Friday, December 18, 2009

NYT Saturday 12/19/09 - Thinking Inside the Box

With this Saturday New York Times crossword, I seem to be back on track with a niceish solving time of just over the half hour. That simplifies things a bit, because I got off to a very slow start, taking 14 minutes to get the first long answer; but at some point, everything began to click and I must have solved the last third of the puzzle in five minutes or so.

Why was this grid so much easier than yesterday's? My theory is that the orthodoxy of the answers, almost all of which could be an actual headword or emboldened phrase in a dictionary or encyclopedia, makes the difference: I think my brain is better at spotting patterns in this domain and less well attuned to "thinking outside the box" when it comes to answers improvised from informal speech. This is something I need more practice at, so I'll add Brendan Emmett Quigley's puzzle stream to my solving fare and see if that helps!
Solving time: 31 mins (solo, no solving aids)
Clue of the puzz: 35d ocarina {Light wind}

Tyler Hinman and Byron Walden
Grid art by Sympathy [about the grid colors]

Tyler Hinman and Byron Walden / Will Shortz
15x15 with 30 (13.3%) black squares
66 (average length 5.91)
Theme squares
0 (0.0%)
Scrabble points
295 (average 1.51)
Letters used
New To Me

18a urban, 4d decay {"Roger & Me" subject}. I suspected this would relate to Michael Moore, especially when I figured out the answer, but couldn't recall specifics about the film, such as who Roger was. Roger & Me was actually Moore's first documentary film and concerned the General Motors plant closings in his home town of Flint, Michigan. "Roger" is Roger B. Smith, former CEO and president of General Motors.

Geovany Soto
24a Soto {All-Star Cubs catcher Geovany}. One of those instances where I'm so clueless that I couldn't work out whether Soto or Geovany was the forename. Geovany Soto is a rising star from Puerto Rico and is currently the catcher for Chicago Cubs. He was selected the NL Rookie of the Year after the 2008 season.

31a Snerd {McCarthy cohort}. I have to confess to being misled into thinking of Joseph McCarthy and the communist witch-hunts of the late 1940s and 1950s. Mortimer Snerd, like Snert, was an answer I learned really early in my quest to solve American puzzles, but I was fuzzy on some of the details and had forgotten that Charlie McCarthy was Edgar Bergen's main dummy, though it's clear that Snerd steals the limelight in crosswords.

Crimson Tide
33a Crimson Tide {Tigers' rival in the Southeastern Conference}. I think Magdalen explained the Crimson Tide to me ... probably more than once. Even so, it took about a third of the crossings to see that's what was wanted here. Hugh Roberts, former sports editor of the Birmingham Age-Herald, is credited with coining the phrase Crimson Tide in an article describing the 1907 Iron Bowl played in Birmingham, AL. The game was played in a sea of red mud with Auburn a heavy favorite to win. 'Bama held Auburn to a 6-6 tie, thus graduating to their newfound nickname.

Sandy Berger
57a Berger {Sandy who was national security adviser for Bill Clinton}. Sandy Berger was Bill Clinton's National Security Advisor from 1997 to 2001. Some of the hot issues arising during his watch were: the Khobar Towers bombing, Operation Desert Fox, the NATO bombing campaign against Yugoslavia and responses to the terrorist bombings of American embassies. Berger served as a foreign policy adviser to Senator Hillary Clinton in her 2008 presidential campaign.

1d layups {Standard buckets}. I never figured this out while solving the puzzle and it took a while to rationalize the clue after I'd finished. I gather a "bucket" is slang for a field goal in basketball, with the layup (made by leaping from below, laying the ball up near the basket, and using one hand to bounce it off the backboard and into the basket) the most basic shot used to achieve it.

22d trim die {Casting device}. Nothing to do with that familiar device, the casting couch. A trim die is used to remove the unwanted bits from a die-cast object, including the colorfully named gate, runners, sprues and flash. A trim die in a power press or hydraulic press supersedes manual methods of tidying up a casting.

