Aunt in Oklahoma / TUE 8-30-11 / Davenport long-running Doonesbury character / Longtime New York theater critic / Popular card game since 1954

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Constructor: Bernice Gordon

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (*for a Tuesday*)

THEME: B-RN — last word in six theme answers starts B-RN, with a different vowel (incl. "Y") in the blank spot each time

Word of the Day: DAVID BIRNEY (39A: TV/film/stage actor once married to actress Meredith Baxter)

David Edwin Birney (born 23 April 1939) is an American actor/director whose career has performances in both contemporary and classical roles in theatre, film and television. He has three children, a daughter Kate, and twins, Peter and Mollie. [...] Birney married Meredith Baxter in 1974 (the two had met costarring on the sitcom Bridget Loves Bernie). They have three children: Kate (born 1974), and twins Peter and Mollie (born 1984). Birney and Baxter divorced in 1989. In 2011, Baxter said Birney had repeatedly psychologically and physically abused her during their marriage, allegations Birney has denied. (wikipedia)
• • •

Hey there. I missed you guys. It's good to be back. Well, not so good. I mean, this puzzle ... has problems. I knew right away it wouldn't be in my wheelhouse—if memory serves, the constructor is roughly my grandmother's age, and so, understandably, her cultural center of gravity's going to be a little farther back than mine. Still, I didn't expect to have to deal with So Many Names from Yesteryear. I'm going to ask you to imagine an intersection like the EDD BYRNES / LACEY / ELLER / CLIVE BARNES one here, only replace all those names (ugh, so many proximate names) with ones that came to fame some time after 1975. Now try after 1995. If you're like me, you'd like that puzzle a hell of a lot more than this one, but that's not really the point. The point is, such a puzzle would piss off huge chunks of the solving population (I know from experience), and rightly so. Lesson: Don't crowd names together in a puzzle, *especially* ones that simply aren't universally known and all belong to one time period or field of knowledge. Theater, theater critic, "Doonesbury," and "77 Sunset Strip" don't exactly scream modern, or relevant, or well known. I'd be happy to accept any one or two of these answers, but four? And intersecting? Really, really bad form.

I haven't even mentioned the theme, which is absurd. Vowel progression isn't even in order. AYOIEU? What? BORNES is the best you could do for "BORN"? What about David BYRNE, who is infinitely more famous (today) than the double-D EDD guy? Conceptually, it's all a mess. As a friend of mine just said a few minutes ago: "Also, to help tie the theme together, it's three people, a card game, a dog, and part of a stove. So there's that." Yes. Yes there is.

That's two days in a row now that theme answers have been quite marginal, bordering on obscure. This bugs me for personal reasons. In my mind, every theme answer has to pass the SHERMAN ALEXIE test. This is because Will didn't know who SHERMAN ALEXIE was, and rejected a puzzle of mine almost exclusively on that basis (never mind that Alexie won the National Book Award, has been on "Colbert" multiple times, etc.). So now any time I see something like THE PURPLE ONION (!?!?) or DAVID BIRNEY (come on!) I just cringe and think, "you *must* be joking..."

Theme answers:
  • 18A: Longtime New York theater critic (CLIVE BARNES)
  • 23A: Actor in 1960s TV's "77 Sunset Strip" (EDD BYRNES)
  • 34A: Popular card game since 1954 (MILLE BORNES)
  • 39A: TV/film/stage actor once married to Meredith Baxter (DAVID BIRNEY) — interesting that he's puzzleworthy only when tied to Elyse from "Family Ties" (see, *she* has a puzzleworthy acting credential)
  • 53A: Big dog (ST. BERNARD)
  • 59A: Prime cooking spot (FRONT BURNER)
Oh, and I had an error. Had RECTOR for 4A: Person assisting a worship service (LECTOR) and never thought to correct it, despite the resulting RACEY at 4D: ___ Davenport, long-running "Doonesbury" character (LACEY). I probably just assumed that if anyone wanted LACEY, they'd use "Cagney and LACEY" to get there.

One last thing: if you are a U.S. Congressperson or a well-known or prominent Washington figure of some kind (I'm looking at you, Obamas!), or you know someone who is and who also a. solves the puzzle and b. reads my blog (even occasionally), please let me know (rexparker at mac dot com). I'm being interviewed by CBS in a couple weeks, and they apparently could use this info. I'd be most grateful. Thanks.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Anonymous 12:16 AM  

You know, in David Birney's official website most of his pictures show him wearing a beard. Coincidence, or a subtle dig at the ex?

Puzzle was a mess. Lector? Defined as one step up from an Ostiary? WTF is an Ostiary?

Tobias Duncan 12:32 AM  

Never heard of most of these people.
Sherman Alexie is huge in my neck of the woods as a world poetry slam champion and for his movie "Smoke Signals".

Never realized how much I get from SanFranMans ratings posts until he missed one.Thank you so much for all the hard work.

