Saturday, February 28, 2009

NYT Sunday 3/1/09 - Huddled Masses

New York HarborOur first full day of the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament started with breakfast at a local cafe and a walk to New York Harbor. On a beautifully clear crisp day, I caught my first distant sight of The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island - a reminder of what former generations of immigrants would have experienced before they even entered the country. Today's immigration process is a lot more civilized, even though the complicated rules and paperwork are oppressive in their way.

The Huddled MassesLater in the morning, we joined the huddled masses of competitors yearning to solve crossword puzzles. The tournament is held in the huge ballroom of the Marriott Hotel at the Brooklyn Bridge - a room in which 700-odd solvers can be accommodated, all under the watchful eye of director Will Shortz. I will write in more detail about my experiences of the competition itself in a later post.

We enjoyed the entertainments arranged for the evening, especially Stan Newman's trivia, although I don't think I guessed a single answer correctly. When we settled down to do the Sunday New York Times puzzle, it was getting late and our tiredness is evident in a rather slow solving time.
Solving time: 50 mins (no cheating)
Clue of the puzz: 76a retread [Unoriginal work]

Good and Bad: "good" phrases with the opposite ("bad") meaning when you remove the first letter:
23a wreckless driving [Good and bad for a motorist]
37a closing a sale [Good and bad for a marketer]
52a shaving a beard [Good and bad for a West Point cadet]
78a trusty machete [Good and bad for a jungle guide]
90a black of night [Good and bad for a vampire]
108a covert operations [Good and bad for a spy]

Robert W. Harris
Grid art by Sympathy

CompilersRobert W. Harris / Will Shortz
Grid21x21 with 67 (15.2%) black squares
Answers140 (average length 5.34)
Theme squares82 (21.9%)
Scrabble points569 (average 1.52)
New To Me

Boss Tweed15a Nast [Cartoonist who took on Boss Tweed]. Huh? Luckily Magdalen knew of Thomas Nast and his campaign against the Tammany Hall leader.

65a clam [Buck]. Another one for Magdalen to explain: clam as slang for a dollar probably derives from the use of clamshells as currency in various parts of the world.

32d Winona [Minnesota county or its seat]. It's fun to see a first name I know from the actress in this new context ... and then discover that the actress was actually named after the county seat.

Keith Haring56d Keith [Painter Haring]. An artist inspired by graffiti and other street culture.


59a nous [Us outside the U.S.]. "Us" in French. One wonders why the clue couldn't be the more enigmatic "US outside the US?": would the misleading capitalization of the first US be considered unfair; are the periods required for reasons of style?

76a retread [Unoriginal work]. It's neater to clue the answer using this figurative meaning.

Mahler's 8th13d Veni ["___ Creator Spiritus" (Latin hymn)]. This will be known to any Mahler fan as the words set in the first movement of his Symphony of a Thousand.

Spartacus49d Olivier [Douglas's "Spartacus" co-star]. A memorable Stanley Kubrick movie. Seeing the film title makes me break into an "I'm Spartacus" routine (you're lucky to be spared that).

88a eds. [MS. readers]. Editors read manuscripts - I got a lot of them when I was editor of the Listener Crossword, so I can attest to that!

The Rest

1a hustle [1970s dance craze]; 7a coax [Sweet-talk]; 11a RSVP [Call letters?]; 19a entail [Involve]; 20a Anne [Predecessor of George I]; 21a épée [Napoleonic army weapon]; 22a ERAs [Bullpen stats]; 26a acme [Meridian]; 27a eerie [Evoking goose bumps, say]; 28a lies [Some excuses]; 29a deli [Place with "Now Serving" numbers]; 30a kraut [Hot dog add-on]; 31a DEET [Insect repellent]; 32a want [Any entry on a Dear Santa list]; 33a sill [Part of a frame]; 34a A-lines [Some skirts]; 35a lolling [Relaxation]; 39a yon [Directional word]; 40a loom [Arachne had one]; 41a North [Civil War side]; 42a ass [Dumbhead]; 45a coating [Quarter-inch of snow, e.g.]; 48a agues [Feverish conditions]; 49a OCS [Where lieutenants are trained: Abbr.]; 55a necklet [Stole, for example]; 57a taxi [Cry before screeching brakes, maybe]; 58a arte [105-Down output]; 61a sheila [Aussie lass]; 62a a tip ["Take ___ from me"]; 63a Aare [River through Interlaken]; 67a Ives ["Three Places in New England" composer]; 68a insert [Tab, at times]; 71a Saab [Car with a griffin in its logo]; 73a atop [On]; 75a Tish [Gomez's sweetie]; 76a retread [Unoriginal work]; 81a ERs [Hosp. features]; 82a biome [Major ecological community]; 84a the rage [What's hot]; 85a red [Mao, e.g.]; 86a sulfa [Kind of drug that inhibits bacteria]; 87a écus [Bygone French coins]; 94a wiretap [Criminal's worry]; 98a rather [Preferably]; 99a edgy [All nerves]; 100a jags [Sprees]; 101a Arab [___ League]; 103a outed [No longer in the closet]; 104a rule ["No shirt, no shoes, no service," e.g.]; 105a gato [Chihuahua cat]; 106a steno [Note taker]; 107a trim [Crop]; 111a here ["Take this!"]; 112a user [Not a teetotaler]; 113a oyer [Legal hearing]; 114a aisles [Theater features]; 115a sled [Runner's place]; 116a bars [Places where free spirits aren't found?]; 117a Mass [Boston's ___ Ave.]; 118a artery [Boulevard, e.g.].

