SUN 7-15-12

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Constructor: Randolph Ross

Relative difficulty: IMPOSSIBLE (couldn't even finish by Googling)

THEME: "A" TRIP AROUND THE WORLD — Twenty-two place names that begin and end with A are strung together over seven across entries so that the ending A in one place is the beginning A in the next. Geography lesson ensues.

Word of the Day: SHIRR (Bake, as an egg) —
shirr verb (used with object) 1. to draw up or gather (cloth or the like) on three or more parallel threads.
2. to bake (eggs removed from the shell) in a shallow dish or in individual dishes.

(Note the strong resemblance shirred eggs bear to shirred fabric. The eggs are at right.)

Well, I'm pretty sure today marks a First Ever event in Rexville: An incomplete/incorrect puzzle solution! Try as I might — and I tried, and tried, and tried — I could not figure out what town(s) would work in between ATLANTA and ANDORRA. ALMOATA is not a place. Neither is ALMOA or ATA. I tried changing the spelling of GONEF to the less-common GANEF, but that left me with ALMA (a place) and AATA (surely not a place). The crosses looked right to me, with HINTS being the only iffy one. I'm sure some much-better-solver will come along shortly and help me fix this, but in the meantime I'm going to bask in my trail-blazing, couldn't-even-finish, guest blogger status. (I don't have much choice.)

Ha! Update before even posting: Checked Crosswordfiend's blog and learned ALMA ATA is correct, and my DNF was actually due to incorrectly entering CARAT (which is a unit of fineness of gold) instead of KARAT (a unit of weight for precious stones). I probably should start all over and make KARAT my WOTD, but I'm way too lazy. BTW, I also had to copy her completed grid because I couldn't for the life of me figure out how to get my (now) completed grid from my iPad, where I solve, to my desktop where I am writing this up.

Theme answers:
  • Four stops on "A" trip around the world: AFRICA/(A)SIA/(A)RGENTINA/(A)RUBA
  • Three more stops: ATLANTA/(A)LMA ATA/(A)NDORRA
  • Three more stops: AMERICA/(A)RIZONA/(A)LBANIA
  • Three more stops: ALGERIA/(A)LABAMA/(A)RCADIA
  • Three more stops: ALBERTA/(A)LAMEDA/(A)STORIA
  • Three more stops: ALTOONA/(A)RMENIA/(A)RALSEA
  • Three more stops: ANTARCTICA/(A)LASKA/(A)NTIGUA
I have one huge nit to pick with one theme answer. Can you guess which it is? I spent well over an hour trying to figure this out. I must've scoured a half a dozen alphabetical listings of place names trying to suss out what the heck would fit in the spot I thought was holding me up. ALMATY showed up on a few of those lists, but not ALMA ATA, even though the latter is supposedly a variation of the former.  Hmph. I cry foul.  Which brings me to my first video, chosen partly for all the sports-loving readers of the blog, but mostly because I thought NO CATCH (Ruling against a receiver) was a made-up rule...

BTW, this video is also a perfect example of why I loathe football. That being, it's damned near impossible to track where the ball is at any given moment. There are just too many big, beefy men surrounding the thing most of the time


I loved IDIOCY as the answer to Three Stooges specialty, but I'm never thrilled to be reminded of them at all, mostly because it reminds me that I actually watched them on lazy summer afternoons when I was in grade school. Worse though, twenty years ago a friend shared a little tidbit with me that I can't help but think of every time I've run across their name since. Apparently she caught her husband doing a certain thing that men sometimes do while watching porn, only he was watching The Three Stooges instead of porn. The marriage didn't last. Oh — and she's now gay. Understandably.

ALBANIA always, always, always reminds me of this...

God, I loved Coach!

That's really about it for the high points. There wasn't much in this puzzle that sizzled for me.


LUI (French pronoun) — I've commented on this before, but now that I have a bigger soapbox I'm going to say it again: ENOUGH with the arcane foreign pronouns and other bare particles of speech!  Common foreign words — ami, tres, bon mot, adieu, etc — fine. But LUI is simply not a word anyone who doesn't speak French is likely to know. This is supposed to be an ENGLISH puzzle!! STOPPIT!

TEK — I think I've seen this clued as a William Shatner novel/serial partial before, but this cluing stumped me.

Honestly, that's about it for the dreck, so I'd have to say that, as much as I hated ALMA ATA and LUI, this was a pretty solid, if not terribly scintillating puzzle.


GLINTS (Flashes quickly) was BLINKS, and therefore...
SWEATS (Gym wear) was SNEAKS
IT'S A DATE ("You're on!") was IT'S A DEAL
HAT BANDS (Fedora features) was HAT BRIMS
KARAT (Piece of gold), well, let's not go back there.
PACMAN (Maze navigator) was LAB RAT

Remember this precursor to PACMAN?

I drew a perfect rendition of this in a game of Drawsome and the person who was supposed to figure out my drawing called me names and refused to play with me anymore. I guess he was young.

I think at least one musical selection is de rigueur for a proper Rexville post, but the only Sade tune I know dates back to the 80's, so I'm going to treat you to this instead...

Rattle Box — Broken Star

Back to GLINTS for a moment: There's one of those oh-so-helpful, mobile radar thingamajigs set up on the feeder street that leads to our neighborhood. You know the kind — it tells you what speed you're going, and if you're over the limit, the number begins to blink. Yesterday, I made the mistake of leaving home on an errand when I was in a red-hot rage. When I'm in a red-hot rage I guess I drive a tad fast. That radar sign almost always is blinking at me when I come upon it, but usually just lazily — 28! 27! 26! 25 :), but yesterday it yelled at me, in very-rapid red flashes,  to SLOW DOWN! I'd never seen that before.

Okay, I'm officially rambling now. Rex actually sets his template up with the word RAMBLE where the bulk of his commentary usually goes, so I took it to heart and did my best. I know there are a handful of you who aren't happy with some of Rex's guest-bloggers this go-round, and I've found the comments to that effect to be quite boorish. But, for those of you who feel I didn't ramble enough, or are displeased with my bona fides, opinions, lame humor, or choice of vids and pics, you are, of course, welcome to let me have it with your comments. Then please refer back to this...

