2001-02 Nickelodeon sitcom / SUN 9-23-12 / Soviet author Ehrenburg / Onetime Time competitor / 1965 title role for Ursula Andress / Dweller along Volga / Actress Martha who played Sinatra's love interest in Some Came Running / Most excellent modern slang

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Constructor: Matt Ginsberg

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: "Breath-Taking" — dedicated to ELIZA / DOOLITTLE (28A: With 78-Down, character commemorated in the answers to this puzzle's starred clues). Clues are for wacky phrases that contain words that start with "H"—in the grid, a la Eliza's pre-tutored speaking style, the "H" is dropped, and the result is ... just a familiar phrase.

Word of the Day: ENOUNCE (20A: Set forth) —
tr.v., e·nounced, e·nounc·ing, e·nounc·es.
  1. To declare formally; state.
  2. To pronounce clearly; enunciate.

Read more: http://www.answers.com/topic/enounce#ixzz27F4mLFCC
• • •

There is the germ of a clever idea here. But wackiness is always a mildly dicey proposition to start with (gotta be done really well if it's done at all), and here, it's not even on paper—just in your head. So most of the time you end up figuring out familiar phrases, mostly from crosses, and then backtracking to what the wacky H-containing phrase must've been. And your grid is not wacky. And in fact, outside the theme answers (which seem to have no relationship to one another), the grid is in fact mostly dull, occasionally painful. The theme is very dense, so I understand that the fill is going to be a bit boxed in, maybe a bit compromised or limited here or there. But this grid has literally NO interesting answers outside the theme answers, and mostly it feels as if it was filled either by machine or (related) someone to whom all words are roughly equal in interest and quality, so a valid answer is a valid answer. One INRE = one ERSE = one ROIL = any four-letter word. No sense of craft or discrimination. Take virtually Everything on a diagonal from ANET down to HYER (89D: Actress Martha who played Sinatra's love interest in "Some Came Running"). There's just so much rot. And I thought I hated ALIENEE more than any word that length—and then I met ENOUNCE. You'd have to hold a gun to my head to get me to let that thing into my grid. There's just a [shrug] "sure, whatever" attitude in the fill. "Well ... it's a word. Good enough—next!" It's dispiriting. When corners are hard, you want the work to be worth it. When the payoff involves ENOUNCE and/or ALIENEE, then you are left feeling badly ripped off.

Theme answers:
  • 24A: *Male pattern baldness? (AIRLINE TRAVEL)
  • 32A: *Baying? (NIGHT OWLS)
  • 51A: *Cardiologist's concern? (STATE OF THE ART)
  • 67A: *Caries? (ARM TO THE TEETH)
  • 83A: *Marriage in 2004, divorce in 2011? (SEVEN-YEAR ITCH)
  • 102A: *Conduct classes? (OLD SCHOOL)
  • 113A: *Petrified wood? (FOREST OF ARDEN) — this doesn't make sense in wacky mode (the Forest of Harden!?!?), so boo.
  • 14D: *Stable hands? (ALTAR BOYS)
  • 3D: *Endless bagpipe tune? (LONG ISLAND SOUND)
  • 48D: *Gold-plated forceps? (EYEBROW TWEEZERS)
  • 13A: Most excellent, in modern slang (BADDEST) — Hmm. Stretching the meaning of "modern" pretty thin here. In related news, Michael Jackson's "Bad" just celebrated its 25th anniversary (Aug. 31).
  • 75A: Occupants of the lowest circle of Dante's hell (TRAITORS) — I like to keep about half a dozen copies of "Inferno" on hand at all times, 'cause ... you never know.

  • 91A: Inventor after whom a Yale residential college is named (MORSE) — Because there aren't enough Yale-oriented clues in the world. Insane clue for a very familiar answer. See also the clue on JUNEAU (95D: Gold prospector Joe with a state capital named after him).
  • 93A: Soviet author Ehrenburg (ILYA) — oh, sure, who could forget ... that thing ... he wrote.  
  • 8D: Kellogg offering, briefly (MBA) — so, some university's b-school is named "Kellogg" ... aha, Northwestern. I did not know that. My only associations with Kellogg are cereal-related. Or basketball analyst-related.
  • 39D: French composer of "Vexations" (SATIE) — no one really expects you to know what he composed (though I recommend "Gymnopédies"). You just need to know French composer, 5 letters, boom: SATIE (maybe someone else too, but I'd try SATIE first).
  • 43A: Extinct emu-like birds (MOAS) — in the plural. You don't see that too often. I only wish "emu-like" could've been in the grid instead of just the clues.
  • 50D: Onetime Time competitor, briefly (US NEWS) — ... and World Report. It seems to still exist in some form—online, and as a ranker of colleges and universities. I guess it just isn't in Time's league any more?
  • 64D: 1965 title role for Ursula Andress (SHE) — I know the H. Rider Haggard novel. With the answer at three letters, I just made an educated guess here.
  • 70D: Dweller along the Volga (TATAR) — Oddly easy. Had the "T" and just thought "what's the crosswordesiest thing I can think of?"
  • 76D: 2001-02 Nickelodeon sitcom ("TAINA") — the biggest "WTF!?" of the day, by far. Never heard of it, which is stunning given its longevity and lasting cultural resonance.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


maxine 12:22 AM  

This puzzle was breathtaking in the Seinfeld sense of the word.

jae 12:29 AM  

Tough Sun. !   This makes up for the easy Fri. and Sat. 

