MONDAY, May 11 2009 - F Piscop (Mescaline-yielding cactus / 1971 Tom Jones hit / 1962 Crystals hit / Superman portrayer Christopher)

Monday, May 11, 2009

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: pronoun contractions ... or something like that - four theme answers begin SHE'S, YOU'RE, I'M, and HE'S, respectively

Word of the Day: CAVIL (33D: Be nitpicky) - v.intr.

To find fault unnecessarily; raise trivial objections. See synonyms at quibble.

To quibble about; detect petty flaws in.


A carping or trivial objection.

[French caviller, from Old French, from Latin cavillārī, to jeer, from cavilla, a jeering.]

There are several things to say about this puzzle, but one issue dwarfs all the others - this theme reminds me of that old segment on "Sesame Street," where the screen was divided into four parts with different things happening in each part, and a song would play: "Which of these things is not like the others / Which of these things just doesn't belong ..." (apparently there were variant versions ... the following clip demonstrates why I thought, from a very early age, that "Sesame Street" was for ... not terribly bright kids. I was an "Electric Company" kid, for sure):

OK, so now, look at today's theme answers. SHE'S A ... HE'S A ... I'M A ... YOU'RE ... SO? Game over. I feel like longtime constructors are sometimes allowed to get away with this kind of crap. It's annoying. At least these answers are all songs. I understand that there are no well known "YOU'RE A ..." songs, but if that's so, then either scrap the theme or change at least one of the other theme answers so that "A" isn't following every other pronoun/linking verb contraction. This criticism may seem like a CAVIL to you, but the inconsistency in phrasing is jarring to my puzzle ear.

Theme answers:

17A: 1971 Tom Jones hit ("She's a Lady")

30A: 1972 Carly Simon hit ("You're so Vain")

48A: 1966 Monkees hit ("I'm a Believer") (shout-out to Neil Diamond!)

66A: 1962 Crystals hit ("He's a Rebel")

This puzzle has a RECTOR (53A: Parish leader) and REV (41D: Minister's nickname). It also has ZESTY TABASCO SALSA for your NACHO chips (19A: Appealingly piquant + 25A: Hot sauce brand + 58A: _____ chip, which might be topped with 19-Across 27-Down dip)! It's hot as HELL (59D: Satan's domain). But in the end, there's just too much crossword-common stuff, like BENET and EBAN and RELEE and KEENE and MIDI and SLOE. Love the PEYOTE (8D: Mescaline-yielding cactus) and the GAZEBOS (9D: Garden pavilions), and JABBA over ALIEN (62A: _____ the Hutt of "Star Wars" + 68A: Martian or Venusian), but otherwise, no dice.

See you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

My write-up of today's LAT is now up.


ArtLvr 9:05 AM  

I didn't know the songs but it didn't matter -- it was all easy to get with crosses. Now I know the likely lower limit of my one-hand typing speed!


Brendan Emmett Quigley 9:08 AM  

I would agree with pronoun plus A nit, but let's just keep in mind. I think this is a good example of just how difficult it is to come up with an easy puzzle. Fred can make these in his sleep, so I'm not going to rake him over the coals. Couldn't come up with any YOU'RE A save YOU'RE A GRAND OLD FLAG or maybe BABY YOU'RE A RICH MAN.

fikink 9:08 AM  

dk, I am waiting for you to post that you like PEYOTE, too.

Okay, this is really off the wall, but this theme was so NOT a theme that it reminded me of an SNL skit about the Scotch Tape Store in the new shopping mall.

nanpilla 9:12 AM  

Didn't even notice that only one of them wasn't followed by A. I was put off by the lack of IT'S.

Of course all of these are 10 letters, so wouldn't be able to be added as a singleton. Can someone please come up with an odd one so I can stop thinking about this?!

Chorister 9:13 AM  

I whizzed through this so fast & everything seemed so familar I thought, "Surely I've done this one before?!" I only looked at a few crosses and then wondered why I bothered. Highly forgettable in every way.

