Onetime truth in engineering sloganeer / THU 2-13-20 / Relative of jaguarundi / Reference that arranges words by concept rather than alphabetically / Noted painter of scenes in Napoleonic wars / Super Mario bros character with mushroom head

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Constructor: Amanda Chung and Karl Ni

Relative difficulty: Medium (6:06, very much not trying to speed ... I can't speed-solve before 6am, and it's not even 5)

THEME: ROLL THE DICE (56A: Take a chance ... or a hint to the letters in the circled squares) — letters D, I, C, E appear in the "cube"-shaped circled squares, in a different configuration each time (because the DICE is "rolling") ... each "DICE" configuration is part of a long Across that enters the "cube" at the lower left corner, jumps up to pick up the top two letters, then comes down for the bottom right letter before continuing Across (well, one answer just ends there at the "cube")

Theme answers:
  • IN-SERVICE DAYS (17A: Times when teachers go to school but students don't)
  • SAUCE DISH (23A: Vessel for dipping at a dinner table)
  • REVERSE DICTIONARY (36A: Reference that arranges words by concept rather than alphabetically)
  • SHAVED ICE (51A: Cousin of a sno-cone)
Word of the Day: BELAY (31A: "___ that order!" ("Star Trek" command)) —

2. nautical STOPCANCEL
belay that last order (
• • •

Really wanted to like this one. Have enjoyed work from these constructors before, so was excited to dig into this, but while there is fun to be had along the way today, I found this one clunked as much as it hummed. We can start with the theme itself, which feels like something I've seen before, conceptually, but ... that's not too big a deal, maybe the constructors will make it new and interesting. But just spinning four letters like this, and (I'm pretty sure) even the DICE thing has been done, so as soon as I get that revealer and realize all those square configurations are just gonna be DICE boxes, I'm already a little let down. Actually, I was let down earlier on two fronts. First, SAUCE DISH. That is ... not exactly a sizzling start. I can kind of imagine what one of those is, but it feels like such an odd, generic, non-specific phrase ... one that I basically inferred from SAUC- ... I can't really dispute the thingness of SAUCE DISH, but it was a disappointment. I like for themers to elicit a "ooh, good one!" not just an "uh, sure, OK." Which brings me to the next let-down, which is that I got the theme concept *immediately*. Very easy to figure out what was going on with SAUCE DISH when SAUCI- wasn't going to go anywhere, and those circles are basically screaming "look at us!" I was hoping the remaining circle configurations were going to hold new things, but then I got the revealer and realized it was just gonna be DICE. And they were gonna roll. I feel like there's some kind of REVERSE AHA MOMENT here, where I get the gimmick early, am not terribly intrigued by it, but still have the rest of the damn puzzle in front of me. The one thing I kinda liked about the theme—the fact that the answer went up and over each "DICE"—was the one thing that didn't seem in keeping with the "DICE" theme. The "rolling" happens as the "DICE" rotates one click counterclockwise at each stage as it "rolls" down the grid. NO IDEA how the up-and-over theme answer thing is DICE-y, but I'll take the added theme feature, since it's kind of fun. I also like how the "DICE" letters are always broken across two words in the themer. Nice added touch.

The last truly disappointing thing today was the phrase IN-SERVICE DAYS. I've been married to a NYS high school teacher for the better part of two decades and I have never heard this term. She definitely has "teacher conference days," where students are off but teachers meet for various reasons, and maybe I've heard "service days" (maybe...) but IN-SERVICE DAYS, sigh, no. I'm sure someone somewhere calls them that, or this answer wouldn't be here. But that answer clanked for me worse than SAUCE DISH. That was (consequently) the last and toughest part of the grid for me. Oh, and the grid ... so choppy and fussy. So much short stuff, which meant so much not-great stuff like -EAN and EINK and RGS and AER and on and on. I actually didn't dislike this puzzle as much as this first paragraph would suggest, but the execution was just off on this one, for me.


I have never seen a REVERSE DICTIONARY, and am not sure why you would use one, but I still liked that answer better than any of the others. It's snappy. And original. And I like how, in general, the clues were spiced (i.e. toughened) up in the short fill (probably because an abundance of short fill tends to make puzzles very easy, and the gimmick today isn't terribly hard to uncover, but it's Thursday, which is supposed to be a toughish solving day, so ... spicy! I actually had to think about the clues on little things like RIPE, NINTH, SALTS, HDTV, CENSUS, TED, etc. Really wanted to like SCIFI BOOK, and I see that that is a term people use, but it's SCI FI NOVEL, or should be, esp. where Clarke is concerned, even if he did occasionally publish a collection of short stories (8D: Many an arthur C. Clarke work). The clue says "work," singular, and the name of the "work" is not "book," it's "novel." If you look at his wikipedia page, the "Works" section is broken down into "novels," "short story collections," and "non-fiction," not "books"). Today really was mostly about my being irked that so many things felt off—not horrible, just wide of the mark.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Lewis 6:21 AM  

I had a real kapow! here. After getting the first DICE from crosses, I looked at the clue to the revealer and immediately wrote in ROLL THE DICE, and figured the grayed squares would all spell DICE, an okay but kind of meh theme.

Then, when I had two-thirds of the grid filled in, but the last third still fighting me, I filled in SAUCISH from the crosses and thought, "What the heck is a SAUCISH?" Then came the kapow! and a quick completion followed. Between that and the glorious percussion of ahas and HAHAs at overcoming thorny cluing I was battered with bliss there for a bit.

When a puzzle gives me a ride like that, I'm all in. Big thumbs up, you two, and thank you greatly for the lift!

Unknown 6:27 AM  

In-service days are definitely the name for when teachers work (training or meetings) and no students! At least everywhere I've lived-maybe New York is an outlier but that was an instant gimme for me!

Casimir 6:29 AM  

I liked it better than OFL, which is often the case. I'm also not crazy about sauce dish. Thursdays most often annoy me, but this did not.

