One-named electronic musician D.J. with multiple Grammys / SUN 10-20-19 / Author Pierce of fantasy series song of lioness / Classic Harlem ballroom / Plant as idea modern style / Element used in old television tubes / Russian ruler known as Moneybag / Fruit in often-parodied William Carlos Williams poem / Villainous brother of Prospero in Tempest

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Constructor: Natan Last

Relative difficulty: Medium (10:07)

THEME: OPERATION (112A: Classic kids' game involving removal of body parts ... with a hint to this puzzle's theme) — circled squares are body parts which you have to remove from theme answers in order to get the correct answers for the clues to those answers; apparently there is a red dot in the grid (mimicking the nose that would light up and buzz in the original board game if you didn't have a "a very steady hand" and you touched the edges of the board with your ... like ... medical tong thingies ... ANYhoo:

Theme answers:
  • ALARMIST (1D: Top celebs)
  • REAR-ENDER (26A: Melt down, as fat)
  • SHANDONG (10D: Karaoke selection)
  • PLUNGING (31D: Contact electronically)
  • CLIP ART (54A: Golfer's vehicle)
  • MORIBUND (33D: Middle of a diamond)
  • DELIVERED (80A: Homeowner's need)
  • PRIVILEGES (68D: Outhouses)
  • SPIT-SHINED (72D: Treated meanly)
Word of the Day: SHANDONG (10D) —
Shandong (山东alternately romanized as Shantung) is a coastal province of the People's Republic of China, and is part of the East China region.
Shandong has played a major role in Chinese history since the beginning of Chinese civilization along the lower reaches of the Yellow River. It has served as a pivotal cultural and religious center for Taoism, Chinese Buddhism and Confucianism. Shandong's Mount Tai is the most revered mountain of Taoism and one of the world's sites with the longest history of continuous religious worship. The Buddhist temples in the mountains to the south of the provincial capital of Jinan were once among the foremost Buddhist sites in China. The city of Qufu is the birthplace of Confucius, and was later established as the center of Confucianism.
Shandong's location at the intersection of ancient as well as modern north–south and east–west trading routes have helped to establish it as an economic center. After a period of political instability and economic hardship that began in the late 19th century, Shandong has emerged as one of the most populous (99,470,000 inhabitants at the 2016 Census) and affluent provinces in the People's Republic of China, with a GDP of CNY¥7.65 trillion in 2018, or USD$1.156 trillion, making it China's third wealthiest province. (wikipedia)
• • •

So looks like the app (and maybe the actual paper?) has a big red dot in it where the "patient"'s nose is supposed to be—the nose that lights up when you screw up the Operation with your dumb wobbly non-doctor's hands. Is this all the art there is? It's a cute little touch, but it doesn't really make the grid feel much more overall like the game board. The body parts are already off-book, i.e. not the stuff that's available for removal in the actual game. Also, why is your LIP next to your LUNG? Whatever, I actually don't care that much about body part placement—it's the concept that drives this thing, and the concept is solid: remove body part to get right answer (yeah, removal gets you *wrong* answers in the crosses, but you can't have everything in this life, and what you get here is fine). My one and only serious problem today was SHANDONG, which, I have to confess, I've never heard of (or, I have, and I forgot it). When I got that answer all filled in, I kept checking and rechecking to see what I had wrong, because I figured it had to be something. Lost the better part of a minute, probably, just trying to figure out where I'd screwed up. Only I hadn't. Made a mental note to myself to go back and check that area, but then when I filled in the last square at the bottom of the grid (somewhere in the SW), I got the Mr. Happy Pencil icon, so ... yeah, SHANDONG is real, everyone! 100 million people real!

Do y'all know TAMORA Pierce (53D: Author Pierce of the fantasy series "The Song of the Lioness"), 'cause I sure as heck didn't, and so that little western section was ATAD scary. For a half second I thought "Is it ... IGAR ... Sikorsky? That can't be right." And it wasn't. TAMORA Pierce is clearly a reasonably successful writer, but ... I was a teen in the '80s, why is a writer who wrote teen fantasy novels in the '80s not ringing a bell? Gah. Whatever, the "O" was the only real problem and IGOR sorted it. Despise the clue [Well, I'll be dammed] for NILE. Ugh. Like, for RIVER, maybe, but specifically NILE? Lots of rivers are dammed. That's just not NILE-specific enough. And how is TRÈS an "affected" VERY? It's a French VERY. Stop this nonsense. Some of the cluing I liked, though. 5D: Post production locales? for NEWSROOMS is very good, even though I didn't really get it at first pass (Post here refers to the Washington Post ... I mean, I assume).

