Thursday, July 17, 2014

Constructor: Alan Arbesfeld

Relative difficulty: Easyish (4:46 for rusty old me)

THEME: Baby got BACK — Literally, each theme answer that normally contains the word BACK has the word preceding BACK spelled backwards, and BACK is omitted from the answer

Word of the Day: ONE-C (14A: Draft status for someone in the Public Health Service) —
1-CMember of the Armed Forces of the United States, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or the Public Health Service(Enl.) Enlisted. Member who volunteered for service, (Ind.) Inducted. Member who was conscripted into service, (Dis.) Discharged. Member released after completing service. (Sep.)Separated. Member released before completing service.
• • •

I laughed out loud when opening this puzzle. See, I've only babysat Rex's place once before, a couple years ago, and I got an Alan Arbesfeld Thursday then. Today I was hopeful of a Blindauer, maybe, or perhaps a Peterson, or a Gorski. Dare I hope for a Thursday Heaney?

But again I get a Thursday Arbesfeld! Nothing against Alan, who's a wonderful and prolific constructor. I guess that's what I should expect at this point.

And this puzzle did not disappoint. Sure, it's a trick I've seen before, but here it's done smoothly, with a minimum of dreckish fill, and with non-themed stacked 9s to boot. Well done!

Theme answers:
  • PMUHWHALE [humpback whale] (17A: Singer in the sea, literally)
  • LLAFPOSITION [fallback position] (27A: Plan B, literally) This one felt a little off, as I usually use FALLBACK with PLAN or OPTION, but it was fair enough.
  • RETRAUQSNEAK [quarterback sneak] (42A: Gridiron maneuver, literally)
  • YGGIPRIDE [piggyback ride] (57A: Little kid's lift, literally) I had figured out the PIGGY part here but kept thinking of PIGGY BANK, which of course doesn't include BACK in it. I find it a little weird that the ride is considered a "gift" in the clue here. I don't remember my piggyback rides being any sort of present but rather just a fun, spur-of-the-moment idea that would end with my dad hurting his back... (ED: Yes, it was "lift" in the clue, not "gift". Stupid speed-solving me. But I strangely like the imagery evoked when thinking of my dad hurting his back, so leaving in the anecdote. :) AJR)
If you're going to turn your theme answers into gobbledygook, the longer the gibberish the better. So I liked RETRAUQSNEAK the best, with bonus points for getting the Q in there, and crossing it with noted "Potatoe" speller Dan QUAYLE (43D: Bush successor).

This whole ONEC thing threw me (I've accustomed to ONEA as the lone draft status in crosswords), plus I plopped NOVA in at 1A right away, leading to some early frustrations. But then I got WHALE, sussed out the backwards HUMP, and was smooth sailing the rest of the way. Some cutesy-ness with fill and clues, but nothing too offending.

  • ON E (10D: In dire need of gas, say) — Cute way to avoid the ONE duplication with ONE-C. And totally in-the-language. A clue like "Using Molly, say" might be a clue for this answer if it appeared in an American Values Club crossword; likely too edgy for the NYT.
  • EMPTY NETS (13D: Fisherman's bane and hockey player's boon) — Odd to see it in the plural, but the clue redeemed any inelegance. I'm a huge NCAA hockey fan, longtime St. Cloud State University season ticket holder. 83 days til opening night! This one wasn't an empty-netter, but a literal last-second equalizer scored while SCSU had their net empty. 

  • NOLTE (9A: Oscar nominee for "Affliction") — Underrated movie. James Coburn was phenomenally monstrous as the drunk dad, and won his lone Oscar for it. Nolte likely clinched the nom in the scene where he pulls his tooth out with a pair of pliers over the kitchen sink. Very dark and completely depressing, but worth a watch. You know it's dark when Willem Dafoe is one of the good guys in the movie. 

I hope you don't mind this brief and low-pressure plug - I happen to write crosswords too. You can sign up for a weekly email-delivered crossword (Price: $5/year) here; I also offer a bi-weekly Rows Garden puzzle (Price: You tell me) which you can sign up for here; and you can browse the various books I've written here

Thanks for letting me hang out with you folks!

Signed, Andrew J. Ries, ESNE of CrossWorld


Anonymous 12:19 AM  

My clue has "little kid's lift" not "gift". You appear to have gotten a typo somehow.

jae 12:21 AM  

Two easy puzzles in a row.   Filled in NW pretty quickly except for gang before CLAN which LGA corrected.  Looked at PMUH and caught the theme.  The rest was a breeze.  So, maybe Fri. and Sat. will be tough?  We've had two easy Fridays in a row. 


