Thursday, December 3, 2009

NYT Friday 12/4/09 - Ring-O

The grid for this Friday New York Times crossword is very striking (not another Ring-O puzzle?!) and I thought the center of the O must be the place to start, as it's really an isolated mini-puzzle. Unfortunately, nothing gelled there at the start (I eventually cracked that area with the help of taste-buds).

So I set about walking through the clues in hopes of getting a toe-hold somewhere and made my first inroads along the bottom with some three-letter gimmes (eld and doo), helping secure Waterloo Station. As so often happens, getting the first long answer in the group led to the others in short order and I worked my way up the left hand side.

1-Across was critical to getting the top: once I'd stopped taking {Antediluvian} literally and thinking of it figuratively, I got as old as the hills and with all those initial letters cracked the top relatively easily. Finally I could get the long answers down the right hand side and mop up any isolated blank areas around the middle. In the end, I was glad to get this done in under 30 minutes, as that seemed unlikely when I started.
Solving time: 26 mins (solo, no solving aids)
Clue of the puzz: 30d joust {Competition among mail carriers?}

Grid art by Sympathy [about the grid colors]

Martin Ashwood-Smith / Will Shortz
15x15 with 32 (14.2%) black squares
70 (average length 5.51)
Theme squares
0 (0.0%)
Scrabble points
288 (average 1.49)
Letters used
New To Me

21a ran a {"The young lambs ___ pretty race": Wordsworth}. I expect Rana got in the grid as the frog genus, but the constructor found an original way to clue the answer via the lake poet's Anecdote for Fathers, subtitled "Shewing how the practice of Lying may be taught". The relevant (sixth) verse seems to be missing from many of the versions on the net - I'm not going to open that particular can of worms now.
The young lambs ran a pretty race;
The morning sun shone bright and warm;
"Kilve," said I, "was a pleasant place,
And so is Liswyn farm."
From Anecdote for Fathers by William Wordsworth
28a Lai {"Love Story" score composer}. A famous, famous, score, from a not so famous French composer. Francis Lai is noted for his film scores, and won an Oscar for his work on Love Story (1970). This movie trailer is so different to the usual - just a sequence of stills over Lai's music - that I thought at first it must be a "fan-made" one; but it appears to be the genuine theatrical trailer, as shown in the USA.

51d Pré {Grand ___ (Annapolis Valley community)}. I got my Annapolises seriously confused here, thinking the clue must relate to Annapolis, MD, temporary capital of the United States in 1783–1784. But Annapolis Valley isn't even in the USA, it's in Nova Scotia. Grand-Pré (literally "Great Meadow") was founded in 1680 by Acadian settlers. Eventually the Acadian residents were all expelled from Grand Pré during the Great Upheaval, which began in 1755. Longfellow later immortalized the tragedy of the Grand Pré expulsion with his epic poem Evangeline.


telephone keypad
41a GHI {4 letters}. Should have been a gimme, but unfortunately it took me ages to fathom this reference to the letters over 4 on a telephone keypad. Who came up with these letters and when? They certainly date back to the rotary dial days, as anyone who's seen Dial M for Murder (1954) will attest.

Victory Arch at Waterloo
55a Waterloo Station {Railway terminus with the Victory Arch}. The wording of the clue strongly suggested the answer would be Something Station, but it took a few crossings for me to realize it was a London terminus and then which one ... Waterloo not being a regular haunt of mine. Now if you'd asked me which terminus had a statue of Brunel in it, I'd have told you Paddington right away. It seems that the Victory Arch is the main entrance to Waterloo (I'd have normally entered via the underground, hence not seen it): it doesn't have the expected association with the battle, but is a memorial to company staff killed in the two world wars.

Pancake Day
8d Tues. {Part of Shrovetide: Abbr.}. I overlooked the obvious for a very long time here, since I know of Shrove Tuesday. But why clue it in this odd way? ... I reckon the clue is only fair game if Shrovetide is longer than a day and shorter than a week. And of course it is, being the three days preceding Ash Wednesday. Back home, we called Shrove Tuesday "Pancake Day", and would actually celebrate it in our family by pancake eating (and occasionally pancake tossing).

