Item in a husk / FRI 8-5-22 / Some cowboy wear / One might offer a sweet message / Sleep aid said to reduce anxiety / Ending with play or plate / Frequently flooded area

Friday, August 5, 2022

Constructor: Erik Agard and Brooke Husic

Relative difficulty: Challenging

THEME: none

Word of the Day: BALAYAGE (9D: Hair highlighting technique) —

Balayage (from the French, meaning 'scanning, sweeping') is a technique of free-form painting on clean, styled hair. The results are subtle, and thus more natural-looking than foiling or chunking.[1] Balayage in its many variations is currently[when?] trending in Hollywood.
• • •

Hello! Rafael Musa (Rafa) here, first-time Rexword blogger, and a byline you may recognize from USA Today (edited by one of today's constructors!), AVCX (co-edited by another of today's constructors!), and Universal. Excited to fill in today for a puzzle by two greats, both of whom I've had the privilege of working with!

First, a note on symmetry. Mirror symmetry is rare for themeless puzzles and allows for unusual geometries like the stack of 10s in the middle of the grid -- it's a fun shake-up for more seasoned solvers. Though it does come with a set of tradeoffs, as it's hard to avoid corners heavy with 4s and 5s that can feel less exciting to crack.

Onto the puzzle itself! I found this quite challenging for a Friday and had a solve time solidly in Saturday territory. This was mostly due to some devilish (in a good way!) cluing. Things like [Eats outside, perhaps] for STREET FOOD ("eats" being used a noun) and [Make a lead balloon?] for RACE AHEAD (think not lead the material, but having a lead -- pronounced "leed" -- in a race) really elevated the solve, but did slow me down a bit. The latter clue is particularly wonderful because both "lead" and "balloon" change meanings in the wordplay, and the surface sense is rock-solid -- absolutely stellar!

These crossword stilettos are iconic

The only real problem area for me was the left-middle. Tough clues (to me) on HARES, PEN, ACES, CHAPS (which was new to me in that context), as well as vague clue on PIES (there are so many holidays in so many different cultures and places! And so many foods are round!) had me floundering for a while but eventually I got there. I desperately wanted HEN for the swan, and "leporids" didn't mean anything to me. Perhaps this puzzle would have been better to run on a Saturday? Or with a more straightforward clue for one of those entries?

I did wish there was a tad more zing in the long fill, and that there were more longer slots. Here the mirror symmetry is hard to work with, as it can be harder to pack in more longer slots with its constraints. But still, stuff like BALAYAGE, HASHTAGS, STREET FOOD, WEIGHTED BLANKET, STILETTOS, POWER YOGA, RED TAPE are all delightful. All the short fill is also great -- not a piece of crosswordese in sight.

I've also noticed a move toward including mini-themes and motifs in themeless puzzles at the NYT. Though there's of course no "correct" take on this, I'm personally not a huge fan of this shift! We have 5 days a week of themed puzzles already, don't mess with my sacred themeless weekend!! Me being a themeless purist aside, I didn't think the juice was quite worth the squeeze in the paired answers here. WEIGHTED BLANKET is outstanding, but I had never heard of HEAVY SECURITY as a standalone phrase, and it doesn't Google super well. But it's possible HEAVY SECURITY is more of a thing than I'm making it out to be!

All in all, a fun (and challenging!) Friday puzzle that stood out for its great fresh clues.

  • THEY SAY [Word is...] — At first I couldn't decide whether I liked this or it felt partially, but looking back at it I'm a big fan of its conversational vibe
  • GNATS [Cloud often seen in the summer] — Another fun clue -- nice way to elevate a familiar entry
  • ETTA [Blues guitarist Baker] — I loved seeing a new (to me) ETTA in this clue for another familiar entry
  • CRAIG [Name that anagrams to something you might smoke] — I feel like there's a lot of controversy about these name clues that don't reference a specific person. I personally love them! And in this tricky corner, I appreciated the easier angle.
I'll be back next week with another post!

[Follow Rafa on Twitter]


Anonymous 1:22 AM  

Delightful post!

okanaganer 1:22 AM  

Hi Rafa (love your tennis superstar namesake) and welcome. Yes this was Saturday level challenging! Yes HEAVY SECURITY is a thing, but not a terribly sparkling thing. I actually somehow had CLOSE SCRUTINY there at one point; don't ask me how it fits the clue.

I also appreciated RACE AHEAD, but only well after it became painfully obvious that was the answer. Me: "how on earth... lead balloon == race ahead?" Later: "Ohhhh!"

Lotsa first names here: LEE, CRAIG, ELTON, ETTA, DIANA. Initially had CHET Baker for the blues guitarist... wrong! he was a jazz trumpeter. Shows what I know.

Comp. SCI!... takes me back to 1979 trying to finalize my major; seriously considered that (or maybe astronomy) but chose physics. Then for grad school switched to architecture. Then lasted 10 years in that field, and on a whim took a different job (computer animation / digital video production) which then led to a different job in website programming in the early 2000s. Heaven!! Loved it; excelled at it at first, but having arrived a bit late and with aging and without the normal background, eventually found myself unable to keep up with the constant change. Retired from it in 2018. I really wish I'd gone straight into that and saved some floundering decades.

[Spelling Bee: Thurs 0; the pangram gave me an earworm of that 1960's song...all day.]

jae 1:53 AM  

Medium. Just about right for a Friday. BALAYAGE was a WOE, acre before BALE, and spelling STILETTO (always an adventure for me) were the main speed bumps. Smooth and solid, liked it.

@Rafa - Nice write up, thanks for helping out.

Loren Muse Smith 2:29 AM  

Hey, Rafa- thanks for filling in! I agree that this one played more like a Saturday. Like you, I struggled the most over in the west. Didn’t help that I had “spurs” for too long.

