Summer wind in Mediterranean / FRI 3-26-10 / Actress Felton 1950s TV / Oldest of literary quartet / Gradually quieting in music / 1932 song 1984 movie

Friday, March 26, 2010

Constructor: Henry Hook

Relative difficulty: Challenging

THEME: none

Word of the Day: ETESIAN (12D: Summer wind in the Mediterranean) —

The etesians (Ancient Greek ετησίαι 'annual (winds)', sometimes found in the Latin form etesiae), meltemi μελτέμι (Greek), or meltem (Turkish) are the strong, dry north winds of the Aegean Sea, which blow from about mid-May to mid-September. During hot summer days, this is by far the most preferred weather type and is considered a blessing. They are at their strongest in the afternoon and often die down at night, but sometimes meltemi winds last for days without a break. Similar winds blow in the Adriatic and Ionian regions. Meltemi winds are dangerous to sailors because they come up in clear weather without warning and can blow at 7-8 Beaufort. Some yachts and most inter island ferries cannot sail under such conditions. (wikipedia)

• • •

Henry Hook is a legendary, and legendarily tough, constructor. I can't remember the last time I saw his by-line in the NYT, but it feels like a long time ago. I spied his name before I started in on this one, and was prepared for some entertaining brutality. Somewhat sadly, it ended up being (mostly) simply brutal. There are some amazing aspects of this puzzle: the symmetrical body builders — SCHWARZENEGGER (16A: Famous bodybuilder) and DR. FRANKENTSTEIN (48A: Famous body builder?) — paralleled by the symmetrical "EN" phrases — EN ROUTE and EN MASSE; the hard-to-make-out but totally-worth-the-wait ZERO SUM GAME (17D: Balancing act?); the deftly clued MEG MARCH (35A: Oldest of a literary quartet). All of these brought happiness to my solving experience. But other things about solving the puzzle changed the experience from tough workout to ... what do you call the experience of being gutted with a dull knife? Maybe that's too strong, but this puzzle relied too much on pure oddness and obscurity, on the one hand, and grimace-inducing semi-made-up words on the other.

Let's start with the proper nouns. Some of the clues felt like jokes. My two "favorite" are:

  • 43A: Racehorse whose 1955 Kentucky Derby win kept Nashua from taking the Triple Crown (SWAPS) — this clue indicates that the constructor hates you and the editor was too indulgent. As a non-horse-racing follower who was born 14 years after this particular Derby ... come on. What's worse, it was part of a stack of proper nouns, the only one of which I finally, dimly recalled, was BEAME (46A: New York City's first Jewish mayor). Cluing "AGONY" via musical theater (40A: Song from Sondheim's "Into the Woods")? Well, yes, "AGONY."
  • 23D: Actress Felton of 1950s TV's "December Bride" (VERNA) — OK, I'm guessing that even octogenarians are going to have a little trouble coming up with SWAPS and VERNA. "1950s TV's" made me laugh out loud. If I've heard of VERNA, I can't remember. Never heard of "December Bride." I see it was a sitcom that ran five season in the late '50s and also featured ... Harry Morgan (Sherman Potter of TV's "M*A*S*H"). VERNA was in yet another trouble spot for me, as I'd never heard of ETESIAN (the "S" was a flat-out, if semi-educated, guess), and couldn't remember what 29A: Apollonian meant (SERENE).
Add to this a baseballer I've never heard of — STAN somebody (47D: Coveleski of Cooperstown), a spitballer who played most of his career for the 1910s-20s Indians ... — and a SADAT clue that did nothing to clue SADAT (47A: "In Search of Identity" autobiographer), and you have a Name morass, know-it-or-you-don't answers that give the solver no sense of revelation when discovered. I want to go "Ohhhhh," not "Whaaaaa?" when I work hard to get an answer. I was "Whaaaa"ing all over the place today.

Another big issue: What the hell is up with RECLASPS and AWAKER. If you're going to be brutal, at least give me a cleanish grid. RECLASPS is up there with RECARVE as the most ridiculous RE-word I've seen in a puzzle. It's made more ridiculous by sharing the stage with its better-looking brothers, REENTER and REOPENED, and its not wholly unpresentable cousins, REVUE (19A: "Closer Than Ever," e.g.), REEVES, and REEDIER. As for AWAKER ... I'd buy AWAKER (barely) as a relative adjective before I buy it as a noun. Good luck trying to find it as anything but a weird name / title, anywhere in the English language. I get 2.5 times more hits for "ZYZZYVA."

Wait, can we go back to the clue on REVUE (19A: "Closer Than Ever," e.g.)? I've never not understood a clue more than I did this one. How am I supposed to recognize that title, whatever it is, as a REVUE? O god, it's more musical theater [shakes fist] — specifically, a musical REVUE in two acts from the late '80s — this time with a wink to well known puzzle constructor Richard Maltby, Jr., who wrote the words to "Closer Than Ever." Ugh. Share your winks somewhere else, please. That's (at least) three Broadway / Off-Broadway clues. The limit should be one. If you're going to rely on obscurity in your puzzles, at least pull it from different fields. "AGONY!"

  • 1A: Nightclub in the Trump Taj (CASBAH) — news to me, but inferrable after a few crosses, at least.
  • 14A: Part of the iris bordering the pupil (AREOLA) — this is an astonishingly prevalent word — if it's ring-shaped, good chance someone somewhere has referred to it as an AREOLA.
  • 16A: "On Golden Pond" wife (ETHEL) — vaguely memorable. Again, inferrable from a few crosses.
  • 24A: TV lawyer Stone (ELI) — a gimme (along with DIAN and DER ALTE (13D: Nickname of Chancellor Konrad Adenauer) and a EDER (18D: Broadway star Linda who won $100,000 on "Star Search")), but this clue should be retired starting today, as that show only lasted about 18 months. Already the clue should read [Old TV lawyer Stone].

