Tuesday, February 9, 2010

NYT Wednesday 2/10/10 - A Lovely Puzzle

I thought this Wednesday New York Times crossword had another beautiful theme: so far this has been a really great puzzling week. Not that I noticed the beauties of the idea during solving ... it was definitely one of those crosswords where you finish it and then admire the handiwork of the constructor (who also managed a pangrammatic grid despite having 61 theme squares).

Such blindness to the theme really comes down to its subtle and unusual nature and the apparent lack of connection between the theme answers until you step back. The relatively easy cluing for this stage of the week maybe didn't help here ... I find that I don't pause to think much about a non-standard theme unless I start to get stuck and consider the possibility that understanding the theme will speed things up again.

The most difficult area for me was the NE, where I took a wrong turn by putting in dimmer for 10-Down. I also jumped to the conclusion that {Next up} at 18-Across related to baseball, making it harder to recognize the intended context of the clue and hence the ending of the answer.

I assume this is intended as a Valentine puzzle ... a shame that with Valentine's Day falling on a Sunday this year, the timing isn't ideal. Or could it be that we have another four love-themed crosswords to go? ... I somehow doubt that, although I wouldn't object if they're all as good as this one!
Solving time: 8 mins (solo, no solving aids)
Clue of the puzz: 64a amen {Mass conclusion}

Ed Sessa
Grid art by Sympathy [about the grid colors]


The letters of love are spelled out cryptically by the first four theme answers, as indicated by 60a love-letters {Billets-doux ... or 18-, 24-, 37- and 50-Across all together?}.
18a first in line {Next up}
24a heart of stone {What a compassionless person has}
37a center of gravity {Balance point}
50a end of message {[Read no further]}
CompilersEd Sessa / Will Shortz
Grid15x15 with 36 (16.0%) black squares
Answers76 (average length 4.97)
Theme squares61 (32.3%)
Scrabble points321 (average 1.70)
New To Me

12d June {It's "bustin' out all over," in song}. I vaguely remember this number, and if I had to guess where these words came from, it would be Oklahoma!. No, I have the right team with Rogers and Hammerstein, but the line is from Carousel.

Motor Trend38d road test {Motor Trend job}. Magazine titles are (for me) almost as big an area for study as sports: there are relatively few international magazines, and certainly you wouldn't expect a US publication about automobiles to be of much interest in the UK and vice versa. Motor Trend first appeared in 1949 and is well known for its Car of the Year award, given almost continuously since its inception. We have an old Subaru Forester as our reserve car and I see that make won in the Sport/Utility of the Year award in 2009. The accompanying picture is of a 1959 article entitled "Electric Cars Are Back".

Helene Curtis46d Helene {Curtis of cosmetics}. My knowledge of cosmetics doesn't go much further than Estée ... I could show a greater interest in the cosmetics aisle at the supermarket, but I'm worried that might be misconstrued. Helene Curtis is two people, being named after the wife and son of one of the bosses of the National Mineral Co when it revamped itself after World War II. I believe the Helene Curtis company no longer exists, as it was swallowed by Unilever in 1996 ... does anyone know if Helene Curtis has survived as a brand?
Argo52d Argus {Jason's shipbuilder, in myth}. Didn't know this about Argus ... I thought he was the guy with the thousand eyes. Ah, it seems there was more than one Argus ... three in fact. (1) the giant with the thousand eyes (Argus Panoptes), (2) shipwright Argus and (3) Odysseus's dog Argus, who recognizes him on his return from the Odyssey and then dies. I'm not sure we know very much about the Argo, except that it could convey some 50 Greek heroes on the high seas. The boat in the accompanying picture by Lorenzo Costa therefore looks a little small for this purpose.
Ginza53d Ginza {Chichi shopping area in Tokyo}. There's an interesting smattering of japonaiserie in this grid: Ginza seems to be the Oxford Street of Tokyo, with all the department stores and fashion clothing flagship stores. It is recognized as one of the most luxurious shopping districts in the world. Ginza is named after the silver-coin mint established there in 1612 during the Edo period.


