Guitarist Joe with 15 Grammy nominations / TUE 10-20-20 / Autonomous cleaner / Marijuana cigarette informally / Dangerous plant to have around / Punk rock offshoot

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Constructor: Jeff Chen

Relative difficulty: Medium (skewing slightly harder than normal?) (3:45)

THEME: BACKORDERED (38A: Like goods that are temporarily out of stock ... or a hint, alphabetically, to the answers to the starred clues) — answers to starred clues have letters that appear in reverse alphabetical order:

Theme answers:
  • TOOK HEED (17A: *Followed warnings)
  • YUPPIE (18A: *Materialistic sort, stereotypically)
  • SPLIFF (23A: *Marijuana cigarette, informally)
  • TROLLED (25A: *Posted inflammatory blog comments, e.g.)
  • WOOKIEE (50A: *Chewbacca, e.g.)
  • ROOMBA (52A: *Autonomous cleaner)
  • "TO LIFE!" (59A: *"L'chaim!")
  • SPOON-FED (62A: *Like toddlers in high chairs, often) 
Word of the Day: Joe SATRIANI (65A: Guitarist Joe with 15 Grammy nominations) —

Joseph Satriani
 (born July 15, 1956) is an American rock musician, composer, songwriter, and guitar teacher. Early in his career, Satriani worked as a guitar instructor, with many of his former students achieving fame, such as Steve VaiLarry LaLondeRick HunoltKirk HammettAndy TimmonsCharlie HunterKevin Cadogan, and Alex Skolnick; he then went on to have a successful solo music career. He is a 15-time Grammy Award nominee and has sold over 10 million albums, making him the best-selling instrumental rock guitarist of all time.

In 1988, Satriani was recruited by Mick Jagger as lead guitarist for his first solo tour. Satriani briefly toured with Deep Purple as the guitarist, joining shortly after the departure of Ritchie Blackmore in November 1993. He has worked with a range of guitarists during the G3 tour, which he founded in 1995. Satriani has been the guitarist for the supergroupChickenfoot since joining the band in 2008. (wikipedia)

• • •

Cool, a Tuesday themeless! Trust me, this is the best way to think about this puzzle. Because if you're like me and you waste a good minute (which felt like a good half hour) trying to figure out what the theme was supposed to mean, and then you finally get it, your only response is likely to be, as mine was, "OMG WHO CARES!?" (well, it was more of an in-my-head "WHO CARES!?," as it's 5am and my wife and the cat are still asleep). Who has ever been thrilled, charmed, titillated, or amused by the fact that a word's letters are in reverse alphabetical order? Am I charmed by STU because his letters are in *alphabetical* order!? The answer is no, I'm charmed by STU because of the whole disco thing, and that alone.

I don't understand why people build puzzle themes around concepts that are both (largely) invisible and of no real inherent interest. This is a stunt puzzle, the kind you have to *explain* and then when you do explain ... again, who cares? It's all about the "feat of construction," which only the constructor himself is gonna be truly impressed by. "Feats of construction" are fine, great, impressive even, when they deliver ... interest. But here, I gotta point out the things that are impressive—that there are nine theme answers (including the revealer) and the fill still manages to be remarkably smooth for all that, that literally no other answers *besides* the answers to the starred clues have letters that appear in reverse alphabetical order, even the three-letter ones—and ... well, if a puzzle feature falls in the woods ... you get the idea. So as I say, best to consider this a Tuesday themeless. It's got some nifty fill, there are plenty of 7+-letter answers, and best of all, the short, overfamiliar fill is completely inoffensive and mostly stays out of the way. You can do RELET OPART TRU NIA USDO (!?) and even MPAA x/w AAS when there is so much longer fill to maintain solver interest.

Started slow because ugh the clue on 1A was a ****ing paragraph and it was trying to make me think about letters and it's too early in the morning for that (1A: Multi-Emmy-winning actor whose first and last names start with the same two letters). And then 1D: Exam for some smart H.S. students (AP TEST) got on my nerves because they are literally officially called AP *EXAM*s, so I figured the answer couldn't be AP anything. Then I forgot there was a LOOMPA Land. And I can never do those "Word with / after / before"-type clues very well, so SHELF shmelf (5D: Word after ice or book). But, as usual, once I made some headway, got my feet under me, I took off, and the bottom half of the grid was much much faster than the top. Overall, enjoyable enough to solve. I just wish I could've walked away from the puzzle as soon as I was done and remained blissfully unaware of the theme pointlessness. Ah well. See you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Hungry Mother 6:34 AM  

Very easy without knowing or caring about the theme.

Conrad 6:35 AM  

I often try to solve the early-week puzzles without looking at the clues for the long acrosses (sort of "downs-only lite"). I did that today, and it made for ... exactly what @Rex described: a Tuesday themeless. Delightful!

BarbieBarbie 6:39 AM  

Meh on the theme from me too. And I can’t believe @Rex let IKEAS go by unmolested. This puzzle was not worthy of Jeff Chen.

Harryp 6:40 AM  

This might be the first puzzle by Jeff Chen I have done, and when I saw his name I had great expectations, but it turned out to be a name-fest. A whole bunch of PPP for a blah theme. I don't call it cruciverbalism, it's more like crucipeoplism. Average Tuesday time, but not much fun.

SouthsideJohnny 7:00 AM  

Just a meh. I’m with OFL - why go through all the work to have a theme that isn’t of any use to anyone? And there was a high percentage of non-words, even by the Times’ standard (such nonsense as LOOMPA, ROOMBA, WOOKIE . . . FER). So a useless theme and a lot of yuck - so, yea - meh.

GILL I. 7:03 AM  

I still don't get it.

Irene 7:03 AM  

I agree with Rex for once. The gimmick was pointless. Worse, what was it about the crossing of ISSA and SATRIANI that made the editor think it was legitimate?