In-service days are definitely a thing, at least for me. I've had nothing to do with schools below college level since I left high school in the 70s, but I dropped the answer in with just two or thtee letters. It definitely was implanted in my brain at some point. Perhaps it's a regionalism.

mmorgan 6:36 AM  

I had fun with this. I first thought the squares were just going to be jumbled up versions of the word DICE (yawn), but when I realized the answers went up and over (or however you want to say it) then I got a big AHA smile. Nice! I also winced a bit at SAUCEDISH, but whatever! Sometimes you just roll with it.

QuasiMojo 6:37 AM  

This was about as amusing as Andrew DICE Clay.

Brian 6:42 AM  

This puzzle was the opposite of fun. Never heard of IN-SERVICE DAYS and my mom taught school for 30 years. And never heard of REVERSE DICTIONARY and I'm a writer.

Add to that the banal answers like SAUCE DISH and SHAVED ICE. I can only hope that I never see any of this fill again.


Telvo 7:06 AM  

I agree with Lewis. This was challenging and fun, exactly what a NYT Thursday should be. Rex, get more sleep.

Hungry Mother 7:13 AM  

Same experience as @Lewis today, but I couldn’t express it as eloquently. Much faster than usual.

kitshef 7:16 AM  

I had the tremendous fortune to touch a wild ocelot (it was sedated) participating in a study of Mexican carnivores. It was the softest thing I have ever touched.

"Shaved ice” is just ... ice. If you add flavored syrup to make it a cold treat, it becomes a SHAVE ICE. Other than that EPIC fail, I did like IDIDIT and MALALA. Be nice to see severe, bonobo and … um … uhurus?

Loved the little Fonzie section with dAYs, nAY, belAY, an yAY.

Anonymous 7:19 AM  

INSERVICE DAYS were a thing my entire life when I was in school (Pacific Northwest) and a friend of mine who’s a high school teacher still has them, so that was actually a gimme clue for me.

GILL I. 7:19 AM  

EAN EINE EINK MEIN HAI HAHA....I wanted to drop TROU and show you a moon.
This was painful...really, really painful. Like @Rex, I've enjoyed Amanda and Karl in some other glorious past, today I ROLLED my eyes.
Yeah, the DICE thingie was pretty easy to get. I had SAUCI and thought maybe there is a SAUCIER French phrase or such. SEUSS to the rescue (I so disliked that meh clue for him). Give me some Green Eggs and Ham.
BELAY! NO IDEA about any REVERSE DICTIONARY and it sounds so ho hum. Can someone explain STS for people profiled in a never heard of hagiographies. Ask me about trying too hard to be cute.
At least you gave me GOYA but jeez louise why the Napoleonic Wars? At least give me his "Caprichos."
I feel like a TOAD gone frogging.

Alex S. 7:21 AM  

Might be a regional thing but IN SERVICE DAYS was a gimme from just the clue but then didn't fit. When I got the I I knew something was going on with the shaded squares beyond highlighting.

And I know SHAVED ICE is common outside of Hawaii but as a former resident of the state that extraneous D grated.

Anonymous 7:22 AM  

...and it's "shave ice", not "shaved".

Anonymous 7:29 AM  

In-service days are definitely a thing where I am, but I could see that being a killer if your area doesn't use that term.

Anonymous 7:29 AM  

"In-service days" is a common phrase. It was a gimme and I am not nor do I live with a teacher.

Petsounds 7:32 AM  

Enjoyed this puzzle tremendously. I knew the first theme answer had to be IN-SERVICE DAYS because, unlike Rex, I've heard that term all my life--both because my mother was a teacher and because we used to receive notices announcing school days off for "in-service days." But I couldn't get it until the clues led me to SAUCEDISH after I'd entered SAUCIER and realized it was so wrong. Off to the races! And it tickled me that the D-I-C-E were arranged differently each time. Very nice!

I especially liked CARWAX and MALALA, and I have no quibble at all with SCIFIBOOK. Rex's annoyance with that clue makes no sense to me: The man wrote books. Science fiction books. People call science fiction "sci fi." Ergo, Clarke wrote sci fi books. What's the problem, Rex?

RavTom 7:35 AM  

Occasionally, OFL will get annoyed that an answer is too NY-centric, and now he’s grumpy that a common term such as IN-SERVICE DAYS isn’t used in New York. Go figure!

As for 62A: Fair enough for taxis, but buses have displayed ADS for decades. Something doesn’t have to talk to be an advertisement.

Anonymous 7:40 AM  

Seeing, ad nauseum, that nyt puzzles give Rex so much misery I wonder why he doesn’t take up some other hobby.

Lance 7:41 AM  

I went to fill in inservice days without any crossers. That is definitely what we still call it in Florida.

fkdiver 7:45 AM  

Counterpart of Sin: virtue? con? (sp.). Oh I see, math. Shouldn't that be reciprocal, not counterpart?
Other than that, pretty easy Thursday solve.

Joaquin 7:45 AM  

I seemed to have missed the Natick exit today and wound up in Wheelhouse City. Found it quite easy for a Thursday. Enjoyed it.

Rhino 8:04 AM  

I live in the midwest and INSERVICE DAYS was a gimme.

kitshef 8:24 AM  

@GILL I - STS is short for "saints".

Anonymous 8:26 AM  

A hagiography is a biography of a saint. So those profiled in them are STS.

Z 8:30 AM  

The Tumbling DICE video instantly took me back to the days when the girlfriend of California’s famously (infamously?) weird governor could have a minor hit singing Alison. That’s about as brutal an “F U” to an ex-girlfriend as you will find and here’s Linda Ronstadt doing a soft jazz version. “Conflicted” is a good description of my response to her version of Elvis Costello’s song.

