Tuesday, December 29, 2009

NYT Wednesday 12/30/09 - My Misfortune

Based on my solving time, I did fairly well with this Wednesday New York Times crossword, but what is that if you can't actually get the letters right? The theme seemed straightforward enough, but - as if to compensate - the rest of the puzzle was unusually thorny.

I skated on thin ice at the intersection of 22d O'Day and 36a My Love. Not knowing either of these, I was grateful to be informed of Anita O'Day's pig Latin etymology in the clue ... that pointed to an -ay ending. A close call, but I escaped this particular trouble spot.

Woe is me, there were much worse dangers at the bottom middle of the grid. I had no clue about either 57d Vaca or 64a The O.C. and did my usual thing of assessing which of the two answers narrowed down the possibilities better. In this case I thought 64-Across would repay close attention and reasoned there must have been a medical show called The OR. Vara looked about as likely a name for an explorer as Vaca, so I went with it. I'm not sure I could have done any better here in the absence of the required knowledge of either answer.

Wheel of Fortune

A couple of readers have emailed me to point out that The New York Times Crossword Puzzle was featured on yesterday's Wheel of Fortune, being the answer to the question "what are you doing?". This has been a good year for the profile of the NYT puzzle in the popular media, as it was also the category an episode of Jeopardy!, which I commented on in my post for the April 2 puzzle.
Solving time: 11 mins (solo, no solving aids, two wrong answers)
Clue of the puzz: 31d dog whistle {Item used with high frequency?}

Adam Cohen
Grid art by Sympathy [about the grid colors]


Company names are clued via their stock ticker, which gives a strong hint to their product or service.
20a Barnes and Noble {Company with the stock ticker symbol BKS} sell books
25a Genentech {Company with the stock ticker symbol DNA} specialize in DNA technology
39a Sealy {Company with the stock ticker symbol ZZ} make mattresses
48a Papa John's {Company with the stock ticker symbol PZZA} sell pizzas
53a Harley-Davidson {Company with the stock ticker symbol HOG} manufacture "hogs"
Adam Cohen / Will Shortz
15x15 with 38 (16.9%) black squares
76 (average length 4.92)
Theme squares
51 (27.3%)
Scrabble points
332 (average 1.78)
Letters used
New To Me

18a Shawn {Wallace ___ of "Manhattan"}. There seems to be an uncharacteristic focus on Woody Allen movies today: not a problem for this fan ... it's just unusual to see repetitiveness rather than variety in such references. Although I recall Wallace Shawn's face and his role in Manhattan as the "homunculus" of an ex-husband, I couldn't easily cough up his name. I gather Shawn is also a notable playwright in an absurdist style, and co-wrote My Dinner with Andre (1981), based on his conversations with Andre Gregory.

50a Elks {Order whose members have included five U.S. presidents}. Have come across the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks (sometimes a crossword answer as BPOE), but wasn't previously aware of its presidential history. Since the BPOE was only founded in 1868 (when it was a social club called the "Jolly Cork") that rules out presidents up to #18. I'm reliably informed that the Elk presidents were:
52a Ali {Rubina ___ of "Slumdog Millionaire"}. We still haven't seen Slumdog Millionaire (2008) despite its success at the awards ceremonies. Rubina Ali is the child actress who plays the youngest version of Jamal's one true love, Latika, in the movie.

64a The O.C. {Former Fox series set in Newport Beach}. I had big problems here and still can't quite believe that a show based in Orange County, CA would be called The O.C.: why the definite article?!? ... it doesn't make sense. Anyway, not knowing the show, nor Cabeza de Vaca, I just had to guess at the most likely name for a Fox series and went for The OR ... well, there seem to be as many medical series on TV as stars in the sky. But Magdalen points out the show that would be called The OR is actually Gray's Anatomy. Boo (hoo).

Chrysler Building
65a Alen {Art Deco architect William Van ___}. William Van Alen (1883–1954) was an American architect, best known for being the lead designer of New York City's Chrysler Building (1929-30), which earned him the title "Doctor of Altitude". Unfortunately, Van Alen doesn't seem to have been fond of paperwork and neglected to enter into a contract with Walter Chrysler to design the famous skyscraper; after Chrysler refused to pay the standard fee of 6% of the building costs, Van Alen sued and won; but the court case damaged his reputation and effectively brought an end to his career.

