Silents star Nita / THU 3-22-12 / Laulau side dish / Wearer of crown since 1952 / Celebrity widowed in 1980 / O Henry winner Region of Ice 1967 Dead 1973 / 1930s migrant / Bramble book of Robert Bridges poems

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Constructor: Alan Arbesfeld

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: -EAKS / -AKES — STEAKS phrase flipped to STAKES phrase and vice versa. Ditto BREAKS/BRAKES

Word of the Day: BURL (54D: Small knot) —
  1. A knot, lump, or slub in yarn or cloth.
    1. A large rounded outgrowth on the trunk or branch of a tree.
    2. The wood cut from such an outgrowth, often used decoratively as a veneer.

Read more:
• • •

I'm really surprised this theme passed muster. Can't you do this kind of thing with like a billion different words? These phrases aren't funny. I barely know what "chopped steak" is. Thursdays should be much more interesting and adventurous than this. Tough cluing kept this Thursday-tough, but this things's a real disappointment, theme-wise.

Theme answers:
  • 19A: Entrees for one of Dion's backup singers? (BELMONT STEAKS)
  • 30A: Discounts at garages? (PARKING BREAKS)
  • 36A: Severely reduced wagers? (CHOPPED STAKES)
  • 52A: What mechanics may do as part of a tuneup? (SERVICE BRAKES)
Started this one strangely, spilling backwards into the middle of the grid starting with EN LAI, then "IT IS I" to STAN to "CONAN" to OKIE. Not sure what happened after that. I know I threw in I THEE with no help, and then got RAKE. The "Dion's back-up singers" part of the theme clue gave me the BELMONT I needed to get going in the NW. Figured out STEAKS and got NE from there. Had most trouble with the E and SE. Honestly, -PPED STAKES did nothing for me. Guessed OHM'S LAW off just the "W" but was not at all sure (38D: Current principle). Couldn't get TREED (49D: In a tough spot) or OVERT (50D: Plain) to fall from their first letters. No way I could see ON ALERT from [Primed]. Couldn't see COLLEEN (56A: Irish lass) because SHEILA was stuck in my head (wrong country). Tough. But ultimately doable.

I know almost nothing about the "Ring" cycle, so SPRITES? If you say so (1A: The Rhinemaidens in the "Ring" cycle, e.g.). The only author of "The Dead" that I know is Joyce ... right? And it fit, but the years were all wrong (9D: O. Henry Award winner for "In the Region of Ice" (1967) and "The Dead" (1973) = Joyce Carol OATES). "Bramble BRAE" means less than nothing to me (32D: "Bramble ___" (book of Robert Bridges poems)). Perhaps if I had any idea who Robert Bridges was ... Robert BURNS would've helped here. Maybe. Otherwise, I was on fairly comfortable ground, and benefited from a lot of well-placed gimmes, SANTINI being foremost among them (7D: "Great" part for Duvall). ONO and ZAK were also easy (57D: Celebrity widowed in 1980 / 24: Ringo's drumming son). Don't know what/where Laulau is, but its "side dish" couldn't be much else but POI. TÊTE pretty much solved itself (29D: Casse-___ (French brainteaser)). Same with OKIE (28D: 1930s migrant). Didn't know MISS U.S.A. straight off, but had the MISS in place before I ever saw the clue, so there wasn't much guesswork there (12D: Wearer of a crown since 1952). Final letter was the "G" in COG / GEM (36D: Certain tooth / 48A: Sweetheart).
    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


    jae 12:12 AM  

    Easy-medium for me.  Got the first theme answer with no crosses and sorta figured it out from there. Had to erase EYE for COG but that was about it.  This was an OK Thurs. but nothing really stood out for me.  Knowing stuff like SANTINI, THEEDGE, ZAK, OHMSLAW, NALDI .... really helped.  On the other hand a HOE has a flat head??

    Random trivia alert:  Ohm's Law is expressed mathematically as V(or E) = I x R.  Where V is voltage, I is current and R is resistance .

    Anonymous 12:15 AM  

    I struggled because I typed in "Celinecuisine" for 19 Across.

    pk 12:19 AM  

    I think I must be missing something on this theme - steaks, breaks, stakes, brakes? Words that sound alike and start with st or br? Surely there is more to this?

    Puzz had an old-timey feel to it (despite Simpson's ref) with stuff like aileron and ohmslaw (@Rex, am so glad you got that off the w - I didn't get it at all)

    Had several "bahs" and "yegs" and "really?s" in the margins.

    How is a sweetheart a gem? Is it like "My secretary is such a gem. Sweetheart, would you get us some more coffee?" Or is it an old-timey sweet sort of ref? Just askin.

    pk 12:22 AM  

    Celine Cuisine is a much more entertaining answer!

    Evan 12:39 AM  

    The theme didn't really bother me, but man, I hate it when I run into a clue with a question mark and then not understand the pun or wordplay when I get the answer. And in this case, that happened twice. I had no idea what a SEABEE is, so the "making camp" joke didn't make any sense to me. And what on earth does SWAK stand for? I don't remember ever seeing it on Valentine's Day, but I'm going to guess that the WAK stands for "with a kiss." And the S is....sweet? Sugary? Sweaty? Sassy?

    (Ah, I see that it's Sealed. I guess that on people's wedding days, their marriages are SWAKed, right?)

