Logic game with matchsticks / FRI 10-25-19 / Eponym of cathedral in Red Square / Object of some fantasy quests / What Scarlett saved

Friday, October 25, 2019

Constructor: John Guzzetta

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (I had just been napping, it's true, but I think this was a wavelength problem) (7-something)

THEME: none

Word of the Day: LEITMOTI...V? (10D: Recurrent musical theme) —
leitmotif [YAY!] or leitmotiv /ˌltmˈtf/ is a "short, constantly recurring musical phraseassociated with a particular person, place, or idea. It is closely related to the musical concepts of idée fixe or motto-theme. The spelling leitmotif is an anglicization of the German Leitmotiv (IPA: [ˈlaɪtmoˌtiːf]), literally meaning "leading motif", or "guiding motif". A musical motif has been defined as a "short musical idea ... melodic, harmonic, or rhythmic, or all three", a salient recurring figure, musical fragment or succession of notes that has some special importance in or is characteristic of a composition: "the smallest structural unit possessing thematic identity. (wikipedia)
• • •

I'm often not quite my solving self when I try to take on a puzzle just after waking up, and waking up from a nap is generally worse, solving-wise, than waking up after a night's sleep, and waking up from a weird, unplanned, nearly 3-hour nap on the couch with Hallmark Christmas promos running non-stop on the TV ... apparently worse still. Nothing about this puzzle resonated. The NW felt like torture. GULP? Am I being sent to the principal's office in a comic book!? L-BOMB?! (3D: Something that might be "dropped" prematurely in a relationship, in slang) This is truly, horribly bad, in that it's an attempt to be hip and current but it's forced and terrible. I've never heard this stupid term in my life. My. Life. If you call "love" the L-BOMB, wow, I don't know what to tell you. There's the F-BOMB and then everything else can gtfo. Could not see PAC. Really couldn't see UNHIT. Zero idea about ST. BASIL (23A: Eponym of a cathedral in Red Square). No idea why a Chem major would take the MCAT any more than an English major would—all kinds of people go to med school, and "Chem" hardly seems like a classic pre-med major. Don't think of ON BALANCE as being "After" anything (13A: After weighing both sides). Clues on PLATEAU (20A: Reach a point of diminishing returns) and WHO CAN SAY? (17A: Question suggesting "Beats me!") felt very hard. My god, why wasn't the clue just ["Beats me!"]!? It's perfect just like that. Truly a wreck up there. NE not that hard, SW easy, but more issues in the SE with the horrible STABLED (??) (54A: Sheltered, as stock) (which I'm only just now realizing refers to farm stock and not Wall Street stock) and the to-me unrecognizable clue on WRIT LARGE (59A: Painfully obvious). I use the phrase a lot, but never in the sense of "Painfully obvious." Why "painful?" Using that phrase suggests that someone's trying to hide something, or disputing the actuality of something. WRIT LARGE is a neutral term. I just don't get the cluing voice. This has been true more and more and more with the NYT. This is an editing issue.

Felt like DRAGON EGG should be in the possessive (32D: Object of some fantasy quests). It's a dragon's egg. Dragon's egg. I keep saying it to hear how it sounds, and it's dragon's egg. [Weeks off] is a wicked clue for BYES as I read it as [Happening a few weeks from now]. Gah! My chilly person was super-fancy, wearing a STOLE instead of a SCARF. Absolutely undone by the "V" at the end of LEITMOTIV. Never ever reconsidered the "F," and then the cross, "WHAT GIVES?," wouldn't come into view and thus was no help (42A: "Seriously?"). Had EATS UP before LAPS UP—or, rather, considered LAPS UP, thought "EATS UP has more common letters, go with that" .... and then ended up back at LAPS UP (14D: Greedily consumes). The grid overall isn't great, but I've seen much worse. I'd be happy never to see NIM again (19A: Logic game with matchsticks), but there wasn't much else that made me want to shut down. Not a lot of GLITZ, but smooth enough. Not sparkly or lively enough for a NYT Friday (which are often my favorite puzzles of the week). As with sooooo many NYT grids of late, the fill is passable. Adequate. Fair. I feel like software has largely minimized if not eliminated the truly low-end grid, but software can't make good choices for you—can't give you good taste, or an eye for good fill let alone an ear for good cluing. So the bottom has been raised, but mediocrity is more abundant than ever. Which ... I guess is improvement, but with so few puzzles on the high end, so few puzzles making you go "dang, nice!," it's hard to be happy with this "improvement."


  • TARA is a "Gone With the Wind" reference (36A: What Scarlett saved) (Scarlett O'Hara)
  • TOM is from the cartoon "TOM & Jerry" (5A: Cartoon cat)
  • SALEM is a city in both Oregon and Massachusetts (8A: City name in both East and West Coast states)

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Cory Calhoun 1:25 AM  

L-BOMB is to Rex as comic books being cinema is to Scorsese.

Here's an 8-year-old video explaining that this thing that's a thing that you think isn't a thing actually is:


okanaganer 1:28 AM  

Okay I have been following Rex for about 8 years, kinda loyally. But I can't let his assessment stand. This was a pretty good puzzle. All the long answers are damn good. All of them!


Cluing was perfectly fine. Very little to complain about. Eg: "Reach a point of diminishing returns" = PLATEAU. Good clue.

Very few 3 letter answers, and thank God, no college sports clues. Even the "bad" answers were fun: L BOMB, THO, MAZY.

puzzlehoarder 1:38 AM  

Mostly a routine Friday solve with the exception of that NW corner. UNHIT and LBOMB crossing NIM was the main reason but up there even ONSALENOW was a holdout. When that fell STBASIL came into focus and I was finally able to make PAC work.

WHOCANSAY was a possibility all along but I think of it more as a statement. NIM is something that should be beaten into my head by now but today it was of no help. You could throw MCAT into the same category so that NW just had a knack for picking on my blindspots. Being slow on 6D was all me.

