Company that introduced Etch A Sketch / SUN 12-15-19 / Daily cable show that's covered Hollywood since 1991 / Airer of Arrow iZombie / French schoolteacher / Interval known as devil in music / Political figure on whom Snowball is based in Animal Farm

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Constructor: Christina Iverson and Jeff Chen

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (11:14)

THEME: "Doing a Double Take" — circled letters, read down the left and then down the right, read CASTOR and POLLUX. They are THE GEMINI (32A: This puzzle's subjects, by another name). So then ... OK, there's a baseball term TWIN KILLING (73D: Baseball double play, in slang ... or a hint to understanding the 12 Across answers that have circles), and that is supposed to explain the fact that you have to "kill" the "twin" (i.e. ignore the circled letters) in order to make sense of the Across themers. And then there's ST. ELMO'S FIRE, which has something to do with THE GEMINI, and so ties in ... that way ... (72D: Weather phenomenon whose double lights were said to represent this puzzle's subjects) here might be seven or eight more theme-related things in here that I can't say, but just explaining this much has been exhausting. Oh, and the themers themselves are twins, i.e. PITCHY appears twice, PRO TEAM appears twice, etc. But with different letters removed in each case, those answers play like two different words.

Theme answers:
  • BOXERSes are BOXES and BOERS
Word of the Day: ZOE (83D: Orange Sesame Street monster) —
Introduced [in 1993] to increase the number of strong female Sesame Street Muppets, Zoe is a three-year-old Muppet who loves to sing and dance. She is strong-willed, confident, has a big imagination, and owns a pet rock named Rocco. (wikipedia)
• • •

I have not had such visceral negative feelings about a puzzle *while I was solving it* in a good long while. It was not hard to pick up the circled letter gimmick, but it was a bit grim to have to navigate that gimmick twelve times and then to run into all these other quasi-revealers, one of which has to do with baseball, another with sailing... this is one of those puzzles that you are meant to ooh and aah at when you're done ("what an architectural marvel!") but the fill is so compromised, the grid so fussy, the expression of the theme so murky and strained, that I just don't get the appeal. I do not and will never understand why anyone would want to solve a puzzle that needs an explainer at the end so you can appreciate just how great it is and just how much you really should have enjoyed solving it. This puzzle lost me at OHIOART (what the actual hell??) and never got me back. The more complicated the theme seemed, the less I cared. No one says "YES, MOM." I'll give you YES, MAAM and YES, DEAR and then we're done. This puzzle's pretty biblical. GOEST *and* EAT OF??. And then the onslaught of short stuff, SYS SASE MAI etc I mean it's bludgeoning. I am quite certain that the layers of themeness here are many and intricate, and that making this took a good deal of technical skill. But I viscerally disliked solving this thing from about twenty seconds in until I was done, and then for a while after as I (resentfully) went back and hunted down all the theme elements. Give me one good AHA moment and you can take alllllllllll of this.
Much of this also was just either not on my wavelength or else ... just made up of things that I only kind of knew were things (PINE LOG, MUD TIRE ... those do sound thingish ... I suppose). No idea there was an AMELIA (Earhart?) biopic in '09, so no idea that Hilary Swank was in it, obviously. OHIOART, we've covered. I don't know any Sesame Street characters introduced since 1980 (except maybe Elmo??) so had trouble with ZOE (83D: Orange Sesame Street monster). There are actual human women named ZOE you could've gone to here, but ... moving on. Not familiar with TRITONE (128A: Interval known as "The devil in music" on account of its unsettling sound) and somehow that neverending explainy clue helped not at all (usu. when clues add explainy bits, they have helpful elements, not just random trivia). Whoever clued LPS (21D: Retro-cool music purchases) should be fired. No one buys LPS 'cause they're "retro-cool." Also, sales of LPS went *up* in the last decade, so ... not as "retro" as you might think. Also probably not really "cool" at all. Also, "Cool" is in the grid so shouldn't be in your clue in the first place. Also, "I'M COOL" is what you say when someone offers you ... food? Drugs? I'd say "I'm good," or "I'm set."
ONKP rears its dumb head again—really thought that answer was dead. All this short fill, in such a huge grid, really just ground me down. Again, "fussy" is the word that feels most relevant. A rococo theme and then all these nooks and crannies filled with the dust of crosswords past (HST!). I'm gonna stop talking about this puzzle now because it's not going to go anywhere good. Again, I tip my hat to the elaborate theme construction. If someone just showed this to me and explained it, I'd probably be duly impressed. Problem was I had to actually solve it. And that has made all the difference.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. was going to do a crossword subscription gift guide this week, but have been sick all week soooo I'll do it next week.

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Joaquin 12:13 AM  

A brilliant puzzle instead of the usual Sunday slog. What a clever puzzle it is!

I finished and tried in vain to make sense of the circles by going across. Finally ... I went down, and there it was - my biggest "aha moment" in ages.

This, it seems to me, is what a Sunday NYT puzzle should be.

jae 1:08 AM  

Medium. Liked it more than Rex did. CASTOR again reminds me of Orphan Black.

Joe Dipinto 1:09 AM  

Wow, Rex viscerally hated this even more viscerally than I expected.

All musicians who post here rise up in revolt: A TRITONE is a two-note interval, not a chord. I was intrigued by that clue right off the bat, and having discerned a couple of the down crosses, wondered: do they want the fabled "Tristan chord", from Wagner's "Tristan und Isolde"? How delightfully esoteric, but I didn't know it had that other appellation. Well it doesn't because that wasn't the answer. (The Tristan chord contains a tritone within it, coincidentally.)

