Traditional time to start work /.WED 7-17-19 / File box filler / Sped up part of contest commercial / Surname of national security advisers under both Bush 43 Obama / Green branch for short

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Constructor: Adam Nicolle

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (??) (not sure, solved in leisurely fashion on paper, untimed) (looks like lots of people set personal Wednesday records, so ... let's say Easy, then)


THEME: verb appears inside object of said verb — clues are written with "[circled letters]" replacing one of the words; that word appears in the circled letters inside the answers:

Theme answers:
  • CHOCOLATE (17A: Candy that the lovers [circled letters] on Valentine's Day)
  • REPRESENTATIVE (24A: Politician that the voters [circled letters] to Congress)
  • ERRANDS (35A: Quick trips that the busy person [circled letters] around town)
  • PENNY DREADFULS (45A: Book that Victorians [circled letters] for cheap)
  • LAND ROVER (54A: Luxury vehicle that the motorist [circled letters] on the highway)
Word of the Day: PENNY DREADFULS (45A) —
Penny dreadfuls were cheap popular serial literature produced during the nineteenth century in the United Kingdom. The pejorative term is roughly interchangeable with penny horriblepenny awful, and penny blood. The term typically referred to a story published in weekly parts, each costing one penny. The subject matter of these stories was typically sensational, focusing on the exploits of detectives, criminals, or supernatural entities. First published in the 1830s, penny dreadfuls featured characters such as Sweeney ToddDick Turpin and Varney the VampireThe Guardian described penny dreadfuls as “Britain’s first taste of mass-produced popular culture for the young.”
While the term "penny dreadful" was originally used in reference to a specific type of literature circulating in mid-Victorian Britain, it came to encompass a variety of publications that featured cheap sensational fiction, such as story papers and booklet "libraries". The penny dreadfuls were printed on cheap wood pulp paper and were aimed at young working class men. More than a million boys’ periodicals were sold a week, but the popularity of penny dreadfuls was challenged in the 1890s by the rise of competing literature, especially the half-penny periodicals published by Alfred Harmsworth. (wikipedia)
• • •

I weirdly don't have any strong opinions about this crossword. It's plain. The theme cluing is both clever and awkward. The fill is generic but clean. So the theme ... is there. And it works. And the fill is there. And it doesn't grate. So whatever this is, it's not a negative review. I do expect the NYT to be producing puzzles that move me more than the list of ingredients on a cereal box, buuuuuut how badly the NYT has missed the mark recently, I'll take this as a little Wednesday wake-up exercise. The theme cluing is only truly irksome on LAND ROVER ... I mean, what else does one do with a vehicle but drive it "on the highway"? The other theme clues had somewhat tighter, more specific contexts for their verbs. LAND ROVER is a 4-wheel drive vehicle, so the clue could've at least indulged the pretension that people who own them go on, like, expeditions or safaris or ... well, off-road at all. Yeah, most of them are just status symbols, but give me a little more color than a mere "motorist" driving "on the highway." The best thing about this puzzle, by far, was the answer PENNY DREADFULS. Like the reading material itself, this was eye-grabbing and exciting to see. It's also one of two themers that I no-looked toward the end of my solve. I had enough material from crosses that PENNY DREADFULS and LAND ROVER both went in without my having to move my eyes over to the clues. This also happened with EYE LEVEL and ALIBIS. I can see how, if I'd been timing myself, I might've flown through this one.


I did, however, have one semi-catastrophic error at the outset of my solve, as I sat there, pencil in hand, puzzle on clipboard, waiting for the tea water to boil.

actual finished puzzle, actual pencil
The ultra-generic, didn't-conjure-any-image clue at 4D: File box filler (honestly, is there a duller clue anywhere?) took me from REC- (which I had) to ... RECORDS! Files, RECORDS, I dunno, it made sense to me. The horrible result of this error, though, was that 27A: Traditional time to start work looked like this: --NDA-. So yeah, of course I wrote in MONDAY. Then couldn't get NAB or RICE (I try to think about Bush 43 as little as possible and actually forgot that Susan RICE was also a RICE). Anyway, RECORDS to MONDAY to disaster. Especially disastrous as I had not yet fully woken up or imbibed warm liquid yet. By the time I warmed up, though (in the bottom half of the grid especially), I was flying. Maybe if I'd started this puzzle at NINEAM, with a fresh brain, I wouldn't have fallen into the stupid RECORDS/MONDAY trap. But this post has to be up by NINEAM *at the very latest* (it's actually never that late), so ... morning mistakes are made.

Five things:
  • 46D: Sped-up part of a contest commercial (RULES) — Hurray for imaginative cluing!
  • 35D: Slippery (EELY) — was just relistening to a podcast I did with my friend Lena a couple years back where we dove into the crossword's weird eel obsession and the eel vocabulary that it's helpful to know if you're a solver. EELY definitely came up.
  • 1D: Org. that regulates I.S.P.s (FCC) — I am so bad w/ agencies. I got this one right, but honestly feel like I'm frantically rifling through my file box of initialisms every time. "FCC! FAA! HUD! OSHA! DNA! Uh... pass!"
  • 28A: Occur, as complications (ARISE) — nothing particularly interesting here; I'm just fascinated by the stuff my brain gets instantly and the stuff it just can't computer. Today, I had AR- here, looked at the clue, and ... nothing. Speed-solving me would've moved on, quickly, but pencil-solving me just stared at the blank spaces in disbelief, wondering how I could have 40% of such a basic-seeming answer filled in and *not* know the answer. Sigh.
  • 62A: "Buona ___" (Italian greeting) (SERA) — I know the following isn't Italian (it's ungrammatical Spanish), but ... I just miss Doris Day (1922-2019).

