Palindromic elemento / SUN 7-24-16 / Common Coke go-with / Friend of Lucy Ricardo

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Constructor: David Steinberg

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: SPACE INVADERS — grid is a representation of a screenshot from the video game

Word of the Day: BIG DIG (Boston megaproject completed in 2007, informally) —
The Central Artery/Tunnel Project (CA/T), known unofficially as the Big Dig, was a megaproject in Boston that rerouted the Central Artery (Interstate 93)—the chief highway through the heart of the city—into the 3.5-mile (5.6 km) Thomas P. O'Neill Jr. Tunnel...The Big Dig was the most expensive highway project in the US, and was plagued by escalating costs, scheduling overruns, leaks, design flaws, charges of poor execution and use of substandard materials, criminal arrests,[2][3] and one death.[4] The project was originally scheduled to be completed in 1998[5] at an estimated cost of $2.8 billion (in 1982 dollars, US$6.0 billion adjusted for inflation as of 2006).[6] However, the project was completed only in December 2007, at a cost of over $14.6 billion ($8.08 billion in 1982 dollars, meaning a cost overrun of about 190%)[6] as of 2006.[7] The Boston Globe estimated that the project will ultimately cost $22 billion, including interest, and that it will not be paid off until 2038. -- Wikipedia
• • •

Matt Gaffney here, filling in for Rex for the next eight days, which he'll spend at the baccarat tables in Monte Carlo (I'm guessing). I write a daily crossword here and a weekly crossword contest every Friday here. My latest crossword book is this.

Crossword wunderkind David Steinberg is our constructor today; I think he's the only teenager who's won my Crossword of the Month award (September 2015).

His puzzle is a SPACE INVADERS (91A: 1970s-'80s craze that's the theme of this puzzle ) screenshot in cruciverbal form, and there's a lot going on: a MOTHERSHIP in circled letters up top; nine entries invaded by ETs; SAFE spelled by four unchecked letters in the bottom section of the grid, indicating those boulder-like things you could hide under in the game; a LASER pointing upward in the upper left of the grid, hidden in the downward PRESALE (6D: Event for select customers) indicating the lasers you'd fire; and a cannon-shaped CANNON in the lower-left.

Phew...that's a lot of different ideas tossed into the mix, but I'm afraid this comes off as more of a big, confusing mess than a coherent and pleasant return to childhood. Lots of "well, not quites" as I looked over the grid later: the Space Invaders shot downward at the player, which isn't represented; using ET as your "Space Invaders" conflates two very different early '80s things (E.T. was sweet and ate candy, Space Invaders were trying to destroy your civilization); SAFE seems like an arbitrary word for those shelters down below, since the Space Invaders' missiles ate away at them, and they disappeared altogether when the Invaders got low enough; that thing was called a MOTHERSHIP? And why is it in that loop shape? Part of the problem is that Space Invaders was one of those games that was more popular in its Atari 2600 version than its arcade version, and the two were stylistically not identical. David used the arcade version here, so this didn't hit my nostalgia radar correctly. Are ROCKET FUEL (112A: Mission requirement) and AIRPORT BAR (116A: Place to get drunk before getting high?) supposed to be theme? I don't think so.

With all that going on, the fill took some hits: SSE / OSS / SSR / SSN / EEE / HET / RET / ORO isn't a great worst-of list for 3-letter entries. But the constructor also managed to sneak a lot of nice entries in as well, such as ETHEL MERTZ (41D: Friend of Lucy Ricardo), CHEAP DATE (49A: One not looking for an expensive night on the town), and ELDERBERRY (45D: Fruit used in wines and syrups).

The best part of the theme is the nine "Space Invading" ET's. PREEN, DOH, MINUS, DIED, TAKEN, GAME, DUO, MARKING and ABS became PRETEEN, DOETH, MINUETS, DIETED, TAKE TEN, GAMETE, DUE TO, MARKETING, and ABETS. Maybe this could've been a decent theme by itself, without all the other stuff, and then that "E.T." does not equal "Space Invaders" wouldn't have bothered me since you're just using "Space Invaders" to mean "E.T. was from space, and he's invading these entries". That might've been the way to take this. But with all the other elements in there it becomes a disharmonious mishmash.

It's schoolmarmish, but I assign grades to puzzles when I fill in for Rex, and I'll give this one a C-. When David Steinberg's Greatest Hits is released someday it will be a very nice volume, but I don't think this puzzle will make the cut. No worries, he has plenty of others to choose from. 

Signed, Matt Gaffney, Regent of CrossWorld for 7 more days

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


jae 12:51 AM  

Easy-medium with medium being figuring out the ET part of the theme.

One of the perks of working at a DOD R&D Center in the '80s was having most of the "hot" games on our mainframe. Many of my colleagues were quite adept at Space Invaders. Unfortunately, the real world application (SDI) never really worked.

I liked this more than @Matt did. It's a interesting idea that David did a pretty good job of executing. Trying to turn a video game into a crossword has to be a tad daunting. I'm going with liked it because entertaining.

David Krost 12:55 AM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
David Krost 12:57 AM  

Sorry Matt, but you missed the mark badly in one aspect at least. While ET was a famous movie from around the same time frame as Space Invaders was huge in arcades, it was also a long standing term for alien life. That's where the movie title came from. Doh! So your attempt to conflate the two, or point out a lack thereof, is just plain wrong from the start. The movie could never have been made and "ET" would still be an accurate device to represent aliens. I give your review a D+.

Mark 12:59 AM  

I agree with Matt's review. Amen.

Anonymous 1:00 AM  

I liked this puzzle. Saw the Space Invaders image immediately when I opened the puzzle. (I guess I just outed my age!). Took me a while to get the ET piece figured out and how that related to the real answer to the clue. Good work on all of the double meaning answers to the clues. I'm guessing it took a while to make all of that flow out.

Martín Abresch 1:32 AM  

This one brought a big smile to my face.

I had the theme figured out before entering a single answer. When I saw the puzzle, I noticed the mirror symmetry and the unchecked squares, asked myself "what do we have here?", and then saw the central blocks: to my eyes, they look like one of the SPACE_INVADERS creatures. (Arms to the right and left of CHEAP_DATE; legs to either end of SPACE_INVADERS.) Those blocks around the unchecked squares then were obviously the shields, and the title ("Out of this World") cinched it.

I liked the variety in the theme material. LASER being upside-down was a nice touch. I agree with Matt that the nine ETs are the best part of the theme: it took me a few minutes to figure out what was going on there. PREEN to PRETEEN and TAKEN to TAKE_TEN were my favorites.

On top of all that, there were a bunch of great words and clues. I liked BIG_DIG, CHEAP_DATE, ELDERBERRY, and ROCKET_FUEL. I liked the clues for COOKIE (Word after smart or sugar), YOYOS (They can sleep if you play with them), GONNA ("Never ___ Give You Up" [1988 #1 hit]), ABYSS (No miniature gulf), DELAY (Live broadcast feature, oxymoronically), and AIRPORT_BAR (Place to get drunk before getting high?). Good stuff.

ALT_TAB is an underused computer shortcut. I switch between windows all the time and use it constantly.

Lastly, I was happy to see SOLARIS but disappointed not to see it clued in reference to the Stanislaw Lem novel. Lem is one of my absolute favorite writers. (My favorite book to recommend of his is the very funny The Cyberiad.) SOLARIS has been made into a movie twice. George Clooney starred in Steven Soderbergh's version back in 2002; Andrei Tarkovsky made a glorious, long, beautiful, boring version back in 1972. I find it interesting that each of the three versions is absolutely distinct, thematically speaking. The original novel chronicles the efforts of people studying an unknowable planet and speaks to the limits of human knowledge. The Tarkovsky film focuses on the contrast between the vital natural world on Earth and the sterile modern world on the space station. The Soderbergh version is a romance. Underscoring this difference is the fact that each of these three versions has a different ending.

Matt Gaffney 1:41 AM  

@David Krost --

E.T. is not "a famous movie," it's one of the most famous movies of all time. "E.T." in 2016 = the movie / its title character, not a generic term for an alien. Google it and see how many pages you'll scroll thru to get your first instance of that usage.

Anoa Bob 2:06 AM  

From's publishers specifications:

"The New York Times looks for...crosswords that appeal to the broad range of Times solvers."

"Themes and theme entries should be accessible to everyone."

Out Of This World, indeed.

Gregory Nuttle 2:15 AM  

I absolutely loved this... it played medium for me, perfect Sunday level, but the best part was discovering layer after layer of theme as I moved along. The fill was average, but the theme was absolutely brilliant.

'mericans in Paris 3:19 AM  

With Mrs. 'mericans nine hours behind, in SF, I had to tackle this one alone. DNF, first because I entered "Du__H" as Homer Simpson's exclamation. (I know: DOH!). Also, I wanted "ivy" as the tree-hugger. The crossing of 87A ("Capone rival") and 71D (The Man with the Golden Arm novelist) was a Natick. And I messed up in the Georgia-Carolina region.

