Thursday, January 7, 2010

NYT Friday 1/8/10 - Different Wavelengths

My experiences with today's themeless New York Times crossword suggest I'm still not quite on Patrick Berry's wavelength, despite working through all the puzzles in his excellent Crossword Puzzle Challenges for Dummies.

The problem wasn't so much that the puzzle was hard, but that I found it difficult to "get" all the clues. I began reasonably well, but it wasn't till I started to get the grid-spanning answers that I was really on my way. I got the lovely bull's-eye lantern first after 7 minutes or so, then as far as I can tell after 16 minutes.

The rest of the grid fell into place really quickly after that, except for gaps in the NW and NE corners. After 21 minutes, I just had five blank squares to fill in - the top left square and the 2x2 area at the top right. Those five blanks took around 6 minutes to work out.

In the NW, CIA and cads looked obvious ... too obvious ... and I didn't find {Repeat offenders?} convincingly led to the latter. I spent a long time thinking about other letters than C for the top left square, without success, and eventually just had to risk going with the obvious. Of course, if I'd known about the Plame affair, there wouldn't have been a problem.

In the NE, the problem was the density of somewhat misleading clues, plus a Harry Potter reference I didn't know. Dealing with this area in the end turned out to be the easier challenge. Ultimately I was just relieved that I got the puzzle right, and in under half an hour.
Solving time: 27 mins (solo, no solving aids)
Clue of the puzz: 56d cue {Prompter action}

Patrick Berry
Grid art by Sympathy [about the grid colors]

Patrick Berry / Will Shortz
15x15 with 32 (14.2%) black squares
70 (average length 5.51)
Theme squares
0 (0.0%)
Scrabble points
278 (average 1.44)
Letters used
New To Me

46a Street {Mason's assistant}. A new one for Pavlov's Guide to Crosswords: "Mason" in a clue means Perry Mason, whose secretary is Della Street. In the famous TV series that ran from 1957 to 1966, Raymond Burr starred as Perry Mason and Barbara Hale as Della Street.

50a Mineo {1950s-'60s actor known as the Switchblade Kid}. Sal Mineo (1939–1976) has cropped up a few times during the last year, so I was happy to recognize him as the answer, even though I didn't know he was the "Switchblade Kid" - a nickname Mineo earned from his role as a criminal in the movie Crime in the Streets. He's also famous for his performance as Plato, playing opposite James Dean in the film Rebel Without a Cause.

French dip60a jus {French dip's dip}. This clue was a bit of a puzzle until I checked out what a French dip sandwich is, viz a hot sandwich consisting of thinly sliced roast beef (or, sometimes, other meats) on a "French roll" or baguette. It is most commonly served au jus ("with juice").

Chevy Lumina61a Lumina {Chevy model discontinued in 2001}. The Chevrolet Lumina was introduced in 1989 for the 1990 model year and was an answer from General Motors to the Ford Taurus. A sedan, coupe and minivan were all sold with that name, but customers got confused, so the Lumina APV was replaced by the Chevrolet Venture in 1997.

62a trap {Deadfall, e.g.}. A deadfall trap apparently consists of a heavy rock or log that is tilted on an angle and held up with sections of sticks, with one of them that serves as a trigger. When the animal moves the trigger which may have bait on or near it, the rock or log falls, crushing the animal. As a rule of thumb, the rock or log selected for use in a deadfall must be at least five times heavier than the weight of the target animal. The Paiute deadfall is a popular variant ... here's how it's done:

1d CIA {Plame affair org.}. The first letter was a problem here, as I had no confidence in 1-Across leading uniquely to cads and couldn't be sure there weren't other orgs. ending -IA. If I'd known of the Plame Affair, I'd have saved several minutes on my solving time. Apparently this involved the leaking of Valerie Plame Wilson's name as a covert CIA officer. Mrs. Wilson's husband, former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson, has stated his opinion in various interviews and subsequent writings (as listed in his 2004 memoir The Politics of Truth) that members of former President George W. Bush's administration revealed Mrs. Wilson's covert status as retribution for his op-ed entitled What I Didn't Find in Africa. Plame wrote a memoir called Fair Game, which is being made into a movie starring Naomi Watts and Sean Penn, scheduled for release this year.

11d Pierre de Ronsard {Charles IX's court poet}. Pierre de Ronsard (1524–1585) rang vague bells, but in any event, the answer was guessable after a few crossings, especially the Pierre de bit. He was known in his time as the "prince of poets". I don't understand a word of it, but this clip appears to be an introduction to and reading of Ronsard's poem Madrigal.