4a spares {Alley pickups}. Before I started solving US puzzles, I'd have thought that spares were tires (or even tyres), but now I know better: spares are pins knocked down after the second ball of a frame in bowling. They are represented by a / in scoring.

dojo10a dojo {Martial arts school}. Another term I only know from crosswords: a dojo (pronounced DOUGH JOE I think, literally "place of the way" in Japanese) is a training place for any of the do arts. Originally it would have been an adjunct to a temple, as in the Noma dōjō in Tokyo.

15a Podunk {Nowheresville}. A clue like this makes me wonder if Podunk was a real place prior to it being "Nowheresville" and whether towns have since named themselves Podunk despite that association. Podunk is in fact an Algonquian word meaning a marshy place and several towns were apparently called that before it took on pejorative associations in the mid-19th century: it's not precisely clear what started this, but by 1869, Mark Twain was using it in "They even know it in Podunk, wherever that may be. It excited a two-line paragraph there". I haven't heard of any more recent developments being called Podunk ironically - it must have really bad associations in this country! As an example of its use in popular culture, the first Mickey Mouse cartoon Steamboat Willie features a place called "Podunk Landing".

dollar bill16a unum {One for the money?}. Neat clue referring to the E Pluribus Unum on dollar bills. I've not before looked into the iconography on the left side of the note: I see the left- and right-hand images correspond to the reverse and obverse side of the Great Seal of the United States. To me the pyramid and eye are redolent of Masonic imagery, but I gather it's a myth that the Great Seal was created by Freemasons. Annuit cœptis means "he approves (or has approved) [our] undertaking(s)" and Novus ordo seclorum means "New Order of the Ages" - ordo is worth remembering as it occasionally gets used as a crossword answer (but less than unum does).

57d Evel {Robbie's daredevil dad}. Referencing Evel Knievel (1938–2007) and his son Robbie Knievel who is also an accomplished motorcycle daredevil.

The Rest

1a fez {Tassled topper}; 14a axe {Fire truck item}; 17a til {Up to, for short}; 20a Alda {Alan who played TV's Hawkeye}; 22a sit {Host's request}; 23a molten {Not yet hard}; 27a Gynt {Ibsen's "Peer ___"}; 28a average {C, say}; 32a swoon {Theatrical faint}; 35a une {Somme one}; 36a sad {Bummed out}; 42a ail {Be indisposed}; 43a Ono {Plastic ___ Band}; 44a lases {Hits with a beam, as to remove a tattoo}; 45a dry-heat {Sauna feature}; 48a Abel {The good son}; 55a ocelot {Spotted cat}; 58a spa {Place that might feature a sauna}; 59a Eriq {"ER" actor La Salle}; 63a gnu {Animal whose name has a silent initial}; 64a amen {Mass conclusion}; 65a shored {Bolstered, with "up"}; 66a Uzi {Six-Day War weapon}; 67a Yale {Lock name}; 68a typers {Some blood bank technicians}; 69a sap {Some ooze}.

1d Fatah {Palestinian group}; 2d exile {Napoleon's punishment}; 3d Zelda {Mrs. F. Scott Fitzgerald}; 4d SPF {Coppertone rating: Abbr.}; 5d poison {Murder method in Christie's "A Pocket Full of Rye"}; 6d adrift {Aimless}; 7d rusts {Oxidizes}; 8d ENT {Head doctor, for short?}; 9d skim over {Scan}; 10d duller {Not as bright}; 11d on it {Taking care of business}; 13d Omen {1976 Gregory Peck film, with "The"}; 19d none {Zero}; 21d argot {Specialized vocabulary}; 25d Tyne {Daly of "Judging Amy"}; 26d tang {Little bite}; 29d as is {Seller's caveat}; 30d gate {Concert promoter's figure}; 31d Edy's {Ice cream brand}; 32d scad {Whole lot}; 33d weir {Small dam}; 34d only {No more than}; 35d UFO {Subj. of a certain conspiracy theory}; 39d onto {Aware of}; 40d ales {Saloon selections}; 41d valse {French formal dance}; 47d enol {Organic compound}; 48d Ampère {French physicist André}; 49d bearer {___ of bad news}; 51d f-stop {Lens setting}; 54d equip {Fit out}; 55d Olay {Brand of facial moisturizer}; 56d coma {Result of a big hit, maybe}; 61d thy {Lord's Prayer adjective}; 62d SDS {Grp. behind some '60s strikes}.

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