Pacific root vegetable / WED 5-20-20 / Canadian sketch comedy show of 1970s-80s / Tender kind of lettuce

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Constructor: Natan Last, Andy Kravis and The J.A.S.A. Crossword Class

Relative difficulty: Easy (4:01 at a trotting pace)

THEME: 1 word, 2 words — three-word phrases where the second two words, combined, are spelled the same as the first word ... so that in the grid, every themer looks like it's just an eight-letter word repeated:

Theme answers:
  • BRIEFEST BRIE FEST (18A: French cheese tasting that lasts only a minute?)
  • MUSTACHE MUST ACHE (28A: "That handlebar has gotta hurt!")
  • HEATHENS HEAT HENS (51A: Headline about a pagan rotisserie shop?)
  • FLAGRANT FLAG RANT (68A: Screed about Old Glory that goes too far?)
Word of the Day: Buzzards BAY (55A: Massachusetts' Buzzards ___)
Buzzards Bay is a bay of the Atlantic Ocean adjacent to the U.S. state of Massachusetts. It is approximately 28 miles (45 kilometers) long by 8 miles (12 kilometers) wide. It is a popular destination for fishingboating, and tourism. Since 1914, Buzzards Bay has been connected to Cape Cod Bay by the Cape Cod Canal. In 1988, under the Clean Water Act, the Environmental Protection Agencyand the State of Massachusetts designated Buzzards Bay to the National Estuary Program, as "an estuary of national significance" that is threatened by pollution, land development, or overuse. (wikipedia) 
• • •

It's a simple idea, kind of a wordplay standard (i.e. the idea words can be broken apart to form other words), but rather than being lifted from some website of prefab answers, the group of theme answers involved here are carefully chosen, and have common properties that link them together, elevating the theme and giving it a certain amount of consistency and structural elegance. They're all 16, to start with, which means that they're (apparently) the same 8-letter word twice. Then, through the magic of wackiness ("?"-style cluing), the second 8-letter word turns out to actual be two words ... and each time, those two words are two 4-letter words, which means that each time the first word is reparsed as two words, it is split precisely in half. 8 + (4 + 4). No 8 + (5 + 3)s, no 8 + (2 + 6)s. An 8 and two 4s, every time. So yes, the theme is light, but there's an architectural preciseness about it that I like. I kind of wish the parsing made the second half clank more rather than less; that is, I like MUSTACHE MUST ACHE, which *really* changes sound from first half to last half. HEATHENS HEAT HENS similarly involves a big sound change (elimination of the "TH" sound). BRIEFEST BRIE FEST, on the other hand, is a little on-the-nose (and I'm not entirely sure that the latter part wouldn't be spelled as one word rather than two, since "-fest" is a suffix, technically, e.g. "gabfest," "lovefest," etc.). FLAGRANT FLAG RANT changes (pronunciation-wise) only in the vowels, though when I sit here saying it out loud (in my kitchen, to myself, like a weirdo), it does sound pretty different. All's I'm saying is that I like when the reparsing involves a *jarring* repronunciation. There's a corollary here to the Wackiness Rule—bigger is better. Go big or don't bother. Anyway, overall, this all worked fine for me. There's evidence of craft involved today. Nice change from whatever was going on yesterday.

The fill is also light years better than yesterday's, despite a preponderance of short stuff. Again, that's evidence of craft. Care. Attention to small details that no one is ever going to praise you for ... but those details absolutely matter to solvers' overall enjoyment, whether they're conscious of them or not. The fill is *clean* and occasionally snazzy. I'm never gonna cheer for abbrs. but as abbrs. go, IVF is a good one (11D: Modern reproductive procedure: Abbr.). It's, well, modern, like the clue says. Also modern—MERCH (33D: Concert tees and the like). Short answers can be interesting and fresh! And if the bulk of the short stuff is simply solid, woo hoo. I say "simply"—it's actually hard (and underappreciated) work to get all the short stuff (or the vast majority of it) to come out clean. I've complained about the THE in answers before, but THE ARMY isn't bad, as definite article-containing answers go. Annoyed by the clue on 29D: Anagram and antonym of 34-Down (UNTIE), but only because it makes me have to go look elsewhere in the grid for info, which I Never like. But, as those highly annoying types of clues go, it's fine, actually. I had the TABLA (48D: Small Indian drum) as a TABOR, which ... what is that? June TABOR is a folk singer ... hmmm ... (looks up TABOR) ... hey! It's also a drum! Oh good, now I don't feel so bad:
a small drum with one head of soft calfskin used to accompany a pipe or fife played by the same person (

Had real trouble getting HYBRID, since I took [Animal crossing] to mean "a place where animals cross the road, possibly to get to the other side." That was probably the point of that clue. But otherwise, no problems here. Simple, snappy fun.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. J.A.S.A. (Jewish Association for Services of the Aged) in NYC offers a crossword construction class on a regular basis; this puzzle is a product of one of those classes. For more info on the organization, including how you can donate (they're doing good work during this pandemic), please go here. Thanks.

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


chefwen 3:48 AM  

Pretty easy once you figured out the trick. Got it at 18A. My only trouble area was at the 32D 39A intersection, didn’t know either and guessed incorrectly. Oops.

jae 4:03 AM  

Easy-medium. Reasonably smooth and pretty clever.

AS a rUle before AS USUAL which worked with UFOS.

Re: Chris EVANS. Does it seem like there are a lot of Chrises (not quite sure how to plural Chris) playing comic book/action hero characters in movies? I’m not really interested in that particular genre and it’s an awful lot of Chrises to keep track of.

Liked the puzzle, the wackiness worked for me too.

Lewis 6:07 AM  

I liked seeing a college basketball powerhouse represented in row 5.

Hungry Mother 6:19 AM  

Loved the theme and solved the themers first. Very quick solve and much fun. More like this.

Lewis 6:22 AM  

This one fought me, thanks to vague cluing, until the first theme answer fell, and then the puzzle caved. But the fight, while it lasted, was delicious.

