Sclera neighbor / TUE 8-10-10 / Rapper born James Todd Smith / Dice roller's exclamation / Cooler to hip-hopper

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Constructor: Peter A. Collins

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: ALCHEMY (39A: Activity associated with the word ladder formed by 1-, 10-, 70- and 72-Across) — changing LEAD to GOLD via a word ladder: LEAD / LOAD / GOAD / GOLD; bonus theme answers include TRANSMUTATION (20A: Goal of 39-Across) and PSEUDO-SCIENCE (57A: 39-Across, for one)

Word of the Day: NUEVA Granada (15A: ___ Granada (old Spanish colony in the Americas)) —

The New Kingdom of Granada (Spanish: Nuevo Reino de Granada) was the name given to a group of 16th century Spanish colonial provinces in northern South America governed by the Audiencia of Bogotá, an area corresponding mainly to modern Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador and Panama. Originally part of the Viceroyalty of Peru, it became part of the Viceroyalty of New Granada first in 1717 and permanently in 1739. It ceased to exist altogether with the Viceroyalty's end in 1819 and the establishment of an independent Republic of Colombia. (wikipedia)
• • •

It's 12:44 a.m. and I just got back from Colorado. Not much left in the tank, but I'll see what I can do.

I feel like I've seen an "ALCHEMY" theme in puzzles in recent years, possibly involving a word ladder, but also possibly involving the elemental symbols PB and AU. Databases aren't helping me turn up what puzzle I'm thinking of, so it's possible jetlag is already setting in with dire consequences, i.e. I have some form of brain disorder where I misremember things. My cat is currently meow-howling, or meowling, on repeat (he Always does this when we return from a trip), so it's very ominous up in here, and I'm willing to believe anything. At any rate, the theme is nicely executed, but not terribly exciting. Pretty underwhelming word ladder. But the grid holds a lot of interest, with COME TO PAPA (28D: Dice roller's exclamation) being the real highlight. I also like OPEN STANCE (11D: Batting position), DOWN PAT (4D: Rehearsed perfectly), WAR CRY (46A: Battlefield shout), and, for reasons I really don't understand, DULUTH (6D: Lake Superior port). Lots of short stuff means lots of ugly and/or forgettable fill, but overall I think the puzzle's a thumbs-up. Took me Much longer than normal to finish, but I took travel fatigue into consideration, divided by my computer's continuing slowness problems, carried the 1, and got something slightly harder (i.e. more time-consuming) than normal.

Word Ladder:

  • 1A: Male ballroom dancer, traditionally (LEAD)
  • 10A: Laundry unit (LOAD)
  • 70A: Incite (GOAD)
  • 72A: Olympic prize (GOLD)

I googled [LL COOL J ILLER] and got this:

[10D: Rapper born James Todd Smith / 18A: Cooler, to a hip-hopper]
["We ain't playin, we came here to get ill/ Iller than ill, LL youknowI'msayin?"]

LL is now, like SONIA Braga, "of Hollywood."

Thankfully, YANNI (41D: Greek New Age musician) is not (yet) "of Hollywood," or within earshot, so I haven't had to think about him much since discovering in the mid-90s that a potential girlfriend had a bunch of his CDs. *Potential* girlfriend...

What else to say? CEES is ugly, but the "letteral" clue, transparent though it is, redeems it somewhat (19A: Broccoli centers?). Some kind of alliteration is going on in the clue for (the also not pretty) NAES (52A: Glasgow negations). "Negations" is likely accurate in some sense, but feels weird. I figured the sclera was near the ULNA. This ended up being anatomically, and every other way, inaccurate (8D: Sclera neighbor=>UVEA). Lastly, forgot IRENE Ryan (68A: Ryan of "The Beverly Hillbillies"), who played Granny. The only IRENEs I really know are crossword staples CARA and ADLER. Oh, and Dunne. There's an IRENE Dunne, right? Yes. None of these women have worked in ANIME (5D: Manga-like art form), as far as I know.

Many thanks to my fill-ins this past week: Zeke, Caleb Madison (and Natan Last), Michele Humes, Ben Bass, and, especially, PuzzleGirl—my safety net without whom splat.

See you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


Steve J 2:01 AM  
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Steve J 2:18 AM  

Meh. Didn't like it, didn't hate it.

Found the world-lader part of the theme, despite the GOLD, lackluster. I did like the additional theme density, however (and, for whatever reason, I like pseudo-anything).

