Chunnel train / THU 7-19-18 / Vessel that's 1% full / 1847 novel partly set on whaler / Many ancient tombstone / Surname of three baseball brothers / First NFL player on cover of Sports Illustrated

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Constructor: Mike Knobler

Relative difficulty: Medium (6:30)

THEME: SECRET CODE (17A: What the answers to the six starred clues follow, as hinted at by 66-Across) (66-Across = NEXT PLEASE) — for starred clues, you have to move each of the letters in the correct answers one step up in the alphabet to get the letters that need to go into the grid—these new stepped-up letters spell real words, although those words have nothing to do with anything:

Theme answers:
  • DUD -> EVE
  • ETSY -> FUTZ
  • OHMS -> PINT
  • HAL -> IBM (this has been the subject of some "2001: A Space Odyssey" speculation...)
Word of the Day: Y.A. TITTLE (5D: First N.F.L. player on the cover of Sports Illustrated)
Yelberton Abraham Tittle Jr. (October 24, 1926 – October 8, 2017), better known as Y. A. Tittle, was a professional American football quarterback. He played in the National Football League (NFL) for the San Francisco 49ersNew York Giants, and Baltimore Colts, after spending two seasons with the Colts in the All-America Football Conference (AAFC).[b] Known for his competitiveness, leadership, and striking profile, Tittle was the centerpiece of several prolific offenses throughout his seventeen-year professional career from 1948 to 1964. (wikipedia)
• • •
I am laughing so hard at the non-sports types among you (and that's a lot of you, including my wife, currently solving in the next room) trying to make any kind of sense of YATITTLE. "Who would name their kid YA!? Or is it YAT?!" Someone should try to put YELBERTON (his actual given name) in a grid and see what happens. Me, I was thrilled to get that clue, because though I didn't know it straight off, I got it with only a few crosses, and it felt like I got a secret EZ PASS or something. Sadly, I'd struggle a bunch later, and my time wouldn't be any better than normal. For me, this was like solving a themeless with six mystery answers. Six answers I had to get almost entirely from crosses—for a couple, like UBOLT, I could see from the letter pattern what words they were going to make, so I didn't need *every* cross. But most, I needed. So it was slow going in parts. But ... hey, wait, what are TOFFS? My brains was cool with it, but now my brain is realizing it was thinking of DOFFS. Are TOFFS like ... fops? Huh, British informal derogatory. Interesting choice. "Rich or upper-class person." Well OK then.

As for the code, I couldn't make ETSY into anything so I just jumped to 66-Across, which I hate doing, but I needed a hint. Got NEXT easy enough, but thought maybe it was NEXT IN LINE! (which fits). Later, I looked at NEXT PLEASE trying to see what code was embedded therein—maybe some hint at a letter equivalency or letter swap or something ... but no. It's just NEXT. That's the clue word. PLEASE is superfluous. Why is there a superfluous word in your revealer? In the end, this is just six short words that can be changed to other words via ROT-1. That's the official name of your (not really) SECRET CODE. It's just a code. And you crack it with NEXT. Maybe if I had a BLOODY MARY, one SIDE EFFECT would be enjoying this whole premise. Alas, I'm not drinking this month.

High word-count grid with lots of short stuff, though there's six longer (8+) non-theme answers here, all of them at least solid. I guess I don't have much to say about the overall fill. Seemed fine, if a bit stale in parts (ALOU OMOO ERIES CTA PDAS etc.). I made some dumb mistakes along the way, mostly by misreading clues. Wrote in TREE at 1A: Christmastime purchases because I didn't see the plural (FIRS). Considered SPELL at 72A: Participated in a bee because I missed the verb tense (SEWED). Nothing was terribly hard. Just a matter of navigating around six totally (from my perspective) unclued words. Did you know that by today's SECRET CODE, ANNA would become BOOB. Oh, what fun. ANTS would become BOUT. STAR would become TUBS. ADDER -> BEEFS. Sigh. Good night.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. That clue on YACHT is pretty clever (5A: Vessel that's 1% full?) (i.e. full of "the 1%," i.e. the very rich)

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Brian 12:07 AM  

Easy. But didn’t bother finding my decoder ring.

Mike in Mountain View 12:08 AM  

Fastest Thursday solve ever. Four minutes faster than Rex!

OK, so that's because I constructed it.

This puzzle would never have happened without Rex, his blog, and the incredible people who read his blog. (REX is 65 Down in today’s puzzle, an entry that was clued by me as a king, not a dog.) I’ve been a puzzle solver for decades, but I never would have thought of constructing if it weren’t for John Child’s suggestion in this very comments section last year that we should collaborate. We did, and I love the 21 x 21 puzzle we created, which perhaps some wise editor will publish some day. Collaborating on that was so much fun that I kept constructing, and today’s NYT puzzle is the result.

I’d like to thank John and Rex and my test solvers, most of whom also are contributors to this comments section. And I’d like to thank everyone here. It has been a pleasure to be part of this community, and it’s an honor to have created a puzzle for you to solve and discuss.

(Oh, and thanks to Will and his team. That YACHT clue REX liked? Not mine.)

JD 12:31 AM  

The cluing was cbd.

