Small boat of East Asia / SAT 11-27-21 / Gardening practice that minimizes the need for water / Low member of a marine ecosystem / Those tending to the fallen warriors called einherjar in myth / Anjou alternative

Saturday, November 27, 2021

Constructor: Trenton Charlson

Relative difficulty: Easy (easiest Saturday in recent memory)

THEME: XYZ — no theme, really, but those longer answers in the middle start with X, Y, and Z, respectively, and I'm guessing that's somebody's idea of whimsy

Word of the Day: SAMPAN (25A: Small boat of East Asia) —
sampan is a relatively flat-bottomed Chinese and Malay wooden boat. Some sampans include a small shelter on board and may be used as a permanent habitation on inland waters. Sampans are generally used for transportation in coastal areas or rivers and are often used as traditional fishing boats. It is unusual for a sampan to sail far from land, as they do not have the means to survive rough weather. (wikipedia)
• • •

I'm high on leftovers and chocolate cake and the Great British Bake-Off finale so unlike most nights I'm wide awake at 10pm, ready to do the crossword (and write about it) right when it comes out. Either I am much, much faster at night than in the early morning or this puzzle was very, very easy. Or both, I suppose. All I know is it played like a Tuesday or Wednesday for me. I was solving at a leisurely, untimed pace and was still done in under 5. If I'd been *trying*, yikes, I might've gone sub-4, which on Saturday is record territory for me. The grid is so wide-open, with so many ways to come at all the answers, that you can't really get stuck. Well, I'm sure you can, but if you're reasonably experienced, you cannot. Maybe it's just a matter of getting that first toehold. Everything seemed to flow directly and unstoppably off of SCOFF (1A: Act the cynic, maybe). Had trouble confirming it was right at first (that FDR quote did not feel very FDR to me) (5D: Who famously offered this speaking advice: "Be sincere, be brief, be seated," in brief, unlike this clue, which is not brief at all, OK I added this last bit), but then I got CINEMAX and SAUNAS and zing, off we went. Got YELLOW PAGES off the YE- no problem (34A: The book of numbers), and XERISCAPING was in the puzzle not too too long ago, so I got it easily off the "X" (30A: Gardening practice that minimizes the need for water), though as you can see from my initial screenshot, I still haven't worked out the spelling:

I used to spell it ZEROSCAPING, so I'm moving in the right direction, at least. After this, crosses just started falling like crazy, and I never experienced any serious hold-ups. The weirdest thing about the grid was probably the fact that the hardest answer for me to get was a 15. Usually you cut a few crosses through a 15 and you can see what's up, but I had UNDERCOV- and A-ENT before I saw what was going on with 16A: Operative (UNDERCOVER AGENT). That's about as disguised a clue for that answer as I can imagine. I was thinking adjective all the way. Very happy that my first guess at 15D: Rather inclined was correct (STEEP). I had no letters in place and just leapt in there. Luckily, that guess landed, and it gave me the traction I needed to destroy that corner. PUP would've been very hard to see without that terminal "P" (29A: Spot early on?). STALK also panned out as an early stab in the dark (46A: Something out standing in its field), giving me TUTEE, ASIS, and most importantly BANGKOK. Never heard of a ZOOPLANKTON, but it was highly inferrable. Thought maybe the abbr. at 26D: 5-Down, e.g., in brief (PREZ) might be PRES. but SOOPLANKTON ... was not convincing. I don't really get the XYZ stack. That is, I don't know why you think that's good / important / interesting. Your primary concern should be fill quality. As 12-stacks go, I guess this one's OK, but it's not great. I just don't think you should be building your entire grid around something as superficial and ticky-tack as an XYZ succession. Is it meant to echo the ABC in ABCTV? I don't know. I just don't want to encourage themeless constructors to compromise their work like this. Make the best grid possible! That's all that matters!

No idea where I pulled several answers from. PIANOLAS ... sounded like a thing I'd seen before? ARI Lennox ... same. And SAMPAN, again, my brain wanted it, and I just went with it. Pure instinct, zero certainty. But instinct was dead-on today. The TEST part of SOIL TEST took some crossing, but otherwise the bottom half of this puzzle went up in smoke. Down in flames? Out in a BLAZE of glory? Whatever, it was done fast. I probably liked "THE COAST IS CLEAR" over the VALKYRIES best of all. Overall, I had a reasonably good time, though (as usual) not as good a time as I had on Friday.

  • Lists of FEES are called "fee schedules." I don't know why, they just are (4D: Schedule listings)
  • "Head" is slang for "toilet," and in britslang, that's LOO (or LAV, I never know which, but guessed right today) (49A: Head of Hogwarts?)
  • "Spot" is a common dog's name (or so convention would have us believe—I've never met a Spot; see also Fido, Rover). "Early on" in Spot's life, he was a PUP,  presumably (29A: Spot early on?).
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


jae 12:12 AM  

Easy. My experience was very similar to @Rex’s, although not nearly as fast. CINEMAX and XERISCAPING (me too for O before I) got me started and I just kept going. UTE as clued was a WOE and only a couple of minor spelling issues slowed the solve. I thought the XYZ stair stack was a nice touch. Solid with a bit of sparkle, liked it.

Richardf8 12:14 AM  

SNEERing rather than SCOFFing at 1A and attributing the quote to RBG doomed me in the NW; it was the last to fall. I have the soundtrack of Cats to thank for unlocking Sampan. Nothing made me groan.

Joaquin 12:16 AM  

I’ll bet that not one in 100 Americans knows the answer to 24D (BANGKOK). I sure didn’t. And therein lies one of the beauties of solving crosswords: learning new stuff.
Now … on to relitigating BICEP.

bocamp 12:22 AM  

Thx Trenton; wonderful creation! :)


Went thru this one fairly smoothly, with the only holdup at CINEMA_. Ended up with tERISCAPING / CINEMAt. Couldn't find any other errors, so did a mental run of the alpha: 'X' was the clear winner; have to eat the dnf, tho. :(


All told, a most enjoyable trip.

dbyd pg -2 / yd pg -1 (tabbed)

Peace ~ Compassion ~ Tolerance ~ Kindness to all πŸ•Š

JC66 12:42 AM  

I'm no speed solver, but this puzzle went by in a flash.

puzzlehoarder 12:44 AM  

This played medium for me. The biggest single reason was guessing that 30A would be XERICULTURE. My other access routes to the center stack kept getting blocked. Is 26D PREZ or PRES. I thought 24D would be Beijing and I really fell for the 22A clue _ICE_ sat there for a long time and the 23D clue for the royal stumped me. When I finally remembered XERISCAPING the center fell quickly.

