Feature of many Judd Apatow films / MON 2-21-11 / 1971 Gay Talese title derived Ten Commandments / 1950s-60s TV studio / Flavorful citrus parts

Monday, February 21, 2011

Constructor: Ed Sessa

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: NWES (64A: Compass points (seen spelled out in 20-, 26-, 43- and 53-Across))— EAST, WEST, SOUTH, and NORTH, respectively, are found embedded in four theme answers

Word of the Day: PHINEAS T. BARNUM (20A: He's famous for the words "There's a sucker born every minute") —

Phineas Taylor Barnum (July 5, 1810 – April 7, 1891) was an American showman, businessman, and entertainer, remembered for promoting celebrated hoaxes and for founding the circus that became the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. (wikipedia)
• • •

Did not care for this one at all. How did I dislike it: let me count the ways:
  1. NSEW is a wreck of a revealer, a nonsense letter combo that has no business posing as legitimate fill; further,
  2. The directions don't even appear in that order in the grid! I mean maybe, Maybe if NSEW represented the order of appearance of the directions, I would tolerate it. But as you can see, the directions appear not in the order NORTH SOUTH EAST WEST, but EAST, WEST, SOUTH, NORTH; further,
  3. Only one theme answer has the ideal structure for a theme of this nature, where the embedded word touches every element of the theme answer—GROSS-OUT HUMOR works, whereas the others leave words hung out in mid-air (BARNUM, UNITED, and FATHER don't have any part of the directions inside them)
  4. No one calls him PHINEAS T. BARNUM. He's P.T. BARNUM, or, I suppose, PHINEAS TAYLOR BARNUM. To write out the P. but not the T. feels arbitrary and preposterous.
Non-themewise, the fill is dull and tired. Maybe if I hadn't spent the better part of today trying to fill an easy, Monday-type grid with perfectly smooth fill, I wouldn't have been so annoyed by the fill today, but in an easy Monday puzzle, most of the following should be gone (not all—most): ADESTE, ILS, DIDST (ugh), BLEST (2x ugh), IMNO, CZAR, IAMA, ODER, ORIEL, ATARIS (plural), ERS, NAE, DTS, ORO, ETS. No one of those is very terrible, but it's a lot of unlovely and tired stuff for an easy puzzle. Strangely, this is a 74-worder (low for a Mon.), but it has a boatload of black squares (40), so it looks all chopped up and more like a 78-worder, and certainly. The higher the word count, the easier a puzzle grid is to fill smoothly. I'd have worked harder to fill this more cleanly. I guess with all the black squares, you couldn't really drop the word count on this one any more, though. Theme answers are of an "inconvenient" length (12+), which necessitated or at least encouraged the insertion of those chunks of black that wrap around and hug one end of each theme answer. Whatever—end result is a mess. And conceptually, as I say, I didn't think the mess was nearly worth it. I did like HEY, MAN! (46D: "Yo!"), BUS FARE (42D: Money for a trip across town, say), and especially UNDULANT (11D: Like a wave).

Wife thinks it should have been CAB FARE and not BUS FARE, and my friend Donna doesn't like [Baby's headgear] as a clue for BONNET. "It's disturbing imagery. When I think of "headgear," I think of things that support the head or protect the head or adjust the teeth ... or things for people who fall a lot. Babies just don't do that." Her alternative clue: [Something nobody wears except Laura Ingalls Wilder].

Theme answers:
  • 20A: He's famous for the words "There's a sucker born every minute" (PHINEAS T. BARNUM)
  • 26A: Words of solidarity (UNITED WE STAND)
  • 43A: Feature of many a Judd Apatow films (GROSS-OUT HUMOR)
  • 53A: 1971 Gay Talese title derived from one of the Ten Commandmenets ("HONOR THY FATHER")

I think GROSS-OUT HUMOR is going to give people mild trouble today—it's not something that leaps to mind when I think of Apatow's movies, though it's perfectly accurate. Also, perhaps people aren't that familiar with the Talese title. I'm sure there are some who didn't know P.T. Barnum's first name was PHINEAS. Hence my rating it on the tough side of average for a Monday.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


Anonymous 12:13 AM  

Rex nailed it....

Matthew G. 12:39 AM  

Completely agree with Rex, except as to difficulty rating. Came within three seconds of my personal Monday record, but did not like the puzzle.

Did not know either DESILU or ORIEL, but never even saw the clues for them until after the grid was full. I rarely solve on Across Lite, but today I did, and I suspect that helped my time immensely. So did some weird corner of my brain knowing that the P in P.T. Barnum is for "Phineas."

