Mountain Dew alternative / MON 5-25-15 / Polynesian carvings / Island nation for which distinctive cat is named

Monday, May 25, 2015

Constructor: Jennifer Nutt

Relative difficulty: Medium (normal Monday)

THEME: "I NAILED IT" (57A: Appropriate exclamation upon solving this puzzle?) — last words of theme answers describe a manicure (I think): first CLIP, then FILE, then BUFF, then SHINE, then POLISH. I hope I have this right.

Theme answers:
  • VIDEO CLIP (17A: Excerpt shown on TV)
  • CIRCULAR FILE (23A: Wastebasket, jocularly)
  • TRAIN BUFF (33A: Visitor at a railroad museum, say)
  • MOONSHINE (39A: Product of a backwoods still)
  • SOCIAL POLISH (45A: What a boor sorely lacks)
Word of the Day: BABYLON (9D: Ancient Hanging Gardens city) —
Babylon [...] was a significant city in ancient Mesopotamia, in the fertile plain between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. The city was built upon the Euphrates, and divided in equal parts along its left and right banks, with steep embankments to contain the river's seasonal floods. // Babylon was originally a small Semitic Akkadian city dating from the period of the Akkadian Empire c. 2300 BC. The town attained independence as part of a small city state with the rise of the First Amorite Babylonian Dynasty in 1894 BC. Claiming to be the successor of the more ancient Sumero-Akkadian city of Eridu, Babylon eclipsed Nippur as the "holy city" of Mesopotamia around the time Amorite king Hammurabi created the first short lived Babylonian Empire in the 18th century BC. Babylon grew and South Mesopotamia came to be known as Babylonia. // The empire quickly dissolved after Hammurabi's death and Babylon spent long periods under Assyrian, Kassite and Elamite domination. After being destroyed and then rebuilt by the Assyrians, Babylon became the capital of the Neo-Babylonian Empire from 609 to 539 BC. The Hanging Gardens of Babylon was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. After the fall of the Neo-Babylonian Empire, the city came under the rules of the Achaemenid, Seleucid, Parthian, Roman and Sassanid empires. // It has been estimated that Babylon was the largest city in the world from c. 1770 to 1670 BC, and again between c. 612 and 320 BC. It was perhaps the first city to reach a population above 200,000. Estimates for the maximum extent of its area range from 890 to 900 hectares (2,200 acres). // The remains of the city are in present-day Hillah, Babil Governorate, Iraq, about 85 kilometres (53 mi) south of Baghdad, comprising a large tell of broken mud-brick buildings and debris. (wikipedia)
• • •
I know nothing about manicures, but this theme strikes me as both clever and tight. I don't think I know what "SHINE" means. I mean, of course I know what that word means, but the difference between "SHINE" and "POLISH" is lost on me. Maybe there's some clear stuff that goes on before the "POLISH." If my daughter were nearby right now, I could ask. But she's not, so I'm 'just going to trust that this puzzle has the whole manicure verb progression right. Speaking of polish—the fill on this thing looks great. It's not what you'd call zippy, but that's understandable, given that the grid's trying to keep *six* long themers in place without having the rest of the grid go to hell. Failing to go to hell is all the non-theme parts of the grid had to do, and they did that admirably. All in all, a promising start to the work week ... only it's Memorial Day, so nobody's working, so ... just "week."

There were a couple things I didn't understand. One is technical—why are there cheater squares* (black squares before 31A and after 41A, respectively? Those sections should've been awfully easy to fill without having to add the cheaters. But I assume the constructor tried that, and just couldn't get the fill to come out clean enough, and so added the cheaters and got the job done. It's a very minor thing. I'm not even complaining—just wondering aloud, from a constructor's standpoint, why one would resort to cheaters *there*. The other thing I don't understand—why TRAIN BUFF?? I mean ... trains? If you needed "train" for your theme to work, OK, but "train" has nothing to do with the theme, so why not go with the much more familiar MOVIE BUFF? There are millions of MOVIE BUFFs and, like, seven TRAIN BUFFs in the world, so ... that choice mystifies me. Again, not complaining. Just standing here, baffled.