34d Neilson {Roger who coached eight different N.H.L. teams}. The clue pretty much says it all, but I'm writing this to try to fix Roger Neilson (1934–2003) in my mind.Neilson dedicated his entire life to coaching and to hockey and affected the careers of thousands. He had no family and would stay up late into the night watching video and analysing games. Among his most well-known innovations was the use of videotape to analyze other teams, leading to the nickname "Captain Video". He was also the first to use microphone headsets to communicate with his assistant coaches.

The Spirit
42d Eisner {"The Spirit" creator Will}. Another case where I'm largely clueless: as I write, I'm still not sure what branch of the arts this refers to. Ah, comics. Will Eisner (1917–2005) was a major force in comic books and created the influential series The Spirit. The industry awards - the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards, or just "the Eisners" - are named after him. The Spirit (real name Denny Colt) chronicles the adventures of a masked vigilante who fights crime with the blessing of the city's police commissioner Dolan, an old friend.


Lenny Henry
37d red nose {Item sported to support Britain's Comic Relief}. At last, an answer where I stand a better chance than anyone else ... I'm always grateful for a gimme like this on a Friday/Saturday. The red nose wasn't associated with the Comic Relief charity from its beginnings in 1985, but first appeared in 1988. I always picture it on the awesome Lenny Henry, who has been a regular host of the Comic Relief shows.

The Rest

1a ladder {Intraclub competition rankings}; 7a DNA Lab {Site of many tests}; 13a amoebas {Pseudopod formers}; 15a qui vive {Alert}; 16a you can count on it {"Absolutely"}; 19a HRE {Its leader's flag featured a black eagle: Abbr.}; 20a sweat {Hard work}; 21a Poly {Cal ___}; 22a tease {Flirt}; 25a sue {Overreact to an accident, maybe}; 26a armlock {Hold in a ring}; 28a fer {"___ sher!"}; 29a soapier {More melodramatic}; 35a octad {Oxygen atom's protons, e.g.}; 36a be a star {Make it}; 38a ICU {Carefully monitored area, for short}; 39a niceish {Pleasant enough}; 41a see {"Don't you ___?"}; 43a raps {Criticizes}; 45a early {Too quickly}; 46a Lodi {Italian site of a 1796 Napoleon victory}; 47a Erato {Figure in Greek myth whose name means "desired"}; 49a pts. {Small containers: Abbr.}; 50a Finns {They call themselves Suomalaiset}; 51a final resolution {Very end of a conflict}; 54a unclear {Opaque}; 55a no sense {What flibbertigibbets make}; 56a lay low {Stayed in, say}.

1d lay-ups {Standard buckets}; 2d amorous {Loverly?}; 3d double occupancy {Split between roommates}; 5d Eban {Host of PBS's "Heritage: Civilization and the Jews"}; 6d ran {Made the newspaper}; 7d dun {Grayish shade}; 8d nits {Picked things}; 9d avows {Swears}; 10d line of reasoning {Thread used in briefs}; 11d aviated {Managed banks?}; 12d bettor {Certain ticket holder}; 14d schemes {Emulates Iago}; 15d queso {Chili con ___ (Tex-Mex dish)}; 17d Oral Roberts {"The Call" autobiographer}; 23d ecstasy {Transcendent state}; 26d apian {Melliferous, perhaps}; 27d knish {Offering from many a New York City street vendor}; 30d art {"Nature concentrated," per Balzac}; 32d EDT {August setting in the Capitol bldg.}; 35d ocarina {Light wind}; 38d ireful {Boiling over}; 40d caper {"The Italian Job," e.g.}; 44d stall {Foot-drag}; 46d liter {About 33.8 fluid ounces}; 48d oleo {Muffin stuffin'?}; 50d fuse {Current governor}; 52d raw {Unprepared}; 53d lob {Easy interview question}.


Daniel Myers said...

Many thanks for the explanations of layups and trim die. They made NO SENSE to me after completing the puzzle. Glad to see you back in form today.

Crossword Man said...

You're welcome Daniel. I've just spotted UNCLEAR and NO SENSE are in the same row ... coincidence?