County ENE of San Francisco / MON 7-26-10 / Monica player on Friends / Brutes in Gulliver's Travels / Native of eastern South Africa

Monday, July 26, 2010

Constructor: Janet Bender

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium (EASY for me, but I beat some speedsters, so I think my time was idiosyncratic)

THEME: COCO — theme answers are two-word phrases where first and second words start with "CO-"

Word of the Day: CONTRA COSTA (17A: County ENE of San Francisco) —

Contra Costa County (Spanish for "opposite coast") is a primarily suburban county in the San Francisco Bay Area of the U.S. state of California. As of the 2006, the US Census Bureau estimated it had a population of 1,024,319. The county seat is Martinez. (wikipedia)
• • •

A lovely Monday puzzle—theme is a bit simple, but the grid is very splashy overall. A nice array of high-value Scrabble letters and some very lively fill made the puzzle a pleasure to solve. Next to no junk, too, which is usually all I ask of my Mondays. Two big surprises (for me) today. First, that CONTRA COSTA is puzzle-worthy at all, not to mention theme-worthy! Do people outside CA know this place? A county whose biggest city is Concord (the 47th largest city in CA)?! Weird. Second surprise: that COURTENEY COX's first name has that first "E"—is that normal? I wrote in her name and had a space left over. Decided to throw in another "E" in the only place that seemed plausible, and voila! Other than that, nothing surprising, but lots to love, including (to name just a few):

  • ON RECORD (5D: Publicly known)
  • DECAMP (6D: Leave suddenly)
  • ST. CROIX (23D: Largest of the Virgin Islands)
  • GAWK (53D: Get an eyeful)
  • BIG MAC (51A: Alternative to a Quarter Pounder)
  • RED COAT (41D: British soldier in the American Revolution)
  • YAHOOS (45D: Brutes in "Gulliver's Travels")
  • SHORTCUT (39D: Clever travel suggestion)

And not just a JEW, but a JEW TABOO (successive entries!) (60A: Observer of Yom Kippur + 61A: Eating pork, to an observant 60-Across). Nice work. By the way, in case you missed it yesterday, you might want to check out W. Shortz's defense of "JEWFRO" and other recent and somewhat controversial answers, published here this past weekend.

Theme answers:
  • 17A: County ENE of San Francisco (CONTRA COSTA)
  • 27A: What a programmer writes (COMPUTER CODE)
  • 43A: Monica player on "Friends" (COURTENEY COX)
  • 57A: Winter afflictions (COMMON COLDS)

  • 48A: China's Three Gorges project (DAM) — see, now that's an interesting clue for DAM. Not a typical Monday clue (i.e. not transparent), but an interesting clue.
  • 11D: Native of eastern South Africa (ZULU) — was hesitant to write this answer in, as part of me thought that ZULU were somehow bygone, or only existed in movies. I blame "Shaka ZULU"

  • 27D: Vitamin brand promoted as "Complete from A to Zinc" (CENTRUM) — Product Placement! Actually, I don't care about such issues. I only wish the product name were less dull. I take only Vitamin D and Fish Oil.
  • 30D: Missile that might be tipped with curare (DART) — why would you tip your missile with ... oh, "missile" in the general, not-necessarily-rocket-propelled sense. Gotcha.
  • 45D: Brutes in "Gulliver's Travels" (YAHOOS) — A memorable reading experience, for many reasons (not the least of which is that I spelled JONATHAN wrong, repeatedly, in my paper for British Literature II. The fact that JONATHAN was also the professor's child's name (and that the professor bothered to tell me so) made the error particularly ... memorable). Best name in "Gulliver's Travels": Houyhnhnms!
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


Steve J 12:15 AM  

Easy for me as well. Breezed through this, slowed only by the same problem with missing the extra E in COURTENEYCOX. Had that extra space, couldn't figure out why, erased and tackled some crosses. Slowed me down enough to keep me just out of blazing-Monday (sub 6 minutes) territory for me.

I suspect that living in San Francisco, and therefore being familiar with the surrounding counties (including CONTRACOSTA) helped make it so. I would guess that there are a lot of people out there who needed all the crosses.

I never picked up on the theme (I saw the initial CO-s, of course, but didn't make the connection with the second). The theme itself is neither good nor bad, but the theme fill is really nice.

