Thursday, September 17, 2009

NYT Friday 9/18/09 - A Finite Golden Braid

This New York Times crossword is probably the easiest Friday I've seen all year - it's perhaps been harder in half-century week to get the usual even progression of difficulties from Monday to Saturday. Today's constructor Charles Gersch had his first puzzle published at the age of 13 in 1944, but didn't debut in the NYT until 1951.

This themeless seemed to flow a lot better than most end-of-week puzzles: I normally dot about the grid trying to get a toehold anywhere I can; here, I managed to fill first the top section, then completed the middle and finally swept in triumph through the bottom. Is there a dedication there: I see 49a For and 52a Diane?

Despite the quick solving time, there were a couple of hot spots where I could easily have made errors: there was probably nothing that could be done in the cluing about the collision of Ugarte, Galt and Elke at the middle right, but I wondered why 57d Jan of the golden hair wasn't clued as (e.g.) the month, given Inspector Javert isn't that well known (maybe I'm alone in not knowing all the names of the Brady kids?).
Solving time: 18 mins (solo, no solving aids)
Clue of the puzz: 17d pole-vault {Try to clear the bar}
Solution

Charles E. Gersch
Grid art by Sympathy [about the grid colors]

Crucimetrics
CompilersCharles E. Gersch / Will Shortz
Grid15x15 with 32 (14.2%) black squares
Answers72 (average length 5.36)
Theme squares0 (0.0%)
Scrabble points308 (average 1.60)
Letters usedABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ
New To Me

14a Happy Talk {"South Pacific" song that asks "If you don't have a dream, / How you gonna have a dream come true?"}. Happy Talk is sung by Bloody Mary to Joe Cable after he begins romancing her daughter Liat. It's sometimes cut from productions because the fake pidgin delivery isn't considered politically correct.



35a intentional walk {Pitcher's ploy}. I think Magdalen may have explained this to me at some point, although I reckon I've only seen unintentional walks in matches thus far. A pitcher can force an intentional walk by deliberately pitching the ball away from the batter: usually a defensive maneuver to prevent a good hitter from scoring.

52a Diane {Chambers in a bar}. Deceptive clue, but since I couldn't put my finger on who Diane Chambers might be, not a great one from my point of view. I see she is Shelley Long's character in Cheers ("where everybody knows your name", ironically).



55a Inspector Javert {Literary character played in film by Charles Laughton, Anthony Perkins and Geoffrey Rush}. I was skating on very thin ice with this one, as I couldn't reliably remember the names of the Bradys to pin down the J. However, I vaguely recalled Inspector Javert from somewhere - he's the main antagonist to Jean Valjean in Les Misérables. Geoffrey Rush plays the character in the 1998 movie adaptation.



5d Tyre {Ancient city whose name means "rock"}. I could only think of Petra, which surely means rock in some sense. Apparently Tyre also means "rock" in Semitic languages - the city is built on a rocky formation.

6d It a {"Isn't ___ Shame?" (1934 hit song)}. Isn't It a Shame - boy is this hard to track down, largely because later songs with the identical title drown out any searches. It seems the 1934 song was recorded by Ted Lewis and his band. Why the one from Patti LaBelle or the like couldn't be used, I can't imagine.



15d Rosie {"Cracklin' ___" (Neil Diamond hit)}. A harder fill-in-the-blank to guess if you didn't already know it, but easier to find as a song title. Cracklin' Rosie is a hit from 1970. Although the song appears to be about a woman of the night, Cracklin' Rosie is actually the nickname of a kind of hooch in Canada.



Who is John Galt?28d Galt {Ayn Rand hero}. John Galt is the hero of Atlas Shrugged. Absent from much of the text, he is ever-present as the subject of the question, "Who is John Galt?". Apparently he's become a symbol for capitalists frustrated at increases in taxation and "going John Galt" refers to productive members of society cutting back on work in response to projected increases in tax on higher earners.