The one genuinely positive thing you can say about this grid is that none of the hard fill crosses anything hard. I wasn't conscious of the un-Monday-like entries till after I was done.

lit.doc 12:53 AM  

Judging by the clock, this was the hardest Monday for me in like forever, though it didn’t feel like it while solving. Totally “meh” theme—added nothing to the solve, unlike Liz Gorski’s stunningly clever “Wunderbar” puzzle this morning.

The only fun to be had here was of my own device. Suffering from CFS syndrome, I initally spelled 11D UNDULENT, which quickly had me trying to make sense out of 26A UNITED WEST END. What, a new soccer team? Definitely a parse-onal problem.

Better, on my first, fast Across run I slammed in TSAR, no surprise. But then I run the Downs and suddenly I’m trying to wrap my head around the NYT having 37D “Water Polo and synchronized swimming” = AQUATITS. Which would make perfect sense in BEQ’s universe, but…

DJG 12:58 AM  

I'm not as down on this one as Rex and the other commenters, but I definitely wouldn't short list it for Monday of the year.

I really like the theme and don't mind the revealer, but as Rex pointed out, to do this one right, you really need to arrange the theme answers in the grid by their directions. That would have been really nice.

An aside, I'm so-so on Judd Apatow movies. (Are they way too long to anybody else?) But I do love "Jackass", so I have nothing against grossout humor.

DJG 1:00 AM  


Haha... I had AQUATITS too.

PurpleGuy 1:19 AM  

Agree with Anonymous @12:13 - Rex nailed it !!
His reasons for not liking the puzzle echo mine to the letter. I might have felt better if the compass points were in the order of the reveal.
I knew Barnum's first name was Phineas from somewhere in my file cabinet of a brain. I am old enough to remember seeing the actual circus parade and the elephants helping erect the big top tent at what was Roosevelt Field( yes, the very place Lindbergh started from on his historic flight). My parents were there to watch him take off.
Yes, mom helped me with this trivia, and she took great delight in remembering this. Thanks.

54D HAZY gave me the decision for CZAR ,so I knew it would be AQUATICS for 37D.
Like Rex, I also enjoyed UNDULANT.Boys will be boys, sigh . . .

Have a great week, all.
Happy President's Day.



foodie 1:32 AM  

I agree with Rex that this needed more work, although the idea is cool. I think that having the reveal be a real word, such as NEWS or SEWN would have been much better, especially if it had been clued cleverly. Maintaining the same order for the theme answers and having the directional word straddle all others would have been terrific. Probably easier said than done, though...

I think the difficulty level on this one will depend on whether people got to the revealer early in the process, because that does help a lot in the theme answers. I would have never gotten PHINEASTBARNUM otherwise...

@lit.doc and DJC, Don't you know that when they use saline for breast implants, they call them AQUATITS?

chefwen 1:56 AM  

Liked this one more than Rex but I agree that the reveal should have been in order. This one had a little more crunch than your usual Monday fare and I appreciated that. UNDULANT was my favorite non-Monday word.

Loved Sundays puzzle, didn't have time to comment as the "snow birds" are arriving in alarmingly huge flocks and I am slinging hash as fast as I can. Fun times ahead, hope I can squeeze in my puzzles.

lit.doc 2:06 AM  

@foodie, thanks for sharing the saline implant factoid. Will no doubt facilitate getting myself slapped in a bar at some point. ;)

andrea czarla michaels 3:19 AM  

It was interesting that the first theme answer is Phineas T(BAR)num.
AND 42A is BAR...
For half a second I honestly thought there was going to be ANOTHER BAR puzzle this week!!???!!

Tonight I'm going to speak strictly as a sometime Monday constructor:
14 x 13 x 13 x 14 can be almost impossible to properly fill, but dollars to donuts Mr Ed tried to make the reveal a real word, or at least in order that they appeared...
but kudos for getting it as the last entry!
But totally dreadful not to make it a real word when both NEWS and SEWN
(and even WENS, tho not as a Monday) is available.
In my heart of hearts, I can't imagine he didn't try, so I'll bet it was impossible and the theme trumped the imperfection.

Thought the idea was solid, and the fact they all bridged at least two words of the entry is more than enough, to expect three (as in GROSSOUTHUMOR) is honestly asking too much.

Breat, I mean hand, up for AQUATITS

Greene 4:34 AM  

Some years ago when my daughter was in a musical play about PHINEAS T BARNUM (called Barnum! as you might expect) I was asked to write a short historical essay about "The Prince of Humbug" since it was assumed that many young people would not know who Mr. Barnum was or why his life was worth celebrating as a musical. The opening song of the show is actually called "There is a Sucker Born Ev'ry Minute" so I was interested in finding out more about the origins of this Barnum catchphrase.

