Tuesday, January 6, 2009

New York Times, Wed, Jan 07, 2009 William Frank Macreery / Will Shortz

Wow! I've rarely been as pleased to complete a puzzle than this one. The puzzle was so replete with cultural references that I was sure I'd get irretrievably stuck and plead for hints from Magdalen. But somehow I worked it through.

One of my biggest worries was the long thematic across entries, but the difficulties fell away once I'd seen the pattern. In fact that's a bit of a concern with the puzzle, since the theme clues never needed to be solved - how many solvers would find them either necessary or useful?

17a Abel [Genesis victim] was the way in for me, then 2d libido [Sexual instinct]. I made short work of the top left: 24a add [Write, as a P.S.]; 3d amends [Compensation for loss]; 14a rime [White coat] - nicely misleading; 1d Graham [Made of whole-wheat flour] - not too difficult as the wife has introduced me to Graham crackers; 1a glad [Garden bloom, informally] - short for gladiolus; 4d delt [Shoulder muscle, briefly] or deltoid in long; 20a hints [Stumped solver's desire] - not needed yet.

Unable to extend from those answers, I hopped over to 26d I win ["Heads ___, tails ..."] - presumably referring to the idiom "heads I win, tails you lose"?; 27d nits [Things to pick] - I'm happy to say I've never encountered real ones, only figurative ones; 10d ado [Hoo-ha]; 16a Dan'l [Pioneer Boone, familiarly] - did he really wear a squirrel on his head? 35a Enid [Geraint's lady] - met this one before in a thematic cryptic and very grateful for it. 19d Nero ["Quo Vadis" role] - Peter Ustinov splendid in the role, lachrymatory at the ready.

Enountering an impentrable thicket in that area led me to the bottom right and the chance of progress with 48d Rivera [Muralist Diego]; 57a drive [Do a soccer mom's chore] - I know them by repute, but I'm not sure I've met one - do they even exist in Susquehanna County? 40d rewed [Exchange new vows] - Magdalen and I did this recently enough, getting married in England about a year after our first ceremony in Lexington, MA; 52a -ese [Language suffix] - as in crossword-ese ... a fine example being 38d erne [Fish-eating raptor]. 39d ores [Assayers' samples]; 35d eggy [Like a flan]; 42a irreg. [Clearance rack abbr.] - alternative to irr. which we had on Saturday. 53a lie [Rough position?] was a nicely misleading golf reference. 49d keener [More astute].

63a oven [Place to use Easy-Off] would have been hard for me, as it's not a UK brand. But the words have been staring me in the face every time I look at the stove-top, so I can't claim ignorance. 66a mire [Boggy stuff]; 58d romp [49-0 game, e.g.] - anyone else think of rout first? 47d Olivia ["Twelfth Night" countess] - not familiar enough with the play to get it without a lot of crossing answers. 69a Paar [Host who said "I kid you not"] - Jack Paar, predecessor of another guy seemingly in with crossword compilers, Jay Leno.

64a étés [Summers on the Seine] - conveying that idyllic French vacation. 41d parapet [Protective wall]; 54a ace [It has two values in blackjack] - guessed, as I am more into contract bridge; 43a alt- [___-rock (music genre)] - the popular musicians I like seem to get put into this category - I guess I'm an alt- kind of person. 67a Teds [Turner and Williams]; 36d allocate [Set aside]; 60d iss. [Magazine output: Abbr.].

36a Athens, Georgia [Where rock's R.E.M. was formed] - guessed, but I could by now see the pattern was European capital + US state. 37d tattered [In shreds]; 50a rot [Raise a stink?]; 41a plan [Think ahead]; 21d stole [Fancy wrap]; 25a tin [Component of bronze] - also pewter, as we discovered yesterday. I was now also confident of 30a Moscow, Idaho [Hometown to college football's Vandals].

45d one-man [Words before band or army]; 59a Paris, Maine [Birthplace of Vice President Hannibal Hamlin] - I was hoping this answer would be one of my favorite movies Paris, Texas, but it was not to be. 61d Ned [Homer's neighbor] - okily-dokily; 62d ess [Start of summer?], the first letter spelt out? 68a needs [Food and water, for two]; 65a acres [Back 40 units] - luckily Magdalen had already told me that a "back 40" wasn't a hair style; 56d tire [Pit stop change] - tyre to us; 55a vent [Blow off some hot air]; 44d revs [Tach figure, informally]; 46d menace [Growl at, say]; 51a ENE [St. Louis-to-Indianapolis dir.] - guessed, but the map confirms it - I-70's the way to go.

44a Rome, New York [Paul Revere founded a brass and copper works here] - I found out a lot about him in Lexington (and Duck Soup) - can't say I'm a fan. 32d dogie [Herd orphan] is in Chambers Dictionary, the bible for British cryptics, but doesn't come readily to my lips - now I see it's marked as a US usage. 28a Nor. [Scand. land] - nothing else seemed to fit.

After a lot of experimentation, I finally filled the top right with: 13d sloshed [Pie-eyed]; 33a -ile [Project conclusion?]; 10a à bas ["Down with," at the Bastille] - good thing I didn't rely on BabelFish as it suggests vers le bas avec; 12d Animalia [Lion's kingdom] - I first thought this referred to The Lion King, but I now realise it's the taxonomic kingdom in biology, the other big one being Vegetabilia - they really trip off the tongue don't they? 29a aah! [Sound from a masseur's client]; 11d Bahraini [Native of one of the Gulf States]; 23a rms. [Apt. ad abbr.]; 9d Shiloh [1862 battle site] - how I dredged up that Civil War battle, I don't know.

Here I got stuck for a long time, experimenting with London (why not?) and Berlin for the last capital before finally settling for 18a Dublin, Ohio [Host city of golf's Memorial Tournament]. 22a SALE [Headline in a circular] - it's liable to be all caps; 5d dud [Turkey]; 15a Uriah [Husband of Bathsheba] - not David, as he was the coveter; 7d fibs [Bits of baloney]; 5a doffs [Removes, in a way]; 6d ORU [Tulsa sch.] - Magdalen said "that can't be right" but it seems there is an Oral Roberts University. 8d Falana [Lola of "Golden Boy"] - dancer and actress.

This just left one square blank and I plumped for 31d Cahn ["High Hopes" lyricist] and 34a Alito [O'Connor's successor on the Supreme Court]. Magdalen gave me the nod on these, saying the replacement of one of the two women on the Supreme Court with a man was deplorable given the ratio of men to women in Law School is close to 50:50.

Solving time: about 50 minutes (just me again - I'm on a roll!)

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