Competitive lumberjack / SAT 2-26-11 / Gregor's sister in Metamorphosis / Hydra's neighbor / Group worshiping teocalli / Glamorous high profile pair

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Constructor: Bob Peoples

Relative difficulty: Challenging

THEME: none

Word of the Day: BIRLER (49D: Competitive) —

v. birled, birl·ing, birls
To cause (a floating log) to spin rapidly by rotating with the feet.
1. To participate in birling.
2. To spin.
A whirring noise; a hum.

[Blend of birr and whirl.]

birler n.
• • •
PFFT (57D: Indication of a dud).

As you can (maybe) see from my grid, I finished with an error. I'll eat my hat, scarf, *and* mittens if I'm the only one who made the error — BUD / DIRLER for BUB / BIRLER. Look, there are lots of things I don't know, and I certainly finish puzzles with errors from time to time, so please understand that it really isn't sour grapes that makes me say that that crossing is horrible. Fatal, even. You have to figure the percentage of the population that's going to know that BIRLER is a thing. I put that percentage at pretty small. There's no way even to infer BIRLER, to pick it over DIRLER (the way I *totally* inferred the godawful ORNIS from the word "ornithological"—52A: Avifauna). Since the cross makes *much* more sense as BUD, not BUB (who says that?) (48A: Pal), this means folks who don't know BIRLER will naturally, understandably, put in the "D." And most will go on with their days having no idea it's wrong. The clue on BUB should not have had BUD as a possible (here, more probable) answer, but I'm not sure how you do that, frankly. This really is a construction failure of the highest order. Nevermind that you ran BIRLER through ORNIS (!?) and alongside the dreaded, never-thought-I'd-see-its-ugly-ass-again SODDY (53D: Like some outfields). The rest of the grid is a toughish Saturday with some good parts and some less-than-good parts, but the middle south? Should've sent the constructor back to the drawing board.

Not a fan of gaining your difficulty through obscurity instead of tough, clever, misdirective cluing. GRETE (29A: Gregor's sister in "The Metamorphosis"), AMTRAC (42A: Amphibious W.W. II vehicle), and non-KEN Burns were all big "???"s for me. Crossing old, bygone, largely forgotten actors in the SW? Not cool. I know ED WYNN only from crosswords (64A: "The Diary of Anne Frank" Oscar nominee) and HENREID? (38D: He played Laszlo in "Casablanca") ... I just saw that damn movie and couldn't remember his name. Wasn't til I was done that I figured out what RENOS stood for (RENOvationS) (47A: Decorating do-overs, for short). Thankfully, crosswords taught me ALEN (56D: Chrysler Building architect William Van ___). Too many odd names in one small place (leaving aside MRS. MALAPROP (55A: "She's as headstrong as an allegory on the banks of Nile" speaker), who is pretty famous and just about the loveliest thing in the grid). NW and SE are charming, but the rest was a bit of a chore, except the BUB / BIRLER / ORNIS part, about which, no more.

I had two absolutely deadly mistakes—ELATION for ELYSIUM early on (8D: Perfectly happy state), and FURNACE for RAT RACE toward the end (44D: Exhausting thing to run). Oh, wait, I forgot one: COMPANY for NOT MANY (40D: Two, say).

Important toe-holds USAF in the NW (5D: Ace's setting: Abbr.), ZONE in the NE, ANAT. in the SW, and LAH in the SE (though that last one did very little for me, frankly). The saddest thing about the entire puzzle, for me, was how I was saved from near death by ... MR. MISTER (32A: Band with the 1985 #1 hit "Broken Wings"), a band I once almost got beat up for mocking (true story—that guy *really* liked MR. MISTER...). These sensitive '80s rockers floated down and, like a guardian angel or mystical spirit guide, completely cracked open the upper part of the grid for me. Without MR. MISTER (whispering "Take / These broken wings / And learn to fly again / Learn to live so free..."), I might still be working with ELATION. So, despite finding their music cloying and semi-repulsive, I offer my thanks.

Sticking with '80s pop, here's the RIC (58A: Documentarian Burns) I wish I'd gotten:

Started out with IT COUPLE (1A: Glamorous, high-profile pair)—how lucky was that?—and then quickly ran into my ELATION problem. ZONE helped me get AZTECS (9A: Group worshiping at a teocalli), which made NE not so tough—though it took me many, many crosses to come up with SPENSER (14D: One-named fictional detective), which I always assumed was a last name, not an ENYA-type single name. Guessed ELIS at 25A: Big Red rivals out of crossword reflex. I assume Big Red is Cornell. Crossword reflexes helped again in the SE, where my sense that [Longtime classical music label] must be a "Saturday" way of getting at the ultra-common ERATO helped me get past FURNACE and into RAT RACE.

