Friday, February 5, 2010

NYT Saturday 2/6/10 - I'm Impressed!

This seems to be extreme grid week in the New York Times. Yesterday we had an example of a low block count puzzle. Today we go to the other extreme with a low word count, though this 60-word example doesn't quite reach the level of last year's Griddie Award winners.

Although I managed to get this one right, and in a reasonable time (which is great), the difficulties of pushing to the limits do show: the series of blocks along all four edges looks ugly and effectively shrinks the grid by ... say one-and-a-third column? Low-word-count grids that have a tee of blocks look more attractive visually, a centered "finger" of blocks going towards the middle hiding the stage machinery a little better.

The other weakness that I can see is the occasional creaky plural, like Ednas, Mirós, and CPAs. We're thankfully spared the excess of -er words that sometimes infests such grids. So on the whole, the constructor did a pretty good job: I'm impressed!

Here's how the solving went: I made the best start in the SW, so finished that corner and worked to the right. I got most of the SE corner, but ducked thinking about the end of 24-Down till the very end. From here I worked back to the NW and then swung over to the NE.

At the end, I had to ponder the intersection of 24-Down with 43-, 45- and 47-Across for some minutes: I knew of tinker's cuss, but not the required variant, and needed some experimentation to decide on a final answer. Eventually vague memories of Van Doren (albeit I was thinking of fils and not père) and Mesta came back to me and I settled on the correct grid.
Solving time: 25 mins (solo, no solving aids)
Clue of the puzz: 12a prerecord {Get in the can early}

Frederick J. Healy
Grid art by Sympathy [about the grid colors]

CompilersFrederick J. Healy / Will Shortz
Grid15x15 with 37 (16.4%) black squares
Answers60 (average length 6.27)
Theme squares0 (0.0%)
Scrabble points277 (average 1.47)
New To Me

Craig Hansen23a Hansen {Relief pitcher Craig}. Given my scant knowledge of the subj, baseball references are a little scary towards the end of the week. Here the surname was reasonable and the crossings secure, so I got by; but it would certainly shave minutes off my solving time if I actually knew these people. Craig Hansen was drafted into the Red Sox, but is currently a relief pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates. At 6-foot-5, Hansen reportedly can reach 97 to 98 miles per hour (158 km/h) and mixes in a hard slider.

Miro27a Mirós {"Blue II" and "Harlequin's Carnival"}. It took a while to see what "Blue II" and ""Harlequin's Carnival" might be, but eventually it hit me that they must be artworks. Then it was easy to guess the Catalan artist Joan Miró (1893–1983). Although Mirós isn't the loveliest answer in a grid, I'm more happy with plurals of artists names than yesterday's NTs, since it is common to use an artist's name as a count noun to refer to their artwork.

39a ATT {N.F.L. passing stat.}. For once ATT isn't a "court figure" or "long-distance inits". Today we have an ultra-rare reference to its use in American football: a pass attempt occurs when the QB player throws the ball forward, attempting to complete a pass ... see Football Glossary of Statistics. I learned this just in time for Super Bowl XLIV.

Biograph Theater41a Dillinger {"The lady in red" betrayed him}. A reference to a legendary event in American history that's hard for outsiders to know. The bank robber John Dillinger (1903–1934) was betrayed by a madam from a brothel, Ana Cumpănaş (also known as Anna Sage), a Romanian immigrant. She offered the Division of Investigation (DOI, precursor of the FBI) information on Dillinger in exchange for their help in preventing her deportation. She agreed to wear an orange dress when attending a movie theater with Dillinger, so she would stand out (the dress appearing red under the theater lights). They saw Manhattan Melodrama at the Biograph Theater and Dillinger was shot and killed by DOI agents on exiting the theater.

Mark Van Doren43a Doren {Pulitzer-winning poet Mark Van ___}. Something told me this had to be Van Doren. Maybe I was thinking of the quiz show scandals again, but that was to do with Charles Van Doren. Ah, Mark Van Doren (1894–1972) was Charles's dad, a Columbia University professor whose students included John Berryman, Allen Ginsberg, and Robert Lax. A selection of his readings from Collected and New Poems can be found at PennSound.
1d Habib {Career diplomat Philip}. Philip Habib (1920–1992) was a Lebanese-American career diplomat known for work in Vietnam, South Korea and the Middle East. The New York Times in observing his passing described him as "the outstanding professional diplomat of his generation in the United States". Habib retired from the foreign service after suffering a third heart attack in 1978, but was soon pressed back into service to defuse the Lebanese Civil War by Ronald Reagan. Habib negotiated a peace that allowed the PLO to evacuate from the besieged city of Beirut. In 1982, for his efforts he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom -- the highest official honor given to a US citizen by the US government. In 2006, Habib was one of of six prominent diplomats featured on United States postage stamps.

