MONDAY, Jan. 7, 2008 - Lynn Lempel (VIENTIANE NATIVE)

Monday, January 7, 2008

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: "BIG BANG" (64A: Theory of the universe, or a hint to the starts of 17-Across and 7-, 10-, 35- and 40-Down) - all theme answers start with a loud sound (like "BANG")

Once again, Lynn Lempel shows why she is one of the best early-week constructors on the planet. Lots of vibrant 7+-letter fill and a theme that really covers the grid, yielding genuinely appealing answers. Almost all of the theme answers are simply fun to say aloud. Go ahead. Do it. How can you resist the allure of a word like CLAPTRAP? And 10 non-theme answers of 7 letters long? Really impressive. And yet still Monday-level. The whole puzzle was a real pleasure. I see an EPEE here and an REO there, but there's really very little humdrum fill, and it's completely negligible largely because the theme and the longer non-theme fill is so widespread and sparkling.

Theme answers:

  • 17A: High hit behind the catcher, say (POP foul) - I heard on "Mike & Mike in the Morning" this morning that late last night, Roger Clemens filed a slander lawsuit against the trainer who claimed that he injected Clemens with steroids. Clemens gave a very unconvincing and desperate-sounding interview on "60 Minutes" last night. I'd like to thank POP FOUL for allowing me the little opening I needed to bring this up.
  • 7D: Prosperous place (BOOM town) - My dad tried to force us to stop watching MTV when I was 12 because he'd caught a glimpse of a BOOMTOWN Rats music video (for "Up All Night") and he thought it was morally degenerate. He claimed later that it had shown a snake slithering between a naked woman's legs. This claim proved false - the "naked woman" turned out to be (Sir) Bob Geldof. In truth, a naked woman would have been Much less disturbing.
  • 10D: Extreme effort at weight loss (CRASH diet) - don't do it
  • 35D: Skilled marksman (CRACK shot) - I finished Cormac McCarthy's "The Road," which I liked, in general, but one of the most unconvincing things about the book was the fact that the Father is the CRACKest of CRACK shots on the planet. I think he fires weapons twice, under extreme conditions, and both times with impossible, Jack-Bauer-esque accuracy.
  • 40D: Baloney (CLAPtrap) - one of my favorite words that I never have occasion to use is SATRAP: "Governor of a province in ancient Persia," but more generally "ruler" or "subordinate official / henchman," i.e. one enforcing the will of a ruler. Clearly I have decided to turn Monday into "Tangential Knowledge Day"

Here are some other clues and answers of note:

  • 1A: Peeling knives (parers) - On MSNBC this morning, they can't stop talking about "the long knives." "The long knives" are coming out in New Hampshire, they say. This is a weird expression to use in the context of a N.H. primary, considering "The Night of the Long Knives" (whence the expression comes, I think) was a Nazi purge in which over 80 people were executed for political reasons. I think a better expression for what's happening in N.H. would be "the night of the paring knives."
  • 13A: Kansas city where Dwight Eisenhower grew up (Abilene) - As I filled this in, I winced and thought "er ... isn't ABILENE in Texas?" And the answer is, of course, yes. There's more than one ABILENE.
  • 39A: Spotty (erratic)
  • 41A: Tidy savings (nest egg) - nice central pairing of these two answers. I have been disturbed of late at how ERRATIC our NEST EGG seems to be lately.
  • 67A: Scene at a natural history museum (diorama) - This word will always be associated with "shoe box" in my mind, as this is how we made our DIORAMAs in grade school.
  • 70A: One doing leg. work (rep.) - I read this as "leg" (the word) not "leg." (the abbrev.), and still got REP easily.
  • 14D: Twisty-horned antelope (eland) - watched most of a PBS special on desert lions last night, and there was many an ORYX to be seen, and of course, being a crossword geek, my mind was flipping through all the African antelope-like creatures I could think of. ELAND was number 1. ORIBI was number 2. And so on.
  • 25D: Vientiane native (Laotian) - you often see LAO in the puzzle, but LAOTIAN is unusual. My wife got this answer easily because she's just been reading Tom Parker Bowles's "Year of Eating Dangerously" - Laos was apparently one of his favorite destinations, even though (because?) he ate bee pupae.
  • 34D: Air France destination (Orly) - I feel like this airport should show up more often than it does.
  • 50D: Symbols of meekness (lambs) - I am an occasionally fish-eating vegetarian, except when I go to New Zealand, where I subsist almost solely on animal flesh. My logic - everything's upside-down Down There. Luckily for my scruples, I have been only once, though I am going again this summer (which is to say, winter). Used to hate LAMB (growing up), but the LAMB I had in NZ was Extraordinary.
  • 65D: Card game with knocking (gin) - I prefer drinking it to playing it. In NZ, every evening at 5pm sharp, my brother-in-law would declare "gin time" and we'd have gin-and-tonics. It's like Shangri-La down there, seriously.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