Other mistakes:
“Acre” for BALE (hi, @jae)
“Ear” for OAT
“Lit” for SCI
“Hen” for PEN – I’m sure we’re legion today, Rafa.
Oh, and “boogie” for SADDEN but I didn’t actually write it in, just considered it

Fun to have HARE crossing RACE AHEAD. I had “pumas” there forever since “leporid” feels feline-ish and I can’t spell.

I’ll also admit that I think I say in abstentia with an added T. Oops. See also my pronunciation /exasterbate/ for exacerbate. Oh - and an added R in familiar (/fur*mil*yer/), stolen I guess from my /libary/. Yet I’ve managed to lead a perfectly normal life. (“Exasterbate” could be a cheeky portmanteau, but I’m too priggish to explore that further.)

Three most excellent clues, the ones for GASPS, RED TAPE, and STILETTOS.

I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a playLET. PlateLET, sure. The suffix is a diminutive, so you could argue that a saucer is a kind of platelet, right? A short excursion from Venice to Murano would be a triplet.

I like the clue for STREET FOOD that has “eats” as a noun. Before I figured it out, I was thinking about sweating and squinting and shooing flies and GNATS, all while baking al fresco and trying to pretend I’m thrilled that we decided to forgo the glorious, air-conditioned, bug-free indoors. I’m utterly mystified that people would choose to eat outside in the summer. But I’m too much of a weenie people-pleaser to speak up and be That Person.

“Fierce, hard-to-control sort” – pretty much any terrier.

I’m a big fan of the occasional mini-themed “themeless” puzzles. Revisiting HEAVY SECURITY to describe a WEIGHTED BLANKET amused the heck out of me. I’ve never tried sleeping under one, but if I could find/afford one that was big enough, I’d be game. The ones I always see are the size of throws, and they’re Always too little. Who wants a blanket that forces you to choose between covering your toes or your upper body? A couple years ago, I got an oversized throw from Sam’s that is E. Nor. Mous. I call it The Beast. Perfect napping throw for a lazy February afternoon.

Joaquin 2:30 AM  

BALAYAGE crossing Vicar ELTON left me high and dry in downtown Natick.

The last time I was in need of the services of a hair salon was more than twenty years ago, but, as I am fond of saying, "Of all the things I've ever lost, I miss my hair the least."

Erik and Brooke, separate or together, never disappoint. Great puzzle (and super blogging by Rafa, too).

jcal 2:48 AM  

Hi Rafa, Welcome to Rex-land and thank you for a fine write-up too. I originally thought that 6 across was going to be "LIT crit" in honor of Rex, but oh well. Happily I knew "hares" and you're right- the clue for "gnats" was fun. My yoga friends were amused at power yoga. Thanks again!!

Ashley 3:02 AM  

Go Rafa!! Completely agree about HEAVY SECURITY not quite fitting with WEIGHTED BLANKET and also loved the clue for CRAIG! I also thought the KIWI clue was cute and for some reason the word SMUSH being in the puzzle tickled me. Got LATKE instantly for some reason but PIES was one of the last to be filled. I had EAR in for "item in a husk" for the longest time >:( I never do Fridays because they scare me but I pushed through and partner solved this one when you told me you were doing a guest post. Looking forward to the next one!

werkzeugeraldi 3:09 AM  

Top notch;)

Breakfast Tester 3:19 AM  

I hear what you're saying about mini-themes, but I think those two long acrosses really don't even qualify. The entries are otherwise unrelated, and it's the just the kind of cross-reference clueing you find in any grid — themeless or not — often applied to shorter, non-symmetrical answers. It's really just their length and placement that makes them seem theme-y. If you had to say what the theme was, what would it be?

For what it's worth, I didn't care for whatever it was trying to be, especially because HEAVY SECURITY barely even seems like a known term. HEAVY SCRUTINY seems like a more in-the-language interesting entry.

Good write-up! Thanks. 🤠

Conrad 5:06 AM  

Trouble in the east because BALYAGE at 9D was a WOE. The SW was problematic: bet before HBO for the 55D network, siLo before BALE for the farm unit at 59D eArlS before DAMES for the nobility at 48D, and I don't know "Frozen" geography.

Anonymous 5:40 AM  

I loved this. SMUSH, CANDY HEART, and WEIGHTED BLANKET evoke visceral pleasure, like someone’s coming up to give me a big hug. I also loved the clues on KIWIS, SOON, and STILETTOS, and I thought the two “Round holiday fare” clues were well done - I love that they’re drawn from holidays of two different religions/cultures. ARENDELLE, POWERYOGA, and “A Black Lady Sketch Show” were also a joy to see, and DIANA clued without a surname felt delightfully cheeky. Overall felt like a solid Friday to me with a wonderful infusion of female and/or millennial references that are right up my alley <3 thank you for a great puzzle!

kitshef 7:11 AM  

Much, much easier than yesterday. A little worried about WoE BALAYAGE crossing rASPS or GASPS and aLTON or ELTON, but that was the most reasonable combo.

Hemimalapop when sEcurityBLANKET had to be altered but the SECURITY part reappeared later.

Anonymous 7:11 AM  

There were a couple of AHA's, but mostly it was WTF's, and "Ok, if you say so".

There are clever clues-the best kind.

There are tricky clues-these can be fun.

There are deceitful clues that just try too hard to be obscure-these show a lack of construction skill. They exist for the pleasure of the constructor, not the solver.

Anonymous 7:34 AM  

You’re a major reason why I read this blog. Thanks for posting. Somehow I relate to your humor. Must be the teacher thing. Retired, loving life.

Anonymous 7:35 AM  

Total puzzle was a problem. I feel really dumb. Kudos to you who solved!

Son Volt 7:40 AM  

The grid kills the rhythm here. The segmented blocks of 3s and 4s are just flat. The entire center stack and each lower corner were tedious. It also doesn’t help that the longs lack the hoped for Friday splash. WEIGHTED BLANKET and HEAVY SECURITY? Can we also get thru a puzzle without a Frozen ad.

