Richard Nixon's birthplace / FRI 7-20-12 / Black Bears' home / Marlon Brando's "I Remember Mama" role / Rikishi's specialty / Bailout button

Friday, July 20, 2012

Constructor: Martin Ashwood-Smith

Relative difficulty: Medium-hard


Word of the Day: ERTE (56A: "Athena" artist)
I'm sure some of you are tired of this time-tested piece of fill (Wikipedia bio), but I always like to see him turn up. When I visitied Taipei many years ago, I was lucky enough to stay at the Landis Hotel, which is decorated in gorgeous, sumptuous Art Deco. The photo below is a view of the lobby, with an original Erté sculpture on the table and other works throughout the building. My suite, appointed in black and white, made me want to rouge my knees, roll my stockings down, and head out in my flapper's dress to dance the night away.
• • •

Hello again. You might be thinking ITSDEJAVU but don't be silly -- that was last Friday. Buoyed by your very warm welcome, I jumped in to sub today on short notice, and look at my reward: a crossed triple-stack from Martin Ashwood-Smith to geek out about. I stopped doing puzzles for a few years when I couldn't squeeze them into my life, and so I no longer recognize most of the authors in a week. However, Mr. Ashwood-Smith is definitely an old favorite. I enjoy his distractors and wordplay in the clues, so that instead of reading "Not a single person" (6A), it has to be "Not a single person" to get WIFE. Or that the IMAX option is for a big-movie fan, not a big fan of movies. This kind of puzzling feels especially satisfying.

I found today to be an enjoyable workout. For a while, I wasn't finding a foothold, and you know that feeling when that happens, sort of a pleasant panic at what might be some tough going? Well, it's not so pleasant when you have to blog about it, and resembles plain old panic a little more. But with some patience and a big assist from WILMAFLINTSTONE, it started coming together. There's a howling black hole of ignorance at the intersection of MORRO and BOWE, but at least that "O" was easy enough to guess.

Extra credit to Martin for wrangling four 10-letter answers into place with the stacks and not choking us with overly painful fill as a result. It's always fun to see very familiar answers clued in inventive ways that make me forgive their inclusion, like EELS (59A: Some nonkosher fish), APO (Major mail handler?: Abbr.), and especially the darling BOA (19A: Camp accessory), my second-favorite clue of the puzzle.


  • 30A: It fosters bilingualism (ESL) — As someone whose master's studies and work experience are in TESOL (teaching English to speakers of other languages, the more accurate but less popular term), I enjoyed seeing ESL clued as one of its positive benefits!
  • 17A: Scapegoat's query (AMITOBLAME) — It turns out WHATDIDIDO also fits. Both answers make me a little sad for the poor goat, especially given what used to happen to the actual animal.

  • 21A: Klutz (NIMROD) — Only in the widest sense is NIMROD a synonym, I think. I've never seen or heard it used to mean "clumsy," the specific meaning of "klutz," and my extremely extensive search of the literature backs me up. I suppose "klutz" could be used more generally to mean foolish, but why go there when Yiddish already has so many wonderful words for that? (NSFW language at that link.)
  • 12D: Snooty? (NASAL) — Winning clue. By a nose.
  • 20A: Certain losing line (XOX) — It took me a while to realize that this wasn't "kisses and hugs," which didn't seem like much of a losing line to me. 
  • 38A: Film for which Judi Dench was nominated for Best Actress (NOTESONASCANDAL) — Even though I knew she won Best Supporting Actress for this, I couldn't get SHAKESPEAREINLOVE out of my head. Then I decided I must not have seen the movie. Then when I finally got the answer, I realized not only had I seen the movie, I own and love the Philip Glass score. Did someone say ASSTUPIDASCANBE?

Okay, that was pretty, but I think we need something a little more rockin' to start off the weekend. So here's My Chemical Romance with FAMOUSLASTWORDS.

Signed, Joey Haban, Double Agent of CrossWorld


MeAtFolly 7:10 AM  

Am I the first to post? This is odd for this bunch of know-it-alls like us. Well, thank you, Joey, for putting such a positive spin on what many may see as a not so positive Friday puzzle. I groused through it, having to get help in a few spots and not feeling that it was totally worth it but for the oddities you mention, esp Wilma, but did finish in not too ridiculous time (for me only). Does no one have anything to say?

r.alphbunker 7:16 AM  

Awesome construction. Reminded me of a Swiss watch. So much packed into such a small space.

One question. In what sense is {"Like you're really going to do that?} FAMOUS LAST WORDS? It seems to be something that the deceased person heard rather than said. Unless it was something a passenger in an airplane said just before the pilot attempted a dangerous stunt.

ZenMonkey 7:20 AM  

I read it like this --

Me: I'm totally going to work in the garden today.
Husband: Famous last words.

jncody 7:25 AM  

@MeAtFolly: I also had a harder time with it than usual for a Friday. Got zero traction in the NW for the longest time and had several mistakes impeding progress for a while "fumes" instead of EMPTY, "Ruiz" instead of BOWE. Finally realized the two UUs probably weren't adding up to much. Joey's write-up was the best part. I too had forgotten that I'd actually seen that film until he posted the shot of the movie poster.

Glimmerglass 7:36 AM  

My favorite kind of hard puzzle. One I can do. As Joey Haban wrote there is a lot of nice misdirection in some of the clues. I had *IFE and had to run the alphabet to get WIFE, but that gave me WILMA FLINTSTONE ( I was never a fan). I agree about FAMOUS LAST WORDS. It's not said about what one won't actually do, but about something bad that will probably happen. "Don't worry, my homemade fireworks are perfectly safe." "Famous last words."

NancyKav 7:40 AM  

I used to work with an Israeli kid whose name was Nimrod. I'm sure he was teased unmercifully about it here in the US.

Not sure Nearly means ORSO.

How do back-scratching and logrolling relate??

Was able to finish, but had BIZ for Schtick for some reason, thus not 100% successful. Still very enjoyable puzzle.

Unknown 7:44 AM  

I have the same completed puzzle as Joey, yet the Times says I have an error(s). What gives?

