Wednesday, January 6, 2010

NYT Thursday 1/7/10 - Fire Ants

My solving time for this Thursday New York Times crossword was fairly disastrous, but I found the puzzle fun anyway. One thing that held me up was thinking other pests than ANTs might appear: this would be typical in the sort of British thematic cryptics I do, but rebuses in American puzzles tend to be more stylized and only include one type of rebus square.

It took a while before I worked out that there were rebus squares at all: after nine minutes I had got all the way down to the SE corner and figured out pest control; maybe its clue seeded an idea in my head, because I discovered the first rebus square just two minutes later.

Knowing roughly what was going on wasn't a huge help, because you still didn't know where to expect other ANTs and the clues affected by the rebus squares are among the hardest to solve because neither answer is of the expected length. For example, {Trig function} at 20-Down is tough until you know you're looking for a 3 or 6 letter word, not a 4-letter word.

The areas I had most difficulty with stretched in a stripe from the NW corner to half way up the middle on the right. Cracking 20-Down was critical, as it split the unsolved section into two, giving help with both halves.

The ten clues having to satisfy two different answers must have been tough to write and I think they're sometimes great and sometimes bordering on the unfair. {Trig function} and {Pole position?} exemplify when the idea really works well. On the other hand, {They may have titles} for pageants/pages is just too unspecific, while {Enemy encounter} for combatant, {Set upon a slope, say} for sled are a big stretch and hard to rationalize. If {Yankee fighter} for Giant is meant to refer to the New York Yankees and San Francisco Giants then that seems a little unsatisfactory given they play in different leagues, so would only meet in the World Series.

Fireball CrosswordsMore news of Fireball Crosswords: editor Peter Gordon says the relaunch of the New York Sun crossword series as a weekly pay-to-play crossword will begin on Thursday January 14. I've signed up and eagerly await an additional challenging puzzle to try each week.
Solving time: 31 mins (solo, no solving aids)
Clue of the puzz: 23a ride {Teacups, e.g.}

Xan Vongsathorn
Grid art by Sympathy [about the grid colors]


Five rebus squares contain ANTs. Each clue to the ten answers crossing these can be read as either indicating the full answer (including the ANT) or the answer without the ANT. This is indicated by 57d/65a pest control {Extermination ... or what can be done to 10 answers in this puzzle without affecting their clues?}.
8a pageants/pages {They may have titles}
16a combatant/combat {Enemy encounter}
32a fantabulous/fabulous {Absolutely terrific}
40a antagonizes/agonizes {Gets upset}
58a Antarctic/Arctic {Pole position?}
7d slanted/sled {Set upon a slope, say}
12d antacid/acid {Something that might work on a full stomach?}
20d secant/sec. {Trig function}
29d Giant/G.I. {Yankee fighter}
45d I want in!/I win! {Cry at a poker game, maybe}
Xan Vongsathorn / Will Shortz
15x15 with 37 (16.4%) black squares
78 (average length 4.82)
Theme squares
65 (34.6%)
Scrabble points
309 (average 1.64)
Letters used
New To Me

19a Hesse {"The Glass Bead Game" novelist}. It seems Hermann Hesse comes up a lot in American grids ... those Ss and Es are easy to fit around. If you need a five-letter literature Nobelist, odds-on it's Hesse (or possibly Eliot). The Glass Bead Game (Das Glasperlenspiel in the original German) is his last work - an infant of long gestation - begun in 1931 but not published until 1943 in Switzerland (the era making publication in Germany difficult).

45a issue {Appearance of O or W}. Pavlov's Guide to Crosswords was somewhat helpful here, as it had O, the Oprah magazine, but I've only just added W, the American fashion monthly. I remember now, the latter recently featured a photo Magdalen showed me, of Demi Moore (of the three husbands) with what appears to be a poorly "photo-shopped" hip.

3d Mr. Met {Citi Field mascot}. We've only seen an affiliate of the New York Mets - the Binghamton Mets - and their mascots are Ballwinkle and Buddy the Bee. Mr. Met is more of a Major League Mascot and has been elected to the Mascot Hall of Fame. To be eligible for the Mascot Hall of Fame, a mascot must have existed for a minimum of 10 years. Mascot HOF honorees must also impact both their sport and community, inspire their fans, and consistently give memorable and groundbreaking performances.

6d Mathis {His 1959 album "Heavenly" was #1 for five weeks}. Familiar with Johnny Mathis, though not being a fan (and in the womb when this album came out) I was unaware of Heavenly. Mathis continues to perform, but from 2000 onwards has limited his concert engagements to just fifty to sixty appearances per year! Here's the title track from the cited album, penned by Burt Bacharach.

