Kentucky's northernmost county / FRI 3-2-18 / Journalist's tool since '67 / Quarry of cartoondom's Gargamel / Footwear brand since 1978 / 1965 Michael Caine spy thriller / Car model originally called Sunny in Japan / Pope when Elizabeth I took throne

Friday, March 2, 2018

Constructor: Rachel Maddow and Joe DiPietro

Relative difficulty: Very Challenging (should've been a Saturday, for sure)

THEME: Officially none, I think, though it's pretty dang Maddowy

Word of the Day: COUGH BUTTON (18A: What might help a hacker go undetected?) —
  1. (broadcasting) A button that temporarily stops the recording and transmission of a radio show. (So called because the radio presenter might push the button when having to cough.) (google)
• • •

Whoever was in charge of SLOTTING this puzzle messed up, badly. It's quite obvious that they wanted it to run when it ran (specifically, on weekday) for promotional purposes. On weekdays, Maddow's show ends at 10pm Eastern, which is precisely when the puzzle comes out online. On Saturdays, bye bye programming synergy. Commercial considerations > normal puzzle considerations when it comes to this new celebrity-constructor kick the NYT crossword has gotten on to. This is understandable from a business POV, if annoying from a "2x my normal Friday time" POV. Fans of Maddow will love that it's such a self-involved puzzle—that is, that the answers are about the field of TV news, politics, and commentary. She is a cocktail aficionado, so SAZERAC is nice little wink to the audience, as is TV HOSTS (37A: Sean Hannity and Chris Hayes), the clue for which namechecks the anchor of her lead-in show (this was the site of my favorite wrong answer—I briefly forgot who Chris Hayes was and instead of TV HOSTS I wrote in ... COHOSTS; I can't bear cable news channels anymore, but if "Hannity & Hayes" were a show, I think I would have to watch) (and apologies to Chris Hayes for apparently confusing him with Alan Colmes ... whom I just confused with Alan Keyes, I swear to god, my brain ...). Long answers up top (COUGH BUTTON) and down below (FOIA REQUEST) contribute further to the Maddowing of the grid. I did not know what a COUGH BUTTON was and I am being serious when I say I had COUGH BUTT- and wrote in COUGH BUTTER (thinking maybe COUGH BUTTER was some kind of cough suppressant I'd never heard of ...?). Despite the fact that Friday was the wrong place for this (from a regular difficulty level standpoint), the grid itself is pretty strong, and the cluing often clever (though sometimes too clever for its own good, and frequently brutal).

I had hardly anything written in the grid after a full 2 minutes, and much of what I'd entered was wrong. CCS for 1A: Hosp. units. SOY for 14A: Kind of flour (!?). UNO for 17A: ___ grano salis (that is a terrible wrong answer and yes I am ashamed, thanks for asking). The only gimmes in this grid, for me, were AKIN, ABCS, MANN, SCUBAS, FETA, SMURF, and AHA. Seven may seem like a lot, but they're all short and spaced out, and in a difficult puzzle like this, they were not much help. Clue on 1D: Those who've seen both Europe and Asia, say (ROCK FANS) was clever, though how many people can actually claim this prestigious distinction? How many white Gen-X arena rock fanatics are there out there? Show yourselves! The bands Europe and Asia haven't had a hit between them since 1987, though both are (improbably and impressively) still making music, it looks like.

  • 15A: 1965 Michael Caine spy thriller, with "The" ("IPCRESS FILE") — now that I see it, I've definitely heard of it, but when I couldn't see it ... yikes. I have watched a lot of Michael Caine movies (including, just last week, "California Suite" (1978), which also stars Alan ALDA, which was the only name popping into my head for 28A: Actor with seven Primetime Emmys, sigh))
  • 43A: Pope when Elizabeth I took the throne (PAUL IV) — LOL I teach Renaissance literature all the time, so Elizabeth I is pretty familiar to me, but NOPE. No way. Like, no way. This is the first I'm hearing about this guy. He was pope for four years. Four. Once again, uh uh. The randomest of random pope names.
  • 13D: Car model originally called the Sunny in Japan (SENTRA) — there have been so many Japanese car models that I just had to wait for crosses to give me some clue here. Also, I think I thought SENTRA was bygone. Like the Celica or the Supra or you see what I mean with these names, right?
  • 21A: Kentucky's northernmost county (BOONE) — sure, if you insist, why not? I mean, thousands of other possibly interesting BOONE clues out there, but let's go with a Kentucky county (?), why not?
  • 20D: Rosina Almaviva, in "Le Nozze di Figaro" (CONTESSA) — if you say so. After ARIA and AIDA, I'm still pretty much at the puzzle's mercy when it comes to opera stuff.
  • 31A: Tennis player, to sportswriters (NETTER) — dear lord, is this true? In the olden days I was forced to accept that "cager" was a basketball player (when's the last time you saw that in a puzzle?), but NETTER? I've played / watched a lot of tennis ... maybe haven't read enough writing about it? NETTER? I went with NETMAN at first. NETTER? I want NETTER to go sit in the penalty box with ALER and NLER and NBAER.
  • 11D: "Kiss my grits!" ("BITE ME!") — I love Flo from "Alice" (the sole figure in the history of humanity associated with "kiss my grits!"), but "BITE ME!" is not a phrase I can imagine her saying. It becomes popular much later. So seeing this clue and answer as equivalent took my brain a long time. 
  • 58A: Journalist's tool since '67 (FOIA REQUEST) — Freedom of Information Act. Great answer. Hard answer for many, I'm guessing. You really gotta know what that abbr. stands for. I had REQUEST but "Journalist's tool" was not nearly specific enough to point me to FOIA, so that SW corner was Dicey for me, for a bit. I can't believe I'm saying this, but ... I'd like to thank AL GORE for helping me out down there. I'd've been toast without you, buddy.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Adam M. Donahue 3:26 AM  

Just horrible all around.

Robert A. Simon 4:03 AM  

What's the problem? I finished in half my normal Friday time.

Of course, my normal Friday time is four hours, but still...

Thomaso808 4:09 AM  

Yeah, this one beat me up. Finally got a toe hold in the SW where SCUFFS was a gimme leading to UGG (rare singular), SEND, ALGORE, and then REGION. That gave me FOIAREQUEST and FRONTRUNNER, and progress was made. The whole north was brutal, even though MAUNAKEA was a gimme. Nice to see it in its full name. Usually it’s the irritating clue “Mauna ___”.

I liked 26 Down “Unless it’s impossible”. In Hawaii we have a great saying, “If can, can. If no can, no can.” When people invite you to something, they often say “if no can, no can” which is a great way of letting you know saying no is OK. No stress, brah. If can, can.

Anonymous 4:10 AM  

My time roughly a third above my average. Glad for OFL’s confirmation re the relative difficulty.

BarbieBarbie 5:53 AM  

NE was toughest for me. I had so few of the IPCRESSFILE crosses that I seriously considered entering uPComESFred, until I re-noticed that the title had to begin with The. Still, Up Comes Fred with a Michael Caine is a movie I would go to see. COUGHBUTTON went in pretty late and until reading the explanation I thought it must be a British expression for cough drop.

Most proud of slamming in FOIAREQUEST with only the F, O, and I. Great entry. Great clue for CLOSET. I kept hunting for something having to do with cliques or home, until... duh.

Fun, extra-crunchy puzzle. Easier South and super-tough North. Thanks Ms Maddow, I’ll think of you whenever I use the Castro Valley exit to get to the San Mateo bridge.

John Child 5:54 AM  

Oof. A tough one by the clock. A good ‘rassle though, with lovely brutal clues. And a couple of wicked answers: IPCRESS FILE - fair on Saturday when it’s no holds barred, but ouch. The pope - yeesh. PiUsIV looked pretty good to me (just a few years off). Paul IV may not have lasted long, but he was 78 on ascension, a ripe old age in 1555.

I like this one. It makes its peace with the SMURF CUM to allow other flowers to bloom. FOIA REQUEST is wonderful.

Anonymous 5:56 AM  

I’ll BE HONEST in my CRITIQUE of this puzzle. It made me say UGG literally DOZENS of times. IF YOU CAN finish this in record time, I will be VERY impressed. I would like to feed the constructors a SUET and WASABI sandwich, while shouting BITE ME!

Loren Muse Smith 6:01 AM  
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Loren Muse Smith 6:02 AM  

Beastly hard. I got it all done but the northwest. After giving up my hospital units “ors,” “ers,” and “ccs” (like Rex), I googled the location of that vowelsome lake. I knew it had to be somewhere in Hawaii, but sheesh!

I thought Mike Crapo (man – poor guy must’ve had a hideous time on the playground) was from Iowa.

“Recon” before INTEL. Same vein. Both truncations. So okay.

BE HONEST. No. Not with me. Smile and lie to me and tell me that my pants do not in fact make me look fat. Smile and tell me you like my new hair cut. I know I’m in the minority on this. But please tell me I’m not and that you totally agree.

29D – “got back (to), in a way.” I had “echoed.” Makes sense. Which leads me to this…

We have two acronyms or initialisms or whatever you wanna call them – RSVP and SCUBA in the grid, and we’re inflecting them like verbs. Cool. RSVP isn’t really problematic, though I think I’d consider capitalizing or something it if I were writing.

She can never be bothered with rsvping to any invitation.
She can never be bothered with RSVPing to any invitation.
She can never be bothered with rsvp-ing to any invitation.

But SCUBA with its final A makes for some weird-looking verb formations. SCUBAS is fine. But scubaed and scubaing are startling. Sure, we have subpoenaed, but it’s like that first oe sets the stage for further fancy vowel combo shenanigans.

I, too, learned about the COUGH BUTTON this morning. What a great idea. Then I vaguely thought how nice a coffee button would be. And then I remembered some wordplay from somewhere and thought I’d like to have a coughee button – you know – it puts up an instantaneous, invisible force-field to keep out the &%$% germs being expelled from some student.

Day seven of our strike. I’m exhausted from driving two hours (one way) every day to the capitol and coming home in a fugue state. I think I’ll picket locally today and hopefully not get yelled at by angry parents.

puzzlehoarder 6:21 AM  

This took about twice as long as the typical easy Friday so I definitely found it challenging which is a good thing. RMS of all things was part of that difficulty. The NW corner was the second to last to fall.

IPCRESSFILE was as easy as APO but WASABI, WICK and COUGH kept the NE from being the easiest section.

Like RMS, RSVPED was one of those normally ho- hum low level pieces of fill that today served as a stumbling block.

Then there were odd things like ERM, FOIARE and the clue for SMURF. My STUX/SARS write over didn't help things either. I was merely chipping away at this puzzle going from NE to the SW.

Once I'd narrowed things down to just the SE corner the puzzle became easy but before that it was near impossible to get a real flow going.

It was nice to do some real puzzlingly for a change.