    And I'm a little bit confused by the clue on 58-Across. How do DUELERS request seconds? I thought that they just abide by a gentleman's agreement that they'll shoot on "draw" or after 10 paces, but not necessarily after a number of seconds. How often do we hear cowboys in the movies say to each other, "Alright, how many seconds were you thinking before shootin' time? Five? Six? I'd like at least twelve, if that's okay with you."

    (Ah, after looking up duel on Wiki just now: "Each party would name a trusted representative (a 'second') who would, between them, determine a suitable "field of honour". It was also the duty of each party's second to check that the weapons were equal and that the duel was fair." Great, yet another punchline that I just didn't get. In my defense, it sounds a bit archaic.)

    Oh well. At least I got OHM'S LAW -- that clue on 38-Down is wicked good.

    chefwen 12:40 AM  

    @Rex Lau Lau is a pretty tasty island favorite. Usually pork but chicken, butterfish or beef can be used. Wrap in a taro leaf and steam. I wouldn't touch POI with a ten foot pole.

    Totally tripped myself up in the NW, had INI in place at 7D and thought I was being very clever coming up with houdINI. Had to look in my movie book to see how very wrong I was. Oh well. Had quit a few white spaces remaining up there, so a big DNF for me.

    Agree with Rex with theme rating.

    Evan 12:41 AM  

    @ Anonymous 12:15:

    I'm with pk. CELINE CUISINE is quite a great answer for that clue. Of course, it would also work as "Entrees for Dion?" and not just her backup singers.

    Tobias Duncan 12:47 AM  

    Evan I was just about to correct you and tell you that it was DUEtERS that requested seconds and that you had made an error you were unaware of.

    Stupid paper solving.

    I really sucked ass tonight.Once again I could not get any momentum. My grid was so sparse for so long that I was sure there was a rebus afoot.

    Perhaps Friday will be kind again like it was last week.

    Matthew G. 1:02 AM  

    Most rewarding part of this solve was getting BELMONT STEAKS off just the L without having seen any of the other theme entries yet. I got an oldies pop culture reference and a wacky pun simultaneously and without crosses? That'll be the only time that happens this year. Or decade.

    This felt more like a hard Wednesday than a Thursday, but the puzzle didn't decide what day it ran. Worked fine for me. I kind of liked the hard cluing mixed with a lighter theme. It was different.

    pk 1:11 AM  

    I'm still mad at my big brother dk for yesterday's reveal of my home-office work attire, but since he did, I will add that I have sequins on my crocs and glitter in my hair, too

    Geometricus 1:42 AM  

    Two things delayed me finishing: I had EcLIPSE for "Orbital figure" and GOESbAD for "Cracks up" which were both plausible answers in my head. But I knew something was up when I could not thing of anyone or anything that wore a crown since 1950 that started with "BISS--". Bissell carpet cleaner thing? Didn't remember a crown in the logo...

    Should have known ELLIPSE because I am a sci/math guy. But overall not a bad time for me for a Thursday, about 25 min.

    Aileron Colleen Missusas 2:11 AM  

    I tend to love Alan Arbesfeld puzzles, and after chatting with him at the ACPT , I will now tend to love him too!
    He always has light bouncy themes that I wish I had thought of...tho this one i feel mixed about.
    Like the AKES/EAKS swaperoo...but would have done four different ones...are there others?
    Just ran the alphabet, guess not! So now I like it more...

    Actually I had to run the alphabet on four clues and couldn't get them right away: ?RS, ?AT, HO?, CO?

    Singer =, ran thru bAT, cAT, fAT, gAT, hAT,
    mAT, pAT, rAT, tAT and missed it. Same with ?RS and missed IRS... Ok, I've just bored myself too in the name of full disclosure.

    Fell for the EcLIPSE...

    ATTENTION @TOBIAS! I put in DHS with NO letters in place! I've gone to the dark side!

    Anonymous 3:40 AM  

    Really didn't like this. Started with paprika for 15 across and went all the way to the bottom of the well after that. said I would be smarter after caratoid artery surgery, guess not.

    Z 7:43 AM  

    I liked the theme better than Rex, though it took me a long time to grok it. Common phrases turned into puns by using their homophones seems more than fair fare for a Thursday.

    I struggled in each corner in succession, finishing in the NW. I had nothing but ROLLTOP and SANTINI for the longest time. Tried ooOlalA and pTO, but not knowing specifics about Wagner or being alive when Dion and his back-up singers were big really slowed me down (The Supremes, The Shirelles, The Pips, Dawn, that pretty much exhausts my list of back-up singer groups that come readily to my mind). EROTICA finally perked me up, the spelling of AILERON finally came to me and the corner finally fell. Medium for everything else so medium challenging overall for me.

    I paid my $20 to do the ACPT puzzles. Finished puzzle one with an error (had an 'a' where I needed an 'o'). Puzzle two kicked my ass. Finished on a retry with some assistance from Uncle Google. Had more white than fill when time expired on my first try.

    joho 7:51 AM  

    So wanted some abbreviation of Queen Elizabeth for 12D. And Lorelei seemed more right than SPRITES.

    I wasn't crazy about the theme, either. The answers aren't whacky enough for me. I mean, I know SERVICEBRAKES is a play on a tennis term, but when a mechanic services brakes that's exactly the thing he's doing. It's not funny.

    Chopped liver is funny, CHOPPEDSTAKES not so much.

    I might have gotten out of the wrong side of the bed this morning.

