Physical feature Britain's Lord Nelson / WED 2-9-11 / 1930s org with blue eagle logo / Richard nominated seven Oscars / Distant relative of Monterey

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Constructor: Victor Barocas

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: SKIPJACK (46A: Certain tuna ... or what this puzzle's 10 starred clues do) — clues are missing "Jack"

Word of the Day: Natter[jack] (12D: *Natter, e.g.=>TOAD) —

The Natterjack Toad (Epidalea calamita, formerly Bufo calamita) is a toad native to sandy and heathland areas of Northern Europe. Adults are 60 – 70 mm in length and are distinguished from the common toad by a yellow line down the middle of the back. They have relatively short legs, and this gives them a distinctive gait, contrasting with the hopping movement of many other toad species. // Natterjacks have a very loud and distinctive mating call, amplified by the single vocal sack found under the chin of the male animal. (wikipedia)

• • •
This puzzle has an astounding number of theme answers, and a pretty decent basic concept. Unfortunately, I really disliked two of the theme answers, as well as much of the fill, and so did not find the overall experience enjoyable. I actually dislike three theme answers, but I dislike TOAD only because I've never ever heard of a "natterjack," and it doesn't seem right to make my ignorance the basis of a gripe. But FLAT TIRE and CAPITAL J, while nice-looking grid entries, have jarringly inconsistent clues. The "jack" in every other instance is part of a compound word or phrase, which means that the clue has a certain cleverness about its misdirection, a certain "aha" factor when you see what role "jack" played in the whole thing. But having the "jack" be free-standing, just ... missing? That sucks. Where are the clues related to hijack, carjack, lumberjack, applejack, jack rabbit, jackpot, jackhammer, etc.? So many other "jack" words or phrases, and we get [Start of the name]? Boooo. What's worse, the fill all around CAPITAL J is the worst fill in the grid: random phrase ONE ARM (9D: Physical feature of Britain's Lord Nelson), crosswordese BRAE, partial IS NO, absurd ONE B, and above all the horrific ACNED, which is infamous (to me) for being the word Raymond Chandler singled out in his explanation of why Ross Macdonald was not (not yet, not then) a very good writer:

   [H]ere is a man who wants the public for the mystery story in its
primitive violence and also wants it to be clear that he,
individually, is a highly literate and sophisticated character. A
car is "acned with rust", not spotted [...] "The seconds piled up
precariously like a tower of poker chips", etc. The simile that does
not quite come off because it doesn't understand what the purpose of
the simile is [...] When you say "spotted with rust" (or pitted, and
I'd almost but not quite go for"pimpled") you convey at once a
simple visual image. But when you say "acned with rust" the
attention of the reader is instantly jerked away from the thing
described to the pose of the writer. This is of course a very simple
example of the stylistic misuse of language, and I think that
certain writers are under a compulsion to write in recherche phrases
as a compensation for a lack of some kind of natural animal emotion.
They feel nothing, they are literary eunuchs, and therefore
they fall back on an oblique terminology to prove their
distinction. (letter to James Sandoe, April 14, 1949)

So much of the rest of the grid was quite lovely. [Palace-related] is a weak and unnecessarily oblique clue for ROYAL, but other than that, I don't have many (non-theme-related) complaints. HALF DEAD is a very nice entry (23A: How a hangover sufferer might feel).

Theme answers:
  • 16A: *Cracker feature (TOY SURPRISE)
  • 33A: *Union, e.g. (FLAG)
  • 40A: *It's bad when it knifes (SEMI)
  • 56A: *Flap (GRIDDLECAKE)
  • 10D: *Daniel's home (TENNESSEE)
  • 12D: *Natter, e.g. (TOAD)
  • 22D: *Start of the name (CAPITAL J) — last reason to dislike this one: we already have "the name" JACK in one of the other clues (10D)
  • 24D: *Necessitator (FLAT TIRE) — last reason to dislike this one: "Necessitator!?"
  • 32D: *Black (TWENTY-ONE)
  • 51D: *Distant relative of Monterey (BRIE) — or EDAM, I suppose. Nice to have flexibility with a lot of these answers...