Lewis 6:31 AM  

Funny thing, wheelhouses. This one felt like a normal Friday. Two brain bouquets -- lovely, unexpected, surprise gifts -- IPCRESS FILE and ST MORITZ, saved the day when I was struggling in the mire. Terrific clues for ISBN (Jacket letters), INTEL (Military gathering?), and CLEAT (Stud of the sports world). When I got COUGH BUTTON my first reaction was -- is this British for "cough drop"? In any case, a jolly good journey for a Friday morn!

puzzlehoarder 6:34 AM  

I went over my comments three times to clean up all the weird changes. I send it off and it goes and adds -ly to "puzzling." Who ever is responsible for this programming needs that "Casino" movie ballpeen hammer treatment.

Anonymous 6:58 AM  

This was a very good puzzle and its TV host/news clues worked for me, considering I have MSNBC on all day. Thanks to Rachel Maddow and her co-puzzle designer.

I did not find it exceedingly hard. Did have to look up that lake, too, but that was all.

Found it a fun Friday puzzle.

And congrats to Loren since the teachers won the strike.

Dave 7:07 AM  

I was just glad Rex didn't say it was easy, as sometimes happens when I have a difficult time

Hungry Mother 7:10 AM  

I needed my wife to get ERM for me. She was an English, Friench, and Speech teacher, so she knows stuff. Tough solve today.

Unknown 7:15 AM  

Paul IV (Carafa) was infamous and one of the most important reforming cardinals and popes during the Catholic Counter-Reformation. He was a hard line conservative who refused any compromise with the Protestants, wouldn't call the Council of Trent back to continue reform, created the Jewish ghetto in Rome, and strengthened the Inquisition. When he died the whole city of Rome rejoiced (and rioted). He is not a random pope at all.

Birchbark 7:20 AM  

Half-a-minute over my Friday par. ERGO, I must be really smart.

MAUNA KEA wins the prize today. I went through so many random-Hawaiian-sounding variations before landing on one of our oldest crossword friends, just sitting there waiting like a friendly volcano. AHA!

IPCRESS FILE was so goofy looking that it had to be right, and it was.

kitshef 7:21 AM  

Ever so grateful we got moderation before today’s puzzle came out.

Very, very hard. Not once could I get on a roll and knock out a bunch of stuff. Just chip away here and there. For the workout, I was happy.

And there are some very good long words – ST MORITZ, CRITIQUE, FOIA REQUEST.

But jeez there is a lot of crud in here, most of which I could overlook but PAULIV, NETTER (I read the sports pages every day and have never seen that) and SCUBAS really riled me – UGG.

On balance … so-so.

Anonymous 7:21 AM  

Next time leave Hannity out of it.

Aketi 7:29 AM  
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Aketi 7:31 AM  

@LMS, I respectfully disagree. SCUBAS is not fine. SCUBA is your gear, not your activity. I have never heard anyone who dives use that term. You can SCUBA dive or just plain dive. You can call yourself a SCUBA diver or diver but you would not call yourself a SCUBAer. Just UGG. I can only conclude that the verbification of SCUBA was a desperate attempt to justify the S. I feel like I woke up in @Rex mode grumping my way through the puzzle after the SCUBAS.

FYI, so sorry that the strike still continues. It is beyond me to understand why teaching is so undervalued. I only did it for two years and it was one of the hardest jobs I ever undertook.

@OISK, from yesterday, I did the same switch from Spanish to French for what turned out to be a gender swap.
@z, from yesterday you deserve all the credit, haha.
@Nancy, great phrase yesterday that I only noticed when @Z quoted it.

Anonymous 7:34 AM  

Oops, I take back my congratulations to Loren. See the strike is continuing. Hope the teachers' needs are met.

Anonymous 7:38 AM  

I'm reassured that Lewis had my experience - my solve was to the second my Friday average time (based on 200+ Fridays), and I thought it was a good solid Friday. Really surprised by Rex's twice as hard comment.

Dave in California 7:43 AM  

I actually finished in about average time, but while there was some clever clueing, I disliked the puzzle on grounds of obscurity bordering on absurdity. Ipcress File (which I looked up later—it’s actually THE Ipcress File)? Netter (I’m a huge fan—no one has ever called tennis players “netters”. Cmon.

Z 7:51 AM  

I watch Maddiow (I know, you’re all shocked) and Hayes fairly often and I can confirm that this puzzle is incredibly Maddowy. And tough. I’d have put it at challenging Saturday. BTW, Maddow announced in the giddiest of fashions, just as she did the toss to Lawrence O’Donnell, that she co-constructed the puzzle.

Lake Waiau you lost a consonant. Waikiki was too short but seemed reasonable. I have willfully purged hair metal from my memory, Asia still lingers but no hope on remembering Europe(Africa was a song by Toto, not a part of the hair metal continent band genre as far as I know). I never knew ST. MORITZ was an Olympic host. So, yeah, brutally tough in the NW. The rest of the puzzle fell in bits and pieces. You all know my feelings for Random Pope RRN answers, but at least the IV made the SE a little more solvable, id est it had to be an I and almost certainly a V. That V sure did help piecing together the improbable looking SVETLANA (I picture her as a thin Natasha Badanov type). As for COUGH BUTTON, I watch televised ESPN Radio shows, and if you pay attention you can see the hosts employ one. Still, a head scratching argot pretty specific to radio.

@Nancy late last night - I read those sentences and thought to myself, “Damn. The perfect phrasing for the descriptivist argument. The aptest of rejoinder for the frequently wrong ‘Wrong!’ rants. So very Present in its description of our relationship to words.” @LMS personifies your comment most every day (look at her 6th paragraph today, for example) which is part of the reason so many people love what she writes. Yep. I feel like that line should be the first comment here every day. And, of course, it was phrased much better as a response to whatever the German anonymouse was going on about. Left to my own devices I’d have gone with, “Nein. I’ll misuse words whenever I want and you can just BITE ME.”

Beaglelover 7:57 AM  

I usually don't even try the Friday puzzle but when I saw Maddow's name I was curious. Surprisingly I knew quite a few answers. So I was happy.
Wow Rex, you are one cynical dude! How do you come up with the puzzle was really for Saturday but was published on Friday to boost Maddow's ratings? Really? It wasn't in your wheelhouse. Let it go.

Exubesq 8:02 AM  

I’m feeling pretty good about myself today. Did this one in 1/3 less time than my normal Friday, and would have been even faster if people didn’t insist on talking to me while I’m puzzling. Rachel’s influence was palpable throughout, which is a good thing. It was hard enough to make finishing it really feel like an accomplishment instead of a relief.

Passing Shot 8:04 AM  

Love Rachel and loved tjis puzzle. A few hiccups, with SAranAC for SAZERAC, sErena for NETTER (I play a sh_tload of tennis and have never, EVER, heard the term “netter”), pigeon for WASABI. Generally, the bottom half of the pyzzle was much easier than the top. Good crunchy, self-referential fun. Thanks to both constructors.

Alicia Stetson 8:08 AM  

@aketi, what's so hard to understand? It involves women (traditionally) and children, so it's not valued in this country.

Unknown 8:09 AM  
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Glimmerglass 8:14 AM  

DNF. I found most of this challenging and fun with several aha moments — all but the NW. After I gave up, I was disappointed that I didn’t think of KNOCK. The rest of the entire corner was either multiple choice (rye, oat, or soy flour) or completely unknown (by me). I knew Asia was a band, but not Europe. Even if I’d heard of Europe, that was a killer clue. In retrospect, I’m glad I didn’t worry my pretty little head about the corner any longer than I did. I had no hope.

drubytue 8:15 AM  

I got the ping notification that the Friday puzzle was available at the exact moment Rachel starting talking about it on TRMS.

Jamie C 8:16 AM  

This was a great puzzle. Challenging, clever, and satisfying. Easily one of the best of the year. If your biggest criticism is "but it was too hard for the day of the week," you've jumped the shark from "puzzle critic" to "whiner."

Unknown 8:31 AM  

Super hard, but as a politics nerd, I was excited about FOIA REQUEST.

TomAz 8:32 AM  

FOIA REQUEST was great. The ROCK FANS clue is deceptive in a number of ways... I was trying to find a word that fit for 'Istanbul resident'. But calling Europe and Asia 'rock' may be technically correct but it makes me grind my teeth. (He said, sneering.)

SAZERAC was tough but fair. I got the COUGH on COUGH BUTTON pretty quickly but was trying to figure out a synonym for 'drops' in the second half, so also tough but fair. FRONT RUNNER took me a number of the crosses to see. These are all good answers.

But we have: PAUL IV crossing SVETLANA. FARO. SCUBA the verb (as others noted). NETTER. FORTUNA the font. BOONE the county. And the granddaddy of them all, IPCRESS FILE, which I have never ever heard of ever at any time ever. This feels like obscurity for obscurity's sake, to me.

I love Maddow's show and find her the most rational, insightful political commentator around. This puzzle though ultimately struck me as a bit pretentious. The smart kid showing off just a little too much.

QuasiMojo 8:40 AM  

Just a quick comment before I go SCUBAing. Although my partner is not good at RSVPing. Like @Lewis, this one was in my wheelhouse even though I can't bear to watch Rachel Maddow. I find her TV HOSTing smug and too one-sided, and her snorting at her own jokes off-putting. Perhaps she should have a few more SAZERACs before she goes on, or maybe I should have one before being forced to watch her. I finished this one in typical Friday time. Its wonkiness did not surprise. But I would hardly call it enjoyable. ERM is a new one to me. Brother of ERMA Bombeck?

FWIW, I used the FOIA REQUEST not so long ago to get some FBI files on a writer I was researching. They sent the material in a timely and courteous manner and even followed up to make sure I got everything I asked for. Now I'm dreaming up another subject to research just so I can use this wonderful service again.

mmorgan 8:43 AM  

Wow. Superb puzzle. Thank you Rachel Maddow! (I'm expecting the snarky anon haters to pile in here anytime now.). I also briefly played around with COUGHBUTTer until a little light went off. IPCRESSFILE was a gimme, of all things. The NE was by far the hardest for me, and MAUNAKEA was a lucky guess that saved me. I loved everything about this, even when it was beating me up. Rachel, your vibe came through here beautifully. Thank you!!!!

emmet 8:45 AM  

The puzzle was as arch as Ms. Maddow. Finished but just stared at sazerac before I put the r in erm thinking, "This can't be." But Fortuna was on my side.

Brian 8:50 AM  

The biggest "Maddowy" clue you missed- Clue one across is RMS - which is an anagram for Rachel Maddow Show and often used by her for abbreviation in print.

Generic Solver 8:58 AM  

ERM crossing SAZERAC is a total Natick. I thought EMM (as a variant of MMM...?) seemed more plausible a guess.

