Japenese drum / WED 11-29-17 / Coconutty girl scout cookie / two-tone apex predator / Gnocchi topper / Gospel star Winans

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Constructor: Erik Agard

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: MOTOWN (74A: Record label for the singers starting 18-, 40-, 45- and 66-Across) — a Supreme, a Contour, a Miracle, and a Temptation walk into a bar...

Theme answers:
  • SUPREME COURT CASE (18A: 2015's Obergefell v. Hodges, for example)
  • CONTOUR KIT (40A: Product of assorted tones of makeup)
  • MIRACLE MOP (45A: So-called "self-wringing" cleaning implement)
  • "TEMPTATION ISLAND" (66A: Early 2000s Fox reality show) 
Word of the Day: TAIKO (44A: Japanese drum) —
noun: taiko; plural noun: taiko; plural noun: taikos
  1. a Japanese barrel-shaped drum. (google)
• • •

Who are the Contours and what is a CONTOUR KIT? That answer was a double WTF for me. I can sing my way deep, deep into the catalogue of the Supremes, the Temptations, and (Smokey Robinson and the) the Miracles, but I couldn't pick a Contour out of a line-up. I believe they exist, I just see no way in which they belong as the fourth themer in a MOTOWN theme that includes those other, absolutely iconic groups. The drop from their fame to Contour fame is verrrrrrrtiginous. They sang "Do You Love Me?," a #3 hit from the early '60s. Literally nothing else they sang cracked the Top 10, or even the Top 40, except ... the rerelease of "Do You Love Me?" in 1988 (thanks, "Dirty Dancing"!).

  • Smokey Robinson and the Miracles had 6 Top 10 hits! 
  • The Temptations had 15 Top 10 hits!!
  • The Supremes had 20 Top 10 hits!!!
There's no way a Contour deserves to share the theme stage with the others. The fact that I don't know some make-up term is less noteworthy, but never to have heard of the term? Ever? That's at least a little odd. Granted, the women I know and love aren't terribly into make-up, but ... I actually do know lots of terms that have little or nothing to do with me or my loved ones. Just not that one. So, yeah, that answer was doubly weird for me. The rest of this seemed fine. I like the oddness of having the "singers" be singular elements from groups better known as plurals. Wacky.

No way on earth that TAIKO (!?) is a Wednesday answer. I thought I had learned all the exotic four- and five-letter instruments (SAROD! TABLA! KOTO!), but apparently not. It's a very Erik thing to do—throw some never-seen non-Anglo-American term at you like a pitcher throwing a fastball at your head. I don't mind it. I actually think it's OK, assuming the term is not some bullshit obscurity but actually just a word / term that's reasonably common ... elsewhere. Constructor's gotta be competent, gotta cross things fairly, but ... yeah, folding in some should-be-known terms from outside the conventional crossword lexicon: fine by me. If you are a skilled constructor, knock yourself out. 

Felt a little slow, but the puzzle is extra-wide, so it was probably perfectly normal, difficulty-wise. I had trouble in the middle, when I had MIRACLE and added DRY to the end (!), and *then* dropped PENDS down at 31D: Is in the offing (LOOMS). Yikes. I also didn't want to believe that MILA was in the puzzle on back-to-back days, so I imagined that the Uris title was "URSA 18" (27A: Leon Uris's "___ 18"). Needed every cross for TAIKO, obviously. Very impressed with INNIT, for some reason (28D: "Don't you agree"," in British lingo). "TEMPTATION ISLAND" is some pretty old / forgettable reality TV. It was pretty low-rent and sleazy, and it only ran from 2001 to 2003, which is a long time ago now. I've been married as long as that show has been *off* the air. So I'm not thrilled with it as a theme answer choice, but ... again, the crosses are fair, so I'll allow a little reality TV dumpster diving, I guess.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. Obergefell v. Hodges => the marriage equality case, in case you didn't know

P.P.S. this is very accurate:

Yes. I had *no idea* what the 1A: What you see when you look up? (ACROSS) was going for. Presumably, ACROSS refers to the word "ACROSS" above the ACROSS clues in the crossword. Sadly, this clue makes zero sense if you're not solving in the newspaper. Here, I'll show you:

A gigantic portion of your solving audience isn't solving on paper, guys. Editing!

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Outside The Box 12:07 AM  

Agree with Rex on this one. The Contours? Contour Kit?

TomAz 12:18 AM  

I certainly didn't know CONTOURKIT or TAIKO or TEMPTATIONISLAND. I did know the Contours, thought it didn't do me any good. When I finally SUSSed the theme I got the Temptations bit.

But this finished very fast for me, more like a Tuesday time (which for me is like nine and a half minutes). 80% were virtual gimmes, which means nothing more than the puzzle and I would seem to inhabit the same corner of the cultural universe.

Jyqm 12:19 AM  

Granted, the Contours were much less famous than the other groups, but can you come up with a better alternative? (No, you can’t, because none exists.)

George NYC 12:19 AM  
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Tom 12:29 AM  

Rather violent Wednesday, what with MAIMS, BITES, REND, REAM... a bit of SADISM going on here?

TAIKO not a problem, since San Jose TAIKO is well known for their performances around here.

Agree about the COUNTOURs, even though that one hit is probably familiar to a gazillion people. Slower by two minutes for typical Wed. time.

TokyoRacer 12:37 AM  

I live in Japan and speak Japanese, so TAIKO was easy, although I agree that you wouldn't know it unless you lived in Japan, or were really into Japanese culture. But the one I didn't get was ANIME. It just never occurred to me that that is an "art" style. When you talk about Japanese art, you talk about ukiyoe (woodblock prints), kabuki, noh.... Anime, short for animation, is simply a drawing stye, usually by computer. In fact, it usually refers to a movie, TV show or computer game, not to the style itself.

Oh, and RAMEN is actually Chinese noodles. Soba and udon are Japanese noodles. Of course, ramen is now a Japanese thing, but it's really Chinese style noodles.

