Group of mountains / THU 4-5-12 / Sicilian province its capital / Title role in 1975 Truffaut film / Stanley who wrote George Mills / Comics character who almost never speaks / Square at end of fourth row in Battleship / Woody part of Ohio /

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Constructor: Elizabeth C. Gorski

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: "CHECKERBOARD"this is the word that the un"check"ed letters spell out. You figure this out by looking at the "theme":
  • GAME OF CHESS (17A: Pastime for Napoleon and Fidel Castro) [Me: "Who's Napoleon Castro?"]
  • JOCKEY SILKS (11D: Colorful riding gear)
  • QUILT DESIGN (24D: Bee production)
  • RACING FLAGS (51A: Things waved at the Indy 500)
[NOTE: "unchecked" letters are letters that aren't part of both an Across and a Down—normally an American crossword no-no]

Word of the Day: MASSIF (1A: Group of mountains) —
  1. A large mountain mass or compact group of connected mountains forming an independent portion of a range.
  2. A large section or block of the earth's crust that is more rigid than the surrounding rock and has been moved or displaced as a unit.
[French, massive, massif, from Old French. See massive.]

Read more:
• • •

Winced a lot during this one. An *awful* lot for a Gorski puzzle. How I got through it almost 2 minutes faster than either of my last two Thursday puzzles, I have no idea. I think I winced because I was actually solving the strange / awkward answers rather than getting stumped by them. Let's start at 1A: MASSIF, a word I've literally never seen. So ... why not learn a new word? Great. But then there's ADELE [&$%ing] H, what on god's green earth!? (8D: Title role in a 1975 Truffaut film) I literally watched a Truffaut film ("The 400 Blows") less than 48 hrs. ago, and then read a short (Ebert) article on it—an article that mentioned many other Truffaut films—and I don't recall seeing this title character. Love (hate) that the "H" is one of the unchecked letters. Ended up not mattering, but that's still some perverse stuff right there. So after I SHEAVED that answer (again, I say: "!?!") (26D: Collected, as wheat), there was ELKIN (42A: Stanley who wrote "George Mills") (who? and he wrote What? How is that helping?), and then D-TEN (41D: Square at the end of the fourth row in Battleship); *again* with the unchecked letter being the one "Could Be Anything" letter in the answer [Later: "oh ... 'fourth row' ... 'D' ... yeah, that makes sense ... now"]. Jeez louise. LEUMI is something out of some crossword nightmare I had years ago (i.e. I'm sure I've seen it, but it's terrible as a crossword answer and I'll never remember it) (27A: Bank of Israel). It was like this all over. Not. Smooth. At all. Plus, SHOWER SCENE (25A: It prompted a flood of "Psycho" analysis) and PRESELECTED (43A: Chosen beforehand) are both as long as the other theme answers (Across and Down), but ... they are not theme answers. That's really bad form. It just is. The shower curtain in "Psycho" was *not* checkerboard-patterned, I assure you. Nevermind that two of the theme answers are preposterously worded. Pretty sure Castro and Napoleon played CHESS, not GAME OF CHESS, and bees produce QUILTS; quilters don't just "design" them and then say, "that's it, let's play a GAME OF CHESS." Criminy. So many issues.

That said the core idea is pretty dang smart—especially considering the way CHECKERBOARD plays on the types of letters that make up the word, i.e. "unCHECKed" letters. That's a stroke of genius. And those unchecked letters ended up being very gettable, just from considering what CHESS might have to do with the theme. So I love the theme idea and really don't care for the execution at all. And there we are.

  • 15A: Comics character who almost never speaks (ODIE) — resisted this for a long time. I'm guessing this is "speak" in the dog sense. I don't remember his ever uttering words.
  • 37A: Where King Arthur was conveyed for his wounds to be healed (AVALON) — Right up my alley. This is how I knew my (flying leap of a) guess at SHEAVED was right. 

  • 35D: Sicilian province or its capital (ENNA) — always gets a lot of googlers. Crosswordese of the highest order. See also ARIOSE (30A: Songlike). Thank god I do a lot of these things.
  • 29A: Woody part of Ohio? (HAYES) — Woody HAYES was the longtime coach of OSU's football team. The clue is a bit forced. I got it and recognized the name but couldn't place it while solving. Only when I was done did it come to me. Eight years at Michigan may have caused me to develop a tendency to repress OSU knowledge.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


retired_chemist 12:11 AM  

Wonderful puzzle! Lots of unfamiliar yet gettable answers. The CHECKERBOARD in the middle was IMO genius.

Did not know MOIL - I bet I am not the only one who had TOIL first. Thought MOIL was actually the way MOHEL was spelled. What's a goy to do?

Guessed right on SKYE terrier (alternative: BULL). 11D was POLKA DOT (3 letter something) for a short while. Since PET as a CEO perk seemed, well, pretty miserly, I rethought and corrected.

Rex is right - the center can be inferred from 17A alone.

Thanks, Ms. Gorski. Good one.

Deb 12:12 AM  

I figured the theme was "black and white" because the men in a GAME OF CHESS are black and white, the SHOWER SCENE in Psycho was filmed in black and white, RACING FLAGS are black and white. But the hell does PRESELECTED fit the theme?!

I'm not at all wild about CHECKERBOARD being the big reveal because not all that many QUILT DESIGNS are checkerboards nor are jockey silks (if Google images is to be trusted). Given all of that, I'd call this one torturously contrived.

Pete 12:24 AM  

I've been working on my time machine, which I very un-originally call my Way Back Machine, for quite a while now, and I think I'm betting close. Actually, it's been an embarassingly long time that I've worked on it, but don't worry, once I get it perfected I'll just go back in time and perfect it in less than a week, just so that I look good for posterity. Any way, I'll soon be able to go back in time and change things. There are lots of things I want to change from the greedy (I'll buy Apple @ $0.10/share, take the profits, invest in Google, etc), to the personal (none of this being a virgin until I was 23 the second time around). My list is virtually endless. Further, once I've got it perfected, I'll have plenty of time to add on, so it will likely become endless. Ain't time travel wonderful?

