SATURDAY, May 30—Robert H. Wolfe

The Saturday puzzle is themeless—the game is decoding tougher clues and figuring out a slew of longer words and phrases.

They're not theme answers, but the three 15-letter answers are all things someone might say in colloquial English:
  • 17A: "Maybe I can help?" is what someone might be getting at if they asked "WHAT'S THE PROBLEM?"
  • 37A: "Now we're getting somewhere" clues "THAT'S MORE LIKE IT."
  • 56A: One Statement of intolerance is "I WON'T STAND FOR IT."

Crosswordese 101: Doesn't ORT sound like the bastard child of baseball's Mel OTT (47D: Six-time N.L. home run champ) and hockey legend Bobby ORR? It's not. It's an archaic word that's been around since the days of Middle English and it means a food scrap. Here, it's clued as 33D: Boxer's scrap, meaning a scrap for a dog such as a boxer. You know why I'm so messed up? It's from an early diet of crosswords during my formative years. I even used the word orts in a high school term paper about medieval dining customs, and I thought the teacher was an idiot for marking the word "?" But how many people who (a) don't do crosswords and (b) aren't medievalists know what ORT means? Maybe not so many. But it remains my favorite bit of old-school crosswordese.

Which clues and answers did I like most? These ones:
  • 23A: Cat's pajamas? (FUR). Ha! Good one. I was expecting a synonym for "great" along the lines of "the cat's pajamas," but it's both more playful and more literal than that.
  • 26A: Reckon, rurally (S'POSE). I think S'POSE is more of a slangy thing than a "rural" thing these days.
  • I do like PSHAW— 41A: "Bah!"
  • 43A: Caesar's tax form? (MXL). This one feels like a massive violation of Roman numeral cluing convention, as the ancient Romans assuredly did not have the U.S. Internal Revenue Service nor its 1040 form (MXL is 1,040 in Roman numerals). But it's just crazy enough that I like it. And it's way better than what Rex calls "YOTP" clues—year of the pope.
  • 61A: Commonly receding boundary (HAIRLINE). Was your first thought of the polar ice cap?
  • 29D: Elegantly done (SOIGNÉ). What could be more soigné than bandying this word about naturally?
  • 51D: "Closer" Oscar nominee Clive __ (OWEN). Have you ever seen HBO's Ricky Gervais series, Extras? Here's a scene with Clive Owen playing "Clive Owen":

  • 55D: Do to pick is an AFRO, a pick being an uplifting comb for an afro.

    I was less fond of these:
    • 20A: Common opening (DEAR SIRS). All right, who's still addressing letters this way? I suppose one might be writing to the College of Cardinals or the players for the Chicago Cubs but really, how many letters are being sent somewhere where there are only "sirs"?
    • 4D: Major followers? (-ETTES). Nobody likes a plural of a suffix.

    • Burrowing rabbitlike mammal (PIKA). It's certainly not the most familiar of Western U.S. mammals, but:: so cute! I just learned something from the Wikipedia article on pikas: Like rabbits, after eating they initially produce soft green feces, which they eat again to extract further nutrition, before producing the final, solid, fecal pellets. "Uh, you gonna eat that?"

    Everything Else — 1A: Begins energetically (WADES IN); 8A: Went up (SCALED); 14A: "Be right there!" ("WAIT A SEC!"); 16A: Boom (THRIVE); 19A: Philippine bread (PESO); 21A: French possessive (SES); 22A: Add more brown to, say (REDYE); 24A: Where the 'eart is? ('OME); 31A: Removed, in a way (SCRAPED OFF); 36A: Jobs for underwriters, briefly (IPOS); 39A: Farm drier (OAST); 40A: Soft drink order (EXTRA-LARGE); 44A: Solution: Abbr. (ANS.); 45A: Levi's "Christ Stopped at __" (EBOLI); 49A: Suffix with amyl (-ASE); 50A: Try to get in the running (NOMINATE); 54A: "Thanks, __": "Are you hungry?" response (I ATE); 60A: Decide is best (SEE FIT); 62A: Chant (INTONE); 63A: Words from one closing a door, perhaps (TOO LATE); 1D: Internet abbr. (WWW); 2D: "That's the spot!" ("AAH!"); 3D: More frequent changes reduce its likelihood (DIAPER RASH); 5D: Lip (SASS); 6D: Comparison words (IS TO); 7D: Book before Esth. (NEH.); 8D: Prospective adoptee (STRAY); 9D: Tasks (CHORES); 10D: Wall St. hedgers (ARBS); 11D: 1953 Caron film (LILI); 12D: Of all time (EVER); 13D: Party people: Abbr. (DEMS); 15D: Give up (CEDE); 18D: Walker, briefly (PED); 21D: For example (SUCH AS); 22D: Electron transfer process, often (REDOX); 23D: Photo setting (F-STOP); 24D: Photo finishes? (OPS); 25D: Kid's enthusiastic "I do!" ("ME! ME!"); 28D: Style of Mozart's "Idomeneo" (OPERASERIA); 30D: Colorado's __ Park (ESTES); 32D: Kofi __ Annan (ATTA); 34D: Atom-splitting Nobelist (FERMI); 35D: Linen source (FLAX); 38D: Bugged? (ILL); 42D: Entered (WENT IN); 46D: Moisten (BASTE); 48D: Wife of Jacob (LEAH); 49D: Lagoon border (ATOLL); 50D: Not final, in law (NISI); 52D: Bubbly brand (MOET); 53D: Dope (INFO); 54D: Personal: Pref. (IDIO-); 57D: Washington MLBer (NAT); 58D: Money pd. for use of money (INT.); 59D: Athletic supporter? (TEE).

