MONDAY, Sep. 17, 2007 - Sarah Keller

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Relative difficulty: Challenging

THEME: [Bell ringer] - four theme answers have "Bell ringer" for a clue

This may be the first time I've ever rated a Monday puzzle "Challenging." I completed it in 4:15, which is an average Monday time for me, but while I was solving, I kept thinking "damn" and "no way" because the fill was so ... unexpected. And I Loved how the first theme answer is split over the first and last Across answers. Nice framing device. Despite some crosswordese (e.g. 39D: Palindromic tribe name (Oto)), this puzzle is SO much more lively and vibrant than your average Monday, and it's "Challenging" only insofar as most of the fill is not your typical humdrum early-week crap. Some of it actually takes some thought to piece out. So ... "Challenging." I felt like I was very much on top of my solving game, and still my time was just average. So it must have been challenging. Whatever - this isn't an exact science!

Theme answers:

  • 1A: With 68-Across, bell ringer (Avon / Lady)
  • 20A: Bell ringer (church warden) - a fresh phrase, but one that is barely in my vocabulary (again, "challenging")
  • 37A: Bell ringer (percussionist) - another great long answer, and one that mystified me at first; had the -CUSSION- part and for some reason wrote in DISCUSSION... the "D" actually gave me a plausible answer, DOSE, for 37D: Bit of medicine (pill).
  • 54A: Bell ringer (bicycle rider)
I am a Red Sox fan so TED was a welcome sight (12D: Slugger Williams - he wore my favorite number: 9) and I practice TAI CHI (44D: Chinese martial art) regularly, so that was nice to see. There are some offbeat / specialized terms that I'm a little (pleasantly?) surprised to see in a Monday puzzle, like 63A: Book after Jonah (Micah) and 48D: Steering component (tie rod) and 14A: Fashion designer Rabanne (Paco) and 53D: Star in Orion (Rigel) and 57D: 1961 space chimp (Enos) and 2D: Poet Lindsay (Vachel) - the last of which I couldn't spell right at first. I do not understand EAUS (25D: Waters, informally) at all - I know that it means "waters" in French, but ... "informally???" In English? Context? Sahra has a purple bear named VIDA Blue (29A: Cy Young Award winner Blue) - I'm quite sure I had some powers of suggestion when the naming was taking place, as I have always thought that VIDA Blue was one of the greatest names in sports history. Another name that makes me happy is ENDORA (47D: "Bewitched" witch) - a character played in great, drag-queen-esque style by the fabulous Agnes Moorehead. Lastly, DICIER (34A: Less certain) is a great expression, as is DREAMBOAT (34D: Heartthrob). You know who I think's a DREAMBOAT (besides Paul Rudd)? This guy:

My best friend, however, thinks this guy is the prettiest man who has ever been on television:

Anyway ... good job, Sarah Keller - this puzzle goes in the "Best of..." file I've got sitting on my computer desktop; it's in serious contention for best Monday puzzle of the year.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

57 comments:

Anonymous 9:53 PM  

how do you have Monday's puzzle already? I came to check the Sunday xwrds and found myself staring at an unfamiliar puzzle.

Anonymous 9:55 PM  

Sorry to comment about trifling matters, but I thought you should know the clue for DREAMBOAT is posted incorrectly. A rare mistake in an immensly enjoyable blog!

Loved this puzzle, especially AVON/LADY. I moved on from the NW unfinished (Lindsay who?), making it the last theme answer I got, and it was satisfying.

EAUS as "Waters, informally" made me immediately grimace, but the answer was obvious and I moved quickly past, only to get more preturbed upon re-reading it after completion. Since when it the entire French language informal?

Overall, however, for a Monday, this was top notch!

Anonymous 9:59 PM  

Yes, it was challenging and fun for a Monday.

Rex - you were so excited about your DREAMBOAT pictures that you repeated the "Less certain" question for both 34A and 34D.

For those of us who are not as up on all the latest pop culture, who are the men you have pictured?

DS

Howard B 10:31 PM  

Possibly because if it were an actual French plural, it'd probably be EAUX (Feel free to correct the holy living hell out of me if that's wrong, I took Spanish first in school). It seemed like a way to safely clue that word.

