Nitrogen compound / THU 11-7-19 / First magnitude star in Cygnus / Walter 1950s-70s Dodgers manager / Former Indiana arena that hosted four Final Fours / Onetime British band whose name consists of letters suggesting bliss

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Constructor: Joe DiPietro

Relative difficulty: Medium? (I solved on paper without a timer ... if you knew the old trivia clues, probably easy; if not ... not)


THEME: diamonds — circled squares form—and spell out—different "diamonds":

Theme answers (from L to R, top to bottom):
  • Faux diamond (??)
  • Hope Diamond
  • Baseball diamond
  • Neil Diamond
  • Legs Diamond
Word of the Day: LAC (24A: Sealing wax ingredient) —
a resinous substance secreted by a scale insect (Laccifer lacca) and used chiefly in the form of shellac (merriam-webster.com)
• • •

I have "yeesh" written multiple times in the margins of my puzzle print-out, if that gives you some sense of how this went. There weren't many pleasant moments today. NICEISH, that was my one moment of "oh, I like that!" (58A: Kind of kind). Let's start with the end—that is, making sense of the circled squares. When I started, I took one look at the grid and thought, "OK, scattershot circled squares, those'll add up to something eventually, let's just go." The key word there is "scattershot," i.e. in no way did I see five discrete diamond shapes. Not at all. The "baseball" diamond puts circles so close to the other diamonds that the shapes lose their individual identity, at least to a cursory glance. So theme shmeme. It may as well not have been there, and in no way added to or subtracted from my solve. Only became an issue when, in the end, I looked back over the grid and thought "What ... was that?" There's no revealer, so figuring it out was tougher than usual. But not that tough. I don't think of the moment you discover the theme as an "aha" moment unless it comes mid-solve and helps move you along. Not sure what to call an irrelevant after-the-fact theme discovery. But that's what I experienced. Very much a let down. "Faux" seems particularly weak as a type of "diamond." The others are OK, but who cares? Making shapes like this feels very old hat. Nothing new or exciting going on here, themewise.


So as for the actual solving experience, this puzzle may as well have been a themeless, and as a themeless ... hoo boy, it was not satisfying. My main complaint was the trivia, which was stale and old and obscurish at times, *especially* if sports (and **especially** old sports trivia) is not really your thing. This thing was sports-heavy even for me, a sports-following person since I was a boy. And when I was a boy, Walter ALSTON (33A: Walter ___, 1950s-'70s Dodgers manager) and WEEB (!?) Ewbank (40D: Hall-of-Fame coach Ewbank) were already in history's rearview mirror. Dodgers were my first sports fandom, but the only manager I ever knew was Tommy Lasorda. Anyway, I was semi-stunned to see the puzzle go to the old-coach well more than once. WEEB *and* ALSTON!? Two, two, two old coaches in one (puzzle)!? To say nothing of the more common sports stuff (GOT A HIT, BALKS, the baseball diamond in the middle of the grid, CAVRCA DOME ...). But it was mainly the coaches that got me.


And then there was the trivia like FROZONE (back to the "secondary characters on 'The Incredibles'" well, I see) (16A: Character voiced by Samuel L. Jackson in "The Incredibles") and then meaningless (to me) stuff like OIL RING (41D: Engine part that distributes lubrication evenly) and ALAMOSA (38D: Colorado city on the Rio Grande). And tired old xword stuff like DENEB and AZOLE and IGAS (plural!) and SOU and LAC (!) and the non-Nan Bobbsey twin FLOSSIE (!?!?) (speaking of old). There wasn't much to cheer about. The theme was ultimately familiar and inconsequential, the fill was trivia-laden and mired in a pretty bygone era. OK, I'll give TOTAL LIE and HOT WINGS some credit. They do liven up the grid. But solving this just wasn't fun. PESETA *and* LIRA?! LOT *and* LOTT?! MRS. C *and* ESTELLE!? SELASSIE *and* FLOSSIE!?!?! (just kidding on that last one). I'll pass. Or, I would have, if I didn't have to write this blog :)

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]

120 comments:

StortG 5:36 AM  

That was the worst.

TonySaratoga 5:51 AM  

FROZONE/AZOLE Natick was the death of my solve.

Lewis 5:55 AM  

This one knocked me left and right -- lots of trivia I didn't know and I was naticked at FROZONE/AZOLE. When I finally had the grid filled in I still couldn't figure out the theme, which it turns out I like. I don't mind a lot of pop culture -- a weak solving area of mine -- when it's fairly crossed and the pop answers can be reasonably inferred, and here the crossings were fair, IMO, except for that natick, where FRO?ONE could have been many letters. AZOLE has shown up three times since 1984, but I think I'll remember it for the future. The cluing today was weekend tough, which I greatly appreciated. Solving experiences like this are good for me; they keep my head down to size and motivate me to improve my solving skills.

My best moments came compliments of two animal clues -- [Swimmer with big calves] for ORCA, and [Half-assed sort?] for MULE. Bravo many times over for those, Joe!

Jcap 6:08 AM  

Too idiolectic to be satisfying.

Anonymous 6:32 AM  

I agree with Rex on all counts. Waaayy too much baseball. And why say not just “_____ Ingalls Wilder.” That’s enough. Three band names (of which I knew one). Grannie? Nope it’s granny. Very little fun in this one.

JOHN X 6:44 AM  

This was an OK puzzle but wasn’t much of a Thursday puzzle, at least as I’d like them to be. To me, a Thursday should be a puzzle within a puzzle; that is, you must first figure out the theme’s “trick” before you can ever solve the main grid. That’s why I love rebus puzzles, and that “aha” moment when you finally figure out why so many answers are not working.

The last square I filled in was that cross of ELI and ALAMOSA. I guessed at the “L” and was right, but it was just a guess all the same.

Both those coaches are also before my time but they are fixtures in New York City sports history so you should have known them. Alston won four World Series (including Brooklyn’s famous one) while Ewbank won the Jets only Super Bowl with gimpy Joe Namath at QB. Plus, his name was WEEB. How do you ever forget a name like WEEB once you hear it? You don’t. I learned it in MAD Magazine.

