Archenemy of Mattel's He-Man / SUN 11-29-15 / Decepticon's foe in Transformers / Ill-fated seducer in Tess of D'urbervilles / Olshansky first soviet-born NFL player / Little visitor to Slumbrerland in old comics / QB Bobby curse on Detroit Lions / Male lead in Disney's frozen

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Constructor: Alex Vratsanos

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: "Four-Letter Words" — clues are made up of two of the "four-letter" words in the corners of the grid For Some Reason...

Theme answers:
  • EXPENSE TYPE (over / head)
  • BEYOND THE TIME LIMIT (over / long)
  • WENT TOO FAR (over / shot)
  • RECKLESSLY (head / long)
  • YEARBOOK PHOTOGRAPH (head / shot)
  • NOT A GOOD BET (long / shot) 
Word of the Day: Bobby LAYNE (28D: QB Bobby who purportedly put a curse on the Detroit Lions) —
Robert Lawrence "Bobby" Layne, Sr. (December 19, 1926 – December 1, 1986) was an American football quarterback who played for 15 seasons in the National Football League. He played for the Chicago Bears in 1948, the New York Bulldogs in 1949, the Detroit Lions from 19501958, and the Pittsburgh Steelers from 19581962. He was drafted by the Bears in the first round of the 1948 NFL Draft. He played college football at the University of Texas. // He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1967 and inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1968. His number, 22, has been retired by the University of Texas Longhorns and Detroit Lions. (wikipedia)
• • •

This was one of the least enjoyable Sunday puzzles I've solved in a long time, which is saying A Lot. I've seen Sunday grids that are much worse filled, but I've rarely seen a theme this thin, pointless, and radically unentertaining. What is the pleasure here? Where is the fun? I suppose you can somehow admire the construction (if you are being awfully generous), but did anyone consider the solver here—how it would feel to solve this? Where is the *payoff* for waiting for those stupid "Four-Letter Words"? What was the point? That you could do it? It makes no sense. I got through the whole thing with no idea what was going on, only to find out that I *did* know what was going on and that thing was nothing. So LONG / SHOT can be a clue? So? So can LONG / AFTER? Who. Cares? And the themers? BEYOND THE TIME LIMIT? What is that? That's a clue, not an answer. EXPENSE TYPE? Has God ever invented a duller non-answer than EXPENSE TYPE? No. No She has not.

There were a few nice moments, where I got to see answers I've never (or rarely) seen before like "EVE'S BAYOU" (totally forgot about that movie) (3D: 1997 Samuel L. Jackson film) and AUTOBOT (50A: Decepticon's foe in "Transformers") and SKELETOR! (63D: Archenemy of Mattel's He-Man) But then there was stuff I hadn't seen and didn't really care to see like ... SEA DUCK? (85A: Goldeneye or harlequin) and AGEMATES (?) (8D: Fellow students, generally) and "K"-NARK? (74D: Informer, informally) WTH is that? And then name parts like KONG and FASO and a bunch of OCA-esque crosswordese and blah blah blah ETUI TAW multiple D'OHS. Massive disappointment overall. Nothing more to say. Good night.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Hays 12:26 AM  

It's not just that it was thin thematically and a slog, it wasn't even technically that difficult so there was no joy in overcoming something (and the slog doesn't count). There. Was. So. Much. Of. It.

Would've maybe dug a smaller grid with an idea like this. IDK. Someone'll probably make one, if it hasn't been done already. Or I could do it, maybe, someday.

What software is it that constructors use that have wordlists, etc.? I could code my own, but I'm like a AA coder and by the time I finish my program we'll have only emoji crosswords, I'm sure.

ANON B 12:40 AM  

Does anybody know why "major ally" is "tory"?

Karl Bradley 1:06 AM  

As Rex said, "Meh".

jae 1:10 AM  

Easy-medium.  For some reason the EMCEES/SYNCS/LEASE/CAPEESH area gave me problems.  Could be not really knowing how to spell CAPEESH? 

Interesting theme idea, but the execution was on the meh side, or more or less what @Rex said.

Da Bears 1:14 AM  

OMG. I must say I got much more enjoyment from Rex's comments than from the puzzle. LOL And I really cannot disagree with anything he said, except he failed to mention how annoying the whole exercise was going back and forth.

RAD2626 1:29 AM  

I actually liked the gimmick and the wordplay involved with the four key words, even if the combos were really pretty straightforward and not very entertaining. But overall, puzzle was a bit of a slog. One line across said it all for me: SEA DUCK, DIRAC, ESO BESO. Not a grin in the bunch. And really not an "Aha" either. Had Basic for COBOL which was dopey on my part, and did not help the solve time. Never heard of ZENER, but easy from crosses. PEARL FISH an interesting answer and will listen for the VIOLIN in Eleanor Rigby.

Music Man 1:39 AM  

Worst and most boring I've seen in a while, sans the obvious great answers. Couldn't VERT have been clued like a skateboarding, inline skating, bmx, Olympic snowboard/skiing event? Instead a boring answer was clued boringly. Ugh. This irked my soul.

chefwen 1:52 AM  

About the only thing that kept me interested in this thing was fixing all of my mistakes. Cook before CHEF (big pot user in this house). Spelled HOAGY like the sandwich. dALE before VALE at 108D, IlER before IGER at 109D. Stubbornness kept me plugging away.
Now that I look at the finished product I have no idea why it seemed to take forever to SNIFF the last two words of LONG and SHOT, but it did. That SW corner was the last in.

PHEW! Gotta agree with Rex on this one.

Anonymous 2:20 AM  

with the very rare exception Sunday sized grids are just tiresome.

John Child 2:35 AM  

I disagree with OFL today. I like the idea and the implementation. The word play is in the clues that we have to figure out and interpret into answers. The point that EXPENSE TYPE seems more like a clue for {Overhead} makes sense, but we've seen this before and it's consistent.

I hadn't noticed that the theme answers progress in order: 1+2; 1+3, etc. (Thanks Jeff Chen!) That's quite elegant.

The constructor notes say that the original clues for each of the four four letter words was ****. I think that's pretty cool and prefer it to what was published.

Christina 2:42 AM  

Also, it's capiche, isn't it? Pretty sure capeesh isn't a word

jae 2:56 AM  

So I'm watching Code Black with the closed captions on and one of the characters says CAPEESH except I rewind it and check the spelling and it's CAPICHE.