I did GROCK the theme of the puzzle fairly quickly, however, especially when I got down to the revealer at 91A, but I kept wondering what I was supposed to do with the circles. For the longest time I held off on adding the "N" to PREETEE_ because I just didn't see what that answer had to do with the clue. Same with several of the others containing ET circles. Finally got it with ABETS.

I lean more towards Matt Gaffney's view than those of some of the other commentators. An incredible feat of construction, for sure. But mixing SPACE INVADERS with E.T. felt a bit contrived to me. The puzzle would have worked equally well on the theme of E.T. (which involves a flying saucer like the one occupying the center of the grid), though then the shelters would not have been needed, I suppose.

I found the cluing to be very mixed. Some was very simple, especially in the north, whereas others were devilishly difficult. As for the fill, it was mixed too. (TO-DOS and RAN AT are grumbles.) But I had to smile at ELDERBERRY, which reminded me instantly of another '70s craze: the film, Monty Python and the Holy Grail. "Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries!" has got to be one of the best insults of all time. If our candidates would spout clever, nonsensical insults like that, the presidential campaigns would be much, much more entertaining.

Oh, and finally, the Loch Ness monster is not a MYTH: Nessi lives, I'm sure of it. Nessi, phone home!

chefwen 4:01 AM  

This was so far out of my realm of knowledge. I know nothing of SPACE INVADERS and I have never seen ET and never really wanted to.
Obviously, no fun for me. About the only thing that brought a smile was AIRPORT BAR. Spent a few fun hours in many of them.

From previous comments I know many of you will love this, I wish I was among you.

Sorry David, we are of different ages.

Kenneth Wurman 4:52 AM  
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phil phil 5:28 AM  

I identify IMAM with mideastern not eastern.

ABS are what... Shortform?.. of abdominals. I guess they are seldom clued correctly. I had to suss out the ET operative before filling in that last one. But until then I wondered what was abs' full name. ABoid?
ALGREN MORAN is a propername cross that made me guess. Especially with IMAM in the mideast.

'mericans in Paris 6:55 AM  

@Kenneth Wurman: I only recall "E.T." becoming a common abbreviation AFTER the film came out. Before then, people were more apt to call little green humanoids "aliens".

And "DI(E)(T)ED" is one of the theme answers: remove the circled E and T and the answer makes sense.

Yontifsadie 7:13 AM  

I see now that this was a great effort in construction but feel there was just too much going on for me to follow or enjoy. "Less is more" would have made it much more pleasurable solve for me.
Also, there are no DIKES in New Orleans, they are called levees and, in all my years of playing golf, I have never heard of a water hazard referred to or called a POND.

Lewis 7:17 AM  

I love David's passion for keeping junk fill out, and even with all the threes, this grid is pretty clean. I've always loved David's penchant for clever clues, and that seemed a bit absent today, as the clues were more direct than his usual. I'm glad "_____ Academy" wasn't you-know-who's.

Nice crosses of YOYO/KOOK, AIRPORT_BAR/MAI_TAI, and DELAY/TAKE_TEN. Fun to figure out the vanishing ETs; I saw the CANNON as a CANNON_BALL, and thought that was clever, only to find out it was not intended.

Did not play Space Invaders, but do like Crossword Attack! (okay, I made that up), and today's game gave me great pleasure to solve.

Lewis 7:18 AM  

WHAT???? I just posted my comment and it instantaneously appeared!!! It felt like the old days!!!

Anonymous 7:39 AM  

First time I've been Rickrolled by a crossword.

ArtO 7:57 AM  

Finished this in Medium time and thought it clever without knowing a thing about Space Invaders. Now m that it's been pointed out, I give young David an Excellent rating for a true tour de force for the multiple layers of theme elements.

Aketi 8:04 AM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
seanm 8:05 AM  

I'm 35 but for some reason have never played it seem space invaders. overall did the puzzle in a slightly below average time despite not figuring out the ET trick until the very end. I spent about 20 minutes floundering with missing middle left, center and right because I just couldn't see how the circles worked. in retrospect i think I should have seen it earlier. ethelmertz was a woe, and for some reason all the both E and T downs were difficult for me.

Aketi 8:06 AM  

@Kenneth Wurman, take the invading ET out of the middle of DI(ET)ED.

I found the ETs and LASER quickly, it took a little longer to finder the MOTHER SHIP and CANNON.

@Martin Abresch, great description of the 1972 version of SOLARIS movie. I didn't know there was a second version. In 2002, I was mostly watching kiddie movies with my son. I was the hit of the bad mommy group for admitting that I took my two year old to see Jurassic Park III. He was unfazed by what happened to the humans. All he cared about were the dinosaurs.

If I were GONNA drink some ROCKETFUEL in an AIRPORT BAR I would choose something other than MAI TAIs or BACARDI or MERLOTS. Do they even serve serve ELDERBERY wine in AiRPORT BARs?

The airport bar I spent the most time in was in Kisangani. The Peace Corps volunteers in my area were all high school teachers so we all got together at the regional reps house for summer break. Those who had completed their service or those who contracted an illness that the Peace Corps Doctor thought was worthy of attention would then fly on to Kinshasa. We would accompany them to the airport and then watch them board the plane while drinking beers to ABBA music in the bar. At least 50% of the time they would not get on the plane because the flight was canceled or overbooked or commandeered by Mobutu to fly him somewhere. Even if we watched them board the plane, and also watched the plane take off, they would sometimes return to Kisangani without ever having landied in Kinshasa. We nicknamed our farewell ritual, the Zairian goodbye, because you kept saying goodbye only to have them return again and again...

Rob 8:34 AM  

Holy crap, I hated this puzzle. Way too many confusing and conflicting ideas present.

My biggest beef was the inconsistent gimmicks of the circled/shaded letters. The ET idea was cute enough, and skipping those letters for the answer to fit the clue was fine, but there are other circled letters and you don't skip them! Why? Who knows? The others turn out to spell things, but not necessarily left-to-right or up-to-down or even *in a straight line!* And a lot of those are serious stretches -- LASER I get, but CANNON? OTHER? Get outta here with that garbage. And there's no rhyme or reason to the "full" words spelled out with the non-skipped circle letters. MINUS is fine, but why MINUETS? DUO is fine, but why DUE TO? Likewise every other one of those.

Some real stinkers of short fill as well, and some terrible cluing. "Politican's asset" is an awful clue for TACT. YANKEES would've been fine, but bad form to include THE in the answer. Horrendous clue for OUI. SSE AHA SSR NTH ORO SOPH. I could go on but I'd be here all day.

I appreciate how much the constructor tried to do, but it's a mess and should have been relegated to the dust heap. I'm actually mad I wasted an hour finishing this. I expect better from Steinberg, and the Times needs its metaphorical head examined.

Carola 8:41 AM  

I was tempted to write "singularly joyless," but that's not really fair: I liked figuring out how the ETs were invading the grid and writing in those nice long entried. But having never seen a SPACE INVADERS screen, I could make nothing of RESAL, HIPMOT, etc., and was only left feeling dopey that I couldn't fully understand the theme.

Anonymous 8:42 AM  

First time commenting on a puzzle: Loved this one!

That is all.

Kevin 8:47 AM  

Seems like using EM instead of ET as the circled letters would have made for a better fit for the "Space Invaders" theme.

Charles Flaster 9:07 AM  

Loved whole puzzle.
Never heard of SPACE INVADERS.
99% was easy but could not negotiate RPM/PBR.
Caught ET early.
Only write over SOLARIS for SOLARIa.
Thanks DS

Anonymous 9:09 AM  

Somebody explain 52 across: precollege = ELHI. Thanks.

jberg 9:09 AM  

First of all, if the invitation says "semi-formal" and you show up wearing a BLAZER, you're GONNA feel embarrassed, as all the other guys will have HAD ON a suit.

OK, I got that off my chest! Now for the puzzle. This must be the fiftieth time, at least, that I looked at the grid and said to myself "space invaders!" So it's nice to finally be right. But I agree that there is just too much going on here, what with different circles being used for different purposes, etc. I sort of wanted the ET words to form a coherent entity, or to be clued twice, once for each meaning, or something.

And THE in THE YANKEES is stretching it. Plus ELHI should have stayed away. and OB/GYN's prefix with -gram has to be the most needlessly complicated clue ever!

@Rob, you have to complete the circle of circles: not OTHER but MOTHER SHIP.

jberg 9:10 AM  

Evidently, Matt has turned off the comment moderation. We'll see how that works!

NCA President 9:11 AM  

I'm giving DS props for sheer force of will. That must have taken quite a little to a) imagine, and b) execute. Good on you for giving it the old college try!