Anyway, having seethed about that, and the moronic PITCHY, I enjoyed the rest of the puzzle. I didn't realize at first that the circled letters spelled out CASTOR and POLLUX going down the left and right because it didn't occur to me to read them in that direction. I'm impressed, I must admit, with all the interwoven theme elements.

If you lived in NYC in the 1970s, you remember this commercial which ran on TV endlessly (r.i.p. Danny Aiello).

Solverinserbia 2:40 AM  

I am not usually impressed by feats of construction but I love this one. You've got Castor and Pollux, a cool theme and you've got twin answers on the left and right where you kill one letter (those letters that you kill spell out castor and Pollux of course) to get different answers. Very cool.

Some of the fill stunk as is the case in every crossword. But at least it was possible to get and worth it for the coolness of the theme.

Anonymous 3:35 AM  

I would say UGSOME was an ugsome answer, if only I had ever heard the word ugsome before, which I haven't.

I could not quite get the lower right correctly, not knowing OLDBAY. iMELdA rather than AMELIA looked right because RdO seemed like a perfectly good animated movie I'd never heard of, though I strongly suspected OLDBiY was wrong.

Erupt is an intransitive verb and SPEW is transitive. Volcanoes spew something but they don't erupt something.

I thought I had gotten moineS for 81A as an easy gimme. I guess not.

Has anyone ever written that the PIRATIC activity off the coast of Somalia has diminished?

Hungry Mother 4:51 AM  

Once I got the theme, it was smooth going. Lots of fun filling in interesting answers and much faster than usual. Looking forward to a half marathon this morning.

Lewis 6:28 AM  

@joe dipinto -- I solve on the app, and there the clue for TRITONE is [Interval known as "the devil in music" on account of its unsettling sound].

Oh heck yes, the construction is impressive, and must have been a bear to accomplish, and when I say impressive, I mean "bow down" impressive. Bravo/brava on that Jeff and Christina!

The solve, for me, was a bear itself. I saw the identical theme pairs late in the solve, and for what felt like forever I had a patchy periphery of fill-ins and a huge sparsely-answered space in the middle. Faith pulled me through, and the theme slowly unveiled. When the grid was finally filled in I found myself at the threshold of the perfect teachable moment, not knowing what St. Elmo's Fire is or the story of the Gemini twins, and I did some reading that I found interesting and enriching.

Between that learning and a hard-earned solve, not to mention a wow construction, this puzzle was one edifying experience. Grazie molto, you two!

sf27shirley 6:29 AM  

Enjoyed this one a lot. More challenging than Sunday usually is, which is good for those of us who don't keep track of our time and who would rather a ouzzle takes more time, not less. Several baseball related clues, much more fun than the Simpsons. Also, learned an interesting and highly expressive word, UGSOME.

Anonymous 6:47 AM  

Does anyone else blog the NYT puzzles?

mmorgan 6:54 AM  

I really enjoyed the process of figuring out what was going on in this puzzle. Of course it got much easier once I grokked the theme and as always there were some inevitable clunkers. But for me this was a rare example of an impressive piece of construction that was also fun to solve. Bravo and thank you!!

Laura 7:01 AM  


Anonymous 7:04 AM  

potentially good idea killed by so much tired fill - constructors need to clean up their wordlists and remove some puzzle-killing fill such as ONKP. Needed a couple more rounds of revisions before being published.

pmdm 7:21 AM  

In his write up, Mr. Chen himself complains about the poor nature of a lot of the fill. That said, given the general attitude expressed in the early comments, the puzzle was a success and the decision to publish it is certainly justified.

Interesting comments by Dipinto and Lewis. True, an augmented fourth (or diminished fifth) is an interval and not a "chord." I guess Shortz caught the error in enough time to correct the clue in the online version but after the paper version was printed. Being a cellist, I am surprised Mr. Chen didn't catch the error in the construction stage. Then again, maybe the clue derived from the puzzle editor.

Personally, I enjoyed figuring out the teme entries. But not so uch the fill, which for me ran a little too much into the trivia knowledge territory, that part of the territory I didn't know. But nice to learn at least some others found the puzzle enjoyable.

Hoboken Mike 7:30 AM  

This puzzle helped me understand why I so often disagree with Rex.

Rex either prefers not to, or just doesn't, carefully read the clues.

He actually seems to greatly resent when the puzzle makes it necessary to do so.

SASE is not bad or good as an answer for me without reference to how it's clued. Often it is clunky and boring, but the slush pile reference today made delightful.

Likewise proposing as Rex does Yes Maam or Yes Dear as better substitutes or possible substitutes at all for parental affirmation makes clear he just didn't read the clue.

As a side note students across America who got their PSATs this week would do well to remember this when they take their SATs. You can't score well if you don't read the question.

Suzie Q 7:57 AM  

So many layers to this. Wow.
Didn't we just have freres and rose petal?
Yes, Rex might have fewer nits if he would carefully read the clues.
My only complaint is too many movie and TV answers.
Applause for the debut.

RooMonster 8:00 AM  

Hey All !
Tried to put ME in at 67A, but was a letter short. 😂

Liked the concept of the puz, lots of stuff they had to do get this theme to work. Find words that when you take a letter away, it spells a different word. But, you have to find words that contain the CASTOR and POLLUX letters to take away. AND do it twice with the same word! Then they said, "What the hey, let's throw in three other related answers", and had to play around with the grid to get them all in. GEE WHIZ.