Signed, Rex Parker's Guest Blogger of 7/15/2012


jae 2:51 AM  

Too tough for me too for exactly the same reason as "Guest Blogger," i.e. missed  it by one square.  The Evan Natick Resolution Alarm was blaring constantly in the NE.  I was tempted to go down into the basement and flip the circuit breaker.  Which is tricky because I live in a condo.  And yet, it failed me for the second week in a row.  Never heard of ALMA ATA and GoNEF is my go to spelling for thief in Hebrew so....DNF.  

Not all that fond of this one.  Kept looking for a rule...continents (no), continents and countries (no),  and cities (no), and states (no)...and no rule (yes).

Mostly easy-medium except for the ALMA ATA region which took forever...ORRIS root (WFT), OAR ( had ATMS for way too long), and URBANPOP did not leap to mind quickly.  

Kind of a slog.

thursdaysd 2:52 AM  

Totally agree about ALMA ATA. Not only is it not the current name, having been replaced by Almaty, it violates the sharing the "A" thing. I was pretty underwhelmed by the theme, too. I thought at first that we would have continents on one line, countries on another, but no, just a random collection of names. Either you knew the crosses, or you guessed, just like I wound up guessing some sportsmen.

Also agree about LUI, I started with toI. Then I had rodent before PACMAN, anc cARAT before KARAT - maybe I'll get them straight now.

While I appreciated the absence of puns, this was a puzzle I'd have been as happy to have missed.
I suppo

jae 3:03 AM  

@Guest Blogger -- In my haste to agree with your take on ALMA ATA I forgot to mention how much I enjoyed your write-up. Made me smile, which I needed after this puzzle.

paulsfo 3:23 AM  

@thursdaysd: I don't think Alma Ata violated the rule, since the beginning and ending "A"s of the place name were shared (the "AA" is in the middle of the two-word place name).
However, I completely agree that it's a pretty lame answer. :)

I don't think of "I LOVE LA" as a satirical song.

Anonymous 3:38 AM  

Thank you, Guest Blogger, for your rating of "impossible." That makes me feel better, really,

I regret the time I spent on this puzzle before I threw in the towel.

chefwen 5:11 AM  

"Handful" was the key word in your last comment. Most of us really enjoyed the fill-in bloggers. Your last sentence in your write up was just mean spirited.

Loved the puzzle, it was a little sloggy at times but totally doable. ALMA ATA was a learning experience for me as was AMARCADIA which I should have known having traveled in that area. ALTOONA is a town in Wisconsin also. I'm sure DK knows it, as it is in his nape of the woods.

Rex Parker 5:31 AM  

Who's not happy with the guest bloggers!? I must've missed those comments. Fuck those guys, indeed.

Thanks, Guest Blogger

RP (from Lake Hawea, NZ)

Heron 7:30 AM  


Total DNF for me. Aside from the terrible ALMA ATA situation, just too many obscure crosses intersecting answers that stretched the theme.


r.alphbunker 8:00 AM  

SANA'A saved me on this one. It was a precedent for consecutive 'A's in a place name. I thought that ALMA ATA was ALMA'ATA. It did not help that it was crossed by three foreign words: ASIAGO (Italian), CHALLAH(Hebrew) and GANEF(Hebrew)

Liked the shout out to my home state of Iowa (IA): AS[IA], ALBAN[IA], ALGER[IA], ARCAD[IA], ASTOR[IA] and ARMEN[IA]. Someday I will check if there is a Alban, Alger, Astor or Armen in Iowa but want to rest up after finishing this world tour.

Anonymous 8:17 AM  

Have to agree. DREK

ArtO 8:21 AM  

Guest blogger has confirmed virtually everyone who found the obscurities, etc extremely frustrating. OARS may be found ON banks...IN banks is a real stretch to present a misdirecting clue.

Glimmerglass 8:28 AM  

Hands up for ALMA ATA. 1) I was sure GoNEF was right, and 2) never heard of ALMA ATA. I thought two-word place names were out (ARAL SEA, however, is another).
I also had trouble with the NE, because I was married to fogs in banks for a long time, and bikini bras and then cups. Finally broke the jam with LAUREATE and TOPS. I have no problem with LUI (though I tried moi and toi first), but OARS are only in banks if you're often looking at a trireme! URBAN POP sounds like a thing, but it certainly isn't my thing.

fruitypants 8:50 AM  


Anonymous 8:59 AM  

I've always found the Three Stooges to be (non-funnily) IDIOTIC, and remain amazed that people find them entertaining. Thanks for the insight regarding their attraction.

Micki 9:31 AM  

Isn't the plural of Madame Mesdames, not madames?

NittyGriddy 9:52 AM  

First, a few positives - LUI is an extremely common word in French (it's "him" or "her"). The fact that it's not in American crosswords more often is merely the fact that most American constructors don't speak French. If foreign words are allowed at all, LUI should definitely be on the list.

Second, all the dictionaries I could find online have GANEF as the first spelling. Can't blame Mr. Ross for using it, then.

But ... the negatives. Why in the world is ALMA ATA in the mix? I've actually heard of it - either "Alma ___" or "___ Ata" have been clues in crosswords for years - but it's not the name of the place anymore and an easy search online would have revealed this. Moreover, if that line of answers had started with AUSTRIA, with ATLANTA second, it would have avoided the issue altogether, and it would have gotten AUSTRIA into the puzzle. Why, of all places, was AUSTRIA left out? I'm still sitting here, shaking my head.

And ... AMERICA? Really? Is "Britain" the name of a country? So in addition to the overall boringness of the theme we get a theme that's very inconsistent, and not even the actual names of some of the places.

And last, "ados" is a bad enough answer in puzzledom, but now HAVOCS? Ridiculous.

Lindsay 10:05 AM  

The acrimony of some commenters has put me off reading the comments section this past week, but generally I have enjoyed the guest bloggers and the variety they bring to the site. Today's write-up, for example, was much more enjoyable than the puzzle itself, though the puzzle was ok enough except that .....

