British tennis champ who invented the sweatband / SUN 2-14-21 / Debussy prelude inspired by a water sprite / Small woodland songbird / Mango Madness and Go Bananas for two

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Constructor: Lisa Bunker

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

Is it ... art?

THEME: "Sealed With a Kiss" — eight rebus squares contain RED[some fourth letter], where the fourth letters spell out RUBY LIPS ... I can't tell if they are supposed to be a visual representation of lips or what, but ... I did a drawing anyway, just in case (above). Anyway, Red "R," Red "U," Red "B," etc.:

Theme answers:
Word of the Day: "ONDINE" (51D: Debussy prelude inspired by a water sprite) —

Undines /ˈʌndn, ʌnˈdn/ (or ondines) are a category of elemental beings associated with water, first named in the alchemical writings of Paracelsus. Similar creatures are found in classical literature, particularly Ovid's Metamorphoses. Later writers developed the undine into a water nymph in its own right, and it continues to live in modern literature and art through such adaptations as Hans Christian Andersen's "The Little Mermaid" and the Undine of Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué.

Undines are almost invariably depicted as being female, and are usually found in forest pools and waterfalls. The group contains many species, including nereideslimnadsnaiades and mermaids. Although resembling humans in form, they lack a human soul, so to achieve mortality they must acquire one by marrying a human. Such a union is not without risk for the man, because if he is unfaithful, then he is fated to die. // 

French composer Claude Debussy included a piece called "Ondine" in his collection of piano preludes written in 1913 (Preludes, Book 2, No. 8). (wikipedia)

• • •

I mostly enjoyed solving this one, and was really looking forward to spelling out the RED letters at the end to see what my Valentine's Day message was going to be. I wrote it out and it spelled RUBY LIPS. Title is "Sealed With a Kiss," so that tracks, but I'm incredibly distracted by the fact that those aren't lips. I mean, they don't make lip shapes. Unless half of your face has fallen or you're on your side or falling through the air or something. I can't make them into plausible lip shapes. So all I can think is that ... I'm not supposed to. That it's not part of the gag. But *how* can it not be part of the theme? There are two sets of four, just as there are two lips, and they are fairly begging to be connected with a red pen (as I have done above). So it's like I'm being asked to see lips, but then they aren't there, or they are these bizarre misshapen lips. What's weirder—it doesn't seem like it would've been that hard to arrange the squares in the grid so that they *do* make plausible lip shapes. An arc up top, an arc below, voìla! I am guessing that it was not, in fact, easy to do that in practice, as you'd end up with rebus squares very close to one another—too close to pull it off and keep the grid from being a wreck. So instead you've got these rebus squares way the hell and gone out there in the NW and SE corners, where they are easier to handle, fill-wise, but where they make the whole lip representation into a mess or a farce or ... something. It's a shame that this one didn't land. It's a great idea, with a great set-up, and the theme answers themselves (the ones containing the rebus squares) are quite solid and interesting. But I ended up with a pair of lips that looked nothing like lips. Or, rather, that looked *something* like lips, but not enough like lips to be plausible lips. An angry child's drawing of lips, maybe. Anyway, it's weird, and given the promising concept, disappointing.

Maybe go easier on the RE- answers (REDRAFTS, RESOD, REAIR) and the plural noun brand names (SERTAS, SNAPPLES). And I don't know what the weird "Q" thing in the NE is about, but it's not really worth it. I mean, it's hard not to love the "Thong Song," so OK, SISQO / ACQUIT you can have, but CASQUE (!?!?!) / QUA, why? The first was baffling to me (and I'm a medievalist) (16D: Medieval helmet), and then QUA ... pourquoi? This kind of Scrabble-f***king baffles me. I knew RSTLNE but not in the "right" order, so that was no fun. OX TEAM sounds really odd to my ears (93D: Field-plowing duo). Team of oxen ... it wants to be written out formally, for some reason. Clearer, more elegant. OX TEAM sounds like some kind of weird bovine rivals of the X-MEN. "ONDINE" is obscure as heck. The themers were all easy enough to get, except whoa FRED PERRY (!?!?!) (109A: British tennis champ who invented the sweatband). That is a name that rings a faint bell, but with a mathy cross (ORDERED PAIR), I was mildly panicked there for a second. But only a second. Or two. Probably. 

Had FLUFFY before PLUSHY (25D: Like many stuffed animals) and floundered my way through BUSHTIT (12D: Small woodland songbird). Otherwise, no problems. If you see lips in this puzzle, then god bless you and your eyeballs. I hope it pleased you. I'm only displeased because I found the concept so pleasing, conceptually. Having this very off lip picture staring at me at the end just brought me down. But that's OK. I still liked this far better than most recent Sundays. At least it was trying.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

P.S. PBR stands for Pabst Blue Ribbon (54A), OLY is short for Olympia (80A)

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Frantic Sloth 12:01 AM  

Red squares at the outset of course meant shenanigans. And naturally the extra letters at the ends of the various RED "frebuses" spell the extra words RUBY and LIPS.
Happy Valentine's Day?

Not bloody loikly.

***Gloomy Sloth Warning***

Nothing like having ACQUIT, ANARCHY, and ARSES in this puzzle to remind me how much this country is dead inside from being run into ground by the soulless demons of the Republican Party.

The whole thing makes me physically ill.

And how perfect is it that the 1A answer auto-populates after completetion with this lovely phrase?

Too bad this puzzle had to be run today, but...something had to.
Despite being mightily distracted, I "enjoyed" the solve. It was clever, day-holiday-appropriate and the fill was mostly good.

I'll just Eeyore my way out, thank you.


Joaquin 12:03 AM  

This was my favorite Sunday puzzle since … well, in a long time. The SISQO/CASQUE Intersection might as well have been Broadway and Main in Natick as it knocked me right on my “prat”.

jae 12:20 AM  

Easy-medium. Cute and clever. Liked it. Jeff gave it POW, but he too was wishing for LIP grid art.

sanfranman59 12:31 AM  

Regarding Saturday's interesting discussion of puzzle difficulty over time ...

As a numbers NERD, I've got tons of data that are pertinent to the "Are puzzles getting easier?" question. In November, I completed a six-year project of solving every puzzle in the NYT archives through June 2009, which is when I started doing the puzzle on or near the publication date. I've recorded my solve time for every puzzle that I completed without assistance. Parenthetically, I also record the constructor's name, so I know who my toughest and easiest constructors are.

Others have pointed out what I think are the most important complications with using such data to answer the question at hand:

(1) Solve times alone are an imperfect and idiosyncratic way to evaluate puzzle difficulty
(2) I'm a much better and faster solver now than I was in June 2009
(3) I'm a much more confident solver now than I was then (particularly with Thursday through Sunday puzzles). I now fully expect to complete every NYT puzzle I attempt. That was not the case eight to ten years ago.
(4) My mind isn't as sharp and my typing may not be as fast or accurate as a 61-year-old retiree as it was when I was a 51-year-old working stiff
(5) Solving puzzles published 15 to 20 years ago increases the difficulty in a way that's hard to account for
(6) While I've solved all of the puzzles in my database on a computer, I've used three or four different applications for solving over the years. They each have had pluses and minuses from a speed-solving perspective.

One big problem with using solve times to measure difficulty is that I haven't completed every puzzle I've attempted. That's not as much of an issue these days since I now complete a lot of Fridays and Saturdays that I'd have given up on in the past. In 2020, I had 4 DNF Saturdays and 1 DNF Friday vs. 31(!) DNF Saturdays and 11 DNF Fridays in 2010. Clearly, I've come a long way, but this means that my recorded average Friday and Saturday solve times in 2010 are a lot lower than they really should be and aren't really comparable to those in 2020. I'm happy to report that I've finished all but a few Fridays and Saturdays each year since 2014 and 2016, respectively, so at least the years since then are comparable without caveat. The other days of the week don't suffer from this shortcoming since I've been close to 100% on those days for all the puzzles I've recorded in my database.

From my solve time data, it's difficult for me to draw a firm conclusion about the primary question "Are puzzles getting easier?" A couple of things seem pretty clear:

(1) My Monday through Wednesday solve times plateaued in 2015 and have been relatively consistent since then (with a couple of blips)
(2) My Friday through Sunday solve times are getting faster (Thursday's up in the air)

How much of this is because I'm getting better at solving tougher puzzles and how much of it is related to late-week puzzles getting easier is probably impossible to tease out. The answer is almost certainly a combination of the two, but how much of it is me and how much of it is the difficulty of the puzzles, who knows? Anecdotally, I feel like I'm still getting better at solving tough puzzles, but I also sense that Friday and, especially, Saturday puzzles are getting easier.

