Big name in nail polish / WED 5-30-18 / 1953 Leslie Caron title role / Message system superseded by fax / Transparent sheet used for overlays / Gooey vegetable /

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Constructor: Sande Milton and Jeff Chen

Relative difficulty: Easy (3:28)

THEME: MIXED BAG (35D: Assortment ... or a description of 32-, 39 and 42-Across?) — I guess in Scrabble™ you keep your TILES in a bag ... where they are mixed ... up. So TILES and STILE and ISLET are anagrams of each other ... because "bag" means "bag of tiles" and so TILES gets anagrammed twice ... this actually makes zero sense from a Scrabble perspective, but whatever, it's a kind of play on words. Then there are various Scrabble-related words around the grid, including SCRABBLE (31D: Game described by this puzzle's four racks), all of which are clued [Rack #_: (scrambled answer)]—actually, these seven-letter words form a sentence when taken in order: PLAYERS ARRANGE JUMBLED LETTERS.

Theme answers:
  • PLAYERS (20A: Rack #1: AELPRSY)
  • ARRANGE (25D: Rack #2: AAEGNRR)
  • JUMBLED (56A: Rack #3: BDEJLMU)
  • LETTERS (23D: Rack #4: EELRSTT)
Word of the Day: ÁVILA (40A: Historic walled city of Spain) —
Ávila (Spanish pronunciation: [ˈaβila]LatinAbula) is a Spanish town located in the autonomous community of Castile and León, and is the capital of the Province of Ávila.
It is sometimes called the Town of Stones and Saints, and it claims that it is one of the towns with the highest number of Romanesque and Gothic churches per capita in Spain. It has complete and prominent medieval town walls, built in the Romanesque style. The town is also known as Ávila de los CaballerosÁvila del Reyand Ávila de los Leales (Ávila of the Knights, the King and the Loyalists), each of these epithets being present in the town standard.
Orson Welles once named Ávila as the place in which he would most desire to live, calling it a "strange, tragic place", while writer José Martínez Ruiz, in his book El alma castellana (The Castilian Soul), described it as "perhaps the most 16th-century town in Spain".
It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985. (wikipedia)
• • •

Did you know 17x13 grids have four fewer squares than 15x15 grids? I figured this out through multiplication. Congratulate me. But it's kinda sorta interesting, in that the weird over/under-sized grid ends up being almost exactly the same number of squares as the standard one. I was trying to account for my fast time. I think the primary issue is a. it's just easy, and b. the [Rack] clues are non-clues. Far, far harder to get from a real clue to an answer than to anagram 7 letters. I do the damn Jumble™ every day. I anagram every dang sign I see. [Rack blah blah blah] is not a clue. It's a gimme. Also, those Rack clues make no sense. How are you getting from [Rack...] to whatever it's called when you use all your letters. Bingo? I don't know, man, I hate Scrabble™something fierce. Anyway, I figured out that the clue wanted me to use all the letters on the [Rack]s, but ... just saying [Rack] seems inadequate. This thing is conceptually a total mess. It's trying to do too much, and doing none of it particularly well. You've got the one core gag (MIXED BAG = bag of tiles, ergo The tiles in TILES are "MIXED" up thrice in the middle of the grid. But obviously that is a very slight theme, so the grid gets this radical segmentation, and then super-boring Scrabble-related words get their own section of the grid and their own [Rack...] clue, which, as I've said, both makes the puzzle super-easy *and* doesn't make a ton of sense, conceptually. I am sad I didn't get to blog yesterday's puzzle now. And you know things are bad when I am regretting the opportunity to blog a Tuesday.

The fill is kind of a MIASMA of oldenness. I haven't seen ALB in a dog's age. The OKRA ORCA I see much more often. SAS DST AGEE INCA ABIE ugh I'm bored already. Trust me, there's more of it. And USROUTE??? Oy. SABOTEURS is a cool word (4D: Some counterintelligence targets), and much of the rest of the longer fill is tolerable, but between the all-over-the-map theme and the crushing olde-timey routineness of much of the fill, there just wasn't much for me to enjoy today. And yet I do want to give some points for trying. This theme was at least unusual, as was the grid shape. If you're gonna screw up, better to screw up going big than going safe.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. UNCUT BARRE made me laugh. Not a great day for UNCUT BARR(E).

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


jae 12:12 AM  

Finally an easy one. Clever and pretty smooth, unlike @Rex I liked it!

TomAz 12:17 AM  

I finished this puzzle and I was like, that's it? that's the bottom of the puzzle already? the odd shape gave me the feel of a mini, in a way. Although this took me ~17 times as long to solve as a typical mini.

I like Scrabble, so this was OK with me. But just unscrambling letters is not Scrabble, it's a lot more about strategic placement and interacting with what's already been played. So Rex is right in that sense.

I didn't mind the fill until Rex pointed it out. I rather liked US ROUTE. I did not know ABIE, AVILA, ESSIE, or MORALES, but all were easily inferable. Once I got ROMPS in place or RoutS that is.

I was well below average time today, even with a cat sitting on the desk next to me threatening to pounce as I typed in the answers.

Anonymous 12:24 AM  

Couldn't you have figured it out by algebra: 17 x 13 =(15+2)(15-2) = 15x 15 -2x 2.

Harryp 12:28 AM  

Gigi before LILI, otherwise a ROMP. Lots of fun words, but that is the definition of Scrabble to me.

RAD2626 12:42 AM  

While I agree that it was not particularly hard, so what. It was imo very clever. I liked the anagram set and the scrabble theme a lot. The non-scrabble fill sparkled: SABOTEURS, PLUS SIZE, CROSSOVER, TERMITES. Fun puzzle and nice collaborative debut as well. Congrats Mr. Milton. My only regret is that it was not a pangram and was missing three scrabbly letters: F, Q, W.

newspaperguy 12:48 AM  

This was a very fast solve, but I liked the shape. On another topic from yesterday, the lovely Clare twice referred to Sue Ann Nevins, instead of Nivens. Did the last controversy about correcting another's mistakes scare everyone off? No one else mentioned it.

