Tuesday, January 19, 2010

NYT Wednesday 1/20/10 - Per Ardua Ad Astra

This Wednesday New York Times crossword was another where I could complete the grid without really understanding what the theme entailed. My first thought on finishing was that the theme answers involved ON and UP sounds (suggested by "phonetically" in 38-Across); but looking at them, I could see the ON and UP there verbatim and then assumed the WARDs in 38-Across were meant to be interpreted as WORDs.

One other point of interest about the theme is the two ONs in wonton soup (given that every other theme answer has one ON and one UP). I'm still not clear if this is meant as a bit of a flourish or was accidental, or was meant to be ignored. That I have doubts about what was intended suggests it isn't such a great feature, but maybe there's a point to it I've not yet understood?

Aside from the theme, there weren't any major problem areas for me. To judge by the erasures, there were some uncertainties in the SW corner ... I think I imagined {Cash-free transaction} would be e-something and had to backtrack. The NW corner was slightly harder due to ignorance of Rachel Maddow and my having tent rather than nest for {Roofless home} ... I guess tents do have a roof of sorts, so that was my bad; in this area I was also worried about the interpretation of {What to call a crown} for sire, which didn't help.
Solving time: 11 mins (solo, no solving aids)
Clue of the puzz: 33d port {Left to the captain?}
Solution

Trip Payne
Grid art by Sympathy [about the grid colors]

Theme

Four of the long answers are two-word phrases, consisting of an "on" word and an "up" word. This is indicated by 38a onward and upward {Aspirant's motto ... or, phonetically, what 18-, 23-, 47- and 57-Across each consist of}.
18a suction cup {It creates a small vacuum}
23a control groups {Parts of double-blind trials}
47a money supplies {What national banks oversee}
57a wonton soup {Chinese menu option}
Crucimetrics
Compilers
Trip Payne / Will Shortz
Grid
15x15 with 36 (16.0%) black squares
Answers
78 (average length 4.85)
Theme squares
61 (32.3%)
Scrabble points
305 (average 1.61)
Letters used
ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ
New To Me

14a sire {What to call a crown}. I'm not at all comfortable with this clue, assuming it works the way I think. I reckon sire is in the sense of "a term of address to a king". Fine so far. But I'm not convinced that "crown" can substitute for "monarch" in this way: "the crown" is the same as "the monarchy" but I've not heard a king or queen called "a crown" ... "crowned head" maybe.

15a Isaak {Chris with the 1991 hit "Wicked Game"}. Chris Isaak is an American rock musician and occasional actor. I would have unwittingly heard tracks from his first album Silvertone, as they are used in David Lynch's cult classic Blue Velvet. Wicked Game is his best-known song and became a hit when it featured in another David Lynch film, Wild at Heart.



Great Dismal Swamp37a Dred {1856 Stowe novel}. Dred didn't seem a likely title for a 19th century novel, conjuring up thoughts of Judge Dredd for me. The novel is subtitled "A Tale of the Great Dismal Swamp", being the story of an heiress to a plantation. Dred, the titular character, is an escaped slave; he lives in the Great Dismal Swamp, a marshy area between Norfolk, VA and Elizabeth City, NC, preaching angry and violent retribution for the evils of slavery and rescuing escapees.

41a Ryan {Clancy hero}. Tom Clancy isn't my normal reading fare, but I guess I might have known of Jack Ryan through one of the four movies made of books in which he is the hero. For example, I've definitely seen The Hunt for Red October (1990), so it's my fault I recall only Sean Connery's character Captain Marko Ramius, and not the protagonist, played this time by Alec Baldwin, .



62a Arte {"The Gong Show" regular Johnson}. I met both Arte Johnson and The Gong Show last year (different puzzles), but could do with a refresher. Arte, best-remembered as a regular on Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In, was a judge on The Gong Show, which featured amateur performers of dubious talent. If any judge considered an act to be particularly bad, he or she could strike a large gong, thus forcing the performer to stop. In this case, Arte does his best to stop Jaye P. Morgan gonging the act ....



