Baseballer turned spy Berg / WED 2-23-11 / 1945 flag-raising site / * button Facebook icon / 1974 title role Dustin Hoffman / Gonzalez affair 2000

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Constructor: Barry C. Silk

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: OUTSIDE CHANCE (54A: Remote possibility ... or a hint to 20-, 29- and 44-Across) — word CHANCE can be spelled by combining the first and last sets of letters in each theme answer

Word of the Day: Yawl (58A: Yawl's pair=>MASTS) —

A yawl (from Dutch Jol) is a two-masted sailing craft similar to a sloop or cutter but with an additional mast (mizzenmast or mizzen mast) located well aft of the main mast, often right on the transom, specifically, aft of the rudderpost. (A vessel with the mizzenmast located forward of the rudderpost is called a ketch. See further discussion below.) A mizzen sail (smaller than the mainsail) is hoisted on the mizzen mast. (wikipedia)
• • •

Fell asleep very early last night, so only getting to the puzzle now (7:13am). Still, my streak of having a post up every day by 9am (4+ years, I think) continues unabated...

This puzzle is just fine, but felt more like a Tuesday (both in terms of concept and difficulty). I like puzzles that take a familiar phrase and then use it as a play on words to develop a puzzle theme. The reimagined phrase often leads to some of the most interesting and inventive puzzles / answers. I've seen this type many times before (the small word on the "outside" of long theme answers), and while CHURCH OF FRANCE (44A: Group overseeing Notre Dame Cathedral) does nothing for me, the other theme answers are interesting. Clue on CHAINLINK FENCE is well phrased (29A: Barrier with a diamond pattern)—accurate without being obvious. Got "CHANTILLY LACE" instantly (20A: Big Bopper hit), despite its being well out of my pop culture sweet spot ... or maybe that's inaccurate. I always think of my pop culture sweet spot as 1976-91, but during a couple of those years (late high school), I listened to nothing but oldies, Motown, and classic rock (refusing to listen (much) to contemporary pop radio was as "rebellious" as I would ever be as a teen). Plus, I remember my dad occasionally doing a ridiculous imitation of the "Hello Baaaaaby" intro to this song.

[What is she Saying to him on the other end of that line!?]

Not much to slow me down today. Took me a few crosses to remember the late TONY SNOW (8D: Press secretary under George W. Bush). Full name! Very nice. Took me even longer (strangely) to get CANDLE (47D: Thing to snuff), as I discarded WICK as a possibility and moved on to snuff-as-tobacco. "I'M OFF" required some crosses (31D: "Bye for now!"), but virtually everything else fell right into place. Having dogs and a cat may have helped a little with both LEASH LAW (40D: Ordinance aimed at pet owners) and CAT SIT (45D: Watch a kitty) (the former a necessary nuisance, the latter an act performed by many different friends over the years). My favorite clue, by virtue of its being fresh and contemporary, is the one for LIKE (22D: __ button (Facebook icon)).

  • 15A: 1945 flag-raising site, briefly (IWO) — easy enough. I've never heard it shortened to just IWO, but then I wasn't alive when people would have been discussing it a lot more often than they do today. See also ETO.
  • 34A: Baseballer turned spy Berg (MOE) — yeah, he probably should have been my "Word of the Day"; if I've heard of him, it was in a crossword puzzle, and I promptly forgot him. Here's a tidbit from wikipedia:
A graduate of Princeton University and Columbia Law School, Berg spoke several languages and regularly read 10 newspapers a day. His reputation was fueled by his successful appearances as a contestant on the radio quiz show Information, Please! in which he answered questions about the derivation of words and names from Greek and Latin, historical events in Europe and the Far East, and ongoing international conferences.
  • 53D: 1974 title role for Dustin Hoffman (LENNY) — in which he played Comedian LENNY Bruce. Never seen it. For future reference — perhaps — LENNY is also the constant companion of CARL on "The Simpsons"

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


efrex 7:55 AM  

When a Barry Silk puzzle is easier than an Ian Livengood one, you know you're in a weird week...

The classic line about MOE Berg, if memory serves: "he speaks seven languages, and can't hit in any of them." An extremely fascinating character.

Lack of crosswordese familiarity led to Naticks at ROONE/BOAC and KEA/KROC, but otherwise I just zipped through this one.

mmorgan 8:00 AM  

(Where is everyone?)

