Epithet for Falstaff / SAT 5-15-10 / Earthen embankment / Jo's suitor in "Little Women" / Van Gogh's Portrait of Tanguy

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Constructors: Trip Payne & Patrick Berry

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

Theme: None

As is typical on a Saturday, this puzzle is themeless, unless "grindingly difficult" counts as a theme.

Word of the Day:  VARLET (27A: "___ vile" (epithet for Falstaff)) —
             1.  An attendant or servant.
             2.  A knight's page.
             3.  A rascal; a knave.    (dictionary.reference.com)

• • •

Hi, my name is Ben. I'll be sitting in for Rex today while he helps his grandmother celebrate her 90th birthday in Idaho.

It's been nonstop Rex for me this week:
  • On my Wednesday morning train I read a recent New Yorker Talk of the Town article that mentioned a (then-)Saigon hotel popular with 1970s Vietnam War correspondents:  the Rex Hotel.
  • An hour later I was dealing with some suburban Chicago real estate on a street called Rex Boulevard.
  • A few minutes later I got an email from our own Rex Parker inviting me to write this.
  • And then on today's train while banging out Patrick Blindauer's new Fireball Crossword (a cool puzzle, by the way) I happened upon 41 Across, three letters, clued as "Dinosaur voiced by Wallace Shawn in the 'Toy Story' movies."

The above three Rexes all had something in common, by the way. One lost sight in his left eye due to a childhood illness, one put both his own eyes out, and one played quarterback like he did. (Or more accurately, like he was color blind.  He'd hit his man right on the numbers, but the guy was usually wearing the wrong color jersey.)

OK, let's do this thing. 

Today's puzzle was a bear from which I escaped heavily bleeding but alive. I lost a limb or two but I did manage to finish it without resorting to Google, hints, the Riverside Shakespeare, the New York Times 1-900 answer hotline (if they still even have that in the Internet age), or beating my head against a table.

Still, just because I got away from the bear more successfully than Timothy Treadwell doesn't mean the bear didn't win.  The constructors, two seasoned pros named Patrick "Grizzly" Berry and Trip "Major" Payne, chewed me up but good. 

By comparison, I skated through Barry Silk's Friday puzzle yesterday in a fluid 10:12 and felt pretty good about it.  I only recently started timing myself but that has to be about as fast as I've ever done a Friday puzzle. I saw what Mr. Silk was going for the whole way and took a lot of guesses that proved correct.  It was smooth as... you know.

Today's puzzle by the Twin Torquemadas was the opposite experience, all fits and starts and POTHOLES (32D: Results of road fatigue). Some answers took two or three entirely defensible wrong guesses before I got there. (25D: Edges:  RIMS to LIPS to NIPS. Oh, it's a verb.) I'm glad I solve on a computer because I would have erased a few holes in my paper.

It took me 27 minutes of intense effort to finish this puzzle, which felt like 90.  I did take a few notes as I went for reporting purposes, which slowed me down a little, but not that much. And I spent the final 8 or 10 minutes just on the SW corner, which I found excruciatingly tough to the point where I didn't know if I would be able to finish it. 

The only reason I am not grading this thing "Challenging" is because I do not consider myself a good enough solver to finish a Challenging puzzle in under a half hour.  At this point I am somewhat frazzled by the difficulty of solving this beast and trying to blog it coherently after a long day of work (it's now Friday night as I type this), so I lack perspective. I will be interested to see how hard everyone else found this puzzle.

As for why I'm writing this at night: it's my first time doing it and I'm not sure how long it will take, so given Rex's publication deadline I don't dare start writing it in the morning. But as Friday's puzzle showed, even allowing for the difference in difficulty, I am a lot better at doing crosswords first thing in the morning than late at night. The same is true for blogging. This is an unfortunate disconnect from a readership that starts looking for answers and commentary at daybreak and a newspaper that releases its puzzle to the Internet late on the eve of its publication.  So the next time I do this, if there is a next time, it would be nice if I could somehow get an early look at the puzzle (cue "Mission: Impossible" theme).

Let's start with the grid.  It's sassy.  Two 11-letter triple stacks nestled behind 15s?  A grid this wide open is not easily constructed, particularly with nice clean fill as in this case, but Trip and Patrick are two of the best.

I started up top and after reading the first three 11s, I had nothing but my enthusiasm.  Even the gimme-sounding 19A: Alliterative team name didn't offer much help, since there are a fair number of those.  You've got your CLEVELANDCAVALIERS, your BOSTONBRUINS, your SEATTLESEAHAWKS, and so on.

But 1D: "After whom ___ thou pursue?": 1 Samuel (DOST) was a total gimme even for us secular humanist types. Now I knew the team name started with T, so they were the T___ T___s of whatever word length.  Even this casual NFL follower could see the TENNESSEETITANS from 100 yards away.

I looked back at 17A: 1970s woe (STAGFLATION). It was 11 letters long and now I had S________.  All I could think of was SKYLABSFALL.  Incredibly, this was not correct.

So I started chipping away with the downs, and soon got things going up top.  9D: Slobbery cartoon character (ODIE), much as my pride resists acknowledging anything having to do with Garfield, is a crossword must-know.  Three vowels in four letters, including one at either end?  Not as hip as REN but just as useful to constructors.

