Friday, June 19, 2009

NYT Saturday 6/20/09 - No Way In

My experiences with this Saturday New York Times crossword were similar to yesterday's: it took a long time to find a portal (way in) to the grid, though looking at the completed result, it's hard to see how some things didn't come immediately. For example, one look at 14-Across and I should have written in Roger Ebert - he's the only US film critic I know!

For me the crux of the puzzle was the intersection of Yaz and Zuni and I just had to guess the shared letter in the end, probably helped by vague memories of the tribe from somewhere. I also know that uncommon letters like Z are not unheard of in situations like this.

An update on Cranium-Crushing Crosswords, which are as tough as the title suggests - there's quite a bit of variation, but the average difficulty is about the same as a Friday NYT puzzle. I've got as far as puzzle 22 and I'd like to say that the practice is making me faster - unfortunately, there's no good evidence for that, but that's not going to stop me trying.
Solving time: 43 mins (no cheating)
Clue of the puzz: 62a taco {It's folded before dinner}

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

CompilersBrad Wilber / Will Shortz
Grid15x15 with 27 (12.0%) black squares
Answers68 (average length 5.82)
Theme squares0 (0.0%)
Scrabble points303 (average 1.53)
New To Me

Kachina doll37a Zuni {Kachina doll makers}. Kachina dolls rang vague bells from somewhere and I thought they were probably associated with one of the American tribes. Since I didn't know 29d Yaz, I struggled to come up with the tribal name, but somehow dredged up Zuni from somewhere. Kachinas are the ancestral spirits in the mythology of the Pueblo Indians; dolls representing them (which can be up to 20 inches high) are carved as gifts to children of the tribe.

6d Le Mat {Paul who won a Golden Globe for "American Graffiti"}. Paul Le Mat plays John Milner in the 1973 comedy American Graffiti. This is the movie that makes me want to track down one of the few remaining carhop diners with waitresses on roller skates.

23d Keith {Country star Urban}. I was surprised to find Keith Urban is an Australian - he achieved some success in his native land before moving to the USA in 1992. Here he is performing his recent single Kiss a Girl:

Ft. Riley ceremonial cavalry27d Ft. Riley {Kansas mil. reservation with the U.S. Cavalry Museum}. Abbreviating fort is a bit of a mean trick, as no one expects an answer to start FTR. Fort Riley was long associated with the cavalry and became the site of the United States Cavalry School in 1887. It is sometimes identified as ground zero for the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, which soldiers are supposed to have spread worldwide.

Yaz29d Yaz {Old Fenway nickname}. How am I meant to know this? Carl Yastrzemski, dubbed Yaz, played his entire career for the Boston Red Sox, primarily as a left fielder. He's a Baseball Hall of Famer, so maybe I'll see more of him in Cooperstown, NY this summer.

45d T.C. Boyle {"Drop City" novelist, 2003}. Another answer that starts in a completely unexpected way. T. Coraghessan Boyle is an American writer specializing in novels about the baby boomer generation; he's been compared with Mark Twain for his mixture of humor and social exploration. Drop City concerns a counterculture commune in the 1970s, not unlike the first rural hippy community in Drop City, CO.


Roger Ebert14a Roger Ebert {Writer on pictures}. This was something of a gift for me, as he's the only American film critic I've heard of: with a bit more knowledge I might have hesitated for choice of what to put in. Unfortunately, it took several readings of the clue before I realized a film critic was called for in the first place. Incidentally, the British equivalent of Roger is Barry Norman, who had the catchphrase "... and why not?" thrust upon him by the satirical show Spitting Image.

Anglo Mania17a Anglomania {Going bonkers for the British?}. Funny to see this answer, which certainly wasn't a gimme for this Brit. Do people really have Anglomania, or is it just a marketing ploy?

22a Asok {"Dilbert" character who was reincarnated as his own clone}. When I had an office job, Dilbert strips often seemed to get pinned to noticeboards to keep pointy-haired bosses on their toes. I just about remembered Asok, the naive and gullible young programmer.

54a Loeb {1924 co-defendant}. I learned about the Leopold and Loeb case at the end of last month, so it wasn't difficult to recall the answer and the connection with Hitchcock's Rope.

