Sunday, February 28, 2010

NYT Monday 3/1/10 - Coming Down for Breakfast

Was this Monday New York Times crossword published a month early by accident? There's something odd, and decidedly foolish, about the theme answers ... they're all down instead of across. After finishing the grid, I looked hard for some connection between the longish across entries, but couldn't see one. It's a trifling matter to flip the grid so the theme answers are across, so I can only imagine this is some kind of leg-pull - consider my limbs extended BEQ.

This wasn't one of my fastest Monday puzzles, perhaps because of a few relatively obscure answers for this early in the week: shamus, serin, timbal and moxie aren't exactly new to me, but they're not everyday vocabulary either.

The only place I thought I could conceivably had gone wrong was the crossing of 3d Bacon's Rebellion and 17a rec. I don't think I've come across the former before, and just had to go with my instincts that a "rec center" is an institution in this country. Once I'd seen the theme, of course, Bacon it had to be.
Solving time: 6 mins (solo, no solving aids)
Clue of the puzz: 25d aah {What to say to a doctor with a tongue depressor}

Brendan Emmett Quigley
Grid art by Sympathy   [about the grid colors]


The long down answers start with breakfast food items:
3d Bacon's Rebellion {1676 Virginia uprising}
5d toastmistress {Woman presiding at a banquet}
11d coffee table book {Photo-filled reading matter in the living room}
19d pancake make-up {Cosmetic applied with a damp sponge}
Crucimetrics [about Crucimetrics]
CompilersBrendan Emmett Quigley / Will Shortz
Grid15x15 with 34 (15.1%) black squares
Answers78 (average length 4.90)
Theme squares56 (29.3%)
Scrabble points336 (average 1.76)
Video of the Day

61d Jane {Tarzan's woman}. Jane is Jane Porter (later Jane Clayton, Lady Greystoke) a major character in Edgar Rice Burroughs's series of Tarzan novels, and in adaptations of the saga to other media, particularly film. She is an American from Baltimore, Maryland, who develops over the course of the series from a conventional damsel in distress who must be rescued from various perils to a competent and capable adventuress in her own right, fully capable of defending herself and surviving on her own in the jungles of Africa.

The Tarzan of my youth was Johnny Weissmuller and his Jane was Maureen O'Sullivan. I vividly remember the fights with rubber crocodiles and tame-looking lions. Above is a sequence of three wonderful period trailers for the films Tarzan Finds a Son! (1939), Tarzan's Secret Treasure (1941) and Tarzan's New York Adventure (1942).

The Doctor is IN

4a items {"10 ___ or less" (checkout line sign that grates on grammarians)}. Grammarians prefer ten items or fewer.

29a shamus {Detective, in slang}. Supposedly deriving from Shamash, the sexton of a synagogue.

49a timbal {Kettledrum}. A timbal is a slightly conical drum.

3d Bacon's Rebellion {1676 Virginia uprising}. Bacon's Rebellion, led by Nathaniel Bacon.

8d serin {Small finch}. Bird of the genus Serinus.

46d TBS {Atlanta-based sta.}. Turner Broadcasting System.

66d Spy {Word repeated in Mad magazine's "___ vs. ___"}. Spy vs. Spy.

Image of the Day

15a moxie {Nerve}. Moxie originated as a patent medicine called "Moxie Nerve Food" that was invented around 1876 by Dr. Augustin Thompson. Thompson claimed that it contained extracts from a rare, unnamed South-American plant that had supposedly been discovered by a "friend", Lieutenant Moxie, who had used it as a panacea, it was supposed to be especially effective against "paralysis, softening of the brain, nervousness, and insomnia".

After a few years, Thompson added soda water to the formula and changed the product's name to "Beverage Moxie Nerve Food". By 1884 he was selling Moxie both in bottles and in bulk as a soda fountain syrup, marketing it as "a delicious blend of bitter and sweet, a drink to satisfy everyone's taste."

Through extensive advertising, the neologism "moxie" has entered popular usage in American English, meaning "courage, daring, energy, and vision" ... as in "This guy's got moxie!"

Other Clues

1a Bob {1996 candidate Dole}; 9a McCoy {The real ___}; 14a ETA {When a plane is due in, for short}; 16a I hope {[Crossing my fingers]}; 17a rec {___ center (community facility)}; 18a paper profit {Unrealized gain on an investment}; 20a -tron {Suffix with cyclo- or Jumbo}; 22a Sonia {Braga a k a the Brazilian Bombshell}; 23a pfui! {"Bah, humbug!"}; 24a hint at {Merely suggest}; 26a NNE {SSW's opposite}; 28a ems {Letters on an ambulance}; 32a cede {Give up, as rights}; 34a fir {Evergreen}; 36a high-falutin {Fancy}; 40a one I {"That's ___ haven't heard!"}; 42a shark {"Jaws" menace}; 43a bade {Wished}; 44a rabbit's feet {Good luck charms}; 47a Boz {Charles Dickens pseudonym}; 48a emir {Kuwaiti leader}; 51a pal {Buddy}; 53a net {Mesh}; 55a aspect {Facet}; 58a Arlo {Guthrie with a guitar}; 60a Sajak {Pat of "Wheel of Fortune"}; 63a T-bar {Mountain lift}; 64a weigh-scales {They measure the tonnage of trucks}; 67a Ono {Singer Yoko}; 68a Enola {W.W. II bomber ___ Gay}; 69a one-up {Outdo}; 70a Ott {Giant great Mel}; 71a Danes {Copenhageners, e.g.}; 72a seepy {Tending to ooze}; 73a KOs {Flattens in the ring, for short}.

1d berth {Train sleeping spot}; 2d Oteri {Former "S.N.L." comic Cheri}; 4d imp {Little devil}; 6d expo {Giant fair}; 7d mien {Appearance}; 9d Mir {Former Russian space station}; 10d chop {Take an ax to}; 12d opium {Poppy product}; 13d yetis {Reported Himalayan sightings}; 21d nth {To the ___ degree}; 25d aah {What to say to a doctor with a tongue depressor}; 27d eel {Snakelike fish}; 30d ughs {Terse critiques}; 31d shaft {Path down to a mine}; 33d dub {Talk over?}; 34d for {In favor of}; 35d in a {Once ___ blue moon}; 37d frei {Costing nothing, in Cologne}; 38d I do {Wedding vow}; 39d Nez {___ Percé tribe}; 41d IBM {Company called "Big Blue"}; 45d I in {"Am ___ your way?"}; 50d apt {Well-put}; 51d pawed {Manhandled}; 52d arena {Indoor game site}; 54d tacos {Tex-Mex sandwiches}; 56d canto {Poetic chapter for Ezra Pound}; 57d trots {Gaits between walks and canters}; 59d ogle {Look at amorously}; 62d alee {On the sheltered side}; 65d has {Contains}.

NPR Puzzle 2/28/10 -- Something Old Something New & NYPD Blue

Here's this week's puzzle:
Name an animal in two syllables. Add an S at the end of the first syllable, and you'll get the name of an old TV show. The second syllable, phonetically, is the name of a current TV show. What animal is this?
Once we understood the puzzle, it was easy.  That is probably the First Commandment of NPR Puzzle Solving:  Make Sure You Understand The Puzzle.

In our case, we needed to see that we were looking for 1 two-syllable animal but 2 one-syllable TV shows.


We got snow this week.  We'd missed the Snopocalypse, we'd dodged Snowmageddon, but we got hammered by the Snowicaine!  (I know -- it almost makes you miss the good old days when any one of these storms would have been dubbed "The Storm of 2010!")

For us, it just meant hunkering down for a couple days, changing plans, and eying the milk supply warily.  On Friday, when the winds had died down, we were able to get the tractor & its snow blower out and working on the driveways.  That allowed us to get one car out (and get to the market for more milk -- when you live with a tea-addicted Brit, you always monitor the milk situation!), and yesterday Ross got the second car out.

