SATURDAY, Feb. 24, 2007 - Byron Walden

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Solving time: 21 min. and change

THEME: none

[updated 1:25 pm]

Blogger is acting up for the first time in a good long time today, so who knows what this entry will look like. Every time I try to do a shortcut (for BOLD, for instance), the shortcut (in this case, Ctl-B) won't work - today, Ctl-B is giving me a backspace?! My keyboard feels sticky and non-responsive in general. Not sticky like syrup-sticky - like the keys are stickING ... you know what I mean. Ugh.

So this puzzle is gorgeous. A perfect combination of Smooth and Complex. You really, really can tell the difference between a piece of cruciverbial artistry and a run-of-the-mill puzzle; there is nothing (or very, very little) that feels clunky or forced about this puzzle. You can tell that a lot of care has gone into every detail, every intersection and juxtaposition. I shouldn't have gushed about the puzzle at the NYT Forum, because now I'm starting too feel like I'm repeating myself - at any rate, this is a near perfect late-week puzzle: challenging, cleverly clued, with varied and lively fill, and yet with absolutely nothing (with maybe one exception) that isn't at least a reasonably familiar word, concept, phrase, or name.

I'll start with my one "!?!?!?" moment, which provides a good example of a common solver pitfall: proper parsing.

10A: In line with (as per)

The "S" in this answer was the very last square I filled in, and I did so only tentatively: what the hell does ASPER mean? Presumably an ASPER is someone who hunts asps (for a living?). I tried to pronounce it different ways - I tried to plug it into sentences wherein one might use the phrase [In line with] ... nothing. I don't know how long it took for the word to finally break in two along the proper fault, but it finally did, prompting an out-loud groan that nearly woke my wife. Technically, I had finished this puzzle in under 20, but I refused to look at the clock until I understood what made ASPER right. Thankfully, all of the crosses were Rock Solid - the "S" came from 11D: Cable option (SHO), and I can tell you that no other letter in the alphabet can go in that "S" spot to provide a sensible answer. Believe me, I tried.

17A: "The Prisoner of Zenda" setting (Ruritania)

The second reference to this book in the past week or so! I feel like the universe (or Byron Walden) is telling me to read it. I do own a copy - a very early Bantam paperback, with cover art by classic illustrator / artist Edgard Cirlin. It looks like this:

Seriously, it's a bit absurd that I own so many books and yet have read only about 2% of them. My house is full of books never read. For an English Ph.D., I am astonishingly under-read. I watch TV and do puzzles. O, and I read comics, but even there, it's a struggle. They pile up if I don't read them, so I'm compelled to read them, but ... well you can see that I've somehow lost the art of reading for pleasure joy, if I ever knew said art at all.

19A: Those, in San José (esos)
34A: Subject of the 2006 documentary "Toots" (Shor)
4D: "Family Guy" mom (Lois)
21D: Big _____ (Sur)
32D: A.C.C. school (UNC)
43D: "Baby _____ You" (1962 hit) ("It's")

Gimme all of these! An unusual number of gimmes for a Saturday, but I'm not complaining. SHOR would Not have been a gimme for me even three months ago, but this is the third time this year (at least) that I have seen TOOTS or SHOR clued in relation to this restaurateur. I've even blogged about him before - again, the blogging pays off (see also OBE - 53D: U.K. honor [shouldn't that be "honour"?] - which I also know Only from crosswords / blogging). LOIS is Hot. I mean that metaphorically as well as literally.

20A: "_____ say it is good to fall": Whitman, "Song of Myself" ("I also...")

A good example of a quotation you are not likely to know at sight, but that you can get from piecing together the crosses. Speaking of my not being well read ... never read Whitman! I bought "Leaves of Grass" as an anonymous Xmas gift for some needy local school / boys' home (they specifically requested it, among other things), and that is likely as close as I'll come to reading it in my lifetime. Life's too short, and I haven't even read Dostoevsky yet. Whitman doesn't really have a shot. In other poetry news, BYRON (3D: Originator of the phrase "truth is stranger than fiction") is just downriver from the Whitman quotation. I do love when constructors work their own names into puzzles. Which reminds me: I have not seen REX in a puzzle in a while - TREX does Not count!

22A: _____ for peace (Sue)

Why did this take me so long to get!?!?! I was thinking it was some plural noun, like RNS or PAS. "SUE for peace" seems a very dated, if not exceedingly old phrase - something one would do to a lord or count or king or something. SUE is also the name of my aunt (the third Alcorn sister, along with my mom and my ever-generous aunt Nancy)

Just got an emergency call - wife left her White Belt here, and she is testing in 39 minutes, so I have to rush it out to her, NOW.