IN SERVICE DAYS also raise conflicted responses. Absolutely a thing, even if specific districts will sometimes disguise them with other names. Teaching is a learnable craft, but it ain’t easy. IN-SERVICE DAYS are used for things like writing curriculum, developing lesson plans, doing scope and sequence guides, or teaching teachers specific skills. It’s this last that drove me nuts. Teachers absolutely need regular time to work on skills and strategies. IN-SERVICE DAYS is absolutely the wrong approach for doing this. Too often, teachers are brought together in large groups, sit passively for 6-8 hours while somebody lectures at them, then administration is amazed that none of the new skills get implemented. If a teacher designed their classroom that way I’d have them on an improvement plan instantly. The irony of educational institutions be regularly terrible at training their employees is gob-smacking. /rant

Otherwise, liked this fine. I do wish there had been fewer terrible threes.

@GILL I - STS as in “saints.” “Hagiography” as in “writings about the lives of saints.”

Anonymous 8:39 AM  

Never heard of a “reverse dictionary” but isn’t the clue the description of “Roget’s Thesaurus” which fits the space exactly? At least before it was modernized?

pabloinnh 8:39 AM  

Taught for years in way upstate NY ("The North Country") and more years here in NH, INSERVICEDAYS is in use in both places, also VT. I have used the REVERSEDICTIONARY, which is a wonderful thing when you you come up with one of those "what do you call that thing/situation/kind of person, etc. " followed by the description, the RD is very good at providing exactly what you need.

Liked the way the DICE rotated (rolled) and how they fit into the answers.

@GILL I-yeah, the Napoleonic War art (etchings, notably) is pretty grim, but at least they didn't go with The Black Paintings.

Very nice Thursday, guys. I'll overlook SAUCEDISH and say the rest was aces.

Nancy 8:42 AM  

Loved this puzzle! Jeff Chen gave yesterday's puzzle his POW, but I would have awarded it to this one. Both puzzles required really impressive constructing chops. But this one also requires really good solving chops, whereas yesterday's didn't. In order to know what on earth is going on, today you must understand the theme. Whereas yesterday I solved without needing to pay any attention to what was in the tiny little circles.

I used the theme not only to get such initially baffling themers as IN SERVICE DAYS and REVERSE DICTIONARY, but also to get, say, OCELOT. I have never heard of a jaguarundi, and that "C" really helped me.

Long before I got to the revealer, I knew it would be ROLL THE DICE. But that in no way weakened the puzzle for me. The pay-off was the work that I had to do to solve the thing. Thanks for including me, the solver, in the fun, Amanda and Karl. Nice, crunchy puzzle.

Z 8:59 AM  

BTW - @Lewis - I realize your clue list is of favorite NYT’s clues and that word play is the primary criteria. But CC’s clue at 11D in the 2/12/2020 USA Today puzzle is something truly special for its sheer WTF weirdness. And, no, I’m not going to try it.

John Child 9:07 AM  

This was a rare day where I liked the fact that the NYT app shows shaded squares and highlighted ones (the word you are filling and the cross) the same way. This puzzle would have been better without any highlighting IMO. Musch too easy as it was *for a Thursday* - half my average time.

Sluggo 9:10 AM  

DNF because of the VEST/COS crossing. I had VENT (seemed reasonable) crossing with CON (in Spanish, the counterpart of 'sin' [without] is 'con' [with]).

For the life of me I still can't figure out the COS answer.

Never mind... sine and cosine. Damn. It came to me as I was typing this post and saw it written out. As my penance for being a dummy, I will finish this post for all to see my idiocy.

paige worthy 9:16 AM  

Yeah… In-service days are actually pretty common. Sorry bud. That's the clue that unlocked the theme for me.

Ando 9:20 AM  

I just came here to point out that it is SHAVE ICE not SHAVED

Anonymous 9:25 AM  

Hand up for in service days. Used commonly in both South Eastern Pa., and South Jersey.

Anon 7:22,
I was wondering whether shaved ice vs shave ice would be discussed. As I understand it, Hawaiians use shave ice almost exclusively. Certainly Obama did. Don't know if it's shaved elsewhere.

Isn't one of the regulars around here in Hawaii or from the islands?

relicofthe60s 9:28 AM  

An English professor has never heard of a reverse dictionary? Incredible. And no, it’s not the same thing as a thesaurus.

MichGirl 9:31 AM  

In-service days are a thing everywhere I've lived. I disliked SCIFIBOOK much more.

Z 9:33 AM  

@Sluggo - We have all been there. My usual M.O. is to have the light bulb go on immediately after hitting “publish.”

Wikipedia says SHAVED ICE and Shave Ice should not be confused and are not the same thing as Italian Ice. Alrighty then.

Anonymous 9:34 AM  

I ruined my time on this one by filling in ramekin where it should have been SAUCISH.

Also, never heard of INSERVICE DAYS, they call them Superintendent Conference Days in Upstate NY

Sir Hillary 9:35 AM  

I had the same experience as @Lewis. Was really feeling (a) let down by the ho-hum ROLLing DICE, (b) annoyed that I didn't know what a SAUCISH was, (c) oldish, given that that I was unfamiliar with the portmanteau REVERSECTIONARY for what I assumed was some goofy new reference book, and (d) like I had NOIDEA what was going on with the themer in the NE.

Then -- boom! -- SHAVEDICE. And with it, the realization that you had to use the whole DI[C]E for the answers to make sense. Suddenly, (a) through (d) above were gone, replaced by a big smile. And a lease on life in the NE.

I can't defend some of the fill (RGS? EAN?? EINK???) but it was eclipsed by my enjoyment of the theme. As for cluing, I loved the ones for RIPE, FIEF and IRE but disliked the one for NINTH (an ordinal place on a list that no one thinks of that way). And sorry, but while I loved the film and his performance in it, ALANALDA is a cast member of "Marriage Story", not a co-star. Any more than, say, Merritt Weaver is.

All in all though, thumbs up from me.

TJS 9:36 AM  

I finished this and got the chimes, but man, I hated so much of the fill. I like difficulty in cluing and fill, but there seemed to be too much desperation today. Eine/eink,no "e" for sine/cosine. What is the percentage of fill that does not consist of actual words. Ccs,ean rvs org ted eco... I quit.

Sue Miller 9:50 AM  

I am a retired NJ teacher. We had in service days all the time when speakers were brought in or we worked on curriculum or test results. Teacher conference days are those in which you meet with parents. In service days count for professional development credits.