Jeff Chen is the king of Left/Right symmetry. Sometimes, like today, it leaves you large patches of Acrosses to fill, see N center and S center. Three 7's across, crossing two 9's down in the N, and crossing the two 11 themers in the S. Hard to fill cleanly. I let iffy fill go in cases like this. At least they're actual words/things, nothing made up.

Didn't think it too bad from a solving view. Helped once you figured out both across words were the same. Helped with the Downs.

Some writeovers, Huh-HMM, SAfE-SASE, askIN-SEEIN, EL___-LAMESA, IMgOOd-IMCOOL. That last one had me flummoxed with STEdMOSFIRE. I kept saying it as STEDMOS FIRE, and thinking what the hell is that? Finally, Ahhh, ST ELMOS FIRE. I didn't know it was a weather phenomenon, or that it had to do with THE GEMINI. The stuff you learn from puzs.

So a good SunPuz. Difficult to construct, different in the same words acting as two things. But what are LEVITES and STRIPLING?


Mike E 8:07 AM  

Impressively done, and fun to do. What else do you need? Totally disagreed with the curmudgeon who runs this blog.

Joe Dipinto 8:24 AM  

@Lewis – I guess they corrected the clue. In my print edition it's the same but the first word is "Chord" instead of "Interval".

Z 8:28 AM  

I got the letter thing early, which meant I ended up getting both sides of the puzzle filled very quickly. then I slogged through the chopped up barely connected middle, shrugged at the triple revealers, and never bothered to figure out what the letters spelt because, seriously, PIRATIC and SO CAL and THE CW and EAT OF and the terrible threes (so many terrible threes) and GOEST and and and had made me NUMB.
A big part of what made this such a boring slog to solve is the plethora of short answers. At least 37 three letter answers means XIS and XES both get trotted out, as well as EMO ELMs listening to DRE. And then there’s all the narrow connections that made the middle feel like I was solving a series of minis. Finally, in the end this is all about the letters and letter play just isn’t interesting. Rearranging letters to make different words is just not interesting. PITCHY contains the letters for PITHY and ITCHY. So what?

And that’s where so many “impressive construction feats” leave me . So what?

Jofried 8:45 AM  

I thought this was fun to solve and really impressive!

Ciclista21 8:48 AM  

This puzzle has more of a gimmick than a theme, and the gimmick feels like a cheat. As soon as you realize that you fill in the same word twice on half a dozen rows across the grid, you’ve got gimmes galore and a fairly easy solve. But no joy. I expect more from a Sunday puzzle.

I’m with you, Rex: This one is not only completely underwhelming, it leaves a bad taste. 91D and 106D sum it up: DUD and UGSOME.

Dennis V. 8:54 AM  

Say what you will about this puzzle, it is timely. The Geminid meteor shower is active this weekend flashing across the Gemini constellation, including the twin stars Castor and Pollux. Unfortunately, with all the cloud cover early this morning I couldn’t see a thing.

QuasiMojo 9:10 AM  

I know zilch about astronomy but are the circled letters positioned to look like the constellation? I nearly went blind trying to follow them in order to figure out the jumble. And thank the gods for Rex who explains it for us so we don't have to. No matter what you may think of Rex's negativity he does do his job well.

This was one of those puzzles I regretted starting after just a few clues because I was not interested in continuing but once you start a puzzle on the effing app you have to finish it or else your damn "streak" ends and you get a DNF. And your percentage goes down etc. I really could care a fig about Stats but I'm not gonna let some snooty app dis me.

Anyone else put in ON TP for the messy clue?

@Joe DiPinto -- RIP Albert Innaurato too.

Birchbark 9:11 AM  

Put a ROSE PETAL in the middle of your puzzle and GEE WHIZ, the rest is art no matter what.

Everything you wanted to know about TRITONEs but were too COOL to ask: I found this very interesting.

I learned that the TRITONE's bark is worse than is worse than its bite. Viz., the faux-spooky opening of St. Saens' Danse Macabre, technique loved by heavy metal musicians because of urban myth that Church banned tritones in the Middle Ages, math involving the square root of two (okay, that's a little scary), etc. To my ear, it's all about old movies when the lights go out at a gala and the dowager blurts "My jewels -- they're gone!"

Anonymous 9:23 AM  

So agree with you about SPEW and PIRATIC!

Unknown 9:24 AM  

They're almost certainly thinking of maple tree seeds, not elm tree seeds.

rushscott 9:30 AM

RooMonster 9:34 AM  

I agree that there's a ton o' threes, even for a SunPuz. 41 total, with only 7 Across, but 34 Down. One thing I'd've tried to do is move the three-block bunch in front of UNCOOL/after NOODLE up one spot. Then only have it as two+blocks. Then you'd at least get rid of 6 threes. That would leave at 54-55-59-60 Down as 4's, and 56-58 Down as 9's. And 81-84 Across as 4's, plus the six below the blocks would be 4's.

I think the explanation was trickier to follow that redoing that! But, I know what I meant! 😋

Hey, if it passes muster, then many threes is fine.

RooMonster Let It Threes Guy

Paraprosdokian Astrophysicist 9:38 AM  

@QuasiMojo - good call! Yes, as much as is possible, while keeping the circles in the same across line, they represent the actual star pattern of the constellation Gemini.

Very impressive construction!!!

DavidL 10:09 AM  

@JoeDiPinto: Loved that blast from the past. The phrase "Take human bites!" became one of my family's favorites around the dinner table, thanks to that TV commercial.

