Absence noted in vape pen ads / MON 11-13-23 / Claimed a victory, homophonically / Key of Beethoven's Symphony No. 7 / 1996's "Dancing Baby" might have been the first one to go viral

Monday, November 13, 2023

Constructor: Benjamin Fink

Relative difficulty: Easy 

THEME: "CAN YOU BELIEVE IT?!" (57A: "Isn't that mind-blowing?!" ... or a question on might ask about the answers to the italicized clues) — things you might be disinclined to believe:

Theme answers:
  • CAMPAIGN PROMISE (17A: "I will never raise your taxes!")
  • CUSTOMER REVIEW (28A: "This product changed my life! Five stars!")
  • HOMEWORK EXCUSE (44A: "The dog ate it!")
Word of the Day: Peter LORRE (41A: Actor Peter of "M" and "The Man Who Knew Too Much") —

Peter Lorre (German: [ˈpeːtɐ ˈlɔʁə]; born László LöwensteinHungarian: [ˈlaːsloː ˈløːvɛ(n)ʃtɒjn]; June 26, 1904 – March 23, 1964) was a Hungarian and American actor, first in Europe and later in the United States. He began his stage career in Vienna, in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, before moving to Germany where he worked first on the stage, then in film in Berlin in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Lorre caused an international sensation in the Weimar Republic-era film M (1931), directed by Fritz Lang, in which he portrayed a serial killer who preys on little girls.

Of Jewish descent, Lorre left Germany after Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party came to power. His second English-language film, following the multiple-language version of M (1931), was Alfred Hitchcock's The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934), made in the United Kingdom. Eventually settling in Hollywood, he later became a featured player in many Hollywood crime and mystery films. In his initial American films, Mad Love and Crime and Punishment (both 1935), he continued to play murderers, but he was then cast playing Mr. Moto, the Japanese detective, in a B-picture series.

From 1941 to 1946, he mainly worked for Warner Bros. His first film at Warner was The Maltese Falcon (1941), the first of many films in which he appeared alongside actors Humphrey Bogart and Sydney Greenstreet. This was followed by Casablanca (1942), the second of the nine films in which Lorre and Greenstreet appeared together. (wikipedia)

• • •

Somehow the wordplay doesn't really seem to land. These are three arbitrary things one might not believe, and then there's this hypothetical question ... but is it a question "one might ask?" Who is one asking this question? Seems like, at a minimum, the revealer clue should have a "?" on the end of it, since the actual phrase, "CAN YOU BELIEVE IT!?," is being applied to contexts where one would never actually ask this question. "Question one might ask ..." Who? Oneself? And is this a sincere question, or more a statement posing as a question? I might wonder *whether* I can believe campaign promises or customer reviews or homework excuses; I might ask myself if *I* believe it. But there's not even a completely banal way I can imagine someone actually asking this question using these words in this order. If I can't imagine the context, or the questioner's interlocutor, then the whole premise just kind of falls apart, or at least buckles. Like, I get it, these are not believable things, great. The revealer phrasing—or the clue phrasing—just doesn't hit the mark. Also, it's all just a little too straightforward and boring. The revealer I *wanted*, when I was solving Downs-only, was "DON'T YOU BELIEVE IT!"—an idiom that Merriam-Webster says is "used to emphasize that one should not believe a statement or sentiment." It just made sense. It also, sadly, didn't fit. Neither did "DO YOU BELIEVE IT?!" I had to go pick up the "C" and "A" (from SCAR and LASH) before I could see the "CAN." It just doesn't snap the way it seems to believe it snaps. 