1d hewed [Cut down]; 2d unreel [Remove from a spindle]; 3d stereo [Sound choice?]; 4d tacitly [Without words]; 5d like [Go for]; 6d ell [Third of July?]; 7d casing [Sausage part]; 8d onset [Beginning]; 9d ANDs [Some operators in Boolean logic]; 10d Xer [Today's thirtysomething, for short]; 11d revels [Parties]; 12d spilling [Cause of a stain, perhaps]; 14d peg [Mastermind game piece]; 15d nearish [Relatively close]; 16d arcana [Deep mysteries]; 17d Samuel [Justice Alito]; 18d tsetse [Menace along the Congo]; 24d élan [Verve]; 25d idiom [Local language, say]; 30d klatsch [Book club gathering, e.g.]; 33d slogan [Campaign staple]; 34d agrees [Corresponds]; 36d loci [Places]; 37d cone [Test track obstacle]; 38d noun [You name it]; 40d liberate [Free]; 42d Astaire ["Royal Wedding" star, 1951]; 43d Shatner [2005 Emmy winner for "Boston Legal"]; 44d saxists [Certain jazz musicians]; 46d Agra [Train stop between Delhi and Mumbai]; 47d tatas [Byes]; 48d adulates [Worships]; 50d Celeste [Frozen pizza brand]; 51d stashed [In a cache]; 53d Viper [Dodge sports car]; 54d roc [Legendary bird]; 60d satyr [Chorus member in an ancient Greek play]; 64d ear [It may be cocked]; 66d MoMA [Home of "Christina's World," for short]; 69d rebuked [Took to task]; 70d tailor [Measuring tape user]; 72d butchy [Exaggeratedly masculine]; 74d pagers [Motorola products]; 77d doff [Remove]; 79d shut [Sealed]; 80d cede [Yield]; 83d maneuver [End run, e.g.]; 86d schemed [Machinated]; 87d egger [Ham and ___ (average Joe)]; 89d statist [One favoring a strong, centralized government]; 90d broths [Soup starters]; 91d Laurel [Mountain ___]; 92d attire [Getup]; 93d idlers [Layabouts]; 94d waters [Sprinkles, maybe]; 95d Igor ["M*A*S*H" private Straminsky]; 96d areole [Ring of color]; 97d panner [Forty-niner, e.g.]; 100d japes [Makes sport of]; 102d bossy [Domineering]; 104d Rosa [Santa ___, Calif.]; 105d Goya [Painter of "The Naked Maja"]; 106d stir [Ruckus]; 108d cub [Kind of reporter]; 109d Tom [Singer Waits]; 110d AAA [It's below the majors].

Friday, February 27, 2009

NYT Saturday 2/28/09 - Tales from the Cryptics

crossword bloggersThis puzzle appeared on the evening of our arrival at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. We'd enjoyed the entertainment laid on, particularly the panel discussion on blogging, by five people who've been writing about crosswords for much longer than I have. From left to right in the picture: Rex Parker, Amy Reynaldo, Ryan Hecht and Brian Cimmet, Jim Horne.

Ryan and Brian are unique in also podcasting about crosswords and were to be seen doing interviews on and off throughout the weekend.

I also felt right at home solving a cryptic crossword as part of the informal games: we got to do one by masters of the US cryptic, Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon. I thought their cryptic crossword was my best hope of being highly ranked in any competition over the weekend, but the versatile Jon Delfin opted for the same combination I did of four 4x4 Ken-Kens plus the cryptic and secured the prize.

Cryptic CrosswordsIt was sad not to see Cox and Rathvon on the list of attendees, as I am a great fan of their Random House Guide to Cryptic Crosswords and would love to meet them.

So it was late when Magdalen and I got back to our hotel room and took a gander at the newly published New York Times puzzle. As Saturday puzzles usually take me more than an hour, we decided this was a good time for a collaborative effort ... and proved what a good team we make by polishing the thing off in well under half an hour.
Solving time: 22 mins (no cheating, solved with Magdalen)
Clue of the puzz: 17a garbage bag [Place for a tie]

Grid art by Sympathy

CompilersFrank Longo / Will Shortz
Grid15x15 with 32 (14.2%) black squares
Answers66 (average length 5.85)
Theme squares0 (0.0%)
Scrabble points292 (average 1.51)
New To Me

1a Ebert [Hindenburg's predecessor as German president]. Just when I've learned Roger the film critic, the sneaky compiler chooses Friedrich, the president of the Weimar Republic.

16a Ripa [Gifford's talk-show replacement]. Another close call (I've encountered her co-host Regis Philbin because of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire). Here's their famous Hallowe'en edition:

42a essa [She, to Schiaparelli]. How come this isn't already in Español para los crucigramistas? Because it's Italian, not Spanish (the reference is presumably to the Italian fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli). Further proof that Italian words aren't always clued with reference to opera.

61a Erma [Title aunt in a 1979 best seller]. My introduction to Erma Bombeck, writer of the "At Wit's End" column and author of the self-help book, Aunt Erma's Cope Book.

4d Rob Lowe [2001 Emmy nominee for "The West Wing"]. Still haven't got around to watching - sorry Bill. This Sam Seaborn clip will have to do for now:

ten31d ten [Phil Rizzuto, on the Yankees]. This isn't quite as obscure as I first thought: Phil Rizzuto's number is significant because it was "retired" from use by other players - Magdalen tells me you have to be a really good player for that to happen.

40d Seekers [Group with the 1967 #2 hit "Georgy Girl," with "the"]. The title song of a movie that I must have heard such a young age, it's hard to shake from my brain:

Zesta50d Zesta [Ritz rival]. Ritz is a big in the UK, but not Keebler - if you asked for saltine crackers in the UK, you'd get very puzzled looks.


Ecce Homo21a ecce [Biblical trial word]. As in ecce homo ("behold the man"), how Pontius Pilate introduced Jesus to the mob at his trial, according to St John's Gospel - an event commonly portrayed in art.

Nicholas Nickleby23a Rees [Roger of "Cheers"]. Supposedly that's his best-known role, but I can picture him better as an outstanding Nicholas Nickleby in the RSC stage adaptation.

25a tailor [One doing fitting work]. A neat piece of deception, although it didn't hold us up long for once.

38a Alec Guinness [Oscar winner for "The Bridge on the River Kwai"]. A bit of a gimme, as this is one of my favorite David Lean movies.

47a Elizabeth I [First holder of the title Supreme Governor of the Church of England]. The critical word is "Governor" - Henry VIII's use of Supreme Head was not tenable when protestantism was re-established by his daughter.

59a trike [Toy with tassels]. Ok, I can accept that tricycles sometimes have tassels - but does anyone know why?

