Mewing passerines / THU 7-21-11 / 1985 NL MVP Willie / Bridge at Narni artist / Courtier who invites Hamlet to fence with Laertes

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Constructor: Michael Sharp

Relative difficulty: I have no idea

THEME: SLICED / CHEESE (36A: With 38-Across, deli purchase ... or a description of the answer to 17-, 26-, 47- or 55-Across) — theme answers are cheeses, which the "?"-style clues "slice" into wacky phrases

Word of the Day: SIR Barton (3D: ___ Barton, first Triple Crown winner, 1919) —

Sir Barton, (1916–1937), was a chestnut thoroughbred colt who in 1919 became the first winner of the American Triple Crown. // He was sired by leading stud Star Shoot out of the Hanover mare Lady Sterling. His grandsire was the 1893 English Triple Crown champion, Isinglass. // Sir Barton was bred in Kentucky by John E. Madden and Vivian A. Gooch at Hamburg Place Farm near Lexington. Madden raced him in his two-year-old season. He was entered in six races, winning none. Madden sold the horse in 1918 for $10,000 to Canadian businessman J. K. L. Ross. // Ross placed Sir Barton in the hands of trainer H. Guy Bedwelland jockey Johnny Loftus. At three, he made his season debut as a maiden in the Kentucky Derby. He was supposed to be the rabbit for his highly regarded stablemate, a horse named Billy Kelly. (A rabbit is a speed horse set up to wear out the rest of the field, thereby allowing another horse to win.) However, it was Sir Barton who led the field of 12 horses from start to finish, winning the race by five lengths. Just four days later, the horse was in Baltimore and won the Preakness Stakes, beating Eternal. Again he led all the way. He then won the Withers Stakes in New York and shortly thereafter completed the first Triple Crown in U.S. history by easily winning the Belmont Stakes, setting an American record for the mile and three-eighths race, the distance for the Belmont at the time. Amazingly, Sir Barton's four wins were accomplished in a space of just 32 days. He was voted the 1919 Horse of the Year, American racing's highest honor. (wikipedia)

• • •

So here's how this goes: I notice (I forget how) that GORGONZOLA (17A: French writer with snaky hair and a petrifying gaze?) breaks into two words, creating a phrase that is also a funny mental image. So then I brainstorm cheeses to see if I can break them in similar fashion, and I don't really get anywhere; at this point I'm not trying very hard ("trying very hard" = getting on the damned internet and finding massive lists of cheeses, seeing if any of them break into phrases, and then deciding if any of those are well known enough as cheeses to be theme answers in a non-Cheese Monthly puzzle). I have lots of such scribblings and lists and half-hearted theme stirrings lying around in various parts of my office. Weeks or months go by and I'm cleaning my office and I find my original notes. And I try a little harder with the cheese brainstorming, somehow ending up with four cheeses that can be organized in a grid with rotational symmetry. The problem / challenge—some of the "sliced" phrases are nuts. Preposterous. I mean, wacky answers always are, but a couple of these are loony. I then decided that the majority were good-loony. But four cheeses didn't really seem quite ... there yet. So I pondered a "reveal." And then, magically / luckily, SLICED CHEESE presented itself. Perfect description of what's going on, *plus* the answer breaks into two parts of equal length—considered a first Across / last Across split, but then noticed I could put it right in the middle. And there you go.

You could make the argument that this puzzle is basically one solid theme answer + three answers that were forcibly and brutally conscripted into theme service. But I figure if you're going to go wacky, go big or go home. And if MA'S CAR PONE isn't going big, wacky-wise, I don't know what is (55A: Mom's special road-trip corn bread?). That phrase is so improbable, so surreal, that I can't help but love it, the way you might love a cross-eyed, three-legged dog that can yodel. Fact: I considered cluing this answer [Mom's fish, after taking a rave drug], which I love even more, but I didn't think that meaning of "E" was in-the-language for most NYT solvers, so I backed off. That's right, MA'S CAR PONE is me backing off. If I could send one of these theme answers home, it would be LIMB URGER, if only because "URGER" is barely a word (47A: One trying to shake a leg?). My original clue for PRO VOL. ONE was [In favor of the first bk.?] — I don't like that "Abbr." at the end of 26A: In favor of the first book?: Abbr.; seems unnecessarily confusing. Which part is abbreviated? Who knows?

Seems like at least half the clues were changed this time, possibly because I clue like a maniac. My clues tend to be reaches—usually not ridiculous, but often pushing the limits of traditional crossword puzzle solver knowledge, usually in the direction of stuff I love. Will wisely lost my "Simpsons" clue for JASPER (1A: Traditional March birthstone) and my yoga clue for CORPSE (46D: Zombie, essentially). Many of the other changes were a matter of de-pop-culturefication, or simple concision. It's a bit weird to get your puzzle back and have it be unrecognizable in parts. I had no idea JASPER was a stone. I'm serious. I knew my clue on JASPER would get changed, but I figured it would be changed to JASPER Johns. So 1A was a mystery to me. I actually thought Will might have changed the answer itself. Then I hit the 1919 Triple Crown winner, which I also did Not know, and thought, "Huh ... I'm going to be unable to complete my own puzzle. That'll be a first." Clues on OSAKA (34D: City of 2 1/2+ million at the mouth of the Yodo River) and DANKE (13D: Comment preceding "Gern geschehen") and COROT were also new to me, though, to be fair, my own original clue on COROT would probably be mystifying to me. I know he's French, and pre-Impressionist, and that's about it (32A: "The Bridge at Narni" artist).

As for the fill in general, I'm pretty pleased with it. Least pleased with the ALG. / AB OVO / OSRIC section (I'd kill OSRIC if I could—ironic, since he's one of the few characters who *don't* die at the end of "Hamlet" ... wait, he doesn't die, does he? I'm reading that Branagh makes him die, but I don't remember that being part of the play...) (42D: Courtier who invites Hamlet to fence with Laertes). Love STEEL TOE (10D: Common work boot feature) and FOOTRUB (7D: Service that requires no shoes) and BEEFSUP (and the fact that BEEF crosses BURGER) (41D: Fortifies). Also love TOPLESS (!) (44A: Like some bars and beaches) and, for reasons I really don't fully comprehend, the clue on FIBER (52A: ___ One). In my original submission, I cross-referenced 31A: "Beat it!" ("GET OUT!") and 20A: Dissolve a relationship (END IT). Will dissolved that relationship. I now realize I could have triple-cross-referenced these answers with EXES (28A: Joint custody parties), but it's probably a good thing that that idea occurred to me very late. Happy to bring Willie MCGEE back into the light, however briefly, and to have him sitting right next to BIRDS (he played for the Cardinals) (49D: 1985 N.L. M.V.P. Willie). If this puzzle has no other distinction, it will go down in history as the first appearance in the NYT crossword of one Mr. Justin BIEBER (65A: "Baby" singer Justin). The floodgates are open. The Age of BIEBER is well and truly upon us. God be with us.

Finally, I discovered that Will has a sly sense of humor. Check out his clue on BARB (53D: Sharp put-down). My first thought upon reading it: "touché."

