MONDAY, Dec. 10, 2007 - Lynn Lempel

Monday, December 10, 2007

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: S [variable] ING phrases ??? - all theme answers are two-word phrases where the first word starts with "S" and ends in "ING"

Unless I'm missing something crucial, this is a pretty weak theme, especially for Ms. Lempel, who normally turns out fantastic early-week puzzles. As is typical on a Monday, I never saw the "theme" til it was all over. Finished this one in 3:27, just 5 seconds off my record time. What I noticed today was how little snags, or little successes, can make a (relatively) huge difference in your solving time. Those differences become more noteworthy the faster you solve, obviously. Today, for instance, I was really helped by correct guesses on GREGG (27D: One of the Allman Brothers - here I was guessing on spelling) and WPA (60A: F.D.R. job-creating measure: Abbr. - an abbr. I learned from crosswords) and ELSA (31A: Schiaparelli of fashion - a Pantheonic crossword name more commonly clued via the [apparently non-] fictional lion) and TWEEN (54D: 11- or 12- year-old). But I was slowed down by not getting answers like AUSTRIA (40D: Home of the von Trapp family), and especially WALSH (1A: John _____, host of "America's Most Wanted"), right off the bat. I also sort of shot myself in the foot, time-wise, by drifting down the east side of the puzzle and so coming at many, many Across answers from the back end - harder to solve that way. It's amazing how much traction an answer can give you (or not give you) simply by its position. Those answers are always most valuable that give you a run of first letters in the crosses - anything running along the top or far west of a particular quadrant. Thus, not getting WALSH is a far bigger deal than not getting some other random five-letter word in the puzzle.

Theme answers:

  • 16A: Appetizer with sweet and sour sauce (spring roll)
  • 10D: Goliath's undoing (sling shot)
  • 26A: Deadly long-tailed fish (sting ray)
  • 48A: Monotonous voice (sing song) - I challenge. A SING SONG voice has more than one tone, I contend. "Monotonous" makes me think of droning, which SING SONG does not. Wife's reaction: "Isn't SING SONG the opposite of 'monotonous?'"
  • 33D: Make-or-break election bloc (swing vote) - I never thought I'd vote with the Oprah bloc, but it looks like that's what's going to happen. We'll see.
  • 63A: Gangly guy (string bean)

I am going to overhaul the Pantheon (see sidebar) completely in the New Year. So many new contenders ... while many of the current occupants really haven't earned their keep in the past year. ATARI (13A: _____ 2600 (classic video game)) is one of the leading new contenders for induction. Not sure why it's taken this word so long to become a staple. Maybe it's because those to whom the word is familiar are finally entering their prime crossword solving years (age 40 - death). DADA (56D: 1920s art movement) also really wants to contend for Pantheon status. I'm inclined to let it in merely on the basis of my fondness for DADA as an art form. As six-letter words go, NESTLE (49D: Get cozy) seems awfully common. And you can see why: look at all those "Wheel of Fortune" letters.

Really liked ARSENAL (14D: Weapons stash) and AUSTRIA as the twin non-theme pillars of this puzzle. Other than that, there's not a lot of sparkling fill to be found today.

  • 37A: Bride's bounty (dowry) - do not like the way this is clued. I imagine some bride being shot and tied to the hood of a car. Or worse, being picked up by Dog: The Bounty Hunter.
  • 3D: Slow, in symphonies (largo) - inspired by my e-friend and occasional reader Michael5000, I'm listening to one Beethoven symphony a day, leading up to his birthday (sometime next week). Today is Symphony #3, "Eroica," which, by the way, is a totally crosswordesey word.
  • 6D: Ray who created the McDonald's empire (Kroc) - his food is slowly poisoning the human race, but his last name is a ton of fun.
  • 7D: Custardy dessert (eclair) - if I'm going to let some food kill me, it will far sooner be an ECLAIR than anything I can get at McDonald's.

If you are in an icy part of the country (as we are) be careful out there.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Anonymous 9:18 AM  

I completely agreed with you on the use of "Singsong" - however after looking it up, just about every meaning includes the word monotonous ...
adj "monotonous in rhythm and in pitch"
n "verse, or a piece of verse, that is monotonously jingly in rhythm and pattern of pitch"
n "monotonous rhythmical cadence, tone, or sound"
Yet another word that I have been using incorrectly all these years!!

