It debuted on 1/6/1975 / THU 11-19-20 / Peaceful rustic scene / Long-running TV series set in Las Vegas / ADA compliance option / Noted retiree of '03 / Country that has no rivers / Memorable hurricane of 2017 / People who are tight in modern lingo / Room opposite kitchen on Clue board

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Constructor: Derek J. Angell

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (untimed)

THEME: "Wheel of Fortune" — theme answers have no vowels, central Down answer = "CAN I BUY A VOWEL?" (13D: What you might cry when trying to answer the six starred clues?)

Theme answers:
  • MRV GRFFN (18A: *Creator of 55-Across) (Merv Griffin)
  • VNNWHT (20A: *Co-host of 55-Across) (Vanna White)
  • RSTLN (30A: *Group of six given for free on 55-Across) 
  • PTSJK (41A: *Co-host of 55-Across) (Pat Sajak)
  • BNKRPT (52A: *Bad place to land on 55-Across) ("Bankrupt!")
  • WHLFFRTN (55A: *It debuted on 1/6/1975) ("Wheel of Fortune")
Word of the Day: NEAL McDonough (23D: Actor McDonough) —

Neal McDonough
 (born February 13, 1966) is an American actor and producer, known for his portrayal of Lieutenant Lynn "Buck" Compton in the HBO miniseries Band of Brothers (2001), Deputy District Attorney David McNorris on Boomtown (2002–2003), Sean Cahill on Suits, Robert Quarles on Justified, William Parker in Mob City, and Dave Williams on ABC's Desperate Housewives (2008–2009). He also appeared in films such as Star Trek: First ContactMinority ReportWalking TallThe GuardianFlags of Our FathersRed 2The Marine 3: Homefront,  TraitorThe HitcherPaul Blart: Mall Cop 2Proud Mary, and as Dum Dum Dugan in various Marvel Cinematic Universe films and TV series. He appeared as Damien Darhk on Arrow, and in Legends of Tomorrow. He also plays as Malcolm Beck on Yellowstone. He is also known for voicing a variety of comic book characters, most notably Bruce Banner in the animated TV series The Incredible Hulk (1996-1997). (wikipedia)
• • •

Last day of actual (virtual) face-to-face classes today, so I gotta get to it, ergo this will be brief. Speaking of brief—it did not take me long to figure out this theme, and thus (pretty much) take any kind of theme energy, any chance of future surprise, completely out of the puzzle. I mean, once you get the gimmick, the rest of the theme stuff is obvious (except BNKRPT—totally forgot that was a SPIN possibility ... haven't watched this show since high school, i.e. for decades). Anyway, here's where I was when the puzzle was basically over for me:

I took one look at that "MRVGR-" combo up top, then I took another look at it, then I realized, "nope, those letters are all solid, something weird is clearly going on with the theme." Then, since the MRVGR- clue referred to 55-Across, I looked at 55-Across, and though the date didn't tell me much, the fact that I was dealing with a "creator" and a "debut" told me a TV show was involved, and Merv Griffin came right to mind (I wonder if younger people are as familiar with his name as I am. He had his own afternoon talk show when I was a kid). And that was that. You've got that vowel question as your anchor. The concept here is cute, but in the end the theme is something of a miss, first because I was basically done before I began, which made filling in most of the other themers a rote exercise. But the bigger problem is the phrasing of the question. Really feels like "I'D LIKE TO BUY A VOWEL" is the phrase that people say. Really really feels that way. Here, the phrase has been fudged into a question, purely for structural reasons (so it can be 13 letters long and sit dead center, and so the "N" and "W" can sit in positions that allow for the symmetrical crosses (MRVGRFFN, WHLFFRTN). Over before it began, and *clank* on the marquee answer. OK idea, iffy execution.

[This was somehow a radio hit when I was in high school.
I don't remember it being sung by some Cheech Marin knock-off (!?!)]

Only a couple trouble spots. Weirdly, the answer that fought me the most was SEEDBED (25A: Groundwork of a plant manager?). Had -EED- and went for WEEDING. Then, later, WEEDBED (!?). Is a SEEDBED just an area that has been recently seeded? Oh, I see that it's the ground that has been prepared for seeding. Ok. I have heard the term. But I still like WEEDING, which is definitely work that a "plant manager" does, and it's a word in common use. No idea who the NEAL actor was, though looking at pictures, I've seen him in things a bunch. He's basically the "hey, *that* guy" of contemporary TV (I have a lot of these in the older movies I watch). Had -ETFISH and honestly no idea what that first letter was supposed to be (41D: Aquarium denizen). Thought there might be a species called the JETFISH. But no's a PET ... FISH :( Pat Sajak helped me there, which helped me finish off the eastern section. SST gave me trouble (24A: Noted "retiree" of '03). Never flew on one, really shaky on the dates they were operational. I actually refused to anagram WINTER'S O'S and got SNOW TIRES from crosses (9D: Apt anagram of WINTER'S O'S). Something about having to stop my solve to rearrange letters felt insulting. Because I forgot "Bankrupt!" was a SPIN option, not knowing FAN (60A: Geisha's accessory) had me struggling slightly in the SW. After OBI, I'm fresh out of ideas for 3-letter Geisha accessories. FAN, you say? OK. The end. (Somehow this write-up wasn't any shorter than my regular write-ups; habit is a strong force...)

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

P.S. I liked UP VOTES (43A: Online endorsements)

P.P.S. the A.D.A. in 12D: A.D.A.-compliance option (RAMP) is the Americans with Disabilities Act, not the American Dental Association, in case you were confused

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Lewis 6:47 AM  

This is a true tribute puzzle, accent on “puzzle”. That is, it’s not just a listing of words related to the topic, but also adding a layer that tribute puzzles don’t normally have – having to get to those words by uncracking a gimmick. Furthermore, that gimmick is related to the topic, making this a Meta Tribute Puzzle.


Vague cluing and not getting the gimmick early on made for an expanse of white for an expanse of time – oh, and how I love those expanses of white! They make me pull out the pick and shovel and work the brain in the way it craves.

And so I came to a very satisfying finish, with a touch of BLISS. Much gratitude, Derek. This is one terrific DBT!

Conrad 6:48 AM  

In Wheel, vowels cost money, which you must have won by guessing at least one consonant correctly. So contestants who may be unsure of the rules or not know if they have enough money might ask, "Can I buy a vowel?"

Joaquin 6:56 AM  

Today’s puzzle brought back an old memory: Years ago, my lawyer was involved in creating a new corporation. The new entity had seven partners and they thought it would be cool to name their company using an anagram of the partners’ initials. Turns out, all the initials were consonants.

They called their new company NOVOWEL, INC.

Frantic Sloth 7:11 AM  

Funny. CANIBUYAVOWEL wasn't even on the list of things that I wanted to "cry when trying to answer the six starred clues."
But then that list wouldn't be publishable, so I had to rethink the "you" in the clue as "a normal, less spazztastic person" and lo and behold I had the answer.

