Thursday, October 1, 2009

NYT Friday 10/2/09 - Pluses and Minuses

This Friday New York Times crossword didn't seem that hard, but still took me a full half hour. It appears there's almost invariably a big step up in difficulty from Thursday to Friday, with a leveling off after that: on the average, I would say I find the Friday and Saturday puzzles similarly challenging, but we'll see what happens tonight.

The trouble spots for me were: the NE corner, where a bunch of more-or-less unfamiliar names are clustered: Sid (Luckman), Ani (Skywalker), Sam Elliott and (William) Wyler; also, the lower middle, where I wasn't au fait with the clued usage of trepan, and Elián (Gonzalez) still doesn't trip off my tongue as easily it might for someone subjected to those 2000 headlines.

I like the "pluses and minuses" grid, with its four blocks of long answers; their downside is, as usual, a lot of three-letter answers, but I found I could solve enough of these to get the necessary toe-hold in each of the corners.
Solving time: 30 mins (solo, no solving aids)
Clue of the puzz: 10d is on {A couple of words after the race}

Brad Wilber
Grid art by Sympathy [about the grid colors]

CompilersBrad Wilber / Will Shortz
Grid15x15 with 31 (13.8%) black squares
Answers68 (average length 5.71)
Theme squares0 (0.0%)
Scrabble points277 (average 1.43)
New To Me

12a Sid {Luckman of Chicago Bears fame}. I could have been in a lot of trouble over this one, but luckily knew (vaguely) the only non-dictionary crossing, Sam Elliott. Sid Luckman was a Chicago Bears quarterback from 1939 to 1950, leading them to four NFL championships - the first modern T-formation QB. If only I had this kid to help me ...

16a Ani {Boyhood nickname in "The Phantom Menace"}; 51a Oola {"Return of the Jedi" dancing girl}. Oops ... I still haven't gotten around to doing my Star Wars cheat sheet, which would of course have Anakin Skywalker's nickname and Jabba the Hutt's Twi'lek slave dancer Oola. In the crosswords I'm used to, ani is only ever the bird in the genus Crotophaga of the cuckoo family - a Star Wars reference would make a lot of British solvers keel over.

17a Penn Station {Its clock was featured in the 1945 film "The Clock"}. I'd heard of New York City's Penn(sylvania) Station, but wasn't hitherto aware of its connection with The Clock (1945). This was Judy Garland's first dramatic role in which she doesn't sing.

26a Wyler {Recipient of a record 12 Best Director nominations}. Director William Wyler isn't who I'd have picked for this record, but looking at his work, maybe this level of nomination was justified. He actually won the Oscar in 1943, 1947 and 1959 - this last award for the memorable Ben-Hur:

trepanned skull48a trepan {Mine shaft drill}. I've always thought of a trepan as the medical drill, but I see MWCD 11 also defines it as a "tool used in boring mine shafts". I guess they use something else in the interesting mine shafts ... dynamite perhaps? Trepanning is a very old practice - at one burial site in France, dating to 6500 BC, 40 of the 120 skulls excavated had trepanation holes.

49a Ellerbee {Multiple Emmy winner for "Nick News"}. Magdalen is an admirer of Linda Ellerbee and said I shouldn't let this opportunity pass to show a clip of her. Here's an example of the referenced news program for kids Nick News, which seems like the equivalent of the British Newsround - in my day this was presented by a guy called John Craven.

Empire silhouette61a Empire waist {Dress style that appears to lengthen the body}. The Empire silhouette was the dernier cri in the last few years of the 18th century, the look being based on images seen on Greco-Roman art.

63a Damn Yankees {Modern retelling of the Faust legend}. Yes, the Yankees of the title are the New York Yankees, the musical in question being set in the 1950s when The Evil Empire dominated Major League Baseball. Damn Yankees ran for 1,019 performances in its original 1955 Broadway production. There's also a 1958 film version.

1d Capp {Sadie Hawkins Day creator}. Sadie Hawkins Day is a fictional holiday that originated in the Li'l Abner strip. 35-year-old Sadie, the "homeliest gal in all them hills", grew tired of waiting for men to court her and so a foot race was conceived in which any Dogpatch bachelor caught by Sadie was liable to be married to her by sundown. The idea caught on in high schools and colleges, and on each Saturday following November 9, boys are liable to be "chased" by the girls at dances.

Sadie Hawkins Day

7d Ava {"Nip/Tuck" character Moore}. Life coach Ava Moore is Famke Janssen's character on Nip/Tuck, supposedly starting life as a man and being transformed by plastic surgery into the "The Hope Diamond of transsexuals; completely flawless in every way".