RIP Danny Aiello.

Becca L 10:11 AM  

I loved this puzzle but one complaint- 4 Down clues orcs as “World of Warcraft enemies.” That is just plain not true. Orcs are a playable race that are friendly to about half the game’s player base. Sure, there are some enemy NPC orcs, but there are also enemy giraffes and elves and spiders. I don’t know why they used World of Warcraft for the clue instead of the obvious Tolkien.

Triton(e) 10:16 AM  

Back in the day, when Western music started to develop into what we now hear everyday as "Western Harmony," the church was the "patron" for music, that is, composers were making their money as composers for the RC church. And while music began to become more organized and nice to listen to on its own, the church started to put some regulations on music so as not to become too ornate and distract from the real task at hand: the Eucharist.

"Consonance," that is, what was "harmonious" to the ear, were mostly unisons, fourths, and fifths...everything else was just passing tones. At the time (12th century-ish), what we consider to be harmonious (3rds and 6ths) were considered dissonant and were to be avoided at cadences. The tritone wasn't so much "evil" as it was distracting to the Eucharist. It was gratuitous and lustful...see also, carnal, of the flesh.

The Tritone and the third were to be avoided at all costs.

LOL at the RC church who, to this day, seems to hate singing. Look at a RC hymnal and you will very rarely see harmony written out for the congregation to sing. Then look at a Methodist hymnal and you'll see how encouraging they are to have people sing in harmony. To the RC church, the service is entirely supportive of the Eucharist...everything else is subservient to that. Protestants tend to be more open to emotional responses throughout the entire service rather than just at communion.

So go to your piano and play the two notes on either side of the group of three black notes...the F (the lower note) and the B (the higher note)...and experience the luxurious emotion of resolving them outwardly (the F to the E, and the B to the C)...then go to confession.

Composers of church music also wrote secular music (motets, etc) and were kinda able to get by with carnal pleasures by using more tertian harmonic devices. Wild times.

OxfordBleu 10:39 AM  

Another female constructor slammed by Rex. Can’t understand why there aren’t more of them.

Mr. Cheese 10:47 AM  

I don’t know what I’m more impressed with .... the idea or the execution!

Nancy 10:49 AM  

Like the person who either only sees the vase or only sees the two profiles, I only saw one version of the Double Take while I was solving. So I was left to wonder what the point of adding one letter to an answer to get another answer was. To be clearer, I saw PRO TEAM and PRO TEM. But why? I saw STRIPING and STRIPLING, but why? I saw PITCHY (PITCHY????)and PITHY, but why? I thought that maybe the added letters would add up to a word or phrase, but was too lazy to go looking to see.

A puzzle that was not unpleasant to solve, but that made no damn sense to me at all.

Hartley70 10:51 AM  

I came here thinking I must be in a fog this morning, out of sorts, the victim of a restless night. After reading @Rex I’m relieved to say to the puzzle, “It’s not me, it’s you!”

This puzzle took me a long time, which can be a good thing if I’m loving it, but I didn’t. The whole TWINning thing didn’t work for me. It was everywhere, yet inconsistent. Words with circled letters with words without the circled letters. Stop right there, please! The horoscope entry was a party crasher. The circles in the duplicated words were an extra layer of frosting adding CASTOR and POLLUX to the mix. Baseball and weather, oh my! It was a Sunday with ADD and I needed Ritalin by the end.

On a positive note, I appreciate the mind who squished this all together. There’s a lot going on up there.

SouthsideJohnny 10:54 AM  

Interesting one today - this puzzle is going to have a contingent (likely over-represented here) who respect and admire the theme and the accompanying difficulties faced by the constructor. I picked up on the gimmick early enough (the circles are silent for the acrosses), and I kind of realized there was something astronomy or astrology related going on. That just wasn’t enough to make it interesting though, so for me it was pretty much a slogfest through much of what has already been mentioned. PIRATIC and UGSOME ARE somewhere between quasi and made-up wordS (closer to made-up), so they checked that box. Right about on quota for the foreign nonsense. No dead popes today, but we did have an OSMAN to keep our appetite for the arcane temporarily sated.

Bottom-line, with a theme this complicated, you are going to skew the solving experience to be more enjoyable to hard-core solvers, which is pretty consistent with the overall reception here. Several others have also pointed out, accurately I believe, that OFL would enjoy this type of an effort more if he wasn’t always in speed-solving mode.

Quick shout out to @Anon 3:35 am for the subtle distinction between “erupt” and “spew”. That type of insight is much more enjoyable than learning that a toy that no one under the age of 30 has ever heard of (etch-a-sketch) was introduced by a company that no one under the age of 100 gives a darn about (OHIO ART).

CDilly52 10:56 AM  

AMEN @JoeD!! Regarding the TRITONE. I had a couple other “moments” with the clues/answers, but TRITONE was the worst.

Brian 11:01 AM  

TheGemini • StElmosFire • TwinKillings — these 3 stylistically in the grid form most of the Gemini Symbol

Anonymous 11:03 AM  

What, no one's noticed??? Only a complete idiot puts a PINE LOG, or any softwood for that matter, into a fireplace. Do it enough, and you'll burn out your chimney, and if your unlucky enough, the house. Merry Kwanza.

Blue Stater 11:07 AM  

For me, today's puzzle epitomizes all that has gone wrong with the NYT puzzles in the Shortz era, for reasons that Rex and some others have articulated with such accuracy that I need add nothing. I know I've said this before, but IMNSHO this was Absolutely The Worst Puzzle of the last quarter-century (indeed, ever, because Maleska's and his predecessors' puzzles were vastly superior to those of the current regime).

nyc_lo 11:09 AM  

This puzzle suffered from multiple personality disorder. None of them good.

