Friday, January 29, 2010

NYT Saturday 1/30/10 - The Real Diehl

Ow! Ow! Ow! I came in for heavy punishment from this Saturday New York Times crossword. It seemed to start OK in the NE corner, but then I got completely bogged down in the center and couldn't get a toehold in any of the other corners until I had cracked those long answers.

I must have footled around for about half an hour getting nowhere until, after 45 minutes, things suddenly began to gel and I had the NW unexpectedly finished around the hour and the SW two minutes later. This gave me hope that I could complete the horrible bottom right section, and I happily did after a further ten minutes.

It's hard to say why this puzzle caused so much trouble: maybe the number of ambiguities in the cluing ... there is evidence of crossings out like never before. For example, I had all-out assault at 33-Across, aqua at 5-Down, goes away/awol at 55-Across, etc etc. Only the NE corner went in cleanly, although it was ironic {Like Chekhov's "The Cherry Orchard"} that this was where my only uncertainty lay ... the Cav and Caniff crossing was a worry.

I think this may be the first time that the fabled increase in difficulty through the week has actually been evident in my solving times. Let's see ... we had 6 mins (Monday), 7 mins, 14 mins, 16 mins, 29 mins, 72 mins (Saturday). It's often the case that the Saturday puzzle is easier for me than Friday's ...certainly not this week!
Solving time: 72 mins (solo, no solving aids)
Clue of the puzz: 31d army {Major employer}

Mark Diehl
Grid art by Sympathy [about the grid colors]

CompilersMark Diehl / Will Shortz
Grid15x15 with 32 (14.2%) black squares
Answers64 (average length 6.03)
Theme squares0 (0.0%)
Scrabble points292 (average 1.51)
New To Me

19a Steely Dan {Group whose 1972 debut album "Can't Buy a Thrill" went platinum}. After yesterday, I feel I need to be clearer about this: I had heard of the group Steely Dan, but everything else about the clue is New To Me today. The American rock group is centered on core members Walter Becker and Donald Fagen and continues to tour. Here's their hit single "Do It Again" from that debut album.

Orly35a Orly {Alternative to Beauvais}. Notwithstanding my former relative proximity to Paris, I don't know the airports there at all well. There are apparently four Parisian airports: Paris-Charles de Gaulle Airport (the main international airport); Paris-Orly Airport (the second international airport); Paris Beauvais Tillé Airport (the city's airport for budget airlines); Paris - Le Bourget Airport (the original city airport). A little unkind to clue Orly with respect to the third biggest, and not the biggest, one!

43a Gödel {Co-winner of the first Albert Einstein Award, 1951}. Yes, I'd heard of Kurt Gödel, not least because of  Douglas Hofstadter's Godel, Escher, Bach. I hadn't previously encountered the Albert Einstein Award, which was endowed by the Lewis and Rosa Strauss Memorial Fund in honor of Albert Einstein's 70th birthday. In fact Gödel was the first honoree, with theoretical physicist Julian Schwinger.

45a Ed McMahon {Late entertainer who was known for his laugh}. Now if the clue had said something about "Here's Johnny", I might have known the context, even if I couldn't remember who Johnny Carson's announcer was. So Ed McMahon (1923–2009) had a famous laugh too? I'll see if I can find a clip (I wonder if it's all it's cracked up to be?!). Here is also a good reminder of that cheer occasionally featured in crosswords, which Johnny in the guise of Carnac the Magnificent defines as "the sound made when a sheep explodes".

Certs54a Retsyn {Certs ingredient}. I thought Certs was a brand name of some kind, but couldn't pin it down during solving and just had to trust to the crossings here. I see now it's a breath mint and Retsyn is the trademarked name for the combination of copper gluconate and partially hydrogenated cottonseed oil that is apparently effective against breath odors. The copper gluconate is also responsible for Retsyn's green color.

