Social gathering with coffee / MON 4-11-11 / Lion King villain / Siberian plain / Dissect grammatically / Command post on ship / Ancient Peruvian

Monday, April 11, 2011

Constructor: Ian Livengood

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: Fictional villains — 7 of them

Word of the Day: STEPPE (21A: Siberian plain) —

In physical geography, a steppe (from Russian степь, "steppe," further derivation unknown) is an ecoregion, in the montane grasslands and shrublands and temperate grasslands, savannas, and shrublands biomes, characterized by grassland plains without trees apart from those near rivers and lakes. The prairie (especially the shortgrass and mixed prairie) is an example of a steppe, though it is not usually called such. It may be semi-desert, or covered with grass or shrubs or both, depending on the season and latitude. The term is also used to denote the climate encountered in regions too dry to support a forest, but not dry enough to be a desert. Soil type is typically chernozem. // Steppes are usually characterized by a semi-arid and continental climate. Extremes can be recorded in the summer of up to 40 °C (104 °F) and in winter, –40 °C (–40 °F). Besides this huge difference between summer and winter, the differences between day and night are also very great. In the highlands of Mongolia, 30 °C (86 °F) can be reached during the day with sub-zero °C (sub 32 °F) readings at night. (wikipedia)

• • •

So ... villains. I like villains. These are famous villains, symmetrically arranged. Not much else to say, really. A very smooth, very easy Monday puzzle. The oddest thing in the grid is OMSK (54D: Siberian city), and that's really not all that odd (esp. for regular solvers). Weirdest thing about the grid (which I discovered only now, as I was figuring out the word count) is that it's only 14 squares across. No wonder my time was so good—13 fewer squares to fill in (give or take). KHAN and SCAR are weird throw-ins, in that neither really stands out as a theme answers, i.e. you could (and do) find those names / words in any puzzle. But theme density's always a good thing if it doesn't make for terrible non-theme fill, and those answers certainly didn't. Most interesting answer, for me, was THEME SONGS, though I really wish they'd gone with a somewhat less insipid example for the clue (3D: "I'll Be There for You" for "Friends," and others).

Theme answers:
  • 8A: "Star Trek" villain (KHAN) — technically, shouldn't this be ["Star Trek II" villain]?

  • 15A: "Batman" villain (THE JOKER)
  • 19A: "Superman" villain (LEX LUTHOR)
  • 36A: "The Silence of the Lambs" villain (HANNIBAL LECTER)
  • 51A: Harry Potter villain (VOLDEMORT)
  • 58A: Sherlock Holmes villain (MORIARTY)
  • 63A: "The Lion King" villain (SCAR)
  • 33A: Action to a newborn baby's bottom (SLAP) — is this really common, or just something they do in movies for dramatic effect?
  • 8D: Social gathering with coffee (KLATCH) — this word has nothing, inherently, to do with coffee. Clue should have been [Coffee ___].
  • 16D: Janis with the 1971 #1 hit "Me and Bobby McGee" (JOPLIN) — there's this one contestant on "Idol" that judges keep comparing to Janis, which you'd have to be tone deaf to believe. Woman's voice is fine, even remarkable at times, but there's just None of the soul, personality, life that Janis's voice had.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


Matthew G. 12:10 AM  

What was the point of this?

The theme is just a list of villains with no wordplay of any kind, and the grid is so small that I'm sure it will trick a lot of people (myself included) into thinking we've set meaningful Monday personal bests.

Ian Livengood is a favorite constructor of mine, but I don't understand why a puzzle this simplistic is in the New York Times.

Geometricus 12:23 AM  

I love the word OMSK. It could be the sound a Russian cookie monster makes while eating a Russian tea cake: OMSK, OMSK, OMSK. I would also like to see MINSK in a puzzle sometime. Makes me wonder if there are other words with consonant-SK. I'll ask ERSKINE Bowles. (He'll just say TSK TSK, go to IRKUTSK.)

Anonymous 12:26 AM  

"...but there's just None of the soul, personality, life that Janis's voice had."

Was it worth it for being dead at 27?

I would never have given Ledger an Oscar (or a nomination) after killing himself at 28.

These people may have talent, even greatness (of a sort? debatable).

But we do love watching these people crash. I'm tiring of Sheen. He needs to get it over with so that we can move on. Next!