You know what I won't do? Arrange a GAMEOFCHESS for Napoleon and Castro.

Anonymous 12:28 AM  

What Deb said.

Anonymous 12:33 AM  

Rex, are you suggesting that whomever wrote that potentially vague Battleship clue should be given D-TEN-tion?

Ah, Gorski. Unmistakable.

Richard 1:18 AM  

I do think that the D in DTEN was easy to determine with the only knowledge needed being that battleship is played using a row-column matrix. Knowing that it is the 4th row leads to the conclusion that D is the right letter.

chefwen 1:45 AM  

Learned three new words today, MASSIF which I will remember, MOIL which I may remember and LEUMI which I will forget by tomorrow. Had to get the H in ADELE 8D with the CHECKER BOARD reveal and the D in DTEN also. Never played Battleship.

"Dumbest thought of the day award" came with 62A, had ROB S in place and thought, why would the use Robins to diffuse bombs? DOH!!!

pk (aka LandClam) 1:46 AM  

The D in DTen was the last square to go in for me, except for the ones in the middle that weren't connected to any actual answers.

Had no idea what the "theme" was. Something to do with checkers and chess, apparently. I get it that they wave checkered flags at car races (do they? Yes, I think they do.) And I also get that there was a checkerboard in the center of the puzzle.

So I was completely "asea" as they say in crosswords, themewise. Ditto for "massif," but as Rex correctly points out, it's always good to learn a new word. What I wrote in margin was "who knew?" Ditto for "moil." Wow, we're getting so much new vocab today.

Two tiny quibbles: Photogs haven't used "negs" since about 1996. "Git" is not acceptable in Whirly Words. Should be, but isn't. I guess that's a quibble with Whirly Word, not the NYT.

I suppose I will have to study this tomorrow on the plane once we are allowed to turn on our approved electronic devices.

Acme 1:48 AM  

I have to admit I filled in CHECKERBOARD by just the visual and having seen ADELEH, but I'm embarrassed to say i didn't realize there were theme answers!!!!!!!!

I just thought JOCKEYSILKS and QUILTDESIGNS were nice Scrabbly long downs!

Anyway, itmight be because it was the team final in the nontourney tourney in St Paul and i was doing it with Tom Pepper.
Hand up for never having seen the word MASSIF, which is a drag since it was 1A. I jsut put in MASSes and went on with my life.

They actually have Banks of LEUMI in NY I think, but as @retired_chemist said so charmingly, "What's a goy to do?"!
( and here I thought Sean Michael Patrick Harris and Ricky Martin were STARGoYS!)

Damn, that's not Doogies' name, is it? but if I look it up, my ipad will erase all the nonsense I've just written

Avalon Choc-la Moorish 1:50 AM  

NEIL Patrick Harris!

davko 3:19 AM  

Didn't know a thing about "Battleship," but very easy to intuit the answer, since D is the fourth letter of the alphabet. The letter is also nudged along by the theme answer, thus not so random after all.

Having a weakness in specialized subject needn't compromise one's enjoyment of a puzzle like this. For a cinephile like myself, "Story of Adele H" feels as natural as "George Mills" (a book I never heard of) does to Rex. No complaints about the latter from this solver, though -- ignorance makes for a welcome challenge.

As for MASSIF (1A), one can hardly spend serious time traveling west of the Continental Divide without encountering numerous examples atop some of the country's highest peaks.

jae 3:55 AM  

What Rex said about ADELE H, LEMUI, MASSIF, and ELKIN. What @Deb said & Anon 12:28 echoed about "torturously contrived."

And, how the $&!@% is this medium.

Now that that is off my chest, I am on vacation (which is somewhat arbitrary when you're retired) and it may be that alcohol and Gorski are not a good mix. I did finish but it.....

JaxInL.A. 3:59 AM  

1) I love Liz Gorski puzzles coming and going.
2) I pay money (well, a wopping .99c per month, or a quarter per puzzle) to be sure that I get at least one Gorski puzzle per week.. I recommend it.
3) Her Crossword Nation blog betrays both keen observation and a wonder at ordinary things that I find utterly charming and unaffected.
4) I hope to meet her one day. I bet she's a great dinner companion.
5) I love the theme of this puzzle, the look of the grid, and the center squares, which don't wind up being unchecked at all, at least not the hard ones around the edges. And parts really made me smile.

Having said all of that (deep breath), I did not love this puzzle. Clever and clear as the theme answers and central grid are, they don't make up for the dog's breakfast in the SW corner, and I have to agree with Rex about the long, non-theme answers get in the way of full enjoyment. Overall it felt like this one didn't spend enough time in the oven. You set a high bar for yourself, and thanks for all you do, Liz.

In case you want another Gorski, try her WSJ from Valentine's Day.

(And while we are speaking of paying for our puzzling habit lets not forget that Rex puts in an hour or more each and every day for our puzzling pleasure, so contribute now. End of unpaid solicitation.)

Cathelou 5:08 AM  

Gorski and I are never on the same wavelength. I thought today would be different when somehow I knew '"massif" and "sheaved" (because my grandmother sang the lovely old hymn "Bringing in the Sheaves" to me when I was little). But then THOLE crossed ADELE H, and ENNA and LEUMI showed up, and the theme would not reveal itself. Made no sense at all until I came here. I appreciate it more now that I see it and might have gotten there if I weren't in insomniac mode and just wanting to get it over with so I can go back to sleep.

JackLee 6:06 AM  

Did anyone notice that the four central squares of the checkerboard spell the word "core" if viewed in the order north, south, east and west? Don't suppose that was intentional...

Z 6:56 AM  

Knowing that the Central MASSIF is France's mountain range quickly got me past 1A not being Sierra MAdres.

Still lacking ENNA in my Higher Order Crosswordese crossing a book and author I am totally unfamiliar with caused a Natick/DNF for me. It didn't help that I had SHEAfED/AfALO-, but trying N in the blank shook loose AVALON. ENeA? ENtA? ENdA (ELKId - El Cid's cousin)? ENgA? ENsA? I guess ENNA seems most reasonable.

