Melvin of Nixon cabinet — TUESDAY, Nov. 24 2009 — German binoculars maker / Toothpaste Bucky Beaver once pitched / PC introducer of 1981

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Constructors: Victor Fleming and Bonnie L. Gentry

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: [Everything Considered] — three multi-part answers share this clue

Word of the Day: ALAN BALL (30A: Oscar-winning "American Beauty" writer)
— Alan E. Ball (born May 13, 1957) is an American writer, director, actor and producer for film, theatre and television. He is noted for writing the film American Beauty, and creating and producing the HBO drama series Six Feet Under and True Blood. For his work in television and film, Ball has received critical acclaim and numerous awards, including an Academy Award, an Emmy and a Golden Globe. (wikipedia)


Oversized offering today from The Judge and Ms. Gentry (a phrase I hereby trademark for when these two inevitably go on a cross-country crime spree and I have to write a book about it). Despite having to "see this clue" and "see that clue," I somehow made it through in fairly typical Tuesday time. My big question here has to do with aesthetics. Why not create a mirror image version of this grid so that WHEN ALL / IS SAID / AND DONE can read left-to-right (the way most human Americans read) instead of downhill and backwards? Perhaps that way was tested and found impossible. I don't think it matters much. Just curious. As I said, the puzzle is just fine, and I'm thrilled to see such clean grids two days in a row now.

Theme answers:

  • 4D: After "in," and with 44-Down, everything considered (the final / analysis) — always makes me think of Nazis, this phrase. Too close to "final solution" for my brain to process without shuddering a little. The newsstand guy in "Watchmen" uses the phrase "in THE FINAL ANALYSIS" a lot when offering his opinions on the world. Until his corner of the world explodes.

[I like most of these actors, but this trailer feels like a parody of Generic Thrillers]

  • 19A: With 64-Across, everything considered (at the end of the day)
  • 34A: With 43- and 48-Across, everything considered (when all is said and done)

Got bogged down around two names I'd never heard of before. LAIRD is a perfectly good Scottish word, but here it's clued as a guy I don't know (55A: Melvin of the Nixon cabinet). LAIRD was Secretary of Defense on the day I was born. I wasn't really into politics back then. Wikipedia tells me that he "invented the expression "Vietnamization," referring to the process of transferring more responsibility for combat to the South Vietnamese forces." The other, bigger "????!" name for me today was ALAN BALL (30A: Oscar-winning "American Beauty" writer). Needed Every Cross to get him. Turns out he's hugely successful, not just a one-off Oscar-winner. Created "Six Feet Under" and the currently hugely successful vampire series "True Blood," both for HBO.


  • 11A: Typewriter type (pica) — clue feels like it needs another "type." Is PICA a type of type, or is it the "type" that all typewriters have.

  • 24A: Toothpaste that Bucky Beaver once pitched (Ipana) — because space beavers need fluoride more than anyone!

[I learned about this toothpaste, and this jingle, from the movie "Grease"]

  • 25A: PC introducer of 1981 (IBM) — "Introducer" is cute. Pleased to meet you, PC.
  • 45A: Actress Long of "Are We There Yet?" (Nia) — would somebody get this woman a decent movie to star in so her clues don't have to be so embarrassing-sounding?!
  • 46A: Howard who announced "Down goes Frazier!" (Cosell)

[at about the 1:30 mark]

  • 13D: Stamford's state: Abbr. (Conn.) — nice shout-out to the former location of the annual American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. My first tournament was the last one in Stamford.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


Anonymous 7:33 AM  

Never heard or saw the word rolf, and now it's been in 3 different crosswords in the last week. Always thought it meant to toss ones cookies. Golfballman

Elaine 7:47 AM  

PICA and elite are the two type styles on the, well, typewriter; elite is smaller (more characters to the inch) while pica is considered easier to read, being slightly larger. I took typing in HS, before you were born and before Melvin Laird was one of the few folks in Nixon's cabinet who did not need indicting.

I hate being sent here and there around the puzzle grid (I've whined on this topic before) but it was a good puzzle, if not especially challenging. Why not "All Things Considered?"

Can't wait for the true-crime book!

Leslie 7:47 AM  

"The Judge and Ms. Gentry." Heh.

I too was stumped on Alan Ball and am surprised to find here how prolific and successful he is.

