Start of old army recruiting line / WED 2-2-11 / Doffs one's lid / Suffix with magnet / Club for knights / Graybearded sort

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Constructor: Peter A. Collins

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: LETTER / DROP (47D: With 9-Across, post office mail slot .. or a hint to this puzzle's theme) — answers are two-word phrases from imaginary quotations where second word = first word - first letter; dropped letters are all vowels, A through U, appearing (and disappearing) in consecutive order

Word of the Day: SMOLTS (56A: Young salmon) —

A young salmon at the stage intermediate between the parr and the grilse, when it becomes covered with silvery scales and first migrates from fresh water to the sea. An 8-time All Star, he received the N.L. Cy Young Award in 1996 and is the only pitcher in major league history to top both 200 wins and 150 saves. (wikipedia)
• • •

I'm having trouble knowing where to begin today. I don't think this puzzle is up to NYT standards. I understand the theme, but I don't understand why it's ... good. The phrases are nonsense. The sentences they are supposed to be a part of aren't funny. The revealer has nothing but the most literal thematic connection to the theme answers, and even then, why first letters? Why vowels? Why? Why? That is the operative question. I don't even really know how hard this puzzle was because I kept stopping and asking "Why?" Sometimes out loud. Wife got bored and couldn't be bothered to finish, which sometimes happens on a Sunday, but a Wednesday? Maybe if the phrases were self-standing and clued funnily, like, I don't know, [Fowler?] => USAGE SAGE. God, now I hate myself for even playing that game. The whole puzzle feels like an idea that any constructor might have ... and test ... and discard. How this made it through, I just don't know. I am terribly sorry if this criticism seems extreme, but I'm trying to be objective here. I can't remember a puzzle that felt this substandard. Not in the NYT.

[Update: If I hadn't been on vacation in the summer of 2008, it turns out I'd have seen this theme before. And guess who (co-)constructed *that* puzzle? ... Unreal. If you're going to copy yourself . . . no, on second thought: no comment.]

We haven't even begun to talk about the fill, which is barely passable. Just a forced, uninteresting wreck, from stem to stern. I mean, what is there? LICORICE? (38D: Center of Good & Plenty candy) What else? The list of mediocre-to-bad fill is too long to list. It would be quicker to list the solid stuff. LAST, that's solid. OPEN, that's a word. For all of our sakes, I'm not going to go on ... OTTISLOBBERBEALLUNHATS ... sorry, spasm.

I mean, come on, [Doffs one's lid]?! What kind of phrasing is that? It's like the last part of the clue has never met the first part, and neither of them has met the answer.

Theme answers:
  • 18A: "After the maid cleans out the ___ ___ going to polish the fireplace doors" (ASHES SHE'S) — you know what looks great in the grid? Not this.
  • 24A: "The note accompanying the ___ ___ that all money should go to charity" (ESTATES STATES) — I submit that some of these sentences don't make any sense.
  • 36A: "The reporter heard the New York ___ ___ his coach" (ISLANDER SLANDER)
  • 49A: "At the organic market, the price of ___ ___ from moderate to ridiculous" (ORANGES RANGES) — at 36-Across, I saw the vowel progression and so filled in the "O" here and the "U" at 57-Across. Did make things easier.
  • 57A: "The teacher found that ___ ___-a-longs helped her pupils remember their ABCs" (USING SING)
If you really have to put -ITE in your grid, I highly suggest you give it an unobtrusive clue. [Suffix with magnet] is not that clue. MAGNETITE? Of all the -ITES ... ISRAELITE, CARMELITE, SAMSONITE ... I mean, are you so enamored with [Suffix with magnet] that you thought it warranted using twice?? Also, don't understand how A HIT works for 30A: Take ___ (lose one). I know the phrase "TAKE A HIT," but what's this "one" in the clue. One what? Game? Pound? Girlfriend? SOLA? (45A: Alone, on the stage) What "stage" are we talking about? Is that a theater cue? I had SOLO, unsurprisingly. OTTIS / LOBBER / BEALL (17A: Start of an old Army recruiting line) sent the ick-meter into High very quickly, and it rarely if ever came down.

Ooh, I like the clue on BARTAB, for sure (20A: Zombies might be on it). That answer is total LICORICE (my new, yet now defunct, puzzle word for "sweet").

  • 42A: One-quarter of "Whose woods these are I think I know" (IAMB) — This is almost clever. A little precious, maybe, but kind of thoughtful.
  • 43A: Club for knights (MACE) — Childhood D&D-playing does come in handy from time to time (32D: Old Dungeons & Dragons co.=> TSR)
  • 55A: John, to Paul, George or Ringo (LOO) — I vote we retire this clue, and any Beatles variants, right now. It was clever once. A long time ago.
Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go ASSESS some SSRS.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]

P.S. it's my dad's 70th birthday! So happy birthday to the original Dr. Sharp.


Tobias Duncan 12:52 AM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous 12:55 AM  

my fav example of this is S/LAUGHTER

Tobias Duncan 12:55 AM  

Two gimmies for New Mexicans this week with TAOS on Saturday and LAS Cruces today.One for me, one for Jesser

Will loves these kind of two word phrase, add a letter , drop a letter fill in the blank sentences.I have been listening to the Sunday puzzle for far longer than I have been doing crosswords so they did not feel clunky , just Will Shortz nerdy.Frankly I am surprised we dont see more of them.
Liked the puzzle just fine but it could be that I am still in a good mood from Monday's fine puzzle.