INCEPT is super awful (89D: Plant, as an idea, modern-style). Who uses that as a verb? Oof, no, stop it. Is this from the movie "Inception"? It's like the worst of businessspeak meets the worst of scifi. I'm at a loss as to how / why anyone would say INCEPT. "I GIVE!" Psyched to remember PLINTH. Never psyched to see TEHEE.  Had MERLOT for MALBEC, duh (2D: Red wine from France). Thought a [Mobile home?] was a CRAB at first (don't they carry ... their "homes" ... around with them ... some of them? Sand crabs, maybe? Am I thinking of snails? Ugh. I'M HOME. I GIVE. I KNOW. I'M IN. Very first persony puzzle. I get that EBERT used a thumb-rating system, but I still don't get-get the clue (92D: He was a "thumb" critic!). Is that a pun?! If so, on what!? "Film"? "Dumb"? And why is there an exclamation point on the clue!? [UPDATE: I put an "a" in the clue, which isn't actually there. So the pun is on "some" ... "He was *some* critic!" ... ok ... somehow this is worse?] Still, despite many hiccups, the overall solve was smooth, and mildly entertaining. Good day.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Phil 12:18 AM  

I liked it and like that leaving in the body part makes up a real phrase or word as well as having it removed. I’ve complained before where some of the NYT themes involved adjustments that didn’t keep consistent word play in place. So happy to say not here.

Joaquin 12:22 AM  

As the ancient philosopher said, "One man's mildly entertaining is another man's slog." I almost threw in the pencil a couple of times as I found it boring. Not *BORING*, just boring. But I persevered and even learned a couple of new (to me) names along the way.

Joe Dipinto 12:40 AM  

@Rex, thumbs up on the Sam Cooke video. You misread the 92a clue – so did I at first – by seeing an "a" in there. It's "He was thumb critic!", i.e. a play on "He was some critic!" (Pretty bad pun, it's true.)

So hey, our very own Old Timer made it into the grid today! I've never played Operation, though I knew it existed, so I had no idea what the red dot was supposed to represent until I googled the game afterward. The theme entries and fill were basically fine, if not of wowza caliber. There's a stray EYE hanging out next to the LEG. I liked SPITSHINED the best of the pre-op theme answers.

BTW, the interview between Gary Cee and Will Shortz from earlier this week is posted at XWord Info. Some interesting tidbits:

1) At one point Will Shortz pronounced "leitmotif" as "leet-motif", which was surprising, and wrong.

2) WS is not on staff at the Times; he was given the choice to be on staff when he was hired, but opted to be a freelance employee and ergo does not receive standard employee benefits.

2) WS would like to have more female constructors represented. About 15% of submissions are by female constructors. Females account for about 35% of debuting constructors.

3) WS reads 3 out of 4 daily NYTimes puzzle blogs, along with their comments, which he finds helpful as feedback. He didn't identify the blogs by name, or specify which one he doesn't read.

Apparently he and Gary Cee were meeting for the first time. Worth a listen.

Ella & Louis go Stompin' at the Savoy.

Anonymous 12:54 AM  

I am surprised there was not more outrage about Shandong. Just really surprised.

Joe Dipinto 12:56 AM  

Oops, I meant the 92d clue.

Gabe 1:36 AM  

Tamora Pierce was one of my favorite authors as a kid and I grew up in the late 90s/esrly aughts. I was thrilled to see her name in the crossword!

Robin 1:47 AM  

Finally figured out the theme/gimmick mid-solve, when I hit SPIT(SHIN)ED, and that made working through the rest of the puzzle go a lot faster. But WTF w/ SHANDONG? All the other themers were reasonable, but that one reeked of the creator shrugging and saying, WTF? Or was that too many WTFs?

Jeebus. Now I have to wait another hour for the daily on-line Spelling Bee puzzle. What will I do with the time?

puzzlehoarder 2:32 AM  

A good Sunday solve. Lots of unknown material to work around, some of it crossing. DIPLO, DEADPOOL and TAMORA while not technically being debuts are all debuts as clued and since they're all names that counts.

I was annoyed by the 70D clue. I have a hard enough time trying to read the tiny clue numbers in the grid without having to discern between an 'm' and an 'n'. " I'll be dammed" indeed.

The section that stood out for difficulty was the NE. It was a good thing AMECHE and GRANGER were gimmes.

chefwen 2:37 AM  

A listers at 1D got me off to a really piss poor start. It took me forever to figure out what was going on. Gravitated to other parts of the puzzle to try to get a grip and finally did. Phew!

Interesting concept, but I think a little more fun for the constructor vs. the solver.

Ya put your right foot in, ya put your right foot out, ya put your right foot in and you shake it all about. @Joe Dipinto can add the musical symbols.

Moved on to the Wall Street Journal Puzzle and it was too easy. Will now try the L.A.Times and am hopeful that it will be Just Right.

jae 3:45 AM  

Medium-tough. Ambitious, delightful, fun. Liked it a bunch and Jeff gave it POW. My solve was quite similar to Rex’s.

Anonymous 3:50 AM  

Sigh. My wife and I finished the puzzle, slowly and painfully, but never figured out the trick (the need to remove the body part to get a correct answer to the clue). We were just shaking our heads and saying how many stupid clues does this thing have?

