Eponymous Belgian town / THU 1-2-20 / Cash flow tracker for shortFamously nonunionized worker / Many John Wayne films informally / Former mideast alliance for short

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Constructor: Ed Sessa

Relative difficulty: Easyish (4:48)

THEME: THE DARK SIDE (60A: Where Darth Vader gets his strength ... or what eight answers in this puzzle share) — black square before and after answers on the same row represents the word "DARK" (at the end and beginning of each answer, respectively):

Theme answers:
  • AFRAID OF THE (DARK) (17A: Nyctophobic) / (DARK) MAN (19A: 1990 Sam Raimi superhero film)
  • "WAIT UNTIL (DARK) (23A: 1967 thriller for which Audrey Hepburn received an Oscar nomination) / (DARK) HORSE (26A: Surprise winner)
  • BE IN THE (DARK) (36A: Not know something others know) / (DARK) 'N' STORMY (38A: Cocktail made with ginger beer)
  • AFTER (DARK) (51A: Post-sunset) / (DARK) CHOCOLATE (53A: Sweet that lacks milk)
Word of the Day: AIR SINAI (3D: Tel Aviv-to-Cairo carrier) —
Air Sinai (Arabicسيناء للطيران‎ Sīna' lil-Ṭayyarān) is an airline based in CairoEgypt. It operates as a 'paper-airline' for parent company EgyptAir under a wet lease-like agreement to serve flights exclusively between Egypt and Israel. // The airline was established in 1982 to fly scheduled services between Egypt and Israel (on routes previously flown by Nefertiti Aviation), which for political reasons could not be handled by parent company EgyptAir. [...] Air Sinai ceased airline operations in its own right in 2002 and operates as a 'paper airline' for its parent company, EgyptAir, using their aircraft without any markings identifying either carrier, although some have been spotted in Tel Aviv in full EgyptAir branding. Flights are not listed in EgyptAir schedules and do not appear on their website or route maps either. As of 2014 Air Sinai flights are displayed on arrival and departure boards at Cairo Airport using the IATA code 4D. (wikipedia)
• • •

Well this is dreary. I've seen the black-square-equals-BLACK before, for sure, and I'd be surprised if I hadn't seen -DARK as well, but the over-familiarity of the concept isn't even the main problem. You can take something that's technically been done before and still make it fresh and fun, give it a twist, throw a cool revealer in there, etc. But this one just clonks. Kuh-thud. The revealer is a complete miss because the phrase, however colorful, misses when it comes to describing the relationship between the two answers that share the DARK square. The THE just feels wrong and off. The answers share *A* dark side, of sorts, but not THE. The annoyingness of THE is compounded by the fact that THE is part of not one but two of the themers themselves: AFRAID OF *THE* DARK, BE IN *THE* DARK—which leads to yet another problem, which is all the first themers (i.e. the ones that *end* with DARK) are the same kind of DARK. It's just ... a time-of-day DARK. The kind that comes when the sun goes down. Over and over and over. BE IN THE DARK is metaphorical, I guess, but Audrey Hepburn waits until after dark so Alan Arkin (so good!) will be literally in the dark, giving her an advantage, since she is blind and is thus not afraid of the dark. It's relentlessly the same, this dark, and the fact that "the dark" appears twice just reinforces this fact. The second-half themers (the ones *beginning* with DARK) at least get to be more metaphorical, relate to color, etc. Lots of different aspects of DARK. My point is I got this theme early and there were no surprises waiting, no twists, no unexpected moments, no laughter, just a mirthless march to the end, where not even "Star Wars" could save this thing. At least it was easy.

This felt very easy, but looking back over the grid, I see I got at least a little hung up all over the place. That whole SCONES (5A: Offerings at many coffeehouses) / EFFECT (15A: Result) / CFO (6D: Cash flow tracker, for short) / OFF-SITE (7D: Like much freelance work) area really made me work. And then, even though "WAIT UNTIL DARK" was a gimme, and let me know there was something missing, it took me a bit to figure it out. I first thought the rebus had something to do with the "U" (like maybe UNTIL occupied a single box, somehow), and then, even when I knew it was a black-square-equals-DARK theme, I kept forgetting which answers were themers, and so wondering, for example, what kind of [Surprise winner] could be five letters and start with "H"!?! Then I'd get the answer, go "D'oh!," and keep moving. Had trouble with ATV (32D: Transport to remote areas, briefly), and with MUSK (29D: Perfume ingredient), and with CURBS (54D: Checks), and had no idea that DARK 'N' STORMY was canonically a two-apostrophe 'N' answer as opposed to an ampersand answer or a simple "AND" answer. Didn't take me too long to suss it out, since I knew for sure the name of the drink, but still, seconds are seconds and they add up. But as I say, the rest of this was very easy, so I still came out fast. Bludgeoningly dull theme, boring fill—a definite down-turn from yesterday. Still rootin' for you, 2020!

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. Erik Agard was recently made editor of the USA Today crossword and suddenly that puzzle is ... good. Very good. They're all pretty easy (M/T level), but they routinely put the NYT to shame with their clarity and currency and broad (and inclusive) frame of reference. Also, so far well over half the constructors have been women. If he can keep it at even 33% he will be (and I cannot say this strongly enough) *crushing* the NYTXW in this department. Not sure how *all of a sudden* there are ample female constructors, and their puzzles are really good? It's almost like the editor's vision and leadership ... matters? Anyway, you can find it on the USA Today site, or get the app and solve it on whatever device you use (or just print it out from the app and solve it on your clipboard in a comfy chair with your morning coffee, which is what I do)

P.P.S. speaking of women constructors, Stella Zawistowski just started her own independent crossword site, "Tough As Nails," where she will be offering Very Hard themelesses (she's a top speed-solver and she likes her puzzles tough). I solved the first one and it was very hard, but very delightful as well. Satisfying. Her work will be a welcome addition to the Puzzleverse.

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


puzzlehoarder 12:12 AM  

Average Thursday. Dark N STORMY again.

