MONDAY, Jul. 9, 2007 - Peter A. Collins

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Relative difficulty: Medium-Hard

THEME: OCTOPUS (36A: Creature suggested by this puzzle's circled letters) - 8 sets of three diagonal circled letters all spell out ARM, from the center of the puzzle outwards

This was a fine puzzle, but I have no idea who thought it was a Monday puzzle. This is the most challenging Monday puzzle I've seen in ages. First of all, there are 20 (!) seven-letter answers in the grid, including stacks of three in the NE and SW. That's a lot of longish fill, and some of that fill is very ... creative. In a good way, but not in a Monday way, necessarily. Since there are no theme answers, besides the one in the theme description, I'll just get right to it. Consider:

14A: Neighbor of Sudan (Eritrea) - that is Thursday-Saturday hard. If you had to name 10 African countries, this would not be one of them. In fact, many of us would never get to this country (I wouldn't). It sounds almost Eastern European.

8D: _____ Good Feelings (Era of) - ............ ? "Good Feeling" is a song by Violent Femmes. That is all I know about that phrase.

20A: 1950s Wimbledon champ Lew (Hoad) - Lew who? Leeeeewwww Hoo! I am a tennis fan, and sometime player, and I've nuh-ever heard of this guy. HOAD indeed.

44A: _____ Bartlet, president on "The West Wing" (Jed) - didn't watch it. Had NED.

39A: Criticize in a petty way (niggle) - I had NEEDLE.

46A: Michigan's _____ Canals (Soo) - again, most appropriate to a late-week puzzle.

Also, you might ease up on the Spanish: SRTA, MES, DOS, and OTRO, all in the same puzzle?

I like the four corners of this puzzle for all their MMMMy goodness:

  • 1A: Warm-blooded animal (mammal)
  • 7A: Polite concurrence ("yes, ma'am")
  • 61A: Coarse-haired burowers (marmots) - MARMOT, again, not Monday fill
  • 62A: 2001 Sean Penn film ("I Am Sam") - and again, NOT Monday fill - but the soundtrack to this movie is fabulous, FYI. All gorgeous Beatles covers, including performances by Aimee Mann and Michael Penn (Sean's brother), and Rufus Wainwright.

And then you really have to give it up for the answers below (in the N) and above (in the S) those M-answers. Another set of four with a certain sonorous symmetry:

  • 14A: Neighbor of Sudan (Eritrea)
  • 16A: Behind on payments, after "in" (arrears)
  • 59A: Kansas expanse (prairie)
  • 60A: Back: Fr. (arrière)

Say those answers in order, three times, fast, and you'll see what I mean.

Good night.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Linda G 9:50 PM  

Filling in all the ARMS made it some easier, at least for me. Fortunately, I didn't start on the lemon drop martini until I'd finished the puzzle.

Definitely some hard fill, but I got most of them from the didn't really see many of the clues.

I had HEAD for HOAD. It seemed like a good name for him, and I was clueless about ERA OF GOOD FEELINGS, so it wasn't any help.

Orange 10:43 PM  

Linda, here's a solving tip relating to HEAD/HOAD. Especially when it's an early-week puzzle that's supposed to be easy, Will Shortz isn't going to include a hard clue for an easy word. If there were a little-known '50s tennis player named HEAD, he generally wouldn't be used for the clue unless it were in a tough late-week puzzle. If you can think of umpteen easier ways to clue a specific Monday answer, then it's often wise to rethink the answer and double-check the crossings.

(Sorry for the hijack. I'm in a pedagogical mood this week.)

I love geographic tidbits in my crosswords, including ERITREA. My son goes to school with some kids from Eritrean families. Which reminds me—I gotta track down an Eritrean restaurant to see how the food compares to Ethiopian.

Wendy 11:29 PM  

ERA OF Good Feelings: A descriptor from an administration none of us was alive for - the Monroe Administration!

Nice lively puzzle, I thought. I'm not up on where the line should be drawn for Monday appropriateness, so I was cool with it and finished it quickly and without too many issues. I had Thin for WORN at one point and TBS for TBA, but they were easily corrected.

Anonymous 12:38 AM  

I thought this puzzle's difficulty was fine except for the NW. In fact, I was on track for a 3 minute time until I got there and it ended up taking me more than ten minutes just staring at that corner. "Darners" for MENDERS? Come on... I've never heard of IN ARREARS... "Era of good feelings" is a song? Hoad? All in the same corner? Ehh....

Anonymous 1:06 AM  

To anonymous:

To darn is to mend. As in darning socks with holes in them. In arrears is the common term for owing money on loans and credit card payments if you are late and owe back (arears) payments.

