Hostage playwright 1958 / SUN 2-24-13 / Boxer nicknamed Hands of Stone / Best-selling author who served as nurse in Civil War / Postseason football game played in Mobile Ala / Big name in '60s peace activism / Candy since 1927 / Four-time baseball All-Star Jose

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Constructor: Joe DiPietro

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: "I Surrender" — Nine [Back down] clues. Each answer runs BACKward and then veers DOWN

Word of the Day: ARS (29A: Some seen in mirrors?) —
The letter "R" ... here pluralized. See, there are "R"s in the word "mirrors," so ... tada?
• • •

This is an ingenious puzzle. Something about its structure made it tougher-than-usual. Shouldn't have been, once I grasped the concept, but it was. Couldn't think of right words to go in missing slots much of the time—what does one do to a white flag (I could think only of RAISE)? Likewise, couldn't come up with the GIVE part of (reversed) GIVE SOME GROUND for a while. I think the cluing difficulty may have been slightly elevated as well. Fill manages to be fairly solid despite demanding theme. I despise ARS — it's terrible fill, and a cutesy "?" clue is about the worst thing you can do to terrible fill. It's still terrible, but now it's irksome and hostile. ARS? Come on. But that's about the only vomitous thing in the grid. There was some stuff I didn't know, like CLEM (38A: Mrs. Miniver's husband in "Mrs. Miniver") ("oh, in "Mrs. Miniver"! I'm glad you put that in the clue because otherwise I might have confused her with the Mrs. Miniver in "Sanford & Son"), but mainly my slowness was due to tricky / vague cluing and failures of pattern recognition. Oh, and PALTERS. Don't know that word (77A: Talks without sincerity). Am I being sincere? Yes. Ironically, or aptly, yes.

Your back downs:
  • 53A: PULL OUT
  • 112A: CRY UNCLE

Got started quickly with FIFER at 1A: Drummer's accompanier (took me somewhat longer to get [Ball partner] (ARNAZ)). My favorite wrong answer of the day was at 6A: Best-selling author who served as a nurse in the Civil War. I wrote in AL CAPP. And then thought, "Whoa. That is *fascinating*." I'm serious. Two seconds later I realized my considerable error (it's Louisa May ALCOTT). Just guessed the [Big name in '60s peace activism] was ONO. Just glad it wasn't U NU. Managed to pull BEHAN out of my crossword bag o' tricks (32D: "The Hostage" playwright, 1958). I've been burned by him before. Actually I pulled BEHA- from my bag—couldn't remember if last letter was "R" or "N." The only expression I associate with Roberto DURAN is "No mas!" so 123A: Boxer nicknamed "Hands of Stone" took a good bit of effort. REYES, however, was considerably easier (5D: Four-time baseball All-Star Jose). Helps that he's still playing. And that I actually follow baseball. I don't know if SENIOR BOWL is original or not, but it feels so, and I liked it for that reason. I can't remember ever watching one, but I'm aware of its existence—good enough (67D: Postseason football game played in Mobile, Ala.). PEZ turns 100 in 14 years (76D: Candy since 1927). Get to work, commemorative crossword constructors! I'm sure you'll have competition.
    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

    P.S. If you haven't yet downloaded "American Red Crosswords" (24 original puzzles from the country's top constructors, ed. by Patrick Blindauer, intro by Will Shortz), you should do that. Donate money to the Red Cross and get a mess of good puzzles. It's win-win.

    P.P.S. a biggish announcement: "American Red Crosswords" will be available for your iPhone/iPad very soon. This is kind of a big deal. Very exciting. I'll keep you posted.


    Anonymous 12:10 AM  

    wow, I'm first! Took awhile to get the theme but I knew something was up. Like Rex, getting it didn't make it easier. Mostly fun but getting first words of theme answers was often a struggle.

    Biggest frustration/joy: LOI for Pascal's "law" -- should have seen that.

    Pretty impressive puzzle!

    Anonymous 12:18 AM  

    We agree on the ARS answer too. Took a while to achieve completion because a rerun of Shawshank Redemption was more fulfilling

    RJ 12:36 AM  

    Long time lurker here.

    Never was there so aptly entitled a puzzle as this.

    Not only did I surrender, but this puzzle gave me a migraine. A real turn off all the lights, puking my guts out migraine. I figured out most of the gimmick pretty quickly, but trying to read theme answers backward gave me the headache. I, literally, tried to just write them out by hand in reverse order, but I just physically couldn't do it.

    So, if you consider giving in to torture surrender, I surrendered.

    Anonymous 12:52 AM  

    I caught on to the theme immediately, solved the top half of the grid, and then died. Couldn't make headway in the bottom half at all. Very embarrassing, infuriating. Brilliant puzzle though!

    Jeff510 12:53 AM  

    Conspiracy theory. The entries on the web for "palters" were invented just for this puzzle. You heard it here first

    jae 1:01 AM  

    Man it took me a long time to get the theme.  I probably had 80% of this done before the "a ha" happened.  I kept working an anagram solution.  So, medium-tough for me too.  Why not" ____  poetica" instead?

    Only erasures were spelling corrections, e.g. ARNeZ to ARNAZ ( not the first time for that one).

    Possible tough cross for non sports types.  FIFER/REYES (an s maybe)?

