Manatee's order whose name comes from Greek myth / SAT 12-31-16 / Noble Italian family name shared by three popes / Preservers of plant specimens / Analogues of circuit solicitors / Cosplay fanfic are parts of it / Manhattan topper

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Constructor: Jeff Chen

Relative difficulty: Challenging

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: UNOBTAINIUM (35A: Hypothetical miracle material) —
In fiction, engineering, and thought experiments, unobtainium is any fictional, extremely rare, costly, or impossible material, or (less commonly) device needed to fulfill a given design for a given application. The properties of any particular unobtainium depend on the intended use. For example, a pulley made of unobtainium might be massless and frictionless; however, if used in a nuclear rocket, unobtainium would be light, strong at high temperatures, and resistant to radiation damage. The concept of unobtainium is often applied flippantly or humorously. For instance, unobtainium is described as being stronger than helium, and lighter than air. // The word unobtainium derives humorously from unobtainable with the suffix -ium, the conventional designation for a chemical element. It pre-dates the similar-sounding IUPAC systematic element names, such as ununennium. An alternative spelling, unobtanium is sometimes used (for example, for the crypto-currency Unobtanium), based on the spelling of metals such as titanium. (wikipedia)
• • •

When you're getting your difficulty from stuff like HERBARIA (13A: Preservers of plant specimens) and SIRENIA (18A: Manatee's order, whose name comes from Greek myth) and PARADROP (52A: Delivery of supplies by air, in a way), it's time to rethink what it is you're doing. I liked the parts of this puzzle that were hard for the right reasons, but the obscurities were painful, as was VIRTU (16D: Knowledge of fine arts) and the THE of THE ANDES. And PELHAM, another proper noun nightmare (2D: The "P" of P.G. Wodehouse). I tried to read the wikipedia entry for UNOBTAINIUM beyond the first two paragraphs, but ugh, too much NERD CULTURE for me, and not the fun kind (35A: Hypothetical miracle material). The tiresome kind. The Comic Book Guy kind. Just because you have the world's biggest wordlist or whatever doesn't mean you need to use everything on it. Just go ahead and delete SIRENIA right now. No one will miss it. It is too Maleskan for this world. Kiss it goodbye.


If I just ignore UNOBTAINIUM, the SW and middle were pretty decent. I must've spent a couple minutes roaming this grid before I got my first bit of traction with ACE / ANACONDA. Started in NW and got absolutely nothing. That 1A clue (1A: Join, as two pieces of metal by application of heat and pressure) is like a parody of the "as-" type clue, i.e. clues that follow the pattern [Verb, as hypothetical object of that verb]. Knowing precisely none of the proper nouns in the NW meant that there was no way I was getting in there until I managed to back ERASURE and MISCREANT in there, and even then progress was slow and iffy. I thought the director's name might be LIN, but I hated that movie so much I've tried (successfully!) to forget virtually everything about it. It wasn't terrible so much as pointless, which is actually kinda worse than terrible. Terrible is at least distinct, and possibly funny or otherwise memorable. "Star Trek Beyond" was none of these things. Nobody's really sure it actually happened. It's more theoretical than actual at this point. We assume it happened, but did it? How would you know? Seriously, it wasn't good.

Botched the Battle of Marathon answer at first, which is slightly humiliating. Wrote in SPARTANS. At least I had ... the time period and general region ... right. Ugh. Do people really know [The TV network in "Network"]? Again, PARE your wordlist maybe a little. Is UBS supposed to be a pun? You B.S.? If so, is CBS a pun? It's actually more compelling, pun-wise, than UBS. Is [Strips to pieces?] a pun on "rips to pieces"? I get that BACON BITS are "pieces" of bacon "strips," but I'm having trouble identifying the exact wordplay in the clue. MISCREANT, GO-GETTER and PRINT RUN are fun answers. None of the rest of this did much for me. Seriously, if you'd asked me before I started this puzzle, "Hey, Rex, what's HERBARIA?" I'd've said "The ... uh ... area? ... near Herb?" "Herb's in a real bad mood right now, you're gonna wanna avoid the whole HERBARIA." I'll spare you my SIRENIA musings. Hope your New Year's Eve is swell.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Anonymous 12:20 AM  

SPOTWELD dropped right in, for whatever reason, and with 1 across in, the NW fell pretty quickly. I liked UNOBTANIUM but given the NERD CULTURE references I'd have clued it with a reference to Avatar, where it was a pretty significant plot point. Agree that SIRENIA (my last entry), PARADROP, and HERBARIA need to be DROPped.

Unknown 12:31 AM  

Between the crazy last ten minutes or so of the Orange Bowl and @Rex's review of @Jeff Chen's puzzle, this was worth staying up for. Thanks for the enlightenment about UNOBTAINIUM, which doesn't appear on any of the Periodic Tables that I've ever studied or taught from.

In terms of my solving process, I got to the point where those "check" and "reveal" buttons for on-line solving sure came in handy (faster than taking the PELHAM 123 to Google Wodehouse's given name), and had to wonder whether NERD CULTURE can be classified as an oxymoron. I would also speculate that @BEQ's puzzle from earlier in the week may have been a setup for the BRAD answer today. Can someone please explain how you get to element #50, i.e., TIN, from "Oscar composition, mostly," and did anyone else consider BORGIA as the name of the Italian family?

Unfinished from yesterday--please add my voice to those calling for civility in our discourse. @Kitshef, @thfenn, and @Malsdemare were particularly poignant in this regard. Thank you so much, and Happy New Year to all!

Sue T. 12:56 AM  

Ugh, I had to cheat (I looked up SIRENIA -- was totally stuck in the NE corner). I hate to do that, but this one just defeated me.

Anonymous 1:03 AM  


Tin is main metal used in an Oscar statue -dave

Anonymous 1:08 AM  

Unobtainium is a fairly common engineering term, It would describe am element (part) whose performance is better than the current state of the art.

jae 1:09 AM  

Finally a tough puzzle and a DNF for me. I went with SeRENIA/VeRTU (which apparently is also correct) figuring serpent might be part of the derivation. Alas, not. So, I'm with @Rex on kissing it goodbye. The bottom was slightly easier than the top with the SE the easiest corner.

There's a lot of stuff to like here. I actually remembered UNOBTAINIUM from @anon 12:20 Avatar once I filled it in, but the clue was no help. MISCREANT, SANCTIONED, and CADENCE are fine words.

T-BONES are not really alternatives to rump. One you eat at home out of a crockpot and the other you eat at Ruth's Chris or Morton's.

Zippy and tough, liked it.

Anonymous 1:17 AM  

I spent a long time looking up things on Google. I learned a few new words but overall the puzzle was a big disappointment due to obscure words. I pride myself in having a huge vocabulary but I have never heard of words like "unobtainium" in my life even though I have a doctorate degree.

Larry Gilstrap 1:27 AM  

That was one difficult Saturday effort for this solver. Lots of things I had never heard of topped off by some devious misdirection. My first toehold came as I dropped in MISCREANT, a shot in the dark for certain. My NERD CULTURE involves Moby-Dick, so the mythological origin of SIRENIA for an aquatic mammal is almost elegant.

Clifford ODETS provides some classic fill from way back. Haven't seen that one in years. I BELIEVE for every drop of rain that falls a flower grows, was a line from one of his plays. I made that up.

Years ago, my students were fans of the Rocky Horror Picture Show and would head to the midnight movie with toast, confetti, squirt guns, and whatever was needed. Janet walks on, the audience yells, "Slut!" BRAD walks on and they scream, "Asshole!" I never experienced this in person, but I'm certain some of you 40-somethings have stories.

Finally, I like the concept of the place holder, the UNOBTAINIUM, the cure for the common cold, the fitness pill, clean energy generation, the Silver Bullet. Ever watch the old TV series "Mission Impossible"? One episode required the use of a silent jackhammer. Perhaps some problems have no possible solution. HARSH reality, indeed!

chefwen 1:36 AM  

Turned into a Googlefest for me. Quit halfway through,

Great Ahmed Kahn 1:36 AM  

UBS was a gimme for me, as "Network" (1976) is a great movie and a classic and everyone should see it. Also, in the film, the UBS logo is identical to the Chicago Cubs logo but without the "C" surrounding it.

Unobtainium was also easy with just a cross or two.

SteampunkSpider 1:37 AM  

I was surprised to beat my average time by 4 minutes as it felt like I was stuck for long periods of time solving this puzzle. Then again, I generally beat my average as I've acquired more skill over the past two years of solving on the ipad. I kind of liked sirenia. I knew that I had known the connection between manatees and mythology, so it was fun when it finally surfaced. I've always wondered how long someone would have to be at sea to mistake a manatee for a mermaid.

Unknown 1:57 AM  

I mostly agree with Rex. Challenging: some parts in a good way, others in a bad way.

My brain and this crossword were not on the same wavelength, and I had a ton of type-overs. Listed in order from most justified to what-was-I-thinking?