    JohnV Not 80 In TheCharlotte Fog 8:16 AM  

    Yep, medium. Got it in pretty average time. @Evan, I understand SEABEE to mean CB which in turn means Construction Battalion/Brigade(?), a component of the Navy, who build/make camps -- camps? would have thought harbors, but, whatever. Really liked that 1D clue.

    Wrote BELMONTSTEAKS into an empty grid, pretty obvious to me.

    Good thing the clue for HOE was flat-headed and not flat-bottomed, or we'd be in big trouble, you know? CHOPPEDSTAKES/COG/HOE was last to fall. Really liked 56D clue, "Ear piece"; 58A clue, "One requesting seconds". Like @Rex, thought much of the cluing was particularly challenging.

    Speaking of AILERONS, a shout-out to @Evil Doug, where's he been?

    Sue McC 8:28 AM  

    A blah theme. Semi-challenging fill. Meh.

    dk 8:40 AM  

    @pk, when I am mad I just put on Bowies's Lets Dance and twirl. The glitter is a nice touch. I might try to find the little happy face "buttons" for the crocs. Hmmm... I wonder if this would work with a TOGAE

    The puzzle. Living in a river valley with a topography similar to the Rhine and being surrounded by back yard mechanics I know a few things about Rings.

    First Rhinemaidens are not SPRITES they are Nymphs. Sprites are woodland, Nymphs are water borne.

    Second, A tuneup is done on the engine and not the drive train. You may change the rings or adjust the timing but a tune-up does not touch the brakes.

    My RASSLE with the above sucked some of the joy out of this puzzle but not so much. The puzzler for me was THEEDGE as I penned in the Flea. U2 came out during what I consider the lost decade of rock so while they are generally outstanding they are not on my turn table.

    There was a lot more to like about this puzzle than not so:

    🌟🌟🌟 (3 Stars) OHMSLAW and ELLIPSE: woo woo! Thanks Alan.

    jberg 8:41 AM  

    Drat! Finished with an error -- TOGAs and T.H. sEDGE - I know nothing about U2 members. Also had GOES bAD before MAD, and ITs me before IT IS I - thought the contraction in the clue merited one in the answer. I read the clue for 34A as luau rather than laulau, so I had no problem with that one!

    I got BELMONT ST---S from the clue, and thought the theme must be puns about horse races. Is there a Preakness garage somewhere? But eventually the crosses gave me PARKING BREAKS, after which it seemed lame. More medium than challenging, and some nice fill -- AILERON, COLLEEN, EROTICA, ELLIPSE. DUELERS is odd though; I think DUELists is more in the language.

    @pk, think "I got a sweetheart of a deal" on this baby.

    jesser 9:08 AM  

    I can't decide whether to say "Stupid EcLIPSE" or "Stupid me."

    Based on a Halloween contest at the now-defunct Ramona's in Taos, during which Drew, Tom and I went as Miss Earthquake (me), Miss Poseiden Adventure and Miss Towering Inferno, I confidently wrote in fallING at 8D. We took third place. In every subsequent drag appearance (there have only been a handful), I wore pumps. None of this makes me a 45A. :-p

    Rex said everything there is to say about the appeal of the theme, although if ACME is impressed, I'll shine a little love its way.

    Happy Thursday, all!

    Anonymous 9:20 AM  

    Could someone explain RAT for 36A Singer? Thanks.

    archaeoprof 9:33 AM  

    @anonymous 920am: think mafia.

    G in COG/GEM was my last letter too.

    @aileron colleen: I read your last name as "mezzuzahs." :)

    David 9:35 AM  

    @Anonymous 9:20, people who "rat" on others, e.g. police informants in criminal cases, or said to "sing" for the authorities. So a Singer in this case is a Rat.

    Well, this week's puzzles seem to fit the day of the week very well. Yesterday's felt very Wednesdayish, today was definitely a Medium Thursday for me. Got the theme with BREAKS/BRAKES, though the 1st word of all 4 answers was a real challenge, except for PARKING. I know next to nothing about Celine Dion's band, and like @Rex, didn't hone in on CHOPPED easily.

    Nice 7 letter stacks in all 4 corners, though.

    John V 9:36 AM  

    @Anonymous 9:20. RAT is an informant to the police, who, "sings" to them. FWIW, I loved that clue.

    orangeblossomspecial 9:39 AM  

    Here is a link to one of the puzzle's major clues: Dion and the BELMONTS.

    Funny how some things are obvious to some folks but not so obvious to others. I grew up eating CHOPPED STEAK and listening to Dion and the BELMONTS.

    Sir Hillary 9:40 AM  

    Didn't like this one. Boooooring theme. BELMONTSTEAKS is cute, but the others are not so GRATE. Looking forward to the next two days...

    Tita 9:56 AM  

    @Evan - back in antiquity, people took colored fluid, sticks, and flat white sheets, wrote tender loving messages on them, put them in a folded variety of the above flat white thing, and Sealed the envelope With A Kiss...

    Thanks for your explanation of Seconds - DNK.

    @Z - I made the same ACPT error as you - only twice!!! To avoid spoilers...I substitute A for O, and T for D...a plausible answer for 32D - and it works with the crosses...(if you are tense-challenged...)

    @DK - right on re: SERVICEBRAKES

    Lots of romance in this puzzle...ITHEEWED, COLLEEN, GEM/Sweetheart, SWAK...

    quilter1 10:20 AM  

    CHOPPED was my last theme entry, and I guess I have heard of CHOPPED STEAK, like a minute steak maybe, but it seems obscure. Otherwise a fun puzzle for me and I solved without too much hesitation.

    chefbea 10:29 AM  

    Of course loved all the food in the puzzle. Got the theme right away...the steaks and breaks fit the answers either way you spell them.

