Singer Hendryx / WED 2-19-14 / Vermont winter destination / Archipelago constituent / Hungry hungry game creatures / Object of ancient Egyptian veneration

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Constructor: Michael Dewey

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: Drill sergeant commands, reclued — things a drill sergeant might give, with an added three-part "response to a military command" (SIR / YES / SIR)

  • FORWARD MARCH (20A: Overly bold member of the "Little Women" family?)
  • COMPANY HALT (29A: Result of bankruptcy?)
  • PRESENT ARMS (44A: What blood donors do?)
  • READY, AIM, FIRE (51A: Motivational words for a boss at layoff time?) — not sure what AIM is doing here. Is that the boss's name? "Ready, Aim? FIRE!"

Word of the Day: Hungry Hungry HIPPOS (34A: "Hungry hungry" game creatures) —
Hungry Hungry Hippos is a tabletop game made for young children, produced by Hasbro, under the brand of its subsidiary, Milton Bradley. The idea for the game was published in 1967 by toy inventor Fred Kroll and it was introduced in 1978. The purpose of the game is for each player to collect as many marbles as possible with his or her 'hippo' (a toy hippo model). The game is marketed under the "Elefun and Friends" banner, along with Elefun and Gator Golf. (wikipedia)

• • •

This seems competently made, though I found it quite boring. I like the idea of recluing the themers as "?" clues (cute), and the "SIR,  / YES / SIR!" bonus was a nice touch, but there's nothing terribly interesting about the theme answers themselves (kind of monotonous) and there is nothing interesting about the puzzle outside the theme (except maybe DIPHTHONG, a great word). Lots of dull fill—stuff most people aren't really going to notice because they've come to accept it as normal. In today's NYT, dull fill is the stuff you tolerate in order to enjoy the juicy thematic center. What's another OMOO, OTOE, ERE, TEHEE, ESME, etc.? We're largely inured to this parade of crosswordese. So there's really nothing out-of-the-ordinary about the fill here. It's right where the NYT's standards are. Would've been great if you could've avoided NONA, which is highly avoidable proper noun crosswordese, and DIAG., which is just ugly, but honestly there's nothing egregious here.

Yes, SIR gets repeated, but that's part of the theme phrase, so it can hardly be considered a fault/flaw. I always have trouble spelling SAGET, in that I can't decide on the final vowel: A or E. SAGAT always looks very right, but that may just the influence of ZAGAT talking. Didn't have much trouble otherwise, except in the N., where I didn't register the capital "Y" on "Yodels" in 14A: Relatives of Yodels (HO-HOS) and so kept trying to think of other kinds of alpine wails (unsuccessfully).

See you tomorrow.
    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


    Unknown 12:05 AM  

    Naticked at AsE/IsIS. I though for sure the goddess IsIS would be an object of Egyptian veneration. My bad. I guess. I don't know the Japanese PM. Also, I earn a dope-slap at PmENA/mUG. But really, this failure was about the rabbit-warrened in the NW with
    R I D S
    U N I T
    F F O O
    F O R W A R D . . .
    Because dogs ruff, a drop is a UNIT of blood, title INFO can be found on a championship belt, and FFOO is nonsense, exactly like TYPEE and MARTI, and crumpling paper is RIDS one of it.
    I was not going to find my way out of this one. It was time to stop.
    Well . . . oh well.

    jae 12:07 AM  

    Easy smooth Wed.  No erasure and no WOEs.  Probably should have switched this one with yesterday's.  Yes, there  was a fair amount of familiar (but friendly) crosswordese...OMOO, OTOE, ESME, SRO, EPEE, ERE... which stuck it all together, but I'm OK with that.  I agree with Rex that it lacked zip  but the theme was solid and there was an extra bonus (NCO) answer.  So, liked  it.

    wreck 12:19 AM  

    Honest question to the regulars here:

    Are todays NYT puzzles inferior to where they were 5 years ago, or are your expectations just greater?

    I've mentioned several times here that I used to do the NYT crossword 8 or so years ago. As for stale clues and over-used clues (ADIT, ETUI, etc)-- it seems to me that today's puzzles are still superior to the old ones I was used to.

    Jisvan 12:19 AM  

    I was wondering what happened to the Tuesday puzzle! Now all is right with the world. Me too for worshipping IsIS before IBIS. AsE sounds more Japanese than ABE to my ear. Wanted to tell LMS I read and enjoyed her late post to yesterday's list. ATOZ in very few letters! Nice.

    retired_chemist 12:20 AM  

    Easy. Once you get one of the theme answers the pattern is clear and the rest fall easily. I found it fun throughout. Would have enjoyed 28D being clued as a lunchbox accessory, just like 5D. You get to decide whether it is for soda or beer.

    I get that few of the words are exciting, but also few are owies. So, a nice middle of the road Hump Day puzzle.

    Thanks, Mr. Dewey.

    Anonymous 12:30 AM  

    I had aSe/ISis, too! If Abe had been clued some other way I would have remembered ibis. Oh, well.

    Anonymous 12:31 AM  

    I had aSe/ISis, too! If Abe had been clued some other way I would have remembered ibis. Oh, well.

    chefwen 12:48 AM  

    Liked this one way more than yesterday's puzzle. Very clever without being overly so. PRESENT ARMS being my favorite. Although, all the long ones were a lot of fun.

    Thanks Michael Dewey, more please.

    OMG four nines over three sixes, I'll let you know where to send my winnings.

