Gershwin biographer David / SUN 1-26-14 / Merry Drinker painter / Back to Future villains / Li'l Abner's surname / Funeral delivery of old / Movie director who was himself subject of 1994 movie / Title girl Chuck Berry hit / Pop singer Del Rey / Cynic Bierce

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Constructor: Daniel A. Finan

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: "It's All Relative" — Cross-referenced clues (stacked one atop the other) make sense only in reference to each other, i.e. based on their position relative to one another, you (the solver) have to supply the word [under] or [over] to make sense of one part of each answer pair.

THUS … :
  • 51D: 3-Down, relatively (BEWITCHED) … which is (literally) [under] A SPELL (3D)
  • 6D: 73-Down, relatively (NO WAY, JOSÉ) … which is (literally) [over] MY DEAD BODY (73D)
  • 52D: 8-Down, relatively (FEELING THE HEAT) … which is (literally) [under] THE GUN (8D)
  • 12D: 93-Down, relatively ("TALK TO YOU LATER") … which is (literally) [over] AND OUT (93D)
  • 82D: 14-Down, relatively (SHELTERED) … which is (literally) [under] LOCK AND KEY (14D)
  • 42D: 95-Down, relatively (EXCESSIVE) … which is (literally) [over] THE TOP (95D)

Word of the Day: ELOGE (99D: Funeral delivery of old) —
n. a virtual theater seat (I assume)
• • •

Wow. I'm not sure there's a puzzle that better exemplifies the discrepancy between concern for theme and concern for fill than this one. Essentially, if your theme passes muster, you can put virtually anything you want in your grid and no one is going to say 'boo.' This is a clever and ambitious theme, but the fill is hilariously bad in many, many places. I say "hilariously" not figuratively (with some kind of dismissive sneer in my voice), but literally, as in "I literally laughed out loud at how bad this fill was—multiple times, LOL, for real." I knew things were Not going to go well in the NW (this is often the case, i.e. I can tell from the NW corner alone how good/bad the entire puzzle is going to be, fill-wise). LAICAL just hurts (more than LAIC, even), as did PIS, ONAN, and esp. KAS. But that's not exactly unusual in its mediocrity. Certainly not sub-NYT at this point. But then I hit TREELET and the wheels came off (55A: Sapling). That answer made me laugh so hard I almost didn't see ODI (!?). TREELET appeared once in a puzzle 13 years ago. Lord knows what *that* guy's excuse was. Hee hee. TREELET. Rich.

And here's the thing—it's a shame. Because as Annoying as I find extensive use of cross-referencing in clues (esp. theme clues), in the end, this theme was imaginative, and air tight. Nice symmetrical alteration between "under" and "over" phrases. Good. But this should've been sent back for refilling. The south is probably the worst part—the part that best exemplifies how shoddy the fill is. EWEN is bad, in that it's an obscure proper noun, but let's say any given section can have a clunker like that. But Right Next to ELOGE? What kind of antiquated nonsense is that. Again, database says some guy used it once (7 years ago), so … fair game! Better care and craft could minimize this arcane / bygone / anything-goes nonsense. But somebody, Somebody, has got to overrule the computer. SLIGO? SEHR? Again, it's not that any one of these answers shouldn't be permissible. It's the constant onslaught of foreign or antiquated or partial stuff that significantly detracts from the pleasure one should be having piecing together this more-than-decent theme. My friend recently made the following chart, and it is crude and unfair, but it gets at a certain general truth:

There is no polishing going on. There is accepting and rejecting based on whether a theme "tickles," but there is nothing between us and IRED, ERSE, etc. A smattering of that stuff is tolerable. A spate, however, is just too much.

The Puzzle of the Week this week was a tough call, with a cute "Monster Under the BED" puzzle by Matt Jones (Jonesin' Crosswords) and a genuinely astonishing, NSFW themeless by independent constructor Peter Broda (The Cross Nerd). But the winner by a nose was Doug Peterson for his Newsday "Saturday Stumper" (themeless). Sunday through Friday, Newsday produces a solid, easy themed puzzle, but on Saturday, woooo look out! Fill gets much more ambitious and the clue difficulty goes to 11. The great thing about Doug's puzzle was how *clever* the hard clues were. [It might cover your elbows] is PASTA SAUCE, [Something found around a tree] is SHOE, [Grades above 86, typically] is OCTANES. Over and over again, the clues fake right and go left. The fill is smooth as hell. I mean "Put Most Themelesses To Shame" smooth, while sacrificing nothing in the way of interesting longer answers (HAD KITTENS, "MARIO PARTY," VOODOO DOLL, etc.). I just love solving Doug's puzzles generally. Always smart, funny, clever—*enjoyable*. No cheapness anywhere. Pick up his book of Easy puzzles here ("Easy as ABC Crosswords"), and check out the Newsday "Saturday Stumper" every Saturday (available, like so many puzzles, via Amy's "Today's Puzzles" page).

In case you missed it, here's my review of Ben Tausig's recent book "The Curious History of the Crossword," which appeared in yesterday's Wall Street Journal. Read it here.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


jae 12:15 AM  

Took a while to figure out what was going on so medium-tough for me too.  Last part to fall was  the "SEHR gut" area.  It finally dawned on me the we were in Germany. Very clever fun solve with a bunch of zippy stuff.  Liked it in-spite stuff like TREELET which I put in and then erased because unbelievable.  ( See the BEQ link to "because" being selected word of the year by the American Dialect Society).

Anonymous 12:31 AM  

Even after completing, I'm still not sure what ATNO ("He's 2, for one") means. Can anybody open my eyes?

As far as the puzzle, I'm with Rex; great theme, distractingly bad fill. Especially "SEHR gut." I don't mind foreign language answers, but shouldn't the clue strongly suggest that that's what's needed? I had BEER gut, which seemed to be validated by the crosses. C'est la vie.

desi 12:35 AM  

I agree about too much arcane and senseless fill, however this is the first Sunday puzzle I've completed prior to your blog review coming out in over a month, so it somehow managed to not be hard to fill despite all the ridiculous words. I enjoyed this theme more than most.

desi 12:37 AM  

Same here. No idea what that meant.

