Actress Headey of Game of Thrones / FRI 12-23-16 / Rama's wife in Hinduism / Francis II dissolved it in 1806 / DeVos noted school choice advocate / Remaind stationary while facing wind in nautical lingo

Friday, December 23, 2016

Constructor: Robyn Weintraub

Relative difficulty: Challenging

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: SITA (29D: Rama's wife, in Hinduism) —
Sita (also spelled Sîta, Seeta or Seetha [ˈsiː taː], About this sound listen  meaning furrow), also known as Siya, Vaidehi, Janaki, Maithili or Bhoomija, is the central female character of the Hindu epic Ramayana and daughter of King Janaka of Videha and his wife queen Sunaina. She was the elder sister of Urmila and cousins Mandavi and Shrutakirti. She is consort of Hindu god Rama(avatar of Vishnu) and is an avatar of Lakshmi(Adi Shakti of Lord Vishnu), goddess of wealth and wife of Vishnu. She is esteemed as a paragon of spousal and feminine virtues for all Hindu women. Sita is known for her dedication, self-sacrifice, courage and purity. (wikipedia)
• • •

This was Saturday+ tough for me. Totally misplaced. Choked with ambiguous and "?" clues, and at least a couple of answers I've never seen or can't remember ever seeing. I *did* solve directly upon waking, so that no doubt added a little fog to things, but I was almost double my normal Friday time. Look at all the ambiguity in those first clues. 1A: One may hold a ship in place (what kind of "ship"?), 12A: Network initials (what kind of "network"?), 15A: Visa option (What Kind Of "Visa"!!?). There is some delightful fill in here, as well as some delightful cluing; I would've experienced that delight a little more if the delight had been *inside* the aha moments. Instead, the ahas tended to be "???," or "ugh"—the "T" in ETA, for instance (16A: It resemble an "n" when lowercase), or the "Z" in RESIZE (33A: Crop, e.g.), or RAMIE or SITA (neither of which meant a thing to me). My toeholds were hoary things like TCELL and CHITA and HRE and ODE and ACTA and ARAL ... so somehow all the decent stuff (e.g. many of the longer answers) got lost in the shuffle. Also this "Game of Thrones" obsession is getting very tiresome. Branch out. There are other shows that will make you current! Ugh.

Had COL for MST and NEAR for NIGH and EEG/EKG for IVS. Otherwise, I didn't have wrong answers so much as stare blankly. Why do I associate STARGAZER with "idle daydreamer" as opposed to actual astrononmer? Without that "Z" in RESIZE or the "T" in ETA, I couldn't make hide/hair of STARGAZER (13D: Copernicus, for one). CBATTERY just killed me—that was the one aha moment that really worked (20A: Toy car driver?). But I had to accept an answer starting CB-; once I did, the answer slapped me in the face *and* I finally got into the NE corner I was having such a horrible time working out (seriously, I had everything but the "R" and "Z" in STARGAZER and just sat there, stumped, for a while). Had ELK for RVS (7D: National park sights). Getting RVS was the most important turning point—that one little answer sent me from helpless in the NW and NE, to done, in about a minute. Figured out that the [Northeast nickname] (for what!?) had to end in STATE, and that "S" forced me to consider two-letter answers that could be pluralized as [National park sights], which gave me RVS, and that "V" sent the whole works tumbling down. Weird how one tiny answer can shift so much. And that was the issue today, really—the short stuff I rely on to get a grip just wasn't ... grippable, much of the time. I mean "nautical lingo" (LIE TO)? Ugh. Pass

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. I see we're doing more normalization of the incoming admin today. If this is the NYT's attempt to be IN THE MIDDLE (51A: Like moderates, politically), they can stuff it. I'll take BETSY Ross, thanks.

P.P.S. IN THE CENTER is the phrase you want there. In politics, it's the CENTER. IN THE MIDDLE is somewhere you sit, or somewhere you're stuck.

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


da kine 7:19 AM  

I thought it played like a Saturday, too, but when I finished I was sub-10 minute, so I guess it was a normal Friday. I had the toughest time with the NE.

kitshef 7:21 AM  

DNF AT RAMIa/LaNA. Two WoEs. Considered a, e or u or sometimes y based on 22A. No chance to figure out which. RAMIE is fair though. I just never heard of it. All clues from HBO shows are garbage.

Up to that point … brutally hard. ODE, HYDRA/TYLER and LADY were the only gimmes in the entire grid. MEET, HRE and ASPEN went in, then came out when I couldn’t get a single cross.

Very good puzzle, would surely have benefited from a Malcolm clue for INTHEMIDDLE, and IMPRESSME in your grid certainly doesn’t, and I’m pretty sure TEA SET is just wrong, but the rest is really well done, and the cluing was superior.

Moly Shu 7:45 AM  

Whew, for a second there, I thought @Rex had stopped crying about Hilary losing. I was worried I'd have to find something else to keep me entertained. Somehow I zipped through most of this. LENA, CHITA and ASPEN made the NE fall, then COTES, INMATES and KEN gave me the west. From there it was HIPSTERS and GILL for the east and TOLTEC, HYDRA and MST for the south. The NE was stickiest but finally got DEFENSIVE and it was over. I'm still looking at RAMIE and thinking, no, that can't be correct. So, I learned a new word today. Nice. Oh, one more thing, I wonder what the reaction would have been if a clue had referenced the Simpsons instead of Game of Thrones. C'mon @Rex, take your own advice, branch out.

Tim Pierce 7:48 AM  

Sometimes it seems like the NYT can't win for losing. Either the end-of-week puzzles are way too easy, or they're tougher than normal and thus "totally misplaced." At 33:05, this was harder than a usual Friday for me but didn't feel completely outside the bounds of normalcy.

Since Rex was too distracted by the difficulty to call out some of the real gems here, I will -- some great longer answers in GREEN SCREEN, SECRET SANTA, TRACTOR BEAM, IMPRESS ME, and some real wonders of cluing: Filled again, as a flat (44D), Bass organ (35D), Square things (35A), Robin's refuge (8D) to name just a few. This one kept me grinning the whole time I was solving, and while there's some iffy fill in ENE, MST, DSL, HRE and so on, it felt like less than usual. Or maybe the high quality of the longer fill just meant I didn't notice it as much. Either way, a lovely puzzle.

