Childcare expert LeShan / SUN 9-20-20 / Jazz composer Beiderbecke / Yellow variety of quartz / 14th-century king of Aragon / Unpopular legislation of 1773 / Internet meme with grammatically incorrect captions / Philosopher who tutored Nero / Tokyo before it was Tokyo / Game in which each player starts with score of 501 / Norse troublemaker

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Constructor: Sam Trabucco

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (mid-11s)

THEME: "Word Ladders" — the words in the word ladder (succession of four-letter answers where one letter is changed with each iteration) are actually "ladders," in the sense that they act as paths along which a couple of Across answers drop or rise three levels respectively:

Theme answers:
Word of the Day: LESTOIL (99A: Clorox cleanser) —

Lestoil is a registered trade name of Clorox for a heavy-duty multipurpose cleanser product, used to remove extremely difficult laundry stains, dissolve water-based and oil-based paints, and clean grease, oil, paint, and adhesives from floors and surfaces.

It was introduced as a dry cleaning fluid for laundry in 1933. (wikipedia)

• • •

Not sure how to describe my feelings here. As an architectural feat, it's pretty impressive. Takes the (awful, shopworn) theme concept of the word ladder (which here goes from RISE to FALL) and soups it up by making the rungs of the "ladder" into actual ladders by which themers "rise" and "fall" (three rows in either direction). Conceptually it is tight and interesting. And yet I found solving it tedious. Once I got the gist of the theme, I just had to remember that there was going to be rising and falling, so nothing interesting really happened except the fussiness of keeping the rising and falling straight, and then, further, there was so much jarring fill that it just ate into any of the whimsical pleasure the theme might have provided. LESTOIL ... ??? ... never heard of it. Never seen it. Hasn't appeared in the NYTXW since I started blogging (fourteen years ago this week!). CITRINE? (71A: Yellow variety of quartz) I'm sure it is what the puzzle says it is, but again, I got the answer and just had no way of knowing if what I had was right (though CITRINE at least sounded plausible—LESTOIL looked wrong as hell). And what year is "I Love It" even from? You could've at least included that in the clue, because ICONA (!?!?!?!), yeeow, no (36D: "I Love It" duo ___ Pop). One hit, eight years ago. I mean, even if ICONA Pop were somehow ABBA-famous, ICONA on its own is never, ever, ever gonna be good fill. There's also lots of crosswordesey stuff that made me make faces (PETERIV ATEIN USRDA ADREP EDO ETTU NEE EES (ugh) CINES EDA NOE LGS AOL ESAU ELL ESO ETC. etc.). So I acknowledge the architectural feat, but as frequently happens with architectural feats, the payoff at the level of solving pleasure just wasn't there. Maybe if the fill had been stronger, the thematic workmanship could've carried the day, I don't know.

Really hate the idea that asterisks are somehow stars. Also *, *** and ***** are not MIXED REVIEWS (66D. Each is its own review. REVIEWS, maybe, maybe, but you'd need something like "collectively" to make this clue work, though even then it wouldn't work because, as I say, an asterisk is not a star. I read Jane Eyre but not in school so wow I really missed the fact that fire is somehow a MOTIF. Not among the first five or ten things I think of when I think of Jane Eyre but OK. Is LOLCAT still a thing? (105D: Internet meme with grammatically incorrect captions). Is BRODATE? (43A: Occasion for male bonding, in modern lingo). If it's a thing, it's an awful thing. "Modern lingo," my eye. Stop bro-ing everything. The NYTXW is enough of a brofest as it is. It's a date. Just say "date." Also not a thing, for future reference: MANCRUSH. Like, you have a crush on a dude. Accept it. Embrace it. It's a CRUSH. It's OK. You can still be straight or whatever. Yeesh. Twice today I had to wait for the cross to see what gender some word was gonna be—never fun. So it was CARA not CARO, and OTRO not OTRA. I think my favorite part of the puzzle was actually "I CALL DIBS!" (123A: "That one's mine!") though again, I do acknowledge that the theme is thoughtful and reasonably well executed. Just not as fun to solve as I'd like. OK bye.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Will 12:01 AM  

This puzzle had Allen Iverson in it, and I love it for that.

Frantic Sloth 12:02 AM  

Well, once the eyes stopped being all googly from all the gridobatics (seriously, it’s like they were literally spinning in my head) and I could revel in the display of my utter brilliance, I decided I like this one.

Clearly an over-achievement of constructioneering, but not at the cost of an enjoyable solve. I liked ferreting out the criss-crossy/up-downy/right…rightyness of it all. Having weasels in my ancestry helped.

I’d be curious to see what would have happened without benefit of the circles – especially if the “ladder” words weren’t clued as such. With no connection to the theme, that would create a whole nuther level of difficulty – especially without the circles. Hmmm.

Idle ponderment: When did circles start showing up in the NYTXW anyway?

Second day in a row our ROO makes an appearance and he’s being ordered to go eat his dessert: ROO TO FLAN!

Or is it ROOT OF LAN? Sounds tech-ISH to me.

Is it a flaw that STERON, FORTHEPIC, and MOLING could all be real stan-alone answers themselves? They’d be ridiculous answers, perhaps even stupid answers, but who’s counting?

JUDYTENUTA was briefly one of my favorites back in the 80s. Not sure it ages that well, but I submit a link for anyone who might be interested. Still some good stuff.

Overall, a MIXEDREVIEW, as usual, but pretty short on dreck and long on entertainment.

Ten minutes of Judy

๐Ÿง ๐Ÿง ๐Ÿง 

Joaquin 12:02 AM  

I was so happy to see BIX Beiderbecke’s name in the puzzle. He and I are very close friends.

Oh, wait … I may be thinking of somebody else. Never mind.

Harryp 12:16 AM  

It took a while to see that the word ladders were in pairs,so the crosses didn't seem to make sense, but I managed to finish in just 2 minutes over my Sunday average, so Medium Challenging. This is what I like, low PPP, with only about a half dozen proper names, none of them crossing. The NOE Valley slowed me down since I had 71A CITRItE, but managed to correct it.

Anonymous 12:30 AM  

You are just not old enough. Lestoil was as popular a brand name as Clorox in, say, 1965.

bocamp 12:35 AM  

Thanks, @ Sam, nice challenge! :)

Sunday's are always somewhat difficult for me; so many places to trip up. No part of the country in particular to cause major problems, just little things that add up and take time to get into place. Slightly over ave. time today. Good workout! :)

Once was the "sponsorship committee" for our Little League. Working with the sponsors to decide what "logos" to put on the caps was always rewarding.

Spent one night (Christmas eve.) in "Italia" on the way back to the States from Afghanistan. Listened to the Pope on the hotel radio. Didn't understand much, but it was exciting, nevertheless.

Tried to read "Moby Dick" a few years ago, but after a few chapters, ran out of steam. Another attempt last year produced better results (it was an audiobook) (always listen in 2x speed).

Some really fine "clam chowder" on the Oregon and Washington coasts. Had a Pet Milk route in 1967, so got down to the beach frequently. The Bee Hive Restaurant in Montesano is the place to go.

The Ransom of Red Chief

Pace ๐Ÿ•Š

Werdna 12:49 AM  

I loved it and at 24:12 it has to be my personal best Sunday time.

okanaganer 12:53 AM  

What Rex said. Everything. The only decent BRO answer I can think of is BROMANCE.

i hate word ladders, so I almost didn't bother doing this. But then the meta part of the theme was a welcome twist.

Oddly, afterward I admired the gnarled wreckage that was the across slots at the top and bottom of the ladders. SUPRABLE: potentially great? UNDEPARTY: PJ party except underwear. FRUITFYING: gaying it up. ROOT OF LAN: hacker's aim. MOLING: crawling around a field with a big mallet hunting those annoying critters. Something to do when you're tired of cow tipping.

PS... TV alert: right now on CTV (Canada) is a movie called Crossword Mysteries. Looks pretty lame but, I can't lie, I gotta go watch...

Bruce Fieggen 12:54 AM  

Chillax Rex. The constructor said he wanted this puzzle to be relatable to younger solvers.