Today's other crosswords:

  • LAT 4:01 (C) - Pancho Harrison
  • CS 9:44 (C) - KLAAAAAAAAAHN! @#!#$
  • NYS 5:33 (C) - Ogden Porter, "A Few Choice Words" ("Rent" and "The Producers" - ugh; and what in the world is a 24D? Hasn't appeared in any puzzle I've seen since I began blogging...)
  • Newsday 3:45 (C) - Sally R. Stein, "Let it Snow"

[drawing by Emily Cureton]

36 comments:

jannieb 8:46 AM  

Wow - if this is "medium" I can't wait for easy. Seriously, I zipped through this with barely a look at the crosses. Unscientificially, I timed in at just a few seconds more than Orange. Hope this bodes well for the rest of the week. Fun puzzle!

PhillySolver 8:52 AM  

A very easy, breezy puzzle for me, but I am just not speedy. I did look for the theme clue first though and BIGBANG was the big start for me.

Since today was so non-controversial, I return to yesterday, where I did post an article last night about standing ovations. As much as I like this site, I think a 80 second ovation for all would express our gratitude sufficiently.

paul in mn 8:57 AM  

Fresh off her recent Bronze for early-week puzzles in the 2007 ACCA awards, Lynn Lempel sets the standard with this excellent first Monday of the year: a lively theme with six entries, all those seven-letter non-theme entries, and really nothing that felt forced. And yet still definitely a Monday as you said, Rex.

Finished in 5:05 on this one (on paper). Hopefully one of these days I'll break through the 5-minute mark.

Rex Parker 9:00 AM  

I'm surprised someone who can do a puzzle in under 3 minutes can't figure out the concept of relative difficulty. This seemed about average ("Medium") for Monday, which is to say, quite easy. I did it in near-record time for me (still not under 3), but looking over it, it seemed no easier or harder than any other Monday. Maybe fewer potential puzzlers. Hard to say.

rp

mm 9:24 AM  

Paul (or whomever is interested),

How much time do you think doing these on paper adds over doing these on the computer? I finished in 4:15 in Across Lite, but I highly doubt it would have been sub-5 on paper.

Macha 9:28 AM  

Really enjoyed this crossword and your reference to Gin Time - grew up in Ireland not New Zealand, but Gin Time before dinner was the norm - as also we used lamb to make our traditional Irish dinner - Irish Stew (never ate cornbeef (or heard of it for that matter) before I came to the states). Thank you for bringing about a personal note of nostalgia.

Kathy 9:53 AM  

mm, due to printer issues, I've been doing the puzzles on line for the past few weeks, and I find it slows me down because of the inability to see everything--needing to scroll (going from keyboard to mouse) slows me down.

Plus, sometimes I do the LA Times on line and the clicking has different effects--double click with the left mouse button vs. right clicking.

But who knows, maybe the more I use it, the quicker I'll be. Or maybe I'll fix my printer?!

Kathy

Jim in Chicago 9:58 AM  

Speaking as someone who does indeed understand that the ratings are relative, I still have to say this this one was drop dead easy for a Monday. I picked up my pen, started in the NW and didn't stop writing until I was in the SE. That's just plain easy, even for a Monday. I actually judge my time by where the bus is when I finish. Today was a new record, even on a packed bus where I needed to sort of write with my elbows stuck into my sides.

Eric 10:21 AM  

I concur with Jim in Chicago. Perhaps there needs to be an additional, more scientific rating which compares actual times with historical Mondays, and then alongside it the current "gut feeling" rating. It might be interesting to see if one like today, which felt really easy and enjoyable, actually took a longer amount of time than it seemed, or vice versa.

Today's theme was especially appropriate as we had a boisterous thunderstorm go through Madison this morning, with clapping, cracking, popping, and booming thunder.