Fill had a couple things I dislike a lot: letter clues (the broccoli/CEES example) feel like cheap trickery to me, and I don't think it's terribly fair for proper names to cross. I have no idea who SUZIE Wong is, and I couldn't name a single cast member of "The Beverly Hillbillies." "Batting position" seemed off to me as a clue, but I can't think of a better way to put it, since you can't repeat STANCE in the clue.


All in all, good and bad balanced out, leading to a very middling puzzle (although, in terms of time, a little longer than medium for me).

Captcha = fulvert: a clogged culvert.

chefwen 2:38 AM  

I loved this puzzle, but there are few that I don't love. Had a little hiccup in the north, but it all worked out O.K. Had walt at 23A before POET and PLoT before PLAT at 69A. But, all in all, it was a "not too easy puzzle for a Tuesday" and I enjoyed it.

Thank you @Clark, it was a pleasure to meet you and your friends, your kind words warmed my heart. We look forward to your return.

anime carla michaels 2:42 AM  

"(I also like)...and, for reasons I really don't understand, DULUTH"

Classic Rex! Welcome back!!!!!!!
I thought you'd never return!!!

Bones nowhere near my UVEA also raised for writing in UlnA.
Oops, I also screwed up with Oyster STEm. Don't ask.

Dirty Dirty got me TWICE! I tried SuLLy instead of SALTY and SOrdiD.
I guess I don't have a dirty mind.
(insert inevitable dk comment here)

Not sure I know what sniggled/EEDLED is.

Wow, a third mistake: TRIals. And a fourth if you count writing in COoL instead of COAL bec I had PLOT without crosschecking. Only noticed the mistake when I was going to tut tut for LLCOOLJ and cool in the same puzzle.

I loved that the word ladder was only three, more like a word step-ladder...but how cool you can change LEAD into GOLD so easily.

Much pleased all around. :)

PurpleGuy 2:44 AM  

Oh Rex, how could you not remember the great Irene Dunne !!
Thanks for posting the scene from "Roberta" where she sings "Smoke gets In Your Eyes." Then to also include Fred and Ginger dancing to same theme is just heaven.

Not much else to add to your write up. Breezed through the puzzle, and didn't really think much about the theme.
Somehow, RATEDPG crossing WARCRY wanted the former to be rated X!!!!But then there was ZIPIT standing by ! Ok, I shouldn't even mention the relation of HOOTIE, TUB and JAIL; that adds up to an ULTRA LOAD of trouble. I'm sorry I brought that up. Not a wonderful part of my history. "Nuff said.

@Jesser- got some Bullitt. Haven't tried it yet. I'll take your word for it's properties!! ;)

Happy Tuesday all.
Welcome back Rex. You are up to form as always.

Shanti- Bob/PurpleGuy

catchpa: linqu- an alien connection?

chefwen 2:44 AM  

Sorry for the second post so soon, but at 54D I put in Susie, making 65A sIPIT, which I thought was quite fitting for TINBENNY, well, it made me laugh!

Ulrich 4:54 AM  

What redeems the word ladder is the fact that it is the shortest possible word ladder that turns LEAD into GOLD--you need at least 3 steps because 3 letters have to be changed, and who needs a longer ladder if a step-ladder will do?

It turns out you can also turn a Tuesday into gold with the shortest possible ladder--my tribute to this puzzle:


...which brings me right to my captcha, orklemia--an affliction of dorks that makes them lose their head.

Gareth Bain 5:13 AM  

joon pahk, NYS - had a two-way alchemy rebus with PB/AU. Don't have a date for you though.

JenCT 6:21 AM  

Lots of write-overs, but it all fell into place.

Favorite clue and answer was 64d "Jersey greeting?" - actually thought of "Jersey Shore" for a second (ugh - my son introduced me to that show), but remembered the cows at the Fair.


Welcome back, Rex.

Anonymous 7:29 AM  

Difficult for a Tuesday!

jesser 8:47 AM  
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jesser 8:52 AM  

Welcome back, Rex!

@ Purple Guy: Enjoy!

I had a few rough spots with this puzzle. At 1D, I plunked down Lean, and at 25D I had panElS. Next door at 26D, I had SooTY. Took a while to unscramble things.

I thought the simple word ladder was pretty elegant, and I liked the long acrosses that further clarified the theme. Cool construction.

ILLER is an ugly word, but the way it's clued makes it hard to argue with.