Anonymous 1:10 AM  

Ken Rosewall and Lew Hoad were a two-man Australian team in the 50s who beat the top Americans and Europeans at tennis. Of course, this was in the era before professionals took over the sport.

Rex Parker 6:20 AM  

I'm blown away that someone with the capability of doing the puzzle in 3 minutes has never heard of IN ARREARS. Also thrilled that someone else besides me is E/W dyslexic (MENDERS etc. are in the NE corner).


Anonymous 7:27 AM  

Funny, I never had to worry about all the "hard" clues (Hoad, arriere e.g.) I got them all on crosses.

In fact, it wasn't until I read this blog that I went back to make sure I'd filled them in properly.

I'd heard of Era of Good Feelings and initially had "Algeria" as a neighbor of Sudan (which may not be correct) but when it was clear it wasn't working, the crosses again made it easy for me to fill it in.

Oh, and I paid no attention to the circled letters. Never needed them.

Anonymous 8:11 AM  

I must be "through the looking glass" with regard to difficulty ratings. I found today's easy but Saturday's, opposite to my hero, Rex's rating, very hard. But, I'll just continue tiptoeing through the tulips....

Anonymous 9:05 AM  

would someone care to decode for me the following: SRTA for "spanish Mlle" and "MSS" for "editor's work: abbr."? finished the puzzle, but got those on crosses.

Anonymous 9:07 AM  

(by the same guy who posted Anonymous at 9:05 AM).

also, no one mentioned how cool it was to have COLAS and COLI sit directly on top of one another. so, for the downs, that meant double C, double O, double L.

Orange 9:31 AM  

SRTA is an abbreviation for señorita, and MSS is an abbreviation for manuscripts. The abbreviated "Mlle." and the "Abbr." tag both signaled that the answers would be abbreviations.

Rex Parker 10:01 AM  

Again, to be clear, the difficulty rating is RELATIVE. Saturday's puzzle was, obviously, way harder than today's puzzle (though it was easy ... "relative" ... to other Saturday puzzles). Today's puzzle was hard ... "relative" ... to Monday puzzles.

Or so I say.


Anonymous 10:19 AM  

Rex, The mmmm's are in "their" corners, not "there" corners

Wade 10:22 AM  

Agreed that it was a tough Monday. My usual technique when I do it in Across Lite (as opposed to the newspaper version, which I usually do on Saturdays) is to tab quickly through each clue in order and fill in as many as I know without looking at crosses, put in the "s"es, etc., and then go back and work on getting the crosses. On Mondays, though, to try to decrease my time (trying to break 3 minutes but never have), I sometimes toggle back and forth to fill in whole sections and go where the cursor leads me. I paid for that today--this was nearly a nine-minute puzzle for me (the last couple of minutes spent stratching my head about ERA__F.)

What's your typical puzzle technique?

Spencer 10:45 AM  

I finished this in 4:49, which is a little on the slow side for me on a Monday puzzle. Best case, I can whip through doing only the acrosses, but this wasn't one of those. On the other hand, nothing really stumped me, because the ones I didn't know, I got on crosses.

Wade, I used to do as you do. But then I read a note by one of the online speed solvers (don't remember who, but it wasn't Amy/Orange) describing his technique of going through the down answers first. Especially early in the week, down answers are unlikely to be in the theme, and are therefore more straightforward. I tried that for a while, and it did improve my speed solving.

Now, I tend to use a combined technique. If I can get the acrosses, I'll plow through, but when I don't immediately get one, I do the downs that cross it, and I might get the across then, too. When I don't have to come back to a section of the puzzle on a second pass, I finish more quickly.

But then, it depends on what your goal is...

Orange 10:55 AM  

Spencer, I think it was Al Sanders or Trip Payne, talking about on-paper solving, who tipped me off to working on the Downs first. In easy crosswords, starting at 1- and 2- and 3-Down often lets you fill in a whole corner without needing the Across clues (though if you're concerned about the crossword tournament, you'll train yourself to at least glance at the crossing clues). That also will often give you the first four or five letters of the first theme entry.

David 12:09 PM  

Say, y'all anon posters - might you stick some name (even if it isn't your's) at the ed of you comments? Would be more fun reading them if the posts were identified so I knew if it was 8 different "anons" or 2 having a conversation :) .
Thanks Rex - makes me feel good when we agree on difficulty! (as oposed to those times I struggle and struggle and you say "easy".) I ended up with 2 errors this time, pretty bad for a Monday for me. Wasn't crossing the Belgian beer with singer Morissette a little nasty for a Monday? Left me with a total "guess a vowel" square, which I guessed wrong.