    Nice Sun. challenge and, I suspect, not easy to construct.  Liked it.

    webwinger 1:09 AM  

    Well, it didn’t give me a migraine, but I can certainly see it having that effect on the constructor. Hard to imagine creating something like this! Got the theme fairly early on, without which it’s almost inconceivable one could finish the puzzle. Like Rex said, even with theme in hand it was still pretty challenging to come up with all of the “back downs”. Rest of the fill generally impressive too. Was able to munch through it pretty steadily once theme answers fell into place. Started with CHAIN for ball’s partner. LUSTRE gave me pause because I didn’t know the team nickname crossing it—should have googled but didn’t. Took me well over an hour, but worth it. Looking forward to the iPhone version of ARC—will take it with me on the trip to Brooklyn.

    C. Ross Word 3:34 AM  

    Enjoyed this one quite a bit, except for PALTERS; had PAtTERS. @Jeff510 LOL at your Conspiracy Theory! Crunchy Sunday but took under an hour. @Rex, thanks for the word I will carry around today: vomitous! On to breakfast.

    paulsfo 4:00 AM  

    I was going quite slowly and finally decided I'd never get the theme (or finish without it) after seeing that I had parts of answers (beginnings of theme answers) that couldn't be starts or ends of words forward *or* backward. So I used AcrossLite to 'reveal' one theme answer. Maybe if I'd had the *ends) of some themes I would have seen it without help.
    Anyway, in my case, I was then able to proceed by figuring out theme answers.
    I liked the clues "Indoor look?" and, especially, "Dos but not dont's."

    evil doug 4:18 AM  

    'Never on Sunday', as you know---too doggone expensive for a paper solver, and ordinarily it's just busy-work---but I always take a peek here. And this looks like one I wish I'd tackled.

    Devious theme that actually meets the 'back down' conceit. I promise: No French jokes today. Well, maybe just one: "I would rather have a German division in front of me than a French one behind me." —General George S. Patton

    No idea on how they're clued, but I love the looks of the answers: pylons, epaulet, sheave, stoners (anybody see the Eagles history on Showtime? Talk about some drug issues), etches, gospel, decor....

    Also: fire at (kind of a nice theme counterpoint right there at 1D), cat-eyed, oral exam, poplar, balsa, mobius, hatred, peers, triflers, entomb, sprig, linger over, Senior Bowl, Tootle (hope it was offered as the Little Golden Book about a train?)....

    Even the three- and four-letter fillers aren't all too shabby: snit, Tab (hope it was clued as the diet cola?), Pip (Mrs. Havisham and 'Great Expectations'?), fin, Pez---and the fun date combo of "lout, bind, tied, peep, flex, slap, eats, eel, hose, meld, aah...."

    Aw, maybe just one more: "Raise your right hand if you like the French....Raise both hands if you are French."


    Doris 6:07 AM  

    Guess I'm beating The Bard to the punch:

    "And be these juggling fiends no more believed
    That PALTER with us in a double sense.
    That keep the word of promise to our ear
    And break it to our hope. I'll not fight with thee."
    Macbeth, Act V, scene viii

    Where would we be without the Man from Stratford?
    (I still think he wrote the plays. So there, Derek Jacobi!)

    Bob Kerfuffle 6:19 AM  

    Fantastic puzzle! Fantastically hard to solve, but awesome construction, very satisfying when finished.

    Can't recall having seen PALTER before, but ELIAS Canetti had to be thus. Only other write-over at 57 D, thought Ms Berger might be SELMA before SENTA, then seemed obvious in hindsight.

    Campesite 6:40 AM  

    With all the reverse words, a bit of a difficult puzzle to find an error when Mr Happy Pencil did not appear, but had PAtTERS for PALTERS. Dang.

    MASTER PLAN felt fresh, and it's a good thing PULL OUT was a theme entry.

    I think I've finally purged all the EPAULETS from my wardrobe that snuck in there 5-10 years ago.


    Anonymous 7:27 AM  

    New commenter. Love the Blog. Never got the theme, even after staring at the "capitu" part of capitulate and recognizing as backwards beginning if the full word. Just couldn't find that late!! Played with it for about 45 mins before cheating and looking here for theme. Then finished up in about 15 mins over my usual time. Diabolical!

    chefbea 7:38 AM  

    Started the puzzle last night and couldn't figure out the theme. Tried to get it this morning then I too surrendered and came here. DNF

    We've had Kotter and Senta both this week

    Elle54 8:03 AM  

    This was a great puzzle. I loved it! I just kept plugging along. Finally got the theme. Ended up with one mistake PATTERS.
    Really, really liked. Didn't mind ARS. what is PBA?

    loren muse smith 8:05 AM  

    @Rex – “I wrote in AL CAPP. And then thought, "Whoa. That is *fascinating*." I'm serious.” Same thing happened to me, but I had “Al Gore.” YEMINI crickets!

    Like @jae- I didn’t see the trick until I was almost completely done. I kept looking for some kind of AYE trick. At one point I briefly wondered if it could just be a Sunday with absolute gobbledigook for the theme answers and hence “back” the solver “down” until he says “I surrender!” I swear I entertained that.

    @jae – I was confident with ARNAZ, but BIAS. . .

    Early on, “Ibsen” for BEHAN gave me the N for NEBULAE. Oh well. I’ll take it.

    @Z – I bet you read Is Your Mama a LLAMA? to your son, too!

    Near malapop with DRAW for TIED.

    @Campsite - I thought I had finished, too, with “patters” and “Etias.”

