Conrad of old films / THU 5-26-11 / Looped vase handles / Newsmakers of 1903 / Seaquake sequel / SARS monitor / Williams paint partner

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Constructor: Ashish Vengsarkar

Relative difficulty: Challenging

THEME: XY AND XX (i.e. HIS AND HERS) (38A: Matching towel set ... with a hint to this puzzle's theme) — four theme answers either begin or end with letter string "HIS" or "HERS" ("HIS" up top, "HERS" on the bottom, as god intended); these letter strings are represented in the grid by the letters XY and XX, respectively, in accordance with the chromosomes of the sex associated with each possessive pronoun

Word of the Day: Conrad NAGEL (43A: Conrad of old films) —

Conrad Nagel (March 16, 1897(1897-03-16) – February 24, 1970(1970-02-24)) was an American screen actor and matinee idol of the silent film era and beyond. He was also a well-known television actor and radio performer. [...] In 1927, Nagel starred alongside Lon Chaney, Sr., Marceline Day, Henry B. Walthall and Polly Moran in the now lost Tod Browning directed horror classic, London After Midnight. The film is quite possibly the most famous and talked about lost film ever. // Unlike so many silent films stars of the Roaring Twenties, Conrad Nagel had little difficulty transitioning to talkies and spent the next several decades being very well received in high profile films as a character actor. He was also frequently heard on radio and made many notable appearances on television. From 1937 to 1947 he hosted and directed the radio program Silver Theater. Later on, from 1949 to 1952 he hosted the popular TV game show, Celebrity Time. (wikipedia)
• • •

Well that was an adventure. I was going to put this at "Medium-Challenging" because, while 9:27 is definitely high for me, for a Thursday, it isn't *outrageous*. But then I checked the NYT puzzle site and saw that my time would've placed me third on the leader board, which is ridiculously high for me. The times are pretty abysmal, generally, so this one must really be tough. Strange, because after some initial floundering (of the fairly typical variety), I caught onto the theme (mostly), which actually made solving the bottom half of the grid easier: knowing there are going to be Xs, and generally where they're going to be located, tends to help one along. But even knowing the theme, I found the puzzle slow-going. Middle gave me fits, as UHRY is one of those nightmare names that I see every six months or so but can never remember (despite its looking Nuts) (22D: Alfred who wrote "Driving Miss Daisy"), and Conrad NAGEL means nothing ("nada" + "bagel" = NAGEL) to me.

Most of my solving time must have been spent up top, early on, as I was struggling to figure out the exact nature of the theme. I should say that I really liked the theme, but I have three minor quibbles. First, I saw the central clue, referring to the matching towel set, before I had any theme answers in place, and knew instantly that the puzzle would be dealing with HIS and HER. Note HER, not HERS. I "knew" this because I already had the HER in place in the first theme answer—the first part of HERITAGE. So theme answers would be two-word phrases where first word starts HIS- and second starts HER- (I rationalized this by deciding that the central answer was probably HIS 'N' HER, though to my credit, I decided to hold off on writing that in). I would say HIS AND HER towels, or HIS AND HER anything, though of course the towels would have "HERS" not "HER" written on them. Anyway, that false "HER" in HERITAGE irked me. Next, there's the fact that chromosomes don't exactly suggest possessive pronouns. The equivalence feels tenuous. Close enough, but not spot on. Lastly, and here I'm really nitpicking, I didn't like that there was an XX in a theme answer with KISSES, since normally / conventionally / epistolarily, the KISSES are what should be represented by Xs, not the letter string "HERS." So the whole structure had a wobbly feel to me. But it held up, and with that many Xs, the grid was far from boring (though the "AX" sound probably shows up one too many times), and remarkably crap-free.

Theme answers:
  • 17A: It's celebrated for 30 days each year beginning September 15 (XYPANIC HERITAGE)
  • 21A: "Take my word for it" ("TRUST ME ON TXY")
  • 48A: Foiled bites? (XXHEY'S KISSES)
  • 58A: Newsmakers of 1903 (THE WRIGHT BROTXX)
Got a little out of my depth at the AMINO / AMIDOL crossing but pieced it together (9D: part of PABA / 16A: Developing agent in photography). Loved the inclusion of the reasonably recent and controversial phrase "WISE / LATINA" (28A: With 8-Across, Sonia Sotomayor, self-professedly). Only just now realized that the seaquake in 24D: Seaquake sequel was not a movie, but an actual earthquake centered in the ocean. Seems entirely reasonable to me that there would have been disaster films called "Seaquake!" and "TSUNAMI!" I didn't know SHERWIN-Williams was named after actual people, let alone partners (42D: Williams's paint partner). I did, however, know that Thom's last name was YORKE (49D: Radiohead frontman Thom). He sings on one of my favorite albums: PJ Harvey's "Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea[quake]."

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Tumblr]

P.S. a message from the future (6/30/11)

P.S. Thanks to everyone who visited the new Facebook page for this website yesterday. I did not expect all the nice comments posted there. Much appreciated. I'll have a "Like" button up on the website soon (or, rather, PuzzleGirl will help me put one up ... she laughs at me when I try to do tech stuff on my own. Literally, laughs). Til then, you can check out the page here. It's a nice place to interact with readers and distribute information and generally goof around.


foodie 12:12 AM  

SHEESH, Ashish, this was hard!

The idea was brilliant, I thought. The execution was a little less so. I felt that the fill was unnecessarily tough, considering that the theme was enough to contend with.

I did the bottom first. Not only did the XX in the KISSES throw me off (a la Rex), but having XX in BROThers also confused me. Were we going for opposites, having XX's in words that denote males?

I liked WISE LATINA, the clue for ACRES, and the private aye :)

You can definitely see a very clever mind at work!

operapianist 12:18 AM  

Not any problems with this one-- at least none that I didn't create for myself. I got the theme pretty early on and was feelin' good, then eventually spent the last 5 minutes of my 18-min solving time staring at the center and trying to figure out AR_U_, SA_A_, and _D_ES. In retrospect it seems obvious, but man when I was in there, I couldn't parse Anything.

The 6- and 7-letter downs flew in for me, then I got stuck on the shorter stuff. TAG, ALE, SOC.