Since I've just about reached the character limit with this message, I'll post my average solve times by year and day of week separately.

sanfranman59 12:38 AM  

For my fellow data-heads out there, here are my median solve times by year and day of week. I'm reporting medians instead of means because the solve time distributions are skewed (i.e. they're not normally distributed, particularly those for the more difficult puzzles). Since medians are less affected by extreme values, they seem to me to be better measures of central tendency with these data.

Puzzles since 6/1/2009 (solved at or near the time of publication):


*** I didn't start recording my Sunday solve times until January 2010

If anyone is interested in another mass of numbers, I'll post similar summary stats for the puzzles I've solved from the archives (November 1993 - May 2009). Just speak up.

Joe Dipinto 12:56 AM  

It's a pangram, btw. And you're in there too, down at the bottom. Nice video of the Debussy by Khatia Buniatishvili.

This was one of those puzzles where I figured out the theme basically immediately, and then I didn't feel like bothering to finish it. Zeroed right in on Jared Leto – "oh, not enough letters, but we have a RED box, could that be the RED in Jared? Yes, but plus the L? Let's check the down, oh yeah, ASSUREDLY works perfectly as the cross. Bingo."

Well I did continue on, and it was really an unfun slog after that. I too wondered why the RUBY LIPS were scattered all over the place and thought there might be some revealer-type thing somewhere that would explain it. But no.

It's a very weird puzzle because there's nothing in the grid specifically tying it to Valentine's Day, or to anything at all really. All you have are eight boxes that say REDR, REDU, REDB, REDY, REDL, REDI, REDP, REDS. What does it mean?

Uyy. Did not like it.

On Stax Records: Soubise sauce ingredients?

Tom R 1:31 AM  

I did not like this much. It was tedious and since all the rebuses were "redX" once I get the first two it detracted from any joy in filling them. I was hoping to find other colors than red.

puzzlehoarder 2:17 AM  

I found this puzzle to be torture from beginning to end. It was one of those ordeals by crosswordese where the only point seems to be seeing if I can come out with a clean grid in spite of it all. Unfortunately I fell short by a single square dnf. It was in the NE where I had SILQO crossing QALQUE. That last one just looked like a word which it is. It has nothing to do with helmets though and as for the totally unknown recording artist's name I figured it was a take off on the word silk.

This is the fifth appearance for SISQO but the only one I might have seen it in was the one Thursday. If I did do that puzzle then this one just slipped through the cracks.

As for CASQUE I may have recognized it the way I did CALQUE but I hate running the alphabet almost as much as I do getting a dnf.

As for the theme it really looks like a failed attempt at a visual. Of the theme answers only ORDEREDPAIR crossing FREDPERRY (who?) gave me any real trouble. ISTO made the whole thing worse thank ja for "Fiddler on the Roof.

Unknown 2:35 AM  

Ondine really surprised me. I've performed that peice many times for about 25 years now but never thought I'd see it in the puzzle especially the Debussy version. Ravel's is certainly better known and performed more frequently.

Anonymous 2:35 AM  

I think I see the lips. Rex, if you take your drawing and finish connecting up the outside shape (that is, connect R to L and Y to S to complete the perimeter), and then draw a diagonal line dividing the “lips” (R to S), then the result is pretty passable.

Helen 4:13 AM  

Fred Perry has a clothing company named after him, which helps a bit: think polo shirts with a small laurel wreath logo. But ordered pair was unpleasant and unnecessary, and even as someone living in the UK it took me a long time to put "arses" instead of "asses".

Ken Freeland 4:14 AM  


Charles Flaster 5:03 AM  

Easy, although a DNF as I never changed SIrQO—seemed reasonable with CArQUE.
Had many STAX records—60 years ago.
Love eating MAHI-mahi.
Thanks LB

Dogfish 6:06 AM  

@Helen Glad I wasn't the only set of ARSES! Also had a VICE Grip (I thought Pokémon used that spelling b/c it was used everywhere D: ), which didnae help in the East.


Not sure how to feel on this puzzle. Theme itself is cool, and the fact that it's a Meta'd theme doubly so. But aaaaaaaaa, the fill - when you have only 100 squares of theme, some of which is pre-crossed, I don't think you can excuse the level of gunk here. Especially in the corners, where it feels a love of Scrabble has overwhelmed avoiding naticky crosses (How many people had LEECH, how many people knew QUA? Because I doube CASQUE was that helpful!)

Guilherme Gama 6:11 AM  

NE corner killed me. I don't mind getting my streak broken over things I should learn to do better in the future, but the Q crossings were just too much.

Lewis 6:20 AM  

The bottom line, IMO, to how good a puzzle is, is not the variety of the answers, clever cluing, or tricks in the construction – though these all can contribute – but rather, how good the puzzle feels to solve. Every once in a while, one hits my perfect sweet spot, it has me smiling all the way through in a lovely lilt of euphoria, where I feel like I’m riding a wave of magic.

This puzzle did that today. Yes, there were some clever clues, some answers that pushed happy buttons, and a theme that I caught on to early but still captivated me because I wanted to know what it spelled out. And yes, there was the perfect level of grit, where I wasn’t slapping in great expanses while feeling bored, nor was I feeling like I was caroming off walls just to escape one knotty patch of thorns after another. Thus, I was coasting, but in a glorious way, fully involved because my brain needed to be in gear.

These elements contributed to the magic, but the topper was the theme, those red squares evoking love and Valentines, and thus my heart was drawn in and smiling from start to finish. How often does the heart get involved in solving a crossword?

Those ruby lips were the perfect cap. Maya Angelous said, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Lisa, you made me feel wonderful, and thank you for this Valentine’s gift! Mwah!

OffTheGrid 6:22 AM  

This puzzle brings to mind the 133 vehicle pileup in Ft. Worth NOTALOT of days ago. A trivia/rebus clusterf***.

Anonymous 6:26 AM  

Really liked this Sunday puzzle. The red-X rebus was just a little challenge, but guessable. My only pain came with the 26A-16D crossing, both unknowns. But there was little crappy fill, IMHO, spelling out RUBY LIPS was a lagniappe, so I enjoyed it beginning to end.

Anonymous 6:27 AM  

RUBY LIPS. Now I have "Witchy Woman" playing in my head.
Not a fan of rebus puzzles. Happy Valentine's Day.

Anonymous 6:43 AM  

Solid medium (or a little north) here.

Struggled with SI_QO/CA_QUE cross.

As a lawyer, you'd think I'd have considered LLD but LLb seemed totally plausible, and I was so proud of having recalled the name of Fred Perry that I neglected to check the downs.

Not the worst Rebus puzzle ever. A fair challenge.

Z 6:48 AM  

@sanfranman59 - Have you recorded when you solved the pre-2009? If you solved those 2008, for example, puzzles in 2020 I would expect your 2008 average to match your 2020 average not your 2009 average. I would also think the number of outliers, both DNFs and extreme times, would be informative. That is, even if your 2008 median is slower than your current year average but the number of outliers is roughly the same that would mitigate against the “getting easier” contention. Anyway, I’m sure a fair number of people will be interested in your numbers.

Okay, not a rebus puzzle as we commonly use the term in crossworld. That is, the letters (RED) are represented by the color of the square so all the solver needs to enter are the letters RUBY LIPS, which is what appears in my puzzle. Of course, I have to make the “as we use it” note because it is a rebus puzzle in the dictionary sense.

This one had several obscure to me answers. PAPEETE, ONDINE. CASQUE, STEFAN Fatsis, the RIHANNA clue, CECIL, and several more that I suspect may give others troubles. I’m not overly fond of difficulty from obscure PPP. Tahiti seems crossworthy. A town of less than 30,000 people on Tahiti not so much. Otherwise this was a fine Sunday puzzle.

Tuscantransplant 6:56 AM  

I hated this puzzle. The opposite of love. Today of all days is an oportunity to let go of your ego and offer up something kind and gentle. Instead we got fancy schmancy and a pair of crooked lips

ChuckD 7:22 AM  

Completely agree with @Lewis that the ultimate evaluation of a puzzle should be the solve. This one failed miserably. Always like a rebus especially on Sunday and I liked the RED slant. The secondary meta aspect appears as if it took too much away from the fill to be worth it. Plunked in RED right away and worked the crosses - not a lot of fun. The overall fill is a lesson in obscuria and PAP - useless nouns and whatever.

The RED theme was a good start for Valentines - maybe something heart shaped to go with it? This was a waste of time.

JOHN X 7:23 AM  

Happy Valentines Day

Curmudgeon 7:38 AM  

Put me down as a hater of this puzzle, full of Natick crossings, French words and random strings of letters. And then the absolutely wrong clue: a sea lion is not an eared seal, but a completely different species, that due to convergent evolution, have ended up looking similar. While both creatures were once land carnivorous mammals that returned to the sea, sea lions retained their ears and the ability to rotate their rear flippers forward and walk on land. Seals can only ungulate, flop or drag themselves on land.

