Desert rodents — SATURDAY, Aug 1 2009 — Diphthong dividers / Bygone Buicks / Satirist Ward / 1947 western serial film / Stately old court dance

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Constructor: Martin Ashwood-Smith

Relative difficulty: Medium

Theme: None

Word of the Day: Dieresis [DIERESES (34D: Diphthong dividers)] n., pl. -ses or -ses (-sēz').

  1. Linguistics.
    1. A mark (¨) placed over the second of two adjacent vowels to indicate that they are to be pronounced as separate sounds rather than a diphthong, as in naïve.
    2. A mark (¨) placed over a vowel, such as the final vowel in Brontë, to indicate that the vowel is not silent.
  2. Poetry. A break or pause in a line of verse that occurs when the end of a word and the end of a metrical foot coincide.

[Late Latin diaeresis, from Greek diairesis, from diairein, to divide : dia-, apart; see dia– + hairein, to take.]


Weirdly uneven puzzle, difficulty-wise. After a very easy NW, I stalled badly in the SW and SE, but once I crossed the WATTERSON line (29A: Creator of a comic strip duo named after a theologian and a philosopher), the puzzle went back to easy again. I finished with a very normal Saturday time. I also finished with an error at JAFFE / DIERESES. I had JAFFA / DIARESES. Though I know of Rona JAFFE (39A: "Class Reunion" novelist, 1979), and the only JAFFAs I can think of are an ancient city, a conservative scholar from Claremont (where I went to school), and an eponymous cake-maker in Britain, I never questioned JAFFA, as DIARESES looked (and still looks) like the right answer (34D: Diphthong divider). FYI, a DIERESIS is that diacritical mark that looks like an umlaut but isn't.

TAJ MAHAL was the first thing I considered for 1A: Final resting place built in the 17th century, and I was shocked to find it was right. I confirmed it with MNO (4D: 6 letters), and then proceeded to tear up that corner. Started by throwing down JERRY LEWIS (3D: Big name in slapstick) off just the "J". GRR (19A: Sound sometimes followed by an attack) and YEW (31A: Fine-grained wood) followed and everything opened up from there. As is common in late-week puzzles, moving from one quadrant into the next proved difficult. The passageway was narrow, and the initial SI- and S- were not nearly enough to get me SITUATION (35A: One may be out of control) and SELKIRK (38A: British Columbia's _____ Mountains), respectively.

Rebooted with RAGA (44D: Ravi Shankar played it at Woodstock) and AGEE (43D: Posthumous Pulitzer winner of 1958), both of which were guesses. Couldn't remember Peter Lorre's character from "Casablanca," except that it started with a "U" and ended "TE." Here's where the main problem of the SW came to light. I wanted the correct UGARTE (47A: Black marketeer in "Casablanca"), but couldn't think of any city in seven letters ending -RAN for 36D: Mehrabad Airport setting. *Six* letters, sure. That would be TEHRAN. But seven? Nope. Only after a lot of poking around and then moving on to the SE and coming back and more poking around did I finally accept what I began suspecting early on — that some alternate spelling of TEHRAN was involved (in this case, TEHERAN). TEHRAN is the standard spelling in America. This is indisputable. The first hit on a Google search of "TEHERAN" is the Wikipedia page for ... TEHRAN. I mean, some Braves pitching prospect named Julio TEHERAN shows up on the first page TEHERAN search results. Nobody spells TEHRAN with two Es any more. Nobody in the U.S., anyway. TEHERAN is a fine, valid answer, but something should have signaled its datedness / alternativity.

I almost went with TEHDRAN as my alternate spelling, as I thought 42A: Pitches was GARDENS and 42D: Get the best of was GULL. I can make a case (weak and strong, respectively) for either of these wrong answers. Sadly, I could not make a very good case for TEHDRAN.


  • 18A: Distance light travels in 3.3 femtoseconds (micron) — FEMTO? Wow, that "M" and "T" really do not want to be near each other in my mouth.
  • 20A: "A friend to call my own," per a Michael Jackson hit ("Ben") — an oddly moving song.

