Actor Dorsey of TV's Queen Sugar / WED 11-20-19 / Old TV channel that aired Moesha / Tyro in modern parlance / Long fish with row of barbs / Nonfiction film with point of view in brief

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Constructor: Erik Agard

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (4-ish)

THEME: TALK IN CIRCLES (14D: Argue repetitively ... with a hint to this puzzle's theme) — circled squares spell out various verbs meaning roughly "talk":

Theme answers:
  • CHANCE IT (12A: Take the risk)
  • "BLACK PANTHER" (23A: 2018 blockbuster film based on a Marvel comic)
  • SPRING BREAK (31A: Time for a trip to Cabo San Lucas or Miami Beach)
  • ORCHESTRATE (46A: Bring about)
  • PLASTIC CRATE (51A: Sturdier alternative to a cardboard box)
  • SPINY EEL (66A: Long fish with a row of barbs)
Word of the Day: SPINY EEL (66A) —
any of several strikingly colored eel-shaped freshwater fishes (order Opisthomi) of Africa and the East Indies having a long slender snout and an anterior dorsal fin consisting of free spines (
• • •

Didn't much care for this one, as a themed puzzle. As a themeless, it's pretty sweet. There are an astonishing number of 8+ entries here—thirteen, to be precise!—and they give the grid a lot of color and pizzazz. But the theme doesn't quite work for me. It is truly impressive that the revealer drives down through Every Single Other Themer (all six of them!?), but this, like the theme itself, is something I noticed only after solving. And while the revealer placement is impressive, the revealer doesn't quite get at what's going on. I get the IN CIRCLES part, but there is no clear reason that I can see for splitting the circled squares. I see that the words meaning "talk" are inside the circles, but why are those circled squares split between beginning and end of the answers in which they appear? Maybe there's something visually thematic going on there, but it's not crystal clear to me.

The grid looks enormous to me, but it is absolutely normal in size (15x15). I think it's soooo choppy that it looks like it has more ... parts to it? It just looked and felt bigger than it is. Lots of black squares / heavy segmentation meant that outside the abundant long answers, there's just very short stuff for miles. The downside of this grid design, I guess. Anyway, none of it bothered me too much except OPDOC, which I maintain is a painfully redundant term (46D: Nonfiction film with a point of view, in brief). I've watched many documentaries with "points of view" and ... they're just called "documentaries" (or "docs," if you want). I don't see how the "op" part is a meaningful distinction. "Harlan County, USA," "Hoop Dreams," "The Thin Blue Line," "Bowling for Columbine," these are all ... docs. They sure as hell have "points of view," but how have I lived nearly half a century on this planet and seen scores of films like these and never once heard the term "OPDOC"? Anyway, clearly the term is used by someone somewhere or it wouldn't be here, but it's a nuisance term. "Op" is not a meaningful distinction. There is no "Best OPDOC" Oscar category. They're just docs. Down with redundancy and the myth of the objective, God's-eye POV.

Laugh syllables are never not terrible (HEE!) and EENY EWW AAHS and TGI (ugh) are not exactly crowd-pleasers either, but like I said, the fill mostly gets by. I got slowed down by not knowing the Spanish word for "light" (I put in the Latin LUX instead of LUZ), and then slowed down less drastically by the new-to-me OMAR (38D: Actor Dorsey of TV's "Queen Sugar") (I know "Queen Sugar," but not this actor's name). OK, TATA (39D: Line out the door?).
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


puzzlehoarder 12:10 AM  

A very Tuesday easy Wednesday.

jae 12:14 AM  

Easy-medium. Kinda liked it, but I agree with Rex about the theme.

The puzzle does give me an opportunity to brag that my grandson just scored a 35 on the ACT.

chefwen 1:27 AM  

I actually liked this one a lot. Fun to see how many words mean running ones mouth. Love BLATHER, but wasn’t to crazy about two RATE’s bunched up on each other at 46 and 51A.

Wanted GO PACK at 18A, hi @Carola, but resisted.

Fun puzzle.

John Hoffman 2:50 AM  

Did not finish: Natick for me was HEGEL and GAEA crossing.

Z 4:34 AM  

Agard suffers from high expectations, so that groaner of a revealer was a let down whereas from most others it would have gotten a wry smile and thumbs up.

I get Rex’s befuddlement on the split words. It would have made more sense if the beginning of the “TALKING” words was at the end on the themer and the ends at the beginning so that the word “CIRCLEd” back in the theme phrase. Not that I can come up with any examples that fit...