George Barany 5:30 AM  

Full disclosure, I have collaborated with @Alex Vratsanos on several puzzles, and have provided a web home for several more of his sole-authored as well as collaborative puzzles that--for whatever reason--were not a fit for the MSM.

There is no doubt that @Alex, on his own or with collaborators, is able to tap into something that @Will Shortz consistently finds appealing; the record on this speaks for itself [an even dozen New York Times puzzles in a little over five years, with the first published while Alex was still in high school].

The puzzle you have solved today has been in the works since the Summer of 2012, and it is to @Alex's credit that he reached out to numerous well-respected members of the cruciverbal community for advice and feedback. It's not for me to drop names, so you'll have to trust me on this ... for sure, I personally have seen several iterations and have to applaud @Alex for his dogged persistence and flexibility and willingness to continue towards his final goal. My notes say that the puzzle was submitted in May of 2015, and that @Alex then had to rework at least one theme entry (and all the surrounding fill) before coming up with the version that was accepted at the end of August of this year. Three months later, it's in print!

'mericans in Paris 6:10 AM  

Wow. Did OFL behave RECKLESSLY on Black Friday? Develop NASTY food poisoning following his Thanksgiving dinner? I would AGREE with @Rex if his themers were clued as "LONG / SHOT". However, in the paper version, which we worked from, they were clued with a plus sign: e.g., "LONG + SHOT" (actually, "122-Across + 125-Across"). So either the editor of the print version has more sense, or @Rex is even IMAGining slashes even where they don't exist.

We did like the theme, having never seen it before. OK, the answers themselves were boring, but they made one think. We admired also the constructor's situating the key words in each of the four corners.

Overall, we found the puzzle ITSELF a mix of easy and difficult, which made it medium on average. We aren't familiar with children's games and films these days, so had no idea how to answer "Archenemy of Mattel's He-Man (63-Down), "Male lead in Disney's 'Frozen'" (86-Down), nor the "'Little' visitor to Slumberland" (113-Across). And often we could not complete the because they were crossed with obscure answers like ESOBESO.

Also, we suggest that the NYT establish a minimum population threshold for geographic references. OJAI has a total population of only 7500. If that is the threshold, there are thousands of possible obscure place names that could be used. Even Natick, Massachusetts has a population of 46,000!

On the other hand, we thought about CHEF Wen (ALOHA to you!) throughout the puzzle, with its multiple references to Hawai'i. (Is POI really a "food"?).

Several write-overs: CAPiche (340 k Google HITS) before CAPEESH (70 K HITS), Cook before CHEF, pew before BOO (nice misdirect on that one).

@ANON B: John MAJOR was the Tory Prime Minister of the UK during the 1990s.

Sitting here in our apartment on a very quiet day in Paris. The authorities have closed many of the roads in the lead-up to the Climate Conference, which gets underway tomorrow and lasts through the 11th. Some 40,000 extra visitors are predicted, including President Obama (on Tuesday). What a challenge it will be for the security services! Let's hope they are up to the TASK!

pmdm 6:21 AM  

Anon B: "Major" should be capitalized, because it is a proper noun, the name of an English politician whose political party's platform agrees with Tory principles.

I find few of the themeless puzzles entertaining. Challenging, yes. Entertaining, no. I don't find that as an impediment to enjoying a puzzle, so I really don't mind if a themed puzzle lacks entertainment value. Today's theme was not entertaining, but it did seem clever to me, which is enough for me to give it a thumbs up. To each his own.

Capiche is the "standard" spelling of the slang word, but capeesh is an alternate spelling validated by dictionary sources. Perhaps the clue might have indicated a variant spelling, but the spelling is a valid option.

Bob Kerfuffle 6:46 AM  

Technically interesting in retrospect, but not much fun to solve. Did use the theme a tiny bit to fill in some squares.

One w/o, 105 A, ENG >> ESL.

@ANON B -- I wondered about that (53 D), too, but realized John Major (have to watch capitalization of the first letter of a clue) was a British Prime Minister of the Conservative Party who gained office as an ally of the Tory Party. (Experts in British politics, please correct/clarify if necessary.)

Lewis 6:59 AM  

@RAD -- The violins come in after "Ah look at all the lonely people".

The theme helped my solve in a couple of places, and I liked it, because I don't remember seeing anything like it. Does anyone here? It must have been tough to make, with the theme answers symmetrical. I liked the extra layer of having the specific order of the four-letter words to make the theme answers: a/b, a/c, a/d, b/c, b/d, c/d.

The solve was easy here and tough there, and didn't feel like a slog, as Sundays sometimes do to me. It was entertaining in that it kept me involved/motivated throughout, and I felt grateful afterward for the experience. Alex, it was worth all that effort you put into this!

bluesman 7:09 AM  

Major ally refers to John Major former Tory prime minister of England

Anonymous 7:16 AM  

Does anybody know why "major ally" is "tory"?

It's not "major ally." It's "Major ally". As in John Major, former Prime Minister of the U.K.

Anonymous 7:45 AM  

Not much fun. I'll pick a nit with OFL (some compensatory fun there!): I feel strongly that, in contrast to FASO, KONG is OK as a standalone.

chefbea 8:06 AM  

What a slog...I agree. I hate having to look back and forth for the different clues and answers. When I saw the shout out to me and @chefwen at 6 down and boo chou...was hoping for more food!!

NCA President 8:38 AM  

When I first started the puzzle on the website and I hit 24A and saw the clue I thought this might be an interesting puzzle. Once I figured it out...not so much. Similar to Rex, the randomness left a bad taste in my mouth, not satisfying at all.

I agree with Anon 2:20am above: Sunday puzzles, while iconic and certainly an NYT feature, are too often too much drudgery. Unless the theme is amazing, it's just too long.

Other reasons I didn't like the puzzle: IRONERS, OXY (can someone tell me what makes a company a "sister" company, as opposed to a "brother" or "niece" company?), SARAN (without the wrap), VIOLIN (Those songs have violins on them...or the sounds of strings...not a "violin sound." Plus, Yesterday is best known for the cello solo...or, a "Cello sound."), CODA (Endnotes? No. Technically, yes, but no.), and with all due respect to any of you who live there: OJAI. Ojai? Are random weirdly named towns now okay to throw in there? I can't wait until we start to see some Welsh towns thrown in there...yes, OJAI = Blaenau Ffestiniog.