GILL I. 12:32 AM  

@Rex. Welcome back - you sound like you're in fine form...
Well, I guess I'm old....actually I'm not really I just love old things and this had plenty of them.
I also think Bernice Gordon is an inspiration yes SIRREE.
I enjoyed this Tuesday puzzle. It didn't have a rapper I never heard of, a "Family Guy" neighbor and I actually got MARIS.
I like:
CLIVE BARNES - may he rest in peace.
My favorite UGLI fruit.
Please pass the OLEO ???
MILLE BORNES. We played it a lot in Spain in the 70's.
Lacey Davenport was my absolute favorite Doonesbury character. When Joanie (the die-hard democrat) went to work for "liberal-Republican" Lacey, you coudn't pry the comics from me. I stopped reading the strip for a while when Lacey got alzheimer and later died. WAAAAA !
I say bring on the oldies and goodies !

chefwen 12:34 AM  

Hey there, we missed you too.

Did not know CLIVE BARNES, speaking of Longtime New York theater critics and theater awards, OBIE, where did @Greene run off to, I miss his Broadway critiques. Did know EDD (Kookie) BYRNES, did not know MILLE BORNES, did know DAVID BIRNEY, BIL used to have a ST BERNARD who had unparalleled drool and I certainly spend a lot of time using the FRONT BURNER.

Really liked this one as it was more in my wheelhouse than out of it.

Elaine2 12:47 AM  

I'm a lot older than Rex; I knew Lacey and Maris and Edd Byrnes and Clive Barnes and David Birney...and I STILL didn't like this puzzle.

The theme felt very, very, VERY weak. It wasn't "change one vowel sound" it was "change vowel sound and sometimes the end of the word, too." Just not tight enough to justify itself.

I'm impressed that Bernice is still creating puzzles. This one just wasn't great.

santafefran 12:53 AM  

Welcome back, fearless leader!

Put me in the "old and moldy" category as well since I knew most of these people. I fondly remember, "Kookie, Kookie, lend me your comb" and the Audi I owned many years ago--a high maintenance vehicle, to be sure.

Did not know MILLE BORNES.


MaryBR 1:16 AM  

At the ripe age of thirty, I did not know (and had never even heard of):
and was able to dredge up CLIVE BARNES from the recesses somehow.

With the "theme" was able to guess most of it (though still don't understand what a NEB is) then only to be foiled, like Rex, by rECTOR/rACEY despite Doonesbury being the one cultural reference in the entire puzzle I was actually familiar with (granted, 15 years ago when I still read the comics section)!

Horrific solving experience.

Anonymous 1:41 AM  

What a puzzle. I normally don't hate puzzles but this one just reeks of blandness and whatnot. When a theme has four answers that I just Googled (I've never heard of any of those four names and probably never will again) you know it's going to be a bland puzzle. Heck even when I noticed the theme I went "really?!".

I agree 100% with Rex on the obscurity of these theme answers. I said in a comment yesterday that the only reason I got THE PURPLE ONION was because I was listening to a podcast and it was mentioned that people would be performing there.

Personally, as a youngin' at the age of 21 (I started doing these things at 18 or so) I don't like puzzles with lots of names of people who were famous from yesteryear. I never remember them nor do I care about them. I'll take modern pop culture references any day.

razerx 2:00 AM  

David Birney - king of the bad 80's made for tv movies!

Joel 2:10 AM  

I gotta say, there's no way this puzzle is accepted if it's not made by Bernice Gordon.

Don't get me wrong, making puzzles at 97 is an amazing accomplishment. But if Will were to assess this puzzle without knowing the constructor, I'm certain he'd reject it. The theme is not even close to NYT standards. B_RN? Not in order? Three entries that are obscurish for young solvers? I mean, cmon.

As a young constructor, I'm glad that Will never accepted my early, bad submissions because of my age. Treating younger or older constructors more leniently is not something Shortz does often, so this offering today is surprising.

Ellen L. 2:34 AM  

I thought I had this one figured out when I saw the first three theme entries with B?RNES, but it was not to be.

One of my new constructor a-ha moments came when I realized I could use the Set card game as a bit of a guide when creating themes. The cards in Set have varying shapes, colors, patterns and quantities. For example, three red ovals or two striped diamonds. In order to make a match, all "things" either have to be the same or they all have to be different. (It makes sense in my brain anyway. The NYT website has a daily Set challenge I think. It's a good game if you've never played it.) So I cry foul on having theme entries that are a mixture of same and different.

acreage cardoors millebornes 3:30 AM  

If you swap EDDBYRNES and STBERNARD and also switch DAVIDBIRNEY and MILLEBORNES the order becomes
A E I O (Y) U.
That would have been much better.