That said, I continue to see parallels in music especially in how composers try to organize their music. Organization is a slippery slope...and the mind loves to tinker. And when you get too inside your creation, you tend to lose sight of the forest for the trees. Indulge me here, but our friend, and xword constructor himself SS, (@Nancy...sorry) serves as an equivalent example here. Much of his music is just too much. There is too much going on for the brain to process...and even when it is finally processed, it doesn't do much but point back to the constructor rather than the piece itself. Compare Mr. SS to Brahms and you'll see what I mean. I mention SS not to (yet again) rail on his musicianship (he is obviously pretty good at what he does), but he serves as a teaching point here for DS.

The enormous amount of information contained in this puzzle should SERVE the puzzle and the person solving it...always. If at any point we see the man behind the curtain, you've gone too far. Admittedly, this is a fine line and it isn't necessarily always true. That's a convenient cop out on my part, I know.

But the point stands. In this puzzle there was so much going on that I was taken out of the experience because data overload. Too many circles, too many quirks and gimmicks even beyond those circles. The puzzle was trying to do too much at once. Like MG said in his critique (and I agree), just the ET gimmick alone would have made a nice puzzle. Indeed, theme-wise, this seemed to be about 3 themes in one. You had the grid itself looking like a gigantic invader, then there was the was attempt to recreate an arcade UI, and then there were the ETs "invading" while actually creating other real words/phrases.

Again, a tour de force to put that all together. But, and herein lies the rub: just because you can doesn't mean you should. That saying is true here, it's true in music, it's true in just about every creative endeavor everywhere. I don't fault DS for trying, but an editor might have pointed this out somewhere along the way.

And, finally to be criticizing DS (or SS, for that matter), I am in no way criticizing the effort or even questioning the taste of anyone who likes this puzzle (or, you know, Into The Woods). But for me, this was an example of doing way too much to the detriment of the solving experience. If you really like the looking at the intricate minds of composers, I suggest looking into early music (late medieval or early Renaissance). Those guys loved to do stuff like this. Most of it was done to get past the censors of the time, but it also was a compositional tool to work in all kinds of hidden things that no one could ever possibly hear at first or second blush. They did it really well, btw.

Long post for a long Sunday puzzle. Oh well...Monday's a-comin!

John McKnight 9:14 AM  

This puzzle should be banished to the wilderness, it was terrible

Anonymous 9:22 AM  

Liked it much more than Mr G. Fun if you don't try to parse it down to the last detail. Try to remember, it's a crossword, not a sonnet. Also it appears from today's puzzle that we have a FL who shoots back and likes to remove a lot of comments. Schoolmarmish is apt; thin skinned also comes to mind.

AliasZ 9:28 AM  

This was one hot mess. Cramming so much theme material -- some of it barely tangential -- and disparate styles into a puzzle is a formidable achievement for the constructor, but it leaves the average solver dazed and confused.

Some circled letters depict a shape, some spell out a word backward, some are ignored in the words that contain them so they fit the clues, some are not, and the grid itself is a graphic depiction, including S A F E space for those who want to be sheltered from reality.

What is the significance vis–à–vis the theme that the circled [E][T]s are ignored, but not any of the other circled letters? And why is the ET in ROCK[E][T]FUEL ignored entirely?

Inconsistency is never good. If a puzzle loses focus, it loses its audience.

Anonymous 9:31 AM  

@Matt, if you base your idea of a fair clue on what you can find by Googling, please step aside and let someone else sub for Rex.
This one will inspire a range of reactions. I know, because I was just getting ready to hate it when the AHA hit me and I clocked over to Loved It. So, so clever. Aliens "invading" clues, the layout emulating the arcade display, the elements of the game all represented, and not a gimme fill-word in the bunch. And now that I know the creator is way younger than I am, that explains the updated feel of the cluing. SUCH a good puzzle. This one will ruin the next few for me.

Anonymous 9:34 AM  

Sorry, Matt, I don't think you're seeing things clearly. This puzzle is an A+ on design alone.

Matt Gaffney 9:34 AM  

@Anonymous 9:22 --

"This comment has been removed by the author" means the person who wrote the comment deleted it, not the author of the blog post.

Z 9:44 AM  

The Atari 2600 was more popular than the Arcade version? What? So you can play that glorified version of Pong known as Breakout? From SPACE INVADERS to Galaxian to Galaga, the arcade versions provided far more entertainment than Atari could hope to. And then there was the bonus in Galaga of being able to get the ETs to not fire at you. Arcade > console. As for the MOTHERSHIP, the loop is a fairly accurate representation of its shape.

@Martin Abresch - My first Lem book was The Futurological Congress. I was hooked. The Cyberiad is hilarious. I may just have to go on another Lem re-reading jag. Him and Vonnegut always amuse no matter how often I re-read their books.

A typical Sunday reaction. I liked the theme. I liked all the stuff DS crammed into the puzzle. But, gee whillickers, I had it all sussed out and still had a lot of little crap to fill in. Did not like having MO-AN crossing ALG-EN. Let me grab my 21 sided die and see what comes up. I guess that R makes the most sense but with names you just never know. I'd grade this far higher than the Regent did.

Anonymous 9:46 AM  

One thin I know must be significant, but I can't figure it out: the palindromes in the middle. Do they make a shape? The alien's mouth?

Blue Stater 9:47 AM  

Right on, Matt. This was simply dreadful, a hot mess indeed.

Rob 9:52 AM  

Thanks @jberg, I see MOTHERSHIP now. That makes sense and is kind of neat shape-wise.

Teedmn 9:53 AM  

I thought the grid looked vaguely familiar when I printed it out last night, and it became clear as I solved this morning. I too was confused by the circles sometimes being part of the answer and sometimes needing to be ignored (ETs) to make sense of the clues but when I finally figured out what was going on, I appreciated it greatly.

I'm lucky, I think, to be hand-eye coordination-ally challenged or I probably would have been addicted to arcade games. I loved watching my friends play Donkey-Kong, Pac-Man and my absolute favorite, Asteroids. My dorm had an Asteroids game in the lobby and you could find crowds of people watching at all hours as the best players shot at the falling rocks (this was circa 1980 and video games were new). I tried my hand at it a couple of times but I couldn't afford the thousands of quarters it would have taken to get past the first level!

Space Invaders wasn't one of the games I was well-acquainted with but I've seen it. I can't think of anything else David could have used to represent the aliens in the grid other than ET. Robert Heinlein often referred to aliens as BEMs, bug-eyed monsters, but that would have been nearly impossible to use, at least for nine invaders. I think this was a refreshing theme, with a neat looking grid, rule-bending unchecked squares which were obviously made as simple to fill as possible. I liked seeing 24/7 as a clue for RATIO because for some reason I hate its usual meaning and avoid using it thus. And ALT-TAB is one of my favorite keyboard shortcuts so that was a nice ENHANCEMENT.

Thanks, DS!

Z 9:57 AM  

@phil phil - Yep. I'm never quite sure where the "near east" ends and the "far east" begins, but IMAM is firmly in the "middle east" in my head.

@anon7:39 - Just play the Bowie video. It helps.

anon9:09 - ELementary-HIgh School. EL-HI has to be on the Top Ten Lamest Crossword Fill list.

@Anon9:22 - What @Matt Gaffney9:34 said. It hasn't happened often, but if the BlogMeister removes a comment that is indicated in the message.

@Anonymice - If you click on the Name/Url button you can type in a nom de blog. It can be anything from a single letter to your real name to some random letters. Others here will then address you by that nom de blog when answering your questions. It won't hurt a bit.

Mary Perry 10:02 AM  

Medium difficulty. I don't know anything about space invaders but am a huge ET fan. Did not understand/get the theme until an hour in. Then it took me 5 minutes more to finish. Hubby kept checking on me, grew impatient as my slow solving delayed leaving for brunch.

kitshef 10:08 AM  

That sure was unpleasant. While I solve I make little notes on what I like and don't like. For 'like', I have two items - the pairing of MOET with PBR, and learning that ANNABELLEE inspired Lolita. I stopped keeping track of "don't likes" after the first dozen or so.

I'll mention just two as particularly bad: The clue for SOPH, and the clue for ORO.

And the theme was a nice idea, poorly executed. There is no reason for the ETs to be 'invisible'. Just clue those words normally.

Deborah Wess 10:11 AM  


Deborah Wess 10:12 AM  


David Krost 10:16 AM  

@Matt Gaffney

"E.T. is not "a famous movie," it's one of the most famous movies of all time. "E.T." in 2016 = the movie / its title character, not a generic term for an alien. Google it and see how many pages you'll scroll thru to get your first instance of that usage."

Which is a weakass excuse. It is still a legitimate term. By your reasoning, the word godfather can no longer be used as a crossword clue/device except as a reference to the movie since it also appears numerous times before the traditional usage regarding the family/child situation shows up. I'll be sure to tell my goddaughter that she will have to refer to my relationship with her as something else, because Matt Gaffney says people won't know she doesn't mean the movie, and will think I am "connected".