  • 25A: Patron saint of hermits (Giles) — Do hermits still exist? Would any of us know if they did?
  • 32A: Desert rodents (jerboas) — happy to have seen this before, though the exact spelling took a while to come to me. I might have had JEROBAS for a bit.
  • 37A: So, in Salerno (cosi) — I know the word only from Mozart.
  • 48A: Bygone Buicks (Rivieras) — took me a bit of thought. I just started saying "Buick..." in order to feel what it felt natural to say next. LE SABRE came first, RIVIERA second.
  • 9D: "Being an actor is the loneliest thing in the world" speaker (James Dean) — my god he was EMO. Didn't he also have the quote a few puzzles back about "only the gentle are truly brave?" And here I always imagined him as a kind of TOUGH GUY (1D: Bruiser).
  • 13D: Royal educator (Eton) — one of many short answers I never saw. In fact, I saw none of the short Downs in the NE as all the Acrosses up there were quite easy with their initial letters in place.
  • 14D: Hong Kong's Hang _____ Index (Seng) — ... and it's a good thing I didn't have to look at those short Downs. Yikes. SENG? No chance.
  • 23D: Satirist Ward (Ned) — ??? Add him to the Flanders, Beatty, and Nancy Drew's boyfriend list of NEDs.
  • 27D: 1947 western serial film ("Son of Zorro") — Son of Obscuro! Wrestled hard with this one.
  • 32D: Girl Scouts founder Low (Juliette) — no idea. Inferred her name from the -IETTE ending.
  • 41D: Stately old court dance (pavan) — odd. TEHERAN has an extra "E," while this one's missing an "E." I know this as a PAVANE, perhaps because I know it only via the French composer Ravel's "PAVANe pour une infante defunte":

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


ArtLvr 8:06 AM  

Wow, what a puzzle! I did part of it in the wee hours, the rest this morning with trepidation -- but it finally came clear... fantastic! But what's MNO, that it's clued as "6 letters"?


OhioGeek 8:16 AM  

Wow indeed! More than Medium for me, had to come here for the final three letters - never heard of PAVAN and PANZER, though it now sounds familiar, just didn't come to me; finally DIERESES is completely new. Count me in with @ArtLvr re: MNO. Huh?? Had to be right, but made no sense. Good Saturday workout!

Thanks, Rex! I'm one year into serious puzzling, and would NEVER have gotten this far on a Saturday back then - I attribute it to this blog and all the wonderful commenters as well.

Ruth 8:24 AM  

MNO = the letters on the "6" button on the telephone

Anonymous 8:38 AM  

I agree with Rex that it was medium - maybe even a shade toward easy - but NW was toughest part for me because of the MNO and ATEN. As a Casablanca aficionado, UGARTE was my starting point. had to work our JAMES DEAN as I am not good with quotes.

mac 8:46 AM  

Thank you Ruth, I needed to know that, too!

I'm completely with Rex this time, the whole NW was done fast, the rest was quite a job. Teheran came easily, though, I have always spelled it that way. Pavane and menuet were the dances I thought of immediately, but I thought I was a space short. What a strange name, Watterson. CrossCan has an advantage this morning, with the Selkirk Mountains.

And yes, there are hermits.

Denise 8:49 AM  

As a former Girl Scout and later, a six year Brownie leader, I knew JULIETTE.

My error in the end was the Casablanca name, and I figured out a lot from crosses -- SELKIRK, for example.

I knew DIERESES (took linguistics).

What I didn't know!! PAVAN/NED/JERBOAS

This morning's music is a treat, and the young Michael Jackson was so poignant.

PhillySolver 8:57 AM  

Here is how I know pavane/PAVAN

Difficult puzzle, but a chance to learn a few things. I got Jaffe having read 'Class Reunion' and the sequel 'After the Reunion' which I knew as early women's movement literature. Rona wrote Sex and the Single Girl stuff for Cosmo and inspired an HBO series.

mac 9:02 AM  

Beautiful music this morning!

Anne 9:13 AM  

I had similar experiences as Rex but over a much longer time. I started the puzzle last night and finished this morning. I'm trying this because if I wait until I get all my chores and errands done on Saturday, I don't do as well or sometimes not at all.

Anyway, my son loved that song "Ben" when he was young(probably for the reason Rex noted) and so I began there, ran into trouble in the middle section and resorted to google to get me through that thicket. Teheran threw me for way too long - it didn't help that I didn't know a lot of that stuff surrounding it. I also ended with a couple of errors. Now to those chores.

John 9:14 AM  

I kept staring at WAT___SON and thinking "surely its not Watterson" because we have a Wattreson Expressway here in Louisville. Funny the way the mind works.

edith b 9:32 AM  

With a nod to PhillySolver, here is how I knew TEHERAN. We had a group of Iranian students at the school where I taught. They spelled the city that way. I asked them about it and they said that was how they spelled it at home. Unforturately, I have no insight into the word PAVAN which I developed via crosses.

I had a remarkably easy time with all but the SE. I mowed down the Midlands in short order which I built around WATTERSON and JERBOAS which I recalled from a puzzle last year.

