Tuesday, April 7, 2009

NYT Wednesday 4/8/09 - A Four Iron Puzzle

Now we've got to a Wednesday New York Times puzzle and the number of cultural references I don't know is beginning to slow me up. This time I got severely stalled in the top middle and top right sections, costing me a few minutes.

Wednesday is usually the peak for cultural knowledge, which is evident in the number of clues I find to comment on (even when I try to be a little selective). Later in the week, the difficulties tend to come more from the obscurity of the vocabulary and sneakiness of the cluing.

Today it definitely helped to crack 69-across early and then use that to guess the beginnings of the four long thematic answers. Whether it's worth scanning through all the clues at the start in the hope of finding such a key to the theme, I don't know - it's not something I bother with right now.
Solving time: 13 mins (no cheating)
Clue of the puzz: 28a skim [Less than 1%]

69a iron [Element that can precede the starts of 20-, 31-, 47- and 54-Across]:
20a lung capacity [An Olympic swimmer needs a big one] - iron lung
31a curtain rod [It may be over a window] - iron curtain
47a horse sense [Sound practical judgment] - iron horse
54a maiden voyage [Fateful event for the Titanic] - iron maiden

Joey Weissbrot
Grid art by Sympathy [about the grid colors]

CompilersJoey Weissbrot / Will Shortz
Grid15x15 with 38 (16.9%) black squares
Answers76 (average length 4.92)
Theme squares48 (25.7%)
Scrabble points283 (average 1.51)
New To Me

Akihito and Michiko40a empress [Akihito's wife, e.g.]. I guessed what the answer was without remembering precisely who Akihito referred to. He's the current emperor of Japan, the only reigning monarch in the world with the title "emperor". He married Empress Michiko in 1959.

Nat Turner42a Nat [Rebelling Turner]. I've happily solved such clues before without checking out who Nat Turner was. He is famous for leading a slave rebellion in 1831, in which approximately 60 white people were killed. Many more blacks were killed in the retaliation and Nat Turner was tried, convicted and hanged later in the year. He's now regarded as one of the 100 Greatest African Americans.

43a too [___ pooped to pop]. I'd not heard the expression before: there's a Chuck Berry song with that title from 1960, but whether it pre- or post-dates the expression, I don't know.

44a Talia [Shire of "Rocky"]. Talia Shire is the sister of director Francis Ford Coppola and played Adrian Pennino, Rocky Balboa's girlfriend, in the movie series. Since I'd seen the movie recently, I should have known this one, but had forgotten the name.

6d Deep Purple [Group with the 1968 hit "Hush"]. Deep Purple's cover of Joe South's "Hush", from their debut album Shades of Deep Purple was their first hit. It's quite the noisiest Hush I've ever heard.

7d Alda [2006 Emmy winner for "The West Wing"]. Alan Alda played Republican presidential candidate Arnold Vinick. Given the number of references to this show in crosswords, I guess I'm supposed to have watched it. Here is part of the debate between Vinick and the Democratic presidential candidate Matt Santos, played by Jimmy Smits.

12d sax ["Harlem Nocturne" instrument]. Harlem Nocturne is a jazz standard written by Earle Hagen and Dick Rogers in 1939. Here's John Firmin and the Johnny Nocturne Band's version.

28d smiths [Paul Revere and others]. Paul Revere was a silversmith, which wouldn't have helped him prepare his horse for the "midnight ride" - everything I know about this comes from Duck Soup.


Leif Landed First1a Cabot [Venetian who explored for England in the 15th century]. John Cabot was funded by Henry VII and is said to be the first European to discover North America, possibly landing at Cape Bonavista in Newfoundland. Actually Norsemen had explored those parts centuries before.

loris17a loris [Tailless Old World mammal]. This hardly needs a comment, but lorises are so weirdly beautiful I have to include a picture.

A Good Riddance24a house [Royal family]. As in the House of Windsor, my royal family. They started out as the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, but adopted the name Windsor because of anti-German sentiment in World War I.

skim milk28a skim [Less than 1%]. I like this clue, because it fooled me into thinking there was some term for a very small fraction. Actually, it's in reference to milk: in the US, skim milk has between 0% and 0.5% butterfat content.

Running of the Bulls64a toro [Runner in Pamplona]. A round-about way of asking for the Spanish for bull: Pamplona has the most famous running of the bulls (encierro in Spanish).

Felipe Alou2d Alou [Baseball's Felipe or Jesus]. This is a good example of a clue that used to really hold me up, but is now a gimme. The Alou family was the second thing I learned about baseball, after Babe Ruth.

Echo Canyon10d canyon [Echo location]. A neat clue, suggesting the bats' navigation technique. It looks like there are Echo Canyons in several states, though the clue wasn't necessarily referring to any of them.

13d HST [1940s-'50s White House inits.] and 34d AES [He ran to succeed 13-Down: Abbr.]. These two sets of initials go nicely together: Harry S. Truman and Adlai E. Stevenson.

60d else [End of a warning]. The warning being "or else!" presumably.

The Rest

6a dabs [Paints gently]; 10a cash [Mattress filler during a recession, maybe]; 14a Alero [Last Oldsmobile car]; 15a Elle [Palindromic magazine name]; 16a alas ["A pity"]; 18a Edom [Land of the descendants of 67-Across]; 19a next ["Step right up!"]; 23a AARP [50+ org.]; 35a magic [Tricks]; 37a rarer [Not so common]; 38a Ali [The Greatest]; 39a Ibn [Son of, in Arab names]; 45a truce [Treaty signing]; 50a used [After 2004, the only way to buy a 14-Across]; 51a smear [Slander]; 52a on CD [Modern way to put out an album]; 61a umps [Diamond group]; 65a nasal [Like spoken n's]; 66a zero [It turns a hundred into a thousand]; 67a Esau [Jacob's twin]; 68a grins [Makes like the Cheshire Cat]; 70a mess [Where the crew chows down]; 71a adage ["Poor Richard's Almanack" bit].

1d call [Give a ring]; 3d Bern [Capital of Switzerland]; 4d origami [Art form that commonly depicts a swan]; 5d Tosca [Puccini opera]; 8d bloc [Congressional Black Caucus, e.g.]; 9d semi [Rest stop sight]; 11d ale [Stout, e.g.]; 21d arc [Part of a circle]; 22d thirst [Common companion of a dry throat]; 25d Uranus [Astronomical discovery of 1781]; 26d solace [Grief relief]; 27d edited [Ready to be typeset]; 29d kaboom [Big bang]; 30d ignore [Turn a deaf ear to]; 32d rarin' [___ to go]; 33d treasonous [Spying against one's own country, say]; 36d cetera [Et ___]; 41d más [More, on Mallorca]; 46d Rudyard [Author Kipling]; 48d Samson [Biblical strongman]; 49d env. [Part of S.A.S.E.: Abbr.]; 53d conga [Line dance]; 55d item [Hot pair]; 56d dose [A teaspoonful, maybe]; 57d eras [Reconstruction and the Roaring Twenties]; 58d Asia [Indian's home]; 59d gang [Club familiars]; 61d Uzi [Gun produced by Israel Military Industries]; 62d mer [La Méditerranée, e.g.]; 63d pro [Whiz].

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