Sporty Spiders, informally / THU 12-20-2018 / Declaration concerning British geography? / Mr. Potato Head part / E-tail icons

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Constructor: Ruth Bloomfield Margolin

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: NO NO — Themers become common sayings when the word "NO" is added in front

Theme answers:
  • (NO) TWO WAYS ABOUT IT (20A: Choice of routes?)
  • (NO) SKIN OFF MY BACK (24A: Result of some sunburn I had?)
  • (NO) MAN IS AN ISLAND (44A: Declaration concerning British geography?)
  • (NO) LAUGHING MATTER (51A: Nitrous oxide?)
Word of the Day: SKI BIB (9D: Certain attire when hitting the slopes) —
... snowveralls?

• • •

Happy December, CrossWorld! Matthew the radio nerd back in for Rex today. This puzzle felt all over the place for me (hence the slower-than-average time), and I'll start with a bit of good. For starters, I think the theme works pretty nicely, even as the second Thursday in a row to break the "three-words-or-longer-only" rule. I ~love~ the bottom two themers, especially MAN IS AN ISLAND — I really can't explain why I found it so funny. TWO WAYS ABOUT IT is nice, too. Which brings us to ... the middle of the grid ... where it feels like everything is — somewhat flippantly — about pain and suffering?

You have SKIN OFF MY BACK (which I have never heard before) crossing the rosily-clued FLAYS (was expecting something more Ramsay Bolton-esque here) crossing the somewhat-aloofly-clued MYANMAR (see also: Myanmar) crossing the painfully-ignorantly-clued YEMEN (see also: Yemen) ... but hey, at least there's the ever-ugly YSER ever-more-ugly Comic SANS to cheer you up!

This whole stretch left a really sour taste in my mouth. While I do believe that crosswords can and should serve as a leisurely escape from the drudgery of our lives, I also believe that puzzlers have the obligation to educate when the situation presents itself. Cluing MYANMAR — the country that has denied citizenship to Rohingya and persecuted Rohingya to egregious extremes for over 30 years — as "Home to the Rohingya" feels a bit disingenuous. And cluing YEMEN as anything other than a reference to what's going on in 2018 feels wrong as well. 

As an aspiring constructor, I sincerely admire the amount of work that goes into these puzzles. But this felt like it could have been better. Happy holidays, y'all.

  • PARTAKE (11D: Not teetotal, say) — Let's please get teetotal as a crossword answer!
  • RACEDAY (43D: Time for a mint julep in Louisville) — One of my former roommates is a Louisville native, and I couldn't be more excited to visit and check the Kentucky Derby off my sports bucket list someday.
  • LARGEST (41D: Like the outer matryoshka doll) — Gold star for this clue for making a very commonplace word into an interesting piece of a puzzle.
  • SKI BIB (9D: Certain attire when hitting the slopes) — I'm from Texas ... this is a thing?!
Signed, Matthew Stock, CrossWorld Elf in for Rex
[Follow me on Twitter here!]
[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Anonymous 12:24 AM  

Adding to the pain and suffering is 34 Down.Also, the clue sounds like the lead-in to a bad punchline. A bit tasteless methinks.

okanaganer 12:56 AM  

Okay funny story... had the revealer as NO GO which led to AGIN for 33D "Shortly, quaintly'. (quaintly, Jed Clampett style I guess).

Once agin', I finished with an error. As opposed to "DNF" WHICH IS AN ENTIRELY DIFFERENT THING you... poorly informed folks.

Liked the theme for breaking the rules with panache.

Jonathan 12:57 AM  

Skin off my BACK? The shirt is off the back, the skin is off the nose.

Harryp 1:00 AM  

I powered through this without a clue as to the Theme. I can see that NO precedes 20, 24, 44 and 51 Across, but there is probably more to it than that. I wrote the preceding comment before checking this Blog. At 13:29, this is my fastest Thursday solve by far. Can't see anything moderately challenging about it at all.

Anonymous 1:27 AM  

Yes, it is very politically aloof and disingenuous to describe the place that a persecuted people have lived for over a thousand years as the latter's home. But I did appreciate the constructor's politically subversive bookending of MYANMAR with intransigently critical negativity. NO, MYANMAR, NO is certainly bound to equip puzzlers with a modicum of awareness of injustice in the world, which they would otherwise not get from reading the paper in which the puzzle is printed. Don't even get me started on MAO, whose mass killings are trivialized when placed alongside the cutesy RASP, which brings to mind a sort of Louis Armstrong with Chinese Characteristics.

jae 1:31 AM  

Medium. Cute, kinda liked it.

Ando 1:51 AM  

"'three-words-or-longer-only' rule" -- Does he mean "three *letters* or longer"?

puzzlehoarder 1:54 AM  

This wound up taking average Thursday time due to an egregious misspelling of 11D. It embarrasses even me to admit it but I had PARTACK in there for some time. This screwed up an otherwise easy section of the puzzle. SCENICAREA coming together while thinking 24A ended with a C had me trying to come up with an -IC word ending theme.

I realized what a terrible misspelling I'd committed about the same time I got the NO/NO theme. After that all mystery vanished and the puzzle became fill in the blanks.

While it had a cute theme this puzzle was packed with more than it's share of crossword boilerplate. Outside of the tuncated theme entries SCENICAREA is the only true debut. I attribute this to it's being such a green paint entry. That lack of the unfamiliar was a big reason for why this one just fell into place once the theme clicked.

chefwen 2:02 AM  

I will never get Ray KROC right, every time I spell his name cROk, maybe someday. Corrected myself with 24A as I’m pretty sure it’s SKIN not scin, DOH!

64A KALES, saw a cute T shirt in a magazine recently that stated “I like my Kale with a silent K”. Might have to get one.

Didn’t get my requested rebus, but this will do. Two thumbs up.