Alex 12:39 PM  

I'm inclined to call a linguistic foul on arrears/arriere since they are essentially the same word both coming from the older French "arere".

I found it an easy one, would have been well under my normal Monday time if not for a couple minutes wasted finding my typo (and it was a typo not a bad guess).

Never much noticed the theme until I was done. I quickly did the NW corner, wondered what MRA (thought maybe a theme answer in the middle would some Mr. A) and then the next time I looked at it I was done without noticing they were obviously arms.

Other than there being 8 of them, though, their placement in the puzzle doesn't really suggest an octopus to me.

Howard B 1:00 PM  

Just think, two more ARMs in there, and we could have had a squid! Doesn't fit a grid quite as well, though.

Although I just read that someone caught a new species dubbed an 'octosquid', which has 8 arms but with a squid's head. Maybe that could be an alternate ceter word for a theme like this...

Wendy 2:20 PM  

I forgot to mention earlier re: Stella ARTOIS, I chuckled because it has the distinction of being the only beer I've ever sent back because it was undrinkable. I love beer especially microbrews and anything local to the area I'm in or travelling in. I ordered it draft in Stratford, Ontario, Canada. I just could not choke it down.

Jerome 2:54 PM  


Agree this was tough for a Monday.

Being of a certain age, I knew Lew HOAD (saw him play at Forest Hills) and ERA OF Good Feeings (missed by only a few decades, LOL).

However, not knowing much French, originally wanted derierre for 60A with TBD for 51D. SHARI Lewis caused me to reconsider. Finally, really liked
the juxtapositioning of ARREARS & ARRIERE and COLAS & COLI.

Anonymous 3:07 PM  

Stella is the Bud for hipsters, recently edging out Pabst, which had long held sway in that social group. To shake things up, I've taken to drinking Hoegaarden which, while tasting way better than the watery swill of the others, makes me imagine the garden of Eden filled with slutty Eves. Everybody wins.

As for today's level of difficulty, I found it refreshing. Does anybody agree that Monday is usually sooo easy that it's hard to look forward to? I hate that.

green mantis

Ron 3:13 PM  

Wow, it was a tough Monday puzzle, but I have been in Slovakia (neighbor of Austria - that would be a good clue) ... and Slovakia is an Eastern European country and sounds NOTHING like Eritrea - and i dont get the puzzle every day unless I buy the Herald Tribune, and not too keen on doing online version (love the pencil - or pen if I dare - thing )so I have been a bit out of practice...but today was the first time I have had to google on a monday (for Adlai Stevensons middle initial since I could not figure out French for back), but it was good to get it filled in and then go straight to Rex !

ciao (not slovak for goodbye but used here instead by slovaks so seems to work )

Anonymous 3:17 PM  

One that I think does not fit, 24 Across Justice div. that conducts raids (ATF).

Isn't ATF part of Treasury, not the Justice Department? I had trouble filling in ERA_F for ____ Good Times because I thought the F was wrong for the reason I gave.

Anonymous 4:45 PM  

ATF is part of the Department of Justice. See:

Orange 5:24 PM  

Look! Anonymous has answered Anonymous's question! It's like he's talking to himself. Or she. Or it. All you anonymous commenters, david is right—just click "Other" above "Anonymous" and type in a name for yourself. It doesn't have to be your real name.

I can't drink Hoegaarden (despite its tasty abundance of vowels and the fact that it's my friend's absolute favorite beer) or other weiss beers because I don't like the flavor. But Stella ARTOIS might be a performance enhancer—I know three-time ACPT champion Tyler Hinman likes it.

BT 5:32 PM  

And for whoever requested, Mlle is short for the French word Madamoiselle. So Spanish Mlle is Srta (for senorita as mentioned previously).

Does anybody actually use the term "sea star" (and especially on a Monday?). Sorry, Charlie, but I think that's an obscure word, too.

Kitt 5:45 PM  

Yeah, I liked the slightly harder Monday puzzle. I haven't been doing the Mondays but I took a quick peek at Rex's comments and when he said it was hard for a Monday I decided to do it. Glad I did. Nice puzzle!

LOL Orange! and whoever else suggested that anonyms pick a name. Kitt is not my real name I just use it for the puzzle blogs. Not hard to pick a nick and then we can sort of follow better. Just a suggestion.

As to Rex making typos in his commentary. I just want to say that I know doing this takes a lot of his time. And I'm so glad he does it! I think we should have a typo forgiveness policy for everyone. I've made them before even when only typing a couple of short sentences. UGH!

