Minnesota city where part of "Fargo" was filmed / THU 8-5-10 / "The Palindrome Symphony" composer / "Rich Man, Poor Man" Emmy winner

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Constructor: Gary J. Whitehead

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: The Midwest — Circled two-letter postal abbreviations make a map of the American MIDWEST (66a: What the circled parts of this puzzle comprise) with the MISSISSIPPI (18d: It runs through the middle of 66-Across) running down the center.

Word of the Day: AUREOLE (65a: Halo) —
au·re·ole also au·re·o·la n.
  1. A circle of light or radiance surrounding the head or body of a representation of a deity or holy person; a halo.

  2. Astronomy See corona.

• • •

This is the kind of theme I would expect to see with YESTERDAY'S byline. Pretty lofty concept, and the theme is very accurate and well-executed. I just held up the grid like this:

and was surprised how geographically accurate it really was. So the theme I like. The fill however ... had some not so nice stuff in it. NTHS (3d: Unspecified degrees), ERI (5d: Verdi's "___ tu"), NOT A (7d: "___ chance!"), TISHA (9d: ___ b'av, Jewish day of fasting), AURI- (13d: Hearing: Prefix), STELLAS (8a: Painters Frank and Joseph), OR I (52a: "Either you ___ ..."), IN SO (60d: "___ doing ..."), OP'NIN' (52d:"Another ___, Another Show" ("Kiss Me Kate" song)), and A RUN (54d: Make ___ for it) are all cringey for me. Maybe that's just my pet peeve: fill in the blanks. Lot of stuff to like, but lots of ... other stuff too.

Theme answers:
  • (1a: Denounce) CONDEMN
  • (16a: Nasty Fall) WIPEOUT

  • (21a: Year of the swine flu epidemic) MMIX — At first I really hated this, because I thought only older, more classical dates should ever be in Roman numerals, but then I realized that this clue actually was a Roman numeral clue that I could GET! Does that make it better than a Year in Pope John Paul George Ringo XVII's reign? I think so.
  • (26a: Botch) MISDO
  • (30a: Canon competitor) RICOH
  • (37a: Kind of code) BINARY

  • (39a: Noxious) MIASMAL — My favorite state-containing answer. MIASMA is a great word in itself, but making in at adjective? I put in MIASMIC originally... which I like better.
  • (42a: Temper, as metal) ANNEAL — My least favorite state-container. And I've been known to temper some metal when I'm feeling up to it, or need a harpoon.
  • (44a: Place for a pot) SILL
  • (53a: Bergdorf competitor) SAKS
  • (56a: Finish cleaning, say) MOP UP
  • (66a: What the circled parts of this puzzle comprise) MIDWEST
  • (18d: It runs through the middle of 66-Across) MISSISSIPPI
So, all in all, well-executed, cool theme, with some less-than-cool sacrifices to the ambitiousness of said theme.

  • 12d: Hang over (LOOM) — I guess this is the follow-up to yesterday's "wham bam thank you ma'am." It also gives me an excuse to post this:

    and on the subject of Zach Galifianakis (one of the funniest comedians out there):

    I wish I could post more. His parody-talk show "Between Two Ferns" is hilarious.
  • 14d: Milton called it "The flood of deadly hate" (STYX) — I tried NATAN LAST but it didn't fit. I actually sat staring at STY_, trying to convince myself that Milton was never an optometrist, and E wasn't a Roman numeral. Great use of the Styx (the band) song "Come Sail Away" here:

  • 28d: One of the Corleones (SONNY)FREDO would have fit too. I love this clue because it makes me think of this scene ... which I can't find on Youtube. The one where Marlon Brando says "Look how they massacred my boy!" So you'll have to settle for this:

  • 43d: "Rich Man, Poor Man" Emmy winner (ED ASNER) — This would be another excuse to post clip from "Up"... but that might get redundant. The more crosswords I do, the more I learn about Ed Asner (although I think I knew this).
  • 63d: G (SOL) — OK, I think I'm going to call foul on this answer. I'm pretty sure what the clue is going for is SOL (on the solfege scale) is the note G ... but that's only when you're on a C Major scale. I'm pretty sure sol is still sol no matter what scale you use; it represents the fifth of the scale, not G specifically. Am I being too nitpicky?
  • 41a: Slapstick prop (PIE) — There could be a lot of really good answers for this clue. Like "GIANT FRUIT"

  • 22a: Last name in ice cream (EDY) — Pretty much the only option. Ice cream. Three letters. Unless Ben and/or Jerry have short last names. Or Häagen-Dasz is a dude.
  • 58a: Branch of Islam (SHIA) — Has this even been clue via Shia LaBeouf? Not in the Times. Twice in the WSJ. He's in the new "Wall Street" movie, or "34a: Wall St. happening (IPO)" which doesn't look bad. I could watch Michael Douglas do just about anything. Did anyone see that movie "Solitary Man"?