.... I never did figure out that ALMA ATA was all one place. Thought maybe it was ALM/A/LTA, knowing ALTA as the solver's favorite ski resort. But that would have meant wearing SWElTS to the gym, which seemed unlikely. So I came her with the grid correct but convinced it was wrong. Annoying. Not the whole puzzle, just that one spot needed to be ironed out IMO.

Deborah 10:08 AM  

As Micki noted, the plural of "Madame" is, indeed, "Mesdame", so there was that problem.

My problem (and DNF) came from putting LABRAT in for the maze navigator and I was never able to move away from that answer.

Overall, though, a tedious puzzle: uninteresting theme and less than sparkling fill.

Clueless in Texas 10:12 AM  

Agree with write-up! Loved the non-preposition ending last part of the write- up! Hilarious! Reminded me of (I think it was) Churchill who said, "Up with that I will not put.". Also, how I feel about this puzzle. Figured out most of the geographic locations once I figured out the theme, but that still left parts of puzzle completely empty with no finish in sight.

Also, I thought "You're on!" was IT'SADARE! not IT'SADATE. Oh, well, not like that mistake kept me from finishing... It was the rest of the puzzle.

Great write-up, which put a smile at the end of a very long struggle. Thanks!

imsdave 10:13 AM  

Liked it more than most. Only real issue with it was ARALSEA, the only body of water cited amongst the continents, countries, and cities.

Stared at one square for a minute, before finally putting in the correct A (I think you all know which one).

Overall, a good puzzle.

Thanks Mr. Ross, and ???

jackj 10:20 AM  

When ALMA-ATA reared its ugly head early on, one would have hoped that Randy Ross and Will Shortz might have felt a tingle verging on painful from their spidey senses, jettisoned this turkey and told ANDORRA to head on back to the protective mountains of the Pyrenees, GANEF in tow, reuniting with his compatriots at Smuggler’s Central.

But, despite Randy’s experience as constructor of 97 Times puzzles (number 11 on the all-time puzzle count list) and Will’s editing credentials at 6,812 puzzles for the Times, they proceeded apace and those of us who stayed with them were forced to slow dance this Atlas shuffle.

Intent on filling the 441 spaces in the grid with a plethora of geographic “A’s”, with no restrictions, so that continents, cities, big countries, little countries, U.S. states, Canadian provinces, mountainous regions in Greece, even a dried up inland salt water sea were fair game for inclusion and our trip around the world seemed never ending, even downright Sisyphian.

Beyond the theme, from FAD, GAD and GO BAD we jump to MINT, HINT(S) and GLINT(S) to PACS and PACMAN and the beat goes on and on and on and the magical mystery tour is exposed as lusterless, ranking this type of crossword theme in the queue of puzzle preferences as just behind the dreaded “quote puzzle”.

Anonymous 10:24 AM  

Oars are in banks in biremes and triremes

Loren Muse Smith 10:33 AM  

I can’t believe that no one has commented on the seven long theme answers – five 19’s and two 21’s that are two double stacks and one triple stack!!!!!!!! I thought it was such a feat of construction that I’ll take my dnf owing to ALMA ATA and not wonder what happened to Austria.

I enjoyed the whole puzzle and really had fun once I figured out the theme, AND YET I think the LUI and MADAMES arguments are valid.

Loved the cluing for TERMITE and SONATA.

I think this is one fine puzzle. Thanks, Randolph!

Smitty 10:37 AM  

I'm clearly out of step cause I though today was easy - and yesterday was hard..
It was a Sunday slog, but I liked the theme, even though AUSTRALIA never did show up.
I agree @Jae the NE was a little Naticky with OARS and ORRIS and and ANDORRA, but still guessable.

ALBANIA makes me think of Willy Nelson's theme song for the make believe war in Wag the Dog.

Brookboy 10:40 AM  

Like everyone else, I didn't like the AlmaAta answer (probably because I couldn't come up with it - I went with Almoata instead and still counted it as win). But other than that, I enjoyed doing the puzzle. I've been doing the Sunday puzzles for at least 30 years, and the only thing that REALLY upsets me about any of them is when my delivered Times doesn't have the magazine section. Doesn't happen often, but, boy, does it piss me off.

I also enjoy the write-ups and the comments, even if some of them seem a tad snarky at times.

And I thank both Rex and the substitutes who take the time and energy to provide such delightful commentary day after day.

Anonymous 10:44 AM  

Well, I for one am happy with the guest bloggers. Thanks, Guest Blogger, for that clip of NO CATCH. I was at that game. That was two seasons ago. It was the first game of the season. Da Bears went on to win their Division and lose to the Pack in the playoffs and the Pack went on to win the Super Bowl that year. As a life long Bears fan, I can asure you that that was a catch. The official closest to the play called it a touchdown and he was overruled by another official. If the touchdown had stood Detroit would have won the game (because it occurred at game’s end) and Da Bears would have not won the Division. The ruling that was NO CATCH is inexplicable, which explains your confusion….


PS. The puzzle wasn’t really that difficult, just boring.

Anonymous 10:54 AM  

Oh my, I must put down the Stooges and football to prove my superior intelligence. How trite and lazy.

Anonymous 10:55 AM  

An anonymous guest blogger? Well isn't that fucking cute.

MJatFolly 10:55 AM  

Take heart, Guest Blogger. Obviously you are not alone in your take on this puzzle and I had a few chuckles on reading your write-up because I thought anyone stepping in for The 31st Greatest Crossword Puzzle Solver in the Universe! would be perfect and I am heartened to know others have difficulties as I do. Also, paulsfo, I also did not think Newman was being satirical.

Orange 11:03 AM  

I would grouse that my solution grid from Diary of a Crossword Fiend is copyrighted material, but I think the New York Times would counter that claim.

Favorite part of this write-up: The Three Stooges story, which I summoned my husband over to read and laugh at. Couldn't read it aloud to him with kids in the room.

The MADAMES argument was made a few days ago with FRAUS. Crossword constructors/editors claim the right to make a +S plural of any foreign word, no matter how wrong. I checked a dictionary that lists only Mesdames and Frauen as the plurals.

chefbea 11:21 AM  

Agree with everyone about Alma Ata and thought it would be WOD.