Jennifer 7:22 AM  

@Rex - I solved the puzzle and got "checkerboard", but don't understand — "this is the word that the un"check"ed letters spell out." What is meant by un"check"ed letters? I don't see checkmarks on any of the clues. To me, they are all unchecked.

DrewMcW 8:17 AM  


I had no idea what this meant either. After some investigation, I discovered that "Checked" is a crossword term. White squares must be “checked.” That is, they must be part of two different answers, one Across answer and one Down answer. The middle squares are not "Checked" whence you get unCHECKed squares.

Smitty 8:23 AM  

Sorry, one of the ugliest puzzles I've ever seen. Theme or no theme.

Anonymous 8:25 AM  

I understand that checkers is the theme from the long answers and that the word CHECKERBOARD is in the middle there but I don't get what Rex means by "un'check'ed" letters spelling out CHECKERBOARD. Can someone please explain?

David L 8:26 AM  

I had ADELEE (random guess) and ARIOSO (legit), realized that the them had something to do with checkered patterns, couldn't figure out what the blank squares were supposed to be, eventually gave up and asked AcrossLite to give me the solution -- and still had no idea what the significance of the blank squares was. Just couldn't make sense of this at all....

John V 8:30 AM  

I kept looking at GAMEOFCHESS, SHOWERSCENE, PRESELECTED and RACINGFLAGS and saying what in the world is the theme. Finally, changed ARIOSO to ARIOSE, saw B_O_A_R_D and, figured out CHOC (last to fall), and the rest was history. I understand the idea of an unchecked letter, but came here thinking the theme answers were GAMEOFCHESS and RACINGFLAGS, both of which are/can be checkered. (It seems to me to be a bit of a stretch to think that that the average NYT solver will understand the idea of an unchecked square, so I'm not yet persuaded that that works as the definition of the thems.) Seemed to me that the other two 11s were red herrings. Hand up for DTEN and MOIL. Got both, but only by virtue of crosses. Ditto MASSIF. Financial background got me LEUMI; sorry 'bout that.

So, fun, medium, save for the theme which still strikes me as ambigious.

Latest captcha "feature": preview puts then entire text on two long line. Good job, Google! :(

JenCT 8:30 AM  

Love Liz Gorski puzzles, but found this one really hard!!!

Hubby gave me MASSIF; he said it's French?

@JaxinLA: Liz Gorski is super-nice and down-to-earth, as I bet you'd have guessed.

Lots of new words to learn today.

Wanted QUILTSESSION for so long (sew long?); DESIGN took a long time to see.

Sue McC 8:41 AM  

@JackLee Doing this in Across Lite, I was unable to fill in the four center squares, so when I saw Rex's completed puzzle, I saw CORE long before getting to CHECKERBOARD.

This was a speedy solve, though I agree with Rex about the clunkiness factor.

Loren Muse Smith 8:55 AM  

What a toughie! I’ve said this before -I have this weird one-sided relationship with Liz, where it’s so very important to me to finish her puzzles because I want to impress her. If it weren’t for this creepy pathology, I probably wouldn’t have finished, but I did, Liz!

I like it when theme answers are downs, too, but I was trying my darndest to figure out how PRESELECTED had to do with checkers. (I just assumed the SHOWER curtain was checkered.)

Definitely wanted to stop on a DItE.

Got a chuckle that ARIOSE crossed with AERY, imagining a big ole buzzard chirping away. Why is it, by the way, that AERie (and for that matter, “amoeba”) get to be spelled differently? I understand the tsar/czar, niet/nyet, emir/emeer stuff because they’re transliterations. (But haven’t I seen Othello spelled differently, too, and certainly Shakespeare didn’t write that in Cypriot Greek??)

Anonymous 8:58 AM  

Rex, did you miss the very strong hint for the "?TEN" clue? "4th row"... hmmm... A=1, B=2,C=3, D=4 ;-)

Rex Parker 9:09 AM  

Hey, sorry about not defining "unchecked letters." I fixed that — in big red letters across the top of the write-up.


evil doug 9:10 AM  

Here's the trade-off: Would we rather have a block of wasted space in the middle that essentially solves itself (I, like others, didn't get the theme connection until well after the checkerboard filled itself in), or have Liz dazzle us with her customary clever cluing?

I opt for the latter. While I respect and even golf-clap for her clever vision and execution, the payoff is more for her benefit than mine.

I prefer altruistic constructors who apply deceit instead of conceit.


jackj 9:12 AM  

To borrow a phrase from a young, with-it sportswriter on the Boston Globe, Liz Gorski is as money as it gets. Who else could so casually dream up and carry out the construction of such enchanting visual crosswords?

It took some hairy fill to make it work, MASSIF, AERY and, especially, three of the words needed for the theme answer, the last “C” in CHOC, the “H” in ADELEH and the “D” in DTEN. Thankfully, they could be sussed out by a glimpse at the center squares and the realization that it was depicting a CHECKER BOARD.

I never did bother to try and figure out the theme since it wasn’t key to filling in the missing letters but assumed that the long entries like GAMEOFCHESS (board) and (checkered) RACINGFLAGS were hinting at it. How or if JOCKEYSILKS fit as a theme clue didn’t matter as much as it mattered that it was brilliant, (even though it was a gimme after the “J” of JET gave it away).

Thanks as ever to Liz, our resident cruciverbal(art)ist!

oren muse 9:27 AM  

Well, I had been feeling confident this week, but this one knocked me down a couple of pegs (which is what I thought was on Frankenstein’s head). MASSIF, ADELEH, MOIL, ESTE, ELKIN, MAG, LEUMI, ENNA. . .
Heck, why not just construct a whole damn puzzle in TAMAL, or whatever that language was that gave us that boat.
I shouldn’t complain. Once I looked at it after my weak attempts (got FIFTH, APRONS, AGASSI, and RISER), I see that it’s a nice puzzle.
I’m off to buy some pine straw and mulch and dig around for a while to wait for Monday’s puzzle.

Jennifer 9:28 AM  

@DrewMcW - Thanks so much for the explanation!

jberg 9:29 AM  

Like @Rex, I thought several of the clues were forced, and really disliked SHEAVED - it's obvious, but sheaf is a noun, not a verb - and still solved it fairly fast for a Thursday.

