Rosalinde's maid in Strauss's Die Fledermaus / WED 5-8-19 / Jule who wrote music for Funny Girl / Nickname for Yale

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Constructor: Stu Ockman

Relative difficulty: Easy (3:54)

THEME: TABLE TENNIS (37A: Olympic sport since 1988) — circled squares use TABLE TENNIS table and NET (30D: [Item depicted here]) (?) to form the shapes of those things, and then there's also what looks like the path of a ball over the net, which spells the phrase BACKSPIN SERVE. Then in the very bottom corners of the grid there is PING and PONG (63A: With 65-Across, another name for 37-Across). Oh, wow, looks like there's a random ATARI tie-in too (15A: Its version of 37-Across was popular in the 1970s-'80s)

Word of the Day: Jule STYNE (13D: Jule who wrote the music for "Funny Girl") —
Jule Styne (/ˈli stn/; born Julius Kerwin Stein, December 31, 1905 – September 20, 1994) was a British-American song writer and composer known for a series of Broadway musicals, which include several famous and frequently revived shows which also became successful films, including GypsyGentlemen Prefer Blondes, and Funny Girl. (wikipedia)
• • •

Let's call this what it is: pandering. The crossword editor is, famously, a table tennis enthusiast, owner of a table tennis facility, etc. It's just gruesome that kissing up to the editor with a theme like this one (one that isn't even well executed) actually works. I guess fawning pays with certain leaders. I have no idea how the path of a "BACKSPIN SERVE" is different from the path of any other serve, or if the path depicted here is even representative of a "BACKSPIN SERVE." Likely, that phrase just happened to fit in the requisite number of spaces. It's such an arbitrary, odd phrase, and since it's literally the only thing keeping this theme from being completely boring and rudimentary, its oddness / strangeness / non-iconicness really hurts. There are some decent answers in here, in the bottom (i.e. not theme-dense) part, but that's also where the fill gets inexcusably weak and crosswordesey. SRTA ESTER etc.

Then there's BUSMAN??? Otto is a bus driver (though his last name is Mann). Hail to the bus driver, bus driver, bus driver. . .

BUSMAN ... what is that? I've heard of "BUSMAN's holiday," though I don't know what one is. Looking it up now ... Hmm, per wikipedia: "The phrase "busman's holiday" is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as a period of holiday or leisure time spent doing something similar to one's normal occupation, first shown to be used in 1893." OK, but what is BUSMAN? Well, it's a word meaning "driver of a bus," but I wouldn't use it. People don't use it. More importantly, "The Simpsons" doesn't use it (I don't think). Whoa, no. No I'm wrong. I totally forgot about Otto's idea for a superhero called BUSMAN!: 
Otto's idea was that the character would drive a bus by day, but by night fight vampires in a post-apocalyptic war zone. Otto later went to a comic book convention, with the intention of showing his idea to Jack Tate, but it's still unknown whether Tate liked Otto's idea or not. While traversing The Desert Busman picks up various passengers and safely takes them to Garlicville after fighting off the hordes of Mutant Vampires. He also met Busbabewhile escorting the passengers. (Simpsons Wiki)

Looks like Bongo Comics even published an actual issue of this hypothetical comic, thus making it no longer hypothetical, I guess:

NONONO is bad, especially coming after the ridiculous no-no-no non-phrase NO EAR (!?). Loved PLUS ONE, both the answer and the (tough) clue (50A: Unidentified date). But very little else about this puzzle was pleasing. My only real hold-up came in the middle, with the non-clue on NET and the absurd clue on ADELE (34A: Rosalinde's maid in Strauss's "Die Fledermaus"). Other proper nouns in the puzzle didn't trouble me: I somehow remembered both ELSTON and STYNE today. In conclusion: Please let's all agree to a 10-year moratorium on PING / PONG puzzles. Thank you.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. In case you think my accusations of flagrant sycophantism are unwarranted, please behold the constructor's own words: 

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Runs with Scissors 12:13 AM  

This was a fun, feisty, almost-sunk-me Wednesday. Which just doesn’t happen.

Writing this at 2030 PDT Tuesday evening, I have no idea what the rest of all y’all think about it. My take is that there is nothing to bark at, or even at which to bark. Not a single entry. Not even NONONO, or BARK.

There were a couple of blasts from the past that made me sit up and chortle. Memorex, and Atari’s Pong. I played the heck outta that back in my misspent teenage years. Never at an arcade, though. We were early adopters and had it at home in 1975-ish.

My brothers and I, we would play some serious revenge ping pong. You didn’t want to be standing in the line of fire. All of us could make the ball carom in any direction we chose. English for days and we’d use any of our opponent’s handy body parts for the rebound. It was on you to deflect.

A couple of these entries were resident in memory, but not consciously. Mamet: Check. Had the name hidden away, couldn’t have told you what he wrote. Not even what kind of stuff he wrote. Come to think of it, I’m assuming the gender.

SchoolMARMS – put me in mind of the movie “My Girl.” Embalming the schoolmarm being a teaching moment.

Ralph FIENNES was installed in my memory banks way back when, for reasons I no longer remember, and I managed to dredge him out. It was a squeaker, though. Same with ANATOLE French. MAMET, same same. It sometimes amazes me what I have buried amongst the synapses.

The only clue that made me say No Way was PLUS ONE. Just couldn’t get there from there, but what the heck. One outlier is no MAXI issue. I can LEAVE BE on that.

Any time I can get a NEER-do-well in my puzzle I can’t complain.

Let’s go through the nuggets: MARMS. and MEMOREX, and STYNE & ELSTON (whoever in creation they may be), and ADELE not the pop singer, and ALIENATED FATTER SRTA (!), and and and….you get my drift.

I must admit, though to a durn near DNF down in the SW. The puz told me it was filled in, but with an error. Could not, for the life of me, find it. I went letter by letter through every answer until I realized I had put in SPED PP, which gave me PLAN Bator. If that failed your breakfast test, well, that’s too bad.

Mark, in Mickey’s North 40

jae 12:54 AM  

Easyish. Nifty idea but it doesn’t quite work for me. The theme constraints result in some pretty awkward fill and @Rex BACKSPIN SERVE seems odd.

Nice try though.

