MONDAY, Sep. 22, 2008 - Peter A. Collins (Russia/China border river / The Titanic's was Southampton / Michael _____, Cochise player in 1950s TV )

Monday, September 22, 2008

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: THE / ZOO (11A: With 66-Across, where this puzzle's circled things can all be found) - circled "things," symmetrically arranged in five different answers, are all animals

I got slowed down All Over the Place in this one. On a Monday, that doesn't mean very much in terms of my average solving time (maybe +30 seconds to +1 minute), but I definitely felt the tripping. Got SEAL and SABLE first, and was a bit horrified at the prospect of the puzzle's having a FUR theme (THE / FUR?). The symmetry on the circled answers is indeed impressive, but these are not animals that readily come to mind when I think of THE ZOO. BEAR, CAMEL, and SEAL, all yes. GNU ... OK, GNU is good. I'm sure I've seen a GNU at a ZOO (urge to rhyme ... growing). But SABLE? A sable is a carnivorous Eurasian mammal often farmed for fur. It is also a Mercury sedan. I do not believe I have seen a sable at a zoo, though I am quite sure they are there, somewhere, past the ZEBRA and OKAPI. Sables are related to martens, who are one of the cutest animals on the planet:

Theme answers:

  • 21A: Proceed effortlessly (crui SEAL ong)
  • 3D: Less competent (not a SABLE) - also, what one might say about a marten
  • 38A: Tire irons loosen them (lu GNU ts)
  • 34D: Ensued (CAMEL ater) - also, a cockney bootblack who is picky about his cigarettes
  • 54A: 1972 hit for the Spinners ("I'll BEAR ound") - my favorite theme answer. It's a good song.

The tripping occurred somewhere in the fertile sable habitat of Eurasia, i.e. on the banks of the damned AMUR, which I have never heard of. It's rough when you're cruising along (!) with answers like ANAS, IN OR, ORA, EMAG, ON A, ARE, AREA, NNE, NOEL, etc. and then along comes AMUR (47A: Russia/China border river). I feel similarly about Michael ANSARA (10D: Michael _____, Cochise player in 1950s TV), though I've seen him recently and so am not as put off by him as I might have been. HOME PORT also took me longer than I would have liked, but I think that's a nice, fresh answer for a Monday (9D: The Titanic's was Southampton). My first thoughts: Captain? Cruise director? Bartender?

  • 6A: Mutual of _____ (insurance giant) (Omaha) - here's how I know this answer so well:
  • 26A: Respect that one deserves, in slang (props) - "I give props to those who deserve it / and believe me y'all, he's worth it."
  • 27A: Mount on which Noah landed (Ararat) - which is somewhere in the general vicinity (700 mi.) of ANKARA, which is one letter removed from ANSARA. Coincidence? ... yes, probably.
  • 64A: Related to the arm bone (ulnar) - it's a very cool word. Oh, man, if that word had been ULNAL, I would have hated it so bad ....
  • 12D: Centers of steering wheels (horns) - I used to use mine a lot more than I do now. I also tend to drive the speed limit now. I'm old (and not even 40 yet - so sad).
  • 36D: Political cartoonist Thomas (Nast) - "Tweed twitter Thomas" was a clue back in the day - that's how I learned who NAST was.
  • 54D: Mother of Don Juan (Inez) - if it starts with "I" and ends in "Z" and is four letters, you don't have a lot of options. INEZ, as I've said before, is my grandmother's name.
  • 55D: Jaffe who wrote "Five Women" (Rona) - no idea how I know this woman's name, but I do. RONA Barrett is a bit more common, but Jaffe is right up there.

Happy birthday to my little girl

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


ArtLvr 8:44 AM  

I cheered up at this one, because AMUR is a gimme from the fifties, or thereabouts! and I'm not mechanically inclined, but somehow LUGNUTS leaped to mind... neat, nutty word. Animals were fun too. Happy Monday!


mac 8:46 AM  

Might I be the first today? Earliest I have done the puzzle, too.

I completely agree with Rex on this puzzle, had some of the same bumps, just was lucky to think of "home port" right away. Never heard of Amur, either, or Ansara, but in the end it was a real Monday. I also feared "Ulnal" was going to show up, and wasn't sure of the last letter in Inez.

mac 8:47 AM  

Happy birthday to your daughter, Rex. She looked so pretty in her pink cowboy boots last week.

