SATURDAY, Aug. 18, 2007 - Jim Page

Friday, August 17, 2007

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: none

Choppy waters here, but I managed to sail through, eventually. I think yesterday's puzzle was actually harder, though I have no empirical evidence. Just my gut. I learned a new word today: REVET (20A: Face with stone). That was one of two places in the puzzle where I just had to cross my fingers and hope I had a word. The other place was in the SE, where the cluing on 41D: As yet uncollected for (owed on) was so awkward that I couldn't figure out what type of phrase could go there for a long while, and thus two crosses, 40A: Relatives of pollocks (cods) and 46A: High-tech surveillance acronym (AWACS) had holes in them for a while. Never heard of a "pollock" or AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control System).

Had LANDED for CAMPED (6A: Settled down securely), but because of the correct "A" and "E" I got my first toehold with ACS (7D: Filter holders, briefly) and EVERYONE (10D: Who's a critic?). I am not thrilled with the annoyingly prefixed 14A: Do further work on a bird? (recarve) and 9D: Give shades to in advance (precolor), but most of the other fill in the puzzle was good to very good. Took me Way too long to get ASPCA (1A: Adoption option: Abbr.), but once I did, the NW fell pretty quickly. The really tricky answer for me up there was 4D: Water fleas, barnacles, etc. (crustacea), which I could not see without that initial "C" from ASPCA. After I got the "U" from CORRUGATED STEEL (15A: Construction material), I confidently wrote in AQUAFAUNA, thinking, "Wow, what a fantastic word." Another fantastic word that is actually a word, and actually in the puzzle: HEPTADS (35D: Water polo teams, e.g.).

SAMISEN (13D: Banjolike Japanese instrument) is one of those words I've seen before but couldn't recall, and probably won't be able to recall in the future. I saw a woman play a Chinese banjolike instrument earlier this year. It was called a PIPA. There's lots of crosswordese in the puzzle, but it's all so trickily clued that it doesn't feel so tired:

  • ACRE (19A: Parcel part)
  • SERA (23A: Hospital supplies - that one's not so tricky)
  • STOA (24A: Feature of some classical architecture - that one isn't either)
  • ALOE (clued viciously as 26A: Fragrant heartwood ... ??)
  • ELSA (not the lion, but 37A: Actress Pataky)
  • STET (47D: Galley countermand)
  • SI SI (49A: "You betcha, Bartolom√©")

Today's weird name of the day goes to ABRA (25D: Julie Harris's "East of Eden" role), narrowly edging out DUZ (52D: Old washday choice). LEIFS (39D: Conductor Segerstam and novelist Enger) and HOYT (22A: Waite _____, Hall-of-Fame Yankees pitcher) finished a distant third and fourth, respectively. Cute pair of twin clues today in 34D: Thighs may be displayed in it (erotica) and 33D: Thighs may be displayed in it (meat case). I'll take the former thigh display any day.

My wife does not like it when people mimic her accent, but occasionally I like to parody all pseudo-British accents, and that parody will usually involve some version of 38A: Cockney greeting ('ello), possibly followed by "guv'nuh." 35A: Writ introduction? (habeas) was a cute gimme. Less cute, but no less a gimme, was 50A: "_____ Work" (George F. Will best seller) ("Men at") - I own that book, though (as with many of my books) haven't read it.

My old DATSUN was decidedly not a "roadster," so I have no idea what 54A: Some bygone roadsters is thinking of. Unless "roadster" is being used Very Generically. My DATSUN also did not have TINTED GLASS (16D: Auto option).

There were at least five film clues today, including 5D: Lee of Hollywood (Ang), 8D: 1932 Garbo title role (Mata Hari), that ELSA woman (see above), 31D: Eastwood played him in five films (Callahan, aka Dirty Harry), and, possibly, EROTICA (also above). Oh, and the nicely clued OFF CAMERA (30D: So as to avoid getting shot).