There was a lot of good stuff too - these are both fantastic constructors. RACE AHEAD and STILLETOS are top notch. I like the CRAIG clue. DIANA was inferable - but guessed on ELTON. I am staring at our family of leporids eating clover in the backyard as I type.

Your voice is SADDEN when you speak

This was not a bad puzzle - and I hate to say I expected more from this duo but I did.

Anonymous 7:45 AM  

Jim Horne has an interesting write up over at

David Sinclair 8:04 AM  

Pretentious, joyless slog. My fault. I looked at the byline, and I should have known better then to engage.

Barbara S. 8:21 AM  

Pounds on keyboard(s)?

Dr.A 8:28 AM  

I have definitely heard Heavy Security. I had tight security first but it’s not a made up phrase.

B Right There 8:28 AM  

I think the weighted blankets aren't necessarily supposed to cover all of you, just the better part of the torso. Use it over/under your usual cover if you are ever going to try it.

Anonymous 8:29 AM  

Amy: TIL BALAYAGE. Huh. Liked REDTAPE and love SMUSH. Tough Friday.
Wonderful write up, Rafa. Hope you're returning soon.

Anonymous 8:32 AM  

I second David Sinclair 8:04

Lewis 8:33 AM  

Any day in which a skilled wordsmith and technician makes a puzzle is a lucky day for Crosslandia, and when two such pros collaborate, it can be very special, as it was today.

That feel of security that a heavy blanket imparts? That, to me, is how this puzzle felt from start to finish. Made with confidence, talent, and care, a work of beauty.

Intriguing clues, such as [A bird, food, or person], or [Item often wrapped after it’s purchased]. Misdirection in clues, such as in [Eats outside, perhaps] for STREET FOOD. A world-class clue in [Make a lead balloon?]. A word-playing mini-theme in WEIGHTEDBLANKET / HEAVY SECURITY. Junky answers IN ABSENTIA, SMUSHed. And for me, a lovely balance of smooth and thorny areas.

It’s our second left/right symmetry puzzle of the week, to keep things fresh, and it has the magnificent PuzzPair© of NOTRE and DAMES.

I will never take coursing through beauty such as this for granted. Thank you, Erik and Brooke, for this shimmering jewel. High kudos!

Lewis 8:33 AM  

And a side note to the NYT team. Oh yes, you are encouraging and filtering in many debut constructors, no doubt putting these constructors through the paces, plus massaging their work when needed to be sure that their puzzles clear the high-quality bar of the NYT puzzle. But you are also leaving plenty of space for the more experienced and proven constructors, like today’s. It’s a difficult dance to manage, I imagine, but props to you for managing it so well, and it bodes so well for the present and future of our glorious pastime. Thank you.

Phillyrad1999 8:34 AM  

All in all an enjoyable Friday puzzle on the challenging side of average Friday. Had one foot nailed to the floor with lead balloon as I wanted it to be the metal lead not lead as in be ahead. Still struggling with playLET and plateLET.

Anonymous 8:49 AM  

Agree this is more like a Saturday. This week in general has been on the harder side

Wordle has also been quite difficult this week with answers like COYLY and RHYME

FWIW 9:10 AM  

PLATELETs are pieces of very large cells in the bone marrow called megakaryocytes. They help form blood clots to slow or stop bleeding and to help wounds heal.

Anonymous 9:15 AM  

Clue for ODES seemed rotten. Maybe I'm missing some subtlety.

Anonymous 9:19 AM  

Felt like a more challenging Friday with the general cluing trickiness and then pushed to a solid Saturday with the trivia-ness of a number of clues - a minuscule number of people know ETTA Baker, ARENDELLE (have you seen Frozen? No? Sorry [shrugs]), ELTON clued way more obscurely than necessary, BALAYAGE crossing ELTON clued that obscurely felt like a Saturday thing as someone else noted. And Leporids was unnecessary if you’re going to just flat out ask whether or not someone has seen the movie Frozen (I haven’t despite it being Harry Potter level crossword fodder).

Has anyone here absorbed a piece of pop culture solely to be better at crossword puzzles?

Ah well. Actually really enjoyed about 85% of this puzzle and then got triviaed into DNFhood

Rachel 9:33 AM  

I still don't get the Make a lead balloon? clue. I get that "lead" is used here to mean being ahead, but why balloon? If the clue means "balloon" as the verb to grow large quickly, then that's such a stretch and I don't think it quite works.

I was also so confused by the clue for POWER YOGA (Activity with intense, fast-paced posing). I got the YOGA part of it quickly, but I do power (and other kinds) of yoga all the time. I would not describe power yoga this way. I put in SPEED YOGA, even though I've never heard of it, because actual power yoga truly isn't as fast-paced and intense as the clue says it is. I thought it must be some kind of yoga I hadn't heard of. So I did not like that clue.

Overall, a really hard puzzle. I thought the cluing was difficult in often a not good way, meaning it was just too much of a stretch to get from the intended meaning of the clue to the answer.

bocamp 9:36 AM  

Thx, Eric & Brooke; outstanding Fri. puz! :)

Hi Rafa, welcome aboard! Thx for your write-up. :)


Pretty smooth, except for Cali.

SpurS before CHAPS; DukES before DAMES; sEr before REV.

Good guess at the BALAYAGE / ELTON cross.

Good Fri. workout; liked it a lot! :)
Peace 🙏 🇺🇦 ~ Compassion ~ Tolerance ~ Kindness to all 🕊

B Right There 9:38 AM  

Saw Eric's name and took and shoulders slumped. Just not my vibe, in my experience, so I was pleased that I only had to Google obscure (to me) PPP a few times (If it isn't my old crosswordese friends Elsa or Olaf, I don't know squat about Frozen). Not into basketball (why all that running back and forth when it comes down to the last minute, close call in most of the contests I've seen anyway? And why even have a 'traveling' rule? None ever seems to call it. I routinely count what looks to me to be 3 or 4 steps before the ball gets dribbled/hits the floor again.), so DORIS who? Wanted Aries for TIGER, and many of the other mis-steps others have mentioned. Generally, probably a good Friday, but not in the 'delightfiul' category as some other recent puzzles imo.