I could have sworn 10D ended in an F. WHAT GIVES forced the V on me. That's what I like about puzzles, you really have to know anything as they self correct. That NW just took a long time to correct itself.

jae 2:06 AM  

Medium. Just about right for a Fri. Smooth with a bit of zip. Liked it much more than Rex did. Jeff gave it POW.

DdAy before DAWN slowed my down slightly and I too went with the f at the end of MOTIV at first.

For future reference, SAGUARO is also an image on an Arizona license plate.

okanaganer 2:12 AM  

PS: "City name in both East and West Coast states": PORTLAND didn't fit.

Alex M 2:15 AM  

Easiest Friday ever, set a personal best and it was half my average Fri time (just a couple of mins more than Rex on a bad day, apparently!). I (millennial) got LBOMB right away, it's not a great term but it's definitely real and used. (The "prematurely" telegraphed it, it's generally used in the context of saying "the L word" to someone for the first time.) MAZY, otoh, is 100% fake and infuriating. The V annoyed me too, a lot. Still, felt like a Tuesday to me, which the clock supported.

chefwen 2:30 AM  

My biggest hang up was I the NW where I was sure 3D was Lword. Puzzle partner set me straight when he filled in ST BASIL. Never heard of him. Funny guy told me he was the Patron Saint of pesto and Margarita Pizzas. Ha Ha!

The rest was pretty easy. WRIT LARGE was new to me, filled in with the downs, I guess that’s new speak like unwoke, etc.

Friday without cheating, I’ll take it.

Anoa Bob 3:00 AM  

Mmmmmmm. TACO SALAD. SO GOOD. Quite a bit of SPANGLISH hereabouts in TexMex Land, too. And there's a, uh, er, gentleman's club in the area called STILETTOs.

For those interested in cheater/helper squares, today's offering has four, up top after 5A TOM and after 27A RUNE. The other two are symmetrically located down below.

Liked WRIT LARGE and, with nary a NASTY FALL during the solvequest (™M&A), I have to say that, ON BALANCE, this was a solid puzzle.

Gabe 3:21 AM  

I don't know, maybe it's a generational thing? Or maybe I just have a lot of trivia knowledge overlap with this constructor (got STBASIL, EXTRALIFE, DRAGONEGG all really quickly). I found this to be one of the more fun (and certainly one of the easiest) Friday puzzles in a while. Only area I really struggled with was the SE corner, which took me quite a while of staring blankly (WRITLARGE and NASTYFALL were both super weirdly clued).

Hank 3:39 AM  

I thought this was fine. Very much on the easy side for me and it actually felt lively as well.

STBASIL and MIN were unknowns but the downs filled them in so I wasn't perturbed.

The SE was the tough part. It took a while for me to see that GLADto should be GLADLY, in 43D. Then it came together.

Likes -

*That there was GULP, SCARF (the clothing item) and LAPS UP

*WRIT LARGE followed by VAGUE

* ON SALE NOW crossed with SOUPS with both getting clued similarly

* Only six 3-letter answers. Yeah !

* No obscure first / last names.

Thwyla Tarp 3:47 AM  

Millennial checking in to agree with Rex that "L-bomb" isn't really a thing. I think "L-word" would've worked much better.

Insomnia kept me from saving the solve till morning, and it came quite easily. Too many quotes, though. Hoping the somewhat bland puzzle helps me find the sleep Rex blamed for his difficulties...

JB in VT 6:12 AM  

I like LBOMB even though I’ve never heard the term because I’ve lived it’s peril. My teenage girlfriend and I, after we had both declared ourselves, laughingly confessed that we had each spent weeks teetering on the brink...consumed with emotion, falling deeper and deeper, heart in our lungs, trying to squeeze out the words, but wracked with fear and doubts about how the other felt. It really did feel like being wrong would have an explosively devastating effect. And even many relationships later the significance of being the first to say those powerful words remained a definite thing.

Lewis 6:26 AM  

Hmmm, I guess it depends on what side of bed you wake up on. I had a great solving experience. And unlike those who have posted so far, this was not a walk through the park for me. Not much went in at first pass. It was what I call a faith puzzle, where I have faith that if I stick with it and let it marinate in the brain, it will eventually fill in. And it did, but not without jousts right up to the end.

I love this kind of solve. My brain settles into a relaxed place and yet is hyper ALERT, almost to where the hairs on my arm stand on end. I love conquering the gauntlet. And in this puzzle, I loved the tricky cluing, the clever cluing (NASTY FALL, TAN LINES), and, especially, as @okanaganer notes, those lovely lovely long answers.

One funny moment on 3D, [Something that might be dropped prematurely in a relationship, in slang], my brain filled in TROU before I realized it wouldn't fit.

Nothing but gratitude for this glorious solve, John!

QuasiMojo 6:38 AM  

I found this medium challenging too but only because I had FEAR for GULP and then PANG. I don't think I've ever gulped in my life except at 7:11. And I did get called to the principal's office. Often.

Agree with Rex. Why "painfully"? Weird clueing throughout.

Why would anyone need software to complete a grid? Takes all the fun out of it. And the wit, apparently.

To the commenter at top, any film by Scorsese would be the equivalent of Rex's disdain for L-bomb to me.

Salem is a city? Felt like a large town to me. Only 41,000 people according to Wiki.

Should Saint be abbreviated without being noted as such in the clue?

Who is Alexa? Joan Collins? Did Dynasty do an episode in the Amazon?

MAZY? Wasn't that a Glenn Close movie?

I've never had yogurt in a smoothie. Most of the places around here use fruit and such.

I hope Jimmy Carter isn't doing today's puzzle. 62A

kitshef 7:18 AM  

Joyless. Why put MAZY in your grid for no reason (MAZE/TRE works)? Or LBOMB (GUAC/ABOMB/MAC)?

Add in some cluing which ranges from dull (AREA RUG, STILETTO) to irritating (IT DEPENDS, SPANGLISH).

