Friday, July 31, 2009

NYT Saturday 8/1/09 - Surprise Ending

It seems so common that I solve a Saturday New York Times crossword faster than a Friday one, that I wonder if it's now intentional to make Friday the hardest day of the week, or if I'm just weird. Doesn't it make better sense to have the Saturday puzzle the most difficult, as that's when solvers should have more time and easy access to reference books?

I breezed through this one reasonably quickly, clocking a faster time than even the Thursday puzzle. I could get lots of the long answers early on, and when that happens you usually make great progress. Only the SW corner proved a little troublesome, particularly the crossing of cull and Ugarte, which I pondered for a few minutes before deciding on the correct vowel.

Here's another puzzle with what I've christened "non-identical twins". Is this a new craze or just the first time I've noticed it?
42a careens {Pitches}
52a leaned {Pitched}

4d MNO {6 letters}
10d evictors {They remove letters}

6d hates {Is repulsed by}
11d sickens {Repulses}
Solving time: 25 mins (solo, no solving aids)
Clue of the puzz: 4d MNO {6 letters}

Martin Ashwood-Smith
Grid art by Sympathy [about the grid colors]

CompilersMartin Ashwood-Smith / Will Shortz
Grid15x15 with 30 (13.3%) black squares
Answers66 (average length 5.91)
Theme squares0 (0.0%)
Scrabble points327 (average 1.68)
New To Me

20a Ben {"A friend to call my own," per a Michael Jackson hit}. Ben was Michael Jackson's first hit as a solo artist, a song he recorded at the age of 14. It is the theme song of the movie Ben, being the name of a young boy's pet rat.

22a Haynes {"Far From Heaven" director Todd}. Far From Heaven is a 2002 drama set in the suburban Hartford of the 1950s. The movie stars Julianne Moore, Todd Haynes' muse and frequent collaborator.

39a Jaffe {"Class Reunion" novelist, 1979}. Rona Jaffe (19312005) was an American novelist who wrote her first book The Best of Everything with an eye on a possible movie adaptation. It seems to have been the Sex and the City of its day. She went on to write 15 more novels.

47a Ugarte {Black marketeer in "Casablanca"}. I've seen Casablanca a few times, but not enough to remember more than Rick, Ilsa, and of course Sam. Signor Ugarte (Peter Lorre) is the petty criminal who comes up with the letters of transit that are so vital to the plot. Little chance of getting his weird name right without the crossing answers.

Buick Riviera48a Rivieras {Bygone Buicks}. Bygone car models are always going to be tough for me. The Buick Riviera is a full-size coupé, and was in production from 1963 to 1999.

23d Ned {Satirist Ward}. One suspects with this reference that the compiler just opted for the most obscure Ned in history. Ned Ward (1660 or 1667-1731) was the publican at the King's Head Tavern in London, but wrote satires on the side. His most famous work is The London Spy, a book about London low-life and vice.

27d Son of Zorro {1947 western serial film}. The referenced Son of Zorro is an unremarkable low-budget movie. There's also a spaghetti western Il figlio di Zorro. I'm not sure either are well-suited to being in a crossword, even though it's an attractive answer in theory.

Juliette Low32d Juliette {Girl Scouts founder Low}. Juliette Low (18601927), nicknamed "Daisy", was the American founder of the Girl Scouts of the USA in 1912. In Britain, female scouts are known as Girl Guides.


29a Watterson {Creator of a comic strip duo named after a theologian and a philosopher}. I hit lucky with this one, as I'd been browsing the comic book section of the local library. It was well-stocked with collections of Calvin and Hobbes, The Far Side etc, but didn't have any histories or overviews of the genre. Fortunately for this puzzle, I remembered Bill Watterson as the creator concerned.

Calvin and Hobbes

jerboa32a jerboas {Desert rodents}. When I was a kid, our family had gerbils as pets, which I always thought were the same as jerboas. It seems the two rodents are unrelated, although looking similar and occupying equivalent desert habitat.

3d Jerry Lewis {Big name in slapstick}. A familiar name, though I don't know much about his work - it's just a little before my time. He's apparently most famous for collaborating with singer Dean Martin. Here they are in Sailor Beware (1952).

telephone keypad4d MNO {6 letters}. How can six letters become three letters? When they're the letters above six on a telephone keypad of course.

James Dean9d James Dean {"Being an actor is the loneliest thing in the world" speaker}. I thought we'd have the same problem as on June 19: this seems to be another dubious quotation, and I note that all the James Dean quotes on Wikiquote are "unsourced". The more scholarly quotation books (The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations and The Yale Book of Quotations) duck the issue by not covering James Dean at all.

the catbird seat24d catbird {___ seat}. An idiom one comes across, but what is a "catbird seat" literally? Apparently the phrase came from the American south, where the males of the Gray Catbird build an extravagant bower out of colored rocks or shells, a seat on which the hoped-for female will enthrone herself. No hope of a picture of that, I suppose ... we'll just have to use a LOLcat.

30d Nosferatu {Title vampire of film}. A gimme, which I was very glad for. The original Nosferatu was released in 1992 and had that name because the studio couldn't get the rights to the novel Dracula. Werner Herzog remade the movie as Nosferatu the Vampyre in 1979.

34d diereses {Diphthong dividers}. I've heard of both diphthongs and diereses as concepts, but can't claim to be an expert on the subj. I think in this context, the dieresis isn't the diacritical mark, but the act of pronouncing adjacent vowels as separate syllables. A good example is cooperate, where the O is sounded twice with a dieresis between.

42d cull {Get the best of}. Nasty of the constructor to choose such a misleading clue here, as a lot of care is needed if you don't know Ugarte (and I didn't). Eventually I realized the clue refers to the figurative meaning of culling as selecting the choicest parts of a collection.

