Native of central Caucasus / SAT 7-23-11 / Big mystery during summer of 1980 / Ancient rival of Assyria / Friendly things in old ads

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Constructor: Tom Heilman

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: none

Word of the Day: OSSET (13D: Native of the central Caucasus) —

n. a member of an Iranian people living in S Russia and N Georgia, chiefly in Ossetia in the Caucasus. (Collins Eng. Dict.)
• • •

OSSET is like RUCTION, only more so ... though now that I see the relation to "OSSETia," I can at least say I've heard of the region involved (South Ossetia, to be specific—there must be some kind of troubles there, otherwise why would it be in the news? Here it is—declared independence from Georgia in 1990, fought two wars with Georgia in (1991, 2008), now autonomous but not officially recognized by Georgia). All this info doesn't make me like OSSET any more. The rest of the puzzle seems pretty strong, and "WHO SHOT J.R.?" is one of my favorite answers of the year (31A: Big mystery during the summer of 1980). I thought this puzzle was pretty damned hard, but then my time came in just a shade over yesterday's—i.e. pretty normal for a Saturday. Biggest trouble spots involved (not surprisingly) complete mystery answers: the aforementioned OSSET, the "come on it's an abbrev. for 'horizontal'" HOR (32D: Biblical mount where Aaron died), the "I know that word only from 'Canterbury Tales'" REEVE (30A: Town council president, in Canada), and the "why haven't you memorized him by now?" NEY (47A: Waterloo marshal).

Started with JETÉ (1D: "Grand" or "petit" dance move), which I knew was right both because it *felt* right, and because the "J" in the first position seemed highly likely for the Across (and it was: JET STREAM1A: It's a blast for some balloonists). Speaking of "blast," South OSSETia was an "autonomous oblast" during the Soviet era. Aaaaanyway, JET STREAM gave me ENUF (7D: Sufficient, informally) gave me WIFI (20A: Provider of a hot spot at a coffee shop?) gave me "THE WIRE" (5D: It was Obama's self-professed favorite TV series). Didn't get far after that and had to restart with SPECS (36D: Design info) and GAZPACHO (44A: A dish best served cold). That took care of the west, mostly (that REEVE part was pretty intransigent). Had O-STAR (!?) for ORION (46D: Giant in astronomy), so didn't get into the SE for a while. REVENGE (one of my favorite topics) got me started again in the east (love the successive twin clues for this and GAZPACHO, btw). SVELTER came easily from there (40D: Relatively sylphlike), and SE corner was easiest of all. Finished in the NE, where I found HORSE (instead of BULL) HOCKEY, and a GRASS STAIN whose clue I still don't fully understand (12D: Yard stick?). Is it that the stain "sticks" to your pants? Yeesh. Last letter in the grid was the first "S" in OSSET. Shocked to get the "Congratulations" signal from my software.

"Sylphlike" looks awfully (and unfortunately) like "syphilitic."

  • 15A: Asian symbols of wisdom (ELEPHANTS) — the whole damned continent thinks this?
  • 22A: Alexander's need (GIN) — Ran the alphabet at -IN, hit GIN, remembered that there was such a thing as a "Brandy Alexander," and figured liquor was a good guess.
  • 40A: "Friendly" things, in old ads (SKIES) — I always hate when "old" things are well within my memory. Disconcerting.

  • 55A: Bit of décor at Trader Vic's (TIKI TORCH) — at first I was thinking of Trader Joe's. Once I got straightened out, this wasn't hard at all.
  • 2D: Ancient rival of Assyria (ELAM) — EDOM ELOM ELAM ELOI who the hell knows!?
  • 51D: 1982 high-tech film ("TRON") — a very big deal that I completely ignored. I was too busy playing actual video games at the corner 7-11 and/or pizza parlor.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


syndy 12:12 AM  

I had HORSEPUCKEY! and I still think it's HORSEPUCKEY.I tried DOLPHIN(E)S before ELEPHANTS but I can see that-nw was my slowest because I started with NUFF-could not dredge up JETE knew i knew it!Got TRANSPIRE but don't believe it?clue is just wrong.over all puzzle is fine but some answers are HORSEPUCKEY!