The NW and SE corners (with the exception of SOIL) along with the grid spanners we're as easy as yesterday's puzzle. That just goes to show how one bad guess can throw off your game. At least I got that extra 10 minutes of puzzling that made me feel I'd done a late week puzzle.

This constructor is so young I wonder if he's ever even used a YELLOWPAGES I'd kind of forgotten them myself.

The clue for ARI is a debut. I kept wondering why there isn't any room for Annie. VALKYRIES made all clear so no harm done.

I don't often comment the night before of so...

td -0 that's for the Friday list.

egsforbreakfast 1:29 AM  

To shed light on Rex’s XYZ comments, the constructor’s notes on address this. There was nothing at play other than Trenton Charleton’s penchant for using the high point scrabble letters.

I actually liked the puzzle more than I usually like this constructor’s stuff. It felt less gummed up than the usual by gimmicks aimed at inserting j,x,y,z. My only side-eye was at 11D Maneuver in dancing or football (TOETAP). I’m pretty much a sports guy, but the only ways I could see this term being used seem obscure. Like 1) Catch a ball right on the sideline or end zone line and TOETAP to stay in bounds, or 2). Kick softly to effectuate an onside kick. I’m sure I’m missing something, so lett me know.

Overall, a very nice, but overly easy Saturday. Thanks Trenton Charleton.

Larry Gilstrap 1:29 AM  

It's been ages since I commented. Remember me? Pre-COVID, I stopped intellectualizing the solve and OFL stopped night blogging and this Left Coast guy checked out. A little bird told me that the blog was up so here I am. Saturday enough for me, what with those grid-spanners and that beefy XYZ stack. Odd that FDR would be so concerned about being seated, but maybe the quote was from when he was younger. SUNTZU was never on any syllabus I signed up up for, so that fell last. Hi, to anyone from my past on this blog.

okanaganer 1:34 AM  

For the "most visited city", looking at --NGKO- I thought: it had to be HONG KONG with a rebus?

Finished with an error: had Kate Middleton's sister as PEPPA (not the pig). I know, EPA doesn't have much to do with a/the draft, but it sailed clear under my radar. EPA?... fine, good answer, move on.

Here in the arid interior of British Columbia, XERISCAPING is a big thing. More than half the houses in my neighborhood have replaced their lawns with that sort of scape, or have simply given up trying to water them. The last few years, we basically get no rain for 3 months. This year was a doozy: the killer heat dome in June, followed by a drought, and widespread wildfires. (And devastating floods 10 days ago, just to pour salt in the wounds of 2021.) Sometimes I look at videos I took of my newly bought home in 2005: lush green lawns, green bushes... no more.

[Spelling Bee: Fri pg -1; missing a 5 with not a clue what it is.]

chefwen 1:44 AM  

Just knew.Rex would rate it easy as I finished a Saturday with no cheats. Woo Hoo! Got the two long ones 16 and 53A with just a couple of letters in place, a huge help right from the git go. Biggest hold up was I’m SERIOUS before BE SERIOUS, RmV at 6D fixed that up right away.
PUP for Spot early on 29A I thought was really a stretch and OOZIER just makes me cringe. Other than that, a fun Saturday puzzle.

alona 1:59 AM  

Gun = BICEP? I still don’t get it. Relatively easy otherwise, had HOG for LOO initially which caused some trouble.

Andrea 2:21 AM  

If I could finish under 24 minutes and no cheats, that means this was the easiest Saturday puzzle ever!

But I’m not complaining at all, since I loved the whole experience 😊

(Also, why does it bother Rex the XYZ “theme”? It could’ve been almost coincidental, since I truly can’t see the fill being compromised at all by it)

Harry 4:32 AM  

I'll toss a nit at "Most Visited City". I started with New York, until a cross or two forced reconsideration. Turns out that if you consider total visitors, and not just international, NYC is accurate.

I come into a weekend with an appetite for a bit of a challenge. I'm still waiting for this weekend's entree ... maybe Sunday?

Conrad 5:57 AM  

I'm writing for the minority today. I struggled with this one, starting at 5D, where I had gbs instead of FDR. That led to PeEr instead of PREZ at 26D, which didn't get corrected when I decided 1A had to be @Richardf8 Sneer for SCOFF. Then the incorrect terminal "r" required a change to 5D, so I unwisely chose rwr (Ronald Wilson Reagan). Moving on, I had lao Tse instead SUN TZU at 12D. There's a garden supply place near me that specializes in haRdSCAPING, so that was a miscue, and believe it or not red PLANKTON is also a low member of a marine ecosystem.

sf27shirley 6:37 AM  

Guns is slang for big biceps.

sf27shirley 6:38 AM  

Me too

Anonymoose 6:44 AM  

@egsforbreakfast. I think it might be the "other football" where there's a TOETAP, whatever that may be. My brain was locked on real football, too.

The Joker 6:52 AM  

The X,Y,Z thing was just fine but the G,S,N stepdown at the ends of those crosses was just showing off.

OffTheGrid 6:56 AM  

@Larry. Good to see your name again. Love your FDR one-liner.

Lewis 7:00 AM  

Hah! No way I could BE SERIOUS as I solved this. I smiled and laughed as the playfulness in the cluing never stopped. Playfulness – that X-factor that lifts a puzzle from a trek to a treat. Look at these clues!:

[Spot early on?] for PUP
[Collage application] for PASTE
[Vice principle] for SIN
[Something out standing in its field] for STALK
[The book of numbers] for YELLOW PAGES
[It welcomes change] for COIN SLOT
[Where “Lost” can be found] for ABC-TV

Seven prosaic answers brought to sparkling life by impishness, plus the joy of the misdirect in [Book reviewer] for CPA, [One might determine fertility] for SOIL TEST, and [Schedule listings] for FEES. That’s three more plain answers made to shine.