  • 25A: Splotchy apparel, familiarly (CAMOS) — look, I'll give you CAMO, but CAMOS, with an "S!?!" I see it's got some traction out there in some quarters, but boo.
  • 1D: Vegetable oil soap (CASTILE) — no idea. More guessing / inferring.
  • 6D: Disapproving comment (HARRUMPH) — LOVE this. One of the best things about the grid. Great "word."
  • 3D: To look, in Leipzig (SEHEN) — too German for my blood. Again, inferrable, after a while.
  • 32D: Some people do it to think (SHUDDER) — fantastic clue.
  • 30A: In days of knights? (ARTHURIAN) — couldn't get this, or much of the center of the puzzle, until the end. Had virtually all the periphery and none of the center. Fun fact: I'm teaching ARTHURIAN Literature in the fall.
  • 34D: 1932 song or 1984 movie ("ALL OF ME") — thank god the clue went past [1932 song] ... I was dying for *anything* contemporary (i.e. of the past quarter century). I should say *anything* that wasn't #$%&ing Broadway.
  • 37D: Gradually quieting, in music (CALANDO) — seriously, is this a love letter to Maltby? It's kind of cloying. Is it his birthday?
  • 46D: Cordage fiber (BAST) — vaguely familiar from puzzles bast, I mean "past."

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


Anonymous 8:21 AM  

Totally agree. The worst puzzle ever and I usually look forward to the mental stretch of a Friday. Grrrhh.

Anonymous 8:39 AM  

Have never read Little Women and didn't know CALANDO, so I ended up with MEGMARSH and SALANDO. Anyone else?

Anonymous 8:47 AM  

Harrumph! It killed me; I didn't stand a chance. Had bits and pieces here and there, but nothing to connect the piecesparts. And it didn't help that my 12D answer- sirocco- was all out wrong.

My first DNF in a long time. After reading the write-up, I know why and now I feel slightly better.


Vincent L. 8:48 AM  

I hated it too. Not much more to say.

OldCarFudd 8:50 AM  

If I were equally creative, I could have written Rex's comment myself today. Word for word. I solved it, fairly quickly and with no errors, but it sure wasn't fun or satisfying.

I'm off to South America for a few days of bicycling in the foothills of the Chilean Andes. See y'all in a couple of weeks, if I survive. Happy puzzling!

bilest - even the computer shares our comments!

balto 8:57 AM  

"Beamy" is not a freakin word!

Blue Stater 9:03 AM  

What Rex (and several others) said. It's about time somebody really took Hook's puzzles to the woodshed. I detest them, and I've never understood Hook's success in the puzzle biz.

Can anyone explain 8D, "CD, e.g.?", ANNUS?

SethG 9:07 AM  

I spelled it SCHWARZENEGGAR, like I always do, and wound up with ETASIAN. Which would have upset me if I hadn't given up about half way through because I just didn't care anymore.

I really get annoyed when I get all but one letter of an answer, especially a non-Proper one, and have no idea how to continue. That happened a lot today.

Fun bit: I entered Ahnold with no crosses, tried to do the same for Michaelangelo as the other body builder before I ever saw the down clues. (Good thing he was two letters from fitting, so he didn't fit the way I spelled his name, either...)

lit.doc 9:07 AM  

Entrails up for "being gutted with a dull knife". Would have raised my hand, but I'm too dead. This one slew the Jabberwock. With a dull knife. Google didn't help. Medicinal alcohol didn't help. Or hurt.

Today's theme: "ZERO-SOME GAME".

Jim 9:09 AM  

@Blue Stater: ANNUS is Latin for Year, for example 400 (CD). (wanted ASSET).

@balto: Agree on BEAMY. also RECLASPS. What AGONY...

@Rex: your pun doesn't go far enough, buzzles past.

Nebraska Doug 9:13 AM  

When I encounter a difficult Fri or Sat puzzle I usually take it as a challenge and sometimes take all weekend solving it bit by bit. But with this one it was different, I read through it a few times and recognized that I wasn't going to be able to chip away at it as I can with some tough puzzles. This one totally crushed me. Not fun.

jesser 9:13 AM  



That area was further complicated by my wanting Taos at 23A for a while (despite having lived there for 4 freakin' years, so you'd think I'd know whether I-70 runs through it; in fact, NO interstate runs through it, but clue 'resort town' and I get all hippie-headed. I blame the great weed up there.), but I finally straightened that out. It did not help.

Totally agree that AWAKER and BEAMY made me want to chuck a beam in the general direction of Shortz's office to see if would make him AWAKER.

32D was my favorite clue/answer. But my favorite moment in the puzzle was 18A. That is such a good movie, and its debut on HBO in, what, 1983?, prompted me to buy my first color TV (on credit). I watched it with David, my first lover. Favorite line: "Her name's Ethel. Ethel Thayer. It thounds like I'm lithping, doethn't it?"

Thanks to everyone for your kind words and thoughts yesterday. Today will be tough, but the march goes on. All we can do is count down calendars until we each make the transition to Whatever Is Out There. In my mind, I see Mom and Beth Ann playing bridge across the table from one another, sipping wine. I'm guessing the bid is Two Hearts.

Retrot! (The T for which one pines, from a time past, when not so many ghosts were stirring) -- jesser

pauer 9:15 AM  

Actually, BEAMY and RECLASP are in RH2. AWAKER is not.

Loved all the showtune references, tho. Some nice gimmes to get me going. "Closer Than Ever" is probably one of the best musical revues out there. My favorite songs include "If I Sing" and "What Am I Doin'?"

And for some reason I thought ANNUS was a circle of rings, like the grooves on a CD. I thought wrong (that's an annulus).

Van55 9:24 AM  

Brutal. Too arcane and obtuse. No fun at all. Shortz should be ashamed to have published this one.

edith b 9:25 AM  

I haven't done a Henry Hook puzzle in what seems like years but I had a relatively easy time with this one as I always do well on information-based puzzles.

Our family got its first TV in 1958and it was a point of pride for the family to cluster around it after dinner. I remember "December Bride" because it was one of those shows that introduced its characters at the beginning of the program . . . "and Verna Felton as Hilda." I was later confused as I thought Barbara Feldon of "Get Smart" was her daughter. So my confusion got me an obscure answer in a crossword puzzle 50 years later. Funny, huh?

