Friday, May 8, 2009

NYT Saturday 5/9/09 - Catalytic Cracker

I'll stick my neck out here and say this was the hardest puzzle of the year so far. It started off easily enough and I got the 15-letter answers early on, which was very helpful. By half an hour, I had everything done except the NE corner.

I needed one or two answers to act as a "catalyst" and I eventually came up with people for 10-down, but even that did nothing to speed me up. After another ten minutes getting nowhere, I decided it was time to collaborate with Magdalen, who I thought might have 39-across, 42-across, 11-down or 30-down. No dice.

However, working together, we got feline, sped up and hence the long down answers to complete the grid. Unfortunately, we put in unliterate instead of unliterary and then settled for guesses at 39-across, 42-across and 33-down. We should really have sussed ALer for the last one, but fell into the trap of thinking Jay and Ray were first names - foiled again!
Solving time: 50 mins (collaborative effort, 4 mistakes)
Clue of the puzz: 28a true {Not tall}

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

CompilersBrad Wilber / Will Shortz
Grid15x15 with 30 (13.3%) black squares
Answers70 (average length 5.57)
Theme squares0 (0.0%)
Scrabble points311 (average 1.59)
New To Me

John Amos42a Gordy {"The Mary Tyler Moore Show" weatherman}. Here's one so obscure even Magdalen didn't remember it (and there's no YouTube clip that I can find): Gordy Howard was the weather caster at WJM-TV, played by John Amos.

52a Iko Iko {Mardi Gras song that was a 1965 hit for the Dixie Cups}. Suspecting the six-letter title involved reduplication was helpful here. Reading Wikipedia's explanation of Iko Iko doesn't get me much further - I'll have to ask our neighbors - experienced Mardi Gras goers - what it all means.

11d Ellie {"Show Boat" girl who sings "Life Upon the Wicked Stage"}. A Broadway reference too obscure for me: Frank Schultz and Ellie May are two of the actors on the eponymous floating theater in this Jerome Kern musical. This is Virginia O'Brien's performance from Till the Clouds Roll By, which includes a condensed adaptation of the musical.

USMC MSgt31d MSgt {U.S.M.C. E-8}. If jargon needed exemplifying, then this is it. I'd seen this sort of thing in previous puzzles, so knew not to panic about it and just hope to see a plausible abbreviated military rank in the end. This time it's MSgt, short for Master Sergeant.

35d All I {"___ Have" (Jennifer Lopez #1 hit)}. All I Have was a hit for J. Lo in 2003 and features rapper LL Cool J.

football bomb42d go long {Get ready for a bomb}. I thought this must be to do with stock market trading, but couldn't quite see why you'd go long in something that might "bomb". Magdalen explains that a "bomb" is a long pass in American football (but not as long as a Hail Mary).


28a true {Not tall}. I like this clue, which looked open to lots of possibilities but eventually gave a convincing answer. In fact I only tried one wrong answer tiny before realizing I should be thinking of stories.

29a rev {Preach}. For this to work, either "preach" has to be a noun equivalent to "preacher", or rev has to be a verb. The former seems to be what was intended, though I've not find a dictionary to support it. Very mean clue.

Sacajawea34a Sacagawea dollar {Indian currency}. I was lucky to come across the Sacagawea dollar last month. Although it was previously Sacajawea, the fact that there were multiple spellings stuck with me.

1d came {Amounted}. As in "amounted/came to nothing". Less difficult than I thought it was going to be.

8d Begin the Beguine {Song standard from Broadway's "Jubilee," 1935}. A nice title to get into a long answer. Begin the Beguine is a Cole Porter song based on a slow dance of the 1930s. Here is Jo Stafford to sing it for you.

33d ALer {Jay or Ray}. Ok, we should be wise to this sort of thing by now, but have to fess up to falling for the trick here: Jays and Rays are players for the Toronto Blue Jays and Tampa Bay Rays, therefore ALers.

The Rest

1a cushy job {No backbreaker}; 9a sped up {Was a catalyst for}; 15a annotate {Add to marginally?}; 16a feline {Stealthy sort}; 17a main drag {One running through town}; 18a oo-la-la {Exclamation near a runway}; 19a Este {City in Veneto}; 20a Gris {Cubist who painted "Violin and Glass"}; 22a pipit {Bird notable for walking rather than hopping}; 23a Count Fleet {Triple Crown winner between Whirlaway and Assault}; 25a learn {Master}; 31a Misha {Perfume named for Baryshnikov}; 32a shin {It's just over a foot}; 33a acre {Plot segment}; 37a grab {Take the wrong way?}; 38a lobe {Ring site}; 39a Meara {Tony award nominee for "Anna Christie," 1993}; 40a tsp. {It's sometimes heaping: Abbr.}; 41a slue {Fishtail, e.g.}; 43a petting zoo {Place where kids may feed kids}; 46a Morro {New Mexico's El ___ National Monument}; 47a duel {Emulate Cyrano}; 48a ex-GI {Nov. 11 honoree}; 54a ironweed {Pulitzer-winning William Kennedy novel}; 56a seabed {Good place to look when you're sole-searching?}; 57a nonsense {It doesn't add up}; 58a orders {Waiting list?}; 59a eggcrate {Kind of mattress pad}.

2d Unas {Last pharaoh of Egypt's Fifth Dynasty}; 3d snit {Ruffled state}; 4d hone {It'll give you an edge}; 5d YTD {Financial report abbr.}; 6d jargon {It's hard for laymen to understand}; 7d Otaru {Port on the Sea of Japan}; 9d SFO {Hub northwest of LAX}; 10d people {Nation}; 12d diaper-clad {Like tiny tots}; 13d unliterary {Like much pulp}; 14d peat {Everglades deposit}; 21d striae {Stretch marks, e.g.}; 23d crag {Peak projection}; 24d fund {Financial adviser's suggestion}; 25d liar's poker {Bluffing bar game}; 26d escape road {Emergency racetrack turnoff}; 27d Ahab {Wicked king of Israel}; 30d Vera {Tennis star Zvonareva}; 32d swound {Faint, to Shakespeare}; 36d Omoo {Classic novel whose title means "rover"}; 41d stoker {Steamship employee}; 44d tribe {Reservation holder}; 45d zero g {Free-falling phenomenon}; 46d miso {Paste in Asian cookery}; 48d ewer {One whose mouth and lip may be painted}; 49d Xena {TV opponent of Ares}; 50d gest {Exploit}; 51d idée {Starting point for un inventeur}; 53d ODs {Has one's fill and more, briefly}; 55d NSC {Foreign policy grp.}.

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