Friday, January 22, 2010

NYT Saturday 1/23/10 - Mop Up Operation

This Saturday New York Times crossword seemingly went well for me, but that may have been more by luck than judgment, as I was aware of two crossings where I could easily have made errors (see below). For me, this was enough to make the puzzle a bit less fun than yesterday's, although I very much enjoyed the Z-rich answers in the NW.

The top half of the grid turned out the easier of the two and I'd finished it after 12 minutes (bar the 6a/6d intersection). The bottom half ended up taking around the same time, the long downs Zeta-Jones and Anglicans being very helpful in suggesting Jimmy Crack Corn.

The crossing of 56a Kelsey and 52d Oslin was the main trouble spot in the bottom half, and I don't think much could have been done about that in the cluing ... these were surnames you either knew or didn't and I had to go by vague memories of the country singer to get this right. Something might have been done about the 6a Mott and 6d mop crossing, where a more helpful clue to the latter would have saved a lot of heartache for those unfamiliar with New York City's Chinatown.

It's time to mention some cruciverbal developments at the Wall Street Journal: I was tipped off by an editor that the paper would start featuring a monthly cryptic crossword from the masters of the form in the US, Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon. We sought out a dead tree edition of the paper when we were in D.C. and sure enough the Journal Saturday Puzzle was a lovely cryptic by Cox & Rathvon, amusingly referring to their "relocation" via the theme of the crossword. It's good to see a new outlet for quality cryptics, given their retreat from The Atlantic.

I gather the WSJ's Saturday Puzzle rotation will in addition feature:
  • (from Patrick Berry and Mike Shenk) a novelty word puzzle every two weeks that explodes the usual across-and-down grid and replaces it with snakes, snowflakes, honeycombs, and other mind-bending shapes
  • an acrostic every four weeks (from Mr Shenk)
 These puzzles can be found online at the WSJ Puzzles blog.
Solving time: 22 mins (solo, no solving aids)
Clue of the puzz: 48a Isaac {Stern playing?}

Karen M. Tracey
Grid art by Sympathy [about the grid colors]

Karen M. Tracey / Will Shortz
15x15 with 29 (12.9%) black squares
70 (average length 5.60)
Theme squares
0 (0.0%)
Scrabble points
341 (average 1.74)
Letters used
New To Me

Mott Street6a Mott {Unofficial "Main Street" of New York's Chinatown}. One of two big trouble spots in the puzzle. I wasn't confident about 6-Down and didn't know Mott St. In the end 6-Down decided it, because the street could have started with virtually any letter of the alphabet, for all I knew. Given this is the New York Times puzzle, I guess I can't complain too much! Mott Street runs from Chatham Square in the south to Bleecker Street in the north. It became an enclave for Chinese immigrants after a Chinese merchant opened a general store there in 1872. Today it's lined with souvenir shops, tea houses and restaurants, all catering largely to tourists. The historic general store closed in 2003.

26a Isabel {Archer of literature}. Not a writer this time ... Isabel Archer is the "lady" of Henry James's The Portrait of a Lady. Isabel Archer is a spirited young American woman who "affronts her destiny" and finds it overwhelming. She inherits a large amount of money and subsequently becomes the victim of Machiavellian scheming by two American expatriates in Italy. Nicole Kidman starred as Isabel in the 1996 movie adaptation.

Suva33a Suva {Capital on the island of Viti Levu}. Suva is the capital and largest city of Fiji, which consists of about 322 islands, the major ones being Viti Levu and Vanua Levu, accounting for 87% of the population.

50a Jimmy Crack Corn {Old song with the lyric "When he would ride in the afternoon / I'd follow him with my hickory broom"}. I knew the song from a Round the Horne episode (of all things), which helped, even though I couldn't recognize it from those lyrics. Jimmy Crack Corn is thought to be an old blackface minstrel song, first performed in the United States in the 1840s. On the surface, the song is a black slave's lament over his master's death. The song, however, has a subtext of rejoicing over that death, and possibly having caused it by deliberate negligence. It was hard to find an authentic rendering among all the Eminem clips, but I managed to locate a good one from Burl Ives (1909–1995).

56a Kelsey {1-Down counselor Ann}; 1d L.A. Law {"ER" replaced it on NBC's schedule in 1994}. L. A. Law is something of a rarity for me: a US-made drama that I watched regularly back in the UK. Maybe that's because I knew I'd be married to an American lawyer one day and wanted to learn about the legal life stateside? All those hours watching the shows didn't help me remember Ann Kelsey, the lawyer played by Jill Eikenberry; her real-life husband Michael Tucker was also on the show as Stuart Markowitz.

2d Erika {"Traffic" actress Christensen}; 29d Zeta-Jones {"Chicago" Oscar winner}. Erika Christensen plays Caroline Wakefield, teenage daughter of the drug tsar, in the 2000 crime drama Traffic. This movie also stars Catherine Zeta-Jones, but her clue is devoted to Chicago (2002), in which she plays Velma Kelly.