60a Epps [Dr. Foreman's portrayer on "House"]. Know him well, because we're regular House viewers. I feel a strange connection with Hugh Laurie, as we were born within months of each other and both grew up in Oxford, England:

6d scena [Elaborate solo vocal composition]. According to my dictionary of music, a scena can either be an elaborate concert aria, not part of a larger work; or a solo operatic movement that's less formal than an aria ... such as Abscheulicher! from Beethoven's Fidelio:

34d alley-oop [Court crowd-pleaser]. And staying with Beethoven, here's Semi-Pro's version of how the maneuver came about:

The Rest

6a shad [Cousin of an alewife]; 10a TASS [Longtime name in news-gathering]; 14a donor [Drive participant]; 15a capi [Heads of Italy]; 17a garbage bag [Place for a tie]; 19a Ural [Magnitogorsk's river]; 20a Italian ice [Summer cooler]; 22a negotiates [Manages to get through]; 24a grew [Multiplied]; 27a electric blue [Hue similar to cyan]; 33a gal [Miss at a rodeo]; 36a on leave [Off for a stretch]; 37a STP [Brand of octane booster]; 41a slalom [Water-skiing variety]; 46a repo [Credit report tarnisher, briefly]; 53a ayes [Calls for passage]; 54a rule-makers [Governing group]; 55a node [Origination point]; 56a axis of evil [Epithet coined for the 2002 State of the Union address]; 57a gout [Toe trouble]; 58a tout [Recommend highly]; 62a a seed [Plant ___].

1d edging [The rough vis-à-vis a green]; 2d boater [Summer headgear]; 3d enrage [Bring to the boiling point]; 5d trait [Quality]; 7d habit [It might be kicked after being picked up]; 8d apace [With celerity]; 9d digestive [Like some tracts]; 10d true rib [Sternum attachment]; 11d air-cells [Alveoli, e.g.]; 12d space out [Enter la-la land]; 13d sales rep [Spiel preparer]; 18d gai [Cheerful, in Châlons]; 26d aces [Sports winners]; 28d logo [Stationery topper]; 29d enumerate [Count]; 30d CLI [Second-century year]; 32d ran [Headed up]; 33d gas range [Burner locale]; 35d leaped up [Executed part of a 34-Down]; 39d closets [Shuts up]; 43d Stevie [English poet Smith]; 44d shrike [Butcherbird or woodchat]; 45d aisled [Like supermarkets]; 48d Luxor [Locale of Theban ruins]; 49d ilium [Part of the body next to the sacrum]; 51d Amo [Catullus's "Odi et ___"]; 52d BAFTA [U.K. equivalent to an Oscar].

Thursday, February 26, 2009

NYT Friday 2/27/09 - Crossword Stars and Brooklyn Bars

This was a great Friday puzzle, with just about the right level of difficulty for me: it looked impossible to start with, but the clues offered just enough handholds to climb what was a Bear of a Mountain. The sheer number of really great clues made it hard to pick just one out as a "clue of the puzz".

I'm off to the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament in Brooklyn very shortly and looking forward to a great weekend meeting the stars of the cruciverse (US style) and maybe solving a few puzzles in the remaining time. This means less opportunities for blogging, so I may leave the UNDER CONSTRUCTION posts up for longer than usual in the next few days.
Solving time: 50 mins (no cheating)
Clue of the puzz: 27d bored [Yet to be engaged?]

Joe DiPietro
Grid art by Sympathy

CompilersJoe DiPietro / Will Shortz
Grid15x15 with 26 (11.6%) black squares
Answers70 (average length 5.69)
Theme squares0 (0.0%)
Scrabble points313 (average 1.57)
New To Me

18a Mtn. [New York's Bear ___: Abbr.]. Which one? I'm reliably informed that there are 11 peaks in NY named Bear Mountain - maybe one for each bear?

20a Peter [Name repeated in a nursery rhyme]. I couldn't recall the rhyme, probably because it has American origins (not so many pumpkins in England):
Peter Peter pumpkin eater,
Had a wife but couldn't keep her.
He put her in a pumpkin shell,
And there he kept her very well.

Mots d'Heures: Gousses, RamesOne of Magdalen's birthday presents this year was the great Mots D'Heures: Gousses, Rames, which claims a French origin for the verse:
Pis-terre, pis-terre
Pomme qui n'y terre
Ah! de ouilles fenil coup ne qu'y perd
Il peut terrine et pomme qu'y n'échelle
Iéna équipe soeur verrou elle.
40a Raitt ["Something to Talk About" singer, 1991]. Bonnie Raitt has appeared on my radar, but I don't remember hearing this song:

48a Debi [Actress Mazar]. I'm told Debi Mazar portrays "Jersey Girl" roles. I sense this is something of a derogatory term, like Essex Girl in Britain.

24d raps [Emulates Eve]. Eve is the stage name of rapper Eve Jihan Jeffers. One of the possibilities for the palindromic girl's name in 51d - would the compiler have linked the clues if 51d had been Eve?

29d Capek ["The Insect Play" playwright]. Tentatively wrote Kafka in here, thinking of The Metamorphosis. Turns out the reference is to an obscure work of a writer most folk only know as the coiner of the word "robot".

39d G.I. Jane [1997 Demi Moore flick]. It took a while to parse GIJANE into something that made sense as a movie title.


Stars and Bars1a the Stars and Bars [Bygone flag]. Luckily I'd come across this nickname from a collection of short stories by one of my favorite British authors.

28a at. nos. [B and O figures: Abbr.]. Symbols for the elements are great misleaders. Here's an example from a cryptic crossword:
He and I represent a couple of these (8)
44a LEM [1960s-'70s touchdown maker]. This is just one of many great misleading definitions. I was terrified this would be some footballer I didn't know, until I thought of the Apollo Lunar Module.

47a Seiji [First name in conducting]. How nice that Seiji Ozawa came up just over a week ago, so that his was the first name I thought of.

La Boheme12d Bohème ["Scènes de la Vie de ___" (novel on which a Puccini opera is based)]. This clue was Too Much Information for me. Could it be anything but La Bohème?

14d Ronee [Actress Blakley]. I know the name, so must have seen Ronee Blakley, but whether as singer or actress, I don't remember:

34d wyes [Things that open and close yearly?]. A really awesome bit of misdirection: "yearly" starts and ends with a Y.

