Friday, November 20, 2009

NYT Saturday 11/21/09 - That Was The Week That Was

This Saturday New York Times crossword marks the end of a great solving week for me: I finished all the puzzles in under half an hour (a first for me). OK, so I got one wrong, but I think that was excusable. I'm not kidding myself that I've suddenly got a lot better at this - it's been something of a odd week, with all the puzzles from Wednesday through Saturday being solved in the 19-24 minute range. Still, I seem to be heading in the right direction.

Today's didn't look so easy to start with, but I managed to solve the bottom half reasonably quickly and then swept up through the middle to conquer the top. A lot rested on getting the long acrosses: for both the top and bottom half, getting the first of the three was critical and led to the others in short order. make a mental note was the key answer in the south, with Save the Planet unlocking things in the north.

This S-shaped grid makes a neat themeless with the emphasis on maximizing answer length (64 answers, averaging just over 6 letters each) rather than incorporating "Scrabbly" letters (1.38 Scrabble points per letter is a lowish average).
Solving time: 24 mins (solo, no solving aids)
Clue of the puzz: 36a miner {Light-headed person?}

Gary J. Whitehead
Grid art by Sympathy [about the grid colors]

Gary J. Whitehead / Will Shortz
15x15 with 32 (14.2%) black squares
64 (average length 6.03)
Theme squares
0 (0.0%)
Scrabble points
267 (average 1.38)
Letters used
New To Me

27a center ice {Face-off place}. As far as I can tell, there are two possible explanations: center ice is the area in the middle of the playing area between the two blue lines, also known as the neutral zone (as opposed to the attacking and defending zones). See the handy picture below. But there's also an arena called Center Ice, which I think satisfies the clue, but won't be the official interpretation. It's probably no coincidence that this answer is centrally placed in the grid.

32a soph {Many a J.V. player}. Somehow I knew this would be soph from just the last letter. Don't ask me how, as I needed a reminder that J.V. means Junior Varsity, applying to players aspiring to join the varsity teams. JV teams are often called frosh/soph teams because of their make-up.

39a ANTA {"Man of La Mancha" production org.}. You can clue anta as a pilaster, but that's nothing special. This clue rings the changes with a reference to the American National Theater and Academy, a non-profit theater producer ... an alternative to the for-Profit Broadway houses. The musical Man of La Mancha was one of its most successful productions. No ANTA clips available, so here's one from the 1972 movie.

Selma University
41a Selma {Alabama university}. Selma University is a private liberal arts university in, you guessed it, Selma, AL. I think the coincidence of names explains why I breezed through this clue - I'd come across the place before. Selma is affiliated with the Alabama State Missionary Baptist Convention and was originally founded (in 1878) to train African Americans as ministers and teachers.

3d Menes {Egyptian king credited with founding the First Dynasty}. An answer that could only come from seeing all the cross-checking. Menes is the name of the Egyptian king credited with founding the First dynasty, sometime around 3100 BC. Menes was seen as a founding figure for much of the history of Ancient Egypt, and was possibly a mythical founding king similar to Romulus and Remus for Ancient Rome.

8d a lass {"... in thy possession lies ___ unparallel'd": Shak.}. A lovely reference to Antony and Cleopatra, the line being part of the handmaid Charmian's epitaph for her dead mistress. This quote appears on Vivien Leigh's plaque in the actors' church, St Paul's, Covent Garden.

11d seedage {Horticultural practice}. Possibly the dullest answer in the puzzle, which otherwise has a decent fill given the average answer length. You have to go to an unabridged dictionary to find that it means the obvious ... "the practice or method of propagating plants by means of seeds or spores".


14a Japanese lantern {Party lighting option}. The sort of clue that makes me wonder just how a Japanese lantern differs from a Chinese lantern, for example. Wikipedia records four distinct types of Japanese lantern, the sausage shape of the chōchin being familiar from productions of Madama Butterfly for example. Chinese lanterns tend more to the spherical shape, but this may well be a generalization based on our use of the terms in the West.

21a Carr {"The Emperor's Snuff-Box" novelist}. Not J. L. Carr of A Month in the Country, but the "Golden Age" mystery writer John Dickson Carr - a master of the locked room mystery. He's known to me, as at least one of the cryptic crossword constructors in the UK is a passionate fan and has based a number of puzzles on the writer. Reading some of Carr's books should certainly be on my bucket list.