Anonymous 1:03 AM  

ELEPHANTS explains why Asia is going capitalist while the US is going socialist.

jae 2:36 AM  

SE easy and the rest a tad above medium so, medium works for me. PLIE for JETE and OLDE for ERST made the west tougher. Excellent Sat. Any puzzle with HORSEHOCKEY and BEDAZZLING has my vote.

CoffeeLvr 4:47 AM  

All I can think of when I see SVELTER tonight is swelter, which many of us will do again tomorrow.

In review, not much seems that tough, except TAX RETURN's clue threw me. Judging by the little black check triangles, the West was much harder than the East for me. But I got the JR and TIKI answers on the first pass.

jae 4:48 AM  

Again, I'm watching Ferguson a day late and he is riffing on Kenny Loggins Danger Zone. Coincidence???

Noam D. Elkies 6:14 AM  

51D:TRON was an actual video game too. Like the movie, the video game's theme music included one tune in the unusual 7/4 time; several online sources credit it to Wendy Carlos.

Smitty 8:02 AM  

I liked the two "dishes served cold"

MORSE CODE came first along with the SE

Never heard of RUIN SMASH, Horse HOCKEY (hand up for PUCKEY), OWLISH, or TAT (why is that Pec Pic?)

I never knew TRANSPIRE meant "become known" (as opposed to "occur")- but apparently so.

Glimmerglass 8:17 AM  

TAT is short for Tattoo

M07S 8:57 AM  

Had plie for 1D and wouldn't let go of it. Ruined my whole day.

Z 9:02 AM  

Big DNF for me. Just so much I didn't know. I've never been to a Trader Vic's, was thinking it was Trader Joe's (another place I've never been). Hand up for nufF. No idea about REEVE nor wise ELEPHANTS (there's an oxymoron for you), nor ARIAL (seems vaguely familiar from crosswords), nor this meaning for TRANSPIRE. Had no idea that MSN explorer is a web browser.

Then there was cluing that just threw me. Thinking some sort of emoter for the ham, wanted some sort of lattice or such in my yard, tried to blast some hydrogen at 1A, thinking about Fagin for my dodger.

I've definitely had better days.

Anonymous 9:08 AM  

OHGOD over NORSE seems unfortunate this morning.

hotbetterthancold 9:23 AM  

Got it! (unusual for me for Saturday) but don't get CAPO for "string shortened".

mitchs 9:24 AM  

Loved it. Scraped around quite a bit til the SE fell, then a bunch of "what the hells?" followed by ahas. I would say it was on the challenging side for me.

Rex, you better get used to "old" things ringing a bell...

hotbetterthancold 9:25 AM  

"string shortener". Auto correct.

Anonymous 9:28 AM  

@hotbetterthancold - A CAPO is the device used on a guitar to change its tuning by locking down the strings at a shorter length.

hotbetterthancold 9:30 AM  


Judith 9:43 AM  

Did better than yesterday, but that's not saying much. Hard to believe it now, but svelte used to be a favorite word of mine, cause I hated it when people told me I was skinny! I always said, no, "I'm svelte." Not a problem lately....

If you're sveltering in today's heat, you should go by Trader Joe's and buy some Contading Pinot Grigio. It's a sparkler and just about $5, very refreshing. Would be good with gazpacho. Enjoy it on your patio with Tiki Torches.

Judith 9:51 AM  

Oops it's Contadino (sp. error)

jackj 9:53 AM  

When the only things filled in after a quick scan were SPR and ENUF, my eyes drifted down to "A dish best served cold" which seemed an obvious clue for REVENGE and the entire lower right was quickly settled.

