Sunday, February 21, 2010

NYT Monday 2/22/10 - Wedding Band

We've now returned back from the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament 2010, happy, but fairly exhausted. I seem to have ended up 307th out of 644 competitors (compared to 479th out of 674 last year). The good news: I finished 6 out of the 7 puzzles correctly in the time. The bad news: I failed to complete the dreaded 5th puzzle. I'll be writing a long post devoted to the competition puzzles later this week, in the style of last year's.

I feel that my second ACPT marks a milestone in my attempts to learn about US crosswords (and hence American culture, high and low) and that it's time to rethink the style of my blog posts. Although I personally have benefited a lot from the old style of posts, they are time-consuming to make and the value to me from writing them is diminishing as I assimilate all the cultural knowledge.

In particular, I'm not sure there's much value to readers in copying out chunks of Wikipedia articles when I can just link to the information. Adding as many videos and images as I did made the blog look pretty, but at the cost of a great deal of time. I think I can write about puzzles in a more streamlined way that provides approximately the same value to readers. Anyway, I'll experiment with a new format this week and see what comments materialize. In place of the New to Me and Noteworthy sections, we will have:
  1. Video of the Day - one video clip to illuminate the clue that most merits it
  2. The Doctor is IN - explanations of the more obscure references or trickiness in the cluing
  3. Image of the Day - one still image to illuminate the clue the most merits it
I think my choices for the above are still likely to betray my background a little - what I consider obscure references may be to the most famous sports figures, TV stars, pop stars etc imaginable. But most of my personal impressions of the puzzle will be moved to the introductory narrative, which just for today has been overwhelmed by this spiel.

So to this Monday New York Times crossword, which has a beautiful theme based on the old wedding tradition of something old, something new something borrowed, something blue. I was on to this after getting Old Hickory and New Caledonia, but didn't think to take advantage of it until blue ribbon had gone in, allowing borrowed to be plonked down right away.

There were no significant trouble spots ... what red herrings I fell for (per at 25-Down, scent at 50-Across and nill at 64-Across) were easily corrected. I'm curious about one technical aspect of the puzzle: the two long arcs of black squares almost cut off the central section and I find it inelegant any time one part of a grid gets isolated in that way. But then it occurred to me this feature might be thematic, the blocks being roughly ring-shaped?
Solving time: 5 mins (solo, no solving aids)
Clue of the puzz: 58d bra {Push-up provider}
Solution

Steve Dobis
Grid art by Sympathy [about the grid colors]

Theme

The tradition of brides wearing something old, something new something borrowed, something blue to their wedding, as indicated by 36a something {Word that can precede the starts of 18-, 20-, 53- and 58-Across}.
18a Old Hickory {Nickname for Andrew Jackson}
20a New Caledonia {Island east of Australia}
53a borrowed time {Dangerous thing to be living on}
58a blue ribbon {First prize at a fair}
Crucimetrics
CompilersSteve Dobis / Will Shortz
Grid15x15 with 38 (16.9%) black squares
Answers76 (average length 4.92)
Theme squares53 (28.3%)
Scrabble points279 (average 1.49)
Letters usedABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ
Video of the Day



2d Laverne {Shirley's friend in 1970s-'80s TV}. The list of sitcoms I'm learning through crosswords is never-ending. I don't think I've yet met Laverne & Shirley, which I gather is one of the spinoffs from Happy Days. Laverne De Fazio (Penny Marshall) and Shirley Feeney (Cindy Williams) are roommates working in a Milwaukee brewery. Each episode started with the girls skipping down the street, arm in arm, reciting a Yiddish-American hopscotch chant: "1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 Schlemiel! Schlimazel! Hasenpfeffer Incorporated!".

The Doctor is IN

20a New Caledonia {Island east of Australia}. New Caledonia in Melanesia.

29d Seton {___ Hall Pirates (1953 N.I.T. champs)}. Seton Hall is in The Crucy League.

