Cartoonist suggested by this puzzle's theme / WED 8-18-21 / Instrument played by indie rock's Sufjan Stevens / Cheese used in Babybels / Repeated string in a chain letter subject line / Fruits whose seeds can act as a substitute for black peppercorns

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Constructor: Alina Abidi

Relative difficulty: Easy (easiest I've ever done, I think; wish I'd had the timer on)

THEME: PARTY ANIMAL (50A: Frequent reveler ... or a hint to 16-/26- and 36-Across) — both of the first two themers are games you'd play at parties that have an animal in the name ... and both animals happen to be the animals that represent the two main U.S. political parties, which were popularized in the 19th century by political cartoonist THOMAS NAST (60A: Cartoonist suggested by this puzzle's theme) (Nast created the Republican elephant, not the Democratic donkey, but he made both symbols famous; see "Word of the Day," below)

The party (in two senses of the word) animal answers:
  • PIN THE TAIL / ON THE DONKEY (16A: With 26-Across, game that uses a blindfold)
  • WHITE ELEPHANT (36A: Item exchanged in a so-called "yankee swap")
Word of the Day: THOMAS NAST (60A) —
Thomas Nast (/næst/German: [nast]; September 27, 1840 – December 7, 1902) was a German-born American caricaturist and editorial cartoonist often considered to be the "Father of the American Cartoon". He was a critic of Democratic Representative "Boss" Tweed and the Tammany Hall Democratic party political machine. Among his notable works were the creation of the modern version of Santa Claus (based on the traditional German figures of Sankt Nikolaus and Weihnachtsmann) and the political symbol of the elephant for the Republican Party (GOP). Contrary to popular belief, Nast did not create Uncle Sam (the male personification of the United States Federal Government), Columbia (the female personification of American values), or the Democratic donkey, although he did popularize those symbols through his artwork. Nast was associated with the magazine Harper's Weekly from 1859 to 1860 and from 1862 until 1886.

• • •

Wow, this is like two puzzles. I thought I was done with the PARTY ANIMAL revealer, and I thought, "well that's pretty cool ... two party games ... both containing animals ... nice." Then I thought "but just two animals, that's pretty thin..." and *then* I ran into THOMAS NAST, and *only* then did I see the political slant of the animals. So there's a one-two revealer punch, and both punches land, so I'm pretty impressed. Knocked-out, you might say. Looks like another puzz TKO!

[this man, my lord]

The only downside to the puzzle ... and maybe it's not a down side so much as a fluky thing on my end ... is that there was (almost) no resistance, no teeth, no fight in this puzzle At All. Every clue I looked at, I got, immediately. This is (almost) not an exaggeration. About a third of the way through the grid, I realized I hadn't looked and missed once, so then I actually started paying attention—would I look at *any* clue where I didn't know the answer? Keep in mind (and this is Crucial... :), I always work off crosses whenever possible. That is, I do not bounce around the grid, doing successive Acrosses or just hunting answers or whatever. I start in the NW (if possible, and once I get an answer, I work its crosses, and so on and so on, until I'm done. Now, sometimes this isn't possible; that is, you get an answer, and you try to work its crosses and it gets you nowhere, so you have to move on, jump into a new section of the grid with no assistance from crosses. But a long time ago someone smart put the thought in my head: "Why would you not use the information you Already Have In The Grid!?" Just one letter can be a Huge leg up. This is my most important solving advice: stop bouncing around (if you don't absolutely have to). 

Anyway, back to this puzzle—as I say, I started paying attention to every clue I looked at, wondering if I'd whiff on *any* of them today. And by puzzle's end, I had balked at just three answers. Ironically, one of those answers was THOMAS NAST (I had -AS NAST and just blanked (actually, blank blank blank blanked...) on his first name. I teach that dude's cartoons in my comics class, and he's the answer I tripped on. LOL. I also didn't instantly get FWD, perhaps because "chain letter" (???) what year is it??? (23D: Repeated string in a chain letter subject line) If this clue had referred to emails from my father in the '00s containing dubious political "humor," then yeah, FWD would've registered. But with just -W- in place, I had to move to crosses. Lastly, in terms of today's misses, I wrote in RATED G when the answer was RATED E (for "Everyone") (46D: For all ages, as a video game). But that is it. I failed to get an answer at first glance just thrice. In the whole puzzle. I know better than to imagine that this is because of my solving superpowers. My only power is knowing to work the crosses—use the info you've already got in the grid.

Grid is solid if not very showy (lots of 3s and 4s keep it pretty low-profile). Long Downs are delightful, though. BLANK CANVAS is my favorite (10D: Artist's starting place). Might've preferred BAD HAIR DAYS, but I didn't particularly enjoy the "?" clue there (25D: Things best kept under one's hat?) (just can't quite get behind the idea that a "day" is a "thing"). But that was really my only Scrooge feeling today. Really enjoyed this one. That makes two themed puzzles in a row that I've emphatically enjoyed. Please remember this next time you find yourself thinking "oh he hates every puzzle." If puzzles are good, turns out, I like them! Woo woo. See you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Loren Muse Smith 6:10 AM  

Rex – enjoyed your take on this. I missed that both themers are party games kinda.

Wanted “yens” before LONGS just kidding.

I’m not really highbrow enough to be a political cartoonist aficionado, but I did kinda know NAST’s last name.