Nice cluster of As and Ts in NE...Is ATT crossing ATT crossing AT a good thing?

Not a bad Thurs., (I'm ignoring CDEF, TMS , PULPS) plus a very nice nod to the late great Tony Gwynn.  Liked it, but it just needed a bit more crunch.  And, thanks Andrew for pitching in.

Carola 12:24 AM  

Challengingish for me - I couldn't get a toehold in the NW, so I worked my way down the East coast, getting the rear ends of the themers but remaining clueless about the meaning of "literally" until YGGIPRIDE. That finally opened up the West for me. Enjoyed it.

Had to work for SPARE TIRE and NORTHEAST. Wanted "frog" before OGRE.

wreck 12:31 AM  

I think I pretty much mirrored Carola's experience, except I don't think I enjoyed it so much.

Charles Flaster 4:09 AM  

Love AA puzzles and this was no exception. Finished?? (one mistake)--had tie for stocking stuffer so True Lives for Soul Mates grated on me and could not erase Tie.
Took 30 minutes until I got HUMP and then took 4 more minutes to finish.
Loved I D sophs. Never heard of Lori Petty,lurk or Marc Cohn.
Thought Skylights should be two words but OK as one.
Loved All Of Me ---clever movie and Aparicio was a great SS.
Overall hard for a Thursday.

Danp 5:44 AM  

Why was smack in quotation marks? I was expecting something you might say instead of kissing or hitting someone. Scare quotes, if that was the intention, seem inappropriate, too; not to mention ambiguous.

John Child 6:05 AM  

Pretty tough here. I prevailed but in rougly double the time I expect on Thursday. I conflated Fred Gwynne with Tony Gywnn, couldn't think of stress except as emotional, and was hung up on 45 degree angles rather than compass bearing. And it took me a long time to see the tricksy themes.

RAD2626 7:07 AM  

Liked the theme clues a lot. NE clues for 9's were so much more transparent than the SW. Agree with @Danp about Smack being in quotes for no reason. Had CLot for Blood group? for way too long. Fun solve for a good Thursday puzzle.

jberg 7:42 AM  

@jae, personally I think it's a plus when you can get something in like those staggered ATTs, leading to diagonal rows of As and Ts. One more would have been great, but probably impossible as it would have had to involve a theme answer.

Fun and easy, I agree -- only possible criticism that three of the six stacked nines were POCs. I have to question the sincerity of the person with all the TRUE LOVES.

AliasZ 7:53 AM  

This was fun. I was perplexed until I got to the little kid's lift. I knew QUAYLE was spelled with a Y, and with YGGI_... in place it hit me. Oh, it is a sdraw thing. Cute! Then I realized that for the study of PMUH WHALES you need you need something bigger than MICRObiology. The SW trip-9's gave me some resistance because I was sure the 45° was going to be the meta SOUTHWEST. That would have been neat.

I liked the effort that it took to figure out the theme, and the aforementioned swaths of trip-9's in the corners, all of which were fun phrases, especially TRATTORIA and EMPTY NETS which was NEST at first. Also, PROFILE, that didn't want to fit the clue. The firecracker clue cracked me up, as did Vivian LEIGH right next to Lisa KUDROW - not quite the same league. The under-the-counter STOOL begged to be followed by SAMPLE, and the stressful ALL CAPS made me do mental spilf. I also liked baseball greats Tony Gwynn, LUIS Aparicio and WILL the Thrill Clark. What didn't I like? OGLE/OGRE, ATT and ATTY right under it, ONE/ONEC, CDEF, OFME (not the movie, the partial), PULPS and TMS (and I don't have PMS), and ELHI which has a life of its own in crossworld and nowhere else. On balance though, it was a fun puzzle to solve.

After I was finished, I thought I'll kcik and relax and check out the movie schedule. I see The Hcnuh of Notre Dame, Kool in Anger and Ekorb Mountain are playing. I can't remember if any of these had hsalf scenes in them. I also thought of doing some karaoke and sing along to Dloh the Tears or Repap Writer without causing a deef loop, but I'll skip the Teerts Boys. Why? I want it that way.* See, I'd love to nrut the clock. If I can't decide what to do, I'll just pord and punt, and hope I won't step on the tail of a dnomaid rattler.