HAst for HATH made the mid northwest very slow.
Skits for SPOOF however was a momentary misstep.

Problem area:  CHIRRUP, TAINA, PAESE, HYER... HYER and TAINA were WTFs and the rest required some digging.

I'm with Rex on this one.   I like my Sundays  breezier and more amusing.

Deb 12:32 AM  

I liked the clue for ETAL, hated the one for IN RE (typically someone dictating a letter begins with who it's addressed to), and found it interesting the SEVEN YEAR ITCH works both ways. Otherwise, what Rex said.

Matt Ginsberg 12:56 AM  

Let's see. I constructed this puzzle quite a while ago (2-3 years), but just as Will accepted it, there was a "dual" Sunday puzzle that took phrases that *had* H's, and dropped them instead of the other way around. So Will warned me that it would be a while before it was published.

I think that crosswords have changed a bit in the interim. Having worked through it myself, I agree with what all the bloggers are saying -- the density of theme fill meant that the rest of the fill wasn't as sparkling as I would like, and I think that if I were doing it now, I'd have left out a couple of theme entries in favor of better fill throughout.

So I, too, agree with what Rex said! But, in all honesty, I have to disagree with the tone. So he writes, for example, "it feels as if it was filled either by machine or (related) someone to whom all words are roughly equal in interesting and quality ... No sense of craft or discrimination."

Rex, I resent this. Do I use Crossword Compiler to help me fill puzzles? I do. But I actually fill them a word at a time, using CCW just to keep me out of dead ends. It takes me many hours to fill a Sunday grid. And I really do resent the implication that I can't tell good fill from bad.

I made an artistic choice. I think that it was a better choice back when I made it, but even if I made it now, there is no reason to transform criticism of an artistic choice to something that, in all honesty, is hard to think of as anything other than criticism of the constructor personally.

optionsgeek 1:03 AM  

Frustratingly hard, this one. And then I DNF when I tried to cross SAYOK with NISAA and MYAS (instead of SNOOK with NISAN and MOAS). I mean really, am I'm supposed to know every Hebrew month and extinct bird that ever lived? SAYOK sounds better to me - isn't that what Redford and Newman were doing with all the nose thumbing in The Sting?

Anonymous 2:28 AM  

Garth said:

I'm sympathetic to Matt. As knowledgeable as Rex is, he often criticizes in a manner that is unnecessarily demeaning to the constructor. It takes courage for a constructor to call him out on his hurtful comments.

clopenleaf 3:07 AM  

Trying to interpret everyone charitably here...

The more constraining your theme and grid design are, the more manual and autofill will have in common, the less you will be able to avoid the characteristic bad entries associated with autofill. In the limit as you approach only 1 possible fill, the approaches are the same. In the ballpark of the limit, it can still take a lot of effort to find the best fill, even though all possible fills look a lot like autofill.

It's hard to glance at a grid and determine how much effort was put into increasing fill quality given the constraints at hand. By contrast it's relatively easy to evaluate the merits of the fill itself. And just based on the fill, this puzzle has a lot in common with a lightly-guided autofill in a less constrained puzzle. It doesn't mean Matt didn't work hard to achieve that, but the vibe is there nonetheless.

Nobody is saying the puzzle was autofilled. Rex did say, though, that it feels *as if* it was. I see what he's saying, though I can also see that this puzzle is much better than it would be with straight up autofill.

Rex *is* upset with the constructor/editor, I think, because no matter how you slice it, this is evidence that multiple people don't care enough (by Rex's standards) about fill quality. Either the constructor should have picked better words, or if impossible he should have modified his theme to make it possible, or if impossible he should have abandoned the puzzle...or failing these, the editor should have rejected it.

Anonymous 3:29 AM  

Rex's criticism reads harsh but that's what critics sometimes do. Critics are often wrong too.

I think the puzzle may be getting negative feedback cause it was hardish for a Sunday and the theme really wasn't all that clever or rewarding. It also felt dull, two dimensional.

C. Ross Word 4:31 AM  

It's hard for me to judge how much effort went into the construction of this puzzle but it certainly contained quite a bit of interesting fill: GENOME, JULEP, WATUSI, OLDSCHOOL, MIASMA, JUNEAU, HERMIT, ALTARBOYS etc.

That said, the amped-up difficulty combined with the abundance of bizarre or
arcane fill: ENOUNCE, ALIENEE, SNOOK, ASLAN, ILYA, PAESE, ESCARPS, CHIRRUP, TAINA, ENVOI, HYER etc. made this a frustrating, time-consuming effort with little fun in return.