Overall, I really like this one. Just enough vague cluing to make things interesting, and a lovely payoff upon completion. Yay!

Jacchop! (Read backwards, it's phonetic for 'pokeage', and that is all I have to say about that) -- jesser

retired_chemist 8:53 AM  

Welcome back, Rex - and I hope you are feeling better.

Puzzle medium. Disappointed that OPEN STANCE (11D) wasn't clued via Larry Craig. 37A - thought JAIL, then nixed it since NOTHING with 7 letters ends in a J. Except, of course LL COOL J. Bah.

Had COME TO MAMA @ 28D. (Presumably not all crap shooters are male.) With SUSIE Wong @ 54D, briefly tried to make SIP IT (65A "Shut up!")fit before seeing the light.

A nice puzzle, deserving of the American Alchemical Society's approval.

joho 8:55 AM  

I thought the clue for IOU was cute. Loved ZIPIT and COMETOPAPA. Don't think I've ever seen TRANSMUTATION and PSEUDOSCIENCE in a puzzle. That's why I thought this to be a better than average Tuesday ... thank you, Peter!

Glad you're back, Rex!

nanpilla 9:09 AM  

Definitely thought extra points due for the location of the word ladder.

Maybe we could have a theme with all of the other pseudosciences - astrology, creationism, intelligent design....

Whittier College's sport teams are called the poets. That should stike fear into their opponents!

Glad to have you back, Rex, but your subs filled in admirably!

foodie 9:22 AM  

I really liked this puzzle. And I've become interested in Peter's productivity. It seems like we see a very high frequency of offerings from him, No?

At first, I thought the ladder was on the ugly side because it is not orderly (you change the second letter, then the first and then the third), but like @Ulrich came to admire the fact that it is the fastest way from LEAD to GOLD, the dream of ALCHEMY!

I grew up hearing stories from "Thousand and One Nights" which were rife with vignettes of secretive ALCHEMISTS practicing their black art. It is indeed a PSEUDOSCIENCE but some of its elements represent questions that true scientists have pursued. AL CHEMY has the Arabic "AL" meaning "THE" and CHEMY which could be derived from either ancient Egyptian or Greek. So, its very name has mysterious connotations, unlike ALGEBRA which has an intrinsic meaning in Arabic --the meshing together of separated pieces.

Puzzle is certainly on the Challenging side based on my QDI. For the last couple of months, every Tuesday has been rated on the more challenging side of medium. If this continues, the definition of a Tuesday difficulty will transmutate.

Capcha: "tatio" partial transmutation?

chefbea 9:23 AM  

Found this a bit tough for a Tuesday. Didn't understand the theme til I got here. I'm really not up on Alchemy or pseudo sciences. This short person will just stick to oyster stews etc. (come to think of it we haven't seen any tubers in a while -maybe next Tuesday????)

I also had come to mama at first.

hartless 9:56 AM  

I too loved pseudoscience and transmutation in the same puzzle...great words. Overall, I found this very doable with only one mistake....gueva for nueva..? Not sure what I was thinking.

Van55 10:00 AM  

Once again it is proven that one person's challenge can be another's walk in the park. I found this one to be quite easy. That doesn't make those who found it challenging ignoramuses -- just differently oriented perhaps. We all have different stores of knowlege.

Zeke 10:20 AM  

This is exactly the puzzle I didn't want to get last week, one where I can't objectively find what's wrong with it, but that left me totally flat. The theme is fine as themes go, much improved by the great placement, the fact that Peter settled for the stepladder as opposed to dragging it out needlessly, the three them tie-ins TRANSMUTATION/ALCHEMY/PSEUDOSCIENCE are all great, as are OPENSTANCE and COMETOPAPA. I just listed 5 - 8 major positives, depending upon how one counts, but overall, it just didn't work for me. That's even after chuckling over the 35-40 year old joke 4D reminded me of.

Noam D. "Retired Alchemist" Elkies 10:24 AM  

Nice puzzle; yes, on the challenging side for Tuesday. And yes, nice to have the word ladder so uniformly placed in the corner Across entries. It's fitting that 1A:LEAD can be turned to 72D:GOLD in only three steps, since we now know it's only three places away in the periodic table (82-79).

Rex writes:

I feel like I've seen an "ALCHEMY" theme in puzzles in recent years, possibly involving a word ladder, but also possibly involving the elemental symbols PB and AU.

I think the Atlantic Monthly had a cryptic a few years ago with this theme: UPBRAID became UAURAID, etc.