    Geek said...

    Fun puzzle! I got my Ferad's mixed up with my FERMI's, so Caesar's tax form knocked me out. Otherwise I thought all the misleading clues led to a very enjoyable solve. I never would have gotten REDOX without the crosses. Uh, and thanks for the INFO on the PIKA. News to me!

    Carol said...

    I can never remember Roman numerals L and D. Know one is 50 and the other 500, but have to look it up every time! Thought that clue kind of funny.

    Good challenging puzzle. Had to Google a couple of things. The pika is waaay cute!

    Anonymous said...

    I could NOT figure out soigne, which is annoying because I had a student give a definition speech about that very word a few years back....memory, not hearing, is the first to go for me!

    hazel said...

    Since when is wading in beginning energetically? Wading in is testing the waters, beginning tentatively. I resisted that answer for quite some time even when it became obvious that that was the only thing that would fit.

    I liked MXL a lot - probably because I found the clue to be somewhat clever, knew it immediately, and therefore felt incredibly clever.

    I guess that whole breakfast test thing is a myth, but still diaper rash?

    The Clive Owen clip was hilarious.

    Anonymous said...

    Lynda RN said...
    Tough puzzle for my mom and me but liked it anyway. Starting to think outside the box on a lot of clues and getting them right. Put Mole for Pika so that took awhile to fix. Thanks for the Pika info. I also can't remember all the Roman Numerals so have a page of them printed out in my CW puzzle dictionary. I always remember M is 1000 since all the movies have their dates in roman numerals and they started in the 1900's. - But never thought of 1040 as Ceasar's tax form - oh well...
    Have a great weekend -- till Monday
    Lynda RN

    Rex Parker said...

    PIKA, crap!

    PICA, I know. PACA, also. PIKA, hell no.



    Tough puzzle for me. Never heard of Mozart's OPERASERIA or amyl siffix ASE, so SE was horrible for me. The MXL for Caesar' 1040 was so clever, but just like Carol, I ponder L for 50 and D for 500... every time I do Roman Numerals.
    Even though I'm a science type, I missed REDOX for electron transfer... have to add that to my scrabble X-words. I think ORT makes sense for food scrap, but what does boxer have to do with it?
    Is there some relationship between medieval food habits and boxers? I'm totally troubled by Robert Wolfe's choice of "Boxer's scrap" here.

    Al said...

    I would guess that it was an attempt at misdirection to make you think of "Boxer's scrap" as a human fight answer instead of a dog food leftover answer. An ort is an ort (of course, of course) but are there any three-letter words for fight?

    Orange said...

    @Geek, you'll be wanting FARAD (named after Faraday) in the future, not FERAD.

    @Carol, maybe this'll help out: 500 is 50 with another 0 tacked on, and D sort of looks like an L with a zero welded onto it.

    @hazel, I know! At Diary of a Crossword Fiend, I talked about the extreme wrongness of "wading in" having that meaning. A dictionary gives this example: "He waded into the yelling, fighting crowd." But-but-but...wading into water is so much more hesitant than diving in head first. How on earth did "wading in" ever get the connotation of leaping in vigorously?

    @John, OPERA SERIA is an opera on a serious, dramatic, sometimes mythological theme. Contrasting with opera buffa or opera bouffe, a French comic opera with characters drawn from everyday life.


    Al... how about HIT, JAB or BAM?
    Yes, boxer is a diversionary tactic I'm sure, but I just hate it being used with ORT!

    mac said...

    That was a fun puzzle. Also thought "wading in" is tentative, I thought jumping would make more sense.

    What a cute animal, the pika, but I have never seen one. Interesting feces story!

    What do we start a dead tree letter with? "To whom it may concern" sounds stuffy, but it covers both sexes.

    Al said...

    How about when entering a swampy area, with the possibility of unseen gators, quicksand, snakes, or sinkholes? "Wading right in" when faced with that situation could be fairly dangerous.

    Anonymous said...

    Here's a way to keep L/D, 50/500 straight: 50 is LESS than 500, and "less" starts with "L". Try it, you'll like it!

    hazel said...