25d d'Abo {Actress Olivia of "Law & Order: Criminal Intent"}. This seems to be the first time I've come across Olivia d'Abo, who ought to appear more in crosswords, given her unusual four-letter surname. She's British, which explains why she plays a villainess on Law & Order: Criminal Intent ... sometimes I think Brits only get to play villains in American-produced TV and movies. Her character one-L Nicole Wallace is a con artist, thief and serial killer - the archnemesis of Det. Robert Goren. Not to be confused with two-L Nicolle Wallace, campaign advisor for Sarah Palin.

27d hams {Soupy Sales and others}. Ok, I've read a lot of stuff about Soupy Sales (1926–2009) and I still don't know why he should exemplify hams. I think of hams as unintentionally overacting, and I'm not sure Soupy falls into that category. Readers, help if you can. Here's one of his shows from 1965.

Shinzo Abe28d Abe {Former Japanese P.M. Shinzo ___}. How can a constructor not clue Abe via Abraham Lincoln, reuniter of the nation? I think it's a little unpatriotic, not to say mean, to reference Shinzo Abe, the 57th Prime Minister of Japan. Abe was elected in September 2006, but resigned abruptly in September 2007 after mounting political pressure, to be replaced by Yasuo Fukuda.

33d Lion {Ali, the ___ of God}. The Lion of God (Asad-ullah in Arabic) is one of the titles of Ali, cousin and son-in-law of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, who ruled over the Islamic Caliphate from 656 to 661. Sunni Muslims consider Ali the fourth and final of the Rashidun (rightly guided Caliphs), while Shi'a Muslims regard Ali as the first Imam and consider him and his descendants the rightful successors to Muhammad, all of which are members of the Ahl al-Bayt, the household of Muhammad. This disagreement split the Muslim community into the Sunni and Shi'a branches.

34d Orr {CBS newsman Bob}. Weird to have both Bobby Orr and Bob Orr as cluing options. I'm much more familiar with the former, as he seems to get used most of the time for this answer. Bob Orr is the Justice/Homeland Security & Aviation Correspondent for CBS News. He gets to report on incidents like the attempted terrorist bombing of Flight 253.

46d Shane {Title film character who's idolized by a boy named Joey}. Not a reference I recognized, though I've heard of the movie itself. In Shane (1953), Joey Starrett (Brandon De Wilde) looks up to the gunslinger Shane, played by Alan Ladd.


23a ride {Teacups, e.g.}. This one really had me tearing my hair out, but I was happy to forgive when I eventually gave up on sine at 20-Down and recognized why ride should be the answer. Of course, the clue refers to fairground rides with spinning teacups, such as the Mad Tea Party at Disneyland and elsewhere.

ikebana37a ikebana {Japanese flower-arranging art}. Knew this from a book my mother has/had ... she loved her WI meetings and would often come back with some new technique to put into practice. Ikebana (Japanese for "arranged flower") is a minimalist form of flower-arranging in which all areas of the plant are emphasized and attention is paid to shape, line and form.
biscuit tin44a tin {Biscuit holder}. Is the "Biscuit" meant to indicate a specifically British usage? We had biscuit tins at home, but don't Americans also keep cookies in tins? I suppose the jar is the standard cookie container though.

23d Rosanne {Cash in the music business}. Seen Rosanne Cash at least once before in an NYT crossword, so wasn't about to be fooled this time. Rosanne (only one E) is the eldest daughter of Johnny Cash (1932–2003); although she is often classified as a country artist, her music draws on many genres, including folk, pop, rock and blues. Here's Second to No One from her fourth studio album, Rhythm & Romance (1985).

50d Perec {Georges with the best seller "Life: A User's Manual"}. George Perec (1936–1982) is perhaps more famous with wordplay aficionados for his lipogram novel La disparition (1969), translated into English as A Void (1994) - the letter E is absent from the text. He also wrote a complementary univocalic piece in which the letter E is the only vowel used - the novella Les revenentes (1972).

59d tie {Distinctive Dilbert feature}. Dilbert has always been a favorite of mine. I didn't have to look too far to find an example of a strip with the title character's upcurved tie.