Anonymous 9:50 AM  

eventually found myself unable to keep up with the constant change.

well... since all things web are a Russian doll of nested kludges, starting with HTML and HTTP being used in ways orthogonal to their intent; yeah staying with it is a waste of time. webbsters are like adolescents and sex: they think they're the first ones to have found some particular kludge. young-uns!! bah.

never heard of HEAVY SECURITY??? that's all that kept Pence from being hanged. that's either a feature or a bug of the insurrection.

OTOH, if you're of a certain age, when nocturnal leg cramps become common, a WEIGHTED BLANKET will only exacerbate your pain.

Nancy 9:51 AM  

To me, the cleverest thing by far in this puzzle (and it was eminently fair, too!) was the fiendish trap set at 46A. "Ending with play or plate" was obviously FUL -- and I wrote it in without a second thought.

And, oh, the cheating that that one wrong answer elicited from me in the Middle East -- I who hate, hate, hate ever having to cheat. But what to do about the ??WuRY??? at 34D and the ?NILS for "tempers". I had to find out the name of that "Emma" vicar and also what BALAY?? was.

All I know about adding hair highlights -- which I've never had done on my own hair, btw -- is watching women next to me in the salon having strands of hair wrapped to a greater or lesser degree in tin foil. And then having a very noxious-smelling glop being applied to the unwrapped strands. Is that BALAYAGE? I have no idea.

I might not have had to cheat if I'd had LET instead of FUL at 46A. I would have probably been able to see POWER YOGA and SNITS (instead of SNILS!!) -- after which I would have seen GASPS, ELTON, BALAYAGE and STILETTOS (nice clue.)

Clues that I'd call too clever for their own good are for ODES (62A) and especially for RACE AHEAD (29D). They're both twisted, tortured, and unfair. And what a peculiar and arcane way to clue ASAP. I know it's Saturday...but really!

Mixed feelings about this puzzle. There was much I liked, but also quite a bit I didn't.

Whatsername 9:55 AM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
Euclid 9:58 AM  

I, too, don't see any form of yoga as having 'fast-paced posing'. first, posing means holding the position, and in 'power' yogas that means holding for longer than a bunny student can ever manage. second, the 'pacing' just means no stopping between asanas; there is no 'pace' in the 'posing'. HOT yoga is another variation, with about the same intent.

Anonymous 10:05 AM  

COME BACK REX!!!! This kid is too easy on everything. 'I'm a big fan', 'fun clue', 'i loved...', 'love them', 'i appreciated'...I want the down-to-earth, honest curmudgeon Rex, pointing out the inconsistencies and faults that I, too, have with NYT Xwords.

JD 10:05 AM  

Had a bowl of items for breakfast. Each one was an oat. Yet another Stiletto clue that I failed to grasp. Does it Sadden me? Yes. But really, really loved Candy Heart. I hear a lot of Uh's and Um's and even Ah's, but don't think I've ever heard any Er's. Er, let me think. Still no.

Iotas, Gnats, and Atom LLP, Small Claims Only.

Whatsername 10:05 AM  

Very tough, esp. the trivia, but I usually expect that when I see EA on the byline.

I’ve seen the BALAYAGE hair treatment but didn’t know what it was called. Most of the salons who advertise this seem to display the exact same style as shown in the writeup in varying colors. I’m not a fan.

Rafa, thanks for guest blogging today. Awesome STILETTOS!

Anonymous 10:24 AM  

What a wonderful review and analysis, Rafa. Reasonably observations with no ranting and no political commentary.

Gary Jugert 10:25 AM  

Fridays gotta fry. Of all the phrases on Gilgamesh's green Earth, you lay in WEIGH TED BLANKET and HEAVY SECURITY first? Ooookay, let's do this.

-Smash for SMUSH, oughta (notta) rhyme.
-Note to me: Not those nuts, ya numb nut.
-Polymerase schmoly-word-aze.
-Sorry Jung-eun, LEE to me ain't thee.
-Solely smoke CRAIG at a crematorium please.
-Let's leave "leporids" alone. Bunny me.
-Hello, only one ELTON on Earth. Void the vicar.
-Weeeee, the kiwi collective makes me crazy.
-Apt reminder: An office binder for a dominatrix is duct tape, not red or scotch.
-NOTRE/VOTRE I vote "no" tuh.
-Rats, few GNATS in my briar patch.
-Quite a job to grok ASAP Mob (for no freaking reason whatsoever you knobs).
-Gawl I laud a wool SHAWL.
-Chaps sportin' CHAPS round h'yar ain't cowboys.
-Behold the forces of "Frozen" verklemptitude.
-SNOG a frog on a log in a bog. Might be a prince.
-Three long downs create a throng of threes.
-Didn't getta ETTA Baker. Gotta Google.
-ODE to grocery CARTS? Anybody?
-ERR ERS, figures.
-DIANA fo fanna. Spencer's for trinkets.


LET GO Let It Go because in ARENDELLE, they don't wear chaps or listen to ASAP Mob. Maybe less hate for Frozen? But to be fair, ASAP Mob's moms don't listen to them either.

Lead balloon=RACE AHEAD made me laugh out loud. First time in ages. Thanks!


1 Ask for them without bacon.
2 Ladies who luv to bake.
3 Youth pastor who is too cool by half.
4 Causeth of your failures(eth).
5 The dolly they borrowed and didn't bring back.
6 Solid purple hair.
7 Potato feet fancy.
8 Stretching routine for trysty golfers.


RooMonster 10:27 AM  

Hey All !
Thankful to see a Challenging rating when I got here, cause if Rex (I know he's not the blogger today) rated it easy, I would've went on a rampage. 😁

Tough for me, to the point of having to Goog just to be able to finish. There were some cool clues, but some obscure ones also. BALAYAGE, e.g. Well, that's an obscure word (to me.)