The DANUBE (42D: It rises in the Black Forest) was easy to get with a couple crosses, but SANER (57A: Less like a yo-yo), for some reason, was not. Did not know 27A: James Bay native (Cree), but pieced it together - that's pretty rough cluing, as the clue suggests Nothing about Native Americans. Doesn't get more Anglo-sounding than "James Bay" (located in Canada). Not much else to say except that I was strangely proud of myself for getting SCALAR (43D: Graduated) off of just the "R" and BORONS (29A: Five atoms in a ulexite molecule) off of just the "N." What an anticlimactic way to end the entry. O well.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

PS Pop Sensation has been updated, with many new scans from my vintage paperback collection

PPS It's Saturday morning now, 8:46am, and Google Trends tells me that tons of folks are searching for Steffi GRAF (36A: 1988 tennis Grand Slam winner) today. My god, there is no predicting you people. She's only one of the winningest woman in women's tennis history. At least two different authorities ranked her as the greatest female player of the 20th century (I'd dispute that - Martina was greater, but still, GRAF was undeniably Great). In fact, GRAF's 22 Grand Slam singles titles is second place all time, man or woman, behind only Margaret Court. She's married to Andre Agassi. 1988 isn't that long ago. Why don't people know her!?

You know I hate when people ask, usually smugly, "how could anyone not know that?" - and yet... never even to have heard of GRAF's name!? To resort to Googling?! Actually, I've been amazed at how many of my most popular searches are for 3-and 4-letter words. It's like ... people just want a little boost. One of yesterday's big winners was RICO, for instance. Being able to see how people search is a really interesting window into the nation's puzzle-solving habits.


Orange 12:56 AM  

Pollock is the unsung fish that's used in a gazillion fish sticks and fast-food fish sandwiches—so if you've never had it, good for you. You're not missing much.

You must not have Googled ELSA Pataky, or else I'd expect to see a Euro-cheesecake photo adorning this post. She's prettier than most fish.

GK 1:10 AM  

Did you write "medium"? Four of us were eventually working on this puzzle, and we finally Googled, but in the meantime we had all kinds of crazy stuff. We put MTFUJI for "It rises in the Black Forest," thinking, OK, there's another Black Forest than the German one, and the J fits with AEROJET. For four down we first had PARASITES, then ARACHNIDS, before getting CRUSTACEA. The denouement of 30 down (which baffled us forever) was worth a laugh out loud. Is there such a thing as AGGREGATEDSTEEL? Not knowing much about water polo, we started out with ELEVENS, which I guess would be pretty crowded.

Kumar 1:49 AM  

Mata Hari is from 1931, not 1932.

Shamisen is spelt as here, not Samisen.

Am I the only one who has concluded that "harder" in NYT crosswords means containing obscure trivia that no self-repecting person would clutter his mind with? This crossword is full of it.

Wade 2:03 AM  

I'm kind of proud of getting as far as I did with this puzzle, especially after midnight, but I feel cheap about it. I threw in the towel in the southeast. SCALOR? AWACS? AEROBAT? OWEDON? (I had OWEDIN). I got the rest of the puzzle filled in, but with few "ahas", because even though I turned out to have got those answers right, for many of them I had no idea at the time whether I was right. REVET?

AHEADOFSCHEDULE took me forever to get (irony!) and still wasn't enough for me to crack the southeast, even with DANUBE and and OFFCAMERA.

There's a dumb Steve Martin movie from the eighties--can't remember which one--in which Steve gets pulled over by a cop and is forced to go through a ridiculously elaborate choreography of moves to determine his sobriety. He finally passes and the cop lets him go. At the end of it all, Steve says, "Man, your drunk tests are hard!" This puzzle reminded me of that.

Orange, sorry I didn't respond yesterday--couldn't get back to the blog after my entry. The answer to why I read Erma Bombeck when I was twelve years old is just that it was a very small town and not many books, and a childhood friend's mother had Erma Bombeck's stuff. She also had a bunch of Lewis Grizzard, who was kind of the same vintage, as I recall, though from a southern good ol' boy standpoint. That's also where and why I read The Thornbirds, Centennial, The Clan of the Cave Bear and probably a bunch of other junk I can't recall.

Anonymous 2:04 AM  

I got 26A ALOE from crosses, but don't know how it could be described as "fragrant heartwood". I thought it was only a succulent.

Like Rex, 20A REVET was new to me altho I have heard of revetments, but thought they were a French term. Also, having STRIFE instead of STRIVE hindered my efforts for the final word of the puzzle.

I think proper usage would be BORON instead of BORONS. But then there'd be an empty square.