2d Anita {One of the Pointer Sisters}. Again, I'd heard of The Pointer Sisters, but could I name any of them? No. And I didn't realize until today that Pointer is their actual surname. Sisters June and Bonnie Pointer began performing in 1969 as "Pointers, a Pair". They became a quartet when Anita Pointer joined, followed by Ruth, right before they recorded their debut album. They achieved their greatest commercial success later as a trio consisting of Anita, June, and Ruth, after Bonnie left the group to commence a solo career. Here's I'm So Excited from 1982.

Cavs9d Cav {Ohio pro, for short}. Tough, because I kept thinking of Mav and couldn't pin them down geographically (in fact, that answer would be defined as {Texas pro, for short}. In the end, I just had to rely on memory of Milt Caniff to save me, and went with Cav, which I see now is a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Lassen Peak24d Lassen {California peak}. My money was on the seemingly more likely Larsen, which was one of several reasons for a hold-up in the center. Lassen Peak is the southernmost active volcano in the Cascade Range. It is part of the Cascade Volcanic Arc which stretches from northern California to southwestern British Columbia. Lassen Peak has the distinction of being the only volcano in the Cascades other than Mount St. Helens to erupt during the 20th century. On May 22, 1915, an explosive eruption at Lassen Peak devastated nearby areas and rained volcanic ash as far away as 200 miles to the east.

27d Amanda {Cross of mysteries}. Carolyn Gold Heilbrun (1926–2003) was an academic and prolific feminist author who wrote fourteen Kate Fansler mysteries under the pen name Amanda Cross. Heilbrun kept her second career as a mystery novelist secret in order to protect her academic career, until a fan discovered "Amanda Cross"'s true identity through copyright records. The novels, all set in academia, often were an outlet for Heilbrun's view on feminism, academic politics, and other political issues. Death in a Tenured Position (the 1981 Nero Award winner set at Harvard University) was particularly harsh in its criticism of the academic establishment's treatment of women.


Steve Canyon9a Caniff {"Steve Canyon" cartoonist}. I vaguely remembered Milt Caniff (1907–1988) from one encounter with Steve Canyon last year and the invaluable The Comics Since 1945, which I flip through in idle moments. Essential to know this if you are vague on Ohio basketball teams. Caniff drew the strip from 1947 until his death in 1988, winning the Reuben Award for it in 1971.
Tacoma26a Tacoma {Toyota pickup named for a U.S. city}. Had to get a couple of crossings to secure this, which was a shame as I dearly needed help in the center. The Tacoma is a compact pickup manufactured by the Toyota Motor Company since 1995. Tacoma itself is a port city in Washington state and the county seat of  Pierce County. The name derives from the Native American name for nearby Mount Rainier, which was originally called Mount Tacoma or Mount Tahoma. 
8d strap on a feed-bag {Get ready for chow}. A lovely grid-spanning answer, which has a Wodehouseian ring to my mind (as applied to humans and not horses). Yes, here's an example from Indiscretions of Archie (1921).
There was little conversation. The growing boy evidently did not believe in table-talk when he could use his mouth for more practical purposes. It was not until the final roll had been devoured to its last crumb that the guest found leisure to address his host. Then he leaned back with a contented sigh.

"Mother," said the human python, "says you ought to chew every mouthful thirty-three times...."

"Yes, sir! Thirty-three times!" He sighed again, "I haven't ever had meal like that."

"All right, was it, what?"

"Was it! Was it! Call me up on the 'phone and ask me!-Yes, sir!-Mother's tipped off these darned waiters not to serve-me anything but vegetables and nuts and things, darn it!"