Proud to finish w/no help though. Happy, happy pencil.

foodie 12:19 AM  

Rex, the Quick & Dirty Index (cf. under my avatar) agrees with your rating, and puts this as clearly challenging. Somewhere like a Medium Friday...

thursdaysd 12:44 AM  

Well, that was annoying. I got the theme figured out fairly early, but got totally stuck on some of the fill, and had to look up AMIDOL and WACOTX and so DNF.

WISE LATINA was nice, and the clue for ANACONDA was cute - I was initially thinking Saran and Reynolds - but nothing else really stood out besides the theme. Still, I expect to struggle with Thursdays.

pizzatheorem 12:48 AM  

Really liked this puzzle a lot. I barely finished it, not because of the unorthodox chromosome rebus but because the cluing was very hard for a Thursday. There were a lot of those one word ambiguous clues e.g. [Handle = TAB], [Can = AXE], [Black = ONYX], [Cooler = ICEBOX], and plenty of lateral trickery such as [Nice view = MER], [Moscow's home: Abbr. = IDA], as well as just plain hard clues like [Powder site = KEG]. WACOTX was hard to pick out and I was happy that the nearby entry CEE for the clue [2.0] allowed me to free associate TOSH.

The female chromosome complement appears in XXHEYSKISSES as well as THEWRIGHTBROTXX. Interestingly there is kind of a yin yang thing going on there with HE coming right after XX in the former and the more semantic connection happening in the later. Another curious tidbit is that Ashish is the director for a company called LUNA.

Tobias Duncan 12:59 AM  

Good Lord, this was just plain out of my league. I am getting better at filling in stuff I have not heard of before, but not with some crazy quasi rebus thing going on.I did not even know the sciencey stuff.Bottom half fell ok once I figured out what was going on.
I can tell somehow that the future me(the one that is able to keep of with you guys) would have absolutely loved this puzzle.
Too bad it was squandered on present me :(

That Tosh guy rubs me the wrong way somehow.

Still do not get MER and IDA

Clark 1:08 AM  

This was fun. I saw early that there was something rebus-like going on with his and hers but it took me a while to figure out what. XYPANIC... was the first to fall, then XXHEYS... Making a mango cheesecake while I did the puzzle helped, cause I put it down and came back to it a couple of times.

@Tobias -- MER is what you look out at from the beach in Nice, France. IDA is short for Idaho. (The future is coming faster than you think.)

Anonymous 1:22 AM  

Agree with everything Rex said. Never had an AHA moment. It was more of a DUH moment. Very clever and fun.

davko 1:30 AM  

Okay, I buy it. In the literal sense, XX and XY don't really translate to "his" and "hers," but the association is strong enough to lighten up and just roll with the phonetic pun deployed throughout. Especially when the rest of the grid is well conceived and never boring.

By solving the entire middle section from left to right, I ended up cutting off north from the south, essentially creating 3 separate puzzles and nearly getting myself in trouble. When I finally abandoned REYNOLDS and went on a hunch with ANACONDA (14A), things opened up in the NW. But in the NE, I had never heard the name Lash Larue, and even as a photographer who once had a darkroom, was flummoxed by AMIDOL (all I could think of was that old warhorse of B&W developers -- Miccrodol X).

A query on 58D: aren't bowls (l.c.) the stadia in which Bowl games (u.c.) are played? If so, a touchdown really can't be "part of a bowl." It has no structural integrity!

Rube 1:34 AM  

Couldn't quite do this without Googling the usual pop culture stuff: TOSH, UHRY, and YORKE... all new to me. Did get AXL 'tho. Had to make a guess on the AMINO/AMIDOL crossing, but was fairly sure. FYI, PABA is para-aminobenzoic acid, not Pan Asian Boxing Association.

Did get the theme fairly early on with AXL and XERS, but, like @Rex, was thinking Her, not Hers. The extra "X" in EXTRA was confusing at first. A red herring I guess.

Read 65A as Yam, as I bet many others will. Got ARGUE from the crosses. Stickle is my WOTD. Did not like DOLIKE.

I'm currently reading Carl SAGAN's "The Variety of Scientific Experience". Not a page turner.

Blogger ate my comment but I fooled it by copying first. "Blaaat", Blogger, (or however you write a Bronx cheer).

Doug 1:35 AM  

I shouldn't try hard rebus puzzles while the Idol finale is on. Could *not* get a handle on the theme. It's a brilliant theme though, no quibbles with anything!

anaconda carla michaels 2:06 AM  

Loved this...
Caught on, sort of, right away, but thrown for the same reason as @Rex, as I had in HERitage already and tried to un-correct that...
(same with sHERwin)
AND since I thought XX could be HERS, SHE, or KISSES, I tried to have 48A be XXXXYSXXXXXX!!!!!!!!!

Felt a real flow with Ashish.
Started with "SUCH is life" and nothing stopped me...even the second I saw Moscow I thought "oh must be Idaho!".

(The only thing I wasn't crazy about were the geog abbrevs: IDA, TX, HTS. I tried ---TEX at first bec of IDA, and HTS just does not = HEIGHTS to me...I want HGTS or something)

All the way thru, no real trip ups except the disastrous HERSHEYSKISSES area where I was being too clever by half.

(I can't decide if I like the eXtra/onyX or it the Navajo rug flaw???!)

It was particularly cool to have all the HIS on top and HERS on the bottom (insert Rex's joke here, same one I was gonna make!)
AND that HERS was part of BROTHERS
which is confusing in a fun way.

And from the man who brought you ETHNICCLEANSING, he now has TSUNAMI going down the middle!
That Ashish!!! He is one WISE LATINA!

Anyway Brilliant Brilliant Brilliant, TRUSTMEONTXY.

r.alphbunker 2:19 AM  

Nice puzzle. The clue that gave me the most difficulty was 13D "Sierra Nevada" I was thinking mountains but knew that ALp was not right. Plus I initially had LATINo.

After finishing, I used Google to look up "Sierra Nevada" and discovered that the brewing company had the first two links. Is the company that common (I had never heard of it) or does Google's search algorithm favor them because of ad revenues?

chefwen 2:32 AM  

Woo Hoo, this is why I love Thursdays. How much fun was that?

Caught on early with the X and Y in 1 & 2D and the towel clue broke it open.

@thursdaysd & davco - really wanted to slap in reynolds a 14A but resisted thinking that was too cute, ANACONDA was just as cute.