My dad was a big fan of horse racing and he loved the fact that the Triple Crown races were on TV. I used to watch the Derby and the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes with him back in the days when it was considered OK to cheer at the TV set. I was a compulsive list maker when I was a little girl and while I didn't remember SWAPS right off, I got him thru crosses.

This was a real time machine of a puzzle and, given my "herky jerky quirky" ways, as my husband is fond of saying, I enjoyed this one quite a bit.

Go figure.

Zeke 9:29 AM  

Why, I believe it was just yesterday I read a marriage notice in the paper, "The bride was BEAMY in a pearl encrusted gown". Yeah, pretty sure that was what it said.
@Anon 8:39 - I'll one up you on MEGMARSH. VERNA was VERN[e] because I'm not 100 years old, REEDIER was NEEDIER because (a) Needier is a word and reedier isn't, and (b) NEEDIER actually means fragile whereas REEDIER means nothing. (c) SALANDO means as much to me as CALANDO, so I had MEGMENCH. She was always nice to Jo, wasn't she?
This was brutal, and not in a nice masochistic take on brutal.

ArtLvr 9:31 AM  

Wow - really tough, slow start last night! I couldn't find my little German dictionary and took out SEHEN early on, thinking "look" and "see" might be different verbs. I got it back okay this morning.

Also in the NW, I wanted Ancient for ARCHAIC and that was hard to give up. Annula for AREOLA ditto.

ETHEL/EDER/DIAN/ELI was a Natick Town Square of names that eluded me. Finished me, or rather left me unfinished, unBEAMY.

Having worked through all the rest, those final bits left a somewhat bitter taste, even though I was mostly pleased with the HOOKy horrors.


@OldCarFudd, be careful of the after-quakes!

Bob Kerfuffle 9:33 AM  

I liked it. Does that make me a masochist or just a solver with no taste?

Indeed challenging. Took me 40 minutes, and I finished with one mistake: Like Anonymous 8:39, carelessly had MEGMARSH and SALANDO. The musical term could have been anything, but I do feel obligated to recognize the Little Women, even if I never read the books.

Otherwise, two write-overs: Had RECLAMPS before RECLASPS and SAGET before SADAT!

Happy to say I did suss out the meaning of ANNUS = CD before coming to the blog!

I think great clues like 11 D and 32 D are worth a few lesser entries.

(And I thought quite awhile, but never put in, MISTRAL for 12 D, the correct answer of which is totally new to me.)

Smitty 9:40 AM  

My sole victory - remembering SWAPS (had KELSO at first)....Abe BEAME came slower.
ANNO Domini. Where do you get ANNUS, except some unseamly source?
OUTLASTS was weird enough before I changed it to RECLASPS (Even my spellchecker rejects that word)
BEAMY is an excessively wide boat

Nice answers:

OldCarFudd 9:43 AM  

@Zeke - Actually, beamy is a perfectly good boat word, meaning broad in the beam, or relatively wide for its length. Which is exactly how you used it in reference to the bride - LOL!

@ArtLvr - Thanks! We'll be 100 miles or so north of the epicenter, where damage was minimal. But we were expecting Elderhostel to cancel the trip, and were a bit surprised when they didn't.

Bob Kerfuffle 9:48 AM  

For anyone who might care, here is a very long article, from the ACPT archives and The New Yorker, about Henry Hook. (Full disclosure: Although I never met the man, I feel a certain closeness because he was born and grew up in the town next to mine, where I went to high school!)

@Smitty - Perhaps you are too young to remember Queen Elizabeth II and her "Annus Horribilis".

Tinbeni 9:51 AM  

After my grid became a complete Rorschach Ink Blot Test ... I punted, total AGONY.

Don't mind a challenge, even an occassional DNF but
ALL OF ME hated this offering.

I SHUDDER to think of a less enjoyable puzzle.

Norm 9:58 AM  

What Rex said and the rest of you.

Zeke 10:02 AM  

@OldCarFudd - That's exactly what was wrong with this puzzle. BEAMY is a perflectly valid word in the meaning you described, and sufficiently arcane as such to fit in with the desired difficulty of this puzzle, so wny not use it? I likely wouldn't have gotten it, but I wouldn't have groaned when I looked it up. As clued, it's just not a word. I still don't get RECLASPS. CLASP = Hold, HTF does the Over in "Holds Over" clue the "RE"? "Holds again" at least accurately clues a crappy, but possibly necessary word.
I don't think there can be a legitimate excuse for not knowing Meg Marsh (I offer that I am not, nor have I ever been, a teen-age girl as my excuse, but can't offer that as legitimate), but at least clue REEDIER in a valid way. MEG___ at least gave me Little Women, but WTF was their last name?
My thoughts as I solved this was that Martin was going to have a field day with my complaints.

foodie 10:02 AM  

This puzzle RECLASPed me, recarved me and respit me out. I had to google a couple of times before that BEAME/SWAPS neighborhood opened up. But I agree with Rex that parts of it were quite beautiful--the two kinds of body builders, the SHUDDER and its clue, and the HARRUMPH and ZERO SUM GAME down the middle, which opened up the grid for me when I divined them. So, I got a sense of satisfaction is spite of my less than stellar performance. Puzzling is teaching me to focus on my accomplishments, not my failings. Good training for old(er) age.

And the entire time I was struggling with this, I was thinking to myself-- I bet @ edith b knows all this. Of course I'm jealous, but I'll get over it : )

foodie 10:06 AM  

PS. I had "MISTRAL" in response to the wind clue. It's a wind, it's in the South of France (so mediterranean) but it is cold. Then I had "ETE----" and thought for sure it should relate to the french word for summer... Wrong again...

Anonymous 10:08 AM  

What a classic write up! I threw in the towel after completing only the NE. The rest was splotchy.

"This clue indicates that the constructor hates you and the editor is too indulgent."

God that made me feel better!

mitchs 10:10 AM  

Oops. 10:08 was me.

dk 10:20 AM  

Being of a certain age I had tydye not CAMOS and hemp not BAST.

Speaking of BEAMY boats had scows not HULKS.

The rest of this one "dressed me up like a mailman and made me dance."