Ken Freeland 1:04 AM  

Agree with Rex here.. a cleanly executed theme but some problems in the fill. Here's a golden rule for constructors to live by: never cross one obscure PPP clue with another. Scientific studies demonstrate that this eliminates 99% of all naticks!

Joe Dipinto 1:28 AM  

Who can forget Yul Brynner bellowing "Et ceteraah, et ceteraah, et ceteraah!"? And it's reduced to the abbreviation (without even indicating as much)??? You must be kidding me.

I enjoyed doing this puzzle a lot. The word ladder was helpful to the overall solve – I was able to determine both RISE and FILL without having any crosses in place, giving me an in to complete those areas. It went pretty smoothly, though I did have some writeovers, ILLEGAL/ILLICIT and ONELEG/PEGLEG being two.

I don't think I've cared for everything by this constructor in the past, but this was pretty impressive, imo. A more imaginative title for it would have been nice.

They must have googled Bix Beiderbecke to get the 126d clue, since the header on the results page reads "American composer". He was far more influential as a cornetist, with a somewhat unusual style of playing for his era. But he did also play piano, and wrote one tune that became popular within jazz circles. Here he is at the keys with "In A Mist".

egsforbreakfast 1:29 AM  

Personally, I’d take this prodigious feat of construction over a smooth, no-drek themeless seven times per week. The fact that it can be made to work, and a moderately savvy solver can work it, makes the whole thing pretty thrilling, and I thank and congratulate Mr. Trabucco. One of my favorite unintentional results of this construction is that all of the themers, read without the ladders, seem achingly close to meaning something, like Pinocchio wanting to be a real boy:


I can almost hear the sleazy histrionics peeking out from that narrative.

Loved the puzzle.

Joaquin 1:57 AM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
Photomatte 2:28 AM  

If anyone else solves the puzzle on the app, did you notice the error in today's Sunday Mini puzzle? The clue for 3 Down is "word repeated twice before Broadway" and the answer is OFF. Everyone knows the expression "Off Off Broadway." However, in that expression, the word Off is only repeated once. It's SAID twice, but it's only repeated once. Or am I crazy and there's an expression that goes "Off Off Off Broadway?"

Colin 2:41 AM  

Happen to be up at this "wee small hour"... I wondered, "Didn't we do something like this a few weeks ago?" - but it turns out to be more clever. I appreciate that our constructor is trying to include more modern answers, although I as an old(er) fogey found it that much more challenging. (LOLCAT, for example, was new to me.)

Thanks Sam for this NYT Sunday, and please do stay safe in ้ฆ™ๆธฏ.

jae 2:46 AM  

Medium. My kind of Sunday. Some clever trickiness with just enough push back to make it interesting. Fun puzzle, liked it.

CITRINE and ICONA were my only WOES. The fact that I knew TENUTA @Frantic is age related.

Graham 3:14 AM  

AGOG is not frenzied. AMOK is frenzied. AGOG is eager, excited to see something that’s about to happen. Terrible editing.

chefwen 3:24 AM  

Loved it. Took me ages to finish, but enjoyed the journey. Got the ladder down with RISE and couldn’t FOR THE LIFE OF ME figure where the PARTY was going to be. Finally, UNDESIRABLE showed up and I was off to figure all the rest. Across down across, across up across, OK I get it, now just remember it. Phew!

Can’t remember the last time I had this much fun on a Sunday.

Z 5:58 AM  

I liked the word ladder conceit, but oof, the fill. 21x21 grids are sloggy to begin with, but PETER IV, LESTOIL, a BIX who died {checks notes} before the late RBG was born. Oof. Even the fresh fill has gone stale. LOLCATs were already tired and trite when ALLEN IVERSON retired 9 years ago. That’s better than thinking 1996 is current, but, oof, time flies and memes have a short shelf life, and a decade is a long time ago. And then CITRINE and a RRN that you need for a theme answer. Oof.

@Graham - Merriam-Webster has a definition, the third definition, that could be stretched to mean “frenzied,” but I’m with you.

@Photomatte - You are crazy, but because you want English to be logical. “Repeat twice” and “repeat” can mean the exact same thing. No, that doesn’t make logical sense, but it’s true.

@Bruce Fieggen - ๐Ÿ˜‚๐Ÿ˜‚๐Ÿ˜‚๐Ÿ˜‚๐Ÿ˜‚

Lewis 6:01 AM  

Seismic aha for me, biggest in quite a while. When I discovered that the ladder went BOTH WAYS I let out a huge “hah!” followed by a “how the heck did he DO that?”. Then when I saw that the circled letters actually made a word ladder, that went from RISE to FALL – RISE to FALL, for heaven’s sake, like what the strings of letters did through the circles!!! -- it was all over. I was a pile of mush.

This was a puzzle that showed off Sam’s cleverness and ability, yes, but, it was not a showoff puzzle, because the theme helped with the solve, and discovering the theme packed such a satisfying punch. Show off puzzles have little joy for the solver, but this, IMO, was a solver’s gem, a joyride.

Then there was [Certain sneak] for NIKE, and [Uses a modern engine] for GOOGLE for extra measure.

Sam, I’ve always dug your creativity and spark, and am so happy to be bathed in it once more. Thank you for the work you put into this. It sure paid off for me!

Chaspark 6:07 AM  

Pls explain GROK. Thanks

sf27shirley 6:17 AM  


Tom St Paul 6:25 AM  

Thought of the Lestoil jingle right away.
Enjoyed this puzzle a lot despite the dnf.

Arden 7:11 AM  

Impressive! And I am old enough to remember Lestoil. Even now, the commercial jingle is running through my head: less toil with Lestoil

Matthew B 7:20 AM  

I still remember the jingle.

ChuckD 7:31 AM  

Liked this more than Rex I guess - his take was a little vague. The constructor’s chops are evident here - but trickery was enjoyable and the overall solve pretty clean. All the themers were solid and I liked the long downs especially IVERSON x SENECA, GREEN HORN and COIN FLIPPER. Agree with many above that the short gluey stuff wasn’t great - but there’s a lot of fill to account for - I’ll deal with it.

Time to go surfing.

PGregory Springer 7:37 AM  

"It's so easy when you use Lestoil." Still have the jingle in my brain because I'm old, I guess.

mmorgan 7:44 AM  

LESTOIL was a gimme — “It’s so easy when you use Lestoil!”

Awesome construction, okay puzzle.

Small Town Blogger 7:46 AM  

Me too! “it’s so easy when you use Lestoil”!

Anonymous 7:57 AM  

God, Rex, enough with the “I’ve-never-heard-of-it-so-it’s-a-terrible-answer.” LESTOIL is still around - it’s one of the few commercial cleaning products that my spouse allows in the house and actually uses. The fact that you don’t know it doesn’t make the answer either illegitimate or bad fill.

On another subject - BRODATE. I hate all of the BRO- words as well. I always thought they were meant to show that the activity described had no romantic content but was just guys doing stuff together. Thus, if two men were “dating”, they were trying to decide whether they wanted to get into a relationship. If they were “brodating”, they were just spending a lot of time together. I thought the BRO- words come with the connotation that whoever is engaging in the activity isn’t gay, a distinction that should not matter.

— Jim C. in Maine

Carola 8:04 AM  

Here I was admiring how Sam Trabucco transformed the traditional word ladder theme, using words as actual ladders that actually worked both ways, only to come here and discover that he'd also made an old-fashioned word ladder of the letter-substitution variety. So, I've gone from admiration to agog. I caught on to the up-and-down ladders early, making the rest of the theme answers easy to get, but no less enjoyable. I especially liked the comfort-food sound of MOLLIFYING FRUIT FILLING.

For those solvers unacquainted with LESTOIL - consider yourselves lucky, because its indelible jingle would be taking up brain space that could be much better used, for anything from Shakespeare quotes to where your car keys are.

