Very high trumpet note / WED 4-23-14 / Keyboardist Saunders / River of Hesse / Unstable subatomic particle / "Luck Be a Lady" composer/lyricist /

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Constructor: David J. Kahn

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: MERCURY / SEVEN (71A: With 1-Down, first American astronauts) — last names of all seven astronauts populate the grid, clued by their first names, which are in all caps FOR SOME REASON. There are a couple random extra theme answers: SPACE RACE (12D: Old U.S./Soviet rivalry) and ROCKET (9D: NASA vehicle).

Theme answers:
Word of the Day: KAON (38D: Unstable subatomic particle) —
In particle physics, a kaon /ˈk.ɑːn/, also called a K meson and denoted K, is any of a group of four mesonsdistinguished by a quantum number called strangeness. In the quark model they are understood to be bound states of a strange quark (or antiquark) and an up or down antiquark (or quark).
Kaons have proved to be a copious source of information on the nature of fundamental interactions since their discovery in cosmic rays in 1947. They were essential in establishing the foundations of the Standard Model of particle physics, such as the quark model of hadrons and the theory of quark mixing (the latter was acknowledged by a Nobel Prize in Physics in 2008). Kaons have played a distinguished role in our understanding of fundamental conservation lawsCP violation, a phenomenon generating the observed matter-antimatter asymmetry of the universe, was discovered in the kaon system in 1964 (which was acknowledged by a Nobel prize in 1980). Moreover, direct CP violation was also discovered in the kaon decays in the early 2000s. (wikipedia)
• • •

I don't really understand why this puzzle exists. It does nothing. It lists a bunch of names, only a handful of which are legitimately famous. There is no anniversary here. The theme is dense, but so what? The fill is consequently Tortured. This is just baffling. What is the point? Why are the theme clues (the astronaut names, anyway) in all caps? That makes no sense and follows no crossword convention that I know of. When I got SCHIRRA for 1A: WALLY I was like "… ??? … is there some wordplay involved here? Do I have the answer wrong? What is a SCHIRRA?" Later I hit an astronaut name I recognized, so I had to just go on faith that SCHIRRA was a name (see also CARPENTER, COOPER, SLAYTON (?); I knew SHEPARD, GRISSOM and GLENN. Good thing GLENN is famous, because that SE corner was threatening to be undoable for a bit there. A ridiculous obscure Dickinson for WHEREON? Even with WHEREO-, I wasn't entirely sure of the last letter. Thank god I remembered MERL Saunders (*not* in everyone's crossword bag o' tricks, I assure you). That at least kept me in the game down there (62A: Keyboardist Saunders).

Never heard of SUPER C (48A: Very high trumpet note). Again, *thank god* -OOPER was inferable as COOPER, because that letter after SUPER could've been anything, as far as I was concerned. Figured C > H, since C, unlike H, is a note. So C. LOESSER … (69A: "Luck Be a Lady" composer/lyricist) … again, pure crossword muscle memory there. Ugh. I stared at NOTO- / -AON for many seconds before deciding on what letter could possibly go there. THE DIE is a terrible partial. I've never seen ACETALS, or maybe I have, but it looks like a ton of other acetyl / acetate / acetone answers I've filled in over the years (18A: Volatile solvents). DOODLER I like (26D: School desk drawer?); also ATROPHIED (21D: Weakened due to inactivity). The rest is just an absurd exercise in symmetry. Baffling.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

PS same theme published in NYT in 1998:


wreck 12:08 AM  

I thought it was odd as well, but I knew all the astronauts names. It seemed kind of hard, but I finished a little under my usual Wednesday time - so who knows!

Anonymous 12:08 AM  

The names of the Mercury Seven not all "reasonably famous"? Yeah, they're only in history books and a best-selling book and a movie, and well-known to anyone with at least a slight interest in space.

jae 12:16 AM  

Easy-medium for me but I was around when all those guys were in the news, plus I 've seen The Right Stuff (did not read the book) , so this was chocked-full of gimmes.  Might play tougher for an Xer @Rex or millennial.

Very nice tribute/historical puzzle.  

Tough spots:  KAON/NOTOK and SEWS/WHEREON (had SEts for a while). 

Liked it.

Rocket Man 12:20 AM  

I predicted the old folks would eat this shit UP, and it looks like I'm right. Give me some wordplay over this snooze fest any day.

Mark 12:25 AM  

All the astronauts' names came back to me quickly. Did anyone else notice what impressed me most in the theme of this puzzle (as one who hates even to ride in a car): ATROPHIED, nice long vertical in the middle, is the condition of astronauts' muscles after too much zero gravity!

Z 12:26 AM  

WALLY had me looking for Beaver.

Steve J 12:29 AM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
okanaganer 12:29 AM  

Because I knew all the astronauts' names, this was my fastest Wednesday ever. Every now and then a theme happens to be one I know well. Doesn't happen very often!

For a great read about that epic era of American history, I can highly recommend the book Flight by Chris Kraft, who was flight director through most of it. Kraft gives a candid assessment of the Mercury Seven (particularly that Scott Carpenter was a total incompetent), plus his surprising opinion that if the horrible Apollo 1 accident that killed Grissom and two others hadn't happened, the entire moon mission would likely have failed.

Steve J 12:31 AM  

Agreed this was odd. I really don't get why the astronauts' first names are in all caps. There's no reason for that at all that I can figure out. And I don't know of any occasion that prompted this, not that everything needs to hinge off of a calendar date.

Nearly Naticked at ACETALS / OLLA. Got it by pure guess/phonetic reasoning. Never heard of a SUPER C. Had pearls being cast before THE DIE (awful partial, although it's not quite as bad fill as NOTOK). Misspelled SCHIRRA's name for a bit.

I did like VAMOOSE. And, um, well, VAMOOSE.

@Anon 12.08: I have more than a slight interest in space, but expecting me to remember all seven astronauts from the start of the program 11 years before I was born is not exactly gimmee territory. I'm guessing those alive and aware of such events in 1959 could pull out these names quickly, but they're hardly all at the tip of most people's tongues. I remembered GLENN and SHEPARD straight away once I got the theme - and they're definitely the most famous of the MERCURY SEVEN - but the others took some doing.

@Z: Is that what the kids call it these days?

wreck 12:42 AM  

I'm 55 for reference. I had the same hang-ups as jae. I might not have "eaten this s_ _ _ up" -- but I'm certainly not denigrating anyone of any age liking it.

thursdaysd 12:44 AM  

I was certainly alive in 1959, and even had some interest in space exploration. But I was living in another country and in school (probably junior high in US terms). I dredged up the same three names as Rex, but it took me a while to remember MERCURY, and SCHIRRA was totally from crosses. Had NOTOn before NOTOK and tHEREON before WHEREON.

CARPENTER cleared up a mess in the SW, but not because I knew he was an astronaut, it just looked the most likely name. Good thing there wasn't another SCHIRRA down there. Definitely not a fun puzzle, just a slog.

August West 12:54 AM  

My dad was in the Corps and flew the Huey's that picked up the Mercury and Gemini astronauts after splashdown in the Atlantic. These guys were his heroes, and I knew all their names before I was four. Dunno why we get this dusty theme today, but thank you, Mr. Kahn, for a pleasant throwback to my earliest history.

retired_chemist 12:59 AM  

Yup. This codger only needed a few crosses to recall all the astronauts. Kind of a fun trip down memory lane.