The theme semi-redeemed itself when the looky-loo part of the clues proved unnecessary.
Good thing because when I got to 18A, the (ugh!) looky-looieness and what I originally thought were errors (MRVG - duh! It's Thursdee!), did not bode well at all.

Moving quickly along to 20A, saw V _ _ WHT, the angels sang, and I was on my way to putting this sucker down!

Wheel of Fortune, huh? No comment.

The fill was basic and uninspired, but nothing particularly egregious. High praise. Low bar. But not unpleasant.

Having PETFISH crossing DIEOUT seems morbidly apt, with their life expectancy barely surpassing that of the Woolworth's turtle.


DeeJay 7:15 AM  

Fun puz, perfect Thursday for noobs.


I know the NYTXW schedules puzzles six weeks out AND that there is an entire syndicate universe to consider. Yet still I felt it strange and inappropriate to 'celebrate' Pat, Merv and Vanna within the same week as the passing of Alex Trebek, a truly iconic game show icon.

Harryp 7:20 AM  

Yet another debut puzzle. NYT will not be short of constructors for the future. I could sense some sort of vowel foul early on, but had a lot of iffy fill until I saw 52A BANKRUPT, and 55A WHEEL OF FORTUNE. after that it was easy, but my solve time says Challenging Thursday. Liked it a lot, and give it my personal POW.

MPPSC Notes 7:32 AM  

Today’s puzzle brought back an old memory: Years ago, my lawyer was involved in creating a new corporation. The new entity had seven partners and they thought it would be cool to name their company using an anagram of the partners’ initials. Turns out, all the initials were consonants.

They called their new company NOVOWEL, INC.

Small Town Blogger 7:34 AM  

Can someone explain 30A (RSTLN) to me?

kitshef 7:36 AM  

As soon as I read the clue for 18A, I assumed this was going to be an Alex Trebek tribute puzzle. I even went straight to 55A to fill in jeopaRdy before going back to figure out how MERV GRIFFIN was going to be rebussed in. Not until I hit the VN at the beginning of VNNWHT did I realize I was in the right magazine but on the wrong page.

SST, HGTV ISBNS and BFFS feel like bugs – only the themers should be vowel-less. Not to mention there are just too many initialisms and abbrevs already:

DIE OUT crossing CROAK. Also crossing PET FISH. Yeah, don’t give me anything living – not even a plant. My history in this area is very poor.

Wit 7:43 AM  

I didn't grok the theme as early as Rex. But I sussed out early on that the themers were encoded in some way. Attacked the revealer, had a d'oh! moment and the rest fell pretty easily. For me a good example of the revealer being a decoder ring.

Had the same experience with OBI/FAN.
Enjoyed upvote - actually au courant.
Appreciated the clue for SST as a bit of a break from the usual (got it faster than Rex).
Had to pull RSTLN from my hindbrain. Like Rex, I haven't watched the wheel in 3+ decades and had completely forgotten that rule.

Indulgent story (apologies in advance):
About 20 years ago, I was a regional head of a company with space at 780 Third Ave - a fairly tawny building. We were looking for a larger space, so the building showed us a space that was becoming available soon. They warned me to be discreet as the employees had no idea. We got there and it turned out to be Merv Griffin Enterprises. Unfortunately, the big man wasn't there that day. The office was a total wreck and decorated like a 70s time capsule (very appropriate). The offices were largely windowless, small, and piled with papers, binders, etc. The employees did not look happy - not sure what was going on there.

780 was an interesting building - other denizens included (then) Senator Clinton and Jim McMahon and the WWE (think it was still WWF at that time).

By the by, I also had a meeting at the NYT around the same time (the old building obviously). It was just as bad. It felt like the set of Barney Miller.

country mouse 7:55 AM  

The only one of the "theme" words that's not translated inot vowelled English is RSTLN. What is it??????

TTrimble 7:56 AM  

For a while, watching WHLFFRTN was a bit of a ritual with me. It seems that I'm pretty good at the game. My mom used to sneer at me for watching, in the belief that it's fodder for an intellectually lesser clientele than say Jeopardy! (with which it is often paired, timewise), but I maintain that Jeopardy! is mainly Trivial Pursuit, only occasionally requiring real ratiocination, puzzle-solving abilities, whereas "The Wheel" requires much more of that. (So there, Mom.)

Thus, once I got the theme (which I think occurred round about getting CAN I BUY A VOWEL), the theme answers dropped in right away. Time was well under average for a Thursday.

Couldn't think of IRMA right away. These storms, there are just so many of them now, can't keep up any more.

Speaking of DEL being a state where corporations incorporate, I learned last night that Monsanto used to be headquartered in yesterday's CREVE COEUR, before being bought out by Bayer. Who knew.

I puzzled a bit over FIXE. With "set", I was going "ensemble? no, that's obviously not right". I had to guess TEXARKANA first before the correct sense of "set" kicked in. And couldn't think of any Spanish for condiment or hot sauce, and temporarily forgot that Tabasco is a Mexican state, but got there eventually. I'm happy to say that Pachelbel's Canon was something that came down my piano pike while I was taking lessons, so D MAJ wasn't hard. (And a lot of people call it "Pachelbel's Canon in D" anyway.)

That's all for now. Have a good day, folks.

Z 7:57 AM  

If anything, I glommed on to the trick quicker than Rex. I thought Ignorance is BLISS but the 76ers clue insisted, so I started there. Dropping in HGTV and ISBNS gave me the funky looking VN combo and that was all she wrote. Four answers written into the grid and the fat lady was already singing.

Since I do occasionally watch WHLFFRTN before Jeopardy I have heard contestants say CAN I BUY A VOWEL? PTSJK often has a snarky response. It’s fine as a revealer

Johnny DEPP got canned because he might be an abuser. The Vatican has launched an investigation into how the Pope’s Twitter account managed to “like” a photo of a scantily clad teen (I didn’t know the Vatican had interns). Indeed, some days ignorance is BLISS.

Absotutley no idea on NEAL McDonough. The man has had a fine career without me (almost) ever seeing anything he was in. I looked at that long list of movies and shows and have seen exactly one ever. I was reading that bio excerpt and thinking of Springsteen. For me, if you’re going to clue NEAL with an A it would need to be NEAL Stephenson. Otherwise, give me some crosses. Any other nominees for Best Neal With an A Clue?

Anonymous 7:59 AM  

Seems a bit too easy for a Thursday, to me.

My opening looked almost exactly like Rex's (except I had also entered 5D) and from there 13D went in and the rest was on autopilot.

Strangely enough, I also had trouble with SST, as I couldn't see what the crossing anagram was (I'm not good with them). I took the time to write the letters down to find the missing T. We never have a need for 9D here, so they're not top of mind.

Even taking the time to play anagram games, I finished in half my average Thursday time.