Started with a miscue: HUGH for CARY (1A: Grant for a movie?). That is a Not Great "?"-clue, as its trick is transparent and the phrase "Grant for a movie" doesn't really play on words very well. I had no idea Richard BURTON was Oscar-nominated so many times (14A: Richard nominated for seven Oscars). I can't name anything he was in except "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" Not sure which org. NRA is supposed to be today (18A: 1930s org. with a blue eagle logo). Aha, National Recovery Administration. All that alphabet soup stuff, except TVA and WPA, eludes me. SIMPSON was right up my alley (27A: Springfield family name), but when was the last time TAE BO was "much-advertised" (41A: Much-advertised exercise program)? I haven't seen Billy Blanks in an ad for what seems like a decade. I'm sure he's still out there, but I don't see him. E*TRADE was a welcome gimme (60A: Nasdaq company with an asterisk in its name), though I always want that asterisk to have its own square ... that would be an interesting puzzle. It could cross *NSYNC.

I thought the bad thing to be over was a BARREL :(

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


fikink 7:59 AM  

This puzzle was a delight.
Appreciate the Raymond Chandler musings on writing, @Rex. (There has to be a limerick somewhere where ACNED rhymes with HACKNEYED.)
Had the same thoughts re: TAE BO and my favorite wrong answer of the day, barrel.

Victor Barocas, I have my eye on you. Thanks for the morning delight.

The Bard 8:04 AM  

A Midsummer Night's Dream > Act II, scene II

[The Fairies sing]

You spotted snakes with double tongue,
Thorny hedgehogs, be not seen;
Newts and blind-worms, do no wrong,
Come not near our fairy queen.
Philomel, with melody
Sing in our sweet lullaby;
Lulla, lulla, lullaby, lulla, lulla, lullaby:
Never harm,
Nor spell nor charm,
Come our lovely lady nigh;
So, good night, with lullaby.
Weaving spiders, come not here;
Hence, you long-legg'd spinners, hence!
Beetles black, approach not near;
Worm nor snail, do no offence.
Philomel, with melody, &c.

Glimmerglass 8:07 AM  

"Acne" is not a transitive verb in my book.

PurpleGuy 8:11 AM  

I agree with @fikink that this was a delight and fun to solve.
My only slight gripe was the inconsistency of "Jack" being mostly missing after the clues, but missing before on a couple of them. Just sayin'. . .
Richard Burton was in "Becket," "Anne of the Thousand Days," and "The Spy Who Came in from the Cold" to name a few.
With this cold weather, I bet we all would like to have an ALOHA accompany the waves on some Hawaiian beach.

Another nice writeup @Rex. Thank you.

Happy Wednesday all !! Over The Hump Day !!!!

Shanti -

r.alphbunker 8:13 AM  

gimmes (no crosses needed):

freebies (all crosses):

answer evolutions:

Quarter 0. 24 words completed correctly
Quarter 1. 24 words completed correctly
Quarter 2. 20 words completed correctly
Quarter 3. 10 words completed correctly

The theme brought to mind a supposed exchange between Tennessee Williams and a young playwright who asked Williams to suggest a title for his play.
Williams: "Does your play mention a trumpet anywhere?"
"Does it mention a drum?"
"There is your title, young man, Call it 'No Trumpets, No Drums'. That does it".

mmorgan 8:41 AM  

It was... okay. Briefly had RAN for LED at 26A (Was in charge) which held me up a bit. Nice to see Kurt Weill. Big hiccup in the NE -- did not know TAT nor TOAD nor NRA. Pretty much agree with @Rex's comments.

John V 8:54 AM  

Fun puzzle, tending toward easy, IMHO. Somewhere in the 12 minute range for this dead tree version solver. Only snag as @rex,12D Toad. Had guessed "told", also unsure which NRA Victor has in mind.

efrex 9:00 AM  

This was... interesting. Not exciting, not terrible. A bit over-heavy on the crosswordese, although those gave me my toeholds, so perhaps I shouldn't complain too much on that score. Didn't mind ONEARM or ACNED or even CAPITAL J, but ONEB and TAEBO were pretty weak. For some reason, TOY SURPRISE rubs me the wrong way, but GRIDDLECAKE and SKIPJACK look just fine.

