Title that translates to great sage / THU 2-11-21 / Padmé Amidala's home planet in Star Wars / Cowboys QB-turned-broadcaster

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Constructor: Alex Eaton-Salners

Relative difficulty: Easy 

THEME: plurals written as two singulars — familiar phrases that contain letter strings that spell out irregular plurals (i.e. not simple add-an-S plurals); those plurals are represented in the grid as two singular forms of the noun, side by side, in the circled squares. So COMEDIC EFFECT contains "DICE," but in the grid, instead of "DICE" we get one "DIE" and then another "DIE" ... and so on:

Theme answers:
  • Comedic effect => COME DIE DIE FFECT (17A: What a pratfall may be done for)
  • Twelve steps => TW ELF ELF TEPS (25A: Program followed in Alcoholics Anonymous)
  • Name names => NA MAN MAN AMES (46A: Sing under pressure)
  • Coffee table => CO FOOT FOOT ABLE (59A: Where magazines may be laid out)
Word of the Day: MAHARISHI (43A: Title that translates to "great sage") —
In Ancient IndiaMaharishi is a Sanskrit word, written as "महर्षि" in Devanagari (formed from the prefix mahā- meaning "great" and r̥ṣi meaning "seer"), indicating members of the highest order of ancient Indian sages, popularly known in India as "seers," i.e. those who engage in research to understand and experience (and therefore know) Nature and its governing laws. (wikipedia)
• • •

Normally not a big fan of gibberish in the grid, but the central idea here is so cute that I didn't mind. It's simple but ingenious—just represent a plural as two singulars. Of course that alone isn't too interesting, since representing "dogs" as DOG DOG or "roads" as ROAD ROAD wouldn't be that remarkable a transformation. But by making all the involved plurals irregular, i.e. plurals that don't follow the most common add-an-S structure, the devolution into two singulars is more dramatic somehow. In fact, ELVES is the only one with an "S" ending at all, and that one of course has the V-back-to-F change. The others are all truly irregular non-S plurals. The answers they appear in are all relatively straightforward and easy to get, or at least easy to get purchase on. Everything outside the involved theme squares today is extremely straightforward. Since it's Thursday, and I expect trickery, I just sort of sidled up to those circled squares without plunging in straight away. I surrounded them ... crossed them (to make sure the crosses were working properly; god knows what circled squares are going to do to an answer on a Thursday). Got the theme at "twelve steps" when I realized "elves" was embedded inside it, but there were six (not five) circled squares, and since I already had the first "EL-," I guessed I had a couple of ELFs on my hands (instead of the "elves"). COMEDIEDIEFFECT ended up being the hardest for me because my brain was thinking "DIE and DIE = DIES." But I got it sorted. The last two themers were totally transparent, but still enjoyable to uncover. The fill was solid enough. A pleasant surprise, overall.

Five things:
  • 51D: Padmé Amidala's home planet in "Star Wars" (NABOO) — It pays to store grid-friendly "Star Wars" answers away somewhere in your brain, as they recur. There's this assumption that you'll just *know* the "Star Wars" universe (see also the Potterverse) (which is to say, see also 64A: ___ Scamander, protagonist of "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them") (NEWT). I resent the "Star Wars" part of the NABOO clue, since the only "Star Wars" I recognize came out in 1977 and there was no Padmé Amidala in it, that I can recall. This is "Phantom Menace" territory ... no time to fall into this rabbit hole today. 
  • 15D: ___ Shute, "A Town Like Alice" novelist (NEVIL) — a very popular novelist that, as far as I can tell, no one reads anymore. Shute was English and moved to Australia, which is where "A Town Like Alice" is set. If nothing else, today I learned the this song's title is (apparently) a literary allusion:
  • 39D: Props, so to speak (CREDIT) — seems like a verb or plural noun, but it's slang for "proper respect," i.e. "due credit." It was "propers" in Aretha Franklin's "Respect," but in hip-hop slang it gets shortened to "props"
  • 31A: Proper way to pass (ON THE LEFT) — assuming you don't live in the UK, Japan, NZ, etc. Not thrilled about this fairly arbitrary prepositional phrase, or about two ON phrases crossing (see 4D: Where we are (ON EARTH)). But as annoyances go, these are fairly minor.
  • 29D: "That's nonsense" ("POOH")POOH is a bear. Wanted POSH (from "pish-posh!"?), but that would've meant that the [May day celebrant] was the MSM, which seemed highly unlikely (common abbr. for "mainstream media," used primarily by paranoid nutters, please never ever put it in a grid, thank you)
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

P.S. I blocked out APPARATS, possibly because it was traumatic (20A: Communist party systems). I somehow know the term "apparatchik" without knowing that its most literal, basic meaning is "a member of a Communist apparat." 

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Joaquin 6:18 AM  

I successfully filled in a letter in each box but then found I needed three more boxes for these three leftover letters: “W”, “T”, & “F”. I gave up and cheated by reading Deb Amlen’s commentary. I doubt that I would have ever figured out the "theme" on my own.

After breezing through the Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday puzzles I felt sooooo smart; today is like, “Reality check on aisle Thursday.”

Unknown 6:23 AM  

Sorry but this puzzle was ridiculous. Not fun.

Anonymous 6:31 AM  

Shortly after I began I figured I must have had a stroke during the night. I finally decided to check @Rex to see if I could get a little boost without giving the whole thing away. Well I ended up reading the whole explanation. Now I'm sure I had a stroke....or someone did.

Geezer 6:38 AM  

@Nancy & anyone else who may be interested. I propose that at exactly 10:00 AM EST we all throw this one against the wall.

oceanjeremy 6:49 AM  

Yay, a puzzle Rex likes!

Also a puzzle *I* like, for many of the same reasons.

This was a first for me, solving-wise, as I pretty much solved left to right and back again:

1A, 5A, 9A, down a step
16A, 14A, 13A, down a step
17A, down a step
21A, 20A, etc, etc.

It was a unique experience and a record speed for me for a Thursday. Yes, I know that means it’s a fairly easy puzzle — but it was quite enjoyable.

I grokked the theme right out of the gates with COMEDIEDIEFFECT, giving the whole thing an “And away we go!” feel. Which, rather than making me feel smart, made me feel like I was in on an inside joke. One of the cool kids at this constructor’s house party.

Re: Star Wars clues, I’m with Rex, in that I refuse to give any of my mental real estate to any Star Wars after the original trilogy. I seem to be alone, however, in also not caring much for the original trilogy. I came of age at a time when I *should* have been obsessed with the movies (born in 1978), but for whatever reason I never watched them as a kid. I watched the First Three when I was around 21 or 22 years old and kinda just didn’t get the big deal. I just wasn’t impressed!

Honestly I think it was the merchandising. My generation grew up with the toys, they were ubiquitous, I even had some gifted to me by well meaning adults who assumed I *had* to be crazy about Star Wars because I was the age that was crazy about Star Wars. If I’d watched them back then I probably would feel different about them. But I didn’t, so I don’t,

I watched the original trilogy Star Wars once, about 19 years ago, and wasn’t impressed so I never watched them again. I had to sit through A Phantom Menace while donating blood plasma for beer money (it was on in the clinic in the time before cell phones and I forgot to bring a book, so I was screwed) and good lord that movie was awful. So I never watched another Star Wars film. As more and more of them are churned out, I feel more and more like I made the right decision.

Jack 7:02 AM  

I’m afraid I completed the puzzle (slightly incorrectly – ended up with COFFIOTFIOTABLE for 59A) and never figured out the theme. :(

Lewis 7:07 AM  

Thank you, Alex. I enjoyed THESISTHESISSION!

amyyanni 7:12 AM  

Blaming my inability to master this on the 2nd vaccine (really love the Brits' 'jab') I got yesterday. Filled it all in, understood the doubles and then stared dumbly and glumly at it. But very happy to feel a tad off for a bit.

Lewis 7:24 AM  

Double aha for me – first when I figured out the theme with ELVES, and second when, just like Rex, I thought DIEDIE was going to become DIES, but realized it would be DICE. A nod of respect when I saw afterward that all the theme plurals were irregular.