1d MSNBC {Rachel Maddow's network}. Rachel Maddow meant nothing to me, so I was glad the answer turned out to be something I had heard of (it helped ease my anxieties over sire - see above). The Rachel Maddow Show is a nightly news and opinion TV show that has been running since September 2008. Maddow is notable as the first openly gay anchor to be hired to host a prime-time news program in the United States, hence the relevance of this clip:



19d of Us {"The Sum ___" (Russell Crowe movie)}. The Sum of Us is a play by David Stevens about a  widower and his gay son and their individual searches for the right mate. It was made into a movie released in 1994, set in Sydney, Australia, and starring Russell Crowe and Jack Thompson.



25d Glendas {Actresses Farrell and Jackson}. British actress turned pol Glenda Jackson is very familiar, but I need a reminder of American actress Glenda Farrell (1904–1971); looking at the latter's filmography, I can't see a single film of hers that I've watched, which doesn't help. Here she is as "Babe" in The Match King (1932).



Situation Room58d NSC {Grp. that meets in the Situation Room}. I gather the National Security Council is the principal forum used by the President for considering national security and foreign policy matters with his senior national security advisors and Cabinet officials and is part of the Executive Office of the President of the United States. It indeed meets in the White House Situation Room, in the basement of the West Wing. Here's how it looked in LBJ's day; modernization has made the appearance of the room much less interesting - no sandboxes to play with now.

Noteworthy

pestle and mortar33a pesto {Sauce prepared in a mortar}. I like this clue, which suggests the etymology of pesto in a rather charming and helpful way. "mortar" made me think of pestle and hence pesto, which literally means "pounded" in Italian, coming from the same Latin root as pestle.

Strike 'n Spare63a spare {It can be worth up to 20 points}. I'd just solved a bowling-themed puzzle in Flavorful Friday Crosswords, so I was primed with the knowledge I needed for this clue: a spare, denoted by a slash mark (/) in scoring, is awarded when no pins are left standing after the second ball of a frame; i.e., a player uses both balls of a frame to clear all ten pins.

66a carpe {Seize, to Caesar}. As in carpe diem, or "seize the day" (not "fish of the day" as one I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue wag had it). Actually carpe literally means ""pick, pluck, pluck off, gather", but "seize" is a good rendering of Horace's figurative meaning. Trying to get my head around Latin translation always reminds me of this famous clip:



chess set5d bishop {King's neighbor}. Neat reference to the starting position in chess, in which there's a bishop right next to the king. I got sidetracked into reading about chess piece design and learn that the rules for competition play require the standard Staunton chess set, which was patented in 1849 by Nathaniel Cook, the editor of The Illustrated London News. The chess writer for that paper was Howard Staunton, who popularized the set and hence got his name attached to it.

46d epopee {Heroic poem}. A wonderfully weird word that I'd tucked into a corner of my brain after seeing it in passing in The Chambers Dictionary. I'm still not quite sure of the distinction between an epos and an epopee ... the latter adds the Greek word poieein ("to make") etymologically, but I don't know if that's relevant.

The Rest

1a mean {Stingy}; 5a bumps {Phrenologists read them}; 10a ajar {Not shut all the way}; 16a soda {Common mixer}; 17a nest {Roofless home}; 20a bio {Personal account}; 21a aha! {"Now I see!"}; 22a fakes {Art buyers' worries}; 28a imp {Baby sitter's bane}; 29a leas {Where flocks feed}; 30a the {Word unlikely to end a sentence}; 36a Leah {Daughter of Laban, in the Bible}; 42a aids {Gives succor to}; 43a repay {Clear, as a loan}; 44a tar {Salt}; 45a Etta {Contralto James}; 46a eel {Elusive swimmer}; 53a swift {Not too ___}; 55a SOS {Tapped-out message, often}; 56a die {Reach the end}; 61a tada {Show-off's shout}; 64a ahem {"Pardon me"}; 65a peon {Unappreciated worker}; 67a gory {Like the "Saw" movies}.