There were a few to many re fills for my taste. Mostly it was just hard.

my secret word is hound - a real word - neat

** (2 Stars) Just cause I am bitter and small minded.

Glitch 10:30 AM  

A decade or two short of octagenerian, I still didn't have much of a problem with this one (3 cup Friday).

Like @Edith b, I *lived* thru a lot of this: saw SWAPS run, watched December Bride, voted for BEAME.

Those of you who claim the above are old and obscure now know how I feel about rap and ska refrences ;)

When I came across RECLASP I wondered if someone would reprise the RECARVE discussion of a while back --- @Zeke wins.


Aaron Riccio 10:31 AM  

At the very least, this could've been a Saturday puzzle, since I don't attempt those....

Rex Parker 10:33 AM  


Are you kidding me about not attempting Saturdays? I'm shocked and disappointed. (Aaron was my student, so I reserve the right to be shocked and disappointed at him in perpetuity, for the rest of his life, amen).

Elaine 10:36 AM  

I was fooled by the start of this puzzle. [Famous body builder?] BAM! And the Nashua/Swaps rivalry, HA! (There was a famous match race between the two horses, too, after Nashua failed to take the Triple Crown.) I had the South filled in and was feeling oh, so clever what with nailing ARTHURIAN and recalling the Apollonian/Dionysian dichotomy. DER ALTE, jawohl! I only read _Little Women_ about fifty times. Gotcha, Mr. Hook!

So, then ....MISTRAL for the summer wind, REPROACH for [disapproving comment] the end, I had taken out entries that were actually correct (ETHEL, CASTS) or nearly so (AUREOLE.) Even guessing CASBAH did not help. I wanted the T in SCHWARtZENEGGER so badly that I dropped the C. D'oh.

BEAMY? Really? So I went back and huddled in bed with my kleenex, figuratively licking my wounds. DNF two days in a row.

Two Ponies 10:38 AM  

Congrats to those who managed to finish this one.
This was my worst failure in ages.
A quick scan of the clues showed at least 23 proper names, obscure and/or ridiculously clued.
Throw in enough foreign words to prevent meaningful or helpful crosses and disaster is certain.
Even after looking at Rex's grid I saw that I would never EVER have solved this.
Maybe if I had gone with Mr. Peabody in his Way-Back machine I might have had a chance. But if even Rex is stumped by a baseball clue I doubt it would have helped.
Harrumph indeed.

Anonymous 10:43 AM  

Awful awful awful puzzle.

Anonymous 10:47 AM  

This septagenarian had no problem with Henry Hook's puzzle, solving it correctly in about 11 minutes, with zero googling.

I got my initial footholds in three areas that gave so many of you a problem: (a) VERNA Felton, in addition to her "December Bride" role, was a radio regular in the '40s, portraying "battle axes," on such shows as Jack Benny (as Dennis Day's mother) and grandmother to Red Skelton's "mean widdle kid" -- Junior; (b) SWAPS and Nashua are linked forever in my memory; and, (c) DER ALTE has been used so frequently in puzzles that it is almost crosswordese. The body builder and balancing act clues were outstanding. I just do not understand all the negativity.

Crosscan 10:50 AM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
jb 10:51 AM  

This was a good one for us older folk. Easier for me than the usual Friday puzzle. You young ones need to throw us oldies a bone once in a while.

mee 10:51 AM  

Differences of opinion make a horse race and beauty is in the eye of the beholder. My eyes are greatly disappointed today and I am sorry the race was canceled.

Howard B 10:55 AM  

Not necessarily awful, and the long answers were challenging (MEG MARCH kicked me around badly), but yes, the proper names and theater references were just brutal. Some of the nasty non-trivia misdirection clues were quite good though (such as for SHUDDER). I cursed the 'CD...'/ANNUS combo, as entering ANNUM did not help me at all, but the trick was appreciated.

Felt like a Saturday, I agree. A different style than accustomed to, I can see where solvers more comfortable with the trivia cluing felt more at home. I flopped around for a while like a fish out of water. Heck, like a fish on Mars.

Not going to curse the puzzle or its constructor though, as I've seen worse. Not my favorite; Clues could have used a little polish to soften the rough trivia spots. That would have made a big difference in the experience.

hazel the friendly tutter 11:02 AM  

Telling interview w/ constructor over at Wordplay cut/pasted here:

"Q.: Any thoughts you’d like to share about this puzzle?

A.: Sorry, but no. I barely remember writing the thing."

I think you can take that 2 ways - (1) the constructor hates not only us, but his creations as well :) or (2) it was in fact written a really long time ago.

The grid does look pretty "timeless" w/ Jabba the HUTT being most recent actual thing I could find in it. The "fresh" clues for ELI and CASBAH(?) weren't enough to make this puz feel anything but dusty for me.

Not cursing the constructor either - just wasn't my cuppa so another HARRUMPH weighs in.

I will say I did get some joy knowing while I was solving that @edithb was going to rock this one!! Go girl!

chefbea 11:05 AM  

Worst, hardest Friday puzzle. Had to google a lot and finally came here to finish.Knew Meg Marsh and Beame.

Has anyone noticed - we haven't had much food lately???. Guess we will all lose weight.

joho 11:10 AM  

The only two enjoyable points in puzzle for me were 1.*See Jesser's comment at 9:13 regarding Ethel Thayer and 2. SHUDDER.

No soup for me today. No fun, either.

Tinbeni 11:15 AM  

Since I was never a teenage girl, nor ever read Little Women, I believe there is a legitimate excuse for not knowing Meg MARCH.

@Two Ponies
Even with the Way Back Machine this would have been a slough. Does Mr. Peabody sell those?

I use to look to the puzzles to suggest my dinner.
Tonight I'm eating crow.

@Anon 10:47 and all other solvers
I salute you.

Anonymous 12:09 PM  

well actually Verna was the first thing I was sure of....the voice of Cinderellas Fairy Godmother...then Swaps though where that came from I don't know....tried like blazes to get Charles Atlas in somewhere but he just didn't have enough letters.

