Screwball character on Simpsons / SUN 1-27-13 / Precocious Roald Dahl heroine / Egg-sorting device / Old barnstorming needs / Dramatist Sean / Paparazzi payer / Author who wrote about frontier life

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Constructor: Jeff Chen

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (roughly 14:00, on paper)

THEME: "Black Cats" — 9 theme answers have (apparently) missing CAT, which is represented in the grid by black squares (specifically, the four crosses and the central black bar)

  • COPY [CAT] CRIME (30A: Offense that's provoked by lurid news)
  • RAT [CAT]CHER (6D: The Pied Piper of Hamelin, e.g.)
  • CRAZY [CAT] LADY (14D: Screwball character on "The Simpsons")

  • WILL [CAT]HER (43A: Author who wrote about frontier life)
  • TOM[CAT]TED (63A: Sowed one's wild oats)
  • DELI[CAT]ESSEN (58D: Hero's spot)
  • MUS[CAT] GRAPE (88A: Base of Asti wine)
  • STAY[CAT]ION (76D: Modern R&R option)
  • LATEX [CAT]SUIT (102A: Dominatrix's wear)
Word of the Day: WAUL (43D: Cry like a feline) —
(intr) to cry or wail plaintively like a cat
[of imitative origin] (
• • •

I have a dinner party to go to tonight, so I tried to hand the blog off to a constructor friend of mine, but he had a dinner party to go to as well, so I just hollered at Jeff Chen and he sent me a .PDF of the puzzle immediately. Security breach!

I solved a puzzle with this same concept just last night. It was in the latest collection of Fireball puzzles (which you should totally get, mostly because the lead blurb on the back was written by yours truly). Even though I have a subscription to Fireball, I don't always get to all of them, so having the book is nice. Even when I find myself solving a puzzle I've solved before, I usually don't remember it that well and still struggle mightily to finish. Where was I? Oh, right, so ... I've not only seen this concept before, I *just* saw it. This allowed me to pick up the theme almost instantly (at COPYCAT CRIME), though at first I didn't realize the answers extended clean through the black squares. Thought the answer to 30A: Offense that's provoked by lurid news was COPYCAT. Then I noticed all those "—" clues throughout the grid, and figured out what was going on. Even though the puzzle was pretty easy, I found it very enjoyable. Theme answers were often playful and surprising, and the grid is built around some nice longer non-theme answers like SPARE TIRES (10D: Middle weights?) and PROP PLANES (72D: Old barnstorming needs). The one minor issue I had with the theme was, a couple of times, I didn't even notice an answer *was* a theme answer because the pre-CAT part seemed complete in itself. This was especially true of DELI[CAT]ESSEN, where DELI is a perfectly good answer to 58D: Hero's spot, and also true at LATEX [CAT]SUIT (102A: Dominatrix's wear). LATEX works great. CATSUIT was a bonus. STAY[CAT]ION and CRAZY [CAT] LADY were especially bright, modern answers. An easyish, clever romp; some roughness around the edges, fill-wise, but only around the edges.

Started strong with an instant gimme at 1A: Break in poetry (CAESURA). I teach the concept all the time (it's especially common in Old English poetry), so no problem. I enjoyed the other literary answers in this puzzle as well, such as O. HENRY (90D: Master of literary twists) and MATILDA (51D: Precocious Roald Dahl heroine). I thought the [Egg-sorting device] was a SEXER, but that's a chick-sorting person, so ... SIZER. No better or worse than SEXER as an answer, I guess. I have definitely heard of the BARENTS Sea, but that doesn't mean I didn't need virtually every cross (106A: ___ Sea, body of water north of Norway). "It's that sea ... that sounds like that other sea ... BERING? ... BALTIC? ..." First instinct for 1D: It may be spotted in a pet store was OCELOT. Pretty high-end, la-di-da pet store, I guess. WAUL was a new one on me. Wanted WAIL. Managed to remember VALENCE from the last time I studied Chemistry (circa 1986) (32D: Bonding measurement).

I think that's it.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Jeff Chen 12:47 AM  

One dolla make you holla!


Anonymous 12:49 AM  

I was initially put off graphics of the conceit, but finally figured it out. They're the cat's markings in the snow, four paws and one additional mark in the snow, due to the tumescense of someone TOMCATting.

All of life reduces to a penis joke after 12:30

jae 1:00 AM  

Fun Sun. with a twist.  Caught the theme almost immediately (I read the title after all), so this was easy-medium for me also.   Pretty zippy theme answers...LATEX CAT SUIT,  TOM CATTED, CRAZY CAT LADY...a hint of sci-fi STARSHIP, SPACEMEN...some X oriented cluing...a couple of O writers...made for slog free solve.  