JJ 8:59 AM  

That's a half hour of my life that I'll never get back. ERM might be the worst fill of 2018. I did like the foia clue, and the CLOSET clue. If someone asked me to coauthor a puzzle, I too would like the help of someone with over 100 in the NYT. I think they should stop with the celebrity gimmick.

Mohair Sam 9:01 AM  

@Lewis - Yup with the strange thing about wheelhouses thing. We had a long gimme in three corners and flew through most of this puzz (IPCRESSFILE a gimme, APO, ISBN, AFT off that and then COUGHBUTTON was easy and off we went). Resistance came in the NW where I struggled until I got Lady M away from her coffee and she calmly said, "Given the RIT that must be STMORITZ - and the rest filled quickly. Easy/medium for us - either we're unusually brilliant or y'all are a bunch of klutzes - probably a mix.

Not a fan of Maddow's show (don't yell at me, I can't stand Hannity) but just loved her puzzle today. Low on -ese, great misdirects at ROCKFANS and SLOTTING, smart cluing throughout. Kinda neat that she included but didn't rip rival Hannity, classy.

And how 'bout Rex's conspiracy theory on why this ran on a Friday!?! Grassy knoll stuff for sure. PAULIV was wicked, but crosses were fair. New words for us: SAZERAC, OVITZ, FORTUNA, Gargamel. But yes, I remembered SVETLANA (although struggled a bit with the spelling).

Fun Friday puzz Maddow and DiPietro, thanks. Rachel ties Elayne Boosler for best celebrity puzzle in my book.

Paperback Writer 9:12 AM  

Loved this puzzle! Weirdly was faster/easier for me than yesterday's -- helped a lot that there were several longer answers that I was able to guess correctly. Agree about COUGH BUTTON, that was just baffling.

Jim in Chicago 9:13 AM  

The ISBN is all numbers, expect maybe ending with an X. Not letters. Major fail.

Matthew G. 9:18 AM  

Definitely the hardest themeless to run in the NYT in quite some time, on any day of the week.

But an excellent puzzle! I have never heard of the COUGH BUTTON, but am happy to learn of it. Until reading the definition Rex posted, I thought perhaps it was a slang term of a lozenge that I hadn’t heard. Did not make the TV connection.

As a journalist-turned-lawyer, FOIA REQUEST was the break I badly needed to regain some lost time. But I still finished well past my usual Friday time.

Matthew G. 9:19 AM  

Oh, and IPCRESS does not look like a thing. I was sure I had a letter wrong in there somewhere.

Nostalgia 9:20 AM  


I too was curious & typically avoid Friday (& Saturday) puzzles

Enjoyed the challenge of this one. And it brought back memories of authors read (T Mann) & movies seen.

Clearly have improved since first attempts with the LATimes puzzle decades ago when in college.... Although still poor with rock & popular music.

Anonymous 9:22 AM  


Anonymous 9:23 AM  

Enjoyed this one. Better than my usual Friday time. St. Moritz, Sazerac and Ipcress File were gimmes and FOIA Request fell early. Not a journalist but those are common when getting business info from State/Fed agencies. Made my share. Wanted ESPN on that jacket with broadcast news in mind. Also struggled in NE. Learned something new; I had never heard of a Cough Button before today. Love knowing industry jargon. Didn't feel Saturday hard to me. I can't reliably finish those without Google. Yet.

Anonymous 9:29 AM  

@Jim in Chicago

Right in front of the numbers you will almost always see "ISBN". So the letters referred to are, in fact, ISBN.

A bit surprised that people will complain about Hannity or Trump showing up in a puzzle, but Stalin's daughter gets a pass.

pabloinnh 9:30 AM  

Thought this was just about right. Caine movie? Must be the IPCRESS FILE. Check. COUGH BUTTON? Yep, know what that is. SAZERAC? Sure. Has to be FRONT RUNNER. And so on, and bang I was done in a hurry.

And now excuse me because the I need to go sign some more autographs.

Matthew G. 9:33 AM  

@Passing Shot: The only place you’re likely to see NETTER is in a newspaper headline, because TENNIS PLAYER takes up too much space. It’s old-school sports headlinese. Hence the clue referring to sports journos.

Christine 9:35 AM  

The ISBN is number but “ISBN” is letters. Correct but tricky.

Nancy 9:36 AM  

Really hard -- especially in the NW where I spent 4/5 of my time. So many problems. I never thought any cocktail could ever get the best of me, but I haven't ever heard of SAZERAC. You, GILL? I was completely fooled on 1D, not knowing that Europe and Asia were rock bands (well, no one expected me to know that, right?), so I was looking for an answer like "jet setters", which didn't fit. I was so tempted to cheat on the S------- Winter Olympics site (I never remember such things), but happily I didn't. And NETTER? I watch tennis. I read about tennis. And for more than half a century I played tennis. No sportswriter -- at least not one that I ever read or listened to -- called a tennis player a NETTER. But that's not the worst. ERM (32D) is the worst. ERM, Rachel????? (And Joe, too. But I've always really wanted to get to know Rachel).

Also COUGH BUTTON. What dat? I've heard of a COUGH DROP and a COUGH LOZENGE and COUGH SYRUP and COUGH MEDICINE, but what, pray tell, is a COUGH BUTTON? When I go back and read the blog I assume I'll find out from someone.

A very challenging and smart puzzle -- light years ahead of most celebrity collaborations. Joe is one of my favorite constructors, but Rachel -- you come back, girl, you hear me? You're good at this. And btw, you're my favorite *straight* TV HOST, politically speaking -- straight in the sense of not being a comic like Bill Maher, Stephen Colbert and John Oliver, since they're in a whole nother category. But I absolutely love you, Rachel!

Aketi 9:36 AM  

@Alicia Stetson, haha. I’m just in a state of permanent denial about that undeniable reality to which I apply @LMS’s BE HONEST approach.

Sir Hillary 9:37 AM  

This is a fabulous puzzle which played as a normal Friday for me. I missed some of the "Maddowy" touches (RMS, COUGHBUTTON) because I never watch her or any other TVHOSTS. But there are some great entries in here -- IPCRESSFILE (big Deighton fan), SAZERAC (yum!), FOIAREQUEST, FRONTRUNNER, ROCKFANS (nice clue!), STMORITZ, CRITIQUE, IFYOUCAN, TIDIEDUP, SVETLANA.

Excellent clues for ROCKFANS, CLOSET (nod to Maddow being out?) and DOZENS. The GPA clue is super corny, but it made me smile.

Yeah, SCUBAS is BS, but I can forgive it in light of the overall quality.

I almost put in RisKFANS instead.

I parse 43A as PAULI V. Wasn't he on "Jersey Shore"?

CONTESSA SVETLANA FORTUNA needs to be a character in someone's novel.

I feel like I've learned lots of things this week that are common knowledge for many other people. Never knew feet can be called "dogs". Never heard of COUGHBUTTON, masse or paseo, either. Sometimes I forget that vocabulary expansion is a great side benefit of doing crosswords.

Anonymous 9:38 AM  

If @Evil Doug isn't coming out to take a shot at Ms. Maddow, I guess we've lost him for good.

kitshef 9:41 AM  
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JOHN X 9:41 AM  

I zipped through all of this puzzle except for the NW. Sure, there were a couple of goofy words (COUGHBUTTON, SAZERAC, etc) but this is late week puzzle and you've got to solve a few mysteries as part of the drill.

Speaking of SAZERAC, what's this "cocktail afficionado" crap? That's just an amateur alcoholic, a dilettante, who clogs up the bar trying to order a drink off a menu and can't decide. I was a professional high-dollar alcoholic and couldn't stand those people, and bartenders hate 'em too. I quit drinking eight years ago and feel even more smug and superior now.

But yeah that NW was brutal, and I've never heard of a band called "Europe." I've heard of Asia (and Aja), Boston, Kansas, Chicago, Ohio Players, Atlanta Rhythm Section, Georgia Satellites, Black Oak Arkansas, Hanoi Rocks, Orleans, MC5, Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels, Alabama, Alabama Shakes, The Blind Boys of Alabama, Kentucky Headhunters, John Denver, Bay City Rollers, Danzig, Rick Springfield, Ozark Mountain Daredevils to name a few, but I've never ever neard of a band called "Europe," nor would I listen to to their music if I had heard of them, a decision based solely on their unimaginative choice of a name.

You know, I don't really disagree with Rachel Maddow's viewpoints, but she comes across as so schoolmarmish that it's grating. Plus my ex-wife likes her so she's got that going against her too. If she would wear her Stanford cheerleader outfit occasionally I might change my mind.


Z 9:51 AM  

Maddow, the current top rated cable news talking head, ended her show with a giddy announcement of this puzzle. The same would have been true if it ran on Saturday, so I don’t think there is a direct cause and effect. Still, the NYTX had to love the free ad. The puzzle makes money for the paper. These celeb puzzles are an obvious and brazen marketing tool. Still, the product has been a cut above, so I’m okay with it. @beaglelover - I think Rex meant it would boost the crossword, not Maddow.

@unknown7:15 - None of the popes are random in any technical or formal, sense. The point is that a pope in a puzzle is a sort of construction crutch. The solver doesn’t really need to know anything about the specific pope, only that the name will be from a relatively short list of pope names (most likely a Leo) and some relatively small Roman numeral. The clue is almost always some wikipedia lifted factoid. For many solvers the clue could always be “A pope most people never heard of.” I will guarantee you that clue would have worked just as well for PAUL IV. The net effect of most pope clues is they might as well be “put random letters here.”

@Aketi - or blame.

@Jamie C - There is a nearly linear relationship between how long a puzzle takes to solve and the day of the week it appears. For me it is Monday’s in the 5 to 6 minute range to Saturday in the 25+ range. That this puzzle took so many well into a typical Saturday solving time suggests that it is a “Saturday” puzzle. Rex’s statement on the slotting of the puzzle is about as uncontroversial a statement of fact as he made today, even if you find the rest of the paragraph a stretch.

@TomAZ - Pretentious?
@QuasiMojo - Smug?
Uh, Wow. “Pretentious” suggests putting on airs. You don’t have to watch Maddow long to realize this is her. About the only non-Maddow thing in the puzzle is NETTERS and that is pretty obviously there for the letters. Likewise, you only have to watch her interview an expert or reporter and then thank them for “helping us understand” to realize she is anything but smug. Her show is actually a fine tonic for the lefty excesses one finds on Twitter. At any rate, your reactions are about as polar opposite of mine as could be.

@anon9:29 - Maybe this will help explain why no one is too upset.

@John X - She was an athlete. No mention of cheerleading in her Wiki bio. Freudian Slip much?

*At least she was. I didn’t see anything after 2017Q3, so maybe she’s not now.

Hartley70 9:52 AM  

I finished this faster than my usual Friday time and I didn't hit any serious snags until the NW where at 1D I tried to think what to call people who live on the Bosporus. Once I changed bds to RMS, I got it.