14d laureates {Wordsworth and Tennyson}. Seeing Wordsworth, I jumped the gun and put in lake poets. Stupid, stupid! I think it helped more than hindered, though, as the first two letters were right by accident. But Tennyson isn't a lake poet! What these two actually have in common is that they were Poets Laureate, for which the reward is "a butt of sack", which in the modern day is approximately equivalent to 477 litres (107 gallons) of sherry. The Poet Laureate also receives an annual honorarium, currently set at GB£5,750 (US$9,250). I hadn't realized that the appointment is now for a fixed term of 10 years and that the PL when I left, Andrew Motion, has just been succeeded by the first lady PL, Carol Ann Duffy.

30d joust {Competition among mail carriers?}. Great clue, the mail not being of the postal variety, but the armor.

47d aria {Price number}. Neat concealment of the proper name at the start of the clue, presumably referencing soprano Leontyne Price, who's best known for performing the title role in that other cruciverbal staple Aida.

49d dent {Bit of headway}. The only clue I had real doubts about: the last three letters had to be right, but that aid at 47-Across looked potentially shaky. Eventually, I rationalized the clue on the basis of the idiom "to make a dent in a problem", meaning to make a bit of headway in tackling something difficult.

The Rest

1a as old as the hills {Antediluvian}; 16a three course meal {It's served in parts}; 17a out of one's league {Completely unqualified for competition}; 18a Neo- {Introduction to Impressionism?}; 19a iris {It's light-sensitive}; 20a care {Pains}; 22a Maj. {Sgt. follower}; 25a let {Stop, with "up"}; 26a cans {Cashiers}; 27a Rosa {"The Accumulation of Capital" author Luxemburg}; 29a do it {"Get cracking!"}; 30a Josh White {Singer of the 1940s blues hit "One Meat Ball"}; 32a sent {With 33-Across, remitted}; 33a money {See 32-Across}; 34a Amer. {Like Old Glory: Abbr.}; 35a taste-buds {They may be excited by dinner}; 37a this {Partner of 40-Across}; 38a att. {Case builder: Abbr.}; 39a Paso {___ Robles, Calif.}; 40a that {Partner of 37-Across}; 42a -ist {Suffix with real}; 43a lies {They often come in packs}; 44a Etta {Moten who played Bess in Broadway's "Porgy and Bess"}; 46a Man's {"___ Fate" (André Malraux novel)}; 47a aid {Scholarship, e.g.}; 50a trumped-up charge {Framing need}; 56a opened one's heart {Became emotionally receptive}.

1d a ton {Rafts}; 2d Shue {"Molly" title role player, 1999}; 3d or to {"... ___ go?"}; 4d Leo {One may be conceived on Veterans Day}; 5d defiant {Challenging}; 6d acorns {Certain winter stash}; 7d Sonia {One of the Gandhis}; 9d hrs. {Abbr. on a timecard}; 10d ESL {What an au pair might take: Abbr.}; 11d hee {Laugh syllable}; 12d iMac {Big name in desktops}; 13d legal limit {Ceiling one should stay under}; 15d sleetier {More like a cold shower?}; 21d Raitt {Singer with the 5x platinum album "Nick of Time," 1989}; 22d Moses {Ancient law man}; 23d ashy {Wan}; 24d jaw {Jabber}; 26d constitute {Make up}; 27d rondo {Concerto part}; 29d death-trap {Perilous place}; 31d ha-has {Music to a comic's ears}; 32d stage two {The second part}; 33d MBAs {Many corp. recruits}; 36d epi- {Dermal opening?}; 37d The Shah {Leader exiled in 1979}; 40d tincts {Dyes}; 43d lapse {Judgment problem}; 45d amen {Music to a minister's ears}; 46d muon {Unstable particle}; 48d Igor {Real-estate tycoon Olenicoff}; 52d eld {Antiquity, in antiquity}; 53d doo {End of a Fred Flintstone cry}; 54d ate {Put the dishes away}.

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