Glad this one is done! If puzzles were like this one every day, I would stop doing them. Sorry Matt, just one man's opinion.

syndy 4:34 AM  

Hey, It never became a slog,It kept me guessing almost all the way through, and I thought we had agreed to a small serving of crosswordese of a sunday.I have never understood Rex aversion to ALIENEE but I did not care for ENOUNCE either.Chirrup was Loverly."Caries"I kinda intuitively understand it but that's pushing the envelope! my take on reading Rex's review was "OOH snark on a roll" but hey that;s what we love about him,"course I'm not the one getting bitten.

jae 4:36 AM  

My initial comment, which I jot down before Rex posts, was "This was a fine puzzle, just not my cup of tea for a Sun." Instead I went with "I'm with Rex on this one" because he nailed my problem with the solve. Anon 3:29 gets at what I'm looking for on Sun. After 2 days of hopefully tough themeless puzzles (although not so much this week) I want a Sun. that makes me smile or makes me say "wow" (e.g.Liz Gorski). Tough is OK but it shouldn't be a slog. This one came up a tad short.

Anonymous 5:05 AM  

I too find the tone of the criticism sneering. I think there are ways to be critical without seeming so mean-spirited.

Brookboy 5:13 AM  

My first DNF in years, thanks to the northwest corner. I came up with prOposE(20A) instead of ENOUNCE and that did me in.

I needed all the crosses to get SNOOK (47A), which still doesn't look right to me. I also didn't like FOREST OF ARDEN (113A), as it doesn't seem to fit the theme very well.

In the end, I didn't enjoy this puzzle very much. It was a bit of a slog for me, felt more like an exam than the usual Sunday crossword.

mac 7:37 AM  

This was a lot of work, as Sundays usually are, but I got her done. Or not, as some people think, since I had U.S. Tecs at 50D (beat and rec. seemed fine, and I didn't return and check the area).

Word I learned today: Nyah. Never seen it before. I thought Valdez was funny!

Bob Kerfuffle 7:44 AM  


No, actually, with my minimal knowledge of French, I had 22 A as BONJOUR first, . . .

As others have noted, also ran the alphabet at the crossing of 25 D, NISAN, and 47 A, SNOOK, both perfectly good words, I guess, just not in my vocabulary.

Anonymous 7:56 AM  

Agree. Sucked!

Anonymous 8:44 AM  

I thought Sunday puzzles were supposed to be fun? Slogged through it anyway with the help of Google because I have a touch of OCD. Isn't Elizabeth Gorski due for another Sunday puzzle?

Trixie 9:17 AM  

Hated the puzzle. And thought Matt's reaction to Rex was bizarre and over the top. Why would he bother to write a blog if he can't express his opinions?

Ken Wurman 9:27 AM  

Would have preferred "cavities" instead of a word I never hearg of ("caries").... just saying...

retired_chemist 9:41 AM  

Medium-challenging, yes, and IMO flawed, but I still had fun with it. I like odd words because I learn something - ENOUNCE, for example.

My problem was Rex's first substantive criticism - the theme phrases were just that - unrelated phrases which one had to retrofit an H into to get the Eliza connection. Kinda made the theme irrelevant IMO. I knew the theme early on but couldn't use it to get me an answer. Not one. After a bunch of crosses, yes, but that's not to my taste for a theme. FOREST OF (H)ARDEN isn't even grammatically correct as a phrase since HARDEN isn't a noun.

SNOOK? never heard that. I suspect I will use ENOUNCE in the real works before I will use SNOOK. ASLAN? The clue still makes no sense to me. I expect one of you will enlighten this Philistine.

HTG LLOSA (105D) because I was hung up on García LORCA - otherwise a clean solve.

JC66 9:48 AM  

It seems to me that both the puzzle and @Rex's critique could have been better honed.

Bob Kerfuffle 9:56 AM  

@retired_chemist - In the C . S. Lewis novel "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe", the name of the lion is ASLAN.

Muscato 10:03 AM  

Lovely to check in here after finishing up and find that I wasn't the only vaguely vexed puzzler. Just not much fun, not least because I have to rush through Sundays, as it's a workday in Arabia and I try to do the puzzle before I leave for work. SNOOK and, more embarrasingly, USNEWS added minutes!

jackj 10:05 AM  

When I printed this puzzle, scanned the entries and then focused on the first entries in the upper left, ONO seemed to fit but allowed for no other word for 20 across than ENOUNCE and 1 across looked like it was going to be something like GOATISH and that trio had me thinking “Bingo” and I set it aside, a puzzle to disremember.

Later, another peek at the puzzle was enough to show me that Matt hadn’t actually gone all quasi-MENSA on us and with WOLFISH rather than GOATISH, it was off to the solve and a good one it was.

I poured through this one with no idea (or care) what the theme was (although the starred entries kept getting curiouser and curiouser) until ARMTOTHETEETH and ELIZA triggered a delighted guffaw and “Great Aspirations” it was to be!

(H)ARMEDTOTHETEETH and SEVENYEAR(H)ITCH were worth the price of admission and the fill was equally lively and intelligent with things like “Pitcher of coffee?” for VALDEZ repping the “lively” and “Occupants of the lowest circle of Dante’s hell”, for TRAITORS, fronting for the “intelligent”.

Enjoyed seeing Martha HYER, a long ago friend, who, among other things, was an Oscar nominated actress, touted as the likely Hollywood successor to Princess Grace; the wife of super producer Hal Wallis (“Casablanca”, et al); a screenwriter, with the pen name of Martin Julien, (she wrote the script of “Rooster Cogburn” a “True Grit” follow-on film starring John Wayne and Katherine Hepburn); a renaissance lady is the talented Martha HYER.

