Surfer wannabe / WED 12-21-11 / Bygone Toyota sedan / Texas/Louisiana border river / William Tell's canton / Musical with Mungojerrie Jennyanydots

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Constructor: Ron and Nancy Byron

Relative difficulty: Medium

 THEME: NOEL (69A: Seasonal song ... or a phonetic hint to 18-, 23-, 37-, 52- and 59-Across) — DESCRIPTION

Word of the Day: Saint Philip NERI (63A) —
Saint Philip Romolo Neri (Italian: Filippo Neri) (July 21, 1515 – May 25, 1595), also known as Apostle of Rome, was an Italian priest, noted for founding a society of secular priests called the "Congregation of the Oratory". (wikipedia)
• • •
[FOR MY READERS IN SYNDICATION: It's pledge week here at the Rex Parker site (thru Sat.) —read my pitch for donations in the opening paragraphs of Sunday's write-up, here ... and thanks for your faithful readership (and the many kind messages I've received so far)]

• • •
If you'd like to know what I think of this theme, I refer you to the last time this theme (this EXACT theme) appeared in the NYT—Christmastime, just four years ago, in a puzzle constructed by David J. and Steve Kahn.

Cruciverb database search for PUP FICTION turns up two recent puzzles with the missing "L" concept. I'll say it again. Check your theme answers check your theme answers check your theme answers. I must say, however, that Will is far more to blame for this replication of a very recent theme than the constructors are. This theme is so screamingly obvious that you'd think he'd at least have run the tiniest background check. I knew I'd done puzzles like this before as soon as I hit "NOEL," and I'm not paid to keep track of such things.

The puzzle's theme could also be "Bygone"—as in 11D: Bygone Toyota sedan (CRESSIDA) and 28D: Bygone Fords (LTDS) and this puzzle has been done before and it reeks of yesterday's crosswordese ([William Tell's canton] etc. etc.).

[Speaking of bygone ...]

Theme answers:
  • 18A: Movie about La Brea Tar Pits' formation? ("THE BIG SEEP")
  • 23A: Movie about a Nobel-winning chemist? ("THE ION KING")
  • 37A: Movie about Wall Streeters' excesses? ("CASH OF THE TITANS")
  • 52A: Movie about the early life of Lassie? ("PUP FICTION")
  • 59A: Movie about the memoirs of the Duke? ("WAYNE'S WORD")
  • 58A: Nonsense word said while pointing a finger (J'ACCUSE!) 
  • 8D: Texas/Louisiana border river (SABINE) — rings a faint, crossword bell, but I needed every cross.
  • 36A: Surfer wannabe (HODAD) — er ... uh ... OK. Again, the crossword bell is faint. I wanted HAOLE.
  • 37D: Musical with Mungojerrie and Jennyanydots ("CATS") — musical in four letters with some dumbass character names? Sure, I got that.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Jeffrey 12:11 AM  

I've been doing some old puzzles and then reading your posts. I did the 2007 version exactly three days ago. At least that one had original Lois Lane NOEL NEILL as the reveal.


syndy 12:24 AM  

Boy the french immersion lessons are paying off!I"M no fool no SOIREE!9 I'm gonna live to a hundred and three.cause I eat dirt! BUT they are all movie titles -very consistent.the SYNONYMS made me look-KOREA is VERY topical and HEY it's CHRISTMAS time and WIL likes a good NOEL puzzle

pk 12:51 AM  

Hate to think about how much effort went into this theme.

Just never heard of 27D "The Plague" setting or 54D "Mortise's mate."

Those were the only two I actually circled. Until I came here.

J'accuse is not a nonsense word, it's a real word, although I appreciate the pic, Rex.

GILL I. 12:55 AM  

The Oxford Dictionary cites 171,476English words in current use. According to the Global Language Monitor, there are "exactly 988,968 words in English." Take your pick...
Agreeing fully with @Rex since I kept scratching my head and wondering why the same, same, same words keep appearing in just too many recent puzzles.
No wonder I get excited about a word I've never heard of popping up from time to time. At least, I'll look it up (and probably forget it).
I wish there were something besides HODAD and SCRIM that excites me. Just not in the cards tonight. ENUF said, I guess.

jae 1:05 AM  

Henry Hook also did this theme in a Sun. BG about a year ago.  Right around the time Rex was on his anti-pangram crusade (rant).  Seems like Henry may have been paying attention.    Unfortunately, I have no idea how to find it on my IPad.

Easy-med. for me.  No real problems/write overs.  So- so Wed.

Tobias Duncan 1:05 AM  

As a new slover, I have no problem with recycled themes.This one was a bit of a slog for me though.Quite a few things I have never heard of.
Med Challenging for me.
I love using old timey hipster slang but I dont think I will be able to work HODAD into my shtick.

Will Shortz (yes, it's me) 1:40 AM  


Since you called me out by name today, for my supposed lax standards, I hope you'll pardon me for responding.

Regarding repeated theme ideas ... I don't mind an occasional repeat, after several or more years, if the theme examples are mostly or completely new and the puzzle is otherwise well made.

Bear in mind that you, and most of the readers here, are not typical solvers. You remember old puzzles that most people don't (or never saw in the first place). You're also younger and much more skilled than average NY Times solvers.

I think it's unrealistic to expect every Times crossword to be based on a brilliant new idea 365 days a year, year in and year out. Of course I know that NOEL ("no L") is an old idea. It was old when I started making and editing crosswords in the mid-'70s. But on occasion I think a fresh take on an old idea, like today's theme, is acceptable.

Over the past few months I've noticed that you've disliked the vast majority of the Times crosswords, even ones that were generally liked by others. Of course you're welcome to your opinion, and your write-ups are fun, thoughtful, and sometimes insightful. That's why I read them.

But the Times puzzles tend to be by the top constructors in the country, and I think I know a thing or two about editing. So when day after day you dislike the Times puzzle, I just think the problem is not the puzzle.

Back to today's crossword ... it probably won't appear in my next book of favorites. But I think average solvers will enjoy it, and I stand by it.

Will Shortz

chefwen 1:54 AM  

Thought it was O.K. but it certainly did have a familiar ring to it.

Had EAT crow before EAT DIRT, SCRIM was new to me (or forgotten). My two smiling points were thinking about @retired_chemist at 23A and 52A. We need more puppy pictures.

@Rex - Surfer wannabe, Haole?

Anonymous 2:16 AM  

Thanks for responding, Mr. Shortz. It distresses me to see you and your editorial judgement personally trashed here day after day. In my view, NYT puzzles continue to be the best. In fact, they get better every year. I presume you have something to do with that. So, regardless of what our trash-talking host says, know that you and your puzzles have many fans who admire the effort and skill that go into each of them.


Acerb Cressida Maoris 2:31 AM  

Loved the film titles!
Couldn't believe how many words I didn't know on a Wed!
Didn't know HODAD, NICENE, SABINE, NERI, TENON (last two was almost a Natick for me)...
I almost had to EATDIRT...WAH!
(also thought about crow and Oman...)

Actually i would spell it WAAAAH.

Is HODAD from Dobie Gillis? Or is that HODADDY?
HODAD could have been HIDAD, but it's usually HIMOM, i guess because folks don't always know whose your daddy.

Other huge writeover was moolah for DINERO, which is an anagram for DENIRO. DENIRO DINERO... "Taxi Driver" fare?
Has THAT theme been done? @Rex? @Will? ;)

Acme ps 2:44 AM  

Found it! Google the YouTube Bob Denver Hodaddy!!!

foodie 2:48 AM  

Always interesting to hear from Will Shortz!

I totally understand the argument that there aren't an infinite number of themes, and the take on a repeated theme can be novel---as Andrea pointed out yesterday in response to my comment about repetition, there are many ways to split a pea...

But I guess my question is whether it's then fair to expect greater stringency in order to make the repetition feel worthwhile-- e.g. very little overlap in the theme answers with the previous one, a particularly fresh approach, very little crosswordese. If it's a repeat and we are giving up on the sense of discovery, it would be good for something else to make up for it. May be a repeated theme puzzle should be good enough to be a strong contender as one of Will's favorite puzzles.

Even though I don't always agree with Rex (and I tend to be more impressed than he is), he typically captures the essence of my reaction to the puzzle, or underscores some aspect that I had not considered. I believe that his critiques and high expectations are very good for puzzledom. I agree with Will that the write ups are fun, thoughtful and insightful, and they are that way because they are not constrained.