12:52 AM

syndy 1:01 AM  

Wowie zowie I had so much fun filling in this puzzle working back and forth that it breaks my heart to come here and see rex trash it.Woe betide that I should rehash something 44 has assessed but comeon it ain't that bad.north west corner took a little working cus STAY stayed too long but with ELMERS help I stuck to it and earned my happy pencil. ALL you in the path of the storms stay safe now!

Anonymous 1:09 AM  

I do not understand ALER in 39D.

Anonymous 1:18 AM  

I get the theme, but so what?

There are a lot of words in this puzzle that baffle me. Maybe it’s the blizzard outside or maybe it’s my head cold or maybe it’s my home remedy for my head cold, but there are a lot of answers I do not get.

I have never seen, heard, or read BETIDE.

I have no idea what the German for silent is.


Why is a club for knights MACE? And do not tell me knight stands for cop.

And John Lennon was LOO to his pals?

In conclusion, HERE’S to the blizzard/thunder snow outside!!!

PS, Can't blame Rex this time....

syndy 1:32 AM  

Mace-an iron ball with spikes on a handle or chain used for bashing heads-notably richard 111 weapon=also in England the bathroom (the John) is refered to as the Loo. and once again woe betide thee/

andreas carlas michaels 1:38 AM  

I liked it! (duck)
Once I caught on, the theme super helped with the fill.

But 34 S's out of 187 letters (yes, I counted!) is a lot.
I actually thought that might have something to do with the theme: double/triple SSSs

Having the theme phrases be in order, as AEIOU, seems to be worth something, no?

I'm guessing there will be some malapops for the whole magnet-ite/ism

@Anon 1:09
Detroit Tiger must be an American Leaguer...
(If it makes you feel any better, I thought Tiger Woods and had AcER at first.)

Btw, you one brave chiquita! I was too frightened to write in, till I saw your post!
(Maybe we all need to chip in and dig Rex out of the snow and send him back to Florida to chill out a bit, tho that sounds somewhat paradoxical!)

I too got off to a rocky start with stay/servER.
I don't know BETIDE (Bard, please ring in) and don't drink, so the final B in BARTAB was my last fill. A Zombie sounds like a fun drink, tho!

@Tobias Duncan
Thank you. I'm still kvelling. :)

chefwen 2:23 AM  

@Andrea - With you 100%, started off with stay and server with 1A and D. Took me a while to get the theme but sussed it out with ASHES SHES. Pretty smooth sailing on for the rest of it. I actually liked it, although it took me a little longer than your usual Wednesday. Husband helped me out with OTTIS, never would have known that in a 100 years. That helped me clean up the upper Northwest, my last fill.

ArtLvr 2:30 AM  

Woe BETIDE the unwary reader who comes upon a riotous Rexian rant with a mouthful of liquid! In my case it was "It's like the last part of the clue has never met the first part, and neither of them has met the answer." I spluttered helplessly with laughter...

Oh dear, I see @Syndy beat me to the British LOO too. And @Andrea seems no more familiar with Zombies than I am -- another new drink learned this week to add the the Brass Monkey! Where is my favorite Mimosa?

So I go to my REST in this STILLE Nacht, dreaming of EGRETS' and ORANGES' RANGES like a tropical ISLANDER, yet expecting A HIT at SUNRISE with another arctic storm. AHSHEESH!


Evan 2:44 AM  

First, happy birthday to Papa Rex.

Second, while I don't think the puzzle is as bad as Rex did, I think the theme could have used a little more zip. If the idea is going to be a LETTER DROP with wacky theme answers, you might as well use some unique letters in the bunch. Some suggestions:


I also agree with Rex that the fill was subpar. It seemed like there were too many abbreviations or shortened forms of common words when they could have been changed to something more palatable, as in the northeast, east, and western sections. I winced at the TILTAT at 4D and have never, ever heard of SOLA being an acceptable form of being alone on stage (SOLO and SOLI, yes, but not with an A).

Evgeny 4:19 AM  

my explanation for SOLA while solving was that in many a classical opera (a great deal of which are in Italian), the respective damsel (Manon Lescaut, Aida, Norma etc.) often laments her loneliness. By calling herself sola. Not sure, if that's true, though. Another thing that comes to mind ist that in libretti, the word may be used to indicate that a female voice is singing alone? not sure about this either...

joining the "liked this puzzle" party, btw.

Anonymous 6:31 AM  

Rex, I will love you forever for hating this crossword as much as I did. It was a complete POS. Possibly the worst crossword ever.

AHIT 6:54 AM  

I am happy to join the minority (my usual spot): I liked it too!
I thought the theme was clever and cleverly executed. And I am no naif; have been doing nyt puzzles for 30+ years .... and frankly I never saw that john paul ringo et al clue before. it made me laugh out loud; as did 20A (BARTAB). all in all a lot of good cluing. thanks, Mr Collins!
Lighten up, everybody ...

The Bard 7:41 AM  

King Richard III > Act I, scene II

LADY ANNE: Dost grant me, hedgehog? then,
God grant me too
Thou mayst be damned for that wicked deed!
O, he was gentle, mild, and virtuous!

GLOUCESTER: The fitter for the King of heaven, that hath him.

LADY ANNE: He is in heaven, where thou shalt never come.

Let him thank me, that holp to send him thither;
For he was fitter for that place than earth.