I had so many mistakes in the SE! I had DEE at 48D which kept me from seeing RIVIERAS and fell into the JUNIOR Soprano trap. I had to erase most of the corner to get a foothold. I had EAR and ORE which didn't help. I finally broke its back at SONOF*O*** when I finally got PANZER for the tank and all was well from that point foward. Curiously DIERESSES was of little help to me - all those terminsl Ss and Es!

This one had an Across the Pond feel to me for no good reason I can elucidate.

HudsonHawk 9:33 AM  

Hermits have a patron saint? This puzzle was brought to you by the letters J and K.

I'm guessing I will be one of the only commenters whose first entry was SENG. Off the second A in AVIATE, I figured SARI and TAJ MAHAL came tumbling after.

Other than wanting DEPORTED for UPROOTED, the North fell pretty quickly, but the South was much tougher. It didn't help that I had PATTON before PANZER for 41A and couldn't talk myself into the alternate spelling of TEHERAN.

Thrilled to come here and find out I was error-free.

fpbear 9:36 AM  

Starting with Taj Mahal gimme after gimme with the obscurities falling from all the gimme crosses. Easiest Saturday I've ever seen. Started the weekend with a bang.

mac 9:42 AM  

I always thought more expensive paper was made from rags, cheap stuff from pulp. Any experts here?

Diereses are used a lot in Dutch, especially when making a plural out of a word that ends in 2 vowels. I have to find out the Dutch term for them when I'm there TOMORROW!

Parshutr 9:48 AM  

I, too, thought of the Pavane for a Dead Princess. My only bad was ELECTRAS instead of RIVIERAS.
My senior year roommate's father became Ambassador to Iran, so I still spell Teheran the old way (was it only a couple of days ago that the Shah made the puzzle?
I could quibble that PANZER isn't a type of tank, but rather the Wehrmacht term for tank, hence PANZER division. The type might have been Tiger Tank, etc.

Frances 9:59 AM  


A low-class newspaper is often called a "rag." It would be printed on low-class pulp paper. An upper-class bride, whose nuptials would not appear in the above-mentioned rag, would write her thank-you notes on rag paper.

Leslie 10:02 AM  

Mac, that was my thought exactly: "What?? Rag paper is the good stuff!" But I think it refers to rag content, e.g. "Elvis' Alien Lovechild Ate My Baby."

SW corner was slooooow for me.

Oops--Frances beat me to it.

mac 10:05 AM  

Thank you Frances, hadn't thought of the other meaning of rag!

JannieB 10:07 AM  

Lots to love in this puzzle - my time was faster than either Thurs or Fri so medium seems about right. Favorite fill was 39D, of course; but even without the shout-out, I would have liked this puzzle anyway.

I had Patterson for a long time even though Calvin & Hobbes was a favorite strip (RIP). Last fill was the cosi/diereses cross - tried every vowel and none looked quite right - then remembered Mozart.

"6 letters" was a bear to guess and then I loved it. "Situation" came instantly but "toughguy" was a struggle.

Great Saturday - in fact the last 3 days have all been wonderful! Thanks, Will.

joho 10:19 AM  

I limped through this puzzle and had to keep looking up my answers to confirm that they were correct. I had periods, paroles, PARDONS. Julianne morphed into JULIETTE. I thought I finished error free, but no! I had CaLL for CULL. Don't you get the best of somebody when you CaLL them at poker? aGARTE looked good to me.

Oh, it took me forever to add that extra "E" in TEHERAN. That should have been clued with a hint.

I ended up in defeat, but still enjoyed the struggle.

Anonymous 10:24 AM  

I found this superchallenging and had to google a bunch to open it up.

PurpleGuy 10:30 AM  

A rather good Saturday challenge for me !
Started last night. The entire north fell fairly easy.
Like Rex,the SW amd SE were bears. Finished this morning after my early morning walk.

Wanted gerbils for desert rodents.Had some in college. JERBOAS seems rather close to JEROBOAM to me ;)

fikink 10:34 AM  

Thought this one was challenging, but ascertaining an abundance of Js helped greatly since nothing came readily to mind, including JERRYLEWIS.

Really liked the SE with PANZER, PAVAN, NOSFERATU, the latter being my entry into the puzzle, even before TAJMAHAL.

This one was one of those I didn't think I would be able to solve, but I did with one error: I had "call," thinking Poker, for CULL, a much better answer with the advantage of being correct :)

PlantieBea 10:34 AM  

Defeated in the SW with TEHRAN_ and nowhere to go. I didn't know UGARTE. Had to come here to fix it all. I also hat an error in the SE with PATTON tank insted of PANZON. Son of TORRO sounded just fine. I also had MAT/MOSI for the film holding/Salerno crossing. Never heard of NOSFORATU. The only vampire I could think of besides Count Dracula was Barnabus Collins. So, a difficult puzzle for me. GRR.