Cory Calhoun 2:21 AM  

If a puzzle reminds you of a humanitarian atrocity--not even indirectly, but literally by name of that person, place, or thing involved--and a current one at that, it ain't political to say so, friends.

To be clear, this is a blog of one's personal impressions while completing a puzzle, in *addition* to the by-the-numbers breakdown of the construction of it.

So when a puzzle includes the name of a current site of unmistakable war and/or genocide, the puzzle/constructor themselves are making it political. The blogger noticing that? That's not making it political; that's someone with a passing knowledge of current world events and a shred of compassion noticing what they assume anyone else would notice.

If you do nationally published crossword puzzles to escape news of the outside world--especially the inconveniently upsetting stuff like, you know, people dying in horrible ways--then you're gonna be disappointed every time, blogger or no blogger.

Loren Muse Smith 2:31 AM  

Boy, tooling along and then happening upon a two-letter entry will wake you up. Memories of trying to design my own grids on Crossword Compiler.

Nifty conceit here. It’s surprising seeing the NO phrases without their NO’s. I especially liked the (NO) MAN IS AN ISLAND one ‘cause the absence of NO so completely changes the meaning.

I also appreciated KROC/SCALY, LAUGH/GAILY, and MUTE/ORATE.

CONAIR is my kind of movie. Former badass just minding his own business inadvertently caught up in a rowdydow with unsuspecting villains. Add an unapologetic mullet to the mix, and it’s even better.

I was thinking “stalwart” for STAUNCH. Huh – The clue also begins with st – “steadfast.” (See also strong, stable, steady, stout, sturdy… coincidence? Probably.) Weird,

but not as weird as these:

snort, snot, sneeze, sniff, snore, snuff, snarl, snout, even snob, sneer, snicker and snoop feel kinda nose-ish, right?

slip, sludge, slick, slide, slurp, slobber, slime, sloppy, slush… - the ick factor

And we can accuse a grump of being callous, curmudgeonly, crusty, cantankerous, combative, cranky, contrary, confrontational, crabby, choleric, cross, caustic, crotchety, contentious, even cold-hearted and contemptible. K is kind of a feisty, grumpy little sound.

Ok. Enough. Two days to go before some rest for the weary, at least down my way

Ruth – great shakes!

Brookboy 4:32 AM  

Hardest part for me was trying to recover after I confidently put in picNIC AREA in 18A. That made me wonder if 5D might be nApA. Got to wondering if there might be a vineyard somewhere there named Castro that I’d never heard of. Took quite a while for the penny to drop.

I liked the crossing of 21D and 22A (WOOHOO). For some reason that word always amuses me. Shows my level of sophistication, I guess.

@LMS: I enjoyed your alliterative examples of onomatopoeia. I wish I could construe stuff like that. Oh well...

Marc 4:39 AM  

Getting NO and NO helped me breeze through the clues they repped. Had PICNIC instead of SCENIC, CUBA for CASA. No problem with YEMEN and the's a puzzle and they're things, although they are no LAUGHINGMATTER. Is KROC offensive since McDonald's serves "unhealthy " food, especially when supersized and consumed 30 days in a row? It's not like I go around carrying pictures of Chairman MAO, but I don't think his inclusion in a crossword is a show of support. Didn't have a problem with YSER Arafat being in there either. Is this mike on?

Lindandc 4:46 AM  

Had “flog” instead of “flay”. Isn’t flaying skinning?

'merican in Paris 4:48 AM  

I was at first intimidated by today's puzzle, but ground my way along, making several passes until I got ISLAND at the end of 44A. I then tried NO MAN IS AN, but that didn't fit, and then the lightbulb turned on. NO NO, as in, leave off the NO. Cute. From then on, I zoomed through the rest of the grid. My final time was much closer to my personal best than to my average for a Thursday. My main write-over was CubA > CASA.

I don't understand all the kerfuffle over the inclusion of MYANMAR and YEMEN, and the clues for them. If anything, one could argue that the reference to the Rohingya people is a reminder of their plight. And what is "painfully-ignorantly-clued" about camel-jumping in YEMEN? Several people here already have complained that the puzzle was too easy. What should that clue have been instead, "29D. South-west Arabian war zone"? This is a puzzle, and in my view all place names are legit. Should YSER be henceforth eschewed because the Battle of the YSER resulted in the death of many thousands of soldiers and civilians and even more wounded? Is it insensitive to clue that waterbody simply as a "River through Flanders"?

@LMS: Nice collection of st, sn, sl and c words.

@Jonathan: It seems the expressions, NO SKIN OFF MY BACK and NO SKIN OFF MY nose, may be a regional or generational thing. I'm more familiar with the former.

Unknown 6:01 AM  

Very clever puzzle! How is it I've never heard of a ROOD before? Kept trying to make it FOOD, as in the image of Mary found in the grilled cheese sandwich.

Speaking of crosses, great observation, @LorenMuse, on the related crossing dyads. There's also the obvious WOO/HOO. Too well-constructed to be unintentional... Nice fugue on word alliterations as well.

I also appreciated the clever ambiguities built in, CASA/CUBA, FLAYS/FLOGS, and one that tripped me up, TACK/TACT. Although rays (photons) do have STATE as well, such as polarization.

Agreed, @Jonathan, it's definitely "no skin off my nose", which threw me for some time.

And speaking of noses, don't get them too far out of joint, folks, on "offensive" clues and answers. It's a puzzle, not an op-ed.

Lewis 6:09 AM  

My favorite theme answer, easily, was, MAN IS AN ISLAND. In the other three themers, the main words -- WAYS, SKIN, and LAUGHING basically mean the same thing with or without the NO. But MAN means two completely different things, an island and a person. Its wordplay factor shined the most.

The solve felt like hop, hop, hop... sprint. The moment NO/NO and the first theme answer emerged, it was all over. The other theme answers quickly fell, followed by whatever empty squares were left. Having the theme transition the solve from stutter to dash doesn't happen too often to me, so this solving experience was different and fun. Thank you for that, Ruth!

