SATURDAY, Feb. 3, 2007 - Rich Norris

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Solving time: untimed, but quite fast for a Saturday - circa 15 min.?

THEME: none

I am starting to feel like the puzzle-solving practice is beginning to pay off - Saturdays do not usually come together in one rolling, uninterrupted flow the way this puzzle did today. At no point did I have my very common Saturday experience of being Stopped - absolutely hung up, biting my pencil, trying and retrying answers in my head (and on the page) to get a section to fall. My success results partly from the fact that the puzzle is, in fact, easy (-ish) in parts - see especially the SE, with the Nabokov gimme PNIN (54A: Nabokov novel) - this was in a very recent Fri or Sat puzzle - which led easily to LENTIL 44D: Protein source - another common clue/answer pairing - followed by ERN (49A: Seaside flier) - "They're back!" - then TRISTE (45D: Sad) - also in a recent puzzle - then, if you didn't have it already, ALTA (43A: Banff Natl. Park locale), and from there the whole SE just topples, with those longer crosses at the bottom being very easy to pick up (though I at first thought tigers had TENACITY and not the proper FEROCITY (59A: Tiger's quality)). But besides easiness, another reason this puzzle went down in short order was my weird, seemingly uncanny ability to pick answers out of thin air. The two most notable examples are KEENED (60A: Wailed), which isn't a hard word, per se, but with an empty grid, it's a killer first guess: gave me the "K" that allowed me to see that FOOTNOTE was not FOOTNOTE but in fact ASTERISK (33D: Indication to look down), which gave me the first letters for all the SW Acrosses. The other word that came to me out of the blue was OSAKAN (3D: One of 2.7 million Japanese), again, with no letters (except possibly the final "N" from 26A: Whips (tans), which at that point I was Not sure about). I know squat about Japan, but I knew that the answer, given the odd clue, must be the name of a particular city dweller, and OSAKAN was the first thing that popped into my head; and like KEENED, it gave me a helpful "K" and I was off and running in the NW - the last part of the puzzle to fall. For some reason I was also able to get the two 11-letter answers, 7D: Bow-making time (curtain call) and 24D: Knot (brain teaser) - with only a small handful of crosses in each case. CURTAIN CALL was made slightly easier by the fact that we watched the conductor of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales make several of them at the end of last night's concert (which was recorded and will be featured on NPR's "Performance Today" ... someday ... probably not "today"). During one of the CURTAIN CALLs, a grown woman dressed as what we imagined to be a girl in "traditional" Welsh costume presented the conductor with flowers, and I turned around to notice that in the center of a far back row, spectators had unfurled a Welsh flag and were waving it proudly, getting waves in return from some of the orchestra members. It was like a soccer match in there. Very cute, actually. The pianist for Bartók's Piano Concerto No. 3 looked like ... who was George Jefferson's neighbor? The British guy? Huge jaw, kind of slow-looking? Winston? No BENTLEY! Yes. Well, this guy looked a bit like him, and he listed like I've never seen a pianist list - to his right, constantly, as if he couldn't stand to be too close to the orchestra. He was just fine, but the Bartók was probably the least exciting of the four pieces. Night ended on Benjamin Britten's "Four Sea Interludes" from the opera Peter Grimes. The program notes told the story of the opera, which is Horrendously depressing, and ends with a fisherman taking his boat out to sea and sinking his boat, with himself in it, after having not one but two young boys die while in apprenticeship to him, thus incurring the wrath of the townsfolk. The music was genuinely sad and moving, which is good because, with an angry mob and a very tragic figure named Grimes, it seemed dangerously close to becoming an episode of "The Simpsons."