The Rest

1a Taj Mahal {Final resting place built in the 17th century}; 9a Jesses {Jackson and others}; 15a open date {Hole that's not filled}; 16a aviate {Demonstrate banking skill}; 17a uprooted {Like exiles}; 18a micron {Distance light travels in 3.3 femtoseconds}; 19a grr {Sound sometimes followed by an attack}; 21a pecking {Reaction to chicken feed}; 24a caste {Queens or soldiers}; 25a Giles {Patron saint of hermits}; 26a pardons {Sentences may end with them}; 28a used {Car category}; 31a yew {Fine-grained wood}; 33a nod {Indication of a green light}; 35a situation {One may be out of control}; 37a così {So, in Salerno}; 38a Selkirk {British Columbia's ___ Mountains}; 40a hiked {Boosted}; 41a Panzer {Tank type}; 45a fan {Summer turn-on?}; 46a ore {It might hold gold}; 50a legate {Emissary}; 51a à la carte {Like some menus}; 53a generous {Not at all tight}.

1d tough guy {Bruiser}; 2d appraises {Rates}; 5d adobes {Building blocks}; 7d a ten {Rate ___ (be deemed flawless)}; 8d led {Skippered}; 10d evictors {They remove letters}; 12d sari {Attire around the 1-Across}; 13d Eton {Royal educator}; 14d Seng {Hong Kong's Hang ___ Index}; 21d partook {Had some}; 26d parties {Voting booth information}; 29d weak-kneed {Cowardly}; 36d Teheran {Mehrabad Airport setting}; 37d can {Film holder}; 39d Janice {One of the Sopranos}; 41d pavan {Stately old court dance}; 43d Agee {Posthumous Pulitzer winner of 1958}; 44d raga {Ravi Shankar played it at Woodstock}; 45d file {Do a taxing task?}; 48d rag {Low-grade paper}; 49d ear {It may pop on a plane}.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

NYT Friday 7/31/09 - Non-identical Twins

I found this Friday New York Times exceptionally tough, and all thoughts of being able to finish end-of-week puzzles in under half an hour have gone for the moment. Strangely enough, I started fairly well on this one, laying down a reasonable skeleton of correct answers; but ten minutes into solving, I hit a brick wall and found the whole grid slow going after that.

One feature I really liked about the puzzle was the number of related pairs of clues. I noticed three such pairs - not identical twins, but obviously related. They're worth separating out so that their elegance can be better appreciated:
51a noes {Passage blockers}
60a open sesame {Passage enabler}

24d eels {They might store electric charges}
32d Leyden jar {It might store an electric charge}

44d swoon {Become rapturous}
48d elate {Make rapturous}
Solving time: 56 mins (solo, no solving aids)
Clue of the puzz: 47d repay {Square things}


Mike Nothnagel
Grid art by Sympathy [about the grid colors]

CompilersMike Nothnagel / Will Shortz
Grid15x15 with 33 (14.7%) black squares
Answers72 (average length 5.33)
Theme squares0 (0.0%)
Scrabble points332 (average 1.73)
FeatureLipogram (U absent)
New To Me

17a Salma Hayek {Oscar-nominated portrayer of Frida Kahlo}. I knew of Frida Kahlo from her many posters around Philadelphia last year, but wasn't aware of Frida the 2002 movie. Salma Hayek claims to have taken up smoking in order to impersonate Kahlo more authentically and then found it difficult to kick the habit.

The Alamo26a Alamo {Subject of the 1955 film "The Last Command"}. The Last Command is about Jim Bowie and the fall of the Alamo. Republic Pictures originally wanted John Wayne to star, but he left their employ before the film could be made. Wayne subsequently starred in the more famous movie about the same episode, The Alamo.

onesie28a onesie {Baby shower gift}. I found it a struggle to make these letters into a real word, but eventually realized what a onesie must be and Magdalen confirmed I have the right answer. In my defense, I note that the spell checker in Blogger rejects onesie.

31a Elis {Many students on "Gilmore Girls"}. I gather The Gilmore Girls is set in a small town Connecticut, so it's not unreasonable that the daughter on the show should go to Yale.

42a Swayze {Early TV news commentator famous for doing Timex ads}. Typical of a Friday puzzle to duck the obvious Patrick Swayze in favor of distant cousin John Cameron Swayze (19061995). Swayze hosted NBC's first television newscast and is remembered for the catchphrases "Let's go hop scotching around the world for headlines" and "That's the story, folks ... glad we could get together."

Helen Thomas6d doyenne {Helen Thomas in the White House press corps, e.g.}. Another source of difficulty in the top of the grid: the name Helen Thomas meant nothing to me but I gather she's served 57 years as a White House correspondent, covering every president since JFK. That should certainly qualify you as a doyenne.

Torah10d Torah {It contains 613 mitzvot}. I had no idea what mitzvot were, but could recognize a Hebrew plural, so Torah seemed reasonable after a few crossing letters. The 613 mitzvot (singular mitzvah) are the commandments given in the Torah. They're collectively known as the Law of Moses.

30d Sarah {Fast Eddie's girlfriend in "The Hustler"}. The role of Sarah Packard was played by Piper Laurie in the original pool-room drama. Paul Newman reprised his role as Fast Eddie in The Color of Money (1986) belatedly getting an Oscar for the later movie.


6a die {Factory staple}. One of those "could be anything" clues that helped make the little cluster of three-letter words tough to complete. A die in this sense is a tool to cut or mold metal into a particular shape.

20a dare {Reason to make a prank call, maybe}. I unfortunately had the equally good lark here, which held me up for a long time.

21a I pass {What a player may mean by knocking on the table}. I've encountered this when playing duplicate bridge, though I gather it's more respectable to use the bidding boxes, even when it's clear a bid is going to get passed out.

schmear of butter37a schmear {Roll top?}. A great clue to a great answer. Who'd have guessed that you could put schmear right on top of Swayze and still fill around them.

43a chairs {Heads up}. Neat clue, diverting you from thinking of "heads" as a verb.

52a NHL {Stars participate in it: Abbr.}. I assume the "Stars" here refers to the Dallas Stars ice hockey team, which is a member of the National Hockey League.

56a Bazooka Joe {Comics character with a "gang"}. I luckily remembered Bazooka Joe from a June puzzle, although it still took a lot of crossing letters to recognize him.

Bazooka Joe
5d dead to rights {Red-handed}. One of those idioms one knows, though it's quite hard to see why those words mean what they do. In this and its equivalent bang to rights, "to rights" means rightfully or indisputably.