Joaquin 12:16 AM  

I found this puzzle enjoyable and fairly easy for a Thursday. But Rex's comments - oy vey, there's the rub. His comments present me more of a challenge than the puzzle. I really don't get his issue with the word "THE" nor do I get why it is a big deal that some of the "dark"s refer to the time of day and others do not.

I'm not arguing the point; I really don't get his point(s).

Unknown 12:26 AM  

Is there a way to get USA Today crossword without printing? Can it be done in an app?

okanaganer 1:18 AM  

Whoa, I just watched WAIT UNTIL DARK last night! Audrey was good, but Alan Arkin was oh so amazingly good and what a creepy villain. Googling the 1966 stage version, Lee Remick(!) was Susy and Robert Duvall(!!) was the evil villain Roat. Quote from Wikipedia: "In an effort to duplicate the suspense on screen, movie theaters dimmed their lights to their legal limits, then turned off one by one until each light on-screen was shattered, resulting in the theater being plunged into complete darkness." That must have been pretty special.

The movie DARKMAN was 30 years ago?... impossible. It was just yesterday, wasn't it?

jae 1:33 AM  

Easy. I did not know DARKMAN but the rest was cake. Liked it more than a tad more than Rex did.

chefwen 2:06 AM  

Got the trick fairly early on with dark HORSE without knowing the reveal. Wended my way down to the reveal, AHA there’s eight of them, let’s go find the rest. I love a good search party. The only difficulty was at 38A, had the STORMY in place, but didn’t know the drink or the iPod so I just put a little ? In the remaining hole and called it quits. I know, good enough, seldom is, but it was good enough for me.

Love me some good dark CHOCOLATE.

Solverinserbia 3:05 AM  

More women constructors is no more a good thing than more male constructors. It's a very strange sexism you subscribe too, Rex.

About this puzzle, I think you were harsh. It was dark, it was on the side. It was fine.

That was the first time I'd ever seen SPA clued like that. I liked it.

Z 4:36 AM  

I liked this. Sussed it out too easily, which made the rest of the puzzle fairly easy. Biggest weakness is in Texas with RESORB and the only ever seen in Crossworld OATERS. As for Rex’s DARK take, each DARK is literal/metaphorical. I see this consistency as a feature, not a bug.

@Joaquin - I think what Rex is saying about the revealer is the indefinite “a” would be better than the definite “the.” That is to say, the DARK square isn’t the only DARKSIDE, but rather is one of sometimes several. As for the other THEs, I think it’s generally accepted that including either article is less than optimal xword fill.

@Solverinserbia - Likewise women voting is no more a good thing than men voting.

@unknown12:28 - every time I go to the USAToday crossword the first thing it does is suggest that I download their app, so maybe try searching the app store for your device. Or, if you’re on a computer instead of a tablet or smartphone just solve it right there on your screen.

@Nancy late yesterday- You’re welcome. And @LMS is the only one I know who updates her avatar daily. It’s always worth a few precious nanoseconds to ponder.

QuasiMojo 6:03 AM  

Lackluster and dreary. And why must we have the theme be Star Wars related? "The Dark Side" is a broad term used in many contexts. The whole Star Wars mythos is just a bad pastiche of cultural backwash. Enough already! As for "Wait Until Dark," it's certainly an Oscar-worthy performance by Audrey Hepburn (although not actually getting it in this case seems like useless information to the solver.) But honestly folks that movie is so full of holes, plot-wise, ham-acting a-gogo and the dialogue is straight out of kitschy schtick.

So many abbreviations today. The only saving grace was seeing James Agee clued as the screenwriter of "Night of the Hunter" -- a film that still holds up very well.

Lewis 6:33 AM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
Evan 6:36 AM  

The revealer would make more sense for a puzzle in which DARK were appended to all the answers that touched either the left or right edge of the puzzle.

Lewis 6:38 AM  

A post-solve look at the grid unveiled some bonuses:
* Following the theme motif, DARK ALE and DARK MEAT.
* LET up and PAN down.
* Three theme answers that sound like letters (ARR, OWE, DEE).
* A new word for a temporary internet freeze -- ELAPSE.

Ed, I'm sure you didn't put these goodies in on purpose, but I'm sure you intended to create a puzzle that entertained, and, IMO, you succeeded, thanks to a lovely theme that was fun to suss, not to mention great clues for JOHN DOE and ELF! Thank you, sir.

Anonymous 6:54 AM  

Concerning the USA Today puzzle and women composers. I believe that USA does not accept submissions from everyone. That makes it easier for the editor to favor female or gay or whatever group he wants; perhaps he does that, perhaps not. Whether "reverse discrimination" is wise or not is a subject for endless debate -- I know of cases which argue both ways. Whatever his editorial faults, I've seen no evidence that Will discriminates against woman composers. Should women composers get special encouragement because they're a minority of the published? I'm sure that many will be ready to come down on one side of this question or the other -- for me it's a highly debatable issue.


Loren Muse Smith 7:29 AM  

The reveal works for me: Each themer has a dark “side” next to it.

I often think about the word NAKED. For me, there’s just one way to say it, and it is nekkid. (I think Lewis Grizzard says it’s naked if it’s art and nekkid if you’re doing something you’re not supposed to be doing.) But that ed ending always sends me off on a think. Turns out that there used to be a verb, nake that meant “to lay bare.” Hah. Wicked has a similar story, but I lost interest. (And that was way before investigating jagged.) I wish I could still nake before taking a shower and wick the guy in front of me at Subway tasked with getting the sandwiches for his 8 co-workers.

I briefly wanted “scenes” before SCONES. Tony coffee shops still intimidate the crap out of me. I wait patiently in the huge line, listen to the quarter-caf-double-shot-gluten-free-soy-probiotics-latte orders, wonder at the tattoos and piercings of everyone, think about buying a nifty Starbucks mug right there for my impulse purchasing convenience, wrestle with the idea of actually saying “venti” instead of “large,” consider giving a fake name, Asbarthe, when they ask, eavesdrop on phone conversations about health and travel details, and finally just quietly lean in and say large black coffee when it’s my turn. And then a few minutes later I get my cup with “Lauren” written on it. Sigh. They would’ve misspelled Asbarthe, too.