Lewis 7:04 AM  

This grid presented a tableau of varied and interesting answers, with as little junky answers as possible (a given from Jeff, the Sultan of Scour), and an “Oh that’s cool” after the solve when I figured out the theme. I liked the “L’CHAIM!” so close to SEDER, REPEL by APPALLED, and the A-train ALDA / GOTTA / LOOMPA / ISSA / NIA / ROOMBA / SIESTA. Then learned from Wikipedia that Joe SATRIANI is the “best selling instrumental rock guitarist of all time”.

Also, as your resident alphadoppeltotter, a job I’ve inexplicably taken on, I must report that this puzzle has an unusually high number of double letters, 20, where 20 and up falls into that category. It happened once in 2018, then again in June of this year, and now today.

Jeff, I highly enjoyed the ride, and thank you for making this!

king_yeti 7:12 AM  

Agree with OFL re theme: my reaction was “That’s a big WC [Who Cares?]”

agree generally that rest of experience was quite good except I say IKEAS is an no.

Bkackhat 7:14 AM  

7 names, 5 foreign words....

kitshef 7:23 AM  

Ugh. If I thought yesterday's musical cross was bad …

Today’s unknown musician is SATRIANI – but this time, it crosses TWO other uninferrable names (ISSA and NIA), and an uninferrable initialism (MPAA). Fortunately (for me), I knew all of those crosses from previous puzzles – but ONLY from previous puzzles – none from real life. So if I was someone who had been solving for a year or two, I would have had __TR_ANI staring me in the face and been dead stuck. And for that matter, would not have gotten AAS either.

Also, why isn’t NIA a themer? Doesn’t a theme like this demand you have no other back-ordered answers outside the theme?

In short, what the hell were Jeff and Will thinking?

Anonymous 7:33 AM  

How can anybody be claiming there's no junk fill here?



-PREFER crossing FER (just having FER is bad enough)


-MPAA crossing AAS

-3 of the themers end in -ED, as do the two "bonus longs" APPALLED and BEFOULED (BEFOULED on its own is junk)

-just having USDO is reason enough not to submit the puzzle....why did we have to sit through this???

Karl Grouch 7:35 AM  

Constructor's full name portmanteau at 15D.

May I add that Mr Chewbacca is a Wookiee from planet Kashyyyk which is another elegant and useful entry for any Tuesday nyt crossword puzzle.

(Oh! blogger wizards, please make my link turn blue)

ChuckD 7:44 AM  

I liked this for the most part. Agree that the theme was kind of smarmy - I did get it after reading the revealer but it doesn’t add to the solve. Favorite themer was SPLIFF. The overall fill though is solid and kept me interested. BEFOULED is cool - one you don’t hear much and TO LIFE is a nice way to start the day. The only other non themer that fit in was NIA.

SATRIANI and his protege Steve Vai are local guys who kind of fit into this “look what I can do” puzzle construction. Technical virtuosos - but basically unlistenable.

Joaquin 7:49 AM  

Guess I GOTTA get out more; lots of stuff I didn't know (SPIFF WOOKIEE SATRIANI). That plus the well-hidden theme made it play late-week for me.

mmorgan 7:53 AM  

Theme? What theme? (I had to read Rex’s explanation twice till I got it.). Never heard of a SPLIFF. My solving experience was fine except for the time spent trying to figure out what the revealer had to do with the asterisked clues. The fact that four theme answers had OO was a major distraction and dead end to me.

pabloinnh 8:12 AM  

Had most of the letters in BACKORDERED filled in and with "letters alphabetically" in the clued saw what was going on, and proceeded to ignore that as useful or helpful in filling in any answers. Themeless indeed.

Clueing TOLIFE as "L'chaim" got a really? from me. What's next, GOODBYE for "Adios"? I mean, really.

Haven't seen SPLIFF in a puzzle that I can remember, and I'm with @ChuckD in being happy to see it here, because not much else sparked joy in this one. I did more or less remember how to spell WOOKIEE, so at least there's that.

Put me in the group that says not terrible, Mr. Chen, but you can do much better.

Z 8:21 AM  

Chen, and Shortz for that matter, are far more interested in letter-play than I will ever be. This reminds me of a scene in Rendezvous with Rama* where our intrepid explorers are trying to figure out how a collection of items have been ORDERED by the alien constructors and realize it’s probably just “alphabetical” by whatever alphabet the aliens might use. That is, alphabetical order seems “ordered” to us because we share an alphabet, but it is random outside our shared social construct of an ordered alphabet. Anyway, words are made up of letters. Woo Hoo.

OTOH - as an easy themeless this is pretty good. Chen is far from favorite constructor because what interests him just doesn’t interest me, but he is good at the technical aspects of making a puzzle. I feel about Chen the way @Chuck D feels about Joe SATRIANI.

AP TEST or AP exam? Definitely a six of one, half dozen of the other complaint.

Here you go @Karl Grouch

Since there’s been a plaint, Quickie PPP
24 of 76 for 32%, right at the tipping point for “excessive.” Nothing struck me as particularly out there, but @kitshef is right, SATRIANI is very popular in “guitar god” circles, but not so much elsewhere.

@Gill I - Ignore if you figured it out. Take each of the starred clues’ answers and write them backwards. Each answer’s letters are now in alphabetical order. Aren’t you happy you know now?

*Anyone else as irked as I by the sequels? Way to take the essential moral of the original and completely undo it.

Ellen C 8:34 AM  

Just figured it out! If you read the letters of each word from right to left (like Hebrew), the letters are in alpha order. Ergo, when read left to right, the letters are in reverse alpha order. As Rex said, who cares.

Z 8:37 AM  

@BTW - @everyone saying Chen can do better - This is what he does. He’s big into letter play. Here are some recent theme explanations:
if you write them in sans-serif caps, the left edges of all the letters in the themers are all straight

themers have internal palindromes and those are represented in the grid by letters that literally go up (i.e. you read them up) and then down (i.e. you read the same letters back down) before continuing on with the non-palindromic rest of the answer

for each symmetrical pair, you take the first letter of the word on the western side of the grid and move it to the bottom of the word to get the word that appears on the eastern side of the grid

Today’s theme is just typical Chen. What I find interesting is that when he co-constructs we get wordplay based themes (see October 8, August 6, and July 15 of this year).