JC66 9:59 AM  


Did you mean 10D?

SouthsideJohnny 10:03 AM  

HAI, and then Latin PRIMA crossing German MEIN set the tone for this one to be a bit of a downer, and it was.

I was thinking offensive line and I put oGS instead of RGS which gave me OE. . . And I was thinking something to do with the OED - since I didn’t know anything about that opera with the golf course in it (VALHALLA), at that point I was toast.

Even though E-INK is kind of a thing, sort of like e-commerce and e-tail, it’s presence in the puzzle does give off a bit of a foul odor from that section.

Newboy 10:15 AM  

BELAY MEIN OATH! Damn this was fun. All that we expect and appreciate about Thursday—almost always a puzzle worth waiting. Well played Amanda & Keri

Z 10:29 AM  

@JC66 9:59 - Yes.

Richard Sillman 10:32 AM  

It might be a picayune point, but Valhalla is not a locale in Das Rheingold in that no scene takes place there. It is only seen in the distance and in the very final pages of the score, the gods are crossing a rainbow bridge to inhabit it .

Lewis 10:36 AM  

@z -- I'm sure, as @JC66 suggested, you meant 10D, and yes, it does sound like a weird combo, yet, strangely appealing to my Libra sensibilities.

Peter P 10:38 AM  

@fkdiver - Not quite. The reciprocal, mathematically, of sin is 1/sin, also known as a "cosecant." Sine is opposite over hypotenuse; cosecant is hypotenuse over opposite (making it the reciprocal.) Cosine would not be the correct answer for "reciprocal of sin" (plus you lose the double meaning of "sin" if you phrase it that way, as "reciprocal" is pretty much a dead giveaway that "sin" should be interpreted as "sine.") "Counterpart" is just a plain language term, nothing rigorously defined in math. You have sin-cosine, tangent-cotangent, secant-cosecant as "counterparts" in this sense.

Kathy 10:46 AM  

Easy Thursday with a kinda cute theme.

I often cannot finish a Thursday without help. I like it when I can pick away at words I don’t know and, through trial and error and a little logic, finally arrive at something that make sense in both directions. This was that kind of puzzle for me!

Great misdirection: counterpart of sin
I always assumed that SHAVED ICE is a generic term and “shave ice” is a colloquial term in Hawaii. Maybe I’m wrong.
One nit: I haven’t actually heard anyone use the term SAUCE DISH but once I grokked the theme and saw DISH, it was an easy guess.

@Z. Sigh...I hear you. Don’t even get me started. So we have teachers sitting passively in lectures that will lead to nowhere while beleaguered parents have scrambled to find child care for these all too frequent random days off. The way things seem to be going, teachers will be teaching from what amounts to a script and a blueprint with no room for creativity. If that is all the faith we have in the truly great teachers, why do most districts still require advanced degrees?? I was a first grade teacher long ago and I could never go back. I would never be able to stay on-script! (But back then I did crank out kids who could actually READ and who enjoyed it)

Anonymous 10:53 AM  

Of course they're called in-service days. That is exactly what we NYS teachers call them. Either your wife is actually a spy or she never talks to you. Either that or she corrects your arrogant mistake when she gets home.

Anonymous 10:55 AM  

It's definitely the term used here, in Pennsylvania. In fact, tomorrow is a In Service Day, giving students a four day weekend, since Monday us President's Day.

Anonymous 10:55 AM  

Interesting, I lived in NH for over ten years and always heard them called "professional development days." Never heard of "in service days" until getting it from crosses here.

Gio 11:03 AM  

You know I'm an idiot but I've only been doing these puzzles for about a month, and I completed it in about 55 minutes with no look-ups. At first the clues were so hard for me but I slowly banged it all out. I saw the ROLLTHEDICE revealer eary on and I thought it was just 4 spinning dice. I thought the "vessel for dip" was a SAUCINE or some French thing. Same with the Reverse Dictionary I thought it was something called a Reversectionary. It was not until I was basically finished that I saw the point of the whole thing.
I saw that movie, A Marriage Story, and I didn't think it deserved a Best Picture nomination and the other nominations. I guess there was slim pickings this year. I was hoping that Kathy Bates would have won for Richard Jewel. On a side note, my best friend used work with Richard Jewel (as a security guard no less at the Richway (now Target). And he has photos of him when they were in a band. Richard Jewel was their vocalist. My friend said they let him in the band only because he had a truck and they needed a truck to carry their equipment, ha ha.
I was at Centennial Olympic Park the night the bomb went off but I had left about an hour earlier. I was swayed by the media coverage and I remember thinking "wow what a total loser." It turns out the FBI had NO profile of "unappreciated cop who creates crime to be the hero" as they pretended existed to go after this guy. I also used to live in the apartment complex near where they raided his poor mom's apartment. They took all her Tupperware away. I only include this story because it seems like this blog it's fine to go off on tangents.
I've been doing the archives and come to this blog to read Rex's commentary for that day and your comments. The best one was that Bowling puzzle: Spare /, X Strike, XXX Turkey for Turkey in the Straw. 40 people asked WTF is a XXX in bowling and 40 people replied what an XXX in bowling was. I wish I was here then because I didn't get that puzzle either because the app accepted the letter "S" for Spare and I thought it was just a letter put in for a word. No one I love Rex's ranting and raving, I enjoy it a lot it kills me.
One last thing, I never heard of IN SERVICE DAY but I grew up in NY, I spent several years in Upstate, NY and in Rex's area as well, but I live in Atlanta, Georgia for half my life. Here they call them "Teacher Work Days". My son might have used this term though recently, he said something about when he needed to go in before school started. He is teaching High School physics in Nashville, TN. I'm going to ask him.