Two of my favorite aspects of solving are the two W's -- the War and the Wordplay, and this gave me plenty of both, easily lifting my thumbs to vertical. Thank you, teachers and class!

smalltowndoc 6:58 AM  

I really enjoyed this puzzle. The fill is good and the theme answers are clever.

This is the type of theme I like the most in that once cracked, it assists in getting the other theme answers. In my case, this applied to 68A, where I was able to fill in some letters before I even got to the crossing downs.

@jae: I’ve noticed that also. And they all appear to play superheroes: Pratt, Pine, Hemsworth, Evans, Kringle.

pabloinnh 6:59 AM  

I like the wordplay but once you get the gimmick, which is unmistakable, the others go in so easily that no work is required, and I want some pushback on a Wednesday. I'm probably not the only person who has pondered the UNITE/UNTIE connection before, but it's still fun.

Liked the misleading "animal crossing" clue. Around here there are lots of deer crossing signs on the major highways. An urban type riding in a car with a friend of mine asked him in all seriousness how the deer know to go where the signs are to cross the roads. He swears this is true.

Another reminder of our STONY fields around here. If you want to know why there are so many stone walls in NE, most of the rocks were transplanted by aspiring farmers.

Fun Wednescecito, guys, if over too soon (see above).

kenji 7:01 AM  

Ha. Took me a second.

Loren Muse Smith 7:06 AM  

I so agree with Rex on the elegance of the conceit here. Natan, Andy, and the delightful J.A.S.A. have come up with a nifty set of 8-letter words that can divide exactly into two 4-letter words. When I go BRIEFEST BRIE FEST, I whooped, but I tell ya – HEATHENS HEAT HENS made me laugh. Second favorite is MUSTACHE MUST ACHE. (And I really like that they chose themers that are not just compound nouns like greenhouse or blackboard, split and repurposed to be whacky.)

How timely this is. I thought a lot yesterday about the word panache I used in my comment – that it can be divided to make the two words pan ache. Then I thought about the more famous manslaughter and therapist. This line of thinking makes it unfortunate that we have the Hindi word shampoo. As in my newfie trotting out to the yard, assuming the poop position for like one second, and then walking over to me to get her reward for “pooping.”

Very hard to find others and not get pulled into the oronym direction (stuffy nose – stuff he knows) This trick *has* to start with one word only that divides into two. REPLIES – REP LIES, CARPET – CAR PET. . . I’m impressed that the themers here are so utterly uniform in their 16-ness reducing to an 8 and two 4’s. Nice.

I keep thinking about the word MART. Aside from using it in names of places (Go-Mart, Quick Mart. . .), does anyone ever use the word alone to mean a store or market? I feel like if I heard someone use the word as a common noun, I’d notice and find it odd sounding.

@Lewis - great catch on those Wildcats.

Wonder if the plural initialism police are gonna argue that the plural of BFF should be BFsF. I think we argued about the plural of MRE, right? Trump probably hasn’t eaten many MsRE, but he’s had two AsG.

Natan, Andy, Class . . . I loved this puzzle.

puzzlehoarder 7:07 AM  

A good Wednesday. I paid as little attention to the theme as was possible while struggling with some of the fill. It took me over my average to almost finish. Then it went into Thursday time as I looked over the theme entries and realized I had to change IVT to IVF. I'm not familiar with that acronym and a tasting could be construed as a test. It's not often that I need to use a theme to help with a solve.

Yesterday's SB was tough. I got 56 words and I was still 21 points shy of the QB. One of the 5 words I missed is in today's grid.

Suzie Q 7:23 AM  

Great illustration of "It's not what you say but how you say it."
I really appreciated that the fill did not cause too much pain for the solver while giving us fun theme answers.
I've found the JASA collaborations to be quite good.

kitshef 7:23 AM  

In past years, the JASA puzzles have seemed to be reaching a bit in trying to be too much. Here they have let the puzzle be itself.

The theme places quite a bit of strain on the grid, so trying to mix in showy down crosses would have forced a lot of iffy fill. Here the downs are functional, meaning the rest of the fill does not suffer. HEM IN is about as bad as it gets. Yes, that's bad - but if that's the worst thing in your puzzle you've got a winner.

Hand up for TABor before TABLA.

CDilly52 7:27 AM  

What fun today! Kudos to one and all involved in this careful, dare I say scholarly (?) construction. Any time I see Andy Kravis’s name, I know for sure we will have some “resistance” (@Lewis, I like the “two Ws concept lots) and this did not disappoint. I agree with @Rex that this puzzle demonstrates a great deal of care in construction. Using a crossword as a class activity allows time for thought and discussion and perhaps most importantly, contribution of many ideas. I credit the lack of drek to that very likely discussion that surely occurred during the course of this project. More minds, more ways to look at the world, more contribution to quality solutions - at least today in this puzzle. Hello Congress!

The NW was so easy that it gave me the first half of BRIEFEST BRIE FEST, and I caught on instantly. However, that did not mean that the other theme answers were as easy. MUSTACHE MUST ACHE (best of the day and I chuckled) had me thinking bicycles rather than facial hair. Last area to fall.

Lots of Wednesday fun, thanks everyone and hearty congratulations to all who contributed. I hope that the class learned that working as a team can yield much better results than going it alone. I think that this effort truly demonstrates that the whole can indeed be much greater than the sum of its parts.

Joaquin 7:27 AM  

Early week puzzle submitted by constructor with big ego? THEMETHEME

mathgent 7:33 AM  

BRIEFEST and FLAGRANT were fun. I also got a kick out of Loren’s “shampoo” example.

I hadn’t seen IVF before. In vitro fertilization. I suppose that hospital people get tired of saying the whole phrase but I enjoy doing it. Love them Latinisms.

Aside from the two cute themers, not much here. Clean grid, though.