Gotta run now. Lla'y ees here in a bit.

*Totally out of character! I don't even remember why I remember this hideous piece of pap. Eb ll'I to normal tomorrow.

Glimmerglass 8:04 AM  

Decent Thursday. I stumbled over the theme until RETRAUQ. My problem was I was taking "literally" literally. As an English teacher, I spent my life trying to convince students not to use "literally" when they meant "figuratively." ("I was literally scared to death.") Here I was trying to think of literal translations of foreign idioms (love letter, literally "sweet note").

mathguy 8:09 AM  

@AliasZ: Bravo!

I was expecting a gimmick since it was a Thursday but it didn't hit me until I had ----POSITION. Then it was fun filling in the other "back" expressions.

I don't get Dan Quale as a Bush successor. He was vice president under Bush but didn't succeed him.

A lot of delightful clues, some fresh fill, and a nice gimmick. Most enjoyable puzzle in weeks, for me.

r.alphbunker 8:10 AM  

When I see HSUP written on a glass door I pronounce it "PULL".

Not sure if YAP is payback or backpay.

Susierah 8:15 AM  

I loved this! Good cluing and a fun theme. A fun satisfying solve. Proud to finish in 37 with no errors or googles, but to see it solved in 4:46 took my pride down a notch.

Very few entries on the first pass, most success in the N E. When I got "a pop" I figured out piggy ride, but I didn't see the "back" part yet. The NW was the hardest, when I finally got heroin, I could see soph and the hump! That's when the lightbulb came on that the first word of the theme answers were spelled backwards, and I finished up the rest of the puzzle fairly quickly.

Just the fun type of Thursday that I want!

Susierah 8:22 AM  

I forgot to praise @AliasZ. I loved your clever post!

Blue Stater 8:29 AM  

Certainly wasn't easy for me. Worst puzzle in a long time, I thought, full of pointless misleads (like the quotes around "heroin" cited above). I kept going to the Xword clue sites to try to get a toehold, but a toehold was not to be had, anywhere, from beginning to end. A complete waste of time.

Sir Hillary 8:31 AM  

Nice Thursday! Took me a while to figure out the theme...RETRAUQSNEAK finally did it for me.

I found much of the cluing to be ellipitical, which was fun. Felt a little like hearing a language I didn't totally understand -- I had to really pay attention.

Only weak entry for me was CDEF. Alphabet chains -- ugh! We need a rapper to adopt that name, or maybe a celebrity or sports star named Cynthia Defrance or Calvin Defoe.

Punk rock fans should appreciate the intersection of YGGI and POP, particularly as it crosses QUAYLE, one of the great, ahem, stooges of our time.

Susan McConnell 8:32 AM  

Fun Thursday...made even more fun by @AliasZ's antics.

S 8:38 AM  

Q was VP after B, who was VP before he was P.

Anonymous 8:51 AM  


Since a literal answer was required I imagined a steak was what would be thrown on a gridiron. Being a non-meat eater, a quarterback steak seemed plausible enough. And at the cross INTS sounded Tolkien enough for me to get duped in both directions.

Casco Kid 8:54 AM  

Medium challenging. 1:38. Erred at TOy/NORTHyAST, which was my last entry and a Hail Mary.

I caught the trick at 1:05 but struggled in NW and SW. By the end I was pretty well beaten up, and so I couldn't see how SPARETIRE meant gut. Until I did, of course. I started with intesTInE as gut and then started looking for words akin to decimation.

KUDlOW for KUDROW mean the Piggyback ride had to be some kind of slIDE. YGGIslIDE sat there for the longest time as I pondered Yggdrasil.

HEROIN came and went. NEURO was hard to see even with HEROIN in and PMUH in place. ONEC, Marc COHN, Lori PETTY, LUIS whoever are all new to me.

No, not remotely easyish.

Joseph Welling 8:54 AM  

mathguy said:
"I don't get Dan Quale as a Bush successor. He was vice president under Bush but didn't succeed him."

Bush (sr.) was the 43rd Veep. Quayle, as number 44, was his successor to that office.

Charles Flaster 8:55 AM  

Thanks. Just a brilliant ,creative essay.

dk 8:56 AM  

🌕🌕 (2 MOONS)

Saw Carmen in AURORA MN on my birthday last Saturday (thanks puz pals for the greetings).