Bob O'Link, Esq. 11:14 AM  

Ohio Art's Etch A Sketch was the screen we stared at in the 60s and just look at how much of today's technology evolved from that humble beginning. It's so obvious now that some young piratic soul (Steve Jobs) looked at it and thought, "If you could connect this thing to the phone and a TV, it would it neato. If I could just find someone who could figure it out."

So don't dis Ohio Arts. Without them, half the bloggers out there would just be a bunch of opinionated blowhards complaining to the wives. That gal half would still be doing that recipe thing, but at Tupperware parties, and you wouldn't have to scroll 2 feet down to get the gdamn recipe.

Ken Freeland 11:19 AM  

Rex nails it again... the fill for those puzzles getting more UGSOME and PPP heavy by the week.... NYT must be scraping the bottom of the barrel as 2019 draws to a close...

Z 11:20 AM  

Rex on Twitter with some thoughts on the special puzzle section in today’s NYT.

Rabbi 11:21 AM  

LEVITES are the descendants of the Tribe of Levi, one of the twelve tribes of Israel. Levites are integrated in Jewish and Samaritan communities, but keep a distinct status. There are estimated 300,000 Levites among Ashkenazi Jewish communities.

Anonymous 11:22 AM  

@Bob O'Link, Esq.
some young piratic soul (Steve Jobs) looked at it and thought, "If you could connect this thing to the phone and a TV, it would it neato. If I could just find someone who could figure it out."

yeah, well... while a Pirate, Steve wasn't all that smart. Xerox figured out the transition, if that's how they got to the original GUI, the Alto. Gates then stole the Mac GUI to make Windows. "We make money the old fashioned way: we cheat".

CDilly52 11:25 AM  

What a Sunday! And after the painfully slow Saturday I experienced yesterday, at least I was thoroughly warmed up. I did not completely understand the double entries for quite a while.

My solve started in the NW, and I ripped across the outer North rim and down the East side with no difficulty except for the words with the circles. In the NW, I was sure the answer was PITHY and had no idea why PIT(c)HY. Same with PROTE(a)M.

Once I hit the bottom of the puzzle in the East side edge, though, things came to a screeching halt. Additionally, I had discovered two more “extra letter” issues. Ugh. Once I finished the edge and got all the middle, including THE GEMINI, the lightbulb began to glow and with TWIN KILLING, the light bulb beamed, right along with my admiration for the meatiness of this theme and the amount of labor our “twin” constructors undertook to create a Sunday masterpiece. This one hit all the marks for me. Clever, tough, excellent word play and I learned something new!!

Thank you and hearty congratulations to Ms. Iverson and Mr. Chen - THE GEMINI of today!

GILL I. 11:38 AM  

How did I dislike thee, let me count the ways.....
It started right off the bat - like @Rex. Except with me it was YAH Hoo. I had BOO. OHIO ART? SNIPERS are last minute eBay bidders? That's kinda mean. PINE LOG? I had Yule log. I think I stared at PITCHY for TWO hours before anything made sense. I lost my AHA. I wanted to get it back. At least give me an OOH or even an AH. Nope, nothing was coming out of the mouth.
Didn't finish this trick puzzle. Too much I didn't grok. The threes just made me mad. Is PIRATIC really a word? Would someone ever be called WIRIEST of the bunch? YES MOM? No ma'am.

Escalator 11:44 AM  

Might be a record for the number of answers ending in ING.

Bob O'Link, Esq. 11:49 AM  

@Anon 11:22. That is indeed what I meant by piratic. Pirated.

pmdm 11:57 AM  

Triton(e): Most of the parishes I've been to purchase the hymn book from one of three company's. Many of the new hymns do not have four part harmony, so all you will get is the melody. Many of the older hymns are well known to the congregations, so all you'll get is the words. The basic intent of the companies is to cram as many hymns into the book as possible meaning hymns with SATB harmony take up too much space. It's a simple matter of cost and competition, especially when the parish must buy the books on an annual basis.

If the music ministry caters to the congregation, a Roman Catholic congregation will sing, even robustly. That has been my experience wherever I have been the organist. You must choose tempos and keys comfortable for the congregation. The cantor cannot sing as if in competition with the congregation (see who can hold the note the longest, for example). If I continue I will bore too many people (and even have this comment removed by the moderators).

To end with a comment about the puzzle: For some reason, I prefer grids that have mirror symmetry. I thank Jeff with constructing so many puzzles with mirror symmetry. Not exactly eye candy, but good lookiing.

Unknown 12:10 PM  

I long for the William Lutwiniak days. What a Sunday puzzle he would create. Recently I wonder why I bother with Sundays: usually messy and uninteresting.

Mo-T 12:25 PM  

Once I finished, I wrote the circled letters at the top of the page in the order in which they occurred across the grid. As soon as I looked at them all together, my brain formed Castor and Pollux. I do the NYT Spelling Bee every day, and that has me in unscramble mode. And also, of course, trying to fill in blanks in crossword grids every day helped.

I was a little flummoxed at first by the extra letters - Moussed? Levites? But I did have that AHA moment that others talk about all the time, and I thought it was a fun and challenging way to spend a snowy, cold morning in the Great Western Catskills.

Jake W 12:30 PM  

Clearly not written by someone under 50. IM COOL cluing is atrocious.