OIL RINGS is just a great answer. It really makes up for a lot of issues in this puzzle. If there’s one thing we can all agree on is that there should be more engine related answers, and not just piston engines but also turbine and rocket engines as well as various motors and their components and support systems. Can you imagine if all the engine parts were rebus answers? That would be the most perfect puzzle ever.

Dave 6:52 AM  

Thanks for explaining the diamond thing! I couldn't see it.

amyyanni 7:11 AM  

Rex, your last line just made me wonder if some of us might not be more critical if we had to write a clever blog post about each puzzle. We're free to think 'meh' and go about the day. Just a thought.
As for today, chuckled to enter FLOSSIE. She and Freddie were the little blonde ones; Nan and Bert the older brunettes. Read the series avidly in my youth.
NEIL is my favorite diamond here because Sweet Caroline. Good Friday Eve!

Elise 7:14 AM  

But for the app I would have naticked at Weeb and New...had Weob and Now. Ancient sports trivia Not My Thing (is Weob really much worse than Weeb?), and kept thinking of the old Miss Cleo ads--Call Me Now!

kitshef 7:19 AM  

Took me longer to figure out the theme than to solve the puzzle in the first place – and the puzzle was harder than most Saturday puzzles.

Plenty of WoEs – FLOSSIE, AZOLE, FROZONE, IGAS, ELI, OIL RING and ALAMOSA. Alas, there are two places where they cross (AZOLE/FROZONE, ELI/ALAMOSA) so there was some guessing involved. But in both cases the most reasonable guess was correct.

Just … hard. Felt like an accomplishment to finish.

Anonymous 7:23 AM  

It’s not often that I completely agree with @Rex, but boy do I on this one. It felt like nightmare Jeopardy.

“I’ll try obscure foreign currency for $50, Art.” (Sows my age - Art Fleming preceding Alex Trebek.)

“How about obscure characters in old TV shows for $20.”

And the one category I actually know - “I’ll wager everything on old sports managers/coaches.”

Sheesh, I rarely have such a bad solving experience!

- Jim C. in Maine

Brian 7:30 AM  

Frustrating and arcane ... hated "Niceish"

David 7:41 AM  

FROZONE was the only answer I got and was 100% sure of on my first pass.

GILL I. 7:51 AM  

Now if you're a constructor, don't you stop and think that you want solvers to at least go ooh, aha, aah or wow or something NICEISH when they discover what your theme is? You already had me at the UGHS and MEHS when you load up a Friday night trivia game with words like FAN DUEL RCA DOME INXS XTC FROZONE crap.
I suppose SILENT I is cleverISH for your "Friends" clue. But you put it in quotes so everyone with a set of ALLELEs is looking for a character.
I thought I knew my sushi but hell if Tako has ever been on my menu. Wanted scampi.
The ads I read at 50A are NOW and Ewbank can be a WEOB for all I knew. SOU LIRA PESETA with baseball gets the thumbs down.
What did I like? MR FIX IT and MRS C. ESTELLE was a GRANNIE wasn't she?
If it weren't for this blog explaining what the hell I just did, I'd be going to bed mad.

Music Man 7:52 AM  

I agree with Rex - too many old obscure clues; didn’t get the diamond theme at all until reading the blog. Tedious.

Wax 7:54 AM  

Does Mr. Shortz even care anymore? This atrocious puzzle could have been decent with a little editing. I mean. MRSC crossing FLOSSIE? And XTC next to INXS?

The puzzle depended on far too many proper nouns and most of those were dated pop culture or sports references.

A crossword puzzle should not be a trivia contest.

Amie Devero 7:55 AM  

Disaster. as someone who knows nothing about sports, I might as well have not bothered doing puzzle at all. I don't remember when I last felt so excluded from a New York Times puzzle.

Anonymous 8:01 AM  

Where are oil rings? I know where piston rings are.

TokyoRacer 8:05 AM  

28 proper nouns and foreign words. 28! Isn't that too many? Yes, that's too many. Including 5 in a row (2,3,4,5,6 down)! Just ridiculous. It's a trivia quiz, how can they call it a crossword?

Suzie Q 8:07 AM  

I was hoping for some fun today (and every day) but Thursday used to be my favorite. I say used to because it's seldom been fun lately. Today was not fun for me at all.
There was some cleverness but not enough to off set the multiple intersections of unknowns.
I never did figure out the diamonds.
I'd have a better chance if someone did take @ JOHN X's tongue-in-cheek suggestion before I ever solved a sports grid like this one.

I've been watching some YouTube videos about the octopus and I don't think I want to eat them ever again. Talk about clever!

Petsounds 8:10 AM  

Totally agree with Rex. No fun. Several naticks. But then, whenever I see that the constructor is Joe DiPietro, I know I'm in for a not-fun ride. Too much obscure trivia, too many ridiculous old Crosswordese clues, too many stretches, and a theme that isn't a theme and doesn't help in the solve. Typical DiPietro. Yuck.

BarbieBarbie 8:11 AM  

I thought NICEISH was a fantastic clue/answer pair, and I too loved the animal ones. Two bands is fine when one of them is clued as wordplay and has gettable crosses.
I couldn’t use the diamonds to help, but I did figure them out afterward. A revealer would have helped, but the Down fill was pretty great, so best not to mess that up.
For me this one was a solid Hard. 50% longer than my average Thursday. Many, many Rexes. I enjoyed it!

Kelly 8:14 AM  

IMHO Rex, you were way too soft on this puzzle, which was absolutely dreadful. Probably my worst solving experience ever with a NYT puzzle. UGH!

mmorgan 8:14 AM  

Bottom was hard hard hard but gettable, top was nearly impossible, with so many things I had absolutely no clue about. I could not for the life of me make a sentence out of FAUX BASEBALL HOPE NEIL LEGS. Oh, it’s about diamonds. Oh.