In case you missed it, I think @Matt Gaffney made a good point while also seeming to miss the point. Specifically, how many of his hypothetical 20 would have run their set of themers through the database first to make sure they weren’t repeating?

Trivia speed round last night was very wordplayish. Two clues with two answers. The second answer was the first answer plus a C somewhere (are/acre or addition/addiction for example). Wordplay invading trivia night bothered me far less than trivia invading my crossword puzzles.

db 6:16 AM  

Never have I ever heard a human say “go team”.

amyyanni 6:21 AM  

Fun solve. Like the symmetry of COMO ESTA & EMPANADA. @jae, where's the GS thinking of going to school?

Conrad 6:30 AM  

@Rex: an OP-DOC is a regular feature of the NYT's Op-Ed page. It's a ... well, a "nonfiction film with a point of view."

Lewis 6:33 AM  

@rex -- I've never heard of OPDOC either, but I can see it as a valid subset of "documentaries". "Bowling for Columbine" is an opdoc, whereas a doc about how corn is grown is not.

Eric is a constructing superstar to me, and such a credit to our marvelous pastime. Not only has he proven himself with consistently well-constructed grids, regular appearance of memorable wow-producing clues, and how-did-he-think-of-that themes, he shown great unselfishness, in that he has collaborated -- shared his talents -- with 15 others, that is, he has partnered for just under a third of his published NYT puzzles.

Today he presented a puzzle that had to be a bear to make, pretty much a stunt puzzle, with that reveal crossing all six of his theme answers. As a constructor, I wowed at that. A couple of smile-producing clues (TATA, INGOTS) punched up the solve, but it felt "usual-NYT-good" (and that is very good, mind you) rather than superstar good. I prefer it the other way around -- a wow solve and a solid construction. But because Eric has proven his chops again and again in the past, I'm looking forward to many wow solves ahead by him.

Anonymoose 6:35 AM  

Now you have.

Jim 6:38 AM  

Doesn’t “talking in circles” mean arguing illogically?

Hungry Mother 6:45 AM  

It was fun finding the words in the circles. There were a couple of unknowns, but I had a fast solve (demitasse).

Z 6:52 AM  

Regarding OPDOC. My google search turned up a lot of OPerational DOCumentation hits and just a few hits to the NYT’s OPDOCs. It looks like it’s a term coined by the NYT’s marketing arm to sell short video opinion pieces, an extension of the OP-Ed page, as it were. I don’t see anyone else using the term in this sense, so it’s fair to ask if this is a parochial NYT term with little to no cachet in the rest of the world.

@Lewis - Why did the filmmaker choose corn?

OffTheGrid 6:58 AM  

Overall a fine Wednesday. I don't recall seeing a circled letters theme before where the revealer used the word CIRCLE. I saw what was happening early (before seeing revealer) and expected something having to do with the gaps in the TALK words. The SE was a PPP multi-natick. The kitty corner NW tripped me as well. I had rate before ACCT. I wanted something more specifically insurance related. TOETHELINE was not hard to get but I thought the cluing was off. "Orders" might have been better than "Directions". I think of TOETHELINE being coupled with an "Or else". I follow directions when I use a recipe but don't think of it as Toeing the line.

mathgent 7:07 AM  

Big disappointment. The only sparkle was the clue for 34A. A near record number of Terrible Threes, 26.

Joaquin 7:18 AM  

Am I the only one who didn't know that "SPIEL" could also be a verb? In my 70+ years I have never seen or heard it used that way (until this puzzle).

David in Brevard 7:21 AM  

I enjoyed this Erik Agard Wednesday and grokked the theme early on, then happily used it to fill in the NW (CHANCE IT) and SE (SPINY EEL)

Lots of sports terms and entrance exam answers leave me out in the cold. Today was no exception. I will try to do better! I had “Larry” down as a STAR ACTOR for quite a while there but couldn’t figure out why there was a blank square in the middle! Loved the clue for WHAT CAN I DO.

Enjoyed seeing EMPANADA and remember with fondness ‘discovering’ them for the first time while working in Raleigh. I couldn't get enough until my ‘wardrobe’ warned me.

Enjoyed this one that came in somewhere between average and best or 6x Rex.

kitshef 7:27 AM  

Easier than Monday or Tuesday, but still enjoyable. A big thumbs down to OPDOC.