  • 21A: Antelope of southern Africa (RHEBOK) — had clued this as [Oribi cousin] but Will (in a very useful email he sent me, explaining some of his clue changes) said: "For any solver who doesn't know what an oribi or rhebok is, the clue would be meaningless. So I was more explanatory"
  • 62A: It's developed during training season (ROSTER) — I forget what my original clue was here, but this clue (a good one) took me a while to figure out (it'd been a long time since I'd seen this puzzle; it was accepted sometime in the fall of '10, I think).
  • 4D: Obsolescent communication devices (PAGERS) — I think I had them as "simple"; I'm glad Will went one step further and relegated them to "bygone" status.

  • 46D: Zombie, essentially (CORPSE) — coincidentally, wife and I just started watching AMC's "The Walking Dead" (I read the comic and decided I'd give the TV show a go). It's about zombies. Best part of the viewing experience so far is when zombies are trying to bust into a department store where survivors are holed up. One zombie picks up a big rock and starts trying to break the glass, and wife and I exclaim, at Exactly The Same Time (and word for word), "They know how to use tools!?" (All earlier evidence suggested they were pretty simple (and slow) creatures)
  • 37D: Mewing passerines (CATBIRDS) — I love this clue, in part because it kind of looks like nonsense.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Anonymous 12:13 AM  

Nice job with the puzzle, and thanks for the explanation on the "sliced"! The whole time, I kept thinking that it can't be "sliced cheese" since you don't slice gorgonzola or mascarpone. Really enjoyed the provolone clue, yet never even made the connection to the sliced part of the theme. This is what I get for doing the Thursday puzzle late on Wednesday night....

Andrew J. Ries 12:15 AM  

With a last name like Sharp, I think it was in the stars for you to make a cheese puzzle!

Nice work here, and thanks for the behind-the-puzzle write-up.


foodie 12:19 AM  

Fantastic! I loved it all! the food theme, the way it was handled, and the commentary on your own puzzle!

I started solving without realizing who the constructor was and thought that I liked this for the same reason I liked Joon's puzzle last week. As I said, I don't love the wacky phrases that emerge from adding letters, but I love it when the wackiness is in the cluing and the answer is a real thing. Well, this puzzle is the personification of that! Wacky clues, perfectly normal looking answers... And cheeses to boot!

I got MASCARPONE first and literally laughed out loud. Then checked out the constructor and laughed again. Terrific!

Foodiness is sneaking up on you, Rex!

thursdaysd 12:23 AM  

Another thank you for the "sliced" explanation. I got MASCARPONE fairly early, which led to CHEESE, but it took me forever to get SLICED, which I didn't connect with Mascarpone. Enjoyed this much more than yesterday's.

For the first time I used the Crossword app. on my new iPad. It felt clunkier than Across Lite, but that's probably because I could only see half the grid. It occurs to me that I should try portrait view next time. It also told me my time, which I don't usually see, and it didn't seem to bad for a Thursday.

Tobias Duncan 12:23 AM  

Just could not get a good rhythm going. So much was not in my wheelhouse. Jasper Johns I know but I had only the vaguest idea that JASPER was a stone as well.
The puns were unbearably nerdy. The kind of nerdy that makes you wonder what exactly the diagnosis would be for the creator of such.Anyone seen American Splendor? Remember the uber nerd sidekick ? That is who I picture writing these puns.
Bad Rex , Bad Bad Bad.

Tough puzzle for me but fun. I am going to go out on a limb and say this will get rated medium hard.

syndy 12:30 AM  

I Got the GORGON part early then read the theme discription and threw down ZOLA!Other cheeses followed. howsoever I had ZILCH 9isn't ZIPPO a lighter?)so ZIPPO ALG AMI did not do much for me especially crossing ATEAT ABOVO CAL but I forgive all for a puzzle that has MASCARPONE and LORAX! capthe=EEJERSI;a wide shirt?

foodie 12:34 AM  

@ Rex and Tobias Duncan, my Quick & Dirty Index (under my avatar) rates this in the Medium Challenging range, actually fairly close to the Challenging edge.

I think it's because even after you get that it's about CHEESE and unusual parsing, you still need quite a few letters before you connect the dots between the clue and a cheese name (as Rex noted, there are so many cheeses!) I think GORGONZOLA was relatively easy, with the Z, but I found PROVOLONE hard to figure out from the clue, until I got PRO--LON-

Anonymous 12:36 AM  

Nice theme Rex!

Fiber One

Tuning Spork 12:58 AM  

It was just about two hours ago that I checked the database to see that BIEBER had yet to make an appearance. Jotted it down in the 6-letter column of my word list. Oh well. There's always REBECCABLACK.

Anonymous 1:02 AM  

You're the reason Bieber showed up in my crossword puzzle?

Not cool, man. Not cool.

Sparky 1:05 AM  

Nice job. I found it so difficult at first and then I got in the groove. I am pickled tink. Congrats. Getting some sleep now. Bye.

Arna D 1:21 AM  

I loved this puzzle.It reminds me of the good ole days when the NYT puzzle was based predominantly on creative wordplay rather than a raft of pop-culture trivia (Bieber? I got there through crosses and still had no idea what it meant).

jae 3:28 AM  

Pretty nice/clever Thurs. I had this at Med.-Challenging. Missteps were GOAWAY and MAGEE. The SLICED part of CHEESE took a while. Plus, I really wanted GARNET for 1a. The Simpson's clue would have been easier. Thanks for the process write up Rex, it's nice to see how you have to deal with stuff you're not happy with.

chefwen 3:32 AM  

@sydny - Had zilch also before ZIPPO.
Reebok at 21A and above at 40A, so my bigwig was a eonche, pretty much not a word. OBOVO was my WOD, had to google it to make sure it was a word.

Fun but semi-difficult and ended with a couple of errors.

Rex, does it bother you and others when so many of your clues are altered? I think it would really CHEESE me off!!

I skip M-W 3:48 AM  

Went very smoothly once I got mascarpone and the idea. Loved gorgonzola. Not os crazy about provolone or limburger. took awhile torealize that you Rex are Sharp. I wish I could eat cheese, but am allergic. so this was a good way to deal with fromage. Didn't realize I had finished when happy face appeared.

Again, I have to say, very smooth. (it did help I know the names of semi-precious stones. )

andrea carla mascarpone 4:02 AM  

Cheeses, Christ! Best puzzle since SLICED...bread?
Actually, tough puzzle, esp if you start out with gArnEt...

Had to puzzle out almost every answer, so I'd rate it semi-challenging, but got it at ------PONE.

The writeup sort of beats any criticism to the punch so no one else can...clever.
That way, no one can scream about FGS, ALG, or ENGR!

But you did leave out one thing that bugged me... LIMB URGER is not pronounced the way LIMBURGER is (what with the silent B and the soft G...)
and PRO VOL ONE, the ONE is defined as the number ONE in the clue, but out loud would be said as either OWN, or ONAY; yet GORGONZOLA retains its pronunciation as written and/or pronounced.
Not explaining this well, but trying to say that three of the four themes work when parsing it as written but not as pronounced, and I don't know what to make of that.

I do know I would have liked a Seinfeldian Elaine clue for 31D "GETOUT!"

VERY Scrabbly: Z, J, couple of Xs.
Looks like you tried really hard to make this a pangram... I'm sorry you weren't able to succeed.