WOE: Me too for WAUL

Light on erasures: ENwraps for ENFOLDS 


Nice one Jeff Chen!

Evan 1:16 AM  

I don't have a Fireball subscription (I should probably get one, one of these days), so I got a fresh a-ha moment and overall felt it was a neat, inventive trick. I wouldn't have guessed that the NYT would clue CRAZY CAT LADY as the character on "The Simpsons" -- I remember her, I think her appearances have been hilarious, but I wouldn't have thought she was well-known enough to merit inclusion in the puzzle. I mean, if MRS. TEEVEE from yesterday is too tertiary a character in "Willy Wonka," surely the CRAZY CAT LADY on "The Simpsons" is....whatever one calls fifteen degrees beneath tertiary.

I suppose I could probably carp on some fill I'm not crazy about -- RECUE, ALATE, DIME-A, TIREDLY, ADHEM, TESSERAE, WAUL (missing the CATer beginning?), BQE, LEM, the somewhat tricky BARENTS/BORA crossing. Plus, I truly wish CALICO was not in there since I thought it would have been better if the only CATs in the puzzle were the hidden ones. But, the theme had a fun gimmick and there were so many nice, fresh phrases sprinkled throughout the grid (SO THERE, VERY WELL, STARSHIP, EVIL QUEEN, SPACEMEN, SPARE TIRES, SCORE A HIT, RAW DATA crossing BLOW DRY, PROP PLANES, AM STATION) that I didn't really care so much about those nitpicks.

Well done, Jeff.

chefwen 1:21 AM  

I'm kind of a CRAZY (cat) LADY myself, so this one was right up my alley. Hah!

My biggest mess up was putting TETRAD in at 27D. That really SCROD up that area and it took me way too long to see my error.

ALSO RAN 19A was cute and I liked seeing the MT. in front of ARARAT.

Good one Mr. Chen, thanks.

That nasty kristin 1:34 AM  

I'm an English major and didn't know CAESURA at all..embarrassing! Took me a long time to find all the (mostly stupid) errors I made, and now I've forgotten where they were! Good theme. You needed to look at the puzzle title for a hint and then at your solved grid again. Nice and tricky I thought.

Future Old Cat Guy 1:43 AM  

Caterwauled when puzzle was complete. Fellow subway riders none too pleased. Was familiar with "caterwaul," but not WAUL, so that took a long time. Should have seen it sooner, I suppose.

CAESURA was new to me; almost had to cede that corner. Otherwise, steady progress, fun theme, much to enjoy.

Thanks, Mr. Chen.

Greg Charles 2:19 AM  

I saw the plus signs and the cats, then the minus sign in the middle and figured it must stand for "an" like with cations and anions. I was left wondering what TOManTED could possibly mean.

Anoa Bob 2:30 AM  

I'm not sure where in the dusty vaults CAESURA resided or why it came to mind so quickly. As you might imagine, that got Mr. Chen's puzzle off on the right foot for me.

It shares an etymology with Caesar and Caesarean (as in C-section), all of which stem from the Latin caedere "to cut".

I misremembered the pronunciation. I thought it started with a hard C. Nope. It's si zhoor ah.

Anonymous 2:35 AM  

My only error was cROPPLANES. Took me awhile to get the twist. Very well constructed and fun. Erased Monkey for MASCOT and struggled with PI being the end of a plural word before OCTOPI dawned on me, got a chuckle out of that. I would rate it a solid Medium with a great beat you could dance to... Thanks Jeff!

Bob Kerfuffle 6:19 AM  

Fun, easy.

Started by jumping around the grid, so the first theme answer I got was MUS CAT GRAPE, and then the race was on.

My only reservation was the cluing of CRAZY CAT LADY -- "Screwball character on 'The Simpsons' " -- How can you single out any one of them as screwier than others? Especially when she is a warm, loving person who enjoys the company of nature's finest creatures? :>)

Loren Muse Smith 6:36 AM  

I really, really get a kick out of themes like this, themes that use the black squares. And to have black cats crossing each other – isn’t it bad luck enough to have one cross your own path? Elegant!

@Evan – I had the opposite reaction to CALICO – it was icing on the cake for me. Also appreciated WAUL in the grid – a new one for me, too.

Go figure – SILENT N yesterday with no crosses, but CAESURA *completely* unknown to me.

Propellers before PROP PLANES.

SPACE MEN, STARSHIP, AIR DATE (This last one just feels Star Trechish)


He has lively fill that conjures up pictures: The PLUMP TUB of an EVIL QUEEN turning her STEELY stare on the line at the DELICATESSEN as she says, “I’M NEXT. Give me a ham ON RYE.”

Nice job, Jeff. PROPs to you; you SCOREd A HIT!

