Image on oscilloscope / SAT 9-7-19 / Angle measured by astrolabe / 1980s arcade character with propeller beanie / Norman 1983 Pulitzer-winning playwright / Cactus with edible fruit / Fixture in church sanctuary / Monogram on L'Homme products / Ancient Roman writer of comedies

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Constructor: Trenton Charlson

Relative difficulty: Easy (4:48) (second fastest Saturday on record, fastest since January)

THEME: none (thank goodness)

Word of the Day: ETS (41A: A.P. exam inits.) —
Educational Testing Service (ETS), founded in 1947, is the world's largest private nonprofit educational testing and assessment organization. It is headquartered in Lawrence TownshipNew Jersey, but has a Princeton address.
ETS develops various standardized tests primarily in the United States for K–12 and higher education, and it also administers international tests including the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language), TOEIC (Test of English for International Communication), Graduate Record Examination (GRE) General and Subject Tests, HiSET and The Praxis test Series—in more than 180 countries, and at over 9,000 locations worldwide. Many of the assessments it develops are associated with entry to US tertiary (undergraduate) and quaternary education (graduate) institutions, but it also develops K–12 statewide assessments used for accountability testing in many states, including California, Texas, Tennessee, and Virginia. In total, ETS annually administers 20 million exams in the U.S. and in 180 other countries. (wikipedia)
• • •

Whoa. Solved straight out of bed, with absolutely no expectations of speed, and ended up with my second-fastest Saturday of the year (multiple minutes faster than yesterday's misplaced, misbegotten atrocity). If you correctly guess 1-Across right out of the box, then you're usually in good shape, and if that 1-Across is JVSQUADS—loaded as it is with high-value Scrabble tiles—then it turns out you're in Very good shape (1A: H.S. teams mainly with freshmen and sophomore players). I had JVSQUADS / AZIMUTH inside of 15 seconds. A J, V, Q, and Z before the party has really even begun. Those letters were all huge legs up (legups?) for the crosses, and the NW corner was done before I could blink thrice. I dropped QUE, UNDID, AZIMUTH, and SLUR immediately off of JVSQUADS, then ran the other long Acrosses back, no problem, then dropped all the long Downs, no problem (well, I wanted SPILL OUT before SPILLAGE (3D: Overflow), but that wasn't *much* of a problem). Helps to know a PRIE-DIEU is a thing (16A: Fixture in a church sanctuary). I've seen parts of that word in xwords for so long that I had no problem when the whole thing showed up today. Then it was IMPROV CLASS, GAVE UP, ANIMAE (misspelled but basically right), EMILE, TERENCE, ITASCA ... just slicing through that corner like it wasn't there (helped very much by knowing who TERENCE is, and by being a New Yorker w/ Minnesota friends and family—and thus knowing my ITASCA from my Ithaca). The PANCREAS clue was probably supposed to be tricky, but I didn't even see it until most of PANCREAS was filled in. The biggest stumbling block in the entire upper half, for me, was the last letter in PAW (31A: Shake on it!). I hate that type of clue generally (an unquotationmarked familiar phrase where the "it" is the thing you are going for) and here, "on" is a million times wrong. You're looking for "with." [Shake on it!] would be a fine clue for DANCE FLOOR or FAULTLINE but not PAW. No no. Woof. Bad dog.

The puzzle got noticeably weaker toward the bottom, with things changing quite rapidly around the equator. SAPID is, ironically, yuck (37A: Palatable). ETS is tolerable as a plural for aliens but horrid as a plug for a company that not everyone knows (not even close) (41A: A.P. exam inits.). It's *especially* bad crossing SNELLS, a very technical term (42D: Tackle box accessories). I've done enough puzzles to know both those answers, but the clue on ETS is just gonna wreck a bunch of people, needlessly. So so so so much better to come up with an entertaining clue for the aliens than to just dump a dull trivia clue about boring monolithic monopolistic ETS. Truly a terrible editorial decision, one that affects both the aesthetics and the solvability of the puzzle in potentially large and bad ways.

The bottom was mostly as easy as the top. Shout out to The PRICKLY PEAR, a southwestern restaurant in Ann Arbor (which may be long gone by now, for all I know, but it was there when I was in grad school, so, today, lucky me!) (57A: Cactus with an edible fruit). Again, as in the NW corner, the high-value Scrabble tiles came easily in the SE. Got ATLANTAN off the -TL- and then PIX-STIX off just the "T" (38D: Candy sold in straws)—couldn't remember if it was PIXI or PIXY, but YSL took care of that (56A: Monogram on L'Homme products). SW was the last to fall, and it always feels dicey backing into a themeless SW at the very end of a solve—you're so close, but you've gotta come in from the back ends of the Acrosses, and you've got nothing in there yet to help ... things can fall apart. But today, they didn't. All fell quickly. Last letter was the second "A" in MARSHA Norman (47D: ___ Norman, 1983 Pulitzer-winning playwright). In the end, I liked the highs of this one—there were probably a few too many lows, but overall I enjoyed the experience more than I didn't (huge asterisk by this assessment, since, as I've said many times, solvers tend to be too lenient on puzzles they crush and too harsh on puzzles that crushed them).


Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. hey, looks like The Prickly Pear is still there. Cool.