The Rest

1a jimjams {Heebie-jeebies}; 14a arrival {Landing}; 15a medevac {Expensive way to the hospital}; 17a erotica {Unlikely section in a religious bookstore}; 18a knee {Last word in "Oh! Susanna"}; 21a main {Lead}; 22a SST {High flier, once}; 24a sends {Asks (for)}; 25a dos {Bashes}; 26a chat {Web ___}; 29a galas {Bashes}; 39a me first {Selfish, as an attitude}; 42a foray {Plundering opportunity}; 43a NLer {D-back or Card}; 49a spot {Locate, as Waldo}; 51a ria {Narrow inlet}; 54a when {"Say ___"}; 55a water {See 11-Down}; 57a Penn {An Ivy}; 60a rejects {Unpopular ones}; 62a in-built {Congenital}; 63a erasure {Name-dropping, maybe}; 64a nested {Stored compactly, in a way}.

1d jacks {10 superiors}; 2d irons {Fetters}; 4d jibe {See eye to eye}; 5d Ava {Gardner of "Mogambo"}; 8d père {A Dumas}; 9d ado {Hullabaloo}; 10d get me? {"See what I mean?"}; 11d Evian {Big brand of 55-Across}; 13d scans {Optical readings}; 15d mes {"___ amis ..." (start of a French oration)}; 24d stuff it {"Shut up already!"}; 30d aka {Letters between two names}; 31d leg {Yours may be asleep while you're awake}; 32d faze {Fluster}; 35d USA {NATO founding member}; 36d sty {Trough location}; 38d nil {Goose egg}; 41d erst {Once, once}; 44d torero {Picadors assist him}; 47d Serbs {Some Balkanites}; 48d uncut {Full-length}; 51d recur {Arise anew}; 52d intro {Many a freshman course}; 53d Ansel {Photographer Adams}; 55d wild {Like eights in crazy eights}; 56d act {Don't just sit there}; 61d Jan {M.L.K. Day month}.


Paul Keller said...

One of the joys of reading your blog is the puzzle critiques. While I suppose the challenges of puzzle construction require the acceptance some arbitrary bits as part of the knowledge base, as a newbie I am still frequently peeved. It is comforting, in a misery-loves-company sort of way, to hear an old hand complain.
In this case, you have been burned as both an Englishman and a non-New Yorker. Clearly, you missed the 1997 hoopla over the introduction of regular season interleague play. The Giants-Yankees rivalry appears to be part of the local lore considered fair game for this puzzle.

Crossword Man said...

Thanks for the Giants-Yankees info - yes, it was before my time, as I immigrated at the end of 2006. There's a lot I still have to learn about baseball, but that's nothing compared to what I have to learn about (American) football, basketball, ice hockey, etc etc.

Am I right that there's a bit of elitism here? Does the average New York Times reader find baseball references more acceptable than, say, (American) football references ... there seem to be a lot fewer of the latter.

I'm fairly sure this sort of thing applies to cryptic crosswords in the UK, where the proportion of cricket references is high, relative to its following among the general population ... as compared to soccer of course.

Paul Keller said...

I am not sure about the baseball-football distinction. It could just be that New York has had the Yankees, a perennially dominant team, but no comparable football franchise.

I tend to think elitism when stymied by opera references and things in that vein. On the other hand, pop culture references can be just as annoying, especially TV shows that I have heard of but never watched or wanted to watch. Then again, I failed to get "Giants" and could not complete much of anything in that section until I cheated. Maybe it is all just sour grapes.

Gareth Bain said...

If you didn't catch it, Xan published a second, related puzzle, at Amy's forum:

Remark about ROSANNE, I ended up meeting her when I misspelled ROSEANNE in a puzzle (independently published) I made and had to scratch around for a viable clue!

Crossword Man said...

Gareth, thanks for the pointer to the second Xan puzzle. I tried it and like that idea better in some ways. Yes, the great variety of forename spellings is a boon to compilers.

Crossword Man said...

Paul: I get the feeling that opera is dragged in more for convenience than elitism (but then I'm an opera fan, so I would say that!). First reason, it's a dandy way to clue all those little Italian words; second reason, Aida - what would we do without it!

Mick White said...

Re: The Giants vs. The Yankees

The SF Giants were once the NY Giants, and in soccer terms it would be like Arsenal vs. Wimbledon(now MK Dons.

Crossword Man said...

Thanks for the explanation Mick ... especially the helpful footie analogy :-)

Edwin Frownfelter said...

Speaking of baseball-football issues, our crossword table had a brief discussion of 43 Across -- "D-Back or Card." The correct answer -- NLer -- occurred early, but one solver noted that Arizona's NFL football team is also known as the Cardinals or Cards.

Crossword Man said...

Yes Edwin, they should have the decency to make team names unique across all sports :-) Arizona Rattlesnakes (Rattlers for short) anyone?