As for watching the shopping network for a few hours - you're joking, right? Your brain would turn to mush, rendering you incapable of ever doing a crossword again.

jae 1:19 AM  
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jae 1:20 AM  

I spent far too many nanoseconds (hi M&A) trying to rebus SPAGHETTIOS into the "Oh Oh" answer.

chefwen 1:42 AM  

Whipping through this one like a maniac until I turned the corner and fell into the CONTOUR KIT, TAIKO section, didn’t help that I had lots before MANY at 51A. TRAUMA and LIKEN set me straight there. Rex’s favorite breakfast joint IHOP was my first choice before HOJO.
Happy to have company on our little side trip.

a.corn 1:50 AM  

28 my favorite clue of the year, INNIT?! I just got home from dinner with a brother who’s an expat in London back for thanksgiving, so felt some universe magic on that one.

The Amazing Edwin 2:02 AM  

There is no way for me to give you my time for this puzzle because I solved it just by looking at it. You read that correctly: I solved this puzzle just by looking at it. This is a skill I've been painstakingly developing over the last few days and I can completely and properly fill in a crossword puzzle merely by gazing at it with the full force of my powerful vision. Oh sure, the handwriting's a bit messy and I can only do it on paper, but with the proper funding I can develop my skills into tablets and iPads and so forth, with an ease and precision and a frightening accuracy that is sure to beat the band and then some. How much would you pay for such a skill? Ten dollars? Twenty dollars? You can learn the secret of my amazing gift for the low introductory price of only fifteen dollars, and that includes postage and plain paper wrapping. Please contact me to place your order today. Thank you and God Bless.

Lisa 2:04 AM  

Contouring is VERY well known in the queer community. I totally got CONTOUR KIT, but had trouble on TAIKO / SURER/ MANY / TRAUMA / AKIRA / STORY. I had lots, and then once I got liken changed it to tons, and didn't get MANY until later. 8 letters in there tripped me up.

Related to the queer community, I got SUPREME COURT CASE nearly right off the bat

Lisa 2:05 AM  

Also, I don't even wear makeup ever and yet still got that CONTOUR KIT, so that should give an example of how well known contouring is.

Anoa Bob 3:05 AM  

Noticed the Japanese sub-theme with ANIME, AKIRA Kurasawa, UDON, RAMEN, and my favorite, TAIKO. Some TAIKO drum groups are amazing. Here's one performing in an urban neighborhood basketball court in some Swiss city (I think). Wish I could have been one of the (few!)spectators. It's about 14 minutes long, but it's divided into several sets, I guess you would call them. Awesome.

Japanese Taiko Drumming

Rad 3:09 AM  

As has been tradition of late, the northwest is my trouble spot. Then I skip around and usually come back and see some simple clues I missed. Lots of dog commands, lately! Sic em, Fetch and SPEAK.
Nothing much gave me trouble on this one except for a couple tries for the dog, and I tried MCDS (Mickey D's) and for some reason I always type kARO first. That's a thing, right? Like a corn syrup?

7 minutes faster than average (80 seconds shy of my record... 12 minutes) made this an "easy" one for me.

evil doug 4:42 AM  

Too bad he couldn't squeeze a few more random Japanese answers in. TAIKO crossing AKIRA *this*, Erik....

Conrad 4:59 AM  

This was in the hard Monday / easy Tuesday range for me. I don't time myself but I'm sure I was well under my Wednesday average. I hadn't heard of the Contours but it didn't trouble me because I always try (and sometimes succeed) to get the long acrosses without looking at the clues, sort of a "downs only lite". My trouble spot was the northeast. I had raid for the "Oh! Oh!" ad at 11A and dowN for emotionally honest ("I'm down with that," I guess). Yeah, makes no sense. So that took a while, but I blazed through the rest of the puzzle as fast as I could read and enter.

Lewis 6:08 AM  

My favorite part of the puzzle was the clue for 1A -- brilliant! Very nice FAST FACT connection. The theme shot me back to a glorious place in my head I haven't visited in too long. Though realistically, only one one of the following could start a theme answer, other Motown artists I'd like to see joining this group are a PIP, a VANDELLA, a FOUR TOP, and a COMMODORE. The CONTOURS may only have had one big hit, but what a great and iconic one it was, and it's going to be going through my head now all day.

Smitty 7:01 AM  

That unique gimmick of thinking the song was over, everyone leaving the dance hall and getting in their cars, then rushing back from the parking lot when the music started up again. CLASSIC song from the CONTOURS!!!

Hungry Mother 7:26 AM  

DNF on two Naticks. Please stop with all of the proper names!

kitshef 7:27 AM  

They’re putting ALOE in juice now? 1) Ick. 2) being allergic to ALOE and loving random juices, that means I need to be careful about something I used to take for granted.

Like Rex (hasn't he been unusually mellow this week?), never heard of a CONTOUR KIT. Never heard of the COUNTOURs. Maybe it would have made the fill impossible, but how about pipsqueaks instead? Though the Pips without Gladys sounds funny. But I guess we got the MIRACLEs without Smokey, so it would be fair game.

Anonymous 7:29 AM  

Matt Lauer won't be appearing on Colbert tonight.

Birchbark 7:29 AM  

Do plate umpires really call "INSIDE"? They call balls and strikes. I confidently entered strIke at 60A, which correctly yielded TOPSPIN. But 61D had to be NINE, so [?!]. Admittedly, I'm not a baseball junkie but a consistent enough fan -- attend a few Twins games and listen to several more in the car over the course of a season. "INSIDE" is what an announcer says. But a plate umpire calling "INSIDE"? Am I right, or has this FACT about umpires eluded me in plain view for my entire life?

Enjoyed @Tokyoracer's exposition of Japanese art and ANIME. I once served on a committee that funded TAIKO drumming as part of a local theater project-- they're big drums, and you feel them as much as you hear them.

