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}.


Daniel Myers said...

You're correct about dieresis. It's easy to remember it as the opposite of a diphthong, with which the OED spells it: "diaeresis."---My experience w/ the difficulty of puzzles this week matched yours exactly.

Crossword Man said...

Thanks - let's hope for a saner progression of difficulties this week.