@Clark - Just made a mango cheesecake last week for a going away party. I used crosswords favorite cookie as the crust. There wasn't a crumb left.

CY 2:43 AM  

One of the hardest Thursdays I've seen in a while. AMINO/AMIDOL were both unknown to me, but I managed to guess the M because AMINO was the only thing that was a word.

However, I tripped up a little further along AMIDOL--I had it as AMItOL, thinking vaguely of sodium amytal. The down was "Moscow's home: Abbr.", for which I had ItA, hazarding that there was a Moscow, Italy. After seeing the answer, I guess I have to concede that Idaho was a more likely place to name a city after a famous European city than Italy was, so AMIDOL/IDA qualify, barely, as Clues I Should Have Gotten.

The Baylor U. locale had me totally flummoxed, as I could not figure out what to do with the X at the end. I ended up guessing WiCObX (with no idea how to read it).

The first of the wrong crosses there was iCH (du lieber). As a Germanic fill-in-the-blank, I knew it was between ACH and ICH, but here my very, very rudimentary acquaintanceship with German let me down, as, recognizing a couple of roots, I expected "Ich du lieber" to mean "I love you".

The other missed cross was _OSH, the Comedy Central host. I had never heard of him to my recollection, and bOSH was a sheer guess. (TOSH was on my short list of plausible-sounding surnames, along with BOSH and ROSH, and possibly NOSH (incidentally, confirms all of these but NOSH as last names), but ultimately this was a roll of the dice.

Even after seeing the answer here, I still couldn't parse it until Google helpfully pointed out that in searching for Wacot X, I really wanted Waco, TX. After seeing that, I begrudgingly admitted that I in theory had the ability to get Waco, TX, had it occurred to me.

In short: I rate this a good puzzle. Although I got three squares wrong, they all just barely passed the Natick test: if I saw the answer written into the puzzle, would I be able to recognize it as the answer?

Campesite 2:57 AM  

How timely: AM IDOL in the grid just as the season wraps up.

There is a woman in the grid who is on top.

So befuddled was I in the northern hemisphere that I briefly thought I might have a rare DNF, but bounced off the bottom and cracked the (puzzle's genetic) code.

jae 3:20 AM  

Great Thurs. Got the theme early from 38a but still struggled with the middle, so med-challenging for me. So, I guess a rebus doesn't necessarily mean multiple letters in a single square?

Rex Parker 6:53 AM  

I would not call this a "rebus" puzzle. In crossword terms, a "rebus" refers only to a puzzle wherein multiple letters appear in single squares.


Kareem 7:09 AM  

I wasn't nearly as bothered by this puzzle as you were. I really liked it. Just under 30 minutes for a Thursday, which is good for me. Only two brief write-overs (GOV for SOC) and SKIES for SPIES). I got Waco, TX right off the bat, but it temporarily led me to WORK-AHOLIC for Sotomayor. Fortunately it didn't last long, as I am a big fan of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. Didn't like "UHRY" or "ANSAE", but both were solvable with crosses.

The 1903 clue was probably my favorite, with Tosh a close second because the show is hilarious.

Thanks, Ashish!

dk 7:27 AM  

Yuk! I got the theme, photo chemical and Conrad's first name. None of it helped me appreciate this puzzle.

So, following the advice of Bambi's aunt (Ana) I will say nothing.

xx (2 Stars)

imsdave 7:31 AM  

Brutal and stunning.

My 91 year old dad is staying with me this week. He rarely does the puzzles anymore because of his failing eyesight, but has done them all this week. I have a feeling this one might make him stop again.

Marsala is red?

Glimmerglass 8:06 AM  

I agree with everything Rex said. This was definitely challenging. Made the same mistake as Rex at first (forgetting the S on HERS), but eventually the light dawned with HERSHEY. . . . Guessed the M in AMIDOL and AMINO. That was a Natick for me.

joho 8:07 AM  

Wow, I was blown away by TXY puzzle, absolutely loved it!

Thank you, Ashish, for a Thursday I won't soon, if ever, forget.

@imsdave ... REDs as in red wines.

SethG 8:14 AM  

No problem with the gimmick, but still a really tough solve.

evil doug 8:39 AM  

If you connect all the feminine words just right, you can see the outline of a woman on her knees.

As God intended.


Smitty 8:57 AM  

Totally Brill!

tricky but fair cluing and tricky but fair theme. I did have to hit "reveal letter" twice - once for amiDol and one for wacoTx, which is unusual for a TXX-day

Lots of fun, thanks!

hazel 8:57 AM  

Fabulous puzzle. One that, when I was muddling over those final few blank spots, I got a little anxious - because it was a puzzle I just HAD to solve because it was so cool. Some puzzles get the "Who cares?" from me now, but not ones like this.

Cracking the code rocked my a.m. Thks AsXYh!!

OldCarFudd 9:05 AM  

Davco - Microdol? Boy, that takes me back. I never used - or even heard of - the X-version. I was an early user of Promicrol, and then Acufine - he first developers to let you boost film speed and still have good tonal range and fine grain. The good old days; now I can barely remember the difference between an f-stop and a shutter speed.

Great puzzle! I got the theme early, which speeded up the solve. Had to suss out a lot of the modern stuff from crossings, but I do that a lot.

Anonymous 9:18 AM  

enjoyed the puzzle, too.

having gone to rice u, i knew baylor was in waco...without that i would have been guessing at tosh...the only tosh in my memory bank is peter of reggae reknown.

NW was last to fall for me as well...was thinking reynolds for wrap...and then wanted ann something-or-other as i had "cnty" for cook as in chicago's county.

- deion

John E 9:39 AM  

Hey Rex - I think the picture above is Conrad Bain of Diff'rent Strokes fame.

Rex Parker 9:45 AM  

Do you?

Anonymous 9:45 AM  

I thought this was tough for a Thursday even though I got the theme right away. DNF because of the "Amidol" and "Ida" intersect but otherwise made my way through this puzzle rather quickly (nothing like Rex's time... more like 45 minutes - my commute - but happy to have almost finished before work). Moscow, Idaho? Really? Amidol? Really?

conomist 9:48 AM  

I won't go through the mental block I endured before actually switching from XxANDXX to XYANDXX...which gave me two Aha moments, which made this puzzle worth it. Thank you, Ashish!

