Ratchet bar / SUN 11-6-11 / Brightly colored lizards / Odyssey temptress / PJ-clad mansion owner / Musician who won 2011 Presidential Medal of Freedom

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Constructor: Elizabeth C. Gorski

Relative difficulty: Challenging

THEME: "Baker's Dozen" — 12 different theme answers are kinds of cakes. They are clued in non-cake fashion, and are in the grid upside-down (Down answers that run upward) — hence the theme-revealing answer (the 13th theme answer in the "Baker's Dozen"): UPSIDEDOWN CAKES (47D: Pastry chef creations ... and a hint to 12 other answers in this puzzle)

Word of the Day: PAWL (75A: Ratchet bar) —
A hinged or pivoted device adapted to fit into a notch of a ratchet wheel to impart forward motion or prevent backward motion.

[Probably from Dutch pal, from Latin pālus, stake.]
• • •
I am on record (multiple times) proclaiming the genius of Liz Gorski. Easily one of my five favorite constructors. This may explain why I found this puzzle to be a crushing disappointment. The concept is brilliant, of course—this is what Liz does better than anyone else: dream up elaborate, creative, and mind-bending Sunday theme concepts. What I found distressing—and what, in the end, left me with one and nearly two errors—was an overwhelming amount of arcanity and fustiness in the fill. An avalanche of crosswordese, and not just the harmless stuff like ANS and INE. Nobody minds an AGHA here or a LAILA there. That's just the glue that holds otherwise fine creations together. It's just that this time someone got crazy with the glue gun and made a terrible mess. Here's the short list (in addition to the aforementioned tetrad of answers): TRE MMV ARNEL LTR LLDS NOI ERST BONA MOL SAR ENNE ETALII APRS INCOG ANIS STOA FUM ORRIS AGAMAS (?) NEVA LYSIN STR AYEN ALAR INRE ENE ESSO SSS. In the end, though, it's the EWA / PAWL and the ONEGA / GAGE crosses that take the bad fill fest from mere annoyance to full-scale train wreck. EWA and ONEGA (while I'm sure I've seen them in puzzles before, somewhere...) are obscure geographical answers (very Maleska-era stuff) and thus Require rock solid, common words in Every cross. Now, I'm going to fault myself for not knowing GAGE. I *guessed* GAGE, and was correct, so I lucked out. And yes, I'm sure I should know All the damn generals in every war. It's probably reasonable trivia. It's just ... it intersects *$#@ing ONEGA.

As solvers, we all compensate for our ignorance by relying on crosses. Some people, for instance, will not have known LARA Logan, but all her crosses are gettable, so ... who cares? You don't have to fret or complain about not knowing her. But GAGE / ONEGA is a dangerous cross. Definite Natick territory for some. Not for me, but for some. Where *I* got Naticked was EWA / PAWL. EWA is something I "know" Only because I have a reader from EWA Beach (it's not famous—if you haven't been to Hawaii and haven't solved a ton of crosswords, you don't know it ... it's not MAUI or OAHU or NENE, is what I'm saying). Sadly, I remembered it as EWO, and never ever having heard of a PAWL, there was No way I was getting out of that mistake. If I thought I was alone or in a tiny minority in muffing these crosses (well, one of them), I would just slap myself and move on. But there will be others who have the same experience (which I know, from experience). The times at the NYT site are terrible, which I'm betting is due not to the challenging quality of the theme (once you pick it up, it's not that tough), but to the same problem with short obscurities that I had. My particular problem areas were part of an overall over-reliance on short, odd, ugly, and/or obscure fill, which ended up overshadowing the loveliness of the theme.

Theme answers:
  • 1D: Not having quite enough money (TROHS) — short cake!
  • 110D: Bed cover (TEESH) —sheet cake!
  • 12D: The "mode" of "a la mode" (MAERC ECI) — ice cream cake!
  • 87D: Cause for bringing out candles (YADHTRIB) — birthday cake!
  • 3D: Schokolade (ETALOCOHCNAMREG) — German chocolate cake!
  • 15D: Canine shelter (DNUOP) — pound cake!
  • 103D: Coat of paint (REYAL) — layer cake!
  • 5D: Manna, according to the Bible (DOOFLEGNA) — angel food cake!
  • 84D: Girl's holiday party dress  fabric (TEVLEVDER) — red velvet cake!
  • 40D: Wooded area near the Rhine Valley (TSEROFKCALB) — Black Forest cake!
  • 50D: Squishy dish cleaner (EGNOPS) — sponge cake!
  • 61D: Word before republic or seat (ANANAB) — banana cake!       

The puzzle's theme is great because of the title — nice use of a baking phrase that also ties to the number of theme answers — and because of the amazing symmetry of the theme answers. Also, it's just dang clever. Took me a looong time to cop the theme, mostly because I was sure that TROHS (1D: Not having quite enough money) was a representation of "[Coming up] SHORT." See, it's the word SHORT, and instead of going Down, like it's supposed to, it's coming up. I didn't get to the theme revealer until something like half the grid was already filled in. I could see answers were running upwards, but I had No idea why. After I hit the revealer, things got a lot easier. But not easy enough, apparently.