Anonymous 7:40 AM  

The Contours also recorded the original version of “First I Look at the Purse,” another “iconic” (can we declare a moratorium on this word) Motown song, later covered by the J. Geils Band. And Dennis Edwards, their lead singer, later sang lead for the Temptations. Fair answer for any true Motown fan.

Z 7:41 AM  

@Tom beat me to the violent observation. I just hope it's not some kind of OMEN.

@TokyoRacer - I hate to break it to you, but ANIMÉ is, by a considerable margin, the best selling Japanese art style in the U.S. From Netflix to Barnes and Noble you can find whole sections devoted to works in that style. I would guess that for a substantial number of Americans "Japanese art style" = ANIMÉ, especially anyone who grew up with Pokémon or younger.

Popped in "CONTOUR KIT" into the google machine and got back 3.35 million hits. Proving yet again that what I don't know anything about far outstrips what I know. The images at the top look very much like things I've seen in my wife's possession and even in the possession of my son's friend who is visiting for the holidays. Still, not a term I ever recall hearing before today.

LOL at the 1A clue. I solve in the paper as much as possible, so it only got a mild eye-roll from me when I SUSSed out what was going on (solving too early to find it metacharming) but it does make me wonder if the editor and his team ever test on the various apps. For it not to work on their proprietary platform is hilarious. I haven't checked, but I'm guessing it works fine in PuzzAzz and AcrossLite.

Oh, BTW and in case anyone cares, I liked the puzzle.

The Hermit Philosopher 7:51 AM  

Yes, “unusually mellow” for Rex. He says the puzz was “fine.” Damning with faint praise.

So if there’s a bunch of stuff he doesn’t know, a puzz is awful. If he knows everything, it’s too easy. In between = “fine,” I guess.

And I agree with @Jqym — he couldn’t come up with an alternative to CONTOUR, so he just has to whine. Yes, there is *a* CONTOUR. Just as there’s a SUPREME and a TEMPTAION. Why the hell not, Rex? Get over yourself!

Z 7:55 AM  

@Birchbark - They now mic the umpires for the big games and we can, indeed, hear them saying "INSIDE." I cringe every time. To me, the ump should be calling balls and strikes and leave the analyzing to the radio and tv announcers. This was how I was taught to umpire 35 years ago, along with the pause before you make the call, only call what you actually see, and umpire errors are as much a part of the game as fielding errors. An excessive need for fastidious accuracy seems to me to be indicative of a cultural OCD over what ought to be an enjoyable pasttime. Relax people. It's just a game and bitching about the umpiring is far more entertaining than waiting two hours to watch the 29th angle in super duper hi-def slo motion with laser technology to determine that the pitch was 0.00000027 mm INSIDE.

Glimmerglass 7:55 AM  

@birchbark: the most recent World Series broadcasts had a mic that picked up the plate umpire’s call. The umps did indeed call the reason for a non-strike call. Strikes, however, were just “strike.”

TomAz 7:57 AM  

@kitshef "Though the Pips without Gladys sounds funny. But I guess we got the MIRACLEs without Smokey, so it would be fair game."

I think the Miracles started out as just the Miracles until they became popular and Smokey became a big star. The Pips, in contrast, were always Gladys Knight's back up singers.

Richard Pryor had a very short-lived television show back in the 70s that my teenage boy self thought was about the funniest thing ever, funnier than SNL even. On one show he featured the Pips without Gladys. I still get a great laugh out of it:


Two Ponies 8:02 AM  

Thought I knew my Motown but apparently I do not.

I don't mind a trip through the Far East but that's a lot of Japanese for one puzzle. I'm glad @ TokyoRacer posted a comment about anime.
I think calling it "art" is a stretch so it was good to hear a first-hand opinion.

@ jae 1:20, Me too on the Spaghettios.

Slow start in the north because of acai instead of aloe. I forgot people drink it. I've never tried it but I can't get past the expectation of pale green slime in a glass.

Innit really irritates me when I hear it. Plenty of American lazy slang bugs me too so no surprise.

OK Lisa, you're gay. We get it.

Frayed Knot 8:04 AM  

Birchbark: Do plate umpires really call "INSIDE"? They call balls and strikes ... "INSIDE" is what an announcer says. But a plate umpire calling "INSIDE"? Am I right, or has this FACT about umpires eluded me in plain view for my entire life?

SOME HP plate umps will not only say that the pitch was a ball but also tell (essentially just the catcher and batter) that it was 'inside' or 'high' or whatever so as to stamp out any questions before they come up.
It's not universal with all umps, but it does occur and it's sometimes a viewer/listener can hear the banter picked up by TV/radio mikes.

Frayed Knot 8:06 AM  

on edit: What 'Z' said

Joe Welling 8:20 AM  

If you've never heard of TAIKO drumming, that's on you.

I have no problem with the reference to The Contours. Even if you didn't know it (or the cosmetics thing), it's not hard to guess. "The Contours" sounds exactly like the name of a Motown group.

pmdm 8:23 AM  

Drawing or playing the piano is an art (in the sense of a skill), but not everything one draws or plays is Art with a capital A). So I accept that drawing in the anime style is an art (or skill) and I can accept the 38A clue on that basis alone.

Watching baseball on TV many decades ago, there were some umpires like Dutch Rennert (who actually has a Wikipedia entry) who used to call balls and strikes so loud that, even though unmiked, you could clearly hear the call. I think I recall at least one umpire who used to yell "inside" or "outside" rather than "ball." As exceptions to the rule, I enjoyed them. Now that it is no longer a true exception on TV broadcasts, I like it less.

And puzzles like this I like even less. I'm not a fan of Motown and foreign words and proper nouns. A puzzle like this seems constructed more for the pleasure of the constructor than the typical solver, an idea I frown upon.

And enough of British slang.

Anonymous 8:24 AM  

Contouring has been a huge makeup trend for the last five years (and a “thing” for much longer than that) so I wouldn’t call it obscure. And calling instruments “exotic” is other-izing.