Ann Hedonia 8:44 AM  

Stupidest theme ever!

Andrew Heinegg 8:51 AM  

I wish that I enjoyed Mr. Chen's creations more than I do. They seem stilted, cliched and without amusement. Again, I, without having met him or even seen him speaking online, sense that he is a very smart and pleasant person.

I just don't enjoy his creations even though I fully understand that I am in the minority by some measure of the denizens of Rexland for whom I have a great deal of respect and fondness.

GILL I. 8:55 AM  

OH MY GOD......I STILL DON'T GET IT. @Z...thank you for trying to explain this to the idiot of the month. What does TOOK HEED YUPPIE have to do with a something Hebrew or a palindrome???? This is a BLEEPing mess to me. Can someone please hold my hand? I see the damn BACK ORDERED but my brain is saying ...Y que?

ow a paper cut 8:55 AM  

Had to guess at the cross of ISSA and SATRIANI. Otherwise it was a nice Tuesday puzzle.

burtonkd 9:21 AM  

Seems like Will is kind of stuck in a few lanes of wordplay these days. His Sunday puzzle choices are all of the "remove the second letter from the name of a restaurant and move the 4th letter to the beginning, then it spells the name of 2 well known food items that might be served at the restaurant" variety. If you send in your answer and are randomly chosen you get to play "think of a word that could go after either of these two words".

ONBACKORDER fit so well, I would have written it in sharpie if not online. At least you can take the 2 consecutive letters of the alphabet, O and N, reverse their order, and move them back 9 spaces in the alphabet, then put them at the end of the word and get the correct answer:) Ugh, I need a shower.

Seems like I should have heard of SATRIANI, but looks like he came on the scene around the time I graduated from high school, and guitar gods were no longer crucial for me to know. At least he was a Natick-crossed lover with ISSA, who was the SNL host this week (that is also not required viewing after high school, but manages to stay in the zeitgeist).

I've been under 2 Rexes for a few days now (usually 2.5 to it me or is it him?

KnittyContessa 9:26 AM  

I agree with Rex on this. I imagine this was amusing for the constructor but the amusement ends there.

I learned two things today - how to spell WOOKIEE and there's a LOOMPA Land.


G. Weissman 9:27 AM  

This puzzle is just poor. To the list of junk fill provided by others, I’d add the ridiculous plurals: PORSCHES, ELMOS, MIAS, IKEAS ... I suspect the reason Gill I. still doesn’t get it is because there is nothing interesting or memorable about words that are spelled with letters that appear in alphabetical or reverse-alphabetical order, because such ordering is only notable when the letters are consecutive. ABCDE we note, and perhaps EDCBA. But who takes note of, say, ELMOS being spelled with letters in alphabetical order — or gives a damn? What a misguided puzzle.

Anonymous 9:33 AM  

Never heard of “spliff”? Vote to legalize marijuana in New Jersey and you will!

mathgent 9:34 AM  

A total dud. Very little sparkle, very little crunch, nothing theme, 22 Terrible Threes.

At one time, Rex would trash very good Jeff Chen puzzles. Today, he found good things to say about this dog. I wonder why the reversal.

Frantic Sloth 9:41 AM  

First thought: Rex is gonna hate this.
Not exactly limb country with that guess, but there - I said it. We shall see.

Kind of a wee tough theme for a Tuesdee, but I didn't mind it.
Can't recall ever seeing SPLIFF in a NYTXW before...a sign of the end times?

Nothing here to blow my hair back or fry my donut, but I had a coupla observations:

When your LOOMPA DROOLS, it's time to neuter.

Then you can go to the moon of Endor, join the Ewok party, and dance the WOOKIEE ROOMBA.



@bocamp from yesterday Yes! You got my wavelength (the song!) and thank you for helping it along. 😁

Z 9:51 AM  

@GILL I - I’ll use the one without double letters to make it easier to see
TO LIFE backwards is

Carola 9:52 AM  

For me, the theme sank the boat on this one. Disappointed in Jeff Chen. I did like the parallel BEFOULED and APPALLED.

Help from previous puzzles: STU, NIA, ISSA, ASU. No idea: SATRIANI. Takes the Cake Award for a partial: USDO.

Karl Grouch 9:52 AM  

Thx @Z, but I meant MY link, what you did is plain mean showing-off ;-)

In Spain people say "te quero",
"te amo" is american.

In Britain people roll "spliffs", what in the US used to be called "joints"

Quiz: how many Mias buy Elmos in Ikeas driving Porsches like the Saudis?

Anonymous 9:56 AM  


bocamp 9:58 AM  

•Terrific puzzle @Jeff! This one was definitely a challenge for a Tuesday (for me at least), but well worth the effort. :)
•Somewhere between Wed. - Thurs., time wise.
•Started and finished in the NW. The only foothold I got there was "ap", "emo" and "task". Took a couple of minutes at the end to put it in order.
•Good thing I knew "Loompa" or it would have been "whack-a-letter" at the "p".
•Learned "spliff" and "satriani". Could be some kind of an act. 🤔
•Didn't know (and likely won't remember) "911s" and "Panameras".
•Had "lento" before "largo", which caused confusion in the "heartland."
•Always struggle with the final three letters of "wook---"
•Never had a "gut course" or an "easy a". Well, maybe p.e, choir and lunch. School was hard!
•Haven't sussed out the theme yet. Not reading Rex's writeup until I do. Ok, I just figured it out. I like it. Must have taken a lot of time and effort to come up with 8 themers that would fit the "llib". Well done @Jeff! :)

Bobby Darin Mack The "Knife" on The Ed Sullivan Show

Peace Salam Frieden Paz שָׁלוֹם Pax 🕊

GHarris 10:02 AM  

I grew up in the South Bronx, attended a drug-ridden high school and spent years in the criminal courts of NYC . I have heard marijuana and marijuana cigarettes referred to as joints, reefers, grass, weed, blunts, hash, Mary Jane, M J and tea but I have never, ever heard anyone say spliff. Cross that with a freakin Chocolate Factory locale and I am screwed. Wouldn’t have finished anyway because I know Charlotte and Norma Rae but I only know a Daryl Issa and don’t know many guitarists.