The real victim here is our dog, Mimi.  Mimi doesn't like snow.  She's better than she was last year, but it's not her preferred milieu.  When the deck looks as it did in the picture above, she's disinclined to go outside at all.  So shoveling is necessary.

Ah, that's better.  Ross shoveled her a path for her, uh, needs.  I really can't tell if she needs to smell the grass, or just doesn't like the feel of the snow on her paws, or what.  But we do know when it's just a good idea to get out there and take care of the dog's needs.

A happy dog makes for a happy household.  Now all we have to do is get her outside -- get all of us outside! -- for some exercise.

Greetings from the great white northeast of Pennsylvania. And from Mimi, who's currently sleeping in front of the fire. Because a shoveled path is all very well for short visits, but you don't want to stay there.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

NYT Sunday 2/28/10 - Real to Reel

This Sunday New York Times crossword has a familiar punning theme, this time based on substitution of letters. We cottoned on to this very early on, assisted by the helpful title.

We have to say this isn't one of our favorites, because of the labored nature of some of the theme answers: ... week of heart (22-Across) meaning "honeymoon" seems a bit of a stretch; and we wondered just what aromatic tea (36-Across) is - I looked for dictionary and/or encyclopedic support without success (if readers know of any, please comment). We thought flee collar the neatest of the theme entries.

Our lack of interest towards the end of the puzzle perhaps contributed to our getting a letter wrong: I suggested Col. as the neighbor of Nev. at 35-Down and we never fixed it. We stupidly accepted that Fred Ollen was a TV personality neither of us had heard of, rather than thinking to correct it to Fred Allen.

Otherwise, there was the usual sprinkling of clues that needed some unraveling and/or confirmation from Wikipedia, and I've tried to cover such below. One particular answer got an ugh review from both of us and that was short U {Thumb's middle?} - nothing wrong with the clue itself, just a dislike for that family of answers.
Solving time: 35 mins (solo, no solving aids, two wrong answers)
Clue of the puzz: 60a cents {Things often put in in twos}

Yaakov Bendavid
Grid art by Sympathy [about the grid colors]


"Ease-E Does It". EA changes to EE in a phrase, making a pun:
22a not for the week of heart {Inappropriate on a honeymoon?}
36a aromatic tee {Item at a golf boutique?}
55a peek season {Summer next door to the nudist camp?}
71a flee collar {What a pursued perp might do?}
90a a time to heel {The point when Fido's master starts walking?} cf Ecclesiastes 3:3
103a reel men don't eat quiche {Bit of advice when packing anglers' lunches?}
15d frankly, my deer {Buck's candid conversation opener?} cf frankly, my dear ...
54d Hamburger meet {Dating service in a northern German city?}
Crucimetrics [about Crucimetrics]
CompilersYaakov Bendavid / Will Shortz
Grid21x21 with 72 (16.3%) black squares
Answers138 (average length 5.35)
Theme squares106 (28.7%)
Scrabble points571 (average 1.55)
Video of the Day

40a Fred Allen {"Imitation is the sincerest form of television" quipster}. Fred Allen (1894–1956) was an American comedian whose absurdist, topically pointed radio show (1932–1949) made him one of the most popular and forward-looking humorists in the so-called classic era of American radio. His best-remembered gag was his long-running mock feud with friend and fellow comedian Jack Benny. The above video clip is a short from very early in his career: The Installment Collector (1929) is supposedly his first on-screen appearance.

The Doctor is IN

27a Assisi {Italian home of the Basilica of San Francesco}. Papal Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi.

42a Tomei {"Before the Devil Knows You're Dead" actress};  Marisa Tomei plays Gina Hanson.

46a repro {Camera-ready page}. repro = a sharp proof used to make a printing plate.

60a cents {Things often put in in twos}. As in put my two cents in.

61a Zadora {"Butterfly" actress, 1981}. Pia Zadora won a Golden Globe Award for Butterfly.

69a Alice {"Falstaff" soprano}. Alice Ford in Verdi's Falstaff.

77a Yser {River deliberately flooded in W.W. I}. See Battle of the Yser.

92a ivories {They may be tickled}. "Tickle the ivories" = play the piano.

96a Easton {City near Bethlehem}. Easton and Bethlehem in Pennsylvania.

110a thou {Grand}. Slang terms for a thousand.

1d Na-Nu {TV alien's word}. Mork's greeting in Mork & Mindy was Na-Nu Na-Nu.

8d Moe {Baseballer and O.S.S. spy Berg}. Moe Berg.

9d adeste {Carol opener}. As in Adeste Fideles.

10d press {Basketball tactic}. Full-court press.

31d scored {Made it home safely}. home = home plate in baseball.

51d Nara {Former Japanese capital}. Nara.

63d Tres {Los ___ Reyes Magos}. The Three Wise Men in Spanish.

72d looie {Sarge's superior}. Looie = slang for lieutenant.

80d short U {Thumb's middle?}. Pronunciation of the letter U in "thumb".

100d octo- {Prefix with mom}. Reference to the "octomom" Nadya Suleman.

Image of the Day

Anne Hathaway's Cottage

18a Anne {Mrs. Shakespeare}. Anne Hathaway (1556–1623) married William Shakespeare in November 1582, while pregnant with the couple's first child, to whom she gave birth six months later. Hathaway was 26 years of age; Shakespeare was only eighteen. This age difference, together with Hathaway's antenuptial pregnancy, has been employed by some historians as evidence that it was a shotgun wedding, forced on a reluctant Shakespeare by Hathaway's family. There is, however, no reliable evidence for this inference.

Anne Hathaway's childhood was spent in a house near Stratford-upon-Avon in Warwickshire, England. Although it is called Anne Hathaway's Cottage, it is in fact a spacious twelve-roomed farmhouse, with several bedrooms, now set in extensive gardens. The iconic image is popular on chocolate boxes, jigsaws and souvenirs.

Other Clues

1a near {___ miss}; 5a drum {Oil holder}; 9a apse {It's often vaulted}; 13a NAFTA {Pact of '94}; 19a Iago {Shakespearean schemer}; 20a drag {Bummer}; 21a arrêt {Stop overseas}; 26a user fee {Parkgoer's charge}; 28a NCIS {Mark Harmon action drama}; 30a AFC {One side in the Pro Bowl: Abbr.}; 31a silts {Some bank deposits}; 33a lockers {Health club lineup}; 43a moss {Shade of green}; 44a seedily {With a run-down look}; 45a ova {Sperm targets}; 48a roadie {Microphone tester, perhaps}; 49a Manx {Stub-tailed cat}; 53a Penh {Phnom ___}; 57a Mylar {Solar sails material}; 58a amend {Set right}; 62a stymied {Hampered}; 65a balds {Develops an open spot?}; 66a base pay {Datum on an employment contract}; 67a probes {Some space missions}; 68a alles {Über ___ (above everything: Ger.)}; 70a rerun {Late-late-night offering}; 73a rani {Eastern noble}; 78a Bogart {Frequent gangster portrayer}; 79a Obies {Annual awards announced in New York's East Village}; 81a Lon {Chaney of "The Phantom of the Opera"}; 82a garrets {Struggling artists' places}; 84a sous {___-chef}; 85a H Test {Explosive event of '54}; 87a cameleers {Desert drivers}; 93a sties {Filthy quarters}; 94a ore {Mountain treasure}; 95a germ {Idea's start}; 99a art form {Film or sculpture}; 108a sleet {Possible flight delayer}; 109a take {Proceeds}; 111a rtes. {Itinerary segments: Abbr.}; 112a estos {These, in Madrid}; 113a sked {Convention handout, for short}; 114a came {Showed}; 115a moos {Lows}.