PuzzleGirl 9:14 AM  

Theme? There was a theme?? Sorry — I was BLAZING THROUGH THIS PUZZLE SO FAST I DIDN'T NOTICE! Completely CRUSHED my personal best time record. Probably could have shaved a couple more seconds off if I hadn't gotten so excited about halfway through the puzzle thinking "Holy crap! This must be what it feels like to be Tyler!"

I don't have a single negative thing to say about this puzzle. I'm just going to bask in the glow for the rest of the day.

Jon 9:19 AM  

RELEE crossed with HESAREBEL was nice.

HudsonHawk 9:24 AM  

So I saw PuzzleGirl's time (2:21!!!) in her facebook status and decided to time myself. I don't know how you speedsters do it. Granted, I was filling out the dead tree version, but I moved very quickly through this one without any hiccups and still ended up at around 6 minutes. Well done, PG!

Ulrich 9:24 AM  

@nanpilla: I'm with you--if I were asked to pick a nit, I'd rather pick the missing IT'S in the puzzle than the missing A after YOU'RE.

In any case, I didn't think much about the puzzle once it was done and had to come here to find out what I should have thought--thanks to everyone for helping me out, especially BEQ.

Ulrich 9:26 AM  

...and thanks to Rex for another great cover--why don't they make these anymore?

Anne 9:27 AM  

I'm sorry, people, but the theme of this puzzle is Still Kicking or as the answer puts it, still alive.

I am still kicking and I knew every one of those songs from my earlier days, and some of you probably think that is not something to tell others. Still, it's true.

On another matter, does anyone really call a photographer a lensman or lenswoman, I suppose.

All that said, it was a good Monday. Not as easy as some.

archaeoprof 9:27 AM  

Easy, yes, but interesting too. ADHOC, ZESTY, ANIME, and more. And it was fun to remember those old songs. Fine Monday, imoo.

Hoople 9:32 AM  

Rainy days and (puzzles like this on) Mondays always get me down. Anyone else think Eban crossing Niobe is bit of a stretch for a Monday? Perhaps even Natick-esque?
Okay, I get that the Natick principle only applies when one clue refers to a relatively unknown place. So if this isn't properly a Natick violation, how about a Name-tick violation? Are these entries as obscure to others as they are to me?

retired_chemist 9:41 AM  

Enjoyable. One of my best times, so I rate it easy. YMMV.

Perhaps others think that the theme is too geezer-friendly, but that’s fine with me. The crosses are so easy in general that you don’t really need to know the song titles – once several crosses appear you can easily see what each must be.

I agree with BEQ - the theme is OK for Monday. Wouldn't pick a nit with it myself. Nice to have the differing perspectives on construction from RP/BEQ, though.

The NW seems to have Geography 101 as a prerequisite, with LAKE Victoria, KEENE (NH), and ESSEN (Krupp Works city, although through merger Krupp became ThyssenKrupp in 1999 which is based in Düsseldorf). Speaking of geography, didn’t we just see AIRE (70A) clued as the Yorkshire river recently?

52A – LENSMAN? Huh? Well, OK, if you say so…….

dk 9:45 AM  

We have been using "Which one is not like the other one" to encourage the steplings to put the spoons and forks in the right drawer so Rex's post was a hoot.

Like P-girl and @artlvr, this was a fast solve. I agree with BEQ that this was a fine Monday puzzle. Although LENSMEN is odd.

Must be the PEYOTE that @fikink sent me that is making me so cheerful.

retired_chemist 9:49 AM  

@ Hoople - Abba EBAN was much in the news when he was PM, and NIOBE is also well known - even has a chemical element named after her. Neither is obscure. Double obscurity/local awareness only (e.g. small, largely unremarkable towns) is the figure of merit for a Natick.

XMAN 9:52 AM  

It was like magic watching the puzzle practically solve itself, the grid filling like water in an ice-cube tray.