Anonymous 11:07 AM  

Today's WSJ puzzle nicely illustrates Rex's frequent point that when a puzzle has an apt title, it doesn't need a revealer.

burtonkd 11:10 AM  

We definitely have in service days at my school in the NY suburbs.
@Z, I read the Shaved Ice Wikipedia page and it lists Hawaiian Shave Ice as a type of shaved ice dessert. It is one of those foods, like meat in a bread pocket, that seems to be part of most cuisines in the world, each with its own name and variation. This reminds me of when I was in Hawaii, and went to a “famous” shave ice place, wondering what the deal was that made it so different than a sno-cone or the shaved ice served with flavoring in my Dominican neighborhood. I will say that the fresh fruity flavoring was terrific, but otherwise not a unique food as far as I could tell.
Good clueing today, could have used more resistance on the theme.

I was a bit miffed at clueing Alan Alda as a “costar” of Marriage Story. I would only consider Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson to be the costars, with Alan Alda, Ray Liotta, and Laura Dern being supporting roles (all magnificently done). Knowing it was Thursday, I thought there could be some kind of rebus since AdAm fit at the beginning of the answer. SCARLETT also fit. Definitely made a bit of a mess of the NE.

Anonymous 11:21 AM  

@Peter P: brings back muddling through trigonometry (and calculus) decades ago.
@TJS: trig functions are spelled out in textbooks etc. but not in formulas where the abbreviation is always used, as in SINy, COSx, TANz

Z 11:22 AM  

Using my amazing internet skills I was able to determine that Binghamton Public Schools has “Superintendent Conference Days” on their calendar and nothing called “IN SERVICE DAYS.” “Professional Development Day” is also a fairly common term, especially if there’s a need to differentiate between staff development days and staff work days (we had “Teacher Record Days” or some such). In my experience “IN-SERVICE DAYS” is widely used, but I have also seen enough variations to not be surprised that Rex hadn’t heard it.

Again, expressing shock at someone else’s alleged or actual ignorance is never a good look.

@Kathy - Truly gob-smacking is that legislatures want scripted instructors while we know differentiated instruction is the key to learning in a diverse classroom (i.e, whether you have 16 or 46, what walks in the door everyday is diverse, sometimes in ways that aren’t readily apparent).

@Lewis - Feel free to report back. I’ll take a hard pass.

Amelia 11:24 AM  

I'm laughing at all the comments especially @anonymous 10:53 about in-service days.

Of course, they're in-service days. Everyone seems to know this but Rex. But that's cool. There's always something one doesn't know that everyone else does. With me, it's usually about 80's bands. Someone dies from one of those bands, and the whole world is mourning. And I've never heard the name, the songs, anything. They say, oh you know that song they did. And I swear I don't know it. I go to Youtube, I play it, and I don't know it. (Occasionally, one gets through as something I heard getting a haircut.)

As for the puzzle, it was cool. My only complaint (I always have a complaint. I'm a Jewish NYer.) was that the revealer was too easy. (I guess that's the nature of a revealer. D'oh.) I got that early on when I was still dealing with ---CISH. And all was clear. Somehow, I think it should have been more difficult. I'm not sure how. Maybe, as Rex often points out, a title would have helped.

Papa Needs A New Pair of Shoes?


jae 11:24 AM  

Easy-medium. Top half easy, SE corner a tad tougher. Pretty good Thurs. Liked it.

Is E INK really a thing?

Concours guy 11:30 AM  

Does anyone on this blog wash their own car? I saw the clue to 2D and immediately thought, "I hope it's not CARWAX." The fear persisted when I got 28A, EXPO. Still, I held out until the very end, when it became inevitable. The easiest way to ruin a chamois would be to use it to apply wax. A chamois is used for drying, not waxing, the car. I'm wondering whether Amanda, Karl and/or Will own cars and, if so, whether they wash them themselves. I'm guessing "no" to both questions. (My captcha for posting this comment was "Check all boxes that contain
cars." LOL)

Anonymous 11:42 AM  

Concours guy,
Will and the NYT get almost everything related to cars wrong. It's astounding, truly, how ignorant they are about almost anything mechanical or too related.

BTW, no one with a concours kinda car would use a chamois eiether. All the folks who prize their finish use forced air from one source oar another to dry their car.

David 11:49 AM  

Yes, burtonkd, NYTXword definition of "co-star" is mighty wide these days.

I love how the folks here argue about regionalisms and such. Mine is RIGHT, yours is WRONG!
Growing up in NY we had "teacher conference days" and "shaved ice". Sorry to learn I've been misled for so many decades.

I liked yesterday's circles better, and why did all the answers have 3:1 use of "dice" except for "sauce dish"? And what the heck is a "sauce dish"? Is that a gravy boat? Ah ha, I think it's for soy sauce; that makes more sense for dipping, that's for sure.

Everybody could use a reverse dictionary, they're fun.

If you asked me about Clarke's work, I'd say it's "Science Fiction" not "sci-fi" book or anything else. Ask me about Agatha Christie and I'll say "mysteries," though it's possible I'd also say "detective stories." But I wouldn't say either "mystery books" or "detective novels." That's just a weird locution.

Puzzle was really too easy for a Thursday, but lots of the cluing was really nifty, so I had more fun than Rex. That's not unusual...

Anonymous 11:52 AM  

Z,Come on. rex didn't just not know the terem, he poo-pooed it. He wrote: I'm sure someone somewhere uses it ( in service). That implies one has to search far and wide for some example. As if it were rare or obscure.
Clearly, the term isn't just common, but widely used. That's much different than OFL's claim and why people here are calling him on his ludicrous analysis of it.

albatross shell 11:52 AM  

At least DICE are square so we do not get all silly-to-me comments about ball or circle being square in the grid. There was some kind of similar theme with ball or circle or both recently, wasn't there?

EINK I guess. Never want too many such in any one puzzle with out some compensating pluses. SIN and COS well done. They usually do not come with an abbreviation period, and
they are informally counterparts. @PeterP nailed it,

Not oGS because the "o" stands for a word in the clue.

INSERVICE DAYS in NJ and PA meant no school for kids when I was one. YAY. But now in the age of budget-cutting, they seem to be finding a way of combining school for kids and inservice for teachers. Don't ask me. I HAVE NO IDEA.