Moonchild 12:16 PM  

What the hell was that?
Three TV shows that I have never seen.
Cricket? Yeah, right.
A horse race from the year I was born?
What was I supposed to infer from the fill-in-the-blank clues from 52& 53A?
This all read like a bad joke.
I did enjoy the photo of Arnold. Wow.

HudsonHawk 12:26 PM  

BEAMY BEAME? Surely not. Actually, I trudged through this grid with no googles, and managed to overcome all of the obstacles Rex described so graphically. I had MOVIE before REVUE, but got that fixed and HARRUMPH dropped right in.

Unfortunately, I finished with errors in ArtLvr's Natick Town Square in northern California. For me, it was ARI, EDAR and CASTIRE. Given the comments here, I'm not going to feel too bad about it...

Steve 12:31 PM  

I need to learn at what point it's best to cut my losses on a puzzle. I slopped through this for an hour before finally resigning and looking at the solution.

That is when I realized I could have quit wasting my time after a half hour!

Like Rex, when I finally looked at the solutions, I went "blech" instead of "Doh!"

This one's for me 12:31 PM  


Maybe tomorrow The Simpsons, March Madness, and Lady Gaga will return --- that one will be for you.


Rex Parker 12:39 PM  

Must be weird to live in a world where you can look down on the Simpsons from the top of Mt. VERNA.

Jesse 12:40 PM  

Another dnf here. Came close, after the slowest start ever (after seven minutes, I had about three clues filled in!). I was a teenage girl once, so Meg March was a gimme, but the older/more obscure clues were lost.

Rex, pure castile soap is just as clued. I don't recall seeing it recently, but do you remember those big bottles of Dr. Bronners they used to sell? The one with all the weird hippy writing all over it?

Anyway, I'm not as annoyed as some of the posters here. Yes, reclasps and beamy suck, but this WAS challenging and I felt a sense of accomplishment just getting close to finished (Had Ali stone and actress edAr).

Poor Ahnold - a 14-letter last name!

JenCT 12:44 PM  

Bah, humbug. Got Beame right away, and Schwarzenegger, but spelled Arnold's last name w/two Ns and one G, so that threw me off right away.

@jesser - great weed? Did you bring enough for the whole class?

JenCT 12:47 PM  

@Jesse - one of those hippy bottles of castile soap is in my bathroom right now - they still sell them.

Anonymous 12:55 PM  

It's pretty much all been said about the non-words and such, but I must say I actually enjoyed this. I learned etesian and castile. Got Meg March ok--although I too have never been a teen-age girl. The two bodybuilders clues/answers were clever, as was harrumph.

Yeah, it wasn't elegant, but it wasn't as bad as many of you have said, IMHO. Besides, that anyone can construct a 15x15 grid *at all* amazes me.

Ulrich 1:04 PM  

@Bob Kerfuffle: And don't forget Einstein's annus mirabilis, the year in which he published three(!) trail-blazing articles.

@Smitty, in case you care: annus is the nominative case and anno the dative or ablative case--it means "in the year" (of the Lord--domini, which is the genitive of dominus).

The puzzle: My experience is that starting with a couple of gimmies is the ticket to success with a Friday or Saturday puzzle--so, when I put down SEHEN and DER ALTE off the bat, I had high hopes for something mirabilis, but it turned out horribilis anyway--for the reasons mentioned by others, including being unable to think of any mediterranean wind other than Mistral. But as a foreigner, I claim the right of not knowing Meg March--what an ugly name anyway!

Clark 1:06 PM  

I managed to get most of this including stuff I'd never heard of (SWAPS, VERNA, ETESIAN, STAN).

But, where I got killed was up in the N. California Oregon region. No doubt at all that BEN Stone was the TV lawyer (Law & Order). That gave me AnCient for 2D, outLAStS for 27A (I was going to complain about the nonsense HARUMPtH), some weird variant of CASTILE, unknown anatomical word in place of AREOLA. And what was going to save me from this mess? EDER and ETHEL and DIAN? Yikes!

But I thought the double body builder thing was terrific. I loved finding CALANDO in the grid. And BEAMY is a very cool word, don't know why it is getting so much flak today.

@Aaron -- Saturdays are often easier than Fridays IMHO. Go for it.

All the forms of annus. Who knew?
Nom. annus
Voc. annue anni

Acc. annum annos

Gen. anni annorum

Dat. anno annis

Abl. anno annis

JayWalker 1:18 PM  

This wasn't just a "difficult" or "challenging" puzzle -- it was a "Soul Killer." Period. AND - I did know Verna Felton! And, yes, I am a septagenarian too.

mitchs 1:32 PM  

I just scanned the beginning of a New Yorker article that projects Hook as a reclusive sort. Reminded me of Mycroft Holmes. Or, maybe more appropriately, Moriarty.

This one's for me 1:33 PM  


I don't look down on the Simpsons, etc, and have never posted a complaint about them. If I don't know the answer I learn something new.

My intent was a "different strokes..." comment, constructed in a *refreshing* way.

I respect the subjects that you *like* every bit as much as you respect my gimmes today --- perhaps more :-)

P,G, (long time solver / lurker)

Zeke 1:52 PM  

I spoke badly re MEGMARSH. Sure there are legitimate excuses, such as never having read the book, or never having seen any of the dozen or so movie versions based on the book to the extent that you remembered the last name of the family. I personally have done neither. I was just commenting that the clue/answer was fair. It just would have been nicer if the crosses didn't make MEGMENSH a more likely name.

Leslie 2:07 PM  

I did manage to finish this one, with the same groans in the same places as Rex. I thought he was going for AWAKER with "Reveille," but just did.not.want. to write it in because it was such an awful word. At 57, I was familiar with the TV show "December Bride," but had to guess a bit at VERNA. For all I knew, "Velma" would have worked there too.

I was actually wanting to put Frankenstein in at 16A, so I was happy that he still found a place in the puzzle at 48A.

Did anyone else, filling in CASBAH, think, "Jeez, that's JUST the kind of hokey name Donald Trump would give a nightclub?"

