Midnight to 4 am at sea / THU 12-15-11 / South-Sea House essayist / Trademarked sanitary wipes / What Cowboy legend Tom Landry sported

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Constructor: Jim Hilger

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: TOP / SIDE / MIDDLE / BOTTOM — solver must supply TOP, SIDE, MIDDLE and BOTTOM as the first word for the answers along the TOP, SIDE, MIDDLE and BOTTOM of the grid, respectively

Word of the Day: Key FOB (28A: Key ___) —
A key fob is a generally decorative and at times useful item many people often carry with their keys, on a ring or a chain, for ease of tactile identification, to provide a better grip, or to make a personal statement. The word fob may be linked to the low German dialect for the word Fuppe, meaning "pocket", however, the real origin of the word is uncertain. Fob pockets (meaning 'sneak proof' from the German word Foppen) were pockets meant to deter thieves and a chain was used (called a Fob Chain) to attach to items, like a pocket watch, that you would place in them. (wikipedia) (never heard of this ever) (this definition is terrible)
• • •

Typically, I started sluggishly and then caught onto the theme (much later than I should have), and then tore the puzzle apart. Finished with a pretty ordinary time, somewhere in the mid-6s. I knew TOP was involved very early on (with BANANA), but 1D: Writing in a box didn't confirm anything. I had BA- and couldn't do anything with it. Also, I figured HAT was the complete answer for 7A: Bit of dance attire for Fred Astaire, so getting that answer did nothing to advance my understanding of the theme. Same with ROAD. I was like "yep, the way less traveled is a ROAD. That's what Frost said ..." I hit 39A: Midnight to 4 a.m., at sea (WATCH), and thought that *that* was a theme answer [it was only at this point in my write-up that I realized MIDDLE was involved in the theme—didn't see it. Just though EAST and AGED had really, really bad clues]. "Must be [something] WATCH. Maybe FIRST WATCH. FIRST would go with the TOP from BANANA ..." Not until I hit on SADDLE did I realize what was going on. From that point out, all the peripheral answers were a cinch. Sped right around the grid, finishing up in the SW corner. Theme is clever—seems like something that someone must have done before, but I guess not. Theme density is Really impressive. Oh, and I never saw the "Notepad" and really don't think there should've been one. Unnecessary.

Theme answers:

  • 1A: Company's numero uno (BANANA)
  • 7A: Bit of dance attire for Fred Astaire (HAT) 
  • 10A: Elite (TIER)
  • 1D: Writing in a box (BAR)
  • 23D: Drug drawback (EFFECT)
  • 38A: Oil source (EAST)
  • 39A: Midnight to 4 a.m., at sea (WATCH)
  • 41A: In the 40s? (AGED)
  • 53D: Tire part (WALL)
  • 13D: Way less traveled (ROAD)
  • 33D: One way to ride a horse (SADDLE)
  • 63D: Brandy cocktail (CAR)
  • 67A: Often-flooded locale (LAND)
  • 68A: Hit a low point (OUT)
  • 69A: Starfish or sea cucumber, e.g. (FEEDER)
Trouble spots, trouble spots. Pre-theme-understanding, I just died in the west. Threw down "VOLARE" with ease (24D: 1958 hit that won the first-ever Grammy for Song of the Year), but then went with ADDICT at 25D: Rehab candidate (ABUSER). My answer is better. Way better. But anyway, the point is that I got nowhere. The other big sticking point was SALT TALKS (29A: With 30-Across, they started in 1969). Couldn't get TALKS. Knew there had been "treaties." Thought maybe there were TESTS. SALT TESTS. That was my answer. Like H-TESTS or A-TESTS or whatever letter the crossword is using this week-TESTS. I guess I can take some solace in the fact that, in some tenuous way, I was in the ballpark. SALT TALKS did deal with nuclear arms. But anyway, TESTS was wrong, and it took a whole lot of TACO SALAD to show me the light (10D: Dish often served in a shell).

  • 17A: Arsenal, so to speak (REPERTOIRE) — dang, that's a hard clue. I had most of the letters in this answer before I could figure out what was going on.
  • 19A: Opening word of many an Italian letter (CARA) — and now a brief message from Jay and the Italians ... I mean Americans.

  • 46A: ___ verte (green earth pigment) (TERRE) — ungainly, weird clue. "TERRE verte" simply, literally means "green earth." Pigment? Dislike.
  • 53A: Trademarked sanitary wipes (WET ONES) — cool answer. I'd have replaced "Trademarked" (odd) with "brand of," or maybe put "brand" on the end. Sounds more natural.
  • 66A: What Cowboy legend Tom Landry sported (FEDORA) — iconic. I started paying attention to professional football in the Landry era.
  • 18D: Capital whose name comes from an Algonquin word for "to trade" (OTTAWA) — Got it off the first "T" and felt pretty damned good about myself. OTTAWA also falls within the alphabetical parameters (A-C) of World Capitals That I Know So Far.
  • 47D: "Star Trek" helmsman (MR. SULU) — love the MR. part.
  • 54D: "The South-Sea House" essayist (ELIA) — come on. An "essayist" in 4 letters? Bush league. Old school bush league.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. Patrick Blindauer's "Musical Puzzlefest" (his latest suite of interconnected crossword puzzles) is available starting today. From his website:
It gives me great pleasure to announce my 3rd annual interconnected suite of crosswords, available for $9.95 via the PayPal button marked "Musical Puzzlefest" on the right. The puzzles will be released on December 15, and each one will lead to a larger puzzle, which leads to the final answer. Send me the correct final answer by February 15 to be entered in the drawing for prizes. 
The Puzzlefest will have a musical theme this time around, and the difficulty level increases from Monday NYTimes level at the beginning to Thursday NYTimes level by the end.
 To order, and for more information, please go to http://www.patrickblindauer.com/shop.html