So I, lover of wordplay, am smitten by this puzzle, and I say to you, Trenton, thank you, and please, I beg of you, play on, play on!

Lewis 7:02 AM  

p.s. --

1. On top of all this fun, look at the technical excellence, in particular, how junk-free this 68-worder is. There is much skill in this.
2. Does anyone still use the Yellow Pages?

hatton-man 7:14 AM  

"toe tap" has meaning in both American football and the-rest-of-the-world football. More so in the latter methinks. Thus the clever misdirection of the clue.

Schuly 7:19 AM  

See Ron Burgundy / Anchorman.

Tom T 7:29 AM  

Hidden Diagonal Word clue:

Vegas option (5 letters)

Answer below

Not in my wheelhouse; struggled through it and ended with a dnf--just couldn't see the Z in PREZ. Ended my longest streak to date at 43.

Answer to the HDW:

SLOTS (the ending S is in the 35D block) The word SLOT appears both in the puzzle as part of 17D COIN SLOT and as a diagonal.

TJS 7:43 AM  

@egs, I think your first guess is correct. I have heard "toetap" referring to a receiver getting both feet down in-bounds many times. Seems more like a description than a "maneuver" but close enough,imo.

Was feeling pretty good about knocking this one off until Rex rated it easy, but I guess for a Saturday, it did lack a certain level of difficulty. Clean grid, though, except for "oozier".

Son Volt 7:50 AM  

I had fun with this oddball looking - low word count grid. Overall cluing was slick - both spanners were clear so that sped things up. Had a little pushback in the PIANOLAS section - not being able to buy into OOZIER although liked the slant on the clue for SOIL TEST.

Figure we’ll hear something about the singular BICEP today. I would assume the XYZ stack was the bootstrap for the constructor - it’s so prominent right in the center. Have always loved the stories of the einherjar partying in Valhalla so VALKYRIES was a welcome addition here.

Enjoyable Saturday solve. The stumper is on the easy side today also.

SouthsideJohnny 8:05 AM  

My nit today: There is nothing in the clue for BANGKOK which indicates that you only count people from different countries as visitors, so that seemed a little bogus, but probably within the bounds of “clue” rather than “strict definition”, but I definitely wanted New York there (@Z-meister, can we get a ruling here ?).

Seems like there is a little bit of everything today, from VALKYRIES, SEA HAGs and SAMPAN, to PIANOLAS, XERISCAPING and ZOO PLANKTON - that’s an impressive lineup, even for a Saturday. I’ll just stand aside and gaze admirably at all of you who can actually solve this thing, never mind actually contemplating doing it in like under 20 minutes (OMG and congrats !). Hopefully you all will still be able to enjoy it if tomorrow we get something that is built a little more for those of us standing just to the left of center under the bell curve, solving-skills wise.

mmorgan 8:09 AM  

I once had a cat named Spot.

Nice puzzle. Didn’t see the XYZ but I doubt it would have bothered me. Never heard of XERISCAPING — it looks weird — but I had no trouble getting it from crosses. Interesting that Rex had never heard of ZOOPLANKTON. I don’t know anything about them, but I’ve heard of them. Sun-Tzu was briefly retired Supreme Court Justice David SouTer, but he didn’t stay there long.

Georgia 8:22 AM  

It's slang, a buff guy might call his biceps guns.

Georgia 8:24 AM  

Yes, that's the toe tap, at the sideline catch.

Z 8:28 AM  

Probably my favorite Charlson for the reasons described by @egsforbreakfast. @Andrea - Because Charlson thinks some letters are interesting while I’m more interested in words. The weakness of the XYZ thing is that we get two technical terms and a dated term. I liked them well enough, but they aren’t especially zingy or exciting.

Still, the scrabbliness didn’t weigh this puzzle down. I really liked BE SERIOUS and VALKYRIES and the UNDERCOVER AGENT whispering THE COAST IS CLEAR. I did roll my eyes at BICEP, not because I mind but because others almost certainly will. About the only entry that got the arched eyebrow was OOZIER. Are there really comparative states of OOZIness? Does some slime mold OOZe more than other slime mold? I have doubts. BOOZIER I could believe, OOZIER not so much.

I’m confused by the TOE TAP discussion. It’s been used to describe what wide receivers do to stay in bounds since at least the 70’s. Or is it that I’m old and since I don’t watch football anymore (American football, that is, this Arsenal-Newcastle match is exciting) I’ve missed that the term has fallen out of use? I haven’t notice it used to describe anything while watching soccer (maybe because they don’t use their TOEs to kick a ball?).

@Harry - My question was “according to who?” Now I’m also wondering who qualifies as a “visitor.” And what qualifies as visiting a city. For example, if someone from west Michigan visited “Detroit” back in the naughts by going to a Pistons game they didn’t need to get within 30 miles of the actual city. Would they count as visitors? I’m sure the factoid is asserted somewhere and is probably based on some accepted standard. I just have no idea what it actually means.

kitshef 8:28 AM  

Have just started rewatching LOST. Such a brilliant show.

Weird to have just the one rebus square in the 23 box, and who the heck is PSIPPA?

If there has been an easier Saturday, I don’t remember it.

amyyanni 8:38 AM  

Also up later than usual, not doing the puzzle but listening to Sondheim. Can't really find words to describe his legacy. Even if you aren't a Broadway fan, his lyrics alone are marvelously adept; they bring you up short, provide focus on little things in life, and then make your spirit soar.
Like many, found today's easier than most Saturday offerings, and super speedy for one of Trenton's. And that is perfectly fine.

Z 8:42 AM  

@Southside Johnny - Blame Mastercard Note that it does depend on who does the counting.

I also should note that when I asked Uncle Google (DuckDuckGo, actually) that the top 6 hits tried to answer the question and the next four hits were crossword cheater sites, none of them Rex. Apparently he needs better SEO.

Peter P 8:51 AM  

Played a hint quicker than average for me, but I found the puzzle two weeks ago faster for me. Probably would have played faster if I had heard of XERISCAPING. Took a little chiseling to get that. I had evidently erased YELLOWPAGES from my memory as that answer took embarrassingly long. It should have been a gimme, but I could not think of any book of numbers outside of accounting ledger. I do have fond memories of the YELLOWPAGES. I found my jazz piano teacher using them; my physics teacher taught us how to rip them in half (and a Chicago book was pretty hefty); my army veteran father used to use them for pistol practice -- they did a fine job stopping a .32; they made great door stops, etc. Alas, gone are the days. They still seem to exist in some very abbreviated form, but not like the epic tomes of yore.

