Military plane acronym / MON 5-9-11 / Classic song about Iris lass #1 1913 1947 / Daily kids show debuted 1955 / Funnyman Jay

Monday, May 9, 2011

Constructor: Nina Rulon-Miller

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: cards — final words in theme answers are suits of cards (in the singular...) and JOKER

Word of the Day: THERM (5D: Heat unit) —

The therm (symbol thm) is a non-SI unit of heat energy equal to 100,000 British thermal units (BTU). It is approximately the energy equivalent of burning 100 cubic feet (often referred to as 1 Ccf) of natural gas. (wikipedia)
• • •

Theme seems both tired and slightly off. One card from each suit and ... a JOKER (which is not a suit)? Without trying hard, I found this basic theme four times in the database (I stopped at four—there might be more). I guess this one has a lot of Scrabbly letters going for it, and the added (but to my mind ill-fitting) JOKER. The grid is actually pretty nice overall. Thematically, though, it seems quite subpar, as well as old hat. I will say, however, that I respect this puzzle immensely for *not* having a "V," especially considering how tempting it must have been to try to go VADER at 64A: Independent candidate Ralph) — would've been symmetrical with DARTH, after all. But no! Pangram averted! Hurray!

Theme answers:
  • 17A: Daily kids' TV show that debuted in 1955, with "The" ("MICKEY MOUSE CLUB") — I wrote in "...SHOW," ignoring the facts that a. that's not right, and b. "show" is in the clue.
  • 21A: Classic song about an Irish lass that was a #1 hit in 1913 and 1947 ("PEG O' MY HEART") — I think I know this song from crossword clues for the partial "PEGO" ... and yet research says that's impossible, since it hasn't been in the NYT since '97. Hmm... ah, seems the partial "O MY" is somewhat more common: two appearances in the past few years.

  • 35A: A real wag (QUITE THE JOKER)
  • 50A: Tool for turning up soil (GARDEN SPADE)
  • 57A: Setting for the Cardinals or Orioles (BASEBALL DIAMOND)
This one felt slightly harder than the typical Monday, perhaps because of a couple of quirky theme answers, perhaps because of the high Scrabble quotient, perhaps because the relatively wide-open NE and SW corners. My time came out pretty close to average, though, so maybe the difficulty was an illusion. I had the most trouble in and around the GARDEN part of GARDEN SPADE, since I thought that implement was simply called a "SPADE" (it's "call a SPADE a SPADE," not "call a SPADE a GARDEN SPADE"). I got the DRY- part of DRY LAW (47D: Prohibition of alcohol sales), but not the rest (at first). Couldn't remember the AWACS (51D: Military plane acronym), which I know about (vaguely) only from crosswords. Even GO BY gave me a little "huh?" "GO ... ?" (50D: Elapse). Aside from the BERG repeat in EDBERG, I liked the fill in this puzzle quite a bit, especially in those spacious corners.

  • 66A: Like the English channel for the first time in 1875 (SWUM) — one of those words I can barely look at. Stupid-looking. Correct, but wrong-sounding.
  • 4D: One hailed on city streets (CABBIE) — You hail a cab. Not a CABBIE. The phrase is hail a CAB. That is the phrase. The fact that yes, literally, the CABBIE is the one you're hailing because a car doesn't have free will ... means nothing.
  • 23D: Teacher sitting cross-legged, maybe (GURU) — YOGI's better.
  • 55D: Funnyman Jay (LENO) — my opposition to the proximity of "funny" and "LENO" is well documented, so I won't rehash it here.
  • 4D: U.S. army post in Kentucky (FT. KNOX) — always looks good in the grid.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. Here is a new radio profile of me and this blog, with added audio of me solving / commenting on a Newsday puzzle in real time. I sound ... nuts. Someone should be holding up a "SLOW" sign every time I kick into lecture mode. Still, overall the piece came out nicely.

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Tumblr]


D_Blackwell 12:16 AM  

Well, I would have put in the V. VMI for PHI and MOT for HOT are even swaps. VJS isn't as good as PJS, but I'll take it for the pangram. It's whole lot more legit the Contrived Random Roman Numeral, SUA, et cetera.

VADER would be good if workable. The main thing is that I hate to see it come up just V away. So, close - it's sad:((

Tobias Duncan 12:41 AM  

Even though my favorite constructor on the whole planet loves the pangram, I must agree with Rex.I was already a bit salty because my time sucked(my own fault of course) and if I had come here to find that it had been a pangram, I think I would have become a tad saltier.
It seems like a distraction to me.
I think knowing the puzzle was a pangram would make me start looking for the compromises...