ArtLvr 2:18 PM  

A real SHUDDER went through the US and world markets a couple of hours ago, as a South Korean warship was sunk by a presumed North Korean torpedo near their disputed maritime border. We do have troops in South Korea in case of new incursions from the North, so let's hope this isn't an opening shot for more warfare involving us. See the dissection of their militaristic mindset in P R Myers' book "The Cleanest Race", as noted here the other day...


PlantieBea 3:20 PM  

HARRUMPH! I had few answers after the first pass and realized after a more fruitless tries that, ahem, research assistance was required. After googling in a few key areas to get toeholds with CASBAH, DEO, ETHEL, VERNA,REEVES, and SADAT, I was able to creep towards a finish of sorts.

Favorites were Frankenstein, Meg March and Zero Sum Game.

Constructor Hook was definitely the winner in this battle.

chefwen 3:55 PM  

@ArtLvr - I really did SHUDDER after reading your post. Good Lord, what now?

I didn't hate this puzzle, I actually liked it and some of the clever answers. On the other hand, I did not quite make it to the end, and I admit to a fair amount of Googling, so a failure in this camp but it was fun to get as far as I did. That damned wind done me in!

This just in 3:58 PM  


I'm sure you are a lovely, concerned person, but news bulletins soon proved in error, political opinion, and the second promotion of an critically challenged book might be considered "off topic" by some here.

But then this may just be my "off topic" opinion.

And it's B R, not P R Myers.

dk 4:01 PM  

@jesse, I just returned from our local coop with 2 bottles of Dr Bonner's pure CASTILE soap.

My brother-in-law interviewed him some years back. If I can find it I will send it to you as it explains some of the writing. He was a monomanic on a mission.

His heirs have extend the brand as we say in marketeze and you can get shaving cream, etc. I use the sol-suds for floors etc. you can drink/eat his other soaps if you are....

dk 4:08 PM  

@this just in, I tell these posters time and time again to leave the off topic comments to the professionals... HARRUMPH! They never listen.

new secret word: utsons -- relatives of the Jetsons who live on Mt. Verna and throw things at the Simpsons.

Speaking of off topic, watched the Blind Side last night, I don't understand the fuss. It was as 1 dimensional as Precious.

sanfranman59 4:10 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)

Fri 34:35, 26:18, 1.32, 97%, Challenging

Top 100 solvers

Fri 19:42, 12:43, 1.55, 99%, Challenging

This one's destined for the record books in terms of difficulty. As of now, the median time for the top 100 solvers is almost a minute and half longer than the previous Friday high and about 40 seconds above the previous high for all solvers. With these solve times, it would even rate as a challenging Saturday puzzle.

Elaine 4:34 PM  

Thanks for the comforting note, SanFranMan. This was definitely not the puzzle to try when under the influence of a heavy cold. Sniff.

Better luck tomorrow.

grack--short-tailed grackle?
--a form of catarrh
--dried up spackling compound

Van55 4:57 PM  

According to, "AWAKER" is not a word. Martin, is it legitimate as a neologism anyway?

As I reflected on this one, I realised that CD for ANNUM is the reverse random Roman numeral. Why "CD"? Why not MCMXLVII? Too easy?

L M Alcott 5:01 PM  

@Van - Perhaps Mr. Hook didn't want to go with MCMXLVII because, as everyone knows, that's when Meg March lost her virginity. It would have been too confusing.

Jesse 5:18 PM  

@van55: Agreed. This was just terrible cluing. There's no indication (other than the roman numerals, which we are far more accustomed to think of in tech terms) that we are looking at a date. However, looking at the other answers, I'd say the puzzle was written 20+ years ago. (Don't know when the Casbah opened, but it could have been re-clued recently). So, in fairness, CD might have been obviously a roman numeral when orignally written.

@dk, @jenCT: Good to know the stuff is still around! It used to be in every drug store in NYC, but I moved to Miami ten years ago and I don't recall seeing it since then. I see from a later google that Amazon sells it, so I may try it - I'm trying to be all organic and stuff these days.

raidodaze 5:32 PM  

9 Googles BAH! Actually had MESTAFAH for MEGMARCH for a bit. Also had FEEBLER for REEDIER. Thats how my solve went. After reading REX's review I remembered a Bugs Bunny cartoon Where He's yelling AGONEE, AGG-GO-KNEE! A Perfect sentiment for this puzzle!

Ulrich 5:48 PM  

@van55 and Jesse: I happily disagree. The CD clue is my favorite in the puzzle: MCMXLVII can be read in only one way, whereas CD can be a data carrier, or a certificate of deposite, or, yes, an annus--it's called ambiguous cluing, a hallmark of late-week puzzles--THAT'S THE WHOLE POINT!

CoolPapaD 5:50 PM  

@jesser, Stan, Two Ponies, Moonchild, JenCT, PlantieBea, joho, fikink, foodie, Tinbeni, and anyone I might have missed - your thoughts and prayers meant so much to me, and even more so, to my non-puzzle wife. She read through the comments (her first time on “Rex”), and was so touched. “Puzzle People” are truly wonderful.

HudsonHawk 5:51 PM  

What Ulrich said...classic misdirection.

JF 6:27 PM  

Tons of gimmes (ALA, DIAN, UCLA, HUTT, Arnie, REEVES, VAIL, BEGAT, EAU and a few others), so you'd think I would have raced through. But for the reasons mentioned above, my first unfinished Friday. I simply didn't know half the words/propers/characters, even after reading the writeup.

Loved ANNUS and SHUDDER. My favorite clues of the week.

And ALBERT EINSTEIN fits (loosely) for Frankenstein. Caused me much gnashing.

angry solver 6:36 PM  

This puzzle was a crap sandwich from top to bottom. Possibly the worst pair of clue/answer pairs was the moronic, made-up phrase "When data's been [blank].../ may have to [blank] it." Seriously? You're going use a stupid ad hoc phrase to clue those guys? What has the world come to?

Then there were the obscure, trivial clues for Casbah, Swaps, Verna (if you want to go obscure pop culture from a bygone era, clue it as Bloom who played Mrs. Wormer in Animal House; at least people have heard of that movie and provided they don't have a stick up their bum will smile at the reference), Agony, and possibly others that I deleted from my memory. Lots of obscurities are such because they're completely forgettable, and those should stay out of my durned puzzle.