LADY ANNE: And thou unfit for any place but hell.

GLOUCESTER: Yes, one place else, if you will hear me name it.

LADY ANNE: Some dungeon.

GLOUCESTER: Your bed-chamber.

LADY ANNE: I'll rest betide the chamber where thou liest!

GLOUCESTER: So will it, madam till I lie with you.

Was ever woman in this humour woo'd?
Was ever woman in this humour won?
I'll have her; but I will not keep her long.

Unknown 7:54 AM  

I thought it was fine. I had no problem with any of the clues or answers, didn't have to look anything up, so I finished quickly without getting annoyed by ALER or UNHATS (vs. NBAER which I hated in some puzzle last week). I was pleased to to reminded of BETIDE, as in 'Woe betide me' and look forward to using it is a sentence in my sewing group next Tuesday.

I enjoyed working out the theme answers, verily, even puzzling them out.

As Mark Twain said, it is a difference of opinion that makes horse races.

r.alphbunker 8:12 AM  

@Tobias Duncan
Thanks for putting things in context.

I had the thought that if crossword puzzles were advertised like movies it would be possible to excerpt something positive from RP's review. The ad could go something like this:
"You've heard Will Shortz on NPR, now experience his word play prowess on paper! Critics have loved this puzzle. Rex Parker, the former 44th greatest crossword puzzle solver in the universe raved 'I'm having trouble knowing where to begin today. it's [that] good.'

mmorgan 8:17 AM  

Had some trouble getting momentum at first, until I wandered (almost by default) towards the broad south, most of which fell very quickly. Still, a bit of a slog in the top half, especially in NW -- many cludgy clues, I thought (although I liked Zombies on the BARTAB and John/LOO was fresh for me). Could have been a cute concept, and I'll doff my lid for his setting up the vowels to go in order, but it was not the most enjoyable solve for me.

joho 8:26 AM  

Rex's rant was so well written and heartfelt for some odd reason it became comical to me, thus what could have been stinging turned to chuckles for me.

I sort of got the theme at ASHESSHES and really saw it at ORANGESRANGES. Kind of fun but I can also agree with some the criticisms mentioned. I agree with
@andrea carlas michaels that the vowels in order have to amount to something.

I absolutely loved the clue and answer for "Zombies" BARTAB ...that's worth the whole puzzle right there!

conomist 8:28 AM  

Truthfully, I almost always like the puzzles that Rex hates and vice versa. So, to see his rant on this one was a relief... I'm not getting those minutes of my life back, and this makes me sad.

(also, appropriately, my verification word for this post: UNpAT)

glimmerglass 8:30 AM  

I've seen UNHAT before. It should be banned.

Neville 9:14 AM  

Many of my unhappy remarks have been nailed here by RP, so let me share my favorite thing about this puzzle:

I'm done with it and I don't have to look at it again.

(After all, tomorrow is another day)

Lindsay 9:19 AM  

I really don't see that today's fill is any dreckier than yesterday's. Though that's setting the bar pretty low.

Writeover at 56A where my salmon started life as a SMeLT. And would have remained a smelt but for the ugly SNeRES.

Jimmy Q 9:39 AM  

C'mon now!Let's Not TILT AT each other (does anyone else find that bit of fill a bit on the lame side?)

Anonymous 9:43 AM  

I liked the puzzle (which, I suppose, means I got it). Especially liked the vowels being in order (which I didn't notice until I read Rex). But SOLA? I've done music my whole life (not professionally, thanks my wallet) and this is a first for me.

Blue Stater 9:45 AM  

What Rex (and, even more pithily, Anonymous @6:31 a.m.) said. I would disagree with Rex only in saying that this puzzle is indeed up to the NYT standards of recent years. That's the problem....

JaxInL.A. 9:47 AM  

It's true that Monday was so great that this suffers by comparison. Though I agree with many of Rex's points, still, it was a serviceable puzzle and I got it by starting with IAMB (fun clue) and worked my way around pinwheel fashion.

Wow. I fell asleep last night while writing a post, and here it is waiting for me on waking. This can only be possible with an iPad.

jackj 9:52 AM  

Not a candidate for Puzzle Of The Year, perhaps, but a perfectly acceptable Wednesday offering.

BARTAB was a fun, clever misdirection and LICORICE hit the spot.

David L 9:55 AM  

Agree that this was pretty lame. Uninspiring theme combined with some dubious and dull fill. I googled for definitions of SOLA and the first thing that comes up is a river in Poland. Nothing that involved lone actors.

And I'm far from convinced that BETIDE is right. 'Woe betide me' doesn't translate to 'woe happen me.' Nor can I make sense of the Bard's offering above.

I don't know what the legal limit is on the number of abbreviations and partials a single puzzle can contain, but I'm pretty sure this one exceeds it.

JaxInL.A. 9:58 AM  

I agree. Licorice seems a flavor that has fallen out of favor in recent years, but it's one of my favorites. I don't remember seeing it in a grid before. Anyone here tried the Scandinavian treat salt licorice? Heaven help me but I love that stuff.

Bob Kerfuffle 10:12 AM  

I am outraged!

After doing this puzzle, I definitely plan not to cancel my subscription to the Times!

In fact, I plan not to stop doing Times puzzles in any medium whatsoever!

And I definitely plan not to stop reading Rex's opinions, agree with him or not!


(Strangely, one of the things I puzzled over the longest was 19 D, Rode the pine, for SAT. A sports cliche, I'll guess, but completely new to me!)