The IPPCRESSFILE was my way into the grid. I tried Pius before PAUL. Gargamel took a minute because I didn't realize that there was a SMURF cartoon. In our neighborhood in the 80s, all the little girls collected masses of the little blue figurines. One had a family SMURF source direct from Denmark, so she ran the toy villages as Queen. Girls are tough.

FOIA and FRONT came easily so it wasn't hard to complete the phrases.

COUGHBUTTON was strange. I thought it was probably some cool computer term or a type of cough drop I hadn't encountered yet. I'm relieved to know radio announcers had a way to mute their hacking and expletives.

I was googling Stalin yesterday, who knows why, and I noticed a quote from SVETLANA. That's some serendipity.

This was an enjoyable Friday of average difficulty for me, so there Rex.

jrstocker 9:54 AM  

Beast of a Friday to be sure. I tore down the entire south because I'm like no way 'FOIA' can be the start to an answer. Just as I'm writing this post, I FINALLY sussed out what it means. Was just about to give up when CRITIQUE and DOZENS feel in the downs at long last...

Unknown 9:54 AM  

I was wondering how I went to the top of Mauna Kea and failed to notice Lake Waiau. No wonder - it’s 100 meters across. Lots of better clues for Mauna Kea, I’m sure.

RooMonster 9:58 AM  

Hey All !
Tough camp here. Was really trying not to use the Check Puzzle BUTTON, but after staring at the same emptiness for many (@M&A) nanoseconds, broke down and started Checking. Also had to outright shamelessly cheat with the Reveal BUTTON, mostly single letters, but sometime the whole word. Examples: FARO. Who, wha? Never heard of that (and I live in Las Vegas!). FOIA REQUEST, nope. OVITZ? Nope. SAZERAC. Nope. And Good Ole Pope PAUL IV - Har. Nope.

Agree on SatPuz level. No real AHAs, but Kiss My Grits was fun to see. Always waited for that expression from Flo when watching Alice.

Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus(s)(es)(i). Har again.


Adam 9:59 AM  

I got the IPCRESS FILE, which I knew, from _PO, since that had to be A or F. I had no idea what a COUGH BUTTON was, and while I wanted COUGH right away, I resisted putting it in (also missed WICK initially). I got the whole puzzle but the NW - FARO? ROCK FANS? ST. MORITZ? SAZERAC? NETTER? REALLY? Not knowing any of this, or Lake Waiau, made me resort to Google (for the
'28 Olympics), and I was able to finish, but that quarter of the puzzle was not a pleasant experience, nor was it - even for a Saturday - fair, IMO. Far too much obscurities in that quadrant.

I wanted to like it - but I didn't.

Adam 10:01 AM  

Oh - and RMS? I tried ERS, ORS, CCS, MLS - I would never have thought RMS, although I suppose it's fair. I just don't like it.

Jmstar 10:02 AM  

Had to love the Al Gore/Ralph Nader proximity.

ncmathsadist 10:08 AM  

I had a faster than average time.

TubaDon 10:13 AM  

Never saw the Maddow show, but I must thank her for the first "very challenging" puzzle I aced. Started with AFT ad SENTRA which hinted at FILE and BUTTON and I was off and running. Happiest that I intuited CONTESSA from just the O and SVETLANA from guessing that the second letter had to be I or V.

DrBB 10:14 AM  

Gotta disagree with some of those "Brutality" items. Ipcress File a favorite Caine film of mine since forever, so that was a gimme. 21A: also a gimme, because anytime you see a Xword clue about a location in KY, if BOONE fits, that's probably it (really not something an experienced puzzler should have had a problem with!). Likewise with PAUL IV. Any time you've got a pope, you're going to get a roman numeral at the end, and the crosses gave me the U but also ensured it couldn't be PIUS (the only other possibility), so PAUL it was.

My favorite kind of puzzle: when you have a lot of guesses you don't want to put in until because they're all kind of iffy, but then you get a sudden insight and a whole quadrant or more falls. I had gotten most of the NE - SE and then jammed up, but then I saw 29D: RSVPED. and that gave me confidence in a lot of my untried guesses and the SW - NW fell pretty rapidly after that.

The only bit that rankled a little: 47A: Do cellphones really have DIODEs anymore? that just seemed so old-school transistory to me that I didn't want to put it in.

Otherwise a most enjoyable puzzle.

jberg 10:15 AM  

I loved this puzzle, no matter what day it is. Delicious misdirects and challenges, but all of them worked out with a little thought -- or, sometimes, a lot of thought.

The biggest problem for me was ERr before ERM, which kept me from remembering that Gargamel was SMURF related; I was thinking of Rabelais. Second biggest was COunteSs before CONTESSA, which didn't work with either like or AKIN, but a moment's reflection on the language of the clue cleared that up. @rex, you really ought to see that oera, it's hilarious. Rosina's big aria lamenting the Count's infidelity is about the only straight element -- very sad, because they loved each other so much in the Barber of Seville.

I almost went with PAUL Ii, but held back thinking maybe 40D would be Sven xxxi or something like that. Glad I did.

@Nancy, the SAZERAC is a New Orleans specialty. Not bad,but I probably wouldn't drink it anywhere else.

What I learned today: Ralph Nader has a museum!

GILL I. 10:16 AM  

I am in complete awe of myself. I finished it with just two horrible unknowns: RMS and ERM. I needed the RMS cheat so that I could get started in that NW section and I needed ERM to get a cocktail I've never heard of. I really thought I knew my drinks (Hi @Nanc) but SAZERAC was a newbie. It's from New Orleans I think and I've never been there so that has to be the reason.
This took me over an hour of bliss as each answer slowly unfolded. I just took my time. I'd go to the kitchen and the IPCRESS FILE that eluded me, filled itself in while pouring coffee. I'd go to the bathroom to brush my teeth and SUET would appear. Watering a dry plant brought TIDIED UP to the fore. And so it went....
I smiled at TV HOSTS. At least Rachel or Joe had the humor to put a very conservative in bed with a very liberal. CLOSET...primo, coming from Ms Maddow. BITE ME, AL GORE, OVITZ, TORT all in a Friday puzzle. AHA.
I did feel like a stud of the sports world because I got NETTER. I liked MAONA KEA ARGONNE AND ST MORITZ because I've been to these beautiful places. I learned a new word: FOIA REQUEST and I learned that a Crapo comes from Idaho. Do they have Crapo potatoes.
Congratulations , Rachel Maddow. This was fun. I hope you frame your puzzle.

Hushpuppy212 10:29 AM  

I missed Rachel’s sign-off last night so I woke up to a pleasant surprise when I opened the paper this morning.

After yesterday’s personal debacle, this was a welcome pleasure and a more than welcome boost to my bruised ego, after failing to solve Thursday’s ‘easy’ puzzle.

I llove when I breeze through a puzzle that Rex calls ‘very challenging’

Harry 10:51 AM  

I had nothing till I got to the south west corner, and I was able to fill that in and then work back up from there. Way above my normal time.

Cheerio 10:51 AM  

I loved this. Some of the clues made me laugh out loud. Thank you!

Like Rex, I can’t tolerate cable news anymore, including all of them, but this gives me something cheerful to associate with Maddow.

I had to google in the NW, but CUM GRANO SALIS is worthy! Not sure I’m buying ERM but that’s so minor next to all the great content here. I haven’t enjoyed a puzzle quite this much in a while. Seems to me that it’s between Saturday and Friday difficulty and seems fine for today. FOIA REQUEST over FRONT RUNNER is AWESOME. Crossed by FORTUNA and CRITIQUE - more AWESOME! So crunchy.

r.alphbunker 10:54 AM  

A picture is worth a thousand words. My solution is here. Click on "fast" at the left of the puzzle and watch the train wreck unfold in the NW. I finally had to google the lake.

Anonymous 10:54 AM  

I’ve been doing crosswords for a little more than a year. My Fri average is 29 min. But today was fun and fast. I see lots of comments about the challenging puzzle. I’ve noticed that sometimes I am just on the constructor’s wavelength. Today was such a day, and I finished just under 10 min for my Fri best.

Doc John 10:55 AM  

When I saw it was by Rachel, I knew that it would be good, that it would be interesting, and that it would be tough. I was not disappointed.
As for NETTER, here's one who's well-known to all doctors.

FrankStein 11:03 AM  

@Nancy et al, didn't we just have SAZERAC a few months, if not weeks, ago? It barely caused a ripple then.

ST. MORITZ was a gimme as I was just reading about the SKELETON event at the Olympics. Apparently it originated at St. Moritz in 1928. There used to be a cigarette named ST. MORITZ. I thought I was being very chic smoking those back in the day.

mathgent 11:06 AM  

Great crossword! Easily the best of the celebrity collaborations, IMHO.

@Thomoso808 (4:09): Loved the expression "If can, can. If no can, no can." I'm trying to think of other Hawaiianisms.

I think that Mathew G. (9:33) has it right. NETTER is used almost exclusively in headlines.

I just looked up ERM. It's a Brit expression. It seems to be used like we use "ahem," to signal a coming euphemism.

Never came across "CUM grano salis" before. Did the ancient Romans have that expression?

I fondly remember seeing IPCRESS FILE. After Alfie, Michael Caine made some some spy movies from Len Deighton novels. Funeral in Berlin was another. Caine was in his twenties then and now, in his seventies, he is still working. He enhances everything he appears in, I believe.

Saying that a puzzle is not appropriate for the day of the week seems to me equivalent to the addled old man saying, "Who moved my cheese?"

Chris 11:14 AM  

As always, funny the wide range of knowledge. Surprised at how little known SAZERAC is. COUGHBUTTON was towards the last to go in, but I have heard of it. Liked this puzzle a lot and it played relatively easy for me by time, although I suspect my Friday average contains some where I didn't shut of the timer. Felt like a nice Friday--took a few detached entries, but it eventually came together.

rgards 11:19 AM  

I thought this was an excellent puzzle in every respect.

Two contrarian notes prompted by Rex’s critique: I think the puzzle-solving experience would be enhanced if the Times abandoned the notion of slotting — one would be presented with a puzzle — it might be easy or difficult, themed or unthemed, it may be gimmicky or not — one would be freed of the expectations that slotting begets. It would also do away with the inane criticisms that a particular puzzle was too hard for this day, too easy for that day, etc.

The second comment concerns the obsession with time. For me, solving a good puzzle is time outside of time — if thoroughly engaged and challenged, I have no idea how long I’ve spent. Couple this timelessness aspect with the “aha” moment and you achieved something akin to an ecstatic state. Why one would want to hurry through such an experience is itself puzzling.

I enjoy the commentary here in much the same way as I enjoy the Maddow show — it’s time spent with intelligent people who are talking about subjects that interest me.