On the one hand, I knew MASSIF because Trumilou, my favorite Parisian bistro, is named for a forest in the massif central; and I'd somehow heard of Stanley Elkin. I'm from Wisconsin, and was a football fan in college (not now!), so Woody HAYES was a gimme. And I knew THOLEs and Bank LEUMI, with a little work.

And not all of the clues were bad - 61A, for FESS, was much nicer than something about Mr. Parker, for one.

And the grid! How can you not love it, just for its oddity? I too, was put off by the long non-themes, and ADELE H - I did manage to deduce DTEN (after too much time thinking maybe the battleship had a sTEN gun on it). But it was so neat it made up for any awkward fill, to me.

On the definition of "unchecked squares" - that's Rex, not the puzzle. The note refers to "interior squares," not unchecked ones. And, of course, they ultimately are checked.

I don't mean that Ms. Gorski didn't intend that - just that the average NYT solver didn't have to even notice. 9:46 AM  

I still don't get it ... I seem to remember "massif" from "The Hunt for Red October" referring to an ocean mountain range. I can still hear Sean Connery, "One ping only.". Can someone please explain the four letters in English? Waaah!

KRMunson 9:46 AM  

I didn't get the "checked" reference either, so the interior squares were impossible to figure out. Way too esoteric a reveal for even the seasoned solver (I'm no newbie.) Additionally, the words MASSIF, MOIL, LEUMI, and the goofy spelling of AERY made this an un-fun solve for me.

Sorry, Liz. I usually love your puzzles but this one left me cold.

foodie 9:52 AM  

I loved it!

Thanks to the French nuns of my youth, I can still recite major mountain chains in France in a singsong way-- Les Alpes, Les Pyrennees, Le Massif Central... Still, MASSIF took a while to come.

ADELE H was also known to me thanks to reading French magazines back when it came out. Yet, the H took a while to come.

Still, I loved it! I had that light bulb moment when I figured out CHECKERBOARD and I feel that is Exactly what a puzzle should do, especially a Thursday puzzle-- have you puzzled for a while and then let you experience the joy of discovery.

Thank you ECG (good initials!). It was a blast.

Anonymous 9:54 AM  

Exactly when did Napoleon and Castro play a GAMEOFCHESS? A GAMEOFCHESS requires two people, so the clue implies a game between these two, not that the two played them individually. Why not use "or" as the conjunction?

Norm 9:55 AM  

Very entertaining puzzle. Can't agree with a lot of the quibbles and nits. It's true, for example, that not all RACINGFLAGS or JOCKEYSILKS have a checkerboard design, but many do, and there's nothing in the cluing that requires the answer to be true of all iterations. If you look at it as "what can there have in common," it works just fine. Maybe I liked this puzzle so much because I first tried to make sense of the core circularly and then had a lively "aha" when the answer jumped out at me, which let me fill in the missing D[TEN] and [ADELE]H (as well as the central floating letters). Much fun!

chefbea 9:59 AM  

Don't have time to read the comments. Have to go to our monthly NARFE meeting.

Maybe @quilter 1 has already commented. We'll see what she has to say about quilting...the shout-out to her

BigSteve46 10:02 AM  

O.K. - I give up! "One-third of a Neapolitan" = "choc." ?????????

archaeoprof 10:02 AM  

Enjoyed this highly unusual Thursday. Had me guessing. A lot. Then (like @Foodie) I had a "light bulb moment."

In Israel I do my banking with Bank LEUMI. It means "national" in Hebrew.

Anonymous 10:05 AM  

Knew MASSIF central from watching the Tour de France...figured out most others in a timely manner. Hate these gimmicky puzzles but it was enjoyable.

quilter1 10:09 AM  

No kidding, I just completed a quilt with a checkerboard design. Dark blue and white checkerboards set with plain white squares, a wedding gift.

Always love a Gorski puzzle, even when she beats me up.

Anonymous 10:14 AM  

@Quilter1 - That explains it! I had the room next to the Bridal Suite in Aruba last week & I kept hearing a woman shouting King Me! King Me! all night long.

Loren Muse Smith 10:17 AM  

@bigsteve46 - think ice cream.

Cheeseguy 10:21 AM  

Gorski is usually good, but this one should have been thrown in the trash can. Interesting idea that was took a lot of ugly crap to make it fit. Rarely agree 100% with Rex, but his review is right on.
Bigsteve46 - Think ice cream vanilla/chocolate/strawberry

Anonymous 10:25 AM  

So will someone please tell me if Rex likes the puzzle. I know he loves the theme and he doesn't the execution of the theme.

I didn't care for it though I normally go gaga over Liz's puzzles. Just not that into all the cute little rules of XWPs like unchecked letters are taboo. Means NOTHING to me. Far too wonkish. One person's genius is another person's wonk?

How, I ask, does anyone rally think that any answer other than chess score and racing flags has any relevance to the theme? (Was there some checkered pattern somewhere in the Psycho scene that any normal person would remember one day after seeing the movie?) Two possible theme answers? I think not. The only theme are those central squares. The two answers are more like hints to the theme to help morons like me.

I like gimmicks and fun twists. But this puzzle belongs in some other publication....


jackj 10:26 AM  


Neapolitan ice cream is an Americanization of Spumoni ice cream but leaves out the pistachio and features our three most popular flavors side-by-side, vanilla, chocolate (CHOC) and strawberry.

Two Ponies 10:30 AM  

I got the central squares about 30 secs. into this but the fill killed me. Crossing a var. with a foreign bank left me cold.
Liz G's puzzles certainly show a unique style. This just wasn't my favorite.

Anonymous 10:32 AM  

If anyone's interested, the highest mountain on the continent of Antarctica is "Vinson Massif" at over 16,000 feet.

ArtO 10:38 AM  

Like Foodie, MASSIF was conjured from my high school French when we learned about the massif centrale region in France - and that was 57 years ago!!

Other than MOIL, ELKIN, ENNA actually found this a relatively easy Thurs. Still don't understand how SHOWERSCENE and PRESELECTED fit the theme.