You frequently write about how important it is for to have new frames of reference for NYTimes crosswords for people other than old white dudes. However, when these clues/answers come up, you complain that answers are too obscure. I don’t know anything about Paul Anka, Atra, or Asta and yet I’ve learned about them. Maybe take a moment to reflect that just because you don’t know it, doesn’t mean it’s not common knowledge for someone else. It’s exciting to feel included every now and again.

Odd Sock 8:32 AM  

If something isn't "other" it cannot be exotic. It is desirable because it is different and interesting.

Paul Rippey 8:39 AM  

When I look up and I see that cross before me
I can see (my) blessed Jesus standing there
With his nail scarred hand reaching for me
I can feel his love in my heart

I assumed 1A was a reference to something like this song by The Singing Cookes. I’m glad it wasn’t.

pabloinnh 8:43 AM  

Speaking of balls and strikes, when did "down" replace "low" and "up" replace "high" in the baseball lexicon? While we're at it, when did basketball players become "long" instead of "tall"? And what happened to the second syllable of "versus"? I hear everyone saying things like "Boston verse NY". Just wrong.

Inquiring minds want to know.

QuasiMojo 8:46 AM  

It used to be that URIS would be the answer, not the clue, for works like QB VII and EXODUS. I've never heard of MILA 18. It dates back to 1961, so that may be why. That was my only struggle in this puzzle. Rex seems to flip his lid lately over the slightest issues. The Contours may not be as famous as the others but it is a perfectly legitimate answer in the context of the theme. Bragging and bullying others because one is ignorant of something is hardly the right attitude to take in a blog, INNIT?

If ANIME is art, then so are comic books, right? They should teach more of them in Universities.

I loved how STEREO hovered over MOTOWN. And I can't wait for @Nancy to wax poetic about her TOPSPIN.

kitshef 8:50 AM  

The Google machine tells me that the Pips were called just that - The Pips - for almost a decade before changing their name to Gladys Knight and the Pips. However, they were not with MOTOWN records during that time.

Sir Hillary 8:52 AM  

Decent enough puzzle, but seeing the group names as singulars feels off. She never said, "Hi, my name's Diana, I'm a Supreme."

Five Japanese answers/clues? Yikes.

Favorite entry: INNIT. Pretty sure a famous song rhymed it with "minute" although I'm blanking on which one.

Paper solver here, so the ACROSS clue was great. Clue for LIBRA was even better.

Overall, this was passable, but a bit of a limp Japanese noodle.

Anonymous 8:56 AM  

Themes lately seem to be feats of construction that are admirable but with more of a "drink more Ovaltine" finish than an aha moment.

FrankStein 8:57 AM  

According to an article in the Jerusalem Post from August 2017, Harvey Weinstein is planning to adapt MILA 18 into a movie. I wonder if his plans are on hold, so to speak.

Anonymous 9:02 AM  

M?LA crossing ?NNIT is definitely outside of my wheelhouse, if not most.

Otherwise, I needed most of the crosses do SUSS out COUNTOURKIT.

Have to say fair, but inching towards the harder side of medium.

Two Ponies 9:05 AM  

Spot on, as usual, Quasi.

Phil 9:16 AM  

Having the themes singular is ok but why refer to plural in the revealer
To m6 ear it should read
THEME: MOTOWN (74A: Record label for the singer starting 18-, 40-, 45- and 66-Across)
And it would have been a mild misdirect as well.

Anyway couldn't get past my pAIns

mathgent 9:22 AM  

Lively Wednesday puzzle by the young constructor. Enjoyed it.

I would say that The Contours are a legitimate crossword entry because they were part of the successful "Motown, The Musical."

I learned what an apex predator is. One at the top of a food chain.

Junief 9:23 AM  

Four Tops

Tim Carey 9:32 AM  

MILe + SeMORA: Natick. DNF...

Nancy 9:35 AM  

As others have said, @Evil quite wittily, there are many too many Japanese clues. I also found the MOTOWN theme really dull. Other than ACROSS, the clues didn't shine. Nor did the answers sparkle. A puzzle I wouldn't have missed at all if I hadn't done it.

Rita 9:35 AM  

@TomAz Thankyou for the Richard Pryor "and the Pips" link. What a hoot!

Andrew Heinegg 9:36 AM  

The bloggers are on fire today. Tokyo Racer's Japanese word/culture lesson was interestingly informative. Thanks to Anoa Bob for the Takei drumming video. Watching that video gives you the impression that the workouts the drummers must do to have their bodies looking like athletes are grueling.

I believe that (some of) the umpires are saying why a pitch is not a strike to speed up the game, a significant issue for baseball. When a pitch is close to being a strike (or is a strike according to the electronic sensor), the catcher, especially in the early part of the game, will stop and ask the umpire where the last pitch 'was' so that the catcher can get a feel for the way the game is going to be called. This is the accepted method for circumventing the rule that you are not allowed to argue balls and strikes. Batters do the same thing on pitches called strikes that they think are/were balls.

Traditionalists abhor the idea but, there appears to be a growing movement for the strikes to be called electronically as it would make for a much more accurate call of the balls and strikes of the game and a shorter amount of time for games to be played. E.g., oftentimes when a pitch is called a ball that the pitcher thought was a strike, the pitcher will step off the rubber, take off his glove, rub up the ball, etc. This is all by way of letting the umpire know that the pitcher disagrees with the last call without really showing the umpire up.

The arguments against it seem to be along the lines of taking too much of the human factor out of the game. I give it about 2 to 3 more years and they will go electronic.

I liked the puzzle but had to infer from some crosses to figure out a few of the answers. That is how it is supposed to be, I think.

RooMonster 10:05 AM  

Hey All !
The CONTOURs were new to me also. But, what the hey, all the Downs got it into view. Actually noticed the 16 wide today! Good for me. :-)

Liked it. Fairly easy for a WedsPuz. Had IHOP for HOJO first, StOry-SCOOP after getting correct STORY at 37D, hArMS-MAIMS. So not too bad in the writeover category.

