Player of TV's Caine / THU 2-16-12 / Lined as furnace hearth / Market town that's suburb of London / Film planner / 1960s title sitcom character

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Constructor: Jim Page

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: MARGIN / FOR / ERROR (21A: With 29-/30-Across, wiggle room ... or a hint to this puzzle's theme) — answers around the edged (i.e. MARGINs) of the grid are types of ERRORs

Word of the Day: REIGATE (55A: Market town that's a suburb of London) —
Reigate is a historic market town in Surrey, England, at the foot of the North Downs, and in the London commuter belt. It is one of the main constituents of the Borough of Reigate and Banstead. Reigate and the adjacent town of Redhill form a single urban subdivision of the Crawley Urban Area. // Colley Hill, one mile (1.6 km) north of Reigate, is the sixth highest point in Surrey at 756 feet (230 m). Reigate Hill, 2.5 miles (4.0 km) to the east of Colley Hill, is the seventh highest point in Surrey at 723 feet (220 m). (The 7th highest! You don't say ... My lands ...) (wikipedia)
• • •

This puzzle is 7-Down. Let's start with the ungainly placement of the revealer. Just make a 16-wide grid and put it in the middle. Something. Anything symmetrical. Part of me thinks that the nature of the theme somehow accounts for the awfulness. Like it's a seriously meta-bad-crossword. BONER-themed with BONERs aplenty. If that's the case, standing ovation. But just in case—FETTLED? (16A: Lined, as a furnace hearth) AGENTRY? RESPECTER? SCENARIST? PLICATE? REIGATE? It's hard to be a respecter of that kind of fill. I'm surprised at how much long(er) junk there is. In the age of construction software, this kind of infelicity avalanche shouldn't be possible. I'd give you one or two of those words, but the lot? Jeez louise. Also, what's a LIGHT PEN? ("A farm enclosure for light!" "The opposite of a heavy pen!") (8D: Implements for "writing" on computer screens) And what is "writing?" If you are making letters, you are writing. Not "writing." The use of ILLEGAL as a noun made me cringe (54A: One caught by border patrol).

Theme answers:
  • 1A: Goof (SLIP-UP) — I had MESS UP, thinking [Goof] was a verb. It appears that all the theme answers are nouns.
  • 7A: Boo-boo (FLUFF) — ????? I have never heard FLUFF used this way. Ever. Also, isn't a "boo-boo" an OWIE or little bruise or bump. I guess you can make a "boo-boo," but do you make a FLUFF? It sounds ... like it has an etymology I don't really want to know about.
  • 15D: Misprint (TYPO)
  • 37D: Muff (MISCUE)
  • 16D: Flub (FUMBLE) — I had BUMBLE. [Lined, as a furnace hearth] is about as nonsensical (to me) a clue as I have ever seen. Needless to say, FETTLED was not in my vocabulary. Neither was BETTLED.
  • 45D: Pratfall (TRIP)
  • 59A: Gaffe (BONER)
  • 60A: Screwup (HOWLER)   

This puzzle is about as out-of-my-wheelhouse as they come. I can't even look at David CARUSO (12A: Player of TV's Caine), and I thought FENSTER was from somebody's Uncle on one of those spooky '60s sitcoms. But I was thinking of Uncle Fester from "The Munster." FENSTER comes from the long-running megahit "I'm Dickens ... He's FENSTER" (1961-62) ... [cough] ... [tumbleweeds] ... I think this was the prequel to "She's the Sheriff" (10D: 1960s title sitcom character). Anyhoo, the pop culture was way out of my league today. Didn't even know the EGAN woman (51D: Susan of Broadway's "Beauty and the Beast"). I knew ENSLER from "The Vagina Monologues" (43D: Tony-winning playwright) and WHASSUP!? from those horrible Bud ads about a decade ago (20A: Bro's greeting). And I knew OHIO STATE because I went to Michigan for eight years (31D: School whose football stadium is nicknamed the Horseshoe). Your UVEA is part of your face the way your fingernail is part of your arm (9D: Part of the face whose name is derived from the latin for "grape"). Come on.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Andrew 12:11 AM  

Plus which, "margin for error" isn't even a phrase. "Margin OF error" is a phrase. "[No] room for error" is a phrase. What a gunk-fest.

Matthew G. 12:12 AM  

I came here to vent about ILLEGAL as a noun and AGENTRY (!!?!?!!?) as anything, but Rex beat me to it. Those are both inexcusable. Not bad: inexcusable.

I finished with Rex's error, and also another, as I'd never heard of FENSTER. This puzzle was just plain weird. I liked seeing {Slugabed} in a clue, though.

I am absolutely stealing the phrase "infelicity avalanche" for a future legal brief.

jae 12:13 AM  

Dang!  Tough Thurs. for me. FENSTER, PLICATE, REIGATE, FETTLED, and the oh so awkward RESPECTER...  and HOWLER?  Dios mio!

I'm with Rex, is the UVEA really part of the face and
FLUFF does not bring boo-boo to mind.

I bet I'm not alone with MUNSTER.

16d is a coin flip Natick.

I look forward to a  challenging Thus. but this was a bit to out there (e.g. AGENTRY). There was some zip, FATSO, Rex's favorite restaurant, WHASSUP... but ....

Matthew G. 12:16 AM  

Oh, but in the constructor's defense, a LIGHT PEN is very much a thing. For the last several decades at least, that's been the term for the pen that sportscasters use to draw those little white circles on your TV screen.

Tobias Duncan 12:18 AM  

Solved this in across lite and was so excited to be back on familiar turf after a week or two on paper.
Turns out I suck at solving in all formats now.
Hard to stay mad at a puzzle that references my favorite Python movie but damn this was a big bucket of frustration for me.
Maybe I will just stick to paper and at least have an excuse for taking forever on a Thursday.

Tobias Duncan 12:20 AM  

These new captchas suck ass.
For those who have not had to deal with these cheaper ones elsewhere, be sure to hit the refresh button until it gives something reasonable.

Unknown 12:23 AM  

Ugly and a little lazy - do we really need INK/IVY/IRK/IVS together? Agreed on FETTLED, new one to me

r.alphbunker 12:30 AM  

Tough puzzle. There are 186 letters in the puzzle. I had to type 300 letters before the puzzle was right, 75 of those letters were wrong and had to be replaced. Erased and reentered correct letters 39 times.