Jerome 10:36 PM  

Rex, I agree this is one fine puzzle for a Monday (I won't try to compare it to last week's).

DS - They're character for the TV show "Heroes."

Karen 10:37 PM  

Anon 9:53, on the weekends the puzzle changes at 6 pm.
Anon 9:59, you can now pick up Season 1 of Heroes for your drooling enjoyment.

I was surprised to see a cross between VACHEL and PACO on a Monday. And that I got it right.

I do tai chi too! It's a great exercise.

wendy 10:59 PM  

Yeah, EAUS is mystifying. The plural of water is most definitely EAUX and I don't see how that would change "informally," whatever that might mean.

That said, I found the puzzle enjoyable for the same reasons as Rex. Definitely not one to just sleepwalk through. Particularly love the word BLEATS. I wish I had more opportunities to use that in a sentence than modern life affords me.

I knew VACHEL Lindsay, but didn't know that, at least according to wikipedia, he committed suicide by drinking a bottle of Lysol. Jeez.

Alex 11:25 PM  

Don't know Vachel Lindsay or Paco Rabanne so it was fortunate for me that their crossing vowel happened to be an A so I got it on my first try.

I'm going to stop and take a lot of pride in the fact that I was within a minute of Rex's time. A "fast" Monday for me is closer to 7 minutes but I seemed to have found a groove with the applet I don't normally have (even with the unusual amount of cross clue references I didn't want to slow down for).

Enjoyed this one.

Anonymous 6:29 AM  

Lots of precedent for EAUS in which foreign words have become Anglicized. "Pastas", "tycoons", "ketchups", "tattoos", "teas", "ranches", and the list of course goes on endlessly.

Now, I'll give you the point that EAU has not replaced "water" as the above words have replaced the original words. But I think there are some products in which EAU no longer is perceived to primarily be a French word and is instead treated as another way to describe water or a liquid. In this case, the pluralization should use English grammar "S" and not the original language, in this case "X".

So I vote "OUI" for using "S" in this case. And...it's Monday, so tossing in a pluralized foreign word with an X would be a little harsh!

Rockonchris 7:23 AM  

Can someone please explain what the "applet" is? Thanks.

Anonymous 7:42 AM  

Funny, but before I read today's blog, it had crossed my mind to suggest that you consider taking Mondays off. Doing it every day must be an awful grind.

Then I saw the wonderful TIME image of Vida Blue and it made my day.

Windsor 9
(another Ted "old spit" Williams fan)

Anonymous 8:37 AM  

Great Monday, and I completely concur with the "challenging" rating... I kept thinking, "This is Monday???" as I was going through it. This wouldn't have been out of place on Wed, I thought. (Not that I'm complaining! More Mondays like this one would be fantastic.)

This was also a blast from my California-childhood past: 23A, which was my favorite CA-themed song when I was a child; 40D, bringing back those school field trips to Sutter's Mill; and VIDA Blue, from those glorious 70's Oakland A's.

Congrats to Sarah Keller on the most fun Mon puzzle I've seen since I started subscribing to the NYT puzzles this spring.

Anne E.

Anonymous 9:03 AM  

Rex as a life long Yankee fan I have always admired Teddy Baseball...I wonder what would have happened if he were traded to the Yankees for Joe D...have a good day
Bob

Scott 9:32 AM  

I liked seeing ENOS, that valiant primate who (I repeat) really ought to be in the Pantheon.

And is ENDORA doing TAI CHI in that photo?

Rick 9:57 AM  

You must type fast. I blew through this puzzle because, for some reason, all the down clues came quickly. I don't think I paused for more than a second or two on any clue and I still couldn't do this in less than 5 minutes.

There was an ALEC ENOS born in 1875 but he didn't do anything to enter puzzledom.

Too bad, he probably would have been in four puzzles a week.

mmpo 10:55 AM  

Anonymous 6:29 AM makes a sound case for pluralizing EAU with an S. However...Webster's unabridged gives X only, while offering both X and S as acceptable plural endings to CHATEAU. I guess that's what she meant by "informally"...not in the dictionary, but you might well find EAUS de toilette in informal writing?
Eau well.

Beata 11:18 AM  

btw, "iside info for investoe" is not reallu "HOT TIP" but "JAIL TIME"... rember Martha ?