PlantieBea 10:00 AM  

Did anybody not think of this Dr. Pepper song of similar vintage? I won't be able to get this out of my head today.

Jim in Chicago 10:03 AM  

The way the author lined up H*LL and OSLO next to each other made me crack a smile. From all accounts, OLSO is actually a perfectly wonderful place.

retired_chemist 10:05 AM  

@ PlantieBea - ☺

Crosscan and I recast the song for this blog by globally replacing "Pepper" with "geezer" a month or two back. Once it gets in your head, neither version will go away readily.

Two Ponies 10:20 AM  

I thought this was a fine puzzle, esp. for a Monday.
I would think that finding four songs that create this theme along with the required symmetry is a feat in itself.
The hemp and peyote crossing was fun.
My new game now is to try and guess what will be Rex's Word of the Day. Today I was right.
Cavil was new to me. Always a bonus to learn a new word on a Monday.

Ulrich 10:22 AM  

@retired_chemist: I'm with you, too. "like Niobe, all tears" (Hamlet, I 2) has been in my language ever since I first read it.

PIX 10:29 AM  

Best time ever (by far) for a NYTIMES puzzle...being of a certain age where the songs were all well known, made it very easy...compensates for some of the times where the modern pop references leave me lost in space.


i am also irked by the one SO among the A's.

how about [1966 Christmas cartoon song, with '...Mr. Grinch']

Of course, that answer is a dumb ol' partial and is too long. ;)

Shamik 10:42 AM  

Easiest Monday ever for me at 3:15.

And it's Monday, so can't complain about the puzzle. Remember, the Amish make quilts with one small area "flawed" by the quilting part left undone because only God can create perfection. Last I saw, Will hasn't hired God to provide NY Times puzzles.


But Shamik, this isn't just a quilt with one flawed square, this is a quilt with a disgusting coffee stain running across the middle of it.

Denise 11:06 AM  

I am usually not very fast, but this was a breeze -- I just filled it in letter by letter. But, it was fun because I LOVE those songs.

Crosscan 11:12 AM  

Whoa, whoa, whoa…nice easy puzzle. Missing “A”. That’s all you got?

Would have been a record time but I am currently a cyclops so can't see the left hand keys.

@retired_chemist - huh? No memory of that. Do you recall the date?

Anonymous 11:17 AM  

Dylan's "You're a Big Girl Now," alas, has one too many letters ("and a thousand miles . . . behind.")

jeff in chicago 11:43 AM  

I almost always solve the puzzle with something else going on in the room. Music. TV. Some random shiny object that distracts me. I don't worry about my time. But today, after seeing PG's Facebook status I decided to try to solve as fast as I could. 5:22. Not my fastest. I think my best ever is 4:30-something. (I really don't know.) Thanks, HudsonHawk, for reassuring me I'm not alone.

Got stuck at the NIOBE/BAS crossing. Do not like the BAS clue. Too random. You can get a Masters in English and a BA in, well, just about anything.

Liked the JAB/JABBA cross and HEMP/PEYOTE.

hazel 11:49 AM  

For the symmetry cavillers out there, instead of finding a "You're A" song, change IMABELIEVER to IMSOEXCITED - and then change a bunch of other down words to make that fit, and you're done. Boom. Symmetry. That way you'd get rid of the heinous LENSMAN as well.

You're welcome and good day.

Frieda 12:07 PM  

LENSMAN seemed weird to me. But there appear to be many such constructions, so ok. Liked NIOBE (from my English BA days--Niobits was another favorite), and the roll of songs. One "You're so..." in the lineup didn't bother me. Wow, PG, 2 ish minutes! It felt like I flew through this one, content to leave SNERD (googled that afterwards), but didn't time the effort--

KarmaSartre 12:13 PM  

There was "You're a Foxy Lady" by Graham Central Station, but that is too many letters.

@crosscan -- How did you get the right eye moved to the middle?