JaxInL.A. 2:50 AM  

I hardly know how to follow a post by Will Shortz himself, but I'm going to be presumptuous and venture a response,
Will. I'm a daily NYT solver and I'm deeply grateful for all you have done to provide word fans with such high quality amusement for so many years. You may be a victim of your own success, though, having raised the bar for puzzle quality. Top notch independent constructors like Brendan Emmett Quigley, Matt Jones, Patrick Berry, Liz Gorski and Andrea Carla Michaels have also contributed to our expectations for excellence.

I come here nearly every day for Rex's thoughts, visual commentary and wit. Yeah, he can get pretty snarky (especially lately), but after about two years of reading I know his standards and I do my own mental adjustment. Possibly the most valuable lesson I have learned from regular attendance here is that there is no single "right" opinion about a puzzle.

I appreciate all that Rex offers to his little realm, day in and day out, in the way of amusement, edification and community space.

A while back, someone (@r.alphbunker?) did an informal analysis of how he thought Rex's write-up on that day's puzzle affected the comments. Clearly Rex has an influence, but we still manage to have our own opinions. And we have our own relentlessly positive ACME to balance Rex when he goes over the top.

Thanks, Will, for caring enough to read and comment.

As for today's puzzle, I looked at the constructor as soon as I got a few entries in because this had a personality that felt unusual to me. I remember (after looking it up on Xword Info) the Byron's Mixed Media puzzle on 2/1/2011. I actually liked the cross of NERI/TENON because I knew them. To each his/her own. It was a fine Weds for me.

Anonymous 3:53 AM  

Sadly, I don't get dinero = do-re-mi

Eejit 4:04 AM  

I found the difficulty level on this one to be difficult. Lots of stuff I struggled with. It's pretty cool to see Mr Shortz on here, never seen that before in my brief time here (except when he announced his retirement of course).

I wouldn't worry too much about Mr Parker's negativity though, that's fairly standard. He's obviously a clever man, but there's many types of clever, and few have more than a couple. I come here primarily for the comments anyway.

Anonymous 4:57 AM  

Boy is this week starting off horribly. Just another example of a puzzle that reeks of old age. I mean I know John Wayne was "the duke" but is that really the best "Wayne" you can come up with. Come on step into the 21st century!

Not to mention anyone can see the theme from a mile away. And I've only been doing these puzzle a few years.

Anonymous 6:14 AM  

@Anonymous, 3:53: Do-re-mi is old slang for money. About the only place I've ever heard it used that way is the Woody Guthrie song about Okies: "California is a garden of Eden, / A paradise to live in or see, / But believe it or not, you won't find it so hot, / If you ain't got the do-re-mi."

Anonymous 6:42 AM  

Will, you have to try to please millions of people. Rex only has to address his clique of cronies. Each day they try to out arrogant each other -- makes me laugh. BUT, it is his blog and he gets to be as pompous and snarky as he wants. I wish he would be a little more teacherly and less condescending, but I don't have to read the blog. I can just look at the completed puzzle, then move on with my day.

Ruth 6:58 AM  

A reference for HODAD: the song "Hard Lovin Loser" by Richard Farina:

He's the kind of surfer got a hodaddy haircut and you wonder how he'll ever survive.

(I was thinking about chiming in to defend this puzzle but Will Shortz did and now I don't have to!)

Anonymous 7:02 AM  

Thanks, Will, for your side of what seems to be a debate of worthiness. I enjoy reading Rex's blog, and the comments of those who puzzle against the clock.

Which is my reason for finally commenting here. Just solve the puzzle and enjoy the mental challenge. Do it in 5 minutes; do it in two days. Deosn't matter.

If words or themes occured in the what? You still have to give props to the constructor for his or her effort and ingenuity.

I dislike stupid words, nonsense words and made-up words. If a clue can be discerned with a 50 year or less reference hint...go for it.

Sports clues are legitimate since sports is a part of our society's entertainment. No more bitching about them, please.

The object of it all is to have fun. Thanks Will and thanks Rex.

Oscar 7:35 AM  

Well-made?! The fill is complete garbage. If you can't fill a puzzle cleanly, maybe a few less theme entries would be a good idea. And if this is fresh - hoo-wee! This has probably been sitting around since the *first* "Clash of the Titans" movie.
And no: the NYT puz is not the best; it's been resting on its laurels for quite some time now.

jberg 7:46 AM  

One of the many advantages of being 68 is that my memory of the previous use of this theme is vague, at best - so I enjoyed it this time around, mostly because of the great theme answers. C'mon, how can you not love THE ION KING? Or the rest of them, for that matter. That made up for URI and YSER, for me.

A few writeovers: pOkE for NOSE (10D), SAlINa for SABINE (8D), and ONE Nt for ONE NO (43A); but ghe crosses fixed them all up. I also remembered TAMA Janowitz as TAMAr, (see first sentence) but that wouldn't go in.

One question, though: what is the DSO (48A)? I've heard of the DSC, but what does the O stand for?

ArtO 8:08 AM  

If nothing else after a "medium challenging" for me Wed, the appearance by Will and various opinions provided satisfying reading. Thanks to all.

Anonymous 8:10 AM  

I liked this puzzle - just enough of a Wednesday challenge before heading to work. Thanks to Will for weighing in.

Anonymous 8:13 AM  

Also similar to the 7-27-11 puzzle ...

Matthew G. 8:19 AM  

I agree with Will that the occasional theme do-over is fine, especially around holiday time when average solvers expect it.

That said, I didn't like this puzzle because of the terrible fill. I was Naticked in two separate spots: by HODAD/ORAN and TENON/NERI. In the case of the former, it was more than a mere Natick--HOD_D looked so improbable regardless of what vowel I put there that I was sure that I must have something else wrong, such as perhaps GO TO. But no, it was '50s surfer slang decades before my time. No Chance.

Now that I look up TENON, I think I vaguely recall seeing it in a crossword once before, but Mortise, which sounds like a name, got me nowhere.

r.alphbunker 8:21 AM  


Twasn't me. The analyses that I attempt involve timestamped keystrokes. Sounds like something that Evil Doug would do. He studied psychology in school. :-)

There is a saying that all progress is made by the unreasonable. Perhaps that is what RP is attempting. Or perhaps he is planning a mockumentary a la Joaquin Phoenix.

Doing an early week NYT crossword puzzle is like reading the cartoons in the New Yorker. You may not think that all are funny but there is always something to enjoy. I thought the theme answers were funny and I had no recollection of any of them although I did know that I had done a NOEL puzzle before. And I liked the prim and proper clue because I like clues that leave out quotations marks.

Glimmerglass 8:25 AM  

Thanks, Mr. Shortz, for your comments. Thanks, Rex, for your blog, which is usually entertaining. Hope you're feeling better since you had that snark removed.

evil doug 8:35 AM  

“Over the past few months I've noticed that you've disliked the vast majority of the Times crosswords, even ones that were generally liked by others…So when day after day you dislike the Times puzzle, I just think the problem is not the puzzle.”

The real Will sounds a lot like the ersatz ‘Will’ who generated over a hundred comments a couple weeks back. Mark this day; as I said then:

“So since his input is limited to his opening commentary, I think he must figure it's his only chance to fully unload. I've got to believe he's feeling some burnout, too. He sees the same stuff day after day with rare exception. He does even the hardest (for us) puzzles in three minutes or so. Hard to imagine there's much thrill in continuing what once was such a novel site…I suspect ere long that he'll be handing the keys to someone else to carry on his work here.”

When an airliner loses power---say, an engine fails---it automatically does some “load shedding”. The movie stops, half the lights go dark, one of the air conditioners shuts down---a variety of non-essential users of power fail so that the really critical electrical equipment doesn’t. This rather acerb but honest commentary by Will may be the catalyst that sends Michael on his Tweeting way. He’ll look in the mirror, consider his priorities and his combat fatigue, and start to conclude he needs to shed some load of his own. There’s no shame in this---he’s served valiantly and reliably for a long time---but he’s entitled to a break if he deems it necessary.


SethG 8:35 AM  

Yah, I remembered the July one instead of the 2007 one, and I disliked this for the awful fill.

Awfill, Andrea? (I'm just kidding...we already use way too much insider blog lingo...)

joho 8:35 AM  

Loved J'ACCUSE! as I'd written in the margin next to EENIE ... you have to point your finger when you say this?