For me, all’s well that ends well; a worthy effort, Matt. Thank you.

R. McGeddon 10:21 AM  

BONSOIR to mean farewell sounds weird to me. I've lived in France, and the practice as I remember it was to use bonjour the first time you met someone, even if it was late in the day. You'd say bonsoir if you met someone again in the evening. To say your last goodbye of the day it would be either bonne nuit or a demain. I never said bonsoir or heard anyone else use the word to mean farewell.

Anonymous 10:26 AM  

Googled caries- wish I hadn't

Glimmerglass 10:42 AM  

Tough Sunday puzzle, which to me is a good thing. I didn't find the fill as terrible as Rex did, with the exception of ENOUNCE, which is a word nobody actually uses, and I agree with R McGeddon about BON SOIR. The theme was cute -- unexceptional, but cute. I liked ARMED TO THE TEETH. Rex's best work is snarky; he's the Simon Cowell of crosswords. That's fun to read, but I often disagree (and often say so).

chefbea 10:49 AM  

Agree with all. Tough puzzle !!! Got Eliza Doolittle but then had no Idea what the starred answers had to do with the theme. DNF

Anonymous 11:08 AM  

At least he had the decency to BLUSH between putting both ENOUNCE and ALIENEE in the grid.

Anonymous 11:09 AM  

Thirding "bonsoir" as a greeting. I know what "caries" are, but that was of no use because I didn't understand a single theme answer. I also don't know who Eliza Doolittle is, much less how she speaks. I'm young though. I didn't understand "baddest" either.

Zwhatever 11:13 AM  

à demain did me in. I liked most of the theme entries, but some left me a bit breathless. I still don't get LONG ISLAND SOUND, an answer I dismissed because I couldn't (and still can't) figure out the missing aspiration. Sigh.

Other ??s include ENVOI, HYER, LLOSA, ALIENEE, and ENOUNCE. Also uttered "really?" a couple of times; SOAPER, AT ONE, and US NEWS, come to mind.

I thought Rex's comments seemed unusually personal as well, especially since he is pretty clear about not attacking the constructor. A close re-reading shows that the criticisms aren't personal, but it sure didn't feel that way the first time I read the write-up.

Robert the Bruce 11:40 AM  

@Z - Endless bagpipe tune - Long Highland Sound

Anonymous 11:43 AM  

I hated SOAPER.

ArtO 11:47 AM  

The puzzle was simply too clever by 'alf!

Carola 11:47 AM  

Well, I guess I'm an outlier on the response-to-puzzle spectrum. My reaction was "Genius!" The theme answers really made me laugh - saw what was afoot when I had "the art" for 51A and then had fun puzzling out the rest of the clues.

Also really liked some of the other answers - wolfish, miasma, watusi, escarps, chirrup, snook. Didn't mind learning "enounce" or the origin of "Juneau."

I like how O NO! is rebutted by the HAI beneath it.

Thanks, Matt Ginsberg. Funny and challenging - thought it was great.

Anonymous 11:47 AM  

LOL!! Great reference to those of us who DID watch Seinfeld!

Re: Rex's enunciations- that's just Rex being Rex.

Ulrich 11:55 AM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ulrich 11:57 AM  

To strike a positive note: Like @glimmerglass, I thought the theme was cute. The only real groaner was the Forest of Arden, but since it figures prominently in my favorite Shakespeare comedy, I could forgive the puzzle.

The NW corner was hardest for me, too, and the "e" in WEB the last letter I put down, thinking "the web a trap? Truer words were never spoken!"

jberg 11:59 AM  

@z try "long highland sound". Then groan.


Rex is snarky. Live with it.

Noam D. Elkies 12:03 PM  

I've got no problem with 20A:ENOUNCE. Not only is it a legitimate English word, but it can mean "to pronounce clearly" (as in "enunciation") which is relevant to the theme. The only legitimate grip in Rex's litany seems to be about "Forest of harden".

As for French composers, off the top of my head there's also FAURÉ, even better known than SATIE (crosswords aside), and sharing two letters so one of these days you'll be glad you saw the name here.


Noam D. Elkies 12:04 PM  

["gripe", not "grip"]

Richard 12:09 PM  

Was wondering for a moment if Nickelodeon had a show called TAINT. Best laugh of the puzzle.

Nick 12:16 PM  

Filled in a few words here and there and what yawned ahead felt so joyless, it wasn't worth going on.

That's a rare response, but Sunday's which can be a slog simply due to size, really do need to be even a little rewarding.

Sandy K 12:16 PM  

Maybe @Rex MADESURE to MENTION that this was not STATE OF THE ART and gave it a HISS...

...but I liked most of the theme answers and much of the fill, ETAL.
I did not mind ENOUNCE or Martha HYER, since they were in my 'wheelhouse'.

The BADDEST (not in slang) for me:
SOAPER and ENVOI- filled them in, but never heard them used.

What is ENVOI?

thursdaysd 12:23 PM  

Add me to the unhappy. I had to "google" (actually duckduckgo) to finish, which is rare on a Sunday. Besides several proper nouns I didn't recognize, there were the groaners others have already called out, then in addition to BON SOIR, I object to CHIRRUP, which to my ears is more like something a person would say to a horse than a bird call.