@Nancy from yesterday - @Z beat me to the explanation. I do get a kick out of playing around with my avatar, especially if it can be a cowardly, thinly-veiled swipe at a, well, as in yesterday’s case, a real tool.

GILL I. 7:34 AM  

So it's not "I kiss the rains down in AFRICA?" And you eat SCONES in a coffeehouse and not in a tea room?
Well, I'll be.
Like probably every single person here, I got that DARK gimmick fairly early. I think it was getting to the HORSE that might'e done it. Oh wait, no, it was that Hepburn movie. Remember when she hides in the closet? That movie gave me the heebie jeebies. (Can I say that?)....
We talk about skewing old a lot and this one felt like the YORE or all times. I still liked it but the LAMARR's, the AGEE's, the SEDAN's and the JOHN DOE's all felt a bit on the RETRO....
I'm curious as to why you clue RESORT as a suck in again thing.
My favorite CHOCOLATE involves having a cherry or maybe some mint in it. If it's DARK, it has to be Belgian.

mathgent 7:38 AM  

I enjoyed it very much. Happy to learn that the word “spa” comes from a Belgian town. Loved “Guy in a suit” for JOHNDOE.

Also enjoyed the comment by @okanaganer (1:18) about WAITUNTIL(DARK). Wonderful movie. I read the Wiki article referred to and learned that Lee Remick won the Tony for her performance in the stage production. And Robert Duvall played the villain. It had a long run. The play was revived in LA not long ago with Quentin Tarantino playing the villain.

kitshef 7:42 AM  

I love a puzzle that is thorny until you get the theme, and then all those things that bamboozled you early become clear. That happened today, so I loved it. Took me all the way to NSTORMY to make the leap today.

@LMS - easy solution -- stay out of tony coffee shops. Also, with "Tony" at the beginning of your sentence, I initially thought there was some coffee shop chain named for a guy named "Tony". The Dupont Circle area near me often gets described as "tony", which makes me think Tony DuPont would be a good alias.

Debra 7:54 AM  

Fun Thursday. No complaints.

Suzie Q 8:15 AM  

Boy did I get off on the wrong foot. I saw the movie clue and confidently wrote "See No Evil" which unfortunately fit. Wrong blind girl movie. That one stars Mia Farrow.
I got back on track after that epic error but I was hoping for a tougher trick. It is Thursday, right? The holiday has me all confused.

Nancy 8:26 AM  

Would this have been as easy for me had I not known WAIT UNTIL DARK immediately? (The only other possibilities were CHARADE and TOPKAPI, and neither fit.) I certainly didn't know what a "nyctophobe" was. But I was thrilled when AFRAID OF came in; I figured the nyctophobe had to be "afraid of" something. New York City, perhaps?

AFRAID OF came in before WAIT UNTIL DARK. But once that came in, it all was smooth sailing.

As I said, easier than most Thursdays. But that doesn't mean I didn't find it great fun. The best part is I didn't have to know anything at all about Darth Vader to get THE DARK SIDE. All I know about Darth Vader is that Dick Cheney was often referred to by his name. So Darth had to be a villain, right?

An enjoyable puzzle that would have been even better had all the black squares been "DARKs". But as Bette Davis said in "Now Voyager": "Let's not ask for the moon when we have the stars." (Wish Bette had said it in "DARK Victory".)

pabloinnh 8:28 AM  

Scanned the grid while waiting for my printer to print, saw AFRICA and AFTER() and the Darth Vader clue and, Bob's your uncle, off to the races. I liked the before and after uses of "dark" and found nothing to annoy me in this one

I saw WAITUNTILDARK when it came out and about the only thing I remember is Audrey breaking all the light bulbs in her apartment and forgetting about the light in the refrigerator, which came on when the door was opened and we all jumped in our seats. Eek.

Fun Thursdecito for me. If OFL inisists on looking for a Thurdazo every time, he'll only make himself angry, although anger seems to be his default mode. I'll just say thanks to ES for the fun.

Hungry Mother 8:33 AM  

Got the theme right away, but had aRAL for too long before CURBS came to me. Fun solve.

RooMonster 8:34 AM  

Hey All !
Tried to fool me, didja puz? I figured you out! It was a DARK and STORMY night...

Caught on to the theme, at all places, at MAN. Actually thought of BlankMan (that was a movie, right?) but already having the Revealer, quickly saw it would be DARK. Toughest DARK pair was AFTER/CHOCOLATE.

The tiny SW corner was giving me fits! SPA waaaaay strangely clued. Who knew that was a town in Belgium? ELF strange clue also. Plus having snAPTO nt helping. Got my butt (almost) kicked by a 4x3 part of the puz.

Got a chuckle out of LAMARR. Every time I see that name, I think of "Blazing Saddles" - "It's Headley" Har.

Two things, 1) can't figure out your Avatar today, and 2) people always change my name to Darrell when I'm ordering stuff to take out, so I tell them now my name is Leo. I was born in August, so LEO. Tough name to mess up. Plus it gives you a small rush to be living a lie!

@Gill I 7:34
In case you weren't just joshing, 65A is RESORB.


mmorgan 8:39 AM  

Easy for me. Fine... I got the theme very early, and this time it was the theme that gave me the revealer. (And the revealer fell flat to me.). I like it the other way around, like, um, yesterday. Also noticed the THE problem which may mean I’m reading too much Rex.

Wm. C. 9:11 AM  

@Lewis6:38 --

There are FOUR letters that sound like letters. Don't forget EWE (63D, Letter that sounds like you). ;-).

Kathy 9:24 AM  

I encountered too many outhouses in the northwest: battle stat, Grammy winner, airline. But I was finally able to guess my way to the finish line. It is still an accomplishment for me to finish a Thursday puzzle without help, so I imagine the consensus will be Easy Thursday.

I liked the theme, especially because it didn't require that one be boned up on movies like Star Wars to figure it out. I cottoned to it when “Wait until Dark” began to emerge which allowed me to LEAP TO the rest of the themers and open up the puzzle.