    Steve J 12:48 AM  

    Cute, enjoyable theme. I never read Little Women, so I never would have guessed MARCH in 20A, but the theme made it easy to figure out. The phrases were all solid, the clues were fun, and the SIR, YES SIR! bonus was a nice touch.

    Really liked DIPHTHONG. SARONG and HIPPOS were nice, but agreed there wasn't a lot of sparkle to the fill. But it was all solid. While there was a fair share of crosswordese, none of it was of the groan-worthy variety.

    I've never run into E-FILE as a noun, just a verb. But it does fall into the small range of e words actually in use.

    Nice Wednesday puzzle.

    John Child 12:49 AM  

    I thought his was spot-on for a Wednesday and a lot easier than yesterday's mess. IMAX crossing IMAC was nice. NONA crossing ELENA was a pure guess.

    JTHurst 12:50 AM  

    One of the few times I disagree with Rex but this puzzle was fun. I felt like I was playing Hungry Hippos, bouncing those hippo heads to gobble all the marbles. The consistent military imagery from lug to wads to NCO to the theme answers was excellent. I agree that the usual fill suspects were there from otoe, omoo, esme to imp but were negated by diphthong and forgive me but how great was the ho hos, an excellent treat to throw in the backpack on a day march.

    For those of us with vision problems I immediately plugged in Jimi for Hendryx and had a devil of a time finding a comparison word ending in J. I need help in ascertaining translations of various Yiddish words. So for those like me I have included a few which might help in the future:

    shlemil - loser
    shlepn - lug
    shmok - obnoxious, and
    shmuts - garbage

    and as we know the spellings can vary according to the constructors' need, as we saw in Tuesday's puzzle - Sholom (var.).


    Questinia 12:58 AM  

    Liked WOOF and THERMOS. Crapped out at ye olde IBIS IsIS . Put IsIS and never looked back.

    ~major eye roll~

    Questinia 1:01 AM  

    @ JTHURST, don't forget shmendrick.

    Anoa Bob 1:07 AM  

    I think this will play better with military types. I remember well FORWARD MARCH, COMPANY HALT & PRESENT ARMS, but READY AIM FIRE I associate with commands to a firing squad. Thank goodness they didn't go that far in boot camp!

    With just four themers, I was surprised to see the higher-than-average number of black squares, 42 (36-38 is typical for themed puzzles), and way-higher-than-average six cheater squares. Didn't give the puzz much room to breathe.

    @wreck, I'll call your ADIT & ETUI and raise you an OMOO, ESME, NONA, and PLENA. (I played in a Texas HOLD 'EM tournament earlier today. Made the final table but didn't get in the cash. I'm a LOSER!)

    Do some commenters here think that saying anything negative about a puzzle is an act of IMPIETY?

    Do HIPPOS like HOHOS?

    JTHurst 2:32 AM  

    Thank you @Questinia. I usually reserve Schmendrick for my ability to resolve the Thursday and Friday puzzles.

    jae 5:15 AM  

    @wreck -- my gut feeling is that since Rex came on the scene in  2006 more attention has been paid to mediocre fill in themed puzzles.  So, they tend to be better.  The quality of Fri. and Sat. themeless has been pretty constant, although the frequency of Quarfoot and Nothnagel  puzzles seems to be on the decline.  I miss those guys.!

    Loren Muse Smith 6:19 AM  
    This comment has been removed by the author.
    Danp 6:25 AM  

    It seems to me that a theme puzzle should try to accomplish one of two things: a) show the wonders and nuance of language, or b) show the amazing things you can do with a gridful of letters.

    Monday's "Say, say, say" tried the first and IMO failed miserably because anything can follow "say." CHEESE, NO, WHAT, etc. seemed completely arbitrary, and therefore, purposeless.

    Tuesday's A-Z and back again puzzle tried the second. Many solvers here found the content inelegant and therefore not worth accomplishing. Quadstacks, panagrams, earthquakes, cyclones, etc. often displease language lovers because of forced fill, though others are brilliant.

    Today, we're back to language with contrived definitions of common military phrases. Once you get one theme answer, the rest is simple because there aren't that many common military phrases out there. While easy isn't a crime per se, 11 and 12 letter gimmes tend to ruin the solving experience.

    In sum, I love good theme puzzles and I have far more tolerance for partials, ESE and e-words than many here, but I think the NYT needs to ask "does the theme add synergy? Does it evoke thought? Is there a pleasant surprise?" If not, go themeless! A bad joke is worse than no joke.

    Loren Muse Smith 6:52 AM  

    I AGREE – way easier than yesterday. I'll add to the periphery themers SHARP and AMMO. Favorite was PRESENT ARMS clue. Weird – I was just hearing yesterday that because of all the snow, donor centers had to cancel a couple of days and are desperate for blood. I just may go today and PRESENT my ARM.

    "Aye aye" SIR first, thinking, "Hmm."

    "Onion" before KNISH.

    Loved the two "yodel" clues. For 14A, I, too, missed the capital, kept thinking "trill," and abandoning it because it wasn't plural. I try to eat well, I really do, but I could stand over the sink and mow through an entire box of HOHOS with no problem. Maybe I'll forgo the Fig Newton and juice at the blood center and . . ., well, to steal from The Onion. . ."HOHOS Exchange Hurried Farewells as Loren Unlocks the Back Door."