I got slowed down a bit by TRAIN BUFF (had TRAIN and had no idea what could come after). I also took a while to come up with SOCIAL POLISH, since it's not a phrase that stands alone that well. "Social graces" googles about 25 times better, for instance. It's an actual phrase, it's just not snappy or self-evident, hence the delay in my figuring it out. I also hesitated at SEIZE because I Swear To God I never know the I/E order there. SIEGE, I then E, SEIZE, E then I. I can tell myself that now, but in the heat of solving, that knowledge just isn't accessible and I end up guessing / checking crosses.

Lastly, sadly, Anne Meara died yesterday. I should say Anne MEARA, since her last name has been common crossword fare for decades now. She was also a crossword buff (!) herself, and a nice person to boot. Oh, and a comedy legend, obviously, but I just took it for granted that you all knew that. I hope someone's making a (good) tribute puzzle for her right now. She deserves it.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

*cheater squares = black squares that don't add to the word count (generally added by constructors solely for the purpose of making the grid easier to fill)

[Follow Rex Parker on Facebook and Twitter]


jae 12:06 AM  

Easy, delightful, with a whimsical reveal.  Liked it a bunch.  And me too for problems spelling SEIZE...usually need the crosses.

thursdaysd 12:36 AM  

I am a train buff - I once spent seven months traveling 17,000 miles from Scotland to Saigon by rail (with detours) - but I am quite, quite sure there are more than six others in the world!

RAD2626 1:08 AM  

Really good Monday puzzle. Agree with complimentary parts of writeup completely. Some nice non-standard words (GOYA, ODIN, ALAR, ECOLI, OVULE), and even a cute clue or two (e,g., Verbal response?). Interesting use of GO ON vs. the more common thug GOON. Thought this was appropriately easy but not boring.

Happy Memorial Day to all. Finally gotten around to reading Laura Hillenbrand's Unbroken which seems like an appropriate Memorial Day read. Having recently finished Boys in the Boat I am hoping for xword answers focused on the 1936 Berlin Olympics, prominently featured in both books.

Trombone Tom 1:23 AM  

Sorry, Rex, there are millions of train buffs around, just not in your immediate group. We call the more extreme ones "foamers." (Foaming at the mouth.)

Easy and straightforward puzzle, which I enjoyed.

dmw 1:50 AM  

I am not a train buff, but I just visited a town in Colorado called La Junta (the junction, not the military rulers after a coup), where coal trains seemingly miles long pass through, are sorted, put on side tracks, etc. The town is near the Comanche National Grasslands, with some beautiful scenery and well-preserved dinosaur tracks.

Unknown 2:41 AM  

Very cute Monday puzzle. Had few problems other than filling in correct answers in the wrong spots. I seem to do that a lot lately like going into the pantry and totally forgetting why I'm I there, this aging process is tricky.

Wanted SOCIAL graces before POLISH, but I'll HANG with it.

chefwen 3:04 AM  

Jon Adamek is the the alter ego of chefwen. He was trying to upgrade my iPad and messed up. We will see what happens.

He does look like Larry David, right?

Carola 3:29 AM  

I also VOTE with the yeas on this one - cute theme and many other fine entries. After CLIP, FILE, and BUFF, I knew we were talking NAILs, and that helped me get POLISH. Still, I needed some crosses for the reveal.

I liked how Vs had a chance to SHINE in HAVOC, COVEN, SALVE, and OVULE, and RUNT goes nicely with the following SIZE.

@chefwen - Nice to meet the STORIED Jon :)

Charles Flaster 3:32 AM  

EZ fun puzzle. No problem with TRAIN BUFF but rest of review was fine.
Liked Kluing for FRAME and SOPS.
CrosswordEASE→OBI and NADIR.
What a shame about John Nash!! --"Beautiful Mind".
Thanks JN

Lewis 6:30 AM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lewis 6:32 AM  

I would have liked RUNT where PEEL is; then it would have been underSIZE. I do like the HANG up.

ALAR and OBI might give some newbies trouble in the NW, but overall, this puzzle felt just right, if a little easy even for Monday. It felt junk-lite, had some zip, and had a cute theme.