I just love the devilishly delicious @LMS vignettes!

Leslie 9:26 AM  

@Z I say it's "A Shot in the Dark".

SouthsideJohnny 9:33 AM  

Fun reading Rex going on and on about the word THE - I have no clue what he is talking about, but he sure does like to excavate every layer of detail out of those theme entries.

Yesterday we had a large contingent reminiscing about a comic strip that stopped being published like 25 years ago. Today there are many singing the praises of a movie from over 50 years ago - wow ! Is this a “chicken or an egg” thing with the old geezers (do you skew your puzzle ancient to attract Grammys and Grampys, or is the audience already comprised of the geriatric set, so you have to give them some grist with which they will be familiar ?).

It’s time for A-Ok v.v. JAKE to gracefully take a bow, and ride off into the sunset (hopefully) never to be heard from again.

Rex probably continually plays the “sexism” card because it gives him a false sense of intellectual superiority. Additionally, I would venture that he (again falsely) believes that it increases is “hip cred” with the kids on campus, when in fact it does just the opposite - making him look like some foolish old dude trying to fit in.

Klazzic 9:49 AM  

Mein Gott, Rex. This is not worm theory. It's a freakin' crossword. Using words such as "metaphorical" and "canonically" in reviewing a crossword puzzle indicates an overwrought mind. I'll pitch in to send Rex to Hawaii for some extended R&R.

Any-who: it's worth noting that Richard Crenna also gave an outstanding performance in that tremendous thriller.

Anonymous 9:49 AM  

The most unsettling aspect of "Wait Until Dark", for me, was Henry Mancini's score. With two pianos tuned a quarter tone apart kicking things off, the score is about as far as you can get from "Pink Panther", "Breakfast at Tiffany's" and "Charade." It's just as effective as Bernard Herrmann's screeching strings in "Psycho" or John Williams' "Jaws" theme. It puts you on edge from the very start of the film.

rnrghost57 9:50 AM  

Ozzie Osbourne’s “Shot in the Dark” is a damn good song.


Wow. "Old geezers". "Grammys and Grampys." "Foolish old dude". We get it, @Southside Johnnie. You're...young!!!!!! Or at least younger. Congratulations!!!!!! What an accomplishment!!!!! Wow!!!!! Ageism is the stupidest sort of bigotry. It's the only kind where you are destined to turn into what you despise. Unless of course you're unlucky and never get there at all. We have one big advantage over you, Johnnie. We've all gotten there.

If you do end up getting there, I hope that the karma you've earned will be waiting for you.

TJS 9:54 AM  

"At least it was easy."
"the rest of this was very easy, so I still came out fast."
"suddenly that puzzleis...good.Very good. They're all pretty easy" re. USA Today puzzles.
Who wants an easy puzzle ? A less than 5 minute solve, on a Thursday? What possible attraction is there for that ? I guess if you are competing at a contest with like-minded solvers, there could be some redeeming factor, but solving at home and not needing any deductive thinking or memory searching just does not interest me. Different strokes, apparently.
On a lighter note, I am always a source of amusement to my kids for using old time phrases from decades past. Thank you, @pabloinnh for giving me new ammo with "Bob's your uncle".

pmdm 10:29 AM  

I've been goaded into leaving a comment today.

As a Thursday puzzle, I enjoyed this more than most. That's a personal reaction and the reactions of those who disliked the puzzle have just as valid reactions. Reactions are not debatable. The overall quality of a puzzle is but may be skewed by one's definition of what constitutes a good puzzle.

That said, my reaction to a puzzle is dependent on my enjoyment of the puzzle. I could care less who constructed the puzzle (what sex they are, what orientation they prefer, even what animal they are) and simply don't see the point in dwelling on naked statistics. (I do like seeing those who frequently post here, like Lewis, as the constructor of a puzzle even when I dislike the puzzle.) I dislike both discrimination and reverse discrimination, and without more information I really would not fling condemnation at Shortz or Agard or whoever. So I wish everyone would cease quoting statistics and produces more examples that establish the point.

J.J. 10:29 AM  

OMG, OATERS ? ? ? Is that really a thing - do people actually say, “What kind of a movie would you like to watch tonight?” “I’m in the mood for a good OATER - see what’s trending on Netflix”.

Sorry, when you have Heddy LAMARR, Audrey Hepburn, John Wayne (and the aforementioned hysterical OATERS), ORK, and “rains down in AFRICA” you have to accept the possibility that you’re solving a puzzle that has a bias toward people of a certain age group (not that there is anything wrong with that).

I’ve also been checking in on the USA Today offerings - definitely M-T easyish - from what I’ve seen so far, they have been able to minimize the dreaded PPP and focus more on wordplay which is a good thing in my opinion (full disclosure - that is just an observation, I haven’t run any actual numbers).

Lewis 10:33 AM  

@Wm. C -- Good catch!

Lewis 10:33 AM  

Yesterday I posted my 15 favorite clues of 2019, but the list looked dauntingly large to me, so I’ve culled it down to a more manageable number. Here are:

My five favorite clues from 2019
(in order of appearance):

1. Ones supposedly eligible for, but never yet seen in the Miss Universe pageant (6)
2. Abstract unit of exchange (3)
3. Place where musical talent may be wasted (7)(3)
4. Start of an anti-coal petition (4)(5)
5. Number of people in an office? (7)

ALIENS (David Steinberg, 3/23)
TAT (Robyn Weintraub, 5/11)
KARAOKE BAR (Christopher Adams, 7/28)
DEAR SANTA (Erik Agard and Anna Gundlach, 8/10)
DENTIST (Randolph Ross, 11/17)

And my favorite clue of 2019, what I dub the COTY Prize (Clue Of The Year), is #4, [Start of an anti-coal petition] for DEAR SANTA, by Erik Agard and Anna Gundlach.

xyz 10:50 AM  

Given the theme - OREO was not gratuitously used - WHAT A GREAT PUZZLE!!

Pretty dadgumded easy, though, very for Thursday.