Unknown 8:10 AM  

Review stars are pretty commonly rendered as asterisks. That clue works.

pmdm 8:18 AM  

Very unusual that today's write up mostly expresses my general reaction to today's puzzle. I got the traveling down the ladder fairly quickly, but irritatingly I never picked up on traveling up the ladder. So I was left with a number of entries which I used the downs to fill in without understanding the respective across entries at all. I should have given it a little more thought.

Those who are around my age should certainly remember all the many Lestoil commercials. This entry demonstrates for me how PPP and trivia can fall into the categories of good, bad, and evil. And yes, Sam's puzzle seem to me to always cram in a number of entries relevant to sexual topics that might rise the eyebrows of some. There is a fine line with being topical and groundbreaking with being egotistically self-referential and tedious. I not sure about Sam's puzzle except that I don't find Sam's puzzles that compelling. But I would not deny what others respond positively to. I'll just grin (or grimace) and bear it.

By the way, a good number of years ago the radio station WKCR began playing 24 hour tributes each year to 12 selected jazz greats on the anniversary date of their birth. What was planned to originally occur every month wound up occurring 12 times a year. One of the chosen 12 was Mr. Bix whose recordings don't even add up to 24 hours worth. The scarcity of his recordings hardly results in his name being greatly well known. Some might use this entry as an example of what's wrong with the editing of the NYT puzzles. Today, I would just shrug my shoulders because the theme creates so many demands on the constructor. To me, the theme was better than most of the Sunday themes. The puzzle, in general, did not seem to affect me the same way.

Z 8:28 AM  

@Jim C - Target doesn’t carry LESTOIL while my local old-timey hardware store/tourist trap does. So it is still around and incredibly dated/gawdawful fill. Both can be true. In a a puzzle where the constructor, apparently unironically, expressed a desire to appeal to young solvers LESTOIL screams mid-20th century. As for all things BRO-, you get closer to my problem with the terms than Rex does. That is, the vaguely homophobic nature of BROness.

@Chuck D - but there’s a lot of fill to account for - Yep. This is why I have a hard time ever truly loving a 21x21 grid. It’s is just hard to have twice as much puzzle and not get weighed down by dreck.

@Chaspark - Read Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein for an explanation. Or just accept that the clue is an approximation of the meaning.

@pmdm - Your last couple of sentences.- ๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿฝ๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿฝ๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿฝ
I haven’t (and won’t) checked, but this seems like the greatest chasm between quality of the conceit and the quality of the rest of the puzzle. The constructor points out that the nature of the word ladder put added pressure on the grid, but he doesn’t really acknowledge how bad some of it is. I wonder if collaborating might have helped, a fresh set of eyes to help strategize around some of the dreck.

EdFromHackensack 8:41 AM  

This is a Hall of Fame puzzle. Congratulations to the constructor.... really amazing. I am surprised so many people got hung up on LESTOIL. They still sell it, I even used it the other day on my floors. You all must have cleaning ladies. Once I discovered the trick it was smooth sailing. For the cliffhanger clue I had staGES before HEDGES so that slowed me down a tad. This is the kind of puzzle we live for. thanks

Mark 8:44 AM  

FWIW, the MIXEDREVIEWS stars were shown as stars (not asterisks) in the print puzzle.

JD 8:54 AM  

I DNF but I think it's an extraordinary puzzle. Wish I'd enjoyed it more. Lotsa good stuff in there.

@Frantic from yesterday, staff are compiling the data. May take a while. Accepted a job offer. Have to get on a plane tomorrow (eh, yike). Maybe shop for a mask this afternoon that complements my outfit. Started January with a cracked knee and couldn't drive for 7 weeks, followed by pandemic limited mobility and job destruction. 2020. Springsteen, "There's a joke here somewhere and it's on me."

TTrimble 9:02 AM  

Found this puzzle pretty brutal -- rather slow-going, despite knowing about LESTOIL (that's not still sold?) and CITRINE and ICONA, oh, and TENUTA too -- until I discerned what those ladders were doing, and then I picked up speed markedly. Until I got to the very end, where I foundered on AGOG. Like @Graham, I thought AMOK obviously, and then could not make it work down there. So it wound up being a DNF. (Obviously UNAGI wasn't planted firmly enough in my brain to displace UNAmI. "This unami has a pleasant umami.")

And like Graham, I call bullshit. (Well, he was too polite to use that word. I'm not.) When an answer is clued that way, it makes me feel I'm being gaslighted, as if the universe is telling me I never really knew what AGOG meant. And don't cite me any Slue's rule here or some such. I looked it up to make sure I wasn't going crazy. Admit it. It's a rotten and misleading clue. There.

(Sorry, I wish I could emulate @Lewis's cheerfulness sometimes. Or even simulate it. Actually, I think I'm a lot more mellow than I used to be, and I expect generally for that to continue. But we'll see what happens over the next, oh, say four years.)

(Another total aside: when I looked at the puzzle again and saw LOOK ALIVE cross "evil", I suddenly thought, "Evil! With Kathy and Ryan". Actually, I think they dropped the exclamation point in Live! a long time ago -- that was the Regis and Kathy Lee era. Never watched the show, though. I swear to God.)

To Rex I would say that those asterisks which are meant to be stars (c'mon NYT: you can't make actual stars? I'm reading the online puzzle if it makes any difference) -- as a collection, they form a collection of MIXED REVIEWS.

On to the SB. Peace, Eintracht,... Godspeed.

SouthsideJohnny 9:04 AM  

Rex chose exactly the right word to describe the solving experience - tedious. I did grok the theme, which was kind of a cute “aha”, however I just couldn’t muster any enthusiasm for the trivia today, which really seemed way out in left field - too many foreign words, foreign places, the always annoying 14th century king (or pope or emperor or tsar or saint . . . ). Then there is ARI, BIX, TATI, HUANG, OPI, TENUTA . . . I understand that they are real people or things, but who cares . . . definitely a slogfest today, which is too bad, it would have been a stellar theme and fun to solve if the rest of it were crisp and clean. Call this one a big swing and a miss (or maybe a foul ball into the seats). An ambitious effort that fell short.

pmdm 9:06 AM  

Z: Given the difficulty of the problem, your suggestion might not have worked out. But it certainly would have been worth a try. At least it probably would not have made things worse.

Unknown 9:06 AM  

Another tedious mess. I'm sure this was fun for the constructor, but for the solver it was just a slog. But hey, Mr. Trabucco, I'm sure you thought you were trรจs clever putting this together.

Pamela 9:08 AM  

I was stymied by the theme all the way down to FRUIT. Finally there were enough crosses to give me FILL, ING followed, and Aha- I was bathed in the warm glow of illumination. Even with elusive and far-retched fill, the theme was such a delight all else was forgiven.

@Frantic- I didn’t know Judy Tenuta- she’s hilarious! Thanks!

*****SB ALERT*******
It’s a real quickie today, QB in the first go-round. Nice after yesterday’s slog.

William of Ockham 9:11 AM  

The little odd bits of this and that were all over the map

as with most 21x21, I'm glad it's over

John H 9:13 AM  

Fun and impressive as well. Nits: a rune is a single character, not a text in and of itself (20A); a jest is not a part of a banter (23A). And yes, it wasn't that long ago that Lestoil could be found on supermarket shelves.

webwinger 9:22 AM  

This was both an amazing feat of construction—turning a tired trope into a sparkling gem of a puzzle—and a fun solve. Finished in just a minute under average Sunday time, without help from Google.

Last square to FILL was the cross of 117A and 105D, the two worst entries in the whole grid IMO. Even after getting the happy tune with a random guess, it took a minute to GROK (understand informally???) ELL, and LOLCAT—well, if you say so...

Didn’t notice until I’d scanned the completed puzzle a couple of times that the word ladder went from RISE to FALL—like I said, amazing!

(Just peeked at OFL's comments—looks like we're on the same page, more or less. Still feel good when that happens.)

kitshef 9:32 AM  

Theme was clever and original, and I certainly enjoyed that aspect of it.

I must say, though that Mr. Trabucco expects us to know a lot of people I have never heard of, and never expect to hear of. EDA LeShan? Judy TENUTA? Eddie HUANG? BIX Beiderbecke? NOE Valley? OK, last one is not a person, but is a place I’ve never heard of named for a person I’ve never heard of.