@Joaquin - I will admit, my Western biases did inform my immediate thoughts towards cities like London, Paris, New York. Luckily, for me, the K from ZOOPLANKTON was in (though I had seaPLANKTON at first) and Bangkok jumped out. Makes sense, but I had no idea it was _that_ popular, I admit. For those interested in such trivia, the world's most visited cities in order are: Bangkok, Paris, London, Dubai, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, New York, Istanbul, Tokyo, and Antalya. (According to a study by Mastercard.) The figure they give is 22 million international visitors -- and I think that international part is important. NYC in 2019 got 66 million visitors, for instance. Chicago claims about 55M -- but those all include domestic travelers, too.

This puzzle was the perfect Saturday for me. It finished average, so enough fight, and obscure fill was minimal. The only words I didn't know were SAMPAN and XERISCAPING (though the -scaping part was easy to infer), and the only PPP WOE for me was PAMELA Adlon. Most of the slowness came from puzzling out the clues, which is how I like these late week puzzles.

Rob 9:08 AM  

BE SERIOUS reminded me of when my 4th grade teacher made me write BE SENSIBLE 500 times. And I actually had a pup named SPOT then.

pabloinnh 9:12 AM  

Liked this one for reasons already pointed out, and for me the XYZ diagonal doesn't have to be important. Looks like TC was just having fun, which is reason enough.

Re the TOETAP--I go with American football for the sideline dance. There is such a play in soccer, when it's the only way you can get to a ball and shove it at the goal, but I have never heard it called anything but a "toe poke".Fun to remember XERI as the "dry" prefix and SAMPAN from somewhere. And as for OOZIER, uh, no. Just no.

Nice medium Saturday, TC. Not Too Challenging, but lots of smiles. Thanks for the fun.

Nancy 9:14 AM  

Did everyone on the blog find this easy but me? I couldn't get into the NW at all -- the verb for "playing the cynic" was driving me crazy; "hot spots" can be anything from ovens to deserts; didn't know the mult-lettered TV channel; and had no idea who uttered that wonderful speaking advice.

I went due East...and that didn't help either. Yes, I got BOSC immediately, but that only got me uSc for Jesse Owens' school...and that was wrong, as it turns out.

I ended up going SE -- where GETZ got me to something ending in ING for the gardening practice; and there was some sort of TEST at 35D; and there was PLANCKTON of some sort, but it didn't look as though it would be sea PLANCKTON. Don't know much about PLANCKTON. But then ROARED and ANTED and NEONATE all came in and I was on my way. By then CLEAR had come in, and THE COAST IS CLEAR took me back where I needed to go.

Because I found this puzzle harder than many of you, I probably enjoyed it more than many of you did. I never suffered or even "suffered", for that matter: there was always a way out and back to another section. I found it challenging, engrossing and, as far as I'm concerned, very Saturday-worthy.

Birchbark 9:19 AM  

Sincere, brief, and seated, check. I like when a four-letter answer (PREZ) is short for a three-letter answer (FDR).

Post-script: XYZ and all the rest, again and again -- Yesterday I solved a Saturday surprise from the archives and recommend it: November 14, 1998 (Matt Gaffney).

Unknown 9:19 AM  

@ Kitshef "Lost"? "Brilliant"? That show ranks as one of the worst ever, but perhaps because I wasted a whole winter waiting for some sort of reveal to make it all make sense.

OTOH, this puzzle was brilliant and fun.
Not sure why rex has to harp on the XYZ stack, the crosses were all more than fine.

DrBB 9:26 AM  

For me, "Smooth and steady" works out to 12 minutes, so I guess I just can't type that fast. But yeah, pretty easy. And in my personal accounting I feel wholly justified in taking off two minutes. One for what a catastrophe the stupid NYT software is--after weeks of using it, it still makes me stumble, have to correct things that I was TRYING to type in correctly but the infuriating interface generates typos on top of typos that take time to correct and that I sometimes only see when I complete the fill and get "Not quite done yet!", and yes I've tried messing with the solving options but none of them end up doing what .puz does. The whole mess just grinds away at my solve times. So I deduct a second minute for unnecessarily creating a layer of aggravation to obscure what should be an enjoyable (if challenging) Sat. morning ritual.

RooMonster 9:31 AM  

Hey All !
Had a Har! one-letter DNF today at PePPA/ePA. I'm confusing my Pigs with my Royals.

Had a hiccup (hiccough... Potayto-Potahto) in the South, with Brutus in for SEAHAG. So that had me start 53A with iTs. But wanted BEAST for 44A, so erased everything there, and with having ___TISCLEAR, saw it was THE COAST, and remembered SEAHAG.
Side note: I never liked Popeye cartoons. Weirdly drawn/filmed, Brutus as a bully, impossibly skinny Olive Oyl, Popeye a wimp til he eats me spinach, just bizarre.

Anyway, thanks Rex for pointing out the XYZ, I sure didn't see it. @Tom T probably saw it. He of the DHW. Z's splatzed (Hi M&A) in various spots of the grid. Not terrible fill, worst seems to be ABCTV. Although a thing, seems inelegant.

Clever Clue of the Day goes to COINSLOTs. Hariffic.

Nice misdirect in the NW. Had gETS for NETS, which got me ___GAS for 1D. LVEGAS? Har. Too many years living here. Said, "Hey, might be SAUNAS, which would be NETS, not gETS. Trenton, you sneak!" Really, I said that.

Didn't SCOFF at SCOFF, provided the only F's. Do agree it was an easy SatPuz, which is fine by me. Save what few brain cells I have left!

yd pg -4

Two F's

SouthsideJohnny 9:38 AM  

@Z*.* thanks - I would add that it also depends on what they are counting (only visitors from other countries ?) - also, as you mentioned, how does one define “visitor” (length of time spent, distance traveled, et c). I guess by the time we get done lawyering the thing to death, you could argue it down to a handful of of cities, and BANKCOCK would certainly be in the mix, so that’s probably close enough for a crossword clue - ah, another nit dispensed with.