Rest Lane? 8:01 AM  

1) why did SPIN still have a vowel? 2) can someone please explain what RSTLN works out to be with vowels?

Z 8:03 AM  

The night’s champion has a chance at a big prize. For the final puzzle they are given RSTLN and E and then get to pick three more consonants and one more vowel. I think earlier in the show’s history people could pick five vowels and a consonant and everyone eventually ended up always picking RSTLN and E. Why are they ordered RSTLN(E)? No idea.

JennG 8:05 AM  

RSTLNE are the letters they give you for free in the final round, before you choose your own. They left E off here because it's a vowel.

Anonymous 8:06 AM  

@country mouse: At the end of the Wheel of Fortune, there's a bonus round played by the contestant with the highest score from the game that day. The bonus round is one additional puzzle, but they give you the consonants R, S, T, L, N and the vowel E as a starter. You're then allowed to choose 3 additional consonants and another vowel.

Originally, the show didn't give you any letters, but you chose 5 consonants and a vowel on your own. Over the years, most contestants settled on those 6 letters by default (being common English letters), and for some reason, they were usually called in that order (RSTLN) rather than in alphabetical order.

After the rules were adjusted to spot the contestant those 6 letters, the puzzles of course were modified to use the less common letters more often than they had in the past.

mmorgan 8:07 AM  

I’ve never seen Wheel of Fortune but enough of it has seeped into popular culture that I was able to solve this, once I figured out the gimmick — I first thought it was going to be a rebus. The names of the principals were easy and the rest (such as BNKRPT) I got largely through crosses. And RSTLN I got from reading this blog!

KnittyContessa 8:08 AM  

What a fun tribute puzzle. At first I thought it was a rebus but quickly figured out what was going on. The only theme answer that slowed me down was RSTLN but the crosses were easy. SMARTEN SELFIE SEEDBED slowed me down a bit. For some reason I had sandbed. Is that a thing?

It would have been nice to have a Jeopardy tribute puzzle though.

Unknown 8:11 AM  

Still had no Idea what RSTLN is. Rest line? Not a fan of Wheel of Fortune so not fully familiar with its terminology I solved it just by filling in the grid.

I was first alerted we were dealing with a theme when I solved for CROAK and STUDY. The letters on the across grid was two consonants together. That usually prompts me to think rebus but I saw as the puzzle developed that wasn't true. Like many here, you sometimes go with your gut and solve the grid

Rex we may be of the same generation. I, too, recall Mervyn Griffin in the afternoons. Never a real game show fan, though as a kid I liked to Tell the Truth and Truth and Consequences. The 70s version. Maybe that laid the seed for me to become a trial lawyer :)

Thanks for the blog. This is my first comment. I like reading the comments and see how others are solving

Best of luck with a return to virtual teavhing

Z 8:11 AM  

@Rest Lane - The clue for SPIN wasn’t asterisked so we should realize that it doesn’t get the vowelless treatment. Also, it goes down and all the vowelless answers are acrosses. Personally, I would have eschewed a non-themed but related to the show answer, but others will view it as a nice little bonus.

bocamp 8:11 AM  

@Thx, Derek; perfect Thurs. challenge! Really ended up liking and admiring the theme and its execution. Well done! :)

Puttered along ignoring all the nonsensical fill, until 30A, where "rstln" clued me in. The rest was a smooth elimination of the vowels.

Av. Thurs. time.

New: "Depp" (as clued); "Neal"; "HGTV" (as clued); "d maj" (as clued).

Corrections: 3D ("i dig" for "i see") / 27A ("neat" for "tidy").

Fav. clues/answers: "bliss"; "cogs"; "seed bed"; "epee"; "beers"; "smarten"; "selfie"; "isbns"; "yank"; "tildes"; "bffs"; "t-bar"; "lie".

Was once an epeeist.

Cotton Fields - Creedence Clearwater Revival

Peace Salam Paz Paix 🕊

TJS 8:19 AM  

With ya, @Z. have seen one of this McDonough guys appearences, Minority Report. Weird to have somehow avoided all the rest.

Used to stop in at this bar on the way home from work that always had Wheel of Fortune on. Almost no one would pay any attention to it. There seemed to always be one new guy who stared at the screen and would triumphally yell out the answer. None of the regulars would react. A minute or two later, someone would yell out the same answer and we would all congratulate him like he was Albert Einstein. Good for a laugh.

Seemed like more non-words than words in this "crossword" puzzle. Blah.

Megan Mcquown 8:19 AM  

I loved this puzzle. Quick and easy and well executed. Helped that I was on Whlffrtn in 1997. This was fantastic.

Paul 8:19 AM  

Could be the most common group of free letters players can chose. But I thought you could chose any letters, so I don’t see how they’re “given.”

kitshef 8:26 AM  

@Z - Patricia is the go-to NEAL 'round here.

albatross shell 8:27 AM  

I had to see CANIBUYAVOWEL to get the theme. I was about a third done (not all correctly). Same as Rex on PETFISH and SEEDBED. I had trouble on the 5 consonants you get for free, but for some reason knew the vowel was E was the 6th, which of course was no help at all.

Rex is correct that CANIBUYAVOWEL is not the most common phrase on the show, but it is not clued as having anything to do with the show, and it is still a very effective revealer without even being clued that way. Well actually, I haven't watched her show enough to know he is right, I just think he is. Even so, not a just criticism.

I am with @Lewis today. I hope a good time was had by all.

TTrimble 8:30 AM  

For people wondering about RSTLN: the final segment of Wheel of Fortune has the winner from the three contestants doing a solo round where they have a chance to win a substantial amount of money by solving a puzzle in 10 seconds. The puzzle is shown with all instances of R, S, T, L, N, and E already entered in, and they get to pick three other consonants and a vowel, and... well, I not sure how much else you want to know. But toss away the vowel and you get RSTLN.

ChuckD 8:30 AM  

Not for me - don’t like the show - never really watched and it didn’t like solving a tribute puzzle to it.

Liked the clues for BEERS and SEED BED - most of the fill was solid.

If it wasn’t for the theme - this would have been an enjoyable Thursday. Stay tuned for next week when we get a puzzle dedicated to Match Game PM.

Virtual Rando 8:37 AM  

Justified was a good series. Neal McDonough plays one of those characters you love to hate.
The puzzle was a disappointment. I got the gimmick too early.

Hungry Mother 8:41 AM  

Never watched the show, but I used to watch Merv Griffin and knew that he invented a lot of TV. I sensed the theme after a bit of slogging around. Luckily, I once ate a chicken-friend steak at a buffet in TEXARKANA on my way, with some colleagues, to a math convention in San Antonio. I knew the hosts of the theme show, so that helped.

Sixthstone 8:47 AM  

You had me at 1D: BEERS! Like Rex, the theme came easy and thus the puzzle. Quick, clever, and very enjoyable. CHEERS!