The fact that all theme answers were tied together by being movies was really nice. I also enjoyed the phrases created and didn't remember doing the previous puzzle.

Did not know SABINE, SAO (Tome), NERI or (Sastre) INES but got all easily with crosses.

@jberg, had pOkE before NOSE, too.

While I agree that @Rex has been particularly negative recently, it's his right and his blog. How lucky we are to have this place to read everybody's comments including, amazingly, Will Shortz'! I really appreciated hearing his thoughts and applaud him for his efforts, always.

mac 8:47 AM  

Tough little Wednesday puzzle, I wondered if I had Christmas brain, I needed so many crosses for so many words...

Never heard of hodad, that's one ugly word. Do to death needed some staring, and hadn't I just learned to remember Tami?

No Naticks, though, everything was gettable. I enjoyed seeing "thin ice" slowly(!) appear.

Thanks everybody, interesting puzzle morning.

a guy 8:49 AM  

Evil, you're an an ass every day and it's just, what, "your thing"?, but Rex needs to stop writing because a bunch of people who still consider him required daily reading disagree with him sometimes?

Feel free to like puzzles Rex doesn't like. Also, feel free to dislike puzzles Rex likes. He's never stopped people from disagreeing with him, even when they feel the need to both disagree and berate him for it.

Anonymous 8:55 AM  

It's a Wednesday and it's the holiday season, so I am surprised by the tone of the commentary and Will's sharp (groan, the Devil said it, not me) retort. No puzzle is worth that kind of stress. Lighten up, fellas. Tis the season to be jolly.

PS Captcha ANGSTio. No kidding.

DESievers 9:01 AM  
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DESievers 9:02 AM  
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DESievers 9:03 AM  

It is true that Rex has become quite curmudgeonly and hypercritical of the puzzle of late, but then, I'm not really looking for him to become the Mister Rogers of puzzledom. And it's his blog. But perhaps he should bear in mind that the grousings of a crab do become tiresome before long. Much as I hate to say it, late George Carlin was far less enjoyable to me than early George Carlin ... why? Because later in life (sorry to say) he had become an old crab (still, I miss his wit and talent terribly). Lighten up, Rex. And Will, thanks for the daily puzzles and the job you do--I cannot even imagine doing such a job day after day.

jesser 9:14 AM  

Although my new work schedule and some other complications have greatly curtailed my postings, I saw Rex say on Facebook that Will had stopped by. I think this will be a good discussion. And WOW, do I agree with @a guy on his first few lines. But, feeling Christian and imbued with the spirit, I wish everyone a Merry Whatever You Celebrate, and I hope everyone's holidays are filled with The Good Stuff (however you define that).

Whacker 9:16 AM  

FWIW i enjoyed today's puzzle even if some answers were a bit silly... THEBIGSEEP..

Once you have two EEs the answer seems to always be EENIE...

HODAD is a perfectly fine answer. A HAOLIE is simply an outsider or non-local..

@evil doug... CHECK ESSENTIAL!!! Then hope you nothing to with why the cockpit went dark.

Sparky 9:17 AM  

If MHO is now siemens, what're Curly and Larry?

Pete 9:17 AM  

Rex's complaints about this and other puzzles and Will's reply made me think of the whole recycling of ideas in literature and film

How many retellings of Romeo and Juliet have been written, filmed over the years? My take on these is that if you've the balls to rehash the same story once again, you damned well better make it a truly superior product, or you're just a hack copying a good idea. Rex's point is don't be a hack copying good ideas, come up with your own ideas. Will's is that if you've never read the original, a mediocre retelling of a great story is still an ok story.

Both points of view are valid. Will has to put 365 of these things out a year, and does what he has to do. Rex solves these puzzles 365 days a year and has to wonder why people choose to be hacks repeating tired themes rather than come up with something new.

It's called a discussion.

retired_chemist 9:20 AM  

An OK puzzle. Would agree it does not probably belong in Will's next book of favorites, but it was a good solve to this only moderately experienced solver. I had seen the NOEL theme before but so what? I watch Jeopardy! reruns and find the questions fresh even when I saw the show earlier. Like @jberg, I see this as an advantage of age, at which I out-geezer him by three years.

Almost all answers were familiar to me, except TAMA, RICO (thought it was just an anti-racketeering statute), and DSO. Tried THE ____ @ 32D for a while, but THE NICE made no sense.


Thanks for the shout-out. I was looking for a real person for 23A until I got the theme. Who here knows Peter Debye, Nobel Prize 1936, or Lars Onsager, Nobel Laureate 1968, either of whom would qualify as the "ion king" for work on ion activities in solution?

Pup photos will be e-mailed to you.

Thanks, Byrons. Thanks, Will. Thanks. @rex. Always fun here.

Jp 9:20 AM  

One of my most enjoyable visits to this blog reading the comments of Mr. Shortz himself and the responses it generated. As a long time solver of the NYT puzzles but still considering myself a recreational solver who needs a good dose of Googling for the Thur-Fri-Sati puzzles I find at times the vast majority of the comments are from "professional" solvers sometimes on a mission to showcase their skills.
I am glad that Mr. Shortz has risen to the defense of those of us who do not remember if a theme was done already. We don't care as long as the puzzle is filled with words or expressions that are "gettable" and a minimum of "obscurities" known only by walking encyclopedias type of solvers.
My complaint about this puzzle is the large number of words qualifying as crosswordese that made this puzzle very difficult to solve and less than enjoyable.
Thanks for letting me have my say.

AnnieD 9:21 AM  

Rex is cranky...what else is new?

Will is posting? Fabulous and a nice commentary. It's easy to pick at work that's already been done....much harder to see it from the point of view of the doer and all he has to cope with. And I agree with Will. I have no problem with repeated themes as long as they don't come too frequently....four years ago??? I have trouble remembering last week!

I enjoyed the puzzle. The theme is seasonal and appropriate. Yes the joke is old. I think I first saw it in a very old Reader's Digest back in the 1960s where the couple was being introduced to their friends' newborn baby girl. They said her name was Heather Noel. He leaned over and whispered to his wife, "I never knew you spelled Heather with an 'L'."

While reading this blog I've learned to appreciate the art craft that goes into puzzle composing and editing, but at some point, it can become like making sausage...

This girl just wants to have fun....

hazel 9:24 AM  

Oh good grief - another freaking comment section on Rex!! His rights, his snark, his crabbiness, his ennui, his impending retirement!

He J'ACCUSED the NYT editor for being "lazy," which provoked a rational response. God knows what my response would have been.

I rarely remember crossword themes (don't worry, i muddle by) so i actually liked this theme. I do remember same old same old words - and there were a tad too many for my taste. So, the puzzle kind of canceled itself out in terms of a fun factor. But, in my case, it wasn't because of a repeated theme from whenever and more importantly wherever!

i wish HODAD described a wannabe that i wanted to be - I like that word - Never mind, just looked it up. Its totally mean-spirited. Not really a "wannabe" as much as a posing, obnoxious person......

HO HO HO Anyway!!

Linda 9:25 AM  

Personally, I enjoy the criticism. Gives me a little window into the work of a constructor. Also, takes some guts to call out Will Shortz.
Today I donate.
Thanks Rex.

retired_chemist 9:26 AM  

@ Sparky - knowing that Siemens is a big mfr. of electron microscopes, I was looking for RAD or REM as radioactivity units. Nope. Once I got MHO from crosses, I remembered that the Siemens is a unit of conductance, MHO being the "verbal reciprocal" of OHM, the unit of resistance.

Norm 9:32 AM  

I don't mind recycled themes. I don't mind Rex's critiques of puzzles. Sometimes I agree with him; often not. Such is life. I found this an enjoyable little puzzle.

Whacker 9:51 AM  

I think it's Rex's duty to be critical and (if we're lucky) cranky.

I love the acerbic tone!

Mr. Benson 10:10 AM  

Huh. I completed the puzzle and stared at the grid, thinking "I'm pretty sure HODAD, TENON, ONENO and SCRIM are not words. I royally messed up something around the middle." So I came here to check my work and... well, all I can say is "huh."

Also, I have never, ever heard money referred to as "do-re-mi" outside of crosswords. I've seen it enough times in puzzles by now that I got that one, but still don't like it. I haven't heard the Woody Guthrie song cited by Anonymous 6:14, and I'm pretty sure that no one else in recorded history has used that expression, ever. No one can persuade me otherwise. (Crosswords also occasionally use words like "lettuce" and "cabbage" and, I dunno, maybe "arugula" as synonyms for money, and those also irritate me.)