Good ol' Joe 12:51 AM  

I liked it just fine, but the first thing I thought when I saw the grid was “two smiley face grids in one week?” Turned out not to be that. Anyway I thought it was pretty clever and enjoyed solving it.

sanfranman59 12:58 AM  

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 4:43 4:30 1.05 60.8% Medium-Challenging
Tue 5:54 5:26 1.09 67.7% Medium-Challenging
Wed 5:50 6:39 0.88 29.1% Easy-Medium

I don't recall seeing a NYT 17x13 puzzle before. That's a few less squares than a 15x15. And we have another smiling grid (which turns out to be a Scrabble tile bag and not a smile). I thought Rex might comment on that, but no.

Though I don't play it often, I enjoy Scrabble, so the theme was fine with me. The MIXED BAG is fun wordplay. I didn't even notice that aspect of the puzzle until I looked things over post-solve. There's an awful lot of theme real estate here and though Rex doesn't agree, there's not much junk. Kudos to all concerned.

This played pretty easy for me, but since I had a 22 second stall somewhere along the way, I clearly didn't just rip through it from start to finish. I misspelled SABOTEURS at first, but quickly fixed that with APOLLO. And I went with ROutS before ROMPS (34A), which slowed me down a tad. But that was it for overwrites. Since the NBA Finals are upon us, I'd have gone with Maravich in the clue for Pistol PETE (go Cavs!). One of these days, I'm going to remember that ESSIE is a nail polish brand.

I don't get Rex's "oldenness" critique. Yes, there's ALB and ABIE, but what's olden about OKRA, ORCA and the others he mentions? Pretty easy for a Wednesday, but very creative, so two thumbs up from me.

Larry Gilstrap 1:21 AM  

Even I noticed the squattyiness of that grid. Then we drop into a SCRABBLE game in progress and the trays of letters appear. I'm so-so at SCRABBLE, my wife usually wins, and I'm horrible at anagrams. I associate groups of letters with a preconceived meaning; that's why I do this puzzle daily. Oddly, I had no problem with the themed clues. Unlike, the board game, I know all the letters will fit the squares?

Growing up in the San Gabriel Valley, we didn't play a lot of board games. The outdoors was beckoning and weather events were rare. We rode our bikes.

I know nothing about OGRES. I know a lot about ORCA, but I digress. I have heard of Shrek, and according to the cluing, one can breed that condition. I thought that it might be some kind of abnormality; equally ignorant about dragons. Anyway, as a lad, I was blown away by the tales of Billy Goat Gruff and some bad guy living under the bridge. It was a Troll, not one of that breed of OGRES.

Last time I asked about ESSIE, my local fashionista showed me a bottle. Move over Borden cow!

Larry Gilstrap 2:19 AM  

49A clue has something to do with numbers and magic. Ever have a French dip sandwich. What's the place in LA down by the train station?

chefwen 2:23 AM  

Love SCRABBLE and JUMBLES and this puzzle. A little too easy but I’ll take it. Only hang ups were gigi before LILI, I always make that mistake and my longest Scottish river was Dee before TAY, I should know better, I lived there.

Thought it was very clever.

Patrick O'Connor 2:57 AM  

Although Clare is also a wonderful blogger, I too regretted hearing from you yesterday, because I was pretty sure you would like it. And conversely, when I saw this one had a Scrabble theme....

JOHN XXL 3:55 AM  

This was a pleasant, easy Wednesday puzzle.The interesting part was that it was by Rex's arch-rival Jeff Chen, so I expected a very subtle cattiness to the write-up here. Delivered.

What's wrong with USROUTE? That's a great answer, and there are quite a few of them and they still exist and carry traffic every day. Some are still major arteries. When I was growing up I remember how quite a few USROUTEs had become ghost gowns as the Interstate Highways began to bypass them. Route 1 south of Alexandria VA had abandoned motels into the 21st Century that just fascinated me. Route 66 is the queen of them all, but most of the bypassed routes are flourishing again.

And a clergyman still wears an ALB so I don't see what wrong with that either. OKRA is available in your grocer's produce section and ORCAs still swim around killing every thing they can. MIASMA is a super awesome word and I am going to use it all day long tomorrow.

Lewis 5:55 AM  

This grid is beautifully designed, and if you read the constructors' comments on XwordInfo, you'll see the tremendous amount of work that went into it. Those comments are worth reading, by the way. Sande Milton is a solver from way back, back in the solving days, he says, "...when an ANOA would paddle his PROA to a STOA in GOA."

The solve was zippy but a good zippy because it was fun, because it was so creative/unusual. Fun clues for LUG ("Car nut") and PLUS SIZE ("XXL"), which I kept trying to work from a Roman Numeral angle. The MIXED BAG sideshow, with the anagrams, was just more fun thrown in.

My Scrabble comes in a box. Today's Scrabble puzzle was entertainingly out of the box. And it's all good -- very good. Thank you gentlemen!

smalltowndoc 6:38 AM  

Very clever quiz. This is actually one of my recent favorites. The themers are all 7 letters, like a SCRABBLE rack and make a grammatically correct and apropos sentence. The center “bag” is icing on the cake. I really enjoyed this.

I almost got stuck in the far North, not knowing TAY, ERA or ESSIE. I was saved by the theme by successfully unscrambling 20A. And I sorta, kinda knew Evo’s last name.

US ROUTE is a little bit painful, but easily gotten from the clue.

Anonymous 6:47 AM  

Hanging around people consumed with hate just kind of bums you out.

BarbieBarbie 6:51 AM  

So, @Rex, the “rack-“ clued anagrams are all set up like a Scrabble game, With the board in the middle. They’re the little wooden tile-holders. Fun theme and so much to it. Glad @RAD2626 mentioned the missing letters; I was thinking we might be looking at all the tiles in a Scrabble set, but balking at checking.