EWW and AAHS are both terrible fill, but I like they way they are stacked.

What percentage of words in English contain the letters A-T consecutively? I have no idea, but I’m sure it’s not 67%. Yet in our six themers we have chAT, blATher, orATe, and prATe. Is there something about that AT combo that makes us think of speaking? Could also have used nATter, prATtle, rATtle.

Anonymous 7:38 AM  

You thought 26 of the 27 threes were terrible? Pray tell, what sort of three *isn’t* terrible?

GILL I. 7:45 AM  

So it's not TOW THE LINE? I'm still trying to imagine my TOE doing something on a line.
I loved this Wed. puzzle. And I'm so glad it hasn't appeared before. Phew.
My favorite was CHANCE IT/Chat. My take on life involves both. Go big or go home is my motto. Dare me to do anything (except sit on a cliff and dangle my feet over a 20000 mile drop) and I'll probably do it. My bucket list includes sky diving with some handsome young dude strapped to my back while I CHAT all the way down to a green field filled with tulips.
OK, so I thought I knew my fromages. I eat cheese every day but Bleu DES Causses was new to me. If Trader Joe's doesn't carry it, I probably haven't tasted it. Sacre Bleu. BUT...I just made some EMPANADA's last night.
During my time of dealing with OVINES looking for their SPRING BREAKs it was always Cancun for the East Coast and Vallarta for the West. I felt sorry for the hoteliers.....Now, I think, it's Carnival Cruise Line that gets the brunt of the chaos.
I like that EWW EAU AAHS little corner and my mom telling me to wipe that SMIRK off of my face.

Jack W 8:04 AM  

GAEA much, much more commonly spelled at Gaia in this century.

Joaquin 8:04 AM  

Rex spends an inordinate amount of time criticizing the NYT, but apparently no time reading it. Per The Times themselves, "Begun by the New York Times opinion section in 2011, Op-Docs is a series of short, interactive, and virtual reality documentaries. Each film is produced with wide creative latitude by both renowned and emerging filmmakers, and premieres across Times online platforms."

QuasiMojo 8:11 AM  

Aside from the proximity of Orate and Prate and the greenpaintish Plastic Crate, I thought this was a pretty good theme. The split circles didn't bother me. OpDoc was new to me. But I guess it's unavoidable. What I dislike about a lot of these new style documentaries is the lack of any other p.o.v. They are hagiographies a lot of the time. Watch the new "Very Ralph" "doc" on HBO if you want a good laugh. I thought at first it must be an SNL spoof. The scenes out at his ranch with the Polo-logoed sweaters, overpreened horses and faux Marlboro man cowboy hats had me howling.

Anonymous 8:12 AM  

I've never heard this in reference to sports. I hear it at work all the time.

mmorgan 8:15 AM  

This was okay, but seeing the name Erik Agard does tend to raise one’s expectations a bit higher. The price of success?

pabloinnh 8:18 AM  

Happy to see COMOESTA, LUZ, and EMPANADA in this one which made it mostly muy facil for me. Gracias, Sr. A.

Also enjoyed seeing TOETHELINE, which I see frequently on the internet expressed as "tow the line". Always makes me wonder just how one would do that.

Breezy Wednesday, hoping for a crunchy Thursday.

SouthsideJohnny 8:19 AM  

@John Hoffman, right there with you - HEGEL crossing GAEA crossing ANA (since ONA fits as well), along with SPINY EEL is absolutely brutal. That’s a section for advanced solvers for sure.

Agree with @db - “go team” is the latest appearance of a made-up word or phrase in the NYT Xword.

1D is also a little off-kilter (most insurers use policy numbers, rather than account numbers).

Agree with Rex, that overall it’s acceptable, if a bit meh (note that the bar is not set that high these days though).

Anonymous 8:23 AM  

Can’t wait to see if Rex ever unreservedly likes a puzzle. Must be very hard to be him.

Giskarrrd 8:35 AM  

Enjoyable puzzle though I can get with some of the criticism on the circled parts of the theme. Very much enjoyed the long downs though, which I usually find very challenging (Fridays are mostly a no go for me) but mostly breezed through this time.

Would’ve broken my Wednesday record if I had paid more attention to 12A, where I had put CHANCEiT early on and didn’t go back to it, which cost me a couple of minutes to figure out after finishing the rest.

Anonymous 8:40 AM  

There were 26 in the puzz I did.