I’ve been stiffing the Girl Scouts these days, but I learned SAMOA from a cryptic I just did from Saturday’s WSJ. By Cox and Rathvon. It is an amazingly intricate creation and probably the hardest word puzzle I’ve ever done.

Z 7:38 AM  

@smalltowndoc - LOL.
@Lewis - Not our friends across the pond?

FLAGRANT FLAG RANT is an apt description of Monday Morning Sports Radio during football season.

I was a little bemused yesterday by the confusing of puzzle quality and a fun (even if dated) word play device. The fact that the commentariat was so much better at employing the device proved to me just how poor the selection of themers was (independent of the whole “60% of your themers are on the Wikipedia example page” thing). Even a simple thing like picking a unifying theme (sports, music, divorce, marriage, teen lust, anything) would have made the puzzle something better than “random adverbs.”

And today’s puzzle proves that a simple device can be made elegant with a minimum of added care. Sometimes, too, it is hard to see how something seemingly so easy could go wrong because we don’t see the discarded pile of potential themers that don’t quite work. It takes a keen eye and a little pondering to see that the 8/4/4 thing is possible and makes the puzzle sharper.

Said another way, it is better to be astute than to be a STOAT.

There are times when 30 year old songs are a little too much on the mark. From today’s first video:
They used to call it Sin City
Now it's gone way past that
Painting the town
And then burning it down
Now even that's old hat
Now there's a choir of angels
At the fall of Rome
Singing "Ave Maria"
Or "Home Sweet Home"

JOHN X 7:45 AM  

What a neat little puzzle! I solved it quite quickly, but I enjoyed it a lot. Once I figured out the themers were identical on each side, I started getting a few downs, transposing the letters over to their opposite sides, and then solving the pun. Its made me feel like a CIA agent, which in fact I was (Nicaragua 1985-89), although I'm really not supposed to tell anyone that.

I too have always wondered what the word MART actually meant. Is it a market? Is it seems like it, yet it seems like it's more. It became a buzz-word of business mid-20th century. Kresge became K-Mart. Walton's became WalMart. QuickyMart, JiffyMart, Exxon Mart, a thousand others. There is the Chicago Merchandise Mart and the Dallas Trade Mart (both Kennedy associated). In the novel Catch 22, Milo Minderbinder's ultimate dream is to own a mart. So what gives with this mart thing? I think it's about making money.

Anyway I'm still pretty hammered. If it wasn't for cocaine I'd never get out of bed.

Anonymous 7:50 AM  

@Joaquin. THEME THE ME?

Geezer 7:55 AM  

Back in the day I was strongly in the mood for love but didn't have a lot of time so I went to a Quicky Mart. It wasn't what I thought it was.

amyyanni 8:02 AM  

Usually things made by a committee are not this well executed. Very charming. Almost forgot missing baseball for a while.

mmorgan 8:10 AM  

Fun! I actually thought it was MUST ACHE MUSTACHE but I guess it kinda comes out the same. I actually felt a great sense of relief that Rex liked this.

Lewis 8:11 AM  

@Z -- Ectulleh! Them too.

D 8:13 AM  

Animal Crossing is the name of a sandbox Nintendo game that flew off the shelves (shelves being metaphorical here as well) since it was released during quarantine. I thought it was a cute reference.

How is jay bird a symbol of nakedness?

JamieP 8:18 AM  

@Lewis Apparently that SEC school has been even more successful in cheerleading, winning 24 championships in 35 years. Who knew? Unfortunately, I only know this because their coaches were all just fired for allowing hazing, drunkenness, and nudity on a team bonding retreat.

Mammas, don't let your babies grow up to be...

JEPlanet 8:21 AM  

Really enjoyed this one, thanks! (and more, please---)

Z 8:47 AM  

@D - Are you familiar with the phrase naked as a jay bird? If you’re not I wonder if it’s a generational thing because that was an easy one here.

GILL I. 8:51 AM  

These are fun....The English language and what we can do to it! Try teaching it to foreigners....Go ahead, I dare you!
I have no idea why, but my mind wanders to Spanish and PAPAYA PAPA YA just floated around in my vacant head. I also thought of CONSUELO CON SUELO and couldn't figure out how to clue that one. Comfort something on a floor? Nah...Maybe @pablo can come up with something.
I always enjoy the mind melding of the JASA group. I'd like to sit in with them. I bet they laugh a lot and have fun.... I'd share a martini with the group.

Carola 8:52 AM  

Too many cooks didn't spoil the broth on this one - I appreciate its wit and goofiness even more after reading @Rex on the careful construction of the theme. I also liked learning the derivation of UVULA: my husband and I are trying to keep up our Italian by reading daily news articles; yesterday's happened to mention the need for immigrant labor for the upcoming harvest of table grapes, uva da tavola. Fun to know the anatomical-etymological connection.

@mathgent, I agree that that WSJ cryptic was tough, a three-session effort for me.

Petsounds 8:54 AM  

Just like our new missiles, super-duper! Really enjoyed this one, both the fill and the puzzle-y part. The fill was clean and fresh, eliciting not a single eye-roll. JAYBIRD and MERCH were especially sweet. Along with SAMOA, of course.

HEATHENSHEATHENS got an out-loud laugh here, but all of the gimmick answers got a smile. Unlike @amyyanni, nothing will make me miss baseball less, but a puzzle as good as this one sure did lift my spirits. Congrats to all the constructors, and let's have more like this one.

Ann Hedonia 8:57 AM  

Great puzzle for a change. Agree with Rex. I also had tabor at first, which was a word in my elementary school.

Two impossible Spelling Bees in a row. I keep adding words and never get to the QB! What gives???

Moxer 8:57 AM  

It was a pleasure to read Rex’s laudatory assessment of today’s puzzle — a relative rarity these days. I liked it, too — a good way to start the day.

Joaquin 9:04 AM  

@anonymoys (7:50) - Actually you need to reverse the parsing so you get "The Me Theme". Not great, but the best I could do at that early hour.