ArtLvr 9:06 AM  
This comment has been removed by the author.

chefbea1 9:20 AM  

I'm early today too. A bit harder than the usual monday puzzle.

I do remember watching Wild Kingdom. I even met Marlon Perkins at the St. louis zoo in my youth.

As for horns being in the center of steering wheels...
mine is down at the 6:00 part of my steering wheel. I have a Saturn ion

@rex happy bithday to your cute daughter!!

ArtLvr 9:29 AM  

p.s. there was also an "Amoy" that used to appear in crosswords as dialect/city/port of SE China -- probably never to be seen again, as the name is now Xiamen. Good luck, if that last shows up!

On the other hand, I looked up the venerable Yangtze River -- and its preferred name now seems to Chang! Go figure...


joho 9:31 AM  

@rex: happy birthday to your daughter! Maybe you should take her to the zoo to see the SABLES?
My first thought after filling in this answer was the same as yours. But other than that tiny complaint, a fun Monday puzzle.

william e emba 9:39 AM  

ANSA-A crossing P-OPS. Is that a Natick? I guessed correctly, but still, that seems ridiculous for a Monday.

archaeoprof 9:47 AM  

IMOO, this is a remarkably good Monday puzzle. 45A was a very clever clue.
Happy birthday to your daughter, Rex. My two were that age just a few years ago, I think. Now they live in NYC and have their own health insurance.

PuzzleGirl 9:48 AM  

Thank you thank you thank you for the medium-challenging rating. I stumbled all over the place. My time was a full two minutes slower than a typical Monday. Yikes!

Had DOGMA for CANON (also considered TENET). Never heard of MOTET, the AMUR River or Michael ANSARA.

PuzzleHusband didn't like the clue for HORNS. Wondered if Shortz is such a big-shot that he doesn't even drive his own car anymore. (When PH does the puzzle there is a Lot of grumbling and cussing directed at Mr. Shortz. All good-natured, of course.)

SNOW DAYS reminds me that we're back in the DC area now where they close school in the winter if there's the slightest possibility of precipitation. That's going to be annoying....

Anonymous 10:25 AM  

I'm surprised you didn't mention the second hidden sable in unusable.

Orange 10:26 AM  

I Googled the Chicago zoos and the sable to see if they've got sables on display. I think one has only the sable antelope and neither has sables.

Happy Birthday to the Crown Princess of CrossWorld!

Doug 10:44 AM  

Pretty hard for a Monday, I agree, folks. For some dumb reason I got stuck when I put in ANNA instead of ANAS for the famous winds -- but then I figured cruisealong easily as well as the long non-theme downs; on Collins' wavelength on those. The Spinners were one of the great soul groups from my era. Favorite song is "I'll Always Love You." I'm hoping one day I'll see a Motown theme puzzle.

john in NC 10:47 AM  

@anonymous -- Yes, I was going to say what up with "NOT AS ABLE" and "UNUSABLE"? I mean, it doesn't break any "rules" or anything, but it was certainly unusual.

I can often do Thursday and Friday puzzles in around 20 minutes -- why does it take me 10-12 minutes to do mondays? What's the key to doing puzzles faster? (Today's took me 12 minutes.)

Anonymous 11:18 AM  

@john in nc

Not wishing to open up the "solving technique" can of worms again, I won't tell you my mechanics, but my observation;

I've been doing the NYT puzzle for more than 30 years, so am (IMHO) pretty good at it, but the fastest I can get the answers into the grid is about 11 minutes.

Mon thru Thurs times are all pretty much 11 minutes, The rest of the week a tad longer.

I leave the speeding to the younger ones, and like Rex's driving comment, obey my personal speed limit of 11 minutes ... and enjoy the view.


Two Ponies 11:23 AM  

Between Fabu yesterday and Props today I've had it with the slang clues. Maybe I'm a bit of a snob but if I talked like that would I be a puzzle fanatic?