I figured the sclera was near the ULNA. This ended up being anatomically, and every other way, inaccurate (8D: Sclera neighbor=>UVEA).

It seems Rex is so exhausted from his trip that he doesn't know his elbow from his eyehole. Hope this doesn't last.

NDE [captcha = decry; doesn't using real words defeat the purpose?]

Bob Kerfuffle 10:35 AM  

I thought this was a fine puzzle.

As did chefwen and r_c, I found it necessary to transmute SUSIE into SUZIE before finishing correctly.

On the question of real words as Captchas - It doesn't matter if the collection of letters forms a real word or not - the point is that so far as we know, only a real person can decipher it, not an automated system.

Ulrich 10:54 AM  

Forgot to mention earlier that the clue for OPEL is dead wrong: Anyone interested in an Audi wouldn't be caught dead driving an Opel (it's a GM subsidiary--is that the reason why they are not sold in the US?)

It seems that English has an abundance of 4-letter words (even if the term is used in a more restrctive sense) so that word ladders with words of that length are rel. easily constructed--I was surprised myself that I could get also from TUES to GOLD in the min. no. of steps needed.

Two Ponies 11:01 AM  

I caught the word ladder early in the game so having lead in place I took a leap of faith and filled in gold. It turned out to be a good guess. I liked the long hints to the theme paired with the nicely placed word stepladder.
I didn't know the Grenada place but Nueva was another good guess since so many New World places are New Somethings.
Come to papa made me hear Bob Seger in my head.

Tinbeni 11:03 AM  

I love it when some obscure History, I learned in 8th grade, helps me in a puzzle. (How the hell did that brain cell click on after 45 years?)

NUEVA, WOD for you, gimmie for me.

@chefwen: My sister Susie got me SIP IT, a favorite activity of mine. Didn't see it was wrong until I came here.
(Note to self: check all the clues!).

UVEA had the same Sclera clue in the LAT recently. (Now I'm wondering how I remembered something from last week).

FUN Tuesday.

Glitch 11:26 AM  


Since I've come to know you enjoy detail, a bit more on CAPCHA:

As BobK said, the content is immaterial, the key being that it not be "machine readable" (via OCR or other software").

This blog uses one of the simpler forms, if you check the coding you will find the captcha is actually a graphic, not individual characters. They are also distorted so, even as such, the characters don't display any normal font metrics.

More "challenging" captchas include a random background (visual noise) and overlapping characters.

For the visually impared, there is an aural equivalent (usually via the handicapped symbol)that "speaks" the characters in a fuzzy voice just a bit louder than a background of random noise (static).

One of the ways spammers get around captchas is to forward, in real time, the image to a "real person", mostly in Asia,(a cottage industry, rooms full of people at computers, paying a fraction of a cent apiece), and entering the "response". This is one of the reasons that a captcha "expires" after a short amount of time.


Sparky 11:51 AM  

Welcome back Rex. Hope your cold is improving. The Astaire Rogers clip was wonderful. I found this puzzle fairly easy. Liked the ladder being in the corners and the mouthfuls of 20, 39, and 57 A. Had the cross SCAf/SOfIA wrong. Ulna, sipit, and lode. That's why I use an ersable pen. All in all a good time. Feel better.

SethG 11:54 AM  

joon's alchemy puzzle was a Friday NY Sun last February 26.

I finished this faster than I did yesterday's.

Larry Craig's stance was wide, not open. Rex maybe didn't remember Irene Dunne because her last movie was 60 years ago. I'm guessing the next TRANS M will be OGRIFY. I like broccoli.

Greene 12:39 PM  

The World of Suzie Wong was a 1958 hit Broadway play by Paul Osborn (based on a novel by Richard Mason) about a Canadian artist who falls in love with a Chinese prostitute, with a heart of gold naturally, and tries to reform her. It was, as written, a dud of a play that starred William Shatner and France Nuyen which received tepid reviews, but managed to run, at least initially, on presold "theatre party" audiences.

Bill Shatner points out in his autobiography Up Till Now that members of the audience would leave mid-show, while behind-the-scenes, co-star France Nuyen threatened to stop speaking mid-performance should she catch sight of the play's director, whom she detested. It wasn't long before she carried out her threat. A desperate Bill Shatner had an idea: "I began to speed up lines. I changed the intonation and emotion. Just by speaking faster and putting emphasis on different words I shortened the play by fifteen minutes - and people began to laugh. I love you, had become, I love you? We were making fun of this turgid melodrama. We turned it into a lighthearted comedy. The show became a hit."