Z 6:36 AM  

SHANDONG had to be looked up to see if it was a thing, because it sure seemed like an outlier. It has almost three times as many people as Canada, so much more crossworthy than some of the places we’ve seen in Crossworld. Still, I’m guessing we don’t see it again anytime soon. @anon12:54 - My guess is Rex was ready to rant extensively until he looked it up and found it is a locale of some significance even if it is not on our euro-centric radar much. The little blurb in the magazine says that Last used a computer script to find his theme answers. Which makes me suspect he had to look up SHANDONG, too.

Maybe it’s that I sussed out the conceit early, but I thought the revealer clue was a spoiler. The conceit is right there in the clue, “involving removal of body parts,” rather than a reparsing of the answer, the typical way of “revealing” the theme. I see at least one poster never sussed the conceit, so maybe it wasn’t too revelatory of a clue, but it sure seemed that way to me.

The red nose thing left me cold. I’m sure others will find it charming. I find it a little cloying. It’s a different spot for everyone, but my “Oh PuhLeeze” sensor is triggered much sooner than lots of people.

@Joe Dipinto - WS has said elsewhere that he doesn’t read Rex anymore. I get why he doesn’t read Rex, but his reactions to legitimate criticism makes this stance look petty. “Rex is mean to me” is not the same thing as “Rex is wrong,” something everyone usually learns at some point in life.

Anonymous 6:51 AM  

Dark Knight clue crossing Potter clue is a natick.

BarbieBarbie 6:58 AM  

SHANDONG would have been fine (it’s Shantung to me because of the silk, but I’m happy to learn) except that there was no clue for it. I had SxxxxONG from the karaoke clue, with no crosses figured out. Now what? It’s not a crossword puzzle if it’s just a stack of words. That corner was a real problem for me.

Hungry Mother 7:05 AM  

Way too many names. I liked the theme, but hated the puzzle. DNF on two letters trhat could have been any vowels in my knowledge. Bitter.

Jim 7:06 AM  

92 down was pretty clever: not just the pun, but Siskel & Ebert gave "thumbs up" or "thumbs down" in their movie reviews.

sf27shirley 7:23 AM  

The damming of the Nile in the 1950s nearly led to war. Nasser tried to play both sides in the Cold War to get the dam paid for and eventually seized the Suez Canal.

Music Man 7:28 AM  

Rex, the clue for 92D is “He was ‘thumb’ critic”, not “He was a thumb critic”. “Thumb” here is being used as a pun on the word “some”, as in, “he sure was some critic!” That’s my take on the clue, anyway.

Dave 7:31 AM  

Solid Sunday puzzle. Have to disagree with you . . . I smiled with INCEPT, and it definitely was there in reference to the movie (hence the "modern" in the clue).

But if Roger EBERT were alive, I imagine he'd give a big thumbs down to the terrible pun cluing his name...

BTW, please keep up the good work, Rex . . . I've enjoyed your blog for about 4 years now. Personally, I like your occasional pot-stirring with political and "PC police"-type issues. I'd imagine most of your audience largely falls on the same side of the political spectrum as you . . . this IS the NYT, not some puzzle found on, after all!

For me, while my eyes roll whenever Trump makes his way into a puzzle, U.S. presidents have to be fair game, right? (Although the day Kellyanne Conway makes her way into the puzzle is probably the day I throw my laptop against the wall!) I'm even okay with the occasional reference to a Nazi or Nazi sympathizer . . . much of history is evil and ugly, and I don't think we should only use Newspeak words in the NYT Puzzle.

That being said, WHAT IN THE ACTUAL F*CK is up with the NYT Puzzle's puzzling obsession with the NRA and gun violence, and all manner of words that glorify guns and gun culture?? Compared to other subjects/hobbies/etc out there to choose from, guns and gun culture seep their way into the puzzle WAY too often for my tastes. There was even some absurd clue/answer literally a few days after the Vegas massacre back in '17 ("Where 'flanked' is in the dictionary" -- UNDER FIRE). That is just piss-poor editing. (And I get that puzzles are approved and scheduled a while before they actually run, but someone over there should just go back and do the puzzle for the next day prior to hitting the "publish" button at 10pm, just to make sure nothing recent has happened to make sure a clue or answer isn't really tone-deaf...)

Anonymous 7:48 AM  

Ebert was a “thumb” critic, I believe, because he and his partner would give films they liked two “thumbs” up.

Matt Messinger 7:59 AM  

"WS reads 3 out of 4 daily NYTimes puzzle blogs" I googled around but cannot figure out what the 4 daily blogs are. Can someone help me?