Cosplay and fanfic are parts of it: GEEK CULTURE >> NERD CULTURE. Nerds are four-eyes with their face in a book. Geeks are obsessive fans. GEEK CULTURE better fits the clue.

People on the wrong end of a landslide: MINORITY >> ALSO RANS. One of the first answers that I typed in, MINORITY didn't stay in my grid long. Even though I had the word play figured out, it took forever to figure out ALSO RANS.

An emoticon is a simple form of it: EMOJI ART >> ASCII ART. Should have realized that I was wrong because of identical EMO- prefixes.

Publishing order: FIRST RUN >> PRINT RUN. FIRST RUN is more of a film than a publishing term.

Noble Italian family name shared by three popes: URBINO >> ORSINI. There were seven Pope Urbans but no Pope Urbino.

Preservers of plant specimens: HAT BOXES >> HERBARIA. That NW corner took forever to fall, and brainstorms like this did not help.

Term of endearment: LAMP >> LAMB. I had LAM_, a light went on, and I put in LAMP. "Oh, my darling little LAMP, how are you?" "Can I get you anything, dear LAMP?" My brain just wasn't working correctly tonight.

In defense of SIRENIA, that was answer could be deduced if you knew that manatees were confused for mermaids by drunken sailors. Having HERBARIA in addition to SIRENIA does seem excessive.

I only know UNOBTAINIUM from Avatar, and I remember thinking, when I first heard it, that that name was horrible. It immediately whacked my suspension of disbelief and took me outside of the movie. Not the blue aliens , not the floating chunks of rock, not the flying dinosaur creatures—that terrible name for that dumb MacGuffin of an element.

I liked SPOT WELD and its parody clue [Join, as two pieces of metal by application of heat and pressure]. Oh, that kind of joining! For similar reasons, I liked the word decorticate in the clue for PARE. I'm imagining a college textbook entitled Orange Decortication: Theory and Practice. That reminds me, a coworker told me a story yesterday about her first job. It was her first day of work at her first job, and she had lunch across from a fellow employee. This employee was a bit of prankster, and he weirded her out by staring at her while taking a bite of his orange, peel and all. (Now that's commitment to a bit!) Naturally, she thought he was psychotic. They later became roommates.

I have seen every single episode of every single Star Trek series as well as every single Star Trek movie ... except Star Trek Beyond. I've had enough. The new movies are just profiteering, and it's well past time that I stop letting myself and my loyalty get taken advantage of.

I liked the cluesfor UNSCREW [Turn loose?] and HALO [Dome light?]. I thought that a few of the tricky clues stretched things too far: SHAWL [Nice thing after getting the cold shoulder?] and BACON-BITS [Strips to pieces?]. I liked the single-word clues for CADENCE [Beat] and GO-GETTER [Pistol].

@Anonymous (1:17am) - "Doctorate degree," lol!

puzzle hoarder 2:09 AM  

SIRENIA was the bridge to far for me. That was the one unknown I couldn't make up. I had VERTU, HEAD and THEINDES to form SEANII. That last one is pretty ugly but so is ASCII. I had LEAD at 14D for a long time. It was the key for guessing VENICE. 12D's clue had me thinking islands the whole time hence INDES. The rest of the puzzle was difficult but fine. This puzzle was what all Saturdays should be, by that I mean really push you to your limits. Now I can get up for work in less than three hours. Back to stupid reality.

Annie 2:09 AM  

I did pretty well at the top and bottom with some hopeful guessing -- miscreant, print run, Sirenia, paradrop, no wonder -- but without nerd culture and unobtainable, I kept wanting lamb to be cara, and sanction to be say yes to. After a lot of staring and trying to will letters to obey me, I finally googled and finished. There wasn't a lot of joy in it, though, probably because the great "AHA!" never came.

jae 2:27 AM  

@Beijingrrl - Sirens of course - D'oh - I'd like to think I would've fixed it if I'd stared a little longer but VeRTU looked fine so additional staring was off the table.

Anonymous 2:45 AM  

Much obliged to BEQ's effort earlier this week -- the first time in my 42 years I'd ever gathered brad had anything to do with hardware/carpentry (although in classic crosswording style, I still have no idea what one really is, but that doesn't pay the bills in these parts.) Funny how such clues often bunch.

I am not a robot 6:01 AM  

I love spot weld, herbaria, upcard, paradrop, and most of all unobtanium. I didn't get any of them but I'll shoehorn them into future conversations somehow in one of my misguided attempts to feel cool and worldly. And just wait til I drop decorticate. @Beijingrrl, hilarious on the manatee.

Trombone Tom 6:48 AM  

I liked this one, altho @Rex's criticisms are on the mark. I filled in the NW and SE corners and then came to a full stop. Let it sit for a couple of hours and then came back to try again.

A degree in metallurgy let me come up with SPOTWELD and UNOBTAINIUM (also remembered it from "Avatar"). Being on Jeff Chen's wavelength helped with MISCREANT.

Never would have come up with SIRENIA but for the crosses. And I remembered having seen "decorticate" but not the meaning.

I have a niece who is really into cosplay, but didn't immediately tie that to NERD CULTURE.

We don't have a Pottery Barn so I was thinking cups, saucers, and plates before LINENS.

Last to fall were BACON BITS and HULA HOOP.

This one was a real workout!

John Child 7:13 AM  

>> I tried to read the wikipedia entry for UNOBTAINIUM beyond the first two paragraphs, but ugh, too much NERD CULTURE for me, and not the fun kind...The tiresome kind. The Comic Book Guy kind.

Huh? From someone who maintains that comic books are serious literature?

To avoid some of the feedback that came last time I commented on this subject, let me say that graphic novels like Maus and Here absolutely are serious literature, worth paying for and worth the time to read. But IMO, most "comics" serve best as fireplace kindling. Again, sorry @Rex. I have an opinion but do not intend to offend.

Anonymous 7:14 AM  

Good riddance to 2016.

Sorry Melania - I hope Donald and Vladimir are very happy together.

johnnymcguirk 7:30 AM  

First: today's puzzle- average Saturday for me, not much to be offended by . Can't think of anything, actually. I liked "also-rans" and the clue for "cherry," not sure whether Will was taking a dig at Rex and friends with "whines" I'd like to think so. I'm not a speed solver, partially because I'm not that fast a solver and partially because I like to stop and smell the roses, and I find that when I race through I miss some enjoyment. Also, especially on Saturday, I sometimes get stuck, walk away for awhile and then come back hours later and I crush it. That's what happened today. I filled most of it last night got stuck, went to sleep , then finished easily this morning . Spent about 20 minutes over 10 hours I guess that counts as a ten hour solve. Anyway, good puzzle. Second:
was reading this blog and commentary yesterday (interesting and intelligent for the most part imo), I wondered how The Times crossword has clued mass murderers in history and whether they were "normalized." Fortunately, there's this website, that most of you are familiar with, I'm sure, called xword info.I first put Hitler in the search box. Apparently old Adolph has been banished, last entry was 10/12/84 and fifteen times in preceding forty two years-my favorite 3/21/43 : author of a bestseller. I then thought of Mao- great crossword name -three letters two vowels-96 Shortz era entries . I didn't see one vilifying him. He was the biggest mass murderer in history, yet he was benignly clued every time, most recently 11/20/16 and fourteen times in the last two years. Not once do I recall Rex Parker or his commentators complaining (I don't read every day but quite often) about "normalizing" Mao, yet they're upset about the normalization of Tiffany Trump and Betsy DeVos. Wow.
Third: Happy New Year

Glimmerglass 8:15 AM  

@Rex is correct that this is a challenging puzzle. The rest of his review is sour grapes: "That word I missed is not worh knowing." Boo hoo, Rex. (I missed on HERBARes, LeN, and DsS. My bad -- I should have known DAS, which might have got me the other two.)

r.alphbunker 8:19 AM  

Googled PELHAM and LIN but otherwise a clean solve. Checking the puzzle against Jeff Chen's word list showed that only UBS was rated less than 50. It was given a 25.

FWIW, now has an option to hide either the down or across clues so they are not available during the solve. This option is definitely not recommended for today's puzzle!

Details are here

Loren Muse Smith 8:22 AM  

Well, ya got me, Jeff. With @Martin A’s “first” RUN firmly in place and having absolutely no idea about ASCII ART, what are you gonna do? ˉ\_(ツ)_/ˉ

My maverick first didn’t follow a “rule” then the “lead.” I never would have thought of HERD.

I laughed at LOPS for the verb to vamoose the superfluonium. Big word, that. I was going for a kinder, gentler “cuts.” LOPS feels like Samurai Editor ala Belushi. Often times? Often times? Times????? Where’s my sword? Whack. Times falls to the floor, flopping around.

@Martin A - laughed at your term of endearment “lamp.” Hah.

My preserver of plant specimens was “hay bales” and then “hay barns.” @Martin A again – “hat boxes” works, too, because, well, some of the flowers and plants that adorn those hats are startling.