I get a kick out of the merging of WHITE ELEPHANT with the expression elephant in the room, so people are saying Uh. We need to address the WHITE ELEPHANT in the room..

Loved the clue for MOTH.

*nanpilla – don’t know if you still read Rex, but I think I’ve progressed from being described as AGILE to being described as spry. OH NO.

I’ve said before, I’d rather stab my kneecaps with a plastic fork than go to a REN faire. I’ll just settle in with my vapid tv, thankyouverymuch. There’s no accounting for taste and all that. . .

I have never consulted EHOW, so I investigated a little bit. Here are some of the stuff you can learn how to do:

1. How to Stop Sucking Your Thumb at Twenty-One Years Old
2. How to Destroy a Voodoo Doll (kinda makes sense that this would be problematic, right?)
3. How to Sell Car Audio to a Stupid Teenager Who Talks Like a Gangster
4. How to Start a Home-Based Debt Collection Agency
5. How to Fake Being an Indie Rock Expert. (I’ma study this one to make BEQ like me.)
6. How to Avoid Being Arrested for Public Nudity. (Wish I had read this one a couple of years ago just kidding)

I frequently have BAD HAIR DAYs, and if you’re as shallow as I am, you can totally understand that it affects Every. Single. Aspect of the day, and I’m not just kidding.

rushscott 6:12 AM  

I'm like - this is easy. So sure enough this was the easiest ever!

OffTheGrid 6:26 AM  

My solve was much different from @Rex but I liked the puzz as much. I had quite a rough start. It felt like I slowly got into the groove of the constructor. Good fun. I guess I should try the "Rex method" instead of jumping around looking for a beachhead. One question, why was Piggy in quotes?

Lewis 6:35 AM  

This felt so fresh, fresh as a just picked PLUM.

New clues for stalwarts OREO, OBOE, REN (these three right off the bat, getting me super interested), ALA and SNL. That lovely never-done-before double-layered theme.

Not to mention fresh takes on DODO, DESK, MOTH, and lovely answers WHAT FOR, WHITE ELEPHANT, BAD HAIR DAYS, AGILE, and BLANK CANVAS. Even a sweet PuzzPair© of DONKEY and HOOF.

As a result, this puzzle – this debut puzzle – pulsed with personality, as the best ones do. I’m keeping an eager eye out for your name in future puzzles, Alina, and thank you for this spark-filled beauty!

bocamp 6:54 AM  

Thx Alina; mighty fine Wednes. puz! Well done! :)

Easy-med. solve

Very much on the right wavelength for this one. :)

Just finished a PLUM salad before starting the puz.

yd 0

Peace ~ Compassion ~ Tolerance ~ Kindness to all 🕊

Blue Stater 7:28 AM  

I don't often disagree 180 degrees with OFL, but I had to fight for just about every non-obvious answer with this one. Maybe Rex got rested up on his holiday....

albatross shell 7:30 AM  

Not the easiest for me but on the easy side for a Wednesday. Completely forgot about the E rating. Filled in BAD HAIR cutS (better answer?) right off. In fact the long answers did go in very quickly except for WHITE ELEPHANT (which I do not know as a game nor as a yankee swap) and THOMAS NAST (needed 4 or 5 crosses).

I liked some of the short answer clues (DODO FLUS FATS PLUM) and the slangy stuff (WHATFOR getgo).

The theme is the highlight in this one.

Tom T 7:32 AM  

Fastest Wednesday solve ever, even with several guesses that had to be corrected with crosses. Missed the connection to the political parties (duh) until I read Rex.

I am enjoying OFL, post-vacation!

Son Volt 7:34 AM  

Good puzzle for the most part. Doubling down on the theme was cool - but neither being overly interesting. Agree with Rex that this was Monday-like fill. Like the two long downs more than the themers.

Love the TANYA Tucker shout out. Sufjan is more of an acquired taste - I like his gfy approach but the music is borderline unlistenable at times. I tend to associate the banjo with him more than the OBOE. Nice trivia tidbit regarding the PAPAYA.

Enjoyable Wednesday solve.

Greg in Sanibel 7:34 AM  

@OffTheGrid - I think piggy was in quotes as a reference to the poem “this little piggy went to market, this little piggy stayed home [etc]” when counting across a child’s toes

Fellow Earthling 7:45 AM  

Two days of good puzzles, both by female constructors. More female puzzle-makers, please!

David L. 7:46 AM  

My only complaint--you can't have a "parm" without "parmesan."

Kenny 7:55 AM  

If you’re solving on the NYT app these days you can see your time by looking at the Stats on the bottom of the app.

pabloinnh 8:02 AM  

Aside from not knowing about PAPAYAS and their multitasking seeds and having a BADHAIRCUT (hi @albatross shell) I had pretty much OFL's experience with this one, starting with PINTHETAIL ONTHEDONKEY off the P in POP. I think every kid that ever played that cheated by peeking a little.

Haven't heard TEE off in anything but a golf sense in quite a while. Maybe the TEE stands for "tick".

Liked the double PARTY aspect but otherwise too easy for a Wednesday. Thanks for the fun anyway, AA, even if too many answers were Actually Automatic.

amyyanni 8:09 AM  

As an American History major, Nast is familiar to me and am delighted to see him here. Puzzle is outstanding; an agile exercise.