Anonymous 8:42 AM  

1 Across is ACT and 1 Down is ACCT. That was a sign this was not a good puzzle, and so it proved. We also have EAU at 28 Down, French for WATER, and adjacent to it at 29 Down, WATER level.

Where was the quality-checking on this one?

I did finish solving it, but it wasn't enjoyable. Shame.

Nancy 8:43 AM  

Well, for once I really can't complain about the annoying tiny little CIRCLES because they're there for a good reason. Still, I'm not a huge fan of arbitrarily placed CIRCLES used to designate embedded theme answers; I prefer that the embedded themes be contiguous.

But I had a pleasant time with this anyway. It seemed much easier than most Agard puzzles -- probably because there was no pop culture trivia and the clues were fair. TATA (39D) was a bit tortured, but other than that, no problem. My only "huh" was for OPDOC (Huh????). I also had to wait to see if the 46A embedded theme answer would be oRATE or PRATE. My favorite clue was the one for WHAT CAN I DO (30D). And my favorite answer was ZIGZAG for the lightning bolt shape.

Rainbow 8:45 AM  

Your Rex trolling is really getting old!

Dorothy Biggs 9:09 AM  

I agree with others about GOTEAM. I've heard it before, obv, but it is the clip art of "sounds you hear at a sporting event." See also, "rah." It probably should be clued as such. If anything it should be, "GO "

This puzzle felt young to me. I can't put my finger on it, but the cluing especially felt like something crafted by someone in the younger generation. I know that sounds very "Ok boomery," but I certainly don't mean it as a disparagement. I work with kids all the time (university aged) and they have a style, a collective humor...much like I'm sure my generation did. I see this every day and I know it when I see/hear it...but I can't put my finger on it. This puzzle had that. I take it as a sign that WS didn't interfere too much with the cluing.

Also, if it's what I'm thinking it is, PLASTICCRATE is what I call a milk crate. I don't think I've ever seen a plastic crate that isn't just a simple milk crate. I know their now sold at places like The Container Store and are used for milk anymore...but they'll always be milk crates to me. Okay, Boomer.

Music Man 9:16 AM  

That’s what I thought, too!

jberg 9:29 AM  

No time to read the comments yet. Fun theme, I didn’t notice that the circles were all at the beginning or end of the answers and no idea why

One nit- fans in stadiums yell GO Badgers, GO Sox, etc. very few ever actually yell GO TEAM. I blame the editor for chat.

jberg 9:29 AM  

Oops! —- “for that”

Birchbark 9:34 AM  

What's OP, DOC?

I like the disconnected circles on longer answers. I tend to solve in clusters, working through most or all of one area before expanding out to another. Solving the "circle" word before the rest of a long answer spots me a free letter or two when I reach the new territory -- the sort of reconnaissance that turns ne'er-before-heard-of SPINY EELs into old friends by the time you get there.

Anonymous 9:39 AM  

A nice puzzle, easy but fun. My only objection is that the reveal is too revealing. Once you get it, it makes the theme fills easy. A better reveal would be CIRCUMLOCUTION, synonymous with talking in circles but adding another layer to think about.

RooMonster 9:40 AM  

Hey All !
From a constructing viewpoint, this puz was amazing. Two sets of stacked themers, which anyone who makes puzs will tell you that it's not easy to get the Downs to jibe well, plus having all the themers consistent with the CIRCLE TALKs being in the front and back of each one, PLUS the mind-blowingness of crossing EVERY SINGLE ONE (All 6!) with your Revealer. Holy smokes!

From a solver viewpoint, as least for me, it played nicely. Some oddness in it, (see HEGEL/GAEA) but overall easy. The theme was spot on with TALK IN CIRCLES, with, well talks in circles. Doesn't get clearer than that. PRATE newish to me. Funny how it's one letter away from ORATE.

From a threes viewpoint, Holy EMPANADA, there is a boatload. 26 of the little critters. Plus the grid seems segmented, with a path through the center from NW to SE, but blockages to prevent the NW and SE corners from seeming connected.

All this IMHO, mind you. We all have opinions, and you know what the saying is on that...

I did think overall it was a winner. ZIGZAG alone as a fun factor. And a SPINY EEL, Har, EEL by themselves are scary, never mind one with SPINEs.

Where's the Wolverine clue for LOGAN?


Anonymous 9:50 AM  

Go team, op doc, hee, eta, plastic crate, the very tired eno and apse? If Bruce Haight were the author, Rex would've had a fit. Agard often does work. This is not nice work.