Anonymous 12:43 AM  

I can't believe you didn't rip 69A-59D a new one. Total Natick. (ELLIE - SXLW makes just as much sense to me having never heard of the initialism.)

jae 12:59 AM  

The theme pushed this into medium-tough territory but it seemed more easy-medium while I was solving. Clever idea with a tribute/inspiration to/from 2001 lore, liked it.

Anonymous 1:01 AM  

Elsie crossing sxsw was a killer. I had elSie which works for the clue. I had no idea what sxsw or sxlw was.

puzzlehoarder 1:08 AM  

As much work as it took me to figure out yesterday's puzzle, this one took it a small step further. I figured out the trick sooner than the revealer. I first had NEXT NUMBER followed by NEXT LETTER and eventually the crosses gave me PLEASE.

To finish I had to fix a couple of write overs in the NW. FIGS became FIRS. That mistake was somehow inspired by figgy pudding. TATINI became TAHINI. There I was trying make TZATZIKI by some magical rebus which of course wasn't there.

I solved the puzzle but in a rather fumbling manner.

Larry Gilstrap 1:22 AM  

Greatest fear: driving sober, get pulled over, and face a field sobriety test. Break the alphabet up into segments, I'm lost. Walk a straight line and the nose touching thing and I'm off to San Quentin. So, I had to work really hard to solve the themers. Just now, way post solve, I was staring at UBOLT and looking for something like VCPMU. Hopeless.

I loved black and white football, but even Y.A. TITTLE was a bit before my time. We spent Sunday mornings in church, so East Coast football was only in highlight reels.

OMOO was a pretty sexy novel for the era. Melville's critics held him culpable. Pacific Islanders greeted visiting whalers with lascivious hospitality. That's why captains avoided touching land. They spread the rumor of cannibalism. Hard to get the crew back on the ship after paradise.

STYX, HADES, and Cerberus equal a hell of a trifecta.

Anonymous 1:22 AM  

Finished the entire rest of the puzzle before getting slaughtered by a perfect storm of iffy clues, tough answers, and brain farts in the NW corner:

-Even though I'd completely gotten the theme, I couldn't parse "ETSY" (AKA FUTZ), total brain fart.
-I would've never thought of tahini itself as a sauce, but as an ingredient in and/or base for sauces.
-The "secret" part of the revealer was...non-obvious. Frankly, I wanted CAESAR CODE because that's more often what this particular one is called.

So I had FIRS, EDIT, IDEA, and RICH, and repeatedly tore them out and put them back in. Finally, one of the other ones in the neighborhood came to me and the rest finally started clicking and fell into place but that was a brutal end to the solve.

Anonymous 2:24 AM  

I'm not too good at crossword puzzles, but this was one of my best Thursdays, mostly because I cracked the theme early. Still, never heard of STELE, TOTS was a stretch, and am still scratching my chin over SEWED. Live and learn, huh?

chefwen 2:49 AM  

Got all my little squares filled in but quit after 10 minutes trying to figure out the trick, figured it probably wasn’t worth the headache that was forming. After reading Rex I was glad that I quit when I did.

HAT TIP to those who got it.

JOHN X 3:16 AM  

Well this was pretty easy. I went down and got the NEXTPLEASE early on but I wasn't sure what to do with it. Then I got everything else on crosses. I started to see that the themers were different at dud/EVE but I didn't see the pattern until I was done. Last thing I filled in was SECRETCODE and then I looked at it and said "It's the next letter, that's the code. JOHN X you've done it again!" I said this out loud in front of dozens of mourners who were at the funeral I was attending. I finished this puzzle in under twelve seconds which was too bad because that funeral just kept on going. At one point I had to resort to drawing pictures inside a hymnal.

Harryp 3:49 AM  

I managed to finish this one without figuring the substitution cipher out, but NEXT PLEASE set me up perfectly. I remembered HAL from 2001, and that it was IBM in code.
Great puzzle in well below Thursday average. Good job by Mr. Knobler.

Phil 4:17 AM  

DNF got the theme quick enough but a few too many pit falls

ELLIE for woman with the two letter name, couldn't remember the Austin letters after SX

Then a bad CALF for softball material so could get to CLIP for trim but knew I needed a
THE SUC oh those Brits. Never know about their lingo. And then those rappers and their names...ICAT. Sounds like an apple product. Anyway backing out CALF would have helped alot.

I thought it was clever/fun though. Liked it better then REX

Lewis 6:07 AM  

@mike -- Congratulations on your debut, and to get a relative rave from Rex on a debut is a rare event indeed. Treasure this day, treasure it fully (much more than 1%)!

I cottoned to the theme early on; my brain sees things like this quickly, for some reason. Nonetheless, there was bite in the cluing, which I relish, and a little mini-theme of double E's (5). Overall, a very pleasing solving experience, so Mike, NEXT PLEASE, and I hope I don't have to wait too long.

kodak jenkins 6:39 AM  

Clever puzzle!

Slightly easy for a Thursday though I missed SPAR in favor of SPAT, which resulted in EUROSTAT which kind of makes sense.

See you Friday.

Hungry Mother 7:15 AM  

Loved the trick today. The rest was good except for my quandry between ELlis and ELSIE, which went the wrong way for me. No idea what that Austin thing is and don’t care.

Teedmn 7:23 AM  

Moving the alphabet this early in the morning put up enough "resistance units" for me. A couple of times I went the wrong way, trying to figure out what UBOj_ was going to be but I greased by that one with OLEO.