foodie 12:18 AM  

TIER was the first theme answer that revealed itself and I quickly tumbled to the TOP, BOTTOM, SIDE idea. Made things MUCH easier. But I then hit the D'Oh stage of solving, because I only considered the possible presence of a missing directional term in the vertical dimension, and when that did not materialize, thought it was only in the periphery and went on solving merrily. I actually got it all, although I thought some of the answers were odd... Like when I got AGED for in the 40's, I thought it's so old fashioned to think that 40's is aged, and Rex may not be pleased...

Strange to have early insight and then such a blind spot! But I've had a very strange day anyhow. I left work, headed to a mall to do some Christmas shopping, stopped first to grab a bite at a cafe and when the bill came, I realized I did not have my wallet! Left it at home last night when I was ordering stuff on line. I had to hang around looking nonchalant, ordering an extra drink, while waiting for puzzle husband to come rescue me from washing the dishes... Makes missing part of the theme seem downright intelligent!

I'm blaming it all on the 5 hour time shift upon returning from Hawaii (so sad to leave!).

syndy 12:20 AM  

I got the theme at TOPHAT- and then went round the outsides and jees louise I was thinking this needed a MIDDLE. D'OH. I do not understand the NOD answer at all and I think AESOP is not going to like 64 across.that said I liked this one and just glad RP did not post a picture of the sea cucumber. captha MEOUSE- what kitty says at the pitter patter of little feet!

foodie 12:23 AM  

BTW, Quick and Dirty Index put this, once again, at Medium Challenging. Yesterday turned out right. Let's see how it goes today.

Re yesterday's comments, So great of @Mac to host the Rexites for the tournament! I bet it will be great fun!

Jim 12:30 AM  

Boy am I rusty on these types of puzzles. 42 minutes, ISAY!!

Had manicotti for a long time (I think that's how you spell it). Made oh so much sense. I like my answer better.

Eventually got SALT TALKS when NY METS wouldn't fit. Also, had Roy instead of ORR for a while. What's the goalie one again? Oh yeah...the Vezina.

ORFF-GOSEE-EPODE-NOD? Wow, that was awful, especially since tape LOOP is not really anything, is it? Don't tell me it's some sound engineer or composer bullshit, 'cause I don't care. It's not in the vernacular...period. Pick a better clue.

And that NOD clue is pretty obscure.

Man, this was not much fun, but at least my head hurts, too. So I got that goin for me.

GILL I. 12:43 AM  

Wow, what an ingenious puzzle. Possibly, my favorite Thursday ever.
I was bouncing all around but it came together at TOP HAT and then SIDE CAR just smiled at me.
Favorite clue was 17A... although I did do a huh at REPERTOIRE. Never heard of EPODE but who cares.
I do agree with @foodie though about 40 being AGED?? Who says that?
A big Kudos to Jim Hilger; great puzzle.

Tita 12:52 AM  

Puzzle husband? Is that anything like Train wife?
Back when i was commuting to NY regularly, one of hte other regulars told me about them.
A train mate with whom you chat regularly enough that he/she can fulfill "traditional wifely duties"...that is, reminding you when it is time to register the car, get a present for your kid's graduation, etc. (As far as I know, that's as far as it went...)

Very fun puzzle. Like Rex, I thought HAT was a complete answer. Didn't get it until LAND - Aha - LOWLAND!! Which gave me UPPER TIER...
Well, it was the spark that eventually got me to the right theme.

Must agree with Jim about that really nasty combo, though not quite as colorfully... ;)

chefwen 1:41 AM  

After reading the note I caught onto the theme at once with top HAT and side SADDLE, whipped around the edges rather quickly. Bottom LAND and side WALL gave me pause but the rest was rather easy. Filling in the guts, not so easy but doable. Stop with the random Roman numerals already. Husband helped by giving me Tom Landry's choice of head wear.

Quite a fun puzzle, thank you Jim Hilger.

Avalon Coddle Mrsulu 2:11 AM  

Cool! I was glad for the paper's hint, because i only had 12, but note said there were 15... So i kept hunting till I got the middle stuff, but was confused because I thought MID EAST not MIDDLE EAST;
Same deal as I got TOP HAT but thought it was HIGH ROAD, so didn't get the SIDE thing, i thought the ROAD clue was part of theTOP or HIGH.

Anyway, from top to bottom, great!
I don't get the NOD clue either...

So if you went to the Michigan college, would that be your ALMA ALMA MATER?

Rube 2:16 AM  

Had the whole middle and NE of the puzzle finished when I suddenly saw the NOTE. Immediately put in (top)HAT, (top)TIER, (back)ROAD... Continued on around the perimeter -- fixing (side)ROAD along the way -- but only had twelve theme answers. Then (Middle)EAST made me feel a whole lot better about calling "In the 40s" AGED.

