Sunday, January 4, 2009

New York Times, Mon, Jan 05, 2009 Andrea Carla Michaels / Will Shortz

At last, a puzzle I can complete on my own! I had to make a few guesses, but they were reasoned ones and turned out to be right I think.

I'd heard about the New York Times having a policy of increasing difficulty throughout the week, but the ramp up seems remarkably steep (if British papers do this at all, it is much more gentle). I wonder how this approach works for solvers: don't the aficionados suffer apathy at the beginning of the week, while the hoi polloi get frustrated at the end of it?

Anyway, I was glad to see lots of easy clues to get me going today. 1d Asta ["The Thin Man" dog] - haven't we met before? 4d CVI [106, to Trajan] - we learned those letters yesterday! 5d Capote [Truman who wrote "Breakfast at Tiffany's"]. 5a cacti [Desert plants]. 7d canoe [Something to paddle]. 15a a pain [Be ___ in the neck]. 9d ins [Ones who are elected]. 8d tie [Even score]. 18a panes [Window features]. 6d apathy [Lack of interest].

21d Mts. [The Appalachians, e.g.: Abbr.] - I'd heard of these well before emigrating close to (if not actually in) this range: I'm a big fan of Bill Bryson's travel writing and enjoyed A Walk in the Woods in which Bill attempts to hike the Appalachian Trail. The bridge on the Mass Pike where the trail crosses is one of the rare excitements of our journeys to and from Boston. Hence 21a Moto [Japanese sleuth Mr. ___] - that was the first I'd heard of Mr. Moto.

17a taxi [Cab]; 14a shiv [Prisoner's knife] - I don't think of a shiv specifically in that context, but I've heard you can make a nasty sort of weapon out of sharpened cutlery (or a toothbrush, Magdalen tells me). 1a AC/DC [Flexible, electrically] - and in other ways, of course. 24d east [Sunrise direction]; 29a errs [Makes mistakes]; 10a lest [For fear that]; 10d laurel [Winner's wreath]; 11d Essen [German steel city]; 19a user [One at the computer]; 22a preen [Primp]; 13d terns [Shorebirds].

I was a little surprised at 12d sweet [Bonbon, e.g.] since I thought candy was the American term. In Britain candy is sweets and a sweet is an individual gumdrop, glacier mint or what you will. The Oracle, in the form of my wife Magdalen, tells me that a sweet in the US is anything sweet, including, but not limited to, candy.

16a as we ["Even ___ speak ..."]. 22d Prada ["The Devil Wears ___"] - the first reference to a movie I actually saw last year - hurrah! 23a Meet The Parents [2000 De Niro/Stiller comedy] - a thematic answer, but since I didn't notice the theme until after completing the puzzle, neglected to take advantage of guessing meat and mete in advance. 28a oral [Not written, as a test]; 26d a rat ["I smell ___"]; 25d Polo [Explorer Marco]; 31a glad [Pleased].

31d GPS [Auto gizmo that talks, in brief] - we have one called Via Michelin, which occasionally gets us into trouble: it's fine unless we're running late and then it chooses that precise moment to take us into a dead end. So now I try to map-read as well, which gives the wife two alternative wrong ways to go, much to her delight.

32a HMS ["___ Pinafore"] reminded me how much we enjoyed Summer Savoyards' production of The Mikado in 2007. Seeing it was also great for networking, as we discovered their costume designer Stephen Dell'Aversano could make a wedding dress. He did a really fine job on Magdalen's dress for our English ceremony. 32d hopscotch [Sidewalk game with chalk]; 62a acct. [No. on a bank statement]; 59a stet [Editing mark] - encountered as a verb a few days ago; 51d erect [Build].

65a Oh to ["___ be in England"] should have given me a big advantage, but assuming I was dealing with a single word answer held me up. The lines are from a homesick Brit:
Oh, to be in England
Now that April's there,
And whoever wakes in England
Sees, some morning, unaware,
That the lowest boughs and the brushwood sheaf
Round the elm-tree bole are in tiny leaf,
While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough
In England - now!

From Home-Thoughts, from Abroad by Robert Browning
Given the weather here, England might just be preferable in January and February, but come April, give me Pennsylvania any day of the week! 59d Sao [___ Paulo, Brazil]; 54a oro [Gold, in Guadalajara]. Hence 55d Otto [Sgt. Snorkel's four-legged friend], not known to me, nor to Magdalen - I see this refers to the Beetle Bailey comic strip.

44a pairs [Alternative to singles, in figure skating]; 42a opts [Chooses]; 33d Met [Big Apple museum, with "the"] - The Met I know best is the opera as we get to most of the HD live relays at the really comfy Cinemark in Moosic. We've got Thaïs and La Rondine to look forward to this week - yum! 34d sss [Sizzling sound]; 35a meat and potatoes [Basic, as issues] - the second theme answer, but the light still hasn't dawned on marblehead (Magdalen's expression); 41a Laos [Land west of Vietnam]; 36d aloof [Standoffish]; 43a Bonn [West Germany's capital].

38d don't [Advice regarding touching a hot stove] - quite - ours gets to over 700°F and I heed this advice by wearing stove gloves. Luckily Mimi and the cats have the sense not to touch either. 52a Adolf [First name in W.W. II infamy]; 48d Edith [Singer Piaf]; 49d Tonto [The Lone Ranger's faithful friend] - the following definition proves I'm not one:
intellectual: someone who can listen to the 'William Tell Overture' without thinking of the Lone Ranger
43d belted [Sang loudly, with "out"]; 63a shod [Like show horses' feet]; 47a mete out justice [What judges do in court]. Hence 39d Tori [Actress Spelling] and 37d nanu [Half of Mork's goodbye] - OK, Magdalen told me this one just days ago and I'd already forgotten it. To see it is to believe it (and hopefully remember it):

47d mates [Spouses], so 56a tint [Color lightly] and 60a -ette [Suffix with kitchen]. 50d Jason [Bourne of "The Bourne Identity"] - we enjoyed The Bourne Ultimatum in the movie theater when it came out and then caught up on the earlier movies. 57a passé [So yesterday] - nice clue. Also fun to see 57d pal [Friend] and 58d ami [French friend] cuddling up to each other. 64a linen [Bedsheets, e.g.] - when single I managed with very little of this, but Magdalen can't seem to get enough of it. 44d pursue [Chase]; 61a amour [Parisian love]; 45d astern [To the rear, on a ship]; 53a arte [Commedia dell'___] - the theater tradition which gave birth to Harlequin. 46d -ite [Suffix with Israel or Manhattan].

Here is where I had to make some guesses. 2d charm [The third time's said to be one] seems to refer to an idiom "third time's a charm" that I've not encountered before. It may be peculiarly American, as in Britain you'd say "third time lucky". 3d Dixiecrat [Strom Thurmond follower of 1948] was also a reasoned guess, as I'm still very hazy on US history. Magdalen explained how the hypocrisy of the era was represented by Strom fathering an illegitimate child with a black maid. I wonder what he would have made of Barack Obama as pres.

I was lucky not to have to solve either 20a Ari [Agent Gold of HBO's "Entourage"], as I don't know the show; or 27a Casey ["Mighty" man who struck out] - Magdalen had heard of the poem Casey at the Bat without knowing too much about it.

40a tot [Toddler] completed the grid, giving me a couple of answers I wasn't too sure about: 29d EMT [Ambulance worker, for short] - emergency medical technician, a role not found by that name in the UK; 30d Reo [___ Speed Wagon (old vehicle)] - seemingly a popular vehicle with crossword compilers.

Solving time: about 15 minutes (unaided - I'm so proud of myself!)

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