Farthest orbital point from moon / SUN 2-2-20 / Lone female argonaut / Fictional protagonist who attends elementary school in Maycomb County / Grace's partner on Netflix / Onetime come hungry leave happy sloganeer / Asian island divided between two countries

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Constructor: Brian Herrick and Christopher Adams

Relative difficulty: Easy (very—7:21, a new personal record for Sunday)

THEME: "Audubon Society" — not a great title, but the revealer makes up for it: "LADY BIRD" (115A: 2017 film nominated for Best Picture ... or a hint to the answers to the eight starred clues)—themers are all women (ladies) whose last names are types of birds:

Theme answers:
  • SHERYL CROW (23A: *"Soak Up the Sun" singer, 2002)
  • SCOUT FINCH (25A: *Fictional protagonist who attends elementary school in Maycomb County)
  • SIGOURNEY WEAVER (38A: *Actress in "Alien" and "Avatar")
  • RITA DOVE (112A: *First African-American U.S. poet laureate)
  • PAMELA SUE MARTIN (43D: *Portrayer of Fallon Carrington Colby on "Dynasty")
  • TAYLOR SWIFT (49D: *Singer with the most American Music Awards of all time (29))
  • MARION CRANE (50D: *Janet Leigh played her in "Psycho")
  • CLARICE STARLING (46D: *"The Silence of the Lambs" protagonist)
Word of the Day: APOLUNE (42A: Farthest orbital point from the moon) —
the point in the path of a body orbiting the moon that is farthest from the center of the moon (merriam-webster.com)
• • •

Really feeling powerful this weekend. First I crush the Saturday puzzle while most of the solving world (apparently) struggles with it, then the next day (i.e. today) I set a personal Sunday record by a good 20+ seconds. If only I'd been able to spell LINGUINE correctly (not an -INI!?), who knows, I might've managed to break 7. Puzzle was just easy, but also the themers were all very much in my wheelhouse, or at least my ... I don't know, cultural orbit. I embarrassingly struggled to remember SCOUT's last name (and this was *after* I knew it was a bird theme), I non-embarrassingly struggled to remember PAMELA SUE MARTIN's name (but I *did* watch a lot of "Dynasty" as a teenager, so she rang a bell) and I weirdly struggled to remember CLARICE's last name because I conflated her and a novelist I remembered from my college / grad school days named Clarice Lispector. I wanted CLARICE ... SPECTOR, or something like it. Then I couldn't think of any "S" birds but "swallow" for a little bit. But I finally got there. And anyway, all of this struggle was actually taking place at a pretty fast clip, since wherever I ran up against an obstacle, the crosses were able to get me past it pretty easily. The theme feels very basic, and like something I've done before (and there have, in fact, been bird-last-name puzzles before), but the revealer gives this one a nice coherence. It's far too easy, and a little simple / straightforward, themewise, but that's really the only knock I have to give this one. The theme is tight and well executed, and the fill is overwhelmingly smooth, with only APOLUNE making me go "whaaaa?" and only ON POT making me go "Ok, dad."

I now know what an APOLUNE is but what I don't know is what ... object ... orbits ... the moon? Is this a term we apply to *any* moon, because the Merriam-Webster def says "the" moon, which makes me think our moon, which makes me wonder what objects are orbiting it such that we would have to invent a word for where those objects are in orbit? When I google image search APOLUNE, *this* is the first image that comes up ... it's really not helpful:

As usual, the parts I struggled most with were names. Gave up the NFL a few years back, so TALIB was unknown to me (though I've definitely heard the name) (65A: Aqib ___, five-time Pro Bowl cornerback), and I also didn't know LYN St. James, though she sounds like she's probably worth knowing, if only for future crossword purposes (121A: ___ St. James, first female Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year). I did know RAHAL, though, so that helped (2D: Bobby in the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America). I don't think there was much that stood out as spectacular, fill-wise, but I did like GO ROGUE and "YOU ROCK!" and "NO REASON." This is a really theme-dense puzzle, which means most of the interest lies there. They've designed the grid interestingly and cleverly, so there are lots of longish answers but none of them cross or even really crowd each other, which allows for the fill to be smooth. Usually the denser the theme, the rougher the fill (because dense themes just put a lot of pressure on the grid). The grid was well designed. I think grid design is a really underrated talent.

I did some good non-NYTXW puzzles this week (Patrick Berry's New Yorker was especially good), but I don't really have much for my "On the Clipboard" segment this week, although I do want to shout out the Saturday USA Today by Mark McClain (ed. Erik Agard). Its themer set was MERCHANT VESSELS, MERE COINCIDENCE, and MEREDITH WILSON, which is not exactly stunning, conceptually, until you notice that the title of the puzzle is ... MERLOT. That is an exquisite visual pun. A Mer- lot. A lot of Mer-s. MERLOT. I only wish it had been the revealer and not the title. Oh well. Still intensely clever. Point is, there are lots of ways to make a puzzle (even a very easy / basic puzzle) fun!

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. happy birthday, dad

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Joaquin 12:04 AM  

I liked this better than the regular Sunday slogs; some interesting fill and I learned a couple of semi-useful things: One new word - APOLUNE; and one new fact - matches are made from ASPEN wood.

I was flying through it until I made Hamilton and Burr “enemies” instead of DUELERS. And I had to stop and say a little prayer for Rex when I saw DRUNKS and SOT in the same puzzle. Personally, I’m more put off by IDITAROD and the use of dogs in that way (though I am not put off by finding it as fill in a crossword puzzle).

And now, the Sunday sermon: GO CHIEFS! Amen.

Joe Dipinto 12:24 AM  

Gee I hope they spelled Meredith Willson's name correctly in the puzzle that you spoiled.