SouthsideJohnny 8:13 AM  
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Spatenau 8:14 AM  

@David L. I'm glad you asked about why it would be mozzarella that is essential in chicken parmesan. Coincidentally I was just pondering this question the night before last when I was apologizing to my mother for not having any mozzarella for the chicken parm I made her. Anyway, your question reminded me to do some research. Turns out the "parmesan" (or "Parmegiano" in Italy) part just means the dish originated in the region of Parma. Now we both know.

Anonymous 8:19 AM  

Don’t see why someone who races to finish a puzzle pretends to care about the quality of the fill.

rjkennedy98 8:28 AM  

Fun puzzle. The Thomas Nast revealer landed less for me than it obviously did for Rex who teaches him at university. It makes a lot of sense, but I have to think back to my 11th grade AP US History class to remember anything about him, other than that he was a political cartoonist. Before hopping on here I was searching for his cartoons and it still wasn't quite obvious. Had to read his wiki to find out that he basically invented the modern depictions of the Republicans as elephants and the Democrats as donkeys. Amazingly, he also is responsible for our modern depictions of Uncle Sam and Santa Claus.

He also appears to be responsible for the depictions of Irish people as "sub-human, drunk, and violent". But hey, that's not as offensive as Mr Magoo, so it gets no comment from Rex.

GILL I. 8:29 AM  

This was GREAT...... Packed with wonderful words; some thinking required - not too much - and the cluing was PRIMO.
Loved seeing THOMAS NAST as the revealer. Why? you ask....If it weren't for him we wouldn't be having jolly Santa as he is now in all the malls of America and he wouldn't be living in the North Pole.
Just so you know...I never put my bubble gum underneath my DESK. Someone told me that the best place to hide it was behind your ears. The problem with that one is that it would get stuck in your hair. Just ask my sister. She forgot to take her gum out before she went to bed one night. She woke up the next morning with it stuck in her gorgeous long blonde hair. My mom had to cut it out and I know I'll go to hell for this, but I was secretly happy.
I think PIN THE TAIL ON THE DONKEY was my first "American" game I played. The tail invariably ended up on his nose where god intended it to be.
If this is a debut, it's quite amazing. Thanks Alina (love your name)....I hope we see A TON more of your crosswords.

Zwhatever 8:31 AM  

Sufjan Stevens went to college in my hometown (and attended Interlochen) and I own several albums (BQE might be of interest to New Yorkers). I think of him as a composer and multi instrumentalist, so that OBOE clue seemed like a stretch to try to establish some indie cred. On his wiki page there are several pictures of him, most of him with various string instruments. Way way down in the last section it says, While in school, Stevens studied the oboe and English horn, which he plays on his albums. So either someone is spending WAY too much time reading the liner notes (do liner notes still exist?) or that is the deepest dive WikiClue I have ever seen. I’m also not at all sure that “indie rock” is at all apt to describe what he does. Alt-folk, alt-classical, alt-indie, maybe even just alt-alt. But not alt-rock. Maybe that’s some sort of Michael Stipe confusion because of the angel wing thing.

THOMAS NAST really helps this puzzle. I got to PARTY ANIMAL and had a “that’s it? that’s not enough for a theme” reaction. I think in part my negative reaction was due to stretching a single theme answer into two with PIN THE TAIL / ON THE DONKEY (and was busy giving the double THE the side eye). Also, I’m not particularly pleased with either PARTY at the moment. NAST improved my mood. Making fun of and pointing out the failures and miscues of our leaders is a long-standing American Tradition. As one of my favorite t-shirts says, “dissent is Patriotic” (not to be confused with violence and being part of an armed attack).

I was having a “what did I miss” moment. Why Teddy Pendergrass? Then I see Rex wrote Looks like another puzz TKO! Looks like Rex was looking for an excuse to post a Teddy Pendergrass video. Personally, it seems like another Boxing Day.

Joaquin 8:39 AM  

Easy for a Wednesday, but also quite clever. I can’t remember another puzzle with a “Back-up Revealer” as this one has. I enjoyed the solve and had a major “aha” when the THOMAS NAST connection registered.

Re: BAD HAIR DAYS - I have not had one of those in at least 25 years but, as I am fond of saying, “Of all the things I’ve ever lost, I miss my hair the least.”

Keith D 9:01 AM  

Rex’s vacation seems to have moderated the toxic negativity that so often permeates his write ups, at least for now. Fingers crossed this continues, because it’s a hell of a lot more enjoyable to read.

David L. 9:09 AM  

Thanks for the clarification regarding parm, parmesan, parmigiano, and Parma. We'll save for another day the question of whether mozzarella di bufala is really bed than mozzarella made with cow's milk. (IMHO, much better.)

kitshef 9:09 AM  

Unlike Rex, I had many bad first guesses: chArt before grAph, alter before MORPH, placAte before APPEASE, OHmy before OHNO, relatE before TATTLE. Still overall easyish, just not the freakishly easy experience described by Res.

I'm not the type to enjoy a renaissance faire, but I hang out with people who do. To a person, wonderful people. None of them has ever said REN faire. I appreciate the attempt to come up with a new REN clue, but that ain't it.

jberg 9:09 AM  

Like everyone, I imagine, I come here to see if I'm smarter than Rex (same reason people watch Jeopardy). I knew the theme was about politics as soon as I saw the DONKEY and ELEPHANT, so I was feeling snug. Too soon --- apparently he knew about the PAPAYAS' seeds, when all I could think of was PAPrikA. So back to school for me.