Mary Sofia 9:06 AM  


Sammo 9:07 AM  

I'm a huge game show fan, so figuring out the theme and solving this was mostly no sweat--only place I briefly stumbled was having HDTV at 7D, which is the far more commonly-seen answer so I just kind of glazed over the clue at first.

Ironically, although I do love game shows, "Wheel" is probably my least-favorite show in its current incarnation--just way too many gimmicks and flashy stuff happening on what should be a simple Hangman game. And man, if you think the NYTXW resorts to arcane/weird fill, you should see some of the puzzles they use nowadays, especially in the Bonus Round. You can tell the producers really don't want it to be won when it ends up being something like JAZZ XYLOPHONIST or WAXING MY HEDGEHOG. But I digress. I never really comment on these, but with today's puzzle I couldn't resist. Happy Stay-at-homesgiving, everyone!

pmdm 9:07 AM  

Took me a while to figure out the gimmick. True, once you get the gimmick the theme entries fall into place. But it took me long enough to figure out the gimmick that the solve was enjoyable for a Thursday puzzle. Yesterday we jammed more than one letter into squares. Today we eliminate letters from squares. Nice sequence, I think.

Elsewhere the constructor thanked Shortz for running the puzzle soon enough to allow his mother, who has cancer, to solve the puzzle. How sad. And it makes JeeJay's comment somewhat besides the point.

Ellen C 9:09 AM  

Once I had the V in the clue about Merv Griffin, I jumped to the reveal and immediately saw can I buy a vowel. I thought this was a clever puzzle and enjoy being able to complete a Thursday puzzle so swiftly

Nancy 9:09 AM  

At the top of 13D I had "CAN I" and at the bottom I had "OWEL". The clue was "What you might cry when trying to answer the six starred clues." I immediately knew what the answer had to be:

"CAN I THROW IN THE TOWEL?" (No, I'm not joking.)

It didn't fit of course, but then almost nothing else did either.

Oh, was my "Aha Moment" (it deserves capital letters today) huge when I got to VNNWHT and finally saw what was going on. And then this close to impossible puzzle became easy and I galloped through the rest of it.

I live for puzzles like this! I love when all my initial befuddlement turns to understanding and I feel really smart. I immediately forget just how dumb I was feeling only a moment earlier. A clever, dense, challenging theme carried out expertly. Great job!

bocamp 9:11 AM  

@Rex wrote:

"… habit is a strong force...)"

Ain't that the truth!

And, yes, did want the dental angle for "A.D.A."


Enjoyed reading the constructor's comments on XWord Info, and did notice the "pull quote" this time (learning is happening). LOL

Had "weeding" before "seed bed".

Side eye: "pet fish".

Seems like the "sst" was retired long before '03.

As much as I love anagrams, I'm not big on them in the crossword. Like @Rex, I just move on and let them take their course.

@DeeJay 7:15 AM

More or less the same thoughts re: the timing of the tribute.

@Unknown 8:11 AM

Welcome aboard! 😊

Peace Salam Paz Paix 🕊

Ellen C 9:13 AM  

@wit that's a great description of the old New York Times building. It did improve after the renovations, in the 1990s, but it still had that Barney Miller feel. And, yes, this is a humble brag, which now that I think of it would be a great puzzle theme

Z 9:29 AM  

@kitshef - Good one and you went last name. My mental rolodex was firmly locked in on first names.

@Hungry Mother - I’m sitting here thinking that being turned into “chicken-friend steak” is a little harsh. Isn’t the standard punishment for not paying doing the dishes?*

*For the Record - I generally ignore typos and hope you do the same for mine. But that one was too funny to ignore.

Steve M 9:32 AM  

Sad state of affairs when the NYT does tributes to lame TV games shows oy

RooMonster 9:44 AM  

Hey All !
Well, here's the Double F puz I was looking for yesterday! Well, there's three, at least, one in a non-themer. Nice!

Got the Revealer and RSTLN at basically the same time. Once getting the Revealer, knew that 55A wanted WHeeLoFFoRTuNE, but it wouldn't fit. Since this is a Thursday, figured there'd be a rebus of some sort happening. But, couldn't figure out how to cram that many letters into eight squares. Figured out the trick at BNKRPT, and had a genuine Aha! moment, saying "Oh, all the vowels are missing from the themers!" So put in the WHLFFRTN, and went back to the other themers.

Toughest one for me was MRVGFFN, as I had Mark Goodman on the ole brain. And he fit! MRKGDMN. Eventually, LARVA straightened me out, and I remembered good ole MRVGFFN.

Ignorance is BLISS is my mantra for not paying too close attention to anything political. I figure no matter who is in office, my taxes are going to go up regardless. :-)

Had NYC for DEL first, kinda messing me up in the middle part there. Did have IDYLc, which sorta kinda looks wordish. Then I thought SEEDBED was SanDBar, which gave me earL for NEAL, and URU for UAE. Decided to erase a good chunk of unsureness there, and eventually figured it all out.

40 Black Squares today, and no Rex rant of excessive blocks. Apparently, his rants are sporadic. :-)

PETFISH was kooky. Sure, people have fish, but do they call them their PETs? "So, here's Fishy, Angel, Guppy, and Bob, my PET FISH." /Scene

UPVOTES is funky, too. I'm sure it exists, but odd to the ears.

Again with a bunch of Abbrs./initials. My nit of late.

So a pretty fun ThursPuz. Sort of an opposite Rebus. Wondering if @M&A ever made a vowelless Runt Puz?

Seven F's

Nancy 9:46 AM  

@TTrimble (7:56) -- "Fodder for an intellectually lesser clientele". I've never heard it stated quite that way before, but, yes, I must confess that I agree with your mother completely. I've always thought "Wheel" was a totally inane show that appealed -- quite deliberately -- to the lowest common denominator. Here's why:

Remember that wonderful line from "My Fair Lady": "The difference between a lady and a flower girl isn't how she behaves but how she's treated." The contestants on "Wheel" are treated like complete morons: encouraged -- or perhaps even forced -- to scream, squeal, jump up and down like yoyos and completely surrender any semblance of dignity. Likewise the studio audience. Because I would never bow to such requirements, I know I would never be accepted as a contestant. They probably wouldn't even let me into the studio audience. I cannot watch a show that abuses its contestants like that.

@Unknown (8:11) -- "To Tell the Truth" is the greatest game show of all time. I loved it unconditionally. I watched it in all its decades and through all its various incarnations. When it finally disappeared, I was disconsolate. Then I got my first computer and discovered YouTube. It's all there, @Unknown, all the decades, all the eras, all the shows. (I like the black and white ones from the '50s and '60s best). Go find them -- you'll have an absolutely wonderful time, I promise.

jae 10:00 AM  

Medium. I’ve watch enough Wheel to have caught the theme fairly early so, with the exception of POSed before POSIT, this was a pretty smooth solve. Fun puzzle and a fine debut, liked it.

linac800 10:10 AM  

The winner of the initial rounds is given these common letters “for free” before choosing their consonants and vowel in the final puzzle.

