Thursday, February 25, 2010

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"}.


Elaine said...

Ross, I believe Magdalen (and your dictionary) are mistaken. CRETIN (actually a medical term) and SPASTIC (also medical in origin)/SPAZ are used as derogatory insults. I posted the following on another blog, and offer it here as further enlightenment, I hope in the spirit of making the world a friendlier place:

When I studied mental retardation as one of the first group of 13 Special Education majors at Ga. State (just College, way back then) the common terms for levels of impairment were idiot, imbecile, moron...No kidding. Instead of Down syndrome, there was 'the M word.' Over the many years of my professional life, I witnessed the changes in attitude as parents began refusing to 'place' their children, instead raising them within their families and working to insure their civil rights--especially educational and vocational. Part of that struggle has been to change the hurtful language that people use to label those who, through no fault of their own, are impaired; it's much more than 'political correctness'--it's basic human respect.

I winced at the clod/cretin bit, but didn't take it up until now. However, I'd like Will Shortz to ask himself if he would have inserted 'the R word'...and if not, perhaps in the name of human kindness it would be good to retire 'cretin,' too. The language is quite rich enough with insults that we need not include every possibility.

On a personal note, our daughter (who has a long list of medical and disability challenges) was on the receiving end of a lot of painful name-calling. Her brother was told, "Your sister is a retard; she walks like an ape." Yeah, yeah-- kids are like that. So...shouldn't we adults be better?
(Oh, P.S.--and please forgive the brag--but our daughter has a PhD in microelectronics and photonics. She still struggles with mobility.)

Magdalen said...

Elaine -- I think Ross's point is that those words are invariably offensive in the UK (the way "shag" as a verb is invariably sexual in the UK, whereas here it has a benign meaning in baseball; shagging balls is *not* a bad thing for our youth to be doing).

I completely agree that the words "cretin" and "spastic" can have offensive meaning in the US, but I think they can have more benign usages. A "spastic colon" is perhaps distasteful as a topic over dinner, but it's not pejorative. And as "cretin" can refer to the common sense aspect of intelligence, and "spaz" (shortened form of "spastic") can refer to a momentary loss of coordination, both words can be used in self-derogatory situations. I may say "I'm a cretin" without causing offense. I don't believe I could use the word "retard" in any conceivable inoffensive way when applied to a human being. (Something that can "retard growth," for example, is different.)

I appreciate that as the mother of a beautiful and brilliant daughter, any word that can be used to insult her is not a word you can ever defend. That's understandable.

For myself, I hope you know I was neither trying to excuse the pejorative uses these words can be put to, but just suggesting to Ross that they are not invariably offensive in the US as they are in the UK.

Ethan said...

I've only been doing the NYT for a few weeks now (my university gives papers out for free), and this completely mystified me. I probably would have given myself an aneurysm if I hadn't seen the rebus. It all makes sense now, of course.

Crossword Man said...

Hi Ethan, thanks for commenting. Free papers huh? Are they trying to get you addicted or something :-)

Crossword Man said...

Elaine, the dictionary I usually refer to is Merriam-Webster's Collegiate, 11th Ed (the latest). I suggest writing to the editor(s) asking that they note the offensive potential of cretin, spastic and spaz. Letters make a difference in my experience, even if they end up hedging with often offensive, which they currently have for retard as a noun.

Just for comparison, The New Oxford American Dictionary, 2nd Ed, qualifies cretin with "(used as a general term of abuse)", and describes retard as offensive, and spastic/spaz as informal, offensive.

Elaine said...

Here is how it all gets so sticky. You'd never go to a medical center and have someone use the word 'shag,' but we'd all talk about 'spastic' muscle groups without blinking an eye. Context is everything. However, NO, you would never use 'cretin' in discussing your child's intelligence, I guarantee. Even diagnosing thyroid disfunction in an infant, people now avoid that term, simply focusing on the relatively simple treatment that prevents the potential developmental problems.

Outside of the medical setting, it is pretty rare to hear 'spastic' or 'cretin' where it ISN'T pejorative. That is what I'm trying to get across. And NO, it is not simply that I object as a mother of someone with physical disabilities that might be mistaken for even more serious impairments. I was won to the good fight by my exposure to the brave battles of families who loved their children with retardation and cerebral palsy and who wanted them addressed FIRST as persons-- before they were labeled by their impairments. It didn't make my own 'special parenthood' easier, but it did give me valuable perspective.

I do hope you will ponder the differences until you understand what I am trying to convey. I have every faith in your good will.

Magdalen said...

Elaine -- You're preaching to the choir here. We agree that these words shouldn't appear in the NYT crossword puzzle. We just have no influence over the people who can ensure that result.

If you haven't already, I suggest you find the "Tin Tin" puzzle on Jim Horne's & Patrick Merrell's blog, Wordplay (the top of the blog roll on the right). That's the official crossword blog for the New York Times, and thus the best place to urge the compilers and editors not to use words like these.

It's true Will Shortz (your ultimate target for making these arguments) says he reads this blog, but I have no confidence that he reads the comments.

As you can see from Ross's commentary, he's already squarely in favor of not using these words. His question to me was if they are universally offensive in the US as they are in the UK, and I said I didn't think so.

I'm not a crossword geek (except by marriage) so all I'm ever asked to do is say how a particular word sounds to an American ear. Would I want either of these words in a crossword puzzle? No. Would I feel differently if they were clued differently? Maybe.

Out of curiosity, I asked Ross about "fatso" (which could be clued as a movie title) and he immediately looked it up in a dictionary and said it's identified as "derogatory" and so he would have less of a problem with it. I gather that "offensive" is worse than "derogatory" to the compiler/editor.

Crossword Man said...

As a constructor of crosswords, I completely avoid offensive, derogatory and vulgar terms. I personally don't think they belong in what's a form of entertainment for a general audience.

However, I've also been a crossword editor and it's clear that a few constructors - through laziness, indifference or ignorance - occasionally let such words into grids.

You're then faced with a difficult decision: should you reject a good puzzle with an unsightly word in favor of a less good puzzle with only wholesome words? (That's assuming rework is out of the question.)

It can be a tough decision, and an editor is liable to take into account what dictionaries have to say. I think MWCD is probably a little behind the times regarding the words under discussion and hope what they call "stylistic labels" will be added in the new edition. Letters suggesting this can't hurt.