Columnist graphic novelist Jonathan / SAT 8-7-10 / GIF JPEG alternative / Longtime Column One printer / * Column concrete filled steel cylinder

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Constructor: Joe Krozel

Relative difficulty: Easy


Word of the Day: TRANSMIGRATIONS (12D: Souls' post-death passages) —

Reincarnation is believed to occur when the soul or spirit, after the death of the body, comes back to Earth in a newborn body. This phenomenon is also known as transmigration of the soul.
• • •

The very first answer Rex filled in was SERAPES (7D: Ranchero dressing?) I know this because, after checking in with me by email to see if I was all set to fill the Saturday slot, he told me. Then he listed the rest of his gimmes (AMES, KID IS, ENYA), and would no doubt have gone on to further dissect the puzzle had I not told him to stop the backseat blogging and get some rest. (He has a cold.)

I do agree with him, though, that the puzzle was a relatively easy one. It would have been easier still if I hadn't jumped straight in with "macho" where I should have put MANLY (28D: Oozing testosterone). But even with the middle all messed up, I was able to blow through the right half of the puzzle just working from BITMAP (26A: GIF or JPEG alternative, which seems like it might not be entirely fairly clued) and KASEM (23A: Big name in top 40 countdowns.) The left side was another story.

I felt certain that AGE MATES (24A: Contemporaries) could not be a real word; according to Google, it's really only academic journals that think it is. It didn't help that it crossed with EREMITES (6D: Many ascetics), which is, by contrast, a beautiful word--only I'd never heard it before. I didn't know who Veronica HAMEL (22D: Five-time "Hill Street Blues" Emmy nominee) was, either, and my Aramaic must be getting rusty, because TEKEL (31A: Bit of Biblical "writing on the wall") also escaped me. In a dramatic reversal of the way I usually get through these things, it was defeating the 15-letter words that helped me through the shorter crosses.

From a technical perspective, I was tremendously impressed by this grid. But the thing about packing eight 15-letter words into a single puzzle--I say this like I do it all the time, which is a dirty lie--is that there are bound to be some compromises. (The answer ACCUSAL [1D: Charge] springs to mind.) And while all of the compromises were, strictly speaking, above board, some of the answers felt a little tenuous: ONE REEL (34D: Length of some shorts), for example, is perfectly good English, but it's not exactly a phrase.

Still, what the fill lacked in verve, it made up for in sabor Latino. (In case you don't speak Spanish, which you would really have had to if you were going to come up with ESTAMPA [14D: Imprint: Sp.], that means "Latin flavor.") We're talking Mario Vargas LLOSA sipping on MADEIRA on a MARTES (37D: Tuesday in Tijuana), watching the ladies swish by in their aforementioned SERAPES.

  • 15A: Some literati ( CULTURE VULTURES ) — Nice, meaty answer.
  • 36A: They're often screened ( CALLS ) — While I still thought MANLY was "macho," I managed to convince myself that the answer to this clue was "baths." Wishful crossword thinking is a powerful force.
  • 37A: Jazz flutist Herbie ( MANN ) — Makes a change from Thomas, Horace and Aimee.
  • 39A: ___ column (concrete-filled steel cylinder) ( LALLY ) — Had anybody heard of this? I certainly hadn't.
  • 41A: "This one's incredible!" ( IT'S A LULU ) — A strangely imprecise clue for an already obscure answer.
  • 44A: Aid in understanding some old pictures ( THE ROSETTA STONE ) — There's something unintentionally hilarious about this clue; it sounds like something a jaded archaeologist might say. The definite article is a bit naughty, though.
  • 2D: One making a special delivery? ( SURROGATE MOTHER ) — Cute and easy. This was my lifeline in the left half of the puzzle.
  • 3D: Host's invitation ( PLEASE TAKE A SEAT ) — The phrasing of this clue all but guaranteed that the first word of the answer would be "please."
  • 13D: It's better than life ( TEN YEAR SENTENCE ) — It's better than death by GAROTTE, too--Spain's official method of execution until 1978, and a morbidly amusing cross.
  • 31D: "Bewitched" Spinoff ( TABITHA ) — Began airing the same year the garotte was abolished, and didn't last long. Spinoffs never seem to survive past the first season, and yet TV producers keep making them.
And now for the obligatory Billie Jean video, but not as you know it.