Z 6:17 AM  

Yep, SKI BIBs are a thing. When you are skiing it is cold, sometimes very cold, sometimes so cold that the high is -24°F. When it is cold you don’t want anything exposed to that cold. That middle area of your body where tops meet bottoms is especially susceptible to being exposed. A SKI BIB insures that no gap in that middle area will occur. Ski gear generally has all sorts of devices wherever one piece of clothing meets another piece of clothing that minds those gaps.

@‘mericans - Well, Matt’s point as I read it was that he noticed that the whole section was laden with pain and suffering and in the middle of all this pain and suffering we get the camel jumping clue. And I don’t know about you, but the YSER clue struck me as especially reverent:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place, and in the sky,
The larks, still bravely singing, fly,
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead; short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe!
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high!
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

So one clue calls to mind remembrance of those lost and the other calls to mind camel jumping. Yeah, that’s a sour taste in my mouth.

Matthew G. 6:49 AM  

(NO) SKIN OFF MY BACK is definitely a common saying, and it's where I picked up the theme. That said, it wasn't exactly a pleasant image as clued!

jmiz 7:08 AM  

Yes to all of this.

Anonymous 7:25 AM  

How are people putting "picnic" in 18A? "picnic" is in the clue.

kitshef 7:32 AM  

One Natick and one WFT in today's DNF. AN-UK/R_ES went with ‘y’. Didn’t know the actress and don’t know anything about Japanese food.

The WTF is ROOD - a word I’ve never heard (hi, Unknown 6:01). It appears to be completely legitimate – just one of those words that I’ve either not heard or not noticed before.

So … very challenging for me.

The best way to ensure your puzzle has a limited shelf life is to make your clues topical. I have no problem with a constructor seeking to avoid that.

three of clubs 7:37 AM  

Let me join the morning outrage.

Home to Castro seems a tad benign. How would home to Hitler seem as a clue?

amyyanni 7:41 AM  

I grew up with shirt/back and skin/nose so had some erasing to do. Anyone else put in tact for tack in the NE? I did catch casa not Cuba because I remember Anouk Aimee (I was just a kid!).
Thanks for McCrae poem, Z.

Anonymous 7:42 AM  

See This for fun

imsdave 7:42 AM  

I wonder if the constructor/editor stewed over skiNOffmyback? Probably just looked odd to me the way my solve went. Never mind.

MatthewS23 7:50 AM  


MatthewS23 7:52 AM  

I looked this up - flay can also mean “whip until the skin comes off,” but I’ve never heard it used as such.

'merican in Paris 7:58 AM  

"The best way to ensure your puzzle has a limited shelf life is to make your clues topical. I have no problem with a constructor seeking to avoid that."

Well said, @kitshef at 7:32 AM

@Z: The clue for YSER is nothing of the sort. ("... the YSER clue struck me as especially reverent.") What?! The actual clue on my iPad is completely neutral, non-time-bound and non-emotive: "River through Flanders". You may have a particular association with that name, but for other people it's just a river. Flanders is merely an Anglicization of Vlaanderen, de noordelijke deelstaat van België (the northern-most region of Belgium). It's a geographic designation that still exists, and has existed for a long time.

The clue about camel-jumping for YEMEN is also neutral, and not time-bound. And, unless you feel that getting camels to jump is abusive to them, it's pretty innocuous. Other Arab countries run camel races. This is the first time I've HEARd of camel-jumping, so I feel I learned something.

There's also in that same area FAY, MENSA, ARI[zona], and ALEE.

Demanding consistency in the "tone" of clues or answers in one section of a crossword puzzle is, in my view, setting the camel-jumping bar too high.

The State of Tact 8:01 AM  

So easy for me. I finish a Thursday about once a year and I breezed through this (probably because I'm old enough to remember these phrases being commonly used) until I thought I was done. But no music. Went over it and over it and finally gave up.

Was convinced that Approach in handling something HAD to be a bad clue for Tact and that a State ray was just another thing I'd never heard of (as happens more and more frequently now in puzzles).

As I get older I notice that my friends are sort of rewriting the past as a way of softening it and I think that if they're doing it, I must be doing it too. We tell ourselves a story that keeps things functioning. Tact/Tack and State/Skate is a tiny example of that. Is there a psychologist in the house who knows if there's a name for this? Or is it just a form of self delusion?

SJ Austin 8:02 AM  

Totally crushed this. PR by a lot.

Also really liked how the theme played out, at least for me. Figured out the theme, and that helped me get the themers, and that helped me with the downs, and that helped me with the puzzle. Just the way it should work, in my opinion.

Agreed on the content of the middle, though. A dark spot on an otherwise really bright puzzle.

JOHN X 8:06 AM  

Now before you kids get all triggered and such, look closer at the middle of the grid. Perhaps it is in fact intentionally pointing out the current situation


. . . and is a call to raise awareness and that we should all care!

It didn't work on me because I still don't give a sh*t about either one.

MAO is my favorite dictator because of those cool propaganda posters. Those didn't work on me either. I suppose I'm just hard to reach. Good for me.

OffTheGrid 8:09 AM  

I have a question for you Xword "pros". Is completing the grid with an error a DNF? 2 errors? 3 errors? I can finish the puzzle by filling in random letters without even reading the clues. I will have many errors but the grid is complete. Is that a DNF? Some have suggested that incorrect finishing and DNF are different. I am unclear on this. Thank you.

nitram lepok 8:14 AM  

NIce idea well executed. But Edam as big cheese? How big is a blob of edam? And why the question mark? I had exec and it messed me up big time

Suzie Q 8:15 AM  

The comments seem a little scattered today. As someone noted above, if picnic is in the clue it will not be in the answer. Crossword 101.
Rood is some common crosswordese. It is one of those words that needs to be filed away for future use. I thought the clue was rude as well. If the constructor was trying to be cute in some Evangelical way she fell short.
Teetotaler partaking is a ...sot?
I think ski bibS is the piece of clothing like a pair of pants. Plural for some mysterious reason but plural none the less.
State/skate, Cuba/casa. I left those in for a bit hoping there was some trick afoot but alas, this puzzle was No Laughing Matter.
I was not amused (except for picturing jumping camels).