However, the SW still was mostly empty. Had no idea about a 4 letter Michigan college or who the "essayist" was. For that matter, did not know what or who a "Fabulist" was. HTG. Fabulist is now my WOTD. As for ELIA, I think I've seen this in the not too distant past... Aw hell, ELIA has been in the NYT 155 times since whenever, usually in re to Kazan, but often in re to Lamb. OK, I'll obviously have to remember this, and as Rex says, a 4letter essayist should be a gimme, (in the future for me).

Apparently ACME & I had somewhat the same solving experience. Could be because we're almost neighbors.

Alma Creams MMDI 2:39 AM  

Ps Moment of synchronicity, doing the puzzle while The Office repeats are on in the background...
Anyway, it's the episode where Dwight wants to apply to Cornell aka BIGRED.

Got it in the puzzle, but it's one of those answers i definitely didn't think i knew...wanted GUM, but now realize I've seen BIGRED, but if you had held a gun to my head ( don't get any ideas, Evil Doug) i would never have been able to name that kind of gum if told to name every kind of gum I've ever seen.

jae 2:56 AM  

I liked it a lot. A fine tricky Thurs. Again, I think foodie's QDI has it right at Med.-Challenging.

@andrea -- Me too for MIDEAST, mostly because aboard ship we called it the MIDWATCH. In fact, if you were going to stand a MIDWATCH you would often hit the mess deck for midrats (chow) before reporting for watch duty. MIDDLEDAGED (which is NOT 40s) fixed that problem.

Tobias Duncan 3:08 AM  

What a slog this was if you were too stupid to even look for a flipping theme. Did this one after doing some dancing out on the town and somehow though I was doing a themeless with very tricky cluing.
Did not catch the theme till I got here.

jae 3:50 AM  

OK, here is the best I could come up with for NOD:

6. ( intr ) to be momentarily inattentive or careless: even Homer sometimes nods

It took some digging.

Mike In Arlington 6:50 AM  

The puzzle has a howler to those of us conversant with political history. SALT stands for "Strategic Arms Limitation Talks" and thus, "SALT TALKS" is redundantly repetitive, so to speak.

Rex Parker 7:04 AM  

For those of us conversant in English, "redundantly repetitive" is redundantly repetitive.

Glimmerglass 7:29 AM  

@Gill. My pattern, too. Like Rex, I thought HAT and ROAD were complete answers. I balked a bit a SADDLE (well, maybe as opposed to bareback?), but saw the light with [SIDE]CAR. After that HAT and ROAD suddenly made sense, and the edges were easy. However, I was flummoxed by EAST as an oil source. It was only as I was explaining my disgust to my wife: "It should have been *Middle* East," that the light dawned. WATCH and maybe AGED (a bit insulting) could have been complete answers, but not EAST. Clever puzzle. An excellent Thursday offering, and without all the circles!

evil doug 8:19 AM  

Pointing out to this learned audience that "redundantly repetitive" is redundantly repetitive is redundantly repetitive.

Like Michael, I didn't see the note and we should have been left to our own devices to figure out the trick. It's Thursday---we expect these things.

The 'way less traveled' may be a road, but not a side road. That's called a side street.

Fedoras are cool, and it's a cool word. I think they fell out of fashion because JFK wasn't a hat guy, but I'm starting to see them more lately. Two rules: Don't carry a man bag if you wear one, and no urban sombreros.


evil doug 8:22 AM  

And ACME: I'm afraid of guns, so you're safe. Had to qualify with a .38 in the Air Force, and placed one round in the wooden frame above my head. The instructor and seven other guys on the range were running for cover.


Smitty 8:41 AM  

@Tobias Duncan. Don't feel bad - I did the same thing.

jackj 8:47 AM  

When it was clear that SADDLE needed to be (SIDE)SADDLE, to respond to the clue, I jotted down “side” outside the grid and immediately remembered my first experience with an out-of –the-grid-answers puzzle.

It was in 2005 when a fellow CRU commenter, with the impressive moniker, Courtenay Crocker III (as I remember, he only used the name Co when posting), surprised us all when a puzzle he constructed, (his first), was the Thursday Times offering on June 23 of that year.

And, it gave most of us absolute fits, until we sussed out the gimmick and even then we were left with mouths agape, as they say in xword land.

What he had given us was a puzzle which had the central “hint” entry of MANINOUTERSPACE, which made no sense to us until we realized that it meant for the word “man” to be written, outside the grid, before or after six separate answers, to complete the entry.

For example HANDLE needed the word MAN as the extra piece to make sense of the clue “Treat roughly” and MILITIA needed MAN added to respond to the clue “Old musket carrier”.

C.C. III’s puzzle was a five star beauty and so is Jim Hilger’s puzzle today.

Thanks, Jim for a great puzzle and for awakening a memory of an old friend from Connecticut who has unfortunately chosen to retire from the commenting and constructing game.

Anonymous 9:19 AM  

Medium-Challenging. Don't know how I (eventually) finished this without help since I didn't read the note and never spotted the theme. Some answers seemed odd but I managed to come up with them nonetheless. Fun-- in retrospect.

joho 9:27 AM  

Jim Hilger, this surely must go down as one of the best -- if not the best-- in your REPERTOIRE of crosswords.

I got the theme at (SIDE)SADDLE and gleefully went on from there. The last to make sense to me were the MIDDLE's as MIDWATCH and MIDEAST sounded right ... until MIDAGED set me straight. Before MIDDLEAGED showed up I thought calling the 40's AGED meant that I must be dead.

What a wonderful, wonderful puzzle!