    What the heck is a PIP? This Bette Davis quote about the role of Scarlett O’Hara is the only time I’ve heard it:

    Studio head Jack Warner had optioned Gone with the Wind in 1936 as a possible vehicle for Bette Davis. That was during their most heated contract disputes. In one of their many arguments about her desire for better roles, he promised that if she filmed the latest bad script he had sent her, he had a great role in a yet-to-be-published book waiting for her. "I bet it's a pip," she said, storming out of his office. When she tried to walk out on her contract, he let his option on the book pass.

    Terrific job, Joe. I went from utterly bewildered to deeply impressed.

    webwinger 8:14 AM  

    An afterthought. (It’s Sunday, and seems like not many are awake yet, so I’ll let myself blog twice.) Turned to Google to get FABLES from “apologues”. In past times would have looked that up in a big ol’ book (which exact action I noted was mentioned recently by one of our number) without feeling any compunction. Why not think of G as just the great dictionary in the sky? Eugene Maleska, R.I.P.

    Glimmerglass 8:25 AM  

    It took me forEVER to catch on to the theme, but once caught, the puzzle became a medium for me. I agree about ARS, what a terrible clue (maybe ARS is short for arsehole). I had PATTERS for 77A -- makes perfectly good sense, and EtIAS might be somebody's name -- maybe there really us an Etias Cannetti. Could be. Fun puzzle.

    imsdave 8:27 AM  

    Pretty standard lead up to the ACPT. Failed yesterday. Took an hour today. I didn't get the theme until CRYUNCLE. And it's a damn good thing I did as I was staring at a lot of blank puzzle at that point. This was definitely one where the theme was huge in enabling the solve.

    Extremely nice puzzle. Thank you Mr. DiPietro.

    Smitty 8:33 AM  

    I knew something was up when LAG and AFRO formed an across word starting with LF.
    I thought maybe I SURRENDER meant there was an I between L and F. Finally got WAVE THE WHITE FLAG and figured out the theme.
    The other theme answers were relatively easy compared to the fill - which was murder.
    Challenging for me Liked the puzzle -didn't like FUEL SPILL (OIL SPILL) Loved PBS big BIRD

    Mohair Sam 8:40 AM  

    Fun puzzle.

    Thanks @Doris for the MacBeth reference. Great find. Palter! How could we have forgotten? What a word, I join the group which settled for patter.

    Took us about an hour to discover the "back" thing, and another minute to realize the importance of "down" - we had enough fill by then to nail the theme answers in good time. We feel good about finishing in a fast time (for us), altough technically this one falls into the DNF category thanks to the blasted PALTER.

    Mohair Sam 8:43 AM  

    Hey Smitty - to Ululate is to play one of those ululzela's that ruined the South Africa World Cup a few years back.

    Anonymous 8:50 AM  

    Professional Bowlers Association

    Anonymous 9:00 AM  

    I finished, but with the same mistake everyone else had -- PATTERS for PALTERS, I suffered horribly through the solving, meaning I LOVED it. Finally caught onto the theme (very late) at CRY UNCLE (before that I knew it went backward but not down). Once I had theme, it was smooth sailing. One of the cleverest, most fiendish puzzles I've ever seen.

    Michael Hanko 9:16 AM  

    A crossword friend recommended that I, a habitual Sunday-skipper, try this clever puzzle, and I'm glad I did, or I would've rued my decision like ED.

    Grids in which answers must be entered backwards provide an extra level of brain exercise for those of us—I imagine an ever-increasing contingent—who use computer applications instead of paper to solve. It's really a mindf**k to have to type a long phrase in reverse. I suppose my having done this puzzle will stave off Alzheimer's for a bit longer.

    I actually chastised the puzzle out loud when ARS finally fell. This misdirection feels cheap, not delightful, and I am a big fan of misdirective clues.

    Anonymous 9:17 AM  

    Utterly bewildered - and headachy if not migrained - to deeply impressed.awesome. Except ARS. That's unforgiveable. Like much of the puzzle until the theme came clear, it was obviously "right" but made no sense. Had to wait for Rex to get the strained psuedo-"meaning."

    MetaRex 9:23 AM  

    CRY UNCLE was especially me a painful sense of an arm being twisted...

    Is there a problem w/ the negativity of the theme? I think not...negativity sometimes works better than positivity.

    An example...I think the "back down" theme has a lot more zing than an upbeat reverse theme "upright" with thematic answers like HONEST AS THE DAY IS LONG going up and then to the right would have. The sagging FLAG and the other downward final parts of Joe DiPietro's thematic answers are a nice metaphor for giving up, while the upward and rightward movement of an "upright" theme just doesn't seem that interesting.

    ONO I Won't Back Down

    Anonymous 9:28 AM  

    Took me forever to catch on...kept expecting to find "throw in the towel" somewhere, which I was so ready to do until that wonderful "aha" moment...lovely Sunday puzzle

    Anonymous 9:32 AM  

    29A: Word at 10:00 from Leo's roar.

    joho 9:51 AM  

    Like @jae and @loren muse smith getting the theme came to me late at WAVETHEWHITEFLAG. With FL at the end of the line I was thinking rebus but finally let my mind bend down around the corner and voila: aha! LOVED it.

    All of the theme answers are so in the language, not stilted or forced, why they'd all be great doing in the right direction!

    I had nATTERS before I got PALTERS which is a word I learned today ... good!

    Not long ago we had ULULATE. Today an already great answer was transformed into CAPITULATE: Brilliant!

    Liked INTERS and ENTOMB both in the grid even if a bit grim.

    Joe DiPietro, I always look forward to your puzzles and today you outdid yourself ... this is one of the smoothest, most ingenious Sundays in quite a while! Congratulations!

    joho 9:55 AM  

    Whoops, that's "going" in the right direction!