GILL I. 10:24 AM  

Other than liking how I drew the mother ship, this was a complete groan fest. I finished it because I got up early to walk the pups and the paper hadn't yet been delivered.
@AliasZ: Dazed and confuse...Amen!
I suppose if you played SPACE INVADERS and saw everything in two-dimensions and knew what CANNON meant, this might be fun. But I've never played an Atari game. I'm selfish when it comes to Sunday puzzles; I want to be able to solve them and at the end go AHA. This was constructed for people who play arcade games. Good for you!
Agree with @Matt....C-.

kitshef 10:30 AM  

@jberg - One thing I can't stand is getting an invitation with 'semi-formal', or 'business casual', or 'casual smart'. I will interpret any of those as 'pants recommended'.

@jberg again - if today is any indication, comment moderation is a big waste of time and needless irritant to the loyal posters.

OK_@_Z 10:32 AM  

I completely disagree with those who don't like "ET" appearing in the middle of an as-clued word. It's an Alien. From SPACE. And it's INVADING the word you are trying to fill in. What could be more appropriate? What could de-clever this device more than cluing the longer word, or giving de-embedded-word clues for the other circled letters?
Nobody has mentioned GROK. So, there was a nod to Heinlein here even if not in the alien names.
"ET" has long been used by UFO believers. No need to reference the movie.
This was a fun puzzle.

GrandWazoo 10:36 AM  

... and within a week of Melania Trump's stealthy rickroll also!

Joseph Welling 10:38 AM  

kitshef said:
"There is no reason for the ETs to be 'invisible'."

Maybe this is a stretch, but on the Atari 2600 one of the game variations was to have those invaders invisible unless or until you hit them with your missiles. (Which apparently you shot from a CANNON.)

GeezerJackYale48 10:58 AM  

With you all the way CHEFWEN; I mean sitting in airport bars, of course. Never saw the movie (or wanted to), barely heard of (or wanted to) play the game.

Da Bears 11:09 AM  

Generous in your grade, Matt, but otherwise I could not agree with you more. Nice write-up.

Anonymous 11:13 AM  

Did not enjoy this as I've never played a video game. North was a snap, but the rest a slog.

And I agree with 'Mericans in Paris. I only very reluctantly wrote in MYTH for Loch Ness Monster. I mean, use a question mark and let us have our oxymoronic earthbound alien beasties.

Anonymous 11:21 AM  

Didn't "ET" stand for "extra-terrestrial", before E.T. the movie?

Jofried 11:33 AM  

I loved this puzzle! I figured out ET pretty quickly and spent ridiculously long trying to sort out the other circled letters...and then there was that wonderful AHA moment. I laughed out loud when I finally realized it was a representation of a mother ship in the top set of circled letters. I thought the whole thing was incredibly clever.

Hartley70 11:35 AM  

Good Lord! I love David Steinberg puzzles, but this was impossible for me to complete. I'm with @chefwen too.

Space Invaders never entered my world. Super Mario Bros is the only video game I remember playing, oh yeah, and Tetris too. That was enough for me to move on to another form of entertainment and leave the buttons and joysticks to the little boy in the house.

Additionally, the little circles are too faint to see on my phone screen (whine). Shading works better. It was torture to try and squint, so I gave up trying to understand the theme and filled in what I could before I shut this sucker down. Blech! What a mess!

Now that it's been explained to me by Matt, I think the idea is brilliant and I'm sure I would have loved it if my eyesight was keener and I wasn't such an old fuddy-duddy. ET's are the coolest. Just ask Dr. Who.

James 11:37 AM  

The guards at Buckingham Palace are usually the Grenadier Guards. The Yeomen of the Guards (now also "Yeowomen") guard the Tower of London.

Hartley70 11:50 AM  

I don't see you @Nancy. Has your head exploded yet?

Bill L. 12:12 PM  

Thirty-five years ago I was a teenager working part time at a steak house. After closing the restaurant on Saturday night a bunch of us would go next door to the dive bar for 25-cent Genessee drafts and take turns blasting away at aliens. Good times!

Liked "GAM(ET)E over" (dispiriting message) at 66A.

cwf 12:15 PM  

Just going to chime in to note that I liked this one a lot, since this thread appears to be functioning as a vote-tally mechanism between the "hated it"s and the "loved it"s. I especially liked the varied uses of the circled squares.

Linda 12:16 PM  

I enjoyed this puzzle and the fun-to-look-at grid even though I never played Space Invaders.

Lots of good clues and answers. The clue for 74A was unexpected and funny and 83D 10th abbr/soph was very clever.

Had "advancement" first for 98A and was glad to correct it to the more interesting "enhancement."

Should have figured out the circled letters at the top spelled "mothership" but I think I got that from reading this blog. Liked it either way.

Matt Gaffney 12:45 PM  

@David Krost

If you can't make your points without being vulgar and aggressive then I'll ban your comments for the week I'm here. First and only warning.

Chuck McGregor 12:46 PM  

Seems to be mostly only two opinions today: Love and hate.

I'll go with the love crowd.

I'd add one other dimension: SPACEINVADERS is plural so there are many ETs.

Off to play a concert of some old-time country & western at a local gazebo on a top-ten summer's day in Maine.


Graham 12:51 PM  

I'm confused about all the criticism along the lines of "I've never played this game or seen this movie, so it was a bad puzzle." Part of crossword solving is having a large body of general knowledge about cultural touchstones -- and "E.T." and Space Invaders certainly qualify. I've never seen the AURORAS or worn a SPORTSBRA but that doesn't preclude my knowing what they are, especially if I want to solve crossword puzzles.

old timer 12:52 PM  

Fascinating puzzle. Took a while for me to get the ET trick. And I never saw the CANNON or the backwards LASER. Nor SPACEINVADERS until almost the end.

I really like the comments today. Mine will be on "informal". When Emily Post was alive, "formal" meant white tie and tails and "informal" meant a dinner jacket, a Tuxedo. I don't think I've ever been to a function that called for white tie and tails. But I must say I was very impressed at how great President Clinton used to look in a formal outfit. It occurs to me that most incoming Presidents have to spend a good deal of money on wardrobe. A couple of tuxes for sure. A tailcoat. Also for formal daytime occasions, a morning coat, with the striped pants.

That said, I think for most people, "formal" is a suit and tie, and "informal" is indeed a blazer. It's my jacket of choice at a wedding here in California.

Joseph Michael 12:53 PM  

Sometimes I hate the Sunday puzzle and this puzzle is a good example of why.

Alan_S. 12:53 PM  

Unbelievable! A big convoluted mess that many commenters here took as "brilliant"? C'mon.
A mishmash of juvenile ideas stuffed into one awful Sunday puzzle. No consistency, no flow, no fun!

da kine 1:00 PM  

I thought it was a very well done puzzle with a lot of good stuff going for it and I finished it in about normal Sunday time, but I still didn't like it. I thought the mish-mash of different things happening with ETs and MOTHERSHIP and whatnot didn't work. I GROKed the theme right away but still never quite got into it. Regardless, that was only my take on it and I can totally understand why other people loved it. Also, it's good to see Matt Gaffney up in here, so maybe we can go a week without hatred thrust upon anyone to the right of Jill Stein.

Kathryn 1:05 PM  

I really enjoyed this today--very cute and clever puzzle! When I first saw the revealer clue, I thought this might be one of those puzzles that skews old, but I've actually played SPACEINVADERS fairly recently--a few of the bars around here have older arcade machines. I loved that the puzzle layout followed the game layout (MOTHERSHIP on the top, CANNON on the bottom, ETs interspersed, and a little SAFE zone below).

cq cqxray 1:07 PM  

ELHI is for "elementary (school) to high (school)" , which is to say what students go through before they get to college.

David Krost 1:14 PM  
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
cq cqxray 1:19 PM  

I got finally that you're supposed to insert ET into the answers, but I still don't understand how the final answer, e.g., PRETEEN, has anything to do with the clue. If the clue had been: "Someone likely to do this" with the idea that a PRETEEN is likely to PREEN, that would have been wonderful wordplay. Instead, I end up having to wonder what the heck GAMETE has anything to do with a "dispiriting message"! Maybe the clue could have been: "— ova!" (Spirited cry of the sperm cell)". This ET insertion stuff was very unenjoyable.

Anonymous 1:19 PM  

Maybe it's nitpicky, but sophomore (soph.) means second year, not tenth.

Stacy 1:20 PM  

I thought this was a total hoot. The invading ET's cracked me up, the long fill was juicy, and cultural references were broadly mixed and up to date. The only worrying spot early on was 10D--too long for rum, just right for tequila. "Please tell me that's not what kids are drinking these days," I thought. BACARDI was a real relief when it went in.