I still don't get FOREST OF (h)ARDEN. Whoever says that?

GILL I. 12:30 PM  

I enjoyed this Sunday romp. I really couldn't find a single word that's not in the language or has been used in crosswords before. The only whince - like others, was ENOUNCE and ALIENE although I like pronouncing them.
@Rex I'd certainly add RAVEL, BIZET and DUFAY to your list of 5 named French composers.
Also loved seeing Martha HYER. I worked with her on a film in Madrid called "A House of 1000 Dolls." She was/is just like @jackj described her. Charming and very kind. Also quite beautiful.
Glad Matt chimed in to defend his puzzle.
Happy Sunday....

Anonymous 12:31 PM  

As a Yalie, I got 91A (MORSE) without any crosses, but for other folks I think that's beyond obscure. Knowing the names of cancelled Nickleodeon sitcoms is probably more useful than memorizing Yale's residential colleges.

That aside, I liked the puzzle. It mostly didn't seem too hard to me. Certainly no MIASMA. But what if it were? The puzzle's got to be easy?

I had a nice chuckle with LONG ISLAND SOUND. 

FOREST OF ARDEN is an elegant and welcome phrase to see in a puzzle, and worth a little syntactical strain in the cluing. What would be an appropriate theme clue for "(H)as You Like It"?

Well done, Matt!

Anonymous 12:45 PM  

Hard, hard, hard! But I got it, and enjoyed the theme. Since this is, after all, a crossword puzzle I don't mind a dose of crosswordese here and there.


joho 12:58 PM  

@Noam D. Elkies beat me to it: what better puzzle to include ENOUNCE than one featuring ELIZA DOOLITTLE!!!

I'm late getting here today because this took me way longer than usual to solve. Yay! I hate those easy fill-in-the blanks Sundays. This was hard. For some reason the NE the most difficult for me. I wanted BossEST before I got BADDEST. Plus thought it was AIRLINE recall before I got TRAVEL, which is funnier.

@Matt Gingsberg, do not apologize for this puzzle! Yes, you might have done things differently today, but the fact is, this was fun! It was not easy ... that's a good thing. I remember when all Sunday puzzles seemed to be challenging. I'm all for that. And I thank you.

Rudyard Kipling 1:03 PM  

@Sandy K -


When Earth's last picture is painted and the tubes are twisted and dried,
When the oldest colours have faded, and the youngest critic has died,
We shall rest, and, faith, we shall need it -- lie down for an aeon or two,
Till the Master of All Good Workmen shall put us to work anew!

And those that were good shall be happy: they shall sit in a golden chair;
They shall splash at a ten-league canvas with brushes of comets' hair;
They shall find real saints to draw from -- Magdalene, Peter, and Paul;
They shall work for an age at a sitting and never be tired at all!

And only the Master shall praise us, and only the Master shall blame;
And no one shall work for money, and no one shall work for fame,
But each for the joy of the working, and each, in his separate star,
Shall draw the Thing as he sees It for the God of Things as They Are!

Sue McC 1:07 PM  

I liked this a lot. I was wanting a toughie, and this sure was. I admit, I had to resort to googling a couple things, but it was fun. Got Eliza Dootlittle and that helped me (with the title) pice together the theme answers. My only complaint is with FORESTOFARDEN. it's definitely week. But the rest of it more than made up for it.

Agree with whoever said "that's just Rex being Rex", but I also give Matt big props for standing up for himself. And for giving us a great Sunday puzzle.

Anonymous 1:08 PM  

@Sandy K

An ENVOI is a short stanza at the end of a poem.

I had to google it...

Lolcat 1:10 PM  

@Anonymouse 12:31 - The cheezburger I gived you, has you like it?

ksquare 1:12 PM  

Since PETRIFIED means turned to stone, and a forest is often called a WOOD, HARDENED is consistent with the theme. Don't be so nitpicky and give Matt a break!

ksquare 1:16 PM  

HARDENED in the above should have been HARDEN.

Cathyat40 1:52 PM  

Had bYEbYES - think SNL skit of flight attendants at the bridge(?) of the plane at the end of the flight.

hazel 2:04 PM  

I didn't like the puzzle, but i certainly didn't think it had to do with any laziness, lack of regard, or whatever on the constructor's part - the theme just wasn't the type i enjoy - and for me, the cluing wasn't that tight. Could be just a wave-length thing.

@matt - very much appreciate your comments - and your body of work!

Joe in Montreal 2:05 PM  

good enough for me.
My only query is HERMIT for "St Benedict e.g." That's like giving "VIRGIN" for "Hugh Hefner, e.g." - yes, Benedict was a hermit of sorts for a few years, but he is known for founding monasteries of common life.

retired_chemist 2:12 PM  

@ Bob K - ASLAN still is not in my wheelhouse, but per your explanation it is a fair answer fairly clued.

And, no, I won't give Matt a break on (H)ARDEN. A wrong part of speech is IMO never acceptable in the NYT.

I do have a friend named Harden but AFAIK he does not have a forest.

Unknown 2:38 PM  


hazel 2:56 PM  

Unknown: the clue called for the first name of the actor who played The Ugly. It was a great clue IMHO - because all i could think about was The Bad.