And on a Friday, so bad fill, bad cluing, no theme.

TAN LINES was good. I’ll give you that.

amyyanni 7:23 AM  

Objectively, I see why this is a solid puzzle. Just did not spark joy. Sort of how I feel about Pete Dexter and Don Delillo. Spanglish was a delightful entry.

Smitty 7:30 AM  

Could someone please explain BYES? (weeks off)

Rhino 7:49 AM  

Loved it.

Brian 7:52 AM  

Cluing and answers were clunky and out of sync ... Gulp?, Who can say?, writ large?

Hungry Mother 8:04 AM  

Never heard of LBOMB, but had it dropped on me a few times. My lame answer was, “What did you say?” Tough in the NW for me, but an always interesting challenge.

Suzie Q 8:09 AM  

This was not easy for me. It seemed so slow to get started. I could not believe that my guess on first pass of mazy was correct?! Ugly.
The entire experience felt off balance, certainly not on balance. I just never felt tuned in with this one.
Dropped trou! Oh @ Lewis, so funny.

Dave P 8:09 AM  

Simple request here. When you struggle with a puzzle, Rex, please don't try to justify your time as being related to outside issues (i.e., solved on paper, solved after a nap, solved in the morning, etc...). Some of us solve on paper in the morning after waking up every day, and we don't use that to justify whether we felt like we struggled or not. Some days, as you have said, you are just not on the same wavelength as the constructor/cluer. We all have good days and bad days, but we persevere.

JimmytheGreek 8:10 AM  

"Dropping the L-Bomb" is actually a very well known expression in my millenial circles.

Anonymous 8:18 AM  

TARA/ITSY cross was kind of rough, since (for those of us not well-versed in either Gone With The Wind or crosswordese) NARA/INSY would seem just as good.

Anonymous 8:26 AM  

so so fri puz.

didn't someone comment recently on an interview with WS and claim he'd mispronounced "leitmotiv?"

writ large is a classic english language description. i googled "robin williams bad movies writ large" and spent some time reading about him and his movies.

mmorgan 8:33 AM  

ST BASIL was a gimme but I still struggled mightily in that corner, not knowing NIM and refusing to believe that LBOMB was a thing. Guess it is. I had almost no trouble giving up the incorrect f at the end of LEITMOTIV. Really wanted 4D to be NRA. Overall, lots of really good stuff here, and the kind of puzzle I stare at blankly for awhile and then realize I’ve somehow filled in a very large chunk in the blink of an eye. I like that on a Friday (or any day!).

Flying Pediatrician 8:34 AM  

My ongoing frustration with @Rex is his persistent and hypocritical intolerance of cultures that are different than his own. He is fond of saying "A simple Google search would show..." yet he regularly fails to employ this technique on his own blind spots. For example, a simple Google search would show you 37.5 million search results for "dropping the L-BOMB," including a 15 minute VLOG on avoiding prematurely doing so. (Incidentally, how does one watch hours of Hallmark Christmas movie promos without hearing this phrase.) I will also tell you anecdotally, as a person who has taken the MCAT and been on two med school admission committees, that English majors *rarely* take the MCAT. Empirically, a simple Google search would show that the second most common major for med students are the physical sciences (which include Chemistry). The humanities (which includes English)? About 1/3 as common. I love coming to this blog everyday for the comments, but @Rex's entries are becoming increasingly grumpy.

burtonkd 8:41 AM  

Got almost nothing in northern half, then everything felt Tuesday level on bottom, which led to a very easy filling of the north on the way back up to the SALEMs. May be my fastest Friday ever.

St Basil is one of the most iconic buildings on the planet, if you didn’t know it before by name, you’ve definitely seen it.

The review today is like a rant email that shouldn’t be sent upon further reflection - blog equivalent of the LBOMB. On day’s like today, I wonder what puzzle will ever bring OFL joy again.

Leitmotiv system of giving characters musical themes that morph to depict different dramatic situations and moods was a musical mechanism advanced by Wagner in his operas. Movies have adopted it in a big way - Think Darth Vader music every time he enters. (Sorry to throw in a Star Wars reference). The "V” spelling is definitely used, as the term was popularized in Germanic areas, plus many of our major orchestras rehearsed in German up til WWII.

Anonymous 8:42 AM  

Gotta love the “I don’t know it so it’s not a thing” criticism. Tough for me too and I got 8 and a 1/2 hours sleep.

JB in VT 8:43 AM  

In sports, notably the NFL, teams are assigned gameless weekends which are referred to as “bye weeks.”

kitshef 8:44 AM  

@Smitty - in the NFL (as an example), teams play sixteen games over the course of a seventeen-week season. The week they don't play a game - their week off - is called a BYE.

Richardf8 8:45 AM  

12D - Thought “please don’t let it be ‘mazy,’ please don’t let it be ‘mazy’.” Oh well. Once I stopped denying it, NE came quickly.

I feel like thus puzzle could have had a theme of something like “uncertainty.” A lot of the longer fills IT DEPENDS, ON BALANCE, WHO CAN SAY, WHAT GIVES, were all thing said in moments of uncertainty. Or fear of commitment which would also explain L-BOMB. But the connective tissue just wasn’t there to bring it home.

Enjoyed it.

tim 8:49 AM  

I still don't understand it either. Just commenting to validate your confusion. (I also still don't understand its acronymic cross, AFB.) When I have to resort to glumly plugging in every letter of the alphabet until I happen across the correct answer it's a joyless puzzle.

Bob Mills 8:55 AM  

Lots of made-up stuff here. L-BOMB? LEITMOTIV instead of LEITMOTIF? I usually enjoy finishing a Friday, but not this one.

