Friday, April 24, 2009

NYT Saturday 4/25/09 - It's Tough at the Top

This Saturday New York Times crossword was another typically nightmarish end-of-the-week offering. It began promisingly enough and I completed the bottom two-thirds in a reasonable amount of time.

Unfortunately, I never really broke into the NW and NE corners and finally gave up after 45 minutes or so to consult my Egeria. As often happens, Magdalen had a few critical answers that totally stumped me: Andres and FDR at the top left; and Kanin at the top right. Together we bashed out the rest of the fill by the hour.
Solving time: 60 mins (no cheating, collaborative effort)
Clue of the puzz: 17a oddsmaker {One might create a spread}

Brad Wilber
Grid art by Sympathy [about the grid colors]

CompilersBrad Wilber / Will Shortz
Grid15x15 with 29 (12.9%) black squares
Answers70 (average length 5.60)
Theme squares0 (0.0%)
Scrabble points322 (average 1.64)
New To Me

petcock1a drains off {Runs through a petcock, e.g.}. Here it was essential to know what a petcock is, and I didn't. Magdalen thought they were the taps on burettes, which given my Chemistry background, I should have known. But it seems petcocks are more often the valves for controlling the gasoline supply in engines.

15a Ron Howard {Best Director of 2001}. Ron Howard won for A Beautiful Mind that year. Until solving American crosswords, I wasn't aware Ron had started as a child actor - Opie from The Andy Griffith Show being a cruciverbal stock character.

Dallas Stars55a NHL {Stars play in it: Abbr.}. A reference to the Dallas Stars of the National Hockey League ... or are there other NHL teams with stars in their name (not that it really matters)?

Andrés Galarraga3d Andrés {1993 N.L. batting champ Galarraga}. This was a gimme for Magdalen, but I had no hope of getting it. Andrés Galarraga is a Venezuelan former first baseman, nicknamed The Big Cat (El Gran Gato) for his litheness despite his formidable size.

7d Oakie {"The Great Dictator" Oscar nominee}. You'd have thought this would refer to Chaplin in some way; no, the answer's supporting actor Jack Oakie, who played the Mussolini-like character in The Great Dictator.

9d FDR {Most famous resident of Warm Spr., Ga.}. Another clue that's probably a no-brainer for Americans, but not me. The Little White House in Warm Springs was FDR's personal retreat. He originally came there to seek treatment for his polio-related symptoms.

13d Abie Baby {"Hair" song with birthday wishes to a president}. Abie Baby is a modernized version of the Gettysburg Address in the famous rock musical. Warning: the following clip includes explicit lyrics.

Peppermint Patty14d sandals {Wear for Peppermint Patty}. Magdalen had the brilliant idea of tin foil, but the reference is to the Peanuts character, not the mint and chocolate confection. Peppermint Patty is almost always portrayed wearing sandals, even when sculpted.


sousaphone10a tubas {They have big bells}. I knew this answer in theory, but the clue is highly deceptive. The term for the flared end of a brass instrument is the "bell" and tubas have the biggest of them all. Since tuba is a Latin word, compilers can give us an even harder time by using the Latin plural tubae. The sousaphone is a tuba adapted for use in marching bands.

spread betting17a oddsmaker {One might create a spread}. I could only think of caterers and got this answer very late - it was hard to make the right connection, despite the ascendancy of spread betting recently.

Cherokee Strip20a Enid {City founded during the Cherokee Strip land run}. A reminder that Enid, OK is one of the most used four-letter words in crosswords, occurring about 8 times a year in the NYT. About half the time it's some variant on this clue and half the time "Geraint's wife". Here's the text from the accompanying sign:
Opened by Run, Sept. 16, 18
93. On line here, 15,000 waited for carbine signal fired by cavalryman at High Noon, Lt. C. A. Hedekin, commanding Troop A., U.S. Cav. Race from land started from post on knoll half mile west, by wagon, buggy, bicycle, horse and train. In 60 by 90 mile area, every acre occupied by nightfall. The first settlers reached Enid from here.
38a The Last Metro {1980 Truffaut film that won 10 César awards}. Truffaut is one of my fav directors, and getting this answer early really helped break into the bottom half of the grid. I think of it more by the French title, so confidently put Dernier Métro in to start with. The Last Metro concerns a Jewish theater director who must be kept hidden during the Nazi occupation of Paris.

Hilary Swank6d swank {Tony}. Nothing to do with Hilary - you need to think about slang terms for fashionable/stylish (although Hilary is undoubtedly that too). A mean clue, the epitome of what Magdalen's family dubbed a CBA ("could be anything") clue.

Bundt pans12d Bundt pan {Thing with a sweet ring to it?}. Magdalen actually has a Bundt pan, which made it easy to justify the answer when we finally worked it out (it was one of the last we got). The term comes from the German word for a gathering and is pronounced "bunt"; Bundt pans have a hole in the middle and are used to make ring-shaped cakes.

The Rest

16a Aruba {Setting of Queen Beatrix Airport}; 18a Kanin {Garson ___, writer and director of Broadway's "Born Yesterday"}; 19a per {Apportionment word}; 21a melded {United}; 22a I beg {"___ of you ..."}; 24a keen on {Fond of}; 26a TBA {Itinerary abbr.}; 27a Tyson {Food giant based in Springdale, Ark.}; 29a biz {Trade, informally}; 30a opal {It has a play of colors}; 31a washboard abs {Desirable trunk feature}; 35a Scipio {He crushed Hannibal at Zama}; 37a brainy {Bright}; 40a hold {Not give way}; 41a lea {Herd locale}; 42a Euler {Introducer of the math symbol "e"}; 46a Eri {European conductor ___ Klas}; 47a eelers {Unagi restaurant suppliers}; 50a sate {Be enough for}; 51a pebbly {Like avocado skins}; 53a wits {Quotable types}; 56a Isaac {Shorthand inventor Pitman}; 57a Henry VIII {Act of Supremacy institutor}; 59a Tutsi {Rwandan people}; 60a assonance {Relative of alliteration}; 61a speed {Track asset}; 62a step class {Health club offering for aerobic workouts}.

1d drop it {Discussion ender}; 2d rode by {Passed, as in a parade}; 4d IHS {Christian trigram}; 5d Nome {City east of Saint Lawrence Island}; 8d Fred Ebb {"New York, New York" lyricist}; 10d taken {Like some seats}; 11d Ural {Orenburg is on it}; 21d Mozart {"The Impresario" composer}; 23d go wild {Lose it}; 25d Niobe {Queen for whom an element is named}; 28d Napa {Vacation spot for some oenophiles}; 30d odious {Repellent}; 32d Sisley {Alfred ___, "Footbridge at Argenteuil" artist}; 33d hotel {Shuttle destination}; 34d rare {Of particular interest to a completist}; 35d shores up {Bolsters}; 36d celibate {Like many clerics}; 38d the pits {Something dreadful}; 39d Mae West {Who said "I'll try anything once, twice if I like it, three times to make sure"}; 43d La Niña {Cause of a dry spell in the Midwest}; 44d ethics {Business school course}; 45d relies {Hinges}; 47d El Cid {Battle of Cabra victor, 1079}; 48d rinse {Shampoo shelfmate}; 49d strop {It's often seen next to a chair}; 52d base {Private residence?}; 54d sync {Coordination, briefly}; 57d has {Boasts}; 58d Val {___-de-Marne, France}.

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