Tim Pierce 7:50 AM  

As for BETSY DeVos, what struck me right away about that is not just that it serves to normalize the Trump regime, but that the clue is not going to age well. At all. That's going to severely date this puzzle when it shows up in a compilation, which is a real shame for a puzzle that I think would otherwise stand the test of time very nicely.

Unknown 8:06 AM  

I got stumped in the NW. I didn't know RAMIE or CHITA. The only elephant ear that I could think of was a pastry, so I put TART instead of TARO, and that made LIE TO impossible to find. Also, I disliked seeing BETSY DeVos in the puzzle, and I rolled my eyes at IN THE MIDDLE. Look, if you're actually a political moderate, then you're a Democrat and should be cheering for centrist establishment politicians like Obama or Hillary. If you're "in the middle" of the two parties, then you're not moderate: you're being willfully obtuse.

Now that that's out of the way ...

I loved this puzzle! Lots of fun entries and tricky clues. Loved the tricky clues for SECRET SANTA [Game for the gifted?], INMATES [Life partners?], GILL [Bass Organ], BAT CAVE [Robin's refuge], RIGS [Fixes badly], and RELET [Filled again, as a flat]. I enjoyed the imagery in LADY [Disney toon often pictured eating spaghetti], STARGAZER [Copernicus, for one], and HIPSTERS [Stereotypical man bun sporters].

C-BATTERY seems like a boring entry, but that unusual letter combination and the excellent clue [Toy car driver?] made it one of the most interesting answers in the grid.

Okay, looking back through the clues, I do see how many of the clues are tricky in the same way. The constructor returns again and again to draw from the well of ambiguous terms. Variety is nice. On the other hand, if constructors have to err, then I say err on the side of tricky clues. I need to ponder this.

I will never forget the ENGlish portion of my A.C.T. Took that test twice, and the English portion was the only one that I didn't score higher on the second time, and I really wanted that point. Grr. Still ticks me off.

Last, I won't say what I thought of when I read the clue for SKI LODGE [Warm spot in the snow]. Let's just say a certain Frank Zappa tune came to mind.

Unknown 8:08 AM  

As @Rex said, today's puzzle by @Robyn Weintraub (which I "solved" on-line last night) was a challenge both in terms of fill and cluing. I appreciated the science stuff, like TCELL, BASAL, and ENE (the latter, clued in an interesting, chemically correct manner). Full disclosure, "solved" in quotes because I had to resort to "Check" to get the crossing between the strong fiber and the "Game of Thrones" character, and was also flummoxed on the "S" in 27-Down (see mini-rant in next paragraph).

I scratched my head, as I'm sure others did, on BETSY, the potential Secretary of Education who advocates policies antithetical to that Department's mission. What's next, cluing REX for the oilman/winner of Russia's Order of Friendship who has been nominated for Secretary of State? RICK for the ex-Governor of Texas/Dancing with the Stars competitor who gave us "oops" when asked to name three departments he would eliminate (yeah, the one he has been nominated to lead, one previously led by Nobel laureate physicists)? I could go on ...

SECRET_SANTA and HORA both had fun clues that made me smile, and I did not fall into the BATCAVE trap. CHITA Rivera is, of course, legendary ... years ago I had the privilege of seeing her in "Chicago" in London.

Postscript: During the time it took to compose this, several posts appeared. Amen to what @Tim Pierce wrote.

Dorothy Biggs 8:14 AM  

@Moly Shu: It isn't about HRC losing, it's about a guy like DJT winning. So back at ya...branch out.

@kitshef: I didn't even think about the possibility of's a good thing I didn't or I'd still be there staring. The RAMIE/LIETO crossing was bad enough, (I had LeETO...because nautical = lee everything). Had I added that extra variable in there, it would have added exponentially to the doubt.

BTW, I laugh when Rex says he gets stuck "for a while." When I get stuck, it is literally for a while. In the times I am stuck "for a while," other people could have changed a tire, or made some lasagne, or stood in line at a Starbucks in Manhattan waiting to use the [singular] bathroom, or hell, the Amish can put up an entire barn in the times I'm stuck "for a while." I'm just guessing that a speed solver's "for a while" is simple hesitation, a hiccup, a glitch in the matrix. So, haha Rex, good one.

Do non-Christians even know what a SECRETSANTA is? How about a dirty Santa?

I personally didn't find this puzzle all that much harder than a typical Friday, I was below my average and never had a moment where I was stuck "for a while." I just plodded along, filling stuff in. There were no groans here, (unlike an earlier puzzle this week...I'm looking at you Wednesday), so No Groans = enjoyment.

I liked it, I liked some of the clues and a couple of the answers...even Man Buns which I think are ridiculous.

If I kept a listicle (which I wanted the answer to be "click bait"), this would be in the TOPTEN..."7 Reasons NCA Loved This Puzzle...and You'll Be Amaaaazed at Number 5!"

Not that I've ever clicked on a listicle....

r.alphbunker 8:21 AM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
r.alphbunker 8:23 AM  

Hand up for finishing with [22A {Actress Headey of "Game of Thrones"} LaNA]/[2D {Strong fiber} RAMIa].
I was pleased to see that Jeff Chen's word list gave RAMIE a 20.

29D {Rama's wife, in Hinduism} SITA was my first entry and probably the only answer in the grid that I was absolutely certain about. Longest stall (~4 minutes) was ended by seeing GILL from _ _ LL for {Bass organ}

Details are here.

I am not a robot 8:24 AM  

Wow. What @Martin said. Fought my way through the NW and SE with a machete. Big fun. Not so much in the SW but that's on me. Inmates, nostrils, and get even...great clues. Didn't get get even, never heard of Betsy, dnf, but (see @Martin). I feel a little smarter this morning just for the workout. Show me what you've got!

Loren Muse Smith 8:31 AM  

I agree – pretty hard today. But unlike Rex, I enjoyed the ambiguous clues, especially the ones for REPLY and RELET.

The “stereotypical man-bun sporters” answer was tough. With an in correct 37D “brasher” in place, I was going for “baristas” (baristos?) or “big deals.”

