Wednesday, December 16, 2009

NYT Wednesday 12/16/09 - Heads and Tails

This Wednesday New York Times crossword is notable for the large amount of theme squares crammed in. Until quite late in the solving process, I assumed that all the thematic answers were concentrated along the left edge and only when I got to the SW corner and 51-Down did I realize those answers had a symmetrical counterpart along the right edge.

That thematic knowledge proved helpful in dealing with 37-Across, as I didn't know The Red Pony, supposedly a classic, and it crossed with several answers I was doubtful about. Of course, once I realized that Pony would go with tail to make ponytail, I was happy I'd got that area correct.

So kudos for the compiler for incorporating around 50% more theme squares than usual. The grid hasn't suffered hugely as a consequence, but there is a downside: *I think this is the first time I've seen a duplication as blatant as est. and estab., and The Po is an answer I'd have strenuously avoided; but apart from that, the fill seems unremarkable. *Postscript: this arose from a misunderstanding, the -est answer being the superlative suffix (see below).
Solving time: 12 mins (solo, no solving aids)
Clue of the puzz: 14a board game {Othello, for one}

David J. Kahn
Grid art by Sympathy [about the grid colors]


The words at the beginning of the left edge answers can follow 10d head {Apt attachment to the starts of 14-, 17-, 35- and 43-Across}, while the words at the end of the right edge answers can follow 51d tail {Apt attachment to the ends of 30-, 37-, 59- and 62-Across}.
14a board game {Othello, for one} cf headboard
17a land grant {Help for a pioneer} cf headland
35a room key {Offering from the front desk} cf headroom
43a stone-deaf {Unable to hear} cf headstone

30a guinea pig {Experiment subject} cf pigtail
37a Red Pony {Classic Steinbeck story, with "The"} cf ponytail
59a polo shirt {T-shaped pullover} cf shirt-tail
62a SpongeBob {Animated TV character with buck teeth} cf bobtail
David J. Kahn / Will Shortz
15x15 with 33 (14.7%) black squares
78 (average length 4.92)
Theme squares
76 (39.6%)
Scrabble points
296 (average 1.54)
Letters used
New To Me

34a Garr {"Dumb and Dumber" actress}. I've seen Teri Garr (either as Teri or Garr) often enough to consider her a strong candidate for any four-letter actress answer, but hadn't come across this movie before. Dumb and Dumber (1994) is a Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels comedy that only seems to have had a minor role for Garr.

Palais Garnier
52a Palais {Paris's ___ Garnier}. I hadn't realized that the Palais Garnier is the official name of the Paris Opéra, the 2,200-seat opera house on the Place de l'Opéra in Paris. Designed by Charles Garnier in the Neo-Baroque style and inaugurated in 1875, the Palais Garnier is regarded as one of the architectural masterpieces of its time.

9d THC {Active ingredient in marijuana: Abbr.}. A tough TLA to remember, so I'm going to mention it again in the hopes I won't keep getting caught out. THC stands for the catchy tetrahydrocannabinol: it was isolated, structurally analyzed and partially synthesized as early as 1964. Apparently its function in the plant may be for self-defense against herbivores, or possibly protection from solar radiation exposure, since THC has high UV-B absorption properties.

bump on a log
13d on a log {How a bump may appear}. A slightly unsatisfactory six-letter partial, but at least it gives me a chance to explore a new American idiom: I gather that someone sitting "like a bump on a log" is basically idling and not being helpful when they could be. A colorful expression, which I'll have to bring into my vocab.

29d Leo Tolstoy {"The Cossacks" novelist}. I don't know a huge amount about Tolstoy, except that he wrote War and Peace and Anna Karenina. The Cossacks (1863) predates both these masterpieces and describes the Cossack life and people through a story of a Russian aristocrat in love with a Cossack girl.

Van Cleef and Arpels
31d Arpels {Partner of jeweler Van Cleef}. Names of clothiers, jewelers etc usually spell T-R-O-U-B-L-E for me unless they happen to have branches in the metrops of Binghamton, NY or Scranton, PA where we typically go shopping. Van Cleef & Arpels was founded in Paris in 1896 and has been long associated with the rich and famous. They seem to have a dozen or so boutiques in the USA and also sell their wares through authorized retailers.

Nellie Bly
58d Bly {Crusading journalist Nellie}. Nellie Bly (1864–1922) looks to have been a very remarkable woman: a pioneering journalist, she completed a record-breaking trip around the world in emulation of Jules Verne; she also faked insanity to investigate brutality and neglect at the Women's Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell's Island. The danger of faking insanity is that having been admitted to the loony bin, you'll never be able to convince the doctors that you're in fact normal and hence be let out again. She did circumvent this problem thanks to the efforts of the newspaper she worked for: her reports caused a sensation and resulted in increased funds for care of the insane.