Anonymous 1:10 AM  

No. No. No.

puzzlehoarder 1:29 AM  

I must be getting the hang of solving on my phone. This one came in right on my average paper solving time. Either that or it was just that easy.

There were six unknowns I had to work around. For a puzzle that is devoid of debuts that really shows how often entries slip through the cracks on me. In the case of STYNE at 13D quite a few times.Nothing here that the crosses couldn't give away but a reminder to not let up on my homework.

As for using my phone, it's not to save paper and ink. The printer is on the fritz, my wife is asleep and I have no idea how to trouble shoot the damn thing. The printer of course.

BenM 1:40 AM  

I'd prefer a 1000 year moratorium on puzzles like this. This was easily one of the worst puzzles in the last five years

albatross shell 2:01 AM  

Yes yes yes. I love it. Why? Because I love table tennis of course. Did not know Shortz did. Z did make me wonder yesterday. Is Z actually Shortz? Has anyone seen them at the same time? Is it just coincidence that Z mentions table tennis yesterday and today it is the theme?

Anyway, I don't care if there are too many personal names and commercial businesses and too few crosses and an isolated theme. BAH.

Look at the beauty of the TABLETENNIS table split midway by the self-referentially clued NET. The path of the BACKSPINSERVE traced above it. PING and PONG well-placed in the lower corners with a tribute to the earliest and greatest of video games. OK, a slight exaggeration there. Maybe.

To answer Rex's question about what a back spin serve looks like it depends on the
amount of backspin and the speed of the ball and the level of skill: average home player excellent basement player, club player, and better. A backspin serve by a home player could look like this. They might go high over the net like this, but really a top spin serve could too, and the grid does not provide the detail to distinguish between them.

Fine clue for ADELE, but obscure for me. Nice change.
PLUSONE MAXI MARM ULNA NEER IMPINGE all good. I'm a Yankee hater, but ELSTON always deserved respect.

Anonymous 2:05 AM  

I am a big BACK SPIN SERVE fan so thumbs up for that.

As a high school teen in the mid 70s, in my home town there were no 'arcades', so I used to hang out in K-Mart's entry vestibule with my best friend to play Atari PONG on a refrigerator sized machine. Bleep..bloop bloop...bloop...blonk. (We were not the cool kids.) But DOI ONA GOA back to those days?... damn straight do I.


Mike in Mountain View 2:14 AM  

This played like a fast Monday for me, but I'm old enough to remember the MEMOREX commercial and PONG and the Los Angeles RAMS (oh, wait, they're back again) and when Cheryl TIEGS was modeling in a super way.

I'm not old enough to remember ROXIE Hart (I haven't seen any of the more modern versions of Chicago, either).

I like the little black table tennis table under the NET (stylized, as such tables tend to have more legs).

I believe the idea behind the backspin serve here is that a serve with topspin would have bounced higher. So, yes, Rex, the last "E" would be higher if this were a topspin serve. (Also, it wouldn't have been symmetrical, given the letter count, but that's another issue for another day.)

Larry Gilstrap 2:40 AM  

TABLE TENNIS anyone? It's kinda like PING PONG, but you stand farther from the table and every SERVE has BACK SPIN, or some other serious funk on it. I grew up watching ABC's Wide World of Sports and I remember the first time I saw the game played at the highest level. Hey, that's how the U.S. and Red China broke barriers. Where is Nixon now that we need him?

ADELE shares her name with an opera character? The name ELSTON does not seem operatic, but seems about right for a tough-as-nails catcher on some great ball clubs. I assume he was clean-shaven.

Make up your mind! I love the idea of The Simpsons, and I swear I'll watch them all some day. Currently queued up for my dotage. I'm glad we cleared up that whole BUSMAN controversy shrouding Otto. I've heard the phrase "BUSMAN's Holiday" all my life. Guy drives all over, just like at work.

What She Said 3:14 AM  

OHMY. Remember that tweet from the French Civil Security agency dumping cold water on our president’s hysterical suggestion about how to combat the Notre Dame cathedral blaze — the sole English-language tweet in that agency’s Twitter feed? That’s what’s happening with this puzzle: clapback for an audience of one, playing out on a very public stage.

Don’t believe me? When I look at a TABLETENNIS-themed puzzle that fires a BACKSPINSERVE smack into REX (packaged with an extra nudge just in case you didn’t get the MEMOREX), I know what I see. This puzzle went through nearly a dozen rounds of collaborative editing with the powers that be, and I’m supposed to think that’s sheer coincidence?

NONONO. Not when something as simple a VALIANT / LEX cross would have cleared up the inelegant redundancy in the grid.

It’s like the old joke about a guy panhandling in the theater district. One theatergoer pauses in front the panhandler, and then sniffs,
“ ‘Neither a borrower nor a lender be.’ Shakespeare.”

To which the panhandler replies, “ ‘F@$& you.’ MAMET.”

Somebody here is in MAMET mode...

chefwen 3:16 AM  

Loved it. When we moved back to the states in the early ‘60’s my parents bought a house that the builder had structured around a basement with a built in Ping Pong table. You couldn’t remove it without chopping it to pieces or tearing down the house. Big brother and I mastered the game and we were brutal. I know exactly how the BACK SPIN SERVE looks and that is it.

Had some difficulties in the east coast, 46A and 51A were unknown, but some chipping away and after a couple of lucky guesses I was able to finish.

Liked the puzzle and I don’t think “kissing up” had anything to do with it. Maybe I’m naive, I prefer to think, not.

Brookboy 3:25 AM  

Hmm... Not much liking for this one, not sure why. Well, l do understand OFL’s pique, which one expects from him, but not so much the other unhappy solvers. I thought it was easy for a Wednesday, but it also seemed perhaps a little more difficult than a Tuesday, so maybe Wednesday was the right day after all.

Until I read Rex’s comments I had no idea that Mr. Shortz was an aficionado of table tennis. Perhaps the same was true of the constructor. Perhaps not. Either way I think it excessively bad form to accuse the constructor of pandering. There simply isn’t any way to know for sure, and even if the constructor knew about Mr. Shortz’s alleged love of table tennis, why is it pandering? Aren’t constructors allowed, even encouraged, to draw inspiration from any source (other than outright plagiarism)?

And regardless of any opinion on Mr. Shortz’s performance as the Crossword Editor of the Times, I also think it bad form to suggest that he is susceptible to bribery or flattery or any other skullduggery without any more evidence than we have here. Rex, I think you overstepped this time.