My older brother loved this game--way back in the day. Fun memories. Thanks, DS!

Roo Monster 1:21 PM  

Hey All !
Nice puz. Did as much as possible in Crossword-form to represent SPACE INVADERS. Leave it up to DS to make himself work harder by making his ET "invaded" words work both ways, as actual words with the clues referring to another word. Could've took the easier route and just had words with ET in them. Impressive.

Got stuck in N center, MOTHER SHIP strangely hidden from me for quite a while. I think it was the misleading clue for RPM, and RIGS/PBR throwing me into a tizzy. And not knowing MOET. But the ole brain finally grocked OH GREAT, and I blasted that MOTHERSHIP! (See what I did there?) :-)

Like I usually say, any puz will have dreck, SunPuz size more, but if you don't list them all together like Matt did, then they seem not too much, at least to me. Did like a bunch of the longer answers. And thought the SAFE was an added neatness.

Wanted spell for CURSE till almost the bitter end. Second to last section to go, N center last. That ANNABELLEE was wild looking.

SSw-SSE, TOken-TOOTH, itsall-GAMETE before getting theme. Rate it medium-slightly tough. OUI.


Matt Gaffney 1:21 PM  


So far, so good. Had to ban the one obvious troll for the week but everyone else is playing nicely, even with a polarizing puzzle.

JC66 1:25 PM  

IMO, the puzzle's construction is as impressive as the solving was joyless.

@ cq cqxray

If you take out ET from PRETEEN you get PREEN. The same thing works for all the other circled ET.s.

JC66 1:31 PM  

@Anon 1:19

Think high school, not college.


Thanks for doing this. Hopefully we'll all continue to play nice and RP can keep it going.

It's a whole different experience with the spontaneity.

Numinous 1:31 PM  

I was, for a time, an assistant editor on a show called This Day Tonight at the ABC in Sydney. The editor I worked for had, in England, when he was in the army, been a Horse Guard. You know, those guys in red jackets with the shiny helmets and breast plates who regularly ride horses up and down Pall Mall. I thought of them and him before I considered YEOMEN and I do reckon those are the guys who hang out at the Tower of London exchanging the keys at the change of the watch in the evenings.

A criticism of puzzle solutions I sometimes see is that when certain letters are stuck into words, the new words aren't real words. This time the ETs stuck into the clued words made other words that were real words. I appreciated that a great deal.

In his comments on the puzzle at, David said, "I would like to mention, though, that I realized from the get-go that this puzzle would be quite polarizing. In other words, solvers were either going to know the game and get the theme or not know the game and be confused." He got that right! I think he bit off a lot here but managed to chew it well. I never played space invaders other than the version on my Casio watch so I'm not particularly conversant with the game. Oh, I supposed I've watched other's play it a few times but it's made no real lasting impression on me. Still, I thought this was clever.

Something weird happens in my brain, I see a clue like "Nelson" and ALGREN just pops into my mind. I erased it once because I was doubting but crosses gave it back to me.

Now that moderation has been disabled, let's see how long it takes for Trolls to show up and FLAME WARS to start. I'd like to think they won't but we'll see.

Masked and Anonymous 1:34 PM  

@MG: Cool write-up. Thanx for bein such a good crossword blog sub host. Monte Carlo?!? day-um. If @RP moves there after Trump comes to power, we may not be neighbors, after all. High rent district, dude. I will definitely have to check out all yer puzstuff.
M&A's puzstuff is here: **gruntz**
At runtpuz, we would savor any kind of "C" Matt Gaffney rating, btw.

My call, on this SunPuz: SAFE! Did not understand the SPACEINVADERS grid architecture. Was kinda more of a Donkey Kong dude, back in the day. But especially liked the grid's upside-down U's, shelterin unchecked letters. Had an exquisite, desperate feel to it. Is the RESAL weapon one bein fired by the MOTHERSHIP, and the CNAONN one bein fired by the game player? Also, liked the ETs, as they were unchecked, sorta annoyin little squirts. Different. Like different.

Thanx, Mr. Spielberg ("E.T.") and Mr. Steinberg ("SAFE!") and Mr. Gaffney ("C-!")

Masked & Anonymo10Us

fave weejects: SSE, SSR, SSN. Drop the SS's, and U get E-R-N!

Stanley Hudson 1:34 PM  

Fabulous construction but far, far too busy. A little less Jethro Tull and a little more Ramones, please.

AliasZ 1:38 PM  

@Da Bears,
Edward Teller was no mere ET. He was an alien, but came here legally.

Austrian composer Ernst Toch (1887-1964) is another ET, and alien to most people, but his Pinnocchio (A Merry Overture) on this recording by the Chicago Symphony is an apt commentary for our times.

Masked and Anonymous 1:55 PM  

My first comment disappeared. Mighta been my fault, tho. Hopin I ain't banned for the week.


Rabi Abonour 2:09 PM  

This is definitely an example of an impressive construction feat that doesn't pay off as much as it could. Theme density is so high, but I agree that the ETs (which are about Sunday-enough alone) get lost in the clutter.

Matt Gaffney 2:10 PM  

@Masked and Anonymous

Nope. You're one of the 7,881 non-banned solvers of the 7,882 who've read today's post.

Not sure how your comment got eaten, but it wasn't me.

Keith Brumbaugh 2:12 PM  

Here's a nit from the state of Colorado where we like to comment all things hemp and skiing related. Regarding the 17A clue, the ski boot uses four buckles, not straps. However, there is a ski boot strap (singular) that is used by some skiers to alleviate shin banging. It's called a power strap and is placed at the top of the boot to cinch the boot closer to the shin. Only one strap is used on each boot, if they are used at all. So a ski boot is extremely unlikely to have multiple straps (they do have multiple buckles).

linguafile 2:12 PM  

Thank you, @Graham. I've often had the same reaction to comments on this blog. I like to give people the benefit of the doubt and think that they only mean to explain why something was difficult or unpleasant for them personally, but it does come off sounding a bit like an unfamiliar clue/answer/theme has a lot of nerve even appearing in the puzzle. For me, one of the best parts of doing crosswords is being introduced to things I know little or nothing about, from historical events to pop culture icons to sports (my personal "Ugh!") I spend about as much time Googling and reading about new stuff as I spend on the puzzle.

John Tjia 2:17 PM  

I guess it's meant to be sophomore in high school.

MikeM 2:22 PM  

Great puzzle though technically DNF, I had aBs for PBR and somehow could not undo it, so it messed up the top. Got everything else and enjoyed it. I didnt really get the ET thing until I was finished, I thought the answers were coming up weird.

BTW how would youngSteinbery know about PBR? :)

Masked and Anonymous 2:40 PM  

Thanx, Mr. Gaffney. Someone else musta given my first comment the old "F-". I reckon I maybe know why, through several past trial-and-error comments. No "big" deal.

U are doin a really **great** job, as the blog subhost. I will definitely check out yer puzlinks, that U mentioned in the blog. This SunPuz went over my soft head a little, as I was more of a Donkey Kong dude, back in the day. But I'll still give it a call of: "SAFE!" (Hope that's the call I get, on this comment.)

Thanx again,

Masked & Anonymo10Us

Pete 2:46 PM  

@Matt - Man, I sure wish you were my 10th grade French teacher - I'd have gotten a C rather than an F.

nick 2:49 PM  

Loved this, and I didn't even see all of the cool stuff hidden in the grid. I can see Matt's point about it being busy but since Sundays are so often a dreary slog, this was a nice change. My older brothers were obsessed with Space Invaders so it had a nice nostalgia element, too.

Mohair Sam 3:02 PM  

Huge David Steinberg fan here, but totally agree with Matt's assessment on this one. It was playing medium here until we realized the movie was "INVADing" our video game puzzle and then we flew through. Never did see the MOTHERSHIP until we got here.

Played enough SPACE INVADERS to not feel particularly SAFE where David had the word hidden, btw. And fact is, those of you complaining, ET came into other than natick territory only after the famous flick.

This whole thing reminded me of Dennis Miller on Monday Night Football years ago. The Network bought space in sport sections Tuesday mornings to explain Miller's jokes because the public didn't seem to get them. I see a lot of people here explaining to the rest of us why we didn't "get" this puzzle - and we're thinking: "Um, well, we did."

On a lighter note: I just told Lady Mohair I'd be taking her out to dinner tonight because it's too damned hot to cook. "Pick a restaurant, any restaurant", said I. "Steak 'N Shake", said she. Lifetime benefit of marrying a CHEAPDATE.

Lewis 3:05 PM  

@matt -- I've been hoping for the comments section to be moderated like this for quite a while, with the spontaneity, and occasional checkins by the host, so if something bad has come in, it won't stay in for long, and obvious no-goodniks getting banned. Thank you (and/or Rex, if he suggested it) for giving it a try!