Mario15d Mario {Plumber seen in an arcade}. I can't remember ever playing any of the Mario series of games, but it was so popular at one time that I had no difficulty here. I'm guessing Mario, Pac-Man and Tetris have to fight it out for the most famous video game of all time.

21d Irish whiskey {Mayo sauce?}. A great clue: I twigged the right Mayo very quickly and put in Irish; but didn't see that "sauce" was also misleading, so the whiskey part got added much later.

53d home {Typist's position}. Having learned to touch-type, I felt at home with this clue. The home keys ASDF and JKL; are where your fingers should rest on the home row, unless required elsewhere.

58d asp {"My baby at my breast," in Shakespeare}. The clue is Cleopatra's epithet for the snake about to bite her in the final scene of Antony and Cleopatra:
With thy sharp teeth this knot intrinsicate
Of life at once untie. Poor venomous fool,
Be angry and dispatch. O couldst thou speak,
That I might hear thee call great Caesar ass
... ...
Peace, peace!
Dost thou not see my baby at my breast
That sucks the nurse asleep?
From Antony and Cleopatra
47d repay {Square things}. Another beautiful clue: as with 43-Across, it's very hard to read the clue and think of the first word as a verb.

The Rest

1a it had {"___ better be!"}; 9a et al {Abbr. in a "works cited" list}; 13a there's more {"I'm not done yet!"}; 16a lore {It's passed on}; 18a area {Discipline}; 19a YTD {Financial statement abbr.}; 22a within earshot {Relatively close}; 29a sitars {Band members with long necks?}; 32a LGA {It's 11 miles NNW of JFK}; 35a special {Something not on the menu}; 39a nor {Certain correlative}; 40a grab {Really appeal to}; 45a hides {Makes scarce}; 46a free throw line {Where a fouled player might go}; 50a jells {Crystallizes}; 55a opal {Pendant option}; 59a rate {Not be a nobody}; 61a dyed {Not natural}; 62a wed {Bond}; 63a Ypres {City in 1917 headlines}.

1d itsy {Minute, informally}; 2d that {"Not ___!"}; 3d held water {Wasn't full of holes}; 4d arm {The Adriatic vis-à-vis the Mediterranean}; 7d ire {Boiling point?}; 8d eek {Cry of surprise}; 9d elapse {March on}; 11d are so {"... love's shadows ___ rich in joy!": Romeo}; 12d least {___ of all}; 14d shah {Onetime C.I.A.-backed foreign leader}; 23d iMac {Computer debut of 1998}; 25d Asics {Nike rival}; 26d assn. {Part of M.P.A.A.: Abbr.}; 27d lipo {Slimming option, for short}; 33d gaze {It's often piercing}; 34d Ares {Vultures were sacred to him}; 36d lair {Refuge}; 38d main {Cardinal}; 41d bronzed {Like many beachgoers}; 43d celled {Single-___}; 46d fjord {Product of glacial erosion}; 49d Leos {Independent, noble types, it's said}; 54d lees {Remains}; 56d bow {It comes after the last number}; 57d ape {Troglodyte}.

NPR Puzzle Answer 07/26/09 -- Fresno: Soft Drink or Butt of Jokes?

Last Sunday's NPR puzzle went like this:
Name a well-known U.S. city in six letters. Drop the first and fourth letters so the remaining four letters, in order, will name another well-known U.S. city. What cities are these?

Hint: The two cities are in adjoining states.

I was trying to find something funny to say about Reno, Nevada and/or Fresno, California (oh, right -- they're the answers, by the way). Here's what I came up with for Reno: (Warning: an anatomically correct term was used in the making of this clip from Reno 911, but as the distaff side of this blog, I've decided this is OK.)

Now, wasn't that timely, in light of President Obama's beer fest with Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and police Sgt Jim Crowley this evening? I'm so glad the Comedy Channel continues to be ahead of these national "teachable moments."

And what about Fresno. Well, I read two things about Fresno today -- one was an inquiry from a woman preparing to move from Toronto to the Bay area in Northern California. After being told what she and her husband could expect to pay for a house in San Francisco (the term "stratospheric" may have been used), she explained that she'd asked a friend, "What about moving to Fresno?" and the friend just laughed and laughed. So she wanted to know, Is Fresno a joke? (The answer was basically, "it used to be but it's improving" -- and that was two years ago. I want to be fair here.)

The other item was an oldie but goody: "What's the difference between Fresno and yogurt? Yogurt has culture." Again, the author seemed just a tad bitter, and that was three years ago. If there's anyone reading this from Fresno, or Reno, or who actually drinks Fresca, let's hear from you.

For the value added puzzle this week, I borrowed from Will's on-air puzzle, in which he'd asked the player to fill in two blanks in each sentence; the word to fill the first blank would be a single syllable, the second answer was the first word plus a long A sound, phonetically. Risk/risque, etc. My puzzle used the same idea, but the second word has a long E sound instead of the long A.

Here are the answers:

The golfer nearly hit a BIRD on his way to making a BIRDIE .

The liquor store doesn't CARE that they don't CARRY . . .

. . . that BRAND of BRANDY .

You should take care of that COUGH and not drink any more COFFEE .

They are saying a PRAYER at the little church on the PRAIRIE .

The boxing fans were ALL there to see ALI .

Please SET that tray down near the SETTEE .

The platoon needed a certain SORT of transport for its SORTIE .

There was a little BELL on the costume of the BELLY dancer.

The owner of the theater was pleased to see that there wasn't a MARK on the new MARQUEE .

It's just like HER not to HURRY when there's a deadline.

It's no longer cool or HIP to be a HIPPIE .

This type of BEAR is particularly fond of eating that type of BERRY .

You don't need brute FORCE to FORESEE how this puzzle will end.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

NYT Thursday 7/30/09 - Express Letters

This was probably the weirdest New York Times crossword I've solved this year, although by the standards of the cryptic crosswords I'm used to, the gimmick wasn't too frightening. Still, when it's not clear what the "anomalies" in a puzzle might be, you can flounder around quite a bit until the penny drops about the theme.