    Anonymous 10:05 AM  

    FearlessKim here: Every point that I would have made has already been made here, so I'll simply say "Bravo, Joe!" I loved it.

    jackj 10:14 AM  

    What an absolute delight!!

    Nerdy, word-loving dyslexics who tackle Joe DiPietro’s brilliant puzzle will be celebrating, thinking this is likely as much fun as one can have with their clothes still on.

    And all of us who stuck with the puzzle to the final bell, when Roberto DURAN pleaded “No mas”, are likely more inclined to “Stand up” rather than “Back down” and instead of BEATAHASTYRETREAT will likely congratulate themselves and ULULATE a hearty NEVERSAYNEVER.

    It must have been a logistical and mental nightmare for the constructor to find the means to include nine clever theme entries but leave it to Joe to still complement his theme with some really sparkling fill.

    Of course, PALTERS might as well have been the start of an extra theme answer, but STANCH, MASTERPLAN, “Is your Mama a LLAMA?”, (does Ogden Nash know about this book?) and the VP candidate Paul Ryan exercise clue of “Show off one’s “guns” for FLEX are fun and smart non-theme entries.

    My least favorite clue today was “Some seen in mirrors” that the crosses told me must be ARS and there it sat, an unknown until in a fit of frenzy, something pointed me to the three “R’s” in “mirrors” which answered the question but didn’t earn the clue any forgiveness.

    Best clue today was “Inside look”, something that seemed familiar for the typical “X-ray” inspired clue but this time it was for DÉCOR and that was a beauty!.

    Finally, my most trying tangle with the puzzle came in the southern New England coastal section of the grid as the “Slightest complaint” seemed to clue BEEF, which made the only possible (if terrible) answer for “Humdinger” to be FAB, but that meant that the flowering tree would have to be of the FOPLAR variety until PEEP volunteered to replace BEEF, PIP replaced FAB and all ended nicely.

    A fabulous puzzle, Joe!

    (Sorry about the length of this review but the puzzle was so good, proper attention must be paid).

    Charley 10:18 AM  

    As others have said, it took me 2/3 of the fill before I grokked the theme. But once I did it went quickly. And palters? My auto-correct wants to make it pilfers.

    Sir Hillary 10:27 AM  

    Absolutely brilliant.

    Clued like a Fri/Sat - I love that!

    Hands up for PAtTERS/EtIAS.

    Never even saw ARS.

    I imagine Joe spent some time on this:


    Duran-Leonard I (1980, Montreal) is one of the greatest fights I have ever seen. I remember Duran by his Spanish nickname "Manos de Piedra" which is similar to our constructor's name!

    Thanks, Joe!

    Sir Hillary 10:28 AM  

    Oops, meant this:


    JC66 10:35 AM  

    A great puzzle with a write-up to match.

    Bravo and thanks to Joe & Rex.

    wordie 10:43 AM  

    Loved it!!!!

    DNF due to PAtTERS and beef etc. in the mid-Atlantic.

    I solved it without noticing the down parts of the theme answers. I thought of it early on but didn't see it working at that point and later never noticed. I thought maybe it was part of the theme, since surrender ends with ender and the endings of the phrases were missing. Oh well. I still really enjoyed it as it seems everyone else did as well.

    Danp 10:53 AM  

    Great Sunday puzzle. Got the theme from the BACK DOWN's. What else could they mean? I couldn't believe DiPietro found so many good ways to say surrender.

    I had PANDERS for palters, but couldn't imagine what ADWT stood for and never bothered to google Canetti. Also had BEHAR and REBULAE. Oops.

    I actually liked the clue for ARS more than I would have if he had clued it as part of a Latin phrase or some obscure acronym.

    Tita 10:58 AM  

    A 2-part AHA...struggled and wandered for a looong time...
    Part 1 - way down at 115A did I get that things were BACKwards...WAVETHEWHITEF_ huh?

    Part 2 - Earlier, at 112D, had CLE, changed it to iLE when I got NUT, as CN isn't a possible combo...
    AHA! AAH... HAA!

    Bleedover with LUSTRE.
    Fantastic bleedover with ULULATE! (How can such a weird word possibly be a coincidence...?!)

    Oops - Rex showed me my dnf...I was so delighted with this puzzle, that I didn't notice that I had PAtTERS/EtIAS...
    I guess I was moshing panders with praters...

    That was my last section...
    Had bERATE, and bED for Made one...I guess that answer would have required a '?' to work.
    Damn, as I was feeling so smart with that entry.

    I know why that section was tough - didn't know the author, 71D could be ATno or ATWT, so weighted for the crosses...
    And trying to infer backwards writing is drah!

    A perfect Sunday - a struggle, with 2 awesome revelations - thanks so much, Mr. DiPietro!

    ArtO 11:12 AM  

    Never was a theme more aptly stated. Figured we had to read backward but was stumped with the down additive.

    Gave up, came here and found solace in the rating.

    @Rex, did you really do this in 14.28? And that rates Medium-Challenging. Wow.

    Bill from FL 11:16 AM  

    I got the theme at WITHDRAW and almost withwdrew, looking at the empty grid. But it was worth pushing on, even though the cluing seemed Friday-level for much of the way.

    Tita 11:17 AM  

    I echo @Michael Hanko's sentiment about entering letters backwards...
    Though I do it on my tablet, I write, not type...
    But instead of having the added problem of having to back up as type, I had the problem of wanting to do mirror-writing...writing the letters backwards like da Vinci.