  • 19A: Invader of 1066 (NORMAN) — the NORMAN Invasion comes up every time I teach Brit Lit I and I *still* balked at this clue the first time around. "Some random invader!? How should I know!?" Smooth.
  • 37A: "Odyssey" temptress (CIRCE) — This one I knew. Sometimes I actually recall the things I teach. We call those "good days."
  • 81A: PJ-clad mansion owner (HEF) — I like this clue. Shortened "PJ" cuing shortened "HEF."
  • 87A: Musician who won a 2011 Presidential Medal of Freedom (YO-YO MA) — he has this new album with a few other guys called "The Goat Rodeo Sessions"; it's pretty great:

  • 97A: Peak leaf-peeping time in Pennsylvania (MID-OCTOBER) — I really like this answer. Inventive, and seasonal!
  • 42D: Area known to the Chinese as Dongbei (MANCHURIA) — this reminds me: just received the latest edition (18th) of Oxford UP's stunning "Atlas of the World"; we were looking at the topographical maps of western China today. Dramatic rise to the Himalayas signified visually by a vivid and abrupt florescence of purple.
  • 76D: "___ loves believes the impossible": Elizabeth Barrett Browning ("WHOSO") — Argh. I had HE WHO. If the clue had been ["___ list to hunt, I know where is an hind": Wyatt], I'd have nailed it.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Matthew G. 12:17 AM  

Yep, I got Naticked by that very SW corner BRAGA/GAGE/ONEGA problem that Rex identifies, and it kept me from having a perfect grid. I am both a geography buff and a Russophile and I didn't know ONEGA, so ... yeah, that's a toughie.

That said? I loved this puzzle and barely noticed the bad fill outside that corner. Hunting for the upside-down cakes was a lot of fun, and until I read Rex's review I didn't realize that Liz had pulled off the symmetry so well -- in solving the puzzle I kept thinking that I wasn't sure when the next one would show up.

I think another thing I liked about this puzzle is that when you start out, you begin to notice a handful of words upside-down, but because (1) some of those words are very TROHS, I mean SHORT; and (2) they aren't obviously clued as theme entries, you have some happy minutes of confusion trying to figure out what the logic to the inversion is. And eventually you get it and then it's not as challenging, yes, but I still enjoyed waiting for each new cake to show up.

I file this one under "weak fill that is excusable because it props up a great theme." Room for disagreement on that, but I had fun.

foodie 12:31 AM  

Yes, totally.

Fantastic concept, great theme execution but the fill was almost impossible in some places. I think the strategic problem is the design of the grid. Look at all of these scattered single black squares housing LLDS crossing DBS... It just looks like someone made a wonderful meal but left a real mess in the kitchen...

Although I have to say that there are strokes of genius evident beyond the theme. How lovely to see YOYO MA, and the two Vs of the upside down VELVET with an additional bonus V thrown in with VERB... Also, CAVORTS, ACTS UP, VOIDS--good middle sized stuff.
And NON VIOLENCE up top with RIOT SHIELDS down below... Lots to love,

And of course, all this cake to love.. When I came to the US, I had no idea there were so many different kinds of cake, and with such descriptive names! I knew dozens of types of baklava and then just-- cake.

The Gandhi clue for NONVIOLENCE reminded me of the last time I saw Andrea in person. She showed me a statue of Gandhi in SF... I had no idea it was there, even though I have lived in the Bay Area for several years. It was a thrill to see, especially with such wonderful company.

TomAz 1:13 AM  

I also struggled in the exact same spots... And wound up having that same EWA/PAWL error Rex describes. I picked up on the backwards theme very early (for me) but never saw the cake theme until after I was done.

So yeah Rex nailed my experience almost exactly.

Brian 1:24 AM  

Started filling (mm..) from the SE bottom up so I discovered 47D early on. Didn't find the puzzle to be challenging - did not cause me to stop for any noticeable length of time. The two uncommon crossings did not bother me as much since an alphabet run produced a unique viable looking result. What is a bit of a bother is that the baker's doz. is not fully consistent in that #13 47D UpsideDownCake is not upsidedown. Unless this is some kind of double negative. Amused by 29A Diets in such a calorie filled grid.

Lewis 1:36 AM  

Wait, you flat out guessed the ONEGA/GAGE crossing and yet it doesn't count as a Natick 'for you'? Consider me confused.

Anonymous 1:45 AM  

I've wanted to get some feedback on this for a while and the sw corner of this puzzle is a good example: Why do crosswords use proper names as answers and do you think it's fair or good usage?

Brian 1:21 AM  

So the mental alphabet run goes like Gaae/Oneaa, Gabe/Oneba, Gace/Oneca, Gade/Oneda, Gaee/Oneea, Gafe/Onefa, GAGE/ONEGA, Gahe/Oneha, Gaie/Oneia, Gaje/Oneja, Gake/Oneka, Gale/Onela, Game/Onema, Gane/Onena, Gaoe/Oneoa, Gape/Onepa, Gaqe/Oneqa, Gare/Onera, Gase/Onesa, Gate/Oneta, Gaue/Oneua, Gave/Oneva, Gawe/Onewa, Gaxe/Onexa, Gaye/Oneya, Gaze/Oneza.
The only pair that works, for me, is the GAGE/ONEGA. None of the others do.
Mutatis mutandis, EWA/PAWL, Ewe/pewl, Ewi/piwl, Ewo/powl, Ewu/puwl, Ewy/pywl,

Brian 1:35 AM  

Ok, ok, so the Excel formula to create that alphabet run list is ="Ga"&LOWER(SUBSTITUTE(ADDRESS(4,ROW(A1),4),"4",""))&"e/"&"One"&LOWER(SUBSTITUTE(ADDRESS(4,ROW(A1),4),"4",""))&"a, " and fill down.
Yeah, almost as much typing as the actual list it produces, but then I know it's correct.

chefwen 1:51 AM  

As a baker, I am embarrassed as to how long it took me to catch onto the theme. Finally got it at ETALOCOHCNAMREG and the rest of the puzzle was nothing but fun. Loved finding the rest of the cakes. I did end up with a few unfilled squares, so technically a DNF, but I had so much enjoyment I OVERCAME the semi-finished product.

