thing I noticed while doing this puzzle was the INSANE amount of crosswordese in it. I commented over at Orange's blog that I would think people not used to crosswords would have a really tough time with this puzzle, whereas experienced solvers will likely breeze through most of it.

Also, I agree about AGETEN being incredibly lame fill. It just opens up a whole AGE___ category that seems really iffy and highly annoying

Anonymous 11:47 AM  

Now when you've finished solving this puzzle I want you to look at how clever...

foodie 11:53 AM  

I just noticed that the great state of MIchigan is represented three times-- On the east coast, in MISC and intersecting with the last I of MIMI... Cool! Our poor state is reeling under auto industry troubles, we could use some extra love.

How did I notice this? Because I was wondering how many of the remaining state abbreviations could be discovered in the body of the puzzle. My quick impression (I do have to work:) is that there are some repeats of the original 26 (MI, ME) but not that many of the missing ones. Too bad...

Unknown 11:53 AM  

I agree with the majority that the perimeter is ingenious and that Rex is ungenerous, tendentious, and pretentious (on this occasion, at least).

edith b 11:57 AM  


When the US Postal Service unified the state codes to two letters they had no idea how wedded people were to their own abbreviations. My grandmother corresponded with many people who lived in Okla and Fla and she herself was from Del. She refused to standardize and used DEL (all caps) until she died.

She wrote to me many times about the "M" problem - how ridiculous it was to try and standardize those states that began with M. It may have been a tempest in a teapot but it certainly provoked a reaction in some people.

PlantieBea 12:03 PM  

I wondered about the randomness 26 states. I'm also one of the dummies who doesn't know ASMARA from ASMASA, JAGR from JAGS, and took multiple stabs at spelling GANDHI correctly. But as a whole, I really appreciated the final product with the construction along the edges.

I'd love to see this executed with all of the states including my missing FL which should be easy. Well, maybe ULEE's counts for FLORIDA since that's where it was set. It would be interesting to make a list of what's missing and see if there would be enough vowels to make some scrabble arrangement possible.

Sandy 12:03 PM  

Dear Anon 11:39
If there is one thing I've learned from this blog, it is that not everyone knows everything. I'm sometimes have that "wow" moment when I learn that some people don't know stuff that is basic to my being, but then I think of all the stuff I pay no attention to, like hockey and world capitals. (oh, and I grew up in a south pacific cricket-playing nation, for real!) I think Rex has noted elsewhere that crosswords are an interesting commentary on what constitutes our culture and our shared cultural knowledge.

And Anon 11:35 made me smile when he/she realized that sometimes pointlessness is annoying. Or maybe the issue isn't pointlessness, but arbitrariness.

HudsonHawk 12:08 PM  

I found Rex's rant amusing, but I liked the puzzle. I was struck by the number of proper names, though, and figured that would elicit some complaints. I also struggle with where to place the H in GANDHI, and the fact that it's three state abbreviations might actually help me in the future.

Gnarbles 12:17 PM  


Maybe you have a little postal abbreviation envy. You can't do much with the Canadian province abbreviations:


Too many N's and not enough ending vowels.

You can get Peyton, numb,pens, but not much else

jimweed 12:38 PM  

rex, not that you're really curious as to why this puzzle exists, as your incredulity suggests, but here's my answer. this puzzle exists for the same reason that dark chocolate exists. because some people love it. this was such an impressively-constructed and enjoyable puzzle. the arbitrariness of 26 is easily forgivable for me (because i'm SO compassionate). a lot of crosswords have way more unforgivably arbitrary things (and themes).

imsdave 12:46 PM  

What r_c said, in his first paragraph. I am totally willing to put up with the crosswordese to get that incredible punchline. I thought this was an absolutely stunning puzzle and a amazing construction feat.

I was really shocked to read Rex's commentary today, but it definitely hammers home to me that these things we enjoy so much are artworks that we can choose to love, hate, respect, admire, etc. as suits our own sensibilities. I love PB2, but hated yesterdays puzzle. I thought it was S&L rather than SNL, but that worked as a solving aid for the theme anyway. My take on that one was hating the theme, yet truly admiring the remarkable quality of it's structure.

To each his own.

Happy belated birthday joho.

imsdave 12:48 PM  

oops - 'an amazing'

DJG 1:08 PM  

I'm with Rex on this one in that there is no payoff in this puzzle's theme. I liked the fill more than Rex though, so I thought it was OK.