Nancy 9:01 AM  

I couldn't get a toehold until I was all the way down at the ITSY (30D)/TARA (36A) cross. Clues that I considered VAGUE gave me trouble with ON BALANCE; WHO CAN SAY; and especially WHAT GIVES as an equivalent of "Seriously?" Don't know about you, but when I say "Seriously?" I mean something altogether different from WHAT GIVES. Therefore I find puzzles of this sort troublesome, if colorful, because the idiomatic expressions seem so arbitrary.

Add to that the answers I plain didn't know like NIM; EXTRA LIFE and DRAGON EGG. And I'm also wondering and wondering: What on earth is an "L BOMB"??? Now that I know I'm glad that I didn't know. What a truly cynical coinage.

But some great clues for ALEXA; TAN LINES and FROSTED. I'd say that ON BALANCE, I enjoyed this puzzle a lot and had an entertaining tussle with it.

Nancy 9:05 AM  

Good, strong letter in the NYT, @GHarris. What you said really needed to be said and you said it very well.

GILL I. 9:09 AM  

I think I spent about an hour at 1A. Of course my mind wandered to my first experience. I think it might've been 4th grade at Cathedral. Someone passed me a drawing and I couldn't figure out what it was. I kept staring at it - turning it around and all that and it caught the attention of Mrs. Tanger. She was very prim and very English. She grabbed it out of my hand and marched me to our principals office. Next thing I knew, my Mom, who was the 7th grade teacher, was brought in as well. I sat. I was asked if I knew what that drawing meant and why did I do it? Evidently it was a picture of a middle finger that oddly looked like a penis. I didn't know what the middle finger meant nor had I ever seen a penis. My mom was silently screaming inside with laughter.
Oh...the puzzle. PHEW. What a work-out. Like everybody on this earth, I spelled 10D LEIF MOTIF. What's with the T and V? Haha...gotcha. Wouldn't know a WRIT LARGE even if it were small. I so wanted Scarlett to save FACE but instead it was TARA. GOOD for her. Yeah, I had D DAY instead of DAWN and GLAD to instead of GLADLY.
After putting the puzzle down several times, I finally got down to the nitty gritty. Little by little words opened up. I checked my answer with the Googs but other than that, I managed to finish in a reasonable time. Loved the clue for STABLED and TAN LINES. I've never had a TAN LINE in my life unless I cheated and used that stuff that made you look orange. I did wear Bikinis because that's all you could buy. I could turn red better than anybody you've ever met.
I like the puzzle. I think if @Rex would pour himself a drink after he wakes up from his nap, he would too.

Armchair Editor 9:12 AM  


mathgent 9:15 AM  

I really enjoyed it. Good crunch, smart, cleverly-phrased cluing. Lots of bright entries like GLITZ, DHARMA, LEITMOTIV, EXTRALIFE, STILETTO.

I often don't agree with Jeff Chen's POW choice but not today. I seem to remember other excellent puzzles by Mr. Guzzetta. I hope to see more of his work soon.

I've never seen NIM played. I would like to find someone who would like to play it for money. There is a winning strategy based on writing the number of matches in base two.

Are rivers which flow north uncommon? It seems to be that the direction of flow depends on the topography.

SouthsideJohnny 9:46 AM  

30A “Ma-a-aybe” which I pronounced “Mah-ah-aye-be” is totally made up and unnecessary - just clue it as Maybe. Similarly, but not as egregious are 47A and 64A (“Mmmmmmm!” and Howe’er”) both of which nobody ever says. Three eye-roll worthy clues are three too many in one week, let alone in one puzzle. I agree with OFL - this is poor editing.

PhilRW 9:46 AM  

TOP Cat is an animated TV show and PCAT is the Pharmacy College Admission Test. That cross is just plain wrong.

Music Man 9:46 AM  

AFB is an acronym for Air Force Base

davidm 9:51 AM  

Contra Rex, LBOMB is certainly a thing, though for a terrible moment I thought the answer really was going to be FBOMB. :-0 I thought this was a great puzzle, filled with fine cluing and lovely answers. The only real problem I had was in the stubborn southeast, my woes beginning with writing DDAY instead of DAWN. Then I had GLAD TO instead of GLADLY, with the result that I got LAST OF ALL instead of NASTY FALL, LOL, which makes perfect sense, since I was interpreting “trip no one wants to take” as the last trip before, you know, dying. However, that left “painfully obvious” and a couple of others, well, painfully unobvious. There is nothing (necessarily) “painfully” obvious about WRIT LARGE, as Rex and others have noted. I still have no idea what AFB or its clue means. ;-(

David in Brevard 10:00 AM  

Heck that was weird.

Started out with SALEM and had FEAR and FROCKS in the NW until I had just about finished the whole thing then was forced to demolish.

Who else had PCAT and TOP Cat? Works perfectly well and the M was the last letter in after I rereviewed the puzzle for several minutes.

The bottom center was awful. I fell into a LAST OF ALL trap rather than NASTY FALL and DUEL was spelled with an A for way too long.

So.... a puzzle with two possible entirely good answers but only one gets the smiley face.

Heck that was weird.

In Brevard

Z 10:01 AM  

Yep to definitely struggling with the cluing voice. Just a lot of stuff parallel to how I think rather than intersecting.

Agree with everyone saying L-BOMB is a thing, and it’s an apt term for all the hormonally enriched emotions swirling around new relationships.

I think Rex is wrong about DRAGON EGG, too. Chicken egg, ostrich egg, dinosaur egg. Sure, Smaug’s egg, that DRAGON’s EGG, but the quest is for any old DRAGON EGG.

PLATEAU irks me. That your returns have PLATEAUed instead of continuing to grow is not the same as your returns “diminishing.” I know people use the term PLATEAU this way, so I can’t say the clue is wrong, but the mind set that makes the clue okay is wrong wrong wrong.

This weekend is USAU Nationals and lots of games are being streamed live on YouTube and ESPN3 (the schedule). if you’re at all curious about what I am going on about, these are some of the best teams on the planet. I play with some of the dads of players on Chicago Machine (and actually within a couple of those guys when they were much younger) and Asheville Superlame is from where I live now and I play league with several of their players.