That left an "O" at 44 across which, for sure, was looking for what I had eaten for lunch, summertime favorite, GAZPACHO.

There were some devilish clues which produced clever, perfect answers, DEEDS, SASSED, ENLISTS, ZONES and WIFI and only HOR and OSSET needed to be resolved by the crosses.

Not the most difficult of Saturdays but one of the most enjoyable. Thanks, Tom!

jp 10:01 AM  

For me very difficult puzzle.
Had only a handful of answers and even Google did not give me any traction at all.
Difficult to like a puzzle that makes me feel dumb.

Sheena is a Punk Rocker 10:04 AM  

Ha ha! "While you losers are in there WATCHING some movie about video games and stuff, I'm out in the real world, um, actually PLAYING video games."

Is that chick in the United commercial ACME? Looks a bit like ACME.

This puzzle was 95.6% (I haven't actually done the math) easy-medium and the remaining six squares I didn't get (TAX/EMT going across) were hard and in my case impossible.

RedSoxFan 10:16 AM  

Why is SASSED a wise response?!

Bob Kerfuffle 10:26 AM  

@RedSoxFan - To SASS is to be impudent, to give a "wise-guy" response.

Golfballman 10:34 AM  

Another example of a constructor being too cute for his own good. Arial is a font and courier is a delivery person no relation unless it's something so remote most people wouldn't know it. Owlish piss poor clue. Horse puckey 100 to one over horse hockey. Other than that a lot of the clues were hard but clever. 3 1/16 stars.

JaxInL.A. 10:36 AM  

@quilter1, call me any time. I'm around. Cell is 323-four two two-4094. Looking forward to it.

Sassed = WISE mouth, or wise ass

Anyone else who didn't get the cryptic clue:
Pec pic = picture on a pectoral muscle (chest), meaning TATtoo

@Anon 9:08, touché. Great tragedy.

Big DNF for me, in the NE. Just could not get through it. Second day in a row. Urgh.

@CoffeeLvr, Unaccountable weather here in sunny Southern California. Hot in the day but cooler than usual for July, and quite chilly at night. Does that make us SVELTER?

exaudio 10:41 AM  

Like Rex, was thinking Trader Joe's instead of Trader Vic's, but decided there are tiki torches at TJ's. Aren't there? The decor is definitely tropical island.

Anonymous 10:52 AM  

@Golfballman: Courier is also a font.

Two Ponies 11:23 AM  

I must have been tuned in on Mr. Heilman's wavelength today. Much faster than my usual Saturday.
The SW corner took the longest.
For 36A I wanted Republicans.
Horse hockey reminded me of M*A*S*H.

600 11:33 AM  

Today is a perfect example of why I love this blog. I finished, no googles, in a little more than average time for me, loving the challenge of this hard but doable puzzle. Still, when I finished I had no idea why some of the answers had given me Mr. Happy Pencil.

So thanks, Rex, for explaining in your write up why Alexander needs GIN. Several more thanks to those who explained why TAT is a pec pic. I'm glad hotbetterthancold needed an explanation for CAPO, because so did I. (And thanks, Anonymous, for the answer.) Golfballman's anger demonstrated to me why ARIAL is an alternative to Courier even before a second Anonymous answered. So thanks to all of you!

I'm left with just one mystery--why is "two of hearts?" ATRIA? (I'm going to be most distressed if this turns out to be stupidly easy.)

Lastly--there was a conversation a week or so ago about getting timers to work automatically. I use AcrossLite, and it used to always start timing as soon as I opened the puzzle, but now it doesn't. I'm often deep into the puzzle before I notice. Since I'm in the habit of timing myself and trying to get faster, that makes me crazy! Can someone remind me what to do so the timer is automatic again? Thanks! (I looked back over old blogs; couldn't find it. Sorry to ask something that's already been answered.)

mac 11:34 AM  

Clever Saturday puzzle. The NE was toughest for me, not knowing horse hockey and not thinking of capo.