33d GMA {"Today" rival, for short}. ABC's Good Morning America.

37d orator {Daniel Webster, for one}. Daniel Webster, politician cousin of lexicographer Noah.

45d Alameda {Oakland's county}. Oakland is the county seat of Alameda County, CA.

50d Sid {Caesar whose forum was TV}. Comic Sid Caesar.

56d Ob-La {Syllables before "di" or "da" in a Beatles song}. Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da.

Image of the Day

Old Hickory
18a Old Hickory {Nickname for Andrew Jackson}. A recent experience on stage at the ACPT showed my ignorance of American presidents, relative to the locals. Asked for surnames of presidents which start with (or are in full) dictionary words, I wouldn't have thought of Andrew Jackson (jack) although somehow I did come up with John Tyler (tyler) ... perhaps because of seeing Tyler Hinman all over the place.

My main reason for picking out this clue is of course to find out why Jackson should be called Old Hickory. Did he famously cut down a hickory tree in his youth? No, it seems the 7th Prez earned the sobriquet on the battlefield, specifically in the War of 1812. He was famous for his bravery and success, and said to be "tough as old hickory". Jackson based his career in developing Tennessee, and his nickname is evident in Old Hickory Boulevard in Nashville and other place names.

Other Clues

1a alec {Smart ___ (wise guy)}; 5a Farsi {Persian tongue}; 10a amps {Roadies carry them}; 14a mayo {Sandwich spread}; 15a oleos {Sandwich spreads}; 16a Noah {Ark builder}; 17a oven {Bakery fixture}; 22a greets {Says hello to}; 23a trove {Treasure chest}; 27a snare {Trap}; 28a Tse {Mao ___-tung}; 31a radio {The "R" in RCA}; 32a tern {Shorebird}; 33a ghetto {Depressed urban area}; 35a Dan {Former vice president Quayle}; 39a ass {Smart ___ (wise guy)}; 42a Ramone {Any member of a classic punk rock band}; 43a Esai {Morales of "La Bamba"}; 47a Papua {___ New Guinea}; 49a Eno {Brian of Roxy Music}; 50a smell {What the nose picks up}; 51a Egypt {Pharaoh's realm}; 52a dismal {Dreary}; 61a one g {Force felt on the earth, informally}; 62a Rosa {Civil rights pioneer Parks}; 63a pilot {Cockpit occupant}; 64a nada {Zippo}; 65a abet {Aid and ___}; 66a a sale {Make ___ (do some business)}; 67a El Al {Carrier to Tel Aviv}.

1d amongst {Surrounded by}; 3d eyewear {Goggles and glasses}; 4d concerns {People's worries}; 5d fools {Jesters}; 6d alle {It means everyone to Hans}; 7d Redd {Comedian Foxx}; 8d SoHo {TriBeCa neighbor}; 9d is in {"Beauty ___ the eye ..."}; 10d Ankara {Turkey's capital}; 11d moo {Neigh : horse :: ___ : cow}; 12d par {Number on a golf course}; 13d shy {Wallflower-ish}; 19d citron {Lemonlike fruit}; 21d ate {Dined}; 24d odd {Like 1, 3, 5, 7, etc.}; 25d via {By way of}; 26d eon {Long stretch of time}; 28d theme {Parts of a bride's attire, for this puzzle}; 30d ethno- {Prefix with -centric}; 34d tie {1-1 or 2-2, e.g.}; 38d gemstone {Opal or topaz}; 39d ape {Gorilla}; 40d sag {What mattresses do over time}; 41d spy {007, for one}; 44d seminal {Original}; 46d illegal {Law-breaking}; 48d upbeat {Optimistic}; 52d dente {Al ___ (cooked, yet firm)}; 54d Ripa {Kelly of morning TV}; 55d RBIs {Sluggers' figs.}; 57d wool {Winter coat material}; 58d bra {Push-up provider}; 59d lob {High tennis shot}; 60d use {Have no ___ for}.

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