Also, I missed it if someone already answered this, but MER is the view from Nice, France, and IDA = Idaho.

quilter1 9:48 AM  

This was hard but I really liked it. Like @Hazel I just had to finish it. Loved the Sotomayor reference. I got the theme when the towel answer appeared, that answered my "huh, that can't be right, but it is" whining.
Nice tussle, Ashish.

Lindsay 9:49 AM  

I fell into the HER instead of HERS trap. Therefore, because I knew knew knew 48A would be HERSHEY KISSES, which didn't work with HER, I concluded there was more to the theme than mere chromosomes. Way overthought the thing.

So even with all the XXs and XYs in place, not a theme answer complete, just staring at the crevasse of empty squares bisecting the grid wondering if the Seaquake sequel ended in "ii", "iii", "vi" or ????

*** reoto = ethnic crosswordese two days in a row

Name withheld to protect the not so innocent 10:01 AM  

Deleted = EXED? As in I EXED my wife? Sounds kind of criminal to me. Cheaper, but criminal.

Lindsay 10:17 AM  

Omitted to note that I did finish the puzzle. Just not lickety-split.

Anonymous 10:30 AM  

Wow - what a fun solve! I think this is my favorite NYT puzzle ever in the couple of years that I have been doing them. I actually read back over the answers after solving just to appreciate the puzzle a little longer, especially all the misdirecting clues.

This felt like a Thursday puzzly puzzle except with Friday misdirects.

I had to look up the R in Uhry because I couldn't see stickle as a pure verb. I only know it in the usage "a stickling point."

Anaconda, sonar, onyx, Sherwin, icebox, wise Latina, Xterra, ....not to mention the amazing theme answers -- I just loved it all.


PuzzleNut 10:47 AM  

Very nice. Thought the fill was a little tougher than the theme answers, but overall it was very well balanced.
Had XYsheyKISSES at first and never noticed that that was consistent with the XYITAGE answer. A minor nit, but one that I needed to glean from Rex's write-up. DIDN'T LIKE DOLIKE, while SAGAN was my favorite.

imsdave 10:51 AM  

@joho - I knew where he was going with the clue, but the only marsala wines I have cooked with are tan/brown.

Update on dads solving - he found this much easier than the LAT today (as did I).

captcha - regallin - drug used to control ADD among royals?

Anonymous 10:54 AM  

first comment after following blog for 2+ yrs....i missed evil doug..he may not be PC, but he is hilarious

Two Ponies 10:54 AM  

Really nice to see some original thinking and creativity.
The fill was just cruel in places.
Sort of like that Tosh guy.
Surprised to see Axl and axle in the same grid.
I see Rex has said a rebus is confined to one square but I think Ashish has ventured into new territory by creating a rebus that spans two squares. Brilliant.
Another original feature that had me confused for awhile is that our usual rebus works both across and down.

jackj 10:54 AM  

A spoonful of genetics, a dose of whimsy and a large dollop of fun, wrapped in a crust of brilliance and baked in a designer ramiken make for an Ashish treat for the mind!

A most memorable Thursday puzzle.

CFXK 11:02 AM  

Love the puzzle and theme, though I too found the fill a bit difficult for this sort of themed puzzle -- would have appreciated two or three more gimmes so I'd have a bit more to work with. Center was TOUGH.

@Davco: once upon a time when New Year's Day games were actually played on New Year's Day, the shorthand for the competitions were the names of the actual stadia in which the games were played (Orange Bowl, Rose Bowl, Cotton Bowl). Over time the games themselves began to be referred to as "bowls" and the names of "bowls" were de-linked from from the stadia in which they were played. And over MORE time the names of the "bowls" were linked to the corporate sponsors -- the Rose Bowl being the exception. In most cases now, the names of the stadia are irrelevant, and the word "bowl" has come to mean the competition itself, not the venue in which it is played. So, it's quite possible for the Rex Parker Puzzle Solver and Popular Culture Championship Bowl to be played at Natick High School's Memorial Field with Joe Pesci singing highlights from his 1968 album "Little Joe Sure Can Sing" for the halftime show.

Possible, but hell freezing over might be a better bet.

chefbea 11:05 AM  

too tough for me. DNF

Mel Ott 11:13 AM  

Very clever theme - but it could have been better executed. Particularly the HER in HERITAGE.

The ROPE isn't part of the tower in which the bell is rung any more than TDS are part of the bowl in which the game is played. Altho I guess 'bowl' can refer to the game itself, as @CFXK just pointed out. So...maybe. Still skeptical about the rope.

Hand up for wanting REYNOLDS for the king of wrap.

Brendan Emmett Quigley 11:23 AM  

Jeez, Rex. I coulda sworn you would have put a picture of Pulp's "His 'n Hers." on your site.

ksquare 11:29 AM  

@JohnE 9:39 & Rex 9:45 So do I!

CoffeeLvr 11:36 AM  

I had a struggle with a worthy opponent last night. All of the adjectives others have used apply: brilliant, memorable, challenging.

WISE LATINA was/were my first entries in the grid; love it.

My personal Words Of the Day are UHRY, NAGEL, "stickle" as a verb, and TOSH (with this clue). Nice to see ANSAE again, after learning it from puzzles.

Also, the paint partner is SHERWIN, not SHERmaN, as I mis-recalled. Gave up and Googled to confirm my memory and earned a big fat DNF, but still had the ear-worm from the jingle.

While I didn't remember his name on the first pass through the grid, I DOLIKE Thom YORKE. Another hand up for not liking DOLIKE as used here at all, but that's a tricky puzzle for you.

Another nit, an AXLE is not a point, although it does turn, but I guess this usage is permissible in a puzzle.

Captcha is Rembo, the story of Sylvester Stallone's struggle with an aging memory.

Masked and Anonymous 11:47 AM  

Loved it. Different and clever. Felt like I was being "puzzled" a lot, as I solved it; I like that feeling. NE and SW corners were hardest, but finished in pretty much my average ThurPuz cinnamon roll tonnage.

Fave clue: "King of wrap?" Fave answers: TSUNAMI crossin' XYANDXX, dead center. But @31...ain't "His" more kinda "up front", rather than "up top"? You're analogy seems...wobbly.