I don’t mean to brag, but since we’re all cliquish friends here, then you know damn well oh hell yeah, I mean to brag. Anyway, I can weld. Mig weld, stick weld, spot weld… my next lesson is oxi-fuel welding. I have to wait just a bit longer ‘til my eyebrows grow back from using some dual shield wire in a large Esab machine. .045 flux core wire and C25 gas. Just for kicks, I decided to try and do a butt weld on 3/8" plate, one pass, no bevel. Impressed? So I set the pieces about 1/4" apart and turned up the heat -something like 33 volts and 650 IPM. I was running over 400 amps. Made a nice bead about 3/4" wide and went completely to the bottom of the root no problem. But I did set my eyebrows on fire. Oops.

Man, I tell you, @Beijingrrl, if I were a sailor who mistook a manatee for a siren, I’d just keep that little tidbit to myself.

Of course, UNOBTAINIUM fascinated me. Do we all have our personal unobtainia? I’ve sat here and really considered this. I think if I had to name only one, it’d be VIRTU. And even then it’d mainly be so that I could be a little priss-pot show off. I don’t Get opera or painting or Nathalie Sarraute. But I do have glimmers sometimes of what it must feel like – I’m stunned by the way the light shines through the fingers of the little girl in Georges de la Tour’s Saint Joseph the Carpenter, the way the soprano’s voice sounds just like a flute in that Mozart Queen of the Night aria. Or the line from The Great Gatsby, “and now the orchestra is playing yellow cocktail music..” Yellow music. Yellow. Music. Cool. Oh, and that last line from a Yeats poem had me going back and reading it over and over –

“And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?”

Bet it’s a *&^% manatee squeezed into her Spanx and headed off to happy hour. Hey, Sailor, is that a sea cucumber in your pocket….?

Sir Hillary 8:31 AM  

Lots of obscure stuff, but I like hard Saturdays so no WHINES from me. Despite having most letters, it took me a long time to finalize UPCARD, CADENCE, BACONBITS and, of course, UNOBTAINIUM.

I liked the one for HALO, but several of the "?" clues seemed forced. The ones for HULAHOOP and BACONBITS in particular.

Saw "Manchester by the Sea" last night. Brutal subject matter, but it will be NOWONDER if Casey Affleck wins a TIN statue in March.

Lise 8:31 AM  

Rex, I loved your pun on HERBARIA. If you pronounce it differently, it could also be the opera solo sung by Herb (maybe not - all my opera knowledge comes from crosswords, so there may be gaps).

When I was an engineer for Sperry Marine Systems, we in the Nerd Habitrail *loved* the term UNOBTAINIUM. Used it whenever possible, and not limited to engineering projects. Hey, nerds/geeks do puzzles too!

Also, I like learning new words, even if they're old ones. And I'm a big P.G. Wodehouse fan so that one was easy for me.

I thought this puzzle was great. Thanks, Mr. Chen!

Unknown 8:34 AM  

This was actually a pretty easy Saturday for me. Probably because I knew Sirenia, unobtainium and Pelham immediately. I guess spending my reading time tumbling down wiki-holes instead of reading fiction pays off on occasion.

Z 8:39 AM  

VIRTU has nothing to do with the fine arts in my experience.

Dorothy Biggs 8:40 AM  

I can only repeat what I've said many times...(this analogy seems to work for me in describing how I react to the personalities of puzzles)...but this puzzle and I would probably not be "friends." I wouldn't dislike this puzzle and I would respect this puzzle's intelligence and wit, it's just that I would prefer to not be around it for extended periods of time...yea even, avoid it.

I'd probably speak with it at a party as I was waiting to get my third glass of wine, but I'd keep the conversation to a superficial level knowing that if we stood there very long, it would only be a very short while before we'd start talking about computers, sci-fi fantasy, and UNOBTAINIUM. Or authors I've never read.

So, hey...I'm sure this puzzle is nice and probably ridiculously intelligent...but we just aren't interested in the same things. We'd probably both have a great time at the party because we know a lot of the same people. But this puzzle would be on one end of the nerd spectrum and I would be on the other...two ships passing in the night. And in the day. Waving to each other with a smile and a nod. I hesitate to say it would be wearing a fedora, but for some reason I picture it wearing a fedora. And it probably drinks really hoppy beers.

Z 8:53 AM  

@johnnymcguirk - Ché and Mao's frequent appearances have both been subjected to commentariat disapproval. Idi Amin has also come up. And Castro. And Stalin. And Jewfro. And Afro. And lay versus lie. And illin. And Obama. So, yeah, anything political is going to get chewed over here.

evil doug 9:04 AM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
evil doug 9:09 AM  

Hope never to visit a cath lab...

I paradropped stuff out of my beloved C-130, so that came easy. Not always on target, but that's another story (sorry, General....).

If you want a thrilling but also fun old movie, check out "The Taking of Pelham 123"--the original, with the brilliant Walter Matthau.

Never heard of unobtainium, but I knew lots about upsidaisium thanks to watching Rocky and Bullwinkle. From Wikipedia: "Upsidaisium is the first story arc from the second season of Rocky and His Friends. With 36 segments it was the second-longest of all Rocky and Bullwinkle story arcs, and concerns their efforts to reclaim Bullwinkle's Uncle's Upsidaisium mine."

kitshef 9:12 AM  

First word in was HERBARIA, then PELHAM. Fourth word in was SIRENIA. PERSIANS was also a gimme. And still this played very, very hard. For someone who didn't have those right off the bat, and didn't know UNOBTANIUM, this must have been almost impossible.

As you can probably tell, I loved this puzzle for the same reasons @Rex hated it, inparticular HERBARIA and SIRENIA are great words.

If I were going to rant, it would be about ORSINI, which needed every cross and still looked wrong.

Dorothy Biggs 9:16 AM  

@johnnymcquirk: "Normalizing" Mao is different than normalizing Trump. Mao is a leader of a different country...a country that doesn't have our constitution and our history of electing an opposition and having a peaceful transition of power. Our elected presidents, love 'em or hate 'em, have generally been, at the very least educated in the ways of government and have a desire to work within the constitution to do what's best for the citizens. So Mao is indeed a terrible world leader who did terrible things. Mentioning him in a xword is not normalizing but validating (which is why Adolf isn't in puzzles anymore). And yes, that validation is controversial and rides a very fine line.

But this thing with Trump, "normalizing," is that we must never think that it is okay (or "normal") for our leader to be as uneducated, as ham fisted, as narcissistic, and so utterly arrogant as to ignore constitutional mandates to his office., e.g., business conflicts of interest. That's it. Validating Trump is not the issue here. He is not a murderer or a tyrant. He is just so far off the scale for an American president that we need to never accept his election or his tweeting or his lack of direction or his appointments of outspoken racists to his cabinet as "normal."

The references to Trump's family is, for many, a step toward embracing Trump and his family in the same way we've always embraced our president's family. But his family won't live in the White House. His children have been appointed to an advisory role in setting up the administration and are, ostensibly, taking over his business as part of the "blind trust." His family tweets out lies and propaganda (easily researched on Google). His wife is possibly here illegally. In short...they are not "normal" presidential family material. to validating Mao and Hitler and Amin...and yes to being very sensitive to "normalizing" a Trump presidency. It is, by every account and metric, NOT NORMAL. And not "not normal" in a good way.

evil doug 9:20 AM  

God, NCA. We get it. Now shut up.

Dorothy Biggs 9:27 AM  

@evil doug: Funny how you attempt to take the high road and yet are the one who responds this way. You have no credibility, sir. You're just noise.

I am not a robot 9:30 AM  

@Loren, brilliant. @Evil, what a memory. This puzzle is bringing out the best in the Round Table. Somebody, please use the word horticulture in a sentence. Or herbaria.

Nancy 9:32 AM  

After struggling with this bear of a puzzle in every section, I finally ended up doing 3/4 of it, with the exception of SeRENIA/VeRTU -- which I had guessed at. But oh, that awful, awful NW corner! Even after cheating on PELHAM (and I already had the P,L and M) it was ungettable for me, and would have continued to be, even if I'd stared at it till all the mavericks came home. Having STOLE instead of SHAWL (1D), MEDICI instead of ORSINI (3D), and OLD GUARD instead of ALSO RANS (15A) made things even worse. Everything else in that section was completely unknown to me, except for ERASURE (which I had), and WHINES and LANE, which I didn't. BTW, I don't think a LANE is a part of a basketball court; a LANE is something the player creates for himself by running a pattern. You don't actually see any physically makred LANES on a court, do you? Anyone?

How do I feel about this puzzle? @NCA Pres's droll 8:40 comment sums it up very well. Although I did love UNOBTAINIUM, even though I've never heard of it.

Teedmn 9:32 AM  

SPOTWELD and SHAWLS - no problem, first entries. And we all know, as the NW goes so goes the puzzle... Yeah, about that - those two early entries got me WHINES, TBONES, WARE, ERASURE, and LANE but that left two big holes at 13A and 15A. It all filled in eventually but it left me uneasy for a while.