25a baas {Kids' greetings}. According to The Chambers Dictionary, it's sheep that say baa - goats say maa. So I put in maas first, but had to change it - clearly goats spell differently in America. Cue the cute video ...

33a wad {Cabbage roll}. Kicked myself for not getting this right away: it took way too long to see cabbage=money, even though Wikipedia reckons it's a slang term in England (I never heard it used there).

cider press
14d juice {Press release?}. Took a while to get my head around this one and be sure I had it right: yes, juice is what is released from a press (of a sort).

35d Deane {Early American diplomat}. Sometimes you get lucky with an answer that's clued (more-or-less) the same way within a few days. I first learned about Silas Deane (1737–1789) on Thursday.

Lula da Silva
41d silva {Regional woodland}. Another case where I was glad of a thorough knowledge of the backwaters of The Chambers Dictionary, which defines silva as "the assemblage of trees in a region". I'm surprised this approach was used, however, as Silva is supposedly the most common surname in the Portuguese language. Wouldn't Brazilian president Lula da Silva or the like have livened things up a bit?

The Rest

1a ramp up sales {Increase business}; 12a Save the Planet {Green line}; 16a uniter {Minister at a wedding, e.g.}; 17a risked it {Took a chance}; 18a ideas {Brains' gains}; 19a bats {Touched}; 20a nabe {Local theater, slangily}; 22a mess {Company dinner}; 23a edges {Sphere's lack}; 24a Els {World Match Play Championship champ a record seven times}; 26a rarest {Least done}; 29a stiles {Lineup at some entrances}; 36a miner {Light-headed person?}; 37a SSTs {They no longer boom}; 38a Sade {"Philosophy in the Bedroom" author, 1795}; 40a LEMs {Some touchdown makers, briefly}; 42a rear tire {Roller near a derailleur}; 44a tie-pin {Shirt attachment}; 45a make a mental note {Store something for later thought}; 47a rest intervals {Breaks while lifting, say}; 48a state senate {One of many American houses}.

1d rapiers {Slender stickers}; 2d avatar {Personification}; 4d pter- {Feather: Prefix}; 5d uhs {Pause fillers}; 6d peer assessments {Some workshop critiques}; 7d splits {Stock options}; 9d lank {Rangy}; 10d entendre {Hear, to Henri}; 12d sandal {Item of wear with a strap}; 13d tribes {Alabama and others}; 15d N-test {Desert trial, for short}; 19d beat {Ready to turn in}; 22d mans {Staffs}; 23d each {A head}; 25d beer {It has a head}; 26d rips {Tatters}; 27d clearest {Like the best explanations}; 28d rots {Degenerates}; 29d smarm {Oiliness}; 30d tin ear {Karaoke problem}; 31d intakes {Some air lines}; 33d Walpole {Britain's first prime minister}; 34d admits {Doesn't turn away}; 37d serene {Conducive to meditation}; 38d seen at {Spotted visiting}; 40d limit {Something not to go over}; 43d ta-ta {"Abyssinia"}; 44d tarn {Mountain lake}; 46d tee {Elevator in a country club}.


Daniel Myers said...

Many thanks for the Man of La Mancha video, Ross. Sorry so sappy, but I love it. "Silva" is an answer where that force-fed Latin comes in handy. One of the first words we first-year Latinists had to memorise: "Silva"="Woods, forest" 1st Declension, Sing., Fem. A good solving week for me as well!



Crossword Man said...

I managed to give up Latin at the age of 12: my Latin teacher saw where my interests lay and gave me a book of Latin crosswords to do! Knowledge of Latin was no longer compulsory at Oxford by the time I went up. Did you too have a Baalox moment or do you know your Baaloxen from your Maaloxen?

Daniel Myers said...

My 4 years of Latin were spent at that school begins w/ a "W" and ends in an "R", the matriculants of which, by and large, might also be described by another such word - pluralized - by a less kind person than I.---LOL - No, I didn't have a Baalox moment until reading your blog! I'm too attached to alliteration, assonance as well, it would seem.

Crossword Man said...

I must have been lucky, as I've only encountered the nice Wykehamists. You have a much larger sample to go on of course!