Didn't like the puzzle today. And it got no extra brownie points for being easy-ish. I'm looking for satisfaction...solving a challenge. This wasn't least not for me.

Stupefyin Jones 8:38 AM  

Sock Ray blew and mawn doooo! What is capeesh?! It's spelled capisci, capisce?

'mericans in Paris 8:49 AM  

@Lewis. Did you solve the puzzle electronically? If so, were the themes really clued as "a/b, a/c, a/d, b/c, b/d, c/d"? We solved a paper copy and they were clued as "a+b, a+c, a+d, b+c, b+d, c+d".

jberg 8:53 AM  

Gah! DNF, stupidly. I thought of John Major, but somehow that did not lead me to TORY. And I couldn't remember ZENER, something I'd know all about 60 years ago. So I finally decided it was another TV show or cartoon, like what seemed to be most of the clues in this puzzle, featuring the Major and rOsY.

I did actually enjoy the back-and-forth of figuring out the corner words and the long-themers from each other. But that was about it -- too many obscure proper names (the other part of my error -- AUTOBOr seemed better than the too-literal AUTOBOT). If it hadn't been for OREL and ELIE, not to mention DIRAC and FASO, I wouldn't have been sure of anything. Or, right, ELS, too.

But COCAS? Ask any Bolivian what their President used to do and you will learn that he was the leader of the COCA growers. What POC are we going to see next, 'wheats?'

And 34D! Not sure why, but while I normally like the 'a but not b' kind of clue, I hated having it lead to an abbreviation, especially when it's simply our old crossword friend from the mountains, COL.

Well, it's over -- and the theme was good.

Anonymous 8:55 AM  

I was very pleased with myself for sussing out how weak this puzzle was five minutes in and quitting.

Roo Monster 9:01 AM  

Hey All !
I happened to like this one. All the theme answers were in the language phrases, nicely placed in the grid, and, as others have mentioned, even in order. Tough to do. And, on top of all that, light dreck. So, Bravo!

Finished (or actually, DNFed) in the ADS/SCRUB/SUFIS area. Couldn't grasp 33D, Doesn't pursue. I had the LETS part, but the crosses weren't playing nice. Ended up with LETS go Of, which got me AgS/SCooB/SoFIS/fISAN. Oof. Figured SCooB wasn't right, but was just happy to complete the fill!

Writeovers: bloW->SPEW, EXcesS->EXPENSE, faceBOOK->YEARBOOK (natch), oTter->STOAT, ePa/Pea, IPO/POI, tItans-> OILMEN. Quite a few, so this puz kept me on my toes. (With no SHOES)

So I don't think this puz RECKLESSLY WENT TOO FAR. Nice Sunday fare. No BOOs.


Anonymous 9:02 AM  

@NCA Prez - it's called a "sister" company to oppress women. I do think the sound of VIOLIN works as crypto-generative. Not the technical term, I'm sure, but I know what I mean.

Teedmn 9:07 AM  

57:03 was the time it took me to finish this. Whew! I forgot to print out the puzzle last night so I decided to use AcrossLite, which always slows me down because if you use the iPad keyboard, only two clues show up at a time. Inevitably I mix up which one I'm looking at (thinking Down is Across and vice versa) and indeed, this happened at 108A and D. I'm looking for the last name ___LIN for Robert somebody and wracking my brain for what dang sound _GER was in Eleanor Rigby, a song I know pretty well. At about 48 minutes into the solve, I hit the Check errors button. dooLIN, a good Irish name, was wrong. I looked at the clue one more time and D'OH, VIOLIN crossing IGER. And look at that, "yam", NARc, CAPisce, all wrong.

This helped me start fixing a bunch of stuff. The theme answer at 24A, EXPENSE TYPE helped me figure out that 1A was OVER because I could not get into the NW at all because my Physics V was Volume or Velocity. Oh, the pilaf "product" is not just a dish, it is RICEARONI!

So DNF. But while I was not filled with EUPHORIA solving this, there were some highlights: I liked seeing HOAGY balanced by HOARY, RECKLESSLY and ABRASIVES were good. Would any self-respecting SUV owner consider a SEDAN or WAGON as an alternative? I think not. I liked the 48A clue for IRONERS and that 94D was SPINAL and not some Greek architectural style column.

Thanks, AV, for the Sunday puzzle.

John McKnight 9:15 AM  

many of these answers are illegal and provocative. i am hollering.

Nancy 9:16 AM  

I'm with Lewis and John Child, so far, in that I liked this a lot. I liked the fact that the gimmick was not made altogether clear from the instructions and that the theme answers were many and well embedded in the grid. It took me a long time to figure out what the gimmick was, even when I had gotten some of the theme answers from the crosses. I found this much less slog-gy than many other Sunday puzzles. My only quibble is EXPENSE TYPE for overhead; EXPENSE TYPE really seems like an odd phrase that no one would ever use. Overhead is simply an EXPENSE -- that's all. For me, this makes three topnotch puzzles in a row, so I'm a happy camper.

Bob Kerfuffle 9:18 AM  

@'mericans in Paris -- Little Nemo dates to 1905 -- can't blame "films these days" for that one! ;>)

Z 9:35 AM  

Never been to or heard of OJAI, but resort town xworthiness should be based on the number of visitors, not the number of residents. For example, Door County (subject of some discussion yesterday) only has ~28,000 residents but can have as many as 250,000 people in the county on a summer day. I'd call that xworthy.

Thanks for all the Major explanations. I was scratching my head, too.

I liked this more than Rex, and have generally liked Vratsanos' puzzles in the past. Still, @Anon2:20a.m. said it well. It is a rare Sunday that doesn't bog down. It's like a 16 inning baseball game. The bull-pen is taxed, the bench is used up, and the game is going to end on an error or bases loaded walk. Everyone is just hoping it ends soon.

Anonymous 9:45 AM  

Not a fan of mutliple proper names in the same section - Autobot and Zener. Zener is extremely obscure, so if you haven't watched Transformers, you're reduced to guesswork.