Masked and Anonymous II XY 11:52 AM  

Correction dept. "You're analogy" should, of course, read "Y'all's analogy". Sorry for the confusion.

Jeffrey 11:54 AM  

The picture is clearly from Diff'rent Strokes. Gary Coleman on the left, Todd Bridges on the right.

treedweller 11:58 AM  

but . . . Towel Day was yesterday.

I had no problem with AMINO/AMIDOL but, like @CY, I had ItA for IDA.

Oh, and Rex, I think that's Gary Coleman in Mr. Bain's lap.

treedweller 12:00 PM  

Crosscan evidently didn't spend a few minutes looking up Towel Day and therefore beat me to the punch.

JC66 12:03 PM  

@evil doug has a great sense of humor (btw, so does @rex).

Conquest 12:12 PM  

You all know Evil Doug's reference to kneeling was in reference to an act of prayer, humbling oneself before God, as we all should be doing now that the end of days is upon us, right? Or were you perverts thinking something dirty?

JenCT 12:16 PM  

Too tough for me to finish - had to come here for the explanation (as usual.)

Liked the horticultural/animal references: LUNA moth, ANACONDA, Slippery ELM, Hedgehog SPINES.

And what I first thought were horticultural: had TEA Rose/TREES for 36d & a.

jberg 12:19 PM  

I liked the puzzle a lot, although I was disappointed when I found that 17A didn't really refer to my ancestral home of XYpania, a remote island in Lake Erie.

Marsala is definitely not among the REDS - wine is roughly classed as red, white, rose, sparkling, and fortified, and marsala belongs in the last group.

For further validation of the theme, take a look at

DO LIKE is very colloquial -- "Hey, Georgie, do like this!" so I thought it was a good answer, though it took me at least a minute to figure out which parts of bowls were TDS - my lat answer.

Tobias Duncan 12:20 PM  

I really hope someone does a towel day puzzle for next May 25th (its a friday). I celebrated this year by slinging a towel over my shoulder before heading to the coffee shop.You have to behave in an odder manner than that to get any extra attention in Taos NM...Had a chat with one of my friends there , her birthday was also May 25th.Turns out she had know Douglas Adams personally, adored him and had worked with him on Starship Titanic.She had never heard of towel day :-(

Anonymous 12:25 PM  

Finally, after a few days of being under the weather, Rex returns to his quippy, witty self. Hurrah!

KarenSampsonHudson 12:38 PM  

Clever, fun puzzle, appealing to me. "Ansae" is new to me---is it a common "puzzle word"? What is "tds" as abbreviated parts of bowls?

evil doug 12:49 PM  


You got it! That's my story and I'm sticking with it---especially if my lovely bride of 37 years finds out what I wrote.


WesIsland 1:02 PM  

Would have never broken the code if hadn't grown up in Dayton....any reference to early 20th century technology breakthroughs automatically triggers "Wright Brothers."

Anonymous 1:06 PM  

Thx for the comments, all! On the road, commenting (via Bberry) from a Cracker Barrel in Sturbridge, MA (maybe Natick is close by!).

This was twisted - was surprised how many of the original clues survived. So most of the blame/credit goes to me. (I had "Plane-folks?" for The Wright Brothers!, Barolo, e.g. for RED)

Thx go to Frank Longo for cleanup in the SW (Yorke was his insertion).

Glad to see most of you enjoyed it!

- Ashish

DBGeezer 1:09 PM  

@CY, The ACH in du lieber comes from the Viennese folk song,
Ach, du lieber Augustin, Augustin, Augustin,
Ach, du lieber Augustin, alles ist hin.
Geld ist weg, Mäd´l ist weg,
Alles hin, Augustin.
Ach, du lieber Augustin,
Alles ist hin.
Rock ist weg, Stock ist weg,
Augustin liegt im Dreck,
Ach, du lieber Augustin,
Alles ist hin.

Augustin was a street musician who survived the 17th century bubonic plague even after falling, totally drunk into a pit containing those deceased from the plague. Wikipedia

syndy 1:20 PM  

Never heard of towel day wish I had heard a day earlier!Is towel and bathrobe better? earworm ""Why don't you do like like some other MEN do?" By far the best puzzle in ages-evev if I did fall into the HERsheykisses category all nits fell on to stickles or spines and were swept away by the tsunami!Thank you ASHISH XXOOXX

Anonymous 1:26 PM  

The picture in your blog is Conrad Bain, not Conrad Nagel. I'm not surprised you don't know who he is. I'm 80 and he was in his sixties when I first saw him in a movie

Masked and Ontopofthings 1:29 PM  

Retractions dept: Doh. Finally finally finally caught on to @31's "up top" and "on the bottom" comment. My Apologies; not wobbly at all. Extra unwobbly. Out To Lunch again, M&A breath.

BTW dept: "Stickle" was new to me and my dictionary. Gotta be related to stickler, somehow, right?

Well, like 31's otherwise primo write-up, I'm outta bullets for today...

Picture Finder 1:33 PM  

For those desparate for a picture of the acutal Conrad Nagel, here you go.

jesser 1:37 PM  

I called in sick today. Got to the puzzle late. Finished it. Solidly challenging. Wanted quIlls for 66A. My niece has two hedgehogs, and they are loathsome creatures, from my point of view. At 29D, before I caught onto the theme, ICEtea morphed into ICEBag before ICEBOX finally emerged. I'm going back to bed now.

Oscar Madison 1:44 PM  

SGTS are squad leaders. "Company leaders" are CAPTS or maybe (first) LTS if the CAPT is KIA.

joho 1:46 PM  

@imsdave ... you are correct! I just pulled out a bottle of Marsala to check the color, definitey not RED. Been a while since I've cooked with it.

@jberg ... thanks, now we know it is "fortified."

imsdave 1:55 PM  

@ashish - hope you stopped at Yankee Spirits while you were in Sturbridge - great wine selection there, which I know you would appreciate.

Three and out.

Stan 2:02 PM  

Way difficult for a Thursday, but worth every labor-intensive minute. The originality and execution of this theme are awesome. Plus the Sotomayor subtheme: icing on the cake.

For a while I had my genders and chromosomes mixed up and started the Hershey answer with an XY. This resulted in ICEBOY for 29D ("My drink is a little warm -- can someone call the iceboy?")