@IMSDave same feeling about aral sea.

Nice write up except I really didn't like the final picture!! Guess that's why he/she didn't sign a name

Shamik 11:36 AM  

Let's just leave aside the Naticky ALMA ATA which could just have easily been ALMO ATA. I found this puzzle to be very cleverly constructed. Some very different fill: GARGLER, HATBANDS, ILOVELA, LAUREATE, URBANPOP.

The whole west fell in less than 5 minutes. The next 20 minutes was a working up from the southeast up to the Naticky north and sticky northeast.

I liked this puzzle even though I had the one wrong square.

Also, have not had the time to read all the blogs by the guest bloggers. That anyone would have made snarky comments is beyond rude. They are "guests!" They are volunteers!

NancyKav 11:47 AM  

Impossible for me too, even with all the gimme A's. I had ATMS for OARS (hey I see them in my bank), SHORTS for SWEATS, LABRAT for PACMAN, MOI for LUI, BRA for TOP, LITERATI for LAUREATE, and of course ALMOATA.

The write-up was hilarious! Made the (failed) effort to complete the puzzle well worth it.

GLR 11:54 AM  

@Guest Blogger - Re: Update, I think you have your karats (fineness of gold) and carats (weight of precious stones) mixed up.

Entertaining writeup (more entertaining than the puzzle). Your closing graphic made my day!

Omar Little 11:55 AM  

Profanity is the weapon of the witless.

LA girl 12:02 PM  

"I Love L.A." is NOT a satirical song. Short People? Yes. But "I Love L.A. is a love letter to the city.

treedweller 12:12 PM  

A bit late now, perhaps, but here's at least one way to get your grid off the iPad: 1. Take a screen shot of the puzzle (power button + home button). 2. Go to your camera roll and find the screen shot. 3. Click on the pic to bring up menu options. 4. Click on the button to send as email (the arrow that makes a sideways parabola). 5. Email it to yourself and open it on the computer.

Just in case you have another stint coming up.

I managed to get throu this one wih a few googles, but agree it was a tough Sunday and ALMAATA seems very, very wrong. But, then, I rarely enjoy Sunday puzzles. So I will just say impressive feat with maybe a flaw or two and leave it at that.

Carola 12:15 PM  

DNF because of you-know-what. I went with AL MoATA - a sort of Arabian-Hawaiian destination, I guess.

I did know SHIRRed eggs, from having tried to make them - once. (IDIOCY, when over easy is so good.)

On the bright side: NAVAL crossing Vasco DA GAMA, with PAC MAN appearing as a fellow navigator. I liked WINE SAPS - makes me think of fall and apple pie as we continue to swelter.

@ArtO -
I'd heard of "banks of oars" and thought that the array of oars in (say) a racing-crew boathouse was meant -but no, it turns out that the
rowers in ancient vessels were grouped in banks.

Carola 12:17 PM  

That would be WINESAPS. Not sure what a wine sap would be.

treedweller 12:20 PM  

I suppose I should have said "anonymous blogger" but I figured if it was "posted by deb" then it was probably also written by deb. but, then, I wasn't looking for a way to insult our guest host so maybe I was too rational about it. Thanks for taking the hot seat. you are not the first. Don't let it get you down. I actually found it fun and liberating to go down in flames and then have to confess it to the puzzlesphere.

Sue McC 12:23 PM  

I ditto Loren's comments... And my heart goes out to our guest blogger. Were I in his position I would be inconsolable, but he has handled himself with humor and grace. I salute you!

orangeblossomspecial 12:25 PM  

The puzzle would have been more fun if it was all cities or countries rather than an olio of geography. Nevertheless, it evokes memories of Hank Snow "I've been everywhere".

Bill from FL 12:27 PM  

I ended with ALMOATA, and paused on it, but I was pretty confident with GONEF.

My favorite lines in "I Love L.A.":

"Look at that mountain
Look at those trees
Look at that bum over there, man
He's down on his knees"

And they sing it at baseball games.

Tom Nawrocki 12:36 PM  

How do you get NIP out of "Tostitos bowl?"?

Tom Nawrocki 12:38 PM  

Wait, I guess that's supposed to be DIP... so it's LADED? Really?

ejodee 12:50 PM  

I liked the puzzle and the writeup. I didn't have any trouble with Alma Ata. I just took it for somewhere I never heard of and let it ride. All the theme answers were places. No need for more fanciness than that; an exercise in lateral thinking.

I got stuck on the k(c)arat but when I found the error (right here, thanks) it was a head smacker. Carats are for gems and Karat is for gold.

Thank you Anonymous for your funny comments and for the overshare re the Three Stooges. It is good you are anonymous because the
TMIs weren't about you personally so the subjects will hopefully go unidentified. Apropos of nothing: Just once I'd like a Stooges answer to be 'punk,' or 'Iggy' or even 'Popp.' I hate the 3 Stooges. If it weren't for crosswords I wouldn't waste one precious millisecond of thought on them. Ugh. I loved the musical interlude.

Davis 1:50 PM  

@Orange: "I would grouse that my solution grid from Diary of a Crossword Fiend is copyrighted material, but I think the New York Times would counter that claim."

Since there's only one way to correctly complete the crossword, your completed crossword grid is almost certainly not copyrightable unless you've added something creative to it.

This was the first Sunday in a long time I've been unable to complete — and the only time that even Googling let me down. The ALMA ATA/GANEF cross was a serious Natick for me (Googling got me to GONEF, and I didn't resolve it until I came here).

Overall, I found the theme to be unsatisfying. The place-names included cities, states, a body of water, continents, and countries, and there was simply no rhyme or reason to what was included (no AUSTRIA, AUSTRALIA?).

Two Ponies 1:51 PM  

I don't get the Sunday Times but had to stop by to see who the guest blogger was. Very funny but I don't recall anyone slamming the guests.
I'm glad I didn't spring for a paper this morning. I would have been really mad.

Your final graphic really cracked me up.