Dense, densely packed puzzle ...felt asstupidascanbe...but got a few of the biggies right away which helped. Spent too many hours watching cartoons as a child...big Flintstones fan so that helped and now in my adult years am a big Judi Dench fan.

And in the recesses of my rusty brain, why do i remember that Nixon was born in Yorba Linda but i have no idea what i ate for dinner last night?

Wreck Sparker 7:56 AM  

@jncody - Since the art deco hotel suite made Joey "want to rouge my knees, roll my stockings down, and head out in my flapper's dress to dance the night away" I assumed Joey is a "she" not a "he". Very nice write-up Johanna.

Kinda a mixed bag of a puzzle causing me to google more than I wanted but still fun.

ZenMonkey 8:11 AM  

@Wreck -- You are correct, I am a Johanna, but it's a common enough error. Also, anyone who says such nice things as @jncody can mistake me for a neutered giraffe, for all I care.


Joey H.

jberg 8:22 AM  

@NancyKav, if you take 'nearly' in the sense of 'near to' rather than of 'almost,' "OR SO" is nearly synonymous. And "scratch my back and I'll scratch yours" is nearly like "I'll help you roll that log if you help me roll one tomorrow."

I would have been completely stumped if I hadn't somehow remembered Parker PYNE (though I wasn't sure about that Y until I had enough crosses to see YORBA LINDA). This one rises and falls with your feelings for deceptive clues. I guess I like them after I get them, but not if I don't. This time, I almost didn't - had to go off and work the two KenKens before I could come back to the SE and see that the accessory was BOA, not cOt.

Joey, thanks for the research on NIMROD! I'm too old - in my youth it meant hunter, and nothing else.

pajamapartypants 8:28 AM  

ESL joke:

what do you call someone who speaks three languages? trilingual

what do you call someone who speaks two languages?

what do you call someone who speaks just one language?

thanks, i'll be here all week.

mitchs 8:29 AM  

Will someone please explain "logrolling"?

Sue McC 8:56 AM  

Arg. This was hard for me. Gained traction in the SE and worked my my way to the NW. Lots of stuff I didn't know and had to guess from crosses. In a way, the 15s were some of the easiest answers to fill in. But, no googling involved, and my brain is now revved for the day.

Milford 9:06 AM  

Fun puzzle and great write-up. Thanks for the Erté insight, it will probably help me remember the name faster in the future!
I always feel like I'm holding my breath when I first start a Friday (or Saturday) puzzle, having that similar panic that I won't get a single clue. Thank god for WILMAFLINTSTONE. I may be the only kid from the 70's who didn't watch it, but who else would be making gravelberry pies? Also loved NOTESONASCANDAL. Great movie, great acting.
I'm in awe of those 9 squares in the middle, that they can accommodate those 6 clues.

joho 9:15 AM  

I wish I had more time to gush about this fantastic Friday puzzle! Absolutely loved it.

Like @Joey (Hey, I'm Johanna, too!) WILMAFLINTSTONE was kind enough to open the door to this puzzle once I changed nonE to WIFE.

Another blip was oUI before LUI, isn't there a magazine called "Oui?" -- but LOGROLLING straightened that out.

Lovely, lovely puzzle, Martin-Ashwood Smith, thank you!

Brilliant write up, Joey, hope this means you'll be popping in more often when you feel able.

GLR 9:21 AM  

To add to @jberg's earlier comment, "logrolling" is a common term in politics to describe a situation in which two legislators agree to vote for each other's bill. Usually, they care about their own bill and don't care much either way about the other's bill ("You scratch my back and I'll scratch yours.")

Geometricus 9:22 AM  

BETTYRUBBLE might make a gravelberry pie, but she only has 11 letters, so it had to be WILMA. Thanks to her, I finished this puzzle in less than my normal Friday time (which is over an hour).

Yes, someone please explain LOGROLLING/backscratcher nexus. Nice try, @jberg, but I have never had anyone ask me to help them roll a log. Maybe you have to be a lumberjack to understand it.

I thought maybe 'logrolling' might be trying to scratch your own back by falling to the ground and rolling around or rolling your back against a tree or log.

Geometricus 9:24 AM  

Thanks GLR, I hadn't heard the political version of logrolling before.

jackj 9:32 AM  

When I wrote in YORBALINDA early on it gave me a boost of confidence that this dragon would be slain. (And it was, but Martin sure didn’t make it very easy getting there!)

MAS “treats” us to six of his trademark 15’s but presents them in a plus sign pattern that pretty much minimizes the use of friendly “3’s” and the solution to finding the solution seems to be work around the edges for the likes of MECCA and MEALY; EMPTY and RUSTY; SAWTO and ONLOW.

Soon enough the middle 15’s start to fill out with GENERALELECTION first and ASSTUPIDASCANBE next though that one required some retooling to get rid of STURDY (initially, STUPID just didn’t seem to be an MAS type usage).

After seeing Peter Collins puzzle of Tuesday get ripped for using OTARU in its grid we can give a tip of the hat to Peter for giving us a gimme here. The other clue that seemed awfully familiar was TETEATETES, which I see from checking the Cruciverb broader list of answers, has appeared 24 times in various venues either in singular or plural form with 4 of them, (including today’s), being attributed to some guy named Martin Ashwood-Smith.

Nice puzzle and no penalty assessed for Martin’s many TETEATETES.

Joey, your Erte paragraph was priceless! Thanks for a special write-up.

Smitty 9:33 AM  

I agree with the "enjoyable workout" Joey and others, I love getting beat up by puzzles that reward you with 6.The maker of Gravelberry Pies (WILMA FLINTSTONE)

reminds me of Tom Lehrer's Masochism Tango
You can raise welts
Like nobody else,
As we dance to the masochism tango.

Thanks Martin!

Anonymous 9:36 AM  

YORBA LINDA is also the home of the Nixon Presidential Library. FYI.

mac 9:38 AM  

What a perfect Friday puzzle! Again my paper looks pristine, but the whole solve, including the clues, was so much fun!

One repair at the bottom, one-D for Op-Ed, showed up Wilma Flintstone. As stupid as can be makes me think of Princess Diana, who called herself "as thick as a plank".

Can't believe I needed a couple of crosses for Pyne; I'm a mystery afficionado (-da?), watched Miss Marple just last night!