Oh, and I have to disagree with people about the clue for Shudder. This belongs to a second class of clues that I hate, namely idiomatic phrasing repurposed as literal. There's good misdirection and bad misdirection, and using an immigrant's understanding of English is bad misdirection. Byron Walden, now there's a guy who can misdirect.

Overall, just a truly unenjoyable solving experience. Mucho effort with minimal payoff, and I have enough of that going on in my life right now. Next time I see Henry Hook's byline I'll save myself some time and punch myself in the nuts instead.

Cluttermom 6:36 PM  

Finally, a puzzle that I was able to do that you called Challenging. I don't know how many times I've struggled through a Friday or Saturday puzzle only to read your blog and see it listed as Medium, or worse, Easy. Latin classes, being the ripe old age of fifty, and being a horse racing fan helped. Loved harrumph and shudder.

jae 6:36 PM  

Finished but needed some help from a couple of friends. Pretty much what Rex said. Way to heavy on the "either you know it or you don't" stuff. Not a fun solve for me though I did like the body builder clues.

Jesse 6:51 PM  

@angry solver: Oh, c'mon. Tell us what you really think of the puzzle.

Also, beg to disagree on the clue for shudder. I was thinking, in no particular order, sleep on it, slumber, and finally, sorta wrote weed??? out of spite.

When I "got" it, I smiled. That clue was clever.

@Ulrich - yes, after posting I remembered that CDs (certs of deposit) were probably around 20+ years ago. I still hate the clue, but you're right.

Stan 7:03 PM  

First, I unhat to anyone who finished this. The whole East Coast Central area was just not happening for me. DNF.

But I did find this puzzle enjoyable to wrestle with. The second body builder was great fun to discover and LUGGAGE was a wonderful aha moment. I even liked (finally) making sense of the 'data' clues.

Very odd point. Like dk's brother-in-law, my friend Jim also interviewed Dr. Bronner. For Esquire, I think. Reported to me that Bronner's speech patterns were exactly like the label copy. Anyway, the soap is good stuff, and my "shower reading" gave me a start in the Northwest.

@CoolPapaD and @jesser: Thanks for your thanks.

Martin 7:48 PM  

Reveille is certainly a waker. Not sure what the controversy is.

BTW, "awaker" is in the OED as a noun (=awakener) but not an adjective.

foodie 7:50 PM  

I'd like to register a formal complaint about the Data clue. "When Data's---" been" is grammatically incorrect as it implies that the word data is singular, even though it's the plural of datum. Scientists, at least, have learned to use the word correctly (e.g.these data are very interesting). I know that there is an increasing tendency to use it in the singular, but in the New York Times? Would Will allow someone to write "this phenomena"?

Getting off that horse...

I agree with Ulrich about the CD clue. It's excellent.

And SanFranMan, you made my day!

joho 8:35 PM  

I too, agree with Ulrich and everybody who agrees with Ulrich, the CD clue was ausgezeichnet.

Have a good evening, everybody!

michael 8:35 PM  

well, I'm an outlier. I liked it (especially Schwarzenegger and Dr. Frankenstein), finished it, thought it easier than most Fridays, and filled in Swaps as my first answer.

Born at the end of 1946, but don't think that's relevant except for Swaps (I remember Swaps and Nashua). I sure didn't know Verna Felton.

Two Ponies 8:54 PM  

@ CoolPapaD,
I offered my thoughts in all sincerity but feel somehow both embarrassed and proud that you shared them with your wife.
You have joined a funny family.

Thanks to sanfranman, as always, for the stats and confirming my experience (so nicely summed up by @angry solver's crap sandwich. Ha!)
Saturday can't possibly as hard as this monster.

My secret word is Thronon the Barbarian.

mac 8:58 PM  

This the fourth time I'm trying to comment! Every time I finished reading the comments I was called away, ran out of time..... Finally!

This was an odd puzzle for me, with easy and impossible parts. I thought of Schwarzenegger and Dr. Frankenstein immediately, and had plenty of gimmes. I also ran into complete unknowns, such as zero sum game, Castile, Verna, Etesian and bast. For the wind I thought of Mistral and (one of my favorite words) zephyr. Movie for revue didn't help, either! I agree with Foodie on the grammar, and with Ulrich on CD.

Looking back, there are plenty of good words in this puzzle.

This may not be a good time to mention this, but Will Shortz is being honored at the Westport Ct. Public Library on May 27th.


Nalar 9:17 PM  

From Bob Kerfuffle's cited New Yorker article:
Hook was neither. "I got into this business to torment people," he says. "On that line on the tax form where they ask for your occupation, I'd like to put 'Grand Inquisitor.' "

Mr Hook, I will attest to that occupation.

Ulrich 9:27 PM  

thx to all who agree--I thought I was the outlier here.

@foodie: I'm with you. Whenever a student talked about a data item, I asked him/her, "presumably, you call an apple an apples item, right?" But it's a losing battle--phenomena, criteria...the language moves on

duaneu 9:35 PM  

Brutal...couldn't finish this one even with massive Googling.

sanfranman59 10:24 PM  

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 6:06, 6:53, 0.89, 23%, Easy-Medium
Tue 8:19, 8:53, 0.94, 37%, Easy-Medium
Wed 11:47, 11:50, 1.00, 54%, Medium
Thu 19:01, 19:27, 0.98, 50%, Medium
Fri 34:44, 26:18, 1.32, 97%, Challenging

Top 100 solvers

Mon 3:16, 3:40, 0.89, 22%, Easy-Medium
Tue 4:29, 4:31, 0.99, 53%, Medium
Wed 5:46, 5:48, 1.00, 54%, Medium
Thu 8:40, 9:20, 0.93, 33%, Easy-Medium
Fri 19:06, 12:42, 1.50, 99%, Challenging

This was definitely a Saturday puzzle in disguise ... and a difficult one at that. For the "all solvers" group, it comes in as the 8th toughest (relative to the day of the week) of 238 puzzles I've tracked since last June and the 4th toughest (of 236) for the top 100 group. The data don't lie.