In this case, it took me all of 22 minutes (and despite having four-letter words) to realize that 1-Across must be EEEE, fitting in with ease as the answer. I confirmed the pattern with QQQQ at 8-Across, and then went round "correcting" the remaining four-letter answers.

I like the consistent application of the idea: it's neat that the four-letter answers are exclusively those affected. The difficulties of filling around them are evident especially at the top, where abbrs. abound (one reason it's so difficult to make headway at the start). I wondered if working in CCCC {Global septet} or even PPPP {Vegetables} would have been slightly easier than QQQQ and so avoided an abbr. or two.
Solving time: 31 mins (solo, no solving aids)
Clue of the puzz: 59a ref {Whistle blower}

The four-letter answers are entered as repeated letters that sound like the true answer:
1a ease {Facility} - Es
8a cues {Signals} - Qs
19a eyes {Peer group?} - Is
20a tease {Razz} - Ts
47a bees {Garden sights} - Bs
49a owes {Is behind} - Os
61a geez! {"Man oh man!"} - Gs
63a wise {Hip} - Ys
This treatment is hinted at by the two long answers:
16a four-letter words {Profanities (and a hint to this puzzle's anomalies)}
51a repeat offenders {Record holders? (and a punny hint to this puzzle's anomalies)}

Ashish Vengsarkar
Grid art by Sympathy [about the grid colors]

CompilersAshish Vengsarkar / Will Shortz
Grid15x15 with 41 (18.2%) black squares
Answers76 (average length 4.84)
Theme squares62 (33.7%)
Scrabble points320 (average 1.74)
New To Me

34a Oop {Alley of Moo}. Seemingly the way into the milking parlor, I had no ideas about this; but was satisfied the answer might be oop in view of alley-oop plays in basketball. It seems though that this Alley Oop is a character in a comic strip of the same title: he normally lives in the prehistoric kingdom of Moo, but is sometimes abducted into our time by Dr. Wonmug's (ein stein, geddit) time machine. In case this comes up in future crosswords, I note that Oop has a pet dinosaur called Dinny.

Alley Oop

blood40a gangster {Blood, e.g.}. Perhaps influenced by 43-Across, I had daughter here for quite a while. The intended reference seems to be to the Los Angeles street gang the Bloods, rivals to the Crips (you wouldn't be a gang if you didn't have rivals). Bloods wear red and have a special hand sign that looks like "blood" in lower case.

4d eeriest {Like H. P. Lovecraft among all popular writers?}. I found this tough, as I've never read any H. P. Lovecraft (1890–1937) and assumed he was "just" a science fiction writer. Now I see that he's one of the most influential horror writers of the 20th century, who together with Edgar Allan Poe has exerted "an incalculable influence on succeeding generations of writers of horror fiction". Must give him a try.

7d Yvette {Actress Mimieux of "Where the Boys Are"}. I recognized neither actress nor movie, though a French forename seemed appropriate for the surname given. Where the Boys Are is a coming-of-age comedy from 1960 about college students vacationing in Fort Lauderdale, which did wonders for local tourism apparently.

9d qtr. {12 or 15 min.}. I could see how 15 min. might be a quarter (of an hour), but 12? Ok, my researches suggest we're talking NBA basketball, in which games are played in four 12 min. quarters. Perhaps then the 15 min. is actually referring to American football, in which a standard game consists of four 15 min. quarters?

45d ABT {Dance grp. at the Met}. I knew this must be one of the New York City ballet companies, but other than there would be a B in it, had no idea what to expect. The American Ballet Theatre (sic, why not Theater?) was founded in 1937 and is one of the top three ballet companies in the US, along with the New York City Ballet (NYCB) and the San Francisco Ballet (SFB).

51d rig {Horse and buggy}. I know horse-and-buggy is a term meaning old-fashioned, so thought that would be the meaning here. No, the association called for was much more straightforward, rig being a general term for any horse-drawn carriage.

Edy Williams55d Edy {Actress Williams of the 1960s-'70s}. This makes a change from ice cream references. As the clue suggests, Edy Williams is best known for her TV and film work in the 1960s and 1970s. More recently she's made a name for herself by the flamboyant outfits she wears to awards ceremonies.


Medea12a Medea {Jiltee of myth}. In Greek mythology, the sorceress Medea is married to Jason, who deserts her for Creusa, the daughter of Creon. Medea wreaks revenge by killing Creusa and Creon; and then her two sons by Jason.

21a SSE {Liverpool-to-Portsmouth dir.}. Hey! for once I can reliably predict the dir. required. Normally I have no clue what the answer will be, but the possibilities are thankfully limited: SSE seems to be the most common dir., since there are alternative cluing options for ENE and ESE. Here are the frequencies of the eight possible dir. answers:
ENE - 29% (other cluing options)
ESE - 28% (other cluing options)
SSE - 19%
NNE - 15%
SSW - 5%
NNW - 2%
WSW - 1%
WNW - 1%
44a Ste. {Division of an office bldg.}. This abbr. for Suite was only introduced on July 3rd and here it is again. Clearly Suite is the new Sainte.

59a ref {Whistle blower}. An old 'un, but a good 'un.

Ali Khamenei13d Ali {Iranian supreme leader ___ Khamenei}. Ali Khamenei and the Ayatolla Khomeni (1902-1989) are easily mixed up in my mind. The former succeeded the latter as ruler of Iran.

24d Arn {Royal son of the comics}. We had Arn clued exactly the same way in March this year. He's the first born of Prince Valiant and Queen Aleta in the Prince Valiant comic strip created by Hal Foster. An animated series, The Legend of Prince Valiant, is based on the strip's characters.

48d bat {It goes over a plate}. A baseball reference, right? I'm getting better at spotting those now.