A lot of links, I know, but I like all three versions too much to choose.

Finally, for all you following the Natan-Caleb feud ... just take a look at THIS uncanny resemblance:

Signed, Caleb Madison, Serf of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


WOTD 12:06 AM  

Miasmal (adj),
1. relating to, or consisting of, noxious exhalations from putrescent organic matter; poisonous effluvia or germs polluting the atmosphere.
2. Having balls of steel, putting this word front and center in a major market crossword puzzle, teeing it up like that for snarky blogists, just waiting for them to call the whole puzzle miasmal, knowing no other dictionary knows of this secondary definition.


SethG 12:36 AM  

I kept confusing the theme, trying to figure out where LA was and why ND was included. Oh, right, MIDWEST, not Mississippi River. SUNI/INRE didn't help.

I like MIASMAL even less than ANNEAL. But..."or need a harpoon," that's some funny shit. <insert OPNIN pun here>

XConstructor 12:40 AM  

Caleb does it again. Great review - keep 'em comin'.

Once I found ATEUP above MOPUP, and UOMO next to OPNIN (all after having endured TISHA crossing STELLAS), I gave up on this ambitious theme and looked up a map.


PurpleGuy 12:59 AM  

"You'll shoot your eye out! You'll shoot your eye out!"

One of my favorite holiday movies. Double dog dare you not to like it !!!

Now that proposition 8 is unconstitutional, I SAITH we all take ARUN to SAKS and help the economy get out of the MIASMAL state it's in.

Shall I segue into a tale about dancing to "WIPEOUT" in high school? Nah. I'm sure I've already made an ASS of myself. There's no AUREOLE over my head.

Now I will make a TRANSITION and say that I am in total awe of the construction. As Caleb pointed out so well, the states line up perfectly, and the MISSISSIPPI river runs through the center. Amazing.

Caleb, great write up and super links and videos.
Thank you ONANDON.
You are the head serf of crossworld.

Happy Thursday all.

Shanti - Bob/PurpleGuy

Evan 1:21 AM  

I generally liked this puzzle, although I thought TRANSITIONPOINT was really forced. I get the TRANSITION part of the answer, but adding in POINT makes it seem like an obscure definition for "Segue" that isn't in the language, so to speak. It would be like seeing the clue "Touchdown" and having the answer be FOOTBALLSCORE.

Rex Parker 1:28 AM  

Great concept, but man o man. Puzzle died for me at "OPNIN." Or, rather, it started dying there, and then gasped its last breath at MIASMAL. You put in MIASMIC, Caleb, because you are sane. I call MISDO on the fill (everything Caleb enumerates and then some), which is shame, as the theme is so well executed.

Roswell Rudd 1:33 AM  

(63d G) SOL Fixed do strikes again!

Wikipedia says:
"In the major Romance languages (Spanish, Portuguese, French, Italian, Romanian), the syllables Do, Re, Mi, Fa, Sol, La, and Si are used to name notes the same way that the letters C, D, E, F, G, A, and B are used to name notes in English. For native speakers of these languages, solfège is simply singing the names of the notes."

bonus fact: Obama and Louis Armstrong share a birthday. (Aug 4)

chefwen 2:28 AM  

Having been brought up in the Midwest (WI), I caught on to the theme after slapping in MISSISSIPPI with a few letters in place. Great puzzle and I totally agree with Bob the Purple Guy, A Christmas Story is truly a classic.

Had a little trouble with STELLAS, had to get it with the downs. Will have to Google them to see what they are all about.

WIPE OUT made me laugh, did that not too long ago, tripping over two dogs eagerly awaiting walkies.

Good Puzzle! Someday when I have a whole bunch of time I will come back and watch all the videos.

fikink 2:34 AM  

I call foul on ATE UP and MOP UP in the same puzzle - bad form!
But I do appreciate the accuracy of Iowa's central position in flyover country - nifty!

@Caleb, everything in Sleeper is historically accurate, especially the way VW bugs always turned over on the first try. Thanks for the clip.

Rube 2:45 AM  

The western half of this puzzle went down very smoothly. Had to Google to get the East: STELLAS, (who?) gave me the NE; EDINA, (where?) gave me the East central; and, UOMO, (what?), gave me the SE.

MIASMAL gives me no problem, but had ANt, as in anthology, for the cross, literary olio, ANA. Still don't understand what ANA is. OK, just googled it and now know. Have never heard of this term. Illiterate engineers unite! (Had to laugh when googling ANA, one of the first answers was "nag a ram".)

Aside from those three obscure proper names, which forced me into a late night DNF), I enjoyed this puzzle.