    Sandy K 11:20 AM  

    Looking at all the 'Back down' clues, I thought this is gonna be a big bore! Wrong!

    As soon as I caught onto the theme at PULL OUT in reverse and down, the others were fun to get- and Mr. D sure had a MASTER PLAN!

    Altho I didn't know what ARS and CLE were til I came here, the theme helped fill them in.

    Smiled to see ULULATE and SENTA Berger so soon. Had to LINGER OVER STANCH and PALTERS a bit. But all in all, a very SOUND Sunday solve!

    Gill I. P. 11:20 AM  

    Joe does it again. He and Gorsky are the King and Queen of backward puzzles and I can't get enough of them.
    Had this little sucker at HEAD FOR THE HILLS. But like @Smitty I thought the fill was a lot harder than the theme answers.
    @evil d: No Little Golden Book about a train. Just "play a flute" for TOOTLE. Others have complained about Mirrors/ ARS but this was my least favorite clue. Well, come to think of it, our daughter played the flute and it did sound a bit like a TOOTLE.
    MOBIUS was new to me and I could not get PBA for Keglers Org. so I left that area blank. a DNF.
    I love PIP and the clue for Big BIRD...
    All in all a real fun start to my Sunday. Pip pip and all that rot!

    DBlock 11:27 AM  

    As I sailed through Friday and Saturday this week, I thought, I have arrived--I am truly a NYT puzzle solver but today humbled me and I am glad for it!!!
    Thank you for the challenge. Even when I got the trick, it was still demanding and creative, one clever clue after another. Everything a Sunday puzzle should be.

    Bird 11:34 AM  

    This one came in spurts until I got the theme at 24A with ULUATE making a second appearance in less than a week. I kept wondering where the ends of the answers went. Aha! Backwards AND down. Brilliant.

    There is some crud and obscure cluing, but mostly it is a great puzzle.

    Best answer is 105A.

    Thanks Joe.

    Anonymous 11:52 AM  

    I usually find Sunday puzzles fairly tedious, but this one was fun. I finished in fairly good time, but had a typo that took forever to find. After I figured out the theme it went pretty well. I love puzzles that don't have a lot of movie stars, pop musicians and authors.


    Shamik 11:53 AM  

    I can up everyone's PALTERS to CALTERS thinking that SCHEME of things is the same as "World." That leaves AMEN as Phobos' pop and ELIAN the author. CALTERS was as good as PALTERS even after seeing the error, never would have known PALTERS.

    This puzzle is what a Sunday should be. All those squares and the worst that most of us can complain about is ARS. That's not too shabby!

    32:10 with the 4 errors.

    Bravo, Joe!

    LaneB 12:00 PM  

    Great title for this one:I Surrender. Which I did after about an hour of not coming close to getting the gimmicky theme. Will have to live to fight another Sunday. Meanwhile I enjoy the Acrostic more anyway.

    JFC 12:00 PM  

    This started out as a slog, as the theme answers made no sense and the clues were hard. It wasn’t until I skipped my way down to WAVE THE WHITE FLAG that I got it. Unlike Rex, once I grasped what Joe was doing to us, it went fairly quickly, maybe because I have learned how to back down more often than Rex. For some reason that I do not understand this should have been more enjoyable for me as I appreciate the cleverness and usually enjoy such twists in themes. But perhaps it was because of its overall difficulty or how long it took me to figure it out. Regardless, it was more than a worthy Sunday puzzle and an impressive feat....


    Carola 12:03 PM  

    One of the first things I learned from reading Rex's blog was to pay attention to the constructor, so I've gotten to know that Joe DiPietro is no TRIFLER at coming up with a MASTER PLAN for a puzzle.Thought this one was amazing.

    Like @Smitty, I misinterpreted the title, thinking that the letter "I" was surrendered, i.e., would not appear. So "RT" at the beginning of 22A made sense. Except that I couldn't think of any phrases beginning RITER... Decided to WITHDRAW from that area and try my luck elsewhere. Got the "backwards" part of the theme answers about halfway through, but an EON ELAPSEd before I saw that they turned the corner and went down. Meanwhile, I looked at 115A: _ _ ETIHWEHTEVAW and wondered if I was supposed to draw a flag in one space and then ??? So, to echo @Tita, a great AAH-ha moment when I caught on.

    Overall, found it challenging. Much trouble in the San Francisco area. No PAtTERS for me - I had PoLTERS (thinking that poltergeists were perhaps insincere as well as noisy. And thank you,@Doris, for the quote!). Thought "Made man" referred to a Mafia figure and that the aversion was a HorRor. Eventually emerged onto SOUND footing and finished up. A very fun (mostly!) workout.

    A new claim to fame for Natick - the Times magazine has an article on the science of making junk food addictive by achieving a "bliss point" of salt, sugar, fat, etc., and reveals that one researcher's "path to mastering the bliss point began in earnest not at Harvard but a few months after graduation, 16 miles from Cambridge, in the town of Natick, where the U.S. Army hired him to work in its research labs."

    @Rex - Belated kudos for orchestrating the Red Cross puzzles, and thanks for the reminder.

    Sparky 12:03 PM  

    Could not go anywhere with this. Several things I entered were wrong: even not TIED, I'm in not MELD, cscan not DECOR. Got off to a great start with BARRE. Managed 11 other words but no area filled in. Just not my day.

    Very happy for those who succeeded. As I look over the grid, many neat words. Some fun. How could I have missed ALCOTT and BEHAN? With rue my heart is laden.