Don't know how anyone who reads the news can not know the term AWACS.

Rex Parker 4:54 AM  

"Mata Hari" does appear to have been released in very late Dec. of 1931 (acc. to imdb).

SAMISEN is a perfectly acceptable spelling, which a simple Google search demonstrates.

I've read the news almost every day of my life and never seen the term AWACS. Or, if I have, I forgot about it immediately thereafter.


campesite 6:34 AM  

HEPTADS? REVET? SCALOR? This was a rough one for me. I had the incorrect septets for water polo teams, which caused me loads of difficulty in the SE.

I'm not at all a military buff (or AEROBAT), but I do have a clear vision of those AWAC planes. They're the big white jet planes with the giant white disc attached to the roof. I remember near the end of the cold war we were often assured that there were at least a few in the skies at all times, keeping us safe from something.

Evad 8:15 AM  

It's SCALAR, folks, at least this side of the Atlantic...

Though I'm one to talk for having NUCKLEHEAD for "Doofus" in a recent NYT offering!

Wade 8:49 AM  

By the way, Rex, I'm with you on being surprised at the clue for DATSUN, but I looked up the company just now on Wikipedia and am informed that Datsun (which ceased operation in 1983) was most famous for its "Fairlady roadster." News to me. When I think of Datsun I think of my fat uncle Choo-Choo's little pickup that sagged almost to its tires whenever he climbed into it.

liebestraum 9:20 AM  

I didn't need to Google GRAF, although I had BORG there initially.

I was able to guess MATA HARI from the crosses, but had no idea Garbo played her in a movie.

Had AVIATOR instead of AEROBAT because I just couldn't imagine the latter even being a word.

Managed "AHEAD OF SCHEDULE" by guessing the "OF" and getting the "U" from Danube.

But mostly I ended up having to Google factual information in order to get the "cross-wordy" terms (e.g., Julie Harris' role in East of Eden, Actress Pataky's first name). My brain is still not flexible enough on these Friday and Saturday puzzles to make clever guesses. That part is frustrating. The funny thing is, I'm plenty flexible when I'm doing work in mathematics - but maybe it is just my familiarity with the subject. Still, there's nothing wrong with being humbled at least twice a week. :)


Hobbyist 9:52 AM  

I didn't have trouble with either today's or yesterday's but probably spent one hour on today's. The aloe clue is ridiculous.
I was not ahead of schedule but not under fire either.

Hobbyist 9:52 AM  

I didn't have trouble with either today's or yesterday's but probably spent one hour on today's. The aloe clue is ridiculous.
I was not ahead of schedule but not under fire either.

judgesully 10:03 AM  

Come on, now--"heptads" for water polo teams. I've watched water polo on many occasions and had no clue as to the number of fish-like creatures in the pool. Actually the answer that finally broke the logjam was "Danube." After that, a lot of it flowed until the NW where I again bogged down.

Wendy 10:08 AM  

You know it's gonna be a bad day - one of those 'humbled' days lieb refers to (only twice a week, lieb?) - when two of your three gimmes are wrong!

At first I could only get APR (which was INT), ALLO (which was ELLO) and ANG (which was right - woo hoo). I hacked through a bit more (was pleased to get EVERYONE, MEN AT and MEAT CASE) but just was all over the map.

I thought Face attack was going for something on the actual face, so I had the answer starting out with Complexion_ _ _, which of course never panned out.

As a Canadaphile, James Bay wasn't obscure to me, immediately suggesting indigenous peoples and the Far North. Part of the Hudson Bay watershed, the name James comes from a British explorer, Thomas James, who explored the area more extensively than Henry Hudson did originally.

I'm always utterly humbled by how much I do not automatically know in the acting/show biz category, when it is an area of such abiding interest to me. Today was really brutal in that department; didn't know CALLAHAN (knew it was Harry but couldn't recall the last name). Didn't know ELSA Pataky. Didn't know MATA HARI but eventually got it. Didn't know ABRA! Hell, I'm a fraud! Only the lone ANG Lee saved me, and that's just Pantheon.