PEGOMYHEART just seems crazy for some reason.
Are there really ERIQs out in the world ?

foodie 1:25 AM  

For some reason, I'm not feeling the love for this one. It may be that I'm out of practice, having been away from puzzles (for the most part) for over a week. But the long entries did not seem to sparkle-- GARDEN SPADE, BASEBALL DIAMOND-- Yes, they are things that exist but there is nothing fun or peppy about them. Even the center piece "QUITE THE JOKER" didn't do it for me.

The rest of the fill was more interesting, although some of it felt a little off for a Monday...

Usually, by this point I would have talked myself out of my grumpiness, but it still hasn't happened...

I will come back tomorrow with an open mind.

andrea v. michaels 1:47 AM  

See! I told you there were no Mondays anymore!

The JOKER thing threw the whole thing off for me, where more was less somehow (pained as I am to say that).

THAT said, where the JOKER phrase was, perhaps Nina Rulon-Miller could have had a "reveal" to save the SUCHADEAL or PLAYWITHAFULLDECK (ok, that's 17 but you get the idea!)

INANYCASE TACOSALAD (?) seemed to be a theme answer too, visually!

(When you have to give an entire recipe to justify an entry...something is amiss)

ASIANS subtheme:
Chou En-LAI, TAO Te Ching, DENG Xiopang, which is interesting...

I don't know, in the end this was a bit challenging and the grid was sophisticated, tho not the fill:

Way too many initials or odd truncated short words and plurals:
(Look at that list!)

(Plus DIK and ERIQ way too hard for a Monday, but as I said, I guess there are no more Mondays...)

BILLOWY is cool.

chefwen 2:51 AM  

Super easy for me, only one write over was at 10A fair before PALE.

Being a comic junkie, DIK was not a problem for me. Don't know the actor ERIQ but I like the spelling.

As Rex said, we have seen this card hand before and it was kind of a yawner. Looking forward to "tricky Tuesday".

PastelLady 5:10 AM  

Aw, c'mon. It's a debut puzzle which I would rate Easy (no hesitations, no write-overs.) ERIQ LaSalle was a regular on ER--pretty high visibility.

joho 7:21 AM  

I think @andrea v. michaels said it best. QUITETHEJOKER comes out of left field which is being hoed by the GARDENSPADE.

Also, I'm with @Rex regarding SWUM, while a real word, stuck out like a sore thumb.

Loved seeing PEGOMYHEART as I did this on Mother's Day and this song honors my mom.

conomist 7:34 AM  

QUITETHEJOKER: awkward, to say the least.

And BTU plus THERM... Bleagh

Anonymous 7:59 AM  

What PastelLady said. I didn't have to look up the theme because card suits would seem to be a theme that had to be done before and probably often. That doesn’t mean it is not legitimate theme for the NYT on a Monday IMO. Don't get the Joker complaint. It is the pièce de résistance not a distraction. Two days in a row where the center theme answer is different from the rest. Overall this seems like a credible Monday puzzle and a solid effort by an aspiring constructor making her debut in the NYT.

dk 8:29 AM  

Seemed like a Monday to me.

My delay was the tennis player. I, as usual, did not even see the theme. I liked the JOKER and the SPADE.

Does any one know if Tully NY is still a dry township?

*** (3 stars) Nice first outing Nina, keep them coming.

mac 8:34 AM  

Liked this one, slightly crunchy for a Monday, solid if not very interesting theme, and billowy is a great word.

You think the V was left out on purpose?? Message to some critics??

Congratulations on the debut, Nina.

efrex 8:58 AM  

Always interesting to see where people differ. I liked a lot of the fill, and thought the grid was nicely open for a Monday. Wanted FLOE instead of BERG, but rectified that one pretty quickly. Didn't mind QUITETHEJOKER or CABBIE one bit, and only real grumble was with the dusty crosswordese ESSO. Thought the short "grout" fill was well-distributed.

Ms. Rulon-Miller might not be holding aces, but she's certainly playing with a full deck...

chefbea 9:08 AM  

good debut puzzle.

Did not like swum but loved the secondary theme...taco salad with salsa on the side yummm

Anonymous 9:08 AM  

I neither had a problem with the phrase QUITETHEJOKER, nor with its inclusion. I would have liked a sixth theme entry along the lines of "RULESOFPOKER" or "RANKORDERINGOFPOKERHANDS", upon which the theme would have fully desceribed all the cards in a standard pack of new playing cards. As it was, it updated an old theme to the new paradigm, 5 is the new 4.

jackj 9:38 AM  

A genteel debut puzzle from one of the genteel commenters who post on the NY Times crossword blog.