Steve J 2:47 AM  

As a Midwestern native (growing up a few miles down the road from EDINA), I'll opt into my standard Minnesota Nice mode and give this a "Well, that's interesting" rating.

Like others have said, lots of impressiveness with the theme. I hadn't even noticed the rough map until I cam here, which made it that much better; and the MISSISSIPPI is indeed correctly located (other than having it run through Minnesota, which would be tough to do in a crossword). Clever concept.

And, as others have also said, lots of not-great stuff outside the theme. In addition to the MIASMAL fill others noted, I claim Natick on RANI/ANA. That one gave me a DNF, as I had RAJI/AJA, which looked no less likely to me. Still doesn't.

Couple nice bits outside the theme: liked WIPEOUT, loved the shoutout to one of the early arcade games with QIX (I remember the cabinet from hanging out in arcades c. 1981, but I actually couldn't tell you the first thing about the game), and ONANDON was cool (especially for someone like me for whom concision is not a strong suit).

Can any of the constructors posit a guess on why there are the two 15-character acrosses? Both seem odd in this puzzle, just hanging there. Actually, now that I look at it, I don't think you could have gotten the ND MN part in, and kept MISSISSIPPI in, without that top 15 across. Which of course requires the other one. Still find the answers odd, although ACHRISTMASSTORY remains a classic.

Greene 4:13 AM  

No love for this puzzle. We've had repeated discussions on this blog about the primacy of construction concept versus the primacy of solver pleasure. This creation leaned heavily toward the former resulting in one of those puzzles that I admire, but ultimately don't like: a tedious slog through a pile of tiresome fill to end with a word map of the MIDWEST. For this frustrated solver, the ends do not justify the means. By all means, discuss.

Oh yeah, I too had MIASMIC.

andrea carla micah 4:39 AM  

AHA! Proof! I took that picture moments after I introduced them. With a FILM camera!!!!!
The only other thing I remember about this moment is realizing I could be Caleb's grandma :(

AMAZING construction.

Tons of Minnesota :)
Wanted it for the loon question, the EDINA one, (tho I thought Duluth), the MISSISSIPPI one.

I have a long Frank STELLA story I may have told before (did I mention I am old enough to be Caleb's grandma? Esp if things had gone very wrong for me in highschool) Feel free to scroll down.

Anyway, anyone who grew up in Minneapolis probably knows who he is, as his rainbow double arcs work is the first thing you see at the Walker Art Center.
At my friend Hannah's wedding, I was introduced to a man named Frank, a close friend of her father's who is an art critic/writer.
He said Hannah's father made his career...so I mistook that as meaning he was also an art critic/professor. I asked if he taught art and he said "yes, now and then". Then I asked if he was also an artist. He smiled and said "you could say so". I then went on and on about how nice it was that he could make a living as a teacher to support his art...the whole time not realizing it was Frank STELLA, whom I had grown up with and had just seen a retrospective of his work at the Walker AND a film showing him doing his work!
Slowly it dawned on me.
I was talking to THE Frank STELLA. Stellllla!!!!!!!!

andrea saith michaels 4:53 AM  


and I wanted an E in SWATH(e)S

QIX are for kids.

pauer 7:58 AM  

Great write up, Caleb. I'll be watching more episodes of "Between Two Ferns" thanks to you.

Sometimes with a theme like this, you have to use long (non-thematic) answers just to keep the word count down. Tho in this case, having a central 11 had more to do with it. Central 11's are tough to work around.

Cool theme, Gary!

Ulrich 8:21 AM  

@greene: To me, observing how a theme unfolds is an integral part of the solving experience--it's not something I start thinking about when I'm done. Therefore, having a promising theme that is well executed, like in today's puzzle, is already half the fun. Sometimes, I get so enthralled by the theme that I don't notice the fill, but in general, and admittedly, the quality of the fill does make up the other half for me, but i.t.o. solving experience, I cannot neatly separate one from the other.

joho 8:29 AM  

I wondered when done if the states were in their right places so thank you, Caleb, for the map. Amazing, Gary! Especially with the mighty MISSISSIPPI flowing down the middle. I grew up in EDINA but did not know "Fargo" was filmed there. Great movie.

I agree that the fill wasn't pretty but the execution of the theme blew me away.

Jim H 8:42 AM  

Am I the only one who wishes 15a ONTARIO was at 8a instead?

I'll put in another vote for MIASMIC. Same praise for the theme, and same overdone (misdone?) comment on the fill. OP'NIN is awful. But we did get QIX, at least.

Anonymous 9:02 AM  

Loved the write-up; the puzzle, not so much. Points for the theme and structure. Put me in the 'I hate miasmal" category.