I'll never be as smart as @Loren, though. Brilliant avatar today! Took me many nanoseconds to get around the misdirect.

Before I retired, I'd always go to graduation and sit on the stage wearing a rented robe. There was always a note in the back of the program explaining academic regalia; among other things, it explained that the sleeves were very loose so that medieval scholars could pack their lunches in them. Now I know that what they put in those sleeves were OREOs.

I always get a little confused about the food pyramid, because of its resemblance in shape to the food chain.

Nancy 9:21 AM  

A lively, entertaining puzzle that was much fun to solve. And I loved the double meaning of the word PARTY. But I must say that THOMAS NAST -- whom I've heard of but didn't connect to the theme at all -- sailed right over my head.

I had some stumbles -- putting DEED before TASK for "something to do" and putting FDC before FDA at 42A. RATEDE was a DOOK for me: I read my answer 3x before I figured out what it meant.

68A did not pass my "breakfast test". Please, Alina, there are a zillion ways to clue DESK and I can't imagine why anyone would choose that one. If there's gum under there, I don't want to know. Let me repeat that slowly: I. Don't. Want. To. Know.

Can you hide a BAD HAIR DAY under your hat? I know you can hide the BAD HAIR, but the DAY? Never mind -- it was a fun clue/answer. And I loved BLANK CANVAS and the way it was clued. Not especially tricky, but there were other possibilities for "artist's starting point" like easel and atelier, for example. So when it came in, I was delighted.

SARGE for "VIP on base"? Gee, I don't know. Personally, I'd much rather be a LT, a CAPT, or a GENL.

I never heard of a "Yankee swap". I thought WHITE ELEPHANT meant some big clunky item you didn't want to keep and that you couldn't get rid of. The sort of thing that the "Does it give you joy?" lady from yesterday would tell you not to acquire in the first place.

This is the kind of colorful puzzle I could write about all day. But I'll stop now.

RooMonster 9:29 AM  

Hey All !
Kooky puz. The ole brain deciding it didn't want to see how the theme gelled together. Read clue for PARTY ANIMAL as Frequent Revealer, not reveler, which was confusing. And somewhere in the dark recesses I once knew THOMAS NAST and what he did, but I think that was shoved out to make room for something else. 😁 My brain can only store so much. (Which doesn't seem much, actually.)

Seems more TuesPuzish to me. Each their own, and all that. Didn't get any YUKs from me, but also wasn't YUK. Or maybe I'm OFF.
(Take the Over on that!)

Five F's

ollida 9:31 AM  

Anyone know how hard the lollapuzzoola tournament is? I'm thinking of signing up but am a pretty young solver who's never perfectly done a Saturday. Fridays usually take me like 90 minutes and Thursdays about an hour.

On the topic of this puzzle, it would have been a 13 minute record if I hadn't spent 7 STUPID minutes trying to find my mistake that was OLEO for OREO!!! That's like the ultimate crossword sin! Who would miss OREO???

Barbara S. 10:01 AM  

Not one who sailed through this with flying colors. I got the double PIN THE TAIL… answer immediately, but didn’t know about WHITE ELEPHANTs and yankee swaps. And in a major fit of faulty reading comprehension, understood the clue for 50A as “Frequent revealer…”, so didn’t grasp the PARTY ANIMAL angle for ages. And, although now that I hear his name, THOMAS NAST does sound somewhat familiar, I needed a lot of crosses to get it. Can I trot out my “not an American” excuse again, or is it getting old? I also made a serious error at 47D “Tell” for which I put “relatE” rather than TATTLE (hi, @kitshef!). This made getting both revealers harder than it already was. (It would have been NEAT to have “relate” and NEGATE in the same puzzle.)

When I was 6, there was an even littler girl who lived across the street: Laurie, aged 4. She’d come over to our yard and latch onto my mother who’d be on her knees gardening, strike up a conversation, and then proceed to ask WHAT FOR? after everything my mother said. Fortunately mom was a former primary school teacher and extremely patient, but Laurie was enough to erode granite.

Funny that 25D should turn up today because I’m currently celebrating no more BAD HAIR DAYS! I got my overgrown, shapeless, COVID-neglected fright wig cut by the village barber yesterday! (We’re out here taking refuge from the flood in our city house.) She hardly ever cuts women’s hair and had to examine my mop and I carefully to decide whether to take us on. I promised her that I’d be delighted with whatever quantity and quality of hair removal she’d be willing to undertake. And I am! Yay! The oppression of suboptimal hair can be so debilitating.

Loved BLANK CANVAS, loved the fruits PLUM and PAPAYAS, and cheeses PARM and EDAM. In fact, liked the puzzle, despite my struggles. Well, gotta go. It’s time to drive around in the lush, pastoral beauty of our surroundings to see where we can get the most bars on our phones.

Andrew H 10:14 AM  

Still a puzzle greenhorn, and I flew through this one as well. No complaints , I liked it ATON. Seems like a great puzzle to give to a first timer. The reveal is a lot of fun, and thankfully not during a political cycle.

Joseph Michael 10:16 AM  

First reaction: Huh. Well, i guess that was sort of okay.
Second reaction: Wow. That was really cool.