Anonymous 334468671 7:44 AM  

Incredibly tedious and uninteresting, more so than the usual 21x21.

Colin 7:54 AM  

I liked this a lot, but missed Ruby Lips entirely. I do see an abstract pair of lips in Rex's drawing, especially if one also uses the black squares as part of the art. The NW corner SISQO/CASQUE cross gave me problems, and ATTAR was new to me.

I was also stuck on Wheel of Fortune's RSTLNE for a while - I knew this, but haven't watched in a long, long time. When I do catch a glimpse of Pat and Vanna, I wonder... Do they ever age? What do they look like up close? How much makeup is caked on their faces?

Happy Valentine's Day, everyone! May your day be filled with love.

Anonymous 8:00 AM  

Ditto !

TJS 8:12 AM  

I usually hate a rebus. But this one had me intrigued from the start instead of exasperated with all the hoops you have to jump through to fill in the grid. One of the more enjoyable Sundays in a while for me.

Not sure why so many people are outraged or saddened by the impeachment result, since it was a done deal from the start. I think we should be heartened by the fact that any Reps. voted to convict. I think any exercise that makes it obvious that almost all our politicians of both parties are concerned only with their re-election should be taken as a minor victory..Lets see if the electorate will remember two and four years down the line.

There is an article re. Foo Fighters in todays Times that uses the word "angsty" BTW.

How many times does OFL admit to not knowing some Medeival reference and adds "and I'm a Medeivalist" ! ?

On Valentines Day in first grade, when all valentines cost a penny, a girl gave me one that cost a nickel. I'm 72 and still remember it.

Adam Jaffe 8:15 AM  

As a classical pianist, Debussy's "Ondine" is an incredibly obscure prelude that even most pianists wouldn't recognize. As somebody else commented, this would've been much better clued as Ravel's piece, which is infinitely more famous.

Barney 8:15 AM  

@sanfranman59 Thanks for posting! I found your data interesting. I'm similarly data-interested (/obsessed). One difference between our data (unless I missed it reading your post) is that I differentiate between 100% correct puzzles, i.e., puzzles in which I don't have any errors when I enter the last letter (and, obviously, no cheating or seeking out the error once the happy pencil failed to appear) and those in which I had an error (or multiple). As a result, back in 2017, I had a Sat. puzzle with 75 errors. I was stumped and the clock had maxed out, so I threw in the towel and revealed which squares I had wrong and also counted all that were unfilled.

To me, getting the puzzle completely correct has always been a more important goal than speed. Fortunately, my success rate has increased over the last few years, from 0.797 in 2017 to 0.954 last year.

My times have also improved across all days during that period:

Mon. -0.347
Tue. -0.440
Wed. -0.352
Thu. -0.288
Fri. -0.397
Sat. -0.483
Sun. -0.340

I agree with your assessment that the data doesn't provide any insight into the question of whether the puzzles are getting easier (or more difficult).

Z 8:31 AM  

Did I hear somebody be wrong about a clue being wrong? Don’t want to read the Wikipedia article? Sea Lions are not “true seals,” they are EARED SEALS. You guessed it, “true seals” are earless. Don’t trust Wikipedia? Uncle Google will send you to places like Britannica, Merriam-Webster, NOAA, and the Smithsonian (Sea lions and fur seals (members of the eared seal family) have visible ear flaps, while true seals only have ear holes. National Zoo website). What I didn’t see is why Phocidae get labeled as “true.” Free advice, ask Uncle Google before ignoring FAQ #16.

Yesterday: Puzzles are too easy these days.
Today: The puzzle is too hard.
Alrighty then.

And for all of you who missed SISQO’s 15 minutes of fame, a Valentine’s day gift idea.
(it looks like Rex tried to link to this, but I get a not found message when clicking Rex’s link)

Barney 8:34 AM  

@sanfranman59 I should also say that your median times are much, much faster than mine. I always check every answer before I enter the last letter. I would hate for a long streak (or even a short one) to get broken because I made a typo or misread a clue. As a result, averaging in the 3s for a Mon., for example, is almost inconceivable because it typically takes me ~2 min. to check a Mon. grid.

@Z I can say that there has not been any significant difference in mean times on days I get an A++++ (similar to Ralphie in his daydream about the Christmas theme he had written) and those days when I have an error. As my success rate has improved, the distribution of times has narrowed (considerably) and also become normal.

Tom T 8:35 AM  

Struggled in the east with the stuff around PAPEETE and in the west with the stuff around SANAA (clearly need to spend more time studying world maps). Figured them out eventually, only to dnf because I didn't catch that I hastily put REO instead of REI. A valentine's Day slog.

Megafrim 8:38 AM  

I was despondent that I'd lose my streak over the Northeast corner, but then Sisqo had a faint ring (although not spelled that way), and I thought Casque might have a common root with Casca. And it worked! Well over my average time for a Sunday, but I maintained the all important streak.

Sioux Falls 8:42 AM  

@TJS At least he spells medieval correctly lol. I before E except after C or as sounded like A as in neighbor and weigh.

pmdm 8:42 AM  

If a puzzle includes anything out of the ordinary (as this one does), I think it's a safe bet that there will be many extreme reactions to the puzzle. Hence, the hatred voiced by some who post here. Ironic that today is a day popularly dedicated to love. I enjoyed the puzzle and enjoyed the bother of working out what the red squares spelled out (although my amusement was only tepid).

Yesterday I posted quite late. So to all today I reiterate: happy Saint Valentine's day. To anyone who experiences disappointment today, here's hoping that soon all your wishes become filled. Unless you wish others ill.

Frayed Knot 8:55 AM  

I thought of "Witchy Woman" too. Not a bad ear worm.
Thanks @ JOHN X, you never disappoint.

TTrimble 8:56 AM  

I was expecting to see more complaints about this one. But maybe ANATOLE (France), ONDINE, STEFAN (Fatsis), ONIONS (Soubise sauce), RSTLNE (the letters one gets for free in the final WOF puzzle), FRED PERRY, STAX, PAPEETE, etc. -- not to mention ones in the NE corner -- are better known than I thought they were. For that matter, I'm not sure how well known it is that RIHANNA's birth name is Robyn Fenty.

I think I'm more used to seeing FIT TO A Tee, although I now learn that it was originally FIT TO A T. That T may refer to a T-square, although it's not certain.

Is AMBIsexual the same thing as BIsexual? Well, sorta, but not quite -- it's true that Merriam-Webster gives "bisexual" as the first definition, but... well, just read it for yourself. It can also mean "androgynous", and it can mean "unisex".

I don't know what OLY stands for, sheesh. Okay, found it, it's OLYmpia.

Oh, by the way -- @Gloomy Sloth will appreciate this -- the Proud Boys often go around sporting FRED PERRY black tees with gold trim. (How punchable in the face is Gavin McInnes? Pretty punchable, I'd say.)

I had plenty of missteps, which caused my time to be greater than it's been recently, by about 60%. For example, I went wrong and put down SEalyS, anticipating a cross with "i am SO" which I think we saw recently. And even though I thought ORDERED PAIR before I realized the theme, that didn't seem to FIT TO A T (it seemed too long), so I tried "interval" instead -- you see, in math, that notation can also stand for an open interval, consisting of the set of real numbers that are greater than a and less than b. And "interval" has the right number of letters, if we don't account for the theme.

Wasn't crazy about this one. No matter. Give your loved one an OXO today!

kitshef 9:07 AM  

DNF today with ASSES / CESEAL. What is CESEAL, you ask? Well, I figured was a New York Post supplement of some kind that I never heard of because I don't live in New York.

Edward 9:09 AM  

I'm sorry but this puzzle was absolute crap. Too many Qs, Xs ans Zs; if I wanted to play Scrabble I'd play Scrabble. ACQUIT, ANARCHY and that favored brand of the Proud Boys, FREDPERRY - all too soon. Add all that to the time slog that is a rebus puzzle done online (click the "Rebus" field, enter letters, hit ENTER) made this a stinker that was worse (17:45) than my average (16:17).

Andrea 9:23 AM  

This is one of those times when knowing another language helps you out of a rut. A helmet in Spanish is CASCO and in French CASQUE. Even today.
I didn’t mind the row of Qs. But I wish I’d solved this on paper where I could’ve used a red pen for the red letters.

bocamp 9:29 AM  

Thx, @Lisa; this was a tough Sun. puz for me, but I enjoyed the challenge and loved the theme! 💋

Difficult solve; just couldn't catch the vibes. :(

Didn't help that I couldn't spell "leach" correctly, altho I would still have had the dnf at the intersection of "Sisqo" and "Casque" (btw, where are you @cascokid?).