Then there is ARI crossing INSTA, with MY B nearby. Utt Ridic.

Rube 9:36 AM  

Allegedly for younger solvers, but EDA leshan, MEL ott and LESTOIL are pre WWII.

Ed Rosenthal 9:37 AM  

From the novel “Stranger in a Strange Land” by Robert Heinlein. Grok is an alien phrase meaning “to understand” someone but far more deeply than our own definition.

Blue Stater 9:37 AM  

A new low.

kitshef 9:46 AM  

Sometimes I’m astonished at the lack of overlap between my wheelhouse and Rex’s. LESTOIL I know. CITRINE I know, ICONA Pop I know. And, I have never read Jane Eyre, but I know that fire is important to the novel.

@okanager 12:53 – Crossword Mysteries is now a series. Will Shortz makes frequent cameos.

Matt 9:47 AM  

But .... GROK - really?? Please, please explain! We went through EVERY letter of the alphabet to get this.

Sixthstone 9:50 AM  

Had the theme almost from the getgo, and (like most) I admire the constructor for the intricacy. But is it really a theme? The theme answers have nothing to do with each other, and they are somewhat UNDESIRABLE in their own right. STERILEGLOVE? I mean, ROOTOFALLEVIL and SURPRISEPARTY are pretty good. The rest? Meh. Add weak fill and the result is a joyless and somewhat easy exercise.

Richardf8 9:50 AM  

Off off Broadway is absolutely a thing. Usually refers to plays produced in weird little obscure theaters no one bothers to go to unless they know someone in the production. Once saw an off off broadway production of Waiting For Godot in some basement theater in TriBeCa that thought itself very avant-garde. I went because I was invited by someone who knew someone in the production.

Nancy 9:56 AM  

A clever, challenging theme surrounded by large pockets of sheer awfulness. All those abbrevs. All those names. All that showing off of teensy tiny bits of knowledge that the constructor probably needed to GOOGLE himself in order to know. An option not available to those of us who don't and won't cheat.

It's hard to know if the complicated structure, which must have been so hard to pull off, is what made some of the more awful fill necessary. Because, when a constructor says that "one of his top priorities" is "to make his puzzle relatable to younger solvers", you kind of think that some of what not-younger-solver-you finds to be a real WOE is deliberate and might well have been avoided. At any rate...

I figured out the trick at the very first such trick (19D) -- thus saving myself a lot of additional suffering to come. I hope all of you were wise and lucky enough to be able to do the same. Otherwise your suffering would have been even greater than mine. One wants to love a puzzle with a really clever and challenging theme. I wish I could say that I loved this one, but, alas, I didn't.

Debra 9:57 AM  

The liquid detergent as modern as today!

I’ll probably forget what I had for dinner last night before I forget that jingle....

Z 10:02 AM  

@Matt - GROK has been explained at least twice already in the comments.

GROK is another entry that screams “Mid 20th Century.” The novel was published in 1961 and Heinlein is definitely of that era. It’s just a little funny that he became a hippy-dippy icon because of that novel. Starship Trooper was also written by him. Talk about Yin Yang. Anyway, I don’t know how many young science fiction lovers are still reading Heinlein, so GROK may have an “OK Boomer” patina.

Anonymous 10:04 AM  

@Photomatte - Totally agree with your point - the clue "repeated twice" is incorrect. But just for the record, there is an obscure category in the greater New York City area known as "off-off-off Broadway" which is described as a theatrical production performed in spaces remote from Manhattan that has fewer than 100 seats :)

oliar 10:04 AM  

I gave up on this one in anger less than halfway through. Really, if you need a bunch of non-English dreck (see egsforbreakfast's comment above for the full, horrible list), you don't really have a crossword puzzle, do you? Plus I sensed the horrible quality of the fill would make for an unpleasant solve. Can we reduce the # of crossword creators from the mathematics/quant analyst professions and get more English professors, or, y'know, people who actually have respect for words and the English language, rather than creating these disgraceful grids?

Ellen 10:16 AM  

Lest oil was one I remembered once I got it filled in. Citrine is definitely a legit clue, a common semiprecious stone. I got that one immediately. So accept that sometimes things that are common to some are clueless to others. Part of the fun of solving.

Richardf8 10:19 AM  

********SB Alert *******
There were some holes in yesterday. That ticked me off. I usually gun for genius and then slack off. Too often, I throw in junk I know is wrong in case it’s an alternate spelling. It does NOT gratify me when that stuff is accepted.

Anonymous 10:22 AM  


Anonymous 10:27 AM  

Cool! Thanks. Have never known etymology of that weird word, though the sci-fi connection makes sense as I feel it largely entered more common parlance through Silicon Valley types.

RooMonster 10:29 AM  

Hey All !
We definitely need @LMS today to point out the incredible construction of this puz. I'll give it a go.
First, you have to have your Word Ladder go from RISE to FALL in five steps, and then find phrases that'll work within the confinement of those words, with both sets of themers going Both Ways! And find symmetrical phrases that make sense to fit into those Ladder words. AND And, the Ladder words are locked in, as you can't move them around because that would defeat the Word Ladderness. Holy cow!

Which is why all the "undesirable" fill for me got swept under the rug, it had to have been ridiculously tough to get some of the fill to work. All puzs have dreck, I say that alot, so look past it, and Awe on the puz for what it is.

They were lots of nice Long answers that no one is talking about. 15, 16 D, 68, 71D, and some Acrosses. They counterbalance your "ughy" fill. So says I. *Smiley face* (That for @Nancy)

I would nominate this for Best SunPuz of the Year. My wonderful memory doesn't permit me to remember them all, but this one was great!

I had most of the pz filled in, with the Ladder words blank, with maybe a letter in each one. Thought they might be Rebi at first, but finally GROKked the theme a TRAVELIRON. Had it written straight across, but knew 15D had to be IVERSON. Erased everything except for TRA, and saw that the doctors hand covering STERILE GLOVE using the Ladder, and then saw if worked the other way to get TRAVEL IRON. So went back to all the others, and got 'em in one fell swoop. Cool beans.

Plus, 100% correct! WooHoo! Got the ole Happy Tune when plugged in last letter. Doesn't get much better than that!

Nine F's! SEXY! Har

Teedmn 10:33 AM  

PFFT, I had a bunch of wrongness and that even after I got the theme (I had glimmers of the theme when I saw VANILLA filling in at 130A but I was trying to go up and then down again for the same answer and it wasn't working. VANILLA FALLEVIL is no dessert I've heard of.)

Finally, I had OF ME in at 62A, knew I had wanted the phrase, FOR THE LIFE OF ME at 78A and saw FOR THE down there and "click", got it. But I still had 2 typos and a sUnLINE for separating the dark and light of 93A, because TAsI for the director (yes, I know, he's been in many grids) and HUuNG for the chef looked fine to me.

This is a really remarkable grid and with the RISE to FALL word ladder going on also, it's just so cool. Thanks, Sam Trabucco.

Rgbruno 10:34 AM  

And Lestoil has always been a pun, “less toil”. Also, how could asterisk NOT be a star, when the word means little star and it has represented a star since prehistoric cave paintings?

Dennis Earle 10:51 AM  

Problem with this construction is that each ladder leaves a non-sensical stretch of letters. For that reason, I thinks it’s a piss-poor effort!

KnittyContessa 11:00 AM  

When I saw the title, I sighed. I like fun puns and quips on a Sunday not word ladders. Oh well. I agree with Rex, the construction is a marvel but the solving experience meh.

My biggest complaint - now I have the LESTOIL jingle for an ear worm.

Anonymous 11:01 AM  

The other word ladders are RILE, FILE and FILL, with one letter difference between each step. Quite a feat, too!