Charles Flaster 10:12 AM  

Enjoyed this medium puzzle.
Liked theme manipulation with its deductive hints and assume it was not easy to provide them in order .
Liked cluing for LEASE and TORY.
AGEMATES did make me grimace a bit but I can live with it.
The good ol' days reared up with BOBBY LAYNE( a master taskmaster), ESO BESO, and OGDEN NASH ( a master satirist).
You young 'uns could look it up.
Always enjoy your work so thanks to AV.

BondPD 10:13 AM  

As I was saying, so to speak, Holy TOLEDO, another pic of a PSYCHOPATH, not exactly a YEARBOOK PHOTOGRAPH, revealing one nasty dude looking as if he’d just had a SPINAL tap of OXY and SPEED after a few deep SNIFFS of glue. Or was it just hate and stupidity, egged on by the congressional majority RECKLESSLY waging WARS on Planned Parenthood? Or the NCAA of causes and conditions that results in such madness?
If men had just one OVARY and one TIT (teat), or if just one man expelled a new human the size of two pineapples with four waving appendages without anesthesia ‘cause that’s what’s best for the baby, word would have gotten around and funding for PP would be commensurate with the military budget. O.K. Maybe I WENT TOO FAR, but you get the point. After all the HOARY SPEWing that’s been out there for the past year, it was clearly NOT A GOOD BET that a nut job would fail to take them seriously, ignorant of the facts, i.e. that there is no federal funding of abortion, and that clinics do breast and cancer screenings, and birth control. Ya know, preventing all those food stamp babies.
Does anyone believe that had the shooter been black in that bastion of evangelical far-right conservatism of Colorado Springs, the police would have escorted him out of the clinic and not SHOT him 14 times? That his LEASE on life would not have met its CODA?
On the lighter side, Pats tonight. Football’s brains on radio and ESPN are calling it for the Broncos, with Manning finally out for the second week. (35 yards completion two weeks ago) Will the famous study hours of Bellichick/Brady be a match for wide receiver Demaryius Thomas? The TASK for tight-end Gronk- a triple threat of tall, strong and quick- will be to maintain his usual versatility and continue to create tremendous confusion. Rookie quarterback Brock Osweiler steps in for week two, but will Peyton AGREE to share his encyclopedic knowledge of the game? Will BB be able to troll the media AFTER the game, as he did two weeks ago?
“It’s always good to run the ball. It’s always good to throw the ball. It’s always good to score points.” That deserved a STATUETTE of some sort.
(I think they call it a Bowl trophy.)
@'mericans in Paris: you may be the only sarcastic people in Paris at this moment in time. Unless, of course, you're really not in Paris.

Rex Gordon 10:15 AM  

I felt just as Rex did bout this one. And it felt as if it had been laying at the bottom of a pile or in a cluttered drawer for three or more decades - Paul Anka songs, Ogden Nash? Holy Toledo!

CNMLauren 10:17 AM  

Awful. Worst Sunday puzzle I think I have ever solved. Had to do alot of googling too, and not for anything interesting or worth remembering either. Nemo, as a character in an old comic? If the contructor needed Nemo, why not come up with a clever way of cluing the fish in the Pixar movie which would have been fun, instead of an annoying and useless bit of trivia? Too many other examples of random boring fill to count.
Also, "Four-Letter Words? Hello? Where was the fun with double entendres re: swear words??? I kept looking for it and I would say it actually held me up a bit. In fact, had FASA for FASO and therefore SHAT, but no, nothing that entertaining was in store.

Norm 10:27 AM  

Put me in the LIKE camp. I was bit annoyed at the start when I saw the clues for 1A and 15A, but looking down the clues, it was quickly apparent what was going to happen. Not a lot of zip or smiles, but it was entertaining and far from a slog.

tb 10:28 AM  

@George Barany, "It's not for me to drop names..."
Ha ha ha ha ha. Oh the irony.

Ludyjynn 10:31 AM  

@BobKerfuffle's first two comments sum up my experience as well.

And Rex's rant entertained much more than the puzzle did. That said, there were a few interesting answers: PEARLFISH, who knew? Also liked SANITIZER complementing CHILIDOG.

Could do without all the comic book/toy, "Frozen" and Harry Potter references; IMO BEYONDTHELIMIT for one puzzle!

ALOHA, @Chef(s)Wen and Bea. Here's looking at you. And on that note, I was watching CBS "Sunday Morning" as I solved, which had an interesting factoid, a la @Lewis: Black Friday is the busiest day of the year in the US for plumbers per Roto Rooter! No coincidence there!

HOAGY Carmichael had a small role, playing piano in a bar, in my favorite film of all time, "The Best Years of our Lives". Worth watching (again).

Thanks, AV and WS.

chefbea 10:34 AM  

From my previous post...should have been bok choy...hate that auto-correct

Teedmn 10:37 AM  

@NCA President, loved your call for Welsh towns - OJAI was a WOE for me.

@jberg, same thought here for 34D. My first thought was that the mustard should be "Cut".

Joseph Welling 10:43 AM  

NARK and CAPEESH. It's a bad day for the NY Times.

billocohoes 10:48 AM  

Only time I've heard of OJAI is as the location of the Sunday night soap "Brothers and Sisters" (2006-11, with Sally Field, Rob Lowe, Calista Flockhart, Patricia Wetting et. al.)

Anonymous 10:50 AM  

I loved the theme. Loved the opportunity to go back and forth, sussing out a couple of the root words by getting the combinations first. Loved that all the logical combinations were used, and in order, with the root words all in order, and in the corners. Just a really nice puzzle for pattern-lovers. Some of the fill was ort-ish, but most was entertaining and a lot was up-to-date, something this gang seems to crave. Nothing wrong with Ojai if you accept puzzles with Ames or Enid. I love that we have finally all agreed on the spelling of "Doh!"

Chaos344 10:53 AM  

Totally agree with Rex and most of the other posters here. This was just a slog with little redeeming value. Like Da Bears, I hate puzzles that cross reference clues. I thought the puzzle was easy, except for what I've taken to calling "obligatory junk." No, I'm not talking about the ubiquitous three letter fill like SST. I'm talking about fill that relies on useless information which no one will remember 24 hours from now. Condoning said fill only encourages constructors to keep on using it.