I smiled at TRAINBUFF, thinking that's an unusual answer in a good way. "Movie buff" might be more common, but I prefer less common if it's common enough, as I believe TRAINBUFF is. I smiled as I slapped it down. Other answers that popped nicely to me were SOCIALPOLISH, VIDEOCLIP, STORIED, COVEN, and HAVOC. And I liked the clue for ECHO.

Low, but not unusually low double letter count (6, and anything under 5 is stellar, that is, highly unusual). Most important was the overall feel of this puzzle: delightful! Looking for mani mani more, Ms. Nutt.

Anonymous 6:54 AM  

GOON is a dook.

jberg 6:54 AM  

What everyone said. I think there are more movie buffs, but TRAIN BUFFs have to be more committed, as it's a lot easier to watch an old movie than it is to take a ride on an old train. Nice work!

Anonymous 6:56 AM  

SOCIALskills threw me off for a bit. Good Monday puzzle!

Anonymous 7:10 AM  

For a brief moment I thought there was a disease theme: CF, TB, MS are the first letters of 3 themers. That would be a little sick though, no (pun intended)?

Doris 7:31 AM  

If you live in New York, you have been deluged on all news media about the problems regarding the proliferation of "bargain" manicure/pedicure salons. Sara Maslin Nir of the NYT did an excellent muckraking series on same last week. It involves the equivalent of slave labor, very low (or no) wages, and possibly illegal aliens. So, anyway, we're all very manicure-savvy here. Personally, I've always done my own—not to save money; I just don't like being "worked on."

Z 7:49 AM  

Six is the new three. I assume that eventually ever answer of four letters or more will be part of the theme.

How to tell that one has been doing puzzles too long: An astute commentator describes GOYA, ODIN, ALAR, ECOLI, OVULE as "non-standard words" and the knee-jerk response is, "huh? crosswordese-a-rama."

Hey TRAIN BUFFS, it was a joke. A little self-deprecating humor would be appropriate. What always baffles the GOON GOAT out of me is why we hardly bat a DOOK at the huge subsidies we give airlines but AMTRAK might as well be satan's bastard off-spring. The absence of high-speed rail should shame every "America's #1" zealot out there.

Nice Monday. Nice to take of the galoshes.

pmdm 7:50 AM  

The major requirement for a Monday puzzle is that it is extremely simple, a puzzle that almost everyone can solve quickly. The more theme answers, the more difficult to do that without using ugly fill. And this puzzle has 6 theme answers, a high density for a puzzle that has to be simple. With such a constraint, it isn't hardly surprising that cheater squares show up in the grid. And for some, the addition of the cheater squares, which form black Ls in the grid, perhaps make the grid more visually appealing, not just a bunch of isolated squares and lines.

chefbea 7:50 AM  

What a great puzzle!! Had no idea of the theme until I got to the was an aha moment. I have a son-in-law who is a train buff...has all the old Lionel trains from his child hood which he assembles under the tree at Christmas.

GILL I. 7:59 AM  

@thursdaysd....I too am a TRAIN BUFF. My father took us on a wonderful trip via TRAIN from Santiago to Villarica, Chile. It was like riding the Orient Express. My sister and I had our own "suite" with a private bathroom that included all the bells and whistles. The dining car was right out of a movie. I'll take a train over a plane any day...even Amtrak!
@Jon Adamek....I too tend to walk into a panty and stare...Is it because Wendy is asking you to get the SOPS for your stew?
Nice, easy, safe Monday puzzle. Speaking of I NAILED IT...I've only had one manicure in my life. I ended up in hospital with a skin type fungus that took months to cure. I have since kept them short and CLEAN...just like this puzzle!

Mohair Sam 8:01 AM  

Terrific Monday puzzle, as good as a Monday can get. Great write-up by @Rex too (forgiving his BUFF muff).

Only complaint - SPRITE is an alternative to Mountain Dew the way water is an alternative to vodka. They both look and taste about the same, but your reaction to each will be very different.

Anne Meara co-wrote and starred in a made-for-TV movie called "The Other Woman" about 30 years back. If you're a Meara fan and can find the flick it is well worth the effort.

Anonymous 8:08 AM  

@Gill I.: I hope you ask permission before you walk into a panty!