GILL I. 4:29 AM  

As they say in Spain (and else where) En Hora Buena.
Loved this puzzle. I had a chuckle with MAS CAR PONE, also like CUKE and LORAX (who speaks for the trees.)
This was good loony. I'll take some more, please.

XWDer 4:32 AM  

The concept of sliced cheese was good, but the execution of the theme entries was not.

ACME has done a terrific job slamming the puzzle, so not much to add except you should have sent all the theme answers home.

One example, PRO VOL. ONE, with an abbr? Not only do we have to parse every piece with a wrong pronunciation, but also add a little abbr.?

Bottom line: Stick to being a critic, let the professionals construct.

The Bard 6:15 AM  

Hamlet > Act V, scene II

OSRIC: A hit, a very palpable hit.

pauer 6:45 AM  

Kill Osric? That Branaugh is a monster! No, Osric usually does not die. CURIO is another page in 5 letters, but he's from "Twelfth Night." He doesn't die, either.

Great job on this! The clues being tough really gave this some Thursday bite, which I liked. Struggling a bit makes me appreciate the finish line even more.

Plus, I love cheese.

Gareth Bain 7:07 AM  

I thought the 3 wacky answers were just fab! but that GORGONZOLA was a bit ho-hum. (because I live in backwardsland, I'm told...)

Definitely medium-challenging to challenging for a Thursday, though my time was inflated by my busy trying to learn to solve in the applet...

Ruth 7:39 AM  

Many medical types (docs and PA's) still use pagers. I recently had an insight into why I have not gotten rid of my pager and switched it all to my cell phone. Reason: I hate my pager. Almost nothing comes over it that is not bad news (to some patient or to me). I don't want to transfer that hate to my cell phone, which blessedly is still mostly my private world. Pagers are not quite obsolete. (also, they still have more reliable reception than the phones)

SethG 7:40 AM  

Theme was okay, but fun fill and the cluing was excellent throughout.

Every time I see Lorax, I think of the Zax. Not the roofing tool. Oh, that Seuss!

Glimmerglass 7:52 AM  

Fascinating behind-the-scenes peek at the puzzle. Good Thursday puzzle ("medium"). Liked the theme, but being from Massachusetts, I had a little trouble spelling MASCARPONE (marscapone? No, that would be "gangster from the red planet").

Smitty 7:54 AM  

What does it say when the only word that came easy was the WOTD Sir Barton?

Challenging for me -( I had Cheese Blintz at one point )

Kept wondering if I made decaf by mistake...

jberg 8:00 AM  

Started at 1A, ran through the acrosses until 23 before I could put down anything - saw the constructor and thought, "Gee, this is the kind of obscure cluing Rex usually slams -- is he taunting us?" Then eventually got PONE, then SLICED CHEESE, and the rest went relatively smoothly. Good to know that the obscure clues were Will's - curious what the non-obscure clue for SIR BARTON would have been!

Actually, he was taunting us with all those hints of a pangram.

With a shoutout to yourself at 53D, blogging about your own puzzle makes a kind of symmetry.

I thought ATEAT above TOPLESS was a bit racy.

All in all, I loved it - I would have loved it even more if all the cheeses could be sliced, but that would be asking for too much.

One quibble: I don't think a CUKE is a gourd.

Z 8:07 AM  

Very little Cheez Whiz today.

Took me awhile to get going. ERIN Andrews got me started, so PRO VOL ONE was my first theme, which helped me see GORGON ZOLA. I'm not familiar with mascarpone, so actually had to solve by sussing out MA'S CAR PONE from the wacky clue. LIMB URGER was my favorite because it brought to mind all the times it's aroma was a topic of a Looney Tune cartoon.

Hand up for eONCHe. I knew the shoe company was named for the antelope, didn't know it was an alternate spelling. Not too happy with a two word Latin answer. Also didn't like the clue for RAN, it seems very crosswordy.

Otherwise, I liked the puzzle. It had a lot of healthy FIBER in it. Nothing lo-CAL about it at all. Sharply done.

joho 8:16 AM  

I started this late last night and was really irritated because it seemed hard and no fun. I had MASCARPONE but didn't get the clue.

Ahh, how the light of morning can bring clearness and light to the mind! I finished it off with coffee and enjoyed the crazy combination of erudite and goofy clues and answers. However, I share the same concerns regarding pronounciation as does @andrea carla mascaropone, especially LIMBURGER: stinky!

@Rex: I was interested to learn that Will was the culprit for BARB because I thought that was your inserted signature because who writes more sharp put downs than you?

Finally, how would I describe this puzzle? Cheesy!

CFXK 8:20 AM  

Fun Puzzle. Thanks.

Especially liked the cross of HONCHO and CHEESE (as in head honcho and big cheese...which brings to mind head cheese, which, of course, is not really a cheese)

Not sure if Will's editing of your clue to PAGERS was on target; personnel in hospitals and medical centers, who commonly rely on pagers as essential equipment for reliable and confidential communication, might not agree that these are obsolescent.

jackj 8:38 AM  

Hey, this Sharp guy is pretty good at this stuff!

The theme entries were imaginative and fun, especially PROVOLONE, with GORGONZOLA a credible runner-up but the tight cluing of some very clever fill made the puzzle the winner it is.

APO was a super bit, as were STARVE, ROSTER and TOPLESS; ZIPPO and HONCHO each were well played and when MCG__ appeared as the first three letters of 49 down, one either knew right away that the answer was Willie MCGEE or was hopelessly lost until the next two letters came from the crosses. Good one.

I wasn’t too excited by the two fetish entries, FOOTRUB and STEELTOE and thought COROT could have had a friendlier clue like “Barbizon School painter”, say, but those are minor blemishes.

So, bravo to our faithful blogmeister, even though he might have left one on the cheese tray:

“Is RooRoo the Hopping Clown ready?” STILT ON(?)

evil doug 8:42 AM  

Glad you assigned blame for the "sharp" cluing to Shortz; you know I would have been all over that.

Nobody appreciates the 27-Down/29-Down stuff. Not even you, right?

I enjoyed the pager/telex combo. A potential puzzle theme for you constructors would be old technology---mimeographs, Zip drives, Betamax, Minidiscs, Walkmans, so forth. Love that guy who plays Liz Lemon's ex and is still in the pager business. Can't believe you doctors can't find some improved technology to replace those things like the rest of civilization.


Rex Parker 8:46 AM  


"27-/29D stuff": not my doing. Also, not sure why a perfectly good human name (CAL) becomes an abbrev., but He works in mysterious ways...

Anonymous 8:51 AM  

If it were any other constructor, RHEBOK would've been the word of the day!

jesser 9:03 AM  

Prologue: I have a teenager staying at my house until NMSU gears up in a few weeks. He was annoying me, so I went to another part of the house and noodled around on the Internets, where I saw on Facebook that Rex authored today's puzzle. I went to the NYT site and printed it out. Because I was annoyed by the teenager, my bourbon intake by 9 p.m. Mountain was higher than normal.

Last Night: This puzzle taught me that I don't know much about cheeses. Not much at all. If the point of this puzzle was to see how many writeovers could be generated in a single puzzle, it would win the Oscar for best performance by a 15x15 grid.