Imagine my surprise when I learned that Mr. Barnum probably never uttered this famous line himself. Most people who actually knew Barnum said the line was completely out of character for him. Being a showman second and a businessman first, he was more of the belief that "there's a customer born every minute." While he presented his fair share of the ridiculous, grotesqueries, and outright hoaxes, Barnum strongly believed in repeat business and therefore insisted that his customers be given value for their money.

Sources differ as to just who originated the saying, but it probably became linked to Barnum after rival circus owner Adam Forepaugh attributed it to Barnum during a newspaper interview, probably in an attempt to discredit him. Barnum never actually denied making the statement and even publicly thanked Forpaugh for all the free publicity. Which just goes to show that even in the 18th century there was no such thing as bad press.

For those curious about the Barnum! musical, here's Broadway favorite Raul Esparza doing a concert presentation of that There is a Sucker Born Ev'ry Minute number.

Oh, the puzzle? Just meh from me. Oh yeah, I had AQUATITS too. @Foodie, you naughty girl, you crack me up.

Anonymous 4:35 AM  

Well, I always enjoy a puzzle I can complete...
Funny plausible(?) wrong answers is also part of the enjoyment. "What was I thinking about?!" moment when you correct them.
Form Bangna/Bangkok

Parshutr 7:41 AM  

Sorry, gang. I enjoyed it, found it typically easy for a Monday.
Chacun a son gout.

Conomist 8:06 AM  

Agree wholeheartedly with Rex. This one was plain "ugh." In fact, as I was filling it and saying "ugh" over and over again, I though, "Rex is going to HATE this one."

Also UNDULANT is a horrible word. Just saying. Though I was apparently a fan of aquatits as well.

joho 8:11 AM  

I didn't see the NSEW until after I had the theme answers so it didn't help in the solve but did give me the theme which I would have never SEWN, er, seen.

I wrote UNDULANT, HEYMAN, BUSFARE and AQUATICS in the margin as good words. @Foodie, you take the comment of the day with AQUATItS!

@andrea czarla ... I, too. was struck by BAR showing up again.

I liked this Monday better than @Rex. Thanks, Ed!

mmorgan 8:22 AM  

HEY MAN... wow, I have been on a completely, 180-degree opposite wavelength from @Rex lately. I had a terrific time with this one, with each answer making me smile more and more. And not just because I tore through it, but because the answers were just so much fun (at least for me).

Right from the start I thought the NW was yummy with its media and historical references like DESILU and ROSA Parks (cf. NAT Turner) counterpointed with ALEC Baldwin -- the good/bad old days mixed nicely with the new -- and with the illustrious and inimitable Don Ho thrown in for good measure! (Not to mention PT BARNUM - cf. Human Cannonbals!)

Then there was MR. T and GARP and EVA Gabor and the interestingly disturbing Judd Apatow... And the pop culture refs just kept rolling! This thing was alive -- it just sang to me.

And then the BARs started popping up again! (BTW -- as yesterday went on, I came to love Liz Gorski's WUNDERBAR more and more! Though with apologies to @Greene, that's always been my least favorite song from "Kiss Me Kate" despite the marvelous performances he posted.)

Loved "But is it ART" at 40A, which I think is the real theme here (or at least the subtext). I was assuming the whole thing was themeless.... until I filled in 64A -- but that's not the real vibe here (and the fact that the puzzle was so "easy" for me was completely irrelevant to its charm and appeal).

I've been experiencing chronic meh-ness with most recent puzzles. For whatever reason, this one put the zing back in me. Thanks, Ed!

retired_chemist 8:44 AM  

I am in the meh group on this one. MUCH better here than the near-total pan Rex gave it, but still just so-so.

GROSS OUT HUMOR seemed not to fit - it's a descriptor and not a specific term. Nice, regardless, to see that echoed in AQUATITS and comments thereon. My inner eighth grader is gruntled.

Knew PHINEAS T. BARNUM but could not have told you what the T stood for.

Felt very easy - time would have been good except for a LONG time chasing down a typo. Must learn to type someday...

Thanks, Mr. Sessa.

Jim 8:45 AM  

tsAR is the Russian spelling, right? CZAR is, to me, an Americanized political designation...as in applesauce CZAR, or something.

However, if the payoff for this malaprop is AQUATItS, all is forgiven. Very funny comments on that, btw. Aquaman's mistress, maybe?