Ended up guessing wrong with bUMBLE/bETTLED.

Definitely was not on the same page as the constructor.

foodie 12:54 AM  

BIG FAT DNF in the NW...On a Thursday... I'm FULMINATing (my favorite word in the puzzle!!!!)

And talk about Malapop city! I must have entered ERR and ERROR 5 times before I actually put ERROR where it belongs.

Even the stuff I thought was a break was not. I was so sure of MoussE where there was MUDPIE,for example.

I do appreciate the fact that the theme occupied 6 words in the periphery, 3 in the reveal, and then FLAWED, CRUD, and other such elements that contribute to the gestalt...

Well, HELL!

SethG 1:08 AM  


agentry caruso miscues 1:09 AM  

Everything everyone has said...
so now I'll look for one or two positive things...

It did give me a work out...I had tons of malapops, and I actually felt I accomplished something turning MoussE into a MUDPIE and
bluepRInT into SCENARIST.

I lucked out with f/b ETTLED and Re/oIGATE, OTe/oRO. But FUMBLE started out as bobBLE.

The best thing for me is that there were as many definitions for each of the theme words as there were in the grid. I like that!

SLIPUP, FLUFF, FUMBLE, BONER, HEM (?), HOWLER, MISCUE, TRIP, TYPO, goof, boo-boo, gaffe, screwup, misprint, flub, stumble, pratfall.

I mean, that's a helluvalot going on!

But really, WHASSUP with REIGATE, and including ILLEGAL as a noun, which is tin-eared, to say the least. It's sad bec it's a dense interesting idea. Just some weird "missteps' along the way!

Just not on the same (Jim) page as the constructor...finished, but with papercuts!

acme 1:11 AM  

Ha! Foodie, we are soulmates! I was going to even make the same FULMINATing comment!!!!

Evan 1:28 AM  

The only reason -- the only one -- that I have a little bit of RESPECT for RESPECTER as a real term is because I recently saw, for the first time, the clip of Gerald Ford telling the nation why he pardoned Richard Nixon, stating that:

"The law, whether human or divine, is no RESPECTER of persons; but the law is a RESPECTER of reality."

Out of RESPECT for people's wishes that one avoid political commentary on this blog, I'll withhold my full opinion on that particular quotation. I'll just reiterate that I have some RESPECT for the term RESPECTER, but only to the extent that it is a real word and I have heard it before. That doesn't mean I consider it a good word to use in a puzzle. You might even say I'm a DISRESPECTER of that word, but I don't RESPECT DISRESPECTER either.

Anonymous 1:34 AM  

Loved it!

Anyone who does not love this puzzle (a) thinks only in the wrong box and (b) lacks the courage to admit mistakes and (c) has no sense of humor....


Evan 1:48 AM  

By the way, even though Rex calls this puzzle medium, it's worth pointing out that, as of 1:40 am Eastern, some of the top times on the NYT website are way higher than they normally are for a Thursday puzzle. Amy Reynaldo of Crossword Fiend fame clocked in at 8:21. That has to be one of her slower solving times for a 15x15 midweek puzzle in quite some time. The fastest time so far is 5:21, which I think most solvers of the world would say is quite fast -- but for the best of the best, it probably isn't.

My guess is that a lot of them got held up by the FUMBLE/FETTLED crossing. A hand up for putting a B in there like so many others.

Anoa Bob 2:00 AM  

Loved, loved, loved this puzzle! Well, maybe not REIGATE and PLICATE so much. But look! Not a single gratuitous plural among all of the theme entries. Integrity has been restored. I can sleep easy tonight, maybe even be a LATE RISER tomorrow.

Pete 2:25 AM  

Just two days ago, as I was waiting to pay for a Valentine's Day care, I browsed through a rack of incredibly cheap and tacky DVDs of movies an TV shows from ages ago that no one in their right mind would ever consider watching. I wondered at the time, who would think of issuing these? No one watched them when the first came out 40, 50, 60 years ago, they're not even campy, they're just crap. Someone thought this was a good idea, worthy of the startup costs?

"I'm Dickens, he's Fenster" wasn't even among these.

chefwen 2:33 AM  

I thought I was FLAWED to dislike this puzzle as much as I did but I see I have plenty of company. FLUFF, HOWLER, BONER (can't wait to read what evil doug or dk has to say about that one)PLICATE, REIGATE, no. no. no. Where is my whimsical Thursday rebus?

Eejit 3:04 AM  

I found this pretty easy despite some pretty weird words, but that's already been covered. Margin for error seems fine to me though.

Very weird captcha, Ethembl?

jae 3:38 AM  

@JFC...or (d) is a man of wealth and taste...

Anonymous 4:21 AM  

what can you say about a puzzle where the highlight is "illegal" used as a noun? It was the only real "ah ha!" moment. The rest was just drudge work.

Gareth Bain 4:25 AM  

All I have to say is: "Margin for Error" is to an in-the-language, idiomatic phrase; that and does anyone know the difference between buttling and fettling?

Cathelou 6:25 AM  

Thank goodness MUNSTER and FENSTER have so many letters in common, or I never would have made it out of the NE. That was what I think of as an Ovaltine moment--like when the kid in "A Christmas Story" gets his Little Orphan Annie decoder only to discover that the secret message is "Drink your Ovaltine." You think you're going to get a cute or a-ha answer...then ... FENSTER? Lots of Ovaltine here.

treedweller 7:22 AM  

ILLEGAL in this context is not quite PC, but pretty tame considering it looked like it might be a much more offensive term at first. I wondered if the Yankees just didn't know they couldn't say that . . .

But otherwise I just found this a little out of reach. First attempt I only got about half. Coming back to it later, I almost finished, but FENSTER / FLUFF (really?) / [obeSe for] FATSO did me in. I FLUFF pillows. I view a lot of popular culture as FLUFF. I like the feel of FLUFF on a bunny. But I never heard of FLUFF in this context.

Oscar 7:48 AM  

"What a hunk of junk!" -Grease

dk 8:02 AM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
dk 8:04 AM  

Andrea, this is one big BONER (chortle, snort, drool)

Sorry to all this puzzle has caused a relapse. I was going to call my sponsor but I think I am within the MARGIN FOR ERROR.