AliasZ 12:55 AM  

He = Helium
ATNO = atomic number is 2.

Anonymous 12:56 AM  

2 is the atomic number (At.No.) of helium (He).

chefwen 12:57 AM  

Growing up with an Austrian dad SEHR gut was a welcomed expression. I have blocked out what he said when he wasn't pleased.

As I was doing this puzzle the mantra "I hate cross referenced puzzles" went through my head many times. After all was said and done and I reflected on the puzzle, I kind of liked it, maybe because I was done.

Made a couple of dumb mistakes which made the whole thing rather dicey. BOoRS before BOERS at 90A and hokum before YOKUM at34A. Had to utter a big DOH when correcting those.

With all the RELAXING, RESTING HAMMOCK DIVING, NAPPING and DOZING, I almost fell asleep while solving this puppy.

Good one Mr. Finan, wished I would have like it as much while solving as after I was finished.

Anonymous 1:18 AM  

@Alias Z & Anon

Thanks for that.

Obviously, there was enough there for you and others to figure it out, but shouldn't the clue have actually read, "He's is 2, for one"?

MikeM 1:34 AM  

Loved Tops off? BEHEADS. Sligo is a county in Ireland, they are having a musical festival this summer that I may attend. I thought this was challenging, but finished with no errors. It just took so long to get the theme. Write over for 7a SockET before STREET. Also I couldn't get Biff out of my mind for the Back to the Future clue. Great puzzle despite it all.

Steve J 1:47 AM  

While there are definitely some really clever and snappy theme pairs (especially NO WAY JOSE and (over) MY DEAD BODY), I found the theme itself too convoluted to really be enjoyable. I couldn't figure out what was going on for the longest time, and even once I did, I still could not suss out which one was over or under the other without looking at things many, many times.

It's entirely possible (perhaps likely) that I'm alone in not being able to follow which was which, but the clues were not helpful in indicating which was over or under, which made this a bit tedious for me. I pretty much had to completely fill in each half to determine which got the over or under. (And, given some sections of bad fill, particularly in the South, I ended up DNF as a result.)

Also in the realm of unhelpful clues: A clue that gives zero indication that it's looking for a foreign word. I speak German (not well, but enough), and I actually suspected "gut" as good, not belly, but there's nothing in the clue to indicate that that's what's intended.

TREELET and PEWIT are a near rhyme. They are identical in their status as most-desperate fill of recent months. At least TREELET jogged Rex's memory to bust out Belly's catchiest song, so something good came of it.

Anonymous 1:55 AM  

Nobody comments on NYM crossing ANTONYM? That's just ugly.

paulsfo 2:09 AM  

The theme was wonderful (despite how long it took me to figure it out).
"SEHR gut" is an extremely common phrase, certainly more common than many French phrases which are used in NYT puzzles.
"HE's 2, for one" is one of the most clever clues I've ever seen.

John Child 2:36 AM  

Loved the clever and fresh theme. And for every groaner in the fill there was an excellent clue somewhere else - things like [tops off?] and [block party?] for example. Thumbs up from me overall.

Garth 3:15 AM  

Very fun puzzle. It was confusing at times but worth sticking with it. Got messed up by the ALEGUP/ELOGE crossing because I couldn't see A LEG UP. I liked the word "TREELET." One person's bad fill is another person's cute vision of walking in the woods.

Anonymous 5:33 AM  

I finished, but until I read Rex's explanation, I had no idea what the "relative" business meant, just thought it was odd that the "unders" were in the top half of the puzzle and the "overs" were in the bottom. And when I can finish a puzzle without needing to fully understand the theme, it's a big fail for me. This was too clever by half in the theming, not clever enough in the fill. Really unpleasant puzzle.

Spork 6:37 AM  


1. Take the Fireball puzzle right out of Rex's chart. It's published 45 times a year. Give Will Shortz a chance to publish just 45 (rather than 365) puzzles, and the results would be similar. It's not fair to compare apples and oranges. In fact, I'm sick of every comparison of daily puzzles to weeklies. Stop it. They are different animals.

2. Couldn't disagree more about TREELET. It's a word! A real word! That's fun and makes sense and is in no way bad! Just because you don't use it in your daily life? Give me a break.

3. If you don't know SLIGO, blame yourself. You've got some learning to do.

holdonasecond 7:06 AM  

Rex thinks he knows what goes on in editing a major daily puzzle. Hee hee. Rex thinks he knows what constructors and editors are thinking. Hee hee. Brainless readers agree with anything he says, ignoring basic truths. Rich.

Mitt 7:20 AM  

@ Spork- Ann wanted me to tell you that the Stop it stuff doesn't work all that well.

Mohair Sam 7:59 AM  

Played easy - medium here. Very good, clever, and fun puzzle. The theme was fantastic - but I'll have to agree with a few of Rex's complaints about fill.

Still I think he over-reacted. SLIGO was a gimme or nearly so for many of us (when Rex doesn't know a noun cold he tends to go straight to "bad fill"); and the ugly pairing of EWEN and ELOGE was revealed with 4 fairly easy crosses. We are with Rex on TREELET and ODI, however. Yuck.

But there was plenty of clever cluing here even beyond the theme: BEHEADS and ATNO were great, and having to rattle the brain for Abner's last name, Eliza's neighborhood, and the bad guys in an old movie - that's the fun of a Sunday crossword.

Anonymous 8:03 AM  

Anyone else having trouble accessing today's puzzle? I've been getting "something went wrong" and no access to the puzzle or Wordplay blog for the past 2 hours [east coast]. Can't start my day without my Sunday fix.

Anonymous 8:19 AM  

Spoke too soon. Just got it. No idea what was going on, but I'm a happy camper!!

Norm C. 8:43 AM  

@Steve J - Same here with the confusion over under/over? Over/under?