Anonymous 10:10 AM  

Today I was flummoxed by the SCRIM/MHO crossing.

I view repeated themes like listening to a classic, if overplayed, rock album. I don't need to hear Blood on the Tracks or Exile on Main Street very often but I'll crank it up every few years and really enjoy it.

Loren Muse Smith 10:17 AM  

I, too, am grateful to Will for his excellent editing. I also count myself among those who don't mind a theme repeat. One observation, though. I love doing the NYT crossword every single day but find the Monday and Tuesday no fun as they're too easy. It seems the difference in difficulty level from Monday/Tuesday to Wednesday is really great. Any way to make Mondays and Tuesdays just a bit harder?

quilter1 10:19 AM  

Well, I liked it. I don't remember old themes much so it didn't bother me. I enjoyed the theme answers as they appeared, as well as THINICE, HODAD, NICENE, TINSTAR and ACERB. I like having a big vocabulary and using it, I like puns and wordplay. I like this blog and the people who are part of the commenting community. If I like a puzzle I don't care who doesn't like it and vice versa. The discussions are great and I nearly always learn something from them every week.

I also like Acme's optimistic approach to every puzzle. Even when criticizing, she finds something to praise. I think Rex tries to do that, too, even when his response is mainly negative, for whatever reason. I appreciate Will's input and agree with him about the "average solver" compared to most of the solvers who visit this blog.

I can make a quilt but I can't make a puzzle, though they are a part of my daily life, and so I don't often have a criticism. I just enjoy.

Anonymous 10:20 AM  

Happy that Will responded--and completely agree.

Arrogance can be addictive, apparently.

MountainManZach 10:34 AM  
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MountainManZach 10:37 AM  

A few people griping about TENON. It's absolutely a word, and the cluing is the gentlest cluing possible (pairing it with mortise, rather than just calling it a "joint part"). Even
Preservationist Ryan Gosling
knows it.

evil doug 10:45 AM  

Michael: 'A Guy Said' hurt my feelings. Make it better.

A Guy: Eat me. Then read my post instead of presuming what I'd write. Pretty stupid to post what I didn't say when everybody can see my own words for themselves. Now I feel better; never mind, Michael.

Whacker: Been there, done that. 727?


Matthew G. 10:55 AM  


Knowing TENON is one thing. Knowing "mortise" is another. If the clue had been {Joint part}, I probably would have recalled it from some other puzzle. But I've never, ever heard the word "mortise," so I had no idea we were even talking about carpentry.

Never said it wasn't a word. I am saying it's too difficult to cross something equally obscure, such as NERI.

Re: HODAD. I have no idea where a person under 45 would have been expected to pick that word up. All I know about surfing is what I heard in Beach Boys lyrics, and I don't think they ever used that one.

Both HODAD and TENON are acceptable, if ugly, words. But I stand by my position that they are too obscure to cross answers that aren't rock-solid. NERI and ORAN don't qualify.

skua76 10:57 AM  

What fun! The puzzle, the blog, and all of the comments...although as I discovered the theme I vaguely remembered seeing it before. I struggled a bit in the mid-Atlantic and (not knowing where "The Plague" was set or being sure about HODAD) I stared for a bit at 31A EAT***T and thought

Gareth Bain 10:59 AM  

I can see both sides here too. Yesterday's repeat bothered me more, though largely because I really liked the previous iteration of that puzzle a lot. Two years IMO is a bit too close together. This one, although I remembered that I'd seen the NOEL part before, not so much; the fill is another story... There is nothing wrong with the same theme conceived independently with suitable separation or in a different venue What the biggest issue is, is a constructor deliberate cribbing an old theme and then altering it cosmetically (which is definitely not what has happened) which is why repeats are frowned upon.

santafefran 11:15 AM  

I love this blog and the gamut of opinions that Michael's comments and the daily puzzles generate. And I appreciate everyone who takes the time and effort to post those opinions. Even though I had been doing the Sunday Times puzzles for many years, it wasn't until I stumbled upon this blog via Google a few years ago that I started solving (or attempting to, re Fri/Sat puzzles) every day. I've learned a lot here about puzzle construction, but it is not something I generally consider in the enjoyment of my solve. Nor do I really give a fig if themes are repeated or what my solving time is. I look for clever wordplay, hope to learn new words or something interesting about them, and am thankful for some crosswordese that gives me a foothold when I am totally stumped.

While the feelings and thoughts expressed here range far and wide, they are generally not mean-spirited and I feel privileged to be a part of this quirky community.

Let the good times roll!

Tita 11:23 AM  

I really liked all the fill that I didn't hate...

You DO use a finger with EENIE, as the whole point of the rhyme is to choose someone...great way to clue old fill.

Thanks Will for stopping by. I personally prefer more snarkiness and sharp criticism then constant praise. I learn more about construction that way. DESievers & AnnieD sum it up perfectly.

@Rex - you must never go to the theatre - it's nothing but reruns of good old plays, or (gag) reruns of terrible movies!

TENON unknown, really? That was a gimme. (Maybe we can blame IKEA - nary a mortise or tenon anywhere in their product line.)

Yes, lots of obscure fill for a Wed.
(Mom was in the curtain business for 50 years - I NEVER heard the word SCRIM.)
But liked the execution of the theme very much.

Beadola 11:28 AM  

I have learned a lot from Rex's critiques and do not mind a snarky attitude. I find it amusing and love the groans I get from the commenters that don't get when he is kidding. (J'accuse)
BTW, I say @EvilDoug is delightful and gave me one of my biggest belly laughs last Thursday.
Thanks to both Rex and Will for many hours of enjoyment.

Anonymous 11:31 AM  

@ loren Smith--Mondays and Tuesdays are harder if you only look at the down clues to solve the puzzles.

Anonymous 11:33 AM  

As a relatively recent NYT solver, I want to thank Mr. Shortz for allowing me the pleasure of experiencing this theme. It is quite audacious for Rex to suggest I should never be able to experience a NYTs theme used in my many pre-solving years.

Rex'x blog was once clever and informative but has become an exercise in petulance. The blog is little more than a compilation of info from databases. Theme used FOUR years ago....indeed!

Sorry I am posting as Anonymous. I do not have an acct. set up as this is my 1st post here.

Anonymous 11:34 AM  

@joho: Yes, you do have to point your finger when you say "eenie" because it begins a rhyme the point of which is to pick the person the finger ends up pointing at when you get to the "you" at the end of the rhyme.

Tobias Duncan 11:34 AM  

It's like mommy and daddy are fighting.Stop it everyone, you'll ruin Christmas!!!
I am going to my room and play with my legos, when I come out everyone better be filled with the goddamn holiday spirit...

Loren Muse Smith 11:45 AM  

Anonymous - Thanks for the advice! Having eschewed the Monday and Tuesday puzzles for several years (and feeling somehow nervous and twitchy without a puzzle to solve), I'll try doing only the down clues next Monday.

Anonymous 11:50 AM  

I actually enjoyed this puzzle--probably because it was one of the few that I have been able to do in a time frame somewhat resembling Rex'. I generally get through the puzzle but only after a bit of time. This one seemed to have clues and words that I knew. Interesting that it has sparked so much commentary pro and con.

syndy 11:50 AM  

Among the many things I love about this blog I must include our EVIL DOUG

Anonymous 11:54 AM  

Did I miss something here? 58A was a five-letter word with no punctuation (EENIE). Is (J'ACCUSE!) supposed to be part of the criticism of Will Shorts? Is it okay to solve the puzzle with a word that obviously doesn't fit? I can't believe no one here suggested that the 58A answer needed some sort of explanation.

jackj 12:01 PM  

I rather liked the theme of today's puzzle, familiar though it was, (PUPFICTION is worth a grin), but the fill was absolutely dreadful. To experienced solvers it was another frustrating exercise in crosswordese 101 and to a novice solver it was probably equally frustrating, even unsolvable.

Will Shortz has been and continues to be the preminent editor in the crossword game, but his offerings are suffering, through no fault of his own talents, but due to the extreme competition generated by the ease of construction of puzzles through available crossword compiling apps and the ability to make them immediately available to the solving world on the internet. Such is life.

The best constructors do appear in the Times but they also can be found at BEQ, Peter Gordon, LATimes, CrosSynergy, Mike Shenk, Stan Newman (at least the Sat. Stumper) and a host of other credible crossword web sites and many, (if not most), are of Times quality.