Many writeovers, erasures, hair pulling. Hoping the Fri-Sat Puz enigma of Sat being easier than Fri holds this week, or else I quit already!

Happy Friday, everybody!

yd -7, should'ves All. 😢

One F

Annie 10:37 AM  

Those crossword stilettos ARE iconic!! Agree this felt more challenging than a normal Friday. Fun overall though, and nice write up!

Beezer 10:42 AM  

I was on Erik and Brooke’s wavelength for most of the puzzle since I sussed out WEIGHTEDBLANKET and HEAVYSECURITY right away plus thought I was clever as hell figuring out the wordplay for HASHTAGS and STREETFOOD then smugly smiled to myself when CRAIG allowed me to crack the middle west then down. But. The “you’re not quite right” message popped up. I looked and looked for a typo or just plain wrong answer…then gave up. Yep. I had BALAYAGA/ALTON. I then harumph…
But I LOVED this!

@Nancy, you MAY be seeing “highlighting” when you see the foils if they start the foil at the scalp. I don’t pretend to know what the heck they do with BALAYAGE and ombré techniques but I imagine it might take a lot more time. @Whatsername, Funny you say that cuz when I was done with the puzzle I wondered why ladies want to purposely look like they lightened their hair and are letting it grow out. Then I realized that if I were in my 20s or 30s with long hair, I PROBABLY might have tried it IF I could have afforded it.

@LMS, you cracked me up with ABSTENTIA, etc. omg, I have SO many words that I mispronounced in my brain when reading, finally heard it pronounced aloud, and STILL try to avoid because I just know I will mispronounce it.

Carola 10:59 AM  

Challenging, enjoyable, DNF. Like others, I had the same slow-down spots with noun-verb confusion at "Eats" and "balloon" and the same crash-and-burn site at aLTON x BALAYAGa, where I think I was influenced by the Russian witch Baba Yaga and was also mesmerized by those alternating As...and just never thought of the common -AGE suffix. Other trouble spots were AREN...what? and some kind of YOGA and SECURITY. I did love the pairing of the WEIGHTED BLANKET and HEAVY SECURITY, once I got it, as well as the brain-twisting riddle-like clues.

Do-over: eArlS before DAMES. No idea: DORIS.

@Rafa, I really enjoyed your write-up and will look forward to your coming back.

GILL I. 11:11 AM  

I've never heard nor have I ever seen BALAYAGE in the world I live in... and it's not as if I sit at home sucking my thumb.
@Rachel 9:33 and I could've held hands since I had the same confusions. Erik and Brooke always play with the cobwebs in my brain.
Some parts I understood and I breathed a joy of AHA! But I also made many mistakes. for 8D I figured one could be tried in ABEYANCE. But @JD would tsk me out of my bar and tell me it's IN ABSENTIA. I misspelled it...The T was a C so that husk item was an OAC. Why not? If you give me words I don't use, why not give me words I can't spell.
I was flitting all over the place. Didn't know ELTON who needs his John nor DORIS who needs her Day. Didn't know ETTA the blues guitarist because I had his name as ETIA . RACE AHEAD and even HASH TAG (both of which I got by pulling teeth) were still a major HUH? I don't understand the cluing for both.
My favorite was STREET FOOD. Maybe because I plunked it down along with PAY THE TAB. Be still my CANDY HEART...I got some long answers...
Very difficult Friday for me. Like @Nancy, I loathe cheating. But....I had to look up the proper names I didn't know and look to see if BALAYAGE and OAC were even things.

Rafa...very enjoyable write-up. Are you related to Rafa Diaz-Balart?

Joseph Michael 11:12 AM  

Great writeup, Rafa. Hope to see more of you.

As for the puzzle, I both loved and hated it. Some great fill, especially the pairing of WEIGHTED BLANKET and HEAVY SECURITY, but too much trivia and tortured cluing led to too many SNITS during the solve.

egsforbreakfast 11:14 AM  

I was very much rooting for 44A (Office binder) to be sExTAPE. I mean, like, what could bind an office together more than a good sExTAPE, especially (or ESP for you abbreviation-assed commentators) if the tape involved the GASPS of the EMPTYSUIT boss as he SNOGged with his snooty steno, HASHTAG CANDYHEART?

For 1.245 nanoseconds I thought that 34D (activity with intense, fast-paced posing) was going to be POsERYOGA. This would have been a vile and criminal violation of the Constitutional separation of Clue and Answer and would have obligated me to unilaterally declare war on Will Shortz. In the end we negotiated a peace that requires me to solve the puzzle before escalating any issues.

A wonderful puzzle, as I knew it would be when I saw the collaborative credit to Brooke Husic and Erik Agard. This should definitely have been POW, at least so far.

Geezer 11:16 AM  

@Rachel 9:33. You sum up the problems with this puzzle beautifully. That's what Erik Agard does. And Brooke says (xwordinfo) that the Lead Balloon clue is her favorite clue of Erik's. So there ya go.

Tom T 11:17 AM  

Great guest write-up, Rafa! Glad you'll be back next week.

The "lead balloon" clue works best for me if I think back to the Georgia State Fairs of my childhood. One of the games involved 10 to 12 contestants, each shooting a stream of water at a hole in a plastic cylinder several feet away. The cylinders were topped with balloons, and the winner of the "teddy bear" was the first person to pop their balloon. It was very clear which person was RACing AHEAD by "Making a lead balloon!"

I had _ _ _ ER YOGA and thought, waTER YOGA?!?

My routine each day is to warm up for the puzzle by doing the "mini," but that caused a problem today. one of the Mini answers was KIWI, so when I got to 42A (A bird, food, or person) and had KI, I thought it couldn't be KIWI, because that's already been used today. Could it somehow be KIte? No. I figured it out from there.