I also found a great combo clue-answer in a news story yesterday. I never heard of either, but I guess skiers and deep snow and mountain folks have. SPRUCETRAP = TREEWELL. Look at all those convenient letters. Dangerous stuff. Four members of an avalanche team have hell of a time pulling a 5th member out of one. Online video: "I think I may break his leg pulling like this." "Do it now. Legs mend."

Anonymous 12:00 PM  

I grew up in a household with six kids. My dad was formerly a Navy pilot in WWII in the Pacific. He wasn't a warm fuzzy guy and was pretty much at sea with all those kids (see what I did there?)

Whenever things got too DICEy or the arguing and kid stuff got overwhelming, he'd roar from wherever in the house he was: "BELAY THAT!"

We belayed.

Carola 12:08 PM  

I found this one on the tough side, in the cluing and in figuring out the role of the DICE (finally caught on in the AUDI x NICER area).

When I was growing up in this nook of the Midwest, a SAUCE DISH was not a vessel for dipping but rather a small, shallow bowl for individual servings of things like rhubarb SAUCE (i.e., compote) or canned peaches or pears in that heavy syrup.

Anonymous 12:09 PM  

I live in Hawaii and it is definitely shave ice. You know you’re not from here when you say shaveD ice. Interestingly, some licals call it “ice shave”.

albatross shell 12:12 PM  

And forgot:
ALANALDA is a star, and his appearance in a movie might always be as a co-star or a cameo. I have not seen Marriage Story. Having seen a lot of that PBS marriage doc that kicked off all the Reality Shows and the current fake reality shows, the clips from the movie seem very similar, and discourage me from watching. And of course lived through a breakup that I prefer not to relive. Ahh, life.

Chip Hilton 12:13 PM  

Really enjoyed this. SAUCISH was confusing the heck out of me but that’s where my Aha! occurred. Flew from that point forward. Thanks, Amanda and Karl.

My wife and I each taught for 33 years and, boy, were we familiar with the phrase In-Service Days. Sorry they don’t use it in NYS, Rex, but, trust me, many teachers will have heard of it. As a matter of fact, I thought it was the answer off I - - - - - - - - Y-.

Mookie in LA, new ace in Pinstripes, ahhhh! Bring on the regular season!

GILL I. 12:20 PM  

@kitshed, @Z and @Anony 8:26. Thanks for the hagiographies STS. I honestly thought "streets" and wondered why they were profiled with such a strange name...Thanks.
Today's IN SERVICE DAYS comments are funny. I taught art at The American School of Madrid and you wouldn't get any teacher to come in for any such thing. Nope...come 5 de la trade and everyone is having a few tapas and vinitos. Our teachers didn't need no stinking administrators telling them how to run their classrooms......
Also...I would never put WAX on my chamois. I love my shamy and I only use water.
Off to my dermatologist so that he can once again tell me to stay away from the sun.....

Anonymoose 12:30 PM  

Here we are into the afternoon and we still don't know if anyone anywhere uses the term "INSERVICE DAYS".

And what is SHAVEDICE?

Steve Fusco 12:34 PM  

Why is it that “I never heard of X” is considered a legitimate beef for not liking a puzzle? I like learning NEW things and having to stretch my brain to resolve a tough corner. I get the whole “natick” thing, but having lived in nearby Framingham MA, Natick never bothered me much.

RooMonster 12:38 PM  

Hey All !
E INK. Har. E RUBBER BAND can't be too far behind.

Liked the "trick", which I grokked at SHAVED ICE, whether it's correct or not. First thought was, "What the hell is SHAVEDE? Is that French?" Looked back at y'all's SAUCISH and confirmed the up, over, down thingamajig theme aspect.

For some reason, it didn't hit me as a ThursPuz type theme. Not sure why. Maybe Will mixing up things up on the WedsPuz lately had me thinking this would've been better on Wednesday.

CHOOSE for Tap was a mite strange. And crossing ORG Chart? Yowch. Fun wrongness, had eTS for STS. In that small corner, what is an attar? It comes from PETALS, I see.

Two writeovers, iAN-EAN, YAh-YAY.



Masked and Anonymous 12:40 PM  

Figurin out the (neat) theme mcguffin wasn't a dicey operation for long, at our house. I just kept hammerin away at that there pesky INSERVICwhatsit themer, until I finally got it. The "take a chance" revealer then had to probably be related to DICE, I speculated. Right for once, M&A breath.

Sooo … easyish theme, for a ThursPuz. Not sure I've ever seen a dice roll theme before, like @RP recalls.
But, it was nice to see The Circles again, for two days in a row. Altho technically the circles were gray areas today, I reckon. And M&A *has* heard tell of INSERVICEDAYS, somewhere before. Wish @muse darlin were here today, as she'd probably give us the full rundown on that term.

staff weeject pick: EAN. Hard to beat a solid, desperate suffix fix.
fave paired fillins of chance: HEIDI & HIDE. EINE & EINK. ETA & ETTA. (rolled)DICE & NICER. HATHA & NOIDEA.

Thanx for gangin up on us and congratz on yer new family addition, AC & KN. Good job.

Masked & Anonymo4Us

Circles! … must have more circles … :

Joe Dipinto 12:54 PM  

Zuzu's Sources Of Attar.

I'm pretty sure David Steinberg did a "Keep The Ball Rolling" puzzle with this exact idea for a Sunday, and his was way better.

Don't listen to this song if you have coulrophobia.

Unknown 12:56 PM  

Can someone explain 37D answer for me?

PapaLeroux 12:56 PM  

Been an educator in Michigan and Vermont. In-service days were used in both.
We thought it was a bit of a slog with answers we only got with crosses.

jberg 1:06 PM  

@anon9:34– yeah, that’s because “ramekin” is what they’re called. I always thought it was “auto WAX,” too, so that was a retty green-paintedcorner.

I needed to do the little detour twice to see it was rolling DICE; neat idea, nicely done.