This Morning: I left the ink-bestained mess at home and came in to the office. I got all my early-morning stuff done and then printed the puzzle out fresh. I remembered JASPER (not gArnEt) and RHEBOK (not ReEBOK) and BIEBER (not BeiBER), but failed to remember ZIPPO, so put in ZIlch (again). Today I could parse LE ROI, which Was Not Happening last night. This gave me the L I needed to finish up with the Seuss character. Things went well from there.

I rate is as Super Challenging under the influence of a teenager and bourbon, and Medium Challenging under the influence of a mild hangover and way too much coffee.

I learned a lot about cheesy puns. And I like that. Good job, Oh Fearless Leader!

dk 9:05 AM  

The critic creates. So as a new constructor do you get a break or....

When one creates one must consider ones audience. It is not the self nuanced content hidden in the folds of your brain that are important. It is the effective communication an idea or theme. The idea or theme may be esoteric but it has to put forth in a way that may be at least appreciated and at best understood. Sigh, today's theme....

In this puzzle the theme and related fill seem to be an inside joke. The theme is more like rocks in a stream than a tie that binds. The rest of the puzzle struggles to get around it. The non-theme fill is fine Thursday fare. Technically, a well constructed puzzle, the constructor shows promise all that is needed is a voice.

Last comment - when considering reviewing your own work think about how you would look in a Speedo. Or, perhaps how you may be viewed by a cross-eyed, three-legged, yodeling LORAX.

** (2 Stars)

ArtO 9:08 AM  

tough one, Rex. agree with others who rate medium-challenging.

started with MELTED CHEESE which created trouble but would have been more accurate description of how the cheeses in question might be used. GORGONZOLA can be melted but most often crumbled onto salad.

evil doug 9:09 AM  


I knew it had to be Will's doing. I bet you had "Miss leader?"

It takes something for a critic to expose himself by tackling the selfsame task he dissects. Kudos.

But I'll never forgive you for opening the door on Bieber....


Rex Parker 9:11 AM  


I *wish* I'd thought of [Miss leader?]. I probably had some stupid bullfight / soccer cheer thing in there.

Anonymous 9:19 AM  

Definitely challenging ... got the gimmick after too long but had to google a few at the end to finish.

Have never heard of mascarpone.

Thought it was going to be "grated cheese" for a while.

chefbea 9:39 AM  

@XWDer shame on you!! This was a great puzzle!!

And thanks Rex for explaining how you constructed it.

Got mascapone right off the bat and then looked for the other cheeses.

My only quibble..I couldn't fit aquamarine into 1A. Thought that was the march birthstone

JP 9:48 AM  

I have the honorable distinction of having solved the entire puzzle without realizing that Rex Parker (aka Michael Sharp) was the constructor of the puzzle. That is until I came to this site.
For a Thursday puzzle the puzzle seemed rather easy. No Goggle at all, some guessing but solved the entire puzzle except a slice of the NW corner. No idea that JASPER is a birthstone and the clue for OPIATE was too clever for me.
Also I have no idea what ABOVO means. Can anyone explain why it is clued as "from the start"?
Wacky is a good description for the theme but I cannot say I enjoyed the theme. The phrases are so improbable that I wander how Rex would have reviewed the puzzle if it were not his own brainchild.

Anonymous 9:52 AM  

liked it, laughed at "provolone", but chefbea is right, the march birthstone is aquamarine.

Matthew G. 10:05 AM  

Did not know that PONE was a name for cornbread -- I know this word only as part of the slang term "cornpone" for a hick or hillbilly. Nevertheless deduced it must be a bread and picked up the theme at MASCARPONE (I started in the SE because the first clues that jumped out at me were the ones for OSRIC and LORAX). Filled in the rest of the theme entries then with few crosses, correctly guessing CHEESE and then its adjective SLICED.

I was born in March, but had no idea that JASPER was one of my birthstones. There are so many lists of "traditional," "modern" and other birthstones that I can't imagine who remembers these things.

Finished with a pretty average Thursday time, so I'll call this Medium. The only place I really struggled was in the NE, where I didn't know RHEBOK and STUD and TURBO took a while to see. As a cheese-lover, I enjoyed the puzle.

hazel 10:11 AM  

hmmm. when i think of a deli purchase involving sliced cheese, provolone is an option, but not mascarpone, limburger, or gorgonzola - which are really kind of crumbly or goopy - im not sure about limburger, actually, only had it once, (my friend bought it before we were getting on a ferry to go to Corfu, I think, and I actually threw it overboard because I couldnt stand the smell) - there may have been a hangover involved, but Ive never been able to retry. The smell is still clearly assoc. with a gag reflex.

All that to say. i'm not really jiggy with the reveal (following the obsolescence theme). With two cheeses in place, I actually thought the reveal might be stinky cheese....

anyway, i cant put my finger on it exactly, i thought the puzzle was adequate, the fill all serviceable, but the solve itself was kind of joyless for me. maybe all the joy was inh the wack, and wack sits next to the three stooges and dane cook (and bathroom humor) part of my brain, not getting any laughs.

I did thoroughly enjoy the write-up.

DBGeezer 10:20 AM  

The SLICED CHEESE theme coincidentally coincided with a cartoon in the LA Times this week. Two people stand glaring at each other, each holding a political sign. One says:


the other says:


Only after reading the blog did I come to realize how Sharp Rex is.
Thanks for puzzle, blog, and comments!

John V 10:21 AM  

More later, crazy day. Bravo puzzle, Rex. Play average/easy for me. My WOTD, 53D, Sharp Comment: Barb. Well, duh!!! :)

JaxInL.A. 10:28 AM  

I would have loved this puzzle even without knowing that Rex made it.  It had many of the AHA! moments that make solving a joy, and the clues were bouncy and fun.  Rex, thanks for writing up the puzzle to show the process so clearly, from idea to publication.  Its fun to hear what comes from you and what is Will in the clues, too.  And seeing that "Sharp put-down" clue for BARB gave me a good chuckle.

Cheese, esp. Italian cheese, makes me happy, and word play makes me happy, and today I get both (I am such a cheap date). Theme entries span the cheese spectrum, from creamy MASCARPONE (I will never misspell that word again), to heavenly PROVOLONE to zingy GORGONZOLA, to the famously biting LIMBURGER.  Of course the only one of these that you can actually buy SLICED is the Provolone but all of the words are sliced into those fun literalisms, so it works for me.  

I particularly liked the NW and SE corners. JASPER over OPIATE over theme entry--nice.  Central California and the mid-Atlantic were my way in. Did we get a pangram, Andrea? Seems close. Nice Scrabbly letters.

Not so much love here for the belt across the waist of the puzzle though: 
CAL clue was dull, AB OVO had no indication of the Latin which even a Thursday should hint at, and, well, I just don't like ATE AT.  (Oh, and I still don't get FGS.)  Speed bumps, though, in a very fun grid.  

There was definitely something for everyone here.  We had high brow COROT OSRIC and low brow Zombies.  The twisted and delightful "mewing passerines" for the unusual CATBIRDS and lovely words like OPULENT.  Obsolete TELEX and PAGERS, but the so-five-minutes-ago BIEBER and the timeless LORAX.  The racy STUD and TOPLESS.  The obligatory (but minimal) sports clues, and even the German clue for DANKE is quite gettable if you don't think that the Sportscaster guy is ERIk.  

Of course it always helps that the puzzle seemed right on my wavelength.  Thanks, Rex!  Chewy, fun Thursday. Congratulations.