Oddly this puzzle played on the easy side of easy/medium for me. I was lucky to connect quickly to almost all of the misdirection clues.

Tom T 11:25 AM  

There was Hidden Diagonal HAIR intersecting with HARES--but no indication if the HAIR had been BALAYAGE...d.

Barbara S. 11:31 AM  

Count me among the SMUSH-lovers. And it fit right in with the HEAVY/WEIGHTED ghost theme. I’m also in the Saturday-difficult crowd. I think I made every mistake that has been documented so far, and ended up having to cheat three times, which I absolutely hate. My rule is to look up only 3- and 4-letter words – anything longer I simply have to figure out for myself. So, I googled for PEN, HBO and the ASAP Mob, and was able to “finish” from there. But, yeah, it counts as an automatic DNF when any answer doesn’t come directly from my head.

Funny how you know things you don’t know you know. When I saw [Realm in “Frozen”] I thought fuhgeddaboudit. But when I had just a few crosses – Pop! There was ARENDELLE! HARES was another oddity. I filled it in immediately because when I saw “leoporids” I thought, “Ah. Leoperet is the term for a juvenile HARE.” Well, close but no CRAIG. The actual term is leveret. So if I’d remembered it more accurately, I might not have been so quick to get the right answer -- strange. [Get down] sure means a lot of things: changing position, becoming sad, taking cover, swallowing, writing, partying, dancing, having sex. That’s a fiendish clue no matter what the answer is.

It's a relief to return to the down-to-earth world of crosswords after spending much of the week trying to find a home for my mother’s massive collection of Spode dishes in the…wait for it…Fairy Dell pattern. No visible fairies (more’s the pity), just pastel flowers with unaccountably pink leaves. I sound critical but I’m actually fond of these dishes: first my mother and then I used them over the years for many “company” dinners, and to serve much holiday fare, round and otherwise. But I’m downsizing and one of the casualties is the Spode. “Not bone china,” as several dealers have sniffed at me while looking down their noses, “but merely semi porcelain.” Sigh. They don’t know the body of memory and the glaze of sentiment carried by these cups and plates. Anyway, all’s well that ends well. I found a perfectly lovely man with a gem of a shop who’s willing to sell them on consignment. You’ve only to look at him and his surroundings to know they’re in gentle hands.

[SB report: After a sizzling performance in May with 18 QBs and a creditable showing in June with 14, I had only 10 in July – ouch. I don’t like this trend and I blame – um, the heat?

Some highlights of the words I missed last month.

I’m aware of only one word that dropped off the SB rolls in July, but it’s no less tragic for being alone.


Anonymous 11:49 AM  

I think another name for POWER YOGA is exercise.

kitshef 11:53 AM  

I was also surprised at POWER YOGA. This site suggests it is a West Coast thing, and it does not sound like my cup of tea at all. "Power yoga classes typically have loud, upbeat music, and the yoga teacher walks around the room, vibrantly cueing students and ramping up the energy". Sounds like the opposite of yoga to me.

OISK 12:08 PM  

Didn't know I completed correctly until I came here. Arendelle? I am a birder, but actually did not know that a female swan was a "pen," (the "n" in Arendelle). Good guess. Similarly, never having heard of balayage, "Elton" seemed a better guess for the Vicar in Emma (than Alton) so I got it. Parasite co-star? The awful, contrived clue for "odes." ? Power yoga? Doris Burke? ASAP Mob??? @David Sinclair (8:04) has it right.....

I seldom remain annoyed after a correct finish, but in this case the annoyance outweighed the triumph...

Newboy 12:11 PM  

Thanks Rafa for a nice write up.

As to the grid, @Lewis said it, so “me too” in abashed awe! No sports & names weren’t for obscure rappers…..beautiful ��

Having been SMUSHed by my grandson’s WEIGHTED BLANKET was a NO GO at nap time, but provided HEAVY SECURITY for today’s solve. Though they are pricey, they do seem to have a calming item for kids on the spectrum; certainly worth a try.

@Barbara I was sure caught off guard by your link since I expected Jerry Lee Lewis & some early R&R .

sixtyni yogini 12:37 PM  

Well considered, interesting review, Rafa.
Agree mostly! But did find it easier than thou.

How could I (anyone?)not love POWERYOGA? 🤸🏽‍♀️ and CANDYHEART ❤️?

And yes, the answers like WEIGHTEDBLANKET and HEAVYSECURITY - led me to think there was indeed a theme - i also found them dull. 😴
But really enjoyed the clueing to ALL the answers! Nice sense of satisfaction at finish.
So yay!

Phil 1:00 PM  

I notice the HEAVY WEIGHTED / SECURITY BLANKET interplay but I have to read other comments about the HEAVY SECURITY validity as I think it is GREEN PAINT.

For more nits @RAFA. You could have cap-bolded SLOTS in your writeup

Thanks for review and thanks for puzzle.

My problem was dealing with rASPS and aLTON ELTON guesses to get to the hair style technique.

Had the INABSENTIA but really couldn’t see it for a bit as always tried to mispronounce it as inabstentia. haha, different form of being tried.

old timer 1:13 PM  

BALAYAGE was a total mystery, but I knew the vicar was Mr. ELTON. Austen's favorite novel, and a memorable character. When the heroine refused his offer, he asked the first other rich girl he met in Bath.

I have no shame in looking up ARENDELLE. My grandchildren may have seen Frozen but not I. The rest filled itself in, though like many here I scratched my head at RACE AHEAD, though I appreciated the clever cluing when I figured it out.

I immediately wanted CHAPS, but forgot the difference between a PEN and a cob. ETTA was new to me too: when I saw Baker and music of course I thought about Chet, not ETTA. Writeover: "acre" before BALE.

okanaganer 1:21 PM  

[Spelling Bee: @Barbara S: Your SB tally for July prompted me to add mine up... I had 13 QBs and 9 non-QBs (I dont SB when camping). But my QB percentage has also clearly declined since spring!