2d Enos {Son of Seth}; 3d ante {Kick in, say}; 4d reframe {Change the focus of, as an argument}; 5d direct {Face-to-face}; 6d rate {Bank quote}; 7d ugh {Zero-star restaurant review?}; 11d Saki {Pseudonym of H. H. Munro}; 12d egos {Teamwork thwarters}; 13d nah {"Uh-uh"}; 14d Are {The Who's "Who ___ You"}; 16d tercel {Onetime Toyota model}; 17d attire {Outfit}; 23d off-air {Like some TV interviewers' questions}; 24d wales {Land with a red dragon on its flag}; 25d filed in {Entered, as a classroom}; 29d SSN {W-2 datum: Abbr.}; 32d it's OK {"There there"}; 34d Odie {Dog in a cat comic}; 35d Cal. {Nev. neighbor}; 36d atop {On}; 37d rove {Go all over}; 38d Oman {Yemen neighbor}; 39d impend {Loom}; 40d feasts {Dinners likely to have leftovers}; 41d redos {Some major changes}; 44d so-and-so {Scoundrel}; 47d épées {Alternatives to foils}; 48d re-elect {Send back to the Hill, say}; 50d alop {Crooked}; 52d X-ray {Airport security measure}; 56d scalers {Dental hygienists, at times}; 57d masc. {Pronoun designation: Abbr.}; 59d mien {Bearing}; 61d Zaire {1990s war locale}; 62d spry {Agile, for a senior}; 64d yore {Days of old}; 65d bleats {Flock sounds}; 66d Blaise {Mathematician Pascal}; 68d Alger {Rags-to-riches author Horatio}; 69d albums {iPod heading}; 71d foresee {Divine}; 74d alee {Direction at sea}; 75d nose {Narrow margin}; 76d intl. {Like many conglomerates: Abbr.}; 78d Bree {One of the housewives on "Desperate Housewives"}; 83d Ali {2001 biopic}; 84d stint {Be sparing}; 86d The Firm {John Grisham best seller}; 87d cig {Smoke}; 88d averse {Disinclined}; 89d morels {Gourmet mushrooms}; 90d atoned {Made up (for)}; 91d torque {It's measured in pound-feet}; 93d stoke {Feed}; 97d ants {Line at a picnic?}; 98d S Dak {Neb. neighbor}; 99d atom {Accelerated bit}; 101d rheo {Current: Prefix}; 102d mess {Quagmire}; 104d Leo {"The West Wing" chief of staff ___ McGarry}; 105d mts. {McKinley and Washington: Abbr.}; 106d etc {And other things: Abbr.}; 107d aha! {"So that's it!"}.

Friday, February 26, 2010

NYT Saturday 2/27/10 - Mad Props

I had a lot of fun with this Saturday New York Times crossword, which was just about the perfect level of difficulty for me. Didn't outstay its welcome, but kept me entertained for a nice long time. If Patrick John Duggan is new at this game (and I don't see him on the list of constructors right now), then kudos to him, not to mention éclat and mad props!

I made a good start in both the NW and SW, but ran out of steam quickly there. In fact, the SE corner was the first to be completely filled, after just under half an hour. I then moved back to the SW corner, completing what was still blank there fairly quickly.

Hence to the NW corner where some of the delightfully misleading clues like {What sticks to your ribs?} finally gelled. I wonder sometimes whether, if I stared at these clues longer at the beginning, they'd reveal their secrets right away? Or if all I can do is plant a seed early on that must then be harvested as an answer some thirty minutes later?

Finally only the NE corner was left to be done and I eventually got that by working out 30-, 34- and 40-Across, then getting the eight-letter answers from their ends and so to the six-letter acrosses from their ends. So much easier to work from the heads of answers, but I just couldn't figure it out that way.

Some things I liked about the solving experience:
  • steady progress throughout ... never stuck for long
  • lots of good "penny dropping" moments when misleading clues were understood
  • no doubts I'd got the grid right when I was done
Solving time: 46 mins (solo, no solving aids)
Clue of the puzz: 42d ketchup {Dog's coat?}

Patrick John Duggan
Grid art by Sympathy [about the grid colors]

Crucimetrics [about Crucimetrics]
CompilersPatrick John Duggan / Will Shortz
Grid15x15 with 29 (12.9%) black squares
Answers72 (average length 5.44)
Theme squares0 (0.0%)
Scrabble points298 (average 1.52)
Video of the Day

29a duo {Grammy-winning Gnarls Barkley, e.g.}. Gnarls Barkley is an American musical group collaboration between multi-instrumentalist and producer Danger Mouse (Brian Burton) from New York, and rapper/vocalist Cee-Lo Green (Thomas Callaway), from Atlanta. Their first album, St. Elsewhere, was released in 2006; it and their first hit, "Crazy", were major commercial successes, and were noted for their large sales by download. The above song Transformer is from that first album. The duo released their second album, The Odd Couple, in March 2008.

The Doctor is IN

19a Ali {Subject of the biography "King of the World"}. David Remnick's book on Muhammad Ali.

26a MIA {Honoree on the third Friday of Sept.}. National POW/MIA Recognition Day.

30a T-Ball {Bats are smaller than normal in it}. T-Ball is baseball for kids.

45a Les {College football coach Miles}. Les Miles, head coach of the Louisiana State University football team.

52a paten {It's under the Host}. Host and paten feature in the Christian ritual of the Eucharist.

55a Tso {Eponymous general}. As in General Tso's chicken.

58a Rec {Mute neighbor, maybe: Abbr.}. Rec and Mute are buttons on a remote control.

2d Avalon {"Operation Bikini" co-star, 1963}. Frankie Avalon starred in Operation Bikini.

9d polos {Tops of golf courses?}. Polo shirts.

11d TSA {It goes through lots of luggage: Abbr.}. Transportation Security Administration.

13d Nautilus {Captain Nemo's final resting place}. Captain Nemo dies on the Nautilus and is entombed in it.

33d aka {Street name lead-in}. aka is used before the street names of police suspects.

35d poi {One side of Hawaii}. side = side dish. poi is a Hawaiian staple.

42d ketchup {Dog's coat?}. dog = frankfurter.

49d Siegel {Film critic Joel}. Joel Siegel appeared on Good Morning America.

56d Edna {"Laverne & Shirley" landlady}. Betty Garrett played Edna Babish DeFazio on Laverne & Shirley.

Image of the Day

Mr. Peanut
34a Mr. Peanut {Mascot that's a shell of a man?}. Mr. Peanut is the advertising logo and mascot of Planters, an American snack-food company and division of Kraft Foods. He consists of a drawing of an anthropomorphic peanut in its shell dressed in the formal clothing of an old-fashioned gentleman: a top hat, a monocle, white gloves, spats, and a cane.

Planters Peanuts started in 1906 in Wilkes-Barre, PA. In 1916 the company held a contest to create a company logo. A fourteen year-old schoolboy won the contest with his drawing of a Peanut Man and an artist later added spats, a top hat, a monocle, and a cane to the drawing, and Mr. Peanut was born. In 2006, Planters conducted an online poll to determine whether to add a bow tie, cufflinks, or a pocketwatch to Mr. Peanut. The public voted for no change.