@Mac: Have a great trip!

Crosscan 10:43 AM  

Despite the SELKIRK Mountains gift, I still struggled and thought GULIEDNE Low was perhaps a real person. Darn those GERBILS!

chefbea 11:00 AM  

Had to google a lot. Never heard of Nosferatu. Of course I don't watch vampire movies.

@Mac have a great vacation and eat lots of edam

fikink 11:04 AM  

@chef bea, re: NOSFERATU, think Frank Langella.

Leon 11:08 AM  

Thank you Mr.Ashwood-Smith.

I am reading The Lost One: A Life of Peter Lorre by Stephen D. Youngkin.

UGARTE was described in the screenplay as "A small thin man with a nervous air. If he were an American, he would look like a tout."

UGARTE: You despise me, don't you?
Rick: If I gave you any thought I probably would.

Brendan Emmett Quigley 11:09 AM  

This one had tons of gimmes, and long gimmes at that, all over the place. Getting TAJ MAHAL, WATTERSON and NOSFERATU just from the clues opened up every section nicely (as did the AGEE, RAGA, UGARTE trio). Hell even CATBIRD dropped with just the T. Solid stuff.

Doug 11:14 AM  

I've been in BC only 2 years, so SELKIRK is news to me. Looking at Wiki, I see they cross the US border into Idaho and Montana, and is where the Revelstoke ski resort is.

NW was tough even though I had the TAJ right away,

The premier said we have something like 600 forest fires in BC today so I'm out to build a fire break in my lawn.

PurpleGuy 11:19 AM  

Can someone please explain the answer to 24d
____seat What is a CATBIRDseat. Never heard of it.

XMAN 11:24 AM  

@Mac: Skip the cheese, smoke some doojie.

I thought I was sunk. (Yesterday I died in the SW.) Except for TAJMAHAL and SARI, all was void or void of certainty. But I AM stubborn and finished with one error, same as Rex's, in the JAFFE/DIERESES cross. As with REX the E still seems wrong to me. (Note: My dictionary [Webster II] has DIERESiS as a variant of diaeresis.)

Fine puzzle. (Any time I do A Saturday without googling is a good one.)

Hobbyist 11:30 AM  

I couldn't finish even after googling Juliette Low.
Isn't there a theme involving people (and an animal) that have names begging or ending with the letter J? Or is that not enough to denote a there?
Today was even harder that yesterday and both WAY tougher than those of late last week. Or maybe my brain has become torpid in summer humidity.

Blanche 11:37 AM  

"Catbird seat": an idiom meaning a favorable, superior or powerful position.

Two Ponies 11:55 AM  

I really enjoyed this one. Loved all of the J's and K's. That made me think Son of Flicka instead of Zorro. I don't know if such a film existed but got it sorted out soon enough.
Paroles for pardons and James Caan for Dean had me pecking around awhile.
I think of cull (as in a herd) as separating the weak and sick from the rest. Legate was new to me.
Fine Saturday.
@ mac, Have a grand time.

Bryan 11:58 AM  

TEHERAN screwed everything SW up for me, but I think I will be able to live with myself. Let's hope so.

foodie 12:15 PM  

The CATBIRD-JERBOAS intersection did me in and intervened with that whole neighborhood. The whole East and South East fell very easily. In the NW, I stared at ---- DATE for the longest time. Even after I got it, I felt the clue was a little too far fetched to be amusing.

TAJ MAHAL means "Crown Palace", or more literally Crown Place...

I have diluted molecules (e.g. antibodies) and run assays into the femtomole range (15 decimal points). Next step on the scale: Attomole (18 decimal points). I'm surprised these prefixes don't show up more often in crosswords...

Overall, solid puzzle...

Pinky 12:16 PM  

Medium Challenging.

Had DROPDOWN instead of ALACARTE for "like some menus" and SLOLUM instad of AVIATE for banking until I gave up both and figured it out.

PANZER was a good one, cause I kept thinking of tanks ala Oxygen or Think.

TOSSED instead of LEANED for "pitched" made me guess Ravi Shankar played either BASS or TAPS at woodstock.

Had CURB or CURE> Never did get CULL

Noam D. Elkies 12:18 PM  

Two other famous 41D:PAVAN(e)s are by Arbeau (Renaissance) and Fauré (1887). Both easily Googlable/Youtubable(?).

Why isn't 34D:DIERESIS spelled with a dieresis (on the first E)?