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Lewis 7:15 AM  

Strong solid offering with entries from many spheres, tough and IMPISH cluing, and out-of-wheelhouse items to learn. That is, what a Saturday NYT should be, and no NOT QUITE about it.

Sometimes short playful clues bring great spark, as those for STAGE, ALGA, and HAT did for me. A huge surprise for me is that this is the first time the answer DECLINES has ever appeared in a NYT crossword.

Thank you, Trenton, for a SAPID Saturday! (There, now I've used that word once today. Two to go.)

BarbieBarbie 7:24 AM  

NE was hard. I got IMPROV easily, but CLASS? Why class? That one is kind of Paint Green. Compounded with ITASCA crossing TERENCE, you’ve got Natick, MA on St. Patrick’s Day. Big DNF for me.

Other than that the high incidence of Scrabble tiles definitely made this puzzle easier. Not that enjoyable, but I’m a Thursday kind of person.

Baffled 7:28 AM  

Could someone please explain 30A? I’m not seeing the alphabetical order of all three initials.

Klazzic 7:32 AM  

Got annoyed that TURD or SHIT did not make the cut for the clue PENCE.

Anonymous 7:44 AM  

30 Across: what about BHO?

Frank 7:45 AM  

JVSQAUDS is dreadful. That is all.

Joaquin 7:58 AM  

Well … that was a learning experience!

Last time I was fishing (SNELLS) was mid-last century, about the same time I was in a church (PRIEDIEU - gimme a break, I’m Jewish). And I’ve never heard of SPHINXES used to describe people, though Mr. Google says it’s fine to do so.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who dropped in IMPROVClubS making REturn look right. Oy!

All-in-all, NOT QUITE as easy (for me) as the past few days.

Lobster11 8:03 AM  

So PRIE-DIEU is okay because Rex has seen it crosswords, and ITASCA is okay because Rex has relatives in Minnesota, and TERENCE is okay because Rex happened to know it -- but the cluing on ETS is a horrible editing decision because some people won't be familiar with it?

Jamie C 8:09 AM  

Yep Anon 7:44-- I had BHO too. But then I saw "20th century."

Anonymous 8:16 AM  

21st century

Brett 8:37 AM  

@Baffled — The “alphabetical order” in the clue doesn’t mean adjacent to each other in the alphabet, just the letters in the monogram, unlike any other 20th century president, go in alphabetical order. Cf. FDR, JFK, LBJ, WJC, GWB, etc. DDE is a maybe.

QuasiMojo 8:44 AM  

As a good lapsed Catholic, Prie-Dieu was my entry point. I really liked this puzzle even though I refused to give up MS PAC-MAN for the longest time. I had never heard of the JR version.

The only SHIRR I know is the one in SHIRRED Eggs, a favorite dish of mine. So that was fun to learn.

Loved seeing Sphinxes, Marsha Norman ("'night Mother"), Stealth and Prickly Pear.

Quick for a Saturday, yes, but rewarding.

Rob 8:51 AM  

I can't quite believe Rex thought this was easy. This was incredibly hard and took my about double my usual time.

I agree with @Lobster11 — Rex is excusing some real obscurities here because he happens to know them.

JOHN X 8:56 AM  

This puzzle was too freakin’ easy and not worthy of a Saturday. Yesterday was a much better puzzle, and even that doesn’t compare to the difficulty level of the late-week NYT puzzles of ten and twenty years ago.

Joel Palmer 8:58 AM  

Not nearly as fast as you all but managed to beat this to death overone cup of coffee Been fishing but snell is a new one on me.

Anonymous 9:07 AM  

Liked PRICKLYPEAR above ISRAEL: Isrealis refer to themselves as Sabras, or prickly pears.

webwinger 9:09 AM  

Hard for me. Immediately got a foothold in the NE with PANCREAS and GAMETE (both gimmes if you’ve been to med school). ITASCA and EMILE followed pretty quickly, then –CLASS became actingCLASS, which locked me out of the NW for a long time, despite correctly wanting AZIMUTH. Didn’t help that I blanked on the musical meaning of SLUR. (Seems like @Rex could have found a way to take offense at that if he tried.) Moving to the SE, no idea re SAPID, and couldn’t accept VICE as the full answer for 45A. In the SW, SNELLS was a complete mystery—even googling that very word when most letters were in did not help. Finally entered its N in the final empty square, and was surprised to hear the happy tune.

Looking back after a night’s sleep, found a few things to like, particularly the clues for IN DEBT and ATLANTAN. Disagree with OFL on ETS—much fresher than a tired Area 51 reference—agree with him about PAW.

burtonkd 9:11 AM  

@lobster - my thoughts exactly: everyone comes across ETS in their educational career (I thought it nice not to do aliens again),but ITASCA, TERENCE, DAN, ANIMAS (ANIMUS?) will throw people off?

BHO and DJT both DQ for being 21st century. Was kind of assuming there would be no blog today or last minute guest when DJY and Pence both included.

If you want to eat a delicious PRICKLYPEAR, leave it to a pro to prepare it. Spent 3 days in Greece pulling super fine spines out of my lips and fingers, this after watching my son do the same thing, assuming I could do it more carefully.

Lots of interesting clues: loved film bit for ALGA.

ISRAEL seemed way too obvious, so didn’t put in right away until that "okay, we’re doing this" moment.