The name THOMAS NAST was only vaguely familiar until I googled him and was reminded of his cartoons. That’s when the light bulb lit up and I realized that this wasn’t just any DONKEY and ELEPHANT we’re talking about and that the theme worked on more than one level. Thanks for the history lesson, Alina, and congrats on your debut.

I like the long downs, but don’t see how you put a whole DAY under your hat, especially with all that BAD HAIR already under there.

Is an ELF really tiny? I thought they were just short.

Anonymous 10:19 AM  

like the other's who have mentioned it, cluing sufjan as an oboe player is pretty cheap

Whatsername 10:24 AM  

At the OUTSET this struck me as Monday easy with a Thursday level revealer at 68A since I did not grasp the significance of THOMAS NAST. Now perhaps that’s a failing on my part but in fairness, he’s someone who’s been dead FOR nearly 120 years PLUS it’s been almost that long since I may or may not have learned about him in school. Once I read the constructor notes and saw there was more to it than just a FAT PARTY ANIMAL, well there was my AHA moment. So congratulations Alina! I hope we see another equally inspired creation in the future.

As someone old enough to remember actual chain letters, I would’ve liked that clue much better if it had referenced an email.

My brother-in-law was a SARGE in the Air Force for 20+ years. He’d either be very impressed or really amused by the idea that anyone considered him a VIP.

Protocol Sarnt 10:25 AM  

TEN_HUT! On a military base, (depending on the branch), you may find one of the following following variations of Sergeant: Staff, Technical, Master, Senior Master, Chief Master, First, Gunnery, First Class, Master Gunnery, and Sergeant Major. None---I say again---none of these NCOs are properly referred to as SARGE. (at ease).

Masked and Anonymous 10:32 AM  

Heckuva debut puz. Congratz, to Alina Abidi darlin. Great job, for yer first rodeo.

Evidently unlike most solvers, M&A lost precious nanoseconds gettin started in the NW. Didn't know/understand the ARI/PARM/OREO/REN clues/answers. In M&A's defense, our OREOs come in a package with a resealable flap, not in sleeves. And mozzarella did not holler "PARM" at m&e. And REN faire was so extra-mysterious [at the time], that REN earns the coveted staff weeject pick of the day.

But I hung in there, eventually guessin my way successfully outta the NW, and the rest of the puz was indeed slightly on the easier side, for a WedPuz. RATEDE was new [and a debut NYTPuz word, btw], but the crosses smoked it out nicely and smoothly.

Had no idea that WHITEELEPHANT/Yankee swap was a party game. So the PARTYANIMAL reveal just seemed to be only about political PARTY animals, to m&e. But -- very clever, that it has a double entendre shtick goin for it. Even tho it out-clevered the M&A.

Thanx for the party and the other party, AA. And congratz on scorin a POW at xwordinfo.chen, on yer first puz outta the chute. U now have a super rep to live up to -- so, get busy on that next "ren" puz masterpiece.

Masked & Anonymo3Us

Joaquin 10:32 AM  

@Nancy - Well, sure. You don't want any gum under your classic $8,000 DESK. But the rest of us - with IKEA specials - are less offended!

@LMS - I hereby crown you the queen-for-life of the avatars.

albatross shell 10:34 AM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
pmdm 10:36 AM  

While I reacted to the difficulty level a bit differently that some others posting here, I will emphatically say that I loved the puzzle. I don't normally anticipate Chen awarding a POW to a puzzle, but I did today. And for a debut construction. There seems much to look forward to. Even the write-up was excellent. One can't expect such a fine puzzle every day, but one can certainly appreciate it when one comes along. Bravo many times over.

TJS 10:39 AM  

A really good Monday, an average Tuesday, A non-challenge Wednesday.

TTrimble 10:41 AM  

In all honesty, I did not find it easy. Indeed, the solving time was noticeably longer than for most Wednesdays, partly because I was falling asleep last night in the middle of solving.

For WHITE ELEPHANT, both the clue ("yankee swap") and the answer meant absolutely nothing to me -- never heard of either. You could say I was nonPLUSsed by that (SEE NOTE*).

THOMAS NAST is not easy. Yes, I've heard of him as a cartoonist, but he died almost 120 years ago. Boss Tweed, Tammany Hall, yada yada yada. Locked away in some cobwebbed corner of my brain lighted by a very dim flickering bulb. Easy, my foot.

However, the puzzle has points of interest. Some months back, there was some discussion here of the unbelievably impressive Babe Zaharias, so it was nice seeing mention of her again. Didn't know this thing about seeds of PAPAYAS either. EHOW, huh?! No way, NO HOW did I know that, but @Loren has now spurred my curiosity. I'll take a gander.

The long Downs (BAD HAIR DAY, BLANK CANVAS) -- terrific.

Don't know this cat ARI Aster. "Midsommar" -- is that Swedish? I suppose I ought to have heard of him; apparently his star is on the rise.

Mini A-HA just now, looking again at Babybels (EDAM). Last night, it was "what on earth?" But oh yeah, those mini-cheese thingies sealed in red wax, sold in netted bags. Clever packaging. Good for packing kids' lunches.

Thumbs down on the POC FLUS.