Anonymous 3:36 PM  

"That's just Rex being Rex."

I took that to be tongue-in-cheek, harkening back to a time when many were duly upset by super-snarky remarks made by a certain commenter.

Rex defended that person by writing...

That's just ____ being ____.

Anonymous 3:39 PM  

Didn't care for (h) Arden but loved the puzzle. I prefer more of a challenge than Sunday puzzles have been lately. Thanks, Matt.

Charles in Austin 3:44 PM  

I couldn't get a grip on the theme answers until I stumbled upon Miss DOOLITTLE. Then everything began to fall into place, bit by bit. And with every one of those humorous, ingenious puns I felt a small rush of pleasure of discovery.

And it was a joy to revisit the wonderful, vibrant "My Fair Lady."


Suzy 3:53 PM  

Thought the puzzle was fun, but definitely tough--
certainly eaiser after figuring out the theme!

Matt, don't feel bad. I'm happy to put up with a little ugly fill for such a terrific theme! Rex can be a spiteful genius-- some days II think he just got up on the wrong side of the puzzle! And I applaud him for educating and entertaining me most every day!

Norm 4:27 PM  

For me, this puzzle was half very clever and half bad. Loved [h]AIRLINETRAVEL and LONG[high]ISLANDSOUND, but FORESTOF[h[ARDEN was an ugh and ARMTOTHETEETH was a double-ugh. The idiomatic phrase is "armed to the teeth"; in my book, there is no "arm [someone] to the teeth" -- but that's just me being me.

Davis 5:07 PM  

While I received some amusement from the theme, I would have to say that my displeasure with the fill outweighed the positives. Solving this was a fairly joyless experience — more of a slog, with a few entries where I turned to Google without guilt.

Low points for me: the TAINA/PAESE cross was a Natick, plain and simple. I consider myself an above average cheese-eater, yet I've never seen Bel PAESE; given that I am also among the millions of people who have never heard of the short-lived TAINA, there was simply no way to even guess the 'A' (I could have imagined several vowels going here). The HYER/PAESE cross was a potential Natick, but at least there 'E' was the only thing that made sense.

I also thought the SNOOK/ELKE cross was an unpleasant one — I'd never heard of ELKE, and SNOOK was a new one on me. I ended up just Googling ELKE to fill this one in.

Finally, I'm going to pile on to the opprobrium for the clue for BADDEST. There's no way this is "modern" slang — I'm in my thirties now, and when I was in high school this would have been considered hilariously passé.

If I had to pick the non-theme highlights, I'd go with JULEP, WATUSI, TRAITORS, VALDEZ, WOLFISH, and MIASMA. I'm also in the pro-CHIRRUP category. But this feels like a short list of pluses for a Sunday.

jae 5:21 PM  

Just finished Merl's Sun. offering "Middle Men." Clever, amusing and not "gimme" easy.

Eliza Doolittle 5:46 PM  

How do you do, Matt!

I'm so 'appy and 'onored to be the it-girl of your puzzle!

I 'ave no bloomin' idea why they 'ated it. Maybe it was too 'ard for 'em?

Professor 'enry 'iggins taught me to ENOUNCE me words, and I'm a good girl, I am, so 'ere goes...

In Hartford, Heresfort and Hampshire
Hurricanes hardly ever happen!

There! Thanks, Matt Ginsberg for a fun puzzle!

Anonymous 6:20 PM  

I have the NYTs delivered. I pay a few bucks for it. I read the news, the magazine... Love the Book Review. But oh look what's this a free crossword puzzle? I work it out. I finish it. It entertains me. So it wasn't the best. Who cares it was free! It wasn't a broadway show that I spent a weeks pay on. It was free so shut up!

syndy 6:24 PM  

I have always heard it as "COCK A SNOOK" the gesture involves placing one's thumb on ones nose,spreading the fingers and then wiggling them.crossed eyes are optional.

Anonymous 6:26 PM  

ASLAN is The Lion, not the Witch or the Wardrobe!!

Even if ASLAN is not yet in your 'wheelhouse'- he's been in the puzzle often enough, and will probably continue to show up...so could be worth remembering.

thursdaysd 6:40 PM  

"It was free so shut up!"

Not if you solve online.

"In Hartford, Heresfort and Hampshire

Hertford, Hereford

Masked and Anonymous 7:15 PM  

'Ar! A three year wait, for an elided H lull. Far out biz, these xword puzs.

I liked this puz just fine. But, if that computer program couldn't come up with a better fill than TAINA in 3 years, I say go with plan B. Doesn't the program have a "no TAINA" option? Maybe they tried that, and got a really wild random Roman numeral for their trouble, instead. Does the program have a "maximize U's" option? Now, then you'd be talkin'...

Curious bookshelf stockin', @31. Multiple Dante's, a bag of hashish, and a whoopass collection of Simpsons toys. Dude!

Milford 7:37 PM  

A hard Sunday, plain and simple. For whatever reason, even after getting ELIZA DOOLITTLE, I really had trouble with the theme answers, and therefore didn't get as much help on the crosswordese fill of the puzzle.