The first clue in *our* puzzle that my eye fell on was 46d so I plunked in CLARICE STARLING and then all the other LADY BIRDs in short order with no help. Okay, I did have to mentally determine the downs to get RITA DOVE, unfamiliar to me though she'd apparently been in the Magazine's masthead for a bit:

In the spring of 2018, Dove was named poetry editor of The New York Times Magazine.[9] She resigned from the position in August 2019. – Wikipedia

I debated whether to just leave the rest of the puzzle blank after that, but eventually I went back and finished it. Easy schmeasy all the way through, maybe too much so. We got another Argonaut, the lone female one – nice touch! People are sure to complain about ALBUS, I guess, but I knew it, so... My favorite answer was WHO'S WE?

Bet this guy can spell "linguine".

Mike in Mountain View 12:52 AM  

I'm not complaining, but for me the ALBUS/BENES cross could easily have been an ALdUS/dENES cross; crossing the less-known portion of two fictional characters' names brings a high degree of Natick risk.

Interesting coincidence that this Natick appears in almost exactly the same place as yesterday's. At least I guessed that one correctly.

CDilly52 1:48 AM  

After yesterday’s workout, today felt like a welcome spring day after an ice storm that left the neighborhood without power and having to do crosswords by candle light!! While I enjoy a good Saturday street fight, and liked yesterday a lot, I also enjoy a nice fat Sunday puzzle that’s clever and doesn’t try to make your head explode with drek.

To Kill a Mockingbird is my all time favorite American novel. Read it the year it was published, and cried for hours when Tom Robinson was convicted-even though I knew he would be. It was just too real for me. I was so fortunate Christmas of 2018 to see Mockingbird on Broadway during opening week. My son-in-law’s first cousin understudied Jeff Daniels as Atticus and my kids surprised me with tickets for early Christmas. SCOUT FINCH will forever be indelibly etched in my memory. So much of how I still feel about practicing law began with that book.

Good Sunday, easy, breezy solve and a well-constructed puzzle. Nothing but fun with just enough resistance to require a second cup of coffee!

Michael Page 1:52 AM  

I'm sorry, but having to name individual crew members of the Argo two days in a row??? Seriously?

chefwen 2:19 AM  

Had I known how easy this one was going to be I would have waited until wine time to do it. I finished way before and was left with nary a puzzle to work on with puzzle partner. Fastest Sunday puzzle that I can recall.

I did Natick at the APOLUNE RILKE crossing. Should have guesses the L as in LUNar, but it didn’t register. Doh!

Anyway, love birds and this puzzle.

Loren Muse Smith 2:53 AM  

If you squint at the grid, you can see a bird diving down to peck at the HUSKY. Right?

I seem to remember a couple of fairly recent puzzles with a last-name-is-a-bird theme. (See NYT May 10, 2016 for the male version of this. Its reveal is an Oscar winner.)

Yeah – pretty easy except I didn’t see the reveal coming and hadn’t really noticed that my birds were all women. Cool that two themer pairs cross. Construction serendipity. Laurie Partridge would’ve fit in one of those long down slots, but the cross with either LADY BIRD or RITA DOVE wouldn’t work.

I had no idea that keynote could be a verb.

I think we’ve been over this, but I agree with Rex: ON POT sounds like something a non-pot-smoker would say.

TONAL – Vietnamese has six tones to Mandarin’s four. I think the jury’s still out on Cantonese. When I took a night Chinese course once, I felt really self-conscious when I tried to mimic the tones. It’s the linguistic equivalent of singing when you’re a non-singer. English is certainly not a tone language, but our tone/pitch/whatever can do a lot of semantic work. If I ask someone, What’s your name? and say the three syllables way high-pitched and sopranosome, it conveys the meaning that I know I’ve already been told and should remember and sorry I’m so forgetful. If I ask in falling intonation, kinda more normally, it’s just a regular question that I’ve never asked. Or consider this

Person A: I bought something stupid yesterday.
...Person B: What? (said in a sopranosome high pitch) – means you told me you were out of money and I’m surprised by this comment.

...Person B: What? (said in falling intonation) – means I’m just asking what you bought.

Loved the clue for ARUBA. Wonder if they scuba in Cuba, too.

Despite my dnf - “Frannie” for FRANKIE and a blank square I forgot to guess on for APO_UNE (hey, @Chefwen) - I enjoyed this tweet little theme.

jae 3:54 AM  

Easy. Liked it. Pretty good debut for Brian.

Vidiot 4:53 AM  

DRUNKS *and* SOT in the same puzzle seems... unnecessary.

Hungry Mother 5:32 AM  

Quite a long slog here, but fun looking for the feathered friends. Very challenging, happy to be done.

Anonymous 5:58 AM  

Well after reading the bios, I went for the 71A Iowa clue first (standard fare), and understood the theme early, but all the names slowed me down. As everyone alludes to, one can often figure out an answer but not so much with names.

I also got hung up by writing "lays low" (grammar mistake on my part), "duelist" (silly mistake: should be plural of course), and "Angoras" (which are sweaters, not blankets) first.

Argonaut: Brought a smile to my face as a ham radio operator. I own an Argonaut 509 transceiver, made by the venerable Ten Tec company. Bought off eBay a few years back, fixed up the VFO with my FIL's help, and got it working.

Happy GH Day, Happy Game Day, Happy AO Men's Final Day, and all that!


Lewis 6:30 AM  

What I saw, @loren, when I squinted, was a cartoony bird with a prominent crest standing up -- see the beak and the wings?

I'm surprised that YOU ROCK has never been in a NYT puzzle before, and my favorite answer (Hi, @joedipinto) was WHO'S WE. There's a theme echo at 96A (GALS). Only a couple of Super Bowl hints with DUELERS and ODDS. Overall, the grid filled in with few hiccups and provided excellent Puzzle Brain Maintenance, and thank you, gents.

The theme answers certainly fit the bill, as it were.

amyyanni 6:51 AM  

Solid Sunday fare. Had the same problem with the names Rex references (Talib et al). Knew Rita Dove. Her work is accessible and lyrical. "Thomas and Beulah" is a favorite.
Groundhog Day and a palindrome date: 02/02/2020 that works here and across the pond (date/month/year).

Anonymous 7:10 AM  

A question for the puzzle community today:
Can "apolune" be applied to any moon, or our Moon only?

