Friday, December 11, 2009

NYT Saturday 12/12/09 - Fill of the Year?

The fill of this Saturday New York Times crossword is just delightful: it could well be the best this year. I started off reasonably well in the NW corner, but couldn't find the ends of The Natural or work permit (wanted working age) until towards the end.

Lady With a FanGetting roadblocked there, I worked down the left-hand side, again getting into difficulties with endings at coalbin (thought coalbox better suited to a Scrabbly Saturday grid). Continuing in a counter-clockwise direction, I was left with the tricky northeast sector (not really a corner, as a swathe above and to the right of the plus sign was largely empty).

Here, Velázquez was critical and if I'd just known at the beginning that he was the painter of "Lady With a Fan", my solving time might have been halved. This answer unlocked a whole bunch of downs, including the wonderful Bridezilla - this is apparently its first appearance in a New York Times puzzle.

At the end, I just had to correct one mistake: like many others I suspect, I had Velasquez and thought Sachbraff an unlikely name, even for an actor. It took a couple of minutes to realize that the answer would need to be parsed as a (4,5) ... hence Zach Braff.
Solving time: 32 mins (solo, no solving aids)
Clue of the puzz: 12d Bridezilla {Hard-to-please wedding participant}

Karen M. Tracey
Grid art by Sympathy [about the grid colors]

Karen M. Tracey / Will Shortz
15x15 with 29 (12.9%) black squares
68 (average length 5.76)
Theme squares
0 (0.0%)
Scrabble points
336 (average 1.71)
Letters used
New To Me

14a The Natural {Moniker for fictional baseballer Roy Hobbs}. The at the start seemed likely from the outset, but it took a long time to get the second word. The Natural is about fictional baseballer Roy Hobbs, written by Bernard Malamud. Hobbs is a baseball prodigy who is shot by an obsessed fan. The story is loosely based on the career of Philadelphia Phillies player Eddie Waitkus. Robert Redford starred in the 1984 movie version.

16a acro- {Tip end: Prefix}. This is still a bit of a puzzle: "Tip" on its own makes sense, but "Tip end" seems tautologous ... should there have been a comma between the words? Anyway, acro- comes from the Greek akron meaning "tip" or "end" and akros meaning "highest" or "outermost". Hence acrophobia ... cue the great Vertigo.

49a LA Raider {'84 Super Bowl celebrant}. I gather LA Raiders was the name of the Oakland Raiders from 1982 to 1994, the name change coinciding with moves from Oakland, CA to LA and back. In Super Bowl XVIII, the LA Raiders beat the Washington Redskins 38 to 9.

58a Skee {Rapper ___-Lo}. I've gradually gotten used to Skee-Ball, but today it's clearly time to ring the changes, because we get the second NYT appearance ever of Skee-Lo the nom de rap of Antoine Roundtree. After some success in the 1990s, Skee-Lo disappeared for nine years but is making a comeback this year with the 2009 album Overdose.

3d pero {Spanish "but"}. Not seen pero before - another new entry for my Español para los crucigramistas. In what circumstances might you be expected to have come across this? Maybe from the song Te Lo Agradezco, Pero No ("I thank you, but no") recorded by Alejandro Sanz and Shakira.

5d caper {Rémoulade bit}. Rémoulade is a term I come across so occasionally that its meaning never quite sticks in the mind. It's a French (surprise, surprise) condiment somewhat like tartar sauce. It's made with eggs, herbs and capers, and sometimes mayo, and is typically served with fish.

29d Zach Braff {"Scrubs" Emmy nominee}. Zach Braff is not a familiar name to me, so I had the answer starting S until the last minute when I realized it had to be a (4,5) and not a nine-letter surname. Braff first became known in 2001 for his role as John 'J.D.' Dorian on Scrubs. He has since expanded into film directing, working on the coming-of-age movie Garden State (2004).

Jardin des Plantes
44d Jardin {Paris's ___ des Plantes}. Where would plants grow in Paris? Why, a jardin, of course! But I hadn't come across this name before: the Jardin des Plantes is France's premier botanical garden, so roughly equivalent to Britain's Kew Gardens, I imagine.


rya blanket
45a ryas {Scandinavian area rugs}. I've noticed rya rugs several times in my travels through The Chambers Dictionary. There aren't that many words starting RY, so it's prominent on the last R page. Naturally, I've never seen one of these "Scandinavian knotted-pile rugs with a distinctive colorful pattern", so it's time to remedy that. [Apparently the Finnish equivalent is a ryijy - might be witty to get that in a Saturday puzzle some day!]

2d Shor {Old Manhattan restaurateur}. My introduction to Toots Shor on Friday 13th February was a bit of a rude awakening, but since then he's been my friend in crosswords (with or without the Toots) and is a helpful gimme in a puzzle like this (referencing the guy being the only option if you happen to get SHOR as an answer).

12d Bridezilla {Hard-to-please wedding participant}. Such a delight to get this answer! This is my "clue of the puzz" more for the answer than the clue. I kind of expected the answer to be one of the ancillary participants, like the groom's mother. But of course it had to be a Bridezilla. How come we don't use the wonderful -zilla suffix more, as in Bridgezilla, Blogzilla ... its use seems to be largely restricted to software naming. Our wedding preparation had none of the Sturm und Drang that we see in this clip - thank you Magdalen.