Started with downs, so had SICILIAN, (the original DEEPDISH?)

Me: "No way am I familiar with Arabic dialects!" Oh, it’s IRAQI

Dorothy Biggs 9:16 AM  

@Lobster11: a rare, but well deserved and very reasonable criticism of Rex's review. I hope he sees it and sees the blind spot there. It's okay to point out things you know that are obscure, fine. But then to ding the puzzle because there is that one thing you think is too obscure...well, that's kinda silly.

I personally was not a fan of the puzzle. There were a few clues that seemed tortured to me. For some reason, ATLANTAN does not seem apt as an answer for "Brave." Just because you play for the Braves MLB team, doesn't make you an Atlantan. There were others.

Birchbark 9:30 AM  

"Ale, Man, ale's the stuff to drink
For fellows whom it hurts to think.
And malt does more than Milton can
To justify God's ways to Man."

-- A.E. Housman, "TERENCE, This is Stupid Stuff"

Re AZIMUTH -- The avatar today shows an astrolabe of the author's design, which was used a few years ago to calculate the length of wire needed to suspend a bird feeder from a high tree limb. The base of the astrolabe is a level, as the calculation was done on a hillside, and therefore the base of the triangle was somewhat elevated. Yes, I could have just strung the wire and clipped it when the bird feeder looked about right, but this was way more time consuming and fun.

Teedmn 9:31 AM  

I agree with Rex, this was easy for a Saturday. 16 minutes is not a Saturday record for me but it is definitely below my Saturday average. The NE was the toughest section for me because I wasn't sure of the location of the islets of Langerhans. Somewhere in the lower organs, I thought, but with ______EA_ in place, I decided to relocate them to the innerEAr, sigh. Only knowing ITASCA helped me recover from that misstep. That and I really wanted IMPROV CLASS at 19A.

I also agree with Rex that ETS is the most obscure answer, for me. And I don't know if I will ever add SNELLS to my mental crosswordese dictionary. For any Minnesotan, a SNELL is a Lindy Rig. This is one of those "brand name has become so ubiquitous that it is now the thing" things, like Kleenex or Xerox. So SNELLS, hah. That didn't stop me from filling it in once I had the _NELLS :-).

Except for wanting PIXieSTIX and wondering when SPHINXES became people (I thought that clue should be "Enigmatic beings"), the bottom half put up little to no resistance.

Trenton Charlson, nice puzzle.

And @QuasiMojo, thank you for pointing out that Marsha Norman wrote "'Night Mother". I saw that movie in the mid 80s and found it extremely shocking. It has stuck with me all these years, unlike most movies, but it never seems to come around on the cable TV "STIR IN".

COL Gary Johnson, USAF (Ret) 9:39 AM  

I would have preferred the clue for 44D to reference the B-2 Spirit bomber. It has the radar cross-section of a bumble bee yet can drop 20 tons of freedom on enemy villages, both day and night.

kitshef 9:43 AM  

Bottom easier than top, and down clues much, much easier than across clues. DNF at REMAil/TEREiCE/lAN. TERENCE doesn’t even ring a bell. I’m gonna bet that NE corner messes up a few of us.

Just missing @Roo’s F for the pangram.

Is there any comment less convincing than I CARE? And is there devil whispering in Will’s ear that he must use more “Shake on it!”-style clues? Just awful.

JC66 9:50 AM  

re: @Rex's ETS rant, he said "just dump a dull trivia clue about boring monolithic monopolistic ETS."

Maybe he's got something against ETS the company because he didn't do so well on his exams.

Nancy 9:59 AM  

Beyond stumped, I began with what I considered the most "ethical" cheats. Looking up clues, not answers. So looking up what an oscilloscope was gave me WAVE. Looking up what meiosis is gave me GAMETE. I'm still over in the NE and I still need help. I almost went to my World Atlas to find out where the "islets of Langerhans" are located. So glad I went to Google instead. Don't imagine I would have found the PANCREAS in my World Atlas.

The problem with cheats is that once they start they don't always stop. I coasted through the bottom of the puzzle, but then I was back in the NW. Where I absolutely, absolutely had to look up JR PACMAN. (PACMAN has initials? Who knew? Indeed, who knew that PACMAN wore a propeller beanie? Not I, for sure.)

I am deeply ashamed of myself for cheating. But I only cheat when I'm enjoying a puzzle -- never when I'm not. I was intrigued by the clue "One engaged in a hairy escape" and I needed JR PACMAN to suss her out. I wasn't thinking of RAPUNZEL, actually; I was thinking of someone like either TARZAN or KING KONG. RAPUNZEL was almost worth the cheat to find her. With so much of the puzzle out of my wheelhouse -- all the aforementioned clue/answers plus AZIMUTH; PIXYSTIX; ITASKA; SLUR and DAN -- this was an absolute bear for me.

puzzlehoarder 10:07 AM  

This puzzle had all the easy that yesterday's didn't have. The solve time for both puzzles was completely reversed. It's not that today's puzzle wasn't "Saturday" enough it's that the constructor's choice of high value letters and the words that use them tended to be dead give always.