(From NASA) A Periapsis by Any Other Name
Periapsis and apoapsis are generic terms. The prefixes "peri-" and "ap-" are commonly applied to the Greek or Roman names of the bodies which are being orbited. For example, look for perigee and apogee at Earth, perijove and apojove at Jupiter, periselene and apselene or perilune and apolune in lunar orbit, pericrone and apocrone if you're orbiting Saturn, and perihelion and aphelion if you're orbiting the sun, and so on.

This definition suggests apolune applies only to our Moon. But if an object orbits one of Jupiter's moons, can apolune be applied to that orbit? Or would it be specified as a Jovian apolune? The NYTXW clue suggests ANY moon, but anything I look up indicates our Moon only.

Related question: Have we sent any spacecraft out that orbits a distant moon? Or have they all been fly-by missions?

BTW, I had thought "apogee" at first but this didn't fit.... Now, I know "apogee" is specific to Earth orbit.


Conrad 7:11 AM  

@LMS — If you don’t know “Grace and Frankie,” you definitely should. Wait until you have a week off, sign up for the free Netflix trial and binge watch the whole series. You won’t be unhappy.

Schmedlapp 7:42 AM  

Smooth solve up until that damned APOLUNE/RILKE cross. I'm an uncultured boor, I guess, so I've never heard of that author or book. Honestly, between that, an 80's soap actress that anyone under 40 is vaguely familiar with at best and a semi-obscure QB, that whole section is begging for Naticks.

The LADYBIRD reveal was fine, and I know the Oscars are next week, but making the theme revolve around a movie that came out almost three years ago just seems dated.

CDilly52 7:48 AM  

@Vidiot 4:53: Agree.

webwinger 8:05 AM  

My experience was almost like @Rex’s, except I didn’t quite have a PB and didn’t quite crack 30 minutes. Maybe if I’d let myself google for PAMELA SUE... Also had ON LSD, then ON PCP before getting it right. Nice grid, OK theme. Knew RILKE, BENES, most of the LADYBIRDs.

Hey, look, today’s date is a palindrome! Also, time for my annual rant about Groundhog Day: There is NO WAY winter is almost over, in any CLIME that has real winter, in any year, on February 2 (the midpoint day between solstice and equinox). I have long been advocating, to no avail, that GHD be moved to March 2, when winter weather at least might soon end, but still rarely seems to in the various US Heartland communities where I have lived. Anyhow, happy Christian Candlemas, Celtic Imbolc, and Super Bowl Sunday, and happy almost-birthday Maya!

Z 8:18 AM  

Thanks @Anonymous/Colin - If you had asked me I would have said apogee and perigee were the generic terms. The only other one I recall seeing is perihelion/aphelion and that less often. I’m surprised that in all the science fiction I’ve read I haven’t seen any others (although near future in our solar system is a relatively rare setting for SciFi). And, in case any one is wondering, that PH in aphelion can be either as an F sound or distinct P - He sounds.

@LMS - I was hoping for a lively lectern/podium discussion, but no. We get a mere verbification aside and a wild pitch discussion.

The difference between today’s alleged natick and yesterday’s is that both names today are fictional characters with significant cultural impact today. Even if you haven’t read the novels, seen any of the 10 blockbuster movies, or watched any Seinfeld you are likely to have run into these names if you just read about The Arts. I think crossing names, especially the less used first and last names, is suboptimal. Just not a true natick today. Will either be remembered 60 years from now the way SCOUT FINCH is? Maybe not. But today these two are too famous to call a natick.

@Joaquin - I’m pretty sure How It’s Made did a segment on matches once. (Yes, I’ve been known to watch - more interesting and fewer commercials than a football game). I can’t think of any other reason I would know that answer.

I think the PR is causing Rex to like this more than it deserves. Yes to very clean fill for a theme dense puzzle, but I basically had what was going on at SHERYL CROW and the fact that surnames can often be birds is interesting for something like a half nanosecond. This is just trivia with a theme, not nearly enough word play for my tastes. Now, if Paula Pewit had made the puzzle...

Twangster 8:34 AM  

Since Rex mentions non-NYTXW puzzles, this week's Newsday Saturday Stumper is one of the more solvable ones to come down the pike in a long while.

Bubbabythebay 8:39 AM  

I dropped in LAlalanD at 115A, even convincing myself that maybe the mother horse might be a LeM or a LuM and no one sent me the memo. Boy, did that throw me off. Never watched Silence of the Lambs...I get too upset by cruel and pyschopathic behaviour, so missed the I in STARLING, which might have sent me out of Lalaland. Is the meta of a clue crossing the revealer fair crossword construction? Asking for a friend

Irene 8:48 AM  

Too many proper names. Fine that they were the main clues, but names were scattered all over the puzzle to the point when it seemed they outnumbered other clues. Even when they were gettable by crosses, they weren't fun: not without an Aha moment when you know the name all along. But RAHAL? TALIB? Even LYN James? Bad balance.

Junief 9:20 AM  

Was Rita Dove really the first African American Poet Laureate? Or was it Robert Hayden?

SouthsideJohnny 9:24 AM  

I agree with @Irene 8:48. For starters, you have the following triple stack


I would have gotten Scout with a real reference to TKAM, but when I saw the school district I figured it was another Harry Potter clue and moved on.

Even though the wordplay was relatively easy, you can’t swing a dead cat without bumping into a trivia entry. Jees - PAMELA MARTIN, CLARICE somebody, ATALANTA (?), RILKE, BARRE, TYLER, TYPEE (?), three or four sports references who are vague at best . . .

I get that there is going to be trivia, and that unfortunately in the Times there is always the risk that it is going to be a slogfest through esoterica, but I agree with Irene - there isn’t the right amount of balance.

I’m just an intermediate-level solver, so I concede Friday and Saturday. I do feel as though I should at least have a fighting chance on Sunday. This one was just too in-your-face PPP-laden for me though.

kitshef 9:24 AM  

Liked this one a lot as the theme is extremely tight. For that, I’ll forgive ELOPER.