Speaking of which, as a statistician who fights valiantly every day for the proper use of the singular and plural form of "data", I fear that it is indeed a losing (or even lost) battle. I've begun to feel as I once did when I would use the one-syllable dictionary pronunciation of the word forte to refer to something at which someone excels. Somewhere along the line, I just gave up and began using the two-syllable pronunciation that I had been taught as a lad was to be used for the musical direction. For those who are interested, Merriam-Webster online has an interesting blurb about this in its definition.

Jesse 12:37 AM  

@sanfranman: Garbage in, garbage out. Heard of it? Because most of your top 100 finishers are cheating. I think we all know that. Maybe not the top ten.

Instead of crunching the numbers, I believe you will get a better take by just reading the comments. I'm new here, so pardon me if I have missed something. I don't think anyone has commented on your stats until now, and I'm just doing so to say I don't really think they are real.

SethG 12:57 AM  

I didn't know that. How do you "know" that? On the rare occasions that I've been one of the top 50 (the only ones who actually have any impact on the median of the top 100), I promise you it's not because I cheated.

If you're new here, stick around. You'll be amazed at how closely overall Rex's ratings, and the comments in general, tend to correlate with what sanfranman59's numbers tell us.

lit.doc 1:02 AM  

@Jesse, welcome to the discussion. Testify, puzzle bro or sis! As Rex has pointed out, unless you're a competitive speed solver, the only point of day-to-day solving-time checking is to monitor ones own progress. Population stat's are nugatory for Mere Mortal Solvers.

foodie 1:03 AM  

@Jesse, every once in a while, someone comments about the value of SanFranMan's reports, as you did, and several of us (different ones on different occasions) pipe up to say that we really value them. They represent a different, more objective way, of assessing difficulty on a given day. Before he did this, I always wondered about how much we were influencing each other, sometimes following each other's leads and sometimes becoming polarized in the heat of a debate. On a couple of occasions, even Rex has wondered whether his subjective rating would jibe with the results from SanFranMan. The results also give you the types of comparisons that would be very hard to make-- across other puzzles on the same day of the week, relative to other days of the week, and across the entire population of puzzles (as he did today).

I understand your point about the possibility of some people cheating. But SanFranMan uses a median score, which I believe minimizes their impact. And he looks at the top 100, not the top 10 solvers, so the proportion of cheaters becomes less relevant (unless you believe that people cheat in order to be ranked number 77). He spent time at the start explaining his rationale, and even pointing to come caveats-- e.g. that the number of solvers changes across days, decreasing systematically as the week goes on-- so there is some self selection. But the consistency from week to week is pretty remarkable.

I hope this gives you the sense that his statistical analysis is a) very well thought out on his part and b) highly appreciated by many of us. The combination of Rex's commentary, the comments here, and the data is quite an impressive way to evaluate a puzzle!

scrabtastic 1:35 AM  

Just popping in to say that ETESIAN is a great word for Scrabble. If ever you have TISANE in your rack, keep it, since you can make a bingo off basically any letter you pick up next (Q, Y, and J are the exceptions). You can make ETESIAN if you pick up an E.

edith b 1:53 AM  


I am 62 years old and have been at the NYT puzzles since I was 13 and there was no one there to validate my efforts. In the early days, there were only atlases,encyclopedias, and dictionaries available to those who wished to "cheat."

I remember when I was a young girl only able to complete Mondays and Tuesdays and the occassional Wednesday. I was told that solving was like bowling a 200 game: once you did it it became easier do again and there is truth to that.

And there is truth to your position, too, but not as much as you might think. A lot of long time Commenters here spent a long time competing only against themselves.

I only found this blog 2 years ago. My habits were long formed by that time and like foodie, I find Sanfranman's statistics interesting and in their own way valuable. Perhaps one day you might find them that way too.

andrea beamy michaels 1:57 AM  

Don't know if the statistics are real, but SanFranMan is, I can attest, and quite a charming man.

I had fun trying to spell SCHWARZENEGGER.
ETESIAN VERY common in Scrabble as it is the magical rack SATINE + E...
I thought it had something to do with summer too, till today...

One way to remember the March sisters last name is to think of Middlemarch. And it seems there is a puzzle there somewhere to have MEGMARCH mentioned during MARCH Madness!

I've been threatened and rehabilitated enough now to know not to repeat my Abe BEAME story!

BEAMY to me matched AGLEAM from yesterday. And they even overlap at the EAM. My dislike of it was more bec BEAME was already in the puzzle.
Love the idea of MEGMENSH but then there should be a C in there, I think.
Actually surprised so many disliked this...then again I'm still reeling from Monday!
(Just kidding)

VERNA and ETHEL gave this a super old-fashioned feel, but at least they were women and not some baseball player :)

I have to explain to someone at least once a day how certain situations aren't ZEROSUM and they should be more generous and less paranoid, so I was delighted to see it in the puzzle, tho I don't think of it as a game at all. It's a very serious concept, so I liked the primacy of it going right down the middle.

And I loved the LUGGAGE and SHUDDER clues.

I learned DERALTE from you just last month!

HudsonHawk 2:41 AM  

@Jesse, I humbly suggest you come to the ACPT next year. You will hopefully be enlightened on at least two things:

1) The stats posted by sanfranman59 are indeed very representative of the solving community.

2) HudsonHawk is not a speed solver.

Parshutr 9:33 AM  

Yes it was difficult. Yes some of the words were a stretch. But. Come. On. People. It's a crossword puzzle that we do for fun, and once in a while you have to do one that is beyond your capability.
Suck it up!

Lyn 6:35 PM  

I loved it! My great-uncle is Stan Coveleski (Hall of Famer in Cooperstown). I have to admit not too many people have heard of him.

HVAC Man 8:53 PM  

I can see where solvers more comfortable with the trivia cluing felt more at home. I flopped around for a while like a fish out of water.

Manish 3:24 AM  

There's good misdirection and bad misdirection, and using an immigrant's understanding of English is bad misdirection. Byron Walden, now there's a guy who can misdirect.

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