MONDAY, Oct. 19 2009 — Anglo-Saxon writing symbol / Colorful shawls south of border / Monteverdi opera hero who descends into Hades

Monday, October 19, 2009

Constructor: Lynn Lempel

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: OOH AND AAH (61A: Gush (over) ... or sounds shared by the answer to each starred clue)
— theme answers are two-syllable words where first syllable has "OOH" vowel sound and second syllable has "AAH," though inevitably some people will say "the sound in SHOT is not the same as AAH" and then repeat both sounds to demonstrate the difference etc. ad nauseam. For this raised-on-US-TV kid, the sounds are all spot-on.

Word of the Day: RUNE (53A: Anglo-Saxon writing symbol)n.

    1. Any of the characters in several alphabets used by ancient Germanic peoples from the 3rd to the 13th century.
    2. A similar character in another alphabet, sometimes believed to have magic powers.
  1. A poem or incantation of mysterious significance, especially a magic charm.

[Old Norse or Old English rūn.]


Lively and interesting puzzle. Super-choppy grid inhibited the usual Monday hot-knife-thru-butter action a bit, theme answers were varied and quirky, and the theme density was impressive (8 answers). A bit distracting to have long Acrosses that are Not theme answers, and then have shorter theme answers immediately adjacent to them, and then two more buried among equal-length answers in the SW and NE corners. But I guess that gives the puzzle personality — even a contrary, sassy, "I play by my own rules, man" personality is better than no personality at all. Thumbs up.

Theme answers:

16A: *Backwoods locale (boondocks) — thought the puzzle might be about comics, but no.
27A: *Particle with no electric charge (neutron)

  • 49A: *Stew made with paprika (goulash)
  • 3D: *Apollo 11, 12 or 13, e.g. (moonshot) — slowed me down, as I know MOONSHOT as a LOB (1D: High tennis hit) or other high hit in sports, not as a manned mission to the moon.
  • 10D: *Commotion (hoopla) — a word ruined by its inclusion in the lyrics to "We Built This City on Rock and Roll." — [Bad thing to be knee-deep in?]

  • 39D: *Teased hairdo (bouffant) — awesome answer. Misspelled it as BOUFANTE (?) on my first trip down the grid.
  • 48D: *Home of the University of Arizona (Tucson)

Oddly, I stumbled on BOOM (5D: Ka-blam!), in that I needed several crosses to know what comic book sound effect I was dealing with, and ORFEO (54A: Monteverdi opera hero who descends into Hades), which I knew but couldn't retrieve efficiently. Brain kept going TOSCA TOSCA TOSCA even though I (and presumably it) knew that wasn't right. Enjoyed the DRANK (17D: Guzzled) / SHRANK (15D: Got smaller) combo. There's a narrative about the deleterious effects of drinking on a man's sex life in there somewhere...


  • 20A: Colorful shawls south of the border (serapes) — a crossword-friendly word that was a gimme for me. Do they have SERAPES down in COSTA Rica? I was just there in April and I didn't see any.
  • 57D: Male companions for Barbies (Kens) — this makes KENS sound like GIGOLOS. "Barbie's looking for some male *companionship*, if you know what I mean ..." Ken's (all the Kens') lack of junk makes this scenario ridiculous, I know.
  • 44A: Place to buy a dog or dog food (pet store) — Dog food, yes. Dog, no. Shelters or reputable breeders only.
  • 46D: Katmandu native (Nepali) — "Katmandu" looks weird without an "H" to me.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


Judith 8:13 AM  

fun puzzle. if I knew more about video games I would have shaved some time off my 4:49 finish.

Too bad Rex didn't give us Bob Seger's Katmandu song! That's where he's going wit you!

Mike Lewis 8:28 AM  

Rex's write-up amuses as usual, but confuses a little as well. In my version of the puzzle (which I get via the iPhone app), 3D is clued "Apollo 11, 12, or 13, e.g." Not as "High tennis shot." Are there different versions?

Anonymous 8:39 AM  

I found it super easy, but enjoyed the theme which gave it a bit of a bite.

For 13A I don't think "ODOR" really works as an answer (SCENT would be more appropriate)

BOUFFANT was fun; don't recall seeing that before in a puzzle.

And hear, hear re the buying dogs at pet stores comment!!

Phil Sandifer 8:52 AM  

To be fair, many pet stores do provide floor space to local shelters for adoptions, and so buying a dog at a pet store is not necessarily bad. But yes - by and large, do not feed the puppy mills.