Soon I had O_____M_D__ for 15A: Paperless reading materials, which was enough to give me ONLINEMEDIA, and kept on grinding away.  Still, the rest of the grid was like pulling teeth:
  • 18A: Resident ignored by census taker (PET): First I wanted DOG, then CAT.  I had the idea but not the expression, as they say in copyright law. Expressions can be protected but not ideas. You can copyright Han Solo, but you can't copyright the concept of a swashbuckling renegade hero.  
  • 16A:  Dentiform : tooth :: Pisiform : ____  (PEA):  Insert sophomoric double entendre here. None of the body parts I was thinking of was three letters long.
  • 29A:  Nielsen count (VIEWERS):  I confidently wrote down RATINGS and I bet I'm not the only one.  Confidence on a Saturday so often turns out to be overconfidence.  On the Nielsen front, I grew up playing tennis at the A.C. Nielsen Tennis Center in the Chicago suburb of Winnetka, Illinois. The ratings company founder was a local resident who loved tennis and donated a 20-court indoor-outdoor complex to the community. Now that is my kind of guy. As for tennis, I was intending to play both days this weekend, but since it looks like I will be staying up half the night blogging about this puzzle, let's just get some Sunday morning doubles before the Blackhawks game, shall we?
  • 37A:  Runner's place (BASE):  I had _A_E and wanted LANE.
  • 47D:  Consoles, in a way (PATS):  I had __TS and wanted TUTS.
  • 14D:  Gradually destroys (EATSAT):  I had E_____ and wanted ERODES.
Ultimately, as in so many tough puzzles, the scattered easy clues were the key to taking shots at the harder targets.  33D:  Item in Commissioner Gordon's office (BATPHONE), in addition to being one of the five most awesome clue-answer combinations in any New York Times crossword puzzle this year, was also completely obvious.  I filled it in with no letters showing.

51D: "Chariots of Fire" beat it for Best Picture (REDS), while probably less obvious to many solvers, was another gimme for me based on word length alone.  Those two movies are big Oscar trivia titles (Beatty's many nominations for the same movie, Vangelis' familiar score, the top prize for "Chariots," etc.) and for some reason the year 1981 is burned into my brain when I think of either of them. Meanwhile, I can never find my glasses.

55A:  Had people over (ENTERTAINED):  My first guess was right and I bet yours was too.  Still can't think of any other 11-letter word or phrase that would work here, not that I have tried to.

Then there was me just being slow as molasses.  I stared dully at 23A: Western wear until I finally had _TETSO_S before I got STETSONS.  I lost that duel.  

Also didn't impress myself much when I wrote in DESSICATORS after getting as far as D___ICATORS for 1A:  Mimeographs, e.g. (DUPLICATORS).  Sure, it's spelled DESICCATORS and makes no sense with this clue however you spell it.  Details, details. 

Other answers you could get with just a little thought:
  • 7D: Part of a famous conjugation (AMAS):  Well, it ain't VENI, VIDI or VICI since those are three different verbs.  After I got the Nashville football team (remember the Titans?) I had ___S so AMAS, as in AMO AMAS AMAT, was clearly called for.
  • 57A:  Ingredients in everything bagels, a nifty clue by the way, could only be one of a handful of things.  First I thought of POPPYSEEDS, but the answer was 11 letters.  Next thought was SESAMESEEDS and it was right.  Now I want an everything bagel.
  • 49D:  Earthen embankment (BERM):  My mom uses this word occasionally, and though I don't remember hearing it anywhere else, that was apparently enough for it to sink in.
  • 46D:  ___ Fonck, top Allied fighter ace of W.W. I (RENE):  Had __NE, figured he wasn't named after the Hawaiian state bird so often seen in crossword puzzles (NENE), and having taken six years of French and spent a summer in La Rochelle, France as a high school exchange student,  recognized the -nck ending as a French construction.  That was enough to get me RENE.

Extending the French theme, the SW of this puzzle was nearly my Waterloo.  I am very proud that I can honestly say I eventually solved it without help, but sacre bleu!  Never has a more innocent-looking corner of a puzzle given me more trouble. In hindsight some of my trouble spots don't look that difficult (and I'll never know if I'd have done better in the morning) but at the time the short fill was brutal, for me anyway. I was all kinds of wrong all over the place:
  • 36D:  Dash part (TACH):  This was a dashboard abbreviation but I couldn't get past the idea of a footrace, so I wanted YARD or STEP.  Not helping matters was that I stupidly put EDITORPUBLISHER at first for 45A: Writer who doesn't need an agent (AUTHORPUBLISHER), so I had ___T for the dash part.  Eventually getting to ___H didn't help me much.  
  • 52A:  Receiver of contributions, for short (IRA):  I deeply wanted PAC in this spot.
  • 43A:  Stock-buying venue (RANCH):  I was on the right track thinking about livestock as opposed to securities, but I couldn't get there with ____H.  I was thinking of cattle auctions and the only market-type place I could think of in five letters was AGORA.  This should not have been that hard.
  • 56A: Ascertain (SEE):  I knew this was either GET or SEE and spent the better part of the Obama administration frustratedly changing my mind between one and the other.
  • 40D:  Available as evidence, maybe (ONTAPE):  I had ON___E and couldn't get past ONLINE or ONTIME, neither of which was any good.
  • 39D: Jo's suitor in "Little Women" (LAURIE):  This had to be a gimme for a lot of people, but not for me.  I never read this book and needed half the letters before I could remember it.  It didn't help that LAURIE, like LESLIE and EVELYN, was once a boy's name before girls took it over.  I knew that MRDARCY was the gentleman caller in another classic novel I really should have read by now but haven't, but I couldn't quite recall this one. Speaking of which, I could tell you the far less famous ex-wives of Tom Cruise (MIMIROGERS) and Steven Spielberg (AMYIRVING) and Harrison Ford (MELISSAMATHISON), and even the not at all famous ex-husband of Mena Suvari (ROBERTBRINKMANN), but not 22A: Actress Balsam who was once married to George Clooney (TALIA).
  • 54A: Party staple (DIP).  Should this have been impossible? It was for me. At first I thought of REP and SEN, as in political party, despite the lack of abbreviation in the clue, and their failure to fit the clue. After getting LAURIE I had _I_.  I thought of VIN, despite the lack of French in the clue, and its weak fit to the clue.  At one point I was like, "JIM.  JIM is at every party."
  • And finally, the last word I muscled into place, 38D: Do lines? (BRAIDS).  I felt pretty sure that Will Shortz and the Sulzberger family would not approve of something like GETLIT or COKEUP in this spot, and the question mark at the end also told me to look for a pun.  The problem was that I was looking for the wrong ones.  I was thinking "Do" as in Do Re Mi, even though hindsight tells me the pronunciation of Do should not change for a pun to work, so I initially wanted STAFFS or STAVES as in the lines that a Do note goes on. I was not thinking of "Do" as in hairdo At All.  I also thought about Tae Kwon Do, which was as useless as it sounds. After I got 38A: Makes excessively large (BLOATS), I knew the Do lines started with a B.  I then went for BRANDS as in product lines, though this didn't feel too solid.  Did the NRA receive contributions?  Then, bang, IRA and BRAIDS and as Dennis Miller once said, I was out of here.