Signed, Michele Humes, One-Night Monarch of Crossworld

[Follow Michele on Twitter]


r.alphbunker 8:09 AM  

Definitely not an easy for me. Had sekel/sabitha and martee/stoesel for those naticks. Lucked out on llosa/lally because I knew that llama was a word and I had a vague memory that the name began with two consonents.

The clue for bitmap is okay. BMP is pronounced bitmap. "Joint Photographic Experts Group or Graphic Interchange Format alternative" just wouldn't work.

I guess the NYT occasionally allows non-symmetric grids.

Overall a good experience. I like Krozel puzzles.

Glimmerglass 8:31 AM  

For quite a while I had "funeral orations" for "souls' post death passages," which caused considerable delay! I hate it when a long wrong seems to fit. Other than that, a reasonably "medium" Saturday.

Anonymous 8:41 AM  

there are "easy" saturday puzzles (which are relatively easy for a saturday) and then there are "difficult" saturday puzzles which are brutally hard no matter what day it is. this was relatively easy for me, too, once i got past the immense space that needed to be filled in.

i agree that the use of the word "the" is rather gratuitous. i guess i am used to seeing the language software sold in the mall simply called "rosetta stone" with no definite article. maybe there are several kinds of rosetta stones, but there is only ONE that sticks out as "THE" rosetta stone...often imitated, never duplicated.

(kind of reminds me when people refer to handel's "messiah" as "the" messiah. there is no the.

and it is amazing that a country would use strangulation as a means of capital punishment. seems too hands on for that kind of killing. firing squad, hanging, guillotine, electric chair, and injection are all hands off, disconnected. strangulation seems too personal. yikes.

lastly, "Lally" is a trademarked name, according to my dictionary. must be the Kleenex of building materials...

retired_chemist 8:52 AM  

Wow. Oh, easy for Leonardo!

Denise Ann 8:59 AM  

On Turner Classic Movies, they refer to "shorts" as "One Reel Wonders."

pete1123 9:03 AM  

@ r.alphbunker

The puzzle is symmetric -- just not the usual rotational (or even bilateral) symmetry that we're used to seeing. It's symmetric over the diagonal from the upper left corner to the lower right.

Van55 9:04 AM  

Impressive. Not easy even for a Saturday.

Unknown 9:12 AM  

EASY for you say! Well, I'm just happy to have completed it with no help, after having had a DNF in the NE on yesterdays puzzle. Like many, I didn't know the flower or the cake. I probably could have sussed it out if I gave it a bit more time, but I got aggravated and had other pressing things to tend to.

Anyway, I had a lot of stuff I needed crossing help with today. Lot's of Spanish and few obscure words. Had no idea about TEKEL, but remembered that Veronica Hamel was a hottie. Wanted ITSALULU forever, but didn't know LLOSA.

I just basically ground it out with help from the crosses and a few good guesses that panned out. I think I finished in under an hour, but it was close. Don't know for sure, because I forgot to activate the timer.

Redemption from a second DNF felt good

hartless 9:22 AM  

Had university profs for 15A. That went with run up to for 1D, which validated Ural for 18A, which gave me Ser for 5D...sigh. Spent WAY too much time staring at that mess.

dk 9:28 AM  

Michele, bonne histoire!

Nice crime and punishment theme.

A few misspellings and one or two huhs (eg. TEKEL & STOSSEL).

Filled SERAPES first followed by ENYA as I heard Rex in the background -- 4 letter singer, new agey title...

Wanted pickle jar suit. My photog and forensic background helped on this one.

Some WONKS may find this easy and I'm HIPTO that. I CALLS it medium.

** (2 Stars) Like my Saturdays a little WIRIER

Ok puzzlemates. Tonight is my brother's annual crab boil. I person a rickety bar that has come to be known as Little Bo Peeps (its where ewe want to be). Every year we create a signature drink. The past years have been rum based, this year: Pimms Cup. I have "perfected" the mix and just need to cut up a bunch of lemons, oh yeah there has been a run on Pimms (oddly lots of Cricket here) so I need to find a few bottles. Back-up drink Sloe Gin fizz.

Rex Parker 9:42 AM  

VERY easy. Not even trying, with a head full of head cold, I did it in 8-something. Absurdly fast for me. Faster than yesterday.

Considering the low word count (which is something I just don't care much about), I thought this puzzle was pretty good.

