Miami five / THU 12-23-21 / Old-timey agreements / Morgan Stanley acquisition of 2020 / Heath genus that's also a woman's name / Certain international soccer championship familiarly / Free-fall phenomenon informally

Thursday, December 23, 2021

Constructor: Stephen McCarthy

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: A.O. Swap — familiar phrases where the second word is changed into a different word by having the "O" and "A" swap places. Destination: Wacky Town!

Theme answers:
  • "A CHRISTMAS CORAL" (17A: Reef deposit hung on the holiday tree?)
  • VITAL ARGON (31A: Noble gas you can't live without?)
  • CAFFE MACHO (41A: Starbucks order for a man's man)
  • TAKES TWO TO TONGA (59A: Buys tickets for a couple of friends for a Polynesian getaway?)
Word of the Day: ASHEville (3D: Lead-in to a Southern "-ville")
Asheville (/ˈæʃvɪl/ ASH-vil) is a city in, and the county seat of, Buncombe CountyNorth Carolina, United States. Located at the confluence of the French Broad and Swannanoa rivers, it is the largest city in Western North Carolina, and the state's 12th-most populous city. According to the 2020 United States Census, the city's population was 94,589, up from 83,393 in the 2010 census. It is the principal city in the four-county Asheville metropolitan area, which had a population of 424,858 in 2010, and of 469,015 in 2020. (wikipedia)

[source: NPR]

• • •

This seemed way too untricky for a Thursday, so naturally I was suspicious. I finished it up assuming that the theme was just anagrams ... of the second word in a phrase. I didn't get it. Didn't seem like enough of a gimmick to meet Thursday Gimmick standards. So I stared at the "anagrams" a little harder, like some dope staring at one of those Magic Eye posters in the '90s, trying to see something they can't see but that they're sure must be there, and that's when I noticed that the "anagrams" are not merely letter jumbles: the only letters that move are the "A" and the "O"—they simply switch places. So it's an elegant little anagram, but ... honestly, it just reads as an anagram. If there is some element to this theme that I'm missing, at this point, I'm gonna say that's the puzzle's fault. I don't think most solvers are even going to notice the narrow terms of the anagram. They're just gonna think, "oh cool, I was able to finish the Thursday without much hassle, nice!" or "is that it?" The wackiness definitely gets better as the puzzle goes on (that is, as you descend the grid), but a half-wacky letter-swap puzzle somehow still doesn't feel like it's reaching Thursday heights of lunacy. This was clued like a Thursday (i.e. toughish), but the puzzle definitely felt more like a Wednesday (just as Wednesday's felt more like Tuesday). So I'm left feeling kind of BLAH about this one. 

I'm very much in favor of HERDS CATS as an answer and D.C. STATEHOOD as a matter of national politics, so the long Downs today are doing their jobs nicely, from my perspective. I'm less fond of RIAA, the letters of which I can never remember ... Recording Industry of America ... something? Hang on ... Recording Industry Association of America, there we go. It's primarily an excuse to get three consecutive vowels into the grid. I trip over it every time I see it in crosswords, though today I actually didn't trip at all (except in trying to remember what its letters mean). And then alongside RIAA we had this unwelcome guest Yet Again:

Truly the lowest form of kealoa*. I thought "Well, the puzzle had ITTY the other day for the stand-alone word, so ITSY probably only gets clued with "bitsy," so ... since this one is stand-alone, let's go with ITTY!" So of course the answer was ITSY. You see how stupid this is. You know it's one of two things but even with *three-fourths* of the letters in place you can't call it. This may seem like an ITSY thing but I just want you to see why these baby-talk word variants are much much worse than most other throwaway short fill. Throw me a bone with "___-bitty" or "___-bitsy" so I can just get it and move on, or else don't use it. No pleasure is being gained here. All you can do is diminish the pain.

Lots of old (old) friends in this one, including John RAE, James ENSOR, ENOS and the ARCO station. Really paid to have lots of olde-time solving experience under your belt. Still haven't mastered the ASTON / ASTIN distinction, so I had a minor error there (John ASTIN = actor, ASTON Martin = car, ASHTON = actor in "Dude, Where's My Car?"—you're welcome). Best error of the day was when I wrote in GLARE for 47A: Cause of the moon hitting your eye like a big pizza pie, in song (AMORE). Brain "hmmm, something about light hitting your eyes ... ends in -RE ... must be GLARE. Next!" AYS is bad, mainly because it could've just been ACS (as in "air conditioners"). Instead, we get this plural (?) non-word ... how is it "ay" and not "aye" if it's an agreement??? Put your dictionaries away, please, you know this is awful. Also, is this "old-timey" or just Scottish. Looks like in Scots, spelling convention is usually "aye" for "always, ever" and "ay" for "yes," but not always, and anyway you can see how it would be confusing, what with "aye" obviously meaning "yes" in most crossword contexts. And if the assent is AY then why isn't it AY-AY, captain! So dumb. Anyway, all of this madness is obviated by the simple switch to ACS, which is both straightforward and non-old-timey. Especially in the plural. More than one AC unit, makes sense. More than one old-timey assent ... less plausible.

Happy run-up to Christmas, whatever that means to you. See you tomorrow. And hey, if you don't already have a New Yorker subscription, you might want to seek out the Dec. 27 issue (out this week). It's a puzzle-themed issue, with lots of wonderfully inventive content. Also, it contains a reference to yours truly, so there's that. Bye!

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

*kealoa = short, common fill that you can't just fill in quickly because two or more answers are viable Even With One or More Letters In Place. From the classic [Mauna ___] KEA/LOA conundrum. See also, e.g. [Heaps] ATON/ALOT, ["Git!"] "SHOO"/"SCAT," etc.

P.S. the [Miami five] are THE HEAT because they're a basketball team

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Lewis 6:33 AM  

Recently I mentioned crossword intuition, which develops over time, and here are two examples of it in action from my solve today.
• When I looked at the empty grid, intuition said, “No rebus, some kind of word manipulation in those long acrosses.”
• When I came to that ancestor of Noah, my grid intuition shouted “ENOS!”, then my logic said, ”But it could be someone else, like Adam or Seth.” “No!,” the intuition roared back, “It’s ENOS!” So I placed him down.