John V 10:13 AM  

Got killed in the NE, esp since I have no clue about football players. Like many, had stay for 1A, slicer for 1D. Had yellat for 4D. 45A: Sola? Really? Are we back in the Maleska/Weng era?

So, DNF, first time on a Wednesday in a very long time.

Oh, re: NE, also had iwant for 17A. Like I said, NE was a mess.

retired_chemist 10:24 AM  

I liked it, at least better than Rex. Whose WOTD morph into (John) Smoltz was hilarious.

To replace SOLO with SOLA took a full 2 minutes to find. Bah. Still don't like the word, and shows this as the first and only such cluing. Regardless, note to self: check downs first and work backwards from the SE corner.

Theme was fun enough. Favorite answer: BAR TAB,though I didn't see it until I finished because it came 100% from crosses.

Thanks, Mr. Collins.

Anonymous 10:26 AM  

The puzzle had a feel of a typical Wednesday. I had to move from place to place alternating between across and down clues. Got the idea for the theme early on which helped in filling the grid. Fairly smooth going except for some words I was not familiar with. Never heard of BETIDE.
Don't like UNHATS, STILLE, SMOLTS, ARETE, SOLA to name a few. Not a drinker myself so did not guess BAR TAB.
The theme is so-so but it did not stand out in its blah-ness over many other puzzles I see. And it does not deserve the lashing it got from Rex today.
I would rate it medium difficulty and mildly enjoyable.

OldCarFudd 10:40 AM  

Liked licorice, stille, bar tab, iamb, and loo. Liked that the dropped letters were the vowels in order. Didn't like much of anything else. And i especially didn't like starts for turns over. Many an engine has turned over 'til the battery died, but has not started, especially in the kind of winter we're enjoying(?) this year. It's especially discouraging when the turning over is done by hand, with a crank, and the #@&*% thing won't start. Ask me how I know!

quilter1 10:42 AM  

Well, I didn't hate it. Solved from the bottom up and saw the theme with the ORANGES. Did not like UNHAT. Uncap, maybe. Smiled when I saw BARTAB as I had my zombies upon most unlikely things, like warpat(h) and ratlab. Missed seeing LOO clue as I filled in with crosses. Knew MACE and BETIDE from adolescent passion for bodice-buster novels. Easy rating for me.
We got the wind in Des Moines but missed the big snow again. Yet our schools are closed. Why, in my day...All the rest of you east of here keep warm and safe.
Presalat: comes before the appetizer

Look Up Guy 10:44 AM  

sola (sō′lə)


alone: a stage direction, used of a woman
Origin: L sola (sō′lə)

noun: solum
Webster's New World College Dictionary .

so·la 1 (sōˌlə)

A plural of solum.
so·la 2 (sōˌlə)

By oneself; alone. Used as a stage direction to a female character.
Origin: Italian, feminine of solo, solo; see solo .

Anonymous 10:47 AM  

hated it. probably more than rex. i think a lot of the clues where tough because multiple words could have fit. not a fan, it frustrated me and got my day off to a bad start!(along with the gym being closed due to an ice storm) maybe its just not my day...

Unknown 10:50 AM  

I had "barrow" for 20 across even though I knew 21 D was betide. I just didn't think of the drink. I really enjoyed this puzzle. Thanks, Mr. Collins!

xyz 10:50 AM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
Two Ponies 10:50 AM  

I liked this one just fine.
The dropped vowels went in order.
The wacky theme sentences mostly worked so I don't see the big fuss.
NHL fan that I am Islander slander was the best of the bunch.
As I filled in licorice I noticed that I don't pronounce it like it's spelled. I say licorish.
Is that a regional thing?

xyz 10:51 AM  


several paired clues with no punch, awkward words, trite crosswordese, numbskull fill - nearly devoid of fun

Theme just rubbish

I trash it as does Rex, maybe for different reasons, but this was NOT up to snuff for NYT

Rex and I rarely agree, but this must be a red-letter day


Anonymous 10:55 AM  

It's a Groundhog's Day puzzle. The theme lines were redoing the first word, trying to get it right.

mac 10:56 AM  

The good news is that I made it out of NY just in time. Hello London!
The bad news is that I agree with Rex. This one actually made me grumpy, and the "not NYT material" actually crossed my mind, too.

I do like loo, licorice (it's salty in Holland, too) and bartab, and I got betide with only the last two letters in place, but I was so unsure how I knew it that I almost erased it.

Hope you are all ok in this enormous storm!

Anonymous 10:58 AM  

I also started from the bottom and got the theme with oranges. At that point, I enjoyed finding the phrases and didn't dwell too long on how nonsensical they might be. Puzzled over the zombie clue until the delightful bartab came into being. It was a fine interlude between trips to shovel snow.
Teresa in Detroit

Shamik 11:06 AM  

Didn't hate it with the venom that Rex did, but didn't much like it, either. Found it medium-challenging/challenging and had a hard time getting a toehold. Once the south started filling in, it all fell in at 8 minutes even. Liked the word LICORICE, though don't like licorice.


Never like UNHATS. Nobody says that. Nobody.