Darn easy. Probably my biggest sticking point was spelling CLARIsse – CLARIsE – CLARICE.

Teedmn 9:26 AM  

Christopher Adams often creates elegant, mirror-image grids. But I missed not having clever wordplay in the clues. It was fun to see SELL clued as "Hawk" at 30A. And NO REASON for "Because I felt like it". That phrase reminds me of my mother. She would often do something nice for us and her answer would be "because I felt like it".

"Do for a few months?" for PERM was a cute clue. And the two knowledge clue/answers also: "Pick up from school" = LEARN and "You might gain knowledge through this" = OSMOSIS. ARUBA rhymes with SCUBA.

This was pretty easy, almost nine minutes faster than my Sunday average. I credit Brian and Christopher's lack of tough crosses. Although I had no idea on TALIB or RAHAL, and needed crosses to remind me of RILKE, the crosses were fair.

A lot of alcoholic references: SOT, DRUNKS, kegger at a FRAT, RUM, ABSOLUT.

And it seems funny that we were stumped by an Argonaut earlier this week and now we have ATALANTA, whom I never realized belonged to that band. Hey, now I know three of them! (If only I can remember...)

Thanks guys, nice job on finding all of the LADY BIRDS and congrats, Brian, on your NYT debut.

Anonymous 9:27 AM  

ALBUS crossing BENES is truly unguessable.

Aldous is the name of an actual famous literary person, making ALdUS seem much more plausible. And how many episodes of Seinfeld actually mentioned Elaine's surname?

Spatenau 9:33 AM  

Objects (both manned and unmanned spacecraft) *have* orbited "the" moon.

kitshef 9:42 AM  

@LMS, @Lewis - the grid art is clearly ALBUS's phoenix rising from the ashes.

@Junief - although the role was the same, in Hayden's day the position was called "Consultant in Poetry". The words "Poet Laureate" were not added until 1986.

QuasiMojo 9:45 AM  

Agree. Drunks and Sots is a real bummer. brings this clever Sunday puzzle down a few pegs. Why is it crossword constructors feel it's okay to use these derogatory terms endlessly in puzzles? It's not funny and shows a lack of understanding about the disease of alcoholism.

Ennuienthusiast 9:48 AM  

OK puzzle. Generally pretty easy (well above average but not close to my best) but too many proper nouns for my taste. Like @Irene says, they were gettable but not really fun.

BobL 10:01 AM  

Good grief! Sots. Drunks. They're words. Its a puzzle.

TJS 10:07 AM  

Again, Rex gives us a spoiler with no alert, in case anyone felt like doing that puzzle. Why not tell us about the Patrick Berry puzz while you're at it?
Oh, and this puzzle sucked. IMO,of course.

Z 10:10 AM  

Two things
Is “Trattoria” enough to signal the Italian spelling? Granted, we see the E ending a lot in the US, but using it is only marginally less affected than Starbucks Italian.
@JC66 late yesterday - If Rex is solving on a clipboard he’s not going to know if he has solved correctly. He would have had to enter the solve and hit the button (assuming he uses software that doesn’t signal whether you are correct immediately) to find out if that letter was correct. Why is that so hard to imagine? Again, every recent time he has said that he solved on a clipboard the image of the solution has been from the same software, so do you think he lied about it every time? Why?

Nancy 10:12 AM  

I thought the title AUDUBON SOCIETY gave much too much away and wished it wasn't there as I was solving. The theme had become readily apparent once I had CROW and FINCH.

So imagine my surprise when the revealer fledged into view. LADY BIRD! That's really, really nice! They should have ditched the on-the-nose AUDUBON SOCIETY and gone with something really, really vague like, say, BRANCHING OUT. Or CHEEP PLEASURES.

Who knew there were so many women, real and fictional, with bird names? The constructors must have chirped with joy at their unexpected good fortune.

One big nit. KEYNOTE is never a verb. ORATE is never a noun. You cannot clue the latter with the former. No, I'm sorry, you just can't! (I did appreciate LIE LOW, however).

Another bigger nit. When you have a proper name theme, can you please avoid proper names everywhere else? FRANKIE; ALBUS; ATALANTA; RAHAL; TALIB. These really, really spoiled this PPP-laden puzzle for me. So I appreciated much more that the constructors found this theme and not nearly as much what they did with it.

Hartley70 10:33 AM  

Sigh. This was a cute Tweety Bird theme but the puzzle was much, much too easy. I’d like to think I’ve suddenly become a whiz, but yesterday’s puzzle proved that to be a lie. Nope. This was a Sunday that played like a long Monday. I’d probably rave about it tomorrow.

Consequently, I finished this in less than half of my usual Sunday time. Now what to do with myself? I had to dig way back to remember PAMELASUEMARTIN, but the other themers, including the reveal, didn’t require any brain power at all. The only square that gave me trouble was the G because I entered eMAIL. That made me fumble around before I saw AFGHAN. It reminded me that have one in a trunk that I just might dig out before I open a book today.

Joaquin 10:40 AM  

Not sure I understand @Nancy's nit re: "Keynote". The word "keynote" can, indeed, be a verb and it means "deliver a speech" (or ORATE). The clue as written seems fine to me.

Crimson Devil 10:50 AM  

Much enjoyed reference to Scout & Mockingbird, reminds of my fav actor Robert Duvall & his movie debut, I think.
Otherwise too many names though, as has been said, all gettable.

TJS 10:52 AM  

@Nancy, with you all the way. Knocked this thing off out of sheer perversity, but pretty much hated every minute of it. And I hate this tendency of mis-using words into different parts of speech. In my case, I guess it's a "get off my lawn" syndrome.

MichGirl 11:01 AM  

"on pot" made me go full Buscemi...."hello fellow students"....LOL

Piper 11:05 AM  

Although I wrote in La La Land instead of Lady Bird, I was still able to figure out theme. But how do Taylor Swift and Sigourney Weaver fit in?

Wayne Rhodes 11:06 AM  

No jack sparrow???!!!