To which I say, God bless crossword intuition, a dear friend especially at the end of the week.

And it helped make this a fairly hitch-free solve today. My favorite answer was the ain’t-that-the-truth HERDS CATS, and it is a NYT puzzle debut. The set is elegant, a five-letter last-word a-o switcheroo. My two favorite clues – and, coincidentally, both have the aura of resistance – were [Passage blocker] and [In the way of], which each employed beauteous wordplay for NAY and ALA.

Thank you, Stephen, for a lovely ride!

Conrad 6:38 AM  

My @Lewis crossword intuition didn't help at 1A, where CI said yada instead of BLAH. Got it straightened out when I realized that a black-eyed pea is not technically a yuca. Other than that a fairly straightforward solve, with side-AYS to 42D.

Cliff 6:43 AM  

The A for O swap appeared to me in plenty of time to assist with the solve of the last three theme answers. But then, I solve slower than Rex, so I have more time to notice things. If you fly through the puzzle, maybe you tend to miss such things mid-solve (???)

OffTheGrid 6:45 AM  

I say this is the best puzzle of the week. The theme was neatly done and the wackiness was amusing. Cluing was spot on. Stephen McCarthy NAIL(ed) IT.

I love kealoas, or is it loakeas? They make the fill a tad bit more difficult, therefore more interesting, and hence more fun.

Unknown 6:53 AM  

Odds are that, one day, there will be a puzzle with both ITTY and ITSY, and I fear that you may have a stroke. And should they cross...

pabloinnh 7:12 AM  

A wheelhouse on a Thursday is a mixed blessing, because you do the puzzle fast enough to miss the A-O thing, which is what I did. Thought it was just a lot of low-grade puns, and I like puns, but after the CHRISTMAS theme disappeared after the first one there wasn't much that filled me with the joy of the season.

Best thing for me was finding FAT adjacent to FLATTER which made me think of the old Hank Williams tune--

You get FAT, and I'll get FLATTER
Settin' the woods o fire.

Outside of that, I missed any kind of rebus or tricksiness that I was looking forward to.

So thanks for a fill in the blanks day, SMC. Simply Mildly Challenging, but OK, so thanks.

PS-The SB is going to be a bear today.

kitshef 7:12 AM  

Lots of questions today.

Why would love make the moon look like pizza?

Is cave art actually ETCHED? As opposed to engraved?

Is John RAE crossworthy? I was on a walking tour in Kirkwall and they talked about him (glowingly), but I think before today that is the only time I’ve seen or heard the name.

Joaquin 7:24 AM  

Re: 47A: There are a ton of “That’s a moray” puns so I will just leave you with this and show myself out:

♫♫ If on your pizza you spy
Some pineapple - oh my!
That’s an “Oy vey!” ♪♪♪

Eric NC 7:26 AM  

@Lewis. No comment on OFL’s Asheville post. Lovely area. Love your positive posts.

Trey 7:28 AM  

Started with yada instead of BLAH. Oh well. Puzzle was not BLAH today, and the A to O switch was obvious to me after the second theme answer. Enjoyable, and a rather easy puzzle other than my problem noted below. My favorite theme answer was VITAL ARGON, as it tickled me as both a science nerd and transplant surgeon.

My toughest part was due to my lack of familiarity with Starbucks offerings (as a non-coffee drinker). I have possibly heard of the drink in passing, but CAFFE is not quite "coffee", and not quite "cafe" (as in Cafe au lait) - do I need two Fs, two Es, or some other letters here? This, crossed with AYS was a near-Natick. It also took be awhile to see how FLATTER fit with the clue given (nice mis-direction, as I had sLAThER for the longest time). My other issue was ASTiN or ASTON, but the cross helped there once I reviewed my answers

Twangster 8:10 AM  

It's a tribute to A.O. Scott, the Times' film critic.

mmorgan 8:14 AM  


albatross shell 8:21 AM  

I had fun on this one. I can see how I easily might have solved it from top to bottom if I had gotten some gettable stuff at the top. But no, I was dense, even forgetting the first E in ASHEVILLE existed.

So I hit bottom with only a smattering of answers in. I got a few short downs and translated the clue for the long themer to IT TAKES TWO TO TaNGo pONGo TONGo TONGA. Bingo. O A switcheroo. Aha, hooray. Then fairly quickly and smoothly (for me for a Thursday) solved South to North. Enjoyed all the theme answers and much of the fill. Mostly agreed with Rex's criticisms which he kept cheerful about. Maybe there is something to this holiday spirit that's getting to him. He has been quite cheerful lately.

John H 8:24 AM  

I thought the a-o swap was obvious from the get, and it never occurred to me to think of it as an anagram. Don't know why Rex has a problem with this. Enjoyed this very much, and laughed out loud at "takes two to Tonga."

albatross shell 8:31 AM  

Also RAE and ENSOR were unknown to me. I am glad to learn them as old crosswordese. Love the title of the painting, undecided on the painting.

Same as @trey on the Starbucks drink.

Keith D 8:34 AM  

@OffTheGrid 6:45 am - agree with you re “kealoas”. They have ALWAYS been a part of crossword puzzles. Annoys me that Rex feels it his duty to stamp them out. Annoys me more how desperately he’s been trying to coin the term “kealoa” these past few weeks.

Yes, I need a vacation, sigh… liked this puzzle, if not a tad easy for a Thursday.

Son Volt 8:34 AM  

Agree that a little more trickery was needed but I had fun with this one. Themers were all nice and especially liked that we had no revealer. The long downs were neat - but got lost with all the oddball trivia. That center block was pretty rough - AYS, MUG, FAT etc. The SINE clue as always is awkward.

Was hoping for a tough rebus today - but this ended up being an enjoyable Thursday solve.

Whatsername 8:36 AM  

Cute theme and nice fill but the level of EASE was pretty high for a Thursday. Just felt more ALA Wednesday to me.

Would those MEN in 63A be MACHO by any chance? My 5’ nothing 99 pound niece, who is a real PRO with a BOW, might bruise an EGO or TWO in that archery contest.

HERDS CATS is one of the best clues/answers I can recall in many years of solving … and something I attempt occasionally. More likely than not while suffering the disdain of my DOGS who look as though they wonder what EVER possessed me to invite those annoying FAT felines to invade their peaceful home in the first place.

