Thursday, May 28, 2009

NYT Friday 5/29/09 - Red-Letter Puzzle

This Friday New York Times crossword has some of the most evil cluing I've seen: if I hadn't been able to finish, I'd have cried foul; but since I did finish, I have to say this is a great puzzle (even if it took me a dog's age to do).

The grid is a beauty, with the average answer length coming in at exactly 6 - I certainly prefer end-of-week grids like this with lots of answers in the eight- to ten-letter range. Ones trying to cram in 15-letter answers tend to need a corresponding number of three-letter ones to make the grid fillable: it's a lot harder to make clues to three-letter answers interesting.
Solving time: 48 mins (no cheating)
Clue of the puzz: 26a centre {Middle of the British Isles?}

Randolph Ross
Grid art by Sympathy [about the grid colors]

CompilersRandolph Ross / Will Shortz
Grid15x15 with 27 (12.0%) black squares
Answers66 (average length 6.00)
Theme squares0 (0.0%)
Scrabble points284 (average 1.43)
New To Me

15a e-note {Online message}. Anyone else start with e-mail? e-note is a plausible coinage, but I haven't yet worked out quite what the compiler had in mind: perhaps the anonymous email service So I'm not really happy with e-note - if I can't justify an answer from my own dictionaries, I hope to at least find it in Wikipedia.

43a fer {Backwoods pro?}. It took a while to figger out this one: fer is a countrified way of pronouncing "for", hence "backwoods pro". Looking through previous NYT clues to fer, I'm amazed no-one's yet tried "Van de Velde's iron"!

Travis Tritt10d Tritt {Singer of the #1 country hit "Foolish Pride"}. Foolish Pride was Travis Tritt's first single from his 1994 album Ten Feet Tall and Bulletproof.

12d Nate, 20d the Great {Kiddie-lit counterpart of Sherlock Holmes}. The rhyme was very helpful in reconciling the two answer parts: Nate the Great is a series of novels by Marjorie Sharmat, which began in 1972 and now has over 20 titles. Nate solves crimes with the help of his dog Sludge.

14d Eero {Finnish pentathlete Lehtonen}. We get Eero Saarinen a lot, so I just hoped that all Finns are called Eero and I got lucky! Eero Lehtonen was a pentathelete who won gold medals in 1920 and 1924 - quite an 'ero in his day!

Herb Caen26d Caen {Columnist who wrote "Don't Call It Frisco," 1953}. Herb Caen (19161997) wrote for the San Francisco Chronicle and, briefly, the San Francisco Examiner. The title of his book is a good piece of advice to non-natives. Herb went out with a bang, making arrangements in his will for a fireworks display after his death.

poker spur32d spur {Poker variety?}. This was a particularly nasty clue, as most solvers would, I suspect, put in stud. I'm not 100% of my explanation here, but I'm assuming the spur is the spiky bit at the side of many fireplace pokers.


1a digit {Place holder?}. You put a finger in a book to keep your place, right? Neat clue.

6a past tense {"Lost" category}. Nothing to do with the mysterious TV series, which is a carefully selected example to throw us off the scent. Evil clue.

Dunsop Bridge26a centre {Middle of the British Isles?}. You might think I have an advantage with clues like this, but I don't - to me there's nothing odd about the spelling centre and it took me ages to work out what was going on here. For what it's worth, the geographical center of the British Isles is near Dunsop Bridge in Lancashire.

56a lease {Flat piece of paper?}. In crossword clues, the assumption seems to be that flats are always leased. This clue might have been harder for natives: "flat" suggested apartment to me immediately - I didn't even think about differences between US and British usage until writing this commentary.

Room at Arles58a Arles {Where some sunflowers were painted}. This was one of the earliest clues I got: I knew that many Van Gogh paintings mentioned the town of Arles and just hoped that he also painted sunflowers there.

Torah scrolls stamp9d tav {Torah's beginning?}. A cute way of defining the 22nd letter of the Hebrew alphabet, Torah being spelled תּוֹרָה (tav-vav-resh-heh).

42d dry ice {Picnic cooler}. Ice in a picnic cooler makes sense, but dry ice - isn't that overkill? I'm trying to think of any time I've seen a picnicgoer trailing clouds of condensation from a container - no it's never happened. That doesn't mean to no-one uses dry ice - here's an article on the subj. They don't sell dry ice to minors - with good reason based on all the YouTube clips I saw - here's one of the tamer ones:

The Rest

16a aspartame {Equal, essentially}; 17a A-flat {G neighbor}; 18a RCA Victor {Introducer of 45's in '49}; 19a red-letter {Memorable}; 21a the go {What busy people are on}; 22a Oreo {Ice cream mix-in}; 23a honest {Like some opinions}; 25a Lin {"In the Heights" Tony winner ___-Manuel Miranda}; 27a laic {Congregational}; 31a dog's age {Long while}; 33a Salerno {Allied landing site of September 1943}; 35a draper {Derby dry-goods dealer}; 36a Heaton {"Everybody Loves Raymond" Emmy winner Patricia}; 37a attunes {Gets in sync}; 39a woofing {Kennel clamor}; 40a doer {Action figure?}; 41a alders {Charcoal wood sources}; 44a stares {Some are blank}; 45a wise {Oracular}; 46a spout {Jet}; 50a type-faces {Producers of some bold words}; 52a Henry VIII {Charlton Heston's "The Prince and the Pauper" role}; 54a Ivins {Columnist Molly}; 55a in balance {Homeostatic}; 57a any longer {From this moment on}.

1d dear old dad {Pops}; 2d inferior to {Beneath}; 3d Golden Gate {Sir Francis Drake discovery of 1579}; 4d Italo- {Ethnic prefix}; 5d tête {Head of Notre Dame}; 6d Part One {Series kickoff}; 7d ascent {Way up}; 8d sparers {They let people off}; 11d etch {Prepare a plate, perhaps}; 13d smog {Cause of a bad air day?}; 24d sea-horse {Cousin of a stickleback}; 27d leaf {One that's stalked}; 28d artificial {Like 16-Across}; 29d in one sense {From a particular perspective}; 30d congresses {Meetings of delegates}; 34d Leos {Some July arrivals}; 38d slating {Roof work}; 39d weepier {Comparatively maudlin}; 44d stylo {Parisian pen}; 45d waver {Not stick to one's guns}; 46d Shia {Ayatollah, e.g.}; 47d Penn {State-founding Friend}; 48d On By {"Walk ___" (1964 hit)}; 49d Ural {The Ilek is one of its tributaries}; 51d Fila {Adidas alternative}; 53d van {It'll help you make your move}.


Daniel Myers said...

On "spur" - It seems to me - if you understand "poker" to denote anything that pokes - that spur obviously refers to those things cowboys wear on their heels to "spur on" their horses.

Crossword Man said...

Yes Daniel, yours is a much better explanation. I suppose RR may have started with just "Poker" as the definition and then thought "Poker variety?" would be even more diabolically deceptive.

Miles said...

This crossword drove me nuts, "evil" is underselling it.

Crossword Man said...

Thanks Miles - glad I wasn't the only sufferer!