Point in planet's orbit that's closest to sun / WED 9-22-10 / Sanctuary fixture / Kansas canine / Turn of millennium explorer

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Constructor: Peter A. Collins

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: EIEIO — four theme answers contain those five vowels (in order); theme revealed by OLD MACDONALD (57A: Subject of a children's song associated with the vowels in the answer to each starred clue)

Word of the Day: PERIHELION (46A: *Point in a planet's orbit that's closest to the sun) —

The point nearest the sun in the orbit of a planet or other celestial body.

[Alteration of New Latin perihēlium : PERI- + Greek hēlios, sun.] (answers.com)

• • •

Cute idea for a theme, but when you have to go to PERIHELION for your fourth theme answer, you should ... keep searching for a fourth theme answer. Jarring to go from common to common to common to WTF!?!?!? I can't be the only one who's never even seen the word before. Surely there is a list somewhere at some puzzle/word nerd site of words and phrases that have this particular vowel sequence. I can't help but wonder if there isn't another path to the execution of this theme that doesn't involve such an obscure (in everyday language) word. It's a cool word, don't get me wrong. I'd love to see it in a late-week themeless. It's icky here, though, because it feels forced. "Here's the only other 9-letter word or phrase I could get to do this." Less than ideal. Also less than ideal is the fill. Grid seems Very lazily filled. Just because a section is tiny doesn't mean it doesn't matter. Just changing MOOS (58D: Sounds heard by 57-Across) to MOPE makes the south instantly much better (two letters changed, three words improved). I get that those MOOS and BAAS are (maybe) supposed to be bonus theme answers, but come on, they're just common (and annoying) plurals that we see in puzzles every day. Load the puzzle up with animal sounds, or else lose MOOS and BAAS in order to make the grid better. That LADED (65A: Put on, as cargo) / ILENE (68A: "Mr. Belvedere" actress Graff) / ARLENE (51D: Francis of "What's My Line?") (all yuck) section Has to be improvable as well. MALAY (1A: Dweller on an Asian peninsula) / A MOLE (?) (14A: Whack-___) / YESES (5D: Some survey responses) / ALEF (4D: Beth preceder), same thing. A little less churning out, a little more thought to the small details—that would be nice.

Theme answers:
  • 20A: *Turn-of-the-millennium explorer (LEIF ERICSSON)
  • 30A: *1996 Grammy winner for the album "Falling Into You" (CELINE DION)
  • 38A: *Treaty of Versailles signer (PRESIDENT WILSON)
  • 46A: *Point in a planet's orbit that's closest to the sun (PERIHELION)
Difficulties for me included PERIHELION, obviously; the HEART part of LOSING HEART (3D: Becoming discouraged), which I just couldn't see (possibly because I had NAH for HAH, 34A: "Not a chance!"); HIGH ALTAR, the clue for which meant nothing to me (35D: Sanctuary feature)—is a "sanctuary" a specific architectural feature of a Catholic church? I just don't know. I also had trouble getting the (graphic) RIB SPREADER (26D: Tool used in thoracic surgery). Everything else was easy, but those hiccups were enough to put me into an above-average time.

  • 37A: 1,055 joules: Abbr. (BTU) — reflexively wrote in ERG. Physics 3 letters=ERG. One of the perils of putting brain on autofillpilot: occasional wrongness.
  • 44A: Pitcher Maddux who won four straight Cy Young Awards (GREG) — arguably the best pitcher in baseball for a good stretch of the '90s. In addition to his many pitching accomplishments, he won 18 (not a typo) Gold Glove Awards. Ridiculous. He is sure to be a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer.
  • 11D: Tool used by Hansel and Gretel's father (AXE) — another peril of brain on autofillpilot. Tool, three letters, starts with "A" — now AXE is a good bet, but my brain went AWL! Pretty sure their father was not a cobbler...
  • 1D: Catch that might be mounted (MARLIN) — tricky, odd-sounding clue, but I got it easily. Weird how I can nail this and yet muff LOSING HEART.
  • 42D: It was dropped in the '60s (LSD) — and the '70s. And the '80s. Etc.
  • 38D: Any singer with Gladys Knight (PIP) — I've seen people sing with her who were not PIPs, so not *any* singer. I looove Gladys.

Happy birthday to my not-so-little girl. Double digits. Holy cow. I think that's officially tweendom.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


PurpleGuy 12:41 AM  

Did the puzzle with mom. At 102, she's been doing them for a while . She told me to tell "that Rex fella" she agrees with his writeup !!!
When we were in France, we toured the palace of Versailles, and saw where the treaty was signed. A really beautiful monument.

She also said to be sure to tell @Tinbeni that she toasted him at AZ sunset with her Green.

Cheers, all. Happy Wednesday, hump day. Let's all get over it safely !!

Shanti -

Bob / PurpleGuy

Pterodactyl 12:59 AM  

Rex, you often rate puzzles as easy when I find them extremely challenging, but today it seems the tables have turned - I found this to be a pretty easy (and very fun) Wednesday. Being a scientist, perihelion came fairly easily for me, and I really enjoyed seeing it in the puzzle.

D_Blackwell 1:08 AM  

It pains me to see crosswords with stuff like PERIHELION to get E I E I O. (To be fair; I have no objection to obscurities that turn out to be interesting for me [though this one wasn't; and as a theme entry?]).

". . . whose theme didn't excite him enough." I understand that I'm not good, and that's okay as I enjoy the process anyway - but I must really, really, really, really suck:))

SethG 1:13 AM  

PERIHELION was just far enough out there that I kinda liked it, just not paired with three famous people. ERNIE BILKO is also a 10.

If you don't want all people, reinvention, reinsertion, a couple of other re's work. Also 12s predilection, Debbie Gibson, and Keith Ellison. Depending on your desired length, Presidents Clinton, Lincoln, or Nixon also work.

My fastest solve of the week, but I'm much faster relative to other solvers than I usually am.