Anonymous 12:29 AM  

Khan appeard in the original TV series, then again in the movie. No Roman numeral required.

Madame DEFARGE appearing last week made me think of a puzzle with great fictional villians. Then we get this.

retired_chemist 12:31 AM  

One of my best Monday times, and now I find out it was only 14X15. I have to have an asterisk by my time. sniff....

Easy. Debated CAT WOMAN @ 15A briefly, got a couple of crosses, and filled in THE JOKER. Even spelled VOLDEMORT correctly, though I have never read any Harry Potter. Could 48A have been clued as "51A specialties?"

Greene 12:59 AM  

I thought this was easy, albeit fleeting fun. Fine for a Monday, just over far too quickly.

My favorite villain here is HANNIBAL LECTER and I think not only could he kick the tar out of the rest of these guys (including he who must not be named), but he would also eat their livers with some fava beans and a fine chianti.

Of course, KHAN would give him an intellectual run for his money and would probably spit out that Melville quote again just to taunt him.

Alia 1:38 AM  

Khan actually appears in the original series -- that's why the movie is notably light on back story even though it's clear that he has previous history with the Enterprise. Thus, the generic "Star Trek villain" is more accurate than "Star Trek II villain."

kirble 1:55 AM  

@Anonymous: boooo!

I can't believe I didn't see JOPLIN. Janis Joplin is one of my favorite artists ever. She had the voice she had, but that was almost secondary to the power of her interpretation. I am forever trying to get close to her trueness and rawness in my own art.

Yeah, the drugs were a part of it all. . .but that doesn't diminish a damn thing.

I think I'm going to watch The Band play "The Weight" on The Last Waltz and then listen to "Summertime" and "Little Girl Blue" a few times.

Oh, and I enjoyed the villains. Broad theme, yeah, but it was fun and full of rather recent pop culture. I'd rather have this than boring nonsensical puns (cf. yesterday's puzzle) any day of the week.

andrea camera michaels 2:52 AM  

Yes, a bit "List-y" as I've only recently learned is considered a bad thing, which surprised the heck out of me!

Sure, maybe a touch more wordplay might be in order, BUT there ARE seven which is A LOT...AND they nicely span many many generations from old school Sherlock Holmes to 70's semi-kitsch Batman to classic Superman to ultra contemporary Lion King and Harry Potter (both of which I needed every cross to fill)

I love that he got away with..I mean, set a precedent with,
a 14 x 15 grid!
Now I know what I can do with 384 abandoned theme ideas that have had to sit in the drawer bec the center theme was only 14 letters!

two mistakes, HULL before HELM and I read 38D as a NIxON product and thought "What the hell?!"

In real life they slap the baby's face and say "I'll give YOU something to cry about!"
(That's life.)

chefwen 3:14 AM  

Not up on my villains but managed to get this one home. My biggest hurdle was figuring out how to spell HANNIBAL LECTER, I had E's and O's where they shouldn't have been.

@Geometricyus - Still laughing, OMSK, OMSK, OMSK, is what my dog Skippy sounds like when he is eating anything he can find.

@Kirble - Joplin doing Summertime is a true classic.

Capcha - cupliss, so get a glass.

Rube 4:09 AM  

Again, watched a couple of Tivo'd shows and did the LAT while waiting for the NYT post. Really can't remember the subtleties but did enjoy the villains. Can't believe I wanted to spell JOKER with a "C". Enjoyable but quick Monday puzzle. Nothing remarkable.

mmorgan 8:06 AM  

Of course Mondays are supposed to be on the easy side, but they should still make one stop and think once or twice. This just seemed way too easy and fast...

joho 8:42 AM  

Super duper easy theme spread across a smaller than usual puzzle equals extra fast solve. I don't mind that on a Monday.

Other words in the grid that sort of relate to the theme are KIDDER, SPELLS, SLYER, LIES, ROPE, SLAP, MAIM, SLIME, MIRE and ERR.

I totally agree with @Rex that the contestant on Idol is nowhere as original or gutwrenching as Janis who was truly one of kind.

Scott Joplin 8:48 AM  

Rex, you so ugly, the doctor slapped your mama!

jesser 8:58 AM  

I kept thinking, "This is fun, and I smell a pangram coming," but the latter part of my thought never materialized. I liked the string of villains, and there's something about a LEGAL STRIP that makes me think they got their due desserts in the clink.

