Thursday, July 2, 2009

NYT Friday 7/3/09 - Star Wars Episode XVII - Return of the Cook

I thought I was unusually lucky in the number of "ways in" to this puzzle, mostly musical references that played to my strengths. Unfortunately, getting through the maze of the remaining clues wasn't so easy and I found the SE, NE and finally SW corners increasingly difficult to finish off.

The crux turned out to be 31d tax evader, which would have been easier if I'd seen the sense in which "return" was being used. Instead I got fixated on the clue being a Star Wars reference and wondered what Vader might be returning, meat cleaver in hand. When the real answer turned out to be easily within my knowledge, that only increased my admiration for a puzzle with such a great fill and lovely cluing.
Solving time: 41 mins (solo, no solving aids)
Clue of the puzz: 14d stage sets {Things to get a grip on?}

Kevin G. Der
Grid art by Sympathy [about the grid colors]

CompilersKevin G. Der / Will Shortz
Grid15x15 with 29 (12.9%) black squares
Answers72 (average length 5.44)
Theme squares0 (0.0%)
Scrabble points329 (average 1.68)
New To Me

15a O Sole Mio {Basis of Tony Martin's "There's No Tomorrow"}. I knew the answer, but the clue was no help getting there as I knew of neither Tony Martin nor There's No Tomorrow. No, my fav song based on O Sole Mio comes from this British ad for Cornetto ice cream:

Jose Guillen25a José {Outfielder Guillén}. José Guillén has been playing Major League baseball since 1997 and currently is an outfielder for the Kansas City Royals. He was one of the players linked to performance-enhancing drugs by the Mitchell Report, but received an amnesty after 15 game suspension.

39a Axton {"Joy to the World" penner Hoyt ___}. Until I finally got 31-Down, I considered Acton, Afton and Aston, never Axton. His song Joy to the World, also known by its opening line "Jeremiah was a bullfrog", was recorded by Three Dog Night and was the top hit of 1971.

George Meade40a Meade {Army of the Potomac commander}. I'm gradually learning the famous US generals, but am still a bit hazy as to their roles. George Meade is best known as the Union general who defeated Robert E. Lee at the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863. Gettysburg, PA is just a three-hour trip for us, so we should really make the pilgrimage to that famous address before too long.

5d webs {ABC, Fox, etc., in Variety}. Magdalen tells me that any mention of Variety in a clue signals showbiz slang - they after all were responsible for the headline "Sticks Nix Hick Pix". Variety kindly provide a Slanguage Dictionary, which explains webs means "TV networks".

11d Ito {First woman to land a triple axel in a major competition}. Midori Ito accomplished the feat referred to at the World Championships in 1989.


9a Keiths {Pianist Jarrett and others}. One of a few difficult answers where I got lucky, as I'm in awe of Keith Jarrett's improvised solo piano concerts, the recordings of which are some of the bestselling albums in jazz.

22a Dag {First name among U.N. secretaries-general}. This clue showed I still have a way to go remembering the three-letter answers: these are to American crosswords what abbreviations are to cryptic crosswords - ie you should recognize them automatically. Dag Hammarskjöld was Secretary-General from 1953 to 1961.

24a Moe's {Where Duff Beer is sold, on TV}. While not a complete addict, I've seen The Simpsons enough for this to be a gimme.

30a Ste. {Office bldg. division}. This was tough, as I don't think the abbreviation for Suite has been inflicted on the NYT solvers before (although it seems fair game). I kept wondering if this was the GSA again.

34a Allie {Half a 1980s TV duo}. I'd definitely heard of Kate & Allie before, but this came less easily than Amos 'n' Andy from three decades earlier. This sitcom was about two divorced women who decide to raise their families together in Greenwich Village.

46a Ives {"The Unanswered Question" composer, 1908}. I'd already discovered the music of Charles Ives back in England, so this clue was another gift for me. The Unanswered Question was written in 1906 and is a hypnotic piece, often performed with the other of the "Two Contemplations" Central Park in the Dark.

54a Attila {Historical figure on whom a Verdi opera is based}. I suspected Attila from the off, but couldn't remember if it had two Ts or two Ls (or both) and was hesitant in putting him in. Attila is noted as having the quickest death in all of opera, as Verdi hadn't yet learned to milk an ending for all it was worth.