It wasn’t Easy for me- more of a Medium. Very satisfying. More more more!

Dave 7:01 AM  

Why is the grid beautifully designed?

Last I checked, a Scrabble board was square.

Hungry Mother 7:02 AM  

I’m not great at anagrams, so this was a bit of a struggle, but it didn’t last long thanks to easy fill. I held my breath when I completed my last entry as ESSIE which I never heard of. Rebus tomorrow?

Anonymous 7:04 AM  

Did anyone else see PARSLEY before PLAYERS?

Anonymous 7:08 AM  

I noticed it, too

michiganman 7:14 AM  

Just want to join those that like this puzzle. Clever construction/theme, and a lot of fun.

kitshef 7:21 AM  

Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like if you have SCRABBLE as your theme, your grid has to be 15x15.

I love SCRABBLE, and I love crosswords, but the mix did not work for me. The cluing was just so infernally straightforward.

I did like the ISLET/STILE/TILES bonus feature.


chefbea 7:55 AM  

what a fun puzzle...since I do play scrabble and words with friends on line!!!

Imagine Acme loved it!!!

Suzie Q 7:58 AM  

Is Essie one of those product names that spell out some initials like Esso for Standard Oil?

Anagrams make my head hurt.

Pete 8:01 AM  

Didn't we just have an entry or clue built around the quote "The opposite of love isn't hate, it's indifference?". Well, that's just bullshit. I have the opposite of love for anagrams, and it's not indifference. It's hate; full on hate, especially when it is presented as gibberish such as AELPRSY. I read Rex's review last night and wondered where the hell he was coming up with the notion that the theme entries were clued as "Rack #....". I actually checked the puzzle and sure enough, there they were. I see gibberish such as AELPRSY and my mind blocks it out, and all around it. Actually pasting AELPRSY into this post causes psychic distress.

I'm living in a world which makes no sense, no sense at all. I grew up in an age where J Edgar Hoover ran the FBI doing Nixon's bidding, and now the FBI is the only institution standing between decency and our country being completely sold to our overlords of Russia, China and whomever may have a copy of the pee tape. In my day, it used to be actually difficult to figure out who or what a person really was. Now, all you have to do is check out someones' social media accounts. Takes about half an hour, depending on how much you need to read to get the gist of a person. With this in mind, the DISNEY / ESPN / ABC monolith thought giving Roseanne Barr a platform? I have to contend both with this reality, and AELPRSY in my puzzle? Life is AELPRSY, I don't need it in my damned puzzle at 10PM

By the way, I need a jet, a really big fast one with a long range. You can donate at I think there's only $56,998,875.00 to go.

mmorgan 8:14 AM  

@anon 7:04: Yep, Parsley. (And, of course, Gigi....)

Anonymous 8:29 AM  

I guess 15 X 15 would have been a plus but it's still one of the best puzzles in a while. My criteria for thinking a puzzle is good do not include solve time, grid size, grid art, or word count.

QuasiMojo 8:31 AM  

This was at least ambitious, although too easy for a Wednesday. I finished in near record time.

(Can someone explain to me why a "romp" is boring? I thought the answer was ROUT. Btw, I did try and look it up.)

Agree with above, the board should have been square. And the "bingos" could have been in the center or placed on the Triple Word Squares (if there were some.)

In my family we never used a TILE BAG. We turned the tiles over inside the back cover of the front cover. Yes, this could lead to some minor cheating (if you went to answer the phone, for instance) but we all trusted each other. This was also a good way to count the tiles beforehand in case one was missing.

Time to put SHREK out to pasture. Getting very repetitive in the NYT.

SHAMU has CROSSed OVER, and the Shamu Show has been shelved at Sea World, so let's give her a rest here, too.

I wonder if ESSIE MORALES is ESAI's sister.

I did appreciate the indication of an abbreviation for U.S. ROUTE, however.

Thank you Mr. Chen et alii or MACHINE TILER.

Mohair Sam 8:33 AM  

Sometimes I wonder what Rex is looking for in a puzzle.

I-could-not-let-Gigi-go. Otherwise this different and damned clever puzzle was a snap. Learned "LILI" today - surprised Leslie Caron didn't do a movie called "Mimi".

Part of USROUTE 50 in Virginia is named the Lee/Jackson Highway. First time I saw the sign (as a college Freshman headed for spring break) I wondered aloud who won the friggin' war, or did we have a Benedict Arnold Highway somewhere in the country?

Congrats on a delightful debut Sande Milton. And thanks again Jeff Chen.

Ted 8:42 AM  

How can one be so utterly invested in Crosswords, but hate Scrabble?

That's... confusing.

I Scrabble every day (well, Wordfeud, same idea) and the two things go hand in hand.

PoopyPants 8:46 AM  

Does a puzzle have to be logically tight? IMO no, it's a puzzle, and therefore, if it throws several things at you related to the theme, it is fair game. Seems to me that Rex's aching for "outside the box," fresh, new material is at odds with a rather stodgy preference for logical tightness and a single pure theme or trick.

Peace and No Warren 8:54 AM  

"This thing" is NOT a total mess. It's a great-fun concept beautifully executed.

Gigi and routs. Presley when I started just throwin' stuff in there.

Came into Sacramento yesterday after camping in Pescadero, welcomed at the US Route 50 sign that says "Ocean City, MD 3073."

The world is full of delightful things every day if you can ignore the news and look around. Two of then are that sign and this puzzle.

Anon 8:57 AM  

HURT for HARM and ROUT for ROMP both slowdowns for me.

FKDVR 8:58 AM  

Fast, easy, and a total bore. Anagrams - ugh. If i wanted a jumble I wouldn't have gone to the crossword page. Theme was totally in the mind of the constructor - had nothing to do with solving. Not fun.

BarbieBarbie 9:00 AM  

@MohairSam, it’s the Avis approach. “WE’RE NUMBER TWO!!”