RooMonster 8:11 AM  

Hey All !
Nice puz to kick off the week! Have to agree on the *medium for a MonPuz* rating, as this had a bit of a bite with NADIR, OVULE, SKOAL and a few others.

I'm a TRAIN BUFF, but of the model train type. Real trains are ok also...

Wanted anted for BUYIN first, and of course, spelled SEIZE wrong at first! Sieze to me looks better! Cheater squares don't bother me, as long as there aren't too many. Alternate ue for 60A, 7x7Puz? :-) 7D an unknown, anyone?


joho 8:22 AM  

Splendid Monday puzzle, Jennifer! Perfect start to the week.

I saw this as scene from a movie with me getting to speak my own line at the end, "INAILEDIT!" How much fun is that?!

And the whole thing was made that much sweeter by Rex's rave review: Yay!

George Barany 8:49 AM  

Nice puzzle by @Jennifer Nutt. I don't know a lot about the finer points of nail care, but have to wonder whether 1-Across, HANG, is part of the theme.

As for (not in the puzzle) ANNE_MEARA, her first, last, and even full name will live on in the crossworld. It's been a while and I don't remember all the details, but I once had occasion to place her name in a puzzle with a clue to the effect of "she loves Ben and Jerry."

Dorothy Biggs 8:56 AM  

@Z: I agree that trains need to make a comeback if not to simply provide an alternative to airplanes. The Megabus is a great idea but it is limited in access and limited by our road system (traffic, lights, etc). This doesn't even include the dire need in my city for local train service to take the load off the street infrastructure.

I'm more familiar with folks who are "model train" train buffs more than actual "life-sized train" train buffs. There's probably a lot of cross over there, but people who are really into model trains own some whereas people into large trains don't. I could be wrong on that.

For what it's worth, "TRAINBUFF" was one of Ms. Nutt's favorite entries.

Can someone explain "cheater squares" to me like I'm a 5 year old? How can you spot them or what makes them stand out from the rest of the black squares?

Ludyjynn 9:02 AM  

This puzz. has my yay VOTE. I ECHO all the PRIoR positive comments.

Balto. is home to the B&O Railroad Museum, worth several hours of your time if you're downtown, TRAINBUFF or not. And nearby historic Ellicott City has the B&O Ellicott City Station and museum, the oldest existing r.r. station in the country. On a related note, you can take a ride on a restored trolley car at the Baltimore Streetcar Museum, also downtown. It's fun for young and old.

Timeliness of the theme was eerie, as @Doris mentioned, as well as the Amtrak tragedy connection alluded to by @Z.Real life creeps in to xwords.

Liked IMPS and SPRITE in the same grid.

One of my favorite dramatic recurrent roles of the late Anne Meara was on "Sex and the City". She played Cynthia Nixon's mother-in-law, and was experiencing symptoms of dementia, including an episode where she wandered the NYC streets and had to be tracked down by her family. It became clear she could no longer live alone. Worth re-viewing to see a great actress at work.

Thanks, JN and WS.

RooMonster 9:04 AM  

Hey @NCA Pres, will give it a go.

Cheater squares are black squares (blocks) that don't add (or subtract) to the amount of words in a puzzle. Example: the black square in front of 31A. If you were to take that out, and have a regular square there as part of an across/down answer, it wouldn't change the total amount of words in the puzzle.

Does that make sense or did I confuse you more?


Z 9:07 AM  

@NCA Prez - Look at the end of 41A/30D. See that black square? It's a cheater square. If that were a white square we would have a five-letter answer crossing a four-letter answer. Same number of answers, just two of them would be longer. Look at the black square at the end of 44A, this is not a cheater square. Change that to white and 48D becomes the end of 28D instead of a distinct answer, so one fewer answer in the puzzle.

If I may, Rex seems to be leading us to the inference that sometimes a "cheater square" is a good thing if the result is cleaner fill.

quilter1 9:09 AM  

TRAINBUFF completely fair. I've been to lots of train museums, especially in England. Good good puzzle, fun Monday. Anne Meara was one of the best.

Dorothy Biggs 9:14 AM  

Thanks @Roo and @Z...that is somewhat helpful. I'll look more carefully from now on to see if I can spot them. I only know about them when someone points them out, i.e., they don't appear to be self-evident to me or very obvious.