Some of this fill is iffy too. WON ONE? Definite grimace on that ... one (45D: Claimed a victory, homophonically). The clue itself was a mystery. Nothing in it about the two words in the answer being homophones *of one another*, so I had to piece that bit together. And then the answer itself was WON ONE, which is pretty weak, as standalone answers go. EXOTICA was maybe the most interesting thing in the grid (42D: Rare things from far away), although I guess HAIRPIECES isn't bad (11D: Toupees, e.g.) (you don't really hear about these anymore—the very idea seems sorta bygone, but I've seen enough hairpiece gags in TV and cartoons of the 20th century that the answer still held some vaguely humorous charm for me) (I started losing my hair in my mid-twenties, and by my late '30s I was like "this sucks" and just shaved it all off—by that point, shaved heads were a totally normal, boring thing, hurrah) (if a balding person has hair nowadays, there's a good chance they REGREW it using some drug or topical chemical or god knows what that I have no interest in trying—too much hassle, not to mention the EXPENSE).

There were only a few Downs-only snags today. Well, one big one, right in the middle of the grid. Any time you ask me what key a symphony (or anything) is in, I just shrug, shake my head, and write in "blank M blank blank OR" and then hope for the best (24D: Key of Beethoven's Symphony No. 7). Next to the symphony were REMARKS and REGREW, neither of which immediately sprang to mind given their clues (25D: Comments / 30D: Sprouted anew). So I actually ended up finishing in this section, working up from below after I'd closed everything else out. I was a bit unsure of TECH (33D: Many an engineer's field, informally), but since it was the first thing I thought of, and it still worked after all the adjacent answers were filled in, I just went with it. I obviously couldn't do anything with -OM (10D: See 22-Across) until near the very end, since Downs-only means no looking at 22-Across. But ROM => COM, no problem, eventually (22A: With 10-Down, humorous film about love). The one issue that was slightly ambiguous, at the very very end, was still what key that damn symphony was in. NOT-R looked like it could be NOTER (one who notes? is E MAJOR a key?) but ultimately the vaping claim "NO TAR" seemed the more plausible candidate there (23A: Absence noted in vape pen ads), so I went with that, and was rewarded with the "Congratulations, you managed to finish a Monday puzzle, genius" message. 

[This dancing baby!?!?] [yes, this dancing baby]
[3D: 1996's "Dancing Baby" might have been the first one to go viral => MEME]

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

P.S. Happy birthday, mom :)

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


egsforbreakfast 12:17 AM  

Well, we now know for sure that Beethoven's 7th was AMAJOR piece of work. Word also has it that Ludwig could get more than a little sloppy when he spent time on his 5th.

I'm not sure where we left the Gladiator vs. Centurion debate yesterday, but today's puzzle at least clarifies that ROME is on top of the AMEX situation.

If everyone in the U.S. vaped, we'd have a NOTAR Republic, making document signings a breeze.

A MOON SWOON (47A +48A) is when the sight of someone's ass makes you become dizzy with rapture. I suspect that @GaryJ will do better with this as a Uniclue.

A modern HOMEWORKEXCUSE is "I don't feel like putting on clothes and driving in to the office. I'll do the meeting on Zoom."

This was so easy as a downs only that I suspect my time would have been in the negatives for a regular solve. Liked it fine nonetheless. Thanks, Benjamin Fink.

CT2Napa 12:33 AM  

It's still Sunday on the west coast, so I'll share my research on the "riper years".
An ngram search discovers quite a few books with the term. MOst if not all are religious treatises discussing baptism. Essentially, "riper years" refers to those who are "able to answer for themselves", and thus differentiates between infants and others ("not to be confined to grown up people"). So the clue, "____ years (old age)" is misleading in that it implies ONLY old age while the answer ["riper" years] includes all ages which are able to "answer".

okanaganer 12:36 AM  

Also solving down clues only, had the same experience as Rex with "Key of Beethoven...". When I changed NOTER to NO TAR giving A MAJOR I got the Happy Pencil! The themers were sussable enough to fill in the gaps in my down guesses.

My neighbor had two dogs, named COSMO and Kramer. Cosmo died, so now she has Kramer and Krypton, because of Superman's planet. She's almost as nerdy as me!

My best friend in high school was Ed NGO. Nice to see his last name here.

[Spelling Bee: Sun 0; QB streak 4 days.]

jae 1:04 AM  

Easy. Smooth grid, solid theme, liked it. @Rex you have a valid point about the reveal.