Also, I don't think it's an amazing feat of construction like many others do. The idea is not very clever because state abbreviations have already been done many times. Also with all 50 states at your disposal making acceptable fill out of an arbitrary 26 of them is not THAT impressive (meaning it's cool, but the bar is high for NYT puzzles).

I guess I had an opposite solving experience of many people -- reasonably enjoyable puzzle, but lacking in a well-executed theme.

HumorlessTwit 1:24 PM  

This was definitely a "Look what I did" puzzle, which I tend to dislike. This time when I got to the "Look what I did part" I said some variant of WOW as opposed to my usual BFD.
Why 26? Because 24 would have made too choppy a grid, 28 would have been too solid a grid. Hence 26. Fine by me.

mac 1:28 PM  

I thought it was a capable puzzle, but a little easy for a Wednesday.
Checking out all the postal codes on the perimeter was fun.

Love "one-horse", T.J. Maxx and Olmec, so proud I remembered it. For this sports-challenged (if I'm alone in the house) solver, those players might have been tough, but the crossings made it all doable. I was lucky to know Asmara, but I had to swallow before accepting Jagr.

Pretty good puzzle day.

@joho: Westport tournament is on Feb. 6, 2010.

mac 1:28 PM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
ArtLvr 1:31 PM  

I thought it was an amazingly clever construction with real words around the perimeter, even eight-letter answers like MALARIAL, though I didn't know MONY. I also thought the four corner areas were very smooth (except for IRANIS).

I'd have preferred to see Asimov credited for I ROBOT -- derivative clues like "Disney girl" drive me nuts. And I dislike SLIER for Slyer, though I've often seen those variants in xwords. Those plus the EMEER and two adjacent former QB's made me think the center portion didn't quite achieve the quality of the framework, though T J MAXX, YANG, OLMEC and EPCOT were quite good, and I didn't mind AGE TEN... HIT ME, Must've been something I ATE and Parasite's HOST were okay too, though I was thinking lice in the Hair at first!

Hoping Rex will come up with more than four dog breeds... (tongue in cheek)


Alex S. 1:42 PM  

My problem with Irani is that to me "Iranian" is a person from Iran and "Irani" (or Irani Zoroastrian) is a member of the Irani ethnic group in India (Zoroastrian Iranians that fled religious persecution in the 1800s).

But I know that is a distinction not generally held so Irani seems fair game clued as synonomous with Iranian. I just never like it when I see it.

I admire the construction feat though the border didn't really impact solving one way or the other. Didn't like that it required the random "Twenty Six States" in the middle even if I did get it off the two T's without even looking at what I had at the rim.

Bob Kerfuffle 1:53 PM  

[After 58 comments, everything truly relevant about the puzzle has already been said, so . . . ]

If anyone can't get enough of puzzles involving the U.S. states, check out Matt Gaffney's "Signing Bonus" puzzle. (Spoiler warning: Don't look around too much on the Web, since the answer is already out there.)

chefbea 1:55 PM  

@mac I'll mark Feb 6 on my next year's calendar. Will IMSDave make another crossword puzzle for me to put on a shirt or will everyone say "here comes chef bea in the same old shirt she wore last year"?

Elaine 1:56 PM  

Hi -- I also enjoyed this, and despite the arbitrariness of "twenty-six states" thought it was clever. Clever can be entertaining just on its own!

Sara 2:17 PM  

@ crosscan et. al. about the states: In addition to what everyone else said about the traumatic changing of the postal codes - so true!- there's also the fact that we have FIFTY of them, so there comes a time in every American schoolkid's life when she has to memorize the states. It's kind of a mass rite of passage.

nanpilla 2:21 PM  

Reading the reveal definitely led to a WOW moment for me, so the less than ideal fill was worth it. I loved seeing ACME crossed with CHIC. Isn't that perfect. She is tres CHIC with a well-tied scarf, no doubt.

Billy 2:38 PM  

I've never disagreed more with a Rex posting. A lovely and smile-inducing puzzle.

What is so wrong with AGE TEN? Is that really less crossworthy or more arbitrary than "AT A TILT" or "ODDS ARE" or "I DID" or "AND A" or "IN A"? (All of which apparently received Rex's blessing just yesterday.)