10d Amelias {Fielding and Menotti title heroines}. References in two rather different domains. Henry Fielding's Amelia is a sentimental novel published in 1751, Fielding's fourth and last novel. Amelia al Ballo (Amelia Goes to the Ball) was the first mature opera by Gian Carlo Menotti (1911–2007).

32d Tessa {Actress Allen}. A little unusual to have a not-so-well-known actress clued without reference to a role. Tessa Allen is a teen actress who debuted in Enough starring as Gracie, the young daughter of Jennifer Lopez's character. Before that, she had appeared in a great many commercials as the canonical cute kid. I wonder if she has a stage mom (aaaargh!)?

52d Oslin {K. T. of country}. I'd have preferred the vague bells that K. T. Oslin rang to have been slightly clearer, especially with another obscure proper name crossing (Kelsey). The other option I seriously considered was Ollin/Kelley. Oslin is known for a series of top-ten country hits (most of which were self-penned) during the mid- to late-1980s, four of which topped the chart.


17a Livia {Wife of Augustus}. All those hours watching I, Clavdivs paid off, as this was a rare gimme in an end-of-week puzzle. Based on the Robert Graves book, Livia is portrayed as a wicked, scheming political mastermind, who aggressively promoted her own bloodline in the succession of emperors. Siân Phillips won a BAFTA for her portrayal of the role.

48a Isaac {Stern playing?}. Neat clue. Does Isaac Stern (1920–2001) come up enough to warrant inclusion in Pavlov's Guide to Crosswords? I'm guessing not. As the owner of many of Isaac's recordings, I had no difficulty with this one. Here he is playing the great Bach Double Concerto with Shlomo Mintz.

6d mop {One with a replaceable head}. Given the crossing with Mott, I'd have preferred something a little more specific here. Although mops can have replaceable heads, do they necessarily? ... I'm still unclear on the conventions for indicating the general by the specific in American crosswords. Anyway, I couldn't be 100% sure that mop was right here, but just had to go with it and got lucky again.

41d samisen {Instrument played with a spatula}. The samisen is a three-stringed Japanese musical instrument resembling a banjo. It's played with a bachi (which could also be translated as "plectrum"), traditionally made with ivory or tortoise shell but now usually wooden, and shaped like a ginkgo leaf. Here's a great clip of "dueling" samisens.

The Rest

1a leapt {Acted impulsively}; 10a APBs {They might prevent getaways, briefly}; 14a Arnaz {He starred as himself in "Cuban Pete," 1946}; 15a Oreo {Treat with a "Golden" variety}; 16a moot {Doubtful}; 18a panatella {Smoke with straight sides}; 20a akin to {Like}; 22a to-do list {Agenda}; 23a waltzes off with {Wins easily}; 25a eider {Nest down}; 28a Ozark {___ Plateau (U.S. region)}; 31a ests. {They're in the neighborhood: Abbr.}; 34a hen {Source of valuable deposits}; 35a I am {Self expression?}; 37a ehs {Responses of confusion}; 39a rip {One may be in stitches}; 40a mtgs. {Chairmen often call them: Abbr.}; 42a refs {Calls}; 44a nooks {Potential hiding places}; 46a salaam {Respectful greeting}; 55a sociable {Not withdrawn}; 57a on a streak {Hot}; 59a pulse {Living proof?}; 60a bene {Italian well}; 61a Arno {River with historic flooding in 1966}; 62a idiot {Goober}; 63a assn. {A.M.A. member?: Abbr.}; 64a tkts. {B'way buys}; 65a tends {Inclines}.

3d anvil {Aid in forging}; 4d painter {One canvasing?}; 5d tzatziki {Gyro sauce}; 7d orators {Their addresses are moving}; 8d ten of {Near the hour}; 9d toad-fish {Grunting, slimy-skinned swimmer}; 11d Politburo {Lenin's body}; 12d Bolshevik {Lenin, for one}; 13d stat {Saves, say}; 19d tows {Some emergency services}; 21d OED {It has hundreds of thousands of meanings: Abbr.}; 24d see me {Curt summons}; 27d laps {Swimmers do them}; 28d ohms {Resistor measures}; 30d Anglicans {Book of Common Prayer readers}; 36d army brat {Kid with no hometown, often}; 38d snake pit {Scene of horror and confusion}; 43d fire ant {Major pest in the South}; 45d occlude {Block}; 47d amat {One of a loving trio?}; 49d ack! {"Oh, no!"}; 51d clerk {Court figure}; 53d resod {Do some green maintenance}; 54d nyets {11-Down dissents}; 55d soba {Nagasaki noodle}; 58d KOs {Takes down}.

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