Still, I admired the clever theme and how it was engineered into the grid, but, yeah, the fill. Also noted that ESE and CHINESE are near-neighbors.

And TREELET?! What's next? Is "boy" a "manlet?" "Girl" a "ladylet?" Oh, and "small plaything" a "toylet?"

Any Sunday I can finish is a good Sunday, though, and overall I enjoyed this one.

Anonymous 9:07 AM  

Wow, at 31 minutes this is by far the fastest I have ever done a Sunday puzzle.

I feel your pain on TREELET, but I thought SEHR gut was gettable.

My only real gripes is that no way would I consider EMO to be an "offshoot" of punk, any more than punk was an "offshoot" of the glam rock wave that excreted it. I get it as a matter of crossword cluing, but horrible musicology in my view.

Acrimonious 9:16 AM  

Rex's opinion just about nails it for me. Really obscure synonyms are no fun.

Also, I got all the theme answers without knowing "over" and "under" had anything to do with them.

Now I'm wondering, if weekend NYT puzzles leave such a bad taste, why am I doing them?

noreen 9:28 AM  

I found that 'potentially dangerous' 53A was difficult to see in the answer 'sketchy.' Sketchy seems to me to mean something broadly drawn, without details and fill, vague.
Nothing dangerous about it.

Anonymous 9:29 AM  

Found it easy-medium for a Sunday and finished without fully understanding theme. Made it harder but still finished in good time. Not much to enjoy without getting the theme while doing the puzzle.

Anonymous 9:41 AM  


The NYT gets hundreds of submissions every WEEK. It is totally fair.

r.alphbunker 10:22 AM  

Our host demands professionalism from the constructors and editors that he reviews. I don't think it is unreasonable to expect the same of him.

Using "Crap Fill" to label the Y axis of the graph is unprofessional as well as is the coarse granularity of the "points" of the graph. Surely someone has come up with a better metric for measuring fill quality.

@Norm C
The litzer in me wanted to play with the LET which is a Comb. form so beloved by the pre-Shortzian puzzles. I came up with the following:
godlet - a minor deity
harlet - a quiet chuckle from M@A
chalklet - a piece of chalk that should be thrown away.
babylet - a fetus
chicklet - an egg.

Liked the theme. Carelessly finished with zEHR/EzE

Is the CAPTCHA really inag? or is it inlag or illag. Here goes.

It wasn't inag. It doesn't see fair that I will never know what the right answer was. That is so unlike crossword puzzles.

ChrisM 10:24 AM  

@noreen: American Heritage says:

Sketchy: Definition 2: Informal
Of questionable authenticity or trustworthiness:
a sketchy accent;
a sketchy character.
Of dubious safety; potentially harmful or dangerous: a sketchy neighborhood.

Unknown 10:28 AM  

Like @noreen, I also tripped up on SKETCHY, but I had spelled EXCESSIVELY with 3 s's! (#dopeslap) so I didn't see it, and didn't know the doe ENA. I'd guessed aNA and submitted with SKaTSHY, and a sinking feeling.

But compared to recent outings, this was a whopping success! So I concur with the Easy-Medium rating. All crosses were clued accessibly, which gave me a chance to parse the theme, which gave me a chance to correct numerous errors in the theme solutions.

When I saw TREELET, I knew Rex was going to have a field day.

3 hours, so I'm still very much in Rex's kindergarten class. But no googles until ENA after submission.

Suzy 10:34 AM  

Agreed! Rex, why do you always have to be so snarky?!

Z 10:39 AM  

I loved the theme. Tight, balanced, and just hidden enough that one actually has to figure it out during the solve. And there is some pop in the fill cluing, especially "Tops off?" and "He's 2, for one." Is it enough to overcome the fill?

ESE and SKETCHY forced me to leave the WOE SEHR (learned it was German when I read the comments). I never did get ELOGE/EWEN as I never let go of my camera at 120A. ED WOOD makes sense, now, but was a big "who cares?" during the solve. How many directors have been subjects of movies? I don't know and really don't care (sort of like baseball is for others). I don't mind the ANTONYM/NYM crossing so much as I hate NYM as an answer. You do see that initialism on sports tickers, but the team is the Mets. So - it's really the clue that is off in my book. Also had to pause at the ST-S clue as you never know if it will be an A or an N. Then we have the angry verbs TEED/IRED, ENA, EPEE as the sport, not the weapon, NEWEL, and SLIGO. That is a lot to work through.

In the end, I like it more that @Rex, but I the fill is too much like the CREME center of a Twinkie.

chefbea 10:46 AM  

Did not understand the puzzle at all until the end…and then I thought you had to use the word over. What does all this have to do with relative. I originally thought that names of relatives were going to be found in the answers…aunt, uncle, mom, niece etc.

And what is a sehr gut???

DocRoss 10:53 AM  

It felt pretty clunky to me, but I got it eventually. I'm surprised that no one has balked at the under LOCK AND KEY themer. I would have thought "secured" would be a good answer (despite the fact that it doesn't fit), but SHELTERED is not a synonym for the relative clue!

Anonymous 10:56 AM  

We thought it was pretty easy. Sehr gut is a common german phrase for "very good". Finished in good time. However had one problem: EdWood/ewen and eloge. Thought that one kinda stunk. My favorite clue was Sherpa and my wife liked tops off. The theme worked very well.

Anonymous 10:56 AM  

Ralph: "Our host demands professionalism from the constructors and editors that he reviews. I don't think it is unreasonable to expect the same of him."

Rex isn't your host. He writes a blog in which he gives his opinion of the day's puzzle. He does it for free. Constructors and editors are providing products and services for which we pay. There's my OPINION on why I don't "expect the same of him".

It's also not appropriate for me to tell you what you can or can't expect from a blogger. So never mind.

Anonymous 11:10 AM  

Anonymous@1:18 asked "shouldn't the clue have actually read, 'He's is 2, for one'?"

No. He's [Helium's] 2 [using the possessive] is its atomic number. Just a little bit of misdirection. Clue does not have to be a complete sentence.

r.alphbunker 11:11 AM  

Anonymous @10:56

Is this better?