ACETALS as solvents? Not common ones. Due to their sensitivity to hydrolysis in acid conditions, with possible consequent oligomerization of the aldehyde thus released, they can produce junk in whatever they are dissolving. Probably useful in some specialty applications but I never used an acetal as a solvent in 40+ years as an organic chemist.

Did most of this via the acrosses, doing a few downs as/if needed to get the former. Worked fine and the puzzle was easy, although SHOre for SHOAL was kinda hard to fix. Just wasn't attuned to looking at the downs. Eventually RrG and DOODeER hove into view, got fixed, and Mr. Happy Pencil appeared.

I guess OEDS is legitimate but I also bet next to no libraries have more than one. Uglier than the average plural if you ask me.

Fess up now - haw many of you had tiger or zebra first for 39A? Hans up for tiger with zebra in reserve.....

Thanks, Mr. Kahn.

Unknown 1:05 AM  

Challenging Wednesday here. 58 minutes. I DNFed with multiple errors all in the SE. For some odd reason, I couldn't see John GLENN peeking through. MERL Saunders is unknown to me, EMERY came out of the post mortem, and SLAYTON took on many, many variants throughout the solve.

But If you knew the Mercury Seven by heart, it was still a tough puzzle. KAONS and ACETAL are not everyday science, and while they are supposed to be in my wheel house, I had to dig them out with effort. I kept wanting ACETyL. Is that so wrong, @retired_chemist? SHOAL was SHOre hiding RAG and confounding DOODLER for the longest time. INGE was another deep suss, and I've never heard of SUPERC. I'm happy I got as close as I did.


Elsewhere, I registered for Patrick Blindauer's XWord U. Presumptuous of me, I know, considering I still in Rex's kindergarten with a good chance of having to repeat. As you might expect, I flunked out on Day One. I found an alternate way to (mis)solve the Puzzle #1 meta. Patrick circulated a set of hints that contained the right approach, but I'm rather proud of my wrong answer there. I don't think He had seen the coincidental interpretation of the meta.

My solution to Puzzle #2 was nearly complete. Due to its unconventional grid design, many squares had only one clue (with no cross) to guide the solution. Naturally, I game up with several alternative solutions that fit the puzzle just fine. I solved the first meta (a maze giving clues to the second meta) but got dumped in the second because my main puzzle solution was not what Patrick wanted, so there was just way through the second meta.

I sent an email to Patrick detailing my experience and got a very nice reply. I'll give the other puzzles the old college try, but I don't think I'll earn even gentleman's C. But you guys should give it a go. Only $15 for what will likely turn out to be hundreds of hours of fun! ;)

Mark 1:06 AM  

@ retired chemist
As one who almost failed high school chemistry and never looked back, I nevertheless thoroughly enjoyed your phrase "possible consequent oligomerization of the aldehyde thus released" and plan to include it in something I write at the soonest opportunity, even if I have no idea what it means.

Doctor John 1:11 AM  

@jae Do your self a favor and read the book. Quite excellent.

I agree with Anon 12:08. These are truly important historical figures. Don't forget Gagarin, Titov and Tereshkova. They will all be in crossword puzzles long after obscure rappers and reality show stars are forgotten.

There are so many different people with such varied backgrounds who solve these puzzles. I relish the challenge and the learning experience even if it is "not in my wheelhouse".

De gustibus...

Martin 1:27 AM  


Two acetals that are used industrially as solvents are dimethoxymethane and 1,3-dioxolane. Wikipedia gives "perfumes, resins, adhesives, paint strippers and protective coatings" as examples of industrial processes that use dimethoxymethane as a solvent, for instance.

Obviously I didn't know that until I fact-checked that clue.

mathguy 1:30 AM  

Doesn't it make sense to capitalize the first names of the astronauts? As a way to show that the seven clues are related as are the seven entries? When I got GRISSOM, I immediately jumped to the other capitalized clues.

Had a mistake because I didn't know how to spell SHEPARD and KAON.

Enjoyed it.

Benko 1:42 AM  

I have an interest in space and saw the Right Stuff a long time ago. But I didn't remember CARPENTER or COOPER. Luckily they were both very common last names.

okanaganer 1:54 AM  

@mathguy, I agree... the capitalization made total sense to me. I opened the puzzle, saw WALLY and GUS capitalized, and knew instantly what the theme was.

chefwen 2:10 AM  

Knew most of the names the rest came as soon as I had a few letters in place.

@jae - I also had SEtS up before I noticed that there was another SET at llD.

Did not like 42D RAG, I think of RAG more like nag which is far from tease, I think I had Rib in there first.

Good puzzle, a little trip down memory lane. I must have been in grade school when this went down (or up) so we were well versed in the subject.

Fax Paladin 2:25 AM  

The MERCURY SEVEN were gimmes for me; I might not have come up with the names from scratch but with the first names as a prompt I had all of them.

But NOTOK/KAON had me utterly stumped -- went through each letter as a possibility but couldn't parse OK properly; only NOTOn made any sense. And OLLA I only got from the crosses.

Unknown 3:28 AM  

I turn 50 this year, and astronaut names are not something I'm overly familiar with. I recognize the more famous names but certainly have no idea who was on what mission - very tough for me.

jae 4:41 AM  

Things you notice when you are a crossword addict:  I was watching last night's Ferguson and he read an email from Natick and pronounced it with a soft A. 

Too bad Kahn couldn't fit Chuck Yeager in some how.

@Dr. John - I'm a Tom Wolfe fan so I may just do that.

@Rocket Man - Your Elton John  "handle" is over 40 years old....what @wreck said. 

Dawn 5:10 AM  

I am remembering THE RIGHT STUFF in book and film!!

Took a "giant leap" to ACETALS when ACETone was impossible.

Unknown 5:17 AM  

Come on, Rex. Be a bigger man than that. Just because this is a piece of history you don't know so well shouldn't make you hate on the puzzle. I thought it was fairly easy myself. Often the ones you find easy I find hard. I don't blame the puzzle or the constructor for that. And while capitalizing the first names might not be as standard as an asterisk to indicate they are theme clues, I think I have seen it before. Even if not, it isn't like it isn't pretty obvious what it means. Don't be so picky, it makes you sound childish. As does saying you don't know why this puzzle exists. Really?? It's a puzzle with a perfectly legitimate theme. Why does a puzzle with the names of car models exist? Or Beatle's songs? Again, just because you found this theme outside of your knowledge zone, doesn't mean you should be so dismissive. Talk about hubris!!

I agree with retired chemist (being a former one myself) that acetals are pretty unusual solvent choices, but there are a few. So it isn't the worst clue/answer in the world, but tough for even a chemist to come up with.

JTHurst 5:54 AM  

@Rex "only a handful are legitimately famous."

This handful, this 'original seven', these American pioneers each with IQs above 130, these perfect physical specimens, these college graduated, astronauts who endured more physical probings than participants on the Jerry Springer Show or UFO inductees, these courageous men who I suppose are only legitimately famous for individuals born prior to 1960. Most of my friends could recite the nicknames of the most famous people on the planet at that time: Gus, Wally, Deke, Gordo, Scotty and Alan. John Glenn was the favorite of the press corps.