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]

79 comments:

Lewis 7:00 AM  

Clue: Description of the puzzle theme that I [capital letters] with a smile this morning.

Answer: gooDIDea

OffTheGrid 7:12 AM  

Today's Mini had three squares with circles, for no apparent(to me) reason.

Suzie Q 7:22 AM  

After I solved this very boring puzzle my first thought was to wonder how our @ Lewis would manage to find something positive to write about it. The puzzle might have disappointed me but @ Lewis did not.
I was a little surprised at how mildly @ Rex reacted. I expected a full on rant about how the puzzles lately seem to be circling the drain.
Penny dreadful is such a fantastic name and the only memorable answer today.

kitshef 7:25 AM  

Another weak effort in a so-far weak week. Actually, this would have been much, much better re-clued and presented as a themeless, as the fill is very good. I especially like PENNY DREADFUL and EYE LEVEL. But that theme … ugh.

A LAND ROVER is a luxury vehicle?? Learn something new every day.

@merican in Paris 7:28 AM  

I, TOO, filled out today's puzzle in pencil. I filled in 1A and thought, "Hey, wait a minute, aren't the clues on Wednesday supposed to be harder than this?!" I zoomed through the NW and center, but then slowed down in the NE and really got stuck in the SW. In the NE, I had DRyER for awhile, and it wasn't until I changed the Y to an I that ALIBIS popped into my head.

So, in the end I guess it was more a medium for me. PENNY DREADFULS was a new one for me. I knew that serialising was common in 19th-century Britain (many of Dickens' novels appeared in that way), but hadn't encountered that term. Good to know.

Interesting coincidence of REPRESENTATIVE, given the STERN rebuke to 45 passed by the House last night, and the ROWs that preceded it. Did not know that an 1801 text by Thomas Jefferson, known as “the Jefferson Manual,” contains a RULE which states that “references [uttered by a member of Congress] to racial or other discrimination on the part of the President are not in order.”

Lunch beckons. Off to EAT INTO some RICE and coleSLAW, followed by CHOCOLATE for desert.

Imfromjersey 7:34 AM  

Warning -spoiler ahead for the NYT mini!
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@OffTheGrid - diagonally the letters are XYZ which I thought was neat for a 5x5

QuasiMojo 7:51 AM  

Okay. Not bad. But when your first fill-in is the number of letters in the answer, FOUR, you know this is gonna be a rather dull, straightforward exercise in routinely filling in STANDARD answers from lackluster clueing. It's even DRIER than having to ARISE at NINE AM on a Saturday in order to run some ERRANDS. The gimmick that the circled letters are part of the clue (DROVE a LAND ROVER, OOH!) and indicate what the people are doing in each case is so uninteresting that I longed for a rebus of some sort where the circled letters were in a secret code that you SENT away with the wrappers from those DREADFUL PENNY Bazooka bubble gums. This did not feel REPRESENTATIVE of the best that the Times has to offer. A bit STERN perhaps, but I guess I'm just an APE. Where is Madame Muse btw?

John H 7:56 AM  

Gyma have supplies of mats, not gymnasts.

mmorgan 8:04 AM  

Didn’t mind the circles at all! Very unusual for me.

I also really liked PENNY DREADFULS and didn’t care for LAND ROVER. Is Rex contagious?

amyyanni 8:18 AM  

Hey y'all, the constructor is all of 17 years old! Pretty solid, clean debut.

davidm 8:40 AM  

Dear Times crossword puzzle editor, please learn some science. Amazingly, for the second time in just four days, you allowed an answer, APE, that totally mischaracterizes evolutionary theory. It is even worse today than Sunday because today, even the clue is nonsense (“One step down on the evolutionary scale.”)

As I noted on Sunday, humans ARE apes, hence cannot be a “step down” from ourselves. The clue is nonsense because there is no “scale” in evolution, no step “up” or “down.” This idea of greater and lesser beings was known as the scala naturae, and it is precisely this old idea that evolutionary biology dislodged and supplanted.

If one wishes to argue that human apes are a “step up” from non-human apes and other animals because we are somehow “more intelligent” than they are, then this is purely a personal value judgment with no support in biology. Someone else, employing a different value system, could argue that other animals are a step up from us because most are bigger, stronger, faster, have keener eyesight, more acute hearing, possess senses we don’t have, and on and on. The giraffe probably thinks it’s the king of the world because it has the longest neck. The elephant fancies itself the best of the best because it’s literally the only animal on earth with a trunk. And so on.

More, it is highly debatable that we really are more intelligent than other animals. It depends on how you define intelligence, which itself is a value judgment. One marker of high intelligence is not crapping in one’s own bed. Last I looked, only one species on earth is dumb enough to keep pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and running the ultimate risk of destroying all earthly life.

Elephants bury their dead and may have a subsonic language. Ravens and crows use tools, solve problems, talk to each other, and recognize individual humans. Bees also recognize individual humans, can do math, and have complex intra-species communication. Ants invented farming 40 million years ago, have individual personalities, complex communications, and pass the mirror test: They can recognize themselves in a mirror, proving they have a concept of self. Passing the mirror test is regarded as a marker of high intelligence. As the Times itself has reported, a researcher who spent four decades studying prairie dogs concluded that they have a spoken language with grammar, syntax, the whole nine yards.