21d Pequot {Early Connecticut tribe}. Once I'd got the Q in third place, I could start to think seriously about this answer. I could see that the Pequod would fit, but remembered from somewhere that the tribal name, which presumably inspired Melville, is the Pequot. In the 17th century, the Pequot inhabited much of what is now Connecticut, but the Pequot War and Mystic massacre virtually eliminated them and the population was recorded as 66 in the 1910 census. There are now two small independent Pequot tribal nations: the Mashantucket Pequot and the Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation (a.k.a. Paucatuck Pequot).

31d Bel Ami {Guy de Maupassant novel}. Bel Ami (1885) was reasonably fresh in my mind for some reason. It doesn't seem to have been referenced in any NYT puzzles this year, so I guess I must have encountered it in one of the many anthologized New York Sun puzzles I'm working through. Bel Ami is the second novel by Guy de Maupassant (18501893) - an author better known for his short stories. It's the story of  a poor ex-NCO's rise to power in Paris, by manipulating a series of powerful, intelligent, and wealthy mistresses.

The Rest

1a aspic {Stuff in a meat can}; 6a cara {Cherished, in Cremona}; 10a nabs {Picks up}; 17a work permit {Minor employment need?}; 18a stir {Disturbance}; 19a trowel {Plaster worker}; 20a flip side {Opposite}; 22a Erebus {Darkness personified}; 24a eaves {Hangover locales?}; 25a Opel {General Motors acquisition of 1929}; 28a Velázquez {17th-century painter of "Lady With a Fan"}; 30a coalbin {A scuttle might scoop from it}; 32a tau {St. Anthony's cross, e.g.}; 33a dip {Turn down}; 35a tosses {Jettisons}; 36a copula {Linking verb}; 38a sly {Roguish}; 39a LEM {Apollo part}; 41a shtetls {Literally, "little towns"}; 42a steady job {Daily bread supplier?}; 46a charm {Third time, say}; 47a Capris {Alternative to culottes}; 51a abodes {Some are humble}; 55a orgs. {Sch. yearbook section}; 56a end of an era {Historical transition point}; 59a mainframes {Data center workhorses}; 60a estd. {Abbr. after an institution's name}; 61a sent {Propelled}; 62a slosh {Apply carelessly}.

1d at. wt. {Bit of elementary knowledge?: Abbr.}; 4d inkwells {Quaint stationery store stock}; 6d cur {Meanie}; 7d armful {Big baby, maybe}; 8d rails at {Really reproaches}; 9d alti {Some voices}; 10d Nassau {Historic base for pirates of the Caribbean}; 11d active duty {Reserves are not on it}; 13d sores {They often get dressed}; 15d televised {Shown}; 23d Ben {"The Waltons" son}; 25d Octs. {Fourth qtr. starters}; 26d pool sharks {Some hustlers}; 27d easy target {Soft touch}; 34d pass {Turn down, with "on"}; 37d personal {Like some decisions and demons}; 40d Mycenae {Agamemnon's domain}; 41d sop {Bread, at times}; 43d erased {Now blank}; 46d close {Wind up}; 48d I-bars {Bridge supports}; 50d Dems. {House party, briefly}; 52d demo {It's usually not for sale}; 53d eres {You are, in Yucatán}; 54d sash {Scout uniform part}; 57d Ont. {The Albany is its longest river: Abbr.}.


Gareth Bain said...

Didn't finish this one! Thought I'd got to the point where I was at least finishing every Saturday, but Karen Tracy got me here, and this is not the first time - she, along with Bob Kahn, definitely make the hardest themelesses for me! Gave up with LARAI?E? to go. Didn't see the double meaning in DEMS, and hadn't heard of JARDIN. I had met up with LARAIDER once in a LAT puzzle, but a) didn't remember and b) parsed it as LARA I?E?, lol. Don't know how I decided LARA was a guy! Also had VELASQUEZ/SACHBRAFF BTW - I'm sure this was the most common error today by miles! The only long gimme for me was BRIDEZILLA, one always feels really cocksure getting something like that off the bat, but the rest of the puzzle was a slow slog, typical for Saturday. Also hadn't heard of Mr. Lo!

Thank you for the link to the Spanish "crosswordese" post. Ironically was actually thinking of asking around for something like that this morning! Along with politicians, sports stars, race horses, 40's singers and French words - which is a long list - Spanish words are a particular weak spot, especially as I can never work out if they end in a, e, or o!

Daniel Myers said...

Ach! My only miscue today, indeed, was the orthographical blunder of "Velasquez"--I watch so little TV and figure actors have such daft names half the time anyway that I didn't give "sach" the scrutiny it so richly deserved. Two zeds in one name is one too many, in my book, famous painter though you may be!

Crossword Man said...

Thanks both and sorry about Velasquez/Sach Braff. Yes, a list of actors with daft names could be in the offing. I think the award for the daftest name goes to Abe Vigoda, but Magdalen would be better at this game than me.

I'm currently working on "Pavlov's Guide to Crosswords". Horse racing would be another great addition to the Crucial Posts. I usually work on one when I get particularly frustrated by a void in my knowledge.

LARAIDER looks like a portmanteau of Lara Croft and Tomb Raider.