IMPROVCLASS is very definitely a thing. I was reminded of this by a rather eerie coincidence. We know a couple who are very involved with Second City here in Chicago. That comedy club is famous for pioneering IMPROV. This couple just lost their teenage daughter to cancer last month. While I was solving my wife was taking food over to them. She and my daughter were very close to this girl. She of course stayed late talking to them and called me on her way home as she knew I'd be worried about her. As chance would have it I'd started this puzzle with GAMETE supported by GAVEUP but then blocked that by putting in ACTING CLASS. For some strange reason I just couldn't think of how that V could fit in there. Right after I hung up with my wife I spotted DEEPDISH and immediately recognized IMPROV off of that P. The eerie thing is that this girls mother used to teach improv classes at Second City and her father has used it in seminars he sells to the corporate world.

I don't believe in an afterlife and I have no idea what happens to a person's spirit when they die. I know that the girl who died had a very strong spirit and the timing of this coincidence definitely seemed to come from somewhere else.

Nancy 10:29 AM  

Can someone please explain what ETS stands for in the exam sense? Everyone's talking about whether it's fair or unfair, but no one is saying what it is. Something else that was out of my wheelhouse today, and I also forgot to include EMILE in that category.

I'm gobsmacked by how many people found this easy. Although @webwinger does explain why PANCREAS and GAMETE were gimmes for her and WOEs for me.

QuasiMojo 10:40 AM  

@Teedmn -- the play was a knockout too! Absolutely chilling. It made Kathy Bates a star. As for "Sphinxes" referring to humans, Oscar Wilde for one called his muse and mentor, Ada Leverson, "Sphinx."

RooMonster 10:41 AM  

Hey All !
Easy. Ha! My left foot, easy. This was a punch-me-in-the-face puz. Hung up in every corner. Had to resort to Check Puzzle feature just to get a solving rhythm going.

Langerhans, eh? Aren't they Dutch? PANCREAS. Wanted field at 9A, so 9D wax yugoslAv. Har.

Never heard SPHINXES used as clued. Down there, Veep-VIVE, SKy-SKI, PIXi-PIXY.


NE with a Q, Z, J, V, P. Yow. Had msPACMAN, as completely didn't remember JRPACMAN. I don't think anyone remembers that game. That got me mVSportS, because why not?

Two Q's, two X's, a Z, but... you know, no F's. Can we get a little F love people!? What did the F ever do to you? (Har, rereading that sentence, it sounds like an insult.)

So, 42 minutes with unapologetic Check Puzzle usage. Easy. Right.


Brian 10:45 AM  

H comes before S comes before T.

Brian 10:50 AM  

Clue said “distinct” which rules out DDE

jj_rural_mo 10:58 AM  

I read the PAW clue differently - seeing it as a command to a dog - "OK Spot - shake on it!" (as in "Give me your paw" or just "Shake"). Reading it that way gave me a chuckle.

Molasses 11:00 AM  

Opposite of Rex. I thought this one was really, really hard. I live in Arizona so PRICKLYPEAR was easy but that's about it for easy ones for me.

@Nancy, I also had to look up isles of Langerhans - I vaguely knew they were physiological (anatomical?) not geographical but otherwise, no idea. And I also differentiate between Googling the information and Googling the clue. I try to avoid both, but when I'm totally stuck give myself the okay to Google the info, and chastise myself mightily if I have to resort to one of those crossword answer sites.

My other lookups were MARSHA - never heard of her but plan to learn more about her now - and ITASCA, which I think I've seen in crosswords before but nowhere else. Otherwise, slow and painful progress until ETS finally clicked for me, giving me SNELL, another thing I never heard of, along with SAPID.

Enjoyed the feeling of figuring out HST without looking anything up. One day I'll memorize all the presidents. Maybe. It was very satisfying to be able to recall enough 20th-century names to come up with the answer.

GILL I. 11:02 AM  

@Nancy and I are twins today. Everything she had problems with and cheated, I did too.
Although I looked things up like astrolabe and the propeller beanie and a candy that I wouldn't stuff up my nose, I was determined to soldier on. I thought this was a great puzzle that crushed me, but I loved it. See @Rex? Some of us do like puzzles that seem impossible.... BUT NOT QUITE.
Let's see...what made me smile? EMILE! My first and only entry in eons. I wanted the unfittable Remy because he was my favorite rat. I think I've watched Ratatouille a million times. How could you not when you have rats and people getting along with names like Linguini, Skinner and Gusteau. I might re-watch it today. one know if there's an afterlife....On the dearly departed. I remember when my Nana died I could feel her everywhere. I was scared to do anything bad lest she tsk tsk me as she used to. Sometimes is nice to believe in the spirit.....

Randy (Boulder) 11:04 AM  

I love crosswords because they teach me a lot about how complicated a brain's processing can be. The astrolabe answer should have been in my wheelhouse - I majored in astronomy in college and have worked on lots of telescopes. But... nothing, even with several crosses!

I put the puzzle down, came back, and, duh, AZIMUTH, right off the bat.

MTS 11:06 AM  

Can someone explain “animas” to me. Anima is already plural of animus. Why is that a thing? This “easy” crossword had me stuck for way too long because I didn’t happen to know this lake and I don’t get the Jung spelling.

jberg 11:19 AM  

Like most Protestants, the church of my childhood did not kneel, so I had no idea what a PRIE-DIEU was. I knew the term, but if pressed would have guessed it was a particular prayer. So I needed a lot of crosses for that one.