Croce Slovers - Most of Croce’s Freestyle #858 was easy-medium for a Croce. In the NE, however, I needed help from my granddaughter with 7a, and in the west center I had a 2 square DNF. May you all have better luck than I did!

Bob Mills 5:50 AM  

Nice easy Monday to start the week. Straightforward cluing.

Peter Lorre as Ugarte in "Casablanca" was a perfect foil for Humphrey Bogart as "Rick."

Bogart..."I don'r stick my neck out for anyone, Ugarte." The letters of transit remained out of sight, and Ugarte was doomed.

Gary Jugert 6:24 AM  

Well, this hopped right over a very low bar. I like the theme set. It feels innocent and sweet.

Tee-Hee: EXOTICA defined by the team at the NYTXW as [Rare things from far away] when a couple of clicks on the ole www and it'll be neither rare, nor far away, and more of an activity than a thing.


1 What happens with the ladies when I drop trou.
2 A group of Gaelic ghouls.
3 How the Denver Broncos approach success in between way way way more losing.
4 RWNJ's plan for the first amendment.
5 Tee-Hee.


My Fascinating Crossword Uniclue Keepsake from Last Year: The Broncos said no more Skippy. NFL TEAM SOLOED JIF.


SouthsideJohnny 6:36 AM  

I enjoyed reading Rex going on and on about the theme more than I did solving the puzzle. I thought the theme was fine btw, not sure why y’all seem to give them so much scrutiny - I’m just glad when they are not overly gimmicky, and if they contribute anything of value to the solve, so much the better.

I don’t know if this is an accurate observation, or if it just seems that way to me - but it feels like we have been getting about 5 times as many ABBAs as OREOs lately. I like them both, so I don’t have a dog in the hunt - but I do empathize with OREO if it’s feeling a little left out recently.

Anonymous 6:42 AM  

Given the blogger’s response to his question, I would have advised him along the lines of Horatio’s response to Hamlet.

Anonymous 7:11 AM  

“Right away “ clue for ASAP, which means “As soon as possible.” Boo! “Stat” would have been a better answer.

Anonymous 7:15 AM  

I liked the “won one” clue!
I agree re: theme but the puzzle flue by fast enough that I didn’t even realize what it was until after I was done. Now I kind of get why some people don’t do Mondays because they’re too easy.

kitshef 7:15 AM  

The theme and revealer didn't quite work for me, but I can't figure out how to simply explain why. It seems the same was true for Rex. And I also finished at that furshlugginer musical key, but stuck with EMAJOR/NOTER on my downs-only solve so a DNF.

kitshef 7:20 AM  

Croce Freestyle 858 was medium for me. Hardest part for me was probably the SW, where plausible but wrong guesses on 49D and 56D, which worked just fine with 48A and 55A, slowed me down.

Lewis 7:30 AM  

Lovely theme because it’s so true to life, where there's a constant presence of statements that strain credulity. And thus, ironically, the theme is so believable!

One statement that I will believe every time, however, is “I’m so excited! That’s my name atop a New York Times crossword puzzle!” Congratulations on your debut, Benjamin.

Smooth puzzle, in which I kept coming across things in threes:
• Eye related: LASH, LID, STYE.
• OO-sounding enders: REVIEW, REGREW, LONG U.
• Four letter words with double-letters in the middle: ABBA, ESSO, APPS.
• Theme echoers, that is, things that can be hard to believe: HAIRPIECES, EPIC, SWOON.

I tried to guess the revealer (without reading its clue) before uncovering it and got to the point where I knew it had to do with things that are often hard to believe, but couldn’t nail it. So, I began uncovering it one letter at a time from the beginning, and finally got it at CANY. Small steps.

Benjamin, your lovely theme has whetted my appetite to see more from you, and your notes have thrust me into the day with a warm heart. Thank you so much for this!

Lewis 7:32 AM  

My five favorite clues from last week
(in order of appearance):

1. Shortening used for shortening (3)
2. One running for Congress? (6)(4)
3. One with many priors, maybe (5)
4. Rooster, but not a rooster (3)
5. Where to see heads of gladiators, informally (4)(5)


ccredux 8:11 AM  

Yes, there is a key of E-major the best known piece in that key is the familiar Scarlatti sonata in e major K. 380.