My thanks to Rex for letting me pinch-hit today. If he's the King of CrossWorld then I'm the Dauphin Prince, sitting on the throne in a too-big crown. Beyond the compliment of handing me the keys to his kingdom, he also trusted me to make my debut on a Saturday. It's kind of like how our friend Amy Reynaldo recently made her New York Times constructing debut on a Sunday, only immeasurably less impressive, and upon further reflection, not like it at all.

Incidentally, although my name probably doesn't ring a bell, I often chime in here on weekends so my picture (at right) might look familiar to those of you who read the comments section.  That's my school photo from last year.  My teacher says I'm the best crossword solver in the whole 4th grade.

As Wade mentioned yesterday, I write a blog called Ben Bass and Beyond.  Stop by and say hello some time.  Actually there are a few crossword stories on there right now, including a summary of the 2010 Chicago tournament and the first crossword puzzle I ever constructed.  Scroll down to the bottom half of the main page (syndication solvers will have to click "Older Posts"). And Rex Parker is a "follower," so you should be too.

Hope you're having fun in Idaho, Rex.  In addition to being the Gem State, and a too-infrequent crossword answer for a U.S. state that both begins and ends with a vowel, "Idaho" is also an occasional corollary to the expression "You da man."

Until SethG's turn tomorrow,

Ben Bass, Dauphin Prince,
for Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

(Exit, pursued by a bear.)

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


andrea peppery michaels 4:39 AM  

right with you on Erodes,ratings and rImS to lIpS to nIpS (the Tinkers to Evers to Chance of this puzzle).

Didn't realize arugula was PEPPERY, I'm sure the chefs will chime in there...

wow, stacks of 11s.
Those neat little fours going down (RENE, PATS...which I actually never saw) UVEA, BERM LITE really helped.

Don't know but knew VARLET, LIGNINE and wanted vEtS for CELS for TOOOOO long.
Plus tried to BRAIlle in terms of "do lines"...

Took a long time but didn't actually seem hard in the end, does that make any sense?
I mean TENNESSEE TITANS even a nudnick like me can get...and SESAMESEEDS certainly made the bottom easy + something PUBLISHER
(wanted variation of AUTO-, so being wrong helped me be right.
STILL trying to name that!

George Clooney was married?!

The Bard 6:47 AM  

Merry Wives of Windsor > Act I, scene III

PISTOL: And I to Ford shall eke unfold
How Falstaff, varlet vile,
His dove will prove, his gold will hold,
And his soft couch defile.

NYM: My humour shall not cool: I will incense Page to
deal with poison; I will possess him with
yellowness, for the revolt of mine is dangerous:
that is my true humour.

PISTOL: Thou art the Mars of malecontents: I second thee; troop on.

imsdave 7:05 AM  

Thank you Mr. Bass - you have my vote to become a regular in the stellar rotation of guest hosts.

Not much to add, as you pretty much said it all. I crept over the 30 minute mark (actually, crept is a mild understatement - more like 45), so it was a full challenging for me.

Speaking of Vangelis, I hope the constructors don't start mining his real name for material anytime soon:

Evangelos Odysseas Papathanassiou

Chariot's of Fire trailer

DataGeek 7:17 AM  

Nice job Ben! Almost made this puzzle "bear-able." My undoing was the SW corner as well, having TRYOUT (Do Lines) crossing URN (Party Staple. Could.not.let.it.go. Finally erased it all, got RANCH, BLOATS, and away I went. 35 minutes with one Google (PERE - wanted ISLA). For me, an excellent Saturday outing.

Sara 7:37 AM  

Hilarious write-up, Ben.

Wade 7:59 AM  

Good job, Ben! I'm with you on the "do it tonight because otherwise I'll freak out even though I'm sharper in the morning" front.

Actually I didn't know your blot was called Ben Bass and Beyond. I thought I just made that up. Crap, I wonder what else I didn't make up?

As for the puzzle experience, a complete 180. This was the easiest Saturday I remember ever. I thought I was gonna break ten minutes until the SW corner added a 50% time kicker to my score (the AUTHOR part eluded me too. A guess on BRAIDS finally broke it open.) I threw STAGFLATION down immedately, and there was no slowing up otherwise.