    Agree with Rex – what's not to love about DIPHTONGs? Even today sometimes I'll say one really slowly and marvel at how it's really two vowels. Aaaahhh eeeee . I guess it's a good thing I'm so easily amused.

    Speaking of which – Rex – I did notice OMOO, OTOE, EPEE, ERE, ESE,etc., and before this blog, I wouldn't have even given them a second look. But though I'm one you consider complacent with bad fill, I have to stand my ground (and I shy away from confrontation) and maintain that crosswordESE doesn't get to me the way it does you. Granted, I still can't look at that OMOO corner and mentally come up with better choices; maybe if I could see alternatives as readily as some of you, I would change my feelings. As it stands, my overall solving experience on themed puzzles remains appreciating the theme and how it works. It's really stupid (sad? insufferable?) to say this, but my world is now richer that I've been shown these four phrases can have a wacky context other than military. Really. I will revisit this several times today and ponder others. ABOUT FACE. . .

    "Insufferable" – a couple of weeks ago I saw a conversation on social media about the blogosphere and the disdain for some regular commenters made me sad and, well, embarrassed. "Insufferable" was a word used. I've thought about that every day since. But I haven't reached any conclusions. Still just digesting it. But I digress.

    Michael – thanks for the romp. On my list today is to get some Bare Minerals foundation because at my age with my skin, it's is all ABOUT FACE!

    Glimmerglass 7:16 AM  

    @lms: ABOUT FACE ("Topic in beauty school?"). AT EASE ("Flirtatious one?"). PARADE REST ("Portapotty?").

    jberg 7:39 AM  

    I read OMOO once, so that never bothers me - guess it is crosswordese, but it never strikes me that way. And I liked the yodel mini-theme, and the IMAX/IMAC crossing. So aside to the shameless pandering to OFL at 26D, I liked this one OK.

    One of the advantages of solving in the actual paper is that I occasionally get a glance at the front page, so I'm less likely to be stumped by the names of current world leaders (though to be truthful I only got the President of Mexico the other day from the crosses).

    But remember -- there's no DIPHTHONG in SARONG!

    Anonymous 8:11 AM  

    I thought the theme answers were fun and at least 1/2 the fill was quite cool. (E.g., Knish, Diode, Impiety.) I've never thought of Gary Coleman and Gary Oldham in the same moment before today.

    Lastly, contrary to Rex, anytime a constructor can give a shout out to the sublime Nona Hendryx, that's fine with me. (It must be a generational thing.)

    Mohair Sam 8:17 AM  

    Very easy Wednesday here, the theme was easily gotten and nearly filled itself. Gimmes at STOWE and DIOR, and a guess at WOOF led me to ask my wife "What was the family name in Little Women?" - and the puzzle fell quickly.

    @Short fill complainers - AMMO, EPEE, and NCO should all be forgiven, it is a military theme after all. Besides, any puzzle with DIPHTHONG deserves a cheer.

    btw - MaryAnn was PERT and Ginger was vivacious, and never the twain shall meet.

    FearlessKim 8:22 AM  

    Hard to swallow DNFing two days in a row, and T/W, even, but there it is -- today it was the ABE/IBIS cross, where like many others I had AsE/IsIS. Instead of just kvetching about it, I thought I'd try my hand at reworking that corner.

    First, must keep DIPTHONG and SIR in place. I like IBIS more than ISIS (nothing personal, your goddessness; it's the letters, you see). So this is what I'm working with:


    You can keep the grid the same, and simply reclue either ABE or IBIS; easy.

    how about


    Ok, but no one's gonna like the abbrevs.
    You can try this:


    Or its kissin' cousin


    I really like the PBRS, tho not crazy about DESE or ESS or ISS. Moving on...


    My favorite so far. Gives me PORT rather than PERT (O>E) and ABO ("Dracula's menu options?") clue for PORT could then be "How the count in 10D ended a lovely meal"

    This is fun!

    AliasZ 8:23 AM  

    Today we have READER to complete yesterday's UTNE.

    The military theme was fine, but not nearly as much fun as yesterday double-alphabet-run pangram. The length of today's four theme entries certainly justify the fact there were only four of them, and the SIR YES SIR adds that sparkle that we so often feel lacking. Atten-SHUN, fall in, at ease, salute, etc. wouldn't quite have the same flair. But we don't have to look too hard to see that WOOF, AMMO, RASP, PROD and LASH can also be things among a barking drill-NCO's inventory of items, just like HOHOS, KNISH, OPENER, a Granola bar with OATS, and perhaps a ROSE, can be packed quite comfortably in a lunch box next to the THERMOS.

    DIPHTHONG, shmiphthong. My favorite word today: SHARP. Perhaps a hidden tribute by Michael Dewey / Will Shortz?

    To stay within a military theme of the puzzle, let's celebrate our troops with this rousing piece by Morton Gould called American Salute performed here by the US Air Force Symphony Orchestra.

    All those who disliked this post, AVERT your eyes. And to all those who disliked OTOE, OMIT, OMOO, ESME, EPEE, ESE, ERE, NONA, DIAG, I say: WOOF.

    Happy hump day!

    Blue Stater 8:31 AM  

    @wreck: On the question whether the puzzles are better or worse than they were five years ago, I'm virtually alone in the belief (in the expressed belief, anyway) that the puzzles are not as good as they were in the Maleska era (not five years ago, but 20). I think WS has changed the crossword puzzle as a genre by the power of his position.