Anonymous 12:14 PM  

Manhattan Transfer's "You're A Viper" fits, but was not a hit and is probably too obscure.

-- Harry

joho 12:20 PM  

I agree with all who thought this was easy. I'm not a speed solver so I can't appreciate how quickly this puzzle could be solved. I do think that the speedsters here enjoyed this puzzle for that reason more than I did.

@BEQ ... your point about Monday, "easy" puzzles being hard to construct is well taken. To make a really interesting, well developed & balanced puzzle you need ACME or Lempel.

Mike 12:52 PM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mike 12:53 PM  

This was fun, but nowhere near my best time for a Monday; I solved it in just under 5:30. I think this puzzle lulled me early into thinking I was just going to get every theme entry without any effort, but then I got to "He's A Rebel," and there that theory went. Slowed me down enormously in the bottom.

Also, the ZESTY TOBASCO SALSA for NACHO chips was pretty amazing. I would have been perfectly satisfied if that had been the theme!

Karen 12:57 PM  

I didn't notice the theme, I was too busy filling in down clues. Nice puzzle, Piscop.

Charles Bogle 12:59 PM  

Here's a perspective from a still-fairly novice gamer:

After having to throw in the towel fairly early on Friday and Saturday, it was confidence-boosting, and pleasant, for me to complete this puzzle in about 30 minutes w only one google (the Crystals hit). When I got that, the cross of He's a Rebel w RE Lee brought a smile; same w peyote and hemp

As a litigator, "cavil" brought a smile too. It's one of the most hackneyed cliches in brief-writing: to argue that your point is "clear beyond cavil..."

The presence of three or four independent themes was also refreshing.

I suspect a lot of people have only taken to trying these puzzles in recent times and are still mystified by the intricacies, and in awe of the speedy times of some. For our demographic, I thought this was a wonderful way to start the week!

Perhaps Mr. Parker can recognize the growing presence of "newbies" when trashing (or praising) a particular puzzle's merits. Your blog is increasing in popularity and, with that growth, your readers are becoming more diverse skill/experience-wise.

Z.J. Mugildny 1:37 PM  

Speaking of "cavil", "outcavil" is a valid play in Scrabble. What a ridiculous word.

chefwen 1:43 PM  

Very easy, typical Monday for me. I don't time myself as I am always doing something besides the puzzle,i.e. watching TV, but really sped through this one. Enjoyed doing it but as Simon would say "easily forgetable."

Paul 1:52 PM  

I am a relative newcomer as well, and always look forward to Monday's for boost to my too fragile solver's ego. This was a middling one for me- no real stickers, didn't notice the theme, but I didn't fly through it- timed myself at 11:30- a good 3 minutes off my fastest.

dk 1:54 PM  

@Charle Bogle, before he who must not be named gets back and..... well you'll see.

I point out that you are not the second third or even leventy trillionth newbie and in the fullness of time you will come to fully appreciate this blog and the fact that sometimes we talk about time, sometimes we don't, sometimes we bicker over arcane word usage and sometimes we don't and sometimes we go on and on and on and on about puzzles being culture bound but it is all in good fun. So saddle up cowboy and hang on tight your in for ride.

In short: Prepare to be assimilated resistance is futile.

darn @rikink, I need more buttons.

dk 1:54 PM  

err @fikink... everything is a little blurry (3 and out)

mac 2:05 PM  

Easy, quick puzzle. I just had to look again at 57D, don't think I've seen the complete R.E. Lee as an answer, just all the other versions and parts of his name.

My word of the day is not in the puzzle, it is in DK's comment: steplings!

fikink 2:17 PM  

dk, hang in there, Gazeboy, ...err, GAZEBO.

This is just the ONSET of apres MIDI CAVILing.

Don your VISOR, Ace, I'll talk you down!

Now I must leave before I am REXHORTED to stop!

retired_chemist 2:23 PM  

@ Charles Bogle - I agree with dk: well said, dk.