Today you're the TOPBANANA, Jim, go put on your FEDORA and celebrate!

OldCarFudd 9:36 AM  

Evil Doug - Yes, there are side roads. They often are the old roads that now parallel interstates. Back roads are country roads that don't parallel major highways. I think of them as roads between Nowhere and East Nowhere. In New Jersey, where I live, they connect what were once settlements - around someone's general store or grist mill - that now are mostly forgotten. Side roads and back roads are a hoot to putter along on in my one-cylinder Cadillac, and I've put together many a tour on them for old car nuts.

Side STREETS, as you point out, are in towns and cities.

John V 9:38 AM  

Loved it! Read the note and immediately knew this had something to do with grid symentry. Once I saw TOP BANANA and SIDE BAR, the rest just flowed. Only way I figured you could get to 15 of anything meant you had to use the middle row/column. Important for me to read the note and remember 15. SIDE came with SIDE EFFECT. Knew somthing was up at 41A. You mean I had to come here to find out that 40s is middle aged? So then, what is TOP AGED, huh?

YouTube is blocked here at work, but Volare is forever burned into my brain. Love it.

Loved SALT TALKS, (which I well remember and remember them called just that), REPERTOIRE, ARREST, OWL as user of night vision (had spy at first). Great indirection at 40D, Overindulge.

@Tita, no Train Wives on the 7:26, just a platform Sextet -- in a manner of speaking.

GREAT Thursday, Jim Hilger!

dk 9:40 AM  

OMG. Feeling the SIDE EFFECTS of a rescue and recovery team x-mas party. I am sure i made every mistake that will appear in today's comments and then some.

I mean can not Albany mean "to trade." Lets ask Eliot... never mind.

That said once the fog cleared this was a great Thursday puzzle.

*** (3 Stars) Tobias - La Fonda for a Ramos Fizz?

@evildoug, we should not shoot together. When I was getting qualified I was raising my pistol using the required two handed grip and I put the first round in the floor a few feet in front of me. At least between the two of use we can cover the top and bottom

jberg 9:42 AM  

I, too, was halfway through the puzzle - and really stuck - when I noticed the note. After that, it was a breeze, with only momentary bumps:

1. Thinking WET LAND for 67A, so that the gimmick would be "add 3 letters of a nearby answer."

4. Had AssESs for 8D, and pagan for 5D, so I figured the Arsenal clue must refer to some kind of nOIsE their fans made after a goal. But once I saw the note, BANANA followed, and the rest fell into place.

3. I wanted dowN for 43D (words after count or let) - ignoring that words was plural. TERRE could have been TERRo, I figured, but finally got CREAMS.

4. I spent some time looking for "left" and "right" to put on the sides, but something gave it away - can't remember whether it was SADDLE or CAR.

I agree about the Roman numberals. At least this time I already had the I, which allows only one possible 26th century date.

jberg 9:43 AM  

Forgot to add that I didn't feel so bad about my writeovers, since "Even Jove NODS."

Anonymous 9:47 AM  

Am I the only one who, with the "-LKS" in place, put down "MOON/WALKS" for 29&30A (as in, Armstrong and Aldrin)? I was so sure that it was right, it slowed me down considerably until it became absolutely clear that the "MOON" was just untenable there.

r.alphbunker 9:48 AM  

I loved this puzzle. Like others, I finished without realizing that EAST, WATCH and AGED needed MIDDLE. I do remember thinking that this puzzle was aimed at the young crowd because to my mind 40 is not aged.

For "Way less travelled", I entered ROAD with just the D of 21A without feeling it was incomplete. SADDLE is what forced me to think about what was missing.

I think I could have solved the edges without the hint but I would have been cheated out of the MIDDLE aha experience.

Puzzle Girl used to have a blog on the LA Times puzzled http://latcrossword.blogspot.com/. She referred to her husband as puzzle husband. I never thought that she was implying that her husband did puzzles. Instead I thought of the adjective "puzzle" as her way of segueing from puzzles to the real world. I am not sure how @foodie was using the term. Perhaps she thin-fingered it and meant "puzzled" instead.

joho 9:51 AM  

LOL @dk ... we definitely need a pic of you and @evil doug at a shooting range!

Gareth Bain 10:19 AM  

From Arlo Guthrie's Alice's Restaurant Massacre, I'm told a reliable source:

"And we had never heard of a dump
closed on Thanksgiving before, and with tears in our eyes we drove off
into the sunset looking for another place to put the garbage.

We didn't find one. Until we came to a side road, and off the side of the
side road there was another fifteen foot cliff and at the bottom of the
cliff there was another pile of garbage"

John V 10:35 AM  

A real nit, perhaps, but should 47D, "Star Treck" helmsman, have indicated an abbreviation for Mister? This question is brought to you by a Star Trek virgin, trying to cross with a Roman Numeral.

Matthew G. 10:36 AM  

Picked up the theme at EFFECT and confirmed with a quick glance over at the clue for SADDLE. Then went through and filled in the rest of the theme answers pretty quickly (up till then, I'd had only part of BANANA, including the NA at the end, and thought maybe I was looking for a Spanish word for "captain" or "president").

Re: NOD, as jae explains, is a very (very very) old-fashioned way of saying "make a minor oversight." I understood it once I already had it from the crosses, but man, tough clue.

