Sunday, January 4, 2009

New York Times, Sun, Jan 04, 2009 WHEN IN ROME Daniel A. Finan / Will Shortz

After three days of struggling to get to grips with the New York Times crossword unaided, and faced with a jumbo-sized grid, I decided Sunday must be A Day Of Rest. My wife Magdalen joined me in solving today's puzzle from the outset and boy what a difference that made! The downside is that the many cultural references she Just Knows went straight over my head and I didn't learn much.

The Sunday jumbo puzzle seems to be the closest the New York Times crossword gets to my specialty, the Listener Crossword, though the theme looks to be limited to the way answers get entered. In thematic cryptics, the clues are almost always non-standard as well; plus there is often something extra to find in the grid; all these aspects reflecting the theme in some way.

Today's theme seemed to me perfectly implemented. The basic idea was straightforward enough, but it was delightful that all the common Roman numerals were featured exactly once and in ascending numerical order down the grid:
23a the I that got away [Many a fish story]
30a V o'clock shadow [Stubble]
47a The X Commandments [Last film directed by Cecil B. DeMille]
63a L Ways to Leave Your Lover [1976 #1 hit whose title follows the words "There must be ..."]
84a C Years of Solitude [Gabriel García Márquez best seller]
98a Indianapolis D [Event first won by a Marmon Wasp]
111a M Island dressing [Salad bar option]
It was also great that we already knew all of the thematic answers between us and got several of them without cross-checking from any down answers.

Solvers of the Listener Crossword become acquainted (but not too friendly) with more Roman numerals than these, since The Chambers Dictionary, the recommended reference for most thematic cryptics, also lists medieval Roman numerals and these are so handy for indicating single letters in cryptic clues. Thus a clue might use 50 to indicate an A; the complete list from Chambers is:
7 or 70 = S
11 = O
40 = F
50 or 500 = A
80 = R
90 = N
150 = Y
160 = T
200 = H
200 = Z
250 = E
250 = K
300 = B
400 = G
400 = P
500 = Q

Solving time: about 40 minutes (in collaboration with the wife throughout)

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