Karl Grouch 10:05 AM  

Agree with some of the nits about this not sparking joy.

Also agree with the complaints about 1a and 12d.

I even accept Rex's point about mediocrity when it comes to aha moments and solving excitement.

But boy, oh boy what a normal people's puzzle!

I take my hat off along with a big humble bow to the constructor:
I can't remember having come across a grid that clean and unpretentious with so few proper names, so many long answers that are real phrases, with just 2(!) abbreviations in all, with nothing obscure or farfetched.

I mean, c'mon, you sure have to hand it to mr. Guzz just for this great constructor's feat.

Joaquin 10:09 AM  

I solved this in 7:12. It would have been faster but I had shrimp for dinner and I always seem to get slowed down by the horseradish in the sauce. Or maybe it's pulling off those dang tails that uses up all my energy. Definitely a seafood slowdown.

sean 10:11 AM  

Rex, you're a personal hero, but no one says "chicken's egg" or "duck's egg." Also L-bomb is a thing I've heard, sparingly, over the years; people still gulp when uncomfortably surprised (just watch Marco Rubio during any press conference); and physical science undergrad majors are not unusual for future doctors. And "writ large" is not quite a neutral term. It's as if to say, "Duh, can't you see it?" Perhaps in an effort to stay on brand, you've stretched your grumpy self a tad much this morning.

All that said, don't go changing...

Unknown 10:12 AM  

@Smitty I also didn't understand "Weeks off" = BYES but searched around a bit and found it - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bye_(sports)

Anonymous 10:27 AM  

Somebody needs a nap.

Anonymous 10:28 AM  

You're misunderstanding the phrase. When it's invoked properly, the phrase is quite useful and of course correct. Implicit is the understanding that more and more effort or assets or whatever resource poured into the process with little or in some cases, no further yield, the returns have, relatively speaking, in fact diminished.
Citing only the returns betrays a grotesque misunderstanding of the term.

Nampa Bob 10:29 AM  

Faster than average time, but not an enjoyable time...

Mike Herlihy 10:32 AM  

@Hank 3:39 AM - Just an observation - I count 12 3-letter words, but I could be wrong. Definitely more than 6.

Anonymoose 10:32 AM  

@Z. To me it seems that if returns have stopped increasing (PLATEAUd), then they have diminished from growth to stagnation.

jberg 11:10 AM  

@Dave P. — as I understand it, Rex uses his solving time to rate how difficult a puzzle is, but modified that rating when there are extenuating circumstances.

gregg 11:11 AM  

Point on"diminishing returns". The returns are still positive but the rate is decreasing. So I disagree with your idea that the phrase means the returns are actually going negative - only the rate of increase. At least thats my humble opinion.

David 11:14 AM  

St Basil’s Cathedral is the single most iconic structure in Russia and probably one of the most recognizable churches, nay buildings, in the world. I’m surprised our erudite host was unfamiliar with it.

Anonymous 11:14 AM  


howard a. brenner 11:17 AM  

Try xwordinfo.com same and not full of hate

Ethan Taliesin 11:18 AM  

I must be getting crotchety or something if I'm agreeing with Rex this much. L-BOMB? What the F is that? Who says that? No one I know and I'm keeping it that way. That's as bad and nearly as offensive as "preggers" for being pregnant (which WE will never be, by the way). LEITMOTIF is a cool word, but I hate these spelling fariations.

The dumb cliche of the DRAGON EGG is one of the reasons I didn't get into Game of Thrones.

Had GLAD TO for a spell, frustrating the NE corner until my DUH moment.

I guess the grid was not bad on the whole, but there were places I did not like.

Fred Romagnolo 11:31 AM  

The above writer who described St. Basil's Cathedral as iconic was right on the button. If you don't know what it looks like, check it out, but be sure to do it in color. Mine was a DNF because I didn't know LBOMB. Salem is Oregon's capital, very charming town. The one on the other side, you all know.

jberg 11:41 AM  

I was in Moscow only once, in 1979. They were hosting the Olympics the next year, so many of the things I most wanted to see were unavailable--St. Basil's was wrapped up as if Christo had paid a visit, and the intriguingly-named Museum of Atheism was closed. So it was my third entry, after TOM/TAN LINES, but kind of sad to write in.

I found the puzzle challenging but enjoyable, as I had to figure out what so many clues meant. I applied diminishing returns to a vein of ore, so I wrote PLAy out for 20A; had GLAD to like everybody else, eatS UP. and somehow louT before BRAT. But it all worked out in a very satisfying way.

At 75 I have had to admit to myself that I am never again going to be current with the language of young people. @Rex, you are starting to get to the age where that phenomenon applies. Your never having heard anyone say L-BOMB doesn't mean it isn't real. I'd never heard it either, but it's a great way of capturing the feeling described so well by @JB in Vt.

Masked and Anonymous 11:45 AM  

Impressive fillins. Impressively raised-by-wolves clues, also -- M&A lost many precious nanoseconds, due to them ziggy-zaggy-feisty clues. Learned a coupla new "pop" words, includin: LBOMB (debut meat). WRITLARGE (4th usage, so shoulda known).



staff weeject pick: AFB. M&A has not been to many AFBs, in his life & times. My folks used to drive by Offut AFB a lot, on the way to Omaha. Walked around Tan Son Nhut AFB sometimes, while in Saigon -- it had a nice, restful, no-salutin area. Also, got to leave from there to go home, sooo … a fave.

I didn't just get up from a nap or just have a belt of booze or have some weirdass TV infomercial on, so my solvequest (yo, @AnoaBob) mostly was less encumbered-like than @RP's. Did have to pause for cinnamon roll GULP intakes, frequently -- but M&A considers that an extreme plus. Must keep yer strength up.