One writeover: orgingally had NAIR instead of NEET.

Felt like a pretty straightforward solve for a Wednesday.

Congrats on your maiden voyage, Mr. Barocas!

balto 9:06 AM  

The Chandler quote seems more a rip at the use of ACNED to describe car rust, not a disliking of the word itself -- at least that's what I'm seeing -- but I've never really heard of ACNED to begin with, sounds like an old word to me.

jesser 9:11 AM  

Humph. Big ol' DNF out here in NM. That NE corner was undoable for me, because I knew not the toad, the sea, the title, the organization or the author.

Otherwise it was fine slog. Writeover was at at 42A, where aMended briefly held sway before it was run over by the OMNIBUS.

I'm headed to Vegas soon for a week with my best friend, where we shall eat much sushi and play much 32D. Can't wait!

Happy Humpday to all (echoing amigo Purple Guy)!

Gemiesp (Yes, I want the gift of knowing the future)! -- jesser

David L 9:11 AM  

I thought most of the cluing was at a Mon/Tues level, except for the theme clues, but since I got most of those from crosses before figuring out the trick they hardly slowed me down. Except for FLATTIRE, which was the last to fall.

Nice idea, and I'm impressed that the constructor got so many theme answers into one puzzle. But the inconsistent cluing on a couple of them, as RP observes, detract a little.

Anonymous 9:18 AM  

First time I see a theme with a word missing in the clue instead of a word missing in the answer.

Totally eluded me.

I wish I could have a taxonomy of puzzle themes at hand.

From Bangna/Bangkok

ArtLvr 9:19 AM  

I guess I'm a bit arexic today. I thought this was really cute, and the constructor managed to come up with a great variey of theme clues -- while still keeping it clean!

SKIPJACK was probable the most obscure, meaning that I had to leave the end of CAPITAL_ open for a short while until I was convinced of the gimmick with the *FLAP clue for GRIDDLECAKE, but then everything else fell into place fast. I looked back and chuckled at the others afterward.

@ r*alph -- I got a kick out of your story re TENNESSEE's supposed suggestion for a title. I especially liked the clue *Daniel's home, as it was obviously too long to be Boone of Kentucky.

My only TEENY complaint would be that doubly misleading choice of using both the words "asterisk" and "name" in the clue for 60A, E*TRADE, though it was humerous too in its way. Kudos to Mr. Barocas for his cleverness.


quilter1 9:24 AM  

I had fun doing this one once the jack theme appeared to me. Hand up for Hugh and barrel. The Nelson feature was easy and I surprised myself by filling in OMNIBUS with only the O_ _ _ _ US showing. Learned natter jack today. Hope it comes up in the future.
Drake victory over Creighton last night, 67-64, another nailbiter until the last second. Go Bulldogs.

Cathyat40 9:30 AM  

Hmm, "Natterjack" is eerily similar to "Natick".

LOVED Rex's write-up.

As always, enjoyed the Bard's post.

Am fascinated with r.alphbunker's new BEQ toy.

Favorite answers: SKIPJACK (knew this as a sailboat, not a tuna) and HALFDEAD (haven't had a drink in a decade, but still have dysphoric recall of this "feeling").

Least favorite: ONEB - ewwwww!

OldCarFudd 9:35 AM  

What day is this? I thought I was going to have my first-ever Wednesday DNF. Didn't catch on until it was (finally) finished, since I'd never heard of a natterjack toad or a skipjack tuna. I've heard of a skipjack fishing boat, mostly on the Chesapeake Bay, but never knew their prey was tuna. (Is it?) That said, once I got through it, and looked over all the starred clues, I realized this was a very clever puzzle. Lots of theme answers, not much ugly fill (I have no problem with acned), and clever cluing. A fine Friday puzzle!

retired_chemist 9:39 AM  

Liked it. Enjoyed the theme, though the time it took me to figure it out meant a relatively slow Wednesday. Once that was in hand, the cluing was easy and life was beer and skittles.

Hand up for a BARREL being a bad thing to be over. Also hand up for thinking of BOONE as the Tennessee Daniel before getting the theme. Didn't recheck it once Mr. Happy Pencil appeared.