Whatsername 9:00 AM  

Very nice! This is a rare day where I totally disagree with Rex’s review. Made me think, but not too hard, and made me smile. I loved it but then again, I also love Scrabble and anagrams. Best Wednesday I can remember in a very long time. Hope to see more Milton/Chen collaboration. (Or would that be collusion?)

@Anonymous at 7:04 – yes PARSELY was the first thing I saw. Also tried to get settler for LETTERS.

Letterman 9:11 AM  

I love Jumble and crosswords. What a treat to have them together.

Johnny 9:16 AM  

@Larry Gilstrap 2:19 AM

Philippe's (or Philippe the Original) is the French Dip restaurant near Union Station in downtown Los Angeles. Cole's, in the Pacific Electric Building, also claims to have invented the French Dip.

Stanley Hudson 9:22 AM  

Not a fan of anagrams but once I caught on to the theme everything fell into place.

Sande Milton, congratulations on your NYT debut.

@Pete, we are indeed living in Bizarro World. As a historian, I wonder how my future colleagues will teach this era in 50 years.

Suzy 9:23 AM  

Easiest Wednesday in a very long time— pleasant solve, but no challenge at all.

GILL I. 9:25 AM  

Totally, completely, utterly disagree with @Rex today.
This was CLEVER. From LIPS to AGES. From ISLET STILE TILES to all the other MIXED BAG entries.
I DO NOT understand any distain for the puzzle. I'm going to say it is my favorite Wed. this year and Jeff can give himself the POW.
AVILA is gorgeous in a dark sort of way. When you walk behind the walls, you can sense the medieval era. The Arab Moors are everywhere as are the Christians who recaptured the city and built its fortified walls. Stay at the Piedras Albas Palace, the Parador de Avila. You'll feel the cultural heritage. After you've visited the churches, Renaissance palaces and all the gems lurking within its walls, the Parador will make you feel like you've known St. Teresa all of your life. Then go and eat succulent veal.
I like SCRABBLE because my grandmother introduced it to me as a youngster hoping I would learn some good English.
Loved this puzzle, Sande and Jeff. I'll take this kind every Wed. thank you very much.
@Pete....Forgot to take some Xanax this morning?

pabloinnh 9:26 AM  

Do people really find these puzzles "boring"? Are there "boring clues"? "Boring answers"?

"Boring" is sitting in the little exam room at the hospital waiting for an hour for the doctor to show up with nothing to read but standard issue medical pamphlets about eye problems. Like waiting in the theater for the curtain to go up or the movie to start, but without the pleasant anticipation.

Maybe I'm too easily amused, but I have a very hard time finding crosswords or clues or answers "boring".

Marcie 9:27 AM  

Tomorrow we head to Ocean City, MD, the terminus of US 50, if you’re starting in California. The puzzle was fun!

GHarris 9:58 AM  

Like doing Jumble and crossword simultaneously. Easy and fun. Didn’t realize I had a dnf until I came here and discovered it was islet not inlet. So Astin meet Antin.

Z 10:05 AM  

Trying something different, the anagrams making a description, the “bag” in the middle - that’s good stuff. SCRABBLE theme, four “racks” instead of clues, highish PPP (24/75), four 4x4 corners flooded with ese, not so much. Again, Rex seems spot on - ambitious but in the end flawed.

@QuasiMojo - ROMP and rout are synonymous in sportsspeak, so watching a ROMP like DCFC’s 11-0 ROMP over FC Indiana was a yawner even for the Northern Guard. The teams are playing again this week, which is the reason I kept my prideraiser pledge to $1.11 per goal.

@Stanley Hudson - I hope with compare and contrast assignments with the 1930’s.

@Ted - Rex has previously discussed/ranted about SCRABBLE and how, especially in competitive SCRABBLE, it’s all about memorizing word lists. For me, it’s the difference between word play and letter play. SCRABBLE is closer to the KenKen than the Crossword in that it’s all about rearranging. They’re fine, but definitely lesser than a good crossword.

Mr. Benson 10:22 AM  

(n+2)*(n-2) = (n^2)-4. In other words, yeah, a 17x13 grid will have four fewer spaces than a 15x15 grid. And a 22x18 grid will have four fewer spaces than a 20x20. And so on.

Nancy 10:25 AM  

I like SCRABBLE, too, but this was more like Word JUMBLES. And the theme added nothing to the solving experience. A duller puzzle I cannot possibly imagine, the Jeff Chen byline notwithstanding.

Anonymous 10:36 AM  

US route IS terrific. My old man uses the phrase frequently. Like Mohair, GIGI remained in my grid for far longer than it should have.

@newspaper guy,
I was considering the Nevins/Nivins error yesterday. And my very first thought was vowel shift. I believe I'm hearing more and more of them. The E for I is the most common. If I hear MELK for MILk one more time, I'm gonna scream.
Obviously Clare has no first hand knowledge of the character and may well never have heard it pronounced, so my theory may be like a Rex write up: wildly wrong.

Thanks for fun puzzle Milton and Chen.

Sir Hillary 10:37 AM  

Fun to see a 17x13 grid on a Wednesday. As @Lewis noted, this was out of the box. Good for Sande and Jeff.

Yep, (x+2)*(x-2) = x^2-4, so just 4 squares less. Even closer in a 16x14 -- just 1 square less.

ROut >> ROMP.

Saw the crossword piece on HBO "Real Sports" last night. Shortz comes across as smug, Agard as a good guy. If @Rex has seen it, I'm guessing he was yelling at the screen, what with Bryant Gumbel referring to NYT crosswords as "his puzzles", meaning Shortz's.

QuasiMojo 10:40 AM  

Thanks @Z, ya learn something knew everyday. When I was in knickers a “romp” was something fun and exciting, not a “yawn.” @Pete is onto something but I am pretty sure every era has been equally incomprehensible.

Anonymous 10:44 AM  

LILI was a lovely movie. Surprised it never gets a reprise.

Anonymous 10:48 AM  

Clever, easy and fun. Time for your medication, Rex.