Jeff Chen says it’s a theme that was never done before, and if anyone knows that, it’s Jeff, trust me. What a clever idea for a Thursday theme! What I loved most was the playful cluing (OCCAM, RIM, IS IT ART, DINAR, ACORN, CREDIT) and answers that were drawn from many fields.

All in all, a most lovely outing. Thank you, Alex. This made for a terrific solve!

ChuckD 7:29 AM  

This took me some time to figure out. Definitely unique - just not very fun although I do like the tricks on Thursday. Overall fill was smooth and clear enough to back into the theme. My summer drink is Bombay on the rocks so I especially liked he GINS x NODS OFF cross. The grid is a little name/noun heavy.

I figured every high schooler 40 years ago read On the Beach - thought Rex would discuss that. A Town Called Malice is on the Jam’s last album. They were a great post punk band - but after Modern World I read a Weller interview in which he said how proud he was of his new sophisticated sound - I was off them after that.

Interesting solve today.

Anonymous 7:32 AM  

Hi. Barbara here.
Probably a great puzzle but just completely NOT my cup of tea. Too much brain pain. Even after I red @Rex’s blog, I decided it wasn’t worth it to me so hit “reveal puzzle.” You guys are amazing!

MSL- NYC 7:44 AM  

I had all the right letters but couldn’t figure out why. No fun at all, in my opinion.

Anonymous 7:52 AM  

Nevil Chute = On The Beach. And only that one.

William of Ockham 7:55 AM  

I've seen a lot worse

OffTheGrid 7:57 AM  

TWO huge problems in COMEDIEDIEFFECT. DICE has long I and soft C. comeDIC Effect has short I and hard C.

Also in NAMANMANAMES, the short E in MEN goes silent in naME Names.

The other 2 "work" but the whole concept is just terrible.

Rich Glauber 7:59 AM  

Easy? Come on man, that's ridiculous. The clues for 1 and 2 down were both Saturday level, the very original theme made for some head scratching before I finally noticed the pattern and figured out the trick. I'd rate this as a very challenging Thursday, an exceptional puzzle, and a satisfying solve once it was all said and done. Memorable puzzle, far from easy.

Snoble 8:04 AM  

This was so much fun! I’m impressed by the added touch that the irregular plurals span both words of the answers. And relieved for the Twelve Steps after yesterday’s booze fest. Though there’s still the Beefeater, Bombay and Sloe gins hanging around.

Flinque 8:06 AM  


Mr. Cheese 8:18 AM  

I continue to be amazed that a constructor can think up an oddball theme such as this and then pull it off!!!
Wow! I knew what was needed in each theme answer but never saw the trick.

Brian 8:20 AM  

Obnoxious and irritating!

Spyguy 8:20 AM  

Two clues that were in-apt depending on where you are solving. The mentioned "Proper way to pass", but also "Where we are". I would not be surprised at all to find out one or more people on the ISS solve each day.

Frantic Sloth 8:24 AM  

Thank goodness for crosses or forget any chance of coming up with APPARATS, NEVIL, or LEMMAS.
The good news is that the fill was almost as fun as figuring out the theme.
It took me almost to the bottom of the grid, and a lot of staring before my legit Aha! When's the last time I actually said that? I don't know exactly, but dirt was just a gleam in Daddy Dirt's eye.
Or whatever the hell that means. It's been a while.

Rex will probably blah blah blah about this theme being done to death and/or "what - only 4 themers?" or the like, but I enjoyed it and that's all anybody should care about. Anybody that's me, anyway.

Pluralling the word(s) in the shaded areas so it made sense might not look very nice, but what an inspired way to add a little grid riddle...a griddle, as it were.
And boom boom goes the dynamite!

Overall, just a joy to solve - loved it. Plus the neighborhood of GAYLY IRRITATE, which is where I live.


Z 8:25 AM  

This is my favorite puzzle by this constructor (a very low bar). I solved it not worrying about the gray grid cells (so much better than circles), working down the west coast then through the south. FOOT FOOT made me pretty certain the gray would be a single word repeated, but I still didn’t know why. That information made getting the crosses very very easy, so finished the puzzle with little effort, then sat back to ponder what was happening (candidly, with a mild sense of dread because what interests me and what interests this constructor have very little overlap in the Venn diagram of interests). I saw DICE missing and DIE DIE in the grid after minimal wasted nanoseconds.

Points for creativity. Points for the conceit crossing both words of the source answers. Points for the OCCAM clue. Points for having a Jeopardy! answer clued almost exactly the same as on last night’s show. Points off for the ComicCon centric PPP (Marvel, Star Wars, Harry Potter, McDonalds - I can almost feel an acne breakout about to happen). So...👍🏽👍🏽

Question for the commentariat- Are the gray cells/circles really necessary? I see several didn’t grok the plurals of annoyance even with the help. But to me those comments read like you all just gave up too soon (part of solving tricky puzzles is believing you can solve tricky puzzles if you just try a little longer (or sometimes let your brain try a little longer while you do something else)). No hint would have upped the challenge. I think that would have been a good thing. What does everyone else think?

pabloinnh 8:30 AM  

Well I thought this was just great. The gimmick was just about invisible until I got to the very bottom where the only thing that made sense was "coffee table" except in had the FOOTFOOT thing in the middle where it had to be FEET and the light came on and I filled in all the mysterious other answers and was a happy man. What's better than getting that aha! at the end of a puzzle? OK, lots of stuff, but it's still pretty good.

NEWT is what Monty Python guys get turned into (they get better) and NABOO sounds like a term of endearment in Peanuts, MEMBER for DRAWER as "part of a cabinet" was a glitch but seeing how things worked allowed me to fix that. Everything else went in pretty smoothly, thank goodness. Condolences to the youngsters who must have thought BETCHA was totally unfair.

Great stuff, AE-S. Please accept your coveted Thursdazo! award with my compliments.

bocamp 8:30 AM  

Thx, @Alex, for a fun Thurs. puz; most enjoyable! :)

Med. solve.

Got the NW quickly; moved thru the rest steadily, without any noticeable hold-ups.

Caught on to the doubles theme about halfway thru, but didn't fully grok it til post-solve analysis. Loved it!

Winnie The "Pooh" Theme Song

Peace ~ Empathy ~ Kindness to all 🕊

albatross shell 8:36 AM  

Today I figured out the theme unlike yesterday. I solved top to bottom. Just filled in squares at first cause it was Thursday. Eventually got that there were repeating words which helped the solve. Then got the theme at 46A. Struggled to get the DINAR NABOO cross. Even got NEWT without asking my Potter expert.

Definitely enjoyed the solve and the theme and getting the theme. All non-standard plurals. Pretty much agree with Rex today.

My nonsense started with Pfui. I think that's Nero Wolfe. Or is that two fs? Maybe ROO knows. Then POOp. Finally POOH. Being a Christopher Robin I prefer the PPP bear on that one. Fun fun fun for me.

Z 8:46 AM  

@7:52 - It looks like auto-corrupt got you. Anyway, that’s the only one I read. It looks like On the Beach was made into a movie in 1959 and a mini-series in 2000. I’ve seen neither.

@Frantic Sloth - Surprise surprise, Rex liked it.

Smith 8:46 AM  

Solved in average Thurs time, so not "easy" here! Filled the grid, saw the doubles, did not get the trick and had to come here for the explanation. Hmmm. Is there a word for a puzzle that can be solved without grokking the themers?

Texas Momma 8:51 AM  

Maybe my least favorite Thursday ever.

Hungry Mother 8:57 AM  

OK, easy once I got the theme. I saw the repetition before “getting” it. Some of the names were tough for me, but I hate trivia in puzzles anyway. Very solid overall.

Anonymous 8:59 AM  

I've always linked "apparatchik" and our "bureaucrat," root word bureau. So while I wasn't really familiar with "apparat" it made sense.

ChuckD 9:01 AM  

@Z 8:25 - no doubt the added graphics helped with the pattern today. Hard to quantify but I could have easily spent another 10-15 minutes on an all white grid.