Other Clues

1a mad props {Big-time kudos}; 9a patina {Film about the Statue of Liberty?}; 15a I've had it {Exasperated cry}; 16a oh, snap! {Response to a good dig}; 17a land mine {Hidden danger}; 18a lead-up {Preparatory stage}; 20a sunroom {Bright spot in architecture?}; 22a été {Saison de septembre, mostly}; 23a noes {Deal killers}; 25a mends {Sets right}; 27a on DVD {Like many old series, now}; 32a era {Disco or swing follower}; 36a cat-like {Slinky and stealthy}; 40a so-and-so {What's-his-face}; 41a bratpack {Demi Moore was in it}; 43a ick {___ factor}; 44a Aries {Springtime arrival}; 47a Hesse {Wiesbaden's state}; 51a tel. {Application datum: Abbr.}; 54a ruin {Torpedo}; 56a eat crow {Be cut down to size}; 59a E*Trade {Dot-com with an asterisk in its name}; 61a here we go {Words at the outset}; 63a retina {Picture receiver}; 64a unseated {Moved out?}; 65a yeoman {Official's helper}; 66a peep-hole {Opening used before opening a door}.

1d Milano {Lombardia's capital}; 3d denied {Robbed of}; 4d Ph.D. {Goal of some candidates}; 5d rams {Means of forced entry}; 6d odium {Bad blood}; 7d pinned {Immobilized, in a way}; 8d sternum {What sticks to your ribs?}; 10d ahem {Subtle warning sound}; 12d in demand {Hot}; 14d appeal to {Beseech}; 21d odors {Things that disappear in the shower?}; 24d svelte {Modelesque}; 28d drips {Namby-pambies}; 30d teach {Do school work}; 31d banker {One concerned with checks and balances}; 36d C battery {Common toy go-with}; 37d arrestee {One being printed at a station}; 38d tailor to {Customize for}; 39d éclat {Kudos}; 46d serene {Still}; 48d sure to {Definitely gonna}; 50d encode {Protect, in a way}; 52d paean {Triumphant song}; 53d Norse {Like some mythology}; 57d weep {Emulate Niobe}; 60d aim {"Ready" follower}; 62d wah {Crib note?}.

NYT Friday 2/26/10 - A Drag on Time

This Friday New York Times crossword seemed to start off quite well. I threw in a few gimmes and tentative guesses all over the grid, but got the best start in the NE corner. Once I finished that, I worked downwards, getting boy meets girl, the first of the long central acrosses.

I had hoped this would unlock the other two long answers in the sandwich, but I struggled to see how they both started (having content at 21-Down was part of the problem) and opted instead to deal with the SE corner. Once I had the ending of 31-Across, I could finally see Mexican standoff, and opted to work down from there, which just left the NW corner to go after 21 minutes.

This was all very promising, but there was a significant stumbling block still to deal with. After 24 minutes, I just had the square at the crossing of 13-Across and 3-Down to go and I couldn't see what was going on. My instinct right from the start was to go for Elkes, but the only Clijsters I knew was Kim and I couldn't see how {Participate in drag?} led to peel out in either the cross-dressing or haulage sense of drag.

Eventually, I just had to give up and hope my guess was right. And so it turned out to be, with "drag" being used in a sense I hadn't even thought of. So for me, this was a nice smooth themeless with that one annoyance, but maybe that was just my experience. It does seem, however, that Elke Clijsters rather lacks the prominence one would expect, even in an end-of-week puzzle ... why not Elke Sommers?

Cheshire CatI like the way 21a Cheshire {Lewis Carroll's birthplace} is clued, generously hinting at the Cheshire Cat, although I don't think there's a known connection between Carroll's birth in Daresbury, and his popularization of the grinning moggy. Note that the Cheshire Cat didn't originate with Carroll, as it appeared in print as early as 1792 "Lo, like a Cheshire cat our court will grin" (Peter Pindar's Pair of Lyric Epistles).

I've added a new feature to the sidebar of the blog today: a list of constructors based on the post labels. The number in brackets following the constructor shows the number of posts including a puzzle by that constructor. That doesn't quite correspond to a count of their NYT puzzles since I began blogging at the start of 2009 (because the ACPT posts also have constructor labels) but comes close. I hope readers find that useful ... I just have to remember to add new constructors to the list, like Josh Knapp today.
Solving time: 32 mins (solo, no solving aids)
Clue of the puzz: 43d haunt {Go to a lot}

Josh Knapp
Grid art by Sympathy [about the grid colors]

Crucimetrics [about Crucimetrics]
CompilersJosh Knapp / Will Shortz
Grid15x15 with 32 (14.2%) black squares
Answers66 (average length 5.85)
Theme squares0 (0.0%)
Scrabble points321 (average 1.66)
Video of the Day

23a It's {"___ Growing" (Temptations hit)}. It's Growing was a 1965 hit single by The Temptations for the Gordy (Motown) label. Written by Miracles members Smokey Robinson and Pete Moore and produced by Robinson, the song was a top 20 pop single on the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States, on which it peaked at number 18. I picked out this video because of the wonderfully quaint choreography of the period.

The Doctor is IN

1a The Who {Releaser of "1921" in 1969}. 1921 is from the rock opera Tommy.

7a Schwab {Author of the best-selling investment book "You're Fifty — Now What?"}. Investment advice book from Charles R. Schwab.

21a Cheshire {Lewis Carroll's birthplace}. Lewis Carroll was born in Daresbury, Cheshire in 1832.

39a and {Far-away connection?}. Cf "far and away".

40a Lau {"The Art of Hitting .300" writer Charley}. Charley Lau.

46a UPI {Inits. by a dateline}. United Press Institute news articles have a dateline.

47a Sil {Tony's consigliere on "The Sopranos"}. Silvio "Sil" Dante. Consigliere = advisor/counselor/confidant.

52a number {Cell assignment}. Cell = cellphone.

53a Han Solo {Sci-fi smuggler}. Han Solo in the Star Wars franchise.

2d Hesse {1946 Literature Nobelist}. Hermann Hesse won for The Glass Bead Game.

3d Elkes {Tennis's Clijsters and others}. Elke Clijsters is Kim's younger sister.

5d huis {Sartre's "___ clos"}. Huis clos meaning "behind closed doors" is normally translate as No Exit.

6d Ott {Target of Durocher's "Nice guys finish last" sentiment}. "Nice guys finish last" is attributed to Leo Durocher.

9d HRE {It ended in 1806: Abbr.}. Holy Roman Empire.

12d Bee Gee {Member of the 27-Down group}; 27d Gibbs {Brothers who sang "Stayin' Alive"}. The Bee Gees.

22d hard G {What Greece has that Germany doesn't}. Cf the initial letter sounds of "Greece" and "Germany".

29d May {Period named for an earth goddess}. May is named for named for the Greek goddess Maia.

30d gat {Option for a hit}. A gat is slang for a handgun.

45d Orlon {DuPont discontinued it in 1990}. Orlon is a trademarked acrylic fiber.

50d ABA {Utah Stars' org.}. The Utah Stars were a team in the defunct American Basketball Association.

51d Chi {City with both A.L. and N.L. teams, informally}. Chicago, home to the White Sox and Cubs.

Image of the Day

peeling out
13a peel out {Participate in drag?}. Peeling out aka burning out is a legitimate technique in drag racing, as  tires perform better at higher temperatures, and a burnout is the quickest way to raise tire temperature immediately prior to a race. It also clean the tire of any debris and lay down a layer of rubber by the starting line for better traction. Drag race tracks sometimes use a specially-reserved wet-surface area known as the "burnout box" for this purpose. However, peeling out is also a popular pastime for its own sake - the evidence of this is can be seen in the elaborate patterns of tire marks on the country roads all around where we live!

Other Clues

14a phrase {Thing turned while speaking}; 15a Sanskrit {Source of the word "avatar"}; 16a or else {Words of intimidation}; 17a closers {They get many saves}; 18a cri {Shout about Paris?}; 19a keg {Something below the bar}; 20a heresy {Diet of Worms concern}; 24a foe {One against another}; 25a tante {Soeur de la mère}; 26a stage-manager {One concerned with entrances and exits}; 31a Mexican standoff {Stalemate}; 35a boy meets girl {Start of a traditional love story}; 36a cribs {They rock, sometimes}; 41a hissy fit {A diva may throw one}; 43a hoof it {Not splurge on a 48-Across, say}; 48a cab ride {It's often taken down Broadway}; 49a rotate {Make the rounds?}; 51a clueless {Completely in the dark}; 54a steamy {R-rated, say}; 55a intend {Mean}.