Top half fell in a flash, but there were some slight burps on the bottom. But I agree with @RP that it was rather Tuesday-ish. Nice theme reveal, but the construction trick was more clever than the overall solve was enjoyable...

Speaking of Iwo Jima, today is the anniversary of that iconic photo (from 1945).

But there's a story in here...

ETTA'S AGASP, it's POSTTIME and I SEE that STAN -- covered in CHANTILLY LACE -- is LADEN with BLINI [SIC]. There's an OUTSIDE CHANCE that ROONE or MOE or SIR IAN or LENNY will EXCEED expectations. STAN is now RICH and I will LOOK INTO the ONE NEUROSIS that is still ALEC'S. Things are a bit WEEDY over at that FAMED GOTHIC CHURCH OF FRANCE, and I ABHOR that LINED HAT.

OOF. What a KROC. I'M OFF...

Somebody had to say it 8:02 AM  

Smooth as Silk.
Average Wed time for an above average puzzle.


PurpleGuy 8:19 AM  

I agree that this was more like a Tuesday. Still a fun solve,though.
I'M OFF was the last to fall. Had to get most of it from crosses.
Everything else flowed nicely.
Probably my least favorite was 9D-ARFARF.
Nice touch to have GOTHIC and CHURCH OF FRANCE
in the same puzzle.

Thank you Mr. Silk for a nice puzzle for the middle of the week.
Thank you @Rex for another good writeup.

Happy Hump Day all !!!!!!



@Sparky(from yesterday)- Thank you for asking about mom. She is getting a little weaker everyday.
I am bracing myself .

Paul 8:19 AM  

Yesterday afternoon, I came across this, the very funny source of Letterman's UMA, Oprah, Oprah, UMA fiasco. I wondered how long it would take for this to be appropriate to share here. Turns out, it would only have been 8 hours had Rex not fallen asleep, somehow it got bumped up to 16 or so.

OOXTEPLERNON is either very pleased, or very angered.

retired_chemist 8:50 AM  

Medium here. Enjoyed the theme, nice solid fill, no complaints. A few minor writeovers.

Thanks, Mr. Silk.

Anonymous 8:56 AM  

I agree that this puzzle had the feel of a Tuesday puzzle. Yet it took me over 35 minutes to finish it. No big hiccups, just back and forth between the Across and Down clues. Got the theme midway through the puzzle.
Had a problem with the N at intersection of UTNE and BLINI since I did not know either words. Otherwise the absence of too many trivia questions made the puzzle more enjoyable for me.

Jim 8:58 AM  


Thanks for the clip. Ms Bancroft is, as always, funny, radiant, and oh so sexy. It's true, somehow she managed to do it better than Letterman did.

Puzzle hit a couple of my weak spots, vocabular-ily. Had AGASt (sic) and convinced myself it was right for a while and, of course, the stupid HOnE / HOME problem. Puzzle, for some reason, made me a little bleary-eyed and I made it more complicated than it was, now looking back on it. I wonder what Herr Silk was thinking when he realized he was stuck with an OOF / OHO cross. ONO!

mac 9:10 AM  

Easyish for a Wednesday, but indeed very smooth puzzle.

Wrote it "cue" for 6d, but that was fixed easily. I'm always looking for a baseball clue/answer in a Barry Silk construction, and there was Moe! Bet he was a good crossword puzzler.

I like especially catsit, leash law and the like button. Sometimes need a dislike button.

What horrible pictures from Christchurch.... Wish them all well.

joho 9:12 AM  

I loved it! Thank you, Barry Silk ... I always look forward to your puzzles.

It was nice seeing Tony Snow today. He had such grace.

@Paul, thanks for the wonderful clip, both actors are delightful to watch.

Matthew G. 9:18 AM  

Very easy indeed, as I set a personal Wednesday record. Like Rex, I found CHANTILLY LACE to be a gimme (and like Rex, I spent most of my younger years listening to the music of my parents' generation more than that of my own, so that's why). GOTHIC, POST TIME and HILLEL also went right in. Oddly, TONY SNOW took me much longer, because the press secretary I always think of first in connection with GWB is Ari Fleischer.

I would have finished even faster, but I got stymied for a bit at the very end by the NE, where I wasn't sure what letter went in the crossing of BOAC and ROONE, both of which were unfamiliar to me. Eventually I figured only O made sense, but it did cost me some time (and I'm sure someone's about to tell me that BOAC is crosswordese, but it's the first time it's ever come up for me).