I cannot think of anything nice to say. Oh wait... FLUFF is sometimes good on bread with peanut butter

Caine, for me, is the character on Kung-fu. The show we loved to hate in H.S. with David Carradine as its star. And, who the HELL is FENSTER!!!!!! The evil twin of Lucy?

* (1 Star) I am sorry Jim this puzzle should be 54A.

Poop now I have to prove I am not a robot. I hope I do not PLICATE like a fan under all the pressure of now two flippin sets of characters -- TYPO opportunities abound.

Doris 8:09 AM  

Always knew the expression "in fine fettle," which made this fill-in easy. After finishing the puzzle, consulted the Free Online Dictionary for source, which I had never previously thought about. Knew Reigate because Margot Fonteyn (of course you know who she was) was born there.

fet·tle (ftl)
a. Proper or sound condition.
b. Mental or emotional state; spirits: was in fine fettle.
2. Metallurgy Loose sand or ore used to line the hearth of a reverberatory furnace in preparation for pouring molten metal.
tr.v. fet·tled, fet·tling, fet·tles Metallurgy
To line the hearth of (a reverberatory furnace) with loose sand or ore in preparation for pouring molten metal.

joho 8:20 AM  

I ended up with errors at bUMBLE/BETiLED. Hearths can be tiled. And don't you know the IRi preceded the IRT.

I think I'll go eat a MUDPIE.

John V 8:22 AM  

This took a **loooong*** time, well over my usual 2:30 or so Thursday ;) Managed to finish with no errors, just a bunch of lucky guesses, e.g. OTERO/REIGATE, FLUFF. Liked FULMINATE, ARTDECO.

So, does MARGIN FOR ERROR include all the cheaters on the margin? The grid was pure torture with such low connectectivity. I felt like I was TAKING THE STAIRS to navigate in and out of the corners.

capcha now TWO words?? C'mon Google; don't be evil.

Sue Mc 8:24 AM  

I tend to not think as deeply as Rex does about the clues (I count on him for that analysis), so for me this puzzle was just "meh" in terms of fun and difficulty. But, FLUFF is what goes in my hot cocoa at the end of a tough day.

dk 8:25 AM  

@chefwen, I do not think you are being fair to @evil doug. He may FULMINATE but he is much more of an adult than I. For example he would never write:

WHASSUP is that a LIVEACT in your pants or are you just glad to see me.

Or, equate LIGHTPENS with a BONER or BONER with HOWLER or SLIPUP or MUDPIE or.... You get my drift. I mean he was a pilot and those lads know their joy sticks: just sayin.

RollOutBlu 8:26 AM  

I had many of the same issues as others. I know my fireplace is safe but I don't remember FETTLING it. A HOWLER is something that makes you laugh out loud. I think of this more as a comedy thing than a screw up thing.

I would love to know how many people put in WHATSUP for "Bro's greeting" like I did. Oddly once I fixed that I was able to get FENSTER. I did remember the names going together but I never would have gotten the title. I really resisted putting that F in to make FLUFF. In New England fluff is what you put on a sandwich with peanut butter to make a fluffernutter.

Airymom 8:26 AM  

A challenge to finish, but not in a good way. You have to hate a puzzle that has David Caruso as an answer. His one dimensional acting can be summed up as follows: purse your lips, squint your eyes, and try to look scary to perps.

Fenster?---has anyone heard of, let alone seen that show. I haven't and I'm a kid of the sixties.

David 8:35 AM  

Wow, that was a butt-kicking, way way over normal Thursday at about 25 minutes. At no time did I have any major footholds - this felt very Fridayish....

Happy to add Slugabed to the lexicon, hope to see it again. Writeovers were MUDPIE for MOUSSE, WHASSUP for WHATSUP. I think I saw LIGHTPENS in a past puzzle somewhere, which was hugely helpful up in the NE.

Had no issue with the revealer or its placement. But don't understand FLUFF as a type of error, and the only definitions I knew for HOWLER were 1) something very funny and 2) a horribly humiliating letter that a Hogwarts student receives for doing something wrong (which then does correspond to today's theme)

jackj 8:41 AM  

Aside from being ringed with classic examples of snafu’s, mistakes, errata and mishaps, it was a fairly standard Thursday solve but, with some nice examples of knottiness, like PLICATE, REIGATE, FULMINATE and even CREATE, all of which make one wonder what Jim Page was snacking on when he constructed the puzzle to generate all those “ates”.

For the hits and misses we have SCENARIST, a fifty cent word that the Writer’s Guild probably frowns on but it’s a hit for me in this puzzle, as is my number one favorite WHASSUP.

For the misses, a personal peeve, AGENTRY makes representation sound tawdry, RESPECTER seems awkward and forced (even though I’m sure it is dictionary confirmable) and least liked of all, FETTLED which is a sorry excuse for a word and deserving of its lowly location, buried in a chimney.

Never having heard of REIGATE, the London suburb, after finishing the puzzle a look at Wikipedia gave its highlights which included a long list of notable past residents, most of whom are strangers, but with three worth a mention, Dame Margot Fonteyn, Andre’ Previn and his then Mrs. (Mia Farrow) and the most intriguing of all, Charlie, a parrot whose owner claims he was taught by Winston Churchill to curse Adolf Hitler. Fun city here we come!

Despite the abundance of theme entries, the puzzle still felt like a themeless exercise which, for this solver was a mini-plus, though not enough to elevate it beyond a hearty “meh”.

Blue Stater 8:43 AM  

What Rex said. I had just about all of his beefs (or beeves, if you like), and came here only to find them already enumerated. In a field that has become heavily populated in the WS era, this one is a candidate for Worst Evah.

Jp 8:59 AM  

Bravo Rex. You said everything that there is to say about this ugly, difficult and non-enjoyable puzzle.
So much pop culture, obscurities that I gave up on the puzzle.
Rex please note that the notification codes are difficult to decipher and make it almost impossible to record a comment.

Loren Muse Smith 9:17 AM  

Confidently plopping down "lazybones" and "mousse," I was off and SLIPping UP and down the quasi (playful?) INS IDS IVS INK IRK staircase and everywhere else. Count me, too, in the "bumble bettle" brigade.

With spectacular disregard to the part of speech and placement of the theme fills, I kept "trap" instead of TRIP for way too long.