    Maleska's puzzles stressed knowledge of arcane words and facts, and were always factually accurate, as far as I could tell. WS's depend far more on tricks and deceptions, and to my mind, anyway, exhibit an unacceptably large number of factual errors and non-words. I gave up keeping track of them years ago.

    There used to be a special Sunday puzzle (I don't subscribe to the print edition any more, so it may be gone now), "Puns and Anagrams." When you tackled that, you knew you were in for outrageous tricks, puns, etc., as the title implies. WS has imported those practices wholesale into the daily puzzles (particularly Thursdays), and substituted trick-solving abilities for solid factual and linguistic knowledge in what is demanded of solvers. I think the X-word community has lost a lot in that exchange, and I lament it.

    Ludyjynn 8:34 AM  

    This would have made a great "medium" Monday or "easy" Tuesday puzzle. But I appreciated it, anyhow, on Wednesday, after yesterday's solve.

    Z 8:42 AM  

    @cascokid - I never put in dog speech without a cross. Having WADS and FORWARD MARCH made WOOF obvious, but there are so many varieties for dog speech one must be careful.

    I liked this puzzle. I'm sure everyone is standing straighter after solving it.

    @wreck - "If you're not getting ahead you're getting behind." Of the daily puzzles I do the NYTs is still the best. But there is a lot more good stuff out there now. People here who are really into crosswords see all this really great stuff out there and can argue that it is better than the NYT. But (imperfect comparison to follow)it's a little like comparing a Craft Brewery with a Home Brewer. What I produce for me and my friends might suit our tastes better, but I don't have to make a large and diverse customer base happy, nor do I have to make a fresh batch every day. It would be interesting to do a "blind taste test" of NYT puzzles from the past 20 years and compare.

    @lms - publicly expressing disdain for others behind their backs is pretty much the definition of "insufferable." When middle school girls do it (known as "mean girls" in the literature) we teach them why it is wrong. When adults do it I generally choose not to associate with them. Who needs that in their life? I'm a little surprised, though, that anyone here would engage in such behavior. I know I and others have been called out here, so most people seem pretty up-front about posts when they get "off-topic."

    Beaglelover 8:43 AM  

    Wow, Blue Stater, you are right on with those comments. Thank you for expressing my thoughts.
    I did not pick up on the theme of this puzzle until the very end, so I found it tough going. I did finish with no mistakes but had to look up Hungry Hippos on line.
    Compared to yesterday, this puzzle is a gem.

    Unknown 8:59 AM  

    @anoa bob, Rex sets himself up against the puzzle every day, so saying anything at all for/against the puzzle is either an act of IMPIETY against either our host or our editor. Religious wars, these be, as YODA might say, so expect them to last at least a Shortzian VIEPISODES, or a Maleskan THIRTYYEARS.

    konezone 9:13 AM  


    In my opinion, the puzzle has gotten better every year for the last 15 (before that, I wasn't solving). @Rex (and many others) are speed-solvers, constructors in their own right, and have a narrow view of what makes puzzles good. On this blog we're not really given reviews through an "objective lens" (still entertaining, of course). @Rex absolutely has standards that are out of whack in comparison to those of the general solving public.

    Just look for example at @Blue Stater's comments. If he feels that way now, just imagine how he'll feel if someone in @Rex's camp becomes the next editor of the Times.

    Carola 9:15 AM  

    My appreciation of the puzzle ROSE after reading the comments about the many bonus theme-related answers - nice! I was slow to catch onto the theme - after FORWARD MARCH, I ran into a barrier at what turned out to be DIPHTHONG (great word!), so retreated to the left flank and proceeded downhill (thus missing COMPANY HALT), then advanced across the bottom tier and finally attacked the NE from below.

    Briefly wondered if Egyptians had venerated IrISes before I remembered the IBIS.

    I suppose you might wear a SARONG on a CAY, perhaps over a THONG.

    Unknown 9:15 AM  

    @Z I sensed danger with the dog-speak. I tried out yelp, bark. With DIOR and STOWE, I was faced with _ _ D S for my disposes-of-paper clue, and riDS leapt to mind. That solidified RUFF, forced UNIT, and left me wondering about belt "info" and ffOO. Since I've seen crazier, like FONDU misspelled, I marched into oblivion with credibility and discipline. Ours is not to wonder why. Ours is but to do and die.

    On the crosswordese debate: do you guys appreciate that all that "familiar" crosswordese is helping you solve the puzzles quickly, and in many cases, at all? OMOO is totally foreign to me, so I DNF'd with 10 extra minutes of pounding on that one alone, while you guys flew through in a matter of seconds. So you may brag about hating it, but you need it more than you think. A lot more than you think. Weigh that against the fact that I've been doing these since May, and regard or not accordingly.

    I'll except genuine Melville scholars for whom OMOO is basic knowledge. Rex may well be one.

    konezone 9:16 AM  

    @Z and @LMS:

    Well said.

    chefbea 9:35 AM  

    Fun puzzle…Love little Women. At camp many years ago we put on the play of little Women. I was Beth, cuz I was the smallest.

    And my chidden played Hungry Hippos when they were young

    Wonderful memories

    joho 9:45 AM  

    Interesting conversation about whether the puzzles are better today than 5 to 20 years ago. My answer is a resounding yes! I applaud the steps Will has taken to modernize the puzzle. Sure, it's not as dramatic as some of the independent puzzles being published ( which may or may not include swear words) but today's NYT puzzles are fresher and more ground breaking than ever, certainly eons more interesting that all the crosswordese we encountered in the Maleska era where we'd have words no human would ever utter in "real life."