And finally seeing the poor STT able to stretch its wings as the CONCORDE is justification enough for the existence of this puzzle.

Billy 2:39 PM  

SST, that is.

Anonymous 2:46 PM  

OMG. Samuel Donaldson, please have my babies. We can live in whatever state you see fit.

fikink 2:54 PM  

Billy, perhaps if SINATRA ever sang, "When I was age ten, it was a very good year..." its reception might have been better.

fergus 3:04 PM  

How odd is it to completely agree with Rex on the crappiness of the puzzle, yet completely enjoy nd appreciate it?

The nerdiness of two letter State Codes will never be outdone since that memorable iconoclastic puzzle ...

Just last week, taking the back roads from SeaTac, through Tukwila, I realized we were close to Boeing Field, and maybe we'd get a chance to see the CONCORDE, which I've seen many times from above. And Presto, there it was, parked right on your left, along with a retired Air Force One.

The Deadhead icon was one of the toughest Clues, because a skull and a rose permeated all referents. Made me think of Bob Weir working in Yorick's graveyard.

And as a matter of style I wince when anyone signs off with



Joe 3:23 PM  

I don't get the "26 states" theme either -- too much bother and not too clever at all.
I liked most of this, except the entire SE corner, which I think is pretty awful.

CCC? (How many of you tried "FDR"?)
ACER (How many tried "DELL"?)
ARC (Who had "DAY"?)

Anonymous 3:33 PM  

you're way to fucking critical. I? used to enjoy your entries, but now it's just dismal. cut the op-ed bullshit and comment on the words in the puzzle

Jeffrey 3:35 PM  

I rarely do this, and maybe it's a case of postal abbreviation envy, but the constructor has posted a long comment over at Ryan & Brian's blog about this puzzle that is pertinent to the discussion, including what he tried to put in before TWENTY-SIX STATES. A collective D'oh! from all of us for not thinking that.

Tomorrow we can discuss ZIP codes vs. postal codes - Are half letters better than no letters?

Anne 3:39 PM  

@Fergus, why? I think it works well on e-mails, in particular, because nothing else feels comfortable if I think it needs a closing.

As for the puzzle, I made one mistake - emear - as I can't seem to remember Olmec. I've seen Jagr before so I was able to guess correctly.

I expect an expert solver to be much more critical than a casual solver so Rex's comments seem justified. As for me, I didn't see the theme until I was nearly finished and I thought it was clever, and the fill seemed right for Wednesday.

archaeoprof 3:45 PM  

@Rex: ok, but didn't you like the stack of ICECREAM, HOTCOCOA, and ACME?

Anonymous 3:53 PM  

@archaeoprof - Kinky!

Anne 3:54 PM  

Thanks a lot, Crosscan, for sharing the link.

I read Sam Donaldson's explanation. He's new to construction and wanted Border States but had to settle for Twenty-Six States because he couldn't get it to work. He noted that a more experienced constructor could probably do it, which I thought was nice.

fergus 3:56 PM  


I have no reason, except that it simply grates on my sensibilities. My preference is for the old Telex closing, Regards, but that might strike others as banal and inconclusive as well.

But if we care to get into letter closings, past centuries have seen the most florid and elaborate, multi-lined send-offs that probably have a whole slew of coded messages there entwined.


Crosscan's link to the constructor's thoughts are worth the click and read.

And though I tend to favour things Canadian and British, the ZIP Code rules over the hapless Postal Codes.

mac 4:16 PM  

To whom it may concern:

I agree with Anne in this case; Regards is formal, Fondly and Warmly very personal and Best sort of in between. I have used it a lot lately and I have noticed several friends have taken it up as well.

Orange 4:19 PM  

Is it just me or is this the best batch of comments in ages? I even found myself appreciating some of the anonymice (but not the sniping poor typist at 3:33, no). Aside from 3:33, the hearty disagreement, the raves and pans, have been so respectful.

I'm with humorlesstwit—usually I'm also in "BFD" camp when it comes to the genre of "look at what I did" construction feats but, gimmick aside, there was enough good stuff in the grid that I liked the puzzle OK when I finished it, and then the gimmick hit me with a "wow" like a cherry on top of the ICE CREAM. (Not Cherry Garcia. I prefer chocolate.)

harveydoc 4:20 PM  

Karen -

Regarding Grandma Mimi - I assume it's because babies love to start words with "m" and to repeat the initial consonant (mamamama). They imitate "grandma" as "mama (broad initial "a" as in "grandma") but, to distinguish her from "mama", mama > mima. As adults we transform Mima" into "Mimi", a real name.