1d tenor sax {Band member with a bent neck}; 4d worry {Cause of fitful sleep}; 7d spore {Body in a case}; 8d christens {Breaks a bottle on, maybe}; 10d walk-in {Capacious closet}; 11d assert {Hold}; 13d palette {Item used for studio mixing}; 15d schism {Big break}; 18d cheated {How a gull might feel}; 21d consent {O.K.}; 24d fan mail {Means of reaching the stars}; 28d ecosystem {Biodiversity setting}; 32d oil-field {Setting for big rigs}; 33d 'fraid so {"Yep, unfortunately"}; 34d flutes {Orchestra section}; 36d churns {Dairy equipment}; 37d rip out {Remove, as carpet}; 38d is it me? {A question of introspection}; 42d fiery {Very hot}; 43d haunt {Go to a lot}; 44d obese {Very upscale?}; 48d clan {Group sharing a coat of arms}.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

NPR Puzzle 2/21/10 - American City Resident Abroad: Berlin & Tokyo

Here's Sunday's puzzle:
Take this word: Brooklynite. Rearrange these 11 letters to get the names of two world capitals. What are they?
The title says it all -- it's actually a cryptic clue to BROOKLYNITE, and "abroad" is an anagram indicator.  Anagram the letters of Berlin & Tokyo (BEIKLNOORTY) and you're right back where you started, with a life-long resident of the Borough of Brooklyn.

Cryptic clue writing is the only part of the really difficult English-style cryptic puzzles I can do.  In fact, I can write a clue that -- if I don't remember the answer -- I can't myself solve.  That sounds absurd, but the skills needed to write a clue are very different from those needed to solve a clue.  I'm still reasonably convinced that we Americans lack some genetic material in common with Alan Turing and the rest of English crossword solvers: the cyptanalysis gene.

Which is not to say I am any better at American style crossword puzzles.  In fact, this all reminds me of my feeble efforts to learn foreign languages.  I have a smattering of German and a dusting of French, and if I'm trying to remember a word in one language, invariably get the right word in the wrong language.  I'm pretty much that lame in both cryptics and straight definition puzzles.

So let's move on to some people who are amazingly good at American style puzzles, shall we?

Here's David Plotkin, our Listmania teammate from Saturday night, getting ready for the C-Division finals (he came in second to Louis Lana):


(Doesn't he look like the kind of person you'd want to play a trivia game with?)

Joon Pahk was also in the C-Division (which is where they stick all rookies) but he did so well, he competed in the B-Division finals, and won.

And last year we reported how disappointed we were that Dan Feyer didn't make it to the A-Division finals. Well, he got there this year with Howard Barkin and Anne Erdmann. Will Shortz announced that Anne's presence in the finals was only the second time in 20 years that a woman had been in the A-Division finals; the previous occasion, of course, was when Ellen Ripstein won in 2001.

What there wasn't this year was much drama. If you've seen the movie Wordplay, you'll know that the first year Tyler Hinman won, Al Sanders -- the likable guy from Colorado -- finished first but had left a square blank. Last year, both the other finalists finished before Tyler, but they had each made the same error in the upper left hand corner, leaving Tyler solving on his own, but taking almost the whole time working out the bottom-middle section, which required him to know, among other things, that James Doohan was on Star Trek. He finally managed it with just a few minutes to spare, and pulled off his headphones convinced he'd lost -- and won.

This year -- nothing so dramatic. The A-Division clues were brutal, and there was an ambiguity (GIMP could have been seen as LIMP, but the crossing light AGUSH didn't make much sense as A LUSH) but what really gummed up the works was 1-Across. The answer was Bambi, and the A-Division clue was "Flower's bud." How mean is that? Anne Erdmann finally wrote in I AM AN IDIOT across the top two lines of that corner; she clearly isn't, but it highlights how hard it can be to see your way out of a bind.

Dan won the A-Division with wonderful efficiency, and I think everyone was very happy for him. Ross and I had dined Saturday with Jon Delfin (one of the few -- if not only -- people on the planet who have the trifecta: Fast, good at American puzzles, and good at English cyptics). Jon has won the ACPT a record seven times, and he told us that people were rooting against him toward the end of his dominance. (He didn't win those consecutively, which is why Tyler Hinman's record of five-straight remains an impressive feat.)

I may have no interest in competing again at the ACPT, but I do enjoy watching the finals.

NYT Thursday 2/25/10 - Tiny Tins

It seems to have been a while since we had a "rebus" puzzle in the Thursday New York Times, so it wasn't such a surprise to see the form return today. I spotted the first TIN at the crossing of 6a gratin and 9d tines after about seven minutes work, so then knew what to expect.

When I saw the TINs symmetrically opposite each other in cells 9 and 68, I had hopes that they'd all be in a symmetrical arrangement. It seems some compensation to the solver for the hardships they feel with this idiom (and I know from comments that rebuses are a bête noire for many).

In this case, I can forgive the constructor for ducking that challenge, as we have the nice double-tins at 24d instintingly and 39a Rin Tin Tin. In fact the latter may well have seeded the idea for the puzzle, in which case symmetry was never on the cards.

Typical Thursday cluing meant this puzzle was slow, but steady going for me. My only major problem was in the lower middle, where I had a nounal interpretation of 62a {Lost traction} as skid, making it harder to figure out the (unfamiliar to me) Olde English 800. Eventually I switched to slid and everything worked out beautifully.

Talking of which, and 20a let it snow, we are bracing ourselves for another 12-24 inches of the white stuff in the next day or so and have canceled all travel plans till we can dig ourselves out. Watch this space.

I have one final comment about 38a cretin {Clod}, which is something of a taboo word in the UK because it has become a term of abuse, particularly in schools; I had similar comments about either spastic or spaz(z) in a previous puzzle. I gather from Magdalen (and dictionaries) that when someone is described as a "cretin" or "spastic" in the US, it is done innocently and isn't offensive. But to see these words in crosswords always grates a little with me, because of my peculiar background.
Solving time: 23 mins (solo, no solving aids)
Clue of the puzz: 68a tin ear {It's not good for conducting}

Holden Baker
Grid art by Sympathy [about the grid colors]


A "rebus" puzzle in which TIN is entered into a single square in 10 cells, affecting the following answer pairs:
1a Stinger {Antiaircraft missile}
2d tingle {"Sleeping" sensation}

6a gratin {Au ___}
9d tines {Parts opposite some handles}

22a outings {Picnics, e.g.}
11d Martini {Happy hour order};

38a cretin {Clod}
32d I, Tina {1986 showbiz autobiography};

39a Rin Tin Tin {Title role in a 1950s TV western}
30d Astin {Actor John}
44a tinsmith {Artisan whose work is featured in this puzzle?}
24d unstintingly {In a very generous manner}

49a distinct {Well-defined}
52d tinkles {Bell sounds}

66a Tiny Tim {Literary invalid}
45d selecting {"Eeny-meeny-miney-mo" activity}

68a tin ear {It's not good for conducting}
62d sit-in {1960s event}
CompilersHolden Baker / Will Shortz
Grid15x15 with 38 (16.9%) black squares
Answers78 (average length 4.79)
Theme squares74 (39.6%)
Scrabble points274 (average 1.47)
Video of the Day

39a Rin Tin Tin {Title role in a 1950s TV western}. The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin originally aired in 166 episodes on ABC from October 1954 until August 1959. It starred child actor Lee Aaker as Rusty, a boy orphaned in an Indian raid, who was being raised by the soldiers at a US Cavalry post. He and his German shepherd dog, Rin Tin Tin, helped the soldiers to establish order in the American West.