As far as the attitude of this blog, its moderator and commenters, the comments are tough, for sure, but are generally presented as constructive criticism and are usually thoughtful, intelligent and, I suspect, useful to constructors looking to improve their product.

Contrast this blog with the fawning treacle presented by the same commenters, over and over and over, ad nauseum at the Times Wordplay blog.

Will should be eternally grateful that this blog looks at the puzzles clearly, not through rose colored glasses.

Two Ponies 12:14 PM  

Liked the theme answers but the terrible fill made it not worth the price of admission.
I became a constant NYT solver after Will took the helm. When I do puzzles in books from previous editors it makes me appreciate his work. His stopping by makes me appreciate Rex as well.
This blog is such an important part of my day. I love it just the way it is.

kaby 12:15 PM  

To me the daily NYT puzzle experience is of two parts: doing the puzzle and later reading Rex's comments and/or those of you who offer your own opinions. I like doing both every single day and hope they both continue for a long long time. As a constructor I have had Mr. Shortz publish (and presumably like) some puzzles that Rex didn't like very much and I've gotten plenty of rejections from Mr. Shortz for puzzles that maybe Rex would have liked. So it goes. I understand that---what I don't understand is why anyone would rip Rex for expressing an opinion. C'mon it's a blog! On that note, my opinion that the complaint that Rex is being too cranky sounds...well... a little too cranky.

As far as what gets published in the NYT there clearly is only one opinion that really far as opinions on what appears in print, none of them really matter. They're just part of the experience. Keep 'em both coming.

Anonymous 12:30 PM  

i found this puzzle to be very uneven. the theme and answers were easy to come by, but words such as hodad, scrim, and tenon were obscure to me. i thought mortise was an adams family member.

Tim C. 12:46 PM  

As a dilettantish crossword constructor, sure, when I find a theme to work on, and I see that it's already been done, I scrap it. As an experienced crossword solver, absolutely, when I see crosswordese, I wince a bit. And, yes, I sometimes look at the crosswords I solve like foodies looks at dishes they're served in a fine restaurant. But I am not a total crossword gastronome, like some people around this biz. Today's crossword, I know the theme's been done before, but I laughed at the entries when I filled them in. I enjoyed my experience. That's what it's supposed to be about, right? If this paper's puzzles is duck a l'orange, so the hell what if I had the same dish three years ago, so the hell what if it's red-wine vinegar instead of white-wine vinegar.

I regularly read this blog, and the way it's been lately, I see it like Will does. My first thought upon surfing for this site every day now is not, "What will he think of the puzzle?", but "What will he find to niggle about in the puzzle this time?", no matter how good the puzzle appears to be. Now, yes, there were some bits of crosswordese in the puzzle. But, as I said, I laughed when I filled in the answers. I know we're probably trying to set this "let's be super-tough so that we know that the only puzzles that get the seal of approval of this site MUST be absolutely top-shelf" image around here, especially recently, and I know that not all criticism is unwelcome, but it's been getting a little grating. And, yes, I took a lot of knocks, here and on that other "fawning treacle" blog, for the "Borstal Boy" puzzle, which, believe me, were very much deserved.

In no way does, I think, this blog represent the average solver (take it as you will, I do not mean it as a knock), which is for whom constructors and editors should strive. Will's right -- maybe, just maybe, it isn't always the puzzle constructor, or editor, when the criticism comes constantly.

Anonymous 12:47 PM  

will shortz is a lap dog of the imperialist capitalist hegemony who sits in the lap of luxury while the people starve. rex too. and will's brother gym shorts stinks.

xyz 12:54 PM  

SE left me running for a down jacket. A couple of personal Naticks for me with Names fouled my finishing this one but the puzzle's general use of crapfill, akwardness and irregularity of cleverness/clearness of cluing made for a meh at my house.

I did however really like seeing HODAD
and who doesn't know CATS, esp. since its TSE? Seriously, Rex cross-wordese-over? and you insist it doesn't qualify as rote
:-) haha can't resist that one

I think I read all comments and still don't get the J'ACCUSE bit - Again the "Tired Theme" Theme, it's X-mas ... I imagine there can only be so many ... [rolling eyes smiley]

bullecci - Italian eating disorder?

donkos 12:54 PM  

I'm a big fan of both Rex and Will. I have to take Will's side on this one- I was kinda hoping for a seasonal topic today and the NOEL theme fit the bill. Even if the theme wasn't new, this puzzle hit the spot (except for hodad - I was a surfer wannabe once and no one ever called me that :))

KRMunson 12:55 PM  

From my acting days, I remember a "scrim" as the backdrop that is today know as a "green screen". You could project images onto it (like a weather map) that aren't visible to those in the studio but are to the viewing audience.

Still, scrim is pretty are tenon, hodad, mho, etc.

I don't mind the snarkiness or banter. It's part of what makes me enjoy coming to this blog everyday.

Will, I respect your point of view. Thanks for your years of service to the NYT and your loyal solvers!

Campesite 12:58 PM  

Man, @Kaby, you said it: I look forward to reading this blog and comments almost as much and sometimes even more than doing the puzzle. Agree or disagree, I really look forward to Michael's opinion, as well as the views of many of the commenters.

Will has shown to be rankled by criticism from this blog before, and it hasn't stopped Rex from publishing this thing daily. I really like it when Will chimes in. Somehow, I believe, the criticism stemming from this blog (as well as Amy's) over the last four years or so has improved the quality of the puzzles in the NYT, and it in turn has raised the expectation level of the author.

The NY Times puzzle is the gold standard. Yes, there are other great puzzles mentioned above, but if I only have time to do one, it's the NYT and much of the reason is this blog.

xyz 1:29 PM  

I'm with Will on this one, themes are weak and thin at the holidays (and other times). SPLITPEA was a laz-eee nothing of a theme, 3 letters. Whoop.

BTW, if this is to be the "Gold Standard" - someone please cut down on the repetitive incorrectly used (e.g. anatomic terms) rote that is used and the overall tiredness of "fill". Pretty stale lately.

suseisms another good one!

Anonymous 1:31 PM  

It took two people to concoct this? Sad.

John V 1:34 PM  

My two cents: In the end, it's a puzzle and it's fun. My life has been better lo these past 40 years for having the puzzle. That is my simple bottom line. All else is dust in the wind.

John Verel

Anonymous 1:39 PM  

Love the NYT puzzles and this column! Where did the term "natick" originate?

Lewis 1:45 PM  

At one point on 31A I had EAT___T and my eyes grew wide.

Thank you Will for weighing in. I think Rex has been spoiled by very high quality puzzles, such as those by Patrick Berry, and sees lesser creations as "less than", perhaps clouding his enjoyment and appreciation of fine aspects of the puzzle.

I can greatly enjoy a very fine glass of wine, and I'll still enjoy a fairly good wine, but I will always hate a rotgut wine. It depends on where you draw the line. Rex's line is high. Will, yours is not quite as high (though greatly above rotgut!), and therein lies the difference. I think, given what is available to you from constructors, you put out the best puzzle possible day after day. I love the NYT puzzles overall, and I enjoy Rex's witty and often acerbic critiques.

By the way, Will, on the NYT Puzzle Page, I think it's time to remove the "Answer Grids for 'Cross' Words Contest Week" section covering the puzzles from October 17-21... and... keep up the great work!

@evil doug -- I don't always agree with you, but I love how scrupulously honest and from the heart you are, and I often appreciate your wit.

eric the limey 1:45 PM  

DSO is Distinguished Service Order in Great Britain. Awarded typically for combat service.

Interesting to see that it Takes Will appearing for dozens to suddenly have opinions written in essay form. Who's trying to impress who?

Agree calling out by name justifies a response which was well written by Will.

Rex, I know you don't need this comment but PLEASE DO NOT CHANGE.

Honest disagreements are enjoyable and can be resolved unlike important issues in Congress. Now there's a justification for essays.

xyz 1:46 PM  

@any-none-muss 1:39

here, there's a link somewhere on the first page. Funny, Natick is known to anyone who ever drives the MassPike

DigitalDan 1:47 PM  

I like 'em all.

It's surprising that many have no day-to-day knowledge (or memory) of mortise and tenon, an age-old structure for creating joints in objects made of wood.

But what I and others do and don't know, or like and don't like about crosswords is continuously surprising.