1d Tosca {Opera singer in an opera}. We're doing well for opera today and I recognized Tosca immediately, which helped immensely with the NW corner. Karita Mattila is singing the role in the New York Met's 2009-2010 season and we'll be sure to catch her performance Live in HD on October 10, 2009. Until then, here's Angela Gheorghiu:

6d Amos {Half a 1950s TV duo}. I knew Amos 'n' Andy from somewhere and see that it was a sitcom more famous on the radio than on TV - by the 1950s its humor deriving from the Minstrel Show tradition must have been getting increasingly unacceptable. The TV version featured African-American actors in the major roles and this clip shows the creators Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll introducing their chosen TV actors.

14d stage sets {Things to get a grip on?}. A great clue, with "grip" turning out to be the stage technician. I certainly took "grip" literally to start with, thinking the answer was swing sets for a very long time.

31d tax evader {One cooking a return}. This one held me up for many minutes at the end, as I couldn't rationalize either 30-Across or 39-Across without it. The problem was deciding where the word break(s) would occur: I thought at one time it would be (2,7) and something like re-invaded; then I got fixated on Star Wars and assumed we were dealing with a (4,5) and some relation of Darth. It was a great relief to parse the answer as a (3,6), but it took me way too long.

38d ode {Lines that lift up}. Nothing to do with elevators ... these lines are verse, as odes should boost the addressee (whether animate or inanimate):
Thou still unravished bride of quietness,
Thou foster-child of silence and slow time,
Sylvan historian, who canst thus express
A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme:
What leaf-fringed legend haunts about thy shape
Of deities or mortals, or of both,
In Tempe or the dales of Arcady?

From Ode on a Grecian Urn by John Keats
The Rest

1a time warp {"In one era and out the other" phenomenon?}; 16a opt out {Decline}; 17a sail-boat {Cutter, e.g.}; 18a hoop-la {Smoke and mirrors}; 19a caress {Show of affection}; 20a ills {Subject of therapy}; 23a acer {One who has a quick point to make?}; 26a yawing {Off course, in a way}; 29a bilks {Hornswoggles}; 33a salsa {Hot stuff}; 35a waxwork {One might stand in a chamber of horrors}; 37a lost art {Calligraphy, some say}; 42a rts. {They may get waived: Abbr.}; 43a zero g {What you may experience when going around the world?}; 44a Angelo {Muhammad Ali cornerman Dundee}; 47a Lite {Alternative to Genuine Draft}; 48a Bloc {___ Québécois (political party)}; 52a lam {Beat it}; 53a Audi {Its logo is four interlocking rings}; 56a adieux {Cheerios, abroad}; 58a coq au vin {Certain fricassee}; 60a nettle {Rub the wrong way}; 61a emulsion {Hollandaise, e.g.}; 62a dryads {Tree dwellers}; 63a real easy {Like duck soup}.

2d Isaac {Half brother of Midian, in the Bible}; 3d moiré {Waves on garments}; 4d Ellery {Queen who wrote popular novels}; 7d ria {Coastal feature}; 8d potions {Hogwarts class taught by Severus Snape}; 9d Kohl's {Target competitor}; 10d epos {Apollonius of Rhodes' "Argonautica," e.g.}; 12d top dollar {An exorbitant amount}; 13d hula skirt {Grassy bottom}; 21d legal age {21, maybe}; 24d milkmaid {Girl with considerable pull?}; 25d jilt {Dump without warning}; 27d A Song {"___ for You" (1975 Temptations album)}; 28d war {Campaign setting}; 29d Basel {City where Erasmus taught}; 30d Swaziland {Its flag includes a shield and two spears}; 32d extremity {Arm or leg}; 36d woos {Tries to get}; 41d enticer {Decoy}; 45d obtuse {Not sharp}; 47d luxes {Meter-candles}; 49d Livia {Octavian's wife}; 50d olios {Gallimaufries}; 51d canny {Sharp}; 53d auld {Holiday tune title starter}; 54d aqua {Shade close to beryl}; 55d tall {Like Magic?}; 57d eta {Flight projection, briefly}; 59d O me! {"___! What fray was here?": Romeo}.

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