I think a service day is when everyone goes out and cleans up vacant lots, as opposed to IN-SERICE DAYS.

albatross shell 1:07 PM  

SHAVEDICE sound like the kind that add up to of 7 and 11 much too often.

Anonymous 1:08 PM  

but having lived in nearby Framingham MA, Natick never bothered me much.

Yeah, but even folks in Spfld. might not know that the flying saucer mall is called Shoppers World. If it still exists.

Teedmn 1:09 PM  

I was thinking along the lines of Gill I's SAUCIer for 23A until I saw how the DICE filled 17A. But before I saw DICE, I saw ICED. ICED cubes? Not very elegant, though I.

Continuing on, I eventually replaced ICED with DICE but I then went to the cooking type of DICE and was mentally slicing cheese into cubes. The revealer sorted that all out.

The biblical clue for 35D got me thinking along those lines for both 21A and 37D. Har, feudal lords and Babe Ruth!

Amanda and Karl, this was fun, thanks.

Joseph Brick 1:15 PM  

Right with you there. Should have known VENTing power was wrong, but I've only seen VEST with an -ed tacked on in relation to power. "By the power vested in me..."

puzzlehoarder 1:30 PM  

I printed this puzzle out last night before going to bed. By the time I got around to solving it today I'd forgotten all about the shaded squares. Since I always print them halftone to save on toner the shaded squares were invisible. That made this a much more challenging solve than it should have been.

The SE corner was especially hard because of this and when I wound up with. SHAVEDE at 51A I knew I'd better actually read that revealer clue at 58A to get a handle on what was wrong. ROLLTHEDICE was so easy to recognize I'd filled it in without reading it's clue.

Once I saw what was going on a few single square corrections set everything to right.

Anonymous 1:55 PM  

37D Babe Ruth was also a pitcher - that was his Earned Run Average.

Stat Man 1:59 PM  

I'll be one of the thirteen people that answer Unknown's ? about babe ruth's 2.28. (37D) It's his earned run average for the part of his baseball career when he pitched.

JC66 2:02 PM  

@Unknown 12:56

Babe Ruth was a pitcher before he became an outfielder and (based on the clue for 37D) had a 2.28 Earned Run Average.

bigsteve46 2:21 PM  

Well, today I learned that some schools call them "in service days" and some schools don't. That's something, I guess. If you're a parent counting on your kid(s) getting a day of schooling, you're screwed both ways. (Those who can't do, teach - except when they confer.)

Anonymous 2:32 PM  

babe ruth wasn't just a pitcher, he was a really good pitcher. He led the league in ERA and shutouts one season (1916 or `17) won 20 games at least three times. And he did occasionally pitch after it became clear he was the greatest power hitter of all time. He definitely pitched in 1921--the year he 59 home runs. And he pitched a couple of complete games in the 1930's when he was no kid anymore.

One nice bit of trivia. He was the starting pitcher in the game which some people credit as a perfect game for Ernie Shore. Ruth walked the first batter of the game. He complained so bitterly to the ump that he was tossed from the game. Ernie Shore came on in relief. The batter on first (who Ruth had walked)attempted to steal on the Shore's first pitch (no, not a wild pitch) and was thrown out. Shore then proceeded to retire the next 26 batters. Hence what some circles it's considered a perfect game.

Ruthie 2:45 PM  

Wow, a shot across the bow from @bigsteve. Other than ensuring physical and emotional well-being, teaching their children is probably the most important aspect of being a parent. Let’s just say, I hope bigsteve is not a parent and leave it at that.

SCIFIBOOK is a real stretch of an answer. The fact that it is crossing EINK brings in a real stinky yuck factor. I hadn’t heard of HATHA before, but if it is a type of yoga it will most definitely show up again sometime - hopefully I will remember it.

Is VALHALLA a real place (sounds pretty realistic) - seems Friday or Saturday difficult though.

dadnoa 2:59 PM  

+1 for the missed opportunity. Right up with the “Chopped into small pieces” clue that we all know and groan about....DICED

Anonymous 3:01 PM  

Are you joshing? Not only is Valhalla a real place, Babe Ruth is buried about two miles from it. Hawthorne, NY and Valhalla, NY are adjacent.

DigitalDan 3:03 PM  

Rex, your embedding of the Louis Prima/Keely Smith video sent me on a wonderful journey down memory lane. Great performers, and what a fabulous voice she had. They truly don't write 'em like they used to.

Gio 3:10 PM  

@anonymous My grandfather is buried in same cemetery, Gates of Heaven. Maniacal Yankee fan, he wanted to be near Ruth.

Anonymous 3:17 PM  

La Donna E mobile (sorry about lack of diacritical mark)
Very cool. I may have seen your grandfather's grave. In any event, imho, your grandfather had good taste.

Z 3:44 PM  

@Anon 11:52 - I am way over the limit but wanted to say that you make a fair comment. I think some comments cross over into an area I wouldn’t, but lots of comments just calling out that Rex’s absolutist sounding take was wrong are fine.

Anonymous 3:45 PM  

My parents are buried in Gate of Heaven too. And yes it’s near the town of Valhalla in Westchester Country. I don’t think it’s the same Valhalla as Wagner’s though LOL.

Unknown 3:48 PM  

23A. I had "spice dish" for a long while, and that slowed me way down in the NW. My father used to say, Those who can, do. Those who can't, criticize. Reminds me of Rex.

Anonymous 3:49 PM  

Really? I have your permission? My opinion is ok to have. Wow. I'm so lucky that I have your blessing. Pinch Me, I'm dreaming.

mitche manitou 3:56 PM  

I agree about the badness of the themers, except for "reverse dictionary." I own several and use them frequently in my work naming products, companies, etc. There's also a good online reverse dictionary at

The one thing I liked was that the D I C E configuration was different each time, so in that sense they were "rolling".

pabloinnh 5:49 PM  


Also I suggest that our friend bigsteve spend a year in front of a classroom just to see how he can "do".