Anonymous 2:05 AM  

From President Wilson to Ann and Nancy....dang. Always wondered why they didn't have more staying power...Rock needs to learn a bit from opera...bigger bodies mean more resonance...better sound.

shrub5 2:06 AM  

In the "Old MacDonald" song, the verses go:
"with a moo-moo here, a moo-moo there --or--
"with a quack-quack here, etc.
I think it would have been kinda cute if the constructor could get the animal sounds in duplicate to match the song.

"____ black sheep, have you any wool?" (BAABAA)

Loose fitting Hawaiian dress for a cow? (MOOMOO)

Enjoyed the puzzle which was easy-medium for me. Needed every cross for PERIHELION, the last of which was the second H in HIGH ALTAR. Had a little trouble with the spelling of ERICSSON with a stray K getting in there.

IBN for Saudi "son of" nice to learn. Whack-A-MOLE is an arcade game where "moles" pop out of holes and go back in quickly -- the player earns points for hitting them with a mallet before they go back into their holes, amassing points for each hit. Seems pretty violent to me but looks to be wildly popular with the Chucky Cheese crowd. @RP, I didn't know if your question mark referred to not knowing the game or not liking the answer. (?)

Steve J 3:18 AM  

@shrub5: There's an actual proper order to Old MacDonald? I always thought it was random, based on whatever order people thought of animals.

This must mean the song actually has a proper ending, rather than one brought on by exhaustion of either possibilities or patience.

I have no idea why PERIHELION is stored in my brain, but it's there. First thing that came to mind from the clue was "apogee," but that's obviously too short (and also about as wrong as I could have gotten: it's the moon's most-distant point in its orbit). I had a brief period when I was about 10 of being fascinated by astronomy. Something must have stuck.

Other than the SE, I ended up liking the bulk of this. Liked the presence of the long downs, loved Whack-A-MOLE. I don't know if it's just me and an impression I have from doing a ton of puzzles on a 13.5-hour plane ride a few days ago, but it seems to me that there's been a lot of crossing of obscurish names lately. Although, both NALA and ILENE are frequent enough crosswordese, I should get them. But neither one seems to want to stick in my head. Apparently the storage for PERIHELION is taking up the room where those should go.

Nighthawk 3:22 AM  

@RP Happy Birthday to a sharp miss. Mine entered her second decade this month. Don't you already miss the "and a half" years?

Kinda liked the theme, but agree with @SethG about PERIHELION. Other people names would have been more solid, though had no trouble with that word, but for some reason CELINEDION just took forever to appear. Not being a fan may be why, though I do appreciate her capabilities.

In fact the whole NE was murky, and the last area to fall, until I let go of Irked for 9A. Had 16A:NEXUS and hesitated to put the AXE to 11D because the 13D cluing for "S"oil removal left me head scratching for a while (GAS?, H2O?, MUD?). Finally sorted when I put the AXE to the whole thing, and IRATE then appeared.

(straccer: night game with no lights but phosphorescent futbol)

endrie cirlo michaels 3:40 AM  

Totally cute idea, go for it!
I suspect Rex knows what Whack-a-mole is, just didn't like it...
I liked it, but (and?) have always wondered if it was supposed to be some weird pun for guacamole. (Pronounced guack... cf your puzzle idea! a guack guack here...a guack guack there)

PERIHELION or not, I thought this was a super clever theme...
(how fitting, it's the one entry that is getting him burned...that's what happens when you fly too close to the sun)

I was solving from the bottom up and for that thoracic surgery I had somethinggREADER...so by the guy I got RIBSPREADER I literally felt a pain in my chest! SO graphic...and with LOSINGHEART it's like an operation that's gone really bad.

By only real thorn was 23A...I had BIN (as in BIN Laden), then ABU...and finally IBN which I guess @foodie might chime in why both IBN and BIN are acceptable, I'm guessing somehow you can transpose letters in Arabic when you are transliterating them bec perhaps like Hebrew they are vowelless when written? So IBN might be the same as BIN? Do I have ANY idea what I'm talking about?

pperhaps I should just stick to the fact that I thought BAAS and MOOS were indeed bonus theme answers on a certain level and quite charming.

And yes, I liked TOTO, too.

Oh ! I just thought of the only thing I wasn't crazy about: to have TWO of those clues about letters in the word 13D ESS and 31D LONGI.

But I don't want to end on that note, bec this was a great puzzle! (AND that is my favorite Gladys Knight song of all time).

Nighthawk 3:59 AM  

PS: Thanks @RP for the clips. Gladys looks so young. And the intro to Heart's Crazy On You is up there with other great intros like those for Cowgirl In The Sand and Locomotive Breath. Ann and Nancy Wilson did a spot earlier this month on NPR's Weekend Edition promoting their latest album "Red Velvet Car" that includes the tune "WTF". NPR Wilson Sisters Wonder when it will be clued.

acme 4:13 AM  

hmmm, I get why by/my is a typo, but what kind of Freudian Slip is "guy" for "time"?!
(or as my Israeli says, Floridian Slip)

Is there a way to correct after posting without having to trash the whole thing? I meant to press the preview button first.

edith b 6:35 AM  

I was looking for the 4th Name to complete the theme so IMOO this one lacked elegance. I had no problem with the word PERIHELION, being the vocab freak that I am, but I spent a lot of head scratching in a fruitless search.

I did enjoy the way the 4 corners were constructed, though.

The Hag 7:20 AM  

PERIHELION was a gimmee for me, but I have to agree with Mr. Parker that it was out of place. It didn't really register that it was even part of the theme until after the fact.

@shrub5. My thoughts exactly. Ideally the BAA and MOO would be doubled.

I thought the fill was pretty interesting though. I liked NEXUS, SINEW, GAS and SOLID as non-liquids
cross of SID/RIC, juxtaposition of LOSINGHEART and RIBSPREADER. Kneejerk reaction for 37A was CAL but I've worked too many chem/phys homework problems to forget the conversion factor.

David 7:40 AM  

Someone has his thong in a bunch over PERIHELION and the ease/difficulty of this Wednesday effort....

I for one found it easy. Having CELINEDION did reduce its appeal however; I put her up there with Sound of Mucus as events to avoid.