Thank you Ms. Gorski.

jae 3:18 AM  

Liked this one a lot. Delightfully clever. Med.-challenging mostly because it took a while to catch the theme and wade through the arcane crosses covered by Rex. I knew GAGE but it took some dredging. For EWA I handed the grid to my bride who said it's an A (she is up on travel stuff). For me it could have been O, A, or I. So, an assisted finish...which is technically a DNF.

Hey, it was fun ferreting out all the inverted cakes. Another fine Sun. from Ms. Gorski!

Maxwell 3:45 AM  

I'm surprised no one commented on abscissae.

Anonymous 4:49 AM  

I've never heard or read of a "sheet cake" ?????????

Anonymous 4:49 AM  

Being both a pastry chef and a Gorski enthusiast, I adored the puzzle. At first, anyway. But messing around with all the bad fill at the end really dimmed my appreciation for it.

Bob Kerfuffle 6:23 AM  

When I caught on to the general idea, fairly early on, I thought the reveal would have something to do with "cakes rising." Maybe that wouldn't work with the ICE CREAM cake?

Puzzle was more difficult because I don't expect to find short words like SHORT, POUND, or SHEET upside down!

Michael 6:53 AM  

As Rex said, lots of obscure fills, and I got quite angry at ones like ETALII, NEVA, PAWL, AGAMAS and ONEGA, but I guess it just comes with such a difficult baker's dozen to incorporate. I'm glad I wasn't the only one who took so long.

First thing I did afterward was look up what ABSCISSAE were.

imsdave 7:04 AM  

Well, I blew them both. Went with POWL and GAYE. But I did enjoy the theme, and was thrilled to be doing the puzzle with heat and electricity for the first time in a week (not sure whether to thank or curse CL&P).

jberg 7:55 AM  

Somehow I got the theme almost immediately - or rather, I got that some answers were upside down. As a couple others have said, first I thought it was 'random answers are bottom to top,' then 'answers that incorporate upward direction,' like coming up SHORT. Then I got GERMAN CHOCOLATE, thought about the title, and took off from there.

I had to guess both those tough crosses. I knew GAGE was right after I wrote it in, but hadn't thought of it. And ONEGA sounds more Russian than the alternatives. But EWA was a complete guess, maybe influenced by Tim PAWLenty somewhere in the back of my mind.

Writeovers included HBo for SHO, LLbS for LLDS, Anita Bryan for Bryan ADAMS (whoever he is), and, stupidly, lEnA (which is in Siberia) for NEVA. Also nNE for ENE (Austin to NYC path), which I am still finding hard to believe.

So some of the fill was tough, but I just loved the cakes - so overall a fun solving experience for me.

Anonymous 7:55 AM  

I echo the first commenter's take, but also want to add that I really appreciated the placement of the theme revealing answer. Once you get it, the theme is fairly easy, but because east southeast is late in my solving pattern, I actually had to figure out all the weirdness before getting there. That made the puzzle a lot more fun.

Anonymous 8:11 AM  

Filled this out correctly, though did not twig to the fact they are all cakes until coming here.

Just guessed on pawl/ewa and gage/onega and was happy to see I guessed correctly. Gage was perhaps VAGUELY familiar. Or maybe just sounds like a general . . . I'm also not fond of obscure crossing obscure where you just have to take a shot based on look and sound.

But I liked it in general because it was the first Sunday puzzle in a while where I found it tough as opposed to just time-consuming.

What is the origin of "Natick"?

Glimmerglass 8:23 AM  

Everything Matthew G said. I happened to know PAWL, so got EWA on crosses (the beach is vaguely familiar, but I never would have got it without crosses). The SW was a bear. I was choosing generals between GAGE and Howe (both fit the clue). Didn't know BRAGA (thought she might be "Braha") and never heard of ONEGA Bay, but ONEGA felt better than "Onewa," and then LAYER cake popped up. Why do people get angry about Naticks? They're part of the challenge. One just does the best one's brain can do at that particular moment. One has to have a little luck to do a tough Saturday puzzle. Unless you've got some money riding on 100%, there's no penalty for getting a letter or two wrong. I thought it was a great puzzle.

JenCT 8:47 AM  

Happened to guess correctly at both Naticks, so proud of myself. Once I got the theme, also had fun finding the rest of the cakes.

I've completely stopped timing myself, and find I'm enjoying the puzzles much more as a result.

@imsdave: I feel your pain; once we got our power back, we lent our portable generator to friends who were also out for one week...

Now to go bake a cake....hmm, which one?

Anonymous 8:55 AM  

Rex nails it again but why focus on the negative when you can accentuate the postive. I loved POLICE PROTECTION (I mean, do police need protection?) and CHEESE FANCIERS (Do mice also have some wine with their cheese?). Those, for me at least, made up for all that crap in the SW corner.