Rex's comment made me contemplate what is 'famous'. Each tribe or sect has purportedly 'famous' people like Arthur Wynn, Will Weng or Eugene Maleska who are virtually unknown outside their sect. And some are 'famous' without substance i.e. Donald Trump. Yet these seven are legitimately famous as the progenitors of the American space program and while we as a people may not recall their names in this era of flash and little substance, they will remain legitimately famous.

JTHurst 6:01 AM  

I wish to apologize for my vehemence but I think

"only a handful are recognizably famous"

would have been a better choice of words.

retired_chemist 6:23 AM  

@Casco Kid - "acetyl" refers to a certain functional group, I.e. A group of atoms that forms part of a molecule but is not a stand-alone chemical entity. As an example "acetylmethane" is acetone, albeit oddly named. So, good try but it isn't correct.

Danp 6:28 AM  

Well said @JHurst (even before the apology).

stuart 6:57 AM  

shocked you don't know their names.

Moly Shu 7:02 AM  

DNF here on NOTO? and ?AON. Just could not parse it, even with an alphabet run. ATROPHIED is really nice, and somehow OKAPI went straight in, @retiredchemist. Lucky I guess.

100% agree with @JTHurst, these guys are famous, heroes, pioneers, etc. I was born in the 60's, and I knew all the names, some quicker than others.

@Z, me too for a beaver/WALLY. Unfortunate start.

jberg 7:03 AM  

Whew, it's getting a little hot in here. I'm 70, so you know -- if you asked me what the first Astronauts were called, if you asked me to name all seven -- a blank. But once I had a few crosses, and ruled out CLEAVER at 1A (@Z), I saw SCHIRRA, and got most of the rest of them from their first names and a letter or two. Hardest, oddly, was GLENN, If you asked me if he was an Astronaut I'd say yes, but he's in the "Senator" pigeonhole in my mind - so I seriously thought of GrEen there first.

I knew there were KAONS, but had NOT On first, and almost went with nAONS -- saved at the very last minute by I know not what.

@Doctor John, and don't forget Laika!

SEVEN is on a roll -- two days running.

Bob Kerfuffle 7:13 AM  

Easy puzzle for me, and no complaints. Very much an age thing, apparently, as well-attested above.

And exactly the puzzle I was expecting on the 450th birthday of William Shakespeare! ;>)

Glimmerglass 7:16 AM  

Mr. Krost speaks my mind. This old codger found this an easy Wednesday.

dk 7:20 AM  

00 (2 Moons)

Reporting from the sunny slope of memory: Do we have national heroes revered by the 9-12 year old set? I recall trying to guess who would be first in space, eating Space Food Sticks and drinking Tang and attempting to emulate astronauts. When we went to the beach we ran in the soft sand as that is what the astros did.

Flipping through TV channels in my hotel last night I would answer my question no. The news and programming (sic) was filled with characters who seem to have some type of fame for being jerks.

When did we switch from appreciating adventure and risk to wallowing in snark. May we go back to the former?

Unknown 7:38 AM  

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Emily 7:43 AM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
Elle54 7:45 AM  

I naticked at Kaon/Inge. Sometimes I wonder if Rex is almost done with the NYT crossword...seems like he views most puzzles with disdain. Hope not!
I really enjoyed the tribute to the Mercury 7.

Anonymous 7:50 AM  

I used to enjoy Rex's blog as a way to gain some insight into the world of crossword solving and puzzle construction. Now I read it mostly to see what childish tantrum Rex is going to have each day. He approves of average puzzles constructed by his friends in the crossword world, and rails against anything he sees as not conforming to his narrow-minded view of what a crossword puzzle should be. It has been sad to watch the unraveling of what was once a perfectly good blog.

Anonymous 7:52 AM  

Super easy if you know the Mercury seven astronauts' names, as I do.

I'm assuming the puzzle exists because we just observed the 25th anniversary of the announcement of the new astronauts.

Anonymous 7:53 AM  

They may be obscure to Rex, as they were to me, but to my father (I am 47) these guys were, and will always be, giants. Open your mind a little, Rex.

Anonymous 7:53 AM  

Oops. I meant we just passed observed the 55th anniversary, not 25th anniversary.

No edit feature for comments in Blogger ....

Anonymous 7:57 AM  

I agree with Anonymous 7:50 AM. This blog has evolved from a nifty commentary on the solving process to a usually bitter attack on all the puzzles that don't fit Rex's narrow view of what makes a good puzzle. And, yes, puzzles by people he knows with clues on subjects he knows seem to be the sole criteria.

I've mostly given up reading the blog and just jump to the comments which can stand on their own.

Anonymous 8:07 AM  

When I see Mr. kahn's name, I know that I probably won't finish. No surprise today!
I learned to think of two different "kites" and who knew that Germany had so many rivers.
Of course a person's name is always capitalized! If only I had asked myself "what do these names have in common?", I might have finished.
I didn't pay much attention to the space program as a child but when Gus Grissom died it was a big deal and the nation really mourned. He seemed to be a really nice man.

Beaglelover 8:08 AM  

That comment above is from Beaglelover.

Carola 8:29 AM  

Codgerette here, so easy for me. I remember classes in school being stopped so that we could listen to the live report of Alan SHEPARD's ride over the P.A. system.

Although the theme made the puzzle on the easy side for a Wednesday, I enjoyed sussing out the rest: VAMOOSE, GNASH, TORRID, SHOAL. Liked ATTEMPT crossing RETRY.

@Mark - Neat re: ATROPHIED.
@August West - Interesting detail! I remember the tension surrounding those pick-ups in the ocean.

Dorothy Biggs 8:42 AM  

I grew up in the 60s, and these astronauts, for the most part, were household names...almost as well known as your average rock star.

My issue was with ETES (I'm not a big fan of including somewhat random foreign language words in puzzles...especially ones I didn't study. Crosswordese kinda gave me the help I needed there).

KAON is eerily close to a koan, which is basically an unstable buddhist saying/brain teaser.

And apropos of nothing, H is a note. In German, it is a Bb. There is a famous Bach fugue on his name which he used that H is a Bb. I'm not sure why H is a Bb, and I don't know how often the Germans refer to it, but there it is.

I am a musician and I work with lots of trumpet players...I've never heard of a "SUPERC." High C, yes. SUPERC, no. And honestly, if you're a trumpet player and you love playing high, that high F is more likely your bag.

evil doug 8:45 AM  

We routinely have to come up with various types of distant stars, planetary moons, black holes, light rays, even the names of damn space monkeys; I don't think that knowing these seven historical figures--or *learning* them, and perhaps becoming motivated into digging deeper into a critical historical era--who will probably remain worthy of popping up in crosswords decades from now is too much to expect.

The beauty of crosswords is in both testing one's knowledge while also stimulating interest in more foreign areas of learning. We lean on the hope that the, yes, *cross(ing)words* will be familiar enough to fill in those unfamiliar gaps that we can come up with logical solutions.