Count me in the camp of those who enjoyed the puzzle.

Loren Muse Smith 3:44 AM  

@Bookboy, I know, right? Pander. Hmm. You could argue that a constructor is a salesman with a product to persuade an editor to buy. If you know Will’s likes and dislikes, what’s wrong with appealing to that? GOA, SRTA, and DOI notwithstanding, this is a harmless little puzzle showcasing a terrific visual of TABLE TENNIS with NET right there where it’s supposed to be. And a BACKSPIN SERVE that depicts how the ball bounces over the net. And many of those circled letters have to cross three ways. And a bonus PING PONG.

“Pander” can impy an appeal to some kind of distasteful bent on the part of the panderee. If I were the NYT food critic, Eric Ripert would totally create special dishes for me, whimsical reinterpretations of two of the world’s most perfect foods, the Big Mac and Rice Krispy Treat. That, many could argue, would be pandering.

But knowing that a potential customer likes something harmless and playing to that like… I don’t find this objectionable.

I loved PLUS ONE and BUSMAN. On the rare occasion when I’ve used BUSMAN’s holiday, I’ve felt sophisticated and fancy.

Also, yesterday when I told my 10th graders that the Macbeth witches were yip yapping again about witch stuff, I was reminded of the phenomenon called ablaut reduplication, wherein we repeat a word but change the vowel. In these cases, the first vowel is almost always a vowel where your tongue is high in your mouth and with the second vowel, the tongue is lowered. PING PONG, yip yap (never yap yip), flim flam (never flam flim), tip top, jibber jabber, zig zag, tick tock. If you stand in front of a mirror and enunciate these pairs exaggeratedly like a soprano warming up for an aria, you’ll see your chin drop when you say the second word. Betcha never noticed.

mmorgan 3:56 AM  

I generally don’t like puzzles with circles but I love ping pong and thought this was nifty fun!

Peter 4:25 AM  

"ADELE's Laughing Song" is one of the more famous opera arias, so far easier for us non-Americans to get than the first name of a baseball player, even a famous one.

Big Jim Slade 4:55 AM  

Notice how REX is in the puzzle twice, crossing each other and both in the path of the ball?

Hahaha this is the editor and the constructor mocking Rex Parker.

Lewis 5:56 AM  

I came into this puzzle feeling neutral, and am leaving it waxing high.

First, BUSMAN brought up "busman's holiday" which I've heard all my life but didn't know the meaning of, so I finally looked it up (even before reading Rex) and now I know. That I will remember, and it will erase a question mark that was probably floating around somewhere in my brain.

MEMOREX brought back that commercial with the shattering glass, something I haven't thought about in forever, and how nice to have a dormant brain-bit massaged.

"ULAN Bator" has a funny exotic ring to it, and I love when it comes my way.

The balance-loving Libra in me felt very at peace with the symmetry of the circled letters over the vertical in-the-middle-row net, anchored by the solidly resting PING and PONG on opposite corners. I'm not kidding. Just looking at these elements brought any tense vibes inside me to a calm happy place.

And for all these things swirling in a bowl filled with my love of ping pong, I thank you, Stu, and now, thanks to your puzzle, I'm going to go and carpe me some diem out there.

Solverinserbia 6:07 AM  

Way too many proper names. Especially one corner with FIENNES ANATOLE and ELSTON, none of whom I've heard of making the puzzle impossible to solve. I do love Ping PONG though.

Z 6:16 AM  

Huh? The response is pretty divided so far. No middle ground here it seems. As is not uncommon, I’m much more team Rex.
First, there’s only half a theme puzzle here. Everything south of TABLE TENNIS is irrelevant to the theme except for the “oh shit we need something more” PING PONG. Second, ULNA and NE’ER to start? Flashing neon sign for “tired fill.” Third, we are closing in on starting the third decade of the 21st century but we’re busy playing ATARI games at the ARCADE while playing MEMOREX cassettes? This is about as 1977 as you can get. Fourth, GOA. Fifth, yesterday nor I today not I, can we please just fess up? It was I. I could go on, but you get the point.

@albatross shell - I thought that was kind of funny. But, no, my sport of choice involves chasing flying discs, not little plastic balls. That was just serendipity. There have been other time when I (and others) have mentioned or alluded to Shortz’ passion for TABLE TENNIS, this just happened to be the first time the reference was followed by a puzzle with this theme.

@catholic boy late yesterday - Sorry. @michiganman is his own person. As for blind spots, I’m sure I’ve got mine. But spend 20 years working in a school district with the largest Arab-American population in the US does give one a different perspective on the Middle East. But this is a crossword blog. We’re not going to solve the conflicts in the Middle East here.

webwinger 6:50 AM  

I’m in the yes, yes, yes camp on this one. Was never a true ping pong enthusiast, but we had a regulation table in our basement “rec room” in the 60s and 70s that got a fair amount of use (though as much for slot-car racing and craftsy projects as for the game itself). Puzzle design was cute, answers and clues not bad for a Wednesday. Played easy for me. Curiously, for the third day in a row my time was between 10 and 11 minutes.

Still don’t really get the connection between PLUSONE and its clue. Will appreciate enlightenment.

The ping-ponging that seems to be going on between WS and RP has come to border on the bizarre, now laden with conspiracy theories and “ideas of reference” (a term relating to paranoia that I recall from long-ago psychiatry rotation). And speaking of bizarre, I found OFL’s soliloquy about BUSMAN today quite precious. I haven’t watched the Simpsons much (like an earlier commenter, hope to catch up one day, though may not live long enough given the show’s nearly 30-year run), but I feel like I know even some of the minor characters pretty well. Otto was new to me, and @Rex’s progression before our eyes from typical scoffing to something close to awe for a comics connoisseur was something to behold…

Joe Dipinto 6:55 AM  

Ping and Pong are also opera characters.

three of clubs 6:58 AM  

There must be a large subset of people who remember musical pieces by the key in which they are set. I usually get them via crosses and promptly forget them.

Suzie Q 6:58 AM  

Pandering is the only word in my margin notes but after reading @Brookboy and @LMS I feel I was overly judgmental. Then I read @Lewis' soothing remarks and I feel so much better and ready to face the world with a positive attitude. Thank you all.

