Monday, January 5, 2009

New York Times, Tue, Jan 06, 2009 John Greenman / Will Shortz

After getting the tip-off from Rex Parker's blog that registration had opened for the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, we rushed to book a hotel room and have had fun trying to work out the myriad event options and divisions. Magdalen and I are both rookies but our anticipation of a fun weekend comfortably exceeds our nervousness right now.

True to form, today's puzzle was a little harder than the Monday one, but I again got the solution without aid from reference books, the internet or my Egeria. The relative lack of US-specific references may have helped today - there seemed to be less than usual to discuss in the post-mortem with the wife.

Glancing down the clues, I lit on 6a Scala [Milan's La ___], as the opera house is well known to me, not least because of the beautiful set of performances on DVD that we received as a wedding gift. Scala is Italian for ladder, but I'm not sure what this has to do with opera. It crossed with 7d cars [Dodgem units], but this area looked a bit hard after that, so I hopped over to the top right. 11d onus [Burden of proof]; 12d rife [In widespread use]; 19a UFO [Eerie sighting, for short]; 16a nil [Zilch]; 13d blot [Bad mark on one's reputation] - if I had an escutcheon or a copy-book, I'm sure they'd be very stained by now; 11a orb [Sun or moon, to bards]; 22a onset [Initial stage].

More hopping around: 37a neat [Free of clutter]; 38d tee [___ time (course slot)]. Then 33a Annan [Former U.N. chief Kofi ___] - he's already back after Friday's visit. 34d Noah [Wordsmith Webster] - the lexicographer responsible for the divergence of spelling between Britain and the USA. 35d Napa [California wine valley]; 42a Papa [___ John's (Domino's competitor)] - Papa John's is the pizza place Hub 1.0 favors for take-out in Philly, as it's dead easy to place an order online. 39a loam [Clayey soil]; 33d alp [Bernese peak]; 26a dare [Have the nerve]; 10d assort [Place into cubbyholes] - my first thought on this was assign, but I'm smarter than to write such a guess in now.

30d venom [Black mamba's secretion]; 40a bonus [Paycheck extra] - I imagine it's an endangered species now; 26d disuse [Cause of atrophy]; 36a rest [Take five]; 27d acts [Takes steps]; 43a anos [Years, in the Yucatán] - it definitely looks like a grounding in Spanish will pay off with these puzzles - is there a list of crucigrama-ese one can learn I wonder? One of my early efforts as a compiler was called Six in One and featured "crossword" in six different languages; I think the list was:
crucigrama (Spanish)
cruciverba (Italian)
mots croisé (French)
Kreuzwort (German)
kruiswoord (Dutch)
crossword (you know what)
5d Caspian [Sea fed by the Volga]; 4d I'll ["___ bite"]; 2d plane [Make smooth]; 1a optic [Fiber-___ cable]; 1d Oates [Hall's partner in pop] - thankfully I'd heard of Hall and Oates as I wasn't 100% sure how to spell 14a -a-lula ["Be-Bop-___" (Gene Vincent hit)]; 20a ens. [PT boat crewman: Abbr.] - ie ensign. I had to guess at 3d Tulsa [Arkansas River city].

The first long entry I got was 17a tall stories [They're hard to believe]. Then 18d terr. [The U.S. Virgin Is., e.g.] - short for territory; 24a sea air [Beach atmosphere] - once thought highly beneficial; 21a pets [Adoptees from shelters] - our dog Mimi came from the Montrose, PA branch of the PSPCA and we reckon they do a great job. This picture was taken just outside the shelter when we were giving Mimi a test-drive.

15a pales [Is visibly frightened] was important for getting three answers I was very uncertain of: 6d Spot [Dick and Jane's dog] - these peeps may not have made it to Britain, certainly not in my childhood; 8d Ali [Boxer Laila] - Leila Ali the professional boxing daughter of Muhammad Ali. 9d Lee [Ann of the Shakers] - I wasn't sure if the "Shakers" referred to the religious denomination or a pop group, but it would have been a guess anyway (Magdalen eventually set me right).

25d adamants [Unbreakable stones of legend]; 48a tier [Top-___ (best)]; 40d base [Barracks locale]; 46d dismay [Consternation]; 53a press [Garlic-crushing tool]. 55d euro [Its symbol looks like an equal sign through a C] - Britain came close to joining the Eurozone when it started, but opted out - a decision that may cost it in the long term, but can be reviewed from time to time. If it ever does adopt the Euro, there will be hearty opposition as for decimalization of the coinage and "going metric".

67a pro [Old hand]; 54d roar [Have a hearty laugh]; 53d plop [Alka-Seltzer-into-water sound] - nice imaginative clue; 64a oar [Galley need]; 59a Lou [CNN's Dobbs] - this guy will be glad to know that I have a green card. 61d Ave. [N.Y.C.'s Park or Madison]; 68a yenta [Gossipy sort]; 62d tin [Pewter component].

By this time, I'd seen the first three long answers yielded "tall, dark and handsome" and hence had 60a matinee idol [Figure described by the first words of 17-, 28- and 45-Across] soonish. 65a avian [Bird-related]; 56d Fiat [Autostrada auto]; 47d sale [Bargain hunter's event]; 44d fullest [Most jam-packed]; 45a handsome sum [Big pile of cash]. Being sure of 56a fell [Tumbled] gave me 57d Enna [Sicilian city], which I wasn't at all sure of.

41a Lake [Word before Charles or George]; 23d neon lamp [Source of orange-red light], corrected from neon sign; 44a false [Not loyal]; 28a Dark Victory [1939 Bette Davis drama]. 29d Kronor [Swedish currency] - yes, Sweden also stayed out of the Eurozone, though it is in an EU member. 31d real [Flesh-and-blood]; 32d yaks [Chews the fat]; 49a alphas [Series beginners]; 52d Seles [Monica with nine Grand Slam tournament wins] - Monica Seles became a US citizen in 1994; 51d above [Partner of beyond]; 50d had on [Sported]. 58a Abe. [Bearded pres.] - c'mon, even I know that one -he's on all the fives! 66a stove [Potbelly ___]; 69a tones [Vocal qualities]; 63d I to ["Who am ___ say?"].

Solving time: about 25 minutes (unaided - yippee!)


xwd_fiend said...

Hi Ross. I'll be reading from time to time to check your progress with NYT puzzles. I've had sporadic goes (in books or the Herald Trib), and suspect the hardest part will be stepping up from Thursday/Sunday to the Fri/Sat puzzles - I think I managed sub-40 for one Friday puzzle.

Explanation for La Scala: It was apparently built on the site of a church called "Santa Maria della Scala". There are various churches of this name in Italy, and the 'della Scala' part doesn't relate to a particular St Mary, but a location close to a set of steps, which is also a 'scala'. As far as I can tell from Google maps, there's now no trace of the steps in question.

Good luck at the ACPT.

Crossword Man said...

So far, the Friday and Saturday puzzles haven't been too bad for me - if the difficulty is just due to obscure vocabulary, then that tends to be in my favor (given my background). What's tough at this stage is the US-specific cultural knowledge, which seems to impact the midweek puzzles the most. That's only my impression after less than two weeks, so it may just be a fluke of the compilers concerned.
Thanks for the explanation of La Scala - makes sense that scala has the same multiple meanings as in English.