The Rest

16a have an opinion on [Think a certain way about]; 17a use the telephone [Make a call]; 19a iMac [Ballyhooed new product of 1998]; 21a pom [Short dog, for short]; 22a nil [It's nothing]; 23a premeet [Before the races]; 25a sonic [Kind of depth finder]; 27a blare [Bit of noise pollution]; 29a coups [Brilliant moves]; 30a wad [Roll]; 33a Moet [Bubbly name]; 34a warms [Loosens (up)]; 35a Peru [Big copper exporter]; 36a spy [Cover girl, e.g.?]; 37a type B [Laid-back]; 38a nonce [Time being]; 39a greed [Mammonism]; 41a all I ask [Words starting a simple request]; 45a aim [Mission statement part]; 49a sci. [Lab subj.]; 50a banana republics [Much of Central America, once]; 54a I've never tried it ["This would be a first for me"]; 55a general managers [Trading posts?].

1d thump [Beat but good]; 2d has to stop [Can't continue]; 3d even money [A tossup]; 4d set [Not hurting for cash]; 5d tahinis [Pastes in Mideastern cooking]; 6d anemic [Hardly hearty]; 7d rotal [Relating to wheels]; 8d spec [You might not get paid while working on it]; 9d ail [Hurt]; 10d NNE [Dayton-to-Toledo dir.]; 11d dippers [Ladles]; 13d a note [Make ___ of it]; 15d Snert [Comics dog]; 23d plumb [Downright]; 26d not [With 41-Down, shrunken]; 27d bored [Yet to be engaged?]; 28d AMs [Early times, for short]; 30d went aside [Withdrew quietly]; 31d Arctic Cir. [It's a little over 65 degrees: Abbr.]; 32d due [Deserved]; 35d poi [Maui mouthful]; 37d trainer [Coach]; 38d Namibia [Home of Walvis Bay]; 40d reburn [Co-firing technique used to reduce pollution from electrical power plants]; 41d as big [See 26-Down]; 42d leave [Furlough]; 43d linen [Chambermaid's charge]; 44d lepta [Pennies : dollar :: ___ : drachma]; 46d mists [Producers of sunbows]; 48d derm [Skin: Suffix]; 51d Ava [Palindromic girl's name]; 52d rel. [Bill of Rights subj.]; 53d leg [Kicker].

NPR Sunday Puzzle 2/22/09 - It's a Sin to Stray

This week's NPR Sunday Puzzle was:
Name an item often found on a desk. It's a hyphenated word. Add an S to the beginning of each part, and you'll get two synonyms. What's the item?
It took a while to get this, as I strayed from the path a couple of times: I first imagined we were dealing with some kind of printer, and spent a while trying to think of synonyms for sprinter.

Then I arrived at inkwell (OK this isn't hyphenated in most up-to-date dictionaries, but lexicographers have a way of changing whether things are hyphenated at the drop of a hat). Adding S to each part gives sink and swell, which are opposites. Shock horror! Could it be that Will meant to say antonym?

in-trayI continued thinking of words that can have an S put on the front and finally came up with what's obviously the right answer: in-tray giving sin and stray. Although in-trays are often found on a desk, they are seldom used for the in-tended purpose in my experience!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

NYT Thursday 2/26/09 - Quigley is for Q

I haven't often talked about the individual constructors, because it takes a while to detect the different traits they have. Brendan Emmett Quigley probably wouldn't have been more than a weird name to me unless I'd read about him in Crossworld, in which he acts as Marc Romano's Virgil through the nine circles of hell that is the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament.

Marc is a big BEQ fan and I can see why more with this puzzle than his previous one this year. It was quite an achievement to get the Q quota to 4, all of them constrained by inclusion in a thematic answer. Then make the grid pangrammatic. If Q is for Quigley, then Quigley is also for Q in a big way.

So I didn't feel too mad at him when I discovered I'd got a letter wrong (I felt so proud of myself for "finishing" a Thursday puzzle in 17 minutes that I couldn't conceive I'd made a mistake).
Solving time: 17 mins (no cheating, but two wrong answers)
Clue of the puzz: 56a Twix [It comes from Mars]

Phrases with an embedded ____ing qu____:
20a living quarters [Residence]
25a burning question [It has to be asked]
43a homecoming queen [Alumni weekend V.I.P.]
48a string quartets [Many Haydn compositions]

Grid art by Sympathy

CompilersBrendan Emmett Quigley / Will Shortz
Grid15x15 with 38 (16.9%) black squares
Answers74 (average length 5.05)
Theme squares58 (31.0%)
Scrabble points345 (average 1.84)
New To Me

14a Evil ["The ___ of Frankenstein" (Peter Cushing film)]. An easily guessed fill-in-the-blank: one of the cheaply made, but lucrative Hammer horror movies.

Warped Tour23a Emo [Some music on the Warped Tour]. I now expect any three-letter music answer to be either ELO or emo. I hadn't heard of the touring festival of music and extreme sports before and I guess it's worth remembering if it's on Quigley's radar.

36a LXI [Middle year of Nero's reign]. Nero reigned from 54AD to 68AD. I was 50 years out here and guessed CXI - working forwards from Julius Caesar, I imagined it would have taken longer to get through 5 emperors.

Baker House61a Aalto [Finnish architect Alvar ___]. He has the first entry in my Dictionary of Biography, but he's also notable for his architecture, furniture, textiles and glassware. His most famous building in the USA is the Baker House dorm on the MIT campus, for which he also designed the furniture.

3d Kiri [___ Davis, "A Girl Like Me" documentarian]. Te Kanawa I'd have recognized, but not this young filmmaker who made a documentary about the importance of color, hair quality, and facial features for young black woman today in the United States.

26d Utero ["In ___" (1993 #1 album)]. A studio album by the American grunge band Nirvana

31d Ilene ["The L Word" creator/producer Chaiken]. I suppose I should have guessed that a variant of Eileen was more likely, but I had Icene here. The L Word portrays the lives of a group of lesbian, bisexual and transgender men and women.