Teresa in Detroit 9:20 AM  

I hadn't noticed the symmetry of the answers. Wow! I had a feeling there were upside down answers, but it took a long time to get the first one. I got upsidedowncake and birthday in the same breath, and then the rest fell in place. Had to look up Ewa. Couldn't get it. But did guess pawl and it was what I needed for Hemsley. Enjoyed it!

SethG 9:20 AM  

Guessed the A, but not the G. I like my puzzles to have more, you know, words in them.

Brian, what makes PAWL look plausible but not POWL? Or is it EWA vs EWO? Or ONEGA but not ONELA or ONENA or ONETA or ONEYA?

MaryBR 9:23 AM  

I think the reason no one has commented about ABSCISSAE is that the crosses were all good! Which is the point everyone is trying to make. Successfully guessed the A in EWA/PAWL (god forbid someone should clue EWe that way, and the A just sounded more Hawaiian), but was undone by the SW as so many were. RENNET was new to me as well, so that didn't make it any easier!

Tita 9:41 AM  

Abscissae... one of the two coordinates that plot a point on a graph...like (3,2). Well, I did major in physics, but I think I woulda remembered that from high school too, being somewhat of a geek...

Anon@4:49 - a sheet cake is one baked in a large rectangular pan.

Loved this more than I hated the naticks (Yes, I DNF - EWA/PAWL and ONEGA/GAGE, though I did know Sonia BRAGA...
(Watch "Dona Flore and Her Two Husbands" for a fabulous romp with her.)

I so very much wanted BLACKOUT as the answer to 87D - Cause for bringing out candles.

Woulda been so timely to my 7 days without power odyssey that finally ended yesterday!!!!!!!!
And, it fits the theme.

Tita 9:41 AM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lindsay 9:48 AM  

Really surprised at how mysterious PAWL seems to be. There's a diagram of one in the margin of my dictionary, and I flip past it often. On the other hand if I had a different dictionary, or used google to look up words, maybe I'd be mystified too.

Muddled through this, but finished with *lots* of circled clues (answers to check because they look non-sensical and/or have sketchy crosses). AGAMAS ONEGA BRAGA ORRIS the junk others have mentioned.

Big improvement over the Wunderbar puzzle, where I totally missed the concept, crashed & burned. That was Gorski, wasn't it?

jackj 9:48 AM  

Liz Gorski joins her sprightly imagination with a rigid discipline that demands she not stray from her theme, “Baker’s Dozen”, (of cakes, as we find out, eventually) with the result being a difficult, but very enjoyable, Sunday crossword.

The way the upside-down answers look in the grid it makes one wonder if they’ve stumbled into a horror version of “Wordplay” wherein Sanskrit duels with Esperanto, moderated by loopy Lithuanians and vowel-less Welshmen.

MAERCECI, DOOFLEGNA, ETALOCOHCNAMREG as answers? Yikes, the crossword world may never recover from this one!

To complement the delectable theme, Liz gives us some wonderful fill, like LADYLOVE, INCOG, PROGENIES, PLETHORAS and NONVIOLENCE.

But, then, as if testing our willingness to stretch, she sorely tries our patience with some god-awful entries: PAWL, EWA, ONEGA, LYSIN, ORRIS, ABSCISSAE and AGAMAS. (I’ve left out TACET since Jeff Chen taught us this word just six days ago.)

No matter, bottom-line, all things considered, it’s another tour de force from the Queen of Cleverness, Liz Gorski.

Huzzahs and thanks from a grateful, admiring, (if mentally exhausted), solver.

CoolPapaD 9:56 AM  

Had OMEGA/REMNET and POWL/EWO. EG gets a big pass from me (and unconditional love) for this delicious, symmetric treat! Like most of her creations, this was far more tasty than the daily fare produced by other, less inspired chefs.

After changing FINE PRINT to FOOT NOTES, the South fell, and except for the tiny town in Massachusetts noted above, victory was mine!

Learned ADDIE from a Mad magazine parody of Paper Moon (never saw the movie)- 35 year old memory!!

Loved the clue for METH - if you haven't, please watch Breaking Bad, the best drama on TV, period!

Chris Thompson 10:10 AM  

um ok, ABSCISSAE??????


Tita 10:35 AM  

Oh - and isn't there a Goat Island in Hawaii??
That's why I thought 63D was EWe Island.

Brian 10:45 AM  

They both need to grok.
If one has been doing at least a puzzle a day for 40 years, then at 70 clues per, one is looking at [eek] 1,022,000 clues. So the chances that one will opt wrong in an obscure double-cross is wee.
Uhmmm... at 25 minutes per puzzle ... holy zebu, I have wasted over 9 months of my life...

JC66 10:50 AM  

Knew PAWL and GAGE, but I was Naticked by O?EGA/SE?NET.

Anyone else have blackout before BIRTHDAY?

chefbea 11:08 AM  

Of course I loved the puzzle. Got the theme right away. Did have trouble with teehs and trohs. Had an aha amoment when I realized they were cakes.

@anon 4:49am A sheet cake is a large cake you buy (or make) for a large gathering. You can also buy a half sheet cake or a quarter...depending on the number of people.

knew pawl would be WOD

Joel 11:12 AM  

I admire the idea, but it just wasn't very enjoyable to solve. Even once I figured out the cake thing, it was a slog to fill the grid in. Not one of her best, I think

joho 11:12 AM  

I loved this puzzle and fittingly enjoyed a plump NIFFUMYRREBEULB as I solved, and while not a cake, definitely in the same family.

@Tita, I too, so wanted blackout for BIRTHDAY and experienced a quasi-malapop when BLACKFOREST showed up!