Richardf8 8:18 AM  

Silent I led me a merrier chase than it should have. Still this puzzle was a research project. When I got Azole, I thought “are these circles forming a molecular diagram of the thing?” That’s how lost I was on the theme.

Donovan 8:18 AM  

As a millennial who doesn't follow sports, particularly baseball, this was not enjoyable. The NYT needs to figure out that not all of their solvers are retirees, and it's ok to ask a boomer to learn about something that happened post-1980.

Nampa bob 8:27 AM  

Didn’t find it clever or enjoyable.

tb 8:35 AM  

@Donovan it's also ok to ask a millennial to learn about something pre-1980.

Hungry Mother 8:42 AM  

No hope with all of the trivia. I’ve started doing LAT puzzles again and the NYT offerings pale in comparison. I had two squares I had no clue on. Not worth my time, even though I’m on a two hour late Auto Train heading for winter quarters.

Anonymous 8:44 AM  

Yeeesh indeed... this was no fun at all!

Nancy 8:46 AM  

Words fail me. All I could do was throw this piece of sheer awfulness against the wall. Now I have a hole in the wall and I'm waiting for the handyman.*

Why did I waste all my vitriol on yesterday's trivia-fest? That puzzle was merely annoying. This one is an absolute horror.

Never mind. Rest assured that I will never run out of vitriol when certain kinds of pop culture-trivia puzzles are foisted on me.

Will Shortz doesn't read this blog, but he does read Wordplay where I plan to cut and paste this comment. Will, may I commend to you the very recent science experiment that says that wordplay puzzles actually can improve brain function whereas trivia puzzles don't have any effect on brain function at all.

Oh, by the way, I never tried to finish this. Couldn't have if I'd wanted to. Didn't want to. What a terrible waste of a Thursday.

*A wee joke. I needed something to amuse me this morning.

Hungry Mother 8:51 AM  

You know it’s a bad puzzle when @Lewis can only give faint praise.

Mr. Goodwrench 8:52 AM  

@Anonymous 8:01 AM

An oil ring ring IS a piston ring. On a typical automobile engine, each piston has 2 or 3 sealing rings towards the combustion end, with an oil ring below that. All of these are piston rings.

QuasiMojo 8:59 AM  

Not NICEISH. I naticked at FRoZONE (I tried IRON ONE) and had a few other errors. I loved MR. FIXIT which came to me quite late but the rest was annoying. NEW has an exclamation point? I was thinking NOW!! Never heard of WEEB. I had HERB. Then WEBB. But finally cheated. I was sure SILENTI was some Italian character. FAUX diamond was a very weak themer.

And I'm not sure I want to be reminded of "LEGS Diamond." I saw that show on Broadway. Julie Wilson was great but the rest, well, hardly XTC.

Kelly 9:01 AM  

@Donovan I'm a boomer retiree nearing 70 and I agree with you that this puzzle was terrible. I also agree that the NYT Crossword staff these days seem to have lost touch with the idea of providing solvers (of any age) with an enjoyable solving experience.

Tim Pierce 9:09 AM  

Rough. Very rough. Worst part for me was MR. FIX IT crossed with RCA DOME, FAN DUEL and IGAS. If you're not a sports person -- and I'm not -- _CADOME and _ANDUEL could have been anything at all. IGA is a regional chain with almost no presence in my state, so I couldn't quite remember the name and had "OGAS" there for a while. Trying to get MR. FIX IT when you have M--IXOT filled in is brutal.

The "diamonds" in the grid actually helped me: the first ones I got were HOPE and NEIL and gave me the theme immediately, and that helped me fill in the missing letters in BASEBALL, which in turn helped me get some of the crossings I didn't yet have.

As usual I found more to enjoy here than Rex did -- MANX CAT and WORSE OFF and TONES UP. FROZONE always puts a smile on my face. SILENT I literally made me yell "OH, COME ON" when I filled it in but I admit it's a clever clue. But no "?" on that one? Geez. But rough, very rough.

SouthsideJohnny 9:10 AM  

I agree with the overwhelming consensus that this thing is a train wreck. Rex, Nancy and Anon @ 7:2 all summed it up well (“Nightmare Jeopardy “, lol). This pseudo-puzzle could be the basis for a chapter in a text book on how not to construct a crossword puzzle, as it is that rich in garbage (arcane and irrelevant PPP, foreign currency, a theme in name only . . . ).

Dorothy Biggs 9:14 AM  

I usually resort to Google on puzzles like this...that is, whenever I get to a point where I don't really enjoy the solve and it's taking too long and think, "Nobody got time for this!" But my rule is to Google small words first. So I Googled Ms. Suvari. Which cleaned up "GRAmmIE" and got me to SAVAGED and eventually that corner went in.

In the same corner, I also Googled kuru...which, turns out, is also a terrible disease that, (best as I can tell from a quick glance at the Google results), is caused by cannibalism. Nice 100x over. I used my dictionary to confirm LAC. I know DENEB from xword puzzles. SABRA is the kind of hummus I eat most often. And SOU...where have you been? We've missed yOU!

I used good old fashioned wit to figure out SILENTI, but I don't like meta-clues like that. They seem cheap to me.

If you want to get a 6-pack, you're going to have to do more than "TONEUP." People with 6-pack abs are either young or they work out A LOT(T).

I drink my MIMOSA from a tumbler. I'm not proud.

CDilly52 9:15 AM  

What @Lewis said. Especially the clues for ORCA and MULE. I had to run the alphabet a couple times FROZEN/AZOLE being one, and I am lost when it comes to new pop culture.

As I finished a quadrant, I did notice the “diamond” ideas and spent a good five minutes looking Back at all the clues to find the revealer that I had “missed.” Seemed like a choppy grid and I most certainly experienced a choppy solve!

Manatee Jones 9:21 AM  

ok boomer

pabloinnh 9:24 AM  

Add me to the FROZONE x AZOLE = WTF contingent, plus the never saw the diamonds fan club. Some "how did I miss that before answers", as in 1A's MRFIXIT, since that was my job at our summer resort here in NH and I actually" own a blue denim work shirt with a"Mr. Fixit" patch above the pocket.

