Saturday, February 21, 2009

NYT Sunday 2/22/09 - Can I Join?

I very much enjoyed the theme of this Sunday's New York Times puzzle: although it smacks a little of navel-gazing, the processes involved in creating crosswords are of great interest to me.

I've a lot of experience of how cryptic crosswords are made (both as compiler and editor), but approach compiling an American puzzle with some trepidation. Thinking up suitable themes and entries (steps 1 and 2) shouldn't be too difficult; it's constructing and filling a grid (step 3) to meet Will Shortz's exacting standards that I'm most worried about - this process is very different to that for British puzzles.

The clueing stage ought to be straightforward, and I know from experience that a puzzle with imperfect clues can be "rescued" at the editorial stage (whereas an inadequate grid and fill is usually irremediable).

I'll make a start on my first American puzzle in the next few months. How many attempts it'll take me to join the hallowed ranks of compilers published in the New York Times is anybody's guess!
Clue of the puzz: 102a washers [They have loads to do]

The sequence of steps a crossword compiler goes through:
26a brainstorm theme ideas [Cruciverbalist's Step 1]
39a develop best entries [Step 2]
59a construct suitable grid [Step 3]
66a research and write clues [Step 4]
85a send puzzle to editor [Step 5]
105a see by-line in newspaper [Step 6 (the payoff)]
This is a fairly realistic list, from my experience of compiling. In practice, there could be overlap between steps 2 and 3; also between 3 and 4. You may need to revise the theme entries as the result of trying to create a grid; and the grid can get tweaked as you attempt to write a well-balanced set of clues.


Grid art by Sympathy

CompilersBarry C. Silk & Doug Peterson / Will Shortz
Grid21x21 with 78 (17.7%) black squares
Answers134 (average length 5.42)
Theme squares118 (32.5%)
Scrabble points598 (average 1.65)
New To Me

19a Béla [___ Fleck and the Flecktones]. Today's Sunday commentary will just focus on my musical education. First up a band that draws on bluegrass, fusion and jazz, sometimes dubbed "blu-bop." I know one side of bluegrass music from hearing the awesome Alison Krauss and Union Station combo. The clued group's jazz influences are evident in this number:

63a Her ["I Saw ___ Again" (1966 hit for the Mamas & the Papas)]. If you don't remember the sixties, you were there.

43d NYC ["Annie" song with the lyric "Too busy / Too crazy / Too hot / Too cold / Too late / I'm sold"]. Some of the songs from this musical are famous enough to have appeared on my aural radar, but not this one:

75d Syd [Barrett of Pink Floyd]. Here's Newsnight's obituary of the reclusive musician, who died in 2006:


29a Edina [Suburb of Minneapolis]. Magdalen tells me this is worth remembering. Also Orono, Maine, which has the same vowel/consonant pattern.

30a renters [They're not buying it]. Another clue I really like.

53d ate at [Troubled]. This caused some head-scratching, until we put the space in the right place.

56d iters [Anatomical passages]. A straightforward clue to a obscure answer: the best-known iter is the aqueduct of silvius connecting the third and fourth ventricles in the brain.