Matthew G. 10:39 AM  

@John V: SULU was almost always addressed by Captain Kirk as "Mister Sulu," not as "Lieutenant Sulu."

retired_chemist 10:43 AM  

Never saw the hint or the theme, just thought there were some strange clues. Finished without an error, which is surprising considering that a few of the answers without the added word CANNOT be correct.

Had REPERTOIRE off the *OI_E, erased it a couple of times, finally believed it. MICE instead of ANTS at first. Ditto ARMS for 34A FLUS. GESSO stayed, to mild surprise.

Non-puzzle wife lived in ALMA and had quite a few ALMA College student teachers do their student teaching with her.

Nice puzzle, Mr. Hilger.

Bob Kerfuffle 10:46 AM  

IMHO, this was a marvelous, marvelous puzzle, almost completely ruined by an unnecessary note. Just a glance at (top)HAT and I knew exactly what was going on and felt cheated of what would have been a tremendous aha! moment.

It reminds me of the boustrophedon puzzle, when I also happened to see a note which said something to the effect that "Something about this puzzle is really different." It just sucks out all the fun of discovering the trick for yourself.

@Anonymous 9:47 - Yes, I seriously considered Moon Walks, although I didn't put it in.

retired_chemist 10:48 AM  

@ John V. - MR. SULU was AFAIK always addressed exactly that way.

I bet there are enough trekkies commenting that this is by now redundantly repetitive.

Stan 10:50 AM  

A very successful puzzle. Liked the multiple theme reveals (oh, the missing part is TOP, but a starfish isn't a TOP feeder... etc.)

This is what a Thursday should be. Thanks, Jim.

John V 10:55 AM  

@Matthew G. Understand Mister Sulu, but, since the answer is MRSULU, wherein Mister is abbreviated, should this have been signaled in the clue -- or is this such common pop culture that it's obvious with the cross, albeit an roman numeral cross?

Two Ponies 11:07 AM  

This puzzle gave me one the best "aha" moments I can remember.
Some of the fill gave me fits though. Couldn't spell feng shui.
For once the random Roman numeral was welcome so I could get coddle. Abuser had me thinking of a different sort of over-indulgence.
@ evil doug and dk, Lets go out to the range together and sharpen those skills. I'll even let your shoot my "two ponies" (Matching Colt single action revolvers)
@ Rex, I think the repetitive redundancy was meant tongue-in-cheek.

Tita 11:10 AM  

@John V- maybe such a relationship requires a longer commute... I was living in Ridgefield then: ~2 hours!

@r.alph - hopefully foodie will clear this up for us...

BTW, I never was bothered by the Roman Numeral thing...I actually find it helpful.
I can usually pin an event down to the millenium, and if I'm lucky, a century range...
So - will start with an M, D, or C.
If "early", then V and/or I are likely.
Mid...L or X.
I mean, hey - not many clues narrow your fill choices down to 7 letters from 26... Plus, if you know how they work, you also know the impossible combinations.
In short, they are a puzzlers friend!

(OK, I realize they are kinda cheating from a construction point of view, but even that can be rescued by some clever cluing.
@r.alph - didn't you once post about "cool" clues for Roman numbers?)

retired_chemist 11:12 AM  

@ John V - I am on the common pop culture side. It's on a par with DR J, MR T, DR DRE, etc., IMO.

Jim Hilger 11:20 AM  

I submitted this puzzle to the Times back in Sept. of 2010, so it's been a long time getting to here. Thanks for all your comments. Informative, instructive, interesting. Some really funny ones. As always.

@Rex: A few months after I submitted this puzzle, I stumbled upon one in a NYT compilation book that could lay claim to being my puzzle's grand-daddy. It was by Trip Payne, on April 4, 2002. Check it out.

I'm north of sixty, so I hear all the pain for 40's = middle-aged. And, I didn't get the clue for NOD, either, at first.

mac 11:25 AM  

I found this one challenging, probably because I didn't read the Note. Had many huh? moments but only one real write-over: I had "cat" for the user of night vision.

Is 67A supposed to be bottom land or the more common lowland?

David 11:27 AM  

@Tita - I grew up in Ridgefield, lived there till about 1991, but still visit often, my Dad lives there and I still have a few friends who never left....

Superb puzzle - like others, got the theme at SIDESADDLE which was very quickly confirmed by SIDEEFFECT. I looked vertically down the middle for a theme but eventually realized that would be 18 answers, not 15. Agree with others that the Note up top was not needed. The theme answers were clever and simple enough to discover without a boost.

Had one big writeover which slowed me up considerably in the SW, ME IN over DOWN for 43D (Words after count or let). I was very confident in DOWN, it was one of the first clues I wrote in before discovering the theme.

Nancy 11:31 AM  

Finished it with great diffiulty. To me, much harder than "Medium". A clever puzzle, but can some one explain why "Make a little mistake" is NOD???? Got it but don't get it.

foodie 11:41 AM  

@Tita, what r.alphbunker said....I was using an old Rexville expression. Although my husband was certainly puzzled!

retired_chemist 11:42 AM  

@ mac - bottom land is a common term in the US for farmland near (e.g.) a river. I realize Nederland literally means lowland in Dutch, so I presume that is the expression you would have grown up with there.

r.alphbunker 11:44 AM  

A better clue for the roman numeral would have been "DCXXXIVth anniversary of the Stones's "Out of Time"

Found this on the Internet
3. To be careless or momentarily inattentive as if sleepy; lapse: Even Homer nods.