Amie Devero 9:01 AM  

You call this one easy? I got all the downs and never figured it out. And, it was unpleasant and a slog. And frankly, even after seeing your explanation, I could not fill in the crosses without referencing your solution. Either my brain is rotting, or this puzzle sucked.

mmorgan 9:01 AM  

Along with one or two (or more?) others, I solved this and had absolutely no clue what was going on. I started and stared at the completed grid and... nothing. I tried focusing on trying to figure out double sounds, which obviously was no help. Reading Rex of course made it clear. I am usually not pleased with a puzzle I can solve but not “get,” but that didn’t happen here, perhaps because the solve itself was enjoyable. It’s a weird feeling to complete a puzzle and not get the theme, and when it happens I’m never sure if it’s the puzzle or me. Weird.

Frantic Sloth 9:02 AM  

Well, go know. Rex actually liked this one. But, easy? Shut up.

@Z 825am And I can't tell if you're brave or just crazy for asking, but I found the shaded squares helpful in the way you described. Knowing they contained repeated words allowed for an "easier" solve so that I could reserve the few brain cells I had left to grok the theme - and lord knows I needed them! No gray cells = no gray cells for theme, which would make the proposal made by @Geezer 638am tempting. And I solve on an iPad.

@pabloinnh 830am 🤣 I'm not your Sweet NABOO!!

TTrimble 9:08 AM  

Easy, huh? Well, I got it, and enjoyed getting it, and considered the puzzle admirable overall, except for the PPP that I don't give a rat's ass about, like NABOO (oh, brother) and OTTO (oh bother) -- stuff that might be in your wheelhouse if you teach comic books for a living, but otherwise not necessarily. (I'm just sooooo tired of Star Wars trivia. As I am of Harry Potter trivia -- I never knew you, NEWT.) Also don't know ROMO, and couldn't have told you ICE-T. Luckily, all of the above was gettable off crosses, so it wasn't a huge deal.

Speaking of "oh bother": POOH is completely fine. I would normally use it in that sense as part of "oh, POOH". (Also, Rex, "MSM" would've been completely fine.) Finally, I don't get why Rex finds APPARATS "traumatic". Seems an odd word to apply.

I am accustomed to writing "GAiLY" over GAYLY. That is, assuming I ever do write it. It's a word whose root has been so thoroughly taken over by the homosexual meaning that I'd normally avoid it.

Oh yeah, looky there: LEMMAS. Cluing it as "proof parts" seems oddly insider info about how mathematicians do their business, but I like it! In case you didn't know, a LEMMA here connotes a kind of useful auxiliary result that may get used time and again, but is not accorded the status of a theorem which usually connotes a kind of capstone or summary statement of a theoretical development. As a friend of mine quipped, "Lemmas do the work in mathematics: Theorems, like management, just take the credit." (But to this he added, "A good lemma also survives a philosophical or technological revolution.")

RooMonster 9:10 AM  

Hey All !
Har, if Bruce Haight made this puz, Rex would've eviscerated it. Just sayin.

I did get the trick after studying the ELFELF, and knowing it was supposed to be TWELVESTEPS, saw how the Two ELFs would equal ELVES. Took a second as others to grok DIEDIE as DICE instead of DIES.

Complaint, however. Beside TWELFELFTEPS, the other three have the actual letter of the last word where it's supposed to be. As in, the E of EFFECT, the N of NAMES, the T of TABLE. Seems inelegant to me. Plus, the beginning of each themer has the actual letters also. Am I the only one who cares? Probably.

Otherwise, an original idea that was not too bad. Some neat clues thrown in, like OCCAMs Razor, e.g.

I don't think no circles/shaded squares would've been better, then everyone would complain "how am I supposed to figure out the trick with no circles?"

@albatross 8:36
Never heard of pfui. Ptui, sure. So no help here with one or two F's. ☺️ However, when in doubt, use two!

So an interesting ThursPuz. Proud of myself for grokking the theme! #Humblebrag☺️

Eight F's! Thanks theme!

Nancy 9:10 AM  

Take away the hateful and absolutely infuriating PPP -- Spider-Man and Star Wars and Fantastic Beasts and the Stylistics hit and the rapper -- and this would have been a terrific puzzle.

But it wasn't.

Only my curiosity over what on earth the perplexing collection of letters in the theme answers would turn out to be kept me from throwing the puzzle against the wall. I simply had to find out -- though the odds, because of all the pop culture I didn't know, were totally against me. Everywhere I went, some dumb name I never heard of presented a brick wall in the worst possible place.

Nevertheless I solved it. I hate-solved it, mind you, but I solved it without a single cheat.

Couldn't figure out the gimmick until COFFEE TABLE. Until then, I didn't see the forest for the trees. Why DIE DIE? Why ELF ELF? I was looking for some kind of "double-talk" theme.

Last answer in was BABY FAT. I had spelled GAYLY as GAILY, had BABI?A? written in at 42D and had no idea what on earth that could be.

A beautiful and highly original theme -- very crunchy and curiosity provoking -- and absolutely ruined by all the junk contained within.

Nancy 9:19 AM  

(Chuckle) You know me well, @Geezer (6:38). Thanks for waiting until 10:00. It's a bit after the fact, as you'll see from my previous post, but, sure, I'll belatedly join you.

Barbara S. 9:23 AM  

This is one of those puzzles which require you to “keep the faith.” Things don’t seem to make sense as you solve, but you’ve just got to persevere and believe in the outcome. Early on I grasped the doubled words in the middle of the theme answers so that was a help in solving, but I looked at my completed grid and said, “HUH?” I dragged my husband over to look at the puzzle and started to show him how nonsensical it was and in the middle of my blather suddenly saw how the plural form of the doubled words made complete sense of the surrounding acrosses. I think we said “AHA!” in unison.

Got a bit mired in the SE. Didn’t know NABOO, went through “brass" and “winDS” before getting to REEDS, and couldn’t get the statue of Eros in Piccadilly Circus out of my head. I liked the clues for ACORN, DINAR, OCCAM and SAT among others. Enjoyed NOLO, NOLA and NORA. Also SLOE and MOE. I knew the word APPARAT(S) from Spelling Bee (just sayin').

Here’s today’s excerpt. The writer is PICO IYER, born Feb. 11, 1957.

“We cherish things, Japan has always known, precisely because they cannot last; it’s their frailty that adds sweetness to their beauty. In the central literary text of the land, “The Tale of Genji,” the word for “impermanence” is used more than a thousand times. Beauty, the foremost Jungian in Japan has observed, “is completed only if we accept the fact of death.” Autumn poses the question we all have to live with: How to hold on to the things we love even though we know that we and they are dying. How to see the world as it is, yet find light within that truth.”
(From “Autumn Light: Season of Fire and Farewells”)

MarthaCatherine 9:23 AM  

Got through the whole thing without a clue about the theme. Kept trying to move up or down a row to see if there was some "step" thing going on, especially in light of 25A.

New word for me: LEMMAS

Which just shows off my lack of advanced math training. Or maybe I just showed MORE lack by thinking LEMMAS are at all advanced.

I'm so ashamed.

Frantic Sloth 9:25 AM  

@TTrimble 908am So, I take it LEMMAS are kind of the APPARATchiks of the mathiverse?
Otherwise, I imagine their only alternative would be to commit faux mass suicide by throwing themselves off a cliff.

Anonymous 9:26 AM  

Perfectly put: simple but inegenius. Fun to uncover with no revealer, required a suspense which kept things in play, and then things fell into place just when they should, to help, and not in retrospect. Even some of the answers (like APPARAT) were like that. Really well done.

Joe Dipinto 9:36 AM  

I wasn't expecting to have to post this again so soon. Or ever, actually.

Ellen C 9:43 AM  


toddh 9:49 AM  

Was coming here to complain about pooh. No one says “pooh” to mean nonsense. It’s a bear. It’s a bear. It’s a bear. If you want it to be difficult “honey lover” “Christopher’s friend” “One who may say Bother” I mean anything other than “that’s nonsense.” It’s a bear.

Daryl Perch 9:55 AM  


Unknown 9:56 AM  

I will be checking for your comments from now on, you are hilarious.

newbie 10:02 AM  

Ugh. Just ugh.