"Has anybody developed a metric for fill quality that doesn't use the word "crap."

Questinia 11:11 AM  

Sunday puzzles are big. They are long. When they are chock-a-block with easy crosswordese and silliness that require assiduous filling in. When they contain, "see 42D, see 72 D", I usually become internally agitated. I stop looking for themes. I start wanting to perform a lobotomy on myself with a no. 2 pencil just to calm down.

I become Qoko, ape-woman, who flunked out of the Jane Goodall School for Simian Learning for eating the flashcards. I go positively NEOGENE.

Qoko see NONNO. Qoko go NONNO. Qoko eat TREELET. Qoko swing in hammock. Qoko go BOING.

Mr. Daniel say "Qoko, NO MORE!"
Mr. Daniel say, Qoko, EXCESSIVE! Qoko! OVER THE TOP!

Qoko smile. Qoko see theme. Fun for Qoko.

And, in the end, somewhere in the neighborhood of EWEN/ELOGE/IDLE Qoko employed Dr. Bunker's recently developed Birnholz Heuristic and obtained the "huzzah!!".

Qoko get banana.

jberg 11:12 AM  

@chefbea - It's All Relative refers to the implied over and under, which give one answers position relative to another one.

@Steve and @Norm -- the theme entries where you have to add a preposition are clued with 'see,' the ones where you don't are clued 'relatively.' I'm not sure that makes sense inherently, but once you get one pair you can use it to figure out the others.

I'm with @docross on SHELTERED - it's just not right.

SLIGO is fine, KAS, ELOGE, and TREELET less so. But I'd have accepted it all if only ONAN had had a Biblical clue.

Norm 11:15 AM  

This was a very baffling puzzle to solve. Kind of annoying in places, because you had to rely on the [a]crosses to get enough of the long downs before you could even begin to make sense of the theme, and I kept running into "oh, come on" and "oh, give me break" clues that stopped my progress. Finally got the theme (with most of the grid filled) at NOWAYJOSE/MYDEADBODY, and the rest was easy-peasy. Despite the irritating aspects, I ended up really really liking it. The theme made it worthwhile, and I appreciated some of the fill that Rex found unacceptable -- as is often the case.

joho 11:20 AM  

I let out a groan when I realized the cluing was referential. And even when I had both NOWAYJOSE(love this term!) and MYDEADBODY (another great answer)I didn't get the "over" part until I was done with the whole puzzle. Now, that's the kind of aha moment I really enjoy! Going back and figuring out all the "overs" and "unders' and finally making total sense of the theme. Well done, Daniel Finan!

I speak a tiny bit of German and took forever to see SEHR, but when I finally did, again, another aha moment.

The theme trumps fill for me today, I loved it!

AliasZ 11:30 AM  

The theme was cute. I loved the alternating over / under phrases. There could have been more:

YOU BETCHA - over confident
BEHEADS - under the guillotine
EL NORTE - over the Rio Grande
BRA - under the SARI
EPEE - over used

TREELET is a real word, not unlike aglet, applet, booklet, eyelet, goblet, hamlet, leaflet, piglet, tablet, etc.

"At the end of three quarters of an hour of more or less stumbling progress, we made out against the sky the twisted treelet that served as our landmark." -- The Land of Footprints (1913), Stewart Edward White (1873-1946).

If there is a general consensus that TREELET should be eliminated from the English language, I would like to contribute by proposing one of the following possible replacements:

TREE-SIE (see: foot, toot, one, two, etc.)
TREE-LING (see: duck, gos, sap, etc.)
TREE-ETTE (see: cigar, kitchen, towel, toil, etc.)
TREE-ULE (see: caps, glob, nod, etc.)
TREE-ICLE (see: ice, part, test, etc.)

Happy Sunday.

August West 11:38 AM  

@DocRoss: Agreed. SHELTERED triggered my bullshitometer.

Also agree with Rex re: the fill. It is, proportionately, atrocious. Way too much CRAP.

@ WillShortz: Spork? Really?

r.alphbunker 11:39 AM  


The Birnholz heuristic is not mine. @Evan suggested it a while back. I didn't know his last name until he got a puzzle published in the NYT (Thu, Oct 3, 2013).

You thought the puzzle was "groovy"

Loren Muse Smith 11:44 AM  

Ok. So maybe I've crossed some kind of solver's line: I flew through this, saw the theme early on, saw that "over" and "under" alternated, and dispatched it with no trouble until that small area due south everyone is talking about. It didn't help that I had guessed "feeling trapped" and then "Poirot" as that director (and not the PI!) with "tds" for "fielding feats. . ." Well, that all took some sorting out.

Because I, too, went the "beer GUT" route, I kept seeing ALE GUP in the gulp beer sense. "Hey – y'all come on by tomorrow – we're having our annual ALE GUP. It'll be a hootlet."

Rex – I had the same thought on E LOGE but couldn't articulate it as well as you. If you squint your eyes, you can see more:
E PEE – use an electronic catheter
E MO – page on an electronic calendar
E RRS – train tracks on a video game
E PA – Dad you correspond with mainly online

AT NO – Atomic Number. NON NO – imaginary number, if you ask me. The introduction of imaginary numbers had me hang up my math hatlet.

Liked JOSE crossing JUAN and, as others have pointed out – the four entries that involve relaxing. Funny that a Z is included in three of these: DOZE, SNOOZE, LAZE. Onomatopoeia? ZZzzzz.

NO MORE crossing ENCORE. Make up your mind already.

WARTHOG. I've always been fascinated by this word. It's just so damn ugly. Maybe fancy it up some and make it look British? Warthehogge?

I've never seen SLIGO, but what a great name for an animal. "You all know Bambi's aunt, ENA, but have you ever met her husband, SLIGO?"

I've entertained a theme idea like this before, but *never* carried out to this elegance. I feel silly now in retrospect at how fumbling and juvenile my idea was. Daniel – I want to be your friend!! This one had me looking for other possibilities:






It wasn't until after I kicked this idea around on my own that I understood the need for all the definite articles: three THEs (four, really, with EL) (and three As, though they work a bit differently.)