Z 8:40 AM  

I was going to post a link to the local newspaper columnist’s humorous take on that NPR story, but it is behind the subscribers paywall. Let’s just say that a decade or so of being on assorted “Best of” lists invite all sorts of different problems.

I loved the theme. I do question the puzzle placement because this felt more Tuesday level of difficulty to me. Only real hang-up was I don’t generally drink Starbucks so didn’t really realize that they went with the Italian CAFFÈ instead of the French Café. I should have (venti, not vingt), but I didn’t. Which always makes me wonder if anyone will make diacritical remarks today. I was also slowed a little squeezing through those two little gaps that join north and south, making the south feel like an entirety separate solve. But restarted with SINE easily enough and worked more or less clockwise back to putting in the Y at LOYAL/AYS for my last letter. But those were minor hiccoughs in a pleasant solve with one genuine laugh out loud moment with CAFFÈ MACHO. I can’t decide if that’s what they drink on the set of those TV football shows or if it’s the official coffee of MMA or, … I dunno, … maybe what Fabio and Schwarzenegger drink in the morning.

jberg 8:45 AM  

After wondering what word might start with ACHR, I realized that it might be A CHRISTMAS -- but I didn't write it in, and didn't notice how many letters were left over (i.e., just enough for CORAL). And then I got EASTER, so I thought maybe we were going to run the holidays.

But then I saw VITAL ----- at 31A, and it was obvious what was going on. But -- what was I supposed to do now? Take the clues literally, and write in CORAL and ARGON? Or interpret them as coded references to CAROL and ORGAN? So I just put in the consonants, and waited for crosses (a new kind of kealoa!) Finally PRO gave the game away; then all I had to do was figure out that the Starbucks product was a CAFFE (@Trey, Italian, not French) and that was that. I'm probably never going to get to TONGA, sigh, but we are going to Hawaii soon (if the pandemic doesn't prevent it).

The gender-neutral synonym for archers is BOWyErs. Fortunately, it didn't fit.

@kitshef, I always interpreted that line as hitting your eye literally -- i.e., knocking you for a loop.

PhysGraf 8:52 AM  

I will be procuring and hanging a piece of coral on my tree this year. Wackiness should ensue.

Chet Orang 8:52 AM  

Struggled even after completing the puzzle with the A/O swap, just couldn't get my brain there. Finally clicked after reading Rex and applying to MACHO/MOCHA.

But let's talk about the real elephant in the room, HERDS CATS! I was really stuck with HERD as the first four and then...SCATS??! SKATS!?! I even thought HEAD SHOTS with some form of the A/O switcheroo. The wheels almost came off but I righted the ship in the end. A gratifying slog.

amyyanni 8:54 AM  

Rex started out with Wacky Town (not good), then featured Asheville (hi @Lewis!) so I winced, fearing he was going to disparage the NC burg. And he kinda did. I like Asheville, great bookstore, Malaprops, and a neat marathon at the Biltmore Estate.
Also had a good time with the puzzle.

bocamp 8:56 AM  

Thx Stephen; very smooth Thurs. creation! :)


This was my Wednes. puz. lol

From BLAH to the DOGS, with no real bumps along the way.

Had sLAThER before FLATTER, iMIGRE before EMIGRE and yada before BLAH.

Fun adventure; liked it a lot! :)

@Z 8:48 (PM yd)

Thx for the heads-up re: Anna Shechtman's article. The site doesn't let me in, but I'm reading it via Apple's News app.



yd 0

Peace ~ Compassion ~ Tolerance ~ Kindness to all 🕊

Z 8:57 AM  

@Whatsername’s comment made me realize that maybe 4D isn’t as easy for everyone as it was for me. If you know the names Bennis and Nanus you may have this book in your collection. But I’m guessing Warren Bennis probably isn’t generally crossworthy. Was HERDS CATS obvious to most people?

Tom T 8:59 AM  

A truly delightful Hidden Diagonal Word (HDW) appearance at the very top of this puzzle, where BAH (begins at 1A/D) of "humbug" fame, intersects at the H of A CHRISTMAS CORAL!

And given that I loved the A/O switches and was able to complete this Thursday offering just seconds off my best time in the midst of a busy CHRISTMAS week, I would choose another HDW from this grid to summarize my evaluation of Mr. McCarthy's effort: AOK! (begins at 47A/D).

Blue Stater 9:00 AM  

No gimmicks! *Excellent*!!

Anonymous 9:06 AM  

Herds cats certainly should be obvious to nearly everyone. It's a phrasee ( and concept) familiar enough to be the premise of a Super Bowl Ad a few yearss back. And nobody's spending $11 million a minute to be oblique. All the visuals, words, and concepts are as low a denominator as it gets.

Frantic Sloth 9:26 AM  

This guy is a goofball, so I like him. 😁

Still batting 1.000 as far as I'm concerned. Silly-punny theme, which admittedly didn't take a lot of effort, but silly-punny theme.
Perhaps not worthy of the Thursdee slot, but that's not on him.

Not bad fill either - good for a dash through the grid, so DISC brakes NEED NOT apply.

Wasn't Hector CAFFEMACHO a boxer?

DOGS are AGOG as ERICA HERDS CATS. And who wouldn't be?


Conrad 9:31 AM  

@Unknown 6:53 AM: Don't give Will any ideas. If he thought it might get OFL off his case, Shortz would publish a puzzle where ITSY and ITTY cross at an S/T rebus square, with the former clued as "What's the sixth vowel?" and the later as "How do you communicate with the hearing impaired?"


TJS 9:31 AM  




pmdm 9:32 AM  

Takes two to Tonga? That made me laugh, which is a good thing. So regardless of the relative difficulty of the puzzle and the day of the week, the puzzle gets a thumbs up from me.

This may or may not be a reply to Z's query. I am not aware of the reference, but I know that cats are hard to train. (Is that common knowledge?) So it was easy enough for me to fill in 4D with a few crosses.

Trey 9:33 AM  

@Z 8:57 - HERDS CATS was the theme of a Super Bowl commercial years ago that made a big splash among those that watch the SB for the commercials. It is a concept that gets used commonly in my word (more commonly said as "that will be like herding cats"), so I assume that it is relatively well known. I do not ever recall using that phrase and having someone ask me to define what it means.