Surprised I got anything, although I actually did pretty well on much of it.

Even after Rex explained it, I’m like WHAT? WHY?

Oh, and “cute” - CUTE? Who are you, and what have you done with Rex?

Anonymous 10:02 AM  

This is going to sound absurd but I felt fairly assaulted by the blatant 'die die' staring back at me highlighted by their shaded boxes. I realize I sound ridiculous but maybe it was something about the darkness of solving in the middle of the night that made those words really jump out at me.

I can appreciate the construction and solved it in my normal Thursday time but didn't have that much fun with the gimmick.

Anonymous 10:09 AM  

Slaughtered by the PPP downs and unable to make sense of the theme. GAIA (crossing APPARATS?!), ICET, LOEW and NEVIL all up north, never even got going. Was sure of twelve steps but couldn't figure out theme.
ELI (boo Bible people) next to LEMMAS (?)
So, couldn't get anything going down, and huge barren theme wasteland through the middle.

Gave up about 50% complete, big sad DNF.

newbie 10:15 AM  

The trick might have been easier to figure out if I had used pen and paper. On the screen, it made no sense even when I knew what the answer should be.

Canon Chasuble 10:16 AM  

MSL-NYC, agree with you 100%.

Sir Hillary 10:18 AM  

I gave a pretty ane[mouse][mouse]ffort today. Actually, that's not completely true -- I tried really hard, but took forever to figure out the theme. I have to say, it's a good one.

The non-theme longish answers are also a plus.

Enjoyed column 3 -- The TAMPA TEAM celebrated hard yesterday, and Brady definitely had more than AFEW.

I loved The Jam in high school, but The Style Council was over my drunken college head. I appreciate them a lot more now though. Weller is pretentious, but quite a talent.

TTrimble 10:20 AM  

That almost sounds like a cry for help. In which case, LMGTFY.

@Joe Dipinto
Just one question: IS IT ART?

LEMMAS of the world, unite!

(Lemmas, lemmata, lemmapodes... they really are cute though. Apparently they reproduce quickly. Like these things, named after yours truly.)

Carola 10:21 AM  

Cute, very creative, very easy. The [ELVES] clued me in to why I was DIE-ing twice, and that made the remaining two easy to get but no less a treat. After the grid was filled, I enjoyed admiring how the plurals were spread across the two words of the phrases.

newbie 10:22 AM  

Definitely did NOT adhere to Occam’s Razor, imho!

Newboy 10:23 AM  

probLEMMAS hoy!

Chip Hilton 10:30 AM  

LEMMAS purely due to rock-solid crosses. Embarrassed to admit I was a math minor.

I kinda liked the gray square silliness today. It required a bit of thought but, having worked out the first one, the rest was pretty breezy. Ah, Thursdays!

Ann Howell 10:38 AM  

Don't know what Rex was smoking, but this was neither easy nor fun! Really clumsy execution...

Douglas 10:38 AM  

Didn’t figure out the theme until coffee table and the northwest gave me fits. This was one of those puzzles that gave me some serious satisfaction when finished. Tougher than normal but extremely enjoyable. Thanks Alex!!!

bocamp 10:41 AM  

@Barbara S. 9:23 AM

Got "apparat" on SB list of words; thx to @jae. Didn't realize what it meant, tho. Thot it was just a short form of apparatus, which I guess it is, technically. LOL

@Joe Dipinto 9:36 AM

Yay for "My Pal Foot Foot"; too cute! :)

@TTrimble 10:20 AM

Gotta love Tribbles! :)

Peace ~ Empathy ~ Kindness to all 🕊

Newboy 10:46 AM  

Thanks AES for a delightful morning that generates such heartfelt responses from the commentariat! I was joining the crowd that had the happy tune playing while starring at the completed grid in absolute WTF. The cluing seemed almost bi-polar between gimme NOLA and MAHARISHI (Sanskrit?), from GAIA of mythology to ICET of early rap? I personally haven’t been so agog in ages....and that’s a good thing. Just the first dozen posts were enough to send me here early to respond before returning to savor the insight & delight that I have no doubt will ensue. I’m betting that no one NODS OFF a today, and my DIEDIE aren’t even weighted.

toddh 10:46 AM  

It’s not a cry for help, it’s a cry for reasonable modern cluing in the crossword. And since you typed “LMGTFY” (super passive-aggressive) let me actually tell you what google defines as the pooh definition:

1. Used to express disgust at an unpleasant smell. Used to express impatience or contempt
2. Excrement
3. Defecate

NOTHING about nonsense. After that the entire first page of hits are about Winnie the Pooh. Again this is simply a request for modern reasonable accurate cluing.

Birchbark 10:53 AM  

Orange you glad I didn't ask IS IT ART?

ANTI-FOG glasses fog up just fine, in my experience. Especially when you enter a store from sub-zero temperatures wearing a mask. It's 12 below this morning. I've been watching a deer poke around by the bird feeder, as is their wont.

My solve was similar to @Z (8:25) and @BarbaraS (9:23) -- I realized right away I didn't understand the shading, so bided my time with everything else and trusted that the crosses would deliver an answer. DIEDIE being the first didn't really help (though favorite in retrospect), but with ELFELF the beast was slain.

Tom R 10:55 AM  

Like others, I found the theme stupid and hard to parse out even though I knew what the base answer had to be. I just filled the circled letters from the crosses and didn't worry about it.

The other thing is that passing on the right is both legal and common in large parts of the midwest. We usually pass on the left and drive slower on the right, but pass on the right when we need to. Bad clue.

TTrimble 10:59 AM  

Hey @toddh,
I didn't mean to offend you so mightily; it was a failed attempt to be jocular. But it seems you didn't click on my link, so I'll copy out the first line for you: "Pooh is an interjection used to express disdain, contempt, or disbelief." There's a lot more there for your perusal.

(You say that no one uses the word that way, but in my first post, I said I do use the word that way, sometimes.)

It's reasonably accurately clued according to one usage, which you might not have been aware of, and I think it's modern enough.

Whatsername 10:59 AM  

I am with @Nancy today. A brilliant theme seriously marred by all the proper names and pop culture. And ditto on the temptation to throw it against the wall but I didn’t because the theme was so captivating that I just had to finish it to see how it turned out. I respect the creative effort that went into this, but the COMEDIC EFFECT was lost on me.

I’ve been reading about the senators who have a tendency to NOD OFF off during the impeachment hearing. That’s of course the ones who are not doodling, playing games on their phones, or otherwise engaged with activities far more important than doing their jobs. I won’t say which party most of them belong to but it starts with an R.

GAYLY IRRITATE made me think of @Frantic. Lovingly of course. I went out to feed the birds this morning and my FOOTFOOT got cold. Why ON EARTH would anyone see a banana taped to a wall and think IT ART?

A 10:59 AM  

Did IT. Almost enjoyed IT, but IT hurt. Admired IT. But IS IT ART?

*Musician joke alert

How can you tell if you have perfect pitch?

If you can a viola in the toilet without hitting the RIM.

relicofthe60s 11:02 AM  

This one went pretty fast. I was sure I had something wrong, but the app said differently. Only figured out the theme after the fact, so it really wasn’t that enjoyable. And why no mention off LEMMAS in the review? Talk about obscure.

A 11:05 AM  

oops, can throw (a viola in the can?)

GILL I. 11:07 AM  

Alex and I aren't always on the same teeter-totter - or should that be teeter teeter. Maybe I was still so angry and saddened by the impeachment hearings, that I lost concentration. I never figured out the embedding trick at all. Let me join @Joaquin with his missing W T F letters.
I honestly stared at TWELFELFSTEPS for maybe an hour. I knew it was twelve steps but I thought maybe they shortened it to two? Never drink? Be sober? Anti sot? Go Dry? I dunno...All these little things kept popping up in my head.
I didn't have too much trouble with the downs except for TWO answers: I lived under communism for a short while and yet I couldn't come up with APPARATS. The RATS part fits Che and Fidel but what the hell is the APPA? The other one is LEMMAS. It sounds like the Marmot's cousin.
I had JOLLY before GAYLY. Had AINT ART before IS IT ART. I looked up a picture of MAYOR McCheese because I forgot he was a cheese head. I didn't understand 39D and the CREDIT answerI. Didn't know Padme but I figured out her NABOO....and so it went.....I'm going to dedicate a wall and name it "Nancy's Wall" so that I have a little space to throw a puzzle.