Two nasty areas were UNOBTAINIUM crossing U_S and CNE_. I must have seen UNOBTAINIUM in a different puzzle because I finally thought of it and rescued that area but I was staring at a possible DNF for a while. And the other spot was SIRENIA crossing ASCIIART. I had _SCI_ART/SIREN_A. The leap to putting in an I there wasn't so huge but it did give me pause. And like @Beijingrrl, I pondered the likelihood of manatees = sirens. I even Googled manatees, post-solve, to look at images. Maybe they had cream soda eyes, a slender rump, flirtatious anything? Nope, that is one drunk sailor.

One advantage of reading this blog and Xwordinfo on a daily basis meant I knew enough about Jeff Chen to guess NERD as the beginning of 27A. Definitely a seed entry, was my guess. Nice Saturday puzzle, JC.

Djspiff 9:49 AM  

As for the "strips to pieces", I took the wordplay as it's BACON strips to BITS (pieces) and it was actually my second or third word to fall on this one. Struggled mightily in the NW corner, but it all fell into place after Googling PG Wodehouse.

Blue Stater 9:53 AM  

Nonononono, Rex, Maleska never would have published a monster like this one, a horror for all the reasons you state and more. I think it's the editor, not this constructor, who needs to rethink what he's doing (and has needed to for a l-o-o-o-n-g time). I'm not holding my breath.

Moly Shu 9:54 AM  

@Rex didn't like a Jeff Chen puzzle? Big surprise, or should I say NO WONDER. I remember UNOBTAINIUM from some other movie where they had to go to the earths core and detonate nukes to get the core circulating which in turn would fix climate problems or ozone holes or something. Anyway, the vehicle used to get to the core was made out of UNOBTAINIUM. 3 sessions totaling 51 minutes, so yea, difficult. Biggest problem was leaD before HERD for way too long and afar before SANE which made the NE take up 3/4 of the solve time.
@Ncaprez, we get it, really. You don't like Trump. But maybe, just maybe there are people who don't share your views. You can disparage them, call them names, whatever. They still don't agree with you. Deal with it. (With apologies to @LMS) Sheesh!
Happy New Year all, I think I'll go get all liquored up tonight.

AliasZ 9:58 AM  

UNOBTAINIUM is a sarcastic name for material an ordinary product is made from that causes it to have an extraordinary price tag. I have heard it used and used it myself since the 1970's. It was the MacGuffin in the movie "Avatar," spelled UNOBTANIUM.

I liked Jeff Chen's puzzle just fine. It is often fun to rediscover words you thought you had forgotten, like "herbarium" or "sirenia." Or that SANCTION is an auto-antonym (Janus word) that can have opposite meanings depending on context. As "clip" can mean to attach or to snip off.

NERD CULTURE is akin to pop, drug, high and any number of cultures populating our society. There is more VIRTÙ in some than in others. Attaching the word "culture" to a varied range of behaviors, habits or social groups or settings doesn't make them all of equal valù.

Why are the HERBARIA
Placed in a gray area
Between the aquaria
In the land of SIRENIA,
Just north of Unobtainia?
The maidens
Do not know.

A malaprop
As a MISCREANT might:
Happy New Year to all
And to all a good plight!

Loren Muse Smith 10:18 AM  

@Evil - you shoot from the hip. I admire that. Because of you, I've dialed it back a bit on the T-RUMP.

Greater Fall River Committee for Peace & Justice 10:24 AM  

On one of Christopher Columbus' voyages in the Caribbean, he noted in his diary, We saw mermaids today, They are not half as beautiful as their paintings. I BELIEVE he saw manatees.

GILL I. 10:35 AM  

HERB ARIA = Thymes solo?
@Rex kinda/sorta nailed it today. I kept thinking Maleska the entire HERBARIO ASCIIART UNOBTAINIUM CATH scene. LAMB? I liked the LOL of @Martin's LAMP except I had babe. My mom, though, use to say "Be a LAMB and get me another martini."
@Blue Stater. I remember a Maleska CHINCHONA. Gaaa - he came up with some doozies. Still, I remembered that South American tree that no one in the world heard of.
@jae...My thoughts exactly. How can you compare a rump with a T-BONE? I had CHUCK for the longest time.
SIRENIA is sweet but I had COW FISH. Doesn't sound all that mythological.
@Alias Z...You out-did yourself today.
@NCA Pres. I liked your "friends at a party" analogy. The older I get the easier it is for me to spot a nice enough person that I know I will have nothing in common with. It usually starts with what he's holding in his glass. For some reason drinking a Coke at a cocktail party turns me off.
I wish I could get on Jeff's wave-length. Maybe some day we can share a scotch.

Steve M 10:50 AM  

Dnf over and out hated this farewell to a lousy year so perfectly suited puzzle to go out on

QuasiMojo 10:51 AM  

I loved "Sirenia" because it reminded me of the Odyssey and various other ancient legends. And "miscreant" is one of my favorite words. I was not happy with ParaDrop because I had "bin" as one of those that stand in an alley. As in "trash bin." And the wording in the clue for "Para-drop" seemed to indicate something that was not obviously related to planes. So I had a teensy DNF there. I'll take it however since this was one of the more challenging Saturday puzzles in a while. Which is why I give it a thumbs up. Happy New Year everyone.

mathgent 11:05 AM  

Humbling, a good reminder that I'm not that good.

Fifteen entries where I either didn't know the word or didn't know what the clue was referring to. I can usually handle ten or so, but not fifteen. Especially when five of them gather in the NE.

I'm a big fan of Jeff Chen but I thought that some of the puzzle was unfair.

1) The Wikipedia article on the composition of the Oscar statuettes doesn't mention TIN.
2) "Scrap" for SPAT.
3) "Glaring" for HARSH
4) "Circus ring" for HULAHOOP. I suppose that some circus performers use them, but come on.
5) I call "green paint" for PRINT RUN

My grades are based on my enjoyment. The teeth-gnashing far outweighed the fun. C.

Rilesmiles 11:07 AM  

This was Revenge of the Nerds, The Puzzle. Congratulations, now go back to World of Warcraft.

Dorothy Biggs 11:10 AM  

@Moly Shu and Evil Doug: You might have noticed, but probably not, that I was answering a question by Johnny McGuirk. I was merely answering his question about "normalizing." It was between him and me. Not either one of you. You guys can read it. But since it was specific and not some random, "Hey, I'll think I'll just go on a rant about Trump!" post, it had nothing to do with you.

And I am still confounded why you continue to read these rants? Are you compelled to read anything and everything with the word "Trump" in it? Is someone holding a gun to your head forcing you to read them AND respond? There was nothing in that post that had your name in for all intents and purposes, it had nothing to do with you. And yet you feel obligated to reply.

That seems like a problem to me. It seems like you still don't know how to internets. You read what applies to you and then you move on. It's really that simple. There are a lot of people who will have stopped reading at this point in this particular post because it has nothing to do with them and they won't post a reply at all. They'll do what everyone who knows how to internets does: they move on.

I recommend that both of you take a course in how to manage your internet skills. It's quite simple. If it doesn't apply to you (and this post specifically applies to BOTH of you, and you two alone), then ignore it.

Also, if you go to my profile you can email me. I suggest you respond to me off line from now on.

Anonymous 11:12 AM  

I don't associate HULAHOOP with circus. Bit of a workout even for Saturday.

SailorSteveHolt 11:18 AM  

I was tickled by some of the clues, even ones I initially raged against. "Strips to pieces?" So original and literal I'm still smiling... at the same time, nostalgic for the days when salad existed solely as a delivery mechanism for BACONBITS and the only reason I knew anything about politics was because my elementary school held a mock election in which Clinton the First turned his rivals into ALSORANS.

Loved the clues for HALO, SHAWL, HERD, and UNSCREW.

Did not love but appreciated HULAHOOPS (I've never associated them with circuses but Wikipedia tells me it is indeed A Thing), THEANDES, ASCIIART, and ALSORANS.

"Seriously?" to HERBARIA and PARADROP.

CNET, UBS, VIRTU, PELHAM? No. No. No. A million times, no. In a puzzle with so much arcane trivia and answers dependent on precise clueing, TBONES made me angry. Rump is a primal cut; TBONES is a steak. False equivalency! Similarly, I can see why NERDCULTURE and SIRENIA upset some people even though I got both right away. (The former because I've already adopted the recently redefined and, sadly, less precise version of "nerd" that has absorbed the meaning of "geek," relegating what's left of it to the freak show adjacent to the circus where the HULAHOOPERS gyrate provocatively; the latter because of youthful obsession with nature documentaries, all of which have been commanded by the nature documentary god, David Attenborough, to recite the myth about mermaids at the slightest appearance of a manatee.) Cosplay and fan fiction are hallmarks of geekiness, and for the bulk of history sirens have been portrayed not as ladies with fish tails but, ironically, human–avian hybrids.

@Nancy the Medici clan even produced three popes! ORSINI was just cruel.

And LAMB was dumb.