RooMonster 12:38 PM  

@Anonymous 11:22
Ha! Sounds like the Patriots:
We win Super Bowls the old fashioned way... We Cheat. (And Cheat, and Cheat...)


Malsdemare 12:39 PM  

@Triton(e) Thank you for that trip into history and Catholicism. I was raised Catholic and I could never understand why the music we sang wasn't "prettier." When I discovered the music of other churches, I was awestruck. So the explanation was great fun. Back in the 80’s, when we were still going to Church because, mother-in-law, other instruments began to appear and the norms on music types seemed to loosen. But now, can I ask? How does Gregorian chant —plain chant — fit in here? Aren't there harmonies there? But I guess nothing fancy. But to me, chant is more distracting from the eucharist than anything the Evangelicals can sing.

I looked, honest I did, at the circled letters, ran down the left side, got C A T O R and figured "nothing to see here." So the one time I take the time to look for another trick, I miss it! Damn!

I liked the puzzle. Another instance of some real resistance, then some successes, then the lightbulb, and off to the races.

Snow storm coming, very cold out, house decorated, gifts wrapped — well, those that have been bought — time to binge watch AKC's National Agility Invitational. I know you're jealous.

Anonymous 12:47 PM  

The NYT has a column on each puzzle, with a variety of regular commenters. From inside the NYT app, you can access the column on the information icon.

Masked and Anonymous 12:54 PM  

Only 6 U's ... but a *t.o.n* of weejects (41). E-W symmetry puzgrid. Duplicate theme answers, sorta. The Circles. Different … Like.

staff weeject picks: Tie, between and amongst the luvly: ANA. ATL. BMI. BSA. DRE. EMO. ETS. GOA. HMM. HST. LPS. MAI. MER. POR. SYS. XES & XIS twins. YAH. Impossible to pick a single winner, from that potent, pithy & itchy crowd.

fave nonthemer longballs: NOPEEKING. GEEWHIZ. YESMOM. Shoot -- almost sounds like a dialog, when U string em out like that.
fave themer: TWINK(IL)LING. Would sorta be neat to put (IL) in circles, since Castor & Pollux are THE twinklin GEMINI puzstars.

Pretty easy SunPuz solvequest. Got THEGEMINIS, which got m&e the circled letter contents. Other than misspellin POLLUX as POLLAX, initially, I'd grant. After gettin PITHY & ITCHY [New cartoon duo?], the other five twink(il)lin twins were mighty easy to kill/polish off.

Thanx, Christina & Chenmeister, for gangin up on us. [HEHE? har]

Masked & Anonymo6Us


Anonymous 1:02 PM  

I'm curious why someone who consistently dislikes doing the NYT crossword would not only continue doing it, but would write about it daily,

Danny 1:10 PM  

After about ten minutes of solving this with my wife, I just stood up and paced around grumbling loudly about how terrible this puzzle is while she called out clues. This likely happened somewhere around UGSOME or PIRACTIC (which we had as PIRATIN for a while because, not knowing Judea and Sheba were LANDS, we had them as LORDS. Imagine thinking the answer was the even more made up sounding'd be furious, too).

I grew up playing baseball, I've watched probably hundreds of games, and I've never in my life heard TWINKILLING. Granted, I'm 32. Perhaps it's an olde tymey thing.

Can we please outlaw RRATING and all its variations? Also I'm shocked THECW is still getting clued. I'm truly IRATE at the quality of this fill.

Suzy 1:13 PM  

Terrific puzzle, thank you! And terrifically tough for me! @Roo: tripling refers to a triple in baseball. Third base is “close to home.”
A stretch, for sure!!

Anonymous 1:13 PM  

An amazing array of strongly felt positive and negative reactions. Rex in his perpetual holier than thou snit; I fully discount all his commentary at this point. I simply read it for the entertainment factor. To those who focus narrowly on the “bad fill” and repetitions they find so irksome, perhaps step back and try experiencing a little joy, a little appreciation for the effort taken to construct such an interesting, multi-layered puzzle. I found it interesting, challenging, satisfying. Kudos to the constructors.

Layton 1:41 PM  

I didn't put orcs right away because I wasn't sure, then once things fell around it I got annoyed because it's just wrong.

Richardf8 1:41 PM  

Ooh. Rex just celebrated his 50th. Late November, early December? Truly, this IS a puzzle a Sagittarius could hate.

I enjoyed it. The fill didn’t make me cringe. The theme was one of those things tha once you crack it, it gives too much away. But then, I’m a gemini, so Castor and Pollux were gimmes.

Richardf8 1:44 PM  

Oh, and an LP you can buy at B&N and get a download code so that you never have set a needle in its groove? What would you call that if not Retro Cool?

Frantic Sloth 1:47 PM  


Still can’t decide whether this puzzle is brilliant in its conception and construction or the constructors’ overconception of themselves is “how brilliant are we?!”

And if UGSOME is a word, so is “overconception” - I don’t make the rules, I just bend them to my benefit.

Frantic Sloth 1:56 PM  

Also, PIRATIC trips off the tongue as easily as “fünfhundertfünfundfünfzig” and beyond Germanic, is as commonly used.

pabloinnh 2:04 PM  

I'm with Anon@11:03--don not put pine logs in your fireplace, or woddstove either, They produce creosote, and creosote produces chimney fires. so don't do that.

Appreciate the TRITONE discussion. They're supposed to be notoriously hard to sing, but after many years of singing, not so much.