Lastly, [Inveterate brown-bagger] is perhaps my favorite clue ever for SOT.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


Anonymous 8:14 AM  

I had BUB, but getting that R in BIRLER took about 26 tries.... (that was my last to fall)

Didn't much like ROES either.

nanpilla 8:44 AM  

So glad to see this one rated challenging. I got BUB, but had BuRLER instead of BIRLER. I was thinking burl wood, I guess. Agree that section was a bear. Looking at my grid, I had so many things written in very lightly, which is a good thing. I had GO ALL OUT for THINK BIG, which messed up the SW for a long time. Didn't trust that we would get PENAL again, and LADLES seemed way too easy. Once they were in, though, the NW fell fairly easily.

I only just got that HAM was the son of Noah - argh!

Smitty 8:47 AM  

Almost...but DNF.
My first clue that this would be death by obscurity was getting all the way to the end without a single entry -a clear warning not to fall for the obvious KEN Burns....Luckily I had just watched "Into the Deep", about the ill-fated whaler Essex -by his brother RIC.
I guessed my way through the lower half, but I too had COMPANY for NOT MANY - and CRUMPLE for TRAMPLE and made hamburger out of the ROLLER (BIRLER) GASPORT (GUNPORT) OYSOS (??) section

It was fair and square,so I'd rate it enjoyable- in a self-mutilating sort of way.

How is ARK a ham preserver?

foodie 8:50 AM  


I'm with you all the way! ELATION and COMPANY were very hard to get rid of, but fair enough. But that lower center area was a bear, and the number of obscurity was too high.

An Andrea-influenced, self induced complication: I wrote MRSMALAPpOP!!
So, that BIRLER dude became dIpLER. A better title if you ask me...

Smitty 8:50 AM  

OK thanks @Napilla, you answered my question.

You made a good point about LADLES - I grew to distrust any obvious answers after a while ...

Anonymous 9:07 AM  

In the Will Shortz era, BIRL has been used 6 times as "roleo competitor" (or some variation thereof), so it was easy for me to deduce.

I had about 10 write-overs but eventually got it all correct with no outside help.

Good Sat in my book. I also notice that Mr. Peoples has the LA Times puzzle today (a rare double) which I'll get to shortly.


Anonymous 9:09 AM  

@Smitty - Ham was Noah's son.

Anonymous 9:10 AM  

Morning fogginess here, but why were make-up classes "Anat" (Anatomy). The question mark made me think of cosmetology. Sorry to be so dense.

Rex Parker 9:12 AM  

Worth adding to kratsman's BIRL info that BIRL hasn't appeared at all since Mar. 19, 2005 (a good year and a half before I started this blog, which is probably why it's a big ??? to me).

Rex Parker 9:12 AM  

The make-up of bodies = body parts = anatomy.

Howard B 9:13 AM  

Very tough. Only knew BIRLER from puzzles (in clues for ROLEO, of all things), otherwise that's brutal. ORNIS was also rough. My last answer was IT COUPLE, which was alien to me. I finally dropped IN COUPLE in there, until the crossings ironed that out. Not a pop-culture vulture, so just never happened to run across that term.

We all have a 'BIRLER' as our nemesis lurking somewhere in this grid :).

balto 9:14 AM  

I agree with the BIRLER/BUB cross problem -- although I'm kicking myself a little bit because I just saw BIRLER in another xword in the last week.

But in general this sort of thing is an xword plague -- no one says BUB or BUD or PAL anymore as far as I know. Too many times we see what is essentially archaic language that is totally out of use, masquerading as common speech.

I got EARCANDY early -- so I had ELY... and immediately thought of ELYSIUM -- probably because of my love of robe and sandal epics; e.g., from Gladiator (Maximus speaking): "If you find yourself alone, riding in the green fields with the sun on your face, do not be troubled. For you are in Elysium, and you're already dead!"

I love that stuff!

123 in a series of Epic Fails 9:22 AM  

This puzzle gave me a good, no, a great idea. Instead of having a $39.99 subscription for all the puzzles, why not a $30.00 for Sun - Thurs, and $39.99 for the whole week? I could save myself both $9.99 the feeling, which I get twice per week, of being a Justin Beeber look-alike tossed into the yard at Attica at general rec time while the guards are off having a smoke or something.

Greene 9:33 AM  

This was a completely joyless puzzle for me. I expect to struggle on a Saturday, but usually reap some kind of pleasure from the effort. This puzzle? Slog with a side order of slog (generously peppered with slog on top) and slog pudding for dessert!

I think the only thing that made me smile was the presence of MRS. MALAPROP. But that's not even her best line. How about "He's the very pine-apple of politeness."? After a long time I remembered ED WYNN had been in The Diary of Ann Frank, but why clue on of the great clowns of the 20th century for that role? Saturday hard you say? It would have been sufficiently difficult had he been clued as "Ziegfeld headliner" or "Laughter lover from Mary Poppins" as far as I'm concerned.

I can't remember the last time the puzzle made this cranky. I did finish, but gad what a struggle. Hope everybody else had a better time.