Anyway, the real reason I'm commenting is to cheer @NCA President and encourage Rex to continue fighting the normalization of Donald Trump. He is a cancer, and it is difficult for me to accept that anyone smart enough to finish a New York Times Saturday crossword would defend him.

Mohair Sam 11:20 AM  

Well this monster whupped us but good. Still loved it though. Don't ya have to chuckle just a little bit at OFL when he wants words banned that he doesn't know? Hell, if I did that we'd have an awful lot of puzzles consisting of six letters or less.

Failure: Guessed PicHiM for PELHAM and ORcINI for ORSINI, and gave up on the middle letter for UBS.

Started just like @Rex with ANACONDA and ACE, and didn't "The" give away "HAGUE"? Lost what seemed like an hour by putting in pyrennes before THEANDES. Loved the clue for BACONBITS.

@LOREN - Tears in our eyes this morning reading about your welding adventures. The Avon Lady should be able to help with eyebrow problem.

@Evil Doug - Keep 'em flying.

puzzlecrone 11:22 AM  

Tin is an element in pewter which is the material in the core--it's not solid gold! I guessed at tin--three letters, cheap. Yes I tried Borgjas--much more notorious. I liked "unobtainium" but agree that some of the other obscure entries were deletable.

JC66 11:36 AM  

@ Nancy

The area between the free throw line and the basket is commonly referred to as the LANE.

See images:

Me too for all the unknowables, and HULAHOOP's relationship ti the circus.

Anonymous 11:37 AM  

We've been using unobtanium at least as long as you and we've always used it fairly literally. Price never had anything to do with it. It was a common lament when fixing or restoring older cars. We'd have paid anything for the part, but it simply didn't exist anymore. It's suchh acommon lament in certain circles that a cottage industy has arisen to manufacture small runs of parts that had been unavailable at any price.Very often the price isnt t terribly steep in real dollars, e.g $12 for what what otherwise be a $ 2 faxtener.

Lewis 11:59 AM  

Perfect way to end the year -- humbled to the core, keeping my head its actual size. There were a dozen answers that either aren't in my head at all, or not in my head as clued, and this obviated a cheat-free solve. At some points the word "brutal" came to mind.

Still I liked it, especially the clues for UNSCREW, HALO, MISCREANT, UPCARD, and BACONBITS. As your resident alphadoppeltotter, I should report that the puzzle had only 4 double letters, and anything under five is highly, HIGHLY, unusual. I didn't get the clue for HULAHOOP ("Circus ring?"). And for a while, in the middle of the solve, I thought that my 2016 was never going to end.

Great puzzle to lead me into the new year, encouraging me to learn more and grow in my solving. Thank you, Jeff!

Joseph Michael 12:05 PM  

This puzzle had some great moments with NERD CULTURE, UNOBTAINIUM, and ASCII ART, and the clues for CHERRY, BACON BITS, and HULA HOOP. But I would otherwise have to RATE it as a not-so-clean slog. I was glad when it was over and WONDERed why I had spent so much time on it.

My first crack of daylight didn't come until ODETS and then I slowly but surely worked my way back up, but without much pleasure,

Word of the Day:

SIR ENIA - royal cousin of the Baron of Renfrew

jberg 12:09 PM  

I found this one really tough, but I loved it -- because the tough things were all interesting words. HERBARIA was a gimme, firmly in my wheelhouse, so that helped. IN fact, it was my first entry, helping me get SHAWL and then SPOT WELD. And I loved MISCREANT, as clued.

On the other hand, I needed most of the crosses to get SIRENIA, which should have been obvious -- and was held up for far too long by wanting Toledo and then TorIno before the crosses made me see VENICE.

I vaguely remembered PELHAM, once I had the M (that's what "Plum" was short for), and got ORSINI pretty quickly because of reading Machiavelli. He describes an incident when Cesare Borgia invited the whole family to a dinner in order to make peace. Once they were seated, a bunch of archers stepped out from behind a curtain and killed them all. How could I forget a story like that?

Machiavelli is also the source of VIRTU, though not as clued. @Z, the secondary definition given in the page you link to does refer to fine arts, but to art objects rather than knowledge, so the clue still doesn't make sense to me.

@Anonymous 2:59 AM, a BRAD is a small nail.

The very hardest part of the solving experience was resisting the urge to pull out my phone and look up the meaning of "decorticate." Fortunately, the crosses finally gave me PARE.

@Loren, you are absolutely brilliant today. Maybe not finishing the puzzle inspires you!

Stanley Hudson 12:51 PM  

It's pretty simple, really: if you start to read a post and find yourself getting upset by its content, immediately go to the next post.

And you don't have to frequent this blog for very long to figure out who is likely to upset you.

Happy New Year to all.

Eyetalian Girl 1:08 PM  

My birth name is Orsini and I was elated to plop the name in as my first entry. My elation of course was short lived, and the puzzle kicked my rump.

The Orsini's were an illustrious family for hundreds of years before my branch settled in as sharecroppers by the 20th century, and my father and his parents came to America. Apparently, the family men lost their wealth through ages but not a whit of their arrogance. Stories, I could tell you stories!

old timer 1:09 PM  

Happy New Year to OFL, to all of you, and to the Trump clan too.

One Google, for ODETS, because I had no entry at all in that corner. I didn't know ANACONDA but there was a vague memory once I saw all those A's plus the D.

Of course I wanted Medici for the popes, but anyone who has been to or read about Rome should know that ORSINI is a powerful Roman family. Writeover: "terraria" before HERBARIA.

DigitalDan 1:10 PM  

As a bona fide nerd, I was able to write in UNOBTAINIUM right away, which gave me a chance. A spot weld is a particular form of welding that doesn't so much join as tack. Leaving out the "spot" makes this a better answer; I blame the clue.

People who do cosplay, etc., are calling themselves nerds these days. I think they stole the term from us true nerds, but what can you do? I have never heard this stuff referred to as nerd culture, though. Will or the creator made this up.

k 1:13 PM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
irongirl27 1:14 PM  

Lurker here until today. I really liked this puzzle. I think my one misstep, "U-NO-STAINIUM," truly sounds like a fantasy miracle material. Happy New Year!

Katzzz 1:16 PM  

The lane is the marked area between the foul line and the basket.

Big Steve 46 1:18 PM  

Living most of my 70+ years in the quiet, unassuming - yet generally pleasant - town of Pelham (NY), finally came in handy! I recalled from early schooldays that it was the middle name of one of those crusty old English writers and today it all came back to me. And I needed all the help I could get with this puzzle. Mirabile visu!!

Loren Muse Smith 1:21 PM  

Hey, @irongirl27! I love your "u no stainium." Seems the only things I ever get stains on are my dry clean only stuff.

Masked and Anonymous 1:58 PM  

NW was hard. Har hard. Rest was better. I figure Chen dude started things out extra-tough, then was overcome with guilt, and eased off a bit.

M&A also has a big wordlist: he bought one of them ginormous Webster dictionaries at a local thrift store, a few years back, thinkin of course it would be needed for makin NYTPuzs. Wrong again, M&A breath; haven't got er off the shelf much in ages, for that. That there booook is home to some mighty desperate words, tho. Great for playin the Fictionary game, at the annual M&A game nite fest. But, I di-ctionary-gress.

UPCARDs/knew ems:
* UNOBTAINIUM: Was very familiar, from (not sure which) schlock flicks. [M&A's FriNite schlockfest staff pick was "Things To Come" (1936), in case some folks are keepin score.]
* VIRTU: Probably from other xwords; M&A tends to retain them U-words, best.

WHINES/hadn't a clue:
* PELHAM. Other than the movie reference that @Evil so pointedly pointed out. M&A went ahead and did on-the-job research on Wodehouse dude, to aid the solvequest.
* LIN. Also required the research. But, hey -- Chen dude probably did lotsa research, to clue up this feisty litter of grid pups. Fair's fair.
* HERBARIA. Opera solo written by Herb down at the pothouse. Has lotsa high notes.

fave weejects: DAS, LIN, UBS. Together with their nasty lil clues, all M&A could do was WHINE and move on.

PERSIANS. Wanted ATHENANS. Which turns out to be a debut word, in every respect conceivable.

Thanx, Chenmeister. M&A learned a snootful. At the cost of an ununobtusium sea of nanoseconds.

Masked & Anonym007Us

no stinkin herb arias.

Anoa Bob 2:06 PM  

NO WONDER I PARADROPped several entries in right away. Being a electronics maintenance tech long ago got me SPOTWELD, being a poker player got me WHINES (what I do when I get a bad beat) & UP CARD, being the grandson of a carpenter got me BRAD, growing up with my evil twin Anoa Blob got me MISCREANT, & being a former bartender got me CHERRY (Manhatten top).

@Beijingrrl (sic?), the longest I was ever at sea was 42 days and that wasn't nearly enough time to make a manatee look like a mermaid. Besides, there were no manatees in the Tonkin Gulf. But in earlier days, sailors spent months or even years (!) continuously at sea, and that kind of extended sensory deprivation/monotony can lead to all kinds of illusions and hallucinations and even complete madness. Evidence suggests, for example, that the great explorer/navigator Captain James Cook went bonkers and his derangement led to his assassination in Hawaii in 1779.