I was further slowed by bad handwriting. I put in MBAS fairly early, despite the misleading clue for 51A (board memebers are generally not EXECS), but the M looked a lot like a U, so I was seeing JR PACuAN there. I never saw the arcade game, although I have certainly played both PACMAN and MS PACMAN.

TERENCE, though was a gimme. We studied both him and his buddy Plautus in my first-year Western Civ class. I bet you all did too, you've just forgotten -- and I just looked up his plays (only 6 he died young) and I've never read or seen any of them. Fun fact: "Gammer Gurton's Needle," on of first known English plays, was a parody of Terence.

Writeovers: tAN (as in belt color) before DAN, coin then Veep before VICE (never wrote in coin, tbh, because Pence is plural), and any number of things at 42A (ETS) because I'd written over the number and was under the impression that it was 30A (HST). I fell for the BHO trap, as well.

A SLUR is not the same as legato -- look at some music and you will see each used in separate places. They come close on piano, but on a wind instrument you tongue a legato passage softly, a SLUR not at all.

I can't imagine anyone's putting a bunch of SNELLS in his or her tackle box; instead you carry around some spools of monofilament of suitable diameters, and cut off pieces as needed. I really resisted that one.

I think most of Rex's critics today are misreading what he said. He certainly was NOT saying that everyone should know ITASCA, TERENCE, etc. -- he was saying that the puzzle was easy for him because HE happened to know those words, and explaining what there was in his background that led him to know them.

@Nancy, I love the mental picture of you trying to find those islets in the Atlas. I remembered the name just because it is so unusual, so I knew they were anatomical -- but my first guess was the eye, followed by the brain. There are parts of the brain called so-and-so's AREA, which semi-confirmed that guess for me. I needed the PAN to see my error.

Newboy 11:27 AM  

Loved @birchbark’s tale & pix of AZIMUTH. Now I’m wondering how he might help me relocate the small resident bat who NEEDS relocation housing from underneath a porch support crevice. Luckily my father was an avid slayer of salmon, so SNELL was less troubling than others reported. FYI here’s a visual mnemonic: SHIRRS on the other hand....alas. Satisfied Saturday solver here given that this puzzle was worthy of ETS approval.

Anonymous 11:31 AM  

@Nancy ETS = education testing services

Beadola 11:41 AM  

I went picking prickly pear fruit in Israel as a summer college exchange student. We used a stick with a can tied on the end. Then soaked all the fruit in water in the bathtub. Spines gone!
Had the same thought as Anonymous 9:07, but Sabras (prickly pears) are only those born in Israel. Prickly on the outside - sweet on the inside.

KevCo 11:42 AM  

I added a solid four minutes onto my time because of EMILE. The rat from Ratatouille is REMY. I tried REMMY, REMIE, REMEE, REMMI...every variation I could think of, but I had "IMPROV..." and was pretty sure it was going to be "IMRPOV CLASS," so I finally gave up and just wrote that in. Got EMILE off crosses. Emile is Remy's brother, and he's not in the movie very much. Total BS. I understand that this is a Saturday so there are curveballs, but that clue obviously calls for REMY as an answer. It's like if an answer were clued "Hockey player Gretzky." It's WAYNE, right? No, it's BRENT! You guys remember Brent Gretzky, Wayne's younger brother who played about 20 games in the early 90's? Of course you don't. Which is why the answer should be f%^&ing WAYNE, and it should be f%^&ing REMY or it should be nothing.

Anyway, looking forward to Toy Story 5.

Teedmn 11:48 AM  

@jberg wrote:"I can't imagine anyone's putting a bunch of SNELLS in his or her tackle box; instead you carry around some spools of monofilament of suitable diameters, and cut off pieces as needed. I really resisted that one."

SMH - You need to buy at least a half dozen (more like a dozen) pre-made SNELLS of different line weights and lengths, different colored beads and flashy things, different hook sizes, with a loop on the other end of the line for easy attachment to your main line. Then you need to buy a SNELL holder, which is a nifty cylinder about 1 1/2 inches in dia. and 6 inches long. The cylinder is covered in Velcro and has little plastic eye-hooks protruding out so you can slip your hook into the eye, wrap the line around the cylinder and then secure the end of the line using a mini-chunk of Velcro that comes with the cylinder package. Eventually you will end up with $1K's worth of doo-dads in your tackle box, as I have. Don't you know how this economy thing works? You have to drink the Kool-Aid! :-)

What? 12:04 PM  

I don’t time myself but easy for a Saturday. Finished it, helped by PANCREAS. No, I didn’t go to med school but my wife died of pancreatic cancer. Bit of a silver (or lead) lining, I guess.

jb129 12:05 PM  

Too hard for me

ColoradoCog 12:24 PM  

@Nancy ETS is the Educational Testing Service, creator of the SAT, GRE, etc.

This one played far harder than usual for me. Not really sure why.

Masked and Anonymous 12:33 PM  

Semi-toughie, at our house. Had a few hairy escapes and finished the solvequest still standin, eventually.
Didn't know PRIEDIEU [M&A reaction: "QUE?"], GAMETE meiosisin, TERENCE, EMILE, PIXYSTIX, ETS. Wanted ILL for AIL for way too long. Wasn't at all sure on SNELLS. Desperately got out a sharpie pen and extended the puzgrid out a square here and there in the NW (aka Islets of Alabama), to accommodate a few other wrong guesses.