On a completely unrelated note, I got text from IMSDave last night after he finished seeing Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark" Quoth Dave: "OMG. Worst show ever!" If memory serves, I was pretty cranky after that disaster as well.

glimmerglass 9:37 AM  

As others have said, BUB/BIRLER was fair and a reasonable Saturday combination. Sour grapes, Rex. This puzzle gave me fits, but after two hours, I did get it right. Lots of stuff I didn't know and had to get with crosses or infer (HENREID, RENOS, MRMISTER, GRETE, ITCOUPLE -- is that like the IT girl?). The not-Ken Burns was typical Saturday -- I had Ken for a long time. And that awful ORNIS! I thought ANAT was a reach. I'm not sure how the IRS knows a return is "false" at the beginning (which is when red flags show up).

Entrap Vapor 9:50 AM  

blurgh. Rex, IHEARYA!

fikink 9:55 AM  

"Not a fan of gaining your difficulty through obscurity instead of tough, clever, misdirective cluing."

I agree. For me, this was a failed macraméing attempt, with knots untied, retied, and finally a jumble of grannies.

RENOS - what? really? we just don't have time for full words anymore? Which reminds me, apparently there was a recent overheard conversation between two girls on their cells saying things like:
"EL OH EL" and "EL EM AY OH"

retired_chemist 10:02 AM  

I enjoyed it. Challenging but doable. No pre-solve googling and no errors.

BIRLER went in as one of my first answers with no crosses. I could mot tell you where I know it from - the picture in my mind is from a 1940's era movie cartoon of Popeye and Bluto birling, but that may be entirely apocryphal. BUB - our RENO guy calls me (and, probably, most of the other clients he is on good terms with) BUBBA, so I buy it.

Lucked out with AMSTEL and LEICA - there were a lot of other choices. MR. MISTER is totally unknown to me and I would have been just as happy with a fake clue dealing with household plants.

ED WYNN in The Diary of Anne Frank? Who knew? I knew I knew Paul HENREID but it took several crosses to draw it out. Remembered Grigor Samsa's sister as having a fairly common name but again it took some crosses to elicit GRETE. I was an Asst. Prof. at Cornell in the sixties but did not/do not remember the nickname Big Red. But there it is when googled.

Uglies: ORNIS, SODDY, PFFT, and (for me) especially UNTAPE. MRS MALAPROP leads a long list of cool fill that makes up for the uglies.

Thanks, Mr. Peoples.

Anonymous 10:05 AM  

Echo glimmerglass on the IRS "red flag." A false return is a violation. A red flag is something suspicious that would make the IRS examine a return more closely.

Rex, your point about Spenser is valid. In the books, he only USES his last name, but it's understood (maybe made explicit at some point) that he HAS a first name.

Liked MRS MALAPROP and also OTC for "Needing no script."

Rex Parker 10:09 AM  

For an example of what a tough late-week puzzle *should* look like, please see today's Newsday Saturday Stumper by Mr. Doug Peterson. Gold.

Bob Kerfuffle 10:15 AM  

Glad I'm not the only one who found this challenging!

Hey, a theme: MR MISTER and MRS MALAPROP!

I agree with glimmerglass et al: FALSE RETURN is not properly clued.

And I was slow to get why ANAT instead of COSM.

I thought I had finished correctly, but coming to the blog I see I had made what I will call a homophonic error: BURLER for BIRLER, giving the seemingly reasonable ORNUS.

Otherwise, had one write-over at KEN / RIC Burns.

Bob Kerfuffle 10:18 AM  

And now, since Google seems to ask me to sign in every day, whether I have turned off my computer or not, can anyone tell me how to get the box that says "_ Email follow-up comments to . . ." the first time I post a comment? As it used to be before I went on vacation?

Anonymous 10:28 AM  

I couldn't see the malaprop in the clue for Mrs MALAPROP then finally figured out it was allegory for alligator. The problem is, there are no alligators in the Nile, only crocodiles.

mac 10:36 AM  

I loved the top half of this puzzle, just filled in all the answers. Then the rest had to be teased out slowly and methodically.

OK: had Ken for Ric, Irene for Grete, birds for ornis, Oberon for Ed Wynn, eye check for "try these", Decca for Erato, bud was there to stay, so you see I worked myself into several holes. Liked the Mr. and Mrs. together, disliked "untape" the most.

Amazing how the - in bird-dogs makes it into a verb!

Condolences to Andrea for the loss of her father.

Frances SC 10:40 AM  

From Wikipedia...

"Parker and his wife had two sons, David and Daniel T. Originally, Spenser was to have the first name "David," but he didn't want to omit his other son. He removed the first name completely, and, to this day, Spenser's first name remains unknown."

Brian 10:46 AM  

Complete unsatisfying. I like Fridays and Saturdays, and can usually solve them (or most of them). This was a complete waste of an hour for -- especially after looking at the answers and realizing that I would never have gotten it anyhow.

Kudos to those who figured it out, but for this slightly-above-average solver with a slightly-above-average amount of knowledge in his head, this puzzle offered zero fun.