MarthaCatherine 10:13 AM  

Years ago, when my husband had trazillions of frequent flyer miles, he and 3 fellow flyers were passing the time in one of those ultra-fancy, ultra-private airline lounges.

Who should come swanning in with a dazzling, toothy smile but Vanna White herself. Without saying a word, she walks up to the TV and changes the channel from ESPN to Wheel of Fortune and turned that mega-watt smile on the men, waiting for their admiration.

They didn't miss a beat. "Hey, we were watching the game!" All three joined in. "What the hell?!"

Her smile disappeared. She slunk (slinked? Can I buy a past tense, Pat?) away without a word.

bocamp 10:18 AM  

@pmdm 9:07 AM wrote:

"Elsewhere the constructor thanked Shortz for running the puzzle soon enough to allow his mother, who has cancer, to solve the puzzle. How sad."

Thank you for this. I had read @Derek's comments on XWord Info and failed to make the connection re: the timing of this puzzle vis-à-vis Alex Trebek's passing.


🙏 for your mother.

Peace Salam Paz Paix 🕊

Whatsername 10:21 AM  

Oh what fun! I love a Thursday I can really DIG INTO and and that’s exactly what I did when I saw the V_N_HT at 20A. By some miracle the light bulb clicked on and the other themers then were a SNAP. The only one that gave me any trouble was Merv Griffin because I just didn’t remember. Thanks Derek, this was pure BLISS.

*Boring Personal Anecdote Alert*
I fulfilled a dream a few years ago with a trip to the annual extravaganza of flight at OSHkosh, WI. The EAA AirVenture and what an adventure it is! Thousands of different type aircraft, many with incredible custom paint jobs befitting their history or the personality of the individual owner. Just arriving and departing were novel experiences. Air traffic is so busy there is not time for normal two-way radio communication. Pilots line up in a pattern according to pre-established flight procedures, and tower controllers issue instructions along the lines of “Red and white Cessna, cleared to land. Rock your wings to acknowledge.” The pilots of course take it in stride, but if you’re an unsuspecting passenger gazing out the window in awe of the spectacle below, the wing-rocking response is quite a stomach dropping moment. If you’re interested in aviation, it’s an event to put on your bucket list.

Junief 10:24 AM  

Explain it to me too, please!

Junief 10:25 AM  


Wit 10:29 AM  

@Ellen C - Oh no! I imagine my story did come off as a humble brag. At the risk of making it worse... Truth is I moved to NYC from a very small Texas town (via Dallas briefly). When I got here, I felt like I was in the Emerald City and those two experiences were seeing the man behind the curtain.

@Hungry Mother - Chicken fried steak is one of the things I miss most from Texas. Mickey Mantle's restaurant on Central Park South used to have a pretty good one. The only one I can find now is Cowgirl's which is mediocre at best.

Anonymous 10:33 AM  

croak/shaky/estado. Other than that didn't have any real hangups. The NYTX gods are definitely being nice to us in our hour of need. Got the theme pretty quickly and everything else with just enough puzzling things out and crosses. And all this on a Thursday! Satisfying, so I liked it. A lot. - newbie

Unknown 10:36 AM  

Easier than most Thursdays for me. I had it with VNNWHT, but it’s all visual for me. Did watch Wheel regularly for a while because it immediately preceded Jeopardy... I agreed with CAN I BUY A VOWEL as being the typical request. Liked ISBN for Amazon ID’s and TILDES for Little waves in Spain.

Newboy 10:39 AM  

Got back to yesterday’s posts this A.M. finally and had real appreciation for @PabloinNH whose Spanish dinner table experience was a delight. I’m over 180 days into my Duolingo Spanish streak and enjoying all things foreign in languages; they force you to think differently. Gender for adjectives in Spanish, Relationals in Japanese, and now Vowel Movements in English? Oh, right the puzzle.

Saw the cross reference of clues & flew to the reveal where OSH, FETA, STUDY and TILDES as crosses gave confirmation with CSI anchored in place. Never a fan of TV let alone game shows devoted to avaricious greed, so those names were slow to emerge from the morass of popular culture osmotic recall. Still it was fun to grapple with a different perspective today. My favorite moment was when SNOW TIRES became apparent reminding me that Idaho’s winter is almost ready to compound the COVID-19 incarceration—sigh! Having read the above posts it would seem that yet another name is added to the NYT constructor rolls, so Bravo Mr. Angell we await your next effort to to thwart and delight.

Taffy-Kun 10:39 AM  

World class buffet in Texarkana a travel must for late wife and self, but I’ve forgotten the name - help?

Unknown 10:40 AM  

When rex refuses to reveal his finish time, we all know the puz is a bit tougher than he is willing to admit . . . . .

Re: Neal McDonough, the TV show "Boomtown" was only on for a season or two, but was really well done. It had critical acclaim but never got the viewership it deserved. Perhaps a good show to binge-watch as we settle into a long winter of social distancing.

Given the advanced timing of these puzzles, it's unclear why so many folks took this puzzle to task in regards to Alex trebek's recent death. Actually, since I always found WHLFFRTN to be sort of silly, it made me appreciate Jeopardy all the more, so in its own way this puz was a tribute to Mr. Trebek.

FrostMo 10:43 AM  

They give those letters to the contestant in the finale; then contestant gets to choose a few more letters (I forget how many) and 1 vowel and guess the phrase from that.

Gorelick 10:46 AM  

COWABUNGA DUDE was briefly entered in 13D

Dan 10:51 AM  

It’s so perfectly Rex of you to claim not to have watched the show in many decades in one breath and then offer an incorrect, but very definitive opinion about it (“I’d like to...” vs. “Can I buy...”) in the next.

Xcentric 11:05 AM  

Agree with Rex. Grokked the theme early on VNNWHT and the rest was just fill in the blanks.
Looking forward to the Jeopardy tribute when it comes along.
Nice debut, haven’t seen this theme before, but perfect for the show.

What? 11:12 AM  

Only one aha moment - the reveal. The rest was easy but overall not bad.

Wanda 11:16 AM  

What's wrong with pet fish?

Joe Dipinto 11:17 AM  

@bocamp – Jeff Chen is suddenly enamored of pull quotes. He even uses them for his own comments.

I hate "Wheel Of Fortune" but I actually like this. The RSTLN clue comes off a little awkward for specifying "group of six", plus, if you've never seen the show you can't tell what letter is missing, though you could assume a vowel. But since that's the climactic sequence of the game, it's an appropriate choice for a themer. Nice debut puzzle.

Other Neals:

Neal Cassady – beat writer, inspiration for the Dean Moriarty character in "On The Road"

Neal Schon – rock guitarist (Journey, early Santana)

Neal Caffrey – con man/art forger lead character played by Matt Bomer in the TV show "White Collar"


mathgent 11:18 AM  

I loved it! The theme was brilliantly executed. Sparkle plenty - - 18 red plus signs in the margins. Smart cluing.