Ulrich 1:58 PM  

The whole ALMA ATA kerfuffle passes me by b/c I remembered it from high school geography--very memorable name. MY beef with the puzzle is that ABYSSINIA isn't in it--tried to put it in whenever I saw an opening--I mean, which constructor would pass up a chance to put a beauty like this in a puzzle?

Oh, and I gringe when I see a German name of a river clued by the Polish name of a city on it--the Polish name of the river is ODRA, and the German name of the city is BRESLAU...

syndy 2:05 PM  

DNF not neccessarily because it bwas impossible as that I od'ed on the drek and just ncould no longerb force myself.A bad idea that was executed with a lack of rhyme, reason or logic.(and I'm trying to be nice)Maybe its time for somebody else to go om vacation and leave guest editors.

Evan 2:12 PM  

Just in case any commenters or readers of the comment section are not familiar with what @jae means by the Evan Natick Resolution Alarm, he's referring to a strategy I described about two weeks ago for figuring out tough, Natick-like crossings.

The strategy works like this: Try your damndest to plug in a letter that will give you at least one legitimate word that you've seen in a crossword puzzle before. It doesn't matter if you don't know what it means. If you've seen it before, your chances are decent that it showed up again -- albeit with a tough clue. If you can make two legitimate words even if you don't know what they mean or understand how they fit the clue, you stand a good chance of guessing correctly. It's not a fail-proof strategy -- as evidenced by my guessing wrong at both the ALMA ATA/GANEF and TEK/KARAT crossings -- but I stand by it. I maintain that no amount of Evan Natick Resolution was going to help with ALMA ATA/GANEF, except that I should have realized that GeNEF couldn't have been right. If it were, then there's no reason why that answer couldn't have been GENES, crossing HES at 39-Across. Tough, Natick-like crossings are in there for a reason -- usually because nothing else could fit there.

Z 2:21 PM  

I had the same problem area as (almost) everyone else. Having a fondness for geography, I liked the puzzle better than most. For those who wonder if it is a satire or an ode:

Hate New York City
It's cold and it's damp
And all the people dressed like monkeys
Let's leave Chicago to the Eskimos
That town's a little bit too rugged
For you and me you bad girl

Rollin' down the Imperial Highway
With a big nasty redhead at my side
Santa Ana winds blowin' hot from the north
And we as born to ride

Roll down the window put down the top
Crank up the Beach Boys baby
Don't let the music stop
We're gonna ride it till we just can't ride it no more

>From the South Bay to the Valley
>From the West Side to the East Side
Everybody's very happy
'Cause the sun is shining all the time
Looks like another perfect day

I love L.A. (We love it)
I love L.A. (We love it)

Look at that mountain
Look at those trees
Look at that bum over there, man
He's down on his knees
Look at these women
There ain't nothin' like 'em nowhere

Century Boulevard (We love it)
Victory Boulevard (We love it)
Santa Monica Boulevard (We love it)
Sixth Street (We love it, we love it)

I love L.A.
I love L.A.
(We love it)

mac 2:21 PM  

That was work. I had gonef, never having heard of Alma Ata. I had some trouble in the South, though, because for a long time I thought S.A. stood for South Africa, not helped by the fact that I didn't know that bagel expression.

Very funny write-up! Just look at the bottom of it, first of the labels.

Anonymous 2:37 PM  

Not one word about WTF alms ata might br ??? ETF!

DRJ 2:46 PM  

Micki, you beat me to it. Another reason to hate the pompous faux-intellectual cluing of this puzzle. Ugh.

julie 3:14 PM  

I must have a twisted mind - Saturday's puzzle was impossible - today's was easy except French ladies are mesdames

Deb 3:30 PM  

@GLR - Doh! I can't believe I mixed up KARAT/cARAT both in doing the puzzle AND explaining my error!

Re the anonymity of my posting: I figure anyone who's a regular reader of the comments would figure it out and anyone who doesn't wouldn't know who I was anyway. I did. not. realize. my name would post at the bottom. Doh again.

Lewis 3:42 PM  

I liked the puzzle, some of the clues were clever, and the theme helped me fill in a lot of spaces. I have a feeling #31 would have torn this baby into shreds, however...

Rube 3:43 PM  

Nor did I know ALMA ATA, but after Googling, realized it was just a hole in my knowledge as it is the largest city in Kazakhstan and a former capital. There have been some pretty obscure place names in xword puzzles recently -- some podunk county in Western Pennsylvania comes to mind -- but this, as @Ulrich argues, would not be one of them.

All in all, an almost doable puzzle, albeit the usual Sunday slog. Kept looking for Australia and Austria. I'm still kicking myself for not visiting ANDORRA a few years ago when I had the chance.

Also realized I didn't know where ARCADIA was. Turns out it is a regional unit of Greece, (and a city in CA).

Anonymous 3:54 PM  

I didn't work today's puzzle, in fact only two this week, but I have been reading the comments. Guest blogger you had me at at "impossible."

Rex we love ya but the guest bloggers this week have been a nice change up. Well done all.

Anonymous 4:08 PM  

I take issue with karat - that is NOT a piece of gold, it is how purity in gold is measured~ this was a monster! not a lot of fun. First time in more than 18 months that I have been unable to finish - hated it

retired_chemist 4:27 PM  

Liked it - easy/medium.

I do have a strong advantage, however. Non-puzzle wife and I on car trips play this game: one of us selects a city (we restrict to US cities). The other must name a city that begins with the same letter with which the first city ends. Once a city is used it cannot be reused in that game. The game ends when one of us cannot think of a city that fits. That person loses if the last player DOES have a city in mind. If the last player was bluffing and did not have a next city in mind, s/he loses.

My advantage: I know a LOT of A*A cities, having lived in CA which she hasn't (ALAMEDA, ALHAMBRA, AZUSA, ARCADIA......). Kinda runs off on other geographic stuff, so ALMA ATA,ANDORRA, etc. were fine once I got the shtick figured out. (I also know a lot of San and Santa cities, not that that helped today.)

Error: the usual TEC/CARAT.