Nancy 11:07 AM  

@Joaquin -- As Snoopy would say, BLEAH! In my world, no one uses "keynote" as a verb. And they had better not -- not around me. I'm sure YOU ROCK in every other way, @Joaquin and I might enjoy sipping an ABSOLUT with you or visiting an ART MUSEUM. But when you use "keynote" as a verb, you GO ROGUE, language-wise and I must AVOW my deep opposition. Thanks to @TJS in standing up alongside me and insisting that verbs remain verbs and nouns remain nouns. Just the way God intended them to be. :)

What? 11:10 AM  

So the theme is bird names. How clever! Can it get worse? Yes. The fills are movie and music trivia.
How do you spell “grind”? S_ _G.

Carola 11:13 AM  

What a nicely done puzzle, with a perfect reveal. I liked the “grid art,” too, with that wingspan above the solidly planted feet. Unlike others, I didn’t find the puzzle easy, probably because of my Sunday-solving constraint (work only from my initial cross, here TRANS x TBSP). The early NO REASON directed me to SIGOURNEY WEAVER and a smile that lasted the rest of the way.

I liked the declaration “I HOP” under CROW. Help from previous puzzles: BALOO, YOLO. No idea: APOLUNE, RAHAL, TALIB, LYN. Agree with others about the terrific “WHO’S WE?”

Newboy 11:15 AM  

Nice for a Sunday with its bevy of beautiful birds. Several answers were great triggers to a wide range of literary memories, but unlike OFL who found “ the crosses were able to get me past it pretty easily” the snag I hit at 14A/16D became today’s Natick. Too many evenings marking comma splices instead of staying current has taken its toll on my storehouse of popular culture. Dare I whine that Seinfeld just wasn’t my TYPEE? Often an answer will rise from the subconscious miasma as other blanks fill in—not so today, alas! ALBUS & BENES, huh? Still a welcome improvement Christopher & Brian from recent weekend offerings.

puzzlehoarder 11:17 AM  

I did this last night and as often happens with Sunday puzzles the biggest challenge was staying awake. Today it was your classic combination of the solve level not being difficult enough to be truly engaging and at the same time not being easy enough to fly through it. That's the reason people so often describe a Sunday solve as being a slog.

The theme wasn't bad it just didn't justify there being so much of it.

ONPOT was cringe inducing.

ALBUS whining is pointless. It's like not knowing the "Winnie the Pooh" characters.

We seem to be having a run on Argonauts. Crossing ATALANTA with DAM brought back shades of yesterday's Natick complaints. At least no one has tried to justify putting a Y at that crossing.

TEENA? Go all the way and spell it TEENUH.

Jordan Q 11:22 AM  

Can someone explain UNCLE to me?

TJS 11:23 AM  

@Mich Girl, I love the "full Buscemi" comment, but I'm not familiar with the reference. A little help, please.

DianeS 11:28 AM  

@Piper, swifts and weavers are birds (like sparrows). I think the title is correct - in addition to all of the other clutter we are discussing today, it would be helpful if you are (or know) a member of the Audubon Society.

I agree with Rex - nice theme idea. Would have been much better with a more coy title and sans the argonauts, ALBUS, RILKE . . . And please - with sports figures , Mel OTT and Bobby ORR, yes - can’t it please be somebody famous (ELI Manning, etc).

Rainbow Warrior 11:33 AM  

@TJS - he’s famous for using pot (along with coke or a Xanax mixed in). Fire up a Buscemi and you may be down for the count, lol.

Lewis 11:36 AM  

@teedm -- Very nice post, with good insight on the details.

pmdm 11:43 AM  

Some seem to love this puzzle. I agree with Irene and others who agree with her assessment. For me, this was a humorless puzzle that included heave reliance on PPP (especially proper names). I don't really care if the names are in my wheelhouse or not. I simply respond negatively to having to plod through such types of clues. Granted, its my problem, but at least I can communicate it.

Seems to me that newer constructors (one of today's is his first published in the NYT) reply heavily on PPP and try to force hip entries into the puzzles that I don't really care about. After a while, they begin to construct more "normal" puzzles. Agard puzzles trike me that may. That may or may not be accurate. But now I tend to cringe when I come across a debut construction.

B Right There 11:47 AM  

Pretty much what everyone else already said -- LINGUINi; Natick at ALbUS x bENES; didn't care for other names in the grid. Would really have been a wow puzzle with only 'real words' outside of the themers instead of PPP city. Definitely easy. Our Sun average is in the low 50s and we got this in 30 flat. Least favorite answer: WHOSWE. Looks all freaky without the apostrophe, and is kinda rude, to boot. Between hubby knowing TALIB and me contributing TORERO most of this was in our wheelhouse and we really flew through this grid (pun fully intended). Now watching all the birds at our bird feeders. Starlings, crows, finches abound along with a lone pair of mourning doves. No weavers, martins, or swifts though. In the summer we see the occasional crane, heron, and/or egret fly over on its way to a nearby pond and river. So, enjoyable because it made use of one of my favorite hobbies (backyard birdwatching), but the fun was over way too fast. Sigh. Well, at least it gives us more prep time for our SB party tonight! Go Niners! Been waiting for this for a long time.

Joaquin 11:53 AM  

@Nancy - OK. It's a date! I promise not to do any keynoting and you must refrain from any MANILOWing. No amount of ABSOLUT can make me listen to him.

What? 11:55 AM  

29A, LOTR, I nominate for worse of the year and it’s only February.

GILL I. 11:57 AM  

SIGOURNEY and SCOUT confirmed it was for the birds. Women birds...and lots of them. Do you say cheep or tweet? My kitchen timer doesn't DING, it does a Ping.
I tend to grunt and groan when I've been given a large puzzles with names everywhere. That this was birds made it a tad better. That it was a LADY BIRD got me a smile - that's about it.
In Cuba a handsome man is called a POLLO. I only know FRANKIE and Johnny and when I see LEISURES I only think of those light green suits that men wore when they went to bars to try and pick up women.
We got the coin toss so Super Bowl is being watched at our casa. Every one is a Niners fan so there won't be any food fights. Just a bunch of ABSOLUT drinkers and LINGUINE eaters.
I'm rooting for our 49'ers but if they don't win, then I'll be happy for the Chiefs. Still can't forgive Montana for slinking over there.