Felt pretty good about today's puzzle. Although, the big red nose only held so much appeal w/o the buzzer. Maybe the fill is just being outshone by the splendid October weather. I was kind of hoping e-cig would start Rex up again as the e-note and e-money commentaries were the highlight of my week.

kitshef 8:04 AM  

1) What the devil is SHANDONG doing in this puzzle?
2) Why is a CRIB a mobile home?
3) Awful clue for Ebert
4) Awful clue for TRES
5) Unspeakably horrible clue for NILE
6) Awful clue and answer for INCEPT
7) I never ETA FETA I didn’t like.
8) Theme didn’t really work for me. In the game, you remove ailing body parts.
9) I do appreciate the (very) rough placement of the body parts as they might fall in a human being who is being operated on after a horrific accident.
10) Other than that, it was so-so.

fkdiver 8:04 AM  

Toto, I don't think we're in Shandong anymore.

GILL I. 8:11 AM  

That whole SHADONG SONG corner was the first of many out loud groans. What the hell? Find some kind of body part, stick is somewhere in an answer that doesn't make sense for the clue, then you're supposed to cry: OH HAPPY DAYS? VERY TRES Ugh for moi...and I'm in a good mood.
DIPLO DEADPOOL? Yeah, know them well. I thought MALBEC was a Bordeaux blend. I'm probably wrong. I think I started ughing around the Don AMECHE action since I had that old guy Don Knotts.
Yeah...I got the red dot. Made me mad since I had to use some of my color ink. I've never played OPERATIONS so it meant little to me.
The only reason I even bothered to finish is that I'm awake....still. Will try the Sat WSJ.

Dan Miller 8:19 AM  

INCEPT has been used this way--it was inspired by the movie, but you can also see it in the first episode of Rick and Morty. I have no beef with it here.

I had never heard of Don AMECHE, though, and that, combined with ICAN instead of IMIN, led to a DNF. Cest la vie.

Zerex 8:38 AM  

The poster called "Z" is Rex, or has to be his best friend or publicist. Nobody else would make a post like that.

Nancy 9:02 AM  

When I got to the electronic musician crossing the Marvel superhero, I may actually have screamed out loud. I didn't know or care about either one of them and, since I had filled in everything else and still didn't get the gimmick, I went to Jeff Chen (it was last night and this blog wasn't up yet) to find out what on earth was going on.

Now I know and I am completely underwhelmed. Can't believe that Jeff made this his POW. Maybe it's because I never heard of or played the game OPERATION and therefore the gimmick didn't resonate. More likely it's because the long word with the body part in it has nothing to do with either the clued word or the clue itself. It seems arbitrary. You either add or subtract a body part and you have two different words. Yawn. Big deal.

As far as OPERATION is concerned, it sounds like the exact opposite of HANGMAN, which is a game I did play in my youth. There you add body parts until your opponent is completely hung. See?

Anonymous 9:18 AM  

Why would Shortz read Sharp, whose stated goal is to get Shortz fired ? I guess there’s always the keep your friends close and your enemies closer philosophy, but it seems like it would be masochism to me.

Nards 9:23 AM  

It’s lame to use a proper noun in the themer like that.

Anonymous Pt 2 9:27 AM  

Song is wrong for Karaoke selection. It's not a song until you actually sing it. It's just a music track prior to that.

Joe Welling 9:32 AM  

I really wanted 72D to be SPITBALLED.;)

Brian 9:33 AM  

Also BOD and SKELETON in grid.

MexGirl 9:46 AM  

I’ve always thought MALBEC is the Argentinian version of the French CAHORS. Same variety of grape, different regions and hence, different names. I stopped there for a real long time trying to figure it out...

Birchbark 9:49 AM  

YTTRIUM. It takes its name from Ytterby, the Swedish town near where it was discovered in 1787. It is a rare earth element and the only stable isotope found in the earth's crust. My guess is if you find YTTRIUM, Yggdrasil (the Norse tree of life) is not far off.

It would have been fun to include the "real" Operation body parts, such as wishbone and funny bone. But probably too much to ask from a construction standpoint.

And SKELETON KEY over OPERATION is a nice lagniappe, as the Cajuns say. That combination is close to a revealer on its own.

Anonymous 10:02 AM  

Had fun...diplo? I give...

Anonymous 10:13 AM  

kitshef at 0804.....a crib is a home FOR a mobile...colorful objects spinning around.

Knitwit 10:24 AM  

I enjoyed the puzzle more after I landed here. I loved that game as a kid but did not see the theme gimmick until reading Rex. I have a horrible cold and lack a good night’s sleep so I’ll go with that excuse.

alythetrickster 10:30 AM  

I love tamora Pierce and I grew up in the 90s. She was one of (If not the first) author I remember that featured young women empowered to do what they want no matter their gender, while also exploring themes of sexuality, gender identity, racism, and so much more. I actually got super hyped to see her in the crossword.