Anonymous 9:28 AM  

We have a Atari (not sure of the number) that is at my mothers. Guess what we all do every family holiday old and young alike. Even the kids raised on the latest and greatest still try to make the frogs hop faster by swinging the joystick left and right.

And, try to get the space invaders sounds out of your head.

Take heart those in the East. We are up to the mid-twenties here in the mighty Midwest.

Anonymous 9:30 AM  

err "an Atari" (darn macs can't type for poop)

Orange 9:58 AM  

I checked the American Heritage Dictionary's definition and yeah, it backs up the clue. But just now I checked the Mac widget dictionary (based on the New Oxford American Dictionary) and it defines the word closer to the way many (most?) of us use it:

"(of a person's voice) having a repeated rising and falling rhythm: the singsong voices of children reciting tables"

Now, "singsong voices of children," yes. But what's this about reciting tables? Is there monotony inherent in this?

Anonymous 10:31 AM  

Pet peeve alert: largo actually means broadly, not slowly. It's an indication of character, not of tempo, although playing broadly and fast doesn't go well together. Since this matters more to musicians than crossword solvers, I won't protest, but I just thought you should know.

Enjoyed the puzzle! My wife is 8 months pregnant, so the SPA (no time for that anymore) close to STORK (soon) amused me. I'm trying not to notice ATMS just below STORK. :-)

Anonymous 10:46 AM  

Nice symmetry between 5 down and 17 down: hint at--got it.

Hydromann 10:53 AM  

I hate to disagree, Sonic, but, in music anyway, LARGO means slowly...very slow, in fact; slower even than adagio.

Anonymous 11:10 AM  

Monotonous is not synonomous with monotone.
Just spend an hour in a room with a child singing 'abcd .." in a sing-song manner and tell me it isn't monotonous

Anonymous 12:19 PM  

i was hoping for something more - when i started with string --> sting --> sing, i thought it would build up again to something interesting. well, all i got was swing, sling, ..

ok, maybe i was hoping for schwing? ;-)


Anonymous 12:35 PM  

A quick scan told me to use my timer, this was going to be easy and worth timing. So I did. Sure enough, the first 13 acrosses were gimmes! I was on fire.

I have a custom made timer. Somewhere around where the normal timer would indicate 2:34 (two minutes thirty-four seconds), mine has a small representation of an Orange. Then, it's blank to where a 4:57 mark would be, where there's a "Rex" indication. Then, blank again to approximately the nine minute mark, where it says "Don't bother -- you are about to enter the land of the great unwashed masses -- just turn this thing off, and enjoy your largo life, why doncha?".

So, (at the appropriate time) I did. And I am.

Anonymous 12:42 PM  

I haven't been able to get to Sunday's puzzle yet, so I have that to look forward to sometime this week. Meanwhile, I flew through this one in record time for me. Nice, straight-forward Monday, with nothing to make me wince. Didn't even notice the theme until I was through. I was too busy trying to type and tab as fast as my fify-year-old fingers would go.

Rex... enjoy Beethoven's symphonies. The sixth (The Pastoral) is our family favorite. I played it for my son while I was pregnant with him, and for 10 hours of labor while he was being born. He's now a classical bassist, and our greatest joy was seeing him perform the sixth. Oh, and... from a few days ago, re: Tolkein, you won't regret reading the books. Far superior to the HPs in ev'ry way.

Styes and stags... enough! I like the word nestle. We always "cozy up," but in the Christmas spirit, I think I'll nestle.

Do children still learn math by reciting tables? I remember having to do the multiplication tables in grids as fast as possible. (early x-word skills)

Anonymous 12:55 PM  

Does SLINGSHOT mean a shot from a sling? Because David slew Goliath with a sling (rope device swung around the head), not with a slingshot (a y-shaped weapon with stretchy elastic that I don't think had been invented yet).

Inquiring minds want to know.

Anonymous 12:57 PM  

The best crossword years are 40+? Makes me wonder how fast Tyler Hinman will be when he gets up there.

I've talked about this with some folks at previous know more when you're older, but can recall it faster when you're younger.