@SolverinSerbia - there is a formula somewhere, I cannot find the name or the formula
- to determine the degree of 'male/female balance' in crossword puzzles.
It's not just Rex-o

What? 11:04 AM  

The revival got poor reviews maybe because Tarantino is a terrible actor, wooden and self conscious. As a director he can of course cast himself.

Malsdemare 11:16 AM  

Golly, I liked this. Unlike Rex, I was totally in the dark, even after I got HORSE from the crosses (huh!?!? How is a HORSE a surprise winner? Thought maybe there was a racetrack named Surprise. Please don’t make fun of me) until I got to the reveal and plunked in THE DARK SIDE with no hesitation. So I zoomed back to the places where I was stumped, raced through the rest and Voila! Done.

I loved “WAIT UNTIL DARK,” and have been thinking about it a lot lately. I think I mentioned that my sister went blind overnight last fall (yes, that can happen; sure does give enhanced meaning to “AFRAID OF THE DARK” doesn’t it). Anyway, so many of the things Hepburn grapples with in that movie, forgetting for the moment the Arkin character—getting dressed, negotiating the apartment, coping with that creepy annoying kid — are painful now for me to consider.

I do get Rex’s complaint about the double the’s in two answers but I really don’t care (do I). I knew. Or could infer, most of this stuff—no rappers, just ELSA whom I now know because I watched Frozen with my children over the holiday. Did I mention it’s about sisters, not some dumb thing about one more silly princess who gets saved by some dumb old prince? We went to the movies a few nights ago to see Ford vs Ferrari at one of those huge multiplex things where Frozen 2 was also showing and an adorable girl child came in full princess mode; having never had a girl child who’d wear Glow-y, sparkly gowns or tiaras, I was enchanted. I guess dressing for the movie is now a thing. Am I showing my age?

Sorry for the rambling. I’m trying to avoid looking at the tree etc. that need to come down, like now. I’ll stop now.

Newboy 11:18 AM  

Finding myself less outraged by the female/male disparities in cross world than in Congress. Liked the solve that stopped struggling after WAIT UNTIL.

David 11:23 AM  

@Lewis, thanks and I agree totally!

I'm in my 60s and when I was a kid only old folks said "Oaters" already.

Spa was a gimme for me but "Jump to" at 4D didn't help at all. So I moved around and "Wait until" was another gimme so back I went to the NE to fill in "afraid of the" -- I had had an inkling about nyct from Greek somewhere in the back of my head.

Then I went through far too quickly for a Thursday and the words after the "dark" didn't much register until I came here. I didn't dislike the puzzle, actually I rather like it but it seems more of a Tuesday/Wednesday for me.

Whatsername 11:34 AM  

Sorry Rex, but I can’t get enthused over a Crossword site that offers nothing beyond Monday-Tuesday difficulty. I routinely skip the Times’ Mondays, but the USA sounds like a good place for novices to gain experience.

Loved learning two great new words today. Thought I KNEW all the phobias, but this NYCTOPHOBIC fraidy cat was an unfamiliar one. And when I got up this morning, I couldn’t even spell ZOOPHILIST but turns out I are one. My only NIT was an almost natick at 38D/38A because I didn’t know the drink or the iPod, but it was easy enough to guess. I know devotees of Darth Vader love their Star Wars, but I’ll watch a John Wayne OATER over any of them or any other sci-fi flick ever made.

Thanks Mr. Sessa for this fun first Thursday of the year with a nice trick and a reason to expand my vocabulary. it was JAKE.

Giskarrrd 11:36 AM  

I started playing the NYTXW about a year ago, and (as a non-native English speaker) needed quite a bit of time to ease into it. Mondays and Tuesdays have now become very doable for me, Wednesday’s typically take a bit longer but still no longer a frequent cause of DNFs.

Thursdays I used to steer clear from. I never understood how people would figure out the “gimmicks”/rebuses. This is the second Thursday where I managed to figure it out and finish without help/cheating. I don’t think it was a particularly difficult gimmick to get, but it still made me feel quite accomplished 😁

I enjoyed this puzzle, and thought the revealer was both fun and a really great clue to figuring out the theme. Great start to the new year!

Anonymous 11:39 AM  

Yes. It can be done on the original site and there’s also an app.

Malsdemare 11:44 AM  

Someone asked about Loren's avatar. Think of Hypodermic, as in shot.

Anonymous 11:51 AM  

people always change my name to Darrell

May be you should just tell them it's for your other brother... :)

burtonkd 11:56 AM  

@lewis, could you explain the DENTIST answer? Still not seeing it. I’m sure it will be a DOH, SMH moment.

Anonymous 12:05 PM  

Or at least younger. Congratulations!!!!!! What an accomplishment!!!!! Wow!!!!! Ageism is the stupidest sort of bigotry.

Yeah, but think of the gotcha in store: thanks to the right-wing tilt in politics (I'm talkin at you, Scott Morrison, et al) all the young folks, and their kids, will have is a Venutian cinder of a planet. And those young-uns are as responsible for that right-tilt as the paranoid old white guys in the Empty States who insist the problem is with darkie immigrants and Liberals and the educated and ... ; if they had just voted (here and Australia and UK and ...) things might turn out differently. It's likely too late.

jb129 12:08 PM  

Congratulations to Erik! I hope to see you again here!

Anonymous 12:09 PM  

Think novocaine.

old timer 12:11 PM  

I pay no attention to avatars, probably because I read the blog on my iPhone (though to post, I find it easier to use my desktop Mac). But if the need to select a new avatar takes @LMS enough time to discourage her from posting more often, I'm agin it. She makes me laugh out loud almost every time. ASBARTHE! But also I am inspired by her professional observations about teachin' in West (by God!) Virginia.

Gotta say, here in idyllic Northern California, you don't have to go to Starbucks to get a scone (their scones, if they have them, are pretty awful, too). Almost every indie place has them; indeed, there is a niche industry that bakes them and delivers them to coffee places.