Wanderlust 9:41 AM  

Sun’s out, guns out! (Muscly guys wearing short or no sleeves in the sun.)

Teedmn 10:01 AM  

I had a few sins to repent of today, actually answers that were correct but taken out before finding the correct crosses. There was AMI, my first answer in (and first out.) And both AWL (that OLD TIMEs made 34A sE_L_WP_____ didn’t look promising) and PIANOLAS went in, out, back in. On the other hand, 29A's Spot led me to SUN TZU rather than the other way around.

OOZIER is okay by me. Reminds me of the time I was grouse hunting in a swamp. The mud was a bit squelch-y until I sank in over my Redball boots. One filled in with water and when I tried to pull free, my foot came out. Not known for my extraordinary balance, nevertheless I had to stand on one foot, which was sunk in mud, and try to get back into my now water-filled left boot all while not toppling over into the mud or dropping my shotgun. I can't remember if I managed it without first putting my soaked stocking down in the mud (it was going back into water so what the heck) but I did manage to stay upright with a dry gun and when I threaded my foot back into the boot, I was able to pry myself out of the mud and move to a less “oozier” spot. I don’t think we saw any grouse that day :-(.

Thanks, Trenton, I enjoyed this medium-challenging for me Saturday puzzle.

And @Larry Gilstrap, good to see you back.

Wanderlust 10:09 AM  

They shoulda switched the Friday and Saturday from my perspective. This was so much easier (but not OOZIER) than yesterday. I liked them both. One slow spot was the BLAZE section, because I mistakenly put in the country (Niger) rather than the name, because I wasn’t sure if it was TAP or tip (thanks for the football explanation, everyone - makes sense now) and wasn’t sure if it was TZU or Tsu. The other was in the SW, where I put in AMCTV (never watched “Lost”) and thought the first letter of SOCKS could have been lots of things. But those were minor hiccups.

Was surprised that BANGKOK was the answer, but many of you have explained that the stat counts only international visitors. I fear that a large percentage of them are there for sex tourism. The “sois” or alleys in touristy parts of Bangkok are filled with strip clubs and the like, and a lot of young people are exploited. Aside from that, it’s a fascinating city in a stunningly beautiful country. Wonder what it’s like in this time of no international tourism.

@Lewis already pointed out the plethora of great clues. Like him, I love that wordplay and clever misdirection.

Finally, when I saw that long answer to “you can come out now,” I was hoping the answer was “olly-olly in-come-free.” Did not count letters, and no idea how to spell it, but crosses quickly ruled it out. But a nice OLD-TIMEY moment of nostalgia for childhood games from the days of YELLOW PAGES and UNDERCOVER AGENTs on TV. The real answer is nice too, but that would surely have been a first.

MissScarlet 10:12 AM  

Rex, you do know a dog named ‘Spot’. GW Bush had one.

OxfordBleu 10:20 AM  

Toe taps are a very common feature of soccer practice to improve control and agility.

GILL I. 10:22 AM  

Well, I'll be a rubber duck in a pond full of sharks. BANGKOK is is the world's most visited city? I thought for sure it was Oaxaca......
"Have I Told You Lately That I love You?" Yes....give me whimsy all day long. I draw them. I do, indeed. Oh, please, give me a Saturday like this all the time.
I had my moments of getting up and walking around and pondering and trying to remember and wondering how to spell moments, but my guacamole needed no lime. In the end, the salsa did its fandango tango and I clapped with glee.
Who doesn't like OOZIER and a BEAST full of ZOO PLANKTON? Haven't we all done some XERI SCAPING? And Popeye....wasn't his foe BRUTUS? was that SEA HAG critter.
I did a TOE TAP through the tulips...I did, indeed. And guess what? I knew VALKYRIES......(I cheated on that one)
More pancakes to make......

Nancy 10:22 AM  

I knew Lewis would highlight the inspired cluing of PUP. I meant to mention it myself, but forgot. There are a lot of great clues in this puzzle, but "Spot early on?" is one for the ages.

Bax'N'Nex 10:25 AM  

I’ll never understand Mike’s aversion to using letters of the alphabet in a CROSSWORD PUZZLE!!! Some letters hold less importance in our alphabet?? So sorry, X, Y and Z…you do not rate up with the top letters in Mike’s book,

Just such a prig.

JD 10:27 AM  

XerAscaping was my first entry. The i took a while to evolve. But with its N in place, and later Yellow Pages and Oozier, my city was Rangoon (which I just learned isn't even called that anymore, it's Yangon).

Popeye's first enemy was Brutus til the Sea Hag started filling in. Ari was Ani and Oyl was Oil until the Valkyries showed up. With Popeye's girlfriend being Olive Oyl, was it a missed opportunity for a cross reference or avoidence of the sailor man as a mini theme?

Hung onto thinking of Savage as a verb for a while.

More like, poking around, correcting, until the pieces fit together. So it wasn't easy, but it was doable.

I loved the XYZ affair. Fun Saturday.

Birchbark 10:28 AM  

@Larry Gilstrap (1:29) -- Didn't see your post on the first pass. Great to see you again -- I've missed your deep-dive commentary whenever Moby Dick references show up in the puzzle --

Anonymous 10:41 AM  

Miss Scarlet,
Nope. Rex and his allies memory hole everything and everyone they don’t agree with.
It’s the reason NYC is taking down a Thomas Jefferson statue.
The good news of course is that eventually he won’t be woke enough and they’ll cancel him too.

Z 10:49 AM  

@OxfordBleu - Thanks. I am familiar with that skill and drill, I’d just never really thought about what to call it.

@Bax’N’Nex - Maybe because it is a crossword and wordplay is more interesting than forcing less used letters into a puzzle. Doesn’t seem all that hard to understand to me. Here is Charlson’s primary flaw in his own words, Once I got the idea for an X / Y / Z stack, I had to see if I could make it happen. If you think XYZ is an interesting mini-theme, okay, but how is it any more interesting than GSN? Words are made from letters. Whoop-di-doo-doo.
I just don't think you should be building your entire grid around something as superficial and ticky-tack as an XYZ succession. … Make the best grid possible! That's all that matters! Yep. exactly.