Clue for NINE neat. Also different clue for OREO. Puz didn't RUB me the wrong way. SKOR!


Lewis 10:07 AM  

@sir hillary -- There's a song by Pete Shelley called "Blue Eyes" that starts like this:

My aches are all aching
Opportunities taken
I'll be alright in a minute
It's funny though innit
The way that it happens

I'm not sure this is a famous song, though...

Erin Milligan-Milburn 10:10 AM  

Erik's puzzles are enjoyable and inclusive and contemporary (much more so his indie puzzles than NYT), and today's was no exception.

If anyone wants a hilarious (NSFW due to language) contouring lesson: https://youtu.be/zJaaLXZwmsU

GILL I. 10:13 AM  

Sugar pie honey bunch. I can't help myself. Loved this because I love anything MOTOWN. I'm dancing now as we speak. Couldn't Erik sneak in FOUR TOPS PIN?
Loved 1 ACROSS and nanny nanny to those that don't solve on paper.
HOJO a big grin. When we moved from Florida to California, Mom drove my sister and me ACROSS this beautiful country in her big green Chevy. We always stopped at HOJO's because Mom said they made the best martinis and they always had a swimming pool for us. That was so many years ago but I still remember that trip as if it were yesterday.
How many clever ways can one clue that OREO cookie? SAMOAS are my least favorite but I always bought them.
CONTOUR KIT, yup. The lady who invented the MIRACLE MOP is now a gazillionaire. A smart cookie.
Thanks for the fun EA.

Birchbark 10:15 AM  

@Z, @Glimmerglass, @Frayed, @Pablo, @Andrew, thanks -- I will listen to plate calls next season with renewed ears.

Joseph Michael 10:22 AM  

I finally solved this puzzle after thinking that I couldn't. Way too many names. It's enough to give you otalgia.

Grew up on Motown so I liked the theme and thought CONTOUR was a legit entry given the iconic status of their hit song. However, the singularization of the groups feels a little off. A Temptation and a Miracle walked into a bar...

It's only Wednesday yet OREO has already appeared twice this week. At least there isn't a PACA in sight.

Like the word SMUSH. Also like HOJO in the middle of the grid even though it has nothing to do with the theme. A Temptation and a Miracle walked into a HoJo...

Seems to be a food thing going on with RAMEN, SKOR, ALOE, TARO, SAMOAS, ICEE, and UDON in the offing. Sounds like an EXCERPT from a menu in hell.

GHarris 10:23 AM  

I’m with Tokyoracer on anime not being an art style and when you cross it with British lingo (“innit”) it is unfair and the only reason I did not finish this otherwise enjoyable puzzle.

Rob 10:27 AM  

Went quick for me. Not sure why I knew TAIKO, but I did. I thought the Contours reference was fine -- sure, they have no other hits, but everyone knows "Do You Love Me?" I did, however, look askance at all of the themers, including that one -- very strange to me that they're all singular. I understand that it's necessary for the theme answers that they be singular. No one talks about one Supreme, or one Temptation, or one Pip. They are only ever discussed in a collective fashion: Supremes, Temptations, Pips. None of the themers were whiz-bang clever enough to merit the contortion.

All the same, puzzle was fine, no real complaints.

Nancy 10:31 AM  

I'm surprised HOJO is in this puzzle. We haven't had a Howard Johnsons in NYC -- well at least not in Manhattan -- for years, perhaps decades. They were, like Schrafft's, which also hasn't existed in NYC for decades, all closed down. A part of my childhood -- gone. Are there still HOJOs where you all live?

Howard Johnson's was a place where my gourmet father tried to teach me the fine points of sophisticated dining. No, that's not an oxymoron; I'll explain. "Never," he said, "order meat, potatoes and vegetables in a 'joint.' It will be mediocre at best. Order one of their specialties -- even if it's not necessarily an actual meal." Dad always ordered HOJO's baked beans -- baked beans being one of his favorite dishes, a dish, he said, that he wasn't "allowed" to have at home because "your mother doesn't like it". I didn't like baked beans either, but Howard Johnson's did have a dish that I absolutely loved and couldn't get anywhere else: their fried clam roll. Absolute heaven -- and no other restaurant in NY had it. No restaurant has it now. That was what I ordered every single time I was in there. I used Dad's advice at many luncheonette-type places: Club sandwich on toasted cheesebread and a hot fudge sundae at Schrafft's. Cheese blintzes and coffee at Chock Full O Nuts. I still think it was very good advice.

Father Flannagan 10:37 AM  

Re 1A: I did the puzzle this morning in the exact manner I always do weekday puzzles - between 6AM and 8:00AM service - there's a half hour there between when everyone has left and before anyone shows up where I can sit quietly in a pew and do the puzzle. At 1A I dutifully looked up and low and behold A CROSS.

Are you heathens saying you solve a puzzle in a location where you would look up and not see a cross? That, further, you have the temerity to complain about the cluing when you're not within eyesight of a cross!?

Ru Paul 10:38 AM  

Yeah, doesn’t Rex watch Drag Race???

Prancing Fey Fop 10:44 AM  

Does anyone remember queers?

Churlish Nabob 10:54 AM  

FouFou found the theme “quite dull.”

Anonymous 11:00 AM  

Truly, no one cares about Hojo and baked beans.

boomer54 11:02 AM  

i've heard ... but know if it's true ... that Catch 22 ... was changed by
Heller's publisher from Catch 18 ... because Mila 18 was released first ...

jberg 11:15 AM  

I didn't know the CONTOURs, but that's on me. PESTO on gnocchi, though? Who does that?

I had the same reactions as @Tokyo@Racer (I hope you race those speedboats!) ANIME is more of a medium than a style -- it's kind of like calling silk-screen an art style. I guess it's OK for crosswords, though.

As for the RAMEN -- yes, they call them "Chinese noodles," but then they call the characters they use to write most words "Chinese characters," so I guess that doesn't stop them from being Japanese.