Ensenada, Baja California10a Baja [Home of Ensenada, informally]. Baja no longer has the has the mystique it once did: why, I even pronounce it BAH-hah instead of BAR-ger now! I kind of expect Baja to show up in a puzzle now, so Ensenada didn't throw me.

35a lusty [Like Petruchio's wench in "The Taming of the Shrew"]. Petruchio refers to Kate thus in Act II Scene 1:
Now, by the world, it is a lusty wench;
I love her ten times more than e'er I did.
O, how I long to have some chat with her!
from The Taming of the Shrew

46a Lou [1961 Top 10 hit "Hello Mary ___"]. The Ricky Nelson hit:

47a AFC [Texans' grp.]. Do I know this? Oh I see, here is another football clue in disguise: the Houston Texans play in the American Football Conference. Another expat reader tells me he's been in the USA for 42 years and still struggles with "sports" clues - I can see why!

56a Twix [It comes from Mars]. Finally an item of confectionery that has the same name in the US and the UK - years of attention to 80s ads finally pays off:

58a prez [Firm honcho] and 59d zap [Delete in one quick stroke]. I pondered pres and sap which works until you realize that "delete" doesn't usually mean strike ... and that there's gotta be a Z somewhere in the puzzle.
sap vt to strike with, or as if with, a sap.
from The Chambers Dictionary
64a my son [Words repeated after "O Absalom" in the Bible]. Words that have inspired many musical interpretations. I remember singing the Thomas Tomkins setting in my college days:

brougham38d brougham [Closed carriage with the driver outside in front]. Some horseless carriages are broughams, but the clue seems to be referring to the horse-drawn carriage from the mid 19th century.

45d Garson [She played Mrs. Miniver in "Mrs. Miniver"]. Dragged Greer Garson up from the recesses of my mind:

48d St. Lô [French town of W.W. II]. Not so tricky after the February 12 puzzle. Saint Lô was almost completely destroyed in the Battle of Normandy.

49d two-d [Lacking depth]. Another answer that caused a lot of head-scratching the first time I saw it, but is now more two-dimensional.

50d rico [Opposite of pobre]. I guess rico and pobre should go into Español para los crucigramistas.

The Rest

1a joke [Toastmaster's offering]; 5a plied [Worked regularly at]; 15a Lorca [Poet Federico García ___]; 16a exec. [Acct. ___]; 17a ware [Delft, e.g.]; 18a an art ["Conversation is ___ in which a man has all mankind for his competitors": Ralph Waldo Emerson]; 19a alee ["Hard ___!" (captain's order)]; 24a so I ["___ see!"]; 34a ate at [Troubled]; 37a team [Santa's reindeer, e.g.]; 38a boats [Common origami figures]; 39a seek [Ask for]; 40a cri [___ de coeur]; 41a erase [Clean, in a way]; 42a Sanyo [Consumer electronics giant]; 57a hurls [Casts]; 60a loci [Centers of activity]; 62a aura [Ambiance]; 63a odor [Something in the air]; 65a neap [Occurrence in the moon's first quarter].

1d Jew [Wandering ___]; 2d oval [Eyeglass lens shape]; 4d eleven am [Matinee showing time, maybe]; 5d plan on [Have in mind]; 6d long [Pants spec]; 7d Iraq [Modern home of the ancient Akkadian empire]; 8d ecru [It's similar to cream]; 9d data sets [Records for computer processing]; 10d beat it! ["Vamoose!"]; 11d axle [Part of a wheelset]; 12d jeer [Raspberry]; 13d Aces [Reno's AAA baseball team]; 21d I'm it ["You're looking at your guy!"]; 22d rosy [Upbeat]; 25d batch [Bake sale display]; 27d re-aim [Adjust, as a satellite dish]; 28d gloam [Twilight, old-style]; 29d quasi [Somewhat]; 30d US-Ten [Old hwy. from Detroit to Seattle]; 32d oxeye [False sunflower]; 33d Nikon [Coolpix camera maker];39d saucepan [Its home is on the range]; 41d econ. [Capital subj.]; 42d sq. ft. [Carpet meas.]; 44d elixir [Alchemist's concoction]; 51d quay [Unloading site]; 52d URLs [They may be bookmarked]; 53d alto [Certain castrato]; 54d true [Legitimate]; 55d sera ["Buona ___"].

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

NYT Wednesday 2/25/09 - TMA

Is it my imagination, or are there too many abbrs. in this puzzle? I can't say it diminished the solving experience that much, but it was very noticeable when writing the commentary. I guess the appropriate TLA for this is TMA.

The theme of things that are "spiked" was fun, though for a while I thought they were "spiced" (applicable to punch bowls and news stories, at least). Choosing between these two came only from considering the other thematics, as 61a wasn't helpful.
Solving time: 21 mins (no cheating)
Clue of the puzz: 23d ordain [Make a father of]

Things that might be 48d spiked:
21a news stories [Pulitzer Prize entries]
52a volleyballs [They may be served at the beach]
3d iron fences [Some ornamental barriers]
31d punch-bowls [Party servers]

Grid art by Sympathy

CompilersKelly Browder / Will Shortz
Grid15x15 with 41 (18.2%) black squares
Answers76 (average length 4.84)
Theme squares48 (26.1%)
Scrabble points257 (average 1.40)
New To Me

34a No Fear [Brand of clothing or energy drink]. No Fear is a clothing company linked with action sports, with an associated drinks brand in a joint venture with Pepsi.

61a Arawak [Indian encountered by Columbus]. The natives of the Greater Antilles and adjacent South America - the first people encountered by Christopher Columbus when he "discovered" America:
I, that we might form great friendship, for I knew that they were a people who could be more easily freed and converted to our holy faith by love than by force, gave to some of them red caps, and glass beads to put round their necks, and many other things of little value, which gave them great pleasure, and made them so much our friends that it was a marvel to see. They afterwards came to the ship's boats where we were, swimming and bringing us parrots, cotton threads in skeins, darts, and many other things; and we exchanged them for other things that we gave them, such as glass beads and small bells.
from the October 12, 1492 entry in The Journal of the First Voyage of Columbus

10d Carr [Singer Vikki]. Vikki Carr is best remembered for her songs sung in Spanish. Here's her 1972 performance on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.