And speaking of parts of speech, I didn't object to using ILLEGAL as a noun; an unabashed "royal" watcher and fan of "The Good, the Bad, the Ugly," I like it when we take one part of speech and use it as another (Natick, anyone?). My mother was a master of this and could take any word or phrase and make it into a verb:

Scene - 10 hour trip to Mytle Beach, my two sisters and I in the back seat of an Impala. "Good Morning Starshine" comes on the 8 track, a song that my sister has claimed as "her song."

Me: (very quietly)That's my song.

Sister: No! It's my song!

Me: (very quietly) Uh uh. My song.

Sister: It's MY SONG!!

Me: Nope. My song.

Sister: (wailing) Mom! Tell her it's my song, not her song!

Mom: (Sprayed with MYSIN, Salem in her mouth, turns halfway and, swatting at us)

evil doug 9:21 AM  

The stars of "I'm Dickens, He's Fenster" parlayed that show---that I actually watched when I was 11!---into pretty formidable careers. John Astin became Gomez on "The Addams Family" (ironically, not the "Munsters", since so many people fluffed that) and enjoyed many roles thereafter. And Marty Ingles became the voice of numerous cartoon characters---not to mention he married Shirley Jones, and I wouldn't mind gittin' me some of that....

TCU beat not Ohio State, which it crosses here---although they could have---but rather Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl. TCU is also in the news today because several of its players were caught in a drug sting.

"Illegal" has become acceptable through usage. ('Thru' has too, but that was last week's news....)

I enjoy learning new words in the puzzle, as long as I can somehow intuitively come to the answer. So 'fettled','Reigate', Egan, Ensler and plicate are forgiven....

You have to be a 'brother' to say 'whassup'? Well, it is Black History Month. Although I understand a show on Thursday ("More Than a Month" on PBS) debates whether it's "really a celebration of black history or a way to say, 'You black people don't really matter outside of February, and you're not really American.'" Really? Fine with me, let's do away with it. Meanwhile, the paper also says one in 12 marriages are now interracial---4.8 million. For those of us who advocate true integration, it's at least a start....

I like to fulminate,


joho 9:28 AM  

I've heard the term, "He fluffed his lines."

Cathyat40 9:33 AM  

Natick, MA, population = 33,006

Reigate, Surrey, population = 21,820

'nuff said

Anonymous 9:37 AM  

@loren muse smith...very witty and real, a mini-play.
as to the puzzle, any thurs. i solve is a great puzzle! i did like the errors all round the edges altho i agree with rex's critique.

Johhny Wad 9:40 AM  

My FLUFFer exists to give me a 59A

Rob C 9:56 AM  

FLUFF is indeed in the American Heritage Dictionary as both a noun (error) and a verb (ruin by error), although indicated as informal usage.

Marie desJardins 9:56 AM  

Can't believe I'm the only one who had BUT instead of OUT for "Excuse" -- lost over 2 minutes of solving time on that one, just staring at "BWE" and thinking, "What the HELL? I know it's a MISHAP, but how?"

JenCT 10:03 AM  

@loren: LOL; sounds very familiar - must be in some Mom rulebook...


A 45-minute slog for me.

Patrick Henry 10:05 AM  

"True Integration" is recognizing that Rosa Park's refusal to cede her seat on the bus was no less a cry for liberty for Americans than anything any of us did or said in the 1770s.

Anonymous 10:09 AM  

Worst puzzle ever. I'll pass on Mr Page from here on out.
And, the penis jokes these days are at 4th grade level. Come on, guys, you can do better than that.

Anonymous 10:09 AM  

Gosh, you folks are tough. I had a lot of fun with this puzzle.

Ulrich 10:11 AM  

I found FETTLED so improbable that I changed FUMBLE to BUMBLE and IRT to IRI (made no diff to me) to get BETILED, which made somewhat more sense...

And FENSTER is a "window in Wuppertal", to me (from Latin "fenestra"--so many building terms in German are derived from Latin b/c the Romans showed the benighted Germans how to build proper houses)--obviously, I have nothing interesting to say about the puzzle...

acmeofepitome 10:16 AM  

What good is a puzzle if you don't learn something from it? This puzzle had new words, places, and people that were unfamiliar to me. I don't mind working a puzzle that contains information I didn't previously know, and this was one of them.

The folks who bitch because they didn't know an answer aren't expanding their knowledge base when they work a puzzle.

AnnieD 10:22 AM  

Highlight: thinking of all the chocolate desserts there are...had mousse before mudpie.

Lowlight: Wassup with the "h" in whassup?!? Google has 17 million hits without the h and less than 200,000 with. I hate clues where you know the answer but don't know the spelling because it's so informal as to have no formal spelling.

All I could think of was Finster from the Bugs Bunny, "Baby Buggy Bunny" cartoon:

GILL I. 10:24 AM  

I didn't dislike this as much as the rest. We seem to get upset when there's a plethora of crosswordese but then throw in some uncommon words and it becomes CRUD. There was a lot I didn't understand..How does USE ON become a pickup line? RESPECTER sounds respectable and AGENTRY sounds lawyerish. Actually, many of the words sound like something a lawyer would toss around including an ILLEGAL which is used aplenty here in California.
Had no trouble with REIGATE - courtesy of husband and I FLUFF my pillow.

davko 10:27 AM  

Don't know how this even made it through. The inaccuracy of UVEA and the stretching of a concert into a LIVE ACT were signs of more problems to come. Maybe Rex was right, and this was all tied to the thematic intent. Not impressed.

Anonymous 10:37 AM  

I thought INVADER instead of ILLEGAL. Surprised to see ILLEGAL clued as it was, but it's certainly a standard usage of the word.

deerfencer 10:47 AM  

Ugh--as in fughly. What a mess.

Larry I in L.A. 10:50 AM  

Haven't read beyond the first comment yet, but I'm an accountant and had no problem with MARGIN FOR ERROR as an answer/concept. That's not to say that I didn't have problems with the puzzle, though.

A technical DNF for what seems like the first time in ages because bUMBLE/bETTLED seemed reasonable. (FETTLED?) Hated WHASSUP--IMHO, it's either WHAtSUP or WASSUP. Even WASSSUP would have bothered me less. I'm a child of the 60s and a TV maven with no idea re: FENSTER. Had muNSTER there until the bitter end. Almost naticked at OTERO/REIGATE. I did like the SW a bit, with the TRIP/PLICATE cross and the end of my "WOTD", FULMINATE.

