Friday, September 11, 2009

NYT Saturday 9/12/09 - Hard-to-reach Fruit

With this Saturday New York Times crossword, things seem to be back to normal - a conventionally "wide open" grid befitting the themeless puzzles at the end of the week. The difficulty level is also about my average and I still struggle to get all the puzzles for a week in at under the 30 minute mark.

I seemed to make a little progress all over the grid, but it was a struggle to get any section to really gel. The NW corner is a case in point: I had Estee, Stes and Tod very early on, but couldn't get any of the long across answers until low hanging fruit came along to assist. But to get that I needed to solve most of the rest of the puzzle and the NW corner held its mysteries right to the end.
Solving time: 42 mins (solo, no solving aids)
Clue of the puzz: 17a stare down {Cow with a drawn-out look}

Barry C. Silk
Grid art by Sympathy [about the grid colors]

CompilersBarry C. Silk / Will Shortz
Grid15x15 with 28 (12.4%) black squares
Answers70 (average length 5.63)
Theme squares0 (0.0%)
Scrabble points319 (average 1.62)
New To Me

box turtle1a box turtle {Pet that hisses when frightened}. I thought this might be a snake, but never suspected a kind of turtle. At least three genera can be termed box turtles, but what they have in common is a domed shell which is hinged at the bottom, so that the shell can be tightly closed to escape predators. I don't know why they bother to hiss then. The only place I've seen turtles in the wild is in the Delaware at New Hope, PA - they were so far below the bridge we were crossing, it was difficult to tell what kind they were.

26a Tod {The fox in Disney's "The Fox and the Hound"}. The answer is guessable even if you know nothing about the movie. Tod is an old dialect word for a fox and often gets used as a fox's proper name in stories ... as in The Tale of Mr. Tod.

Gheorghe Mureşan41a NBA {Org. with many centers}. I'm ashamed to say I had to look this up to check how the clue works, center (colloquially the five or the pivot) being one of the standard positions in basketball. A typically NBA center is apparently over 6'10" tall, the tallest players being the 7'7" Gheorghe Mureşan and Manute Bol.

RFD mail carrier6d RFD {Old postal abbr.}. I gather the answer stands for Rural Free Delivery, a postal system introduced in 1891, before which rural citizens had to travel into a nearby city to collect mail. The consequences of this new system were still evident when I arrived in the USA: our postal address was based on the mail carrier's route (HC31) but this was finally changed to a street address last year with a consequent change of house number - all an effort to make it easier for emergency services to find people's houses in this scattered neighborhood.

23d bora {Adriatic wind}. Rather obscure word, used for the northern to north-eastern katabatic wind around the Adriatic. The name derives from Boreas, the personification of the North Wind in Greek mythology.

33d River Rat {Tommy Lee Jones film set along the Mississippi, with "The"}. I thought this might be The Fugitive, which ... yes ... does have Tommy Lee Jones in it, but would more properly be called a Harrison Ford film. The River Rat is a less well-known family film about a teenage daughter (Martha Plimpton) who builds a relationship with the father (Tommy Lee Jones) she meets for the first time when he's released from prison. The River Rat of the title is the boat they rebuild and use to make a trip down the Mississippi. It sounds lovely, but I can't find a clip for it, so here's The Fugitive.

The Golden Arm40d Unitas {Record-holder for throwing a touchdown pass in 47 consecutive games}. Unitas sounded more like a company name to me, but I had to go with it when all the crossings seemed unambiguous. Johnny Unitas (1933–2002) nicknamed The Golden Arm and often called Johnny U, was one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time.

48d Nona {"Ali" actress Gaye}. Nona Gaye, daughter of Marvin, is a singer and actress, playing Muhammad Ali's second wife Belinda in the movie.

MRE52d MRE {Desert Storm grub, briefly}. Mr. E is one of the more inventive pseudonyms in cryptic crosswords, but that's beside the point. MRE stands for Meal, Ready-to-Eat, replacing in 1981 the canned combat rations called MCI.


17a stare down {Cow with a drawn-out look}. A lovely clue that would make a perfect "cryptic definition" in a British crossword ... it's very hard not to think of cow as a noun here and conjure up cows from childhood - in my case it would have to be Ermintrude from the Magic Roundabout. I discover today that the show's narrator was Emma Thompson's dad Eric.

Willy Brandt23a Brandt {Nobel-winning chancellor}. The three-vowel sequence at the end makes this a hard answer to get. Willy Brandt (1913-1992) got the Peace Prize in 1971 for Ostpolitik, the attempt to improve relations with the Eastern Bloc countries.