    What I've noticed lately is that @Rex's Will bashing is becoming more and more prevalent. I for one don't appreciate it.

    As for today's puzzle, yes, easier than yesterday and very enjoyable. Loved PRESENTARMS for "what blood donors do." And any puzzle with DIPHTHONG is fine by me!

    Evan 9:57 AM  


    "@Rex absolutely has standards that are out of whack in comparison to those of the general solving public."

    You know

    I would submit that even if most people in the "general solving public" don't think as much about the fine details of puzzles like Rex does, there are plenty of people in the same group who get frustrated with crosswords and give up doing them when they encounter arcane crosswordese that Rex complains about.

    Steve J 10:01 AM  
    This comment has been removed by the author.
    Steve J 10:02 AM  

    @Danp: While I disagree that something like Monday's theme is "purposeless", I really do like your suggestion that themeless puzzles be allowed outside of the Friday/Saturday ghetto. I enjoy the challenges of those puzzles, but I also enjoy simpler ones (you don't see them in the NYT, but they float around amongst the independents sometimes). There's no good reason not to have a medium-difficulty themeless on a Wednesday, for example, other than longstanding convention. I'd really like to see things changed up like that periodically.

    @cascokid: I don't know that I appreciate stuff like OMOO so much as I appreciate that I now consistently remember it. I do appreciate that you need short fill to hold the longer pieces together, but I still prefer as much of that as possible to be stuff that's actually in use and isn't contrived or awkward. There was a fair amount of stuff today that one's likely to encounter only in crosswords, but none of it featured awkward usages, words that even crossword people don't recognize, nonstandard abbreviations, etc. That's the truly egregious stuff, and over-reliance on that (like yesterday's puzzle) definitely grates on some people.

    OISK 10:11 AM  

    I missed IBIS and ABE as well, but also got sloppy and had DIAM instead of DIAG, and Mary,not Gary, really stupid of me in the second case, but a bad crossing IMHO in the first. Despite the DNF, not a bad puzzle, liked the theme, the usual pop culture proper names I never heard of, Kasem, Saget, Hendryx, detract a bit. Add me to those who preferred the Maleska puzzles. I have a collection of Sunday puzzles from that era, which I take on the subway with me. I generally finish them, but there was just one that completely beat me; it was by Maleska himself! "Pinna" for auricle, Eris for Ares twin, Analecta, and Poilu, all in the same sector, defeated me completely. But, looking the terms up was at least interesting and educational! It interests me not at all who the drummer for the Who was. (assuming they had a drummer - I have no idea) The point is that the obscurities in the Maleska puzzles were interesting to me, while the pop-hop-slop in some of the new puzzles is not.

    I didn't get to comment yesterday, but I really liked David Steinberg's harder than average Tuesday puzzle. Perhaps he is best suited for Tuesday or Wednesday, where the need to make the puzzle solvable curbs some of his very inventive, but often impenetrable excesses.

    Notsofast 10:11 AM  

    A fun puzzle, if bland. DIPHTHONG was outstanding, but I've seen enough of OMOO,OTOE and EPEE, thanks.

    quilter1 10:16 AM  

    I don't believe I ever has a THERMOS that lasted through first semester.
    Despite the note, my puzzle printed out without the stars. So I just did it without thinking about the letter progression and finished easily. I liked the theme, the theme clues and answers, especially FORWARD MARCH and PRESENT ARMS. I've read all of Alcott's published work, including her obscure adult fiction. But Little Women was a blockbuster in its day, making Alcott the equivalent of a contemporary multimillionaire and lifting her from lifelong grinding poverty. The recent PBS biography is very good.

    Mohair Sam 10:23 AM  

    Enjoying the debate(s) on what constitutes a good crossword - keep at it.

    I'm a daily, but casual, solver - and the NYT Crossword is just fine by me. Will Shortz may not be perfect, but he is trying to please a very large and diverse audience - no mean task. In that context I think he does a heck of job. I have no problem, however, with the @Rex's of the world who criticize loudly here and elsewhere - their opinions are certainly informed, and they keep the NYT on its toes.

    @Blue Stater - I hear what you are saying, but the NYT picked up folks like me when Will took over - my first Sunday puzzle was themed for Clinton's second inauguration and I loved it. They'd lose this large part of their audience if they went back to the admittedly more difficult format. Your reference to the Puns and Anagrams puzzle made me think that the NYT might try adding a Sunday puzzle that "stresses arcane words and facts" for folks like you who enjoy that more - from what I'm reading here there appears to be a market, and plenty of constructors ready to go.

    Sandy K 10:32 AM  

    I AGREE with Mr. SHARP- found it to be competent puzzle, not a thrilling theme for me, but competent.

    Also agree that I might be suffering from IBF syndrome- (Inured to Bad Fill) Sometimes I don't even bat an eyepit- just fill it in- SIR, YES, SIR!

    Liked the pic of Louis Gossett Jr.- the theme brought him to mind in "An Officer and A Gentleman."

    Faves were FORWARD MARCH and DIPHTHONG. Least fave was NONO...OY!

    konezone 10:36 AM  


    Let me rephrase: IN MY OPINION, @Rex absolutely has standards that are out of whack in comparison to those of the general solving public. Sorry if you thought I was citing a study or something.

