Friday, June 5, 2009

NYT Saturday 6/6/09 - Becoming Unstuck

I can't remember enjoying another puzzle more than this Saturday New York Times crossword: it's hard to put a finger on why, although the fill is replete with great answers (just look at the four 15-letter ones for a start!) and there's hardly a clue that isn't either amusingly deceptive or amusingly imaginative.

Maybe it's just that I'm less frustrated with getting stuck for minutes on end: my increased experience over the last five months really helped out and I'm not sure I'd have been able to finish this one back in January. Then, I didn't know Al Capp, Tso's, pop quiz, or Caen at all; and answers like repo, relo, Ute and abs hadn't become second nature.

It looks like I'm getting close to breaking 30 minutes on these end-of-week puzzles - if I can do that regularly, it'll give me a great sense of achievement. Perhaps I'll be there at the end of the year, in good time for the 2010 ACPT?
Solving time: 35 mins (no cheating)
Clue of the puzz: 45d zlotys {Poles work for them}

Doug Peterson
Grid art by Sympathy [about the grid colors]

CompilersDoug Peterson / Will Shortz
Grid15x15 with 31 (13.8%) black squares
Answers72 (average length 5.39)
Theme squares0 (0.0%)
Scrabble points325 (average 1.68)
New To Me

Julie Newmar1a Al Capp {Creator of Stupefyin' Jones}. Pop culture answers abounded at the start of the acrosses, making the NW corner a bit of a dead area for me. But as Magdalen also had trouble, it may have been the same for everybody. Stupefyin' Jones was a character in the Li'l Abner strip, who stupefied men with her drop-dead gorgeousness. Julie Newmar, later to play Catwoman, became famous overnight when playing Stupefyin' Jones in the 1956 musical Li'l Abner.

15a Leave it to Beaver {This and Sputnik 1 were launched on the same day}. I knew the title Leave It to Beaver without being quite sure if it was a TV show, film, comic strip etc. The version that launched on October 4, 1957 was the TV show - there was a movie adaptation in 1997. Plaudits to the compiler for cluing the answer in this interesting way. Here is a fascinating clip of cast members reunited for a 50th anniversary feature:

17a seeing-eye single {Soft ground ball that finds its way between infielders}. Wikipedia has 124 baseball jargon terms starting with S alone. A seeing-eye single, aka a seeing-eye ball, has an uncanny ability to find a path just out of reach of the fielders.

Killer Croc32a Croc {Killer ___ (green-skinned "Batman" villain)}. 32d wasn't any help deciding between Killer Frog and Killer Croc, so it was only 4d avionics that clinched it for the crocs. Waylon Jones/Killer Croc is born with a skin disease that makes him progressively more crocodilian, poor chap.

46a Elise {Kimberly of "John Q"}. Just had to guess Kimberly Elise and hope for the best. John Q (2002) is a movie about a hard-up father who takes hostages in hospital when his son is denied further treatment for a heart problem. Kimberly plays the mother, Denise.

nocking55a nocks {Prepares to shoot, as an arrow}. Strangely, I've never come across this before - archery hasn't been a compulsory part of the curriculum in England since medieval times. nock is both the notch at the back end of an arrow into which the bowstring fits, and the act of fitting an arrow in the bowstring ready for firing.

1d also {Therewithal}. Easy to misread the clue as "Wherewithal", which gets used a whole lot more than "Therewithal" these days. The latter is an archaic equivalent of "besides".

7d stylets {Nematodes' piercing mouthparts}. An uncommon meaning (unless you're a zoologist) of an uncommon word (unless you're a medico). Stylets are the pointy bits of invertebrates that can do nasty things like latch onto your intestine.

8d toes {Drives obliquely}. Before researching this, I wasn't sure if this was to do with golf or woodworking. Ok, it's golf, because a toed ball is hit off the far end of the club head and will veer obliquely to the right (for a right-handed player). The golf tournament du jour is the Memorial Tournament which is going to be required watching for Magdalen and me (some of the time) this weekend.

chugging29d chugs {Downs without a break}. This is US-specific slang, so I just had to guess and luckily was fairly certain of every letter except the final S. Chugging is consuming a drink in large gulps without pausing. For some reason, "chuggy" in Magdalen's family is a nickname for the size of plate intermediate between a dinner plate and a saucer - anyone else use that?