I especially disdain cluing and fill that relies heavily upon a solver's knowledge base gleaned from being a parent. I'm talking about children's literature,(Harry Potter etc.)animated TV and cinema,(84 down), and now toys? Today we have AUTOBOT and SKELETOR. Acceptable fill only because both are fairly easy to suss out with the crosses. But what if a miserable Natick was left in the grid on purpose? I had no problem with 53D, because I noticed immediately that MAJOR was capitalized. After I ran through the military possibilities in my mind, the British PM dawned on me and TORY fell. Judging from the comments both here and on Wordplay, others were not so lucky? Same goes for 84D. If Paul Anka isn't in your wheelhouse, and you haven't figured out the main theme yet, you're gonna have to know "The Simpsons" home town!

Now that I have that rant out of my system,the following observation. After reading the negative comments here, I immediately went to Wordplay. I figured they'd be gushing about the puzzle over there? Although there were only 38 comments at the time, I was mostly correct. There were a few posters like JFC, who told the truth. One poster even cancelled his subscription to the Times puzzle! And I thought I was mad! LOL. But mostly, the crowd was their usually fawning selves, defending every aspect of the puzzle! What wusses!

MI Nana 10:58 AM  

Got bored.

Horace S. Patoot 11:02 AM  

It's CAPISCE. If people don't know how to spell something, they shouldn't just make something up. Otherwise we wind up eating orderves.

AliasZ 11:15 AM  

This was a very enjoyable puzzle. The interesting thing about it for me was the wordplay with four rather innocuous words, and how combining them can create phrases with wildly different meanings. Doing it in an organized manner as well (1+2, 1+3, 1+4, 2+3, 2+4 and 3+4) was a pleasure to see. Some of them could have also worked backward too: HEAD OVER (Run to), or HEAD OVER (The way to fall in love with heels), LONG OVER (Ended ages ago), SHOT OVER (Did another take), LONG HEAD (What some Egyptian petroglyphs depict), SHOT HEAD (The means by which many mafiosi were disposed of, capeesh?), etc.

ZENER was the most interesting non-theme entry. I knew about ZENER diodes and also remembered ZENER cards. What I didn't know was that the ZENER card was named after Dr. Karl Edward ZENER born in Indianapolis in 1903, and the ZENER diode after Dr. Clarence Melvin ZENER born in Indianapolis in 1905. Yes, they were brothers, one a psychologist, one a physicist. What are the odds that two brothers with unusual last names both would become eponyms in two such diverse fields?

Unknowns: the other physicist Paul DIRAC and NARK spelled with a K as a Britishism.
I liked the symmetrically placed HOAGY and HOARY. Nice touch, Alex.
Was EVE'S BAYOU OK by you?

Do PEARL FISHers fish for PEARL FISH? I doubt it.

Anonymous 11:18 AM  

I liked it---the cleverness was the interlocking of the four-letter pairs. Toward the end I adjusted one of my corner entries based on comparison of probable longer answers.

Maruchka 11:34 AM  

There is a second- or third-level vocabulary aspect to the answers that forced me into AV's wheelhouse. Not smooth nor heck 'o fun, but comfort zone challenges can be brain food, too. Especially when it's draining.

What's wrong about OJAI? Glad that it wasn't NAPA (again).

My favorite line in 'Help!' - "It's the brain drain. His brain's draining.' Cue sitar.

Blue Stater 11:59 AM  

@ANON B - John Major was a UK Tory prime minister who succeeded Margaret Thatcher. @Christina: yes, it's "Capiche," not CAPEESH. Reason #576 why the puzzles should be put through the NYT copy desk, which might catch at least the more egregious of the many errors that find their way into the product. And...what Rex said, in spades. A colossal waste of time.

Andrew Heinegg 12:17 PM  

Capeesh is the phonetic variation of capisce, which is a shortened version from Italian for: do you understand? As the capeesh spelling has found its way into on-line dictionaries, I guess it is not a basis for a big-time complaint given the crosses. As I was slogging through this, my second thought beyond how uninviting a solve it was, was thinking: Rex is going to murder this one. Mr. Barany's defense of the production seems to say: ' he (Vratsanos) was young when he constructed this'. I find that to be kind of a lame response to criticism. While new and young constructors need to be encouraged, the proper response to a submission such as this one would be for Shortz to send it back with praise for the effort and suggestions for a direction for the constructor to head in that will help him/her develop their skills and come up with a more palatable effort.

Z 12:17 PM  

@'mip- the two apps I looked at used "+". FWIW, I think Rex was just typing easily rather than suggesting that his version had "/" in the clues. I don't see any reference to the clues at all other than the four letter words combining to clue the themers (unless he edited something out before I got to the post at 9:30ish).

Anonymous 12:31 PM  

Actually, I like the concept and used the corner words.

BUT...difficult for me (actually,impossible - DNF) because I didn't know Zener or Autobot & never thought of John Major.

But the reason I demand my money back is "NARK"

Anyone old enough to put Hoagy Carmichael in a puzzle should know it's Narc, short for Narcotics Agent.


Wm. C. 12:32 PM  

Like others, I found this a bit of a slog, mainly because you needed the corner fill (which I struggled on) in order to get the long referees.

My thoughts are the same as @Z's above on Ojai. Small town but a major tourist attraction that I've seen in newspapers and novels several times.

I'm ashamed that as an Electrical Engineer I struggled to fill VOLT. D'OH!!! Never heard of ZENER as an ESL Card, but as an EE I do know it as a type of diode that I've used frequently in my circuit designs to regulate VOLTage.

Casco Kid 12:37 PM  

Blew it. 90 minutes, but felt like 3 hours.

Ya got me at [___ column] SPIrAL crossing ["Little" antediluvian comic strip character] rEMO. Ya also got me at [He-man whatever] SKELoTOR crossing [Anka whatever] oSOBESO and you got me at [Decepticon baddie] AlTOBOT crossing [Political insults] MlD, which was my bad, there. I reviewed the puzzle a couple of times but didn't pick up on that unchecked 3-letter entry. MUD is clearly the only entry.

I'll concede that SPINAL Column is incrementally better than SPIrAL Column, but both are responsive to the clue. However AlTOBOT is at least as good as AUTOBOT, considering Optimus Prime was one, and since he didn't fit, his buddy(?) AlTOBOT may have stood in his stead. OK, I wanted ALTIMUS as that at least rhymed with OPTIMUS, but the last few letters got beaten out of the solution without meaningfully changing my intention, so I left the deficient 'l' because, you know, why not? o-SO-BESO is just the kind of Spanglish that Canadian Anka could have foisted upon an unwary public. And SKELoTOR is a perfectly evil sounding name.