Got OARS after ATMS failed. Oh, a bank of OARS such as a trireme has. OK, got it. HAT BRIMS was also an early failure. GANEF - no problem. The word can apparently be transliterated almost any way the constructor wishes, so I have learned just to go with the flow.

Nobody complained about O-O-O (unless I missed it). Thought that would bother some of the non-chemists.

IS CARTON crossing the similar CARLTON a no-no, kind of like double dipping your chip at a party (but less unsanitary)?

I am enjoying ALL the guest bloggers. Wish today's wasn't anonymous - I never like anonymity here. Cloaking a nasty final picture (even if it's funny) in anonymity is like making really snarky comments anonymously. Not good IMO.

JFe 4:55 PM  

@Guest blogger (who is this...really?)

" I took it to heart, and did my best."
Oh, you did.

The pornographic Three Stooges...eew.

Last picture...where can I get it?


Anonymous 4:57 PM  

Can't believe (I don't think) that no one's mentioned that this is the lowest Sunday word count in Will's entire NYT tenure.

jae 5:06 PM  

@r_c -- Check the above comments. Deb just owned up to it. Unlike treedweller I did not notice the "posted by" fine print, but I do want to claim that I thought it was Deb all along.

You can tell who is posting on an iPad by the occasional extraneous "b" or "n".

DESievers 5:26 PM  

Somehow I feel that Rex would not approve of the Stooge-bashing of his "anonymous" guest blogger. Some nice observations, and no doubt many of us liked the "Impossible" rating, but you lost the respect and kind opinions of many when implying (actually, stating outright) that there is something low or shameful in being a Three Stooges enthusiast. In the world of comedy, nobody since has come close to achieving what they did. Long live Moe, Larry and Curly (and Shemp)!!!

Anne 5:59 PM  

Hi Deb - Thanks. It's clear you put a lot of time and effort into your write up and I appreciate it. I loved the Albania bit. As for the puzzle, I forced myself to finish - as I usually do on Sunday - and finished with one error - I went with gonef. I can live with that.

Martin 6:04 PM  

The abridged Merriam-Websters 11th Collegiate cites madames as the correct plural when referring to brothel-keepers.

The unabridged (M-W Third New International) lists "madames" as the correct plural for three of the four listed senses of "madame." "Mesdames" is correct when "Madame" is used as a title, but "madames" is correct when referring to (as the clue says) unnamed French ladies. Mesdames Pompadour and de Staël are two madames.

Martin 6:07 PM  

BTW, the MW3NID also lists Frauen for titles and fraus for common noun use.

Anonymous 6:38 PM  

Does anyone here ever like a puzzle? Complain, whine, etc. its a PUZZLE. Its supposed to be tricky.

Pooloniousmonk 7:12 PM  

Wow. So much fun today. 4 hours and 10 minutes to finish. Then another hour and 20 minutes to find the errors. And then, frustrated in that effort, learning that the reason for finishing with an error was because the puzzle violated what I thought was its own rule--no double "a"s. I would have been thrilled to put down Alma Ata, I do not care, it is just as obscure as Almaota, but the puzzle had a single A rule. Otherwise, there should have been double-As throughout. To me, this is miss-misdirection. Also, it was clear that this puzzle was deliberately skewed hard. Often, there are clues that are truly easy in a Sunday puzzle to germinate solutions, but this one had little of that. It was hard. And, I loved the write-up.

Anonymous 7:22 PM  

Huh. Here's just no accounting for puzzle opinions. I finished this in record time, so fast I was disappointed that I didn't get more entertainment value our of it, and thought it was ridiculously easy, though not terribly interesting.

Clueless in Texas 8:02 PM  

Thank you! All day long I kept making the connection to MADAMES and brothel owners, but thought I must have been incorrectly remembering something. Good to know that I was right, bad that the clue had nothing to do with that definition, so I was still wrong. Thanks again!

Anonymous 9:00 PM  

@Chefwen- The NFL channel was re-playing the Packers v. Giants playoff game. Until about 3 minutes left in the first half it was close. Then all hell broke loose. That clip Deb found is appropriate because this season it will be between the Pack and the Lions. Da Bears suck....


Anonymous 9:02 PM  

@Deb - As much as I dislike you, I loved your blog and especially appreciated your last picture telling us where to go....


JenCT 9:09 PM  

Well, I quit on this puzzle - too much of a slog.

Loved the writeup, though!

I've liked all the guest bloggers, and I agree with @Leaz that the guests have been a nice changeup.

I remember that Calvin Johnson non-catch - wow, was that talked about on the sports channels...

Can't believe I couldn't remember SHIRRed eggs.

Anonymous 9:25 PM  

Sucked.Big time.

Anonymous 9:37 PM  

Has anyone noticed that the NYT seems to have dropped it's threat to charge extra for Premium Crosswords for home delivery subscribers? I guess I'll keep my subscription after all.

anonymouse 9:56 PM  

@anonymous at 9:37: Even better, I noticed that it abandoned ITS thread to charge extra...

Ulrich 10:04 PM  

Well, this was a depressing Sunday, puzzle-comment-wise. The main complaint about Alma Ata seems to be that nobody ever heard of it...and that does not speak against Alma Ata, wherever it may be (actually, I know), but against people who think they know everything that is worth knowing--yes, yes, I've said this a million times before, but there is something about today's demonstration of closed-mindeness that I find particularly galling, perhaps because it involves Central Asia...

Z 10:33 PM  

@Ulrich - I think you over-simplified on your way to being galled. There are at least four complaints about ALMA ATA; 1 - GoNEF is more common/acceptable than GANEF, 2 - ALMA ATA is now ALMAty, 3 - ALMA ATA violates the puzzle's internal rule against double A's, and 4 - I never heard of it.

Pooloniousmonk 11:43 PM  

To Z. You nailed it. If it were just a question of obscurity, welcome to the NYT Crossword Puzzle. Observing internal clues and using them to advantage is a fun part of puzzling. I think anyone who can complete a puzzle of this difficulty with an error or two is smart enough to know that they do not know everything. That is why we look for other clues such as internal rules, or think about what event may be celebrated by the puzzle or if the constructor is left-handed. Some people even notice that a puzzle may have only one vowel.