Anonymous 1:01 PM  

For me, Lynn Lempel lived up to her high Monday standard. There are only six S_ING words in the language so the theme couldn't be any tighter, and at 54 theme squares, way dense for an easy puzzle.

Anonymous 1:01 PM  

Did anyone else notice the ad for "Stories from Austria" right above the crossword in the paper? This has to more than a coincidence! I think the Austrian National Tourist Office (the sponsor of the above radio program) is paying for product placement...

Anonymous 1:11 PM  

49. And David put his hand in his bag, and took thence a stone, and slang it, and smote the Philistine in his forehead, that the stone sunk into his forehead; and he fell upon his face to the earth.

50.So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and with a stone, and smote the Philistine, and slew him; but there was no sword in the hand of David.

Obviously, a good shot.

Anonymous 1:20 PM  

Thanks, Rex for the analysis of what slows you down in the puzzle. I didn't get "Walsh" right away and had to rely on the crosses. I used a scattershot approach, and ended up with an 8 minute time-slow for such an easy puzzle. Not that I'm normally very fast-it seems my reflexes are slowing down as I age.

Here is my PLEA-What other tips do the speed demons have for me? Is solving on the computer faster than with pen and paper? (I'm an old-fashioned girl-I do the puzzle over breakfast and don't want to spill crumbs on the keyboard). Is ticking off the clues a help or a hindrance? ( I purposely didn't do it this time, but it didn't seem to help).

Anonymous 1:33 PM  

Btw, I just got around to reading yesterday's blog and I can't for the life of me find the Emily Jo Cureton series that you posted those pix from at her website. Where are they?

Rex Parker 1:42 PM  

I don't care about how many S-ING words there are in the English language - that is NOT a "theme." That's trivia. I also don't care about thematic density, especially when the theme is no good.

I care about whether a puzzle's interesting. This one was not. All the thematic complexity and high level of difficulty in the world will not help a puzzle if it's boring to solve. And this was.

Lynn Lempel is still a puzzle goddess in my book, though.


Rex Parker 1:43 PM  

Pete - those Emily Jo Cureton pics are exclusive to this blog, at this point. That may change. In fact, almost certainly will change. Stay tuned.


Anonymous 2:41 PM  

I thought it was a typical Monday puzzle. Still took over 8 minutes to solve but at least I was mistake-free today. Even though I try to do all the across clues first, I tend to end up jumping around and I think that is what is slowing me down.

What do all you fast solvers do? Do you stay in one section or try to do all the clues in a row?

I guess I'll have to experiment and see what works best for me. Do they make books of just Monday puzzles?

Just once I'd like to see [Data's Brother] as a clue for LORE.

And while I'm blathering- did you know that a MORON is smarter than an imbecile and that an imbecile is smarter than an idiot?
Idiot: IQ < 25
imbecile: IQ 26-50
moron: IQ 51-76
Now the big question: who got to decide that an idiot was stupider than a moron? (And where does GWB fit into this scale?)

fergus 3:24 PM  

Timed my progress as I "sped" through this one and still came in over seven minutes. I don't think I'll ever manage to get much faster, or not appreciably so. Even if I switched from pen and paper to the Applet, and mastered that technique I don't think it would make much difference. Sort of a slow and ponderous reader and not particularly dexterous, which are definite handicaps on easy puzzles. So, I'm surmising that this speed-solving business has a certain athletic component going on. Dogged practice may help, but innate ability must have something to do with it, too.

In addition to Rex's points on traction I would also add that the ability to avoid repetition on reading a clue probably makes a big difference in solving time. For example, knowing that 56D is going to be either DADA or DECO and storing that information while reading the Acrosses keeps from wasting time going back to read 56D. This may be obvious, but keeping a bunch of these balls in the air does seem to turn a juggling act into a pleasing form of meditation, which partially explains a psychological affinity (dependence?) on puzzling. The meditation and reverie might also be costing me valuable time, but that's a trade-off I'm willing to concede and choose.

The run through Beethoven recalls a time when half a dozen of us in a Berkeley commune chose to take the same Symphonies class where the exams were all aural, requiring the listener to identify which section of which movement of which symphony. For ten weeks the place was alive with the time-line up to the Choral, but during exam times it was a cacophony until we figured out how to organize separate zones for each of the symphonies. Surprisingly difficult for those aspiring to communal living.