The write-up was elegant. Thanks, Michele.

joho 9:52 AM  

Unfortunately I didn't know LALLY or LLOSA, so was an "L" off from perfection. I, too, started at SERAPES and got the top in short order.

I had ITSsoyoU before ITSALULU. I also wanted ARTShop and took forever to find CAUSAL to fix that. CAUSAL is contained in ACCUSAL.

At first seeing just 18 black squares I thought this would be a real bear but I do agree that most of the puzzle was pretty easy for a Saturday.

Nice writeup, Michele! Also, thank you for the acoustic "Billy Jean." That KIDIS good!

Rex, if you check in, hope you're feeling better. There is nothing worse that getting sick on your vacation.

Unknown 10:22 AM  

@dk: I'd love to know what your coming up with to mix with Pimm's Cup. There used to be 6 of them, but I've only seen number one in the U.S. The classic is Pimm's in a tall glass topped with soda, but you absolutely have to have the cucumber spear, or it ruins the whole experience !

Ulrich 10:59 AM  

I second "easy" (couldn't post this early otherwise!), especially since I knew both LLOSA and LALLY column--they are more frequent than you think: Just about everyone I know who lives in a house with a double garage has one oft those in the center of it--it halves the span for the beam across.

@pete1123: You beat me to the punch w.r.t. the symmetry of the puzzle--it's really a very pretty grid.

Two Ponies 11:06 AM  

Nice summary Michele. Do we know you by another name?
Yesterday I was beaten by a flower and today a cement column smashed me. Lally?? Geez, was I really supposed to know that?
Yesterday we had unmanly and today manly.
Despite falling one letter short of victory it still was easy for a Sabado.
@ dk, I agree with @chaos1 re: the cucumber. I also add fresh mint. In fact, my Pimm's almost looks like salad. A great warm weather drink.

ArtLvr 11:21 AM  

I made a tiny start last night, finished with much difficulty this morning. Then I found my Lad at 23D was supposed to be a KID -- KASEM and BITMAP were no help there.

The only LALLY I ever knew was Ken Lally, great benefactor of RPI in Troy NY. His $15 million gift, largest ever at the time, established the Lally School of Management and Technology in 1963 as part of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (now RPI), where he also served on the Board of Trustees for many years.

Hats off to Joe Krozel, Michele, and all those who found the puzzle easy!


hazel 11:33 AM  

I thought this was impossible!! I needed a few more cheater squares or something as I quailed in front of those wide open spaces. Just couldn't get any traction anywhere outside of the Far East.

Very very nice grid. Wish I'd made a better showing.

foodie 11:45 AM  

Are you Michele Humes the food writer? That makes me happy. And it made me stop and think about your comment re CULTURE VULTURES-- "meaty"? : )

In my evolving Quick and Dirty Index of difficult, as I await SanFranMan's real data (is there such a thing as DATA VULTURE?) I look, among other things, at how long it takes the FIRST 50 people to finish the puzzle. Tuesdays, for example, run around 10-13 minutes. On a Saturday the range is huge. But I think the dividing line is about 60 minutes. Anything longer tends to be rated on the more challenging side. Lower than 60 is Easy Medium to Easy. For example, Saturday May 15, it took 40 minutes for 50 people to complete the puzzle on line (SanFranMan Rating: Easy for both groups- 19%/15%). By contrast, Saturday July 10th, it took 90 minutes for the first 50 to complete the puzzle. SanFranMan rating Challenging for both groups (94%/96%). Today, it's 54 minutes. So, not the Easiest we've seen, but on the easy side. So, I'm going to guess Easy/Medium.

I'm of course often wrong in my guesses- a good scientist doesn't mind. If you're not wrong, you're not trying : )

JayWalker 11:54 AM  

EASY??? What world do you people live in??!!?? I've got to stop coming to this blog. You are killin' my lifetime buzz!

Wade 12:12 PM  

Hey, One-L Michele! I notice you write for the Atlantic. Next time you pass Jeffrey Goldstein in the hall, please tell him on my behalf he isn't funny and that he should be ashamed for taking Cox and Rathvon's page. On second thought, no--just trip him and look over your shoulerd with a smirk and say, "That's from that guy who keeps sending you anonymous, rambling, threatening emails."