My one quibble of a clue is Nintendo Competitor for SEGA - Sega has exited the hardware business, and is no longer a direct competitor of Nintendo - in fact, they work together a lot now.

PIX 8:55 AM  

puzzle was ok...but i did not ooh and aah over it...

slypett 9:11 AM  

Wondering what we'll talk about today, the puzzle being so neat and fun.

Oh, here's one! Rex: I've never seen Katmandu spelled with an h. Dictionary agrees with me, though there may be new conventions I'm not aware of.

joho 9:20 AM  

I'll preface this by saying I must have fallen out of the wrong side of the bed this morning. It must be me, because I usually love Lynn Lempel's puzzles ... and so far the comments are all positive.

There was something disconcerting to me about the theme answers. I think it's the visual of the spelling because it's not the pronounciation of the words. For some reason the TU in TUCSCON bothered me. And normally I'd appreciate the inclusion of BOOM and LOONS but today without the AAH part they just seemed distracting.

Sorry to be such a wet blanket.

I didn't BOO HOO but I didn't OOH AAH either.

Anonymous 9:20 AM  


Elaine 9:21 AM  

I rated this an Easy. No real surprises, but still enjoyable. I like it when one has multiple possibilities (as with 9A.)

This old teacher would say AAH is the "short O" sound, if that helps. In fact, OO may also be short (as in "book,") or long (as in "moon" and the other theme entries.)

By now Icculus has figured out that he or she mixed up 1D and 3D. I agree w/ Anonymous about 13A.


Rex Parker 9:22 AM  

I found this in 3 seconds:

Also, apparently our Embassy spells it that way too.

And on and on and on. The miracle of Google.


balto 9:35 AM  

For me it was easy -- I wish I had timed it, I barely stopped anywhere. Except for Erse/Orfeo cross -- had I instead of E.

Charles Bogle 9:45 AM  

liked BOONDOCK and MOONSHOT. Had not heard of RUNE! Tougher than most Mondays...lucked into BOUFFANT, had difficulty down there. Could be a killer week for me if this keeps up! Nice write-up as always, thanks

Bob Kerfuffle 9:55 AM  

Very nice Monday puzzle (but, darn!, the first time I wrote in TUSCON instead of TUCSON!)

Glitch 9:59 AM  

Having my main points (regional pronounciation, pet stores, and "the letter H") already covered, my comments this Monday become as easy as the puzzle.

All Mondays should start this way.


Pompous Dbag 10:09 AM  

Easy peasy. No problems, went straight through. The 1970s Ken looks like Elvis, but by 1990 looks like he turned gay on into the 2000s. Peace out.

Geezer 10:13 AM  

The spelling of Kathmandu is difficult in roman script, because in the devanegri script there are two different kinds of both d's and t's
The t as used in the capital of Nepal is formed with the tongue curled to the back of the palate. The ordinary t is formed with the tongue just touching the lower part of the teeth in the upper jaw.
So that city really needs to have the h in it.

(Long retired missionary to and lover of India)

Jim in Chicago 10:14 AM  

Nice little Monday puzzle - I've been away for a week, so this was a nice puzzle to get me back into the swing of things.

I agree with Rex on the Pet Store issue - it is correct that sometimes adoption agencies show dogs/cats there, but the clue using the word "buy" immediately made me think of the disgusting stores with the "puppy mill" dogs in dirty little kennels. Better of to either go to a breeder or to a no-kill shelter.

I had no clue how to spell BOUFFANT, other than I was pretty sure it started with a B, ended ANT and probably had at least one F somewhere.

The clue for SERIF bothered me just a little, since its clued as "tiny flourish". Yeah, I guess, but it is much more than a flourish, and is an integral part of the type face, serving a specific purpose of making the letters more readable. Hardly a meaningless flourish.

SethG 10:18 AM  

I have to quibble with the assertion that a NEUTRON has no electric charge. It does indeed have a charge, it's just that the magnitude of that charge is 0. It's a combination of two down quarks (charge -1/3) and one up quark (+2/3). If the particles were truly chargeless, the charge would be undefined rather than 0.

This comment parody was brought to you by a Monday puzzle. 70s Ken reminds me of Speed Racer, and 90s Ken is awesome. For Halloween, I may glue 4 Kens to my shoulders and go as a boy band.

retired_chemist 10:18 AM  

No prob with the puzzle. I suppose I could start a thread quibbling with the spelling of AAH (Urban Dictionary spells it my way - AHH) but I will not.