@Barbar S...I left a little message late lat night. Just wanted to say how your Retch Pants brought on a much needed tee hee. I know one particular Retch who needs to be hung up by his pants.

Charlie 11:07 AM  

I finished and still didn't understand it. And IMHO "razor's handle" is pretty tricky.

pmdm 11:08 AM  

Frantic Sloth: You you hate (perhaps too strong a word) Mike Sharp as much as your comments would suggest? While I jest, I can't counter your observations.

Z: It took a long time for me to grasp what was going on, and I thought the AHA moment was quite worth the effort. I would agree that those expressing irritation here probably gave up too quickly. I'm not sure, but without the shaded squares I might not have realized what was going on. I suppose the concept was difficult enough for me to grasp that the shaded squared did not spoil the fun.

Oddly, it irked me that one of the four words is four letters long. Seems to me the puzzle would have been more elegant if all the words were the same length, or at least the lengths were divided half and half. Does it really matter? Not at all.

burtonkd 11:17 AM  

@Z - gray circles definitely helped: once I got that there were repeated words, I filled in letters that helped get the crosses, which then led back into filling rest of the themes.

@Barbara S: beautiful quote today about the Japanese obsession with impermanence. I often program the Japanese song "Sakura", which wistfully describes the spectacular, but short-lived beauty of cherry blossoms in the Spring.

SoapFiend20 11:22 AM  

Successfully completed the puzzle without ever figuring out the theme. Just saw that there were repeated words within long answers. I had to check out Rex to see what was going on.

Steve M 11:30 AM  

Truly hated this puzzle only fun for crossword geeks

Anonymous 11:32 AM  

I was sure that FOOTFOOT would lead to this video - My Pal Foot Foot - in the write up. What an oversight!

bocamp 11:37 AM  

@A 10:59 AM wrote "If you can a viola in the toilet without hitting the RIM."

No problem with this. If John Paxson can do it with a basketball, you can can a viola in the can, and even claim a three-pointer, if you can. 🤔

"Then it was Paxson's turn, and he showed the form that helped the Bulls win championships the last two Junes. He "canned" the three-pointer at the 10:26 mark to cut the Suns' lead to five. His second and third threes in 21 seconds midway through the quarter cut the lead to 38-34."

Peace ~ Empathy ~ Kindness to all 🕊

Dan 11:40 AM  

I'm with those who loved this puzzle. Took me forever to figure out what was going on, but just kept plugging away at the crosses. I knew the top one had to be COMEDIcEFFECT somehow... but it was the last one to fall as I just couldn't get my eyes to see DIEDIE as anything but DIES, which I knew had to be wrong. When I finally saw DIcE, it was such a simultaneous aha and d'ho moment. I immediately stashed this one in my "favorite puzzles" bin. Exactly the sort of enigmatic crunch that I crave on Thursdays!

mathgent 11:41 AM  

Really enjoyed it. I knew 17A had to be COMEDICEFFECT that involved a gimmick in the gray squares but what? Finally, I saw DIEDIE becoming DICE and I let out a silent yelp. That's it! I rushed down to the other shadowy squares and had enough crosses to fell them in too.

One of the things I've learned here is the many different reasons we have for doing the puzzle. Seeing how quickly it can be done. Getting a rigorous mental workout. Learning things. The simple joy of fitting words together in a grid. Others. So, I'm not surprised that I liked it a lot and so many didn't.

Tony ROMO did the Super Bowl Sunday.

TTrimble explained LEMMAS. Math minors probably wouldn't have encountered them unless they took a course in number theory or modern algebra.

I learned that TROPE can mean a plot device. I think that the more common meaning is figure of speech.

Tim Aurthur 11:47 AM  


OED: Etymology: < (either directly or through Latin) Greek λῆμμα, plural λήμματα ( < root of λαμβάνειν to take, perfect passive εἴλημμαι) something received or taken; something taken for granted; an argument, title. Compare French lemme.

Ginger 11:57 AM  


jb129 12:00 PM  

I usually skip the puzzle when I see it's by this constructor - I'm I did.

Babz 12:04 PM  

Loved it.

Whatsername 12:08 PM  

@Geezer (6:38) Great idea, and @GILL (11:07) even suggests having a special spot reserved just for that purpose. But next time set it up for a little later if you would, for those of us in the earlier time zones, okay? I have enough trouble keeping up with you elite east coasters as it is. 😉

@Frantic (8:24) I posted at 10:59 having just skimmed the comments. Now that I read yours, I’m rolling. I hate to BOAST but ... great minds. 😂

@Z (8:25) I think this theme could work just fine without the shaded squares, and veteran solvers shouldn’t have any problem with it. However since there was no revealer clue today, in this case the shading was justified. Otherwise a revealer along the lines of “two for one” would’ve sufficed.

@Barbara S (9:23) Regarding “things,” I saved this quote years ago: We’re flawed because we want so much more. We’re ruined because we get these things and then wish for what we had. Spoken by Don Draper, a character from the old TV series Mad Men. Certainly not at the intellectual level of Pico Iyer but still thought provoking.

@GILL (11:07) “LEMMA sounds like the Marmot's cousin.” I agree. And I think you were right the first time about AINT ART. At 39D, to give someone PROPS is to give them credit for something - like coming up with the brilliant idea of having a Nancy’s Wall reserved for annoying crossword puzzles.

TundraDad 12:08 PM  

FYI the novelist Nevil Shute wrote ON THE BEACH, which was made into a very good film. It has one of the best premises ever: we are in Australia awaiting certain death from fallout from a nuclear war that has already destroyed the rest of the world. What would you do in your last day or two?

Arden 12:11 PM  

I completed the puzzle perfectly and in record time, but had no idea what the theme was until I read this blog. Thank you

A 12:13 PM  

@Z Excellent question whether to go commando. I’m sure there are those who can pull it off, but clearly it was too much for others even with the modest support. Maybe print this version, but have your alternative “kamikaze” option online?

I second your suggestion to not give up too soon. Many times I’ve gotten stuck, and don’t see how I’ll be able to finish, but, like @Barbara S. (keep the faith) and @Nancy (I simply had to find out.) I just keep groping for tiny footholds and they start to appear. Today I got all the way to the bottom with maybe a quarter filled in and was at a loss. Kept at it, saw the COFFeeTABLE trick and bam - done in a decent time of under half an hour.

@Barabara S. Thanks for another thought-provoking quote! The ‘gray cells’ are going to have to work overtime today.

@Joe Dipinto Whoa! Where ON EARTH did you find that? Love the 17/52 time signature.

For the curiouser:
lemma (n.)
1560s, in mathematics, from Greek lemma (plural lemmata) "something received or taken; an argument; something taken for granted," from root of lambanein "to take," from PIE root *(s)lagw- "to seize, take" (source also of Sanskrit labhate, rabhate "seizes;" Old English læccan "to seize, grasp;" Greek lazomai "I take, grasp;" Old Church Slavonic leca "to catch, snare;" Lithuanian lobis "possession, riches"). Related: Lemmatical.

dilemma (n.)
1520s in rhetoric (see below), from Late Latin dilemma, from Greek dilemma "double proposition," a technical term in rhetoric, from di- "two" (see di- (1)) + lemma "premise, anything received or taken," from root of lambanein "to take" (see lemma).
(from Online Etymology)

What? 12:13 PM  

Hmm. Rex liked it, I didn’t. Must be a lesson here somewhere.

jae 12:33 PM  

Easy-medium, although it took a bit of staring at the completed grid to suss what was going on...plurals AHA!

Tricky, liked it.

KRMunson 12:43 PM  

Me too

Anonymous 12:43 PM  

I really, really liked the puzzle, but I was very curious as to Rex's thoughts. Happy to see that he liked it, too! And he also liked this week's Monday puzzle!