I rarely watch the video links, but thanks for the Woody Allen clip; it's sometimes hard to remember how funny he once was.

retired_chemist 9:03 AM  

Hand up for MIASMIC too. Saw the theme unfold as I solved,liked it, didn't make use of it. All told, a fun and appropriate Thursday IMO.

Proud of putting in ONTARIO with neither crosses nor apropriate avian knowledge - just a good guess. But why is it south of MN? ;-) And EDINA (also in the wrong place geographically) is the odds-on crosswordese MN town regardless of the rest of the clue. I presume many Olafs live there.

Slowed down by the NE, with no knowledge of TISHA, LPS for 10D, PEND for 12D and AUDI for 13D. Not one of my faster times.

Given the WBTYM clue yesterday, surely the 29A clue could have been made more fun.

Thanks, Mr. Whitehead.

CAPTCHA - mulga - an Australian acacia. Look for it in a puzzle near you someday.

jesser 9:04 AM  

Am I the only one in the world for whom the circles Will Not Print?

Not having them doomed me, because MOP UP over
was making zero sense, and I had aRe at 52A, and I don't know from no OPNIN or UOMO, so at 66A I had _ _D_EST. Much noggin scritchin' ensued.

I have to believe that had I been able to see the state abbreviations, I'd have been able to parse MIDWEST and (maybe) finish the puzzle (although that wreck at 52A might still have been my undoing). Hard saying not knowing. I could go ON AND ON.

For me, the west side of the puzzle was Tuesdayish, and the east side was Saturdayish.

And hey, Caleb: Who you calling a Giant Fruit? :-) Great write-up and awesome video clips. I, too, love all three of those versions of that song!

Got to agree with Purple Guy that even a DNF on a day like today won't make me quit grinning! That federal court ruling in California gives me hope that my status as second-class citizen in the US of A is finally being recognized as a huge MISDO, and I now hope the appeals process shall WIPE OUT legal discrimination against the LGBT community. WOO HOOOO! So SAITH I.

Neashin! (I dunno, but it has NEbraska and INdiana in it, so it's theme-related) -- jesser

Zeke 9:05 AM  

The theme didn't make up for constraints necessary to make it work because
1) What everyone has said ill about the puzzle (Why hasn't anyone shouted the word is Sayeth, not SAITH? If you're going archaic, you can't go archaic, variant. The word is Sayeth.)
2) After finishing, I wondered if the states were arranged geographically, so I started to check. Yup, ND on top of SD. What's below SD? How the hell am I supposed to know what's below SD? Is Nebraska the Sioux word for Really, Really South Dakota, because that's what's south of South Dakota.

Frank and Joe Bronski painted my house last year. I was surprised to see that this was sufficient fame for them to make the NYTimes XWord puzzle.

Anonymous 9:14 AM  

What are all you Jackwagons whinning about? signed an ex-DI

JayWalker 9:17 AM  

Sorry Caleb, but I have a lot of gripes with this puzzle too. Too many truly obscure answers (especially the proper names) and iffy decisions on answers (saith, mmix, miasmal, sill, qix, tisha b'av, eps, etc.). All in all it makes for a crappy fill. I eventually got everything (except the Stella guys and what's with eps) but too much head-scratching for my taste.

Anonymous 9:21 AM  

What are you apologizing to Caleb for?

Anonymous 9:22 AM  

The puzzle and the reviews are great, and the three versions of Solitary Man are just fabulous!

Patrick_NYC 9:42 AM  

I dunno, as a map geek, I was more than willing to pay the price of some weird fill for the genius theme. My heart started to race as I realized that the states were arranged perfectly geographically--I just ATE it UP.

This is definitely one of my favorite NYT puzzles in a long time!

chefbea 9:44 AM  

Fun puzzle and easy for me as I grew up on the Mississippi.

Now for my Frank Stella story...Puzzle husband #1 was/is an art dealer and showed Frank's works. So of course I knew him well. We owned several of his paintings.

chefbea 9:45 AM  

forgot to ask what kind of records are eps

ArtLvr 9:55 AM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
ArtLvr 9:58 AM  

@ chefbea -- I think they are extended play, at least the EP was used on VCR tapes...


joho 10:06 AM  

I keep reading EPS as a graphic file that we use in our business. It could've been clued that way as well. Either way, the record or the file is pretty obscure.

mitchs 10:22 AM  

Does MIX replace "this and that" in usage?

dk 10:31 AM  

Bad Yoda sez: Not try, only MISDO.

Natan and Caleb, I have a high school photo of our band. We covered Wipeout, and I think you two were in the band. The name of the band was chris cross. We had a big X on the bass drum with little x's on our guitars... in short you would have fit right in as it was an alternative x-world.

Hilarious write up. If I was not so busy trying to get Caleb's degree rescinded I might actual like him, even thou Andrea's grandson Natan is paying me (handsomely) to destroy his life. He made me an offer I couldn't refuse.