Being born after our space program began is no more a legitimate excuse for lack of knowledge on these guys than it would be for FDR, Poe, or Otis Redding.

Perhaps today's puzzle will encourage some who know little of the space program's trials and triumphs to read some of the books mentioned--and the world of other material available on the political, scientific, economic and social ramifications that followed the introductory exploits of these seven.


Unknown 8:52 AM  

Yesterday, some random music critic was clied, and Rex raved. Today we get the Mercury 7 (guys who actually did something other than critique the work of others) and Rex sneers. I find that odd.

Even knowing all seven (I was born during the Gemini program, so not that old, but I find it all fascinating), the puzzle was a challenge. Why? KAON. Not even guessable!

joho 8:57 AM  

I started filling in the names around the perimeter of the puzzle first and thought, "Cool, they're orbiting the grid!"

The density of the theme is admirable as are all the astronauts being honored.

I guess the next SPACERACE is to see which commercial company succeeds in ROCKETing us normal (albeit super rich) folks into space.

Oh, I think capitalizing the theme names was a nice way to point them out and perhaps add a bit of ease to the solve.

Thank you David Kahn!

joho 9:00 AM  

I did not like the NOTOK/KAON cross! It didn't seem kosher to me!

pmdm 9:11 AM  

If one wants to ask "what's the point" I suppose one could ask "What's the point of inane criticism?" (Personally, I would use a more gentle adjective, but I suspect some of the above commentators would prefer an even more critical adjective.) And I guess the answers could be "It feeds the ego." But then again, isn't that the raison d'etre of blogs?

Steve J: There are a number of ways to alert the solver that the clue reflects the puzzle's themes. Sometimes themed clues are preceded by an asterisk. Usually the length of the answer or the symmetrical positioning of the answers are sufficient. Since the positioning of today's themed answers is not obvious when looking at the grid, and since the difficult level of a Wednesday puzzle by convention is only moderately difficult, Mr. Shortz must have felt the need to help the solver by highlighting most of the theme clues. The previous editor (Mr. Maleska) used all caps fairly frequently, so today is somewhat of a throwback to the Maleska Era. (Based on today's write-up, one would presume our blog host started doing the Times puzzles after Maleska died.) To repeat my suspicion: the all-caps might just be a way to make the puzzle a little easier to solve. Based on the comments, the attempt was not totally successful.

I am not a fan of symmetry, but I do feel the symmetry in today's puzzle deserves much applause. Not only are there the seven names, but they are all placed with a symmetrical theme answer. Schirra-Slayton. Grissom-Mercuty. Carpenter-SpaceRace. Glenn-Seven. Cooper-Rocket. Finally, Shepard in the center. I am impressed. What I do not understand is how our blog host can whine about the theme and at least not give credit to a nice symmetrical placement of 11 answers (instead of calling it an absurd exercise). I respectfully disagree with that characterization.

Fame is (sometimes appropriately) fleeting. Would a typical teenager today be able to identify the occupation of Zasu Pitts? I intensely dislike rap, so I only know of the names of "famous" rap artists by doing crossword puzzles. Loesser was quite renowned in his day, for example. Maybe Saunders was (or is) also, but I for one am not familiar with him. This is the unsolvable conundrum of using proper names in crossword puzzles. I certainly can accept that there is no reason why younger people today would know the names of most of the astronauts of over a half century ago. (John Glenn, who became a US Senator excepted.) One justs have to accept this and move on I guess.

True, a Christmas themed puzzle might seem out of place if it is published during July, but there is no compelling reason why all tribute puzzles must be published only on a significant anniversary date. There may be several excellent puzzles with the same anniversary theme, and it seems to me perverse to throw all the excellent puzzles always but one. So while an appropriately topical puzzle is the preferred goal of a puzzle editor, we solvers probably shouldn't over-think things and just accept that some puzzles are published because the untopical theme is well done and the puzzle deserves publication.

Sir Hillary 9:13 AM  

Thanks to many posters here -- particularly @JHurst and @Evil. Ditto to you both. Yeah, the puzzle is sloppy, but @Rex diminishes his own criticism on that point with his small-mindedness on the subject matter.

This was a breeze for me, mostly because I have seen The Right Stuff approximately 30 million times. I was a high school senior when it came out, and it remains in my top 10 of all time. Have not read Wolfe's book or any others on the Mercury program -- I probably should.

John GLENN is the only one still alive. Wow.

KAON crossing SHEPARD is tough. The only way I can remember how to spell SHEPARD's last name is to recall that Sam SHEPARD plays Chuck Yeager in the film. (Other random name-crossing due to casting: Alan SHEPARD is portrayed by Scott GLENN.)

Nice clues for CON and DOODLER.

Annoyances: IRE/IRK and SET/SETS.

Every time I see "THEDIE is cast" I think back to Patrick Berry's awesome weeklong meta a few years ago.

Wonder if @Rex yelled a line from a very different space-themed movie: KAAAAAAAAAAAAAHN!

Sir Hillary 9:17 AM  

Shame on me for not noticing the full symmetry that @pmdm has pointed out. I recant my comment above that the puzzle is sloppy.

Ludyjynn 9:18 AM  

I took one look at WALLY and GUS and got the theme. Capitalizing the clues was a gimme for this solver. I would posit that any child of the '50s or '60s would agree, and any younger generation with a basic public school education should agree. Thanks, DJK and WS.

Does there have to be an anniversary or memorial of some sort in order to publish a particular puzzle on any given day? I think not.

18Across and 38Down were Friday tough for me, but gettable via surrounding clues. Phew! Upon review, all of the semi-tough answers such as SUPERC and MERL were also given away by their neighbors. Sorry, @CascoKid.

Instead of rehashing what others have already eloquently argued, I say to @JTHurst, @dk and @EvilDoug, BRAVO, people!

Have a great hump day, all.

John V 9:23 AM  

This 66 year old solver liked it. SW last to fall as odd forgotten MERCURY, LOESSER was tough. Loved ATROPHIED; hard for any day, esp Wednesday.

chefbea 9:29 AM  

Too many comments to read right now. Found the puzzle difficult, although I did know most of the Astronaughts . Never heard of acetals. and can someone explain 58 across? ....just got it. Nevermind!!!

Hartley70 9:32 AM  

I had to reach way back for a couple of those names so it took a while. I was channeling my Brit so NOT OK became NOT ON and Shepard was spelled with an E. I untangled myself in the end after 41 minutes!

Cheerio 9:36 AM  

I loved the type of symmetry in this puzzle. Very pleasing! Also, I thought the theme was a good in the sense that once you figured it out, if you didn't know the names of all the seven astronauts, then it was still helpful because at least you know these are last names of people (Slayton, Clayton....). Moreover, there is the fun of digging back into your memory to see which of them do trigger some familiarity, if ever so slight. Also enjoyed learning that Inge wrote Splendor in the Grass, and what SuperC is. Thanks!

Hartley70 9:42 AM  

BTW Woohoo to JTHurst! You're the MAN!

lawprof 9:57 AM  

This one started off as super easy, as I picked up the theme immediately and dropped in the names of all of the original astronauts (had to wait a bit on the spelling of SCHIRRA).