Seriously. I know only one guy who sports a man bun, and lemme tell you – he’s a legend in his own mind, buddy. I dunno – there are probably man bun guys who read this blog, but I’ll put it out there: I wonder if the man bun will be this decade’s fad equivalent of the ‘70s polyester leisure suit. I’ve never seen one that looked good, and if you’re reading this, if you’re a man bun sporter, and if people are telling you it looks good, they’re lying to you. But there again, you’re probably in your late twenties, and I’m so old I’m about to join the farts squinting through the bottom part of their glasses at the array of Metamucil and Miralax products at Walmart. Joke’s on me.

Love the word NOSTRILS. For some reason, we were joking in class recently about naming a dog Nostril. Could be cool, especially if he’s big and scary.

What’s your dog’s name?
Pause. There’s a story there, but you really don’t want to know. Just don’t make eye contact and avoid saying “Copernicus,” “xiphoid process,” and “batcave.”

Speaking of which, STARGAZER means for me just that – someone who looks at stars. Just checked with non-puzzle husband, though, and he has the same thoughts as Rex on its connotation. And then speaking of husband, he’s the one I told you about who went around introducing this poor guy as, mystifyingly, KEN Norton when his actual name was Tony Lemo. Tony never corrected him, and I’m sure it was really, really uncomfortable for him. I mean, sheesh – learn to answer to a brand-new name over the course of a couple of hours.

Some terrific longs, Robin. Liked it!

Passing Shot 8:37 AM  

I'm always amazed by folks who can speed solve, particularly on a Fri or Sat. 46:17, which is only seconds slower than my Fri average.

"In the times I am stuck "for a while," other people could have changed a tire, or made some lasagne, or stood in line at a Starbucks in Manhattan waiting to use the [singular] bathroom, or hell, the Amish can put up an entire barn in the times I'm stuck "for a while." "@NCA President -- thank you for that!

Enjoyed it, despite the difficulty.

I am not a robot 8:41 AM  

@Loren (your highness), for some reason the word nostril cracks me up. I just love saying it. And yet somehow, the plural really isn't as funny.

Anonymous 8:45 AM  

Please explain how a tractor beam keeps a ship in place? I don't get it.

Anonymous 8:45 AM  

Wow! This was impossible and out my league. Even with full Google mode I barely filled half the puzzle.
For the last few weeks I enjoyed the more solvable Friday's and Saturday's puzzles.
I even started to believe I was getting better...
Well back to reality, my friends.

Anonymous 8:46 AM  

Normalize. Just wait for the Supreme Court picks. A full generation.

mac 8:53 AM  

Good Friday puzzle, on the difficult side.

I tried so hard to get "anchor" somewhere in 1A. I liked the clues in this one.

As is often the case on a Friday or Saturday, leaving the puzzle alone for a while made me see several
openings on returning that finished it up fast.

Nancy 8:56 AM  

Boy, did this IMPRESS ME. It's just the type of themeless I CRAVE -- tough clues that make having at least some crosses absolutely necessary in getting the answer. And just about no junk at all. It even taught me some stuff: ASPENS can survive forest fires (who knew?). And LADY in "Lady and the Tramp" ate lots of spaghetti (again, who knew?). That's fun cluing, as well as tough cluing. I do hope we will GET EVEN more puzzles of this quality in the future.

I did cheat inadvertently. I had LeE TO at 9A and went to see if RAMeE was correct at 2D. It wasn't, but my eye caught hold of RAMIE in my Webster's and I then realized that 19A was LIE TO. (Since LEE is the non-wind side of the boat, I had no reason to believe LEE TO was wrong, having never heard the term LIE TO. But then, as my father remarked when the Israeli ship Shalom rammed into another ship back in the day: "So who ever said the Jews were sailors.") Anyway, I think this puzzle is a GEM.

Teedmn 9:03 AM  

Arg, double DNF on a puzzle I was congratulating myself as super easy for a Friday (20:49). I swear that earlier this week I had seen "elephant ear" in a puzzle and the answer was almond paste or something so I had @Martin's TARt and Ms. Rivera was CHInA so my nautical term was LIEnt. I never even looked at it twice.

I guess I got overconfident when I put in TRACTOR BEAM off the O and B (and I was eyeing up 11D, guessing MEET and whoa, holy StarTrek, Batman! (Yes, BATCAVE was my third entry after LENA Headey (hey they had her on Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me last year, not totally obscure) and the man bun FAD)). (Oh, and I never use parenthetical phrases, in case you were wondering.)

DEFENSIVE went in off of FAD, bam, NE almost done. Except for the aforementioned DNF, my biggest hold up was 20A. I had CBsT_ERY with ACTs at 10D. I kept reading the clue. "Toy car driver?" Does CBS have a toon with a car-driving small dog? Really, this is what went through my head. Swinging up from the SE, I saw TEA SET, reset my ACTs to ACTA and voila, done. Only when I was looking at RAMIE to see if I had guessed it right, did I see my real goofs.

For a while, I considered TugS for small jerks, which would have made "Like moderates, politically" IN THE MuDDLE. Yup.

I thought this was Saturday for a while and was disappointed to see another easy Saturday but this was just right for a Friday. Thanks, Ms. Weintraub.

Z 9:08 AM  

The entire eastern half was done lickety split. LADY to DSL to DEFENSIVE (seriously, that lie is still out there?) and I was off. The biggest slow down was not knowing how RELET fit the clue until post solve, so having to double check all the crosses. The west was slower mostly due to INMATES (How's that for a cheery take on marriage?) and LIE TO. SITA and COTÊS (du Rhone?) weren't helping so I started a vowel run and saw where the clue was going. As for LIE TO, none of the crossing vowels were obvious to me, so I sat and pondered plausible nautical jargon. Lay TO would upset Loren, so I went with LIE TO. Ta Da. 13 minutes for all but 9 letters, just shy of 20 at the end. I don't really know where this falls for me, but it felt 85% easy and 15% hard, so medium easy here.

BETSY De Vos and her family has made lots of money from school choice. Shockingly, the children of Michigan have demonstrably worse educational outcomes as a result. This is her brother. Nothing makes me more anti-Republican Party than kids born rich growing up to live off the dole. And, yes, some of you are remembering correctly that these two grew up in the same church I did.

Anonymous 9:09 AM  

This one was a bear. As for (Betsy) DeVos, a current, fresh answer that was accurately clued. Kudos to Will Shortz for not caving to the alt-left and politicizing the crosswords, where many people, myself included, go to as a refuge from the political b.s. with which we're constantly bombarded.