Evolution works on populations only, and, succinctly, is defined as a change in allele frequencies over time. It does not have a goal or an end result. It is described by phylogenetic trees consisting of clades. All extant species are equally successful by virtue of the fact that they exist. There are no steps up, down, or sideways in evolution, and hence no scala naturae.

GILL I. 8:40 AM  

Tough crowd today. I found this delightful. I've not seen this done before and all the verbs inside the reveal are smile inducing. I mean, ATE inside of chocolate is perfecto. What else would you do to the CHOCOLATE? I tried coming up with a pot inside of hippopotamus.
Then we get PENNY DREADFULS. Of course you READ them. You also get a DREAD in there. And then I'm instantly reminded of Sweeney Todd and it's very odd story. I saw the Broadway production with Angela Lansbury and then tried to get my hands on the novel. Any tale of terror is ok by me.
Words within words are fun. The English language can be awful or delightful. Delightful only if you have fun with it.
Good job, Adam. I'll take a few more of these for my hump day.

Z 8:44 AM  

There are days like today where I understand the “Z is just Rex in disguise” comments. What he said.

@kitshef - I just went to landrover.com and the first vehicle listed a base MSRP of $89,500. That they put their most expensive vehicle first also tells you something, eh? My car guy in Dearborn had the desk nearest the poshest floor model. I’d drool over the Shelby Mustang like every other breathing American male. I could not, however, quite understand the pimped out Ford 350 pick-up truck. Made me wonder if perhaps a Maybach pick-up has a US market.

Continuing a two day old discussion I’m bummed because Uncle Google isn’t giving me a hit count on my iPad. Oh well. That a search engine finds something, or twelve somethings, or even a hundred somethings, doesn’t mean it is “frequently used” in any broader cultural sense (for example, I googled myself and there’s lots of stuff -ultimate stuff, principal stuff, pupil accounting presentations, race times, my junior high yearbook (OMG who put junior high yearbooks online?) - I’m no cultural icon). Search for the guy without the canonized adjective and you see how widely he is known that way outside of catholicism. And that’s the plaint, many, quite possibly most, people doing the Monday puzzle learned he was sainted by doing the puzzle. Okay, that horse is dead, time to stop beating it.

Nancy 8:44 AM  

A couple of questions to solvers about that clue for 1A. Did you figure out the answer by counting on your fingers or your toes? Were you in your playpen at the time, on the floor of your pre-K class, or at the daycare center?

I think there's nothing worse in a puzzle than a clue that insults the intelligence of the solver. And 1A is such a clue. Why would anyone clue FOUR that way???? Why, why, why???? And to do it at 1A -- the clue that sets the tone of the entire puzzle. Note to constructors: whatever day of the week it is DON'T INSULT THE INTELLIGENCE OF THE SOLVER! Also, be very, very careful of what you decide to do at 1A.

And the thing is that the rest of the puzzle isn't half bad. The theme is quite colorful and well-executed. There's some nice fill and some decent clues. The puzzle wasn't the slam-dunk I thought it would be. In fact, had FOUR been clued differently, this comment might have been very different as well.

albatross shell 8:44 AM  

I thought the clue for BED was pretty good too. Wanted sex, don't you?

When I finished and got the keep trying message I found 5 errors. Much more than normal. Was it my morning mind or something about the puzzle? Too uninteresting to check filled in answers? Too many tense traps?

Anyway hooray for sleep and vacations. Rex keeping things in perspective. I'll probably enjoy the pies and vinegar when it returns.

The puzzle also had some good phrases embedded in it such as NINEAM ARISE (Rex's problem today), CONE CHOCOLATE PIT, EDEN REPO (God's reaction to apple eatinng) and so on. Also reminds me that EDEN was well clued.






Nancy 8:51 AM  

@JoeDipinto, Quasi and GILL -- I responded to your earlier "Oklahoma" comments late on yesterday's blog.

RooMonster 8:52 AM  

Hey All !
Nice, easy WedsPuz. Theme was nice. RATED G, if you will.

Nice fill, an F right out of the gate, with two total. Alas, no ROO today. :-) Almost, with a TOO and a backward HOO, and ROW. Only two writeovers, Eco-EPA, and had an S at the end of 8D for some weird reason. Trying for the elusive no-writeover puz. Usually happens on Monday.

Nice job, Adam. Debut at 17. I'm jealous.

HOLLA EEK
RooMonster
DarrinV

Joe Dipinto 9:04 AM  

This was pleasant enough. Not much to comment on. I misread the 35a clue as "business person" and wondered why it was so specific about who was running the errands. Do people really eat slaw with a spork? (coleslaw being the only slaw I know). Really, it was fine, if unexciting, for Wednesday. @Quasi -- very true about 1a, lol.

What a nice surprise
Bring your alibis


@Nancy -- re late yesterday, I'm aware of "Oklahoma!"'s reputation but I've never understood how a musical about a girl trying to decide which of two fellas she's gonna go to the social with could have been considered such a musical theater landmark. It's a colossal bore to sit through, a couple of nice songs notwithstanding.

