Monday, November 16, 2009

NYT Tuesday 11/17/09 - Seeing Stars

I thought I was going to have a great solving time for this Tuesday New York Times crossword, as I saw what was happening early on with Duran Duran and then took ruthless advantage of that in the other four places answers got repeated. Despite this, the final solving time was about average, so I suspect the clues were harder to compensate for the thematic advantages - certainly there is a lot in the New To Me section (in contrast with yesterday).

I didn't really "get" the full meaning of the grid until reflecting on the theme for this blog: presumably each crossing answer is meant to a represent a star, punning on Starr. That's my assumption, even though only Twinkle, Twinkle and bling bling are definitely suggestive of scintillation. Despite these uncertainties, I though this a neat idea, which creatively breaks one of the fundamental laws of crosswords: thou shalt not repeat thine answers.
Solving time: 7 mins (solo, no solving aids)
Clue of the puzz: 11d Santa {Nick who comes at night}

John Farmer
Grid art by Sympathy [about the grid colors]


Five reduplicative theme answers are entered in a cross shape. The letters at the intersections reveal 52d Ringo {Rock star whose name is spelled out by the middle letters of 16-, 18-, 39-, 61- and 64-Across}.
16a,2d Duran Duran {Group with the only James Bond theme to hit #1}
18a,10d bling bling {Flashy jewelry}
39a25d Twinkle, Twinkle {Start of a nighttime nursery rhyme}
61a,50d Sugar, Sugar {#1 hit of 1969}
64a,54d knock knock {Intro to a joke}
John Farmer / Will Shortz
15x15 with 40 (17.8%) black squares
78 (average length 4.74)
Theme squares
54 (29.2%)
Scrabble points
281 (average 1.52)
Letters used
New To Me

38a USA {___ for Africa}. My lack of knowledge of USA for Africa betrays my recent arrival in the USA: the equivalent in the UK is/was Bob Geldof's Band Aid, which I think came first. USA for Africa was led by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie and recorded the hit single "We Are the World" in 1985.

Taro Aso
47a Aso {Japanese prime minister Taro ___}. You could now put a "former" on that, because Taro Aso lost in the August 2009 election and has been replaced by Yukio Hatoyama. Recent Japanese Prime Ministers have tended to last only a year in office, making them difficult to remember. Here's Taro Aso with my current PM Gordon Brown.

66a tag {License plate}. I'd always wondered why we go to a "Tag and Title" place to deal with car licensing. This explains it: tag is American for license plate. One of the great things about the US is the ease with which you can have a vanity plate: in the UK, licenses have to be unique throughout the country and are restricted to certain letter/number combinations, making them ridiculously expensive (typically thousands of pounds, the record being £397,500 for S 1). So I was delighted that we could get the Pennsylvania plate XWRD MAN for just a few dollars.

15d Iger {Media exec Robert}. I'm usually at sea with a clue like this. Robert Iger has been president of The Walt Disney Company since 2000 and is now also chief executive, succeeding Michael Eisner in that role in 2005. Iger oversaw the acquisitions of Pixar in 2006 and the planned acquisition of Marvel in 2009.

28d Jet Li {Martial artist who starred in "Romeo Must Die"}. I'm glad I was confident of all the crossings here, as Jet Li does not seem a likely name, even for a martial artist. Jet Li started in Chinese martial arts movies, debuting in Hollywood with a role in Lethal Weapon 4 (1998). His first Hollywood film leading role was in the cited movie Romeo Must Die (2000), a modern-day tale of star-crossed lovers inspired by Romeo and Juliet.

36d Ted {Newsman Koppel}. Ted Koppel (NB a British-born, naturalized US citizen) was the anchor for Nightline from the program's inception in 1980 until his retirement in late 2005. Koppel is currently a senior news analyst for National Public Radio and the British Broadcasting Corporation.

45d Rosanne {Cash who sang "Black Cadillac"}. Rosanne Cash is Johnny's eldest daughter. Black Cadillac is the title track of an album from 2006, a reflection on the passing within a couple of years of her mother, father and stepmother.


