WEDNESDAY, April 8, 2009 — Patrick Jordan

Theme: Altered States — Theme clues are nicknames of five different U.S. states, which are to be understood literally ("state" in each clue referring to a "state of being" and not a geopolitical entity)

This may be the first time I've seen "?" clues used to indicate literalness and not wackiness. Very clever reversal of custom. Really enjoyed this original theme, and the fact that even though all the answers are abstract nouns, none of them share common nominalizing endings. You've got -ISM, -ACY, -NESS, -ENCE, and -ITY. Such non-repetition seems irrelevant to you, you say? Perhaps. But whether intended or not, it's indicative to me of a constructor who is conscious not just of mechanics (getting the words to fit and by symmetrical) but of aesthetics. Abstract nouns can be quite dull, but the way Patrick varies those endings while also getting in a little alliteration up top (SKEPTICISM and SUPREMACY) and down low (DILIGENCE and DURABILITY) really adds a level of elegant craftsmanship to an otherwise simply clever puzzle.

Theme answers:
  • 18A: "Show me" state? (SKEPTICISM) — For whatever reason (perhaps because I hadn't fully grasped the theme yet) I tripped all over myself in the areas surrounding SKEPTICISM. Had the SK-P part but was looking for some phrase, possibly involving SKIP. If I'd gotten that "E" from ALE (6D: See 44-Across), all would have been clear, but I Hate being asked to "See some other clue" and so I generally don't. In the NE, though I know all those words, I couldn't make them roll over on my first pass. Problem started with LAT for PEC (9D: Push-up muscle), and just got worse from there.
  • 24A: Empire state? (SUPREMACY)
  • 37A: Volunteer state? (WILLINGNESS)
  • 53A: Beehive state? (DILIGENCE) — This one threw me, first because I don't think of bees as possessing a particular quality beyond BUSYNESS, and second because I'd already seen bees in the grid at APIARIES (10D: They're abuzz with activity), and wondered whether there was some bee-like subtheme I'd missed.
  • 59A: Granite state? (DURABILITY)
Crosswordese 101: ÉPÉE (16A: Pentathlon event) — Have we done ÉPÉE yet? It's a word that is So common in crosswords that I hardly feel it's worth mentioning. On the other hand, its commonness may be what makes it noteworthy. You think you know ÉPÉE, perhaps — it's one of the most common 4-letter words in all of CrossWorld — but it has a wide variety of possible clues, some of which you simply wouldn't expect. Of course anything in four letters related to a sporting event, particularly "Olympic" or "pentathlon," is likely to be ÉPÉE. ÉPÉE should be your default 4-letter mystery sporting event answer. Way more likely than, say, POLO or CREW or even JUDO. But, beware of tricksy clues that haunt late-week or otherwise difficult puzzles. [Saber's kin], [Foil's cousin], [One not making the cut?] — referring to the ÉPÉE's blunt tip — [Touching sport], [Event on a piste], [Blade of Grasse], etc. Today's clue is straightforward, but with a word as common as ÉPÉE (every constructor needs a 75% "E" word every once in a while), you should expect to see it even when you don't see it. Which is to say — put it high on your list of early guesses for any mysterious 4-letter answer that is even vaguely sporty or French.

This puzzle took me nearly 5 minutes — about right, I guess, for a Wednesday, but a good 45 seconds longer than the NYT took me today. Usually, I find the LAT slightly easier, but today I got hung up, however briefly, in many places. The aforementioned NE, of course, but then there was LESAGE, which gummed up my whole SE until the very end (36D: "Gil Blas" novelist). I've seen "Gil Blas" and LESAGE before, but I can Never remember LESAGE's name. DE SADE gets in the way, I think. Failure to drudge up LESAGE meant that I couldn't sneak into the SE and had to jump to 63A: Chairlift predecessor, at many resorts (T-BAR) to get any traction in there. Other sticking points: ADELE H, which is an answer that I frankly hate (45D: "The Story of _____": 1975 Isabelle Adjani film). A two-word partial from a 30+-year-old French film no one under 45 will have seen let alone heard of? Blecch. Adjani did get an Oscar nomination for it, but still, its fame level is quite low. Thankfully, all the crosses were fair, so it was ultimately gettable. Then there was WENT FREE (37D: Was released), which for some reason feels slightly OFF (55A: Not working) to me. Btw, "off" is an important part of the clue at 68A: Turns (off) (shuts). With so many possible clues for SHUTS, that's an unfortunate mistake. In general, except for articles like "A" and "THE," words in grid should not be repeated anywhere in clues.

What else?
  • 1A: Summon the genie (rub) — Is this a euphemism for masturbation? Because it sounds like a euphemism for masturbation.
  • 13A: Greek goddess of discord (Eris) — Could easily have been my Crosswordese 101 word. Not as common as EOS, say, but up there with the more common Greek goddesses.
  • 56A: Instrument sometimes made from koa wood (uke) — Another supercommon bit of fill. Hawaii is full of them.
  • 2D: First planet discovered using a telescope (Uranus) — Improbably, this word is in the NYT puzzle today too.
  • 4D: Casey who provided Shaggy's voice in TV's "Scooby-Doo" (Kasem) — Man, he was an important part of my childhood. That voice ... here's a song from the era when I listened to his Top 40 countdown All The Time.

