Saturday, February 20, 2010

NYT Saturday 2/20/10 - I.M. Perfection

I'm now writing from the ACPT in Brookyln, NY. I got back to our hotel room late after the informal Friday evening fun and games to solve this Saturday New York Times crossword. Magdalen is not competing this year, but I managed to persuade her to help me out with it.

We made reasonable progress in the NW, but had to leave some squares in 1-Down blank as we weren't quite sure about 16- and 18-Across. Then we swept through the NE corner, which we felt was a little easier than most of the puzzle.

The lower half of the grid was more of a nightmare, and took some working at. For us, handguns turned out to be a critical answer on the left, and Usain Bolt on the right - we kept trying to parse that as USA in ????, which maybe the constructor had in mind for us (I like the way Kaz Matsui and Usain Bolt are paired). Having lien for 44-Across, it was easy enough to polish off the NW corner.

What struck me as unusual about this puzzle was the wide range of difficulties in the cluing, more so than usual at the end of the week. kilo {Letter after Juliet in a phonetic alphabet} exemplifies one extreme with Pei {I.M. not sent through AOL?} the other ... and what a great clue that is, making something special out of a fairly humdrum answer.

My general impression was that this is a fairly hard puzzle, perhaps as difficult as last night's. I was very glad of Magdalen's help with it - it's a shame she can't be with me tomorrow to whisper in my ear when I need to know a US Olympian or a baseballer ... or tobacco products (there's no way I'd have worked out on my own how Skoal and Copenhagen are connected).
Solving time: 26 mins (with Magdalen, no solving aids)
Clue of the puzz: 38a Pei {I.M. not sent through AOL?}

Grid art by Sympathy [about the grid colors]

CompilersPaula Gamache / Will Shortz
Grid15x15 with 28 (12.4%) black squares
Answers66 (average length 5.97)
Theme squares0 (0.0%)
Scrabble points284 (average 1.44)
The Clues
1a big Mac {Product with a secret sauce}; 7a misstep {Muff}; 14a ad rate {Pitcher's charge}; 15a part-time {Like many student jobs}; 16a nearer {"___ in bloody thoughts, but not in blood": Richard III}; 17a one-armed {Like the drummer for rock's Def Leppard, amazingly}; 18a Kaz Matsui {First Japanese infielder to sign with a major-league team, familiarly}; 20a cobra {Naja naja, familiarly}; 21a Eliot {Writer of the 1950 Tony-winning play "The Cocktail Party"}; 22a kilo {Letter after Juliet in a phonetic alphabet}; 24a Dáil {___ Éireann (Irish legislative assembly)}; 25a riot {Ran-tan}; 26a solar cells {Energy converters of a sort}; 28a Sts. {Bourbon and others: Abbr.}; 29a foal {Certain suckling}; 30a IOU {Note from one who's shy}; 31a your fly is open {Exposure warning?}; 36a net {Catchy thing?}; 37a fros {Some bushes, for short}; 38a Pei {I.M. not sent through AOL?}; 40a road to ruin {Alcohol or drugs, it's said}; 44a lien {See 1-Down}; 45a acme {Be-all and end-all}; 46a nein {"___ doch!" (German reply)}; 47a gelds {Emasculates}; 48a Stara {___ Zagora, Bulgaria}; 50a Usain Bolt {2008 Olympics sensation}; 52a hand-guns {Heat}; 54a Borgia {Model for Machiavelli's "The Prince"}; 55a endorsee {Person making a check mark?}; 56a amount {Come (to)}; 57a sea-gods {Nereus and Proteus}; 58a renege {Bridge problem}.

1d bankers {With 44-Across, it may lead to a seizure}; 2d ideality {Perfection}; 3d grazioso {Elegantly, to Brahms}; 4d marmot {Burrower with a bushy tail}; 5d ate at {Bugged}; 6d cert {Superior court writ: Abbr.}; 7d Manila {The Pearl of the Orient}; 8d ire {Extreme soreness}; 9d stac. {Disconnected, in music: Abbr.}; 10d strode up {Approached purposefully}; 11d timbal {Kettledrum}; 12d Emeril {"The Essence of ___," Food Network show}; 13d pedals {Goes by foot, in a way}; 15d Pouilly-Fuissé {Chardonnay from Burgundy}; 19d Skoal {Copenhagen alternative}; 23d orison {Prayer}; 26d soft on {Liking romantically}; 27d coos {Talks romantically}; 29d fret {Neck piece}; 32d Underdog {Cartoon hero with a blue cape}; 33d Irina {___ Spalko, Indiana Jones villainess}; 34d epilogue {Words after "The end"}; 35d needling {Some provocation}; 39d in-state {Tuition classification}; 40d rashes {Breakouts}; 41d octane {___ rating}; 42d Amanda {"Finding ___," 2008 comedy}; 43d reunes {Participates in a class action}; 44d LeBron {James of the court}; 47d gnome {Diminutive chthonic figure}; 49d agro- {Prefix with biology}; 51d I-bar {Building piece}; 53d USD {Foreign exchange abbr.}.

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