Some have speculated that the birth of Bill Shatner's unique pause-based acting style can be traced to the moment when, through altering his pace and intonation, the actor single-handedly saved the sinking production.

The year 1958 also saw the opening of the Rodgers and Hammerstein Chinatown musical, Flower Drum Song. The show was not well received by the critics. At that time, the very acerbic British critic Kenneth Tynan was reviewing for The New Yorker. Never one to miss an opportunity, he quite deftly panned the musical and his review carried the headline "The World of Woozy Song."

Doc John 12:45 PM  

I enjoyed the puzzle. Fun fill and I'll excuse the iffy ones.
I liked seeing DULUTH in the puzzle. I have family there but have never been there. I also buy my under garments from a business there (or at least has Duluth in its name). TMI?
Did anyone else write in "charge" for WAR CRY?
As for PSEUDOSCIENCE- that would be anything out of James Dobson's mouth. That girl should just ZIP IT already!

ArtLvr 1:14 PM  

Very neat and satisfying Tuesday puzzle for me! If you squint, the grid too seems to hold a little TUB tucked in above the central ALCHEMY holding two pairs of nuggets, oriented on the diagonal between top left LEAD and bottom right GOLD...

COME TO PAPA, the modern incantation?

I loved Greene's description of Shatner's magical transformation of a turgid dud to delightful comedy too. And welcome back, Rex!


syndy 1:15 PM  

sooo'does one remove the stem when one makes oyster stew?Really like this one -since i can't spell i had deluth;iller still eludes me;plan b at first, so that section needed a little work. Yes i wanted my war cry to be charge(or a least not RETREAT!)Prefer to think of alchemy as pre-science(Francis Bacon?)Salty Yanni acted ursine!

hazel 1:52 PM  

This puzzle was a tuffy for me. Very enjoyable though. Had Nipit for Zipit for a while (Barney Fife flashback), which made the movie a stumper for a while.

@Ulrich - I think if you were to rent a car in Europe, and get a Twingo (made by ???), and then rent another car a week later and get an Opel, you would actually think you were driving an Audi. When we were in the Twingo in Slovenia some kids (small ones) who were in a car that passed us (easily) actually pointed at our car and laughed.

Heat heat go away! I am firmly and decidedly sick of you!!

Noam D. Elkies 1:55 PM  

@Glitch: thanks for the explanation of captchas. Still, I think it is important that the letters not form an actual word, because an AI program that tried to read (say) 5-letter captchas might have a much easier task if it could compare the pictchure with each of the few thousand 5-letter strings (out of almost 12 million) that can be found in a wordlist. The 6-letter string "equalu" I see now may still be too close to the dictionary.

Is there a free program online that I could use to generate a captcha of (say) my nephew's name?


Mr. PC 2:05 PM  

@Doc John - Any particular reason you have for insulting girls everywhere by comparing Dobson to them?

John V 2:12 PM  

A bit harder than a typical Tuesday, for certain. Minor annoyances abound: Had Nuevo at 15A (which was a new answer to me), so cross of portb maid no sense. had 61D as SEAM initially, annoying. Had ULNA at 8D, for a "beam in the eye".

Jim 2:17 PM  

Exactly what I predicted after I differed so wildly from seemingly everyone in assessment from yesterday's. Thought this was fun and interesting, but difficult...nahhh.

While it's true I lack any metric to substantiate this claim, I failed to see any difficult answers (maybe AMAT and NUEVA for the uninitiated) and the cluing was very Tuesday-ish.

In short, I don't think it's different strokes for different folks. I think some days have answers/clues that are more obscure than the mean for that day of the week and certain puzzles have genuinely questionable/misleading/incorrect phrasing or tense...and some don't. This one certainly didn't, ergo medium at worst.

Ulrich, not sure if that OPEL comment was tongue in cheek or not, but I thought the clue was perfectly fair: obviously, combined with the BMW answer, the tie-in could just as reasonably be German cars as luxury cars, so OPEL easily fits the bill.

Zeke 2:27 PM  

Talk about having balls of steel, but here I go.
@NDE - I think your logic is wrong. One generally doesn't fare well typing that sentence. Eliminating legitimate words from captchas would produce an advantage to machine readers, assuming the generation of the letters in the captchas is truly random. It gives the reader a chance to test the accuracy of its reading capability, which provides it an advantage. My captcha is rhympl, which is an equal example of a six random letters as is rhythm. Eliminating rhythm as a potential valid captcha gives additional information to the reader, hence reduces the efficacy of the captcha process.