There ain't really many neat ?-BOMB choices, unless U ask OneLook Dictionary Search, of course. faves …
* UBOMB. When a friend online keeps sendin U stupid youtube links, especially late at night & just for the heck of it.
* QBOMB. Superbomb claimed by Peter Sellers's little country, in "The Mouse That Roared" flick.
* PBOMB. Usin PEWIT in a crossword puz's fillins. [Not recommended.]

Thanx for the themeless fun, Mr. Guzzetta.

Masked & Anonym007Us


GHarris 11:48 AM  

Thank you @Nancy.

Pete 11:49 AM  

I don't this puzzle could have been clued more boringly if effort had tried. My only amusement came from my own folly, thinking the L-Bomb in dating was your date announcing that she's a lesbian when you're a man and not into dating lesbians. I wondered in what context that would happen, other than you're so horrific that she would do or say anything to get away. Not that that's happened to me or anything.

The long answers, which should be the highlight, are almost all multi-word partial expressions, clued in a way that may be lawyered into correctness. The one that isn't is misspelled. I know, it's a variant possibly more true to the German original, but I'm not the type of guy who goes around searching for variants more true to the spelling in the original language, and ridiculing people who say LEET motif rather that LITE motif. Sorry, motiv. No, motiv is just motive without the e. Sounds like a brand name for a laxative. Sorry, a laxativ.

Were I to go in a quest, it wouldn't be for DRAGON EGGs. I like my quest have at least an infinitesimal chance of succeeding. You ain't got that with dragon eggs. Nor would I want an EXTRA LIFE, should I somehow die on this quest. This one sucks enough, thank you very much.

Carola 12:11 PM  

For me, a fine Friday challenge. I found the Acrosses impenetrable until TARA x ITSY (hi, @Nancy); the Downs, thankfully turned out to be more yielding. I enjoyed the vagueness and trickiness of the cluing and seeing the longer answers gradually materialize. Last in: LBOMB x GULP.

What? 12:29 PM  

Trouble with NW so didn’t finish - so bad puzzle.

kitshef 1:00 PM  

@Karl Grouch 10:05 - I count three abbreviations (MCAT, AFB, PAC), or four if you count the ST in ST BASIL.

@Hank 3:39 and Mike Herlihy 10:32 - thirteen threes (TOM, THO, NIM, TAU, TRY, CAN, PAC, AFB, RUE, ALL, DUH, AHA, TOT).

Joe Dipinto 1:02 PM  

Way easy for me. I've been skipping the early week puzzles a lot lately because I've been finding most of them boring. But the weekends have been getting too mild-mannered also. This one offered no resistance whatsoever.

@Anon 8:26 -- it was in the interview with Gary Cee posted at XWord Info that WS mispronounced "leitmotif". He must have been talking about this puzzle because he mentioned the alternate "v" spelling.

Back-to-back Billy Joel for your Friday lunchtime playlist: first
this, segueing into this.

Foldyfish 1:09 PM  

L-Bomb is awful. Blecchhhh.

Z 1:10 PM  

@Anon10:28 - Check what I wrote again then get back to us.

@Anonymoose and @Gregg - Exactly. If your returns have PLATEAUed then they’re not increasing nor diminishing. They’re flat. They’re the same today as yesterday. @Anon10:28’s “when invoked correctly” points to my core complaint, people don’t really know what they’re saying when they use the phrase to the point that they equate “diminishing” with PLATEAUed.

More importantly, PLATEAUd or PLATEAUed?

@Ethan Taliesin - So not the rape and beheadings, but the cliché? It’s important to have standards.*

*Just yanking you’re chain - It’s the kind of thing that gets to me, too.

BlackBird 1:12 PM  

Rex, you seem to only like what you already know, and resistant to acknowledging something you don't know. "On balance" isn't "after" anything, duh. It's synonymous with saying "after weighing both sides". On balance, I think it's fine clue with a fine answer, after weighing your opinion and the meaning of the terms.

Why do the answers listed under your category "Explainers" need explaining. They were gimmes for me.

Didn't know "l-bomb", but figured it out once I had bomb and the cross with gulp, and it made sense. You don't have to have heard the phrase to understand the meaning, and to recognize it has meaning to people.
Why would a chem major be likely to take the MCAT, perhaps even more likely than an English major? I think that is obvious. Pre-med students tend to be science majors, often chemistry or biology majors. Duh. They could be English majors, of course, but not as likely to be. And "plateau" and "who can say" fell into place with just a few crosses, because the answers make sense. "Stabled" was a fine answer for the 54A clue. Actually, I thought of both livestock and Wall Street stock immediately, and the crosses made it obvious that the clue was about livestock.

Nothing wrong with the clue "painfully obvious" as synonymous with the answer, "writ large". Both evoke something so simple that you can't miss it. Painfully obvious implies that it is beyond obvious, it couldn't have been missed, it's too too simple. Actually, Rex, it's painfully obvious that you missed the nuance of the phrase. Of course "writ large" is more elegant. Perhaps it is painfully obvious to your followers and fans that in this instance you prefer showing off your knowledge of the elegant than acknowledging that the more commonplace locution means the same thing anyway. There's nothing neutral about writ large, since it is an uncommon locution. Do you use the past tense "writ" in everyday conversation?

So, congratulations, John Guzetta, for an entertaining puzzle, with the added benefit of sending Rex into state of high indignation, affording some of his readers a chuckle or two.

Teedmn 1:26 PM  

With no traction happening in the NW, I ran east and started in the NE. MAZY did occur to me for 12D but I thought, "No way". Reminds me of the time I was being trounced in Scrabble and my opponent allowed me to use "melty" to give me a couple of points to save TARA (hi @Gill I). I'm still embarrassed about it.

UNHIT - same thought as for MAZY. I would have been rather peeved if I had DNF'd due to that one.

My last WOE was 60D crossing 65A. AF_ is not a name I recognize for Eglin or MacDill so I ran the alphabet on 65A and got BYES. Oh, AIR FORCE BASE, duh.