JenCT 10:39 AM  


Anonymous 10:42 AM  

This puzzle started out smoothly and then got really tough. I am a crossword puzzle novice, and many of the obscure knowledge clues completely elude me -- LEUMI and THOLE for instance! I did get Adele H -- Isabelle Adjani is a contender for most beautiful woman on the planet, and she can act as well.

GILL I. 10:49 AM  

Yesterday seemed wierd and today seems strange. I felt prompted to be conveyed to AVALON since I just could not get the theme.
I was obsessed with Napoleon and Castro playing a GAME OF CHESS (which I presume is meant to depict their wilyness?) and so, kept my focus on that game rather than a checker board.
Same words, as others have noted, that I never heard of.
@Loren: OTHELLO - think Shakespeare - play. OTELLO - think Verdi- opera.

One more time 10:53 AM  

As Rex said in his writeup, SHOWERSCENE and PRESELECTED are not part of the theme. He noted that the fact that these have the same letter count as the theme answers was a flaw of the puzzle.

Matthew G. 10:54 AM  

I agree with Rex completely today (except for MASSIF, which I thought was fine). Beautiful concept and pretty-looking grid -- until you actually fill in the squares, which is a pretty unthrilling experience. ELKIN/MOIL/ENNA totally wrecked my solve.

I knew Rex would call this puzzle out for the long-as-the-theme-answers non-theme answers, and rightly so, because those really gave me pause I was going through this. (@ArtO, the reason you don't see how SHOWER SCENE and PRESELECTED fit the theme is that they aren't part of the theme, which is exactly the problem).

Like many others here, I love Liz Gorski's work when she doesn't let high concept override quality, but it's very difficult for me to understand the appeal of today's puzzle. A nifty grid doesn't make me enjoy working through clues and entries as painful as the ones here.

Two Ponies 10:55 AM  

Another female constructor.
This makes how many days in a row?

Anonymous 11:10 AM  

@one more time said - Rex lists the non-theme answers as theme answers in his bullets but later says they are not, etc. I think that's consistent with Rex saying he likes the theme but not its execution. He should not list them as theme answers if they are not. I'm just happy that Matthew G interpreted what Rex said because I have no clue what he said.

Z 11:19 AM  

@anon 11:10 - Huh? Rex doesn't list non-theme answers as theme answers in his list of theme answers nor in his bullet points. He comments about SHOWER SCENE and PRESELECTED in the body of his write-up. Maybe reading a little more closely might help you understand what Rex said.

I see that I got the email follow-up box on my first visit to the comments, but not now. I'm guessing this is why I didn't see it yesterday.

ANON B 11:46 AM  

You made me wince. One of my pet
peeves is the use of "literally".
You say that "massif" is a word you have literally never seen.
Is that any different from just never having seen it?

mac 11:56 AM  

Very odd: I solved the puzzle and filled in the letters in the center without realizing the theme. Just went with the grafic. My last letter written down was the I in Elkin/moil.

The massif was a (French) gimme to me, too, but I had a little trouble piecing together the aery/by lot section, and I just assumed that choc was part of a Pepperidge Farms cookie, one of those named for cities. I like the Geneva.

Anonymous 11:59 AM  

I found it rather easy somehow

Merle 12:16 PM  

I guess solving a crossword puzzle is all about one's cultural frame of reference -- and, of course, liking to solve puzzles, and liking to play games. This puzzle had a lot of words I take for granted as part of a cultural frame of reference -- massif, for one, ariose, for another, Avalon, Skye, Leumi -- and others that solved easily enough, because I recognized what they would be once I had a few letters, even if they aren't part of my ordinary frame of reference -- Agassi, neg, Elkin, even jockey silks. Only problem was the initial following Adele, Adele H, because although I am a Truffaut fan -- loved "The Four Hundred Blows", which I saw when it first opened in NYC, way back in the day -- took a while to recognize that "Adele H" is about Victor Hugo's daughter -- hence the "H". Stumbled with the Elayne and Skye cross, because I knew Skye was right -- think "Skye Boat Song", for instance -- but only know Elayne Boosler by hearsay -- like jockey silks. So I didn't realize she spelled her name with a "y", and took me a while to realize, oh yeah, sure, that must be it, and Skye is definitely right. It isn't Skie. Fun puzzle. Chess and checkerboard -- cute idea. Not a brilliant idea, but cute.

dk 12:17 PM  

There were tiled walls in the SHOWERSCENE as I recall, forming a monochromatic CHECKERBOARD.

Please note the intrusion of the ROBOTS (my little pretties) that test us daily - resistance is futile.

Walk though a certain section of Central and other NYC parks and you may be challenged to a GAMEOFCHESS by someone who looks like Napoleon or Fidel.

The Woody HAYES clue was the only real stinker for me. The rest of the puzzle was fine. A little too cute for my taste but well done.

🌟🌟 (2 Stars) Thank you Ms. Gorski

r.alphbunker 12:18 PM  

That was a nice piece of xword criticism. I can forgive Gorski for her conceit because her trademark is unusual grids.

I bet you are glad that touchdown celebrations are an offense in the NFL.

Masked and Anonymous 12:23 PM  

Fought the hard fight, but unable to get the thole dern whing.

This puz went for a serious ton of theme material, and I did at least get all of that. MOIL seems like it might be a fair word, if you didn't have old Enna Elkin kicking the stuffing out of yah, while you're trying to think.

MASSIF and LEUMI were just the nonsense left over, after I'd filled in all their crosses. So, no harm/foul thereabouts. ADELE? and ?TEN, I just left on the pot to simmer, until I figured out what was up with the cool center decoration -- which wasn't too hard to suss out, once I had the C?E?K??B?A?R? part.

Silver Bullets:
- LEUMI: Short for LE U's are MIssing.
- ROBOTS: This entry should be required to prove it's not a carbon unit.
- CHECKERBOARD: The cute, 5x5 "petite" version. Better name for the petite version = HECK-BAR?
- SSS: Sound made by Enna Elkin, after her SSN is hacked by the SLA at the LEUMI. (Right after she yells 22-A, of course.
- AERY: Casper the friendly It and cousin EERY (and Liz) are welcome here anytime.