Great write-up, Joey, and I like how you keep the conversation going.

Carola 9:39 AM  

I'm right with Joey on the puzzle, except that since I didn't have to do the write-up, the search for a foothold stayed in the pleasant panic (great phrase!) zone. My way in was guessing the tic-tac-toe clue, which got me AJAX and TRIX. Knowing the favorite crossword destinations ORONO and OTARU led me out of that NW corner, and I was able to forge on from there.

I loved FAMOUS LAST WORDS (maybe because it was a favorite saying of my dad's - I remember as a kid being so puzzled about what it meant) and the clues for BOA and LOGROLLING. I got a kick out of AS STUPID AS CAN BE, because I had all but the last 5 spaces and just couldn't come up with the end for the longest time.

@ Mary Rose Goldberg - loved your "rusty brain" comment!

Thank you, Martin Ashwood Smith for the Friday morning tune-up, and Joey for the fun write-up!

evil doug 9:49 AM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
chefbea 9:51 AM  

Had to google a bit but was a fun Friday puzzle. Loved Wife for 6 across.

I'll e-mail Wilma and see if I can get her recipe for gravelberry pie.

JenCT 9:56 AM  

Tough for me, too - the SE was the last to fall.

Never heard of LOGROLLING in a political sense; thanks @GLR.

Favorite clues/answers: Not a single person/WIFE, Heavy drinking, e.g./AGER (tried VICE here at first), Camp accessory/BOA.

Had a D'OH! when I got WILMA FLINTSTONE.

I loved NOTES ON A SCANDAL; Judi Dench was so creepy in that movie.

Enjoyed the writeup, Joey!

evil doug 10:11 AM  

I always thought 'logrolling' originated with lumberjacks and the way they had to run in unison to move the log. They also have competitions where one 'jack tries to spin/counterspin the log to get the other to lose his balance and fall in the water. A common place to spot logrolling in the metaphor sense is in authors' blurbs for each other on book jackets. I figure they share a publisher or agent and agree to say nice stuff about their respective novels.

The Hawker Siddeley Nimrod was an RAF reconnaissance plane, so 'hunter' makes sense to me. It's a fun word to foist on morons (which is a more likely synonym than 'klutz'), but I have no idea where it made that negative leap.

Some of the longer answers lack punch. 'As stupid as -----' should be more vivid than 'can be'. 'General election' is a vague, texture-less image. 'In step with' isn't near as fun as 'logrolling'.

Betty or Wilma? Wilma. I always preferred my gal barefoot and in the kitchen cooking gravelberry pies (no, she doesn't read this blog, thank God). Also: Betty or Veronica? Veronica. Just as you chicks like the bad boys, we seek the dangerous women---at least until graduation approaches and we all start nimrodding responsibility over scarlet letters. [Also, Veronica had the big bucks---another nice benefit....]

Fruity Pebbles would have had such nice symmetry instead of Trix....


Tobias Duncan 10:19 AM  

Tough tough puzzle for me.Lots of fun stuff but some brutal crosses.
Top notch write up, thanks especially for the NIMROD bit. I agree totally.
There should be a law against sports teams crossing.

Loren Muse Smith 10:23 AM  

Just when I start to think, “yes, maybe I can run with the big dawgs,” I face a puzzle like today’s. DNF by a mile! But, as I look at the completed grid, it is so fair and well-done, I think maybe I was just too impatient. I bet a year ago I could have finished it because I would have putzed around with it all day. Since I stumbled upon this blog, though, I’m so eager to participate that sometimes I go ahead, give up, and google so I can come here and run my mouth.

As @Milford noted -really, really impressive construction with the two 15 triple stacks crossing!!!!! ORONO crossing OTARU feels almost tongue-in-cheek (like the OLEOS I have in a grid that will probably never see the light of day).

Looks like I’m among the few who didn’t know that WILMA FLINTSTONE made “gravelberry pies.” Hand up for not understanding LOGROLLING. I also don’t get MESO or AGER. “Heavy drinking” ages someone, I guess?

@pajamapartypants – so so sad that your joke rings so so true. Tens of thousands of American high school and college students take two or three years of a foreign language but would happily shove upholstery tacks into their gums rather than actually speak the foreign language. We’re teaching language wrong in this country, and I was as guilty as the next teacher.

Thanks for the fun write-up, Joey. And nice, nice job, Martin. To have those two ten stacks coming down crossing the triple stacked fifteens – ME SO impressed!

Oldpuzzlesolver 10:32 AM  

Here's what being an old puzzler does for you: I'll never forget Watergate or Yorba Linda; I remember gravelberry pies and I know a lot of the music from "I Married An Angel."

Like Joey, I love the clues which have to be read with the emphasis on the correct word to make sense: "not a single person," "camp accessory." And as for the Judi Dench clue, I raced to my iPod and put on the soundtrack. She was wonderful and so was the music!

Right, Joey?

Pete 10:35 AM  

"Black Bears' home" for ORONO is NOT a sports clue. No one is presumed to know that the teams of University of Main are the Black Bears. You're just supposed to guess that the "Black Bears" hints at a college mascot, and move on from there to get the old crosswordese ORON. The Chess Club at UM are the "Black Bears". The Debate Team at UM are the "Black Bears".

The same holds true for EMORY, NCAA was just in there to denote a college.

Sports paranoia has to stop!

Danny 10:40 AM  

As much as I read this blog, I've never figured out what DNF stands more. I understand the meaning, but not what it stands for. Anyone?

Perpetual 13yo 10:43 AM  

@Danny - Did Not Finish.

If the process of rolling down you stockings and getting your knees red was de rigueur among 20s flappers, I was definately born in the wrong era.

Tobias Duncan 10:45 AM  

@ Danny , it means Did Not Finish and most here seem to use it when you have just a square or two missing or a few errors.
On the more brutal Saturdays when I have vast swaths of blank squares I use DNEFCCTF.

jae 10:51 AM  

Another charming write-up from Joey and a fantastic  puzzle from MAS. My first entry was WILMAFLINTSTONE and it was easy-medium for me after that.  I knew all that time I spent as a kid watching TV instead of reading or playing out doors would pay off in the long run. Mucho zip and a lot of fun!  As usual, the crossing 3 stacks were very gettable but in this case pretty amazing. 