Hungry Mother 7:24 AM  

Liked it, killed it, ignored circles. On the Auto Train almost in Lorton, VA.

olfuddud 7:24 AM  

Elston Howard was Yogi Berra's backup for awhile, and played right field too I think. Easy puzzle, but enjoyable.

Kevin 7:39 AM  

At first I had ADE instead on ALE for a drink sold by the yard. I don’t know if that was a purposeful trick or if I’m just trying to justify my early entry, but I was thinking of a sidewalk lemonade stand (which is certainly a better deke clue if everyone would have immediately known that ale is sold in those huge yard-long glasses).

Busman from Goa 7:39 AM  

A puzzle for brown-nosers. Then a double Rex in the grid?
Toss in a few obscure proper names just for the heck of it. Why not? Talk about an "up yours" puzzle. Don't know Anatole or this particular Adele? Well, you're an uneducated unworldly rube. Don't know Elston Howard? You must be a racist. So much suffering for the solver just so we can have a mediocre graphic in the center? Spare me.

Irene 7:42 AM  

When you invite someone to an event "plus one" it means "Bring a date, whoever he/she may be." I thought it was a brilliant clue.

albatross shell 7:44 AM  

PLUSONE is used on invitation to weddings or parties or dinners to mean you and spouse, friend, or date is invited also.

kitshef 7:47 AM  

Lots going in in the grid, so I'm surprised there is not more bad fill. An overdose of NOes and ONs is the worst of it.

ON a
plus ONe
in ON

NO ear
NOt i

@webwinger - if you are inviting someone to a party, wedding, or other event, and you want them to be able to bring a date, but you don't know whether they are seeing anyone and if so who, you can invite them to bring a PLUS ONE. That is, to bring a date whose name you as the host do not know.

Rug Crazy 8:02 AM  

I agree with Rex on just about everything today

CS 8:08 AM  

Oh c'mon Rex, this was a lot of fun. Lighten up!!
(one can always hope ....)

Happy spring!


pabloinnh 8:11 AM  

Well, I learned something today, and that is that WS is a "table tennis enthusiast". Is this we ll known, or is does OFL just have a fund of knowledge that he chooses to share with us as needs be? What's next, puzzles based on WS's favorite foods? His birthday? His pets? Can't wait to find out more.

I like any xword that lets me say "stunt puzzle", and I'm not sure this qualifies as a stunt puzzle but close enough for me, so good stunt puzzle.

Hand up for wow that was an obscure ADELE clue. Yikes.

And finally, no mention of beer pong? Ping pong is OK if you want to keep score and know who wins, but for some intense ha ha, I'd recommend good old beer pong. Another variation is blow pong, where you take the net down and try to blow the ball off the opponent's end of the table. After about five minutes of this, you'll put the net back up and go back to beer pong.

Thanks to SU for a fun Wed., I sure didn't feel pandered to.

Nancy 8:15 AM  

I completely ignored the annoying tiny little circles and ended up enjoying the puzzle a lot. The gray squares of TABLE TENNIS helped me. When I had only the TA of TABLE TENNIS along with only the PI of PING, I saw the theme and wrote in all the related words. I then had to come here to see what the letters in those peculiarly-arranged circles added up to. BACKSPIN SERVICE, huh? Coulda fooled me: No ping pong ball has ever traveled thusly in the entire history of ping pong. No matter how much spin you put on it.

Wow, @Running With Scissors, how come you're not representing the USA in ping pong at the Olympics? Wow!

I think the grid is one big mess, theme-wise, but the puzzle was fun anyway.

amyyanni 8:46 AM  

Had to look up Busman's Holiday years ago because I was a huge Lord Peter Wimsey fan. When he married Harriet Vane, Dorothy Sayers sent them on Busman's Honeymoon, when Lord Peter has to solve a murder.
Don't mind the pandering. It's along the lines of What Color is your Parachute, i.e., to get the job you want, don't send out 100 resumes. Instead, research the one or few that truly interest you and be strategic.
Love Roxie and Fanny (STYNE - Funny Girl) today. And thought it was clever.

Nancy 8:48 AM  

Terrific catch, @What She Said and @Big Jim Slade! I noticed the double REXes, but I didn't see the BACKSPIN SERVE slamming into both of him. (Of course not, since I hadn't seen the BACKSPIN SERVE at all). But I love thinking it was deliberate on the editor's part. Maybe it was, maybe it wasn't, but it's irresistible to think that it was.

Hoboken Mike 9:05 AM  

Thank you so much for noticing in pointing this out.

fkdiver 9:09 AM  

I usually don't agree with Rex but he's spot on today.

Anonymous 9:10 AM  

We old-time fans can tell you that Elston Howard was an excellent and versatile Yankee, who played catcher, outfielder and first base. He was the American League MVP in 1963, a Gold Glove winner and All Star.

Sir Hillary 9:24 AM  

Man, it's hard not to be cynical these days. My first thought was "pandering", and the double REX conjured up an Ockman/Shortz "mwahahah" in my head. Then the negativity really kicked in. Aside from the double bounce which marks it as a TABLETENNIS serve, the BACKSPINSERVE arcs way more like a topspin one. And there's the ESC / DOI / GOA / SOBERER / EDS / NOTI / INON / ING / SRTA / EEE / NOEAR junkheap needed to support the theme. Yikes!

BUT...the glass-half-full view of @LMS, @Lewis and others is indeed refreshing. What if I (as is apparently the case with many commenters) had no idea Will was a TABLETENNIS enthusiast; what would I think then? Truth is, I probably would have tolerated the puzzle's shortcomings, given the fun theme. So let's focus on the positives:
-- East-west mirror symmetry, a nice change.
-- Wonderful clue/answer combo for PLUSONE, acknowledged by @Rex to his credit.
-- Also a superb clue for NEER.
-- Fun to see NAPSTER after all these years.
-- In "Schindler's List", Ralph FIENNES delivers what I consider to be one of the greatest performances ever filmed -- an absolute embodiment of mostly-genial monstrosity. In a decision I will never understand, he somehow lost the Best Supporting Actor Oscar to Tommy Lee Jones, whose performance in "The Fugitive" was good but nowhere near that of FIENNES.

Anyway, my thanks for the wake-up call given by those of you who are viewing today's puzzle from the bright side. It's hard (and often not advisable) to separate any creation from its context, but if we do so today, my view is that this is actually a good puzzle.