Beata 11:18 AM  

investoR

Jim in Chicago 11:29 AM  

I went to the blog hoping that Rex had called this puzzle at least "medium" since I was feeling rather stupid this morning, and was very happy to see the "challenging" rating. I agree, and this probably the first Monday puzzle ever that I didn't quite finish.

Several bad guesses threw me off. I had no clue on "poet Lindsay" but had the last five letters, making RACHEL a very logical - but incorrect - guess. I then had ARON in 1A, preventing my from getting AVON LADY, since I also didn't know the Star in Orion, leaving me with _ADY at 68A. The two choices at that point were ARON _ADY or _ADY ARON, neither of which made any sense. Although I did momentary think that LADY ARON could just possibly be a figure in the Arthurian legends who might have rung bells.

I do have a quibble with CHURCHWARDEN, since in my experience the warden is the head of the Vestry (governing body) and is usally not involved in such mundane matters as ringing the bells. That would usually be the sexton, or possibly a verger or someone else appointed to the job. Maybe Church Warden also has other meanings I'm not familiar with.

I'm also disappointed that QUASIMOTO couldn't find a home in a puzzle about ringing bells.

ayoung 12:16 PM  

Me too, Rex and Karen. The form I do is called tai chi Chuan which features 150 postures, a number of them repeated but the catch is remembering the sequence. Our teacher demonstrates the two person dance so that his pupils can understand what happens to the opponent at the end of a posture, i.e., that kick is to the groin! Back to the puzzle, it was fun even though I got hung up temporarily in the NW corner which usually doesn't happen on a Monday. My fashion design knowledge obviously isn't very good--missed Chloe from yesterday (?) and now Paco Rebanne.

campesite 12:49 PM  

I grew up in Oakland, and even as a young boy, I was wildly passionate about the A's (and Raiders), and Vida Blue was one of my favorite players. After a game he won, he signed my beloved A's windbreaker with a special note to me. As I walked to BART from the Coliseum (10 years old, by myself--that wouldn't happen today) a big teenage boy mugged me and I never saw the jacket again. Damn.
Loved the puzzle, though.

prshutr 12:53 PM  

Gratifying more than challenging. Eaux would have been formal.
And if the Red Sox had traded Teddy Ballgame to the effing Yankees for Joe D., the entire universe would have come unhinged. In those days, you see, there was no free agency.

Anonymous 1:14 PM  

Can someone explain avon lady as bell ringer?

Anonymous 1:17 PM  

ha. oh wait just got it. thank you google.

Still have never heard the term before, but then again I've never had to buy Avon. The one person I know who sold Avon sold it not by ringing a doorbell, but rather to an interested postwoman who delievered the mail to the office.

Anonymous 1:19 PM  

Ding Dong Avon Calling.

Jerome 1:28 PM  

You probably don't remember "AVON CALLING" as their advertising theme.

Fergus 1:30 PM  

Campesite, That sounds like an Oakland stereotype. Even with the charms of San Francisco and Marin, I still found Oakland the best place to live in the core Bay Area. Grew up in Chicago, and some people still think Al Capone is blazing away with a machine gun. Yeah, I know Oaktown does have it's problems, but its image is a lot rougher than it really ought to be.

I felt particularly gratified with 48D, the Steering system component. I went off on a late Saturday tirade about the FRONT AXLE, complaining about its imprecision in matching the same clue. While I would like to think that Will Shortz was cravenly responding to my pointed instruction, I'm just happy to find an agreeable coincidence.

Anonymous 2:30 PM  

I couldn't figure out "avon lady" either, even after I got it. But I'm only 25, so.....seriously. I was thinking....you mean like Shakespeare's birthplace Avon...?

campesite 2:53 PM  

Hi Fergus--I love Oakland and most of my family still lives there. As an Oakland native, I always bristled hearing Gertrude Stein's oft misquoted: "there is no there" in reference to my beloved hometown. I'm proud to be from Oakland. My very best friend is a third-generation Oakland firefighter, many folks in my working-class neighborhood proudly worked for the city, and my group of friends in that town is as diverse as one could find. I like to think Oakland is an awfully safe town (but not, perhaps, as safe as Santa Cruz), and indeed the only crime I ever experienced in person is the one I mentioned about my frickin' autographed windbreaker getting ripped off.