I too did not know that LOGROLLING was a synonym for backscratching and agree that the FAMOUS... clue seem a bit forced.   I would have preferred something like " Don't worry, I can do this in my sleep."

This time OTARU was a gimme.

Nice one Martin!

Two Ponies 10:53 AM  

I think of klutz as being a physical failing and nimrod in a more mental way but OK it's Friday.
Loved the clever clues. I knew the clue for wife was going to be a trick and thought of something like duet.
Thanks to Joey and Martin.

Loren Muse Smith 11:01 AM  

@Danny - Yes, Did Not Finish, but unlike @Tobias - for me, like today, it meant googling two things: I MARRIED AN ANGEL and NOTES ON A SCANDAL. To get help with two such long entries feels like big time "cheating," but I ended up with a filled grid.

So I actually "finished" but with a lot of help. That's my personal DNF. Or a DAFTEST – Did Actually Finish Though Encountered Some Trouble.

GILL I. 11:02 AM  

When I first started working on the NYT's puzzles I would just sigh when Fri and Sat rolled around. I would tell anyone who cared to listen that I can never do that "British sounding persons name" crosswords. But, by golly, I just kept plugging away and now he's one of my favorite constructors.
I was so happy to get WILMAFLINSTONE just off the W. (thank you morning cartoons)ASSTUPIDASCANBE was my favorite along with NIMROD. Still don't understand AGER and Google doesn't help.
@Loren - putzed? I'll look that word up too.
Great write-up Joey. I really like your style and humor. I hope you fill in often.

Anonymous 11:06 AM  

That British-sounding person is in fact British (ok half Canadian now).


Mr. Benson 11:07 AM  

Agreed with the above comments on FAMOUS LAST WORDS. Famous last words would be something like "look ma, no hands!" or "what does this button do?" Still, the phrase looks very nice in the puzzle.

Danny 11:10 AM  

Thanks, @perpetual, @tobias, and @loren.
I was trying to assign my own DNF meanings: D*mn Natick Foolery! was my most likely answer.

Danny 11:11 AM  

Fortunately, DNF doesn't apply for me today. I very much enjoyed this puzzle. Mostly because NOTESONASCANDAL is one of my top-three films.

Lewis 11:13 AM  

I felt like I was on Martin's wavelength. Whenever there was a trick clue, my brain came up with a quick answer. I don't think Mr. Rex would complain to greatly over the fill. I found it challenging and fun, with spark overall.

John V 12:19 PM  

So, the deal here is very late plane from CLT, got to bed around 1. Ergo, puzzle synapses fried.

Never really got any traction here, save for GENERALELECTION; world class DNF. I have expected this one to be marked easy, given the 15 stack and 15 silo, but this was just hard. Like I say, I think this is just me at the end of a long week

ZenMonkey 12:44 PM  

For the record, I chose the Nixon clue as the first one in the title on the off-chance of sending Oldpuzzlesolver up there into a conniption fit.

(I was literally breastfed during the Watergate hearings. It's a wonder I survived.)

Joey H.

Evan 12:55 PM  


Just letting you know that at least a couple of us dispute the common use of the term DNF in some circumstances. Yes, it means Did Not Finish. But as @Tobias notes, a lot of commenters here use it to mean that they finished with one or more wrong letters.

I know that for each puzzle there's only one way to finish it with a perfect solution, and millions of ways to finish it incorrectly. However, I say if you have a completely filled-in grid, but have one or two mistakes at the end, then you did finish -- you just finished with one or two mistakes. I call it a DNF if:

1. You left any blank squares on the grid, then gave up on the puzzle.
2. You checked your answers on the internet first before filling in the grid completely (or by hitting the Check or Reveal buttons on Across Lite before the grid was filled in).

I mean, if you handed in a filled-in puzzle at the ACPT before time ran out, then I'd say you finished the puzzle in time. Whether or not you had a wrong letter or two doesn't change that.

Deb 1:01 PM  

I would bitch and moan about seeing LUI again so soon, but appreciate that at least it was clued in such a way that I learned something rather than with the vague "French pronoun."

Confidentally filled in OTARU without pause since Evan just mentioned it yesterday in his comment explaining his Natick resolution algorithm.

@Loren - MESOamerica refers to the geographic and cultural region that saw the rise of the crosswordy Olmec and the Maya and Aztec cultures. And, yes, heavy drinking ages one. See my photo for an example; I'm actually only 29. ;)

NIMROD is absolutely, positively NOT a synonym for "klutz.". I'm a klutz, but I'm no nimrod.

Aside from that, I enjoyed the puzzle and the write-up. Rex is going to have bring his A game (sorry, Tobias) when he returns!

syndy 1:04 PM  

He walks, he talks, he smiles, he frowns. He does what a human can! He's Tricky Dicky from Yorba Linda:the genuine Plastic Man! I had a PINCH and a COT but finished without googling (until afterward! )So like I have a saturday puzzle and the first clue just falls into place and i'm all "I gonna blow through this like a hot Knife!"(famous last words)MA-S liked it a lot! Baby kangaroo,thanks for the great writeup

Danny 1:05 PM  

So perhaps there should be a distinction between DNF and DNFC (Did Not Finish Correctly)?

Thanks for the explanation, Evan.

Danno 1:39 PM  

I was pleasantly surprised to see my alma mater, EMORY show up in 13D. I don't know that I've ever seen it clued that way before. For the uninitiated, Emory is a well known University in Atlanta, GA, has no football team (undefeated since 1836!) and is in an athletic conference with NYU, Johns Hopkins,Case Western Reserve, Brandeis, ad some other schools who are not exactly known for their athletic programs. Go Eagles!

pk 1:43 PM  

Really wanted 7D to be "I Married a Vampire" but it was too long.

I love all the discussion of DNF and its various permutations. Reminds me of the debate over "not guilty by reason of insanity" vs. "guilty, but insane."

Evan 2:01 PM  

About the puzzle....I liked it fine. The long answers are all pretty good and fresh and have some devilishly tricky clues. I had some genuine a-ha! moments too when I finally got the answers for WIFE and BOA -- nonE and cOt were torturing me on both entries, respectively.

