Saturday, January 10, 2009

New York Times, Sat, Jan 10, 2009 Bob Klahn / Will Shortz

As I solved this puzzle, another winter storm was threatening and has swung into action as I write. The legendary threat of the Saturday New York Times puzzle proved less terrible than predicted: it kept me hooked late into Friday night, but I polished it off in a reasonable time.

Although the vocabulary was rather more abstruse than for earlier puzzles in the week, that doesn't bother me as much as US-specific cultural references: decades of solving The Listener Crossword filled my head with much obscure vocabulary, particularly short words with common letters that tend to fill puzzle grids. That's how I know the likes of petermen (archaic term for safe-crackers).
Solving time: 55 mins (no cheating)
Clue of the puzz: 20a boot trees [Foot-long stretchers]
9a sea-war [Main engagement?] was the way in for me - solvers of cryptics learn to think of the sea when "main" pops up in a clue; 12d wise up to [See through at last]; 14d reassure [Calm, say]; 29a più ["___ che penso" (Handel aria)] was guessed - the aria is from Xerxes:

16a umpire [Person at home] - I was very proud to recognize this as a baseball reference! 10d emit [Let off] and 11d apart [Cut off] - both clues capable of multiple interpretations; 18a miasma [Corrupting influence]; 13d Armenian [Member of the first state to adopt Christianity as its religion] - it all happened in 301 A.D. when Gregory the Illuminator converted King Tiridates III. 24a tuns [252-gallon measures] - a hogshead is 63 gallons and there are four hogsheads in a tun.

The top left yielded next, starting with 1a apostate [Deserter] and 5d tore [Flew]. 4d stegosaur [Literally, "roof lizard"] - named for the row of bony plates along its back; 19a adage [Oft-repeated words]. 1d appall [Scandalize, e.g.] was a concern as appal is the usual Brit spelling - the difference looks to be Noah Webster's doing; 25a lets be [Doesn't bother].

22a Leno [Dyslexic TV host with a college degree in speech therapy] shows evidence of the struggle to clue a commonplace answer in an original way; 3d octant [Piece of pie, often] - an eighth of a circle; 6d arm [Magazine article] - nice misleading clue; 15a pectoral [Kind of fin on a fish]; 17a petermen [Safecrackers, slangily] - deriving from peter as slang for a safe (nothing to do with saltpeter the gunpowder ingredient); 2d Pee Dee [River with an alphabetical-sounding name] - the Pee Dee River in the Carolinas.

Now I could storm through the middle with 26d blitz [Defeat quickly and overwhelmingly] - deriving from blitzkrieg ("lightning war"), Germany's all-too successful strategy at the start of World War II; 30a A-lines [Dress cuts] - beautiful double meaning again; 21d one set [Quick round of tennis]; 41d Ali Baba [Morgiana's storied master], whose story includes the magic words "Open Sesame!" 43a zeal [Fire].

52d nomad [Land rover]; 58a ambrosia [Food carried by doves] - we have this on the authority of the Odyssey. 63a Adam's ale [Water] - must have been a dull life for the first man; 59d bra [It's under a top] - it took a while to get to this, but it was worth the wait! 51a cling [Remain close]; 40a patria [Nero's homeland] - ie Latin for country. 28d aboil [Furious] allowed me to complete 32a B star [Rigel, for one] - a B star is extremely luminous and blue; 38d crag [Bit of a bluff].

33d stallions [Studs] meant it had to be 37a ecotone [Area between forest and prairie, e.g.] not ecozone, a tempting but wrong assumption. An ecotone is a region of transition between two biological communities. I had an advantage with 46d Persia [One side in the Battle of Marathon] because my cryptic clue for Marathon was considered prizeworthy by Azed of The Observer:
Licking for Persians is a prolonged exercise
cryptic clue to Marathon
53a lean [Cant]; 47d radial [Like sunbeams]; 48d on sale [Ready to move] - "move" in the sense of sell. I had to guess 45a All-Pro [Best in one's position] - an All-Pro team is made up of the players judged to be best at each position; 61a baronial [Style of envelope for greeting cards] - envelopes with a deep pointed flap; 56a birds [Kites, e.g.] - couldn't be simpler; 56d Brom [___ Bones of "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow"] - Ichabod Crane's rival.

I had two goes at 20a boot trees [Foot-long stretchers] as my first innocent thought was shoe trees; 8d el norte [The United States, to some prospective immigrants] - so I came from el este I guess; 9d Sumter [Early South Carolina senator Thomas] - Thomas Sumter after whom Fort Sumter was named. 27a tera- [Computer prefix meaning 2 to the 40th power] - Google processes an amazing 20,000 terabytes of data a day. 23a Horne [Cotton Club standout of the '30s] - another guess, Lena Horne is famous for Stormy Weather (the tune NPR's Marketplace seems to play a lot these days):

7d taebo [Regimen with "cardio bursts"] - an exercise system combining aerobics and kick-boxing; 23d heir [Scion]; 31d Nepali [Asian language with 14+ million speakers]; 34a Maguire ["The Good German" actor, 2006] - Tobey Maguire; 39a alert [Bushy-tailed?] presumably references "bright-eyed and bushy-tailed"; 36d generics [No-names] - those alternatives to brand-name drugs; 44d écarté [Game played with a piquet deck] - a game using just 32 cards (the two thru six are not used); 60a hack it [Manage].

55d coin [Eagle, e.g.] I guessed, as I'm not familiar with the $10 gold coin; 34d mahi-mahi [Brilliantly colored food fish that changes hues when removed from the water] - from the Hawaiian mahi meaning strong; 35d Alabaman [Hank Williams or Nat King Cole]; 42a Han [River to the Yangtze] could have been clued as the dynasty or ethnic group, but that would have been Too Easy; 50d tanka [Poem of 31 syllables in five lines]; 49a I bet! ["Ha!"]; 57a A minor [C relative] - the relative minor of C (major); 54a Maracaibo [Oil-rich South American basin] - the Maracaibo basin in Western Venezuela; 62a insane [Irreparably cracked] - anyone who writes a crossword blog is probably this.

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