Tuesday, December 22, 2009

NYT Wednesday 12/23/09 - Re-Me-Riddle

I thought this Wednesday New York Times crossword was on the difficult side, not so much because of the theme, which I sorted out about half way through, but because the non-thematic cluing seemed to have been toughened up. There was also a lot to cover in the New to Me section today.

The puzzle is notable for the four grid-spanning theme entries, which together with the key answer newspaper results in an impressive 69 theme squares. What's more, the grid is pangrammatic (every letter of the alphabet is included at least once), which spices up the fill.

This is all to the good and the consequential abundance of three-letter answers, particularly in the down direction, didn't bother me hugely. I gather this is a debut puzzle for the compiler, who is a student at the University of Florida, and look forward to seeing further examples of his work.

Magdalen and I are getting into holiday mode from this evening, with Henry due to join us late on. So as not to miss out on the fun, I'll be switching to "blogging lite" for a few days, with little or no commentary on individual clues. My very best holiday wishes to all.
Solving time: 20 mins (solo, no solving aids)
Clue of the puzz: 26a groupie {Idol worshiper?}

Jonathan Porat
Grid art by Sympathy [about the grid colors]


The newspaper riddle ("what is black and white and red all over?"). The key words of the riddle appear at the start of four long across answers, as indicated by 72a newspaper {Answer to an old riddle alluded to by the starts of 17-, 32-, 42- and 64-Across}.
17a Black Magic Woman {1970 Santana hit}
32a White House Tapes {Evidence in the Watergate scandal}
42a red-blooded males {Macho types}
64a all over the place {Varying wildly}
Jonathan Porat / Will Shortz
15x15 with 38 (16.9%) black squares
76 (average length 4.92)
Theme squares
69 (36.9%)
Scrabble points
355 (average 1.90)
Letters used
New To Me

Hawks of Saint Joseph's University
10a St. Joe {The Hawks of the Atlantic 10 conference, informally}. Saint Joseph's University doesn't crop up much in crosswords in any guise, hence it doesn't make it into The Crucy League. In fact St. Joe is normally clued as {Missouri City, briefly} a reference to Saint Joseph, MO. This St Joe is a private Jesuit university located in Philadelphia ... the clue being an example of how the puzzle looks to have been slanted to the difficult end of the Wednesday scale.

39a art {"Without ___, the crudeness of reality would make the world unbearable": Shaw}. Great Shaw quote, but I don't agree with it in the least - reality is only rarely crude. Another case where I haven't been able to track down the source: it's in none of my three books of quotations.

55a Part B {Medical insurance portion of Medicare}. Not being eligible for Medicare yet, this was a bit of a conundrum. I gather the original Medicare program signed into law by President Johnson in 1965 had two parts: Part A (Hospital Insurance), and Part B (Medical Insurance). This was extended in 1997 to include Part C (Medicare Advantage plans) and in 2006 with Part D (Prescription Drug plans). Complicated stuff, but I have a few years to go before I need to understand all of this.

8d mage {Gandalf, for one}. From my memories of reading the The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, I thought Gandalf was a wizard. I can't work out if my memory's faulty or if the clue applies to Gandalf in a different domain, e.g. role-playing games such as Dungeons & Dragons. Daniel?? Not that I had any doubts about the answer ... I just got held up for a while.

13d okapi {Animal with striped legs}. Having the first and last letters, I experimented with oribi for a while. I'm not sure if they have striped legs, but the answer turned out to be the giraffid artiodactyl mammal native to the Ituri Rainforest, which definitely does have them. Although an okapi bears some resemblance to a zebra, they aren't related at all. Unknown to Europeans until 1901, today there are approximately 10,000 - 20,000 in the wild and very few in captivity.

51d Omaha {1935 Triple Crown horse}. I got The World Encyclopaedia of Horse Racing out of the library in hopes of improving my knowledge of all racehorses, which the book classifies into "Legendary Horses" and "Famous Horses". Omaha, it turns out is merely "famous", the only U.S. Triple Crown winner whose sire (Gallant Fox) also swept North America's classics.

52d Nolan {Christopher who directed "The Dark Knight"}. Christopher Nolan rang bells, but was by no means a gimme for me, as we're not big fans of superhero movies. The Dark Knight (2008) was the movie beset by the death of star Heath Ledger in January 2008, necessitating a significant refocusing of the promotional campaign for the film.

54d Moran {Erin of "Happy Days"}. Just when I thought I had Happy Days nailed, through knowing the Fonz and Richie Cunningham, this clue comes along to ring the changes: Erin Moran plays Richie's younger sister Joanie; in early seasons she is a pre-teen sometimes snooping on Richie's activities. Erin eventually starred in the spinoff show Joanie Loves Chachi.