    Bob Kerfuffle 12:13 PM  

    Those with a deep, serious commitment to crosswords should visit Diary of a Crossword Fiend for Sam Donaldson's presentation of this year's ORCA AWARDS. (Start reading now and you may have finished by the time the OSCAR telecast begins.)

    poc 12:16 PM  

    Cute puzzle. It took me ages to notice the trick, but once I did it became easier. All the same, some of the cluing is questionable. ARS has been mentioned. I also has PAtTERS for PALTERS (though I had heard the word before).

    However, WTF is FTD? Never heard of it.

    Sparky 12:31 PM  

    @Gill I. P.
    Oh, the drums go bang and the cymbals clang and the horns they blaze away

    McCarthy pumps the old bassoon while I the pipes do play

    And Henessee Tennessee tootles the flute and the music is something grand

    A credit to old Ireland is MacNamarra's band.

    Carola 12:41 PM  

    @poc - I believe Florists' Telegraph Delivery provided the first service for sending flowers across the country.

    Casey 12:44 PM  

    Great fun! Once I replaced bent with bias at 32a ,the snaggy NE fell into place.

    jberg 12:51 PM  

    yeah, what everyone said. It all depended on whether you knew of ELIAS Canetti - I did, so crossed out PAtTERS right away; otherwise I would have been stuck. And like many, I didn't understand ARS until I read @Rex.

    The lesson of this puzzle is to really pay attention to the clues. "Back down" is pretty explicit about what we're supposed to do, but I still had about a quarter of the puzzle completed, with difficulty, before I figured it ou. After that it was smooth sailing. Really fun puzzle.

    chefbea 12:52 PM  

    It's Florist's Transworld Delivery

    Z 12:52 PM  

    @LMS - The pitter PALTER of little feet had pretty much ended by the time Is Your Mama LLAMA was published. The youngest inherited the collected readings of Boynton, Seuss, Carlisle, Sendak, ETC. So I had to work for that one. In fact, between RTERYTSAHAwolB, ooH before AAH, and caLl before MELD, I had lots of work in that section.

    Hand up for EtIAS. Never checked the cross, not sure it would have mattered if I had. Finished without a google, although three areas made me work, the LLAMA, PALTER, and PIP areas were all a PIP for me. But for that single letter, I prevailed in the end and enjoyed the entire solve. ARS got a mild groan and I'm still not sure how one is expected to come to YEMENI from "Like some oil refineries." Like some sand, like some beaches, ... why refineries? But those are the PEEPiest of nits to pick in a great puzzle.

    I had made a full pass through the across clues and had begun the down clues from the bottom before that LF combo raised a huge red flag and I saw the trick. The south went pretty quickly from there and I just kept at until POPLAR/PEEP/PIP finally fell.

    Rob C 1:08 PM  

    @Sir Hillary - I noticed the Duran clue too. I took it to be a clever constructor's signature - DiPietro means "of stone" in Italian.

    Why did the chicken cross the MOBIUS strip? ...To get to the same side.

    jae 1:13 PM  

    One of my "spelling" erasures was PAtTERS to PALTERS. I would have stuck with the "t" but @Evan's rule to go with what you've seen in puzzles before lead me to make the change. ELIAS is fairly common, not so ETIAS. PAtTERS vs. PALTERS was more of a WOE for both.

    orangeblossomspecial 1:40 PM  

    @Elle54: PBA = Professional Bowler's Association

    ARS was no better or worse than others such as 'long i', 'hard g', or 'ells', which appear frequently enough to be irritating.

    The puzzle was fun, although I struggled because of 'lose' SOME GROUND rather than GIVE SOME GROUND.

    I'm sure no one remembers the 1A Doodletown FIFERS.

    More folks might recognize Peggy Lee's 99D 'MANANA'.

    Ellen S 1:41 PM  

    For me doing this puzzle without cheats would be like climbing Mt. Everest without cleats. I did it with the help of a whole village of Sherpas. Looked up Canetti, so PALTERS filled itself in fairly quickly but I couldn't believe it. @Jeff510, it may have been a conspiracy a few hundred years ago. New Oxford American Dictionary (paper version, not published for this puzzle....) says it's an archaic verb meaning "equivocate or prevaricate in action or speech." As for origin, they have no clue, and "no corresponding verb is known in any other language." Like one day in the mid-16th century, the word just ... showed up. Another meaning, by the way, is "trifling" -- one would say something is "not to be paltered with."

    This puzzle sure wasn't no TRIFLE. Tough, but fun, like mountain climbing. I didn't mind ARS, but I'm sick of all those EELs. They are pests and should be eradicated from puzzles. Thank you for a refreshing mental workout, Joe.

    David 2:25 PM  

    Magnificent puzzle! I was somewhat fortunate to pick up the theme in the first minute, which ironically led to a big writeover as well.

    When I don't quickly grab a foothold in the NW, my eyes go anywhere in the clues to get an answer. Today my 1st entries were CLE, NUT and USC in the extreme SW. The 1st letters of those answers, CNU, concerned me, but then I saw they were connected to 112A, Back Down, a clue repeated everywhere, so I knew I was on my way.

    But then I slowed up when I put in SAY UNCLE instead of CRY UNCLE. Fortunately the crosses were easy enough to help me locate my error.