More later,


Well that took longer than I'd anticipated. I decided to get lunch on the way home from dropping of Sandy's white belt and then I ate lunch in front of the TV while watching DVD commentaries of episodes of "The Office," Season 2. And now here I am. My wife and daughter both passed their tests and are now yellow and orange belts, respectively.

49A: Lesser star designation in a constellation (eta)

A very mean way to clue this answer. I still have no idea what "lesser star designation" means. ETA is a letter of the Greek alphabet and an abbrev. for Estimated Time of Arrival. But today's Saturday, so like AURIGA many Saturdays ago, I have random constellation clues to deal with. Fair enough. So if you're counting at home, the highest-ranking items in the "Things I really don't know" category are Constellations, European rivers, and the career of Sidney Poitier. Oh, and Biblical and/or Hebraic and/or Ancient Near Eastern things, e.g. 25D: Ancient rival of Assyria (Elam). I also did not know the related, more modern 27D: Last king of Egypt (Farouk), but, to my credit, I did have it as FARRAD, which is almost close.

50A: Query to the Lord in Matthew (Is it I?)
43D: "Baby _____ You" ("It's")

I do love this intersection. I just like the idea of the Lord answering Matthew's query with a deep, soulful, Barry White-esque, "Baby, it's you." Someone at the NYT Forum mentioned the gloriousness of this intersection earlier today, but I had this observation cued up and ready to go before I ever read the Forum, just for the record. And that person certainly did not name-drop Barry White. Still, I really really have to try harder not to read other people's writing on the puzzle before I'm done! Throws off my commentating mojo.

7D: As a 16-year-old actor, youngest nonroyal with an individual portrait in Britain's National Portrait Gallery (Daniel Radcliffe)

At the Forum (again) I claimed that I had no idea who this was. Turns out, he is Harry Potter, and since I've seen at least one of those movies, I guess I did have some idea of who DANIEL RADCLIFFE is, but I'd forgotten. I did not realize that the "16-year-old actor" part of the clue meant that the actor was, today, like, right now, 16 years old. I thought it meant that the portrait had been done when he was 16. How strenuously did I try to make DANIEL DAY LEWIS fit? Very. "Is there an 'E' on the end of 'DAY'... maybe?"

28D: Seat, quickly (ush)

The most made-up sounding entry in the whole lot. I had the "S" only for a while, and kept thinking, ".... no ... no it can't be ..." And I was right, it wasn't ASS. I guess that USH is the verb describing what USHers do.

45D: It has a certain ring to it (atoll)

What is it with words that have something to do with "rings" that also share multiple letters with AREOLA!? Yesterday it was ARENAS, now this. ARENAS, for the record, can / should be clued in relation to the NBA, one of whose greatest current players is named Gilbert ARENAS. He wears the #0, which I think is hot. Not LOIS hot, but hot.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Alex S. 11:47 AM  

My first sub-30 minute Saturday ever.

My only real complaint was with SHO since the clue did nothing to indicate an abbreviation (SHO isn't the official name now is it?) so when I go the O, HBO went in there and stuck for quite a while.

One of those puzzles where I just felt in a groove. Getting Daniel Radcliffe from the D and R. URBAN AREA from the final A. TABLOID TV, IF YOU DARE, and FEELS UP TO IT just from the clues.

My final letter was the first R in Ruritania. I don't know the book at all and TIMED OUT seemed as valid as TIRED OUT so I had Muritania.

But it was really nice to feel competent while doing a weekend puzzle.

Anonymous 12:34 PM  

Never heard of a "popular block game" called Jenga! The clue that started me on the way was "NBA scoring leader,1974-76" Everyone should remember the great Buffalo Brave out of UNC. On balance this was a fair (as in balanced) effort with some relatively obscure, or at least, ambiguous clues.

Linda G 4:02 PM  

Haven't read/seen any of the Harry Potter books/movies but had heard the name DANIELRADCLIFFE. It was my first entry and opened several doors.

Some excellent fill in this puzzle. Well done, Byron. Other big gimmes were FEELSUPTOIT, IFYOUDARE and VEALSCALLOPINIS.

Missed the connection between ISITI and Baby, ITS you. Good catch, Rex.

Didn't like seeing HOBO clued as a derelict, though. Having worked with the homeless for several years, it just didn't feel right.

Anonymous 5:18 PM  

Just a comment on your commentary that you are under-read for one having a Ph.D. in English (and so young to have a Ph.D.) – my retired husband, about five years ago, began reading voraciously, at the rate of 200-300 books a year. His life now consists of daily reading (all the classics, mysteries and thrillers he can get in large print), working crosswords, watching TV and sometimes reading comics. Oh yeah, he’s a part-time tree farmer for the fun of it too. This could be you in 35 years, Rex (guessing you are mid-thirties) – well, maybe not tree farming unless you have a secret passion for it. You’ll have plenty of time to catch up on your reading – the classics patiently wait! Meanwhile, blog away! Your approach to solving puts a smile on our faces every day.
~Jackie in Plano

Yellow Dog 5:53 PM  

Hey Rex!