Sorry if this has all been said before...and did anybody else need to refresh the captcha over and over again?

Matthew G. 10:52 AM  

The question is not whether ILLEGAL as a noun has become common through usage. It has. But it's an offensive noun. I was stunned to see it in the Gray Lady's xword puzzle, and my non-puzzle wife--an immigration lawyer--was horrified when I showed her the clue and answer. She wants to write a letter.

There are many sources I could point to condemning the use of ILLEGAL as a noun. Here's just one, from the National Association of Hispanic Journalists.

Orange 10:59 AM  

@Doris: Sheesh! If the clue had specified a reverbatory furnace, FETTLED would've been a gimme!

I'm impressed with REIGATE's eminent position in the lineup of Surrey elevations. Over 700 feet above sea level! Wow. It's a good 100, 120 feet higher than...Chicago.

Two Ponies 11:06 AM  

I wish I had something positive to say about a puzzle that has words that are new to me but....
when am I ever going to use these words in a conversation?
Illegal as a noun is fine to me since it is just a shortening of illegal alien. And the clue didn't say which border so let's not jump to conclusions.
If we're going to take that route why no outcry at Bro and its stereotype?

evil doug 11:15 AM  

I'm offended by people who jump to the head of the line, who come to America without following the rules.

I'm offended that these people and especially their children will enjoy rights here that law-abiding would-be immigrants will perhaps never be blessed to enjoy as they quietly wait their turn.

I'm offended by people who get wrapped around the axle by words but conveniently ignore the criminal behavior behind the words.

I'm offended by people who are easily offended.


Vincent L. 11:23 AM  

I enjoyed this puzzle. ILLEGAL was disturbing. LIVEACT, WHASSUP, SCENARIST, LATERISER, and FULMINATE, on the other hand, were nice. Speaking of nice, Nice One was new to me and neat.

ArtO 11:32 AM  

Agree with every rant. This as one truly UGLY puzzle for all the negative reasons cited. Rated challenging to me. DNF.

Matthew G. 11:35 AM  

Evil Doug, being in the United States without authorization is not a criminal act (except in certain specific instances where a person has been previously been ordered removed or excluded).

I am not easily offended. But calling people, rather than actions, "illegal" is inherently offensive.

In any event, immigration is strengthening our economy, not weakening it. To the extent that we have an immigration "problem" in this country, it's primarily a result of making legal immigration too difficult.

Tita 11:40 AM  

OWIE! Everything Rex said.
Yes, there were great words here as has been said, but overall, Imperfect.

Another technical FLAW...several ERROR-related answers were NOT in the FLAWED and HEM.
These "extras" did not add to the theme - they detracted from it.

Betting that MoussE for MUDPIE will win for today's Most Popular Writeover.

@dk - lol to your poop comment...!
My caphca even has punctuation and brackets! :(

Anonymous 11:45 AM  

I'm offended by commenters who watch this blog like a hawk, waiting to pounce on any innocent or brave soul who doesn't agree with the commenter and dares to voice their opinions. And I guess I'll make this anonymous since I might want to post again in the future.

Anonymous 11:48 AM  

Some good and some bad...not bad for a Thurs. Had a few ???'s with...FLUFF?...MUDPIE vs MOUSSE...Heard of MARGIN "OF" ERROR...never "FOR"...maybe room FOR error...No problem with ILLEGAL, that is what border patrol agents do, patrol our borders for ILLEGAL(s).

evil doug 11:53 AM  


I intend no offense; if you choose to find offense, that's for you to deal with. "Inherently offensive"? I guess not, if it isn't to me.

Given recent history, the security issues associated with illegally entering the country concern me as much as fairness to those waiting their turn. If it's not technically a 'criminal act', it's still potentially dangerous enough that it should be. I believe we can be respectful but firm in working to prevent unauthorized people sneaking in.

If you're suggesting that all immigration---including the unlawful variety---is helping the economy, I'd respond that that's not a good enough reason to open the gates to anyone who chooses to enter. And it should be difficult to become a citizen---I think it'll mean more to the newly sworn-in Americans, benefiting them and the country equally.

I'm fully grateful for the contributions made by natural born citizens and immigrants alike.


Anonymous 12:18 PM  

I don't know why using "illegal" as a noun sounds so much more pejorative than using the entire phrase "illegal alien," but it just does somehow.

Rex Parker 12:28 PM  

Bad puzzles do amazing things for the quality of the comments section.

And let's have a moment of silence for the "brave souls" who dare to disagree with me (every day, all the time). A moment of silence, because of course I had them all killed. They will be missed.


Mr. Benson 12:41 PM  

For a long time I considered "RUMBLED" at 16D, giving me "RETILED" at 16A where "FETTLED" should be (I've never heard of "FETTLED," and there can be tiles in hearths, right??). And yeah, "RUMBLED" doesn't fit the clue one bit, but then neither does "FLUFF" as far as I know.

I've also never seen "PLICATE" in my life, but was sure enough on the crosses to keep it there.

Lousy experience, this one.

Anonymous 12:43 PM  

I've seen "fluff" in the context of misspeaking one's lines while acting.

evil doug 1:02 PM  

Michael: You're welcome!

And to think it even got you off that damn Twitter to come back here and make a rare visit to your first baby. Almost like old times....


Michael 1:08 PM  

Weird puzzle. Usually when I can't make much headway on a Thursday, there's a gimmick I haven't seen, like a rebus or something. Then I got "MARGIN ___ ERROR", and tried to think how to get "OF" into three boxes. By this time I realized there wasn't going to be a gimmick, just strange clues and answers.

Mel Ott 1:13 PM  

The only thing in this puzzle I will defend is ILLEGAL as a noun. It is very much in the language.

Everything else in this puzzle sucks.

And @Tobias is right. These new captchas suck as much as this puzzle.

Doc John 1:19 PM  

No mention of UNE?
How is that a good one?

MaryBR 1:19 PM  

Just would like to point out that while WHASSUP is an accepted spelling, the far more common one (18m google hits vs 1m) is WASSUP. Which is why I had WHAtSUP and FENTTER for a while. ugh.

