MONDAY, Dec. 31, 2007 - Lynn Lempel

Monday, December 31, 2007

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: Office work - four theme answers contain clerical duties in non-clerical contexts

It's a beautiful day in my neighborhood this morning, with the view out my office window showing a confectionary neighborhood tableau - tree branches and bushes and roofs piled impossibly, comically high with unblownaway snow. We got only about 3-6 inches, but when the wind doesn't blow, even a little snow can settle into dramatic decorative shapes. My energy bill tells me that the average temperature this year is a full ten degrees colder than last, but my newspaper tells me that the snowfall, while dramatic and frequently school-shutting, has, all told, been merely average. Today is my wife's penultimate day of vacation, and she is currently in the next room making the most of her rare opportunity to sleep well in. And now that you know what my world looks like this last day of 2007 - the puzzle.

A fairly dull puzzle for this last Monday of the year, though the ho-hum theme is off-set somewhat by some decent non-theme fill. Lots of multiple-word phrases, which I enjoy, including:

  • 32A: Locale for a New York diva (The Met) - you know how I love definite articles in my grids; almost makes up for having to see the (related!) ARIA again (15A: Diva's song)
  • 43A: Zilch (not a whit)
  • 62A: Have a meal at home (eat in) - this phrase is really common nowadays
  • 28A: Divorces (splits up)
  • 9D: Event before moving (tag sale)

And a couple of football-related answers appropriate to this week running up to the start of the NFL playoffs:

  • 5D: Two-point plays in football (safeties) - "safety" is also a defensive position in football, for you sports-challenged folks out there
  • 39D: Shot up, as inflation (spiraled) - a perfectly thrown football is often referred to as a spiral - it's the most aerodynamically efficient way for a football to travel through space, the reasons for which I'm sure one of my many physicist readers will explain.

Here are some other answers I liked:

  • 53D: "Galveston" crooner Campbell (Glen) - he has a useful crossword name; It's always nice when the puzzle goes to a song other than "Wichita Lineman" to clue him
  • 41D: Gleeful laugh (chortle)
  • 49D: Old TV comic Kovacs (Ernie) - I tanked the Boston Globe puzzle for the second week in a row yesterday because of ERNIE. Or should I say ARNIE, which was the actual answer: [Nickname in golf]. Damn you, ERNIE Els! The cross was SAJAK. SEJAK looked Just Fine to me. I'm sure this is how I'm destined to fail at the Tournament - undone by Pat @#$#-ing SAJAK.

Theme answers:

  • 17A: A magnet attracts it in a physics experiment (iron FILING)
  • 10D: Pre-transfusion procedure (blood TYPING)
  • 25D: Some verbal abuse (name CALLING)
  • 57A: Star's marquee position (top BILLING) - started writing in TOP BANANA here before I knew the theme, and before I realized it wouldn't fit

I got slowed down in odd places - for instance, I put in SERE instead of ARID at 7D: Parched. I couldn't think of a sound one would make at an amusement park 13D: Amusement park shout ("whee!"). My shout: "Stop the ride" or "I'm going to barf." 1D: On the _____ (going to pot) (skids) was phrased so oddly that my brain couldn't take it in quickly. The "pot" part was throwing me off. When I had the SK-, I actually wrote in SKEDS (as in "on the ... schedules?"). Finally, I was very frustrated that LAMA was not the answer for 42D: Hindu teacher, even though I know it's not an appropriate answer. SWAMI sounds / feels made up, like something in a Bugs Bunny cartoon, but I see that it's a totally legitimate honorific, so that's fine. Speaking of LAMA (and I was), I (re-) took the "Political Compass" test yesterday, which is a very interesting if likely highly inexact way of measuring people's political inclinations based on reactions to a series of assertions, ideas, and propositions. How does LAMA fit in? - well, it turns out the Dalai Lama and I have a lot in common. Oh, and Béla Bartók (which pleased me even more, however irrationally).

Finished in 4-something on paper today. I would really like to get my on-paper times for early-week puzzles into the 3's on a regular basis, but that's going to take a lot of practice. Right now, my main focus is on solving methodically, and accurately, with minimal focus on speed. I'm much more concerned about plowing through the Hard puzzles with minimal free-fall than I am with zipping through the easy puzzles. My experience at last year's tournament was that there was only one "easy" puzzle, and it was, by far, my worst effort. More on the tournament in the coming week - it's only two months away. I do want to start making a plug now, though, to all avid solvers, no matter your skill level. There is nothing to be afraid of or intimidated by. If you like puzzles at all, the tournament is a lot of fun, and if you fail to finish certain puzzles, believe me, you will not be alone. The stressful competition part is really only for the top top solvers, and for those of us who are just naturally wound up. The general atmosphere is not tense at all. It's remarkably collegial - and it's nice to be in a place where you can let your nerd flag fly with no self-consciousness or shame, and little-to-no chance of being the nerdiest person in the room. In short, you should go, especially if you live anywhere near Brooklyn.