Masked and Anonymous 12:45 PM  

Cool, different theme mcguffin. Smoooth-ish fillins. Kick in a coupla playful ?-mark clues. Not bad.

Lost some precious nanoseconds, stubbornly doin battle with COME + somethin + FFECT, tryin desperately to milk some sense out of it. Before long, was convinced that it oughta be COMEDIC EFFECT -- so didn't take too much longer to figure the DIEDIE part out, once I had both ends of the themer all splatzed in by the crossers.

Would havin no gray/circled squares in the puzthemers have been too sadistic ... for a ThursPuz? M&A says not. Discuss amongst yerselfelf.

Happened to get OTTO/OCCAM immediately, right outta the rodeo chute. Sooo … no @Nancy-wall-splatzin required, at our house. All furniture remained upright, also.

*Did* have some minor trouble with:
* TROPE clue. Probably cuz of my ohso faint knowledge of TROPE's meanin.
* Figurin out the furshlugginer plural of APPARAT, ironically.
* Doin the LLCS' taxes.

Really missin that MARMOT, today. Did at least get our woolly varmint fix, with that there herd of LEMMAS. [math humor]

staff weeject pick: ELI. Sorta sounds like the plural of ELO, don't he?

Thanx for the great fun, Mr. E-S. Weren't there any plurals endin in -U available, tho?
)-: [<--add teardrops here]

Masked & Anonymo s

p.s. Most borin conceivable plural that coulda been used in this puztheme mcguffin: SHEEP.

Most weirdest plurals:

SFR 12:46 PM  


jae 12:47 PM  

@Z - I found the circles helpful.

..and the three movies that captured the Cold War for me were On the Beach, Dr. Strangelove, and the original The Manchurian Candidate.

KRMunson 12:55 PM  

MEET-CUTE was new to me. Is that a golden oldie or a millennial phrase?

ChrisSaintH 1:08 PM  

This took me two and a half cups of coffee to finish!
SLOE I should have known bc of crosswords. Same with ROSS.


But I did get the theme, which always feels like a victory, even if I did have to google Padme Amidala to confirm that NABOO was the correct answer (okay, fine, same with NEWT).

Not easy, but not unpleasant, with a satisfying "aha!" Just how I like my Thursdays.

Teedmn 1:21 PM  

This would have been a breeze if I hadn't handicapped myself by splatzing in rumS at 5A and LiMitS at 27d. That second one messed up two theme answers!

At some point, when not much was working anywhere, I re-thought my rumS, slapped my head for Beefeater GINS, got DIEDIE,saw DICE and the rest fell into place. I will admit that 40A was screaming karaoke to me, not confessionals.

My favorite "aha" today, besides getting the theme, was first blanking on "BETCHA By Golly, Wow". But I could hear the song in my head and by the time I got back to that answer, the BETCHA flowed right in.

I would thank AES for providing an atypically easy puzzle but after reading his original clues over at Jeff Chen, I can only shudder at the torment we avoided and will thank the editing team instead. But for creativity, AES, you take today's cake, thanks!

Z 1:28 PM  

@Rü - I must vigorously disagree with your first suggestion. Here’s something Rex wrote about today’s constructor less than 3 months ago:
I have, sadly, come to expect a certain product from this constructor, a product I have never cared for, and this one unfortunately fulfilled all my expectations: architecturally intricate, conceptually ambitious, but in execution, a total mess, and the pleasure factor, near nil.

Indeed, I was pleasantly surprised that this puzzle didn’t fit the pattern Rex described back then. I actually printed off some palate cleanser puzzles because I thought I would need them.

Apparently it’s a good thing I will never be the puzzle editor. Even people mildly supportive of no hints would want a revealer clue.

Frantic Sloth 1:38 PM  

@J-Dip 936am Really? You didn't expect the need? No matter - I love them and that video!

I say "pooh" and "oh, pooh." Is that so wrong?

@TTrimble 1020am The trouble with tribbles is, of course:
SPOCK: Surely you must have realized what would happen if you removed the tribbles from their predator-filled environment into an environment where their natural multiplicative proclivities would have no restraining factors. 
JONES: Of course. What did you say?
But, what's the trouble with Trimbles? 😉

@Whatsername 1059am Great minds! Even ours. 😉 I see by your 1208pm that we agree. 😀

@pmdm 1108am I think you're joking, but just in case... of course I don't hate RexMikeParkerSharp! Quite the opposite, but he do need to shut up sometimes! 😉

GHarris 1:53 PM  

I finished the puzzle without understanding what I had done. Then I came here for the explanation and still felt stupid. Finally, after long rumination,the light came on. However, I’m still mystified. How is comedic or coffee a plural?

Esther 2:08 PM  

Me too!

JC66 2:14 PM  

Loved this puzzle (Bombay Sapphire is my gin of choice).


Shaded/circled squares obviously makes it easier to see the TROPE, so it depends on how hard you want the puzzle to be.




jberg 2:31 PM  

Count me among those who got the whole grid filled in and then stared at it for 5 minutes until I suddenly figured out what was going on, thereby increasing my respect for the puzzle tremendously. A point I don't think anyone has mentioned is that the theme works orthographically, but not phonetically. That's a big plus, IMHO. (@offthegrid, not even TWELFELFTEPS-- the vowel sounds are the same, but the s of TWELVES is voiced, and the s of STEPS is not). Since I did not understand the theme until well after I finished, I think I needed the gray squares -- part of the finishing process was to simply duplicate the missing letters in those gray areas. I was also hampered because I used to do occasional layout of newspapers, back in the day when you did so on a light TABLE. I needed the COF to see that was wrong (and for all I knew a creature feature was a Nat Geo special on the life of the marmot, so GORE did not leap to mind.)

@Nancy and others -- for me, part of the challenge was winkling out the unknown and obscure proper nouns. So Scamander is enough like "salamander" that it had to be NEWR, once I had the N; and a 4-letter name starting with O is always OTTO (it's a crossword law). I knew MAHARISHI from the so-called "Maharishi Mahesh Yogi," a famous quack a few decades ago; and an author named Shute writing about Australia is very likely to be NEVIL. (@ChuckD 40 years ago? More like 60!) As for the planet, I got a few crosses and put in NAvOO; I think that's actually the name of the first Mormon settlement, before they got driven out and fled to Utah -- but it was close enough to let be get th3 B from crosses. I did know MOE; and got MEARA, a complete mystery to me, without even noticing it.

After getting through 3 semesters of honors calculus (we spent the first 6 weeks defining multiplication, if I recall correctly) and a year of linear algebra, I decided to take differential equations. I tried twice, but I kept being asked to come up with a proof for Zorn's LEMMA, and never could. Too proud to ask for help, I majored in English literature instead.

But I'm wondering how long ago this puzzle was constructed. Not only NEVIL Shute, but ELMS, which were wiped out by Dutch Elm disease in the 1960s, as the New England equivalent of California's palms. I really wanted oakS, but the crosses said no.

I'm glad to know what an LLC is, though. I've always heard that called an S Corporation, but maybe there's some subtle distinction.

Finally, a question for you orchestral musicians. Do orchestras really have a REEDS section? It seems like the flutes (and piccolos) are right in the middle of it, so maybe it's really the winds. (Also called woodwinds, though flutes haven't been made of wood since the baroque.)

@Z I guess I would like to have tried it with out the cued squares, but I'm not sure I would have succeeded.

JD 2:32 PM  

Is I Tart? Yes, sometimes I is.

I liked this puzzle because it's a Thursday and for reasons already explained by @Z, I could do do it. I finished with @Joaquin's WFT but Jeff Chen explained all last night and I didn't even feel stupid.

@toddH, Like @Frantic, I say Pooh, usually as in, "Oh pooh, shut up." I think it means, "So lame, don't even go there."

Whenever the bear is referenced, I'm reminded of Dorothy Parker's Constant Reader review in the New Yorker of The House on Pooh Corner from 1928:

"‘Pom,’ said Pooh. ‘I put that in to make it more hummy.’ ”

And it is that word “hummy,” my darlings, that marks the first place in “The House at Pooh Corner” at which Tonstant Weader Fwowed up."