24d Irma {Bygone radio "friend"}. It seems this is a reference to a long-running radio sitcom called My Friend Irma, about roommates in a New York City boarding house, Jane and Irma. A movie based on the radio series is notable as the film debut of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis.

28d María Elena {1941 Jimmy Dorsey chart-topper}. Maria Elena was originally a song in Spanish from 1932, dedicated to María Elena, the wife of Mexican President Emilio Portes Gil. I can't find Jimmy Dorsey's version, but here it is from the great Ry Cooder and friends.

Bart Starr50d Bama {Bart Starr's alma mater, briefly}. I know Bama to be a nickname of the University of Alabama, as Magdalen kindly forewarned me about it. But this particular clue didn't help me get there: the Bart Starr reference was lost on me (as most American football ones still are). Bart played college football at Bama and was a 17th round pick in the 1956 NFL Draft. He was presumably picked by the Green Bay Packers, as he was their QB from 1956 to 1971 and the MVP of the first two Super Bowls.


Peter Pan27a J. M. Barrie {Best-selling children's author who became a baronet}. Answers that start with initials like this are among the hardest to get, because they occur so seldom and defy normal letter patterns. The use of initials here is perfectly justified, as that's how Sir James Matthew Barrie, 1st Baronet was usually known.

30a else {Further}. Unfortunately, this clue works equally well for also, which held me up some. Clue and answer are equivalent in idioms like "is there nothing further/else?".

Elian Gonzalez40a Elián {First name in 2000 headlines}. Magdalen had to explain this reference when it came up in a previous crossword - perhaps from an anthology, as the name Elián González has faded from the news in the nine years since the would-be immigrant was returned to Cuba in controversial circumstances. The former González home in Miami has been turned into a museum, with the boy's bedroom left unaltered.

42a TSE {Japanese market inits.}. Tokyo Stock Exchange. Historically this method of cluing TSE has been fairly infrequent, T. S. Eliot and Lao-Tse being more commonly referenced.

4d sonata {"Tempest," for one}. Neat clue ... it took me way too long to think musically rather than dramatically. The Tempest is Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 17. Here's Wilhelm Kempff to play it.

10d is on {A couple of words after the race}. A reference to the expression "the race is on" - neat clue.

12d Sam Elliott {Actress Katharine Ross's actor-husband}. I was lucky to remember Sam Elliott's name, if not his relationship with Katharine Ross - otherwise, the minefield of proper names in the NE corner might have caught me out. Sam Elliott's gravelly voice makes him ideal for voice-overs, such as this one for Union Pacific:

25d Liane {NPR host Hansen}. Nice to have the occasional gimme in an end-of-week puzzle. We of course know Liane Hansen primarily for hosting Weekend Edition Sunday, the show that features Will Shortz's NPR Sunday Puzzle.

The Rest

1a caused a stir {Rabble-roused}; 15a auto-reverse {Tape deck convenience}; 18a MOs {Perps' preferences}; 19a plea {"Help!," e.g.}; 20a tenement {Overcrowded digs}; 22a T-bills {Ones maturing quickly, for short}; 31a UAL {Delta competitor: Abbr.}; 32a amass {Get together}; 34a pries {Sticks one's nose in}; 35a MRI scan {Diagnosis facilitator}; 37a prisons {Where people do stretches}; 39a Pinot {Wine option}; 43a tada {Cry of accomplishment}; 44a unstated {Tacit}; 46a heave {Cry made with great effort}; 55a gel {Come together}; 56a random order {Shuffling goal}; 60a Une {Rimbaud's "___ Saison en Enfer"}; 62a nay {Thumbs-down}.

2d Auel {"The Valley of Horses" novelist, 1982}; 3d Utne {Magazine founder Eric}; 5d ERs {First responders' destinations, briefly}; 6d DET {Comerica Park team, on scoreboards}; 8d settles {Quiets}; 9d tries {Is a real burden to}; 11d renew {People may ask you to do this}; 13d in one sense {"You could look at it this way ..."}; 14d distressed {Upset}; 21d Myers {Shrek's voicer}; 23d bract {Petal-like poinsettia part}; 27d jump the gun {Be too hasty}; 29d blind alley {It leads nowhere}; 33d spine {Moral fiber}; 34d Pinta {Ship to the New World}; 36d Soave {Chardonnay alternative}; 38d rasp {Imitate Don Corleone}; 41d lured in {Seduced}; 45d anorak {Preventer of northern exposure}; 47d erred {Was off base}; 48d ten pm {Prime-time time}; 52d Odie {Tongue-lolling comics character}; 53d lese {Majesty lead-in}; 54d arts {Entertainment partner?}; 57d Ory {Kid ___ (old bandleader)}; 58d me a {"Drop ___ line"}; 59d own {Be undefeated against, in sports lingo}.

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