For some reason it's easy for me to remember LAIRD and Edwin Meese, who's also a frequent puzzle visitor.

Was it news to anyone else that eucalyptus = GUM TREE?

Liked the symmetry of the theme answers, and am surprised to find that I mentally rated this one "easy" for a Wednesday, as compared to Rex's "medium." Well, that means karma will find some way to humble me later in the day, so I'd better go meet my fate.

Brendan Emmett Quigley 7:48 AM  

We need more boxers like this, just sayin'.

Denise Ann 8:20 AM  

I am so grateful for crossword constructors and crossword bloggers!
This was a particularly nice puzzle, especially for solvers of a certain age.

Nixon was elected a few weeks after the birth of my first child!

Safe travel, everyone. I head north in an hour or so.

The Corgi of Mystery 8:25 AM  

Great puzzle. As a fan of Six Feet Under from the beginning, I have to say that ALAN BALL = win.

mac 8:25 AM  

@BEQ: just heard an interview with a boxing promotor, who said that all potential heavyweight fighters are in the NFL and the MLB.

Very nice puzzle, although I also find it irritating to have to jump around. Even I remember Cosell's voice! I will probably buy some eucalyptus for floral arrangements tomorrow. One of my favorite words is enigma, and I like enchant a lot too.

Good start. Now the Thanksgiving shopping.

nanpilla 8:37 AM  

@Leslie : That's because it's Tuesday......

Other that aol for DSL, this was smooth sailing, other than having to tack back and forth for the multiple answers. Liked the symmetry, but felt the same as Rex about going backwards to read WHEN ALL IS SAID AND DONE.

Having said that....
I liked this puzzle.

Doug 8:49 AM  

Liked the puzzle better this morning. Between dozing off and Lady Gaga on Leno I couldn't stay focused.

Could not figure out why MLD was not 1450! Now I know why--It's because my Roman numerals suck.

Great puzzle, lots of unusual fill.

Ulrich 8:53 AM  

I thought the judge and Bobby Gentry came up with a fine Tuesday puzzle until I started reading this blog...

...In the story "The Princess on the Pea" by Anderson (actually, I don't know what it's called in English, I just translated the German title--never mind), the princess proved that she was a true blue blood by being able to sense a pea under 16 (?) mattresses and therefore couldn't sleep. I feel the "reading backwards" issue raised today w.r.t the central theme trio can serve as the equivalent test for true xword nobility: It would never have occurred to me that this was really an issue, let alone an issue to be talked about--Shucks, I belong to hoi polloi when it comes to xword puzzles--no chance to ever advance to the higher ranks--I just don't possess that refined sensibility that would be needed:-)

Frank Price 9:07 AM  

I thought this was a great Tuesday puzzle. But I wonder about 1D GEAR: is neutral really a gear? When you're in neutral, you're not in a gear; that's the point of neutral. Even so, no biggee.

bookmark 9:13 AM  

@Denise Ann: Our second child was born two days before Nixon resigned. While waiting in the hospital room for the doctor to release us, we watched on TV as Nixon got into the helicopter on the White House lawn and flew away.
And our older son's 41st birthday is today.

Thanks for the Cosell clip, Rex.

Enjoyed the puzzle and the write-up.

Robin 9:21 AM  

@Ulrich: I love your "Princess and the Pea" (as it is usually called here) analogy. I have done the NYT xword for decades (and for many years worked the Sat. puzzle only as I felt the others were not worth my time!) so I could I suppose qualify for blueblood status. But part of being a true nobleperson is exhibiting graciousness to all .... and I think that is a good lesson for a number of posters here (or on any blog for that matter). Let's be appreciative and look for the positive and not get hung up on nitpicking.
PS I liked this I do most of them!

Meg 9:24 AM  

Fine puzzle, though I've never heard the expression "ACES OUT". "Out" is often used to mean "completely". There's a difference between "dry" and "dry out". If you've aced someone or something the "out" seems redundant.

I also didn't like the jumping, but it did make the puzzle more challenging, which is nice on a Tuesday.

Leslie 9:29 AM  

@Leslie : That's because it's Tuesday......

HA!! Oh, for goodness' sake, that's what I get for posting before the second cup of coffee! Thanks, Nanpilla!