See you in the New Year.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

PS my wife is a badass

PPS Thanks for pushing my traffic back up to about 8000 visitors yesterday. I was wondering where the hell you all had got to ... Christmas, Schmistmas, get thee to a computer.

40 comments:

Ephraim 9:04 AM  

My understanding of football aerodynamics is that it's most efficient for the football to travel pointy-end first. What the spiral motion does is average out any slight error in the pointing of the pointy end and likewise for the unbalanced drag of the stitching.

Thanks for adding my Puzzle Pointers to your sidebar. The traffic makes me feel useful and the referrer log entries led me back to your blog.

billnutt 9:07 AM  

I was almost going to being this one with WHEE, since I was able to finish it with so little difficulty. I try not to be too obvious, though.

I thought the theme was simply gerunds; I hadn't even considered the office job angle. THAT's why I so enjoy this blog.

Glen Campbell is a seriously underrated musician. Saw him do a pretty amazing guitar solo in "Galveston" on TV one time.

I like the doubling of ARIAS and THEMET, as well as the two "Zilch" clues. And any puzzle with CHORTLE in it can't be all bad.

Otherwise - eh. It was an OK puzzle.

Best wishes to you all on this last day of ought-seven, and here's hoping for a happy ought-eight.

PhillySolver 9:22 AM  

I think I mentioned I have returned to crosswords in my semi-retirement and this puzzle made me feel right at home. I used to have ERNIE, ELSA, and ERIC as common names. The old Pantheon of E names returns! I also decided to time myself and now I can confirm I could never make it in the Tourney. Eight minutes and I didn't make any mistakes. Does that make you feel any better Rex? Probably not, but Happy New Year to all. I am quite pleased to have found this community and appreciate everyone's postings and especially thank the founder.

Whitey's mom 9:29 AM  

Thanks goodness for the Sunday and Monday puzzles after that ghastly Saturday. Happy New Year all!

jls 9:40 AM  

acpt -- everything rex said is so. it's collegial and even colleague-ial, so to speak.

billnutt -- while kinda taking some swipes at 'im, the irish play pumpgirl also pays tribute to an underappreciated glen c.

thx for the bloggin' and sharin', r.p., and to all:

a happy new year!

;-)

janie

Tim 9:51 AM  

Ever seen a gyropscope? When it spins, it resists any external force that tries to move its axis.

A spiral on a football resists wobbling and wind. A bicycle moving won't fall over. A bullet fired from a gun is also spun while in the barrel for the same reason.

jannieb 10:08 AM  

Tripped up in some stupid places this morning - still on the first cup of coffee. But never did find the theme until I read RP's comments. I have found a whole new appreciation for puzzle constructs since becoming a reader - never noticed the nuances before. Thanks for helping me find the roses to smell - and Happy New Year to all.

Jerry20020 10:14 AM  

Rex: I had a decent time in 4 minutes + but once again did not perceive the theme. Not even after I finished. All the 'blood typing' and 'iron filing' suggested no pattern! Do you - or anybody - have some tips to help me pick up on puzzle themes better, and early -- when it'll do a lot of good?

Cea 10:37 AM  

I liked the splat/split juxtaposition, and chortle of course.

Skiving off work today, so I did the puzzle in Starbucks after getting some work papers renewed, to the amazement of the two at the next table. "You're fast," they said.

It's a Monday, what do you expect?

wendy 10:38 AM  

jerry20020 - the best way to perceive a theme is to pay attention! ;0 But for what it's worth, another way is write the answers down separately somewhere; it's literally easier to see that way. On an answer I'm not "seeing" (theme-related or otherwise) I will frequently write what I have down, with underscore lines for the unknowns in their proper places and you'd be surprised how easy it is for that epiphany to occur. All cognitive wackiness.

That said, I did not see the theme myself! I did see that the words all ended in ING but didn't perceive the office motif. As this too is my penultimate day of vacation, I've banned offices from my awareness other than my home office.

I guess the most enjoyable part of the puzzle for me was right at the beginning - SCADS and SKIDS intersecting.

Victor 10:39 AM  

Started with the downs, and messed up at 30D had ARAL Mountains, then 28A became SPLITSAP-art and began looking for the other parts of the rebus and failed miserably until I caught the error. Should I have known that there's never a rebus on Monday?

marcie 11:41 AM  

Wendy... I'm glad to see someone else appreciated and enjoyed the Scads/skids positioning. I'm appreciating those kind of things now that I read the blog and look for construction nuances.