Bob Kerfuffle 8:02 AM  

I had a one-letter write over at 1 A/D, when I thought TATAR/TARPON looked possible, but quickly corrected. (Yes, I know there isn't any peninsula relayed to Tatars!)

Also would enter a very minor complaint about the SID/RIC crossing. To me could be just as well SYD/RYC (these singers are so careless about the spelling of their names!) Much more obscure than PERIHELION.

John V 8:04 AM  

Odd. Filled in as fast as ever for a Wednesday, looked -- and could NOT see the theme. Only write over, 60D/68A, not knowing Lion King or Ilene Graff.

Perihelion is new to me, but the crosses made it easy.

joho 8:04 AM  

I enjoyed this puzzle. But like @acme I had a visceral reaction to LOSINGHEART/RIBSPREADER.

I also had written BAAS and MOOS in the margin as pluses to the theme. I also liked DEB/SRS and I loved the RIC/SID crossing.

Thank you, Peter Collins!

Diana Holquist 8:24 AM  

Done before the coffee. Could it really be Weds.?

Love a puzzle that speaks to my area of musical expertise. Take that, classical music buffs!

(...still grumbling about my big fat Grieg wedding....baa!)

JaxInL.A. 8:43 AM  

My word for the day was RIA. Shoreline indentation? How have I never heard such a useful xword entry before?

Before I even looked at a theme I wanted "turn of the millennium explorer" to have something to do with the Mars Rover missions. Didn't mind perihelion too much, perhaps b/c my mind was already in space.

@SethG, thanks for some great alternative theme answers, tho.

It was nice to see Hebrew ALEF coexist with Arabic IBN, even if only in a puzzle.

David L 8:43 AM  

I was going to say this was easy for me (PERIHELION being a familiar word) but then I realized I put IRENE/NARA in the SE, neither name being known to me.

Note to self: must watch more old TV sitcoms and kids' cartoon movies.

mmorgan 8:54 AM  

One of those puzzles with a very clever concept on paper but a bit flat in the execution (due to the fill issues Rex mentioned). Got PRESIDENT WILSON and OLD MACDONALD (and hence the theme) right off but was stuck forever in the NW. Having BIN for IBN and PANAY for MALAY and NAH for HAH didn't help. But once I smelled the ROSES I caught the MARLIN. Whew.

Anonymous 9:04 AM  

I was hoping by today that Jim displayed enough civility to withdraw his rant at me from yesterday’s comments, especially since Rex would not allow me to respond. But, alas, this morning, the rant is still there. So here are my substantive (albeit red-baiting, hackneyed, utterly stupid socialist-name-calling) comments on today’s puzzle. The OLDMACDONALD song did not have EIEIO. Its refrain is ee i ee i oh. Now, ordinarily, I would not quibble, such as those who had problems with pronouncing Stauss as straws in Sunday’s puzzle, but it is a little disingenuous for the NYT to allow such literary license with its prized puzzle. Another smaller quibble I have is that the e’s and i’s and o’s are so far apart as to be meaningless, if not incomprehensible to the anti-intellectual. Finally, when three of the theme’s answers include proper names and the fourth – Rex’s word of the day -- is a Greek-rooted astronomical term (though one could surmise the constructor is a globalist for including a Scandinavian explorer, a Canadian singer and an American farmer), there is a lack of consistency. Speaking of OLDMACDONALD’s farm, I have to go now to study if Chris Coons really is a Marxist in Democrat clothing….

jesser 9:08 AM  

Today I am the Anti-Rex. I freakin' LOVED this puzzle, from start to finish, and I was in awe that Mr. Collins was able to find theme answers with that exact sequence of vowels. In fact, knowing the theme was Very Helpful in parsing PERIHELION, which I was glad to see as the WOTD.

Somehow having PERIHELION contrasted with OLD MACDONALD just made me grin, because you know damn well that humble hard-working old farmer had never heard of LEIF ERICSSON, didn't give a rat's ass about CELINE DION or PRESIDENT WILSON and probably thought a PERIHELION was something that should be sniffed in the moonlight. He was salt of the earth, OLD MACDONALD! And he was GAUNT.

Seeing NEXUS at 16A put me in a Dan Fogelburg mood. It's the title of a GREAT song on 'The Innocent Age' double LP.

Copyright Dan Fogelburg

Across the vein of night there cuts a path of searing light
Burning like a beacon on the edges of our sight
At the point of total darkness and the lights divine divide
A soul can let its shadow stretch and land on either side, either side

And balanced on the precipice the moment must reveal
Naked in the face of time, our race within the wheel
As we hang beneath the heavens, and we hover over hell
Our hearts become the instruments we learn to play so well

So wealthy the spirit that knows its own flight
Stealthy the hunter who slays his own fright
Blessed the traveler who journeys the length of the light

Outside the pull of gravity, beyond the spectral veil
Within our careful reasoning, we search to no avail
For the constant in the chaos, for the fulcrum in the void
Following a destiny our steps cannot avoid

Across the vein of night there cuts a path of searing light
Burning like a beacon on the edges of our sight
At the point of total darkness and the lights divine divide
A soul can let its shadow stretch and land on either side

Wealthy the spirit that knows its own flight
Stealthy the hunter who slays his own fright
Blessed the traveler who journeys the length of the light

In a spiral never-ending are we drawn toward the source
Spinning at the mercy of an unrelenting force
So we stare into the emptiness and fall beneath the weight
Circling the Nexus in a fevered dance with fate

Wealthy the spirit that knows its own flight
Stealthy the hunter who slays his own fright
Blessed the traveler who journeys the length of the light

Perspam! (Possibly harmful and/or useless things that someone placed in your handbag) -- jesser

chefbea 9:08 AM  

Cute puzzle. The theme helped with perihelion.

Was expecting to see oink and quack appear.

Same Old Lane Sign 9:34 AM  

Jesser, the other day it crossed my mind that maybe I'd been wrong about Dan Fogelberg, that maybe he wasn't as bad as I remembered. Thanks for posting those godawful lyrics to prove I was correct in my first assessment back in 1982.

Norm 9:34 AM  

what Jesser said ...