The Rin Tin Tin role was performed one of several related dogs that descended from a shell-shocked pup found by American serviceman Lee Duncan in a bombed-out dog kennel in Lorraine, France, less than two months before the end of World War I. He was named for a puppet called Rin tin tin that French children gave to the American soldiers for good luck.

The Doctor is IN

15a Uele {Ubangi tributary}. The Uele is the fifth longest river in Africa.

18a I'm as {"Look at me, ___ helpless ..." (opening to "Misty")}. Johnny Burke lyrics retrofitted to an Erroll Garner composition.

41a Ursa {Bear in the sky}. Ursa Minor or Ursa Major, take your pick.

46a Ft Dodge {County seat on the Des Moines River}. Fort Dodge, seat of Webster County, Iowa.

56a Old Yeller {1957 Disney tearjerker}. Old Yeller  is a Cruciverbal Canine

64a kale {Scratch}. kale and scratch are both slang terms for money.

12d A Sign {Petula Clark's "___ of the Times"}. A Sign of the Times was a hit in 1966.

21d Skerritt {Emmy-winning Tom of "Picket Fences"}. Tom Skerritt played Sheriff Jimmy Brock.

26d ogre {Figure in Magic: The Gathering}. Magic: The Gathering is a card game by Richard Garfield.

56d Olde {___ English 800 (Miller brand)}. Olde English 800 is a high alcohol beer.

57d Lila {Oscar winner Kedrova}. Lila Kedrova won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for  Zorba the Greek.

60d rams {Some butters}. Rams butt things.

Image of the Day

Pet Rock container

37d Dahl {Gary who invented the Pet Rock}. I lived through the 1970s but somehow managed to avoid buying, or being given, a Pet Rock. Did I miss out? Does anyone who had a Pet Rock in the 1970s still lovingly care for it? Remember, Pet Rocks aren't just for Christmas!

Apparently the 1975 fad for Pet Rocks only lasted a year, but it was enough to make advertising exec Gary Dahl a millionaire. His other claim to fame is as a writer: in 2000 he won the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, in which you are invited "to compose the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels"; Gary's winning entry was:
The heather-encrusted Headlands, veiled in fog as thick as smoke in a crowded pub, hunched precariously over the moors, their rocky elbows slipping off land's end, their bulbous, craggy noses thrust into the thick foam of the North Sea like bearded old men falling asleep in their pints.
Other Clues

10a iMac {Apple offering}; 14a a Game {NPR's "Only ___"}; 16a cash {Choice at checkout}; 17a Iliad {Inspiration for "Troilus and Cressida"}; 19a Erie {See 23-Across}; 20a let it snow {When said three times, a yuletide song}; 23a Lake {With 19-Across, borderer of four states}; 24a unpins {Frees, in a way}; 25a dog {Follow relentlessly}; 28a peasant {Simple sort}; 31a uglier {Not so attractive}; 33a assorted {Mixed}; 42a tenacity {Stick-to-it-iveness}; 48a gal {___ pal}; 53a olla {Bean pot}; 55a rocks {Is too cool}; 61a awol {One in civvies who maybe shouldn't be}; 62a slid {Lost traction}; 63a Clara {Santa ___, Calif.}; 65a idle {What a getaway car may be waiting in}; 67a ends {Remnants}; 69a geeks {Oddballs}.

1d sail {Fly (through)}; 3d gait {Amble, e.g.}; 4d email {P.D.A. communiqué}; 5d red tape {Delay cause}; 6d Guinea {Neighbor of Liberia}; 7d Remo {San ___, Italy}; 8d a law {"There oughta be ___!"}; 10d ice up {Freeze over}; 13d chess {Knight's activity?}; 22d onto {Not conned by}; 25d duct {Main, e.g.};  27d Glen {Valley ___, redundantly named California community}; 29d Sanyo {RCA competitor}; 34d rum {Some punch for punch}; 35d trig. {H.S. math}; 36d esta {"Cómo ___?"}; 40d it'd {"___ be a pleasure"}; 43d CFCs {Regulated pollutants, for short}; 47d dodder {Walk unsteadily}; 49d Drake {Captain of the Golden Hind}; 50d Iowan {Any resident of 46-Across}; 51d scold {Termagant}; 54d all ye {"Abandon hope ___ ..."}; 58d late {Missing the boat, say}; 59d Erik {Senta's suitor in "The Flying Dutchman"}.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

ACPT 2010 - The Fearsome Five

Ross Beresford
It's time to write about my sophomore year at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. When I first competed in 2009, I had only been solving American puzzles for a couple of months and was about two-thirds down the field, failing to complete three of the seven puzzles and getting one letter wrong in a further puzzle, due to my ignorance of TV personalities.

My speed and accuracy has been improving steadily since then, thanks in large part to this blog, which helps cement in the cultural information needed for American crosswords.

When I read the Wordplay Companion Book, I noticed that it included the full set of competition puzzles from the 2005 ACPT and decided to keep those in reserve for solving as practice this year. I did them all a couple of weeks ago and aced them: no mistakes and everything finished with time to spare. On the basis of my scores, I'd have been about a third the way down the field that year.

So I reckoned I had reasonable expectations of being in the top 250 or so in a field of 650-odd. I thought I'd at least be able to complete all the puzzles in the time and so make the "Solving Perfection" list. Perhaps I should have suspected that solving at home and in competition are rather different things, and that maybe the competition has got a bit stiffer in recent years? ...

Like last year, I chose a solving station towards the front right of the ballroom where sit the huddled masses yearning to fill crosswords. Magdalen (who opted not to compete this year) had told me not to sit near one of the top solvers - it can be unnerving to see them finish in the time it takes you to read the first clue. So after I'd chosen my spot I was a little fazed to see pentachamp Tyler Hinman choosing the same row - should I move somewhere else? I decided to stay put and, as it turned out, I was so focused on solving (and/or he was so quiet in leaving the room) that the proximity of such genius didn't affect me at all.

Once again, I've got the scans of my puzzle entries to remind me how I did on each puzzle. This feature of the tournament is just amazing, but then every aspect of this tournament with its huge number of competitors is outstanding. I don't think there's anything in UK puzzledom to parallel it. Kudos to all the officials for doing such a great job.

Puzzle 1 - Flip-Flops by Stanley Newman (15 minutes, 78 words)
Flip-Flops by Stanley Newman
Score: 780 (78 correct answers) + 150 (6 mins in hand) + 150 (correct) = 1080

This is supposedly a bit of a "warm-up" puzzle, and it was a romp until I got into the fairly isolated central block: I instinctively went for YMCA at 32-Across and LAPD at 45-Across, but wasn't at all sure of myself. Why should you go to a YMCA to learn CPR? ... it didn't make sense to me. Also, did Mel Brooks really win all those awards (yes, it turns out)? Although I had blogged about CSA at least once in the last year, and it rang bells, it isn't one of those abbreviations where I automatically think of the expansion.

I didn't want to turn in an incorrect puzzle #1, so I mused about this area for a couple of minutes before concluding it wasn't getting me anywhere. Up my hand went with 6 minutes out of the 15 left.

Puzzle 2 - Can We Tawk? by Elizabeth C. Gorski (25 minutes, 94 words)
Can We Tawk? by Elizabeth C. Gorski
Score: 940 (94 correct answers) + 125 (5 mins in hand) + 150 (correct) = 1215

Last year's second puzzle was by Brendan Emmett Quigley and I found it brutal, failing to finish. So I was comforted to see the byline of Elizabeth C. Gorski - a constructor I feel more of at home with. Although the title "Can We Tawk?" suggested to me that puns involving Ls becoming Ws might be involved, I soon realized that IT was being dropped and eventually justified that from 65-Across.