Anonymous 11:41 AM  

It seems to me that two of the clues in this puzzle are wrong. 12D (Center of steering wheels): Nowadays, the center of a steering wheel is an air bag. The horn button is often along the circumference of the wheel. 52D *having melody and harmony": Atonal music certainly has melody. although the melody does not appear to be an a particular key. And atonal music has harmony, but the chords tend not to be major/minor triads and again don't seem to relate to a particular key. Since our web host professed to Like Charles Ives, I'll use one of his works as an example of a piece that is atonal but has melody and harmony (albeit gritty and harsH): The John Browning Overture.

foodie 11:52 AM  

I felt this one teetered between Monday and Tuesday, because of the same types of issues that Rex described. But it was intrinsically a very nice puzzle. I don't love the stack of 3 letter words in the Northeast and Southwest, but the rest was fun. I did not know MOTET from before. I'm surprised I had not encountered it. AMUR, which was also news to me, is weird because it sounds like AMOUR and there has not been much love between China and Russia...

@ Archaeoprof: your kids have their own health insurance? Congratulations. I'm jealous! This is a goal in life for one's kids, less attainable than getting a PhD.

@Rex, I wish your daughter a happy year, a wonderful life, and living in a time where having health insurance is not a major accomplishment.

Anonymous 11:59 AM  

Where's the LION or TIGER or APE or ELEPHANT? How does SABLE rate over the other zoo favorites?

HudsonHawk 12:00 PM  

Pretty good Monday puzzle, but as others have noted, I wasn't crazy about the second (and uncircled) appearance of SABLE in 39D. Just seems off to me.

Steve 12:00 PM  

One of the trickiest Monday puzzles I've done in a long time. Seemed more like a Tuesday or Wednesday. I wonder why Will Shortz decided to run it as a Monday?

Peter 12:12 PM  

As a constructor ... I just thought I'd write to say I'm glad Rex noticed the symmetry of the circles in today's puzzle. It took a little extra effort to achieve that. Along the same lines, did anyone notice that the four outer circled words form a "cage" for the one inside? Can you feel the barely repressed savagery of the LUGNUTS/GNU pent up therein? I'd like to say I had that design in mind when I constructed the puzzle, but, truth be told, I just noticed it yesterday.

As for the second SABLE, it escaped me, too. Someone must've left its cage door open.

Pete Collins (with apologies to Garson Hampfield)

jeff in chicago 12:17 PM  

A nice challenging Monday.

I, too, fell for the ANNA instead of ANAS trap. "A" is the letter of the day. ARARAT, SAHARA, ANSARA, ANAS, AREA, OHAMA, MARIA.

I also have fond memories of "Wild Kingdom." It was a Sunday ritual in our family. Comedians often made fun of the fact that while Marlin Perkins was the star, he stayed safely away while Jim Fowler risked his life. I don't recall Fowler ever tracking the wild SABLE. (HA! Just saw that Wikipedia also notes the comics' use of that situation.)

We had family in St. Louis and went to the zoo every time we were there, but never got to meet Perkins. I assume he was safe in an office while others fed the wild beasts!!

mac 12:18 PM  

Nice to hear from you, Pete, and congratulations on a very enjoyable start of the week!

greene 12:45 PM  

I too had trouble with this very enjoyable puzzle; stumbled all over the place. Of course, I have no one to blame but myself, for 2 reasons:

(1) I said to my wife, "Watch how fast I can knock out this Monday puzzle (dumb).

(2) I did the puzzle online last night while watching the Emmys (dumber).

That's right, Monday is so easy I can type it with one finger while watching the Emmys (in a poorly lit room to boot). Ummm...perhaps not. Tonight: back in the study, door closed, lights ablaze, ego underfoot.

Wasn't I the one who was complaing about dumb television audiences last week? Open mouth, insert foot...Sheesh.

Doc John 1:22 PM  

Nice write-up, Rex and Happy Birthday to Little Miss Parker. Today is my mother's birthday, too. And my grandmother was also named INEZ.

Thanks for chiming in with your comments, Peter. It's always great to hear about the puzzle from a constructor's point of view. I won't name what the circled areas reminded me of. (Unfortunately, the symmetry of crosswords lends itself to this particular shape so I bear it no mind.)

Is an ALERO really an "old" Olds?

re: PROPS- Is that really a Monday way of cluing it? Especially when it crosses a less than common name?

Ah, Wild Kingdom and long-suffering Jim.

Ulrich 1:27 PM  

@peter: In addition, the names that form the cAgE contain only the vowels A and E, which makes the design even tighter--was that by design, too?

dk 1:29 PM  

Props to you @two ponies ;)

Happy Birthday puzzle child.

At the risk of sounding like a LUGNUT this puzzle had me thinking of a button that was once popular: "Nuke the Gay Baby Seals."