Nancy 9:11 AM  

Clever, very entertaining, and, for me, fiendishly difficult -- especially for a Wednesday. That's because I was fixated on bikes for the clue "That handlebar has got to hurt". You grasp the handlebar in your hand, so I was looking for something with a HAND or a PALM in it. MUSTACHEs never once occurred to me. I already had the theme from BRIEFEST BRIEFEST so the theme wasn't the problem.

The problem was that MUSTACHE MUSTACHE was protected by some tough non-theme clues -- including some proper names I didn't know. I was sorely tempted to cheat on STEVEN and EVANS, but ended up not having to. MERCH is not a term that rolls trippingly off my tongue and I was having a lot of trouble with the UNITE/UNTIE pair. And I know nothing about Keebler and its ELVES, whoever/whatever they are.

I did the rest of the puzzle and came back at the end to the middle. By now I had a final TACHE at the end -- enough to prod me belatedly into MUSTACHE MUSTACHE.

(A new thought for yesterday's blog: "I'm never on time and you needn't be either," said Tom belatedly.)

Loved this puzzle! All wordplay all the time. A terrific Wednesday.

TJS 9:14 AM  

Everyone in the "class" gets an F, and the teachers are denied tenure for this simple-minded waste of time. How anyone could think this was a Wednesday NYT puzzle is astonishing. Are we all bozos on this bus???

Now let's see what everyone else says. Can't wait to see how @Lewis was transported.

JBT 9:15 AM  

I thought this was one of the most enjoyable solves in a while. Also, I can't believe @Rex missed the Animal crossing clue. That is clearly a reference to the super popular game right now from Nintendo. Extra kudos for working that into the puzzle.

Anonymous 9:17 AM  

this was an excellent wed puz. I'm going to suggest that the JASA be invited to review a puzzle once a month on a regular schedule. maybe a Friday or Saturday. whaddya say, rex?


Anonymous 9:18 AM  

not sure why so many people are reporting on the SB. this is the nytxw blog, ffs.

Anonymous 9:22 AM  

Made me wonder if all BEEFEATERS are BEEF EATERS.

RooMonster 9:22 AM  

Hey All !
This one was fun. The tightness of the themers was nice, 16-8-4-4. And it was consistent 8 wonder, 4-4 workers. As in, it wasn't mishmashed like BRIE FEST BRIEFEST, then the others the other way. I hope you see what I'm trying to say. ☺️

My MUSTACHE doesn't ACHE, but the hair on my neck from not shaving since not working does either itch or get caught on my shirt collar.

IVF new here, have heard the unabbreviated version, but as Abbr. is new. Nice F-ful themers.

Couple writeovers, stash-CACHE (funny how they rhyme), STOic-SoNY.

Why didn't they make 6D JASA? Could've clued it, Class who made todays puzzle. The J would've worked at 6A also.

Going over YesterBees answers, I missed 13, of which I should've gotten at least 8 of them. Was Yesterday National Non-Thinking Day? Dang, only a few of those words were toughies. Oh well, on to Todays Bee!

Five F's (four due to themers)

Kathy 9:32 AM  

An easy Wednesday—made more so by the freebies as soon as the theme was grokked. But, what a delightful romp it was! As the Swifties added a smile and sparkle to yesterday’s puzzle, so did the homograph wordplay add panache today. Thus, while the solve may have been too BRIEF, the impression of this construction masterpiece was long lasting.

Kudos to the class, keep ‘em coming!

Mikey from El Prado 9:44 AM  

With this great puzzle I am immediately reminded of Loren Muse Smith’s comment from yesterday, specifically her ending joke.....


LMS, although it’s not eight letters, were you foreshadowing today’s puzzle?

Lorelei Lee 9:46 AM  

@Z, I'm not sure what you were seeing was a confusion. Obviously, an elegantly constructed puzzle with an original theme and fresh, sussable fill for people of all ages is a thing of joy. But that perfection is a rare experience. A lot can be argued about that last sentence but I won't ramble.

This blog attracts a sophisticated group of solvers with high expectations, but I'll say it again. Simple fun in a complicated, unrecognizable world, in a country led by a yam in a necktie during a life-and-death and economic crisis, meets the standard of a thing of joy. What you were seeing, I think, was people just having fun and sharing it. That's a tall order for a corner of a newspaper.

A lot of fun today too! I wish it was possible to do something with Nowhere and Now Here.

EdFromHackensack 9:49 AM  

Wrote in MUSTACHEMUSTACHE with only one cross. and FLAGRANTFLAGRANT off the ending NT. So it was a bit of a breeze for a Wednesday. But I loved the puzzle- lots of fun. Almost put in Hyenas for HYBRID, thinking they are crazy kind of animals, maybe they are some sort of a hybrid like a mule. I thought Rex would have a conniption over THEARMY, but the opposite happened. Thanks, Nathan , Andy and JASA class.

amyyanni 9:52 AM  

Usually things made by a committee are not this well executed. Very charming. Almost forgot missing baseball for a while.

Pete 9:54 AM  

@John X - How you dissapoint. A man of your obvious erudition writing "If it wasn't ..."!? It should be "If it weren't..." I'll attribute you failing to account for the subjunctive to the possibility you were out of coke. If you're having Covid Pandemic supply issues, I know a guy. IM me.

bauskern 9:57 AM  

Hate to be an outlier here, but I thought this was Mon/Tues-like difficulty. Once you suss out the theme, the long answers fall pretty quickly. A few clever answers: JAYBIRD, THE ARMY, HYBRID, but for me too much old, tired (easy) stuff: PINTA, ANTI, ARTY. I hate to be a complainer, but just wasn't a fan of today. I expect a little more difficulty for a Wednesday.

OffTheGrid 10:04 AM  

@Roo & Ann. I reached "genius" on yesterday's SB but I'm many words shy of QB. It occurred to me that Genius level is sort of like a participation trophy and the real work comes after that.