Anyone else get to 46D before getting the theme and trying out ALBACORE? Now there's a verb... :-)

Thank you, Mr. Barocas.

chefbea 9:40 AM  

Did not like the puzzle!! DNF. Never heard of skip jack tuna.Is it good? Can you grill it?

Right Martin? 9:49 AM  


In Japanese cuisine, skipjack tuna is known as katsuo, and is commonly smoked and dried to make katsuobushi, the central ingredient in making dashi (fish stock). Skipjack tuna is also used in katsuo no shiokara. [wiki]


Cathyat40 9:51 AM  

@OldCarFudd: regarding SKIPJACK, the boat,from

Soon after its introduction to the Chesapeake in the 1890s, the skipjack became the preferred oyster dredge boat. Some have estimated nearly two thousand skipjacks were built, all specifically designed for dredging oysters from the Chesapeake Bay. The peak building years were during the 1890s and the first decade of the 20th century.

The name "skipjack" is said to have been derived from fish, such as the skipjack mackerel or skipjack tuna, that jump in and out of the water because these boats can sometimes resemble the fish as they come about quickly making continuous passes or "licks" over oyster beds. Another possible origin of the name is an archaic English word meaning "inexpensive yet useful servant". The typical cost of a skipjack in 1905 was $3,000.

Lindsay 10:08 AM  

Started in the SE and happily anticipated a nautical theme when SKIPJACK (a boat, not a fish, in my book) appeared right off the bat. Enthusiasm dimmed somewhat when I realized that not only was there no nautical theme, but that I was having trouble keeping straight whether the clue skipped the jack, or the answer skipped the jack. Pairings like natter/toad didn't help.

Even so, thumbs up.

deerfencer 10:19 AM  

Semi-cool but flawed puzzle that I mostly enjoyed. Rex's commentary was spot-on today, especially regarding CAPITALJ, which was an egregious violation of the theme.

Disliked/never heard of ATTAR, so had fits in the midwest.

In general not a bad challenge but I think this one left the editor's desk a bit prematurely.

Shamik 10:22 AM  

Had to add a whole minute to my time making it go from medium-challenging to medium. Never got the theme until near the end of that minute, so wanted SKIPBACK. And even after I got the theme, still didn't get Mr. Happy Pencil. Not until I went back to my problematic OMNIBES and fixed a-courting to correct it. Mixed feelings about this one. Obscure things and easy fill combined. Calling this one uneven.

SethG 10:32 AM  

Didn't know the tuna, the toad, or the word necessitator. But the theme reveal (and *Flap=>GRIDDLECAKE) made it clear what was going on, I finished in under my average time, and I enjoyed it. (Except for KIDDY. That's just wrong.)

I like Chandler's use of "recherche" in complaining about recherche phrases.

Faye 10:38 AM  

Me too with BARREL being the bad thing to be over, and I had LINCOLN down for the longest time as the Sprigfield family name.

JaxInL.A. 10:48 AM  

This is my third day in a row of having serious positive arexia (see @r.alphbunker's comment 1/12/11 11:17 for explanation).  I loved Monday's wake-up gem from Lynn Lempel and Tuesday's vintage states from Robert Harris, and today I enjoyed this CrackerJACK offering from Victor Barocas (is this a debut?). All of them felt smooth and had a few nice aha! moments. All also fell pretty squarely within my particular assortment of trivial knowledge.

I certainly appreciate and learn from Rex's cogent analysis each time, and his comments help me understand what makes a puzzle great. Even so, I have had a great time all week so far.  

Have not had the time to come here this week until now, but I'm glad that I went back and caught up on the Mon and Tues comments. Otherwise I would have missed @fikink's weaving, and @syndy's wit, @TwoPonies' crush on the Raider, and @Greene's erudite exposition on Showboat. Thanks to these and others who make it worth coming here, and of course to Rex for making it all possible.

Two Ponies 10:49 AM  

Agree that this was inventive but had its flaws.
I got the theme very early with toy surprise and wrote Jack in the margin to see if I guessed right.
Like others, my skipjack is a boat.
I usually pride myself on getting animal questions easily but that toad in the corner was the last to fall and got its clue circled.
The only natter I know is Brit-speak for gabbing.
Also agree with @SethG that kiddy is just wrong.
Is this a debut?