Lindsay 11:00 AM  

What a disaster. My first answer in was "Ken" and it went downhill from there. Thought I'd bottomed out with last Sunday's bar puzzle, but apparently not.

Got BUB, no problem, but my lumberjack isn't much of a speller, which led to BeRLER crossing eRNeS crossing eLSEN(???).

Then I had seeME for my "curt command" and while sRETE was obviously GRETE (unless it was arete masquerading as a proper name) I couldn't figure out how to get there because I had convinced myself that 36A was "due" as in due west might be heading westward without too much exactitude. The resulting 33D ?UA seemed plausible as an Italian possessive adjective, given that right above at 28A we had an example of such an adjective in SUA.

Not to mention the dOES/dOdOS stack standing watch over the gateway to the NE, though unlike ernes et al. they were eventually banished and replaced with correct entries.


Have a good weekend everyone.

Unknown 11:01 AM  

This was definitely a toughie. Like Rex, I had ELATION for a long while till I had a brainwave on MRMISTER and got that section.

I'm proud that I cracked the SW - after a lot of time and brainsearching. But I had ERNES instead of ORNIS - so two squares off.

nebraska doug 11:04 AM  

Totally humbling. Haven't been crushed by a puzzle this badly in a long time. Utterly destroyed me.

Mel Ott 11:15 AM  

Challenging indeed!

I actually got the BUB/BIRLER cross because various versions of BIRL are fairly common crosswordese. And I vaguely remember BUB as a 1940's usage.

My Waterloo was the stack of GRETE (where I wanted Irene) over MR MISTER, which is totally unknown to me. Went nuts trying to get a command starting with I.

I miss Robert B. Parker and Spenser already. I'm not sure Mr. Parker himself ever told us that Spenser was either a first or last name. It was just his name. This may be an excuse to re-read all the Spenser novels! Oh boy!

Norm 11:17 AM  

Agree completely that there was too much obscurity and ugly words to make this enjoyable. And, a "false return" is a NOT a red flag for the IRS; a red flag is what tips them off that you filed a false return. Thought that one was bass-ackwards, as Dad would say.

David L 11:32 AM  

Total failure here. Got MRSMALAPROP, but that was about the only name I knew, with the exception of KEN, who was wrong anyway, and RED, which was the wrong Calif river. Spent about 40 minutes with this, realized I wasn't going to get much further without extensive googling, so abandoned ship.

Shouldn't OTC be clued as an abbreviation? That threw me off. Like others, wanted something cosmetological instead of ANAT, and I agree that FALSERETURN doesn't make sense, as clued. Well, I have plenty more I could gripe about, but I won't bore you. This one just totally did me in.

retired_chemist 11:33 AM  

Fun times today, checking out clue/answer pairs I could only get from crosses.

I had thought Erato Records would be well known, just not to me. Check the link - IMO it is truly too obscure. @Rex is right - must be a "Saturday" way of using ERATO as an answer. But the clue does not appear even once previously in the NYT xwordinfo. In retrospect, boo.

But amtrac, for some reason, though comparably obscure, did not irk me. A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin etc......

Also hand up for COSM(etology) before ANAT(omy). and DOLTS/DOPES/DODOS @ 26A.

PuzzleNut 11:41 AM  

Fell into the BUd trap, but BIRLER is in my wheelhouse, so that got fixed fairly easily.
Had EDrYaN and LeiNEE for quite a while in the SW, thinking INASTir, HENREed and ALEa were all good answers. Fortunately the LeiNEE just didn't look right and reversing the I and E let me fix everything.
My downfall was the MRMISTER area. It didn't help that I was "sure" that ELYSIan was correct, which made me question the ECARD. GRETE was completely out of my league and GIMME was tough with only the ME in place. I wrote in seeME and sRETE made about as much sense as GRETE. Knowing MRMISTER would have been a godsend, but it wasn't there.
Agree that UNTAPE was pretty ugly. Had I read the CUPRITE clue as a red ore rather than a red one, that section would have been a lot easier.

quilter1 11:44 AM  

DNF. Could not give up Ken Burns as I never head of RIC. Worked out the NE and SW but failed NW and SE. I had some right answers but too much obscurity to connect the dots. Oh well, there is always tomorrow.

mac 11:48 AM  

How do we get to Doug's Newsday puzzle again? Without a subscription, I mean?

bko 11:55 AM  

Ish. Ick. Yuck. I agree with Greene- cranky-making!

David 12:03 PM  

1st time poster, LOVE Rex's blog and all of your responses! Hated FALSE RETURN for reasons mentioned above, but crossings made it too difficult to ignore. KEN/RIC Burns killed me for a while, but the lower 8 letter crossings (not tough) helped me see the light. Also initially had IN COUPLE, but once I HEAR YA fell then TEA ROOM became obvious. Thought for 1 second about ED WOOD, but even ED WYNN makes only slightly more sense, given his claim to fame. Enjoyable "mini-themed" puzzle!

retired_chemist 12:08 PM  

Apparently RIC BURNS is Ken Burns's brother. I apparently saved myself some grief in the SE buy not knowing either.