Z 9:14 AM  

@anon8:45 - TRACTOR BEAMs are used in Star Trek to hold space ships in place.

Nancy 9:15 AM  

Re: Copernicus (13D) -- You might be interested to see this youthful verse of mine -- published in JIGGERY POKERY: A Compendium of Double Dactyls (Atheneum, 1967). There are rules to the double dactyl verse form that you can look up online, if you're so inclined.

Nic'laus Copernicus
Looked at the Universe,
Spoke to the throng:
Give up your Ptolemy,
Rise up and follow me,
Ptolemy's wrong.

QuasiMojo 9:18 AM  

Fairly easy for a Friday, I thought. Raced through it without much to hold me up. I had Siva before Sita, but that is about it. I enjoyed the thorny clueing and the answers. No problemo. As for the comment above about how such-and-such a clue or answer will be dated in a compilation, isn't that true for most of the dreck in the NYT puzzle of late? Are we really supposed to know (or care) who was in Game of Thrones twenty years from now? When I go back into the archive and do a puzzle from the old days, it doesn't have Pop tarts like that. People are going to be scratching their heads (if they even bother to do crosswords in the future) over a lot of the fill. Will Shortz might think it's "current" to keep inserting nods to pop culture (sort of like the fad among hipsters these days of inserting an IV of electrolytes to cure a hangover), but it will come back to haunt him. I suppose knowing who "Mr. Ed" was might fall into the same category but it has become part of crosswordese. I doubt "Game of Thrones" and its wretched ilk will do the same.

evil doug 9:29 AM  

I would've gone with _____ Wetsy. Face it, Michael - - Will is just having fun baiting you now...and you keep feeding the trolls....

Z: School choice seems to be a useful option in many places, too. I don't see a lot of success in recent public school trends. My wife taught elementary and junior high special ed and then English for 25 years, and when she retired she was heartsick at the downward spiral schools are suffering. And I kind of like that DeVos isn't simply living the lazy highlife off her wealth, but trying to make a contribution. She's also a generous philanthropist....

Yes, man buns suck. But I'll bet most of you women have gone the bun route from time to time - - and they suck, too.

Anonymous 9:33 AM  

@Evil, I always loved a man's buns, until they started wearing them on their heads.

Pete 9:48 AM  

I've never complained about pop culture references before, but here goes.

I actually watched GoT for about 5 minutes once, and decided I really didn't want to watch rape scenes, so that was it for GoT.

So, Mr. Shortz, it you can't have pop culture references without making your audience watch sexual violence, perhaps choose another reference, no?

Questinia 9:49 AM  

Evidently drinking homemade glögg helps me surf my gamma brain waves for the easy solve.

Man buns, aka muns, are also called douche donuts: i.e. they signify potential douchebaggery in those who sport them. My sense is that man buns are a transitional phase between long hair and a short haircut.

Anyhow, yes, GLÖGG.

Anonymous 10:08 AM  

Difficult clueing. Just reread Asimov's "Foundation" trilogy - not a TRACTORBEAM in it.

If HIPSTERS wear man buns, is it a FAD?

Nebraska Doug 10:08 AM  

I loved this puzzle. Hard, but doable. I was able to chip away bit by bit, often thinking I was stuck, but then have breakthrough that ENABLEd me finish off a section. The NW was the last to fall. Good way to start the weekend.
I sometimes come here to find a Friday or Saturday puzzle rated easy that I couldn't finish. Frustrating. Today, the opposite, a difficult puzzle that I solved with zero mistakes. And no googling of course, strictly against the rules in my book.

Trombone Tom 10:10 AM  

Much of the political whining and gnashing of teeth in @Rex's blog is off-topic and distracting, but @evil's first comment is right on.

I am among those who experienced a long wait before some of the clever and ambiguous cluing finally became clear. This puzzle was, as our friends across the pond are wont to say, "Brilliant!"

It took forever for me to comprehend that 1A's "ship" wasn't floating in the sea. Aha! Back to Star Trek! Similarly I assumed the "driver" in 20A was a tot. And the CB___ start wasn't much help.

The NW was the last to fall, but the payoff was great: TRACTOR BEAM, CASH ADVANCE, and EMPIRE STATE were all worth waiting for.

My idea of enjoying the snow is to sit in the SKI LODGE by a warm fire with a drink in hand.

And I can understand the position of being politically IN THE MIDDLE and not buying into the extremes of any party.

The 22A GoT clue was WOE. I never got into that series. Thank goodness for the crosses.

Really challenging, beautifully clued, and fun to conquer. Thank you Robyn and Will.

jberg 10:16 AM  

Man, this was tough. Put in LIE up before LIE TO (since you point up to get there), that took a long time to fix. Two actresses crossing, LENA/CHITA -- pure guess on plausibility (plus the first was my grandmother's name). I was less lucky in the NE, where I was thinking 12A had to be the name of a network, rather than something to connect you to one, so went with DSn. And then I had not idea a man bun was a hair style, so went to the other logical meaning and decided they were a kind of FAt. HIPSTERS made me see it must be a FAD instead, but by then I had so many reinked squares up there that I couldn't see LADY, and so DNF.

A beautiful puzzle, all the same.

@teedmn, I'm loving the idea that "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me" is less obscure than "Game of Thrones." That's why we were surprised when Trump won, right?

kitshef 10:22 AM  

@Moly Shu - the difference is The Simpsons are on an over-the-air network, while GoT is on a $15/month network, meaning that many of us will never see it. You elites with your Bugattis and $20 bottles of wine may all have HBO, but no one I know does.

@Nancy - loved the poem!

Carola 10:43 AM  

Gosh, was I surprised to see "Challenging." That march of Downs across the NW corner - CHITA, ODE, BAT CAVE, ENABLE, ACTA, MEET - got me what I needed to do a counterclockwise swirl from TRACTOR BEAM to STAR GAZER - love the double reference to the galaxy! Lots of other fun along the way, too.

Hardest for me to see: C BATTERY.
Serves me right: My one do-over was Lay TO before LIE TO - me the stickler for intransitive "lie-lay-lain" v. transitive "lay-laid-laid" (hi, @Loren :) )
Also liked BAT CAVE x TRACTOR BEAM: an ODE to two of my favorite movies.