Nancy 10:06 AM  


Let me give you some other words that I think apply here:

I Naticked on the LOOMPA/SPLIFF cross. As who would not? And the theme is awful, too. I can't believe this is by Jeff Chen. And he did it all by himself; there's not even anyone else to blame.

RooMonster 10:06 AM  

Hey All !
Got an e-mail whilst reading the comments. Another Puz Rejection. *Whah whah*. It was a Sunday Pun Theme. Got a detailed explanation, at least. They said a few of the themers were nice, but others "were more difficult to imagine." (They are puns...) And "some unfamiliar words", one being ANOA. Sorry @Anoa Bob, but you're unfamiliar.

Rejection woes aside, on this puz, couldn't figure out what the theme was getting at while solving. Got the Revealer, so thought the themers would be written in backwards, or at least the East side ones, somehow mirroring the correctly-written-in West side themers (Since I already had some in.) So just continued solving, since all the answers were sorta easy. Once I got the Happy Music (YAY Me! Error free!), took a second, and grokked what in tarhooties was going on. Aha, said I, themers are reverse alphabetical. I see. So kind of a Meh reaction, as opposed to my usual Cool reaction. Sorry, Jeff.

Do like that Nine themers (including Revealer) are shoved in here. More themers! Plus, fill didn't suffer all that much with the tons of theme. I do have a nit, though. Speaking of @Anoa Bob from before, this puz seems POC marked. Any thoughts @Anoa?

Finished in 7:53, quick on a TuesPuz, I've said before, I don't go for speed, but when you do puz on NYT app, the clock ticks for you. But now, clock says 21:00! What the what? Good thing I don't rely/depend/count on the clock!

FER is usually clued "Not agin", right? At least it gets me an F. Har.

Seven F's (FER sure!)

GILL I. 10:07 AM  

@Z...Oh, good gravy. It's confirmed. I'm stupid and I hated this puzzle.

TJS 10:07 AM  

Yay for "spliff" ! I'm thinking maybe every time there's a weed reference, I will roll up a doobie and partake. Might make the subsequent fill a little more challenging.

Always kind of wondered why Satriani didn't do it for me. I'm with @Chuck D.
By the way, of that list of "famous" students of Joe S., I have heard I guess I never grew out of my Page, Clapton, Stevie Ray era.

@Burtonkd, I'm wondering what has so dominated your post-high school years that you gave up on guitar gods and TV.

Puzzle was blah, theme-shmene. Now about that jay...

Mike Mangan 10:11 AM  

7 of the 8 themers had a set of repeating letters (oo, pp, etc.). So I assumed that had something to do with the theme, which made me doubt "to life". Finding out it was just a coincidence makes the actual disappointing theme feel even worse somehow.

Steve M 10:19 AM  

Theme? What theme aargh

jberg 10:22 AM  

@kitshef, same for AAS

Whatsername 10:26 AM  

Semi tough for a Tuesday and quite a few Propers, some of them a tad obscure. No problem for me but I think it would be very discouraging to new solvers which is a shame. One of those themes you don’t get it until you’re finished and then it’s more of an “oh” moment than an aha. I’m assuming the fun part came during the construction of this one.

Seems odd to me that all the theme answers have double letters except one. A marijuana cigarette is a SPLIFF? My, things certainly have changed since the 70s. I hope I am never the patient of a surgeon who uses a KNIFE instead of a scalpel or a LASER which is what I had for 51D because I’ve never seen a Star Wars movie, and even after all these years of doing crosswords I still don’t have any idea what a Chewbacca is, much less how to spell it.

jberg 10:27 AM  

@Gill-/ write TOOK HEED backwards. Now it’s DEEHKOOT. Those letters are in alphabetical order. Fun!

jberg 10:35 AM  

Didn’t get the theme. Until I got th badly-clued YUPPIE I thought the themevanswers were in order by their final letters, but no.

IKEAS and ELMOS are outrageous plurals. And then we had 2 -SU answers, with the SU standing for the same words. Sloppy, IMO. If you wasn’t the parallel clues, go for the names of the states.

@Karl Grouch, you appear to have a blue name already.

Z 10:40 AM  

1978. Holland, Michigan. We used the term SPLIFF. So what the what? Merriam-Webster identifies its first usage as 1936. I’m surprised that so many haven’t heard it before. SPLIFF Tail and SPLIFF Mood and One SPLIFF a Day make me think you all need more Rasta in your life.

@Karl Grouch - If I had made your link blue that really would have been showing off.

pmdm 10:42 AM  

First of all, to set things straight, I enjoy wordplay.

Also, to set things straight, I solve crossword puzzles for the challenge of solving the puzzle. Not to laugh. Not to care about how the theme works, although after solving I will judge my reaction to the theme. I do not solve crosswords to be thrilled by wordplay, although the wordplay in some puzzles sometimes impresses me.

The first two paragraphs of Z's first comment I think set things straight in a very level headed way. I enjoy Jeff's work much more than Z, but that is another story. Jeff himself seemed less than proud at how this puzzle turned out.

My final verdict. It's a Tuesday puzzle that I would think might not be to the new solvers' tastes. Not much on the humor level, with a theme that doesn't result in the meanings of the theme entries helping the solver. Seemed easy enough to get through (for the most part) but not much else. Perhaps a puzzle that deserves to be damned with faint praise.

Frantic Sloth 10:54 AM  

Well, whaddya know? Limb still intact. Surprise!