Rainbow 8:21 AM  

I refer you to the link provided by @Anonymous 7:42 re: camel jumping. It is educational.

QuasiMojo 8:34 AM  

“No skin off my back” is a very common phrase that harks back to the days when people were flogged or flayed. As sadly many still are. Camel jumping involves jumping over the beast, right? Not camels leaping. Is that in the 12 days of Christmas song? Wanted TACT too. I’ve heard of the Burma Road but not the Myanmar Rood. Once many moons ago I spoke to Anouk Aimee on the phone. For an interview. A total charmer. Oui, oui!

ghthree 8:52 AM  

A two-letter answer in a crossword is certainly a NO NO.
35A and 38A put together fit the bill perfectly.

MYANMAR stands right in the middle of the grid. Between two NOs.
That place is certainly *no home* to the Rohingya. Very topical.

The last square to fall was the cross of 22A and 21D. Self-referential and self-contained.
I had to run the alphabet on that.

Thanks to @Z for posting the text to Flanders Fields. :--)

Never heard of ROOD, but my wife saved me on that one.

Unknown 9:00 AM  

Malcolm Gladwell does two episodes about memory on his podcast, “Revisionist History” that you may enjoy. Season 3, episodes 3 and 4.

GILL I. 9:01 AM  

SKIN OFF MY BACK crossing FLAYS kinda induced a loud ouch. Even if I had preferred nose or even teeth.
I can understand Matt's sour taste effect on the MYANMAR clue especially since the mass genocide of the Rohingya is causing them to flee. It no longer is their home. Why not clue it as the former Burma? Just my thought.
Otherwise, I really liked the puzzle. Like others, my favorite is MAN IS AN ISLAND. It is indeed. If you're into Celtic and Viking history, then Isle of Man is the place to visit.
I also liked the two non themed SCENIC AREA and FINEST HOUR. I can't remember ever having a picnic along a highway. Not even rest areas here in California beckon me to want to sit down and eat as I watch people running to and from the loo. By the way, if you're ever driving through Kentucky, they have gorgeous rest stops and you can definitely have a picnic.
My only huh was 13D. STATE is a variety of ray? IS IT OK?
Too bad infierno didn't fit for Home to Castro. No Jesus for him.
If you love ANOUK Aimee, as I do, and you enjoy friendship and romance, and If you've never seen A Man and a Woman, then do yourself a favor over the Christmas holiday and watch it.

Anonymous 9:05 AM  

Ah, the nasty "?". Maybe big means popular or well known.

Doug 9:08 AM  

The first themer I solved was the nitrous oxide one, and then I got the revealer of NO-NO. And so I got hung with there being two NOs, like the first one being in front of the common phrase, and the second being related to the clue (like N[2]O as the chemical formula for nitrous oxide, and maybe it was supposed to be an abbreviation for "north" on the British geography one). It took me EONs (OK, EON wasn't in today's puzzle, but we all know they'll serve it up before the week is out, amiright?) to get past it.

Anonymous 9:10 AM  

The camels are not jumping. Men are jumping over camels. Google for more.

Anonymous 9:10 AM  

16A approach in handling is tacT. The cross 13D is type of ray sKate. This does not work: TACK is a sailing term or type of pin. State is not a type of Ray.

Hungry Mother 9:12 AM  

Seemed way too easy for a Thursday, but I enjoyed the quick solve. Still in Vegas, so I can’t discuss more about what I did;

'merican in Paris 9:14 AM  

@Rainbow 8:21 AM and @Anonymous 09:10:

@Anonymous 7:42's link to a video on camel jumping doesn't work for viewers outside the USA for some reason. But I've since googled. My bad: it does indeed involve men jumping over camels, not camels themselves jumping (which, on the other hand, horses and dogs do do ... and sheep, at least in peoples' dreams.)

Anonymous 9:30 AM  

@Anon and Tact and all you ... Rexy types:
"take a different tack" = change one's approach, borrowed from sailing into general speech of informed people who use standard English idioms.
Sheesh, the proud displays of ignorance here never fail, an ever-flowing stream that will not be stemmed.

RooMonster 9:46 AM  

Hey All !
Holy Camel Jumping, this puz stymied me all over today. Started out in SW, with biggEST for LARGEST, cathyS for MYNAHS, which led to cYpress for MYANMAR, because had the always-mix-up-the-teams stl for ARI. Then SE, with nog for SAC, aslEep for LATENT, Exec for EDAM, che for MAO. Then NW gave me headaches with AMOS, RENO clued harshly. And just couldn't figure out ON A WHIM forever. To middle CubA for CASA, eelS for ROES, and SKI BIB a new one here. NE, TACt-TACK (huh?), and what is a SKATE ray??

Wow, good thing I did online today, otherwise my puz would've been so full of ink, it'd be illegible. Top themer was not coming into the ole brain. Had to Check Puzzle for the W in ON A WHIM just to finally see it.

After all my flails, once I finally fanangled this puz, I actually liked the theme. Took the NO NO as there is not a NO in each themer. Hence, there is NO NO. Get it?

1 F
2 ROOs


Crimson Devil 10:02 AM  

Learned ROOD. Skin off back I’ve heard more than off nose. Nice puz.

newspaperguy 10:08 AM  

If I judged all Americans by those posting here I would conclude they must the whiniest people on the planet. And the most proud of their ignorance. "I've never heard of..." is becoming a mantra.

Nancy 10:09 AM  

I absolutely loved this. It was extremely baffling right up until the Aha Moment, and then, suddenly, it wasn't. Which is just the way I like my Aha Moments to be. And never has that great cardinal rule of crosswords been broken so entertainingly. There are NO TWO WAYS ABOUT IT!

