Thursday, January 8, 2009

New York Times, Thu, Jan 08, 2009 Joe DiPietro / Will Shortz

This puzzle was right on the edge of unsolvable for me. Magdalen did it independently in about half and hour and it was depressing to be truly stuck when she threw her pen down.

One problem was of my own making: I had a blind spot concerning the theme, which I wrongly assumed involved dropping -ing rather than changing the verb to the infinitive. This meant I was held up by 37a and 59a, which didn't conform to expectations.
Solving time: 65 mins (unaided, thank you very much)
Clue of the puzz: 6d fit [Working out just fine?]
The top right was my way in, as I got enough answers there to be sure of them collectively: the common 10d ado [Fuss]; 19a only [Just]; 13d slyer [More devious] - slier is a potential alternative spelling, in the UK at least; 16a dill [It's in a pickle] - nice double-meaning to the clue; 10a Amos [Book after Joel] - guessed - do I really have to know the order of the books? 11d mint family [Sage and thyme are in it] - guessed, but all three are herbs, so this seemed a reasonable answer.

Now over to the top middle with 15a iota [Jot] - take one; 7d Loa [Mauna ___] - Hawaiian peak, buddy of Mauna Kea. Then the top left with 1d fess [Come clean, with "up"]; 14a école [The Sorbonne, for one] - really? not a université or collège? 2d ache [Hurt]; 3d door [One can be shown to you]; 1a fades [Weakens]; 9d wasn't ["That ___ so bad"]; 6a flaw [Chink in the armor, say]; 8d at rest [Still].

21a end [Caboose, e.g.] might trouble lots of Brits, because we don't have cabooses - our equivalent is guard's van; however, Hub 1.0 is a steam train fanatic and I've been around him enough to pick up some of the lingo. 20a serial [Continued drama] - careful not to commit to this until series became impossible.

17a shoot stars [Supermodels?] was my first theme answer and I guessed right away that it was derived from shooting stars. This was the name of a bizarre spoof TV panel game in the UK, which it appears has no parallel in the USA.

6d fit [Working out just fine?] - ace clue, even though I didn't need to solve it. 4d Eloise [Nancy's aunt in Nancy Drew mysteries] - a guess, as we British kids didn't have Nancy Drew, only Enid Blyton. 24a stock stuffer [One who fattens up cattle?] now confirms the pattern of the theme answers. 5d set at [Go after] - in the sense of attack? 23a tie [Make one to one, perhaps]. Hence 12d Ollie [N.F.L. Hall-of-Famer Matson], Ollie Genoa Matson II who I was only ever going to get from cross-checking - do I really have to learn this stuff?

18d slowish [Not too quick] - I first thought this would be a musical tempo direction like andante (at a walking pace); 31a whit [Jot] - take two; 34a lion [Narnia's Aslan, e.g.]; 32a boa [Flapper accessory] - the dernier cri in the 1920s apparently; 27d fort [Kids' snow construction] - you couldn't make this out of snow in Britain - there's hardly enough for a snowman these days; 43a lie [Be prostrate]; 40d née [Once called]; 34d let's go! ["Come on!"].

52a oil [Monet work] couldn't be put in without looking ahead to crossing answers; 41a teeth [Bridge supports] - no bridge in this puzzle crosses anything; 29d I bet [Disbeliever's comment]; 33a ABA [Legal org.] - I now recognize the American Bar Association when I see it, but was still fooled by 35a dorms [Duke's quarters?] for a very long time; 46d psyche [The id is in it] - id, ego and superego form the psyche in Freud's model; 67a sex ed. [Much-debated school subject, for short] - sex education and evolution must battle it out in the controversy stakes.

54d Marx [Last name in comedy] - made my day, as je suis Marxiste, tendance Groucho. 64a throe [Spasm]; 55d aloe [Healing balm]; 53a layman [Congregation member]; 56d need [Exigency]; 50d easts [Bridge positions] - this bridge is the card game; 38d vein [Target for Dracula] - changed from my first thought, neck; 44a dis [Bad-mouth]; 45a fini [Monet's "Done!"] - nice touch to reference Monet again; 48d waxed [Like some floors and legs].

47a swing singles [45s from Count Basie and Benny Goodman?] and 59a slide scale [From gentle to steep for some playground equipment?] were my next thematic answers. The latter was a stumbling block for ages, as I assumed it would be a slid scale. 28d gas [See 45-Down] and 45d fill-up [Standard 28-Down purchase].

35d deVille [Coupe ___] - it would have been so helpful to get this long answer early, but I'm geographically disadvantaged when it comes to cars like this; 42a pave [Work on the street] - here I'm more in my element, as misleading definitions are very typical of cryptic clues; 26d kingpin [Cartel leader].

39d gang [The Jets, e.g.] - was the compiler hoping I'd think of team in view of 60d? Didn't work with me, as I'm more familiar with West Side Story than any sports team. 37a serve suggestion [Bit of advice from a tennis coach?] - lovely clue when I eventually worked it out. All these anwers came en passant: 22d DuBose ["Porgy" novelist ___ Heyward] - Porgy and Bess is based on DuBose Heyward's novel; 25d chou [Chinese dynasty lasting eight centuries] - gesundheit; 36d soil [Potter's purchase] - OIC, potter in the sense of "someone potting plants".

I'm lost when the answer is an old sitcom character such as 46a Pyle [Nabors role]. I can only hope that seeing YouTube clips will cement these facts into my brain.

30d bared it all [Stripped]; 28a gibe [Razz] - "razz", meaning to jeer at, is peculiar to North America. 51a hat [___ trick] - the term derives from cricket (yay!) in which a bowler dismissing three batsmen in successive balls (a rare feat) might be given a new hat (lucky dog). 57a exam [Final ___]; 65a idle [Run in place] - tough answer to get for me. 58d Moe [Curly whacker] - I know a Three Stooges reference when I see one now - here's a veritable whackfest:

62a relo [Move, in Realtor-speak], hence 47d Sheri [Sci-fi novelist ___ S. Tepper] an author new to me; 60d III [Only Super Bowl won by the Jets] - nice to see Jets echoed in the clue to 39d, seemingly a popular device with this compiler. 61d DDE [34th U.S. pres.] - Dwight D. Eisenhower - our outsize Obama button is proving very handy (I had Ike to start with, which unfortunately fitted with my wrong answer for 59a).

63a quid [Pounds, informally] - well done - cert Britspeak me old mucker (don't say quids if you want to pass off as a Brit). My final guesses were 49d Sisqó [R&B singer with the hit "Thong Song"] and 66a Opie [Pupil of Miss Crump, on TV]. The latter is another case for YouTube (the kid playing Opie sure looks familiar):

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