I'm with @joho – loved the theme!

My Sunday fun
The top

Garth 12:03 PM  

Another way of looking at @r.alphbunker's comment (10:22): If someone (Rex) in an open forum is criticizing another person or entity in an overly aggressive manner, there's nothing wrong with pointing that out. In my opinion Rex makes this topic fair game with comments that are sometimes borderline unfair.

This doesn't mean that I (or other sometime critics of Rex) don't respect him or dislike the blog. In fact the blog does a lot to educate and and Rex does a remarkable job of consistently putting out an entertaining product. Because of this, based on the comments of those who come regularly, there is wonderfully high level of discourse. Rex should get the credit for that. But in a forum such as this, reasonable criticism of Rex (like @r.alphbunkers) is...well...reasonable.

r.alphbunker 12:15 PM  

Thank you.

Garth 12:20 PM  

You're welcome

Mohair Sam 12:27 PM  

@Alias Z. Love your defense of TREELET, and therefore rescind my complaint about the word. It certainly beats all your recommended replacements (although treeling is kinda nifty).

Pete 12:28 PM  

"reasonable criticism of Rex" is totally lacking here. Sure, tons of people make assertions, Rex is too "snarky", ... That's not criticism, that's an unsubstantiated assertion. You want to critize, fine, do so. Point out errors or excesses. Defend ELOGE. Defend LAICAL, an adjective that means, wait for it, laic. That no on-line dictionary does anything but refer back to laic. Point out the one block in the puzzle that doesn't rely on some agglomeration of grid-gruel.

I, too, laughed at TREELET, and cried at ELOGE

Anonymous 12:36 PM  

I liked your blog better when you had content related to the puzzle versus railing about the quality of the puzzle. Istop the puzzle snobbery.

Carola 12:48 PM  

Thought it was a tour de force of both construction and entertainment - very clever idea beautifully carried out. Overall a tough one for me, in both understanding the theme and filling in the rest - no LOLLing, LAZing, or IDLing through this one! Enjoyed the grappling, very satisfying to finish.

Thank you, Daniel Finan - just terrific.

jburgs 12:51 PM  

For my level this was a near perfect Sunday puzzle. The theme didn't emerge too early and when it did, still posed a challenge.

Some clever cluing as others have mentioned. 92D clue for warden is worth mentioning. I caught the Helium clue due to other recent versions of ATNO clues. 120A, Canon parts was tricky as had EN in place, so was thinking LENSES for a while.

The last theme clue to fall for me was TALKTOYOULATER. I had OVERANDOUT in place and TALKTOYOU____E_ so figured the last part would relate to radios or cber or something. Once IBYANS fell I was finally able to finish the puzzle with no cheats required. Now, I assumed that the Back to the Future clue referred to the movies. For the life of me though I cannot remember any Libyans in the movies. Am I wrong in thinking the clue relates to the Back to the Future movies?

I also agree with @r.alphbunker's and @Garth's comments. I'm also in agreement that treelet is OK.

Loren Muse Smith 12:58 PM  

I had this surreal experience late yesterday afternoon. My husband, who has never done a crossword in his life, says,

"Let's construct a puzzle together."

Me: "Hunh? To submit somewhere?"

He: "Well, sure. To the New York Times. I'm serious. What can our title be?"

Me: "Only Sundays have titles, and I don't have the chops to build a Sunday puzzle."

He: "Then let's do a Saturday."

Me: "Well, Fridays and Saturdays are really, really hard to construct, too."

(A painful discussion of 21x21s, 15x15s, why themelesses are harder to construct, etc. . . ensues, understanding that "78 worder," "64 worder," "black square count" mean nothing to him. Suffice it to say, he good-naturedly jumps back onto the themed idea.)

He: "Green Acres! That'll be our theme. Ya know – we just moved to the country and all!"

Me: "Yeah, but we need a bigger idea than just the title or the reveal, word play, pairs of viable entries. . ."

He: "What's a 'reveal?' No problem – John Deere Tractor, Massey Ferguson. . . Anyway, you can worry about all that other stuff. If you can't make that work, then we'll do a City Mouse and Country Mouse theme."

To keep from turning our small living room into a WAR DEN, I just told him I'd chew on it for a while.

Charts Is anonymoUS 1:05 PM  

@4-Oh: Oooh... charts! I made me a chart. Can I be your friend, too?

D . . .+. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . * .
E . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .*. .
S . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . * . .
P . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . * . . .
E . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . * . . . .
R . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .*. . . . . .
A . . . . . . . . . . . . .* . . . . . . . .
T . . . . . . . . . .*. . . . . . . . . . .
I . . . . . . * . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
O . . * . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
N * . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Legend: * = most puzs; + = M&A puzs

There are exceptions to my chart's rulins. Sometimes maniacally hard work can flatten out yer curve a dab. Sometimes dumb luck can move the + a smidge toward the line of stars. And often mamosas can cause multiple stars to appear on each line.

Day-um...them poor USAToday puzs...

Anonymous 1:06 PM  

settle down, Ralph. Someone posted an opinion that differs from yours. Show some confidence in what you said by not repeatedly trying to defend it.

Jisvan 1:17 PM  

Sundays are always soooo long. My Canon had lENseS as well. I'm in the liking TREELETs camp. (I know, but it's just so cute...) Also could not parse ALEGUP for the longest time even when it was obviously the correct word/s. Maybe it was in ERSE? I confess to a ton of googling for my 93 minute "finish". Really admire @cascokid san for his 3 hour no-google effort. Need a Monday now!

Anonymous 1:32 PM  

Ralph's comments are rather pointless to me. I don't care whether I call it crap fill, garbage fill, trash fill, horrible fill, discustingly bad fill, the worst fill in xxx weeks/months/years/decades. The point is, it's bad.