Both WEEB and ALSTON were gimmes, advantage of a long life spent paying attention to sports.

Happy to see PESETA, which was what there was when I lived in Spain, and very few pesetas could buy you a lot of red wine. Good times.

Overall I'd say mostly slogsome, and I missed a Thursday aha! moment.

TJS 9:26 AM  

Yeah, you don't have to be a "millennial" to hate this puzzle. As soon as I entered "got a hit" I knew this was gonna suck. There is just too much wrong with this thing to even start enumerating. More engine and motor clues, indeed. Maybe Popular Mechanics has a crossword? Anything would be better.
On a positive note, I get to agree with Rex for a change, except that he thinks "niceish" was a pleasant moment. Yeesh !

#WSshouldretire 9:27 AM  

Donovan...Rex has been talking about WS and the editing for a long time now and pointing to other puzzles that are doing what he's asking WS to figure out. WS is pushing 70 himself...seems like it's time for him to retire. Nothing against 70 year olds, but sheesh. I'm pretty sure all he knows about rappers, reddit, YEET, and a lot of other current internet culture and affairs is from staffers...second hand and probably too late to be current or relevant.

He's kinda like that DJ that only plays 80s music.

He's had his fun, now it's time for him to step aside, retire, write a few more puzzle books, etc. But holding onto the NYT xword editing position white-knuckled is probably where a lot of Rex's rancor comes from. Give it up, Will.

Jyqm 9:31 AM  

Woof. What else is there to say? The votes on this puzzle look to be unanimous. MRFIXIT was a nice answer to uncover, but I got it by dropping in INXS and XTC. While I know and enjoy both bands, seeing them cozied up with each other like that immediately gave me a sinking feeling about what to expect from the rest of the puzzle. I sure wasn’t wrong.

the redanman 9:33 AM  

This puzzle did absolutely nothing to make me feel better about seeing circled squares on a grid.

Independent that this puzzle is somewhere between crap and lower

ugh

Jake W 9:36 AM  

How did this pass by Will? This was just bad boomer trivia.

Amelia 9:42 AM  

Ok. So I went to the WSJ to do the daily puzzle so I could make a comparison and guess what. You guessed right. There is no comparison. It was their usual clever offering. Maybe a tad too easy for a Thursday, but a pleasure to solve. With none of the crap the Times offers up day in, day out.

I liked Fetched. I liked Mr and Mrs in the puzzle until I realized there is no Ms. (Me.)

That would be it. Everything else was just awful. I would have had a Natick with that pesky Z but I remembered it at the last moment. And the only reason I knew Ren and Stimpy is because I lived it with a young child. Day in, day out.

I've stopped coming here because it's so flipping boring to say the same thing day in, day out. I can only imagine how Rex feels. I wish they would pass the reins already.

Richardf8 9:54 AM  

Oh and I feel like the Internet is gaslighting me on 17A, because I can swear I remember Stimpy being very proud of being a Devon Rex.

Aaron Leclair 9:57 AM  

This puzzle made me feel like I was forty to fifty years too old for the NYTimes puzzle. I thought the past few weeks relied too heavily on dated boomer-era pop culture but this puzzle was in a whole different league.

A great Thursday puzzle is clever yet approachable with the potential for a great a-ha moment when you discover the theme. This puzzle was neither. I feel like I was spending more time looking up obscure pop culture and vintage sports esoterica to fill up the grid rather than, well, solving the puzzle.

I'm fairly new to the NYTimes puzzle (only been solving for six months) but the more puzzles I do the more I sympathize with Rex's gripes with Shortz' editing.

Anonymous 10:00 AM  

Mr. Goodwrench,

Have you ever in your life uttered the phrase oil rings? I know I haven't.
You also neglected to mention the much bigger problem with that clue and answer. Rings whether you call preface it with piston or oil do not distribute the lubrication to the engine. They ALLOW the oil to be distributed but that's not the same as being the force that powers the oil flow i.e. lubrication.

Tess 10:05 AM  

A dreary trivia quiz. If the goal is to drive away younger xworders, congrats @nytimes, well done.

Joel Palmer 10:09 AM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
David 10:16 AM  

Big, fat, DNF. In fact, this boomer barely started. After my first run through the acrosses and downs I said to myself, why waste time with such obscure trivia? So I didn't. Being a boomer, one of the few I got on that first pass was "oil ring."

In my industry, which keeps me more well informed about current music than most, ageism is the last openly and aggressively applied prejudice. Nice to see the youngs are bringing it out into the wild again... must be the Drumpf effect.

Anonymous 10:17 AM  

So much of "good" puzzle depends on your age/interests. Walter Alston and Weeb Ewbanks are gimmes for anyone of a certain age, and for anyone with decent US sports history knowledg.

JC66 10:17 AM  


@Joel Palmer

The letter (character) I in FRIENDS is silent.

Sir Hillary 10:19 AM  

Trivia-laden puzzles never bother me, because they are among the very few forums in which my trivia-crammed brain is actually of much use. As usual, I solved this as a solitary man with no red red wine, and I have to say that I'm a believer.

Molasses 10:32 AM  

Ouch. I only got two across answers right on the first pass - MRS C and PESETA, although I got the wrong vowel at the end of peseta. I was happy to find FLOSSIE when I got down there. Google got a workout on this one.

Don't blame boomers for everything that happened before 1980. The Bobbsey Twins were published starting in 1904, and the ones I read as a kid in the 60s came from grandma's book closet.

jrstocker 10:38 AM  

I had RUSH IN rather than DASH IN (REBATES can be a political issue too, right?) So that whole ALAMOSA ELI area became a giant black hole for me.

Pajama Boy 10:39 AM  

As a Gen X-er who identifies as a Millenial I must say I was microagressed by all these Boomer clues. Time to go so my safe space.