The Rest

5a May {<-- What this is, on a calendar}; 14a ATV {Yamaha offering, in brief}; 15a cut it {Perform acceptably}; 23a gnats {Buzzers}; 25a IMs {Some exchanges, quickly}; 28a gets there {Arrives}; 30a sneer {Mean mien}; 32a one to ten {Scale range}; 33a jiggle {Do what Jell-O does}; 35a ahs {Patient responses}; 36a fan {Geisha's accessory}; 37a a la {Like}; 38a droids {Many "Star Wars" fighters}; 42a saucy {Forward}; 43a ancestors {Some people in a tree}; 45a arced {Wasn't straight}; 46a ons {Carry-___}; 58a inert {Sluggish}; 60a Abdul {"American Idol" judge}; 62a sys {___ admin (computer techie)}.

1d emf {Voltaic cell meas.}; 2d EEO {Abbr. in a help-wanted ad}; 3d .edu {E-mail address ending}; 5d matinées {Show types}; 6d AT&T {Part of a 2005 SBC merger}; 8d quoting {Offering, as a price}; 10d q.i.d. {Rx abbr.}; 11d qts. {Peck parts: Abbr.};15d cwt. {100 lbs.}; 17d eighths {Some musical notes}; 18d RTs {Football linemen: Abbr.}; 21d Señoras {They may have niños and niñas}; 22d step out {Exit}; 26d megaton {Nuclear unit}; 27d sellers {Merchants}; 28d goods {Stuff on a shelf}; 29d toady {Kowtower}; 30d sings {Squeals}; 31d rears {Cans}; 33d Jane Doe {Courtroom identification}; 36d faceoffs {Starts of some sporting events}; 39d iceberg {Big chip off the old block?}; 40d GNC {Health supplement chain}; 41d stood by {Defended}; 43d arbors {Pergolas}; 50d on a {___ leash}; 52d Eng. {Official lang. of Barbados}; 53d peg {Part of a violin}; 54d fey {Hardly macho}; 56d Ruy {___ Lopez (chess opening)}; 57d sly {On the ___}.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

NYT Wednesday 7/29/09 - In The Right Ballpark

The subject of this Wednesday New York Times crossword should have caused me more problems than most. Although I've now seen two live Binghamton Mets games, I am still way behind the average American in knowledge of baseball.

Luckily you didn't have to know much about baseball to deal with the overtly thematic aspects of the puzzle: after solving the long answers, the player nicknames were there in the circles to notice if you had a care to.

It was the various other baseball references that were thrown in which caused more problems: although I'd heard of Yogi Berra, I couldn't have told you he was squat; Sammy Sosa and sac fly were also unfamiliar.
Solving time: 10 mins (solo, no solving aids)
Clue of the puzz: 26d bronco {It's most useful when it's broken}

Six long answers each include a Major League Baseball team-member (indicated by the circles):
17a make a strong case {Argue forcibly} - Houston Astros
28a crop sprayer {Pesticide spreader, e.g.} - Tampa Bay Rays
48a short-winded {Terse} - Minnesota Twins
61a Norwegian throne {Where Olaf I or Olaf II sat} - San Francisco Giants
11d orange rinds {Juicer remnants} - Texas Rangers
24d come to terms {Shake hands} - New York Mets

Tim Wescott
Grid art by Sympathy [about the grid colors]

CompilersTim Wescott / Will Shortz
Grid15x15 with 34 (15.1%) black squares
Answers76 (average length 5.03)
Theme squares70 (36.6%)
Scrabble points288 (average 1.51)
New To Me

10a Sosa {Baseball star in Senate steroid hearings}. The relevant hearings predate my arrival in the US, so I had some excuse for not knowing this answer right away. In 2005, former right-fielder Sammy Sosa told Congress that he had never taken illegal performance-enhancing drugs. However, a New York Times article of June 17, 2009 reported Sosa tested positive for drugs in 2003. Coincidentally, Magdalen today read me a review of Cooperstown Confidential, which describes the inconsistent application of the Hall of Fame's "character clause", which makes Sammy Sosa's induction unlikely, although existing HOFers include:
a convicted drug dealer, a reformed cokehead who narrowly beat a lifetime suspension from baseball, a celebrated sex addict, an Elders of Zion conspiracy nut, a pitcher who wrote a book about how he cheated his way into the hall, a well-known and highly arrested drunk driver and a couple of nasty beanball artists
from Cooperstown Confidential
sac fly22a sac {___ fly (run producer)}. Given the theme, it's perhaps not surprising that any answer that could be clued with reference to baseball was. I gather sac is short for sacrifice, a sacrifice fly gets the batter out, but helps an existing runner to score. There are commonsense rules about how this should be handled vis-a-vis the statistics.


tails42a tails {"Call it!" call}. I thought when solving that "Call It!" might refer to some TV game show. No, it's just what you traditionally say to get someone to choose "heads" or "tails" before a coin toss. Flipping coins as a means of deciding an outcome has been around since ancient Rome, at least, when it was known as "navia aut caput" (ship or head), coins commonly having a ship on the non-emperor side.

43a Lotte {Lehmann of opera}. Lotte Lehmann (18881976) was a German soprano particularly associated with Straussian roles such as the Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier. Here she is in a 1961 masterclass (which based on what I first typed should perhaps be a masterCallas):

66a Irma {"___ la Douce" (1963 film)}. I've come across this title a few times, but I don't think I've ever watched the movie. Irma la Douce (literally "Irma the Sweet") was directed by the great Billy Wilder and adapted from the musical of the same name. Although not a musical, André Previn won an Oscar for his work on the score.

71a squat {Like Yogi Berra, physically}. Since I first heard the name Yogi Berra, I've wondered if he was nicknamed in honor of Yogi Bear or the other way around ... now is a good time to find out. It seems the ursine character postdates the baseballer's nickname: it's likely Yogi Bear was named because of Berra, although William Hanna and Joseph Barbera deny the intent to do so. Berra himself got the nickname "yogi" because he was said to resemble one when waiting to bat with arms and legs crossed.

9d renege {Bridge no-no}. I tried to learn Bridge for much of 2007 and 2008, so thought the answer must be revoke. It seems a renege means exactly the same thing, and it's unfortunate from the crossword-solver's point of view that they start with the same two letters. Reneging means not "following suit", something that in my experience happens by accident from time to time.