Wrt solving on the iPad: should have heeded the editor's note and done the puz on the web interface. LOL

Heartbreak Hotel ~ Elvis Presley

yd pg -1

Peace ~ Empathy ~ Kindness to all 🕊

Anonymous 9:30 AM  

Yeesh was this not a pleasant experience. It had more glue than that girl in the news's hair.

TJS 9:33 AM  

@SiouxFalls, I wondered about it, tried it both ways, and went the wrong way, I guess. Even thought about using both since I wrote it twice. Too lazy to look it up, so thanks for the correction.

Unknown 9:38 AM  

Loved it! Lots of crunch.

Teedmn 9:39 AM  

Shouldn't the meta be RUBY RED LIPS?

During my random solve, the first circle I ran into was at 76A. I knew the answer was JARED LETO but since it wouldn't fit, I stopped at JARED and trusted that the theme would come to me in time. Those extra letters with the RED rebus had to mean something and so it proved.

I don't remember any clever clues (Post production = CEREAL, I guess) but there are lots of nice answers: PARIAH, VICE VERSA, NOT LEAST, Pape'ete, GO FETCH, TRANQUIL, etc.

Lisa Bunker, thanks for the Valentine's card!

TJS 9:46 AM  

Hey, @Z, my extensive research (Wiki article) reveals that Pabst Blue Ribbon sponsors "post-collegiate sports teams". Oh, and "dive bars".

Hungry Mother 9:46 AM  

My wife gave me the Natick formed by CASQUE/SISQO. I was going to guess an N. She’s my Valentine, and has been since I met her 64 years ago, when I was 16 and she was 15. I got the partial theme right away and got the rest of it when I saw RUBY and had the L of LIPS. Good fun!

pabloinnh 9:51 AM  

I liked that each RED needed a different letter to complete the answer, thought after the first one that they might all be REDR, but they weren't so that was a nice surprise. Not sure where I learned CASQUE somewhere and remembered it and it went right in, surprised me to see that lots of us think of it as obscure.

Just two things annoyed me, the first being running into PLUSHY after yesterday's ANGSTY. Is there a difference between PLUSH and PLUSHY? Pooh. Also, I was hoping that I could connect the dots to have grid art that showed a woman with ruby lips winking at me while adjusting her stocking. It is Valentine's Day after all, and we could be a little bit creative.

Anyway, thought this was good fun and a satisfying solve. Thanks for the Sunday fun, lisainnh.

Hungry Mother 9:54 AM  

Also, my wife and I were in PAPEETE while on our 25th Anniversary cruise in French Polynesia. On the day of our Anniversary, we were in Bora Bora. Tough act to follow for our 50th, but our kids solved that by reserving us a huge family table in the Eiffel Tower for the celebration.

Birchbark 9:57 AM  

1A has a nested REDRUM. Not that it's a long winter, or anything.

In fact is a TRANQUIL morning. Even with a wind chill outside of 35 below, the ATTAR in the air is undeniable -- a day to be GENERIS to others.

Nancy 10:01 AM  

I completely missed the RUBY LIPS thing -- but then I wasn't looking for it, was I?

Another clever and well-executed theme that's at least partially ruined by much too much PPP and a lot of Natick-y crosses. I see that a lot of people here are also saying that today. I propose a NYT puzzle challenge to all constructors and to Will Shortz: an entire year without a pop singer or an action hero. I bet it can be done if you try. Are you willing to try?

But despite all the junky fill, I finished this without a lot of suffering. The theme was the help I relied on today and not the hindrance. Of course the theme wasn't there where I needed it most: in the NE corner. But I guessed right on OLSEN, SISQUO and CASQUE (I think there's a 19th-century adventure novel with CASQUE in the title, so that helped.) A mixed bag of clever and awful for me.

Anonymous 10:09 AM  

Maybe I'm asking for too much but shouldn't this puzzle have included a direction to connect the rebus boxes upon completion? A simple instruction at the top or even better, a clever clue within the puzzle would have yielded a much bigger pay off for me.

Anonymous 10:10 AM  

@FranticSloth, don't forget SIEGES!

Brian 10:17 AM  


Mike G 10:35 AM  

Hated this one more than I hate most Sunday puzzles. Objectively I suppose it's not bad but it just never clicked with me. Nothing I can point to in particular, just lots of grind and drudgework without any of the "aha" moments as payoff.

Snare Drum crossed with Redrafts. OK. Sure. It fits, but it doesn't sparkle. I guess that's the price we pay to get quality fill like Elis, Moc, Mano, and Not a Lot.

Sixthstone 10:43 AM  

I mostly enjoyed this puzzle. The theme was fine although it really would have hit with an accompanying visual of ruby lips.

Two areas that deserve complaint: the NE scrabble f***ing Q's and the GENERIS crossed by obscure ONDINE and CECIL (a one-season show from 1959). Two relatively obscure foreign capitals were a little tricky, but it's a NYT Sunday! Some have complained about the ORDERED PAIR/FRED PERRY crossing, but given that's it the 7th rebus everyone should have enough letters to work it out.

Overall nice puzzle and enough bubbly and flowers to add to the celebration: MOET, CRUS, NOSE, ATTAR.

WestBay 10:46 AM  

Ondine is a wonderful Valentine feel-good movie with Colin Farrell

burtonkd 10:50 AM  

Hands up for being a pianist who has played most of the Debussy Preludes, but didn't remember that Ondine was one of them, and checked to see if the clue had confused "Impressionist" their composers because the Ravel version is much better known. We've all been there, right?

This one felt tough, I had a few errors, and didn't feel like tracking them down, so broke my streak to use the check puzzle feature, and easily fix the problems...

OFL is so maddening sometimes, writing more than half of the blog about how disappointed he is that a puzzle doesn't include the meta drawing he thought it might, and me knowing full well that he hates grid art in the first place. GAH. Again, happy for the service he provides:)

Anonymous 10:52 AM  

I don't get the X,Z,Q hate. They're just letters in words like any other.

The lips thing is a reach. Let it go.

bocamp 10:57 AM  

@Z 8:31 AM

Your first paragraph is worth the price of admission to this blog. Thank you! 🤓

And even tho I'm not one of those from yesterday suggesting current NYT puzzles are too easy these days, I did suggest that the weekend oldies are, in general, more esoteric and tougher, overall. I rued those words as I was attempting to solve this one. 😂

Peace ~ Empathy ~ Kindness to all 🕊

Diane 11:00 AM  

Really didn’t like having acquit as an answer in this puzzle today

Joe Dipinto 11:01 AM  

According to the constructor notes at XWord Info, the original version of this had symmetrical placement of the red boxes, presumably in a labial tableau. Probably would have made it seem a little more fun.

Alternate clue for one of the contentious items in today's grid:

"1954 Tony Award-winning role for Audrey Hepburn"

CS 11:02 AM  

Well I like rebuses and that part of this one worked fine BUT there were way too many Naticks and random weird and unguessable letter strings. This was *not* easy; I usually can finish Sundays so maybe they are generally too easy for those looking for a challenge (isn't that what the Saturday puzzles are for? ;-D). Anyway I guess that puts me in the mixed-review camp. Easy and reasonably appropriate theme, with too much arcane fill = not as much fun as it should have been.


Rabbi Michael Bernstein 11:07 AM  

Am I the only one who thought the answer to “small woodland songbird” in a flirty puzzle was somewhat, er, risque

Rube 11:18 AM  

Not sure where I stand on this. Took a little effort to suss out YOMAMA and then SYSTEM but after that it was all over and very easy.

The lip drawing fails because lips are not symmetric.

egsforbreakfast 11:21 AM  

I notice that Lisa Bunker has a slightly uneven smile in her picture on xwordinfo. Perhaps the puzzle is a self portrait? I’d also be interested to know what her original, symmetrical approach to the rebus squares looked like.

I was head over heels in love with a girl named Cookie when I was 17. We were great friends, but I was desperate to find a way to tell her that I wanted a deeper relationship. So for Valentines Day I sent her, by U.S. mail, a huge card, probably 10” x 16” or so. Somehow, though, I neglected to put the card in the envelope. Her call to me regarding the cruelty of sending an empty envelope was a real downer. Fifty years later we’re still friends, but who knows what course things would have taken if only .......

I did enjoy the puzzle and want to say thanks and Happy Valentins Day to Lisa.❤️

Anonymous 11:28 AM  

if the RUBY LIPS squares made perfect lips connect-the-dots, that'd be too much of a hint, dontcha thunk?

as to SI_QO/CA_QUE it's impossible to know when doing on-paper, since any consonant makes as much sense as any other.

Malbelly 11:33 AM  

Anatole France?! Come on. Should have got it from the n across. First thought was the constructor got stuck, threw in a few letters and was lucky enough to find it was actually a person. Is it just me or have the clues for last week been very puny!