12a oculi {Eyelike windows}. oculi (singlar oculus) are familiar from the dictionary, but I'm not sure I'd recognize them architecturally. The term is used not only for round windows, but round openings in general (e.g. in domes where the resemblance to an eye is striking ... the Pantheon in Rome has the most famous example).

24a Gitmo {Cuban base in the news, in brief}. I'm curious how the nickname Gitmo got to be so different to Guantanamo Bay. It seems the naval abbreviation for the unwieldy full name is GTMO and this acronym sounds like Gitmo when spoken. The US assumed territorial control over Gitmo under the 1903 Cuban-American Treaty, which granted it a perpetual lease of the area. The current government of Cuba regards the US presence in Gitmo as illegal and insists the Cuban-American Treaty was obtained by threat of force in violation of international law.

57a spumoni {Italian ice cream treat}. I'm a big ice cream fan and I must have tried spumoni (from spuma or "foam") several times in Italian restaurants without remembering precisely what it is. The traditional form is three layered: chocolate and pistachio for the outer layers sandwiching a layer containing cherry bits, giving the dessert a three-colored effect. Spumoni comes from Naples and the three-flavored Neapolitan ice cream evolved from it.

Right Guards
20d RGs {They line up between centers and tackles: Abbr.}. I get it: American Football. Now that baseball is over for the foreseeable, it's time we watched some football games so that references like this one to right guards become second nature to me ... otherwise I'm more likely to keep thinking of deodorants.

40d Wigan {City near Manchester}. "City near Manchester" covers a lot of ground, but I concede it would be difficult to define it in other ways. I always think of Wigan as a rugby league town, but that wouldn't be recognizable to the average NYT solver. How about {The Road to _____ Pier} as a clue - would anyone get that? Orwell's book title derives from a joke: Wigan is nowhere near the sea and the impoverished inhabitants wanting a seaside holiday have to imagine that the canal is the sea with its small jetty the pier.

The Rest

1a Aden {Gulf of ___, off the coast of Yemen}; 5a pet {Animal acquired from an animal shelter, say}; 8a dubs {Coins a nickname for}; 13a Eli {QB Manning}; 14a Enlai {China's Zhou ___}; 17a pod {Okra feature}; 19a orators {Ones who stand above the crowd?}; 21a entente {International alliance}; 23a rani {Eastern royal}; 26a agar {Petri dish gel}; 27a OJs {IHOP drinks}; 29a waves {Silent hellos and goodbyes}; 31a Boone {Daniel of the old frontier}; 34a wirephoto {A.P. transmission}; 41a new {Not used}; 42a cufflinks {Dress shirt accessories}; 44a erode {Wear away}; 46a Rigel {Bright double star in Orion}; 48a Esso {"Put a tiger in your tank" brand}; 51a alert {On the ball}; 53a skua {Arctic seabird}; 59a I mean no {Emphatic refusal}; 62a son {Prodigal ___}; 65a a rage {Flew into ___ (got furious)}; 67a encls. {Cover ltr. accompaniers}; 68a Treo {Smartphone introduced in 2002}; 69a SRO {Sellout sign}; 70a deke {Fake at the rink}.

1d Acura {High-end Honda division}; 3d elation {Great joy}; 4d niño {Bilbao boy}; 5d Pepsi {Coke competitor}; 6d Elo {"Do Ya" rock grp.}; 7d tidemarks {High and low water lines}; 8d debt {Credit card balance, e.g.}; 9d unleash {Let loose}; 11d Santa {Nick who comes at night}; 12d odor {Scent}; 22d novel {Orwell's "1984" or Clarke's "2010"}; 30d épées {Fencing weapons}; 31d Buc {Tampa Bay footballer, briefly}; 32d OSU {The Buckeyes, for short}; 33d oaf {Klutz}; 34d wine lists {Menus with reds, whites and rosés}; 35d Ono {Lennon's "Two Virgins" partner}; 37d owe {Run a tab}; 43d fromage {French cheese}; 47d ATM {20s dispenser}; 48d essa {She, in Sicily}; 49d spurt {Sudden burst}; 55d uncle {Donald Duck, to Huey, Dewey and Louie}; 56d A-OKs {"All systems go" signals}; 58d Oreo {Nabisco cookie}; 60d eked {Squeezed (by)}; 63d oar {Sculling propeller}.

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