10d SiCKO {2007 Michael Moore documentary}. I'm sure I've watched Bowling for Columbine but not yet this movie. SiCKO is, however, constantly in the news, so I had no problems with the clue. As I am self-employed, finding suitable health coverage has been one of my biggest headaches since arriving in the US, and from experience I can say that publicly funded health systems (although not perfect) have a lot of advantages. I'm glad to see the Obama administration is making health care reform one of its key objectives.

12d so-so {Eh}. I assume this refers to the noncommittal vocalization that I've also seen spelled "enh" and "meh". It's much used by kids, and some speculate that the habit started with The Simpsons:
Homer: Kids, how would you like to go... to Blockoland!
Bart & Lisa: Meh.
Homer: But the TV. gave the impression that--
Bart: We said "meh".
Lisa: M-E-H. Meh.
19d garret {"La Bohème" setting}. Darn, Paris doesn't fit! I got there in the end. Here's Rodolfo in That Garret (which can't help appearing pretty palatial on the average opera stage) singing about Mimi's tiny frozen mitts.

22d Schulz {Charles who created Peppermint Patty}. I don't usually have a problem recognizing Peanuts characters. The character of Patricia "Peppermint Patty" Reichardt was supposedly inspired by one of Schulz's cousins, Patricia Swanson.


26d bronco {It's most useful when it's broken}. Nicely misleading, like a riddle in a Christmas cracker. Oops, you don't have them in America: all you need to know is they have a (usually corny) joke or riddle in them, like this:
Who is never hungry at Christmas?
The turkey - he's always stuffed!
56d Nora {"The Thin Man" detective}. This mention's for Magdalen, as she's a big fan of the "Thin Man" movies. Nick and Nora Charles are the sleuths who banter away as they solve crimes. In this connection, we have to give prominent billing to their dog Asta, who crops up more often in crosswords than either of the detectives.

65d est {1970s self-improvement program}. I'd heard of est, mainly through cryptic crosswords, in which it's a useful way of indicating an -est ending. Erhard Seminars Training offered 60-hour training courses from 1971 to 1984. They claimed to give participants a sense of personal transformation and enhanced power.

The Rest

1a jails {Clinks}; 6a afar {Way out}; 14a inlet {Sheltered water}; 15a rote {Repetitive routine}; 16a iron {It may be pumped}; 20a Rio {South American cruise stop}; 21a tie a knot {Finish lacing up}; 25a nab {Catch red-handed}; 27a grog {Royal Navy drink of old}; 32a Eno {Brian of ambient music}; 35a hemi- {Prefix with sphere}; 36a yore {Arthurian times, say}; 37a Enron {Name in 2001 bankruptcy news}; 39a UTenn {Knoxville sch.}; 41a NBA {Grizzlies' org.}; 44a cost {Damage, so to speak}; 46a anti {Con man?}; 47a zoo {Chaotic place}; 51a tase {"Don't ___ me, bro!"}; 53a yin {Dark half of a Chinese circle}; 54a SSE {G.P.S. heading}; 55a one-sided {Like a Möbius strip}; 59a sci. {Class with the periodic table on the wall, often: Abbr.}; 67a erne {Fish-eating raptor}; 68a eases {Moves gingerly}; 69a TASS {Cold war propaganda disseminator}; 70a deke {Rink fake}.

1d Jim {Huck's raftmate}; 2d -ana {Bibliophile's suffix}; 3d ilk {Sort}; 4d leer {Lounge lizard's look}; 5d stains {Discolorations}; 6d art {Works in a gallery}; 7d fort {Snow structure}; 8d a toi {Yours, in Tours}; 13d a net {Work without ___ (be daring)}; 18d soapy {Needing a rinse}; 23d are too {"Am not!" response}; 29d pint {Blood drive donation}; 30d arbor {Shady retreat}; 31d yeasty {Like bread dough or beer}; 33d Noltes {Actor Nick and family}; 34d onside {Like some football kicks}; 38d naan {Tandoor-baked bread}; 40d Nessie {Storied monster, informally}; 45d twist {Dance for Chubby Checker}; 49d hedged {Counterbalanced, as bets}; 50d inches {What some races are won by}; 52d as was {___ the custom (traditionally)}; 55d on it {"Get ___!" ("Stop procrastinating!")}; 57d Eire {Mayo's land}; 58d dank {Dungeonlike}; 60d Iraq {Modern home of ancient Ur}; 62d née {Alumna bio word}; 63d OSU {Columbus sch.}; 64d NEA {Teachers' org.}.

Monday, July 27, 2009

NYT Tuesday 7/28/09 - Give Me Your Answer Do

This Tuesday New York Times crossword turned out a lot easier than Monday's. But as my eight minutes is now about my average for a Tuesday, it was yesterday's strangely troublesome puzzle that was odd.

It definitely helped that today's long answers were straightforward, and once you saw what the pattern was going to be, you had effectively two ways to reach the answer: via the clue and by gauging where in the progression from "yes" to "no", the answer had to fit.

Getting five 15-letter answers into a puzzle is quite an achievement, but distorts other parts of the grid as a consequence: apart from ski suit, all the non-thematic answers are six letters or fewer; 50 of the 76 answers are the three- and four-letter ones we are thoroughly familiar with.
Solving time: 8 mins (solo, no solving aids)
Clue of the puzz: 57d I do {Words said after "... so help you God?"}

Five colloquial responses, ranging from "yes" to "no":
17a without question {"Sure thing"}
28a in all likelihood {"Chances are good"}
35a maybe yes, maybe no {"It could go either way"}
43a not looking so hot {"Doubtful"}
56a ain't gonna happen {"Forget it!"}

Tony Orbach
Grid art by Sympathy [about the grid colors]

CompilersTony Orbach / Will Shortz
Grid15x15 with 42 (18.7%) black squares
Answers76 (average length 4.82)
Theme squares75 (41.0%)
Scrabble points296 (average 1.62)
New To Me

14a Fonda {Jane of "Monster-in-Law"}. Knew the Jane we were talking about, but not the specific movie. Monster-in-Law is a 2005 romcom also starring J.Lo. Fonda plays a mother-in-law-from-hell, her first movie role after a 15 year absence. Popping The Question 101: never propose in front of your future mother-in-law.