Any shortcut anyone can offer playing against the clock? TAB doesn't work, right? Any better way to navigate than arrow cursors?

Howard B 8:47 AM  

While the theme at the end (NSEW) wasn't great, the theme answers were good (including BARNUM, which I have occasionally seen written in that way - though I had briefly forgotten if it was PHINEAS or PHILEAS for some odd reason). I agree especially with GROSS-OUT HUMOR hiding its direction. While I do agree it had some awkwardness, it also had its charm.

Agree on the many imperfections, but don't think they overshadowed the puzzly experience. I did have fun solving it (and trying to find the theme before the reveal), so that counts for something.

Anonymous 8:57 AM  

So-so puzzle. Fairly fast Monday finish time for me. Didn't even know there was a theme until I came here. Had 64A from crosses, so I never saw the reveal. Don't know if the theme would have helped me much, anyway. The theme answers all came relatively easily with a few crosses.

chefbea 9:12 AM  

Agree with Rex. Tougher than usual for a Monday.

When I saw Phineas thought Fogg would be the last name but too many spaces

connie a 9:24 AM  

40A: The full quote, by the great Randall Jarrell, is: "It's ugly, but is it Art?"
As a painter, when I back away from the canvas, I get to laugh at this often enough...
Suggestion: No Other Book, by Randall Jarrell,in which he writes lovely essays on Frost and Graves and The White Goddess.

mac 9:32 AM  

OK Monday. I didn't know P.T. Barnum was a Phineas, so that was good to learn. Phineas T. Barnum is a perfectly normal way to put it.

I had to do this one online, and ended up doing it almost entirely downs only, with the result that I never saw the theme reveal.

@Foodie: had my husband laughing and wondering what these NYT puzzles are all about....

Somehow expected something historic related to Presidents' Day, but the gross out humor put that idea to rest.

Lindsay 9:40 AM  

I'm totally down with Phineas T. Barnum, but never heard of Judd Apatow ......

Amusing juxtaposition to see the bonnet reference as I was solving the xword on paper while reading the local rag online, and today's obituary of a famously flamboyant car dealer reports that he dressed in a diaper, diaper pin, baby bonnet --- and nothing else --- for one of his TV ads.

A perfect example of why I don't own a television.

David L 10:03 AM  

I agree that NSEW was a Bad Thing, but other than that I thought this was a fine puzzle for a Monday. Liked the theme answers, thought the short fill was no worse than average. In short, a perfectly good puzzle. Don't know why so many people are reviling it.

quilter1 10:07 AM  

I had fun and rate it easy for me. Funny that I never saw GROSSOUTHUMOR until I came here as I got it all from crosses. Knew Barnum, never read Talese but knew the title. Just unfolded itself from top to bottom. Agree with some fill being ho hum, but liked GO KARTS, UNDULANT, HEY MAN and STOPOVER.

@Greene I believe it was the 19th century not 18th. One wonders what Barnum could have done with today's media and technology.

fikink 10:10 AM  

@Greene, thanks for the PTB info.

The one thing I liked about this puzzle was the embedded message from the Mideast:


Greene 10:18 AM  

@quilter1: Right you are about the 19th century. Saw the typo as soon as I posted it. Too bad you can't go back and edit these things once they're online.

@Fikink: you crack me up too.

tommo 10:27 AM  

The classic answer to 42 down is carfare. It covered all public transportation: trolly, bus, subway etc. Oh, Oh, I think I just dated myself

treedweller 10:40 AM  

AS others have said, there are two easy choices and one stretch of a word to replace NSEW. But have I been duped about the origin of NEWS? I heard the word was formed from the compass points, making it the obvious choice here.

I knew a baby who had a flat spot on her head recently (apparently, it's not uncommon now that parents are taught that babies should sleep on their backs). She wore a helmet-like headgear for awhile to restore the natural shape of her head.

Oh, the puzzle. I guess I liked it better than Rex, but not as much as mmorgan. Put me firmly in the "meh" camp.

flowerblogger 10:45 AM  

Ihad Aquatits too. Right away I switched to tzar. But no one commented on didst. The last letter I entered was the s. I was really uncomfortable thinking the clue "biblically performed" was leading to didit for an answer. Otherwise I enjoyed the puzzle and finished in one of my better times.

retired_chemist 10:45 AM  

BUS FARE is correct, despite some of us preferring an other answer. It crosses two theme answers, and the U is needed for one of them. I don't think it is worth all the quibbles. When the discussion centers on stuff like this, it just reinforces the overall mehness of the fill IMO.