Maruchka 10:45 AM  

Well, this is another fine mess you've gotten me into, @RobynW.

The Fine - I got your devious and delightful cluing at times - RESIZE, RELET, NIGH, RIGS, HORA.

The Mess - acts/ACTA, basic/BASAL. Even with the Z in, Copernicus as a STARGAZER took a long time.

I got it, and it's a great clue, but is SECRET SANTA truly a game? I never thought of it that way, before today. Thanks for the challenges.

@Questinia - Gladelig Jul and blog the glogg! Who's bringing the hot-crossed man buns?

I may be a robot 10:51 AM  

Here's a thought, and I'll get to it in a sec, but first this. Everyone here has some affection for this blog or they wouldn't be here. People with the word gene share their love of language and discuss the insane things a puzzle like this do with it.

At the same time, the entire world is in a critically dangerous place. If we get through the next few years without WW III, that alone will be testament to progress. Emotions are running high.

But among the commentators, why don't we try, just try, when we feel it necessary to share an opinion, to do it respectfully? A link to something that illustrates your thoughts? Anything. But for crissake, stop the (crosswordese spoiler alert) "Are too" "Are not" personal attacks on one another. It's just a nasty form of discourse.

Z 10:53 AM  

@evil doug - School choice primarily works for two groups, educators who want to operate a parochial school on the public dollar and people who want to turn a profit. De Vos fits into both categories. You can find short term exceptions, but as a whole school choice is a societal failure. I am also not impressed by the DeVos' philanthropy. Look closely and you'll see the wisdom of the idea that it is easier for a camel to walk through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to get into heaven.

Regarding Man Buns, I suppose if you have long hair and need to keep it out of the way for some reason a bun is a sensible solution. I've seen them on various athletes of late, but I haven't noticed them anywhere else. It's almost as if their hipster 15 minutes has already come and gone.

Charles Flaster 10:56 AM  

Medium until the extreme northeast.Never eliminated intENSIVE so I naticked with LADY crossing FAD.
What are man buns????
Liked the appearance of "listicle" again and several other longish answers; especially
BATCAVE, SKI LODGE, TEA SET, and the beautifully clued IMPRESS ME.
Really enjoyed this one.
Thanks RW

G.Harris 11:02 AM  

I was relieved to learn I'm not the only one who occasionally resorts to check online to keep from moving unduly in the wrong direction. Seems to me that is a more acceptable crutch than using Google. At least I come up with the answer on my own. Anyone else willing to own up.

Joseph Michael 11:25 AM  

Great puzzle with one of the best sets of clues I've seen in a long time. Loved the misdirection on clues for GET EVEN, C BATTERY, SECRET SANTA, BAT CAVE, GILL, RELET, and many more. Nice going, Robin!

At first, the puzzle felt impossible with nothing much happening until I got to the SW and then suddenly things began to fall into place as I worked my way back up, with the stubborn NW the last to fill. As with Rex, the aha of RVS led to completing the triple stack and the puzzle overall with nary a Google.

IN RE: man buns. I think they may be the worst fashion trend in the history of the male gender. Men who wear them are not HIPSTERS. They're pathetic. We'll know that the fashion cycle has reached its peak when KEN dolls start to sport them.

Mer 11:37 AM  

Oh dear Rex....everyday you complain that the NYT crosswords aren't 'fresh enough, clever enough or whatever enough" for you. Now today, you are complaining because there are new clues you've never seen before and it took longer to complete. Seems they "can't win for trying" as the old saying goes.
I found today's puzzle fun, clever and refreshingly more modern than most. As for the 'ambiguous' argument, that same complaint could be thrown at most clues on most days by someone who hasn't seen them a million times before.
Rex,I respectfully suggest that you put away the timer (a.k.a. the self-inflicted determination of successfully completing a puzzle) and spend a few days doing the crosswords for the pure joy of the word play.
Merry Christmas and much joy to you and your loved ones.

Questinia 11:40 AM  

@ Maruchka, good idea. It isn't every drink that can make you spontaneously start dancing a Polka... with one's Svenska mor... without music.

Monet R. Bon Mot 11:40 AM  

@Trombone Tom:

Have you ever blown a trombone out of your ass? If not, you should try it.

Malsdemare 11:50 AM  

With the exception of ODE, (I really wanted TCELLS, but figured there was no way that could be right, me being pretty science-challenged), I had to build from the SE, to the SW, DR my way to the NE and then stared at the almost completely blank NW for forever. I could not resurrect LIETO no matter how much coffee I guzzled and I didn't understand how a TRACTORBEAM holds a ship in place; I had that B and wanted a mooring buoy, which isn't really a thing, or some kind of ball?? Out and out guessed at ASPEN, tried ANita before CHITA, and then took it all out. Not a clue about the fiber or the game of thrones woman (though I did just check out the "G of T" e-book from the library, thinking I might see what the fuss is all about. If I have to wade through rape scenes, though, it'll go back to the library in a flash).

This was one of those times so many have spoken of, where I stared at a pretty empty grid "for a while" during which I painted the house,(Hi @NCA Pres), finally got a couple of long downs, and then slowly I started to see answers where before there was just confusion. TYLER off the Y, NOSTRILS off the ILS, GREEN SCREEN from the S_RE, and so on.

I don't care if it was really a Saturday puzzle. It's my favorite kind: hard but doable if I stick with it long enough.

Sherm Reinhardt 11:51 AM  

Just a little quibble here, but the Circus Maximus is not an ARENA. It's a racetrack. An circus in the ancient world is a circle or course that goes in a circle (or oval in the case of the Circus Maximus). An arena is a place where sand ("arena" in Latin) is used to sop up the blood of combatants. Of course, if you use ARENA as a synonym for STADIUM, I guess I am definitively slapped down. But if you're going to use an ancient example, you might want to stick to an ancient definition, just for the sake of us Rome nerds.

Anonymous 11:56 AM  

Since I have purchased the NYT crossword subscription, I now tend to rush through the crossword as well as the clock is always ticking. I would agree with @Mer that it does take away a lot of the enjoyment of thinking about the cleverness of the clues and answers. However, I did really enjoy the clever ambiguous clues by Robyn. This seemed more like a Medium Friday puzzle for me. C battery seemed to be the trickiest clue!