Matthew G. 2:23 PM  

Absolutely loved this puzzle. Started it this morning on my short (<10 min) subway ride to work, didn't finish by the time I got off to start a busy morning, had to finish it only just now on my lunch break.

Loved it, loved it, loved it. I rank this the second-best NYT puzzle so far in 2011 (and the best 15x15), with the only better one having been David Levinson Wilk's puzzle on the first Sunday of the year that clued titles using the languages of the places mentioned in the titles.

The biggest slowdown for me was thinking, for quite some time, that this puzzle was a rebus, with HIS or HER in appropriate squares. It eventually clicked when I couldn't see anything other than WACOTX and ICEBOX in their respective places, but it took a long time. I also wasted a lot of time trying to fit some variation of HIS AND HER(S) into the central clue.

Like Rex, I found the hardest section to be the middle, as I had never heard of Mr. UHRY or Mr. NAGEL. I also really didn't like the clue {Stickle} for ARGUE, since, to me, "to stickle" means "to be picky about minor points," which I suppose can go hand-in-hand with arguing but doesn't really mean arguing. Once I finally did see ARGUE, the middle fell and I was done.

Oh, and needless to say, this puzzle was indeed Challenging with a capital C. My longest Thursday time in ages. And worth every bit of the labor.

GLR 2:35 PM  

Started out with XxANDXX, like someone mentioned earlier, and got myself more thoroughly confused from there. Took an awfully long time, but actually got the Happy Pencil on the first try. A good challenge – thanks, AsXYh.

@KarenSampsonHudson, a TD is a touchdown in an American football bowl game.

@Two Ponies, I think part of the reason this isn’t considered a rebus is that the substitution only applies in one direction – for the crossing words, the X’s and Y’s are just X’s and Y’s.

@CFXK, I don’t think college bowl games were necessarily named after the stadia where they were played. The Rose Bowl was originally played at Tournament Park, the Sugar Bowl was originally played in Tulane Stadium, and the Orange Bowl was played at Miami Field, where they later built the Orange Bowl Stadium. So, I think the term “bowl” more often refers to the game than the stadium.

@CoffeeLvr, a wheel turns on an axle – I don’t know that the axle necessarily turns. So I think it’s reasonable to consider the axle to be the point of rotation for a wheel.

Anonymous 2:44 PM  

Is there a similar venue to discuss Peter Gordon's Fireball puzzles? Figuring out this weeks theme is driving me nuts!

JaxInL.A. 3:02 PM  

The females here are being very restrained in ignoring Rex's and @EvilDoug's inflammatory and highly suggestive remarks about women's rightful place.  Both made me hoot out loud. So many fun comments here, I can't begin to catalog them all. The prize goes to @Picture Finder's Nagel link.

I had LOADS of fun with this puzzle for two reasons: MANY huge AHA moments, and I GOT IT!   I kept banging my head against it and it felt like I was taking ages, almost gave up  and Googled, but then I  tumbled to the trick and I finished in waaaay under 45 mins, which is a very good Thursday for me.  The gimmick is clever, and it gave the chance for lots of words with "X",  increasing the unusual words in the grid. 

A TSUNAMI of thanks to Ashish for this great romp, and to Will for seeing genius when it sat in front of him.  And thanks for a very fun write-up, Rex.  

Ulrich 3:07 PM  

@DBGeezer: exactly. And for that reason, the clue is wrong. It should have said, e.g. "__ du lieber....", NOT end on lieber. Because it's lower-case, it's an adjective, and it's in the masc., singular case--so, it needs a masc. singular noun to modify--it cannot be left standing all by itself.

"Ach, du Lieber!" (upper case) (Ah, you dear!) would be correct German, but I have never heard anybody say this, which is to say, it would not satisfy the criterion for a partial clue, namely, that it be a recognizable phrase in common use.

jberg 3:10 PM  

I forgot to say before, hasn't the acreage of Central Park appeared in another puzzle recently? Note to constructors: whenever you need to put DCCCXLIII in the grid, there's your clue!

jackj 3:27 PM  

@Anonymous2:44 PM-

Rex's home page has a listing of "Daily Crossword Blogs".

The second blog listed is "Diary of a Crossword Fiend".

Click on that and you'll find a review and comments on this week's Fireball at that site.

sanfranman59 3:40 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)

Thu 25:02, 19:04, 1.31, 93%, Challenging

Top 100 solvers

Thu 12:00, 9:11, 1.19, 79%, Medium-Challenging

LookUpGuy 4:00 PM  

@Masked & etc - yup, and then some

stickle (ˈstɪk ə l) — vb

1. to dispute stubbornly, esp about minor points

2. to refuse to agree or concur, esp by making petty stipulations

C16 stightle (in the sense: to arbitrate): frequentative of Old English stihtan to arrange; related to Old Norse stētta to support []

I refrain from any examples, finding them is left as an exercise for the readers of this blog ;-)

To every season 4:11 PM  

@GLR wrote
...a wheel turns on an axle – I don’t know that the axle necessarily turns. So I think it’s reasonable to consider the axle to be the point of rotation for a wheel.

May not - think Soap Box Derby

Mostly tho, need the axle to turn to get the wheel going (at least in my car).

But in either case, the wheel is rotating (turning) around the axle axis ;)


CoffeeLvr 4:13 PM  

@GLR, in modern cars and trucks, the wheel is affixed to the axle shaft, which turns with the wheel inside a fixed axle housing (sometimes there is no housing for most of the length of the shaft). So, unlike a bicycle, the wheel is not rotating relative to (a point on) the axle. Yes, there are exceptions. My nit is a case of perhaps knowing too much relative to the average solver. Spent too many years in a car and truck assembly plant.

Anonymous 5:08 PM  

@jackj Thank-you so much, maybe now I can get some work done.

Really enjoyed todays puzzle, execution about as good as can be expected within the constraints of such a clever theme.

quilter1 5:12 PM  

@JaxinLA, best wishes on the bat mitzvahs. I'm looking forward to meeting you on one of our LA trips this summer.

william e emba 5:57 PM  

To some of the new people here: Rex regularly posts the wrong picture for various people. Sometimes there's even a clever pun involved. "Correcting" Rex makes you look gullible. (Hint: check out the name of the image file.)