General Tso's Chicken20a Tso's {Chinese menu word}. A good example of an obscure answer becoming a gimme with familiarity: General Tso's Chicken is likely an American invention, rather than an authentic Chinese dish, being named for a Qing dynasty general.

Nurse Jackie21a nurse {Sticker by a hospital bed?}. Seeing Edie Falco all over the net the last few days as mean-looking Nurse Jackie made it a lot easier to get this deceptive clue.

44a Penzance {Cornwall resort port}. I guessed an -ance ending, as that is common in Cornwall, but was hoping for home advantage. Instead we get a place everyone knows through G&S - boo! Wouldn't "Home for the Pirates?" make a mean clue for Penzance?

48a lit {Stiff}. Two of the myriad slang terms for drunk.

63a Itsy Bitsy Spider {Determined one in a kid's song}. A great 15-letter answer - very difficult to work out where the word breaks would be.

3d Caen {Columnist who wrote "Baghdad by the Bay"}. Herb Caen has been getting a lot of cruciverbal ink lately, but I was very glad to know him given the layer upon layer of tough acrosses in the NW corner.

45d zlotys {Poles work for them}. Neat clue, with the zloty-earning Poles at the beginning to add ambiguity.

William Penn's 1682 treaty with the Lenape47d Lenape {The Delaware Prophet's tribe}. I'd come across the Lenape before, as the area they once inhabited overlaps much of Pennsylvania. Neolin (nicknamed the Delaware Prophet) led a movement rejecting "white ways" in the middle of the 18th century.

52d SETI {Space-scanning proj.}. Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence: SETI activities have being going nearly 50 years, and yet there's still no evidence for extraterrestrial civilization - the Fermi Paradox.

60d ABO {Typing letters?}. QWE? RTY? Not that kind of typing, but ABO blood typing.

The Rest

7a stalwart {Firm}; 18a or not {"... but things could change"}; 19a els {High ways?}; 23a CCI {Year the emperor Decius was born}; 25a gripe {Many a letter to the editor}; 27a trounced {Mopped the floor with}; 33a lasers {Engraving tools}; 35a HMO {Coverage provider, for short}; 36a caustic {Acid}; 38a pop quiz {Classroom groan elicitor}; 40a Ute {Rice-Eccles Stadium athlete}; 41a hadron {Subatomic particle in a collider}; 43a ugly {Hard to watch}; 49a latex {Swim cap material}; 51a as to {On}; 54a hah! {"In your face!"}; 59a meat and potatoes {Nitty-gritty}; 64a dissolve {Film editing technique}; 65a pecans {Ice cream shop supply}.

2d leer {Satyric expression}; 4d avionics {High-tech navigation systems}; 5d pent up {Kept inside}; 6d pig {Source of blood for blood pudding}; 9d abs {Some are sculpted}; 10d lei {Strung souvenir}; 11d want in {Wish to join}; 12d avgs. {N.Y.S.E. nos.}; 13d relo {It may accompany a promotion, briefly}; 14d tres {Lithium's número atómico}; 16d tees {Some plumbing joints}; 22d reliant {Hanging (on)}; 23d coronet {Peer's topper}; 24d cusp {Astrological gray area}; 25d grate {Rankle}; 26d Rouen {Edward IV's birthplace}; 28d repo {Certain seizure}; 30d Emile {Rousseau novel subtitled "On Education"}; 31d dozy {On the way out?}; 32d C cup {Bikini spec}; 34d AC-DC {Kind of converter}; 37d Thai {Resident near the Isthmus of Kra}; 39d quixotic {Not at all practical}; 42d relapse {Turn for the worse}; 50d ahoy {Main call}; 51d amid {Within}; 53d TASS {Info source for 58-Down}; 54d HDTV {Cutting-edge set}; 56d coda {End notes?}; 57d keen {Itching (to)}; 58d SSRs {Red grp.}; 61d nil {Next to ___}; 62d tsp. {Shortening in recipes}.

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