I think all my other complaints (of which there were many) have been aptly covered so far

chefbea 1:26 PM  

Too tuff for me. I did notice all the clues around the puzzle being alike but still...DNF

@Peter from yesterday..I too saw your Daughter's wonderful blog. My daughter in Rome has a blog as well.

And also ..I read the late posts when I get up in the morning. The last post anonymous 4:27...hope that has been removed by our fearless leader. That was horrible!!!

jae 1:28 PM  

@Doc John -- UNE is one in the French city of Nice.

And, thanks Rex, finally.

Tita 1:37 PM  

@retireed_chemist - Since it was late when you posted yesterday, congrats again to you and Jerry Lee!

JHC 1:38 PM  

I'm a theater person. (I threw down Susan EGAN with no crosses.) But I hesitated on Eve ENSLER. She's the only playwright named Eve I know, and it fits, but... she had one Broadway show, it lasted a month, and wasn't nominated for anything. Tony winning?

I ask, and it turns out she got an honorary, non-competitive Tony last year. So, yeah. They put in somebody who's know to theater people and not many others, and they clue her with the most irrelevant part of her resume.

oldbizmark 1:43 PM  

yucky puzzle. and, oh yeah. i almost forgot. michigan sucks.

retired_chemist 2:01 PM  

Hand up for bUMBLE @ 16D, which came after bobBLE. Could. Not. Shake. the first B, so DNF. Should have written down SC??ARIST because that might have let me see the EN.

Also hand up for agreeing with Rex's overall take on this one.

latinlover 2:07 PM  

Agree with the apparent minority here who don't have a problem with ILLEGALS as a noun. Very common usage and not inherently insulting IMO--though of course it can be in the context of a slur. In and of itself it's simply a description; should we prefer the very awkward UNDOCUMENTEDS instead? Grow a spine--I work with and around these people every day and am quite sure they'd be greatly amused at the white guilt displayed here.

Skunk 2:09 PM  

long time reader, first time commenter...

First, I agree with every single complaint. "Agentry?" I worked for a literary agent for three years and never once even considered this a word. Never. All the other ridiculous words are covered above. (But seriously, fettled? FETTLED!?!)

Second, it breaks my heart to come here and see this marked "medium!" I think it should be ranked "impossibly stupid" so we can all maintain our thin veneer of fragile self-regard. Please. I have so little. "cue the rattle of a tin cup"

Doc John 2:13 PM  

@jae- Gotcha, thanks.
I had a feeling it was something like this but the inanity of this puzzle must have clouded my mind!

dk 2:13 PM  

@anon, penis jokes at a fourth grade level? Thanks! And, I did not even have to TRAWL for that compliment. Seriously, I got a rise out of this puzzle, it really FETTLED my HEM if you catch my drift.

Rex, my capcha is PoSt nEVEerMORE. Why is that?

I want to go fishing with you @evil doug, every time you chum the water....

poop x2 - the robot test.

Lewis 2:43 PM  

@rex -- acerbic and very funny writeup. Brought me to this blog with a big smile.

I had the second O and the A for 31D and put in SETONHALL, but quickly deleted it because I never remember hearing that they had a football team, and in the back of my mind I remembered the Horseshoe belonging to a major football team. I also threw in ECLAIR for 26A as a start.

The cluing was slippery and the feel of the puzzle was different from what I'm used to -- I felt like the puzzle broadened my horizons. Learned PLICATE, which I'll try to remember, and FETTLED, which I probably won't. CRUD HELL might be another name for this puzzle, not that it was a bad puzzle, but it seemed to accent the negative.

I thought it was clever to make a puzzle out of the term MARGIN FOR ERROR.

DigitalDan 2:46 PM  

I like 'em all.

A puzzle is good if it's hard, but doable. This one qualified. A slog is OK, if it ends successfully.

Lightpens were the means to communicate directly with objects on computer display screens in the early decades of such things. The pen didn't have a light, but a sensor which noticed when the display's light hit it, and calculated screen location from that event. I doubt things have been done this way for quite a long time, even with the telustrators [sp?], but I guess it's possible. Modern touch-sensitive systems use a different mechanism.

Fun that "une" is in fact not a good one, but it is a nice one.

Wood 2:50 PM  

Didn't hate it as much as most of you... Thought I would never get the NE (FLUFF, FENSTER, FATSO...). No one has pointed out the terribleness of 'Tubby' as a clue for FATSO. Clue is adjective, answer is noun. Unless you consider them both appellations? Never heard "tubby" used that way. Somehow muddled through and finished when I changed BETILED to FETILED and then FETTLED in a fit of desperation.

Anonymous 3:04 PM  

I agree with the general consensus of outrage. This was pretty bad.

However, I did find that usage of "fluff" in the OED (definition c.3.c), and it seems to be a strictly British usage from the examples:

c.3.c A bungling of a stroke or movement in games; a mistake, a blunder.

   1928 Daily Express 10 May 10/2 Walter Hagen‥hit a [golf] ball no more than a couple of yards.‥ There is nothing malicious in the way the mind fixes on that two-yard ‘fluff’.    1960 Times 21 Mar. 3/3 In addition he achieved four astonishing place kicks, which made his costly fluff against France unbelievable.    1970 Guardian 5 Aug. 18/8 Naturally, the Manson defence lawyers leaped on the fluff as an outrage.

Anonymous 3:09 PM  

I also heard of fluffing ones lines. And of saying I made a boo boo, but they are not the same to me. Nor are several of the others paris: muff and MISCUE; screwup and HOWLWER. Felt a lot of the cluing mushy. I'm not sure I think HEMming and hawing is stumbling either.

Anyway, DNF, little holes here and there. Wanted t at 16d to somehow get tiles into 16a.

I am insulted by a machine asking me to prove I am not a machine. Goggle getting way out of hand. Last night's The Middle had the mother trying to buy tickets and being frustrated by the catchpas.

Anonymous 3:22 PM  

Blogger changed completely. Where's the section for Name/url and all that? It ate my comment. No more icons. Help.

Anonymous 3:24 PM  

@Rex - I'm laughing so hard. I wasn't referring to you watching us like a hawk which I suppose you do now that I think about it. But I'm not going anywhere. I love this blog.