Elaine 9:39 AM  

Think of someone saying, "I aced him out by two minutes!" or some such. I might "ace a test" but if I'm feeling competitive person-to-person, I like to "ace out" rather than to be "aced out."

Here is a question: is it more challenging when a phrase is presented straight across or down in a grid, or when it is broken up? I myself don't care for the jumping about because the numerals do not always print out clearly; (bifocals are not all they are cracked up to be.) And when there are THREE locations to string together, it gets hard to keep track.

Charles Bogle 9:43 AM  

very good, solid puzzle and a nice switch having to jump around; thanks also RP for write-up and especially good videos

Parshutr 9:44 AM  

As noted previously, Rolf is the last name of Ida Rolf, the person who promulgated the idea of deep tissue massage as a way of destroying psychological 'body armor' and allowing the true personality to emerge.

PlantieBea 10:01 AM  

I learned a few things from this puzzle. I didn't know that Eucalyptus was a gum tree, specifically the kind the Kookaburra sits in. I enjoyed watching Alan Ball's "Six Feet Under" series, but didn't realize he had written "American Beauty". And I learned, yet again, that EVEL is spelled with two E's, and not the bad boy EVIL E I combination.

It turned out to be a medium for me because of the added time for locating and reading the split phrases.

OldCarFudd 10:08 AM  

@Leslie - Gum tree is the usual way Australians refer to eucalypti, of which they have many. To say something considered idiotic is "to be up a gum tree." The beautiful white-barked eucalypti in the Northern Territory are called ghost gums.

I was going to fulminate this morning about how Leica stands for LEItz CAmera, made by Ernst Leitz Wetzlar, that also makes Leitz (not Leica) binoculars. Turns out I'm a few decades out of date; one of the companies now properly calling itself Leica does indeed make Leica binoculars. Dinosaurs shouldn't fulminate, lest they be considered up a gum tree.

@Ulrich - I've often wondered why LeiCa and not LeiKa. It was a German company, and the first Leica cameras (Kameras?) were locally marketed. Why did they use the English spelling in their trade name? Any idea?

It's interesting how Rolf is suddenly a popular crossword word. I think the word for barfing is ralf. When Nader was campaigning some years ago, griping about all the bad things both the Democarats and the Republicans were doing, he asked rhetorically: "Doesn't it make you want to Ralph?" Not many people wanted to Ralph with him, I guess.

I liked this puzzle.

retired_chemist 10:12 AM  

Medium. Slower than the difficulty per se would lead to because of the split phrases, cf. PlantieBea 10:01.

LAIRD was a geezer gimme.

Puppy buyers on the way - TA-TA.

ArtLvr 10:17 AM  

What every one else said! Freshness factor high, and it was a nice Tuesday puzzle despite my usual aversion to jumping around.

GUM TREE was a surprise, as I never connected it to the Aussie song "Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree, Merry merry king of the bush is he --"

Now I want to know who or what the kookaburra was...


joho 10:23 AM  

@Leslie ... do you remember the song: Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree/ Merry, merry king of the bush is he/ Laugh, Kookaburra! Laugh, Kookaburra! Evidently a gum tree is a eucalyptus tree.

@The Corgi of Mystery ... I, too, liked seeing ALAN BALL in the puzzle ... love his work.

Good Tuesday, thanks Victor & Bonnie!

Van55 10:24 AM  

MCDL. Nuf said.

SethG 10:24 AM  

Orange took a bunch of her college classes in Laird Hall, probably from a Laird Professor. She maybe didn't go to any football games, but if she had they'd have been in Laird Stadium. Different Lairds, but they help me remember that Melvin LAIRD also went to C even though I'm the same age as some of your children.

The final analysis reminds me of Europe, too. But...not the continent. I've been to Stamford, but I still kept trying to fit in something Alabamaesque. That's Samford. And of course I put in PIE TIN for Frisbee.


joho 10:25 AM  

Whoops, I got on a long call before posting, sorry about the Kookaburra comment ... again!

Bob Kerfuffle 10:28 AM  

Good puzzle. I was glad that, as is my custom, I did it sober. Would have been difficult to follow all the connections otherwise.

One tiny nit: 38 A, Habit-kicking program, REHAB. Isn't that perilously close to having the answer in the clue?

CoolPapaD 10:31 AM  

I think the amount of jumping around was perfect today - the fill helped me with the themed answers as much as the themes helped with some of the more obscure fill - great balance!