    When you get a high measure of aha and satisfaction with each theme answer reveal, you know you've been treated to a terrific puzzle...

    syndy 2:32 PM  

    I finally managed to PULLOUT the scheme untill that became a SPHERE.Chain became ARNAZ a lovely Evil puzzle but when The pencil didn't dance I figgured my backward spelling wasn't up to par but no PAtTERS/EtIAS-at least in good company! sincere heart felt condolences to @RJ! been there done that

    quilter1 2:58 PM  

    Finally had time to do this over a leisurely lunch. Great puzzle. I was puzzled until somehow BEAT A HASTY RETREAT appeared before me and then I was off and running. Thanks,Joe, for a nice Sunday afternoon.

    Susan McConnell 3:40 PM  

    Writing this before reading comments, but just had to say: LOVED THIS!!! Favorite Sunday in ages. Slow start in NW, so jumped to SE, and ended up seeing ETIHW next to LAG and it clicked. Easy getting the themes from there, but the fill was challenging enough to keep me working hard. Tons of fun...thanks Mr. DiPietro!

    Ulrich 3:58 PM  

    Once I got stuck at the beginning, in the NW, and sensed that (a) something funny was going on; and (b) no, it had nothing to do with a missing "i", I dug my heels in, did not back down, and did not continue until I had gotten the gimmick, by thinking and re-thinking "what the hell can 'back down' (the one phrase repeated in so many clues)" mean", until, finally I got it, wrote in "BEAT A HASTY RETREAT" backwards and down, and then proceeded to the rest of the puzzle. Which is to say I did almost 3/4 of the puzzle knowing the theme, and I tell you, it was fun, and a great help. The SW corber took me the longest bec. "cry uncle" is somewhat not in my wheelhouse (whatever that means, but I saw it here).

    @Rob C: Still smiling about the chicken on the Möbius Strip!

    quilter1 4:10 PM  

    @Doris, I agree about dear Will. So sorry Derek is so wrongheaded.

    mac 4:18 PM  

    Fantastic puzzle!
    I also had about 75 percent filled in before I cottoned on, and I also looked for missing I's.

    Can't believe ululate showed up again. At 6A I thought of Hemingway first, but of course he was an ambulance driver. Had litmus befor Mobius.

    Now to find a way to use vomitous in conversation this evening! With the Oscars on it may not be too hard.

    chefwen 4:31 PM  

    At first I thought I was going to have to solve this one by just filling in the downs as the crosses were just not making any sense. The light bulb clicked on at head for the hills. Grabbed a clean sheet of paper and wrote all my partially filled crosses in the right direction and VOILA, it turned from ??? to easy.

    Loved it!

    Never would have gotten it last night as the neighbors stopped by to drop off a check and ended up staying for several cocktails and dinner. Probably would have ripped it apart if I tried to do it after they left, 5 hours later.

    Like other, favorite clue was for DECOR.

    Anonymous 4:50 PM  

    Police Benevolent Association

    Masked and Anonymo11Us 4:55 PM  

    sUnpUzthUmbsUp. No call for surrender, here. fUn.

    Fave rerun: ULULATE.
    Fave ar-har moment: ARS. Plus, of course, the most excellent theme, which turned perfectly good phrases into apparent shredder output. ORCAS-quality theme idea and execution. [see Crossword Fiend]
    Itchy and Scratchy area: ELIAS/PALTERS.

    p.s. For people snorting at ARS: head on over to the Merle Reagle SunPuz. This will either help ease yer pain,... or further fan the flames. (h)ar.

    Joseph B 5:33 PM  

    Fantastic puzzle. I got the theme on my first pass through the grid, thanks to CRYUNCLE, which made getting the rest of the theme answers easy, though it took a while to abandon CEDE in GIVESOMEGROUND, which finally opened up the SW.

    Alas, as with almost all Sundays, I had a careless mistake: put in PATTERS early on for "Talks without sincerity," and after filling in that region I didn't verify all the downs. I think I would have recognized ETIAS as an unlikely first name.

    JenCT 5:38 PM  

    @Sparky: I'm with you - too tough for me.

    @mac: "That was a VOMITOUS acceptance speech?"

    @Carola: That's an interesting article, thanks.

    Gill I. P. 6:00 PM  

    @Sparky old sport, I be banjaxed to be sure.

    sanfranman59 6:06 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 5:46, 6:07, 0.94, 22%, Easy-Medium
    Tue 7:45, 8:23, 0.92, 24%, Easy-Medium
    Wed 12:23, 11:52, 1.04, 62%, Medium-Challenging
    Thu 18:04, 17:02, 1.06, 64%, Medium-Challenging
    Fri 28:30, 22:02, 1.29, 92%, Challenging
    Sat 20:25, 24:55, 0.82, 12%, Easy
    Sun 40:50, 30:14, 1.35, 95%, Challenging (5th highest ratio of 75 Sundays)

    Top 100 solvers

    Mon 3:35, 3:39, 0.98, 33%, Easy-Medium
    Tue 4:37, 4:52, 0.95, 29%, Easy-Medium
    Wed 7:28, 6:34, 1.14, 84%, Challenging
    Thu 9:55, 9:55, 1.00, 48%, Medium
    Fri 16:56, 12:33, 1.35, 92%, Challenging
    Sat 11:45, 14:36, 0.80, 13%, Easy
    Sun 27:54, 19:45, 1.41, 88%, Challenging (10th highest ratio of 75 Sundays)

    Joe in Montreal 6:14 PM  

    Fair enough. Nice gimmick. Being from NS I had PIPERS first. But YEMENIS for "like some oil refineries"? I would have thought Paul Bunyan was a legend, not a MYTH. But minor points.

    Z 7:06 PM  

    Looking at @sanfranman59's numbers I have to wonder just how much time people spent looking for that "L."