13d Yule {___ Ball, quinquennial dance in Harry Potter}. I had a nasty suspicion this was going to be one of those made-up words like Quidditch or Floo. So I was thankful that the familiar Yule appeared to work. The Yule Ball is apparently a tradition of the Triwizard Tournament, a formal dance held on Christmas Eve of a tournament year. A delightful reference if you actually know the books or movies, but rather flat if you don't.

26d ¡Ándale! {Speedy Gonzales cry}. I don't remember ever watching Speedy Gonzales "The Fastest Mouse in all Mexico" as a kid. Did Speedy even make it to UK screens? He was voiced by Mel Blanc and has the catchphrase "¡Ándale! ¡Ándale! ¡Arriba! ¡Arriba!" (Spanish for "Go on! Go on! Up! Up!).

La Maja Desnuda50d Maja {Goya's "La ___ Desnuda"}. La maja desnuda (known in English as The Naked Maja) is one of a pair (with La maja vestida - The Clothed Maja), showing the same model, in the same pose, undressed and dressed. Both were executed around 1800 and are usually displayed together in the Museo del Prado in Madrid.

Nino Benvenuti53d Nino {Italian boxer Benvenuti}. Another case where I thought the answer was going to be a name I didn't know, but ultimately turned out to be a familiar word. Giovanni Benvenuti, nicknamed Nino, is considered by many to be the greatest boxer ever to have come from Italy. He won the welterweight gold medal for Italy in the 1960 Olympics in Rome. At the end of his amateur career he had an outstanding record of 120 wins and only one loss.


1a cads {Repeat offenders?}. Currently my least fav clue of the puzzle, because I still don't get a good sense of why cads should be the answer. It didn't help that I started out with the answer apes, for which the clue seems well-suited. I assume the point is that cads cause offense, and repeatedly so, but is that necessarily the case? Maybe if I'd known about the Plame Affair - and perhaps anyone in the US in 2003 would - I'd have accepted this loose definition.

21a three {Weak heart, for example?}. Nicely misleading, but my recent attempts to learn contract bridge made it easy to see through this and think of a low card.

37a bull's-eye lantern {Night light used by Sherlock Holmes}. The sort of reference I love to see in puzzles. I'm guessing the bull's-eye lantern made an appearance in The Red-Headed League (which has a scene involving lanterns), but I'm prepared to be wrong. Ok, I've looked for a citation, but can't find one ... anyone have a concordance? Could it be that Holmes only used bull's-eye lanterns in adaptations and not in the original canon?

43a test {Cricket match}. For once a clue that's a whole lot easier for me than anyone else. A test match in cricket is an international match lasting up to five days, usually one of a series. Here's a short clip as a taster of what test cricket is about:

7d Raise the Titanic {Clive Cussler best seller made into a 1980 film}. Another great grid-spanning answer. I knew of the movie because of Lew Grade's famous quote about the 1980 flop, that "It would have been cheaper to lower the Atlantic". I wasn't aware that Clive Cussler wrote the novel, but he seemed a plausible candidate. This trailer does such a great job of a precis that I don't think you actually need to watch the movie itself after seeing it.

19d The Net {1995 thriller about identity theft}. Amazed to see a date of 1995 on this movie, as I thought identity theft didn't really get publicity until more recently. The Net stars Sandra Bullock as a reclusive software programmer whose life is threatened after she discovers a conspiracy to obtain data held on government computers. Ah, 3½-inch diskettes ... those were the days!

The Rest

5a shroud {Cover}; 11a pry {Ask too much?}; 14a I bet {Sarcastic reply}; 15a coarse {Unsuitable for mixed company}; 16a IOU {Note traded for bills}; 17a as far as I can tell {"That's how it looks to me, anyway"}; 20a elates {Cheers}; 22a tanks {Does badly at the box office}; 24a eraser {Rubber}; 27a IRS {Org. that awaits your return}; 28a hasten {Hightail}; 31a near {In the vicinity of}; 34a Doe {John no one knows}; 35a etched {Like some glasswork}; 36a Edda {13th-century literary classic}; 40a I see {Therapist's comment}; 41a Attila {King defeated at Châlons}; 42a rid {Disembarrass}; 44a shiner {Eye shadow?}; 45a oar {Put in one's ___ (interfere)}; 48a Kenny {"South Park" boy}; 52a angels {White robe wearers}; 55a American Indians {Crows and others}; 63a ass {Jack, for one}; 64a sea-cow {Docile marine mammal}; 65a edgy {Daring, in a way}.