RAD2626 5:52 PM  

I thought this was clever, brilliantly executed and elegant. Having the D-I -C- E roll in order was very special. I also loved that there were two clues that seemed to want plural words ending in S but we got OATH and TROU.

My only quibble was what @Concours I think first raised. You would never use a chamoix or a chamois or a shammy to put on wax, even if Shammy Sosa corked his bat. Sponge, cloth, or towel please.

Paul 7:14 PM  

I was a teachers union president in a large system. We knew that any teacher who went to heaven had to serve time at in-service activities in hell.

Chim cham 7:28 PM  

In-service days days used in Michigan, Ohio, Florida and Washington State for sure. Very common term. Also, the puzzle was tough and enjoyable. Rex needs some serotonin or vitamin D or something. What a grump.

BRoad 8:35 PM  

Gotta love Louis Prima! Thanks

Anonymous 9:03 PM  

Didn't read all the comments, but surely someone else who likes movies noticed this: Alan Alda is by no means a "co-star" in the film "Marriage Story." This hung me up for a while because the movie clearly only has two co-stars: Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansen, who take up 90% of the screen time. Alan Alda plays a very minor lawyer role that would struggle to even qualify as supporting.

Unknown 9:55 PM  

In service day were a gimme for me to. New York and New Jersey and Princeton area call them that

Joaquin 9:57 PM  

@DigitalDan - You are soooo right. Louie and Keely were the absolute best. And the best name ever for a backup group was "Sam Butera and the Witnesses".

Anonymous 10:21 PM  

As a Hawai’i locall the answer to the z51 Across clue “cousin of a sno cone is totally wrong”. Anyone from Hawai’i knows it’s SHAVE ICE NOT SHAVED ICE (THERE IS NO D). So it really doesn’t work does it. Mahalo and Ua Mau ke Ea o ka ʻĀina i ka Pono (Hawaiian state motto).

Mac Rebennack 11:56 PM  

Absurdly easy

CPG 7:52 AM  

Earned Run Average.

spacecraft 11:02 AM  

I never realized that the term INSERVICEDAYS was so sharply regional. That's what they're called in PA--at least all the parts of PA that I've ever been--and so I didn't perceive a problem.

This was a fairly easy, for Thursday, but good puzzle. Worst problem for me was in the NW, when I could not yet make sense of 23 across, also when I assumed (you know what THAT does) that a four-letter word for "Fair" ending in O was sosO. Well, isn't it? Not this time. A little farther down I got the DICE thing, immediately wrote in the reveal line, and sailed home from then on. Not that I ever ROLLTHEDICE; even when the casinos were open--remember?--I didn't play that game. Too fast for this oldster. Deal me some blackjack. Please. Or a little pai gow poker.

I have one question about public pandemic behavior: where are people storing all the milk and eggs they're hoarding? These items MUST be refrigerated, and even then have a limited shelf life. Do they all own extra fridges?? What is going on??? And finally: WHY haven't ALL grocery outlets imposed a number limit on staples per household?? I can't find a quart of milk or a dozen eggs. It's ridiculous.

Back to the puz: Lucy LIU takes a well-deserved curtain call as DOD. Birdie.

C Gusta 11:43 AM  

I've taught in both New York and Washington, and we called days that are left open for planning and workshops in-service days in both places.
This puzzle was a lot trickier for me than it was for you, because the local paper forgot to include the shaded (or circled as the case may be) squares, so there was nowhere to look on those theme answers.

Diana, LIW 12:56 PM  

Whoa - a last-moment change gave me a perfect solve. Haven't used an E-Reader of any type, but I went with a SCIFIBOOK and wha la la, as they say.

Today's traveling note - and a thanks to @Rainy. I'm planning on returning home in early April. Flying - of course. I just hope I'm allowed to. OTOH, I did cancel a trip to Boston/ACPT/NYC this week (and am missing a chance to catch up with @Teedmn) due to cancellations of any and all events. Sigh. I keep thinking about the many, many people who will be affected even beyond those who catch c-19. Talk about sci-fi. Stay well everyone.

Diana, Lady-in-Waiting for the next adventure

Diana, LIW 12:59 PM  

@CGusta - just read your comment about the "gray squares." That would make this puzzle 100 times tougher!

Diana, Lady

Don 1:42 PM  

Taught high school for 32 years in SoCal and participated in dozens of in-service days over the years.

Burma Shave 1:43 PM  


TED could CHOOSE his FATE right now,
looking NICER, SHAVED and tidy,
and ROLLTHEDICE while dropping TROU,
to BELAYing there with HEIDI.


rondo 2:39 PM  

Yep, INSERVICEDAYS in MN, too. OFL lives in a vacuum.

Say this 3 times quickly: ALANALDA VALHALA MALALA.

I had LIU circled, but since @spacey made the designation I'll CHOOSE to go with HEIDI Klum. Anywhere.

A little green painty at SAUCEDISH, but pretty good.

leftcoaster 3:23 PM  

Got the trick early, then figured out how to use the C-D-E-I letters. Theme was a good one, as was the revealer.

The SCIFIBOOK, with crosses BELAY and EINK, was my downfall. Thought SCIFIdOOm, with dELAY and EINm(?) [oh, E-INK of course, but too late].

Enjoyed it anyway.

rainforest 4:19 PM  

@rondo - if I were you, I wouldn't "go with" HEIDI Klum, unless you were prepared to stay 2 metres away. She has the Coronavirus. Of course, in other circumstances I'd go with her. I love her mind...

IN-SERVICE DAYS here in good ol' British Columbia, but lately "Pro-D days", or just "Professional days", seems to have taken over. Regardless, these much-abused days, mainly by school district management, just don't cut it with regard to teacher practise or professionalism.

The puzzle was a good one, with its ROLLing DICE theme. Lotsa good stuff here with decent fill and cluing. CCS was my last entry (clever). Also lotsa enjoyment during the solve.

rondo 4:57 PM  

Ack! Or EEK! I had NOIDEA.

Anonymous 5:27 PM  

Thanks for writing such good content and I really appreciate you thinking of me, thanks very much.Scrabble Word Finder

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