Anonymous 4:05 PM  

Doc John -
Who decided that labeling someone a moron was derisive? Maybe an idiot looked in awe at someone & labeled him a moron. Kind of like those us stuck @10 mins on a Monday in awe of an 8 minute man.

Anonymous 4:57 PM  


Your objectivity in evaluating a puzzle without regard to the constructor's reputation is what brings me here.

LL has constructed several delightful puzzles, but this one is not one of them.

Lee - thanks for pointing out that "there are only 6 words with s*ing in the language". This explained why the editor may have chosen the puzzle, but this solver really doesn't know or care. Also, I guess we are ignoring suing, shying, ... ?


Anonymous 5:15 PM  

I liked this one a bit more than Rex but would have to agree that there's nothing that makes it stand out. I also blanked on WALSH which definiatly slowed me down.

I've said this before but it may be worth repeating. If you are 55+ and are sloving Monday and Tuesday puzzles in 10 min. or faster you're doing fine. Age related dimished reaction time plays a part in both information retrieval speed and the act of writing/typing the answer. Retrieval is also complicated by have more stuff to sort through than a 40 year old. There of course are exceptions to this but I wonder if anyone over 55 has placed in the final three at the ACPT?

Anonymous 5:26 PM  

@ Anonymous: Point well taken!

Medically speaking, none of those words (moron, etc.) are derisive, per se; they are just used to describe a particular condition.

I basically posted that because most people don't realize that those words actually have different meanings. (It's actually a Trivial Pursuit question, too!)

Ellen 6:47 PM  

Re ACPT final three at age 55+: Doug Hoylman (born 7/2/43) won the tournament in 2000, so he was 56. Next oldest is Miriam Raphael (born 3/29/26) winning in 1979.

I am aiming to break the age record, but it's REALLY HARD to be speedy when you're older (hard to write, and even harder to see those little numbers in the grid). I was last in the finals in 2006, a month shy of age 54.

I'm much faster on computer than on paper, but I'm a very fast typist. I did the 12/9 Merl Reagle Sunday puzzle (using Across Lite) in 5:39 and the 12/9 Boston Globe in 5:53, so I haven't lost it yet.

When solving, I stay in one place as long as I can, read all clues going both ways, and make sure I can justify every answer to myself. Ticking off clues would slow me down considerably.

Anonymous 7:02 PM  

Apparently I evaluate puzzles from a theme maker's point of view rather than as a pure solver. I look for the theme first and on early week puzzles often stop solving when I get those answers. On some ho-hum Mondays I quit as soon as I get the theme and one or two theme fills. Today's drew me in sufficiently to finish the grid. Except for excellent themeless puzzles, the untheme fill doesn't interest me. You may say that I'm a themer, and I'm not the only one. And for a Monday, this one struck me as stonger (and more interesting) than most.

Anonymous 7:25 PM  

I liked the puzzle, even though I agree that the SLINGSHOT clue is wrong. And as long as I'm in nitpicking mode, ELSA the lioness wasn't fictional. Born Free was a memoir, not a novel.

I like how the Obama photo does double duty, illustrating SWINGVOTE and STRINGBEAN.


Anonymous 7:26 PM  


So scanning a puzzle before timing yourself doesn't count toward the time it takes to solve it?

I guess it must be common practice.

wendy 7:26 PM  

jae, well I feel better having just arrived at that age you mentioned; I timed myself for the first time and had 8.5 minutes. But I was really jumping all over the place and felt like that was actually slowing me down. Had a listless reaction to the puzzle throughout, though.

Just say NO to STYE!

Michael Chibnik 7:28 PM  

I find it interesting that many of the comments today are about how to solve the puzzle quickly. I was wondering if you all have tips for getting through Monday-level puzzles repidly. I did this one quickly (for me) by (1) filling in long answers as soon as possible; (2) concentrating on across clues; (3) writing in plausible answers (from letters already written in) without looking at the clue. This strategy only works for me on very easy puzzles.

Usually I don't care about time and don't make any effort to finish as fast as possible. I have found that when I concentrate on speed that my time goes way down, though never to the levels of orange and ellen of course.