RooMonster 9:51 AM  

Now ya know I meant "blockages to prevent the NE and SE corners", but once you type something, auto-corrupt seems to default back to what you just wrote instead of just leaving you the hell alone.

Roo Addendum

Elise 9:52 AM  

Liked it. Only trouble spot was getting eeny and then dropping in moray for the eel, but fixed that up pretty quick. Choppy fill made up for by zigzag as one word instead of fill that requires guessing whether they're going for zig or zag. Main complaint was plastic crate seemed green painty to me.

bagelboy 10:01 AM  

I always love this Agard's puzzles. Also loved his short but memorable Jeopardy! run. Theme helped me in the NW, got the CHA off the T and was able to finish the fill and complete puzzle there.

Rex seems to like almost everything about the puzzle, but doesn't like it overall. odd.

Kathy 10:15 AM  

Isn’t TGI an abbreviation? Not clued as such.
The theme made sense to me. It didn’t bother me that the circled letters weren’t contiguous. I had fun with it even though I Naticked.

@LMS. Parsing fun: Today’s theme was words that mean talk in circles.

MJT 10:29 AM  

Crossing two initialisms at 41D/50A seems like a bad idea. I had TBD in for 41D for a long time and added ten minutes to my time trying to find the mistake.

Also thought Ticklee was a proper noun I wasn't familiar with until I filled in the word with crosses.

bigsteve46 10:36 AM  

I amuse that the creator submits the puzzle and the NYT decides which day to run it. Is that correct? - i.e the comments "this is too easy for a Thursday" or "too hard for a Monday" are directed at the paper not the author of the puzzle. Just curious ... no criticism implied.

Masked and Anonymous 10:37 AM  

OK WedPuz, but not one of Mr. Agard's very best. Did like his idea of usin the circles and then havin "CIRCLES" as part of the revealer

fave fillins included: WHATCANIDO. TOETHELINE. ZIGZAG.

OPDOC … har. Son of an EPCOT.

staff weeject pick: LUZ. It's CUL with a long U.

Thanx, Mr. Agard.

Masked & Anonymo3Us

p.s. M&A will be on vacation for a while. Y'all nice folks please monitor the U-counts closely, in my absence. Thank U.


Joe Dipinto 10:37 AM  

"Gas that's a man's name + E ": STOP WITH THESE IDIOT CLUES ALREADY (yes, I'm YELLING).

I liked this puzzle a lot, but Rex has a point, it might better have been presented as a themeless. It does leave you wondering why the TALKing words are split and shoved to the ends of each answer. Also, SPEAK is a bit of a weak link. It's just a synonym for TALK, without the descriptive nuance the others have.

The construction is impressive though. I didn't really notice the abundance of 3-letter answers whiIe I was solving it, which is another point in its favor.

@Conrad and @Joaquin – thanks for pointing out that the Times has an Op Docs feature; I was unaware of that.

Helpless person's lament.

David 10:40 AM  

Lots of business jargon in this one. OpDoc (Operational Document), clued improperly or as a NYTimes thing, Go Team, TGI Friday's.

Spanish, French, Greek, Latin. And no comment from the "puzzles should be in English" fella?

I found it pretty easy, 12 and 23A gave me the theme, and that helped quite a bit. I didn't think much about it after that, but used it. Liked a lot of the longer answers but not so many short ones. Wanted Ugh for Eww, mainly because I don't know how to spell "eww" then is today's answer "ahhs" or "aahs", whatever works for the constructor I guess. I'm surprised Rex didn't go off on a tangent about the bizarre world of college kids going off to get blackout drunk and do stupid things. Right. It's Erik.

Loved seeing Orchestrate in the puzzle, even if it's not my type of orchestrate.

I'm a snob in the kitchen. I used to carry a zester in my knife kit. Zesting a lemon is entirely different from grating a lemon. Head's up for Will, that.

Very nice, solid construction.

Newboy 10:42 AM  

Split circles made today’s answers span the entire conversation piece, going on end to end like a teenager “But why???Everybody.....” Maybe?

Me 10:46 AM  

I don’t see what the problem is with GOTEAM. I use it and so does everyone else in my city at pro ballgames and I hear it continuously at games up at the state university also.

TJS 10:49 AM  

Thought 39 down was bodacious ! Figured I would beat John X to it.