Sallie (FullTime-Life) 3:07 PM  

Finished even tho I thought the Invading ETs were the only part of he theme .... But wondered why the free standing "safe" squares were there and the odd grid. Games were not my generation, but I loved the movie .... Was happier about my solve before I knew the whole explanation.

Cassieopia 3:10 PM  

Loved loved loved this puzzle! I loved how the ETs shot holes in the words, yet still made words. The unusual grid layout and announced theme put me on the right track in just the right degree, so that I found the puzzle challenging but not impossible. I also really liked the mis-directional clues: on 10 down, Burgers before BACARDI; 122 across pastaSAUCE before CREAMSAUCE. All in all this was one of the happiest solving Sundays that I have had in a long time. Thank you Mr. Steinberg!

Cassieopia 3:22 PM  

Oooh it has to be something...someone please figure this out and share! Awesome observation and makes me love this puzzle even more!

tea73 3:37 PM  

For some reason all I could see up at the top was HIP MOTHERS which confused me mightily. I played Asteroids and Advent on the Arpanet back in the dark ages (ca. 1978). I had friends who played video games, but I was more into pinball. The solution to being not very adept at pinball is to play with someone who racks up extra games.

I loved that you shoot the ETs out of words to get the clues. I wish the weapons hadn't had the same circles as the ETs so that you wouldn't be mildly irritated that they had no effect on the clues.

edmcan 3:41 PM  

Oh gee, I haven't been doing the puzzles for quite a while and this one helped me to think that I am an idiot. I did not get the theme(s) at all and struggled through. I never played Space Invaders and enjoyed ET when it was first released and have never seen again, so I was the one in outer space. I totally agree with Matt's assessment though.

OISK 3:51 PM  

I agree with the large number of people who admire the skill and inventiveness of the construction, but did not enjoy the result. Never played "Space Invaders", although I was certainly aware of its existence. That being the case, the grid and the circled non-ET clues added nothing to my enjoyment. Eventually, after having solved about 3/4 of the puzzle, I saw the "knock out the ET" theme. Oh. Brief smile. Radio format = Rap? I guess there is some rapper named "Radio"? Or does that mean there are stations that just play rap. There were several clues I disliked as well. "Oh, Great," for sarcastic "Wonderful," for example.
Never Gonna Give up - (never gonna like pop music slang clues) Otherwise, nothing much to complain about other than the theme itself.

David kindly supplied himself with the correct grade in 33 across.

Anonymous 4:59 PM  

I disagree- I thought this puzzle was very clever- I loved getting the RESAL first, having no idea what it meant and then eventually realising it was a laser shooting upwards once I'd figured out the theme. There were some patch bits and the fill wasn't out of this world (no pun intended), but overall I thought it was a fun, speedy Sunday, even if the theme was the best part.

Anonymous 4:59 PM  

In my online version, the puzzle was NOT titled, Space Invaders"; it was titled "Out of this world", which is completely off. Very frustrating.

Nancy 5:10 PM  

Thanks for missing me, @Hartley! For the duration of the NYC heat wave, I am turning myself into a "morning person" (as I am normally not) and venturing outdoors really, really early in order to miss the afternoon heat and still get some Central Park into my day. Now the last two days I could do the puzzle first and still get out early enough, but a Sunday puzzle is time consuming, so I put it aside until the p.m. I was able to do 99 percent of it -- without having the least idea what the peculiar format was all about, but finished with two letters missing. I had SKI-OO- at 17A and could only think of SKI hOOd, though I didn't write it in. I had P-R at 8D and had no idea what it might be, and I had -TEST at 20D and didn't know that, either. But I belatedly realized that a bunch of ETs had "invaded" the puzzle, enabling me to come up with SPACE INVADERS. I've never played it, I've never even SEEN it, and I have no idea how this puzzle replicates the grid -- nor do I care.

Obviously many of you DO care, since I came home to the most comments I think I've ever seen at 5 p.m. Thankfully, @Hartley, my head DIDN'T explode, since I completely ignored the annoying tiny little circles. I get what they're doing as far as the ETs are concerned, but why should there be, for example, 6 of them at 6D? I don't know. And as I said, I don't care. I think Video Games should be left to them that likes them and them that plays them. This is a very different community.

Dick Swart 5:13 PM  

"Out of this world" in the NYT download, as well.

Not that iy made any difference to me. I didn't figure out what was going on until almost the end of my trek when the 'ET' dawned on me. I'm in the age group that in the 70's-80's had four kids and was mostly on an airplane.

A very ambitious puzzle from the constructor. I didn't get it because I'd never seen it.

Dragoncat 5:16 PM  

I see the connection between ET and Space Invaders--aren't they both "out of this world"? as the theme title says?

Kae 6:05 PM  

I think Out of the World is the correct title. If it were Space Invaders, it would give away the central revealer, which would be a big no-no.

I appreciated the ambition of the puzzle, but thought it did too much. If it had stuck with (say) just the image made with the black squares and the invading ETs, it would have been perfect. However, those features, and the cannon, and the mothership, and the laser put too much strain on the grid, and meant that a lot of junk was necessary in the shorter entries. I'm a gamer, and I found it a bit of a slog. (Also, as a gamer, I feel like Space Invaders was over by the 90s. Mario had been out for 5 years by then.)

Though, looking at the grid again, the worse parts aren't those regions with laser, cannon, etc. They're the short blocks created by the grid image. It makes for a ton of rough, short, three-letter words, which always are rather joyless and reduce sparkle for me.

Anonymous 6:10 PM  
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Carole 6:24 PM  

Can someone please explain PBR (8 down)?

I've never seen a Space Invaders screen, but managed to finish the puzzle anyway. Liked the invading extraterrestrials, never figured out mathership or laser, or SAFE, though I had all the letters in.

Matt Gaffney 6:51 PM  

Obvious sock puppet comment from banned commenter deleted.

This is why we can't have nice things, like comments appearing without moderator approval.

Debra 6:58 PM  

PBR=Pabst Blue Ribbon (six pack of) beer.

Busy, not very satisfying, puzzle, but I finished.

Cassieopia 7:48 PM  

What is a non-sparkly fill? What constitutes enjoyment? I swear, the comments and this blog often confound me. It's like there's this entire world of super sophisticated puzzle solvers out there and I'm just an average joe, grateful for the opportunity to be exposed to crossword construction genius. I found this puzzle especially delightful and I've never played Space Invaders, was thrilled to come here and discover "SAFE", and adored the messiness of the fill as an echo of the messiness and clutter of 1980-1990 user interfaces. Kudos again to the constructor, and if any commenters could point me to examples of what they consider to be superior puzzles, I am all Google on it. I thought this a fantastic puzzle, enjoyed every second of it, and for the life of me cannot comprehend the dour responses. Pray, elucidate.

GILL I. 8:00 PM  

@Matt: I'll say it again tomorrow. Thank you for the wonderful moderation. I left this morning and when I came back I was delighted to see that you had allowed the spontaneous back and forth parlance that we once enjoyed many moons ago. Two miscreants...that's not too bad, is it?

Roo Monster 8:10 PM  

I just want to add my 2 cents in about the ETs, if anyone actually gives a hoot.
The ETs are representing the Aliens that are protecting the MOTHERSHIP, it has nothing to do with ET the movie. In SPACE INVADERS, lines of aliens would be shooting down on your CANNON to try to destroy it before you destroyed them. As the aliens (ETs) made their way across the screen, they would all move down a line, getting closer each pass. If you didn't LASE them all, you lost. Those bottom "SAFE" blocks kept your CANNON from being shot. They didn't last long, though, as the aliens (ETs) shots decimated them. If you shot them all and then the MOTHERSHIP, you moved on to the next round where all the ETs started moving down faster.

So all that explanation just to say Mr. Phone Home wasn't what the ETs meant. They were the defending aliens in the game.


Nancy 8:23 PM  

@Casseopia (7:48 p.m.) -- If you can find a clean copy of the puzzle, without also seeing the solution at the same time, check out Sunday March 8, 2015. One of my favorite puzzles ever. If I had a memory like everyone else, I'd list more.

To your question of why all the complaints about today's puzzle: I'll give you my own reason. Based on the caption, OUT OF THIS WORLD, it's possible for someone to figure out that an ET is being added to certain answers. (Actually, I gather from the comments on this blog that the point is that the ETs are being shot away, rather than added. Or something like that. But for someone who has never seen or played SPACE INVADERS, it's impossible to grasp either that fact or any of the other things that are going on. I had no idea that there's supposed to be a CANNON or a MOTHERSHIP or a LASER. Why in the world would I know that? Now, I was able to solve the puzzle anyway, with the exception of 2 letters, so there was no need to pay any attention to the annoying little circles. But the whole POINT of the puzzle -- that this grid replicates a SPACE INVADERS screen -- was completely lost on me. And of the whole point of a puzzle is lost, the puzzle, at least for me, is pointless. The full enjoyment of this puzzle is completely contingent on familiarity with SPACE INVADERS. Limiting enjoyment for a huge proportion of solvers.