The problems really lay outside the theme, as there were lots of pop culture references I didn't know. Mostly cross-checking saved the day, but I had serious doubts about the top middle: I knew 6-Down to be a danger area, as carat can also be spelled karat. ices for {Nails down, so to speak} didn't make sense to me and of course Maris {Slugger in 1961 news} isn't a name on the tip of my tongue. Lamia {Vampire} crossing Madsen {Virginia of "Sideways"} was also a worry.

Eventually I went for what I thought instinctively right. On a final check through the grid I noticed MAAT at 1-Down, thanks to guessing taking a quick ex (?!) at 22-Across. Realized ma'am was called for and put my hand up with only five minutes in hand this time.

Puzzle 3 - The Sports Bar by Patrick Berry (30 minutes, 118 words)
The Sports Bar by Patrick Berry
Score: 1180 (118 correct answers) + 0 (0 mins in hand) + 150 (correct) = 1330

It was a similar story with this Patrick Berry puzzle, although in this case, I think it took me quite a while to get enough of the theme answers in full to ascertain the fairly simple idea. Again, there were areas of uncertainty, particularly around Taos at 97-Across {Site of the Kit Carson House}, which crosses with the crafty poker reference {Doesn't just call} for raises at 82-Down; also around Skokie at 18-Down {Illinois home to Rand McNally} - that was a problem more for hampering recognition of thematic answers ... once I got those, the place name seemed solid.

I had the grid completed with about 3 minutes left on the clock, but took the time to run through every row and column as a final check. That's no mean task on a 19x, and by the time I was done with that we were into the last minute.

Puzzle 4 - Without Fail by Mike Nothnagel (20 minutes, 78 words)
Without Fail by Mike Nothnagel
Score: 780 (78 correct answers) + 25 (1 mins in hand) + 150 (correct) = 955

I met Magdalen for lunch in the hotel restaurant and we were lucky enough to be joined by two other competitors. Unbeknownst to me, the restaurant has the enigmatic name of "Archives", which had me calling up the following day to ask what ARCHIVES was doing on my bill - I expect they get that a lot!

With this 15x grid, we were given five minutes more than for puzzle #1 and I was very glad of it. It perhaps took me too long to realize the meaning of the pass clue {What you can do to the end of the answer to each starred clue}, viz that each theme answer ends in a word that can follow "pass the".

As usual, my concerns were mostly with non-thematic aspects: clip {Commit a gridiron infraction} crossing with Lou {Mary's boss on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show"}; Fiona {"Shrek" princess} crossing Adama {"Battlestar Galactica" commander} and Henner {Marilu of "Taxi"}. So by the time I'd discounted any alternatives, there was only a minute left when I put my hand up.

Puzzle 5 - You're Solving ... With What? by Brendan Emmett Quigley (25 minutes, 94 words)
You're Solving ... With What? by Brendan Emmett Quigley
Score: 770 (77 correct answers) = 770

So to the fearsome puzzle five. I knew a Brendan Emmett Quigley puzzle was due and as it hadn't yet materialized, it was surely this one. The announcement of a BEQ puzzle sent a shiver down many spines, including mine: I've lately been solving each of his self-published puzzles at Brendan Emmett Quigley -- Can I Have a Word With You? to try to get into the mindset. It looks like I may have to keep taking the medicine!

Again, it was a story of realizing the workings of the theme way too late: I struggled to get enough downs to get a handle on the theme answers and it wasn't until about 20 minutes had gone by that I realized how easy the ones in the lower half were to solve. I then raced through the bottom half filling in corners right up to the bell.

Although I got further than I thought I did (I reported the grid to Magdalen as 75% done), I might have needed another 5 minutes at least to finish off. The intersection of 58-Across and -Down at the start letter is tricky: {Sound pulse} could lead to ding, ping, ring, ting, at least; {Sales pitch?} is still puzzling me, though I am told the answer is pie. OK I have to give up and check a database of past clues: the reference is to Soupy Sales, a TV personality famous for receiving pies in the face. OK, I concede: the chances of my getting this puzzle right were about 25%, based on a random guess of the 58-Down options! And Sales has to go into Pavlov's Guide to Crosswords right now!

What about the top middle? I'd got off to a bad start with April (rather than rains) for {Wet season} promisingly crossing pairs (rather than a pair ... I've led a sheltered life) for {Almost nothing, in poker}. I've just finished that area from where I left off, taking five minutes over it. Getting 27-Across as use great care was critical, and that required a knowledge of the corresponding bottom half answer. I can see now what a great thematic idea this puzzle has ... just a shame I didn't when solving! By the way, I'd have gone with Sliwa for 13-Down, but it's the sort of unexpected surname that gives me nightmares as a solver (no I'm not a follower of conservative radio talk shows).

Puzzle 6 - Misfilings by Maura B. Jacobsen (30 minutes, 122 words)
Misfilings by Maura B. Jacobsen
Score: 1220 (122 correct answers) + 500 (20 mins in hand) + 150 (correct) = 1870

This was a total contrast to the previous puzzle and I repeated my comparative success last year with the same constructor: thanks Maura! I got the theme of book titles from Wuthering Heights very early on and started throwing in literary titles with reckless abandon, barely looking at the theme clues.

After my failure on puzzle #5 I was less concerned about mistakes, but (unlike my experience with the other puzzles) didn't feel insecure about anything I'd put in. I was pleasantly surprised to find fewer than 10 minutes of the 30 had elapsed when I put my hand up. With this puzzle I got a sense, for the first time, of how the best solvers can complete a puzzle as fast as they do (the top 9 solvers all did this one in between 4 and 5 minutes).

Puzzle 7 - Heads of State by Merl Reagle (45 minutes, 144 words)
Heads of State by Merl Reagle
Score: 1440 (144 correct answers) + 325 (13 mins in hand) + 150 (correct) = 1915

I slept badly on Saturday night and the mild cold that I'd been suffering for a few days turned more serious. I didn't have much of an appetite at breakfast and wondered if I'd be able to get to do the seventh puzzle at all. Fortunately, I gradually perked up during the day and I don't think my symptoms made a huge difference to the result with this puzzle.

The insertion-and-pun theme came to me reasonably quickly and I remember feeling fairly confident about everything in the grid except for the area around 89-Across (mayo, Adrian is based on a Rocky quote ... I've seen the movie, but didn't find "Yo, Adrian!" as memorable as Merl Reagle presumably did). This unfortunately crossed with Rosie {Whoopi's predecessor on "The View"} and Bruno {Magli of shoe fame} ... eeeek!

As before, I thought about the options for a minute or so and then just had to go with my instincts - spending more time wouldn't have made any difference and I put my hand up with 13 minutes to spare.

Summing It All Up

My scores add to 9135 which puts me in 307th place (up from 478th last year). I feel lucky to have got the six puzzles I finished right, despite feeling insecure about most of them. I'm upset I didn't finish every puzzle - that to me is still a priority over speed.

But looking at how other people did, I see that I should be much more concerned about speed if I'm to do any better. I'm going to pick on Ryan Hecht for a comparison, as he's another blogger and podcaster as part of Ryan and Bryan Do Crosswords (love your work guys) and therefore somewhat in the public eye already. Ryan finished just 9 places ahead of me last year, so we were both in the E Division (where contestants who have not finished in the top 65% during their last three tournaments go). This year he finished 51 places ahead of me and wrested the coveted "winner of the E division" trophy from his co-blogger Brian Cimmet. So where did I go wrong?

It looks like I'm just too slow: Ryan's faster than me on #2 (4 mins), #3 (9 mins), #4 (6 mins) and #7 (9 mins). I'm only faster than him on #6 and then only by 3 minutes. It didn't matter that I got closer to finishing #5 - speed on the other puzzles counted for a lot more. Having another year of solving and blogging under my belt should provide a further boost, but I also seem to be at a point where I need to think about faster technique.

