Friday, January 16, 2009

New York Times, Fri, Jan 16, 2009 Mike Nothnagel / Will Shortz

Today Nature is throwing everything at us: a temperature of -4°F and threatened windchills of -20°F or so. OK this probably isn't much to a Minnesotan, but coming from milder climes, I'm impressed.

The New York Times also threw everything at us with today's puzzle, and I have to reveal that I did buckle at the knees. Progress slowed to a crawl several times and at the end I had wrong guesses for a few squares where I knew neither of the crossing answers.
Solving time: 90 mins (wrong, with cheating required to finish)
Clue of the puzz: 60a singles bar [Match point?]
My Solution

Grid15x15 with 31 (14.0%) black squares
Answers70 (average length 5.54)
Scrabble points323 (average 1.66)

Things seemed fairly straightforward at the start: 12d notre [Our counterpart in France?] - neat way to indicate a French word; 18a up to [___ snuff]. 22a Henley [Regatta setting] was a bonus, as I used to live just down the railway line from this beautiful town on the Thames.

16a Omoo [Novel about its author's experiences on Tahiti] is a favorite with crossword compilers - I'm a great admirer of Moby-Dick, so will have to look out this less well-known novel; 11d impulse buy [Many an item at a checkout line]; 43a Hume ["An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals" philosopher] - David Hume's tome of 1751; 13d goody [Small perk]; 20a Kurd [Many a Kirkuk native] - Kirkuk is familiar from recent news stories. Here's 10a Ying [Soprano ___ Huang] in Madama Butterfly:

10d you know who [Unnamed individual]; 33a Swede [Uppland inhabitant] - Uppland is Swedish province; 23d Esso [Brand named after the pronunciation of its parent company's initials] - ie deriving from the sound of S(tandard) O(il); 6a peat [Scotch flavorer] - I understand it's the smoke from peat used to dry the barley that conveys the flavor; 28a bassos [Some singing villains] - notably, to my mind, Fafner, Hagen and Hunding in the Ring Cycle. 9d tenths [Addition column]; 8d a ton [Greatly] - changed from a lot.

38a showbiz [Tinseltown is part of it]; 40a -de-sac [Cul-___]; 31a days [Spin cycles?] - nicely misleading clue; 37d octo- [Prefix with -pod] - octopuses are octopods; 36a OK shoot [Response to "I have a question for you"] - nice answer to get in a grid; 24d two-D [Flat] - another great clue and answer that I was pleased to fathom; 26d less is more ["Keep it simple"] comes from Robert Browning:
Yet do much less, so much less, Someone says,
(I know his name, no matter)--so much less!
Well, less is more, Lucrezia: I am judged.

from Andrea del Sarto by Robert Browning
49d all OK [Perfectly good] - interesting that "perfectly good" can mean either excellent or just adequate; 52a Alma [Michigan's ___ College] - a liberal arts college; 59a slow [Somewhat dense] - presumably in the figurative sense of dull-witted; 61a pork [Government largesse] - a commodity much discussed before the recent election; 48d wasp's nest [With 64-Across, sight under the eaves, at times] - we do get these despite The 911 of Pest Control's best efforts; 63a Skee [___-Ball] - makers of amusement machines.

45d hems in [Confines]; 53a Mr Universe [Arnold Schwarzenegger, four times] - got this only after thinking of Terminator first; 58d ergo [Conclusion lead-in]; 56d RBIs [Sluggers' stats] - OK, I've learned earned run average (a pitcher stat) - I also have to learn runs batted in (a batter stat)? 62a ice skating [It requires spin control] - had ice dancing to start with; 47d reveal [Leak]; 65a lasso [Ringer of some necks] - nice one; 57d sans [___ fil (wireless, in Paris)] - excellent means of cluing what must be a common answer; 55d esta [Is in Spain?]; 60a singles bar [Match point?] - awesome clue!

54d rice [Force through a sieve]; 51d angst [Not just jitters]; 39d hot milk [Béchamel sauce ingredient] - I was thinking it was something much less ordinary; 50a tame [Break]; 44a in that [Since] - as in "I was fortunate in that I had internet access"; 42d attunes [Adapts].

19a persistent [Not letting go]; 2d Pope [Poet who wrote "Hope springs eternal in the human breast"] - if it's not Shakespeare, it's usually Alexander Pope; 7d eases by [Passes gingerly] - I of course had edges by to start with; 6d prate [Run on] - in the sense of talk tediously; 3d ruer [Penitent] - "penitent" as a noun rather than an adjective; 17a open season [When many shots are taken] - neat clue; 1d shop [Steward's domain] - my impression of a shop steward's personality comes exclusively from Peter Sellers' great performance in I'm All Right Jack; 1a spree [Romp], not sport; 4d erns [Birds with "meat cleaver" bills] - so you can spell erne that way too? 14a hourly rate [A raise may raise it]; 21a ewes [Some livestock]. I couldn't have gotten 5d Elsies ["The Two ___" (Martha Finley children's book)] without cross-checking - a 19th century American authoress; 15d yes we do [Reply to "Have you got that in stock?"] - a rather specific way of indicating such a general reply.

35d Ezer [Israel's Weizman] - I only knew Ezer Weizman from radio news, so cross-checking was needed to be sure of the spelling; 34d dime [Torch site] - I see the coin has a torch (symbolizing liberty), an olive branch (peace), and an oak branch (victory) - covers all the bases; 46a Troyer [Verne of Austin Powers films] - the Mini-Me actor.

Here is where my knowledge fell short: I hadn't heard of 32d Atka [Aleutian island] and had no clue about 41a Kato [He fought Robin on an episode of "Batman"]. I see that Kato, played by Bruce Lee, was in a different series, but made a guest appearance on Batman:

48a Washoe [Reno's county] - I'd only met this via the name of the first non-human to learn American Sign Language; 27d Ethan Hawke [Oscar nominee for "Training Day," 2001] was guessable once I had most of the letters. I had mistakes in three final answers: 25d Anke [Huber of women's tennis] - Anke Huber; 24a Talese ["A Writer's Life" writer, 2006] - referencing Gay Talese's memoir; 30a WNET [PBS station with a transmitter on the Empire State Building] - it's fascinating that radio stations in the US still call themselves by their four-letter call signs.

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