But that TADS/OBAD/NELS crossing....can we talk about that? It looks real ugly to me. Who calls children "tads" in everyday speech? ("Oh, I can't go out tonight, I'm babysitting the neighbor's tads"....???) OBAD is a cringe-worthy abbrev., and he even the main character in that 1944 play? Couldn't they have gone with cluing it as "Jazz guitarist Cline" or something like that? And notice how NELS is both a short answer and has an incredibly Scrabble-friendly configuration, meaning it should be used as common crossword fill (crosswordese, in other words). But, NELS has never until today been used in the NYT puzzle. That usually tells me that it's an entry most constructors and editors would rather avoid -- and I wouldn't be surprised if Martin Ashwood-Smith and Will Shortz tried hard to use something else.

However, my so-called Natick Resolution Algorithm got me out of that jam (still liking how I'm credited it with it!). OBAD at least sounded familiar as the abbreviation for Obadiah, so I went with that. And TADS, while an ugly plural for children, is at least something I've seen before. Good thing I had heard of YORBA LINDA, otherwise it might have been doom for me.

In retrospect, I'm surprised I'm not seeing more comments about a possible Natick at DOHS/MORRO. "Head slappers' cries" at 58-Across could have easily been DUHS, and I'd have believed you if you had told me it was MORRU Castle in Cuba (because I had no friggin' clue). I picked the right letter only because DOHS was my first instinct. Thanks to Homer Simpson, you'd probably more likely to slap your own head and cry D'OH than DUH (and the latter term feels strangely retro now -- I remember it being much more common in the 90s).

Anonymous 2:15 PM  


I just noticed that Will made a tiny grid change. My original was TANS/OBAN (not TADS/OBAD).

Also while I'm here... thanks for the great feedback today :)

-Martin Ashwood-Smith

Masked and Anonymous 2:23 PM  

@31: Today, A trumps B. And there's lots of good A to be had. Gorgeous 15-stacks. And they intersected without any IT's at all. Admirable constructing.

Finished, but didn't completely know what I was doing. LOGROLLING, PYNE and MESO-American would be today's poster children for this concept. Speaking of logs...

Some semi-pro tree trimmers nextdoor crashed a tree onto our roof/outside wall yesterday. So I decided to supervise for a while. While supervising, an older gent strolled up and introduced himself and then hung around like a friendly puppy, not saying much. Asked him where he was from, but didn't get much of an answer. Asked him if he was lost; he said yes. Said I'd get him some help; he said "call the cops!" Anyhoo, he's safely back home now. Glad for his sake that those tree trimmers brushed our house. Funny how the universe works.

Funny also how the universe is evidently infinitely big and infinitely small. Don't make much sense. [Like LOGROLLING.] Suspect it never will; the universe is probably infinitely complex, so the joke's on dummies like me, that try to figure it [and LOGROLLING] out.

Jes Wondrin' 2:24 PM  

So, you're doing a crossword puzzle and you've got two words crossing, but you don't know what to put in the one missing letter at the intersection. You know one main fact, that the correct entry will yield two words. You know that because that's what a correct solution would be, no? Still with me?

So, you start looking at all possible solutions. Not too hard, because they're only 26 of the suckers. You maybe even have an educated guess as to whether it's a vowel or a consonant. Let's say it's likely a vowel, so you pluck in an "A". Does that yield a pair of words? If no, then try "E". If yes, hey, you've solved the crossing. Repeat the process as necessary.

Could someone please explain to me how that is an algorithm of note?

On the MORRO/MORRU question, the two are not equally likely. How many Spanish (it's got to be Spanish, given Cuba) words or names can you reel off the top of your head that end in "U" as compared to the number that end in "O"? Gotta be an "O".

Pink 2:25 PM  

Puzzle solving is not for the know it all. Because when I put down MEATY instead of MEALY or COT instead of BOA and don't question myself as to other possibilities, I add a whole bunch of time to the solve. It leads to thinking that of course Heavy Drinking is TEAR (as in "on a tear") Or Snooty? is to NIP AT. But I SAW TO and am WISER now.

archaeoprof 2:58 PM  

Tough puzzle, but interesting and fun. Good workout after 7 weeks away on the dig.

Didn't know EMORY had any sports teams.

Deb 3:06 PM  

@Jes - Check yesterday's comments for Evan's explanation, but briefly, you choose the MOST LIKELY letter, or one that gives you a word you've possibly seen before. MORRO (even if you have to add a W to make it something you've actually seen) is the MOST LIKELY of the vowel choices in this case.

JenCT 3:13 PM  

When I say DNF, I always mean that I left blank squares.

@Danny: I like DNFC!

It's pouring in CT; so sad that so much of the country is experiencing severe drought.

Bird 3:15 PM  

Good puzzle and I enjoyed what I could fill, but typical Friday result - DNF. I caught on to most of the misdirection, but there were too many unknowns for me to make reasonable guesses. Got threw most comments today, but too busy this week to spend any meaningful time here.

I did get 6 through 8 down. When I saw gravelberry I immediately thought of The Flintstones and the W in WIFE told me it was Wilma.

Didn’t understand how LOGROLLING related to BACKSCRATCHING until I visited Rex’s blog.


Tom Q 3:30 PM  

I had a sort of x- and y-axis head start with NOTES ON A SCANDAL and YORBA LINDA gimmes for me; everything else flowed (eventually) from there.

For the person who asked above: Nels (the son) is an utterly thankless role in I Remember Mama -- I've seen the movie multiple times and couldn't for the life of me name you the actor who played him. But I did know it was Brando's Broadway debut (I've even seen pictures of him in it), and have always loved the fact because it's so incongruous with his later career.

Jes Wondrin' 3:33 PM  

@Deb - Yeah, I get Evan's "algorithm". What I don't get is how it's a *thing*. If you're stumped, you start plugging in possibilities until you come up with a viable solution. That's not a *thing*.

A Natick is one where there is no way of knowing the answer, e.g. NATICK crossing NCWYETH at the N. If you know neither specifically, a B (BATICK/BCWYETH) is equally as viable, as are C,D,E,F...