At first I was reluctant to accept CHURCH OF FRANCE as a thing, since it's just the Roman Catholic Church, not a distinct faith in the way that, say, the Church of England is. But I see from Googling that the term "Church of France" is sometimes used to refer to the entities of the Catholic Church in France, so, okay. I still agree with Rex that it's much weaker than the other theme entries.

Tobias Duncan 9:31 AM  

Right about half yesterdays time for me.I wonder if Will didn't get his stacks confused this week...

foodie 9:50 AM  

Yes, clearly Easy says QDI. Even on a Tuesday, it would be in the Easy-Medium range.

I really like how the window moved systematically from right to left in creating the OUTSIDE CHANCE in the theme answers.

My niece, a college junior, is getting into the NY Times puzzle and I now think about how a puzzle looks to fresh eyes. I think this one would be lovely! Non-obvious yet highly gettable, clever, with an extra twist.

Ed B 9:56 AM  

The biography of Moe Berg, "The Catcher Was a Spy" is fascinating and well worth reading.

No BS 9:59 AM  

I always wondered what Letterman was referring to with that gag. Too bad he missed the key point she makes: "somehow no one else thought this was amusing..." thanks, Paul, for filling me in. This and the Moe Berg story from Wiki made this a red letter crossword day for me. Can there possibly not have been a movie about that guy?? What a life-story.

David L 10:14 AM  

Definitely easy for me -- finished in my typical Monday/Tuesday time, which I've decided is pretty much my lower limit, the time I need for just filling in the answers as fast as my mental/physical abilities allow.

I was mildly distressed at the unpleasing AGASP at 1A, with poor overused ETTA just below (and I especially don't like when names get pluralized by reference to unspecified namesakes), but then the rest was nice. I remember BOAC from years gone by, but I can imagine it being an obstacle for some.

quilter1 10:19 AM  

Lovely and delightful. Liked CHANTILLY LACE and like others resisted CHURCH OF FRANCE. I was looking for some kind of caretaker order of friars or something. As I put in the long theme answers I wondered what the reveal would be and smiled at the answer. Very nice indeed.

CAT SIT was my last entry. My former cat sitter neighbor boy just completed basic training in the National Guard. God bless, Dylan.

archaeoprof 10:27 AM  

@Foodie: like your niece, some of my students are into the NYT crossword. This morning they said the top half of this puzzle seemed "old": ETTAS, IWO, LON, CHANTILLYLACE, ROONE. And let's just say HAT isn't the first thing that came to their minds at 6A...

@Rex: thanks for all you do! This site is a bright spot in my day, every day.

retired_chemist 10:31 AM  

I do not see ROONE/BOAC or KEA/KROC as crossword-only (or largely). All 4 are, or have been in my lifetime, words in (reasonably) common parlance in newspapers. Maybe it is a geezer thing. But they all are good to know for crosswords.

An interesting Moe Berg college baseball fact from Wikipedia: Crossan Cooper, Princeton's second baseman, and Berg (shortstop) communicated plays in Latin when there was a man on second base.

Two Ponies 10:31 AM  

Easy and fun.
I really want to know more about Moe Berg.
We had BOAC sometime back. I only knew it because it is mentioned in "Back in the USSR."
Exceptional 3-letter fill today.
No Roman numerals or stupid abbrev's. Yay!

quilter1 10:41 AM  

@Paul, I just watched the Anne Bancroft clip--priceless! Thank you.

Lindsay 10:44 AM  

Snappy. Liked it. Chantilly and France, chain link and lace.

I flew on BOAC as a young child, which I remember only because the stewardess gave me a deck of cards imprinted with the airline's logo. The cards outlived the company.

Anonymous 10:50 AM  

@Rex - Nice writeup today.

Masked and Anonymous 11:13 AM  

Cleverly executed puz. Thumbs up.

Especially liked the byline: Barry C. Silk. C=Chance?
Surely not Chainlink? Oughta be Crosswords.

Glad to see 44 is getting his Z's. Puz didn't put up much fight for a WedPuz, so thought maybe 44 was going to say he fell asleep while tryin' to solve it. Nope.

Tip #6 for new solvers: do not solve puz while lying (laying? lieing? laiding? laining? lingling? whatever) down. Might nod off and roll over on yer pencil. Been there. Done that.