Here are notable words I missed in July.

And In Memoriam... yd I had this 8'er rejected; seems to me it used to be on the list?]

Anonymous 1:30 PM  

Ditto. Lack of skill or perhaps intellectual laziness. It’s an effort to produce clever clues.

Anonymous 1:33 PM  


Teedmn 1:40 PM  

One who studies butterflies is a lepidopterist. Thus my inclination for 36A was "moths". The only thing that made me hesitate was trying to come up with a round holiday fare, P_h_.

Only the G from HASHTAGS allowed me to get 28A. It still took me a while to dredge up an anagrammed name from CIGAR.

Too many puzzles solved means a farm unit is an acre. And that took up acreage in my grid for too long.

ELTON, aLTON, to me, BALAYAGa seemed a better guess. Maybe I was just thinking of Baba Yaga.

I did like the clue, "Style points?" for STILETTOS.

Is "your" opposite of "our"? NOTRE vs. vOTRE, I felt was a tad shaky.

When I saw the constructors' names, I wasn't surprised that I found this to be on the hard side. Thanks Erik and Brooke.

nyc_lo 1:50 PM  

Only complaint was the hardcore Natick of BALAYAGE and ELTON. “Balayara,” “Alton,” and “rasps” sounded about as good to me there. Oh well.

Anonymous 3:16 PM  

what a wonderful puzzle been a hot minute since it's been so rewarding.... constructors are Ace indeed!

Anonymous 4:03 PM  

Tried hard to like this but in the end aborted out of frustration and jettisoned it to the recycling basket and felt immediately better. So not my cup of tea.

Barbara S. 4:10 PM  

@Newboy (12:11 PM)
Loved the Jerry Lee link. I'd forgotten that he ever looked so young, but not the way he attacks a piano. The Depardieu link is from a movie called Green Card. I forget everything about it except that scene.

@okanaganer (1:21 PM, 1:22 AM)
You're absolutely right about OCOTILLO. The only reason I didn't include it in my IN MEMORIAM is because it dropped into obscurity several months ago. Hmm, so your QB percentage has dropped since spring, too. I guess I can't conclude from a sample of two that there's some seasonal variable at play here. Loved your thumbnail sketch of education and employment opportunities taken up and put down. Man, the paths we tread through life...

Blue Stater 4:11 PM  

"Challenging," but as is far too often the case, because it's riddled with mistakes. Again, a trip through the NYT copydesk would have caught many of these. I'm disappointed but not surprised.

indyjeff 4:34 PM  

Same comment as any, never heard of the word BALAYAGE, and its crossing with ELTON felt very cruel.

My other note was that I thought for sure the payoff for WEIGHTED BLANKET would have to do with someone being a HEAVY SLEEPER but somehow that wasn't where it went. Missed opportunity!

Anoa Bob 4:57 PM  

What, someone said there are no sports in this one? I watch a lot of NBA games and 40A DORIS Burke "sportscaster and N.B.A. analyst" was a gimme. She has a great breadth and depth of knowledge of the game but I think sometimes she overdoes it. DORIS, if you're reading this, I love your commentary but now and then let the game in progress take the spotlight. (I think that could be said about a lot of sportscasters.)

The rest of the puzzle beat me up pretty badly but some nice clueing here and there and the after glow of a good night at the poker table helped me keep my nose to the grind wheel. Still had a DNF with a couple of unfilled spaces at the 9D BALAYAG_ 38A _LTON and the 30D ARE_DELLE 43A PE_ crossings.

I noticed that the grid had a themed puzzle look to it, what with 33 black squares and a bunch of 3s and 4s. And then there are those two for one POCs (plural of convenience) where a Down and an Across share a single S at their ends. Each of those Ss could be changed to a black square, the clues slightly tweaked, and nothing of value or interest would be lost.

That makes every one of those Ss a virtual helper/cheater square. And there are five of them! They are found where a Down and an Across end at the same square, starting with 13D SLOT and 25A ER. That bumps the virtual number of black squares to 38 and that's high even for an early week themed puzzle. With five of those on display the POC committee was in full throated agreement in giving the grid fill a POC Marked rating!

RooMonster 5:11 PM  

@SB-ers -
Mine sucked months ago, and still suck today! 😂

Well, I only have a limited amount of time to do it in the morning. That's my excuse and I'm sticking to it! I suppose I could continue it when I get home, but that's TV time. Such an exciting life!

RooMonster Crazy Busy Guy (har)

SLG 5:16 PM  

BALAYAGA and ALTON also seemed perfectly fine to me. Am I showing my age to think that "Rocker John" would have been a much less Naticky clue?

Beezer 6:40 PM  

@Roo. Late in the day but I totally get your SB comment. Too little time, too much to do! Nowadays I really just treat SB as a brain exercise and give myself 15-20 minutes at most. I NEVER (now) strive for QB…who the hell cares!? Believe it or not NOW I don’t even care if I reach genius, cuz usually most of the words I’ve missed are “suspect” but even if not…I finally LET IT GO!
Funny to me that folks STILL post about SB, and really I don’t who they are even though I am sure I read their posts until it gets to SB.

Mark G 6:47 PM  

Great write up, but gotta say it’s weird going on this website and not seeing any snark

Beezer 6:52 PM  

@indyjeff…um indie or indy? Test: what “large” local newspaper recently had an approximately 4 paragraph blurb in its “front” section (because there are only two most days - “sports” being one) about a new executive chef at a local COUNTRY CLUB? Uh, yeah. A country club that NO one could dine at unless the person was a member. Askin’ for a friend.

A 6:52 PM  

Welcome, Rafa! Nice writeup. Unexpectedly cheery.

Early on I was struggling and had to keep my head down in “@Lewis Faith Solve” mode. Then my wavelength began to sync with the constructors’ and the tempo picked up. Managed to finish all by my lonesome, and enjoyed the challenge. Thanks, Erik and Brooke for a puzzle with its HEART right where it belongs.