The Clerk 10:58 AM  

Yep, thinking word salad.

Carola 11:00 AM  

Tough for me. I'm terrible at JUMBLEs and bad at SCRABBLE and was very slow on this puzzle. I admired the construction after finishing, but had little fun during (bar SABOTEURS).

Anonymous 11:03 AM  

That a 17x13 grid has fewer squares than a 15x15 seems intuitively obvious to me. Carry the series 15x15, 16x14, 17x13, etc to the end and you get 30x1, with only 30 squares.

jb129 11:16 AM  

When I opened to the puzzle & saw the size, I decided not to like it. My problem. But seeing Jeff Chen's name I expected more. Very easy & I'm very disappointed. Again, my problem.

Anonymous 11:18 AM  

I loved the US 50 clue. In 1993, I drove a Saturn from San Francisco to Boston, and General Motors asked me to take pictures of US 50 signs with my Saturn all across the country. What they didn't warn me about was the speed trap on the California/Nevada border with its parking lot and state troopers with credit car machines. US 50 was an awesome road, and I drove the whole damned thing in an awesome car which I still miss. Complete with its 45 mpg record on that drive. I still have some photos of that car on US

bennys 11:22 AM  

An odometer does not have a reset button. (That would make it pretty useless when selling the car.) Perhaps he was thinking of a tripometer?

Randall H 11:25 AM  

Loved the Scrabble theme, but I enjoy Scrabble as well as crosswords. Unfortunately, I had TRESTLE and SETTLER before finally getting the correct LETTERS.

RGK 11:31 AM  

I find it vexing that there seems to be an unspoken game among the commenters to dismiss and even be contemptuous of Rex's reviews. I don't know whether it's resentment of someone who is highly competent, but critical. The trait for which he is being taunted is exactly the one displayed by comments that refer to Rex. For one, I feel we should be grateful to Rex for providing intelligent daily entertainment and original critiques. I wish comments were courteous, even in the context of disagreement. Personal insults, and ad hominem arguments, are unattractive. I wonder whether our president's writing and speaking style has become ordinary practice. He has established the legitimacy of ugly, self-righteous, attacks. Really sad. Why not practice, my friends, expressing disagreement while avoiding insults and denigration. Thank you.

bennys 11:32 AM  

I meant “tripmeter” (not tripometer). And it seems officially that’s a type of odometer. I still find it slightly inaccurate, which is why I refused to answer that clue until I had to. :)

Peace and No Warren 11:34 AM  

@Anon 11:18, That's a great story. We too got a ticket in the Cal/Nevada area on 50 but the memory isn't going to stop me from taking a shot at that drive to Ocean City one of these days. Have fun @Marcy!

Nancy 11:37 AM  

@Stanley Hudson (9:22) -- Love your optimism. You're assuming that in 50 years, there will not only be a "future", but that there will be educators to teach about the era we're living through now. Would that I were that sanguine.

Thornton Wilder's "The Skin of Our Teeth" -- a play that our class put on Sophomore Year in high school -- is a powerful reminder that nearly every generation has feared that it might be the last. And that somehow mankind has always managed to muddle through. But still...

jberg 11:48 AM  

Rats! I haven't figured out this comment page yet, and somehow attempting to type OKRA erased my whole comment. I'll try to reconstruct it.

First, welcome, Monday! We'd been missing you. super easy puzzle with a fun, clever theme that unfolds in several steps (figuring out what the racks are, noticing how they are arranged, seeing that they make a sentence, then getting the mixed bag thing -- and realizing that the whole puzzle is a crossword/SCRABBLE CROSSOVER.

Only, it's not a smiley face, it's one of the attackers in the old Space Invaders arcade game. No question about it.

Now to try it again, having saved what I've written: OKRA is only gooey if you make it that way, for example because you want to thicken some gumbo. Slice it crosswise and saute it quickly with some spices, and it will be crisp and delicious.

Kimberly 11:51 AM  

PLAYERS? If all the words were synonyms for jumbled or mixed it might have worked better, but PLAYERS kind of made this feel like a children’s puzzle. And why was it this shape? If scrabble boards were oblong... maybe? But the odd shape had nothing to do with the theme. Just strange. A anagrams aren’t really mixed bags. It’s like a not-so-bright person thought they were being clever but didn’t quite get how clever works.

I felt myself getting irritated as it progressed. I’m starting to empathize more with Rex’s curmudgeonly ways. I guess my tolerance was higher but even I have my breaking point for how cheesy and low-brow the NYT Xword should be allowed to get.

Pay your constructors better, NYT. Quality costs. While much of the world may be settling for stupid, some things should maintain some sort of integrity.

John Hoffman 11:59 AM  

Puzzle was a nice change of pace. Different shape, different concept. Well done!

RooMonster 12:08 PM  

Hey All !
ARRANGE me in the group who liked this puz. You get the phrase from the four Rack #'s, (which I confess to not seeing), plus the other themers, and even the BAG in the center with MIXED TILES (which I also didn't notice [the BAG, that is]). So very cool.

Saw a Smiley Face at first, but turned out to be the SCRABBLE BAG. Then thought it meant playing SCRABBLE makes one happy. :-)

One nit (of course), why is there NIX at the bottom of the BAG? Why not just have five black squares in a row there? Hmm.

Funky grid, wonder how they arrived at these dimensions. Cracked up at OKRA clued as a "gooey" vegetable. Got UNLV in here. Nice. And IKEA, which Las Vegas just got one last year or so.

And I did have Parsley in at first! Har. An anagram Spice puz? Themers could be

Maybe Jeff can do something with that! :-)


Warren Howie Hughes 12:16 PM  

A highly appreciative shout-out to Wednesday co-constructors Sande Milton and Jeff Chen, for making mention of the town where I first saw the light of day...Wilkes BARRE, Pennsylvania!

mathgent 12:28 PM  

Liked the grid representing a bag holding mixed-up TILES, but not much else.