Add to that the fact that the cluing was tough and clever, with plenty of traps that were baited for us to fall into. And fell, I did: TACT before TACK at 16A (It's always a good policy to handle things with tact, right?) and CUBA before CASA at 5D (a really devilish way to clue CASA, NO?) Also, EXEC before EDAM at 58A (Is EDAM bigger than any other cheese? NO, not really.)

Thanks, RBM, for an imaginative and enjoyable puzzle. Who knows -- you may one day come to be known as "the Notorious RBM".

David 10:17 AM  

Ha! I'm old, Reno was a gimme Roo Mon.

Outside of, "oh, that's interesting" in getting the no no answer, and understanding the phrases were lacking "no"s, it just didn't tumble as a revealer until after I had completed the puzzle.

I like the folks here who insist their regionalism is the "correct" one. Since Rex is fond of excoriating words, phrases, and usages he's unfamiliar with I can understand why they come here daily. I kind of enjoy it, and it's no skin off my back.

@'merican, if you lived here in the good ole U S of A you'd recognize "camel jumper" as one of the many pejoratives used to reference people of Arab descent. I'm sure Ruth lives in a place where she has not heard it either. For those of you shouting, "NO NO It's camel driver", see the paragraph above.

I was also a bit taken aback by those place names, but since I think and read about them pretty much daily I wasn't offended.

@threeo'clubs Are you comparing the Castro twins, rising starts in the Democratic Party, to Hitler? hehe Actually the presence of that answer made me question whether it was "Gee suz" or "Hey Zeus" because I had no clue what a rood is.

I also vote for Man Is An Island for best answer, but really, a laughing matter is no laughing matter, and if there are two ways to do something there's no no there either.

All in all, fun but too easy for a Thursday.

Oh. Speaking of "popular usage", that killed me yesterday. Since the O in SOS means "our" I just couldn't believe that would be the answer when the "in popular usage" phrase was added to it.

jberg 10:18 AM  

Have you forgot me?
Have you forgotten who I am?
  No, by the rood, not so.
15You are the queen, your husband’s brother’s wife,
And—would it were not so!—you are my mother.

Hamlet, Act III, Scene 4

In the church I grew up in (Congregational then, UCC now), it was in a lot of hymns, as well.

Anyway, this one was tough for me at first -- but finally is was looking as MAN... and saw it was about British geograpy, and there it was. I stopped trying to think of a six letter synonym for 'gas' and filled in the other themers apace.

I'm just thinking that the pay raise for constructors must have been substantial, if they're getting familiar with ALFAS and sailing yachts.

I'm a Louisville native too, but moved out when I was 2, have been back only once. Up here in Boston, though, May is mint julep month -- you don't drink them only on Derby Day!

Thanks for the write-up, Matthew!

kitshef 10:20 AM  

@Offthegrid - not a pro here, but answering anyway. There is no official handbook of crossword solving that defines a DNF, so different people use it in different ways. For some, it means they have blank spaces when they throw in the towel. For some, it means they have incorrect answers when they decide they are done. For some, even having a correctly filled-in grid is not enough - understanding the theme (on Sunday-Thursday, generally) is also part of a successful finish.

Complicating this is that some online solvers, when they have at least one letter in every square, will either get a "congratulations" message (if all is correct), or a "you're almost there" message (if they have some wrong answers). Some folks will consider a "you're almost there" message to mean a DNF, while others will feel that so long as they eventually things in correctly, that is still a successful finish.

Some think it's OK to use the Google to look up an answer that is unknown. Some say no to that, but think it's OK to Google to check an answer you have put in. Some say Google is cheating, but it's OK to ask your partner over the breakfast table.

So ... don't get too worked up about terminology is what I'm saying.

Whatsername 10:21 AM  

Hand up for the schnoz in the skin-off-my back/nose debate, and count me among those who found the clue for 34D a bit crude. A simple “crucifix” would have sufficed. I skied for years but never once wore a bib which is what you put on a baby at feeding time. I would no more use it to refer to my ski bibs than I would say ”I think this slack looks nice with this sweater.”

Those quibbles aside, I found this a fun solve and a generally enjoyable Thursday. Thanks Ms. Margolin.

Matthew, thank you for your insights today and BTW, “snowveralls” is brilliant; I think you’ve hit on something there. If you get tired of radio/guest blogging, you may have a future career in neologisms.

Tim Aurthur 10:24 AM  

If you go back to NYT puzzles from the early years, many of them can be described as current events tests. Which is why they can be really hard to do now, since many of the names have faded into obscurity. In that spirit having MYANMAR and YEMEN in the grid should be fine, although I agree that the clues don't work.

Thanks LMS for the list of nose-related words, which I've wondered about. There must be some Proto-Indo-European root starting with SN. I have an image of snarling men riding on snorting horses over the steppes, sneering at each other.

Z 10:30 AM  

@‘mericans - I beg to differ. The use of “Flanders” instead of “Belgium” is going to evoke that specific poem for a goodly number of people. I’m not sure about the actual relationship between all these things, but poppies, Rememberance Day, and In Flanders Fields all evoke somber remembrance of those who died in wars. That is about as evocative as a short clue can be. Sure, not everyone is going to draw those allusions, but the allusion is there. And it is the specific pairing of that clue with the innocuous cluing for YEMEN that’s tone-deaf. There’s nothing remarkable about the YEMEN clue on its own, but not realizing how it looks in context...

My go to comparison here is a West Michigan coffee shop that started out as “Beaners,” an obvious allusion to coffee beans. As the company grew they were made aware that “beaners” is a pejorative only slightly less offensive than “wetback.” They are now known as “Biggby.” Were the founders racists? I doubt it, just unaware. But once aware they decided unintentionally insulting people wasn’t good for business.