I don't get 8D. Why is a TETE plucked? A lute, yes, but a tete? Doesn't that mean "head"? Those French, they have a different word for everything! [Steve Martin (c) 1979]

Tennesee Titans used to be the Oilers.

As a guy who always resides exactly on the median (probably why I often feel like lying in the highway), bet exactly half the people will find the puzzle a little bit more to one side of me and the other half will find it a little more to the other side of me, or however medians work and whatever median means.

ArtLvr 8:42 AM  

Many thanks, Ben! Your "grinding" hit the spot. Like why isn't a Party staple ICE? Egads.

The Payne/Berry combo was nearly lethal last night, yet totally fair! I firmly believed in ALOUETTE for starters, working the bottom half first, but my “Vanity” PUBLISHER was hard to give up. This eventually yielded to AUTHOR when I remembered Jo’s LAURIE. Fave word down there was BLOATS and least likeable was RENE Fonck the fighter ace…

The center fell fairly quickly with the VARLET VERSO VIEWERS, learning en route the term “grayscale” and smiling at the PET ignored by census takers. I resisted trying to find a word for “rhyme” at Clippers’ Skippers (too wary of crosswordese these days). Ha, TARS.

Finally, with just -TANS at the end of 19A I guessed TENNESSEE TITANS, and had the last five letters for each of the top three long acrosses. Did I see DUPLICATORS even then? No, had to work out STAGFLATION and Pluto’s CELS before the LIGNITE lit up that NW corner and I could finish. Tada. The ironic thing was that I’d tried DOST early on and given it up for WILT — d’oh.

I don’t have an OED but I’d guess it has many pages devoted to meanings of GREEN! Such a slog for me, but worth the ultimate satisfaction of a win... I agree with Andrea Peppery, it didn't look so tough in retrospect!


LGW 8:59 AM  

This write-up was right on... one idea rings especially true to my own solving experience: "the idea but not the expression". Especially in the evil, evil SW. This puzzle took me 20 minutes, the last 6 of which were spent staring at the SW and repeatedly writing/erasing "On file" (for "ON TAPE"), "SEE" (which was right all along), and "Weblog publisher". I totally knew that a punny answer to "Do lines?" would have to be hair-related, but brilliantly forgot about BRAIDS and got hung up on "Parts" or "Cornrows". Yes, I know neither of those words fit ;). Once BRAIDS occurred to me and confirmed RANCH, and then gave me TACH, a door finally appeared in the brick wall...

A couple of other points:
- I'm 100% with Ben: DIP is not a "party essential". Music, yes. Some sort of drink, yes. But "dip", no.
- Kudos for recognizing "-nck" as a French construction! I'm living in Paris and don't know this to be obviously French, except in Alsatian-sounding first names like "Franck". "Fonck" frankly sounds like a cartoon character's last name to me.
- What on earth is "STAGFLATION"??? This has to be one of the ugliest portmanteau words I've ever seen. Google reveals that it's a combination of "stagnation" and "inflation" that appears to have been legitimately in use to describe the '70's situation, but damn... All I could think of, once I got the whole word on crosses, was a party BLOATed with too many single guys (including, perhaps, the ubiquitous JIM?). In my defense, I study literature and wasn't born until '85.

A good weekend to all!

LGW 9:03 AM  

P.S. @ Wade: The "Alouette" song describes various bits of a bird (the titular "alouette" = a lark, I think) that are being plucked, in the sense of having their feathers removed, presumable for cooking. So the "tête" isn't being strummed, or ripped off... yet!

foodie 9:06 AM  

@Wade, my grandmother used to say: "Those French, they think they've invented everything!"

I'm with Andrea- George Clooney was married??? Arugula is PEPPERY?
This is all very educational.

Ben, you're the cutest of them all. And the color of your scarf (what's that called?) complements the auburn of your hair. So sweet : ) But what are you doing dealing with Chicago real estate and dodging bears? Where's your momma?

r.alphbunker 9:21 AM  

This puzzle was a joy to do. I felt the challenge without the hopelessness and the resulting grid was beautiful. Payne and Berry are a dream team!

joho 9:34 AM  

Bravo, Ben ... well done! Love your world where Jim attends every party and laughed at "Exit, pursued by bear."

Oddly for me on a Saturday, this puzzle was more a Gentle Ben than a grizzly bear.

I, too, had rImS, lIPS, NIPS. And that's the exact reason I keep my trusty Bic Wite-Out at hand. No holes in my paper!

The SW was also almost my Waterloo but that fell, too, with BRAIDS.

Thank you Trip Payne and Patrick Berry ... you two are not DUPLICATORS, you are true originators of crossword fun!

Bob Kerfuffle 9:50 AM  

Expectations make such a difference! When I saw the constructors' names, I expected a real battle. But at just under a half hour, Medium-Challenging for Ben, qualifies as an Easy Saturday for me. Pen on paper, no write-overs.

Great puzzle; great write-up. Thanks Trip, Patrick, and Ben.

Anonymous 9:56 AM  

@Ben**Rex Blvd. in Elmhurst?

JaneW 10:01 AM  

Completed with one google (for TALIA -- who knew?). But not very speedily. Also wrote down erodes and rims initially. And in a confusion of artists and subjects, initially had YVES instead of PERE at 28A.