I really loved the “Coin collectors?” clue for SofaS. SADDENed that it turned out to be SLOTS.

Fell for ful before LET (Hi, @Nancy) but that “f” wouldn’t effing cooperate. STILETTOS kicked it fully out of the grid.

You won’t find me squeezing my toes into STILETTOS. Been wearing Earth shoes and Birks for decades. I did succumb to persuasion and got hair highlights - once. No idea if it was BALAYAGE. Never. Again. For months when I showered it felt like a helmet. Now I just rinse with HENNA. Still took awhile to see that at 12A.

@LMS, due to mis-reading 22A for 12A, my first thought for “Fierce, hard-to-control sort” was an owl. A neighbor had her terrier stolen by one.

My mom said "farmiliar" that way too. And water was "warter." But let me confuse further and farther and I’d hear all about it.

@ JD, loved your “bowl of items/each was an oat” opening. Shades of Steven Wright.

@Teedmn, I also raised a brow at the NOTRE/vOTRE pair being called opposites.

@Barbara, I loved that scene from Green Card!

Among the things I learned today was ETTA Baker. Deft playing, and what a kind face.

Lauren 7:11 PM  

Thanks to Anonymous @ 7:45 for mentioning Jim Horne’s writeup. I couldn’t agree more with his point, which is that obscurity is in the eye of the beholder, that what’s obscure to one solver will delight another, and that it’s not necessarily a bad thing to put a few puzzles out there that vex a more “conventional” solver audience while delighting another. I (F/37) found this puzzle very easy for a Friday, and an absolute joy to solve (see my comment as Anonymous at 5:40). Cheers to making puzzles that delight audiences that skew younger and more diverse. Thank you Brooke and Erik for gifting us with this puzzle.

pabloinnh 7:36 PM  

The dreaded BALAYAGE broke my two-day streak of solving online, as I checked the final E, thinking it could be an A. My guess was in fact correct, but I am devastated about the streak thing. I blame it all on living in a part of the country where makeup is reserved for special occasions and STILETTOS are unseen entirely.

Tough one here, RAGER before TIGER and COB before OAT, among many of the usual suspects.

I had some other very clever things to add but I usually write them somewhere on the printed version of the xword which I am lacking. So it goes.

Pretty tricky EA and BH. I was Expecting Another Befuddling Harassment, and I was not disappoint4d. Thanks for all the fun, but it's really too hot around here to have to think so hard.

pabloinnh 7:44 PM  

Hwy @JoeD- I just found your link from yesterday involving the immortal Fats Waller. Didn't know that one and I 'm still smiling.

What could he have been singing about?


Anoa Bob 7:46 PM  

Yikes! Just got a terse note from one of the committee members saying I had miscounted the number of two for one POCs and there are six (!), not five. Went back and sure enough, I missed one. So the virtual black square count increases to 39. shows 31.5 as the average number of black squares (blocks) for a Friday puzzle.

Here they are, at the ends of: 5D HASHTAG & 36A HARE; 13D SLOT & 25A ER; 26D PIE & 39A ACE; 35D SNIT & 49A ORDER; 41D SPOUSE & 63A GNAT; and 48D DAME & 62A ODE.

I've been watching POCs for almost ten years and I think that's a record number of the two for one variety, especially in a themeless.
Maybe it's ironic but one does not appear where they are most likely to show up, in the lower, rightmost square.

Anonymous 9:18 PM  

So annoying, not a hair guy, and rasps or gasps both would’ve worked. Naticks suck

Nancy 9:39 PM  

"I didn't think the juice was quite worth the squeeze."

I was just reading the guest blogger's comment for the first time and I saw this. I've never heard this expression before, but it's cute. The version I've always heard is "the game isn't worth the candle."

Has anyone here ever heard Rafa's expression? Wondering where he's from?

JC66 10:40 PM  


I've heard it before, but I don't know where it's from.

puzzlehoarder 10:42 PM  

Very late comment as things are busy here in Chicago. Our daughter and her husband just bought a house in our neighborhood and we're helping them get it ready to move into it.

Yes today was Saturday tough but I did it in the actual paper and questioned none of it when I'd finished. This may be due to my forgetting that aLTON is even a name. Smart or not I put ELTON in and never gave it a second thought. That ___AGE ending was the first part of BALAYAGE that I got and it looked natural. However the crosses said that 8 letter entry was spelled was how it was going to be as I've never heard of it.

Why is COB so much more familiar to me than PEN? It must be the NYT's sexism again and it's a shame our host isn't here to point that out.

yd pg-1, for any SBers still reading I checked my lists and my QB total for July was 26, 4 non QBs and 2that I can't be sure of but I probably missed words on them too.

Michael 10:43 PM  

Disney movie related clues should be disqualified. Everything other than the SW and S was pretty neatly coming into place though.

Joe Dipinto 10:57 PM  

"Should I buy this rare first edition of 'The Lorax'? $2,000 is kind of pricey..."
"Nah, I wouldn't. The Seuss ain't worth the G's."

Dave 3:15 PM  

From Wikipedia: "(Etta)Baker has said that she gets inspiration for chords through her dreams, stating that it is "like putting a crossword puzzle together""

Anonymous 10:22 PM  

DNF for a handful of reasons: (1) had addedSECURITY which in turn obscured much of the Southwest; (2) DAMES is **incorrectly** clued. Nobility starts at the rank of Baron(ess), a mere Dame doesn’t qualify; (3) Never heard of DORIS Burke. Did think about DENYING but couldn’t make it work with my added security; and finally (4) it’s been almost 40 years since I read Emma, so didn’t recall the Rev Elton. Since BALAYAGE was an unknown, plumped for aLTON / BALAYAGa as more plausible. . .

All on me except the erroneous gluing on DAMES - that’s on Agard, Husic and Short who really ought to know better.

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