Unknown 10:39 AM  

You're assuming people were unclear about the difference between the meanings of tack and tact. The cluing was ambiguous enough that either could conceivably fit.

Anonymous 11:02 AM  

Actually, the Myanmar thing is worse than anyone really notes. The home of the Rohingas is Burma. One of the reasons for the name change was to ethnically cleanse the country. thus, the clue is complicit with genocide. it's like calling Israel "Palestine" or calling Judea and Samaria "the West Bank" or referring to the capital o Israel as "West Jerusalem." Get real. Erasing a name to erase a people is a crime against humanity.

Unknown 11:02 AM  

No skin off my ... what? The great podcast A Way With Words -- which every wordie (and whom else is here?) should know about -- weighs in on this matter:

Bernadette Castro 11:04 AM  

I used to sell convertible sofas in Long Island. Thought 5 down might be Ronkonkama but it didn’t fit.

RobertM 11:11 AM  

@LMS, enjoyed the alliterative series, especially the SN words. My daughter, then around age 3, called nostrils “snarts.” Twentyfive years later, I still use and love that word. Never made the connection to the rest of your nose list.

RooMonster 11:51 AM  

@ newspaperguy 10:08
I've never heard that before. Har.

(Just a joke...)

pmdm 11:52 AM  

Newspaperguy: I would say your comment, which brought a smile to my face, is true.

I am not an expert in solving. I am so bad with PPP that by Wednesday I usually need to research at least one entry to avoid unfilled letters in the grid. Today was no exception. Perhaps because I am challenged to complete the grid (not always correctly), I rarely have an emotional response to a clue or answer unless it is extremely egregious. If a clue read "Minnesota town close to Duluth" I would never pick up the association with Nazi Germany. I'm just not wired that way. I'm not sure if that is bad or give. I guess that depends on the point of view.

ll this means I enjoyed today's puzzle. I'm always delighted when constructors break rules. Today's constructors tells us Will rejected one entry because one of the original theme entires required a dash between the no and the entry. (Curious? The ngo to XWordInfo.)I love outliers.

There certainly is a difference between when a solver does not finish (DNF) and when a solver does not finish correctly (DNFC). So why not add DNFC to the language? It would be more precise. Sadly, I doubt many, if any at all, will begin using this convention. For those who get upset by the confusing use of DNF, why not ram the suggestion repeatedly?

BobL 11:54 AM  

You must go back and appreciate LMS' avatar.

bswein99 12:11 PM  

Thank you, Matthew, for pointing out the clueless Myanmar and Yemen clues. As if they're doing a lot of camel-jumping in Yemen these days...

Otherwise, I liked this puzzle. I thought the theme worked well.

Masked and Anonymous 12:40 PM  

Two-letter answers. Nice. Next important innovation: two-?? clues.
staff weeweeject picks are, of course: NO and NO. Honrable mention to WOO/HOO.

Primo little theme idea. But M&A must protest … RENO & ANOUK & ANON all has a NO in it. None of em is actually intended to be the word NO, however -- sooo … ok, with a polite snort.

SKIBIB? Do skiers have that serious of a droolin problem … ? Confused the M&A.
PICNICAREA was for sure temptin to write right in there. Thanx to a double-take look at the clue, precious err-rasure nanoseconds were saved. CUBA before CASA got m&e, tho.

Thanx for the "No NO-frills" fun, Ruth B. Margolin darlin. Enjoyed the King Kong reference.

Masked & Anonymo4Us

NO anagrams of XMAS:

Carola 12:42 PM  

Nicely challenging, and a fun one to figure out. I needed the NOs and pattern recognition for LAUGHING MATTER in order to understand the theme - which I definitely needed to complete the rest of the puzzle. Agree with others on the genius of MAN IS AN ISLAND.
SCENIC AREA - new to me. I only know the routes and overlooks.
ROOD - Like @jberg, I knew it from "By the rood!", though not from Hamlet, more likely from a semi-trashy historical romance where mild oaths were uttered. Later on, I learned about ROOD screens in English churches.
Help from previous puzzles: CONAIR, the plural KALES,
@Loren, thanks for the nice crosses.

Teedmn 1:14 PM  

Because why not? ON A WHIM, something done at the drop of a hat in my book :-). Love the clue.

Yeah, had the TACt error but I caught it when no STATEs of ray came to mind.

As @Jonathan12:57 mentioned, SKIN OFF MY BACK seemed to be missing a "nose". I thought I found the "nose" at the NOs of 35A and 38A but that was right before I figured out the theme.

Nice job, RBM!

DrBB 1:18 PM  

Re TACK vs TACT: I was glad to see the correction here to one of those idioms that grates when people get it wrong, which they frequently do. "We need to take a different tact" chaps my back. A different "tack" is very much a different "approach," as clued, by analogy with the sailing maneuver. Also liked seeing--for once!--a different and original tack in handling "lee," that all too common crosswordism, at 31A. Nice gem in the middle. Finally, I'm a medievalist, so ROOD would be a gimme anyway, but c'mon guys, I've seen it in xwords hundreds of times.

Altogether one of the more enjoyable Thursdays of recent memory for me.

Joe Bleaux 1:19 PM  

Excellent Thursday puz, SANS rebus. Growing up in Kentucky, I had my driver's license before I ever heard it any way besides the crude "No skin off my ass." So when I popped in ski biB, I thought, for a sec,the answer might be "... OFF MY BUTT."
But no. However, I've since heard "off my nose" a lot more than "off my back" (just had to get that off my chest). And in Louisville, as @jberg will attest, the reference is always Derby Day, not RACE DAY. That's enough for today.

JC66 1:31 PM  


When you Google No SKIN OFF MY BACK, you get 1,940,000 hits.

When you Google NO SKIN OFF MY Nose, you get 570,000 hits.

As pointed out above, it must be a regionalism thing.

Foamfollower 1:34 PM  

It’s “mic”, but we sure hear you! Do these PCers ever read a book or watch the news?