Only writeover was 2D, where I wanted to give it A Stab, before THE JOKER showed me that Ian Livengood is a KIDDER.

I will go around all day -- perhaps all week -- finding ways to hear OMSK OMSK OMSK in everyday life. That's a grinner right there!

Gameroo! (What Pooh says when he beats his pal at Reversi) -- jesser

JenCT 9:01 AM  

I actually had two writeovers: MAUL before MAIM and KAHN before KHAN! I've gotta check crosses first...

@Geometricus: funny!

I wouldn't complain about puzzles being too easy on a Monday - you know we'll pay for it later in the week...

chefbea 9:16 AM  

The southwest was a triple Natick for me. Didn't know Voldemort, Scar or Lara. Other than that an easy puzzle.

Saw Janis Joplin at an out door concert many moons ago. She was great!!!

PIX 9:24 AM  

[He was]"A wolf of the Steppes that had lost its way and strayed into the towns and the life of the heard..." Steppenwolf (Hermann Hesse)

And no they do not slap newborns' bottoms...only in movies and crosswordland.

jackj 9:38 AM  

Putting together a shopping list of "villains", with no other hook, to serve as the theme for a crossword, even a Monday puzzle, seems like a pretty lame idea. Today's puzzle is Exhibit A.

A small improvement, (but not a saviour and not a theme entry), it would have been nice to have a truly villainous villain for 40 across by cluing it as, say, "Batman villain, Mr. Freeze actor ____Preminger".

Looking forward to ACME's 384 puzzles in waiting!

TM 9:43 AM  

This puzzle was way too easy. The only real trip up for me was I had TBS for PAT which didn't cause any LAG I caught my ERR on the crosses. Theme answers were much too simple IMHO. Off to the archives I go :-)

quilter1 9:53 AM  

Liked the villains. You gotta have villains. For an easy Monday very well done. A little too fast a finish for me, left me hungry for more. Happy Monday all.

outwoo: tries harder at romance

Tobias Duncan 10:12 AM  

I have totally blown the last few super easy puzzles. I get so caught up in going for speed that I make stupid mistakes that take too much time to fix.I cant imagine how badly I will crack under the pressure of ACPT.
I was surprised when I finished with a pretty good time.So very odd to find that it was a diminished puzzle.

archaeoprof 10:15 AM  

What @Andrea Camera said about spanning generations. This puzzle had something for everybody.

Even people who don't like Janis Joplin.

@ChefBea: you saw her live! I am so jealous.

Bob Kerfuffle 10:22 AM  

As soon as I had THE JOKER, I "knew" what the theme would be and plunged ahead, confidently looking for the Jack, Queen, King, and Ace. Didn't really slow me down much. Did spend a few extra seconds wondering if there was an S in KLATCH!

Kendall 10:33 AM  

STEPPE initially tricked me because I was looking for some proper noun here that didn't come.

As per the theme, villains are always fun. Wish Darth Vader had made it into here but that's only because I loved Star Wars.

@Andrea - Hilarious about the babies!

Captcha: thinme. Perhaps Blogger thinks I need to be on a diet?

Auntie Thesis 10:37 AM  

Hey, @jackj, glad to see your name today! Did you ever figure out what was happening to your posts yesterday? I see you use the spelling "saviour." How many oceans away are you? Or just across the St. Lawrence?

Mel Ott 10:39 AM  

Nice smooth easy Monday puzzle. I liked the villain theme.

I got the IPADS/LARA cross but for those of us not up on digital products and pop culture it could just as easily have been IPODS/LORA.

Two Ponies 10:43 AM  

I do enjoy Ian Livengood's work.
No crappy fill and lots of theme so I give this easy Monday a thumbs up.
Seemed like a lot of K's.

John 10:48 AM  

My fastest time by far.

Masked and Anonymous 11:10 AM  

Methinks this Ian kid is one of the best of the new constructor crop. Hope he's hopelessly hooked, and keeps 'em comin' forever. The dude is good. Keep that U-count up, tho.