Austenlover 11:23 AM  

ERM is British for um, or er, or uh. As in, ERM, I’m not sure what to say. Shows up in ritish novels all the time.

Carola 11:27 AM  

I really enjoyed this puzzle - just tough enough, very engaging, satisfying to finish. My way in was MANN x SCUBAS + the felicitously almost right ARdeNNE. The -CR- along with the F from AFT was enough to remind me of The IPCRESS FILE, and that was enough to send me on my way, cutting a wide swath around the eastern and southern REGIONS. Mopping up the NW was tough, though. I guessed at Con grano salis and SArenAC...until...wait a minute....SAZERAC? Enough to get ST MORITZ, et voila. Loved ROCK FANS!

SVETLANA made news in Wisconsin in the early 1970s when she married one of the Taliesin architects in Spring Green. The idea of Stalin's daughter ending up in this bucolic Midwestern landscape was mind-bending to residents. (It didn't last long - 3 years.)

jb129 11:38 AM  

I got The IPCRESS FILE right away so I thought I might be able to do this - but I couldn't.

Amelia 11:39 AM  

Let me say that those of us who actually saw Rachel Maddow announce this last night should form our own little group! She was so over the moon about it. Said that she loved her co-constructor and then Shortz tore it apart. So I figured it would be one of those crappy celebrity puzzles and I was annoyed it was going to be a Friday, when puzzles should be good and hard.

Surprise! It was terrific! I didn't find it super challenging, but that NW certainly had me scratching my head (Hi @Nancy) I swear I looked at the clue for deriding with three letters and couldn't do it it for the longest while. Blank Blank OCK. Huh? It didn't help that I didn't get the rock thing, even after I got fans.

Cough button was great, and really, you should be able to figure out what that is, especially given the constructor. Hint: Radio. And The Ipcress File was a gimme given the clue.

Rachel, please don't quit your night job. PLEASE. (By the way, in case you're reading this, Jesse Drucker is my cousin. So proud.) But you make a better puzzle than most.

Maruchka 11:41 AM  

Have to agree, @Aketi. Dad did many SCUBA diveS, to my knowledge no SCUBAs. Watch out for that kelp bed!

Whatsername 11:45 AM  

Although challenging, I did not find this one “Saturday“ difficult. But then I don’t time myself, so there’s that. Hated the clue for one down and never heard of a netter. A much better clue for 65A (YEASTY) would have been “like bread dough.“ I found that to be highly misleading as not all baking dough contains yeast; in fact most does not. Other than that it was a good workout and I hope to see more from Ms. Maddow.

pbc 11:48 AM  

NETTER? Nope. I started playing competitive tennis decades ago and have covered the sport, including for a major, national publication. Nope. Doesn't exist.

Harryp 11:53 AM  

This one tromped all over me. I didn't know the location of Lake Waiau, and I am 1/4 Hawaiian. Never heard of anyone ice-skating on it, or skinny dipping in it. Sazerac is nowhere in my Wheelhouse. So yes, extremely challenging DNF.

Bob Mills 11:56 AM  

The answer for "uhhh..." is "ERM"?????? What does ERM mean? Good puzzle otherwise.

Malsdemare 11:57 AM  

I watched Rachel get all giddy last night as she announced this puzzle and was hard-pressed to refrain from instantly trying my hand. But I waited til morning and my coffee, not that either made this any easier than it would have been last night. I really enjoyed this; FOIAREQUEST, IPCRESSFILE, COUGHBUTTON, FRONTRUNNER, those I was able to get after serious wrestling. But I had to ask Siri about the Olympics, could only see STtropez (really, Mary, it’s WINTER Olympics) and Lake Waiai as well as that dadblasted 2003 virus (too many serious outbreaks in my lifetime). I don't know why, but I knew SAZERAC, and smiled in understanding when CUM fell; but of course, WITH a grain of salt (which I hadn't bothered to try to translate). I'm BINGEWATCHING The Crown so I wanted PAULvi (Pope during Elizabeth II) before I reread the clue and saw I was off by several centuries. FWIW, I have friends who are serious divers and tell me they're going SCUBAing. Maybe it’s verboten in some quarters, but SCUBA as a verb seems to work here in Illinois.

Thanks to whoever caught the sly self-refencing at RMS; yes, this puzzle was very Maddow-y.

Rachel can be a tad schoolmarmish, but that occurs — in my universe — when she's explaining something I know. "Get on with it, Rachel." But when she's working through something that isn't familiar to me, and is complicated (as her topics often are), I'm quite grateful for her depth of explanation. Her manners are delightful and she's that rare host who listens to her interviewees and asks terrific follow-up questions that quite clearly are impromptu. One reason I don't watch O'Donnell is that he asks his prepared questions, dismisses his guests, and moves on to the next segment, all carefully scripted. Not my cuppa. And again, for what it’s worth, smug is a word I'd have a tough time applying to her; she gave DiPietro the lion's share of the credit for this puzzle, made it seem she was a very junior contributor.

@Loren, I applaud your stamina; just the one day of the women's march had me gasping the next day. A week of protesting and driving sounds like hell. As with others, I hope the WV legislature listens and acts.

Kath320 12:00 PM  

I had TOUGH button, ROUGH button, COUCH button until ARGONNE gave me COUGH button.

Maruchka 12:07 PM  

Enjoyed the challenges, and calling them fair. I hate those snarky too-obscure-for-you toughies. Thanks, RM and JP.

Had SC(?) BAr for awhile. Watching windowed mermaids at a scruffy dive, sipping on a SAZERAC...


Good teachers are beyond important. Essential, and worthy of everyone's support. Pay the damn dollar, W.Va. It'll come back to you in droves.

old timer 12:08 PM  

I never time myself on Fridays but it felt like a normal solve to me (i.e., really tough as Fridays should be). I I put in BOONE right away, on the theory that if it has to do with Kentucky old Dan'l must be involved. I don't now how the IPCRESS FILE came to mind, but fortunately it did.

I thought OFL was in a good mood today considering how many mistakes he admitted to. Of course, he makes his mistakes in the first three minutes of his solve, while people lie me are staring at BOONE and have just added STMORITZ to the grid. Does anyone else think as i do that the Winter Olympics should always be in Europe? Makes for better television, IMO. I have long remembered those Albertville Olympics where people seemed to be having such a good time. In fact, I would be happy if the games were always in Savoie, so those who attend can count on great food and drink. Plus the live events come at a convenient time for those of us in the USA.

RMS is a nice change from ORs and ERs. Plus in this case an homage to the co-constructor. My wife and I used to watch Maddow every night (or late afternoon, for us).

Chris 12:10 PM  

A good Friday for me. About 1:30 faster than my average today. Hardest part was the NW - I kept trying to put CHAMONIX in for STMORITZ and it kept not working. Agreed that this was a very Maddow puzzle.

Masked and Anonymous 12:22 PM  

Excellent Rachel Maddow puz. [ERM puz]

Learned a whole passel of new stuff. Hit the RESEARCHBUTTON quite a bit. Excellent "Brutality" bullets, @RP, btw. But M&A's list was quite different. Got IPCRESSFILE off the two "PC" letters, f'rinstance.

Harder than snot parts:

* SAZERAC. Sounds like a potential Marvel supervillain name. Had no idea, plus it helped disguise the toughly clued MAUNAKEA & STMORITZ admirably.
* ROCKFANS. Easy answer, tough [but epic] clue … especially in its already difficult neighborhood.
* ERM. staff weeject pick. Have heard it before in other xwords, at least. But it crossed dreaded SAZERAC, The Alien Terror of the NW Territory.
* COUGHBUTTON. Breakin News to m&e.
* FOIAREQUEST. Trouble, even tho I've heard of it. Needed a bit more of an abbrev. hint in the clue, mayhaps…?
* OVITZ. Hollywood agent? Coulda told me it was the name of Stalin's daughter [SVETLANA]. Sooo … basically, the M&A was clueless, again.

Best desperation: YEASTY. [PAUL IV's nickname, btw.]

Best clue: {Go pirating}. Sounds like a real neat Russian slogan.

Thanx, Ms. Maddow & Mr. DiPietro, for gangin up on us. fUn pUz, but definitely over-the-top SatPuz feisty. [I'm by no means Mad, but … Ow.]

Masked & Anonymo9Us
Nice U count, for a rookie!

p.s. @RP: But but but --- Why couldn't she have announced this on her Friday show, and then have it be a SatPuz? Confuses the M&A.


Ed C 12:23 PM  

Uh, sure. When I think "rock n roll", I think of the bands Europe and Asia.

Anoa Bob 12:25 PM  

Uhhh, where you people been? ERM was in a puzz just last year, 1-8-17. Today is its second appearance in the Shortz era. It was in several pre-Shortz puzzles, but clued along the lines of "Fine fur: abbr."

With the initial S in place, I tried STINGER and then SIDE CAR before SAZERAC. Never made any of these in my grad school bartending days/daze.

With the initial C in place for the opera singer, I tried CONTRALTO at first. Too many letters. Wrong anyway. Another option to clue CONTESSA: Ina Garten's "Barefoot ___". Could also be a clue for INA.

Another AL GORE quote, after the Florida hanging chad fiasco (at least as I remember it): Some you win, some you lose, and then there's that pesky third category.

Would a butterfly collector qualify as a NETTER?

Kimberly 12:36 PM  

We’re taking off this morning for a long weekend trip so I forgot today was Friday (and not Saturday) until I hit the blog. The puzzle did feel very Saturday.

But...but...but...Rachel. I love her, so I chose to love every moment of it. And thus having chosen, I did. I am the master of my own puzzle-solving experiences. Woo hoo!

GHarris 12:37 PM  

Let me first say I love Rachel Maddox . Second, I am proud of having completed three quarters of this really tough puzzle. But the NW was not only brutal but,imo, unfair. Rms should not have been clued in a hospital context. Never heard of that rye cocktail. Those rock bands barely border my conscious, Mauna Kea did not come to mind (though it probably should have) and, finally, how the hell is uhhh equatable to erms?

GHarris 12:44 PM  

Ok, so now I’ve read about the British connection. Still don’t like it.

Anonymous 12:54 PM  

I finished a bit faster than most Fridays.

Contessa was the only thing I knew for sure in the first five all depends on your interests!