Some nice clues, like "Twist someone's words?" for EDIT and "First, second or third person" for UMP. I'm not sure about "Vessel that's 1% full" for YACHT. Clever but...

Y.A. TITTLE was not a gimme for me. And I can't imagine why it was hard for me to see the USSR as a US ally :-). Got the theme at Dud = EVE and went from there.

Nice debut, congratulations Mike Knobler. Glad to see another fellow Rexite smell SUCCESS.

kitshef 7:25 AM  

Alas, a bit too easy. Got the theme at EVE, where I had wanted SLAVS but DUD would not work. 6D-9D gave me ___code, and at that point I had the theme and it was just filling things in. Swap this with yesterday and the days make sense.

Overall, pretty well done. UBOLT crossing TNUT is pretty crummy, but I liked the vibe of many of the long entries: EUROSTAR, Y.A. TITTLE, ALBERTAN (@Anoa Bob, is that an ‘NoC’?), BLOODY MARY, ZAIRE.

I could not find circulation for just England, but for the UK as a whole Metro has a larger circulation then THE SUN.

Charles Flaster 7:27 AM  

Smooth solve with strong clueing.
YACHT was my favorite.
Thanks MK

QuasiMojo 7:29 AM  

Congrats Mike on a fine puzzle! I noticed the hat tip to Rex. I found it relatively easy once I grokked the concept. But that didn’t stop it from being a good workout. The 1% clue made me chuckle (at first I thought it must be about Lo-Fat milk) but it doesn’t really hold water upon closer inspection because rich people’s yachts are rarely full.

The Toff clue made me smile because I used to collect these semi-spy pulp WHODUNNITs by John Creasey that featured his character the Toff. My fave was one entitled “The Toff Goes Gay.”

FLAC 7:49 AM  

It's always a pleasure when the constructor comments. Thank you, Mike Knobler, for an excellent debut puzzle.

Anonymous 7:51 AM  


Debra 7:57 AM  

Enjoyed it, even though I had Ellie for Elsie. Maybe a cow clue would have helped there?

jackj 7:58 AM  

Ah, Rex crows about how easy it was to get UBOAT, sans crosses, but the closest thing to the deadly German vessel in this puzzle was UBOLT.

UBOAT hasn't appeared in a Times puzzle for almost 5 months.

mmorgan 8:09 AM  

Congrats, @Mike!!

This was great! Clearly something was going on with the starred clues... But what? When IBM was both clearly right and clearly wrong, I eventually found my way back to the innocuous NEXTPLEASE and instantly realized it was HAL. Et voila! Even with that figured out, it took me while to suss a few out, especially FUTZ/ETSY. No matter, and who cares if there was any sup-par fill. (I didn't notice if there was.)

Not a sports fan, but any kid growing up in the late 50s/early 60s knew the name YA Tittle. How could you not?

All I know is that this is a great concept and it seemed to me that it was executed beautifully, giving me a delightful, challenging, and rewarding solving experience. Thank you!!!

Anonymous 8:20 AM  

Rex's mention of UBOAT is in error, I believe. UBOLT is code for TANKS, which is the "vehicles" of the clue.

Mohair Sam 8:21 AM  

Congrats @Mike! Excellent debut. Nice cluing - especially UMP and YACHT (yeah, it's not yours, but still).

We dnf'd because ESSIE works as well as ELSIE at 69A so we never even looked at the alternatives. "TOTS up" totally new to us, although we guessed it. So I Googled and found that TOTe up has 25 times as many hits, but TOT is out there at nearly a million so I can't complain (but I will). Lost some time with my misspelled ricI Riccardo instead of DESI Arnaz (both the real and TV wife went by Lucy). UBOLT (tanks) is almost UBOaT which became a nasty misdirect for us for a while. We've had SXSW before, surprised by complaints. TAHINI a gimme for this falafel fiend.

Fun puzz Mr. Mountain View - keep 'em coming.

cwf 8:24 AM  

Congratulations on your debut, Mike!

A note on HAL: In the recent (excellent) book about the making of 2001 (by Michael Benson), it is argued that HAL was coined by Marvin Minsky to signify a Heuristically ALgorithmic computer; i.e. one that combined thinking by rules of thumb with the use of inviolate logic. As a "tribute", one of the slain hibernating crew members was named V. F. Kaminsky.

Paul S 8:24 AM  

@kitshef The Metro is a free paper given out at public transport hubs, so I don't think it qualifies as the "biggest selling" newspaper.

As a British solver, the unknowables of YALITTLE and ALOU were at last offset by the leg up provided by EUROSTAR and THE SUN, while TOFFS was a somewhat confusing familiar face until the IBM jogged my memory that Kubrick's HAL was the product of an alphabetical downshift. Alas, that led to the brief ruin of "Caesar Code" because I hadn't done anything with the NW corner yet.

I was also very happy to see Milo Minderbinder share the grid with TS Eliot, whose name caused such delightful confusion in Catch 22.

RBC 8:25 AM  

I don’t understand the clues for SEWED and TOTS (totals?). Can someone explain? Also, Somg FEST is not a thing... STELE was new to me as was Eurostar (had Eurostat)

Nancy 8:33 AM  

Once again -- the kind of puzzle that drove me to the Rex blog in the first place. Because I couldn't possibly wait a whole 24 hours to find out what the heck was going on. Filling this in was no problem at all. Knowing why I had filled those crazy six answers was a huge problem. I had no idea what was going on until I came here. None at all. The curiosity was killing me.