Sparky 12:27 PM  

I was trying to fill in the blank squares clockwise. Don't know why; it seemed to make sense at the time. ARIOSo. Confused Adele H with Story of O which I was reading about last night. So, had all the clued squares and missed six unclued. 25 and 43a confused me. DNF but I still like Liz Gorski.

Shout out to Quilter1. Yea! In the 70s a nice Bar Mitzvah gift was a bond from Bank Leumi. Passover is on the way. Easter, too.

WesIsland 12:28 PM  

Question: Doesn't the use of an abbreviation in 11a, 'Perk for a C.E.O.,maybe' eliminate the possibility of a non-abbreviated answer like, 'jet?'

Ulrich 12:47 PM  

Like many here, I'm a big fan of EG--met her briefly in person at a past ACPT. I explained to her that her visually/graphically inventive puzzles have a special appeal for me as an architect. To which she replied that SHE admired the creativity of architects and so, we looked at each other for a few seconds in mutual admiration.

I often chime in only to put my weight on the side of a puzzle that I believe has been unduly panned in the comments, and there I'm often in agreement with @foodie and @archaeoprof. Plus, I knew the Massif Central from numerous references. Given all of the above, I should be weighing in heavily on the side of the puzzle, with its startling graphics, but I can't wholeheartedly.

I know this from design: Sometimes an idea sounds great when it is explained, but comes across as less than convincing when realized. It's not even the fill in today's puzzle--I love the new words I learned. It's more that the reveal is so predictable, so obvious--it lacks sparkle, I think.

Blue Stater 1:19 PM  

This exercise epitomizes all that I think has gone wrong with the puzzles under WS's editorship. This is not a crossword puzzle, not even close. Even after having looked at the solution, I have no idea on God's green earth how one would ever get "checkerboard" as the "answer" to the letters in the middle. It would have helped, I suppose, had I known that "unchecked letter" is a term of art in puzzleworld for "not being part of both a down and across solution," but still. I usually love Liz Gorski's puzzles. But this one, even in the WS era, was w-a-y over the top.

Wood 1:27 PM  

My iPhone app wouldn't let me fill in the 4 unclued squares in the middle of the checkerboard. But I figured em out anyway. Finished with one mistake -- OpIE -- I'm always mixing up the dumb dog with the Mayberry kid. This gave me ApELEH which seemed perfectly reasonable for such an unreasonable clue.

Knew MASSIF.. had seen THOLE and ELKIN before in xwords but didn't remember them until I got them from crosses... never heard of LEUMI or ENNA. Still, all gettable from crosses. Realized what the four theme answers had in common shortly after figuring out what the central squares spelled. Neato.

Bird 1:29 PM  

What @Rex said and . . .

Sicilian something in a crossword = ETNA. Cross ENNA with some place that King Arthur went to, which is not Camelot, and I’m lost. Didn’t help that I had SHEARED for 26D.


I didn’t care for the fact that some of the letters in the CHECKERBOARD were stand-alones. I kept trying to jump over the black square (like in checkers) to finish a word, but I don’t think BYLOT_E and R_ADIME are legal in any fit, form or function.

I did enjoy what I was able to fill and all the long answers were gimmes except RACINGFLAG (I had YELLOW at first).

ANON B 1:30 PM  


When you refer to a previous
comment, such as ED, please put the time in as most others do.
After a lot of hard work, I finally discovered that you were referring to Evil Doug at 9:10AM

Rube 1:33 PM  

I guess that Robert Service is not among the more popular poets in this set. Viz.:

"There are strange things done in the midnight sun
By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
That would make your blood run cold... "

From The Cremation of Sam McGee of course. Thanks to, although this is not exactly as I remember the wording.

Did all but the central 4 squares last night. Fell asleep and had to look hard at them this morning, but finally got them and the theme. Those 2 red herrings sure made it difficult to ferret out the theme. Had to come here to make sure there wasn't some obscure checkered reference to Psycho and "PRESELECTED" that I was missing. Tend to agree with those who feel that answers of the same length as theme answers detract from the beauty of a puzzle. Seems quite arbitrary.

Otherwise, an enjoyable puzzle. MASSIF was a gimme, LEUMI was a WTH, and I always thought it was "Bringing in the Sheep". Apparently they don't sing this hymn at Episcopal churches, or at least the ones I've gone to. I did debate about EtNA, but decided that since I'd never seen this clue before, AVALON trumped the crosswordese volcano this time.

ECG: I would have liked to see a reference to Nixon's dog here.

jedlevine 1:37 PM  

I just subscribed to the NYT Crossword puzzle on-line. Does anyone know if there is a way to have it sent to me by e-mail each day, as this blog is?

Connie 1:43 PM  

I'm relatively new to solving and enjoy all your comments here ... Had to smile today at the word "moil" ... "There are strange things done in the Midnight Sun/By the men who MOIL for gold/The Arctic trails have their secret tales/that would make your blood run cold/The Northern Lights have seen queer sights/But the queerest they ever did see/was that night on the marge of Lake Labarge/I cremated Sam Magee ..."
Robert Service, "The Cremation of Sam Magee" (1907)

Mighty Nisden 2:20 PM  

Yeah! A callout to me HAYES rather than the normal one of geek and nerd.
This is a good week for me, very close to going 4 for 4. Just could not figure out ENNA and ELKIN.
Struggled forever on the MASSIF, all I could think of was the dog breed, which I now know is mastiff. Doh!
Liked this one as I got very few on my first pass, but worked most of it out. CHECKERBOARD came right away. Seemed obvious to me.

@Liz 9:46 Love that movie so it should have helped me with the MASSIF, but it didn't till you reminded me.

@Rube thanks for the poem, now I'm going to have to go read it.

quilter1 2:29 PM  

My former boss could recite The Cremation of Sam Magee from memory. More enjoyable than reading it.

Sparky 2:30 PM  

I think unchecked squares is not the theme. The theme is stuff that is a checkerboard. And I still think it made sense to try it clockwise. Ta, ta.