Venusian surface
63d year {Strangely, it's shorter than a day on Venus}. It's tough to get one's head around this, as there's a big difference between a sidereal day and a solar day, on Venus at least. Venus orbits around the sun once every 224.65 Earth days; it rotates on its axis once every 243 Earth days (its sidereal day); so far so good. However, it rotates in the opposite direction to most planets, so - to an observer on the surface - the time from one sunrise to the next (the solar day) is just 116.75 Earth days (on this basis, one Venus year is about 1.92 Venus days long). The stuff of nightmares for an editor ... but who'd want to stand on Venus anyway?

66d ehs {Frequent Canadian interjections}. Apparently there's a use of eh? that's exclusive to Canada and is thought by others to be stereotypical and mildly amusing. According to the Canadian Oxford Dictionary, eh? is used for "ascertaining the comprehension, continued interest, agreement, etc., of the person or persons addressed". A classic joke is: "How did they name Canada? The letters were thrown in a bag, and the first one to be picked was 'C' eh?, then 'N' eh? and finally 'D' eh?"

Lia Fail
68d Lia {___ Fáil, Irish coronation stone}. The Lia Fáil (Irish for "big stone of Fál", pronounced roughly "Lee-a Fall"), aka the Stone of Destiny, stands at the Inauguration Mound on the Hill of Tara. In legend, all the kings of Ireland were crowned on the stone up to Muirchertach mac Ercae c. AD 500.


2d USLTA {Org. that used to bring people to court?}. I worked out this was the United States Lawn Tennis Association, which dropped the "Lawn" from the title in 1975 to become the United States Tennis Association.

The Rest

1a just try me {"I dare you"}; 15a as we speak {This very moment}; 16a awake {Conscious}; 19a str. {Orch. section}; 20a sénat {It might pass une loi}; 21a UPI {Reuters competitor}; 22a a dash {Tiny recipe amount}; 26a groupie {Idol worshiper?}; 28a bar-b-q {Kind of pit, briefly}; 31a vin {Burgundy or Chablis}; 40a zap {Instantly fry}; 41a ova {In vitro cells}; 49a Tex {Lone Star State cowboy}; 50a sci-fi {Trekkies' genre}; 51a on a whim {Impulsively}; 58a moa {Extinct cousin of the kiwi}; 59a ad out {Break point score, perhaps}; 62a Roy {Artist Lichtenstein}; 69a hater {Misanthrope}; 70a Anaheim, CA {Part of a postal address for Disneyland}; 71a anode {+ end}.

1d jabs {Pointed criticisms}; 3d sward {Stretch of grass}; 4d 'tec {Sam Spade type}; 5d tsk! {"Uh-uh, bad!"}; 6d rpm {Tach reading}; 7d yeas {Votes for}; 9d eking {Barely making (out)}; 10d saw to it {Took care of business}; 11d two {See 32-Down}; 12d jam up {Become blocked}; 14d eenie {Start of a counting rhyme}; 18d carve {Have turkey-serving duty, say}; 23d ABT {U.S. dance grp.}; 24d SAE {It facilitates replying to a MS.}; 25d HRH {Buckingham Palace letters}; 27d una {Article in El Mundo}; 29d bozo {Schmo}; 30d quads {Campus areas}; 32d War {Card game for 11-Down}; 33d HRE {Onetime realm of central Eur.}; 34d it'd {"___ be an honor"}; 35d spec {A writer may work on it}; 36d pol {Washington pro}; 37d Eve {Christmas ___}; 38d SAS {Carrier to Copenhagen}; 43d BTW {"Oh yeah ...," in a text message}; 44d Le Havre {France's second-busiest port}; 45d oxide {Nitrous ___}; 46d dip {Brief swim}; 47d MFA {Design deg.}; 48d air {Lungful}; 53d Aalto {Finnish architect Alvar ___}; 56d tramp {Charlie Chaplin persona}; 57d bocce {Ball-rolling game}; 60d Utne {___ Reader}; 61d thaw {Midwinter phenomenon, sometimes}; 65d OED {Orthographer's ref.}; 67d pep {Vim}.


Daniel Myers said...

In re Gandalf: I haven't the foggiest about role-playing games or D&D for the simple reason that I've never played them. But "mage" and "wizard" have always seemed to me to be nearly synonymous. Checking the OED, the first definition of mage is "a magician."

Also there's a nice quote from Tennyson's "Idylls of The King":

"And there I saw mage Merlin"

Merlin and Gandalf have always seemed very similar figures to me.

I don't really see much more than A DASH of nuance between mage and wizard.

On that note, my best wishes for a very magical Yuletide season for you and Madeleine.:-)

Crossword Man said...

Thanks for the Gandalf = mage explanation. I'll settle for that.