Anonymous 10:16 AM  

only one quibble: 'poker-faced' is stoic, not STONY, which is aggressively oppositional, esp. from one's mother-in-law. 'poker-faced' means showing no emotion. STONY is Very Emotional.

Barbara S. 10:16 AM  

Once I grasped the theme at BRIEFEST BRIE FEST, I had one of those deja-vu-all-over-again moments. (Thanks, Yogi.) I flashed back to the BEQ puzzle of Sunday, 22 March, whose themers were things like "ACQUIRE A CHOIR" and "A NOISE ANNOYS." So, not the same (staunchly different spellings, identical pronunciations, plus the acquisition of the indefinite article), but reminiscent -- a variation on today's theme. All proving the limitless wordplay that's possible, even within similar parameters. I didn't re-read all the comments but I got the impression there was considerably more criticism of that puzzle than this.

44A Nice shout-out to SCTV. Probably all you Schitt's Creek fans know that people like Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara launched their careers from that show. Plus the late and much-loved John Candy.

DUE DATE beside IVF really made me sigh. My stepson and his wife are undergoing IVF at the moment (in fact, it got interrupted by COVID at a rather delicate stage), and it's not an easy procedure to go through at the best of times. Lots of physical and emotional upheaval, and the stakes are high. I really feel for them.

There's been a lot of comment on EWE KAY. I wondered if its counterpart in the puzzle, EEL BAY, existed anywhere and there it is, just over the international border in Wellesley Island State Park, New York. It's a pretty generic name. I wonder if there are other Eel Bays dotted about.

A U.K. (EWE KAY?) site -- says this about "Naked as a JAYBIRD":
"In 1920s and 1930s America, J-bird was short for jailbird and when they were brought in from the bus, they went to the showers, were given their kit and made to walk from one end of the prison to the other naked. Hence naked as a j-bird -- or jaybird." I hope prison reform has long taken hold since then.

I wonder what that white cat is doing in Rex's picture. OK, maybe she's meant to be staring at the bird, but those two photos seem visually unconnected to me.

Lorelei Lee 10:30 AM  

@D, I grew up hearing the phrase but sat there this morning wondering WHY is a jaybird more naked than other birds, and why jaybird? People usually just say jay anyway. I found this:

"In 1920s and 30s America, J-bird was short for jailbird and when they were brought in from the bus, they went to the showers were given their kit and made to walk from one end of the prison to the other naked. Hence naked as a j-bird – or jaybird."

Ugly, but maybe true (or may be true). And what if you were naked as a jaybird watching it rain cats and dogs?

Lance 10:40 AM  

Best I could come up with is “realize your music has ended”. Discover disc over

Whatsername 10:43 AM  

Loved it! I was smiling the entire time. Just a lot of fun, the perfect difficulty level and perfect theme level, really well done. Not every theme is an aid to the solve, but this one was which gives it extra points in my book. And gold stars for originality in coming up with these clever theme answers. My favorite Wednesday in a long time. Thank you Nathan, Andy and the rest of the JASA class. Hope to see more like this.

NOTE: Be sure to wear your BRIEFS and BRA when visiting the FORUM lest someone NAB your toga and you’re caught naked as a JAYBIRD.

Lance 10:46 AM  

Or “beside the dessert chef”. Flanking flan king

Nancy 10:53 AM  

@Unknown from very late yesterday -- You can go to Jeff Chen at for an in-depth and well-written analysis of the NYT puzzle. It will explain anything you don't understand, provide any answers you couldn't get on your own, and give you a pleasant and well-reasoned critique of what he thinks works and doesn't work and why.

You can also continue to stay right here on this blog, reading it for the commentariat, and skipping Rex as I have for several years now. After all, "reading Rex is not the price of admission to the Rexblog," mused Tom absently.

Anonymous 11:00 AM  

@Lance, You're pretty good at this.

webwinger 11:09 AM  

All four themers made me groan, then smile broadly—I’ll take it! The “nanu-nanu”—or “mahi-mahi” or whatever you call this kind of expression—structure made the solve considerably easier, with time somewhat less than Wednesday average despite some challenging clues. Can’t recall having seen a weekday puzzle with four 16-letter answers before. Fill was not bad, not bad at all…

I pretty much agree with @RP’s favorable assessment today. OFL seems generally to go easy on puzzles from the JASA group, but I’m fine with that.

Crimson Devil 11:10 AM  

Was gonna tweak Lewis re bball powerhouse, and cheerleading, but Janis scooped. Speakin of nekkid, did we ever learn what Ms Smith’s nekkid vinegar-totin neighbor was up to? If so, I missed. Yes, T/cadet bone-spurs hasn’t consumed MREs, but has AGs,IGs, et alia.

Tom R 11:16 AM  

In contrast to yesterday's theme, all I can say is Ugh (Tom muttered darkly) No smiles and no joy.

Barbara S. 11:16 AM  

@Lorelei Lee 10:30
Well, Friday's puzzle would have me exclaim "JINX!" But that's not the word I used as a young'un when I said (or did) the same thing as someone else. I said "SNAP!" Which is much brighter, friendlier and leaves out all cursed-until-the-end-of-time connotations. So, SNAP!

Newboy 11:28 AM  

Nice puzzle 👍🏼

@Nancy (10;53) an obvious solution I had never considered......hummm.

trebore 11:35 AM  

This was an easy one for me-under 10 mins, although I don't usually time myself. We were watching PBS NewsHour and I was finished before the first news segment was starting. Seemed like a Mon/Tue level. All four long gag answers fell easily and quickly; after that, easy fill. One fast solve out of many slow ones.

Ron 11:37 AM  

I had a surprising amount of trouble with the theme, because I got the top and bottom first. I thought that homonyms was partn of it, and just couldn't put together the ones where the sound changes for way too long!

Lance 11:41 AM  

“Stretch out a Tesla scandal”

CT2Napa 11:43 AM  

@anon 09:18

I agree. SBers start your own blog

Michael Page 11:44 AM  

Not sure you can clue “Merch” as a word rather than an abbreviation, unless including “tees” counts. But for some reason Heathens Heat Hens absolutely cracked me up, favorite answer in a long time.