BarbieBarbie 12:09 PM  

Wow, lots of love for this puzzle. I will stand over in the Meh corner with @Z. My beef is that a puzzle built around name-themers should include precisely zero other names, and there were too many here.

I do admire the GANTRY construction of the themer framework, though. Very cool to see how much intersects how much else.

And I join in the chorus asking @OFL to go ahead and applaud other puzzles, but not spoil them.

RooMonster 12:35 PM  

Hey All !
Happy Groundhog Day!!
It's also Palindrome Day - 02/02/2020. Hasn't happened in 100+ years, or so Yahoo tells me.
Plus, Super Bowl! (Can I say it without being sued?)

Puz was neat. LADYs + BIRDs. Some of these I didn't know were birds. SWIFT? OK.

Nice L/R symmetry. Not too too much dreck. A bone to pick with 86A clue. Isn't Orlando SWS of Tampa? I don't have a globe handy (har, I like using "globe" more than "map"), but I think I'm correct. Maybe the clue mixed the cities up. Orlando to Tampa?

That was one of my writeovers. Had ampm for IHOP. I remember now that ampm's slogan is "Too much good stuff". Good stuff, that. Other one was started writing in AuditoriUM for ART MUSEUM, til I ran out of space.

DNF two squares, four answers, FRANnIE/RILnE (which is funny, cause I guessed the L correctly of APOLUNE), ATALANnA/ERnE (knowing ERNE is a seabird and not an Art Deco painter made no never mind to the ole brain.)

So an overall fun puz. Agree on the easy side, which is nice.

Lots of people come to Lad Vegas for the Super Bowl to make A BET. They mostly EMERGE losers. But hey, YOLO.


Teedmn 12:49 PM  

My husband and I were camping and fishing in the BWCA years ago, with a couple of my brothers-in-law and a nephew who was maybe 10 years old. We were canoeing along a narrow creek that was twisty enough to make it hard to stay away from the banks. I was in the front of the canoe blissfully unaware that after one bump of the canoe, my husband, trying to amuse his nephew, aped being thrown forward by the impact. Unfortunately, he fell forward in an unbalanced manner and I suddenly found myself wet up to the chest with an overturned canoe and all of our gear at the bottom of the creek.

Husband came up out of the water and yelled, "We dumped 'er!". My reply? "WHO'S WE?"

rageismycaffeine 12:50 PM  

APOLUNE/RILKA almost Natick'd me too, as I've never heard of either, but took a stab at it because of "lunar." Liked it until that last square. Still made good time, and enjoyed it, but that was a nasty cross for a Sunday!

jberg 12:54 PM  

Cute theme. I had to fill in a lot of proper names I didn't know, but that's part of the fun. Crosses! Plausibility as names! Didn't work for ALBUS, but somehow I changed it from the more plausible ALdUS; I guess because BENES sounded more possible than dENES.

Biggest problem was thinking LINGUINE was masculine, like the very similar spaghetti. But it was EASY to fix that. I looked it up afterward, and saw that linguine are named for tongues, which are feminine -- sexist grammar!

I was annoyed by DUELERS when DUEList is so much more commonly used. And to call Erte "the father of Art Deco" is just wrong. He was one of many, relatively late to the style, and in no sense fathered it. Better clue would be "Art Deco designer famous to the crossworld."

@Nancy, I'm with you in spirit -- I hope you don't use "impact" as a verb, either -- but @Loren makes a very convincing argument for accepting changes in the language as they happen, and that one certainly has happened. So I still cringe, but I don't object out loud anymore. Unless it's in an academic paper I'm grading, where I might object.

I'm not a scientist, but I never let that stop me. APOLUNE applies only to the satellite known as Luna. If you orbit the moons of Jupiter, you go through apoganymede, etc. And I'm glad @spatenau pointed out that many spacecraft have orbited old Luna; I was making a mental case to myself that since Earth and Moon both orbit their mutual center of gravity, we were at apolune while it was at apogee. That's about as convincing an argument as Dershowitz might make.

OffTheGrid 12:58 PM  

Grace and FRANKIE is a very good show. It's well worth watching just to see the genius of Lily Tomlin.

Renee Arnold 1:03 PM  

Liked the theme. Found the fill easier than many puzzles, which i think is quite fine. Can always use an ego boost. Still don't see the alleged bird and haven't heard of it was intended or just a by-product.

Birchbark 1:04 PM  

Of all the women in the puzzle, ATALANTA is my favorite. Abandoned in the forest as a child and raised by bears (note goofy BALOO symmetry), a lifetime of bold deeds, etc. If you wanted to marry her but couldn't beat her in a race, you died. That's what it was like back then.

44 degrees and sunny on Groundhog Day. NO REASON for that I can think of other than the brief happy moment in Act IV of any given tragedy.

Or better, to have a picnic in February. In lieu of ABSOLUT and LINGUINE (@Gill I. 11:57), I'll be grilling burgers (plus a few vegetarian, SOYless "Beyonds") tonight. The old Weber grill stays out all winter, always ready, like the muscle-memory path from the deck through the screen porch to the kitchen table. Timing is everything. Probably make some potato salad. A decent Chateauneuf-du-Pape in there somewhere, just because. My soon-to-be-80 mom is joining us. I will check on the game from time to time on my phone.

PapaLeroux 1:07 PM  

We were groaning until we got to the revealer. Then we said, “Oh, yeah! This was fun.” Good puzzle.

Joe in Canada 1:11 PM  

couldn't finish New England - Howwarth, Lovergirl, and Elaine. I don't blame myself for that. I should have remembered CLARICE but I put in CLARISE and since MELS and MELC were unknown to me, left it there. I can't help thinking the editor might have helped avoid those confluences. Yeah, a lot of names.
ps OFL - you might consider the CFL this fall. Better games, shorter season.