Gene 2:12 PM  


Actually 2:17 PM  

@David the pejorative is "camel jockey"

Anonymous 2:19 PM  

Dr.BB et al,
Of course it's tack. And of course its etymology is nautical. It's hard to believe any sentient being would say otherwise. In fact, the Times uses it a mere two pages in front of today's puzzle. If anyone cares, it's the sub headline about Aziz Ansari and Louis C.K. taking different approaches, make that tacks, in rehabilitation.

Bob Mills 2:27 PM  

Neat puzzle, albeit I never heard of a ski bib. Clever theme, well done.

‘merican in Paris 2:31 PM  

“The Yser (French: Yser [izɛʁ], Dutch: IJzer [ˈɛi̯zər]) is a river that rises in French Flanders (the north of France), enters the Belgian province of West Flanders and flows through the Ganzepoot and into the North Sea at the town of Nieuwpoort.” — Wikipedia

@Z: Perhaps RMB was simply trying to be geographically accurate, and not trying to evoke any sentiment? Hmmm?

Anonymous 2:42 PM  

Speaking of Jesus on the rood, Poggio (ca. 1450) told as a true story about a couple of peasants sent some distance to Arezzo to acquire a sculpture of Jesus on the cross for their parish church. The sculptor asked them: "Do you want a live Jesus or a dead Jesus?" Having no specific instructions, they conferred about it. Finally, not wanting to make the long trek home to find out, they told the sculptor: "Give us a live Jesus. If we are supposed to have a dead Jesus, we'll kill him later."

Anon. i.e. Poggius

SteveHikes 2:42 PM  

Amazing! How do you compile/remember these lists?

Anonymous 2:46 PM  

Like you, I assumed that it was the camels who were jumping in Yemen, but that appears to be wrong. Watch the video posted by Anonymous 7:42 am.

Andrew Heinegg 2:55 PM  

Wonderful, fun video. Thanks!

Anonymous 2:55 PM  

Hey Poggius,
In the interest of ecumenicalism, can you regale with a joke about Muhammad? How about some rabbis? Five days from Christmas and you think that post is funny?

Z 3:07 PM  

@‘merican - Quite possibly. That’s the whole point of my Beaners to Biggby example. Whatever the intent, clue YSER via Flanders and you evoke that poem and poppies and Remembrance Day.

Anonymous 3:09 PM  

We all heard you the first two times. Your claim isn't strengthened by repetition.

Ben 3:15 PM  

I gotta say, the bulk of the commentariat is really missing the point on the MYANMAR / Rohingya clue -- one of the justifications that Buddhists in Myanmar give for their persecution of the Rohingya is that they are "outsiders." By cluing Myanmar as the home of the Rohingya, the constructor _is_ making a political statement about their plight -- namely, that Myanmar is their country too. It is their home, and has been for centuries.

Try reading a little more closely before writing a screed about cluelessness :-)

Fish 3:23 PM  

Slightly OT: Turns out Morgan Spurlock falsified his documentary about McDonald’s. Not endorsing their food, just pointing out he reminds me of Michael Moore’s slanted stuff.

Nancy 3:30 PM  

I'm catching up with the comments now, and sort of feel I was doing an entirely different puzzle today than many on the blog.

Here's my thinking: If I were a constructor and I felt I had to take care to clue every answer based on the very worst barbarities that human beings have inflicted on one another in previous eras and are still inflicting on one another today, I'd slit my wrists. To be sure: if cluing the puzzle with such barbarism in mind or else avoiding the questionable fill entirely would save a single oppressed, tortured, or murdered person, past or present, in YEMEN, MYANMAR, China or Cuba, that would be one thing. But it saves no one. It accomplishes nothing. It's just posturing -- and posturing from a very safe and comfortable place.

Perhaps the way Sondheim phrased it in "Forum" is the way we should approach crossword puzzles

Goodness and badness,
Man in his madness,
This time it all comes out all right --
Tragedy tomorrow,
Comedy tonight.

If only 3:50 PM  

The world would be a simpler place if there were only one pejorative word or phrase for each group the majority chooses to denigrate.

Joe Dipinto 4:09 PM  

the clue is complicit with genocide. (@Anon 11:02)

Now I've seen everything.

Anonymous 4:36 PM  

I remember a furniture store called Castro Convertibles from my childhood in the ‘60s. Was that your family?

Anonymous 5:02 PM  

Anon @9:30 am, I was saying that i was obviously wrong you bloviating idiot. Read it again.

rosebud 5:32 PM  

I just saw the Steadfast Tin Soldier, but staunch reminds me of Robert Graves’ Little Boy Blue; the little toy dog is civered with dust, but sturdy and staunch he stands. They are both such sad childhood stories.

TomAz 5:39 PM  

The comments today are more interesting than the puzzle was. The puzzle was fine, unobjectionable. Some of the comments here haven't met that standard.

So, with that..

- I think it's a good idea to keep YEMEN and MYANMAR front and center in our minds. (I agree with Joe Dipinto: complicit in genocide? wtf?)

- In my world, it's NO SKIN OFF MY BACK. the NOSE version rang a vague bell but I couldn't place it.

- It's definitely TACK, although, I can sort of see how you could sort of stretch the clue to mean TACT. But no stretching required to get to TACK.

- CUBA before CASA. Got me.

- I like KALE. I don't like KALES.

pabloinnh 5:42 PM  

Funny, I put in SKIBIB without thinking twice about it, and without thinking once about those ski coveralls pictured, especially with RACEDAY in the same puzzle. Ski racers wear bibs with their numbers on them, just like runners, and there are lots of ski races and racers in these parts. Never heard anyone say "Hey, the race is starting, got your ski bib?" but it would make sense if I did.

Like the NONO idea but way too easy for a Thursday.

Ian 7:11 PM  

Sorry, it is a common phrase.