I totally agree that this was an slog. Here are the ones I got right using the same principles as the ones I missed: [ESP whatever] ZENER? Well, I made that up, and it worked OK. I'd point out to our de facto editor @JoelFagliano that skipping a chance to teach the world about ZENER diodes in order to use an ESP clue is retrograde. "On behalf of Will," I suggest you get your editing together there.

Uncle BENS? Picked from hundreds of four letter uncles, with no help from crosses, I stabbed at that one and it didn't offend the crosses too badly, so I went with it.

ESL has many irregularities? No, not really. Eng has the irregularities. ESL is bought-and-paid-for. If there is an irregularity with ESL, it is either due to an irregular verb or plural noun in Eng, or maybe your ESL teacher is drunk, or your ESL tuition was rejected by the credit card company. ESL is not itself irregular. Geez.

[Ho Hi] ALOHA. ??!!??
Ho Hi -> Ho Hum -> [So bored I might as well leave] -> bye -> ALOHA
Ho Hi -> Ho HI -> Yo HI -> "Yo" in Hawaii -> ALOHA

RIALTO/OCA vs. RIALTa/aCA. Coin flip, although aCA would has an obviously better clue option, so I got the Rialto/a gender right with a meta-level reading of the cross clue.

I spent a lot of time deciding that these were my best options. Lots. and. lots. of. time. Run. The. Alphabet. Run It Again. By. Pairs. Vowel. Analysis. Weigh. Which. Dull. Entry. Somehow. Fits. Best. And. again. And. again. Time . . . . time . . . sloooooog.

Lastly, it was a Sunday themeless with all of the constraints of a themed puzzled and none of the reveal. I hardly ever agree with Rex, but I do this time.

Carola 12:44 PM  

Agree with those who found the theme idea interesting but the theme answers dull dull dull and the puzzle tedious to solve. No EUPHORIA to report here.

@Z - I was a little surprised to see OJAI clued at a resort town; I knew it from reading about it in the Times as a sort of post-hippie arts community with a prominent music festival.

Anonymous 1:04 PM  

Rex has it right. DNF here due to odd clues and the aforementioned stretches. I had SLEET rather than SARAN for a while, especially because TAW wasn't a word I had in my head, and "wrap" sure seems needed to me. OCA, OXY, COL, DOHS, IPO all seemed very messy to me. Worse cross had to be TORY (ugh) and ZENAR. I usually love the big Sunday puzzles. Not today.

Lewis 1:16 PM  

@mericans -- I did solve electronically, where it was also a+b, etc.; I was just pointing out the systematic order governing the four four-letter words to make the theme answers. Alex didn't have to do that, and I think it makes the puzzle more elegant.

L 1:29 PM  

I only know OJAI because it's the hometown of the Bionic Man and Bionic Woman (did I just date myself?). It cracks me up that it's in the NYT puzzle so frequently - is this town famous for anything else??

old timer\ 1:34 PM  

Now you see, if you are the sixth, or sixty-seventh best crossword solver in history, this would be an easy and unrewarding chore to solve -- and you might even call it Easy. But @Rex, there are a lot of us out there who found this was no walk in the park, and were tempted to go swim with the fishes, CAPEESH? (I believe the Italian word is spelled "capisce" but that is what it sounds like).

I got the OVER and the HEAD right away, and that gave me EXPENSE -- something for 24A. But I was stuck and Naticked all over the place, and the only way to finish the puzzle was to go down to the bottom and find LONG and SHOT. I was glad of the easy answers in those corners like FASO, ESSO, SLOT, ADEN, NEMO, and so forth. Because only by combining the key words could I get the various long acrosses that I desperately needed.

I knew once, but no longer remembered the ZENER cards, and the "Major ally" clue had me stymied. At the end, I slapped myself on the head, called out "D'OH!" and wrote in TORY. I felt very proud of myself at that moment. Only to come here and discover I must be a total idiot to have found the puzzle fiendishly difficult and, in the end, one that provided a final moment of EUPHORIA.

jae 1:36 PM  

FWIW - OJAI was the hometown of Jaime Sommers aka The Bionic Woman.

old timer 1:42 PM  

BTW, a NARK is an informer, a stool pigeon -- English slang going back a couple of centuries, and it's in the dictionary. A "narc" is a narcotics agent, who may use informers, or who may simply come out from his NICHE downtown and make a bust.

Anonymous 1:58 PM  

Like working through a bad 19th century Russian novel.

quilter1 1:58 PM  

Finished after church and shopping. I agree with @Rex. No fun at all. Even after I got the theme early on it was just a slog to the end. Dang! I need to do some more shopping tomorrow but nasty weather is coming our way.

Teedmn 2:14 PM  

Once again, the comments make the puzzle worthwhile: @AliasZ's SHOT HEAD clue and @Casco's (sorry to laugh at your pain) oSO BESO bear kiss. Laugh out loud funny for me.

Don Ho 2:51 PM  

Hi, @Casco Kid, maybe you were joking, but if not, I hope not everyone has forgotten me already. Aloha!

George Barany 3:05 PM  

@tb (10:28 am) and @Andrew Heinegg (12:17 pm) -- please feel free to contact me via e-mail off-Rex, and I'll be happy to elaborate on my earlier comment (5:30 am).

Several people have commented on OJAI, the California town in which the action of the ABC primetime soap opera "Brothers and Sisters" took place. It took me a long time to connect the spelling with the pronunciation, since the J has an H sound; just listening, one might wonder why they were talking about a traditional battleground state in American electoral politics.

Numinous 3:46 PM  

I"m all for @NCA President's idea to use some welsh Naticks. I therefore offer this clue:

"Saint Mary's Church in the hollow of the white hazel near a rapid whirlpool and the Church of St. Tysilio of the red cave" (Answer provided below).

Not an entirely unpleasant slog for me. I worked it like a themeless and only really noted the theme answers in passing. I died in the midatlantic since I didn't know SKELETOR or AUTOBOT. Hell, I worked on GoBots, not Transformers. Jeff says that getting them straight off spoke it his "immaturity." Apparently my ignorance speaks to my maturity. I managed this in a bit under my Sunday average with only two googles.