Here's mine: If we have Mr. Shortz' ear, can we maybe agree to outlaw words whose ONLY appearance in modern times is in the crosswords? For starters, OATER, RAREE, UTE as a vehicle (long since replaced in the vernacular by SUV), and maybe even the venerable ADIT? And don't get me started about outdated or naive fill related to information technologies.

Bird 2:12 PM  

@ Will - thanks for stopping by and defending your decision to publish the puzzle. I agree with that some themes need repeating - I don't mind a NOEL puzzle around this time of year as long the puzzle is fresh. There are plenty of ways to use this theme. Same applies for other holidays or special events. Thanks also for publishing these puzzles that allow us to get away from it all, if only for a few minutes. They entertain us, teach us and help us grow.

Today's discussion is definitely a good one. I enjoy coming here. Mainly to look at a completed puzzle, but then to read what Rex has posted. Sometimes I groan, sometimes I smile and sometimes I wonder - but most of the time I find hos posts thoughtful and insightful.

To today's puzzle . . .

Liked the theme, but not the fil. I'm an average solver so I don't like names and other obscure fill crossing (NICENE/INES) and I don't like crosswordese, abbreviations and made-up answers just to construct a puzzle(DOTO, ENCLS, OSHA, DSO, etc.). And as an average solver I rarely solve a late-week puzzle. Funny though because I do solve Sunday puzzles more often than not.


retired_chemist 2:17 PM  

@ DigitalDan - I suppose we both are wondering how long it has been since (male) junior high school students had to take wood shop and mechanical drawing, where we (they) learned about mortise and tenon joints. it was an interesting challenge in the first month of mechanical drawing to draft the mortise and the tenon separately.

And, yes, the girls were in (required) Home Ec. Not defending it, I'M JUST SAYIN'......

archaeoprof 2:18 PM  

LINUS: "Charlie Brown, you're the only person who can take a wonderful season like Christmas and turn it into a problem."

Otherwise, what @JohnV said.

TC 2:38 PM  

@ Mr. Benson:
I had a paper route in 1969 and when I had collected the weekly subscription money (house to house!) from my customers for the first time, my dad asked me for the "do-re-mi" from my efforts. So I have heard it outside of crosswords for many years!

DESievers 2:41 PM  

I hear Rex will be going blow for blow with Will, bare-knuckle, in the parking lot at next year's puzzle tournament. Get there early for your ringside seat! lol

DESievers 2:43 PM  

Oh, and BTW, I myself have been saying do-re-mi for years, having discovered the usage from Woody Guthrie when I was a young man. (That was many years ago.)

Rex Parker 2:58 PM  

Will could take me. He's a *%&!ing athlete. What am I gonna do, yoga him into submission?

Cheers, everyone.


Orange 3:04 PM  

Over at my blog, Diary of a Crossword Fiend, we have a star-rating system in place. Only a teeny fraction of readers click to rate any given puzzle, so there is zero statistical certainty that the ratings offer any kind of reliable data. That said, if you skim the list of puzzles that have received star ratings from at least 10 people, you will note that NYT puzzles are overrepresented among the lower-rated puzzles. The NYT puzzle is one of 4-6 puzzles a day, but accounts for half of the 30 worst-rated puzzles.

Rex and I don't always agree on a puzzle's quality—sometimes he raves about one I dislike and vice versa. But I do think it's fair to expect the NYT crossword to be the best one available most days, given its higher pay scale, "creme de la creme" reputation, and the massive amount of submissions Will chooses among. And yet there are certainly days when I find an NYT puzzle to be middling at best. Some NYTs are terrific, some are quite good, some are okay, and some mystify me as to how they got accepted. In the ideal world, every puzzle would please every solver, but of course we all have our own tastes. When you see a preponderance of "2 stars out of 5" ratings for a puzzle, though, and critics can identify numerous shortcomings in a puzzle, it's reasonable to conclude that not every puzzle is hitting the mark.

Mind you, even the lousiest NYT crossword is better than the dreck that is documented via the Twitter hashtag "#badpuzzles." Those are the 1-star monstrosities that Will would never in a million years accept.

ATOZ 3:11 PM  

A pangram fan is what I am, and a man who pans a pangram is a man not worth a damn!

Octavian of the Titans 3:13 PM  

As someone who is well paid to write a at least a couple of thousand words every day for a living, I find it AMAZING that Mr. Sharp is able to publish every day on time for no financial reward. The fact that he has not missed a day, or even the morning deadline, blows my mind.

That said, I used to come here every day to see his insights on the puzzle - but don't anymore. It's basically off my daily to-do list. And the main reason is his Cranky Old Man approach to the puzzle. I just don't care to hear him go these rants as he did today. It's his prerogative. It's his blog. No complaints. I just don't like it. The comments are not constructive and just become too much "inside baseball." I enjoy virtually every puzzle and don't care if a theme was done once before in 2007.

The only times I come to the blog for the most part now is to see how he rates a Friday or Saturday puzzle. If I get one easily and he rates it medium or challenging then that makes me happy in some weird corner of my ego.

I would not encourage Mr. Sharp to change anything about his approach. however. If he didn't get some kind of satisfaction out of being a bomb thrower, he probably would not continue to publish -- and that would be a shame.

As for Mr. Shortz, I am surprised he is so thin-skinned. As a daily writer, I get criticism all the time of everything I do -- and have since the journalism websites allowed customers to add comments. If you are provocative, you are going to get criticism. If it makes people think or react, I think it's cool. I don't happen to like what Mr. Sharp says most of the time, but I would not encourage him to stop speaking his mind. I would just tune it out.

On the subject of fill and quality of crosswords -- for my money the best in the business now is Peter Gordon and his paid weekly Fireball service. It's outstanding, and anyone fed up with lousy fill or unimaginative themes should get that service. They are Friday or Saturday level and very imaginative with no bad fill ever. But on the other hand they are only weekly so there is not as much stress on him to produce puzzles for all tastes 365 days a year.

Dr. Maxwell Edison 3:24 PM  

I'd been doing puzzles for years with little success, hardly ever finishing anything harder than a Thursday (and often taking hours to do it) when one day, after a particularly brutal experience, I looked at the finished grid and had my Eureka moment: Every single one of the letters was used in another word GOING DOWN. My jaw hit the floor. Holy crap! I thought. I was sure it couldn't be the case, and I checked several times, scrutinized each letter, and sure enough, every single letter appeared in a word going across AND going down. I've forgotten the constructor's name--I never check that stuff--but I will always remember that amazing puzzle.

Anonymous 3:36 PM  

I don't think of EATing DIRT as an act of humility, I think of it as an act of humiliation. Humility and humiliation need an etymological divorce.

sanfranman59 4:33 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)

Wed 12:03, 11:48, 1.02, 60%, Medium-Challenging

Top 100 solvers

Wed 6:13, 5:51, 1.06, 71%, Medium-Challenging

stix2metunesmiffin 4:34 PM  

Yeah but I've just been so underwhelmed since the Patrick Berry weeklong thing. Cranky, even. I've worked my way up over the past few years to actually finish Saturdays all by myself, sometimes, and lately have been hitting weird roadblocks that stink of autofill, or whatever apps there are out there. And it's frustrating because they happen all over the place in terms of days of the week. Sure, not getting something can be frustrating, but after the frustration all you get is an obscure abbreviation that you'll never remember... And it's like why can't I finish a Monday when I just creamed a Friday... Anyway, all this is to say that I'm definitely riding the dissapointment train lately. The feeling is one of disconnect, imbued with atonal ennui. Gimme the gumption!

Book of Eli 4:43 PM  

Liked J'ACCUSE (since it is a real word) and TENON. Seems like an answer is only obscure when you don't &%$* know it! It is fun to read through the comments and find out where everyone's overlap is and where our collective gaps are.

And I'm new here, so I was thrilled to see a response from Will Shortz. Much more back-and-forth and I'll be running for the eggnog!

Anonymous 5:03 PM  

I'm mystified: Rex refers to 58A JACCUSE. Huh? For 58A I get EENIE. Whassup with that?

Blue Stater 5:06 PM  

I have a full (electronic) drawer of sallies from WS when I made bold to criticize the puzzles on the old NYT Crossword Forum blog many years ago. He asserted to me then then and asserts to Rex now that if a critic dislikes a lot of the puzzles the problem must be something other than the puzzle, i.e. the critic.