It's not often we see two consecutive K's in a word (29D:WEAKKNEED). I'll have to ask my bookkeeper if he knows of another example.

OK, I've yakked enough,

Glitch 12:31 PM  


Agree with your definition of CULL.

But think, "To get the best of" a group, you CULL out (remove) the worst ;-)

I chalk it up to "Saturday cluing".


Pinky 12:32 PM  

PS. Did anyone else take issue with LED for "Skippered"?

I had RAN, since it seems you skipper a craft but lead a group of people.

Wade 12:39 PM  

I always thought NOSFERATU was NOSFERATsU. I got over that (and the mistaken WATERSTON for WATTERSON), but . . .

The SW was my undoing. Based on the TE, I went for TEL AVIV (and HEAVED instead of LEANED) and didn't recover down there, though I figured something was wrong since neither JULIETTE nor JULIANNE, the only things that would have made any sense, wouldn't work with Tel Aviv.

I named my daughter after Rona Jaffe. Not really. But Rona Jaffe and Rona Barrett are the only Ronas anybody here has ever heard of (the name's common has hell in Scotland, where it's every woman's middle name), and those two names are barely on the periphery of the national consciousness these days. (I'd have guessed Erich Segal wrote that book. Or that woman, Mary somebody, who wrote the huge hit "The Class" back in the seventies.)

Watching the third (or the sixth) installment of Star Wars with my Star Wars obsessed boy this morning. It's turning out that every major character in that series is related. Those Ewoks are bad-ass, though.

Karen 12:40 PM  

I tore through this puzzle too. Same gimmes as BEQ. I'm happy that it makes a record eight puzzles I've solved without an error.

JC66 12:42 PM  


I knew catbird seat from listening to Red Barber broadcasting the Yankee games (radio & TV) when I was a kid in the 40s/50s.


LED=past tense of lead.

Anonymous 12:42 PM  

Can someone explain how EVICTORS remove letters?

Anonymous 12:45 PM  

Oops - just got it. LETTERS means renters. Pretty obscure .

Anonymous 12:49 PM  

XMAN said:

"My dictionary [Webster II] has DIERESiS as a variant of diaeresis."

The much newer Random House II cites "DIERESIS" as the most common spelling. I've got a Webster's II as well, but it was published about 80 years ago, so it can't be relied upon for up-to-date spellings.

Kurt 12:56 PM  

Can't take long here as I'm headed out to buy a new pick. I broke mine today somewhere around that extra E in TEHRAN.

bill from fl 1:07 PM  

Interesting puzzle, despite its references to two utterly boring performers: Jerry Lewis and Ravi Shankar. Who even knew that Ravi Shankar performed at Woodstock?

joho 1:15 PM  

@Pinky ... the image of Ravi Shankar playing taps at Woodstock makes me smile.

Off to CULL the good from the bad of something ....

Happy Saturday everybody!

PlantieBea 1:25 PM  

I think you can hear the tail end of Ravi Shankar playing at Woodstock on the soundtrack from the movie. Foolish me. I could only think of the Sitar for the answer. Didn't realize RAGA wasn't an instrument until I looked it up on youtube. Here's a link to an impressive Ravi Raga:

mac 1:53 PM  

Thanks for the good wishes - I always try to have a little of EVERYTHING when I'm in Holland.

@Wade: I also thought of Mary McCarthy; when I first met my husband he bought me "The Group"; probably wanted to introduce me to a little Americana. He didn't realise I had been watching Peyton Place as a kid, week after week! It was so popular in Holland that there was less traffic on the roads, just like when there is a good soccer match or speed skating race.

Wade 2:09 PM  

Mac, you're right that "The Group" was what I was thinking of, and I'm right that Erich Segal wrote a book called "The Class" (in 1986). I thought there was a sequel to "The Group," which was what I thought "Class Reunion" might be. Put another way, all my knowledge is conflating into one all-purpose quasi-ur-fact.

Rex Parker 2:20 PM  

4D: 6 letters (MNO) is baffling people like few clues in recent memory. I'm getting buried in emails asking what the hell the answer means. I didn't even bother explaining in my write-up bec. I thought it was obvious. Shows what I know.


poc 2:20 PM  

A strange puzzle. Really 4 mini-puzzles of varying difficulty, as Rex says. However I got the SE first of all and the NW last. Go figure. Had no problem with TEHERAN, ZORRO, UGARTE, SENG etc., but had GERBILS for JERBOAS for a while, and PAROLES for PARDONS, which really held me up.

Didn't like the cluing for RAGA. "Ravi Shankar played *one* ..." would be better, as "it" makes you think the answer must be a specific song.