Orange 10:23 AM  

Kathy, if you register (for free) as a member at Cruciverb.com, you can get the LA Times puzzle in Across Lite and have a more uniform experience in terms of how the mouse and tab/return keys work. The NYT applet and Across Lite use similar controls, but other Java applets tend to have different navigation (which drives me nuts).

PuzzleGirl 10:35 AM  

Fun Monday puzzle. I finished in five flat. Have finished Mondays as quickly as 4:30 so a medium rating feels about right for me.

For me, I think solving on paper and solving on the computer is a toss-up. It's easier for me to scan clues on paper, but I type Really Fast so that probably evens it out.

Awesome that the "Leg." clue works with the answer even without the period!

Leon 11:05 AM  

I did not like POP associated with big bang but then I read Bigbangtheory.com and one description was of a balloon popping.

Leon 11:31 AM  

Re: bigbangtheory.com:
The description of a balloon popping is valid, the rest of the site is questionable.

Noam D. Elkies 11:32 AM  

I may never have had occasion to *say* SATRAP, but I've *sung* it (in French)
in Josquin's famous Deploration on the Death of Ockeghem:
...
Car Atropos, tres terrible satrappe,
a votre Ockeghem atrappe' en sa trappe
...
(...For Atropos, so terrible a satrap, / has trapped your Ockeghem in her trap...)

Alas the poet then went too far and described Ockeghem as _non point trappe'_
(not stout), which is rather anticlimactic, though the music remains beautiful.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled solving-time comparisons,

--NDE

Anonymous 11:53 AM  

Rex,

I think you could end the incessant complaints about your relative difficulty ratings with a simple change: don't rate today's puzzle "medium"; rate it "medium for a Monday." In other words, include in your rating each day the answer the question "relative to what?" and do so at the price of just three words. That may seem like a bit of excess verbiage to you, but it is unreasonable to expect NEW readers to know what you mean by "relative difficulty" and you clearly get new devotees every day. (I'll bet that most of the quizzical remarks about the ratings come from them.) Also, given the frequency with which the issue comes up, your current presentation of the rating system is plainly not adequate.

For what it's worth, I agree with your rating of today's puzzle, though I can't zip through it at your or Orange's pace. Hell, I can't even read the clues and locate their spots in the grid in Orange's solve times.

On a separate topic, I loved your and Orange's award posting, which I just read this morning (though it was posted days ago). Anyone else who missed it should scroll down the page to read it. If there is ever an award for "best crossword puzzle commentary," you and Orange deserve to tie for it.

Kathy 11:56 AM  

Thanks for the tip, Orange--I actually am registered on cruciverb, but I never thought to get the LAT puzzle there!

Rex, I laughed out loud at your CS time and KLAAAAHN!! I went and downloaded it immediately...with my tail between my legs, I return to work....

Matt 11:59 AM  

I feel I have to defend "The Road" from your comment that it is unconvincing. In a book with almost nothing is given about the characters' pasts one must rely on what they do to understand them. Thus the father's crack shot abilities are not unrealistic, but rather suggest to us that he is in fact a crack shot. This makes sense when you remember that he has survived for ten years since the undefined nuclear holocaust occurred. Although it is never explained, since he is presented as a crack shot, we must take him as such.

campesite 12:33 PM  

Will there be a Lynn Lempel theme week soon, in which every day of the week will be one of her puzzles?
Agree that this was an elegant Monday puzzle, but when will Eland join the pantheon?

Mary 12:36 PM  

Night of the Paring Knives

Funny, thank you. I will find a way to say that to someone this week. With attribution, of course.

Karen 12:45 PM  

Sorry if this has been asked before, but what does the (c) by the crossword times represent? Let's see, it could be completed, circa, cheated, crossword, concrete, clues...sometimes there's been a (p) also.

Orange 1:22 PM  

I'll bet (C) = computer (vs. paper).

Anonymous 11:53, thanks! But who are you? If you make up a pseudonym, we will recognize your charm next time. (P.S. That's Rex's writing for 93% of the awards post. Isn't it lovely? I had my turn for our joint holiday shopping suggestions post.)

Sandy 1:37 PM  

I loved Emily's drawing today. It made me laugh out loud.

Anonymous 2:32 PM  

I'm so happy to finally have heard from our artistic friend Emily. I look forward to her drawings every day. Rex, thank you so much for including them in your great blog. I'm going directly to her site to see what other gems are waiting. Lori

jae 3:11 PM  

Fun and fast. My only glitch was ANTE for DEAL. I think I'm now programed to put ANTE for any clue that has card and or game and start in it.