Merv Griffin is a local boy, brought up in San Mateo, the county bordering San Francisco to the south. He started as a radio singer at KFRC in San Francisco. He developed several game shows, a few flops, but also Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy. Became a billionaire.

I got Naticked at NEAL/UAE. Are there other desert countries with no rivers? There must be.

Good trivia about Johnny DEPP and DELaware.

jberg 11:18 AM  

@frostmo— but those are 5 letters, and the clue says six. What’s up with that?

TTrimble 11:21 AM  

I understand what you're saying, but I'm not sure you see the point I'm trying to make: looking at the game itself on its own merits, putting to one side the features you mention, there's a bit more to the pure puzzle-solving aspect than may first meet the eye. In contrast to Jeopardy!, which is often so heavily clued and loaded in its formulations that *that* looks more moronic to me, at least in single Jeopardy! That's not the case with Wheel of Fortune.

The puzzle-solving aspects of WOF are singly and purely what interest me, because I am a puzzle-solver at heart. (Well, I may be incidentally amused or annoyed by other aspects of the show, but they're not my focus.)

It sounds as if maybe it's been a while since you've watched the show. It's not true (anymore, anyway) that contestants are treated as "complete morons". It seems to me that Pat Sajak has cut way, way back on the snark, and mostly just shows compassion and moral support. Yes, it's definitely true there is more music and flash and more display of emotion than on (say) Jeopardy!, and there is no doubt that contestants are encouraged to feel free to show emotion, and also to clap for each other, to make for a "feel-good" show. And, I can understand why you might not like that. But as I say, I'm looking at it more from the standpoint of language and deduction and strategy and puzzle-solving.

One thing that really does annoy me about the show is how utterly contrived some of the answers are. It seems to me, whoever the puzzle creators are, they so often display a tin ear for the English language, and they make a lot of category errors. But, as so often in such cases, I then just try to get inside their clunky heads and imagine what they have in mind. (Just as I would do if I were taking an IQ test, which also has its clunky aspects.) That's also part of the strategy! But I do wish the writers were a little smarter sometimes.

A little shout-out to game shows in Britain. They tend to be much higher level -- or it least it seemed to me 20 years ago, when we were living there. I would say 15 to 1 is a trivia show like Jeopardy! but at a significantly higher level, and that Countdown is a puzzle-solving show (with feel-good aspects) at rather a higher level than WOF. I often miss England.

JC66 11:34 AM  


All the themers are indicated by an * and have the vowels removed, IRL, the six letters are RSTLN & E.

Crimson Devil 11:35 AM  

Nice comment. C’mon back.
Unfortunately, I, too, remember The Merv Griffin Show.

Anonymous 11:40 AM  

Familiar with Wheel of Fortune, but have never seen an episode and certainly had no idea who created it or who its two co-hosts are. Combine that with a few more proper nouns (NEAL, TEXARKANA)? A big DNF for me. Liked the theme idea which I got early enough, just had no idea what the actual answers were so had no chance for some of these

egsforbreakfast 11:42 AM  

Given that no puzzle can contain AVOW without Rex cursing the AVER/AVOW uncertainty, I half expected him to say that he first put in CANIBUYAVEREL.

This may not be the Alex Trebek tribute that some hoped for, but at least his predecessor ART (Fleming) BOOKS made it at 16A.

It’s interesting to see EPEE crossing SLEEPERS. 3 Es and an S consecutively, but arranged differently.

I thought this was a very nice idea, executed well. Congrats to Derek J. Angell, who I hope is related to Roger Angell, best baseball writer ever.

jb129 11:43 AM  

Fun puzzle - thanks, Derek

sixtyni yogini 11:47 AM  

Loved 🥰 it! Nice integration of theme and clues to make it fun, interesting, and doable.
It’s why I like theme puzzles.

KrystineM 11:58 AM  

The E is dropped, as in all the other theme answers ;)

KrystineM 11:59 AM  

RSTLNE are given. E, as the vowel of the bunch, is dropped for the theme.

Carola 12:00 PM  

So nicely constructed, but disappointingly easy (I'm old enough that MRVG gave me all I needed). Hoping to pay for my hubris by getting pasted by a monster Friday puzzle.

Anonymous 12:02 PM  

the same week as the passing of Alex Trebek

I'm old enough to remember (well, remember that I remember) the original with Art James. When the news happened on the weekend, I made sure to watch the Monday show, to see who would 'eulogize' and what would be said. Merv is long gone, so it was some producer. That was the last episode I've watched, and won't again, unless/until there is someone else. Why, you might ask? It feels way, way too ghoulish. Oddly, I didn't feel that way about Bourdain's 'incomplete' shows and watch them avidly. I think it's because most of what made 'Parts Unknown' so remarkable was his post-production narration, which, of course, didn't exist for most of those episodes (there were a couple of complete episodes on the shelf). His presence, or lack, wasn't as palpable as Trebek's.

Masked and Anonymous 12:02 PM  

VWLLSS THM. Was pretty easy for a ThursPuz … maybe cuz M&A has solved several Frank Longo Vwllss crosswords, over the years. Fun theme idea, tho.

staff weeject pick: SST. Cuz it's vwllss.

Thnx for the free spin, Mr. Angell.

Masked & Anonymo3+2Us

Yo @Roo: Offhand, the closest runtpuz like that I can recall doin was one with all the vowels left out, except for the U's.


johnk 12:08 PM  

Here, here!
Why couldn't he have run this puzzle on 1/6/2021 as an anniversary tribute? That's a Wednesday, but it would work fine as a Wednesday.

Doc John 12:09 PM  

I liked the puzzle and its slightly meta aspect.
As for NEAL McDonough, he was also in that smarmy Cadillac commercial that aired during the Olympics a while back. You know the one- "the US is great and we work like crazy so screw all you European countries with your minimum wages and six weeks of vacation."

Elizabeth Sandifer 12:25 PM  

You also get an E, but because of the gimmick it's excluded.

Genuinely surprised Rex did not express his displeasure at this answer, as it was by far the worst part of this theme.

Swagomatic 12:31 PM  

This one was very enjoyable. Two pencils, way up.

DigitalDan 12:37 PM  

By the way, it's a trrbl idea to buy a vowel in this game, especially early on. Contestants tend to buy a bunch of vowels, which are generally unnecessary to decode the puzzles, thus wasting money and making things easier for the other contestants unless they can guess on the current turn.

jberg 12:51 PM  

@JC66 -- thanks for the explanation! For some reason I was thinking there must be six consonants.

My mother was a fan of W of F (it met her basic criterion that it was on TV, and offered a chance to exercise her wits), so I used to see it when I visited my father and her, while they were still alive. And I remembered VNNWHT, because people talked about her a lot. PTSJK not so much, and all those letters not at all. But only after I had the revealer was I even thinking of the show. That was after I changed the R of beers to t (well, beets are round, right?) thinking it might be MTV something, although 1975 seemed too early for that. I was about to throw in the towel (Hi, @Nancy) when I finally worked my way over to CAN I BUY A VOWEL, and got most of the themers.