How do you spot them quickly? And to Z's point, are cheater squares inherently good or bad? Are they, in fact, "cheating?"

Arlene 9:29 AM  

Good Monday puzzle - easy solve.
Definitely look up the NYTimes articles on nail salons - shameful practices going on.
As for TRAIN BUFFs, I've been to some wonderful train museums - the Steamtown National Historic Site in Scranton, PA has working trains and a roundtable among its exhibits - worth the visit.
And I was to the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento, CA - wonderful place that has an incredible display of Railroad China - another area of interest for train buffs. Just Google the term and you'll see some wonderful, unique designs and a piece of history.

AliasZ 9:36 AM  

What a lovely, light and airy Monday puzzle -- perhaps unfit for Memorial Day, but a very pleasant and easy divertimento nonetheless.

I often complain when the constructor CRAMS too many theme entries into a puzzle, under the weight of which it can easily crumble. This one shined from the polish liberally applied throughout the grid, even though in my world BUFF, SHINE and POLISH mean the same. Not being a manicure buff, I shall yield to the experts on this matter.

There is one blemish. 1A: HANG; 9D clue: "Ancient HANGing Gardens city" -- an unattractive and painful hangnail on an otherwise flawlessly manicured grid. [Thanks GB.]

- SOCIAL POLISH is the language spoken by Poles at parties and other informal gatherings.
- A scary dream is called a nightMARE because they tried "night stallion" and it didn't work.

Anyone in doubt whether TRAIN BUFF is a real thing, should check out the National Model Railroad Association and their National Convention in Portland this August. Do not miss their promotion video. Talk about train buffs. Millions of them.

Here is a clip I posted before, but it bears repeating: how composer Heitor Villa-Lobos heard the little train of the country bumpkins.

Remember our fallen heroes.

Nancy 9:46 AM  

Did the Sunday puzzle late yesterday, finishing it this a.m. I commented on it on Sunday's blog, if anyone is interested.

Anonymous 9:49 AM  

Has rex ever rated a puzzle "challenging" (for a Monday)?

ArtO 9:54 AM  

Once again I scratch my head at our leader's lack of familiarity with a most common term. TRAINBUFFs are everywhere.

The engineer of the ill fated Amtrak train was noted to be a train buff. There are millions of them and it is so sad to think that one who cared so much about trains could have been responsible for such a tragedy.

Nancy 9:58 AM  

To: Rex -- A zillion thanks for that wonderful Anne Meara clip from the Carol Burnett show. It's the funniest thing I've ever seen on this blog. Don't miss it, everyone!

Haven't looked at today's puzzle yet. Was too busy finishing up yesterday's. I also did the Variety diagramless from Sunday and completed it, which surely was the high puzzle experience of the weekend for me.

mathguy 10:16 AM  

I came across a copy of last Friday's Wall Street Journal and found a 21x21 puzzle by Elizabeth C. Gorski, a NYT regular. It was just like one of our Sunday's. A while back, Rex commented that WSJ was considering running a daily puzzle.

I just checked out their website. It seems that they run three puzzles a week, including a Saturday cryptic. I printed up the latest cryptic free of charge. It's by Patrick Berry. I'll give it a try later today.

With this addition, I now have enough puzzles in my life. I print up the NYT every night at 7, the next morning I print up the 8x8 KenKen from the website and I have that day's LAT crossword in my local paper.

I'm beginning to think that I am spending too much time with my fanny buried in my comfortable chair.

thursdaysd 10:27 AM  

"The absence of high-speed rail should shame every "America's #1" zealot out there."

I was just reading that Morocco is putting in a high speed rail line... I will say that Amtrak's long distance trains are quite nice in sleeper class, but there are too few of them. (The food is pretty good, but Canada's Via Rail's is even better - perfectly cooked rack of lamb on a moving train!)

lawprof 10:34 AM  

Count me among those who waited for the crosses before entering SEIZE. "I before E except after C" is just about the least helpful mnemonic device ever. Should be, "I before E, 'cept when it ain't."