New Years Eve is one night I always stay at home. Too many amateur drinkers overdoing it and then getting behind the wheel, if you ask me. And anyway, there's an arbitrariness to it. Really, it's just another tick on the cosmic clock.

Leapfinger 2:12 PM  

That was rather HARSH, @Rex; I'm gettin' just a tad TARRED of it. Nevermind that my first entry was WHINES.

I have this stubborn thing about staying with a NW start till it's filled, but had to leave HERBAR-- till the end. Was thinking of a person plant-preserver and just couldn't see it being a HERBARer. And I even have some aquaria HERBARIA. It helped that I was just given a SHAWL (Now I'm a Real Grandma!) and that I've looked up the PG in Wodehouse, though I first entered PEgrAM. Fixed that ERASURE 1-2-3. @GeorgeB, I was thinking of The Garden of the Finzi-____, but I got to ORSINI anyhow. You know I love all those T-BONES: Tibia, Tarsus, Talus, Temporalis, Trapezoid, Trapezium and Triquetrum (my favourite)

ASCI are also a thing in fungology. Just ASC us. (Yes, I ART aWARE it's mycology)

I also knew of the manatee/SIREN connection, but agree with @Beijingrrl that those seamen were probably looking wrong-way foremost through their [primitive] telescopes.

Had not heard of the miracle material, so when I had a few end-letters filled in, I put in MAGIC at the start, because I BELIEVE in MAGIC. Moreover, I BELIEVE NO WONDER Bread should be used, except for those summertime fresh tomato & mayo sandwiches. Not sure how I feel about BACON BITS on my LINENS.

Loved SANCTION as one of those words that means both its opposites:Should we SANCTION that activity or should we SANCTION it? In the universe of solvers, they say that NERD is the word for a third of the HERD, but that's rarely inferred, for it's absurd as occurred.

Also found VIRTU in the CADENCE of MISCREANT PERSIANS. Who knew they had a SPAT at Marathon?

Have enjoyed my year here and thank all y'all for allowing it. May we all have a good year in '17!!

ps @MartinAb, I had [Decorticate] be PITH before PARE, relating to lab frogs and that Dunning Kreuger thingy @NCAPrez raised yesterday. Thanks for the memories.

@whozit, Dorothy Parker did her bit for horticulture; I understand her barium study was normal.

TimJim 2:24 PM  

Very tough, but I like tough so long as obscure entries are gettable through crosses. These were, for me anyway. I would only cry foul on the association of hula hoops with circus, even if it is a thing. As for Trump, people on this blog vent about a lot of non-crossword things all the time, don't see why Trump should be an exception. And telling a commenter to "Shut up" is childish, unnecessary and rude -- hey, just like DT!

Michele Angelini 2:27 PM  

Unnecessarily challenging and obtuse! All I did was second-guess everything, couldn't tell what was what and I HATE that. My first three answers I plugged in made me think that I could get somewhere: VENICE, WHINES and ANACONDA...those were gimmes...then it was downhill from there. I really never felt like I got any traction. UNOBTAINIUM? Isn't that the stuff they were trying to get from that ridiculous movie with blue cat people that I refused to go see? My brain never went there.

I got totally jammed up in the NW because I had TERRARIA instead of HERBARIA. I've heard of a terrarium before, but not a herbarium, although I like the sound of it. Very "The Name of the Rose" 12th century abbey-ish.

And what on earth are ALSORANS? ALSO-RANS or, as I had put ALSURANS because a quick google search told me that there was some extinct race of alien people from Star Trek (or something) called as such. It seemed to fit with the Star Trek and NERDCULTURE clues.

Thumbs down.

Dolgo 2:28 PM  

I started off with a bang, since I knew sirenia, Persians, and Orsini cold. Why am I such a weirdo? Cause I read books as well as do crossword puzzles. But hit me with rappers or sports figures and I have trouble.

I really enjoyed this puzzle because it wasn't the same old BS--oreo, Ernani, Eri tu, etc.that these lazy puzzle makers use over and over. I enjoy crosswords when they teach me something new. So now you all know something about manatees that you didn't know before. Be grateful and STOP WHINING!!!

Dolgo 2:35 PM  

PS And isn't it kinda neat that some people think manatees and dugongs are the source of our mermaid legends (sounds kinda FISHY to me!). Now Google "sirens" and, if you love gaining knowledge, wasn't that fun?

Suzy 2:40 PM  

Hear, hear!! THX, NCA President!

old timer 2:42 PM  

I don't think I've ever seen so many WHINES about a Saturday puzzle. These are supposed to be hard, but fair, so the crosses will help you drag things like PELHAM out of your fading memory.

Happy Pencil 2:46 PM  

Absolutely brutal puzzle, and not in a good way, I'm afraid. In the end, the bad (I'm looking at you, HERBARIA and UNOBTAINIUM) outweighed the good (hello, MISCREANT and HULA HOOP). I still can't even begin to unpack the clue for DAS, although I got the answer eventually. There's clever and challenging cluing, and then there's obscurity masquerading as cleverness. This fell more often into the latter camp for me. But the trivia about the Oscar statuette was fascinating.

I echo @Evil Doug's words about Pelham 1-2-3. Great film.

And to those pointing out that no one is required to read posts by people they don't like, I'd also add that no one is required to respond to every commentator who calls them out. Maybe 2017 will be a better year if we don't all sweat the small stuff quite so much.

Finally, with respect @math gent, PRINT RUN is not green paint. If you work in or around book publishing, it's a term you will hear many times a day, every day. That's not to say that people with no knowledge of that world should know it, but it is a term that's very much in the language, as Rex likes to say.

Happy new year, everyone!

Malsdemare 3:01 PM  

Wow! Some excellent comments today, funny, perspicacious, wry; loved 'em all, but @lms, you outdid yourself. In fact, many of you did but I can never remember who said what by the time I read every swinging comment (yup, even those I disagree with). So just figure I'm talking about you when I say you're awesome.

I knew PELHAM, WHINES, PIN, MISCREANTS, SANE, ORSINI (after taking out Borgia) BRAD, P---DROP. Note that none of these gives anyone the slightest chance of figuring out UNOBTAINIUM, HERBARIA, SIRENIA, NERDCULTURE. I googled, I hit reveal, and even after all that cheating, I still had an error (HERBAReA, because what the hell is an HERB ARIA?). So puzzle won today.

I really don't mind it when stuff is outside my ken because then I can be super smug when I know PELHAM (because my mother, who read everything except porn) introduced me early to Plum Wodehouse, making sure that I didn't just know his whole name but also how to pronounce it. Bertie Wooster was, and is, hysterical. Love the back story on SIRENI; those sailors didn't just spend years on their ships. Mr. Mal builds ship models so I've seen the conditions those men lived in. Put me on the equivalent of the Pequod for two years, send me out in a tiny rowboat with a spear, make me sleep in 12 sq ft of space over a hold filled with blubber and whale parts, eat bread baked with flour that's two years old and rancid, and expect me to maintain any sanity at all would be the height of ludicrous. And then add rum! Talk about UNOBTAINIUM!

Today is my son's birthday and for once, he's here to celebrate with us. That will give me the chance to reprise our tradition of giving him a bad time about the 10 1/2 month pregnancy he put me through (child was due, according to my whizbang OB, a week before Christmas. Ya'll can do the math. Obviously none of us could). We will eat, drink, and play games and maybe stay up long enough to kiss this rotten year goodbye. See you all next year!

Lewis 3:08 PM  

@nca (8:40) -- Right on point and brilliantly expressed!
@Loren -- Cracklin' good today, top form! You are a treasure, and you'd better be saving these tidbits for a book one day.

Anonymous 3:12 PM  

I, for one, am getting very frightened. Trump's latest tweet says: 'Happy New Year to all including my many enemies and those who have lost so badly to me that they just don't know what to do. Love.

What the Trump supporters do not seem to grasp is that the combination of being thin skinned, showing the maturity of a fifth grader and being so personally vindictive against anyone who he perceives slights him is very scary. I don't care for his political positions but, I don't begrudge him those positions but, I fear his psyche and the pathology of that psyche.

Randy Picker 3:44 PM  

I put in SPOTWELD quickly--lucky rather than good as I am not very mechanical--and saw that seemed to work with whatever 2D would be--no clue for me--and then put in TUSHES as my 4D alternative to rumps (no one else seems to have done that).

The NW then froze for me, breaking the theory of the power of a strong start on 1A. Most of the puzzle moved in reasonably consistently for me for a Saturday, but the NW was the problem. I can never tell what is crossword mainstream vs. esoterica but what I don't like about the NW is the clustering of the name clues (PELHAM, ORSINI and LIN). (And I didn't know HERBARIA either and I struggled with ALSORANS even though I guessed landslide was likely political.)

I don't build xword puzzles, but an anti-clustering of names rule seems like a good one. Yes? No?