davidm 10:30 AM  

Is it just me and @Nancy who have never heard of the game Operation? Because … it just seems to me that the revealer, and the clue, are completely bassackwards, and I thought sure Rex would point this out. The clue to the revealer, and not the revealer itself, gives away the game! I mean, I knew that to melt fat was to RENDER, but that was’t working up north, and then I saw the clue about removing body parts … and immediately returned up top and wrote REARENDER, “removed” EAR, and voila! But … REMOVE BODY PARTS should have been the revealer, and not the clue! It could have been clued something like, “What you do in a classic kids’ game called Operation … and a hint to this puzzle’s theme.” OTOH, if most people really do know Operation, then clue the revealer differently … but to me, REMOVE BODY PARTS should be the revealer, and not in the clue to the revealer. Another thing bassackwards is that once you know to remove body parts, then the easiest way to proceed is to solve for the clue, and then ADD a body part to get a different word unrelated to the clue. So “center of a diamond” yields MOUND, then add RIB to get MORIBUND, etc.

Z 10:40 AM  

@Joe Dipinto and others - Rex updated his post. No credit to you, though.

@Matt Messinger - WordPlay (the house blog posted by Deb Amlen). (Now run by Jeff Chen and the one Rex complains about the most because of its "undisclosed ties to the NYT), Diary of a Crossword Fiend (run by Amy Reynaldo and others and not limited to the NYTX - also the only one still linked to on Rex's blog), and Rex. There is also "Dan does not Blog," where solvers who make Rex look like a piker post their times.

@Anonymous Pt2. - Since when is singing a requirement for something to be a song? An instrumental can never be a song? There's no such thing as a "birdsong?"

@Zerex - Feel free to follow @Z_Zed_Zed on Twitter. I actually run or co-run four Twitter accounts, but that's my main one. The other three are all Ultimate specific and I only post on them to share info. Be ready for lots of ultimate, baseball, hockey, beer, and leftist political takes and only the very occasional crossword content. But believe my Twitter bio - post something stupid or racist and you will be immediately blocked (and probably reported).

davidm 10:42 AM  

Following up on this, in addition to the clue giving away the game, instead of the revealer giving it away, as should be the case, I think that most people, as I did, are going to solve for the clue, then add a body part to get the word unrelated to the clue — completely off kilter to the “remove a body part” injunction. It seems perhaps that each themer should have been double-clued — e.g., “Dead … or the center of a diamond.” “Dead” then yields MORIBUND, and removing RIB yields MOUND, the center of a diamond.

bigsteve46 10:46 AM  

Answer to "Robin said" (1:47 A.M.): get the newspaper delivered - you get the magazine section with the puzzles on Saturday. Helps keep some actual journalism alive for a little longer, too.

Anonymous Pt 2a 10:50 AM  

@Z, birdsong is correct because it has a melody. A karaoke track doesn't. You provide it. The track is background music to the song.

kitshef 11:00 AM  

Anon 10:13 - thank you.

To add to @Birchbark, YTTRIUM is one of four elements named for Ytterby:

What? 11:17 AM  

Composing theme fills for a puzzle like this is easy. Just go to, type a body part and click on “contains”. You will get tons of answers (but many questionable) arranged by size. However, arranging into a crossword is another matter. That’s the hard part.

RooMonster 11:17 AM  

Hey All !
OCCAMs Razor, YTTRIUM, DEADPOOL, OLDTIMER (shout-out!), BATARANGS highlights of the puz. I suppose the grid is supposed to emulate the body in OPERATION? Are the blocks in Top Center supposedly the hair? And why are his ARMs raised? As in HAND and ARM over the Nose? At least the LIP is below the nose.

Those nitty nits aside, thought it a fun puz. The ole brain didn't want to put in the post-operation words without also filling in the circled body parts, not sure why that was such a problem. Got stuck on a few like that. Stupid brain.

NE toughest section, but AMECHE helped quite a bit. For those unfamiliar with him, he was the skinnier rich brother in "Trading Places", amongst other roles.

TIME running out. Gotta get to working.


Anonymous 11:18 AM  

Here are four subjects the youthful constructors the NYT favors could take a break from: Harry Potter, Star Wars, Marvel Comics, Disney and other Cartoon feature films. Does the puerile obsession with these subjects in our enervated popular culture need to be matched in the crossword world? Please let me a do just one puzzle without reference to them, just one. And while you're at it, you might slip in a literary or historical or scientific reference instead. I guess what I mean to say is grow the fuck up.

Blue Stater 11:41 AM  

What.In.The.Name.Of.God. was this mess? A new low. The puzzle was utterly meaningless if you didn't know the OPERATION game. Never heard of it, even after the explanation. This kind of overgimmicked, junky nonsense has no place in a general-circulation XW, and *certainly* no place in a Sunday puzzle. Worst Sunday, at least, that I've ever seen.

Nancy 11:41 AM  

That's it!!! That's it exactly!!! Thank you @davidm (10:42) for showing how this puzzle could have been executed in a way that would have integrated both elements of the two unrelated words in a single clue. This would have removed the arbitrariness from the theme answers and also given the solver some real thinking to do -- always a good thing.