Agree that this puzzle was easy. So that makes it official, I guess. Veronica Hamel was Frank Furillo's wife on Hill Street Blues. I remember being really into that show when it was in syndication back in the early nineties. I wonder how it would hold up today. Probably not great. I doubt the early nineties version of me would hold up very well either.

Nicely done, Michele. Joe K., always good to see you.

JenCT 12:45 PM  

@JayWalker: I'm with you - I agonized over this one. Got much of it, but DNF. Just when I think I'm "getting it"...

I knew LALLY column from the time a few years back when I hit one. Try explaining to an insurance company how you smashed your right front fender while backing up.

Kerry 12:56 PM  

Medium for me, particularly since I ended with an error: TEKER/HAMER. How can any puzzle with that cross be an Easy?

Anyway, as a filmmaker, I can assure you that ONE REEL is perfectly above-board. As above-board as, say ONE ACT or ONE PAGE.

Rex Parker 1:19 PM  

Yes, Michele Humes is a food writer, and a good one. Her blog is very entertaining and exceedingly well written. See here, for instance:

"Making Cobb Salad in the Jungle"

HAMEL is common in crosswords. And "Mene Mene TEKEL Upharsin" is pretty crucial biblical stuff: whence the phrase "the writing on the wall." Further, a single "bad" crossing doesn't necessarily change the puzzle's difficulty rating. See Friday, for instance, which had a lethal crossing; but if you knew it, or guessed right, the puzzle overall was not hard at all.

Mel Ott 1:30 PM  

Difficult for me. For some of us old crocks 23D, 23A, & 26A form a double Natick. I had LADIS, LASEM, & BATMAP, which made just as much sense to me.

Knew the columns, but always thought they were spelled LOLLY (never saw 'em in print). Stared at COUSAL for a long time before giving in. I remember them as those vertical columns in old basements that were the bane of the existence of those who tried to finish their basements as rec rooms.

CaseAce 1:36 PM  

I'm happy to see that Joe K. is HIPTO, rather than HEPTO, because if it had been the latter, then poor Joe would be older than dirt!

CaseAce 1:43 PM  

It wasn't so much the Hispanic words that caught my attention, but the legalese ones, like ACCUSAL and CAUSAL, that occasioned me to wonder if the constructor has a law degree, or two, proudly framed on the wall of his den?

Michele Humes 2:05 PM  

Thanks for the kind reception, everyone!

I forgot to mention that for some time I was convinced that IT'S A LULU was IT'S ALIVE, and was thinking to myself, "Boy, that's some pretty ineffective clueing."

@foodie Well I am certainly *a* food writer, but I'm not sure if I'm Michele Humes *the* food writer. If I am, I'm definitely not getting enough free food out of it.
(Re: "meaty" and "vultures"...I considered commenting on the intersection of CULTURE VULTURES and TRANSMIGRATIONS with a description of a traditional Tibetan "sky burial," in which the corpse is tied to a post and fed to the vultures until nothing is left. But I thought maybe "garotte" was macabre enough for Saturday morning.)

@kerry Ok, I accept ONE REEL. I think it was seeing it in combination with TEN YEAR SENTENCE that got me--the numbers just seemed so arbitrary.

@wade I just freelance. Otherwise I would be totally happy to become your personal email yakuza :)

@rex Thank you for being gracious. My main goal was to not deface your blog or say anything stupid. Which is why I refrained from posting the video of John Stossel getting slapped in the face, twice, by a WWF wrestler he'd just accused of participating in a fake sport. But you should, uh, google that.

Ulrich 2:51 PM  

@Michele (and here I thought you were an Italian guy who had somehow gotten an English-sounding surname): If nobody would say stupid things on this blog, others would not have the chance to show off their superior knowledge, which is a favorite pastime for many of us...

messi, as in Lionel...

Vera Similitude 2:54 PM  

Tekel "escaped" you and you never heard of "eremites", yet you still found this "Easy"??

Give me a break.

chefbea 3:04 PM  

Could not do the puzzle!!! Googled a bit and gave up.
Now to read about Michele and what she has written.

foodie 3:15 PM  

@Michele Humes, you're THE writer because a couple of months ago, you made me want to fly to NY and go shopping for food at Fairway in Brooklyn. Here's the segment that did it: " Through these splurges, I’ve discovered cherry tomato sugo in Red Stripe bottles with a luminous, unreduced flavor; a garlic-and-artichoke paste that looks like prepared horseradish and tastes like creamy sex; flaky olive-oil crispbreads from Seville with hints of aniseed and almonds."

