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n. - {koks boks}:
Crew (Rowing) Slang. From the shortened form of "coxswain" and the word "box" meaning "container", a cox box is a waterproof electronics package that connects to a modern shell's wiring system, serving two main purposes: as an amplifier for the coxswain's commands, and as a readout for the various sensors that are installed in a modern crew shell.

Sensor Suite

The bare minimum sensor suite is a timer and a magnetic pickup (not unlike the one in an electric guitar). The pickup goes under the seat of the stroke (the rear-most rower, responsible for keeping the pace that the coxswain orders) and returns a "ping" to the cox box every time the seat passes the pickup. This gives the coxswain the boat's stroke rate, a very important measurement during a race. An optional button on the box can start and stop the clock for split times; better cox boxes can keep (in volatile memory) splits for each 100m, 250m, 500m, 1000m, and so on. All of the sensor data are displayed on a small LCD screen (on more expensive models, this screen can be backlit). Newer models carry a "true speed" sensor that determines speed relative to the water, so that upstream and downstream workouts can be compared as apples to apples. After a race or a practice, more expensive cox boxes can download the race profile to a PC via RS-232, allowing anal retentive coaches to figure out what went wrong (or right) in the race. Coxswains should note: some polarized sunglasses will be polarized with a 90-degree shift relative to the cox box's LCD screen, and make the LCD invisible. Race day is not the day to find this out.

Amplifier

The amplifier (sometimes called the "cox vox", from the Latin for "voice": any school with a crew program probably has a Latin professor, too) is simple. Small electrically driven speakers are placed in the bow of the boat and, in an eight-seat boat (simply an "eight" in crew parlance), amidships. A hands-free microphone attached to an elastic headband -- all waterproof! -- is wired into the cox box. The boat's plug contains two pins for audio. The coxswain adjusts the volume knob so that his rowers can hear him, but so that other boats on the water cannot. Everything he says is amplified and comes to the rowers like the voice of God. Vox Dei and then some: "Row You Bastards Row," etc.

A story about the cox box

No shit, there I was, rowing two seat in the Schmolze, a boys' eight named for a dead alumni. Chuck was coxing that day, and had been up late the night before fiddling with his cox box. Now, like I said above, you usually turn the cox box down so that other boats can't hear you. This is essential to race strategy, because you can call a power ten and accelerate away from an opponent before they can react. A lead is hard to recover, and the enemy's coxswain can wear out his crew trying to play catch-up. So you turn the box down. Occasionally Chuck would call a power twenty with the volume up loud -- so loud he knew they heard -- and then call quietly to belay his order. They burn a few strokes before they realize we were bluffing. The psychological effect on the other boat, and their coxswain, is crushing.

That day, Chuck told us he needed us to focus, and that he had a surprise for us in the boat. During the race, he said, we would know when to pull our power twenty and break ahead. We would crush their spirits, he said. All we had to do was trust him, and stick to the race plan. We were one seat-length ahead of St. Mark's on the water, coming up on the 500m buoy in a 1500m race, and Chuck turns the volume all the way up. He hollers into the microphone, "Can you hear me, St. Mark's? Because this is what happens when you try to stick with St. Andrew's!" There was a squeal of feedback, a *pop* as he switched inputs, and then, just like we were in the common room on a Saturday eating popcorn, timpani and brass: "DON DON DON, DON D-DON, DON D-DON!" ...The Imperial March from Star Wars comes booming out of our boat. Chuck had wired a Walkman to his cox box. We started the power twenty and held a vicious pace for the next sixteen measures. I didn't see anything -- "eyes in the boat, Schmolze!" -- except the St. Mark's boat drifting away into our wake. Later on we threw Chuck into the pond.


Addendum: Like Kleenex, Band-Aid, and Jell-O, "Cox-box" is a brand name. Nielsen-Kellerman makes the Cox-Box brand Crew Electronics Package, which retails (with no accessories) for $419 plus shipping and handling. Speakers, wiring harnesses, brackets, and microphones are all extra. A full system for an eight can cost upwards of $1,000 as of this writing. It's the industry standard, but all such packages are called cox boxes.
Information from my personal experience; memories refreshed at http://www.nkhome.com/rp/coxbox/coxbox.html

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