Thursday, May 7, 2009

NYT Friday 5/8/09 - Duck Soup?

Friday New York Times crosswords can drive me crazy, especially when I get completely bogged down and stare at clues for minutes on end without getting anywhere. This one was something of an exception, then - I suspect it's just an easier one for a change, although my familiarity with some of the longer answers may have given me an advantage.

The grid looks very attractive and has a lively pangrammatic fill with imaginative clues, exemplified by "That was Zen, this is ___" for Tao. The only complaint I would make is the number of three-letter words required to support the slabs of long answers round the edge. Based on my limited experience, I seem to have more fun with themeless puzzles that have fewer very long answers, but lots of areas with crossing answers in the six- to eight-letter range.
Solving time: 24 mins (no cheating)
Clue of the puzz: 35a elope {Get a hand on the road?}

Grid art by Sympathy [about the grid colors]

CompilersJohn Farmer / Will Shortz
Grid15x15 with 45 (20.0%) black squares
Answers64 (average length 5.63)
Theme squares0 (0.0%)
Scrabble points313 (average 1.74)
New To Me

26a Stu {Lantz of the 1960s-'70s N.B.A.}. Stu Lantz is now a commentator for the Los Angeles Lakers having played for them at the end of his career.

41a TAs {Some proctors, for short}. This is another example of differences in British and American usage. I went to Oxford University, where proctors enforce university discipline, aided by a private police force: bowler-hatted constables called "bulldogs". Really ... I'm not making this up! But in the US, I gather proctors are merely invigilators for exams, therefore likely to be teaching assistants.

43a Dave {Early TV host Garroway}. Dave Garroway was the host of NBC's morning news show Today from 1952 to 1961. Here he is on What's My Line?

2d ope {"Behold, the heavens do ___": Shak.}. I would have guessed the storm scene from King Lear, but this line is actually from Coriolanus, where the eponymous general is finally persuaded by Mumsy (Volumnia) to desist from sacking Rome:
O mother, mother!
What have you done? Behold, the heavens do ope,
The gods look down, and this unnatural scene
They laugh at. O my mother, mother! O!
You have won a happy victory to Rome
From Coriolanus Act V, Scene iii by William Shakespeare

7d Maher {"Real Time" host}. The full title of the show says it all really: Real Time with Bill Maher. Bill Maher is a stand-up comedian who's most recently targeted organized religion in the feature film Religulous.

Ground Rule Double43d dbls. {Some baseball hits: Abbr.}. Easy enough to guess for this puzzle, but I suppose I should check out what a double means in baseball: it's when a batter steers the ball well enough to run all the way to second base ... kind of like getting two runs in cricket. You can also have a ground rule double where a ball is hit fairly but bounces out of play.


10a Captain Ahab {"From hell's heart I stab at thee; for hate's sake I spit my last breath at thee" speaker}. Famous last words ... Ahab gets caught in his own harpoon line and is dragged down with the whale. Moby-Dick is one of my favorite American novels: several movie adaptations have been made, notably the 1956 version starring Gregory Peck as Captain Ahab.

14a putt {Six-footer, maybe}. Long experience with cryptic crosswords led me to think of insects first. Magdalen was watching The Players Championship when solving, making this putt a lot easier to get.

Fowey harbor27a rias {Coastal features}. I was surprised Magdalen had trouble with this one, as I learned it in school geography. A ria, or "drowned valley", is formed when the sea level in a valley rises (or the land falls) resulting in a much bigger estuary than you'd expect, based on the size of the river feeding it. They're very common in the southwest of England and make good harbors.

Gretna Green35a elope {Get a hand on the road?}. A great misleading definition. In Britain, couples seeking to elope used to head for Gretna Green, just across the border into Scotland, where there were laxer requirements for parental consent. Magdalen and I went right by there in March, but had no need of its services.

5d cinches {They're duck soup}. As in "a piece of cake", but I'm congenitally incapable of passing by any Marx Brothers allusion without including a clip.

9d SAS {Lander at Arlanda}. A clue with a bit of poetry. I have to admit SAS makes me think first of Britain's special forces regiment, so I assumed Arlanda was one of their famous victories. Has Britain ever parachuted troops into Stockholm? ... no, Arlanda is Stockholm's international airport, a hub for Scandinavian Airlines System.

Quantum Leap12d quantum leap {Abrupt change}. In this context, I have to give a plug for Matt Savage, a sixteen-year-old jazz musician I first heard on Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz. Quantum Leap is the very impressive fifth album for his trio.

25d jabbed {Drew a cross response?}. This was a hard clue for me, but I eventually recognized cross and jab as boxing terms.

47d Tea {"___ With Mussolini" (Zeffirelli film)}. I saw Tea With Mussolini about five years ago in England and remember it fondly for several fine performances from British actresses of a certain age.

The Rest

1a boot camps {Military trials?}; 12a quiet on the set {Order given before shooting starts}; 15a chew {___ toy (pet shop purchase)}; 16a ahs {Magic show reactions}; 18a ray {Glimmer}; 19a kosher {Allowed}; 22a suet {Steamed pudding ingredient}; 23a Eno {Creator of the "Microsoft sound" played when Windows 95 starts}; 24a apter {More inclined}; 25a Jaffa {Mediterranean port since ancient times}; 28a max out {Go to the limit}; 29a currant {Fruit for a tart}; 31a Fabergé {Egg maker}; 32a I'm late {Untimely cry?}; 33a glib {Superficial}; 34a tit {Small bird}; 36a blaze {Brilliant display}; 37a str. {Naval chart abbr.}; 38a nest {Settle in}; 39a coaxed {Used butter on, maybe}; 40a Cie. {Inc., abroad}; 42a brrr {Comment from the chattering class?}; 44a periodic table {Science class decoration}; 49a Space Needle {Landmark in Elvis Presley's "It Happened at the World's Fair"}; 50a isinglass {Common mica}.

1d bait {Chum, e.g.}; 3d Ott {Giant on the cover of Time magazine, 1945}; 4d Tao {"That was Zen, this is ___" (bumper sticker)}; 6d anther {Pollen bearer in a flower}; 8d phew! {"They almost got me!"}; 10d cut your losses {Advice in a bear market, maybe}; 11d Beaufort scale {The higher this goes, the more it blows}; 13d The Fugitive {TV drama featuring Dr. Richard Kimble}; 14d prescient {Visionary}; 17d state tree {Magnolia or pecan}; 19d karate {Class that's not just for kicks}; 20d opine {Give a piece of one's mind?}; 21d stat {Steals, e.g.}; 22d Saxe {___-Weimar-Eisenach (duchy until W.W. I)}; 28d maize {It comes in ears}; 30d rapt {In reverie}; 31d flax {Linen fiber}; 33d glaring {Hard to miss}; 36d Borden {Cremora brand}; 39d croci {Perennials with cup-shaped flowers}; 42d bias {Color}; 45d RPI {Upstate N.Y. school}; 46d cel {Old Walt Disney production}; 48d ads {Some spreads}.

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