Ossetia must be where ossetra comes from.

I was trying to come up with something much older than "skies" at 40A, had visions of Aunt Jemima-like ads, black and white tv.

Had ext. for exterminator at 19A for a while...

600 11:35 AM  

@Two Ponies--You have started the rest of my day (the post crossword part) with a huge laugh! Thanks!

JaxInL.A. 11:42 AM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
jberg 11:58 AM  

REVENGE of the GAZPACHO - it would make a great summer movie, and made me love this puzzle. For a while, though, I was thinking 'how can there be a word with ZL in the middle? Maybe GAsPAChO is an alternate spellin?' Sure glad I was wrong about that.

The US came close to war w/ Russia when they invaded Georgia in response to a Georgian invasion of South Ossetia during the GWB administration, so I knew OSSET - nevertheless, I first wanted Uzbek or Kazak or Tajik there, which gave me ARtworkS at 23A, until SMASH forced me to change.

At 15A, I think it's the ELEPHANTS that are Asian, not the venue of the symbolism. Everyone knows African elephants are just silly.

Courier is the font that makes it look like you used an actual typewriter, so it's not widely familiar to anyone under 50 or so. I'm not in that group, but nevertheless sought of ARIeL first, since he did do some courier work for Prospero.

Despite all the fun, I finished with hAVE NO PEACE/hIN. That didn't make sense, but I thought maybe Alexander the Great had expressed a need for a hinny (the opposite of a mule) at some point, and that maybe hIN was an acceptable abbreviation. Obscure indeed, but it's Saturday! So is a brandy alexander called that because a straight alexander is made with GIN instead?

syndy 12:00 PM  

A600 the human heart has four chambers two ventricles (?) and two atria one left one right of each! AND hands up for thanks REX for the alexander explanation

jberg 12:00 PM  

Forgot to say- @600, the heart has an atrium and a ventricle on each side; the former is arguably a Latin word, so you can say that the heart has two ATRIA. It's a stretch (but then, stretching is what the heart does).

Karen 12:16 PM  

Good puzzle for a Saturday. Hard but doable. I thought all the clues were clever and could be reasoned out. I have to admit "gin" threw me off. Who knew a Brandy Alexander had gin?!?!?

Maxwell 12:20 PM  

I love this blog too. Occasionally, I'm all anxious to help. And then someone gets there before I can comment.

Anonymous 12:27 PM  

Won the bet I made with myself there would be a picture of Khan in the write up.

Matthew G. 12:31 PM  

Saturday record for me, but only just barely. Got a strong foothold in the SW, and moved at a (for me) very rapid pace through the SE and NE. Had I maintained that pace in the NW, I'd have been on track for a big improvement over my next best Saturday time, but ... I had JETE, SPR, THE WIRE, and ENUF, and just froze, unable to see any of the acrosses. Knew that dodger/cook had something to do with forgery but still couldn't come up with TAX RETURN. Don't know what happened, but it took forever to finally break through with ELEPHANTS.

I do not like the clue for WIFI. Got it with no trouble, but WIFI is what is provided, not the provider. A hotspot is something that provides WIFI, not the other way around. Also, "hotspot" is one word, so even with the ?-style clue it doesn't really work as two words here.

Other than that quibble, I liked this puzzle a lot. It felt challenging all the way through without ever being frustrating -- even in the NW, I could tell it was a weird mental block of my own holding me back. Oh, I know HORSE puCKEY, not HORSE HOCKEY, but there are so many expressions like that that I can't really argue.

Thumbs up for the rare correct usage of TRANSPIRE. Thumbs up for the two dishes served cold, one literal and one figurative. Thumbs up all around, pretty much.

Vega 12:45 PM  

Has anyone mentioned TEXT for "cell composition" yet? So good. And Who Shot JR is definitely a top-ten clue/answer pair contender.