7a TMI ["More than I need to know," in modern lingo]. Too Much Information! I wouldn't normally choose to have an abbreviation in a grid, but might make an exception for this one. Social networking sites generate TMI for some people...

15a IOC [Games org.]. The much less colorful abbr. for International Olympics Committee.

suckers19a runt [Littlest sucker]. A beautifully cryptic clue that helped make the NE corner the hardest for me. Kept thinking of suction cups on octopuses.

AME Zion Church28a AME [___ Zion Church]. I really should have remembered these initials from last Thursday, but the "Zion" bit made me think we were dealing with something other than the African Methodist Episcopal Church. In fact this clue does refer to a different church with a different logo 'n' all.

45a OSS [Old spy org.]. Yet more initials: the Office of Strategic Services was the forerunner of the Central Intelligence Agency. It was established in 1942, and at the height of its influence in World War II employed over 24,000 people. Its functions were taken over by the CIA shortly after the war.

49a Laila [Muhammad's pugilistic daughter]. Another answer remembered from earlier in the year. Leila Ali gave birth to Curtis Jr. last August, putting a stop to Mom's pugilism ... for the time being at least.

Tora! Tora! Tora!63a Tora! [When tripled, a 1970 war film]. Tora! Tora! Tora! presents the story of the Attack on Pearl Harbor from both the Japanese and American points of view.

65a Stille ["___ Nacht" (German carol)]. German for Silent Night:

1d Plato's ["___ Republic"]. A great clue to a not-so-great partial answer, simply because you can't help thinking you're dealing with a country not a book.

fruits de mer4d Mer [Fruits de ___ (menu heading)]. A combination of seafood. Not usually my choice in a restaurant because of some nasty experiences with bad shellfish.

22d Woman [John's ode to Yoko]. The clue says it all really:

32d Tse [Philosopher Lao-___]. Literally "Old Master", a central figure in Taoism.

35d ferule [Schoolmaster's rod]. Easily confused (by me) with ferrule:
ferrule n a metal band, ring or cap on the tip of a stick, etc for reinforcing it; a threaded cylindrical fitting for joining two pipes or rods.
ferule n a cane or rod used for punishment.
from The Chambers Dictionary
37d LST [W.W. II transport: Abbr.] and 38d ETO [Arena where 37-Downs were used: Abbr.]. I guess these abbreviations are slightly less painful when paired like this: Landing Ship, Tanks and European Theater of Operations.

The Rest

1a primer [Base coat]; 10a cede [Turn over]; 14a Laredo [U.S./Mexico border city]. 16a atom [Tiny bit]; 17a adores [Is nuts for]; 18a pie [Chart shape]; 20a tin [Component of bronze]; 24a oaf [Big lug]; 25a otter [Web-footed animal]; 26a sled [Ride with runners]; 29a adapts [Makes evolutionary changes]; 36a amuse [Tickle]; 37a lectern [Stand that a speaker might take]; 39a spinner [Randomizing device]; 41a steer [Burgers on the hoof]; 42a picnic [Meal on a blanket]; 43a toss-up [Even chance]; 46a ohms [Resistance units]; 51a bop [Some jazz]; 58a or I ["... ___ quit!"]; 59a ETAs [ORD or LAX figs.]; 60a o'er [Above, to bards]; 64a Lai [My ___, Vietnam]; 66a seat [Boarding pass datum]; 67a Ams [Pro-___ (some tourneys)]; 68a sassed [Dissed verbally].

2d radial [Michelin offering]; 5d Eden [Scene of a fall]; 6d Rosé [Sommelier's selection]; 7d tipster [One with the inside track at the track?]; 8d moist [Like a towelette]; 9d ice tea [Summer cooler]; 11d étui [Place for a thimble]; 12d done [Ready to serve]; 13d EMTs [Rescue crew, briefly]; 23d ordain [Make a father of]; 27d dotes [Spoils, with "on"]; 28d Aer [___ Lingus]; 30d amnio [Prenatal test, for short]; 33d ser. [Sun. speech]; 39d sisal [Rope fiber]; 40d PCs [CD burners]; 42d Polaris [Star in Ursa Minor]; 44d payola [Radio no-no]; 47d morale [It may need boosting]; 50d I-beam [Construction girder]; 52d vets [Checks out thoroughly]; 53d Otoe [Oklahoma tribe]; 54d Lara [Zhivago's love]; 55d LSAT [Aspiring atty.'s exam]; 56d lass [Bonny one]; 57d Srta. [Mex. miss]; 62d A is [Grafton's "___ for Alibi"].

Monday, February 23, 2009

NYT Tuesday 2/24/09 - EEE-K!

Tuesday puzzles shouldn't be scary. This one was because of a nasty cluster of clues requiring US-specific knowledge of cars (XK-Es), the military (on KP), shoe sizes (EEE) and baseball (pegs). I completed all but four squares of the grid in 12 minutes; another 8 minutes of musing over those four little squares was never going to do me good as I had to guess anyway.

If this sort of cluster (which probably the editor probably wouldn't be aware of as problematic) occurs in an ACPT puzzle, I will be in serious trouble. Magdalen of course didn't have the difficulties I did, and got the puzzle right in a mere 18 minutes.
Solving time: 20 mins (4 wrong answers)
Clue of the puzz: 42d leopards [They're spotted in tall grass]

"X one's Y" phrases where X is coincidentally a bird:
21a crane one's neck [Strain to see over the top]
41a swallow one's pride [Eat humble pie]
59a hawk one's wares [Be a street peddler]

Grid art by Sympathy

CompilersStephen Edward Anderson / Will Shortz
Grid15x16 with 38 (15.8%) black squares
Answers81 (average length 5.16)
Theme squares42 (20.8%)
Scrabble points347 (average 1.72)
New To Me

1a topaz [Birthstone for most Scorpios]. As a November-born Scorpio, I guess I should have been able to answer this. Birthstones seem to have been originally associated with calendar months, and the clue assumes the former. But the astrology crowd have reassigned stones to zodiac signs - on that basis, Scorpios have beryl as the birthstone?