Tobias Duncan 10:53 AM  

@jesser : the North East was not kind to this New Mexican either.
Really loved this one, Rex has very valid criticisms today but the puzzle won me over anyway.

chefbea 11:04 AM  

@right martin? thanx for the explanation of skip jack

JaxInL.A. 11:10 AM  

By the way, natterjack TOAD was easy for me because I spent a good part of my childhood buried in reading and re-reading Edward Eager's books about four ordinary children and their magical adventures. In particular, The Time Garden featured a garden of many varieties of thyme, each of which could carry the children to a different place depending on their wish and on the type of thyme. For example, English thyme carries them to the court of Queen Elizabeth I. Another type of thyme takes them into the world of the novel Little Women. Their guide on these adventures is a grumpy, hundred-year-old natterjack TOAD with a preposterous cockney accent.

Though they were written over 50 years ago, these books hold up well as childhood reading, and I recommend them highly.

OldCarFudd 11:20 AM  

@Cathyat40 - Thank you. I ought to have remembered that skipjack sailors were oystermen. I understand that both the boats and the oysters are now an endangered species.

syndy 11:23 AM  

Was I the only one who put down OMMINUS for 42A? Didn't get the theme 'till it was spelled out but had mostly gotten the answers anyway.Had to google for my Last letter 'cus I couldn't decide between "TOLD" or the damn undertoad (yep calling nattick)

archaeoprof 11:23 AM  

This puzzle had me at 16A.

The TOYSURPRISEs aren't as good as they used to be, but my oh my, those peanuts at the bottom... Yum.

syndy 11:25 AM  

Make that ominous

Jim in Chicago 11:36 AM  

"acned" is good enough for the OED, defined as:

Suffering from, characterized by, or having acne; pimply.

First recorded use in 1936 "Miss Sprig...has red hair and pale eyes and an acned skin." My favorite is from the NYTimes in 1981 "Fat, ugly and acned, she lived in awe of her sister."

Jim 11:39 AM  

Another here for "barrel" and "nair" before figuring it out. And had no idea what a "natterjack" was.

fikink 11:44 AM  

@archaeoprof, but do you remember Screamin' Yellow Zonkers?

@Jim in Chicago, still working on my hackneyed limerick, thanks for the validation.

Moonchild 11:45 AM  

Bleedovers from yesterday's witchy
brew from the Bard we have both a newt and a toad.
I was not sure what Nelson was lacking so he was one-eyed for a bit making me think we were missing a theme opportunity.
I certainly learned some new critters today.
Favorite answer was half dead.

JenCT 11:56 AM  

NE corner took me forever!

Liked the FLATTIRE clue.

Great write-up, Rex.

Anonymous 12:05 PM  

No barrel but weight. Liked the puzzle overall.

This is the third time I'm trying to post. Blogger account or Google has changed to German and signing in is different. I'm giving up until I'm back in the US.

An ex Sot 12:12 PM  

I've consumed, quite literally, barrels of Jack in my day & could have sworn it was from Kentucky. Quite clearly, I didn't care from whence it came. Further, to the pro's, it's Jack, plain and simple.

Chandler was perceptive.

An ex Sot 12:16 PM  

I've just been informed that one shouldn't use 'from whence'", as whence incorporates the 'From'. However, 'I didn't care whence it came' sounds pompous.

Anonymous 12:31 PM  

Liked the theme. As someone pointed out above, this puzzle is unusual in that the theme applies to the clues, not the answers.

One quibble: the theme answers are symmetrical except for 23A: How a hangover sufferer might feel (HALFDEAD). Surely the clever Mr. Barocas could have come up with a skip-jack clue for that one?

One other clue suggestion: since ERRED has the clue 6D: Was off base, why not use exactly the same clue for 26A where the answer is LED, as in a base-runner taking a lead? That would have been clever.

CONTEST: Come up with a skip-jack clue for HALFDEAD.

And come on, guys, what does arexia mean?

Eric Halsey

Anonymous 12:35 PM  

Oh, and one more thing.