For me SCHOOL was the lead in to the solve. School was all the assurance I needed for HERION (aka school boy). That led to the reveal of 27A, the ever popular getting the trick, then round the bases….

Only pause was at STAN where I wanted Fran as in Kukla, Fran & Ollie….. figuring that one could fane innocent in order to stand trial… but with CDEF as the B tail I knew I was over thinking. And then I realized fane is actually spelled feign… realized I really could not think.

Nice puzzle. Now if I only liked trick puzzles.

retired_chemist 8:57 AM  

Liked it - medium-challenging here. Got the theme off the Q, which I KNEW was right for QUAYLE. When the U appeared (AT FAULT) I saw the backwards bit and things got faster in a hurry.

YGGIP RIDE I just got. I was parsing it YGGI PRIDE and figured it was a toy I knew nothing about. I mean, not having grandchildren eliminates a LOT of Americana.

Thanks, Mr. Arbesfeld.

Joseph Welling 8:59 AM  

Big DNF for me. I never got the theme. I still don't get how backward spelling provides the missing "back" in the answers, literally. ("Backward" and "back" are two different words, right?)

Z 9:08 AM  

With -RUEL---- I was wondering how cRUELxxxx could fit with a clue like "Soul mates."

CDEF - ugh. Where's Leo X when you need him?

I wandered around the grid wondering what "literally" was doing in all the themer clues untill I got to Dan QUAYLE. With QSNEAK in place the AURORA appeared to illuminate my way. My only real struggle after that was the. NW (aka 315 degrees). I have no issue with the quote marks around smack. They indicate something a little different, and since smack is slang for HEROIN the quotes are legitimate.

If you are of a certain age (55 +/-5) you might enjoy Marc COHN's Listening Booth: 1970.. It is a cover album of his favorite songs when he was 11.

@Esne of Crossworld - One of these days I'm going to solve one of your Rows Garden Puzzles, an as yet UNMET goal of mine.

joho 9:16 AM  

@mathguy, I think they're talking about QUAYLE following in the vice presidential footsteps of George H. W. Bush.

I loved this puzzle! The theme answers are so much fun. PMUH, LLAF, RETRAUQS and YGGI are such whimsical gibberish, they made me smile as I wrote them in.

ESTEEEPEE is quite a rows of Es! Would have been cool to have WHET be WHEE.

I'm always happy to see Alan Arbesfeld at the top and today he gave us another wonderfully clever and fresh puzzle.

mac 9:17 AM  

Very nice Thursday, loved the solve.

Pulps in the plural and the 4 letter run were not pretty, and I don't understand why the quotation marks with smack.

Almost wrote in Minny for Donald's ex.

Anonymous 9:17 AM  

Challenging but very fun!

NCA President 9:18 AM  

@danp and RAD2626: Smack is in quotes because it is a nickname, maybe? Like marijuana could be clued, "Dope." Just a guess.

Relatively easy for moi...I had seRf before OGRE.

RETRAUQSNEAK was what tipped me off to the theme. I got UNC quickly, and knew that going down off that U (which should have been another U following the Q) that there was no way it could be another at first I questioned QUAYLE, but then I saw ATFAULT with the U on the other side of the Q...aha moment.

Didn't care for B's tail...I don't really like alphabet strings...those seem cheap no matter how cutesy they are clued. They kind of rank up there with AAA or RRRR or SSSH or the like.

Thanks for the Nolte vid clip, btw...that can't be unseen. I don't know if he actually pulled his tooth out, but it reminds me of the apocryphal quote by Olivier to Dustin Hoffman during the shooting of Marathon Man. Hoffman, after a rough night of partying came in to shoot a scene in the movie where he'd been up 24 hours. Olivier, apparently appalled at Hoffman's unprofessionalism, said, "Try acting, dear boy." To which Hoffman replied, "Act on this, you ##$%&" to which Olivier replied, "I asked for a meal, not a snack."

Nancy 9:32 AM  

You could give me a trick puzzle every day of the week, I like them so much. I caught on early, so this wasn't hard for me, but it was much fun.

Questinia 9:32 AM  

Monday is micro
Thursday is NEURO
Saturday is ethno


This was a slam dunk puzzle if you weren't blearily doing it on a midnight train rollicking past the HERONRY.

There is an ad obscuring my capcha. Hay-ulp!

