Friday, January 2, 2009

New York Times, Fri, Jan 02, 2009 Martin Ashwood-Smith / Will Shortz

I hoped the second New York Times puzzle of the year would be a little easier, but this one turned out to be a Real Poser. So much so that I had to give up on solving the bottom section and cheat a little in order to have a life (and blog about it). But in the end I thought this was a very satisfying puzzle with some great clues.

After yesterday's resolution I started writing answers in pencil and only inking them in when they seemed solid. Of course, some still turned out to be a little different from what seemed solid at the time. Early answers were: 4d e'er [Poet's ending with what or how]; 18a yes [Ouija option] - Ouija boards being named after the French and German for "yes" (how come we didn't end up with Nonnein boards?); 56a j'ai [I have, in Le Havre] - ie in French.

My first significant breakthroughs were in the top section, helped by guessing how the long across answers might start: 2d ah me! [World-weary words]; 1d stay [Supporting piece]; 3d lees [Refuse] - dregs, probably used more figuratively than literally these days; 8d sent [Posted]; 9d Indo- [Prefix with Germanic].

With this framework I got 16a the eleventh hour [Just before it's too late] and hence more downs: 10d strum [Not be picky with an instrument?] - ie sweep over, rather than pluck, the strings of a guitar etc; 14d sold [Given a line] - ie given the sales talk, not necessarily an honest one; 15d errs [Goes off] - in the sense of deviates.

Unfortunately, I was also confident of recce, but shouldn't have been. After 19a contour [Bucket seat feature], it was clearly 8d recon [Brief scouting outing?] - shortening of reconnaisance. Then I had 11d The Robe [First film in CinemaScope, 1953] - I'd remembered this item of trivia from somewhere; 1a sales resistance [Problem in closing?]; 12d aha! [Word associated with a light bulb] - ie what you might say at a "light bulb moment"; 17a American Dreamer [1984 JoBeth Williams comedy/adventure film] - a guess, but could it really be anything else? 7d Evan [____ and Jaron (identical-twin pop duo)] was thus solved en passant - they're unknown to me, so this was A Good Thing.

Now I could progress into the center section: 22a mob [Hit-making group?] - referring to the Mafia; 31d sauna [Luxury hotel amenity]; 45a class [Social group] - guessing that 32d and 33d were regular plurals helped with this; 36d hod [V-shaped carrier] - do bricklayers still use these?; 29d strut [Supporting piece] - having the same clue result in different answers is a nice touch, but it's a lot easier to do here than with cryptic clues!

38a Munro [Alice who wrote the short-story collection "Open Secrets"] - never read her, but the name rang a bell; 28d Annan [Ban succeeded him in 2007] was easy as he was mentioned in a Trivial Pursuit question on that I helped my wife with yesterday. 27a gas [Beetle's need] didn't hold me up long - it turns out that Bronson Pinchot, the local celeb. in our township, is the voice of Max the Beetle in the latest VW ads.

Now along came 33d dynes [_____ per centimeter (surface tension measure)], 30a based [Grounded], 32d epics [Big pictures] - The Robe being a prime example I suppose. 39a ruin [Utter collapse] followed, and then the very useful 34a aversion therapy [One way to kick a bad habit]. 23d barrels [Rodeo trio] seemed likely, but even after asking my wife (who confirms barrels and rodeos go together), we're still not clear where the threesome comes in.

27d Gouda [City NE of Rotterdam] - makes a change not to clue this as a cheese. 25d ovine [Like a shepherd's charges] - guessed early, but now it seemed solid; 40a invited audience [Preview crowd]; hence I Me [George Harrison's "___ Mine] en passant. 26d peeve [Really get to]; 43a see no ["... ye shall _____ more vanity": Ezekiel 13:23] - not a passage I'm familiar with; 24d lapis [Stone, to Caesar] - Latin for "stone", still used in eg lapis lazuli; 37a pier [It's a shore thing], which I thought earlier might be tide; 24a loper [Gazelle, at times] - I was expecting something like "prey", but I guess gazelles might just lope around from on occasion.

I finally fixed a mistake I made earlier on: 5d slicers [They might be full of baloney] rather than clichés - what was I thinking?! 21a hen [One whose deposits are often collected] - ie eggs; 21d herring [Whitebait, e.g.] - whitebait is young herring about two inches long (my mother used to like them fried - very crunchy); 46a gut [Instinctive] in the sense of "a gut feeling". Another mistake that cost me was ice beer (a deliberate trap?) rather than 42d iced tea [Brewer's product]; I really kicked myself over this as iced tea is my favorite summer tipple and I don't drink alcohol! This meant 52a greased [Like some cookie sheets] could go in, calling to mind "cookie weekend" when my wife and her first husband (Hub 1.0 for short) make a million cookies to give out at Christmas.

At this point I became reasonably confident of several downs in the bottom section: 41d toughie [Real poser] - definitely what this puzzle was; 53d erst [Formerly archaic?] - a bit of a cliché in cryptic crosswords too; 54d Asta [Fictional wirehair] - dog in The Thin Man played by Skippy and common enough in these crosswords that I knew what I was dealing with.

Nevertheless I couldn't see what any of the long across answers might be. After hitting a wall for about 15 minutes, I finally gave up and got help from my TEA software. The pattern ....esta....... gave me 63a real estate agent [One who'd like to put you in your place] and ....hers....... gave me 59a weather stations [Pressure points?].

Finishing off was now easy: 49d a war [Start ____ (be extremely aggressive)]; 50d Bede [Eliot hero] - Adam Bede was George Eliot's first novel; 49a abs [They look better when ripped] - the outdoor life has done wonders for my ripped abs (or so my wife tells me); 51d sala [A room with una vista?] - ie Spanish; 55d stet [Decide to leave] - originally an instruction on a proof to "let it stand", stet is now also used as a transative verb; 48d weave [Zigzag].

56a José [Cuban patriot Martí] seemed likely, but Magdalen had to explain his significance as an opponent of Fidel Castro, and that everyone here knows him through Radio Martí. 57d anon. [Like some sources: Abbr.]; 58d Isn't [Abba's "Love ___ Easy"] - originally thought it was Is So as that's been my experience (not!). 48a Wes [1980s N.B.A. guard Matthews] arrived en passant and I wouldn't have got it otherwise - even Magdalen doesn't know this stuff!

I've encountered clues like 61d in G [Like Mahler's Symphony No. 4] before, so I knew earlier it would be "in" something. Despite loving the piece and having a great Tennstedt recording of it, I'm unlikely to ever remember the key. Similarly 60d Tal [Jazz guitarist Farlow] emerged from cross-checking, since I finally confirmed 62a Adlai E. Stevenson [Who said "A hungry man is not a free man"] - he seems popular in puzzles, either as Adlai or AES, so is worthy of study.

Hence 47d trees [They have certain rings to them] - I originally had Treos, ironic since much of my life is seemingly spent cutting and hauling wood.

This left just one uncertainty in the top right hand corner. Guessing 13d Nome [It's on Norton Sound] completed off the grid. I should have remember Nome from the Tougher in Alaska series with Geo Beach. We enjoyed watching that around the time we visited Alaska, though we never got far from the tourist trail.

Even my wife had trouble explaining 20a eds. [Seventeen people, briefly] which we eventually realized referred to (editors at) Seventeen magazine - Magdalen says she's a bit too old to be into teen culture these days.

Solving time: 90 minutes (but had to resort to TEA for help)

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