    Doc John 7:25 PM  

    ARS- Used very frequently as shorthand for Atlanta Rhythm Section, which had many big hits during the 70s.

    michael 7:57 PM  

    Just for variety -- I had "paltens" and thought this was a word I had never heard of (as opposed to "palters" which is vaguely familiar. "peens" as in ball peen hammer, though I admit I have no idea what a "peen" is.

    paulsfo 10:02 PM  

    Just because I wrote it (in junior high, maybe) and because it will never be apropos, again:

    Q: Why did the chicken cross the playground?

    A: To get to the other slide.

    --- and one I didn't write but just remembered (from the 70's, I'm guessing, based on the answer). --

    Q: Why did the chicken cross halfway across the road?

    A: She wanted to lay it on the line.

    Anonymous 11:16 PM  

    Why did the chicken cross to the bottom of the solar system?

    She wanted her eggs sunny-side down

    Smitty 9:20 AM  

    Thanks , sounds like a joke that went right over my head!

    nurturing 3:03 AM  

    Took me awhile to get the trick, as well, but when I did it was because I pictured all those white flags of surrender represented in the puzzle by the backwards and down answers.

    The backwards part is the waving flag and the down part is the pole that one holds to wave it! I honestly thought that was the intent of the back downs. Wasn't it?

    Anonymous 8:31 AM  

    really stupid clues this week, cant you get real

    uncle john 6:50 PM  

    Late as usual but here goes. in general, I liked the puzzle and I am surprised no one commented on 72A, "stoners". I had to think about that one. Also 66A, Pascal's law= loi (excellent IMO). Honorable mention; 37D & 49D. Boo on 81D.

    rain forest 1:45 AM  

    Great puzzle! If people want to perseverate over ARS, let'em. This was a challenge but doable, and only the SW caused me pain and a few write-overs, but it all made sense once done. Beautiful execution of a theme.

    Spacecraft 1:15 PM  

    Clearly, the solving bar is being raised. Used to be, Sunday had a Wedensday-y feel; this one was definitely full-on Saturday-y. The theme was tough to dig out, and the clues! Man! For USA we have "Miss---." One of those "that-could-be-anything" clues. Similarly, "Kind of rat" turns out to be GYM. I guess that's a colloquial expression; makes no sense to me. And I'm supposed to get AFRO off "Do with a pick, maybe."

    And some of the entries were, well, high-level at best and at worst...uh, LOWEST-level. I saw "______strip" with the B and U in place and thought, man, that can't be MOBIUS; too many people would be going "Huh?" But it was. Pretty advanced stuff. SHEAVE (as a verb), PALTERS, and STA[no U!]NCH are out there as well. Then there's the alphabet: ANA and ARS. Others say they don't mind this crap; I do. I'll even volunteer to head a committee to get rid of all of those spelled-out letters, silent H's and hard G's. Yuck!

    I had the most trouble with the clue for 20d. I mentally put quotes around it, and so looked for some folksy expression of objection. Couldn't figure it out, even with MASTER__AN in. What was the bowling group? ABA isn't it; it's ABC, the American Bowling Congress. Forgot about the pros. And _IBS???? What??? Finally, after what seemed an eternity, I remembered the PBA--and realized there was a MASTERPLAN. So, LIBS, and I was done.

    Ladies and gentlemen, LIBS may be the stinkiest entry I've ever seen. NOBODY says "Libs." Joe, you ought to have rejected that one entirely. It's just awful.

    So strange that OFL should honor ARS with WOTD status, especially when he loathes it as much as I do.

    Even stranger that, as much as I've railed about it, I actually liked doing this one. It certainly had some meat on its bones. Guess we can't help a little dreck seeping in on a 21x21 grid.

    Anonymous 6:13 PM  

    The best clue to come up with for ARS is "Some seen in mirrors"? Really? Is AR really a word? I can think of half a dozen better clues!

    Dirigonzo 8:07 PM  

    Someone used the word "diabolical" in an early post and I think it applies in a good way. PP and I had gone through all of the clues and rejected several answers because of the improbable letter combinations they created. We were staring at _TIPAC at 24a when we both realized that if you read it backwards it starts to spell CAPTIULATE, and we had enough crosses to see the rest of the word going down the grid. I won't say the rest was easy but that epiphany made it doable - except for PAtTER which we thought was solid. Apparently we syndisolvers can look forward to seeing ULULATE again in about 4 weeks - I'm certain I will have forgotten it by then. I never heard of the boxer nicknamed "Hands of Stone" but learning from the comments that the constructor's last name means "of stone" in Italian makes me glad Joe used DURAN to end the puzzle - nice touch!

    Anonymous 12:24 AM  

    I thought this one was pretty easy overall. I picked up on the gimmick very early on, when I had a theme answer that appeard to start with IH. Having already noticed that all the theme clues were "back down", I figured I was going to be reading backwards, then down. Piece of cake after that.

    Funny though, that the very first word I thought of turned out to be the last one I entered. I guessed that "I surrender" = Uncle = TIO...and that all the theme answers would have TIO in them somewhere.

    Did not see ELCNU until the very end, after changing my Gamecocks from SCU to USC.

    Sean 12:35 AM  

    I feel like such an idiot. Somehow (I don't know how) solved the entire puzzle, but it took forever. I got the "back" part of the theme, but never figured out the "down" part until the very last squares I filled in--"headforthehills/fuelspills." I usually pick up on themes quickly, so I'm really disappointed in myself on this one. Could have solved much more quickly had I completely understood the theme.

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