What? 11:45 AM  

To me, a successful crossword has a clever theme and a challenge to get to it. Check the former but way too easy to fill. I’d rather have a lousy theme (or none at all; cf. Friday and Saturday) with a challenge, else I feel it’s a waste of time. So a nice theme but not such a nice crossword.

jberg 12:16 PM  

I don't care if it was easy, it was so much fun figuring out the theme answers. Plus we get a STOAT, and the singularization of yesterday's NAB. I fell for the bicycle thing too, but then started to see ACHE from the crosses. But, like everyone else, HEATHENS HEAT HENS made me chortle. It also created a few moments of enjoyable puzzlement since I wanted "heathens eat hens," and had to figure out why it didn't work.

@Loren, it's a bit strained, but I love your avatar! You could use it in a Sunday puzzle.

BEEFEATER BEEF EATER is no good, though (@anon sometime) the meaning doesn't change. If you vary the rules a bit, you could do something with BEE FEATER.

IVF got me thinking. I was familiar with the term, but since the alternative to 'in vitro' anything is usually 'in vivo,' why the TLA? Maybe because here the alternative is called 'in utero,' but I'm not sure. (Btw, whoever asked -- docs not only don't like saying all the words, they don't like saying all the letters, either. So methicillin-resistant-staphyllococcus-aureus > MRSA > 'mersa.' Same process as SARS or, for that matter, COVID.

@chefwen, I'm going crazy trying to guess what your wrong guess was. I could imagine EwANS as a surname, but not STEwEN.

Lorelei Lee 12:18 PM  

Thanks @Barbara S! There are times when I wonder if I'm the only one who puts that much thought into something like that :D

GILL I. 12:29 PM  

TJS 9:14....Me thinks you suffer from cherophobia. To quote Bob Hope: "A sense of humor is good for you. Have you ever heard of a laughing hyena with heart burn?"

xyz 12:30 PM  

Wasn't going to post, but I'm back to opine this was a stupid little 'theme', someone tried way too hard and fell flat.

I guess it does smack of a class full of constructor-smart alecks.

Whatsername 12:32 PM  

@pabloinnh (6:59) If you’ve never heard it, there is a recording of a radio station call from a woman complaining that the local deer crossing signs are causing a traffic hazard. The jury’s still out on whether or not it’s legit, but it’s very funny.

@Barbara S (11:16) “Oh snap” is an expression I sometimes use to avoid blurting out that other four letter word that starts with an S. The nurses at my orthopedic clinic wear T-shirts with that on the back accompanied by an image of a broken bone.

egsforbreakfast 12:35 PM  

Teacher certainly sprang into action: DIDACTDIDACT
Participate in conceptualizing a new vending machine slot: COINVENTCOINVENT
Proposition about your fem. sibling: THESISTHESIS

Pamela 12:37 PM  

I’m happy for Rex that he wasn’t so grumpy today. I liked it fine, but it wasn’t nearly as much fun as yesterday.

The theme was clever and the answers weren’t obvious without a few letters at least, which was nice. The clue for HYBRID was good, took a few crosses to get, and I think the only Aha. The only one I remember, anyway, and I just finished.

Smith 12:44 PM  

@Carola 8:52
If you haven't already, check out My Brilliant Friend on Hulu. It's in Italian (sometimes Neapolitan) with English subtitles. We've learned a lot of Italian and along the way developed an understanding of why Italian-Americans use some of the words they do (mostly because they voice consonants that are unvoiced in Italian, as "compare">>"goombah"). Sorry I don't know how to make italics here.

pabloinnh 12:45 PM  


I haven't heard that one, but to me it sounds exactly like a Bob and Ray skit. Makes me think of the guy who called in to his radio station to complain about the "Save the Whales" movement, his point being that he lived in a small apartment and had no room whatsoever for a whale collection.

Masked and Anonymous 12:46 PM  

Classy theme mcguffin, JASA. U have clearly exhausted every. possible. good. theme. answer.
But M&A did come up some class clown suggestions:

* TEMPLATETEMPLATE. Kinda tough to clue, I'd grant. Maybe: {Pattern for tardy substitute teachers?}. yeah … didn't think so.

* PRIMEVALPRIMEVAL. Obvious clue would be: {Stuffy employee review, back way before electricity?}.

* ESPOUSEDESPOUSED. = {Promoted recycled Bruin dude Phil's hockey gear?}. Hafta kinda bend, with this one, a little.

* CHEAPESTCHEAPEST. = {Bargain sale nuisance that grows on you?}. Misspelt, but I really like it, otherwise. Grade it incomplete, if U must.

staff weeject pick: IVF. Debut abbreve meat. Coulda been clued {Ancient ag org.??}, if spelt IVH.
fave longish-ball nonthemer: JAYBIRD.

Thanx for gangin up on us mob-style, U talented construction gang, U.

Masked & Anonym007Us


Smith 12:48 PM  


"a yam in a necktie" 👏

Teedmn 1:00 PM  

Once I got BRIEFEST BRIE FEST, I thought this puzzle would fall quickly with so much of the theme answers gimmes but it didn't prove out. I managed to go awry in a couple of key places which held me to a slower pace than my usual Wednesday.

I was picturing the 28D rails and bitterns on the shore, and I was excitedly stirred up at 47A and my IReS for 20D had me wondering why every kiss begins with a(n) eAr?

I love 58D's HYBRID clue. It has me picturing those deer crossing signs being replace by pictures of jackalopes.

I did not know that one theory about UFOS was based on swamp gas, as per 62D. It's as good as any explanation, I guess, besides actual ETs.

This is the nicest JASA crossword I can remember. Thanks gang, and Natan and Andy!

JC66 1:04 PM  


Email me and Ill send you my Embedding Cheat Sheet.