@whatsername -- my father was an amateur pilot, and at some point when he was around 50 he decided to build his own 1-person plane. He bought the plans for a model called the Flybaby, and spent the next 11 years finding the right parts and putting them together. That brought him to the EAA, and he went to that show regularly (my home town is less than 100 miles from Oshkosh). On one occasion another homebuilder was exhibiting his complete Flybaby; when Dad mentioned that he was working on one, the exhibitor immediately offered him a chance to take it up for a spin. He was pretty thrilled.

So now I'm thinking about my parents. They've been dead long enough that it's more nostalgia than grief to do so.

Birchbark 12:52 PM  

RSTLN vibration, yeah, positive.

Everyday BLISS: It is sunny and almost 52 degrees in mid-November. I was outside filling the bird feeders, sans sweater or jacket, and it was like Spring. I have only two meetings on the calendar today, both manageable. My daughter passed her driving test and is now provisionally licensed. Even the windows are getting one last cleaning before it gets cold for good. Transitory, yes, and no less real for it.

TTrimble 1:05 PM  

***Shop Talk Alert***

The ways in which WOF contestants apply poor strategy are numerous, in particular when it comes to vowel-buying, e.g., when it looks like nothing more than a security blanket. But sometimes buying a vowel really is the correct strategic move, especially considering that they're really inexpensive: with only $250, you might reap a lot of vowels, even weighing in the fact that the same info is visible to all.

(Incidentally, Rex is correct that it's usually, "I'd like to buy a vowel". But you do hear it sometimes in the interrogative, as in today's XW.)

What annoys me more is when they land on high money and then go for the first low hanging fruit they see rather than looking for multiple instances of often-just-as-low-hanging fruit. And then announce, "I'd like to solve." They could have won so much more!

And don't even get me started on the vacation round.

pabloinnh 1:13 PM  

Today is a good argument for reading the comments before posting, unless you like comparing multiple answers to the same question.

I'm with @Nancy in really enjoying the mega-aha! of something making no sense at all and suddenly making perfect sense and having it be a surprise. Great stuff.

SNOWTIRES was a gimme. They're on everyone's mind right now in this part of the country.

Knew the Tabasco/ESTADO misdirect right away, but it's still a good one.

Wondered why OLITAS wouldn't work for "little Spanish waves", but wondered more who they thought would know that--GILL I, Juanito, some others, tal vez. TILDES is a winner.

And Merv Griffin wrote the music they use during think time for the final Jeopardy answer. I wonder what his royalties came to for that.

My favorite so far this week, Mr. Angell, and I'm with @egs in hoping you are related if even distantly to the great Roger Angell, who I agree is absolutely the best baseball writer ever.

Teedmn 1:13 PM  

I have no sympathy for Rex's disappointment in sussing out the theme too early. Just say no to going to 55-Across and you can sextuple your fun!

Somewhere between VNNWHT and PTSJK, I figured out the theme. As a Frank Longo VWLLSS aficionado,(hi M&A), I thought it was great fun. I liked the clues for COGS and TILDES. I'd definitely agree with @Z on NEAL Stephenson (and 12A also made me think of Mr. Stephenson :-) ).

Derek Angell, congratulations on your debut and an excellent Thursday puzzle. All the best to your mother.

Grouch 1:27 PM  

SPIN's appearance, 31D, was excused by Z because it's a down and the clue had no *. I think it's a major fault. WHEEL, SPIN. That's the game! SPIN is a theme answer that doesn't follow the theme rule. In fact I'll go so far as to say 13D should have, CNBYVWL?

BobL 1:44 PM  

Grouch - are you really SouthSideJohnny?

Birchbark 2:14 PM  

README/REAmdE (@TeedMN (1:13), @Z(7:57)): My three favorite NEAL Stephenson novels (five, since one is a trilogy): System of the World, Cryptonomicon, Anathem. Each has survived multiple readings that added value every time -- variations on brainiac + swashbuckling themes. Honorable mention to The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. (written with Nicole Galland), which got me to go back and read Christopher Marlowe. Wish he'd write more like these.

Jeff Ford 2:53 PM  

Back in the old days contestants got to pick five consonants and a vowel. But they (almost) always picked the same six. So now they just give them those and let them pick others.

Nancy 3:11 PM  

@Egs and @pabloinnh -- When I saw the byline, my first thought also was that Derek Angell might be related to the great Roger Angell. I even thought of moseying over to the Wordplay Blog to ask him directly. Instead, I looked up Roger's family on Google, and Derek's not there. I also looked at Derek's photo on and you can't imagine anyone who looks less like Roger. So I suppose not. Pity.

OTOH, it's not as though "Angell" is as rare a last name as, say, Whlffrtnptsjkvnnwht would be, right?

Richard 3:11 PM  

I do the New York Times crossword puzzle (paper and pen, no less); ergo I would never watch Wheel of Fortune. (Sniff).

Pet fish!? I've kept cichlids for years and other aquarium fish (e.g., tetras -- the ultimate crosswordese piscene, along with eels and gars)for decades, but I just can't think of them as "pets." And I certainly never think of them as "denizens," which to my mind live in some deep, dark, scary place. Luna, our rescue dog, now she's a pet.

Richard 3:15 PM  

Okay. I might have watched a couple of times -- but I didn't inhale!

GILL I. 3:17 PM  

Well this is what I get for posting late. Everything has been said and said and said. goes:
Every 25 years, Vanna White and Pat Sajak renew their bowels.
I rather enjoyed this puzzle. Mr. VGRFFN gave it away and so I went about my business.
I looked at the SST and mind wanders. I've probably told this story before because I tend to repeat myself. When I worked for Mexicana those of us in sales were invited on a trip from JFK to Paris aboard the Air Chance Cocorde. There was so much hype and of course we expected to see all sorts of VIPS on board. The Concorde lounge at JFK was indeed amazing and we had all the caviar we wanted to eat...not to mention French champagne galore. (So far though, no drool fest actor in sight). The plane is like entering a cigar. It's tiny. Service was extraordinary, though, and the food was delicious. It's noisy and the bathroom will accommodate an itty bitty infant and that's about it. Passengers wanting to get to Paris in 3 hours were happy. I didn't have to pay so I didn't complain. Now on to my fish story......
@Frantic....Try buying a gold fish. Tish lived to be 43 and he was owned by Hilda ad Gordon. He's now buried in Canterbury.
@pablito....I thought about ONDITAS.
I will now bid you adieu.....

Blue Stater 3:37 PM  

Two words: IM POSSIBLE.

albatross shell 3:53 PM  

Other games have Spins,

Neal list much shorter than the Davis of Hollywood list,

I'd go with Patricia or Cassady over Shon or McDonough. That shows my age, The latter is interesting because with that resume he is still pretty much unrecognizable. Sign of a good actor,maybe. Stephenson seems to be well worth knowing, and I don't.