Which brings me to ask if there is any way to spell check before you publish comments?

Fergus 5:59 PM  

When I lived in Oakland there was an Eritrean restaurant down the street, where one could enjoy a fine Stella with the spicy soaked injera. Good combo since Stella is pretty bold for a lager.

Recently heard a Serbian woman pronounce each letter in YACHT -- I hope someone else finds this richly satisfying.

I do tend to speed through these puzzles but I don't see how anyone can scribble accurately enough to do it in less than five minutes. Though I tend to keep it under ten, I'm not sure I could even copy the letters in in less than seven minutes. Not dyslexic, but I'm not very dexterous either, I reckon.

frances 6:22 PM  

Speed is never an issue for me. The longer a puzzle takes, the more time I have to enjoy the mental challenge. Today's puzzle was the easiest grid I've encountered in ages; it went so fast there was hardly any fun in it. Different solvers seem to occupy different wave lengths!

Wendy 6:39 PM  

There's only one thing I really hate about "typical" Mondays, and that's if all of the answers are standard-issue or Pantheonic words clued in pedestrian ways, and the theme is lame-o. So I'd say Rex is right, today was a departure from that modus operandi. And I'm in favor of it! Any puzzle that has ABDOMEN in the middle, the rhyming GROW DIM and TINY TIM in opposing southern regions, and MARMOTS and PRAIRIES is OK by me. I'd raise a Stella ARTOIS to it if something more palatable wasn't staring me in the face.

Alex 6:42 PM  

Does anybody actually use the term "sea star" (and especially on a Monday?). Sorry, Charlie, but I think that's an obscure word, too.

I don't know if it is an obscure word generally but it in my house it is not. My wife used to work at a marine park (Sea Life Park in Honolulu) and "starfish" is a pet peeve of hers. Anybody who says it in her range will be informed that sea star is the correct term since they're not fish.

Wade 6:58 PM  

I'm not a speed freak either--it's just that going for speed adds a new challenge to the early-in-the- week puzzles. Ever since I saw that movie (you know the one) with the player who beats 3 minutes on whatever puzzle he's doing, I've tried to break the 3 mark, to no avail. I always run the timer when I do Across Lite and have my own benchmarks that in my own mind I measure myself and the puzzle against. If a Tuesday takes more than, say, 7 minutes, I deem it difficult. If I can do a Saturday in under a half-hour (Saturdays I usually do untimed, since I do it in the newspaper, and I almost never finish it in one sitting), I deem it easy.

Michael 7:26 PM  

I knew someone from Eritrea back when they were struggling for their independence. He explained that no, he wasn't Ethiopian, but identified with a country whose name I had never heard of before.

Anyway, I guess he felt about his nat'l identity a little like how Alex's wife is about naming those marine mollusks.

If nothing else, it helps you remember the proper terms in case they come up in a crossword puzzle.

liebestraum 9:19 PM  

(formerly an anonymous)

OK, being new to this blog, I'd like to thank Rex for the brief explanation of his rating system.

So, I can kind of agree today's Monday puzzle was "harder" than a typical Monday puzzle. Now, I won't be scratching my head.

And - for those of you who can dust off a Monday puzzle anywhere near 3 minutes - congrats. That's me waving from the 5 to 6 minute mark!

Ultra Vi 1:18 AM  

Lovely octopus puzzle with all those ARMS - thanks for the continued inspired blogging, Rex.

Anonymous 10:01 PM  

Your satiric comment about Lew Hoad
probably reflects your age but Hoad was a great tennis layer. He won the Wimbleton tournament in 1955 & 1956 and in 1956 he almost won the Grand Slam. Hoad won the first three tournaments (Australian, French and Wimbleton) but lost the United States Tournament to his fellow Australian, Ken Rosewall. Hoad and Rosewall beat the Americans for the Davis Cup on two occasions
by winning singles and teaming up in the doubles. He turned professional in 1956 and toured with Pancho Gonzales who regarded Lew Hoad as the toughest opponent he ever faced. In the pre-open era, professionals could not play in amateur events like the majors. Lew Hoad probably would have won many other Slam events under present rules.

Anonymous 11:42 AM  

6WL :::

ERITREA gained fame as being the least-known member of the so-called "coalition of the willing", those countries who signed on to join Bush in his Iraq invasion in 2003.

Wishing we had JED (President Bartlett), instead.

Once I had the theme, all four corners fell easily, as there were so many letters filled in from the A R Ms.

cornbread hell 6:25 PM  

8 arm pumps of excitement for a challenging monday puzzle!

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