Speaking of odd phrasing, my co-worker was trying to explain probability to someone earlier this week, and said "Just because you roll the dice and it comes up heads, does not mean that it will come up heads next time". I had to laugh on the inside

Anonymous 9:34 AM

Whatsername 9:36 AM  

@Z (8:57) The CAT clue as stated was obvious to me and I’d say probably was to most people. I was just comparing it to the futility of actually attempting to gather multiple cats together in one place. If you’ve ever tried to do that, you also understand how apropos the expression really is.

RooMonster 9:44 AM  

Hey All !
Got down to V_T_L_RG_N, and wrote in VITAL ORGAN. Scratched the old head as to how it worked for the clue. Erased the AIOA, saw PRO, and had an actual aha/lightbulb moment, saying, "Ohh, if you switch the A and O, you get VITAL ARGON which fits the clue!" I really said (well, thought) that. So figured it out at my first theme get. I be smart. Got a good chuckle out of the last and best one, TAKES TWO TO TONGA.

Haven't heard of ENSOR. Monet, Manet, some others. But ENSOR? Nope.

Fill not too bad today. Do agree with Rex on changing the Y in AYS/LOYAL to a C to get ACS/LOCAL. Also hand raised for yada first for BLAH. Also had Adam first for ENOS, as I don't know how far down the line Moses is in the Bible, and with all those great-s, figured it went back to the beginning. Call me blasphemous if you must, but I don't know the Bible intricately.

FAT could've been clued as a Weird Al Yankovic song. 😁

Merry Christmas to all if I happen not to be back in time. Going to Florida with my mom to see my sister. Mom doesn't want to spend Christmas here for the first time without my Dad.

yd -8, should'ves 5 (3 were "musical")

Two F's (not TANGOing)

burtonkd 9:44 AM  

@Whatsername - no need to actually HERD CATS, just set out a box they haven't seen before and wait 5 minutes. What's going on in your house in that it's the cats that are disturbing the peace?

@Keith D - agreed. It is fine and useful to have a shorthand term "kealoa" to describe the phenomenon, but just a matter of time that it is shorthand for a negative complaint whenever they appear, like listing all 3 letter words back to back. I always thought it was a feature rather than a bug unless crossing something equally ungettable, unlike "Easter" from today.

If you live in NYC and you say you grew up in NC, Asheville always comes up as a place people refer to when informing you that there are nice parts of your home state, along with the cities of the "research triangle" and the Outer Banks. I wonder what is up with those lists, and am questioning my understanding of "lowest standard of living", maybe confusing it with "cost of living". Perhaps they are referring to the 400,000+ in the surrounding greater Asheville area.

My road cyclist friends rave about Asheville and the surrounding roads and climbs in the Blue Ridge mountains. National Championships just took place there.

Don't worry Asheville, my hometown of Hickory showed up on "top 10 most depressing cities in the USA" lists a few I think of Lewis and Z now.

Was hoping for a tricksier Thursday, but this was fine, nonetheless.

I was thinking "That's Amore" is kind of a cringe-fest of mid-century Italian stereotypes, but it was always meant tongue-in-cheek.

Chaiminded 10:06 AM  

What's so Australian about SHRIMP on a barbie?

Nancy 10:20 AM  

Oh, if only I'd thought of BLAH blah blah at 1A, I might not have had to abjectly leave the NW and travel elsewhere in what was for me a "keep the faith" puzzle. Faith that if I went elsewhere I'd eventually have enough crosses to enable me to solve. But all I could think of was Yada, yada, yada -- which now that I think about it, isn't even spelled right. Or is it?

Also, I don't skate and couldn't think of LACE up. So dumb! I tried ice skating once and all I could remember was that the boots were stiff and uncomfortable and that the blade of the ice skate caused hideous pressure against my [then falling, now fallen] metatarsal arch. So all I could think of was BOOT up, which I knew wasn't right.

Would you believe that the first thing I was able to write in was the -ER of "more ragged" at 6D? So feeble.

I finally got the theme all the way down at TAKES TWO TO TONGA. At this point everything else made sense and I was able to write in A CHRISTMAS CORAL. And then -- finally -- I knew I'd solve the thing.

I had to run the alphabet to get the "Y" of LOYAL for "true" when I had LO-AL. Don't ask.

And what was that food item that the devastingly handsome and beyond magnetic Aussie, Paul Hogan, was "throwing on the barbie" in that ad? When you're staring at Paul Hogan, do you really notice the SHRIMP? It took me a lot of crosses to remember it. But I love thinking about Paul Hogan and may continue to for the rest of the day.

I found this puzzle crunchy, playful and absolutely delightful.

Carola 10:21 AM  

TAKES TWO TO TONGA for the gold, with HERDS CATS right behind. An easy theme but fun to solve in a post-CORAL "what will he come up with next?" kind of way. Having noticed the A-O switch early helped a lot with ARGON and MACHO; in the last one, TAKESTW... brought a laugh and a quick finish.

MOANA made a nice Polynesian complement to TONGA. I'm not sure how many commenters without kids or grandkids will have seen it - this scene is terrific on the big screen: Lin-Manuel Miranda presents celestial navigation with great verve.

Do-overs: sEed before BEAN, nolde before ENSOR. Help from previous puzzles: RIAA and, like @Lewis, and auto-ENOS.

Newboy 10:22 AM  

🎼It’s beginning to look a lot/a ton like CHRISTMAS every day this week?🎶

mathgent 10:27 AM  

Enjoyed it immensely. The four themers were cute, it had sparkle, had to fight through a potential Natick at ERICE/RIAA, only 14 threes.

Dean Martin released That's Amore in 1953. That's why some of us aren't familiar with the lyric.

The clue for HERDSCATS doesn't click for me. I would prefer "Does the impossible." Nancy can come up with something better.

Jeff Chen conferred with the constructor on this puzzle and they discussed inserting a revealer. They decided against "Vowel Movement." What a pity.

JD 10:37 AM  

Took me a while to get Coral and at that point the old incandescent flickered on, "Ah, then that's Vital Argon." And have to say that for some reason I think Vital Argon is absolutely hilarious. You want wacky, there it is, the first clue/answer I've ever planned to turn into a mom joke. It's coming, and it's coming soon. Soon as I can work it in.