    But what is 14D - DHS???

    We have an antique roll top it.

    GILL I. 10:34 AM  

    I tried to find something that stood up and took a bite out of me but not even a close ceegar.
    All of these answers have been around since The Belmonts sang "A Teenager in Love." Each night I ask the stars up above why can't my Thursday's be less grating.
    I had KISS spelled backwards for 11D for no other reason than SSIK sounds good.

    Wikipedia 10:35 AM  

    A water sprite (also called a water fairy or water faery) is a general term for an elemental spirit associated with water, according to alchemist Paracelsus. Water sprites are said to be able to breathe water or air, and in some cases, can fly. They are mostly harmless unless threatened.


    Wagner created his Rhinemaidens from other legends and myths, most notably the Nibelungenlied which contains stories involving water-sprites (nixies) or mermaids.

    Evan 10:36 AM  


    DHS = Designated Hitters. Only found in the AL.

    Mr. Benson 11:26 AM  

    Is it just me, or has "BRAE" appeared in like 100% of the Times crosswords of the last few weeks?

    So what I'm saying is, maybe it's time for me to go learn what "BRAE" means.

    JaxInL.A. 11:32 AM  

    Like @JohnV I dropped BELMONT STEAKS into a blank grid, and other than a but of a tussle in the NW and SE, this went down pretty easy for me.

    I liked that the theme answers actually swapped their first words. The real things are the Belmont Stakes, Chopped Steak, Service Breaks (from tennis, as @ pointed out) and Parking Brakes.

    As for Rex's query about CHOPPED Steak, don't you remember the A-1 Steak Sauce commercial? What is hamburger, my friends? Chopped ham? No! It's chopped steak. And the enthusiastic spokesman went on to urge the viewer to use steak sauce on hamburger. Made the clue easy for me.

    Tita 11:33 AM  

    Re: your comment yesterday:
    "time to devise another way to tests smarts and cleverness besides just speed!"
    How about number of writeovers,# of gimmes, # of all-crosses needed, answer confidence...

    What other criteria exist?
    I've got lots of ideas... ;)

    and today:
    "the puzzle evokes funny stories"
    That's half the reason for Rexville, eh?

    @Evan- didn't mean to be snarky - just a sad attempt at irony...

    Two Ponies 11:33 AM  

    German operas make me think more of fat ladies than sprites.
    Chopped steak is just a big hamburger without the bun.
    Anyone else object to tiro?
    Theme was a dud but the rest of the grid was some fun.

    jackj 11:38 AM  

    Old pros sometimes deliver oldish puzzles, I guess and while everything fit in the grid and there was some interesting fill, if Ben Franklin had wanted to feature crosswords in “Poor Richard’s Almanack” he might have looked to this one as his inaugural offering. (He would have needed to either establish OHMSLAW or eliminate the clue, though).

    The theme, playing on BRAKES, BREAKS, STAKES and STEAKS, was a meek pretender when compared to the aggressiveness shown in most Shortzian puzzles and the only thing that really stood out to me was the vaguely off-putting inclusion of GOESMAD for “Cracks up”.

    Alan has too many triumphs in his oeuvre to be judged solely on this one.

    Evan 11:43 AM  


    Be snarky all you like!

    Anonymous 12:00 PM  

    Got POI by looking at clue too fast
    But really caught a BRAKE
    Thought it said LUAU side dish-
    Oops, my miSTEAK!!

    Dick Swart 12:10 PM  

    Bra: Brae

    ... Articles of Roman clothing in the feminine. Ties in with 1 down: "One making camp".

    Anonymous 12:10 PM  

    To me, "Ballpark figs." (21A) in puzzles are RBIS or ERAS. What are ESTS?

    And the question mark in 1D had me thinking theatrical camp, or something. Instead the answer are just people who … make camps, along with airstrips, bridges, etc. Bit of an unfair double fake out with the question mark IMHO.

    Loren Muse Smith 12:12 PM  

    I’m blown away today at work and didn’t have the time to give this puzzle the time it deserved. I DNF because of the NW’s SPRITES, SEABEE, AILERON, TICO disaster.

    @Rex -for what it’s worth, anytime I’m at a steak house and it’s on the menu, I order CHOPPED Steak; I worked at Western Sizzlin’ once (wearing the requisite polyester uniform and head scarf – ouch), and when I noticed that the chopped steak was what all the employees ordered, I tried it and found it delicious with peppers and onions on top. I’ve never looked back.

    Loren Muse Smith 12:13 PM  

    Make that TIRO.

    RI Squasher 12:31 PM  

    I really wanted vapid for 7D and I threw in Phillip for 12D. Does he get to wear a crown too?

    This one took me forever. Taking a page from @JohnV I'm on Amtrak from Providence to NYC and didn't finish the puzzle until Stamford.

    Anonymous 12:35 PM  

    @anonymousat12:10 ests is short for estimates - also ballpark figures

    Anonymous 12:42 PM  

    @anon 12:35:

    As in attendance estimates?

    Anonymous 12:44 PM  

    Ignore that! I get it: ballpark guesses. Me slow…

    RI Squasher 12:46 PM  

    Meant vapid for 4D

    Anonymous 12:50 PM  

    39D clue doesn't fit answer:

    "Start chowing down" ---> "dig in"

    "Start chowing down on" ---> DIGINTO

    mac 1:06 PM  

    I liked this theme better than most, it seemed, and in the end it helped me out with the Belmont Steaks (no idea about the music connection).