Unknown 10:52 AM  

LAC? I stuck my flag in "DYE" instead, figuring what else could sealing wax have that wasn't, you know, wax.

Arden 10:58 AM  

Not fun

Anonymous 10:59 AM  

OILRING *distributes* OIL???? Not in any universe. Racing engines have oil journals everywhere (aka, dry sump system), while civilian engines have what's called 'splash oiling'. The crankshaft beats up the oil in the pan (aka, wet sump system), some of which covers the cylinder walls and bottom of the pistons. More oil goes to cylinders with pistons at/near TDC. The purpose of the OILRING is to *scrape* the oil off the cylinder wall on the downstrokes so that oil isn't routinely burned on the ignition stroke (4 cycle engines). Also called, not surprisingly, the scraper ring. The OILpump is what distributes the OIL in both wet and dry sump systems.

Emtreidy 11:00 AM  

Aside from what everyone else said, I’m really upset that the “baseball” diamond started on second base.

RooMonster 11:03 AM  

Hey All !
FROZONE got me going on puz. Immature me who loves cartoons. :-) Then got enough answers around the center to make out that BASEBALL was in the middle squares. And saw it was in a diamond, so managed to grok the theme with that, giving me HOPE in the NE and NEIL in the SW. Never heard of LEGS Diamond.

Had ruSHIN in SW for DASHIN forever, which got me rEBATES for political campaign highlights. Har.

Had HOP to IT , but finally grokked LOTT, so changed to HOP ON IT, but still had a DNF/FWE with gaNEt for FENEB. So 14D was TEST tAN.

Was proud of myself for getting ALLELE and ALSTON correct.

Didn't know Stimpy was a MANX CAT. Knew he was a CAT. That NW corner was brutal at first, but then 1A popped into the ole brain, and it filled in in about 3 seconds. Helpful I knew INXS and heard of XTC.

Terrific, but maddening misdirect on the "Friends" clue. Listed all six characters in the margin, but gad the L of BALKS, and not one of them fit. Started trying to think of secondary characters. Wasn't a die-hard, must-watch fan of the show, but have seen some episodes, and it was pretty funny. And Jennifer Aniston, schwing!

So a mishmash Hodge podge type puz. Lots of PPP, nice open grid, low block count, odd answers. Thursday, ya know?

NICEISH TOTAL LIE
RooMonster
DarrinV

Whatsername 11:07 AM  

I certainly HOPE the constructor found some enjoyment from this one because somebody ought to. I, like most solvers I imagine, look forward to Thursday more than other days because it’s usually fun and challenging with hopefully a nice tricky theme. Suffice it to say I don’t consider a bunch of random circled letters much of a trick or a theme, even after I find out those letters are not random but actually in the shapes of five diamonds. Especially when one of those diamonds is some obscure gangster who died (died!) 1931. Still, it wasn’t awful and I didn’t mind the sports clues, just not what I wanted on a Thursday.

I’d say grandmothers are GRANNIES but ask any one of them and she’ll say she’s known as GRANNY. For 12D, had HURRYUP, then HOPTOIT because I had no idea what 16A and 18A were. I’m no MRFIXIT but wanted OILPUMP at 41D. Adding quotation marks on “Friends” indicates the TV show and was not a very NICEISH thing to do to your solvers, especially when you have two other clues referencing “Happy Days” and “Seinfeld.”

37D didn’t make me think of the current presidential race, but 7D did. Just thinking of what is in store between now and next November makes me want to pour a MIMOSA and grab a six pack. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Whatsername 11:17 AM  
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous 11:21 AM  

Yes, a mimosa for me and the gentleman will have an alamosa, thanks. On the way home, we'll stop by Dairy Queen and get the kid a Frozone, if we can find enough sous and pesetas under the car seat and if the oil ring doesn't malfunction. Then up early to beat back Denebian slime devils. What? You missed the "Tribbles" episode of Star Trek?

jae 11:29 AM  

On the tough side. What Rex and most of the rest of you said.

Malsdemare 11:35 AM  

Chewed me up and spit me out. The more unknown sport and acting references I encountered, the more I channeled @Nancy. Well, she doesn't swear, and all I was muttering was the F word. By the time I finished—with half a dozen Googles and some sports help from Mr. Mal, I was not interested in sussing out the theme. Well, that's not entirely true. I found FAUX and then HOPE, but after a half-hearted stab at the others, I quit.

No joy in mudville; mighty Mary has struck out.

On to see what others have to say. My hope is @lms has shared her thoughts; that will cheer me up.

Mary McCarty 11:35 AM  

TOTALly agree with Southside Johnny. Terrible trivia, too many names. Maybe 10 clue-answer combos* I liked, and NICEISH wasn’t one of them...(btw, NICEISH earmarks a dotted red line by my auto-correct, as in, “This is not a real word.” When SILENT I is the best wordplay, you know it’s gonna be a train wreck.

*besides SILENT I: ODDS, SHOE, HULL, MULE, (INXS And XTC are marred by being trivia names- and next to each other! Something desperate about that!) Sorry, couldn’t find even 10. And HOP ON IT has a completely different connotation than HOP to IT (which should’ve been the answer to 12D.) check your Urban Dictionary.

mathgent 11:37 AM  

I got double-Naticked but I still found a lot to like. MRFIXIT, SELASSIE, GFORCE, "Swimmer with big calves?", SNOPES, "Half-assed sort?".

Joe DiPietro has written a lot of puzzles. Is he the bar owner?


Ethan Taliesin 11:48 AM  

Didn't think it was that good. Medium hard.

I had WOOB for WEEB. That made PESOTA and NOW--one being an actual word and the other being pretty dang close to a real word. I still like WOOB.

Whatever.

Liked SELASSIE as a clue.

---"The term "Rastafari" derives from the pre-regnal title of Haile Selassie, "Ras Tafari Makonnen"; the term "Ras" means a duke or prince, while "Tafari Makonen" was his name.

Newboy 11:50 AM  

Lewis said it; Rex was right.