Anonymous 10:55 AM  

what does operational document have to do with today's puzzle? The clue called for a non fiction film. That's a doc(umentary). That the times has an Op Doc feature is utterly irrelevant to the crummy answer at 46 down.

Dan Miller 10:56 AM  

"Op-Doc" comes originally from a series of them commissioned by the NY Times starting in 2011. I know them because they run a film festival for them at the IFC Center in the West Village. The More You Know...

Anonymous 11:14 AM  

Isn’t TGI an abbreviation? Not clued as such.

The rat burger house TV adverts say 'TGI Fridays', although the sign, IIRC, is just 'TGIF'. stopped going after getting sick once too much.

Joe Dipinto 11:25 AM  

@bigsteve46 – if you read the constructors' comments at X-Word Info, more than one has said that the puzzle is not running on the day of the week they expected it to, or submitted it for. So yes, the editor decides where to put it, and may sometimes adjust the clues accordingly.

CDilly52 11:40 AM  

I have heard that the oldest suggestion for the genesis of “toe the line” refers to old British Navy seamen (likely conscripted?) being barefooted and told to stand inspection at attention in a straight row with their toe on a line created by a plank on the ship’s deck. Also been told it is a baseball or track thing: baseball pitcher with his toe on the line of the rubber or those who run track having to be on but not across the starting line. It is definitely TOE rather than TOw, I am reasonably certain.

ccredux 11:44 AM  

Glad to see Spanish clues and answers , too. I thought 18A answer would be something like hOla....but quickly got right answer. Anyone using iPad version ever used accents or tildes in Spanish answers? I guess it would be “incorrect” to put in CÓMOESTÁ. I’ll try it the next time I have a chance.

CDilly52 11:50 AM  

Right there with you@D Biggs. The PLASTIC CRATE replaced the metal one that used to jingle the friendly arrival of the milkman to our front porch. And on the first delivery of the month, Gran always sprang for a quart of the most delicious, creamy, chocolate milk a kid could dream of. My bro and sis and I used to measure that quart into thirds with all kinds of crazy “kid rules” about who has to pour, who checks the measure, who gets to pick his/her share first, second and last. Throughout the month, we had all kinds of self-imposed “gotchas” that could cause a sibling to be forced to pour two months in a row or lose the “first pick.” Kid “justice,” a very delicate family balance of nonsense with a dash of attempted fairness! I’m sure the milk was nowhere near as delicious as we recall, but the memories add all the sweetness I recall so fondly. A PLASTIC CRATE will forever be for milk bottles-glass only, please!

jb129 11:59 AM  

I enjoyed this a lot... but then I always enjoy Erik's puzzle & I'm happy when I see them.

CDilly52 12:10 PM  

Comments at Info certainly explain the Tuesday-ish difficulty, but that said, when I see Mr. Asgard’s name I typically buckle up for some wordplay that lies in some other parallel universe. Love his work, love the challenges, but always a slow solve for me. . . until today. Blasted this one and I enjoyed it.

I never look at circles until after the solve because they rarely seem to assist with the solve. No exception here. But. . . once finished, I looked at the reveal and the circles and found the theme right, fun and expertly rendered, just what an Agard should be. I truly enjoyed looking back at the themers and the reveal and seeing so many words that fit.

Some not so shiny entries, but as the comments suggest, our deft constructor was expecting an early week publish not a Wednesday. Kudos to Mr. A for such a dense theme, expertly crafted (the reveal walking through each relevant “circle clue” by itself is praiseworthy) and some more challenging words for an early week solver. OK, so there are a few weak spots and nobody other than cheerleaders says GO TEAM and then only in a choreographed cheer (likely with signs) suitable for competition. It. Is. Legit. And we all know it.

And a good time was had by CDilly52 and her faithful avatar and current solving partner. She has recently stepped in to take the place of my late husband and while many of her astute comments are lost in translation, just the fact that she lounges on top of me until she hears the “congrats” theme Is such a welcome addition to my daily solve. After helping, she does the full on cat stretch, and trots off to acquire her evening treat. today’s puzz provided a treat for both of us.

Z 12:57 PM  

TOE THE LINE (you may need to scroll a little for the actual discussion - the web page has a lot of white space at the top on my iPad). In my favorite sport to play, the receiving team is supposed to have at least one TOE (well, foot) on the front end zone LINE at the start of the point, while the defense can be anywhere in their end zone until the disc is thrown to the receiving team, so I literally TOE THE LINE most Wednesday nights and on many weekends.