Today, I learned that Trader Vic's is a restaurant. In my mind, it was always another grocery store.

ArtO 12:47 PM  

Saturday usually a total DNF but did well on this until the NE. I mean, after all, GRASS STAIN for yard stick (it's a yard marker if the reference is football - otherwise???), OSSET (source of Osetra caviar maybe??) and HORSE HOCKEY??? I've been around for a long time and never heard this one.

Nancy 12:58 PM  

Solved it, except for my "Who Shot ER"! At first I thought it was going to be something like "Who's Homer" (as in "Where's Waldo" or "Find Nemo".) Until I read the comments, I had no idea what "tat" was--only that it had to be right. Thanks for letting me know it's short for tattoo. And I had "Arial", but still don't know what the hell it is.

Bassetwrangler 1:02 PM  

Trader Joe's is the store Vega. Trader Vic's is where wise guys hang out with their goomahs.

Z 1:06 PM  

Alexander Recipe

Sydney 1:18 PM  

My Kentucky father always used hockey when referring to the good old "s" horsehockey seemed quite right to me! I managed to finish without too much trouble googling...

Matthew G. 1:51 PM  

@Nancy: Courier and Arial are both fonts. So ARIAL is a {Courier alternative}.

ANON B 2:07 PM  

I may have missed it. Why is TEXT
the answer to "cell composition"?

600 2:23 PM  

@Anon B--TEXTs are composed on one's cell phone.

Hurrah! I knew one! While I'm at it, thanks to all of you for the help with ATRIA.

Three and out . . .

Chip Hilton 3:05 PM  

Perfect Saturday puzzle. Hard to think of a puzzle with more great fill.

CAPO gave me the cold sweats as I thought back to the divot I put in my one-day-old Guild 12-string when I mishandled one back in 1969.

Col. Sherman T. Potter would've summed it up thusly, "HORSEHOCKEY!"

Doc John 3:16 PM  

Overall, an enjoyable puzzle.
Did you know that the word "sheriff" comes from the words "shire REEVE?"
Colonel Potter used to say HORSE HOCKEY all the time.

Smitty 4:41 PM  

@Glimmerglass thanks - I missed that!

JaxInL.A. 5:55 PM  

@DocJohn, VERY cool piece of word trivia on shire REEVE. Thanks! I may actually remember Reeve now.

That must mean that Christopher Reeve had some town leaders in his family tree. I really miss him. Great guy, talented actor, and interesting writer even after the riding accident that put him in a wheelchair. Slightly off topic, but what the heck...

michael 6:38 PM  

Easier-than-usual Saturday for me. Liked this one a lot except for osset. Unusually good clues and fill.

Norm 6:51 PM  

Snaps to @600 for best posts of the day. And, @jberg, the Third District Court of Appeal in California still uses Courier (maybe Couruier New, not that there's really any difference) for its opinions for some reason, so you don't have to be over 50 -- but it helps. How many other people remember using different balls (or whatever the heck they were called) for different typefaces on an IBM Selectric? Just call me Geezer Norm.

jburgs 7:59 PM  

Re:3 down -Never considered ""cell composition in terms of a cell phone. I thought it referred to Micosoft exel in that each cell contains text.

Anonymous 8:33 PM  

a grass "stain" is something from the yard that "sticks" to you?

atria capo michaels or maybe that chick in the Friendly Skies commercial 2:14 AM  


So late to this party, I can only comment on what others have said!

Two-dayer for me as I went to bed with the NE not filled in.
(@Jax, you should have tried again...once I got CAPO and HOCKEY the rest slowly and painfully came, tho I doubted NORsE/OsSET and, as a paper solver, don't have a Mr. Happy Pencil to confirm...

Uncannily like @Rex straight down the line!
AHA about Brandy Alexander, last fill was first S in OSSET, am disconcerted that old things are well within my purview and on and on...all is right in the world!