Anonymous 9:24 AM  

Felt creaky and dated. Cheryl Tiegs, Memorex ad, “not I” and neer and marm and dears.... And no one says soberer.

GILL I. 9:32 AM  

Gruesome? Pandering? Such harsh words me thinks. I'm in the @Lewis camp. I thought this was a delightful little romp. I know Will loves TENNIS (even though I've never met him) and my first thought was how nice to make a good puzzle around his enthusiasm. Why not? I think Stu might have added REX knowing full well he might get the wrath?
At first I thought there were way too many proper names. But I got them all. You clue ADELE in an opera? WHY WHY WHY. I love me some Turning Tables. Then you clue the brilliant Ralph FIENNES in a Harry Potter? WHY WHY WHY. Had you put him in the "English Patient" or "Constant Gardener" hell, even SKYFALL, I would have smiled a bit more broadly.
Boy do I love TABLE TENNIS. My brother and I used to play it all the time. Dad found a table somewhere and set it up in the back patio of our little finquita in Havana. Our Cuban friends loved it as much as baseball and there was always a game going on. I wanted to be everything my brilliant brother was so I set out to beat him in at least one thing. PING PONG. Dang, I'm good. He would cream me in tennis but my BACK SPIN SERVE killed him every time we rallied around the PP. I know, though, he'd have a field day with my ADELE enthusiasm and tell me I have NO EAR.
I know BUSMAN's holiday a lot more than Otto's claim to fame. In my past line of work I was always on one. Traveling for a living is pretty cool.
I'm going to imagine playing some beer pong with @pablo or maybe some blow. haha?

RooMonster 9:42 AM  

Hey All !
Hold on a DEMI-sec. What in tarnation is DEMI-sec? I'm not a Wine-y (think foodie) but still never heard of said wine. Or designation, as the clue says. Oh DEARS.

Anyway, as far as TABLE TENNIS/PING PONG themes go, this one was pretty cool. The extra little bit of having the NET in there was nice. Could've done with or without the BACKSPIN SERVE, but since it didn't cause much badness (except the REX/REX cross [no offense, Rex!]) it adds a little kick to the puz.

Lots of happenings here. Circles! Shaded squares! L/R symmetry! NO EAR! NONONO! OH MY.

Had tree for the nice misdirect of EAVE. Only writeover, wanting MAnET first from having MA_ET, but actually knew he was a painter, not a playwrite. YAY brain!

IMPINGE is a cool word. NAPSTER got a chuckle, always think of "The Itailn Job" movie (the newer version) whenever I see that.

57D, Har. IN G. Could've clued as "Superlative ending." Agree with the lots of ONs poster a bit ago. ON A, IN ON, BORON, ION, PONG, and the opposite NOs, NONONO, NO EAR, NOT I. Also, an ER fest in South Center. We do get an F today, though, so good on that. Not totally UNHIP. :-)

Lots of EE and E_E words. Plus EEE. Not nits, just observations. I'm sure you want me to GOA way now. "DO I!" I can take ON A hint. (Ouch, sorry for that!)


Anonymous 9:43 AM  

While I'm not entirely convinced that's what this is, there's certainly enough to suggest it.

But what I'm most surprised by is the take some have that pandering is completely fine. @LMS, @Bookboy and a few others, Really? The puzzle's main goal should be for the maximum enjoyment of those who complete it, not to make the editor smile. Pandering, as a general tactic, intentionally divides these two objectives, sacrificing (at the margin) the former in favor of the latter. WS is compensated to represent the NYT and pick the best puzzles for their solver base, not to publish his pet favorite (and in doing so, kick back a payment to the creator).

It's the same fundamental principle behind not wanting foreign diplomats to stay at DJT's hotels. I mean, if pandering is totally fine, why not hold events at the President's personal clubs? Someone's gonna get paid anyway, may as well be the guy who can give you something in return, right?

Mary McCarty 9:46 AM  

Kevin: same here. I thought the clue for AdE was the best of the bunch, until it wasn’t.

Sgreennyc 9:51 AM  

Poor Rex. Will Shortz is Obama to his Trump. Sad.

Dorothy Biggs 9:52 AM  

MEMOREX near REX = Ick. REX is pretty distinctive, not only as a word but for other obvious reasons. I could maybe see it have way across the grid, but right next to each other is pretty noticeable.

I had sock before MAXI. I can never remember if it's STYNE or STiNE. I liked the clues on 1A Arm twister? 14A Start to do well? and 50A Unidentified date. At 59A "Me? Are you kidding?!" I wanted "moi." NOTI seems a little anticlimactic for such a dramatic statement.

NOEAR is the worst. That is simply not a thing. Those are two legit words put together to approximate the real phrase "tin ear." In either case (even though the first case is not a thing), it's a pejorative phrase. There are actually some people that cannot perceive pitch. It's called amusia. These are people who literally can't hear music...imagine that. For as important as music is to many of us, imagine that you can't hear it. Using some kind of phrase like "NOEAR" (which is, I might have mentioned, not a thing) or even tin ear is somewhat akin to calling someone "peg leg" or "retarded." The answer is, ironically, tone deaf. I can't think of any other use for "NOEAR" except maybe to describe a seal...but even then, it's not quite right. So...bad clue, bad answer.

Also, weirdly, if you watch the Simpson's clip, and stop on Otto's ID close up, his last name appears to be MANs or some other indistinguishable letter at the end that is not an N. But according to Wiki, his last name is indeed MANN. Interesting.

Lady Di 9:53 AM  

What a Boomer puzzle. Memorex? Cheryl Tiegs? The closest we get to the modern age is Napster which is now 20 years old. Referencing Die Fledermaus instead of the singer for Adele? Now THAT’s pandering to a specific audience.

Wm. C. 9:54 AM  

I had no knowledge of the "Plus One" meaning before coming here. Got it from the crosses only. Far too obscure for a Wednesday. Also STYNE, MAMET, ROXIE, GOA, FIENNES, NAPSTER, NSW, MAXI, STYNE.


OffTheGrid 9:58 AM  

FYI, courtesy of Google:

Demi-sec is a French wine term used to indicate the dryness of still or sparkling wine. Literally, it means "half-dry". In still wines, it indicates that a wine has a bit of residual sugar left after fermentation.