Joseph Michael 10:56 AM  

Never had a professional manicure, so was surprised to learn that it's a five-stage process.
Nothing is as simple as it seems.

Good puzzle and writeup, except for Rex's TRAIN BUFF comment. It's a common term in my neighborhood. Have two friends who fit that description (and are proud of it).

mac 11:05 AM  

Very good Monday, dense theme and beautiful words in the fill. I also thought Ms. Nutt meant to include the hangnail!

I know a lot of train buffs, some very young, some older. There seem to be several places in CT where you can take rides in historic trains.

I love good trains, and there aren't too many here....

Anonymous 11:08 AM  

Most of the TRAIN BUFF commenters seem to be missing the point. Of course there are people who love trains, Rex isn't an idiot. The question is whether the term is the most commonly used one. Some of you anecdotally say yes, which is fine. Personally, I've heard TRAIN ENTHUSIAST more, and it Googles better, though Wikipedia says any of "railfan," "rail buff," or "train buff" are fine in American English.

dk 11:08 AM  

🌕🌕🌕 (3 mOOOns)

Cooling thing I ever said was to a friend in Copenhagen: "Let us simply take the night train to Munich." And, we did.

Nice smooth puzzle. Humming Babylon Sisters (Steely Dan for you young folk).

Beans are baking and now to make an apple rhubarb crisp. Vivendo la buona vita.

dk 11:09 AM  


Nancy 11:22 AM  

Think today's puzzle is a cute puzzle, with I NAILED IT being the cutest answer.
@Doris -- I'm also a New Yorker who doesn't frequent nail salons. I was surprised by the Times' article about exploitation of nail workers, having had no idea of WHAT goes on in these places. Now I'm really glad I've never patronized them. I am, however, GOBSMACKED by the humongous number of such establishments that have spring up like weeds in every neighborhood. I really don't get it. Doing one's own nails isn't brain surgery, it's pretty easy and fast, even for a klutz like me, and, in the great scheme of things, the end result isn't terribly important anyway. I was brought up in the era of "a woman's hair is her crowning glory" and to me, the great boon to a woman's appearance is a really gifted person with a pair of scissors. (It doesn't have to be an expensive hair salon, btw, since there are talented operators everywhere.) Anyway, my words to the wise are: Hair before nails, ladies.)

Lewis 11:34 AM  

Factoid: The triple X on MOONSHINE jugs announces that the brew has been distilled three times; also, one of the alternate names for moonshine has been Mountain Dew.

Quotoid: "No one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow." -- Lin Yutang

Lewis 11:41 AM  

Anyone know where SteveJ and Numinous are???? Haven't been here for a while.

Masked and Anonymo5Us 12:33 PM  

fave weeject wrow: INNTENSKI. (Way extreme, in social Polish)

fave moo-cow easy MonPuz clue: 60-A's "Peewee puz".
Woops... make that "Peewee pup".

BUFF and SHINE do seem quite a bit alike, and POLISH seems like a close cousin. But U could tell M&A they are all different manicurin events, and inntenski easily fool him. Kinda like on how to spell SEIZE.

Approve inntenski-ly of the cheater squares, to nail two U's in the middle east area. Lil darlins.

Solve was more fun than a RIOT in a COVEN. thUmbsUp and lookin forward to the next NuttPuz.

Happy Memorial Day to all and yo to @r.alph in Paree.


** Brit-style 60-Across **

Anonymous 12:46 PM  

It's like Bizarro Rex critiqued these last 2 puzzles. What happened to grumpy Rex?

For you Seinfeld fans, this write-up is like the Seinfeld episode where Jerry got in touch with his emotions.

rorosen 12:47 PM  

'coolist' is the pigeon's pin-up,..

DonR 1:42 PM  

I was an art director for a huge ad agency in New York. We used Stiller and Meara for a NY Telephone commercial under the most trying circumstances. They had to wear huge telephone costumes that they couldn’t get out of for a break. Anne was the nicest person you’ll ever meet and laughed and kidded with us through the entire shoot.

Anoa Bob 2:33 PM  

One of the most hazardous parts of nail care is in the application and removal of NAIL POLISH. Both can involve dangerous chemicals that NAIL salon workers are repeatedly exposed to. Here's a list from OSHA with some of the potential toxic effects.