But all in all it was a good puzzle, even if it made me feel like a DODO here and there.

yd still pg -3; td 0

*People often say "nonplussed" when they mean something like nonchalant. But the original meaning is more like "bewildered" or "perplexed". Non plus! -- no more! -- I can't handle all this confusion!

albatross shell 10:41 AM  

"I thought we were talkin' a benjamin here"



Zwhatever 10:41 AM  

@ollida - Generally, puzzle difficulty at a tournament builds much the same way it does during the week for the NYTX. The ACPT is famous (notorious) for having one nigh on impossible puzzle (that the super solvers still manage to solve faster than I can do a Wednesday), so it really depends on your tolerance for failure. You will have company in whatever frustrations you might experience, so I don’t think you should care, but if fear of finishing last or bottom 10% or whatever bugs you maybe get a little more experience. Personally, I always just buy the “solve at your leisure” pack if I participate at all. This is primarily because I have too many things going on to devote that much time to a puzzle tournament, even an online one. The last time I did one of these I finished middle of the pack, but nearer the bottom of everyone who actually tried all the puzzles. At the time I was solving about 75% of Saturday’s successfully.

@Keith D - Did you consider that maybe it’s the puzzles?

Paul & Kathy 10:42 AM  

PR time for a Wednesday.
Took me a minute to get going but once I did the whole thing fell together. It actually was very good.

Carola 10:45 AM  

Not easy for me - I'd file it under "tough and rewarding." Normally, I would proceed as @Rex says, from crosses, but somehow I couldn't get a grip so I did need to resort to "bouncing around." The good thing about that was that I got THOMAS NAST - and the connection to the DONKEY and ELEPHANT - on the early side and that helped me see PARTY ANIMAL (I didn't know what a Yankee swap was). Terrific double-decker theme, and overall a fun-to-figure-out grid. My biggest surprise was BAD HAIR DAYS, the last two words of which I got entirely from crosses and only saw once I'd finished - I'd expected some sort of BAD thoughts. Back to THOMAS NAST - he happened to be in the foreground of the memory bank as I just finished a novel featuring Boss Tweed, whom NAST skewered mercilessly.

JD 10:47 AM  

Fun. Was confused that Pin The Tail On The Donkey played out on two rows and White Elephant didn't (waiting for In The Room) but Thomas Nast cleared up that mystery.

Historic day, Oreo and Oboe together.

Wiki describes Sufjan Stevens as being a multi-instrumentalist. Pic shows him playing a banjo. Not necessarily known for his Oboe chops? Looked this up because I thought, "@Z is collecting Oboe albums?"

Ethan Taliesin 10:55 AM  

This was a DUD.

Crimson Devil 11:09 AM  

Excellent Wed puz.

Anonymous 11:17 AM  

I've been bitten by the OFL's process more than once. I find it more reliable, less bitten, to traverse the puzzle all the way through, picking out the gimmes: aka PPP, first. Then go back and work crosses. It is, sometimes, tempting to elevate a 'normal' clue/answer to gimme, and later find a cross blows it out of the water. One must be careful, naturally.

Legume 11:26 AM  

I. Don't. Want. To. Know.

Things is: You're a Girl. Boys pants legs, since they're 99.99% of the time taller than girls, inevitably mush up against the bottom of the desk. Boys fidget all day long, thus the contact with the bottom of the desk. Girls are trained to sit and pay attention, feet squarely on the floor (well, back when I was a juvenile, anyway :) ). You'll never know IRL. Boys, OTOH, do so all the time. And there's no rule against getting the last few chews out of that glob of gum. When they get a bit older, boys will get the last few puffs out of discarded cig butts, too. Waste not, want less.

jae 11:27 AM  

Easy. Etsy before EHOW and RATEDg before E were my only missteps. I went through this pretty quickly so I needed a bit of post solve staring to appreciate what was going on with the theme. THOMAS NAST brought it all home. Smooth with more than a little sparkle, liked it a bunch!

Jeff at Xwordinfo gave POW. Excellent debut!

egsforbreakfast 11:37 AM  

Alternate Clues:

56A. Reaction of @Nancy to gum under 68A. YUK
8D. Take away someone’s tranqs. DELUDE

@LMS. Nice avatar today. A real sstopper that had me ling.

I pretty much second Rex’s glowing review and difficulty rating. Great debut, Alina Abidi. I look forward to seeing more of your work.

mathgent 11:41 AM  

I liked the idea of the double-headed theme but the puzzle's a little off-balance with THOMASNAST connected to only one of the heads.

Enjoyable. Learned EHOW, "yankee swap," and a use of PAPAYA seeds. Not especially easy here.

RAD2626 12:06 PM  

Agree with all the positive comments. Terrific debut; terrific puzzle. Was 30 seconds from my best Wednesday time. OTOH, I thought the mini today was very tough. Took me four times my usual 30 seconds or so. It’s all a matter of style. Yul Bruner never had a BAD HAIR DAY.

Stephen Minehart 12:27 PM  

My favorite themes force the solvers to change their solving strategy, ideally in a unique, or at least fresh way. This theme didn't do that - I didn't even stop to consider the theme until after I had finished the puzzle. But when I looked at the theme, I definitely had a "wow....oh double wow" moment, which was great and sets this puzzle way way above the norm.

mathgent 12:34 PM  

My favorite posts this morning.

Spatenau (8:14).

jberg (9:09).

Loren's icon.

Carson G 12:56 PM  

As in “this little piggy went to the market, this little piggy stayed home etc.”

Leslie 1:43 PM  

Someone explain Loren's icon?