    I had to read to read the comments to understand SWAK, and finished up with seabee and grating as last words.

    Lots of pretty words and good clues, my kind of solve.

    Masked and Anonymous 1:07 PM  

    70 words -- 20 of 'em are 7-letter words! Wowza! Can't be too easy to construct. Coulda been a FriPuz.
    Don't believe there are any other -EAK/-AKE sound-alike pairs, so theme is QED complete.

    Fun little puz. Felt like a welterweight fight. Figured, ahead of comin' here, that there'd be a small, but snarling, pack howling for more of a Thurs-level gimmick. But count me as a happy campstomer.

    For @Sparky's eyes only: Speaking of gimmicks, tried printing grid from Across-Lite with the less-than-black squares setting. Whole puz page came out brownish-pink. Har. Whazzupwiththat? Does printer need a colonoscopy? But, hey -- I could at least Read all the (sepia) clues, so many thanx for the tip. May make it thru March on this cartridge, yet. You made a poor M&A hopefuller.

    TICO! Gimme Var.-mint!!

    Two Ponies 1:16 PM  

    @ dk, I read your late post from yesterday. Very interesting. Where can I learn more about your text analysis?

    WesIsland 1:16 PM  

    Solved in 25 minutes...ok for me on a Thursday, but agree with @Two Ponies...what is "tiro" for 5 down (Rookie: Var.)?

    @orangeblossomspecial... I too grew up eating chopped steak with Dion and the Belmonts on the radio.

    Also liked above comments on "Seabee" and "poi" (must be an acquired taste).

    Mel Ott 1:25 PM  

    Anon 12:00 - Hand up for misreading Laulau as Luau. It made POI an even easier throwdown.

    Masked and Anonymous II 1:37 PM  

    P.S., in case I can still be of assistance to someone trying to cross the NW passage...

    SEABEE=Corps of Engineers dude of the U.S. Navy. Seabees build stuff, like large camp sites, pontoon bridges, etc. See also "The Fighting Seabees", starring The Duke. form of TYRO=beginner.

    AILERON=Movable part of an airplane wing, I think. The Evilmeister could tell it better, I'd betcha.

    SANTINI=Reference to "The Great Santini" flick, starring Robert Duval.

    ECON=Ice cream cone put thru a blender.

    Anonymous 1:52 PM  

    Yikes. I got nailed on this one. Never heard of Dion and the Belmont (nor of Belmont Stakes). Nor Nita Naldi. Nor Zhou Enlai. What is a chopped steak? CBs don't build camps. What is DHS and ESTS? Being treed?

    Bah, I'm going back to KenKen.

    JenCT 1:57 PM  

    @M & A: thanks for the definitions.

    Meh - had NOOB for TIRO, EYE for COG, lots of other mistakes.

    GRATING (Dangers for high-heeled shoes) made me laugh. I saw so many hurrying New Yorkers last weekend stumbling when they encountered grates on the sidewalk. Seems like they're in such a rush, they don't look down!

    My new avatar is my dog Duke wearing his crossword neckerchief.

    Sparky 1:59 PM  

    @M& You're welcome.

    We are not amused at TOGAE. @jberg: Agree. I confidently put in IT'sme. Apostrophe asks for apostrophe, no? Fixed it, grudgingly, with 10D. Simi before NAPA, eye before COG, tambour before ROLLTOP. Felt the theme not up to Thurdsay eat-your-brain standards but happy for that.

    Cousin Bill a Seabee in WWII. He is color blind and, apparently, that was considered an asset.

    Can't believe the weekend is on the way.

    Mike in DC 2:00 PM  

    The lame theme does not bother me as much as 52A. I spent a lot of time on that trying to figure out what I did wrong, because I "knew" brakes were not a part of a tune up, and Will would never have let that get by. Actually, I'm not too thrilled with the lame theme either. This is Thursday, after all!

    jesser 2:05 PM  

    JenCT wins today's avatar contest, far as I'm concerned! Loves it!

    Anonymous 3:06 PM  

    Where's Evil Doug?
    Hope you're OK...

    Lewis 3:09 PM  

    @mike -- totally agree, you don't service brakes in a tune up. I got that answer but was flummoxed by it.

    COLLEEN is new to me. Didn't we just have ENLAI? And there's ONO again.

    I found the top a lot easier than the bottom. Expected theme answer three and four to end with EAKS, and was confused when they didn't, but I guess the theme holds.

    I wasn't at the big puzzle weekend, but it sounds like many had trouble with puzzle #2.

    sanfranman59 3:28 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 16:53, 18:55, 0.89, 31%, Easy-Medium

    Top 100 solvers

    Thu 8:32, 9:16, 0.92, 40%, Easy-Medium

    Bird 3:28 PM  

    Even though this was a good solve (cluing & answers had just the right amount of difficulty, for me) I too thought this should have been offered on a different day; maybe a Wednesday. I liked the theme and the humorous results, but I recall this may have ran recently (in X-Word time) and with this particular combination (eak/ake).

    Last section to fall was the SE with DUELERS crossing NALDI. I always forget Nita’s last name and, like @Evan, didn’t understand the clue for duelers. Thanks Evan for providing the explanation in your post.

    @dk – Care to explain your “lost decade of rock” comment? Did you spend the years in a haze or just didn’t care for the products? BTW, I totally agree that a brake job is not part of a tune-up.