Masked and Anonymous 2:28 PM  

Well, I like dUlUth for reasons that should be nearly patently obvious by now. Seven of the little jewels, overall. Nice puz. thUmbs Up. [Feel like I'm startin' to write a bit like joon.] LAT puz had 13 yesterday, BTW...thanx to a friendly blogger here for the tip.

Welcome back to 44 from Colorado. Me, I was in the woods in Wisconsin near Lake Michigan. No cell phone signal. Mosquitos so big and mean they will even attack cans of Off and swallow 'em whole. Pretty darn dark at night. One bud saw a cougar nearby -- but that might have been after a few brewskis (the bud, not the cat).

Got two weeks of NYTpuz to catch up on, so... ain't nothin' to it but to do it, and it ain't gettin' done...

fergus 3:03 PM  

Raced through the LAT, so decided to saunter through this one, and gain full appreciation of the art of constructing -- and Mr. Collins' puzzle more than passed muster in my scrutiny.

Hesitant with the TUB but then remembered the overturned super-sized basin with the stick and the string that constitutes the Bass, so no problem there.

SICK already seems passe, so ILL must be pretty outmoded, too.

(My captcha is trypan -- another suggestion for finding GOLD.)

Anonymous 3:15 PM  

@ Rex: Thanks for the Irene Dunne. Next time, something from "The Awful Truth"? Dunne was one of the original screwball comediennes. She had the ditz,fast-talking thing down.
Fred and Ginger fans will cringe at that clip: one of their first dances together, and Ginger could barely move, so stiff was she. She had the shoulder thing going, but her upper body and her legs/feet were on a bit of a disconnect. Within a few years, and a half dozen pictures together later, she became his best partner, by far.

Glitch 3:26 PM  

@nde & @Zeke

The point is the software doesn't see "any" characters, only shapes in a picture, if that.

It's the humans looking at it that "see" characters in the display, much like we see bunny rabbits in the summer clouds ;).

I'm assuming the source is a pseudo-random number generator feeding an algorythm that varies the length and content of the "captcha", followed by a distortion process to alter the shapes. No seed word, or master list.

Like the proverbial infinite number of monkeys at typewriters, a "dictionary" word is bound to be created from time to time.

I'm sure there is some AI software running on "big iron" (maybe in a suburb of Washington DC) that would make solving a captcha trivial, but that's beyond the scope of most spammers.


sanfranman59 3:44 PM  

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

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

Tue 9:45, 8:50, 1.10, 83%, Challenging

Top 100 solvers

Tue 5:13, 4:34, 1.14, 88%, Challenging

@Rex ... I'm not sure why, but both my midday and my end-of-day messages disappeared yesterday shortly after I posted them. In fact, I think I may have entered my midday post twice. Sometime during the afternoon, I noticed that it wasn't in the blog comments and I assumed that I had neglected to hit the "Publish Your Comment" button (it wouldn't have been the first time for that). After I posted my end-of-day message, I confirmed that it was indeed posted. But then later, it too disappeared. Oddly, no one else seems to be reporting this behavior. I have no idea what might be going on. Do you?

Ulrich 3:58 PM  

@Glitch: I believe it's exactly those Asian cottage industries that enable Chinese porn spammers to post, on a regular basis, comments on my own blog by circumventing the captchas I enabled. I diligently delete them as soon as I see them in the hope that they will eventually go away.

@Jim: Actually, I do not know anymore what kind of cars Opel produces these days. My (semi-tongue-in-cheek) remark was triggered by a saying popular in Germany in the 50s and 60s:

Jeder Popel
fährt Opel.

Roughly, "Every nobody (I'm being circumspect here in observation of the breakfast test) drives Opel."

@sanfranman59: I've seen this kind of behavior on occasion and reported it here, as have others.

Doc John 4:01 PM  

@ Mr PC: I heartily apologize to girls everywhere!

sanfranman59 4:16 PM  

Apparently, my posts disappeared because they had an embedded link. According to this Blogger help forum message thread (, the problem seems to have gone away today. Dang gremlins!

mac 4:50 PM  

Interesting and fresh puzzle, but not hard to me. My only write-over right at the beginning: lean for list. That got fixed fast, and after that the only not too smooth area was the boosts/iou/jail section, but once I accepted the j it fell into place.