I would not be too concerned about younger folks getting references to old movies and songs. Thanks to the Internet, or cable TV, they see the movies if they want, and between YouTube and the ambient music played in so many bars and hangouts, they know the best old songs. Certainly the Beatles catalog, in my experience. Indeed if they play pub trivia, as one of my daughters does sometimes, someone on her team is sure to help them ACE the music round.

OATER was a common Hollywood term for a Western. Not often used by the moviegoers themselves but a wry reference invented by the poor schlubs who had to deal with the horses on the set, feed the critters, and shovel up the manure.

Masked and Anonymous 12:19 PM  

Puztheme mcguffin did have a bit of a dejavuosity feel, but thought it was A-O.K.-jake.
Coulda done somethin with weejects, for yer revealer here, tho -- just to freshen things up. U already have the DEE and the ARR. Just include em into a grid row of weejects that looks like this: DEE-AYE-ARR-CAY.

First themer I stumbled onto was the WAITUNTIL* one. Whole normal answer was a gimme, so that got M&A out of the dark on the mcguffin, PrettyDarkQuick.

Sith weeject pick: ARR. As in: dARRk. Primo weeject stacks in the NE & SW, btw.
scenic fillins included: OFFSITE. CATNAP. (Darkest?)AFRICA. ALASKA. JOHNDOE. MUSK.

Thanx for all the dark sides, Mr. Sessa. And for yer shot in the dark, @muse darlin.

Masked & Anonymo3Us


Unknown 12:23 PM  

I have no idea why you think fe-male constructors are better than their male counterparts. Is your goal %100 wimmens constrictors?

JC66 12:28 PM  


The AcrossLite link to today's "gruntz" won't work.

andy 12:30 PM  

I find it funny when people (and Rex) complain about clues and answers that only "geezers" can fathom. Well, I've never seen "Game of Thrones" nor watched a "Star Wars" movie since about 1995 and I know little about the current music scene so I'm just at sea over those clues as you are about anything that happened before 1980. And I'm not THAT old.

albatross shell 12:31 PM  

OATER was coined in 1946 in reference to low budget formulaic westerns. This geezer thought it was older, but before that (since 1923) they were horse operas.

Puzzle certainly passed the fun to solve test for me. Did not know AIRSINAI or nyctophobic but sussed them out, the latter with the aid of the theme. I had to work here and there in the puzzle, but happily escaped the Google oracle. RESORB took some time as did ORNO. Great clue on ELF.

I did not mind the "THEs" at all, though sometimes I do when there are multiples. But sometimes I dislike the clues that have "with 'the'" in them.

At the very least this is the 2nd best puzzle of the decade, if you call this year a new decade.

Masked and Anonymous 12:58 PM  

@JC66: Weird. Try this puppy:



p.s. RESORB?! har

JC66 1:00 PM  


Works fine now, thanks.

Teedmn 1:11 PM  

I was with @chefwen at getting the theme at dark HORSE due to not getting into the NW right away. All of the downs there were, like yesterday, unknowns for me. So I skipped to SEDAN and NETTLE, though the clues for OFFSITE and ECHO took a bit more parsing.

SCONES - I got that one because on the very few occasions that I find myself in a Starbucks, I always go for one of their maple scones if they have them. I love them enough to have found an online replica recipe and have made them at home. Nummy.

I remember watching WAIT UNTIL DARK as a kid after my Mom described it as really suspenseful because there's this woman who is blind and she turns all the lights off and...Now that I think of it, why would she have had lamps in the first place? It's been decades since I saw it so perhaps there was a good reason? I suppose she had overhead lights in any case.

With my NBAphobia, I barely am aware of Mr. Curry, so I first thought we were going to have a rebus STE[VE]N but the DARK HORSE saved me there.

@Nancy, nice NYCtophobic comment!

Thanks, Ed Sessa, Thursday rebuses are always welcome.

Malsdemare 1:15 PM  

Just a random tale from an old lady in America's heartland, otherwise know as empty states or flyover country. I was in a parking lot in Arcola Illinois, the heart of Amish country, when the old fart in a pickup next to me rolled down his window and told me he loved my door decal. Which said, 'Unseat Rodney Davis,' our republican congressman. He then proceeded to bemoan the many ways he felt our country was going bad due to Republican efforts to loosen laws on environment, keep out immigrants, shred international agreements, ruin our standing in the world. Gotta tell ya, he pretty much demolished a lot of stereotypes: age, skin color, profession (farmer), sex, and state of residence. This old white lady agreed enthusiastically with him . . . Pretty much made my day.

Just sayin'.....

Anonymous 1:54 PM  

... because not everyone she knows, like the UPS guy, is blind.

Davis 1:54 PM  

Sheesh, we men can be so thin-skinned. Rex praises an editor for finding constructors who are (a) much more representative of the gender split in the general population than the NYTXW and (b) good at constructing puzzles, and somehow several commenters feel like men are being attacked or discriminated against. (Just a hunch, but I'd bet a dollar that one or more of those commenters also unironically uses the term "snowflake", with no realization of the projection that entails.)

William 2:14 PM  

I truly enjoyed today’s puzzle and love almost any NYT Thursday puzzle. My wife and I often do the puzzle together. She loves old movies, for example, and I love the Thursday grid tricks, and so we combine to support one another on such puzzles as today’s. I agree with Rex that the USAToday puzzles are improved greatly, but for me, the New York Times puzzles have a graceful personality and a challenging fun to them that are unmatched. Let’s ease up and give Will credit: today’s was a lot of fun. A solid puzzle with a well carried-out theme that had no black hole answers that you’d get sucked into unable to correct and successfully finish the grid in a manageable time. Instead, straightforward and a delight. I’m cheering and looking forward to the next one. Cheers, folks.

Joe Dipinto 2:27 PM  

@teedmn – the Audrey Hepburn character was married, she didn't live alone.

Unknown 2:31 PM  

The NYT puzzles have become so stale that I'm starting to root for Will Shortz's retirement.

Lewis 3:10 PM  

@burtonkd -- Think of the dentist as one who numbs your teeth.

