Friday, July 3, 2009

NYT Saturday 7/4/09 - Grid the Beautiful

I had been wondering whether today's New York Times crossword would reference the Fourth of July, but forgot about this when I actually sat down to solve it, all prepared for the usual stinker of a puzzle we get on a Saturday.

So it was a pleasant surprise when I got red, white and blue and wondered what the other long answers might be. I had no idea they would be so tightly associated with the theme and really I'm in awe of the grid's beauties: first that such great four 15-letter answers would be available and second that they would fit together.

It's really all so unlikely that one suspects the hand of providence and that Independence was Destined To Be. So this subject of the British Crown wishes all Americans a happy Fourth of July. Magdalen and I are going to celebrate by watching a BMets baseball game, with fireworks to follow.
Solving time: 19 mins (solo, no solving aids)
Clue of the puzz: 34d sack-race {It may make people jump to a conclusion}
Theme

Four long answers associated with the Fourth of July, but clued (as far as possible) without referencing that association:
20a The United States {Fastest ocean liner ever in a transatlantic crossing (3 days, 12 hours, 12 minutes)}
34a Stars and Stripes {Private reading?}
54a Red, White and Blue {Patriotic display}
7d Independence Day {Highest-grossing film of 1996}
Solution

Peter A. Collins and Joe Krozel
Grid art by Sympathy [about the grid colors]

Crucimetrics
CompilersPeter A. Collins and Joe Krozel / Will Shortz
Grid15x15 with 28 (12.4%) black squares
Answers70 (average length 5.63)
Theme squares57 (28.9%)
Scrabble points278 (average 1.41)
Letters usedABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ
New To Me

10a a Wet {"Séance on ___ Afternoon" (1964 suspense thriller)}. I suppose I should have known this, because Séance on a Wet Afternoon is a British movie directed by Bryan Forbes, whom I admire particularly for Whistle Down the Wind. In the clued movie, Richard Attenborough assists his "psychic" wife by kidnapping a child in order that she might achieve fame by revealing its whereabouts through her occult powers.



Athena14a Alea {Greek goddess Athena ___}. It seems the goddess Athena had many different titles, or "epithets", in different places. In the region of Arcadia, she was worshiped as Athena Alea, after one of the places where a temple to her was built.



6d Norton {1973 Ali jaw-breaker}. Even if I didn't know this answer, I needed it to give a good pointer to the third letter of 23-Across. Unfortunately, the answer could have equally well been Norten and for all I knew, the other three vowels were all possible in the critical square. It turns out Ken Norton was the boxer who defeated Muhammad Ali in their first bout, and broke Ali's jaw in the process. Here are the contenders on Carson before their rematch:



Shasta daisies44d Shasta {California county}. I got this from crossing answers I knew, then recalled Shasta daisies. These, like the county, are named for Mount Shasta, the second-highest peak in the Cascade Range.

Noteworthy

Planet Mongo15a Mongo {Planet ruled by Ming the Merciless in "Flash Gordon"}. I remembered this factoid from somewhere, although I think of Mongo as Alex Karras's character in Blazing Saddles, not the planet Mongo.



19a Nita {1920s leading lady ___ Naldi}. A leading lady featured in three previous NYT crosswords this year and remembered ... a triumph for the little gray cells. Here's Nita Naldi using her seductive powers on Rudolph Valentino in Blood and Sand (1922).



lop-eared rabbit23a alop {Catawampus}. I had to think about this one for a couple of minutes, not knowing who Ali's jaw-breaker might be at 6-Down, and having problems remembering what "catawampus" meant. I thought at first it meant a muddle or afray, but only recalled the real meaning when I realized a-lop might actually be a word for "hanging diagonally", like the ears of certain rabbits.

43a spans {Bank structures?}. Not too sure about this one: I assume it refers to bridges, but spans are more associated with what bridges cross than their banks, surely? So the clue seems even more questionable than the question mark would allow.

Lenin Peak57a Alai {Trans ___ (Kyrgyz/Tajik border range)}. The many crossword books I've read suggest there are only two fundamental ways of clueing ALAI: the second half of jai alai and the alternative spelling of the Alay Mountains. I gather the Trans Alai are a subset of that range, with Lenin Peak their highest point.