King Me 3:33 PM  

GAMEOFCHESS – the board is checkered, black & white
QUILTDESIGN – the overall design is checkered, but not necessarily by color
JOCKEYSILKS – there is some sort of checker design (left sleeve blue, right sleeve red, right pants leg blue and left pants leg red OR some checkered pattern on the shirt)
RACINGFLAGS – only one is checkered and it’s the Checkered Flag

A weak assembly of theme answers if you ask me, though the central theme was obvious

Atlantasolver 5:11 PM  

The Vinson Massif is named for the late Georgia congressman Carl Vinson, father of the two-ocean Navy.

Loren Muse Smith 5:31 PM  
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Loren Muse Smith 5:34 PM  

@Ulrich - "and so, we looked at each other for a few seconds in mutual admiration." Made my day!

@Gill I.P. Thanks for the Othello/Otello clarification. I still don't really get it. It seems to be akin to the fact that it's "filet" mignon but "fillet" of salmon.

Lewis 5:40 PM  

It was tough but revealed itself bit by bit. I had enough to know that CHECKERBOARD was in the middle, which gave me the H in 8D and the E in 30A. I did err with SKIE/ELAINE. But I enjoyed the solve, and there was enough crunch to it to feel like this puzzle was more constructed for me than for EG.

Medium? and Anonymous 5:48 PM  

@#31*!: "Medium"?!? This one even took Dan Feyer 5:05 to do. Fearlessly predict that SanFranDude's stats will tilt toward "hard", unless the DNF's, like me, throw things off. M&A

Ulrich 6:21 PM  

@loren: Think of it this way: Since the Italians have no "th", they turned "Othello" into "Otello". Like since the English have no ü, they turned "über alles" into "uber alles" (I spare you the old "ano" joke w.r.t. the Spanish).

Robert of San Francisco 6:47 PM  

Sad that Stanley Elkin appears to have been completely forgotten. He's one of the funniest writers I've ever read. If you're interested, I recommend starting with "The Dick Gibson Show," if you can find a copy.

I knew "massif" because of two fantastic French movies from the early '90s, "My Father's Glory" and "My Mother's Castle," based on the memoirs of Marcel Pagnol. Rent these!

But "moil"? Fuggeddaboutit.

joho 7:14 PM  

Man, getting here this late due to extreme work overload just adds to the long day ... in a good way!

I loved the comments, and @Ulrich, you especially captured my feelings about this one.

No matter how you feel about his particular puzzle, there is only one Liz Gorski and she is brilliant!

Tita 8:20 PM  

It's all been said...but that won't stop me!
Only Massif I know is the Central...

DTEN was easily inferable. We used to play Battleship with naught but some graph paper and a pencil...

My only problem was with the imposter theme answers. Poor form, that!

I've been the one crossing the line to the checkered flag once or twice, so overall, came away liking this!

Tita 8:24 PM  

OMG - Doris Day is singing QUE SERA SERA on TCM...

sanfranman59 10:10 PM  

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

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

Mon 6:56, 6:50, 1.03, 61%, Medium-Challenging
Tue 8:47, 8:52, 0.99, 55%, Medium
Wed 12:37, 11:50, 1.07, 73%, Medium-Challenging
Thu 16:58, 18:58, 0.89, 30%, Easy-Medium

Top 100 solvers

Mon 3:39, 3:40, 1.00, 50%, Medium
Tue 4:42, 4:35, 1.03, 63%, Medium-Challenging
Wed 6:19, 5:53, 1.07, 75%, Medium-Challenging
Thu 9:58, 9:19, 1.07, 68%, Medium-Challenging

As @Medium? and Anonymous suggests, today's All Solvers median solve time is undoubtedly skewed by DNFs. There were only 381 solvers today vs. a Thursday mean of 526. The Top 100 rating probably more accurately reflects this puzzle's true difficulty.

foodie 10:55 PM  

Interesting to see the small number of finishers today!

Thanks SanFranMan... Always interesting!

kg 11:45 PM  

Very hard for a Thursday, between unchecked crosses, leumi, aery, etc. I actually got kind of bored once I realized that the theme (which, yes, was cute) had forced the puzzle author into unrepentant artifice. Ah well.

Dale Carnegie 7:41 AM  

Rex - your annoyance at words or things you've never seen before gets increasingly tiring. Crosswords assume a catholicity of knowledge. For a teacher, there are sure big holes in yours. Geology is something everyone should know something about, and massif is not that difficult. Anyone into movies should know Truffaut's "The Story of Adele H" Or the history of literature, Adele H being Adele Hugo, daughter of Victor. Anyone who's ever even glanced at the financial pages should know Bank Leumi. Either you're relatively young and haven't accumulated the mountain of trivia that come with advanced years or you're a rube who went to a rube college.

Anonymous 9:48 AM  

I had no idea how the so-called "theme" answers were related. But when my husband walked by, I read them out to him, and he immediately said "checkerboard". Go figure. And here I thought chess is played on a chessboard, but I'd much prefer to see Joan of Arc and Elvis play. I see dead people? Call me crazy, but I enjoy learning or relearning words like "thole". Never heard of "leumi" but I'm liking it. And yes, I agree that C.E.O signals an abbreviation for an answer.

Anonymous 10:24 AM  

proud to finish this puzzle. i worked at bank leumi executive offices as a young woman. i was the receptionist. the only other woman was a secretary. i was expected to look pretty, make coffee, take verbal abuse from callers and file. the vice prez did recognize that i had intelligence and wanted to train me to sell stocks and bonds but i was numbers shy and declined. this was in 1970. things have changed for women. but i guess there are many a receptionist looking pretty, making coffe and taking verbal abuse over the phone.

Anonymous 12:19 PM  


bringing in the sheaves

bringing in the sheaves

we shall come rejoicing

bringing in the sheaves


Anonymous 1:58 AM  

There are strange things done in the midnight sun by the men who MOIL for gold . . .

Mike in DC 3:24 PM  

How does Rex know that "Preselected" isn't part of the theme. In a computer form, preselected could mean "Checked", which seems to me as close to the theme as "Game of Chess". I'm thinking it is a theme answer, so maybe Shower Scene is as well, but nobody's figured it out yet.