  • 5D: Bugling grazer (elk) — Why did I want GNU?
  • 7D: Common HMO payments (co-pays) — Interesting. Can't recall ever having seen this very common term in a puzzle.
  • 12D: Luthor and Brainiac, to Superman (nemeses) — Word that finally broke open the NE. I love comics.
  • 39D: One who may converse in Erse (Gael) — A Gaelic-speaker. GAELic. OK, I just got that connection. I'm not kidding. Just now. HA ha. Like the ERSE in "converse" here. GAEL and GAUL are easily confused. The latter refers to an inhabitant of ancient France.
  • 52D: Dartboard setting (pub) — Me: "Dartboards have settings? Like ... high? low? warm?"
  • 57D: Sleeping Beauty awakener (kiss) — I wrote KING. Stupid.
  • 61D: Debtor's pledge (I.O.U.) — Again, don't like this because DEBTS (47D: Collection agency concerns) is already in the grid. Attention must be paid ... to cluing. TUT, I say (62D: Disapproving word).
See you all Friday. More PuzzleGirl tomorrow.

~Rex Parker

Everything Else — 1A: Summon the genie (RUB); 4A: Stacy who played Mike Hammer (KEACH); 9A: Fischer man? (PAWN); 13A: Greek goddess of discord (ERIS); 15A: Parcel out (ALLOT); 16A: Pentathlon event (ÉPÉE); 17A: Almanac tidbit (FACT); 18A: "Show me" state? (SKEPTICISM); 20A: Anxious feeling (UNEASE); 22A: Car loan letters (APR); 23A: Lunched or brunched (ATE); 24A: Empire state? (SUPREMACY); 27A: Painful areas (SORES); 29A: City near Dusseldorf (ESSEN); 30A: Bringing up the rear (LAST); 32A: A unicycle has one (TIRE); 33A: Optimist's credo (ICAN); 35A: "Men in Black" extras (ALIENS); 37A: Volunteer state? (WILLINGNESS); 40A: Broadway opening? (SCENEI); 42A: Cork sources (OAKS); 43A: Oodles (TONS); 44A: With 6-Down, it's "bitter" in England (PALE); 46A: Francisco's farewell (ADIOS); 51A: Leading the pack (ONTOP); 53A: Beehive state? (DILIGENCE); 55A: Not working (OFF); 56A: Instrument sometimes made from koa wood (UKE); 58A: Campaign contest (DEBATE); 59A: Granite state? (DURABILITY); 63A: Chairlift predecessor, at many resorts (TBAR); 64A: Netizen, e.g. (USER); 65A: East Asian capital (SEOUL); 66A: Trig ratio (SINE); 67A: "Sneaked" look (PEEK); 68A: Turns (off) (SHUTS); 69A: Media mogul Turner (TED); 1D: Scow load (REFUSE); 2D: First planet discovered using a telescope (URANUS); 3D: Weightlifter's pride (BICEPS); 4D: Casey who provided Shaggy's voice in TV's "Scooby-Doo" (KASEM); 5D: Bugling grazer (ELK); 6D: See 44-Across (ALE); 7D: Common HMO requirements (COPAYS); 8D: URL starter (HTTP); 9D: Push-up muscle (PEC); 10D: They're abuzz with activity (APIARIES); 11D: Gene Autry film (WESTERN); 12D: Luthor and Brainiac, to Superman (NEMESES); 14D: Unsettling look (STARE); 19D: Treasury Dept. arm (IRS); 21D: Declining from old age (SENILE); 25D: Jai __ (ALAI); 26D: Sicilian pastry (CANNOLI); 28D: Elevator man (OTIS); 31D: Gas holder (TANK); 34D: Movie excerpt (CLIP); 36D: "Gil Blas" novelist (LESAGE); 37D: Was released (WENTFREE); 38D: Not __ many words (INSO); 39D: One who may converse in Erse (GAEL); 40D: Failed to meet as planned (STOODUP); 41D: Befuddle (CONFUSE); 45D: "The Story of __": 1975 Isabelle Adjani film (ADELEH); 47D: Collection agency concerns (DEBTS); 48D: "It won't be long" (INABIT); 49D: Gas rating (OCTANE); 50D: Get riled (SEERED); 52D: Dartboard setting (PUB); 54D: Pastoral poems (IDYLS); 57D: Sleeping Beauty awakener (KISS); 60D: Scriptural ship (ARK); 61D: Debtor's pledge (IOU); 62D: Disapproving word (TUT).


John said...

Rex! It's RUB the Magoc Lamp... Oops that's Worse! I guess Barbara Eden changed Genies Forever. All Maj Nelson had to do was take the top off of her bottle. When did they tart putting Genies in bottles?? What,They ran out of Lamps at the Bazaar??

humorlesstwit. said...