Bob Kerfuffle 12:10 PM  

@mac - For the Newsday puzzle, try

Tobias Duncan 12:12 PM  

Could someone explain Man to man alternative/ZONE to me?
Good lord, DNF does not even come close to describing what happened to me today.
I was so proud of nailing the ORNUS/BURLER crossing .... fffuuuuuuuuu.......

Anonymous 12:15 PM  

Newsday pdf here:


Or a solving applet here:


David 12:15 PM  

man to man and zone are different types of defenses used in basketball....

SethG 12:16 PM  

MR MISTER was my first answer.

For [Glamorous, high-profile pair] I was looking for shoes. For [Light pop] I tried DIET SODA. For TOTTERS, I went with TEETERS. For RENOS I was looking for a fake word, not a fake fake word. And add me to the lists for COSM, for finding fault with FALSE RETURN, and for not enjoying solving this puzzle.

Another tip 12:21 PM  

@David L

The *script* (for prescription) in the clue signals OTC as a shortie.

Tobias Duncan 12:30 PM  

@Dara Ugg obscure sports clue with no warning. I guess thats fair on a sat.
thanks for educating me!

Tobias Duncan 12:34 PM  

Damn I though OTC stood for "off the cuff"
I am just flailing today

retired_chemist 12:40 PM  

@ Tobias D - zone vs. man-to-man defense is far from obscure. I can believe that some are not into sports enough to know it, but that would apply, mutatis mutandis, to a lot of cluing. In a lot of areas, any day of the week, some know it and some do not. That's what makes it fun.....

Two Ponies 12:42 PM  

Top half was easy. Bottom half trampled me.
Ear candy was nice as was Mr. & Mrs.
As my mom used to say "If you can't say something nice ..."

JC66 12:53 PM  

Knew BIRLER, but that's little consolation since I experienced most of the other problems mentioned. A real bear.

Also agree w/@rex about today's Newsweek Saturday Stumper. Highly recommend it.

Unknown 1:28 PM  

Another example of generational differences. I luckily knew "birler" for some reason. Most of the other clues that Rex found obscure were the easier ones for me because of having a couple of decades on him. Ark is a Ham preserver because Ham was one of Noah's sons, who was "preserved" by being on Noah's ark. I had to think for a long time after getting that one, too. I think one had to be over 60 or so to find this less than especially challenging for a Saturday.

PuzzleNut 1:33 PM  

Anyone else notice that Bob Peoples had the puzzles in both the NYT and the LAT. Further, the answer INASTEW was in both of them.

foodie 1:39 PM  

I hope SanFranMan will make an appearance today. I believe this is one of the tougher ones we've seen in a while. Last week, when I posted the Quick & Dirty Index, someone wisely suggested an alteration of my formula in case no one finishes the puzzle in the first 15 minutes after it posts (i.e. 10:15 pm). I said it was a great idea, although I have yet to see it happen. Well, it almost did. Orange was the only one who had completed this baby before 10:15 pm last night. I imagine a lot of people got hung up on this one spot that Rex identified.

Needless to say QDI puts this at Very Challenging.

I feel DIM, but I really have to twist my head around to get that ANAT clue...

Rex Parker 1:47 PM  

Thanks for being so thoughtful about this difficulty issue, foodie. What's really funny is that you are the scientist, but *I* got ANAT. easily. It was my first guess for that clue.

I think there is a thing that happens, which I'm going to call "professional blindess," which is that we don't do well w/ slippery or strange clues on answers in the realm of our expertise.

For instance, I tanked a literature clue in today's LAT that my wife (not a literature Ph.D.) put in with no crosses. Me: "I ... I ... we just would never have referred to *those* guys *that* way, so that answer never occurred to me." But on reflection, I think the answer is probably very much in-the-language. But I think of the term as more touristy than properly literary. Point is, I should've been all over any clue about Wordsworth and Coleridge, and I just wasn't. Professional blindness.


Anonymous 1:51 PM  

after bombing on both the nytsat puzzle and the newsday satstumper i am glad that i get the sunday nytimes puzzle on sat or i'd be completely bummed! well maybe i should go back to my "fouton" (my captcha).

archaeoprof 1:54 PM  

What @Rex, @Mac, and @Foodie said.

Non-puzzle biology-prof wife teaches anatomy. Have absolutely never heard her use the term "makeup" as clued today.

Jim 2:05 PM  

Lot of buzzing today. Well, this was a pretty interesting hive.

Also got ITCOUPLE right away, somewhat miraculously...though I thought it initially was InCOUPLE. NW went OK from there. Was working my way across to the NE OK when stopped dead in my tracks by FALSE-. False what? Statement? Deduction? Teeth? Put in FALSERETURN and moved on. Was devastated when it turned out to be right. How could a false return be a red flag for the IRS? They don't KNOW it's false until they red-flag you (then, presumably, audit you). That's the craziest clue I think I've ever seen.

Had PIG for ARK for a while.