Anonymous 1:36 PM  

No reason to whine about ALBUS by itself. It's then crossing it with the even more obscure BENES (because while Seinfeld is not obscure, Elaine's surname is) that's objectionable.

Unknown 1:45 PM  

Since the earth and the moon revolve around a common center of gravity the earth circles the moon just as much as the moon circles the earth.

Teedmn 1:51 PM  

@jberg, @Nancy, the worst misuse of the language that I've seen lately came in a NYT article about the hacking of Jeff Bezos's phone. Here's the quote from an expert:

" “The majority of clients we onboard come on in some kind of hacked state,” he told me."


@Birchbark, I was reminded today, with all of the sunshine, how Groundhog's Day has so little to tell us about winter's length here in MN. Six more weeks of winter? Well, of course!

@Lewis, thanks for your kind remark.

Paul Rippey 2:00 PM  

Okay, fine, the themers are all proper names so I can't complain, even though I have never seen Seinfeld and don't watch sports ball and tend to find proper names way outside my wheelhouse.

But geez, there are 37 normally capitalized answers in this puzzle, about one out of four answers. Words that would not be accepted in Boggle or Scrabble. Isn't that a very high percentage?

Anyway, ten were total mysteries to me, and a lot of the names I had heard of were nowhere near the top of my mind, so this puzzle was a weird combination of easy breeze and hard slog. I naticked on ALBUS TEENA BENES crosses.

Heard of:
1 Sheryl Crow
2 Scout Finch
3 Sigourney Weaver
4 Clarise Starling
5 Marion Crane
6 Taylor Swift
7 Baloo (no last name because bear)
8 Frankie (Grace's partner - I don't know why I know this, never seen it)
9 IHOP (restaurant chain)
10 LOTR (maybe this doesn't belong here. Acronym.)
11 Absolut (Vodka brand)
12 Tyler (Anne)
13 Asti (region)
14 Ladybird
15 Iditarod (dogsled race)
16 Ike (Eisenhower)
17 Manilow (Barry I think)
18 Aleve (pills for something)
19 Sahl (Mort)
20 Rilke (Rainer Maria)
21 Typee (Novel)
22 Aruba (Island nation)
23 Timor (Island, two nations)
24 Ursula (I must have heard of this because I saw Little Mermaid but no memory of the name)
25 Aida (Musical)
26 Ames (city)
27 Erte (one name pseudonym)

28 Pamela Sue Martin
29 Rita Dove
30 Albus (Dumbeldore)
31 Teena (Marie)
32 Ana (Ivanovic)
33 Talib (Aqib)
34 Melc (Spice?)
35 Atalanta (Argonaut)
36 Lyn (St. James)
37 Rahal (Bobby)

Pistol Pete 2:01 PM  

@Unknown 1:45. Could you please explain the “common center of gravity”? Is it the center of the earth (or the moon) or somewhere between the two? I never heard that before.

Anonymous 2:03 PM  

I thought that the clue for APOLUNE referred to the moon's apogee wrt the earth. wiki to the rescue:
"denotes either of the two extreme points (i.e., the farthest or nearest point) in the orbit of a planetary body about its primary body (or simply, "the primary")."

APOgee is the common answer but falls short, so to speak. And, no, the earth does not circle the moon, we orbit the Sun. the earth is the 'primary body' in question.

GILL I. 2:40 PM  

Well my friends are here and I've been kicked out of the kitchen.....AS IF I don't know how to make a Guacamole dip!
I just stopped by to ask @Birchbark 1:04 how you can justify a Chateauneuf-du-Pape with tofu burgers. If your mom is drinking that with a filet mignon, then all is forgiven.
@teedmn 1:51. Hah...I get a kick out of those. I'm the queen of mangling the Queen"s English. BUT...I do know the difference between "she borrowed me" and "I'm nauseous."
Go Niners.....

Birchbark 2:45 PM  

@Teedmn (1:58) -- Yes -- six more weeks of Winter, followed by a good four more weeks of "When will it be Spring?!"

Anonymous 3:06 PM  

Yes, the earth and the moon orbit around their common center of gravity. This common center is not exactly at the center of the earth. But it's still within the earth.

Useful link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barycenter

Cyclist227 3:17 PM  

I like finishing the Sunday puzzle as much as the next person, but come on Will Shortz: your insipid sense of wordplay has gone too far in cheapening what was once the gold standard for crossword puzzles. How about something even a little challenging once in a while on Sundays. I'm not Rex, but I solved this puzzle in record time for me. Really think its time to move on from Will.

burtonkd 3:55 PM  

@Joaquin, I have never been a dog, so can't be sure of their motivation, but the one time I went dogsledding, the huskies were super excited to be out running with the sled. Running with their packmates in the great outdoors sure seems like a better life for a dog than sitting in an apartment waiting for owner/human to come home. At any rate, Torero was in the same puzzle:(

@Michael Page - my thoughts exactly, along with maybe I need to brush up on that whole story.

Before getting the theme, I had OPIETAYLOR for SCOUTFINCH, thinking perhaps Mayberry could be in Maycomb County.

@Z I think cornerback TALIB crossing a character from a 40 year old soap opera counts as a true Natick. Surprised you didn't give your PPP rating, this one seems really high. SCOUNTFINCH undoubtedly fair game, but Elaine's last name unlikely to be known by non-watchers, plus TEENA an alternate spelling in the same area seems fair grounds for grumbling. I see others are covering this...

I don't see DRUNKS and SOTS being played for humor here??

@Nancy, nice wordplay with the revealer fledge-ing into view:) Keynote is listed as a verb in MW, so while I won't use it around you, it definitely flies as a clue.

On to the Super Bowl! No rooting interest other than more scoring than last year's slog. Both teams have looked really strong.

Hungry Mother 4:09 PM  

Sober 30 years and don't mind the alcohol-related terms. Vegetarian for 34 years and don't mind meat references. As long as there aren't any lies in the grid I'm OK. I went to Niner games back in the 40s with my parents, so favoring them today.