On the helpful side, got the SQUADS part of JVSQUADS quick, AZIMUTH off just the H, guessed the DIEU part of PRIEDIEU, and knew the PANCREAS islets. Also, on the wee side, thought of HST immediately.

Luved the RAPUNZEL and ALGA clues. Suitably SatPuz sadistic.

staff weeject pick: DAN. Is this an award for a judoist bein extra-dapper, or somesuch? @Aketi would know.
honrable mention to CAL, with its joule of a clue.

Thanx for the fun feist and new word lessons, Mr. Charlson. DAN-good gridwork.

Masked & Anonymo6Us

Suzie Q 12:39 PM  

Phooey, no puzzle for me today. The page of the NYT website that usually gives me the grid to print is it's usual dark gray background but otherwise just blank. That's the first time I've had this happen.

Joe Dipinto 12:54 PM  

Would they stop with the I CARE already? No.One.Says.This. And TISSUE is the epitome of thinness? I mean, I know a tissue is thin, but... "Wouldja eat something, you're as thin as a tissue! I only mention it because I care."

That NE corner was a spot of trouble. I wanted IMPROV CLASS but kept thinking the rat was HENRI, so that held things up for awhile. And the Islets looked to be in the Something Seas, although I could see the humorous possibility of PANCREAS. Once I hit on REMAND for 11d that section snapped into place.

I quite liked this puzzle. Lots of nice fill. My first entries were SADE -- I have that album -- and DEY, then I worked through the adjacent areas. Really not hard until I got to the NE, but it was a fun ride. I like T. Charlson's puzzles.

What should I take in today...
♪ A matinĂ©e, a Pinter play?
Perhaps a piece of Mahler's? ♪

JC66 1:01 PM  

For those interested, @Eric Agard has both today's LA Times and Newsday's Saturday Stumper puzzles.

pabloinnh 1:09 PM  

Looked at this, thought JVSQUADS, didn't bother to write it in. Started at the bottom with SPHINXES instead, worked upward a la JoeD, and finished with what I hadn't written in. Some Grade A trivia, but stuff I actually knew, so not that hard for me. Luck of the draw.

@GILL I- I guess you started responding to someone with a "p", but I think your message is for @puzzlehoarder. I'm flattered, though.

Always makes me happy when OFL gets close to a PR. I tend to write those days on my calendar and include a smiley face.

Bill L. 1:15 PM  

ITASkA is a dot on the map along Rte. 79 and the Tioughnioga River between Whitney Point and Chenango Forks in Broome County, NY. Not much to see there except the occasional road side farm stand. However, the USGS maintains a river gage there that I use religiously whenever I’m planning to kayak that section of river. I am well aware of the lake forming the headwaters of the Mississippi River in Minnesota, but dropped the “k” in there anyway and never checked the cross. Oof. One letter DNF.

Pro tip: You’ll want at least 3 feet on the gage to float that section to avoid having to drag your boat over numerous gravel bars.

Mark 1:16 PM  

This. The dog shakes on the command, Paw. "It" is the command.

Fred Romagnolo 1:22 PM  

I needed an almanac for MARSHA & a TV history for DEY, otherwise solved without aid. Enroll me in the "not at all easy" class. Troublemaker seems a bit harsh for IMPISH. The article on Verdi in the Arts section was fascinating.

Danny 1:27 PM  

Rex, I'm sorry, but you have to acknowledge the obscurity of the clues you happened to just know right away. Otherwise, it just looks like you're bragging, which is unbecoming.

I found this puzzle incredibly hard. I had to cheat for the first time in about a year. Way too many obscure proper nouns crossing each other. I rely on Rex to call out that kind of garbage, so I can feel better about myself.

JHM II 1:38 PM  

Sorry, I think ETS is a legitimate clue. Many NYT crossworders have applied to college or have children who have applied to college. (Some have been accepted!) They don’t have to like ETS, but I think it is reasonable to expect many of the to have heard of ETS. (“Sapid,” not so much.)

Carola 1:49 PM  

Not easy for me, but solidly in the "just right" range for a Saturday, keeping the pace slow enough for me to enjoy the many pleasures of the grid, from the JV SQUADS to the SPHINXES to the PERLS of the PRICKLY PEAR.

Help from previous puzzles: SADE, SNELLS. Do-overs: me, too, for SPILL out; PIXiSTIX; bastes before SHIRRS. Learned how to spell: AZIMUTH.

Birchbark 2:17 PM  

@Newboy (11:27) -- I don't know that there is a "right" way to go about repatriating bats, but there is a right season -- between now and the beginning of November. One approach proceeds from the simple fact that all bats want to return to the Isles of Langerhans, where they were spawned. You do NOT need a full moon, though there is some support in the literature for winged mammalian "antsiness" peaking when the moon waxes gibbous. Thus you will want a good atlas to locate the Isles and and a Farmer's Almanac to identify moon phases and nautical twilight in your area.