Anonymous 10:05 AM  

WOW Ben great write-up, really enjoyed your comments!! Who wants to bet that supreme court nominee Elana Kagan finally unseats Elana Verdugo? Golfballman Can't even tell you what my catcha was today

fikink 10:07 AM  

@Ben, interesting write-up.
I find the legality that one can copyright an expression but not an idea eminently logical, for the expression is the product of the idea, no?
(@Clark, inject some Kant here ;)

I confused Nielsen with Gallup and confidently filled in OPINION - not!
Also entered LANE first for BASE.
And started out with SEATLESEAHAWKS, but chose TENNESSEE TITANS next.

My party staple was ICE for the longest time - guess I party like @Tinbeni.

Anonymous 10:08 AM  

I played tennis at AC Nielsen as a kid too and I had now idea they were one in the same!

Martin 10:15 AM  

Arugula has the same peppery note as mustard greens, radish or watercress, other crucifers. Its flavor is invariably described as "peppery" in articles.

The confusion may arise from the range of spicy effects we call "peppery." Mustard, watercress, black pepper, red pepper, horseradish, szechuan pepper and other plants have very different flavors and cause different reactions that are basically irritations, but we call them all peppery.

Last night I made a Japanese version of Korean grilled short ribs, and served it on a bed of arugula. Worked really well.

mac 10:16 AM  

Fantastic puzzle! No googles or other forms of outside help, and an eerily similar thought process to Ben's.

I did want to have a Tallahassee team in the grid, maybe because I met a current student this week ;-)!

Did the rims-lips-nips series, always have to wait out odie-opie-otto, thought of braille as well, and had stay-flation until lignite cleared that up. Also "on file" for on tape.

This was another example of how a few frequently seen crossword terms really help to get a foothold. Thank you verso, berm and amas. What is the Pluto/Cels connection?

Fonck sounds more Germanic to me, but Rene is fine in either language. Arugula is sort of peppery, in a metallic aftertaste way. I had to learn to like it and cilantro, now I do a lot.

Thanks Trip, Payne and Patrick, this is a very good puzzle day.

Tinbeni 10:18 AM  

My party staple is Avatar.
DIP for the chips, Ice for the beer.

VIEWERS was a gimmie. Nielsen was BASEd here in Dunedin until they moved about 3 miles east to Oldsmar.

WELL this was the first time I ever remember POTHOLES giving me traction.

TALIA & LAURIE, both all crosses.
Don't know the actress, or that she was married to GC. Never read Little Women, maybe I should peruse a synopsis.

Ben, WOW a home run. Great job pinch-hitting.

JayWalker 10:35 AM  

Re: Tete. I never heard the "lark" connection. I was told that it had to do with "lice" or "nits" being plucked from the hair!! Was me ole Granny tellin' me a fib?
Ben: opposite of you - I killed the SW in a trice and bobbled the NW. My fault. Thought "dost" was "doth" and floundered badly forever. Otherwise - fun Saturday jaunt.

ArtLvr 10:38 AM  

@mac -- Pluto the cartoon dog appears in film cels!


Ruth 10:39 AM  

There was a recent discussion/bitch session about "Little Women" related clues and here it is again. Wouldn't "House player" be a better and much more contemporary clue for LAURIE?

balto 10:40 AM  

Great writeup, Ben -- a pleasure to read after this nice little xword.

I think I really lucked out today -- with "dost" in 1-down I got "online media", "stagflation" and "Tennessee Titans" immediately, and in the SE I got "sesame seeds" -- I've never gotten so many longs so quickly.

SW was my problem like others -- luckily I got the second word of "Author Publisher" which gave me the first, then getting "bloats" helped me finish.


MC 10:59 AM  

BATPHONE was a real is-it, isn't-it for me - surely Gordon has to use the spotlight on his roof to call Batman?

fikink 11:03 AM  

@Tinbeni, I knew that would draw you forth, for how could I forget you like your scotch NEAT? ! ;)

squamatati - drunk in front of the fire after skiing the slopes of Tahiti.

Ulrich 11:14 AM  

Since my criterion for easy is "I can do this w/o noticeably stopping or googling, even if the pace is lumbering", this came down as the easiest Saturday in my memory (I have to admit that non-puzzle wife pitched in LAURIE, after which the SW fell w/o resistance). Like Bob K., I was very pleasantly surprised after seeing the constructor names.

The experience was heightened last night b/c as I was doing the thing, a thunderstorm hit us, and given the excellent state of the infrastructure here in CT, we lost electricity about one minute into the storm, which means I had to finish by candlelight.

Actually, we seem to lose electricity in every thunderstorm--must be designed for that purpose, to keep the emergency crew working--no sense in having them sit there twiddling their thumbs during storms...pure Yankee ingenuity!

syndy 11:18 AM  

whole south fell smooth as silk but unfortunately wilt-erodes was well anchored by my most passionately believed in answer "bitumen" I loved it, I was proud of it, I patted it on the back. I kept having to erase the whole north but i kept putting "Bitumen" back in first.(never fall in love with a wrong answer) hello ben!

PuzzleNut 11:22 AM  

Always a pleasure to read how others solved the puzzle.
As usual for a Saturday, spent the first five minutes without filling in a word. Surprisingly, finished in 26 minutes, which is lightning quick for me. I'd have to rate it Challenging-Easy.
Did the rIms, lIPS, NIPS shuffle, but it got me VIEWERS and the middle fell into place. BATPHONE was a gimme, but I also fell into the lAnE trap. Guessed right on IRA, which changed ice to DIP. BLOATS was enough for me to finish the SW early on. dike led me astray for awhile, but ENTERTAINED got me over the hump in the SE.
Next the NE fell with VARLET a complete guess. Watched the OILERS move to TN, so the TANS was enough to get me going on the top portion. STAGFLATION is a fine word in my book and seemed to epitomize Jimmy Carter.
Overall, a very scary puzzle that ended up more accomodating than most Saturdays.

jesser 11:35 AM  

Yep, my solve was almost zackly like Ben's. Started with DOST and plunked down the TENNESSEE TITANS and pretty much never looked back. Last letter in the grid was the V at VARLET/VERSO cross, and it was a Hail Mary that, for once, worked.