I don’t quite get Rex’s discussion of the theme. There are a lot of contexts where the theme would be a natural statement.

thfenn 8:12 AM  

I thought the theme worked fine. And it's only CAN (as opposed to DO or DON'T) that lets the meaning bounce back and forth between ""WOW" and "is it believable?". Liked it a lot. Swooshed through it a little too fast.

mmorgan 8:21 AM  

I liked this more than Rex — he just seems grumpy this morning. But I could only do about half of it downs-only and then had to resort to very sparing glances at an across clue here and there. Boo me.

Roxi Rossetti 8:40 AM  

Cool, today is my birthday too - was your mom a Friday the 13th baby? I always have to have a black cat to offset that rude beginning. Really enjoy your commentary - keeps me interested in the puzzle. I used to enjoy only cryptic crosswords, but am now very into NYT because of you.

Tom F 8:50 AM  

I think OFL is protesting a bit too much - though maybe that reflects my own lowered expectations. For a NYTXW Monday I found it delightful

Anonymous 8:52 AM  

Happy bday Roxi and OFL,s mom.

RooMonster 8:57 AM  

Hey All !
Apparently Rex CANtBELIEVEIT. Remember Jacquins Dictum, it's close enough for crossworld.
First one: sitting with a spouse listening to Any politician (they All suck) spouting PROMISES they will never keep, you turn to them and ask...
Second one: Shopping online, either turning to your significant other, or just spouting out loud to yourself, and ask...
Third one: Teachers in their lounge, laughing at the kid who claims the dog ate it, asking...

See? Believable, CAN YOU BELIEVE IT?

Neat puz. I liked the common excuses for things that are not real. Another good one, ITS IN MY OTHER PANTS when driving without a license, and you get pulled over.

Anyway, another Monday. Hooray. Har.

No F's (CAN YOU BELIEVE that?)

Beezer 9:03 AM  

Pleasant Sunday offering. Was interested to find out that @Rex fills in the blanks for “Key of” clues with the M, O, and R like me, then waits to see what happens. I ALMOST did what @kitshef did with NOTeR but finally saw the DOOK. Big day for Keanu Reeves with NEO and LONGU size by side.

pabloinnh 9:04 AM  

Thought this was an above average Monday. There were several times when I had a couple of letters in an answer, tried to guess the answer, and then tried to guess how it would be clued, with some mixed success, but it keeps things interesting.

I thought the revealer was just wonderful and here's why--it's the catch phrase of longtime Red Sox announcer Joe Castiglione and in 2004 when the Sox at last broke The Curse and the last out was made he finally got to say CANYOUBELIEVEIT and many of us could not, at least until it sank in. I was watching the game with my son and we looked at each other and more or less said at the same time, what are we supposed to do? Had never celebrated a World Series championship before. Good times.

So thanks for the memory of that, BF. Best Final out I have ever seen, or ever will see, and thanks for all the fun.

Ida Ho 9:07 AM  

Only in America.... do people erroneously conflate a yam (a tropical tuber) with a sweet potato (a root). Two different things grown in two different climates.

EasyEd 9:10 AM  

Was it pure chance that one of the other characters in Casablanca had the name Laszlo? I never knew that Peter LORRE’s original first name was Laszlo…coincidence? Just Googled him for the heck of it and that name rang an immediate bell…Puzzle seemed a happy theme with not a lot of over-used words.

Sir Hillary 9:22 AM  

Cute theme, located at the corner of Humor Ave. and Cynic St. I do hear Rex on the revealer not quite ringing true; in hindsight, maybe CAMPAIGNPledge and icantBELIEVEIT could have been used instead?

Mark 9:35 AM  

I did this downs-only and didn't check my results against the across clues, so I'm just learning from this post that I got it wrong. I had "wee one" for 45 Down, which seemed to jibe with the clue, and "ego" and "moen" ("Big name in faucets," maybe?) seemed plausible.