58a Rod Steiger {Oscar-winning portrayer of Police Chief Bill Gillespie, 1967}. Always happy to see a reference to one of my favorite American movies, In the Heat of the Night. Rod Steiger (1925–2002) was outstanding in the role of a bigoted sheriff who grudgingly accepts help from a black detective played by Sidney Poitier.



34d sack-race {It may make people jump to a conclusion}. A real beaut of a clue - maybe the clue of the year so far?

35d traveled {Broke a court rule}. If I can work this out as relating to basketball, then it probably doesn't need explaining for anyone else, but here goes: a player travels by illegally moving his pivot foot or taking too many steps without dribbling the ball.

37d NRA {PAC for those who pack?}. Neatly worded clue, reminding me of the role of Political Action Committees. Members of Congress have ranked the NRA as the most powerful lobbying organization in the country several years in a row; it spent $10 million during the 2008 presidential campaign.

46d Calgon {Bath beads maker}. There seemed to be several possibilities for 64-Across, so I had to be careful here. I knew Calgon as a brand of water softener in the UK, but did they also make bath beads in the USA? It turns out these two things may now be marketed by different companies, but named the same as they both originated in Calgon, Inc. of Pittsburgh.

The Rest

1a Serb {Landlocked European}; 5a ENIAC {1946's "Giant Brain"}; 16a nano- {Second start?}; 17a rock-garden {Landscaper's project}; 22a rid {Free}; 24a talent {Showbiz bookings}; 25a emeer {Big man in Oman}; 27a new at {Inexperienced with}; 29a DDE {Old White House monogram}; 30a Als {Baseball's Dark and Downing}; 32a nan {Asian flatbread}; 33a purr {Copy cats?}; 39a Aris {Greek war god, to Greeks}; 40a pre- {Season opener?}; 41a sel {French seasoning}; 42a car {Word with part or port}; 45a sects {Branches}; 49a kvetch {Bellyache}; 51a chai {Non-coffee order at Starbucks}; 53a art {Busts in a museum, e.g.}; 59a cell {Block division}; 60a elate {Send}; 61a dose {Spoonful, say}; 62a Edel {Henry James biographer Leon}; 63a sly as {___ a fox}; 64a ento- {Prefix with -zoic}.

1d Sartre {He wrote "Life has no meaning the moment you lose the illusion of being eternal"}; 2d Elohim {Old Testament God}; 3d recede {Peter out}; 4d Baku {Azerbaijan's capital}; 5d email {Send, in a way}; 8d aged {Like some ports}; 9d constants {Pi and others}; 10d annal {Record for the record books}; 11d waited up {Didn't retire, maybe}; 12d entendre {Double ___}; 13d toasters {Maid of honor and best man, e.g.}; 18d gnarls {Twists}; 21d tat {Parlor pic}; 26d ears {Hearing things}; 28d was {Performed the role of}; 31d sapphires {Star of India and others}; 33d pile {It may be down}; 36d Airedale {Dog originally bred to hunt otters}; 38d reside {Live}; 43d sch. {Prep, e.g.: Abbr.}; 47d truest {Like best friends}; 48d stereo {Disc holder}; 50d twill {Gabardine, e.g.}; 52d antes {They're placed in the center of a table}; 55d toll {Single stroke}; 56d bide {Remain}.

3 comments:

Magdalen said...

A lovely post, sweetheart. And thanks for agreeing to live in the USofA with me. Luckily, the anti-British sentiment was fairly muted this year...

Dean said...

I origianally had LOANS for "Bank Structures", but since a true span only touches the banks, and not the river, I guess it's a pretty fair clue.

Third time this year and I could still not remember NITA Naldi!

We get puzzle delayed by 6 weeks, so the "4th" theme was lost on me.

Crossword Man said...

I see your point about the spans clue. I hope soon to have guidance in the sidebar for solvers of the syndicated crosswords, regarding the delays for weekday and Sunday puzzles.