Sparky 11:35 AM  

@Paul: Thanks for the clip. Anne Bancroft was wonderful. Lee J. Cobb no slouch either. Okay--I guess I use "crosswordese" loosely to mean shows up a lot in puzzles. @MatthewG: I only meant to say, fear not, if you saw it today, you will see it again. And again.

Insomnia, so solved at 5 a.m. Went along like a Tuesday, true. Natick at BO-C/R-ONE. Had LEddY before LENNY and kept seeing Tootsie in my mind. It suddenly dawned.

Yoko Ono and I are going to the zoo to visit the gnu.

JenCT 12:04 PM  

Not crazy about OOF crossing OHOS. Had LATKA before BLINI; couldn't remember TONYSNOW for the longest time. Tried Ray CROC, which gave me Mauna CEA - oops.

Like others, knew BOAC from the Beatles.

Fun puzzle.

JaxInL.A. 12:04 PM  

@Paul, thanks for the Anne Bancroft clip!  What a presence she had. She could do it all, broad comedy, deep drama and everything in between. I had never seen that sketch before. Very funny.

I loved the Utne Reader and subscribed for years, though not for half a decade. I treasured the way it captured the alt-press zeitgeist. I assumed that it had fallen to the availability of said alternative progressive press on the web. Glad to know it's still around.

When I filled in the the STAN Freberg clue, I hoped that Rex would post a clip from his classic comedy routines. For those who don't  know, Freberg was a comic, writer and satirist in the 1960s and 70s. YouTube has plenty of his stuff. I can't figure out how to embed a video, since I don't see the clip address on the iPad. If I could, I would insert Paul Glickman's 1967 animation of Freberg's Banana Boat Song. It still makes me laugh.

Rube 12:05 PM  

Like others I was ag(h)ast at AGASP. Also wanted sOlo before LONE. Only other writeover was TKO/Tie, (really, really dumb, but also true in a way).

Seems like ELIAN is turning up in crosswords a lot recently as are UMA and AXL. ROONE too. Never heard of or seen the UTNE Reader. Will have to look into this.

Pleasant Wednesday puzz.

Kelly 12:34 PM  

whoa. that big bopper video looked like some creepy footage of glenn beck doing karaoke in a parallel universe. gonna have some nightmares tonight!!

Matthew G. 12:45 PM  

Ah, Back in the USSR! I should have known it from that. Except that it always sounded like "flew in from Miami Beach BUAC" in the song. Always wondered what BUAC stood for, and never realized I was mishearing one of the letters.

JaxInL.A. 12:47 PM  

I flew BOAC in 1968 on my first-ever plane trip at the age of 9 when we went to Jamaica for a few months when my grandfather died. 

You know, looking at it again this puzzle skewed old, despite the presence of ACNE, a Facebook clue, Deadwood and Ms. Thurman.  BOAC was defunct by 1972, ROONE Arledge was most influential a ABC in the 1970s and 80s, STAN Freberg (60s, noted in prior post), a 1965 fight (Liston/Clay), a 1974 movie (LENNY), a 1975 Wimbledon match (ASHE), and that's discounting as classic the silent movie star (Lon), the early rock and roll song, and SIR Paul McCartney.  

@foodie, I have a niece who is starting to do puzzles as well. It tickles me no end, and I hope we might start doing Sundays in tandem like Puzzle Girl and Doug. I think this puzzle would have been harder if I were under 30.  But I'm not and it was fun and easy. Thanks, Mr. Silk.

CaseAce 1:14 PM  

Moe Berg, was quite the contradiction in terms, e.g. to say, here was a major league catcher who wore the "tools of ignorance" while out on the diamond, yet attended Princeton and Columbia and spoke several languages quite fluently, which,of course, made him eminently qualified to easily serve his country in the perilous field of espionage...go figure?

chefbea 1:29 PM  

I agree - easy Wed. puzzle. Love Chantilly lace, remember it well.

nanpilla 2:21 PM  

@chefbea - bet you also love CHANTILLY cream.

I miss Deadwood.........


chefbea 3:05 PM  

@nanpilla yummm

R. McGeddon 3:07 PM  

Actually I liked the noisiness of this puzzle: ARFARF OOH/OHOS. Plus having AOK and NIX near each other.

Anonymous 3:15 PM  

Enjoyable puzzle. I missed the theme for once. Had to get it from Rex.