My favorite Wild Kingdom Show was on The Wiley Peccaries. That theme became a running joke in our family for years. Done in perfectly pressed safari shirts of course.

I had Yore for LORE but ALONG works and ayong does not.

Once went to a wild game restaurant in Houston (hi @wade) and all the things in this puzzle were on the menu or the backs of the patrons.

Lions and tigers and bears, oh my.

Peter 1:34 PM  


Wow, you're good! This is getting deeper all the time -- and you can interpret that any way you wish. Maybe someone could do their dissertation on this puzzle . . .

Pete C.

joho 1:39 PM  

@doc john: You're right, Alero should be clued with something like "Extinct Olds" because they're not that old.

@dk: You've got me thinking about Ligers ... now that's an animal that should be in the cage in this puzzle!

Tim 1:41 PM  

R_ _ L for measure of film got me a ROLL (photographys a biggg hobby of mine), and I stuck with a Huh? on ELL and ROBEL, whom I took to be famous historical figures my teenage mind hadn't heard of yet. I was pretty happy about getting those through crosses alone, only to be dissapointed here. 3 days ago I'd have said Argghh, but today I guess just grumble grumble.

imsdave1 1:49 PM  

First things first - Happy birthday! Second - solid write up and evaluation of the puzzle Rex. Third - I agree with part of anon. @11:41's disagreement with the TONAL clue. Berg and Schoenberg's music indeed have melodies and harmonies and are definitely atonal. Ive's music however, is tonal to my ear, albeit very often polytonal, with multiple tonalities playing at the same time. I think the difference is significant.

Bill from NJ 2:14 PM  

Michael ANSARA had a splash of fame playing Cochise in an oater called Broken Arrow in the late 50s, which was the heyday of popularity for Westerns on TV.

He played Native-Americans in guest spots into the early 60s after the series ended.

He was able to extend his 15 minutes by being married to Barbara Eden, who played the leading role in I Dream of Jeannie, alongside Larry Hagman who later found his own stardom as JR Ewing in the immensely popular night-time Soap Dallas.

The fact that I know all this information off the top of my head is a trifle embarrassing but it was during a time when my family owned its first TV set and I have a knack for remembering names in the first place and it held me in good stead in school.

PROPS today and FABU yesterday - is Teen Week back?

Anonymous again 2:39 PM  

imsdave1 did give better examples than I did about atonal pieces, but I just want to say that the John Browning Overture is pretty atypical of Ives. It is one of only a few works than I think can be described as atonal as opposed to polytonal. The non-string parts of An Unanswered Question would be another example of atonality that has melody and harmony. Nuff said.

jeff in chicago 3:18 PM  

Wouldn't that be the "Robert Browning Overture?

JeanSp 3:25 PM  

I don't have any trouble with the definition for tonal. Had it said "the only kind of music that has melodies and harmony" there would have been a valid nit to pick. But it didn't say that and I'll bet that most of us filled it in easily, even if we were grumbling as we did it.

Jean who is also a September child. More birthdays occur in September than in any other month, probably because it is 9 months after the holidays.

Joon 3:44 PM  

"old" doesn't have to mean prehistoric. it can just mean "former," as in "an old flame" or "my old apartment." the ALERO clue was just fine. kind of cute, even.

i agree that the TONAL clue could have perhaps been more precise. [Having a key] would have been a nice clue, but perhaps not on a monday.

chefbea1 3:45 PM  

@Bill from NJ I'm impressed with all your knowledge - I loved I Dream of Jeannie

@Jeansp- Sept child. On my September calendar there are 10 birthdays!!! Your are right!!

fergus 4:30 PM  

The camel in the zoo reminds me of a rainy day excursion to the Oakland Zoo whereupon we encountered a pair of camels in a very conspicuous act of furthering the species. This wasn't particularly interesting -- too noisy and gruesome, though it did seem to go on for quite some time -- but all the varying human responses, especially of those in family groups were fascinating to behold. The prim, proper types pretending there was nothing going on, trying to avert the children's eyes; the matter-of-fact variety with rather clinical observations; and the party-down types encouraging their children to enjoy the show. There were fairly consistent ethnic tendencies that this cultural anthropologist noted, but I don't think I'll go so far as to state them.

Orange 5:19 PM  

Well, you can't buy a new ALERO any more, so that makes it an old Olds. Sure, it's no Model T, but it was discontinued all the same.