And I really liked a lot of the fresh cluing for Monday fill (that's probably my biggest gripe with Mondays; I like good easy puzzles - sometimes it's nice to have a gentle stroll instead of a full-on hike - but too often Mondays are clued the same way, over and over).

Only blot is ENOS. Really only one way to clue that guy. Interestingly enough, despite having grown up in an (overly) religious background, I'd never heard of ENOS until I started doing crosswords. He doesn't even rise to the level of minor character in Genesis. Just part of some long list of who begat whom.

Of course, that's a really, really, really minor point on what otherwise was a really nice Monday. Kudos to Ms Bender.

nhart1954 12:23 AM  

I thought it was nice a puzzle, too, especially liked what RP did--redcoat, decamp, and yahoos.

Contra Costa was easy for this Texan once I caught the theme. Easier for me than Courteney Cox. I never watched Friends.

PurpleGuy 12:55 AM  

My only problem was the crossing ofCONTRCOSTA withExam or. ETS. Had NO IDEA. Any letter could have fit. Came here to find out.

Otherwise it was a good Monday puzzle.Two write overs: meal for MENU and depart for DECAMP. Should have known better and paid more attention to the clues.

Everything else came easy.

Happy Monday all !!!

Rube 1:06 AM  

Like @PurpleGuy had a writeover at Meal for MENU. Otherwise a pleasant easy Monday. CONTRACOSTA is a gimme for people from Marin.

Did have a heads up with SCION. For some reason I thought that this referred to the father, not the heir. I guess that I can learn something from Monday puzzles after all.

CoolPapaD 1:46 AM  

Loved this - seemed later than a Monday for all the good reasons. I'm glad I'm in good company with those who couldn't spell Ms. Cox's name correctly initially.

Am I the only one who never knew where "Yahoo" came from until today?! I absolutely LOVE learning new things from these puzzles, which seems to happen on a daily basis.

Weird coincidences - COCO was just in the puzzle yesterday, as was Does('), as a clue.

We Jews shouldn't be eating BIG MACS, either!

Rex - thanks again for doing this.

Robin 1:56 AM  

Didn't we just have "Coco" in the puzzle yesterday? Yes we did, 79D First Name in Fashion.

Fun puzzle. Couldn't spell Ms. Cox's first name to save my life, although I knew it. That was really the only problem area.

Nice to have 60A Jew, after Will's defense of Jewfro. I think that Jew and Jewfro are words that can be said out loud without offense. Can be said proudly, actually.

chefwen 3:26 AM  

Being a People Magazine junkie (yeah, I'm embarrassed) I had no problem with COURTENEY.

Thought this was a fun way to start the week. Last fill was the S in ETS because COSTA just felt right for California. Every time you turn around there is a COSTA something or other.

tommosia - a motherly tomatillo

Anonymous 7:01 AM  

For me it was contra-whaaa?
Ended up with Contraconta, which seemed, er, plausible enough, especially with the cross of ETA (seems ok, as ok as ETS anyway...)
So no, we east coasters are at a bit of a disadvantage (oh the shame of not finishing a MONDAY puzzle correctly!)

dk 8:00 AM  

Like @coolpapad, happy to learn the source of yahoo.

What everyone has said already, unique Monday.

*** (3 Stars)

Anonymous 8:13 AM  

I liked the ZIP in this puzzle.

Mary in NE

joho 8:13 AM  

COCO seems to be quite a thin theme to hang your designer hat on, but the puzzle fill is fresh and has flair.

I did this last night after "Mad Men" (So glad it's back!) and zipped through it.

My WOFD was ETS who I thought were space aliens.

Nice Monday, thank you, Janet Bender!

Joel Cairo 8:20 AM  

"Hammett gave murder back to the kind of people that commit it for reasons, not just to provide a corpse; and with the means at hand, not hand-wrought dueling pistols, curare and tropical fish."
— Raymond Chandler (The Simple Art of Murder)

redhed 8:40 AM  

Nice, fun, easy-breezy Monday offering. As so many others I struggled only with the spelling of COURTENEY. Otherwise, had no write-overs as I did the crosses where I wasn't certain (MEAL or MENU?, etc). Also missed the COCO theme until Rex explained it. Kudos to Ms Bender for a fine Monday puzzle.

mitchs 8:46 AM  

I got the crap naticked out of me by etS and coSta.

jesser 8:56 AM  

This was one of those puzzles where my brain knew way more than I thought it knew. CONTRA COSTA went in off the first C, but how I know that, I don't know. Same thing with COURTENEY COX. And I don't read People Magazine. Baffling.

