Cicero's longtime servant scribe / SAT 11-5-16 / Nonprofit Broadway production grp / Archenemy of Optimus Prime in Transformers movies / Blade holder / Pollen repositories
Saturday, November 5, 2016
Constructor: David Phillips
Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium
Word of the Day: COHERER (36D: Device used to detect radio waves) —
detector used in the first radio receivers during the wireless telegraphy era at the beginning of the 20th century. Its use in radio was based on the 1890 findings of French physicist Edouard Branly and adapted by other physicists and inventors over the next ten years. The device consists of a tube or capsule containing two electrodes spaced a small distance apart with loose metal filings in the space between. When a radio frequency signal is applied to the device, the metal particles would cling together or "cohere", reducing the initial high resistance of the device, thereby allowing a much greater direct current to flow through it. In a receiver, the current would activate a bell, or a Morse paper tape recorder to make a record of the received signal. The metal filings in the coherer remained conductive after the signal (pulse) ended so that the coherer had to be "decohered" by tapping it with a clapper, such as a doorbell ringer, each time a signal was received, thereby restoring the coherer to its original state. Coherers remained in widespread use until about 1907, when they were replaced by more sensitive electrolytic and crystal detectors. (wikipedia)
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COHERER (!?) and TIRO (??) and ANTA (%&*!) I thought this was pretty good. It was on the easy side, but giant corners provided enough toehold difficulty that I felt sufficiently challenged. Would I like more challenge on a Saturday? Sure. But this was fine. A good Saturday solve, for me—the one that feels best—is the one where I can make pretty steady progress, but am routinely taking wrong turns, or having to work hard to get crosses on pesky longer answers. Clever traps, always welcome. Anyway, this puzzle had enough bite to satisfy, despite providing (now that I look the grid over) a decent number of gimmes. Went to short answer first at 8D: Northumberland river. Four-Letter River Power—activate! Form of ... AVON! No, that gives me a terminal "V", probably wrong. Shape of ... TYRE! (yes, really, I confused the English river, TYNE, with the ancient Phoenician city and birthplace of Dido, TYRE. It happens!). Luckily CASSETTE was a gimme (18A: Walkman insert), so I didn't get bogged down too bad. I was actually tricked by 14A: By hand (MANUALLY) because of how deathly straightforward it is. Who thinks "straightforward" on a Saturday!? Devious.
I got FLAT RATE but took a while to come up with BOX so I decided to swing over and attack the NE before moving down the grid. SMITE, MENAGE, and OMENS were all easy. Then I inferred the STEP part of STEPSONS, which gave me SPINET (15A: Small parlor piece) and that was pretty much that up there, despite the best efforts of TIRO (25A: Cicero's longtime servant and scribe) to mess me up. Finally got the BOX part at the end of the USPS clue, and that "X" made BRER FOX a cinch. Guessed SMUSH up top in that SW corner, (28A: Flatten) and again, no real problems, despite ANTA's best efforts (37A: Nonprofit Broadway production grp.). ANTA and TIRO—not the greatest offensive line (side note: O LINE is a definite thing in football-speak and I'm surprised I don't see it at least occasionally). Or are they the defensive line? Is the puzzle the end zone, or the quarterback? I'm going with quarterback. Solve = sack, not TD. Somehow, more satisfying.
Had the STREET but couldn't come up with the SMART (telling!). Then I misread the clue at 45A: Comment often preceding "Let's" (SHALL WE) to mean "Let's" was the preceding word, so my brain raced through "Let's ___" possibilities. DANCE! SEE! NOT! Ugh. But this corner ended up being pretty easy too because of ANISE (46D: Black jellybean flavorer) and especially MARINERS (50A: Other than the Nationals, only current Major League Baseball team never to have played in a World Series), which I got off the "M" in AMPS, though I wouldn't even have needed that. Baseball fandom made that clue a flat-out gimme. And so I finished on one of those "S"s in STRESSED. The end.
- 1A: Take stock? (SHOPLIFT) — Had the "-FT" and wanted ... COWTHEFT (?)
- 35A: Slow-burning firewood (BEECH) — Had first "E" and wanted ... CEDAR
- 27A: English county whose seat is Exeter (DEVON) — Had "D", wanted DOVER
- 27D: "Why did I do that?!" ("D'OH!") — Had "H", wanted "HUH?" Why did I do that?
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