Thursday, January 21, 2010

NYT Friday 1/22/10 - The Cat's Meow

This Friday New York Times puzzle was the Mummy Bear of themeless crosswords: it was quite a struggle to finish, but finish I did and with reasonable confidence that I'd got the grid just right. What I like about this puzzle is the fine long answers, particularly those in the NW and SE corners (ironically also the toughest areas); the one answer that to me sticks out as unsatisfactory is Asti, Italy, but that may just be because of its unconventionality (see the clue commentary below).

Initially, I made the best progress around the middle of the puzzle and down to the SW, helped by guessing Oodles of Noodles early on. After 18 minutes, I had three isolated areas to complete: in each area, getting the first long answer was critical to breaking in and completing it. Once I'd got Generation X, the whole SE corner fell quickly. In the NE, Donatello was key, but that corner was still a bit of a struggle even then; in the NW, abracadabra did it for me ... what a great clue!

While on the subject of more difficult puzzles, it's time to mention again the nascent Fireball Crosswords. We've now had two puzzles: I found #1 exceptionally difficult and, after struggling manfully with it on my own, collaborated with Magdalen on finishing it; #2 seemed about the difficulty level of a Friday NYT puzzle, though I again solved that with Magdalen, because we happened to be traveling together yesterday. One of the neat innovations of the series is the ability to nominate an answer (via a "Gold" or "Platinum" membership) for editor Peter Gordon to work into a puzzle. It's not clear if the presence of such answers will be announced or not - I might have to wait till my own nominated answer comes up to find out!
Solving time: 33 mins (solo, no solving aids)
Clue of the puzz: 15a abracadabra {Cry before a disappearance}
Solution

Natan Last
Grid art by Sympathy [about the grid colors]

Crucimetrics
Compilers
Natan Last / Will Shortz
Grid
15x15 with 30 (13.3%) black squares
Answers
72 (average length 5.42)
Theme squares
0 (0.0%)
Scrabble points
302 (average 1.55)
Letters used
ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ
New To Me

Ops16a Ops {Saturn's wife}. I suspect I might have come across this once before, but I need this reminder: Ops has so many cluing options that it isn't often {Saturn's wife}. Apparently Ops is the singular nominative form of the name and only the form Opis was used by classical authors - maybe Daniel Myers can speak to this when out of hospital (get well soon DM). In her statues and coins, Mrs. Saturn - a fertility deity - is figured sitting down and generally holds a scepter or a corn spike as her main attributes.

19a Tosh {Musician who was a trailblazing Rastafarian}. Peter Tosh (1944–1987) was a core member of The Wailers who then went on to have a successful solo career. Along with Bob Marley in the late 1960s, Peter Tosh became a pioneering adherent of the religion known as Rastafari. Here's his 1983 version of Johnny B. Goode.



Delco35a Delco {Longtime name in auto parts}. Delco Electronics was a manufacturing subsidiary of General Motors based in Kokomo, IN. Although it no longer exist, the Delco brand continues to be used by GM. The name comes from the Dayton Engineering Laboratories Co., founded in Dayton, Ohio. The AC often seen in front of the name are the initials of Albert Champion, a pioneer in the development of the spark plug.
Top Ramen/Oodles of Noodles36a Oodles of Noodles {Ramen brand}. What a great 15-letter answer! I didn't know of this product before, but seeing the OOD start and a smattering of other letters, I was able to guess Oodles of Noodles easily enough. The equivalent instant noodles product in the UK is the Pot Noodle, beloved of students and unadventurous cooks; despite huge sales, Pot Noodle was voted the "most hated brand" in the UK in a 2004 poll.

Donatello's Saint Mark12d Donatello {"St. Mark" artist}. Saint Mark is a marble statue that stands approximately seven feet and nine inches high in an exterior niche of the Orsanmichele church, Florence. It was sculpted by the Renaissance Italian artist Donatello between 1411 and 1413, paid for by the linen weaver’s guild, who commissioned three pieces from him. The sculpture has now been replaced by a copy, so that the original can be better looked after in the church museum away from incontinent pigeons.
Bob Marley's grave24d Ann's {Jamaica's St. ___ Bay}. I was going to link this in with Peter Tosh, but it seems the St. Ann's Bay area of Jamaica is more associated with other reggae stars, being the birthplace of Floyd Lloyd, Burning Spear, and Bob Marley. Marley is interred there in the town of Nine Miles, together with his guitar, a soccer ball, a marijuana bud, a ring, and a Bible.

hogan44d hogan {Navajo home}. I've heard of the word hogan, but it's nowhere near as familiar as the tipi (of the many spellings) or the wigwam. Hogans it seems have more permanence as structures, being constructed of logs and mud, with the door traditionally facing east. Apparently the arrival of the railroads, and hence a plentiful supply of cross-ties, prompted larger and more ambitious designs in hexagonal and octagonal shapes.
Vint Cerf51d Cerf {Vint ___, the Father of the Internet}. Vint Cerf is easy to remember if you note that Cerf sounds like surf. I didn't, so forgot him. Cerf is the American computer scientist who is the man most often called "'the father of the Internet". Cerf was a program manager for the US Department of Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) funding various groups to develop TCP/IP technology. When the Internet began to transition to a commercial opportunity, Cerf moved to MCI where he was instrumental in the development of the first commercial email system (MCI Mail) connected to the Internet.