(Do not hire me as a military decoder anytime soon.)

When I came here and learned the trick, I said: "Wow! What a brilliant concept! And so well-executed!" I'm speechless with admiration. And it's our very own @Mike in Mountain View who did it. Thank you M in MV! As soon as I post this I'll go back and read your comment. If this is your first puzzle, I hope you have many more in you for the future. While this was above my pay grade as far as the decoding was concerned, I absolutely love the theme anyway. Great job.

kitshef 8:42 AM  

@Paul S - thanks for the local knowledge. I had recently looked up newspaper circulations for a pub trivia night (the same reason I recently heard of SKRILLEX), but never thought to look at paid versus free.

Birchbark 8:45 AM  

orion --> cerES --> HADES. doc --> ALC. UBOLT crossing TNUT. Favorite word = EUROSTAR.

@Mike in Mountainview (12:08) -- it was a fun and, for me, challenging solve. While NEXT PLEASE fell early, and the theme answers clearly didn't correlate to the clues meaning-wise, by the time I cracked the CODE the only themer left was FUTZ -- a fine word in its own right, and something you might see in an old Mad Magazine. Great job --

cwf 8:45 AM  

SEWED as in at a quilting bee.
TOTS is a straight definition: "to add; total (often followed by up)."

Anonymous 9:03 AM  

SXSW. South by Southwest.

Nancy 9:03 AM  

From yesterday -- Thanks to JC66 (who also saw The Catch in real time) for expanding on its significance and great difficulty so eloquently. I was in the park all day enjoying some unusually fine July weather (there's more today and I'll be going back there soon) and didn't have a chance to add anything more to the conversation. OISK -- I was just teasing you, because you were a Dodgers fan. But I respect you to death for saying that the Giants' MAYS was the greatest player you ever saw.

From today -- There's another great player from my childhood in today's puzzle: Y.A. TITTLE, who I also saw play in real time. But I only saw the tail end of him -- he was pretty much past his career when I started watching football. And no wisecracks today, please, @jberg :)

Actually, @jberg, I typed up my comment yesterday, read it over before pressing "Send", saw "tail end" and said to myself: "I could, and maybe should take this out, but it will be interesting to see who picks up on this and turns it into a double entendre. If I had been taking bets, I would have put my money on either @GILL or @Quasi. But it was you, @jberg, And you linked it to TUSH, which I hadn't thought of. Nice one!

John Child 9:06 AM  

What a fun puzzle. Easier than yesterday, perhaps because I caught the theme early or because I have some experience with how Mike’s sharp mind works. Congratulations for sure, and thanks too. NEXT PLEASE!

Anonymous 9:08 AM  

I thought the theme was very clever but DNF with TO_S crossing S_ELE. I went with "tops", as that's the only thing that made sense to me - as in topping up a gas tank or account. I've never seen TOTS used as a verb, nor have I ever seen the word STELE.

Stanley Kubrick's Former Gardener 9:09 AM  

Arthur C. Clarke vehemently denied that he named HAL as a disguised IBM. He said that IBM had been very generous to him with research assistance on the future of computers as he wrote the screenplay, and that he would not have named a malfunctioning villain after them. He said he never noticed the similarity and that it was an unintentional coincidence.

HAL stands for "Heuristically programmed ALgorithmic computer."

Amie Devero 9:24 AM  

I hated this puzzle. The secret code is totally inaccessible if you do it on paper unless you happen to have an idetic relationship to a qwerty keyboard. DNF, leaving exactly the inscrutable "coded" spaces filled only with crosses. Garbage.

Gulliver Foyle 9:29 AM  

I enjoyed this. Thanks, Mike! (though I don't think it's entirely fair to have a clue that can be answered equally reasonably in three different ways: Ellen (mine), Ellie, and Elsie.)

Doug Garr 9:31 AM  

I'm so dense that I finished the puzzle and even though I know from way back the HAL IBM stuff (having written a book about IBM), I still didn't understand the theme until I read the blog. Yikes. I feel really stupid. Fun puzzle though. And I laughed at YA because I remember watching him as a kid.

GILL I. 9:32 AM  

@Larry G. Your first paragraph had me in stitches. I finished this puppy and all I did was stare. I almost wish I had been with @JOHN X at his funeral. So, thank goodness for @Rex. After reading him, all I could think about was if I had been conscripted in the female code breakers barracks, I would have been assigned the duty of bringing coffee to Virginia Aderhalt.
The puzzle was easy(ish) except for trying to figure where the hell I was going. YACHT had me scratching the nethers as did SXSW. Thank you ICET since you are the only rapper I know. THE SUN is the only British tabloid I know and probably where I've seen TOFFS. "The Baby blimp makes me feel unwelcome."
@Mike...a huge congrats on this sneaky puzzle. Now that I know what you did, it's quite brilliant. I wish my head didn't hurt.

Homer Jones 9:46 AM  

Loved this. Best Xmas gift ever was my autographed no. 14 YA Tittle Giants jersey. Giants got him from 49ers for long forgotten (except by me) guard Lou Cordileone

Brian 9:54 AM  

Easy. Now where did I put my decoder ring?

Unknown 10:01 AM  

Record fast Thursday for me - got lucky by seeing HAL/IBM right away and then plugged in the themers.