But I was never going to get Zap Ego & Agame (a Greek firm with offices throughout the world specializing in microwave class actions). Persisted to no avail. With at least one letter I think I'd have gotten Poles (which reminds me of a conversation I had years ago when the word Unipolar showed up somewhere and an engineer told me it was utter nonsense).

Wait, just realized that Takes Two To Tonga is funny too. @Frantic, Hector …😀.

@Gill from yesterday 😀, I dropped the suit. Abhorrent behavior. They aren't even practicing anymore. Kicked out of the bar. And now that I know @Whatsername has one, they must be delightful little critters.

Canon Chasuble 10:37 AM  

Oh it's hard to say "Oly-ma-kitty-luca-chi-chi-chi"
But in Tonga, that means "No!!"
If I ever have the money,
'Tis to Tonga I shall go.
For each lovely Tongan maiden there,
Will gladly make a date.
And by the time she's said:
It is usually too late!

Michael Flanders and Donald Swan
One of "Three songs for our time."

Anonymous 10:41 AM  

Oh great... now we'll start seeing 'What's a Kealoa' question along with the 'What's a Natick?'

SouthsideJohnny 10:47 AM  

Loved the clue for ERICA, as I never heard the term “Heath genus” which sounds absolutely bizarre - apparently it has something to do with shrubbery or flowers. I also have to admit to finding some solace in the fact that Rex is bugged by the ongoing ITTY/ITSY saga - it’s exactly how I feel when one truly esoteric PPP entry crosses another one (or a NYT made-up word), it’s the same question/dilemma - why bother creating a puzzle with squares that virtually no one will be able to fill in or discern without guessing ? The idea just doesn’t get much traction with the Shortz crew.

The PPP-laden SW (ASTON, MOANA, RAE) was tough - the fact that those small corners don’t have large access points doesn’t help any either). I think I’m learning my Disney Princesses though (MOANA, ELSA . . ).

I think THE Miami HEAT basketball team has more than 5 players - although I guess “St. Louis nine” for CARDS mights sneak in as acceptable - “New England eleven” or “Montreal six” for PATRIOTS or CANADIANS not so much.

jae 10:49 AM  

Easy and easier than yesterday’s. Me too for yada at first. This would have been an OK Wednesday with a clever and mildly amusing theme. Didn’t hate it.

Joseph Michael 10:50 AM  

Enjoyed the puzzle, though the theme feels a little irregular. If A’s and O’s swap places in the themers, we should end up with, for example, TOKES TWATTA TONGO (Has a hit of Polynesian marijuana).

As a hopeless dog lover, I don’t understand cynophobia, but I also know that people can have fears about anything, even fear itself. When FDR warned us about this, he might not have realized he was talking about phobophobia.

Highlight of the puzzle for me was HERDS CATS. Low point was either RIIA or AYS. Instead of the latter. I mistakenly went with OYS, so I guess I was thinking about old-timey gripes.

Masked and Anonymous 10:52 AM  

Cool vowel movements puz. Was kinda surprised to see its somewhat easy theme mcguffin turn up on a ThursPuz, tho. Does have some primo Christmas references (and an Easter bonus), tho -- sooo … ok.


staff weeject pick: AYS. @RP: Not exactly sold on ACS as a sub for AYS. Would call it more of a a toss-up. And then ... ya gotta go with LOYAL over LO-CAL. QED.

best Ow de Speration: TATTIER. Wanted RATTIER. But not AC-TTIER.

fave clue: 36-D one for ENOS. Enjoyed the 5 greats.

Thanx for the fun, Mr. McCarthy dude. Good job.

p.s. Well, shoot -- we enjoyed visitin Asheville, @Lewis.

Masked & Anonymo1U


Z 10:53 AM  

So at least a few people are unfamiliar with the term. Like @Trey, it was just a part of the work place lingo. Even if you’ve never heard the term it is wonderfully evocative and relatable, so it certainly seems like it should be in the language beyond just corp-speak. I no longer watch football, I’ve seen exactly one super bowl since I stopped, and only because my wife dragged me to a Super Bowl party at a friend of hers house. Every bit as boring as I remember. Anyway, I somehow missed the ad, which is surprising because I watch lots of sports and those ads usually become ubiquitous post super bowl.

@Whatsername - 👍🏽 - Your comment just spurred the question.

@mathgent - If they had used “vowel movement” I’d think the read is. I know at least @LMS and I have used it, and probably a few others I’m forgetting.

@Yada Folk - I lucked out by seeing the blacked eye pea clue before writing down anything. That’s a pretty rare four letter kealoa I think.

Z 11:05 AM  

Like I forgot Mighty Masked & Anonymous. Way to throw it in my face before I even hit “publish” @M&A. 🤣😂🤣

@Chaiminded - Nobody has answered you yet. Back when Crocodile Dundee was still a thing there was an ad campaign with him finishing with something like “we will throw another SHRIMP on the barbie for you.”

bocamp 11:23 AM  

ASHEville always a gimme; niece lived there.

Fave: TAKES TWO TO TONGA (hi mmorgan, John H, pmdm, Carola, Roo, JD)

@Z (8:57 AM)

Yes to HERDS CATS. 😹

@mathgent (10:27 AM)

'Vowel Movement' would have been a classic; what a wasted opportunity. 😂

For those not already familiar with Matt Gritzmacher's Daily Crossword Links. You can also sign up for a daily email with links to all the xwords, many of which support the .puz format.

td pg -3 (agree with @pabloinnh (7:12 AM) re: the 'bear')

Peace ~ Compassion ~ Tolerance ~ Kindness to all 🕊

JD 11:24 AM  

@Z, As I recall (always an unreliable reference*), Herd(ing) Cats was popular in the 90s. Getting engineers from five different firms and 10 different disciplines to work on a government proposal that had a page limit and a strict deadline using time they couldn't bill was herding cats. It spilled to the school where teachers started saying it, so it got around.

I've never heard anyone say Herds Cats, but the trope is there.