Nancy 10:49 AM  

Welcome back, Larry Gilstrap. Good to see you again! DON'T BE A STRANGER.

Birchbark 10:59 AM  

@Teedmn (10:01) -- I ROARED at you OOZIER memoir. Nature teaches us grace in the awkward how-did-I-get-heres -- it looks like you passed the test.

Anonymous 11:00 AM  
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Kid Phoneme 11:09 AM  

My first couple passes through last night I got almost nothing. I tried Doubt for !a, and started off with Lao Tzu instead of Sun. BOSC was a gimme.

In the light of morning, lost my DOUBT, and went bottoms up, (or south up, and before I knew it I was stalking my final four unfilled squares. (S_A_K & _S_). The whole thing was done in about a little over an hour which is about average for a Saturday. (TDNF 'cause I couldn't identify my misspelling of Valkyries and OYL).

Solid, fun Saturday, with some excellent wordplay in the cluing.

Carola 11:12 AM  

A Saturday pleasure cruise - plenty of fun-to-write-in answers + some inspired clues (PUP!). I liked the parallel desert + ocean references in XERISCAPING and ZOOPLANKTON, and the UNDERCOVER AGENT matching THE COAST IS CLEAR. I'm with those who began the puzzle with a Sneer, but at least that gave me SAUNAS and all of its helpful crosses and then a smooth unfurling down to the bottom. Speaking of the PUP, aren't there some cats named SOCKS?

Do-over: Sneer before SnOrt before SCOFF, and tDR (for Teddy [with a "Really?"]) before FDR. Help from previous puzzles: XERISCAPING; help from reading books about whales to kids: ZOOPLANKTON.

@Larry Gilstrap - Hi from another OLDTIMEY commenter.

JD 11:17 AM  

@Birchbark, Same thought on the FDR thing.

mathgent 11:31 AM  

Very enjoyable. Plenty of crunch for me, but a little short on sparkle. VALKYRIES was excellent, though.

I spend most of my Sundays during the season watching the NFL. The Niners religiously and a lot of Red Zone on the NFL Channel. BTW, Red Zone is a wonder. It has access to all the games and shows whatever teams are inside the twenty (the red zone), completely commercial-free. I don't hear TOETAP. When a receiver catches to bell while balanced on one foot, he keeps that foot inbounds and often drags the toe of the other foot inside the line before going out of bounds. They talk about the receiver dragging his toe, not tapping it.

jb129 11:37 AM  

This was a pretty easy Saturday - especially from Mr. Charlson but I enjoyed it just the same. Thanks!

Stayhat 11:49 AM  

Did anyone else have SEAPLANKTON?
TOETAPS are a drill in soccer- I’ve seen my kids do a million of those.

Joseph Michael 12:02 PM  

Easy?!? No way. I struggled through a lot of white space until finally Stan GETZ showed up. Then more and more white space until I arrived at the SE corner which was this puzzle’s first warm embrace as I sat here humiliated. After that, we started getting along much better. I was able to work my way back up and actually solve the puzzle without a cheat. So, in the end, it felt like an achievement.

Lots of deviously tricky clues (Bad dog, Spot! Bad, bad dog!) and loved the XYZ waterfall (Bad comment, Rex! Bad, bad comment!) Also liked the story unfolding between UNDERCOVER AGENT and THE COAST IS CLEAR. (Maybe it’s set in BANGKOK among all of those tourists?)

And if you combine 60A with 54D, you get what Popeye uses to fill his tank: GAS-OYL-LINE.

Anonymous 12:04 PM  

Did everyone on the blog find this easy but me?

No. I bailed even earlier than usual. Just too corny, what with all those 270 degree turning clues. I suppose if your doing it in some app, where (I assume) you get unlimited over-writes, then you can slog along as long as it takes. Where's the fun in that?

mathgent 12:24 PM  

My favorite posts this morning.

Peter P (8:51)
Wanderlust (10:08)

Whatsername 12:25 PM  

Didn’t find it easy but a very pleasant and doable Saturday with a challenge here and there. Really excellent cluing which has already been pointed out and, as others mentioned, BANGKOK wasn’t even on my radar for 24D. Initial thoughts were New York, London, Paris and even Atlanta but only because it’s the right number of letters.

Shopping Black Friday sales for gifts of CAMO COVER clothing has been a real eye opener. For something primarily associated with such down to earth activities as hunting, fishing, and living off the land, it’s quite pricey.

JC66 12:33 PM  

@Larry Gilstrap

Welcome back.


Loved the "rebus" joke.


If you want to solve in AcrossLite, email me and I'll forward @ Kitshef's Crossword Scraper instructions.

Nancy 12:41 PM  

@Teedmn (10:01). Amazing balance and agility! Remind me not to go grouse-hunting.

OffTheGrid 12:53 PM  

@mmorgan's post prompted me to find THIS CLIP It's very cute and fun (unless you hate cats and Star Trek).

Anonymous 12:59 PM  

Grouse in a swamp? What species?
Curious what state, assuming this occurred in the US.
We’re you hunting with anyone? Over a dog? What breed?
What were you gunning with?
I’m intrigued by your tale.
Thanks in advance.

ghostoflectricity 1:24 PM  

One of my favorite films of all time, Orson Welles's "Touch of Evil."
Welles, who directed, plays a brutal, bigoted homicide cop on the U.S. side trying to solve the murder-by-car-bomb of a prominent gringo and his blonde girlfriend just after their car crosses from the Mexico to the U.S. side (the opening-sequence tracking shot is justly famous and admired). He wanders over to the Mexican side and pokea around a bordello whose madam, Tara (Marlene Dietrich in a great late-career role) runs things. Tara and Hank Quinlan (Welles, who also directed) once had a relationship, but Tara doesn't recognize him at first because he's now obese and has gone to seed. He wonders about the entertainment provided to clients while they await their appointments with Tara's professionals. She explains that they have TV, films on reel-to-reel, and the pianola- "the customers like it- it's so old it's new." Great atmospheric score throughout the film by Henry Mancini, including "Tara's Theme."

okanaganer 1:31 PM  

[Spelling Bee update: yd 0(*). Last night I was missing a 5 letter word; thought I would leave the tab open and give it one last shot today. Lying in bed this morning it came to me clear as day.]