Things got a bit tougher in the middle of the grid where ETES, KAON and NOTOK intersect. Never heard of KAON, and thought KeON sounded more likely, which had me second-guessing myself on the spelling of SHEPA(e?)RD for a while. Eventually got it, but felt like I was guessing at that point.

Another slowdown in SE, where I had deTENTE for a while, which gave me "adds (up)" at 61D. All correctable, but pushed this puzzle into the medium/challenging range -- for entirely different reasons than those cited by Rex. (I'm hard-pressed to understand how the names of the Mercury Seven astronauts are fill too obscure for the NYT puzzle, yet characters from a Euripides play, or rap stars, or 1920's outfielders pass muster. I am, hopefully, willing to learn.)

astroman 9:59 AM  

This puzzle was a geezer's revenge, payback for all the rapper and video game clues....

Arlene 10:10 AM  

Interesting comments - evidently this is a generational puzzle. I remember sitting in a 7th grade classroom, listening to the broadcast of the entire first ride into space - 17 minutes - Alan Shepard. So for those who missed that, here is a rare opportunity to engage with people who were actually there when history was being made.

Hmmm - I wonder if I yelled "TAKE COVER" - how many of you would crawl under your desks! :-)

JoelAK 10:11 AM  

^ what pmdm said! Bravo - you saved me a lot of typing. "legitimately famous", indeed.

Z 10:18 AM  

What I like best about @Evil Doug's comment is the lack of concern about other peoples' ignorance. Just, a straightforward "this is why this puzzle exists." If you don't know about something, learn about it. Personally, the short-sightedness and loss of a communal sense of adventure and exploration of our current space program is sad. NASA being nearer the top of our societal "to do" list would be a good thing for our society in many ways.

I totally missed the symmetry, which really improves the puzzle compared to my first take last night. Thanks for pointing that out @pmdm.

Being in Albuquerque really throws off my solving. First, I'm reduced to online (yuck). Then, I'm doing the puzzle at night rather than in the morning (yuck). But the weather is great. Spent a little time in Taos, yesterday. The Rio Grande Gorge is amazing.

quilter1 10:28 AM  

I liked it better than @Rex and found it really easy having lived through that era. Only had a hard time remembering how SCHIRRA was spelled. All those guys are heroes as they never knew if they were coming back but went anyway. I'm sad our space program has been shelved.

Shamik 10:29 AM  

Not famous? I'd like to say that this is an age-related comment. I wasn't even that into the space race, yet all the names are familiar. And if it is an age related thing, then how sad is that? The truest pioneers (in terms of going where no man has gone before) are not known. Sad. Just sad.

Easy-medium time for me at 5:39. I should have gotten ready for work by now.

tensace 10:31 AM  

@Retired_chemist confirms a point I've made before. Scientific terms used by puzzle makers are often a stretch to the point of being just wrong.

Thanks for the clear explanation. I mean that. I've called on organic chemists as a sales rep and have nearly been universally impressed with their acumen.

pmdm 10:34 AM  

Thank you very much to those who have thanked me. Believe it or not, I myself did not notice the symmetry when I was solving the puzzle; I did not see it until I began writing my comment. I was actually going to comment myself on lack of symmetry in the puzzle! Fortunately, I slowed down a bit and am happy that something positive happened as a result.

Shamik 10:38 AM  

Bash Rex's blog if that's your thing...but don't be a coward and hide behind the "name" Anonymous.

Don't comment as much as I used to because a) I seldom get to solve the puzzle on the day it is published and b) I seldom have the time to comment!

Today I will be late to work.

Steve J 10:47 AM  

@pmdm: Thanks for the thoughts on the all-caps treatment. I guess I've become so conditioned to think of all caps as shouting - and accustomed to other signifiers of theme connectedness, such as the asterisk - that I thought the all-caps must signify something other than simple association. Still strikes me as an odd way to call that out, but it certainly accomplishes its purpose.

I've also become conditioned to expect themes like this to be connected to some sort of anniversary. Now, I don't think it has to be tied into an anniversary. But the pattern in recent years of puzzle selection in the NYT is that topically themed puzzles are usually associated with some sort of event or anniversary.

So that's why this struck me as odd. That's no comment on the worthiness of tribute of the MERCURY SEVEN. They were indeed notable figures, and trailblazers in their day.

That said, I wonder how many people here who are shocked that some people cannot remember all seven would actually have been able to rattle them off the top of their heads prior to doing this puzzle, and without being provided the first names and association with each other. Memory is associative, and even things you know often take something relevant to dislodge from the recesses of your brain. At least for me, commenting on not being able to quickly recall the names is a comment on the fact that my brain hasn't needed quick access to them for many years, not that I didn't know them or that they're not worthy of knowing.

One of the things the puzzle did well with respect to the theme is that it crossed the names well. Even the hard-to-remember/spell SCHIRRA is well-crossed. SHEPARD/KAON would be the one exception, as it could conceivably also be spelled SHEPeRD, and KAON doesn't exactly roll off most people's tongues.

Enos Ham 11:02 AM  

Being an astronaut wasn't so great. Even a chimp could do it.

steve l 11:11 AM  

Never comment but the snarky tone of the review irked (ires?) me into doing it. A puzzle shouldn't be reviewed by whether it points up gaps in the reviewers knowledge, particularly when this specific knowledge is at least/far more reasonable to assume than more arcane punk rock group names. The Right Stuff is pretty deeply ingrained in American culture and consciousness, despite its obvious absence from the reviewer's.
I like and appreciate this blog. This review, not so much. At all. I'd suggest the question might be better asked as to why the review exists, since it's more of a rant than a review and, as such, is inappropriate.
The puzzle is fine. As is its theme. Take a Midol, please.

janie 11:12 AM  

hmmm... that the puzzle with the same theme from 1998 is by peter gordon. gotta say, he's come a *long* way! ;-)

as we all know, themes do occasionally get repeated, especially when -- like today's -- the superior treatment merits it.



Anonymous 11:18 AM  

Brutally hard for me (for a Wednesday). The names of most of the men, and their collective nickname, were not at all familiar to me. Many of the crossings were less than helpful.

Sandy D.

chefbea 11:19 AM  

@Shamik welcome back. Good to hear from you

@Arlene You reminded me of Alan Shepard's flight into space. My daughter was 6 months old and I sat her in front of the TV in her infant seat(do they still make those any more) so she could tell everyone years later that she saw it.

GILL I. 11:28 AM  

After taking an astronomical amount of time trying to fit WALRUS in 1A, I finally did a head bonk at my hero SHEPARD.
I was (am) in awe of anything to do with space exploration. I could never get enough of chimps in space or the first moon landing. If someone wants to construct a puzzle full of space trivia, I would be in seventh heaven...
The comments are fantastic by the way.
Thoroughly enjoyed today's romp EVEN NOTOK/KAON...

Chip Hilton 11:29 AM  

You're showing your age, or lack thereof, when you say "not famous". I was in eighth grade when Alan Shepard lifted off and remember my teacher's pithy comment as she turned on her transistor radio. "Today, we're not going to read about history. We're going to listen to history being made." The seven Mercury names will always be special to anyone who lived through, and took an interest in, those remarkable times. Sorry if I'm repeating the thoughts of others as I didn't bother to read the 70-plus responses before mine.