Joe Dipinto 1:49 PM  

An Oboist With So-So Vibrato
— Sufjan Stevens (New School Literary Journal)

When my mother dropped me off at music school in upstate New York, she said, “Oh Jesus help this kid be something special!” She wanted a child prodigy, like Mozart and Lizst, but I was just an oboist with so-so vibrato. When my mother left, I changed my name from Horace to Horatio. It was a boarding school. You could be whatever you wanted for a year. I told everyone I was from Argentina, which made things better, since I was last chair in the orchestra. I refused to speak Spanish since I was in America now and I wanted to be American.

In truth, I was from Michigan. I wore Izods and stonewashed jeans, tight-rolled. I had a Midwestern slang. I said things like hoydie-doydie and naw. My father was an elder at a Pentecostal church. My mother cleaned our kitchen for a living. I was raised in a house with more bibles than aspirin tabs.

No one caught on because in music school you spend so much time repeating minor arpeggios that you don’t notice other people’s accents or skin tone. You only notice embouchure and posture. You envy someone else’s G-sharp major scales and circle breathing. If you were an oboist, like me, you noticed the shape of a reed, the wood tone and nationality of the instrument: French Loree or Rogoutat. If you had a plastic oboe, like me, you were told not to leave your instrument on the radiator since it would melt and ruin a perfectly good case. I decided to rent an oboe from the music library; it was made of African balsam. “At least you don’t sound like a saxophone anymore,” Heather Wong said after sectionals. She was just being nice since she was second to last chair.

The other players fondled their oboes like exotic wives, with bulbed bells and cotton pads and gold-plaited keys. The best players used peacock plumes to swab. I used an old sock and a piece of string. Sarah Sinigesson said her father found her oboe in an abandoned Egyptian attic; it was worth ten grand, she said. I said my plastic oboe cost me two-fifty brand-new. She said, “Oh Horatio, that’s just awful.”

We learned to make double reeds with bamboo cane and colored thread. We shaped them with Vitry knives and a straight edge. I practiced for six hours every day. There was nothing else to do. I played Marcello, Vivaldi or Verdi, because Italians knew how to make something sound pretty with just a triad and some trills. But I was terrible.

"Relax your wrists!“ Mr. Blund would say during my lesson. "If I see you use forked-F again, I will cut off your hands.” Mr. Blund said he was very respected in Belgium. Mr. Blund said he couldn’t wait to get out of this God-forsaken penitentiary and tour with a real symphony. He was right. The campus was stuck in a knot of trees: a row of cinderblock buildings and a performance hall shaped like a UFO. Every room on campus was sound proofed with synthetic pads and asbestos. Everywhere you went it felt like an asylum.

Juries were worse than The Gong Show. Anyone could sit in and offer remarks about intonation or timing. A bassoonist named Barbara Mushwater once stopped me in the middle of Wagner to tell me my retardation of the slurred note before the cadence was bad. I said I didn’t know there was such a thing as good retardation, but no one found it very funny. I said, “Could you be more specific than bad?”

She said no, that about summed it up.

A Michigan native currently living in New York City, Sufjan Stevens is a graphic designer, an amateur seamster, a crocheter of ski caps, and a writer of short fiction. He has an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from The New School. Having once studied oboe technique and reed making at Interlochen Academy of Music, Sufjan has since given up the double reed for the electric guitar.

Which reminds me of the old joke:
Q: What's the difference between an oboe and an onion?
A: Nobody cries when you chop up an oboe.

Loren Muse Smith 1:59 PM  

@Leslie- go back and look at 51D.

okanaganer 2:08 PM  

What Rex said about being easy... under 8 minutes, which is fast for me. (Close to a typical Monday time, almost.)

This theme is so immaculate. Plus the 5 theme answers are perfectly symmetrical. Her first NYT puzzle! Almost like that guy who just pitched a no-hitter in his first game.

JD 2:14 PM  

@JoeD, AH! Thanks for the Sufjan Stevens piece. I think I love him.

Leslie 2:29 PM  

@LMS Thank you. Very clever. Love your posts!

Joe Dipinto 2:36 PM  

@JD – Best sentence: "My mother cleaned our kitchen for a living."

old timer 2:45 PM  

It started easy, with PIN THE TAIL/ON THE DONKEY. Didn't finish that way. I wrote down my start time, thinking I might have a great finish, but didn't. Good puzzle, but the theme escaped me until I came here, and was reminded that THOMAS Nast was the guy who publicized the DONKEY and ELEPHANT is political PARTY symbols.

Plus, I did not quickly remember THOMAS, though I did get that after some cogitation.

Interesting discussion on Chicken PARM. Turns out it is a Southern Italian and Italian-American dish, though the chicken part is a 1950s thing. The dish was originally Veal Parmigiano, and with the veal, you have to make a crust of PARMesan cheese and breadcrumbs before putting it in the pan. Of course even in Sicily, the delis have those big wheels of PARMesan cheese, just like many delis have in the USA. So the dish did not originate in PARMa at all. And really, the chicken version often uses little or no PARMesan cheese, though it certainly uses Mozarella.

I concur, the buffalo Mozarella is the best, made from the water buffalo that are still to be found in Italy. No relation to our American buffalo, which is properly called "bison". There are hundreds of thousands of them in Campania, the region near Naples, and quite a few in Marche, NE of Rome. All domesticated I suppose, though who knows? Maybe there are herds of feral water buffalo, just as there are herds of wild horses in the Camargue, in the South of France.