Nancy 9:23 AM  
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
TJS 9:24 AM  

@Nancy, I agree completely. Felt like quitting this thing immediately after 1 across. Was there nothing left in the tank that could be more challenging for a Wednesday than this dreck ? Slogged thru this and had the same thought, "How will @Lewis find anything positive to say ?" Still waiting for the day you trash one, sir.

orangeblossomspecial 9:33 AM  

For an up-tempo version of Buona Sera, listen to this from Louis Prima:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7qr91dJvbqs

Hungry Mother 9:37 AM  

I commented on yesterday’s blog by mistake this morning. I’m still in northern Europe, so diffenent time zone. Today was the delightful Tallinn, Estonia. What a great old town, pun intended.

Birchbark 9:45 AM  

@DavidM (8:40) -- I too paused at the APE clue, more its quaint feeling, but with nothing like the rhetorical arsenal you display. Very interesting. But I think you teed things up in such a way that your last sentence is a non-sequitur. A useful one, which prompts us to think of webs more than trees as an organizational metaphor.

But a system where it matters not which side (if any) is up is hierarchy-neutral, not hierarchy-negating. You can still tilt it and have a monarch at the top of your government, as Hobbes did. Or preferably tilt it another way and have a monarch butterfly at the top -- as is happily the case in the meadow in the month of July.

Nancy 10:01 AM  

Apologies for the duplication. I thought I was highlighting my complimentary comment to @davidm for his marvelous, marvelous 8:40 post -- my comment to @davidm got lost in the process, btw -- and instead highlighted my original comment. I hate technology. But to reiterate, @davidm: if you're not a science teacher, you certainly should be. Moreover, I wish you had been my science teacher. I might have even liked science. What an eye-opening, enlightening, absolutely fascinating look at the intelligence of other species. And so very, very well written. I couldn't believe my ears when I got to the part about ants recognizing themselves in the mirror...! Ants recognize themselves in the mirror???!!! Who knew?

I wish you'd get a blue name, @davidm, and a blog profile, so we'd know who you are, sort of. You're a terrific addition to the blog. Don't miss his comment, everyone.

Ethan Taliesin 10:05 AM  

Shaking my head in disbelief that this was supposed to be a NYT Wednesday. Three letter word for the opposite of good.. starts with the letter B.

This puzzle week can go to hell.

jberg 10:05 AM  

There are more crossword gimmicks in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy, HORATIO, but not all are equally appealing. But it is a nice feat to come up with all those theme answers, awkward as the resulting clues may be. My reaction was kind of, EEK, this puzzle is all EELY, but it was OK, really.

I needed pretty much all the crosses to get LAND ROVER, since I always think of it as the English Jeep. I guess I'm behind the times. One of my daughters has one, but that's because she used to live in a high-snow part of Colorado -- it's more or less a wreck, otherwise. But it was new once.

@Nancy, great comment, I guess that's why it's posted twice. You did put the objections to FOUR very well.

@davidm, I agree with your basic points, though the argument that humans are apes is far from the way the word is used in English. Better to say that humans and APES each evolved from a common ancestor.

Is it "The Barber of Seville" where Figaro and an accomplice avoid answering someone by singing "Buone SERA, Buone SERA" over and over again? It's a great scene, wherever it is.

Newboy 10:19 AM  

Did I miss this one on Monday? Cute idea, but fill ins became automatic after the first. More cryptically clued it’s going to be great fun (34A or 36D).

pabloinnh 10:30 AM  

1A immediately had me thinking of M&A and his "moo-cow easy" description. I was hoping the answer would somehow be more complicated than it was. Alas, no. I'm with @Nancy on this one, I mean, come on.

Not a bad gimmick, but LANDROVERS always set my teeth on edge. There's really no excuse for them in most of America, unless you live in an area lie @jberg's daughter. On a similar note, if you watch many sports on the telly (I do), you would think that everyone needs a pickup truck that can haul two tons of scrap iron and tow a 747.

Waiting for Thursday to redeem this week, which is unusual for me, because I pretty much like everything.

albatross shell 10:39 AM  

Me@8:44
piss not pies.

davidm 10:40 AM  

Thank you for the kind comments, Nancy. :)

jberg, humans, are, indeed, apes. Therefore it is more accurate to say that we and other apes evolved from common ancestors; our closest living relative is the ape known as the chimpanzee, which in biology means that we (apes) and chimps (apes) share the most recent common ancestor. But of course if you go back far enough in time, humans share common ancestry with bananas, slime old — absolutely everything. This means all living things share a Universal Common Ancestor, dating to about 3.8 billion years ago. This is another way of saying that life originated only once on earth. If it originated independently more than once, those other lines have apparently died out. At least we have no evidence that they are extant.

I agree with Birchbark that evolution is hierarchy neutral, not negating. You can indeed choose to place anything on “top” of the hierarchy — the monarch butterfly is as good or better than any — but then you are not doing science, just expressing personal preferences. I myself think pigeons are “superior” to humans, but that is just a personal preference, not science. Pigeons can fly, we can’t. Pigeons find food for free, we have to pay for it. Pigeons don’t pay rent, property tax, mortgages, income taxes, etc., etc., we do. Pigeons have five primary color receptors, we have three, which means they see tens of millions more colors than we do, colors we cannot even imagine.