Linda 8:58 PM  

I'm more with @Cassiopia on this. I didn't know the game Space Invaders at all but the ETs and all the other items fit with the ideas of out of this world and space invaders and the grid was fun to look at, so it was all fine with me.

Davin Kuntze 9:01 PM  

I have to say, this one grew on me. At got the space invaders theme right off the bat and the illustrative fill helped me along. Scratch that, it eventually helped. I thought they should all be ETs but the fill wouldn't line up with the cluing. At first I thought that a DUETO was a small Italian duet. I had a couple minor AHA moments with MOTHERSHIP and LASER and CANNON but didn't get that the ETs were INVADING the SPACEs until pretty late in the game. I also completely blanked on SPACE INVADERS for far too long. But I was finally won over by the many layers of thematic development. Sure, some iffy fill but nothing that I couldn't get with crosses. ART ROOM sort of rubs me the wrong way, but that was apparently just me. In some ways, yes, it was possibly more fun for the constructor than for many of the solvers, but I found it quite enjoyable with the many reveals.

Z 9:45 PM  

@OK_@_Z - Besides picking a wonderful, if slightly ungainly, nom de blog, I think you are spot on about the ETs in the puzzle. Definitely a feature, not a bug, IMHO. @Roo Monster seems to agree

@Cassieopia - Sparkle is closely related to freshness. Ono, Eno Olaf/v, etui, RRNs, RCDs, Yser, Ebro, Ural, Aral, eel. These never sparkle anymore. The sparkle has worn off from over use. Oreo, at least, sometimes gets a sparkly new clue.

@Gill I. - I strongly suspect that there's only ever been one, maybe two. But, even if Matt can keep a watchful eye all week, I doubt that Rex can attend as closely and still pay his bills. I do wish Rex would line up some moderator volunteers. The spontaneity is nice.

Joe 9:50 PM  

So what does this puzzle offer you if you have never played Space Invaders and don't recognize whatever it is that other people seem to recognize in the grid? I got all the answers, and even figured out the bit about the extra ETs, but there was no moment where I felt, hey this is clever and fun. I was just filling in the squares.

kitshef 10:14 PM  

@Casseopia - it's just personal taste. Our normal blogger, Rex Parker, for example, loves words and phrases that are newly coined, such as BEER OCLOCK. He will describe such fill as 'sparkly'. I detest that stuff and will call it 'junk' (or worse). I tend to love science and nature words. Some readers love the letter U, or double-letters. Some detest any pop culture from the last 20 years. Others hate anything older than 30 years.

There are some bits of fill that will irritate almost anyone who has been solving for more than a year -- Brian ENO, directions (e.g. NNW), roman numerals (CIV)... I think someone was keeping a wall of shame of such overused 'words'.

By definition, we all enjoy this to some extent, or we'd stop solving the puzzles. And I think everyone would agree that we are in awe of, and grateful to, the constructors (well - except that a lot of the blog readers are themselves constructors, so they are probably not in awe of themselves).

Mohair Sam 10:14 PM  

@RooMonster - You're right. I'd forgotten the details of the game, it's been a scant 30 years since I've played.

I guess as a solver I should have realized that the ET's represented the lines of aliens being released from the mother ship.

I'm beginning to understand @Nancy's point of view.

old timer 10:29 PM  

I remember Star Wars, which was before the movie the ancient version of Space Invaders. You had to adjust fpr the effect of gravity to shoot straight.

But is the blog temporarily unmoderated? Then would any of you like to subscribe to my real old-timer blog, which for a modest monthly fee will foretell the future and bring you a glorious love life. A mere $39.95 a month, which you will make back in a trice.

Da Bears 11:29 PM  

@AliasZ, of course nobody here but me (well, maybe Leapy) knows what you are saying but I found it interesting. Thanks. I'm old enough to remember when Edward Teller's little invention was announced.

Just sayin 11:30 PM  

@Nancy - I suspect that a Venn Diagram of people who have played video games and people who like crosswords would have a considerable overlap. In a cursory review of today's comments I found only 15 posters who said they never heard of the game. So, not such a different community.

Leapfinger 2:10 AM  

I thought the ETs invading the clue entries was inspired, but all the other bits gumming up the works made me think of the infamous Sunday Titanic puzzle, which also sank under its own weight. Somewhat disappointing, after A SHARP beginning, though the unchecked squares spelling S.A.F.E. was also a nice find.

Some real goodness in the grid, but my favourite (that I remember) was seeing AIRPORTBAR and SPORTSBRA in approximate symmetry. Is mashing them into AIRSPORTSBARBRA any interest to the BARany clan, GB?

@Da Bears and the estimable @AliasZ, gotcha.

In a slightly different vein, the theme suggests the Jack Benny/ Mel Blanc skit about SETI, si?

@Matt, my heartfelt thanks. Hope the results are promising.

Paul Plotnick 6:08 AM  

Why are the RESALE letters circled? I don't get it. And stop using ELHI. It's the new ETUI.

Cassieopia 7:14 AM  

It is a LASER, pointed upwards. Agree with you on ELHI, I was, like, is that now a thing?

Cassieopia 7:33 AM  

@Nancy, thank you for the explanation and for directing me to the 3/8/15 puzzle which I'm tackling now. (The paid app has an enormous archive!) I'm already enjoying the pi theme but, of course, that immediately brings up my criticism of why wasn't it published the following Sunday so as to be closer to pi day? :) Anyway thank you again and if I remember, I'll post again with my review comparing it to this Space Invaders theme.

@Z, thank you for defining "sparkle", perhaps I haven't played enough to be bored by overused words (although constructors do seem overly fond of Erie, Oreos, and ORs) but to @kitshef's point, I do find Roman numerals absolutely infuriating. It's like, hey, let's give you that 5th grade math test 50 years later! Ugh. So that example resonated with me, and helps me better understand some of the critiques in this blog.

Much appreciate the time you all took to help explain...still so much to learn about this fascinating world of words and word play.

Tim Pierce 10:03 AM  

I really, really enjoyed this puzzle and was very impressed with the execution. I take Matt's point that, with such a complicated theme and so many devices worked into it, you'll inevitably end up with subpar fill. That didn't detract from the pleasure of solving for me, but I can see why it would for other folks.

I do want to respectfully disagree with Matt on two points:

1. "Space Invaders" was not more successful in its Atari 2600 incarnation than as a cabinet game. From the game's history on Wikipedia, between 1978 and 1982 the arcade game had grossed $2 billion in quarters, or 8 billion plays. The home version, on the other hand, sold two million cartridges in its launch year, or about 1/4000 as many. It was a very successful home video game, but it's hard to justify grading it as "more successful" than the arcade version by any reasonable metric.

2. The use of "ET" to mean "alien" generically has been very well established, in crosswords if nowhere else. I offer to you:


And so on. Pick your crossword clue database; you will find ETS routinely clued as "Spacemen", "Aliens", "Alf and Mork", etc.

I won't criticize anyone simply for not liking a puzzle, but I think on these two points, you misjudged the puzzle. David Sternberg should not be criticized for his choices here.

Matt Gaffney 11:43 AM  

@Tim Pierce

1) Let me concede that "more popular" (not "successful") is tough to judge. They were both extremely popular. I should've written that both the Atari 2600 and the home version were very popular, meaning that whichever way you went it was going to be wrong for a lot of solvers.

But note that your #s above are apples to oranges, since you compare five years on the arcade version to one year of the home game, and that you get many more plays on the home game than the 1 play you get at the arcade.

2) Addressed above already, but to reiterate a) "E.T." now means the movie to 99% of people who hear it, even though the term predates the movie and b) it's clued in crosswords to the generic definition because to be in a crossword it has to be plural, and it's a bit cheap to clue ETS as [Spielbergian creatures] because in the movie it's really just that one alien who's name becomes "E.T.", i.e. they're not really a bunch of ETS in that spaceship. Although I've used the clue myself. Anyway, that's why when it's ETS constructors tend to fall back on the non-movie definition.

Redhed 12:02 PM  

My grandmother made elderberry wine at home and once sent me a bottle (I was a SOPHomore in high school) to help me recover from the flu. Mom didn't let me drink any, but that memory helped me with the clue. Oh, the joys of rural living!

P Chef 12:03 PM  

A clarification for Mr. Gaffney after reading his review regarding his puzzlement over the shape of the word MOTHERSHIP:

It didn't seem to be mentioned in the comments, so I wanted to point out that in the Space Invaders game, the MOTHERSHIP was not part of the horde of aliens scrolling down at you: the MOTHERSHIP was a moving UFO-saucer target that would stream across the top of the screen from right to left (or perhaps left to right), and the objective would be to try and hit it... a feat made all the more challenging by the aliens blocking your laser beam's path early on.

