Thursday, January 1, 2009

New York Times, Thu, Jan 01, 2009 Alan Arbesfeld / Will Shortz

Happy New Year! My new year's resolution is to avoid re-solutions: I Must Be Sure Of Every Answer Before I Write It In.

We had a very cold start to the year MMIX here with an overnight low of 6°F (-14°C for British readers). Our dog Mimi was very glad of her barn coat when we took our morning run around. After trudging through a sea of white outside it was nice to get into the warm; but the sea of white that faced me in today's New York Times puzzle sure played hard to get.

It started badly with only five answers entered after 10 minutes, three of which turned out to be wrong: I had confidently put in hotel at 29d (the quotes round "Fawlty Towers" should have made me suspicious of this), postpone at 39d and shock at 26d (though I should have realized this didn't fit in with the née I posited for 42a).

However, I was reasonably confident of 3d ozone [O3], being a Master of Arts (sic) in Chemistry (the 3 should really be subscript and I wonder whether it is in the dead tree edition); and 12d Ann [Novelist Packer or Patchett] since I enjoyed Ann Patchett's opera-themed novel Bel Canto when dating my wife Magdalen (the American novelist Ann Packer is new to me).

Given this lousy start, I hit a rut for a bit, but after 15 minutes or so started making solid progress. 26d a daze [Stunned, after "in"] seemed better once I had 24a -ita [Señor chaser?]. The frequent use of prefixes and suffixes, and the idioms used to indicate them, takes some getting used to - they are very rare as answers in British cryptic crosswords. 42a née [Formerly named] could now be entered with more confidence and I soon got 25d trite [Shopworn] having seen that the figurative meaning was intended - nicely misleading clue.

After a number of guesses seemed to hold water, I made a concerted push to conquer the top left hand corner. 2d ran up [Accumulated] - incurred increasily, as you would a bill. 22a open to [Not rejecting out of hand], 5d so soon? ["Already?"], 4d tenant [One paying for staying] seemed plain enough now. 1d thoro' [Complete, for short] was a little concerning - is that shortening actually used much?

But since it filled 14a haze [Sight blocker] and 1a trot [Brisk pace] en passant I was reasonably happy. I don't really think of a trot as a fast pace, but I suppose it's brisk enough for a horse in no particular hurry. I gather that horses normally have four gears: (in increasing order of speed) walk, trot, canter and gallop; but they can have extra ones retrofitted (for much much more on this, see the Wikipedia article on the subj.).

I continued to make headway in the top center, albeit with some guesses. 18d Erté [Art Deco designer] was dredged up from somewhere: it's the pseudonym of Romain de Tirtoff (sounds like R.T. when the French say it). 17a on one's own [Independent] and 15a Olay [Oil of ____] allowed me to guess at 7d Hawn [Best Supporting Actress for "Cactus Flower," 1969] and 8d Lynda [Carter who played Wonder Woman].

5a Sahl [Satirist who wrote jokes for J.F.K.] and 6d Alou [Diamond family name] were blind guesses, I'll be honest. After I'd finished the puzzle, Magdalen warned me of the three things diamonds can be: the gemstone, some reference to baseball, nuts. I'll try to remember. There was a trap for the unwary emigrant at 27a, which I first entered as ten to (the British usage).

8d unlocked more answers in the center: 23a awe [Leave open-mouthed]; 21d sweat [Worry about, in slang] - as in "don't sweat it"; 30a engird [Surround], which I originally had as engard - what was I thinking?; 31d gag [Squirting flower or dribble glass]. Finally I can correct 27a ten of [Close to the hour] and 29d farce [TV's "Fawlty Tower," for one].

I have fond memories of Fawlty Towers which was first broadcast in my late teens. It was a big hit at the time, but the writers (John Cleese and Connie Booth) stopped after two series, explaining they wanted to "quit while they were ahead". I think they were right to do that, as the twelve episodes they made are comedic gems. Of cruciverbal interest is the various rearranagements of letters from the hotel name during the opening sequence of the last five episodes:
Watery Fowls
Flay Otters
Fatty Owls
Flowery Twats
Farty Towels
Now came 35a macadamia [Some kind of a nut] - nuts beloved of Homer Simpson ("Mmm ... Macadamia nuts"); 28d Oman [Gulf of ____]; 36a C D E F [Certain scale start] - how the C major scale goes, the first thing you learn on the piano; 44a e-file [Take care of one's taxes sans paper] - a quaint turn of phrase. After suspecting the jazz saxophonist Stan Getz was behind the middle thematic answer, I now get the whole thing as 37a plays hard to Getz [Goes all out at an audition for a sax great?] - are Zs being added to the endz?