Martin 12:12 AM  

You're missing the best Alma Ata complaint. There's no such place.

It's been called Almaty since the 90s.

But crossword clues have temporal dispensation -- they never need to specifiy past or present, so this complaint is also ignorable

John 12:49 AM  

You can take a screenshot on your iPad by pressing the center button and power button at the same time, then use Dropbox or email the picture to yourself and voila it's on your desktop.

Tita 2:38 AM  

Liked the puzzle, Mr. Ross. Was fun to think up the place names that fit, made more fun by realizing that they could be just about any kind of place.

One of these things is not like the others... There is no such place as AralseA. ARAl sEA does not match the theme.

Unknown 3:02 AM  

ROTFLMAO that Deb tried to sneak up to the front door with a flaming bag of drek, ring the bell, only to get caught while running down the sidewalk.
And for doing what she complains about others having done.

(Lest you think that flaming drek refers to your write-up, chillax - it only refers to your last paragraph.)

Anonymous 3:24 AM  

I am so so so irritated by cluing "I Love LA" as satirical. Nothing about that song is satirical. There is not a trace of irony in it. Bogus bogus clue. I actually thought most of the puzzle fell pretty smoothly, but that clue was terrible, inaccurate and unfair.

Rex Parker 3:43 AM  

My favorite part of today's Comments is that *multiple* people think "I Love L.A." is a straight-up love letter to the city "without a trace of irony in it." Perfect.

No Stooges fan I.


Rex Parker 3:43 AM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
JenCT 8:23 AM  

@Rex: Those people must've been fooled by the ad campaign that promotes that song as a love letter to the city...

John V 8:39 AM  

A day late. They're changing a tire on the plane. Thanks for the impossible rating, @ Rex. 2 days and still wouldn't work.

Anonymous 12:56 PM  

I couldn't get the Alma Ata bit either, but frankly, I was much more annoyed by Aral Sea than Alma Ata. It just didn't seem to fit in well with the other theme answers. All that said though, in general I agree with anonymous @6:38. I read the Sunday post every week and if I didn't know better, would feel guilty for getting so much pleasure out of solving puzzles that are apparently so loathsome. :D

PFSA 3:11 PM  

I'm glad this was a "guest" blogger because I enjoy checking with Rex when I am truly stuck on a puzzle and enjoy his comments. However, I do not appreciate the use of the "F" word in the final comment / graphic. Such should not be done or permitted. Please Rex, do not use this guest again, whoever the heck they are.


Unknown 3:39 PM  

What, your mother taught you that being invited to someone's house (or blog) as a guest means you ought not s#@t all over it or the other guests?
Well, at least not the first time through.

There are those that like to raise hackles. Some do so with intense cleverness. Their deserving targets may not even know they've been slammed.
Others are not so clever. Funny - because the puzzle-related post was a pretty thoughtful one!

She got this long-time lurker out of the shadows. I forgot to say earlier that there were pretty damn few folks who said bad things about the guests. Certainly nowhere near enough to warrant such a savage lashing-out.

Aahh well... such is the true diversity of Rex's laissez-faire attitude, which I inf act applaud. I would rather have to ignore or chuckle at the occasional tantrum-thrower than have a cleansed & scrubbed forum.

Anonymous 5:41 PM  

I enjoy the puzzle o=no matter what - can't agree with most comments - and please no use of the "f" word - totally unnecessary!

Anonymous 10:14 PM  

so i am reading the comments and notice a number of people say what about austria?? well, im thinking these people completely missed it, austria is in the puzzle --- OOPs - I had Austria for algeria and thinking the bloggers aren't too smart!! i loved this guest blogger

Anonymous 12:38 AM  

I can't say enough bad things about this puzzle - alma ata is not an alternative spelling in THIS universe. Plus no concistancy in the theme is not a theme. Puzzle was just no fun.

nurturing 3:39 AM  

For me, a puzzle is good if I don't have to google and I finish the entire thing correctly. So, this was a good puzzle! Thank you.

Funnily, Alma Ata was a given. I know people from Alma Ata and have not started yet to call it Almaty.

Aral Sea was difficult to come up with because it kind of broke the rules - it's a body of water, not a place one can feel earth beneath one's feet.

Color me happy.

Anonymous 3:52 PM  

The name "Almaty" derives from the Kazakh word for 'apple' so it is the big apple.

Leroy Parquet 3:53 PM  

The name "Almaty" derives from the Kazakh word for 'apple' so it is the big apple.

Efficiency Expert 4:09 PM  

re: doing what men do while watching 3 stooges

It's called multitasking. And if your wife is a lesbian...

"and now She's gay", I thought people were born that way.

Leroy Parquet 4:11 PM  

from wikipedia re I Love LA

This song is an example of Newman's ambivalence toward the American Dream, as it celebrates living the dream ("look at that mountain, look at those trees"), while giving a nod to those who have been unable to fulfill the dream ("look at that bum... he's down on his knees"). Newman also presents this dichotomy by incorporating the names of L.A.'s Century Boulevard, Victory Boulevard, Santa Monica Boulevard, Imperial Highway and 6th Street into the lyrics of the song. Traversing any one of these roadways from end to end will reveal some of the wealthiest and some of the poorest areas of the city. In the video, after Newman says the name of each street, a crowd shouts "We love it!"

Notwithstanding the arguably satiric message of the song..

Deb 8:58 PM  

@Efficiency Expert: I'd pustulate that 99.9% of gay men are born that way, but I do believe that there's a not inconsiderable number of gay women who choose it after suffering through a heterosexual relationship with a jerk.

It's also possible, of course, that she was gay to begin with and didn't realize it. I never asked her because I wasn't terribly curious.

Christy 7:38 PM  

Deb, I really enjoyed your write-up, but I'd rather you leave sexual orientation out of your discussion. You're certainly not adding anything funny or constructive to the conversation about homosexuality. It sort of turned me off your entire review.

Anonymous 11:14 PM  

tough indeed but a few stretch answers,mesdames is french for ladies for instance,adding an S is not french!