MORR[O,U] crossing D[O,U]H has only two possiblities. As I pointed out, Spanish supports a final "0" infinitely more than a final "U". If one, like myself, is unaware of the nuances separating DOH from DUH, this still provides the correct O.

I was just trying to point out the the clue gave more information that it may have appeared to have at first glance.

ksquare 3:39 PM  

For anyone who cares, ERTE, named Roman de Tiroff, used his initials as pronounced in French, Russian or some other European language.

Evan 3:45 PM  

@Jes Wondrin':

The "algorithm" that @Deb has mentioned is just a playful term for a strategy for resolving tough crossings that I've described a few times in the comment section (originally here, followed up here).

It basically means that you plug in a letter that will give you at least one word that you've seen before, even if you don't know what it means. If you get two words that you've seen before, even better -- your chances of guessing correctly have increased significantly. In a recent puzzle, there was a crossing between OTARU/NOYES at the O. Neither clue gave me much help, but because I know I've seen both words in previous puzzles, I figured that O was the correct letter. I got it right.

It's not a strategy that I think is unique to me, but other commenters (@jae, @Z, @Bird, and @Deb) have given me credit for its description. If your issue is that it's incorrect to think of a tough crossing as a "Natick" -- meaning that there's no way you could solve the crossing between two obscure proper nouns unless you happened to know both -- then fine. The term is probably overused when discussing difficult crosses. But the strategy still applies.

As for your MORRO/MORRU comment -- point taken, but as someone who knows very little Spanish at all, the thought of "how many Spanish words end in U" would never have occurred to me. I know that very few words in French contain the letter W, but I at least took 6+ years of French in school. I'd hardly expect anyone who didn't take French to know that.

Jeffrey 3:45 PM  

@Bird: "When I saw gravelberry I immediately thought of The Flintstones and the W in WIFE told me it was Wilma"

I had no idea and said the clue out loud and the wife told me it was Wilma!

ZenMonkey 3:47 PM  

@ksquare Yes! In the French alphabet, R sounds like "air" and T sounds like "tay."

Masked and Anonymous 3:55 PM  

DUH definitely trumps DOH, in my booklet. But I find myself using both of 'em, all the time. MORRO Castle I had heard of, from the great old schlock flick "The Ghost Breakers", I think. Altho they called it Castillo Mathilda, or some such, in the flick.

Worried that 31 is getting behind on his 1987 filmfest. But at least he will return completely puzfreshed. I hear he even agreed with the Shortzmeister on something, earlier this week. Dude!

r.alphbunker 3:58 PM  

Perhaps heuristic would be a better word than algorithm since the outcome is not guaranteed to be correct.

I think that @Jes Wondrin' made a very good point about mining the clue for as much information as possible. What often happens to me in NYT puzzles is if I guess wrong, when I see the correct answer I understand why it is better than the answer I chose. If I could just have that understanding before I write the letter in!

Because of @Jes Wondrin's contribution I propose that we call it the Evan-Jes Wondrin' Natick Resolution Heuristic. Better yet if we could get their last names we could use them. Einstein's Theory of Relativity sounds a lot more important than Albert's Theory of Relativity.

Z 4:05 PM  

Finished 10 hours ago, but the blog wasn't up yet. WIFE confirmed by WILMA FLINTSTONE and everything but the east coast was done lickety split (for a Friday). I had an issue with MORRO, but it was the first O. BOWE was unfamiliar to me.

Much prefer MAS' original TANS/OBAN to WS' improvement.

Jes Wondrin' 4:12 PM  

@Evan - My Spanish is pretty much limited to amigo, burrito and tostitos (which probably isn't Spanish at all), but I could swear that a terminal "O" is much more common than a terminal "U". Just as I know that an "E" isn't very likely to be a part of a place name in a Japanese City/Port, as EDO is the only one I've come across, to the best of my recollection.

Loren Muse Smith 4:15 PM  

@Jes Wondrin' - Kobe! And I spent a summer in Ise.

Mike 4:19 PM  

Maybe it's a regional thing, but my friends and family have often used "famous last words" in a very sarcastic sense to mean "sure, you'll get to that right away" or similar. As far as I remember, I always use it when someone proclaims that they will tackle something that has been put off for quite some time. It's that proclamation usage that comes to mind.

Ulrich 4:41 PM  

@JesWondrin: If I remember correctly, a Natick originally meant a single square you couldn't fill because the two answers crossing there were each a name you didn't know.

And I'm posting this mainly b/c late last night, I tried twice to post a sarcastic comment on a comment that each time appeared to have been published, but then had disappeared when I reopened the comment window. If I were paranoid, I would believe I was both times censored for calling something "boorish"--let's see what happens this time...

Jes Wondrin' 4:42 PM  

@Loren - After I made that rash comment I looked at the list of top cities in Japan, and there was Kobe at #5. However, only 3 of the top 100 cities had an E, so my face is less red than I feared.

I suspect there's a Japanese crossword enthusiast who complains about the lack of "E"s in puzzles.

Deb 4:46 PM  

@M&A - He also cleared up which lone puzzle constructor he thinks is an ass.

Ulrich 4:48 PM  

I guess I'm in good graces with the censor again, so

@Ksquare: Thx for the explanation--makes also perfect sense in German!

Lindsay 4:51 PM  

Really liked the puzzle, but didn't have time to post earlier. Unlike most others, I started out with Riddick BOWE, then meandered around the grid until coming to a screeching halt at 6&7D (gravelberry pies and a mysterious musical). Turned out that two incorrect across entries were giving me wrong letters in those two (and only those two) long downs: 20A Hi-reS instead of Hi-FIS, and 40A Things bust when it booms, ssT instead of TNT.


Joey, thank you for the Erte lobby.

sanfranman59 4:53 PM  

Midday report of relative difficulty (see my 8/1/2009 post for an explanation of my method):

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

Fri 24:08, 24:41, 0.98, 48%, Medium

Top 100 solvers

Fri 12:23, 12:14, 1.01, 57%, Medium

jae 5:05 PM  

@r.alph -- Heuristic works for me.