Anonymous 11:30 AM  

I loved this puzzle; nice to have a challenging Sun. as they've been getting too easy. I didn't understand for a long time that theme answers both rose and fell, but thought it quite clever once I did. Agree that "ell" clue was awful, and that "agog" is not "amok". The fire in Jane Eyre I would clue as the climax, not motif, but ok... Other than that, got a kick out of the clues for "googles" and "Nike". I don't know of any other famed person named Beiderbecke, though agree I think of him as a musician, not composer. Would think he'd be in crosswords a lot for that x in Bix. At any rate, I'm a jazz fan; I know him. I could say "how could you not know citrine? Birthstone of Nov., super common in cocktail rings". I could say, "how do you not know Judy Tenuta?". But I won't. I accept that I almost never know any sports clue (only know Mel Ott through crosswords). I'm young enough enough so that "lolcat" and "brodate" were easily get-able, while I'm too young for Leshan and Lestoil. "Grok" seems a favorite of techies; my take on it is that its usage is increasing across general vocabulary as with so much else influenced by the growing power of that sector. Part of my fun in solving crosswords is learning new things (e.g. Ott; the ubiquitous "Eleni"). I will never understand the pettiness of complaining that clues are out of one's personal wheelhouse. Don't like the rules? Don't play.

Hungry Mother 11:31 AM  

NOE Valley got me again. I grew up in the Bay Area, but I can’t get that place straight in my head. Nice theme.

Bourbon Street 11:35 AM  

Perhaps I am getting carried away here, but it looks like we had a mini-theme involving LIVES. The puzzle had FOR THE LIFE OF ME, LIVES, LOOK ALIVE, and GO LIVE. “Life” is an anagram of FILE and EVIL spelled backward is “Live”.

I thought the puzzle was clever, especially since I GROKed (is it two “K”s or one? I never read the Heinlein book) early on, so everything fell into place rather quickly. I had no idea who ICONA Pop is, but that’s a name I’ll be committing to memory as we may being seeing that duo in a future puzzle.

I CALL DIBS is a great clue for anyone from Chicago where I lived for many years. Chicagoans have a winter tradition called “dibs”. If someone shovels the snow from around his or her parked car, that person then moves the car and puts a folding chair or crate or boards or any sort of placeholder in the shoveled-out space to claim that space for the next few days. The more snow, the longer the person claims the spot. John Kass, a writer for the Tribune, has named himself “Judge Dibs” and has written rules about the practice.

Frantic Sloth 11:36 AM  

@Anon 757am Jim C. Beautifully expressed my feelings about all things "BRO" much better than I ever could. Good on you. ๐Ÿ‘

@Carola 804am So glad I'm not alone (and so sorry that you have me for company) about the now-so-obvious-it-burns actual word ladder. I, too went from plain old admiration to (An obvious hand up for stupid clueing/bad editing on that one.)

RISE-RILE-FILE-FILL-FALL all going top to bottom, in addition to the whole twisty-turny themers is the feat of an alien life form.

Has anyone noticed Sam Trabucco consuming "mass quantities" of anything (like beer) or claiming he's "from France" or making kazoo-like utterances?

Hand up for knowing LESTOIL, though (thankfully) not the jingle for some god-sent reason.

Interesting and sad that BIX B. died from "natural causes" at the ripe old age of 28.

@Z 828am Just wondering: what type of tourists get trapped in a hardware store? Are these tourists from Rye?

@JD 854am It will be worth the wait, I'm certain. If you are truly getting on a plane (good luck, mazels, break a leg - not a knee - and all that if it really is a new job) please take any and all precautions...and pack, I guess. Report back here. Dismissed.

@Pamela 908am You're welcome, especially since I think you and I might be alone on this!

I've heard of "Off off off Broadway", but only as a tongue-in-cheek claim to theatrical significance.

@Roo 1029am "... Which is why all the "undesirable" fill for me got swept under the rug" says it all for me, too. I get the complaints by everyone, but I blithely ignored all that while riding the theme to happyland.

Like others, not sure I understand @Rex's hangup about asterisks/stars/same freaking thing for ratings. And as far as MIXEDREVIEWS, it is absolutely fair to say "that [whatever product] on Amazon has MIXEDREVIEWS."

Family Feud

GILL I. 11:36 AM  

Wow, Sam...What a feat. I let out an audible whoopee when my pants came off at the unwanted UNDE PARTY at 31A. It was UNDESIRABLE to say the least and a big big SURPRISE PARTY at the end. I loved this from LOGO to SEXY.
If I were to complain, it would be about all the things I didn't know or never heard of. See how easy that is? You have a great idea, you work hard on it and it comes together with perhaps some smelly Elmers glue.....but in the end, you have a little Dali. I didn't find this tedious at all. You can BRO DATE and LESTOIL me anytime of the day. I might even date a squid in stretch pants.
I didn't know LESTOIL. I'm not even sure I was alive when it was discovered that it gets grease out of your husbands shirt. My favorite jingle was "I'm A Big Kid Now."
I didn't know that PETER IV king...I thought it might be Felipe V. They all look the same to me. I'm happy for EDA LeShan and that she's a child-care expert and that LOOFA is spelled with two OO's.
Mosquito are biting....they survived the smoke and we're off to the hills of Auburn once again.
Welcome back @webwinger.

Unknown 11:37 AM  

Mistakes were EBBED instead of EASED, AMOK instead of AGOG which led to AKA instead of AGE. Still a fun one.

Newboy 11:45 AM  

Whatever goes up must come down? Like my attitude toward this grid. Got the steps going both ways & like Rex marveled at the pure audacity of Sam’s gambit at 46A.....and then ETC, ETC,ETC and so forth. A sloggish delight?

Sunday tends to drag on, but today’s seems on balance worth the effort. I’ll bite into any puzzle that offers both FRUIT FILLING & VANILLA FLAN. Plus there was a chance to put my Spanish lessons into play and revisit my favorite literary monomaniac, so thanks Mr. Trabucco. Now back to see how others respond since I wanted to give an unvarnished first impression

Bill 11:47 AM  

Same here.

Barbara S. 11:51 AM  

I really liked this, and it wasn't quick (a plus in my book). I was "asea" for a long time before I GROKked WOE was going on, which I did at FRUIT FILLING/MOLLIFYING. I'm admiring of the construction and, after a slow start, had a jolly good time solving (despite my poor solving time ๐ŸŒ).

I must first have heard the name BIX Beiderbecke on radio or TV. When I first saw it written down, I was amazed to find that it wasn't "Bick Spiderbeck." I guess that was a different kind of mondegreen.

LSD, IPO, USRDA, FBI, NGO, AOL, PLO and such are not unusual in a Sunday grid. Today they gave me an earworm:

๐ŸŽถ LBJ took the IRT
Down to Main Street USA.
When he got there
What did he see?
The youth of America
On LSD. ๐ŸŽถ

49A ICON CUR = Cujo?

98D On 11/3, people, YES you CAN.

****SB ALERT****
First QB for ages today (hi @Pamela!). Any SBers in the mood -- charge!

Anonymous 11:53 AM  

some times, too clever by half. and some comments didn't quite get it: the 'ladder' words are, sorta, palindromic, in that the 'ends' of the left to right reading top acrosses are the finish to the 'fronts' of the bottom across, reading up the 'ladder'. as I say, too clever by half.

Xcentric 11:56 AM  

I must say I am in awe of the constructor’s skill. Yes, it was a slog, until I realized the ladders fall AND rise. Like many others, once I grokked that, the going was easier. But as with any large grid, it was a slow go.

Yes, it would have been unbelievably elegant if the words across the tops and bottoms of the ladders were actual words, but goodness, it’s easy to snark when it’s not you who has to make it happen. In fact, the seeming nonsense actually made it easier to parse the fill running up and down the ladders.

Final hurdle was lolcat. When I got schooL (ell), I smacked my head and said Doh! Thought it had something to do with elementary, but that didn’t make sense with the clue.

IMHO, Just as younger solvers complain about answers like Bix, grok and Lestoil - I am sometimes just as I am chagrined at by some of the sports trivia (particularly college football team names, mascots, etc.) and some of the text and Twitter speak.
It’s time to realize that the crossword community spans a wide variety of age groups and backgrounds and just suck it up.
Hats off to Mr. Trabucco for an amazing puzzle.

thefogman 12:01 PM  

It was a head scratcher - thenI had a huge AHA! moment when I solved the gimmick. After that it was smooth sailing. One of the best Sunday puzzles in quite some time.