I was thrown off by 5 of the 6 being B*RNE and one being B*RNA...
but I think the whole puzzle is a nice tribute to the constructor herself: BeRNice!

jae 3:56 AM  

OK, I'm old enough to have known all the theme names but this was still a tough Tues. for me. I agree with Rex,, sketchy theme.

As Gill. IP noted, LACEY Davenport died quite a while ago and so is pretty obscure. Personally, I would have gone with the Caddy Shack LACEY, an enduring cult favorite.

SethG 7:30 AM  


Also, AIN'T She Sweet is a 1927 song. Also, CCI, NOL, RST, NEB, ORY.

And aside from the theme order and inconsistency, they crossed [Less done, as steak] with I'M DONE.

Glimmerglass 7:33 AM  

I agree that the theme pattern set up in BARNES, BYRNES, and BORNES breaks down in the bottom half. Not cool. I found the references pretty easy, but I conclude from the blog that I'm close to Rex's grandmother's age.

Z 7:35 AM  

Disappointed that 1D wasn't TROJAN. But, hey, probably not breakfast test worthy, anyway.

Loved the Lacey character, and still read Doonesbury. Seems like she made a comeback in a dream sequence not too long ago. Had CLIffBARNES for a moment, conflating the name with Cliff Bells, a downtown Detroit establishment. Knew Baxter was hyphenated for awhile, so BIRNEY was easy, got DAVID from the crosses.

Interesting that MOD gets clued as "quaint." Apparently all these cultural references have had their 15 minutes and are "mod," not "hep." The theme is pretty weak, but seems like we've had a few of them lately. "Not in my wheelhouse" is not the same as bad, and I'm thinking we've had worse in the not too distant past.

On the Usain Bolt front, controversial DQ in the race so the fastest man on the planet did not get to compete. Made the news in quite a few places, so no complaints the next time he appears in the puzzle (unless the next time is in 2031).

Ted 8:08 AM  

"Three people, a card game, a dog and part of a stove" could be a clue in itself.

hazel 8:10 AM  

the "king of the bad 80s made for tv movies" was a line drive putout but the other theme answers needed significant crossing assists.

way too namey for my pref. - but LACEY Davenport (who I originally had as racer davenport) gives me the opportunity to TOUT (y'day puzz) a first novel by Alice LaPlante called Turn of Mind, which is told entirely from the viewpoint of a person with Alzheimers. An engrossing and very original read.

also, using the word TOUT is pretty fun. I hope it was an acme/michael word. i cant get over the sausage making that goes into a NYT puzzle - well, i'm sure i'll get over it soon.

Anonymous 8:14 AM  

Six letter word for "cat" or "Rex Parker":


You're kidding? You got your feelings hurt by cultural references more familiar to your grandmother? Hope you don't grow old. Old age ain't for pussies.

Too bad Ms. Gordon didn't clue her own name, which reversed would have fit the theme.

AnnieD 8:23 AM  

I thought it was tough for a Tuesday but did know all the theme answers.

Give us "oldsters" a break about all these "old" references. I'm only 55 and the 90s seem like yesterday while the 80s were only a few years ago. Heaven knows what it will seem like when I'm in my 90s! And I too was thankful for no modern pop culture references which always leave me in the dark.

Thanks for the recall of 77 Sunset Strip and the song "Kookie, Kookie, Lend Me Your Comb"...and the many happy hours our family spent playing Mille Bornes.

joho 8:25 AM  

@Rex, using Sherman Alexie as a guide to what should be acceptable in a puzzle theme seems odd to me. I, like Will, didn't know who this is and and I don't think we're stupid or out of touch with the world. Although you probably do!

I do agree that this theme was lacking, especially in the fact that the vowels weren't in order.

@santafefran, my favorite part of the puzzle was also MASSEUR/ABRIDGE/WEIRDLY.

David 8:40 AM  

@acme, I thought the same self-tribute to the constructor might've been in play - 4 of the 6 themed clues rhyme the first syllable of her first name...but still....

I'm in my 40's, and this puzzle brought me waaaay back. I played tons of Mille Bornes with friends during elementary school, and I loved the Lacey Davenport character in Doonesbury (my Dad gave me a Doonesbury book when I was 12. i didn't get it so much then, but I am eternally grateful now).

It seems ironic that the clue for DIAMANTE was OLD Mitsibishi model, when the Diamante was one of the most "modern" of answers in the whole grid.

Chris Thompson 8:50 AM  

I think the justification for the Birney clue is Baxter's tell-all memoir about their marriage. It's less about knowing the actor than it is about knowing a recent scandal. Hence clueing it with her name.

That said, I certainly didn't get it...

Brian 8:53 AM  

Okay, I don't want to sound ageist, but I'm sure this will and I apologize beforehand if it does.