Puppies (born 10/15) are growing. Thanks to Rex's' shout-out to reputable breeders, I have an honest segue into the puppies' blog with their first photos. Say awwwwwww.....

dk 10:25 AM  

A friend sent me 30 pounds of Barbies and Kens circa 1960-1980 for project I was working on. I still have 28 pounds left.

I had a series of mistakes leading to the cold knife through frozen butter experience referenced by Rex.

I like being the victim of my own hubris as in:
dde instead of IKE, porto for COSTA, and urge for WHIM.

Got the song Down in the Boondocks in my head and now you can have it:

Would some kind soul email me how to create links in my post?

Fine Monday fare, thank you Lynn

dk 10:26 AM  

@Sethg, I am going to steal your idea. Thanks

Rex Parker 10:29 AM  


Where have you been, comments-wise? Please don't stay away so long ever again.

P.S. how is the puzzle formerly known as "MY TWO DADAS" coming along?

Bob Kerfuffle 10:42 AM  

@dk, 10:25 - How to make a link.

Two Ponies 10:46 AM  

I like my Monday puzzles to have a little meat on them and this one did. I purposely avoided looking at the theme clue to see if I could guess. I was amazed at all of the theme entries.
The 2000's Ken looks like a cross dresser.
Didn't we just have Ugh yesterday?
No need to belabor the pet store thing. We all know where we stand.
@ SethG, Glad you clarified the parody because you had me groaning in the first paragraph. You had me going for a moment.

Anonymous 11:01 AM  

@SethG - Thanks for the (reminder of) a life lesson. First time through, I read your first paragraph and dismissed the comment as the ultimate in douche-baggery, without even looking at the author. ALWAYS READ THE WHOLE THING. The punch line always comes at the end.

Jeffrey 11:10 AM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jeffrey 11:14 AM  


I even had a Down in the Boondocks link in my post before being scooped. AAH.

PIX 11:40 AM  

@SethG: What parody? You raise an interesting point.The car parked in my driveway seems to me to have no velocity but a physicist (which i am not) would hasten to tell you it has a velocity, namely a velocity of zero.

Stan 11:45 AM  

Mmmmmmmphh, mmmph!

[Keeping it zipped on the subject of "moonshot / goulash."]

mccoll 11:56 AM  

Easy but fun. WTG Geezer and SethG. "Obscure" doesn't come close! Abstruse, secret, recondite, arcane are all lacking. "Esoteric" wins! Thanks everyone.

dk 11:56 AM  

Thanks to all of you who sent the link info.

@sethg, I am off to Axman to get a small speaker for my ipod. I have designed mini-amps for my boy band in a box. And, I will down load a few choice "hits." I am thinking I can get this whole costume done for less than 5 samolians. LOOKITUP

Thanks for the idea. I think I will call the band the SethGs or follow Rex's theme and call them JunkFree. Maybe SG and the Junkfrees........?

Sfingi 1:15 PM  

The theme was unnecessary to the solving.

I tried to put in beehive instead of 38D BOUFFANT. We used to have urban myths about spiders living in these hairdos if not combed and washed. @Anon 8:39 - how about "spoor" for 13A?

I have a wonderful Ken doll whose sideburns disappear in water. He's brown and came in swim trunks. The only other Ken I have is hardly a Ken, but a Munster-consort for Lilly Munster, who is a definite Barbie. They're both green, but he has a Herman face.

@dk - any green ones?
Thanx for Billy Joe Royal. Kept thinking 4 Seasons, but that's Raogdoll. I must find out how to hypertext.

The thorn rune, or runic thorn, which represents the "th" sound, comes in hard and soft. It's a stick with a triangle on its upper right. We should have kept such a letter sound.

Today, both NYT and LAT had LEI(s). Is that a sign we should all go to HI?

In the rear of the New Hartford, NY PetSmart there are cats from the Utica and Rome Humane Societies. Dogs come only for training classes.

bluebell 1:59 PM  

I savor the use of sounds in puzzles like this. Not just the Boondocks/moonshots, but limo/lob, bawl/boom, whim/whoa --in fact, as I check over the puzzle I see every corner with a repeated initial sound (or in the case of serif/shia, a letter)-- yesterday's spiral had me in awe, but today's care in construction is also great to see.