What? 9:58 AM  

So easy. Finished it as fast as I could write. Didn’t like that old standby, EEE, or NONONO, but puzzles are pretty difficult to make so complaints are muted.

OffTheGrid 10:05 AM  

Reading the comments that include conspiracy theories and speculative motivations regarding PING PONG and REX REX remind of these:

The CIA blew up WTC.
The CIA killed JFK.
The moon landing was staged.
Hillary ran a child sex busines in a fast food joint.
Hitler is alive.
Elvis is alive.
Alien abductions.

CDilly52 10:06 AM  

And has been mired in that mode for some time.

CDilly52 10:12 AM  

Love the “Laughing Song” - sounds so light and airy and is an absolute beast to master!!

Whatsername 10:14 AM  

“Completely boring and rudimentary?” I don’t think so, Rex. Best Wednesday in recent memory IMHO. And no, backspin is not just an arbitrary oddball phrase. If you’re going to eviscerate a constructor for his theme, maybe get familiar with it first. Brutal blog writeup today. OHMY.

I loved this and found it a pleasure to solve, not to mention a an impressive feat of construction. Some of the youngsters might say it’s “behind the times “ and UNHIP, but I enjoyed the throwback to the days of MEMOREX, NAPSTER, skee-ball and school MARMs. Had ADE for drink sold by the yard, as in lemonade stand. Get it? Also a mental block with Rosie instead of ROXIE Hart and took a while to see MAXI. My only niggle was NOEAR. I’m pretty musically insensitive and always thought I had a TIN ear. Plus I kept hoping to see Forrest Gump somewhere seeing as how he was the TABLE TENNIS champ of the U.S. Army.

Extra nice construction effort and pleasant solve today by a real crossword ENGINEER. Thanks Stu.

orangeblossomspecial 10:15 AM  

Can't mention "Is it live or is it Memorex"? without mentioning Ella Fitzgerald.

Whatsername 10:18 AM  

I am amazed so many people have not heard of PLUSONE. It goes back as far as the late 90s/early 2000s. Didn’t anyone ever watch Sex And The City?

Anonymous 10:37 AM  

Hahaha! Love it!

David 10:43 AM  

Easy for me and, as usual, I ignored the circles.

Mamet, Styne, a coloratura Adele, Anatole France. Rafe Fines I know of, and and know that Rafe is spelled "Ralph", but had to suss out Fines. Extra e, extra n, okay. Anything that reminds me of Ella is okay by me too.

As noted above, Ping and Pong are also characters in an opera. There's a 3rd one, Pang.

Napster helped me not get a raise for 5 years and, eventually, led to singers like the Adele Rex references getting paid about 1/13 what they get for the same play over the radio. A different delivery mechanism serves to enrich the titans of tech. I guess it's better than people just stealing it, though.

Please no more nonoes

jberg 10:44 AM  

Like @Nancy, I solve in the printed paper, where TABLE TENNIS & NET were shaded, and the path of the ball was marked by the outlines of said balls. So I got TABLE TENNIS from TA and NET without looking at the clue (which added nothing). The little circles, though -- Once I had them filled in I failed to notice that they began with BA and ended with VE, so I just saw a simple arc, spelling CKSPINSER. Or RESNIPSKC, depending which way you want to go. So now I'm kicking myself.

I'm 75, so I eventually remembered most of the oldsters in here -- but expecting anyone on the young side to remember an advertising slogan for a product that has been obsolete for decades seems unreasonable.

@Joe Dipinto -- good call on PING, Pang, and PONG always said in that order, as I recall, thereby constitution an a fortiori case of the phenomenon @Loren points out--your jaw starts high, drops a bit, and then drops some more. The constructor could have put them all in with a Turandot clue, but that would have wrecked what Blake called the awful symmetry of this puzzle.

SOBERER? I do believe I have said "why don't you drive, you are SOBERER than I" from time to time.

I actually thought the fill in the South was pretty good, with NAPSTER, PLUS ONE and ULAN. EDS was week, but saved by a fun clue; NSW might have been better clued as "impossible compass direction," maybe with some reference to an imaginary number as the compass heading.

Bonus element: not only do we get a visual representation of the thematic game, but the grid as a whole looks like an early ATARI screen.

@Lewis, I'm eagerly awaiting tomorrow!

jberg 10:46 AM  

Forgot to mention --@amyyanni, Yes! That's exactly how I learned what a busman's holiday was.

Runs with Scissors 10:54 AM  

@Nancy 8:15 AM

Because to get into the Olympics it would become work, and not fun. That would suck all the joy right out of it.

Whitey 11:05 AM  

Really rough on the proper nouns today. Names I forgot/did not know and had to get from crosses: MAMET ROXIE TIEGS ADELE ANATOLE STYNE ELSTON. MEMOREX, MAXI, and MARMS also unfamiliar to me. So that's a lot of this puzzle that was just frustrating and opaque to me. Rough puzzle, NONONO indeed

Anonymous 11:10 AM  

Stu Ockman,
If you're lurking, thanks for the fine puzzle. Nifty trick with the backspin serve. Well played!!

Anonymous 11:16 AM  

30 Down (item depicted here): NET. Someone please explain how or where NET is depicted in this puzzle. - Puzzled

Anonymous 11:24 AM  

I can't figure out how you can ever do crossword puzzles when you haven’t heard of Anatole France or Ralph Fiennes. This was easy for a Wednesday with a little hiccup in the NE when I put in east for a Christmas light.

JC66 11:33 AM  


As @jberg hinted, tomorrow is another @Lewis Thursday. Can't wait.

RooMonster 11:40 AM  

Thanks for the wine info! Also -
You forgot Tupac is alive. BUSH choreographed the WTC attack.
But you think Alien abductions are fake? Ever hear of Area 51? Har. (I'm a believer that there's other intelligent life out there. I mean, with the millions [probably billions] of planets out there, there almost has to be.) I also heard that the Aliens know we're here, but tell one another to avoid Earth. We're like the back-woods planet in the Universe. That seems more believable than anything else!

@David 10:43 et ALII
There is an Asian restaurant in the Gold Coast Hotel Casino here in town called Ping Pang Pong.
And kudos for knowing how to pronounce Ralph Fiennes. Rafe Fines.