    @orangeblosson – That's class warfare:) Chopped steak & Dion versus Beef Wellington & Bach.

    @JenCT – Those wearing high heels are looking down. At their smartphones!

    Double captcha “Romoste ndecil “morphs into “Derelict Moons”

    Wood 3:32 PM  

    Ugh. Technical DNF because I had OuTES. NW totally stumped me for a long time... Wanted CELINE... for the first theme answer, NEVER heard of The other Dion or his backup singers. When I finally saw BELMONT I was like, "Celine Dion has a backup singer named Belmont? And we're supposed to KNOW that?". Turns out I'm pop-culturally ignorant either way.

    Masked and Anonymous's Last Silver BB 3:43 PM  

    @Going backback to Ken:
    DHS=designated hitters: Abbr.
    ESTS=estimates: Abbr.
    Dion & the Belmonts = Great doowop group of the 50's. Dion (DiMucci) went "solo" (although still had a backup group, the Del-Satins) around 1960 or so. Had a monster big hit with "Runaround Sue".
    BELMONTSTAKES=Third race of thoro-bred's triple Crown. BELMONTSTEAKS has something to do with race also-rans, I think.
    CHOPPEDSTEAK=high-priced hamburger.
    TREED=Forced to climb a real large forest plant, to escape the pursuing hound dogs.
    Zhou ENLAI=Famous Chinese leader, aka Chou. Dude discovered how to do inlay decorations on jewel cases.
    KenKen=Not my favorite kind of math problem. Was always partial to story problems, myself.

    Where IS Evil Doug? I've done what I can, to fill his mighty bigger shoes today, but i gotta go...

    NOT Evil 3:57 PM  

    OK, here is an attempt to be Evil . . .

    All you idiots that don't know who Dion is should be ashamed of yourselves.

    DHS are a sham and should be banned from MLB.

    Whoever gets charged for a brake job when they put the car in for a tune-up is, well, another idiot.

    This theme was lame.

    - Not Evil

    dk 4:07 PM  

    Responding to:

    @two ponies, I will dig up some information for you on text analytics.

    @wickpedia, et. al. Being that I am pigheaded I stick to my claim that Nymph=water & SPRITE=land. And, while The Ring (aka my precious) is loosely based on Norse myths the Rhinemaidens (nymphs not sprites) are unique to Der Ring.

    @bird, I was heavily involved in the rock scene from 1967 to about 1975 as a photographer and very part time college dj. I became disenchanted beginning in the early 70s and by 1975 stopped listening to the radio, etc. I did frequent the warehouse clubs that would pop up in a part of LA known as Japantown (see/hear Suburban Lawns on youtube) as they were a venue for what would become punk rock. I just did not like the Bee Gees and if I had heard Hotel California one more time...

    jae 4:57 PM  

    @M & A. Set your printer to "gray only" or some variation of that. It takes the color cartidge out of play and gives you a normal grid with lighter black squares.

    @dk -- I recently had a discussion with my daughter about her growing up in the "lost decade." She was defensive.

    Anonymous 5:00 PM  

    Actually, tune-ups as defined by DK are pretty much a thing of the past. Plugs last indefinitely and there are no adjustments possible to improve engine performance in any car made in the past 10+ years. You're either good to go or need a major overhaul.

    Brakes, on the otherhand, are much worse that in years past.

    joho 5:00 PM  

    JenCT ... Duke is one handsome dog!

    Anonymous 5:04 PM  

    @jae - Most printers, even when you set to black and white or grey scale printing, still do the majority of the printing using the colors, they just use the black ink as a topping to turn the muddy brown produced by mixing the colored ink into pure black.

    jae 5:38 PM  

    @anon 5:04 -- The ink jets I've owned do not seem too work that way. I've gone through 2 black cartridges in the last 18 months and the ink level of my color cartridge hasn't budged. I've got an HP Photosmart.

    lawprof 6:12 PM  

    I was disappointed in my performance on this one. Not because of my slow time (Thursdays are usually a bit of a slog for me), but because, as an opera fan, I was totally flummoxed at 1A. I just sat through the entire Ring Cycle at the San Francisco Opera last summer (some 20 hours back to back to back to back)and still couldn't come up with SPRITES until the end. Tried chorus, nymphs, airheads, dwarf-teasers, gold hoarders...nothing. Gave myself a big head slap when the crosses finally brought it down. And speaking of OPERAS (46D), are they really Met expectations? REALLY? Expectations? Sure, if you to to the Met, you expect to see an opera -- just like if you go to a baseball game you expect to see a baseball game.

    Anon 5:04 6:51 PM  

    @jae - HP went through a class action lawsuit about 2 years ago which directly addressed that issue and others (I forgot that when I made my post). My info was about that old, maybe a little older. Back then I was contracted to make new drivers for HP printers which over-rode their out of ink warnings (you've got 30-40 pages of ink available when you're 'out of ink' another aspect of the lawsuit). It was then I noticed how the color cartridges got used when printing in black and white.

    Acme 7:19 PM  

    Don't beat yourself up ov SPRITE you're just a victim of knowing too much. There are clues that if that is your purview then you will consider 87 more possibilities that the answer could be.
    They had a Scrabble clue a few weeks back and because that's my "thing" i considered RACKS, TILES, CLOCK, BOARD before i got the simpler answer TIMER.
    It's a crossword paradox that sometimes the less you know, the better...then you don't get caught up in the debates if sprites are on land or water,or if brakes are part of tuneups, etc.
    Ignorance is bliss!
    Its the same reason why baseball fans can't see ballpark figures as a metaphor, and why you are missing the simple wordplay in "Met expectations?"
    You immediately got to MET as in opera house, whereas a nonopera buff might read it as "he met his obligations and expectations....he succeeded."
    Know what I mean, jellybean?