All at once I had lots more answers: 41a all at once [Suddenly]; 32d spasm [Tic]; 48a MRI [Inside look, for short?]; 33d iller [More wonderful, to a hip-hopper] - new to me, but plausible; 32a sib [Bro, say]; 43a setter [Irish ______]. I'm reminded of another cultural difference here, as "setter" is the fancy term for a crossword compiler in Britain:
Cruciverbalists are of course in two categories: those who make up the crosswords and those who solve them. The latter are clearly 'solvers', but what about the former? The word 'compiler' has been much used, but suggests that puzzle construction only involves collecting the material together and underplays the aspect of creativity. What about 'Composer'? This is quite good, but would be viewed by some as too grandiose. Many crossword contributors like to be called 'setters', since anyone making up a crossword is 'setting' a puzzle for the solver. 'Setter' therefore seems the ideal word.
From the
Chambers Crossword Manual by Don Manley
And I suppose a solver would now be a 'settee' on this basis (they often feel sat on by the compiler!)?

More progress in the bottom left hand corner: 34d Baltic Sea [Part of Poland's border]; 59a resew [Mend, as a torn seam]; the corrected 39d step away [Leave for a bit]; 62a arena [It often has a ring in the middle]; 59d rah [Bit of cheer?]; 60d ere [___ the bat hath flown / His cloister'd flight ...": Macbeth] - don't remember the passage, but seems reasonable; 65a heady [Intoxicating]; 49a pap [Drivel]. 50d pshaw ["Nonsense!"]; 55a classified adz [Top-secret carpentry tool?] is my second thematic answer (the British spelling is adze - so economical these Americans!).

Breaking into the bottom right hand corner took ages, and eventually involved several guesses that seemed to gel together: 45d I did it! ["Hurray for me!"]; 52d Ezras [Pound and Stone] - I figured this couldn't be to do with weights because of the capital S on Stone, but since I'd only heard of the poetic Ezra, and not the thespian Ezra, I had my doubts for a while; 46d Loew [Co-founder of MGM] - rang a vague bell, but not certain of it; 52d nates [Rear end, anatomically] - encountered a lot in British puzzles too; 53d ident. [Birth cert., e.g.]; 47d end all [Ultimate goal] - as in "be all and end all"? 61a hold water [Add up] - in the sense of "seem reasonable or consistent", nicely misleading; 57d iota [Smidgen]; 63a à toi [Yours, overseas] - ie French; 66a wart [Dermatologist's concern]; 67a LSTs [D-Day vessels: Abbr.] - Landing Ship, Tanks.

A lot of answers here were guesses, later confirmed as correct: 64a Lena [Yakutsk's river] - in Siberia; 51a Donnie ["______ Brasco" (1997 Pacino/Depp film)] - Donnie Brasco was the alias of the FBI agent Joseph D. Pitstone; 58d Flor ["Dona ___ and Her Two Husbands] - a 1976 movie comedy; 40d horas [Rings at Jewish weddings?] - the hora is the Romanian/Israeli dance in which the performers make a ring (and my wife tells me horas was an answer just days ago ... Must Try To Remember It).

Which just left the top right hand corner. I opened the toy cupboard for inspiration and found on my tuberous friend a 10d nose [Mr. Potato Head piece]. Then I had 9d innuendo [Dirty campaign technique] - all too prevalent these days; and 9a in bad [Hardly getting along] - I suspect a more common usage in America than Britain. I was slow to get 20a run around Suez [Do a marathon in Egypt?] as I don't know the song Run Around Sue (but Magdalen did of course).

13d Dec. [Read a New Book Mo.] now seemed the right selection from the 11 months that need abbreviating (though December wouldn't have been my first choice as I imagine sales then are already great). My ignorance of music popular also held me up in the crossing 19a 'N Sync [Justin Timberlake's former band] and 11d Boyz II Men [Band whose 1994 song "I'll Make Love to You" was #1 for 14 weeks]. I'm so not used to seeing Roman numerals in answers - for a long time I thought the band must be Boyzii Men!

This just left George Washington's opponent. It seemed to be Noone, whom I'd not heard of, but I kind of expect that. I guess I should have realized it was 16a no one [Who opposed George Washington for president in 1792] as Washington seems to have been a pretty popular guy in the USA (though not in Britain) at the time.

Solving time: 60 minutes (nothing looked up during solving, but lots of guesswork).

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