Was slowed down by TOYS instead of FIRS and SPELT (I think that’s an acceptable past tense for spell?) in place of SEWED.

WIsh we could have seen ANNA/BOOB

pabloinnh 10:02 AM  

Hearty congratulations to MinMV and to all you smart alecs who "got the theme early". I had everything filled in and still had to write starred answers out and ponder before things finally made sense, at which point I did one of those "Yes!!!" victory dances (not at a funeral at the time).

One of those time when I feel I have been delightfully Thursdayed.

Ellen S 10:03 AM  

@Mike - it made my head hurt, too (hi, @Gill!) but that’s why I loved it. I gave it five stars in Puzzazz, a rarity Mostly I give 3 stars, as in, well it was dumb but better than no puzzle at all. I got the theme at IBM; even if the name shift in 2001: A Space Odyssey was accidental, all of us who worked at Big Blue always believed it was apt.

@Amie Devero, you don’t need an eidetic relationship to a qwerty keyboard to work the code. Just a working knowledge of the regular alphabet. But the code did remind me of a time I worked at the Bursar’s office at my alma mater, posting student loan payments. We got, something, must have been a cashier’s check, because we couldn’t get the name from that, and the form that accompanies the payments was just typed gibberish, in every field. Finally, just for fun, I placed my hands on the typewriter offset by one position and typed the letters I saw on the form, and ... more gibberish. Offset the other direction, and a valid name and address appeared. Not bad for minimum wage! My boss was impressed.

Shackfu 10:14 AM  

Frankly, I abhorred this puzzle. Never got the theme and still don’t. Trading letters to make non-existent words from real words is ridiculous IMHO. Dnf due to FUTZ and EVE. I do not like Thursdays anymore.

RooMonster 10:15 AM  

Hey All !
Well, heck, another debut from a Rex blogger. I almost got one OKed for publication, but couldn't satisfy Will's refilling criteria to get rid of some wonky words. So close... Maybe one day. Congrats @Mike in Mountain View!

Figured out the theme with IBM for HAL, but after filling in almost all the "correct" answers, ala DUD (EVE), ETSY (FUTZ), OHMS (PINT). The ole brain finally got an inkling when I changed the Y in ETSY to a Z and saw Y.A. Tittle, allowing me to go back to IBM and see it was one letter further after getting SECRET CODE. If that made any sense. :-) So I wrote in the answers next to the clues, and went back and changed all the other ones. Voila! Now my Downs finally started to fill! Wasn't getting anywhere at first.

Some other writeovers, besides the themers, rise-SOAR, Spelt-SEWED, cAsE-TALE. (Was proud of the Spelt answer...)

Not sure if anyone else noticed, but the themers are all symmetrical. So an added bonus! A very cool ThursPuz, @Mike! You are no CLOD. Har :-)

Is 73A One Who Relieves Themselves? ;-)
5 F's! Nice! Even one in square 1.


The Sun 10:22 AM  

Metro is a free rag handed out to all and SUNdry so difficult to TOTS the true circulation. The red masted SUN is a cash deal

mac 10:31 AM  

Congratulations, Mike, nice puzzle!
Very clever, although it gave me plenty of trouble. Love that on a Thursday.

Sir Hillary 10:40 AM  

I loved this! Congrats and thanks to @Mike in Mountain View!

Figured it out pretty quickly because I had F-T- before even looking at the clue for Etsy.

Superb clues for YACHT and UMP -- I'll be interested to see if either make @Lewis's weekly list. Also good double use of "Approximately". The "short" pair were fun too.

The HAL/IBM thing seems to be a myth, but it's one of the greatest coincidences of all time.

Whenever I hear or read TOFFS I think of the Artful Dodger explaining the facts of life to young Oliver.

Joseph Michael 10:44 AM  

Had NEXT IN LINE first and then NEXT PERSON before I finally got NEXT PLEASE.
Had already figured out the trick with DUD>EVE. but that revealer was a stubborn one.

Great fun to become one of the Hardy Boys again and decode a code while also solving a puzzle. Especially liked the fact that the encoded words are also real words.

Congrats, @Mike. Hope you are enjoying the sweet smell of SUCCESS.

Carola 11:02 AM  

A fun one! It took me a bit to see how the SECRET CODE worked (until IBM) - and I loved the mini-surprise of seeing each new word materialize. Bonus points for FUTZ and TOFFS.

I had no trouble with Y.A. TITTLE, as in the misty past my brother and I used to re-create NFL Highlights in our front yard, and it was always Starr to Hornung or TITTLE to Gifford. But I did have trouble with the Christmastime purchases, unable to mentally get past the unlikely FIgS (as in, "Bring us some figgy pudding") until I made myself do a full alphabet run.
I can't decide if I like UBOLT better as a cross with TNUT or as a complement to Y.A. TITTLE, as in U. (for Usain) BOLT.

Congratulations, @Mike in Mountain View. Like others, I look forward to your NEXT one.

JC66 11:07 AM  


Congratulations! Great debut. NEXT, PLEASE!

QuasiMojo 11:09 AM  

@Nancy, I would have noticed the “tail end” BUTT I was traveling. I could have used a bit of wit to lighten the journey.