Thought there may be a Sarah Palin subtheme today, with ALASKA, IDOL, DIG, GAS, and UNSEAT.....

Two Ponies 10:31 AM  

I was singing the kookaburra song in my head as well.
@ ArtLvr, If you Google that critter you will find a large bird. I saw one in an aviary once and was surprised at the size of it's head.
I wasn't very entertained by this puzzle. I avoided the phrases and just worked everything else out then went back to read them.
Stael seemed a stretch. Never heard of the book or the author. Easy Tuesday.

Stan 10:36 AM  

A very enjoyable solve, with bland (but in-the-language) theme answers balanced by punchy fill elsewhere.

Hand up for knowing Ball from 'Six Feet Under' and also old enough to remember Laird, Evel, Cosell, and Ipana.

Liked PIE PAN next to CONN in the Northeast.

[This is from]


A Connecticut baker named William Russel Frisbee came up with a clever marketing idea back in the 1870s. He put his name in relief on the bottom of the light tin pans in which his company’s homemade pies were sold. Eventually Mr. Frisbee’s pies were sold throughout much of the state, including New Haven.

There, sometime in the 1940s, Yale students began sailing the pie tins through the air and catching them. A decade or so later, out in California, a flying-saucer enthusiast named Walter Frederick Morrison designed a saucer-like disk for playing catch. It was produced by a company named Wham-O. On a promotional tour of college campuses, the president of Wham-O (who presumably also used all three of his names) encountered the pie-plate-tossing craze at Yale. And so the flying saucer from California was renamed after a pie plate from Connecticut.

william e emba 10:37 AM  

Only writeover was LEICA instead of Zeiss for the "German binoculars maker".

For Howard COSELL, nothing beats the opening seen to Woody Allen's Bananas.

hazel 10:52 AM  

@Ulrich's comment clarifies everything for me.....

For me, Rex Parker is to crosswords what Robert Parker is to wine. Is that a SIMILE? Either way, I like wine and I like crossword puzzles, but a lot of the finer points of both are just plain lost on (i.e. aren’t v. important to) me. I recognize that I don't have the same standards (or background, expertise, etc.) as either of them. I understand why they rate a wine/puzzle negatively, and why I may like that wine/puzzle just fine. Our standards are different. End of story.

I don't understand why negative reviews bring the playground retorts out of the wordwork, however. We ALL hate them in our puzzles - they suck as comments too!!

Re the puzzle - I don't care for the "split clue" generally, and didn't get much of a payoff out of this one - as soon as I see the first "direction" in the across clues, I just skip to the downs. If its in a down, I switch back to acrosses - then, sort of like @Two Ponies" its fill in the remaining blanks. Not so much fun.

The whole kookaburra thing did remind me of a hilarious David Sedaris article that was in “The” New Yorker this summer.

Such a long comment. That's 3 and out for me.

retired_chemist 10:57 AM  

@ Bob K -

REHAB = rehabilitation, from L. habilis, able. Habit from L. habitus, condition or appearance.

Phonetically kinda close, etymologically less so. On balance I do not share your concern.

Alice in SF 11:47 AM  

@Elaine--me, too. I started getting grumpy as soon as I saw I needed to go from here to there. I also don't like to connect circles or letters. So there; had to get crossword pet peeves off my chest.

Noam D. Elkies 11:52 AM  

I didn't know 74A:ACESOUT either. It might come from tennis (as does the clue for 9D:LET), in which case it wouldn't be equivalent to plain "aces".

Yes, the clue for 38A:REHAB is fine. The clue for 16A:TEE, maybe less so, because that shape is used to indicate the initial letter of "time out"...

But overall (or should that be "at the end of the day", etc.), these are tiny nitpicks for a largely successful Tuesday puzzle.


Unknown 12:00 PM  

Thanks for all the nice comments. /Vic & Bonnie

slypett 12:07 PM  

Um, so there was a puzzle today. Ah, yes, I have a 14 minute gap showing in my day!

Masked and Anonymous 12:23 PM  

Perhaps it's the bit of xword constructor in me, but I really find almost every puzzle, including this one, interesting. I sorta assumed that the reason for the answers being chopped up was intentional -- related to the "everything considered" theme -- where the solver had to consider all the "to be continued" pieces to get the answers. Cool idea. Always fun to try and figure out what the constructors are up to.