Didn't help that I thought maybe Joe Carson was a gold prospector in Nevada, instead of JUNEAU in Alaska. Also thought the day in May was vE DaY (May 8th) before reluctantly realizing it was DERBY. and I have three kids that have been watching Nickelodeon for the past 15 years and I've never heard of TAINA.

DNF, for sure. Just wasn't my puzzle today.

JFC 9:12 PM  

I agree with everything Rex said and I went to Northwestern and it took a long time to disassociate my thinking from the cereal. Did not finish, literally. Too boring as well as all the other things Rex said....


JFC 9:50 PM  

PS. Read/perused all comments, including MG's. Still feel the same way. Understood the theme but it fell flat for me and the fill was, well, was what it was.

I will add that I enjoyed MG's comment more than his puzzle. I like a good bar room brawl on this blog and since ED left there haven't been many.

Chefwen, I look forward to tomorrow night's game. Was at the Bears game today. Almost as boring and hard to look at as this puzzle. I'm convinced Jim Harbaugh cannot win in Minnesota and there is more which I might email you if you are interested....


Tita 12:23 AM  

This time I'm in the minority. I smiled when I got DOOLITTLE, thinking Dr.. I smiled again when I realized it was ELIZA, and knew I was going to be looking for a play on H's.

First one I got was LONGISLANDSOUND, and thought it was fabulous.
Yes, there was some scary stuff, but I am still one of those who rarely meet a puzzle I don't like.
I do like coming here and reading the critiques, and I learn from that, but Matt, I really had fun doing this puzzle!

michael 12:36 AM  

Although I got all of this puzzle, it took my forever. Even when I got the theme answers, I had to think a while (more than a while for "forest of arden") to figure out what they were all about. And lots of odd stuff (at least for me) -- enounce, Hyer, escarts, snook (I had "snark" for a while), aslan, poetess, envoi..) I'm still don't understand altar boys.

Anonymous 1:41 AM  

Glad I wasn't alone in my struggle. Anyone else notice 78 A - DINED - had haddock?

Anonymous 2:14 AM  

I respect you for the measured sincerity of your reply and for your courage in making the attempt...

Seabiscuit 7:12 AM  

@michael - ALTAR BOYS - Halter boys could handle tackle, or those who control a horse with a halter. Bit of a stretch, but at home in this puzzle.

Clif 7:39 AM  

Worst Sunday in memory. If I see Matt's name on a puzzle again, I'll skip it. I agree totally with Rex. And Matt's whine was embarrassing.

One lazy and annoying aspect of the fill was adding an "a" to a word that stands alone with the same meaning, e.g., A TON and A SLEW.

And then there's the reliance on knowledge of cancelled Nickolodean comedies, Yale residences, and obscure Soviet writers.

By the time I got to FOREST OF ARDEN, I was over this mess.

Anonymous 12:04 PM  

I agree with Rex, Clif, and every other unsatisfied person. I love clever, I love hard, I love being rewarded with AHA moments and admiring the artistry of an adroit constructor's puzzle. Long live Patrick Berry & Elizabeth Gorski! To the person who said that there is no reason to be upset because the puzzle is "free"; the ONLY reason that I have the Times delivered is to get the puzzle on Saturday instead of waiting until Sunday.

wordie 2:22 PM  

I had airline flight for the longest time. . . . I like it better as the answer to 24A

Anonymous 3:21 PM  

I'd like to hear Matt's justification for Forest of Arden. What a terrible puzzle

Joan 8:26 PM  

Whether a puzzle is hard or easy really depends on how it lines up with your knowledge base and way of thinking. I almost always find the puzzles harder than they are rated here, but this Sunday puzzle was easier than usual for me. A few answers grated, but overall I enjoyed it.

yankeefreak 8:45 PM  

Given a choice I would 'nt choose this puzzle...took the fun out of Sunday on the couch...get the hook !

paulsfo 10:42 PM  

I agree that TAINA/PAESE were both bad and, togther? Fuggitabout.
Liked caries and ARMTOTHETEETH. BTW, caries may not be crosswordese but it's a reasonably well-known word out in the world, in "dental caries."
Loved the clues for ETAL *and* INRE.
I wasn't thrilled with some of the clues but, even though it's Rex's blog, if his opinion makes him look like a jerk he should be prepared to be called on it.
The clue for MORSE didn't bother me because, in my (medium?) experience with these puzzles, when it's such a deliberately obscure clue, the answer usually turns out to be well known.

paulsfo 10:43 PM  


nurturing 1:47 AM  

I devote my Mondays to the Sunday puzzle (my Sunday paper gets delivered Monday morning). When a puzzle takes me longer than two hours to complete, I'm happy.

This one started out quickly, then slowed to a halt in the NW and NE corners. I had to return a couple of times during the day to finish it.

I love it when something clicks in my brain after eluding me entirely before. So it was with 'web', 'ono', 'scion', and 'dir'.

Before I got 'fuse' I tried 'game' and 'tree' (the plastic Christmas variety kept in a box until December).

I had 'getit' instead of 'seeit' and 'relay' instead of 'remit'. All that made the top rows slow-going.

'Sevenyearitch' was the first theme answer I got and had me instantly understanding the title. When I got 'Doolittle' I was thinking of Rex Harrison, so had a bit of a rethink later to get 'Eliza' - but loved that it was her!