Southwest 12:06 PM  

From syndication land again: Hard to dislike this one. Got checkerboard right away and it helped me. Looked to see if anyone noted that CORE was in the dead center. So I am. As I understand, these four letters are neither checked nor exactly unchecked.

rain forest 1:02 PM  

Big fail for me. I was motoring along nicely; knew "massif", "moil", "sheaved", and Elkin, and KNEW that the word "checkerboard" went in the centre, but
"H" of Adele eluded me, and put in "arioso", so I reasoned that the letters of "checkerboard" were randomly placed, like a quilt design, in the centre. Rats.

Just wondering if the shower curtain in that shower scene had a checkerboard design. Possibly?

As always, I like puzzles that are "different", and this was no exception. I just didn't quite finish it.

Waxy in Montreal 1:12 PM  
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Waxy in Montreal 1:14 PM  
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Waxy in Montreal 1:16 PM  

Le Massif is also a ski mountain in the Charlevoix region of Quebec with the highest vertical drop in Canada east of the Canadian Rockies (2625 ft). Could apparently be used as an Olympic venue if Quebec City is ever awarded the winter games.

Though I found the puzzle itself especially easy for a Thursday, the fact that two of the five eleven-letter answers - SHOWERSCENE and PRESELECTED - inexplicably weren't part of the theme made the CORE area (great deduction, @southwest) much more obscure than necessary. Wondering if Will Shortz add-ins modified Ms Gorski's original submission?

Spacecraft 1:30 PM  

@Rube who is NOT a rube: thanks for the Service quote. When I read it the first time, I assumed "mOIL" was a misprint and he really wrote "toil." Only today do I come to find the truth. I have never seen nor heard that word since misreading it so long ago.

Ms. Gorski is obviously a "vocabulary-stretcher." There's always something to learn in her puzzles--even for the erudite. Ah, but today, at what price? SSE, SSN and SSS? Man, that's a looot of S'es! And two across 11's thrown in there, off-theme, making me scratch my head for a while: do I approve? NOHOW!

As far as the theme goes: the first thing that went in was C*H*E*C*K*E*R*B*O*A*R*D. So in that sense, super-gimme leading to super-easy. However, we're talking Lizzish here, so filling it in upgraded it to at least a solid medium. I guess I pretty much agree with OFL today.


Ginger 2:59 PM  

@Rube Thanks for the Service quote. I immediately thought of it when I reached 34 D. Such a fun poem, with a great punch line!

Re the SHOWERSCENE, check out the center grid, does it not look like a drain? with maybe a dark liquid running down?

6-D was a gimme (what does that say about me?), so MASSIF came easy. I'd forgotten the references in The Hunt for Red October, until reminded.

@loren muse smith - Yesterday you mentioned reading "Shogun", you might also enjoy another James Clavell; "Tai-Pan".

Re 4-D, I live near Vancouver....and I drive North to get to Seattle. Of course there is more than one Vancouver, but Vancouver WA predates the (much larger) city in BC by 25 years!

Dirigonzo 5:06 PM  

"When this crossword is done, the puzzle's theme will help you fill the interior squares." Which I am sure it would have if I had been astute enough to get the theme. As it was, I figured it was a "board" of some kind in the center but I was too fixated on chess to think of checkers - and I was still trying to connect Napoleon and Fidel Castro in some way.

Nice tip o' the hat to west coast syndilanders at 4d.

Lola505 5:31 PM  
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Lola505 5:37 PM  

Thought I'd check in for Rex's Rant O' The Day. While I didn't know or had never seen most of the same names / words Rex hadn't, it didn't make me unhappy. I rather like it when I manage to correctly fill in and learn new words, even if from their crosses. I'm a movie buff, so I had seen Adele H.

Thought the checkerboard in the center was clever and never-seen-before, so props for that, Ms. Gorski. A perfectly decent Thursday puzzle, IMHO.

Solving in Seattle 6:41 PM  

Operating with a 101 degree temperature did not help with today's puzzle. I managed to get everything but the C-O-R-E letters. Flunked the IQ test.

Othello was bOORISH for quite a while. And finally muddled through the ADIME/MOIL cross with Rabbi Google's help.

Israeli bank clue had me looking for connections to the West Bank, or the Banks of the Jordan River. Never heard of LEUMI bank. We do, however, have Lumni Indians in Western Washington. Vancouverites pass their reservation as they head SSE down I5 to Seattle.

Capcha: mmentlet vellyze. A defensive move in CHECKERs said to have been originated by an obscure Bulgarian.

Anonymous 7:24 PM  

This was just stupid.

eastsacgirl 9:17 PM  

Kinda strange puzzle even though I got the theme right away. Was thrown off a bit by *showerscene* and *preselected* though. Was an official DNF but since I don't choose to Google, not too bad.

Wouldn't mind NOT seeing this type of puzzle any time soon again though.

Anonymous 10:59 PM  

didn't need more than the (cho)C, the R(eacts) and the D(ten) to fill in CHECKERBOARD, And I could see the theme with GAME OF CHESS and RACING FLAGS. QUILT DESIGN came with some crosses, but I had a helluva time getting to JOCKEY SILKS, even with JOCKEYS____ in place. In the end, that section of the grid was smooth, but I made a mess of Oregon for a big DNF.

Roxy Music tune was in my head from the moment I remembered AVALON so thanks vor the vid, Parker.

Rouleau 1:19 AM  

Based on some of the comments, I wonder if the issue with this puzzle was based on whether you solved on-line or on-paper. The syndicated version clearly had a thicker border around the 'edge' squares of the board, clearly showing it was meant to be seen as a whole. I could almost fill it it right away, based on the C in 'Choc' and then looking for a confirmation letter which I got on 'D-Ten'.

Surprised that massif caused so much problems, guess I've watched Hunt for Red October too many times.

Anonymous 6:04 PM  

Here in sydiland and a week late at that.
Those robot proofers are killer.
Glad that so many got a taste of the excellent service poem.


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