Pass the orb.

Gary Alfred North Whitehead another fine puzzle. My only problem was spelling SAKS with an X... there goes my super MENSA membership.

**** (4 Stars) State initials in the right place, river down the middle and the former home of Andrea and dk (at different times gossip hounds) make this one picture perfect.

Hey, my secret word is WHINE, isn't that what horses do when they smell oats.

Off to practice my eskimo roll. I hope I do not see an unagi when I am upside down.

Anonymous 10:38 AM  

How is 33 down "coyote relative" answered by "hyena?" As I understand it, hyenas diverged from the proto-canines a very long time ago, in the Miocene, and hyenas are as, or more, closely related to felines as they are to coyotes. Yes, every living thing is related to every other but then the term "relative" in the clue isn't a term of distinction anymore. Isn't this a mistaken clue?

Anonymous 10:39 AM  

Sorry, "than" they are to coyotes.

Smells Like Green Spearmint 10:40 AM  

EP is pretty obscure only if you've paid zero attention to popular music since about 1977. Maybe replace "obscure" with "unknown to me."

Puzzlejunkie 10:44 AM  

Once again the dang Times Reader program does not show the circled spaces. It was not until I got way down to 66 A that I realized I was working at an extreme disadvantage. How difficult can it possibly be to make the circles show up?! If electronic media is the wave of the future then a problem this basic should be a no brainer...

dk 11:11 AM  

Agree with Smells, even I know what an EP is.

Can not decide if i want to be Chris Isaak or Bryan Ferry when i grow up.

Cathyat40 11:12 AM  

LOVED the puzzle & the write-up.

For me, the construction & theme more than make up for the fill; and, the fill actually made me laugh, because, while it was forced, it was creative, as in OPNIN.

Two Ponies 11:16 AM  

Another puzzle for constructors.
Outcome not worth the price of admission.
I've never even read an American fashion magazine so asking me about an Italian one is ridiculous.
With all of the wonderful songs and colorful lyrics in Kiss Me Kate "opnin" seemed very unlikely and ugly.
Agree that the word is, or used to be, Sayeth.
Hyenas and coyotes? Well, a bear and a raccoon are related as well but would you cross-reference them in a clue? I doubt it.
Stella is my Boston Terrier. She doesn't paint.

Yep, it's a map with a river.

Re: Prop. 8. What is it about the word "Equal" that you don't understand? Congrats to all of you "second class citizens".

Bob Kerfuffle 11:25 AM  

Liked the puzzle a lot; liked it more when I saws Caleb's map comparison.

Enjoyed figuring out which letters were elided from OPNIN. And my Merriam Webster's lists SAITH but not "sayeth".

So time for a Pet Peeve of mine, tho in this case the puzzle comes in on my side: Re: 17 A, very often in references to "A Christmas Story," I have seen the director of the film, or Peter Billingsley, and especially a year or so ago, the house in which the movie was filmed (which was being sold/preserved/whatever), all with no mention of Jean Shepherd! Thank you, Gary Whitehead, for the credit to Shep, whom I listened to endlessly when I was a teenager!

Stella the cat 11:33 AM  

Two of my favorite movies A Christmas Story and Fargo. "It was...it was...the soap." I loved the theme. Very clever. Some of the fill-not so, to the point of tortuous. All in all, a good experience. Ya, you betcha.

Bob Kerfuffle 11:34 AM  

Just for fun, here is Jean Shepherd's radio theme song.

If you could only play 45s 11:34 AM  

For those of you who never "played" a 45, go on and complain about an "old time" standard, but;

"Partly as an attempt to compete with the LP, introduced in 1948 by rival Columbia Records, RCA Victor introduced "Extended Play" 45s during 1952. Their narrower grooves, achieved by lowering the cutting levels and, if required, sound compression, enabled them to hold up to 7.5 minutes per side - but still be played by a standard 45 rpm phonograph. These were usually LPs split onto three seven-inch EPs, either sold one at a time or in boxed sets. This practice became much less common with the advent of triple-speed-available phonographs." [wiki]


mac 11:50 AM  

I am clearly in the minority, but I love the perfectly executed theme and had very little problem with the fill. Last answer I filled in was "op'nin'", and that was so bad, it was great!

Stellas was a gimme, we have one (not a little one, Frank doesn't do little;-)).

I figured out the theme pretty quickly, which gave me the Mississippi and the Mid-West, so the thing was wide-open almost immediately. No wonder I had fun!
Transition point sounds too abrupt, but still wasn't hard to get. I also wanted sayeth for saith, but figured it was a form I just didn't know of. I hadn't eard of Tisha, so now I know, and hope to retain it.