Anonymous 11:20 AM  

I agree pretty much with everybody, except that this puzzle was far worse than the one two Thursdays ago, except for 7 down, which was better than 7 down last Sunday. Then there was that terrible puzzle two weeks ago Wednesday and of course the one on January 11, 2002. Or was it 2003? Sheesh! Can we get a life here? This post has been removed by the author -- not!

efrex 11:21 AM  

Nowhere near the amount of dislike that Rex felt. The fill may not be sparkling, but only a smattering of real crosswordese (AMAH, SSRS, ESSE). I personally found the three-letter "grout" fill to be appropriately enlivened by the dual and circular references.

Didn't know SMOLTS or ARETE, so the SE corner didn't get finished. Had STAY instead of LAST, which messed up the NW for quite some time, especially since I didn't remember OJ Anderson's first name.

Enjoyed the theme, even if it's been used in the past, and having the dropped vowels in order is a nice extra.

Liked the clues for BARTAB, IAMB, and LOO, and somehow knew from STILLE. LICORICE was my opener, so I can't complain about that.

Can't say that I was enthralled, but certainly nothing to TILT AT.

Masked and Anonymous 11:21 AM  

Punxxxsutawney Phil saw no shadow today. Completely frozed his little ass off, tho. This portends six more weeks of puz's that will have 44 talkin' to hisself.

Thinkin' that @joho pretty much hit it on the head, comment-wise. Just will add that the LOO clue sounds like the inside-out version of an old Karnac joke: "Name three Beatles and a bathroom." Ono. Lennon deserves better.

Thought puz theme was tolerable good idea.

Jim 11:25 AM  

NW is an all-time disaster, exemplifying this awful fill, a far worse transgression than the theme IMO.

I've never heard anyone TILTAT anything, except a windmill. So, to clue it as a generic term for fighting with...??? whom? It's just wrong. That crossing BARTAB sucks on a Wed. Zombie is not a popular enough drink for one reasonably to get this...again, esp. crossing TILTAT AND BETIDE (again, not a Wed level answer), which itself was crossing STILLE? Word ladder of garbage.

Just b/c puzzlers CAN finish this puzzle doesn't mean it's at all appropriate for a Wednesday.

Martin 11:25 AM  

Today is the first time since 2001 that LOO has been clued with a Beatles variant. Strict.

Tobias Duncan 11:30 AM  

To everyone who hates this puzzle: may a merciless unhatting at the hand of an icy wind betide thee as ye tilt at this fine puzzle.

santafefran 11:33 AM  

NW corner slowed me down. Ottis-yech. And then I had snares for snores not knowing smalts from smolts. There could be snare drums in the barracks--or not.

A few inches of snow here in Santa Fe but bitter: -2, feels like -23.


Glitch 11:36 AM  

Todays comments, with a couple of interesting exceptions, pretty much split along party lines.

Mine: Worthy of publishing in the NYT, but not going to nominate it for the best puzzle of the year.


Hiram 11:42 AM  

I thought Rex was too easy on this one. Awful from top to bottom. And the fact that Mr. Collins is using the same gimmick he used a couple of years ago....shameful! I'm going to do the USA Today crossword to get the taste of this one out of my mouth.

CaseAce 11:46 AM  

I was ASAP for not landing LOO sooner! Great clue, btw.
HERES to Peter Collins, for ORANGE-ing this offering as a SIGN of his well EARN-ed Rep.
Was it A HIT or a miss...the former, my friends, easily, the former!

Sparky 11:53 AM  

Happy Birthday to Michael's Dad.

Waded through this but did get some fun out of it. At first I thought the second word of theme line would be an anagram of the first. Noticed the vowels and filled in two of them where missing. Don't like ALER because it usually tricks me. This time I caught it with satisfaction.

Enjoyed the rant particularly the David Bowie. They don't make videos like that anymore.

The Brass Monkey and Zombie are 1950s drinks. Anybody else put Uncle in first for BEALL? Kind of old timey puzzle in some ways. Have a good day.

retired_chemist 11:59 AM  

Hand up for UNCLE, @Sparky. Bet it was pretty common.

Can someone enlighten me about John Lennon being called LOO? Wikipedia was no help and googling "Lennon Loo" just led to the less than fascinating information that his loo was auctioned off last August and fetched a pretty price.

Bob Kerfuffle 12:07 PM  

@retired_chemist - They aren't calling "Lennon" LOO, just the simple uncapitalized "john". The old First-word-of-the-clue-is-always-capitalized Trick.

CaseAce 12:13 PM  

retired_chemist, Apparently you're THRONE for a loss with LOO at 55A!
It's a Brit term for a (Thomas) Crapper, the chap who really got a handle on it!
Once I figured out the uniquely clever clue Mr. Collins coyly concocted at 55A...I RAND the board!

chefbea 12:40 PM  

Did not like the puzzle. DNF had stay for remain and that fouled up the whole north west.

Use to love good & plenty. Haven't had any in years. Might have to buy some.

Haven't read all the posts so don't know if anyone mentioned what day it is. Thank goodness that little ground hog did NOT see his shadow. I think we are all ready for spring

Unknown 12:47 PM  

It had Las Cruces in it - can't be all bad!

Woke up this morning in Las Cruces - 9 degrees and snowing. I thought maybe we had moved back to New England during the night.

Then a power failure during my puzzling. Most unusual all around.

Masked and Anonymous II 12:54 PM  

P.S. @44: Great WOTD definition text! All-star salmon. Classic. You do good work.

fergus 1:06 PM  

This dive got low points for style, but with a high degree of difficulty, the execution wasn't a flop.

JenCT 1:25 PM  

Not a fan of this puzzle, either. UNHAT? Come on.