I got the theme SWIFTLY but did not solve quickly for the reasons @Rex stated. But, still, this was a ton of fun thanks to the amazing Liz Gorski.

Tom Nawrocki 11:21 AM  

Halfway through filling ABSCISSAE, I was sure it was going to be another upside-down answer. Then I remembered my high school calculus.

The great theme outweighed the horrible fills for me, but I greatly objected to EWO/POWL. Very Maleska-esque.

Shamik 11:28 AM  

Can't say I loved this puzzle as much as I can say I appreciated the construction. The one answer I just really disliked was MIDOCTOBER...no reason for disliking it. It is a perfectly acceptable answer. Probably just didn't care for it due to aesthetics or something or other. Clear as mud yet? Another dislike was INCOG. Really? Incognito, yes. INCOG? Not so much.

Brilliant construction which demanded awkward fill. Just happy to have a crisp fall day in Arizona where the Sunday puzzle, pj's and coffee all come together.

miriam b 11:40 AM  

Richly satisfying, as one might expect. I was inspired to buy extra bananas to use for banana-chocolate bread (which is really sweet enough to qualify as a cake).

Thank you, Ms. Gorski. When I saw that the puzzle was your crestion, my heart leapt up. And so did 13 of the answers.

Never heard of EWA, but PAWL was familiar. Gotta get out of this DIY mode and take a trip to Hawaii.

miriam b 11:47 AM  

Creation, that is. Dang.

Anonymous 11:54 AM  

I've been wondering about "getting naticked" too. I found what I take to be the original coinage in a Rex blog for a July 6, 2008 BEQ Sunday...
"The NATICK Principle. And here it is: If you include a proper noun in your grid that you cannot reasonably expect more than 1/4 of the solving public to have heard of, you must cross that noun with reasonably common words and phrases or very common names."

Matthew G. 12:12 PM  


Of course, you only get to the point of running the alphabet on GA_E if you've heard of BRAGA to get the first G. I've never heard of her, so that corner was a double Natick (an obscure actress and an obscure body of water both crossing an obscure general).

Sorry. There's absolutely no defending that corner.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning 12:13 PM  

@anon 4:49am:
You don't know SHEET!

Mel Ott 12:27 PM  

Late today - watching the NYC marathon. Those runners never cease to amaze me.

I can tolerate quite a bit of crappy fill if the theme is really good. This is one of those puzzles, even if it pushes the envelope a bit.

I do object to plurals of collective nouns like PROGENy and PLETHORA.

Some of my level-wind fishing reels come with a spare PAWL, so I knew the word. Not sure I could explain what the thingy is, however.

syndy 12:35 PM  

Both hands up-EWO/POWL and trying to make something of EASSICSBA since HS physics was a DNF.Now I KNEW 40 down HAD to be Blackforrest the first time I came to it so the penny should have dropped much much sooner.But I had a blast anyway-My favorite clue was SCHOKOLADE how great is that so I"LL suffer one Natick from LA LIZ

Sparky 12:46 PM  

Slow reaction time department: Funny happy endings to tragic stories @Rex on Friday. Particulrly liked Midnight Cowboy. I fall down a lot.

Anonymous 1:46 PM  

couldn't get pawl or the composer. otherwise it was a piece of cake, easy as pie (sorry!)i knew chocolate would be somewhere in the early down so got the theme quickly. it was fun to do as i counted off all those cakes.

Anonymous 1:59 PM  

what is DBA???

Sparky 2:02 PM  

Hand up for blackout before BIRTHDAY and for EVo/PoWL cross. Isn't 124A METH a bit naughty for The Great Grey Lady of Times Square?

I started out by looking for things that would involve thirteen. Noticed FOOD running upward. I sometimes seek out the hint clue to use in solving as I did today. It certainly helped. Also isn't the symmetry a given? Twelve answers a lot to winkle out. And none clued with ?marks. Liked that a lot. Thanks Liz Gorski.

P.S. Google ate my first comment by asking me to create a blog and I already have a blog which I don't use. How annoying. At least this was more succinct.

Anonymous 2:06 PM  

Theme is so good, you wish the Times would raise it's maximum word count for it so the fill would have been easier.

IMO, the fun in looking for the upside-down cakes outweighed slogging through the yucky words. I also think that when you're not a speed solver, you appreciate themes more, and this one was sweet.

Gill I. P. 2:26 PM  

REX, I really enjoyed your blog post today. I can't quite put my thumb on it but it was like picking up something good to read and not being able to put it down...
Having said that, I didn't particularly feel overwhelmed with bad or OOXTEPLERNON(esque) fill. It looked to me to be the typical fill we've come to expect on Sunday's; excusable when a theme is terrific. Maybe ABSCISSAE annoyed me because I can't spell. EWA/PAWL no problema. ONEGA/GAGE, gettable.
I enjoyed the theme because it reminded me of the Maleska crosswords I use to do. Many of them had the upside-down type answers and I loved the way the words sounded. My favorite is EGNOPS and I will make it a new word. "Use the damn egnops and clean up your mess!"
@Tita, @imsdave et al - also thought of you at 87D. I'm sure it was NO BIRTHDAY... Glad you are all back to civilization...?
Off to finish watching the 49ers kill the Redskins. Finally, my team's HALFLIFE is SHO looking good.