Remember the smell of mimeograph solution? I used to get high on that stuff back in elementary school. It was like catnip for kids.

LEAVE IT TO ME gave me a grin after yesterday's BEAVER.

Loved PEPPERY at the center, because this puzzle was so spicy and fun all the way through. Exactly the right degree of difficulty and clever cluing.

I give it a Triple A +, and anyone who says otherwise is a WEENIE!

Pinglat! (One of the muscles that gets worked out every time I swing my golf clubs) -- jesser

Doug 11:49 AM  

Since I finished it, I guess it also has to be graded as Easy, but it didn't feel like it. Wound up with onlinePedia and aPas so would have lost points in a tournament, but ...

What's nice: There's no crap at all, there were 3 cartoon references as well as WEENIE. I'm starting Saturday in a bouncy mood rather than hanging my head low by lack of opera, classics and mythology knowledge!

Nice writeup, great job Ben.

jae 11:54 AM  

This one was on the easy side for me. SW slowed me down slightly but AUTHOR... fixed that. No real missteps. Nice write up Ben and a solid Sat. from Mr. Payne and Mr. Berry.

Unknown 12:08 PM  


With absolutely no disrespect to any of the other guest writers, this is the best one I've read. Really great job. And I think Medium-Challenging is right on. It was a tough go, but I made it through in slightly longer than average time.

Maineiac 12:40 PM  

Loved the puzzle and the write-up, but wonder what James Bond would say about STIR as a synonym for SHAKE?

archaeoprof 12:41 PM  

@Ben: the Ernie & Bert mashup was priceless. Made my day!

SW was the toughest for me, because I've never read "Little Women." Took my daughters to a movie by that title about 15 years ago, but must have fallen asleep.

PurpleGuy 12:43 PM  

Hand raised for starting with DOST, and wanting erodes instead of EATSAT.
A very fine puzzle. My hold up in the SW was wanting GIN for DIP. It's always at my parties, along with Jim !

Ben, your writ up was a RIOT. Great way to start a Saturday. I also enjoy your other blog site.

Thank you Trip and Patrick.
Have a great day all.

Stan 12:52 PM  

Mrs. Stan and I *just barely* finished without Googling for PEA (we were looking for a body part too, for no good reason).

Some great stuff in this puzzle (STAGFLATION, PEPPERY, VARLET, SESAME SEEDS, BATPHONE) -- even the short fill is good (PET!)

Ben, cool write-up.

chefbea 12:54 PM  

Tough puzzle. Had to come here to finish.

Shake=stir?? not when it comes to martini's.

Love arugula. Planted some yesterday from seed. Hopefully I'll have a salad in a month. Love the taste which I would call spicy, not peppery.

Off to a Greek festival to sample food. Yummm

Clark 1:13 PM  

So I figured "_____ Fonck" was going to be either GENE or RENE. Went with GENE which got me WEBLOG PUBLISHER. Then with next to nothing in the SW and the NW, I took a nap. Upon waking, I was amazed that so much of the NW was done. How had I failed to see that TENNESSEE TITANS was almost filled in? It took me a few minutes to realize that elves (read Semi-puzzle partner) had filled in most of the NW. (Not so easy to spot when you're groggy and the the puzzle is on accrosslite (no telltale handwriting)). Unfortunately, the elves put in ICE instead of DIP. That, together with the aforementioned WEBLOG error led to a DNF in the SW. But it was a cool puzzle nonetheless.

@fikink -- I am actually wrestling today with (Heidegger's interpretation of) a passage from Kant on the relation between ideas and determinate concepts, but if I sort it out enough to comment here I'd probably use up my allotment of decent ideas for the day and fail to get any work done. Let me, however, offer up this brief Kant Attack Ad for your amusement.

Why were mimeographs always blue? I couldn't find a quick answer on the internets.

Martin 1:27 PM  

Mimeographs weren't blue. The internets don't lie.

Ditto machines (aka spirit duplicators) produced blue copies. Rather than using ink (which is what mimeos did), they used wax paper masters with a dye, aniline purple, mixed into the wax. This dye was transferred from the master to the copy paper directly.

chefbea 1:27 PM  

@Clark and what was the name of the purple ones???
just remembered... ditto

SethG 1:28 PM  

This took me a medium amount of time, but that time felt like a slog. I'm not as fast as you, Ben, but I'm close and I've got you in my sights. AWE and TALIA were my first two answers.

I (eventually) entered TACH, IRA and SEE with no crosses, so the SW wasn't the worst for me. In the SE, I had a bunch of wrong stuff in place but erased it all when I saw BERM. Then I had just BERM for a long while. RAGING BULL didn't fit, and that's some Oscar trivia I always muddle.

In the NW, CELS spent some time alone. I had KLONDIKE for PLANTERS two different times, with two different wrong across answers.

Add me to the lists of those who started with RATINGS, those who couldn't figure out how to fit in BAT SIGNAL, those who went through various edge possibilities, and those who laughed at the blog entry.

Old Teacher 1:31 PM  

You are mixing up ditto masters (producing 8 x 11 purple sheets) with the mimeograph masters (which produced black ink, usually on legal length paper.) Different machines entirely.