    Anonymous 8:20 PM  

    Brilliant. Better than this "theme" deserved.

    GILL I. 8:44 PM  

    @Acme, that's why I love you to bits.....

    Martin 9:11 PM  

    Water nymphs are a kind of water sprite. Ask any satyr.

    ANd @dk, if you're changing the rings you're way past a tuneup.

    Matty 11:33 PM  

    Somewhat tough cluing and fill, for no payoff with the theme. Yeah, I get the homonyms, but so what. The phrases aren't particularly clever.

    The "asking for seconds" clue is way too obscure. Almost made me think it must somehow be dieters and there was a typo omitting "not.". I eventually got it though, having recently decided to pick up and re-read the count of monte cristo: Duelers traditionally picked "seconds" to accomPany them to the stand-off and act as witnesses. So yeah, obscure and stupid clue.

    Bird 11:48 PM  

    @ACME - I like your ignorance is bliss explanation, but . . .

    I'm a baseball fan and I get the metaphor. I did of course leave the squares blank until I got a couple downs though. And I'm not an opera buff, but I got the clue immediately because I know the Met is an opera house. My first thought was ARIAS but it didn't fit.

    @dk - sorry you lost your enthusiasm for the music scene, but after going to youtube I understand. You didn't get into The Clash or Siouxsie and the Banshees?

    sanfranman59 12:04 AM  

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

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

    Mon 6:15, 6:49, 0.92, 17%, Easy
    Tue 10:29, 8:51, 1.18, 90%, Challenging
    Wed 14:31, 11:51, 1.23, 91%, Challenging
    Thu 17:04, 18:55, 0.90, 34%, Easy-Medium

    Top 100 solvers

    Mon 3:30, 3:40, 0.96, 31%, Easy-Medium
    Tue 5:12, 4:35, 1.14, 88%, Challenging
    Wed 7:14, 5:53, 1.23, 92%, Challenging
    Thu 7:57, 9:16, 0.86, 27%, Easy-Medium

    Stephen 3:23 PM  

    A slog. Reprise on the "bahs" and "yegs" and "really?s" in the margins.

    Some ALB?= DHS??? Surely there is a law that you can't use a TLA when it is that obscure! gads.

    Sweetheart=GEM? just... no.

    Ones requesting seconds? no.

    TiRO?? no! Just because you are a crossword builder does not entitle you to encourage off spellings. There oughtta be a code of ethics on this practice. We who are lovers of language should not be culprits when it comes to dissipating its integrity.

    I did like "ear piece", but don't feel like praising today.

    Stephen 3:27 PM  

    Is there really a need for these captchas? How many bot attacks does this blog get, Rex? Does it have to be locked down like it is money?

    I find that I get about half of them wrong, which is annoying.

    And we have to do one for every entry, which is annoying. Can't your IT guys do better?

    broklyn 7:38 PM  

    thx bro for share

    Anonymous 7:42 PM  

    nice share
    Visit W3Schools

    johnranta 9:56 PM  

    Okay, Seabees don't "make camp". They make waves. That clue is not clever, it's just wrong. And "tiro" for a variant for tyro? How about just admitting that you can't fit "tyro" and having the clue be "misspelling of tyro?". I hate it when the clues are sloppy or just wrong.

    Spacecraft 12:20 PM  

    Not a lot to say about this one that the real-timers haven't gone over. Agree with OFL that the theme was ho-hum, but tough cluing advanced it through the week, just about to its rightful Thursday place. ex: 13d "Absorbed the cost of" = ATE. Yeah, I get it, as in "The Donald ATE the Taj Mahal deficits for the first couple of years." But really. And "sweetheart" = GEM?? Maybe we're talking the "sweet" Heart of the Ocean, that famous GEM in... okay, okay, someone just threatened to throw up if they heard one more reference to "that" film.

    Only writeover was a careless misteak* at 22a, ITsme for the grammatically correct (but far more rarely used!) ITISI. That particular expression brings another great movie moment: the last line of "Mr. Roberts."

    "ITISI, Ensign Pulver. Now what's all this crud about no movie tonight?"

    Speaking of the wonderful Jack Lemmon, I just saw him last night on Encore's running of "The Apartment." God, was Shirley EVER that young?

    Lola505 12:47 PM  

    I notice Rex is rarely entirely "happy" with a puzzle's clueing, theme, whatever. I'm happy to not have a softball or, conversely, impossible day's puzzle diversion.

    I had no trouble with the western half, but had to step away for a "brEAK" before the eastern side began to fall into place. I "got" the EAK/AKE theme idea easily, and had just a few elusive answers that took a bit longer to click: 41d THE EDGE (I admit, not up on my U2); 47d RASSLE -- is that a word? (I realize, an idiom for WRESTLE).

    I found this to be a perfectly satisfactory Thursday-level puzzle.

    Ginger 1:54 PM  

    I liked this more than most commenters. Anytime I can finish a Thurs in decent (for me) time I like the puzzle. Since I solve with p&p wrong answers written in cause me trouble. GOESape, adjustBRAKES, brambleBush and lorelei slowed me up.