Anonymous 11:39 AM  

This may be the worst Sunday I've seen in months. I got it done, in average-ish time, and I generally enjoy rebuses, but this one.. ugh. As I was filling in the rebuses I was wondering why I should give a &*$%. When I was done, I got my answer: I shouldn't.

121A may be the single worst answer ever in a NYT xword. I mean, at least a CASQUE is an actual thing. But not only do we get RSTLNE, we also get LVI and LLD. This is just bad work.

I expected Rex to rip this one to itty bitty pieces. He must be friends with the constructor.

thefogman 11:46 AM  

Yet another bad Sunday NYT crossword. The theme didn’t work. Too much junk fill. Rex took it easy in his critique. He must be mellowing with age.

Alison 11:47 AM  

Well said! Clever puzzle with a lot of ❤️!

art mugalian 11:53 AM  

92-Down was my favorite clue of the year, so far. If I can get an out-loud laugh from a crossword puzzle, that’s a plus.

Z 12:06 PM  

@TJS - Detroit has been going through a bit of a renaissance for the past decade which has led to repeated squabbles over “dive bar” authenticity. Hipsters made PBR hip again, so there is a sense that dive bar poseurs serve it, while authentic dive bars wouldn’t. Of the ones on this list I’ve only been to four. Unfortunately, being in this list loses the bars significantly dive bar credibility. Unfortunately, most of the dive bars where I live now tend to have lots of confederate flags and trump bumper stickers, so I don’t try them out. As for “post-collegiate sports teams,” we had José Cuervo as sponsors back in the day, but now the biggest alcohol sponsor is Surly Brewery, who supports a lot of Minnesota teams.

bocamp 12:07 PM  

@WestBay 10:46 AM

Thx for the Ondine tip. Will watch it today on Apple TV's "Tubi" app. (in Canada, don't know about the US)

Peace ~ Empathy ~ Kindness to all 🕊

relicofthe60s 12:17 PM  

This was a slog. And if CASQUE crossing SISQO isn’t a Natick, I don’t know what is. It’s hard to imagine two more obscure words. Plus you have the LEACH/leech quandary.

webwinger 12:20 PM  

I quite enjoyed this, funny lips and all. Challenging for me, in large part because I solved using the NYT app, which included a note warning of the 8 special color-related squares in the grid—definitely helpful—but gave no indication of their locations. Finished with an error at the cross of CASQUE and SISQO—had all of the Qs, but clueing made that a real Natick for me.

Feeling like I should chide @Rex for “lookism”—what’s wrong with having lips that don’t quite match up?

oceanjeremy 12:22 PM  

My fiancée commented she frequently doesn’t like dopey holiday puzzles because they can be dumb and too easy. She found this one “appropriately challenging for a Sunday, and it wasn’t saccharine.”

We both thought it was cute!

I make us coffee and breakfast in bed *every* Sunday morning (in fact almost every morning, now that we’re in the Eternal Quarantine) but this puzzle helped make the ritual feel a bit more special for Valentine’s Day.

We also exchanged little token gifts (she got me a spherical physical puzzle and I got her a print of two skulls with a heart on a diction page). So happy Valentine’s Day, and thank you to Lisa Bunker for making it *just* a little more adorable.

Anonymous 12:31 PM  

This was may favorite puzzle ever and I can't help but notice more positive comments here from identifiably female poster than males. Never knew of Lisa Bunker but she's clearly a genius and her wonderfully twisted smile, evident here,
is clearly featured in the RUBY LIPS and in the attitude of this puzzle. So fun, fresh and playful, and so layered as well. I feel like there may be even more to discovery than has been discovered so far: the valentine "red" boxes, the different sexualities (PAN, AMBI), and taboo-breaking use of "PAP" smear, tons of irreverent and playful cluing and playful answers (BUSHTIT; GENII), some suggestive without being obscene. Lots of smiles. Almost every answer required thought, yet was obtainable. I LOVED this and the lips are pure art, reminiscent of a Picasso line-drawing. Lisa Bunker has proven she's "NOSLOUCH".

Anonymous 12:32 PM  

Your reference to the Three A's is spot on.

Bonnie Buratti 12:39 PM  

I thought this one was pretty decent - good clues to good words and clever expressions, not too much crosswordese or obscure stuff. The only problem: the theme was too obvious. I solve on paper - I love the sensation of ballpoint pen on newspaper - so I saw the red squares and got it right away. The grid was a bit blocky, leaving no room for long answers (not a big problem, but it did give the feeling of solving a lot of Wednesdays).

Happy Valentines Day!

kitshef 12:40 PM  

@bocamp 10:57 - "Z Your first paragraph is worth the price of admission to this blog" - man that is cold.

@sanfranman59 - Another oft-overlooked aspect of solve time - at least when solving online - is what I call 'fiddlyness'. Puzzles with a lot of short fill require a lot of tabbing and direction changing, while puzzle with long entries have less of that. Puzzles with a lot of cross-referencing -- don't get me started. And puzzles like today's where you have to stop and use the 'rebus' function (hi, @Edward) a bunch of times can be a real drain. Note: I know you don't HAVE to use the rebus function, but I always do.

Anonymous 12:43 PM  

I'm sorry, but this puzzle was atrocious. The fill really was ridiculous. Any puzzle with GENII is basically unforgivable.

A 12:53 PM  

Cute nods to REX, as an answer and also in the clues "Sharp" and “Sharp, in a way” (SMART but TART).

I got a smile out of some the quirky/fun clues, too, as in “Opposite of a standing order” for BE SEATED, “Rules out” for ANARCHY. Oh, and NOT LEAST, “Packaging list” for INGREDIENTS. Tricks like those, and the RUBY RED LIPS (hi @Teedmn) made some of the PPP go down more easily. Enjoyed the challenge. (“Alrighty then.” - too funny, @Z!)

Ok, I’ll squirrel away PLUSHY and angsty as possible letter combinations accepted as words by the NYT and other dubious sources like Merriam-Webster. ALL I ASK is don’t force them into my personal vocabulary.

OTOH, I did learn attar (n.) "perfume from flowers" (especially roses), 1788, from Hindi/Urdu atr "perfume," from Persian 'itr "perfume," from Arabic 'itr "perfume, aroma." and CASQUE (erred on LEeCH, leading to CecQUE, trying to rationalize ‘a check’ on incoming blows). Also the plural CRUS.

@Joe Dipinto Thanks for that info about the original version. I’m reminded of @M&A’s recent suggestion to do a week of puzzles as originally clued. Just expand that to originally designed. Perhaps that version had fewer NITs? ASSUREDLY.

If you're following the Australian Open, how about that match between our friend Osaka and her not-so-xword-friendly Muguruza? Really could've gone either way. I love watching tennis so FRED PERRY came to me without much of a tussle. Sorry to learn of any association with the ARSEy boys. (That could be another one, M-W., but let’s STOP here.)

Masked and Anonymous 12:53 PM  

Happy Valentines Day, all U clever Comment Gallery folks.
thUmbsUp for havin a cute V-Day theme, today -- right on the ruby red nose.

PLUSHY bits: VICEVERSA. NOSLOUCH. VERTEX [math class lives today!]. ALLIASK. REX [staff weeject pick, as a V-Day giftlet to @RP]. Pangram.

BLURRY bits: PAPEETE. ONDINE. CESEAL. SISQO/CASQUE [Was neat, how the Q's queued up, in the NE, tho].

ATILT bit: BUSHTIT. Suspect, as a close PEWIT relative.

@Sanfranman: Cool stats. Bring the rest of em on, dude. M&A kinda leaned toward older puzs bein slightly harder, due to their use of a few more obscure-ish word counts… as mentioned in my last comment, yesterday. See also today's runtpuz, below.

Thanx for yer redhot lips, Lisa Bunker darlin. And congratz, on yer premiere SunPuz. SunPuzs are an extra-lotta work, to construct, I'm learnin. Sooo ... thanx also, for all yer efforts.

I'll stop commentin, here … for today. Don't wanna go gettin too lippy.
Masked & Anonymo10Us


jae 1:00 PM  

@Z - I have been solving the 1990's late week puzzles with my 2020 skill set. As you might expect there is a fair amount of variability in difficulty levels but my gestalt takeaway is that I'm more likely to encounter a tough puzzle in the 90's and the 00's than I am these days.

@bocamp - I'm about 2/3 of the way through Croce's Club72 Freestyle #585 and it is definitely Stumperesque.

Anonymous 1:06 PM  

That Ondine movie mentioned is available on KANOPY, which is a free App with a lot of great movies. All you need is a library card to sign up.