Rex blogs what he wants to, you get to read and write what you want to. He isn't writing for a particular clientele. Take it for what it's worth, enjoy the give and take, and LEARN from each puzzle. Solving techniques, arcane facts, serious groaners, rebuses, things you never knew you knew but somehow you knew them - ALL this is there for the experience of solving these puzzles and contributing to this blog about your challenges and successes.

Welcome aboard! We don't bite. Usually. And never newbies. They need to be malleted and pierced by puzzles to a reasonable degree of tenderness before we do. Did I say there are a lot of food images, especially involving beets?

Vega 2:30 PM  

I finally understand what it means to solve as fast as I can type. I can die happy.


edith b 3:15 PM  

I remember LENSMAN as a staple of gossip columns ala Walter Winchel.
Being NYC born and bred, I used to read the gossip columns before gossip became a big part of TV. The word was routinely used to mean photographer.

I'm guessing one would have to be part of big city culture to know this word routinely. LENSMAN took PIX, don't you know.

It is interesting that the same number of people solved this puzzle thru wordplay as knew the songs. Makes for a good Monday.

retired_chemist 3:17 PM  

Google finds a lot more about the sci-fi series lensman than about anything photography-related.

More than three and out.

chefbea 3:21 PM  

Very easy. Was finished so early - the blog wasn't up yet. Just got home and read all the comments.

yummm - nachos

Doc John 4:06 PM  

I just thought it was fun. As I did it I tried to make mental notes of the things that Rex would cavil. (Like R E LEE) (usage?)
Cavil, of course, reminds me of Henry Cavill, the hunk who plays Henry VIII's friend on The Tudors.

@ dk- well put. And speaking of being assimilated, I saw the new Star Trek movie last night and really enjoyed it. Yes, there was all the blah blah blah how could you change that and that and THAT but taken by itself as a movie it was a lot of fun.

Charles Bogle 4:16 PM  

to dk and retired_chemist

thanks for the encouragement!

Bill from NJ 4:54 PM  

Real easy puzzle this morning. But as Ellen Ripstein is fond of saying Challenge her at the ACPT if you think these puzzles are so simple.

My wife is a big Carly Simon fan (YOU'RE SO VAIN) and we named our daughter Carly after her. Imagine our surprise when we discovered that both CARLYS shared the same birthday! We found out who MS Simon's agent was and wrote her a letter outling the above. Imagine our further surprise when we got a letter from Carly Simon congratulating our daughter on her birthday. We got the letter framed and it is one of her "prized possessions."

Anonymous 4:54 PM  

i takes me longer to find the puzzle in the paper, and fold it just so and put it on my clipboard, than it does for most of you to do it !


chefwen 7:11 PM  

@Bill from NJ - That is a very cool story.

fergus 8:33 PM  

The XMan's comment about this puzzle filling itself in like water pouring into an ice cube tray was a great image. Wouldn't we love to see a 15 by 15 ice cube tray?

Today's theme was specifically amusing to me since I was conjugating verbs with high school students for most class-time. While American students do get around to learning the basic parts of speech, they tend to be sorely lacking in understanding how to put together all the verb constructions.

If I were to tell them that this puzzle was an exercise of conjugating the verb TO BE in the present tense, in the first, second and third person singular, there would be way too many baffled faces staring back at me.

I know it's often been said that the only way you learn the grammar of your native language is by seeing how it stacks up against another, but this little truism was underscored by realizations that though the format may differ, the mechanics are essentially the same. And some grudging admissions that grammar is not all that boring.

Greene 8:57 PM  

I was hoping the word of the day would be NIOBE. Like others, I remembered the word from Hamlet, but today I actually took the time to read up about the legend and see the photographs of the stone that poor old Niobe was transformed into. The Wiki page is pretty good and has some amazing artwork based on the legend.

No CAVIL with today's puzzle. It was smooth, easy, fun Monday fare.