MetaRex 7:36 AM  


A really good theme subtly buzzes you with some ahas and hmmms about words and concepts. We all get that cats are sexy, so we know why Diana Rigg and Halle Berry and CHER parade around in a CAT SUIT instead of a DOG SUIT. But why exactly is it COPY-CAT instead of COPY-DOG (or COPY-APE) and CAT LADY instead of DOG LADY? Is there some kinda deep structure logic to the CAT hidden inside of RAT CATCHER or is just a v. nice coincidence? Same question about the way CAT slides smoothly into CATHER, MUSCAT, DELICATESSAN, and STAYCATION (v. nice, that one), while DOG is an obdurately unmixable three letters that stand aside from the rest of the English language, panting with tongue hanging out?

A really good theme has more than verbal cleverness. There's also a spatial, visual element. Jeff's theme has an exceptionally good visual. The hidden cats in the four plus signs and the central block are v.v. nice.


More at Catsup

chefbea 7:50 AM  

Started the puzzle last night and had it almost finished ,but went to sleep and almost finished it this morning. Spelled Barents wrong so that fouled me up on prop planes.

Reminded me of a recent puzzle...mind the gap,except these gaps were filled with cats...crazy!!

r.alphbunker 8:12 AM  

This brings to mind a prank that a student of mine once pulled on me.

I was teaching beginning programming and a student called me over because his programming wasn't working. I looked at his code and saw nothing wrong.

It was a real mystery because it was such a simple program. It turned out that what he had done was to change the color of the text of a line of the program to be white so that it blended into the background. When that line was removed the program worked fine.

Elle54 8:19 AM  

I solved this last night with the help of my muse, Shadow, the black cat who came from nowhere and adopted us a few years ago.

Glimmerglass 8:33 AM  

Some of the black cats are real cats (COPY CAT CRIME); some are not (STAYCATION). I Thought Rex would object, but he liked the theme anyway. Looks like WAUL was a leftover piece of caterwaul that didn't make the theme.

Unknown 8:38 AM  

The more I think about this one the more I like it. I saw the plus signs in the grid and the title and knew what the trick would be. Lots of fun clues and answers, TADPOLE, SOTHERE, STAYcatION, SPACEMEN in their STARSHIP. Just an all around good time, I'd say!

Anonymous 8:49 AM  

This was the cat's meow....or cat's it were...but bedews?? Really..

Anonymous 9:31 AM  

Got OSSIE (a black cat) early on, before figuring out the actual theme!

Anonymous 9:42 AM  

Liege in my book is not a feudal vassal but the lord.

The Free Dictionary 10:02 AM  

@ Anonymous, 9:42 AM --

A typical English word, can mean what it means, or the opposite:

1. A lord or sovereign to whom allegiance and service are due according to feudal law.
2. A vassal or subject owing allegiance and services to a lord or sovereign under feudal law.
3. A loyal subject to a monarch.

Garfield 10:07 AM  

@Anonymous, 8:49 --

Actually, BEDEWS is part of the theme. A normal cat has four toes on its paw and an extra toe up higher than the other toes just like a human thumb, which is known as the "dew claw".

Z 10:24 AM  

Ditto on the early recognition of the theme - RAT (CAT)CHER did it for me. The crosses make some interesting pairs: WILLA (CAT)HER is a CRAZY (CAT)LADY; The Pied Piper commits COPY(CAT) CRIMEs; and I suppose people who wear LATEX (CAT)SUITS prefer STAY(CAT)IONS to vacations.

BQE was a gimme for me thanks to Sufjan Stevens.

The XXX clue in the south gave me Ten and TepiDLY, so that little region is a bit messy for me.

Anyone care to argue about OCTOPODES vis-à-vis octopi? No? Good.

jberg 10:29 AM  

I started with @glimmerglass's reservations about the theme - some cats some not, some pronounced cat, some pronounced otherwise - but I like it anyway. The positive way to think of it is that the constructor thought of many different ways to work in a CAT. I also loved the symmetrical villains, including the should out to EVIL Doug.

Not so lovable: 'Leader' in the clue for 18D right above LDRS at 34D, and the ridiculous definition of crossword stalwart EELS at 59A. Although the cross-reference there is nice.

Writeovers: BARmaid before KEEP, Ten before TIC, and pUlLS (horse or tractor) before DUELS. And, of course, WAiLS before WAULS. I would have had ALCan before ALCOA, as well, but knew enough to wait for the cross.

Nice fun Sunday!

jackj 10:40 AM  

Another Jack J., Jack Jones, had a signature song in “Call Me Irresponsible” and it seems to me that with a few minor erasures and additions, Jeff Chen can piggyback on it to create his own signature tune, “Call Me Irrepressible”, for someone whose curiosity knows no bounds.