Nancy 9:36 AM  

A cute theme and a very smooth grid. Now if only the puzzle had given me something to do -- such as think. I could have planned the next NASA mission while filling it in.

bocamp 9:38 AM  

Thx, Benjamin; an UNCOMMONLY fine Mon.! 😊

Med (downs only).

Dnf'd at Beethoven's / vape pen; had eMAJOR / NOTeR. Got to learn to be more 'parse-ful' with doubtful words. NOTeR did raise an eyebrow; sounded a bit awkward. 🤔

Getting the themer was helpful.

BELIEVE IT or not, an excellent adventure! :)

Thx @jae; on it! :)
Ryan McCarty's NYT Vowelless at xwordinfo.com was a fun romp, altho I dnf'd at the Snoop Dogg / Chinese dessert cross.
On to Croce's 858 🤞, with Natan Last's Mon. New Yorker on tap for tm.
Peace 🕊 🇺🇦 ~ Compassion ~ Tolerance ~ Kindness ~ Freudenfreude & a DAP to all 👊 🙏

Gary Jugert 9:45 AM  

@Ida Ho 9:07 AM
And neither of them is a russet cooked forever in tin foil after attacking it with a fork and topped with butter and sour cream and salt and pepper and grated cheese and those fake bacon-ish sprinkles and those green tube things and maybe a can of Texas chili dumped on top. Ireland never had a yam crisis or a sweet potato crisis because they're not as good as a real potato.

Carola 9:56 AM  

I'm with the "liked it" group, including finding the reveal just right in tying together three notoriously unbelievable sorts of claims. Like @Lewis, I did my best to come up with the reveal phrase with no crosses, but before reading the clue I'd already gotten "Strange, if true" in my head, which blocked all other ideas. The IEV sequence clued me in. I thought C'MON! could work as a complementary reveal expressing disbelief ("Possible exclamatory response...."): "The dog ate your homework? C'MON!"

thfenn 9:58 AM  

@pabloinnh 9:04, big smiles. We were in East Africa in 2004, getting up at 3AM to catch the games. After losing game 3 in the ALCS I was in the kitchen making breakfast to get the kids (also getting up for the games) off to school. And, of course, despondent. My daughter tried to cheer me up with "Don't worry, Daddy. The Sox are going to take 4 in a row from the Yankees and then sweep the World Series". I patronizingly noted how that had never ever happened before, but she insisted. "They will!". Still believe whatever she says.

Anonymous 9:59 AM  

@EasyEd: Yes, it's chance. The film was based on a play that had never been produced (at the time), called "Everybody Comes to Rick's." Though numerous changes were made, the Laszlo character is in the play.

Bob Mills 10:29 AM  

The remarkable thing about "Casablanca" is that believe it or not, the whole cast was making fun of the script throughout rehearsals, never sensing its future impact on the public.

lodsf 10:30 AM  

I thought the theme was clever and liked the puzzle just fine (“for a Monday”). But I do think that Rex’s choice of a (non-fitting) reveal — DON[T] YOU BELIEVE IT — is a better answer to the 3 theme entries.

Masked and Anonymous 11:45 AM  

O MAN … Unbelievable MonPuz theme. By design, I reckon.

Agree with @RP, that WONONE kinda rates the revered Har-able Ow de Speration award. The plus signs in the puzgrid layout encourage us to seek out additional such combos, such as:

1. SLO + NGO. The staff weeject picks today, btw.

fave moo-cow eazy-E MonPuz clue: {World capital that "wasn't built in a day"} = ROME. And right outta the rodeo chute, no less -- thanx U for the friendliest of starts, says M&A's nanoseconds.

other faves: LONGU. HAIRPIECES [bro-in-law's dog has lotsa them]. EXPENSE. EXOTICA. RUNOVER.

Thanx for the fun, and glad the dog didn't eat yer puz, Mr. Fink dude. And congratz on a real nice debut.

Masked & Anonymo4Us


jb129 11:48 AM  

A very nice debut, Benjamin - hope to see you again!

