Thursday, March 11, 2010

NYT Thursday 3/11/10 - Hey Presto!

This Thursday New York Times crossword is a delightful riff on the expression "say the magic word", which I remember being used a lot when I was a kid, eliciting a reluctant "please". Of course I didn't realize that for quite some time, so the puzzle was slow to get started ... it wasn't till 6 minutes had gone by that I had enough crossings for 37-Across to see abracadabra.

With that it was easy enough to add hocus-pocus, open sesame and say the magic word; by this time I already had five of the six letters of please, so the last could be put in right away (a pity the A and S couldn't be swapped to get please in order). Hey Presto! I had a bunch more letters than previously and finished the grid a couple of minutes later.

I did feel rather insecure about one area, however, even though I got it right: Tammie Green is a new name to me, though I suspect she's famous to Americans; her forename crosses with three other references I didn't know - Oh! Carol, Ema Savahl and Janis Ian.

Care was also needed at the crossing of 51a Canea and 46d tasted, given {Took a sample of} could conceivably lead to tested. Luckily I knew of the Cretan city, although you would probably guess that Canee is less likely than Canea.
Solving time: 10 mins (solo, no solving aids)
Clue of the puzz: 26d Libra {First sign of fall}

John Farmer
Grid art by Sympathy [about the grid colors]


Say the magic word, which appears on the main diagonal. The expected answer please appears jumbled in the circled letters (red in the above grid), while three other phrases associated with magic are clued as "incantations".
18a hocus-pocus {Incantation #1}
37a abracadabra {Incantation #2}
57a open sesame {Incantation #3}
Crucimetrics [about Crucimetrics]
CompilersJohn Farmer / Will Shortz
Grid15x15 with 40 (17.8%) black squares
Answers76 (average length 4.87)
Theme squares51 (27.6%)
Scrabble points296 (average 1.60)
Video of the Day

19d Sabu {"Elephant Boy" actor}.  Born in 1924 in Karapur, Mysore, Sabu was the son of an Indian mahout (elephant driver). While most reference books have his full name as "Sabu Dastagir", research by journalist Philip Leibfried suggests that was his brother's name, and that Sabu was in fact Selar Shaik Sabu or Sabu Francis. Sabu was discovered by documentary film-maker Robert Flaherty who cast him in the role of an elephant driver in the 1937 British film Elephant Boy, based on Toomai of the Elephants, a story by Rudyard Kipling. Sabu is perhaps best known for his role as Abu in the 1940 British film The Thief of Bagdad.

After becoming an American citizen in 1944, Sabu joined the U.S Army Air Force as a tail gunner. He flew several dozen missions over the Pacific and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his valor and bravery. After World War II, unable to secure the equivalent roles in Hollywood that British films had offered him, his career went into decline. He occasionally did get significant parts, such as his supporting role in the classic British film Black Narcissus (1947).

The Doctor is IN

5a bark {"Speak" response}; 24a leash {Lab monitor?}. Doggy references: the "speak" command and Lab(rador) retrievers.

14a Mame {"We Need a Little Christmas" musical}. We Need a Little Christmas from Mame.

22a Zetas {Some brothers and sisters}. References Zeta as short for a member of certain Greek letter organizations.

28a Cey {Former Dodgers third baseman whom Chris Berman nicknamed "Born in the U.S."}. Ron Cey, also nicknamed "The Penguin".

33a Tammie {___ Green, 1987 L.P.G.A. Rookie of the Year}. American golfer Tammie Green.

43a Eis {Rathskeller cooler}. Eis is German for "ice".

44a Ott {Polo Grounds legend}. Mel Ott played his entire career for the New York Giants (1926-1947).

48a ABC {"Alphabet web," to Variety}. The ABC television network is the "alphabet web" in Variety's slanguage.

51a Canea {Former capital of Crete}. Heraklion replaced Canea as Crete's capital in 1971.

61a Derek {___ Bok, former Harvard president}. Derek Bok was the Harvard president from 1971–1991.