I did find it a bit tough, largely because of the Acai misdirect -- I still don't believe in ALOE juice. But I did love TAIKO. Thanks for the link, @Anoa Bob! I couldn't stop watching.

Anonymous 11:16 AM  

I love the memory of Howard Johnsons (Hojo's). An awful date took me there after taking me to the movie "Walking Tall." A night on the town in the '70s. Didn't care that much for the movie either. But truly, what I don't care about's a dick who attacks people on a crossword blog.

Bax'N'Nex 11:21 AM  

Yep. Didn't know a few things here, but was able to infer and finish pretty fast. Yesterday played like a Monday and today like a medium Tuesday. So don't mess with my Thursday puzzle...my favorite day of the week (usually). It needs to be "crunchy". (ick, been here too long now).

And I agree that the Contours are not household names, but what a great song!

QuasiMojo 11:35 AM  

Thanks @Two Ponies. And @Nancy, I think the last HoJo’s in Manhattan was the one at 46th and Bway. It closed in 2005. But there may have been others. It’s mostly a hotel chain now.

Masked and Anonymous 11:40 AM  

This is sorta one of them YES and NO puzthemes, to m&e…

I have most of their 45s, but with:
* SUPREMES on the MOTOWN label ("Baby Love")
* CONTOURS on the Gordy label ("Do You Love M&e")
* MIRACLES on the Tamla label ("Shop Around")
* TEMPTATIONS on the Gordy label ("My Girl")

Now, technically, Gordy and Tamla are "subsidiary" labels of MOTOWN, Inc. Sooo … yes & no.

Great fill, but with a few nanosecond chewers (yo, @jae) at:
* M?LA/?NNIT. Eventually guessed correctly.
* AK?RA/TA?KO. Eventually guessed "when in doubt, go with U" … buzz!
* Oh! Oh! SPAGHETTIOS don't fit in four squares. (yo, @11-A) QED.

yep. (yo, @Juneif & @GILL I.) Put TOPSSPIN at 4-D, and U got yerself a true MOTOWN outfit. Then put MOTOWN *on* the STEREO entry (yo, @QuasiMojo), and U got yer RODEO.

Wanted PACA "don't preach". Gah, Shortzmeister. What are U doin to m&e?!!?

staff weeject pick: ATO. Recommended clue: {BTO and CTO preceder??}.

Thanx, Mr. Agard. Fun music nostalgia solvequest, for M&A.

Masked & Anonymotown007Us


Bax'N'Nex 11:45 AM  

And Quasi: (oh sorry @Quasimojo): Loved the bit about teaching comic books at a University. How many folks here will get the dig???

I feel the best type of instructor to teach the ever so important topic of comic books should be a grumpy, egotistical narcissist with a hateful attitude for everything but what he knows or likes...wonder if there's anyone out there like that...?

Austenlover 11:54 AM  

I solve on the NYT crossword app on my iPad, and the word ACROSS appears right above the across clues.

semioticus (shelbyl) 12:07 PM  

Wait, the theme wasn't Japanese culture?

Fill: This is not a stale fill at all. It doesn't feel too crosswordese-y, so that's also a plus. But there were things that bothered me a little LALA right after MILA, ICEE/CECE crossing... I don't know. Oh, and also, if ANIME, AKIRA, TAIKO, RAMEN, UDON served a different purpose as a mini-theme I would have loved it. This way, it felt like a guy doing the same joke over and over again a la Family Guy. 16/25

Theme/long answers: I had heard of neither The Contours nor The Miracles so yeah, it was lost on me. Now that I get it, it doesn't also feel like a Wednesday theme. Maybe if the constructor went for a double-meaning type of thing it would have worked better. (I don't know, something like "Diane Ross et al.'s trouble?" for SUPREMECOURTCASE or [insert something Contour related here because I don't know who they are]'s mics and amps?" or something. This way I neither enjoyed it nor it gave me an "Aha!" moment. 12/25

Clues: "Two-tone apex predator" was cute. I liked the informative quality of some clues, like "half of quadraphonic" or "___ Lepton." Above average, but not like super above average. (I won't blame the puzzle for the 1A clue.) 17/25

Pleasurability: Not painful, not exactly pleasurable either. It was just another puzzle. 14/25

TOTAL: 59/100, C+, 3/5 stars.

jb129 12:09 PM  

I also grew up on Motown & didn't get "Contour." I spent way too much time on "INNIT" too on a puzzle I thought I got right away. Enjoyable though I do agree with Rex.

Amelia 12:25 PM  
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Ralph 12:31 PM  

I instructed my Austrian friend never to ask a guy "How long are you?" as it could be interpreted as a query about male uyanatomy.

Anonymous 12:53 PM  

In Jamaica trousers are called tall pants.

Teedmn 1:20 PM  

Yes to the CONTOURKIT ignorance here, in both the Motown and makeup senses. I haven't put any tones on my face since circa 1978.

I've never been to a HOJO's and thought it was a motel chain rather than a restaurant chain. The last one I remember seeing in MN became a FantaSuites (no-tell?) motel, but now has been razed.

This was a tough puzzle for me. Perhaps I was just psyched out because I accidentally saw Erik Agard's name before solving and I know I'm not on the same gridlength as he is, most times. But my co-worker also found this one tough so maybe it's not just me.

Thanks, @LMS, for yesterday's update on the books and your classes. I hope Brennan gets to the point where he would enjoy "A Prayer for Owen Meany".

foxaroni 1:21 PM  

Enjoyed the puzzle. Enjoyed @Nancy's HoJo story. Agree with the @anonymous 11:16 last sentence. Amazed (but not surprised) at the comment that "I had heard of neither the Contours or The Miracles..." To paraphrase the inimitable Sarah Lee, "Everybody doesn't know something ." And your "something" is someone else's gimme.

The Miracles, and eventually Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, were on the radio for a very long time; the Contours for just one song. Did you know American Greetings now has a large number of e-cards for birthdays/holidays/etc. featuring Smokey?