There was very little about this puzzle that made me TESTY except the clue for 20A. Any other IKE, please, constructors. That wife-beating sumbitch makes my blood boil. And I'm not sure that the visualization of poor frozen TED Williams passes my breakfast test, either. Maybe that's just me.

I feel a strong need to CC someone on this post, but I'm not sure why.

Atrisco! (Psst, buddy! You're in peril down here in Juarez!) -- jesser

John V 9:06 AM  

Paused a moment at Courteney Cox, but otherwise typical Monday, fun, easy. For some reason, didn't see 41A, "reg", right away, having 28D as "usual", for a moment.

chefbea 9:12 AM  

My Natick also = the S in ets and contracosta.

Also didn't get the coco theme

Loved the clue for zip

Van55 9:23 AM  

Nice, nice Monday puzzle. Just FQ shy of a pangram for those who esteem such things.

mac 9:26 AM  

Very good Monday puzzle, where the S in Contra Costa/ETS was filled in last. Looked all over for Coco, but that was yesterday! Would have been nice to have her included.

hartless 9:30 AM  

This puzzle felt fresh to me. My one sticking point, and someone explain please, was the clue implied 2D...evoke was not a past tense to coincide with the I missing something? Am I nitpicking? Am I dense? Where was the end D? I too, lost the second e in Courteney, but found it soon enough. Overall, to this puzzle, I say OUI.

hartless 9:39 AM  

Oops--my bad. Just saw my mistake. Gotta keep my answers hooked to the right clues. Sheesh.

CaseAce 9:47 AM  

Oh, DEERE! I SHOT a DART into the AIR, it fell to earth on a ZULU...who knew?

Sparky 9:49 AM  

I had that E with REDCOAT and let the rest arrive in downs. Depart before DECAMP. Once I caught on to the theme that cleared itself up. A nice start to the week. I am going to the library to look at Thos. Jefferson's hand writtten copy of the Declaration of Independence.

fikink 10:14 AM  

Rex, you make me want to read Gulliver's Travels. And your blogging is becoming a tapestry in itself! Loved the scrabbly KOHAWKS, who are right up the road apiece in Cedar Rapids; the eyeful; and your segue into James Brown, from COMMON COLDS to Cold Sweats.

I don't know what the bigger treat is, doing the puzzle or watching your thinking.

"mildas" - female mildew

Zeke 10:18 AM  

Nice smooth Monday.
I second Jesser's compaint about IKE, and would like to add my request that Bret Ellison be banned from Xword puzzles. Even being reminded I know his work makes me feel dirty.
YAHOO came from "Gulliver's Travels"? I read that, and have absolutely no recollection of the names of any of the peoples he encountered with the exeption of the Lilliputians. I have an enormous problem with what are to me odd proper nouns. Reading any of the Russian writers I had to make a crib sheet with the names of people and who they are. The all got reduced to Raskblahblahblah, and I could never keep them straight. If anyone has cracked the Kindle reader, iPad reader, anything, to the point where one could perform a global rename of the characters to good old Joe, Sammy, Sally so I could read things easily, I would buy it in a heartbeat.

SethG 10:27 AM  

We had an awesome illustrated version of GT, and it was my favorite book growing up. I always got annoyed at the cartoon versions where they only show one Gulliver's Travel. Houyhnhnms rule.

Bob Kerfuffle 10:59 AM  

@Steve J - I always think of ENOS the Space Chimp, probably because his trip to space came when I was 15 years old and fascinated by the space race.

puzzlejunkie 11:13 AM  

I'm embarrassed to admit I know that Coco is also the name of Courteney Cox's little daughter, coincidence of the puzzle or maybe a hidden shout out to her? After all, Courtney Love's daughter made it into a Sunday puzzle in June (Frances Bean Cobain), so it's not out of the question...