The thing I remember most about OJAI is that driving through in the spring it is wise to roll the windows down. The scent from the orange blossoms is captivating. Well it is if you like that sort of thing and don't have that specific allergy.


dick swart 3:50 PM  

The first answer I knew was Ojai. A roommate had gone to Thatcher School.

Other than that, it was indeed a slog. All I felt was tired when i finished. Yes, I was also glad I finished. But as in doing the dishes, this puzzle was a chore.

Masked and Anonymous 4:00 PM  

Well, OK. I kept thinkin I was missin something major, in understandin this here theme.
Things M&A tried too hard to understand:

* Four-letter words. Usually that's gonna mean that they are part of the coveted George Carlin Collection of nasty words that might make a salty sailor blush. Figured they'd hafta be the tier-2 NYTPuz nasty words like HELL. DAMN. PTUI. Maybe CRAP, on a good day.

* Sensing immediately, in an M&A-sorta way (in first hour), that uncoverin them four nasty old words was gonna be extra-crucial to solvin the six longer themers, M&A launched an early campaign to unmask said nasty words. Couldn't get the NW one right away, but did suss out the HEAD, LONG, and SHOT words without too many false starts.

* Then M&A found that HEAD + LONG = RECKLESSLY, with assists from SKELETOR and various AUTOBOT crossers. This seemed kinda anti-climactic.

* Undeterred, M&A reasoned that probably there was some neat extra tie-in between the four Unnasty Words or between the six longer themers. Then M&A thought he had themer 24-A solved out as: EXPENSETOPE. Further reasoned that 1-A might be BEER …

* After a desperate stretch lightened only by cinnamon rolls, finally (and not long ago) achieved OVER-ature in 1-A. OVER+HEAD = EXPENSETOPE totally confused the M&A. Plus, all 4 Unnasty Words seemed nasty, only in that none of em contained a U. Haven't been this confused since the last half-hour of the 2001 Space Odyssey flick.

* Graspin at the last straws of vestigial hope, M&A researched the puz U-count, looking for a big (trans-10) SunPuz number. Got 5. Assumed a sorta fetal, curled-up position.

Liked the symmetric HOAGY/HOARY pair a lot.


**diorama gruntz**

Mohair Sam 4:07 PM  

@Joseph Welling - "NARK & CAPEESH.. it's a bad day for the NY Times" Amen. Will has just got to bring back the (var).

Surprised nobody complained about STOAT coats here, I'm not a fan. Had a roomie when I was a G.I. from OJAI, so that was a gimme (he convinced me that the O'Jays were OJAI natives, btw). Loved the clue for TORY. Learned about the PEARLFISH today. Knew the Bobby LAYNE tale - another gimme.

Hard not to embrace a puzzle that included our beloved HOAGY Charmichael, yet this one didn't do it for us. But we may just be cranky after four days of entertaining coming and going family (mostly her side, mumble mumble) so we won't complain too loudly.

Anonymous 4:23 PM  

Very good tight puzzle.

kitshef 4:59 PM  

KONG is not a partial name. It is the name of the giant ape --the only name used for said ape throughout the movie. KING KONG, on the other hand, is the name of the movie, but not the name of the ape.

ANON B 5:09 PM  

Everybody has pointed out that in the clue
Major ally I failed to understand that Major
was capitalized. So I went back to the puzzle
and, guess what, the first word in every clue is capitalized.
If the clue were "Ally of Major" I might
have figured it out.

chefwen 5:34 PM  

@Mericans - Remember the white construction paste you had as a kid that you used to sneak a taste when your mom wasn't looking? That was similar to Poi, so yeah, it's kinda like food.

Mike D 5:44 PM  

I am probably not the first person to say this, and I agree that this puzzle wasn't great, but all of you people (including Rex) who are whinging about NARK are simply miserably wrong. NARK is a word, it is a great word, it predates "narc," and it has a different meaning all its own. It is most definitely NOT a variation of "narc." Do a little research and learn something rather than embarrassing yourselves by pretending you are oh so superior to the constructor and editor who published this puzzle.

old timer 6:03 PM  

A great, nay a superb commentary, M&A.

But I really dropped in for a third time, just to say that I always think of lemon trees, and not so much orange trees, when I think of Ventura County (home of Ojai or "oh, hi!"). Lemon flower very pretty and the lemon flower is sweet, as Peter Paul and Mary sang.

Oranges are grown, both navel and Valencia, but the lemon crop has always been *huge*, Chances are if you buy USA-produced lemons in the East or Midwest, your lemons were grown in Ventura County.

Mike D 7:17 PM  

@ ANON B @ 5:09: That is the point. Constructors use the default capitalization at the beginning of clues all the time to intentionally create ambiguity. You don't know if it's a proper noun or not. That's the point. (A classic example might be "Mark on a golf course" with the answer OMEARA.) Your insinuation that this is a bad clue for this reason shows that you have very little experience doing crossword puzzles.

Peter, Paul, and Mary 7:20 PM  

@Old Timer @6:03: Check your Peter, Paul, and Mary lyrics. They sang no such thing. The correct lyric is
"Lemon tree very pretty and the lemon flower is sweet
But the fruit of the poor lemon is impossible to eat."

Hence the song title "Lemon Tree."

old timer 8:05 PM  

Yeah, I got the first words of the song wrong. But I have a few lemon trees here in Northern California, and grew up with a 50-tree orchard in Brentwood (Los Angeles) where enough lemons grew to provide all my parents' friends with all they wanted. And, really, lemon trees aren't *all* that pretty. The little flowers are, though -- and it is so convenient to be able to grab a lemon when needed without having to go to the grocery store (we grow sage and thyme, etc. for basically the same reason)

Z 8:05 PM  

NARK Hmm, I don't remember, was there a hint in the clue that it was a British colloquialism?

@Mike D - Perhaps @ANON B thinks clues that fool him are "bad." Then again, maybe not. It's hard to tell since he never actually said one way or the other whether he thought the Major clue was a good one.

Mexgirl 8:21 PM  

I know it's late and waaaay after the fact, but I just wanted to comment how much I was annoyed by CAPEESH, which is, first, a total aberration, and, second, a terrible way to keep people trying to learn Italian, to learn it correctly.
That's all.

Anonymous 9:25 PM  

Regarding "Ho hi", I'm presuming the "Ho" in the clue is Don Ho, famous Hawaiian, who certainly said ALOHA many times in his life.