I just spent some time trying to find some reason for using GAEA or GAIA. There seems to be a slight preference for the E when talking about the Greek Goddess and classical myth and the I when talking about the Earth Mother in a modern ecological context. But when I say “slight” I mean I might be making that up by not going through enough pages of the google search results.

Team #GOTEAM. A little amazed that so many have not heard the phrase. I think it is most often used ironically now, but not just ironically.

@Joaquin - I’ve been reading the NY Times for decades and had no inkling about the OP DOCS feature. Of course, I actually read the paper since reading provides more information in less time than watching video. As for Rex, we know he subscribes to the puzzle but I don’t recall him ever indicating that he gets the paper or subscribes to the website. He often will mention solving on a clipboard, but never that I recall actually folding the newspaper to solve.

Teedmn 1:19 PM  

@Joaquin, I'm with you on SPIEL as a verb. I was sure someone was going to call that one out as inconsistent with the other themers. Online Dictionary says: verb: reel off; recite."he solemnly spieled all he knew" speak glibly or at length. (the example sentence has me thinking of "spilled" rather than "spieled".)

The NW was the hard part of this puzzle today. I threw down SAT at 1A but then the CHOO CHOO train pulled into the station, leaving me scratching my head. NOOB or NewB? What kind of Bleu cheese do we have? What more of a Spanish greeting do we need than "hola"?

OPDOC - I hesitated slightly at that one - I knew of the NYT's OP DOCs but didn't think the term was widely in use. Sounds like it isn't from what I glean from these comments.

EAU next to WATER, with the lac and the lake in the clues. Nice. I circled the clues for 24D APSE and 39D TA TA as my favorites. An interesting Wednesday puzzle, thanks, Erik Agard.

xyz 1:26 PM  

Messy SE for me, not much joy

Kathy 1:38 PM  

@anonymous 11:14. True, but IBM is always clued with an abbr. signal. Maybe the difference is that TGIFridays historically never spelled out the TGI in its name where IBM once called itself International Business Machines.

Carola 1:41 PM  

I spoiled the puzzle for myself by thinking that today was Thursday and being disappointed in how easy it was. So, thanks, commenters for waking me up to the correct day and a proper appreciation of the theme and the construction challenges. I saw the TALK synonyms early and thought we might be headed for something like "interrupted conversations," so the reveal was a nice surprise. I'm still not sure about the split theme words....

As so often, comments here make me think about words or expressions I've used so often without wondering about origins. Today it was TOE THE LINE that sent me to the OED, which has as Definition 2. "To touch or reach with the toes; chiefly in to toe a (also the) line (or mark), to stand with the tips of one's toes exactly touching a line; to stand in a row; hence figuratively to present oneself in readiness; also, to conform."
@CDilly52, indeed, one of the citations is from seafaring: 1840 R. H. Dana Two Years before Mast":The chief mate..marked a line on the deck, brought the two boys up to it, making them ‘toe the mark’."

@chefwen - I'm ashamed to say I never thought of "Pack"! I may have to give up my GB potholders!
@GILL I - I also got a smile out of EWW over AAHS (instead of the usual "ooh"). I missed the EAU.

albatross shell 2:04 PM  

I thought this was much harder than Monday or Tuesday, and more fun with nicer long answers than either of those. But I was watching the hearings as I solved, and I have a lot of holes in my crossword game. My high school had a GO T-E-A-M TEAM cheer. Often used as a generic cheer as is ray and hooray which people generally do not say also.

Great revealer, disappointed the theme answers were not in circles also. Perhaps it was a nice misdirection though. Having them stacked and beginning and ending letters certainly made it bravura tada performance.
TOE is correct, but TOW has its own suggestive charm because a towtruck or more commonly towboat tows pulling on rope or chain that becomes a taut line, involves work needing strength, and all involved better be on the same page. The phrase does mean lined up in a row, and thus all following the same directions and thus all keeping to the same official story. At least that's my opinion without research.

Talking in circles and arguing in circles seem slightly different to me, but both are endless and I like the clue-answer too much to have a nitfit.

jae 3:17 PM  

@amyyanni - He’s a San Diego native so he’s looking at the UC schools and Stanford plus MIT and some of the ivies. He’s a junior and is currently at the top of his class. However, our research has shown that college admissions is a bit of a crap shoot.