You do deserve free food, at least from Fairway. And that link that Rex posted was wild.

BTW, I do appreciate your restraint re the sky burial : )

BigSteve46 3:19 PM  

For people who do smething else in their lives beside solving than crossword puzzles, this was in no way easy! Challenging and - ultimately - doable - but in no way could this be called easy.

Rex Parker 3:20 PM  

Wow, lots of bitter, ignorant grapes today.

Tinbeni 3:35 PM  

After my DNF with the LA TIMES, I looked at this grid and almost just put it aside.

GAROTTE was my first answer. Followed soon by a

Thought IT'S A LULU, "This one's incredible!" had a precise clue for a great answer. Maybe it's a Southern thingy but I use this expression often.

@dk: Your Pimm's cup and Sloe Gin fizz sound great for the crab boil tonight. But remember, PINCH. It's not JUST for breakfast anymore.

As to the Saturday puzzle rating:
Some think it was EASY, others MEDIUM, some HARD.
Personally, I thought it was Well Done since I finished.

dk 3:35 PM  

Pimms mates:

It is Pimms Number 1 never knew about 2-6... a mission is in the making

Chaos1 and 2ponies: The mix is a concoction of fresh lemon (2/3) and orange juice + pulp (1/3) with a jigger of club soda and 1.5 oz Pimms.

Note: Flavored Sam Pellegrino water works as well.

The garnish is mint, small lemon wedge, alas no
cucumber but have noted same for future reference.

Rex the vitamin c in this rink will cure your cold.

This is a ruckus outside affair so the drink has to be good, nae great, and easy to make. The past 3 years have been mojitos with a three person production line and cuba libres all with old recipes courtesy of the American Cocktail Museum NOLA, LA. One year was Sazeracs. I made my own bitters and smuggled absinthe from... a not to be named Eastern European country.

My niece (age 9) makes a new sign for the bar every year. I will see if I can get a photo.


dk 3:37 PM  

@Rex, ignorant grapes???? Not in this bunch.

Gotta cut lemons

secret word: deplous - rex's spelling grade

fergus 3:40 PM  

More like 48 minutes for me, and since there seems to be such a variety of opinions on the difficulty here, I'm wagering SF Man will ring in with a Medium.

I was confused enough to stick around with HACKS (due to MACHO) before yielding to the much more sensible WONKS. And was thinking basketball for the Court no-no having lightly inked in the ending as ...DEFENCE. Hard Zone Defence. Duh, that's the Brit spelling.

OUTEATEN needs two question marks in the Clue ... .

Van55 3:48 PM  

"Wow, lots of bitter, ignorant grapes today."

Of which the above is one, in my opinion. Totally unnecessary, not to mention supercilious.

The Fox 3:49 PM  

You want bitter, stupid grapes? Got them here, aplenty. Pencilled in BRA instead of BOA, somehow convinced myself that MOTHER (or father, still handn't decided) was actually Morther (Forther) which made this a very bad puzzle. See, it's all the puzzle's fault.
Didn't agree that EREMITES are really esthetics, the driving force between the two movements is very different. Wasn't going to mention this, but a foodie should know that MADEIRA is Portugese, not Spanish. No, it's a wino that should know that. I knew it.

Michele Humes 4:00 PM  

@The Fox Well, I do know that--am I using "Latin" too broadly?

@Van55 I'm sure Rex is just being over-chivalrous on my behalf because it's my first time posting, which is a really nice thing when you think about it.

Van55 4:22 PM  


You don't need defending. Your writeup was terrific.

No one who takes the time to read and post here deserves to be called "ignorant" by the host, in my opinion.


Glitch 4:35 PM  

@Michele H.

Since I don't believe the "bitter" comments were generally directed at you (The Fox excepted), I don't see any chivary in @Rex's comment.

What's disappointing to me is that, a while back, RP would have berated anyone catagorizing a commenter as *ignorant*.