Anonymous 11:53 AM  

I call shenanigans on "Stimpy" being known as a Manx cat. Of all the things Stimpy was known for, being a manx was not high on the list.

Carola 12:09 PM  

It took a long time of staring at the completed grid before I saw the diamonds. Once I saw BASEBALL, I tried to understand the others in terms of that sport...like you need LEGS...?...and HOPE?.... But then, aha, they're all diamonds.

Sheesh on all the names, huzzah for FETCHED, GFORCE, and FLOSSIE.

As a former college teacher, "Can I get an ___?" had to be completed with "extension."

Sam 12:27 PM  

Even as a joke, this is such mediocre behavior. Why dismiss with someone’s argument unless you’re afraid you can’t dispute it?

Joe Dipinto 12:33 PM  

Shortly after I started solving this thing I got the feeling, "Oh no no no no". Too many proper nouns, obscure or otherwise. I picked up on the "baseball" and "faux" diamonds when I was done, but the letters should really have been gray-shaded because I missed a few: I saw "hop" in the upper right and a jumble of letters at the bottom that suggested "singles" so I thought maybe it was a baseball theme somehow.

TOTAL LIE over SNOPES is a niceish touch. And I liked MANX CAT and WORSE OFF and FETCHED. But Joe DiP.'s puzzles are usually much better than this.

It does afford a lot of possible music tie-ins though. An aria from Dame Felicity Lott? A Shirelles hit with Shirley Alston on lead? Barry Manilow's "Ships"? Ringo's "Octopus's Garden"? Hmm. Let's go out with this.

Sam 12:33 PM  

Like ren and stimpy trivia, or the names of only somewhat popular websites, or characters from the Incredibles or Friends? Plenty of this puzzle’s clues would be obscure to many retirees and baby boomers. And plenty of puzzles in the last year have favored a younger audience. Plenty of us millennials do follow sports. Likewise there are plenty of puzzles that fall squarely out my wheelhouse - I don’t blame the backwards attitude of the NYT and their constructors every time a puzzle comes out that doesn’t fit all of my favored topics.

Anonymous 12:45 PM  

Another ditto to SouthsideJohnny

(Signed),
Not Joe Bleaux

jb129 12:47 PM  

Awful, sorry Joe, but you did it to US.

Also very sick of RAP stars & sports.

jb129 12:47 PM  

And Harry Potter.

Joseph M 12:50 PM  

I nominate this for Worst Puzzle of the 21st Century.

Fred Romagnolo 1:01 PM  

Ebert gave us the proper response to this puzzle: HATED HATED HATED IT. My subscription to the NYT runs out on November 18, I am not renewing.

Teedmn 1:03 PM  

I really liked the clues for 35A, "One tapped for a stage show?", 9D "Swimmer with big calves", and 53D "Half-assed sort?"

I was very glad 15A wasn't 'I'll pass" which is what I originally expected.

Thanks, Joe DiPietro.

Master Melvin 1:28 PM  

What kind of AZOLE crosses AZOLE with FROZONE?

DrBB 1:33 PM  

Since I'm a huge XTC fan that was the brightest spot for me. Surprised they don't show up in xwords more (ever?) since it seems like a handy letter combo for a constructor. INXS, not so much though--pretty lightweight and forgettable by comparison with the brilliant Mr Partridge. Circles seemed utterly random to me. Meh. But WEEB was a gimme! Especially as a guy who never gets sports trivia, but WEEB Ewbank is just such an oddball name it has been stuck in some dark and musty old synapse since I was a kid. Hurray for Weeb!

Alsotoo: FROZONE/AXOLE? Are they just trying to be annoying when they do this kind of thing? They must know that every solver on the planet is going to hate that one. I got it by total wild-ass guess, but take zero satisfaction in it. The term "natick" was invented for this. I can't even.

old timer 1:39 PM  

Worst puzzle of the century? Could be, for I had to look things up time after time to even get a foothold, outside the SE corner. Too many things I didn't know and should not be expected to know. It is true that my memory of Colorado towns on the Rio Grande is a little week, though when I got a few crosses up there, ALAMOSA quickly came to mind.

Hands up for OILPUMP which I think was right, and RING is not. And much as I admire Samuel L. Jackson, no one would know he was in the movie if they did not see FROZONE, and I know no one who did go see it.

Didn't find @Nancy's comment on Wordplay, but there were so many (quite a few pro, to my surprise) that without a lookup function working on that site, maybe I missed it. It does occur to me that this blog has very much influenced Wordplay regulars -- didn't Natick originate here?

It also occurs to me that @LMS has failed to comment today, because she too could not finish the puzzle, or if she did, has nothing nice to say about it, and Loren is the epitome of niceness. Which is more than NICEISH, an unforgettable word for those who love the climactic scene of Pride and Prejudice.

Master Melvin 1:48 PM  

WEEB Ewbank was the winning coach in what were probably the two most consequential football games ever played, which did more than any others to establish the behemoth that is the modern NFL:

The OT victory of the Baltimore Colts over my NY Giants, which came to known as "The Greatest Game Ever Played" and which established the NFL as a major TV force.

The NY Jets upset of the Colts in Super Bowl III, which gave credibility to the NFL-AFL merger and led directly to the Super Bowl becoming the cultural phenomenon it is now.

Just because it's old doesn't means it lacks significance today.

albatross shell 2:12 PM  

I agree with @Nancy and others who disliked the solving experience of this puzzle and the trivia, but like some others liked much that others have mentioned : SELASSIE MRFIXIT, MANXCAT, TOTALLIE - SNOPES, BALKS (despite the excess of BB clues) and the clues for SHOE ORCA SILENTI AMEN. Also, I give a pass to WEEB and ALSTON cause it's a NYC puzzle. I got the SE in plus a bit more. Saw it would be slog and worse. Just started using google for anything I didn't know instead of abandoning ship. Git it done fast.

As much as I disliked it, that list of likes is better than some puzzles that are OK+. Go figure.