    I may just be one person, but I can honestly say that one of the things I like about crosswords is that I learn new words from them, and I maintain and groom a larger lexicon than I otherwise might in order to solve them competently. I reject a few of the constant nags from a relatively small faction of solvers. Just constantly saying that OTOE (or whatever) is horrible doesn't make it truth. Just because you think something is arcane doesn't make it truth, either. We're all smart enough to realize that, right? That opinions aren't facts?

    Something like today's ESME, for example, I personally think is great. A great story from a great writer. I really don't care if you haven't read it, won't read it, or don't know it. Learn it. It's not contrived, it's not made-up, it's not foreign. It's a real piece of Americana. That makes it fair game as far as I'm concerned. Same with OMOO and OTOE and NONA today, and any other number of words. Learn them, and you'll be smarter than you were beforehand. Lucky you.

    Am I saying there's not a place for puzzles that only have familiar words and phrases? Of course not. Obviously, those can be some of the best puzzles, and good for you if you make one. But a common-word-only puzzle isn't the only way to do things, and I hope that's never the case.

    All I'm saying is that, IN MY OPINION, if you have a problem with a crossword answer, or an entire puzzle, maybe you should do some self-reflection and up your own game instead of blaming the medium when you fail.

    Maybe, just maybe, there are people other than you solving out there in the world, and maybe they like what they see.

    Two Ponies 10:39 AM  

    I'm with @Rex today.

    I love the ways Will has allowed innovations and tricks to keep us on our toes.

    Bob Kerfuffle 11:11 AM  

    Good puzz if somewhat easy.

    As often happens, I will read part of @Rex's write-up (today, re: SAGET) and say, "Huh? That was in the puzzle?" and look to see where it is, and how it filled in so quickly from the crosses that I never looked at the clue. But, then, I also missed the Yodel/yodel today.

    Sandy K 11:20 AM  


    Your point is well taken. I was not familiar with NONA Hendryx, and cited the answer as my least fave AND misspelled it to boot...

    Now that I've googled Ms. Hendryx, I've learned something new and will FILE it into my memory.

    Lewis 11:30 AM  

    The constructor has good background on this puzzle, by the way, at x-word. He points out that DIPTHONG, PRESORTED, and IMPIETY, are in the NYT puzzle for the first time.

    I don't believe today's puzzle was dull. USA Today puzzles are dull. This puzzle is a sparkling rose compared to them.

    I found five examples of grid gruel, at the upper limits of what I accept, but I do accept that. The theme was cute.

    Whether you like Maleska or Shortz puzzles better comes down to personal taste, after all.

    Jisvan 11:30 AM  

    @quilter1: I think the note, which I also saw on my ipad with this puzzle, referred to yesterday's puzzle, which did have the 13 starred clues and the alphabetic progression. There was also a note yesterday, but is was more cryptic. Maybe this note was a sort of apology for the unexpected difficulty level on a Tuesday...

    Masked and Anonymo1Us 11:35 AM  

    Clever. COMPANYMESS woulda been a cool alternate entry. TOTHEREARMARCH, not so much. EYESLEFT = maybe. SMOKEEMIFYOUGOTEM = too long and wordy...

    LUG had to do all the heavy lifting today, in the vowel-respect arena.

    har! E-FILE! E-PEE! Hold that thought, if you try this puz...


    Anonymous 11:37 AM  

    Thanks for everyone's input so far! When I posed the question, I wasn't looking for a comparison of Shortz to Maleska so much as a critique of whether the state of the NYT Xword is in as vast disarray as our host appears to think.

    Benko 11:49 AM  

    Yes, it's crosswordese. Because it fits so easily into grids, it has been used many, many, times by constructors. Solvers easily recognize when it is being referenced.
    However, that doesn't mean it is unworthy. Melville is one of the few truly classic American authors. People in this country should know his major works--Moby Dick, Typee, OMOO, Billy Budd.
    I would say it is the frequency of use, not the obscurity, which makes OMOO crosswordese.

    Benko 11:51 AM  

    @wreck-- The state of the NYT, relative to the NYT, is steadily climbing. However, those of us who do a lot of Fireball, American Values, and BEQ puzzles may feel it is dropping in quality relative to the standard quality of those fine puzzles.

    Bob Kerfuffle 12:06 PM  

    @M&A - Happy to tackle your latest e-minently sufferable but almost insoluble little offering. I actually guessed three or four of the answers; all the others called for "Reveal word." No point quoting a time - the site only has a clock, not a calendar.

    But as always, many laughs!


    Evan 12:45 PM  


    I find it ironic how you reject the idea of "constant nags" when you write things like this:

    "if you have a problem with a crossword answer, or an entire puzzle, maybe you should do some self-reflection and up your own game instead of blaming the medium when you fail."

    That makes no sense. That's like saying that if a movie critic doesn't like a scene in a movie, or a piece of dialogue, or the whole film, maybe there's something wrong with him and he should realize that's he's the one who's somehow failed -- when in reality it's perfectly reasonable to think that the movie could have been better.

    Crossword criticism is much the same thing. It's looking at a puzzle like a piece of art, from the whole to the sum of its parts. It's subjective, of course, so you're obviously free to disagree with Rex about what constitutes poor fill. Plus, every constructor will tell you that inevitably there will be some compromises in the fill here and there, and there's room to debate how much crosswordese is acceptable in a given puzzle. But it's not at all unreasonable for a critic like Rex to suggest that maybe some words like ESME or STOA or NISI are just not equal in quality or cultural currency to more common words and that puzzles would be better off if they didn't have them. Even editors make the same decisions -- there's a reason why the NYT never uses the Maleskan holdout INEE anymore, even though it would be a useful crutch for just about every constructor. Does the fact that Will Shortz doesn't like INEE mean there's something wrong with him?