PuzzleNut 9:34 AM  

No problem with PERIHELION (although the theme helped my spelling). Now that I realize the other theme answers were people's names, I'm inclined to agree with Rex, but for a different reason.
@BobK - had the same issue with SID/RIC, but unfortunately I guessed wrong. In fact, I started with RYK and had the famous KEVIN ELION for a while, until LONGI helped me out.
Was really disappointed with SOLID at first until I came to GAS. All is forgiven.

dk 9:39 AM  

Icarus was a PERIHELION.

Only slow down was trying to guess how AMOEBA might be spelled and questioning if LADED is a real word.

Like @chefbea I was wishing for more animal sounds.

*** (3 Oinks)

Happy Birthday Ms. Sharp can't wait until you can drive.

CoffeeLvr 9:46 AM  

I liked the process of solving this puzzle, though the theme made it somewhat easy, for a Wed.

Come on, am I the only one who had a "not for the breakfast table" thought before I saw the answer for 64A was only 3 letters.

Agree with @endrie cirlo, should be a rule: only one letter clue per grid.

Liked seeing INDONESIA & MALAY in the grid, plus other words already mentioned.

Did not know Judge Dredd, but accepted it per the crosses; I concluded the farmer was not OLe.

I played a lot of Whack-a-mole at Chuckie Cheese in the later 90's - while son did other things. Named the moles for "difficult" people at work. Now I can only remember one or two of them.

mexgirl 9:55 AM  

Happy anniversary of fatherhood to you, Rex!

balto 10:01 AM  

For me as well, I got PERIHELION first (as a youngster was an astronomy geek), then checked the theme clue and got OLD MACDONALD with just a couple letters -- really helped with the rest of the theme.

As a lapsed Catholic, I also liked HIGH ALTAR.

I like endrie's observation about the LOSING HEART and RIB SPREADER pairing -- I can really feel it when I look at the puzzle.


balto 10:02 AM  
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Two Ponies 10:23 AM  

Lots to love and some to groan at today. Mostly I loved it.
Ballgoer and promgoers look so odd in print, like captchas.
Getting the theme early helped speed this along.
A little Vegas Celine gossip, she insisted on filling her house and dressing room daily with white roses. (Cue the roll of the eyes from her staff.)
Last in the grid was Greg. I had
_re_. Bret? Drew? High altar was hard for me to parse but I finally got it.
I thought it would be difficult to find this many answers that followed the EIEIO theme but I see above that there are more than I knew. I had a fun solve.
Perihelion is a great word.

Lindsay 10:23 AM  

Years ago I was working for a local lifestyle rag, and the editor put together a special issue on the horrors of domestic violence. Of course, that turned out to be the week our restaurant reviewer went to Chuck E. Cheese and wrote not about the food, but about how much fun her children had playing Whack-a-Mole. I thought we should sit on the review for a while, but nooooo, the editor ran it right next to the wife-beater exposes.

ArtLvr 10:43 AM  
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Sparky 10:46 AM  

All best wishes to Brithday Girl and Dad and Mom too. Enjoyed this Wednesday. Had SyD wrong. Agree @emmichaels ESS and LONGI two too many. I alwsay fall for it at first so I feel dumb. RIB SPREADER really hurt. Where did the week go? Patience and Fortitude.

archaeoprof 10:48 AM  

Liked this puzzle a lot, especially the clue for LEIF ERICSSON.

Two Naticks for me today: SID/RIC (I agree with @BobKerfuffle) and NALA/ILENE.

@Rex: happy birthday to your daughter. Ten is such a good age.

ArtLvr 10:48 AM  

Me too, no problem with the puzzle -- but I found the theme a bit bland overall and the fill even more so, with terminology like INERT, SOLID, GAS, BTU, and NEXUS even if I liked PERIHELION...

However, tonight being the point of the autumnal equinox, which together with the vernal (spring) equinox is one of the two times of the year with equal hours of day and night, and with highest and lowest tides of the year, please note: if you combine this phenomenon with a rarer solar eclipse and great storytelling, and you have Jane Langton's classic mystery of 1975, "Dark Nantucket Noon", which will satisfy the nerdiest among us...


p.s. For a really zippy, hilarious crossword today, don't miss the LAT!

p.p.s. A special happy birthday to Rex's daughter...

Anonymous 10:50 AM  

Easiest Wednesday ever. I didn't even have to worry about using the theme as the cluing throughout was right in my wheelhouse. I had much harder times with Mon. and Tues. Perihelion was the only (slight) difficulty.

a 10:52 AM  

JaxInL.A., do you not do the puzzle much? RIA has been in there six times this year, including...yesterday.

Howard B 10:55 AM  

Had more trouble with CELINE DION, since I misread the date in the clue as 1966. Also had PERIHELION stored somewhere, but it was in my head all this time as PERHELION without that first I for some reason. That did not help. Otherwise not too bad, except for the horrifying-for-me visual of RIB SPREADER, which I could honestly do without in there. (Much respect to the medical experts who use such a thing). I can't even watch scenes like that on TV. Not a med school candidate here.

Mel Ott 10:55 AM  

I liked PERIHELION best of the theme answers. Learning new words is one of the reasons I do crossord puzzles.

Noticed the same problem noted by BobK at the SID/RIC cross but guessed right. Somewhere in crosswordland there's a SID who spells his name SYD but I forget who he is.

Jim 10:56 AM  

Unique solving experience for me today. Got the theme right away thanks to BAAS and, b/c of the unusual quality of the theme, was able quickly to enter all theme answers with few or no crosses (well, except for PERIHELION. Wanted ____EPSILON for a while). Consequently, I was able to take a panoramic view of the puzzle, gaily jumping from this quadrant to that, filling in where it most pkeased me, confident I could return from another angle of attack if I needed to. This stands in sharp contrast to the workmanlike, water-seeping-like way I (necessarily) solve everything else. Ordinarily, a 12-letter theme answer is simply too daunting w/o any help.