    @Al - that's a pretty long clue you've got going there!!

    @Rex - Was that (1) "CRAP - you got me!" or (2) "CRAP - this is an outlandisly obscure word and therefore should not be in the puzzle!"

    Because I've never heard of PIKAS or PACAS - in and of itself not unusual - they are among many obscure words I don't know and likely won't remember BUT

    I will say that the internet knows alot more about pikas than pacas - what a pika looks like, that its the cousin of a rabbit, chinchilla-like, etc. Plus I also learned today about their eating habits (CRAP!) thanks to Orange.

    Pacas on the other hand are still a big fat mystery. The only thing out there is that they are in the genus Cuniculus. No descriptions. No pictures. That's it. By that token, to the extent either of these obscure animals could pass a “reasonable man” judicial test, I think pika would win.

    If your intent was (1), though, please disregard this comment.

    Joon said...

    as the parent of an 18 month-old, i did not find DIAPER RASH to fail the breakfast test. but then suddenly people started talking about eating their own feces.

    didn't know PIKA or SOIGNÉ, so S'POSE took a while to tease out (had to guess IPOS first, when i was thinking insurance). other than that, this was a fast solve for me. i thought ME ME was an odd way to clue MEME, although i guess with REDOX and FERMI sitting in that same region, maybe rich didn't want to make it too sciency.

    crosswordese i need to learn: NISI. this isn't the first time i've seen it, but i never remember it.

    orange, re: -ETTES, would you have preferred ETTAS/PASO? i'm not sure what's more distasteful, plural suffixes or the plural of an unusual proper name. probably the former in this case, since at least there are two somewhat well-known ETTAS that could be named (kett and james), unlike, say, UMAS or UTAS or YMAS.

    eileen said...

    As I newbie, I usually start having trouble around Thursday and the rest of the week is humbling but today's puzzle was a little easier because of the familiar phrases.
    One again, Orange, you rock! I really like your explanations, as well as those from Rex and Puzzle Girl. I am creating a resource doc from your 101's and it is already helping alot.
    I really appreciate all the work you guys do. You are making solving soooooo much fun!

    Al said...

    @Joon, funny how spreading the word about memetics is itself a meme. A meta-meme, if you will...

    Orange said...

    @Eileen, don't put too much work into the Crosswordese 101 doc—we'll be putting that online all in one place soonish. Glad the blog's enhancing your crossword experience!

    @joon, well, nobody's a fan of plural first name answers, but at least a name is solid in the singular. The plural suffix suffers on two counts: it's already a lame entry in the singular, and then it adds an S? Bleah. There is a band called The Ettes, though. Let's all buy their music and talk 'em up so that they hit the big time. Crossword constructors would be so pleased.

    Rex Parker said...

    I am constructing a puzzle at the moment and ETTES was an option for a particularly tough corner. But I just can't do ETTES. It's beyond my tolerance for forced fill.

    Joon said...

    patrick berry points out that pluralizing a suffix makes little to know grammatical sense. prefixes and suffixes in general rank 3rd-to-last in his hierarchy of fill quality, ahead of only variant spellings and partial phrases (and even partial phrases are perfectly okay for easy puzzles). there's probably a special section of hell reserved for plural suffixes.


    @Hazel-- paca, a rodent (genus Agouti), either of two species of South American rodents with pig-like bodies, large heads, and swollen cheeks. They have short ears, large eyes, and long whiskers, and their bodies are stout, with large rumps and short limbs. The front feet have four toes, and the hind feet have five—two tiny side toes and three long, weight-bearing middle toes, all with thick claws. Sort of sounds like a description of me.

    Mike said...

    Well, I kinda liked this puzzle and kinda didn't. I thought that the colloquial phrases were fun, but at the same time, they seemed too easy for Saturday; I was kind of stunned at how many squares they let me get.

    I enjoyed some of the cluing quite a bit, like cat's pajamas, and like Orange said, Caesar's tax form was bizarre but kind of awesomely insane at the same time. However, some of the fill, like the aforementioned ETTES, was really awkward and/or kind of arbitrary, like SPOSE or WADES IN.

    So, in the end, this gets a solid shrug of the shoulders from me.

    hazel said...

    @John... That is really funny, but you bear no resemblance at all to that description of the PACA, which sounds like something I would prefer not to come across. The PIKA on the other hand looked sort of cute - regardless of its dietary habits.

    And good on you! my googling was clearly inferior to yours!! Wikipedia had bubkes.

    Jan said...

    Here's a mnemonic for remembering Roman numerals: LCDM = Elsie (LC) Drinks Milk = 50, 100, 500, 1,000. Learned that years ago and have never forgotten it. Very useful for crosswords!

    Jan said...

    Hmm, now that I look at that mnemonic, maybe it should be Elsie delivers milk - unless Elsie is a nursing calf.