Anonymous 2:29 PM  

@HudsonHawk said...


I'm guessing I will be one of the only commenters whose first entry was SENG.


My hand is up too. Comes from watching CNBC too often (i.e., more than once :-).


Noam D. Elkies said...


It's not often we see two consecutive K's in a word (29D:WEAKKNEED). I'll have to ask my bookkeeper if he knows of another example.


It would be lekker if a Boer trekker (eating a frikkadel while riding in a bakkie instead of flying in a Fokker) found a word other than "bookkeeper" that contains three consecutive double letters! Anyone?

[Perhaps South African English words (derived from Afrikaans derived from Dutch) aren't quite kkosher. But "trekker" and {Star} "Trekkie" are surely standard American English.


edith b 2:36 PM  

@Two Ponies-

There was a SON OF FLICKA movie called Thunderhead, Son of Flicka with a very young Roddy McDowell. I had the same idea but I couldn't make it fit with the crosses.

XMAN 2:38 PM  

Plantiebea: Listened to the lovely raga and then listened to two more. Thank you.

It's been a long time. Saw Ravi Shankar live in San Francisco many years ago. I was literally transported by the experience.

retired_chemist 2:38 PM  

If this puzzle were a dog, I would be a fire hydrant.

I had big problems because it is chock full of proper names (many unfamiliar to me), has a number of rather obscure words (JERBOAS, NOSFERATU, DIERESES, and SELKIRK mtns. come to mind) as answers, and has seemingly ambiguous semi-obscure words (PAVAN or GAVOT?). There is an arithmetic problem to get MICRON @ 18A that should by rights p**s off the nonscientists. I got the Calvin and Hobbes reference but had no clue who drew it (WATTERSON).

Having PAROLES @ 26A instead of PARDONS caused me a real problem because it messed up the 9-10-11D crosses.

I thought 48D was a wrong clue (rag paper is high quality, not low), but then thought it could also refer to a low-grade newspaper as well as paper stock. In the end that was my favorite clue.

When I was about 60% finished at the 45 minute mark, and knowing errors remained in what I had done, I said the h**l with it and googled. I’m not sorry. I could have gone a week and not made much more progress on my own.

After this experience, I relate much more to the frustration some expressed yesterday about needing to read a constructor’s mind.

@ foodie - 10^^(-18) boy = 1 attoboy.

My hat is off to those of you who did well today. Tomorrow is another day.

Wade 2:39 PM  

Regarding those clues about numbers on a phone keypad and letter trios, it's damned irritating these days when you have to dial a number based on the spelling of a word. It always was irritating, in fact, but it's especially irritating to have to do it from a cell phone. Same deal with those company directories that make you spell somebody's last name to get to the right extension.

still_learnin 2:43 PM  

The SW defeated me today -- TEHERAN should definitely be clued as an alternate spelling. And, it didn't help that I don't know UGARTE.

Got MNO, but didn't understand the answer until I came here.

I also mixed up JULIANNE/JULIETTE and ELECTRAS/RIVIERAS but was able to fix them up with crosses.

I rate the puzzle hard, but fair.

Pinky 2:48 PM  


Thanks for the clarification....I understood what they meant (led past of lead) I just think the verb "to skipper" refers to a vessel (boat or aircraft) and that it's a stretch to say one "skippers" an army or an orchestra.

Guess I learned something new today.

joho 2:51 PM  

@Wade ... it's nice to have you back on the blog!

@Mac ... I hope you have the happiest holiday ... I know I'll be eager to hear about it when you get back, especially some incredible food experience.

fergus 3:03 PM  

Though I was on the the MNO possibility, I stuck with my clever AMRITSAR for 1A and my obdurate nature wouldn't give it up, even while thinking AGRA thoughts. Argg!

Eastern two thirds were a total breeze, but the whole West Coast got completely screwed up. I even made an indecipherable mess of all the possibilities I had for Pitches. Careens was never among them, because I came here to cheat. There sure are a lot of different directions you can go with Pitch.

retired_chemist 3:17 PM  

@ fergus - obduracy is my single biggest failure in this pastime. AGRAvating.

mac 3:17 PM  

@Larry the lurker: LOL! Yes, plenty of k's in the Dutch and Afrikaans languages! A c is much rarer, especially since, some years ago, they went a little phonetic.

Thanks, Joho, I'll keep track! May be able to check in a few times a week.

chefwen 4:06 PM  

Gave up on this one before I barely started, husband called me a quitter and told me to have a little more confidence in myself. Handed it to him and said "look at it and you will understand", he took it, filled in ALACARTE and handed it back to me. I stared at it for what seemed to be quite a long time and suddenly things just started coming to me and falling into place. Between the two of us we managed to crank it out with only one little mistake. Yeah!!!