SenorLynn 9:53 AM  

Wonderfully chewy today. Had none of NW but most everything else in 30 min (@Charles Flaster), still didn't see theme until QUAYLE gave me YGGIP. Looked up Jeb Bush's successor in Fla before I got Danny. @CascoKid was so proud of intesTInE, @RAD2626 CLot for a long time. Lots of proper names I knew (baseball) or guessed (LORI Petty).
We saw Marc Cohn here in Dallas on a friend's recommend. Great show, great songwriter.
Applause applause @AliasZ. Worth the price of admission!

John V 9:56 AM  

Not easy. Did not get the gimmick. Clever, for sure, but DNF. So it goes.

chefbea 9:59 AM  

Too tough for me..DNF and couldn't get the theme. So came here. What is TMS..intellectual property? Guess I don't have any

NCA President 10:06 AM  

TMS = TradeMarkS

Steve J 10:10 AM  

Completely agreed with Andrew's assessment of "Sure, it's a trick I've seen before, but here it's done smoothly". The theme answers were all good, with the gibberish parts making sense and being consistent. I generally don't like gibberish in my puzzles, but this worked. Although, I found "literally" in the clue to be weird. Maybe it's because, like @Glimmerglass, I've been railing against the use of "literally" as "figuratively" for years. And, honestly, I'm not coming up with a better way of cluing things.

Found this 90% easy and 10% difficult. I picked up the theme nearly instantly. Working from top to bottom, when I read 17A, I thought to myself, "First expression that comes to mind here is 'fallback position", but that doesn't fit. Someone should do a puzzle that puts the 'fall' part backwards." Got to 42A, and realized that someone had done exactly that. Everything filled in quickly.

Except the NW. Couldn't get a damn thing other than PMUH. I was also flummoxed by the needless and inexplicable quotes on Smack for HEROIN, and none of the other answers were coming to me. Finally, I dropped in the S for the plural I knew had to be part of 1A, which jogged SCHOOL loose from my memory, and the rest came together.

Mostly fun and well-exected puzzle, CDEF and scare-quotes notwithstanding.

RooMonster 10:14 AM  

Hey all! Thought this puzzle was easy-medium, which for me on a Thursday is awesome! Liked the clues for EMPTYNETS, SOPHS, and APOP. Unfortunately had to come here to get the theme, but then figured out the rest! Nice long downs, hard to fill them and still have words that make sense and work together.

Ludyjynn 10:17 AM  

Very nice, crunchy, med.-chall. Thursday. Took me a while to break through, w/ LLAFPOSITION as my literal "aha" moment. Lots of esoteric clueing held my interest throughout.
Hand up for "intestine" before SPARETIRE, which was resolved by 35Across.
One of my more enjoyable Thurs. outings in a while. Thanks, AA, WS and our guest commentator.

RAD2626 10:19 AM  

I just assumed Bush successor meant next in line if something happened to President, hence Quayle or Cheney, no?

jdv 10:27 AM  

Easy-Medium. Like yesterday, the poor fill overpowered the theme. Just too many non-words for my liking. Never heard of LUIS Aparicio. Would've been happier if clue was changed to LUIS Suarez.

Bob Kerfuffle 10:29 AM  

Fine puzzle, fun for me, and nice write-up.

My only nit would be at 18 D, "Plans to," WILL. My friends know that I am very cautious in what I say, and in fact it drives them crazy (no, not "literally"), that I always add a conditional -- "If all goes well," or "If the Good Lord's willin' and the crick don't rise," so for me "plans to" and "will" are not equivalent.

@jberg - I think the "Soul mates" are a couple, and taken together they are TRUE LOVES of each other!


So, I am going on vacation -- see you in two weeks or so . . . if everything goes well . . . or whatever.

And I plan to be at Lollapuzzoola 7 in three weeks!

Leapfinger 10:30 AM  

I only brought my late-night, long-day brain for ammunition, so the going was rough. For starters, in my day, Quebec graduated High SCHOOL after 11 years, so Grade 10 were juniors; I was never going to get SOPHS from that clue. Overall, I came as close as never-mind to total theme failure.

a) Several possible intros to Biology, and doubted NYT edgy enough for Smack=HEROIN, so my WHALE was BLUE. [Don't they all sing?]

b) I sufficient football background for 42A. Joined some others in making that STEAK --- I had a reason --- and also waffled LONI vs LORI

c) Similar interference by YGGI Pop kept me wondering about YGGI PRIDE (Hi, @Sir Hillary, @ret_chem!...but had to llaf at CDEF)

d)*Finally*, --AFPOSITION allowed me to see my laffable position, and I flew to fix the NW Corner.