Another possible Jethro Tull reference today with the song, DHARMA For One. But I don't understand yesterday's assertions that Tull went humorless in later albums. "Heavy Horses", "Warchild" and "Song From The Wood" are all tongue-in-cheek humor.

Thanks, Mr. Guzzetta, this was fun.

old timer 1:31 PM  

As I worked my way through this difficult but doable Friday, my oft-repeated mantra was, "John G is always fair." I noticed that early, and that expectation helped me through the hard spots. I finished thinking this was really a well-crafted puzzle, great in spots. I suppose I could not expect OFL to gush with praise, which is rare. But I was shocked so many of you disliked it so much.

There is little I can say that hasn't been said by others. I do want to thank @davidm for having the *exact* same mistakes I did in the SE. The NW, often a sticking point for me, was pretty easy since I knew STBASIL right off. But the gaps in people's knowledge amaze me. Those of you who, like me, watch Jeopardy every single weeknight have no doubt been shocked at the number of times champions have said "GULP! I DUNNO" in the last couple of weeks. Things like STBASIL that, as Macaulay often wrote, are learned by every schoolboy. Or were, in his day.

@Nancy, loved your story about being sent to the principal's office. At that age, I had never seen a vagina, and to tell you the truth, in those pre-Hustler days, a lot of boys hadn't, unless they had younger sisters. Penises, though, were on display at the art museums our parents took us to, and ISTR even on a statuette at my very staid grandmother's house. As I read in a John O'Hara book once, Art had no problem showing male organs, but never showed a woman "lower down".

Anonymous 1:37 PM  

Take your own advice. And please, don't attempt to direct your better's actions.
If re urns plateau and the resources used to genearte them increase, the yield or return is diminishing. Tacit in the phrase as it is used in English is the understanding that more resources are being employed. Take it up with every economist in the world if you don't like a very useful phrase.

Hack mechanic 1:46 PM  

Had playout for plateau, screwed things up royally

JC66 2:01 PM  

@old timer

I think you were referring to @GILL I's comment, not @Nancy's.

RooMonster 2:29 PM  

Hey All !
LBOMB. Har. I had fBOMB, and changed the correct PAC to fAC to get GUff for 1A. I figured it was a don't-care-what-I-did-cause-I'm-a-bad-ass kinda kid who'd look down at the teacher who sent them to the principal. Plus, it gave me two F's!

Since no one's answered the mulit-asked AFB question, it stands for Air Force Base.

ALEXA is one of those devices that sits on your counter and you ask it stuff. It's from Amazon, the company, hence the wordplayey clue. SIRI is the other one.
(Hey, if MAZY is usable, than wordplayey is usable.)

I had all the writeovers y'all had, eAtSUP-LAPSUP, GLADto-GLADLY, louT-BRAT, plus DoH-DUH. Debated changing my DAWN to Dusk, as having all that wrongness in the SE had me scratching the head as to what 59 & 62A were. Finally saw NASTY FALL, which begat BRAT and GLADLY, and seeing WRIT LARGE which I hadn't heard of.

Seemed a bunch of similar clues that could've all had to do with eating, to wit, "___ on!" - "Mmmmmmm!" - "Get it while it's hot!" - Greedily consumes. And a missed one on SCARF, although the XW version is often SNARF.

Had the Y for 30D, Small, informally, and had to wait on crosses for either ITTY, ITSY, or EENY. Got the S next, which befell ITSY.

How is CAVE an adequate answer for Spelunk? I thought Spelunk is a verb. Are they saying that CAVE is a verb? As in, "Do you wanna cave?" Shine a light on that. (Har, get it?)


Fred Wollam 2:45 PM  

A pleasant foray into the deft usage of WRIT LARGE is a sidebar to Al Stewart's allegorical rock masterpiece, "Three Mules." Go. Treat yourself.

Anonymous 2:53 PM  


Anonymous 3:01 PM  

Gee Rex, I thought it was medium difficult, bordering on easy medium, like a burger, ya know? Of course I wasn't sleeping on a couch, so maybe that's why it seemed medium instead of easy, because, after all, nothing is ever hard for me unless I have some alibi. I am leaving this blog for good. What a downer.

QuasiMojo 3:27 PM  

Thanks @Roo for the info. And I was off by a few letters. I was thinking of ALEXIS Carrington, not Alexa. I need my Geritol. :)

Z 3:55 PM  

@Anon1:37 - LOL - Do you even hear what you are saying? If returns plateau and (if) resources used increased then yield or return is diminishing. So much to point out that is not right or clear with what you wrote but, really, if I wanted to discuss the lazy thinking of investment “experts” and economists I’d be on a different website.

Blue Stater 4:12 PM  

OFL beat me to the punch, and not for the first time. A weak effort, marred even further by non-words (LBOMB, MAZY) and non-definitions (WRIT LARGE; my browser will not let me get back to the puzzle to cite it). A bad case of non-editing. We deserve better (again).

BCarlson 5:11 PM  

AGREE, AGREE, AGREE with Rex. Have been doing Friday archive xwords and years ago (clueing and structure) are infinitely better.

Speedweeder 5:38 PM  

@Blackbird 1:12 - Well put. I'm with you 100%. However, I think your well-reasoned response will fall on deaf ears. This leitmotif/v of this blog is finding fault and taking offense at everything and anything, especially anything that Will Shortz may have done or failed to do.

I found the puzzle to be on the easy side, for a Friday, but still challenging enough to be fun.

I heard the term "L-bomb" on a TV show recently, so I take that as evidence that it is indeed a "thing", whether we like it or not.

Frantic Sloth 6:11 PM  

UNHIT and PAC were bad enough, but LEITMOTIv really annoyed me. And MAZY is just a stupid word that sounds more like a nickname than something used in conversation.

RooMonster 6:20 PM  

@Frantic Sloth
Great name!