And, lucky for us, Jeff’s puzzles are filled with the clever, intelligent, at times zany meanderings of his super active mind, using his talents today to give us a clever theme with a “rebussed” CAT as a middle, combining entry of two separate words that then create phrases, names or words of the genus “cunning”.

The best, for me, were WILLA(CAT)HER crossing CRAZY(CAT)LADY plus the randy raving of the day for the PG-13 entry in the center of the puzzle, TOM(CAT)TED for “Sowed one’s wild oats”.**

The fill doesn’t disappoint, as our constructor is brimming with fascinations, giving us things like CAESURA right at the start, something to quickly get the juices stirring in order to deal with “One on the verge of croaking?”, a wonderful clue for an evolving frog, a TADPOLE.

“Person on tap?”, why of course that’s our local’s BARKEEP who is likely dispensing spirits “represented by “XXX” in the funnies”, and in this case that means he’s drawing us an ALE.

An immediate spin-off of the XXX’s asks us to guess a three-letter word for “One of the X’s in XXX” and while you might be tempted to write in TEN, after some hemming and hawing and remembering that the “Dramatist Sean” is Sean OCASEY, you’ll realize you were almost gulled by a great entry of TIC, it being just “One of the X’s” in a successful TIC-TAC-TOE game.

There are treasures to be found at every turn in this puzzle and Jeff is to be applauded for showing what intelligent fun Sunday puzzles can be in the hands of a master in the making!

Great work, Jeff; thank you!

**-(Perhaps Jeff will drop by and be kind enough to tell us what flight of imagination gave him the (absent) down crossing that should have been WAULCATERIE? Isn’t that the Ancient Toltec word for “Cathouse”?)

Anonymous 10:41 AM  

I, too, had Cropplane (vice propplane), thinking that if Mr. Chen was so unaware of his Spanish as to use the word anos (no tilde) which means "a**holes" and not years abroad, he would just as easily have used a hard-c for ceso (i.e. queso) for Monterrey cheddar.

Perhaps Mr. Chen is too young to know that. Cuantos anos tiene Ud., Sr. Chen? Probably one. 10:47 AM  

@Anonymous, 10:41 - You must be new here. That point has been beaten to death many times here.

@Z - (Hey, you brought it up, and what the heck, it's Sunday:)

What is the correct plural form for octopus?


I know it sounds strange. We sometimes think it should be octopi, or that octopus is both the singular and the plural form (as in 'sheep'), but no, the plural of octopus is octopuses.
It's been said before, but here's the fully-detailed (too-much-detailed) explanation of octopus. Don't worry if you get confused; this is more for the English-speakers who are confused about the whole matter:

"Octopus" comes from the Greek roots "okto" (eight) and "pous" (foot). It's a Latinized spelling, which is why the "ou" got changed to a "u" (see also "Constantinople" for "Konstantinoupolis"). The "-us" ending leads many people to believe that it's a second-declension Latin noun, but it's not. It's Greek third-declension, the root of which is "pod-":

The singular nominative was originally "pods", but the language evolved so that "ts", "ds", and "ths" all became "s". To compensate for the lost consonant, the preceding short vowel was lengthened (so "pods" > "poos", or "pous"). The rest of the declension -- "podos", "podi", and "poda" in the singular -- was unchanged, because there was no S to take away the D. The plural goes "podes", "podon", "pousi" (from "podsi"), and "podas". Therefore, going by Greek standards, the plural of "oktopous" would be "oktopodes" (or "octopus" > "octopodes").

The reason you don't see more "pus"/"pous" spellings is that, during the Renaissance, words tended to be derived from the undeclined roots themselves and not from the declined nominatives. A camera therefore rests on a tripod, not a tripodes.

Incidentally, "cactus" is another word that people assume to be Latin and make "cacti" the plural. The original word is "kaktos", the plural of which is "kaktoi".

So you can be pedantic and insist on "octopodes" and "cactoi"; you can be foolish and insist on "octopi" and "cacti"; or you can take a much preferable middle ground and just say "octopuses" and "cactuses" and leave all the silly etymological stuff for the people who care way too much about it.

Interestingly enough, the only areas where people do apparently care about Greek plurals is in dental-stem neuter nouns of the third declension. Take the root "dogmat-", for example. To form the singular, you add nothing to the stem (dogmat), and since Greek words can end only in N, S, or a vowel, the T disappears (dogma). To form the plural, you add an A to the stem (dogmata). (Stigma/stigmata is another example) There are few of these words but oddly enough, it comes off as uneducated not to know them. (if you're really interested, the "dogmat-" stem holds through the rest of the declension: dogmatos, dogmati, etc.)