16a Omni [1970s-'80s Dodge]. My ignorance of American car models didn't cost me this time, as I don't remember ever solving this clue. The Omni was a front wheel drive model introduced in 1978. Industry expert fmcgmccllc may be able to expand on this :-)

XK-E46a XK-Es [Classic Jags]. This one contributed to my downfall. I thought the model must be XK something from 39d, but had Jaguar XJSs on my mind, so kept trying to make XKSs work here. I see now why I had problems: the XK-E is what Americans call the E-Type.

51a pegs [Hard throws to first base, say]. Another clue that wouldn't work in the UK.
peg vt informal throw (a ball) hard and low, esp. in baseball: the catcher pegs the ball to the first baseman
from The New Oxford American Dictionary
Omar Bradley2d Omar [Five-star Bradley]. Omar Bradley, The G.I.'s General, commanded the US First Army at the Normandy Invasion. Good job, Sir!

14d Pam [1989 Bond girl Bouvier]. The character played by Carey Lowell in Licence to Kill.

22d Ortho [Big name in lawn products]. The weed and bug killing brand of the Scotts Miracle-Gro Company.

39d on KP [Preparing hash for G.I. Joe, say]. This US-age caused me trouble: "kitchen patrol" would be called "spud bashing" in the British Army.

43d EEE [Wide shoe spec]. My ignorance of this may be due to different terminology in the UK or simply that I have such narrow feet that I could probably fit both together into an EEE.


10a twerp [Insignificant type]. I kinda assumed this was British slang and I'm glad to see I can use it over here. The twerp in Antwerp makes it one of the easier Belgian ports to write a cryptic clue for.

volutes17a Ionia [Ancient region with an architectural style named after it]. You can tell Ionic architecture by the scrolls (volutes is the fancy term) around the capitals of columns - like the ones on the Jefferson memorial.

19a wiggle room [Margin to maneuver], 65a paper tiger [Toothless enemy]. These two are such colorful answers that I wondered whether they were thematic. Apparently not, so kudos to the compiler for including them just because ...

34a Niagara [Honeymooners' destination]. Magdalen and I are hoping to visit this year. I can't wait to follow in the footsteps of Dickens and Mahler:
Niagara was at once stamped upon my heart, an Image of Beauty; to remain there, changeless and indelible, until its pulses cease to beat, for ever.
American Notes by Charles Dickens

Fortissimo at last!
Gustav Mahler by K. Blaukopf
69a fjord [Norwegian coast feature]. Always a tough answer because fiord is an equally good spelling. Luckily I was confident of the crossing down.

Lincoln Highway70a Main [Street that may be a U.S. highway]. We've heard much of "Main Street" recently in contrast to "Wall Street". I hadn't appreciated the link with federal highways before, but I suppose it's logical that a town built around a U.S. route should make that their Main Street? Or could this clue be a reference to the Lincoln Highway, aka "The Main Street Across America"?

1d talc [1 on the Mohs scale]. Diamond is at the other end of this scale of mineral hardness.

7d amie [Friend who's française]. Neat use of feminine in the clue to indicate the feminine answer.

6d mown [Like golf greens, frequently]. Interesting that "frequently" can be taken two ways: that most golf greens are mown, or that golf greens are mown very often. Clearly the latter in this case.

tie clasp10d tie clasp [Haberdashery accessory]. Another name for tie clip. The tie-bound can make a great tie clasp out of an iPod shuffle.

12d Eno [Musician Brian]. The father of ambient music.

20d Leo I [First in a string of 13 popes]. So popes come in strings, like "popes on a rope"? After gathering the evidence on this since the beginning of the year: to a first approximation, all popes were called Leo.

30d pearly [___ white]. Can only think of Mack the Knife here:

SSgt44d SSgts [U.S.M.C. noncoms]. Staff sergeants - senior tactical advisers to platoon commanders.

60d Neil [Singer Sedaka]. Fans of the singer continue the campaign to get Neil Sedaka into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

61d Erno [Professzor Rubik]. A misprint? No, the Hungarian spelling of Professor.

The Scarlet Letter62d red A [Stigma borne by Hester Prynne]. The scarlet letter of the book title.

PFC65d PFC [Low-rank inits.]. A lowly rank compared to SSgt.

66d Aja [Steely Dan's stellar seller]. Thank goodness for the Sunday puzzle where we learned this one. Otherwise, I'd have guessed aia, as that's at least a dictionary word (the crossing answer can be spelled both ways).

The Rest

6a ma'am [Sir's complement]; 15a amigo [Friend in a sombrero]; 18a Latin [Root of all Romance languages]; 23a grr [[That makes me a little angry]]; 24a tool [Hammer or tongs]; 25a leg [Pants half]; 28a map [G.P.S. offering]; 31a Styx [River of Hades]; 36a -ites [Social finishes?]; 38a hobo [Bum]; 40a Sodom [City God destroyed with fire and brimstone]; 45a hiree [Company newbie]; 47a peer [One's equal]; 48a all done! ["That's it for now!"]; 53a sss [Sound of bacon frying]; 54a ply [Perform, as one's trade]; 55a pest [Real pill]; 57a tax [Line on a receipt]; 68a one no [Terse bridge bid]; 71a udder [Milk dispenser]; 72a capos [Mafia dons]; 73a Oslo [Capital on a 69-Across]; 74a toast ["Here's to ...," e.g.].

3d pita [Hummus scooper-upper]; 4d aging [Cause of some wrinkles]; 5d zoners [Land-use regulators]; 8d angst [Unfocused dread]; 9d mignon [Filet ___]; 11d work [Slacker's bane]; 13d Rio [Carnival locale]; 25d Ladies [Part of L.P.G.A.]; 26d erodes [Wears away]; 27d gamers [Arcade fans]; 28d mishap [Fender bender, e.g.]; 29d at will [Whenever your heart desires]; 32d yow ["Ouch!"]; 33d Xbox [___ 360]; 35d gorp [Hiker's snack]; 37d sled [Musher's carrier]; 49d Newt [Politico Gingrich]; 50d Eskimo [One for whom Nome may be home]; 52d saw out [Walked to the door]; 56d togas [Forum attire]; 58d X and O [Tic-tac-toe alternatives]; 59d hero [Key to the city recipient, maybe]; 63d -enes [Hydrocarbon suffixes]; 64d sort [Type]; 67d pop [Top 40 genre].