There's no need for complicated algorithms that evaluate the fill quality of the puzzle. I can usually get a general idea of fill quality from a glance. Granted, this is a Sunday puzzle, so there's a lot more entries to think about...

I have had several of my crosswords published so far, and many of the entries here are things I wouldn't even dream of using some of the entries here.

mac 1:33 PM  

In hindsight a good puzzle, but the number of cross-referenced clues was daunting in the beginning.

I think I got the trick at No way Jose/my dead body as well, and then it became a lot easier completing some of the other answers. Me too for the ALEGUP starefest, Ewen and elope did not help much. "And out" was cute.

Lori S 1:37 PM  

This was one of my favorite puzzles ever, and I would like to thank Mr. Finan. I thought the theme was perfectly pitched - the title alone was no giveaway, and there was still something to figure out after you sussed what was going on in the theme generally. I know many solvers and Rex have complained about the fill - I didn't mind it at all. I thought the balance was perfect - enough clues to help you get the theme answers, and then enough theme answers to help with the more arcane fill. Thoroughly enjoyable for me - many thanks!

M and Also 1:53 PM  

Cool, totally un-telegraphed theme. Once U got one themer pair, it was real fun to play along with the theme, after that. OVERASPELL was my breakthru.

Hey! ANTONYM/NYM! Outstandin.


Anonymous 2:02 PM  

Sheltered under lock and key makes perfect sense to me. Any of you ever lose a pet and go to the animal shelter to search? Lots of animals there, sheltered under lock and key.

PLG 2:05 PM  

Once I figured out the theme and the over/under connection I really enjoyed myself, and even got a lot of the bad fill because I myself would probably come up with an awful word like 'treelet' too. (Perhaps cluing it as 'how a dog might think of a sapling").

Got the answer ATNO from the cross fill but still had no idea what it meant. Looked it up and found it has appeared dozens of times, often as the 2-word phrase 'at no [time, for example] but also in many variants of the atomic number game.

My single error was writing SECA when I knew it was wrong since I thought NEOGENE was even wronger.

SEHR GUT was not, however.

jburgs 2:07 PM  

Re my previous comment wondering about Libyans in Back to the Future movies.

I have googled it which I should have done before asking others here. Indeed, there were some Libyans in the plot of one of the movies.

Norm 2:33 PM  

Rex is sometimes

but that's part of why the blog is so entertaining.

RnRGhost57 2:41 PM  

*yawn* Did you say something Rex?

Ellen S 2:44 PM  

Phooey. I started my comment and my iPad froze (?!). Had to reboot. That really IRES me, almost as much as the nearly daily appreance of the word in recent puzzles. Those things are breeding faster than EELS!

I'm really only here because I put a link in my profile to pictures of me and @Gill and @Acme, who would be my ebros if we had different plumbing. We met last week in San Fran and had the most fun I've had in a long time outside of this blog. (That sounds awful, doesn't it?)

I figured out the theme after about one and a half pairs of answers. But then keeping straight which of the pair to attach the word "over" or "under" to was somehow a struggle. I knew the principle but kept having to reconstruct it.

I thought the puzzle was fun, enjoyed having to figure out the theme, and being able to; and lots of the fill was fun, even though lots of it was ... well ... feces. I Googled, or rather, "Amazoned" the Gershwin biographer (I hope the names never get obscurer than that!), but the rest I filled in by myself. It took me 24 hours to finish the Friday puzzle, so in order to get here before the syndicated folks, I checked my answers against the "Reveal Errors" in Puzzazz, but only if I was fairly sure and wanted reassurance.

My highlights:
52A. I am not convinced that "FORGO" is the same as "swear off" -- the latter is permanently refraining from, but you can FORGO dessert on one occasion without swearing off it forever. Though I should.

83A I didn't have any trouble with "Tops Off"/BEHEADS but I don't think they are in agreement grammatically. Wouldn't it be "Off Tops" or "BEHEADed"? Using my revised Kerfuffle principle, "If the word fits, I didn't do it", BEHEADS is acceptable.

76D. This was almost my undoing. I never thought cameras for "Canon", but for "Macros" as a former computer programmer, I couldn't let go of computer shortcuts where a bunch of code is invoked by a single instruction. I suppose if I had thought of camera LENSES sooner, I would have failed at Canons. (Disclaimer, I did have trouble at Canons because I thought they were were music that repeats with overlap, like a round. And "round" fit, but a round isn't part of a canon, it is the same as a canon, so I went round and round until a few ... I mean many ... crosses filled in most of TENETS.) Row, row, row your boat.

paulsfo 2:49 PM  

@jburgs and @Lori S: thanks for expressing *why* the theme was so "great" (as I so generically put it).

Anonymous 2:51 PM  

Took 2/3 fill-in to finally get the connection between the relatives- maybe the author was just on ancestry dot com--keeping with Rex's reference to the antiquity of some answers. That said- some interesting clues and answers somewhat negated the awful ones- I like antonym for example- meanwhile had my grandsons overnight and we were all playing Candy crush on our kindles. totally addicting game.

desi 2:57 PM  

Sketchy as in she has a sketchy boyfriend, or she's walking through a sketchy part of town...

Brookboy 3:19 PM  

Love reading these comments. I often find myself agreeing with one point of view only to agree with an opposing point of view later in the comments. And the fact that there are so many different opinions is both interesting and enriching, at least to me.

Based on how long it took me to solve, I guess I'd rate the puzzle medium, but it seemed pretty challenging at times.

I'm with those who say that TREELET is an actual word and therefore fair play. I don't get all the derisive comments about constructors using certain words. If the word is in all or most of the dictionaries, what's the problem?

One answer I really didn't like is SEHR (43D) to make SEHR GUT, apparently meaning something like very good in German. Problem for me is that it is German, NOT English.

Really liked the over/under construction a lot. Again I am amazed at the creative ability of constructors to create such an elegant puzzle. Thank you kindly, Mr. Finan.

quilter1 3:27 PM  

Most all of my comments have been made. I liked it and got the theme at 6D etc. So I will say that I read Michael's NYT review and I will no doubt get that book.