RooMonster HAZY MAZY Guy

Birchbark 6:27 PM  

I always thought the DHARMA-body of the Buddha was the dog at the end of the hedgerow. But Google-consensus is it's the hedge at the bottom of the garden. Now I get it.

xyz 7:13 PM  

First day back (not all the way yet) from France for 17 days, 100% on my layover.

Yay, I guess

Krowley 8:03 PM  

I’m with Rex. Hated it. Maybe I’m a little older than most folks here but LBOMB did not resonate with me but LWORD did and I just got stuck in NW forever.

Some of the other longer clues took some work but I triumphed in the end. Didn’t mind LEITMOTIV as much but got stuck with ONSALENOW as I had OWNONENOW. Not my proudest moment...

It was a struggle for me and not in a fun way. Is MAZY even a word? Didn’t like GLASSED in or LAPSUP but AREOLA was kinda cute and PLATEAU didn’t bother me. Call me grumpy but puzzles should be fun to figure out. This was a slog.

Thanks as always Rex!

Glenn from East Hampton 9:39 PM  

Excellent, enjoyable puzzle. Just hard enough for a Friday. I for one actually like learning things as I do the puzzle, so I don’t expect or want to walk blithely into every answer.

Space Is Deep 10:15 PM  

Like others, I found this easy/medium, except for the NW, which took me a long time to crack.

Adam F 10:32 PM  

I wanted PLOVER EGG. Oh well. I found it easy once I got a foothold (in the SW) and I enjoyed it a lot more than @Rex did.

Kuhan 10:49 PM  

I'm 26 and I thought L-Bomb was pretty stupid. I pretty much got it accidentally.

PaulLongname 11:14 PM  

I liked it. Agree with comments that the long answers were mostly good and reasonably fresh. Lbomb is fine! It is a real expression and I know it even as one in my late 70's.

Smitty 8:06 AM  

@kitshef I did not know that. Thank you

Mike Herlihy 1:10 PM  

I missed DUH in my quick count. Duh! :-)

Stevied 8:27 PM  

Weeks off when you get a bye in any sport

spacecraft 11:45 AM  

The puzzle was fine; lots of conversational entries added to the fun. So did DOD TARA Reid. Since EAGLE appears--why not? Eagle it is.

I want to take the rest of my space to relate a most remarkable instance of giving on Thanksgiving. Though not hurting financially, my wife and I live far from the "high end," so it was a very special day when we decided to go with our neighbor friend to a posh restaurant. Our families live away, and we don't travel well (two of the three of us get around with walkers). It was like, we were each others' family.

What a surprise when the maître d came and told us that the young gentleman at the next table had picked up our entire tab! He was dining with wife and child, a boy of about eight. We did not know these people from Adam. He was introduced only as "Mike," and simply said that he "liked our energy," and hoped he would have as much when he's our age. Folks, we're talking a bill of nearly $250.

But it isn't only the money. A gift like that makes you want to be a better person, as if to deserve it. That gesture sent ripples that will extend who knows how far. I don't yet know what form this betterment will take, but it WILL happen. Lord knows I've got boatloads of room for improvement. So, from the bottom of my heart: thank you, Mike!

rondo 12:00 PM  

OFL needs to get out more "zero idea on STBASIL"? C'mon now. For the only write-over I GLADLY changed GLADto because of that NASTYFALL. Jenna Elfman as DHARMA of 'DHARMA and Greg', yeah baby. Yeah, this puz coulda used some EXTRALIFE, but it was OK.

Burma Shave 12:34 PM  


WHATGIVES with this STILETTO heel,


rainforest 2:04 PM  

I thought this was an excellent puzzle, and perfect for a Friday. I echo @okanaganer's (another Canadian, eh) and @BlackBird's comments pretty closely. I'm guessing @Rex wasn't so effusive, but nothing new there.

Clever cluing and nice longer answers with no grunge in the grid. What more could one ask for? I think the clue for PLATEAU was spot-on, particularly if you consider the % return on your investment of resources. The absolute value of your returns may be unchanged, but the diminishing % return would be evident, as is the case with most of my mutual funds.

My first entries were gimmes NIM and ST. BASIL and I'd say it was more or less "medium" in difficulty overall, and "great" in enjoyability.

rainforest 2:13 PM  

@spacecraft - what a wonderful, heartwarming story! Thanks for sharing it. Though I don't really know you, I think you are a fine fellow with a nice turn of phrase and good common sense. How to be better? You probably don't need to, but coming down hard on "ampersandwiches" and "awkward partials" could be eased up a bit. Just a suggestion, and also, my thanks to Mike.

Wooody2004 3:24 PM  

What's new Syndicats? Lots of cats in the puz today, with TOM, STRAY, and MCAT.

Turkey SOUPS on!

Am I crazy, or isn't MAZY not a word?

Learned from XWord: That there was a St. Basil. That's like learning that there was a St. Ginger. DAWN Wells may be DOD.

Diana, LIW 3:26 PM  

Wow. Another "I'll never get this" puzzle that turns into a bit by bit perfect solve. I love that. A real holiday gift.

Love Spacey's story, too. another gift.

Diana, LIW

Anonymous 5:28 PM  

It seems worthwhile, at this late date (syndication), that the v spelling of leitmotiv is the German, and this term comes from German, specifically Wagner, so it is arguably more intelligent to put v than f.

leftcoaster 5:42 PM  

We syndiCATs seem in pretty good spirits today. Yesterday was the best Thanksgiving in years, family and friends, all of whom came through. Good people, good wine,

Was able to put the puzzle together, but only after fumbling around for a foothold. Finally got one in the SE, and worked up and out from there. One miss: Dday instead of DAWN.

Enjoyed the puzzle's mix of the good, the odd, and the obscure.

DXMachina 7:49 AM  

I was a chem major, and a lot of my fellow chem majors were pre-meds. More major in biology, but chemistry is probably second in overall numbers.

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