Two Ponies, I use the word PROPS. I would use FABU if I knew the proper pronunciation. My husband begged me to stop using "true dat." And yet, I am a crossword fanatic. I also have a touch of elitist snobbery to boot. These things are not mutually exclusive.

mac 5:41 PM  

@Orange, I never heard "true dat" before, but it would be even worse when spelled "tru dat".....

SethG 5:59 PM  

Double true, Orange, double true.

Travis 6:08 PM  

Does anyone else do the puzzles on linux? Across Lite doesn't seem to work, and the java applet sucks so I mostly use xword. The problem is xword doesn't seem to support circles/rebuses so whenever the puzzle has either it gets very annoying. I can't even for the life of me figure out how they are encoded in the puz file.

male chicken 6:14 PM  

@artlvr i lived on the yangtze for a few years and everyone where i was calls it chang jiang. It means long river and has been the main common usage name for centuries. Yangtze is the historical or poetic name, which we picked up with our outsider objectivity towards the river as one sole entity to one sole culture. In fact, all down the river people call it different things, and usually don't know what the next village down refers to it as. Now i live on the mekong. My husband's family is from the same river's banks but upstream and they have never heard the word mekong.

gypsy 6:36 PM  

I've never seen a SABLE in a zoo, but I'm an American living in Trinidad and some of the 'exotic' animals at the zoo here are things that used to dig through my garbage and eat from my bird feeders back in the US. If there are zoos with raccoons, I'm willing to believe there are zoos with SABLES.

My biggest snag today was the SW...never heard of ALERO or PLANO, but guessed at APRES-ski.

jae 6:53 PM  

Clever puzzle and a bit challenging for me also. Putting in HUBCAPS didn't help. I think that's what the flat bladed end of the tire iron is for?

foodie 9:48 PM  


As a constructor (NOT), I enjoyed hearing that you had a hidden design. I had not noticed.

Your four odd critters encaging an enraged GNU bring to mind an Aesop or La Fontaine Fable. That trapped GNU needs to fool at least one of them to get out... One is very tall, the other very large, the third is fierce and the fourth is clever. How to fool them? May be by distracting them with each other? Or may be that secret other sable (a female?) can come in handy? And what will be the moral of that story?

wade 1:33 AM  

Rona is my daughter's name. It's not her birthday.

I still got no power. I got yp to call the neighbors to tell them to turn off their generator, which has run non-stop and noisily for 11 days. My wife objected. I can't sleep. It's hot and noisy. Tempers are short.

Victor in Rochester 7:05 AM  

Loved 38A LUGNUTS. A few years ago I went to driving school at Watkins Glen, and the day before, following the instructions I was sent, told my totally non-car wife "I'm going out to get my lugnuts torqued." Imagine the response!

Orange 9:27 AM  

I just stopped myself from using the word "thang" instead of "thing" on my blog. I tell ya, this language is rich and slang is part of it. I like to speak slangily! (But I am not a "coverer" or other odd-jobber.)

Scortch 11:00 AM  

From syndication land:

Looks like the syndicated version may have jumped another week ahead as my local paper has put this puzzle in today's paper - just four weeks behind. Will have to keep an eye on that.

As to the puzzle itself, I found it Medium at worst, perhaps because I was concentrating on doing it as quickly as I can rather than being leisurely with it. My only stumble was putting in ET_ for 56A which was quickly corrected by REDS.

boardbtr 3:01 PM  

Time flies! Here in St. Louis we were only 4 weeks behind today. Must be SST (Syndication Savings Time). I chuckled over the discussion of whether the Alero was an old Olds or not since any Olds could be considered old. Oldsmobile hasn't been produced since about 2004.

Anonymous 3:56 PM  

now, 4wl...

Help ! I don't understand 37A: "Conger, for one" ELL. thanks...

- - Robert

Scortch 4:30 PM  

@robert - answer for 37A is EEL not ELL.

Waxy in Montreal 6:40 PM  

6wl, 5wl, now only 4wl! The syndicate is catching up. My dream is that we progress all the way to 0wl and then participate in Rex's blog in realtime...

Anonymous 1:14 AM  

also in syndication time. Couln't get the crossing of prop (slang) w some name I had never heard. My real gripe is with LUGNUTS. Had no trouble getting it, but it's not what a tire iron is for. Tire irons are for breaking the bead from the rim, and are not for the faint of arm. Lug wrenches are used on LUGNUTS.

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