David 3:20 PM  

Well, bah humbug, guess I'm the only one not joining in the lovefest for this puzzle. To me any puzzle I can't finish purely because I do't know some proper names is not a god puzzle, especially early in the week. Here we had in the NW poet crossing both a fasion designer AND a golfer. Sure Ernie is common X-Word personallity, but that doesn't mean I can remember whether he is ELS or EMS or ENS or URPS...

Maybe I'm just grumpy having just given up on Saturday's puzzle where 10 of the 1st 21 down clues are names or entertainment clues! Grrr. Give me a break - what is the point of learning to think "outside the box" when Will fills the puzzles with clues that have a box with oly an inside and you either know it or don't?

Anyway - Oakland is a nice place to live, or a terrible one, just like any sizeable city. I suspect even Santa Cruz has its share of muggings.

barbara 4:42 PM  

wasnt paco raban an aftershave lotion that men used in the 60's?

Fergus 5:02 PM  

Paco Roban was nearly as bad as "the great smell of Brut." Paco Roban enclouded Jimmy, or so Christopher remarked, right before he was offed in a great plot twist of the first round of the Sopranos.

Three cheers for Oakland! That Jerry Brown chose domicile 'there' is a fitting rebuke to ones inclined to the maligning Stein line. As irritating as Brown can be, he's still one of the canniest establishment figures, and one who might finally be able to get it right. He used to call himself a "recovering politician" and I wonder how that's going for mim while he works backstage of Arnold.

Karen 5:46 PM  

Ayoung, I do the lesser known Guang Ping style of tai chi, which has 64 movements, several of which are repeats with variation. I also have learned a routine with the fan, and am learning one with the sword, from other styles of tai chi. Namaste.

Fergus 5:56 PM  

op. cit. : check out Vachel Lindsay's "Congo", for its Black Sambo-ness.

This was a poem I was forced to memorize on a drive from Illinois to Colorado. Any psychological interpretations are superfluous.

karmasartre 6:03 PM  

campesite/fergus --

I lived in Berkeley near the Oakland border. Black Panther Nat'l. Heqdquarters two blocks away on Grove (now MLK-Jr.) attracted violence. Machine gunners on the roof of the coop at Telegraph/Ashby (armored car stick-up). Two break-ins in our apartment, one while we were home. Sirens at all hours. Crazed people knocking on the door in the middle of the night. Pimps conducting trashing exercises at their employees' residences near-by. A Warren Zevon scene. But, I agree with campesite's nice/terrible remark.....

jordanthejust 6:35 PM  

I'm glad to see that someone else had an issue with Church Warden as a bell-ringer. The wardens, in the Episcopal Church at least, are the two leaders of the vestry. I've never known one to ring a bell, unless it was to begin a vestry meeting, but I could be wrong. I'm willing to let it slide, though, in the name of a great puzzle!

jae 6:40 PM  

What a fine Monday puzzle. I don't quite get 47a ETH for Ordinal suffix. I know that ordinal numbers indicate order and some of them end in "th", e.g. sixth, seventh, but why ETH?

Fergus 7:23 PM  

How does Oakland illustrate the appeal of a city?


Because it doesn't. And pretty much fails on all accounts to showcase any sophisticated urban allure.

The geography, climate and concentration of so many bright, people in Rockridge, however, could be the same story in Brooklyn.

Badir 7:23 PM  

It was funny--even though I had one of my best times ever for the puzzle, I thought today was pretty hard! I was unhappy with ETH, and I totally guessed on PACO/VACHEL. That, and the fact that it took me about 10-15 seconds to find a clew (:0) I knew, are probably what made me think it was hard, since I blazed through most of the rest of it. Indeed, though, it has some unusual Monday fair.

Fergus 7:34 PM  

karmasartre,

How about the long stare down Alcatraz when it was ever so clear over the bay?

DONALD 7:49 PM  

Jim in Chicago:

Quasimodo came close with the NOTRE Dame (4D). Check "Gothic" for entry leading to carillon accompanying film clip.