Great about the repeal of the prop. 8; hope they scale all the further hurdles!

Steve J 12:29 PM  

@joho: Didn't realize you were another fellow Minnesotan. I find it interesting coincidence how many of the regular commenters here connections to the place.

@Zeke: SAITH is a frequent variant of "sayeth." Spelling was far from standardized in the era we still still used that conjugation, and both spellings were used. In fact, SAITH is how it's spelled in the King James Bible.

Shamik 12:29 PM  

I bombed with the QIX/MIX and had QID/MID because I was so done with this puzzle. Never got the theme until I read the entertaining write-up. Couldn't care less when i did. The whole atmosphere surrounding this puzzle was MIASMIC. Ok...MIASMAL, if you will...on your SILL.

Generally I can recognize an awkward puzzle and still appreciate its construction. Not this time. My feelings are still better than a meh.

Tinbeni 12:47 PM  

Place for pot, I wrote in HEDO.

Must be that LOOM.

Why is MIDWEST in the SE?

Van55 1:18 PM  

There's not much to add to the above negative comments on the fill. Twenty-five proper nouns. Seems a bit excessive to me, demonstrating how strained the fill had to be to make the theme work.

I will wager here and now that this one skews more medium-challenging on sanfranman's statistics.

Anonymous 1:41 PM  

I was rationalizing the G -- SOL clue as SOL (the Earth's sun) is a G-class star.

The solfegio explanation is (a little) better.

Anonymous 2:11 PM  

Awesome theme and construction concept. Subpar fill needed to execute diminished the pleasure of solving, still, kind of an amazing puzzle.

Pretty sure that NTHS is not legit, as NTH is an adjective, not a noun, so not a candidate to be pluralized.

shrub5 2:50 PM  

Got the theme relatively quickly and it even helped me when I got to the point "I don't have Illinois yet" in the SILL/MIX/QIX area. Loved this puzzle!! Lots that I didn't know but all eventually fell in.

Somewhat amusing wrong answer: Instead of RON, I first had JAY thinking oh, that's Jay Silver who was Tonto on TV. No, that was Jay Silverheels (thanks, wiki).

Didn't much like MISDO. Does anyone use this? Misdoings, yes. I like the sound of the word SWATHS. Was never able to cut a swath through this puzzle, just babysteps.

Went from beach to shore to SHADE for summer refuge. I hope relief comes soon for all of you sweatin' and OP'NIN' cold drinks throughout the affected areas. Unseasonably cool and comfortable here on the left coast. C'mon over.

I print my puzzles from cruciverb.com -- has always had the circles as far as I recall.

des 3:09 PM  

For me, along with everyone else, I went with MIASMIC first, and it took me the longest time to straighten out what the dentist was doing.
Ouch - that one hurt!

sanfranman59 3:36 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)

Thu 18:18, 19:08, 0.96, 45%, Medium

Top 100 solvers

Thu 9:12, 9:10, 1.00, 57%, Medium

Like @Van55, I thought this puzzle would score in either the Medium-Challenging or even the Challenging end of the spectrum. But by the numbers, it seems to be a straight-down-the-middle Medium. I found it to be a rather uneven mix of Monday/Tuesday and Friday/Saturday cluing and answers. The STELLAS/TISHA crossing was a Natick for me and the whole MIASMAL/MIX/BAL/QIX was a slog (mostly because I don't recall ever hearing of QIX). Then there was the UOMO-OPNIN pairing in the SE. That all adds up to a well below average Thursday solve time for yours truly.

jae 3:40 PM  

Impressive theme. I had SHORE and INRE/SUNI for a while but managed to wait MIASMAL out. Needed a little help from my sister who knew STELLA but not TISHA. I liked this one and (@Van55) I too think this will come in on the challenging side of medium.

Mary Candace 3:41 PM  

The clue for 66A is incorrect.

Comprise means to consist of or be composed of. Thus, the MIDWEST comprises (or consists of) those states, not the other way around. The whole comprises the parts, the parts compose the whole.

The clue for 66A should have been "what the circled parts of this puzzle COMPOSE".

Merriam-Webster 4:14 PM  

1: to include ....
2: to be made up of ....
3: compose, constitute
usage Although it has been in use since the late 18th century, sense 3 is still attacked as wrong. Why it has been singled out is not clear, but until comparatively recent times it was found chiefly in scientific or technical writing rather than belles lettres. Our current evidence shows a slight shift in usage: sense 3 is somewhat more frequent in recent literary use than the earlier senses. You should be aware, however, that if you use sense 3 you may be subject to criticism for doing so, and you may want to choose a safer synonym such as compose or make up.

We all have our pet peeves. That doesn't mean people who don't share them are necessarily wrong.

william e emba 4:53 PM  

I loved QIX in its day. The other geometrically minded video games back then were Tempest, Pengo and Q-Bert. I simply never could get into any other video game whatsoever, but those four, oh wow.