Enjoyed the comments today very much, especially @Gill I. (9:25) who gave us the eloquent description of her time in Avila.

I like mathematical clues and entries, but I thought that the clue for SUM was pretentious and clumsy. I had forgotten that a magic square contained the first n-squared positive integers. So a 4-by-4 has the numbers 1 through 16 and each row and column has a SUM equal to one-fourth of that total, which is 34. As a big fan of Rene Descartes, I would have preferred "Cogito, ergo ___." Even "5050 for the first hundred integers." (Do any of you remember the story about the young Gauss?)

Dennis Doubleday 12:33 PM  

I liked this, contra Rex. Liked the 3 anagrams in the middle, ORCA, INCA, OKRA. AGEE and AGES across the bottom. PLAYERS ARRANGE JUMBLED LETTERS as a box around the center tiles. Very clever. And USROUTE is jumbled up inside SABOTEURS, so that was cool, too.

RooMonster 12:41 PM  

@Me 12:08
Auto-corrupt strikes again! Last "themer" was supposed to be

It just tried again to change it to ARMORY.


Warren Howie Hughes 12:41 PM  

This Wednesday Xword Puz by the talented tandem of Milton and Chen, RANG true as far as I was concerned, simply because of its high STILE that practically brought me to TIERS. They most assuredly have the right IKEA and truly tend to TELEX like it is! ISLET you to decide for yourselves!? No HARM, no foul!

Anonymous 12:43 PM  

okra is crap and always will be crap so be it for ever and ever amen
you can fry it and you can saute it you can bread it and you can bake it
just as long as you then toss it into the garbage pail it's all okay
okra isn't gooey, it's crap

Anonymous 12:45 PM  

har har har
best laff of the day there
10Q for the yuks

Anonymous 12:49 PM  

No mention of Tommie AGEE? He was my hero when I was nine years old. RIP Tommie

Masked and Anonymous 12:57 PM  

Primo, raised-by-wolves-different WedPuz. thUmbsUp. It actually had m&e at that there ginormous, smilin-U* in the grid art, tho. The Chenmeister sure loves him that E-W grid symmetry.

1. I think Scrabble is an OK game, but somehow prefer BananaGrams. Faster paced.

2. Little 8-year-old M&A was an absolute Jumble puzhound. Loved the artwork style in em, along with learnin lotsa new words [first time I ever saw NAIAD, f'rinstance]. Put em all into a scrapbook. The old (daily) ones used to have three 5-letter jumbled words and one 6-letter jumbled word, so slightly easier. I think the artist signed the puzs as Martin Dell, or somesuch?

3. Wonder why they didn't just go with a 17x14 grid, here. That'd have just slightly less squares than a 16x15, and would look slightly more Scrabble-board-square-ish. But, hey -- me, I'm a 7x7 grid dude, so whaddah I know. De bustagut.

59 squares of theme material seems pretty ambitious. Ambition often can lead to some delicious desperation. Odd man out in this theme mcguffin is the grid shape, as many have already mentioned. Sooo … desperate Grid Shape! Like.

staff weeject pick: TAY. Know yer Scotland rivers; U never know when they might come up. har

Best Scrabbly fillins: TELEX. PLUSSIZE. AUJUS. NEXUS. OKRA. Too bad it couldn'ta been a pangram, considerin the theme that was afoot. Maybe throw in a blank tile, somewheres? [We don't ask for much, here at the Comment Gallery, huh, Chenmeister?]

COLONIST + TERMITES was a nice pair.

Thanx, Mr. Chen & Mr. Milton. And congratz to Mr. Milton on his debut.

Masked & Anonymo9*Us

C.C. has the LA Times puz today. She also has the WSJ puz today. Day-um. Told yah. Prolific.


Banana Diaquiri 1:01 PM  

US ROUTE is a little bit painful

if you use it (50) to get to work in DC from your nice 4 bedroom house in Fairfax, it's been that way for 40 years. at least.

Teedmn 1:18 PM  

This ran a tad closer to my Wednesday average than Monday's and Tuesday's puzzles did to those averages, so relatively easy today. Like @LarryGilstrap, I noticed right off the grid was squatty, the exact term that came to my mind.

And I, too, am bad at anagrams as many of you confess to. I saw 20A's EELRSTT and thought PLeurisy? Leprosy? At least, knowing what letters would be in 20A meant that I didn't put in "Fab" at 7D for the detergent.

I'm not a bad Scrabble player but I lay down the showy, fancy words that garner me few points while my friend Sonya ROMPS over me with her killer three letter words. Strategy is everything in that game.

I loved seeing the non-Roman numeral XXL in 36D's clue. And SABOTEURS, ACETATE, MIXED BAG RUBbed me the right way. Nice puzzle Sande and Jeff, and congrats Sande on your debut.

Odd Sock 1:37 PM  

I'd play more Scrabble if I could find some nice, literate folks to play with. Ah, the pain of being an analog guy in a digital world.

Roseanne violated a sacred rule of the internet: If you have being drinking and/or taking prescription meds then just step away from the keyboard.

Dick Swart 1:43 PM  

I enjoyed the word-play puzzle as a change-of-pace on a Wednesday! I found the write-up a bit too dyspeptic.Perhaps Rex needs a large bottle of an OTC antacid.

XXL too familiar! I find I am buying BB boxers by their yardage!

Masked and Anonymous 1:45 PM  


And another thing: Puz also shoulda had a few "legal" words that only ever come up in Scrabble. I'm talkin beyond crosswordese, here, even. How'bout: ZUZ or CAZH. That oughta light up the NYT switchboards.

@RP: absolute fave Jumble puz from the 50s, went somethin like this …

Picture: A somewhat bloated, satanic figure, drawn in a style utilizing slightly squared-off shapes.
Clue: "Little bits of deviltry."

Jumbled words (@ position is the circled letter dealy):
PRAGH = _ _ _ @ _
DIANA = _ _ @ _ _
SUSIE = _ @ _ _ _
GMTUNE = _ _ _ @ _ _

Surprise Answer: @@@@


Dick Swart 1:56 PM  

@Banana Daiquiri (above) ...