Or maybe not.

Orange 4:21 PM  

P.S. I'm switching to "L.Y.L.A.S." from now on for all my e-mail sign-offs.

Kellyg 4:24 PM  

I've got to defend CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps). This was probably THE most well-known New Deal program. It has even been in the news recently since it has been proposed as a model for what an economic stimulus program should do.

And I thought the theme was cool and the fill not really any worse than usual.

Two Ponies 4:27 PM  

As for the Best answer, I much prefer
Best Regards.
Funny how sniping lurkers can rarely type and/or spell.
The more I look at the perimeter words the more impressed I am.
When I filled 47D I was hoping for a Carly Simon video.

poc 4:34 PM  

@Anne: Well if he *had* managed it with BORDERSTATES the whole thing would have been worthwhile for sheer coolness (despite not actually making the puzzle any easier or harder). But he didn't, so it isn't.

ileen 4:47 PM  

I still don't get ACER. How big a desktop computer name can that be?

I'm usually much better solving the night before than the morning, but my time was so good today I may switch to afternoons.

fergus 5:00 PM  

The issue of the closing of a letter has made me nostalgic for the era when a careful choice of stationery, the right pen with the proper ink, where to make the fold and how to place it in the envelope ... .

These were the antecedents, I suppose, to font choice, line breaks and a bunch of other technicalities I haven't become conversant with, though with some instruction I am getting the hang of Facebook.

And so, with an admirable regard,
best wishes and a thorough appreciation for the indulgences provided by Crossword minutiae, I close, as your most loyal and dedicated, humble and sardonic participant of the daily blog,


Bill from NJ 5:16 PM  

I forgot yesterday

Happy (belated) Birthday, joho.

treedweller 5:17 PM  

your puzzlement over memorization of state abbrevs. has been echoed by pretty much every American student who had to do it. And, yes, we (post-two-letter-instatement) all had to do it at some point. But now it's often a point of pride at bars around 2am to be the one who can remember them. At least among those of us who aren't looking to hook up.

Or maybe that's just me and my nerdy friends.

I tend to go with

Bill From The Bar 5:22 PM  

I forgot yesterday too

Glitch 5:43 PM  

Some random comments for today:

When I lived in Manhattan, it wasn't a problem with formalizing "NY", it was was when they messed with area code (212) the pitchforks and torches came out.


Acer = It ranks as the world's third-largest company for total PC shipments, is No. 2 for notebooks, and has a global workforce of more than 6,000 employees. Revenues in 2008 reached US$16.65 billion.

It also now owns Gateway and Packard-Bell. Think global.

@Kellyg: CCC was a new one on me, first considered WPA, REA, TVA, as they are more common fill. Now I have at least 4 to "consider".

Although I've used (and received) many "closes", I generally just use


PS: @Ulrich --- will answer email soon.

Rex Parker 5:59 PM  

Dear all,

Frequent commenter joho is not able to comment or even see the "Comments" link on my site today. I told her I had no idea why that should be, but her blog withdrawal is so bad at this point that she's asked me to ask you if anyone knows a quick fix. Email me privately if you would (rexparker at I've already suggested switching browsers. This issue seems to be affecting a small but vocal number of people today.

And thanks for a lively day of blog feedback.


Charles Bogle 6:00 PM  

Rex, given the lateness of the hour at which you did the puzzle...7:33 guess is you had your morning coffee and were not your usual mellow self-

I greatly enjoyed the puzzle and the "pointless" theme; most puzzle themes so far seem to me to be "pointless," w the exception of things like horse racing puzzles on Kentucky Derby Day? why not 26 state abbrevs. cleverly scattered across the perimeter? you did a puzzle the other day that themed the repetition of words three times TIMETIMETIME (Waltz instruction) for no concrete reason

moving on, I really enjoyed DRAT, a fave of my fave, W.C. Fields; ONEHORSE, a wonderful expression I was afraid had died; ACME, because I love Chuck Jones and Looney Tunes and my dog is named Wylee; TJMAXX because our family is helping to keep them going w/out bkrpting me! And ELWAY is one of my and my oldest's idols! He has a personal letter Elway sent him in 1989 when he was 7!