Dyslexic Solver 4:51 PM  

You spell endings of the days of the week with “ee” as in Thursdee. Are U a Philly native? Ending the days of the week that way is almost as revealing as having a Canadian say “out”

Azzurro 4:57 PM  

Thanks to those who explained RSTLN above. I got the theme quickly but haven’t seen the show in ages, and I don’t remember that rule. I was convinced I was being dense and started trying to fit vowels in there to make words like ROASTLINE or something.

kitshef 5:12 PM  

@Unknown 10:40 - Rex has specifically said he is experimenting with turning off the clock as it makes the solve more enjoyable.

Anonymous 5:22 PM  

@Albatross. Yes, many games have spins but SPIN is a HUGE part of WOF. What is your point?

bocamp 5:22 PM  

Pachelbel's Canon in D, performed on original instruments from the time of Pachelbel by the Early Music ensemble Voices of Music

p.g. -2

Peace Salam Paz Paix 🕊

Anonymous 5:23 PM  

Why is it a pity that Derek is not related to Roger?????????????????

Nancy 5:40 PM  

GILL -- So I was about to ask you: Who are Hilda and Gordon (am I supposed to know?)and why is Tish the Goldfish buried at Canterbury? And then I thought: Could this peculiar info actually be available to anyone who wants to find it? On Google? And, son-of-a-gun, it is.

Written with a perfectly straight face, without an ounce of irony, this is one of the funniest things I've read in a long time. Especially the part about the yoghurt box. And all I have to say is: ONLY THE BRITS!

Z 6:57 PM  

Catching up on comments on my phone is an entirely different experience. Comments that make no sense on my laptop or iPad are in a little gray box right under the comment they are replies to. It still irks me that the mobile interface is so different (and, candidly, better) than the regular interface.

@Grouch - I didn't excuse, I just explained. I'm more "minor fault" as opposed to "major fault," but otherwise I agree with you on SPIN and I thought CNBYVWL would have been an improvement, too.

@Richard3:15 - 😂🤣😂🤣😂 - My reply is always, "I didn't just inhale, I held it."

@TTrimble - I haven't seen any game theory on this (but I'm sure if I looked WHLFFRTN gaming theory is out there) but my initial reaction is that buying vowels is good strategy. While a contestant may not need the VOWELs to solve the puzzle, they do assist in solving the puzzle in fewer SPINs. Since every SPIN risks losing a turn or going bankrupt, getting as many letters as possible in as few SPINS as possible seems wiser. Unless it's near the end of the show and the contestant is trailing (where the contestant may need to risk SPINning to accumulate money), not SPINning is better strategy than SPINning.

@albatross shell - Yep, just not as many NEAL options and none of them really have the same cachet as all the Davis' of Hollywood. I am a little surprised at the NEAL Stephenson love, today. While he's the head of my Favorite NEALs List he probably doesn't even make my Top Ten Science Fiction Authors List:
Ursula K LeGuin
Anne Leckie
Samuel Delaney
James Alan Gardner
Nnedi Okorafor
David Brin
Ted Chiang
CJ Cherryh
Harlan Ellison (I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream - even if every terrible thing written about him is true this story alone puts him in the Top 10)
Kristine Kathryn Rusch
Martha Wells
Oops - that's 11 already and I haven't even gotten to the likes of Asimov, Bradbury, Silverberg, or Herbert - Stephenson may not even make my top 15.

I really really hope Shortz doesn't try for an Alex Trebek tribute, but if he does I predict it will be on Christmas since that is when Trebek's last original episode is scheduled to air.

Anoa Bob 6:58 PM  

New phrase to add to constructors' word lists: BINGE POSTING.

The reveal "Can I buy a vowel" doesn't quite work for me because there are five different missing vowels, A, E, I, O, and U. Buying "a vowel" will be of limited value and buying all five might lead to BNKRPTcy.

I was traveling from California to Tennessee around 1970 and stopped at a pizza joint in TEXARAKANA, AR for a bite. When I walked in I suddenly thought that I was reliving a scene out of Easy Rider. The locals looked just like those in the restaurant where Fonda and crew stopped on their way through the South. I was a bit of a West Coast hippie at the time and the looks I got made me feel a tad uncomfortable.

The jukebox was playing, a country music standard by Waylon Jennings, as I recall. The next song up was, much to my surprise (and relief), The Rolling Stones "Honky Tonk Women". The locals now seemed friendlier, the pizza was good, and I was on my way without incident. I have friends there now and have been back a few times. I think it's a nice place.

Z 7:19 PM  

I forgot to ask @Joe Dipinto if NEAL Schon is the guy with the banana on the back cover of Infinity.

GILL I. 8:09 PM  

@Nancy....Google can be fun and full of all kinds of goodies. I only knew about Tish because one of my BFF's had a gold fish she named GUP. GUP lived to be about 14 years old. They kept buying a bigger aquarium for her because she was becoming a little whale. Anyway, one day my BFF found her floating upside down in her home. Devastation ensued. She was buried in a pretty box out by the tulips. Hence the song...Tip toe through the tulips......

Joe Dipinto 9:08 PM  

@Z – You're forcing me to look at a Journey album cover?

Prominent-Bulge Dude would be keyboardist/singer Gregg Rolie – also ex-Santana, where he sang lead on "Evil Ways", "Black Magic Woman", and "Oye Como Va". You might say he has "Somethin' To Hide" (track 7). Neal Schon is Finger-Pointing Dude at the far left.

Monty Boy 10:39 PM  

I liked this one a lot. I'm with the crowd who didn't watch WOF much, but did like the trick of omitting vowels. In grade school we'd use omitting vowels for a code in passing notes. Got pretty good at reading without AEIOU(y).

Whatsername 10:21 - We lived in Milwaukee for a couple of years, living in suburban Wawatosa near Timmerman Field (non commercial airport). Talking to a neighbor we discussed the occasional noise from the air traffic. I said I didn't mind as I have a great interest in aircraft, especially WWII planes. He said there's an airshow at Oshkosh that might interest your. That's all. I was expecting the small town to have a few planes and a flyover. I got there and had to park a half mile away, and elbow my way through the crowd. Then I found out this is THE airshow. Pilots fly in, park the plane and put up a tent over the wings for the week. Biggest moment was standing 50 feet from a torpedo plane and feeling the ground shake as it started, rev'd up and taxied. One of my best days ever.

addisondewitt 11:09 PM  

I’m surprise Rex featured Neal McDonough, in the write up.. He also played that obnoxious entitled symbol of obnoxious wealth and aggressive conservative republicanism in a series of controversial Cadillac commercials a few years ago.

Bruce Fieggen 11:50 PM  


jae 3:50 AM  

NEAL also played a Justifiedesque bad guy on Yellowstone.

y.d. -0

Anni James 11:01 AM  

Excellent Post

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