Yeah. I agree with others who ignored the theme while solving - it did make for a smoother go. Probably why I didn't mind it as much.
Oh, and especially since I never grokked it even after reading and re-reading that gawd-awful revealer clue and its huh?? answer.
In fact,
@Lewis 704am I thought of you and your alphadoppeltottin' this puzzle and even tried finding the theme in the alphadoppels somehow which only made my head hurt and teeth itch.
Finally, seemingly weeks later, (and because Rex hadn't posted yet) I just gave up and went to Wordplay for the explanation. (Hi, @GILL! )

Big whee.

Also agree with others that IKEAS is an escapee from the POC stalag and needs recapturing, then 30 days in the cooler, then a Geneva-Convention-be-damned public execution.
When did this become about Stalag 17/Hogan's Heroes/The Great Escape? (pick one)

@Karl Grouch 735am Your wish...and all that. But I see @Z (of course) has beat me to it.

@Z 837am Well, when you put it like that....blech!

@GILL I 855am I'm sure you've figured it out by now, but here goes:
TOOKHEED (the first themer, but that doesn't matter) backwards is DEEHKOOT. Each of those letters are now in alphabetical order
(DE _ _ H _ K _ _ _ OO _ _ _ _ T) which also means they were not in alphabetical order as entered - they were BACKORDERED.

Trust me - it ain't you, sister.

imfromjersey 10:56 AM  

My tweet says it all:

Swagomatic 11:04 AM  

I enjoyed the puzzle, but I totally whiffed on the theme.

Joe Dipinto 11:09 AM  

Joe Satriani is from Lawn Guyland.

Remember Broadway shows? (I think that's what these were called.)

Cristi 11:24 AM  


Frantic Sloth 11:26 AM  

@Roo 1006am One does this puzzle, then reads your rejection email "reasons" and one thinks "what a load of horsescheisse." (This one doesn't speak/understand much German) ANOA is unfamiliar??? And since when does unfamiliarity even matter?? I'm pissed off on your behalf. I mean, really! 😡
Sorry. Not sure if that would make you feel better or worse, but I'm on your side. 👍

@GILL I 1007am Sorry - I responded before seeing this, but I kinda already knew you'd have it by then. Except, I'll repeat: It ain't you. It's (the)me. 😉

@Mike Mangan 1011am Exactly!! I had the same reaction to TOLIFE. It just had to be an outlier. The alphadoppel monkey is a tough one to get off one's back.

@Karl Grouch and @Z - Clearly I have no problem with showing off. I so rarely have cause, after all.

SPLIFF/SCHMLIFF "A rose by any other name" and all that.

@pmdm 1042am "Jeff himself seemed less than proud at how this puzzle turned out."
I'm curious as to what happened between the time he completed construction and submitted it. Elves? Or is he implying the editing weakened it somehow?

burtonkd 11:29 AM  

@TSA - went to conservatory and became a classical music snob. Took a while to recover. Funny you picked up on that theme:)

Anonymous 11:34 AM  

Learned SPLIFF from a young British man 15 years ago on a cruise. Not much usage in the States. Could not figure out the theme until I came here. Only problem was Issa crossing Satriani - never heard of either.

Barbara S. 11:38 AM  

"My friends all drive Porsches*, I must make amends."

* pronounced: "Porschees"

jb129 11:39 AM  


I've smoked a lot of "joints" but never heard of spliff.

Unknown 11:41 AM  

Mike Mangan @ 10:11 exactly! I saw the double letters but didn't see how that fit in with the theme, and then TOLIFE is the outlier . . . . .?

Some of the crosses were a tad unfair for a Tuesday, but overall I liked the puz. Is EMO really an offshoot of punk? Never would have guessed.

To those of you who never heard of a spliff, you need to get out more . . . .

APTEST is heard just as often as APEXAM.

Z you've posted 4 times already; remember rex's "3 post" limit. Thanks.
Newbies might be more inclined to chime in if it's not a total back and forth between the handful of usual suspects.

Sacgurl 11:43 AM  

Yes isn’t this a classic Natick?

Tom R 11:46 AM  

This had to be easy. I solved without any reference help (and yes, on hard puzzles I often have to look something up - not proud or ashamed, it just is) or letter runs. But it was out of my comfort zone. On Spliff crossing Loompa, just plain guessed the P - never heard of either. Never heard of Satriani (not my music genre), just got it from all crosses, and never dreamed of that extra e in wookiee. Knew the answer, but not the spelling. It felt harder than it played.

Whatsername 12:05 PM  

@GHarris (10:02) re SPLIFF: Thanks, I don’t feel so out of touch for not knowing it now.

@Nancy (10:06) Brilliant post! And you made me laugh out loud. Pretty much what I was thinking too, but you said it far more eloquently . . . as usual.

@GILL (10:07) No, you are not stupid and don’t stress. The theme was gobbledygook as Nancy said and is so not worth it.

@Z (10:40) I’m one of those poor deprived souls completely ignorant of the term SPLIFF and who also for that matter, never set foot in Michigan. However I figure that in the grand scheme of things - considering the state of the world and especially the country we live in - if a lack of Rasta as you put it, is my biggest problem then I’m pretty fabulous. ;-)

Masked and Anonymous 12:07 PM  

Well … it's sorta different, I'd grant.

Most of the reverse-alphabetical themers seemed kinda desperate, since all but one had double letters. Most of em also were unimpressively short in length. I guess that's because there ain't many longer words that can do that cleanly, or without stallin out with oodles of double letters [example: SOOOOOOOOO…]. Good to now, I guess.

staff weeject pick: NIA. Does the theme backstroke cleanly and suck-sinked-ly.

Kinda ok with (St.) ELMOS (fire), tho.

Toughies at our house: LOOMPA. SPLIFF. SATRIANI.
Subliminally cool longballs: APPALLED. BEFOULED.