No matter how many times I see AMAH, I can't ever seem to remember how it's spelled.

Only redeeming clue was the Zombie one.

retired_chemist 1:29 PM  

LOL! LOOk, I know it's a Brit term. I couldn't see past the trap Mr. Collins set. Now that I get it, it's my favorite clue.

Anonymous 1:36 PM  

finally got that all brits call a john a loo! had betide smolts sola, phrases but n.e. did me in. had stay, yell at,serve and then gave up! thought the phrases were easy but uninteresting. not my favorite weds.

quilter1 2:05 PM  

@Sparky: I wanted uncle too.
Knew smolts just because my bro was a fisheries biologist in Alaska for 25 years so I know a few fish names.
Anyone here from AK? They all seem to know each other. Our daughter was on a cruise and heard a man tell about a hunting accident his friend had and realized it was her uncle he was talking about, a daring rescue in the mountains. Small world.
Pleased to see Lat(via) in today, pleased it is a former SSR.
Anonymous@1:36 I also had stay and yell at for a bit. Made sense to me.

Clark 2:06 PM  

The Bard's slip is showing. He has quoted himself erroneously, saying "I'll rest betide the chamber where thou liest!" This error, which is common, reads as if 'rest' is a verb and 'betide' is an adverb. It should be "Ill rest betide", with 'ill rest' as a noun phrase and 'betide' as a verb meaning 'befall'. Perhaps the dear Bard just slipped and hit the " ' " key.

We are quite nicely snowed in. I took the nine-month old Roxie out last night into the storm. She headed, bounding through deep snow, straight for a bit of high ground in the park just across the street. The wind was about 50 MPH. She seemed to be thinking, WTF? She turned directly into the wind, with that willful spaniel chin held up, stood there for a few seconds, and then turned and headed for home. First time she has ever wanted to go in.

Rube 2:15 PM  

I, along with about half of responders, enjoyed this puzzle. Sure, didn't like TILTAT, LOBBER, and UNHATS, but the zombie clue, the LOO clue, EDEMA, and SOLA, (ref. Italian libretti), were all good. Being from Seattle, SMOLTS was a gimme, but I always thought smolt was both singular and plural, like smelt is. Live and learn. Almost forgot, liked the "Caste member" clue for ANT.

Like others, got the theme with ORANGES_, already having ASHES_, and used that info to fill in the remaining theme answers.

Since Silent Night was originally German, that too was a gimme. Had writeovers at TACO/TApa, STn/STA (natch), and ISM/ISe. Have learned to accept ALER and it's ilk. LOL at the term "grout" for fill - excellent.

But the real plus for this puzzle is, no pop culture. I'd say, "lighten up Rex", but that'd be like telling @Tinbeni to go on the wagon. Ain't gonna happen.

Matthew G. 2:18 PM  

Every once in a while Rex finds fault in things that strike me as good or at worst neutral. There are a couple instances of that today.

First, Rex asks Why vowels? Why? Why? That is the operative question. Well, isn't it nice to use a complete set of something or other in a theme, and isn't it more impressive to find a set of five theme entries that use A, E, I, O, U in consecutive order than it would be to use some other set that was either (a) incomplete or (b) lacking a common thread? On a basic level, I don't understand Rex's implication that the constructor needed a better reason than that to opt for the five vowels. It seems coherent and sufficient to me. It is by no means brilliant, but neither are most themes in this well trod medium.

Second, although it's always nice when the theme entries look like things even when you just look at the grid standing alone, this is clearly something that affects the overall quality of a puzzle far more for Rex than it does for some people (including me, today's constructor, and perhaps Will Shortz). Today's theme reminds of the kind of puzzle that tends to appear four or five pages into the Pencilwise section of GAMES Magazine, where you have to make two-word punny phrases by making some sort of change to the first word to create the second. It's not the most sophisticated type of word puzzle out there, but it's diverting enough. And if I had to think about a two-word phrase that fit the blanks sensibly and fit the pattern, which I did, I don't see why the constructor should shy away from using them just because it creates a grid that looks nonsensical in the absence of its clues. I guess what I'm saying is that I flat-out don't care if a grid looks silly in the abstract if it makes perfect sense alongside its clues. This doesn't factor at all in my pleasure of solving.

I'm not trying to rag on Rex, because I still agree with his reviews 9 days out of 10. But now and then, he grades a puzzle at least in part on considerations that strike me as non-issues. Today is such a day.

I liked the puzzle fine. No gold star, but a pleasant solve. Would have finished in far, far better time if I hadn't tried STAY instead of LAST and SERVER instead of LOBBER. The M at the crossing of AMAH and SMOLTS was a guess (I was pretty sure I'd seen AMAH as crosswordese before, but was fuzzy), but I luckily got it right for a clean grid.

Mel Ott 2:18 PM  

Gee Rex, why don't you stop beating around the bush and tell us what you really think of this puzzle?

BTW OTTIS J. Anderson was a fine football player whom we called "OJ" for awhile, until that other OJ made it a name that shall forever live in infamy.

shrub5 2:18 PM  

I also LOL'd at the mental picture of a young salmon on the mound in @RP's word-of-the-day and the posted picture of Smoltz. Had SMELTS at first but SNORES fixed it.

@JohnV and @Sparky: Thinking of "Uncle Sam wants YOU", I also had UNCLE and refused to give it up so a DNF for the NW corner. G'ed for OTTIS and that enabled me to correct the error and solve the rest of the corner.