33a I am I {"___ Said" (Neil Diamond hit)}. I am I is a great letter sequence for filling around, but without this Neil Diamond song, you'd be hard-pressed to find a context in which it is used. I Am...I Said was released in 1971 and took four months to write - seemed like a long time, until I thought about the number of times I've spent that long constructing a crossword.

Kenny45d Kenny {"South Park" boy}. I obviously haven't seen enough of this show, as I only discovered recently that (despite appearances) South Park isn't a program for kids. Kenny McCormick is the boy that's so enveloped by his parka that his speech is largely unintelligible.

46d On Up {"Movin' ___" ("The Jeffersons" theme)}. I had no idea what the Jeffersons might be, so the clue was no help at all. Turns out The Jeffersons is yet another sitcom, this one running from 1975 to 1985. It was a spin-off of All in the Family, in which the African-American Jeffersons had been neighbors of the Bunkers. The Jeffersons is the longest running series with a predominantly African-American cast in the history of American television.

dojo54d chop {Dojo blow}. I must have come across dojo before, as I recognized it as having something to do with martial arts. It seems a dojo (literally "place of the way") is a training area, originally one attached to a temple.


4a ASAP {"Stat!"}; 7d PDQ {"Stat!"}; 60d now {"Stat!"}. The first time I've seen the same clue serve for three different answers. A shame stat wasn't an answer, but could you then have come up with a fifth synonym to clue them all with?

3d Mothra {Insect monster of Japanese film}. Until I started solving American crosswords, I only knew of one Japanese film monster: Godzilla. Now I can add Mothra, whom I suspect I first met in the pages of Cranium-Crushing Crosswords. Mothra made her film debut in 1961 and has since appeared in several Toho tokusatsu films.

12d Son {Sequel title starter, sometimes}. As in Son of Dracula, for example - nice inventive cluing.

19d Earl {Banjoist Scruggs}. Surprisingly, I had come across Earl Scruggs before - Magdalen and I both love the bluegrass music of Alison Krauss & Union Station and Scruggs has often been cited as a major influence. Here he is with the versatile Steve Martin.

31d idyls {Pastoral poems}. I thought it so unlikely that idylls would be spelled with one L that I penciled in the answer as idyll - this didn't work out, so I reluctantly concluded the one-L idyl is another idiosyncrasy of American orthography. Yes, if we look at Noah Webster's first (1828) edition of An American Dictionary of the English Language, idyl is the only spelling given - a stance that later lexicographers have backtracked from, listing idyll as more common.

The Rest

1a mum {Tight-lipped}; 8a games {Seven-up and crazy eights}; 13a Ono {Lennon's second wife}; 16a a gogo {Disco-era suffix}; 20a G-sharp {Note in an E major scale}; 21a rap {Word before sheet or music}; 22a Lori {Loughlin of "90210"}; 23a tsar {Bygone despot}; 25a arm {Outfielder's asset}; 34a Dalai {___ Lama}; 41a sweet {Like dessert wines}; 42a util. {Water co., e.g.}; 50a lit {Turned on}; 51a sets {Studio constructions}; 52a nigh {Close by}; 53a USN {Gitmo mil. branch}; 54a couple {Counselor's clients, perhaps}; 62a ideal {Perfect}; 63a yo-yos {Fluctuates wildly}; 64a ire {Ill temper}; 65a moody {Apt to pout}; 66a wept {Had a bawl}; 67a est. {Ballpark fig.}.

1d Mowgli {"The Jungle Book" hero}; 2d unison {Oneness}; 4d A for {Get an ___ effort}; 5d soup {Borscht, e.g.}; 6d ant {Amazon ___ (aggressive insect)}; 8d gasp {Shocked reaction}; 9d agt. {F.B.I. worker: Abbr.}; 10d moi? {"You don't mean ME?!"}; 11d ego {Self-esteem}; 15d aurae {Surrounding glows}; 18d hail {Precipitation that may be the size of golf balls}; 23d time {The so-called fourth dimension}; 24d ski suit {Attire on the slopes}; 25d Ahab {Melville's obsessed captain}; 26d role {Thing to play}; 27d moan {Haunted house sound}; 29d lie to {More than deceive}; 30d lay {Put down}; 32d Dio {God, in Roma}; 35d MSN {AOL alternative}; 36d AWOL {Whom an M.P. hunts}; 37d yeti {Hulking Himalayan of legend}; 38d belt {Asteroid area, e.g.}; 39d mtns. {Range units: Abbr.}; 40d AIG {Bailed-out co. in the news}; 44d osso {___ buco}; 47d hippie {Cheech or Chong persona}; 48d oglers {Gawking sorts}; 49d the Net {Where one might see "OMG" or "TTYL"}; 53d ugly {Hideous}; 55d oast {Brewery dryer}; 56d aim {Deadeye's skill}; 57d I do {Words said after "... so help you God?"}; 58d Neo {Keanu's "The Matrix" role}; 59d tad {Wee bit}; 61d aye {Floor vote}.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

NYT Monday 7/27/09 - Parrish Meeting

Maxfield Parrish: EnchantmentI found this Monday New York Times crossword a real struggle, taking about twice as long as I normally do: there seemed to be a lot fewer clues than usual that I could solve right away, and I got particularly mired in the NW corner where I knew neither Acela nor Eller.

The other cause of difficulty was the theme, which it took me ages to spot. It didn't hold me up, but I definitely don't think of "perish" and "parish" as being pronounced the same. Magdalen says they are, in America, and someone who thinks that "raw" and "roar" sound alike shouldn't have anything to complain about in this puzzle.