And, @tommo, dating yourself is the ultimate act of narcissism. :-)

captcha formag - beginning of an Italian cheese...

archaeoprof 10:57 AM  

@Parshutr: I'm with you.

PHINEASTBARNUM was an enthusiastic collector of archaeological artifacts. He funded several treasure-hunting "excavations" which were run like his better-known business.

balto 11:00 AM  

When I sat down for this I was hoping to get close to a great time -- but the NE slowed me down -- the UNDULANT/ORIEL cross got me -- but after that I was just enjoying the puzzle. This was a great puzzle. And even though UNDULANT slowed me down, I think it's a beautiful word.

On PHINEAS T BARNUM -- I don't think I've ever heard the middle name -- it's Taylor via google -- it's a boring name, probably why it's always an initial. I first typed in without the T, didn't fit, next second I'm thinking "oh, yeah, the T".

I grew up in Baltimore -- used to have to take the crosstown BUS to go to Jr High and also High School -- a long slog. Now, here in a town on Long Island, there's no crosstown bus -- of course "crosstown" doesn't really apply -- so I take CABs a lot more. Maybe it's where you grew up -- or how much money you have. Even in NYC -- if crosstown is East-West -- you take a bus, not the subway.

Unknown 11:25 AM  

The PT Barnum clue and answer perpetuate the myth that Barnum said the words, "There's a sucker born every minute," about those he roped into his shows. In fact the phrase was first uttered about Barnum himself when he tried to buy the Cardiff Giant, a "mumified man" and a hoax, from the people who perpetuated the hoax. They wouldn't sell so Barnum claimed to have "found" his own Cardiff Giant and displayed it in New York.

Two Ponies 11:34 AM  

I'm pretty easy to please on a Monday so I thought this was fun. I intentionally avoided the reveal and then enjoyed finding the compass points. Some of the answers required a bit of thought and I learned Mr. Barnum's first name. Always a plus early in the week.
Someone recently mentioned that Will's stack of Monday puzzles was the smallest so with fewer to choose from I guess we might find some Mondays less than perfect.

7thecow 11:42 AM  

Enjoyed this one, found it easy.
Had a great laugh from the whole AQUATITS dialogue.
As a retired surveyor, NSEW is totally proper, in the same way that we say "the NE corner " as opposed to "the EN corner".
To @Jim, if all else fails, read the manual:) - the Acrosslite Help tab has a ton of keystroke options for moving around the grid plus other stuff I didn't know about until looking today. Check it out.

santafefran 11:50 AM  

The puzzle was ok, but the comments have been more entertaining.
Hands up for wanting Phineas T Fogg at first.

After AQUATITS, those frilly, flower-bedecked blouses of the guys in United We Stand were the delights of the day.

ArtLvr 11:51 AM  

I'm with @parshuter and others who enjoyed the puzzle, especially the question But is it ART?

p.s. So very annoyed that my comments keep vanishing!!!


quilter1 12:10 PM  

I had "doest" at first for Biblically performed, but wrong tense.

Was not Fogg a Phileas?

Anonymous 12:46 PM  

Treedweller: "news" is just the plural of the word "new," as in "new (things/event)s." Cf. French "nouvelles" and Russian "новости," among others

Sparky 12:47 PM  

BARNUM was a gimme. RENT gave me the T so I figured the whole first name was required. The downs provided that.

Enjoyed this puzzle. I like easy as I take enough of a beating Thurs to Sat.

NSEW is the way I say those points. Perhaps it's like The Seven Deadly Sins, imbedded a certain way from youth.

Had tsAR but HAZY changed it before the giggle fell in. Also shooting for sins of the FATHer for a while. Everything worked out, yippee.

Pythia 1:15 PM  

Wow, surprising negativity from the host -- not really. Surprising, that is.

Found this one to be fun to solve, with a theme a bit more challenging than the more usual and straightforward list-type theme, e.g. Loved the theme answers as lively phrases on their own, then a second pass to "see" the theme. Decent fill, especially given the constraints of the theme material. Also, NSEW seems to be the commonly preferred order in giving directions, and anagramming those letters would have added an addtional level of difficulty.

Nice work Ed Sessa.

Masked and Anonymous 1:21 PM  

North, South, East, West. Top to bottom, left to right. Seems OK to me. Man, Tough crowd, today. Hard to keep quick minds busy enough, on a MonPuz, I guess.

64-A = NEWS should be doable in the grid, too. Wouldn't downs of THON, REHONE, LEPEW, KRISS get it? I'm sure that cat can be skinned in numerous ways, if I've already stumbled upon one of 'em.