I didn't know Bernice Gordon was 97 (God bless her and more power to her!), but when I glanced at the byline and read "Bernice," my first thought was, "Interesting. That's a rather 'old' name." And then came the clue for CARDOORS that started "nowadays," and I knew the constructor was up in years. THEN came the "77 Sunset Strip" "Madame Chanel" (Madame?) "Popular card game since 1954," TV/film/stage actor..."

What I'm saying is that even the cluing seemed dated.

I worked it all out, but it was brutal.

I think there's a place for puzzles that are perhaps a bit dated. Solvers come from all generations. But the construction needs to make the puzzle accessible to solvers of a wide age range. And I don't know if this one did that.

That said, I hope I'm still sharp enough to be solving puzzles at 97, let alone construct one.

John V 9:06 AM  

Well, what we seem to have is a theme-less Tuesday. I've certainly done a bunch of Bernice's puzzles in my 40+ years of solving; this one certainly felt like a pre-Will version. Age didn't make this one any easier. Oddly, my last fill was 42D, I ASSUME. Just stared and stared at it for the longest time.

Finished with one mistake, had ARY ata 36D, not ORY.

A cluing nit: shouldn't 53A have indicated an abbreviation, as the word saint is abbreviated in the answer?

Captca honourv: not holding my breath for that :)

chefbea 9:14 AM  

I too wanted AEIOUY in order
Had rector - never heard of Lacey or David Birney...but now that I think about it..Meredith Baxter Birney!!

Of course loved front burner

evil doug 9:14 AM  

Given the revelations of recent days on the heavy-handed editing being done by Will and his cronies, both praise and condemnation of the alleged puzzle creator will be meaningless.



dk 9:15 AM  

Kookie, Kookie lend me your comb. Knight Rider have the cool cars but EDD BARNES had his comb. That is the way to roll old school.

Took yesterday off but I loved the whole Hipster, Jewish, San Francisco theme -- an autobiographical puzzle for sure. (3 Stars)

Today was another fun run as I got all the theme fill right of the bat. Had Rector as I did not know Hannibal LECTOR assisted with religious activities.

What I like about this puzzle is the constructor has drawn from her experience to create a puzzle that is balanced in time with clean solid fill.

As I have opined ad nauseam I love tight and smooth flowing content. An Andrea (my worship) puzzle is an example of what I mean. Ms. Gordon may well be one of the best. Just look at the fill. Not a single one is a WTF moment. You may not know it, it may be outside your wheelhouse, but it works.

**** (4 Stars) Bernice how about a round of Flinch and a shot of Jamison's

Cheerio 9:27 AM  

The theme would have been nicer as a word ladder.

jackj 9:29 AM  

Shame on you, Will Shortz for publishing a total gallimaufry of a puzzle which does nothing to honor a constructor so deserving of our respect.

We should pay tribute to Ms. Gordon's many contributions to the crossword community over the years but it is hard to imagine that this puzzle properly celebrates her many achievements.

The only justification for publishing this puzzle seems to come at 65 across where "That's it for me" clues IMDONE.

There are certainly more gracious ways to say "Thank You" to a legend.

John Hoffman 9:43 AM  

I liked this puzzle! I liked that there were no weird "crossword only" words like ETUI. It was all good fill. I'll gladly take a less-developed theme if it means that all the fill is normal words.

NE corner, including MASSEUR, was hard for me!

Lindsay 9:46 AM  

Sorta liked it though it sorta confused me. Got MILLE BORNES and CLIVE BARNES lickety-split, so we're switching up vowels, right? Then the grid tried to turn into a word ladder toward the bottom, but not before I had switched 36D ORY to ORs to sync DAVID BIRNEs with BYRNES et al.

So I overwrote a correct letter with an error.

Enjoyed learning about AUDI & PARMA, though I should have figured both out on my own before now.

r.alphbunker 10:12 AM  

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to dislike Bernice Gordon puzzles"

I liked the puzzle because it had a different feel to it. And my appreciation grew when it was pointed out the theme entries are variations of B*RNice.

Matthew G. 10:18 AM  

I agree with jackj. As I commented on Rex's Facebook feed last night, it's wonderful if Will wanted to do a nice thing for a distinguished senior constructor (constructor emerita?), but if that's what he wanted to do then he ought to have gotten more involved than he usually does in the construction to do right by her. He apparently didn't, and the result is one of the weakest puzzles we've ever seen in the NYT.

I finished with a pretty lousy time for a Tuesday, and I had the same RECTOR-instead-of-LECTOR error that Rex had. Not being of a churchgoing persuasion, I actually did not know that the latter word had any ecclesiastical usage. And the crossing of it with a tertiary Doonesbury character (who, according to her Wikipedia entry, died in the strip 13 years ago) did not do much to alert me.

Knew none of the three men in the theme entries (although CLIVE BARNES rang a bell once he was filled in). I actually did know MILLE BORNES, which isn't as bad as the other entries -- it's still widely sold and is in GAMES Magazine's (comparatively small) Games Hall of Fame. I actually brought it with me during our hurricane evacuation, although we didn't end up playing it.