Cristi 1:07 PM  

Yes—Rex didn’t give it a chance. Connect the red boxes in a linear fashion and you get a passable line drawing. (Yet another demonstration of the problems inherent in forming a hard opinion based on a solitary thought in a moment in time.)

Joe in Newfoundland 1:11 PM  

Your concern of the shape of the letters seems to be based on a healthynormativity that shocks me. What about someone with Bell's Palsy, or has had a stroke? Did you think of them?

oisk17 1:12 PM  

Glad to see I had plenty of company getting a DNF with Sisqo. I Tried "Sinqo," Lousy guess, but that really is a very tough cross with "casque." Didn't get "ruby lips", but didn't really try. Still, outside of that one cross, the obscurities were discernable, even to someone as deaf to popular culture as I am. Did Sisqo sing duets with Pancho?

Barone 1:13 PM  

Agreed! Qs, Zs, Xs and a meta theme! Couldn’t draw a pair of lips? What do you people want? Get over it. And Happy VD.

Anonymous 1:27 PM  

I liked this one. But it didn’t occur to me that there might be a visual depiction of lips. Actually, that seems like a stretch!

bocamp 1:28 PM  

@Anonymous 12:31 PM

One of the best posts of the day! 😊

@kitshef 12:40 PM

"Cold"… how so? Here's what I said: "Your first paragraph is worth the price of admission to this blog. Thank you! 🤓" IOW, what @Z said in this paragraph sums up perfectly the need for research wrt the facts, and is near and dear to my heart, i.e., I got my money's worth just reading that first paragraph. ❤️

@jae 1:00 PM

Thx, I'll get right on it! 🤞

npg -17

Peace ~ Empathy ~ Kindness to all 🕊

Eyeroll 1:36 PM  

LOL, thanks for spending hundreds of words to bitch about the theme that didn't meet your high standards. What a service you provide!

mathgent 1:37 PM  

I don't usually do the Sunday but the red squares got my attention. So happy I did it. What a marvelous creation. My mind boggles at imagining how hard it was to create. The red squares working both ways. Wow!

I had a ball solving it. I'm sorry that so few had the fun I did.

pabloinnh 1:45 PM  

re difficulty levels-How about the acrostics? I've been doing these for years but lately they seem easier to me.

That said, I thought today's was lots of fun, but it was over too soon.

Back to the SB.

Christy 1:49 PM  

Did this on iPad, and there was no indication of the fact there were rebus squares, so no idea they existed or where they would be, or color indication. So it took twice as long, and the extra challenge actually made it really fun for once. I would recommend this puzzle without indicaticating that there was a rebus or where they are or that they spell anything.

DigitalDan 1:50 PM  

Allow me to join the throng in the traffic jam that is the SISQO and CASQUE in Natick. By the way, the spell checker underlines all three words.

CDilly52 1:51 PM  

@anonymous (to @Frantic Re the Three As - a big AMEN!!!

Crimson Devil 1:52 PM  

Best Fri, Sat, Sun sequence I can recall. And MAHI MAHI my all-round fav fish, for color, fightin, and eatin !

MarthaCatherine 2:13 PM  

Don't know if anyone else has mentioned this: maybe top of the ruby lips run from (bear with me) the one in 76A, to the one at 1A, to the one in 34A to the one in 46A. Then, the bottom lip runs from the one in 101A, to the one in 109A, to the one in 125A, to the one in 74A.

Maybe not. But it looks more like lips than the ones Rex drew.

sanfranman59 2:21 PM  

Medium-Challenging NYT Sunday ... 13% above my 6-month median solve time

I mostly liked this one. The rebus squares are a little off-beat. Since the note tells me that the circled squares are red in the print version, maybe the idea is to only enter the extra letter that's added to RED in each of the rebus squares? I didn't try submitting my solution that way since I wanted to see REDx for each rebused answer while solving. I assumed that the extra letters would spell out something, but I didn't see what it was until after I submitted my solution. Is the "shape" represented by the circles also supposed to be a pair of lips? If so, I guess it kinda sorta looks like that. Close enough, at least, for horseshoes, hand grenades, jazz and grid art.

I thought the cluing was ramped up a notch or two for a NYT Sunday, but I didn't mind that at all since it didn't put me over my 20 minute impatience/boredom limit with puzzles. I got off to a very slow start in the NW where MANO {6D: Word before and after "a"} was 'tete' at first, STEFAN {23A: Fatsis who wrote "Word Freak"} was a complete whiff for me and YO MAMA {19A: Start of a playground taunt} just wouldn't come to mind. It took me almost five minutes to pick up on what was happening with the rebus squares, but once I did and got into the mind-set that the cluing was going to be a little trickier than usual, I moved through the grid pretty steadily.

I wonder what NITs Rex will pick at in this grid today? For one thing, he'll probably complain about the pangram since there's certainly some Scrabble-f#@king going on in the NE. CASQUE {16D: Medieval helmet} was the biggest head-scratcher in the grid for me and crossing SISQO {26A: "Thong Song" singer, 2000} was a near pseudo-Natick moment for me (pseudo only because the strict definition of a Natick requires two proper nouns). Even so, the three Q's in a row looks pretty cool up there.

CDilly52 2:22 PM  

Now this was a Sunday-worthy puzzle! Tried my everything: patience, memory, creative thinking power. Tried it all. And with a holiday theme to boot. Would have loved knowing how to make the “RED” letters actually RED, and grateful that the app took care of it with the happy music, that was, for me a looooong time a’comin’.

I love a good q-word and the SISQO/CASQUE cross was cool. Thank you Gran for allowing me to sit next to you for so many years to learn things like the capital of Yemen, and the name for a medieval helmet. And thank my love of cop tv shows and cop mystery books and of course my profession for ACQUIT.

Continuing in a vein QUA legal, and, if there are any aficionados of the Oklahoma Supreme Court here who, like me remember opinions of the late and absolutely brilliant Justice Marion Opalla whose favorite word seemed to be QUA, here’s another big thank you. There are too many “QUA” jokes (most bad) among the legal community here to count but those who still repeat them on appropriate occasions consider them a badge of seniority and of the true love of the rule of law in our wonderful country. I was honored to be selected for a clerkship to write for two of the other Justices and consider the discussions with Opalla, J to have been among the most erudite and clever I have ever had. His story as an immigrant and former WW II POW with English as his third or fourth language humble anyone who hears them. The QUA sent me on quite a trip down memory lane and through the disgraceful treatment of our Constitution these last few years. I’ve considered (and voiced with colleagues and friends) as we discuss the sad stage of our country what a terse and probably angry response Opalla, J would have had to the disrespect of and damage done to our Republic of late.

But I digress. . . again today. This puzzle was agonizing, entertaining, clever and lots of fun. A 21st century Sunday offering. Liked it even though it nearly kicked my arse!

Nancy 2:25 PM  

Thank God someone else hated this puzzle! I just felt dumber and dumber, reading glowing review after glowing review. Phew!

Barbara S. 2:27 PM  

I’m so late today that I haven’t read the comments, so apologies for any repetition. I liked this puzzle and found it hard – here, there and all over the place. But with patience and more time than I really had to devote to it, I got through. I saw the RUBY RED LIPS and, unlike @Rex, wasn’t concerned that they didn’t quite make a drawing.

We had the champagne (MOET, CRUS, NOSE) and the roses (ATTAR). We POWERED UP the SAUNA (a hot tub might have been better) and had the SERTA at the ready. But where was the chocolate? All I could find were ONIONS and CEREAL. OK, there was a TREAT, and I guess I can imagine a chocolate-filled TART, but I really wanted something a little more explicit on the cacao front. Ah well, maybe next year…

Here’s Gauguin’s take on ONDINE.

Today’s quotation is completely out of keeping with a light-hearted Valentine’s theme. It’s surprising, I think, because of its date of publication, and it’s by CARL BERNSTEIN, born Feb. 14, 1944.

"We are in the process of creating, in sum, what deserves to be called the idiot culture. Not an idiot subculture, which every society has bubbling beneath the surface and which can provide harmless fun; but the culture itself. For the first time in our history, the weird and the stupid and the coarse are becoming our cultural norm, even our cultural ideal."
(From “The Idiot Culture”, The New Republic, June 8, 1992)

old timer 2:28 PM  

I finished it. A slog like many Sundays, but it was cool to come here and discover that those extra letters spelled out RUBY LIPS. Like many, I had to trouble at all with CASQUE. And, like surprisingly few of you, I knew that PAPEETE is the capital of Tahiti, and therefore of all of French Polynesia. World capitals are something you just need to know, and not just Sofia and Oslo.

My carp, and I think it is a major one, is that even the eagerbeaveriest of law students cannot study for an LLD. The "doctor of laws" award is awarded exclusively as an honorary degree, to scholars (and politicians) of note. Samuel Johnson got that degree, so have hundreds of other people well-known in their day. The highest degree awarded by a law school to a student varies, but it is usually the JSD (Doctor of legal science (knowledge).