57d Jan {One of the Bradys on "The Brady Bunch"}. I'm still hazy on the names of the Bradys, despite having met them in previous crosswords. Well nine are a lot to remember and I'm not going to get them all in one go, so let's start with the kids ... the girls are Marcia, Jan and Cindy ... the boys are Greg, Peter and Bobby.



Noteworthy

22a Fidelio {Opera that includes the "Prisoners' Chorus"}. A gimme for me ... all those wasted hours listening to opera pay off at last! Fidelio was Beethoven's only opera, in which our heroine Leonore disguises herself as a prison guard to rescue her husband Florestan from prison (wherein the chorus lies in wait to sing for you).



Spirit of '7624a Stan {Satirist Freberg}; 49d fife {"The Spirit of '76" instrument}. Remembered Stan Freberg's name, but needed this reminder of his work. I must have heard quite a few excerpts from his comedy recordings on British radio over the years. One of the clips I came across re-imagines the characters in The Spirit of '76 as a mismatched combination of "square" drummer and "hip" fifer.



El Al logo34a El Al {Its maiden flight carried its country's president home}. A refreshing new way to clue a rather tired answer. El Al's first flight carried Chaim Weizmann from Geneva to Israel in September 1948.

40a Ugarte {"Casablanca" role}. Had I not remembered Ugarte from a previous crossword, I might have been in difficulties with the last two letters, which cross with other proper names. The plot of Casablanca turns on the availability of "letters of transit" which are supplied by the petty criminal Ugarte played by Peter Lorre.



29d Elke {Actress Sommer}. Elke Sommer I knew from A Shot in the Dark, the second of the original Pink Panther movies. It helped to have something I could be sure of in the same corner as Ugarte and Galt.



The Rest

1a chastises {Whips}; 10a very {Truly}; 15a radio {Slice of a media ad budget}; 16a insurance policy {Something that may cover a house}; 18a leone {West African currency}; 19a kilos {British "pounds"}; 20a tho' {Poetic conjunction}; 21a -ess {Count concluder?}; 26a teenage {Adolescent}; 30a hasten {Make tracks}; 33a .gov {E-mail address ender}; 38a your {"___ turn"}; 39a act {See 43-Across}; 41a adverse {Not so good}; 43a play {With 39-Across, pretend}; 44a outwait {Stay longer than}; 46a CPA {Column producer, for short}; 49a for {Gift tag word}; 53a taros {Some Polynesian plants}; 58a fever {Bad thing to run}; 59a escapes to {Reaches, as a sanctuary}; 60a ESPN {"Friday Night Fights" presenter}; 61a re-enactor {One seriously into Civil War history, maybe}.

1d Chile {1962 World Cup host}; 2d Hanes {Hosiery brand}; 3d apsos {Lhasa ___}; 4d spun {Like cotton candy}; 7d sank in {Registered}; 8d El Cid {Conqueror of Valencia in 1094}; 9d skeleton {Natural history museum exhibit}; 10d Val {___-d'Oise (French department)}; 11d edit {Mark up, perhaps}; 12d rich {Sumptuous}; 13d yo-yo {Unstable type}; 17d pole-vault {Try to clear the bar}; 22d fantastic {"Way to go, man!"}; 23d one-way {Ticket request}; 24d stereo {Disc holder}; 25d ten {See 50-Down}; 27d Alar {Bygone spray}; 30d hiya {"How de do"}; 31d a nod {Give ___ to (O.K.)}; 32d STUV {Alphabet quartet}; 33d got {Tricked}; 36d ice-water {Restaurant freebie}; 37d LGA {Letters on some luggage to N.Y.C.}; 42d ruder {Not so delicate}; 43d pierce {Pass through}; 45d a nose {Have ___ for (be perceptive to)}; 46d Crest {Colgate rival}; 47d Porto {___-Novo (capital of Benin)}; 48d Astor {Place name in Manhattan}; 50d ones {Change for a 25-Down, maybe}; 51d RSVP {Accept or decline}; 53d tapa {Spanish morsel}; 54d avec {French preposition}; 56d pen {Script}.

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