*It's all Drunk History to me, even when I was sober.

albatross shell 11:26 AM  

Chicago nine: CUBS
Chicago ten: WHITESOX

Since our solving descriptions sound so much alike (doh at the top and turned it around with the tango switcheroo) I feel I should mention I ran the alphabet on LO_AL too. And felt embarrassed too. Deteriorating minds drain in the same gutter?

Anonymous 11:36 AM  

To be clear I wasn't suggesting that people had seen the cat herding ad--though 100 million peolle did watch the game. And as you note the ads used in the game are used afterwrads. Whats more, lots of the gab-fest TV ( Morning shows, afternoon talk shows etc) critiques the ads, so there's exposure for people like you who dont watch the game. Clearly many people see the ads. But none of that was my point.
The point is that Super Bowl ads only use terms and concepts familar to people.. You dont have to see the ad, but the ad agencys --given the enormous expense of the ad--make sure that if you do see it, you'll understand it. QED: herding cats is a fmailar phrase.

Shirley F 11:38 AM  

Herding cats - in case there's anyone out there who hasn't seen it, this commercial is absolutely hilarious:

Favorite cat cartoon: by Piraro, naturally. In the snow with mountains and pine trees in the background, a guy wearing mukluks stands behind a dogsled, which is hooked up to six cats in various stages of cat-like repose: one giving itself a bath, another rolling into a luxurious stretch, two sleeping, etc. The guy standing next to him remarks, "I think in this case you're going to have to give in and be a 'dog person'."

Favorite cat joke: Q - How do we know the world is round? A - If the world were flat, cats would have pushed everything off by now.

Shirley F 11:45 AM  

Southside Johnny at 10:47am: The hockey team is actually spelled "Canadiens."

Lewis 11:50 AM  

Here's that article that @z referred to re Asheville.

I've lived here in Asheville for 10 years and love its beauty, its food scene, the arts it offers, it's liberalness, and especially the weather and gorgeous gorgeous natural surroundings. No regrets in the least about moving here...

Joe Dipinto 11:55 AM  

I don't buy Rex's ITTY-ITSY complaining today. If I'm at the same juncture as Rex's in-progress grid choosing between S or T as 28d's third letter, I'd immediately see that only S works for 37a. EAST-- could be EASTER, EASTON, EAST OF. EATT-- could be...nothing. That would take about a second to resolve itself. I guess Rex doesn't bother to look at the crosses.

The theme idea here is good but the wackiness meter registers low. I like the two discarded entries the constructor mentions at XWordInfo better than the ones that were used: PACHELBEL'S CONAN (composer's impression of a late-night host) and BOOK 'EM DONNA (clue not given). But otherwise the fill is generally fine.

Flight 59 boarding now for Tonga. No dancing or grooving until the seat belt sign is off.

Frantic Sloth 12:04 PM  

Thanks, Rex. Now I can't unsee ENOS and the ARCO Station:

The show where The Book of Mormon meets Pump Boys and Dinettes.

So, apologies to @Lewis, but my "crossword intuition" doesn't help...unless you want inane distractions.

@Cliff 643am Nailed it! Rex misses a kealoa of things for rushing through the grid. Serves him right, IMHOPancakes.

@Z 🖐 for the ease of HERDING CATS. The answer, not the exercise.

@JD 1037 Is that a gauntlet I see? I give - you win. And best of luck with the VITAL ARGON mom joke.

GAC 12:11 PM  

Any puzzle that has the answer "takes two to Tonga" is a winner, even if it has a lot of bad fill - which this puzzle has not.

Frantic Sloth 12:13 PM  

@Shirley F 1138am 🤣🤣🤣 I'ma let you be my friend...Please?

puzzlehoarder 12:18 PM  

A bit on the easy side for a Thursday. Three to four minutes faster than yesterday. No rebi so I could have saved the piece of paper and done it on my phone.

yd -0

Bad Mouse 12:31 PM  


WOW!!! just went all Bette on a righteous Southern seat of conservatism. I bet you'll lose one or two readers.

egsforbreakfast 12:35 PM  

@kitshef 7:12. Why would love make the moon look like pizza?

Maybe it’s not causality, but rather correlation. Or, more, likely, the very act of an extraterrestrial object colliding with at least one half of your external photon receptors causes love, although there have not been enough documented instances of this to produce meaningful scientific comment on the phenomenon. But an excellent question to ponder while pro sports leagues shrink their schedules.

Little-known correllaries:

When some brew hits your ear and it tastes like it’s beer, that’s amore

When some fruit hits your hair like a tarte made with pear, that’s amore

When some ice hits your nose til that sucker is froze, that’s amore

Like many, I loved this easy Thursday, particularly TAKESTWOTOTONGA. Thanks, Stephen McCarthy.

Anonymous 12:38 PM  


tag line in many an Aussie travel advert on the teeVee.

Frantic Sloth 12:51 PM  

@pmdm 932am It is common "knowledge" that cats are hard to train, but it's really a myth. Every cat I've ever had was easily trained, but perhaps the beatings helped. OMG - erase! Erase! Erase! Seriously, though - it's all in the attitude of the person doing the training. If it's bigger than the cat's, then that's all the battle. Luckily for me, I'm no shrinking violet.

@Roo Safe travels and warmest wishes for you and your mom. The first Christmas is always hard. ❤️

@burtonkd 944am LOL! Here's the quadcatic (we had 4) equation: the level of feline-induced destruction of paper goods (boxes, bags, tax returns) is directly proportional to its/their importance.

Re: ASHEVILLE, and lists. I've learned to completely distrust/discount such best of/worst of lists ever since my hometown was once named the best place to live in the US.

mathgent 12:51 PM  

My favorite comments this morning.

John H (8:24)
Joseph Michael (10:50) -- phobophobia!

Whatsername 1:03 PM  

@burtonkd (9:44) It’s not so much that the peace is disturbed as it’s just a natural dog/cat battle of wiles. Actually they all get along quite well. If there are any scuffles it’s usually between the cats who pretty much rule the roost. And you’re absolutely right about the box. 😂

@Nancy (10:20) Me too with the yada yada. And LOYAL. And Paul Hogan. Definitely Paul Hogan.

@Z (10:53) 😉👊

@JD (11:24) what a relief! 👍

@Shirley F (11:38) Love the cat humor. I saw a similar cartoon of St. Nick and his sled with the caption “Why Santa doesn’t use cats to pull his sleigh.”