Bird 4:07 PM  

I think the theme itself describes this puzzle. Maybe Mr. Page did it on purpose.

Love all the comments today, but did not love the puzzle. I was able to complete it even though I had to guess at a couple answers that I never heard of, but the fill is just fugly. I like learning new words, but I think they should be real words (in the language, common phrases, etc.). RESPECTER, AGENTRY, etc. leave me with a sour aftertaste. And OTERO crossing REIGATE is just wrong (I guessed the E because of the REI/ROYALTY connection). Aren't there rules about this kind of stuff?

@longsuffering - Lin does it again. He didn't score 20+ points, but got a career high 13 assists.

sanfranman59 4:18 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 22:55, 18:59, 1.21, 86%, Challenging

Top 100 solvers

Thu 11:49, 9:18, 1.27, 88%, Challenging

I'll add my voice to the chorus of boos. I con't recall a Thursday puzzle with so many clue/answer combinations that were completely unknown to me ... FETTLED, AGENTRY, REIGATE, PLICATE, FLUFF (in this sense), HOWLER (again, in this sense), SCENARIST, EGAN, ENSLER, LIGHTPENS, UVEA (defined as a part of the face), FENSTER. I'll chalk it up to a learning experience and take some solace in knowing that I'm not the only one who struggled. Next puzzle please.

fergus 4:29 PM  

I hope some love sways over to this puzzle. Yes, it was clumsy oaf, but bumbling was all part of the appealing plot.

archaeoprof 4:58 PM  

F/B at 16A/D was a pure-bred, high-fiber, condensed, unadulterated Natick for me.

But I like the theme. And SISI is so typically Italian. In Rome, they never say just Si. It's always Si, Si!


Mighty Nisden 6:13 PM  

WHASSUP with a revealer? It added nothing to the puzzle. That fact that all of the MARGINal words were errors played out by the clues. It didn't reveal anything.

@annieD - Great memory on Baby Buggy Bunny. Ah the days after school when I would watch looney tunes!

@Skunk - love your new Relative difficulty 'impossibly stupid'. Good laugh at that one.

@Rex thanks for checking in.... er... I agree with you.

mac 6:14 PM  

Not a lot of fun on this usually fun puzzle day....

Dramatist at 1D slowed me down a bit, and off course fettled, but it was the NE that was toughest. Wassup or what's up in my opinion, nothing in between.

Reigate I know, just didn't remember the spelling.

My husband tried to help me out, put in "bum" at 23A when I was out and he was guarding the arts section.

Anonymous 6:25 PM  

Evil Doug saying he intends no offense is like me saying I'm not anonymousE. Even worse it's his way of saying, Just saying. Once someone says to you that they are offended by something and then you proceed to blast them with what they are offended by, what else could you possibly intend? That's like shooting someone with a gun and saying I didn't mean to shoot you.

If all the illegal immigrants are known as Illegals I guess that means everyone else is henceforth known as Legals.

There's a reason why people who sneak into this country are not committing a crime. When those people vote for you it's tough to outlaw them....


Norm 6:29 PM  

It's late, but I'll chime in. I;m with the "no problem with illegals" group. Matthew, illegal and criminal are not synonyms. If you are in this (or any) country without having complied with the rules for entry, you are there illegally; i.e., against the law.

Anonymous 7:42 PM  

Thank you Rex for validating my feelings towards this puzzle. I actually lost interest before finishing. Rare for me!

Z 9:57 PM  

"Wetback," "beaner," "illegal." Yep, all "in the language." "Nigger" is in the language, too. The effect of words like "wetback" and "illegal" is to insure that we think not of the essential humanity of the people being named, but some characteristic of the person that will scare us.

ILLEGAL is just the most egregious HOWLER (according to the Urban Dictionary: A sporting term used to describe a particularly terrible piece of play, usually due to the stupidity of a single player. A howler is not incurred through bad luck or even poor play, but rather through absolute amateurish hopelessness). I think Rex was too kind.

On the other hand, if you want a more humorous take on our national obsession with illegal immigration you might want to try playing Smuggle Truck.

sanfranman59 10:04 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 5:49, 6:49, 0.85, 4%, Easy (5th lowest median solve time of 138 Mondays)
Tue 8:50, 8:52, 1.00, 55%, Medium
Wed 10:52, 11:49, 0.92, 36%, Easy-Medium
Thu 23:27, 18:59, 1.24, 88%, Challenging

Top 100 solvers

Mon 3:18, 3:40, 0.90, 9%, Easy
Tue 4:53, 4:35, 1.07, 72%, Medium-Challenging
Wed 5:30, 5:52, 0.94, 37%, Easy-Medium
Thu 11:46, 9:17, 1.27, 87%, Challenging

Sfingi 10:05 PM  

@Ulrich - beat me to it. I used to tell my inmates to open the Fenster, and being Latins, they knew what I meant, and probably thought it was English.

Though I mostly hated it, I did learn two real words: PLICATE, and FETTLE, both of which I will use in talking to my antiques.

Had mousse before MUDPIE, director before SCENARIST. And many blanks.
And BONER means something entirely different in my world.

Mr Page, too clever by half, MUDPIES are for throwing.

evil doug 2:51 AM  

To try to compare "illegal" to those other pejorative terms is specious, Z.

My point: After trying for the better part of my 60 years to accede to the (generally unknown) language preferences of others, it dawned on me that it was a futile exercise.

As we've seen in this discussion, the single word 'illegal' affects everyone a little differently. Some say it's okay if used as an adjective with 'alien', some say it shouldn't be used at all in this context, some have no problem with it.

So I'm sincere when I say that my only judgment must be: Do I myself intend to offend? Because many---even common---words like 'illegal' will offend someone. Some people, in my opinion, actually like to act offended because it affords a certain power over the speaker/writer---the ability to change someone's behavior/language is indeed intoxicating....

I don't use the 'n' word, or the 'c' word, or a few others similar to those you mention because I don't see any way to use them without an intent to be offensive.


Don Byas 4:12 AM  

@BIRD - Had the same idea. The puzzle is one big self-reference.

ILLEGAL !?!? Are Tom Tancredo and Lou Dobbs guest editing? Did a double-take as I was filling.