Rob C 3:55 PM  

Med-Chal Sunday for me. Struggled (in a good way)for a while until I picked up on the theme. That made it much easier. Had the same reaction as many others to the large number of cross-references. But since they all lined up perfectly over or under their partners (obviously, given the theme), it wasn't as daunting as it first appeared.

Overall I had a lot of fun with the puzzle. The creative theme easily made up for the iffy fill. But I chuckled at the desperation of TREELET too.

Was a bit surprised to see ESE and CHINESE both used in the same context.

art mugalian 4:15 PM  

Sligo was easy for me because I used to work with Waterford crystal and they used counties in Ireland to name their patterns.

Z 4:45 PM  

"Tops off?" is passive voice and therefore accurate. SHELTERED as in the non-e-bro plumbing that a chastity belt keeps LOCK AND KEY, so again, accurate.

@r.alphbunker, in defense of our OFL he did say it was unfair. At the same time, the scatological is generally deemed less professional so I personally found the reaction to your comment bemusing.

"Sapling" does the job so much better than TREELET, which sounds more apt for Bonsai trees to me.

Regarding the LIBYANS, Doc Brown's "murder" by them precipitates Marty's trip from the eighties to the fifties.

EWEN - @chefwen's online recipe site?

Mousekd and AnonymoUse 4:51 PM  

@muse: yep. Think yer hubby is onto somethin...
Puz clues could be:
Country mousepad?
City mousepad?
Country mousetrap?
City mousetrap?
Country mouseclick?
City mouseclick?
Country mouseketeers?
City mouseketeers?
Really, eight themers is probably sufficient, for his first construction forray. All he needs to do now is come up with a set of snappy, long, symmetric, scrabbly, U-filled answers to the clues. That'll keep him busy til next week when the Super Bowl comes on, afterwhich he'll probably forget the whole dern thing.


retired_chemist 4:57 PM  

OK but not a thrill. Too much crummy/obscure fill IMO, albeit the theme is tight and interesting. HTG in the EWEN/ELOGE/ED WOOD region. Hand up for NEOcENE and not checking the down once I had it filled in. And or thinking that is one lousy clue for SKETCHY.

AMERICA instead of EL NORTE, LENSES twice (76D, 120A). Hey, at least one of them was right. Even remembering I had the same answer twice in a big 21X21 took more mental moxie than I had last night. ER proved I have the flu,despite getting a flu shot in Nov. or Dec. Better today though.

On to Monday......

Benko 5:19 PM  

@Anonymous 9:07--
May want to brush up on your own musicology. Sure, 00s EMO resembles punk rock about as much as Good Charlotte does. That's the fault of the major music scene trying to glom onto underground sounds with a diluted, pop-ready, package. But the original EMO came very much from punk rock. Just ask Guy Piccioto, whose pre-Fugazi band Rites of Spring is considered the first true EMO band. They were punk as hell.

Just Tryin To Help Desk 5:31 PM  

example: Country mousepad? = HICKEYHOUSE.

...or... Use country names, like GREECE, TURKEY, in the country answers; use city names, like BATH, BERNE, in the city answers.

Anonymous 5:59 PM  

So Limerick, Cork, Kerry, Galway, and Waterford are okay to use in a grid but Mayo and Sligo are not?

Okay, that makes sense.

sanfranman59 6:04 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 no data
Tue 8:46, 8:15, 1.06, 67%, Medium-Challenging
Wed 10:46, 10:26, 1.03, 60%, Medium-Challenging
Thu 21:31, 19:03, 1.13, 73%, Medium-Challenging
Fri 18:37, 19:52, 0.94, 38%, Easy-Medium
Sat 28:13, 29:54, 0.98, 44%, Medium
Sun 32:36, 30:00, 1.09, 74%, Medium-Challenging

Top 100 solvers

Mon no data
Tue 5:37, 5:12, 1.08, 68%, Medium-Challenging
Wed 7:09, 6:12, 1.15, 85%, Challenging
Thu 14:12, 10:36, 1.34, 85%, Challenging
Fri 11:04, 11:32, 0.96, 41%, Medium
Sat 18:36, 18:32, 1.00, 53%, Medium
Sun 22:57, 20:29, 1.12, 73%, Medium-Challenging

Fitzy 6:28 PM  

"Gringos" is mildly offensive... & no other way to clue "LIBYANS" other than as villains???

Cheerio 6:31 PM  

I liked the puzzle. I don't get 113D: Fielding feats = DPS

Anonymous 7:08 PM  

@Cheerio - Henry Fielding had a number of well received books other than Tom Jones. One was David Peters, the second Danielle Pauley.

It's either that, or Double Plays (DPS), baseball fiedling feats.

Anonymous 7:43 PM  

I got the theme today and finished in 70 minutes; my husband slogged through it and finished in 70 minutes and then got the theme. Both of think what a good puzzle!!!

D and A

LaneB 8:00 PM  

Miss the theme or gimmick. Screwed. LOUSIER fill means no amount of Googling avoids a huge DNF and a wasted Sunday. UNDER WATER and OVER MATCHED.

Better luck with the Acrostic.

Tita 8:41 PM  

I just love these kind of puzzle.
A few I remember from when I was a mere tike:


And one in French which my mom taught me...
Can't reproduce it here, but
has something to do with "Un abbe, plein d'apetit"...maybe I can draw it for the Westportians.

Father-in-law was from SLIGO, so that one didn't put up a fight for me.
Liked ENCORE crossing NOMORE.

I find it mystifying that people criticize @r.alph for his criticism of OFL. Well, not really - we're all free to voice any and all opinions. It's the Intertubes, doncha know...

Great theme - thank you!

Tita 8:56 PM  

Puzzle-spouse played Eliza Doolittle as a sophomore in (an all-boys) high school.
(He quickly pointed out to me that it was "just a reading" - no cross-dressing involved...)

when he saw the clue about her - and ran to put in Lisson Grove. Then told me the puzzle was WRONG!!