There’s another logically possible answer, of course, and that is that the problem is not the critic, but the puzzle and the judgment of the editor who decided to publish it. If you take on the job of editing the NYT crossword puzzles, you’re taking on one of the smartest and scrappiest audiences around, and you have to be able to take the criticism that the job entails, fair and unfair. I thought Rex’s critique of today’s puzzle was altogether fair and accurate. One of the joys of this blog is Rex’s willingness to be critical of puzzles that fail to meet his – and our – high standards.

TimJim 5:20 PM  

Liked it fine - don't care about the repeated theme, especially since these theme answers were funny. Only bad spot for me was the TENON/NERI Natick.

Evan K. 5:27 PM  

I do occasionally get the impression that Rex will only be truly happy if Patrick Berry constructs every puzzle.

I've only been solving for a year. CASH OF THE TITANS and WAYNE'S WORD? I liked those, and especially the latter. I know I've seen / thought of / heard the theme before, but this was still fun.

Cheers, Will. Eventually I'll be able to complete a grid that I can send off one to you one day...

Anonymous 5:38 PM  

Sure it's his blog. Sure I chose to read it sometimes. But the negativity lately is unbearable. Sometimes you stop listening to people, even if they know what they are talking about, because they are unbearable to be around. If you really want to feel the full effect of his negativity, just follow him on Twitter.

Bird 5:50 PM  

@ Book of Eli - I think the true definition of obscurity, at least on this blog, is when the walking encyclopedias don't #$%^ know it. The rest of us are just too dumb to remember obscure words and other crosswordese.

I like doing crossword puzzles and enjoy it even more when I complete them, but it gets tough when the seldom used names and other crap are used to fill the empty spaces around the theme. It would be nice if constructors checked the fill after using an app and thought of the lay people once in a while.

Tinbeni 5:51 PM  

Ron & Nancy Byron:
I enjoyed your offering very much.

At this time of the year, a NOEL ("no-L") theme seems timely.

As for the theme being used at Christmastime, just four years ago, well that seems long ENUF of a gap "not to get my panties in a wad."

Rex: Will Rogers never met you. Right?.

A "toast" to all at Sunset.
Well that's my nightly theme.
Seems "Original" every time I do it!

Tita 5:59 PM  

@Maxwell, @Tobias - bless yer hearts...

joho 6:00 PM  

@anon. 5:03, Rex is just messing us. He does this all time probably to see if we're paying attention. If it doesn't make sense don't take him literally because he's making it up!

mac 6:13 PM  

@Tinbeni: you're back! Cheers!

Anonymous 6:16 PM  

Amy underplays the statistics on her blog. If you do an average of all the puzzles over time, NYT puzzles are at the bottom. The worst of the worst, according to her readers.

So maybe Rex is right, the NYT puzzles consistently suck, they're awful, they're boring, they're stupid, they're unimaginative, and they're poorly edited. (Not my view.) In that case, I can't understand why he bothers to blog about them, these puzzles that so disappoint him? Why is it more satisfying for Rex to blog about what he hates? It's a mystery.

michael 6:28 PM  

The way I see it is that Rex is like a film or restaurant critic who I often don't agree with, but find interesting to read. Readng Rex on NYT puzzles for me is often like reading some foodie trashing a restaurant I enjoyed in a not-very-critical way. I see Rex's points, but they don't really matter to me. Case in point -- today's puzzle.. I understand what Rex is saying, but nonetheless enjoyed the puzzle. In my professional life, I often have to be hypercritical and I'm just glad there are some things I can enjoy without hyperanalyzing them.

And I sure have sympathy for Will. He works hard and brings pleasure to many. I'm not sure that his job is to please Rex and others exposing every flaw.(And I'm not at all convinced that repeating a theme is a flaw at all.)

quilter1 6:33 PM  

@Tinbeni, welcome back. I toast you although it is pitchblack outside.

As we built our kitchen and bathroom cabinets and several pieces of measured Shaker reproductions I am well aware of mortise and TENON.

Anonymous 6:37 PM  

I read somewhere that Rex Parker was the Rush Limbaugh of crosswords. I think that fits exactly. Each explains why the other is so popular among the crowd that enjoys being outraged. It's an endorphin for many.

chefwen 7:42 PM  

@Tinbeni - Welcome home, we have missed you. It's still light here, so I will toast you at sunset with a glass of Rombauer raised high.

Anonymous 8:18 PM  

So after all this back and forth we are left wigth two basic thoughts. Either Will has been publishing a bunch of croppers lately or Rex is full of crankiness.

And, so what?

stix2metunesmiffin 8:34 PM  

and so it goes on with the show! up, up!! and to your posts!!!

Chip Hilton 9:16 PM  

11 squared comments above me. Ah, what a good ol' C(l)ASHOFTHETITANS does for business!

And while dear @Mac said, "No Naticks", I'm going to agree with @Anon way back at 10:10 a.m. and gripe about the SCRIM/MHO crossing. Hopeless at that one point.

ARLENE 9:48 PM  

Please explain to me what's going on with 58A that is EENIE in the puzzle (and which makes perfect sense to me choosing up sides), but everyone is talking about "J'ACCUSE". Someone else asked, but I haven't seen an answer.
And it's interesting that I knew mortise and tenon, but not some other things that others found simple.

JenCT 10:01 PM  

@r.alphbunker: I like your analogy to New Yorker cartoons.

@Anon. 7:02: I agree.

@Tobias 11:34: LOL

@Lewis: I agree with your entire post.

@DigitalDan: how about EGAD?

I gotta get here earlier - it's taking too long to read all the posts!!!

Happy Holidays, everyone.

joho 10:11 PM  

@ARLENE, read me at 6:00 p.m. ... he's kidding. Come here with your sense of humor in tact.

nycscott 10:42 PM  

Regarding Amy's blog, it appears that the rating system is not blind. People know if they are rating a New York Times puzzle, a LA Times puzzle, etc. This alone would seem to me to invalidate the reliability of the results. Any statisticians want to weigh in on the one? Not to criticize Amy or anything. Just sayin'.

Z 10:46 PM  

Wow. I haven't even finished the puzzle yet, but had to read the posts when I heard that Will posted. And three more people posted since I started reading. Wow.

To recap, Mommy and Daddy are fighting, I'm a "professional" solver (who knew) Evil is Evil but we love him anyway, Anonymous posters especially love to criticize Rex for being cranky and negative, Will is either a genius or no good at his job, Rex is either a genius or no good at his "job," and this winter solstice will have to be remembered in Rexville as the metaist of days of all time.

I'll have to go finish the puzzle, now.

Deb 11:08 PM  

Rex told me (as one fan of his FB page) to come here to say ""hi" to, Hi, Will.

Now that that's out of the way, on to the important (to ME) stuff: @Matthew G et al, I am so, so, so surprised you all weren't familiar with mortise and tenon joints. I'm no carpenter, but for me the two words go together as surely as do mortar and pestle, rod and reel, Abbott and Costello or coffee and cigarettes (though I'm enjoying a cup of brew right now sans cigarette due to an ultimatum from my son whom I'm staying with over Christmas).

@Tita - ha! re the link between Ikea and tenon's apparent current-day obscurity. As for scrim, I've been a sometime seamstress for forty years and only ran across the term once in a book on curtain making written and published in the UK.

I popped for the subscription to the daily puzzle so I expect to be babbling here in prime time instead of syndiland. I resisted the move for five years because I really enjoy the tactile experience of solving with a Bic medium point pen on newsprint, but today - being right in the thick of things ("things" in this instance being an appearance by WS) - is a special treat.

As for you, Rex, thanks, as always, for providing us this forum.

Noxemi: Not your mother's facial cleanser!

pk 1:10 AM  

So, I posted early and never thought about it again. I am Not going to read 128 posts just because everyone got all giddy that Will posted.

Yes, Ms. ACME, you are my go-to Jew (doesn't that have a nice ring to it?) Happy Hannukah to you and yo mama! Funny that you should say that shammas sounds a bit Irish....we had Irish friends over tonight, and I pointed out the menorah, and they just loved it and helped light our second night's candle! I'm sure they are Catholic, but they loved participating in this lovely ritual. Am still not sure what is up with my mama that she wants to explore this, but that's okay, it's all lovely and holy and spiritual and peaceful and joyful. Which is what I wish for all of the denizens of Rexville, much as we quibble about the crosswords.