CDilly52 2:35 PM  

No worries, @Anonymous 6:43 am. I fell into the LLB trap myself, forgetting that some universities in the U.K. grant LLBs at the undergrad level and the course content is much like our Political Science major. And shame on me since I spent the better part of two years in the UK working on a huge lawsuit for an American corporation and had many late night pub chats with British colleagues arguing the merits of the British vs American legal and legal education systems. Probably the venue and the beverages. And the wonderful company.

CDilly52 2:37 PM  

As always, @Lewis, you nailed it! Happy V-Day💋!

kitshef 2:40 PM  

@bocamp 1:28 PM - In the case of Rex's blog, the "price of admission" is zero.

Bob D 2:43 PM  

Rex--I generally agree with your criticisms of the Sunday puzzle, but really--objecting because there may or may not be a tracing of "ruby lips"! This puzzle was fun for me--a little extra pleasure on Valentine's Day. Chill out and give the constructor a break--not perfect but better than usual. Happy Valentine's Day to all!

JC66 2:46 PM  

@old timer

I'm no lawyer, but doesn't BARRISTER indicate British rather than American?

bocamp 2:48 PM  

@Anonymous 1:06 PM

Good tip! :)

My library (Vancouver Public) does subscribe to Kanopy (I use it often); however, libraries have a limited budget and some may not be able to afford certain streaming services, e.g., VPL doesn't subscribe to Hoopla, which I would really benefit from. I've written to them, but they just don't have the funds right now for that subscription, altho many libraries in the Lower Mainland do carry Hoopla. So, it's a hit and miss proposition.

BTW, I searched my Kanopy app (on Apple TV) and no luck with "Ondine". That may be a Canada/US rights thing, not sure. Fortunately, I'm able to view the movie on the Tubi app (on Apple TV).

Looks like it may also be available in some locales on Hoopla and/or Crackle.

@CDilly52 2:22 PM

Very much enjoyed your write-up, as always! 😊

pg - 9

Peace ~ Empathy ~ Kindness to all 🕊

Anonymous 2:52 PM  

39A = STOP, for the open palm with arm extended. I guess it is everywhere, with a sense of condescension and exasperation. Italians use the gesture all the time, in that sense. Sometimes in Italy the hand rocks a bit up and down, as if to say, I think, that I am getting really fed up with this, you idiot. Perhaps one is suggesting that one has to restrain oneself to keep from moving the entire right forearm into a quick motion under the left forearm, in an obscene gesture, meaning, I think, “up yours.” An NBA player (Larry Johnson??) regularly used the obscene gesture after making a basket, trying to turn his two arms into an L, for Larry (I guess). The gesture is not common in the US, but for the sake of international sensibilities someone should have told him he had to stop.

I think we have all seen the gesture of the open, upward palm in paintings of the Annunciation, which the Virgin uses as she is about to be impregnated by God via an emissary. I had always thought the gesture was one of acceptance–the Virgin is telling God that she is humbly willing and accepting. (Likewise an open palm could be a prelude to a handshake–“I am accepting your peace, etc.”) But an art historian once explained to me that this was mistaken. Here too the meaning is “stop,” sort of, but without of course any trace of condescension or exasperation. As a gesture of humility, the Virgin is stating that she is not worthy of being the mother of God.

Anon. i.e. Poggius

TTrimble 3:03 PM  

I think you might be right about the acrostics in recent times. I mean, I liked this week's, and I'm curious that a whole book could be written on the topic, but it felt like a pretty quick solve, as have some others in recent memory.

I tried once to construct an acrostic, and found it fairly tough going, and thus I have a lot of respect for the ability of Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon to construct good quality and occasionally brilliant puzzles on a biweekly basis.

Maybe this would be a good acrostic to initiate you into what is perhaps my favorite word puzzle form. We can talk about it off this blog if you'd like. With your persistence, I think you might come to like it.


pg -8

Anonymous 3:15 PM  

Way too much gunk at least for my wheelhouse: SISQO QUA USN TOR OLY SANAA ATTAR LLD STAX CASQUE PAPEETE ONDINE PASHAS LVI ANATOLE GESTE. For Valentine's Day, that's a lot not to love.

Tad 3:47 PM  

Anon 2:52- It’s also called giving someone the Heisman.

Anonymous 3:52 PM  

Is Rex seriously not going to comment on ACQUIT?

MeemW 3:52 PM  

Thanks - I didn’t like it a bit either. Tedious as hell.

MeemW 3:53 PM  


LenFuego 3:58 PM  

A delightful puzzle, wonderfully appropriate for Valentine's Day.

newbie 4:00 PM  

I love that the guys on the blog today seem to be very romantic and sentimental about Valentine's Day. Especially Hungry Mother. And the Sunday-turned-daily breakfast-in-bed maker. And the one wistfully recalling the card-not-sent in the empty envelope as a young teen. So sweet.

So I guess the puzzle was a Valentine's Day success.

I puzzled through all of it, only to be done in by the A in CASQUE/LEACH. Sigh. Unrequited love.

Love to all.

Z 4:01 PM  

@jae - Recognizing that you probably haven’t been tracking, what’s your sense of how much of the difficulty is just dated PPP or obscure PPP as opposed to the puzzle being harder from the cluing?

I don’t know my LLB from my LLD from my JD. What I do know is that the issue was hashed out at great length by the commentariat before and FAQ 16 applies again.

@bocamp - I knew what you meant. I also thought @kitshef’s sly dig was pretty funny.

As has been mentioned, if you are upset that the Stumper isn’t the Stumper anymore, there are options. Croce, Grids these days, and Tough As Nails all can be challenging. BTW - Grids These Days is Paolo Pasco whose PR on a NYTX Saturday of 1:45 had Rex going “Wow” on Twitter yesterday.

sanfranman59 4:02 PM  

(breaking the three post limit to respond to some comments about the solve time stats I posted)

@Z (6:48am) ... I do know when I solved the archived puzzles and your suggestion is a good one. I've thought of that, but haven't really looked at it yet. I don't record solve dates in my database, but I can use the timestamps on the .puz files.

@Barney (8:15am) ... In general, I only record my solve time if I either submitted an 100% correct solution or my only error was a typo. Truth be told, I do record my time if I only missed one or two crosses (or needed to Google to get them). I figure that the time it takes to Google is enough of a penalty to justify recording my time. I wouldn't go so far as to say that the data provide no insight into trends in puzzle difficulty. It's just hard to know how much the variation in solve times is a result of my puzzle solving skills improving over time and how much is related to the difficulty of the puzzles. There's definitely some guesswork involved.

I don't usually bother checking over the grid when I'm done solving. I'd say that 90+% of the time (conservatively), there's nothing to find.

@kitshef (12:40pm) ... Your point is well-taken. Like you, I always use the rebus function to fill in the appropriate letters even though it chews up valuable seconds. There's no doubt that solve times are artificially inflated in rebus puzzles and those with a lot of cross-referenced clues (the speed-solver's bane!). Furthermore, these factors disproportionately affect puzzles with faster solve times.

@M&A (12:53pm) ... I agree that there were a lot more obscure and completely out-of-language answers early in the Shortz era than there are now. It seems to me that this was particularly true within the first couple of years after he became the editor. I attribute this to him "training" constructors to get away from Maleska's style and finding his own editorial groove. I think he probably also gave more latitude in this regard to established Maleska era constructors.

bocamp 4:05 PM  

@TTrimble 3:03 PM

Many thanks! I'll get started on today's and see how it goes. I've been working on them for a few weeks, and am gradually understanding some of the basics. I think there's hope. 🤞

I'll email you after I've given it all I've got. 😊

pg -5

Peace ~ Empathy ~ Kindness to all 🕊

Foamfollower 4:15 PM  


Birchbark 4:19 PM  

2/28/98: A themed Saturday puzzle, more difficult than most of what we see these days (any I can think of). Again the payoff feels good in finally getting it, but it's rugged along the way. Even after I got the theme I didn't get the theme. And then I did, and mighty proud of the axons for staying in the game.

I'm in the camp that sees the hard ones as much harder then than now, but way less consistent as to a given weekday's difficulty (plenty of weeks where Wednesday is harder than Friday). My fastest Saturday by far is also from the '90s.

jb 4:39 PM  

Awful! Plain awful!

Joe Dipinto 4:45 PM  

@bocamp and @TTrimble – Quite a few years back a crossword buddy who always saw me doing the acrostic got curious enough to try it. He never did anything except the regular crossword. So I explained how the acrostic worked, and he started attempting them.