Leslie 11:12 AM  

Good puzzle! I was misled for a bit by Ubolt and Tnut, thinking the code meant to go to the next clue. Good misdirection, if intended.

mathgent 11:15 AM  

Very enjoyable. Added kick that it was made by a blogger. And a blogger whom I consistently like to read.

Disappointed to learn that HAL didn't come from IBM. I've been fascinated by that bogus tidbit ever since I heard about it years ago. That's what gave me the gimmick: I got IBM from the crosses and saw that its clue connected to Hal.

Thanks to @Homer Jones (9:46) for reminding me that the Niners traded Y. A. Tittle for the ordinary Cordileone. It took a long time for us to forgive them, probably until John Brodie became a star.

High word count, but only eight Terrible Threes.

I'm into the movies and the Oscars, but it still jolted me to read that the wonderful Meryl has been nominated seventeen times. Thinking about it, she's been nominated for some pretty ordinary works, like the recent one about the opera singer. Hollywood loves her, for good reason.

I know SXSW from the puzzle. It's been in at least a couple of times.

Anonymous 11:21 AM  

ETSY? What the FUTZ?

Suzie Q 11:23 AM  

Another bruising puzzle but more fun today than yesterday.
The best part of all was hearing the back story from the constructor himself. You sly dog! Another genius hiding in plain sight and another reason this blog is so cool.

Cassieopia 11:27 AM  

Adored the puzzle but I’m calling foul on SXlW crossing ELlIE. My sister’s name is Ellie and fits the clue perfectly, and how am I to know SXSW? Otherwise a brilliant puzzle.

jberg 11:30 AM  

@Mike, I loved your puzzle! Keep 'em coming, please. And thanks for coming here -- pretty early in the comments, I guess you were exited (and justifiably so!)

I too, had NEXT in linE first, but that was enough to give me the SECRET CODE, and eventually I got PLEASE from crosses. Like @Gullie Foyle, I also had ELlen first, but fortunately I knew SXSW -- it's a really big thing, folks, or so I'm told, though I've never been there.

My biggest problem was that, once I knew the code, I kept going the wrong way in the alphabet. When I finally got it that the codes had to be real words, that made it easier.

@Nancy, I'm glad you liked my little joke. I try to please.

Two days running for REX in the puzzle -- is Mr.Shortz up to something?

jberg 11:33 AM  

@Nancy, I admire your memory. I went to a lot of Packers games when I was a teenager (a friend was a cheerleader, and could often get me in free as long as I watched it standing up -- in those days there were places to do that). But I can no longer remember what I saw live and what was on TV. Got him right off, anyway.

MetroGnome 11:58 AM  

Had ESSIE for the two-letter woman's name, and since I couldn't crack the coded "UBOLT"/"TNUT" cross (What the hell does "Flush fastener" mean -- how do you fasten a flush?!), and since I've never heard of TOTS as a verb, that threw the entire section irrevocably off for me. Also, "PDAS" was a half-Natick.

MetroGnome 12:00 PM  

. . . also, never heard oF ETSY either.

Odd Sock 12:05 PM  

I suppose that festival could cause some trouble but the letters stand for South by Southwest just like calling a 4-wheel drive vehicle a 4X4 (4 by 4).
Great debut.

Masked and Anonymous 12:15 PM  

Liked the secret code. It produced a net gain of +1 U. And yielded a fun FUTZ.

Figured out the code kinda like @kitshef did, on the DUD-rots-to-EVE entry. I did also eyeball the 17-A SECRETCODE clue, which fortuitously had the word "follow" in it, which inadvertently made my ahar brain lobe light up in a correct manner.

What OFYU?
How'bout a secret code where U advance each consonant to the next consonant, and advance each vowel to the next vowel? Call it the SUV-2 code (yo, @RP), maybe.
Examples: SOW --> TUX. MOM --> NUN. etc.
Then, soup-up the new, ultra-mangled puztheme to be a SUV-2 word ladder. If that puzcombo don't drive ol @RP back off the wagon, nuthin will.

staff weeject picks: EVE and IBM. Weeject themers! Slight preferences to the IBM one, as it was not a U-killer.

Fillins are pretty solid. fave was SCRIMPED. Nice SXSW desperation touch, btw.

Thanx, Mr. Knobler. And congratz on yer primo debut. And for commentin amongst us.

Masked & Anonym007Us


emily 12:19 PM  

Same for me w/ the falafel clue, couldn’t spell tza....& it was wrong anyway.

emily 12:20 PM  

Quilting bee....

'merican in Paris 12:53 PM  

Took me an hour, and then I got the "there's an error somewhere" message. Forgot what I had, but it was in 61 D (TALE). I corrected it, but I just don't understand what MARTIN has to do with "Short, for one". I also don't get UMP as an answer to "First, second, or third person". Anybody?

Otherwise, I did get an AHA moment, I think at UBOLT. In that sense, figuring out the SECRET CODE helped in getting most of the remaining ones.

Nice slight misdirect to clue ALBERTAN as "Neighnour of a Montanan".

Hey, @Mike in Mountain View -- When was this submitted? I ask because some of the answers are very much in the news these days, such as (former)USSR; RICH Trump's interview in The Sun, in which he criticizes Theresa May; the SPAR-FEST that the NATO meeting turned into; and the general STRIFE that has ensued since the Helsinki Summit.