Glitch 4:38 PM  


We crossed in it the posting, but I'll let mine stand anyway as I generally avoid "me too" posts.


retired_chemist 5:28 PM  

I think the variation in assessment of this puzzle's difficulty has a strong component of solving style. I do not do well with long answers and usually need a fair number of crosses to get them. That style doe not mesh with today's puzzle, since there are so few 3/4/5 letter gimmes crossing the eight 15s. Two of the three 3s were ambiguous. For 5D, ROM fits as well as RUS, and the former seemed better in view of the comparability in size. (10D) was (R/L)(E/T/G)S so there were six possibilities. As for 45D - TVS is odd. Who surfs the web with his/her TV as video output?

Bottom line: those who are good at getting the long ones without needing many crosses will have found the puzzle a lot easier than I did.

Too, several of the clues/answers seemed obscure to me. LALLY/LLOSA were NOT familiar, and WALLEYE was hard to see from the clue. I don't see restaurant dining as a competitive experience, so OUTEATEN (11D) was difficult even with ___EATEN in place. While the Spanish probably plagued others more than I, it was not easy. 7D seemed to me to be asking for a singular and I rejected the plural SERAPES until late.

Took a bunch of googling, which is becoming rare for me even on Saturdays.

I'm not complaining about the puzzle - just ruminating about what i need to improve.

Two Ponies 6:13 PM  

Bitter ignorant grapes?
Go drink some Nyquil and come back when you feel better.
Again you show me that the reason I come here is for the intelligent and courteous crowd you have somehow managed to attract.
Cheers to everyone else.

Norm 6:21 PM  

Agree with Retired Chemist, who said it far more nicely that I would have (and I have restrained myself from ranting since Friday night). For me, it was a plain did not like,

Tinbeni 6:41 PM  

Excellent critique. I agree.

For whatever reason the 15's fell easily for me today. That gave me the framework (traction) I needed to complete my solve. Whether this was easier for me than you, well, flip-a-coin.

I can't wait to check @SanFranMan's relative difficulty rating.

Had Michele rated this Medium, probably 78.3% of the carping here would not have occurred.
I believe the Host is allowed to make "their" call.
(I also remember that "Easy" on a Saturday would probably fall into "Challenging" on a Thursday)

Your "Guest" hosting was exceptional.
I enjoyed your write-up and clips.

Rex Parker 7:08 PM  

@Two Ponies,

"Somehow" — yeah, how an asshole like me has such intelligent, kind readers, I'll never know.

There are two comments in particular that I was referring to (2:54, 3:19). They are bitter and ignorant and decidedly impolite to my guest host. I do Not take that well. If someone had treated your work and insights so dismissively and callously —had, in fact, implied you were a liar— I'd have said something as well.

For whom, exactly, or for what principle, are you standing up?

@dk "Spelling?" Did you think I was trying to say "gripes"??

@ret chem, thanks for the insights — I understand having different solving styles, but I wonder about what makes someone "good at getting long ones." Long answers demand a certain parsing ability — but that ability is needed for lots of clues of diff., shorter lengths as well. I think most people still Need those shorter crosses to bring down long ones. I know I do.

Thanks again, Michele.


foodie 7:55 PM  

@RC, I agree with the way you are analyzing this.

Rex, I think it is a matter of whether one has a toehold early on. I had none after the first look through. Contrast that with what Michele told us about your gimmes. I would need to google a few, and then I'd have that same level of grip on the puzzle (not that I could ever solve it in 8 minutes). In a puzzle with long answers such grip matters a great deal.

If we had measures of variance on solving, I think we would see that the variability is likely very high on Saturdays in general and on days like today in particular. When the ratings come in, I'm still betting it will be on the easy side. BUT, we need to recall that only the people who were able to finish are on the posted list, so there is an intrinsic bias which increases as the variance increases. If the distribution of solvers is in fact binary (some found it quite easy and others quite difficult) we would only see the easy side of the distribution. It is on those days that a number of people express a sense of incredulity.

Sorry to be such a geek about all this : ) Like RC, it helps me to think analytically.

The (Abashed) Fox 8:02 PM  

@Michele - Much apologies, my memory of what you wrote was that you specifically said it was Spanish, whereas what you said was that it was specifically Latin.
One of my favorite theories is that if, when people are tempted to start a sentence with "I probably shouldnt' say this.." , they heeded their own advice, 90%+ of all interpersonal insults would be avoided.
Again, my apologies for not following my own advice

Rex Parker 8:02 PM  


That all sounds right—very insightful, actually, esp. about the bias inherent in the pool of times (no way to calculate a "DNF"). And yet what I'm left wondering about is not the particulars of this puzzle, but this issues "The 15"(or the Very Long Answer) that RC brings up and whether there is such a thing as a solver who is good at solving long answers. On any given day people's gimmes are different, but I'm pretty sure that Everyone (even fastest) Need those short crosses (often in abundance) to bring down long answers—which would make the question not whether you were good at getting long answers, per se, but whether you were good at getting short ones On A Saturday (when cluing can be ferocious).