Anonymous 7:28 PM  

I thought this puzzle was great, especially for a Monday (Lynn, you ROCK!!!).


Anonymous 7:40 PM  

Suzanne Vega has a nifty song called "Rock in My Pocket" from David's point of view on her super album 99.9 DEGREES.

Got to interview GREGG Allman a couple of years ago. He was surprisingly coherent.

I thought this was a fun little Monday puzzle. But then I'm easy to please.

Orange 7:45 PM  

The speed-solving approach to easy Monday puzzles: Read the 1-Across clue, but don't write in the answer even if you know it. Instead, read the Down clues that cross it and try to zip, zip, zip, fill those in. If you can read a couple clues at a time and hold both answers in your head so you can write 'em down before looking back at the clues, that helps. For the second Across clue, do the same thing, moving to the Down clues before you start writing/typing your answers in.

Mind you, this method will only work if you can look at Monday clues and know most of the answers in a trice.

Arsenalmoron, you sound like the same person who keeps commenting here specifically to whine about people who must be cheating because they're faster than you.

Nitpicker, none of the theme entries are multisyllabic gerunds. The ING part is not merely a suffix here.

Fictional lions of note: Aslan (Narnia); Scar, Simba, and Nala (The Lion King).

Anonymous 8:24 PM  

Orange: Got it! (This is what's great about this place - famous people talk to me using multisyllabic phrases like "multisyllabic gerunds". My mom would be proud!)

lynn appreciator: we demand more from our favorite constructors! ;-)


Anonymous 8:28 PM  

Orange -- I believe arsenalmoron is karmasatre and who is not the whiner you speak of.

Also, thanks for the solving tip, I'll try it tomorrow.

For the record I did this one in acrosslite in just over 8 min.

Finally, I misspelled definately in my previous post. Sorry about that, too bad this format doesn't have spell check.

Anonymous 8:30 PM  

Opps, there should not be an "and" in the first line.

Anonymous 8:35 PM  

Nitpicker writes:

>>> Also, I guess we are ignoring suing, shying, ... ? <<<

Are you s****ing us? ;-) Clearly we're talking single-syllable s*ing words
(and no, Schwing doesn't count either).

Of course I saw "spring roll" and was expected summer/fall/winter to follow.
Not that the s*ing theme was any worse.

NDE (yes, 40+...)

Rex Parker 8:46 PM  

Noam is funny.

Much as I love Byron, I always hate to see his name in comments because it means I likely #@$#'d something up. Or was too hard on a constructor. Or both.


wendy 8:49 PM  

orange, interesting you mention the head movement and trying to limit it. For awhile I've had the distinct feeling that my head bobs way too much from that looking here, looking there, and I can see where that could accumulate into a lot of time, over time.

Anonymous 8:53 PM  


"Finally, I misspelled definately in my previous post."

jae... you also misspelled it here. De FINITE ly. No A in the word.

Picking my most favorite nit on the whole internet... maybe difinately will show up in the OED someday because of constant usage. Until then...

Anonymous 10:10 PM  

On 'monotonous' and 'singsong'.

If we take the clue word literally it means one tone. So, singsong would not fit.

However, monotonous is usually meant to be annoying, unpleasant, boring. 'Singsong' definitely fits that nonliteral meaning and/or common usage.

Anonymous 10:15 PM  

Anonymous 9.02: this is a very important and enjoyable part of our life! If you don't appreciate that, live yours elsewhere!

Anonymous 10:17 PM  

Slingshot is ambiguous. It can be an device with a y-shape and elastic or it can be an adjective: describing the shot, ie, a shot from a sling.

Anonymous 11:27 PM  

marcie -- thanks for the correction, apparently I've never spelled it right. Good thing I had an editor when I used to work.

fergus 11:51 PM  

jae, et al.,

On this blog, I've found there's a spell check when using Firefox but not when using Internet Explorer. don't know what the case is for any other browser.

Anonymous 11:57 PM  

Orange, Ellen, et al... thanks for the tips on solving puzzles more quickly. It has become my challenge in the early part of the week. I'm always curious about how people approach the puzzle. I'm sure there are as many ways as there are puzzlers. I used to do all the acrosses, then all the downs, then work in sections. Now I just work in sections and it makes things much quicker. It never occurred to me to actually hold an answer in my head and move right to the crosses.