Victor... I've noted before, if it is "over there somewhere" and says "shrinking", it is Aral. Otherwise Ural seems to be the choice. At least that was my reasoning for putting Ural in immediately without hesitation.

I too missed the office theme, and thought it was simply gerunds. Which work for a Monday theme in my world.

Leon 11:54 AM  

Adding to the above comments,
many interesting combos: scads/skids, splat/split, nada/zilch, abet/themet, saint/sin and whit/split/omit.

Happy and safe 2008 !

Thank you RP for your blog.

ArtLvr 12:03 PM  

Rex -- love your "confectionary tableau" phrase, and Albany has the same decor only more so, about 9" high and no wind. However, the NYT distributor never got through despite pre-dawn plowing, so I'm enjoyimg the blog without the puzzle. Please tell me how to get it online? Thanks, and happy 2008!

Doc John 12:06 PM  

Nice to have this one after that horrific Saturday (see my comment at the very end of Saturday's comment section, written late Sunday night).

I was actually surprised when I saw that Rex rated this one medium. Maybe it just seemed easy to me because of how hard Saturday was (and because my puzzle was pristine at the end).

Not much more to add to what everyone else said, though.

Happy New Year everyone!

Rob G. 12:17 PM  

Another ho-hum Monday. I'm not sure if the puzzles have been blander, I've been getting better, or the lack of coffee (still haven't started drinking it again since getting over the flu) has made me less excitable. Monday puzzles used to be a breezy way for me to start the week, now they've kind of evolved into a litmus test to make sure my brain didn't get too damaged over the weekend. If I can't solve them in under 6 minutes, I went too far. If I can't solve them in under 10, I must have done some serious damage.

dk back in MN 12:18 PM  

Rex,

The puzzle was an easy one.

Your wife is a badass but who is the guy, on her site, prancing (raindeer-like) with a young child in the snow.

Re the event: I think your plan to focus on accuracy and reading the clue is a wise one. While I no longer teach it was the advise I always gave: grasshopper.

Happy New year. Thank you for the blog and the snippets of your life.

profphil 12:22 PM  

artlvr,

I believe if you subscribe to The NY Times you may access the crossword on-line for free. I actually only subscribe to the NY Times crossward on-line for $35 (I think) per year.

Go to NYTIMES.COM and in the left hand margin look for crosswords and click (or double click) on it. You may register (I believe there should be instructions there) and the you will have internet access to the puzzles the evening before at 10PM.

Happy New Year and thanks again Rex for this great blog.

wendy 12:24 PM  

artlvr - home delivery subscribers have free online access to the puzzle as a benefit of their subscription. Just go to the crosswords page at nytimes.com and you'll see a line under the two pricing boxes where it says Learn More about the free access to Premium Crosswords. I can't remember how fast it is to set up as I've had it for a long time now, but once you do it, you've got the run of the place. Very worth it because you can access lots of old puzzles as well.

ArtLvr 12:39 PM  

Thanks to all for the help!

Orange 1:03 PM  

Phillysolver, don't be silly! There are only about 20 people harboring reasonable aspirations to win the top prize at the ACPT. The other 400 to 700 people are just there to enjoy the crosswords and the camaraderie (there's a huge "This is my tribe" vibe), and maybe to shoot for a regional trophy, a divisional trophy, age-group honors, the best penmanship prize, or the satisfaction of not finishing last. (One year, last place was taken by my friend's husband, who didn't know why he registered instead of just coming along for the weekend. He did lousy on puzzle #1 and didn't bother doing any more of the puzzles. You can top that, Philly!)

After the 2005 tournament, Mel Rosen created score distribution graphs, which demonstrate how wide the speed and accuracy range is among competitors. For puzzle #1, the easiest one and a 15x15, the top-scoring people scored 1250 points (probably a finishing time of 3 minutes). The average score was 1006, and there were many solvers in the 1100 range: ~6 minutes slower (25 points a minute), or 9 minutes total solving time. So finishing a Monday puzzle in 8 minutes might well put you in the top half at the ACPT.

PhillySolver 1:15 PM  

@ orange

Thanks a ton! I am a graph geek and I see your point. There really are only a handful of people who have a real shot at the championship. I saw the Documentary on the ACPT and it did look like a great place to meet people. I am now entertaining some new events to add to my 2008 calendar.

You are most kind and I have enjoyed your contributions to this blog. Thanks again.