 Distinguished American Diplomats

arame2d arame {Mild-flavored seaweed in Japanese cuisine}. Had to get this entirely from crossings, but was still glad the word felt right (maybe an I at the end would have seemed even more appropriate for a Japanese word?). Arame is a species of kelp ... one of many types of seaweed used in Japanese dishes.

goose mother7d oca {Goose, in Spain or Italy}. Just how are we supposed to know this? Maybe from the Spanish or Italian equivalents of Mother Goose ... that would be either Mama Oca (Spanish) or Mamma Oca (Italian). Or does oca the tuber involved geese etymologically? ... I reckon not, so let's go with Mama Oca.
10d Ednas {"Hairspray" mom and others}. Aaargh! Pluralized forenames are ugly (and have to be ugsomely clued) even when a lovely movie like Hairspray (2007) can be referenced. Edna is of course John Travolta's role, mom to the protagonist Tracy Turnblad (Nikki Blonsky).


6a nonce {Present}. As in the phrase "for the nonce", equivalent to "for the present".

31a baskets {Magic acts?}. As Pavlov's Guide to Crosswords keeps growing, I'm starting to reap the benefits. Of course, Magic = basketball.

32a M.A.D.D. {Safety org.}. Another rare answer, but one we had as recently as January 13, so even I could remember it. Mothers Against Drunk Driving is based in Irving, TX and was founded in 1980 by Candice Lightner after her 13-year-old daughter was killed by a drunk driver.

47a Mesta {Socialite who inspired "Call Me Madam"}. Another tough reference, which thankfully we'd seen last October. Perle Skirvin Mesta (1889–1975) was an American socialite, political hostess, and U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg (1949-1953). She was known as the "hostess with the mostes [sic]" for her lavish parties featuring the brightest stars of Washington, D.C., society, including artists, entertainers and many top-level national political figures. She was the inspiration for Irving Berlin's musical Call Me Madam, which starred Ethel Merman as the character based on Mesta in both the Broadway play and the movie (1953). Here's an awesome trailer typical of the period.

Regis University3d Regis {Denver university}. Regis University is one of the institutions I researched for The Crucy League but eventually concluded didn't come up enough to merit inclusion. Maybe that decision should be revisited? Regis is a private, co-educational Roman Catholic university founded by the Society of Jesus in 1877. Based in Denver, Colorado, it is set against the backdrop of the Rocky Mountains.
24d tinker's dam {Whit}. If it had been tinker's cuss or even tinker's damn, this would have been straightforward. But this more obscure variant crossing with Doren and Mesta made the SE corner a lot tougher. According to Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable "it has been suggested" (which probably means it's not true at all) that "the term derives from the old-time tinker's custom of blocking up the hole in the article he was mending with a pellet of bread, thus making a dam that would prevent the solder from escaping. This pellet was discarded as useless when the job was finished." Hmm ... so the dam version may actually be the more authentic one after all.

33d long E {What opens easily?}. Sneaky. I spent a long time thinking about longe as in horse training, before finally twigging to this reference to the long E sound at the start of easily.

The Rest

1a harsh {Savage}; 11a arête {Alpine feature}; 12a prerecord {Get in the can early} ; 16a bagel {Tasty torus}; 17a rust-eaten {Heavily corroded}; 18a I'm impressed! {"Not bad at all!"}; 20a UVA {Cavaliers' home, for short}; 21a best wishes {"Cheers" alternative}; 22a CPAs {Calculating bunch, briefly}; 24a tots {Day-care charges}; 25a avenged {Like some wrongs}; 28a natter {Run on}; 29a Fannie {___ Mae}; 30a icier {Less approachable}; 33a Luther {King's middle name}; 34a bane {Poison}; 35a Mother's Day {Observance made official by President Wilson in 1914}; 40a center stage {Prominently featured}; 44a good deeds {Samaritans' doings}; 45a aren't {Have no life}; 46a entre {___ año (in the course of the year: Sp.)}.

4d stem the tide {Slow an increase}; 5d Help Wanted {Heading for classified information?}; 6d need {Grant consideration}; 8d not up to it {Lacking sufficient desire}; 9d crevasses {Levee breaches}; 12d presser {Iron-handed one?}; 13d rushed {Hasty}; 14d Essen {Ruhr Museum locale}; 15d rtes. {Lines: Abbr.}; 19d ringer {A dead one looks like something else}; 22d corner store {Place to get milk}; 25d animation {Opposite of sluggishness}; 26d vacant lot {Something to build on}; 27d masher {Lothario}; 29d fathers {Confession receivers}; 31d butted {Stopped being a 38-Down, with "out"}; 34d badge {Scout's honor}; 35d Mene {Mysterious word repeated in Daniel 5:25}; 36d dares {Isn't too yellow}; 37d agent {Chemical ___}; 38d yenta {Blabbermouth}; 40d -cide {Killer ending?}; 42d ldr. {C.E.O., e.g.: Abbr.}.

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