SharonAK 11:56 AM  

Another voice for I liked the theme revealer.
Thanks Lewis for your favorite clues of the week
Usually ones I had smiled (or even laughed) at and enjoy being reminded.

Anonymous 12:16 PM  

I am confused by this criticism:

“Seems like, at a minimum, the revealer clue should have a "?" on the end of it, since the actual phrase, "CAN YOU BELIEVE IT!?," is being applied to contexts where one would never actually ask this question. “

The clue in my print newspaper editing reads:
“Isn’t that mind blowing?!”

So the clue did contain a question mark.

Anoa Bob 2:13 PM  

Carry over from yesterday at AMEX and ANISTON.

I thought it was a solid theme although I agree that the reveal muddied the waters a bit. All three theme entries could/would/should raise an eyebrow and elicit a droll, low key aside CAN YOU BELIEVE IT with just a ? at the end. The reveal conflates this with the more wide-eye, voice raised incredulous "Isn't that mind-blowing" with both a ? and ! ending. That would be more fitting for a stupendous or totally unexpected event. Maybe a reveal along the lines of "Cynical question one might ask about the italicized clues" would have worked better.

I thought the fill was UNCOMMONLY well done with a COSMO here and an EXOTICA there to spice things up. Also of note was the admirably restrained use of the plural of convenience (POC) to aid filling the grid. Only a sprinkling of single POCs like ACHES and TROLLS and just a single two-for-one POC where ROAR and NAME both get a letter boost by sharing a single, final S. This results in a heartier, more satisfying solving experience, if you ask me.

For those aficionadas working on your POC merit badge, note that neither KNEELS nor HAIR PIECES count as POCs since they are there not for grid fill convenience but out of necessity because of the S in intersecting crosses.

Anonymous 5:45 PM  

But ASAP has traditionally been used as immediately, so functionality the same as right away. What it means literally is irrelevant. That’s language. More than close enough crosswords.
Nothing wrong with that answer.

Anonymous 5:56 PM  

About anonymous comments.
Language is language and we are not talking logic here. People do and have done things things like that all over the world and throughout the history of language. It that is they people speak, nothing erroneous about it.

dgd 6:11 PM  

Never heard that. Very interesting.
The director, Curtiz(?), was, Jewish(as were many of the actors) , from Budapest originally. Your story shows that a movie is not just a script. He, the actors and all the others on the credits did a brilliant job of creating one of the best pieces of wartime propaganda ever made. And for a good cause.
Much of it doesn’t make a lot of sense but I have always loved it.

Lewis 6:17 PM  

@Anoa Bob -- I always enjoy your takes on the puzzle, which I usually find to be spot-on.

Joe Dipinto 9:48 PM  

@Rex – the revealer clue doesn't need a ? at the end because the second half is defined "or a question one might ask..." The clue is deliberately presenting two distinct reactions the answer can illustrate. As an exclamation (?! ending) it's a generic reaction of awe at something; as a question it describes a generic reaction of skepticism about the utterances in the theme answers.

Diana, LIW 12:56 PM  

I enjoyed this Monday puzzle - CANYOUBELIEVEIT? That's not just a CAMPAIGNPROMISE or any kind of EXCUSE. I didn't SWOON, but I had fun. I could go on - YADA YADA YADA.

Lady Di

spacecraft 1:06 PM  

CUSTOMERREVIEW is the outlier here. The others should obviously never be believed, but why should an enthusiastic user lie? ...Oh. You mean, those testimonials are fake, generated by the company itself? Gosh, you just can't believe anything anymore.

Cute Monday fun, bothered only by the dreaded RMK AMAJOR, and maybe NGO. No DOD other than the distaff half of ABBA. Come to think of it, they'll do nicely. Birdie.

Wordle birdie.

Anonymous 2:42 PM  

Barely passable. But it’s a debut puzzle so I guess we have to cut the guy some slack.

Burma Shave 10:27 PM  


I'm ONE UNCOMMON Doubting Thomas.
Help MEME ACHE IT to the MOON,


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