EDINA is actually crosswordese by now. We've even seen UOMO before.

HAYDN made me smile. Not because I know anything about his music (I am embarrassingly ignorant), but because of the short letter Kaper and Mobley "Immortal Sequence" Science 30 August 1991:951-952, where the authors compared the frequency of ELVIS vs HAYDN (considered as one-letter-codes for amino acids) in the then existing protein databases. They found four ELVIS sightings, but none of HAYDN (and none of the control LIVES, an anagram of ELVIS), and they worked out that odds. (See also response and correction in a later issue.) The original letter can be found without subscription here.

According to the OED, NTH is sometimes a noun. The only usage they cite is Cole Porter 1983 the NTH of perfection, which is rather bizarre, because it is from Judy Garland 1948 You Can Do No Wrong.

Of course, this NTH is implicitly an adjective. But numerous adjectives turn into nouns, so there's nothing wrong with this, yet.

The question is whether NTH becomes a count noun (which takes a plural) or a collective noun (which is implicitly plural). For example, the adjective "poor" eventually became the noun "poor", but only as a collective, and so you cannot refer to "poors". For an example of an adjective turning into a count noun, consider "mortal". You can and must refer to "mortals" when talking about more than one.

But this seems unusual: it was harder to think of this example, and no second one comes to mind quickly. On the other hand, the Garland lyrics are definitely singular, and pluralizing to "they can do no wrong/they are the NTHS of perfection" seems the instinctive thing to do. I give it a pass.

The OED lists comprise, definition 4b, as meaning "to consist of", but lists definition 8b as meaning "to compose", with citations back to 1794. According to Merriam-Webster's usage note, the 8b meaning was common only in technical writing, which is probably why no one criticized it until the late 20th century. Furthermore, M-W claims that 8b is used more often today than 4b.

I suspect that the prescriptivists have lost this particular battle. Like "rent", it's always clear in context which way the verb is going, so the reverse meaning is harmless.

william e emba 5:11 PM  

Gimme failure: I wrote in Lara for Supergirl immediately. Hah! Of course, Lara Lor-Van is Superman's mother, not his cousin KARA Zor-El. Honest, I do know better.

But having almost finished in one of my fastest Thursday times ever, I was looking at actor/actress EDA-NER and Bergdorf competitor SAL-. So, what state is L-, next to the Mississippi? Why LA, of course. But seeing the geographic map, doubting there was an actress EDA ANER out there (we'd have seen her by now), and dubious that there was a store named SALA anyway, I had to think and think and think way too long, until ED ASNER popped into mind, then MS and SAMS (which I've heard of, right?) and MARA, which was definitely wrong. Then I thought about MIDWEST, and got KS, then SAKS, and finally KARA. Duh! Well, that was a humiliating way to finish.

Bob Kerfuffle 5:49 PM  

@william e emba - By way of a possible counter-example, how about, "In evaluating today's comments, I found 15 Excellents, 15 Goods, 15 Fairs and 15 POORS"?

syndy 5:51 PM  

sorry for me the mississippi was more the styx! got the river and the midwest-couldn't care less about the states initials and had miasmic until i found miasmal discribed this puzzle perfectly.

nanpilla 6:12 PM  

Didn't really enjoy this one very much.

Had fOAL instead of COAL for natural resource of Kentucky! I guess my mind is on the upcoming World Equestrian Games next month. First time in the US. I'll be there the first week in October - anyone else going?

william e emba 6:20 PM  

@Bob Kerfuffle: By way of a possible counter-example, how about, "In evaluating today's comments, I found 15 Excellents, 15 Goods, 15 Fairs and 15 POORS"?

Good one! (And not the meaning of "poor" I had in mind, either, which is probably why it worked).

But in further evaluating, you found no NTHS, either, right?

NTH and out.

mac 6:42 PM  

Thank you william e emba, that was an enjoyable set of posts!

JenCT 7:27 PM  

Late to the party today.

I stared at ATEUP & MOPUP - convinced that one of them was a mistake - didn't think they could both possibly be in the puzzle.

@Steve J: I also had RAJI/AJA.

@nanpilla: also had FOAL instead of COAL (I was thinking Kentucky Derby, e.g.)

TISHA just looks wrong.

Enjoyed the write-up, Caleb.

M. Helpful 8:02 PM  

No one's mentioned it, so I thought I'd point out that TISHA is Hebrew for "Ninth". Av is a Hebrew month, and Tisha B'Av is the 9th day of Av.

Anonymous 8:08 PM  

@Bob Kerfuffle: thanks for the Shepherd theme!

Excelsior you fatheads!!!