Jerry20020 1:15 PM  

Orange: how can anybody do the puzzle, albeit a Monday one, in the 2 mins + that Byron W. did?
Not that he was the fastest, even.
Even knowing the puzzle in a re-do
I don't think I could type in the answers this fast!

karmasartre 1:25 PM  

Easy-peasy, but didn't see the office-chore theme. Suppose that doesn't matter in the tournament, eh? Other than possibly slowing one down...

Jim in NYC 1:43 PM  

Jerry20020, that's my question too. Today was easy, but my pencil doesn't move that fast. My time was 7+.

It may have to do with entering one answer with the hand while the eyes have already moved on to the next clue (or clues), AND having a super-fast mind to make all this happen simultaneously, AND practicing said technique for some years.

Best wishes to all for the New Year.

Macha 2:05 PM  

No problem with today's puzzle but of course completely missed the theme except for hearing mention of it here.

Rex - I just want to thank you for making my puzzle year more interesting, entertaining and educational than before I stumbled upon your blog. May 2008 bring you a higher rating than 166th.

Doctor J 2:53 PM  

More on the NY Tmies on-line puzzle. All that was said is correct. Setup requires downloading a short program called Across Lite that decodes the puzzle, stores it and allows you to check it the next day.

Happy New Year to all from a newbie lurker up to now.

mac 3:27 PM  

Easy and quick, also never noticed the theme. That's why we check in with you, Rex! Thanks so much for this most enjoyable blog. Happy New Year to all of you.

mac 3:28 PM  

P.S. Why did the tournament move to Brooklyn?

Orange 3:34 PM  

Mac, the Stamford Marriott isn't a huge hotel, and there were so many entrants in 2007 (about 700), the competition had to take place in two separate rooms. The Brooklyn Bridge Marriott is big enough to fit all those people into a single ballroom, which is logistically easier and makes for a better experience for solvers (or at least keeps things the way long-time attendees are accustomed to them). It'll be interesting to see if enrollment shoots up because it's closer for New Yorkers, or if it drops because the Brooklyn hotel's more expensive.

jae 3:36 PM  

I liked this one mainly because I got the theme after looking at the finished puzzle for a couple of minutes and thought its subtlety was pretty clever.

Re: elite solvers, I suspect they are doing something cognitively different than most of us. Perhaps something akin to chess masters who can play a large number of games simultaneously (or blindfolded). In the article on Bob Klahn, he talks about a puzzle's "deep structure." It may be that elite solvers can tap in to this (what ever it means) or quickly see patterns and relationships that are not obvious to the rest of us. What ever it is it is truly amazing!

Hobbyist 6:45 PM  

As an ex Canadian, love the photo. Kinda want to go to the tournament but am too cheap and too unskilled.Happy 2008 to all of us!

Glickstein 8:28 PM  

Hobbyist: Too cheap is a good excuse; too unskilled doesn't work unless you mean poor social skills.

Jerry and others who marvel at those sub 3-minute times, as do I: Have you not seen "Wordplay" in which Al Saunders does a quickie puzzle in real time?

Glickstein 8:30 PM  

And Al Sanders does one even more quickly:)

paul in mn 11:10 PM  

Good to hear all the comments about the tournament above. I've just used some frequent flier miles to reserve my ticket from Minneapolis to Laguardia for the ACPT weekend and I expect it will be a blast. I'm shooting for the top 50%, but I don't think I'll be terribly disappointed even if I miss that.

Rex, thanks for all your puzzling comments. I second the hope above that you will move up from 166th greatest crossworder in the universe.

Jerry20020 11:29 PM  

In Wordplay, Sanders did the puzzle - was it a Tuesday puzzle? - not too far under 4 minutes, if I remember correctly.

To clarify: I have no doubt that Sanders or any of the best solvers can look at a clue and know immediately what the fill should be.

It's the physical execution, whether typing or writing. And the need to read at least half of the clues.

That's a lot to do in the sub-3 minute times recorded today on the Play Against The Clock list.

Happy New Year to all!

Rex Parker 7:39 AM  

It's 2 minutes, not 4. And it's right there on screen for all to see, in real time.

rp

GK 3:42 PM  

...and I think that tournament attendance shot way up after "Wordplay." Can anyone confirm?

Waxy in Montreal 7:44 PM  

6 weeks later:

The only answer to pose any difficulty for me in this easy-even-for-a-Monday puzzle was 9D, TAGSALE. In this neck of the woods, we call 'em GARAGE SALES or YARD SALES. I guess regional differences in English still occur across North America.

(And submarine sandwiches are called hoagies in the Philadelphia region for some reason.)

golfballman 2:37 PM  

I copied a blank NYT puzzle grid and all I did was fill in all the spaces with els and it took me 3:30 to do just that so how do you solve a puzzle in 4:05? Even if you read only half the clues it takes some time. Just wanted to know about your times.

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