Kind of a shame that current software for the solvers (Across Lite, the online solving apps, etc) ends up limiting what a crossword can do. I've made some puzzles with really "different" (OK--bizarre) themes...but hard to visualize how they could be offered by a system such as the NY Times'. Hopefully, if constructors keep submitting them and the editors like them enough, things will evolve. Then we could really see some novel stuff!

That's assuming, of course, that the solvers are OK with "different"! I'd be betting that most would be. Whaddayahthink?

obertb 12:24 PM  

@retired_chemist: "geezer gimme," I like that. Yet AT THE END OF THE DAY, IN THE FINAL ANALYSIS, WHEN ALL IS SAID AND DONE, I think I'd rather be younger and dumber.

Ulrich 12:28 PM  

@OldCarFudd: I spent already too much time trying to find a well-supported answer to your question--to no awail. So, here's my guess: Way into the 19th century, many German words that are now spelled with a starting k were spelled with a starting c--e.g. my hometown was known as Cöln, which preserves better its origin in Latin "Colonia". I'm pretty sure that "Kamera" was spelled "Camera" then--it derives, after all, from "camera obscura". When the Leica was named, the old spelling was either still in use or selected for aesthetic reasons--the c certainly looks better than the k IMHO (unlike Rex, I am NOT a fan of the letter k--to aggressive in look and sound for me).

Bob Kerfuffle 12:29 PM  

@retired_chemist and Noam D. Elkies -

Respectfully, I believe habilis and habitus both derive from habeo. But I think the point would be the same even if they didn't.

(Cassell's Latin-English and English-Latin Dictionary, 1959 printing.)

Greene 12:30 PM  

I must confess that I too was put off by the "split clue" structure of the puzzle. It's just a personal taste issue for me; I find it rather jarring and a bit inelegant. Nothing against our constructors and their fine work. I'm clearly in the minority on this.

On the plus side, any puzzle with ALAN BALL in it is awesome. I was introduced to his work when the humanities professor at our medical school asked me if I would lecture her Med 1 students on American Beauty. The movie was new in theatres at the time and I hadn't seen it, but I gamely jumped in and went to see it, and see it, and see it again. I've been a huge fan of Mr. Ball's work ever since and the film is on my short list as one of the greatest American films ever made -- ever.

By the way, as much as I love American Beauty, I was pretty much flummoxed as to how to tie it in to medical education and the experience of being a doctor. I finally chose to focus on a small sign in Kevin Spacey's work cubicle that read "Look again." I think this is a fine watchcry for any diagnostic physician and, of course, it's one of the largest themes of the film. Cannot recommend this movie enough. If you've not seen it, add it to the Netflix queue.

bluebell 12:58 PM  

I liked this puzzle, even if it did remind me that I have lived a number of decades (Ipana, Melvin Laird whose name I actually remembered).

In my college work I typed using elite type, but used a pica pole working on the college newspaper.

And thank you for the typewriter tap dance--what extraordinary creativity there is in the world.

chefbea 1:13 PM  

Easy Tuesday puzzle which I guess was made for me.... Live in Stamford Ct now and will be moving to NC not too far from Raleigh/Durham

What does BBB stand for? ...Just got it. Never mind

xyz 1:13 PM  

I liked this puzzle, a steady process to get enough to fill in the theme. Hardly an ewww in the clewwws.

Since I liked it it must somehow be all wrong, terribly, inexplicably wrong, wrong wrong.

Jesus, I am such a cynic...


Masked and Anonymous - I'm with you, I am all for chucking the rigidity when it comes to what constitutes a "proper puzzle".

There, now I am a leper for sure (was *THAT* politically incorrect?

Mr Selectric 1:16 PM  

PICA - Long ago and far away, there was a time when typewriters were fixed in the print face they produced. One would buy an "Elite" typewriter, and produce output in elite type, alternately one could choose a PICA typewriter.

I fixed all that.

Anonymous 1:27 PM  

Put me as one who put Zeiss for the binocular manufacturer - thought Leica only made cameras - of course the zed didn't work at all!

Aces out - is tennis terminology

Don't bother getting the clues, just fill in the crossword so no problem with jumping around.