I've never heard of SHERMAN ALEXIE, National Book Award or no, and would have been baffled by seeing him in a puzzle. Sorry, Rex. That said, he's no more unfamiliar to me than the men in today's theme entries, with the possible exception of CLIVE BARNES, so your benchmark may still work (although I might set it even higher).

Jeff 10:27 AM  

As a younger solver, I was totally in the dark on these names.

But that's not the point.

My thought involves pop culture of today. Isn't the onus on the older solvers to understand modern culture, and not the other way around?

Why should i be expected to know CLIVE BINREY? Nobody under the age of 40-45 knows who he is. However, many older people know things about the Simpsons, Family Guy, Lady Gaga etc.

Newer pop culture can swing both generations. Older pop culture only swings one way.

syndy 10:29 AM  

I think that I would have liked this puzzle a lot more before I started reading this blog.I'm old enough for the cultural references,but dammit SRI,R AND FLIPPIN D?fill is just more mediocre than ugli(SIC)but the almost theme? BERNICE WTF?

Two Ponies 10:43 AM  

When I was finished I could not believe the result. I knew all of the names except the critic but what an uneven mish-mash. I do not like puzzles that depend heavily on proper names whether I know them or not.
I do agree with @evil doug that until we know the extent of the editing process we don't know who to throw the stones at.
Welcome back Rex. CBS interview?
Wow. Does that mean we're all kinda famous too? Probably not.

archaeoprof 10:52 AM  

Theme was very weak, to be sure.

But so are the age-ist complaints today. Many puzzles skew old, and many skew young. Sometimes it's easy, and sometimes it's not.

It's called "solving" for a reason.

AnnieD 10:55 AM  

Jeff said,
No one knows Clive Binrey as his name was Clive Barnes.

If you limit yourself to knowing only pop culture of today, you will be missing out on some of the best music and art that ever was. You will also be missing a window into past generations and all the richness that is to be gained from what some of the best minds and talent have brought to the world.

Crosswords often deliver words, people and topics that are unknown to us. IMO, these are opportunities to embrace and learn, regardless if it refers to before I was born or yesterday.

Squeek 11:22 AM  

I strongly disagree with @ Jeff.
If I have to abide with, say, rap stars then you have to know the roles of Oklahoma! That's just the way it is.

If I was ever lucky enough to have a puzzle published and I found out it was only because I was old, young, or whatever trait made me "special" I would be deeply offended. That is why I don't believe in affirmative action. It does not create real opportunities. It only lowers standards.

Brian 11:28 AM  

As @archaeoprof said, some crosswords skew older, some younger. And as @AnnieD said, crosswords are supposed to expose us to words, people and topics we don't know.

But @archaeoprof identified the problem with this puzzle for me when he said "It's called 'solving' for a reason."

Regardless to what generation a puzzle skews or what new words or people it introduces solvers to, it should be a pleasurable solve. That's the responsibility of the constructor (or Will Shortz, I suppose). And I feel Ms. Gordon's puzzle fell short of that because it was not as well constructed as it might have been. That's all. The same could absolutely be said about a puzzle that concentrated far too much on current pop culture and made it difficult for solvers unfamiliar with pop culture to gain access.

It's frustrating to feel left out. Just ask me about prom.

hazel 11:38 AM  

@annie d - i don't think anyone is knocking great literature art or music and those who create it. There is a difference between that and those names/entertainers/roles past and present who just happen to have crossword-friendly combinations of letters, and not necessarily much else.

@brian - proms are waaaay overated!!! you didnt miss out - though the prom pix ARE always good for a chuckle.

Rube 12:06 PM  

Being of the older generation who grew up watching "77 Sunset Strip" and reading Clive Barnes' reviews, I greatly enjoyed this puzzle. Particularly since I didn't have to "spot" the constructor any pop culture clues.

Didn't anyone else have Zimbalist before EDDBYRNES? (I did worry about not having a Jr, and rightly so.) Also had rACEY, but quickly fixed.

Having seen MILLEBORNES several times in xwords in the last few years, including twice in the NYT since '09, and not knowing anything about it, I Googled it. Turns out it was based on an earlier American game called Touring. Now you're talking. I played this game a great deal back in the 40s & early 50s. Anyone else remember?

Re the theme, I call it variations on BeRNice, and say more power to her. Keep up the good work BG.

Zach 12:15 PM  

Man, I gotta sound off before this bubbles over. How many times do we see this play out:

Rex: I don't like the puzzle. Here is why.
Commenters: Lighten up. Chill out. You're ageist/racist/sexist. It was easy for me, you're an idiot. (n.b. Anonymous at 8:14: Pussy has 5 letters)

He was making a two part point.
1) anytime you have a puzzle that skews young or old, you're going to get into unsolvable range for some portion of the population. This one was out for Rex.
2) this can be solved by not cramping all the era-specific knowledge together. If I don't know NOL or ELLER (I guessed ELLEn at first), EDD BYRNES is pretty opaque. Yes, @archeoprof, it is called solving, just as you can solve this puzzle: I'm thinking of a number between 1 and 26, what is it? It's just not enjoyable without some foothold.