Jason 2:21 PM  

OK, let's see here.......Monica, Ross, Chandler, Joey, Phoebe, Rachel........NO? OK....Gunther, Emily, Carol, Susan, Jack, Judy, Ben, Frank Jr, Alice, Jasmine, Nora, Paulo, Janice, Mr. Heckles, Ursula, Pete, Richard.......NO?...Jill, Amy, Leslie, Frank Jr Jr, Sophie, Emma, Mike, Gloria, Joseph Sr, Fun Bobby..........NO????????

"SILENT I"......Just stop it.

Masked and Anonymous 2:29 PM  

Well, like many other solvers, the NE corner bit m&e in the AZOLE, as didn't know it or FROZONE.
Lotta long-ish answers [only 72 puzgrid words], with a few tough-ish names.
Didn't catch onto the theme mcguffin, until after I finished. [Circular-ish diamonds.]
All this resulted in a polar nanosecond vortex of nasty-ish trouble, for the M&A.
Ish.

OTOH …
Primo SILENTI clue. It about had M&A convinced to spell CHANDLER as CHANLER, or somesuch.
staff weeject pick: XTC. Best ahar moment in the puz, weeject-wise.
Cool plus-signs, in the puzgrid design. Plus, a snootload of The Circles.
No revealer, appropriately -- on a ThursPuz, it's ok to make us suck it up and figure out what's goin on, for ourselves.
Some sparkly fillins [Freshness Factor = 82.9], includin: MRFIXIT. SAIDYES. MIMOSAS. HOPONIT. HOTWINGS.
Some sparkly Ow de Speration sprinkles. fave: ICANTGO. Sounds kinda like someone havin to decline givin a peepee sample.

All of which leaves me sittin coldly on the fence, which is mighty hard on one's FROZONE AZOLE.
Thanx for your efforts, tho, Mr. DiPietro.

Masked & Anonymo4Us


**gruntz**

WeesaSuzi 2:36 PM  

Hated this. I really didn't want to ruin my streak of gold but dang...this was almost the one to do it. Finally finished after correcting WOEB to WEEB. Just a really unenjoyable slog.

Sue T. 2:50 PM  

Days like today are why I contribute $ to this blog during Rex's annual drive -- I couldn't wait to see what people were saying about this puzzle. It took me about twice my usual Thursday time because I was determined to finish, but it almost did me in. (FWIW I'm a Gen X'er and I did get FROZONE and FLOSSIE -- I inherited my older cousin's old Bobbsey Twins books -- but the old sports names and stuff like LAC, DENEB and AZOLE were way outside of my wheelhouse.) WAY too obscure for a Thursday, and I didn't pick up on the theme until I came here.

Frantic Sloth 3:35 PM  

As in the placement of 37 and 40 across, I did DASHIN and ended up WORSEOFF than before I had my coffee. Blech!

jberg 3:36 PM  

Big DNF for me. I thought maybe it was because I was trying to solve while riding the subway, but now I see everyone found it tough. I did know ALSTON and WEEB, because I used to follow sports back then, but LAC? If I hadn't finally figured out TOTAL LIE, I would have gone with tAr. As for AZOLE, now that I see it I recognize it -- but of course I wanted 'amine,' but since I was pretty sure that there's no I in OCTOPUS, I thought maybe AMoNE might be another compound. (Here being on the subway was indeed a factor -- normally my biochemist wife is sitting across the room and I can ask her stuff like that.)

But I just couldn't get the NW. I gave up when there were so many writeovers at 15A (first 'regrets' figuring that was a plural; then I regret; then many individual letters changed by crosses, until some squares were pretty much solid black). I've heard of the cartoon, but no idea what species Stimpy was. I think I was half-confusing them with Beavis and Butthead. At one point I thought maybe he was a MeerkAT.

My best guess is that the constructor had made a bet that he could get a puzzle published with INXS next to XTC.

One time when I was visiting my son in Japan, I suggested we have some octopus, and asked him if it was hard to find. He was astounded at my question, pointing out that there were three TAKO maki shops in sight as we spoke. Of course their signs were written in Kanji, but they tended to have drawing of an octopus on the sign as well, I just hadn't noticed. Anyway, I've never forgotten the word, so that was a bright spot.

Right off the bat I wanted Gravity for 7D, since it was the only possible answer I could think of; but G FORCE never occurred to me. Does anyone call it that? I've heard it used only quantitatively, as in 1G, 2G, etc. -- never as the name of the force itself. But I'm no physicist, so I'll give than one the benefit of the doubt.

Is an OIL RING something like a drug ring, making sure the stuff gets distributed?

I'm getting increasingly irked by the use of "boomers" to mean old people. I'm old (75); boomers are not. They have to have been conceived after the war, so the most they can be today is 73, and most of them are years younger than that. People of my generation are war babies; a much smaller group, for obvious reasons.

That said, I have no objection at all to contemporary clues, just give me fair crosses so that I can learn something!

jberg 3:39 PM  

@Nancy from yesterday, you're right, and I would never dream of arguing with you about lyrics! I was just indulging in a little self-mocking for my Midwestern accent. Pointing out that I said "crick" for creek was meant to be a tipoff!

Joe Dipinto 3:46 PM  

@Jason 2:21 – You forgot Marcel, Ross's capuchin monkey from Season 1.

DanB 3:49 PM  

by far the worst NY Times xword i have ever done. just pure dreck. horror show. how did this get published?

DanB 3:50 PM  

What azole came up with this monstrosity?

Solverinserbia 4:55 PM  

Snapped my longest ever streak of 18 golden. It was impossible. There were a dozen answers I've never heard of and, I have no idea what the theme was.

gilly 4:59 PM  

Garbled, gunky, gobbledygook from beginning to end.
Good thing it only takes one hand to fill the grid--I needed the other to hold my nose.

pmdm 5:11 PM  

I did not figure out the theme until I read the blogs. That's one of the things blogs are for. Had I figured it out while solving, it certainly would have been an AHA moment. No such luck.