Nancy 3:03 PM  

@Joe D -- Wonderful excerpt. What a delightful and evocative writer. He's obviously found his true passion and avocation -- even if it's not the OBOE. Both devotees of the written word and devotees of the orchestral performance would seem to be much better off.

JC66 3:08 PM  

@you Joe D

Thanks for the Sufjan Stevens piece. Really terrific.

Anonymous 5:50 PM  

I had the hardest time breaking the ice on this one. I had OREO and POP and just stared for a couple minutes at least. I finished with a below-average time for a Wednesday, so maybe it was easy after all.

I'm digging the Sufjan love on here today. If you don't know his music, but are interested in highly literate indie folkish rockish pop, start with the album "Come on feel the Illinoise".

Hazel Peartree 6:36 PM  

From the Who Knew Dept: papaya seeds as peppercorns?!

Zwhatever 8:22 PM  

Sufjan Stevens

stephanie 10:52 PM  

if i flew through this in fifteen minutes while watching twitch and at one point reading an article my partner sent me...this must have been truly easy. it was fun though, so i wasn't bored. just a little sad it didn't last very long.

i did have CHRISTMASGIFT before WHITELEPHANT because i have never seen an actual white elephant at any of those gift exchange games, but then i was like, "oh right, animals..."

had no clue who THOMASNAST was but for once it mattered not. very surprised to fill in PAPAYAS for peppercorns! the more you know! the only issue i had is with a clue i've seen multiple times now - the OREO as something that comes in a "sleeve." oreos do not come in a sleeve, they come in a plastic tray. thin mints come in sleeves, and i'm sure some other cookies do too, but oreos don't. this is like that kitkats coming in twos debacle.

Mr. Alarm 2:38 PM  

When I was in high school - a long, long time ago - I was inspired by Mike Peter’s political cartoons and considered becoming a political cartoonist. So, Thomas Nast and the themes were very easy, and I really enjoyed this puzzle!

Rex, you hit all the right notes on your review of it, too. Felt so nice solve an easy Wednesday puzzle!

thefogman 10:07 AM  

Excellent! Amazingly well-executed theme and (for the most part) pretty decent fill. I’ll overlook ITD, FEB, DEI TVAD and FWD because the end product was so rewarding. I had to look up who THOMASNAST was after compeletion and that was when the Aha! moment happened. I love it when a puzzle teaches you something. This one did and it’s one of the finest puzzles of the year.

spacecraft 10:48 AM  

I was filling in the downs in the center trying to get a handle on 36a, and saw HAN_ in the last four spots. Naturally thinking: HANd. When I worked the east and saw it was -HANT, I had the only perplexing moment of the day--but only a moment. The next nanosecond ELEPHANT arrived, and I saw the whole picture. I have never in my life heard of "Yankee Swap." Doesn't seem like ATON of fun if everybody's trying to get rid of something. If I ever host a party (extremely unlikely) that will NOT be one of the games. Actually, we collect elephants.

A good, clean (if somewhat toothless) puzzle, fun that didn't last long enough. DOD is TANYA Tucker--but a solid honorable mention to today's constructor. Birdie.

Burma Shave 11:55 AM  


at THE OUTSET OPINED for more,
"THE TASK: be ERECT when I'm ON ya,
you'd better NOHOW and WHATFOR."


rondo 12:18 PM  

Thought I had the solve at PARTYANIMAL, but wait, what about the one more corresponding line? Very clever, though his first name escaped me until crosses.

I was right up front to see TANYA Tucker c. 1978 at the Cabooze in Mpls., at that time billed as the female coming of Elvis and promoting her album TNT, which I had bought. Still 19 or 20 and wearing a glittering tube top and tight leather pants. Yeah baby. The Elvis comparisons faded as she returned to country music.

Look DEEP into the corners to find where someone PEED.

Thought this puz was NEAT.

Anonymous 4:59 PM  

I got up and looked, and where I'm doing the puzzle right now, the Oreos do come in a sleeve. Not all Oreos are bought at the grocery store.

leftcoaster 5:08 PM  

Fun, mainstream puzzle with at least two revealers (THOMAS NAST and PARTY ANIMAL) blended into a complete theme.

WHAT’s not to like?

Diana, LIW 5:21 PM  

From starting with PARM, pardner, I thought "this can't be this easy." But it was.

Pin the tail on what ever party animal you like.

Yet another OREO clue - will they ever end? (ans.:no)

Diana, Lady-in-Waiting for Crosswords

leftcoaster 6:12 PM  

@Lewis -- You clearly know your stuff. I admire your puzzle IQ. But could you just be, or come across as, a bit less condescending? (Sorry, this has been bugging me for some time.)

Diana, LIW 8:03 PM  

@Lefty - you've mentioned Lewis before - what makes you thin he's not sincere or is condescending? I like his posts, and have nicknamed him St. Lewis for his benevolent attitude - a refreshing change to at least one quite regular complainer.

Lady Di

leftcoaster 9:07 PM  

@Lady Di -- Moi ? (Not into the “insincere” part.)

sdcheezhd 12:32 AM  

The only Yankee swap I've heard of was Mike Kekich and Fritz Peterson and once I had W as the first letter I was thinking are they really going to go there?

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