My friend Amy turned me onto your blog yesterday. I really enjoy your commentary on the puzzle (especially the kvetching!). I understand you're a fellow Pomaniac (as my partner, the Oxy-moron, calls us). Chirps right back at you!

I think your initial take on the Daniel Radcliffe clue was right on. He was 16 at the time. He's now 17 and appearing buck-ass nekkid in Equus. He'll be 18 on the birthday he and I share in July.

Rex Parker 6:09 PM  

Ah, yes, Yellow Dog. I was expecting you ...

I am, I suppose, a fellow "Pomaniac," except ... I'm not sure I like the word, in that it implies I feel passionately about a Teletubby. Not cool for a 37-year-old man (or anyone over age 3, I'm guessing).

Speaking of DANIEL RADCLIFFE's being in EQUUS, I just had EQUUS in another puzzle today, clued as [Horse play], which I thought was cute (maybe the only time "cute" will ever be used in relation to the play EQUUS).

"Oxy-moron!" Not bad.

Chirp x 2


Anonymous 7:45 PM  

Rex Parker,

I am intrigued by what you wrote about blogging helping you with solving. Would you care to expand on that? For instance, from a psychology of cognition perspective -- or any other perspective -- how does blogging benefit solvers? Also does it benefit only competitive solvers?

If my asking presumes too much, please accept my apology.


A Fan

Anonymous 7:47 PM  

I am so glad that you do this. First of all, I am a Times crossword junkie. Secondly, once it gets to Friday and Saturday, I really get stuck. Often, Sunday is easier than Friday. It's great to have more than just the solution, so that I may learn while solving. Your profile is also very interesting to me. I am a professional dancer with an engineering degree and I listen to Bach as well as Snoop Dogg.


Anonymous 8:43 PM  

I thought SHO was weird, too. It's Showtime's logo and web domain name, not the name of the channel. "Hello, DirecTV? I'd like SHO, please." I think not.

If I weren't such a Harry Potter fan, I don't know that I would have gotten much of a start on the puzzle today without massive help.

Linda G 8:58 PM  

Who does cpateach think he/she is kidding? 3:04 today, when the second fastest was 12:46. You've probably heard this before, but it was especially irritating today given the disparity.

sonofdad 9:49 PM  

Maybe he's just a crossword god.

Rex Parker 10:08 PM  

I don't understand why people care about the cheaters on the NYT site (those who pre-solve the puzzle on paper or Across Lite and then enter their grid at the applet, giving them ridiculously fast times). Yes, they're being dishonest. So what? Nothing to be done about them. They aren't fooling anyone. So why not just Let it go? Some of them are likely just people checking their answers (and "playing against the clock" by carelessness). Others are just idiots trying to see their names come up on the leader board. Either way, nothing in my life is materially changed by their actions.


Anonymous 10:56 PM  

After getting ETA, I figured that "P" couldn't have been RHO since they wouldn't put two Greek letters in the same puzzle. But they did. Meh.

(The brightest star in a constellation is called "Alpha ____", e.g. Alpha Centauri in Centaurus. The second-brightest is Beta, third is Gamma, seventh is ETA, seventeenth is RHO, and so on. The More You Know(tm).)

Anonymous 11:05 PM  

I personally find all this time competition ridiculous and counter to the joys of solving a crossword. It gives me visions of frantic, trembling, scribbling (or rapid key punching with sweat and angst. I question whether one can enjoy the end result other than comparing time of solution with computer entries, faux or real. I mean what about just laying it aside and coming back to it later or having a parallel activity -- does it render one superior to behave in this manner with regard to the solving of a simple puzzle?

Rex Parker 9:15 AM  

Racing does diminish enjoyment to a certain extent, I have to admit. So [question mark]'s question is a valid one. Solving for speed definitely affects how I feel about a puzzle (good or bad) - usually. Sometimes I fly through a puzzle and dislike it, other times I struggle like crazy and love it. But I do find that struggle ups frustration, which ups likelihood that I will complain about a puzzle (mostly validly, IMOO, but sometimes not, perhaps).

And I am hereby apologizing openly to Linda G if my comment in response to her comment seemed at all brusque or impolite. Sometimes I am careless with my e-tone (which is not to be confused with ECOTONE, which is an insane word in tomorrow's puzzle that is going to cause me to have e-tone problems yet again today as I blog it).