Thanks for the thoughts.

sanfranman59 8:08 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 7:16, 6:58, 1.04, 72%, Medium-Challenging
Tue 10:30, 8:49, 1.19, 92%, Challenging
Wed 10:33, 11:47, 0.90, 28%, Easy-Medium
Thu 18:29, 19:08, 0.97, 45%, Medium
Fri 22:56, 26:32, 0.86, 28%, Easy-Medium
Sat 29:39, 30:57, 0.96, 42%, Easy-Medium

Top 100 solvers

Mon 3:51, 3:43, 1.04, 71%, Medium-Challenging
Tue 5:13, 4:33, 1.12, 90%, Challenging
Wed 5:35, 5:47, 0.96, 44%, Medium
Thu 8:51, 9:10, 0.97, 50%, Medium
Fri 11:24, 12:54, 0.96, 42%, Easy-Medium
Sat 16:59, 17:42, 0.86, 28%, Easy-Medium

Right on target, Foodie! For the record, these numbers would place this puzzle at the extreme end of Challenging on a Thursday and at the Medium-Challenging/Challenging cusp on a Friday. By the numbers, Saturdays are in a class by themselves in terms of difficulty.

jae 8:40 PM  

Easy-medium for me so I must fit the Sat. profile. I got the top two 15s with only 3 or 4 downs, but I do seem to have a knack for sussing out long answers. If I was a better speller this would have gone quite a bit faster for me. (I was sure POLLUTION only had one L and struggled with that section). What was nice today was that my L guess (LLOSA) was right unlike yesterday. Liked the puzzle and enjoyed Michele's write up.

foodie 8:55 PM  

OK, sorry, a fourth post and more geekiness :)

Rex, in a way you're asking what makes some people great puzzle solvers relative to the rest of us mere mortals.

Of course, there's the fund of knowledge about a wide range of areas. The importance of that cannot be ignored. There's also the crosswordese (Meeting EDINA). But still, if you did one of those psychology experiments, and sat me side by side with you, gave me all your gimmes, it would still take me a lot longer to finish and I may still not complete a tough puzzle. So, why is that?

Well, you could be intrinsically smarter. But that's begging the question. One needs to be more specific. I see it as involving three variables:

a) an innate ability for pattern recognition, in this case word patterns- This would be perceptual rather than analytical. Like some people (e.g. Ulrich) can perceive things in 3D better than others.

b) a knowledge of language structure and willingness to rely on that knowledge. This is more analytical- I for one rely on this ability as my main weapon.

c) a willingness to entertain many different ideas simultaneously even under uncertain conditions. A willingness to tolerate some uncertainty, take a stab in the dark. This is a kind of intellectual risk-taking behavior, and it's temperamental (I happen to study risk taking and its relationship to emotionality).

An optimal confluence of broad knowledge, specific experience, and the above skills would be a great advantage in puzzle solving. The good news is that some of this is learnable.

An additional dimension is of course "processing speed". Literally how quickly information is processed in one's brain. All else being equal, some people are intellectually quicker than others.
For evidence of perceptual speed, take a look:

I'd be interested to hear from others what they think. Are there any other key dimensions?

Vera Similitude 9:02 PM  

Sorry to have given rp the vapors with *such* a "bitter and ignorant" post.

And ANYone who might have agreed with me...why you're bitter and ignorant too!

Next time I'll bite my proverbial tongue before writing such invective as "give me a break."

Mary Candace 9:09 PM  

@Andrea Carla Michaels: I couldn't help thinking of "Henkel, Henkel, Henkel, Unilever" from May 25th and laughing again! Thanks for the fun.

Noam D. Elkies 9:34 PM  

Congratulations to JK on a new 18-block grid!

Yes, 6D:EREMITES is pretty, even if it's basically a fancy version of good old HERMITS.

The NYTimes blog notes the happy juxtaposition of the life-and-death clues for the stacked grid-spanning 13D:TENYEARSENTENCE and 12D:TRANSMIGRATION.