Needed every bit of crosswordese and remotely gimme-ish entry to get this filled, and still went the EMPTY NEST-NESS-NETS route. My brain wasn't niekloT to me, so tried ENTS before INNS.

Wondering about WILL showing up in the grid, ala Steinberg.

Joining the @A-Z chorus of kudos, with ONE extra KUDROW thrown in. One of these days, it's going to be YAP time. Maybe later on, we'll get some music from the witty and versatile NEFFO.

This puzzle was an absolute workout for me, and if there was AURORA laffter, it was at myself and my struggles with it. Many thanks to the PROLIFic Alan

Heading out now, in my little Integra Hctah.

Arlene 10:50 AM  

This one was tough for me - and my experience mirrors many others. I got the theme at PIGGY - but even then, it was slow going. Got the NW last - after fearing a non-finish. But no Googles! YAY!
And for those counting - it took me 42 minutes.

Timothy Smith 11:03 AM  

Took a while to get going. Worked back from the E side. It clicked when I got the Q from QUALLE and SNEAK. Wasn't sure I would get it but finished 100%.

mathguy 11:23 AM  

@joho and @Joseph Welling: Thanks, I had forgotten that the elder Bush had been Vice President.

Carola 11:37 AM  

@Glimmerglass and @Steve J - and anybody else interested in the misuse of "literally" and other offenses....

You must watch this parody of "Blurred Lines": "Word Crimes," by Weird Al (at about 2:50).

AliasZeke 11:39 AM  


Andrew Heinegg 11:58 AM  

I eventually picked up what was going on here but, it took me too long and I found the back business to be a little too cute for my taste. I have no excuse really. When you are solving a Thursday NYT puzzle, you know you have to be on the alert for gimmicks. Not enough sleep last night, I guess;

Leapfinger 11:58 AM  

@AliasZeke [whichever U R]


The borders of reality are blurring. The PMUHQUAYLE singing The Ballad of Murphy Brown...

PS. I now have a TM captcha. Dang if that didn't remain opaque till explained just now. My blind spot today must be the size of Idaho.

AliasZ 12:14 PM  


Here is Jacques Neffo (1819-1880) but not the Barcarole nor Orpheus in hell. It is the much less known but quite charming Les larmes de Jacqueline (Jacqueline's tears) from Harmonies des bois, Op. 76, appropriately played here by none other than the divine Miss Jacqueline du Pré.

Mohair Sam 12:20 PM  

Good Thursday workout, liked the theme, liked the write-up here too.

Played medium-challenging here because we thought the perennially misused "literally" had been misused here - therefore the blUeWHALE was singing the blues - get it? Get it? I thought not.

Finally got the theme at YGGIPbackRIDE - in spite of a brief moment of "does Iggy Pop spell his name oddly?" After that the puzzle fell quickly.

@alias Z - Tip of the cap here - you outdid yourself today. Good stuff.

Steve J 1:00 PM  

@Carola: I saw that a couple days ago. It's fantastic. And great to see that Weird Al still has excellent parody chops, even after 30-some years.

Lewis 1:34 PM  

Excellent writeup, Andrew!

Fun theme, and I liked the clues for APOP, EMPTYNETS, ALLCAPS, and TOE. Not much grid gruel, although TMS next to STA was a little ugly. Every time I thought I was going to get stuck, an answer popped into my head. I love when that happens.

AliasZ -- beautious post.

POST PUZZLE PUZZLE (PPP): There are three words from the puzzle answers that appropriately fill in the following blank -- DOUBT, _____, MIASMA, FAULTY. If you take the fourth letter from each of those three puzzle answers, they combine to make a common word. What is it?

If you figure it out, feel free to post your answer, as it doesn't give much away. I'll post the answer and explanation later this afternoon. I'm sending it to Ralph, who will at some point post it on

Laurence Katz 1:40 PM  

I agree with Danp. Putting "Smack" in quotes was so gratuitous as to be misleading. Made me think it indicated a sound effect. But, no, it signified nothing except a colorful synonym, which you find examples of daily in crosswords without quote marks.
Other than that, me like puzzle. Messed with my brain just enough to tickle it.