I thought Wings was the most famous and talked about lost film ever. It won the first Academy Award for Best Picture (as the category is now named). It had a topless Clara Bow. It apparently helped inspire the Hays Code. The film was then lost--no doubt partly because of the Hays Code.

Of course, it turned out the French kept one copy, which was rediscovered about 15 years ago.

Martin 6:12 PM  


Yasher koach in advance. At my bar mitzvah I did a bunch: lead shachris, read the haftarach, etc., but no Torah reading. I read my first parsha at my son's bar mitzvah, 40 years later. Terrifying but very gratifying.


Most cars have stationary stub axles on the non-driven wheels (front for rear-wheel drive) and rotating axle halves for the driven wheels. I think that's what you're saying too. But in either case, the axle is the artifact of the axis of rotation. Mathematically it's not a point, but "turning point" is a reasonable way to say that in non-technical English. It's a clue, not a definition. In any case, the clue doesn't imply that the axle either turns or doesn't.

Marsala can be any color from amber to ruby red. Look at the picture in the wikipedia article for a deep red example. It's a fortified wine (distilled alcohol is added) and a solera-oxidized wine (many years' productions are blended and exposed to air). The Italians call the taste of any oxidized wine (like an old champagne) "marsalata." But if we have to choose from "white" or "red," most Marsalas are red.

fergus 6:48 PM  

Just wanted to add my compliments about the cleverness of construction, taking the rebus off into an extra step. Made it harder than it should have been by inverting the designations of XX and XY, and therefore thought that something even more was afoot. Even though I wasn't foiled by the 48A Clue, I still had a world of trouble filling in the first three squares properly (thinking maybe that TEXAS was going to wrap around from 28D).

[winglo -- stunt pilot's beam of triumph]

fergus 7:17 PM  

Glad to see some other formerly prolix contributors to the Comments section chiming in today.

retired_chemist 8:14 PM  

Late again - but I had to comment on how much I liked this puzzle. NOTHING to whine about - good clean fun.

Thanks, Ashish!

JaxInL.A. 8:21 PM  

Thanks for the good wishes, all. Just finished tutoring with the cantor, and read from the actual scroll for the first time to practice. It is a beautiful thing, and Torah scroll. I have never been so close before.

@jesser, hope you feel better soon.

@quilter (or anyone), I would love to visit if you get to Lala Land. How does one have an offline conversation without getting spammed by putting an email address in here? Try contacting me at jaxhamilton at gmail.

michael 8:31 PM  

Great puzzle that (for once!) I found easier than many of you...

mac 9:17 PM  

Great puzzle, Ashish! Knew right away that someone messed with the "red" clue. Barolo and Marsala do not belong in the same sentence.

The Hershey kisses gave it away for me, but I had been putting in lots of xes already.

Who is Tosh? Sounds rude.

I did not know that there are hedgehogs in the US. When we lived in Hamburg (Germany, not Iowa or New Jersey), we had a visiting hedgehog which I fed rabbit food from the pet store. I was told not to get too close, they are covered in all kinds of nasty stuff.

Worst captcha ever: dedcatt...

fergus 9:36 PM  

"Lastly, and here I'm really nitpicking, I didn't like that there was an XX in a theme answer with KISSES, since normally / conventionally / epistolarily, the KISSES are what should be represented by Xs, not the letter string "HERS." So the whole structure had a wobbly feel to me."

The essence of Rex.

SethG 11:48 PM  

For those of you still confused, the picture of the cartoon character is from the Simpsons episode with Conrad Hilton as a guest star.

sanfranman59 12:17 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 7:05, 6:52, 1.03, 66%, Medium-Challenging
Tue 9:45, 8:56, 1.09, 76%, Medium-Challenging
Wed 13:09, 11:47, 1.12, 77%, Medium-Challenging
Thu 25:15, 19:04, 1.32, 93%, Challenging

Top 100 solvers

Mon 3:49, 3:40, 1.04, 69%, Medium-Challenging
Tue 5:14, 4:35, 1.14, 89%, Challenging
Wed 6:34, 5:48, 1.13, 82%, Challenging
Thu 11:50, 9:11, 1.29, 89%, Challenging

cody.riggs 12:34 PM  

Wish I'd had time to visit the site a couple days ago.

Absolutely LOVED this puzzle. Oddly, and no one is more surprised at this than I, this was probably my fastest Thursday ever. Much like the movie "The 6th Sense," I figured out the trick almost immediately, which took most of the difficulty out.

I attibute this to vivid memory of last June's "Flag Day" puzzle, which had a very similar twist to it. That was my favorite puzzle ever.

Agree with Andrea C. M. about the "Navaho rug flaw." That eXtra X bugged me too, but not enough to not declare this puzzle awesome.

Last letter: the K in DO LIKE...not at all a Coldplay fan, and I just couldn't convince myself that a two-word phrase was going across there (did ponder BE LIKE for awhile though.)

2 thumbs way up!

Portland, Ore.

NotalwaysrightBill 9:15 AM  

Syndi-late solver.

Got the theme early on but had my greatest trouble with the pop culture names (UHRY, NAGEL, LARUE, TOSH, YORKE) and the chemical (AMIDOL) and acronym pieces (part of PABA, SARS monitor).

Bought some delicious pistacchio NOG in Tapalpa, Mexico in March: otherwise would have thought that the word was missing its egg.

Still getting used to the idea of ONYX being synonymous with black, since it doesn't pop up that often in literature and because in real life ONYX comes in all colors, even white.

Distracted from saying more about this "difficult"-is-right! puzzle by the-thought-of-caused-by-the-mention-of mango cheesecake. Chefwen even went and made a (presumably) oreo crust for XX; but in the interests of the theme of this puzzle, I'll go with any ol' hYdroX.

captcha: "duckwoo":
Daffy heart Ditzy (even if she thinks she's a wise LATINA)?

KenT 11:39 AM  

Message from the ... past(?)
Doesn't seem quite right

Anyway, just wanted to say that I got your juxtaposition of Conrad Bain and Lindsey Naegle [] immediately and thought it was hilarious.

Lindsey and Crazy Cat Lady (Eleanor Abernathy) are among my favorite obscure Simpsons characters.

Anonymous 11:46 AM  

New to this site...Does anyone know why the "G" in sgts at the bottom of the puzzle is in yellow?