From googling 'lisson grove wiki', I get this:
"The fictional Eliza Doolittle was born and raised in Lisson Grove and had to pay "four and six a week for a room that wasn't fit for a pig to live in" before coming under the tutelage of Professor Henry Higgins. These characters from George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion..."

I know that whenever you think Will is wrong he's really right - except for the 8 times he fessed up to at Westport 2 years ago.

Anyhow, anyone have a copy of Pygmalion on their shelves?

Numinous 9:28 PM  

Nothing, nada, zip, zilch, de rien, eine kiner nichtmusik.

This puzzle did nothing for me, I slogged through it, eventually got the them and so (deleted) what? I didn't really like that the only way to get the theme solutions was through crosses exclusively. And yeah, I had SEcA, instead of SEGA. And I really hated the EWEN ELOGE EDWOOD section down in Louisiana. I thought the movie was going to be a documentary, (Australian: doco) not Johnny Depp camping it up in angora sweaters. I had no idea about EWEN and was so stuck on ELegy, I would never have seen EDWOOD. Of course, the solution for canon wouldn't produce itself either. I was thinking music too and toyed with TENor for a bit but no luck. ELOGE sucked, though, to be fair, he said it was of old or something but I didn't expect it to be archaic. Will next Sunday's puzzles be all in Olde Englisch? I am betting the final E in ELOGE is pronounced.

@AliasZ, eine kiner nichtmusik: a zip puzzle for you too? I seem to have noticed it's been a few days since you've posted a musical link. For me, to be really good, a puzzle needs to trigger something, I don't really care what but something. The last few puzzles have done nothing for me. I appreciate the music links, keep them up.

Mr Finan, the theme was cute and some of the cluing was really evil but I think you could manage something more inspiring.

Jim in Chicago (who rides the EL, singular) 9:08 AM  

I was so distraught over the clue for ELS that I almost quit doing the puzzle.

First, others will disagree, but for any Chicagoan the word is never, ever, used in plural form. There are several lines, but only on EL, which is the entire system.

But, the real problem is that there is only one line you can take the Wrigley field, so the plural in the clue is just plain wrong

Bob Kerfuffle 5:04 PM  

As a member of the Love Every Puzzle Club, I enjoyed this clever outing. However, one answer is defective.

Not wrong, just defective. As one with that notorious Little Learning, I couldn't understand 64 A, Amo:Ilove::___:I hate, ODI, thinking surely it had to be ODO. But all of you other students did better at Latin than I did. To quote Wikipedia,

"Latin has defective verbs that possess forms only in the perfect system; such verbs have no present tense forms whatsoever. However, these verbs are present in meaning. For example, the first-person form odi and infinitive odisse appear to be the perfect of a verb such as *odo/odio, but in fact have the present-tense meaning "I hate"."

rain forest 1:04 AM  

I think Rex has become, or wants to become, the Don Quixote of crossword puzzle quality. His daily tilting at a submission, trashing it, and segueing (word? - probably crap fill) into a general denigration of the NYT puzzles is getting old. I guess I salute him for refusing to submit any further puzzles to the NYT for fear his work will be lumped in with the rest of the "inferior" efforts, but that smacks of "taking my ball home". Because I only do the NYT puzzle, I have no source of comparison (nor will I search out any), but I like these puzzles, and I'm tired of the daily sarcasm and outright negativity emanating from Rex. I'm close to not reading this blog anymore, but I do enjoy many of the frequent commenters, and of course, the syndivillians.

I enjoyed this puzzle tremendously, with only ELOGE bothering me. TREELET seemed silly, but I warmed up to it. The theme is quite amazing, and it was fun figuring out the "relative" entries. Nice job, Dan.

Go Hawks.

Four nines.

spacecraft 1:22 PM  

@Spork: I hope you try to use TREELET in a Scrabble game. You'll lose your turn. Same with ELOGE. Those two EDUCE the non-word flag again today. You guys are piling up the penalty yards.

This was pretty tough, as Sundays go. Any time you have entry pairs that refer to each other it's no picnic. Pressure
-------- to uncover one
You are
or the other via crosses so
----- what's going on. Filled as
you can

it was with its share of LOUSIER-than-average stuff, I still enjoyed aha!ing my way through it, so I hope I'm not being
, drive home safely.

Lest 'Hawk fans think I'm a Bronco fan, I'll add my voice to the "Go Hawks!" chorus. I'm for ANY NFC team over the AFC. I'm just a bit more realistic. After a dose of #18, they're gonna wonder what hit 'em. Bottom line? I just hope no one gets seriously hurt.

spacecraft 1:27 PM  

Nuts. The "you are" was supposed to be "under" pressure, etc. I'm not good at making these line up.

Two measly pair. Fold.

Dirigonzo 6:03 PM  

I know several women who will bear witness to the statement that I am not good at relationships, so a puzzle that relies on them is going to give me trouble. Those same women will also tell you that I can be very stubborn, so I dug my heels in, determined to finish the puzzle in spite of the "relativity" involved. Long story short, if I had ELOGE instead of ELeGE I might have been able to figure out the EDWOOD/EWEN cross to finish, but I just left it blank. If anyone were to develop a scale to rate puzzles on the basis of the number of AHA moments they provide, this one would rate very high for me. It was a challenging UNDERtaking that made me feel like I was OVERachieving by figuring out the theme and (almost) finishing.

30 minutes to game time - I guess I'd better decide who I'm rooting for.

Three 6s.

Anonymous 2:24 AM  

Odi et amo. Quare id faciam, fortasse requiris.
Nescio, sed fieri sentio et excrucior.
Catullus 85 (for Lesbia)
I hate and I love. Why do I do it, maybe you'll ask yourself.
I don't know, but I feel it happening and I am troubled.

Solving in Seattle 2:51 PM  

My gringo was from Estados before ELNORTE. And had ENduRE before ENCORE. Loved the theme, Daniel.

I finished this yesterday (Sunday) while watching tv all day leading up to the Super Bowl.

Go Hawks!

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