First time I recall seeing GAUNT, an underutilized and especially evocative word. Perhaps its relatively infrequent appearannce in puzzles is due to the widespread corpulence of our people (see Too Many Hamburgers by TJF this morning for an expansion, so to speak, on this theme).

Must finally bring this up: I judge the quality of a puzzle inversely to the presence in it of proper-name crossings. More specifically, the shorter, more substitutable and/or more ethnic (read: unfamiliar and unverifiable to the English speaker), the worse this phenomenon becomes. Take ERWIN/MAEVE from this Sunday. It's simply not gettable from crosses, despite one having unmitigated expertise on the English language. Two examples today: SID/RIC and ((he one that felled me) NALA/ALICE. I have a separate beef about two rock stars' three-lettered first names crossing each other on their shared middle letter, but it should be a fair critique to call this practice inferior. I'm no consructor, but I'd like to know that, however difficult or even impossible sometimes, it is a a practice to use very sparingly and only when no other alternatives exist.

Love to hear from RP and / or Andrea with their thoughts.

Mel Ott 11:03 AM  

Re HIGH ALTAR and sanctuary: in Anglican, Roman Catholic and some other churches the area at the front of the church, usually bounded by an altar rail and/or steps is called the sanctuary. The main altar located therein is usually called the HIGH ALTAR. Some churches, depending on size and architecture might have additional altars in side chapels or other locations like the apse (well known to crossworders) and the crypt.

mac 11:13 AM  

Happy birthday, miss Parker!

I started this puzzle at the emissions testing place, and I only had a pen. It intimidated me!

Pieced it together and liked it, but it wasn't a smooth solve for me. Thinking someone was a "singer" of the Treaty of Versailles slowed me down for a while. The rib spreader was a little graphic. Thank you Rex for explaining the theme, not sure if I would have figured that out...

Moonchild 11:18 AM  

Happy Equinox to all of us pagans!
Thx @ ArtLvr for the info.
Perihelion is appropriate for today. This morning a huge yellow moon was setting with Jupiter shining brighter than any star.

@ Mel Ott, You might be thinking of Syd Barrett of early Pink Floyd.
I remember which letter Ric Ocasek leaves out because he has the K in his last name he doesn't need it in his first.

Van55 11:33 AM  

Hated LONGI, but I suppose that gimmick was the only way to make PERIHELION work.

Otherwise, a fine, fine puzzle.

Anonymous 11:50 AM  

PERIHELION, LADED, ARLENE, A MOLE, ALEF -- all right over the plate for me. Put me down for, this was a fun puzzle.

Happy Birthday, Rex's Daughter. [Finding your way into the Lord of the Rings was a good move, whatever your Dad may say. ;) ]

Clark 11:51 AM  

Anon 11:50 was Clark. Not sure what happened there.

The Hag 11:52 AM  

Re: SID/RIC crossing. Normally I would agree with all the complaints. I, too, gripe incessantly about the over abundance of names especially when they cross. However, this one did not bother me personally for two reasons:

1. I like the symmetry of the two names - 3-letters, second letter I, both ending with a stop consonant (er, that may be the incorrect phonetic term).

2. SID is infamous not only as a punk rocker (however much I enjoy the Sex Pistols I can't bring myself to call him a musician) but also for stabbing his girlfriend Nancy Spungen to death in the Chelsea hotel in NYC. He died of a heroin overdose before he could be brought to trial. The movie "Sid and Nancy" starring Gary Oldman was based on these sordid events. In short - SID's notoriety went beyond the music industry.

@Mel Ott. You are maybe thinking of Syd Barrett of Pink Floyd.

Anonymous 12:00 PM  

Not to mention, Ryc is not a name.

Jim 12:13 PM  
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DanCan 12:14 PM  

Perihelion is not so obscure. My father who was a self-taught man explained that one to me when I was a teenager. But Friday's and Saturday's puzzles--THOSE are almost always obscure and I cannot fathom how you solve them so consistently.

Noam D. Elkies 12:19 PM  

Yes, a neat puzzle idea. Count me among those who were happy to see 46A:PERIHELION in the grid and could do without 30A:CELINE_DION. But there weren't that many choices if we just stay with real English words and phrases. Searching a few of my word-nerd lists, I found a few dozen matches but most were nondescript items like "reinvention", "reinspection", "preimpression", and the like. "Perihelion" and "Leif Eriksson" [sic] were among the few hits that were both familiar and colorful. The others that seem noteworthy are "well-intentioned" (a good substitute for the 15-letter "President Wilson" — I suppose the fact that both the length and the vowel patterns match is fitting), "revised version(s)", and "predilection(s)".


P.S. Last week's 53A:STRADivarius returns in its abbr'd form, and 37A:BTU might also have been the abbreviated CALorie.

Bob Kerfuffle 12:21 PM  

@Anonymous, 12:00 PM - "Not to mention, Ryc is not a name."

But Z-Ro, Musiq, Erykah Badu, Eminem, Coolio, Busta Rhymes, Bo Diddley, 2 Pac, 50 Cent, Dweezil Zappa, and Ish Kabibble are names.

I still say, give me a real-word cross if I must fill in one of these or others!

CoffeeLvr 12:24 PM  

I can't get that song out of my head! And where are A and U?

william e emba 12:27 PM  

I was a little surprised to see PERIHELION as WOTD. I honestly thought it was a word everybody sort of knew. Too fancy for Monday, too easy for Friday, just right for Wednesday. The excess precession of the perihelion of Mercury was a famous scientific challenge of the late 19th/early 20th century. Einstein's General Theory of Relativity first claim to fame was computing this value from scratch.

In contrast I didn't know if it was RIK or RIC. (I somehow did remember the cross was SID, not SYD, Vicious.) I too was looking for a Kevin or even a Keli for a while, and it took forever before I noticed it was -ELINE DION.

The other big hangup was LEIF's last name. It can be spelled with a C or K, and one or two S's.

Having finally got caught up with the daily puzzles, I'm about to fall behind again for another two weeks. Oh well.

Jim 12:32 PM  

Laugh of the day:

Had the first D in DREDD so no prob w/ the answer, but momentarily imagined a bespectacled Sly, wigged and robed, behind the bench, overruleing an objection. Good times.