Add me to the list of those thinking there's not much to love in this puzzle. And to the list of those tired of the Beatle/john/loo joke, although there seems to be several here who are seeing it for the first time. Maybe this has shown up more often in the LA Times puzzle.

@mac: glad you made it out OK. Looks like U.S. air traffic may be messed up for quite a while.

@Masked and Anon: P. Phil did not look happy and was heard to have said "let's get this over with." He just wanted to get back to his comfy lounge chair next to the fireplace.

treedweller 3:06 PM  

One more who didn't love this, but did not expect such wrath over it.
I would have called it measium. I stalled a bit when I tried OTisS for OTTIS, but mostly this went smoothly.

I'm pretty surprised at the frequent comment of "don't drink, missed the zombie clue." I drink, but mainly beer, at home, and I never had a zombie. Nevertheless, I knew zombies were a drink back before I even had my first illegal sip prior to turning 21.

I agree UHHATS is . . . just wrong. I am sure a dictionary entry exists, but it should carry the connotation of having someone knock your hat off, rather than removing it yourself to be polite. That's how I'd define it, anyway.

I missed the LOO clue (got it from crosses), and I don't remember it from another puzzle, but as soon as I saw it in the writeup I knew it was a tired, old joke. That's okay, I don't expect my puzzle constructors to always be comedians.

My biggest complaint is ESTATESSTATES. As the first theme answer, it inserts an unclued, uninferrable plural followed by a verb of indeterminate tense. Fine to leave some ambiguity--it is a puzzle, after all--but, pray tell, when does one discuss the contents of multiple estates as if they are all of a group? I got ASHESSHES first, and for a long time had ESTATE_STATED, still trying to grasp the theme and that last square.

@Clark Don't forget, The Bard probably wouldn't know what to do with a keyboard if he saw one. That apostrophe was probably an errant drop of ink from his quill, erroneously transcribed by his secretary.

Unknown 3:13 PM  

If I wanted to be cranky about this puzzle, I might take issue with the clue 17A - "Start of an old Army recruiting line" for BEALL. I would be cranky because Be All You Can Be was the Army slogan from 1980 to 2001. I don't think of something from 2001 as old.
I'm just trying to make Rex feel better because this is his blog and he's the boss.

Steve J 3:16 PM  

@Mel Ott: OTTIS Anderson dropped the OJ years before OJ Simpson became infamous.

Regarding the puzzle:

I admit, I'm having a hard time understanding those who enjoyed this one, and the theme in particular. Sure, AEIOU is nice, but that's not enough to hang ones' hat on.

I'm not a fan of what I'll call letter tricks just for the sake of doing them. There needs to be a payoff. Puns, really clever cluing, wacky phrases, something. This is just there. The clues are just answer delivery mechanisms instead of offering something amusing or clever (they reminded me of the sample sentences that no one ever says that are used in language-instruction textbooks in order to illustrate whatever concept is being taught). The resulting fill is mechanical, and dropping an initial letter isn't exactly a challenging theme to crack. Certainly not on a Wednesday, where I expect a little bit of thinking to be involved.

Everyone has different tastes, of course, and there are lots of times where I don't personally like a puzzle or theme where I can see how someone else might (pun-heavy puzzles, for example, because I know not everyone shares my loathing of most puns). But I admit I really can't see it with this one.

Btw, one misstep I didn't see noted: I had MDS in for 9D, which left me with D__S for 16A. Which had me scratching my head for a while, since it would have been the best puzzle error ever had the NYT puzzle managed to change RAND Paul's party affiliation.

That woe is me to think upon thy woes 3:34 PM  

"Ill rest betide the chamber where thou liest!"

Ill rest betide : bad sleep visit

Titus Andronicus > Act IV, scene II

Nurse: O gentle Aaron, we are all undone!
Now help, or woe betide thee evermore!

sanfranman59 3:43 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 14:39, 11:46, 1.25, 93%, Challenging

Top 100 solvers

Wed 7:43, 5:48, 1.33, 98%, Challenging

SethG 3:59 PM  

I winced a lot while solving. The worst might have been the SING-a-longs--a partial within a partial that's a completely non-amusing nonsense theme answer.

Almost made the smalts/snares error.

Anonymous 4:12 PM  

Theme looked very familiar - thanks Rex for pointing to the Sunday puzzle.

I actually truly enjoyed that Sunday puzzle because the dropped letter had a dramatic impact on the word/phrase/pronunciation etc.

Spoiler alert for those who want to do this puzzle, but the theme entries in the Sunday puzzle were precious!


"Will the long-winded ___ ___ his sermon?"
"The majority of British ___ ___ policy coming to fruition"
"I noticed you use the ___ ___ often than the tarnished one"
"The driver's crew decided to make the ___ ___ priority"
"The parishioners ignored the ___ ___ meat on Friday"
"The judges put the names of each ___ ___ for the M.C. to read"
"As one member of the crew ___ ___ co-worker leaned on his shovel"
"You won't find any ___ ___ Turner album"


deerfencer 7:32 PM  

UNHÅT sucks big time, I think we can agree on that; and BETIDES isn't any better.

That said, I had fun with this one despite our leader's distaste for the same.

Different strokes and all that.

santafefran 7:43 PM  

hand up for uncle @sparky.