Crane Poole 3:45 PM  

Took two of us complementing each others' knowledge and insights to complete today's challenge. Wotta puzzle and despite SIRENIA and HERBARIA, not unfair for Saturday. I also said LAMP and joked about it. How weird is that?

Pelham 1-2-3, still brilliant, saw it again earlier this year. Remake unremarkable, though for younger folks, probably standard fare (Nothing against Denzel W). Like much good music, it's the silences between the notes that speak as loudly. Such is not the case in the current millennium. If Denial is a river in Egypt, maybe Nuance is a city in France. What hasn't been remade? Michael Bay was supposed to have remade Rosemary's Baby and that nightmare was never realized. Thanks at least for that. Many great comments above! Happy New Year.

TomAz 3:45 PM  

I thought 'Strips to pieces" was going to have to do with an exotic dancer. (Pieces of music...)

This was not much fun for me.

RAD2626 3:54 PM  

Really hard but totally satisfying puzzle. Had some entries fall like HULA HOOP without having any clue about the clue. Had a DNF on HIBARIL since I had no idea about DAS and thought DLS looked pretty good. BACON BITS clue was terrific. Long fill pretty special.

@LMS. "The Second Coming" by Yeats was JFK's favorite poem. It has so many great couplets in it. One of my favorites which has ongoing currency in lots of settings - even on these pages on rare occasion - is "The best lack all conviction, While the worst are full of passionate intensity."

Happy New Year all.

OISK 3:58 PM  

Liked the challenge and the clever, deliberately misleading cluing. DNF on Vertu - Serenia. I think that's a cross too far, not just because I missed it. It was a coin flip, and I lost. I probably chose Serenia over Sirenia (since I had no clue whether it was virtu or vertu that would be its own reward) because I remembered the Greek Selene ( moon goddess).

But I can now accept an occasional DNF without attacking the constructor. Hard, crunchy, challenging, perfectly suitable Saturday.

Nancy 4:15 PM  

The whole manatee/mermaid thing brought out the best wit on the blog today, as I found out the truly awful things that happen to men who are at sea too long and what constitutes "too long." Kudos to @beijingrrl, @malsdemare, @Teedmn, @lms and others for the fun. UNOBTAINIUM, on the other hand, which struck me as a wonderful neologism that I never heard of, brought out quite serious responses from those who knew what it was. The one funny comment was from @irongirl27, who thought the miracle material was U NO STANIUM. Hysterical.

NERD CULTURE reminds me of a long phone conversation I had earlier this year with a friend on the blog. She said NERD is a word that NERDs today wear proudly. She even said she would not mind in the least being called a NERD. I said that back in the day, it was considered a terrible insult, and that, today, if anyone ever called me a NERD, my response would be swift and terrible. It's amazing how much things can change over the decades.

Anonymous 4:20 PM  

For me UNOBTAINIUM was my beachhead--the one answer that led me to my first significant progress. I liked BACON BITS once I got it; but the clue was awfully oblique. SPOTWELD/HERBARIA/ALSORANS had me stumped for awhile; the NE corner was trouble, too (VIRTU was new to me).

There were several answers that came to mind immediately (e.g., PARADROP), but then didn't seem possible with their crosses.

This one took double my goal for Saturday. Ugh.

Unknown 4:26 PM  

Surprised to see no WHINES about LAGS, so I'll pick up the slack. No one complains about LAGS on streams, they complain about LAG. Answer just doesn't work.

Kdunk 4:54 PM  

I was very proud to drop in Seed Bank to start.... and then HERBARIA a brain crushing hour later.
Tough as nails.

Anonymous 5:06 PM  

Rex is a grump! Great puzzle, Jeff! Sparkling fill, completely 2017, much admired!

Carola 5:15 PM  

A good day for a challenging puzzle: this one kept me distracted - in a couple of ways - through a two-hour flight (which also included a restorative nap and brain reset that allowed me to see previously indecipherable entries [BACON BITS!]).

ERASURE could have been my word of the day. After getting off on the right foot with HAGUE X ANACONDA, I went wrong with borgia x argue and speedster HOTdogs. I correctly had the PERSIANS at Marathon but put Vivaldi in VErona and flora in terrARIA. After sorting all of those out and untangling the NE, I thought I was home free. Only coming here did I see that -aieeee! - my chain of countries was on the wrong side of the Pacific - in THE iNDES...yeah, misspelled, too.

@Jeff Chen - This was a most enjoyable brain-racker for me.

Mohair Sam 5:29 PM  

@NCA President - Honestly, this isn't political. But it's not like @Moly and @Evil were hacking your email or anything. I don't know where you get your internet rules from, but I thought the whole point of blogging was to make thoughts and conversations public.

Weren't you the guy who just last week recommended that people who couldn't take the heat you were throwing should get off the internet? Glass houses, etc.

Malsdemare 5:44 PM  

I have to revise my post. Said son was allegedly due a week before THANKSGVING, hence a New Year's Eve birth being right up there with being on the Pequod.

Christophe 6:01 PM  

HAGUE is unacceptable, the city is named "The Hague". It's like having the Argentinian place "La Plata" referred to as "PLATA" - no Argentinian would know what you are talking about.

Anonymous 6:06 PM  

Same here on all counts.

Michael Rosen SF 6:40 PM  

Many years ago, and probably in Car & Driver magazine, Roger Penske said the chassis of his new racer was made of unobtainium. So that was not too hard for me.

evil doug 6:46 PM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
evil doug 6:47 PM  

Then, NCA, give Johnny your email and answer him there. You're not the Shell Answer Man. You're not obliged to respond to every post,especially when you just keep plowing the same ground over and over. This has nothing to do with your politics--it's all about where to say your piece. This is the crossword blog. Maybe you're the one who needs to learn "how to internets". And where....

Dorothy Biggs 6:52 PM  

evil doug: From now on, email me with your questions and comments, please.

Tim Pierce 7:00 PM  

Lovely, lovely Saturday puzzle. 43 minutes of brain-scratching but I prevailed. I really admired the puzzle being nearly junk-free (I'm sure some of you will object to DAS, UBS, BTU and ABO, and maybe others, but largely I found the top-notch cluing to rescue those from junkdom).

This one is just full of beautiful clues and beautiful fill. Not just NERD CULTURE and UNOBTANIUM and BACON BITS but SPOT WELD, GO-GETTER, PARADROP and ALSO RANS. I get Rex's frustration with an answer like SIRENIA but, as @Martin points out, the clue hints at a reminder that manatees were mistaken for mermaids by early European sailors. Legit.

My absolute favorite clue here had to be 20A: Exposed part of a deal for UPCARD. Laughed out loud.

More, Jeff! More!

evil doug 7:03 PM  

NCA: From now on, limit your comments to the crossword, please.

Z 7:27 PM  

Finally back after a day of fun indoor ultimate. It is a lot easier to throw a flying disc when there is no wind. Not that anyone here much cares, but my team lost in the championship game and the oldest player there (that would be me by a half decade) had more than six assists, a goal, two D's, and tons of fun.

Apparently I'm the only one who erred with the Medicis. With VIRTU in the puzzle that would have been mini-themeish. Also, in my world when you expose a card you "faced" it. UPCARD was a new term here.

I'm going to posit that difficulty from word play is generally preferred to difficulty from obscurity. I think commenters who feel a Rex WHINE is because he doesn't know an answer misunderstand. My reading of Rex is that it is much more of gestalt reaction. Look at his first paragraph again, six obscurities right of the top, 9% of the answers and 18% of squares. His shout-out to Maleska is in keeping with this reading of what he is saying. Personally, I'm with Rex. I like crossword puzzles, not crossnoun puzzles.

@jberg12:09 - The whole newer meaning is a puzzle to me. How do you get from "govern well" to "knowledge of fine arts." I mean, I don't think one can govern well without knowledge of the fine arts, but that is hardly a majority view.

@evil doug 9:09 - Now that, sir, is fine art.

@evil doug 9:20 - Yet people keep stating incorrect notions about "normalizing Trump." Standing by in silence while the president-elect undermines the president, for example, is wrong. And he is an admitted and confirmed "pussy-grabber" (something that should have stopped every Christian from voting for him). We are not going to make the mistake of saying this is okay. Trump will swear an oath to uphold the constitution on January 20th. When he violates this oath I expect members of the House and Senate to uphold their oaths.

@Moly Shu - Curious about what, exactly, you disagree with. Do you think Trump has been educated in the ways of government? That he's not ham-fisted? Narcissistic? Arrogant? Isn't ignoring (so far) constitutional mandates about conflicts of interest? That he lacks direction? That he hasn't nominated outspoken racists? All of this has been widely reported for months, some of it for decades. And if that's not what you disagree with than you agree with @NCA President, because that is pretty much what he said. So feel free to point out what, exactly, it is you disagree with. We're listening.