@Paul Very funny. Thanks for sharing.

sanfranman59 3:57 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 8:55, 11:45, 0.76, 6%, Easy

Top 100 solvers

Wed 4:44, 5:47, 0.82, 9%, Easy

This one yielded a personal best Wednesday solve time for yours truly and one of my rare appearances in the top 100 (my 4:59 currently sits at #62). The online solve times will probably end up pretty close to yesterday's for both groups of solvers. It all adds up to an easy Wednesday/medium Tuesday.

Moonchild 4:36 PM  

Backtracking a little.
Re: yesterday's "touching" clue for epee. Someone in the later comments wondered if it was a play on the word touche? If so then I like the clue a lot.
Today was an enjoyable solve.
I appreciated the way the theme answers progressed.

Kendall 4:48 PM  

Was completely baffled at the cross of ROONE/BOAC. UTNE/BLINI was a mystery to me as well. Guessed both of them correctly but had no prior knowledge of either.

I thought the middle of this puzzle was a bit sloppy for a Wednesday. AOK, OOF, OHOS, KEA/KROC. I don't think I could have done a better job myself but I also didn't love what went on there.

Really liked FLEXOR, HOME IN ON, GOTHIC, and my favorite was definitely NEUROSIS. Haven't seen that in a crossword before and thought it was refreshing.

The theme was more fun than the rest of the puzzle to me. I got CHAINLINK FENCE without a single cross which made me happy and the other two fell pretty quickly as well.

Sfingi 6:40 PM  

Barry Silk must have had a cold. This one was easy. I think this puzzle might have been harder if I were under 60.

Have Stan Freberg records. Records, not CDs or even cassettes.

I didn't get the whole theme until the end. Knew it started CH.

Had San before LOS. That's all.

I've never heard IWO, and I'm old eanough, but it was easy enough to get.

A case of ACNE on both puzzles.

Waited on sOlo/LONE, as I always wait on the 2 Tsczars.

nebraska doug 8:56 PM  

Fairly easy, but it had two answers I completely had no clue about, rare for a Wednesday. HILLEL and BOAC. Got them only because of easy crosses.

michael 9:24 PM  

As everyone has said, very easy. Moe Berg is worth learning about. He almost killed Werner Heisenberg during World War II, but decided that Heisenberg wasn't about to (for whatever reason) construct a nuclear weapon. A very odd and somewhat sad character, despite his athletic ability (even if he couldn't hit) and intelligence.

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 6:59, 6:54, 1.01, 59%, Medium
Tue 9:17, 8:56, 1.04, 64%, Medium-Challenging
Wed 9:06, 11:45, 0.77, 7%, Easy

Top 100 solvers

Mon 3:41, 3:41, 1.00, 51%, Medium
Tue 4:22, 4:35, 0.95, 42%, Medium
Wed 4:42, 5:47, 0.81, 8%, Easy

Stan 11:29 PM  

I liked everything about this puzzle, from getting tripped up with AGAST (SIC) to researching MOE Berg when finished. Good one, Mr. Silk!

Sfingi 11:34 PM  

At Utica College, at that time, a branch of SU, my husband was Vice President of Hillel, even though he wasn't Jewish. There weren't enough Jews there, but they wanted to keep the organization since it brought in speakers.

Jeff 9:46 AM  

Wasn't Moe Berg the guy who also caught a baseball dropped from the top of the Washington Monument? I semi-remember a Ripley's "Belive It or Not" piece on that stunt from long ago.

Nice how puzzles trigger memories.

Dirigonzo 3:04 PM  

Nobody in prime time mentioned it so I guess it's not an issue, but still...the clue "Can't stomach" (9a)seems to me to require an answer like "hates" (which I had until the crosses produced ABHOR.) Shouldn't the clue have been something like, "Be unable to stomach" to produce the answer without the terminal "s"?

Dirigonzo 3:15 PM  

Just came back to check the box to receive email follow-up comments. Sorry for the interruption - please go back to whatever you were doing.

Anonymous 3:50 PM  

God, I feel so old! I guess that's why I found this Wednesday puzzle so easy for a change (I'm a newbie at this NYTXWord). Not only did I know what BOAC stands for - I had a friend who worked for them in the 60s. AND I knew EVERY word of the Big Bopper's Chantilly Lace! I feel positively ancient reading all the other comments.....

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