OldCarFudd 10:49 AM  

I like the fact that all the pieces both in front of and behind the CATs are acceptable (though not always high-quality) stand-alone crossword answers. COPY, CRIME, RAT, CHER, WILLA, HER, CRAZY, LADY, TOM, TED, MUS, GRAPE, DELI, ESSEN, LATEX, SUIT, STAY, ION. Well done!

PROP PLANES is a redundant retronym. Back in the barnstorming days, prop planes were the only kinds of planes there were.

John V 10:54 AM  

To quote myself, as is my wont, from at least one prior Jeff Chen puzzle, "Jeff's puzzles are fun!" Must always look at his titles, e.g. Yin Yang, A Little Extra, Black Cats. Jeff is a master of the quirky grid.

All good. Saturday entry sneak attack from CAESURA, but what the heck.

So, Saturday brought us a HARD MAN, Sunday a LATEX CAT SUIT. Can whips and chains be far behind? Just askin', Will.

Good one, Jeff.

Jeff Chen 10:59 AM  

Tengo cuarenta y uno anos (not buttholes, but years).

I would have loved to include some of the randier theme answers on my list. Various *cathouse phrases made me laugh, but I doubt they would have passed the breakfast test.

Norm 11:34 AM  

This would have been a cute meta puzzle at Halloween. Titled "BAD LUCK?" or "WATCH OUT!" or something like that, with clues for the second part of each theme answer (CHER, ION, ESSEN, etc.) and the solver required to spot the hiding black cats on his/her own.

Milford 11:35 AM  

Easy, really fun puzzle, finished in one sitting, which for me is rare!

Got the theme at DELI CAT ESSEN. As @Rex noted, I liked how some theme clues were trickier because they worked alone, like DELI and LATEX. Also loved, as noted by @lms, that the black cats were crossing themselves - double bad luck!

@Anoa Bob - I would have pronounced CAESURA wrong as well. In Latin, all Cs are hard, so Caesar is pronounced "Ki - sar", much like Kaiser.

I have a much better clue for 28A - my maiden name! Yay, my family made the NYTimes! I must say I've never seen our name refer to egg sorting. But having CRAZY cross SIZER makes sense.

Sandy K 11:37 AM  

Got the theme from the title and WILLA CAT HER...

WAUL and ADASTRA? were new to me, but gettable from the crosses.

The rest was a lot of fun to fill in!
Thanks Jeff Chen!

Sir Hillary 11:43 AM  

Great Sunday fare, with my favorite elements being the aforementioned standalone quality of the before-CAT and after-CAT words (@OldCarFudd) and the symmetrical villians (@jberg).

Ellen S 11:51 AM  

@metarex, I don't know about why there aren't copy-dogs, but there are plenty of dog ladies. 40 years ago I lived briefly in Red Hook, in the Hudson Valley. The day after we moved in, the dogs ran away. I called Information to find out the number for animal control, to begin my search. "Animal control?" the operator said. "Oh, you mean the dog lady down in Rhinebeck." (No problem finding the dogs, by the way. Apparently everyone in Duchess County knew we were the people with two Dalmatians who had bought the Barraco house. The Dog Lady told me the dogs had been spotted in someone's yard about 10 miles from us. )

It is easier to become a CRAZY (cat) LADY, though. stray cats show up in greater numbers than dogs and take up less space. When I was down to two, both over 10 years old, I thought I could see a ray of hope of catless future. But dang, a bratty adolescent kitten showed up and I couldn't find her owner nohow, so up to three. Back to two now--I think Eppie, the new one, drove Mickey to an early grave (at age 19).

Oh, fun puzzle, @Jeff Chen. Perfect for a Sunday. Love how @anonymous 10:41 is trying to make his error your fault. What kind of ano would do that?

Mel Ott 11:54 AM  

EELS prey on OCTOPI? Maybe moray EELS, I guess??

Rube 12:41 PM  

Had jack for 72A, then realized there were 2 "R"s in Monterrey so this was referring to the Mexican town. Took it out and tried to fit queso in, then gave up and waited for the crosses. Now I'm wondering if cheese is another word for money, aka kale, long green, etc.

TESSERAE, SPARE TIRES and EVIL QUEEN are great. BEDEWS, SOONYI and ADHEM... not so great.

For you old timers here, the last I new, Crazy Cat Lady moved to the LA TIMES and now goes by just Crazy Cat. I'm sure she would, as I do, love this theme and puzzle, as evidenced by my new, (temporary), avatar.

Glad to see Blogger got rid of that tiresome message about "..navigating away...".