On the other hand, I'm tired of seeing ULEES (Fonda); have no idea still what or where AGUA is, or YIMI Rogers; and, am feeling old and ashamed that I don't know who that supermodel GIA was..and fearful she's a female and what happened to me that I never noticed...

jeff in chicago 6:05 PM  

Somebody's grumpy today...

hazel 6:06 PM  

@Orange - I wholeheartedly agree. What a great blog today - the Tao of Puzzles, all sparked by what sounded like a bit of existential despair from Rex this morning.

To echo @Roger, and @COEXIST, and @ Charles Bogle - what is the point of any puzzle? Puzzles are pastimes. They either bring us pleasure or don’t, we either admire them or we don’t. I admire a puzzle for essentially 2 reasons - (1) what I perceive to be its degree of construction difficulty and (2) for the quality of my solving experience (think Olympic diving).

I admire what I read in a similar way - can appreciate (1) what an author’s trying to do even though the actual reading can be a slog - Moby Dick - history of whaling industry! and (2) a fantastic read. And there are the rare occasions when (1) and (2) combine in such a way that my life is forever changed. Can’t really say that about crosswords - but I can say that a really artful puzzle that is fun to solve is memorable, and that’s something.

And to me, the point is that I like the pastime, but I can't say that I think any puzzle has a point outside of that? I did also happen to like this puzzle. Thought it was a cool feat, and also had some catchy fill.

[Insert Fergus' 5:00 closing]


fergus 7:08 PM  

... and I thought about tarting it up even more. The closings I just checked from Dickens and Dostoevsky confirm the wry elaboration.


Letters are a lost artifact, like chemical photographs are becoming, for those born past 1977 ?

A trove of more meaningful relics awaits the historian who doesn't have to sort through this electronic dreck.

The future historian may have more refined filters for sorting it all out, however, so I hedge my bets.

Leon 7:17 PM  

Great puzzle Mr. Donaldson.

Put me in the I thought it was great camp.

The drums of Mony Mony won't leave my head. Help !

fergus 7:35 PM  

Tommy James and the Shondelles deserve some credit, I wanted to say earlier when I was not quite so picky about attribution.

Back in 1969

sanfranman59 7:45 PM  

In case anyone's interested, I'm beginning to track my solve times on NYT puzzles and comparing my times to those in the Top Ten Puzzlers list. Of 734 puzzlers who solved today's puzzle in under an hour, the median solve time is 9:51. Yesterday's was 8:20 (among 807 solvers) and Monday's was 7:10 (among 800 solvers). I arbitrarily excluded solve times of more than an hour to try and eliminate folks who weren't able to solve the puzzle in one sitting.

Ulrich 8:21 PM  

@sanfranman59: Please do this for the rest of the week. I'm interested in seeing confirmation for my intuitive impression that the level of difficulty over a week does not increase linearly--the curve is more like a hockey stick: From Mo through Th, I hardly ever encounter real difficulties and can't really tell if there are differences b/c I do not time myself, and then all hell breaks loose on Friday, which I'm happy to solve w/o googling no matter how long it takes, and Saturday is in a league all by itself.

joho 8:27 PM  

Wow ... I'm back on the blog! Thanks to everybody for all the help. Now I have nearly 100 comments to go through ... can't wait! This morning when I was going to post my feelings were that I liked the puzzle a lot ... I'm not mechanical so arranging the perimeter with 26 states amazed me. Good job, Sam Donaldson!

joho 9:10 PM  

I am done reading and totally agree with @Orange and @hazel ... today's comments were way above average.

@mac ... thanks for the Westport date ... I hope it's not too close to my date in San Diego. Will check it out further.

@imsdave & Bill from NJ ... thank you! Getting another year older is much easier with such good wishes.

@ACME ... you should be blushing!

@rex ... my dog, Riley, has respectfully requested you work COCKAPOO into your puzzle.

Anonymous 9:22 PM  

Excellent critique Rex.
Zero payoff for the solvers.