Birchbark 12:04 PM  

This November, I'm voting for SURPRABLE UNDEPARTY. (My thoughts here line up with @egsforbreakfast 1:29.)

Comedian Judy caNovA = first choice at 8D. Instead of going back to the 1980s for TENUTA, set the dial for the '40s (or stay here in the present and listen on satellite radio). Watching excerpts from @Frantic's TENUTA clip and adjusting for the norms of the era, the two comedians are similar.

Judy Canova's stock character was an over-the-top, loud-mouthed hillbilly. But she also had a sweet, clear soprano voice (it seems like Judy TENUTA does too, if she played it straight). Between corny Hee-Haw-like sketches, Judy Canova would sing in and out of character, yodels, swing, and straight-up ARIAs. She closed her radio show with a beautiful lullaby.

Chris 12:07 PM  

That doesn’t answer the question. Indeed odd clue

What? 12:10 PM  

The constructer is pretty clever and sneaky. I would never buy bitcoins from him.

Ethan Taliesin 12:11 PM  

Took me WAAAAAY too long to get the up/down/across stuff. In the end, I was so impressed with the clever gridmaking that feelings of admiriation supplanted my earlier feelings of frustration.

pabloinnh 12:12 PM  

I'm with everyone who found this construction so impressive that any fill was acceptable. Just wow.

I'm also with the "I remember Lestoil and can still sing the jingle" crowd. Famous enough to be fair game.

How can anyone who reads the comments fairly often not be acquainted with GROK? It shows up (coughs) times a week when someone catches on to a puzzle's gimmick. Are some folks just Sunday solvers?

Some stuff was a WOE to me, but so what? Unknown does not automatically mean unfair. It's a poor day when you can't learn something.

My only nit was PETERIV as a king of Aragon. Where did PEDRO go? Who's next, JORGE Washington?

Anyway, hats off to Mr. Trabuco. Sundazo, if ever there was one.

Masked and Anonymous 12:27 PM  

Nice notion, combinin a zigzag-word theme and a word-ladder theme. Liked it.

Sooo … this puppy's kinda different. Let m&e count the ways:

1. 145 words and 86 black squares. Kinda O-D's on those parameters, but that might be ok, becuz …
2. 22x21 puzgrid size. Bigger than yer average rodeo.
3. 15 themers! Yikes. [Yer count may vary, dependin on what U decide to count.]
4. The Jaws of Themelessness, on loan to a themed puz.
5. 40 weejects. A magnificent infestation of the lil rascals!

staff weeject pick: IUM. Seems the most ex-quisitely desperate of the horde. Better clue: {"I think chemicully, therefore ___"].

fave themer: Real close call -- almost a COINFLIPPER -- but M&A will hafta go with: ROOTOFLAN.
fave filler: DIETICIAN with an extra T.

Didn't know: TENUTA. Any PETER above II. HUANG. ICONA. Did knoe NOE -- probably from other close encounters of the crossword kind. Also remembered the LESTOIL TV ads, btw.
fave repeat offender: GOLIVE/LOOKALIVE. Will not penalize for LO GO and GO OGLES, tho.

Thanx for the RISE and FALLin fun, Mr. Trabucco dude.

Masked & Anonymo9Us

Sunday-sized desperate runt a la The Circles:

Anonymous 12:29 PM  

If you missed OFL video-solve from yesterday,
I totally recommend it.

Not only gives a better sense of the "wizard
behind the curtain," but is helpful in demonstrating
solving strategy.

His video made a Mount Everest puzzle solve (for me)
appear like a stroll in the park. Yes, these puzzles
are doable in a reasonable amount of time.


Aphid Larue 12:30 PM  


sixtyni yogini 12:31 PM  

What Rex said.
Not that fun but clever ladder thingy.
๐Ÿค”๐Ÿงฉ๐Ÿ˜œ๐Ÿงฉ๐Ÿค”....thought it was my mood.

Roth 12:36 PM  

Ay, Rex, you complain when stuff you don't know is included? How about those of us who grew up with LESTOIL, but haven't watched TV or spectator sports, or listened to Hip-Hop, in decades (if ever)? Somehow, we manage! CITRINE is really not bad for a yellow mineral, compared to some quarterback's name or an actor in a sitcom.

I have noticed that some really great American musicians are never in the grid: Doc Watson, Tony Rice, Norman Blake, David Grisman, Cameron Carpenter, and most jazz performers newer than DUKE or ELLA. Yet pop music, one can't get away from!

Aphid Larue 12:38 PM  

Citrite gave me toe valley, so dnf.

Fantastically clever puzzle, and theme was needed for solving

Never heard of moling, but makes sense

Paul Rippey 12:52 PM  

The jingle included, “There’s less toil/ with Lestoil!” I heard it a thousand times and it seemed very clever when I was eight.

jae 12:57 PM  

@Z et. al. Re: GROK - I read Stranger as a teenager when it first came out and told every one I knew to read it. A couple of years ago I bought a paperback copy for my then 16 yr. old grandson at Powell's Bookstore in Portland. I'm pretty sure he hasn't read it. He did read all the Harry Potter books twice when he was in grade school, so there's that.

TTrimble 12:57 PM  

---[SB Alert]---

Am proud to join your ranks, Queen Pamela and Queen Barbara. Actually, today's seemed pretty easy. All those freaking extensions! It's almost like I was happy to find a word that didn't extend that way!

Got to within 2 in very little time, and then got stuck for a while. After I had my Sunday workout, came back and got the remaining two pretty soon thereafter: the longest word, and the first word in dictionary order.

I still have tabs open for the preceding three days!

Let's make it a real party this time, stalwart SB-ers!

Frantic Sloth 12:58 PM  

@GILL 1136am (Twinsies!) I see what you did there - LOL! And now...I can't unsee it.

@Birchbark 1204pm Your interesting comparison of the Judys inspired me to look up CaNovA - what a talent she had. And I didn't realize that Diana Canova (whom I recognize from "Soap", lord help me!) was her daughter.
I'm a little clip-happy today, but here's a taste of Judy C. (and siblings) Thank you!

@M&A 1227am Love your Descartesian clue (for IUM) well enough. Guess it's contagious. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Just wondering: does anyone remember LESTOIL and its jingle?

Paul Rippey 1:01 PM  

Pirate King. I didn’t repeat the word often.
Major General. Pardon me, you did indeed.
King. I only repeated it once.
General. True, but you repeated it.
King. But not often.
General. Stop! I think I see where we are getting confused. When you said “orphan”, did you mean “orphan” – a person who has lost his parents, or “often”, frequently?
King. Ah! I beg pardon – I see what you mean – frequently.
General. Ah! you said "often", frequently.
King. No, only once.
General. (irritated) Exactly – you said “often”, frequently, only once.

DSM 1:06 PM  

I agree, there was some weak fill. But this comment from the write-up confused me: “ Maybe if the fill had been stronger, the thematic workmanship could've carried the day, I don't know.”
I think I know; if the theme is well-crafted, and the fill is good, it’s a good puzzle! Let’s at least hold out hope for being happy!

Paul Rippey 1:13 PM  

Same here, which led me to AKA as Tinder bio information, UNAMI, and therefore NIKa as some “sneak” in mythology - what do I know? - and a DNF that left me feeling quite Naticked.

Z 1:14 PM  

@Frantic Sloth - It’s mostly the tourists’ money, not the tourists themselves, that get trapped. Nobody from Rye as far as I know. They’re probably all at the marina. The store is three old retail spaces that have been connected. about half the space is dedicated to traditional hardware store wares. There’s also a toy section with toys right out of the Andy Griffith Show, another section of WNC themed knick knacks, old fashion soda pops, kitchenwares that are seemingly intended more for aesthetics than actual use. I never go there for anything on a weekend. People are good about wearing masks, but there’s no way to maintain any social distance when the tourists are having their Mayberry moments.