Cheerio 12:44 PM  

Great Sunday puzzle! Usually Sundays are a bit of a drag, but this one was lovely. It used the bigger size really well and probably would have been less elegant if it had been smaller.

lawprof 1:12 PM  

This was everything the Sunday puzzle should be. Clever theme that helped the solve.

In my case I had not one, but two aha moments. The first when I recognized the cat theme; the second, some moments later, when I realized that it continued into the next answer. So, for example, I got CRAZY(cat), aha, then I saw CRAZY(cat)LADY, double aha. Thank you, Jeff Chen.

Another thank you to for the edifying explication of the plural of octopus. I've always said "octopi," but no more. See, you can teach an old dog at least one new trick. My only reservation is that the word "octopus" - at least when uttered in polite company - elicits a blush, and the newly-learned plural exacerbates the problem. (I can hear it now: "Aw, grow up!")

PS: My captcha is "oymocat." So, three ahas today.

lawprof 1:14 PM  

This was everything the Sunday puzzle should be. Clever theme that helped the solve.

In my case I had not one, but two aha moments. The first when I recognized the cat theme; the second, some moments later, when I realized that it continued into the next answer. So, for example, I got CRAZY(cat), aha, then I saw CRAZY(cat)LADY, double aha. Thank you, Jeff Chen.

Another thank you to for the edifying explication of the plural of octopus. I've always said "octopi," but no more. See, you can teach an old dog at least one new trick. My only reservation is that the word "octopus" - at least when uttered in polite company - elicits a blush, and the newly-learned plural exacerbates the problem. (I can hear it now: "Aw, grow up!")

Joe The Juggler 1:16 PM  

The board also has a very interesting symmetry. I thought the resulting sort of spiral shape of black squares near the center was going to be significant somehow (cat's whiskers or something). But I looked at it from close up, squinted at it, looked at from across the room and I don't see anything--maybe a galaxy or a distorted swastika.

It was a relatively easy solve for me (31 minutes is quick for me), though I was thrown early on trying to make WAUL somehow caterwaul and somehow part of the theme.

lawprof 1:21 PM  

This is the second time the comment form has refused my captcha entry and asked me to retype it. When I resubmit, the comment appears twice. Pretty annoying.

Carole Shmurak 1:22 PM  

Like Rube, I'm wondering about Monterrey Cheddar. I too tried to make it queso, then settled for CESO (and CROPPLANES). So why PESO? Cheddar = money? Cheese = money?

Norm 1:28 PM  

Yup. Cheese = money. So does kale and bread. I wonder how extensive a meal you could create. Theme, anyone?

Doodah 1:29 PM  

I love the nice little touch that all the post-CAT parts of the theme answers, clued with the hyphen, could stand alone. This would make a perfectly fine themeless puzzle if CRIME, HER, TED, GRAPE, SUIT, CHER, LADY, ESSEN, & ION were clued on their own. Nice!

Notsofast 1:50 PM  

Loved the TADPOLE clue! A fun puzzle. Clean and crisp.Good job Jeff! A

Z 1:55 PM  

@Rube and @ Carole Shmurak - I would not be surprised if the number of synonyms/slang terms for "money" is second only to synonyms/slang terms for "penis" in the English language - okay, maybe third after "sex" and "penis". Since penis references continue to be non-NYTX-words and sex references are usually very oblique, guessing a money term, especially with some sort of foreign word indicator, is a good solving strategy.

The Book of Alternative Records 2:03 PM  

Paul Dickson (USA) holds the record for collecting the most synonyms for any word. He found more than 3,000 synonyms for the English word "drunken". All of them are included in a book called "Drunk: the Definitive Drinker's Dictionary". Dickson is looking for even more synonyms - you are invited to share them at

Masked and Anonymo7Us 2:42 PM  

So, there's no CATOCTOPI or CARATCAT? Nor CATSCROD, I reckon. A mere nit, tho. Loved this puz. Said it once or twice, and will say it plenty more... Jeff Chen is one of my fave puzmakers, bar none. SundaythUmbsUp.

RAINED.SANDDOGS woulda been a CATchy-lookin' entry. Hard to beat LATEXCATSUIT, tho, for sheer entertainment. Eat its dust, Netflix.

Initial reaction to grid: great layout. Even better, when its pluses become part of the theme. This Chen dude once had a grid full of U-shaped black squared jobbers, which also participated in that theme. Glory days. Glory days.

@31: CAESURA was sure no gimme for the likes of m&e. In fact, one of the hardest things in the puz. May just have to sign up for one of yer classes, since am reasonably close nearby. Is it OK for the student to wear a mask? I'll be the dude with the sorta U-shaped, Lone Ranger-style set-up, askin' a lot of stupid, twangy questions. har.