When we assign “steps” and “scales” to evolution we are drilling down to a deeper problem where science and philosophy intersect: Hume’s Is-Ought problem, which roughly is: Is it possible, even as a matter of logic, to derive normative claims from descriptive ones? Science deals in the descriptive and not the normative; Hume argues that no one can ever derive the normative (what ought to be or should be) from the descriptive. The problem remains a live one in philosophy.

As to the balance of the puzzle itself, I liked PENNY DREADFULS, but the rest didn’t do much for me. The answers to the circled letters embedded in the larger answers were blindingly obvious from the clues; 17 and 24 across were brain-dead easy. As to 1 Across … Huh? Is this serious? What could the answer possibly be? Five?

johnk 10:48 AM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pen on Paper 10:52 AM  

This was a Monday puzzle. It was over almost before it began.

the redanman 10:52 AM  

I don't care if the constructor is 17, let him/her start at USA Today. Pointless and with a nothing theme is not NYT Wednesday material. This would have been much better as a medium-hard Monday, then I might have gotten on-board.


@davidm (0840 hrs)
Don't get me started at the license taken with medical and anatomical terms (and other 'science') NYT solvers are lovers of quick fill, 'must time that completion'

Must comment on: LandRovers and other menaces - had I been paying just an EEEEEENSY bit less attention yesterday, I would have been hit three times in 12 miles of driving.

Z 10:53 AM  

@davidm - Let me reiterate what @jberg said; you are arguing the Science while the puzzle is in English. Scientifically we’re APES, but in common English usage APES and people are not the same thing. So you’re correct and that and $2 will get you a cup of coffee.

@Joe DiPinto - “Go to the social” is an interesting term for, uh, well, you know.

Carola 10:59 AM  

In theory I agree with @QuasiMojo 7:51, but in practice the wonderful PENNY DREADFULS made the rest not matter.

@jberg, yes, it's "The Barber of Seville": Figaro et.al.are urging Don Basilio out of the house before he can unmask the trick they're playing on Dr. Bartolo. Here's how Glyndebourne staged it.

albatross shell 11:07 AM  

@Nancy10:01
I agree with you about davidm's science essay. Interesting and well done. However, I disagree that the clue is a bad one. Evolutionary scale does have a common usage that is well known and not scientifically precise. He moved fast as light. Scientifically inaccurate,yes. Making an understandable description not meant to be scientifically accurate, yes. Everything is not a science quiz.

kitshef 11:12 AM  

@Nancy - enjoyed your fun rant.

Curiously, FOUR was the only possible answer - and we could have known that even if we could not see the grid.

Of all the integers, FOUR is the only one with the same number of letters as the concept it represents.
'one' has three letters
'two' has three letters
'three' has five letters
'five' has four letters
'six' has three letters
etc.

But 'FOUR' has four letters.

QuasiMojo 11:32 AM  

@Nancy, yes I saw the late-day comment. It's funny because just the other day I was saying to a friend that I thought "Oklahoma!" is overrated and he suggested I see the new production in NY that just won a Tony because it strips the show of its bathos and duller moments even though I think it is the first uncut version. But the little I saw on the Tonys (on a friend's TV) didn't float my wagon. I much prefer Rodgers and Hart. Cole And Noel. Or early Sondheim. Bitchy works better for me :)

@Carola, I liked that answer too. I'm sure somewhere someone is using Penny Dreadful as a drag name.

No one answered my query about Loren. Is she on vacation?

jb129 11:39 AM  

I wanted "receipts" so badly even tho it didn't fit & I file recipes.

Yes, 1 across was kind of insulting.

I guess once Rex does it, it's okay to fill out in pencil (not to mention - OMG! paper).

mmorgan 11:56 AM  

@Nancy, wow that 1A really bothered you. I thought it was kinda cute, in that it made me stop and think, "Naw, that can't be the answer, can it?!?" It could!

@davidm: That was fascinating and thoughtful and I learned a lot from your comment, thank you! But I found myself thinking, Yeah but, elephants and giraffes and ravens and crows can't solve a crossword puzzle and write a blog post about it.

Birchbark 12:08 PM  

@DavidM (10:40) -- We can tell an intelligent ant that it isn't doing science, but when it looks in the mirror it sees hierarchy in the reflection. The bee would agree. I doubt the butterfly has an opinion.

I learned last week that an average cattail has 220,000 seeds. We could let science be one of them, hierarchy another, and personal preference a third. That still leaves 199,997 waiting to be assigned a value or just drift over the wetlands someday.

Thanks for teeing this up. Now back to my dogmatic slumbers, and also to Top Golf for a team-building exercise.

Joaquin 12:19 PM  

Like most solvers, I try to start with 1A. It's Wednesday, so I was certain I either must be missing something or I had mistakenly downloaded the puzzle from "Highlights" magazine. Even after mentally filling in the down to mentally confirm "FOUR", I thought "Nope. Can't be right." That has to qualify as the worst clue in the history of the NYT puzzle.

davidm 12:25 PM  

Z, the Times should not be propounding inaccuracies anywhere in its pages, including the crossword puzzle. I was an editor there for 18 years so I have strong feelings about it. The fact that most people do not understand that we are apes is an education problem, and the Times should not pander to people's ignorance, particularly twice in four days!

frankbirthdaycake 12:25 PM  

Fun puzzle today. Also a personal record for a Wednesday, but I hardly noticed because I was enjoying the solve.