@Greene: thank you once again for an interesting Broadway post! See you Friday!

Welcome back, Rex, and hope and the cat are better today.

Nice captcha: inesse

Welcome back Rex!

joho 5:22 PM  

@Greene ... I too, loved your William Shatner story. He's an amazing actor who obviously can think/act very quickly on his feet.

@mac ... I think you are the Perle Mesta of our blog!

huh? 5:40 PM  

I'm sorry, I could have sworn you just said that William Shatner is an amazing actor. Did you just say that William Shatner is an amazing actor?

mac 5:47 PM  

Thank you, @joho, I think... It's better than earth mother, at least;-).

@sanfranman: I had something odd happening on Sunday. I commented on this blog, and apparently that post made it to the wall of a friend on facebook! Good thing she had already done the puzzle.

mac 5:56 PM  

@sanfranman: take no notice of that last comment; I just figured that one out.

william e emba 6:29 PM  

Spammers break captchas by outsourcing to Asia, at about $.001/word. The software detects the image, forwards it to their network, waits for someone to respond, and continues on.

Glitch 6:44 PM  

@william e emba

Thanx for confirming my my earlier post!


Noam D. Elkies 7:06 PM  

@Zeke/Glitch: less than one in a thousand 5-letter strings is a word. If the letters were chosen truly at random one would hardly ever see a recognizable word; it is true that eliminating such words would give the bot a leg up but it would be minuscule — more like a toenail than a leg.

But evidently the letters are not random: they're chosen from a language model that makes them look like actual words or word fragments. This makes it easier for the human reader; it potentially makes the AI task a bit easier too, much more so than excluding actual words but much less than using actual words exclusively.

I append a list of 20 five-letter "words" I generated with gp's random number generator; none but the first two and "ulkry" look like any of the captchas we see here, and even those three feel quite far from English.

I still hope somebody can point me to a free English-to-captcha converter.



joho 7:07 PM  

@huh ... yes.

say what? 7:27 PM  

William (sorry, I mean "Bill") Shatner is probably the worst actor in the history of acting. Even he knows that. By what stretch of the imagination can he be called "amazing"? What roles has he amazed in? TJ Hooker?

Sfingi 9:29 PM  

Did not know ILLER, but got it. Nor swish, same thing. That's the way it should be.

So, I'm a bit annoyed over LPGA crosses OPENSTANCE. I had to Google this Annika Sorenstam in order to get the one which made the other. On a Tuesday, well seriously, is she really well-known?

Captcha? unboxi - wrong, I'm quite boxy.

Shatner is a riot. A local attorney used him in an add, which caused the NYSBA to declare celebrities can't be used in ads for attorneys if they have no connection with the law or the cases. The first movie I remember with Shatner is The Brothers Karamazov in which he played the priestly bro. He looked good.

The theme was pretty good, both the "changing" into GOLD, and those lovely larger words.
It's said they didn't really waste their time (not knowing GOLD was an element) since they discovered many other things.

Two mini-themes: Dirty (SOILED and SALTY) and Audi alternative (BMW, OPEL), and I like mini-themes.

@SteveJ - this Suzie Wong is a very moving story about, basically, a ho. I have an original paperback.
@Greene - love all that info!

@Ulrich - esp. dorks from Oklahoma.
And - in the late '60s Hubster's third flat-mate was a guy who bought an Opel that he was so proud of. He was a Physics major who constantly sniffed and wrinkled his nose. Anyway, we were in aforesaid tiny car, and he said, "You should always go to the same mechanic and gas station so they'll know your car." We drove in to the gas station, and the owner said, "You again, you asshole." He also won a Bad Sportsman award in same Opel.

Hubster said COMETOmAmA is common, said by men (?)!

@Andrea - I think maybe we haven't had DULUTH, which makes it refreshing. Sniggled - fished for EELs. And EELs are everywhere in CW world. And will be part of the CW mural.

Sfingi 9:32 PM  

This I don't get - When I pressed publish, I got "Error - URL too long," yet it published. This has happened to me before

nanpilla 9:50 PM  

anybody know what happened to Orange's blog today?

sanfranman59 10:05 PM  

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

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

Mon 6:56, 6:58, 1.00, 54%, Medium
Tue 9:52, 8:50, 1.12, 87%, Challenging

Top 100 solvers

Mon 3:51, 3:43, 0.98, 42%, Medium
Tue 5:05, 4:33, 1.12, 85%, Challenging

Glitch 10:20 PM  

@Noam D.