Anonymous 3:38 PM  

Albatross shell- I don't know how tow trucks work. I'm certain you don't know what the toe the line means.

Go Team Rex, said no one ever.

Escalator 3:45 PM  

I thought it was “What’s UPDOC” 😊

Ethan Taliesin 3:46 PM  

Only half paying attention to the puzzle today. Didn't get the theme. Didn't care. Sondland testimony!

Uke Xensen 3:47 PM  

Exceptionally uninspired clueing.

tea73 4:19 PM  

As I was doing this I thought I might be setting a Wednesday record, not quite, but close. I really liked it, having the circles referenced in the revealer tickled my funny bone. It would not have bothered me if they had been more scattered through their words. I thought the theme and construction was pretty impressive.

I spelled GAEA the other way, but SPINY EEL fixed that. I've never heard of an OPDOC, but it was easy enough to suss out from the acrosses. While I'm not fond of HEE, I'm okay with partials like TGI. I speak French and German, but all the Spanish was familiar. So and easy breezy Wednesday.

Véronique 5:20 PM  

Fairly new non-native speaker solver here, so I always get excited when I can finish a Wednesday. I really liked the long answers on this one. Thanks Rex for your great blog!

Anonymous 5:38 PM  

I always appreciate, as a relatively younger and newer crossword solver to see some answers that are quite easy for me (opdoc was one of the first I filed on the initial quick passthrough) are foreign to vets, and I got stumped on seemingly "easy" sections (lUz/Upn, tamP/toPal).

JC66 5:41 PM  

@Katthy 1:18

FYI, the New York Times, Sunday, July 7, 2019 crossword is only the latest of many examples where IBM was not clued as an abbreviation (Watson's creator).

Unknown 5:47 PM  

Rex, if you're going to print your time, dont give us 4-ish. That means nothing. Either post your true time or be silent. Thanks. 🤗

Anonymous 8:54 PM  

always love to see a mountain goats reference! agree that this could stand as a themeless far better

Z 9:26 PM  

For @LMS.

Hank 9:50 PM  

I detect a hidden MAGA message.


Plus three Spanish words (or should I say Mexican !)

Who is eating our EMPANADA ?

57Stratocaster 5:17 PM  

I guessed right, so I finished, literally luckily.

Diana, LIW 11:36 AM  

Merry Christmas to all Syndiecats.

May all your crosswords be wonderful.

Diana, LIW

Diana, LIW 11:47 AM  

and a 2-letter dnf, due to two tiny words I didn't know. Ho, ho, ho!

Lady Di

spacecraft 11:57 AM  

I always thought TOETHELINE came from darts; opponents can be very picky if you stand just a smidge too close. But I suspect the nautical reference is much older.

The marquee name notwithstanding, I did not like this one. The start didn't help, but I put that on the editor: why, especially in a grid CHOCK full of abbrs., did he let (or, OMG, PUT!) in that abbr. clue for a perfectly good word, ACT? WHY?? "Bill after approval," there ya go, a Wednesday level clue. C'mon, Will!

Solving felt like a lurching roller coaster; inane gimmes sprinkled between total unknowns. Especially 46 down. Sounds like Bugs: "Nyaa, [chomp chomp] what's OPDOC?" Then there's the clue for ETHANE (groan). Might as well say "Macbeth on the internet?" That would piss off OFC!

The NE yielded some bright spots; I vote that the best corner--even though STAGEACTOR seems to have a TINT of green paint. DOD: I don't know ANA Ortiz, so I Googled her. Sold! Honorable mention to Jenny Agutter of LOGAN's Run. (I know, a stretch, but what a pair of stems!)

LALA and TATA, ANA. It's over: AAHS. Feeling in a giving spirit today (Merry Christmas, everybody in Syndiland!!), I'll give Erik a par.

Burma Shave 12:47 PM  


INCIRCLES to EWW, and ask, "WHAT's OPDOC?"


rondo 1:06 PM  

The ETHANE and APSE clues are right up Will's alley. The 6 letters in the corners give you A-CLASS, as in Mercedes. In the 69a position is yeah baby ANA Ortiz. HEE HEE.

Merry Christmas to all Syndicats. GOTEAM!

leftcoaster 2:40 PM  

Erik Agard gave just about every break he could to solvers today, which made otherwise tough PPP's quite gettable with crosses and inferences, not to speak of TALK[ing]INCIRCLES.

A coincidental X-mas gift to syndies from Santa.

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