Masked and Anonymous 1:28 PM  

@merican in Paris:

1. MARTIN Short is the name of a comedian/actor. He was in the "Three Amigos" flick, and used to be on SNL, I think.
2. An UMPire is a referee-type-person that makes baseball calls, including at first, second, and third base. Also at home plate, but they left that base out, to make the clue more sadistic-like.

M&A Help Desk

Anoa Bob 1:52 PM  

Those of you who are unfamiliar with STELE (55D) are probably newcomers to the cruciverbial arts. It has been a grid regular for years. It's usually clued in the context of inscribed, memorial STONES, like those often found at ancient building sites such as Mayan temples. For a modern twist on that ancient version, visit any local graveyard, where they are headstones, or grave markers.

My first thought for the inaugural S.I. cover photo was JIM BROWN. Right number of letters.

Went through all of Melville's works a few years back. TYPEE was Melville's first big hit, and because of it's widespread popularity, a sequel, OMOO (39A) was published. They are both more or less autobiographical. I think TYPEE is the greatest South Seas adventure story ever written, but OMOO was a bit of a letdown. Apparently MOBY DICK was an EVE/DUD during his lifetime and only became famous posthumously.

I call b.s. on the YACHT clue. YACHT is a very general term for watercraft used for pleasure or sport. This can range from very modest sailboats---I have one---to huge megaYACHTs. The 1% thingy would only fit the latter category. The vast majority of YACHTs are owned by people---like me---who are far from the top 1% in wealth.

Trombone Tom 2:06 PM  

Wow! A five-star debut that was fun and a bit tricky. Great boost for the reputation of Left Coast constructors. Congratulations, Mike.

The UMP and YACHT clues were terrific.

Look forward to seeing more from Mike.

Anonymous 2:22 PM  

FWIW My son just moved from NYC to Austin to work for the company that owns SXSW. He has a masters in Digital Media.

This years Headliner at South By Southwest is Paul McCartney. He will give a Lecture on one day, a concert another. It runs for 2 weeks.all Kids of artist showcase their work. Video Film Music ETC. its Big with the Digital Generation

Joe Bleaux 2:36 PM  

Wow, the Mike who put this gem together is "our" Mike, as in Mountain View! With an NYT debut! Reading the comments, I thought for just a minute that we might be getting our leg pulled, but no, it was legit. Congrats, Mr. Knobler! I stumbled into the gimmick right off, putting in BLOODY MARY and STYX to start, and from the short SW crosses quickly spotting the IBM/ Hal thing, because, well ... how many three-letter Shakespearean princes, right? I applied the code to a couple of the starred clues, and sure enough, so off and running. More fun than challenging for a Thurs puz, but that's OK. Looking forward to your second one, Mike!

Dennis 2:42 PM  

Thank YOU for a fun puzzle and a gracious write up.

sanfranman59 3:01 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 4:54 4:30 1.09 71.5% Medium-Challenging
Tue 3:40 5:14 0.70 1.8% Very Easy
Wed 12:33 6:45 1.86 99.4% Very Challenging
Thu 9:41 9:46 0.99 49.1% Medium

I grokked the theme pretty early when 24A wasn't Etsy. Fortunately, I'm a sports nut of a certain age and knew Y A TITTLE (5D), so I was sure of all of the crosses for FUTZ. I think I've only really known my mother to be a regular use of that word and thought it might be a family neologism. I had a little trouble remembering if I was supposed to go up or down one letter in the alphabet and that slowed me down a tad.

My only write-over of the day was Spelt before SEWED (72A). I managed to recall the SXSW (59D) initialism, so that took care of that. I certainly sympathize with the frustrated solvers who don't know SXSW since ELlIE also fits the clue for 69A.

I liked the UBOLT (44A)/TNUT (45D) crossing. As at least one other commenter said, "sauce" seems an odd clue choice for TAHINI (20A). I think of it as a condiment, dressing or simply an ingredient, but I guess it's kinda saucy also.

Nice debut @Mike from Mountain View and thanks for commenting here.

Malsdemare 3:16 PM  

I really liked this puzzle. It was like one of those Matryoshka dolls. I got SECRETCODE quickly, but it wasn't until IBM appeared that I got the trick. There were people I didn't know (looking at you, Mr. TITTLE) and it didn't help that I had ALgerIAN for a long time (obviously I slept through geography), but I'd finally get a correct answer and then get that little Yay Me feeling. I'd get a down crossing a themer, giving me a clue about the answer, then do the "add a letter" process, and smile at the result. Sadly I missed the relevance of NEXT PLEASE, but when I finally caught it — after coming here — it was just another delicious fillip to my solve experience. And the constructor is one of us! Wowser!

Malsdemare 3:27 PM  

@metroGnome. A flush fastener is a nail, brad, screw or whatever whose head (or in this case, the nut) lies flush with the board or whatever it’s attached to. Not sure I explained that well.

@anoa bon. Yeah, I thought the same thing about YACHT. Back in our prime we had a lovely 25’ sloop that we sailed on Lake Lanier in Georgia. The first time my mom, a bit of a snob, came to visit, we took her for a sail. Stepping onto the deck, she looked at me and asked in her archest voice, "so, is this a yacht?" And smiled when we said "yes, at 25’ she just qualifies." She loved bragging rights and I could just hear her at her assisted living place telling her fellow residents, "While I was in Atlanta, I had a lovely sail on my daughter's YACHT." Loved that boat!