Whatsername 1:09 PM  

@Roo: The holidays are tough but a change of scenery is always a good idea. Wishing you and your mom a safe journey and blessed Christmas.

Anonymous 1:16 PM  

I'll let you in on a secret, a secret especially fitting for readers of The Times and solvers of its crossword puzzle.
Ashville, NC is a joke. And here's the verity:
The true New Yorker secretly believes that people living anywhere else have to be, in some sense, kidding.

Joseph Michael 1:29 PM  

@mathgent, it's a real word! Glad you enjoyed it.

Anonymous 1:54 PM  

Wait a minute... didn't a Mod curtail the "political" thread, i.e. Bette Midler y'day???? Of course s/he did. I guess if it's your Blog, you can do what you want. One might wonder how the Mods will respond if OFL's rant yields another tsunami of rancor? Shall we test their mettle?? Everybody into the pool!! Cannonball!!!

Bill OK 1:58 PM  

“Caffee” macho? Coffee is the word.

Canon Chasuble 2:06 PM  

And with apologies to Walt Kelly.

"Did you herd cats?" my grandma asked
My grandpa leapt in fright.
Your grammar dear, seems wrong to me
"HAVE you heard cats" is right.

okanaganer 2:23 PM  

I too loved HERDING CATS. The Mythbusters actually did a segment to see how hard it was (answer: impossible).

[Spelling Bee yd: pg -1 missed this word which oddly, for one definition originated not as a mashup word but instead from French.]

Mohair Sam 2:49 PM  

Visited ASHEVILLE several times on business. Beautiful area, wonderful town - liked it so much we seriously considered moving there upon retirement. Where do these numbers come from?

@Lewis - Yeah.

kitshef 2:53 PM  

@Joe Dipinto 11:55 - love PACHELBELS CONAN but it screams for a sword-and-sorcery clue.

@egsforbreakfast 12:35 - now THAT's how you answer a question!

pabloinnh 2:58 PM  

@bocamp-Started playing the SB before I woke up, I think, because for some reason I was trying to use Q as the central letter. Boy, does that make it hard.

Stuck on pg-3. I'll plug away for a while.

kitshef 3:02 PM  

Rex's Asheville rankings are from an NPR article called "The best and worst places to live if you only care about money" (he has the link below the screenshots).

That article references a Stanford study, but the link to that study is broken.

I'd say, if you only care about money, you are already in a kind of personal hell, and where you live won't fix that.

Z 3:15 PM  

@Frantic Sloth 12:51 echoes my take on all these various lists. ASHEVILLE was US News and World Report’s #34 best place to live just 14 months ago. It and Grand Rapids, MI have exchanged the “Beer City USA” title several times in the past decade. It’s all just noise. It’s a great place to live if you like things like mountain hiking and dining out and craft brewing. If seeing a bear cub* climbing a tree across the street at the end of your 7:00 a.m. dog walk (whose presence Zeke the wonder dog alerted me to) is your idea of awesome then this is the place. ASHEVILLE is also a good place to have a bear join you for an after movie beer. But I wouldn’t want to be 25 and stuck in a service industry job and trying to live in town (which is what that NPR story really seems to be suggesting- wages here are stuck in 1999 but cost of living isn’t).
@kitshef 3:02 - Well, sure. It’s still nice to be able to afford food and shelter if you’re working 40+ hours a week.

@Bad Mouse - Southern Seat of conservatism - 🤣😂🤣😂🤣 - ASHEVILLE’s unofficial motto is “Keep ASHEVILLE weird.” Granted, drive out of town in any direction for five minutes and you’ll start to see stars and bars, but ASHEVILLE is so not conservative that the NC Legislature has been known to pass ASHEVILLE specific laws.

@Lewis - Boyle also wrote that news story, but I wanted to share the column he also wrote. It says this is “for subscribers only” so I suspect most people won’t be able to see it.

@Anon 11:36 - Persuasive, but not as persuasive as the Mythbusters having done an episode.

@JD - The idea that schools are the organizations that best exemplify “loosely coupled organizations” was already around in 1994 and Bennis & Nanus were publishing their work in 1988, so it didn’t take long. My university grad program combined Ed Leadership classes with Business School classes because there was so much overlap (well that and not needing to hire more profs for intro level Masters classes).

*No - cubs are not usually seen in December. The larger male was last sighted the first week of December and we thought the mom and four cubs were already hibernating. It’s been warm, but this is still unusual.

Lewis 3:33 PM  

@Z -- Dang, I missed that column. We get the paper but don't subscribe online, so I guess I missed it permanently. I wondered at why you called the piece in the paper funny; it seemed to written pretty straight...

Anonymous 3:38 PM  

Scanned comments, but may have missed ... Don't get 60D WWI Isn't that World War I? Why is that 1939? Thanks. /s/ Confused.

Anonymous 3:59 PM  

Off work today so I got to solve earlier than usual. Today played ALOT/ATON easier than Thursdays usually do for me. In fact, the whole week has.

JC66 3:59 PM  

@Anon 3:38

WWI was referred to as The Great War until 1939, when WWII started.

Z 4:01 PM  

@Anon33:38 - Until 1939 there was no WWII.

@Lewis - Online access is included if you get the paper delivered. I do not know how to set that up, though, since I did it years and years ago when I lived in Detroit and got the Free Press. BTW - This is true for all Gannett newspapers and just about every other newspaper I am aware of, so all of you people still getting a paper delivered should be able to access everything online, too.

Anonymous 4:30 PM  

Thank you to Z and JC66. Much appreciated.

pmdm 5:17 PM  

Frantic Sloth: Grew up with my grandfather/father running a small grocery store before the supermarkets took over. It was always watched by a mouser (cat). For the most part, they were quite intelligent and needed no training. (The cat that always got lost if more than two building distant must have been retarded.) If they wanted to do something, they were easy to train to do it. If not, it took a bit longer than training the average dog or parrot) (based upon observing my relatives). They have been quite useful keeping vermin away. But they are very picky eaters. although I must say the cat that loved corn on the cob was hilarious.

Anonymous 5:31 PM  

"Takes Two to Tonga" --- love it!