Noam D. Elkies 2:29 PM  

Yeah, some 66A:DAMN unfortunate stuff in the scaffolding, but also lots of neat longer entries, some even stacked with the theme cakes (though one of the long supporting entries, 97A:MID_OCTOBER, would have been even better a couple of weeks back). Nice to see 87A:YO-YO_MA and 51A:ET_ALII written out in full.

@Rex: Funny red herring on TROHS:A1 — maybe the kernel of another crossword theme? Note that the symmetric entry is TEEHS, not TEESH.

Non-theme reversible entries include 21A:LARA (but not 125A:ALAR), 52A:SNOOT, 11A:RENNET, and of course 50A:-ENNE and 128A:SSS. 64A:MONOS suggests the palindrome "Sonoma monos", which neither Google nor elgooG recognizes.


Anonymous 2:32 PM  

so, so nice to have a sunday puzzle with a great theme that remained interesting to implement, even after i'd figured it out.
sure, the fill was awkward at times, but this was a great change from what's be offered up lately.

Jp 2:41 PM  

Unlike Rex I gave up on the puzzle with many many blanks staring at me. In addition to the upside down answers that read as Greek to me there were so many obscurities that I did not want to try googling for some of the answers. Difficult puzzles challenge me to solve them. Poorly constructed puzzles make me give up quickly. Needless to say that I did not get the theme until I got to this blog. I grant it is a neat concept.

PuzzleNut 2:49 PM  

No problem with PAWL (but EWA really looked iffy).
Guessed at GAlE/ONElA and guessed wrong.
Otherwise, a fun puzzle. Amazed at the variety of cakes Liz came up with. Echoing others, the inclusion of several short theme answers added a little extra interest.
Also, loved ADDIE in Paper Moon. That was a name that just seemed perfect for the role.

Scott 2:57 PM  

Wow, someone using the applet solved this in 40 seconds! Now I know for sure those numbers are always legit.

archaeoprof 3:03 PM  

Today I have reason to rue PAWL.

@anonymous 156: DBA = doing business as.

Anonymous 3:04 PM  

Rex, I enjoyed your "good days" comment, and I just bought the Yo Yo Ma cd as a Christmas present for my wife after we saw his group perform a cut from the album on Colbert.

I remembered from somewhere the good General Gage, and lucked out at the Ewa/Onega natick. Good crosses helped the other answers I didn't know. This for me, go figure, was easier than my typical Sunday.

Hand up for Anita Bryant. I wish there was such a thing as Awe Cake, the EWA would have been an excellent answer...

Having to do this as anonymous, because Google won't let me comment!


Stan 3:09 PM  

My guess is that some people out in New York Times Sunday Magazine-land will not get the theme and be frustrated. But most will, and greatly enjoy the cake hunt. Some squares will be let blank, but no-one will care.

Thanks, Liz. The obscurities did not throw a PAWL over the fun.

Kathy 3:45 PM  

Would never have finished at all if not for help from Rex. My second Sunday without my sweetheart, and he was the theme-finding king. But no tears today, and a few good ah-has.

quilter1 4:47 PM  

I found the puzzle challenging but once I saw the upsidedown cakes it went faster.

Today I became an official senior citizen--sixty-five years old. How does this happen? I still feel nineteen. Well, except for the knees, the shoulders, the hips....

Also received the Goat Rodeo Sessions in the mail yesterday, and it is already on the Ipod.

quilter1 4:59 PM  

Oh, and this week I am making a root beer bundt cake for the midweek concert lunch. Couldn't Liz have worked in "bundt" somehow?

Andrea Rouda 5:02 PM  

I HATED doing this puzzle. Or should I say I detah gniod ti. )I don't even like ekac.(

Sparky 5:04 PM  

Happy Birthday @quilter1. And many more to come.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning 5:14 PM  

“Who so loves, believes the impossible.”

I was led into love with an eager palm,
full of life and vigour and youth.
I was shunted from love with the back of the hand,
careless, selfish and uncouth.

The winds do moan as the trees howl from their roots
and the days grow cold, as the nights grow fierce
with the remembrance of the lover’s previous hold
and the bittersweet tear for the wisdom untold.

I have lived a thousand years of the groans of the women before,who’s lovers, like mine, were men and boys too foolish to see that the one they hurt is themselves eventually and not me.
No, not me.

I was led down the rutted road to believing the impossible.
Do not dare to dash my dreams that it may still be true.
Hush, young man, and draw near.
You’re not the one but as comfort you’ll do.
So hush, young man, and draw near.

AnnieD 5:20 PM  

I enjoyed the theme very much though I too missed the symmetry and just kept looking for answers that might be cake-related.

Once done, I especially liked the first and last answers...short sheet...a nice practical joke.

Thanks to Ms Gorski for another job well done.

Clark 5:29 PM  

We skyped this baby--Barcelona/Chicago. We had a blast; discovered the upsidedownness soon enough; wondered what the reveal would be; loved it when we figured it out. Technically, the name of the cake is German's chocolate cake--named after an American guy whose last name was German. But knowing that is like knowing that what Holmes really said was "possession is nine points of the law," or that "forte" in the phrase "that's not my forte" is French not Italian. What good does it do you?

