Friday, February 20, 2009

NYT Saturday 2/21/09 - The Agony of Defeat

I experienced the agony of defeat with this puzzle, not the thrill of victory: I did very well with the top half of the grid and finally busted the difficult SE corner inside an hour. Unfortunately, there was still a stubborn empty patch in the SW corner of about eight answers.

Quite why I didn't crack this final section is beyond me: the answers to three of the missing across answers turned out to be what I had guessed. It may all come down to one wrong answer - masters at 31a: that made it difficult to come up with escapade for 31a, which would have allowed me to finish for sure.

As the previous night, Magdalen intervened to save me tearing my hair out any further (something I can't afford to do). I think we should now draw the line at an hour for solving these puzzles unaided; there's not much advantage in dogged persistence after that. As we discovered twice this week, if I haven't finished by an hour, I'm likely to end up googling anyway.
Solving time: 75 mins (1 answer googled)
Clue of the puzz: 55a jury-box [Courtside seats?]

Two long answers comment on the unorthodox grid symmetry (mirror symmetry about the main diagonal):
23a symmetric matrix [Rectangular array that's identical when its rows and columns are transposed, as this puzzle's grid]
5d reflected images [They may be seen on a lake's surface]

Grid art by Sympathy

CompilersMike Nothnagel and Byron Walden / Will Shortz
Grid15x15 with 28 (12.4%) black squares
Answers66 (average length 5.97)
Theme squares29 (14.7%)
Scrabble points334 (average 1.70)
New To Me

27a earclip [Stud alternative]. A plausible formation, but you won't find it in your average-sized dictionary - presumably earclips are the only option for those without piercings:
earclip n an earring with a clip fastener
from Webster's Third New International Dictionary
35a scrod [Split and boned entree]. Another mightily obscure answer, although I'm told scrod is a staple in many coastal New England fish markets.

10d Eli ["Hostel" director Roth]. A director known for extremely violent, low-budget horror box office hits - a prominent member of the Splat Pack.

15d Statler [Country music's ___ Brothers]. A four-member band, none of whom is called Statler: they named themselves after a facial tissue brand.

24d Mr. Show [1990s HBO sketch comedy series]. A complication with this clue was working out whether it was Mr. something or Mrs. something. The Mr. Show was said to be heavily influenced by Monty Python's Flying Circus whose format saves you from coming up with punchlines:

Anakin Skywalker25d Anakin [Obi-Wan's apprentice]. Luke Skywalker's dad.

41d No-Pest [Brand of insecticide strips]. A Hot Shot brand name.


1a razor [Item with clear face value?]. This cryptic definition is well-intentioned, but seems just a little strained ...

6a traveler [One who may have connections]. ... whereas this one is a perfect example.

17a go left ["Haw"]. A command used to direct animals pulling a load eg when mushing. The command to go right is "gee":

Lemonade Stand19a ade [Roadside stand offering]. Lemonade stands fascinate me. I think they explain why Americans excel in business - kids in England are much less enterprising. Why the faux poor spelling (limonade, leminade etc) - the cutesiness must be good for sales?

20a Latvia [NATO member since 2004]. The Letts have come up so many times already this year, that their country was the first I thought of for this answer. When that seemed not to work, I tried Poland, but Latvia won out in the end.

22a ELO [Grp. with the debut single "10538 Overture"]. You can't keep this group out of a crossword - I can see I'll get to know their repertoire pretty well:

30a Naples [Where pizza originated]. Like so many great foods, pizza was first eaten by the poverty-stricken.

Escher31a Eschers [Some collectible Dutch prints]. I thought this might be the answer, before changing my allegiance to masters. If I'd stuck with Escher, I'm sure I'd have been able to complete the puzzle without cheating. Escher's art often features this puzzle's theme, mirrors.