At the appointed hour, go to the bat lair, turn clockwise until you are pointing toward the Isles, play something wistful like "Danny Boy" on the bagpipes (I forgot to mention -- you also need bagpipes), just start walking and don't stop. The bats have no choice but to follow, so long as you don't look back, don't stop playing, just keep walking, and ignore all empirical evidence to the contrary. May the road rise with you on this promising venture --

kaoconno 2:31 PM  

Glad to see you say this. I found it pretty difficult and ended up with a time a few minutes above average.

Ryan 2:56 PM  

Some saying it was too easy and some saying it was too hard. This is always the problem with proper nouns in crosswords. If you know the trivia, it's easy. If you don't, it's impossible.

Rex sliced through the NE like it wasn't there. I didn't know TERENCE, EMILE, or ITASCA like Rex. This was compounded by my forgetting my high school biology (GAMETE) and not being strong on anatomy (PANCREAS). Thus I had to turn to google.

Certainly don't mind a DNF due to my own lack of knowledge on a Saturday. But "easy"? Not for everyone.

I guess I need to talk to more Minnesotans and watch more Pixar movies.

SJ Austin 3:11 PM  

No way was this easy for me. I was well over my average time even with making several significant Google cheats. (Normally I can mostly do the Saturday without help.) Seems like you could only rate this easy if you knew a ton of obscure stuff that all happened to show up in the same puzzle. BTW, I am a member of the clergy and still had (have) no idea what 16A is.

Hack mechanic 3:17 PM  

What about Eisenhower, DDE?

Hack mechanic 3:20 PM  

Tried teams then sports then squads.
Lots of fumbles on this one, can't say I liked it much

CDilly52 3:22 PM  

Not only excusing obscurities but slamming common things (to many such as our teachers) such as ETS. It’s always about the wheelhouse. If you’re in things are common and the puzzle is easy, if not then more difficult.

kitshef 3:32 PM  

@Nancy - No initials for PACMAN -- in this case the JR is short for Junior.

Fun fact: Pac-man was originally called Puck-man, but they figured that would be too tempting for teens to vandalize the machines to change that initial "P" to ... something else.

Nancy 3:57 PM  

This one was a bear for me, but an enjoyable one once I got going. At first I just couldn't get a foothold anywhere but finally got started with PIXYSTIX of all things. I did not go to med school :) so PANCREAS and GAMETE were not gimmes for me at all (in fact up until the last minute I was still trying to make sense of a geographic location that would use the letters I had in PANCREAS). But after leaving and coming back several times, I was able to complete in 58 minutes with no lookups, which didn't seem possible at the start.

Hungry Mother 4:14 PM  

I attacked this one starting at 4am, when I was breakfasting before a 10 mile race which became an 11.7 mile race when I missed an unmarked and unmanned turn on the course. I got back to it for some minutes here and there and then finally finished by changing an “S” to a “Z” as per yesterday.

Unknown 4:18 PM  

And DJT, much as I hate to point that out

albatross shell 4:54 PM  

I'm with Roo, Nancy GillI,and others on this one. A fine puzzle with a lot of research needed. I managed to get the entire south with just looking up MARSHA. Filled SNELLS SHIRRS SAPID and checked each one cause I did know them. PIXYSTIX finally came to me. Yes I am guilty of buying them as a kid and they did provide a faint echo of yesterday's junk food bonanza. I have PRICKLYPEARS in my yard. The peak bloom is usually on the solstice. In the North research was needed on too much to list. Not for DEEPDISH. Had some in Chicago. I found it as unSAPID to say the least. Garlic bread soaked in marinara sauce would be 10 times better. Maybe it's an acquired taste. The people I was visiting were positive I'd love it. I was polite as I could stomach.

A very good puzzle that whipped me.

Anonymous 5:24 PM  
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Masked and Anonymous 5:54 PM  

@Roo - An F short of a pangram? F? day-um. That just ain't right.

The followin puz is in yer (and F's) honor. Us letter fanatics need to stick together, against the alphabetic establishment.

M&A Respect Desk


Anonymous 6:21 PM  

I’m in the the “difficult “ camp. I’m guess it’s about wheelhouses. ETS as clued is certainly fair given the demographics of NYT Xword solvers. On the bright side, he didn’t whine about the veep clue.

Anonymous 7:07 PM  

That's why they said three "distinct" initials.

Anonymous 7:17 PM  

Yep, difficulty really depends on the proper nouns. Maybe the hardest Saturday I've seen in a year.

RooMonster 7:32 PM  

Here's the original theme song, Pac-Man Fever .
Bet you didn't even know there was one.


Nancy 7:39 PM  

Thanks to everyone who explained ETS to me. I'm sure I'll forget it ere it appears again, but I do appreciate it.

@kitshef: There's a Junior PACMAN? Who knew?

@GILL and @Molasses -- Misery loves company. So do solvers who need to cheat.

@JoeDipinto -- I completely cracked up over the last sentence of your first paragraph. And the lyric is from "The Ladies Who Lunch", right?

@Birchbark -- If I play "Danny Boy" on the bagpipe, bats will follow me? You're kidding, right? What if I merely sing "Danny Boy"? I sing it quite often, it's one of my faves, and so far no bats have ever followed me, I'm happy to say. If they ever do, I'll pass them on to @Hartley.

Betty Anderson, homemaker 8:28 PM  

Colonel Johnson, I agree with you wholeheartedly and I want to thank you for your service. God Bless America.