On closer inspection, the theme actually gives a bit more than card suits, as there is another theme answer, (which gives you a CASE, in 63 across) and voila, the deck of cards comes fully packaged.

While the fill was pretty standard fare, the presence of the poetic BILLOWY was a special treat.

Anonymous 9:59 AM  

Anyone mind heart crossing hart?

hazel 10:06 AM  

Maybe not a perfect puzzle, but a fine debut. The joker doesn't seem out of place to me - its wild, after all. And there were some nice downs.

@anon 9:59 - not me.

quilter1 10:11 AM  

I filled this in pretty smoothly, called it easy and did not even look at the SE corner down clues until I was done. When I saw the theme I thought I remembered it from other puzzles but thought it could probably be done a few times and still have fresh fill. Not all of this was fresh, as Andrea pointed out.
When I came here and learned it is a debut I was more impressed.
I liked the JOKER, BILLOWY, TACO SALAD and PEG O MY HEART, today's earworm.

JaxInL.A. 10:15 AM  

Aww, this is a debut. I would rather celebrate the arrival of a new constructor.

I didn't see the theme until I came here, but the puzzle was serviceable, and it had some nice moments. We can't have stellar every day. Okay, I'm damning with faint praise, but I want more women to jump into the pool. Congratulations, Ms. Rulon-Miller.

D_Blackwell 10:20 AM  

". . .Thought the short "grout" fill was well-distributed. . . ."

With 30 three-letter entries it was distributed everywhere.

Two Ponies 10:27 AM  

Nice debut.
My favorite was Quite the joker.
The only thing I didn't like was all of those Chinese names.
I believe the artist who created the Janis Joplin album cover Rex posted was a topic of recent discussion R. Crumb.

retired_chemist 10:34 AM  

Nice puzzle. Medium here.

Almost all my initial guesses proved correct, AGS @ 47A (for ATTORNEYS GENERAL) and GIST @ 27A being the exceptions. Agree with the criticism of excessive abbreviations. Theme was solid though.

Good debut.

Bob Kerfuffle 10:40 AM  

Count me among those who think the inclusion of the joker was a welcome addition to what is, admittedly, a familiar theme.

At 20 A, Talk that might put one to sleep, with only the "L" in place, I gave serious consideration to LENO . . . something. And then Jay showed up at 55 D!

Anonymous 10:50 AM  

except Mr. Nader was a candidate on the Green Party ticket.
And here we are 11 years and two stolen elections later, and yet it still bears repeating that he was a legal third party candidate who did not lose the election for Mr. Gore. Had Gore requested a statewide recount, rather than a recount in only the six counties in Florida, he would have won Florida. And, had Gore even won his own state of Tenn, with its three electoral votes, he also would have won. So the continuing blackballing of Mr. Nader is not based on fact.
And, several other third party candidates in Florida in 2000 also got more than the 536 votes that Bush "won" by.
In the stolen election of 2004, in Ohio, that the NYTimes refused to investigate, Mr. Nader was not a factor at all. How to explain that one?

Anonymous 11:00 AM  

@Anon 10:50 Except that Mr. Nader was an independent candidate in 2004/2008.

Shamik 11:23 AM  

Like foodie, but not with foodie, have been away from crossword puzzles for over a week. So, not feeling terribly critical on this medium/medium-challenging (for me) Monday puzzle.

Nice debut, Ms. Rulon-Miller!

As for tired themes...there is little that is truly new in this world anyway. And for those who are having a debut, some extra slack ought to be granted. Why...some of them may not even know of the archives.

Guess I'm just grateful to have had a few minutes of time to do ANY puzzle and am feeling very generous this morning. Yes, it's only 7:22 in Alaska.

Masked and Anonymous 11:26 AM  

Good debut puz. If you don't like QUITETHEJOKER as part of the theme, just consider it a "wild thing" extra. But if joker's are wild, and I got 10-J-Q-K of spades and a joker, guess what suit we're gonna pretend that joker is.

I'm with ACME, lovin' BILLOWY. And @31: GURU's better.

Stan 11:36 AM  

Enjoyed the livelier-than-usual long fill, and thought the Joker upped the ante on an otherwise ho-hum theme. At least all the theme answers were solidly in the language and the personal names were recognizable.