Thanx for all yer hard work findin stuff that goes downhill all the way, Mr. Chen dude. I'da thought there'd be a good one out there that starts with a "U-" …?

Masked & Anonymo5Us


Anonymous 12:07 PM  


Anonymous 12:08 PM  

Good old Janis :)

Z 12:11 PM  

@unknown 11:41 - Make sure you skip all the rest of my comments.

@burtonkd - I recall a classical music snob (the husband of my Art History prof) explaining why Dire Straits was so good so I’ve always appreciated recovered classical music snobs.

@Joe Dipinto - A parade rendition? Seriously? I imagine you’re more Topol than Zero Mostel.

I am still amazed at the number of people who haven’t heard a SPLIFF called a SPLIFF. All I can say is roll another one just like the other one (I was too young to go to Woodstock but clearly the music lives on).

Off to do some more patriotic duty so thought I’d leave with this.

Anonymous 12:29 PM  

Issa Rae has to have been in at least one puzzle a week for the past year. If you don't know her by now maybe you are not trying?

Masked and Anonymous 12:32 PM  

Slight correction to first m&a-msg: "Good to now" shoulda, of course, been: "Good to wonk".

M&A Fact Check Desk

JC66 12:35 PM  


You're one of the smartest "stupid" people on the blog.

@Unknown 11:41

Please show us where @Rex limits the number of posts one can make.

bocamp 12:48 PM  

@Z 12:11 PM - Skookum vid of Jimi at Woodstock! and, 👍 for your "patriotic duty".

@All the "multi-posters", do what you do! I enjoy all your posts, and if I didn't, I got a handy "2-finger-swipe-up" to scroll on by. 😉

BTW, there's no "Rex-3-post-rule"; might've been a "general guideline" in the early days when he moderated his own blog.

Peace Salam Frieden Paz שָׁלוֹם Pax 🕊

RooMonster 12:51 PM  

Har. Thanks for the support! I've been submitting puzs for (REDACTED), and at the start, was getting rejections that simply said, "Puz did not excite Will enough." After about (REDACTED), I sent a complaining e-mail, to which Joel (Mini-puz dude, who was I believe interning for Will at that time) responded something along the lines of "Sorry, we'll give you more feedback after this." Which they did.

I agree some of my early puzs weren't the best, but some of my later ones seem (to me) worthy of getting in. Oh well. I'm not making them with the gusto I once had. I really wanted to get one in NYT before submitting elsewhere, but as (REDACTED) has gone by, I might tweak some older ones and submit elsewhere. We'll see.

I'm sure some here are sick of my complaining! 😋


RooMonster Always A Bridesmaid Guy

mathgent 12:53 PM  

On Crossword Fiend, readers rate puzzles from one star to five stars. As of a couple of minutes ago, today’s NYT puzzle had an average rating of 2.16. I don’t remember seeing a lower rating there.

Kathleen 1:03 PM  

How do you do puzzles so fast? I don’t thinkI can even write that fast even if I knew all the answers. Do you write the answers or speak them somehow?Thanks

bocamp 1:10 PM  

@RooMonster 12:51 PM - 👍 on the "0" 😉

Peace Salam Frieden Paz שָׁלוֹם Pax 🕊

Teedmn 1:12 PM  

YUPPIE, the theme is pretty meh. But I got Joe SATRIANI from the ending ANI and finished in average time so I'll takes Rex's themeless suggestion and call it satisfactory.

I've finally remembered the double-E (Hi, @Lewis) on WOOKIEE, yay.

"Gut course" is not a thing here (where it's expected to snow 3-6 inches today). My puzzle-solving coworker had the same "huh?" on 33A's clue.

@M&A, thanks for the SOOOOOOO laugh.

Jeff Chen, congratulations on stumping most of us with this theme, in more way than one.

Anoa Bob 1:13 PM  

I was in the same boat with those who couldn't make heads or tails out of the theme. When it finally dawned on me that it was supposed to be alphabetically BACK ORDERED, I thought "How can that be?". Seems to me that ABCD would be an example of an alphabetically ordered sequence and DCBA would be the alphabetically BACK ORDERED version.

The theme entries don't show that kind of alphabetical ORDER to me. The theme seems rather to be that if the letters are each assigned an ordinal number (1st for A, 2nd for B, etc.) then the letters of each theme answer would go from later to earlier ordinal position, but in no particular sequence or ORDER and in all but one themer with repeated ordinal positions.

That's it? Really? That seems somewhat arbitrary, even pointless to me. For example, the BACKward ordinal sequence for TOOK HEED would be 4 5 5 8 10 15 15 20 and YUPPIE would be 5 9 16 16 21 25. I just don't see much of a coherent pattern there, so I'll join those who take it as a themeless Tuesday.

As a themeless I wouldn't say I was APPALLED at the fill but I also wouldn't same I AM A FAN. Several of yous have noticed the grid was BEFOULED by the POCs-a-plenty on display. Check out the two-for-one variety in the bottom row. And with stuff like NIA (MIAS niece?), SATRIANI, WOOKIE, ISSA, & USDO/BYO/EMO/TEAMO/LARGO, what can I say? I ain't FER it.

@Roo, I never put my spirit animal in a puzzle because ANOA is considered anathema by editors and will get rejected. The LA Times crossword style sheet even specifically mentions ANOA as fill to be avoided. That's kind of ironic because when I first read the "ANOA is anathema" instruction, the Los Angeles Zoo had an ANOA exhibit! Don't know if they still have an exhibit for the smallest of the buffalo but here's a video of an ANOA at the Los Angeles Zoo attacking a territory invader. Notice that she comes over for a much deserved reward after she vanquishes the nefarious enemy and saves the day!

Anonymous 1:25 PM  

joint, doobie, reefer, yes. but SPLIFF? I have not smoked since 1981, must be the reason

Blackhat 1:38 PM  

@ Sharon AK (1:37 YESTERDAY)

Bush, sam, lee, opel, cairo, oslo,alpo,ray,earle,allen,siri,odin,peale,lola...