ILLEGAL as a noun is in the language, but it's dehumanizing. "You can't have any ILLEGALS working on our property. I'm running for office for Pete's sake, I can't have ILLEGALS." Mitt Romney October 2011

jberg 8:33 AM  

I knew REIGATE, figured out FETTLED from the ordinary expression "in fine fettle," do object to ILLEGAL in that sense - I mean, if we use it to mean someone who once broke a law, we are problably all illegals -- but the lack of symmetry did bother me. Also, it seemed like any of the theme clues could be used for any of the answers. And what I've been seeing lately is WHADDUP - so that held me up.

Anonymous 10:30 AM  

Fenster refers to a short-lived comedy starring John Astin and Marty Ingles called "I'm Dickens, He's Fenster"

Howard B 12:13 PM  

This was a theme with good potential, in search of better grid and fill.

The Knicks should sign it to sit on the bench for a few games, then perhaps someday we'll get to see its full abilities.

Z 4:29 PM  

@Evil - It's really not specious. I accept your intent. Please accept that the effect is the same as "wetback."

Anonymous 5:34 PM  

Did the puzzle a day late, but got a charge reading the blog.

My my we do get fluffed up when we DNF.

Chill man chill.

Bungerting Baloner 11:54 PM  

Kind of a gnarly one that took me much longer than usual for a Thursday. Some pretty strange word usage, although I did get a chuckle out of "ILLEGAL" mostly from anticipating the kind of commentary it would generate.

If you steal from a grocery store, that's illegal. If you run a red light, that's illegal. If you run the border, that's ... oh, wait ... undocumented.

Lola505 1:23 PM  

Not happy with this Thursday puzzle. There was nothing intellectual here, just slang and a theme of error references.

There were however a couple of new-to-me words, 16A -- Fettled and 57A Plicate.

I prefer a challenging Thursday puzzle, or at least a clever gimmick.

Solving in Seattle 1:31 PM  

The ILLEGAL FULMINATion again! One of the first Rex blogs that I read had the PC and grammatical discussion of this reference to illegal border crossers.

In my next friendly Texas Hold'em game I'm going to announce that I PLICATE. New word for me.

In four years of night law school I never once heard the term AGENTRY. Mr. Page, you should be ashamed. But in your defense, President Dub legitimized RESPECTER.

connie in seattle 4:03 PM  

When I finished this puzzle on paper, I wanted to plicate it.
Then it would have had some use.

DMGrandma 4:43 PM  

Agree with all the comments about the "robot words". This is the third time I've tried to post this as my iPad keeps trying to make sense out of them. Think I've turned that off??? But. I'm here because I don't understand how 36A is "hem". Must be my own blind spot as nobody else mentioned it. Now to see ifI, areal person, can post this.

LongBeachLee 4:58 PM  

I know better but can't resist. A person who enters a country illegally is illegal as long as he remains there. Under the circumstances I do believe many "illegals" should be legalized, but nevertheless I still believe in calling a spade a spade. Playing card that is.

Waxy in Montreal 5:36 PM  

Whassup with this? Agree with all the critical comments above. Puzzle was indeed Challenging but only because it was so poorly constructed. IMHO the true revealer was 14D - CRUD. Nuff said.

Dirigonzo 6:38 PM  

Well, I'm with @fergus wishing a little more love had been bestowed on the puz. Jim Page gave us plenty of opportunities to screw up and it seems we found every one of them, and then had to name them! It seems like most folk finished (if the comments are to believed) so the cluing must not have been all that bad. Myself, I bUMBLE(d) my way through and found it satisfyingly challenging.

@DMGrandma - as in "HEM and haw", I think.

DMGrandma 7:12 PM  

Thanks @Dirigonzo. That occurred to me, but to hem and haw is to be evasive, and that isn't the same as to stumble.

Dirigonzo 7:44 PM  

@DMGrandma - I found this at "Hem \Hem\, verb (used without an object) [[root]15. See {Hem}, interj.] To make the sound expressed by the word hem; hence, tohesitate in speaking. ''Hem, and stroke thy beard.'' --Shak."

And The Word Detective adds this: "So, put together, “hem and haw” vividly describes that moment when our mouth stalls for time while our mind attempts to assess the ramifications of our possible answers, the mental “looking” before the verbal “leaping.” And while it’s annoying to ask a question and be answered with “hemming and hawing,” there’s an argument to be made that the world could do with a little less instant certainty."

So I think I am willing to accept "Stumble, in a way" as a legitimate Thursday clue for HEM.

Spacecraft 9:42 PM  

An almost-DNF, thanks to a murky NE that featured MUDPIE (really? There's an edible dessert called that?) right under AGENTRY. I was astounded when, after AGENCY left me a letter short and I looked in my Scrabble dictionary for similar words, to find that one staring out at me. I saw it and still couldn't believe it. AGENTRY. Who knew what depths English wordsmiths could sink to? And all this leading to FLUFF for "boo-boo?" (Hey mommy, I have a fluff. --What do you want me to do about that??)

I actually finished with a single-letter ERROR, at 16d. FUMBLE never occurred to me; I wish it had, because I'd have put it in. I guessed MUMBLE. The across word? No idea.

One note about RESPECTER: on all these pharmaceutical ads that mention RISK FACTORS, I kept hearing today's word instead. I wondered for the longest time what RESPECTERS had to do with health.

The cluing is very Saturday, which didn't hel-p matters.

Sharon AK 1:49 AM  

Didn't anyone else have LAZYBONES for 2DSlugabed? I was really sory to haave to give it up. Much more fun than "late riser"
I would far rather eat a chocolate mousse than a mudpie.
Could not get on the wave length for most of this puzzle but "agentry" was the only word I thought questionable.

Anonymous 2:35 PM  

When I look up a crossword clue and find a Rex Parker site, I know I'm in good hands.

Thank you.

rain forest 5:06 PM  

Late to the party. Well, as a syndi denizen, I'm always late, but I was away for this one, and so couldn't get to it until today.
tough sledding, though Reigate, respecter, fluff, howler and fettled were known to me.

so tired of adolescent comments in this blog. I know you're not supposed to get personal, but @dk, every single day, enough. Don't need slobber here. Figure it out.

Tyler James Young 8:38 PM  

Turning a semantically saturated phrase into a verb is not comparable to reducing a person to an object. The latter is something only a shit would do.

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