600 5:47 PM  

I am so late finishing this puzzle, most of the blog fun is surely over, but here's my two cents' worth anyway:

I'm with those who loved the cleverness of the theme more than they hated the horrible fill--and it was horrible fill. This puzzle took me a long, long time--one of those where I walked away two or three times--and stopped timing myself after an hour or so. I kept staring at DNUOP thinking "I have got to get to the blog and find what that means." I could not get UPSIDE DOWN CAKE the first two sit downs--kept trying "designer cake" or some kind of wedding cake--just a mess. Then the third visit to the puzzle UPSIDE DOWN jumped out at me, I saw DNUOP for what it was, and I was off. Still, the Naticks in the SW got me, but I had a good, good time, and I'm not shamed by being beaten by such a fun and amazing puzzle.

I've never heard of a Black Forest cake, and I thought INCOG was a bad answer.

@all of you wondering about Natick: Read the FAQ's linked at the top of Rex's blog. There's a list of such Rexisms defined. (Hope that doesn't sound snarky; I didn't find them for a while either.)

No JaxinLA? I was hoping she'd be here with happier news than last night.

@archaeoprof--rue PAWL. LOL. Actually, ROTFLMAO.

@Kathy--I'm glad today was a better day.

@quilter 1--YADHTRIB YPPAH. I earned senior citizen status last April. It's actually a pretty good thing, except for the knees and back, of course. But the freedom that comes with age--now there's something one has to acquire some age to understand!

Yesterday on FaceBook a friend posted a picture of police in full gear with RIOT SHIELDs. The caption said "To understand who is looking for a riot . . . see who came dressed for a riot." Seems appropriate to find that answer in today's puzzle.

DannyBurk 5:52 PM  

All the crazy fill that everyone mentioned above Naticked me in a couple of places, nevertheless absolutly LOVED this puzzle. Gorski is simply the best at the 'OMG THAT'S what goin on' puzzle. Delicious! Thank you Liz and Will!

Rex, it's too bad you could not have figured out a way to flip that Cake video 180 degrees ;-) . . . Check the War Pigs cover as well, from B-sides and Rarities, it is tasty . . .


CoffeeLvr 6:08 PM  

Terrific theme, and not too tough except for the SW. I did use a highlighter to mark each entry and its symmetrically corresponding location, and that helped because I could anticipate five of the reversed entries (the middle one was a surprise).

Trouble spots for me were sIRen before CIRCE and BRAGA/GAGE/ONEGA. I had to get the Russian bay entirely from crosses. I also entered BRAcA for the actress, thinking of Lorraine Bracca. So I set the puzzle down overnight until GAGE popped into my head. Fortunately, when I pondered
P?WL, PAWL came to mind; automatic transmissions have parking PAWLs.

Happy YADHTRIB, @Quilter1!

Favorite word today is CAVORT. I won't pile on about the short fill - SAR was the worst to my mind.

Marya 6:59 PM  

I also had trouble with the Braga/Gage/Onega corner. Couldn't remember whether Sylvia was Braha, Braja, Braga or Braza, and tried Hale, Jake, Zane, etc. for the English general!

DBA, in case the asker hasn't found out yet, is "Doing Business As."

Thought the beach was Ewo (I vaguely remembered from a trip to Hawaii) so was going with Powl, instead of Pawl. Glad to hear others suffered too, but it was really a great puzzle, discounting the "Natick" corner.

What is the origin of the word "Natick" by the way? Rex......?

Marya 7:08 PM  

Aha, I just found "Natick,: based on the Quigley use in 2008 of Natick, the town in Massachusetts, crossing NC Wyeth, which solvers thought unfair because both were obscure. I would have had no problem with NC Wyeth, having been a fan of the Wyeth family of artists, NC, Andrew, and Jamie, for years.

Z 7:54 PM  

Had 2/3rds of the puzzle filled and still hadn't grokked the theme when I caved and came here. Too many obscurities in too many key places for me today.

chefbea 8:50 PM  

JaxinLa should be here. I e-mailed her the puzzle

Tita 9:46 PM  

Sônia BRAGA - wiki or imdb her.

While I know her from her work in Brazil, she has done plenty of work in the states, including a stint as the gay lover of one of those Sex in the City characters.

Again, I do urge y'all to check her out in Dona Flor and her Two Husbands!

Happy Birthday Quilter, and I hope that Jax has found her iPadless way to today's puzzle.

Kathy...so sorry for your loss. Keeping on with things you both shared, like this puzzle, must be hard, but ultimately comforting. I'm sure you'll find strength there.

mac 10:14 PM  

What a crunchy, chewy puzzle! I went halfway through, putting some answers in bottom up, before figuring out the theme....

I love Liz Gorski puzzles, and, despite some of the poor fill, I liked this one too.

It was so nice to get on the subway in NY late this afternoon and see lots of runners with friends, family and supporters! That marathon pulls this city, and all the foreign visitors, together.

Octavian Cakewalk 12:27 AM  


No complaints at all, even about the obscure fill, which I kind of enjoy anyway.

Took me a long time to figure out the theme, and then it was a pleasure to figure out which clues were backwards.

Really liked the fact that there were no circles or asterisks or italics to help you figure out what was going on with the upside-down answers.

Bravo, Liz -- thank you!

P.S. Did not like the grumpy review at all. However the host made up for it by including a video of the awesome band Cake and their post-ironic hipster take on "I Will Survive.''

Anonymous 8:54 AM  

The agama is a lizard of the Namib desert in Namibia. They're purple, orange and green.

I only know this because we just got a lovely children's book from the library, "Three Little Dassies" by Jan Brett retells the three little pigs using the animals of that locale. It feature the Dassies, a small Marmot-like rodent, and Agama Man, a lizard that befriends them.

Come to think of it, Dassie would make a great crossword word.