Had PTBOAT and KEN in the SE. So, my (ultimately correct) crosses were taken out.

Came here. Snagged three or four, then finished. Good workout. Couple really good ones today. Great job, Mr Peoples. But get rid of that bogus IRS clue. I know it's Saturday, but that was trying to be too clever by half. 'No-no for the IRS' would've been just fine. More important, it would've been accurate. Toodles.

mitchs 2:07 PM  

@everyone who recommended the Sat. Stumper, THANKS!

Last Saturday was my best time - this puzzle I DNF. In fact, I barely was able to start! My worst performance in forever.

Rube 2:14 PM  

Thx Rex for the explanation of your issue with Coleridge and Wordsworth in the LAT. I was beginning to worry when I, an engineer, got that one with only a few crosses.

DNF the Sat NYT. Out of my league.

R. McGeddon 2:23 PM  

I got bogged down by putting in dOE for the type of deer and IrEAdYA for 1 down

joho 2:27 PM  

I like @Two Ponies found the top half very doable while the bottom half did me in.

I didn't enjoy this one. I don't mind when a puzzle is tough and fun. This was just tough to me. Congratulations to Bob Peoples, though, for his doubleheader.

David 2:29 PM  

My wife (Dara, I'm actually Dave) is taking nursing classes, including 2 Anatomy & Physiology courses, so by fortune that one came easy to me)

A disappointed would-be LAT solver 2:30 PM  

@PuzzleNut and @Rex Parker:

Is posting spoilers for TODAY's LAT puzzle appropriate?

@Rex, as you're one of those who did it, should you review the policy (if any) in this regard?

Anonymous 2:37 PM  

@retired_chemist, you make a lot of good points about the puzzle. However complaining about fresh cluing for erato is not one of them. I think that fresh cluing on a Saturday puzzle is refreshing. It wasn't too obscure as I wrote it in without any crosses and I am not into classical music. If I had not known it, the crosses were pretty easy.

@Rex, I get the clear impression from week to week that you like puzzles in your wheelhouse and dislike those that give you trouble. I consider them all a fun challenge.

I actually watched Birlers compete live in another decade when I lived in another part of the country, but couldn't dredge the word up from memory, so I messed up that spot. Didn't keep me from enjoying the puzzle.

Howard B 2:58 PM  

Rex nailed it on the expertise blindness comment. I learned of the answer he references through my wife, who happened to visit the particular area referenced by the answer. I personally have no experience in that area, but if I were an English major, I would have not known the answer; as Rex said, it's not an academic term but more of a geographical / tourist one.

I've blanked on answers before where I should have solved it from the clue, but simply either overthought it by thinking in too detailed or technical a manner to see the correct answer.

Rex Parker 3:19 PM  

I spoiled nothing. Did I post an answer? Part of an answer? No. Did I discuss a clue? Yes. But so what. Nothing is "spoiled."

Many constructors and solvers I know (who don't post here regularly) did Not like today's NYT. Wish they chimed in more, but I think there's a "professional courtesy" thing in play.

If you want to tell yourself my reasons for not liking this puz aren't valid, or if you want to foster pet theories about why I like what I like, more power to you. It's a free country. And, as long as you aren't profane and don't comment more than three times unless it's an emergency, it's a free blog.


Clark 3:58 PM  

I got trounced, TRAMPLEd, massacred. Let me pile on the IRS complaint; Bad clue! I love how LIENEE is the reverse of what you might think. Mortgagor = LIENEE; mortgagee = lienor. Now I will retire to the little kids' table while you grown-up solvers carry on here.

foodie 4:14 PM  

Rex, thank you. Your concept of "professional blindness" is very interesting, and of course carries way past crossword puzzles.

I remember being on a search committee for a high level administrative position at our place. We interviewed a range of candidates at a time when the issue of affirmative action in college admissions was raging. Almost every candidate had a very smooth, well articulated position on the topic. The person who struggled the most? A distinguished lawyer who was a first amendment scholar. Yet he had very clear views about the future of science education...

PB--Definitely something to keep in mind :)

I skip M-W 4:16 PM  

I took nearly two hours last night, but finished correctly, after removing numerous bad tries. Knew Ken Burns had a brother, but not his name. Tried "mr.Keene" as in the old radio show, much parodied, "Mr. Keene," tracer of lost persons, before hit on "Spencer," that then became Spenser, had eye chart and then eye check before try these, gun hole before gun port, Ed Ward before Ed Wynn. Angel before Erato, Nikon before Leica, Ernes before Ornis. Had Bud at first, but was sure Dirler was wrong, and then saw, Bub Birler. Birling was once on TV news, back in fifties. Agree about false return, but by then didn't quibble. Mrs. Malaprop saved me. In 18th c.; when "The Rivals" was written, difference between alligator and crocodile not well known, I bet.
I'd go along with Thurs-Sun sub, if I didnt' subscribe ot the paper Times every day.