Editor57 2:45 PM  


Tim Aurthur 3:07 PM  

@KRMunson MEET CUTE goes way back. There's a Wikipedia article on the phrase.

sanfranman59 3:07 PM  

Easy-Medium NYT Thursday ... 13% below my Thursday 6-month median solve time

There's something very unsatisfying in moving relatively quickly through a grid, getting to the end and having no idea why the solution is correct. I can be pretty dense when it comes to sussing out themes, particularly with NYT Thursdays. I kinda have the same attitude about them that @albatross shell mentioned in yesterday's post. I'm feeling particularly thick today since I had to read today's Crossword Fiend review to get it. This left-dominant brain of mine sometimes just doesn't allow me to think enough outside the box to see these things. All I knew was that a word was repeated in the circled squares and that was plenty to allow me to sail through the solve, however unsatisfying the experience was.

I don't see any of this as the fault of the constructor or the editor. In fact, I'm duly impressed that AES came up this theme and that all of the pluralized words are a different spelling than simply adding an S. I almost certainly would have had a different reaction if it had screwed up my solve time stats (there's that left-brain dominant thing again), but as we kids used to say on the neighborhood basketball courts and football fields, "no blood, no foul".

Re ON THE LEFT {31A: Proper way to pass}, when I moved to the SF Bay Area 25 years ago, I learned the hard way that this convention very much depends upon where you are. I think it's actually illegal to pass on the right in Ohio, where I learned to drive. When I moved to New England (particularly Boston) and then the DC area as a young adult, I discovered that while it was also the law in those places, no one really paid attention to it (or, in Boston, any other traffic laws, for that matter). Then, when I moved to California, people looked at me like I had blue skin when I asked about it. Of course, they also permit motorcyclists to weave in and out of traffic between cars out there. That was a real eye-opener for me.

Now that I'm back in Ohio, the main adjustment is getting used to the tail-gating and how fast people drive. Everyone here seems to think that they're in a NASCAR race! Plus, half of the radio stations play country music. Now, I have nothing at all against country music, but when did the state of my birth become part of the south? I'm shocked by the number of Confederate flags I see flying around here (often attached to a pick-up truck). The fact is that seeing any at all would have been quite a shock. I sure don't remember this from when I left my stomping grounds 40 years ago.

Anonymous 3:10 PM  

I decided to take differential equations. I tried twice, but I kept being asked to come up with a proof for Zorn's LEMMA, and never could. Too proud to ask for help, I majored in English literature instead.

diffEq was the end of me, too. then PChem did me in there, and so on to Economics. fortunately, I didn't have to deal with Samuelson's legacy until later. that is to say, to much later to turn back.

my recollection is that a LEMMA is a minor extension of a proof, not part of the proof, but the wiki appears to disagree. it is possible, I suppose, that a LEMMA of Proof A can be used to complete Proof B; which is the way I understood it lo those many decades ago.

CreamyT 3:11 PM  

I'm almost positive if you take a day's average difficulty ranking (as per Rex), it would be below medium. At least since I've been following this blog.

Anonymous 3:16 PM  

Just spell the words, and don't worry about how they are pronounced. I enjoyed this puzzle very much.

Barbara S. 3:31 PM  

@bocamp (10:41)
I have an @jae's list, too, and I've put a minimal definition beside the words I didn't originally know. (How obsessive is that?)

@Gill I. (11:07)
Mi querida amiga, I'm glad you found a laugh when you needed one.

@burtonkd (11:17)
It's good to hear you liked the Iyer. What did you mean when you said
"I often program the Japanese song "Sakura"..." Program?

@Whatsername (12:08 PM)
That seems surprisingly deep for Don. Maybe I sold him short all those years (pun intended!).

Peter P 3:45 PM  

Absolutely loved loved loved this puzzle. This is why Thursdays are my favorite NY Times crossword day. I like a little lateral thinking and once I grokked the theme (at TWELFELVTEPS, I couldn't help but smile. This is a twist I haven't seen before, and not just yet another Thursday with rebus squares or spelling answers backwards or whatnot. I'll have to look for more of this constructor's puzzles.

GHarris 3:54 PM  

Okay, I think I get it. It’s not the first word of the answer that is unusually pluralized; it’s the subject pluralized in the shaded squares.

Nancy 3:59 PM  

@GILL and @Whatsername -- Thanks to you both for helping to make me eponymous. Today I feel every bit as as important as Hadrian.

@JD -- I was familiar with the Dorothy Parker POOH pan, but I didn't know it in the context of the full review. Thanks for citing it. Now I know exactly why "Tonstant Weader fwowed up".

I cut my teeth on A.A. Milne's "When We Were Very Young" and "Now We Are Six". I adored these poetry volumes and can still recite many of the poems to this day. And yet, though I'm sure I had the POOH books, I can't remember a single thing from any of them. That must be because of the cloying hummy-ness, @JD: Chances are that I, like Dotty, "fwowed up" too -- even as I was thwowing the book against the wall :)

Birchbark 4:08 PM  

@Joe Dipinto (9:36) -- The FOOT FOOT video handles a difficult subject with poise and sensitivity. But the "Hollywood ending" detracts from its essential honesty, leaving this viewer to seek truth elsewhere. Statistics teach us that in real life Foot Foot isn't coming back.

I watched a companion video of a live performance and was impressed to see the guitar players reading the sheet music.

TTrimble 4:12 PM  

That tale of Zorn's LEMMA is one of the strangest things I've ever heard. Zorn's lemma in an undergraduate differential equations course??! What in the holy hell?! Where was this?

If you were to buttonhole a mathematician at random and demand to see a proof of Zorn's lemma (using the axiom of choice), I'd say it's much more likely than not they couldn't do it on the spot; they'd ask you to come back the next day or tell you to look it up in Bourbaki or something. In some sense it's very important in modern mathematics, but it's the type of consideration that comes up in graduate courses (to show that every vector space has a basis, or to show that every ring has a maximal ideal, or that every locally convex topological vector space admits a continuous functional). It might come up in a more advanced undergraduate course, say in topology, or in an abstract algebra course if the students were strong and could take it, but that's not very common I don't think.

You absolutely do not need it for an undergraduate differential equations course, and I have to wonder what was in that teacher's cotton-pickin' mind to assign that problem. (I don't mean to sound impertinent, and maybe this was a beloved teacher, but it just sounds quite bizarre.)

The eponym belongs to Max Zorn (1906-1993), who always rejected having this world-famous lemma named after him (because he conjectured it but didn't prove it?). Some of you may know the Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn; that's his grandson.

Most mathematicians would kill though to have a lemma named after them. That has a certain cachet that having a theorem named after one doesn't (being only half tongue-in-cheek here). Sort of like if you were renowned the world over as the inventor of an especially useful household appliance.

Frantic Sloth 4:17 PM  

@JD 232pm You said "do do".

CDilly52 4:17 PM  

HooBOY!!! Took me all damn day to figure this out. All the extra squares in the theme answers made me nuts and I was absolutely stumped until about 10 minutes ago. I usually adore and Alex E-S but alas not today. Having said that, however, after the fact I am blown away by the cleverness of the idea and its execution as well as the patent brilliance to be able to bring it off. I simply cannot imagine how long it must have taken to find sayings that would work with this singular/plural idea. Brilliant concept, and execution. However, the solve suffered due to exactly the problems @Nancy identified. I believe that some sterner? Editing would have improved this enormously but fear that Mr. Shortz was over-enamored with the theme and let the Natick potential slide.

TTrimble 4:25 PM  

@Anonymous 3:10 PM
The way is would come up in a proof would be something like this: "Suppose that B is a Boolean algebra, and I is a proper ideal of B. By the ultrafilter lemma..." -- in other words, a lemma could be some earlier result that you call upon to justify a step in the argument.

There's no hard-and-fast line drawn to separate a theorem from a lemma from a proposition. They are all statements that are proven, and whether you call a statement a theorem or lemma or proposition is subject to individual taste, but as a general rule of thumb, a proposition is a minor result, a theorem is a major result, and lemmas are auxiliary results often in service for proving theorems, but not necessarily of independent interest themselves (although they can be interesting, and even profound).