You are totally correct -- church warden would not ring bells, except in a very small church somewhere in the fields of poverty -- I was Sexton of St Peter's Church in NYC for several years (and others), where I performed the chore -- no, I don't look like Quasimodo!

The ringing of multiple church bells by a group is an art -- we did so (at St. John's across from MSG in NYC) for Pope John Paul on his visit as he passed by the church.

Yes, Church Warden is wrong!

Rex Parker 8:13 PM  

At the risk of alienating many of my most constant readers, I'm going to plead with people not to engage in long discussions about things that have NOTHING to do with the puzzle (or that start out being about the puzzle, but then continue in a non-puzzle-related vein).

Thanks for your support.

RP

Fergus 8:24 PM  

Say onara Rex in that case.

Anonymous 8:30 PM  

jae,

I believe your question on ordinals missed by three being the fortieth comment today.

Sue 9:10 PM  

Rex,

Thanks for your interest in keeping this on topic. I stopped reading the NYT forum because I had to make my way through so many comments that had nothing to do with the puzzle. My chief reason for checking in here is that there is usually intelligent conversation about the puzzle.

Kahlaala 9:57 PM  

I liked the puzzle overall and surprised myself by remembering Vachel Lindsay and his poem "The Moon's the North Wind's Cookie" (from elementary school many moons ago). However, I do hope that someone will eventually explain how EAUS becomes "waters, informally". I just do not get that; it does not seem informal, it seems French.

Anonymous 10:35 PM  

Eaus is not French. Eaux is French. Eaus is not really a word, so "informally" will have to do. "De vie and de toilette are two of my favorite eaus." I haven't found a dictionary to support eaus.

jae 11:09 PM  

anon 8:30 -- I sort of thought it might be that but it seemed a bit difficult for a Monday. You have to go a ways (20 I believe) up the ordinal scale to hit true ETH.

Anonymous 11:20 PM  

Odd reprimand from Rex about avoiding discussions "that have NOTHING to do with the puzzle (or that start out being about the puzzle, but then continue in a non-puzzle-related vein)"--that would be a perfect description of many of his blog entries. Oh well, I guess if it's your blog.

Orange 11:26 PM  

Did anyone answer rockonchris's question about what the applet is? This refers to the NYT's proprietary Java applet, used by solvers who pay about $40 a year to access the NYT crosswords online. It's the "Play Against the Clock" option, and it tracks monthly standings in addition to a daily listing of solvers' finishing times. Good for those with a competitive streak.

campesite 12:27 AM  

Hmmm... I choose to read Rex's blog precisely because it is often about much more than the puzzle. I read the comments section as religiously because the sidebar discussions are generally the liveliest contributions. I wouldn't worry about the occasional off-topic conversation: rarely are flames fanned in this space, off-topic threads typically aren't outrageously far from the puzzle, and the writers are cordial and respectful.

Kim 3:01 AM  

It took me 15 minutes for this one. I just started doing the NYT this summer in hopes of staving off creeping senility - just turned the big 50. My father-in-law does the NYT regularly and is sharp as a tack at 81. Thought it would be good for the brain but now I am completely addicted and to Rex's blog and all your fascinating comments as well. Hope to become a regular.

Rex Parker 8:14 AM  

I got many private messages yesterday from people asking me, in effect, "what's all this crap about Oakland and tai chi in your Comments section?" So the reprimand was meant to be polite encouragement. Just try not to have *extended* conversations about things only a small handful of people are likely to care about.

And yes, it's my blog, so I'll digress as much as I damn well please.

RP

Orange 8:17 AM  

He's kinda cute when he glowers, isn't he, ladies and gentlemen?

Kristen F 8:36 AM  

Gertrude Stein's actual quote about Oakland was,
"There is no there there."

I used to have a postcard of a downtown Oakland office building with the word "THERE" proudly painted on its side. I think that only reinforced Stein's point.

Rockonchris 8:59 AM  

Thank you, Orange. I appreciate that you didn't forget about me.

Chris

Waxy in Montreal 6:57 PM  

Any of you veteran Oakland baseball fans remember way-over-the-top owner Charles O. Finley offering Vida Blue megabucks to change his first name to True? To his everlasting credit, Vida Blue preserved his dignity and declined.

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