Masked and Anonymous 12:29 PM  

Doin a debut puz? When in doubt, go with The Circles. This puztheme had a pretty darn novel use of them -- and different is always likable, at our house. Decent, solid fill -- shoot, M&A had trouble comin up with a standout weeject entry … let alone some standout Ow de Sperations.

Well, maybe SLRS. har
But otherwise, mighty clean stuff.
EARLE/HOLLA was kinda hard on my nano-seconds, I'd grant.

Like @RP, M&A went with RECORDS off the eazy-E FOUR wood. Fortunately, didn't think of MONDAY like he did. Unfortunately, thought of RECEIPT instead of RECORDS next, tho. So, found own way to drib off precious nano-seconds.

staff weeject pick: TAU. Liked its nifty position in a rare yet luvly central weeject stack. Liked TAU's nifty third letter, too boot.

Yo, @pabloinnh. Better, 2%-moo 1-Across clue: {Word that is as long as its name allows?} = FOUR.

Thanx, and congratz, young Mr. Nicolle. That there Steinbergmeister hears footsteps.

Masked & Anonymo5Us


**gruntz**

Malsdemare 12:36 PM  

@davidm, your gracious and eloquent explication of evolution and science is why I read this blog, well that and Nancy, Loren, Runs with Scissors, and other gracious posters. Your discussion of all life coming from a single ancestor reminded me of Stephen Gould's riveting book, "The Precambrian Explosion." Yes, the attempts that failed. Thanks.

I share the frown at 1A, but enjoyed the remaining clues and answers. PENNYDREADFUL was a delight.

Record heat today theough Sunday. Stay safe, friends.

Teedmn 1:07 PM  

Unlike @Nancy, I did not find 1A inane. That's because I read "The number of letters in this clue" and stopped there. In dismay, I started to take my shoes off in order to aid in my letter counting when I realized it was just FOUR, whew :-).

36D reminds me of this worse-than-Dad-joke.

Congratulations, Adam Nicolle, on having your NYT crossword debut dream come true!

David 1:24 PM  

@davidm, thanks. If we were "a step up" from our others, we'd probably not mass together to go take other ape's stuff and kill the males, keeping the females for breeding stock, as our chimp brethren do. At least we don't eat the babies any more; that's something. This is why I get amused at the articles talking about how our ancestors "interbred" with others. Such a genteel word for what goes on.

This was oddly sloggy for me, I couldn't evolve a solve. Some of the cluing seemed rather Victorian: else? too? but there was an admirable lack of junk in the fill.

Took me forever to get Land Rover because I always think of those things being driven around Africa, perhaps by Jane Goodall; I forget they're some kind of strange status symbol here. Fun fact driving around NYC. You'll see people in giant SUVs and Land Rovers who slow to 1/2 mph at the "speed humps" which tell one to slow to 20mph, and you'll also see them braking heavily if they approach a puddle of water.

I had so many write-overs I don't even remember how I finished. Eek, just not a good day for me, but I did.

I didn't comment yesterday, but I did wonder how a fella with a PhD in Literature got by without ever meeting an antecedent phrase and what are his students consequently missing? Or maybe he didn't think it was used outside Language studies... One of my other favorite words in the puzzle was annealer as well. There ya go.

Anonymous 1:36 PM  

So, humans and the other apes all came from a common ancestor. Fine, I buy that. From that one point in time where we all were the same, one of us has mastered written language, flown to the moon and back. We take parts out of one person's body and put it in another's do so the second person can live. That one has done billions of other things our fellow apes aren't even capable of dreaming of. They don't even know they have inner parts. They live in the same jungles and savannah that they did millions of years ago, foraging for plants and grubs and picking lice off of one another. A silverback gorilla will, when taking over another gorilla's harem, kill off all the young so that he doesn't have any of them around. One is hot like the others.

I'm all for humans recognizing that we're not the demi-gods we seem to think we are, but we don't have to go overboard in saying we're no more evolved than other apes.

Joe Dipinto 2:11 PM  

@Joaquin -- Highlights magazine! Goofus and Gallant!

Goofus ridicules the debuting crossword constructor and rewrites swaths of answers to show he could have done a better job.

Gallant compliments the constructor on an original theme and cleverly worded clues, even though he secretly thinks the puzzle sucked.

Anonymous 2:14 PM  

@Anon 1:36, we also wiped entire species and ecosystems, polluted the oceans with plastic, the air with filth, and murdered each other by the millions. We are in no way more "evolved than apes". We're just work harder on making the environment work for us while at the same time destroying it. They thrive in the environment as it is.

I'm was Republican and a great believer in the greatness of our achievements. But no more. I'm now wacky enough to believe the earth will be saved by global warming and all that will be forfeited is us. Here's to the earth.

Great puzzle. No junk. If the constructor is only 17, no doubt he'll be even more awesome as time goes by.

Doc John 2:37 PM  

I also had receipts instead of RECIPES for a short while but NINE AM took care of that.

Anonymous 3:01 PM  

@anon/1:36
Here's to the earth.

If you have cab/sat TeeVee, watch up the various episodes (they're largely cobbled together from a bunch of segments into lots of said episodes) of 'How the Universe Works'. The punchline is that the earth is doomed. Not in any timeline that humans are likely to experience. Or any form of life currently extant.

davidm 4:03 PM  

Anon, humans are not “more evolved” than other apes, or any other animals. I have tried to point out that the idea “more evolved” is a value judgment with no basis in evolutionary biology or science in general, which deals only with the descriptive and not the normative. “More evolved” is an incoherent concept in evolutionary biology.