Hitting the MOTHERSHIP was not necessary to advance to the next level, it would just add a bonus to your score. It's shaped in that loop shape because it was meant to represent a low-resolution flying saucer.

Sandy 12:05 PM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
beachcomber108 12:20 PM  

Space Invaders the game took advantage of tropes which are still everywhere in our culture. I have never played that game (or many games), but the point of the et's in the existing words, the laser, cannon were all clear and even space invaders to me was a generic term - but worked wonderfully! This puzzle was crunchy, to use another Rex word (I think). Kept giving something new, had texture. (and btw, I read the upper circle as shipmother rather than mothership, and thought of course of Aliens.
Yes, it could have used a little editing but I very much enjoyed it compared to your average Sunday slog that I do with one half my brain tied behind my back.
For Casseiopia (sp?), my 'best ever' Sunday puzzle was a New Year's Eve-themed by Elizabeth Gorski several years ago. Sorry I don't have the exact date. A real beauty!

Anonymous 7:47 PM  

This puzzle irked me only because of SOLARIS, which was incredibly improperly clued. Will Shortz should have known better than to let such a silly error in the Crossword without fact checking! Correct Latin for 'of the sun' should be SOLIS - I don't know where they're getting SOLARIS.

Anonymous 9:04 PM

Dan Steele 4:16 PM  

Hated, hated, hated. And then came my Aha moment...and absolutely loved it. I knew the non-players would mostly disapprove. But if you were a fan back in the so cool. I'll remember this one for a while.

Burma Shave 10:52 AM  


ASHARP job done not quite FREE, but at a PRESALE rate.
With TACT I say, “TAKETEN, you’re more than an EIGHT.”
THAT said, my GAMETES are useless for how I OPERATE,


spacecraft 11:04 AM  

I was able to GROK all the features of this, but I'm GONNA ask one question: If D.S. is still a teenager, how does he know about BACARDI and AIRPORTBARs? Who is bringing this young man up? SPORTSBRAS indeed.

I marveled at how the across entries with ET's were real words--and fit the clues without. Then I thought I came across one that didn't fit: DUETO. Man, all the others are real words...but what's a DUETO? Is it Dean Martin and Tony Bennett? Never...oh. The AHA moment hits! DUE [space] TO. It's a stretch, a partial, but we're good.

I could never get far with those games. I suppose if you really applied yourself and established a rhythm...but I never bothered. Didn't have that many quarters to squander. In the student union, you could usually find me at the pool table. At least there, a guy could make a couple bucks.

Reverie over. Theme & execution: absolutely Steinbergian. Fill? Well, the short stuff has to take a hit with a theme this involved. The longer fill is pretty good. I bumped into the odd fact that two names associated with Lucy end in Z: Arnaz and MERTZ. Wisely, I deferred decision until it was obvious (not long).

DOD is Erin MORAN, who so cutely played Joanie Cunningham. I had a thing for her back in the day. Like so many were doing at the 18th at Baltusrol this week, David reached the green in two--but that yucky short fill caused the eagle putt to lip out, so he has to settle for a birdie.

rondo 1:17 PM  

At some point I caught onto the theme, but didn’t enjoy this DS offering as much as usual. Not that it was, bad, it wasn’t, just not all sparkly like usual.

@spacey – as I was searching I had the same reaction for Erin MORAN, so . . . great minds. I usually circle the numbers of the clues for any potential yeah baby, and had none. But have to agree, even though the clue was for Bugsy. Also played more pool (and foosball) than video games, but did try SPACEINVADERS when it came out, sometime after Pong. Thought you might have more to say re: ASHARP, DPLUS, TTEST. Ms. MORAN kinda used to give me THEYANKEES.

A reasonable Sun-puz that will allow plenty of time for outdoor activities. Regrettably, I still have TAN lines.

Diana,LIW 4:32 PM  

Got SPACEINVADERS and all the little ETs, but didn't get the point until I got here. Haven't played video games - not in my timeframe. A few woes made this a dnf. Once again, playing horseshoes instead of a puzzle. Almost...

Speaking of which, tomorrow I turn 65. Look out discounts! Maybe my best birthday present will be the continuation of noon-moderation. Rex is coming back to Futureland. We'll see.

Diana, Lady-in-Waiting for Crosswords

AnonymousPVX 4:56 PM  

Let's see - horrible clueing, a grid that does not conform to crossword standards and the best - answers to clues that make no sense.

This might be the worst Sunday puzzle ever. I'm glad others like it, but if I never see a mess like this again it will be too soon.

rain forest 5:14 PM  

Way late to the puzzle and the blog, but I felt I should comment anyway.

I really liked this puzzle. Diagrammatically, constructively, creatively, and competence-wise, it is just great. But then, I realize, I played Space Invaders back in the day, and so I recognized the representation in the grid immediately. I can understand that people who haven't played it or other video games might be lost, but so be it. I get lost on puzzles that include lots of Americana, but I usually like them anyway. Courses for horses.

Has anyone mentioned that ET means "extra-terrestrial" and doesn't necessarily reference the movie? I think some were misled by assuming the movie and the video game were somehow related.

A plethora of excellent entries and a nice variety in the cluing, as well as the brilliant theme execution, made this puzzle a lot of fun.

Rarely do I have hard liquor in an AIRPORT BAR-way overpriced-but if I do I choose a scotch with a drop of water. Otherwise a glass of Zinfandel does the trick. BACARDI and coke? No.

Great puzzle.

leftcoastTAM 5:39 PM  

Last Sunday, I saw Patrick Berry's name and decided I had to do it, despite reservations about Sunday time sinks. Today, the same with David Steinberg's, which I hate to pass up. I'm glad I didn't.

Felt pretty much like a smart COOKIE, not a DODO, when I finished, albeit after investing more time than I would want to otherwise.

But self-satisfaction was dampened a bit because I couldn't make out the LASER, MOTHERSHIP, and CANON, as well as the U-shaped barriers protecting us in space over the Earth. Still, I had to marvel at the cleverness and intricacy of it all.

Believe I'm with others in having spell before CURSE on Sleeping Beauty, and pausing for a time over MOHEL.
AIRPORTBAR may be favorite answer.

Had a good time, mostly well spent.

Thanks, Mr. Steinberg (and WS, too).

leftcoastTAM 6:09 PM  

Mr. Gaffney, glad you're here for Rex, but you may be a greater nitpicker than even he.

Wouldn't ever claim to be anywhere near the level of experience and expertise you have in the puzzle world, but from where I sit down here below, I appreciate a gem of a puzzle when I see one, and this is one.

Intricately clever, not overworked or ornately complex.

iRene 8:54 PM  

I was never a gamer, other than MsPacMan at a bar a friend and I often had lunch in, so the grid's shape meant nothing to me. However, after a few crosses, "spaceinvaders" came to me because of the puzzle's title, tho I didn't know it was a game, just seemed a generic phrase. The 3 circled non-ET answers made sense to me as generic space-related things, well, cannon not so much. After seeing a couple of ETs, I quickly realized that every pair of circles would be ET so I put them all in. It didn't occur to me that they were "invading" the real answers. So although I did get all the answers, I thought some of the clues were ridiculous until I came here.
I agree with those who thought there was too much going on and that answers such as "elhi" are icky.
Thank heaven I discovered this site a while back or I would be cursing the constructor instead of admiring his ability to cram so much into a puzzle.

Wooody2004 2:01 AM  

NATCH, I had a one letter DNF because for some reason I had mONO-gram for 105D instead of SONO-gram. But I guess Dr. Cliff Huxtable could have had "CH" monogrammed on his CHloroform-soaked handkerchiefs (hankerchieves?) that he used to put his patients under. (Isn't it kinda creepy now that Bill Cosby once portrayed an OB/GYN?).

I can just imagine ETHELMERTZ saying "OHGREAT, another CHEAPDATE at the AIRPORTBAR!" And Ricky Ricardo probably liked BACARDI and coke.

Torontotom 11:45 PM  

Despite being around in the '70s and '80s, I had no experience with Space Invaders or any similar games whatsover. Still, I managed to complete the puzzle, albeit with a few good guesses. But when it came to figuring out the rebus in those north-central circles,I came up with what seemed to me a plausible ET-type actor: The Shrimp-O. (Or is that instead a Star Wars denizen? Or a Pokemon-Go character?)

wcutler 1:33 PM  

Matt Gaffney said it all for me.

I didn't even get the ET invasions, though I'd filled in spaceinvaders, because there were NNA and ONN and all kinds of other things, so I just thought I hadn't figured it out yet. Even at my advanced age and lack of gaming interest, I should have been able to get the ET clues. I think that part was clever even though I missed out.

Joseph McGrath 3:22 PM  

How does 'occupied, as a seat', which is past tense, get answered with 'take ten', which is present tense? I hated this puzzle.

Unknown 6:10 AM  


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