Wednesday, November 18, 2009

NYT Thursday 11/19/09 - Men of Letters

This Thursday New York Times crossword is a hybrid of a thematic puzzle and an end-of-week themeless and seemed much more like the latter to solve. With just 70 answers, the grid qualifies for a themeless puzzle, yet has 31 theme squares and still manages to be pangrammatic (every letter is included at least once) with a generous dose of Zs.

I normally start in the NW corner, but found this hard going. Moving down the grid, I made better progress, perhaps because I knew both Fritz Lang and Oliver Stone, which helped tie different sections together. After 16 minutes, I had everything but the NW filled and worried I might get blocked there quite a while, but in the end another 3 minutes was enough.

One reason for the difficulties in the top left is I hadn't come across Costa-Gavras before and, with some of the answers crossing it also unknown to me (Deane and Irv), ultimately had to use my judgment about what was a likely surname for a director.

One wonders if it was the release of W. (pronounced "dub-ya") that inspired the idea: it would have been a whole lot more difficult to come up with symmetrical directors of one-letter movies before 2008. The only other reasonably well-known example I could find is O, directed by the 14-letter Tim Blake Nelson.
Solving time: 19 mins (solo, no solving aids)
Clue of the puzz: 47d Easy A {Breeze on a college campus}

Tyler Hinman and Jeremy Horwitz
Grid art by Sympathy [about the grid colors]


Directors of movies with one-letter titles:
17a Costa-Gavras {"Z" director, 1969}

32a Fritz Lang {"M" director, 1931}

51a Oliver Stone {"W." director, 2008}

Tyler Hinman and Jeremy Horwitz / Will Shortz
15x15 with 28 (12.4%) black squares
70 (average length 5.63)
Theme squares
31 (15.7%)
Scrabble points
341 (average 1.73)
Letters used
New To Me

Riemann sums
6a sigma {Symbol in a Riemann sum}. sigma was a fair bet, as it symbolizes sums in math generally. But what is a Riemann sum? Ah, a means of estimating the total area under a curve by summing the areas of rectangular slices. I learned that technique in school, but I'm not sure I was told about its inventor, Bernhard Riemann (1826–1866).

34a Juárez {El Paso neighbor}. I knew El Paso to be in Texas, so it didn't unduly worry me that the answer appeared to be a Mexican place. El Paso stands on the Rio Grande, which seems to form the whole of the border between Texas and Mexico. Juárez lies the other side of the river and is connected by four road bridges and a rail bridge.

View Larger Map

L'uomo Vogue
42a uomo {Italy's L'___ Vogue magazine}. Not unreasonable that the answer should turn out to be "man" in Italian. L'uomo Vogue is the Italian version of Men's Vogue. In case it should come up, there's also a Vogue Casa and a Bambini Vogue.

46a Neeson {"Taken" star, 2008}. A little surprising to see the word "star" in the clue, given the preceding answer ... not that it helped when solving. Taken is a French action thriller in which Liam Neeson plays a former CIA operative who sets about tracking down his teenage daughter after she is kidnapped by slave traders while traveling in Europe.

55a youth {"___ has no age": Picasso}. youth wasn't the answer I was expecting, as the quotation seems to be stating the obvious. This is another quote where it's hard to track down a citation and hence a context ... it's in neither The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, nor The Yale Book of Quotations.

Silas Deane House
5d Deane {Silas of the Continental Congress}. Hmm ... don't remember him from 1776 the Musical, my primary source of information on the Continental Congress. Deane, SilasSilas Deane was a delegate from the crazy driver state, and in the Second Continental Congress was sent to France as an ambassador. You can go see his house in Weathersfield, CT.

7d Irv {Hip-hop producer Gotti}. I had to go on instinct here ... what three-letter forenames start IR? Ira and Irv. Gavras looked much more likely than Gaaras, so Irv Gotti it had to be. Irv (born Irving Lorenzo) is the head and founder of The Inc record label. He chose the stage name Irv Gotti by naming himself after John Gotti.