Masked and Anonymous 11:41 AM  

Cannot fathom why @RP would't go for this WedPuz …
* Has both The Circles and the gray squares.
* Has twin REX's.
* The BACKSPINSERVE dealy hits them twin Rex's plumb in the circles.
* Has both TABLETENNIS & PING + PONG themers … the Crossword Editor's fave sport!
* Deftly sneaks ATARI into the theme mcguffin, off its implied pingless PONG. And then, right away…
* … neat how IMPINGE has PING hidden in it.

But, no … @RP paddled it unmercifully. Go figure.

Had trouble decidin on OHMY vs. OHME at 19-A, since didn't know the crossin STYNE name. Lost a few precious nanoseconds. But, eventually went with STYNE, as it sounded more like a plausible name than STENE.

staff weeject pick: EEE. Don't get to visit the old xword shoe store as much as we used to. [2nd time in a couple years.] Nostalgic.
Honrable mention to the NET, of course.

Luv the E-W puzgrid symmetry. And how the re-inforced jaws of themelessness blacksquare hunks hold up the ping pong table. Puzfill had a few edger-bouncers, but overall, it was a fun & easy solvequest.

Thanx, Mr. Ockman.

Masked & Anonymo3Us


albatross shell 11:55 AM  

Thank you for that link. Amazing. Language rules one follows with zero self-awareness. I do think that 'rectangular' may be moved closer to knife with just minor awkwardness. And then to find with a strong French accent happiness and a penis are identical.
I hope you meant funny as in humor.
I deduce you taught in Dearborn. I lived in Inkster and then Dearborn from about 55-57 when my Dad gave up government service for Ford. He did not think much of the auto industry and moved on to IBM. I and/or my brothers went to Starkweather home of the Starkweather Jets. I guess you might be younger than me if you are still chasing frisbees.

NEER was so well-clued who cares if it is too common in crosswords. The clue for ULNA was abuse average. I question that common usage should be a determinative factor to appear in a crossword. Since 'more sober' is more common I can understand a minor nit, but soberer strikes me as a legitimate word.
Auto-correct seems to disagree, but it's a worse source than the Wikis.

albatross shell 12:05 PM  

@anon said 11:16 am
The TABLETENNIS represents a pingpong table viewed from the side. The NET answer is the net on that table.

old timer 12:12 PM  

This was the worst Weds. puzzle in history. Why? Because I DNF. Why?a Could not remember ROXIE. Thought she was Rosie, and MAXI was so lame I did not even think of it when running the alphabet.

OK, I'll take off my anti-MAGA (id est, @Rex) hat now and admit that the puzzle was both lame and excellent, for all the reasons mentioned above.

Meanwhile, is @Z or isn't @Z? Obviously OFL put in 20 years in some Muslim-rich high school in Michigan before finally completing his PhD and getting that college job in upstate New York.

oldactor 12:26 PM  

@LMS: Thanks for the info on vowel progression. Loved it and how about "Fee, Fie, Foh, Fuhm? a quartet.

Carola 12:44 PM  

I thought it was a treat, and like it even more after @jberg pointed out that the circles aren't the usual grid circles but representations of the PING PONG ball in stop-motion, including 2 bounces ATOP the TABLE. I liked the arts-related cast of characters, too.

MEMOREX! I kept them in business for a decade or two, recording Metropolitan Opera radio broadcasts, of which I built up a real trove, now sadly languishing unheard, as my cassette deck started eating the tapes....

Fred Romagnolo 12:55 PM  

Not knowing Anatole France is unfortunate; everyone should read "The Revolt of the Angels," "The Procurator of Judaea," and "Penguin Island." He is a Nobelist! Incidentally, the leading character in 'Revolt' is named Atari (coincidence?). Further, the missing operatic Pang is balanced in the puzzle by the missing from her duties operatic character Adele (coincidence?) I'm sure our blog companion Z is an ardent fan of France, if not, he should be. Jberg, I got you beat by 12 years.

Teedmn 1:01 PM  

I've never been a table-tennis fan. It reminds me of my least favorite pro sport, basketball - back-and-forth, back-and-forth. Of course, the same complaint could be made about regular tennis but for some reason regular tennis doesn't irk me. One of those inexplicable like-dislike things.

But as far as a crossword puzzle goes, it's fine as a theme. And this puzzle had some great clues, starting with 1A's ULNA = "Arm twister", followed by 14A's NE'ER = "Start to do well", 28A's BARK = "Fir coat", 50A's PLUS ONE = "Unidentified date", as Rex points out, 21D's INK = "It might be a blot on your record" and 35D's ENGINEER = "Bridge experts". Wow, that's a lot of good clues in a Wednesday grid, in my opinion.

Words like IMPINGE, ALIENATED, VARIANT, REPOSE are all good. MARMS, har!

Stu, Rex might not be a fan of this one, but I liked it.

Anonymous 2:06 PM  

@Dorothy 9:52 - "I have no ear for music" is very much a legitimate phrase, which I have heard at least as much as "tin ear". It's definitely a "thing" that people say.

Anonymous 2:46 PM  

Really? Thus is one ping pong puzzle in how many decades? If Will were constantly running puzzles that tickled his personal fancy it would be one thing. But even in this Shortz-hating blog, I’ve never seen the pandering charge even once before.

albatross shell 3:11 PM  

Rex announces Stu admits to pandering.
Special Counsel may be appointed.
Talk of impeachment.
Is WS using NYT position to improve his private business interests?

Anonymous 3:59 PM  

I agree with everything Rex said except this puzzle was impossible by Wednesday standards for someone 30s and younger. I knew precisely 0 of the proper nouns or cultural references here.

Also the clue on Napster is wrong. If I steal a copy of a piece of art I like from a museum gift store neither the museum nor the artist “shared” it with me. Like many people my age I used Napster to pirate (we very much knew what we were doing) music that I was interested but sharing is just the wrong word here.

Anonymous 4:07 PM  

Will Shortz needs to have a stern word with his mail carrier about why his mail is coming from the 1970s.

albatross shell 5:20 PM  

For the record, not that anybody need care.