Is a whale “more evolved” than its ancestors? We have a powerful fossil record of the evolution of whales. They came from land mammals and over some 15 million years, evolved into water dwellers. There is an amazing animated demo of this that can be found online, the short version and the long version. The long version is, as I recall, about ten or fifteen minutes long. It shows a land mammal over time being sculpted like clay to become a sea dweller. This happened without any designer, goal or intent, but happen it did. The fact that there can be a sculpture without a sculptor is a breathtaking fact about our world. As Darwin wrote, “There is grandeur in this view of life …”

Is the whale “more evolved” than its land-based ancestors? No, it is just different. Is a human ape more evolved than a silverback gorilla? No, it is just different. You can talk all you want about humans going to the moon, solving crosswords puzzles, or whatever, but none of that means that humans are “more evolved” than silverbacks or anything else. We are not “more evolved.” Every living thing is just EVOLVED, full stop. Whether you like what they are, or how they behave, is a value judgment, not science. Personally I find very little to like about humans, but that is an opinion and not science. If the entire history of planet earth, 4.6 billion years, were condensed into a single calendar year, starting on January 1 and ending on December 31, we find that modern humans first arose at one-tenth of one second before midnight on the last day of the year, December 31. Likely we will be gone just as soon. By contrast, the dinosaurs ruled the world much longer than we have or will, and are still around in the form of birds. In any event, 99 percent of the species that ever existed have gone extinct, and so will we, probably sooner rather than later given our hideous track record of environmental destruction.

I might finally note that for the vast majority of the time that modern humans have existed, with the same brains we have now, none of them went to the moon, made and solved crossword puzzles, or did anything else except be hunter-gatherers trying to make a living in the wild like all others animals. Whether other extant animals could “achieve” some of the same things we have is not known. I wouldn’t bet against the abilities of some of them, if given the chance.

john towle 4:05 PM  

Read. David Quammen’s books for for nifty insights into animal behavior. John McPhee & Malcolm Gladwell…great reads any day of the week.

Best,

john

Unknown 4:21 PM  

Calling the EPA a green agency was true, once upon a time. But under Trump, the EPA serves only to press the agenda of the coal industry and big business. What a disgrace. The clue would have been accurate under Nixon, but no longer. *sigh* I kind of liked the puzzle, thought it simple for a Wednesday, but like others, wished 1A had a different clue.

Anonymous 4:29 PM  

Most civilians view 'evolved' as bigger brained, use of tools, and modifying the local environment. That Native Americans (North and South) by and large didn't do much of that was sufficient cause for the European Christian invaders to exterminate as many as needed to acquire the resources at issue.

albatross shell 6:09 PM  

@David 12:25
Look up definitions of ape and evolution. They have common and scientific definitions. One definition is technical and specific to scientific applications. One isn't. You should be able to distinguish one from the other. The clue is not: Scientifically speaking, one step down the evolutionary scale. The clue is not a scientific statement. Therefore no scientific error is being perpetuated. If you get your science from crosswords, well I just don't know.

jae 6:31 PM  

Easy-medium. Cute and smooth, liked it.

@davidm - “I wouldn’t bet against the abilities of some of them”....so The Hitchhiker’s Guide might be right about mice and dolphins.... and thanks for taking the time to share your insights.

Crimson Devil 6:47 PM  

Agree re 1A, so many other opportunities. But, don’t forget: 17 yr old constructor: a big Attaboy otherwise. At that age, I doubt any of us had the ability or dedication for such construction.
Kudos.

Monty Boy 7:35 PM  

I may as well join in the APE/evolution discussion. I'll allow that the clue and answer are not scientifically accurate. Since this is a crossword puzzle, it's OK with me since it gives me enough information to think APE is the answer verified by the crosses. Consider it misdirection, one of the things for me that gives crosswords puzzles a challenge and hence much pleasure. I go in expecting some clues may be inaccurate but can still be fun. After all, it's a puzzle, not a scientific treatise. And (tongue in cheek), the long, accurate posts above wouldn't fit in the space allowed for the puzzle.

I'm 75 now and hope I hit 100 so I can see how our "evolved" species handles the apparent doom we're headed toward. Working in the yard I've often thought that the ant and other insects will be here doing their thing long after we're gone.

There's an interesting series (I think on PBS) that considers what might happen to the earth if humans magically disappeared in a single day. If I remember correctly, within a few thousand years little evidence of humans would exist. That's a blink in the scale of time noted earlier. We may not be all that great in the grand scheme of things.

Z 8:28 PM  

@davidm - I agree with almost everything you’ve written. I seem to like people a bit more than you. And I am much more comfortable with this single fact; Crossword Puzzles use the ambiguity of language to make determining the “correct” entry more difficult for the solver. To elaborate on what you’re saying, when looking at the way biologists group animals, orangs and people are grouped together. However, it is just as true to say in common usage we often distinguish between humans and all other animals. Calling someone an “ape,” or a “pig” or a “bitch” is an insult in common usage because we don’t group ourselves with animals even though we are animals. I’m perfectly fine with crosswords using both lay usage and scientific usage depending on the cluer’s need.