Joe Dipinto 1:06 PM  


old timer 1:07 PM  

I really thought the puzzle was lame. Totally unsatisfying. Full of crosswordese. Inept at times (who ever paints a single NAIL?) I was, for some reason charmed by TABLA, which seems so similar to the tabor, used in the ARMY, ALSO a small drum. My only writeover: Putting in BRIEFEST BRIEFtEST before getting the gimmick and remembering IVF is a thing.

But then I loved yesterday's puzzle. To the beat of a different drummer, I march.

Just wanted to put in a word for the Tioga Gas MART (and Whoa Nellie Deli). It is a remote little place you are surprisingly likely to see if you are traveling between Reno and Southern California on Hwy 395, or if you ever cross the Sierra east of Yosemite. Seasonally closed now, but I expect they can open soon at least for outdoor dining with a lovely view of Mono Lake. Great food, great local beer on draft,and I don't know of a better hamburger anywhere. Locals call it the Mobil MART, because it sells that brand of gas. And it is amazing how often we have relied on it, driving from Sonoma County to visit our daughter and her family in Bishop.

So, MART is used as a standalone noun sometimes.

egsforbreakfast 1:21 PM  

Where does Don Adams shop? Gets Mart.

chefwen 1:32 PM  

@jberg - It was my last empty square so I was grasping at straws I threw down a G thinking EGANS could be a last name and with a name like CHU no telling what the first name could be. Obviously I didn’t think it through.

@pabloinnh - We have NENE crossing signs here.

Aketi 1:35 PM  

The JAY wears no clothes, but the BIRD has a BIB and BRIEF on top and a SARI intersecting it’s middle.

burtonkd 2:02 PM  

The Moose Crossing signs in Quebec are very ominous. Mythbusters did an episode on whether you should speed up to attempt to undercut the moose if you knew you couldn't avoid it. Answer a definitive NO.

@Barbara - "Oh Snap" is what students in Harlem would say (90s) if someone dissed someone else cleverly. Like a good "yo mama joke". Coincidently, one of my favorites is Your mama is so fat that Thanos had to snap twice to make her disappear. (sorry to high % here that detest comic book movies).

ASUSUAL jammed together looks interesting. Almost a palindrome

Greg 2:25 PM  

Interesting that Rex found this one enjoyable,and I was saying, "Ugh" and rolling my eyes most of the time. Yes, clever theme, I suppose. But once you figured out half of a theme answer, you could simply fill in the other half. That made the whole puzzle too easy for a Wednesday, imo. As someone else has already stated, I like a little pushback on a Wednesday. I don't usually enjoy Thursdays all that much, so I guess i'll just be waiting for Friday again this week.

KnittyContessa 2:30 PM  

So much fun! Today's word play and yesterday's Swifties are making for one heck of a week. Fingers crossed for tomorrow!

@chefwen I guessed at 32D/39A too.

pabloinnh 2:36 PM  


I believe you. I bet Bob has ANOA crossing signs.

Carola 2:58 PM  

@Smith 12:44 - Thank you for that recommendation!

RooMonster 3:18 PM  

Late - but,
My first post @9:22 should've said "And it was consistent 8 worder, 4-4 worders." Plus, my first paragraph made no sense to me as I reread it!

I meant the themers were consistent in the 8-4-4 way, none were 4-4-8. Clarifying for myself! 😎

@Bee Haters (well, @Not Wanting Bee Discussions Here People)
I'd like to start my own Bee Blog, but don't know how. Suggestions? Or those of us who participate in the Bee, maybe one of you can?

Some nice Alt-themers from @Lance in a few different posts.

RooMonster Can't Think Of A Funny Alt-theme Guy

webwinger 4:18 PM  

@Lance, @LMS, et alia: A lot harder to create this kind of wordplay than yesterday’s Swifties. Good efforts!

Hey, I don’t like to do the bees… (Picturing John Belushi in a hilarious early SNL sketch featuring the recurring “killer bees” set-up)—but I’d say SB is harmless enough to be allowed in the door here. I recommend prefacing comments with the words “SB Alert”—like for spoilers—so those of us who don’t care to read will know to skip.

On the home entertainment front, our latest film forays have been into the old Hollywood (1930s and 40s) domains of film noir and screwball comedy, with particular attention to the work of Ida Lupino: Very engaging and impressive as an actress in On Dangerous Ground (classic noir, directed by Nicholas Ray, an obvious inspiration for the French New Wave, particularly Truffaut’s Shoot the Piano Player) and One Rainy Afternoon (a lesser known but delightful screwball). Lupino also was one of very few women to succeed as a director in the studio system, putting out a number of excellent dramas (on some of which she also got writing and producing credit) in the early 1950s, notably Outrage, a story about rape that feels amazingly contemporary.

Tim Aurthur 4:27 PM  

MART is an old stand-alone word, from the Dutch word for market. The OED has quotes going back to the 15th century.

syracusesolver 4:57 PM  

A fun, smooth puzzle. Put me in the group who likes a theme that assists with the solve. That makes me feel like I’m participating, not just working around the edges.

Two of my favorite re-parsings (not original):


and phonetically


TJS 5:01 PM  

@GILL.I, Sense of humor? Where could a sense of humor be employed in completing this puzzle? "Heathens heat hens", Flagrant flag rant" ? Not exactly a laugh riot to me. But I will admit that, had I read Rex before commenting, I would have changed the tone of my response. No intention of beating up on "A Jewish Association for Services of the Aged". Last time I went straight to the comments I inadvertantly ended up dissing one of my favorite commenters, so I am giving it up unless I have a rave review.

Barbara S. 5:22 PM  

@whatsername 12:32
@burtonkd 2:02
Thanks for the alternate takes on "Snap." I enjoyed them both.

Love the wit. But, just to be literal for a moment, how does Thanos make people disappear by snapping? I need to know.

I guess it's obvious that the use of "Snap" in my circle is the from the card game. SNAP

Masked and Anonymous 5:27 PM  

M&A accidentally left a "with" out of a sentence, early on in his first message. Not my fault, tho. I blame the WHO, the Obama administration, votin by mail, and the Fake News. And hydroxy side effects.