Brian 1:31 PM  

Contours “Do you love me” was covered by The Dave Clark Five on their 1964 album Glad All Over (which I was when it was)

Masked and Anonymous 1:38 PM  

The Contours might not be quite as well known, but they did crank out a lotta nice tunes for Motown Corp., over the 60s.
Would the Commodores be a weller-known Motown bunch? (They did "Nightshift", etc.) On the other hand, COMMODOREPERRY is a painful 14-long.
The Marvelettes were a great Motown girl group, but hard to splatz MARVELETTE into the start of a themer.

In last msg., I doubled the S in TOPSPIN, erronously. M&A blames still bein shook up by his PACA/PAPA affliction.

Lotsa comments already, about that tricky ACROSS clue. I had a printed puz, so I really liked it. Kinda crosses that "fourth wall", in a xwordish-way. Different. Primo. thUmbsUp, Agard.


Kimberly 1:59 PM  

If you’re using the NYT crossword app the word ACROSS does, in fact, appear above the first clue. They can’t make accommodations for every off-the-rack app people might use.


Anonymous 2:58 PM  

@masked and anonymous

Sometimes I like to call the Temptations a boy group

puzzlehoarder 4:01 PM  

This was a rather slow Wednesday for me. I solved it on paper last night and promptly fell asleep.

In the top two tiers I had many of the same issues that others have detailed. It wasn't until I got down to the bottom tier that pretty much all resistance disappeared. Leptons are not that familiar to me but I didn't have to read that clue. The relation between NINE and "Square after four" was a mystery until I read the comments. Math is not my strong point. I got the 1A clue's meaning from the comments also. However it's a Wednesday so all problems were just speed bumps.

Anonymous 4:06 PM  

Did they change the clue for 1A? In the Android client it currently says "How this clue's answer reads"

Proud Mamma 4:39 PM  

I'm 53 and Taiko is a word I've seen a lot. Often when there events coming to town on college campuses or other venues. So, yeah, to me Taiko is a Wednesday.

Contour kit, I've never heard of, but my daughter loves make up and contouring so that wasn't a stretch.

Didn't like the singular use of Supreme etc.

Had Pains instead of maims which slowed me down until I figured out miracle. But didn't know mila so it could have been pila.

Anonymous 4:51 PM  

Yes, Taiko drums are very well known indeed. And crossing it with Akira was, for me, the best part of the puzzle.

Nancy 6:03 PM  

@boomer54 (11:02) -- I worked in publishing and the Heller story is absolutely true. When you come to think of it, wasn't he lucky?

Ian 6:32 PM  

Do You Love Me was an "iconic" (as they now say) hit that I and my generation knew and loved. Rex is oh so young!

Joe Dipinto 6:45 PM  

Fun fact for foodies -- Celebrity French chef Jacques Pépin got his start in the US with a long apprenticeship at Howard Johnson's. He wrote an "adieu" op-ed piece for the Times on April 28, 2005, when the last Ho-Jo was about to close. I can never get links to post correctly here, but it's easily googleable, for those who might be interested.

Joe Dipinto 6:49 PM  

...the last Ho-Jo in Manhattan, I should have said.

Joe Dipinto 6:59 PM  

Oh, and @Nancy -- we always, ALWAYS got the fried clams at Ho-Jo. They were delectable!

SweetCaroline 7:18 PM  

@Anoa Bob Thank you for the drumming video. Who knew?

Mohair Sam 7:39 PM  
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Mohair Sam 7:43 PM  

Jeoprady! has a MOTOWN category tonight and the contestants do not know the lyrics to the MIRACLES' "You Better Shop Around", to say nothing of Martha and the Vandellas' "Heat Wave" - What is this world coming to?

Mohair Sam 8:06 PM  

@Nancy - Great Dad story. And Schrafft's! Memories.

Joe Dipinto 8:13 PM  

@Mohair Sam -- To be fair, Shop Around and Heat Wave were the earliest, year-wise, of the lot, and the contestants did get the other three correct. (I, of course, nailed them all in seconds.). ;-)

KevCo 8:28 PM  

"Do You Love Me?" was actually written for the Temptations, but they weren't in the studio when it was ready to go. Motown was run like a factory, so the songwriter just grabbed the Contours and had them record it. Certainly sounds like the Temptations, complete with David Ruffin yowl.

Joy2u 8:42 PM  

@puzzlehoarder 4:01 PM said: "The relation between NINE and "Square after four" was a mystery until I read the comments. Math is not my strong point."
Well I, too, am a 'word nerd' rather than a 'number nerd', and apparently also have to admit that, although I have read ALL the comments up to right now, I found only a couple of references to the 'four/nine' thing (NINE)?? and nothing that I recognized as an explanation. I guessed fIve (square after four?) which of course had to be changed, letter by painful letter.
I look forward to getting a reply - is it some sort of 'square root' thing?

Motown rules . . or did . .

JC66 9:10 PM  
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RooMonster 9:12 PM  

@Joy2u 8:42
I used to be a whiz at math in High school, it just seemed to come to me easily, but now I use my fingers for subtraction!
Anyway, I can explain the "Square after four" thing.
The clue is asking for consecutive squares. So Square of 1 is 1, Square of 2 is 4, Square of 3 is 9. Square of 4 is 16. Etc... See?

RooMonster Help Desk
(Tucked in the corner of @M&A's Help Desk room.)

Girish 10:30 PM  

and rice-a-roni

Girish 11:04 PM  

@David Schinnerer 11:45 I wrote an entire "A" paper on Julius Caesar drawn mainly from a Classic comic book (training for the Olympic sport of wrestling had gotten in the way of more in-depth librbary time.) And the professor had a degree from Yale. Prui!

puzzlehoarder 11:10 PM  

@Joy2u, exactly what @RooMonster said only I wasn't sure if anyone bothered with 1x1=1 or not. Wish our host would post the Thursday puzzle. It's a fun one.

puzzlehoarder 11:11 PM  

@Joy2u, exactly what @RooMonster said only I wasn't sure if anyone bothered with 1x1=1 or not. Wish our host would post the Thursday puzzle. It's a fun one.

puzzlehoarder 11:12 PM  

@Joy2u, exactly what @RooMonster said only I wasn't sure if anyone bothered with 1x1=1 or not. Wish our host would post the Thursday puzzle. It's a fun one.