Ruth 4:28 PM  

@ R. McGeddon: love the nom de blog! Very appropriate for today.

treedweller 4:33 PM  

Brutally defeated again. Worst part was, this morning I almost instantly got that awful song stuck in my head but still couldn't come up with MRMISTER (or much of anything). Then ran an errand and returned to the puzzle; still got clobbered, gave up, and now Rex's writeup has got the damn song stuck in there again.

Were there things I liked about the puzzle? yes, but NOTMANY.

@SethG solidarity on the DIETSODA mistake

@Rex you flirted with a spoiler but avoided it, I'd say; PuzzleNut gave an answer. (and, @disappointed, Rex does have a no-spoiler policy which is generally adhered to but occasionally one slips by--and I bet PN's comment disappears soon).

jae 4:57 PM  

This took me forever. I thought the North (esp. NW) had some pretty good stuff... IHEARYA, EARCANDY, but I am completely with Rex on the problems in the middle. I got it right but the South was a major struggle (I too left KEN in for far too long). For me the bad outweighed the good in this one.

quilter1 5:50 PM  

So very sorry for your loss, Andrea.

Martin 6:00 PM  

A prior year audit uncovering additional tax due greatly increases your chances of future audits. In other words, last year's false return is this year's red flag.

michael 6:21 PM  

average Saturday in speeds for me. No mistakes (unusual for a Saturday.) I think I'm getting better at late-week puzzles, at least judging from the comments about the difficulty of this one. . Knew birler, don't like false return. Glad to see my alma mater (Big Red) in the puzzle, if only in a clue.

sanfranman59 6:35 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
Thu 20:23, 19:07, 1.07, 71%, Medium-Challenging
Fri 24:00, 26:10, 0.92, 33%, Easy-Medium
Sat 42:41, 30:34, 1.40, 100%, (super) Challenging

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
Thu 10:05, 9:12, 1.10, 74%, Medium-Challenging
Fri 12:09, 12:50, 0.95, 43%, Medium
Sat 26:36, 17:24, 1.53, 100%, (super) Challenging

I'm on the job, Foodie. This puzzle eclipses Bob "The Wrath of" Klahn's 11/7/2009 puzzle as the toughest of 80 Saturday puzzles in my spreadsheet for both groups of solvers. Only 230 people posted times online--the fewest in my spreadsheet and about 100 less than a typical Saturday. The 1.40 and 1.53 ratios are the 11th and 6th highest for any of the 521 NYT puzzles I've tracked over the last 20 months. In other words, this was a thorough butt-whoopin' for most solvers.

As Anon @ 9:07am pointed out, those of us who did today's LA Times puzzle were "treated" to a double-dose of Bob Peoples (might it be that Klahn has a nom de guerre?). I managed to fight my way through the LAT puzzle (with my 2nd slowest Saturday time of 49 I've recorded ... not counting 7 DNFs), but needed to cheat a couple of times to complete the bottom half of the NYT puzzle. And this, in spite of getting BUB/BIRLER.

Norm 6:38 PM  

@ Martin. Very true re a last year's false return. A decent post hoc justification, but I doubt that's what either Bob or Will had in mind -- or what the clue calls for. Still have to call that one a fail.

jberg 6:44 PM  

I grew up in Wisconsin, where we learned all about Paul Bunyan and saw lots of movies about birling in school -- only I always thought it was burling. So I had bub all right, but ornus -- which in my opinion is just as good as ornis!

JaxInL.A. 6:46 PM  

What @Greene said, except I barely even started, so DNF seems mild. Slogfest and no fun.

It's late in the day, so it may be that no one sees this question, but is there a difference between Malaprop (as in today's puzzle) and malapop which I see here regularly? Is the latter a misspelling of the former?

Thanks for the tip on the Newsday puz, Rex, or I'd still have this terrible taste in my mouth.

Andrea, I am so very sorry to hear of your loss. We are never ready to give up those we love.

Sparky 6:53 PM  

Filled in only the NW. Then came SPENSER and HENRieD only because Lorree too short. Gave up after several come backs. Comments informative today. Thanks Rex and one and all. Well, there's tomorrow.

Norm 6:56 PM  

Have not seen (or paid attention to) "malapop" (if it ever appeared), but I'd have to call it an evil cola at best (sounds like a Matt Gaffney clue).

Sparky 6:58 PM  

So sorry, Andrea. My sincere condolences.

Jim 6:58 PM  


I'll buy that. Is that what you thought as you read the clue, or revisionist justification? I know that doesn't mean we SHOULDN'T have read the clue that way, but I'd like at least one person to say they honestly did so. Thanks.

mac 6:58 PM  

@JaxInL.A.: malapop is an invention of (I think) Andrea, and it means a good answer pops up in the wrong place, later to be found in a right place. Someone may want to correct my explanation...