Numinous 10:01 PM  

Ironic side note to @Old Timer: A friend of mine rode with an over the road team on thier trip between Los Angeles and somewhere in Florida to write an article for one of the travel magazines. They were hauling frozen concentrated orange juice from California. On their return trip, they hauled frozen Florida concentrated orange juice to southern California. Who wants a mundane local product when they can get one from thousands of miles away for 40% more?

Anonymous 11:40 PM  

This 88-year old lady has been enjoying the nyt puzzles for many years. I almost always finish the puzzles correctly and do not mind when I don't know the person or location clued. I think we are supposed to get answers from inferences and crosses. I do admire all of you who construct puzzles. I think the puzzles today are far superior to those of earlier times. Friday's give me fits.

jeezmom 6:37 PM  

Maybe you're getting jaded. Crossword puzzles are a leisurely way to pass some time, and a means of mild entertainment. I don't think they're necessarily intended to improve your life or make your day. Crossword puzzles are challenging to construct, and it must be a downer for the constructor to see his efforts not only dismissed but totally trashed. I weep for him.

Meg Greer 3:25 PM  

jeezmom - I agree with you! The puzzle gives me at least an hour every Sunday when I am allowed to just sit and think without interruption.

chuchos 2:06 PM  

Wasn't particularly enamored by the theme, but not hateful either. More disappointed in the laziness and liberty of some of it.

rain forest 5:48 PM  

I very much enjoyed the inter-relationship among the corner words and the themers, with the possibility that each could be a clue for the other and vice versa. Fun.

When people say, why these words, what is the point of these theme answers, I think one could say that about any crossword puzzle. The theme here was very clever, without a "point", but elegant in its execution, as pointed out by a few reasonable commenters.

I'ts NOT A GOOD BET to be looking for some point in a pleasant half-hour puzzle. So, OFL, put a sock in it. Grind your teeth at your leisure, but maybe once in a while, JUST.STOP.

spacecraft 11:51 AM  

EVESBAYOU?? NOTAGOODBET that THAT was a box-office smash! In fact I'd wager there are Samuel L. Jackson FANS who've never seen it! I never even saw an AD for the thing! Obscurity, thy name is...DIRAC? Maybe it'd help if we were AGEMATES (WHA???).

As to the key (?) words, I could combine them all with either of two clues: "Tenis smash out of bounds" or "View of the O.J. Simpson car chase:" LONG OVERHEAD SHOT. I'm not a big fan of clues-as-entries, so there wasn't much of a payoff for me. I do concede the cornerstone placement and the sometimes-interesting interplay: the best ones were the two across the middle, WENTTOOFAR and RECKLESSLY.

As to the fill, LETSDROP it. BASEDON overall experience, I award a C-.

rondo 11:56 AM  

No credible PISAN would use CAPEESH, nor NARK, for that matter. Those spellings that is. For all the decent down answers, some of those themers were not so. Not the worst Sunday ever, but trending to the boring side. Except for TIT.

Ho hi = Hey, sailor.

And not a yeah baby in sight. I’m going to start forgetting this puz right now, CAPEESH?

Burma Shave 12:56 PM  




AnonymousPVX 2:40 PM  

I thought this very tough even though I finished it. AGEMATES? Please note spellcheck just tried to put a blank or a hyphen in there. 53A clue was capitalized in my paper. I never thought I'd finish this, tough clueing and lots of misdirection, plus a lot of unknown proper names. Again, real tough for a Sunday.

debbiew 8:13 PM  

how is recklessly (adverb) equal to headcase (noun)?

ojai is where i grew up. it was just a town then.

leftcoastTAM 8:58 PM  

I'm with Rex in part on this one, but I liked the four four-letter words and how they combined into six long theme answers.

I didn't like some of the fill (so what else is new?): COL? AUTBOT? ZENER? SKELETOR? And as for NARK (with a K this time), I've always been under the impression that the NARK was a DEA guy, not a rat/informer.

Still I finished without error or cheat, but BEYONDTHETIMELIMIT.

Bob Kerfuffle 9:09 PM  

@debbiew -- Since you haven't included grid numbers, it's hard to tell what you are looking at, but the clue is HEAD + LONG, perfectly cluing RECKLESSLY.

Z 10:02 PM  

@debbiew - ? The clue for RECKLESSLY is headlong, from the corners.

pkrbkr 11:25 PM  

@debbiew - not "case", LONG; you act RECKLESSLY if you don't give HEAD LONG enough.

Anonymous 1:42 PM  

Wow. Kinda shocked at all the hating going on here.

As others have noted, NARK is imported British slang for an informer. It is not the same as NARC, which is American slang for a narcotics agent. The word is completely legit, and was correctly clued.

CAPEESH is the American vernacular spelling of the Italian word, and was once quite common. Since it was not clued as Italian, it seems perfectly legitimate to me.

OJAI is a reasonably well-known west coast destination, is frequently enough encountered to be considered crosswordese, and in any case was easy to get from the crosses.

KONG, as others have also noted, is, in fact, the complete name of the beast from Skull Island in the original (and classic) film.

Etc., etc.

I do think the cluing was not as strong, or as interesting, as it could have been.

For instance: "You may leave when it's up" = LEASE? In fact, you MUST leave when it's up. You MAY leave earlier, if you sublet, or reach an agreement with the landlord.

But on second look, many of the clues which I originally questioned were perfectly legit, and clever. "Ho hi" for instance, which had me completely baffled for some time.

There was too much trivia in the grid for my taste, especially the cartoon characters, and not nearly enough wordplay. But it was a perfectly reasonable and quite competent Sunday puzzle. Just not sparkling.

Matt Stein 1:16 AM  

John Major ... British political party.

Wilbur Charles 9:05 AM  

I got help my son's gamer crew for autobot and skeletor ESL??? I don't get even yet. I had ENG a much better answer n'est-ce pas? I threw rundown in there recklessly which was not a good bet, could've used wite-out. Finally, I had egomates because my spelling of capisce was kapeesh so cokes sauf cocas. Zener just popped out after the downs. Duh. Oops Doh. Age (71) helps (Bobby Layne etc-not ESOBESO-) and hurts with modern culture. Btw I have to drop and return several times to let my cerebellum work cuz my frontal cortex just ain't what it used to be

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