@Orange - If it weren't one, it is now.
And what did I say yesterday about terminal U's? Why does no one listen to me? Or is it that they do, and this was a deliberate affront?

humorlesstwit said...


Sandy said...

Seered? Oh duh, just as I was typing it, I parsed it and realized: two words!!

Keach and Kasem could have been Ceach and Casem, as far as I was concerned. That might tell you something about *my* youth.

Can anyone enlighten me about PAWN?

I found this just the right level of knotty cluing to keep me interested but not frustrated.

Anonymous said...

@Sandy - That's Bobby Fischer, the chess champion's PAWN

PuzzleGirl said...

Really enjoyed this theme. Agree with pretty much everything Rex said about the fill.

Kids an I saw "Monsters vs. ALIENS" yesterday. It wasn't great, but it definitely had its moments. We saw the 3D version, which was pretty cool but not recommended for anyone who has a migraine. Not that I was stupid enough to go to a 3D movie with a migraine of course....

@Sandy: The clue is referring to Bobby Fischer, the famous chess player. One of his "men" (chess pieces) is a pawn.

Jeffrey said...

@Sandy - Bobby Fischer was a chess champion. Chess has PAWNs.

XM radio 70s and 80s channels replays Casey Kasem American Top 40shows. amazing to hear songs that were hits but are completely forgotten today.

Rex Parker said...

"@Orange"??? Orange didn't say anything today. She's on vacation in a faraway land: New Orleans.

*David* said...

I saw SEERED as well once I put in DILIGENCE. I was wondering how many people would have no problem with Casey KASEM, he also used to have his TV countdown. Puzzle went really fast, for the difficult down answers, the crosses were all easy.

alex the droog said...

RUB the lamp, summon the genie opened the NW for me, an area that usually sticks and I have to come back to, HAHA. I can't tell you how many times the NW is where I finish! Today, NW first done. With the *R* I wanted RUBBISH for REFUSE, wouldn't fit. Summon the Genie a euphemism for masturbation? HUH?

Thought the theme was interesting and well-done; great literalism very clever, not even a bit stretched or ugly. 53A I thought INDUSTRY at first, but again, no fit.

BICEPS, PEC where's the ABCRUNCH when you really need it?

chefbea said...

Took me quite a while. Beeing from the show-me state I kept trying to fit Mo. in there. Then it finally dawned on me. Took longer than nyt puzzle

humorlesstwit said...

@Rex - If only that were even close to the stupidest mistake I've made today.

ArtLvr said...

Yes, Stacy KEACH played Mike Hammer in the TV series which ran for a year 1984-85, and he was great in that. However, that was then!

Currently he's acting the title role in Shakespeare's King Lear in DC, the crowning achievement of any actor's career. It's a reprise of the same production recently directed by Bob Falls (my son-in-law) at Chicago's Goodman Theater, and both got rave reviews... See it on stage if you can!

Bill from NJ said...

RUB was the first thing I entered, my mind not being in the gutter but I was extremely literal-minded today and, as a result, had a real problem uncovering the theme.

I had most the puzzle done before I entered my first theme answer. I guess I was expecting the theme entries to end the same way so I couldn't see the trees for the forest.

toothdoc said...

Rex, Thanks for the laugh today - kids don't summon the genie or you'll go blind.

Anonymous said...

Have you ever heard that clip of Casey Kasem caught with the tape still recording and he didn't know it? Classic rant. You'll always hear him differently after you hear that.

Breezy for me today.

- - Robert

Don Gagliardo said...

The first thing I noticed was the presentation of five theme answers, something which is not very easy to accomplish in a grid. I also noticed the different noun endings, Rex. Very impressive. There were enough unexpected entries to put me off the track many times, which is something that I relish in a puzzle. For example, I had "in a sec" before I got "in a bit" at 48-down. 37-down "went free" also gave me fits. A very enjoyable puzzle with a nice twist on state nicknames.

hazel said...

Thought this puzzle was quite awesome. Very very clever.

I became fascinated with bees several years ago after reading A Book of Bees by Sue Hubbel. I tried my hand at amateur beekeeping a few years back and loved watching the bees on their daily missions. With all the words out there - I don't know that I would have ever come up with DILIGENCE as a way to describe them. Such an ordinary word for an extraordinary creature.

Maybe I just did too much due diligence in my former life. Anyway, that's a small quibble in what I thought was an otherwise excellent puzzle.

benwdunn said...

I read this write-up, as well as Rex's NYT blog, everyday. As a crossword rookie, I had fun with this puzzle. I just wanted to share that I chuckled when URANUS showed up in both puzzles, and every time I see EPEE I smile. My mother, who is responsible for my crossword monkey, would always warn me of the multiple clues for that word. Thanks, Mom!


Gareth Bain said...

Really impressive to make a theme about abstract nouns non-boring (to me anyway) although the bee-hive one was a little off as Rex said. Ditto to GNU for ELK and the rub clue sounding that way - right from when I first looked at it, which shows where my mind is at. Also ditto to what Sandy said about the K/C at KEACH/KASEM... Did other kids actually pay attention to who was doing the voices???