Two Ponies 11:25 AM  

A Monday puzzle that teaches me something is always good.
Yahoos? Really? Wow.
Only nit for me to pick is the cross referenced clues for Esso and OPRC. Not needed.
I got the S of Costa like @chefwen did. Lots of Costas in CA.
@ Zeke, I agree about Bret Ellis. I was sorry I picked up American Psycho. I'd rather see some sports guy that I probably won't know.
@ Rex, Thanks for the link to Will's comments. It all sounds fair to me but I wasn't very concerned in the first place.

Secret word : snesser. @ jesser, Some relative of yours?

ArtLvr 11:25 AM  

Very enjoyable Monday romp, from GAWKing OGLERS and YAHOOS to BAJA, SHINTO, ST CROIX, URDU and ZULU...

re ETS, Educational Testing Service in Princeton NJ -- I mentioned it here last week as I worked there years ago in Test Development:, noting that we always referred to tests, not "exams".


Jo 11:36 AM  

Nice easy puzzle, only writeover, ADA to AVA before I saw Burl.Guessed at the S of CONTRACOSTA, sounded Californian to me. Wish IKE and ENOS to the moon but you can't have everything.

JenCT 11:38 AM  

Easy for me too, though a bit slower than usual.

Had LOB, then POP, then finally ZIP. Then COURTNY-COURTNEY-COURTENEY. Whaaa?

archaeoprof 12:03 PM  

While we're talking GT, let's not forget the Brobdingnagians. I'm hoping to see that one in a crossword soon.

Doc John 12:19 PM  

Not much to add other than that it was my fastest time ever! (It did help to know that Ms. Cox's name had that extra E.) BTW, who knew that her first exposure was as the girl that Bruce Springsteen pulls up onto the stage in one of his videos- Dancing in the Dark, perhaps.

Greene 12:24 PM  

Every time I hear Gulliver's Travels I'm instantly reminded of a story arc from Peanuts (which ran in late 1964 and early 1965) where Charlie Brown has an assignment to read the book and write a report over his Christmas vacation. In typical Schultzian fashion, Charlie Brown finds endless ways to procrastinate and ends up writing the paper at 3 AM the night before it's due. I think he ends up getting a D minus.

The same idea was recycled in the musical You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown and even has an entire musical number devoted to it called "The Book Report." In the musical the book was changed to Peter Rabbit, but I guess that's just artistic licence. Anyway, themes of procrastination always ring true with me since I notoriously wait until the last minute to do just about everything.

Oh, the puzzle? Delightful Monday creation which I thoroughly enjoyed solving. My daughter and I are Friends addicts, so Courteney Cox was not a problem (extra "e" and all).

Dashiell 12:29 PM  

@Joel Cairo - What the hell you doing quoting from Chandler you ungrateful SOB? I created you, gave your pathetic live whatever worth it had, and you go round dissin me by quoting that Chandler fool? What, I never wrote anything worth qoting?

Van55 12:33 PM  

@Greene -- perhaps you share my mantra. "Never put off until tomorrow what you can put off until the day after tomorrow."

Tinbeni 12:48 PM  

Rex, Thanks for the Shortz defense of Jewfro (Spaz & Gyp).
Noticed he didn't take on "Night Rider."

Oh, the puzzle. ZIPped through it.
Got a laugh that it ended with TESTY.
Nice FUN Monday.

@Van55 My mantra:
"Never do today what you can put off to tomorrow.
And if it's really FUN, you can do it again, then."

syndy 2:49 PM  

@zeke started "The Idiot" 3 times but always got lost in the names.Read clue to 11A and thought Shortz is still a little testy with us and yanking the chain a little (CUTE)Perfectly fair!ContraCosta is revenge for all the NYCENTRIC JUNK that's in the puzzle sometimes (theatre on 5th and Broadway?) wanted treff for 61 across

Zeke 3:08 PM  

@Sydney - To make matters worse, my FIL (he of corn on the cob recipe fame) was fluent in Russian, and said that the names also had hidden connotations, e.g. Raskolnikov intimates "Stinky". So, not only were they meaningless strings of words to me, the underlying meanings were lost.