Moly Shu 12:13 PM  

@kitshef, I don't have HBO either, hell, I don't even have a TV. My Bugatti payments suck up all my money. But there is this thing called the internet....

ultramet 12:20 PM  

This is the kind of puzzle that only the author would enjoy. Definitely a Saturday.

TomAz 12:22 PM  

I'm taking today off work, getting ready for the holidays. So it feels very much like a Saturday to me and the puzzle fit right in.

I enjoyed it mostly. RAMIE was the last thing I entered.

My understanding of tractor beams is that they pull things toward the source, not hold them in place.

@Pete: "I actually watched GoT for about 5 minutes once, and decided I really didn't want to watch rape scenes, so that was it for GoT.

So, Mr. Shortz, it you can't have pop culture references without making your audience watch sexual violence, perhaps choose another reference, no?"

Hear, hear!

Malsdemare 12:34 PM  

@Moly Shu, kitshef, I don't have HBO either and my Internet service caps our download per month so movie watching is carefully planned and monitored. Two nights ago I watched the original Miracle on 34th St, in tribute to the earlier Santa Claus discussion. Last night it was "Love Actually," my favorite Christmas movie of all time. I think I need another really good movie for the next two nights; family won't be here until the 27th and I could sure use more holiday cheer of the non-liquid variety. We've been careful with the Internet use, so I can splurge! Any brilliant ideas? No "Game of Thrones" please.

Pete 12:42 PM  

As for BETSY DeVos, I would be more likely to think that she was genuinely interested in better education for children via charter schools had she not spent much more time and money (along with her heiress compatriot Susan Walton)fighting labor unions than advocating for children.

Teedmn 12:56 PM  

@jberg, good point. What alternative universe was I commenting from this morning?

Anonymous 1:12 PM  

Do non-Christians even know what a SECRET SANTA is? Is that a serious question? Would you ask if Christians know what Hanukkah is? Or Eid or Ramadan or Diwali? Would you ask if they'd ever heard of Buddha or Muhammad? What a condescending remark.

Anonymous 1:32 PM  

Good, challenging, fun puzzle.


@Anon 9:09 -- pretending to depoliticize something is a powerful form of politicization.

Anonymous 1:40 PM  

@Pete -- yes, along with the time and money she has spent fighting against LGBT rights.

Anonymous 1:46 PM  

brutally tough and finished with a 'lee to' flourish. ouch.

Anonymous 1:53 PM  

RVS had me stumped for awhile---isn't it a rule that an abbreviated answer has to have a clue containing an abbreviation? Otherwise STARGAZER and esp. TRACTOR BEAM were might oblique, seemed to me.

John 1:56 PM  

Think Star Trek.

Masked and Anonymous 2:01 PM  

OOOooow …
It's a heartache,
Nuthin but a heartache.
Hits yah when no U's late.
Hits yah at 53-Down …

The lil darlins are all hidin in the side margins, right? … didn't think so. Back to the BATCAVE to freshen this puppy up, please, Robyn.

Primo weeject stacks, in the NE and SW, so … ok.

fave clue of the holiday season, thus far: 29-A's {Warm spot in the snow}. har. Answer is kinda cool in its own way, but top 8-letter responses would all need to be of the "don't eat the yellow stuff" variety (yo, @FrankZappa). All seems related to SECRETe SANTA, somehow.

Twas indeed a formidable solvequest. Got in with LADY (& Tramp), in the NE. Finished in the NW, after wisin up to the folly of TRACTORBOOM.

fave weeject: ENE. Bond. Double Bond.
Know yer Trump appointees pick: {___ DeVos}. Wanted ERICK, for first-tries.


Thanx for the FriFun, Ms. Weintraub.

Masked & Anonymo s


xwordnut 2:29 PM  

Tough puzzle lots of fun to bring it to its knees, I am with anonymous who the hell cares what abunch of crossword geeks think about politics. Just another bubble, wake up you are the reason Trump won

Singmaster 3:26 PM  

Did I miss the rule about abbreviations not being indicated?
RV stands for Recreational Vehicle.
The clue didn't indicate it was an abbreviation.

We both got it done Friday quick after making most of the same mistakes as Rex.
Tried putting BOAT at the end of 1 Across and that slowed things up.
But I knew RAMIE and quickly saw STARGAZER.

Alex 3:29 PM  

It was difficult for me, But then, Fridays and Saturdays always are. CBATTERIES stumped me for a while, especially because I had ACTs instead of ACTA. ACTA?
Does it seem to anyone else that Rex's criticisms were more petty than usual? I think the point of STARGAZER was to be tricky.
Anyway, I had a good time solving the puzzle. Which is why I solve the puzzles.

Numinous 3:47 PM  

This was a slögg without any glögg for mitigation. While I was staring, a new barn could have grown in my back yard. LIE TO is in the front of my vocabulary so it wasn't the problem for me that it was for some of y'all. I used to make rope but RAMIE was a fiber that I'm not familiar with. Apparently something like linen or silk fabric can be made from it. Now that I think about it, I may have heard of RAMIE as a fabric but I automatically associate the word "fiber" With rope making.

Right on @Sherm Reinhardt. I'm something of a Rome nerd myself. "Flavian amphitheater e.g." might have been a better clue.

DNFed. I had to look in IMDb to get LENA. I don't have HBO either. I also fell into the FAt trap, never for a second thinking of Tramp's girlfriend. I thought the longer answers were good enough that the short gluey bits didn't bother me at all. @Robyn Weintraub is obviously not hiding out in her BAT CAVE. She's representing in the toughest part of the week.

Robert Grady 3:55 PM  

I flew through this. It felt like a Tuesday to me. It confirms my theory that Rex and I have opposite takes on most puzzles. His challenging is my easy, and his easy is my challenging.

Z 3:58 PM  

@Sherm Reinhardt - I didn't k ow the source of the word "arena," so thanks for commenting. I do think you explained why the clue is okay as a clue; ARENA is a close enough modern term for what the Circus Maximus was. I call what happened to you an "einstein," too much knowledge caused you a problem. I threw the "right" answer in without so much as a blood-soaked grain of sand.

@Donna Singmaster - Some abbreviations, acronyms, and initialisms don't require an indicator, especially late in the week (NASA comes to mind). The rule seems to be that if the shortened version is more well known than the source words the puzzle might eschew giving the solver an indication.

