Thursday, October 22, 2009

NYT Friday 10/23/09 - Crossing the Line

This Friday New York Times crossword was typical in taking me a little over half an hour - seemingly there's always a big jump up from the manageable Thursday puzzles to the tear-your-hair-out Friday ones.

I hoped for better, as I had the bottom two-thirds of the grid filled after around 15 minutes. I got lucky with Valley Forge (see signs for it every time we go to Philly, and know something of its historical significance), Bryce Canyon (see below) and Etonian (right in my wheelhouse).

But the NE and NW corners stubbornly held out against my best efforts. Partly this was down to some nasty cluing, but I was also disadvantaged in wrongly guessing exam paper and term paper (which Magdalen says isn't so dreadful) before seeing what 1-Down had to be from crossings. Having smoky for 11-Down also prevented Altoona from emerging in the NE (Altoona is a city I'm always hearing in Noaa forecasts, so recognizable when I eventually opted for sooty).

Writing up the commentary, I'm struck by a greater than usual occurrence of ugly answers: I don't normally moan about crosswordese, but this grid just seems to have crossed a line for me. Maybe it's because the offending words all start with A and so seem to assemble themselves for a Philippic: Atli I could forgive any other day, but we also have Atka, Aral and ara, plus the you'd-run-a-mile-to-avoid-this asyla. The majority of those were in the areas I solved more easily, so I guess I can't complain too much.
Solving time: 33 mins (solo, no solving aids)
Clue of the puzz: 34d tree rings {They help with dating}
Solution

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

Crucimetrics
CompilersBarry C. Silk / Will Shortz
Grid15x15 with 29 (12.9%) black squares
Answers68 (average length 5.76)
Theme squares0 (0.0%)
Scrabble points313 (average 1.60)
Letters usedABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ
New To Me

21a Atli {Mythical Hun king}. Hun king suggests Attila, but there's no way that can be cudgeled into a four-letter entry. It turns out that Atli is possibly Attila in Old Norse, since there's a character with that name in the Völsunga saga, which is believed to be a mythologized version of the Hun king. Rather an ugli answer, nevertheless.

26a Adele {One-named singer with the 2008 Grammy for Best New Artist}. Adele (no accents it seems) is a singer-songwriter who describes her own music as "heartbroken soul". As well as the cited Grammy, she also won in the Best Female Pop Vocal Performance category for the single Chasing Pavements. Incidentally, Wikipedia suggests both awards were received at the 2009 Grammys.



57a Elenore {Title girl in a 1968 Turtles hit}. Confusingly there are two Turtles bands. Turtles, a K-hip-hop group debuting in 2001? ... clearly not that. The Turtles, an American folk-rock band? That sounds more like it. Elenore was a hit single from their concept album The Turtles Present the Battle of the Bands, in which the group pretended to be eleven different bands, each with a song in a different genre. Wikipedia offers this useful titbit: to date, Elenore is the only Hot 100 single to contain the words et cetera in its lyrics.



9d Ito {Klugman's "Quincy, M.E." co-star}. Did I ever see Quincy, M.E.? I'm not sure, but there was certainly no chance of getting Robert Ito, who played sidekick Sam Fujiyama, without every single crossing letter.



Atka32d Atka {Aleutian island}. I suspected of having "learned" Atka before, perhaps from an anthologized puzzle. It might just as well have been new, as it got filled in en passant from the easier crossings. It's the largest of the Andreanof Islands and has a population of 95 persons (2000 census data), almost all of whom live in the city of Atka, Alaska.

47d Glenn {Actor Ford of "Gilda"}. Gilda (soft G) just makes me think of the daughter in Rigoletto, but it seems the film Gilda (hard G) owes nothing to Verdi, being about a gambler (Glenn Ford) that resumes a love-hate relationship with an old flame (Rita Hayworth), who's now married to his dangerous new boss.



51d Alan {Actor Ford of "Snatch"}. Nice juxtaposition of clues: Alan Ford is English, and best known for his roles in the Guy Ritchie crime capers Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998) and Snatch (2000). In the latter movie, he plays a psychotic gangster named Brick Top.



Noteworthy

19a rant {Philippic}. Vaguely knew of Philippic as a word, but couldn't remember its meaning in time to be useful. It was originally used for Demosthenes' orations against Philip II of Macedon in the 4th century BC, but is now a general term for any tirade - I'll have to work it into my conversation in the coming week.

Bryce Canyon23a Bryce Canyon {National park with the Pink Cliffs}. I knew of Bryce Canyon even before coming to the USA, for the odd reason that's it's one of the places that inspired the orchestral piece Des canyons aux étoiles… (From the Canyons to the stars...). The synesthesic French composer Olivier Messiaen had visited Utah and been particularly inspired by Bryce Canyon and its colors.

