Wednesday, February 3, 2010

NYT Thursday 2/4/10 - Anagram Raga Man

This Thursday New York Times crossword is another example of extreme gridding: just over half the squares are involved in the theme of seven-letter anagrams - that's fairly extraordinary.

I can see how the grid could be constructed with filling software like Sympathy's and think it's no accident that the anagrammed words are side-by-side: if you create a dictionary of the possible answers joined together as 15-letter words (e.g. SEASALTXATLASES), you can fill the grid with regular computer software (that central letter being arbitrary and subsequently removed).

I tried tackling the grid top down, getting the first two acrosses right away; but since I couldn't get any of the downs, didn't know where to put them. I decided to work on the less thematically dense middle and hoped that doing so would make the top and bottom easier.

Things worked out that way: thicken/kitchen was the first theme pair to go in and filling the rest of the center allowed me to complete the top. The bottom third was slightly trickier, not helped by a couple of ambiguities ... I had schlub instead of schlep for {Lug} and idle instead of idly for {Without aim}.


Of course it also didn't help to have the unfamiliar (to me) Joe Paterno in this area: I've been chided several times for getting Magdalen's alma mater UPenn mixed up with Penn State. Paterno, nicknamed JoePa, is the head coach of the Penn State Nittany Lions, a position he has held since 1966. He has nothing to do with UPenn, who are the Quakers.
Solving time: 17 mins (solo, no solving aids)
Clue of the puzz: 23a err {Be human}

Matt Ginsberg
Grid art by Sympathy [about the grid colors]


Clues to the seven-letter across answers are paired row-by-row and in either order. The pairs of answers are mutual anagrams. Here are the answers in the clued order:
1a/8a atlases * sea-salt {World records? * Natural seasoning}
15a/16a brigade * abridge {Division division * Cut}
17a/18a grieved * diverge {Was sorrowful * Separate}
41a/43a thicken * kitchen {Coagulate * Galley}
67a/69a Paterno * protean {Longtime Penn State head coach * Versatile}
71a/72a andante * at an end {Moderate tempo * Done}
73a/74a renamed * meander {Like St. Petersburg in 1914, 1924 and 1991 * Drift aimlessly}
CompilersMatt Ginsberg / Will Shortz
Grid15x15 with 33 (14.7%) black squares
Answers78 (average length 4.92)
Theme squares98 (51.0%)
Scrabble points318 (average 1.66)
New To Me

8d Abdul {"Spellbound" singer, 1991}. I've seen Paula Abdul in a panel of judges many times, but never performing. Time to change all that. Spellbound was (I think) her sophomore album, containing a string of hits, and selling 13 million copies worldwide. Interesting to read that she started as a cheerleader for the Los Angeles Lakers and was a sought-after choreographer before she even thought about becoming a singer.

12d Sarg {America's Puppet Master}. This has to be Jim Henson, right? No, Tony Sarg (1880-1942) got there first and is considered the father of modern puppetry in North America. I've not yet discovered what kind of act he had, or where he performed, but it's clear Sarg was instrumental in shaping the Thanksgiving Day parade, as he was an early designer of the large helium balloons; he also made elaborate animated window displays for Macy's. He also designed mechanical books, such as this version of Alice in Wonderland.

boubou52d caftan {Cousin of a boubou}. I thought a boubou had to be either (1) a monkey or (2) a bird; I was probably thinking of bonobo and boobook respectively. Actually a boubou is a bird, being a sort of shrike, but then it's also a flowing wide sleeved robe worn by men in much of West Africa, and to a lesser extent in North Africa, related to the Dashiki suit.
Anne with Mary and Jesus65d Anne {Jesus' maternal grandmother}. My knowledge of Jesus's ancestry has never before extended beyond Joseph and Mary. Mary's parents are not named in any canonical texts; however, apocryphal sources, widely accepted by later tradition, give their names as (Saint) Joachim and (Saint) Anne. The canonical texts do mention Joseph's father, but since they give two different names (the Gospel of Matthew says that Joseph's father was called Jacob; according to the genealogy in the Gospel of Luke, Joseph was a son of Heli), I'm not sure how reliable that information is.