34d Jasmine {Disney princess}. No shortage of princesses in Disney movies. Princess Jasmine is the heroine of the 1992 film, Aladdin.

40d Dennehy {Brian of "First Blood"}. Hmm ... we're doing very well for movie references today, but I suppose that's not unreasonable given the theme. First Blood (1982) is the first of the Rambo series of movies; Brian Dennehy plays Will Teasle, the overzealous and paranoid sheriff of the town into which Rambo drifts and gets "pushed too far".


darkroom equipment
37a negs {Developer's needs, for short}. This clue was a total mystery until I thought of photography (old-style) and now its just a small mystery. The normal meaning of developer in that context is the chemical that makes the latent image on the negative visible. In which case, it's really the negs that need the developer and not the other way round. Maybe developer can also mean the person that develops a film?

star maps
44a star maps {Some Beverly Hills tourist purchases}. A great clue: I suspect the majority of constructors would go for the dictionary meaning here, but there is this imaginative alternative.

6d Stax {Record label whose house band was Booker T. & the M.G.'s}. Not really my genre, but I dragged out Stax Records from somewhere. The label was founded in 1957, but didn't adopt the Stax name until 1961. While Stax is renowned for its output of African-American music, the label was founded by two white businesspeople, Jim Stewart and his sister Estelle Axton, and featured several popular ethnically-integrated bands, including the cited house band, Booker T. & the MG's.

9d Meara {Anne whose real-life husband played her ex on "Rhoda"}. The Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara team is now just about fixed in my mind thanks to Magdalen beating me over the head every time I forget it. In Rhoda, Meara plays Sally Gallagher, a divorced airline stewardess who befriends Rhoda and accompanies her in the singles scene.

52d vee {Civic center?}. Nice gimme for me: the center of "Civic" is the V, of course.

The Rest

1a lined {Like some jackets}; 11a am I? {Introspective question}; 14a US One {It joins I-10 in Jacksonville and I-90 in Boston}; 15a tries {Doesn't give up without a fight}; 16a moo {___ juice (milk)}; 19a bon {Word of praise in Paris}; 20a Kleenex {Kimberly-Clark brand}; 21a dry wine {Soave, for one}; 23a I agree {"Totally"}; 24a quarrels {Spats}; 25a etas {Some honor society letters}; 26a whup {Tan}; 28a Ionic {Old Greek dialect}; 29a Rey {Spanish chess piece}; 30a chai {Hot drink}; 31a want to? {"Are you game?"}; 38a wad {Big chunk of money}; 41a apnea {Cause of an awakening}; 43a vane {Something you always need directions to use?}; 48a molests {Injuriously annoys}; 49a reach in {Try to steal the basketball, say}; 50a IPO {Google had one in 2004: Abbr.}; 53a nag {Tiresome sort}; 54a dazed {Out of it}; 56a ERs {Places to act quickly, for short}; 57a a seed {Plant ___ (give an idea)}; 58a artsy {Museum-loving}.

1d luckier {More Irish?}; 2d isolate {Quarantine}; 3d nosegay {Posy}; 4d enters {Steps in}; 8d gird up {Encircle with a belt}; 10d Assyrians {Hearers of Jonah's prophecy}; 11d ambient {All around}; 12d moonlit {Like the forest in "A Midsummer Night's Dream"}; 13d Ionesco {"Le Rhinocéros" playwright Eugène}; 18d gee whiz {"Aw, shucks"}; 22d wrong {Double-cross, e.g.}; 24d Quiznos {Subway alternative}; 27d hat {It should go on a head}; 30d cream soda {A&W beverage}; 31d wagoner {One who may be in charge of a team}; 32d frère {Partner in many a French company}; 33d LEM {NASA moon lander}; 35d up to par {Adequate for the job}; 36d analogs {Cousins}; 38d wash-out {Complete failure}; 39d anoints {Picks for a position}; 42d upsize {Enlarge}; 43d vector {What an arrow may represent}; 45d Atlas {Titan who fetched apples for Hercules}; 47d Easy A {Breeze on a college campus}; 49d Redd {Comedian Foxx}.

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