You seem to be missing the key point:


They are presented as graphics that have shapes that SUGGEST characters to "humans" (and potentially AI apps). They are crafted to be non-machine readable.

The underlying site evaluates the interpretation returned.

Also, the number is variable, I've seen as little as 4 and as many as 9 characters on this site.

"Bots" cannot read them, and in fact, one of the key ways to keep info (e.g. email addresses) from them is to imbed them as a "picture".

Captchas are also a "linked service", each variant used by many subscriber sites, thus thousands of generations per minute are not out of the question. The verification is not done on/within the blogsite.

There is no "english" to captcha converter, the best you might do is a graphics program that hides objects --- Where's Waldo for example.

3+1 and out.


PS Rex: Almost sorry I started this but with all the interpretations of captchas posted, it IS on topic ;-).

Stan 10:38 PM  

Really liked that LLCOOLJ has joined the LLAMA and Mario Vargas LLOSA as residents of puzzle-world.

And welcome back to YANNI, giving ENYA a much-needed rest.

fergus 10:39 PM  

NDE -- one in a thousand? Wow, I might have guessed more than that, though your sample of 20 starts to illustrate your statement.

Anonymous 10:58 PM  

Sfingi, the error means your comment is too long for blogger to handle cleanly.

Annika Sorenstam is well-known. But, even if you don't know her, how could O-ENSTANCE crossed with L-GA be anything other than a P?

a guy 11:16 PM  

Glitch, do you not understand that the algorithms that attempt to break captchas do attempt to read them using computer vision techniques? See this, for example.

In fact, it's precisely because most captcha implementations do use word-like snippets that they don't generally include numbers or special characters, which would make the pattern recognition problem more complex for the computer. The algorithms rely on the fact that the images are, in fact, pictures of collections of characters. The more restrictions the captcha implementation puts on the allowable strings, the easier it is for a computer to successfully "solve"...

Glitch 9:04 AM  

@a guy

Yes I do, your link actually supports what I was saying - or trying to say ;)

" attempt to read" is the operative phrase - the captcha theory is to make that "as hard as possible". Yahoo uses one of the earliest, and simplest, OTOH Microsoft uses numbers and letters and is case sensitive to boot.

This thread started with a poster wondering if "dictionary words" were a "no no".

For the reasons you also state, I was attempting to answer:
No, no "no-no"


Sparkydog77 4:56 AM  

I am new to this board (and obviously a few days behind on my puzzles) but I found certain grids in this puzzle to be MUCH MORE DIFFICULT than I would normally expect from a Tuesday puzzle. And the whole ALCHEMY THEME just didn't resonate with me the way I think the puzzle creator might have hoped. The whole thing seemed like a stretch. And as for 5-Down, well, it's good to know that the Puzzle is definitely welcoming modern-day art forms such as ANIME. I cannot imagine the "old schoolers" could do much with that one!

Dirigonzo 5:04 PM  

I suppose the middle of September is a little late to welcome @Rex back from vacation, but for all I know he's been gone again and just returned, so "Welcome back, Rex." As to the puzzle, I thought it was great. Loved the LEAD to GOLD TRANSMUTATION; I admire anyone who can create a successful crossword puzzle but extra touches like that add joy to my solving experience. Had a little self-inflicted difficulty in the northeast (what is it with the northeast lately?) when I decided that any Rapper name beginning with L must be Lil-something, but that was quickly rectified (maybe "rexified" would be a better word!) by the crosses. Speaking of rexifying things, I also don't know my UlnA from my UVEA (the way @nd"ra"e stated it was priceless!) but again the crosses came to the rescue. Fun puzzle with extra touches to appreciate - nice Tuesday experience for me.
It's time to enter my captcha, about which I now know a lot more than I ever imagined possible!

wcutler 10:36 PM  

I couldn't believe Tuesday could be a DNF for me, but I never heard of LL COOL J, and got the part of speech wrong on lockup, so had "nail" (as in lock up a sale), thinking it more likely than a name ending in J.

@Ulrich : I was with you on the not-in-the-running Audi comparison, but then I realized the clue asked for alternative, not competitor. There are good alternatives and also alternatives that you'd reject right away.

@Greene, I knew the play, but didn't know any of that history, so I enjoyed your Suzie Wong posting.

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