Did Rex put the "You Don't Know Jack" (for this puzzle, just "You Don't Know" I suppose) logo in his writeup on purpose?

By "on purpose" I am referring to the fact that in the NYT Arts section today (I always do crosswords on paper), the front page Video Game Review was for... You Don't Know Jack!

Eric Halsey

Anonymous 12:53 PM  

NRA is almost certainly the National Rifle Association. Their logo is an eagle on a blue background. Perhaps, in the 1930s the eagle was blue, but a quick check didn't turn one up. An alternative is the National Reefer Association which has a cool logo, but wasn't around in the '30s. Didn't nee'um - no wasteful war on drugs.

Steve J 1:15 PM  

A lot of people haven't heard of SKIPJACK tuna, but you all know it. Skipjack is the variety of tuna that is used in canned tuna of the "light" variety (opposed to white, which is albacore). I have no idea why I know this. I think it may come from an article talking about mercury levels in tuna; if I recall correctly, skipjack has less mercury than albacore.

@Anon 12:53: Given the way it was clued, I don't think this NRA is the gun group. The National Recovery Administration's logo was an actual blue eagle.

Anyway, onto the puzzle: found it interesting, good portions of it likable. I did have the same issue Rex noted with the two problematic theme clues in the downs. At least 24D arguably has the jack missing from the clue, but 22D completely breaks the theme's internal logic. That took a good deal of the luster off of what otherwise was a fairly clever theme.

william e emba 1:18 PM  

While I never heard of the toad or the tuna, it was easy enough, despite being badly confused by the starred clues. In fact, I had completed TOA- before I got the theme, and didn't realize just how anuran-ignorant I was until I got here. And from SKIP---- to SKIPJACK: I have no idea why I thought that was the obvious thing to do. I may have heard of the boat.

I'm shocked there are people who don't automatically know Umberto ECO. The Name of the Rose was a phenomenonal bestseller way back when--I highly recommend it. (Along with Foucault's Pendulum. I have no comment on his other novels, since his publishers have not published them in a size that fits on my extremely crowded bookshelves next to his two I already own.)

Anyway, ECO is standard crosswordese, and not just as a prefix. Similarly, if you haven't heard of ATTAR before, memorize it. It will definitely show up again.

Of course TAE BO is much-advertized! I mean, heck, even I've heard of it.

Anonymous 1:22 PM  

Steve, each of the theme clues omits "jack". The theme reveal says that each themed clue skips jack. The clue for 22D is missing the word "jack". Without it it makes no sense, with it it does.

How does 22D break the theme's internal logic?

enoughtoil 1:29 PM  

In reply to Glimmerglass near the top of the page, "acned" is not based on a verb. See "short-haired" and "yellow-bellied" for nouns that are converted to adjectives by adding "-ed". I'm in a hurry so I can't think whether this conversion is usually in this type of two-word phrase or whether I might think of another case with a one-word noun.
In another example, "short-lived" should ideally be pronounced with a long "i" because it refers to "life". However, in the United States, it is usually pronounced with a short "i" because of confusing the origin of the phrase with the verb.

Anonymous 1:33 PM  

I thought it was easy and was surprised to see Rex's medium. I never look for the themes just do the clues and had no problem. my first answer was Cary, though I love Hugh Grant there's really only one that springs to mind. My only hesitancy came with is it Rho or Chi.

Steve J 1:58 PM  

@Anon 1:22: 22D seemed to break the logic because of the way my brain parsed the clue, which I admit may not be accurate. Looking back at it now, I can see how it would be "Start of the name Jack," but originally I read it as paired with the theme revealer, meaning that the clue phrase could stand on its own without the name "Jack" involved. Probably a misreading on my part now that I look at it again.

Doc John 2:37 PM  

I completely agree with your writeup, Rex, except for ACNED which, medically, is perfectly acceptable.