Is there some reason this puz wasn't 14 x 17, to give the crowd more for their money, instead of less? Probably is. Maybe just 'cuz it's a MonPuz-level thing?

syndy 11:21 AM  

Does VON BISMARCK fit the category? NOt completely fictional of course,but still?loved the corner of slime and smut-started writing elephantine for 28 down but ran out of room!had -c-e for six down and first thouight was HER AGAIN?

retired_chemist 11:38 AM  

@ BOb K re KLATSCH - the S is there. Sometimes. And sometimes not. As the Church lady would say, " How conveeeenient!"

the redanman 12:00 PM  

Took me only 7 something on A-Lite.

Must have been tortuously easy for the cognoscenti.

Barry T 12:01 PM  

A list of villains. Meh. Theme density, w/ no wordplay at all. Sorry, too boring for me.

Moonchild 12:44 PM  

Seeing Kahn reminded me of one of my favorite constructors Joe Klahn and his puzzle book The Wrath of Klahn.
Nice puzzle Ian.

Moonchild 12:45 PM  

Oops, it might be Bob Klahn.

Michael 1:04 PM  

The word "klatsch" has a "S" in it, if spelled correctly.

Sparky 1:06 PM  

Had LoTHOR first and waited because I can't spell MORIARi?TY but downs took care of both. @Andrea Camera, really funny. My name is in there--tee hee. I don't mind easy, what the hay.

jackj 1:45 PM  

Auntie Thesis @10:37- Not a clue why my seemingly inoffensive post was dumped. I'll chalk it up as one of life's little mysteries and hope it was a one time event.

I'm neither a Brit or a Canadian and have no reason to spell saviour with the "u" except, as "savior", it just doesn't seem to be enough of a word.

jberg 2:38 PM  

There's a popular song somewhere with the line, "From Pinsk to Minsk, from Omsk to Tomsk" (or maybe the other way around), but I can't remember the title for the life of me.

I liked the SMUT/SLIME crossing at 14A/14D.

I had LECHTER and LECTOR before LECTER - so confident of the first that I got to the 2d E before realizing that it wouldn't fit.

My only problem with the theme was that the word "villain" was in each of the clues, leaving us nothing to figure out; even on a Monday, that's at least half the fun of a theme.

jberg 2:39 PM  

Almost forgot - I'm so glad to learn that the typical soil type of a steppe is chernozem! We'll probably be seeing that in a puzzle soon.

Tom Lehrer 2:56 PM  

@jberg - Thanks for remembering me! Here are the lyrics to "Lobachevsky", which contains the lines

To Tomsk to Omsk
To Pinsk to Minsk

Look Up Guy 3:18 PM  

As to that "s":

Definitions of KLATCH on the Web:

•An informal social gathering, especially for the purpose of conversation

Definitions of KLATsCH on the Web:

•a social gathering, especially over coffee

jberg 3:31 PM  

Tom Lehrer! Great to hear from you, not only I but my children grew up loving your songs.

And I'm old enough that the doctor did slap my bottom - at least, so my mother told me, and she was there. They did it so the baby would cry, thereby expelling any fluid in the mouth and airway. When my children were born they stuck a vacuum cleaner in their mouth instead.

sanfranman59 3:41 PM  

Midday report of relative difficulty (see my 7/30/2009 post for an explanation of my method):

All solvers (median solve time, average for day of week, ratio, percentile, rating)

Mon 5:24, 6:53, 0.78, 1%, Easy

Top 100 solvers

Mon 2:57, 3:41, 0.80, 1%, Easy

ACME has been usurped as the queen of the easy Monday puzzle (although, imho, the quality of this one doesn't stack up to her lofty standards). This is the first sub-3-minute Monday median in the 94 weeks I've been tracking online solve times.

mac 3:42 PM  

I'm a Klatsch, as well. Very easy, but as usual with Ian Livengood, very good quality overall.
I do feel cheated, though, with the 14-width. Go, Andrea, go!!
Also thought this would turn out to be a pangram after the J and X on top.

Tobias Duncan 4:12 PM  

@sanfranman59 ACME is the only queen I recognize.Long live the Queen.