2d Lila {Oscar winner Kedrova}. Never heard of Lila Kedrova (1918–2000), a Russian-born French actress who got her Best Supporting Actress Oscar for playing "Madame Hortense", proprietress of the "Hotel Ritz", in Zorba the Greek (1964).

22d O'Day {Jazz singer who took her surname from pig Latin}. Strange but true: Anita O'Day (1919–2006), born Anita Belle Colton, based her name on "dough" as in money, which in pig Latin becomes O'Day. Here's her Stella by Starlight in a 1963 live performance.

45d Ojai {Ventura County's ___ Valley}. Had to get this largely from crossings, as I'm not sure I've met the Ojai Valley (pronounced "oh-high") before. Ojai means "Valley of the Moon" in the language of the Chumash Indians. It is apparently the venue for a famous music festival: the Ojai Music Festival was founded in 1947, features some of the world's top musicians and composers, and occurs on the first weekend after Memorial Day.

Cabeza de Vaca
57d Vaca {Explorer Cabeza de ___}. As far as I could see, the third letter of this answer could be just about any consonant. I decided to choose it on the basis of what would make a sensible TV show name at 64-Across and went for Vara. But Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca (ca. 1490/1507–1557/1559) is the man I was expected to know: he was a Spanish explorer, one of four survivors of the Narváez expedition, which attempted to install Pánfilo de Narváez as governor of Spanish Florida during the years 1527–1528. Cabeza de Vaca recorded his experiences of the Native Americans in the 1542 work La Relacion (The Report), later known as Naufragios (Shipwrecks).


35a Seth {Green of "Radio Days"}; 4d Dianne {Wiest of "Radio Days"}. Here are the other two Woody Allen references - actors in the 1987 movie Radio Days, which introduced me to Coney Island years before I even thought about coming to the USA. The young radio addict Joe is played by Seth Green as a child actor. Dianne Wiest is his aunt Bea, whose search for love is a significant part of the plot. Since Wallace Shawn is also in this movie as the diminutive performer of the "Masked Avenger" on radio, I'm surprised we didn't get {Wallace of "Radio Days"} for 18-Across which would definitely have made a feature of the coincidence of getting all three into the same grid. I guess it might have something to do with Shawn being a surname, while these two are forenames.

36d Myra {Vidal's "___ Breckinridge"}. I knew the title of this Gore Vidal novel, maybe via the 1970 movie adaptation, though I know I've never seen it. Myra Breckinridge (1968) is a campy satirical novel set in the Hollywood of the 1960s. Despite its stellar cast, the movie is apparently famously bad and often cited as one of the worst films ever made.

58d oyer {___ and terminer}. Nice gimme, which I knew from The Chambers Dictionary. oyer and terminer (literally "hear and determine") is an obsolete term in English law, being a royal commission with the power to hear and determine criminal causes.

The Rest

1a sled {Iditarod vehicle}; 5a lochs {Tay and Lomond}; 10a IMAX {Film format sometimes in 3-D}; 14a Wi-Fi {Internet cafe offering}; 15a as you {With 68-Across, "Carry on"}; 16a Saxe {___-Coburg-Gotha (old British royal house)}; 17a Alfa {Letter preceding bravo}; 19a auld {January 1 title word}; 23a Ono {Strawberry Fields pilgrimage figure}; 24a aide {Page, for example}; 30a alder {Tree sacred to the Druids}; 34a hat {Panama, for one}; 36a My Love {1973 Paul McCartney & Wings hit}; 37a Orel {Russian city on the Oka}; 41a agin {Feudin' with}; 42a strict {Unyielding}; 44a Karo {Syrup brand}; 46a wad {Stash of cash}; 47a thyme {Herb with antiseptic properties}; 60a soli {Many diva performances}; 61a Acela {Amtrak debut of 11/17/2000}; 62a stye {Ophthalmologist's concern}; 63a OPEC {Cartel led by a secretary general}; 66a wick {Part of a Zippo}; 67a Serta {Competitor of 39-Across}; 68a were {See 15-Across}.