Too me PPP by my count. Normally, by Thursday it takes about one search per quadrant to allow me to finish the grid. If a Thursday puzzle requires more searches, I tend to dislike the solving experience. That certainly was the case today.

There tends to be much criticism of Shortz. In his defense I would say the following. He lobbied to expand the daily paper to publish two Ken Ken puzzles, and the Sunday Magazine puzzles are quite expanded. (Unfortunately Patrick Berry is probably too busy now to have time to construct Times crossword puzzles.)e has successfully lobbied for an increase to puzzle constructing fees. Seems to me, overall he has been a very good editor.

Before publication, each puzzle is solved by a group of testers. I would imagine if there was an overwhelming negative response by the test solvers, the puzzle would not be published. Perhaps some of the problem is with the test solvers, and the editors.

There are a number of (to me) artificial restraints on the puzzles, like maximum entry limits. Perhaps these limits disqualify many god puzzles. For whatever reason, there may be an issue with the quality of the puzzles submitted. I would think the best of the submitted puzzles get printed. I suspect it is somewhat over simplistic to blame Shotrz for all the problems with the current puzzles. To those who complain based upon assumptions of what's really going on, I would suggest this. By all eans continue to complain about the quality of the puzzles, but stop assessing blame until you have enough data to support your assessments.

BarbieBarbie 5:16 PM  

My chemistry background helped with AZOLE, but then bit me when I wanted the Incredibles character to be Mr. Ozone.

OffTheGrid 5:22 PM  

Wow! Vitriol & venom all day. This was not a gem but, my god, we've had worse puzzles just in the last 2 weeks. Seems like some were doing what they accuse @rex of, blaming the puzzle for their lack of knowledge.

Anonymous 6:30 PM  

I'm not sure why anyone would know Alamosa, a supposed "city" whose population is under 10k. According to Wikipedia, their claim to fame is a Walmart and a couple of supermarkets.

Keith D 7:43 PM  

Anybody else assume that the Mav's played in that arena named after a mortgage loan company and then wondered what kind of kind was "nimeish"?

Mark N 8:06 PM  

Didn't like this one, but its inclusion of XTC and Rex's embedding of their best bassline makes me happy at least!

Anonymous 8:10 PM  

I can't add to the vitriol spewed on this puzzle, but I want to add my support for all those who hated it as I did.

Walter Alston?

Frozone?

Flossie?

Yes, I know many of you know these and more and are happy to tell me exactly why, where, and how you know them. But: I. Don't. Care. Trivia does not a puzzle make.

I would say this one was easily in the bottom 10 list, and I finished the ***ker.

Anonymous 8:54 PM  

@anon/6:30
I'm not sure why anyone would know Alamosa, a supposed "city" whose population is under 10k. According to Wikipedia, their claim to fame is a Walmart and a couple of supermarkets.

well, pardner, that's where them real red-blooded 'mericuns live, dontcha no? not those city scum.

Z 9:17 PM  

How dare all of you agree with Rex. That’s my job.

For the record, WordPlay always better than trivia. And RRNs suck raw eggs (left over plaint from an earlier puzzle).

Monty Boy 9:18 PM  

Well, I know Alamosa. That's because I live in Colorado. I'd probably have to pass on small towns in Illinois.

I, too, struggled with this one. Didn't like it as much as most puzzles. First pass through about all I was got the sports answers, except for what a pitcher is supposed to avoid. I had WALKS. So close, but messed me up for the down.

I got most of the bottom half with a lot of struggle, and a couple Googles. I fell for the misdirect on Friends. I got the answer, but could not remember the Italian character SILENTI. I got NE with a few look-ups and had no hope in the NW.

For me, this was Saturday hard, definitely not Thursday.

Willburg Will 10:53 PM  

The name of the former Ethiopian emperor (and Rastafarian deity) Haile SELASSIE is a compound construction meaning "Power of the Trinity" in Amharic. The second word, Selassie, simply means "trinity" and is not a stand-alone surname. Biographical references in clues should be fact-checked in editing. After that little bit of pedantry, may I side with the majority who found this to be a very unpleasant solving experience. I, for one, voluntarily DNF'd.

Anonymous 11:39 PM  

They could try to be a bit more hip and use the modern def of WEEB: a video game/ anime/ japanese culture otaku, short for weebaboo

a.corn 12:18 AM  

Thank you for this, I really needed it. DNF for the first time in a long time. Very long time. Instead of detailing the personal hell that was my solving experience, I will instead ask “How can this happen? How can this puzzle be published in the NYT in 2019?“ in the hopes that someone with the power to move on from Shortz will read it, and consider it.

Unknown 12:55 AM  

So I thought this was my week for puzzles - record Monday, near record Tuesday, solid Wednesday (and now record Friday), but this Thursday one I don’t think I even got 10 answers filled in. This is a very strange hobby sometimes...

Anonymous 7:38 AM  

Good puzzle to deflate an ego and prompt a migraine....

Chip Hilton 12:08 PM  

I’m a day late but had to add my voice to the chorus. Brutal!

The comment above listing the “Friends” characters cracked me up. God bless IMDB!

Nancy from Chicago 1:54 PM  

Count me in on the AZOLE/FROZONE natick. Broke my 61-day streak. :(

andrea carla michaels 3:16 PM  

How brilliant and apropos of Rex to have posted the XTC song that includes this lyric:
Well I don't know how to write a big hit song,
And all crossword puzzles well I just shun,
And I may be the Mayor of Simpleton,
But I know one thing and that's I love you
I'm not proud of the fact that I never learned much,
Just feel I should say,
What you get is all real, I can't put on an act,
It takes brains to do that anyway (And anyway...)
And I can't unravel riddles, problems and puns,
How the home computer has me on the run,
And I may be the Mayor of Simpleton,
But I know one thing and that's I love you (I love you)

PS I had to run the alphabet to get to AZOLE and almost quit at y! Glad I didn't

mamawrites 7:51 PM  

My husband and I agree with you. Your post was the only entertaining thing about this puzzle. Thanks for identifying the theme for us! We were at a loss. Great blog! :)

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