Wood 11:51 AM  

This was quite a challenge for me. Much harder than the average Thursday, although I guess I haven't been doing Thursdays that consistently. Very clever theme which it took me a long time to cotton to. Got (SIDE)CAR first, then (SIDE)WALL, and thought for a while it was all about SIDE. Once I figured out TOP, BOTTOM and MIDDLE came very quickly. Still, there were big empty chunks. Had ESCARGOTS for the shell dish, which hurt. BINGER instead of ABUSER. GMAN instead of TMAN which made WET ONES hard to see. WAMPUM for the Algonquin capital, thinking I was being very very clever. Tons of clever misdirection in the clues which I consider more Friday- or Saturday-like. Still managed to get the whole thing without help, but only in 1:07. Ouch!

imsdave 11:55 AM  

Very little to say, but needed to chime in. I got the theme at (side)SADDLE, and from there, what was looking like a loooong solve turned into a race.

Kudos to Mr. Hilger for this wonderful puzzle.

Off to try the "grand-daddy" puzzle.

syndy 11:55 AM  

@ nancy YES any people did

chefbea 12:03 PM  

Found this difficult and DNF. Came here and still didn't realize that middle was part of it.

Love taco salad!!Making pasta salad for tonight's dinner to go along with hamburgers

Noam D. Elkies 12:06 PM  

Neat concept. Got the theme from the [bottom] up. The newspaper (and presumably also the notepad) clue promised 15 theme entries, so it was clear there would be some [middle] or [center] action too. Still a bit of a surprise (though it makes sense for the constructor) to have the [middle] entries spread out over the Equator rather than bunched together in middle-earth. So at first I tried AULD for 41A:AGED, and then wondered what all my fellow 40-somethings would make of the actual entry. "middle-aged", that's closer, at least in the literal sense (given an 80+ year life expectancy).

One mistake: BEGONES for 53A:WET_ONES, forming [side]BALL(?) at 53D and T_MAN for G_MAN at 55D. I was thinking of this (yes, a real product — I've used it).

Took a while to understand what kind of "doc" is clued in 44A:IOU; it's not the kind that populates ICU's.

25D:ABUSER is better than 34A:FLUS, but it's hard to complain about either of them in a 3x6 stack containing two intersecting theme entries and also partly abutting the 9-letter 35D:STARBOARD. No reason to complain about 46A:TERRE either, I think, since "terre verte" is a specific thing like "terra cotta". Which reminds me: seeing 43D:MEIN in the grid caused something of a double-take, because it was clued as a two-word partial ME_IN and I didn't recognize it later. (xwordinfo reports it's been clued also as a single word, following Chow and preceding Kampf(!), but never simply as a Potsdam possessive.) Oh, and another foreign-language clue 19A:CARA could also have been "caro" so had to await the theme entry 13D:[side]ROAD.

Yes, 29/30A: SALT_TALKS is redundant, like your personal PIN number. [That theme was done 10 years ago.]

Over and 68A:OUT,

Mike in Arlington (by way of Claremont) 12:36 PM  

Thank you, two ponies. Of course "redundantly repetitive" was tongue in cheek. An early morning momentary lapse of reason by our magnificent host and fellow Sagehen...unless his shot at me was also an ironic construction. So I hope.

600 12:54 PM  

Hands up for wish there hadn't been a note. It did undercut a great "aha" moment, as noted by @Bob Kerfuffle. I wish I hadn't seen it.

Thank you a thousand times, @jae, for sussing out how NOD is a little mistake. It was driving me crazy. (Others have answered too, now, but it was good to have the answer early!)

@mac--Down here in Georgia bottomLAND is way more common than lowland. Must be regional. (Ah--I see retired_chemist has already pointed this out.)

Got the theme at (side)EFFECT and all was well from then on.

Mostly came here today to say how much I enjoyed the story about MANINOUTERSPACE. Thanks, @jackj!

(This is the first day in weeks I've done the puzzle on the same day it appeared; holidays do screw with one's normal schedule--well, at least with mine. But I have enjoyed reading the blog days late--loved the kerfuffle over Will Shortz retirement! Thanks for that, @Tobias.)

As for today's puzzles, huge kudos to @Jim Hilger. Really a fun solve.

captcha fatter--What I hope the holidays won't make me.

demit 12:56 PM  

What's weird or awkward about the clue 'green earth pigment'? Seems straightforward to me. Even if you're not an artist and don't know the names of pigments.

KarenSampsonHudson 1:05 PM  

Zippity-quick for me on this one, really clicked for some reason; good Thursday puzzle for crazy-busy holiday season day.

Eddie D 1:07 PM  

How is 40s not middle aged?

Anonymous 1:08 PM  

i finished fairly quickly but only realized the missing sides thus some of my correct answers were puzzling such as tier. i wondered why there were so few theme answers. doh! i am feeling pretty good this week having solved m-t-w-th. let's see what tomorrow brings.

Methuselah 1:14 PM  

@Eddie D - I believe most of the comments regarding the 40s were from folks reflecting their reactions before they realized the full answer was "Middle AGED'; i.e., they thought the puzzle was calling people in their 40s AGED, somewhat a different thing.

mac 1:23 PM  

Thanks, @ret-chem!

John V 1:27 PM  

@Meth: I know I had a reaction to Middle AGED earlier, but I can't remember what it was.

archaeoprof 2:42 PM  

What ever happened to 40 being the new 30??

Fun puzzle.