Blackbird 12:58 PM  

Impossible puzzle. Too many arcane, insider clues/answers. Not at all enjoyable. I was reduced to Googling. FOIA request? Really? Yes, of course, Freedom of Information Act! Every self-respecting journalist would recognize the acronym. But for the non-journalists? I am quite aware of the Freedom of Information Act, but never came across the acronym, and would not think of it as a journalist's tool, but, rather, a guarantor of freedom for everyone. 65A clue, and answer, is just plain wrong! Baking dough does not have yeast as an ingredient. Bread dough is yeasty, since bread rises. But baking dough does not rise, it just bakes. 35A is "interesting" because Rachel Maddow drinks this cocktail? Esoteric nonsense. Who cares what she drinks. So, Rachel Maddow and Joe Dipietro, 11D! Terrible puzzle.

mathgent 12:59 PM  

In my previous post (11:06), I was commenting on Michael Caine. I just checked and I made a couple of mistakes there. Caine is not in his seventies -- he's mid-eighties. He was in his thirties when he made IPCRESSFILE and Alfie although he made movies in Britain when he was in his twenties. To date, he has made over 120 films, at least one a year with only three or four exceptions up until the present. He has been nominated for six Oscars, winning twice for Best Supporting Actor.

Nancy 1:03 PM  

With a grain of salt!!!! That's what it means! I hadn't even tried to translate. Thank you, @Malsdemare (11:57).

And also, @Mals, and to you too @Amelia: I missed Rachel's excitement about the puzzle last night, because, though I watch her most nights when I'm home, last night at 9 p.m. I was jumping back and forth between my two Thursday night Guilty Pleasures: "Project Runway" and "Chopped". How could I live with myself for missing Rachel's thrilled reaction? I didn't have to. In this Age of the Internet, nothing is ever missed. I watched a video replay of it this morning.

@Anoa Bob (12:25) -- CONTESSA is positioned in a place that is key to the solving of the NW and SW. If it had been clued as you suggest, it would have made the puzzle immeasurably easier. Possibly by as much as 20%? More than 10%, certainly. And for those of us who loved the challenge of today, that would definitely not have been a good thing!

@Paul Carroll (11:48) -- Thanks for your professional-level support for those of us that thought NETTER, as clued, was ridiculous.

Trombone Tom 1:05 PM  

I'm not a fan of Maddow (or any cable newspeople for that matter), but this is one great celeb crossword. I hit a brick wall last night after putting in beEf instead of SUET and compounding it by choosing coHOSTS. Coming back this morning I was able to suss out RSVPED and hence TVHOSTS. I finally got the COUGH BUTTON and was able to complete the puzzle.

Lots to like with entries such as SAZERAC and FOIA REQUEST. Not so much with NETTERS.

Primo puzzle and, for me at least, definitely challenging.

Stephen Minehart 1:06 PM  

I didn't get very far on my own, so I googled to get Ipcress File, giving me the jump start I needed to finish. Or almost, because Couch Button isn't a thing. I convinced myself that those random buttons they put on furniture which seem to serve no purpose other than poking you in the back somehow leant their name to something that satisfies the clue, but alas, no.

Amelia 1:10 PM  

@GHarris Catching up on FT Weekends (Financial Times) after I finished this. I swear that in the first column I read, I found "erm," as a throat-clearer kind of thing. I was familiar with it from English novels.

Rob 1:12 PM  

This was very difficult for me. Most of the puzzle I thought was tough but fair, and some of the ones Rex flagged as toughies (The IPCRESS FILE, FOIA REQUEST) weren't bad for me, but the top left was absolutely brutal.

I caught the trick to 1D pretty quick -- skews old for me but I know my music -- but the CUM/ST MORITZ cross was a complete guess. I gather from the comments that people have heard this before? I've never, ever heard of the (I assume) Latin translation of this phrase, and to clue it as a fill-in-the-blank seems a bit unfair. I already hate fill-in-the-blank clues, which I think are both lazy and too dependent on precise knowledge, and this seems like a terribly obscure one. ST MORITZ I guess I should have known? Although I was born over 50 years after this Olympics, and no one remembers the location of Olympics they weren't alive for, so this was effectively clued just as "a city" for me. I think I have heard of St. Moritz but it's not exactly rolling off the tongue.

Definitely more Saturday than Friday, but I really think the grid, which is very strong in many places, could have done with some tighter editing.

Matthew G. 1:14 PM  

I don't think anyone would defend NETTER outside of a headline, but in that one context, I've seen it.

I spent four years as a newspaper headline writer, and though I wasn't on the sports desk, I sat adjacent to the sports desk, and I saw all sorts of unusual words used to meet the headline counts.

The vocabulary used by sports copy editors can differ significantly from the vocabulary used by sports reporters because of the different constraints on headline writing as opposed to story writing.

JC66 1:17 PM  

This puzzle kicked my BUTT! Almost 3 times my normal Friday time (the NW alone exceeded it).

NETTER could be inferred, but not ERM.

@LMS, @Aketi, et al re: 6D

If we PARSE dives as a noun and SCUBAS as an adjective, it works better, but not by much.

Teedmn 1:20 PM  

This puzzle put me in @LMS's "fugue state" by the time I finished (way to hang in there, teachers!) I'm with the "very challenging for a Friday" group. I found myself getting grumpy (hi @Rex) as I realized how many things, PPP in particular, I had no idea about, but I decided to go with it and enjoy the struggle.

RMS at 1A, no problem. But kenO in at 23A helped not at all and the NW was my last REGION to solve. I finally remembered Gerald O'Hara in GWTW played FARO (And I was pretty sure kenO wasn't a card game). Whew.

So tennis players are NETTERs? I would think a more apt word would be "racketeer" (hi @Nancy :-) ). NETTER sounds more like a butterfly collector. (Or those people in cartoons sent to collect the non compos mentis-ites. Not PC anymore, I'm pretty sure).

In some areas a well-placed U helped out (SMURF gave me MARAUD) and in some places it didn't (PiUs as the pope from the IF YOU CAN, oops).

58A looked like it involved journalists ordering goose liver pate. And IPC at 15A was ipso facto leading me to question APO.

So far I haven't run into any DNFs, so kudos to Rachel Maddow and Joe DiPietro for a YEASTY puzzle.

OISK 1:30 PM  

Erm with Sazerac did me in, so DNF. I seldom disagree with @Nancy, but I can't stomach Ms. Maddow, and I have tried to watch her many times. It's not the politics; I can watch Mika, and "morning Joe," but I just find her to be a self-absorbed, crashing bore. She reminds me of the annoying girl in junior high who was smart, but kept raising her hand "Me! Me". ( just my feeling. She is a bright and capable commentator, but I can't tolerate her. Nor Hannity, from the other side...)

I think that ERM with Sazerac is a bad cross, an obscure cocktail with an obscure (to me) interjection. I don't know what a cough button is, nor that there are rock groups named Europe or Asia, but I got those. A pretty good puzzle, even though it defeated me.

Winnie 1:34 PM  

It’s weird, I’m a soso solver, great early week. Fri and Sat usually need a lot of help, but today I almost finished on my own. I knew Ipcress File and Svetlana right off the bat. Got hung up with Sarajevo for St Moritz, couldn’t believe netter was right and so on. This puzzle really worked for me. Thank you for listening. Back to lurking.

Fred Romagnolo 1:37 PM  

In the 1934 film "The Black Cat" with Karloff and Lugosi, Karloff plays the leader of a death cult; in one scene he is leading his followers in a ritual with made up Latin phrases, one of which is "in grano salis," indicating just how seriously one should take the absurd plot. It is, in fact, a horror classic. @Anon 9:29: you're surprised?

Unknown 1:43 PM  

Wasn't anyone in the Navy? avast is behind, aft is rear!

Lewis 2:00 PM  

@Winnie -- Why go back to lurking? Keep on commenting on!

mbr 2:00 PM  

@M&A: At least this week, TRMS is a Richard Engel special, and most likely why Rachel would not be able to promote a Saturday puzzle tonight.

Larry Gilstrap 2:05 PM  

Did not experience the rigor of solving this Friday effort expressed by many, but you know how that goes. Sure sticky parts cropped up, like around that FOIA area, but the crosses were pretty clear. I have been a big fan of radio programming all my life, so COUGH BUTTON was no problem. Many times you can actually hear it being used. The speaker's voice quavers and a moment of silence ensues. IPCRESS FILE was from the era when I was a movie buff.

Hear the joke about AL GORE, Ralph Nader, and Jill Stein walk into a TORT Museum? Me neither.

OFL posts a lovely image of a SAZERAC and I'm thinking if it's a New Orleans drink it is more likely served in a container the size of a fireman's boot. Speaking of boots, yes, those UGG boots might make your butt look big. Women in my REGION must wait months for the few days when it's cool enough to slip out of their flip-flops. But since when has fashion been dependent upon comfort?

I'm no prude, but back in the day BITE ME! was more appropriate for locker room banter between young men, not in mixed company and certainly not in print.

Mr. Benson 2:08 PM  

I was on to the ROCK FANS ruse immediately and threw that right in, and thought I was going to sail through... but it turned out being pretty hard for me.

I caught a lucky break guessing SVETLANA off the S, thinking "hm, something would have to end with a V, maybe it's some random Pope..." and I got my first real traction down in the southeast.

semioticus (shelbyl) 2:16 PM  

Brutal Friday puzzle. That being said, it wasn't "oh my God this is horrible" kinda brutal, there was some reward to being able to solve it. I guess it helped that the tougher clues weren't just sleazy puns. They were actually smart and tricky. (Well, except for SEND and CLEAT)

WICK/IPCRESSFILE did me in. I actually struggled for an hour and was ready to hear the music when I finally filled in all the clues, alas. WaCK/aPCRESSFILE sounded better in my head. I thought "Keeper of the flame?" was an allusion to a crazy act or something. I guess I outthought myself on that one.

FOIAREQUEST was delightfully tricky. FRONTRUNNER had a good clue. COUGHBUTTON was smart. And I generally enjoyed the "Rachel Maddow" theme. But yeah, it was rough. SAZERAC/STMORITZ was arguably a Natick. Some slots in the puzzle were too much wordplay/trivia heavy.

Well, a very hard puzzle that doesn't upset me should get higher grades than some themelesses that are just out there to get you and laugh at you.

GRADE: B, 3.45 stars.

Dolgo 2:23 PM  

@Aketi is my nominee today for fussy grammarian. BTW, I'M m a retired English prof--we usually get blamed for such pompous prescriptionism.

Dolgo 2:25 PM  

Good eye, @Brian!

Dolgo 2:27 PM  

@JJ, like many other posters, had obviously never read many British novels.

Dolgo 2:29 PM  

A person who undergoes any training or has experience in radio broadcasting would know what a COUGH BUTTON is.

Anonymous 2:31 PM  

Fun! I generally don't like puzzles festooned with pop/proper nouns and short fill but great cluing made for an enjoyable meaty solve. I'd reserve "Very Challenging" for a DNF - this one would have been a good Saturday time for me, so really I'd rate it in the Medium to Medium-Challenging range. All of the Challenging was in the top 3 rows where I spend 4/5ths of my time...

Dolgo 2:34 PM  

Hey! I find too many sports and rap music clues annoying. It's nice to find a puzzle which broadens subject matter to other areas.