Good enjoyable Tuesday puzzle

joho 1:28 PM  

@Ulrich ... you're Kidding ... I can't believe you don't liKe KKKKKKKKKKKKKK!

william e emba 1:51 PM  

The typewriter dance scene is from Ready, Willing, and Able. The song is Too Marvelous for Words. The female dancer is Ruby Keeler, whom we sometimes see. The song's lyricist? Johnny Mercer, whom we saw recently.

Good one, Rex!

Anonymous 1:57 PM  

Pica is also an eating disorder, the ingestion of dirt, paste, and other non-food items.
Not a Tuesday clue.
A Pika is an adorable relative of the rabbit found in the Rockies. They look like wild hamsters and have a loud shrill squeak.
This would be a great word in a grid even if Ulrich might not care for it.
##Squeek the Anonypika##

edith b 2:05 PM  

Watergate broke right around the time of my 25th birthday and the dominoes began to fall for Nixon and, due to my interest in history, I had a nice collection of Watergate books including Dale Van Atta's biography of Melvin Laird who was one of the few Nixon confidants that, as Elaine pointed out, managed to escape with his reputation intact.

Didn't like the skipping around but enjoyed the conceit of this puzzle.

mexgirl 2:11 PM  

Man, I learn so much in this blog...!

CoolPapaD 2:19 PM  

Just when I didn't think I could love this blog any more than I do, I happen to notice just now (why I didn't notice earlier is anyone's guess)that Rex linked the cover of one of my ALL TIME favorite albums by one of the greatest bands in history! Thank you.

Martin 2:31 PM  

Pica was what you now know as 12-point font and elite was 10-point. Imagine having to buy a whole new typewriter to change font size. Of course the font was pretty much Courier. Until the super-high tech IBM Executive, with its proportionally-spaced font. Those took some getting used to. Backspacing took months of practice.

ArtLvr 2:38 PM  

@ Ulrich -- Being an Art-lover, I see a problem if modern German converts the K to a C in certain instances, even if the sound is clearly hard C. With die Katze, cat, it would be fine, but imagine the odd look of the word for Art, die Kunst, if written the other way. Not OK. Just sayin'....


chefwen 2:45 PM  

Started the puzzle last night after a couple glasses of wine and got really pissed off having to do the "puzzle dance", put it down and finished this morning without the fuzzy head syndrome. It was a lot easier and less irritating than last night. Only write over was VALISE, knew the word but my spelling leaves much to be desired.

chefwen 3:00 PM  

WOW! I just finished reading Mondays comments, I had quit at 95. Things got a little toasty in the Parker Mansion, I'm glad I stayed in my room.

jeff in chicago 3:07 PM  

Liked this one a lot! Mostly for the non-theme fill, which was mostly fantastic (random Roman numeral notwithstanding). Took me a bit longer than usual with all the jumping around.

The theme? I dunno. It feels like TJ & MG were half way to a Sunday puzzle but couldn't come up with more everythings to be considered. But I'm not complaining. Really, I'm not. I liked this. Really.

And the tap dance clip is fantastic. I think it has a future on my Facebook page.

sanfranman59 3:18 PM  

Midday report of relative difficulty (see my 7/30/2009 post for an explanation of my method):

All solvers (median solve time, average for day of week, ratio, percentile, rating)

Tue 9:47, 8:40, 1.13, 80%, Challenging

Top 100 solvers

Tue 5:11, 4:27, 1.17, 86%, Challenging

I think the relatively long solve times can be attributed to all the jumping around. This probably affects online solve times even more than dead tree times.

HudsonHawk 3:31 PM  

@sanfranman, not to mention the extra squares in the 16x15 grid! ;)

Clark 3:32 PM  

I like jumping around. (Not saying that anyone else should.) First I have a bit of resistance, oh, c'mon, I don't want to have to get up off my butt. But once I'm up, I like it. Kinda like a yoga class, or agreeing to play charades.

OldCarFudd 3:44 PM  

@Ulrich - Thank you! I hadn't known that German used to retain the hard C in words of Latin origin. Your explanation is very logical.

Elaine 4:27 PM  

Thanks to the comments, I went back to the blog and watched Ruby Keeler and her pal on the keyboard--(a Royal, I think, just like the one my Granny had.) I also had a serious flashback about tapdance lessons (for which I was utterly unqualified-- no rhythm, no talent, not quick enough, and not interested!) Back in those days, little girls had to take tap AND ballet, plus see Pat Nixon and Checkers standing by their man. I mean, you had to be TOUGH!