Joe Dipinto 12:07 PM  

@Anonymous Pt 2a – You go to a karaoke bar, you get a list of songs and you select one to perform. "Karaoke selection" = SONG. The.End.

Geezer 12:11 PM  

You made your point and then destroyed your credibility by adding "....grow the f*** up".

Masked and Anonymous 12:14 PM  

Well, hey -- M&A was just relieved, that they didn't do one of them OPERATION removals on the last four letters of SHANDONG.

Really enjoyed the E-W grid symmetry. Also the big red eye in the upper half middle -- Has a nice, schlocky severed-parts look to it. Also had The always-welcome Circles.

@RP: Couldn't leave the circled letters out on the Down answers -- that'd result in unchecked body parts. Gotta check yer body parts.

staff weeject pick: BOD. Apt inclusion … BODy parts!

Thanx for all the OR time, Mr. Last. The patient survives, I think … still has his SHAN, at least.

Masked & Anonymo5Us


Kelly Sargent 12:32 PM  

A disappointment. I disliked it from the get-go cuz' I couldn't figure out the two missing words in Natan Last's explanation, and after finishing the puzzle, I still don't know what the missing words are. And although I enjoyed the Roger Ebert clue, there were several others that were lamely obscure.

Nancy 1:01 PM  

Thanks, @Joe Dipinto (12:40), for directing us to the Shortz interview. I listened just now and enjoyed.

jberg 1:08 PM  

I thought the theme was fun, but pretty easy. In the paper, at least, we had groups of little circles, and it didn't take long to see that the first one spelled ARM, so it was going to involve body parts. After that, it was just count the number of circles, maybe get a cross or two, and fill in the part.

I didn't think I'd ever heard of the game, but I recognized the hairdo in the picture @Rex posted, so I guess I have. Still, "Classic kids' game?" Jacks is a classic kids' game; tag is a classic kids' game. Maybe Chinese checkers -- but this thing was invented in 1964. I know, I'm too old, but kids' games have been around for millennia, so a classic ought to have lasted for a century, at least.

I may be old, but not old enough to have ever seen Don AMECHE -- but I do know the song, "The Greatest Invention," with the immortal lines

Do you know who invented the telephone?
... Don Ameche
Oh that's peachy!
It was Alexander Graham Bell.
... Do tell!

So that went right in.

Shantung silk is pretty well-known, so you just have to remember that the Chinese changed how words are translated, I think as part of the de-westernization process. (bad word, since one goes West to get to China, but you know what I mean.)

Ah, @Z, so you go so far as to run a fake twitter account in order to coneal your true identity!

sixtyni yogini 1:26 PM  

Agree with Rex’s comments - but also loved this one. Easy and hard and just fun. πŸ‘πŸ½πŸ§©πŸ‘πŸ½

Dorothy Biggs 1:49 PM  

Do I detect a diversion in the MALBEC clue? Most people probably know Malbec wine from South America, notably Argentina. So there's that. But also, Malbec is a varietal that, in France, is most usually blended with something else (Cab Franc, Petit Verdot, Gamay, etc) it is, at least not in France, a "wine." It is a grape variety. A quick Google search says that it is one of the top blending reds in France, but because it was not particularly hearty, it never really emerged as a solo grape like Cab Sav, Syrah, or Merlot did. It made it's big debut in the Argentina wine world and most people know it now as that. It is fun to see how those other blending grapes (Cab Franc, Grenache, Mourvedre, etc) took hold in place other than France. California especially has experimented in those "off" varietals.

TL;DR: French MALBEC is NOT a "wine." It is a grape. You can find singular varietal wines of Malbecs in other countries, e.g., Argentina and the US.

For 18A, the one-named electronic musician with a lot of Grammys, I wanted Scrillex, mainly cuz he's the only name I'm remotely familiar with.

And just for the record, I really dislike random directional clues...just about as bad as random Roman numerals. A better person might care what direction "City A" is from "City C." I don't. I don't care at all. I know it's going to have an S, W, N, or E in it, and I know that if it's three letters, the first two will likely repeat.

Overall, this was a Sunday Puzzle™.

Joe Dipinto 2:05 PM  

To those who don't remember Don Ameche, he had a resurgence in the 1980's with roles in "Trading Places", wherein he and Ralph Bellamy played the brothers who set up the title experiment with Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy, and in "Cocoon", wherein he was the rejuvenated senior who "breakdanced" – he got an Oscar for the latter.

TJS 2:14 PM  

@Z, If Shortz refusal to read Rex is "petty", what do you make of Rex refusing to read the comments from his own blog?

JC66 3:11 PM  

I'm surprised no one has complained about the cluing for 34A faux pas = DONT.