Masked and Anonymous 1:37 PM  

Left mighty few nanoseconds in the bank during this solvequest, at our humble abode.
Kinda enjoyed it, tho -- mainly becuz of:

1. The Jaws of Themelessness. Always a treat for one's puzgrid.
2. The XYZ mini-theme. Flatout luv it, when FriPuz or SatPuz flirts with themation.
3. PUP clue. I know a farm gal friend who currently has a cat named Spot, btw.
4. Some unexpected longball gimmes, along with the hard stuff. BESERIOUS & THECOASTISCLEAR both rolled in, without much ado from their crossers.
5. Learned some neat new stuff, on XERISCAPING & ZOOPLANKTON. And toss in PIPPA, I guess.
6. Got a good, hardy har out of OOZIER.
7. @Nancy's walls evidently survivin the ordeal.

staff weeject pick: ESE. Compass direction meat. honrable mention to PUP, of course. Primo weeject stacks in ESE's region and its symmetric(al) opposite region.

Philosophical inquiry: Do COIN SLOTS dream of change, at nights?

Thanxyz, Mr. Charlson dude. Real nice job.

Masked & Anonymo6Us


Tim Carey 1:38 PM  

I also struggled early on: sEes instead of NETS, brutus instead of SEAHAG, new york instead of BANGKOK... [sigh]

Anoa Bob 1:39 PM  

One reason so many of us had faster than usual solve times may be because there are significantly fewer open squares to fill. The grid has 38 (!) black squares which is quite high, even for an early week themed puzzle. There are a few cheater/helper black squares, most notably the two corner ones hanging out there all by themselves, poor dears.

If something is really OLD TIMEY (3D) shouldn't it be OLDE? Speaking of which, had my first ride in a SAMPAN in Hong Kong Harbor in the 60's while in the USN. Because Hong Kong and BANGKOK are relatively close to the Tonkin Gulf and Vietnam, our ship made port of calls there on several occasions. In both places you could buy pirated vinyl LP records for crazy low prices, maybe one with some smooth jazz from Stan GETZ (33D).

My first thought for Popeye's "foe" was BLUTO (@JD BRUTUS was Caesar's foe) but not enough letters so I had to wait for SEA HAG to fill in.

One of the ways people who were cast adrift on the ocean managed to survive for extended periods was to filter ZOOPLANKTON (and phytoPLANKTON) from the water using, say, a tee shirt. Apparently the stuff collects into a gel-like blob that might be a bit OOZIER than desirable, but it will sustain life until something better comes along.

Anonymous 2:04 PM  

Had goOFF instead of SCOFF, and amMO instead of CAMO. And I've never heard of SEAHAG.

bocamp 2:25 PM  

"XERISCAPING is the practice of designing landscapes to reduce or eliminate the need for irrigation. This means xeriscaped landscapes need little or no water beyond what the natural climate provides. Xeriscaping has been embraced in dry regions of the western United States" (National Geographic Society)

@puzzlehoarder (12:44 AM) / @okanaganer (1:31 PM) πŸ‘ for 0's yd

td pg -2

Peace ~ Compassion ~ Tolerance ~ Kindness to all πŸ•Š

Peter P 3:01 PM  

@Anoa Bob - Brutus was a foe of Popeye from the 60s onwards (although it appears Bluto was reintroduced in the late 2000s). I remember him well. See here: It's clear he's at least supposed to be a different character, although styled after Bluto, perhaps a brother, perhaps a twin.

@Anonymous 2:04 - The Sea Hag is the original/main nemesis of Popeye in the comics, although she is not emphasized in the cartoons.

Peter P 3:07 PM  

Oh, and I personally like my grids with high-value Scrabble letters as it aids in my solving. Much easier to rack my brain searching for words with a Z or J in the middle of them than an S or E. Granted, don't let it get in the way of a tight puzzle by trying to force them in, but to me those are the sorts of "bonus" letters I hope for while solving to narrow my internal word search space to something more manageable.

Z 3:43 PM  

Hand up for having sea PLANKTON at first. That was one of two S to Z writeovers (SUN TsU —> SUN TZU).

@bocamp - embarrassed by what had me stymied in the middle of 661. I blame the cartoon introduction that I had wrong. Finally sussed out how a clue was straight forward sports and boom! Done. Just did #663. Much easier but I have a one letter DNF at the 55D/61A square. Not a clue.

@JD - XYZ Affair πŸ€£πŸ˜‚πŸ€£

JD 4:21 PM  

Zÿ 😜

Teedmn 5:04 PM  

Anon 12:59, Ruffed grouse, northern Minnesota, 20 gauge shotgun I inherited from my father-in-law, hunting with my husband and a couple of friends, no dog.

Anonymous 5:20 PM  

I worked form the bottom up so already had SEAHAG. Therefore I knew there couldn't be another SEA in the puzzle for seaPLANKTON. I tried red before I got the Z from Prez.

Nancy 5:30 PM  

Off the Grid -- I don't quite know why, but the ending made me burst out laughing. So unexpected.

Anonymous 5:49 PM  

Thank you! I know your posts.. There was NO way you weren’t telling the truth, but frankly, the swamp threw me. As you know, grouse are an upland species and swamps are, well, not TYPICALLY upland habitat. But I sure as hell have seen them close to, if not a swamp, patches swampy enough to do until some geographer/hydrologist comes along to tag it as such.
I love, love, love that you were game enough to go after something as tough as grouse. It’s the state bird of PA., my state.
They’re in terrible decline so I don’t hint them anymore. I
And your father-in-law seems to know his stuff. That you carried his gun is terrific.
The 20 gauge is the perfect upland gun. Perfect. And I’m embarrassed to admit I don’t own one.
One last question. Do you know the Sax-Zim bog? It’s a Mecca for birders ( yes I’m an avid birder and wing shooter. Sue me).
It’s one of the country’s most reliable sites for Great Gray Owls. A magnificent bird notably missing from my life list.
Anyway, glad your balance was good that day long ago. Hope it still is.

bocamp 6:00 PM  

@ZΓΏ (3:43 PM)

Congrats for hanging in there! I can see how that area would be problematic. I had the advantage of getting the sports one right off, so the intro was not an issue. I did have severe issues in the NE, tho, but after an hr. or so, finally got it sorted out. Will likely be doing 663 on Mon. with @jae.