I also thought J for JETE was more likely as the first letter, but it was weird as JETSTREAM was the first answer in the Acrostic last Sunday.
I accidentally saw in Deb Amlen's write up when I was trying to download the puzzle. I was SO bummed to have that as a spoiler and kept trying to solve the puzzle as tho I didn't know that was in there to see how I would have done.

@Sheena is a Punk Rocker 10:04am,
WHA??? Well, thank you if that is supposed to be a compliment!
Clearly we have not met, or have we?

I too loved the REVENGE/GAZPACHO same clue...and, like @Nancy "WHereswaldo" went thru my head.

I'm with you about the whole WIFI/Hotspot thing...

@Two Ponies, Chip Hilton
HORSEHOCKEY = M*A*S*H, that's right!!! THAT's where I had heard it...from Col Potter!!!!!!

Christy 2:43 AM  

I've been working on NYTimes puzzles for a solid year now, and this is the first Saturday that I've ever finished! It took a team of library students (and one math student), but we solved it. I just wanted to share my utter elation. I'm seriously considering framing the puzzle, and I'm definitely hanging it up in my cubicle. Thanks, Rex and others, for being such a delightful and consistent part of my crossword experience.

+wordphan 3:01 AM  

Mazel Tov, @Christy. I've been with Rex, so to speak, for YEARS and I think one starts to think like he does. Weird. BTW, I STILL don't get the Alexander thing; gin doesn't work for me. Stay cool, my friends.

Christy 11:48 AM  

Thanks, @+wordphan! Here's a link to the wikipedia page for the Alexander. It's an older cocktail that the Brandy Alexander is based on. (Let's be serious, though. When the variation in created in the Roaring 20s and the original is even older, you know you're into Saturday-land.)

And I've definitely started down the path of thinking like Rex. It's a good thing.

Anonymous 8:41 AM  

Sorry to be adding so late as i am a syndicated solver. I was well on my way to my fastest ever Saturday (right after my fastest Friday) and couldn't get "tax return.". Nobody else had a gripe with "Silver ---, Md.". How about "Sil. ---" to indicate an abbreviation?

Anonymous 12:22 PM  

"Ran the alphabet at -IN, hit GIN"
I should have considered doing this once I got THE WIRE. But I already had mAdE NO PEACE in place and felt confident enough that was correct. So I finish with two errors and resolve to remember REEVE. Ironically I did consider hAVE NO PEACE because I wanted REEVE at 30a, but blew it off because of the wrong tense. Never thought of GAVE. Should have run the alphabet!

"pec pic, perhaps"... I was ready for SEXT this time, but alas, not enough letters.

Regardless of whether the clue is accurate, should WIFI really be crossed with WIRE?

@Vega 12:45 PM - Don't be silly. Why would a werewolf be drinking a pina colada at a grocery store?

rolandgunner 3:11 PM  

@anonymous I miss the great WZ

Anonymous 7:03 AM  

This one would have been hard with straightforward clues. But THESE clues? They were provided by the same character who cuts the cups at Augusta on Sunday: an out-and-out sadist! Alexander's need? String shortener? Courier alternative? Yikes. Mysteries wrapped in riddles inside enigmas.
It's a shame, too, because of all the wonderful words. You've already gone through the whole list. Oh, I got it, with lots of painful Googling, but it seemed more like work than recreation. I don't mean, just a fill-in-the-squares grid like we get two of in the other paper, but something to exercise the brain a little without sending it to the Brain Olympics!

dersesse: Informally, the German version of Sesame Street.

Anonymous 5:50 PM  

"Oh God" should not be tossed around lightly (10A) Ever heard of the 2nd Commandment?

Grayfarer 11:48 AM  

This puzzle came up as today's puzzle which seemed rather difficult for a Monday (still finished it though) on the Times Reader electronic edition. Trying to keep the paper glut down around the house didn't pay off today. SMH

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