Casco Kid 1:44 PM  

Willing to trade the quotes from ["Smack"] for a ? on [Stocking stuffer]. Ok, I'm just feeling a little burned on that one.

Dan Quayle always claimed that Maggie Thatcher was his HEROIN.

Hartley70 2:38 PM  

Love, love and love! I'm not even whining for a rebus today. The cluing was sparkly for me. Some of the proper names were obscure since I'm a sports luddite, but Marc Cohn I knew (AHA!) because his brother was our doctor for years. Just a great Thursday.

sanfranman59 3:07 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)

Thu 17:31, 17:28, 1.00, 54%, Medium

Top 100 solvers

Thu 11:51, 10:31, 1.13, 71%, Medium-Challenging

Sir Hillary 3:22 PM  


Lots of classic crossword entries in those fourth letters -- AIR, ARI, IRA, even RIA. A couple of others in the 5th letters as well!

Carola 3:46 PM  

@Steve J - Agree about Weird Al still going strong. And maybe after this video people will even make "less" mistakes :)

Leapfinger 4:08 PM  

The Weird Al number (thanks!) is one of his best, I think; he does seem to get better with time. Nearby, I found this other one, which doesn't illustrate the theme as much as provide a counterpoint in looking FORWARD

I'm a novice at this embedding, so hope it works; I couln't tell whether spaces were needed around the dashes

Lewis 5:14 PM  


The first two letters of the fill-in-the-blank word must start with RE; then the first two letters of the words in the series will be DO RE MI FA. The three words in the puzzle starting with RE are RECAP, RESiN, and RETRAUQSNEAK, the fourth letters of each spelling the common word AIR, but as @Sir Hillary points out they also form four other crossworthy words.

@sirhillary - WTG! And I do like those couple of words the fifth letters make.

chefwen 5:56 PM  

Holy Moly, my lightbulb took eons before it finally clicked on. Kept wondering what type of a singing whale there was that began with P. Like many others here YGGIP was the illumeninating factor, after that it fell like beautifully arranged Dominos.

absolutely loved it.

Hope I can send this, first time on the IPad as I am traveling and not sure that I remember my password, changed it when in hospital under massive amounts of

chefwen 9:11 PM  

Illumeninating???? where is spell check when you need it? Yikes!

Anonymous 10:59 AM  

I can be as thick as a brick at times. I got nearly everything except the theme answers, which were giving me fits. I even had most of the letters in them but couldn't make sense out of the first parts of them. Until I noticed that if I put a Q in the right place, I could get QUAYLE going down (I knew there was a trick to the reference to Bush and figured it meant George H.W. and was already playing with QUAYLE). Then I finally saw the gimmick for the quarterback sneak, and that allowed me to fill in the other theme answers very quickly. Very frustrating puzzle, but also very satisfying to be able to finish it.

Fred Romagnolo 11:34 AM  

With me it was QUAYLE & AT FAULT that clued me in. Unfortunately, don't know Tolkien that well, took a long time to get away from IaNs as the pony's name! CDEF was the worst. Good puzzle overall.

spacecraft 11:42 AM  

Whew! So, yesterday I asked for a challenge; that'll SCHOOL me! After well over an hour I got it done, but easyish????? And 4:45?? Look, buddy, we already have a blogger who flaunts IMPOSSIBLE times--we don't need another one.

Searching for a foothold, I gained purchase at LUIS and STAN. This suggested QUAYLE and USINGUP, but ...QS... was a problem. Then the trick hit, and it was a big help, of course. But there were still some tough entries. The clue bank was foggy today, for sure. How is 45 degrees NORTHEAST? Seems arbitrary. I've never seen PULPS as a plural. This baby was tough!

Theme cleverness, execution and aha! factor: great. Fill: uneven. Yes, stacked nines impress, but at a high price: ONEC, CDEF, ATT atop ATTY, and the overused E-words along the bottom. Could we please give poor ESTEE and her EPEE a break? They're in my face all the time lately. Say, a B-.

1205: getting closer.

DMG 3:19 PM  

I'm back, to find a puzzle with a gimmick I couldn't crack at first. Had everything but the theme answers. Some kind of WHALE, some kind of SNEAK, and a kid's PRIDE!
Had to leave, came back and decided to write them out and see what developed. Got as far as PMUH, and the light flashed on.! Should have taken a break earlier!

Got a welcome back from the dealer: 108.

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