Both of these are examples of how the cluing can make a puzzle harder or easier. Especially late in the week a solver has to be a little more flexible when looking at plausible entries.

old timer 4:18 PM  

Hard Friday though I needed almost no help In fact the one thing I looked up was Ms DeVos's first name. But she is well known in charter school circles. Which have nothing to do with parochial or religious schools. Charter schools are run by charities using regular educational dollars; some are corporate in nature, others are one-off and usually have strong parent involvement in their boards. Because the public pays for them they cannot be religious.

Some are excellent others mediocre and the theory is that competition will raise the overall level of achievement. IMO a small number of charter schools is helpful; a larger number tends to underperform regular public schools.

Mohair Sam 4:28 PM  

Wonderfully challenging Friday puzzle. Just the way they ought to be - struggled for a toehold, got a couple, and slowly built. Tons of fun.

Had to guess the "e" for LENA, used the logic that there are more LENA's in show biz today than LaNA's - it worked. Hopefully @Rex's rants will kill GoT clues in the puzzle, and therefore kill the HBO show and that lazy bastard George R.R. Martin will have time to finish Book 6.

The only "man buns" I can recall are worn in the NBA - where they make perfect sense - HIPSTERS took me forever. Those among you who think UN driven collectivism is the solution to our environmental woes might want to study the causes of the death of the ARAL Sea.

@malsdemare - I posted a negative review of your beloved "Love, Actually" on Amazon and within a week the responses made me feel like @Evil Doug must feel on his average day here. That flick has one loyal fan base.

@kitshef - $15? Hah! HBO is $24 a month in my market - I won't pay it. We're currently researching cutting the cable cord, could save a ton of money and miss just a little of the TV we're watching now.

Unknown 4:33 PM  

This one was not that tough for me, very fast time for me. On the other hand, sometimes Rex will throw up an easy and I do nothing but struggle. A lot has to do with the odd trivia a solver may know that provides a break through in an otherwise intractable corner.

As for the politics. Pleeeze. Hilary is the only democrat for whom I have ever voted for president, so I'm no DT fan. But he won the election in accordance with our constitutional process. So get over it

Similar references from another administration as to political appointees or presidential children would not even provoke a yawn. That is the present reality. The Times is presumably neither Pravda nor the Volkischer Beobachter. It is what it is, a crossword clue relating to a person in the news. To reiterate, stop whining

Crane Poole 4:42 PM  

Tough one, fighting all the way but thrilled to have finished it, grateful for aha moments tho they be long in coming. A sure DNF on paper - but noodling around in the northwest (is that a reality show?) using NYT software I eventually found LIE TO, LENA, and RAMIE. Clever cluing, cannot complain, I expect this or something like it on (some) Fridays. Long live BETSY Palmer. I've got a secret.

Nancy 4:42 PM  

Thanks, @kitshef!

Doc John 4:48 PM  

Yay! I love it when I blow through the puzzle (10:30- a great time for me) and then Rex rates it as not only hard, but challenging.
As for the ? clues, as he always says, one man's WTF is another man's gimme. I guess I was just on the same wavelength as the constructor.
As for the GoT clue- LENA Headey has been in the "300" franchise movies (and lots of other stuff), too, but is best known for GoT.

Unknown 4:51 PM  

Rex - I enjoy seeing what will make you angry because it seems like anything does. Betsy voss is now a "normalization" because you don't agree with her. Since when do we use that term "normalisation" for someone we disagree with? You are the problem, not her.

Shawn P. 5:02 PM  

29 down Under the Charcoal

Blue Stater 5:37 PM  

Appalling. Simply appalling.

jae 6:42 PM  

Easy-medium for me. Needed to do some guessing in NW as both RAMIE and LENA (as clued - I have HBO but do not watch GoT @Pete) were WOEs. The rest went pretty quickly.

@Mohair re: cord cutting - check out KODI.

@Quasimojo - Just looked at the 2 puzzles from '95 that I'm currently working on. Pop clues: "Stimpy's TV friend" "Amiable '50s TV character" (not a gimme for an Xer or millennial), "Home Improvement (the TV show) accessories", "Speed (the movie) speeder", "Stand and Deliver star", "Actress Katey", "Winona and Mitch, e.g"....but maybe you are going back earlier than '95?

Solid, mostly smooth, liked it.

Mohair Sam 6:47 PM  

@jae - I will check it out, thanks.

kitshef 6:58 PM  

@Malsdemare - this may be too late coming, but here goes. Only tangentially holiday-related, but Edward Scissorhands or Kiss Kiss Bang Bang could be options. The former moves me to tears every time.

Malsdemare 7:06 PM  

@kitshef. Thanks, I was considering Edward Scissorhands; this might push me into it.

Mohair Sam 8:16 PM  

@Kitshef - Scissorhands for the snow, yeah. Forgot all about that gem. Good pick, we're gonna watch it again.

Phil 8:58 PM  

'Virtually' has been so misused I suspect it has forced it's way into the dictionary, haven't looked. One has to consider near or NIGH as possible miscluings. It is virtually impossible to expect a constructor to not misclue it.

It should say, yeah it is 'that' even though We know it isn't really. Not it is very very close to 'that'.

Moly Shu 9:45 PM  

@Malsdemare, my fav Christmas movies are Die Hard and Christmas Vacation. Maybe you better try Edward.
Interested to find out what you decide.

Russell 9:49 PM  

"Monie In The Middle" is a sweet blast from the past. We were wishing 51A was clued that way while solving, and so were extra-stoked to see the video here. Mind meld!

wgh 9:52 PM  

i got like four answers, so, yeah.

kitshef 9:55 PM  

@Moly Shu + Malsdemare - Yes, absolutely to Die Hard.

Malsdemare 10:56 PM  

Mr. mal nixed Die Hard; we watched 'The Thin Man," which was fine. I do think I need to see Die Hard again, if only for Alan Rickman. Thanks all, for the recommendations.

Bill Weeden 9:37 AM  

Please explain to me (no one else appears to be confused) the following clues and answers: "resembles an n when lowercase"? WHY? And "double bond"? HOW? (I thought of the Roman numerals "III" which indicate two more people with the same name, but that's not a suffix.) . PLEASE explain!

Unknown 10:31 AM  

Hi, @Bill Weeden. If nobody else has done so, let me try to explain.