@Two Ponies: we're the gang that can't shoot straight.

Lewis 2:56 PM  

Some people felt robbed of the aha moments because of the note.

Others had terrific aha moments despite the note, and the note rewarded others by revealing that just going around the edges wasn't enough -- it would have even helped rp in that regard.

I'm guessing that if there were no note, some would have complained that one was needed.

So, for Will, sounds like damned if you do, damned if you don't...

fergus 3:09 PM  

Finally giving up on KAHUNA where BANANA lay, figuing it must be in Spanish. Then even when I had the B for BAR, I figured that was referring to musical notes. 12 externals was good enough for me ... since I found this very clever, yet a bit clunky. Not as elegant as the THINK outside the box puzzle of several years ago.

NOD = Make a little mistake
OK, looked it up, but accept only grudgingly.

fergus 3:11 PM  

... Yet on further examination, it's pretty damn smooth.

GILL I. 3:12 PM  

After my morning REPERTOIRE, I'm finally able to enjoy reading all the comments.
@joho: "I must be dead" will now be my favorite 40's phrase.
@Two Ponies: I can't get an "Annie Get Your Gun" image out of my head and then seeing both @Evil Doug and @dk running for cover.
@mac from yesterday: What a gracious invitation to Rexdom. If I still lived back East I'd love to go and rub elbows with this gang....
@Jim Hilger: I always enjoy an author stopping by. I still stand by my "best Thursday ever."

alma cara michaels 3:52 PM  

Maybe the whole nod = mistake thing is related to bobble, isn't bobble also to make a little mistake... And bobble heads nod?

Actually i just popped back in here to alert folks to Patrick Blindauer's musical puzzlefest...helped test solve so I can say it's a lot of fun!

DigitalDan 4:08 PM  

Jim @ 12:30 AM:

Tape Loops are common in consumer receiver/amplifiers, or at least were in the past. You install both the inputs and outputs of a tape recorder to the tape loop connections. When tape loop is engaged, the ordinary audio source selection is routed to the recorder, and the recorder's output is routed to the speakers, etc. You can thus monitor recording quality in real time, or even with the proper planning record one thing while hearing another. So even for the non-techie audio enthusiast, a pretty familiar term.

sanfranman59 4:36 PM  

Midday report of relative difficulty (see my 8/1/2009 post for an explanation of my method):

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

Thu 22:13, 19:01, 1.17, 82%, Challenging

Top 100 solvers

Thu 11:17, 9:18, 1.21, 84%, Challenging

I got the 'top', 'side' and 'bottom' part of the theme almost immediately, but didn't catch the 'middle' part until I read Rex's write-up. Like him, I just thought those were awful clues. I'm pleasantly surprised by today's metrics since my solve time fell right in the middle of my Easy-Medium Thursday range. Anytime I'm within shouting distance of the Top 100 is a banner day for me (I'm currently 103).

Noam D. Elkies 4:47 PM  

@Archeoprof: Well 30 *used* to be middle-aged back when life expectancies were around 60...

—NDE (captcha = elarkesi, two extra letters away from an anagram of my surname)

fergus 5:03 PM  

Just thinking about a related puzzle that had Top, Bottom, Up, Down, Charm and Strange. How broadly would that appeal to the usual audience?

JenCT 5:54 PM  

I never even noticed the Note, so it didn't spoil my solve at all!

Ended up jumping around the grid; when I got CAR for brandy drink, I said, no, it's a SideCAR - that was my aha moment, and then I was able to go back and complete the grid.

Took me a while, but a fun puzzle, thanks Jim Hilger.

Anonymous 7:38 PM  

Here's a link to the MAN IN OUTER SPACE puzzle: http://www.cruciverb.com/data.php?op=showpuzzle&puzzle_id=9386

CoffeeLvr 7:39 PM  

Finally getting here, after a day of visiting and shopping. Liked the puzzle a lot. Needed the Note.


sanfranman59 10:02 PM  

This week's relative difficulty ratings. See my 8/1/2009 post for an explanation. In a nutshell, the higher the ratio, the higher this week's median solve time is relative to the average for the corresponding day of the week.

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

Mon 6:59, 6:51, 1.02, 63%, Medium-Challenging
Tue 7:58, 8:52, 0.90, 20%, Easy
Wed 12:16, 11:48, 1.04, 63%, Medium-Challenging
Thu 22:18, 19:01, 1.17, 82%, Challenging

Top 100 solvers

Mon 3:49, 3:40, 1.04, 71%, Medium-Challenging
Tue 4:35, 4:34, 0.96, 44%, Medium
Wed 6:29, 5:51, 1.11, 80%, Challenging
Thu 10:33, 9:17, 1.14, 78%, Medium-Challenging

Z 10:08 PM  

Liked the puzzle.
Pro Note.
Believe we have now seen the randomest Roman Numeral.

Tita 10:12 PM  

I just finished the 6/23/05 puzzle.

Ummm...thanks, I think, to those who mentioned it, though woulda been fun to say "If y'all liked this one, you should try Courtney Crocker's gem from 2005..." without revealing the details.

Well, would not have known of its existance at all without these mentions, so how can I complain...
(I did squint and quickly scroll past jackj's incredibly detailed spoiler...!)

And yes - it was quite lovely too!

william e emba 3:18 PM  


Peter Gordon was the constructor for the 12/09/2001 NYT Sunday diagramless. Its theme was the six quark flavors, and "quark" was also the theme revealer. Here's the filled-in grid with the clues.