MitchD 12:44 PM  

Isnt' a "Baker's Dozen" actually 13, not 12?

JenCT 2:06 PM  

@MitchD: Re-read Rex's writeup (under Theme.)

Louise 1:28 PM  

I will never attempt an Elizabeh C. Gorski puzzle ever again. She indulged herself and didn't think of the average crossword puzzle person who simply wants to enjoy their Sunday morning.

Dirigonzo 11:16 AM  

This syndicated solver loved the puzzle at first, until all the answers I just *knew* had to be right started being wrong which is when I began to hate it, but that only lasted until my answers were right again, only upside down and I loved it again! No matter that I finished with one blank square down in the infamous SW corner (had RE_NET and the Russian bay was no help, so I considered throwing an "X" in there to honor our host).

It's November 13, 2011 - what was happening in Rexville on this date in 2006, I wonder:
- "Solving time: 7:04 - applet = :(

THEME: L's - three 15-letter theme answers are clued "One-L lama," "Two-L llama," and "Three-L lllama?" (the answers are, in order, BUDDHISTHOLYMAN, ANDESPACKANIMAL, and [I apologize for even repeating this, but I have a point to make] BLAZEINBROOKLYN)"
- "Puns are almost never funny. They are clever, I suppose, but notice how the punner is usually the first one laughing at his/her own joke. It's like masturbatory humor - designed to please yourself and to show others how clever you are. It's show-offy, not actually funny."
- "What does a legendary German architect gotta do to get a little puzzle time? Apparently, wait for Monday. He's like the warm-up act. "EERO's a little tired this morning, MIES. He needs his rest for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday; so we're putting you in! Dust off your uniform! Good luck, kid.""
- "I remember that maces were one of the few weapons that clerics could wield in D&D - no weapon with a blade. Because pounding someone's skull to bloody custard is the holiest way to kill."
- "Drinky Crow is from Tony Millionaire's Maakies, a comic set largely on the 18th-century high seas, featuring Drinky Crow and Uncle Gabby (a monkey) as violent, liquor-loving protagonists. Why am I not reading this comic? What else could I ask for?"
- "Happy Birthday to semi-faithful reader Sarah S., who turns, well, older today. She is a voracious reader, a fan of all the Arts, and a genuine lover of words. She is also my mother."
- There were 9 comments, among them this from @Chris: "Three-L llama sounds more Boston than Brooklyn"

Anonymous 5:27 PM  

missing upside down cakes:


Anonymous 5:58 PM  

i do these to relax... this one gave me a ffits kcen!

Anonymous 6:36 PM  

Spacecraft here. @anon5:27: Let us delete that last "cake" as being inedible. Anyway, today's offering vindicates my solving style: read the clue body first! I usually hunt for the central clue in either direction because most of the time that's where the "key" is. But this time I had to keep searching till I hit 47d. Thus, my initial area of concentration was centered around crosses to that entry--and it wasn't long till I grokked UPSIDEDOWNCAKES. From there, MOST of the puzzle was pretty routine, but I did have to look up a couple of spots that have been criticized aplenty before me.
But my major objections both have to do with long fill--not TROHS. PLETHORAS and PROGENIES make me want to throw "up" all that cake. A plethora can be as many as you need it to be. Progeny can be as many offspring as you need. The plural forms of these words may in fact exist in Webster's Unabridged--but they simply MAKE NO SENSE! Folks, I am already having trouble making sense of the world; don't compound the nonsense in your puzzles. PLEASE!

Midj 6:57 PM  

From way over here in syndication... I was two hours in and still having fits, just about one quarter of the grid filled. Complained to my 22 year old daughter that it just wasn't my day. She went off to the local art festival and I continued to struggle. A while later I got to UPSIDE DOWN CAKES and realized I had been right all along Schokolade was GERMANCHOCOLATE and the area around the Rhine *was* the BLACKFOREST that I had lived in for two years in the late '60s when my dad was stationed in Stuttgart... Called my daughter who, unbeknownst to me, had just signed me up for a six months subscription to the Sunday NYT at a booth at the festival! It also includes access to the daily paper online. I will be solving along with you wonderful people soon!

Red Valerian 9:05 PM  

I was a little crabby, but that's because I didn't fully appreciate the theme until coming here. Doh! Pretty amazing. Not symmetrical (as some have said) but totally well-motivated.

I still don't get MCI for 67D. Apologies if I missed an earlier explanation.

@Kathy--this will no doubt sound lame, but I think your sweetheart would be glad that you are finding some enjoyment and even solace in puzzles and this blog. Hang in there. the human condition-whose idea was that??!?? (rhetorical question!)

Dirigonzo 9:46 PM  

@Red Valerian - from Wikipedia: "MCI, Inc. (d/b/a Verizon Business) is an American telecommunications subsidiary of Verizon Communications that is headquartered in Ashburn, Virginia. The corporation was originally formed as a result of the merger of WorldCom and MCI Communications, and used the name MCI WorldCom followed by WorldCom before taking its final name on April 12, 2003 as part of the corporation's emergence from bankruptcy." The clue, I suspect, refers to the original MCI Communications, hence "former call letters".

Anonymous 7:06 PM  

Most common pawls these days are in automatic transmissions in your cars when you put them in Park - the pawl locks the tranny. Other pawls: in mechanical clock / watch movements (getting rarer) and in the hubs of your bicycles (make the clicks when you coast).

Surprised that noone mentions the most famous upside downer: ELPPAENIP.

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