Here is a lower-case ETA, η, do you see how it looks like an "n"?

A double bond is a chemistry concept. Compounds such as ethylENE, CH2=CH2, propENE, CH3-CH=CH2, etc., etc. have double bonds. The capitalization I have used to illustrate shows that ENE is the suffix.

Best wishes for the holidays, and feel free to contact me off-Rex.

Leapfinger 3:13 PM  

What's Eating Gilbert Grape?, just as a general Deppian recommendation. Strange as any of his movies though it was, my little mum also found it a most beguiling movie, for reasons best known to none.

S.T.Lauder 4:25 PM  

MaybellENE apparently was a bigaMST; she had a double bond.

ncarterette 9:06 AM  

What does 16 across mean ? Do not understand

spacecraft 12:47 PM  

A challenge of the first water, this one did indeed IMPRESSME. Bendy clues abound; on first glance I didn't know where my way in might be. Finally I resorted to something I seldom do: check for plurals, comparatives and superlatives. If I can even get an S or ER or EST somewhere...and then I found it. "Contact, say" wants an S at the end, so: LENS--then BASAL metabolism and the convoluted journey was under way.

There's one item I need explained; I think maybe it's a cultural gap in my KEN: why is a "Circle of friends at a party, perhaps" HORA?? Is that, like, some kind of dance where they get in a circle? If so, unless friends routinely do this at parties, it's a WEIRD clue.

(SECRET)SANTA baby, if you just bring me DOD LENA Horne I won't ask for anything else. Amazingly only one writeover: I had daTA for ACTA, soon corrected. For a change it was the SE that proved to be the puzzle's most DEFENSIVE section. Broke into it with a double guess just on the Y intersection with TYLER/HYDRA. Triumph factor sky-high. Those triple-threes in the NE/SW get a little wifty, but still a solid birdie.

Diana,LIW 12:52 PM  

Agree with the challenging rating - too so for me. I had to look a couple up before I could proceed with the solve. Another one of those puzzles where I was happy to get some of the obscure stuff I got. Once I got going, I enjoyed it.

Don't know TRACTORBEAMs. Started with COL, but MST made sense, too. Knew RAMIE - didn't know that about ASPEN trees.

TYLER in the puzzle reminded me of MTM's passing.

demo/reno at a 2-week standstill. Sad.

Diana, Lady-in-Waiting for a kitchen

Thursday googler 1:05 PM  

Greek lower case letter eta is written like a lower case n with the last stroke finishing below the line and turning in a little [like an elephant trunk]

centralscrewtinizer 1:23 PM  

So, guessing a VOPTEN is not a creature that has listicles instead of nostrils.
Forgot Siva was male and in my pure joy of finishing never noticed the obVious error.

Anonymous 1:26 PM  

This one brought the phonies out who rave over every incomprehensible and thoroughly unfair puzzle, shouting to all how easy it was and how they did it in
slightly under their usual 26 seconds....

Not fun, not fair, rejected.

Anonymous 1:35 PM  

From Syndication Land:
I liked this puzzle because at first pass, I couldn't get much, then got a toehold at "bat cave" and completed it in a counter-clockwise direction. Sometimes it is easier to solve from the bottom up!

Burma Shave 3:04 PM  




leftcoastTAM 4:03 PM  

Worked from the SE to the NW, where the ship sank. Did get the nautical-ese LIETO and the BEAM but not the TRACTOR to go with it, which led to a cluster of bad guesses and errors in the corner. Among them was mts (mountains) as "national park sights" instead of RVS.

Not a happy camper.

rondo 4:04 PM  

A lotta stuff across the north gave me problems, like data for ACTA and dos for FAD, but it all worked out in the end. No write-overs south of the ARAL Sea, so the north was definitely HARSHER and an inkfest, to boot.

They have ninety-some percent the same DNA as humans, but do you know why gorillas have such big NOSTRILS? Bigger fingers.

I won’t LIETO you, I’d like to MEET TOPTEN yeah baby LENA Headey in a SKILODGE somewhere. ORLY. And Mary TYLER Moore was classic.

It was hard to get my TRACTORBEAM focused in the north, but all in all this is the type of puz that will IMPRESSME.

rain forest 5:20 PM  

Er, "for awhile" I thought this was going to be DNF, but the gimmes ODE,LADY, BAT CAVE,and the whole section around ARAL/ARDEN gave me hope. I can't remember the order, but I think the South/SE came next and it was great. From there HARSHER and ORLY let me move into the NE which actually was sort of easy.

The SW and the NW were hardest for me. Write-overs LeE TO, and either EEG or EKG took some time to sort out. NIGH could have been Near and IMPRESS ME took longer than any other answer.

Man, that was some great, great cluing. Bigly. Really hated to have to enter BETSY, I a former educator, and even a Canadian. What is going on there?

You've probably all seen this, but the Youtube video "Netherlands Second" has to be viewed. Brilliant.

Loved this puzzle.

Longbeachlee 7:31 PM  

I thought hipsters went out with the 50s

rondo 8:10 PM  

Oh no. HIPSTERS are back, or in a different incarnation. With a vengeance. Some are those who were "yuppies" in the 80s deem themselves HIPSTERS by virtue of lifestyle or fashion or music preference, etc., and others are the millennials who don't know which end is up but try to be too, too cool in their sustainable urban lifestyle. You know them when you see them. First word that comes to mind - shallow. Pretending to be deep.

sdcheezhd 8:10 PM  

Came here from syndiland to see Rex's reaction to Betsy DeVos and was not disappointed. Interesting to see that of 10-12 mentions she has only 2 fans, and one of those doesn't even know her name. This was definitely a bottom up solve.

Bears Beset by Betsy 4:22 AM  

Betsy DeVos......UGH...
Her husband inherited a fortune from a pyramid scheme called Amway. She's from the Blackwater clan.
“There’s nothing in life that’s truly free” she told Bernie Sanders during her Senate hearing. It takes a lot of gall to inherit billions and then spout fiscal bromides!
She wants tax dollars to support her theocratic, creationist, claptrap. Stop her confirmation. Contact every Republican Senator (Especially the younger ones like Marco Rubio,) they all think that they'll run for president someday. Let them know that their vote will be "noted."

The NW corner took about 1/3 of my time. Good puzzle. Liked the GREENSCREEN clue.

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