Verdant Earl 5:36 PM  

Had to check the calendar. Flew threw this one like it was a Monday. By far my best Thursday time.

Smith 5:48 PM  

@bocamp this morning

Thank you... just waiting...

Anoa Bob 5:57 PM  

Like most of yous, I thought the themers were clever and for the most part stuck the landing. CAFFE MACHO seemed odd to me seeing as how I thought it was CAFÉ. Oh, it's an alternative spelling. Remember the bad old days when clues often included the dreaded "(var.)"?

I would be remiss if I didn't mention that the grid fill got some help from the plural of convenience (POC). There are some of the two-for-one variety where a Down and an Across share a letter count boosting final S at their ends. POLE/EDGE both get a one letter boost while ETCH/EURO show how a POC can give one entry a two-letter boost. And the most common site for a POCifying S, the lower, rightmost square, gives TAR/DOG a leg up, so to speak.

There's also a stealth POC where HERD CATS isn't up to the task of filling its slot. The committee is still pondering if the S at the TAKE TWO TO TONGA and LET BE crossing counts as a two for one POC. What think yous? Any AYS in commentariat land?

Smith 5:58 PM  

@ShirleyF 11:38

Thanks for the chuckles!

Eniale 6:29 PM  

Isn't Asheville where Ann Patchett has her bookshop? Don't be lazy, Eniale, look it up...... Oops, no it's Nashville. Sorry.

Such an easy Thursday, only real write over was for TATTIER once I realized the need for ETRADE, but I still think Rattier fits the clue better.

pg -5

Z 6:49 PM  

@Anoa Bob - A different language, not a spelling variant. Starbucks Italian.

Anoa Bob 7:50 PM  

@Z, maybe I didn't check thoroughly enough but I think it was wiki that had the two F spelling as an alternative to the one F CAFÉ MOCHA. Also the unwackified MACHO had me thinking Spanish, so that may have also thrown me off.

albatross shell 8:26 PM  

LETS-TAKES strikes me as a single POC (despite being technically a double) because there is a bit of an argument to make for theme forgiveness, and since the common form of the phrase is it TAKES TWO TO TANGO. TAKE TWO TO TANGO just doesn't cut the mustard colored rug. Also I am not enough a European soccer fan to know for sure, but it seems to me that the championship (singular) is known as the EUROS. So maybe only a single POC there. In addition there is a double faux POC at ENOS-ETHOS. Of course ENOS would be a singular POC if clued as Brian, Irial, Hannah, and Darla. So sayeth albatross the lawyer, the double s singularity.

sf27shirley 9:03 PM  

The second world war started in 1939. Previously what became WW1 had been called The Great War.

Joe Dipinto 9:49 PM  

Just slightly off topic, but—

Did anyone notice the Brain Tickler by Will Shortz yesterday? It was a question:

What do a jack-in-the-box, a mattress, and a stream all have?

So I'm looking at it thinking, it can't be SPRINGS they want, can it? I mean, any six-year-old could guess that. Is it some kind of trick question?

Then I forgot about it. But I just noticed the answer in today's paper, and of course it is:


What level of idiocy is the Games Section going to sink to next?

sixtyni yogini 10:06 PM  

Yay! ASHE ville! ❤️🤩❤️ Proud of this place! Had to be my favorite clue and answer.
Good one. 🧩 Good fun. 🤸🏽‍♀️
Seasonal cheer!

Anonymous 11:27 PM  

I always found it odd. the 'World' didn't go to war until 12/7/41. what became WWI was often referred, on this side of the Pond, to as The European War. It didn't become WWI until the Yanks joined in, 4/6/17. seems the same logic should be paid to WWII and 12/7/41. prove me wrong.

albatross shell 1:00 AM  

The term "World War I" was coined by Time magazine on page 28b of its June 12, 1939 issue. In the same article, on page 32, the term "World War II" was first used speculatively to describe the upcoming war. The first use for the actual war came in its issue of September 11, 1939.


jaymar 2:06 AM  

What is RIAA

Joe Dipinto 11:03 AM  

@jaymar – Recording Industry Association of America. It awards gold records for sales and protects artists' rights (fights pirating). It does have a website...

ririjordy 11:09 AM  

I feel like 17A clue could've just been "Reef wreath?"

thefogman 10:21 AM  

BLAH! Does anybody remember editing?

thefogman 11:04 AM  

Wordle 222 2/6


Diana, LIW 11:21 AM  

I never was a great speller, but I do know how to look things up. (Place smiley-winky emoji here)

So I got a few wrong - including royALARGON. I mean, "royal" is "noble" - right? blah blah you-kno-what

Diana, Lady-in-Waiting for Crosswords

Diana, LIW 11:22 AM  

and...what is so darn hard about herding cats? Just be nice to them, and they'll follow you everywhere. sheesh

Lady Di, Cat Herder

Burma Shave 11:43 AM  


LET'SBE at EASE about being MACHO,
IT's NOT A VITAL SINE of defeat;


rondo 12:02 PM  

Whatchoo talkin' 'bout Rex? It's the speed solvers unlikely to catch that it's the A-O switch. You proved it! I saw it on the second themer, as I suspect many others did. OFL needs to check that EGO at the door.

ZEROG, ETRADE, AGAME . . . hmm. Is it a SINE?

Better than a rebus puz. Dang near wacky. BLAH BLAH BLAH

spacecraft 12:25 PM  

I started at the bottom, so TAKESTWO...was easy to spot, and the clue strongly suggested to swap the A/O in T-NG-. Saw the switch in the next one up, so the (herded?) cat was out of the bag early. Question: who got the cat INTO the bag in the first place? Packing for the St. Ives trip must've been a nightmare.

The natick at sq. 27 was last letter in. I had no clue what went in front of _IAA, but at least E_ICA kinda pointed me toward the R. Did I know that was a heath genus? yeah, right. Thanks for the "female name" part of the clue!

An OK puzzle, with a timely (but not for us Syndilanders) holiday reference. A couple of fill owies here, but not many. Par.

leftcoaster 6:31 PM  

Good theme ONCE I started solving from the bottom up. NW was its usual peril, and didn’t come out of there without being ZAPped.

Liked TAKESTWOTOTO[A]NGO[A] , the best of the themers IMO.

Otherwise, woe is me.

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