1d swab {DNA collector, perhaps}; 3d effrontery {Chutzpah}; 5d lass {Bonny gal}; 6d OSHA {Dept. of Labor division}; 7d cyan {Printer's color}; 8d howdah {Elephant rider's seat}; 9d Sunni {Many a Muslim}; 10d Isabella {Queen in events of 1492}; 11d maul {Rough up}; 12d axle {Highway toll unit}; 13d Xed {Struck (out)}; 21d eons {Seemingly forever}; 25d ghost {Pac-Man enemy}; 26d earth {Image on eco-friendly products}; 27d test {Try to prove}; 28d été {Time off from l'école}; 29d Chaka {Grammy winner ___ Khan}; 31d dog whistle {Item used with high frequency?}; 32d Evian {Competitor of Aquafina}; 33d rends {Rips to pieces}; 38d limerick {Often-bawdy verse}; 40d lap {Michael Phelps workout unit}; 43d cell {Word on a business card}; 48d psyche {Freudian topic}; 49d old saw {"He who hesitates is lost," e.g.}; 51d Keats {Colleague of Byron and Shelley}; 53d Hopi {Pueblo language}; 54d Alec {Actor Guinness}; 55d deer {Hinds, e.g.}; 56d a lot {Zillions}; 59d nene {Endangered state bird}; 60d sow {Barnyard mother}.


Daniel Myers said...

A literary nit to pick: Keats was hardly a "colleague" of Shelley and Byron, though I know the three are often lumped together as the three English "High Romantic" poets.

I don't know that Keats ever met Byron, and he met Shelley only one time, about whom he had serious misgivings, though he did take Shelley up on his kind offer to finance travel to Italy for health reasons...too late, as it turned out.

Of course, there's Shelley's famous ode to Keats, "Adonais"---but it says much more about Shelley than Keats, really. Sorry for going on, but this is rather my bailiwick here.

I think "contemporary" rather than "colleague" would have been much more apt.

Oh, Ross, about the "t"s turning to "d"s - It's pretty much inevitable unless you spend an undue amount of time watching BBC America or listening to Guardian podcasts etc that you will soon be telling people that you're "Briddish" - Well, that's been my experience anyway, despite little rebellions I've staged from time to time.

Crossword Man said...

Hi Daniel. Thanks for your expert opinion on the poets. It's funny to imagine Keats, Shelley and Byron as colleagues in a verse-writing team, going on morale-building exercises (I think they'd have made an ace paintballing team)! "Contemporaries" definitely puts it better. BTW, Shelley was expelled from my Oxford college, and is now commemorated there by one of the most ugsome memorials anywhere.

Daniel Myers said...

LOL Ross - Yes, seen the memorial - truly UGSOME - disgrace to Shelley and University College, makes one think they still haven't forgiven him. I was at Balliol for a short while before my transatlantic migration led me to finish up my undergraduate here. Shelley and Byron did actually shoot real pistols together, about which the dour Byron wrote. "Shelley is the better shot, but his head is full of metaphysics."

Oh, and you're quite right about the subjunctive.

Crossword Man said...

Found Byron on Keats interesting. Given their class differences, could Byron and Keats have ever been "colleagues"?

Daniel Myers said...

Interesting article. - No, they couldn't be "colleagues." Byron's poetry is frankly very bad, a tawdry imitation of Alexander Pope, but he did cut a Romantic "figure," as it were. The only reason he countenanced Shelley's association whilst both were in Italy was that Shelley was from the landed gentry - father a baronet, and he admits in one of his letters that he's never understood what is called "friendship." OK, you get the idea, I don't fancy Byron, and I've never met ANYONE who likes him for his poetry. I find him, as a man, even more detestable.

Shelley and Keats were never "colleagues" either, of course, but - in their poetry at least - there are more than passing similarities - They both wrote famous odes to birds, for one. And Shelley, like Keats, wrote from the imagination. - Further, they were both decent sorts and might have become colleagues, even friends, if either had lived past his 20s.

Crossword Man said...

Thanks, that's fascinating ... your knowledge in this area goes way beyond mine. I can't think of anything to add except how wonderful crosswords are for provoking such discussions.