Beadola 10:33 AM  

All months have various birthstones. Aquamarine is modern. Jasper is not wrong.
Put me in the "liked it" column for the puzzle. Thanks Rex.

Campesite 10:40 AM  

Rex, thanks for the behind-the-scenes look at the construction. Slogged my way down to the Gulf Coast,, where the theme nicely revealed itself, so this was manchego (hard cheese) for me.

Matthew G. 10:43 AM  

I don't think anybody has said that JASPER was wrong. The problem with birthstones is not wrong answers, but too many right ones.

I know JASPER primarily as the mascot of my father's alma mater, Manhattan College. The name is taken from Brother Jasper, the school's athletic director in the late 19th century. Legend has it that Brother Jasper invented the 7th-inning stretch at the school, and that the tradition later spread to the major leagues via the college team's annual exhibition game against the New York Giants.

Two Ponies 10:53 AM  

Another 50/50 day for me.
I enjoyed the puzzle overall but the fill was better than the theme.
The write-up was entertaining and enlightening since I was scratching my head over "sliced" mascarpone. Duh!
Loved the catbird clue.
Andrea and dk said it best.
For me the theme seemed a little childish but it was a fair and appropriate puzzle for a Thursday.
Congrats on being published again.
Being acquainted with several constructors because of this blog has given me such a personal connection with and deeper understanding of the NYT puzzle.
Can't thank you enough for that.

Lindsay 10:54 AM  

Obviously I don't spend enough time in delis. Know about PROVOLONE. Never heard of MASCARPONE. May have heard of GORGONZOLA and LIMBURGER in some long-ago pre-incarnation. But not sure.

So a challenging Wednesday for me.

On the other hand, SIR Barton was my first answer in, and then I wanted telexes for the Obsolescent communication devices at 4D, but they wouldn't fit. Ultra-odd that TELEX turned up later.

Lindsay 10:56 AM  

Sorry --- @Two Ponies reminds me it's Thursday.

Tom 11:02 AM  

I really enjoyed this puzzle. (Even before I knew it was "Rex' construct") I got the cheesy theme with MASCARPONE, which honestly was the only theme answer I got from the clue, the others came from the theme with a few crosses leading to figuring out the cheese which then led to figuring out how it fit the clue. After figuring out 17A, the clue seems backwards compared to the other theme clues, i.e. that the clue progresses in the same order as the answer.
I wouldn't call MASCARPONE a slicing cheese per se. Needed google for a few clues, it was challenging for me, which likely means easy for the rest of you.
captcha: zogym - workout place for natives of Burma.

Sparky 11:06 AM  

Had ham and CHEESE for a while and wanted Medusa with ZOLA. At first only Ss filled in for plurals. CUKE first word then box by box by fill started. Garnet before JASPER, zilch before ZIPPO. Kept at it, no look ups no Googles. Behind the scenes comment instructive. Enjoyed it with Joon, too. When finished figured a MASCAR was a bus that transports a band.

I may be leaving for Florida tomorrow for a week. No computer access. So have a good weekend.

Eric 11:08 AM  

Great to see the behind the scenes working of the puzzle and to see how much it can be changed on you. Thanks for the insight. Great puzzle, very enjoyable. I'll refrain from any "cut the cheese" comments

Kurt 11:08 AM  

Rex -- The puzzle was great. The write-up was even better. Thanks. But I agree with Evil Doug about opening the door on Bieber. Lets all just pretend that didn't happen.

optionsgeek 11:10 AM  

One of the toughest Thursdays I've solved in some time. So many wrong turns, where to begin?

FEETRUB for FOOTRUB (the shoe"s" bit through me)

Didn't even see that "ATEAT" was "ATE AT" until just now. Figured it was something mammalary (WTF?)

Wonderful clueing. Really felt like I solved something when I (finally) finished with my abysmal time. Way to go.

Bob Kerfuffle 11:11 AM  

Fun puzzle. Had some real bite, in more ways than one.

Anonymous 11:13 AM  

at first found this puzzle too challenging, then had an aha moment and it kinda solved itself, altho i must admit i figured out what i had written re sliced cheeses when i had finished. proud am i on thurs to complete one. i laughed when rex said he had no idea how difficult then it finally dawned on me that he had constructed it. ah it's a good thurs.

Howard B 11:18 AM  

From someone who generally dislikes cheese, this was a bizarre, weird theme.
So of course, I liked it very much.
I am torn between which answer I find more unsettling: CORPSE or BIEBER.

Anonymous 11:36 AM  

43A miscued. GRRR!


Lurking Larry

DBGeezer 11:39 AM  

@,JaxinLA, FGS is abbrev for Field GoalS, three pointers

Adam 11:44 AM  

I'd just like to echo what Eric said. Sure, sliced cheese is perfectly fine and passes the breakfast test. But this puzzle TOTALLY should've been CUTTHE/CHEESE.

Squeek 11:46 AM  

I think some folks have yet to see the "aha" of "sliced."
The theme cheeses are "sliced" up to fit the crazy clues.
Hope this helps.

Joon 11:50 AM  

interesting. i came here expecting to find out that 17a (and the entire puzzle) was inspired by trip payne's GORGONZOLAESQUE puzzle, but it appears to predate that. so, chalk it up to coincidence. either way, well done. i thought this was a fun one. i would've loved MA'S CARP ON E, but i'm glad 47a wasn't {Grilled crossword constructor Julian?}.

AB OVO is english, folks. look it up in any dictionary. of course it's been borrowed from latin, but you wouldn't expect to see the clue tagged as latin on DE FACTO, SIC, FIAT, A PRIORI, ET CETERA, et cetera.

ANON B 12:14 PM  

I couldn't understand your write-up until reading the comments I
realized that Michael Sharp is your
square monicker.
You could have given us non-hip
guys a break at the top writing
"Michael Sharp aka Rex Parker"

TimJim 12:30 PM  

Loved the theme. Did not love COROT, ABOVO and RHEBOK, which did me in.

Elisa 12:31 PM  

Yay for everything (except the savasana clue not making it in)! I could really hear you in this puzzle. And I loved the cheeses. Got mascarpone first, shook my head and laughed, and then forged on.

deerfencer 1:02 PM  

Weird puzzle. Had real difficulty getting a foothold but eventually got the sliced cheese clue and away I went. In the end I actually enjoyed it despite a rocky start and some annoyances along the way.

Agree that JASPER was very poorly clued; never heard of it either, and it was one of the few clues I had to Google, which actually didn't help! (Note to Will: When even Google draws a blank, someone needs to edit the editor.)

Agree with the general feeling of horror at BIEBER making his debut here but at least Rex crossed him with CORPSE, perhaps a sly hint that it will also be the LAST time our hero uses him in a NYT puzzle.

Congrats to Mr. Sharp for an interesting and amusing Thursday challenge.

Doug 1:07 PM  

First theme anwer was NASCAR-PONE until I had a chance to work it out. Havent' visited here as often as I would like and I see Evil Doug took a chill pill and is back, so welcome.

Being a Canadian from Wisconsin, this is in my sweet spot. Anyone else spot the nascent Canadian theme in the four corners?

JenCT 1:08 PM  

Got SLICED CHEESE right away, but was thinking "deli cheeses that are sliced" for too long.