Noteworthy

20a Asti, Italy {European wine center}. This answer struck me as ugly, bordering on the unfair, when solving. Questioning why, I think it has more to do with conventions, as Asti, Italy could arise in speech or in writing ... there is after all an Asti, CA. However, for whatever reasons, constructors rarely use such formations as an answer, which suggests they're considered esthetically inferior; and the fact that they don't get used much means they stick out like a sore thumb when they're dragged in to resolve a particular filling constraint, like the consecutive Is here.

class ring22a Srs. {Matching ring recipients: Abbr.}. Customs such as the wearing of class rings have a certain mystique for me, there being no counterpart where I'm from (AFAIC). I gather the tradition started with the class of 1835 at the United States Military Academy at West Point; it's since spread to high schools and colleges.
41a Sig. {M., in Milan}. Got the idea fairly quickly with this one, but went for Sgr. as an abbreviation for Signor and had to correct it. Presumably the "M." in the clue is short for "Monsieur" ... I guess an attempt to be a little more deceptive than "Mr.".

Ned Flanders60a Ned Flanders {Well-known TV evangelical}. I was convinced this would be one of the many "well-known" TV evangelists I haven't heard of, toying with Red Flinders with the grid close to complete. I realized the Simpsons reference in the nick of time. The stacked 11-letter answers in this corner are just awesome.
4d each {Up}. Hard to imagine a less helpful clue to each than {Up}. I have to think hard in what sense are they equivalent: Merriam-Webster's Collegiate comes to the rescue (this meaning may be specifically American):
up
adverb
11 : for each side <the score is 15 up>
The Rest

1a waterlilies {Pad producers}; 12a Doe {Name in many suit cases}; 15a abracadabra {Cry before a disappearance}; 17a the cat's meow {Something that's just too cool}; 18a nap {Recharging aid}; 23a cay {Small part of an archipelago}; 25a C-note {Ben Franklin}; 26a -ern {Follower of directions}; 27a baa {Cry upon being fleeced?}; 29a Lesh {Grateful Dead bassist Phil}; 31a spelunker {One exploring deeply?}; 38a fruit {It's sometimes forbidden}; 39a foot-loose {Free}; 40a Atco {Classic record label for the Bee Gees and Cream}; 42a res {Monitor setting, briefly}; 43a Fatha {Nickname in pioneering jazz piano}; 45a pod {38-Across variety}; 46a IVs {"Grey's Anatomy" hookups}; 49a sotto voce {Hushed}; 52a Rhea {Mother of the Gods}; 53a Ali {Big name in flooring?}; 54a Generation X {So-called "baby busters"}; 57a mio {Pronoun in 20-Across}; 58a American Pie {Song that mentions "the Father, Son and the Holy Ghost"}; 59a eon {Unit in astronomy}.

1d watts {There are 746 in a single horsepower}; 2d abhor {Can't stomach}; 3d tress {Bun bit}; 5d RCA {Producer of some dishes}; 6d lat {Muscle strengthened in rowing, in brief}; 7d I'd say {Opinion opener}; 8d lams {Skedaddles}; 9d I bet {"Uh-huh"}; 10d Eroica {Work that marked the start of musical Romanticism}; 11d saw in {Admitted politely}; 13d opalesces {Is like a moonstone}; 14d espy {Make out}; 21d Toledos {Finely tempered blades}; 23d cruet {Item next to a salad bowl}; 26d Elliott {E.T.'s pal}; 27d befog {Opposite of clarify}; 28d Arno {The Ponte alle Grazie spans it}; 30d hose {You may work out its kinks}; 31d sofa {Common crash site?}; 32d portfolio {What an art student builds}; 33d Education {Cabinet department}; 34d Kofi {First name in international diplomacy}; 35d doled {Passed (out)}; 37d otro {En ___ tiempo (formerly, to Felipe)}; 41d save me {Help line?}; 45d peril {You're in it if you cry 41-Down}; 46d I hope {Bit of wishful thinking}; 47d venir {To come, in Cádiz or Caen}; 48d saxes {Instruments in Ravel's "Boléro"}; 49d same {Matching}; 50d one-D {Superficial, briefly}; 52d rind {38-Across covering}; 55d aca {Here, in Honduras}; 56d tan {Result of exposing oneself at the beach?}.

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