Rex, I wish you'd used a DUZ image; there's some nifty ads out there for the taking. "For white white washes, without red hands" was its slogan. "DUZ does everything" Oh those admen were clever, and so thoughtful of the women slaving over the wringer washing machines while their husbands were chasing their secretaries around the desk. ;)

Anonymouse 10:17 AM  

I had BIZ instead of DUZ for a long time. I've never heard of DUZ.

Jerome 10:39 AM  

I thought today (35 min) was harder than yesterday (31 min) and really liked them both.

DELETES positioned over STET is a nice touch.

Anonymouse - "DUZ does everything" was the old advertising slogan for this detergent. Many other detergents also advertised on the radio serials housewives listened to while doing their daily housework. That's why soap operas are called soap operas.

Anonymous 10:58 AM  

Odd Bits...

The PIPA, from China, has a cousin in Japan called the BIWA.

The Datsun 1500, 1600 and 2000 models were celebrated roadsters in their days... then, of course, came the 240Z and its decendents...

mellocat 11:35 AM  

AWACS was more seen in the news a few decades ago than it is now. The NYT has around 1,200 citations for AWACS since 1981, but only 2 of them are from the past year. More than 60% are from 1/1/81 to 12/31/85, advancing to 12/31/95 you cover almost 90% of the citations. It pays to have a long memory with crosswords.

Jim in NYC 11:40 AM  

(Trouble getting my comment accepted today.)

I was pleased to finish this one in 47 minutes.

I'm thinking of entering the 2008 tournament (it's moved to Brooklyn!) Would this kind of time on this kind of puzzle put me over the time limit? What are some typical time limits in the tourney?

karmasartre 11:47 AM  

So glad it was Sharp competitor, so we didn't get into multiple SONYs again.

The NW was difficult for me. Had trouble associating water fleas with crustaceans, and then there was that REVET thingie.

I remembered (incorrectly) that The Platters were all male, hence HES mine (given the era) wouldn't fall, and AEROBAT was beyond me, threfore the SE was a mess.

Off to relax to the soothing Dueling SAMISENs on the CD player....

jim in nyc 11:48 AM  

Anent googling, although we might well have filled in a correct answer, we still might then do a google search to learn more about it. Doesn't mean we didn't confidently know the answer and put it in the puzzle.
This morning I googled Mata Hari. I had put the right answer in the puzzle, of course, but just wanted to refresh myself on Garbo.

ayoung 12:55 PM  

Another hard one for me. Samisen was a gimme and why did I know that Waite's last name was Hoyt? I always find it amazing at the crap that takes up space in my mind while I can't remember more "important" things. Revet was a new word for me; I bridled at aerobat and actually looked it up in an unabridged and found the word actually existed. You have got to be kidding to "five atoms in a ulexite molecule."

laura e. nichols 1:19 PM  

I also thought today's was harder than yesterday's. As far as googling to find answers (even short ones) goes, I'm relatively young and there are a lot of things I don't know (Stefi Graf won the 1988 Grand Slam when I was... um... 4? 5?), but googling and learning about them is the best way I can figure out to get better at doing crosswords.

Thinks I learned today:
REVET, STOA, AWAC... totally new vocab.
HOYT, MATA HARI, CALLAHAN (knew Dirty Harry, but not his last name), ELSA, and ABRA... new names.
and more!

So much learning!

Anonymous 1:28 PM  

I'm writing my own "Emily Latella" version of this puzzle.

TAMPED instead of CAMPED
INSET instead of REVET

In the words of Miss LaT, "Never mind..."

Anonymous 1:47 PM  

AWACS wasn't any problem since my husband worked on it...shows you how old I am.

Anonymous 2:07 PM  

East of Eden is a wonderful Steinbeck novel. The characters are beautifully delineated. Once having read it you'll never forget Abra. The movie was quite good also but covers only a portion of the novel's scope.

Jonathan 2:34 PM  

It must be " horses for courses". I found today's puzzle so much harder than yesterday, as to defy comparison. Yesterday, one long sitting, and I was done in under an hour. Today, with my wife, it took several hours plus a breaking down to use Google which we rarely do.

Fergus 2:56 PM  

Probably the most favorite car I've owned was a 1979 Datsun 210 mini-wagon that I bought in 1991. So I got a good laugh thinking of my DATSUN as a roadster. One one occasion I volunteered to be the driver for some out-of-town business clients who were keen on scoring at the local bars. When I pulled up in my dashing roadster, we were met with a sneering utterance of, "Jeez, that's a real chick magnet." The sobriquet stuck 'till I had to move on to a Honda Accord, which never acquired any personality.

