Friday, October 30, 2009

NYT Saturday 10/31/09 - A Game of Four Halves

One glance at the grid for today's New York Times crossword, and I realized it was scheduled to contrast with yesterday's. Whereas Friday's puzzle had answers of only 3, 5 and 15 letters, this one has answers predominantly in the 6 to 8 range and approximates four word squares stuck together at the middle.

Those long tees of blocks really separate out the four corners and that is one drawback compared to yesterday's design, which was highly integrated thanks to all those grid-spanning answers. By about five minutes, I'd got all the central answers and then just set about solving the mini-puzzle in each corner: the SE was the first to fall after 9 minutes or so; the NE was done 2 minutes later, then the NW and SW took a further 6 minutes.

This puzzle is closer to my ideal for an end-of-week puzzle, but in its attempt to reduce the answer count (58 answers isn't a record, but is pushing the limits) goes over the line again. The consequences of such a grid can be seen in the colors in the Solution grid below: there is only one letter with a Scrabble value over 4 (the lone K in the southeast) and large chunks of the fill are white, featuring dullish words like serener and sneerers.
Solving time: 17 mins (solo, no solving aids)
Clue of the puzz: 10d rioter {Tears may be brought to one's eyes}

Robert H. Wolfe
Grid art by Sympathy [about the grid colors]

Robert H. Wolfe / Will Shortz
15x15 with 35 (15.6%) black squares
58 (average length 6.55)
Theme squares
0 (0.0%)
Scrabble points
248 (average 1.31)
Letters used
New To Me

4d Travolta {He played a governor in "Primary Colors"}. Primary Colors (1998) is not a movie I've watched, but I was reassured to see the familiar name of John Travolta appear as the answer. He plays the charismatic governor of a Southern state (supposedly based on Bill Clinton), who decides to run for President.

Elaine37d Elaine {Unrequited lover of legend}. I vaguely remembered Elaine as having some romantic entanglement in legend, but had to look her up to pin down the story. Turns out Elaine of Astolat is the unrequited lover of Lancelot in Arthurian legend. Versions of her story appear in Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur and Alfred Tennyson's Idylls of the King. Elaine's story is also the inspiration for Tennyson's poem The Lady of Shalott. Elaine has the hots for Lancelot, but he only has eyes for Guinevere. Elaine dies of a broken heart: as per her instructions, her body is placed in a small boat, clutching a lily in one hand, and floats down the Thames to Camelot.


Endicott, NY17a Endicott {Upstate New York town where I.B.M. was founded}. I had a bit of an advantage here, as we quite often visit Endicott, NY: we see productions at the Cider Mill Playhouse and I go to the occasional yoga session at Binghamton Yoga. We know so many ex-IBM staff who live round there, that I just guessed Endicott was the answer. Luckily for me, it is indeed known as the "Birthplace of IBM": IBM was established there in 1924 when three smaller companies merged; Endicott was the original location of all research and development from the early 1900s through World War II.

Royal Hussar23a hussars {Brilliantly dressed cavalrymen}. My background was also helpful here, as my late father was in the 13th/18th Royal Hussars (Queen Mary's Own); though by the time he got to serve, they had dropped horses in favor of tanks and the colorful uniforms (except perhaps ceremonially) in favor of khaki. Nevertheless, pictures of the hussars of yesteryear dotted the family home, so I knew enough to solve this clue right away.

28a Ed Wood {Johnny Depp title role}. I started with Edward, thinking of Edward Scissorhands (1990). That got me close, and I eventually realized the required role was as Edward Wood, Jr., in Ed Wood (1994). All this reminds me of a neat series of "What do you call?" jokes:
Q. What do you call a man with a piece of wood on his head?
A. Ed Wood.
Q. What do you call a man with two pieces of wood on his head?
A. Edward Wood.
Q. What do you call a man with three pieces of wood on his head?
A. Edward Woodward.
Q. What do you call a man with four pieces of wood on his head?
A. I don't know, but Edward Woodward would.

45a Eres Tú {1974 pop hit with Spanish lyrics}. A bit of crossword lore, into which I was initiated on April 1st this year. Eres Tú means "you are" in Spanish and was Spain's entry in the 1973 Eurovision Song Contest in the hands of Mocedades, with Amaya Uranga on lead. They didn't win though - the contest was held in Luxembourg, so of course the winning song was the Luxembourg entry Tu te reconnaîtras - but there was only one winner as far as crosswords are concerned and that was Eres Tú.

5d superior {Like the 2 in "x squared"}. Did the version in the paper have a superscript 2, as in {Like the 2 in "x²"}? That would have made more sense, and I know that the version I solve (Across Lite) has some limitations that require clues to be changed.

14d Senta {Wagnerian heroine}. I thought I knew all the Wagner heroines pretty well, but Senta from The Flying Dutchman (opera) is one of the more obscure ones and took a few crossings to suss out. Senta saves the ghostly figure of the Dutchman by throwing herself off a cliff, after which they are both seen ascending into that resting place of the good, heaven.

The Rest

1a facts {It's usually good to stick to them}; 6a disarms {Makes less offensive}; 13a Icarus {Escapee who fell to his death in the sea}; 15a gantries {Spanning frameworks}; 16a scrape {Fix}; 18a heaven {Good resting place?}; 19a isolates {Cuts off}; 20a in port {Harbored}; 21a serener {Less agitated}; 22a et alia {Plus other things}; 24a recto {One side of a leaf}; 25a SASE {Aid in answering: Abbr.}; 26a dearth {Opposite of a surplus}; 33a hoes {Things that turn up in gardens?}; 35a après {French following?}; 37a empires {They rise and fall periodically}; 41a sterna {Axial skeleton parts}; 42a largest {Like the lion's share}; 43a aerial {Kind of view}; 44a marinate {Imbue with flavor, in a way}; 46a air motor {Pneumatic power producer}; 47a not out {Yet to hit the shelves}; 48a sneerers {Disdainful bunch}; 49a satire {Biting writing}; 50a terrene {Earthly}; 51a kales {Mustard family members}.

1d fishier {Comparatively shady}; 2d accented {Spotlit, say}; 3d carapace {Shell}; 6d danseuses {Frequent Degas subjects}; 7d indorsed {Supported: Var.}; 8d stiles {Subway station sights}; 9d arcana {Secrets}; 10d rioter {Tears may be brought to one's eyes}; 11d meters {Curbside lineup}; 12d SSTs {They had adjustable noses}; 15d geisha {Companion abroad}; 25d shoe store {Establishment with many horns}; 27d threaten {Be imminent}; 29d water oak {Tree of Southeastern swamplands}; 30d operetta {Johann Strauss work}; 31d orris oil {Perfume ingredient}; 32d denature {Change the essence of}; 34d esters {Ingredients in essences}; 36d salutes {Pays tribute to}; 38d marrer {Graffitist, e.g.}; 39d primer {It may be under enamel}; 40d ignore {Slight}; 41d Saens {Saint-___ (Fauré contemporary)}; 44d mast {Yard supporter}.

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