Rex Parker 4:13 PM  


At 14x15, this one should have a giant asterisk next to it. It's not just easy. It's (more significantly) small.

sanfranman59 4:45 PM  

@Rex ... point well taken. I forgot about that important aspect when I posted my message.

chefbea 5:56 PM  

Been trying to read the posts for 4 hours and finally blogger let me in!!!

mrbreen 6:29 PM  

"Star Trek" (2009) villain: NERO
"Star Trek: The Motion Picture" villain: VGER
"Star Trek" (tv series) villain: KHAN

Immediately thought of the fist two options before checking the downs. My geekery slowed me down by a couple of seconds.

Sfingi 8:37 PM  

Cute and easy. Liked seeing MORIARTY, the villain who had to be revived because he was so fun to hate.

@Chefbea - You really saw her! I also thought Ledger was a blooming talent in the Patriot. Too bad for both.

I had a Natick at LARA crosses SCAR and IPADS. So I look them up and don't really have to know any more.
Didn't notice the size.

My problem was I don't consider ROPE a material. I started with hemp. There was a ROPE walk near my house (a long building where ROPE is made), and they used several materials. Nowadays, rope can even be plastic.

Mini-theme: Get out of clothing: SHED, STRIP.

KLATSCH/KLATSCH. That's the trouble with Yiddish. Tho it's considered High German because of grammar and inflection, it seems to spell as it will.

Anonymous 9:27 PM  

I did not notice the 14x15 grid until I read Rex comments. Notwithstanding the prowess in including the name of "famous" villains arranged symmetrically in the grid this puzzle offered me no enjoyment at all. Remembering names from pop culture does not excite. The only literary characters I seem to remember are those mentioned in the title of the book (Tom Sawyer comes to mind). But I did not like this puzzle.
The only saving grace was that it was possible for me to get most of the fill from the intersecting clues without having any idea of any of the "villains".

Geometricus 11:31 PM  

@Tom Lehrer: Thanx for the Lobachevsky lyrics! Those dozen or so towns in that song scratched my OMSK-itch very thoroughly, especially 'Alexandrovsk'.

P.S. I love your song "The Elements":
" There's antimony, arsenic, aluminum, selenium..."
So deliciously geeky.

sanfranman59 12:54 AM  

This week's relative difficulty ratings. See my 7/30/2009 post for an explanation. In a nutshell, the higher the ratio, the higher this week's median solve time is relative to the average for the corresponding day of the week.

All solvers (this week's median solve time, average for day of week, ratio, percentile, rating)

Mon 5:29, 6:53, 0.80, 1%, Easy (fastest median solve time of 94 Mondays)

Top 100 solvers

Mon 2:52, 3:41, 0.78, 1%, Easy (fastest median solve time of 94 Mondays)

acme 2:20 AM  

Did you know that @Tom Lehrer was also a math professor?

Geometricus 3:23 AM  

Wow, and his Erdös number is 4. Cool.

Lehrer has said of his musical career, "If, after hearing my songs, just one human being is inspired to say something nasty to a friend, or perhaps to strike a loved one, it will all have been worth the while."

NotalwaysrightBill 2:36 PM  


Enjoyed the nice easy Monsolve with all of its notorious literary SLIMEbags.

Human livers may have been HANNIBALLECTER's signature dish, but cites a bit of warm toast as the traditional accompaniment for brains eating. Or perhaps some curried rice.

Somewhat surprised that this crowd has no self-acknowledged organic midwives amongst. I can only relate what the cabdriver handbook says to do after a baby decides to beat traffic by himself:

"(with "Try" from JOPLIN's "I've Got Them Ol' Cosmic Blues Again, Mama" playing in the background) Slap (but do not MAIM) newborn only until (s)he coughs up half fare, then extract an IOU from the red bawler for the remainder, payable upon receipt of first paycheck from first job, at 850% interest per annum, retroactively applicable to all preunemployment income as well. At that time, if necessary, armwrestle the IRS or other mafioso for it."

captcha: "brotata":
Another occasion for slapping: "No, no, NOT for newborns!"

Dirigonzo 4:58 PM  

"Jumbo" and "Extra Large" do not mean the same thing when you are buying eggs.

"Bench" is at least as good an answer for second-string players as "B team".

XII in the grid and not a single complaint about "random Roman numerals" - what's up with that?

When Apple first released their new tablet computer a reviewer referred to it as, "the unfortunately named iPad" - every time I see the word that reference comes to mind.

A ride in @NarB's cab must be a very interesting trip indeed.

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