Anonymous 3:52 PM  

I knew toff from the Kinks song "Low Budget"

I might look like a tramp, but don't write me off
I'll have you all know, I was once a toff
At least my hair is all mine, my teeth are my own
But everything else is on permanent loan

jayhawkprof 4:40 PM  

Great puzzle, in my view. Clever, challenging enough, but do-able. And loved Y.A. Tittle (because I grew up NFL at the time, though I was an Eddie LaBaron fan!)

Unknown 5:03 PM  

What's the explanation behind BOWSER and REX? Google tells me nothing.

JC66 5:05 PM  


They're both "old time" names for dogs.

JC66 5:06 PM  


I just noticed your avatar...Ya got me.

Girish 6:08 PM  

@Mike in Mountain View 12:08 A.M. Ditto with Dennis, Mike! Putting Rex and Will on the same team is sheer genius. ��

Wanderlust 6:40 PM  

Second day IN A ROW when I solved without too many problems but had no idea what the theme was until I read this column. Today was definitely harder to solve without getting the theme, and more enjoyable once I did understand it.

Anonymous 6:49 PM  

SXSW is widely known.

Mike in Mountain View 7:45 PM  

@'merican in Paris: The puzzle was submitted in late November or early December 2017, if I remember correctly.

american glasser 11:07 PM  

Got the code pretty early from the IBM/HAL 2001 connection, but Albetan and Yayittle through me for a loop that lasted several hours. I like the diagonal of E’s in the middle of the puzzle.

american glasser 11:11 PM  

Also ubolt/tnut is fun.

Mark 8:25 AM  

Really enjoyed this puzzle! Love the hate for SXSW but the warm nostalgia for YATITTLE; the much-beloved proxy for relevance in # of google hits reveals the former is roughly 100 times as familiar as the latter. Didn't figure out the HAL/IBM joke though until coming here, y'all are great.

Got unfortunately fixated on a couple of clue readings: I was locked in on an abbreviation for guerrilla fighters like the the P.L.O. or the I.R.A. for "Resistance Units", and didn't think of "spelt" for the bee clue; eventually got the latter from crosses except that I forgot the last letter of the funeral monuments, which left me with SaWED, which made me wonder aloud, "What kind of bee is this??"

Clever work from top to bottom. Great to hear that this is a debut, and great that it's by a Rex follower (sporting a H/T!) Terrific work @Mike!

Burma Shave 10:03 AM  


and they got RICH as a SIDEEFFECT:
PURE Viagra ENURE ICE_T, and yes,
if you're NEXTPLEASE be ERECT.


rondo 11:01 AM  

No sympathy here if you don't know that SXSW - South by Southwest - is one of the biggest music FESTs under THESUN, or at least in North America. I did the SW corner first and was confused ABOUT UBOLT and IBM, but a trip to the NE and DUD/EVE gave it away and there you are. But it still took ABOUT 4.5X REX's time; within the usual 3X to 5X.

We TEEUP later today in the defense of our golf league title (not TITTLE, who was a gimme BTW). Final round NEXT week if we have SUCCESS.

I suppose Ms. STREEP has SEWED up the yeah baby for today.

OK Mike, nice job. NEXTPLEASE!

spacecraft 11:05 AM  

Funny that OFL should green-paint the PLEASE of NEXTPLEASE without also mentioning the SECRET of SECRETCODE. Come on now, if you say or send something in CODE, isn't it de facto a SECRET??

Anyway, I flopped around till finally grabbing the concept at [HAL-->]IBM. Nice non-Clarke clue, BTW. Suddenly some trouble spots started making sense. Cluing was fantastically inventive, as noted several times above. This was a pretty tough Thursday.

I should just commit SXSW to memory, as it seems I'll be meeting it again and again (for those puzzled: "South by Southwest"). But geez, we already have workshops crammed with jars full of TNUTS, and whole lots full of TTOPS. Does a TNUT fit onto a UBOLT? Augh--stop!

Had to write over Spelt with SEWED: the other bee. I did this puzzle in THE [Las Vegas] SUN. With old standbys EVE and ELLA honorably mentioned, let's award the DOD sash to 17-(!)time nominee Meryl STREEP. Way to go, girl! Birdie.

centralscrewtinizer 1:30 PM  

What Anonymous 12:43 said. Also what Spacecraft said.

rainforest 3:23 PM  

Fun, engaging puzzle with a creative theme and great cluing throughout.

Stuck in several places, I got IBM, remembered the HAL story (sorry to hear it's apocryphal), leaped to my "stuck" places and things went pretty smoothly after that. I somehow overlooked that NEXT PLEASE was a revealer, but the game was up by then.

Bonus points for the shout-out to me (guess where) and for including YA TITTLE, my first NFL hero when he played for the 49ers (paving the way for John Brodie, my next hero).

I had always thought HADES was a place and not a person. You always learn something here.
Congratulations, Mike.

leftcoastTAM 3:28 PM  

The gimmick here required deciphering the SECRETCODE in order to get the meaning of the not-so-revealing revealer. After a bit of fumbling around, didn't find it worthwhile to spend time doing so.


strayling 7:25 PM  

Encoding TOFFS as SNEER was a nice touch. The sneering toff is a stock character in British literature.

thefogman 8:19 PM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
thefogman 11:27 PM  

Solved, but not a very enjoyable one in my opinion.

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