Lewis 9:04 PM  

@jc66 -- You should Google the phrases in quotes, which then bases results on the verbatim phrase, not each word separately. And, surprisingly to me, nose won out over back!

Victor 9:16 PM  

Agree with Jonathan. Never heard them any other way.

JC66 9:28 PM  


That's why I didn't use the "quotes." ;-)

Jonathan 12:52 AM  

Nose is far more common than back. Nevertheless, that does not make back wrong for the puzzle. I just never heard it.

OlyL 3:07 PM  

Offensive! I’ll give you Offensive! No I won’t, but I think calling RBM clueless is offensive. Yemen, Myanmar and rood and their clues were all statements of fact. It’s like mentioning Trump in a puzzle; we may not like it, but there he is. These things are made fraught by over-laying our personal emotional reaction to these words, not their intrinsic meaning. That being said, I liked the puzzle. Finished relatively quickly, but enjoyed the solve. Regarding the DNF debate, I was done until I came here only to discover my state/skate problem. Was going to look up “state ray”, until you all pointed out the error of my way. I still feel like I finished, like I feel the Seahawks won the Super Bowl against the Patriots.

PS I was raised in LA where it was definitely skin off my back.

rondo 10:38 AM  

Why don't we all just go out of our way to find something offensive about clues/answers ONAWHIM that suits each one of us? Stop it already.

Not a SKATE, but a different variety of Ray:
My name's not croc that's KROC with a 'k'
Like 'crocodile' but not spelled that way,
It's dog eat dog rat eat rat
KROC-style, boom, like that.
- Mark Knopfler

Let's go back a couple or more generations in film history for yeah baby Anouk AIMEE and one more generation for FAY Wray.

Seemed like a buncha POCs, but I flew through this puz with NO TYPOs, or SANS write-overs. Done SOSOON?

thefogman 10:43 AM  

The cluing wasn't always perfectly PC but there's no need to be ROOD about it. Tough enough, but I did manage to ACEIT. WOOHOO! And thank you Ruth Bloomfield Maroolin.

spacecraft 11:28 AM  

I was disappointed that OFL didn't get a crack at this one--or not, because if this guy found offense within, so surely would @Rex. But I wonder if it would've received the same difficulty rating? Me, I certainly did ACEIT.

ONAWHIM, our brave constructress flew in the face of convention and brought out a pair of deuces--not only that, but the same entry repeated! A double NO-NO: what would you say, a NO-NO-NO-NO? But it works, the whole idea, and it works badass well.

I stumbled with FLogS before FLAYS, creating a two-letter (how appropriate!) writeover, but the rest of it was smooth sailing. Proudly, I even dropped MENSA in off "Gatherer of intelligence?". I like the conversational tone of the fill: ISITOK? SOSOON? WOO HOO!

Imperfections are minor: ROO/ROOD, the SW abbr.-fest with ALTS and SYST, the awkward suffix -ANCY. They do little to downgrade a splendid grid that includes a golden oldie DOD in FAY Wray. Birdie.

Burma (MYANMAR) Shave 12:45 PM  




rainforest 2:15 PM  

Pretty damn good puzzle where the split NO-NO was used to great effect. I loved the themers, especially MAN IS AN ISLAND. That is a real knee-slapper. I have a sore knee.

I also thought the cluing was pitched at a high level, and I liked that TACK (wrote over TACT for that one).

Whatever the name of the country (Burma? MYANMAR?), I weep for the Rohingya but feel no animosity toward the clue/answer, just as I have no negative feelings about MAO appearing despite China's arresting of Canadians over the HUAWEI thing. Now, if "wall" appeared in the puzzle, I'd probably have a problem accepting that. Never has vanity/narcissism/lack of empathy been so blatant.

@Burma - *four* years! How'd I miss a year?

Wooody2004 3:23 PM  

I was exoecting to see the No No Song by Ringo Starr in the blog.

No LAUGHINGMATTER but Sots get to PARTAKE today.

Learned from Crossword: They jump camels in Yemen, don't they.

Knew from old crosswords: Actress Anouk Aimee. Ancient Agoras.

Learned from blog: Kentuckians wear Tee shirts that proclaim "No Skin Off My Ass".

Country For Old Men could have been contender.

Shoes, Shirts, Service!

leftcoastTAM 3:49 PM  

Wrote an incredible set of comments that would have entertained everyone, but lost them in the ether.

Enjoyed the good work by Ms. Margolin.

Diana, LIW 5:50 PM  

Hey @Lefty - me too! Wonder if we'll ever see those comments...coming back to haunt us, or the blog...

Lady Di, Waiting for my comments to come back, along with Lefty's

leftcoastTAM 7:17 PM  

@Lady Di -- Somebody or something out there doesn't like us.

thefogman 9:01 AM  

Russia, if you're listening please leave our puzzle comments alone.

Beallthere 3:19 AM  

Let's get off this bucket list nonsense. There is no such thing. Nobody has a bucket with wishes in it.
..There was a movie by that name, but it was ever-so-contrived. Here's a corporate mogul with numbered days. So whom does he pick to spend them with ?
..A fella who lies underneath cars all day long. He might be a great mechanic, but no corporate leader would have such a friendship. And how does this mechanic get smart enough to ask all the correct Jeopardy! questions just listening to the TV show ?
..Please drop all references to bucket list. RexWordpuzzle Blogspot deserves more intelligent verbiage.

Beallthere 3:19 AM  

Let's get off this bucket list nonsense. There is no such thing. Nobody has a bucket with wishes in it.
..There was a movie by that name, but it was ever-so-contrived. Here's a corporate mogul with numbered days. So whom does he pick to spend them with ?
..A fella who lies underneath cars all day long. He might be a great mechanic, but no corporate leader would have such a friendship. And how does this mechanic get smart enough to ask all the correct Jeopardy! questions just listening to the TV show ?
..Please drop all references to bucket list. RexWordpuzzle Blogspot deserves more intelligent verbiage.

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