The Po
9a The Po {It flows through Turin}. One hears rivers referred to with the definite article, so this answer is presumably OK. But my gut reaction is that it's an inferior kind of answer and best avoided. Consider the consequences of allowing the indefinite article in front of a count noun, allowing a doll and an eel as answers ... yuck. The Po flows through many important Italian cities, including Turin, Piacenza and Ferrara. It is connected to Milan through a net of channels which Leonardo da Vinci helped design.

23a Cry {Alan Paton's "___, the Beloved Country"}. Cry, the Beloved Country is a memorable title, so I had no difficulty filling in the blank even though I don't remember ever reading the book or seeing the movies made in 1951 and 1995. The book - by South African author Alan Paton - was published in 1948 and received critical success everywhere except South Africa, where it was banned due to its political contentiousness.

54a J. Lo {Four-time platinum album of 2001}. A very scary answer when I first encountered it, but now getting towards the gimme stage. J.Lo the album sold 272,000 copies in its opening week stayed in the top twenty for six weeks.

64a -est {Guinness suffix}. I've gotten used to this kind of clue meaning you can append the answer to the end of the clue word to form another word. But there isn't a word Guinnessest, so what is going on here? In straining to work this out, I wondered for a while if -ess was the answer, thinking it odd that the answer should appear literally in the clue in that event. My current theory is that clue refers to Est. (short for "established") as it sometimes appears on Guinness glasses, publicity material etc etc. But this explanation seems unsatisfactory given I've never seen such a cluing formula used in this way and given estab. already appears in the grid as an abbr. for established.

Postscript: thanks to Dan and Rex Parker's blog, I've finally sorted out this clue: -est is the suffix used for superlatives, such as might be found in the Guinness World Records. One of the tough-est clues I've seen in a while!

27d Her {The Beatles' "And I Love ___"}. This seems a much more orthodox Beatles title than last week's I'm a Loser. And I Love Her is the fifth track on their third album, A Hard Day's Night. It was released in 1964 with If I Fell as the B-side.

The Rest

1a algae {Fish tank buildup}; 6a pop {Go off}; 16a heron {Leggy wader}; 18a Carla {French first lady ___ Bruni-Sarkozy}; 19a Eng. {H.S. course}; 20a eerier {More unearthly}; 22a doll {Real looker}; 24a brad {Thin nail}; 26a Roo {Milne hopper}; 27a halos {Symbols of goodness}; 32a Eden {Fall site}; 33a SAS {Flier to Stockholm}; 40a teen {First-time driver, often}; 41a wed {United}; 42a Enid {Geraint's love, in Arthurian legend}; 46a pleas {Answers in court}; 47a eel {Frog predator}; 48a pull {Influence}; 49a Las {___ Palmas, capital of the Canary Islands}; 50a vast {Boundless}; 57a estab. {Foundation abbr.}; 61a reoil {Do a lube job on}; 63a slyly {How an April fool may be done}; 65a omens {Important signs}.

1d able {Proficient}; 2d loan {___ shark}; 3d gang {What a tattoo may identify}; 4d -ard {Dull finish?}; 5d edgers {Lawn cutters}; 6d Paar {Subject of the documentary "Smart Television"}; 7d omnibus {Volume of reprints}; 8d Peter I {Half brother of Ivan V}; 11d error-prone {Likely to slip}; 12d polloi {Hoi ___}; 15d grey {Dull, as London skies}; 21d ranged {Varied}; 23d con-men {Swindlers}; 25d dead {No more}; 28d ado {Stir}; 30d gay {Like apparel donned in a Christmas carol}; 33d send-up {Parody}; 36d keep {Not give up}; 37d ref {Foul caller}; 38d Nia {Actress Vardalos}; 39d yds. {Gridiron stat: Abbr.}; 41d wallops {Heavy blows}; 43d severs {Cuts off}; 44d teasel {Prickly plant}; 45d elapse {Slide away}; 46d pass go {Round a corner in Monopoly}; 49d lion {Brave one}; 53d a lot {Oceans}; 54d jibe {Be in accord}; 55d L. Ron {___ Hubbard}; 56d OTBs {Gambling venues, briefly}; 60d hem {Do some tailoring}.


Dan said...

You may have gathered this from other blogs by now, but "-est" is a suffix that appears in the Guinness Book of World Records. (Thus it's not a duplication with ESTAB.)

Crossword Man said...

Thanks Dan. I'll add a postscript ... shouldn't have doubted the constructor(s)!

Gareth Bain said...

The "You" magazine crossword here does do A DOLL type answers fairly frequently - and they'd be clued as "Toy (1,4)" - to borrow a foreign expression "grody to the max!" I've probably got the phrase all wrong, BTW. ARPELS was mystery long answer of the day for me - not a predictable spelling! But as stated elsewhere, a simply amazing construction!

Crossword Man said...

Having phrases enumerated with eg (1,4) would be some compensation, but adding articles like that is a no-no in all the serious crosswords I've come across. "Grody to the max" is authentic Valspeak AFAIK and seems apropos.