Got Phineas's entry pretty early on. Thought "Sweet -- theme is about expandin' names out that you normally only hear the initials for!" Wrong again, M & A breath.

D.U.I. = 6. (Dirty U Index)

r.alphbunker 1:31 PM  

I solved the puzzle as follows: Visited all the acrosses without backtracking filling in the ones that I knew. Then visited all the downs without backtracking. After this there were 7 blank squares left. Incorrect across answers (which I discovered doing the downs) were tsAR instead of CZAR and UNDULeNT instead of UNDULANT.

Fixed the mispellings and easily filled in the remaining squares and got a Will Shortz.

I will call no Monday puzzle easy until I can finish with one pass through the acrosses and downs with no backtracking.

syndy 1:42 PM  

@jim,Russians use the Cyrilic alphabet -their letters are different from ours. We seem to more commonly use tsar therefore AQUATITS(and HASY)Slapped in the P and the BARNUM and the rest took care of itself.64 should have been ewsn as spelled out but that was my only gripe( okay maybe HEYMAN). I find J aApatow totally gross and have spent far more on bus fare than cab fare.better than usual boring monday puzzle

Rube 1:47 PM  

I had drOPinon giving me siNORTHEFATHER and minTS. Also plopped in tsAR. These made this my longest Monday in months. Also, UNDULAte gave writeovers in that area too.

Don't know Judd Apatow and it looks like I don't want to.

All the ranting going on here makes me ask the question: When do everyday words become "unlovely and tired" and when do these same words appear in a puzzle with "sparkle"? If you're going to bitch you better throw in MRT, ADS and HQS also. ORIEL and ODER are the only crosswordese type words here, IMO, and the rest is just normal, everyday, (Mondayish), crossword fill. What's wrong with the King James' English, BLEST and DIDST? They would certainly be acceptable if they were from a Shakespeare quote.

Maybe the real complaint is that there are no opera, sports, RRNs, strange abbreviations, or obscure science questions in this puzzle and only a minimum of pop culture.

Needless to say, I'm on the side of those who thought this was an OK, not great but OK, puzzle.

ksquare 1:47 PM  

There was an editor who insisted that NEWS must always be a plural. When he wired a reporter "Are there any news?", he replied "Not a new!"

Masked and Anonymous II 1:52 PM  

Constructor friend Erul points out that I screwed up my lefts and rights. Har. Like I always told my drill sergeant, "Do you mean My right or Your right?" Then I'd have to drop, 'n' give him 50.

Erul also suggests an alternate clue for 64-A:
"Sit ___"
Kind of a shout out to quilters, that-a-way.

quilter1 1:58 PM  


jnc 2:00 PM  

Well I liked it if only because I set a personal record, fastest solve ever. Tore through the acrosses, skipping a few that didn't spring to mind immediately (wanted "Thy Neighbors Wife" for the Gay Talese title). Went back to fill in the downs and was done, two passes only. Aside from making me feel super smart (a pleasant if short-lived sensation), most of the clues telegraphed as not just old but OLDE school.

JaxInL.A. 2:10 PM  

For anyone who does not regularly check out other puzzles, you might want to try today's L.A. Times by sometime Rexworld denizens PuzzleGirl and Doug Peterson. I think that this is Angela's second published puzzle, and it's fun. Likewise the write-up on her L.A. Crossword Confidential blog by guest writer Pete Mitchell (link on sidebar of Rex's page).

@Anon 4:35 (From Bangna/Bangkok), some time ago you asked for resources to learn more about solving.  If you have not discovered the L.A. Crossword Confidential blog, I recommend you visit there regularly. Today's post by Pete Mitchell is a good illustration of how the puzzle write-ups not only apply to the puzzle in question but build general skills as well.

As for Rexworld, once again you all keep me amused endlessly.  I always hesitate on the initial letters for those Russian monarchs, and so I missed the treat of AQUATItS.  Sometimes it pays to be bold, if only for a good laugh.  

I LOVE the illustrations Rex finds for the puzzles.  Where in the world did he ever find a needlepoint of Darth Vader on a spiderweb (beautifully executed) with tattoo-style roses, and "Honor thy father" embroidered across the bottom? Wow. 

Anonymous 2:12 PM  

The PT Barnum clue rankles. I can't quite get comfortable with the idea that he is famous for saying something that he didn't really even say. He would never have been credited with saying it unless he was already famous. There's just something in the phrasing that feels inaccurate.