*takes breath* I'm done now.

Banana Man 12:39 PM  

Early week theme idea. Later week fill. Is Doonesbury a "yesteryear" subject, because of the year of its origin? (Lacey's ghost is still showing up in this ongoing comic strip.) Are Crosswords therefore also a "yesteryear" subject? I don't happen to think so.

This was fun, trying to outsmart a 97-year old constructor, and seeing her hide B*RNice easter eggs in her puzzle. 97 stars, Ms. Gordon.

Anonymous 12:40 PM  

OK, I'm probably older than your grandmother and even I resented those old clues. B.o.r.i.n.g!!

600 1:03 PM  

I knew most of the names Rex didn't, so, yeah, I'm "of a certain age." (But then, I'd have known David Byrne too.) Anyway, I had an easy enough time with the puzzle, but when I finished, no Mr. Happy Pencil. I checked all my down answers; nothing seemed wrong. Used the check function (GRRRR. The definition of DNF on a Tuesday) to discover I had NIB where I should have had NEB. I'd have noticed if I'd checked the acrosses and found EASI. Anyway, that nib/neb thing seems just mean to me.

I couldn't wrap my head around the theme, either. I thought it was one of those word ladders, changing one letter of the second word each time, until I hit David Birney and it, well, wasn't. I'm no fan of the "just change vowels haphazardly" theme.

All in all, not as much fun as it should have been. I felt good pulling out CLIVE BARNES, EDD BYRNES, MILLES BORNE, and even DAVID BIRNEY, but in the end that wasn't enough to make it worthwhile.

@Annie D--Well said. If I didn't plan on learning something or being amazed by something, I wouldn't bother doing the crossword.

@Rube--Hands up for Zimbalist before EDD BYRNES.

archaeoprof 1:15 PM  

@Zach: I didn't say I enjoyed solving this puzzle. But I did manage to solve it, mostly on crosses. That's what's off in your example: there aren't any crosses to help me figure it out.

Lewis 1:31 PM  

Wecome back, Rex! This puzzle was a gift because it brought out the curmudgeon in you that we all (or at least I) love, your divine edge.

We all have wheelhouse deficiencies, and when they get tested, we don't like it. I'm not very good at Shakespeare, The Simpsons, Rappers, etc., and when these deficiencies get challenged I tell myself I need to bone up in these areas if I'm to get good at this game. But, I admit, I haven't done too great a job at it.

That said, I agree with the person who said it's fine to have meta-wheelhouse answers, but not too many from a particular age or genre in a single puzzle. Then you're picking on people...

Martin 1:54 PM  

FWIW, the three theme people were gimmes and I've never heard of Sherman Alexie. Well, David Birney was a half of a gimme. Having had a crush on Merideth Baxter-Birney, his last name is etched in my memory. Thinking back, I seem to have had things for a number of incipient lesbians. At least I can be sure I wasn't part of the cause in this case.

I am more forgiving of the vowel-order issue than others because of the inclusion of "Y." Most such puzzles have five theme entries.

My mom is 87 and I'd be thrilled if she still knew what a vowel is.

Doc John 2:34 PM  

I'll say this about DAVID BIRNEY- his sitcom with Meredith Baxter was groundbreaking in that it was about an inter-religious couple- Meredith being the Catholic and Birney being the Jew. Although it came in 5th in the ratings, it was cancelled because CBS was tired of the protests.

CoffeeLvr 3:40 PM  

I had dEacon before LECTOR, but took it out when I solved CCI. From there on, it solved like a Tuesday, thanks to crosses.

There are a few current clues here: OWEN Wilson is clued via a very recent film, CNN via an interviewer who has joined the station less than a year ago, Justice ELENA.

However, I will add a couple more to the "old" pile: fondue (although it is enjoying a retro resurgence) and Barry Manilow.

Welcome back, Rex. You chose a great crew to cover your vacation, thanks.

Anonymous 3:47 PM  

Trying to visualize a theme that needed SHERMAN ALEXIE to make it go. Was it a LAX, LEX, LIX, LOX, LUX gig? Was it hidin' phrases like HER MAN ALEX? Anagram of LAMA SEX HEREIN? "Hidden AN/AL retentiveness"? Har.

Nancy in PA (but right now LI w/ no power) 4:16 PM  

I think I saw David Birney in A Moon for the Misbegotten in NYC in 19...70? Edd Byrnes, on the other hand, was a total mystery. Didn't even begin to notice theme until I came here. Thought this a perfectly serviceable Tuesday.
And I love Sherman Alexie's works. He is one of the few authors who does justice to his own writing when he narrates books on CD.