Jim 7:02 PM  

If memory serves, re: some malapop discussion in the past, it is some particularly piquant wrong answer (i.e., I had pig for ARK today--I think mine is better...that kind of thing). Someone feel free to correct or expound on my reply.

joho 7:19 PM  

@mac ... yes, Andrea most definitely coined malapop. I guess the best way to describe it is when you write in an answer at, let's say 1A and have to erase it because you discover its wrong, only to find out that its the right answer at other place in the puzzle, let's say 17D.

Happens to me all the time!

Glitch 8:30 PM  

@Quilter1,@Sparky or @JaxInLA

Andrea -- ??


mmorgan 9:40 PM  

I was away most of today and only had five minutes to look at this. Got KEN and ELATION and got nowhere. Looked pretty nasty, and after skimming these comments, I feel it's just as well I had no time for it.

Just finished Sunday -- nice!

Andrea... so sorry... My deepest condolences.

Anonymous 10:06 PM  

This puzzle ranks in my books as one of the most difficult and inelegant Saturday puzzles of all times. Artificial difficulty created by including obscurities. Granted Saturdays are difficult for me. But on this one I got only ACURA on the first pass. Oh yes I guessed ASTAIRES for 1A and MARC ANTHONY for 55A. Not a good beginning!
Google helped me fill the SW corner but the other answers from Google did not give me a toehold on any other area. Just too many obscurities.
I agree with all of Rex comments. Glad this is over. Had to get it off my chest.

Anonymous 11:28 AM  

I hated this puzzle. Worst Saturday puzzle ever. Like someone else said, completely joyless. There are answers I STILL don't get, i.e.: "class with many makeup exams" = "anat" why? And many others are just obscurity for obscurity's sake.

Anonymous 12:51 PM  

Big Red is the *official* nickname of the Cornell sports teams. The official nickname of the Yale teams is the Bulldogs. ELIS is a nickname for all Yalies and is entirely unofficial. So that clue didn't really work for me.

miami 2:58 PM  

Birler/Ornis is indeed a too-too cross, even for a Saturday. My other gripe is that the slang for a prescription is a 'scrip,' not a 'script.' Happily, zone vs. man-to-man pass defenses also are common in football, as I'd never have gotten a basketball-only clue.

OISK 3:49 PM  

Had a couple of errors (bud, of course) but I did finish in over an hour. Agree with all of those who disliked this puzzle - never heard of MrMister, but thanks to my English teachers for MrsMalaprop. I had dodos instead of yoyos,which cost me a lot of time. Still, I finished, which I did not last Thursday..

Anonymous 10:09 PM  

Didn't it bother anoyone that 89A could have been either SOV or SOC?
Unchecked letters is one thing, but unchecked letters that could be one of two things is pretty sloppy.

Anonymous 4:13 AM  

I was so attached to EARLYRETURN I found myself inventing a whole way of thinking about IRS methodology, which made me glad I have not ever submitted one early. But then I found it was FALSE, both the answer and the theory.

Anonymous 3:03 PM  

This was the first puzzle worthy of the name in ages, absolutely ages. I wish they'd all be like this.

william e emba 7:58 PM  

I started this late Sunday night--hah, I have never heard of KEN Burns, and I knew of BIRLing from I-have-no-idea where--and finished all but the three rows at the bottom of the SW. (I had first written in BURLER, but I didn't believe it, and then I remembered ORN?S is Greek.)

I went to bed, and during the day today, slowly, very slowly, I got one more square at a time. Just as I was about to finish, I got my fresh-off-the-press pre-ordered copy of Edie Ernst: USO Singer in the mail and in browsing through--I had already read it daily online--came across this panel. Well, that only made me 100% certain about two letter I was already 50% certain of at the time. That was a very enjoyable way to finish a puzzle I thoroughly enjoyed.

I suspect I was the only solver who first wrote in MRSISTER. I mean, MR-abbreviated MISTER-unabbreviated isn't logical, right? Then I remembered, Mamma MIA, it's a band name.

Anonymous 3:29 PM  

you were much too nice. This puzzle bit. Soddy?? C'mon.

Jainesy 10:24 PM  

I just finished this god-forsaken grid. It took me two and a half weeks. At first I thought it was awesome. But now, I think not. My brain - it hurts. Oh, must drink now.


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Deniz Bevan 2:06 PM  

Professional blindness - yes! Happens to me all the time. I'm glad there's a term for it :-)

Ricamobal 2:54 PM  

I'm much slower than most on this board. But got everything except Bub/Birler. Getting almost to the end was very satisfying, but I had to go through many cycles of working it and putting it aside for a few days. But I agree w/Rex et al. Too many awkward force-fits in the cluing leading to answers that no one ever actually says. Esp. "SODDY outfield", LIENEE (I was trying to choose between LESSEE and LOANEE), RENOS, and UNTAPE,

Unless it comes with a question mark, TRY THESE is a suggestion, not an offer.

TRAMPLE was OK, but with just TR, I was stuck on TROUNCE for a long time.

Kudos, however, for the cluing on SOT and RATRACE.

Anton Sherwood 4:21 AM  

I thought "shoot for the stars" was a celebrity PHOTO-something, so "two" must be TOO MANY ...

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