Garnered a DNF due to the SW....MR. BAER was the *successful* suitor; I forgot about ole LAURIE (who marries baby sister Amy in the end.)

Agree this was a super write-up!

Ulrich 1:40 PM  

@Clark: Thx for the link.

reminds me of the following deep insight I recently came across (I hope it wasn't on this blog):

The two fundamental laws of philosophical dynamics:

(1) For every philosophical theory, there is a theory of equal force that claims the opposite is true.

(2) Both are wrong.

Leon 1:54 PM  

Thank you Mr. Berry and Mr. Payne.

There is a Ben's Best Deli in Rego Park , NY, which is next to Elmhurst, NY.

This write-up is the Best !

Batgirl on the Batphone.

Stan 2:44 PM  

This place is great. Where else on the internet can you discover the science behind 'peppery' tastes, learn the history of duplicating machines, and watch a 'Kant Attack Ad'?

HudsonHawk 3:08 PM  

Nice work, Ben. I actually rolled through the South, but STAGnated in the North. My only hesitation in the SW was wanting ONLINE PUBLISHER before the AUTHOR appeared. I believe that's a malapop, since ONLINE MEDIA came about later.

DOES before DOST, though I should have seen that coming. And I really wanted LEISURE SUIT for the 1970s woe. Yep, I had one as a kid. Egads. The print shirt might have been even worse, if memory serves.

As a dead tree solver, I can report that the 1-900-289-CLUE hotline is still printed below the grid. It's only (!!!) $1.49 a minute. Really?? Must be for the three solvers in the universe without access to Google...

PurpleGuy 3:11 PM  

It goes without saying that this guy loved ditto machines.
I'm a sucker for anything purple !

My gin martinis are shaken.

OK, back outside to the pool ! Have fun y'all.ioneaced

foodie 4:30 PM  

Based on your definition of PEPPERY: "have different flavors and cause different reactions that are basically irritations"
I'd say PEPPERY is to food what edgy is to people.

Mind you, I like both, in small to medium doses.

Speaking of which, I got some ramps today- tasted great! I wonder why they don't clue that word as the vegetable once in a while.

edith b 4:38 PM  

Even though we lived in New York, my Dad was a Baltimore Colts fan as he had family in Baltimore. In the summer of '68 when I was home from college, we visited his family and ate at the Grand Opening of The Golden Arm, a restaurant owned by John UNITAS.

That, and BEASTIE and BATPHONE were the three neons, cheek by jowl, with which I opened this puzzle and immediately saw ALOUETTE and darted directly into the NW - TETE - which jumped started this one for me as the short fill that comprised this corner pretty much led me to what ArtLvr called the VARLOT VERSO VIEWERS section in the Midlands that broke this one's back for me.

I had PUBLISHER but AUTHOR was difficult for me to see as I tried to shoehorn some version of Professor Freidrich "Fritz" Bhaer as Jo's suitor into 39D.

chefwen 5:18 PM  

Decided to take the day off from puzzling and husband said "don't be a WEENIE, just get it started and I'll see if I can add anything later". He still isn't back from the garden (where the arugula is plentiful and quite PEPPERY) and I got the puppy done. Yeah, Friday and Saturday done and done! Happy dance to follow!

hoalch - what you do after eating too much arugula

Ben 5:28 PM  

Thanks for the nice feedback, everyone.

@ACM, it sounded familiar that Clooney had been married, but coming up with the name, no way. I don't remember ever hearing it in the first place.

@Bard, I didn't mention it in the writeup since I went on at such length, but as insults go "varlet vile" is classic in both senses.

@Wade, LGW beat me to explaining the TETE-plucking in ALOUETTE. Jim Horne also writes about it in his Wordplay blog at the NYT site.

@ArtLvr, I didn't mention it but I too started with VANITYPUBLISHER and figured it was right. When I got the O and/or R, I made the temporary move to EDITORPUBLISHER.

ICE was a good idea for Party staple. Never occurred to me.

I knew Grayscale but was trying to think of a 5-letter word for colorful. SEPIA took me a while. My thinking was too rigid, which is often what stops people from completing a Fri or Sat puzzle.

A lot of things took me way too long. DIP shouldn't have been as hard as I made it, or TACH or STETSONS or RANCH. Not getting DUPLICATORS from D___ICATORS, frankly embarrassing.

The SEE/GET dilemma should have been no contest considering it was in the bottom row, where Ss and Es are always needed since so many words end with them. Same with SESAMESEEDS. As I have pointed out here before, the S(outh) and E(ast) edges rely on S and E.

Thinking POPPYSEEDS before SESAMESEEDS in the bottom row was as much a compliment to the constructors and a failure to think about the practicalities of constructing as it was an analysis of an everything bagel.

If you will indulge the poor taste of my standing excuse, I felt overtired and beaten down as I solved, the whole time cursing my own failure to take a nap before the puzzle came out. I knew I was thinking too inflexibly about e.g. the Do lines and the Dash part, struggling with things that were easier than I was making them.

But then again a writeup about how I sailed through a Saturday puzzle without a snag would be less relatable to the average solver, and probably less interesting to read.

@LGW, I appreciate the support but I didn't mean to suggest I thought DIP wasn't a "Party staple." Rather, I was criticizing myself for taking forever to get it. I think that's a fair answer for that clue.

@Bob Kerfuffle, doing this one in pen with no corrections is a nice feat. For a year or so I did every puzzle that way, solving ahead in my mind and priding myself on correct solutions in ink with no corrections. But when I left the newsprint for a computer subscription and started solving on the screen there was no turning back.