JenCT 11:42 AM  

@Bob K: NPR outlined an ambitious project in honor of Shakespeare's birthday today: “Hamlet” Tour Makes the World a Stage

@joho & @ pmdm: Thanks for pointing out the symmetry

You chemistry types are too brainy for me...

jdv 11:49 AM  

Challenging. I had a few missteps. ODER before EDER. ICANT before IDONT and IPOD before IPAD. I can never remember how to spell EMERY/EMORY.

Devil's advocate 11:53 AM  

So how many cosmonauts can you all name? I bet even most boomers will only dredge up Yuri Gagarin, and maybe Alexei Leonov or Valentina Tereshkova...

Anonymous 11:57 AM  

Hilarious @Shamik! I guess you are braver than we anonymi because I'm sure "shamik" is your real full name!

Johnny Vagabond 12:05 PM  

Rex, the point is to solve the puzzle and today's theme is as legit as any other. Caps were a huge clue and made puzzle almost too easy. Brought back fond memories of childhood and touch of sadness over launch pad tragedy

OISK 12:11 PM  

Add me to the list of "ancient" solvers who really enjoyed this one. The "A" in "Shepard" was the last thing I filled in, because KEON somehow looked worse than KAON - I am a chemist, but have never seen that term before. I remembered all the names except Slayton - wonder why that is? It is really amusing to those of us who shake our heads and think "WTF" at puzzles built around hip-hop slang, rap artists and rock lyrics, to watch Rex complain about the inclusion of genuinely famous people. This was a fine puzzle, and importantly, it was solvable even if you did NOT know the names of all seven. Loved the poetic clue - whereon -, the reference to the great Frank Loesser, nice to see that my mind hasn't atrophied, since I failed to recall that there are such things as "keg parties" last Saturday…Knew Inge, of course, but who the heck is Merl Saunders? Thanks, David - really fine puzzle!

Masked and AnonymoUUs 12:27 PM  

A full complEment of orginal astronauts. First selected in April, 1959. Started goin up in May, 1961. Each candidate had to undergo incredibly rigorous tests, including five enemas, accordin to Wikipedia. day-um. That'll get rid of the riff-raff. Need similar tests for them U.S. Senator candidates. But I digress.

KAON, Kahn?

Couldn't pass that up. Let us now get back to our regular scheduled programmin.

fave weejects: IRE/IRK. SEE crossin SUPERC.

fave erasures: AEON...scratch,scratch...AGES. ODER...scratch,scratch...EDER. SHEPURD (MUON's fault)...scratch,scratch...SHERPARD. RIB...scratch,scratch...RAG.

fave hidden theme shout-out: RETRY ROCKET.


p.s. Really, spellcasters?!

Nick 12:30 PM  

A big near-Natick fest for me. I think astronauts are heroes but don't know the names. Slogged through merely in respect for the theme guys.

I think the most frustrating thing about the NYT crossword these days, particularly in light of the wonderful puzzles elsewhere, which prove xwords needn't be so dated, is how Will Shorts often appears to be phoning it in.

heathcliff 12:35 PM  

Anyone with a passing familiarity with history, not to mention the clued space race, should be familiar with every one of the names. And Schirra more than most due to how unusual it is.

Anonymous 12:38 PM  

Anonymous critic here ...

I don't think this is an age-related thing. The Mercury astronauts remain essential historical figures. I was not alive on April 9, 1959 when the 7 were announced, yet I know them all, mostly from The Right Stuff and their post-space adventures.

Never head of LOESSER or of the plural ACETALS. Does this make these wrong? No. They are just things I did not know.

As for @Shamik's comment, as long as Rex allows Anonymous posting, I will post anonymously. It's an easy option to turn it off, but he has chosen to keep it and I will continue to choose to use it.

ChemProf 12:45 PM  

I'm with @retired_chemist. As a practicing organic chemist, the notion of 'acetals' as an answer for solvents is ludicrous. Just because there are a couple of solvents that also happen to be acetals doesn't make it ok. The puzzle often plays fast and loose with chemical appropriateness, but this is one of the worst I can remember. [/rant] :)

As for acetyl, chemically it's pretty different. Acetyl = CH3C(O)- as a substituent, acetal = carbon with two -OR groups on it.

M and Also 12:50 PM  


@Devil's Advocate: No sweat...
Yaikletmei Outaherr? Ivan Stmymama? Veeneda Beegapariskschoot? Von Valiumiz Nottenov? Vaita Minnetnotfuelenov? Votyoo Meanvonvayonlyi?


Doug 12:53 PM  

I guess Rex didn't like this puzzle, eh? I think it says a lot about the different generations of solvers. I was in 8th grade when the Mercury 7 were famous, and we all knew who all of them were. Rex knows how I feel when there's a puzzle full of stupid sounding names who are allegedly rap or hip hop stars.

Lewis 1:07 PM  

Lively group today! I've never heard of SUPERC or KAON or ACETALS. The astronauts were in my wheelhouse. Couple of clever clues. Knowing the astronauts made the puzzle easier than my typical Wednesday puzzle.

I think KAON/INGE will be a Natick for most -- was for me.

LaneB 1:09 PM  

No problem solving 99% of todays but failed at the cross of OLLA and ACETALS. Hadn't heard of ither so guessed wrong and had ACETAGS and OLGA which seemed quite appropriate.. Twas the only thing that made the puzzled medium-challenging.

Gubdude 1:10 PM  

I think a lot of people miss the point when Rex states “I have not heard of X.” He never says “I have not heard of X, therefore X is a bad answer.” He merely comments on not knowing and usually how it slowed him down.

And I do believe this is a generational thing. I’m 28 and did not know 3 or 4 of these names. If one of the names was clued in another puzzle, fine, it’s one name. But 7 names from the 50’s and 60’s? I had no chance. I’m not trying to argue if these people are famous or saying I don’t need to know their names. Maybe I do. What I’m saying is that, regardless of what some people on here think, not all of these people are household names.

Let me try and give an example using sports. (I’m not comparing sports with the space race, please remember that) The Fab Five consisted of Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson. All 5 were part of the same team, but we can clearly see which names have become household names and which have almost faded away. Sorry Jimmy King and Ray Jackson, but it’s true.

Unknown 1:13 PM  

The announcement of the MERCURY SEVEN predates my birth by over a decade, but gosh, I knew from the who-cares-if-they-were-capitalized first names that we were dealing with the astronauts. I have The Right Stuff book and movie to thank for that. Even without the book and movie most of these names are well embedded in our culture. I'm choosing to believe that Rex wasn't attempting to be dismissive of these legitimate historical figures...sure, could have chosen a better way to express his opinion about the theme, but I can't think of a single day when someone here couldn't say that!

Mohair Sam 1:23 PM  

Naticked on the "E" in SHEPeRD. Liked this one a lot, played easy-medium outside of our natick.

Noted that Rex howled about the NYT going to ancient history (that would be pre-Rex birth) for astronauts names from 5 decades ago, and then he linked us to rock music from 4 decades back. I guess he finds old pop culture interesting, and historical fact not so much.