Dolgo 2:37 PM  

You don't really have to know Latin to figure out CUM GRANO SALIS, just a little imagination!

Dolgo 2:38 PM  

Read a few British novels!

JOHN X 2:43 PM  

And the New York Dolls! How could I forget the New York Dolls?

Winnie 2:45 PM  

@Lewis. Thank you.

Anonymous 2:47 PM  

NETTER for Tennis player? BO-O-O-GUS!!! ERM? Golly can you just lay down any three letters that kinda spell a guttural sound?? Shortz must have had a few too many SAZERACS when editing this one!

Dolgo 2:55 PM  

I read all the previous comments, and I have to say that having broad experience in a number of fields helps to succeed at solving this puzzle. It's nice that the premium her, unlike in all too many crossword puzzles, is not confined merely to accessible popular culture. Why is it annoying to find opera knowledge, reading British novels, knowing a bit of obscure cocktail trivia, etc. so bad when we are so often hit with obscure references to sports and rap music? I found this puzzle fresh and quite entertaining. If there were a few hard clues, it was possible to do a bit of Natticking. Example: my first impulse for the Pope clue, as with several others of you, was PiUs. But it soon became clear that Paul was the right answer. Even though I am a specialist in English Renaissance literature, I didn't know the answer off the top of my head. But I DO know that Paul has been an occasional Pope name (cf.the recent Paul VI). Sometimes One aquires certain skills in life which enable one to think outside of the box from time to time. I LOVED THIS PUZZLE! It's so different from the usual run-of-the-mill ones that are all too common these days, even in the NYT.

JJ 3:03 PM  

@Nancy- you should not be watching Chopped on a Thursday. Thursday is all about Top Chef!!

MetroGnome 4:04 PM  

Natick'd on those two geographical clues in the NW, which I simply didn't know, and so which made the entire corner impossible for me to complete. I'm tempted to call "Foul" on having two relatively obscure proper nouns, side-by-side like that, comprising a significant portion of an entire sector of the puzzle.

I also never heard of WASABI peas or a drink called a SAZERAC, but maybe I'm just culinary-impaired.

sanfranman59 4:11 PM  

This week's relative difficulty ratings. See my 1/2/2018 post for an explanation of my method. In a nutshell, the higher the ratio & percentage, the higher my solve time was relative to my norm for that day of the week. Your results may vary.

(Day, Solve time, 26-wk Median, Ratio, %, Rating)

Mon 3:40 4:09 0.89 13.8% Easy (almost goes without saying with an ACME puzz)
Tue 4:08 5:47 0.73 2.8% Very Easy
Wed 6:47 6:07 1.11 67.6% Medium-Challenging
Thu 9:37 10:01 0.96 44.4% Medium
Fri 16:42 11:42 1.43 91.0% Challenging

Based on my solve time, I agree with Rex that this puzzle fits better on Saturday, but it's not beyond the pale for Friday. BEQ's 2/9 and David Kahn's 1/19 fall in that category for me.

(I haven't read through the comments yet, so forgive me for repeating some things that I'm guessing others have already said.)

SAZERAC/ERM had me saying uhhhh and that cross was my last entry ... unfortunately, I failed to go back and fill it before submitting my solution (DOH!). Plus, NETTER (uhhhh, notter!) made that section the toughest for me.
But I did enjoy this challenge.

I liked that I could sense Rachel behind it ... COUGH BUTTON, TV HOSTS. FOIA REQUEST, FRONT RUNNER, AL GORE, IDA, BITE ME (I can completely picture her saying this), SLOTTING (TV term), CLOSET. I like history/news trivia, so PAUL IV, ST MORITZ, ARGONNE, SVETLANA, SARS, AL GORE, ASNER were welcome. I like learning things from the puzzle as long as the answers are at least somewhat get-able ... CUM, SAZERAC, MAUNA KEA (not familiar with Lake Waiau), FORTUNA, SENTRA, SVETLANA. I loved BITE ME and its juxtaposition with CLOSET. What I didn't like: NETTER, EST, ERM and the clue for GPA.

Mike 4:18 PM  

Got a DNF for ERM and I’ve never had a SAZERAC. Erm????? Erm ?!?!? What a stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid crosswordese stupid answer.

Joseph Michael 4:31 PM  

Solid puzzle that really reflects the persona of its celebrity co-constructor. I can even hear Rachel saying ERM in a sarcastic way as she apes the excuses of the politiical nincompoops that she is forced to report on.

Speaking of nincompoops, I finished the puzzle wondering why a journalist would go on a QUEST for a FOIARE whatever that was. Something French I assumed until I came here and realized my mistake.

Lots of great clues, especially the one for CLOSET. Loved learning about the COUGH BUTTON and was amusied to see Chris Hayes and Sean Hannity paired in the same clue. That's probably the closest they'll ever get.

Rex, you were so quick to CRITIQUE that you totally missed RMS as an acronym for the Rachel Maddow Show. Try to ease up a little IF YOU CAN.

Joe Bleaux 4:35 PM  

ERM? I've been crosswordin' since Hector was a pup, and that was a first for me (as were SCUBAS and NETTER). Good tough puzzle til I wound up in the NW, and then, well, UGG. When I was a kid, my old man would accuse me of having "no quittin' sense," because I never wanted to throw in the towel. I hung on way too long before I caved, and the DNF hurt. Until that NW, though, this one was a fun challenge, made more enjoyable by my wondering which parts of it my TV heroine Rachel was directly responsible for. Happy weekend, all.

sanfranman59 5:17 PM  

As I said in my previous comment, I too looked askance at ERM (and I'm guessing that Will, Joe and Rachel weren't thrilled with it), but at least we haven't had to endure the pre-Shortzian cluing for that answer ... Fine/Rich/Royal fur, abbr. And it's only been used in one other puzzle in the Shortz era. (thank you,

Churlish Nabob 5:30 PM  

I'm an award-winning tennis player and have never heard of "netter." "Nutter" yes. "Natter" yes. But "netter"? Oh hell no.

Mother Pence 5:31 PM  

"Bite me" is rather vulgar.

Anonymous 5:34 PM  
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Joe Dipinto 5:55 PM  

I thought this puzzle was great. ERM was an eyebrow-raiser, but I knew SAZERAC from a lyric in the musical "Company", so no problems in that area. My two initial flubs were putting in TORTUGA for the font (there really is a Tortuga font), and KENO for the card game.

True story: I happened to meet constructor Joe DiPietro by accident at a sandwich shop in Park Slope, Brooklyn a number of years back. I was eating my sandwich, doing the Saturday puzzle, when someone sat down at the next table and, after a few moments, said "Oh, I think that's mine." I turned around to see a guy craning his neck in my direction, and then he said "I think that's my puzzle you're doing. Yeah, it is," and introduced himself as Joe DiPietro, who was indeed credited as the puzzle's constructor.

I was part of the way done, and wasn't sure if I should continue working on it in his presence or engage him in conversation. We talked a little -- I mentioned that I always noticed his byline since his name is so similar to mine. Then I found out that he owned a bar in Manhattan called "No Idea" that was right down the block from my job; I'd been there with my co-workers a number of times. Small world.

El Gran Jugador 6:19 PM  

Looks like i’m one of the very few to get COUGHBUTTON right off...thanks to Buffalo Bob Smith who in his autobiography “Howdy and Me” credits himself with inventing it.

jae 6:41 PM  

Yep, tough! Nice to have some crunch for a change. NW was the last to fall for me. Fortunately, the Z in SAZERAC gave me ST MORITZ and helped me finish. Liked it a bunch, thanks Rachel and Joe for a challenging Fri.

One reason ERM made sense to me is that it frequently appears in the closed captions on BBC shows.

Z 6:59 PM  

@mathgent - Wikipedia suggests that CUM grano salis is a later reconstruction. Although I think the shortest version of the article is “Dunno.”

@rgards -You radical, you. There is no particular reason beyond tradition for ramping up the difficulty as the week progresses. BEQ publishes a hard puzzle most Mondays for those of us who need a challenge fix and the world goes on. Still, there are certain merits to the tradition. For example, we’ve seen plenty of comments here when people solve their first Saturday unassisted. If the hardest puzzles were randomly placed that sense of measurable progress could be lost. Count me as one who prefers the tradition.

Interesting to see all the various reactions to Maddow. It is really amazing that we ever agree on anything.

Z 7:11 PM  

@LMS and supporters - Michigan, not West Virginia, but check out the Blue Cross CEO’s salary.

John Hoffman 7:59 PM  

I was it Did Not Finish! But I’ve looked over the answers now and found them to be fair. Just way way way too hard for me!

Argonne Contessa Marauds 8:25 PM  

Loved this!!! Can't imagine my FIRST puzzle being a Friday!!!! (Nor my last)
Loved the hidden shout out of RMS starting off the puzzle (readers pointing it out above make this blog still worth it)
(Actually, this is where I first heard of Rachel Maddow! About ten years ago someone on this blog said I was their other girlcrush besides Rachel! I had to look her up as I don't get cable. Since then, she's one of mine too!)

I'm with @Joseph Michael 4:31pm. I had to look up afterwards to learn what a QUEST for an FOIARE was! Never heard that acronym, feel like I should have.

ERM would've been a ????? for me except THIS PAST MONDAY ON THE BACHELOR"S WOMEN TELL ALL they did a blooper outtake of Arie, the racecar (palindrome alert!) bachelor saying ERM about 20 times!!!!
You can look it up!

Shallow as it is, if I were in love with Arie and saw that Blooper reel, his use of the word ERM would be grounds for breaking off our engagement.

Anyway, Brava RMS!!!! Great job Joe DiPietro!!!
(Even tho I love your puzzles, as a namer, I still wildly dislike the name of your bar! Funny story tho @Joe DiPinto 5:55pm)

NETTERS sneerers are being NITTERS.

Trumpet Terence 8:52 PM  

I'm an award winning crossword constructor and this is a masterpiece!

Dan M 8:54 PM  

This one was a monster. Almost 2x my avg Friday. But lots of good stuff in there!

Jack Dammit 8:55 PM  

"NETTERS sneerers are being NITTERS."

Yeah, well . . . I can't hear you cuz your NATTER is running continuously.

Flasm Flosm 8:56 PM  

"Mother Pence"? WTF?

Oldfatbasterd 8:57 PM  

Where did Oldflappyfrommississappy disappear to?

Oldflappyfrommississappy 8:58 PM  

I dunno. Where did Oldfatbasterd disappear to?

Charlotte in PDX 9:21 PM  

Arghh! I completely screwed up the northwest corner. I thought people who'd seen both Europe and Asia might be cruisers, which fit my wrong fill of CCS. Guessed coughbutton though I had no idea what that might be. Pulled Sazerac out of a hat, must have been a sense memory because I don't drink cocktails. Could tomorrow's test be even harder?