Had virtually nothing for a long while today. Then misspelled HABEAS, and even though I knew MEN AT WORK I had never heard of this HOYT guy. HOYT Wilhelm, yeah OK. Unlike the AMU DARYA I figured out the DANUBE in the SE section. Got BORON from the atomic number buried in the hint. Stuck uncertain with SCALAR in its connection with Vector until I went musical.

This reminds me that in a very unscientific poll, most of the science and math types I know prefer crosswords, while all the English majors seem to like Sudoku better. Go figure.

Fergus 3:52 PM  

Simpsons fans will recall the episode where Principal Skinner loses his job and ends up poking around at a laundromat. His choices of detergent included DUZ, along with Fab and all sorts of other one syllable products. Can't recall his selection, but it was a very funny scene.

Wade 4:50 PM  

Fergus, I haven't seen the poll you reference, but the crossword documentary a couple of years ago made the point that mathematicians and musicians and other "system-oriented" folks excel at crosswords (don't know about suduko, which I haven't tried and have no interest in. My wife, who's very analytical, does those puzzles all the time.) For the record, I'm a lifelong English major (B.A., M.A., almost M.F.A.) and all-around word-guy fiend and can barely do long division anymore.

Orange 5:59 PM  

Jim in NYC, the tournament puzzles have a range of sizes and difficulty levels. Puzzle #1 is a standard daily 15x15, roughly Monday to Tuesday NYT easy; its time limit is 15 minutes. The toughest puzzle, #5, is generally a 17x17 puzzle with a 25- to 30-minute limit. The biggest, Sunday morning's puzzle #7, has a Sunday-sized 21x21 grid and a time limit of 45 minutes. Only the division A, B, and C finalists compete on the finals puzzle, a beyond-Saturday-hard 15x15 with a challenging 15-minute limit.

And plenty of people don't finish the puzzles within the time limit (especially on puzzle #5). You get 10 points for each correct word, and a bonus of 25 points per minute ahead of the limit if applicable (the bonus points get knocked down for errors). Fully correct solutions get a bonus of 150 points, regardless of the time. See the tournament page for more.

Chip Ahoy 6:06 PM  

Mmmmmm cod.

jim in NYC 6:39 PM  

Thanks, Orange.

The tournament page doesn't give the kind of basic information you've given me here.

From what you say, I guess I'll be allowed to continue working after the time limit, and maybe finish for the 150 bonus.

Hope to see you there.

jae 7:53 PM  

My initial response to this one was, to quote Rex, "Yikes!" Definitely harder for me than yesterdays's. I was sure I was going to resort to google but managed to finish it (in over two hours) without succumbing. My only error was 2d/20a STRIFE/REFET as I also had no idea about REVET. BTW the answer that finally opened things up for me was CALLAHAN.

BTW like Jim in nyc, I occasionally google after I've answered either out of curiosity or to give myself more context to facilitate remembering in the future.

karmasartre 8:25 PM  

chip ahoy --

That comment still has me grinning. I hear a Homer inflection, was that intended?

Orange 10:47 PM  

Actually, Jim, you have to hand in your puzzle at the end of the time limit, so the judges can calculate your score. But you get a blank set of puzzles on Sunday to take home, so you can finish the puzzle later on.

Jim and Jae, I Google most of the stuff that's unfamiliar to me after I finish a puzzle (and what I learn informs my daily blog posts). I do sometimes encounter things in crosswords that I never would've known but for some recent Googling, so post-solve Googling definitely pays dividends.


Never heard of Pollock? Must have never been poor, it's in every supermarket in America, very cheap fish, on a level with whiting. Did you grow up eating Orange Roughy and Chilean Sea Bass? If so, I'm jealous, I grew up eating catfish and pollack.

Anonymous 9:29 PM  

The ones Rex found hard were easy for me and vice versa.
I had tamped not camped; reset, not revet, and still don't get 'scalor'....from graduated?
I had a Datsun 510 - greatest car to drive, but not a 'roadster' to me.
Thanks for the help, I'll be back next week.

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