Overall, a fine debut. Welcome!

william e emba 11:43 AM  

I found this Monday challenging. I finished in the NE, writing in MICKEY MOUSE SHOW (with the theme still unidentified) and then had to fix that. In fact, I only got the theme about a minute after finishing.

I like the German definite article subtheme: DER, DAS, DEM.

syndy 11:55 AM  

Hey!I thought this one was the BEE'S KNEE'S ! and I just knew that @rex was going to hate SWUM and it made me chortle a bit.Hads lots o' lovely fill-SWANK;BILLOWY;TAO very old-timey feel sweet with just enough crunch!BUT my last letter was the "D" in deng/dik and only because an "M" failed to make my pencil happy

Clark 12:00 PM  

I liked the Joker. Four suits and then that wild thing that can appear or not depending on what you're doing. All we need now is a one-eyed jack.

Matt 12:12 PM  

For a Monday I rate this Challenging. Noobs trying to get a handle on The Puzzle would have considerably more trouble with this one than usual.

Wanting Mickey...'show' and Base..'stadiums' led to write-overs in those areas and lost time balancing the crosses.

CoffeeLvr 12:40 PM  

@TwoPonies, I noted RCRUMB cover art as well. The music holds up to the test of time for me, the drawings not at all.

I was well disposed toward the puzzle as soon as I was singing M-I-C, well, you know the song.

Didn't see the theme 'til I went looking for it afterwards. Adding a JOKER is fine by me.

A fine debut.

Rex Parker 12:47 PM  

Nina Rulon-Miller may be new to the NYT, but she has published many puzzles in the Chronicle of Higher Ed. (ed. by Patrick Berry). The Chronicle puzzle is a first-tier puzzle. We aren't dealing with a neophyte, is what I'm saying.

jberg 12:50 PM  

How can I not like a puzzle with my name right in the middle (31A)?
Even if I did go over the grid at least four times trying to figure out where I'd left out the V.

I'm also with those who admired QUITE THE JOKER - otherwise we'd leave two cards feeling left out, which wouldn't be kind. That said, the theme was too easy - I didn't need the clue to write in BASEBALL DIAMOND.

I'm with Rex on CABBIE - thought the same as I wrote it in; on the other hand, I liked seeing both THERM and BTU.

Tom 1:05 PM  

@dk, when was it a dry township? I don't recall it being so.

Anonymous 1:06 PM  

If you've never heard "Yo! CABBIE!" shouted at the top of ones lungs, you've never been to Brooklyn.

Anonymous 1:24 PM  

Rex @ 12:47PM - What's the point? What difference does ot make that Nina has published puzzles elsewhere? A debut in the NYT is an event and to some a different experience than publishing puzzles elsewhere, whether in the LA paper or the Chronicle.

dk 2:05 PM  

TM in the late 60's, as I recall, Tully was dry. On the way to Labrador Mtn. We would reliaze we had no adult beverages... We were underage of course. We knew we had to think before Tully.

KarenSampsonHudson 2:24 PM  

Congrats, Nina! For me, a little harder than the usual Monday; and since I didn't look up anything, had "Neng" and "Nik" instead of "Deng" and "Dik." I liked the theme.

KarenSampsonHudson 2:28 PM  

PS--I liked "billowy".
Rex, congrats on the radio spot!

acme 2:36 PM  

actually I'm having a slight change of heart re: QUITETHEJOKER...
as that is the most interesting phrase in the puzzle, perhaps keep that and find 3 or 4 other punchier phrases to go with it!

@anon 1:24
I would/could/should never speak for @Rex, but his point might have been to not be so patronizing...

There are things to celebrate "off grid" (ie a NY Times debut is always a neat thing, and a puzzle free of an overdose of baseball, Simpsons and comic clues makes me smile!) but about the puzzle itself, he was calling a spade a spade.

Unknown 3:39 PM  

This one went down without too many gulps and I actually liked the suit theme and the wild Joker thrown in as a bonus.

As much fun was @RP's write up. Loved the Janice tune (from an LP I still have from back in the day). I thought it must have been a toss-up between that and the Steve Miller Band tune "The Joker."

Airborne Warning and Control System=AWACS. Those planes with the weird spaceship looking thing on top, just aft of the wings.

I'd submit that most law is dry as dust. Which is why lawyers charge so much for trying to digest it.

Liked the global reach of this one: Irish, Asian, Slav, Chinese, German, and, thankfully for a change, no French or Italian!

Though certainly low hanging fruit, the classic @RP mix of pique and wit of "calling a SPADE a SPADE" made my day.

Thanks for the background on Ms. Rulon-Miller. Though no neophyte, congats of the NYT debut.