Finally was able to get on and read
these comments. Your link seems to have returned.

retired_chemist 9:36 PM  

@ Ulrich if he is still around:

GNAR presumably is related etymologically to the German knurren, right? One of my favorites from Die Winterreise:

Der Leiermann:
Keiner mag ihn hören,
Keiner sieht ihn an,
Und die Hunde knurren
Um den alten Mann.

mac 9:42 PM  

@retired_chemist: I bet you are right. In Dutch it would be "knorren". We and the Germans have lots of wonderful words for all sorts of sounds.

retired_chemist 9:44 PM  

@ mac - thanks!

foodie 10:06 PM  

@sanfranman59 I agree with Ulrich that it would be interesting to see this data. Also, can you please do it with and without Orange and tell us how much that changes the mean : )

@hazel et al, interesting discussion about "the point of a puzzle". Beyond the enjoyment of the solving and the admiration of the construction feat, what I think about is how we are all probing various aspects of language-- synonyms, homonyms, puns, additions that tranform a meaning, etc. Both the clues and the answers provide opportunties to explore the nooks and crannies. So, I really enjoyed reading the constructor's description of his search for a collection of words that incorporate the pairs signifying states, without interruption and without repetition. There are quite a few constraints! To me, this exemplifies yet another way that someone can become fascinated with some feature of the language..

And this is all art, it's subject to taste (no?)

Cheers (to use another e-mail closing)...

Ulrich 10:20 PM  

@R_C and mac: And "gnarly" is "knorrig" in German--it can apply to a tree or a person like me:-)

fergus 10:22 PM  

It's a form of art, this cross-word puzzling, and I decry my earlier denunciations regarding theme and symmetry.

With regret,


HudsonHawk 11:03 PM  


Thanks for the shout-out to Tommy James. I meant to include that in my post--I hate when the crappy remake gets the nod over the original. As legend has it, Tommy James came up with the MONY name from a Mutual Of New York sign.

John 11:07 PM  

Ithought ASMARA crossing JAGR was a n unfair Natick for a midweek puzzle. I dont know the world capitals or hockey outside of bobby Orr and the Stanley cup so those answers are totaly obscure to me. I also put PICARD for the Ben kingsley role before doing the down clues. Nobody knows everything and they dshouldnt be told they NEED to!

Orange 11:17 PM  

John: It was Patrick Stewart, who also pulls off the bald look pretty well, who played Jean-Luc PICARD. I saw him about 15 years ago in The Tempest on Broadway. (Stand down, Greene! It's the one show I've ever seen on B'way, and not a musical.)

Arundel 11:19 PM  

Liked the comments today on crosswords as 'art form' -- Don't know what that means, but the form does seem to be flourishing right now...

--Stan (on a different account)

Victor in Rochester 11:19 PM  

I enjoyed the puzzle and chuckled at the constructor's skill when the "Aha" moment came. Maybe Rex had rotten eggs for breakfast today.

Any world capitol seems like fair game to me, and 34D ASMARA has certainly been prominent in the news. In the late 60's the USA had an Army base there, at which time Eritrea was a province of Ethiopia.

slypett 11:43 PM  

"Strawberry Fields forever!"

slypett 11:49 PM  

I think someone should take up the name "Acromonious." And soon.

sanfranman59 11:53 PM  

lol @ foodie ... that's precisely why I report the median instead of the mean solve time. (That, and the fact that calculating the mean would require totaling all of the 700 or so solve times in the list.) The median is less influenced by extreme values. I can't comprehend how it's physically possible to solve a 15 x 15 crossword in 3 minutes or less. I track my solve times on the daily Yahoo, and USA Today puzzles and the fastest I've ever solved any of them is 3:58.

slypett 11:56 PM  

@Fergus: Sir, You have no finer sensibilities! It wou;d appear you prefer Pop-Tarts to pancakes.

Southern Ma'am 2:21 AM  

Seen this concept before. I love Rex 'cause, for some reason, I can't spell Ghandi either. Gandi. Gandhi.
Always good to see Ulee, the name that will exist in the
crosswordese Hall of Forever, like eft and inre.
Oh! It's after midnight, my birthday just sneaked in.
Cheers, all!

Anonymous 8:09 PM  

Is this author the ABC newsman?

Old Al 5:42 PM  

Put me down in the, "Wow, that's neat" camp. Who ever realized that Gandhi's name or the name of the SST was made up of state abbreviations.

Well done, Mr. Donaldson!

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