And, apropos of nothing, more custardy desserts!!!

janie 11:59 PM  

michael -- if you need solving tips, orange's book is the one to acquire.

it's at amazon:

how to conquer...

a veritable gold mine!



Anonymous 12:12 AM  

Wow -- confusion, reign o'er me. JAE -- I chose the identity "singsing escapee" today, the same person arsenalmoron was denigrating. Orange was right, imo, for getting on his/her case.

I think last week Rex indicated there had been enough talk about speed-solving, and I know it has come up several times. I apologize for bringing it up today with the description of my fantasy stop-watch.

But, it is a fascinating topic to those of us striving to improve our times, and there were some good thoughts and tips shared today. Seems like each new group of Rex-blog-fans will want to explore the speed topic at some point, though, because it's of interest, represents a wonderful challenge, many of us are naturally competitive, and the relative ease Mon/Tues/Wed puzzles can elicit the need for a greater challenge (among some solvers). So, it'll happen. Perhaps it deserves a FAQ entry.

In general, the folks that want to use this forum to put down other solvers either get their comments pulled by Rex, get put in their place by Orange or Rex, or, often, are just ignored. All three methods work well.

Since Speed IS being discussed today, I am curious about using lower case letters (hand-written, of course). When we had "kdlang" as an answer a couple months back, I answered in lower case, the way she prefers her name. Some of those lower-case letters peeled off very quickly, so the next day I did the whole puzzle in lower: it was just too weird, I assume because of conditioning more than anything else. But the fact that some of the letters take fewer strokes (a hybrid of uppers and lowers is possible) has been lurking in the back of my mind...I wonder if anyone has explored this?

Ellen 12:30 AM  

>> I am curious about using lower case letters (hand-written, of course)....I wonder if anyone has explored this?

This is sometimes mentioned as a tip to solve faster, but none of the top people do it. To me, it's unnatural, looks silly, and is more trouble than it's worth. In a tournament situation, it's hard for the judges to distinguish between L's, I's and other similar letters, and they appreciate the clarity of capital block letters.

Anonymous 2:08 AM  

Sorry for the misread Karma. Should have known, Orange is rarely wrong. Dyslexia seems to be in control today.

Howard B 7:53 AM  

The whole speed-solving thing is more fun, i find, if you are challenging yourself; it can be fascinating to see your own improvement as you become more familiar with puzzles, wordplay, trivia, and all of those little ingredients. It can also be fun (and often a bit humbling) to compare against Orange, Rex, and others who solve on the applet or post times here, but that's just icing on the cake.
I am much more comfortable solving on paper, myself... I like the feeling of knowing that if I make a mistake, it's directly because I didn't know something or had a brain cramp, instead of pressing that key a fraction of an inch to the left (My typing accuracy is pretty horrendous). Rooting out those typos can be extremely difficult in an applet.

Reading and parsing multiple clues at the same time as typing/writing definitely helps the speed-solving, but it takes a little while to get used to. If you are a fast reader, it makes the process a bit more efficient. You have to be careful to read most clues fully, though. I made a mistake in a tournament puzzle where I read "Second letter of the..." with B--- showing, wrote in BETA, and moved on. Turned out it was 'BETH' - had I read the entire clue properly, I would have seen the reference to the Hebrew alphabet instead of assuming Greek. Live and learn.

Anonymous 8:37 AM  

I use lower-case and for me it's definitely faster. It wasn't a conscious decision to switch from upper-case, it happened accidentally (long story, which I'll spare you), but once it happened I found it a lot faster, for me anyway.

For me the potential dangers in lower-case are in three areas:

-- e vs c: need to be precise with the e, otherwise it can easily look like a c with a little fillip.

-- n vs h: need to make sure the h has that longer limb.

-- i vs L: I use a capital L, so no problem there, and I don't ever dot my i's (or j's), either in normal or in crossword writing.

Anyway, that's what I do! Guess I'll have to do better at ACPT next year to be considered one of the "top solvers", though. :-)

Anne E (this isn't likely since I feel like I'm getting slower, not faster)

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