JC66 4:13 PM  

Apropos of the puzzle from a few days ago, this new Osama video was just released.

pizzatheorem 4:39 PM  

Kinda tough for a Monday, AWACS crossing BILLOWY and PEGOMYHEART and ERIQ being the toughest bits for me.

Happily some geographical crosswordese is sinking in as I put down ARNO without batting an eye. These four letter European rivers have long been a thorn in my side: EBRO, ELBE, AAR(E), ODER, YSER grr. Come to think of it, the same automatic reflex happened with (EN)LAI and DENG (but sadly not ERIQ which took ages to suss out) so puzzles are getting easier. As a side-note,
when I do the daily jumble I can more easily unscramble words with a higher ratio of consonants to vowels. Interestingly, I also find it easier to recall crosswordese with the same property.

Agree about SWUM being weird, LENO being unfunny and the theme being boring, though YOGI isn't synonymous with teacher (but GURU is).

sanfranman59 5:40 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)

Mon 7:02, 6:53, 1.02, 62%, Medium-Challenging

Top 100 solvers

Mon 3:42, 3:40, 1.01, 55%, Medium

Anonymous 5:53 PM  

Tarzan, for one? Are there other apemen? Just wondering.

Anonymous 6:21 PM  

Acme - at 2:36 - Thx. I know Rex does not reply to Anons as a rule. I get your point but I still don't get it. I patronize you all the time but Rex doesn't say anything.:)

Sfingi 6:23 PM  

After being the star solver last Wed., I DNF a Mon.! Did not know ERIQ ended with a Q, and had INE for "hard to erase," and CASe for CASK, the actual (stupid of me) source of my problem. I stared at cU_TE THEJOKER, and wondered what dog (wag) it was.

Had stag before HART. Didn't like poser.
Is ALOFT followed by ATOP good or bad?
Did like HEART crosses HART.

Agreed with so much Andrea said.

Anons - NADER's been anti-2 party system for ages. Doesn't get when it's time to give up.

One good thing about more women creators - Few to no sports (BASEBALL DIAMOND easy one).

PEG O' MY HEART is part of the Vaudeville Irish Tenor tradition - not real Irish-from-Ireland folk songs. Not exactly Tommy Makem.

joho 6:39 PM  

@acme .. yes, the phrase QUITETHEJOKER is the most interesting but by saying "came out of left field" I meant that it just didn't fit with the other theme answers. But I think a lot of people really liked it because it is fresh and original.

And as far as celebrating a debut in the NYT crossword puzzle, well, that is something to get excited about and be proud of. Congratulations, Nina Rulon-Miller!

None X 7:19 PM  

It's "Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month". Maybe that explains the 3 Chinese language clues and 45D Asians.

29A and 2D are in modern pinyin style, but 7D is in the outdated Wade-Giles style. If it were pinyin, for consistency, it would be Dao De Jing.

zai jian

JenCT 9:53 PM  

Found this one easy - writeover for SWAM to SWUM - agree with @Rex, it just sounds wrong.

Oh, and also had MICKEYMOUSESHOW before CLUB.

Sparky 10:45 PM  

I had ORk to start and the actor from Chips in my mind picture. The Mouse fixed that. Right, LaSalle from ER. Found this fairly easy. Thought 15A and 63A might be theme but DIAMOND and CLUB said no. I was 14 when PEGOMYHEART hit it big with The Harmonicats so it was a gimme.

Pleasant Monday solve. Good for you Nina Rulon-Miller. Loooking forward to Tuesday.

Lurking, Just Behind You 12:55 PM  


I'm trying to be less cynical in real life, so, in attempting to enjoy the smaller things in life and not feel so downtrodden all the time, I will say that these are the parts of the puzzle that I really enjoyed today.

Miss that 'V' though...I'm with ACME in that I love me a pangram.

Dirigonzo 3:48 PM  

Wow, there was a tough crowd in the room 5 weeks ago. Even Andrea, in her persona du jour, uncharacteristically found much to complain about.

I thought the puzzle was fine if maybe a little tough for a Monday, and @RP's musical selections were top-notch, so I'm a happy solver.

I wonder if our resident CABBIE will show up to share his thoughts?

Anonymous 5:48 PM  

Me, I want that pangram. Change APEMAN to APEMEN; NADER to NEVER; and drop in a nod to OVE Johanssen, who kicked the longest field goal in organized football history. I also like "Patron saint of kitchen appliances?" as a clue for OVE, but I don't suppose that would fly...

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