55a merry-andrew {Clown}. Knowing merry-andrew from cryptic crosswords was another lucky break for me. The antiquarian Thomas Hearne claimed the term came from the physician to Henry VIII, Andrew Boorde, who "to his vast learning added great eccentricity". But in the absence of supporting evidence, no one believes this. What we know with more certainty is that there's a movie called Merry Andrew in which Danny Kaye plays a circus clown called Andrew.

General Tso58a Tso {General in the Taiping Rebellion}. Looks like the chicken has been a little overdone, so we're resorting to a biographical reference to the dish's inspiration Zuǒ Zōngtáng (1812-1885). The Taiping Rebellion (1850-1864) was the world's largest civil war - casualties are estimated at around 20 million people.

Uriah Heep64a Heep {Blackmailer in an 1850 novel}. Lovely way to clue a familiar fictional character. I'm an ardent Dickensian, so this reference was right in my ballpark ... but could I get it right away? No, it wasn't till I'd got all the crossings, that I saw David Copperfield's arch-enemy appear.

Protesters campaigning against the demotion of Pluto9d Eris {Solar system discovery of 2003}. I first learned of the dwarf planet Eris in a Sunday puzzle in April and its orbit has taken Eris into another NYT puzzle today. With such friendly letters, it's clearly going to outshine all the other planets in crosswords. How do we know it's a dwarf planet? Because it only satisfies the first two of the three requirements for a planet:
  1. is it in orbit around the Sun? [yes]
  2. has it sufficient mass to assume a nearly round shape [yes, good job Eris]
  3. has it "cleared the neighbourhood" around its orbit [no - sorry Eris, you're a dwarf]
The Rest

1a diet plate {Reduced fare?}; 10a a bit {Not much}; 16a tori {Bagels, essentially}; 18a aloe {Eczema treater}; 19a Yer {"___ Blues" (track on the Beatles' "White Album")}; 20a was I snoring? {Response to being elbowed, maybe}; 24a tee {Driver's helper}; 25a trivia {Kind of question}; 26a G-clef {Indicator of high-level staff?}; 28a dryad {Companion for Pan}; 30a -ism {Suffix with 49-Across}; 31a eolith {Prehistoric stone tool}; 33a salivate {Show great anticipation}; 35a tree {Home for a 28-Across}; 38a machismo {Bruiser's display}; 42a sanest {Maximally balanced}; 46a AMA {Professional grp. with its own insurance agency}; 47a lit up {Visibly elated}; 49a lyric {Part of a number}; 50a moppet {Tyke}; 52a tos {Set-___}; 59a Obie {Dramatic honor}; 60a neutrality {Beige attribute}; 62a taco {It's folded before dinner}; 63a theatrical {Staged}; 65a ill at ease {Restive}.

1d drayage {Certain hauling fee}; 2d Ionesco {"The Bald Soprano" playwright, 1950}; 3d egg roll {It's stuffed in a restaurant}; 4d tel. {Letterhead abbr.}; 5d prow {Ship part}; 7d abased {Brought down}; 8d Teniers {Surname of three generations of Flemish old masters}; 10d Atari {Maker of the Lynx and Jaguar systems}; 11d Bolivia {Where Quechua is spoken}; 12d ironist {Writer whose words are twisted?}; 13d tie game {Outcome disallowed by the N.H.L. in 2005}; 15d Tantalus {Victim of terrible teasing}; 21d ordinal {Second, e.g.}; 32d hesitant {Waffling}; 34d vinyl {Part of some audiophiles' collections}; 36d EMT {One making a journey with a gurney}; 38d mammoth {Bigger than big}; 39d amoebae {Shape shifters?}; 40d caprice {Fancy}; 41d outduel {Best in a one-on-one}; 43d erotica {Body art?}; 44d siestas {Followers of some meals}; 48d portal {Way in}; 51d preop {Before making the cut?}; 53d Serta {Option at Sleepy's}; 56d Nehi {Orange, peach or strawberry product}; 57d wart {Imperfection}; 61d lie {Interrogator's red-flag raiser}.

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