What do I hope for next year? Going up 171 places again is certainly not on the cards: my aging brain can't take the knowledge on board like it could in my teens and twenties, and my background will always be a disadvantage - there's no substitute for a lifetime's TV watching and the likes of Soupy Sales are always going to be more challenging for me. I'm guessing that in another year, I might just have a chance of making it into the top third.

But I shouldn't dwell on the competitive aspects of the weekend, when so much of the fun of the ACPT is in the "extracurricular" events and just meeting lots of like-minded people. I felt more relaxed this time and talked with many more competitors and officials than last year. Being British makes me something of an oddity, but I still feel very welcome - be warned though, by ACPT 2011, I might well have been "naturalized" as a US citizen ... watch this space!

NYT Wednesday 2/24/10 - Hear Here

The theme for this Wednesday New York Times crossword is another simple, but perfectly formed one. It took an embarrassingly long time for me to see what was going on: I'd run through all the acrosses without getting many, then only when I got right down to the last few downs did I see the possibility of write right rite at 56-Across.

After that, I was able to go back to the top three long answers and fill them in with barely a look at the corresponding clues. The off-center triples seems a little unorthodox in its position, and I wonder whether eskimos at 40-Across could have been replaced with something thematic to balance it? It doesn't make a huge difference during solving, but when you stop to admire a completed grid, symmetry seems esthetically pleasing.

There was one definite problem area in the grid for me and I took a couple of minutes at the end to try to be sure of it: I didn't know Arne Carlson at 32-Down and couldn't figure what of the E?L possibilities might be relevant to a petty officer at 42-Across. Eventually I just went with Arne as the only sane-looking forename and didn't figure out that enl. is short for "enlisted" until researching this report.

43a Îles {Martinique et Corsica} struck me as potentially wrong when solving, as I remember learning of Napoleon in French classes that "il est né en Corse". But on further consideration, I've realized NYT clues can sometimes be a mixture like this: English except for just one foreign-language word that suggests the language of the answer.

To judge by the difficulty I had justifying it, {Taxonomic suffix} isn't the ideal way to -ote (25-Across). If you have to resort to a suffix for this answer (and that may well be the case), then its meaning as "inhabitant of" is more likely to be recognizable to ordinary mortals (as in Cypriote, Corfiote etc).

Finally, I think "toy" needs an entry in Pavlov's Guide to Crosswords as I don't think this is the first time I've been misled into thinking of playthings instead of dogs (see 66-Across).
Solving time: 11 mins (solo, no solving aids)
Clue of the puzz: 66a peke {Chinese toy, for short}

Kenneth J. Berniker
Grid art by Sympathy [about the grid colors]


Three homophones strung together making a pun, as indicated by 36a triples {20-, 26-, 46- and 56-Across, homophonically speaking}.
20a Knicks nix Nicks {Hoopsters turn down singer Stevie?}
26a lose Lou's loos {Misplace comic Costello's privies?}
46a mete meet meat {Apportion hamburgers to track runners?}
56a write right rite {Compose the appropriate ceremony?}
CompilersKenneth J. Berniker / Will Shortz
Grid15x15 with 39 (17.3%) black squares
Answers76 (average length 4.89)
Theme squares59 (31.7%)
Scrabble points296 (average 1.59)
Video of the Day

48d magpie {Heckle or Jeckle of cartoons}. Heckle and Jeckle are a pair of identical magpies who calmly outwit their foes in the manner of Bugs Bunny, while maintaining a mischievous streak reminiscent of Woody Woodpecker. One magpie speaks with an English accent, while the other speaks with a New York dialect. They were created by Paul Terry, and released by his own studio, Terrytoons for 20th Century Fox.

The Doctor is IN

10a Cali {Colombia's second-largest city}. Santiago de Cali in full.

14a Ávila {Walled city of Spain}. Ávila.

25a -ote {Taxonomic suffix}. Singular of -ota, as in eukaryote corresponding to the group Eukaryota.

35a HRE {Maximilian I's realm: Abbr.}. The Holy Roman Empire.

42a enl. {Like a petty officer: Abbr.}. Short for enlisted.

67a Spee {German admiral who went down with the Scharnhorst}. Maximilian Graf von Spee.

2d Ivana {The first Mrs. Trump}. Ivana Trump.

4d elec. {T.V.A. output}. The Tennessee Valley Authority.

30d Sésé {Zaire's Mobutu ___ Seko}. Mobutu Sésé Seko - former president of Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo).

32d Arne {Former Minnesota governor Carlson}. Arne Carlson.

38d elements {Things on a table}. I.e. the periodic table.

41d int. {Cause of a turnover: Abbr.}. An interception in American Football.

49d Eth. {Haile Selassie's land: Abbr.}. Ethiopia.

Image of the Day

Jackie Robinson and Pee Wee Reese Monument by William Behrends
27d one {Pee Wee Reese, for the Dodgers}. I thought this clue might do for Image of the Day, but hadn't expected to find this poignant sculpture of Pee Wee Reese with Jackie Robinson. It illustrates an incident that occurred in the early days of racial integration in Major League Baseball. Before a game in Cincinnati in 1948, Reese put his arm around Robinson in response to fans who shouted racial slurs at Robinson. The statue by sculptor William Behrends was unveiled at KeySpan Park in 2005. You can see the defunct Parachute Jump at Coney Island in the background.

Other Clues

1a rivet {Fix firmly}; 6a a rib {Bust ___ (laugh hard)}; 15a tabu {"Forbidden" perfume brand}; 16a amen {Service closer}; 17a navel {Focus of some contemplation}; 18a over {Control tower word}; 19a nook {Cozy corner}; 23a sad {Singing the blues}; 24a taco {Filled fare}; 31a Saki {"The Square Egg" author}; 34a into {Keen on}; 40a Eskimos {Yup'ik and others}; 43a Îles {Martinique et Corsica}; 45a NYSE {Org. with a closing bell}; 51a vim {Get-up-and-go}; 52a rats {Candidates for witness protection programs}; 53a Tim {Secretary Geithner}; 60a Wien {Austria's capital, to Austrians}; 61a neap {Kind of tide}; 62a ran at {Rushed}; 63a OPEC {Grp. including Nigeria and Venezuela}; 64a Tati {"Mon Oncle" star}; 65a Acela {Speedy Washington-to-Boston link}; 66a peke {Chinese toy, for short}; 68a lysol {Custodian's supply}.

1d ranks {Admiral and others}; 3d vivid {Like some imaginations}; 5d talk to {Have a word with}; 6d at once {On the double}; 7d ravioli {Filled fare}; 8d ibex {Alpine goat}; 9d burnouts {Rat race casualties}; 10d cancel {Alternative to "Continue" in an online order}; 11d amok {In a frenzy}; 12d Leos {13 popes, so far}; 13d ink {Tattooist's supply}; 21d SAS {Airline in the Star Alliance}; 22d it's OK {"No harm, no foul"}; 26d lip {Sass}; 28d oh my! {"Heavens!"}; 29d oros {Top prizes at the Juegos Olímpicos}; 31d stem {Part of many musical notes}; 33d kilt {Piper's wear}; 37d limit {The sky, it's said}; 39d see? {"Get it?"}; 44d striate {Make furrows in}; 47d evince {Show clearly}; 50d astral {Like some planetarium projections}; 53d tines {Sticking points}; 54d Italo {Author Calvino}; 55d metal {Like most golf woods, nowadays}; 56d wipe {Towelette, e.g.}; 57d reek {Need a bath badly}; 58d reap {Take in}; 59d racy {Blue}; 60d wop {Doo-___}.