It was probably a 17x17 diagramless because of the difficulty of fitting six long theme answers in a full 15x15 grid.

Deb 6:28 PM  

From syndi-land where this puzzle showed up in my local newspaper a day early, I'm just popping in to report that five weeks later (this is the first puzzle I did in "real" time on my iPad) the puzzle was practically new again. I didn't even come close to racing through it even though I had solved it before.

Red Valerian 1:41 PM  

Argh--blog ate my post. I'll try to reconstruct. (Obviously, I'm fully engaged in work avoidance.)

@Deb--tee hee. I hope you didn't have an identical "Aha!" moment.

Not only did 40D ("Overindulge") misdirect me, so did 35 D ("Port alternative"). And I got ABUSER right away. Uh-oh.

Had never heard BOTTOMLAND, but the comments convince me it's legit. SIDEROAD completely legit to my ear. Got NOD from crosses.

The clue for 46A (_____ verte (green earth pigment)) is redundantly repetitive, which I gather was @RP's point.

My previous captcha: deldedr... dat I got de flu.

Simpy Ignoble Ron 2:21 PM  

I vote to remove the crown from RP, placing it on the head of Mr.J. Hilger. This was one of the best ever puzzles in the Kingdom. I've seen excellent up and down answers before but nothing to compare with Mr. Hilger's geste. I would like to be a Knight of Hilger's Grid table.

Waxy in Montreal 3:01 PM  

It might affect the NAP of your (TOP) HAT or FEDORA but syndisolvers within a few hundred kilometres of OTTAWA might want to visit now to skate on the Rideau Canal, the world’s longest skating rink. The beautiful iceway extends 7.8-kilometres and runs through the heart of the capital. AS TO food, TACO SALAD and BIG REDS are hard to find along the Rideau but there's no shortage of beavertails to TASTE. (But bring lots of WET ONES with you.) TOP TIER attraction, I SAY!

subuto - Subaru reply to the Avalon?

Dirigonzo 4:11 PM  

I tend to like puzzles when I catch on to the theme early (which I could not have done without the note) and use it to ride through the grid to the finish line, as I did today. It took way too long for this old salt (not to be confused with SALT)to see that the Port alternative was a nautical reference - I really need to go sailing soon! Best clue for me was "Boom-causing, perhaps" for SUPERSONIC. Didn't know ORFF or NOD so would not have finished without Tom Landry's trademark FEDORA.

Nice to see @Deb and @Waxy, two of the very earliest regular visitors to Rexville, still commenting here today.

Pippin 4:50 PM  

Late to the party as usual - what a clever puzzle! I didn't notice the note until halfway through when I was looking at _IER beside HAT (which I knew should be TOP HAT, having seen many old movies) and suddenly the "TOP" TIER fell into place and the race was on.

I always thought it was "Strategic Arms Limitation TREATY" that the SALT "TALKS" led up to??????

Today seems warm compared to yesterday's -40, only -26!!

billygoo - no comment necessary!

Anonymous 4:55 PM  

Boy, AGED had me feeling washed up until I hit upon the final three theme answers in the "middle".

Got the theme early (SIDE EFFECT) and solved with not much trouble, but I had actually given up looking for the missing three and came here to find out if "15" was a typo. Then, literally the moment I clicked "syndicated puzzle" those middle answers clicked in my head.

Middle Aged. I can live with that.

Dirigonzo 4:57 PM  

I just scanned the comments from May 2007 and did not notice any new arrivals who are current Rexville regulars. There seemed to be a developing sense of community among the commenters, and @Linda G said, "It takes a village of bloggers to explain a puzzle." There was also lot of excitement about the appearance of DCUPS in a puzzle - didn't it (they?) just appear in a recent puzzle?

@Pippin - I vow never to complain about the cold weather here in Maine again! (Well, unless it hits -40, I mean.)

wcutler 5:21 PM  

@Gareth Bain: thanks for the Arlo Guthrie quote, which brought back such great memories that I've bought the album.

@Bob Kerfuffle: I agree with you about the spoiler, but were it not for that, I'd have missed the middle clues entirely without knowing I was missing anything. Just a hint that there are 15 theme answers would been less of a spoiler.

Anonymous 6:23 PM  

Spacecraft here. Hand up for ADDICT, and for "key__" being a bad clue for FOB; that caused a slight delay in the west. Didn't particularly like FLUS, either. One FLU is quite enough to handle.
Unusual to have a puzzle whose four longest answers are NOT part of the theme. I got it after filling in MRSULU (yeah I'm a Trekkie and proud of it), which seemed to leave OUT for 68a. That was a head-wrinkler--for just a moment till my eyes traveled next door and found a couple of bottom-FEEDERs in the clue there.
A really nice offering,I thought, excepting that western mess and yet another damnable Roman numeral. Let's call it a thumb 7/8ths of the way up.

rain forest 1:03 AM  

I guess there was a note or hint for some, but my paper didn't publish one. However, I thought "top" was inferred with 1A and also 7A, so I immediately flashed to the bottom row and picked off those, then the sides. Wasn't looking for a middle but with East and Watch, it became clear. With those in the bag, the rest was relatively easy. Disappointed that Rex didn't see the obvious irony in the "reduntantly repetitive" comment, but who's perfect? Getting tired of Rex saying "this has been done before", or "I think this has been done before".

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