----> another Shepherd fan in NYC

Sfingi 10:34 PM  

Quite difficult for me.

Though I got the theme, I didn't get that they were MIDWEST. I did notice they were in relation on the map, but dismissed it since they lacked the East or West.
Had to Google for KARA, MICAH, STYX, EMILE, HAYDN. Or QIX. In the '80s, I was a workin' stiff. Had the wrong Islamic sect to the end.

But I knew the STELLAS right away. STELLA means star, and stars they are. Joseph was famous for his Brooklyn Bridge and is considered an American Impressionist because he studied under them; but, he was more abstract. Frank, the Sicilian of the two, is around 74, and is called a minimalist, but I think his colored sculptures fit into no special style. I wouldn't kick either of their works off my bedroom wall.

UOMO means man in Italian.

@M. Helpful - No one else knows Hebreww, just Yiddish.

@Nanpilla - keep us up-to-date on that.
@Caleb - Lots of great videos. I was thinking the part in the Godfather when SONNY was sent to the STYX. Was it at the Thruway entrance? I guess he was SONNY the SHADE after that.

Bananas - It's hard to hate Woody Allen or AL Capp for too long.

Hope this works. I haven't done it for a while.

Stan 11:06 PM  

How can anyone not like MIASMAL?


In other words I thought the fill had a lot of great points, in addition to the perfectly-executed theme. Yeah, it had some bad points too. Big deal.

Caleb must have done a Vulcan mind-meld with the last 50 years of American pop culture -- he can call up any relevant part of it at will. Remarkable.

sanfranman59 11:26 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

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

Roy & Rita 1:21 PM  

I know that no one reads these comments after a few days (I live in Italy and get the IHT like 2 days late as it is delivered by burro and I don't mean butter) but I just wanted to say that I really enjoyed the posting today and actually every day the Rex is not around as you stand-ins really relish the opp to do your thing and its very fresh and refreshing. Tremendously enjoyable, particularly the Solitary Man videos. Tnks a mil. Made my day.

Roy & Rita 1:23 PM  

Oops. One more thing. Maybe Rex should become like the "Editor" ala Will and let you guys spice up the daily responses.

Bob Kerfuffle 1:34 PM  

@Roy & Rita -

(a) Since that is the way your name appears, would you be better off simply signing in as "Roy and Rita"?

and (b) Not sure how this will come out, but in the comment box I see:

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Bob Kerfuffle 1:39 PM  

@Roy and Rita:

Damn difficult getting something portrayed accurately when the system handles your input as instructions rather than data! My comment about your name should have said "Your name appears as "Capital R, o, y, space, ampersand, a, m, p, semicolon, space, Capital R, i, t, a."

Dirigonzo 9:12 PM  

Well that certainly changes things for me. Here I was, writing from syndication-land secure in the (apparently incorrect) knowledge that there was very little chance that anyone would actually read my comments, and now I learn, thanks to @Bob Kerfuffle, that my existence here may not be as solitary as I had thought. That's OK I guess but I suppose now I'll have to check my spelling and punctuation more carefully. Thought this puzzle was pretty amazing, but what is even more amazing is that I was actually able to finish it in a pretty reasonable time, a feat which a few short months ago would most certainly not have been possible. So maybe you can teach an old (63) dog new tricks. Got started with ONCE, NTH and NOTA and they opened up the whole northwest for me (I guess one person's "crap fill" is another person's toe-hold); ACHRISTMASSTORY took me over to the the northeast. Loved MMIX being clued by a contemporary event. Got MISSISSIPPI down the middle, discovered the theme and rode it home. Thought MISDO was a little clunky but gettable with a couple of crosses (I have no idea why I threw IPANA in with no crosses - where did that come from?) but I definitely needed all the crosses to get MIASMAL which could have been MIASMic as far as I'm concerned since I had neither heard of either one. Which is precisely why I love this blog so much: no question goes unanswered, no word remains undefined. It's educational AND fun - what could be better way to learn new stuff? Thanks to everybody who makes it so. And that's all I have to say about that. (Except secret word is capme; I'm pretty sure that's not something I want to happen. If you don't want me posting here just say so and I'll go away - violence is not necessary.)

Bob Kerfuffle 10:19 PM  

@The Last Word - Thanks for the acknowledgment! Often when I reply to very late posts I, too, wonder if anyone will read them!

sificligh 10:52 AM  

Had to come here to figure out G / SOL. I also call foul.

Also had to come here because I was DYING to read what people thought of the theme. I got the MIDWEST theme early on but it wasn't until much later that I realized that it was also geographically accurate.

The last part I struggled with was UOMO and OPNIN, because I wasn't familiar with either and was also very very unsure of MOPUP, because it was right next to ATEUP, and it kept not seeming right.

Fun puzzle overall, though!

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