Mike Lewis 2:13 PM  

It isn't that I mixed up 3D and 1D, but that I apparently don't know how to read. I completely misinterpreted what Rex was saying about MOONSHOT, and I though he had mixed them up. I should've known better.

jskarf 2:18 PM  

Ken's lack of junk... hilarious.
Did anyone else feel like this puzzle had a disproportionate number of plural answers?
I think I would have died happier if I had never seen the music video to We Built This City. Thanks a lot, Rex...

treedweller 3:04 PM  

I was saved from having "We Built This City" stuck in my head all day by the fact that I had Bob Seger Stuck in there singing "Kat(h)mandu." It's a tough call as to whether that is an improvement. Suffice it to say I like both Seger and Starship slightly less than BEQ likes Steve Miller.

I liked the puzzle fine--a rare sub-five minutes for me. Any puzzle that I finish that fast is not likely to make a strong impression otherwise, and this was no exception. I guess that's just about right for a Monday.

sanfranman59 3:35 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 6:13, 7:00, 0.89, 21%, Easy-Medium

Top 100 solvers

Mon 3:34, 3:45, 0.95, 40%, Easy-Medium

It's pretty clear that this method of assessing relative difficulty is less than adequate for easy, early week puzzles (particularly for the top solvers). Since it's not humanly possible to solve a puzzle faster than some minimum amount of time (say, 2 to 2 1/2 minutes), there's definitely a floor effect that skews the ratings. The upshot is that it's virtually impossible for a Monday or even a Tuesday puzzle to be rated as Easy by this method.

slypett 3:50 PM  

Rex: I am not required to do research in every damned venue on the planet. In this instance, I am not wrong according to the source I used, so you can take your attitude and nurse it back to health.

slypett 3:55 PM  

Geezer: Fine. And thank you. I was using a dictionary compiled in an era when such niceties were not taken into acount. From now on, as the occasion requires, I shall spell the Nepali capital Kathmandu.

PIX 3:58 PM your system is not perfect...I, for one, find it extremely the flaw you cite is really just a minor one and in any case you clearly present the data and people are free to interpret it any way they see fit...keep up the good work!

Anonymous 4:21 PM  

@sanfranman59 Couldn't the problem with the tight grouping of expert solvers' times for early week puzzles be remedied by use of standard deviations?

If the median solve times for the top 100 solvers is normally distributed, then you could calculate the percentile ease/difficulty by the number of SDs a certain day's median falls from the average for that day. Even if the typical average time that a Monday puzzle is solved by the top 100 turned out to be 3:15, and even a really hard puzzle would be a 3:20 average, you could still tell easy from tough if you found out the standard deviation was, say, 2 seconds, in which case a 3:20 average would be 2.5 SDs away from the mean, and about 99th percentile in difficulty.

Shamik 4:28 PM  

Easy to easy-medium puzzle. Those Kens are very creepy looking across the board.

jimmy d 4:29 PM  

You should see the musical "Rock of Ages" on will totally redeem the song "We Built This City" for you...they do an awesome, poignant version of it! =)

sanfranman59 4:37 PM  

@anon (4:21pm) ... I've thought about doing something like that, but (a) I don't really have enough data as yet (I've only been recording the medians for 19 weeks now), (b) I'm trying to keep this as simple as possible so that people can understand what I'm doing and won't think it's statistical voodoo and (c) I already spend way more time on my crossword addiction ... erm hobby ... than I really should. Perhaps after I've collected another 10 or 20 weeks of data, I'll see what the SD approach yields.

Werner Heisenberg 5:10 PM  

@PIX, 11:40 -- If you know with certainty that your car has a velocity of zero, you cannot say with certainty that it is in your driveway. If you know with certainty that your car is in the driveway, you cannot know its velocity with precision. Look it up.

Anonymous 5:36 PM  

I was having such fun with this pleasant Monday puzzle then I see that for the third or fourth day in a row our host has taken a snarky pot shot at a comment.
We used to only need correct spelling and punctuation to play this game without becoming a target. Now we need a staff of fact checkers too !!?? Ah well, there goes the neighborhood.
Squeek the Anonymouse

edith b 5:43 PM  

Monday puzzles are kind of like eating Chinese food with chopsticks: the fun is mostly in the technique rather than in the food and besides, a half hour later, you are hungry again.

Fairly typical Lynn Lempel effort that I approached on autopilot but had to fight with the chopsticks as usual.

Can't wait until Friday!


Sfingi 7:33 PM  

Maybe that damn Heisenberg cat is IN the car - or was when you last looked. Where's a cat when you need it?

andrea (silent h) michaels 7:37 PM  

I too had beehive before BOUFFANT...and the whole spider thing creeps me out!
Read in the elevator today (in one of those things they have posted so folks don't have to make eye contact or talk to each other) that they just discovered some vegetarian spider they named after a panther (!??!) from "The Jungle Book"...
Spent the first fifteen minutes of work wondering why I thought all spiders were vegetarian and now that I know they all eat meat, I'm frightened to be chewed to death by one.