Carola 2:51 PM  

Thought it was the CAT's pajamas! Very nifty theme, and creative, entertaining cluing throughout. Took me a bit to CATch on, since - as @OldCarFudd noted - the segments on each side of the black CAT are words that make sense on their own. Thus I doubted WILLA for a long time - the author surely wouldn't be referred to by only her first name. Finally noticed that COPYCAT fit together with CRIME and got the significance of the cross shapes and the clues with dashes. Very fun to track down the rest.

Loved it that there's A RAT hiding out on the East coast for the RAT CATCHER to go after. Also funny that WAUL crosses BARK.

@Jeff Chen - I loved it. Can't wait for your next one.

Anonymous 2:57 PM  

Pretty much one of the more boring Sunday puzzles, very low payoff. C'est la vie.

syndy 2:59 PM  

I have pronounced CEASURA ala senor Borgia.The fill was so fine it kept me from seeing the forest for too long-yes Jeff it's ypur fault! Some of the"-" envoked cats-SUIT,COPY,LADY but some didn't? GRAPE?CRIME? I was done before I made the leap across the Gap.WILLA?WAUL was My final entry and my Headsmack I felt like Jeffs avatar kitty!SO so very much fun.Next time I'm gonna get in front of you oh trickmeister!

Want CATsUp On That? 3:10 PM  

p.s. @31: Dude! Have U watched that "Black Cat" Karloff/Lugosi flick in that poster? Primo, old-style schlock. Real different feel, tho. Recommended. Also, just saw one called "Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies", that was pretty good -- altho not as high-budget as the Vampire-based one. Maybe we can discuss, after class.


mac 3:48 PM  

Very good puzzle!

Not sure why, but I had a hard time getting a foothold at the start. Went around and around, and finally figured out the theme with Willa Cather.

@JohnV: chain/iron is in there already.

sanfranman59 7:25 PM  

This week's relative difficulty ratings. See my 8/1/2009 post for an explanation and my 10/15/2012 post for an explanation of a tweak I've made to my method. In a nutshell, the higher the ratio, the higher this week's median solve time is relative to the average for the corresponding day of the week.

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

Mon 5:45, 6:12, 0.93, 17%, Easy
Tue 8:31, 8:37, 0.99, 46%, Medium
Wed 10:47, 11:44, 0.92, 30%, Easy-Medium
Thu 15:04, 17:02, 0.88, 24%, Easy-Medium
Fri 24:49, 20:49, 1.19, 84%, Challenging
Sat 26:56, 24:28, 1.10, 81%, Challenging
Sun 31:36, 29:32, 1.07, 75%, Medium-Challenging

Top 100 solvers

Mon 3:41, 3:39, 1.01, 54%, Medium
Tue 5:04, 5:01, 1.01, 54%, Medium
Wed 6:22, 6:29, 0.98, 43%, Medium
Thu 8:48, 9:34, 0.92, 30%, Easy-Medium
Fri 14:42, 11:47, 1.25, 84%, Challenging
Sat 15:40, 14:36, 1.07, 70%, Medium-Challenging
Sun 19:58, 19:31, 1.02, 59%, Medium

Tita 8:30 PM  

Being nlissfuly unaware of any Simpsons characters worked in my favor, making this puzzle really hard for me! I had much more fun having about 70% of the grid filled before the AHA moment came.
As @Rex says, some of the answers stood alone, making the trick even stealthier.

As I solved, I used the highlighting feature on all the "-"s.
When I was getting nowhere, I stood back to look at the grid, noticed the very obvious plusses, and those critters pounced right out.

The W of WAUL was the last letter in the grid. Love that the CATer is missing.

My brother's 18 year old black cat Baloo seems to be nearing the end of his 9th life, so I see this as a tribute.


@Carola - nice ches re: ARAT & BARK.
@MetaRex - love your musings.
@loren - great story.

And to Mr. Chen - bravo - my 2 tuxedos and I are erWAULing with delight.

Sparky 8:47 PM  

Went around a couple of times. Had DELI. Penny dropped with COPYCATCRIME. Then checked out the other black crosses. On and off all day. Finally finished with great satisfaction. NE corner last to go.

I've said this before: to me XXX in comics means hooch or moonshine not ALE.

Nice puzzle @Jeff Chen.

Janet 9:36 PM  

This was a struggle. Never got the theme. More trouble than pleasure.

Ellen S 9:44 PM  

@sparky, xxx=moonshine for me too, but I figure in crossword puzzles words mean whatever the constructors want them to. My new, accepting self, no more grammar nazi. And yet, @englishforum--keep those lessons coming. I love that stuff, though the new me will accept any plural for octopus. And even the old me wouldn't know a declension if I tripped over it. Or fell in it. Or it bit me.