I'm no PuzzleGirl (that is one amazing time Tyler, Jr.), but I'm finally getting fast enough to do more than one or two puzzles daily. Today I was able to zip through the NYT, LAT, CrosSynergy, and Newsday all in the morning! For me, who has limited time during the week for puzzling, this is the best reason to be fast: I get to do more puzzles! By Friday, I'll probably just be eking out the NYT and maybe squeezing in the LAT during lunch, but after another year of practice, who knows? Speed does indeed open up new puzzling horizons.

Howard B 9:38 PM  

PuzzleGirl: 2:21?!? That's some crazy solvin'. Nice one.

I dunno... I don't want to get jaded about this stuff. It's a light, breezy, fun Monday puzzle, right in the wheelhouse for anyone that likes the early-week puzzles. If you're one who generally skips these, then it won't do much for you, but it works. There didn't seem to be too much funky obscurity to clog things up, either. A good puzzle to show a new solver the puzzle ropes to, as it were ("See, they're not so bad, they're even kinda fun. Nothing to be afraid of... yet.").

But it wouldn't be a blog if everyone didn't have vastly different opinions. So have at it ;)

foodie 10:03 PM  

I cannot even read the clues in 2 minutes... Congratulations to those who can. I'm truly impressed!

Free Lunch 11:18 PM  

Sorry folks, NIOBE is not a Monday word unless crossed with absolute gimmes. I was the stunned that the EBAN cross passed muster.

Too often constructors/editors consider a word a gimme because it's a crutch that gets dragged out so constantly, not because it should commonly known in a non-crossword context. I got the cross right away, but only from seeing the EBAN punt so often. It surely wasn't from being ten-years-old when he was foreign minister of Israel.

(Quiz: name the foreign minister of Israel that came AFTER Eban. His first name was Yigal. See what I mean?)

Long solving experience should never, ever be a prerequisite to correctly solve a Monday. After all, Mondays aren't only for the bragging rights of the sub-four-minute veterans; they're supposed to make new solvers feel good as well. I imagine this cross made a lot of new solvers feel pretty stupid. I wonder how many will never try again.

fergus 11:35 PM  

Free Lunch,

Your point is made convincingly, except for NIOBE's weepy standard that you descry and decry. That weeping girl, so signified in the Bible and Shakespeare, cannot be dismissed. Look at some of Picasso's crying girls, and Niobe is almost their patron saint.


hazel 11:45 PM  

@FreeLunch - I would guess that this puzzle doesn't deter the first person from ever trying another puzzle because they couldn't get the EBAN/ NIOBE cross (which I do agree is not very Mondayish).

More likely, though, it caused someone to google and find this website...

Anonymous 3:28 AM  

Days like this I give my mind a stretch by putting only a dot in each square as I figure out the puzzle. A clue can be read only once. If I can't remember it, I go back to the answers I can remember and work toward the one(s) I've forgotten. When all the squares are filled with dots, then I write in the actual words. Interruptions during solving make it more interesting.

andrea carla michaels 4:08 AM  

It's too bad that the A/SO imbalance made it open to criticism
(@Shamik, love that idea of the whole quilt thing!),
but for theme, I wish I could think of something this good!

Thanks for the shout out, but YIKES...Fred has had about 100 puzzles published, whereas I've had my last ten or so rejected...
I think he knows what he's doing!

On Orange's blog, John Farmer pointed out that had Fred Piscop used HESSOFINE (right number of letters even) it would have been balanced between two A's and two SO's...

And just as well known if not more so...
(just ask George Harrison.)

I'm a little surprised this was so fast for everyone as there were tough crosses and unusual words for Monday (CAVIL, BENET)

Anyway, I thought it was a delightful musical puzzle...

Not to OUTCAVIL (thanks for the Scrabble tip!) but, if anything, the former ESL-teacher in me would have liked it to be in a more conjugated order:

Maybe one day we will see a puzzle in it with "Me so horny"

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