Captcha: cutcha--what Rex did to the puzzle

Stephen 8:09 PM  

Me rag on Rex too. I had a good time.
Perhaps the reason is that I leveraged the theme and tried to get the long answers without having many crosses. That lead to lots of imagineering, and getting those answers was very satisfying. Also, I'm a big fan of having a theme provide long-distance indirect clues. I actually got the reveal *last*, and needed the theme to get it!

I jammed up in the NE, for the same reasons as others. I had both UNCLE and IWANT before making the third writeover. Remain=>LAST? well, maybe. Got stumped by the blind component too. Shouldn't have; but loved it when I finally got SLAT into place.

I have to reiterate how good the LOO clue was. The misdirection there was so slick I forgot all the little weaknesses in other places. There wasn't the slightest edge to that wording that would have suggested to my brain what to do with it. I understand now that other players have seen this idea used before. Too bad. Perchance I will have to abandon Xwording when all the tricks become stale. Woe BETIDE that day!

As for BETIDing, I agree that it does not mean "happen". At the very least it should have been "happen to".

ALER is Xword crud. It should be expunged everywhere, and not just because I would not know an A Leaguer if I saw one. It was made up by an Xword constructor I'm sure, and should have been illegal from its first use onward.

Now for something that no one has mentioned yet: What's with the hyphen in 42A "One-quarter" (of IAMB/ICPE/NTAM/ETER). I struggled with interpreting that hyphen forever, and it turns out it is meaningless. That is a faux pas that makes me almost want to forgive Rex! Tell me I'm wrong.

Sfingi 9:14 PM  

I liked it a lot, Peter Collins.

I actually got ALER and understood it.

Of course, I knew MACE, since I'm so old. The cops got their word form this, I assume, and not from the spice. Also BETIDE. Glad the Bard showed up already.

Thanx for a Deutsch Wort.

Only writeover - ESSE over AMA-

UNHAT is lame, though.

Maybe Collins likes the S shape?

Jon, LOO, Vaysay (water closet), Bachaus (back-haus). A smidgen gross. The word "toilet" doesn't describe what you primarily do in there, either.

Martin 9:18 PM  

Stephen @8:09
From The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage:

When fractions appear by themselves in ordinary copy, follow these spelling styles: one-half inch (not 1/2 inch); one-half an inch; half an inch (preferred); two-tenths; one-twentieth; one twenty-first; one-thirtieth; one thirty-second; 21 thirty-seconds; one-hundredth; two-hundredths; two one-hundredths; 20 one-hundredths; twenty-hundredths; 21-hundredths, one-103rd; twenty-five 103rds; nine-thousandths; nine one-thousandths; nine-1,009ths; 63 one-thousandths.

There are two more paragraphs but I think you've got enough here. Clues must conform to the Manual like any other editorial copy.

Anonymous 10:10 PM  

PS to my 1:18 am post.

Went back an re-read Rex. Just hilarious! Best writeup in a long time. Better than the puzzle, which makes the puzzle worth something because without the puzzle we'd have no Rex writeup....

captcha is unsest, a cousin to UNHATS no count.

Stephen 10:53 PM  

Thank you Martin for the exerpt from the NYT Manual of Style. I see now what the problem is. The clue writer was stuck with a style guide that (ahem) IMHO is not popular English.

The use of the hyphen in those examples you quote is patently inconsistent. For instance its role in two one-hundredths and 20 one-hundredths is one thing, but its role in twenty-hundredths, 21-hundredths and one-103rd is quite another. Uckk. And the example of twenty-five 103rds is yet a third role! I can live with the first and third models but the second seems quite painfully irregular. This is not a guideline I will ever follow.

I am a big fan of the NYT for its fastidious use of our dear language. This data you have dredged up is quite a shocker. Now I'm fated to be sensitive to the issue ever after.

sanfranman59 1:13 AM  

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 5:46, 6:54, 0.84, 1%, Easy
Tue 8:00, 8:57, 0.89, 21%, Easy-Medium
Wed 14:47, 11:46, 1.26, 94%, Challenging

Top 100 solvers

Mon 3:07, 3:41, 0.85, 1%, Easy
Tue 4:14, 4:35, 0.92, 28%, Easy-Medium
Wed 7:32, 5:48, 1.30, 95%, Challenging

Fallon 2:33 AM  

You are a man after my own heart. I was getting so mad about the OTTIS BEALL LOBBER corner. Totally ridiculous.

william e emba 12:59 PM  

Curiously, SOLA has a different meaning in Shakespeare. From The Merchant of Venice Act V, Scene 1:

Launcelot: Sola, sola! wo ha, ho! sola, sola!

Lorenzo: Who calls?

Launcelot: Sola! did you see Master Lorenzo? Master Lorenzo, sola, sola!

Lorenzo: Leave hollaing, man: here.

Launcelot: Sola! where? where?

Lorenzo: Here.

Old Al 1:08 PM  

In language play, this is known as beheading.

A favorite old one is, "Show this bold Prussian that praises slaughter, slaughter brings rout. Teach this slaughter-lover his fall nears." Beheaded, it becomes, "How his old Russian hat raises laughter -- laughter rings out! Each, his laughter over, is all ears."

Dirigonzo 4:28 PM  

As I was doing this puzzle 5 weeks after Rex had completed his rant against it, I kept saying to my dogs, "Rex is not going to like this, he is really not going to like it." But I still had fun doing it and I found enough to like about it that I have no (r)EGRETS for having done it.

Who knew a beheading could be so much fun? Thanks @A&a:S for that info.

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