@Anon 9:56am, I believe that was the Rex Blvd. I was dealing with DuPage County matters all day.

Ben 6:05 PM  

@Anonymous 10:08, upon reflection I'm not 100% sure whether it was Arthur Nielsen Sr. or Jr. who donated the tennis facility. The son, A.C. Jr., was a tennis enthusiast and local resident who had a standing court time every week. He might have been the donor. By the time I was in high school, A.C. Jr. was already in his 70s or 80s.

His weekly court time reminds me of 10-15 years ago, when Billie Jean King was living in Chicago. She had a standing court time at Mid Town Tennis Club, on Wednesday I think it was. Her court was in a prominent location and she would put on quite a doubles clinic for those passing by. They say the hands are the last thing to go, which Ms. King demonstrated. So did one of the greatest doubles players of all time, Martina Navratilova, when she won a mixed doubles title with Leander Paes at Wimbledon at approx. 47 years old.

@Mac, nice work on VERSO, never did lock in on what that one means.

@MC, I believe the roof spotlight was the BATSIGNAL. If this had been nine letters they'd have had to write a more cumbersome clue ("Item on the roof above Commissioner Gordon's office"). The BATPHONE was a station-to-station device, the BATSIGNAL a more public experience.

At the risk of libeling the Gotham City P.D., the primary purpose of Commissioner Gordon's office may have been to keep the BATPHONE warm and dry.

The BATPHONE was a closed-circuit line to stately Wayne Manor: Pick it up and it rings there. It was the superhero land-line of its day, in that Bruce Wayne (or perhaps just Alfred) had to be home to get the call.

The BATSIGNAL was more of a cell phone equivalent. Wherever the Caped Crusader was in Gotham City, he'd see the signal.

If it was nighttime, that is, with adequate cloud cover. If I'm the Riddler, I'm planning my next heist for around 4 p.m. on a clear day.

@Archaeoprof, the Ernie & Bert mashup is amazing on several levels. The lip-synching is perfectly timed. Ernie and Bert each sings in his own voice. Bert tells some hard political truths. The blue guy and the sheep lay down the background vocals. A disco ball appears. The adorable Muppet visuals strikingly contrast the lyrics of that song ("Ante Up" by M.O.P.) depicting felonies both in progress ("Take rings off!", "Your life or your jewels!") and suggested ("Kidnap that fool!").

Like Rex's site, it's more or less why the Internet was invented.

sanfranman59 6:12 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 7:30, 6:55, 1.08, 73%, Medium-Challenging
Tue 9:55, 8:52, 1.12, 81%, Challenging
Wed No data
Thu 21:50, 19:23, 1.13, 82%, Challenging
Fri 26:16, 26:26, 0.99, 53%, Medium
Sat 26:44, 30:44, 0.87, 19%, Easy

Top 100 solvers

Mon 4:10, 3:41, 1.13, 82%, Challenging
Tue 5:03, 4:32, 1.12, 80%, Challenging
Wed No data
Thu 10:04, 9:16, 1.09, 77%, Medium-Challenging
Fri 13:16, 12:46, 1.04, 69%, Medium-Challenging
Sat 14:49, 17:34, 0.84, 15%, Easy

By the numbers, Will gave us a little respite today after one of the tougher weeks I can recall in the nearly year I've been tracking online solve times. Any Saturday that I can finish with only confirmation Googles has to be a relatively easy one. And the numbers bear this out.

michael 6:23 PM  

Easy for Saturday. My only writeover (I do pen on paper] was editorpublisher instead of authorpublisher, both of which seem inferior to selfpublisher, which unfortunately doesn't fit.

fergus 7:46 PM  

Just yesterday, reading a New Yorker from 2006, where there they still found it appropriate to use the term Weblog, caused me to fail in the SW corner. Otherwise the majority of the puzzle was a quick fill-in-the-blank. That's probably the most annoying of all solves for me. Record pace, breezy self-assurance leading to answer obstinacy, irksome frustration, then a cheating Rex peek, doing myself dishonor for losing patience. I feel like the hare, Ben. Nice write-up, btw.

DonttalktomeImdoingmypuzzle 7:52 AM  

"Jim. Jim is at every party." Ha ha!

liquid el lay 2:57 PM  

I'm pretty sure "tar" is a term for a common sailor. So I had trouble accepting TARS / "Clippers' skippers, e.g."

Would have been more comfortable with "Clipper's skipper's complement", "Clippers' skippers' complements.." or something like that.

Finished this morning (Monday) after poking at it a bit Saturday night at a cozy bar with a drink, a game, and some converstion intervening. Stabbed at it Sunday morning, Then again this morning when I got it done.

I liked it, no real snags..

Got my start with a call from Commissioner Gordon, and with steady Bat-Ingenuity was able to round up all of Gothom's malcontents and bring them to justice.

Anonymous 4:51 AM  

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Jean 5:34 PM  

Thanks Trip, Patrick and Ben. My husband and I got stuck in the NE corner. Didn't know VARLET or pisiforms, and were leery of using TARS. Skippers or captains, to my recollection, do not consider themselves to be tars. The term is generally used for the crewmen.

Remember the song "La Bamba"?
'...Yo no soy marinero, soy capitan
soy capitan, soy capitan..." means "I'm not a sailor; I'm the CAPTAIN!"

Anonymous 11:55 PM  

Glad sanfranman piped up with the stats, because I also found this to be one of the easier Saturday puzzles I'd encountered in ages. If I can clear out a Saturday puzzle-while hungover, no less--on a single crosstown busride, it's a rare, rare day.

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