OK, I've got a couple more early JASA class crossword project theme rejects:

* SERENESTSERENEST = {Calmer-than snot but dry spring construction?}.

* SLOPITCHSLOPITCH = {Ballplayer's rash caused from sliding through questionable loose piles?}. This might not be totally original, I'd grant. I blame the deep state.

* BRANDISHBRANDISH = {Wave the cereal bowl menacingly?}.


Z 5:30 PM  

I can’t imagine anything I’d like less than the spelling bee. Ooh, letters make words. Still, others clearly enjoy it and when I see “SB” i just skip ahead. Seriously, you’re bothered because people comment on stuff they enjoy? Yeah Yeah, off topic. But it is a puzzle in the NYT, and the commentariat has wandered farther afield than that.

Pro Tip: You are allowed to skip topics you aren’t interested in and not read people whose insights you find less than edifying.

@TJS 5:01 - Just glad it was you and not me. 😇

Tim Aurthur 5:47 PM  

@syracusesolver, BIDEN: BYE DON is reminiscent of the slogan from 1968: NIX ON NIXON.

Z 5:50 PM  

Oops, forgot why I was originally going to post...

@Barbara S and @Lorelei Lee - I found this explanation of naked as a JAYBIRD in several places. Bottom line, nobody has any idea why one would be naked as a bird, but it doesn’t seem to be related to “jailbird” (which MW says was first used in 1603, so it seems bird slang has quite a history (and flipping the bird may go back as far as 423 BC)) Now where did I leave my scarlet tanager?

Anonymous 6:04 PM  

When I lived in NYC, I saw a t-shirt that said "Dyslexics of the world untie!".

Whatsername 6:29 PM  

@webwingwer: Great suggestion re the Spelling Bee debate.

@M & A: SLOPITCH SLOPITCH = priceless!!

Barbara S. 6:35 PM  

Fascinating. I love doing deep dives into the origins of words and expressions. Sometimes one bumps into a dead end but even the speculation is worthwhile. I'm very glad we've collectively gone with "naked as a jaybird" over "naked as a worm"!

burtonkd 6:47 PM  

For those wanting MORE discussion of Spelling Bee, on the NYTimes Xword page, there is daily commenting including hints and grids letting you know exactly how many words of what length you need to get to Queen Bee. When you reply, it creates a subcategory so you can find all the SB or skip all the SB easily. Here is today's comments page:

@Barbara - Thanos is the villain in Avengers Infinity Wars. His goal is to make the universe more ecologically balanced by wiping out half of all life forms. By gathering all the "infinity stones" into a glove he amasses the power to do this with a snap of his fingers. Glad you enjoyed my previous comments, as did I yours:)

GILL I. 7:16 PM  

@TJS 5:01...Except MUSTACHE MUST ACHE conjures an image of Salvador Dali getting a bunch of BRIE stuck in his oiled handlebars. But that's just me, I guess.
We all have our "funny bone" kickboxing sessions and in this day and age, something as small as a crossword puzzle that can put a silly little smile on a scrunched face is a welcome. N'est-ce-Pas?

Anoa Bob 9:16 PM  

I quit this puzz late last night when the MUSTACHE thingy showed up. I've had a MUSTACHE for most of the last fifty years. To think that a MUSTACHE would or could ACHE is beyond silly to me. It's nonsensical. Yeah, the word does break down into two smaller words, but so what? The two smaller words have zero in common with the single word. It looks almost like word salad to me.

And in what universe do HEATHENS HEAT HENS? Are HEATHENS an identifiable group of people? And why would anyone want to HEAT HENS? Cook chicken, sure, but HEAT HENS? Just ain't working for me.

I have to say, however, with so many of you smart cookies out there in commentariat land really liking this puzzle, it's probably my tendency to be literal and overthink things that spoiled it for me. Sometimes kicking the old cognitive gear box into neutral might help me appreciate the type of humor in yesterday and today's puzzles. Oh, and Pig Latin, too.

Anybody here ever eat YAMS as a Thanksgiving side? Not moi. Sweet potatoes, yes, but I don't think I've ever eaten any YAMS.

@pabloinnh, no ANOA CROSSING signs are necessary because they are smart enough not to jump out in front of oncoming vehicles. In fact, the ANOA is known as the bovine Einstein.

I need another beer.

Unknown 9:53 PM  

Liked the theme, but I struggled a lot with the center top bit. Never heard of the phrase "naked as a JAYBIRD", nor bibb lettuce. And I also questioned ARTY, as I've always heard *artsy*.

Burma Shave 10:48 AM  




rondo 11:08 AM  

Anticipatory request from JAYBIRD June Cleaver: DOWNWARD DOWN WARD! Well, enough of that. ASUSUAL these folks do a pretty good job. Apparently ANA de Armas will be a Bond girl in the yet to be released film. Yeah BAY BAY. No RANT from me.

spacecraft 11:45 AM  

Easy once you get going. After the hiccup of AGAME, I found little to grouse about, so good there. Agree that the first themer sounds too much alike, but otherwise solid. The kids (?) learn well. I like playing with the language like that. Linda EVANS (remember Buck Rogers in the 25th Century?) is DOD. Wonder why he never HITON her.

[Birdiebirdiebirdiebirdie] Thanks, Buck.

Diana, LIW 1:13 PM  

Oh - oh. I get it. I get it.

Do you? ( you?)

Diana, Lady-in-Waiting for the Echo echo echo echo echo

leftcoaster 4:05 PM  

Got tangled up and hemmed in in the middle.

Couldn't see how HEATing HENS would make sense in a newspaper or magazine headline whether heated by HEATHENS or not.

Otherwise liked it.

Anonymous 4:33 PM  

Tabla was not to be found in either of my big, fat crossword dictionaries. A new one for me, as is tabor. Two for the price of one...

David RANA 12:05 PM  

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