Just for completeness, here are Richard Burton's Oscar nominations:
My Cousin Rachel (1952)- Best Supporting Actor
The Robe (1954)- Best Actor
Becket (1964)- Best Actor
The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965)- Best Actor
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1967)- Best Actor
Anne of the Thousand Days (1970)- Best Actor
Equus (1977)- Best Actor

Plus, he was in my all-time fave movie (for personal reasons): Where Eagles Dare.

sanfranman59 3:20 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 11:27, 11:46, 0.97, 48%, Medium

Top 100 solvers

Wed 5:54, 5:48, 1.02, 60%, Medium

Anonymous 4:05 PM  

For me it was a clever theme that could have been better executed. Easy going through the entire puzzle except for the NE corner. Had TIE instead of TAT for 10A. No idea what TAT means. Had ISLE instead of ACRE in 11D (no idea who Jane Smiley is). Never heard of TAEBO. Had ONE C in 28D so TAECO made sense to me.
Finally never heard of GESSO. But I learned a word that I will surely forget by tomorrow.

Sfingi 4:17 PM  

Liked this one a lot - But, where's the lumber, Jack?
Got the theme when I asked, "But, don't you mean Union JACK?" for flag.

@Glimmerglass - of course not - but you got it any way, didn't you.
I believe it was Jesperson who said English speakers will make a verb into a noun and vice versa, so forget about it.

Did not know TAEBO or ONEB, so left the B blank at this personal Natick.
But no Googles.
@Emba - must be advertised on sports. And I haven't been on a plane since before 9/11/01.

Just found out my third peanut visitor is - after Mr. Squirrel and Mr. BlueJay - a Junco! What a cute little guy - and brave.

Thought of Lee Grant, too, besides CARY and Hugh.

@Ex-Sot - I think it's TENNESSEE sippin' whiskey, but I'm an almost teetotaler.

Has anyone had a type of Cracker Jack called KarmelKorn? I thought it was only found in Syracuse, but I see some advertised in Gatlinburg, TN, and it dates back to 1929, WY. Sure is good, and even better with the Orange Julius.

r.alphbunker 4:20 PM  

I am having a lot of fun with the toy. I get to solve crossword puzzles while debugging it!

I haven't figured out how to compute the BEQ of a puzzle yet. I am working with visualizing puzzles instead. Here is one attempt:

r.alphbunker 4:55 PM  

You saw a connection that I didn't. I thought of "No trumpets, no drums" because of the "No jacks" theme. Initially thought that George Bernard Shaw had said it. (Brings to mind the GHOTI puzzle). But Google indicates that Tennessee Williams said it. I didn't make the connection that TENNESSEE was one of the answers. Thanks for pointing this out.

archaeoprof 5:20 PM  

@fikink: yes, I do remember SYZ. You and I obviously move in the same highly sophisticated circles.

@sanfranman59: you do us all a great favor with your daily reports. Thank you!

quilter1 6:36 PM  

@Doc John: thanks for the Burton Oscar list. I had a huge crush on him as a teenager. But I also had kind of a crush on his predecessor Sir Richard Burton, the 19th century explorer. I read his book, The Look of the West, an account of his trip across the American west from St. Louis to California. He hated it mostly and I wished as a young girl that I could take him on the same trip.
@JaxinLA: I second your remarks about the puzzles this week and the blog.

Anonymous 7:56 PM  

clunky theme...

dk 9:10 PM  

Makin GRIDDLECAKES out of cornmeal and pine nuts. So I guess if I use JACK pine nuts I will be theme-centric.

Nice one Victor. I had nair for NEET as I am of a certain age. But otherwise...

*** (3 Stars)

Once commented at an opening the paintings could be fixed with a coat of GESSO... of course the artist was standing next to me and I was tipsy thanks to his wine... I am a TOAD, nope NEWT.

Saw American Grind House last night... well worth it.

d(late nite poster)k

chefwen 9:50 PM  

SKIPJACK tunas (also known as Arctic bonito, oceanic bonito, watermelon and, in Hawaii, aku) get their name because they seem to "skip" out of the water. They can weigh up to 40 pounds, but are more typically ranged from 6 - 8 pounds. Skipjack flesh is similar to that of yellowfin tuna. It may be cooked by almost any method including baking, broiling, grilling and frying.

From the Food Lover's Companion.

Wanted to post a lot earlier but my stinkin pooter was down and I had to wait for the, as usual, out of town husband to check in and walk me through setting things right. It's not easy being technically impaired.