I use MASCARPONE when making Tiramisu.

Too many writeovers to mention.

Loved CATBIRDS - see them every day in my garden.

Challenging for me.

Masked and Anonymous 1:10 PM  

PuzSpouse got hold of this one and worked most of it. She even carried it into the kitchen, and set it on the stove, to make sure I wouldn't get at it. Considered it a personal quest. Took her a lot of questing, so probably slightly challenging for a ThursPuz. She did deign to ask me a six-letter birthstone, ending with "...PER", so got to help out there.

PuzSpouse says "thumbs way up for FOOTRUB!"

And, I might add, nice U-count, @31. You're really gettin' the hang of this stuff. Not every day one can cut the cheese in the NY Times and then review the act. Congrats.

R. McGeddon 1:11 PM  

Just to add that I also did the puzzle without looking at who the constructor was; liking it a lot; thinking RP would hate it, as often happens with puzzles I enjoy.

Personally I disagree with those who say volone/vol. one. and urger/urger don't work because they're pronounced differently. I think orthographic puns are fine. Just my opinion.

Anonymous 1:17 PM  

Did not love the "sliced" part, because of the mascarpone and gorgonzola problem. I see the point, now you've explained it, but I still am irritated. That being said, though, I liked all the other parts, including the hilariously dorky puns. Did not notice who constructed it until, well, I got on line to see how you reacted to the "sliced" thing. Well done.

andrea cheddar michaels 1:19 PM  

I'm mildly alarmed...Pls re-read my post with tongue firmly implanted in cheek!
It was not meant as a slam, esp not of a puzzle on Rex's own blog!

Meant as more wink wink nudge nudge

What I was trying to get at is the as pronounced/as written thing which was not as elegant as the initial GORGONZOLA...
If PROVOLONE had been defined more like "Utah city single guy" it would have matched the pronunciation more closely and not have been so twisted with that abbrev thing, etc.
But not a total put down, any more than @Joho's and my contortions trying to get LEGOTOSTANDON/SNOWBALLINHELLO, eg to work as a clue.

(Tho horrified to retroactively learn that @foodie doesn't like add-a-letter wackiness!)

Back story is always interesting and it would have been fascinating to me to see what @Rex would have thought of this were it not his own baby, but we'll never know!

But now maybe he can remember (fondly I hope!) his own bemusement the first night we met at the ACPT and I was struggling thru solving my OWN puzzle.

I don't think critics should keep to criticizing, quite the reverse!

The more one constructs and sees things from the point of view of "the professionals"
(actually no such thing, given the payscale and the fact that most of us are solvers first who happened to just want to take a stab at creating) the more depth and heft to one's critiques there will be in the future
(if not a decrease in BARBs) :)

John V 1:24 PM  

Re: FOOTRUB, I found this on the net, which is helpful:

A young man who pulled mozzarella
was really a muscular fella.
With his strong hand and wrist
no girls could resist
his backrubs, and things they won't tell ya.

Andrew 1:42 PM  

"Hit those other Muppets with machine parts!" = CAM 'EM, BERT!

foodie 1:44 PM  

@andrea, I for one totally read your initial comments as nuanced and tongue in cheek and providing an interesting perspective.

I actually really love the multiple perspectives here, from everyone, but especially Rex and Andrea and anyone who pops in and is also a constructor (e.g. today @Joon, Pauer). There are matters of personal taste (sorry Andrea for loving wacky clues more than wacky answers ;), but there are also matters of standards in content, design, elegance, balance, smoothness and gestalt that Rex, Andrea and others typically point to. Those critiques have given me as a solver much greater insight and admiration for the art of constructing a great puzzle. They also have addicted me to this blog because of the depth and quality of the dialogue.

And I'm totally with the idea that creating and critiquing inform each other. It's most certainly true in science and in food, and evidently in puzzledom.

PS. I too wished for MAN CHE GO, my favorite cheese (that could be sliced) and triggers associations of Che Guevara on his road trip...

Anonymous 2:38 PM  

Mark my score card on a Japanese golf course - Par me san.

renee downing 2:49 PM  

Nifty puzzle!

Beauty/ugly part of five-letter impressionists ending in t with vowels at positions 2 and 4 is that there are at least three of them who produced maybe 5000 paintings, each with some sort of name. So you get these very exact-sounding clues that actually just point to a set of alternatives. And that's why we love crosswords.

treedweller 2:59 PM  

Coincidentally, I recently allowed myself to be talked into watching season one of "The Wire," in which the PAGER plays an important part (yes, I know I'm ridiculously behind--as evinced by the number of times BEQ has nailed me with a clue relating to the show). Obsolescent though they may be.

I almost put this at Friday-hard, as I wandered through half the grid before getting any real traction. But once I got the theme at MASCARPONE, the rest dropped fairly quickly. I can easily image Rex would be complaining about one of the things brought up here if this had not been his baby; my money would be on the tortured nature of the punds, though the change in pronunciation is a close second. But I don't mind tortured puns, I tend to think "whatever" about some of the "four-of-a-kind-or-two-and-two-but-not-three-and-one" debates, and I like cheese, so you complainers can just CHEVRE it.

JD 3:16 PM  

Great puzzle! Loved the clue on 9-Down, in particular. I had the same experience as you with the NW in my sonnets puzzle -- Will rewrote not just the clues but the answers to part of that section, leaving me completely lost for the first 15 seconds or so. Odd experience.

bniebur 3:28 PM  

I will now never have trouble spelling mas carp on e. Always spelled it marscapone, but will now think of a fish on drugs.

Also, really impressed you had biebur in the puzzle in 2010. You should be credited for predicting his staying power!

sanfranman59 3:37 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 19:52, 19:06, 1.04, 63%, Medium-Challenging

Top 100 solvers

Thu 10:34, 9:16, 1.14, 78%, Medium-Challenging

Congrats on another NYT triumph, Rex. I particularly enjoyed reading your write-up today since it gave great insight and background into the makings of the puzzle. Based on the online solve times, it seems firmly ensconced in the Medium-Challenging category. My own solve time pegs it as Easy-Medium. Perhaps years of reading your blog has accustomed me to the way your brain works.

chefbea 3:40 PM  

It's almost 4:00. What do we do???

Hav ar ti

fergus 4:03 PM  

With LIMBURGER and GORGONZOLA in place I thought that STINKY CHEESE was going to be the reveal. That would have worked wryly well, but PROVOLONE and MASCARPONE really don't cut it in the Stink Department.

I noticed the byline before solving, which gave the puzzle a meta-critique during, and then to read the self-criticism afterwards gave me the full show.

CoffeeLvr 4:09 PM  

Well, I must have been on a different wavelength than most; I got SLICED off "deli" and crosses, then could see CHEESE, and then began deciphering the actual cheeses.

HTG Corot.

Pagers, even with text capabilities, are still a lot cheaper than phones. So they find a place in large organizations where you can email an individual or a large pre-set list very quickly.

@Rex, really enjoyed a glimpse into your construction process. Thanks, and thanks for the puzz. Appropriately silly for Thursday.

Ozzie Osbourne 4:19 PM  

How many G's are there? And what's a Bieber?