When I lived in Germany I went into the Apoteke (sp?) for some EUCALYPTUS ointment, as I had a serious chest cold. Vicks Vaporub was marketed as WICKS--since Americans know that W is pronounced /V/ in Germany. But the Germans know that the American W is /W/ I was offered, "Wicks." From that day til this, I refer to the product as "Wicks Waporub." (No offense, I hope. I just loved that Marketing was too clever by half!)

PIX 5:43 PM  

@Retired Chemist: "Gizzer Gimme" is brilliant and will now be part of my permanent vocabulary...of course i will claim that i created the phrase...

@Ulrich...if you are going to discuss K vs C in German you must bring in EKG vs ECG...for 30 years i dealt with EKGs even though the word Cardio, in English, is with a C, not a K...the politically correct books call it ECG but all the docts call them EKGs...

@Greene...American Beuty vs. Medical Students...i entirely missed the point, unless it was that first year psych students should't have sex with their teenage patients...which presumably, they were smart enough to know already...i totally miss the conection.

Steve Picca (not Pica)

Ulrich 7:15 PM  

@artlvr: Not to worry: The hard c's have become k's, not the other way around--and Kunst was always Kunst (derived from können--to be able, know how to do) since it has Germanic, not Latin roots.

@Elaine: I have v/w problems to the present day--I still remember with embarrassment when I talked on this blog about plower eggs!

@PIX: I now have the opposite problem, actually did a double take when I realized, after OFC's observation, that the thing is spelled with a K in German--well, it's really spelled Photoapparat when not digital...

Greene 7:19 PM  

Ah @PIX: I'm sure the poor students who endured my lecture were equally perplexed. The tack I took was "Look again," things are not necessarily what they appear to be on first glance. We know our patients chiefly through what they are willing to reveal about themselves and the astute clinician will pore over the available information seeking new ways of looking at the same picture to arrive at a correct diagnosis. I used examples of patients who conceal or mask illness, patients with factitious illness, patients with unexplained symptoms that may represent undiscovered emotional trauma, and on and on. The only way one learns the truth in such instances is to continue to dig and reshuffle the clues, each time looking at the patient in a different light.

The movie is kind of like that. Each character is not at all what they appear to be when first presented and the only way the viewer can come to know them is to discard stereotypical thinking and looking only at surface veneer. "Look again" is really one of the major underpinnings of that film. At least, that's how I saw it and explained it.

I think the goal of the professor who enlisted me as a guest lecturer in her classroom was to help medical students find the proper balance between humanity and science and to realize that their patients are complex individuals with layers and contradictions and ambiguities, not just the sum results of their imaging studies and lab reports. A very tall order indeed!

Noam D. Elkies 7:27 PM  

@Bob Kerfuffle: that's a neat coincidence (habit < habeo > rehab), but I don't think it disqualifies the clue, because rehab(ilitation) eliminates a habit rather than restoring it; cf. impregnable vs. impregnate.


Bob Kerfuffle 7:42 PM  

@Noam D. Elkies : I don't actually understand your 7:27 PM comment.

In my original comment, I never considered that the Latin roots of the words were important. I just thought that if the answer is REHAB, of which HAB is 60%, it was strange to use the clue "Habit-kicking program", containing the letter string HAB, when something like "Vice-breaking program" or "Reformative program" would have done just as well. :>)

Two Ponies 7:56 PM  

@ Greene, Very interesting take on the movie and it's possible practical applications. It is an easy and common mistake to reduce a patient to the superficial sum of their test results. I hope your students were paying attention. Nice story. Thanks for sharing.
@ Rex, Thanks for the videos. Tapping on those keys cannot have been easy!

PIX 8:18 PM  

@ win...if you can stand in front of a class of medical students and tell them that the movie is about: "proper balance between humanity and science and to realize that their patients are complex individuals with layers and contradictions and ambiguities"...then, you win...I agree that what you are saying is just fine; explaining how that particular movie makes this point, is well...interesting...way beyond me...god bless you...personally, i think better they read "House of God" and skip the movie where the horny middle age guys wants to screw the teenager...