Monty Boy 3:13 PM  

For @Lewis favorite clue/answer, I agree that is a great contribution. Like many others I enjoy all the commenters (mostly) but I come here especially for @LMS and @Lewis.

For his current list, I must be the only one who can't suss "Abstract unit of exchange" being a TAT?? Help??

For the puzzle: Anyone else read Virgin River as Virginia River and make that entry much harder than it should be?

JC66 3:19 PM  

@Monte Boy

Tit for TAT.

Teedmn 3:37 PM  

Thanks, @Joe DiPinto, that explains that!

ASW-20 3:42 PM  

Once I got Dark “N”stormy rather than being hung up with “and”, everything else fell into place, but I still don’t understand a-o.k./Jake. Early on John Doe had me trying to make something like Dark shadoe work, so a little bit of wheel spinning there until the black cat was found in the “dark”. Would someone please explain Jake to this hillbilly? It seems to have been obvious to EVERYONE else, ‘cause I found only one non-explanatory mention in a cursory search. Help!

JC66 3:54 PM  


It's an old-timey expression.

Everything's JAKE = Everything's OK.

pabloinnh 4:10 PM  

@TJS (9:54)

Anyone who is "a source of amusement to (their) kids for using old time phrases from decades past", i. e., someone who delights in language and is unaffected by its age, is jake with me.

Whatsername 4:16 PM  

@JC66: thanks for the explanation. I thought it was one of those recently coined youth driven expressions like “dope.” That’s how woke I am.

bauskern 4:42 PM  

Do you sort of feel that Rex interviewed for the NYT puzzle editor slot, and was turned down . . . . and so now we constantly have to hear him berate the paper/present editor? Honestly Rex,it gets old.

Nancy 5:05 PM  

Thanks, @Teedmn! (1:11 p.m.) I was wondering if anyone would notice. You seem to be the only person on the entire blog who did. Yes, I was quite pleased with my wordplay, to tell the truth.

But let me return the compliment. You pointed out something that I didn't think of when I saw WAIT UNTIL DARK all those many years ago. And it would seem that absolutely no one else did either. Not the audiences and not the reviewers. But it's so, so true. If she was blind, why did she have the lights on in the first place???

Perhaps you should consider becoming a film critic, @Teedmn!

Pablo 5:15 PM  

Fun puzzle. Got stuck in the NE with bracES instead of TENSES, but I had no problems with the theme.

NSTORMY did throw me off. That's where I knew we were getting theme material, but I thought it was a robus. Even had "dark&" in there, but AFTER quickly sorted that out.

SCONES gave me trouble too as the down clues for CONE weren't kind, but were fair. "Unoriginal voice" is a stretch and OFFSITE's clue was particularly vague, but it's what late week puzzles are made of.

Again, doing great work on minimizing aged clues. LAMARR and OATERS might be the only ones that stuck out to me as stuff basically no one in my generation would know offhand.

Pablo 5:21 PM  

At least for me, "at least it was easy" means, "at least I didn't spend 30+ minutes banging my head against the wall for a puzzle that was flawed or unsatisfying."

Sometimes we get science clues on here that I know are technically wrong. Wrong enough that I brush off the right answer. Then it takes a while to come back to it and realize their mistake. If the rest of the puzzle is easy, no harm no foul from my perspective. Crosses reveal it. If it's tough and I'm frustrated, then find out it's a bad clue or just an underwhelming theme I'm less forgiving.

Mike 5:26 PM  

I did about a week of the USA Today puzzles (to see if they got any harder) and found not only were they much too easy but the themes were uniformly simple and dull, like having the same sequence of three letters appearing in the long grid answers. Could someone ask Erik where he's getting direction from for making the puzzles so easy? As far as Rex extolling the puzzles, that is just his dislike for Will Shortz. There is no objective criteria where the USA Today puzzles can be considered "better" than the NYT, and from what I've done of them so far, I can't see that having female constructors is even noticeable to most solvers. Too bad there's no way we could slip one of the USA Today puzzles into the NYT and read Rex's scathing review.

Anonymous 5:27 PM  

For a while I thought that maybe nyctophobia was a fanciful name for fear of New York City Transit, and that the answer might somehow involve Uber.

Pablo 5:35 PM  

As someone who is routinely frustrated by the NYTXW asking me to recall minor pop culture references that feel like inside jokes among baby boomers, I'm still shocked someone would be that brazen on here. This very, very mild message board.

Yes, the NYTXW caters to baby boomers. The clues are edited to appeal to that generation and to be easier for that generation. Even in the language of the clues, the use of French (far more popular as a foreign language subject among older generations), and the depth of knowledge expected of certain subjects (and not others) all caters to that generation. Well guess what. That's who mostly does the puzzle. Will this XW die a slow and painful death as that generation ages and stops doing the puzzle? Yes, if nothing changes. However, right now most people who do this are 50+. It's annoying. I wish they'd be more universal, but you can't call ageism or discrimination on a voluntary activity like doing a puzzle.

I do it because it's the most popular one. I wish everyone did something else, but it has the app, it has the notoriety, so it's a social thing. You can point these things out and talk about it, but you can only complain so much.

JC66 5:43 PM  


You obviously missed @ Joe D's 2:27 comment.

Anonymous 5:57 PM  

@SouthsideJohnny at 09:33 - Did you skew your comments to be particularly boorish today, or are you just naturally that ill mannered? Perhaps you play the "ageism" card because it gives you a false sense of intellectual superiority and you think it increases your "hip cred" with the other bloggers when in fact it does just the opposite - making you look like some foolish young dude trying to fit in.

Anonymous 7:04 PM  

I don't see the NYT puzzle particularly catering to baby boomers, of which I am one.

There are plenty of pop cultural references from the last 20 years about which I know nothing. There are plenty of pre-1965 cultural references as well. I knew Hedy Lamarr but not because I've ever seen any of her movies (she especially sticks in my mind because she is also the inventor of spread spectrum communications technology). There is plenty of historical stuff that refers to times none of us lived through - you have to know it from being curious enough about history to have learned and retained it.