Sunday, February 22, 2009

NYT Monday 2/23/09 - Merry-Go-Round

I've been trying to think of good metaphors for the New York Times crossword's hebdomadal cycle. The best I can come up with is a merry-go-round: once a week you see the faces of your friends the puzzles early in the week; but you're soon swept past them to strangers increasingly intimidating. Just when you're wishing the whole thing would stop, back come the friendly faces again.

Of course I'm on a merry-go-round that's not going to stop and I hope that I'll come to enjoy more and more of the ride as I gain experience. Experience really helped with this one: after getting just the band and bend theme answers, I was confident enough to put in bind, bond and bund in their correct places. This made it very easy to solve the corresponding clues and so report a fast time (for me):
Solving time: 7 mins (no cheating)

Phrases ending b?nd with each vowel used in turn down the grid:
17a rubber band [Stretchable holder]
23a around the bend [Loony]
35a the ties that bind [Strong family connections, idiomatically]
47a municipal bond [Tax-free investment]
57a cummerbund [Tux go-with]

Grid art by Sympathy

CompilersAlan Arbesfeld / Will Shortz
Grid15x15 with 36 (16.0%) black squares
Answers76 (average length 4.97)
Theme squares71 (37.6%)
Scrabble points289 (average 1.53)
New To Me

16a Eric [N.F.L. Hall-of-Famer Dickerson]. It seems like a while since we've had an (American) football clue. I gather Eric Dickerson is one of the greatest running backs in history. His middle name Demetric is also a little unusual and definitely worth of a Friday or Saturday puzzle.

27a assists [Stats in hockey and basketball]. Another novel sporting reference to me - I could easily guess that this is awarded to players helping score a goal/basket.

Mila 18 Site52a Mila ["___ 18" (Leon Uris novel)]. A novel about the Nazi occupation of Poland, named for the headquarters bunker of the Jewish resistance fighters. There is now a monument to resistance leader Mordechaj Anielewicz at the site.

53a GSA [Fed. property manager]. Got this completely from cross-checking, as I couldn't see what it might stand for. So it's the General Services Administration - a sort of meta-agency with a mission to "help federal agencies better serve the public by offering, at best value, superior workplaces, expert solutions, acquisition services and management policies."

62a Ernie [Country singer Tennessee ___ Ford]. A singer and television host. Cue for a song from the coal mines:

8d Ann [The Beach Boys' "Barbara ___"]. Not really New To Me, but assuming the song was called Baa Baa Baa Baa Baa Baran meant the clue answer was a guess anyway:

37d elhi [For grades 1-12]. I had to surmise this one and Magdalen was very sceptical about its use. But I found a citation easily enough:
elhi adj. informal of, relating to, or intended for use in Grades 1 to 12
from The New Oxford American Dictionary

6a chaw [Tobacco mouthful]. Not my first thought chew, which is a great answer until you try to solve 8d ...

6d cabins [Mountain retreats]. ... and this one made me think first of aeries, with its many spelling variants.

28d Sahl [Wry comic Mort]. Another instance where I definitely learned from a previous puzzle. In fact I met Sahl in a previous Alan Arbesfeld puzzle, where he was clued as "Satirist who wrote jokes for J.F.K.".

34d Edy's [Alternative to Häagen-Dazs]. Here's a progress report on my explorations in Ice Creamland: still working through the Turkey Hill flavors - best so far are Choco Mint Chip and Orange Cream Swirl. I haven't forgotten about you Edy's, but the local firm has priority.

57d CSI [CBS forensic drama]. Easy, as this is one of Magdalen's favorite shows.

The Rest

1a fawns [Offspring of bucks and does]; 10a cole [___ slaw]; 14a Aleut [Alaskan native]; 15a A-One [Top-notch]; 19a lava [Molten flow]; 20a mmm! ["Delicious!"]; 21a noir [Genre for "The Maltese Falcon"]; 22a peter [Lose steam, with "out"]; 29a -eers [Endings with mountain and election]; 30a NATO [Western alliance, for short]; 31a acro- [Prefix with phobia]; 32a hie [Get a move on]; 40a SLR [Camera choice, in brief]; 41a Mlle. [French miss: Abbr.]; 42a arty [Pretentiously styled]; 43a ha-ha ["That's a good one!"]; 44a barrels [OPEC units]; 51a abets [Aids and ___]; 56a tort [Basis of a lawsuit]; 60a eave [Projecting edge on a roof]; 61a snap [Sound heard with the phrase "Just like that!"]; 63a -ster [Suffix with poll or pun]; 64a ions [Atoms with + or – symbols]; 65a rasps [Talks like Don Corleone].

1d farm [50-acre homestead, maybe]; 2d alum [Reunion attendee, for short]; 3d webmaster [Internet guru]; 4d nub [Heart]; 5d stenos [Dictation takers]; 7d hoard [Stockpile]; 9d Wed. [Thu. preceder]; 10d celebs [OK! magazine topics]; 11d orate [Talk bombastically]; 12d liven [Animate]; 13d E-card [Modern-day birthday greeting]; 18d rout [Win by a wide margin]; 22d Perot [Ross who founded the Reform Party]; 24d riot [Big melee]; 25d tech [Kind of support offered by a 3-Down]; 26d Hera [Wife of Zeus]; 27d ants [Aardvarks' fare]; 31d ate [Lunched, say]; 32d hired guns [Armed thugs]; 33d intl. [Worldwide: Abbr.]; 36d iMacs [Apples on desktops]; 38d slap [Part of a Three Stooges routine]; 39d barn [1-Down building]; 43d hitter [One getting a single or a double, e.g.]; 44d blimps [Hoverers over sports stadiums]; 45d able [Well-suited]; 46d roarer [One guffawing]; 47d mates [Chess endings]; 48d U-boat [W.W. II Atlantic lurker]; 49d nerve [Chutzpah]; 50d Amman [Jordan's capital]; 54d snip [Paper doll-making sound]; 55d ades [Hot-weather quenchers]; 58d Uno [Numero ___]; 59d bra [Victoria's Secret purchase].