Stan 4:42 PM  

Leaving this one to my betters. I got the NW corner and then... nothing. But that's okay, esp. for a Saturday.

Actually, as a Cinema Studies guy and vampire fan I did manage to come up with NOSFERATU before giving up.

Denise 4:53 PM  

I came back to the blog to hear Michael Jackson again, and to read later posts.

One of the ways I got into puzzling was that I had my oldest daughter, who is a whiz, "give me a couple" every time I got stuck. In the beginning, I had to mark off each # as I did it to keep track.

Now, I'm a whiz.

PlantieBea 5:06 PM  

If anyone is interested, the whole movie Nosferatu is available for viewing online on youtube. Here's the link for the film (it's about 1.5 hours long :-)

Ulrich 5:34 PM  

Calvin an Hobbes is my all-time favorite strip, too. Funny--the conceit seems so outlandish: A kid cannot add 2+2 when not alone with his stuffed tiger, and when they are alone, the tiger comes alive and they discuss Marx and Hegel. Watterson (my first gimme) didn't help me much with the rest, tho, which was a real struggle.

... not the least b/c Panzer is a type of tank like Bier is a type of beer; i.e. Panzer the German word for "tank", and the clue is bullshit (kudos @parshtr)

sanfranman59 5:55 PM  

Now that I've collected two months of data on solve times, I've come up with an objective method for evaluating the relative difficulty of each day's puzzle (relative to other puzzles for a given day of the week). I take the ratio of that day's median solve times to the average for that day of the week and then calculate a percentile for that ratio. The quintiles can then be used to categorize puzzles on a a 5-point scale: Easy (0 - 20th percentile), easy-medium (20 - 40), medium (40 - 60), medium-challenging (60 - 80) and challenging (80 - 100).

Here are this week's ratings (median solve time, average for day of week, ratio, percentile, rating):

All solvers

Mon 8:42, 6:59, 1.25, 96%, C
Tue 9:18, 8:34, 1.09, 75%, MC
Wed 10:18, 12:45, 0.81, 10%, E
Thu 27:34, 18:37, 1.48, 100%, C
Fri 25:20, 27:19, 0.93, 29%, EM
Sat 28:36, 28:01, 1.02, 60%, MC

Top 100 solvers

Mon 4:36, 3:43, 1.24, 92%, C
Tue 4:48, 4:24, 1.09, 79%, MC
Wed 5:18, 6:13, 0.85, 15%, E
Thu 13:09, 8:54, 1.48, 100%, C
Fri 12:13, 13:02, 0.94, 40%, EM
Sat 16:29, 15:56, 1.04, 69%, MC

As I posted the other day, by this measure, Thursday's puzzle was the most challenging in the two months I've been tracking solve times (for all solvers as well as the top 100).

If there's interest out here, I can post this information each day.

Anonymous 5:55 PM  

@Lurker0 2:29 — yes, it's not quite kosher (albeit amusing) to resort to Afrikaans.

AskOxford says "bookkeeper" is unique but offers hyphenated the alternatives "hoof-footed" and "sweet-toothed". Speakers of Afrikaans (or Dutch or German) might go for "raccoonnookkeeper", a specialized zoo employee. I don't know who originated that "word", nor the author of the smart-alecky alternative solution "woolly" for the "three consecutive double letters" puzzle. There's also a suburb of Sydney called Woolloomooloo, a name with three (or four?) consecutive doubles, and five (six?) in all.


Two Ponies 5:56 PM  

@ edith b, Thanks, being a horse nut as a kid I probably saw that movie. Good to know some of my brain cells are still speaking to each other.
Welcome back Wade.
@ Rex, I am surprised as well that you are being questioned about the telephone clue. That old trick?
@ Ulrich, Thanks for the panzer info. I had no idea. I have watched many war movies and I'm sure I have heard those machines referred to as panzer tanks more than once. From now on I will realize the redundancy (sort of like PIN number.)

Ulrich 6:05 PM  

@Two ponies: This will become clearer if you know that Panzer means generally "armor" (as worn by knights) or "shell" (as worn by a turtle); i.e. think of Panzer in the mil. sense as an armored vehicle.

Ruth 6:26 PM  

sanfranman: it's interesting stuff, I like it, yes please keep it coming, you are so amiable as to offer!

michael 6:40 PM  

I got this entirely right, but it took way too long. I don't know if I was just slow or this puzzle was not on my wavelength. I never heard of jerboa, but the real stumper was teheran. When I finally remembered the alternate spelling, I finished quickly.