JenCT 4:26 PM  

@evil Doug & @Two Ponies: I agree; we really don't know how much has been changed.

Puzzle took longer than usual, but eventually got done.

We've had no power since early Sunday morning; I've been loitering (?) outside a Starbucks to type this.

A strong reminder of how dependent we are on electricity...

Anonymous 4:55 PM  

Not... tanks?!?!

michael 6:01 PM  

Perhaps the most ill-tempered set of comments since I've been reading this blog. Some puzzles tend old, some tend young, some have pop culture, some have sports, some have math (which seems to set Rex off), etc. This one struck me as ok, though the order of the theme answers seemed not quite rate. I wasn't expecting all the rants.

michael 6:02 PM  

"quite right" -- need to proof my comments.

Anonymous 6:02 PM  

Edd Byrnes was the parking lot attendant "Cookie" at that address, in Seventy Seven Sunset Strip, in L.A. He was shown always combing his hair. Byrnes and Connie Stevens had a song "Cookie, Cookie, lend me your comb."
The show was a big hit in the late '50s.

hazel 7:05 PM  

wow, @michael you must not have been reading for very long!! :-) tuesdays are always good for some good old-fashioned dissatisfaction/venting. the beauty is we get it out of our system and move on until the next imperfect groundhog puzzle comes along with thorny concentrations of old, young, sports, whatever. thank God todays wasnt also a pangram and/or didnt have any circles requiring some post-solving drawing!! a whole nother can of cranky!

600 7:09 PM  

Oh, no, no, no! "Kookie, Kookie, lend me your comb."

Sorry. I hate to be a nitpicker, but I couldn't help myself. Cookie??? Oh, no!

fergus 7:56 PM  


Sfingi 9:23 PM  

Knew all the old dudes, being one, myself. But I stared at this MILLEBORNES figuring I made a mistake somewhere. Never heard of it.

Thought Fleishmann's product might be suet.

Jenny 10:08 PM  

Lots to say here but, in brief, it's fun to be able to solve a puzzle *despite* older names/references. Not gimmes for everyone, but rather toeholds for everyone. And we'll all have different toeholds. So it was a little musty, but I'm not too picky. That said, I finished (well, really, DNF...) with errors, because I had DIAMANTa (34D) and the more grammatically correct, but ultimately *wrong* "isn't" at 64A, which resulted in some bad crosses but I was stuck. Had to Google Eller to be sure of it; probably had learned that before in my crossword experience but those neurons were busy doing something else.

Things I'd discuss with the others who have commented, were we in the same room, say, at a party:

I love Set! I've played it some with actual Set set, as well as the daily puzzle online. I think it's brain-sharpening, and I know someone who used it to get his brain ready for a phone interview (he's a programmer).

Mille Bornes - I remember playing it as a kid, in the 80s, and I thought of it as exotic and foreign, given the French language, to which I'd previously not been exposed much. Ooh la la!

Last, but certainly not least: Sherman Alexie is amazing, and I don't even know that much of his work. Yet. Heard him on Selected Shorts (PRI) on Sunday, and immediately looked up his site online. Monday after work I was at the library picking up one of his books, War Dances, and breezed through half of it before bed. He's engaging, funny, emotional, and just awesome. Can't wait for more! And it helps that he's prolific; more to explore and appreciate. I look forward to seeing him in a puzzle. Oh, and he loves crosswords (especially BEQ and RP)!

My captcha: edukoody (Kookie, Kookie?! Gotta look that up, er, educate myself about Kookie; am I too young to get the reference?)

michael 10:10 PM  

@Hazel I've been reading for 3-4 years and will stick by my comments. I've seen puzzles harshly criticized before, but not in quite such a mean-spirited grouchy way. I think I'd say this even if I didn't know the age of the constructor, but am not 100 percent sure of this.

A tough crowd...

Anonymous 6:28 AM  

I am grateful for learning obscure old names and being reminded of a childhood crush (Meredith). I would rather be stumped by this than by names of rappers and cartoon characters who I will never care about from TV channels I do not subscribe to. The thing that bugged me about this puzzle in addition to the out of order vowels and three proper names was the "A" in STBETNARD. Five out of six theme answers were B_RNE. Yuck. All the same, a fun peek into a young mind in an old person. I was stumped but am thankful.

JaxInL.A. 8:13 AM  

My (older) husband used to come into a room saying "As Eddie "Kookie" Byrnes would say, 'How can I help?" Funny how we know things sometimes.

I love Sherman Alexie, not least because he has completely conquered the short story, a form I usually find unsatisfying. Alexie, however, writes characters, situations and narratives that stick with you all out of proportion to the number of pages it took to create them.