@pmdm II - Yep. Enough of the real dreck doesn’t cross the theme areas that it feels like there is some room for polishing. I wonder how much the constructor fell in love with his long downs, too.

@M&A - ๐Ÿ–๐Ÿฝ for having to fix DIETIcIAN. Now I really want to start spelling it DIETIsIAN. or DIETITIoN.

Dave S 1:15 PM  

Have no idea how Rex missed out on Lestoil. I'm older, but not that much olde, and it seemed the commercials were on tv all the time, back in the days when you watched whatever was on because that's all that was on. Not to mention in all my mom's women's magazines, which I read because back then I read whatever there was to read because that's all there was to read.

I had some of the same reservations as Rex, but I'm now so impressed by the construction that I give it high marks anyway. Thank goodness I'm a Philly sports fan, since Iverson was the first one to let me know I was headed in the wrong direction on the long answers.

jberg 1:15 PM  

I feel so dumb! I had PETERIi at 12D -- a full 3 centuries off! How could I not know that?

I almost quit out of boredom, but just at that point I discovered that the word ladders worked in three different ways, and the puzzle got much more exciting. Really pretty nice.

@pmdm--I get your point about being well-known; still, in BIX Beiderbecke's day recording wasn't the main thing for jazz musicians. He was very famous, but I guess not so much outside of jazz fandom.

@Z, I think Heinlein's faddishness among those who once were youth came at least as much from the libertarian (or maybe libertine) attitude toward sex in Time Enough for Love.

Paul Rippey 1:23 PM  

{"I think chemicully, therefore ___"].

Brilliant. Why don’t we have cluing like that on the NYTXW? It would change everything!

Paul Rippey 1:25 PM  

Ladderal thinking puzzle.

JD 1:38 PM  

@Frantic, Real, day trip for kickoff meeting and work from home thereafter. So yay!

Georgia 2:25 PM  


Anonymous 2:28 PM  

To Richard8, Photomatte and Anonymous:

You're all close, but still incorrect. Off-Off Broadway are the obscure productions that appear in less-than-100 seat theaters; Off-Broadway productions are legitimate productions that don't have the budgets for Bdwy and/or are NYC tryouts to test audience approval for Broadway.

Anonymous 2:29 PM  

Felt the same as you on this one, enjoyed the construction a lot. Some of the answers — as you mentioned — left me scratching my head.

Vera Similitude 2:38 PM  

You're not old enough to remember the ad jingle "There's less toil with Lestoil"
Just sayin'

Richardf8 2:51 PM  

Stranger in a Strange Land taught Heinlein that hippies would happily blow their drug money on free love porn. Hence there was Time Enough for Love, The Number of the Beast, and The Cat who Walks Through Walls.

Maddiegail 2:58 PM  

SB Alert
Stuck at 36 words For-EVER! But thanks to Z @1:14, I made it to QB! YAY!

Frantic Sloth 3:24 PM  

@Z 114pm I never realized you live in Baby Boom, NC.

gina 4:21 PM  

School closing--ELL??????

Orlando Cepeda 4:35 PM  

The best Sunday puzzle in a while, without question. Marvelous feat of construction and the fill was as good as could be expected in accomodating the meta-themers. ALLEN IVERSON and LIE DETECTOR balancing COIN FLIPPERS and MIXED REVIEWS. And a nice counterbalance of knowables and bitebackers. I don't roar through puzzles like Rex, therefore the reveal was satisfying.

Dave S 4:48 PM  

@gina: "L" is the final letter in school. I hate those kind of clues.

Anonymous 4:53 PM  

asterisk: from Late Latin asteriscus, from Greek asteriskos "little star," diminutive of aster "star" --- just saying.

GaryMac 5:21 PM  

*** SB Alert ***

@TTrimble 12:57 Add me to the QB party along with Barbara S and Pamela and others. This was my first QB in a week, again. I missed a bunch yesterday but the previous 5 days came up just one short. Since you still have three tabs open, I won't make any specific comments on those.

Unknown 5:37 PM  

Right on!

Anonymous 5:39 PM  

most jazz performers newer than DUKE or ELLA

we just lost Peacock. no Spring Chicken. and another reason to dislike Jarrett, who said he dumped the Trio because Peacock had 'hearing problems', yet Gary went on almost until he died playing with lots of folks and making records.

Richardf8 5:46 PM  

Thanks for the tip. It never would hsve occurred to me. Z’s usage is correct. What SB accepted is not something I imagined.

RoadshowReject 5:46 PM  

I knew “Lestoil” because my family ranched in North Dakota from 1956-1983, and this was the heavy duty cleaning solution favored by the “ranch cook” who had to keep up the place with 13 dirty guys coming and going from bunkhouse to shower room to dining room...but that is the only reason I knew it! Not many would.

Unknown 5:51 PM  

Along with answers like “hard G”” or “soft C.”

CDilly52 5:59 PM  

This was a Sunday puzzle. It had everything I love about a challenging but not Friday or Saturday eat your Wheaties first and do some extra brain calisthenics and drink lots of coffee struggle. Humor, wordplay, new and old, and a theme that whether it makes one googly eyed (hi @Frantic!) or just exhausted from remembering the ups and downs has to impress a solver just by virtue of its architecture and consistency and downright cleverness. As OFL points out, this theme makes the tired old word ladder interesting impressive.

My only problem with the puzzle is the dang ear worm I have now from the late 1950s-early 60s TV commercial. . . ๐ŸŽถ “It’s so easy when you use Les-toil (dah-dah-DAH!” ๐ŸŽถ. hopefully that will be gone by tomorrow. Just a marvelous opus, Mr. Trabucco!

jae 6:10 PM  

*****SB Alert****

@Pamala I finally got there. My problem was thinking I had already entered a word I actually hadn’t entered, D’oh!

Z 6:11 PM  

Does this mean I get to be King Bee? I, of course, have absolutely no idea what I said. {No “as usual” please}

bocamp 6:34 PM  

Re: the construction of this puzzle - after reading Rex's review and all the comments, I become even more appreciative of the creative artistry of today's puzzle. It's a jewel! Yes, for me, it was somewhat more difficult than most Sundays; the reward was worth every minute of toil.


"amok" had I; tried to make sense of "ake"; not knowing much about "Tinder". Thought "unami" was related to sushi (conflating umami?), but "ake" just wasn't grokked. Then, out of the blue came the "g"; case solved. :)


"Swiss Miss" Swiss Moonlight Lullaby by Wilf Carter (Montana Slim)


"Lestoil" previous unknown; now known. Bring it on, puzzle constructors!


@ Frantic Sloth 12:02 AM

"Judy Tenuta" is hilarious! thank you @ Frantic :)


****SB ALERT****

@ Pamela 9:08 AM

Thank you. I'll give it a go. :) Yesterday's was something else :(


"Mixed reviews" - look like 1, 3, & 5 star ratings, to me. Taught Rubik's Cube to some of my students; used an asterisk in one the algorithms to denote a 2-slice 180° turn for one of the solving steps (CL R- CL R- CL * CL R- CL R- CL *). A student asked what an asterisk is; thereafter, it was known as "star". :)



@ Ed Rosenthal 9:37 AM wrote:

"From the novel “Stranger in a Strange Land” by Robert Heinlein. Grok is an alien phrase meaning “to understand” someone but far more deeply than our own definition."

Somehow, I missed out on reading this Heinlein classic (read most of his others). Learned "grok" from previous puzzles and use it from time to time, especially relating to difficult concepts (for me: algebraic word problems, or grokking examples of petitio principii (begging the question), etc.) LOL

Aside: my library has the audiobook; put it on hold.


@ Richardf8 10:19 AM

Exactly the same here. LOL


@ RooMonster 10:29 AM

Really enjoyed your write up. :) And, congrats on a "no '1-dnf' day" LOL

Pace ๐Ÿ•Š

JC66 6:40 PM  

****SB ALERT****

Hand up for getting QB today.

I'm in good company.