Three quarters of the puzzle fell in faultlessly and prettily (I solve in pen). The top three rows have a lot of write-overs and the fourth and fifth row each have a couple, too. Messy top quarter.

Thanks, Matt, for making my crossword day (I only get the Sunday Times here in small-town Canada) such a pleasure!

Miss Madine 8:23 AM  

It's Friday, and I just finished the puzzle! I whittled away at it all week and enjoyed the challenge ... Sometimes I'm more careful with difficult puzzles, and I got the satisfaction of completing this one with no errors (albeit five days later).

Spacecraft 1:46 PM  

Wow, the biggest, most spectacular fail of an 0-for-3 weekend! The clues today were nothing short of Mensa-level, so I was hunting desperately for a gimme--and found it: what could 83a be but SEVENYEARITCH? Then looking at 28a, I naturally thought Marilyn. But while that didn't fit, her real name did! NORMA for 28a--and JEANBAKER for 78d! I had it!

Yeah, right. After that start, I couldn't get off first base. Rex, there is no "medium" at all about this one: it is straight-up "challenging." Maybe 10% of the clues were soft, but the rest? Forget it. Especially undermining was STATEOFTHEART. Of course, working from the center (the entire west was just ungettable for me), I had managed to insert the last five letters of 51a: ________HEART. How would YOU parse that? See what I mean?

Never heard of "SOAPER." The single word "Days," even in quotes, is hard enough to morph into "Days of Our Lives." That is not a soaper, it is a soap opera, or soap, period.

All through the puzzle there were these impossible-to-get entries. I'll stop listing them, and just say, send this version to James Woods and Marilyn Vos Savant--and any other savants you know--and knock it down a notch for the rest of us poor slobs.

Variety 1:58 PM  


rain forest 4:52 PM  

Hmmm. Or should I say 'mmm. I'm finding it hard to be sympathetic with those who "didn't have fun". The theme, which I figured out with "night owls", which game me "airline travel", was pretty clever, in my opinion, and as a result, I had a little fun... The only area where I hit a roadblock was the extreme SE, but that was partially my own stubborness to accept "soaper" and "deci", and I didn't know "Llosa" (ignorance). Otherwise, the fill was decent and I didn't begrudge the effort required. Certainly, Rex's criticism was uncalled for. I don't think he likes Matt Ginsberg, which is fine, but he needn't make his dislike public.

eastsacgirl 5:11 PM  

Was really torn with this one so I'm going to sit on the fence. Got the DOOLITTLE theme pretty quick (although was hoping for Dr. Doolittle). Was fun trying to figure out the phrases but some of the fill was just plain
exhausting. New word for me was "carie". Have never run across before.

Not as pleasurable a Sunday as I like but can't have it your way all the time.

Dirigonzo 5:48 PM  

Jeez, I don't understand all the hate that has been heaped upon the puzzle and it's constructor. Weekend puzzle partner and I managed to finish it with a mixture of knowledge (hers, mostly) crossword solving strategy and a couple of lucky guesses. The theme answers (with one possible exception) made the effort worthwhile and mostly fun.
Neither of us was familiary with ILYA/YAKOV, but that would be a good name for a character in a spy novel from the cold war era.

Joseph Gowen 5:30 PM  

I enjoyed the puzzle. A nice challenge for Sunday and I smiled at AIRLINE TRAVEL and EYEBROW TWEEZERS. Not every puzzle can be "breathtaking" and memorable, but I thought this was a nice Sunday. I'm sure if I were trying to finish as quickly as possible, I would be frustrated at some of the arcane answers, but I typically take until Monday to finish the puzzles, since my Sundays are so busy. Remember folks, it's just a word game.

D Tree 2:02 AM  

October 2, and I finally finished it! I usually work them over the week in several sessions, but this one was the first in a long time that overlapped the next Sunday puzzle, and maybe the longest I have spent on a puzzle while still finishing it (although I finished with 2 bad guessed boxes, the much unappreciated TAINA/PAESE and NISAN/SNOOK). No Google, but I did get a little help from the wife.

I just couldn't get any traction with this one. I initially had BITCHIN for most excellent, and was disappointed to lose it.

Anonymous 3:44 PM  

Took us eight days, and not until almost the very end did I grasp the theme, and Eliza Doolittle (I was stuck on Dr. Doolittle). So, once we got past that, yes, it was a pretty interesting puzzle, and took a lot of perseverance.

Dave 12:03 AM  

Got the theme easily enough, but was a tough slog to finish. Oddly, the NW and NE refused to fill in. The rest I got with a significant effort.

Forgive me, but this was a puzzle left over from a weekend trip that I hadn't completed.

Anonymous 9:32 PM  

Long time before I got to it. Answers fringe, clues obscure. First puzzle I was ANGRY at because it was so far off.

Anonymous 5:30 AM  

Reporting from 2021 that this puzzle is still terrible, sorry. I'm working backwards through the app. Usually I blitz through Sundays, but resorted to googling a lot (how I got here!) for incredibly obscure crosses and a theme that didn't make a ton of sense. Sorry. I agree with everyone who would like to see fewer theme answers in exchange for less miserable sloggy fill.

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