Ante Cressida Mho-chaels 3:44 AM  

Lit the candles with friends and they too asked if they should light from inside or i would know?! But still happy to help when I can... But today no Jewish refs...
Unless the TINSTAR had six points!
Let's see DENIRO? ONEILL? Italian and Irish...
INGA, HESSE? Certainly not... NOSE? Better not be!

LOVE "Awfill"!!!! I think we need More Blog jargon...
Not less! ;)

Andrea 11:03 AM  

I know I'm chipping in too late in the discussion and no one will probably read this, but here are my bullets:

•As millions out there, I do the NYT puzzle every day, so my eternal thanks to Will for keeping it as fine as it should always be.

•I've come to Rex for help and laughs since he started his blog. My eternal thanks to him for his insights and his sense of humor.

•Some puzzles are really crappy sometimes.

•Rex is very crabby most of the time.

•Some of his daily commenters feel a lot like some kind of fraternity for the über intellectual.

•I wouldn't read the comments if it wasn't for ACME and Evil Doug. (and there are, of course, many other people I love to read, but I'm sure I won't remember their names now).

•For those who wonder about j'accuse, Rex likes to give us funny substitutions from time to time, that's all.

I might not have said anything relevant, but in the end, I hope both parts can read all of the criticism in a way that betters them.
(And Rex, I would love to see you try to yoga Will into submission :^D)

May this new year be a wonderful one for all of you!


evil doug 11:31 AM  

I came back just for you, mexgirl.

Eres muy amable,


Danchall 9:22 PM  

People look for different things when they solve puzzles. Some people are just passing the time; some are looking for a mental workout; some are looking for reasons to feel smart, or with-it, or holier-than-thou; and some are just looking for fun. I think Will made a key point that he's working for an audience that he identifies and serves as best he can, most of whom I bet never have even read a crossword blog (let alone vote in any poll).
So as others have said, it's not surprising that for any given puzzle, a number of well-informed people don't like it. I'm not sure that it is correct to conclude that the puzzle isn't "hitting the mark" just because the mark isn't defined for the elite solvers most likely to vote in Amy's poll. It just means that a lot of NYT puzzles aren't for that set of solvers. And I am not persuaded that every--or even most--NYT puzzle should be written for those tastes. (There's a whole lot in the popular culture that I might prefer to be written for my own tastes, but I've never believed that it should be.)
I enjoy reading Rex for his writing, and his strongly negative opinions are perfectly valid. But there's a difference between "I don't like this for the following reasons" and "Will Shortz is ... to blame," and I'm for more sympathetic to the former than to the latter.

Tyler Hinman 10:38 PM  

Looks like I'm late to the party... whew. As someone who solves and criticizes bad puzzles (though my targets are far more worthy of ridicule than NYT puzzles), I feel a sort of kinship with Rex, but I very much agree that it's just about impossible to turn out completely fresh and innovative material every day of the year. I didn't find today's theme particularly thrilling, but I had no memory of the same theme running a few years ago.

As for the fill, I think there are two factors at play. First of all, filling a grid is tough to do and it's very hard to apply rigorous standards to every corner of the fill. I sympathize with this to an extent; I find it difficult to do the best job I possibly can with cluing. But I do wish more diligence was applied to this craft; there are frequent instances (not necessarily in the NYT) when I find what seems to be a markedly better fill for a certain corner in short order. "Good enough" isn't always "good".

But I wonder if weak fill isn't intrinsic to the rules of the American crossword. Symmetry, no unchecked letters, no two-letter words... these restrictions place great strain on the constructor. Inveterate solvers like me, Rex, and Amy tire of crosswordese and other middling fill more quickly than the typical one-puzzle-a-day-if-that solver. It's easy to get bored with the results of the exigencies of American-style puzzlemaking if you solve a whole bunch of puzzles. Honestly, it's the reason I'm probably slashing my solving regimen a great deal in the new year (you heard it here first).

Ultimately, I think the criticism is a good thing; hopefully it serves to make puzzles better. But there is a line; there's no place for personal attacks. We're here to have fun and talk about the craft.

Anonymous 11:23 PM  

EENIE meany miney moe,
Catch a n****r by the toe...

Why is this appropriate in any modern puzzle?

PC Z 7:52 AM  

@anon 11:23 = Ah, the halcyon days of our youth, where racist rhymes were learned by one and all. In school yards today the "n" has become a "t" and a "g" has been dropped. Making a tiger holler and pay may offend the folks at PETA enough to start another anti-fur campaign, but few others.

Danchall 8:14 AM  

As far back as the late 1950s, all I knew was "tiger."

Anonymous 10:44 PM  


San Diego Sage 10:53 AM  

It always amuses (disgusts?) me when I read the line, "I've never heard of that word before). Well, duh, unless you are the personification of the Encyclopedia Brittanica so what? Crossword puzzles are not only fun and amusing but can be informative and educational as well. Put your do-re-mi and mortise and tenon in your pipe and smoke it. I have spoken!

rain forest 2:42 PM  

From one of the many in syndication country (and Canada, btw), let me state the bleeding obvious. Both Will and Rex do a fine job, neither of which I could imagine attempting. They have a common passion but differing perspectives. Their efforts contribute daily to my enjoyment, today more so than others because of the accusation and the retort.

Too many contributors to the blog believe that their fellows, and by extension, they themselves, are "smart" or "intellectual" and have attained a certain status from their daily opinions. Total BS, of course. Sometimes I can't believe that we are talking about a crossword puzzle. Today's entry was a decent example of the constructor's skill, and it was funny. Crosswordese? Obscure words? Abbreviations? Who cares. There was care and attention evident and a fresh look at a previously used theme.

Finally, Rex, though I admire so much of what you do, you are becoming a curmudgeon, high standards be damned. Nevertheless, I will contribute to the blog monetarily because, on balnce, I'd rather see it continue than not.

Dirigonzo 3:48 PM  

"I am going to my room and play with my legos, when I come out everyone better be filled with the goddamn holiday spirit..." @Tobias Duncan's comment gave me a laugh out loud moment - I love those. The theme answers all made me smile, too, which makes it a pretty good puzzle in my eyes, even though I didn't know SCRI(m)HO so DNF.

Anonymous 8:24 PM  

Spacecraft here. I am as quick as anyone with criticism (rant) over bad fill (viz. ENCLS, DOTO, ONENO); at the same time I acknowledge the awesomeness of even being able to build a symmetrical grid with ANY kind of fill, let alone themes. In the same vein, before we take either Rex or Will to task, might we ask what kind of job WE'd do instead?
Yeah, I thought so. This may have been an old theme, but the L-less film titles are precious. Some good fill, too, with BOYCOTT and EATDIRT. That last almost had me naticked in the east, as I'd forgotten CRESSIDA--a very forgettable car. I had written CRESSONA, which I finally remembered is not a car but a small town in the coal country of Pennsylvania. Never heard of ORAN. Maybe it's the west half of Orange County.

auggra: the blue pill Charlie Brown takes when he thinks he's gonna get lucky with Lucy after finally kicking that football soooo far.....

eastsacgirl 8:25 PM  

Wow - kind of glad I'm in syndiland. Did recognize the hook right away but still took me a little bit to get through. Missed HODAD, DSO, DINERO (which I kicked myself for since it was dancing back there in my mind).

As far as repeats go, sometimes I like, sometimes not. Have been doing the NYT regularly for about 7 years and consider myself an "OK" solver. I'm too concerned about other aspects of life to get my panties in a bunch over an occasional repeated theme.

Great to see Will some to the blog to defend. Nothing like a little holiday brawl to get your appetite up.

Anonymous 1:02 AM  

I got naticked in a couple of spots, but the only thing that really annoyed me about this puzzle was that it should have run during Christmastime.

Then I came here, clicked the "syndicated puzzle" tab, saw the original date and felt stupid. Has it really been less than five weeks since Christmas?

The internet is a place where anybody can talk trash about anybody...and 'anybody' is likely to be standing right behind them the whole time. In the past few weeks I have seen two highly respected brewers and one highly respected puzzle editor chime in to internet discussions to defend their work against elitist criticism. Highly entertaining in all three cases.

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paleolith 11:36 AM  

Thanks to the anonymous explainer of do-re-mi. Never heard that one! "Dough for me"? Hmm.

I'm much more the "typical solver" that Will speaks to. I look up Rex's blog when I want to know more about a puzzle, but usually I get more from the comments than from Rex. Rex could be just as informative and interesting -- more so -- with less snark and more understanding of the larger world of crosswords.

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