I will also point out that this specific type of discussion is not new. Experts in a wide variety of areas have complained long and hard and vehemently about usages that are not “correct.” Unfortunately for all you einstein’s* language doesn’t care about precision. Words are constantly evolving, and many here will agree that such evolution is often not an improvement. One consolation is nobody actually tried to dispute biological evolution.

*my term for people whose level of expertise causes them trouble with the solve.

RHopkinson 9:35 PM  

Hate to bring the discussion down to the mundane, but could someone please explain to me how “else” means “in addition”?

Padraic 9:58 PM  

Commenting solely for the purpose of acknowledging the awesome pencil!

I would have gone with "A Damn Fine Cup of Coffee," but could see why tea-drinking Rex went otherwise. Speaking of "wise," The Owls Are Not What They Seem.

jae 10:07 PM  

@RHopkinson - do you have anything in addition to say....else to say

Runs with Scissors 10:12 PM  

0900 start time??? Them's bankers' hours!!! I don't think I've ever started work later than 0730, except when I worked nights.

This was just kinda there. I pay little attention to the gimmicks of the puzzle; the solving experience is where it's at. This didn't make me think too hard so it was just okay. Not bad.

@davidm & @Z:

Humans are primates, along with the apes. Humans are not apes. We share something along the lines of 98% of our active genes with chimpanzees (bonobos specifically), but that doesn't make us apes. It should make you appreciate just how much difference slight genetic variations can cause. I think the latest estimate is that we and chimps diverged from our common ancestor around 1.8 million years ago.

We're much more closely related to Homo neanderthalensis than we are to Pan troglodytes.

This puzzle was REPRESENTATIVE of - not much.

PENNY DREADFULS - I enjoyed that one.

I have actually seen 2 LAND ROVERS in the dirt, out in the wild in the Santa Ana Mountains. Surprisingly, their drivers were courteous and gave room to the mountain bikers. Kudos to them.

Not much else to say about this puzzle; it was not out of PHASE but probably could have done with a KEG or FOUR.

UNOPENED CHOCOLATE RECIPES
Mark, in Mickey's North 40

Anonymous 10:13 PM  

@RHopkinson:
Hate to bring the discussion down to the mundane, but could someone please explain to me how “else” means “in addition”?

It doesn't. It means aLSo, of course. But the constructor and editor chose to invent new vocabulary. That's half the fun.

albatross shell 10:30 PM  

@rhopkinson
Do you have something else to say?
Do you have something in addition to say?

I think it works.

Runs with Scissors 11:47 PM  

I must be dyslexic...meant to say we diverged from our common ancestor 8.1 million years ago, not 1.8...

albatross shell 1:11 PM  

else
/els/
adverb
adverb: else
1.
in addition; besides.
"anything else you need to know?"
2.
different; instead.
"isn't there anyone else you could ask?"

Unknown 6:09 PM  

Finally a shout out to Brian MAY instead of ENO! Been waiting decades for this moment.

spacecraft 10:16 AM  

There used to be a blogger here called "I skip M-W." Many more weeks like this and I may join him (her). 1-across clue: "Number of letters in this answer." Duh. And down? An acronym. Not the most promising of starts. Am I getting curmudgeonitis? If so, I know where I got it. Sorry, everybody. DNF.

rondo 10:31 AM  

Wow, sometimes there are words within other words or phrases. Who knew?

They might want to re-think that clue for EYELEVEL. To have an EYELEVEL of 6’ you’d be about 6’-7” or 6’-8”, so the 5’ EYELEVEL has you at 5’-7” or 5’-8”; that’s leaving out a lot of shorter people. Did you know that the common EYELEVEL used for designing roads is 3.5’ (sitting in a car)? For bike trails it’s 4.5’. Don’t you feel smarter now?

Looks like a low PPP ratio, so nothing toreport there.

For a Wednesday puz this is probably REPRESENTATIVE.

Burma Shave 12:24 PM  

STANDARD RULES?

Your EELY House REPRESENTATIVE
will HOLLA like YOU’LL not believe,
or ELSE YELLAT you TOO forgive
with ALIST of ALIBIS up his SLEEVE.

--- HORATIO “MEL” ASNER, PHD

leftcoast 1:29 PM  

From FOUR in one corner to SLAW in the opposite one, this puzzle is put together well, but also a bit mechanically and without much pizzaz. A couple of things worth mentioning though:

PENNY DREADFULS among the themers; three double L's with HOLLA, YOU'LL, and YELL AT; and the SUVS, LAND ROVER, REPO grouping in the SE. There've likely been more than a few REPOs of the vehicles.

Nicely done, but not very exciting.



leftcoast 1:51 PM  

Oh, I see this is a debut puzzle by 17-year old. Methinks I could have been a bit more generous.

rainforest 1:56 PM  

Likeable. Maybe not lovable, but this puzzle has a certain je ne c'est quoi.

I had to read the first italicized clue 3 or 4 times to see what it was getting at, but once I got that, the rest was fairly easy. Certainly a different theme, and props to that. As well, the fill really had no weaknesses, and I liked several of the clues.

As has been said, REPRESENTATIVE of Wednesday.

Diana, LIW 3:50 PM  

I'm back, but dnf'd - blurry eyes from too little sleep. See ya tomorrow.

Diana, LIW (gotta lot of catching up to do too)

wcutler 9:59 PM  

@kitshef 11:12 AM ("Of all the integers, FOUR is the only one with the same number of letters as the concept it represents.") You just made that an interesting clue! Thanks.

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