I was happy to see OHIOART show up, because I needed lots of letters to remember it and then, as has been discussed recently, the penny dropped. I could never do so much as write my name with an Etch-a-Sketch. Once a woman I know was visiting around Christmas, picked up the Etch-a Sketch, and proceeded to draw a Christmas scene including a tree with ornaments and a fireplace (no pine logs) with stockings. She probably wrote "Merry Christmas" across the bottom using calligraphy. Who knew such things were possible?

I'm hard core enough to appreciate a feat of construction like this. Wow and phew. Many thanks to CI and JC.

Carola 2:07 PM  

How this puzzle was about me:
PO'BOY: more like po' me - this one was a struggle. DNF (will spare the details).
GEE WHIZ: awesome incorporation of the names of the GEMINI!
IT'S SAD: I never saw CASTOR and POLLUX.

@Birchbark, thank you for that link to the TRITONE lore. Completely new to me, so interesting.

sixtyni yogini 3:26 PM  

Agree with the criticisms AND the clever aspects noted. An F and an A = C

tb 4:01 PM  

@pabloinnh "Appreciate the TRITONE discussion. They're supposed to be notoriously hard to sing, but after many years of singing, not so much."

It's quite easy. Just think of the first two notes in the song "Maria" from "West Side Story."

OffTheGrid 4:03 PM  

@Anonymous 1:02. Please see 53D.

DeeJay 4:13 PM  

Amen, Mike.

Joe Dipinto 4:22 PM  

@Birchbark – that tritone tutorial is great, I'm saving the link for future ref. I was gonna cite the score of "West Side Story" (he mentions the opening notes of "Maria"), since Leonard Bernstein used the tritone in practically every song, either in the melody or in the harmonic underpinning.

puzzlehoarder 4:23 PM  

It sounds crazy but I didn't realize this puzzle had symmetrically placed words until I got all the way down to the BOXERS. I just did my usual approach of solving as if the puzzle was themeless and ignoring anything to the contrary. The theme was easy to take in once I got done and in the mean time I enjoyed the slog. The time was just average but all that dredging up of every three letter entry I've ever done while working around a good helping of obscure material had a mind NUMBing effect to it.

Anonymous 4:49 PM  

Solving this thing was like a hike in a downpour or, to borrow from the late David Foster Wallace, "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again." What a miserable slog thanks largely to the absurd cluing. "I'm cool"? No, just no. Alas = "It's sad"? Sure, like mishap = catastrophe. Can we please be done with the damned SITH and Dr. DRE? Please? And finally there's the truly absurd NICEST for "maximally mannered." Just remove "maximally" from your word list. Please. As for the subject of the puzzle being the gemini Castor and Pollox—how, where? None of the twinned words had anything to do with them, they were just repeated words.

Triton(e) 5:02 PM  

Joe Dipinto: the opening of Maria is stolen from the main Romeo and Juliet theme by Tchaikovsky.

Triton(e) 5:11 PM  

pmdm: I’ve not seen too many congregations but hymnals annually. The newer hymns don’t have parts because they’re more gospel songs than hymns. Most 4-part old timey hymns fit on one page, so space is not usually an issue.

By and large, RC hymnals are far more stark than Protestant hymnals. Most Catholic Churches I’ve played for sang about 25 different hymns and that’s about it. Christmas adds another 10, tops. Catholic masses are generally boring by design, parishioners don’t usually attend mass for the music, is what I’m saying.

ljfbos 5:24 PM  

Just realized that twin killing can also be read as one word, twinkilling (like the stars)

burtonkd 5:45 PM  

@joe dipinto, interesting thing about Tristan chord is not the chord itself (which is the equivalent sound of a voicing of an F half diminished chord in its 1st iteration) but how it resolves.
Even with "maria" as a guide, I’d still say it is trickier to sing a Tritone for most people than, say, a perfect 4th "here comes the bride". Besides, "maria" is sung to different intervals throughout the song.

Funny someone else picked up on the pine log. I didn’t put it in initially bc of that.

Puzzle did feel fussy and choppy, but I kind of enjoyed it.

Not sure what rex’s Gripe about LP’s being retro is. They went out in the 80s when CDs came in, so even though they have made a comeback in the last 10 years, still could be deemed retro - certainly not a fireable editing offense. We could debate merits of LP vs CD, but they have both lost out to convenience of mp3s, then streaming.

That being said, my college son has a turntable at his apartment and while visiting this summer, we did end up paying way more attention to the music after going through the whole selection process, plus would generally give multiple listening out of laziness.

TJS 7:45 PM  

@Z 8:28 Exactly, and you must know how much it hurts me to say that.

SethC 8:21 PM

Anonymous 8:38 PM  

My first guess was "Duralog", because "pine(anything)" could not be right. That could cause the house to burn down, as others have noted.

Z 10:37 PM  

@TJS - Hey, I agreed with you a couple of days ago. Let’s not make it a habit.

@burtonkd - My take was Rex objected to the idea that LPS are retro or that people listen to LPS to be “cool.” I know lots of people who describe themselves as audiophiles prefer vinyl to digital files. I can think of lots of reasons to prefer vinyl albums to CDs or digital files, but none of them have anything to do with sound quality. But then I’m no audiophile, retro-cool or otherwise.

kitshef 10:54 PM  

Took me much, much too long to see the theme. I had both STRIPLINGS and TWIN KILLING in place, even. But it was not until the second PRO TEAM came in much, much later that I clued in.

I only know PIRATIC from the flycatcher, which commandeers other birds’ nests, pirate-style.