2d abs {Things used during crunch time?}; 3d defenselessness {Extreme exposure}; 4d stalk {Follow closely}; 5d scat! {"Vamoose!"}; 6d hose {Cheat, slangily}; 8d orc {Member of Sauron's army}; 9d USA {Miss ___}; 10d dents {Dings}; 12d role {It may be played for money}; 18d rashes {Irritated reactions}; 22d tidbit {Chocolate chip, e.g.}; 23d arouse {Stir to action}; 25d reel in {Land}; 29d at ease {Words that affect one's standing?}; 30d scythe {Father Time's prop}; 32d Adrian {Monk's first name on "Monk"}; 33d ran dry {Stopped flowing}; 38d letter {Thorn, once}; 39d narked {Acted as an informant}; 47d roils {Muddies up}; 49d elite {Carriage trade}; 51d Imus {1989 Radio Hall of Fame inductee}; 54d gnaw {Not just nibble}; 56d cue {Prompter action}; 57d AMA {Practice overseers: Abbr.}; 58d nag {Not just nudge}; 59d spy {Invisible ink user}.


Daniel Myers said...

Anent Holmes and the bull's eye lantern: Here is a brief passage from "The Sign of Four":

“Lend me your bull’s eye, Sergeant,” said my companion. “Now tie this bit of card round my neck, so as to hang it in front of me. Thank you. Now I must kick off my boots and stockings. Just you carry them down with you, Watson. I am going to do a little climbing. And dip my handkerchief into the creosote. That will do. Now come up into the garret with me for a moment.”

We clambered up through the hole. Holmes turned his light once more upon the footsteps in the dust.

Crossword Man said...

Well done for tracking that down! My mistake was searching for "bull's eye lantern" as a string, which didn't find the above.

The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes maintains that "card" in the above passage was a misprint for "cord", corrected in all but the magazine and early book editions.

Daniel Myers said...

Yes "cord" makes much more sense! Thanks. It's been ages sense I've read the stories - Doyle, along w/ Tolkien, is part of my mis-spent youth.

Actually,I used "bull's eye lantern" as a string myself. Whatever one may think of the furore surrounding Google's digital copying, if you search their "Books" section, and the book in question isn't under copyright protection anymore, it's a godsend!

Crossword Man said...

I still read Sherlock Holmes (though not Tolkien). It's comfort reading for me and a bit of a guilty pleasure. One thing that kept the stories alive for me was the great Granada series with Jeremy Brett which I saw when first aired and then again on video. That really brings out the humor in the writing, which I appreciate much more now - when I read the stories as a kid, the mechanics of the case was everything.

Daniel Myers said...

Please pardon the homonymic typo of "sense" above - Funny that, I still read Tolkien as comfort reading, but not Doyle. However, ever SINCE you put a clip of one of the Jeremy Brett videos on this blog, and I checked youtube and dicovered that you could watch them all, in entirety, FOR FREE, it's been an escapist pleasure for me to do so. Yes, the humo(u)r is quite apparent to me now. "Surely you've read my monograph on the (however many) types of tobacco Watson..."

BTW, that was the first time I'd seen "string" used in your CPing SENSE SINCE my mis-spent youth as well - writing GOSUBs and FOR NEXT loops on my old Commodore 64 in GW-Basic. I'm afraid I'm not much cop at current programming languages, save wiki code, if that counts, for my occasional additions to wikipedia.

Crossword Man said...

Be sure to see The Red-Headed League, if you haven't done so already - my favorite episode of the Brett adaptation. Just checked the text to confirm use of a "dark lantern" in it - looks to be different from a bull's eye in having an off switch (of a sort).

Wiki code surely counts - have any of my posts referenced your work yet?

Daniel Myers said...

I remember the story well, especially Watson's initial reaction to seeing the client walking down the street: "Pity the poor lunatic." (paraphrase) and the copying work and the underground tunnel, but I haven't seen the episode yet. Perhaps tonight.---No, I don't THINK any of your posts have referenced my work yet. Wikipedia is HUGE, as you are no doubt very aware. And also, I fear I'm a tad absent-minded. I simply can't remember all the posts I've made in the past three years or so.

Crossword Man said...

Not to mention the "manufactory of artificial knee-caps" as the false address Jabez Wilson goes to. I see something of myself in Mr. Wilson, doggedly working through the encyclopedia and finding something interesting in every article, whether it be Abbots, Archery, Armour or Attica. [Doyle's research ability was less extraordinary than his imagination, as it's been calculated that Mr. Wilson would have copied at a rate of 557.25 words per minute.]