If you use it (50) to get to work in DC from your nice 4 bedroom house in Fairfax, it's been that way for 40 years. at least.

Or maybe upgrade to 6 BRs.

Aketi 2:36 PM  

Hahahaha, I grew up on scrabble thanks to my grandmother and her three sisters who routinely cheated and were PLAYERS with the emotional maturity of three year olds. Often the TILES would end up in the floor during their vehement disputes. I liked JUMBLEs too.

Knew Rex would hat if but thought he’d notice that we seem to be having creepy smiley faces popping up in the puzzles this week. Someone declared that there is no such thing as grid art a couple of days ago but you can turn them into avatars.

Unknown 2:40 PM  


Cassieopia 2:53 PM  

A-one, fabulous, creative, fun Wednesday.

This is how good this puzzle was:
- All 4 "racks" spelled out Scrabble-related words
- All 4 words formed a sort-of Scrabble sentence "PLAYERS ARRANGE JUMBLED LETTERS"
- SCRABBLE itself was in the grid...
- ...mirroring exactly MIXEDBAG...
- ...which referred to the anagrams in the puzzle's center, reminiscent of a player trying this word, then that word, then perhaps another, in hopes of maximizing their score.

As if that weren't enough, the constructors went on to include ACETATE, SABOTEURS, COLONIST, TERMITES, oh my!

I thought this was a stellar piece of puzzle craft, and I tip my hat to Sande Milton and Jeff Chen for presenting a truly magnificent puzzle. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Cassieopia 2:55 PM  

@warren 12:16 but the real question is, how do you pronounce it...Berry or Bar-eh? When I was on a project up there, I heard residents say it both ways!

RooMonster 3:39 PM  

@Cassieopia 2:55
I'm from the same general area originally, Scranton-Wilkes Barre, (10 miles north of Scranton, if anyone really cares) and I've always pronounced it Barry.


Anonymous 3:48 PM  

@RGK, hilarious!

Anonymous 3:57 PM  

Cassieopia and Warren--

My Mom is a native of W-B. She always said "bare-ah". My father, a Philadelphian followed sui for decadest. BUT, he now lives there 9 actually at Harvey's Lake, and he says "berry". I think most locals go with berry or barry.

JC66 4:24 PM  

My ex-wife's college roomie was from there, and she always said Wilkes-BARR.

GILL I. 4:35 PM  

Had a boyfriend in Wilkes Barre. Use to drive up from Glenside, stop in Allentown and arrive in Wilkes BEAR. Next day, we'd spend the afternoon in Seven Tubs. He was born and raised there but boy we'd have fun at the pubs asking the locals how they pronounced their own town. Fight ensued and the BEARS won. No lie!

Z 4:57 PM  

@jberg - alt-Z or cmd-Z or the undo arrow might have saved you from retyping.

@Odd Sock - Too busy to check but I heard on the radio that the maker of Ambien released a statement that, while Ambien does indeed have many side effects, racism is not one of them. I was only listening with half an ear, so I’m guessing it was really someone just waxing satirical.

Monty Boy 5:01 PM  

I liked this one a lot. I'm not a big Scrabble player but enjoy word games in general. Hence crosswords. And cryptograms. I finished well over my average and I blame our new 2 month old Sheltie pup. He seems to want to play while I'm playing Xword. That's the best excuse I can come up with, since I don't get up early, stay up late, drink beer, or go to baseball games. Maybe Rex ought to get a pup?

pmdm 5:21 PM  

I've driven by Wilkesbarre a number of times and the radio station announcers there don't seem to agree on the pronunciation (sometimes "berry" and sometimes "ba.").I like it when you can agree to disagree about things I don't characterize as important.

Some have wondered about the grid size. Based upon Jeff's comments on his site, the size was more or less mandated because it was the only size grid which the constructors were able to fill to their satisfaction.

Mr. Milton says he remembers when brand names and "hip expressions) were once forbidden. There's a rule I would love to have revived.

I used to played Scrabble fairly often and enjoyed it. Frankly, I don't feel any connection between the game and this puzzle 0ther than the theme entries. I don't see how "liking" or "not liking" scrabble would increase or decrease your enjoyment of this puzzle. Just me, I guess.

JC66 5:24 PM  

Here's what they tweeted:

Sanofi, who makes Ambien, tweeted a response Wednesday morning: "While all pharmaceutical treatments have side effects, racism is not a known side effect of any Sanofi medication."

pmdm 5:31 PM  

JBERG: It sounds like you may have inadvertently selected all the text you previously typed as a comment. If you do this, the next keystroke you enter will substitute for all the text you previously entered.

How you do this is dependent on the Operating System you use. For example, I use the MacOS. If I were to enter Command-A at this point, I would select all the text I already entered. The next letter I entered would replace all of the text I already entered. If that happened, I would be able to enter the undo comment (with MacOS, command-Z) to undo the edit.

In all likelihood, the problem is not that you don't understand the typing conventions of this blog (they should be the same as those used by your operating system). The Windows OS has similar commends except that a different modifier key is used in place of the command key, which is not used with the WindowsOS.

Still have problems? Let me know and we might be able to figure it out via emall exchanges.

pabloinnh 6:03 PM  

Around here, Barre, as in Barre VT, is pronounced "berry". All this discussion reminds me that most people misuse the word "shibboleth", and I wish they would not, as it annoys me. Another local favorite is "Quechee", and from where I grew up, "Sacandaga". Those Native Americans had some funny words.

Anonymous 6:15 PM  

I grew up in W-B. Everybody mumbles so pronunciation doesn't matter.

@Roo. BTW W-B is SOUTH of Scranton.

Anonymous 6:28 PM  

@Roo. Sorry I misread your post as location of Scranton relative to W-B and not where you hail from. Apologies for the incorrect attempt at correction.

Z 6:31 PM  

@JC66 - Yep, It showed up in my timeline.