Anonymous 11:05 PM  

My partner is an organic chemist and says that chemically there is no such thing as ethanes, because there are no multiple forms of ethane. So a plural of ethane is chemically imposssible. What do others think?

paulsfo 11:25 PM  

It took me a long time to figure out that the theme also involved the word *before* CAT. Doh.

My favorite clues were for IRS and DUELS.

My favorite part of the *comments* was when, about 26 paragraphs (or 73 minutes) into his/her post, unselfconsciously started a sentence with "Interestingly enough...." ;)

paulsfo 11:30 PM I apologize in advance if my prev comment offended you; it just struck me funny. 11:57 PM  

My favorite part of the *comments* was when told an anonymous that the discussion of ano had been beaten to death here in the past, then published a tome on the correct plural of octopus which has been beaten to death here in the past.

Ellen S 5:15 AM  

So y'all actually read's essay on plurals and it provided your favorite part of the comments.

@anonymous 11:05, are we now going to have a plurals discussion centered around chemical compounds? I know more about chemistry than I do about declensions, which ain't saying much, but I guess pluralizing ETHANE would be like breathing in oxygens, or getting one of them there internets for your computer.

xyz 3:53 PM  

I'm definitely not insider-geeky enough to make this one easy. Had no idee about the dashes and black cats

Anonymous 11:06 PM  

I thought "waul" was part of the theme -- somewhere in the recesses of my brain is the word "caterwauling." I think it's the word my mom used to describe our family cat outside her bedroom window, wailing to get in, at 5 a.m.

mhoonchild 7:29 PM  

I finished the puzzle without figuring out the theme -- wrote all the (partial) words for the --- clues, but didn't see any pattern. Glad there was an explanation, even if I'm too dull on Sunday mornings to figure it out! Wasn't too hard; would have been a lot easier if I'd known there were cats hiding in the black squares.

Anonymous 6:23 PM  

Isn't it improper to have "oats" in a clue (63a) when you have "oat" inan answer (64d)? Especially when they intersect?

Spacecraft 11:01 AM  

After two so-so lead-ins to the weekend, we're treated to yet another "Chensterpiece." Great, fun solve, and not easy, either.

With topside entries like CALOCO and MASCOT, I thought the CAT theme was pretty straightforward. Ha! Shoulda known better. Didn't know what "CRIME" meant, with just the "--" for a clue, but it was a good word, and it fit, and I figured I'd figure it out later on.

Coming to CHER, I thought, well, she's been compared to a black (-haired) cat; I'll buy it...

Finally came to 63a. Sowed one's wild oats. Hmm, how you gonna get all that into three letters? They crossed out to be TOM. ??? And then, at last, the AHA! I love those moments.

My bullets: Clued STEELY without Dan. I remember my EURAILpass; I put many miles on that sucker.A 9-letter entry starting with AMST that is NOT AMSTerdam!

An extra layer of brilliance that each before- and after-CAT part is a stand-alone. Some people's brains scare me. Jeff, yours is one. You most definitely did SCOREAHIT!

Dirigonzo 12:49 PM  

The cats remained invisible the entire time PP and I were filling in the grid so we ended up with some answers that looked non-sensical but seemed solid from the crosses. I stared at the finished grid for several minutes before one of the feline critters jumped out and showed me the phrases made whole by a CAT, and then it all made sense (after we fixed a wrong letter or two). The puzzle PER SE is a thing of beauty but we would have had a lot more fun if we had spotted the black cats before we finished it.

Anonymous 9:20 PM  

Maybe I was just having a bad week (Super Bowl prep had me aflutter and afforded less time with the puzzle than usual), but I never caught the theme and too many "huh?" moments in the cluing made this a big DNF. Sorry, Jeff. It sounded like a good one.

Anonymous 9:28 AM  

Caesura is mentioned in the movie "Eddie and the Cruisers".

Solving in Seattle 5:32 PM  

Just finished the Sunday syndy puzzle. Solved it, then went back to look at the "-" clues, and didn't have one. Had to come here to learn how the theme worked. Flunked this IQ test.

Mark Jennings 12:15 PM  

You guys are really something....or I am just really dumb. Even though I cracked the puzzle theme quickly with Staycation, I struggled with others. I'm really bad with names, so Ossie, Willa Cather, Crazy Cat Lady, Ocasey, Ames, Soonyi (WTF), Elke, and Matilda were too much for me. Never heard of a muscat grape a "tub" boat, sase, alate or liege. Still managed to get about 75% before giving up. Will keep trying so I can be a pro like you guys!

Z 3:37 PM  

@Mark Jennings - Welcome. Come around often enough and you will soon know your Crossbirds and CrossCheeses and RRN Popes and loads of other arcana.

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