Friday, May 29, 2009

NYT Saturday 5/30/09 - Zed Alley

I raced through this Saturday New York Times crossword, finishing it in about half the time for yesterday's exceptionally tough one. I started in the bottom half and it didn't take long to see that Zs were the order of the day; once I got on the compiler's wavelength I made reasonable progress throughout the grid.

There were two areas which I had my doubts about: the SW corner, where I didn't know swage and just hoped there weren't any ambiguities in the first letters of the acrosses; and the SE corner where I didn't know Giro and wasn't sure of my guesses danged and Zen.

Given Zs were the mini-theme of the puzzle, I should have been more alert to what was going on at 59-Down, but somehow was blind to the anomalistic spelling in the clue. When I finally stopped work, it didn't take Magdalen very long to point out the mistakes to me.
Solving time: 26 mins (no cheating, three wrong answers)
Clue of the puzz: 15d socks {Belts}

Matt Ginsberg
Grid art by Sympathy [about the grid colors]

CompilersMatt Ginsberg / Will Shortz
Grid15x15 with 35 (15.6%) black squares
Answers72 (average length 5.28)
Theme squares0 (0.0%)
Scrabble points448 (average 2.36)
New To Me

Spaceman Spiff45a Zog {Planet visited by Spaceman Spiff in "Calvin and Hobbes"}. All alien planets seem to be called Zog, so I managed to guess this without seeing many of the relevant strip. The Walter Mittyesque Calvin finds school less than riveting and imagines himself exploring the universe "by popular request" as Spaceman Spiff.

51a Mama {"___ Said" (1961 hit)}. It's Saturday, so we're not told the artist(s). It wouldn't have helped much anyway. Mama Said was originally performed by The Shirelles, and has since been covered by numerous other artists.

Popeye6d Elzie {Cartoonist Segar}. I'd never have guess Elzie was a guy's name (there's some raw work pulled at the font, as Bertie Wooster was fond of saying). Elzie Crisler Segar (18941938) was the creator of Popeye the Sailor.

Clyde Fitch13d Fitch {Clyde ___, "Beau Brummell" playwright, 1890}. Clyde Fitch (18651909) wrote over 60 plays and had the mustaches to go with it. Beau Brummell was his first notable work, a biodram (my coinage ... if it doesn't exist, it should) about the Regency dandy.

pomade25d pomatum {Fragrant hair dressing}. I thought of pomade right away, but it didn't have the decency to fit in the space. It gets close though: it turns out pomatum is the more pompous term, both being based on the pomum (Latin for apple).

swage block44d swage {Metalworking tool}. This word was definitely not in my vocabulary, so I had my doubts but got lucky. A swage is a shaped tool or die used to give the desired form to metal being hammered or forced through under pressure. The accompanying picture shows a block with swages of various sizes and cross-sections.

Giro helmet54d Giro {Big name in cycling helmets}. Giro is not a big enough name to have come to my attention before. I wrongly guess Gira, which scotched the SE corner for me.


Yitzhak Rabin19a Yitzhak {Shimon's predecessor}. Remembering Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres wasn't difficult. Spelling Rabin's forename was, and I had several goes at it before the down answers fitted. This plaque in Tel Aviv marks the spot where Rabin was assassinated by a Jewish right-wing extremist in 1995.

21a vac {Sucker, quickly}. At one point I had vic, thinking this might be short for victim ... and maybe it is, but a shortening of vacuum cleaner makes sense too.

kava ceremony36a kava {Polynesian libation}. Know it from dictionaries, not first hand. Used by the Polynesians as a mild tranquilizer, kava preparations are now available in the West as a herbal remedy for anxiety disorders.

Whitaker Point, The Ozarks49a Ozark {County in Missouri or county seat in Arkansas}. Another guess that turned out well for me: having already placed half a dozen Zs, I somehow got into the compiler's mindset and a geographic name with both a Z and a K popped into my head. The Ozarks are the most extensive mountains between the Rockies in the west and the Appalachians in the east.

63a dodged {Hemmed and hawed}. Not knowing Giro and getting zed wrong, I somehow justified this to myself as danged ... imagining a backwoods guy prevaricating with "dang ... I don't know". I guess dodged can be used in the sense of dodging a question and it certainly gives more sensible letters for the down answers!

15d socks {Belts}. I love clues where in one context (clothing), the equivalence of clue and answer makes no sense; but only think of the right context (punching) and it all works out.

31d tar {Cap'n, say}. I'm not sure about this clue, because I always think of tars as being "below decks" sorts. I'm not sure the cap'n of a ship would appreciate being called it.

Zed Alley59d zed {Lack of organisation?}. My problem here was that I couldn't look at "organisation" and see anything odd. Natives would presumably notice the variation of spelling from the usual "organization" and hence arrive at the British spelling of the letter Z. That didn't work for me, and I meditatively settled for Zen ... It didn't surprise me that a better answer existed.

The Rest

1a just me {Response to "Is anyone else here?"}; 7a B and B {Travel mag listing}; 12a one half {Just over a minority}; 14a Sampras {Sports star who wrote the 2008 best seller "A Champion's Mind"}; 16a Jacuzzi {"Water that moves you" sloganeer}; 17a chorizo {Spanish pork sausage}; 18a owl {Nighttime noisemaker}; 22a Baum {"Mother Goose in Prose" author, 1897}; 24a E. coli {Cause of some food recalls}; 25a peak {Busiest}; 26a ardor {Spirit}; 28a hoo {Sob syllable}; 29a fours {All ___ (card game)}; 30a see out {Complete, as a task}; 32a scrimps {Is hardly extravagant}; 34a clap {Summon a servant, maybe}; 37a spheric {Round}; 40a petard {Gate-breaching bomb}; 44a sloes {Sour fruit}; 47a rumor {It's often unfounded}; 48a wold {Chain of treeless rolling hills}; 52a awe {Floor}; 53a hoaxing {April Fools' Day activity}; 55a zag {Turn sharply}; 56a gin-fizz {Drink with lemon juice}; 58a seizing {Appropriation}; 60a Estevez {Brat Pack member}; 61a Terence {Ancient Roman writer of comedies}; 62a hazed {Initiated unpleasantly}.

1d jojobas {Southwestern shrubs yielding a cosmetic oil}; 2d unaware {Not with it}; 3d seclude {Screen}; 4d Thu. {Day "Cheers" was on: Abbr.}; 5d mazy {Tangled and interwoven}; 7d Bahai {Believer advocating universal brotherhood}; 8d amok {Uncontrollably}; 9d NPR {D.C.-based news org.}; 10d drive up {Convenient kind of window}; 11d bazaars {Some charity events}; 14d schlock {Junk}; 20d zoos {Sites of some exhibits}; 23d mooched {Sponged}; 27d rules {Is way cool}; 29d fiver {Fin}; 33d rap {Criticize}; 35d pizzazz {Flair}; 37d slowish {Larghetto}; 38d polenta {Staple of northern Italy}; 39d coax {Urge}; 41d amazing {Not just great}; 42d romance {Court}; 43d dragged {Never seemed to end}; 46d grist {Mill fill}; 49d oozed {Fell through the cracks?}; 50d kneed {Hit below the belt}; 53d hive {Queen's quarters}; 57d fez {Casablanca wear}.

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