John in CT 9:20 PM  

I agree with the earlier post, except that I have more of a problem with it. Neutral is NOT a GEAR. This really bugs me. I guess everyone has a windmill to tilt at.

Picknitter 10:56 PM  

@ John in CT, That sort of bugged me too but I guess that nit just never gained traction. That's a Tuesday for you.

Noam D. Elkies 11:12 PM  

@Bob K.: The shared substring HAB still feels to me like a harmless coincidence. But then I probably wouldn't even mind cluing GOUNDER as "founder" or vice versa...


Martin 11:36 PM  


"Neutral gear" is a common phrase. I happen to think it's as logical as "second gear" or "reverse gear" (both of which in fact involve lots of meshed gears and shafts, many of which are meshed even in neutral), but this is a discussion about a phrase that's in the language -- and therefore fair game in a crossword.

slypett 12:41 AM  

PIX: The point is he refrained. Despite his desire and his general looseness, he, in a philosophically moral way, refrained. It is one of the great triumphs in modern film fiction that he didn't, and in a gentle way, do it with her.

submariner_ss 1:33 AM  

@Stan All that you wrote is fairly accurate, except the spelling of the pie company owner's name. It was FRISBIE, not FRISBEE. Have been told that Nerf changed the spelling to avoid a potential suit for infringement of a registered trademark.

@Masked and Anonymous. AcrossLite enables us to insert multiple letters, numerous alphabets and symbols. What else do we need to solve the types of puzzles you alluded to but did not describe?

sanfranman59 2:53 AM  

This week's relative difficulty ratings. See my 7/30/2009 post for an explanation. In a nutshell, the higher the ratio, the higher this week's median solve time is relative to the average for the corresponding day of the week.

All solvers (this week's median solve time, average for day of week, ratio, percentile, rating)

Mon 7:13, 6:55, 1.04, 64%, Medium-Challenging
Tue 9:49, 8:40, 1.13, 81%, Challenging

Top 100 solvers

Mon 3:49, 3:41, 1.04, 68%, Medium-Challenging
Tue 5:07, 4:27, 1.15, 85%, Challenging

andrea 4:05 AM  

That Ruby Keeler thing was amazing! Do you think she was typecast?
The 6th pair of legs from the left is so much shorter than the best guess is she was sleeping with the director...

HudsonHawk 6:07 AM  

C'mon Martin, that's really weak. Just because there are a bunch of Google hits doesn't make it so. The fifth hit is about neutral not being in gear, and by the end of the first Google page, it's a community of artists. Doesn't really seem "in the language" to me.

PRNDL 8:02 AM  

Oh, crossworders! Am I not one of your standard retinue? I list your gears, and my name is PRNDL. Never have I been called PRDL!

Martin 2:26 PM  


Hit 11 is a New York Times article with "Neutral Gear" in the headline, as a metaphor for recession.

The measure of in-the-language is not whether you use the phrase.

Flowerblogger 11:24 AM  

I'm with the others who got the geezer gimmes, a great coinage BTW. Knew melvin Laird right away. Ditto Ipana. and Pica. My Smith Corona was Elite, definitely not PC at the time. I hated the movie American Beauty when it came out. Now will have to get Netflix to look aagin.

@retired chemist What kind of puppies are you selling?
Mary Ann

Nullifidian 11:45 AM  

Denise Ann:

"This was a particularly nice puzzle, especially for solvers of a certain age."

And it was a particularly nasty puzzle for those of us under thirty.

Melvin LAIRD and CONDE Nast crossing each other, CONDE Nast and Howard COSELL crossing, LEICA clued as a "German binoculars maker" (?!?!) when their primary business is making cameras, Coach ARA Parseghian (WHO?!), IPANA (which I have never heard of) clued with "Bucky the Beaver"....

My first reaction on seeing that (using a few dashes to make it safe for the breakfast table) was "Who the f--- is Bucky the Beaver?!"

The one remotely recent cultural clue they had was ALAN BALL, and even there I needed every single cross. I've never seen American Beauty and even if I had I wouldn't have paid attention to who wrote it.

To top all this off, I began thinking that Melvin's name was BAIRD, and with _AN_Y in place for 37D's "Long and Lean" I wrote in RANGY, so this puzzle was absolutely brutal to me.

I did finish it, but now I feel like going back to bed for a nap.

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