Spacecraft 12:48 PM  

DNBTF (Did not bother to finish). I thought, are we really going to slog through a geographical "A"-list? I dunno; I've got some drying paint that needs to be watched. By the time I had sussed out ALMAATA (?????) I figured, let's go for the paint. Will, I can't believe you let this piece of IDIOCY get into print.

Joshua 2:43 PM  

I thought I completed the puzzle, but I had TEc/cARAT instead of TEK/KARAT.

LUI should be allowed, but with a more specific clue, like "Him, to Henri." I've certainly seen men's cologne marketed in the U.S. with "Pour Lui" (for him" on the label. I had the third letter of the "French pronoun" for a while before figuring out the whole word: moI or toI would also have worked as French pronouns.

And if you have to have an obscure word like ORRIS in the puzzle, give the crossing word a fair clue. "They're often seen in banks" is not a good clue for OARS. I mean, there's no reason the cross couldn't have been eARS/eRRIS. Whenever I go into my local bank, I can see that every customer and employee there has two eARS.

Anonymous 3:53 PM  

I completed the puzzle, but upon further review I did not complete the puzzle during the process of the puzzle.

connie in seattle 4:10 PM  

Just think if this was a puzzle with so many sports answers instead of geography - the yowling would have been heard all the way to Alma Aata!!

I was thinking with all the place names, we would be relieved of any non-theme ones, but RR snuck in 2 more but starting with "B" - Bolivia and Brazil.

When I was done with this puzzle, I felt like jumping into the sea - at least I had my choice of the Aegean or the Aral.

I did like the asiago cozying up to the challah. Yum.

Wine Sap 4:16 PM  

Add a few slices of Winesap to that and we'd have a tasty treat.

Anonymous 4:48 PM  

I got off to a roaring start. EVERYTHING was working for me, starting with "Borg Rival". CONNORS jumped to mind and fit perfectly in 8d, but first I had to check some crosses. FACT at 6a gave me the C, and FAST at 6d, along with TERMITE at 9d verified FACT. "OK," I SEZ, "let's get one more cross before entering CONNORS. Taking a look at 18a: Borg Rival. That's awesome! two Borg rivals crossing each other! Never seen that one before. But wait...ASHE at 18a voids CONNORS. that I look at 8d again, that's not Borg Rival at all." I sez.

Somehow my eyes saw the clue for 18a and then darted to 8d on the grid.

AND YET, I hadn't written CONNORS in yet, so I still had a clean grid. Wouldn't it be something if I finished with no writeovers, despite opening with an attempt to fit a wrong answer in the wrong squares? And I was seriously breezing through this thing for quite some time.

But it turned out to be Natick City (is that redundant?), with wrong guesses in three spots, and a messy writeover in the frozen tundra anyway (I accidentally finished entering ANTARCTICA starting in the wrong place).

KARAT/cARAT was a coin toss; my gold coin landed wrong side up.

LIEBER lost out to LIEBEn.

And I was thinking I had seen something like ALMAATA in a puzle fairly recently...or was it AAMATA? I eventually decided to go with ALMAATA or ALMAOTA, thinking (correctly) that it might be two words, and I knew for sure that ALMA was a word. And I went with O because I thought it gave me my best chance at 24d (GONEF, GONE F, G-ONE-F....I had no idea on this one).

Anyway, that's my story, and it isn't really very interesting, come to think of it, but I'm not ashamed to have written it, because I sign MY name...Anonymous. And without me this blog ain't nothin.

Idahoconnie 4:58 PM  

I finished the puzzle but had to go to my dictionary to look up geographical names starting with "A". I was lucky because I used my college dictionary printed in the 1960's which had the old name for Alma Ata.

Ginger 8:49 PM  

I worked this puzzle while watching the British Open. The final round was like watching a train wreck - in slow motion. For every fine shot, there were 10 bad ones, into pot bunkers and impossible lies in impossibly dense patches of rough. This puzzle was exactly the same. For every interesting clue or answer, there were 10 bad ones. It was just a slog.

The best part of today's puzzle experience was the write up. Thank You @Deb, you made my day.

Anonymous 9:41 AM  

I have a nit with the final graphic. Off is not a direction. It seems it would be better if the caption was "Off is how I want you to fuck" or something similar. Otherwise, great write-up.

Gwil 1:34 PM  

I didn't like this puzzle. I felt the theme penalized people for having too much geographical knowledge. We've seen that the correct answers included continents, countries, states, provinces, cities, regions, bodies of water, U.S. counties (Alameda), and obsolete names; a priori, no geographic name can be ruled out. What's more, every geographic name has an undetermined starting or ending square, or both, until it's completely filled in. Even if we get an "A" in the middle of the line, we can't be sure that it's the start of a name.

There are an awful lot of plausible geographic names that begin and end with "A". I quickly made a list of 87 of them to prepare for this comment. If you have ALA---A, it could be ALABAMA, ALACHUA, ALAMEDA, or ALAMOSA.

In view of all that, any of the 57 vertical words that cross the theme words is a potential Natick. That just seems like too many.

Anonymous 2:50 PM  

Agree with Spacecraft and Ginger. I sat there spinning my globe, trying to finish, becoming increasingly irritated by the obscure A*A answers and frustrated not to know Hebrew. If I encounter too many more puzzles like this, I'm not going to bother doing them anymore.

Prune 12:34 PM  

In nearly 20 years of doing the NYT puzzle, this is a first for me: I didn't bother to finish a puzzle. Many have been team efforts with my wife; one or two a month require checking an answer via browser search (*not* Google) or coming to this fine blog (where guest columnists are cherished).

I quit after identifying the theme with 22a and 26a, and filling in the first few of those answers. After working through their crosses, I quit -- not a "rage quit", simply not worth the effort. In the ancient tome of puzzle construction, the key indicator of quality is given as "is the puzzle fun to solve?"

This one fails. There is no inner rationale to the strings of answers. Too many of the crossing clues feel as if they were taken from the crossword books at the grocery checkout, instead of a quality data base or a twist of the constructor's mind. I felt marginalized and ignored; I left the building and gave my ticket stub to a high-school student waiting hopefully in the lobby.

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