    My brother was a Navy seabee in Nam. They built roads, bridges and buildings, but he never mentioned building a camp.

    Lots of complaints today about mis-direction in the clues. IMO that makes it fun. I agree with ACME that a little knowlege can be a dangerous thing.

    Solving in Seattle 2:08 PM  

    My high school alma mater's yearbook is the "TYRO." I agree with those who object to spelling it TIRO for the convenience of fitting the grid.

    IMHO, Pat Conroy's body of work is (are?) some of the best written American novels.

    I don't get opera in general. I really don't get the Ring Cycle in particular. Just poke needles in my eyes. I guess just ITISI.

    Hand up for dropping in 19A in a blank grid. Got 3D-7D on top of that and figured out the TIRO thing which gave me EROTICA. The NW toppled.

    Can someone explain to me how ATLASES = "Their images are out of this world."??? The clue connotes plural, not Atlas himself, which I could understand because he is typically holding the world on his shoulders. I don't get the plural.

    I liked DUELers & graDUAL, crossing BURL & REAL.

    @Not Evil, good sub job.

    Capcha: abouter. Like a DUEList, or a baby at eight months.

    Solving in Seattle 2:16 PM  

    Edit to my previous comment -
    Capcha: abouter. Like a DUEList, or a baby at eight months in the pregnancy.

    Anonymous 2:19 PM  

    For all you TUNEUP/BREAKS Complainers, the clue was "What mechanicas MAY do as part of a tuneup." As a matter of fact my Toyota dealer checks the breaks each and every time for maintenance and/or a tuneup. And yes, even the modern cars require tuneups. Check your manuals. IMO this puzzle was accurate, clever and complete, with a little zest thrown in by changing the eaks and the akes. I give the puzzle a perfect 10 and most of you a 7.

    DMGrandma 3:46 PM  

    Seems a lot of people were pretty unhappy over what I thought was a pretty smooth puzzle. Loved "met expectations" and "ones requesting seconds". Maybe my reaction had to do something with what ACME said about not being so expert in a subject as to think it to death. I generally just go with the first thing I think of, and when I end up with a DHS, so be it, although actually I did parse that one!

    rain forest 4:05 PM  

    @solving in Seattle
    Atlases are collections of maps which each display a part of the world, ergo, out of this world.

    @others. When you take your car in for maintenance, whether or not it is a tune-up, the mechanic will routinely check, and/or service the brakes. The clue only gives the possibility.

    Why does a theme have to be funny? Why can't it just be clever, whether exceptionally clever or just a little clever?

    Yes, whoever said it, Rex is almost always unhappy with something about a puzzle. Whining about a theme that doesn't cause a guffaw when the fill is uniformly of a high standard comes off as nit-picking.

    I thought this puzzle was very good and though "dig into" is a tad questionable, I guess it does work, sort of. At least there is no other possibility.

    Dirigonzo 4:15 PM  

    Well, Dion and the Belmonts did not contribute to The Blues Brothers soundtrack, so I guess my hopes for a serialized movie theme are dashed.

    Maybe it because, as @Acme said above, "ignorance is bliss", but I liked the puzzle a lot - it Met expectations as far as I am concerned, and getting the theme was a big help in filling in gaps in my knowledge. I didn't understand TIRO before coming here, but the crosses didn't allow any other possibility, so no problems.

    "With this ring ITHEE wed" has gotten me into more trouble than I care to think about. And that is absolutely all I have to say on the subject.

    Solving in Seattle 4:23 PM  

    @Rain Forest, thanks for your explanation. I guess I can buy it (I won't say ONO), but I'm sitting at my desk looking at my bookshelf where two "Atlas OF the World" are shelved. Seems a little loose cluing to me. And just to be clear, I did like the puzzle - it seems a good Thursday.

    Red Valerian 9:30 PM  

    @Dirigonzo--there's clearly a story or two there!

    Had to guess at the A in SEABEE and AILERON. Also thinking Celine for the longest time.

    Liked the puz (auto-correct wants to turn that into 'pus') well enough.

    It is amazing full-on spring here finally. Finished this on the porch, listening to Tchaikovsky. (I so knew you'd want to know.)

    Thanks to Acme--I didn't see the literal/usual reading of "Met Expectations," though I should confess I was tempted by viRginS for 1A. I'm still trying to "get" opera. The 70s--sigh. Disco was just embarrassing, but punk had its moments. The Pointed Sticks, The Dishrags (okay, too local). Not punk, but howzabout Elvis Costello? Kate Bush?

    Dirigonzo 11:24 PM  

    @Red Valerian - I'm still hoping that Lifetime or some other cable channel will make me an offer for the movie rights. "It is amazing full-on spring here finally. Finished this on the porch, listening to Tchaikovsky." - that is an experience that only we who live north of the 43rd parallel can fully appreciate. Elvis Costello, sure - but Kate Bush, really?

    Solving in Seattle 11:37 PM  

    @RV & @Diri, love Tchaikovsky - was listening to Beethoven violin piano sonatas on my walk this afternoon. We're having the same fabulous NW westher. Not quite @Diri's Blues Brothers.

    Red Valerian 12:38 AM  

    @Dirigonzo: Genesis? Yes? work with me here...

    @Diri and SIS--I think I really do like having seasons. Or so I keep telling myself. (And I, like @SIS, am in a very temperate part of the world that has seasons...)

    I'd regale you with all that is growing/blooming/whatever, but, not only would that bore you, it'd take me too long to write. Suffice it to say that the osprey are mating.

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