I thought 36A (they're often screened) would be REELS, and 28D:MANLY agreed; but then 34D:ONEREEL forced me to look elsewhere. FIRMER for 43A:WIRIER stayed in the grid even longer. All in all, about an average Saturday for me (c.25 minutes without recent Fri/Sat practice).

Whatsamatter with the definite article in 44A:THEROSETTASTONE? It's not like there are other Rosetta stones out there...


Miss Fleas 11:21 PM  

I carped about this puzzle at the "other" blog but didn't get much support. Anyhow, I'm done with that. Just here to offer cocktail suggestions (and would have done earlier but had password problems). Pimms #1 Cup is great with 7-Up and fresh lime juice, plus the obligatory slice of cuke. By "fresh" I mean unsweetened; Nellie & Joe's Key West Lime Juice (Stop & Shop sells it) works nicely if you don't feel like squeezing limes. The Sloe Gin Fizz is a nice classic drink, but on the sweet side. Might I suggest a Singapore Sling? The original recipe is on the fussy side (but great, I'm sure). Simpler method: pour some gin over ice in a highball glass, fill 2/3 with sour mix, add tiny splash of grenadine and shake. Add a splash of club soda and top with cherry brandy (preferably Cherry Herring) or a wild cherry liqueur... Now to see if the new password works.

fergus 12:07 AM  

Foodie -- I think it would be an addition to your list to say that familiarity with WS's editing style and the tendencies of the constructors we've come to know quite well factor into the equation.

Any other finer points I might make would probably fit into one of your listed faculties, though an ability to keep half a dozen intersecting Clue possibilities concurrently in mind must work in one's favor, beyond any intrinsic gift for figuring out Clues in isolation. I think that latter point was implicit in your list, but restating it won't harm the recognition.

andrea carlulu michaels 2:31 AM  

@Mary Candace
Hi! I wish I had a better memory and knew what you were talking about, but thank you!

ADS for SOS for too long and HERMITES, til I remembered the other spelling.
So even tho LALLY was a LULU for me, I knew LLOSA, so once I straightened out suLLied for POLLUTE aLL was weLL.

(Wow, that IS a LLoad of LLLs, no? And yet poor Michele is missing one!)

I think ESTAMPA is forgiven even if you don't know Spanish, bec isn't that the name of the main newspaper in Spain?

In Scrabble, there are at least 5 ways to spell GAROTTE.


Tho I had to leave the first three letters of ---MATES blank for a long time.

Easy for me bec no sports, except some football linemen!
And the pop culture was up my alley (Casey KASEM and TABITHA were my first entries and LLOSA and Herbie MANN rang bells, and I think I used to date someone on "Hill St. Blues"!)

Super pretty grid.

I don't like the word "cheater" squares, but I see at least 6...
Not that I have ever ever had less than 38!)

Anonymous 11:39 PM  

87A: 'Mews' used to be stables behind impressive homes on main streets. They are now backstreet townhouses that are smaller than the homes on main streets, but, these days, also impressive ... and often high rent.

8D: Couldn't get images of family dogs out of my mind in response to 'drinks from a bowl' until 'eggnog' flushed away such distractions.

Delighted to finish the East Coast version today on Acela to NYC from Baltimore. Our neck of the Californian woods normally has only the syndicated version via our local newspaper a week late.

Anonymous 11:45 PM  

Oops. Clicked the wrong Comment link. This was meant to be a comment on Sunday's puzzle.

The Big E 2:59 PM  

@Michelle and @Rex - I usually feel I am relatively on a par with the difficulty rating, or at least not far off. But this one was NOT easy for me! :-) maybe cause I am sick, who knows!
That said, the main clue that gave me HUGE amounts of trouble was "it's a lulu!" From what I can discern, this is a chiefly British phrase - shouldn't it be clued as such? In general, I just didn't like that clue/answer - felt really forced to me.
Overall, however, I liked the final puzzle a lot - particularly the 15 letter answers.
Nice write-up, nice puzzle (despite its difficulty for me!), and (some) nice comments! ;-)

KJGooster 4:19 AM  

@retired_chemist: I doubt you'll ever see this since I'm not only solving in syndication, I'm playing catch-up from weeks behind.

Anyway, for 45D think channel surfing, not surfing the web.

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