I thought it was MOONSHIP and even tho that sounded wrong, it took me a while to untangle.

Are we never not in sync?!
I too love Lynn, found the theme totally original, the amount of theme answers staggering, but not fun. Is that unkind?
Although I did try HOOHAW for HOOPLA... probably have seen "Scent of a Woman" too many times (once).

If I open the link, do you promise no dead puppies? ;)
Never mind petstores, the correct way to get a dog is to steal one (or two) from the neighboring farm and then ignore the local want ads.

May I say something sweet about this blog and the man behind the curtain?
Walked into the bar where I was about to celebrate my bday...I was keeping it low-key decoration-wise, no balloons no nothing...
But there was a vase of gorgeous flowers awaiting me...

From the bar? My mom? Some ex-Italian lover? Nope.

Beautiful card from Rex, Puzzlegirl and Orange!!!!!!!
So you were all with me in spirit the entire day!

(Thanks to others for the sweet birthday wishes...I'll be more specific offline.)

Glitch 7:45 PM  

@Squeek 5:32p

Two of my favorite quotes fom this blog:

"Minimal fact-checking is greatly appreciated." Rex Parker 7/24/09

A couple of chinks in my armor, but I survived. So shall others.

But it also helps to remember:

"Commenters snarking at other commenters is always the stupidest form of commentary." Rex Parker 4/03/09


slypett 7:59 PM  

Glitch: If Squeek was snarking, he was snarking a snarker. And I did check with a reputable dictionary before commenting. I stick my tongue out at you!

chefbea 8:00 PM  

Couldn't find the aahs in the answers!!

Hope my new xword puzzle friends from last night will start posting instead of lurking

Werner Heisenberg 8:02 PM  

@sfingi - Nein, nein, that cat belongs to Mr. Schrödinger next door! Here, kitty, kitty!

Glitch 8:24 PM  

@XMAN & @Squeek

Sorry if it came out wrong, I intended to be supportive of both your positions.

[Must ... be ... more ... careful ... with ... sarcasm]

Off to find my cats, last seen aproaching 0 velocity in front of the fireplace.

.../Glitch (3rd for the day)

Anonymous 8:26 PM  

@ Glitch, High five! I remember those quotes. What's good for the goose...? Not here.
@ XMAN, Well played as well! Why am I thinking of Frenchmen and Holy Grail?

foodie 8:30 PM  

This puzzle was designed to make me feel inadequate... It's like: "Once a foreigner, always a foreigner!" Even though I finished it correctly and in excellent time (for me), I stared in disbelief at the words thinking: no way the second sound is AAH in NEUTRON, TUCSON or MOONSHOT... not even close.

Oh man, I have a lot of work to do on this front, and I been in this country for decades...Sooo depressing!

Sfingi 9:43 PM  

Ach, Herr Heisenberg - Entschuldigen, bitte - es tut mir Weh dass ich etwas vergass! Aber, as they say in Logic class - and how true! -
"The cat is on the mat."
Nicht wahr?

@Andrea - Spiders don't so much eat big animals as eat other insects, which are animals. That's why we don't kill them! Not just because it's bad luck (which of course it is). Kind of like ladybugs, which are cuter. If a spider is a vegetarian, need they build a web?

retired_chemist 10:02 PM  

@ Andrea - no dead puppies. I promise.

slypett 11:48 PM  

Glitch: Hoo! Hah! Sarcasm, I think, is hard to put over when you're trying to be succinct. As Squeek said, "High fives."

Squeek: I am a Frenchman searching for the Holy Grail! Not really. Have no idea what you're saying, but I know it's cool. Thanks.

HudsonHawk 12:49 AM  

@XMAN, I think what Squeek was going for was from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, specifically (in English, but with an affected French accent): "I blow my nose in your general direction."

sanfranman59 1:27 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 6:21, 7:00, 0.91, 28%, Easy-Medium

Top 100 solvers

Mon 3:25, 3:44, 0.91, 26%, Easy-Medium

Mike the Wino 7:16 PM  

@hudsonhawk, I believe that is "I fart in your general direction"! MP: my wife's favorite silly movies........

Nullifidian 2:17 PM  

In from syndication-land:

This one was an easy Monday for me. I never time myself, preferring to solve it slowly while listening to music, but this one went by like a snap. I set a quick pace starting with the NW corner, solved in a clockwise direction, and didn't once have to slow down.

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