Phil 7:29 PM  

@Loren_Muse_Smith Being a retired steel fabricator I say you do know your stuff but to be less NERDy for the crowd. I read the clue on SPOTWELD and thought another pressure heat weld process. Everyone knows stainless steel is pricey. In tanks and other construction they often use what is called stainless clad. It is produced by layering stainless steel sheet and the cheaper carbon steel. It's done by a process of 'containing' it and setting off an explosion next to the metal effectively welding the two layers.

As for the puzzle, i managed back-pattingly well. But though I heard of 'fanboy' i didn't know fantic and figured it was reference to fanatics. And though hERDCULTURE. i missed the fact of the double HERD wasn't possible so dnf on the one square.

evil doug 7:35 PM  

It's a valid topic for debate, Z. What, exactly, I disagree with, is the venue. And how repetitively boring it's getting here. Take it outside....

Anonymous 7:41 PM  

Shut up. You're not the policeman of the blog.

Happy Pencil 7:43 PM  

@Christophe at 6:01 p.m.: The article is in the clue. Cheers!

fuzzle47 8:08 PM  

Crossword blog discussion of Trump? Why not? There is no forum where he should not be excoriated. Under his presidency we are facing the end of civilization as we know it.

STD (scared to death) 8:30 PM  

Amen, @fuzzle47, Amen!

dm3000 8:45 PM  

That's the only one I got wrong. Even vs I in virtu...I love a tough one.

dm3000 8:46 PM  

Damn autocorrect. E....not even.

Anonymous 9:49 PM  

Another unostainium entry here. Seemed a likely cousin of Oxi-Clean.

Anonymous 10:10 PM  

After all the complaints about the weekend puzzles being too easy over the past few months I thought this one would be a welcome change. I just plugged along as I usually do on Saturday and finished in my usual time. Loved not having TV, Movie and Music names cluttering the grid. Lots of words I did not know but worked in from crosses. Isn't that how it is supposed to be done?

Anonymous 11:10 PM  

@fuzzle47 & STD:

You two are pathetic and rightfully deserve each other. What college dorm are you posting from. Sorry kids, this is a blog for grown-ups. Now drag your sorry asses down to your safe space. Play with your coloring books and teddy bears. I hear they just laid in a new stock of Play-Doh as well. If you both behave, maybe mommy will bring you some cookies and warm milk? Oh and BTW, when you go to beddie-bye tonight don't forget to check underneath for the Trumpman!

Anonymous 11:37 PM  

You fit right in with the 'image' of a Trump supporter. Just make an ad hominem attack on commenters. That will show them the error of their ways.

Cath 1:59 AM  

I ended up liking the SW corner best. This ex-Canuck liked the HOT-to-TROD ONTario APE, which made a good PARE with the ODE to TS Eliot.

Midnight meta ortho PARA DROP at Times Square; let's all double bond in '17!

Happy New!

Unknown 6:02 AM  

I actually liked SIRENIA, as it's rather common lore that pirates of the Caribbean mistook manatees for sirens, so only the last i was an issue.

Anonymous 12:08 PM  

One word for this snotty stinker - REJECTED.

Burma Shave 1:04 PM  


IBELIEVE I'll GOGETTER and ONTAPE we'll do it.
There's no LAGS to ABIDE in our CADENCE RATE,
so we can't SANCTION ERASURE nor UNSCREW it.


rondo 1:37 PM  

Always knew that MN School of Bartending diploma would come in handy some day. Having only scattered answers, except for the NW, that Manhattan-topping CHERRY started me of on the other 3/4 of the puz. Way too many w/os to count, but stuck with "stand" for ABIDE for too long even though those two answers were my only thoughts for those 5 squares. NOWONDER this took so long. IBELIEVE I mighta set a record there.

Any lovely creature from the mysterious land of SIRENIA can be my yeah baby today since there seems to be none other. Not even ALSORANS or even a HAGUE.

After the 1a/1d gimmes of SPOTWELD and SHAWL the rest turned into real work. Pen and paper both under extreme pressure today. A pencil woulda wore out from ERASUREs. Some mental LAGS due to late concert date night last night. Maybe now back to SANE.

Anonymous 1:41 PM  

From Syndication Land:

We finally got a real Saturday puzzle! This one kept me entertained for an hour. I had so many erasures that I almost tore a hole in my paper. My brain is throbbing from thinking so hard! It came down to a guess for me at the asciiart with the sirenia. (Auto-correct hates those words!) I guessed the "i" correctly! Made me feel happy to have finished.

spacecraft 2:11 PM  

DNF, by a long shot. Way too much of the WHA? factor. ASCIIART? Seriously? How on God's green Earth would you even PRONOUNCE that? PELHAM? I didn't "take" that after 1,2,3 tries. I must be Mr. Gray. I wouldn't call TBONES an "alternative" to rumps. There ain't no alternative there, baby. Gimme the TBONE, medium rare, and hold the A-1, please. A good steak doesn't need any "sauce." Fact, I'm having one tonight.

A pistol is a GOGETTER??? Huh? I have heard "pistol" referred to humans only one way: a misbehaving child (a MISCREANT?). "Wow, he's a pistol, that one." "Yeah, a double handful." What's a CATH lab? I've had medical training and worked in hospitals. I never heard of a "CATH lab." How is "Scrap" SPAT???? I have NO idea. THEANDES is a chain THROUGH seven countries, not OF seven countries. The whole thing is like this. Almost nothing makes sense. Bah! WD

Diana,LIW 2:49 PM  

As a long-time lover of the Jeeves/Bertie pairing, I knew PELHAM right off. What the world needs now is good, goofy, Jeeves stories. Quick - what does the G in P G Wodehouse stand for? How do you pronounce Wodehouse?

Well, I'll tell ya, I learned me some words here. Decorticate, HERBARIA (which I got from crosses), SIRENIA, VIRTU, UNOBTAINIUM (love that idea). Had Medici for ORSINI.

Proud to say I got the clever wordplay (for the most part), but too much outside my little wheelhouse. Can't know it all...

My worst error, though, was having MIScasted for MISCREANT. I know, redundant - you can say that again. But with the Times proclivity of putting odd endings on words (knifer and skyee, I'm looking at youse guys) I thought, ugly, but... Had to look it up. Oh...that kind of actor. Never mind.

Had fun sussing out the edges, but with MIScasted (ouch) in the middle, it's NOWONDER I had a dnf.

@Spacey - a cardiac catheterization lab is referred to as a CATH lab, for obvious reasons. A scrap, SPAT, tiff, kerfluffle, tempest in a teapot - all have been used interchangeably. I agree with your argument about THE ANDES not being "of" 7 countries. I was trying to come up with some chain of island countries.

Word of advice - don't mess up your TBONES with BACONBITS.

Diana, Lady-in-Waiting for Crosswords

leftcoastTAM 4:10 PM  

Tough, tricky, and a bit on the cruel side, IMO.

Made my way from bottom to top where, after much staring and frustration, took a fatal dose of UNOBTAINIUM.

Peace at last.

rain forest 4:43 PM  

I crowed triumphantly as I brought this baby to its knees without one w/o. Went to the blog to confirm my brilliance only to find when I got to the 5th or 6th comment that I actually DNF. Wrote in SeRENIA/VeRTU. Damn it.

Oh, well, he said philosophically, At least I got the North and the SW with little trouble. I didn't know HERBARIA, but it came when I got ALSO RANS, guessing at LIN. I almost thought those plants were in the HERB AReA.

Way more challenging, but less smooth, obviously than yesterday's PB, but the source of much enjoyment. PLUS, it had the novel feature of a post by NCA Pres that I agreed with.


eastsacgirl 7:03 PM  

Hardest puzzle in a while. NE did me in so a DNF. For all the Syndis,are you ready for some football?

rondo 8:18 PM  

@eastsacgirl - The Super Sunday supplies are laid in and the 106" TV prepared. I'm afraid that Lady Gaga may be the highlight of the day.

Du Gong 4:46 AM  

SIRENIA is fine. Please keep it in your word lists. I don't want a Saturday puzzle that doesn't put up a fight.

Vinniegret 12:53 PM  

Hmm, I guess it's not coincidence that Odets and Ewata would both fit in 54A. I thought in the directio of the older answer first, but didn't know what it was - I was thinking maybe a song. The cosplay clue made me check for something more contemporary. But wrong.

Tarheeled 12:36 AM  

Totally bombed it. For 35 across I got the last 'U', so wrote in chicken soup. A perfect answer for the clue, "hypothetical miracle material."
Unfortunately, that was way wrong.

Anonymous 4:55 PM  

Took me 7 months to finish this. Mostly it just sat under a pile of magazines in the bathroom, but still...

Needed help from my daughter to get from itunes sToRE to NERD CULTURE. Once I got that the rest broke open, except for NE which just plain broke.

I'm really just here to comment on the Bluebells video. Bassist Lawrence Donegan has written a few books. Check out "No News At Throat Lake" and "California Dreamin'," the latter written during his time in my neck of the woods (and likely when I was playing his music on college radio). He's now a golf writer for the Guardian.

That's all.

Sarah Emery 1:59 AM  
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
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