King's College, Cambridge36a Etonian {Many a King's Scholar}. A clue I have an advantage with, for once, since I'm aware of the link between Eton College and King's College, Cambridge, both being founded (in 1440 and 1441, respectively) by King Henry VI. Currently only one King's scholarship is a so-called "closed" one, being exclusively available to students from Eton (historically, there would have been many). Magdalen's Hub 1.0 was a student at King's, though not an Etonian.

48a ara {Sacrifice site, in Siena}. For some reason this made me think of Ara the altar, the constellation that's a bit of a bygone crossword cliché, as witnessed by its appearance in Arthur Schulman's puzzle on the subj. The clue tries to steer away from such associations, and it turns out ara is indeed the Italian word for altar. I wonder what the Italians sacrifice on Sienese altars?

Aral Sea50a Aral {___ Sea, modern site of ship graveyards}. In previous posts, I've remarked on the shrinking of the Aral Sea, once the world's fourth-largest inland saline body of water. The graveyards have presumably resulted more from the economic consequences of the receding waters, as no doubt boats could have been moved if there was any value in doing it.

4d hone {Opposite of dull}. Misleading solvers about the part of speech is one of the more lethal weapons in a clue-writer's armory. "dull" can of course be a verb, and in this sense, hone is its opposite.
dull
transitive verb : to make dull <dull a knife's edge>

From Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary 11th Edition
5d apt {Quick}. Another very sneaky clue, choosing to use a less common sense of apt, in which it is equivalent to "quick to learn".
apt
adjective
4 : keenly intelligent and responsive apt pupil>

From Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary 11th Edition
6d to err {Pope statement opener}. A reference to a famous proverb, which came not from a pope (although most would presumably agree with the sentiment) but from the poet Alexander Pope (1688–1744) whose Essay on Criticism contains the line:
To err is human, to forgive divine.
From An Essay on Criticism Part II
44d asyla {Shelters}. Ugh! Can this really be a valid alternative to asylums? No according to every dictionary I looked in, except for the OED Second Edition, which comes up with some bygone citations supporting the answer. Now if they need a citation for the 21st century, they can always turn to this puzzle.

The Rest

1a top-hats {They may be seen with tails}; 8a jigsaw {Piece project?}; 14a Europop {Some breezy Top 40 songs}; 15a Altoona {Locale of a Penn State campus}; 16a stinter {Spendthrift's antithesis}; 17a zoology {Natural history museum subject}; 18a tone {A kid may be told to watch it}; 22a Pfc. {One might be promoted to cpl.}; 28a coked {Converted from coal via distillation}; 29a patellas {Tibia neighbors}; 31a Duarte {1980s El Salvadoran president}; 37a halters {They won't cover your back}; 38a render {Hand over}; 39a parakeet {One skilled at mimicry}; 40a vroom {Dragging sound}; 42a taxer {Government, often}; 43a Valley Forge {Washington locale}; 49a O! say {Start of a song that ends with "brave"}; 51a Amin {1979 exile to Saudi Arabia}; 52a wysiwyg {Acronym for a kind of PC video screen display}; 55a dealing {Pusher's activity}; 58a in range {Reachable}; 59a largos {They don't move quickly}; 60a oneness {Identity}.

1d test-paper {Often-dreaded handout}; 2d out-of-date {Like Windows 95, e.g.}; 3d Princeton {Tigers' place}; 7d spray-can {Mist generator}; 8d J. Lo {Quadruple-platinum 2001 album}; 10d Golan {___ Heights}; 11d sooty {Blackened}; 12d Anglo {___-Egyptian Sudan}; 13d way in {Door}; 15d Aztek {2001-05 Pontiac made in Mexico}; 20d NCOs {Mil. E-4 to E-9}; 23d believe {Hold}; 24d cedar {Cone bearer}; 25d adulate {Fancy to a fault}; 27d lend {Advance}; 30d Larry {Fine with the Stooges}; 33d re-examine {Take another good look at}; 34d tree rings {They help with dating}; 35d estranges {Turns away}; 37d ham-radio {Hobby with call signs}; 39d poor {Below C level?}; 41d of age {18 or 21, typically}; 43d vowel {One of an au pair?}; 45d laser {Option for some surgeries}; 46d lying {Two-faced}; 53d woo {Shower with gifts, say}; 54d yrs. {Representation of 34-Down: Abbr.}; 56d are {"___ not!"}.

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