62a Olin {"The Reader" actress Lena}. Swedish actress Lena Olin plays Ilana in The Reader (2008).

21d Oh! Carol {Top 10 hit for Neil Sedaka}. Oh! Carol (1959) refers to Neil Sedaka's former girlfriend Carole King.

29d Ema {___ Savahl (couture label)}. Ema Savahl.

34d Ian {Janis who sang "At Seventeen"}. Janis Ian.

Image of the Day

Jaguar XK-E

65a XK-Es {Classic Jags}. This reference is tougher for me, as Jaguar XK-Es have always been known as E-Types in the UK. The E-Type was manufactured in Britain by Jaguar between 1961 and 1974. Its combination of good looks, high performance, and competitive pricing established the marque as an icon of 1960s motoring. A great success for Jaguar, over seventy thousand E-Types were sold during its lifespan. In March 2008, the Jaguar E-Type ranked first in Daily Telegraph list of the "100 most beautiful cars" of all time. The above picture comes from a 1974 Jaguar brochure.

Other Clues

1a scab {One crossing through the strike zone?}; 9a melds {Gin runs}; 15a at an {___ all-time high}; 16a Acura {Infiniti rival}; 17a Enya {Grammy winner from County Donegal}; 20a lotto {It may pay off if it has your number}; 23a RMS {___ Titanic}; 25a Reb {Confederate flag flier}; 26a lese {___-majesté}; 27a SSN {Nine-digit ID}; 31a united {"It's time to fly" advertiser}; 36a a bit {Somewhat}; 39a olio {Grab bag}; 40a Anglia {Ancient Britain}; 41a knolls {Rolling features of some golf courses}; 47a Opel {Carmaker since 1899}; 53a Mav {Texas N.B.A.'er}; 54a aloha {"Welcome to the islands"}; 56a Owens {Olympian Jesse}; 60a août {Vacation time in France}; 63a in re {About}; 64a orals {Dissertation defenses}; 66a teed {___ off (began)}.

1d smells {Needs airing out, maybe}; 2d canoes {Paddlers' craft}; 3d Amy Tan {"The Joy Luck Club" author}; 4d beats {Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and others}; 5d bah {Rejection interjection}; 6d A to Z {From ___ (the works)}; 7d racer {Speed demon}; 8d Knute {Coach Rockne}; 9d maps {Google feature}; 10d eco- {Modern prefix with balance}; 11d Lucretia {Mrs. James A. Garfield}; 12d drum set {Equipment that comes with sticks}; 13d sassed {Mouthed off to}; 26d Libra {First sign of fall}; 30d YMCA {"It's fun to stay at the ___": Village People}; 32d Nabisco {Acronym associated with Oreos}; 33d T-bill {Security that matures in a year or less, briefly}; 35d edge {Margin}; 37d Aloe vera {Herbalist's supply}; 38d Ali {"When We Were Kings" subject}; 39d on paper {In theory}; 41d Komodo {___ dragon (largest living lizard)}; 42d sale {Kind of price}; 44d one/one {New Year's Day, datewise}; 45d tenure {Professor's privilege}; 46d tasted {Took a sample of}; 49d BoSox {Bronx Bombers' foes}; 50d chalk {Lesson writer?}; 52d await {Stand by for}; 54d asks {Expresses wonder?}; 55d amie {Billet-doux writer}; 58d Nel {"Volare (___ Blu Dipinto di Blu)"}; 59d Ens. {Junior officer: Abbr.}.


Anonymous said...

The answer to 15a is not A TAN, which doesn't make sense in the sentence, but rather AT AN which does.

Crossword Man said...

Thanks Anon. I've now correct the mistake.

Anonymous said...

(Different Anon here)

Mildly surprised to not see you comment on what I (pedantically, no doubt) consider an example of loose clueing:

40a "Anglia" for {Ancient Britain} ... properly speaking, should the clue not be {Ancient England}? I'm pretty sure neither Wales nor Scotland have ever been included in any usual definition of "Anglia".