Seth 10:10 PM  


aslightrain 10:27 PM  

The clue for ETS is horrible, whether or not it wrecks 1 or 10000 people. It is horrible because it does not make any sense. "ETS" are not the initials for any of the 36 AP exams, nor do they appear anywhere on any AP exam materials. This is because AP is a registered trademark of the College Board. The College Board contracts ETS to develop the tests, but this is so behind the scenes and shows up only in nooks and crannies of the College Board website. The ETS does have several of its own products which would have made for a far better clue, including: PRAXIS, TOEFL, and GRE.

Average Joe 11:20 PM  

@asli...Don’t overthink it. ETS went straight in for me. Azimuth not as fast. This forum is about crossword puzzles right ?

old timer 12:04 AM  

Random comments:

1. @Rex always rates whether a puzzle is Easy or Hard based in his solve times for that day of the week. Adjusted, sometimes, for cocktails (if solved at night) or insomnia.

2. Everyone used to know ITASCA because you were taught in elementary school Lake ITASCA was the source of the Mississippi.

3. Firesign Theatre fans smiled today, thinking of the "far-flung Isles of Langerhans." (I kicked myself for a long time not remembering they were in the PANCREAS, but it finally came to me).

4. Unlike OFL, I usually am able to complete a Saturday, after some struggle, with no cheats. I usually can't complete a Friday without looking something up on Wikipedia or in a worst case scenario, consulting Dr Google. That was my experience yesterday.

AdamW 9:26 AM  

Mad respect for the Brent Gretzky reference, who I watched tear up the low minors in the late 90s

AdamW 9:29 AM  

Wasn't the theme song so much as a novelty song, and I had the 45 and we sang it constantly

Anonymous 2:27 PM  

DJT is not 20th century, he’s 21st century.

Zygotic 8:27 PM  

Pretty damn hard when I picked this up last night after a long day in the sun. Finished tout de suite when I picked it up again tonight (Sunday night)

@Lobster11 and @Dorothy Biggs - Isn’t that exactly the disclaimer Rex put at the end? Indeed, what all three of you and many others are pointing out is the reason PPP should be minimized. PPP turns the puzzle into a trivia contest rather than a crossword puzzle. Even something like PRIE DIEU, which isn’t actually PPP, is trivia of the worst sort, easy if you do lots of xwords or are Catholic, but opaque otherwise. I didn’t count, but the comments suggest that this has high PPP, so difficulty is probably a wheelhouse/outhouse thing.

@JC66 - If you are an educator you think “monolithic monopolistic” is going easy. Even if you don’t accept the underlying racism of ETS’ products, the very notion of “standardized testing” has considerably warped the politics and discussions around education. Test scores still correlate better with factors like the family’s SES and the educational level of the mother than things like future academic achievement or even collegiate success. We taxpayers are wasting lots of money paying for a product that is telling us only what we’ve known for a very long time (yeah yeah, I’m retired but it the topic touches a sensitive nerve.

Anonymous 9:20 AM  

BHO was 21st century

Eric Weber 11:04 AM  

Rex, easy for you, incredibly hard for me - 2:52:55 - well below my average. Have you ever considered rating a puzzle's difficulty not on how it played for you but how you think a more average player might find it? I found azimuth, Pixystix, slur, ets, snells, and several others daunting. Was expecting at least a medium from you and was quite stunned at your second fastest Saturday of the year.

gregg 3:35 PM  

Replying from Michigan: Yes Rex, the Prickly Pear is still alive and well in Ann Arbor. Eat there often. Go Blue!

spacecraft 1:34 PM  

With my medical background, PANCREAS was a gimme, and my way in. Really wanted GAVEUP...but --VC-- in that long across? Problem. As I worked the NE (pretty easy), I saw that it was [something] CLASS--then it hit me: of course, INPROVCLASS! That was the only major sticking point. Fairly smooth and Scrabble-loaded grid today; no major complaints. Filled in ETS on crosses and didn't even notice it. Yeah, I know Educational Testing Service. I agree, though, "Reese's Pieces eaters?" would've been a better clue.

Earlier I snubbed SADE for DOD; that oversight will be corrected today. Birdie.

Anonymous 1:36 PM  

"Either you have it, or you don't" sums up this puzzle. Incredibly hard or ridiculously easy - either is just as likely.

leftcoast 3:34 PM  

Enjoyed cheating my way through this one.

Burma Shave 3:52 PM  


though she REMANDS ever saying, "ICARE";


rondo 4:09 PM  

Not one write-over in NOTQUITE 40 minutes; that's a victory for me on a Saturday and that grid looks so pretty. Hard to believe OFL's time, but the thing is, I enjoyed mine. And anyone can read my handwriting.

Shout out to ITASCA County, MN, and Lake ITASCA, headwaters of the Mighty Mississppi.

SADE or Sue DEY; either way, yeah bae bae.

No ink SPILLAGE. I'm INDEBT to Mr. Charlson.

Unknown 6:42 PM  

DJT ... Distinctly 21st century.

leftcoast 6:55 PM  


Unknown 11:03 AM  

100% agree

LenFuego 1:33 AM  

This one was difficult for me because of so much stuff I never even heard of, at least in their clue context if not at all: SHIRRS, SNELLS, PRIEDIEU, ANIMAS, TERENCE, DAN, EMILE, MARSHA (Norman).

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