Loved the puzzle and caught onto the theme quickly. Only write over was SUE over SeE at 40D

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 6:29, 6:54, 0.94, 26%, Easy-Medium
Tue 8:59, 8:57, 1.00, 58%, Medium
Wed 11:38, 11:46, 0.99, 55%, Medium

Top 100 solvers

Mon 3:41, 3:41, 1.00, 52%, Medium
Tue 4:36, 4:35, 1.00, 58%, Medium
Wed 5:49, 5:48, 1.00, 56%, Medium

@archeoprof ... you're most welcome. So far, this has been a remarkably Medium week by the numbers.

KarenSampsonHudson 10:20 PM  

Thanks, everyone, for your helpful comments on methods of approaching the puzzles, in answer to the question I posted on Monday. I appreciate that you took the time!
Cheers to all.

Anonymous 11:55 PM  

You guys are insane with your 11 minute solve times. It takes me literally 45 minutes to an hour to solve puzzles! I think I just don't have the hang of this crosswordese yet (I started doing these about two weeks ago.)...

I was impressed with myself for getting what I did today though! I got all but about 6 clues after coming back to it three separate times during the day.

Love the site, love you guys. Thanks for making it a great, welcoming place!

andrea cary michaels 2:33 AM  

I put in SKIPbACK and tried to figure out the theme afterward, bec it could have been CAPITAL (any letter here)
So weird to half notice all the missing JACKS and still not make the connection.
eg Black = 21, I just figured the #21 on a roulette wheel was black...

Or Union, something felt off, but in went FLAG anyway. I can't explain that each time I felt something was off, but not missing!
I thought each answer was missing the word BACK!
Finally dawned on found this more interesting and a curiosity and an outside-the-box, so that's nice.

My first thought was LEE Grant, I'm such a feminist/old lady! ;)

And I read all the comments but don't see any that mentioned that ONE was in the puzzle three times:
TWENTYONE, ONE ARM, ONE B. That seems ONE too many, no?

Get rid of the awful ONEB and you solve two problems at once, no?

Didn't know Natterjack, but it sounds like it would be warty, which is ACNED for a TOAD, I'm guessing.

Anonymous 10:19 PM  

I like your 'blog, but I gotta stand up for Ross Macdonald. Loves me some Lew Archer!

Waxy in Montreal 1:22 PM  

With ACNED spotted, and before the theme revealed itelf, was sure Daniel's home was some variation of LIONSDENS or LIONSLAIR.

Actually, this theme could be the grist for many an additional puzzle with all the other JACKs that could be SKIPped as in:
jack snipe
every man jack
Jack and Jill
Jack Frost
jack of all trades
Jack pine
Jack Russell
Jack the Ripper
Jack be nimble
and I'm sure a jackload of others...

tim 1:42 PM  

I just wonder if Chandler was being ironic when he used "recherché" in his letter.

Dirigonzo 3:27 PM  

I'm glad to see @Waxy has made an appearance - it's been pretty lonely in syndication land lately.

For reasons I don't fully understand, or maybe understand too well, I knew Daniel's home was TENNESSEE off only the T from TAT so that gave me a leg up on the puzzle. Didn't know the Painter's preparation at 5a and the first letter of the MD's name could have been anything as far as I'm concerned - I guessed wrong so DNF.

Favorite clue was for ALOHA at 2d.

Anonymous 6:37 PM  

this puzzle should have been a lot better.

lodsf 1:15 PM  

[2/9 in Mar’11] Five weeks and a day late, but still want to thank Rex and all the commenters here for what is often much needed insight; for this puzzle I would *n*e*v*e*r* have figured out 24D FLATTIRE (even though I got the letters) and had a hard time seeing even after reading all of the comments. If I’m stranded on the side of the road the first thing that comes to mind isn’t, “gee this is really a jack necessitator moment”. Other than that one thing (two if you count Rex’s valid objection to 22D) I loved this puzzle. I originally thought of the TOYSURPRISES in the English Christmas crackers so the theme was completely obscured for quite a while, but enjoyed the aha moment when (after I decided to ignore 24D) it gelled. Aloha from the future.

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