As for language, there is plenty of Spanish, Italian, and German as well as French. I have never learned a word of Spanish in any formal way but I can get about half or more of the Spanish answers. It's more a matter of being interested in language and how words are different in different Romance languages than it is about knowing Spanish per se.

SouthsideJohnny 7:21 PM  

@Anon 5:57. The answer to your (binary) question is “no”. The following speculation that you articulated is inaccurate as well.

GILL I. 7:31 PM  

@Mike 5:26. I took @Rex's advice and tried the USA Today puzzle. Today it was Lynn Lempel (whom I love) and it was Monday easy....edited (still) by Fred Piscop). I'm not a huge Erik fan but maybe my newbie daughter will like him and the easiness of their puzzles will make her a fan....
The "Tough As Nails" by Stella Zawistowski was beyond my ken; worse, I can't verify my answers. Wasn't fun at all. I guess I'm stuck with the NYT....and this blog!

Nancy 9:36 PM  

Yes, I did miss it. How careless of me.

Elise 10:00 PM  

I absolutely LOVE Wait Until Dark. Was obsessed with Alan Arkin in high school....is it weird that my favorite movie was The Russians Are Coming The Russians Are Coming and my friends and I used to quote "Egermency! Everybody to get from street!" at each other? That is all I came here to say. Anyway that answer gave me the theme and it was pretty easy from there (12 mins)

Richardf8 10:13 PM  

The theme really bugged me: the glaring issue for me is why some black squares get to mean “dark” and others don’t. And why do squares that mean dark on the crosses not mean it on the downs? It just felt botched. There was a time I would look at a puzzle like this, say "really?!?” And walk away. But now, between not wanting to leave something unfinished, and not wanting to miss out on some fun bit, I don’t anymore. Well I finished it. I’ll say that much.

RickLevenson 10:49 AM  

Bug! Dark chocolate does not lack milk! It is lower in sugar! There are some wonderful dark milk chocolate bars. Will S. needs to get off the Hershey truck...

JimmyBgood 9:00 AM  

Said Dan to the customer: which would you prefer? This shay or that shay?

Diana, LIW 11:02 AM  

My Eighth Grade Science teacher told us about WAIT UNTIL (dark) and how it scared the (fill in blank) out of her. Of course, we all had to see it immediately. And I loved, loved, loved Audrey Hepburn.

(May I suggest her for DOD?)

Anyway, that was my clue to the hidden rebus, as I like to call this kind of puzzle.

And I love all chocolate, but chocolate ice cream is in its own category. Who cares about the milk/lack thereof.

So, Syndiecats, are you all ready for ACPT in March? Ridiculously nerdy funny. Right up my cat alley.

Diana, Lady-in-Waiting for Crosswords

spacecraft 11:56 AM  

It's been apparent for a while now that Mr. Sharp does not like Mr. Sessa's work. I didn't use to, but I gotta say, ol' Ed has been working on his game. Not entirely gone, but rarer is the fill detritus that once permeated his grids. This was a good effort, with a solid (for me) theme attached to a nice revealer.

@Lady Di: You'd be surprised how much healthier dark chocolate is for you than the milk variety. Yeah, it's a very big deal. I won't eat any variety but. Also, Lovely Audrey is one of my permanent DOD's, but today I give the nod to renaissance woman Hedy LAMARR.

Three moments in my filmgoing career have frozen the blood right in my veins--and two of them feature the divine Miss H. One is, of course, when Arkin lunges at her from behind in WUD; the other is in "Charade," when Cary Grant says, "Reggie, stop! That man is Carson Dyle!" The third? When the conductor on the 20th Century Limited hands Eva Marie Saint's note to Martin Landau: "What do I do with him in the morning?" and he passes it on to a smiling James Mason in my all-time fave flick NNW.

We could have easily had a ninth themer if 40-down were clued "Leg or thigh, but not breast." I cop to one writeover: Baby's first home, 4 letters ending in B? Why, crib, naturally! Ha. Birdie.

Burma Shave 12:19 PM  


EWE KNEW they LET Godiva TIME it, of course,


rainforest 2:14 PM  

As soon as I saw that Ed Sessa was the constructor made the decision to not read OFA's post - he hates Ed Sessa and will go to great lengths to disparage his efforts. It doesn't make for pleasant reading. I see from @spacey's comment that my decision was a good one.

I liked this puzzle, frankly. It took some time to get onto the theme, but I managed it at -HORSE preceded by WAIT UNTIL-. Kind of a black square rebus without any rebusing. There were lots of themers and a good revealer, and also decent fill except for maybe OATERS, a word I've never seen/heard except for in crosswords. I liked many of the clues as well.

Keep plugging away, Ed.

leftcoaster 3:09 PM  

Clever and lots of fun.

Seeing the DARKSIDE and the "dark" squares, especially the dark N" STORMY night, was a delightful way to wrap it all up.

Some fun down fill (ha) too: ECHO for "unoriginal voice", WOMB for "baby's first home", the stacked CHEZ and SHEA homophones, and "# 49" ALASKA, where I lived for a number of years.

Yes OR NO? Yes, delightful.

rondo 3:41 PM  

“That’s Hedley!”, said Mr. LAMARR (in Blazing Saddles).

In my workplace THEDARKSIDE means consulting engineers.
You know what a consultant is, right?
Someone from out of town.

BEIN’THE agreeable sort, thumbs up for Audrey.

OK as far as a rebus puz goes.

rondo 7:11 PM  

BTW - yesterday's four corners were DOPE and OP-ED.
Today's are PEST, PETS, and STEP.

Anonymous 9:03 PM  

Great puzzle. Sorry Rex wasn't thrilled about it.

And Wait Until Dark has to be one of the best thriller movies ever. Jack Weston, Richard Crenna, Alan Arkin, and of course Audrey Hepburn, are spectacular. I think they all deserved Oscars. Truly a classic.

As for women constructors, or men constructors, can't we just call them all constructors ? And should the Times or any other entity be forced to use a given percentage ? Maybe Rex should be limited to writing his blog for 182 days a year, and the ladies write for 183 days a year ? How well would that go over ?

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