Rex Parker 9:17 AM  

OH, and as for blogging helping my solving, I didn't mean blogging per se, but specifically blogging about Puzzles - as I do. I blog a word and then weeks / months later, that word shows up again, no longer unknown to me (you tend to learn stuff that you write about much better than stuff you just read about).


Anonymous 11:13 AM  

Thanks for your reply. Yes, I had understood that you referred to blogging about crossword puzzles specifically. But I had thought there might be more to it than "you tend to learn stuff that you write about much better than stuff you just read about."
I do thank you for your courtesy in replying.

Keep up the good work.

A Fan

Orange 6:33 PM  

I agree that it helps to look up and write about something unfamiliar—cements it in my head so it can be retrieved much more readily the next time it pops up.

I agree that the applet "cheaters" appear to be pesky little twits, but like gnats that don't bite me, I can tolerate their presence (and, when feeling snooty, pity the fools).

As for ?'s remarks, the people who don't enjoy speed-solving tend to think speed-solving would take all the enjoyment out of crosswords. I think if you're wired to be able to zip through crosswords, there are a couple of benefits: (1) You might win money or trophies at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament; and (2) the faster you go, the more crosswords you'll have time for. It's hard to beat the enjoyment of an incredibly hard crossword that takes 10 times longer than an NYT puzzle, but getting to do 10 not-as-hard puzzles in that amount of time also rocks. That means 10 times as many clever clues to appreciate, you know?

Anonymous 1:28 PM  

The brightest star in a constellation is labeled alpha and less bright stars labeled in decending order of magnatude in the greek alphabet. So an eta star would be the seventh brightest star.

Anonymous 3:52 PM  

Speed-solving is definitely not my bag. Today, for instance, it took me two cups of tea to get a wedge in anywhere. The gimmies were spread all over the map.

I did know Toots SHOR, and WINO for "derelict" got me King FAROUK, but I had to Google for BOB MCADOO, which gave me my wedge.

My personal pride is solving every NYT puzzle, (except Monday and Tuesday, Hanne does them) since I started doing them daily in the mid-eighties while recovering from a broken back. (In order to be a good pilot, you have to go through a long period of being a bad pilot. I never got to be a good pilot. :-)

I couldn't swear in a court of law that my record is absolutely complete, but it is so to my own satisfaction.

In the past, (Before Google) unsolved puzzles have hung around until the paper was yellow and brittle, but they were all solved eventually.

Anonymous 8:30 PM  

Six weeks later person here. This puzzle was so much better than last saturday's(e.g trepan, retrocede). I had Daniel Radcliffe and trial separation from the beginning, and would have had veal sca. if I hadn't missread entees as eatries and tried to fit tratorria and cuchina (being somewhat dyslexic makes doing puzzles challenging). It took me a little over an hour but I only recently stopped using goggle and my xword dictionary. Please tell me I'll get faster with practice. That said, I liked the discussion about solving speed. I would like to solve the fri-sat puzzles more quickly but I also enjoy savoiring (an odd word for describing puzzle) them. This one was better than last weeks because I was able to make steady progress instead of sitting and staring for lengthy periods.

Anonymous 7:53 AM  

Toots triggers Thielmans for me (jazz harmonica player; I know you've heard him, lots of movie scores to his credit).
Loved DALLIANCE for some reason. Thought it might be WHOOPIE.
Guessed Trial Separation with three letters in place (the A in TRIAL and the IO in ...TION). Yay for me!
Pieced together MUSICROLL, was thinking SCROLL, so was convinced this was a trade name. Pronounced it out loud and went..."oh."
Jackie in Plano's story reminds me of someone who recently joined an association of which I'm a member...he's published some 50 books as an author and translator and has 100 head of angora sheep to occupy his idle hours!
Visiting from six weeks in the future, where a puzzle by the same author left me muttering and grumbling. This one was much more enjoyable.
They've revived Equus? Why? Why? Why? (And why Daniel Radcliffe!?)
One more thing. Amy's comment, "if you're wired to be able to zip through crosswords..." is very telling. In the future, she struggles with a monster Sunday puzzle and posts a time of between 12 and 13 minutes--"considerably longer" than her usual time for Sunday puzzles. How is this even possible? About the best time I can hope to get on a Monday puzzle is between 11 and 12 minutes. And I don't think it's in my nature (or wiring--ick, I hate that way of referring to the human brain, but I suppose it's accurate) to solve a puzzle any faster than that. I think people like ? and me can enjoy solving our puzzles at our own pace and let those who enjoy racing the clock or one other enjoy racing the clock or one another! In the weeks that I've been frequenting this blog, I've never seen anyone suggest that slower solvers were stupid...Il faut de tout pour faire un monde.

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