Tuesday, November 10, 2009

NYT Wednesday 11/11/09 - Testing, Testing

The theme of this Wednesday New York Times crossword was perplexing for a long time: the only noticeable thing about the long answers was the number of repeated letters. That should have been a big clue, but I had to solve 39-Across as one, two, three, four to make sense of things.

Nevertheless, the difficulties in the puzzle seemed to lie outside of the theme and I found there were a lot of clues to stall on, resulting in a longish solving time - see the New To Me section below.

I wondered if any interesting phrases would result from extending this idea, i.e. adding another letter repeated five times to make a 15-letter answer. My conclusion: not really ... there are 11 Wikipedia entries with this pattern, but mostly obscure. The two worth mentioning are peri-peri peppers (peppers rated as "very hot" on the Scoville scale) and East State Street, which presumably occurs in many cities in the U.S. (there's one as part of County Route 535 in New Jersey, for example).
Solving time: 12 mins (solo, no solving aids)
Clue of the puzz: 32d ebony {Key shade}

Kelsey Blakley
Grid art by Sympathy [about the grid colors]


Answers associated purely because their use of letters has a common pattern, indicated by 39a one, two, three, four {Start of a count ... or the letter frequencies in 17-, 30-, 46- and 64-Across}.
17a beer brewer {User of barley malt} 1xW, 2xB, 3xR, 4xE
30a I did indeed {Emphatic boast of responsibility} 1xN, 2xE, 3xI, 4xD
46a to the teeth {One way to be armed} 1xO, 2xH, 3xE, 4xT
64a Roto-Rooter {"And away go troubles ..." company} 1xE, 2xT, 3xR, 4xO
Kelsey Blakley / Will Shortz
15x15 with 36 (16.0%) black squares
76 (average length 4.97)
Theme squares
55 (29.1%)
Scrabble points
284 (average 1.50)
Letters used
New To Me

Bonneville Salt Flats
6a Utah {Home of the Bonneville Salt Flats}. The Bonneville Salt Flats rang vague bells, but I had to look them up to recall why: the area became internationally famous in 1935 when Malcolm Campbell set a new land speed record, making him the first to break the 300 mph (480 km/h) mark. For the next 35 years, nearly all land speed records were set at the salt flats. The depth of the salt has been recorded at 6 feet in many areas; each rainfall erases tire marks and flattens the densely-packed salt pan that is inhospitable to plants. The area is extremely flat and aligned nearly perfectly with the shape of Earth.

14a primo {A-number-one};  70a tops {A-number-one}. I wondered what this strange hyphenated sequence might mean, and eventually had to make a guess that turned out right. Magdalen says "a-number-one" is more commonly heard than read and is equivalent to "A1". Sinatra, it seems, used "a-number-one" in his versions of the New York, New York theme, though it wasn't in the original lyrics of the song.

McGwire and Sosa
15a Sosa {McGwire's friendly home-run rival}. I've now seen Sammy Sosa mentioned enough times in crosswords for his name to register, but what's all this about McGwire and friendly home runs? It seems the Sosa and McGwire pairing is famous particularly for the 1998 Major League Baseball home run chase: both were in contention to break Roger Maris's long-standing and highly coveted record of 61 home runs; McGwire finished the season with 70 homers to Sosa's 66 (Barry Bonds now holds the record with 73). I gather the two sluggers forged a strong friendship during the race, "Big Mac" musing "Wouldn't it be great if we ended up tied? I think that would be beautiful".

The Orb
51a Orb {Marvel Comics villain with an eyeball-like helmet}. The Orb is not the best-known of the Marvel Comics villains, but the clue thankfully allowed for that. "The Orb" is the alter ego of Drake Shannon, who becomes hideously disfigured in a motorcycle race; he's given a powerful motorcycle helmet that looks like a giant eyeball, can hypnotize people, shoot laser beams etc.

4d Omri {Katz of "Dallas"}. Omri Katz isn't the best-known Dallas actor, but I can forgive anything for a mention of my namesake(s). Katz played John Ross Ewing III, the kid son of the Larry Hagman character.