OISK 4:27 PM  

Challenging for me - had a tough time getting started, but eventually got it all, although I wondered whether "cuke" "Lorax" and "recur" ( "Come to mind again" is exactly right, but somehow misled me) were correct. I can't place what "Fiber one" means, although it sounds vaguely familiar.

But I LOVED the puns! Enjoyable puzzle, thanks.

Anonymous 4:48 PM  

Don't know which I like more - Gorgonzola or Zola. If you haven't read him - pick something up and give him a try. And remember - he was the guy in the Dreyfus affair who wrote "J'accuse" for the newpapers. I know I love mascarpone...

mac 4:57 PM  

Nice Thursday puzzle, congratulations! And thank you for the background info, always love that.

I too got the theme at cheese and Mascarpone. Got a little confused at the French writer but Italian cheese, but no big problem. I just read that Limburger (the only non-Italian cheese in the puzzle) stinks because of the same bacterium that causes body odor.

I tried to put in telex before I found its rightful place.

There are about 10 March birthstones (overlap of 2 signs), but the most common are aquamarine, bloodstone, jade, jasper and opal. I think I would go for the aquamarine. Garnet is January.

A catbird once tried to attack one of our cats. Scared him: he was flat on the grass.

I just rinsed the basil for the tomatoes and mozzarella.

BigSteve46 4:57 PM  

You can't really slice mascarpone. It has to be scooped with a spoon or spread with a knife.

obertb 5:02 PM  

I liked this puzzle just fine. Came here because I thought Rex would hate it; only then noticed who the constructor was.

long suffering mets fan 5:12 PM  

Rex/Michael -- Nice job !!!!! thought the cluing was sharp (I too chuckled when I saw Sharp put-down)

great to come here and read the constructor's thoughts and hear about how the finished product changed from the original submission

No Roman numerals, no crappy abbreviations, no 3 letter words that make you say ugh

Bravo, Rex !!!! thanks

RTWhite 5:29 PM  

Why not RHETOR instead of RHEBOK?

Chip Hilton 6:06 PM  

@JenCT: fellow Nutmegger here and I love CATBIRDS. So entertaining.

Fascinating write-up, Rex. So Will really gets in there and edits? I've often wondered just how much. The fall, 2010, submission: was BIEBER already around? Will he still be in fall, 2011?

I enjoyed the puzzle. Puns should be absurd and these do qualify.

BocaBoy 6:44 PM  

Rex, I just discovered that Across Lite is not compatible with Lion, the new Mac OS. Could you ask someone at the Times to explain to me how the world's premiere newspaper can't upgrade their crossword app to work with a new operating system that, according to Appleinsider, 1MM people downloaded in the first two days? This is the same stupidity that surrounds the iPad app for Times Xwords, which isn't fully iOS 4 compatible. Does anyone at the Times realize that many of us subscribe to the on-line version to play the daily crossword, which is now not possible!!!

AARRGGHH!! I'd expect people who work at the Times to be smarter people and more tech savvy!!

michael Chibnik 7:10 PM  

harder-than-average, but eventually gettable Thursday. I was going to give Rex a hard time about old and ole, but I see that he's not responsible for the cluing here.

Vega 7:10 PM  

Over-the-top dorky! My partner who doesn't laugh at much, especially in the dorky-jokes department, laughed out loud when I read her the theme clues and answers, so you know it had to be good.

Z 7:38 PM  

@ Joon - I looked "ab ovo" up. You can certainly find it in English dictionaries, but that doesn't make a word English. here is one of many sources that list it as Latin.

I might be convinced that some Latin phrases (e.g. "et cetera") are so commonly understood as to be a part of the language, but it would still take a lot of convincing. I am convinced that some Latin words are part of the English language, e.g."ova/ovum." But "Ab ovo?" Two Latin words.

Stan 7:39 PM  

As a tribute to how much I liked this puzzle, over-the-top theme in particular, I actually watched the Justin Bieber video! (Note to white people: Do not attempt the crotch-grab.)

Many of my favorite clues were Will's, and the one for BARB seems to be a quadruple-entendre.

It is a little sad that this guy Rex Parker has made up a pseudonym (Michael SHARP, get it?) for constructing puzzles.

Norm 8:05 PM  

Loved the puzzle (as frustrating as it was until all came clear with MASCARPONE). Kudos. Count me as another one who does not look at the constructor until the end. Was curious to see if you would deconstruct yourself or have a guest. Liked your choice.

william e emba 9:06 PM  

As I've pointed out on this blog before, it is incorrect to call TELEX a "fax predecessor". In fact, I informed Shortz of this about ten years ago, but he responded with a rather lame (and false) suggestion as to how it could be true.

The only sense in which TELEX precedes "fax" is as words. TELEX is a trademark, and "fax" is a latecoming abbreviation for "facsimile".

Electric facsimile transmission (off of pictures engraved in a special manner) dates to the 1840s, and the first commercial fax line to the 1860s. A version that could work directly off of photographs was developed in the 1900s, and this quickly became widely used by newspapers. Radio transmitted facsimile was invented in the 1920s. And progress marched on. There were even facsimile editions of newspapers way back when, including the NYT. I don't know if it included the crossword puzzle.

The first form of remote typewritten style transmission were the ticker tapes of the 1870s. This evolved into keyboards in 1900s. TELEX itself came about in the 1930s.

The confusion is that "fax" machines themselves remained relatively uncommon until the 1970s, when a way to transmit faxes over ordinary telephone lines was developed. At which point, combined with improved, but still primitive, printing techniques, they became ubiquitous.

But people certainly knew of facsimile transmission way back when. For example, Rex Stout had Nero Wolfe rely on a fax transmission for an overseas photograph in his 1940 novel Over My Dead Body. There is not the slightest attempt to explain the concept for the reader's benefit--presumably it was understood.

Anonymous 9:27 PM  

Embarrassingly bad. Really cut the cheese.

cody.riggs 9:42 PM  

I loved this puzzle! And get this...although I normally read the byline first, for some reason I missed it this time UNTIL logging into the blog, where it stared me in the face.

The funny thing is how many times during the solve I thought, "uh oh, Rex is gonna HATE this one!" (FGS, the absurd "Ma's car pone", the clue Mewing passerines, which I adored, etc.)

BIG congrats to Rex for a perfect Thurs.-level difficulty without a rebus or other 'devious' trick. And I thought he hated puns? This was punna-licious.

Thank goodness 46-A wasn't my first thought "CANT" (abbrev. of cantelope.) That would have been horrendous.

17A was a big misdirection, and the last theme answer I got, simply because I had the concluding "A" for the longest time and ALMOST wrote in "Medusa" as the final 6 letters. Glad I didn't. The GORGON beginning was a much better (i.e. less obvious) answer.

Excellent puzzle, more please! I'm so pleased that the perfectionist Rex doesn't let his standards down one bit on his own puzzles, in fact all have been superb.

My partner was born in March, and all we know is aquamarine. Jasper was unexpected, but we do know there is more than one stone per month, confusingly.

NEVER heard of a Nissan VERSA. Also Never heard of COROT, so there, I get Rex back for all his Neverheards over the years. LOL

I wish I neverheard of Justin BIEBER.

Portland, Ore.

sanfranman59 10:00 PM  

This week's relative difficulty ratings. See my 7/30/2009 post for an explanation. In a nutshell, the higher the ratio, the higher this week's median solve time is relative to the average for the corresponding day of the week.