From the musings of a dabbler in crossword construction department:

Two of the basic parameters of a crossword grid are the number of words and the number of blocks (black squares). In general, the lower those two numbers are, the more challenging/difficult it is to get the grid filled in, and the higher the regard/esteem for the puzzle's quality.

So all other things being equal, putting in extra blocks that don't change the number of words makes it easier to fill in the grid, but at the same time, reduces the puzzle's overall merit.

There's a way to get the same make-it-easier-to-fill effect of cheater squares while disguising the fact that it has been done, i.e., without having to actually put in extra black squares. I call this method a two-for-one POC and todays grid displays two of these, at the ends of 22D/37A & 29D/41A. TIKI/CRAM & UFO/SOP share final S's. Those S's add nothing to the puzzle's quality/interest/value. They just make it easier to fill the grid and are the equivalent of cheater, or, more charitably, helper squares.

This is not meant to denigrate today's puzz---a very fine Monday offering---but just to point out one of the tricks of the trade.

Z 4:53 PM  

To expand a little more on @Anoa Bob, a puzzle's "quality" is a series of of decisions about balance. Q, F, K, Z, X, V, B, U are more interesting than R, S, T, L, N, and E. But "scrabblef#%^*+>ing" is bad. Lots of theme answers are good, but not if you end up RRNs and LEO OLAF's pet ERN(E). Pangrams are pretty cool except when you stick us with OOX to get the 26th letter. NAHUM is a cool person to learn about unless you have to guess at the H because its crossing a town in Kyrgyzstan. Are "cheater" squares cheating? It depends.

George NYC 6:46 PM  

So agree about trains

Blackeyedsusan 8:36 PM  

This was adorable. A perfect Monday puzzle so far as I am concerned,
I thought the theme was simply things you can do to nails.
As a fairly regular visitor to the nail salon (although I did not have my first manicure until I was 36, look upon it as precious "me" time and a reward for my toils, and wince when I see children getting them, especially when I have to wait for them to be finished), I can say that BUFF and SHINE are not a regular part of the process. For me it's FILE, cuticle trim, hand massage, base coat, POLISH, top coat. One of my life's guilty pleasures - like crosswords.
Thank you, Jennifer Nutt.

Noam D. Elkies 9:22 PM  

MOVIE vs. TRAIN: the center of the grid has the ends of two theme answers *and* two 5-letter words (25D, 33D) that cross three theme answers each. That's hard enough to do with TRAIN; with MOVIE, you'd have to resort to FAVRE (never seen on a Monday, and for good reason) and either MEIJI (much too hard for Monday) or a Roman numeral (easily clued for Monday but not welcome) - and you'dstill have the central square to refill. (Also there's two clues with "movie" but that would be easily fixed.)

The "cheater" squares may be a symptom of Scrabblemessing (the more delicate version of Scrabble!@#$ing)…


Leapfinger 10:50 PM  

@Gilly, I don't mind at all if you walk into a panty, but you really ought not stare.

@Alias, love that Villa-Lobos trem music; great timing to make the Brasil-Nutt connection!

Hand up for thinking this an IMPish puzzle with cute QUIPs, felt a regular treat of a Monday. Stellar before STORIED, but fixed that with my SOCIAL skills, er, POLISH. Did SEIZE properly, but got in my spelling var with ANULL [and void].

No expert on the mani-pedi front, but I can talk a bit about MOONSHINE on account of a certain jar sitting in my kitchen. @Lewis and @Mr Mohair are spot on in their comments about MOONSHINE, SPRITE and Mountain Dew. I've also heard that Mountain Dew is uniquely effective in dissolving the teeth of small children. [I'm paraphrasing a little here.]

I might be a TRAINBUFF. Since my teen years, I took the train between Montreal and NYC regularly twice a year to visit my cousin. It got so that every stretch and curve along the route became familiar, both in Spring and in November; especially loved the area around Lake Champlain. Sometimes I rode the night train, and remember waking one morning with the first light of dawn, looking out the window as we slowed in a station, reading the big banner:"Welcome, Weehawken Centennial"... Thought I'd woken up in Pogo Country.