Loved it. I do agree the clue on ST ELMOS FIRE was tortured.

And to those complaining about UGSOME, get youself a copy of The Ten Tales of Shellover by Ruth Ainsworth and read about The Ugsome Thing.

BruceLaLuz 11:10 PM  

Can anyone help me out with what SASE has to do with a slush pile?

Anonymous 11:29 PM  

Can anyone help me out with what SASE has to do with a slush pile?

a slush pile is a pile of manuscripts that come in unsolicited. mostly as good as dirty snow.

Dan Katz 7:34 AM  

Loved it.

Renee Arnold 8:07 AM  

Agree with Rex. Too much busyness in the theme. Do one cute theme and stick to it.

PatKS 1:12 PM  

I go to about 60 baseball games a year when I'm not watching them on TV and I have a few decades on you. NEVER in my life did I ever hear TWIN KILLING.

PatKS 1:33 PM  

This was an UGSOME puzzle. I finished it without ever getting the CASTOR and POLLUX (who i NEVER think of) reveal. Got stuck in NW mostly because while I b loved etch a sketch I never recall hearing of OHIO ART.


A PINE LOG is super dangerous in a fireplace. Didn't understand XIS (#BanAllFrats BTW) NEVER heard TWIN KILLING and I've watched/attended a thousand games.Ivery been on Ebay forever (I sell signed 1ed books) and would think swoopers before SNIPERS.

So, as usual, I agree with Rex's assessment of this annoying puzzle.

Have a great week Rex.

dan 1:39 PM  

Generally I dismiss Rex’s critiques as the lame rhetorical badassedness of a something wannabe.

But, today’s unprecedentedly convoluted mess of a puzzle prompts a slightly different response.

Rex, if you’re so superior - forgive me if I missed this - show us a few of you best puzzles?


Your constant criticism is wearing and why I NEVER contribute.

Unknown 10:31 PM  

Wait the paper version uses “chord” in the clue and the app uses the correct “interval.” I think this warrants a correction.

Kelly Sargent 1:15 PM  

I hated this puzzle so much!! Possibly the worst ever. Too many three-letter answers, too many tortured clues (G.R.E. administrator? Relating to theft on the high seas? None for me thank is "I'm cool"?? What the heck is a slush pile? Ugsome??? And my husband who is a baseball fan has never heard of twin killing). Awful, just awful. Sorry to feel that way since the creator is from Iowa, and so are we, but this puzzle was dreadful.

spacecraft 11:46 AM  

This time I can't add to--or disagree with--anything OFC said, except maybe a bit more appreciation for the uber-involved theme. Ol' Jeff BATSFOR someone and tries to hit a home run--or at least TRIPLING. But: he hits into a TWINKILLING instead. Hey, those little stars are TWINKilLING!!

The DOD HONOREE is, of course, TERI Hatcher. Birdie for the theme, but a two-stroke penalty for that fill: bogey.

Anonymous 12:29 PM  

Doubt you can hear my thunderous applause over all the bitching.

Diana, LIW 1:38 PM  

Wow! Triple wow!

Wow - I solved it.

Wow - OFL's horrid review.

Wow - negative comments?????

Wow - Christina is my new hero

I've only been solving about 5 years, so I was amazed at how much I've learned that helped me solve (including STELMO etc.) I cannot imagine constructing, with Chen's help or not, any crossword outside of the lil ones I used to put in final exams.

"yule" vs. PINELOG held me up for a lil bit.

I guess to each and all that, but I liked it.

(See, @Rondo? This is what I mean by OFL getting to the tipping point of inaneness)

Tip of the hat again to Christina!

Diana, Lady-in-Waiting for Crosswords

Burma Shave 3:21 PM  


AMELIA's KILLING this POBOY's dream.
I NOPEEKING in her BOXERS was bad,
I'm SEEIN' she BATSFOR the other TEAM.


rondo 3:46 PM  

The solve went all over the place with the theme stuff hither and thither which is not so bad. It was the plethora of 3s that was annoying. 20+ in the bottom third alone, the max of 5 on the 61a line, somewhere near 40 all together, too many to actually count. Many time YAH baby ENTRY Teri Hatcher is a shoo-in. As I look back I'm SEEIN NO write-overs. So there's that.

rainforest 4:24 PM  

If your goal during a solve is to find things you don't like, I suppose this puzzle contributed much fodder. However, despite a TON of threes, the theme saved this puzzle and I really enjoyed sorting out the paired theme entries as well as the revealers.

Whether or no UGSOME is good fill, I've seen that word in a variety of places. OLD BAY not so much. Anyway, a good time was had with the solve.

rondo 6:19 PM  

It wasn't my goal to find something I didn't like, but all those threes, they just kept showing up, especially at the end of the solve at the bottom of the grid. When it's that noticeable it's easy to remember for commenting. I did say the theme was not bad. Thoughtful even.

HOP 10:09 AM  

i also question the pine log in the fireplace....didn't care for this puzzle at all....

Anonymous 2:34 PM  

Awful Awful Awful- ridiculous clues and even more ridiculous answers. What the heck, and boxers twice?? and don't get me going on piratic, tripling? and the messy musses etc. the gemini? Just awful word play

I hated this puzzle - what a mess

Dude 1:54 PM  

You are assuming the gender based on the name, so not-pc!

Dude 1:59 PM  

My 12 year old has certainly heard about and likes Etch-a-Sketch.

Joseph R 10:34 AM  

Don't understand answer to 97 across: "Mom's counterpart" - answer: "een" ????????

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