    (For the record, I'm not of the opinion that the NYT is declining in standards, and while it's difficult to compare a daily puzzle to a weekly one, I think there are weekly indie puzzles that rival the NYT's best stuff.)

    Anoa Bob 12:51 PM  

    An elephant in the room of the Maleskan vs Shortzian era debate is the computer.

    My impression of an old school constructor is someone like Bernice or Merle with graph paper, pencil & eraser in hand, sitting in the reference section of a library pouring over musty tomes on heraldry, mythology, alchemy, etc., etc., trying to fill in the interstices of their grid. Is it any surprise that this occasionally resulted in some musty fill?

    The computer changed all that. One example is Crossword Compiler. This program is enormously helpful and time- & labor-saving. The constructor comes up with the major idea and the big pieces of the puzzle and the program, with its extensive word lists (which can be easily modified and added to) makes the grunt-work of filling 'er in way easier.

    So in one sense saying that older puzzles are inferior to contemporary ones is like saying that gas lamps are inferior to electric light bulbs.

    Another big bonus of the computer is that we don't have to solve (or construct) alone. We can come to places like this and share our experiences and thoughts with like-minded souls, thereby greatly enhancing our xwording fun.


    M and Also 12:53 PM  

    @Bob K. . . Well U couldn't have done too bad. U responded on the same day, after all. I was afraid #106 might be an awful weird puzlet, since almost half its entries were those funky themer e-ntries. Plus U probably haven't seen our front yard display. Next one will be easier. Promise.
    But as always, no refunds.

    I could've used "reveal word" to save my bacon at today's IsIS/AsE wipeout.


    mac 1:04 PM  

    Pretty good puzzle, with diphthong my favorite word. I tried all the names before I thought of March.

    Sometimes I call crosswordese toeholds.

    Last Silver Bull Woot 1:12 PM  

    p.s. Judgin crosswords is like judgin Oliolympic ice skatin routines. Some puzs go for quads and fall on their ass. Some puzs play it safe and get ye olde polite golf clap. And everything else inbetween. Comparin daily NYTs to weekly Fireballs? Day-um. How do U even get the judgin rules straight, on that? Whatever trips the judge's trigger, I reckon.

    I like whoever compared crossword puzs to works of art. There's yer rodeo. Everything from M&A stick figures to Patrick Berry masterpieces. Viva le differents. And don't forget to stop and savor the weejects. Good for yer spleen.

    Sufferin succotashably,

    dk 1:37 PM  
    This comment has been removed by the author.
    dk 1:39 PM  

    🌕🌕 (2 Moons) I do not wish to go to the sunny slope of X-word memory. But if we could bring back 2 letter fill…...

    I felt this was more Hogan's Heroes and was hoping for "I see nothing."

    The only queasy part was the vague reference to a LASH EXPO.

    retired_chemist 1:48 PM  

    @ dk - the LASH EXPO involved Bob SAGET, GARY Coleman, and GARY Oldman. I know. I saw it on my IMAC.

    konezone 2:04 PM  


    It's a pretty flimsy comparison, as moviegoers are totally impassive. They don't have a task to complete. They just sit and watch. They can't fail, because they don't actively participate. It's pure criticism. You, a crossword solver, have work to do. You can fail at it and probably do from time to time. I'm arguing that it's possible that sometimes that failure is your fault, and a little self-awareness might do you some good.

    I have no problem with critique, disagreement, differences in taste, and so on. It's a part of any art appreciation (or whatever). I *do* have a problem with people passing their opinions off as truth, and arrogantly and insultingly so. Talk about shtick! Sorry, critiques don't need to be like that. They just don't. It's akin to schoolyard bullying as far as I'm concerned. Even though it sometimes entertains, it's at the lowest level, and mostly just comes off as unnecessarily hurtful and hubristic. Great fodder for conversation, but it's actually kind of sad to look at some days, how full of oneself and narrow-minded an adult blogger or commenter can be.

    I totally agree with you that "it's not at all unreasonable for a critic like Rex to suggest that maybe some words like ESME or STOA or NISI are just not equal in quality or cultural currency to more common words." Please let me know if he ever qualifies one of his diatribes with words like 'maybe' or 'suggest,' as you have so generously done for him here.

    Three and out. I'm done talking about this for today.

    Acme 3:43 PM  

    OMOO = necessarily glue, get over it!
    YES SIR YES reimaginedcommands, cute!