The first few times I noticed he would write in answers on the bottom but not put the letters in the corresponding numbered boxes in the quote. I asked him why and he said, "Aah, I'll do that later." I said but that's gonna help you solve it, you start seeing words and phrases in the quotation and then you go back and forth between the two to finish it. He just waved me away.

Anyway, to make a long story the same exact length, he soon figured it out, and he got good at them very quickly, and he enjoyed doing them and never stopped.

So, @bocamp, I say – Go for it! I bet you will like them.

SBpianist 4:56 PM  

Yup, exactly what I’m feeling.

Beth 4:58 PM  

OK maybe you acrostic folks can help. I used to do it in the NYT when I bought the paper edition back in the day (10+ years ago). I now have a digital subscription to the paper as well as to the Crossword Puzzle. There doesn’t seem to be an acrostic on the Crossword App. Can I access the acrostic without an additional fee ? Thanks in advance.

Z 5:11 PM  

@Beth - On the NYT website go to the puzzle page (make sure you are logged into your account). Scroll down past the colorful alternative puzzles and you will find the most recent variety puzzles. Click on “More.” There’s an Acrostic tab that will allow you to print them or play online.

sanfranman59 5:18 PM  

(breaking the three post rule again, but I claim immunity for helping a fellow member of the commentariat)

@Beth ... There's a link to the acrostic on the main crossword page under the Variety Puzzles heading about two-thirds of the way down the page. You can also access archived acrostics on the "Crossword Archives" page. To get to that, click the hamburger icon in the upper left corner of the main crossword page and select "Crossword Archives". Click the Acrostic link and you will arrive in Acrostic Nirvana.

Beth 5:31 PM  

@Z : Thank you

jae 5:37 PM  

@Z - There certainly is dated PPP, mostly long gone TV shows and movies with some current events trivia thrown in, but its usually only a couple of clues at most per puzzle. Tough cluing and obscure PPP probably account for more of the difficulty differences, and don't forget the authors...every time I see Longo or Klahn I know I'm in for a challenge. The same is true for Nothnagel and Quarfooot in the '00s.

bocamp 5:43 PM  

@Joe Dipinto 4:45 PM

Thx for the encouragement. It's definitely a work in progress, and as per your suggestion to your friend, I'm going back and forth, attempting to use every thing I can to suss the clues out or intuit a letter or two in the quote. 🤞

Z 5:11 PM / @Beth 4:58 PM

Just to be clear, are you referring to the NYT website on a computer? That's where I'm able to access the acrostic. I can't access it on my iPad or iPhone, either on the NYT Crossword app, or on their website (being logged in all cases). The only game that shows up is Spelling Bee, and "More Games" is not clickable. I'm just guessing that the interface for all the other games is too complex for the devices?? Or am I just missing something? Wouldn't be the first time. LOL

pg -4

Peace ~ Empathy ~ Kindness to all 🕊

albatross shell 5:47 PM  

When we had a plumed helmet clue a few days ago someone posted a list of more obscure helmet names. I thought maybe CASQUE was among them, maybe. Ring a bell anyone?

Thank JOHNX for that thoughtful Valentine heart. When I went out to get the paper, an Amazon drone dropped off a parcel. It was full of pink Peruvian fish scale. Since I know nobody else who might have such connections, especially considering Amazon doesn't use drones around here and they do not deliver on Sunday. How did he do it? How did he know who I was or where I lived? Of course that's JOHNX. Now I don't even know who or where I am. And how did I get a stupid name like albatross? Thanks JOHNX.

I enjoyed the red letter puzzle and the lips do look like lips. Connect the ends together. Sheesh. Typical caricatured lips. I think they have been on record covers. My eyeballs are maybe spinning a bit.

Happy Valentines Day and Merry Unbirthday wherever appropriate.

Unknown 6:24 PM  

@anon 12:31

Great comment! Would love to see an ID as most of us ignore the mice

Anonymous 6:38 PM  

Hi Rex...just continue the red lines...join them ...lips form...happy 💙 day. e

pabloinnh 7:34 PM  

@bocamp--Let me add my encouragement to @TTrimble's and @Joed's--these are a lot of fun and addictive, although possibly not as addictive as SB, which to me seems as timeless as baseball, unless you get to QB. But it's still untimed.

I would give you some pro tips like T_E is usually THE and A_D is usually AND, and so on, but that would be plain insulting, and who wants that? Neither of us, I'm very sure.

Go get 'em. You'll find a new source of joy.

Anonymous 8:03 PM  

Irrespective of our former president, no one has commented that acquit is not a synonym by any means for exonerate.

An acquittal doesn't mean an affirmation that the defendant has not committed the crime. It simply means that guilt has not been proven and that therefore the matter is over and done with.

Unknown 8:05 PM  

Why is "RSTLNE" out of order, Rex? That's the order in which Pat Sajak says them and Vanna turns them every night. Or is Wheel only for those of us who knew "casque" right off the bat.

Unknown 8:07 PM  


A 8:15 PM  

Happy Birthday @albatross shell !!!!!!!!!

Gaily 8:27 PM  

Ondine was an award winning Broadway play in 1954 with Audrey Hepburn. Of course I never saw it and didn’t remember until I had completed the puzzle

Anonymous 9:04 PM  

I think my earlier comments (2:52 pm) about STOP and hand gestures were generally correct. As for my remarks about the Annunciation (I was thinking about Botticelli's version), I just googled it, and my memory was faulty and I think I may have bungled my explanation. I remember being told that the Virgin's gesture of the palm was the opposite of what it appeared to be, and I found this explanation convincing. But the gesture I just saw was not what I remembered, and I think I confused everything. I won't try to clear things up, since I could well add more confusion. I'm not sure anyone cares, but this is my retraction, and my apologies!

Anon. i.e. Poggius

bocamp 9:13 PM  

@pabloinnh 7:34 PM

Many thanks for your encouragement. And, no worries, any advice is welcome; it's the concept that matters, and besides, the simple things form the framework for the end product. :)

pg -1

Peace ~ Empathy ~ Kindness to all 🕊

Matthew B 9:16 PM  

I really enjoyed this puzzle. (I'm writing this before reading Parker's commentary.) The rebus didn't come quickly... It was the eared seal that did it... and the rest just fell in place. And I loved the "ruby lips" playoff. Very little junk in the grid, some great cluing... 64d:they'll be mist"... A fun romp. Now to see what everyone else thinks..

Matthew B 9:28 PM  

Biologically speaking you are correct ;colloquially, the "seals" in the circus were sea lions so it worked for me.

Pablo Picasso 9:44 PM  

I cannot believe that you would say that those beautiful red lines are not lips! Have you never seen a mouth???

Unknown 10:16 PM  

Agreed. I hated this puzzle. Qua? WTF? Sports questions. Ugh. Names of singers I don't know. Thong Song? (I guess that fits a Valentine theme.) ...I really wanted powered up to be, well something more "turned on" as in pan and ambisexual. Sigh. And is yomama really a playground retort? Six year olds say yomama? Sigh. Maybe I'm too old.

Unknown 10:16 PM  

Double ditto.

JMS 10:20 PM  

Bell’s palsy, for the lips that is...

And still don’t get RSTLNE. I’m not a WoF fan. THAT, was my hangup.

A 11:07 PM  

@Anon. i.e. Poggius I always look forward to your insights, and appreciate your attention to detail!

Jack 11:27 PM  

Me, too!

jb129 12:42 PM  

Anything that has to do with dogs, I love!

Great puzzle & a more difficult Monday for sure, but it was great. Thank you!

Patti S 2:45 PM  

I did NOT get part where we're supposed to put the letters together. But I will admit, I should have, though even if I had I would not have thought to connect them for the picture. Also, in the southeast corner on my laptop, there was no red box (seals, maitre'd), so I was very very stumped. That was a tech fail. ALl in all, not very satisfying, though the fill was better than usual.

Michael G. Benoit 4:05 PM  

Wheel of Fortune for *decades* has given away the letters RSTLNE for the final puzzle and in that order. Originally, contestants were asked to name five consonants and (then) one vowel. Over time *everyone* would list RSTLN and E. So the producers just started giving those letters, making puzzles that had fewer of them.

Watch *any* episode of Wheel of Fortune since at least the 90s and you'll see this. It's certainly less obscure than FREDPERRY's having invented the sweatband.

Greg 3:03 AM  

Far too many PPP crossings for my liking, and CASQUE/SISQO the worst of the lot. I liked the theme but felt like I was battling the foreign word/rapper name trivia contest the entire solve.

JK 9:52 PM  

As Fred Perry was famous for yelling across the court, “Very Clevah”!

Anonymous 10:55 PM  

Can someone explain wheel of fortune freebies? What am I missing? Finished, but ...

Robert Berardi 5:08 PM  

"OX TEAM sounds like some kind of weird bovine rivals of the X-MEN" made me laugh out loud.

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