All solvers (this week's median solve time, average for day of week, ratio, percentile, rating)

Mon 6:22, 6:51, 0.93, 24%, Easy-Medium
Tue 8:59, 8:55, 1.01, 58%, Medium
Wed 11:39, 11:52, 0.98, 52%, Medium
Thu 20:10, 19:06, 1.06, 66%, Medium-Challenging

Top 100 solvers

Mon 3:20, 3:40, 0.91, 16%, Easy
Tue 4:48, 4:35, 1.05, 65%, Medium-Challenging
Wed 5:54, 5:52, 1.01, 57%, Medium
Thu 10:10, 9:16, 1.10, 74%, Medium-Challenging

Octavian 11:22 PM  

Wanted to like this but found it very unsatisfactory.

Too many abbreviations, forced puns, forced cuteness (old/ole) and general ugliness.

I am quite sure the host would have hated it had it been tried by someone else. Limburger and Mascarpone are truly hideous.

Minus one star.

(No offense, Michael. Just keepin' it real).

Anonymous 11:44 PM  

I loved this, and then I came to your blog to figure out my only hole (AB?VO), only to find out you wrote it. Awesome. Except the BIEBER. I have this theory that if nobody ever mentions him he won't exist.

BocaBoy 10:06 AM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
BocaBoy 10:08 AM  

Tough, but fun. I always thought rhebok was spelled "reebok" but finally got it right on the cross.

Litsoft 9:09 PM  

Bocaboy, Across Lite 2.1 for Lion was released last week. Currently, it can only be downloaded from Litsoft site

There is a permanent link to it from the NY Times WordPlay blog as well.

Anonymous 11:10 AM  

Wow, this is the worst NYT puzzle I've ever seen. Do not construct again!!!

WilsonCPU 11:55 AM  

Oh, get serious, 11:10! A nice mix of clever and bizarre, with one hiccup : I'd never heard of RHEBOK, but got it off the HONCHO, then checked here. (My American Heritage dictionary didn't have it either, oddly.)
Captcha: pubsetyp: do type-setting in a bar?

Justin Bieber 12:36 PM  

The new crossword puzzle is here!

The new crossword puzzle is here!


(Gee, Thanks Rex)

moldecap- baseball gear left out in the rain...

Red Valerian 2:58 PM  

I thought this was a lot of fun. Worth it for the silly answers (it took me quite a while to see how LIMBURGER could be clued as it was, but that was part of the fun) and for LORAX. Reminded me of a kayaking trip organized by a former student--she recited the whole thing from memory as the sun was setting after dinner. (Before you start thinking--uh-oh, former student and sunset camping trips... get your mind out of the gutter! She had graduated, and my partner was along, as were five other people, including her mother. So, pbbt.)

Had IgnITE for INCITE for a tad. Liked Michael's clue for CORPSE better than Will's. Did like Will's for SHARP!

Don't like brand or store names (VERSA, CVS). I could pretend that it's because I lead a Zen-like life of non-consumption, but I think it's more that I don't pay attention (and maybe a bit that we don't have all the same brands up here--I've never heard of either of these).

Don't care for the clue for 58D(formerly, name-wise), but I've seen many worse. NEE means born, so it is followed by the name a woman was born with. If a woman marries and changes her name from X to Y, then remarries and changes it to Z, she is not Z nee Y. She is Z, formerly Y, nee X. But such a small nit to pick.

Anyhow, really good puzzle, with enough misdirections, (manageable) obscurities, wackiness and unusual words to make me smile. Don't know how Rex would have treated Michael's puzzle had he not been him, but I enjoyed the write-up and many of the comments.

Anonymous 3:05 PM  

How beer saved the day:

El Toro Brewing Company of Morgan Hill, CA has a signature beer called Poppy Jasper. I've read that it's named for the bar at the brewpub, which is made from poppy jasper. But until I visited that pub for the first time yesterday and actually sat down at that bar, I had always assumed that poppy jasper was a type of wood. JASPER would not even have been on my rock radar.

Anonymous 3:51 PM  

4D: Obsolescent communication devices (PAGERS) In 1992, I had a Motorola Bravo Classic I still have it. I don't the service with all this talk of earthquakes and other natural disasters I might investigate the possibility of getting service again.

Anonymous 4:21 PM  

@ Anonymous 3:05 PM (okay, that was me) - I just noticed OPIATE directly under JASPER. Poppy Jasper indeed.

Speaking of word stacks, my favorite deli item in the grid is EMU DIP. Reminds me of an old Far Side cartoon.

Deb 4:37 PM  

Lawdy! Is this a record number of comments? I made a bee-line for the computer after finishing today to scold the constructor for not knowing that you can't slice Mascarpone or Gorgonzola. D'oh! As usual, I'm slow to pick up on the full theme.

MASCARPONE was the first theme answer that appeared for me - loved it! I saw PROVOLONE early on, but resisted entering it because I just couldn't see how it fit the clue.

Reebok is apparently the Afrikaans/Dutch spelling of RHEBOK, so having it cross STEELTOE was nice, even though I doubt that Reebok puts steel toes in any of their shoes.

The difficulty level - for a Thursday - was definitely on the challenging side for me.

I'm not sure which I found more amusing/unexpected to witness today: Rex's immortalization of Justin BIEBER, or XWDer accusing acme of "slamming" the puzzle. I read that and thought "I wonder how long it'll take for her to get back here and say "No, I did NOT!" (It took longer than I expected! ha!)

Overall, nice puzzle, Rex.

Dirigonzo 5:34 PM  

"Huh ... I'm going to be unable to complete my own puzzle. That'll be a first." That direct quote from @Rex' writeup tickled me and seems like a pretty good indication that the puzzle might have been a tad on the chellenging side. Apparently he managed to get through it though, as did I so I feel pretty good about that.

I guess I'm the only one who spotted the real hidden signature in the puzzle: RP hiding inconspicuously in the 55 across cheese.

Dirigonzo 5:49 PM  

Just noticed that the RP at 55a crosses with one in 46d. Crossing hidden signatures - even better!

Anonymous 6:03 PM  

A bit of a slog, thanks to some of the clues ("hoop alternative" for STUD? Somebody 'splain that one to me, please!) and a few unfortunate early errors, chiefly ZILCH, which seemed a gimme after the Z wa in, and KEEPSUP for BEEFSUP. 40a? I got nothin' even after googling A_OVO for the entire alphabet. I have ABOVO there, but only after crosses. Also had a couple of spelling errors, REEBOK and--for some reason--MACCARPONE. And for a while, I was trying to fit MEDUSA into the 17a spot.

captcha=preed: what a catbird with a head cold does.

Deb 6:55 PM  

@Anonymous - Think earrings.

rain forest 5:30 PM  

Way late, even for a syndi solver, but hey, I was sailing.
Puzzle was easy-medium for me. First answer: Sir Barton, then, luckily, jog, and then the entire NW corner went, saw the theme on gorgonzola, and sussed out the other cheeses quickly. Amidst many chuckles, the fill was happily in my wheelhouse, and so QED. Loved it, not because I found it easy, but because of the freshness of it, and the fact that Rex's puzzle construction is true to his occasionally cranky critiques in his blog. Way to go!

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