Fred Romagnolo 3:22 PM  

Joe Dipinto mentions a "resurgence" of Don Ameche, and Jberg says he's old, but not old enough to remember Don Ameche. He was a mainstay of 20th Century Fox in the 30's and early 40's; often teaming with Tyrone Power and Alice Faye. Here's a few: Alexander's Ragtime Band 38, Heaven Can Wait 43, In Old Chicago 38 (the Chicago Fire), he also portrayed Alexander Graham Bell (hence slang for phone: the Ameche), and Stephen Foster.

CDilly52 3:35 PM  

@Jim 7:06. A gigantic and very sincere thank you for that. I got the answer and sat and scratched my head over the “thumb”trying to talk myself out of the correct answer!

pabloinnh 3:49 PM  

Still trying to do these online and still taking me way longer than a printed page would, not as easy to skip around, I think.

I'm familiar with Operation and didn't get to the revealer until late in the game, after which everything started to make sense and enable completion. Had the same problem spots as many others, although it was nice to see BATARANGS, which went right in and was helpful

My winner among the commentaries today is @Nancy's description of Hangman is a game adding body parts until the person is hung. Reminded me of the old joke about the plastic surgeon who hung himself, and why I use "hanged" for executions.

Thanks for a good tough Sunday NL, I liked it fine.

Unknown 4:20 PM  

Fine puzzle except for....Shandong. ugh.

Nancy 4:55 PM  

@pabloinnh (3:49) -- Aha!!! I see why my use of the word "hung" in that context caused you so much merriment. It does create an image...

@Dorothy Biggs (1:49)-- Your knowledge of wine and how it's produced leads me to believe that you would love a movie based on a true-life wine-producing competition. Warm, funny, lively, delightful, it's called "Bottle Shock" and I highly recommend it. Actually, come to think of it, I recommend it to everyone here.

CDilly52 4:55 PM  

Bit of a tough start because I put in ”a listers” and “the mound,” parts of which worked so I knew that what was wrong had to do with the bubble squares. Couldn’t get the ones in the NW immediately but GRANGER, SIRI (she says “I missed that” to me so frequently that I laughed out loud at that clue) and BE NICE fell like dominoes and “aha!” The proverbial (red) light illuminated the theme. From there I went around the grid filling in the easy answers to the themers skipping the bubbles and with a few exceptions, I was able to finish the remainder with crosses. The rest fell with educated guesses.

So, the game “Operation” came out for the first time during my “tween” years as I recall. And it had a resurgence during my daughter’s teen years. It’s newer version wasn’t quite as clunky as the original and for that reason, I actually think it lost some of its humor. The totally cartoon-ness of the original and the absurdity of it is exactly what engaged kids in their play. It was fun and funny. The puzzle reminded me of just how much fun kids have when they are encouraged to engage in daily creative and imaginative play.

My daughter rarely played with only a single toy and almost always included a variety of her stuffies and dolls in her games, even board Or card games! She always had a story to tell as the game progressed. Made a family game of “Old Maid” difficult when we had to deal in Elizabeth Jane the pioneer bear and Logger Barbie who drove her big yellow dump truck/front end loader around the Lincoln Log village delivering raw materials. But we managed and Kate (who played her toys’ hands) developed a real knack for card counting at a very early age!

Good memories and a really decent puzzle. Sure, not everyone’s cup of tea and I don’t think the red dot was necessary or even useful. But the theme was legit and the fill fine. I had a nice Sunday solve.

Birchbark 5:03 PM  

@Dorothy Biggs (1:49) -- Thanks for explaining MALBEC. I didn't know it was a varietal from possibly anywhere. I had the "C" early on but didn't fill it in because the only French C-ender in my repertoire, Medoc, didn't work. To me (and I've said as much to friends in full braggadocio), MALBEC = South America (see also @MexGirl (9:46)). So there the answer sat with a lonely "C" until the crosses did their magic.

@kitshef (11:00) -- An Ytterby tribute puzzle would be fun, built around the four eponymous elements plus the three other unusual elements that were discovered there. Maybe call it "Cousin Ytt."

JC66 5:06 PM  

@Joe D

If you haven't done it already, I think you might enjoy today's Newsday Puzzle.

Maddiegail 5:14 PM  

Good thing Google doesn't charge. As my Nana would say, it was like pulling teeth! Gawd Maud!

L 5:23 PM  

This whole time, i couldn't figure out the point of the red dot. It's very annoying when you can finish a whole puzzle yet not get the point.

Liz T. 5:34 PM  

TAMORA was an instaget for me :)

Z 6:21 PM  

@L - Do you get it now? Look at the first picture in Rex’s post if you don’t.

@jberg - Oh, I’m far cleverer than that, having started my fake Twitter account before I ever heard of Rex Parker.

@Anon Pt 2 - What @Joe Dipinto said, but I’d also challenge that a melody is what makes a song a song.

@Anon11:18 - Nobody is even on your lawn.

@Dorothy Biggs - I don’t disagree, RCDs are just so, well, random. They bother me slightly less than RRNs, but don’t ask me to explain. I never consider the towns given anymore, I just work from the idea that E is the most likely letter, then S, N, and finally W. The clue might as well just be “pick from the four letters in NEWS.”