The Rest

1a bore [Put to sleep]; 5a effs [They keep you from passing]; 9a side [Pro or con]; 13a pep up [Animate]; 18a oven [It takes the cake]; 20a honey [Pussycat]; 21a amass [Get a load of]; 22a Mel Gibson ["Hamlet" star, 1990]; 24a otter [Animal that eats while floating on its back]; 25a Ypres [Belgian city in W.W. I fighting]; 31a cir. [Geometric fig.]; 32a rodent [Chinchilla, e.g.]; 34a mourn [Grieve]; 35a Corolla [World's top-selling car model starting in 1997]; 43a NBA [Org. with the Red Auerbach Trophy]; 46a sci [Chem., for one]; 47a ils [They, to Thérèse]; 48a nor [Negative conjunction]; 49a yo-yos [Fluctuates wildly]; 52a RNA [Molecular biology topic]; 54a ovine [Like rams and lambs]; 57a peeve [Pet ___]; 64a Estee [Popular women's fragrance]; 65a era [Significant time]; 76a Islam [Cat Stevens's faith]; 77a Ratso [1969 Dustin Hoffman role]; 78a spa [Spring locale]; 79a heavy [Word with duty or set]; 80a NSA [Fort Meade org.]; 81a mar [Deface]; 82a Oxo [Kitchen gadget company]; 84a wad [Walletful]; 95a extreme [Fanatical]; 96a Osama [2003 Afghani film that won a Golden Globe]; 97a soured [Turned bad]; 101a w.p.m. [Typing speed stat.]; 102a washers [They have loads to do]; 104a mneme [Memory principle]; 110a Jell-O [Product once pitched by Bill Cosby]; 111a aren't ["___ we all?"]; 112a earthworm [Night crawler]; 113a cabby [Driver of a 72-Down]; 114a merci ["___ bien!"]; 115a slay [Crack up]; 116a Asia [One edition of the Wall Street Journal]; 117a trays [Cafeteria supply]; 118a esse [To be, to Claudius]; 119a type [Pound the keys]; 120a yell [Long-distance call?].

1d bomber [B-2 or B-52]; 2d overdo [Gild the lily]; 3d relaid [Fixed, as tiles]; 4d engined [Twin-___ aircraft]; 5d ebbs [Dwindles]; 6d fest [Slug follower?]; 7d floor [Elevator stop]; 8d San Remo [Riviera resort]; 9d so there ["Hah!"]; 10d interns [Some residents]; 11d deems [Judges]; 12d Eyre [Brontë heroine]; 13d pay-dirt [The mother lode]; 14d emperor [Napoleon, for one]; 15d para [Law firm aide, for short]; 16d uses [Functions]; 17d PSs [Letter addenda: Abbr.]; 20d hot tub [Jacuzzi]; 23d inane [Cockeyed]; 27d MNOP [Alphabetical foursome]; 28d icons [Desktop array]; 33d TVs [DVD adjuncts]; 35d celeb [Page-oner]; 36d liner [Sharply hit baseball]; 37d Leo VI [Pope after John X]; 38d as red [Comparable to a rose?]; 40d ecru [Stocking shade]; 41d Linc [___ Hayes of "The Mod Squad"]; 42d Tina [Turner of records]; 44d boo [Response to a bad call]; 45d Ayn [Author Rand]; 50d O'Shea [Milo of "The Verdict," 1982]; 51d steam [Pressing need?]; 54d outdo [Better]; 55d view [Penthouse feature]; 57d perch [Twig, to a bird]; 58d égale [French equivalent]; 60d RRR [Elementary school trio]; 61d SSNs [Payroll IDs]; 62d Lee [Virginia's historic ___ Highway]; 66d rinse [Shampoo directive]; 67d Essex [Hedingham Castle locale]; 68d slant [Inclination]; 69d craze [The twist, once]; 70d Harz [Germany's __ National Park]; 71d iPod [Song holder]; 72d taxi [Modern advertising medium]; 73d UAW [Labor grp. since 1935]; 74d Eva [Actress ___ Marie Saint]; 81d mummy [Boris Karloff title role, with "the"]; 83d OTs [N.F.L. tiebreakers]; 86d Dr Welby ['70s small-screen role for Robert Young]; 87d Pep Boys [Big auto parts chain]; 88d loaners [Auto shop offerings]; 89d essence [Gist]; 90d Tahiti [Setting for Melville's "Omoo"]; 91d omen [Soothsayer's subject]; 92d earnest [Purposeful]; 93d oomph [Zip]; 94d runaway [Target of a youth outreach program]; 98d repose [Rest]; 99d Emeril ["___ Live," longtime Food Network show]; 100d dermal [Skin-related]; 102d wires [Some money transfers]; 103d Sealy [Simmons competitor]; 105d sear [Brown]; 106d Elba [Island off Tuscany]; 107d lame [Unconvincing]; 108d wrap [Finish shooting]; 109d stye [Lid irritation]; 110d jct. [Where I's cross?: Abbr.].

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