Finally, I hadn't even heard of Maxfield Parrish (18701966). I wonder if he's related to the constructor? - certainly it seems no coincidence that Allan E. Parrish should have come up with this theme.
Solving time: 12 mins (solo, no solving aids)
Clue of the puzz: 30a arsenic {As, chemically}

Phrases ending with the Parrish sound (the puzzle was constructed by Allan E. Parrish).
17a publish or perish {College professor's mantra}
38a Maxfield Parrish {Highly collectible illustrator}
59a Louisiana parish {Lafayette or Orleans}

Allan E. Parrish
Grid art by Sympathy [about the grid colors]

CompilersAllan E. Parrish / Will Shortz
Grid15x15 with 34 (15.1%) black squares
Answers74 (average length 5.16)
Theme squares45 (23.6%)
Scrabble points301 (average 1.58)
New To Me

Acela14a Acela {High-speed train from Boston to Washington}. This was my main cause of problems in the NW. I gather the unlikely sounding Acela Express is a tilting train service that runs at a maximum of 150mph and an average of 86mph. Britain has a poor record with tilting trains: its homegrown APT had ill-fated initial trials and never went into service; the ones that are now in service use the Italian technology of Fiat Ferroviaria.

Soo Canal44a Soo {The upper Midwest's ___ Canals}. If only we'd been to the right great lakes on last week's trip, I'd have known this one: the Soo Canals (two in the United States and one in Canada) allow ships to navigate between Lake Superior and Lake Huron. The canals go right by those cities oft-used in cluing STE: Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan and Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.

4d Eller {Aunt from "Oklahoma!"}. Another cause of difficulty in the NW, as I had to make a guess at this unlikely name. Aunt Eller is Laurey Williams's aunt and a respected community leader in Oklahoma! She was played by Charlotte Greenwood in the 1955 film version.

Adolph Ochs13d Ochs {Adolph who was chief of The New York Times from 1896 to 1935}. I wondered if this was only considered fair game because of where this crossword appears ... or if Adolph Ochs is as famous in America as, say, Lord Beaverbrook is in the UK. Adolph Ochs (1858–1935) rescued the New York Times from oblivion, increasing its circulation from 9,000 (when he purchased it in 1896) to 780,000 by the 1920s.

39d Fritzi {Nancy's 56-Down in the comics}. Another aunt to bedevil me. In the Nancy comic strip, drawn by Ernie Bushmiller, the eponymous Nancy lives with her aunt Fritzi Rich, who's a lot sexier than I expected.Nancy


30a arsenic {As, chemically}. Thanks to their initial capital, chemical elements can be great misleaders in clues. He and I are the most commonly exploited.

34a rte. {G.P.S. offering: Abbr.}. This reminded me of a comic incident during our recent Canadian trip. Driving in Canada from Niagara Falls to Toronto, the rte. offered by our lousy G.P.S. took us onto a highway signed as "To the USA". OK, we thought, this may be the way to a bridge back to the USA, but there must be an exit beforehand to take us where we want to go. No, there was no way out, but luckily we managed to hang a uey before crossing the actual bridge, so got away with just paying the bridge toll and going back through Canadian immigration checks.

Osage orange43a Osage {___ orange}. I think I've met this one before, but not enough times for me to recall, before getting all the letters from crossings. Osage oranges are North American trees with a fruit that's somewhat like a green orange (but otherwise the trees are not closely related). The trees are also known as bois d'arc, or "bow-wood", because Native Americans used the wood for bows and other weapons.

Spicy spareribs, tangy & spicy green beans, and rice51d Hunan {Style of Chinese cuisine}. Hunan cuisine is one of eight regional cuisines of China and well-known for its hot spicy flavor, fresh aroma and deep color. Common cooking techniques include stewing, frying, pot-roasting, braising, and smoking.

The Rest

1a mired {Bogged down}; 6a hafts {Sword handles}; 11a Cro {___-Magnon man}; 15a await {Stand in a queue for, say}; 16a Hi-C {Drink with Grabbin' Grape and Smashin' Wild Berry flavors}; 20a equal {Splenda rival}; 21a pranks {Short-sheeting a bed, TP'ing a house, etc.}; 22a fun run {2K race, e.g.}; 25a scent {Bloodhound's trail}; 27a Ono {Yoko of "Double Fantasy"}; 28a Idi {Uganda's ___ Amin}; 35a ramps {Highway entrances and exits, typically}; 37a do no {"First, ___ harm" (medical axiom)}; 42a emir {Kuwaiti chief}; 45a retires {Hits the hay}; 48a Ren {Stimpy's cartoon pal}; 49a Els {Ernie of golf fame}; 50a tenth {Penny vis-à-vis a dime}; 52a get set {Gird oneself}; 54a glazer {Finisher of pottery or cakes}; 57a usage {___ note (dictionary bit)}; 64a inn {Bed-and-breakfast}; 65a éclat {Dazzling effect}; 66a drear {Dull, in poetry}; 67a bet {"Wanna ___?"}; 68a shine {What light bulbs and bootblacks do}; 69a earls {English nobles}.

1d map {Atlas page}; 2d ICU {Critical hosp. area}; 3d Reb {Yank's foe in the Civil War}; 5d daiquiri {Rum and lime juice drink}; 6d ha-ha {LOL, out loud}; 7d awols {Mil. truants}; 8d far {Distant}; 9d tipper {One leaving cash on the table?}; 10d sterns {Backs of boats}; 11d chin {It might be cut by an uppercut}; 12d risk {Jeopardy}; 18d sundae {Dairy Queen order}; 19d rated R {Deemed not suitable for kids}; 22d former {Previous}; 23d untame {Wild}; 24d no exit {1944 Jean-Paul Sartre play}; 26d Caspar {One of the Wise Men}; 29d I'm lost {"Please help me with directions"}; 31d noises {Boom, zoom and vroom}; 32d insole {Cushiony part of a shoe}; 33d co-host {Matt Lauer or Meredith Vieira for "Today"}; 36d PDs {They have precincts: Abbr.}; 40d age gap {Feature of a May-December romance}; 41d renegade {Deserter}; 46d Reese's {___ Peanut Butter Cups}; 47d enrich {Fortify with vitamins, e.g.}; 53d terra {___ incognita}; 54d glib {Fast-talking}; 55d lone {Unaccompanied}; 56d aunt {See 39-Down}; 58d sate {Completely fill}; 60d Ali {Rope-a-dope boxer}; 61d -ier {Suffix with cash}; 62d Sal {"My gal" of song}; 63d hrs. {60-min. periods}.