Lisa 10:29 AM  

@TwoPonies Wow, who spit in your coffee?

Also, as it happens, I'm not gay.

Uke Xensen 4:26 PM  

People don't know taiko? Really?

Uke Xensen 4:28 PM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous 1:11 AM  

Very busy week, so I just now solved this Wednesday (Friday evening). I use the online NYT version, and the clue for 1A is "How this clue's answer reads"

I have no idea, of course, when it changed. Do you suppose the editors actually read Rex? and take his advice? Hmm.

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Burma Shave 10:25 AM  


an EXCERPT INNIT SPEAKs to Gordy’ disgrace,
FACT is Holland is a SYMBOL of MOTOWN glory,


thefogman 11:11 AM  

DNF on this one. I went with MILe instead of MILA and STArES instead of STASES. Mile 18 sounded like a title for a story about long-distance running and stares are done with a still expression on one's face. FACT is, I never heard of SAMOAS and guessed SeMOAr was maybe a trademark name of s'mores type cookie. I had to confirm with Mrs. Foggy about COUNTOURKIT and I didn't see any connection with MOTOWN. And ICEE now after looking it up on the Google that it's the COUNTOURs with an s. I won't make a SUPREMECOURTCASE out of it, but this one should never have gotten past Will Shortz's TRYOUTS.

spacecraft 11:13 AM  

Finally this old traditional paper solver gets a leg up. The 1-across clue did baffle me, but for a short while only. The hit "Do You Love Me?" was made famous in "Dirty Dancing," but I never knew the group's name; hence total agreement with OFL on 40-across. I don't know what that is either. However, crosses sealed the deal.

As often expressed by a character in the "Get Fuzzy" comic strip, "INNIT" is strictly Cockney; it's not really fair to call it "British slang." Cockney is almost its own language.

We have a bleedover in MILA, yesterday's DOD clued differently. Today she must bequeath the sash to Diana Ross, the supreme Supreme.

A little too much Japanese obscurity for me, but doable. Noodle mini-theme and all. I don't recall any of those GS cookies beyond Lorna Doones. Theme was good, execution fair (good except for you-know). Fill: manageable and not too outrageous. Par.

thefogman 11:36 AM  

That one-hit wonder, Do You Love Me, by the COUNTOURS is instantly recognizable. It's a great song, but for the life of me I did not know the name of the band. Now I do.

rondo 11:47 AM  

Finally a 100% perfect clue for TAR. I rejoice. But if you are one member of those groups would you say, “I’m a CONTOUR” or “I’m a MIRACLE” or . . . Seems that way according to the puz. Doesn’t sound as definitive as saying, “I’m a Ronette”, but then the Ronettes didn’t record for MOTOWN. Made a bunch of educated guesses to SUSS the Japanese words and the non-yeah baby MILA. SURER guesses than sometimes. Overall I’d give this puz a C, as in CECE, ICEE ASEA.

Diana, LIW 12:24 PM  

As is my wont, I finished most of the bottom first. So I had the revealer early, but too early to see what it referred to in the themere. Failing to look back over that info, the total theme didn't appear to me 'till I came here. This is a pattern for me.

Like @Rondo, I sussed a few letters, but finished. The I in AKIRA/TAIKO was the one I questioned the most.

Now I want Japanese noodles... Mmmmm....

Diana, Lady-in-Waiting for Crosswords

leftcoastTAM 2:33 PM  

De FACTo double themer today: Japanese names-MOTOWN singers names. (And maybe throw in a Britishism for a LIBRA sign of balance?)

In any CASE, will have to brush up on my Japanese language skills (zero). AKuRA/TAuKO instead of you know what.

Yes, AKIRA Kurosawa is a famous film maker, and have read and heard his name many times, so no excuses for that spelling error. As for TAIKO drum, never heard (of) it.

thefogman 3:00 PM  

AKIRA Kurosawa makes really great movies. If you get a chance go see one. We were lucky to check out several of them on dvd from our public library. I love the library.

Unknown 3:18 PM  

I vaguely remember the song, "Do you love me?", but not the CONTOURS. Thanks for running it, Rex, but did you have to call their appearance in the puzzle "bullshit"? A one-hit success, yes, but a pretty good one at that.

leftcoastTAM 3:24 PM  

Oh, sorry, Rex, I took your "b---s---" out of context.

rainforest 3:57 PM  

This puzzle is challenging, INNIT? At least I think/thought so. Spent a lot of time convincing myself that The CONTOURs were an actual group, and that a Japanese drum is a TAIKO, but yay for me, they turned out to be correct.

I have read most, if not all, of Ian Rankin's books, and so INNIT came relatively easily, once I SUSSed out MIRACLE MOP (after a brief tussle with squeegee, d'oh). If I had looked at the revealer first, I might have had an easier time with this. As it was, this was a very entertaining exercise where in several places I considered other options, thus eating up several of @M&A's precious nanoseconds.

Fun and memorable.

Unknown 1:09 AM  

Recently I bragged about getting the theme immediately at 1-across (the neat North-South-East-West gimmick from a week or two ago).
Today I was sure I was looking at an exceedingly rare Wednesday themeless until I filled in the very. last. clue. (MOTOWN).
Life can be like that.

Still, I enjoyed the solve, and after I (metaphorically) slapped my forehead over not getting it before the revealer, I sat back and admired a really nicely done puzzle.

And yeah, I know The Contours! “Do You Love Me” got lotsa spins on the old jukebox I used to have back in my single days. Love that song.

John 2:03 PM  

I just solved this in 2021. The first clue now reads "How this clue's answer reads"

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