Like @dk, I couldn't write yesterday so didn't have a chance to tell Andrea how much I liked the puzzle and _loved_ her inside peek at the process of construction. All that work for a couple hundred bucks must work out to just a few cents per hour in the end. Sheesh.

CBS interview, Rez? Wow. Like @hazel said, I feel vicariously famous, or not. But congratulations! I know you'll tell us when it airs.

ahecht 9:57 AM  

Anonymous at 12:16:
"Puzzle was a mess. Lector? Defined as one step up from an Ostiary? WTF is an Ostiary?"

The puzzle I did had it clued as "Person assisting a worship service". Was it changed at some point?

Anonymous 12:10 PM  

This was the worst puzzle I've ever done. Came here for confirmation and glad to see some people agreed. What a terrible theme. I don't even know what 77 Sunset Stip is, let alone some guy who starred in it. Too many names!

Elizabeth Sandifer 11:08 PM  

Even aside from the theme answers - I can accept that some puzzles are not for my under-30 age bracket...

TOV, CCI, ELL, NOL, RST, RDA, SRI, AKA, MAL, ORY, and NEB all in one puzzle?


Anonymous 11:14 AM  

Worst. Puzzle. Ever.

Joe Gibson 12:10 PM  

I, for one, am one of the straggling oldtimers who fondly recall Aunt Eller from "Oklahoma" and, if need be, sing her verses from "a Farmer and a Cowman should be Friends". Great days, those. Thanks, Grandma Gordon.

Anonymous 12:55 PM  

Rex, you are so right. This puzzle was a mess! Even though I've been around for a while, I never heard of a card game called mille bornes. An "emphatic follow-up to yes or no," to me was "indeed". Never would have spelled siree with two r's. I could go on.

Anonymous 1:30 PM  

@Anonymous 11:14 AM
Like anyone could even know that.

@Zach 12:15 PM
No such thing as an "unsolvable range" for the creative solver. Difficult, perhaps, but not unsolvable. Work at it, and if you end up making mistakes (like rACEY in my case) learn from them.

This puzzle is a triumph of AGE over TODDLER. Thank you B*rnice Gordon.

Anonymous 1:32 PM  

@Anonymous 11:14 AM
Like anyone could even know that.

@Zach 12:15 PM
No such thing as an "unsolvable range" for the creative solver. Difficult, perhaps, but not unsolvable. Work at it, and if you end up making mistakes (like rACEY in my case) learn from them.

This puzzle is a triumph of AGE over TODDLER. Thank you B*rnice Gordon.

Anonymous 3:03 PM  

Toddlers, give me a break - cultural history did not begin at your birth! Quit whining and develop an appreciation for what preceded you. Clive Barnes is a legendary NYT critic in the league of a Pauline Kael. Edd Byrnes was a major part of arguably the most cutting edge US TV program of the mid-20th century. David Birney starred in one of the first TV shows that celebrated the fact that America was mosaic in nature. Lacey Davenport was a major Doonesbury character and still appears in spirit form in the seminal strip. Geez!

Deb 5:21 PM  

I saw Rex's post on FB about this five weeks ago, so I made a note on my calendar to watch for a "really bad puzzle" today. (Actually, I misread his post and was expecting the really bad puzzle yesterday. Imagine my shock when I came here to find it was a puzzle by acme!)

I digress. I didn't find this puzzle bad at all, at least partly because I very often don't even see or look for the theme. True, I was unable to complete LECTOR, and I screwed up by writing in EDDBaiNES, but the rest of the puzzle was a typical Tuesday breeze. I loved seeing David Birney in there, too, as I had a huge teenaged crush on him (and don't believe for one second the charges Meredith made against him).

Dirigonzo 5:38 PM  

From syndiland, there's way too much B*RNice bashing here today for my taste. There's stuff to complain about in any puzzle (sorry ACME) but some of the comments today seem just mean-spirited - maybe the prime-timers were just being extra harsh to show Rex they hadn't gone soft while he was away?

@Anony 1:30 and 1:32 - "...triumph of AGE over TODDLER." HA!

Anony 3:03 - nicely said.

DJ Stone 7:23 PM  

This puzzle was harder than most Tuesday's, but it wasn't out of control. I agree with @Michael that the carping was a bit over the top on this one, and I'd guess that it was coming from the so-called speed solvers. If they don't know the answer within 2 seconds, then it's too hard?

I don't go that route. I do all the A's, then all the D's, so I see every clue and can learn from the ones I don't know. As a result, all the "old-people" clues fell easily into place from crosses. This was not a DNF for me, and no write-overs either.

For me, however, Lacey and David Birney were gimmees. I've been reading Doonesbury since I was 11, even though my stepmom told me then I didn't get it. And like @Martin and others of our generation, had a total crush on Meredith Baxter-Birney and her glowing smile. Though I have to credit/blame Martin for tarnishing the memory a bit by revealing she's apparently now a lesbian.

Perhaps that's why I never married?

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