Matthew G. 2:17 PM  

Actually, it's precisely because Russian uses a different alphabet that "tsar" is a superior transliteration to "czar." The word in Russian is "царь," and the character "ц" is pronounced "ts." It is not pronounced "z" or "cz."

Broken down, it's:

Ц = ts
а = a
р = r
ь = the "soft sign," with no pronounced value of its own.

"Czar" is fine in terms like "drug czar," but is the decidedly inferior option when referring to a Russian emperor.

Joe 2:40 PM  

Exactly. TSAR but never CZAR.
I didn't think this was so bad--but I agree that UNDULANT is NOT a Monday word.

And I tried to write in THY NEIGHBORS WIFE in the space where HONOR THY FATHER went, but was one letter off.

retired_chemist 2:44 PM  

Who's TSARRY now?

Anonymous 3:04 PM  

Am I the only one who had "playoffs" instead of "probowls" the first time through? I have never seen it in the plural form, and I went this year.

retired_chemist 3:32 PM  

Re PLAYOFFS/PRO BOWLS - Seattle was in the playoffs this year and at 7-9 would hardly have been called an elite team at season's end. Ditto a lot of players on any playoff team. So I think PLAYOFFS is not a good answer here. The PRO BOWL players are selected for high accomplishment and arguably are the current year's elite players.

SethG 3:42 PM  

With HUMOR in place, tried to fit in TOILET. With STB in place, filled in PHINEAS T BARNUM. With N in place, filled in NEWS. Yeah, NSEW=fail.

sanfranman59 4:16 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)

Mon 6:59, 6:54, 1.01, 59%, Medium

Top 100 solvers

Mon 3:46, 3:41, 1.02, 60%, Medium

Bob Kerfuffle 4:30 PM  

The commentary among chefbea (9:12), santafefran (11:50), and quilter1 (12:10) reminds me: I saw the 1956 Mike Todd movie Around the World in 80 Days as a kid, and then and for many years after thought the lead character had been named "Phineas Fogg". In fact, it was only many years later, when there was some sort of revival or anniversary, that I actually read some of the advertising, and saw the name "Phileas". "Look at that," I says to myself, "they made a mistake." I had to check it out (somehow, without the existence of Google) to find that I had been wrong for so long.

SethG 4:45 PM  

Wrong about the name or wrong about the movie?

foodie 4:53 PM  

So, here's an example of how I valdiated my Quick & Dirty Index (See my Saturday's posting re this index).

First today's QDI:

Looking at the Applet under the column labeled FIRST:

@5 minutes after the puzzle was posted (i.e. by 6:05): 15 people had completed it
@ 10 minutes: 27 had completed it
@15 minutes: 38 people had completed

How long did it take 50 People to complete?: 22 min (@ 6:22)

QDI= 22/15+27+38 = 22/80= 0.275

According to the ranges I posted, this would be a "Medium". So, I would count this as FULLY CONSISTENT with SanFranMan's rating (I have a scoring system for consistency by I wont bother you with it).

Someday, when I'm clearly inconsistent, I will make note of it.

Thanks to all those who showed some interest... Geeks Are Us :)

foodie 4:57 PM  

PS. Glen Close came to a large meeting of neuroscientists to speak about the stigma of psychiatric disorders. She started her speech with:

"SOOO...", jokingly, and noted that scientists often start their conversations that way. I just noticed that I did it in the previous post. She's actually a remarkably sharp observer of behavior and language. I wonder if that's what it takes to be a great actor...

Kendall 5:23 PM  

@lit.doc, thank you for that little bit of humor. It was much needed in my day.

The rest of this puzzle just didn't do it for me. As Rex guessed for some of us I had no idea what the P was for in P.T. BARNUM, but it was easy enough to figure out.

Here's for hoping for a happier Tuesday...

Bob Kerfuffle 5:42 PM  

@SethG - Touché! Truthfully, as I composed my post, I was thinking someone in this crowd would make an observation based on having read the Verne novel in the original French.

Your reference suggests I may not have been the only one to make the mistake I cited.

Sfingi 6:30 PM  

Didn't notice the theme, and still found the crossword easy. Don't understand the complaints. Just happened to be on Mr. Sessa's wave length. As I'm not on Barry Silk's

I always wait on TSAR/CZAR. So I had no tits, just tics.

Nice seeing reference to Gay (Gaetano) Talese, Sicilian through his mother. He wrote about the Sicilian-Americans Sinatra ("Frank Sinatra Has a Cold") and DiMaggio ("The Silent Season of a Hero"). Three more books had Biblical-ref titles: Unto the Sons (about his family), The Kingdom and the Power, Thy Neighbor's Wife. Honor Thy Father was about the mob.