Anonymous, it was a screed, not a rant. And is that the way polite posters argue? Is that the rule? Well, I don't repudiate anything I said, so no go. If rp wants to, I guess that's his privilege.

The Hag 12:55 PM  

@Anon, 12:00 PM - "Not to mention, Ryc is not a name." Thanks for the backup, but no good deed goes unpunished. I agree with BobK. Ryc could be a name. I will say, though, that guessing SYD/RYC instead of SID/RIC is over-thinking it for a Wednesday (something I am often guilty of).

I have seen a number of people using "3 and out" which I assume means that, on any given day, after three posts people are heartily sick of you. Toodles......

Anonymous 1:00 PM  

But, Jim, there are so many clues in today’s puzzle where Marxism fits: 19A, 66A, 2D and 55D, e.g. And did you see 71 A: DA RED!

hazel 1:16 PM  

I thought this was a very very cool puzzle - farm sounds, baseball (Greg Maddux no less!), life-saving surgical tools, wedded bliss, a beloved dog - its got it all, except maybe a kayak. Loved it.

I too find CELINEDION much more objectionable than PERIHELION, which is definitely a cool word, but does seem out of place at the party with the other 3 (time traveling) people.

vEry nIcE grId, brO.

Pardon the Bro, but I was stuck.

CaseAce 1:17 PM  

I have no Malays nowadays, infact I'm not Apnea to lose any sleep over it. Ummm, what Inert am I talking about?

archaeoprof 1:58 PM  

PS: Rex is surely right that GREG Maddux is going to be a 1st-ballot Hall-of-Famer.

travis 2:08 PM  

Words matching eieio in OWL scrabble dictionary:


So just be glad he didn't go with epileptiform[has something to do with epileptic seizures]. Predilection is my coolest word on the list.

syndy 2:41 PM  

OMG I fell in love somewhere in this puzzle!whack-a-mole! Perihelion!( I know,but it's still amazing sometimes the things RP doesn't know) Celine's singing may be bombastic but I forgave her when I found out she was deaf.(still a little goes a long way)happy B'day young Sharp!

newspaperguy 2:47 PM  

Fairly easy and enjoyable for a Wednesday. Great memories of Greg Maddux. When he through a rare 88 mph fastball over the middle of the plate the hitter often froze, wondering how that could have happened. The guy lived by throwing over home plate's edges. And did a grounder up the middle EVER get by him?

Noam D. Elkies 2:56 PM  

Oops, "well-intentioned" has an extra E after the EIEIO — so much for aptly matching the vowel pattern in 38A:PRESIDENT_WILSON. (And while I'm at it, Rex miscounted the letters in 46A:PERIHELION: ten, not nine.)


Matthew G. 2:57 PM  

A pleasant first for me -- I thought the puzzle was easier than Rex did. I also thought it was generally easy for a Wednesday (although I did have NArA and IrENE instead of NALA and ILENE -- but I never feel bad about missing two crossed obscure pop culture names where my answers look perfectly reasonable).

I strongly disagree with Rex about PERIHELION. Love the word, love its use in the theme and in the grid. Don't know where I learned it, but once I had the theme in hand and a couple crosses, it jumped right out at me. Even if you don't know it, it is a straightforward-enough Latin derivation that you can put it together with the help of the theme, I think. I'm assuming I picked it up from either a sci-fi novel or my Astronomy 101 course as an undergrad, but I've seen it at least half a dozen times in my life. CELINE DION was harder (I only know her as the person who sang that song from "Titanic," not as someone who recorded some album I've never heard of).

Was given a bit of pause by HIGH ALTAR -- like Rex, I'm still scratching my head trying to understand what "sanctuary" means in this context. Otherwise, no trouble spots.

Liked the theme quite a bit, but agree with Rex about all the three-letter fill -- yawn.

Rex Parker 3:04 PM  

Which one is *Latin*? PERI-? Or HELIOS? I forget.


archaeoprof 3:13 PM  

PERI and HELIOS are both Greek.

Three and out...

Tinbeni 3:16 PM  

PERIHELION was a gimmie.
Based on the comments I'm glad to see I'm not the only astronomy geek.

@Travis: Thanks for the list.
My fave is REINSERTION ...

@PurpleGuy: Cheeers to you and your 102 Mom at sunset.

@Rex: PERI, is the real name of the actress who played Roz on Frasier

All-in-all, I thought this was a SOLID, FUN puzzle.

sanfranman59 3:16 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)

Wed 10:43, 11:40, 0.92, 30%, Easy-Medium

Top 100 solvers

Wed 5:21, 5:46, 0.93, 33%, Easy-Medium

Matthew G. 3:26 PM  

Yes, yes, I meant Greek. The point is they're common roots. Carry on.

Rex Parker 3:27 PM  

If you're going to lord your alleged smartness over people, your shit should be tight.

Carry on ;)

Matthew G. 3:29 PM  

I'm not lording anything. I am slower than you and rarely finish Saturday puzzles. I just don't think PERIHELION is a hard word, relatively speaking.

joecab 3:34 PM  

Just wanted to say I never saw PERIwhateverthehell ever before.

Howard B 3:35 PM  

Need to briefly clarify something - I had heard of PERIHELION, but honestly had no idea what it meant beyond "something science-y". There's a huge difference between "knowing" a word and "hearing of" a word.I previously implied that somehow I knew that one, but I didn't. Just a familiar bunch of letters. Interesting but tough fill though.

mitchs 3:46 PM  

@Howard B - my experience with PERIHELION exactly. Another example of a crossword illuminating the shallowness of much of my "knowledge". (and helping to overcome it, sometimes)

Glitch 3:48 PM  

I would like to present:

Ryc Brownrigg Jr.
Vice President, Internet and Interactive Development
Starz Entertainment


Anonymous 3:57 PM  

The fact that you took Astronomy 101 in college and read sci-fi pretty much disqualifies you from being able to claim that it's a common word that everyone should know.

hazel 4:04 PM  

@newpaperguy - Maddux was always in perfect position to field after that smooth delivery of his. he was such a joy to watch.

i have a ball from a playoff game where he pitched. had awesome dugout seats. it was called strike 3, 3rd out, and Eddie Perez rolled me the ball when he came off the field. Andres Gallaraga smiled at me too. Unbelievable game. And the Braves won.