OISK 1:26 PM  

@Gubdude - Jalen Rose is a "household name"? Not in my household! And other than the Shepard Kaon cross, the names could be discerned from the crosses, unlike the almost random collections of letters, INXS, Nsync, that are common in pop trivia. I agree with you that you don't need to know the names, just as I don't need to know who "Pink" is. But they are certainly famous enough to be in the Times crossword!

Anonymous 1:32 PM  

Gee Rex, what are you, 12 years old? Perhaps you have to be a certain age or maybe just have been interested in the space program to know Wally Schirra, Gordo Cooper and the rest were.

GILL I. 1:39 PM  

@M and Also: I read your post twice and each time I laughed louder. I'm going for thirds....!

crossvine 1:40 PM  

I was too young during the Mercury years to pick up any of the astronauts' names then. However, I'm a big fan of The Right Stuff (book and movie) and got all the names quite easily. Maybe not everyone knows their names but I think they fall in the "should know" category. I can't say that for all the proper names I see in crosswords. Sometimes I'm astounded by the proper names that come up and am left wondering about the huge holes in my education.

The easiest name was Gus Grissom. My son's name is Gus (and he happens to want to be an aerospace engineer), so I have a special place in my ole shoebox for famous Guses (talk about an awkward plural)--whether they're famous legitimately or not.

Also, loved the "School desk drawer" clue.

Fred Romagnolo 1:43 PM  

@wreck & Mr. Krost: Right On! Yes, it's generational. Maybe there should be some sort of categorization: WARNING Hip Hop knowledge required - or WARNING Knowledge of the world before you were born required. Of course that would wipe out the subject of most of the criticisms encountered herein. Rex, I'm afraid, is becoming (is now?) less instructive, and more complaining than a few years ago. The only reason I got Kaon was associating the clue with the concept of chaos. And, yes, Rex, the Germans do have a key of H.

Laurence Hunt 1:43 PM  

As a space science enthusiast and child of the 50s, I loved this puzzle. It was great to see those familiar names again, as they are certainly under-celebrated today. I thought there was very little low quality fill, and thus that this was one of the best ever Wednesday puzzles. Great, great puzzle in my view.

Dick Swart 1:58 PM  


Do you ever think that you are sick and tired of writing this blog?


Anonymous 2:30 PM  

The only way OEDS can legitimately be plural is to think of (1) the various editions of the OED as being distinct, or (2) each collection of volumes in a set as being an OED. Terrible plural.

The crossing of KAON and SHEPARD is a real Natick if you're unsure of the spelling of the astronaut's name. I went with SHEPERD and got it wrong.

Capitalizing the clues was a way of indicating that they were related in some way -- as indeed they were. I may be wrong, but I think I remember having seen all-caps clues in earlier NYT puzzles.

Dave 2:34 PM  

While there was no "zip" in solving, I didn't hate the puzzle. Did find it very easy though. Finished in record time. For me, at least.

R. McGeddon 3:06 PM  

So ATROPHIED is poised like a rocket in the middle of the puzzle. Sorta like what's happened to the American space program.

Unknown 3:22 PM  

ARTOO? Is this common crosswordese that I am too young to know about? Never seen him as anything but R2D2...Made SE pretty impossible for me.

sanfranman59 4:30 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 12:14, 10:13, 1.20, 88%, Challenging

Top 100 solvers

Wed 8:04, 6:14, 1.29, 95%, Challenging

bigsteve46 4:54 PM  

Have to add my 2 cents: hard to accept objections to original Astronauts in a puzzle world stuffed full of one-shot pop music lyrics and rapper morons. E.g. "foshizzle" is great but these guys are irrelevant. I think Rex is getting a little desperate to be hip.


Two disappointments:

ALLAN SH____ did not end up being ALLAN SHERMAN of "Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah" (and many others) fame.

SUPERC was not clued as the videogame sequel to the NES classic Contra, "Super C."

That is all.

pmdm 5:37 PM  

Steve J: Very nice follow-up. I for one am not especially good with names and would not have been able to name any of the seven unaided except for Glenn. But given some help, they came back.

Not to beat a dead horse, but today's comments indicate many readers of this blog had a significant response to today's write-up. One must try to avoiding complaining when the write-up or comments include a person's reaction of feelings (no matter how "baffling" they may be): one of the points of this blog is to encourage uncensored expression of reactions towards the puzzle. But "The rest is just an absurd exercise in symmetry" is not an opinion. It is a statement of fact. In this case (in my opinion) wrong. What one perceives to be need not be necessarily true. With much less vehemence than expressed in the write-up, I had a somewhat negative reaction to "the die" and "whereon." As no speed solver, doing the puzzle takes more time out of my life than for many who post on this blog. But for me, I just shrug my shoulders and think to myself: there are so many more important things is life to be concerned over, I'll just wait till tomorrows puzzle.

Questinia 6:35 PM  

@dk today's heroes would probably be hauled in under the Patriot Act.

I knew just a few of the names but everyone was grokkable.
I disagree with @Rex's contention that there needs to be a meta connection to something which establishes the puzzle as having a point. I.e existential "value" and "meaning". The meaning is in that it is a puzzle of astronauts names clued by their first names all in caps.

On the other hand that there exists a reasonable facsimile of the puzzle from the late '90's... ouch that's gotta hurt a little.

Love the Ziggy vid.

Dawn 7:01 PM  

Today's discussions bring to light a problem of publishing good puzzles for a younger generation.

(Now, I would be happy if I never had to see another rap singer clue for the rest of my life!!!)

But my 27 year old daughter has a real interest in crossword puzzles, and refuses to do try because they are skewed for "the older generation" !

Sfingi 7:37 PM  

This oldster didn't know the last names of most of these dudes. Just can't rise to an interest in astronauts. Do like particles, but think going into space is (mostly)a guy thing (like ending up in a NYS prison). Being good at math does not automatically lead to wanting to be an astronaut. Believe in using robots.

Also didn't know MERL or LOESSER.

Anonymous 8:27 PM  

Hello? Anyone notice the lovely shot at current US space policy? That lovely "atrophied" standing tall and proud, like a rocket on a launch pad, smack dab in the middle of the grid? Beautiful!

Anonymous 9:50 PM  

I grew up with the SPACERACE - ate it up - fascinated me as a tiny tike - went on to major in astrophysics.
All the names were gimmes. I admit that I forgot Gordy's name at first, but since I drive a Mini, COOPER came easy.

Rex - did you use a random word generator to write today's review?

@August West - awesome.
@JTHurst - bravo.
@BobK - lol!

I worked with a rocket scientist - she developed the software algorithms that were responsible for sifting through all the noise and redundant error messages that almost caused a last minute abort of the first lunar landing. Smart lady. FWIW, she said that the movie Apollo 13 was very realistic.

Thank you Mr, Kahn - I loved the tribute.