Doesn't Rex pretty much explain the rating system in his FAQs?

profphil 3:29 PM  

When are the induction ceremonies for this year's Pantheon? I cannot wait to get into my newly laundered toga for the gala occasion.

Vale,

Profphil

David 3:39 PM  

OK, I think I'm being dense, but what does "leg." with the period stand for, legal? Seems too much of a stretch.
On the relative ratings - give it a break people! It is Rex's personal take on how challenging a puzzle is. Any talk of "absolute" ratings is crazy - all puzzles will be harder or easier for different people depending on their particular knowledge, state of mind, degree of inebriation, etc... If you feel your personal rating system is better than Rex's, start your own blog!

Rob G. 4:08 PM  

Great Monday puzzle, though I've come to expect nothing less from Lynn Lempel.

Rex, (or anyone) have you had a chance to play around with the New York Times Crosswords game for the Nintendo DS? I was skeptical, and indeed, I'd rather do them on paper, but it's a pretty clever interface and has three years' worth of puzzles on there (March 2004-March 2007.) Not bad when you're on the go!

Dan 4:41 PM  

David - "leg." means "legislative", with the answer referring to a congressperson. I interpreted it as "legal" first.

Anon 11:53, while you're right on about the joint Best Commentary award, Rex is quite clear that when he calls a Monday puzzle "Medium", the "for a Monday" is implied.

Still, I'm with those that were expecting an Easy-Medium rating...

People use a mouse in Across Lite? Wow - the only keys I touch are the four arrows, and Shift to move to the next word. Well, and the letters.

Man, Roger Clemens really doth protest too much, dothn't he!

NJPhil 5:16 PM  

When ACCA ultimately makes it to the pantheon, will it be with a sneer or a gloat?

mac 6:03 PM  

Beautiful little puzzle! Loved the word aplomb which just came to me. Does anyone know if I can get the Herald Tribune in Curacao?

rick 7:23 PM  

Rex (non-nyt warning),

Noticed the Klhan comment, feel the same way about Newman, but wasn't that a fun puzzle?

Victor 7:31 PM  

I was going to pick a nit about the cluing of 5D, Old Auto Inits. which was REO, the actual name of an automobile company. Googling it, just to be sure I didn't make a mistake, revealed to me that REO also represents the initials of Ransom Eli Olds, the founder of the REO car company, and of course, of Oldsmobile. I always learn something here. Loved the puzzle, love this blog. Thanks, Rex.

Rex Parker 7:42 PM  

@rick, if you're referring to today's CrosSynergy puzzle by KLAHN, then yes, it was fun. Well, it was Not fun in that no CrosSynergy puzzle Ever takes me that long. But it was fun in that it was a KLAHN, and I did it, and it was indeed a pretty clever puzzle. The cluing on his puzzles is always ... it's like I'm a batter in baseball who's being thrown at, repeatedly, by, say, Randy Johnson in his prime - harrowing.

rp

PuzzleGirl 7:47 PM  

@victor: Way back last January 16 we saw "Ransom Olds's middle name" as a clue. (Answer, as you noted, ELI.) Personally, I like it when the puzzle refers to REO Speedwagon and I like to think it's the band and not the car. ("I heard it from a friend whoooooo, heard it from a frieeend whoooooo, heard it from another you been messin' arou-ound....")

rick 8:37 PM  

Rex,

I agree about the CS puzzles. They are not usually b**l busters but today's was a special:

1. Pseudo nymph
2. Homer oomph

and the fill was great also. This puzzle should go down as ... I don't know but I loved it.

Anonymous 11:00 PM  

Dan -- Every few weeks someone expresses confusion about the "relative difficulty rating." I take this as evidence that Rex's meaning is not clear to many readers. I suspect that most of them are new readers, who haven't previously endured the exchanges on this matter in the comments section. I also suspect that most of them don't read the FAQ, because most people don't ever read FAQs (or manuals). But who they are is of no importance. What matters is that they keep showing up and people, including Rex, keep expressing irritation about their comments. So, I suggested an economical way to clarify the matter and short circuit such comments. I only bothered because our host seems to find them annoying. But I have no stake in this. In fact, in some ways I enjoy the irritated responses -- in the past, some have been quite witty.

Anonymous 11:53 (as Orange has named me)

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