    I always thought DIPTHONGS were those smushed togeter oe and ae of archaically spelled Greek and German words

    Pete 3:44 PM  

    @konezone - It's implicit in any review that the opinions expressed are theirs, that the weight to be given them are the cumulative authority the reviewer has amassed. Were Rex to preface each and every statement he made with "In my opinion.." the writeups would be unreadable. Nor does he have to weasel out of making statements by prefacing every statement with "maybe" or "may I suggest". It's not arrogance or passing of opinions as truth, it's writing in simple declarative sentences, i.e. good writing.

    sanfranman59 4:27 PM  

    Midday report of relative difficulty (see my 8/1/2009 post for an explanation of my method and my 10/15/2012 post for an explanation of a tweak to my method):

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

    Wed 10:14, 10:14, 1.00, 50%, Medium

    Top 100 solvers

    Wed 6:49, 6:19, 1.08, 71%, Medium-Challenging

    Anonymous 5:21 PM  

    Two bad puzzles in a row. Not as bad as yesterday but.....dull.

    sanfranman59 10:02 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 6:12, 6:15, 0.99, 44%, Medium
    Tue 11:44, 8:18, 1.41, 100%, Challenging (2nd highest ratio of 219 Tuesdays)
    Wed 10:21, 10:21, 1.00, 50%, Medium

    Top 100 solvers

    Mon 4:15, 3:59, 1.07, 80%, Challenging
    Tue 6:46, 5:14, 1.29, 98%, Challenging (5th highest ratio of 219 Tuesdays)
    Wed 6:22, 6:19, 1.01, 54%, Medium

    spacecraft 11:25 AM  

    Vis a vis yesterday, I had clear sailing in mostly calm waters--yet I too saw my vessel DASH on the reef of AsE/IsIS. The other natick at ELENA/NONA was OK because the N of ELENA is inferrable.

    I liked the theme because the two sets of orders (top and bottom) are naturally complementary.
    FORWARDMARCH to get 'em going;
    COMPANYHALT to get 'em stopped.

    I worked around the NE because it took a while for DIPHTHONG to appear, so had the YES and the second SIR. I resisted using SIR again in the NE because: can you do that? I thought the same word repeated in a grid was THE classic no-no. But it had to be, so I guess that if a word is repeated within some well-known phrase, and that phrase is part of the theme, it's OK. Last week's MADx4 WORLD does not compare; it's a rebus, and the crosses have nothing to do with madness--plus, the MADs that do mean "mad" are all together. This is the first time I've ever seen the same word appear, standing alone, in two different locales of the same grid. That's what made me hesitate.

    As to new vs. old crosswords, it boggles the mind to imagine how long this crossword phenomenon can go on before we start running into whole sections, or even entire grids, that have already been done. As we can see just from many of today's blogs, we have long since arrived at the too-oft-repeated single word entry. My hat's off to the continuing wonder of human inventiveness--and I should probably remember that before I get too critical.

    But just one thing: how does "Quick" end up being SHARP? Oh, I get it: OFL does puzzles "quick"ly. TEHEE.

    Four 4's. Take that, you dirty rat.

    DMG 1:23 PM  

    I've. Never heard of the singer or Yodels, but escaped a Natick at the cross because O seemed to fit. On the other hand, my screen measure was DIAm, making my unknown people mARYs. So DNF.

    Not to get into the spat about old versus new puzzles, the question has to do with what do you like better? The choice seems to be between puzzles filled with archaic Greek gods and dated language , or those filled with obscure rap singers and computer age acronyms. You pays yer money and you takes yer choice.

    One look at my hand, and I fold.

    Ginger 2:57 PM  

    Liked it more than OFL. I think the themers are witty and clever. DIPHTHONG is interesting, though it seems to have an extra 'H'. Never heard of hungry HIPPOS until I came here and discovered it's a game.

    Lots to like, though IsIS/AsE caused a DNF.

    @Daffydill's question from yesterday in regard to Googleing and cheating. @Z IMHO, said it very well. I'd just like to add that to me, the Goal is to solve completely on my own. If I google, for whatever reason, or ask for help from my hip daughter, or check another source, I count it as a DNF. However, looking for answers is how we learn and improve.

    Dirigonzo 3:18 PM  

    A latent memory stored in the inner recesses of remote brain cell, probably stored from an earlier puzzle, saved me from the IsIS/AsE debacle that tripped up so many, and I immediately rejected jimi on the basis of the cross having a termina "j". Has aanyone mentioned the NCO lurking at the bottom of the grid as an additional themer? "The Daily Show" and "The Colbert Report" are SATIRE? That's where I get my news!

    @spacey - I drew 4 nines, and who you callin' a dirty rat?!

    Solving in Seattle 3:59 PM  

    There was a lot in this Wedpuz that I didn't know: HOHOS, ELENA, HIPPOS, SAGET, NONA, PLENA, but @Z&@Ginger would approve it was completed all on my own. It helped that I knew of P.M. ABE.

    Liked IMPIETY and DIPHTHONG (strange underwear?).

    Liked the Schlemiel clue. Reminds me of the old joke - What's the difference between a Schmuck and a Schlemiel?

    Three 4s. You dirty diphthong...

    strayling 7:57 PM  

    I was cursing this puzzle right up until I started enjoying it. The sequence of solving was almost forced for me because of the proper noun clues, so I took a tour from absurdity (TEHEE, HOHOS WOOF) through to the main theme, which I think was quite clever. A legit reason for a duplicate word in the puzzle was a pleasant surprise too.

    Waxy in Montreal 8:43 PM  

    @SiS, strange underwear indeed - an ophthalmologist, clad only in a diphthong, contracted diphtheria which could only be treated with naphthalene.

    In my experience, most companies in the usual panic at layoff time manage to follow a READY, FIRE, AIM process.

    Was the Japanese P.M. also known as Honest Abe?

    Solving in Seattle 8:49 PM  

    @Waxy, your ophthalmologist was a pheaking phony who only had a PHD.

    Solving in Seattle 2:52 PM  

    BTW, I fold.

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