2d E-I-E-I-O {Children's song refrain}; 3d arson {Flame blame, sometimes}; 4d net {Post-tax amount}; 6d usual {Fully expected}; 7d Mac {OS X runner}; 8d pat {Too rehearsed}; 9d ski {Perform a wedeln, e.g.}; 10d a snap {No problem at all}; 11d jockstrap {Guy's means of support}; 12d a due {Literally, "by two"}; 13d raps {They often include samples}; 21d armor {Hard wear?}; 24d Titan {Nashville-based athlete}; 26d reads {Goes from cover to cover}; 27d Oahu {Kailua Bay's setting}; 31d Hera {Vengeful goddess}; 32d eddy {Swirl}; 33d port {Left to the captain?}; 34d Enya {Popular singer born in County Donegal}; 35d swarm into {Overrun}; 36d laity {Body that's not the clergy}; 37d dwell {Harp (on)}; 39d date {Fruit growing at an oasis}; 40d preps {Gets ready}; 45d ento- {Opposite of exo-}; 48d often {Frequently}; 49d usurp {Take over}; 50d Idaho {Western potato}; 51d eider {Large duck}; 52d seamy {Run-down}; 53d swap {Cash-free transaction}; 54d wore {Modeled}; 59d spa {Upscale hotel offering}; 60d oar {Boathouse item}; 61d tag {Cry before "You're it!"}.

5 comments:

Daniel Myers said...

I feel my old Latin master's ruler on the back of my shoulder instructing me to enlighten the class as to this "carpe" busines:

Me : "Well, sir, "carpe" is in the imperative mood here, sir, and the clue is unspecific. The answer could be any of the conjugated forms of 'carpere'. To be correctly clued, Payne should have written it - 'Seize!' to Caesar - sir."

Master (I would hope): "Quite right, Myers. It's a common mistake made by those new to heavily inflected languages. Payne, if you would be so kind as to remain after class."

Payne would be very whey-faced indeed by this point.

Thanks for the well-wishes, Ross. I shall no doubt meet the codger whilst under anaethesia!

Crossword Man said...

Your Latin master wasn't John Cleese by any chance? I couldn't resist adding the "Romans, go home" scene to the carpe commentary.

I am so glad I escaped Latin comparatively young. At 12 or so, MY Latin master detected a total lack of interest in the subj and handed me a book of Latin crosswords to solve at the back of the class. I was fortunate the entrance requirement for Latin was being dropped from institutions just in the nick of time as I progressed up the system.

The only downside is having my efforts to explain clues glossed by those with greater expertise, but I can happily live with that!

Gareth Rees said...

But I'm not convinced that "crown" can substitute for "monarch"

In the OED this is sense 4: "fig. The wearer of a crown; the monarch in his official character".

In US crosswords, is there a tradition of justifying the words used in the clues by reference to a particular dictionary? (As there is in the UK with Chambers.)

Crossword Man said...

Thanks Gareth for that further reference. Dictionaries are definitely not on my side ... it's one of those cases where my gut feeling was wrong when I was solving.

I don't believe there's an official reference for US crosswords. Merriam-Webster's Collegiate (MWCD) is a sort of touchstone for dictionary words, but vocabulary very often strays to unabridged dictionaries. And of course a lot of the fill and cluing involves encyclopedic references you wouldn't find in a regular dictionary of any size.

Daniel Myers said...

Thanks for that, Ross, one of my favourite clips from one of my favourite movies! I was just having a spot of fun, really, in the comment supra. My Latin master would actually (Just as John Cleese does in the clip!)have made me - and Payne - be even more specific about the clueing. "Carpe" is the singular imperative. Thus, if you were to order a group of people to "Carpe diem!", it would be incorrect of you. "Carpite diem!" is the plural imperative.

Funny, your title for today's blog was the answer that first crossed my mind when I saw 38A.