Elston Howard was an MVP winner and 12 time all-star. He caught the majority of Yankee games 7 of the years he was in NY. He also lost 2 years to the Korean War draft. Fun fact- he invented the batting doughnut. If you don't know what that is, don't worry, you won't care.

tea73 5:40 PM  

@WhatSheSaid, I am still chuckling at your Shakespeare/Mamet joke which pretty much epitomizes all I know about Mamet. I've never actually seen a play of his, though I do remember my mother talking about one of them as being, "Mostly swearing."

I thought the theme was cute, not the biggest fan of word art. I don't think it's pandering to do a puzzle you know will tickle the editor's fancy. I think Shortz' interest in ping pong is pretty much common knowledge. It gets brought up fairly regularly on NPR's Sunday puzzle in the chitchat.

Dorothy Sayer's BUSMAN's Honeymoon is one of my favorite books, so I wasn't bothered by word, which as OFL discovered was actually legitimate in context.

Runs with Scissors 8:12 PM  

@Dorothy Biggs 9:52 AM

"NOEAR is the worst. That is simply not a thing. Those are two legit words put together to approximate the real phrase "tin ear." In either case (even though the first case is not a thing), it's a pejorative phrase."

It's not worth getting wound up about. I'm lost some hearing over the years, and now have NO EAR for music. I took piano for 8 years and I can't play "by ear." In other words, I have a tin ear although I can mostly still carry a tune.

So yeah, it's valid in all its forms, it's a statement of fact, and it's not at all pejorative.

Z 8:12 PM  

@old timer - Wait! Now I'm Rex, too? @michiganman, clandestine Shortz, secretly REX, and @Z? Well, you know what they say... You're never alone with a schizophrenic.*

@albatross shell - I taught in Fennville, became an administrator at Fordson in the mid-90's. Been chasing plastic since college in the '80's. Next year I'll be eligible to play in the "Legends" division... if only there were enough of us to have a tournament.

As for Shortz' love of TABLE TENNIS, there are lots of stories about it. Some in less prominent publications, but some in some pretty big name magazines as well.

*Okay, maybe only Ian Hunter says that, but a 1979 album seems appropriate.

Larry Gilstrap 10:38 PM  

Lots of people like Will Shortz. Many see him as a beloved feature of Sunday morning radio. When non-puzzle people ask me about my trip to Stamford, the most common question is about Will's being there, and they are impressed to know that he is integral to the success of the event.

FrostMo 11:00 PM  

DNF for me. The north central. MAMET/ROXIE/TIEGS were all total blanks for me. MAXI would have saved me (maybe), but it didn’t come either. Total slog aside from that. Had treE instead of EAVE early and that actually made the last 4 circled squares tReE also, which blew my mind for quite a few minutes until I got the jig. Smdh. Onto Thursday.

Giskarrrd 11:14 PM  

Didn’t like this very much. And DNF just because of the middle part of the north. Could not come up with MAMET, nor TIEGS, nor ROXIE, nor MAXI (still unsure about that one?) and wasn’t sure enough on MARMS, as it didn’t really seem help me with the rest. A shame.

Agree with Rex on a lot of the fill, though I did like the theme. ESTER, SRTA, NONONO, EDS, bleh.

Successfully guessing a few others like STYNE and NEER did get me through everything but that top part :(

Hartley70 12:43 AM  

This was a terrific Wednesday. I’m delighted that I came upon it even this late in the day. Rex may have jumped the shark with this review.

Anonymous 3:01 AM  

What's with the selective white behind text in the post?

OISK 11:08 AM  

Elston Howard was my all-time favorite Yankee. He made the final out (grounding to Reese) in the 1955 World Series.

Delighted that others enjoyed remembering Adele's "laughing song." How many operetta references have their been in the puzzle in a year? Is one really too many?

Burma Shave 9:49 AM  


INON the matter of PLUSONE in REPOSE.


rondo 10:03 AM  

OHMY! *This* is what happens when you try too hard. NONONO to fill like ONA GOA EDS DOI EEE ING, etc. ATARI and MEMOREX tolerable but from the Maleska era. ULAN precedes Maleska. MN’s own yeah baby Cheryl TIEGS *was* a supermodel 40 years ago (who could forget that white mesh swimsuit?), but I don’t think she gets out much anymore. And an ULNA might twist a bit, but the twisters are muscles and tendons; iffy clue. I wasn’t INON the PING PONG/Will thing, but I didn’t like it any more than REX.

spacecraft 11:07 AM  

I can add little to what has been said. Just yesterday, what was the lesson, students? Were you NAPping? This was Trying To Deux Too Much, Part Do.

ULAN and ULNA; weird. Agree that PLUSONE + clue is the high point. Agree that everything else is the low point. I'll take DEMI Moore over Ms. TIEGS for DOD. But it's close. Sorry, but this BACKSPINSERVE went into the NET. Bogey.

Diana,LIW 4:13 PM  

@Lefty (continuing from yesterday) - we've only reached 84 (officially) in Spokaloo so far. Tomorrow is 'sposed to be our hottest. I'm cooling off with ice cream.

And...I'm celebrating my "still cancer-free" check up this morning. With ice cream today, and a dinner with view of the falls this evening. It's Copper River Salmon season...

This puzzle had a lot that I didn't know, but still filled itself in quite handily. A tribute to WS and his love of TT/PP. Well done on all counts. I can only guess who would have problems (issues) with "SOBERER" and a few others, tho. Ha! Haven't yet read comments, so I'll go do so. (An eye rhyme there, BTW.)

Diana, Lady-in-Waiting for Crosswords

leftcoast 5:00 PM  

This is one of those easy, lots-to-like puzzles, complete with a final "aha" from circled themers, simple revealer, and simpler PING PONG.

Best liked fine actor Ralph FIENNES, with proper pronunciations.

SE required a bit more time because of PLUS ONE/BUSMAN, a modest plus.

@Lady Di: It's now (2:00 PM) 95 degrees F. here. A bit much.

spacecraft 6:30 PM  

You guys with your double digits (yawn). 107 today--and we're just warming up.

leftcoast 7:05 PM  

Oh, what the heck, SW.

strayling 7:19 PM  

90-ish and counting here in the north sound. Where did that come from?

Way too many proper nouns in this for my taste, but the crosses revealed the names so fair enough, I guess.

Got a chuckle out of the little VEX/REX corner at the end of the theme phrase. He does get a bit aerated over trivialities sonetimes.

leftcoast 8:26 PM  

@spacecraft -- congrats on your triple digits!

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