Red Valerian 12:17 PM  

Loved this puzzle!!! Brilliant idea and execution; I thought any misdirection was part of its charm. I finished, but did have to struggle— perfect!

Tried to think of a way to fit in “xyTorIC” for 10D (Really big) but not for all that long, given that I saw SHERWIN in the symmetrical spot.

Loved the clues for 3D (Cook, e.g.: Abbr. [though it didn’t need the “Abbr.”]) and 4D (School detector?).

Didn’t like the clue for 58D (Parts of bowls, for short) not because of any concerns about the distinction between games and stadia, but because it seems perfectly possible for there to be a football game with no touchdowns scored. Even if games can’t end in a zero-zero tie, couldn’t any scores be just field goals?

Oh, and those lyrics to "My Way" aren't the greatest at breakfast...

Anyhow, great puzzle. And great write-up and comments, as almost always!

@Anonymous 11:46--it's where Rex's cursor winds up when he's finished, so it doesn't mean anything. See the FAQ link.

sw 3:23 PM  

After the humorous aside about God's intended places: "Most of my solving time must have been spent up top, early on, as I was struggling to figure out the exact nature of the theme."

Pookie in North Van 4:04 PM  

Puzzle was fine but disappointed it didn't continue the theme in the lower left corner. Otherwise had fun solving it.

Dirigonzo 4:12 PM  

Well, I see the party continues to roll on (see RP's new Facebook page for the reference)so I'll drop in to say that the rebus idea worked perfectly at (HER)SHEYKISSES and THEWRIGHTBROT(HER)S, which were the first rwo theme answers I filled in. I spent a lot of time trying to see how (HIS) was going to fit in, when the XXs and XYs started to appear from the crosses and my AHA moment occurred. Loved it.

Bulldog 4:51 PM  

The photo you selected is not that of Conrad Negal but of Conrad Bain, who starred in the TV series "Diff'rent Strokes."

Deb 5:20 PM  

Fun, fun, fun, puzzle - thanks, AsXYh. I was pleased as punch with how quickly I figured out what was going on. I had three answers written in with "x" in them, so I just knew X was going to be standing for something else, and since "His and Hers" are the only towel duos I've ever heard of, but wouldn't fit in the allotted space, the trick tumbled easily.

Had GREAT time, too - at just under 21 minutes, however...I finally threw my hands up in consternation and peeked to finish with UHRY/ARGUE/SAGAN, so it doesn't really count.

I was a little annoyed at Marsala being clued as a "red." That was more than mere misdirection - it was just plain wrong. Surely there are scads of obscure REAL reds out there they could have chosen.

@Bulldog, that's been pointed out by several others, and Rex was well aware when he posted it that it isn't Conrad Nagel. He posted it as a joke - I *assume* as though to say "one obscure Conrad is as good as another," or maybe "all Conrads look alike to me."

BJ 5:57 PM  

The picture you show with Conrad Nagel is actually Conrad Bain of Different Strokes. in the May 26th NYT puzzle

Dave in Bend, Oregon 7:39 PM  

BJ and Bulldog if you read the previous posts you will see that the Bain/Nagel issue was addressed in about a dozen places, including Rex's response "Did I?"..... He is apparently quite aware of it and as one blogger mentioned, Rex does tend to be quite the joker at times.

Anonymous 8:30 PM  

Pretty sure the guy Bain is holding is NAGEL.

I loved this. Theme revealed itself to me way to slowly (that's right, I'm blaming it on the theme rather than my own slow wits) but I when it finally came to me I whipped right through it. Settled for several unavoidable mistakes in NE, an avoidable one at 28d (I know Baylor is in TX, but as I had already written iCH I figured the school must be some a town called Wicotx. I mean, wouldn't you name a town that if you could?) and write-overs in every chromosomal square. But I like to get beaten by a puzzle once in a while (once again, the puzzle gets the credit).

Have to add that I will now be calling the oil company Eheron and the Jimi Hendix song "Fo' His Lady."

And finally, I thoroughly enjoyed LATINA crossed with ALE, as that's not only my "how I met your mother" story, it's my "how I became your father" story. And the ALE in question was very likely Sierra Nevada.

Red Valerian 10:56 PM  

@Anonymous 8:30pm

You're hilarious! I've been coming to this blog for just a few months now, and have been posting only very recently (and quite sporadically). So I lay no claim to authority, but I really think you should un-anonymize yourself!

You don't have to reveal too much (though maybe that's not a problem, given your post :-) After all, I can assure I don't look exactly like the picture in my avatar.

Waxy in Montreal 11:41 AM  

Five weeks and a day late to the table: very creative puzzle, enjoyed the theme so much that for aeons had XYT in for 1A (as in HISTory) which didn't help at all.

Red Valerian 12:26 PM  

Brilliant mistake for 1A, @Waxy! Is there a name for that on this blog? (I’m not a constructor, but I think it would have been hard to come up with something to keep the puzzle symmetrical.)

@Anonymous 8:30pm: Tried to post this last night and again this morning, but Blogger wouldn’t let me. grrr--one more attempt:

You're hilarious! I've been coming to this blog for just a few months now, and have been posting only very recently (and quite sporadically). So I lay no claim to authority, but I really think you should un-anonymize yourself!

You don't have to reveal too much (though maybe that's not a problem, given your post :-). After all, I can assure you that I don't look exactly like the picture in my avatar.

Red Valerian 1:09 PM  

Brilliant mistake for 1A, @Waxy! Is there a name for that on this blog? (I’m not a constructor, but I think it would have been hard to come up with something to keep the puzzle symmetrical, but still a great answer!)

@Anonymous 8:30pm: Tried to post this last night and twice this morning, but Blogger hasn't been letting me. One last attempt...

You're hilarious! I will think of you when (if) I hear that Jimi Hendrix song again.

I've been coming to this blog for just a few months now, and have been posting only very recently (and quite sporadically). So I lay no claim to authority, but I really think you should un-anonymize yourself!

You don't have to reveal too much (though maybe that's not a problem, given your post :-). After all, I can assure you that I don't look exactly like the picture in my avatar.

Zeno 6:07 PM  

What's with the Diff'rent Strokes photo? Wrong Conrad.

Elvin 2:38 PM  

I think it's a picture of Lon Chaney Sr.

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