12d Mars {Phoenix landing site, 2008}. If I ever knew about the Phoenix mission, I forgot about it very quickly (not that the clue was troublesome). Phoenix landed on Mars on May 25, 2008 and was designed to to search for environments suitable for microbial life on Mars, and to research the history of water there. It is currently hibernating in "safe mode" during the Martian winter; it's considered unlikely to survive the extremely low temperatures, but scientists will attempt to make contact again in early 2010.

26d frost {"Punkin" cover}. What is "punkin"? It seems an informal variant of pumpkin, the clue referencing the poem When the Frost is on the Punkin by the Indianan writer James Whitcomb Riley (1849–1916).

34d Doris {Biographer ___ Kearns Goodwin}. Doris Kearns Goodwin is a Pulitzer-winning biographer, historian and political commentator. She's written biographies of several U.S. Presidents, including Johnson, Kennedy and FDR. Steven Spielberg bought the rights to her most recent book Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, and it's said Liam Neeson has agreed to play Lincoln in the resulting movie.


2d drei {Crowd in Cologne?}. I've seen this formula regularly, so I know to think "three's a crowd" and translate into the relevant language.

The Bell of Atri
60d Atri {Abruzzi bell town}. I thought of Atri right away, but then I had my doubts ... surely it's A Bell for Adano? Can there really be two stories about Italian towns and their bells? Yes, it seems there can, since Atri also has a bell, this one made famous by the Longfellow poem The Bell of Atri.

The Rest

1a add-on {New wing}; 10a Roma {Where "La Dolce Vita" was filmed}; 16a Adam {"Paradise Lost" character}; 19a mire {Stick in the mud}; 20a similar {Sharing properties}; 21a address {Envelope marking}; 23a evil {Straight from hell}; 25a Lao {Neighbor of a Thai}; 26a frat {Rush week participant}; 35a radio {Fireside chat medium}; 37a gang {Turf group}; 38a blo {Slo-___ fuse}; 43a STP {Nascar sponsor}; 44a lust {Satyr's feeling}; 45a Randi {"Amazing" debunker of the paranormal}; 50a dyes {Clairol products}; 52a rhea {Largest bird in the Americas}; 54a tally up {Count, as points}; 58a rampage {Go nuts}; 63a Emil {___ Jannings, Best Actor of 1928}; 66a so to {"___ speak"}; 67a slab {Thick serving}; 68a norms {They're par for the course}; 69a skew {Apply spin to}; 71a grist {Miller's need}.

1d APBs {Police dept. notices}; 3d diem {Carpe ___}; 5d noble {Title holder}; 6d user ID {Net handle}; 7d tow {Glider's need}; 8d a-sea {Between ports}; 9d hardline {Unbending}; 10d ramrod {Musketeer's need}; 11d Odie {Cartoon canine}; 13d Ames {Iowa home of the Cyclones}; 18d Ravi {Raga player Shankar}; 22d danger {What a skull and crossbones signifies}; 24d lighter {Zippo, e.g.}; 27d ran to {Wound up costing}; 28d adept {Masterful}; 29d tit {Small songbird}; 31d DAR {Patriotic org. since 1890}; 32d ebony {Key shade}; 33d elude {Throw off}; 36d owlery {Hogwarts roost}; 40d outburst {Cause for a reprimand from a teacher}; 41d Tse {China's Lao-___}; 42d fad {Streaking, once}; 47d hollow {Like a jack-o'-lantern}; 48d throbs {Hurts like heck}; 49d hear {Pick up, in a way}; 53d among {"You're ___ friends"}; 54d Tess {Hardy heroine}; 55d amok {Wildly}; 56d lite {"Less filling" brand}; 57d polo {Pullover shirt}; 59d poor {Robin Hood's beneficiaries, with "the"}; 61d gems {Treasure chest treasure}; 62d erst {At one time, at one time}; 65d tap {Draw upon}.

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