TTrimble 7:02 PM  

---[SB Alert]---

Actually, I think not. But I think you could be the court jester. Particularly as the court jester would be just the one to accidentally reveal truths and enlighten others, without even realizing it. Fair description? :-)

(I had to go back to Z 1:14 and find the word. Yep! That was my last word as well.)

thefogman 7:06 PM  

Just noticed I DNF’d. Had CITRItE and tOE at 71A and 72D. Not fair!!!

TTrimble 7:36 PM  

---[SB Alert]---
-->> spoiler ahead <<--

Sorry about that -- I didn't mean to keep others from commenting. I went ahead and looked at the answers, and all the tabs are now closed. Please comment away.

One I missed the other day was NUBBIN. I'm not sure I've ever used that in my life.

RooMonster 7:40 PM  

Yes, rare is the day without a one-letter DNF!

**SB Aggravation**
I'm two words away from Q, and I'll be darned if I can find 'em. Already had the word that I believe was in @Z's post.

RooMonster QB - Not! Guy

Anonymous 8:04 PM  

Lestoil is a thing, or was in the 1960s, when my older brother and his buddies teased me mercilessly, calling me "Lestoil" (my name is Les). I appreciated the "sop" to us oldsters from a constructor who tries to skew young.

donomom 8:13 PM  

I remember Lestoil. That's cuz I am Medicare age.

albatross shell 8:40 PM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
albatross shell 9:08 PM  

Put me in the great puzzle corner. It set a new standard in ladder construction. RISE to FALL. Double direction ladders. Hot Damn. Good long downs too.

And BIX. Great nickname. Listen to his East St. Louis Toodle-Oo and Georgia on my Mind. Cat died at age 28. Inspiration for Young Man with a Horn. In the Duke's band.

I couldn't even guess the times I have read a movie or a play "opened to MIXED REVIEWS". But a MIXED REVIEW is as Rex described.
I have movie rating books that call asterisks stars and of course they are.

Not a cheat:
I was doing the puzzle and watching the opening scene of Blow the Man Down with the fishermen singing the TITULAR song, and just as I I was pondering the clue "Newbie" the fisherman sang "when boys become GREENHORNS and greens become mates".

Fraudulent lip-syncing sin: VANIL-E-VIL.

Giz 9:25 PM  

Despite being a big Heinlein fan (and old enough to bristle at the expression "sci-fi"), I've always thought "grok" to be an ugly word. Few get the connotation explained by Ed R.

Janet 9:44 PM  

I recognized LESTOIL after a few letters. My mom used it when I was a child. Less-toil, meaning cleans up well. My peeve is the LOLCAT. My husband complained that he read Heinlein too long ago to remember. And he didn’t get the hint when I clued him that CARA Mia was sung by Jay and the Americans, which would have been a cute video to watch.

Anonymous 9:58 PM  

Absolutely correct. People throw this term around here all the time not grasping its nuance. Kind of like z thinking begging the question is the same as circular reasoning.

bocamp 10:33 PM  

***SB Alert***

@ RooMonster 7:40 PM

I'm in your camp (except I've three to go). I may go all night; I really do need at least one "QB" in my lifetime. LOL


I quickly cottoned on to the down-ladders at 18A, but once I got the "congrats riff", I looked more closely at the "non-word" acrosses and the proverbial light bulb went on. Ordinarily, the seemingly ruined aesthetics would be an issue, but not so with this masterpiece. Gotta get past my ingrained (in the box) mentality. Working on it. LOL


@ Hungry Mother 11:31 AM

"Noe" has typical been problematic for me, too, but I think it's finally sunk in. Got it right away. Nevertheless, a lot more words need TLC. LOL


Is it "sci-fi" or "science fiction" ? Does the term "sci-fi" abase good "science fiction?" Personally, I'll go with "science fiction" and relegate "sci-fi" to the scrap heap.

Pace ๐Ÿ•Š

Anonymous 11:16 PM  

I'm dating myself, but I remember Lestoil. I even remember the slogan from their commercial. "There's less toil with Lestoil."

Monty Boy 11:19 PM  

Way late but I'll chime in: Like this one a lot and was it Nathan Hale who said:

I only regret that I have on * for my country

Anonymous 1:10 AM  

@Anon 958 pm

Keep spinning in that circle and we will all get sick.

ZenMonkey 1:46 AM  

Wanted to add my congrats to Mr. Trabucco for this gem. I gather Rex doesn’t like word puzzles within his crosswords, but I love them, especially with the elegance of this one. And tasty fill like I CALL DIBS, ALLEN IVERSON, RANSOM NOTE, etc. The clues spanned many areas of interest and it felt well rounded for a Sunday on the harder side. Which is the side I prefer.

Pattywack 6:35 AM  

As a copywriter I would like to applaud the long forgotten person who came up with “Lestoil.” No doubt it was late at night and they were all alone but I’m sure they jumped up and said, “Yeah boy howdy!”

Giz 2:13 PM  

@bocamp 10:33

Regarding "sci-fi," that term was anathema to fans sometime in the 1970s, the thought being that only non-fans (incognoscenti?) would use that expression. The preferred terms then became "science fiction" or "sf." Then there was the "sf" debate - science-fiction, or speculative fiction? I think I picked all this up reading discussions in Amazing Science Fiction magazines.

wa 4:49 PM  

Next time you eat Root'o Flan, let me know.

Christopher P. 8:58 PM  

I know a slog when I slog through one and this was not one for me. Makes me wonder how anyone could find a puzzle so skillfully constructed to be a slog, or could nitpick the fill, but hey, we're all different. Something else I've learned as I read these reviews and comments. It's all good. Still, I am amazed at work like this not only for the acrobatic skill it takes, but also what has to be herculean acts of focus and persistence (unless there are apps of inverse dictionaries or some sort to help out that I don't know about). Weirdly, in spite of all the nitpicking, something (perhaps really masochistic) inside of me wants to try to build a crossword puzzle and submit it to the NYT some day. For the challenges, I guess. Nice job Mr. Trabucco!

Greg 2:16 AM  

I've always heard the pre-game or pre-overtime coin ritual referred to as the "coin toss", I've never heard someone say, "Here come the team captains for the 'coin flip'". So I tried to make COINTOSSER work.

Unknown 11:40 PM  

Hated it. Made no sense to me. Been doing this puzzle for 40 years and this is one of the worst.

Suzanne 8:52 PM  

Everyone over 55 knows what Lestoil is, and we’re a large demographic, so quitcher whining!
Just because you don’t know the answer doesn’t mean the clue is a bad one.

Burma Shave 11:56 AM  


SHALL OUI stand here ORE
LET'SLIE to LOOK and see



NOTE: IT'SABET with her,


rondo 12:25 PM  

When I was a youth, every 4th grade class in MN went to the state capitol in St. Paul for a tour (maybe they still do?). I still remember the tour guide explaining the state motto on the MN Great Seal: "L'Etoile du Nord" (The Star of the North). And she mentioned that one 4th grader at some time had asked, "What does LESTOIL have to do with northern Minnesota?" Har. So LESTOIL was a gimme for me. And MN should never have let the North Stars move to Dallas. SEXY Lucy LIU repeats as yeah baby. This must be about as interesting as a word ladder puz can get. PIT-PAT, PIT-PAT.

In the St. Paul Pioneer Press those *stars* in 66d were 6, 666 and 66666, so I thought maybe there was an Easter egg having to do with sixes and clue 66d. Imagine my SURPRISE when MIXEDREVIEWS!?! showed up. Always an adventure with this newspaper, which comes free on Sundays for some reason (haven't paid for it in years). It's also the only day I don't also buy the Mpls Star-Tribune.

Diana, LIW 3:31 PM  

@Rondo - maybe you answered your own question (as to why the paper is free). Those 666's sound like 110A-D-A, ya know?

I'm not a fan of this type of puz. Got the trick. Yawn.

Diana, Lady-in-Waiting for Crosswords, they are LESTOIL

Anonymous 2:21 AM  

Rondo, in my paper the *stars* of 66D were reversed exclamation points followed by a U.

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