Tita 9:53 PM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
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 6:07, 6:04, 1.01, 59%, Medium
Tue 6:42, 8:16, 0.81, 4%, Easy (8th lowest ratio of 228 Tuesdays)
Wed 12:08, 10:13, 1.19, 88%, Challenging

Top 100 solvers

Mon 3:45, 3:58, 0.95, 19%, Easy
Tue 4:19, 5:07, 0.85, 4%, Easy (10th lowest ratio of 228 Tuesdays)
Wed 7:19, 6:14, 1.17, 88%, Challenging

mommadoc 5:23 AM  

Wow - I guess I'm now officially old, since all the names came back to me after I got a few letters in each to help (I'm terrible with names.) I remember so clearly standing in the rain so all of us could watch the one TV we had in camp when Neil Armstrong first stepped on the moon!
Seems to me every time a puzzle has a science theme Rex dislikes it, but I was surprised by his vehemence, since he usually likes history and pop culture, and The Right Stuff was a very popular movie.
Thanks to all who pointed out the feat of symmetrical placement -- so impressive! So sad to realize the appropriateness of the "atrophied" in the center(and yes, Rex, that is part of the theme.)
As for age-related clues: my mother and mother-in-law used to do the puzzles in pen, while I couldn't get more than a word or two. Then Maleska retired, and an editor my own age took over. Both ladies thought they had suddenly started getting senile, while I discovered I could actually do the Times puzzles for the first time in my life!

CFXK 6:59 PM  

had been away from this blog for about a year and just returned in the last couple weeks. What a shame to come back to a blog that used to be insightful and challenging and just find a lot whining and bitching by the host.

Please, if he doesn't think the mercury Seven are legitimately famous, then he's a moron.

Unknown 2:38 AM  

Maturity is the ability to reap without apology and not complain when things don't go well. See the link below for more info.


spacecraft 12:12 PM  

I am not sure what it would take to get OFL's juices going. This guy would poop any party. The MERCURY SEVEN represented the first time man ESCaped Earth's gravitational pull, and if that's not an historical milestone, I DONT know what is.

I was impressed; no fewer than 62 dedicated squares makes this one of the densest 15x15 themes I've ever seen--and the fill, incredibly, doesn't suffer that much. Even the central down, ATROPHIED, is a word of concern for astronauts; they must exercise routinely to prevent their muscles from becoming 21d in a weightless environment.

As interested in science as I am, I've never heard of a KAON, so my education is that much further along. That, and parsing NOTOK in the middle, were sticking points. I rejected SETS/THEREON because SET was already in the grid.

Overall, I'd rate it easy-medium. And you don't need an anniversary to give those heroes a shout-out. They "boldly went where no man has gone before." AOK, David!

Unknown 12:32 PM  

Rex, you make me feel old. If you were older than 10 years in 1961, you'd remember the Mercury astronauts, including Wally Schirra. Or if you saw the Right Stuff years later. OK, so the puzzle creator didn't have to capitalize the theme clues, but that's being picky. If you knew the astronauts, this was an incredibly easy puzzle.

rain forest 2:09 PM  

As a Canadian (born in Regina, SASK, by the way), you might think that this puzzle was undoable. Not so. I recall Sputnik (Hallowe'en costume for me), Yuri Gagarin, and the Mercury Seven. So, the puzzle was relevant for me, but even if I was unfamiliar with the names, it is a coherent and tightly constructed puzzle, and therefore, it exists. I think the names were in all-caps because of reasons cited, but also Deke and John have other meanings not consistent with astronauts' names.

I believe it is a worthy theme; I thought the fill was good, the only exception in my mind being OEDS, but that was almost dictated by the theme answers. I also thought THEDIE was an excellent partial. ACETALS I knew, but not in the specific ways they act as solvents.

That the puzzle was mostly in my comfort zone is not a reason for me to say how good I thought it was. Rather, I think, and most here agree, that as a puzzle, it stands up very well in its own right.

Having said all that, were a puzzle containing the names of seven rappers to be constructed, I'd have a much rougher time, but I wouldn't slag it just because of my lack of rapper knowledge.

Symmetry of theme answers an "absurd exercise"? What??

8's full of 6's. All in.

Solving in Seattle 2:11 PM  

I agree with @Spacy and @Unknown that this was a worthy puzzle, especially if you're old enough to remember the MERCURY SEVEN, the SPACERACE, and the decided lack of ENTENTE between the two SUPER(C) powers. If you aren't old enough then learn some history through this puz and don't be like EEYORE and RAG on David.

@Spacy, I think NOTOK was a pal of ARTOO.

DMG 2:29 PM  

This one gave me a good mental workout, but one by one, the astronaut's names came back to me. The last one was CARPENTER, obscured because I had MAn instead of MAC, and, briefly, Assault for ATTEMPT. Think the center secrion with some river and some science thing was the most challenging, and had to exchange my sKunk for a more puzzle friendly OKAPI, but I got there. Need to remember that when the late week puzzles come.

Three 9's, two 2's. I'll see @rainforest

Waxy in Montreal 3:15 PM  

Loved this one as it seems all of us lucky enough to have grown up during the SPACERACE did. Particularly recall DEKE SLAYTON's struggle to take part in a space mission despite a heart murmur which kept him grounded through the glory years as well as GUS GRISSOM's tragic death in the Apollo I disaster.

OFL's criticism today would be like me taking exception to a World War II themed puzzle. Weird - history didn't begin at any of our births.

The KAON/NOTOK and ACETALS/MYST crosses did me in despite a science background.

SUPER C is a supermarket chain in Quebec - never heard of it in trumpet context.

Just two pairs today, I fold - @DMG, IDONT SEE you losing today.

Dirigonzo 5:00 PM  

I loved the puzzle and I drew 4 nines (5 actually - 32999994)* - it's a good afternoon puzzle/poker-wise.

(*Plus two more in the address photo)

Anonymous 5:30 PM  

Probably Mr.Sharp has received enough flack today but his review reminds me of an old saying: Better to keep your mouth shut and look stupid than to open your mouth and prove it. Today's review was simply stupid and deserves an apology.

Ron Diego, La Mesa Ca. 5/28

Anonymous 7:46 PM  

First time commentary for me, but couldn't resist as this was as worthy a Wednesday as I've seen and I thoroughly enjoyed solving it bit by bit. Equally enjoyable was reading all the above comments. Thank you, Mr. Kahn.

Anonymous 8:38 PM  

Your attitude Rocks!!! : D

Anonymous 9:02 PM  

Touché! Heehee

Unknown 10:53 PM  

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Unknown 10:54 PM  

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Prune 12:13 AM  

Rex, I usually come here to find validation for my difficulties -- but today, you detonated much of your street cred through short-sighted hypocrisy. Other days, I've seen you admit that a puzzle simply "wasn't in my wheelhouse"; I expect you (and myself, and any editorial writer) to have the professional integrity to call yourself on a point of ignorance. You failed.

True, there's no Project Mercury anniversary to pin the publication date; perhaps Carpenter's death in 2013 prompted David Kahn to create the puzzle before Sen. Glenn died.

The puzzle is amazingly dense, symmetric, and clued well enough. Sure, there's a smattering of crosswordese, and that crufty center with the execrable cluing of ETES. Concentrate on the actual flaws, not on that which you do not ken.

I had this puzzle half done before I exhaled: all 11 theme answers are gimmes for those of us who were sentient during the space race.

@Mark: muscles do not atrophy in a mere two days. No Mercury mission lasted that long. Cooper's flight time was 34:19 -- time in capsule was less than 48 hours.

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