Matthew G. 4:10 PM  

All right. I was pretentious. Withdrawn.

Scott Lewis 4:10 PM  

Geez, Rex, what did you have for breakfast?!? It certainly spoiled your enjoyment of this puzzle. I hope you feel better tomorrow!

David in CA 4:34 PM  

At least 12 proper names in here, and the one somewhat obscure scientific term gets all the grief.
@Anon3:57 - Who are you accusing of saying PERIHELION is a word everyone should know? The strongest statement I saw was that it could be pieced together fairly easily from the theme and the crosses. Seems true to enough to me. The same certainly doesn't apply to either the RIC/SID cross (BTW Google does show up some hits where RYC is a name) or the NALA/ILENE cross, or the RIC/CELINE cross.

Anonymous 4:55 PM  

C'mon, guys. This was a typical Wed. But what is really great is when Rex talks dirty. Anybody with a BA from a first rate liberal arts college or who is married to a Greek knows perihelion has Greek roots. 3 and out....

Sfingi 5:15 PM  

RIBSPREADER was yucky, especially when I was thinking some some of READER.

Silly theme - didn't we have this before?

Mini-theme - Non-liquid states: GAS, SOLID.

Had to Google for Maddux (sports) and CELINE.

@Shrub5 - or (BAABAA)Wahwah, of The View.

When I was in HS, the Prom was for Juniors and the Ball for Seniors.

Like @Matthew G - I found NALA/ILENE a Nattick. For all I knew, it was NArA/IrENE.

LEIFERICSSON made me think - All these years shouldn't we be pronouncing him Life, not Leaf - hey @Ulrich?

@Travis - wow. And I'm glad he didn't go for any of the RE- answers or any ending in S. So cheap.

@Blackwell - is CELINEDION interesting to you? More so than PERIHELION?
The PERIHELION is also important in geometry, as such.

Finally - I don't believe this captcha - fucterne - is that a special, specific nocturne? Who checks these out? The machine is developing a naughty personality.

Matthew G. 5:29 PM  

Ouch, go easy, Anon@4:55. I knew it was Greek, people! Rex may not be the only person who doesn't know "perihelion," but apparently I'm the only person who's ever absent-mindedly typed one word when he meant a mother.

mac 5:42 PM  

@hazel: LOL! You could have done much worse with that O.

@Sydny: she is deaf?? Makes me think of the chicken and the egg.

Rube 6:35 PM  

Personally, I had no idea who RIC or SID were, but had a very reasonable sounding fELINE_lION, which soon became fELINE_DION. RIf/RIC, who knows? Not me. Like @archeoprof and others, also did not know the ILENE/NALA crossing, but guessed well.

PERIHELION? Got it off the P, and didn't even need that. A gimme for scientific types.

A good puzzle except for the 3 pop culture crossings.

Happy autumnal equinox.

Anonymous 6:52 PM  

Celine Dion is terrible, but she has sold over 200 million albums. It's pretty safe to say more people have heard of her than, say, Leif Ericsson.

Ulrich 6:56 PM  

@Sfingi: I'm no expert on Scandinavian languages--all I can say is that I pronounced him "Life" all my life. Remember, there is no "i before e" issue in German--"ei" is always "eye" and "ie" is always "ee"--it may be the same in other nordic languages.

your average blank 7:11 PM  

gladys knight and her powerfull pulsating pips what a memory

Anonymous 7:55 PM  

I stumbled on the NALA/ILENE cross and didn't know RIA, but otherwise this one was pretty easy for a Wednesday. I thought the LSD was a clever double clue until I looked up and found that Decimal Day (the day the UK shifted from the pound/shilling/pence standard, or LSD) was in 1971. "Dropped in the 70s" would have been better.

fergus 8:15 PM  

I find that things that I only know from crosswords tend to be pretty shakily set in my knowledge base. NALA or NARA? Had to be the former because the echo sounds more familiar. And how many times have I filled in NALA? Dozens. PERIHELION? Maybe once or twice, but 5th grade science class taught me that, along with its opposite APHELION. Just an observation.

Sfingi 8:29 PM  

@Ulrich - in these undeutsch areas, they all say Leeef. They wouldn't know what I was talking about, but now that I noticed, I'm going to say Life.

@dk - Icarus was a Para-Hellian, at least to his father.

@Anon652 - D Blackwell made a point that PERIHELION was not just obscure, but of no interest to him. Well, La-di-da.

Stan 9:22 PM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
Stan 9:24 PM  

I really enjoyed the way this puzzle racheted up for me, from the musical super-gimmes (SID, RIC, PIP) to the mid-level theme reveal (aha), to the spelled out letter-by-letter (PERIHELION).

Made easier because I have a cat named Syd (as in Barrett) *not* Sid (as in Vicious).

"Crazy on You" knocked me out. The second great, obscure rock video in two days. And yes, Ann was the genius. Those guys with the feathered hair made me so glad the '70s are over.

Being childless has the following advantage or disadvantage: you've never been in a Chuck-E-Cheese and you don't know the names of Disney animation characters.

Adam R 9:26 PM  

Really enjoyed this one. As an engineer, PERIHELION was a total gimme, but I can understand other people's objections to it.

Got the theme instantly (what children's songs have 5 specific vowls in them?) and then dropped in LEIFERICSSON (initially misspelled with a K and only one S, but those were quickly fixed). Rest of the grid went in fairly smoothly.