Michiganman 4:37 PM  

@Sanfranman59. My hypothesis is that the bigotry and indecency of our most recent former president gave the haters permission to come out from under their rocks. We can only hope they go back. In northern Michigan. I see a lot of what you describe.

bocamp 5:35 PM  

@Barbara S. 3:31 PM

I like your obsession better than mine. Got my list in columns (iPad Note's app using Apple Pencil), so there's no room for any comments next to them. I've written the problem words separately and apply a checkmark every time I have to Siri the def. Gonna edit the columns and place them into single file so I can share your version of the obsession. 🤓

pg -10 w/visions of @jae's List dancing in my head.

Peace ~ Empathy ~ Kindness to all 🕊

Space Is Deep 5:58 PM  

WTF? I finished without a mistake, but had no idea what the gimmick was till I came here. Not enjoyable.

Anonymous 6:10 PM  

Add me to the list of people who completed the solve and did not get the theme.

For me, most of the difficulty came from the fact that for 3 of the 4, the first and last letters of the shaded squares are the same when you change singular to plural


That left me wondering (i) how do the middle letters relate to the correct letter; and (ii) how the hell does twelve steps fit in?

The northwest was brutal with Occam Trope Otto Apparats Meara. Then you've got Lemmas crossing two of the themers and Maharishi.

When I finally filled in the last letter (at well above average Thursday time), I was honestly shocked everything was correct.

On the bright side this completes a rare (for me) 7-day streak.

JD 6:20 PM  

@Frantic, Heheheh. I know.

@Nancy, Thank you for the picture of little Nancy (who now reigns in my heart) flinging a book and growing up to make sure they were better in the future!

A.Mod 6:39 PM  

Good time for me, but I did not enjoy this puzzle. I did, however, love seeing Paul Weller in your blog. @ChuckD, the Jam were not post punk. They were around as punk happened and they outlasted it before Paul called it quits. The early albums are nothing like The Gift. In fact, there were music critics calling their music 'New Wave' in 1975. That really surprised me.

RooMonster 6:55 PM  

I apologize through you to Rex. I don't follow his likes and dislikes constructors closely. Funny to predict the stuff Rex likes!

@Anon 6:10
I said the same thing earlier about the letters being the same! Seems only you and I care.😆

RooMonster Late Follow Up Guy

StellaBlue 8:12 PM  

"Lemma" has other meanings -- it's a page heading in typography, and is a biological term for part of a floret of grass.

As one of maybe half a dozen living people who has actually read "A Town Like Alice", I recommend it. It's a poignant novel of the Second World War.

Most enjoyable answer is the deathless question, "Is it art?"

Nancy 8:22 PM  

@JD -- How sweet. Thank you. And you can also picture the young me doing THIS* -- an even better way to show displeasure than throwing a book against the wall.

*It's from A.A. Milne's "Rice Pudding."

Bruce Fieggen 9:05 PM  

Was sure Rex would have thrown a fit at ‘A town like Alice’, but I guess the English professor hasn’t read this one. Great war story and economic study of a small rural town but the racism embedded inside is a major turnoff.

JD 9:22 PM  

@Nancy, Precious. It was far off from what I imagined!

Dan 9:23 PM  

Today's puzzle made me feel like a fishfish out of waterwater.

LAprGuy 9:49 PM  

Solved the puzzle correctly. Had to come to the blog today to understand what I solved.

Anonymous 9:53 PM  

What a bunch of garbage. This one stunk more than pooh. I expect better from the Times.

Rags 9:57 PM  

Wow, that was wholly unenjoyable. The worst puzzle I've played in a long time.

albatross shell 10:02 PM  

@jberg 231pm
Yes I think it is a plus all the themers work by spelling and not pronouciation if that's what you're saying. And that the pluralized corrected answers are all two phrases with only the first letter of the second word changed by, of course, the last letter of plurlized pair. Seems almost impossible.
I also put in OTTO off the O, but I thought it it was a lemma, not a law. Jberg's Lemma?
I knew Neville right off because I have friend who reads a lot, mostly history and fiction. Shute is a favorite of his. I'm always meaning to look at one besides the On the Beach which I read when the movie was out in the 60s. This guy has great taste in scotch and French wines and cheeses. I respect his judgements.
I would have put oaks in too but I already had E in before I read the clue. Resisted putting ELMS because of that.

@TTrimble 412pm
Never knew anything about Zorn, so thanks for the story. Knew all sorts of mathematicians. Not too many modest enough to not want their name on something. If you make conjecture that won't get solved for 50 to 100 years is nice lazy way to do it.

What is perfect pitch?*

Pitch that sticks on everyone but you.

*Old roofers joke.

Woe is me. Now I think it's ptui that Nero use to say. Pttui.

Might have had a harder time w/o the shaded areas. Being nonsense answers they would have stood out.
And the FOOTFOOT and ELFELF would have stood out. Not so much the DIEDIE and MANMAN. Also getting the double word pattern helped with the fill. That would be harder to spot and less useful if unshaded. If I were a faster solver I might not mind so much but between solving and posting and reading, I spend enough time on this stuff. And even with the areas shaded my eyes were spinning like a looney tunes Toon moving those Ms Ns As and Es around in my head on 46A. Of course if I had pen in hand and scrap paper on the table like God intended... . Shaded areas over circles unless the circles have a meaning. Hunting out hidden words in the puzzle doesn't thrill me at all. Like anagrams for you. I don't like them but 2 times year not worth the complaining. On the whole I'd rather have shaded squares for some types of puzzles than never have them. But the Times overuses them. I am still working at @Lewis THESISTHESISION = THESE SION = THE SESSION when you add the S I left out. Oops.

@Lewis consider Sing under pressure for a clue of the week. It's really a clue for NAME NAMES even if that's not the answer in the puzzle (another unusual feature). I thought it was party good. ISITART pretty well-clued too. Anything you can get away with.

Hey glad to see some Shute fans have come out at the end of the day.

Monty Boy 10:03 PM  

I liked this one a lot. I got the gimmick at TWELFELFTEPS. Having the shaded squares gave me repetition for the remaining themers - fill in FE one place and can fill FE another place.

Interesting the hard/easy divide. Saturday I was definitely in the hard column for me. Nothing in the old wheelhouse. Could not understand how it could be easy. Today, I struggled but got it all with a little help for PPP and enjoyed it. Today, seem most found it hard/frustrating and I'm in the other column. Just the opposite of most of the Saturday comments.

Eniale 11:57 PM  

@toddh 10:46 Oh, pooh! Indicating a little impatience with you for your objection to that clue. As in your first definition. Or even a smidgeon of contempt. Isn't that what one often feels for nonsense?

Red Emma 12:40 AM  

Agree. I got some of the theme answers but could not figure why. Now that I see the explanation, it seems stupid. Or rather, if you don’t think like the puzzle editor and creator, you’re supposed to think *you* are stupid.

oriordan 1:36 AM  

@RooMonster (6:55) and @Anon (6:10) - I too was deeply confused by the first and last letters in the duplicated words being part of the actual answer. In fact the first 2 letters and the last letter of DIEDIE are used, which left me wondering how EDI becomes C. But I finally saw the light as it glinted on the magazines sitting on the COFOOTFOOTABLE.

Tough but fun

Kevin Munger 11:45 AM  


jberg 11:54 AM  

@TTrimble from yesterday -- Thanks! I think I had probably signed up for an honors course, and at UWisconsin, at least, that meant you had to establish the logical foundation for everything. Bourbaki huh? Never heard of that, but I'll give it a try!

kitshef 3:14 PM  

This is one of the greatest puzzles I have ever had the pleasure to solve. I've had a rough week health-wise and this was a great pick-me-up. Just sorry I could not solve it on the day it ran and bask in its brilliance with all of you.

SparJarls 10:33 AM  

Ha! Me, too. I was truly puzzled by this puzzle. Usually there is a clue tying all of the theme clues together, but no such clue here. It was a humbling and harrowing experience.

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