However, upon further review I realize Ray was not clued as a name so should be struck from the count. So 13, not 14.

Barbara S. 1:55 PM  

Sorry, @Karl Grouch (7:35 a.m.) and @Grouch-helpers (@Z and @Frantic). I now realize my 11:38 a.m. post was a big, fat redundancy. My excuse is that internet connectivity problems today prevented me from having a thorough perusal of the blog before I posted. But, anyway, you just can't hardly have too much Janis.

(I hope this link works and that said connectivity problems don't sabotage it.)

GILL I. 1:55 PM  

Thank you all my Mensa friends (you know who you are)....I did this around 3:30 in the AM and kept thinking I was missing some jelly beans from @Frantic's emoji. Went back to bed.
I've always admired Jeff and his creativity. This one still belongs in @Nancy's BALDERDASH and I want to ROOMBA it in the proverbial WOOKIEE. Speaking of.....SPLIFF. It's been legal here in California for several years. I don't partake and I'll tell you why:
*****************SMOKE ALERT************
When I lived in Spain (under Franco's regime) you so much as mentioned or even spelled P O T, the Guardia Civil hauled you off to the pokey. The fear of ever getting caught and having to spend the night or maybe 70 years with little rats eating your mush, was enough to never make you want to be around it. Anyway....when I came to live in NYC my musician brother thought it would be fun to introduce me to the
Gods of Enlightenment." He did....We were on our way to Coney Island and what better place than on the Ferris wheel to get me started. I began laughing. Loud. Uncontrollably. I couldn't hold it in. You try walking around an amusement park, holding onto a hot dog and an ice cream cone with wet pants. It's not fun and your pants take forever to dry.
I'm a it more (ahem) mature now, but this stuff still gets me laughing to that same point. I need to be around a bathroom and that's not always possible. I'll stick to wine and some good Scotch.

I say comment away. The more, the merrier.
@JC66....You are one sweet dude. Tonight I raise my Talisker to ye......

Anonymous 2:01 PM  

I also gave up on the theme as a clue. All the themers but "to life", down near the bottom, had double letters, so I assumed that was relevant in some way. It wasn't.

As another old person who hasn't smoked since the 80s, I'd say you don't have to 'get out more" to know the term 'spliff' - just read more & watch more movies...

Nancy 2:01 PM  

@Anoa Bob (1:13) -- Enchanting, Anoa Bob, absolutely enchanting. One of the best animal videos I've ever seen, and I love all animal videos. I now understand your nom de blog. Why, if I'd seen this clip years ago, who knows? I might have entered Rexworld as "@Anoa Nancy". :)

Anonymous 2:06 PM  

You're right about spliff, wrong about Cal Cunningham. You no doubt have seen heard your Governor caught on that hot mic talking to Biden about dragging Cunningham over the finish line, right?
I ask you again: do you find Cunningham and his behavior loathsome?

Anonymous 2:07 PM  

Unenjoyable solve for me with several clumsy plurals and little interest from either the fill or clues. Think the grid needed a couple more rounds of revisions to improve some of the issues with it fill-wise.

Frantic Sloth 2:10 PM  

@Barbara S 1138am Thank you! Always room for Janis! 🤙

@Roo 1251pm Okay. You're a good guy, but I don't suffer from that particular affliction, so (REDACTED) 'em.

@Anoa Bob 113pm Great video! She should work for a moving company I know. Re: ANOA - I don't get the aversion, mostly because the only reason I even know the word is the NYTXW. It has appeared on multiple occasions over the years, so what's changed?
And not for nothin', but there are, have been, and will no doubt continue to be worse words deemed acceptable. IMHO, but I'm right. 😉

@Barbara S 155pm Well, imagine my embarrassment for not even noticing the redundancy because, someFShow* I never watched the original! Anyway, thanks for the new video. I'm reasonably sure it hasn't been posted before...

*some(FranticSloth)how...because there's just no other explanation.

@GILL I 155pm 🤣🤣🤣 Well, I guess that excuse is as good as any. The story though. I'm dyin' here!
Also, agree wholeheartedly about @JC66. 😘

bocamp 2:11 PM  

@Barbara S. 1:55 PM - The link works, and a fine one it is. 👍


Peace Salam Frieden Paz שָׁלוֹם Pax 🕊

Joe Dipinto 2:37 PM  

@Z – it's the cast of the 2015 Broadway revival, with Danny Burstein as Tevye. I saw the original late in its run, when Zero Mostel was long gone. (And btw the film is very good.)

@Anoa Bob – that video's great. Whee!– She's having more fun than most of us right now.

chefwen 2:58 PM  

@GILL I, At least you thought about the theme. I gave it five minutes, went off to see what Deb Amlen had to say about it, still didn’t understand, called it a day and went to bed. Turns out it wasn’t worth thinking about at all. Loved your weed story.

jae 3:07 PM  

Easy. Exactly what @Rex said. Pretty good easy themeless, meh theme.

Anoa Bob 3:20 PM  

@Nancy, there are two species of Anoa in Indonesia, the highland and the lowland. My avatar is the lowland version, so the highland Anoa is available for adoption!

@Frantic, the Anoa used to be a regular in crossword grids. says it has appeared 166 times overall but only four times during the Shortz era, the last time being 2004. Other than it being associated with olde timey crosswords, I don't know why editors have such an aversion to the noble beast. I mean, it's a real, existing animal, that's the way it is spelled (i.e., you don't need a "var." in the clue), there are lots of YouTube videos of it and Anoas can be found in zoos around the world.

Since we see animals such as the YAK, IBEX, DIKDIK, ORYX, IBIS and OKAPI on a regular basis in contemporary crossword grids, it seems like the systematic exclusion of ANOA from those same pages constitutes a clear and blatant case of biobigotry.

bocamp 3:24 PM  


Peace Salam Frieden Paz שָׁלוֹם Pax 🕊

Karl 5:32 PM  

I never figured out what the revealer meant either. Still solved in Wed/Thu time. I agree with Rex about the super cryptic themes. If it doesn't jump out at you once you've gotten two or three of the themed answers, it's not a good theme.