(Indeed, the use of "Britain" in the clue led me initially to enter "Albion", which worked with the 30d "YMCA" that led to it)

OTOH, perhaps the clueing simply reflects the usual interchangeability of the terms "England" and "Britain" this side of the pond. A more subtle example of a US-specific reference, perhaps?

Crossword Man said...

I just overlooked the Anglia issue - it certainly merits discussion, which you kindly provided :-) I know Anglia is Latin for England, but when did that start being used and how ... when I look at maps of the Roman empire, I see England, Wales and Scotland south of the Antonine Wall all labeled "Britannia"? Today's clue is a little sloppy, in my view, but I'm not sure it's 100% wrong.

Anonymous said...

I had to reply to point out that "Anglia" would never appear on any maps of the Roman Empire in any case, given that the word refers to "Angles' Land" (of which "England" is a contraction), a description that would only have been applied post- Hengest and Horsa in the 5th century, after the Roman withdrawal from Britain ... ;-)

But I don't know either when the term originated thereafter, and I agree that the clueing is not definitively wrong. I just attribute it to the interchangeable American usage of "England" and "Britain" – sloppy to a Briton used to the distinction, but normal in the US.

Daniel Myers said...

Here is the definition of "Angles" in the OED-"One of the Low-German tribes that settled in Britain, where they formed the settlements of Northumbria, Mercia, and East Anglia, and finally gave their name to the whole of the 'English' people." The word originated with Tacitus, so it's not out of the question that it might appear on a (late) Roman map. All this said, Albion (perfidious or not) is the better answer, which always refers to the whole Island of Britain, though not Northern Ireland (Hibernia, you know)! So, the "ancient" qualifier is well-chosen in the clue.

Crossword Man said...

If the explanation is that England = Britain, I'm sorry to hear it's an equivalence respectable enough to be used in a crossword clue ... on a level with octopi being an acceptable plural because everyone says it, even if "wrong". Moot point: should crosswords reflect real-world usage or uphold the highest standards of scholarship?

Anonymous said...

This is too fun to just let die ... :)

To Daniel Myers:

I agree, as I noted, that Albion would have been the better answer. As for "Anglia", the only Roman map on which the name would be found associated with the geographic area of modern England would be one from post-447 AD, the putative date of the first Germanic settlement in Britain (as it then was) ... and even then, the first such settlers were Saxons, not Angles (who arrived later), so push the first possible date up another century.

So I cannot see a logical temporal link between (Romanized) "Britain" and the term "Anglia" - rather than the much more likely historical use of the term to refer to "England" properly speaking at some point after the establishment of the Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms, at which point any referenced to "Britain" is nonsensical.

So I do feel the clueing is historically sloppy.

To Crossword Man:

A fascinating "moot" point, given how scholarship and usage both reflect local knowledge. An example: as a Canadian, I've lost track of the number of times my teeth have been set on edge by the pervasive British usage of the continental term "America" to refer to one constituent country, the United States (a complaint shared by Mexicans as well). Yet, that British usage can be found even in academic and government circles (and, no doubt, though I cannot prove it, in crosswords) ...

Is that really any different from the present Britain = England example (assuming there is in fact no real historical basis for the clueing)? Both are technically wrong, yet both reflect the level of precision considered relevant by their users. And thus does language change ...

(As a devout footy fan, I of course have to keep clear that the EPL ≠ the Old Firm ≠ the various attempts at fielding a unified "British" football team at the London Olympics, so my usage is more precise ... ;-))

Crossword Man said...

If America ≠ United States, does American also ≠ pertaining to the United States? In which case my blog title is more offensive than I thought ... oops. Congratulations on getting ≠ into blogger. Now I know it's possible, I'll use it a lot!

Anonymous said...


I started off by using =/, but took a chance on ≠ and it worked!

Re "American", I don't know whether you've ever heard the (clumsy and unlovely, but strictly speaking more precise) neologism "USian"?

See here, for example:

But – speaking strictly for myself – the question is not one of offence or not; only, as you mooted, what level of abstraction from strict accuracy should be permissible in crossword clueing?