@TJS - Rex does this as a side hustle. Prioritizing other things over reading the comments is up to him. Petty would be telling the mods not to allow comments critical of Rex.

@JC66 - Why? There are Do’s and there are DON’T’s. Doing a DON’T is a “faux pas.”

Joe Dipinto 6:30 PM  

@JC66 – Thanks for the tip on Newsday, I entered all the long answers, now I have to fill in the rest. :-)

@Fred Romagnolo – one of my favorite Don Ameche movies is a 1939 screwball comedy called "Midnight" with Claudette Colbert and John Barrymore, and screenplay by Billy Wilder. It's very funny.

JC66 6:31 PM  


Thanks, that's more of a stretch than the 70D combo, IMO.

JC66 6:50 PM  

@Joe D & @Fred R

"Things Change" (!988) is one of my favorites.

Jkol 6:54 PM  

Cribs often have mobiles dangling over them for babies to look at.

Kuhan 8:33 PM  

My ex was a big TAMORA Pierce fan but I had to fill in "AMORA" before I got the T

Meanwhile, I have no idea who DYAN Cannon is so I'm glad I got it entirely on crosses.

Anonymous 10:32 PM  

Did anyone else think the grid looked like a mouse face? (I didn't have a red dot, using an unofficial app.) I kept waiting for that to tie in.

VictorS 7:28 AM  

Most people who are into wine would think Argentina when they hear Malbec. Could have been clued better that way.

Seth 11:21 AM  

A few disagreements with Rex:

1) I had a theater teacher in high school who used TRES in an extremely affected manner, so that one totally landed with me.

2) INCEPT is a word I've heard people use, and have probably used myself. It does come from the movie, but it's at least semi-common as a verb at this point. Though clearly not widespread enough for Rex to know it.

3) Am I the only one who thinks it is absolutely TEEHEE and not TEHEE?

a.corn 1:20 AM  

I use INCEPT as a verb all the time (I’m in sales, and when schooling the youth I say ‘you want to incept the mf, make them think your idea was their idea.’)

The clue for MALBEC is still bothering me...most notable Malbecs are from the Southern Hemisphere, not France. What gives???

Travis 8:43 AM  

I’m with you. Made me want to go back to bed!

Unknown 9:37 AM  

Am I the only one who doesn't get Alarmist for top celebs? Please explain.

Unknown 7:49 PM  

Yes. I still don't get it. Karaoke...Standing. ???

minormi 11:35 PM  

A List

Anonymous 8:12 PM  

Took a while for the penny to drop on this one. After I got Shandong (only by solving the crossings), I looked and saw karaoke selection and thought "hand in song" which is what you do when you write down your karaoke selection. Take out the hand and you just get 'song' - OK - I like my idea better. Alarmist = for the unknown enquirer - take out the 'arm' and you get A List for 'top celebs'. Nobody should EVER put Yttrium in a recreational crossword puzzle (So there is my main rant)

spacecraft 10:58 AM  

74 across--but not without much gnashing of teeth. Yikes, that NE!! BATARANG?? "Dayenu???" And the sockdolager: SHANDONG???????? I guessed at half this area, looked at it and was convinced I had committed a "DONT" (!), but I didn't know what to change. Luckily the way I left it was right, but it was pure luck, I assure you.

The mountain of stuff I didn't know in this one would fill a paragraph. Let's just say I learned a lot, and got MOUNDS of triumph points for the finish (CEASE? No! Those two are both endings, but they are NOT synonymous!).

Our DOD appears in the SE corner, DYAN Cannon. I used to have a MANIA about her. So, the OPERATION was a success--but the patient nearly died. Birdie.

Burma Shave 2:21 PM  


cost more THAN an ARM and a LEG.


rainforest 4:04 PM  

Here's how it went. First of all, "what's going on? What's that red dot?". Oh, there's ARM in the middle of ALIST. Ah, the names of body parts in the middle of other words. So I had the idea way before I got OPERATION, a game I've never heard of, but the clue to that confirmed what I already knew, and at least allowed me to see the "why" of the themers.

Am I the only person who knows SHANDONG, a historically important province and peninsula in China?
I SORTER liked this puzzle.

rondo 4:24 PM  

DONT know where I GOTIT, but I had a case of SHANGDONG once. Didn't need an OPERATION. The YTTRIUM treatment and penicillin cleared it up and IMHOME free. IGIVE yeah baby DYAN C an EBERT thumb up. VERY odd puz.

Diana, LIW 8:57 PM  

got it, and got the theme "parts" - must come back tomorrow and find out about other particulars, like that ball. OK for a Sunday, once the body parts moved out of the way.

Diana, Lady, Waiting

Anonymous 2:53 AM  

Interesting that the highbrows have never heard of Operation but knew of Shangdong while others such as myself had the opposite experience.

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