@Evan -- not sure I like your sorta finished option. Where do you draw the line? One or two or five errors?How about if I just fill it in with all Es ( that's a puzzle idea that seems familiar). You get zero points for completing a puzzle at ACPT if it has any errors. And if you're solving on line and Mr. Happy Pencil or his equivalent does not appear when the grid is filled is that a finish? If you proceed to track down and fix your error and it's not a typo (typos are hard to make with paper and a Bic) is that a finish? For me, I either get it right or I don't. If I don't it's a DNF or, to paraphrase Will, I didn't pass the test.

Rex Parker 5:08 PM  

Evan's algorithm thing is a thing. Neatly describes why one should *guess* a certain way at a Natick.

The rest is noise.

Thx, Joey


Jeffrey 5:15 PM  


ACPT scoring:
Scoring is based on accuracy and speed. Score as follows:

10 points for every correct word you entered across and down

A bonus of 25 points for each full minute you finished ahead of the suggested solution time — BUT reduced by 25 points for each missing or incorrect letter (but not beyond the point the bonus returns to zero)

A bonus of 150 points for each completely correct solution

Al Rodbell 5:38 PM  

Ager as an answer to "heavy drinking IE" (51 D) brings up interesting biological- entomological questions. The problem is there is no such word, according to a quick internet search, so we have to deduce that it means something that causes the aging process. Yet, aging is neutral, as we refer to an individual as "aging badly" or "aging well." There is no semantic space for "aging," as age is a biological fact of duration of of the organism. Its common usage does not allow an agent to act upon it, to be an "ager."

Back to the clue of the puzzle. "Drinking to excess",or "heavy drinking " actually retards aging to the degree that you will age less by dying sooner. Yet, it will accelerate cellular damage, which mimics the aging process, so the drinking will make one appear more aged. Love the intellectual stimulation of these puzzles and they really are an "anti-ager"

Ulrich 5:48 PM  

@Al: I find in the Free Online Dictinary

Age v. tr.
1. to cause to become old...

Aren't you able to form from every transitive verb the actor who does the thing by adding (e)r [e.g. call - caller]? So, an ager is an agent that causes aging.

Full disclosure: English is not my first language, and I may have gotten this wrong...

GILL I. 5:52 PM  

A little history on Havana's Morro Castle.
The full name is "Castillo de los tres Reyes del Morro." Roughly translated it means the castle of the three kings of the rock. Morro being "rock."
It was built in the late 1500's by the Spaniards who occupied Cuba at that time. An Italian architect built this beautiful fortress in order to keep out the English, the French and the Dutch buccaneers. The Spaniards needed to protect the properties of their crown.
The Brits blew up all the watchtowers in the late 1700's and then in the 1800's the U.S. battleship Maine was blown up across the bay from Morro in Havana harbor. That was the beginning as well as the cause of the Spanish-American war.
To someone sailing into Havana bay for the first time, the view of this fortress is breathtaking. I'll never forget, ever, how exciting it was to see it the first time. Unfortunately, during the 60's, it was turned into one of the most vile prisons imaginable. Everyone from traffic offenders to mass murderes were stuffed together in cells that were beyond hell. A very dirty secret that came out way to late.
It's now all set up for the tourists (sans cells)to visit and gawk at. If you ever do sail into Havana, I promise you, you won't foget Morro Castle with an O at the end...

Evan 6:11 PM  


I draw the line at blank spaces. I don't draw the line at 2 or 5 or 20 wrong letters. You fill in the grid completely, it's finished, regardless of how many letters are wrong. If you filled it in with nothing but Es, you'd have probably the Worst Finish Of All Time, and I'd respect someone who did that infinitely less than someone who got everything right except the one square he accidentally left blank, but it's still a finished puzzle.

I know it's probably easier to think of DNF as any mistakes whatsoever, but I prefer to think of it as, some finished puzzles are better than others. And besides, one can finish a test without passing it (at least, that's what they told me in school!).

As for solving online: I actually lock the solution before looking at any clues. That means that Mr. Happy Pencil won't show up when I'm done, not until after I've unlocked the puzzle. Unlocking the solution is my way of signaling that I'm done with the puzzle -- handing it in, so to speak.


I think @jae meant you don't get the bonus points for finishing ACPT puzzles with errors.

JFe 6:38 PM  

@evil doug

Always the bad...

Welcome back.

joho 8:22 PM  

@Evan, I couldn't disagree with you more! If you have a puzzle that's all filled in with 20 wrong squares, it is not finished. It's just filled in. I agree with @jae.
Seriously, you believe that just because the squares are filled in the puzzle is "finished?" A co-worker of mine once took my puzzle from and did just that. He completed the puzzle and EVERY square was wrong. Could have been all E's ... which is a lot funnier BTW.

Danny 8:31 PM  

I think that it's a matter of semantics. "Finished" just means "completed," I think, in @Evan's (and my) opinion. For example: I could finish an algebra problem, but I could've come up with the wrong answer (and it's likely, in my case).

Stevlb1 8:39 PM  


Better luck next time, I guess.

jae 8:47 PM  

@ Jeffery -- Evan is right, that is exactly what I meant. When I reread my post I saw how it might be misconstrued. I should have said "zero bonus points." I've done the "mail it to me version" of the ACPT for several years so I know how the scoring works.

@Evan -- For me (and apparently for Will) this is a pass-fail situation. I'm not sure I want the guy working on my nuclear power plant to get 95% of it right. And yes, crosswords are right up there with nuclear power in the scheme of things.

Tita 8:51 PM  

I raced through this, thinking 'what an easy Friday'. Until I stopped racing and sat staring.

Needed puzzle-spouse's help with explaining LOGROLLING, YORBALINDA, GENERALELECTION. Then finished with no further help, but was a wild-a$$ guess at the BOWE/MORRO Natick. Used Evan's rule to guess that the O was most plausible.

@Carola - I had major trouble too, waiting for a noun at the end of STUPIDAS[a thing].
@Wreck Sparker - did you see the picture of grampa? Had one NOT read Mme. Haban's earlier post, one would not know...
(Nice comeback, too...)

Thought Nixon was born in San Clemente, but that wouldn't fit.

@LMS - I resmble your first paragraph 100%...only sometimes I would 'putz' around all week with a tough Fri or Sat. (btw - did you coin that usage of putz as verb?)