Noam D. Elkies 7:42 PM  

Oops, forgot to give my name last time. Also forgot to note that there's no need to resort to Star Trekkism, since "trekked" is a perfectly acceptable example of a -kk- word. I already gave another one with "yakked" (likewise the -ing forms trekking, yakking), and "grep kk /usr/dict/words" readily gives several more examples, of which the best are knickknack (which can never be played in Scrabble!) and jackknife.


Elaine2 8:34 PM  

third week in a row I FINISHED Saturday without a Google! My times are still TERRIBLE, but this is progress!

Thanks to all on this blog -- I'm learning a lot.

foodie 10:19 PM  

@Sanfranman, I'm sure you're not surprised that I'm very excited about your willingness to track and post the data!

It's interesting to me that the scores from the top 100 track the whole group almost perfectly. It's also remarkable that the group as a whole consistently averages double the top 100. Finally I imagine, based on your ratios and associated percentiles, that the variance is not huge. This underscores Will et al's ability to assign the puzzles appropriately to a given day of the week.

I think it's fun to see how Rex rates the puzzle relative to your score. One can see the impact of personal experience and interests and may be generation, on individual assessment.

I hope you some day you will post this under your own nom de blog :)

@mac, have a blast!

poc 10:31 PM  

@Noam Elkies: I spy a fellow Unix/Linux user :-) Do you manage with the outdated and limited version of Across Lite or do you have a better solution?

Stan Wagon 11:06 PM  

To Noam Elkies, and anyone else who cares: Know the only English word with three consecutive same letters?

Answer below.

Loved the PAROLES, PERIODS, PARDONS choices. SW corner was the first for me. SE took a while.



retired_chemist 11:31 PM  

@ Stan Wagon

The one-l lama, he's a priest.
The two-l llama, he's a beast.
And I will bet a silk pajama
There isn't any three-l lllama.*

* *The author's attention has been called to a type of conflagration known as a three-alarmer. Pooh.

--- Ogden Nash

Anonymous 12:16 AM  


What about goddessship?

(Random House Websters)


Anonymous 12:22 AM  


My dictionary lists it hyphenated (headmistress-ship)

Would that make cross-stitch and
cross-sectional also count?


andrea j. michaels 1:22 AM  


Well, you COULD play KNICKKNACKS in Scrabble...even tho it's 11 letters...say NICK was on the board and you had ??NACKS on your rack.
You could use both blanks as Ks!
Et voila, a bingo for a million points!

(I also learned JERBOA from Scrabble from the time on a whim I learned all the words that started with J.
Now long forgotten, along with half my memory! But I loved how many words/names started with J in today's pujjle)

Your explanation of RAG (thank you, I too thought it only in the expensive way) fits with those words like CLEAVE which have opposite meanings!!!!!!!! I wonder if that has been included?

Wasn't it Klaus Kinski in "Nosferatu"? I fell asleep at it during a midnight showing at the Orson favorite theater in Cambridge in the 70's.

Frank Langella was in "Love at First Bite"
(oops! says Langella was in "Dracula", George Hamilton in "Love at First Bite"

safe trekk!!!

Dean 12:04 AM  

The "rag" thing bothered me at first too. Of course rag paper IS the good stuff, but low class newspapers (ala Rupert Murdoch)are of course rags. Typical Saturday obfuscation using "Low-grade" as the clue, causing [most of] us to think of the paper stock.

yankee fan 9:05 PM  

Finally had to post(my first). Am steaming over TEHERAN but I've learned to accept creators own ideas. I DID put Hang SENG first because I watch CNBC at 3am pacific before bed. Also thought LETTERS was spelled --ORS. Back to Saturday-hated putting PATTERSON first because I got Calvin and Hobbes right away.BTW no RAG would that classic. And for Rex, I had easier time with Newmans sat. puzzle than Smith's. That never happens. Always cringe at puzzles with Ashish's name at bottom. 3 challenging goodies all in all and my kudos too to Will.

Anonymous 2:36 PM  

I live in British Columbia and there is a mountain range called the PURCELL range. Did twig to SELKIRK eventually. I also had PAROLE until SON OF ZORRO (I only remember the legend of zorro from my youth). I initially had WILDCATS for the Buick and thanks Ruth for explaining the MNO.

Rick 9:11 AM  

@Stan Wagon:

More words with triple letters:


... or maybe I should say "words" -- some of these look marginal to me. I do like wallless though.

For you unix folks, here's the grep command on a Mac:
egrep '([a-z])\1\1' /usr/share/dict/words

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