48a Hyde {Stevenson's misanthrope}. As in Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. My money was initially on a Treasure Island reference, but I couldn't see who would be a misanthrope in that. The impact of Stevenson's narrative is evident in the presence of "Jekyll and Hyde" in the language, and the book has had numerous movie adaptations, notably a 1931 version directed by Rouben Mamoulian and starring Fredric March.

34d Swede {Dag Hammarskjöld, for one}; 39d Ikea {Unböring retailer}. I'm keeping the Swedish retailer Ikea out of New to Me, even though I couldn't quite figure out the significance of "Unböring". I've shopped there in both London and Philadelphia and know Ikea's penchant for wacky brand names. Is "Unböring" one of them, or was it coined for an ad campaign? It seems the latter. The huge number of product names makes it hard to foresee problems in translation: the "Gutvik" children's bed caused problems in Germany because it apparently sounds like "good f*ck" in German; then there's the unfortunately named "Jerker" computer table that raised some eyebrows in English-speaking countries; not to mention the "Fartfull" workbench and the "Lessebo" sofa. Anything but böring.

58d Spam {Hormel canned it in 1937; Congress, in 2003}. Not too difficult for this Spam recipient. Did Congress really can Spam in 2003, because I haven't noticed too much difference? The CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 established national standards for the sending of commercial e-mail and requires the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to enforce its provisions. The acronym CAN-SPAM derives from the bill's full name: Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography And Marketing Act of 2003. So that's what the "canned" is on about!

The CAN-SPAM Act is commonly referred to as the "You-Can-Spam" Act because the bill explicitly legalizes most e-mail spam. In particular, it does not require e-mailers to get permission before they send marketing messages.It also prevents states from enacting stronger anti-spam protections, and prohibits individuals who receive spam from suing spammers. The Act has been largely unenforced, despite a letter to the FTC from Senator Burns, who noted that "Enforcement is key regarding the CAN-SPAM legislation." In 2004 less than 1% of spam complied with the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003.

Orem64d Orem {Utah city}. Somehow remembered Orem, UT from its last outing in January 2009, but could certainly do with a refresher course on the place: Orem is the sixth-largest city in the state and is home to the Utah Valley University. Originally called Sharon, it was renamed Orem in 1914 after the guy that built the railroad line in the area.

The Rest

19a Soave {Dry white}; 20a sauce {Cheek}; 22a gym {Where Joe gets a six-pack?}; 23a err {Be human}; 25a plebs {Common people}; 27a maw {Big mouth}; 30a Babe {Bygone Yankee great, with "the"}; 32a sayest {Declare, once}; 36a odes {Lyrical works}; 38a taxi {Meter reader's place}; 40a in two {Bisected}; 45a hogan {Indian shelter}; 46a shed {Radiate, as light}; 49a schlep {Lug}; 51a talc {Tailor's chalk, typically}; 53a led {Laid out a club, maybe}; 54a dealt {Passed out on the table?}; 56a yap {Big mouth}; 58a sec {Brief moment}; 61a blips {Short-lived phenomena}; 63a float {Soda jerk's creation}.

1d sags {Gives a little}; 2d Ebro {River that was the ancient dividing line between Rome and Carthage}; 3d aria {"Summertime," e.g.}; 4d sieve {Strain}; 5d adverb {Always or forever}; 6d lge. {Big: Abbr.}; 7d Teds {Dr. Seuss, informally, and others}; 9d trices {Brief moments}; 10d live-bait {Worm, often}; 11d age {Gray}; 13d edgy {Unconventionally provocative}; 14d seem {Come across as}; 21d apex {Peak}; 24d rate {Deserve special treatment}; 26d synch {Mesh}; 27d moths {What some balls repel}; 28d ad hoc {Literally, "for this"}; 29d weigh {Heave up, as an anchor}; 31d bans {Blacks out}; 33d ethyl {Antiknock additive}; 35d toned {Fit}; 37d scald {Almost boil}; 42d knee bend {Quadriceps exercise}; 44d idly {Without aim}; 47d http {Link letters}; 50d palate {Vintner's asset}; 55d liner {Tough hit for an infielder}; 57d plena {Legislative assemblies}; 59d erne {White-tailed flier}; 60d coda {End notes?}; 62d spar {Boom}; 66d Todd {One of the Palins}; 68d tan {Almost burn}; 70d ate {Eroded, with "away"}.

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