@Mr. Benson - your 2nd example is hilarious!

@evan - DNF means you did not complete the puzzle. Having it all filled in, but with even 1 wrong letter, is NOT finished, any more than baking a cake using salt instead of sugar would be considered "finished"! Wow - I could finish any puzzle without even looking if the only criteria was to have non-blank squares! DNF = DNFC

@Jes Wondrin' - don't be so SNOOTY...seeing the "algorithm" written out and explained in puzzle context IS in fact helpful for those new to puzzles.
As for your observation on MORR[O], see @pajamapartypants above.

@ksquare - thx for RT!

Thank you for another stellar write-up, Double Agent...
ANd thanks for aa great Firday puzzle, MAS!

Tita 8:53 PM  

Oops - sorry for that absurdly long post, and for the typos at the end! But y'all were so pithy and eloquent today...

Z 9:23 PM  

DNF = Damn Natick Foolery. Works for me.

And if we are building nuclear power plants without a 5% error safeguard in place we aren't real bright. Have to agree on the nuclear power/crossword puzzle equivalency, though.

Industry Spokesman 9:36 PM  

From what I've heard, the crosscheck strategy is a little tighter for the NYT crossword development route. Nuke regulatory side might be pretty close to crossword subscription complexity and security, however.

joho 9:43 PM  

@Danny ... loved your comment because I can understand that you are coming from a mathematical background of which I have none. So Evan's thinking sort of makes more sense as does yours ...NOT!
Just kidding. I really appreciate your point of view. But I still have to say, if the squares aren't filled in with the correct letters, the puzzle isn't finished it's just filled in!

3 and out.

Anonymous 9:53 PM  

Hey, MA-S!

Half a Canadian is better than none! After decades in the US, still feel it for the True North S&F.

sanfranman59 10:11 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 (median solve time, average for day of week, ratio, percentile, rating)

Mon 6:10, 6:49, 0.90, 13%, Easy
Tue 7:35, 8:57, 0.85, 10%, Easy
Wed 11:01, 11:46, 0.94, 38%, Easy-Medium
Thu 18:21, 18:53, 0.97, 50%, Medium
Fri 24:12, 24:41, 0.98, 48%, Medium

Top 100 solvers

Mon 3:37, 3:41, 0.98, 45%, Medium
Tue 4:29, 4:38, 0.97, 47%, Medium
Wed 5:36, 5:53, 0.95, 41%, Medium
Thu 9:27, 9:21, 1.01, 58%, Medium
Fri 12:19, 12:14, 1.01, 56%, Medium

BobL 2:25 PM  

I had everything correct except for a U instead of an O in Morro/Doh. That for me is a DNF. I do believe that "DUH" is the better answer. If the puzzler wanted "Doh," there should have been some prompt indicating the Simpsons, or at least cartoons.

Spacecraft 2:37 PM  

Tough, like Fridays are supposed to be. Couldn't get started. Said to wife, an expert in all things food, "What's a gravelberry?"
She laughed and said, "Sounds like something WILMAFLINTSTONE would have." OMG, I thought: it FIT!

So thank you, honey, for getting me kick-started with this one. Even so, the convoluted clues made it rough (my first guess for 32d) going. For the longest time I was hung up on viscosity vis-a-vis 37a, instead of the colloquial sense of "thick." So I guess I was 37a.

Nonetheless, multi-15s do tend to help with the fill, so despite not knowing any of the specific info I was able to work it out without error.

How to explain the sudden popularity of OTARU? It's a fine city, I'm sure, but really!

DMGrandma 2:50 PM  

This was a strange puzzle for me. So many things I didn't know: BOWE, LOGROLLING, movies at 7D and 38A, and probably more. BUT, I finished without any errors! I suspect the puzzle gods are just setting me up for Saturday!
Now, can I solve the Captcha?

Idahoconnie 2:53 PM  

I had AGEd instead of AGER so for the longest time couldn't reconcile my wrong answer with heavy drinking.

@Loren Muse Smith. You said you taught foreign language wrong along with other foreign language teachers. I can really relate to that. I have a degree in German. I got straight A's but never learned to speak the language. How would you teach now if you could do it all over?

Molly 4:04 PM  

RE Nimrod. Here's what I think happened. Nimrod was a famous hunter in the bible. Bugs Bunny referred to Elmer Fudd (who was hunting wabbits)in a derogatory way by saying, "what a nimrod." For those of us introduced to the word by Bugs (rather than old testament scholarship) Nimrod was a word meaning inept klutz (like the ineffective hunter Elmer Fudd, who could never manage to bag Bugs).

Waxy in Montreal 4:53 PM  

Getting my California LINDA'S - YORBA & LOMA - mixed up yielded LORMALINDA which made a nimrod of me in the NE for far too long. Also, the N in PROTESTANT confidently but erroneously led me to a Judi Dench film I really enjoyed, THE SHIPPING NEWS. Despite these setbacks, really enjoyed the puzzle. Kudos to MA-S from another 50% Brit, 50% Canuck.

Anonymous 6:02 PM  

A final note: The write-up and constructor were refreshingly nice were all the commentators. I do believe the main commentor sets the timbre for the day. Thank you Johanna and Mr. Smith. Ron Diego (a puzzle solver for over 60 yrs.

Dirigonzo 9:45 PM  

I struggled mightedly to produce a completed grid (but had lots of fun in the struggle) and then came here to discover that I had some errors, including TotS for TADS at 41a and BIz for BIT at 18d, but my favorite was taX for XOX at 20a - and I had come up with such a clever rationale for my answer to be right.

Always good to see ORONO, the home of my alma mater, in the grid. Favorite clue was 22a, since it took me too long to see that it was snow boarders, which both of my sons are!

Anonymous 8:57 AM  

I was so proud of myself for 1. Tackling a Friday at all and 2. Completing it within the same 24 hour period. So I don't want to say that I DNF even if I have Mirro Castle crossing Biwe, which looked vaguely plausible after seeing all the varied names during the Olympics. I'll grant that Morro looks better and Bowe does too but somehow I thought that if it was Bowe, I would have recognized it. Not sure where that leaves me with respect to Evan's Heuristic which I like. Of course I can usually write more clearly than this as well.

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