36a sari [A choli is worn under it]. Although I can't remember coming across "choli" before, this answer was easily guessed:
choli n a short, short-sleeved bodice as worn by Indian women under a sari.
from The Chambers Dictionary
45a Arp ["Collage With Squares Arranged According to the Laws of Chance" artist]. Another answer which I penciled in tentatively, but lost confidence about. This work by Jean Arp is in the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

49a Poe [Who wrote "I dwelt alone / In a world of moan, / And my soul was a stagnant tide"]. Could it be any other three-letter poet? If had thought so when solving, I might have done better. The clue quotes the first three lines from Eulalie:
I dwelt alone
In a world of moan,
And my soul was a stagnant tide,
Till the fair and gentle Eulalie became my blushing bride-
Till the yellow-haired young Eulalie became my smiling bride.
from Eulalie by Edgar Allan Poe
50a apes [Some early "astronauts"]. I remember seeing live primates at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, AL in the late 80s - probably remnants of the back-up monkeys that were trained for missions which never happened.

55a jury-box [Courtside seats?]. This is another of the compilers' superb misleading def clues.

58a Ernesto [Automaker Maserati]. I managed to guess this first name correctly from very little evidence - somehow it seems fitting for an Italian car man. Here's what the British TV show Fifth Gear makes of the latest Maserati:

4d ore [Elementary stuff]. Sorry - another definition that Doesn't Quite Work.

6d The VIPs [1963 Elizabeth Taylor/Richard Burton drama]. A movie scripted by the great Terence Rattigan.

7d relic [Dinosaur, so to speak]. The "so to speak" suggests we're meant to think of the figurative sense of "dinosaur" as a person or thing that has become obsolete, due to a failure to adapt to changing circumstances.

13d redoxes [Electron-transferring reactions, briefly]. Sometimes it helps to have a degree in Chemistry. Redoxes are combined reduction and oxidation reactions. An example is the smelting of an ore to produce pure metal.

31d escapade [Dido]. I'm so upset I didn't get this: I had the last two letters and possibilities for some others. I knew a "dido" is a caper or antic. Why couldn't I see the answer?

Gerhard Schröder32d Schröder [German chancellor, 1998-2005]. This was the one clue I knew I could look up to finish the puzzle and eventually caved in and googled him. I remembered the name well, as he often featured in the news back in England.

47d Druse [Believer in al-Hakim as the embodiment of God]. Another spelling of Druze, a community whose religion is an offshoot of Islam.

The Rest

14a azures [Certain blues]; 16a he's alive! [Cry of relief at an accident scene]; 18a elicited [Provoked]; 28a insane [Fruity]; 29a stems [Fruit salad waste]; 34a woks [Round-bottomed vessels]; 37a fax [Kind of paper]; 40a chewing on [Pondering, informally]; 43a niece [Many a goddaughter]; 46a mooned [Revealed the end to?]; 48a seer [One involved in future deals?]; 51a read to [Lecture, in a way]; 53a ad pages [Magazine sales]; 56a dearest [Honey]; 57a asinine [Cockamamie]; 59a wee ones [Tots].

1d ragas [Hindu musician's source material for improvisation]; 2d azo dye [Methyl orange or Congo red]; 3d Zulema [Woman's name meaning "peace"]; 8d Asia Minor [Turkey setting]; 9d vac [A little cleaner?]; 11d literal [Completely straightforward]; 12d Eveline [Title woman of a story from James Joyce's "Dubliners"]; 21d trims [Prunes]; 26d tsps. [Some are heaping: Abbr.]; 33d crepe pan [Specialty cookware item]; 34d wane [Drop off]; 36d Sons [End of many business names]; 37d feed bin [Trough]; 38d acetone [Polish stripper]; 39d xeroxes [Some dupes]; 42d goes to [Doesn't skip]; 44d I say no [Self-response to "Must we put up with this?"]; 52d Erie [Home of Presque Isle Downs racetrack]; 54d are [Be a different way?]; 55d jaw [Wrench part].


fmcgmccllc said...

I thought of you immediately when I saw 23a. I did not finish due to the NW corner, and I had to Google a few. I missed one cross and finished in about 60 minutes with 5 or 6 Googles.

But I feel it is better to Google and read blogs like yours to learn rather than just quit and stomp your feet. Like your take on the puzzles.

Crossword Man said...

I find it much harder to quit on a puzzle than Magdalen does: it's in my nature to plod on without much hope of success. In the past, such tenacity made me a top solver in a British crossword series. I have to say that I'm not yet making the big improvements I was expecting for the NYT. Of course, I'm prepared to give that more time too...