PIX 3:36 PM  

@30A: "Missile that might be tipped with curare" refers to the fact that some South American Indians would put curare on their arrows ("missiles")as a means of poisoning their enemies. Curare is still available in the United States as a muscle relaxant to be used before/during surgery (although it has almost totally been replaced by other drugs.)

Sfingi 4:37 PM  

I must be half asleep - never noticed the 1st CO in the themes.

Had tIe before ZIP, as in making fishing flies, but it didn't work for crosses.

Many mystery writers have used curare - in their tales. (Someone mentioned Chandler.)

Don't know Mr. Ellis.

AVA, NY is known around here for getting stuck with a dump and a JD CF (juvenile delinquent correctional facility).

@Purple Guy - ETS - we used to call the Evil Testing Serpent. These tests, such as SAT, GRE, etc. aren't as weighty as they used to be in getting into college.

@Greene - I used to do the some thing as C. Brown, and then try to get someone to type it and slip it under the professor's door. In grad school, my son taught me how to study by his example.

But, everyone should read Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels. All the wonderful characters. The Lilliputians who tie him up with a thousand little strings are my favorite.

@Syndy - I'd say more NewYawkuhs know treff than the other coastals. That naive, fey, coast, land of the opium eaters, etc, until they get hit with a volcano, earth quake or mountain debris flood.

@Jesser - forgot that awful image. But it's not chow time here.

But, isn't OPEC initials (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries), and shouldn't it be clued thus on a Monday. Not that we didn't all get it.

andrea gawk michaels 4:47 PM  

Ha! I read 3D "Extracted ore" as "Extracted one" so put in MOLAR, so was all discombobulated to the point where I put in CORTAMADERA (which fits, but I practically LIVE in CONTRACOSTA county)

A little bit surprised at the love for this theme, as I would never believe in a million years that co-co was enough! Esp when TWO of the theme phrases are as dull as COMPUTERCODE and COMMONCOLDS, esp with the plural to make it work!!!

(I have had SO many rejected for less, so perhaps I'm just being TESTY...perhaps if the final word had been COCO instead I would have been less so!)

That said, certainly loved ZULU and STCROIX (which was fun to get off just the X)

and the J in BAJA, lovely. I will always have a soft spot for BAJA as my final Before & After puzzle on "Wheel of Fortune" was BAJA CALIFORNIA HERE I COME...
which won me a motorhome!

Jonah 7:55 PM  

I might have replaced CONTRA COSTA with COMIC CON and cut the S off of COMMON COLDS

Jonah 7:56 PM  

oops, can't count

Anonymous 8:07 PM  

Didn't anyone else put "regular" for "redcoat?" Being from Boston and visiting the Freedom Trail sites often, I thought "redcoat" was too obvious.

Anonymous 11:37 PM  

i thought this a bit sticky for a monday. i also had difficulty with spelling ms cox's name. i enjoyed the puzzle overall but it felt like a tues. to me, but maybe i'm just rusty as i havent done the puzzles for several months. but i'm baaaack, baby!

retired_chemist 11:39 PM  

@ Syndy and sfingi - I too wanted tref @ 61A. Could not convince myself it could be spelled treff, so I waited for crosses and treff went away.

Easy puzzle - one of my rare sub-5 minute Mondays. Theme was all gimmes, though I did bobble the spelling of COURTENEY.

Thanks, Ms. Bender.

Anonymous 1:08 AM  

As someone raised in Contra Costa County, it was nice to see it as an answer. Kinda brought me a smile as I really struggle with the NE/NY geography clues.

acme 1:07 AM  

you know that thing where you hear something for the first time ever (or in this case a long time) and then you notice it everywhere?
Well, I just noticed there is a walking tour of SF called "The Whole Shebang".

Actually you could do a Sunday-sized puzzle there is so many "whole" phrases...I mean, isn't there one like "The whole kettle of fish" too?

Anonymous 12:49 PM  

ContraCosta took me a while to get, finally had to cheat and google it. Courteney Cox was tricky too, otherwise everything fell in place.

ResQ405D 12:55 PM  

Being a resident of CONTRA COSTA COUNTY I was PROUD to see our little home show up in the big city Speaking of CoCo, that's how we in CONTRA COSTA Public Safety refer to our county (Co Co County). Also, we don't pronounce our Costa the same way they do for the other Californian it's just the old gringo COST-uh.

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