Anonymous 5:34 PM  

Sorry but. . . This felt like a high schooler's 1st crossword construction attempt. . . and NOT a NEW YORK TIMES SUNDAY MAGAZINE puzzle. I'm not the sharpest knife in the drawer so - when I can do a Sunday NYT puzzle in under 20 minutes, there's something seriously amiss.

Anonymous 5:46 PM  

I come from the land of STEM and I found this puzzle to be very difficult. Lots of unfamiliar PPP, but apolune was a gimme, as was Rilke. I have also watched a lot of G&F. Never had time for Seinfeld.

Birchbark 5:56 PM  

@Gill I. (2:45) re Chateauneuf du Pape -- Well, I was right yesterday about SANCERRES pairing with roquefort cheese -- why quit now?

We do have Fresca, Bell's Two-Hearted Ale, and decent tap water for those so inclined. But I think the Beyond burgers (and the regular ones too), especially off a charcoal grill, are plenty robust to work with a full and round Chateauneuf du Pape.

Now the potato salad -- not so sure there but I say try it, that horse is out the barn. Plus grilled asparagus charred with olive oil salt and pepper. Who says it's February?

oisk17 6:39 PM  

Ah, too much , much too much pop culture, and I got beaten by Clarise with Mels, instead of Clarice with Melc. Melc??? Bad, I was all DNF this weekend...

Ron 8:35 PM  

That was a tough one for me, all pop culture stuff that I don't know. I hate themes that are names, and this one was particularly dense with them!

Unknown 8:42 PM  


Unknown 8:48 PM  

Swifts and weavers are types of birds

Joe Dipinto 10:44 PM  

It's Mel C, not Melc. The Spice Girls had two members named Melanie, who were known as Mel B and Mel C. And BENES has been in the puzzle on 12 previous occasions with a Seinfeld clue, so regular solvers should really remember it by now.

sanfranman59 11:07 PM  

@Z ... It seems to me that Natickdom is rather subjective. After all, PPP is generally a you know it or you don't proposition. In the section that many seem to have been tripped up by, SCOUT FINCH and BENES were gimmes for me and ALBUS was guesswork. But it's easy to imagine all three to be impossible or no-brainers for someone else.

Citizen Dain 11:31 PM  

I spent Monday afternoon with LYN St. James!

sanfranman59 12:05 AM  

@Paul Ripley ... @Z keeps closer tabs on the PPP percentage than I, but if memory serves, 25% proper names (etc.) is a little high. But if 8(?) of them are themers (as here), I don't think of them as strictly PPP since you get help figuring them out from the theme. Just my two cents.

a.corn 12:36 AM  

Boooooo-urns! Finished sub-30 (good for me), but so many lucky guesses.. just plunking in letters after I finished the puzzle. Gross.

Scrumpythegreat 12:50 PM  

Crying FOUL here. Not sure what the puzzling ethics are but this theme was borrowed,(lifted, stolen?), from a Pete Gordon NYT's puzzle,(circa 2018?), which originally utilized Clarice Starling,Marion Crane, and Scout Finch. So, not just incredibly dull and easy but also plagiarism?

Scrumpythegreat 9:57 PM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ken Freeland 2:12 AM  


Aaron Curtis 5:30 PM  

"what I don't know is what ... object ... orbits ... the moon?"

Currently operational: Lunar Reconaissance Orbiter, ARTEMIS 1 & 2, Chandrayaan-2

Anthony 10:57 AM  

Elaine Marie Benes.

spacecraft 12:25 PM  

Many "grouse" about ALBUS/BENES (not me: knew 'em both) but not a word about the true Natick: FRANKIE/RILKE. I correctly guessed K because I just couldn't see a RILcE or a RILnE.

If OFC's biggest complaint is that this was too easy, then I should like it a lot. Despite many theme gimmes, I struggled in a few places, notably the above crossing unknowns. SIGOURNEY, Janet (as MARION), Jodie (as CLARICE) and PAMELA SUE are all surely DOD-worthy, but Siggy was my way in, so she wins it. (WEAVER as a bird: okay, but not that often seen)

Yeah, I did like it. An RCD here and a crutch SSNS there--not bad for what was achieved. Birdie.

Burma Shave 1:44 PM  


SHERYL and TAYLOR and SIGOURNEY, even PAMELA, we heard,
are GALS WHO start with a LADY, and END with a BIRD.


rainforest 2:14 PM  

Sh*t, DNF, due to the spelling of CLARIsE, and not knowing the Spice Girl. However, I enjoyed this puzzle, and liked the theme, especially SIGOURNEY WEAVER.

Overall I found it easy-medium, briefly pausing at RILKE, and ALBUS, but the crosses were helpful, and the fill was just fine.

Anyway, I prefer CLARIsE and MELc, so I don't feel bad. Good Sunday.

Diana, LIW 4:08 PM  

You al know I seldom grouse. I'm not even in the pecking order when it comes to being able to construct one of these things.


With about 1/2 PPP, this was "easy" for pop-culture, name-dropping types. Word play lovers - not so much for them. And the "theme" hardly managed to...what is it I'm looking for? Fly?

Again, p'raps it's just me, but it also seemed dullish.

Diana, Lady-in-Waiting for Crosswords

rondo 7:01 PM  

SCOUTFINCH (Mary Badham)
FRANKIE (Lily Tomlin, also Grace - Jane Fonda)
ANA Ivanovic
ATALANTA (virgin huntress)
LYN Saint James
URSULA (not Andress)
Elaine BENES (Julia Louis-Dreyfuss)

A puzzle *loaded* with women and OFL says nothing about it. More than a couple mens' names and he complains of female non-representation. Need any more evidence of convenient complaining?

EASY puz(and yeah babies from top to bottom).

strayling 7:09 PM  

Blech. TEENA/BENES/SAHL was an irritating game of guess the vowel. Spoiled what was otherwise an amusing flight of fantasy.

C. STARLING 11:12 PM  

Next thing will be not knowing TIFFANY/George COSTANZA/Lenny BRUCE

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