Other words that have the EIEIO pattern:



You can easily find more by grepping the list of all Wikipedia page titles for the regular expression ^[^aeiou]*e[^aeiou]*i[^aeiou]*e[^aeiou]*i[^aeiou]*o[^aeiou]*$

still life angie 10:00 PM  

I admit that I got the theme really quickly because everytime I play my sister in Scrabble she inevitably says dryly, "It's like Old MacDonald's farm over here." Thanks, sis.

sanfranman59 10:00 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 8:15, 6:58, 1.18, 97%, Challenging
Tue 9:55, 8:54, 1.11, 85%, Challenging
Wed 10:57, 11:40, 0.94, 41%, Medium

Top 100 solvers

Mon 4:19, 3:43, 1.16, 97%, Challenging
Tue 5:03, 4:35, 1.10, 80%, Challenging
Wed 5:08, 5:45, 0.89, 22%, Easy-Medium

ArtLvr 10:05 PM  

Science history and remark 101 --

I think those interested may google "heliotrope", which to me is an old-fashioned flower turning toward the sun throughout the day -- Surprise! There are ten other enties as well, including the mineral also called bloodstone, a quaint musical instrument and even a musician (not a Dion)!

The diurnal motion of plant parts (flowers or leaves) in response to the direction of the sun has been known as heliotropism. This property was first described by Leonardo da Vinci (along with gravitropism) in his botanical studies. The term "heliotropism," though, was introduced in the early 1800s by A. P. de Candolle, for the growth of the stem tip towards light, which is currently called phototropism. The term heliotropism is now used only for solar tracking. ("Gravitropism" is turning in the direction of gravitational pull.)

If not into gardening, etc., one may remember the term Heliocentrism... The Earth-centered Universe of Aristotle and Ptolemy held sway on Western thinking for almost 2000 years. Then, in the 16th century a new idea was proposed by the Polish astronomer Nicolai Copernicus (1473-1543). In a book called "On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Bodies" (published as Copernicus lay on his deathbed), Copernicus proposed that the Sun, not the Earth, was the center of the Solar System. Such a model is called a heliocentric system. Poor Galileo was converted to this scientific theory, but the Church forced him to recant on the threat of excommunication and death. No wonder Darwin was hesitant to publish his "Origin of Species" even in the Age of Enlightenment!


fergus 1:28 AM  

Well said, ArtLvr

How many times in our current age do we so have to bite our tongue?

Anonymous 11:52 AM  


Howard B 1:59 PM  

I don't know why this got to me a bit, and I know it's meant well, but there was a general discussion here about people claiming that a word was easy, while others found it difficult.
I felt the same regarding the earlier post, reading the instruction, "You can easily find more by grepping the list of all Wikipedia page titles for the regular expression ^[^aeiou]*e[^aeiou]*i[^aeiou]*e[^aeiou]*i[^aeiou]*o[^aeiou]*$".
OK, I have a general computer science background, and am reasonably familiar with basic regular expression logic in general, but could not find a way through Wikipedia to perform a regular expression search. Am I missing something here?

Or does the poster above actually mean, "You have to write your own custom bit of code to parse the GZipped list file provided for article titles, and perform your regular expression search on that text, provided you can code a little and understand regular expression syntax?"

I apologize for any snarkiness, as I actually do want to know how to do this, with my rusty coding skills. I know it was meant helpfully (The poster did link to the text file, after all). But what I actually meant is what appears to be easy for someone based on their experience may be a very different story, for anywhere between 1 and 99.999 etc% of others.
I would bear that in mind when posting how "easy" something 'is' :).

Late to the show here, but 3 posts and out. Thanks! :)

Adam R 10:13 PM  

@Howard B: My apologies, I elided several details which are not at all obvious.

To find a list of other possible theme answers, download the word list I linked to and decompress it with a program such as gunzip or winrar.

Then, you can search the resulting text file for the regular expression I gave using a utility such as grep, or any other utility that supports regular expression search (such as Notepad++).

Anonymous 9:12 AM  

PERIHELION - It's icky here, though, because it feels forced. "Here's the only other 9-letter word or phrase I could get to do this." Less than ideal. - REX

of course you are entitled to your opinion especially here on your own site BUT that statement is just plain dumb - 1) the fill fit the theme and 2) the word is unique - so what more can a solver ask for ? besides what would you offer as an alternative ?


NotalwaysrightBill 1:58 PM  

Syndicated puzzler. Just enough science and pop culture knowledge to get today's puzzle.

Thanks @Mel Ott for the HIGHALTAR explanation.

Thought for awhile, after I filled it in correctly, that whackAMOLE must be an approximation of some Spanish dialect's pronunciation of a chip dip. Thanks to all you Chuck-E-Cheesers for enlightening me! Will apply the image to pinko office-holders this coming election.

@Jesser: NEXUS made me think of something too, and I, for one, enjoyed reading the Fogelberg lyrics. Thanks for the post. I admit to finding some Moody Blues songs still germaine, though, so take it for what it's worth. Dropped in the sixties.
Shoot, I even like SOME e.e. cummings:

"septembering arms of year extend
less humbly wealth to foe and friend
than he to foolish and to wise
offered immeasurable is"

Here's the quote that NEXUS and the Fogey lyrics prompted me to recall:

"The place where five roads meet where all selves save Soul are slain."

@Same Old Lang Sign and Norm for your snarky comments to Jesser:
If this were one of your monitor screens instead of my own, I'd take a big tug on my Dr. Pepper here and dare you to post some lyrics you thought were "genius," just so I could give them one long raspberry from start to finish. Honestly, some people's kids . . . .

Waxy in Montreal 3:56 PM  

From the HIGH ALTAR: Since the puzzle originally appeared, CELINE has had her twin boys in Québec Sud (Florida) which hopefully means she'll be unable to sing for weeks if not months to come. Please!

Also, MIKE MADDOX, GREG's older brother and a good MLB pitcher in his own right, is now the pitching coach for the Texas Rangers who begin the quest for their first World Series title tonight. Go Vlad.

And I too had Irene/Nara. Must pay more attention next time the grandkids watch "The Lion King".

Dirigonzo 7:39 PM  

Maybe it was the "Autumnal Equinox Effect", maybe it was something else, but some folks sure seemed extra cranky on 9/22.

On 10/27 (hey, Halloween is just a few days away!) I found the puzzle fun and the theme helpful. Ended up with NAlA/IlENE, which is consistent with my predeliction for always being wrong when the odds are 50-50.

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