Irving's The World According to Garp was hard to read, but ultimately worth it. The woman who cut out her own tongue...well, we all know her.

Got GROSS OUT HUMOR on crosses.

Thought about UNDULANT fever, now called brucellosis.

@Andrea - wens! Haha.

@Foodie - the "So" thing. I noticed it about a year ago. When commoners (non-scientists) start saying it, what will the scientists say? And who started it?

Do the horses have trouble playing water polo? Just kidding. But I like to imagine it.

michael 7:38 PM  

Except for didst, I was ok with this one. Phineas T Barnum was a gimme, even if he didst not say it. [Is this a proper grammatical use of "didst"?]

I don't have a clue how to evaluate Monday puzzles...except they range (for me) from very easy to easy. But as to quality????? (to quote Watson the computer).

Anonymous 7:49 PM  

Sfingi, I know you like listing people who are from, have been to, have met someone who's been to, or have heard of Sicily, but Gay Talese's name is Gay. Gaetano was his grandfather's name.

papa smurf 8:02 PM  

AQUATItS. My preference.

fikink 9:35 PM  

@Sfingi - "commoners"? How 'bout laymen? Or was that tongue-in-checkbook?

sanfranman59 10:03 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

Top 100 solvers

Mon 3:41, 3:41, 1.00, 51%, Medium

miriam b 10:30 PM  

I was born and raised in Bridgeport, so PHINEASTBARNUM was a gimme. The wondrous Barnum Museum was an indispensable field trip destination for school kids, at least back in the day. At this writing, the museum is soliciting funds to pay for repairs to the building, which was damaged by a tornado this past summer.

One of my high school teachers was a woman named Clara P. Barnum. I know she was some sort of relative of PT, but I never did find out what HER middle initial represented.

Some of Barnum's fantastical buildings remain standing today, and in fact a few of them originally housed the U. of Bridgeport.

juness: youth, as spelled by a C+ French student

Unknown 11:16 PM  

Still trying to grok this group. I thought this was extremely easy in terms of the clues being extremely easy -- but I didn't even realize there was a theme at all, until I read these comments!

I need to pay more attention to themes.

LDM 1:03 PM  

As a regular compass user, I can say that the points are usually referred to as "North, South, East, West" (NSEW). You give them as opposite pairs, not in sequence around the dial.

Anonymous 1:17 AM  

NEWS would have made a much better entry with a straight clue and
a hint to the theme answers.
Terrible editing, to say the least.

dugglesmack 8:53 AM  

52D: ARROW (___ or Z)????
Maybe I'm just dense, but I don't get it and googling didn't turn up anything for me either... anybody care to comment on what I'm missing here?

Anonymous 9:11 AM  

I agree with the order NSEW. But what's (Arrow)____ to Z?

Anonymous 9:40 AM  

ARROW: --> or <--.

No Z, unless it was a misprint in the syndicated papers.

Anonymous 2:00 PM  

I agree - I had: ___ to Z for arrow and have no idea what it means - was this a misprint???

Anonymous 2:24 PM  

I too was bothered by the inconsistency of the clue and the answer NSEW. I think the clue should have been changed to say, "64A: Compass points seen spelled out in 53, 43, 20 and 26 across." That way the directions would at least match up with the clue!

Lurking, Just Behind You 2:28 PM  

Hand up (way UP) for AQUATItS.

Was hoping that Rex would have it as the WOTD.

Anonymous 3:30 PM  

Had to scroll through all the comments until - thank God - I finally found a couple of other people who had _or Z as the clue to 52D. Must have been a misprint in some papers - I will blame it on the cold up here in the Canadian frozen North.

Unknown 4:06 PM  


Dirigonzo 4:45 PM  

AQUATItS seems to be the crowd pleasing mistake today (or 5 weeks ago in prime-time) but I think @Flowerblogger's "performed Biblically = didit" is a gem that apparently no one else discovered.

@jimjanparker, read back a few comments for the explanation; apparently the syndicated puzzle had a printing error in the clue.

Waxy in Montreal 9:46 PM  

Late to the party tonight but can confirm the original 52D clue was '--> or <--' not the '_OR Z' that appeared in the syndicated puzzle. Never seen this kind of error before.

dugglesmack 4:53 PM  

@Waxy - Thanks... I guess that's not the strangest or worst clue misprint we've ever seen, but it sure had a bunch of us syndicated solvers scratching our heads!!!

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