Mohair Sam 7:05 PM  

@Z - I see you're still here. Hope you caught my very late reply (and thanks) to your post last night.

GILL I. 7:32 PM  


jb129 8:09 PM  

I don't usually check the blog at this hour - but I have to say that I agree with RGK @ 11:31 am - I know this post won't be popular with the regulars. Oh well. Nite.

pabloinnh 8:10 PM  

@GILL.I... excelente! Not as impossible, but I still remember the first time I heard someone pronounce "Joaquin" correctly. A revelation.

john towle 8:19 PM  

He who acetates is lost. US 50 through Maryland is like the road of life. It has its ups and downs. Drive it some day &.you’ll see what I mean.



Joe Bleaux 10:40 PM  

Hi, Lewis -- I'll be watching to see whether either 15D or 59D (or both) makes your next list of favorite clues. I thought they were pretty good for a Wednesday puz.

Anonymous 10:14 AM  

This PLAYER very much enjoyed the ROMPS thru the TILES. Cleverest puzzle in AGES. Rex on the other hand is wearing his cranky pants, per usual. Sigh.

Anonymous 12:45 PM  

Loved this puzzle—really like seeing original, even wacky ideas for crosswords. Doesn't matter to me if everything hangs together perfectly—much prefer a slightly flawed (though this one wasn't, in my opinion), very cool idea to an impeccably executed run-of-the-mill one. Five stars!

spacecraft 10:41 AM  

I lived near Wilkes-Barre* (hey, some of you forgot the hyphen!) and never knew it as anything but "-Barry." But one time we went to an Ann Murray concert there and the Canadian artist called it "Bar." We thought it was a hoot.

Once again I am greeted by an eyeless smiling face. I never count rows, so the abnormal shape of the grid didn't even occur to me. I just--very easily--solved the thing. Actually, the proliferation of longer down answers made it feel taller that it was wide. The center area is itself shaped like: a bag! The SCRABBLE sets with bags use cheap plastic "TILES:" boo! My set has real wooden ones--but by now we have to look away while drawing, as we have memorized the grain pattern on the blanks. Oh--and Fearless One: you say you anagram everything you see yet you HATE the game? You, sir, are weird for sure. It ought to be right up your alley, complete with two-minute timer. Oh, I forgot: two Sharp minutes = twenty mortal ones. Well, you can always take sand out and make it a 12-second timer!

I agree that cluing the "racks" that way makes it too easy, but I liked the touch of the anagrammed center; points for that. Longer fill is interesting; shorter suffers from theme density. I might describe this puzzle as a MIXEDBAG. Since I mentioned Ms. Murray in the comments, I'll make her the DOD. Par.

*How near? West Pittston. Go Rams!

thefogman 10:55 AM  

I happen to love Scrabble and I really enjoyed this puzzle. I started with the anagrams right off the bat and the rest fell into place in rapid succession after that. Sure it was a bit on the easy side but it's only Wednesday. Even so, I DNF'd on one square by falling for the TiES instead of TEES trap. Rex doesn't like themers very much so that explains his STINGER of a review. But I like clever themers and I liked this one a lot. Hats off to Jeff Chen and Sande Milton.

Burma Shave 12:59 PM  




Diana,LIW 1:35 PM  

I shall comment later - must take my holiday walk with Mr. W.

But, just had to say that I love, love, love that @Spacey & his crew have "memorized" the shape of the grain patterns on his Scrabble set. I haven't played in quite a while, but my mom loved to, and we'd oft play together. She, who gave me my love for books and words. She, who won. ;-)

Thinking of family today - my grandpa, who was born in Colorado, grew up in Finland, and re-immigrated to this country, was born on the 4th of July. And my Aunt Ellen, named for Ellis Island, was born, so they say, on the day they landed. Gues you could say she was taken from her mother, but Grandma and Grandpa sure knew where she was. Mr. W and I are discussing politics - which takes a holiday on NPR with the Capitol Steps.

See y'all soon.

Lady Di

rainforest 2:36 PM  

SCRABBLE, JUMBLE, both in a crossword puzzle. What fun for word nerds, with maybe one notable exception. Odd duck, that one.

I agree the puzzle was easy, made more so by the anagrams, but the overall theme delivery was ambitious, and well-executed.

Two w/os: Started to write in Tina, then noticed it was too short; dAZE before HAZE.

Cute bagful of LETTERS inside the smiley face.
Liked it.

Diana,LIW 2:53 PM  

For a while my blowout games were ROutS instead of ROMPS. Staring ensued. Until - duh occurred. Then the rest was as easy as the other 80%.

Oh yes - I also had Gigi before LILI. But not for long.

I used to play only the Jumble in the paper. Then, one day, I glimpsed at the NYT puz and knew a couple of answers. New daily routine ensued.

I knew ACETATE, but hesitated to enter it as I never, ever referred to that thingy as an ACETATE. I've HEARD OF "nouning a very" - this is adjectivizing a noun, IMHO.

Not much in the puzzle is 4th of July friendly, so I'll just wish y'all a happy one.

Diana, Lady-in-Waiting for Crosswords and Fireworks

leftcoastTAM 3:18 PM  

Lots to like about this offering by Milton and Chen.

A delightfully MIXEDBAG of anagrams (aka, JUMBLED LETTERS) that yield an AMPLE number of "AHA's".

Bonuses in the fill included ACETATE, MORALES, MIASMA, ESSIE, and AVILA. LIked the ORCA and OKRA pairing. Oprah would make a nice additiion.

Wanted dAZE before HAZE, until the apt AHA popped out, though I had already used up my quota of those.

TIERS of wordplay fun.

leftcoastTAM 3:46 PM  

Rex is idiosyncratic, and maybe he deserves some points for that.

Diana,LIW 4:11 PM  

PPS - Speaking of CROSSOVERs - Why did the chicken cross the road twice? Think about it. Ready? Because he was a double crosser. Of course.


Lady Di

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