"The mater seems to have drastic ideas about the good old feed-bag, what!"
From Indiscretions of Archie by P.G.Wodehouse
The Rest

1a cat hairs {Allergy source}; 15a onion set {Small planted bulb}; 16a atonal {Lacking a signature, say}; 17a pit-viper {Diamondback, for one}; 18a vestry {Church room}; 21a a heap {Plenty}; 22a Earl {Robin Hood, the ___ of Huntington}; 23a pelt {Indian barter item}; 25a GPA {No. usually figured to two decimals}; 29a fras {Giocondo and Angelico}; 30a warm one's heart {Make a person feel good}; 33a aerial assault {Shock-and-awe strategy}; 34a diamond fields {Sources of some Zimbabwean exports}; 36a doesn't {"Who ___?"}; 37a dbl. {Substantial hit: Abbr.}; 38a sane {Hardly balmy}; 39a paso {Part of una salsa}; 49a ironic {Like Chekhov's "The Cherry Orchard"}; 51a bloopers {Overthrows, e.g.}; 52a enigma {Head-scratcher}; 53a à la carte {Not together}; 55a gets lost {Absents oneself}.

1d copse {Small stand}; 3d titer {Strength of a solution}; 4d hovel {Neighborhood eyesore}; 5d anil {Navy relative}; 6d I-spy {Game with a spotter}; 7d reed {English horn, e.g.}; 10d ate at {Worried}; 11d nosh {Little something}; 12d integrals {Limits of some sums}; 13d far apart {Nowhere near an agreement}; 14d flypast {Go by quickly}; 20d nemesis {Macduff, to Macbeth}; 26d trio {The witches in "Macbeth," e.g.}; 28d cold one {Pub pull}; 29d feud {Long row}; 30d we all do it {Blame-diffusing words}; 31d army {Major employer}; 32d halt {Pull up}; 33d airborne {Not grounded}; 34d dodgier {Relatively hard to pin down}; 38d slimy {Vile}; 39d Papal {___ States}; 40d a Hero {Thackeray's "Vanity Fair: A Novel Without ___"}; 41d sorts {What a loser may be out of}; 42d onset {First sign}; 44d engs. {Many Caltech grads: Abbr.}; 46d Mlle. {M.'s counterpart}; 47d coat {Judging point at a dog show}; 48d mocs {Comfy wear}; 50d can {Preserve ... or get rid of}.


Paul Keller said...

I thought this was kind of a lousy puzzle. Whether I got the answers myself or with your help, the "Really?"s outweighed the "Aha!"s.

Case in point, "Cat Hairs". Skipping the point about "hairs" being a dubious alternative to hair, cat hair is an allergen, or carries an allergen, it is not the source of the allergy. Dust doesn't cause an allergy, one has an allergy to dust and an allergic reaction to dust. Am I missing something?

And "Overthrows, e.g." for "Bloopers"? Maybe for "boots one", but if the answer is bloopers than why even clue the answer at all? You have to doubt you are right even with the entire answer spelled out.

Am I missing something about these harder puzzles? Are hard puzzles achieved by bad clueing? Shouldn't the correct answer be at least as satsifactory as the incorrect alternatives?

Crossword Man said...

Hi Paul. There's often a fine line between finding a puzzle great because it is tough and you just manage to finish it and lousy, because you have to give up. This one was just the right side of the line for me, but I can see how on a different night, it might have got the bird.

{Allergy source} for cat hairs may be unscientific, but I thought it OK when solved. I can't really speak to the bloopers clue, being a baseball neophyte.

Yes, the difficulty in these harder puzzles does often come from ambiguous cluing and that needs to be leavened with cluing that is difficult in other ways (e.g. misleads you about part of speech, capitalization, etc), but otherwise unambiguous, or solver frustration results.

Anonymous said...

actually I found The SW corner clues to be alarmingly bad-faithed. I had AHERO, PAPAL, ONSET and EDMCMAHON and still couldn't finish the corner without reference at rexP nyt &al.

bloopers, alacarte, mlle and sorts were all clued in ways wich were basically just frustrating.

still enjoyed COLDONE and a few others. I found titer anil and ispy and still couldn t figure out i was right lol


Crossword Man said...

You mean the SE Norm? Yes, a nightmare puzzle ... it's all coming back to me now. I must have been enjoying the challenge though, because an hour is normally my limit before I run screaming to my wife for help!