Z 9:33 PM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
Z 9:36 PM  

@ACME - Howdy. Your post reminded me that I mentioned NETTER to my wife earlier today and she said, “No worse than ‘harriers’ for cross country runners.”

158 comments on a puzzle and only 2 deleted by a blog administrator. Color me gobsmacked.

JC66 9:44 PM  


Moderation must be working.

RJ 10:50 PM  

Torture because I didn't know most of the answers. Too many proper names and I obviously know nothing about journalists. Had similar mis-starts (ccs right away instead of rms) and I didn't know that Europe was a band - kept trying to come up with some weird nicknames for people who've traveled both.

No idea what a coughbutton is, nor sazerac, nor foiarequest.

sanfranman59 11:13 PM  

There's been an @ACME sighting. Hey there neighbor. Nice reading you out here. Don't be a stranger.

Phil 1:39 AM  

Had MANN without a clue. Goethe on my mine. But still gave up on the MAR_UD just couldn't see it and wasn't confident with the M anyway.

All same problems for me as Rex.

Space Is Deep 7:05 AM  

I must drink too much, SAZERAC was a gimme.

Unknown 7:18 AM  
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous 9:13 AM  

I loved my Riskfans answer to Asia/Europe and it undid me in that corner. All else was nasty (I.e., fun)

David 10:19 AM  

Weird - I do not consider myself a master puzzler. I do these for fun. My average Friday time is around 14 minutes and I clocked off this puzzle in just under 11 minutes. I did not find it a challenge nor did I find it interesting or well constructed.

burtonkd 11:07 AM  

Really enjoy when things are tough, but ultimately gettable. Not too proud to google or just hit the reveal button for PPP. After getting stuck on stuff like SAZERAC, IPCRESSFILE, ERM, I no longer trusted that the puzzle to be fairly inferrable, so missed the AHA moment on Europe and Asia I might have had on a different day or puzzle.

BigJ 11:24 AM  

Hospital Units are BEDS not rooms. There can be and often is, more than one bed in a room!

Anonymous 1:02 PM  
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
muskox 4:16 PM  

Excellent puzzle. Opera is usually easy, but opted for Countess at first rather than CONTESSA. No one knows The Ipcress File any more (first rate film produced by one of the Bond guys, Harry Salzman as a kind of anti-Bond, but with a great John Barry score), because it is almost unobtainable in the US these days—not sure why.
Smart literate puzzle, just like RM herself. A pleasure!

muskox 4:26 PM  

BTW SVETLANA Stalin figures in a lot of Woody Allen essays and films, a pretty regular tag line for him, so if you’ve watched Decinstructing Harry, say, you can hardly forget the name.

Unknown 8:21 PM  

Just to fuck with Rex's mind, I just have to say, in all honesty, that "Svetlana" was a total gimme, since I premiered a new piano work about her in the 90s. Mauna Kea and St. Moritz as well, considering who I roomed with in college. Contessa was a gimme because I have played in 11 performances of "The Marriage of Figaro". You suck, Rex.

Linda Gibson 11:37 AM  
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
paleolith 12:50 AM  

I don't have many solved Fridays to compare, but my gf and I agreed it's much easier than a normal Saturday. Also not very interesting. I don't watch TV and thus have no sense of RM, but it seemed like fairly ordinary xwd vocabulary and usage to me, and the exceptions were inane, like the oft-mentioned SCUBAS.


Unknown 12:45 PM  
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Unknown 10:42 PM  

This must be obvious because no one is talking about it, but how does ELATE = SEND??

Unknown 5:40 PM  

I don’t think CONTESSA is an opera term. Rather it’s the Italian word for countess. The use of an opera in the clue was mainly to signal the answer is an Italian word.

Anonymous 5:43 PM  

Send has another definition that’s less frequently used. From the OED:

- affect with powerful emotion; put into ecstasy.
"it's the spectacle and music that send us, not the words"

OlyL 4:22 PM  

So excited! I knew everything except wasabi peas, although, now thinking about it, I have had the snack. It took me over an hour to figure it all out, though. Also, knew it wasn’t keno because they announce results in the casino bathrooms and I couldn’t see gamblers toting their cards in there.

Anonymous 8:01 AM  

I was trying to do the print version on 4/6 and was completely stumped so I came here looking for help. Once I saw many of the answers I realized Maddow created a puzzle of stuff she is very familiar with but the general public has no idea about. Cough Button? Dear Lord. Unless you're in the broadcast business these are two words you'd never put together. As others have said, netter has never been used. Ever. That's made up crap. A "lake" that's not much bigger than a puddle as a clue? Hey Rachel, why didn't you go with, "last name of my neighbor's best friends butcher's daughter"? For 1 down a better clue would have been, name the three people who've seen both Asia and Europe.

This puzzle was all about the trivial stuff she knows so who cares.

Here you go Rachel, I lived in Hawaii for 7 seven years, what street did I live on? 6 letters ends in I. Good luck.


Unknown 8:25 AM  

Hi Loren! Why do you always remove your first comment? And do you live in KY?

5wksltr 9:44 AM  

Great puzzle! Is it my new meds or does solving with pencil and paper rather than electronically teach patience?...zzzz

5wksltr 10:10 AM  

As noted, sazeracs are specific to New Orleans and are great drinks, but even there you're lucky to find a bartender who knows how or has the essential ingredient (absinthe) to make a real one. Best bet might be the Pontchartrain Hotel on St. Charles Avenue.

spacecraft 11:58 AM  

I did it, but...first of all: who's Rachel Maddow? And OVITZ?? I don't even know the STARS' names any more--NOW you want me to know their friggin AGENTS??? BITEME!

I had _OU_HBUTTON and was still flustered. TOUCH?? What does a hacker use? This was deep in the techie language...I thought. Then my foggy brain seemed to recall a battle of ARGONNE--a forest, I think--and so what now? ROUGHBUTTON? Such a thing? There was SCUBA with another square, but how can there be SCUBAS? No, there's no SCUBAS. It's SCUBA. I'm cryin' foul on that one. Finally I saw WASABI, though how that relates to "peas" I have no clue. Then WICK, a nice aha moment, and: COUGHBUTTON??? Oh, oh, OH, THAT kind of hacker! Bigger aha moment!

The fight went on like that most of the way around. I agree with OFL that good ol' ALGORE (fittingly run together, as most famously by Rush Limbaugh) was a huge help. Downs produced FOIAREQUEST, where at first I was sure I'd messed up someplace, but then I caught the acronym: okay, that works.

RSVPED? Shouldn't it be "REDSVP?" they "responded," right? Less than lovely either way. So too are TVHOSTS--when they cross the former--along with the RRNP, yet another random Roman-numeraled pope. Brutal REGION there. Last square was the Natick produced by SAZE_AC/E_M. I don't even know why I wrote an R in there; certainly ERM makes no sense at all and draws the spacecraft penalty flag. I just didn't find any other letter I liked any better. So, a lucky correct finish, but little joy in the slog. SVETLANA's not my type, so I will take this opportunity to award the DOD sash to the goddess FORTUNA, in hopes she will smile upon me once in a while. And Rachel, whoever you are, because of a high triumph factor, you saved par.

Burma Shave 12:07 PM  


were you SLOTTING around, or CUM home with just one MANN?


rainforest 2:20 PM  

Great puzzle by a fine constructor and my favourite TV news person. I found it medium-challenging getting the North, NE and the W pretty quickly. COUGH BUTTON just appeared, and I doubted it, but everything else made sense.

It took some noodling around with the crosses to get FOIA REQUEST, and I was lucky to flat-out guess FORTUNA (kinda made sense from the clue, though).

I had the most trouble in the NW where I had to accept RMS and to finally assume that those two continents were rock bands. The rye whiskey cocktail was crazy.

Really liked it.

Nelsa27 2:46 PM  

As a retired journalist, I loved "FOIA request." I also love Maddow's show, especially in the age of Trump.

sdcheezhd 4:19 PM  

Agree on the Maddowyness, disagree on the difficulty; I thought it was a pretty normal Friday. SCUBAS is easy but so is APO and that gets you IPCRESSFILE and COUGH (whatever, I had BUTTER too at first) and you're off. TORT and OVITZ opened up that corner and SVETLANA (she lived near where I grew up) and TVHOSTS coming across helped there. The NW was the only sticking point, with COUNTESS as first I still don't know what FARO is.

rondo 7:02 PM  

A toughie for sure. The north central almost got me, if I'm to BEHONEST. But as I look at the finished grid there are, amazingly, no write-overs. Musta been really deliberate. But then I did it in two sittings, split by the work commute, etc. UGG!

BITEME goes back a lot further than someone above mentioned. I remember it from 7th grade or so, back in the 60s. It's probably older than that.

My bachelor's degree has a Summa CUM Laude on it. Good GPA.

Gonna have to try me one of those SAZERACs sometime.

The FRONTRUNNER for yeah baby's gotta be co-constructor Rachel Maddow. She has a thankless job.

Read Cellphone as cellophane a coupla times. Really oughta take a closer look ATIT. Didn't have a TIMER on, but I spent a bunch of time ATIT.

JimmyBgood 7:47 PM  

I wrote in emm also. Absolutely, a horrible Natick. I've been frequenting bars for over 45 years, and I have never, ever heard anyone order a sazerac. Not even one time. I googled erm, and find it to be a British term, which I also have never come across, to my recollection.

leftcoastTAM 7:51 PM  

Words of the day: ERM, SAZERAC, WASABI. DNF.

leftcoastTAM 9:08 PM  

I think Rachel, whom I respect, needs to tone down both her TV show delivery a bit as well as her (and Joe's) Friday puzzle-making.

Diana,LIW 10:48 PM  

A busy day doing lotsa stuff, with much time spent with this Natick to the 4th degree. COUGHBUTTON????? sure

Had lots of fun with what I did get, but really...

Diana, Lady-in-Waiting for Crosswords

Diana,LIW 10:55 PM  

just an aside - I did want to put in COUGHbutton. Guess I had the idea...

Lady Di

Jentaps 9:45 PM  

For anyone, including Rex who might care, Boone County was once the largest distiller of Bourbon. They dropped off, and are now making a comeback. So, not a random KY County. When is Rachel ever random?

Odie 3:31 AM  

A real odi et amo situation here. I thought this was great. I really enjoyed the fine fill, clever clues - I cruised through it headed for a tough Friday time. BUT the ERM SAZERAC crossing did me in. More than 20 unenjoyable minutes spent trying to finish. I've done NYT puzzles for 20 years, I can't remember when I last gave up. I call Natick.

Michael5000 1:14 PM  

Putting Cough Button next to Ipcress File made this one pretty much unplayable. And the Europe and Asia clue is just embarrassing. Weak!

burdavis 1:10 AM  

ISBN comprises numbers NOT letters. Very poor clue

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