Hunh, I DOOK but I do GOON; I've already run a BIG OT. It's like the saying: A lass, babble on...

Nice to have you start this Monday, Ms. Nutt. Don't be a stranger.

Hartley70 12:14 AM  

Wonderfully charming way to start the work week. Me three for disliking the nail salon, while liking pretty nails. The NYT piece was a real eye opener!

AnonAppallymous 4:16 AM  

My oh my.

Nail salons: a largely female workforce, largely immigrant, non-English-speaking, and poorly educated for most jobs available in this economy. Without even considering documentation status, who would have suspected there was anything in that list to suggest a recipe for employment abuses??

chefbea 7:59 AM  

It's Tuesday morning almost 8am...where's Rex?????

Burma Shave 8:59 AM  


Let the MOONSHINE on their STORIED past, I could REMARK on it ‘til dawn,
I wish I’d seen the NADIR of the HAVOC that RAN through OLD BABYLON.


rondo 10:01 AM  

I,RON, give this puz a Swedish SKOAL (SKÅL) as a really nice Mon-puz. Everyone step up because I’m BUYIN’. MOONSHINE and SPRITE for all.

That dook Alice the GOON really does love Popeye, it’s all she ever says, she’ll GOON and GOON . . .

I only ever owned one TRINI Lopez record (Kansas City), and only because it came as a prize in a box of potato chips.

The GOYA painting, yeah baby.

What ELSE to QUIP or REMARK about the REST? It’s a good Monday. Especially since OT is done and I’m off the REST of the week. Hope to be able to post.

spacecraft 11:17 AM  

Curiouser and curiouser with this "cheater squares" thing. In a bad grid, OFL positively rants about them; in a good one he still mentions their (apparently annoying, for some unfathomable reason) presence. Yet in any submission by one of the Favored Few they are totally ignored.

It's almost comical. He starts out praising, then looks at the byline: oops! not one of the FF! And so begins to nitpick. I think I'd be better off if, as many here have already discovered, I'd simply not read the lead blog.

I was sailing merrily along, but had not yet grokked the theme when I came to what a boor sorely lacks, and so like Google I put in SOCIAL graces. Trouble quickly ensued, and I had to rip out that last part. But if not graces, what? THEN was when I scanned back over the long acrosses in search of a theme--and found it. Like OFL, I'm not sure what SHINE is doing in there; it's obviously different from POLISH, but who amongst us males would know? Nor would we know PEEL as a spa treatment. Yep, definitely constructed by a distaff contributor.

Except for that hiccup, this was Monday-easy. Cute theme revealer, and not a lot to fuss over in the fill. This puzzle doesn't try to be what it isn't, but surely succeeds in being what it is. Huh? What'd I just say? I better shut up now. B.

And yeah, Fearless One, I'm one of the "seven."

rain forest 1:42 PM  

Ha, @Spacey - what DID you say? I just hate it when a puzzle tries to be what it isn't, whatever what it isn't is, or isn't.

Clear evidence of POLISH in this one, including the answers. I am not particularly a TRAIN BUFF, though I know a few, but in Europe it would be easy to become one. Awesome train systems there.

Stellar start to the solve week, Ms. Nutt.

It's been very easy to prove I'm not a robot lately.

DMG 1:49 PM  

A good start for the week. Did have a pause at the revealer, which I briefly read as the nonsensical IN AILED IT. Some days are like that!

@Ron Diego: you don't go unread, I, for one, always check the late "yesterday" postings before loading the new day's blog. As for this weather, yesterday's 91% humidity nearly did me in, but then I live a lot closer to,the coast .

Norma 5:09 PM  

I before e except after c or when it sounds like an a, as in ne

ighbor and weigh. only exceptions!!! (can be memorized as a sentence): Neither leisured foreigner seized the weird heights.

Anonymous 5:41 PM  

As I learned the exceptions: Neither leisurely feisty, foreign, protein-packed sheik, seized or heisted by sleight-of-hand, the sovereign's surfeit of forfeited counterfeit heifers, on the weird height. One other escapes my memory

strayling 7:40 PM  

I before e except when it isn't.

Lovely start to the week, this one.

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