Peace ~ Compassion ~ Tolerance ~ Kindness to all πŸ•Š

Teedmn 6:36 PM  

Anon 5:49, every couple of years the local paper runs an article about the mid to late owl watching at Sax-Zim but I've never been. There's also supposed to be a summer butterfly mecca up the north shore from Duluth that I've haven't seen but maybe when I retire...

And I haven't heard any grouse drumming in recent years. I'm not sure where they are in their cyclical population curve. I don't hunt anymore. Got a couple of turkeys in my day when they were scarcer. Now I spend the winter running them off my deck so the other birds get a chance.

Unknown 6:37 PM  

Can someone explain how the ‘UTE’ people discovered mechanoluminescence? Mr. Google credits it to Sir Francis Bacon…

Anonymous 7:06 PM  

So… full disclosure, I bought my hunting license last year but never went out.
This year I haven’t even gotten my license. I’m incredibly ambivalent. I’m not sure I want to kill anything anymore, ( And please, please, spare me the Double speak “ harvest”—- not you.Hunting mags etc)
About 15 years ago there was an incredible Great Gray irruption. If Minnesota wasn’t the epicenter it was close.
At the time, I was dating the woman who would become my wife. It was high times of course, and we went everywhere chasing birds— to tick off our life list with binoculars, not hunt. I toyed w the idea of flying us out there for a wham bam shot at getting a great gray.
The fact that I didn’t is my greyates regret. And a buddy of mine from Wharton hipped me to Microsoft in 1989. I passed. πŸ™„

Anonymous 7:17 PM  

For the record, Teedmn is the real deal
Grouse population is cyclical.
If anyone wants to discuss the importance of early successional habitat,
let’s have at it.

Also Teedmn,
A drumming grouse is one of the natural world’s great joys.

Peter P 9:50 PM  

@Unknown 6:37. Here's Wikipedia on triboluminescence:

"The Uncompahgre Ute indigenous people from Central Colorado are one of the first documented groups of people in the world credited with the application of mechanoluminescence involving the use of quartz crystals to generate light."

Granted, it does qualify the Utes as being "one of the first." Francis Bacon is then credited with the first scientific reports of it.

albatross shell 11:32 PM  

I didn't know quartz and mechanolumenesence until a Cherokee showed me.

I saw grouse in swamp adjacent areas quite often in my swamp tromping days. I found one in my back yard dead with a broken neck. Clipped by a vehicle while flying too low across the road?

Was I the only one to have STAcK (as in hay) before STALK?

@Z and others
IN Wordplay the constructor explains why he likes to start with some unusual letters in his themeless puzzles. He likes them because it stimulates his imagination, focuses his mind and creates less commonly used words for a fresher feel. Anyway that is my interpretation. And this puzzle shows the method works for him.

I actually was thinking OLDe sign would work but was hoping it wasn't. It wasn't.

Do COINSLOTS dream of eclectic change?

old timer 2:30 PM  

Did it though not so easy or fast. I do have a great clue for Dove: "Where in Italy is Rita?" Dove means "where is" and you will ask yourself that often, as in the somewhat useless, "Dov'e' mi albergo?" (Where is my hotel?). A question often asked in Venice, the country's capital city of getting lost.

Speaking of Italy, not much of Northern Italy is ALPS. Mostly, the Po Valley, lots of cities and industries, but flat. There are some splendid ALPS near the Swiss border, and I am told, excellent skiing.

Stevied 5:50 PM  

I really believe his time claims are bullshit. Just watch when he solves live. Egotistical bullcrapper

Stevied 5:51 PM  

Lying about his time as always.

Stevied 5:52 PM  

Bullshit time claims

BC 11:29 AM  

Once I changed my mistakes: 24A: Neons & 24D: New York, it went faster for me. Thanks for the explanations- pup & loo - oh yeah

thefogman 9:36 AM  

My newspaper erroneously attributes this puzzle to Robyn Weintraub. But it’s not Robyn Weintraub who constructed this puzzle. She’s much better than this.

spacecraft 12:13 PM  

OFF, you can not BESERIOUS!! Easy? EASY????? Oh sure, we ALL know XERISCAPING. And whoever that PAMELA is. And we're gonna really fill in OLDTIMEY?? Gimme a break. This wasn't easy, or medium, or challenging. IT WAS IMPOSSIBLE!

Waxy in Montreal 12:21 PM  

@the fogman, my paper (Montreal Gazette) also lists Ms. Weintraub as the author - THEUNDERCOVERAGENT in me wonders if AWL newspapers carrying the syndicated version haven't ANTED up their STEEP FEES to the NYT so were supplied OLDTIMEY info.

Happy New Year to all in syndiland! OYL certainly drink to a bOOZIER one.

Burma Shave 1:37 PM  


NIGEL, there IS no BAILOUT one GETZ,
don't SCOFF at AWL at LOO STALK,


rondo 3:11 PM  

My schedule had etaS before FEES and there was uSc before OSU, just didn't remember that one. Otherwise pretty straightforward IMO. Trenton CHARLSON gets credit in both the St. Paul paper and the fish wrap from Mpls.

In the land of the LOO, PIPPA Middleton is considered a yeah baby.

I did notice the XYZ stack; decent puz.

leftcoaster 4:53 PM  

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Got most of them after cheating.

P.S. I’m not a good Saturday solver.

leftcoaster 5:16 PM  

@rondo --
What’s your problem with the Mpls. paper? “Fish wrap” is kind of a nasty joke, isn’t it? I’ve noticed your use of the term from time to time. Just curious.

rondo 5:46 PM  

@lefty - Mostly just because I grew up with the Pioneer Press and they cover stuff on this side of the river. I learned to read thanks to the daily delivery of the StPPP. Also learned math before first grade reading baseball standings, stats and box scores in the paper. I try to avoid the other side of the river as much as possible. I lived in Mpls for a couple years while going to school. You can have it.

leftcoaster 7:04 PM  

@rondo - But still, why “fish wrap”?

Diana, LIW 8:52 PM  

I certainly hope this doesn't set the puzzle tone for the year. Just sayin'

Diana, the Lady

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