38a Ravi {First name in Indian music}. A gimme for me ... could it be anyone other than Ravi Shankar sitarist extraordinaire?

5d Ulee {Fictional apiarist Jackson}. Ulee seems to be the crosswordese do nos jours ... it's bee-n used five times already this year.

31d acrostic {Diversion involving a quotation}. This took me a surprisingly long time to get, considering Magdalen and I have occasional bouts of acrostic solving: it's not part of our usual routine, but we sometimes get stuck into a book of acrostics such as ones from the New York Times and work through a bunch.

ho ho ho39d hos {Yuletide trio}. Before looking at where this had to go, I knew it to be the Magi. Oh dear, that's not going to work. Eventually got the reference to Santa's laugh, which is traditionally made up of three hos.

53d BCE {Letters used in dating}. Another beautifully deceptive clue. I was expecting something like SWF, the personal ad abbr we had recently, but the dating concerned is more prosaic: BCE stands for Before the Common Era. The numbering of years in BCE/CE notation is identical to that in BC/AD notation, but the former is more sensitive to non-Christian faiths and the use of BCE/CE notation in school textbooks is growing - an indication of the way things may be headed for future generations.

The Rest

10a evils {Sermon subject}; 15a April fool {Certain prank victim}; 16a Ionia {Croesus conquered it}; 18a giver {Unselfish sort}; 19a Estee {Name on a bottle of Emerald Dream}; 20a highroad {Ethical course}; 22a Stes. {Marie and Julie: Abbr.}; 25a Iwo {One of the Bonin Islands, for short}; 27a coin-op {Like some washers}; 28a McAn {Big name in footwear}; 29a scrag {Skinny type}; 30a geeky {Not at all cool}; 31a Air Quality Index {0-to-500 scale that goes from least to most hazardous}; 36a crimp {Hamper}; 37a Niels {Mathematician ___ Henrik Abel}; 39a hugest {Most important}; 44a one {What I might indicate}; 45a non-fat {Word a loser likes to see?}; 46a fell {Bring down}; 47a sir, no sir {Drill denial}; 49a freak {Extremely unlikely}; 50a tarot {Crystal ball alternative}; 51a tumble dry {Not leave on the line?}; 54a inane {Laughable}; 55a air-cooled {Like many motorcycle engines}; 56a C-star {Red giant variety}; 57a steepness {Mountaineer's concern}.

1d basest {Least noble}; 2d opts to {Decides one will}; 3d X-rated {Bluer than blue}; 4d tires {Rim attachments}; 7d too {At that}; 8d low hanging fruit {Easily reachable goals}; 9d El Niño {Current source of problems?}; 10d eight {Ice figure?}; 11d voir {See, in Somme}; 12d invoiced {Billed}; 13d lie awake {Have trouble drifting off}; 14d sardonyx {Cameo stone}; 21d GDP {It excludes income on foreign investments: Abbr.}; 24d rial {Money for 32-Down}; 27d C cup {Size in a lingerie shop}; 28d men's {___ room}; 29d sq mi {2,560 roods: Abbr.}; 30d gilt {Given an expensive coat}; 32d Iranians {Readers of the newspaper Hamshahri}; 34d tie a {___ knot}; 35d yest {Very recently: Abbr.}; 41d needle {One getting into the groove?}; 42d blares {Turns way up}; 43d alkyds {Resins used in paints}; 45d noter {Observant one}; 46d Freon {Ozone damager}; 49d flop {Dud}.


Daniel Myers said...

Don't you think that there might be a bit of a theme here other than said fruit, with: AIR QUALITY INDEX, EL NINO, BORA, AIR-COOLED and FREON, at that?

Crossword Man said...

Well spotted Daniel ... I'm liable to overlook such unadvertised themes, and that's a good one.

Daniel Myers said...


I'm constantly in more than a bit of awe at the work and energy which it must take you to construct this blog - and am in your debt as I enjoy it so. Hailing from that same small island to the west of Europe as you presents certain difficulties with American cultural allusions (particularly Baseball) and idioms, which you always clarify nicely. I don't imagine that I would have noticed this, ahem, undercurrent to the puzzle, if it had not been a lazy Saturday and the puzzle relatively easy for me. I've no idea what sort of muddle I'd have been in if I had a blog such as yours to construct!


Crossword Man said...

Thanks Daniel. I appreciate the vote of confidence from a fellow islander. I'm having a wonderful time doing the writing and find it a great way to learn the "cultural touchstones" of American life.