RooMonster 5:42 PM  

In case anyone was wondering what my (REDACTED)s meant in my last post, it meant how long I've been submitting puzs without getting a Yes. And amount of puzs submitted. It's embarrassing to admit either! And ego-busting.

Anyway, @bocamp, Congrats on your "0"! It seems you've been getting them quite a bit. My last was 10/8, although yesterday was -1.

Ode to an Ano
Little buffalo, oft forgotten
Same size as sheep who give us cotton
You're underappreciated, tis true
To the animal word, you're like the kazoo.
You run around like a little prancer
But you just can't seem to be a NYTXW answer.

I ain't I @Nancy when it comes to impromptu verse!


RooMonster 6:01 PM  

That should be "Ode To An Anoa"
I don't want to do an Ode to an @$$hole!


albatross shell 10:37 PM  

I have some difficulty understanding why the theme was difficult get.

...or a hint, alphabetically, to the starred clues.

BACKORDERED alphabetically to backwards alphabetically seems like a fairly minimal leap. I suppose if you had RIOTS and IMAFAN it might help with the OO in ROOMBA or the final O of a foreign language phrase.

The theme was not a big aha nor a wow nor a laugh. Adequate I guess.

I did like the TROLLing SPLIFF and the BEFOULED DROOLS and the WOOKIEE ROOMBA. Less so TO LIFE, SPOONFED and YUPPIE who TOOK HEED. Lots to like in the theme answers.

Mr. Alarm 10:44 PM  

OK, I’m the one who still doesn’t get it! I feel like a damn fool trying to even get it it’s so stupid! I don’t see any letters going backwards except fed DEF in a couple of DE words at the end. Where is it in Spliff? Or Wookiee? Is the a-b of Roomba one? I HATE this puzzle! It should be fun to find the theme, not frustrating. Or am I just too dumb to be doing crosswords?!

Z 10:51 PM  

Where are all the SB Alerts? Did I miss an announcement?

@Mr. Alarm - You are not alone. See my 9:51 a.m. comment. Hopefully that helps.

Anywho - @anon - "loathsome?" Nope. Not even mildly disgusted though pretty amused. I've seen stats that something like 60% of married people cheat at least once on their spouse, so mostly Cunningham is typical. I've said it before, the people I find loathsome are the Newt Gingriches and Jerry Falwell Jrs with their preaching and profiteering. It's never the sex that bothers me, it is only the hypocrisy.

just me 11:03 PM  

Best part of the theme was reading your rant about it!

Mr. Alarm 11:04 PM  

D-E is in alphabetical order, but F comes after E, not H. Help!

Mr. Alarm 11:34 PM  

Thank you Z.! I finally see what the poor excuse for a theme is supposed to be, thanks to your spelling it out, literally.

No wonder I couldn’t decipher it - It’s ridiculously stupid. Man, what some people will come up with to mentally excuse dumb ideas!

Mr. Alarm 11:36 PM  

Same here, all counts!

Mr. Alarm 12:00 AM  

Yes, thank you Z...Yours and Frantic Sloth, 10:54, cleared it up for me. Except it’s still stupid! Rex is right. Forget the theme. It’s not worth figuring out.

Thanks again for your help!

Teedmn 12:50 AM  

@Roo, love the poem, very apt!

Anonymous 7:50 AM  

To supercharge an engine is to push more air into it, generally with a compressor running off a belt from the engine itself. It does not mean to REV the engine. You can REV any engine, supercharged or not. Misfire.

Anneke 12:13 PM  

Maybe try to think of alphabetizing the letters. They are in alphabetical order, but without an F and G. H still comes after E in the alphabet, just not directly.

curtis 12:12 AM  

In reverse order buuuuut with gaps in the order. Not direct back to back order just like, in general. Liiike TIC would be, because C is before I is before T ... it’s not great haha

thefogman 9:50 AM  

Meh. Jeff can be so much better than this.

spacecraft 10:21 AM  

Didn't have much trouble filling it in, but as they say, "Whatchyou talkin' 'bout, Willis?" Or, Jeff? Read the clue for 38a and immediately put in ONBACKORDER, which, of course, fits. AND, it's what real people say. When you call the store after your missing item, they do NOT say "It's BACKORDERED." They say: "It's ON BACK ORDER." THAT's what they say. So, big inkblot across the middle.

Still didn't know what he was getting at, until reading the lead blog here--and I couldn't agree more. Who cares indeed? Full agreement; this should be done as a themeless, in which case USDO wins the AP prize. Despite tying a very well-known Shakespearean line to it, this is a real clunker.

Never heard of SPLIFF, crosses took care of that, as they did that Joe guitarist fella. ISSA Rae has no competition for DOD. IMAFAN. Birdie.

leftcoaster 3:14 PM  

As OFL says....

"Overall, enjoyable enough to solve. I just wish I could've walked away from the puzzle as soon as I was done and remained blissfully unaware of the theme pointlessness.”

From time to time, this is the sort of puzzling puzzle that JC likes to do.

Burma Shave 3:37 PM  


IT’S TRU he PREPAYed for IT all,
so the TIMID YUPPIE felt tortured,


rondo 4:26 PM  

I have this to say about the theme - ________________.

I’ve seen Joe SATRIANI live. That guy can play the guitar. He’s also got his own show on one of the satellite stations; he likes to feature other guitar players.

Looks like the MIAS share. That clue shoulda been about certain soldiers. ABSENT coulda been clued something other than AWOL.

BYO LSU ASU AAS FER, what more to ASK FER.

Diana, LIW 4:55 PM  

Giant Natick in the SE, but otherwise easier than Monday.

Last night I did a puzzle that relied on wordplay instead of PPP. It was really fun.

Diana, Lady-in-Waiting for Crosswords

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