Stuff I Didn't Know

  • 1A: Faucet with a rotating plug (stopcock) - I'm just gonna let that one sit there
  • 2D: Ballerina Karsavina (Tamara) - if you say so...
  • 14D: Conjoined area (tristate) - pieced this together letter by letter - Holy @#$#, I just this second realized that there is a hyphen in this word: TRI-STATE. HA ha. I thought perhaps this was a medical term. Wow. OK, good thing it didn't matter. Side note: not that thrilled about having TRISTATE and TRISTE in the puzzle together. I have this weird thing about repeated letter combinations of five or more letters.
  • 29A: Rig-_____, Hindu sacred book (Veda) - VEDA just sounded right, but I could very easily have botched this, as the "A" here intersects with the formerly mysterious TRISTATE, which I briefly considered making TRISTITE.
  • 29D: Actress Bloom of "High Plains Drifter" (Verna) - I was close: I had VELMA at first; I did, however, get Richard CRENNA (30A: "The Sand Pebbles" actor, 1966) almost immediately, with very few crosses.
  • 39A: Embryonic sac (amnion) - thankfully, this was highly inferrable since I am familiar with the phrase "amniotic fluid."
  • 41A: Air _____, discount carrier (Tran) - again, inferrable, but Never heard of it.
  • 33A: Lacking light (aphotic) - thank god I knew PHOT = light or I don't know what I'd have done. Never heard or seen this word before, that I can recall.
  • 58A: Form of boxing using both the hands and feet (savate) - the one answer I was most unsure about, given that it crossed a Hebrew name at a vowel, ugh: I was very unsure about the "A" in 51D: "Voice of Israel" author (Eban), thinking it might be EBEN, but SAVATE just looked / sounded better than SAVETE, and so I went with my gut, and my gut was right. No errors on this puzzle! Woo hoo!
  • 9D: Angle symbols, in geometry (thetas) - didn't know, but it's easy enough to piece together. I feel as if Andrew has used this term in conversation with me. How is that possible?
  • 8D: Gas in fluorescent lamps (krypton) - always surprises me that this is a real substance. Sahra is a regular reader of the comic book KRYPTO, about Superman's dog. She is currently in the middle of producing a special KRYPTO comic just for me. I will surely share it with you as it becomes available, assuming I can clear copyrights.

Best Fill

A raft of fabulous colloquial answers, all of them starting with the letter "I":

36A: "Speaking personally ..." ("I for one...")
56A: "Really?!" ("Is that so?!")
12D: Enthusiastic response ("I'd love to!")
55A: Soon (in a bit)

And next, a veritable triumvirate of fresh fill clogging up the NW. In addition to the aforementioned STOPCOCK ("tehee!"), we have:

15A: Convenient, in a way (easy pour) - may be my favorite answer of the day
17A: Kids (small fry) - way to hide the plural in a singular!

I like TALONS (21A: Curved nails) because it's what the ERN (49A: Seaside flier) will use to SET AT you (10D: Go after), especially if you are a paraglider in New Zealand ("Where's your SAVATE now, human!?").

Lastly, MIDRIFF (40D: Area under a halter) just looks very cool in the grid. I'm not really a fan of the exposed MIDRIFF, but here: very nice. Not cheap-looking at all.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

PS - after reading and commenting on Crossword Fiend's blog entry for today (see sidebar for link, as always), I was reminded (or reminded myself, more accurately) of three more answers that warrant comment. The first is EST (47A: It's in the neighborhood), which, like TRISTATE, I got but did not understand - I was thinking it stood for ESTABLISHMENT, but of course it's short for ESTIMATE. Duh. Next we have T-SHIRT (9A: Top with a quip, maybe), which came to me instantly and was my entrée to the grid. TSHIRT is commonish fill that you can dress up or down in so many ways, and this clue is great. Next, FISTED (42D: Two-_____ (strong)). That's right, FISTED. See also STOPCOCK. Throw in the very great OOFS (6D: Punch lines?) and you are a heartbeat away from a gay porn script. The presence of Oscar WILDE (48A: He wrote "A man cannot be too careful in the choice of his enemies") isn't helping. Notice that I haven't even mentioned GOO (32D: "Ick!" evoker) ... or TRAN ... I have to stop now.


Howard B 11:40 AM  

My stoppers in this one were TSHIRT, believe it or not - I had the T and still couldn't piece it together - and IFORONE, because I had only the IF, and could not mentally break that word apart.

I had actually heard of SAVATE from somewhere, and recenty flew AirTran to Florida (XM Radio gratis with the flight, and mini-pretzels for a snack. Not bad for economy). Unfortunately, I also insisted on AMNIUS for some reason, which didn't help any in solving that side. Nice Saturday challenge.

Anonymous 7:16 PM  

For future reference, Savate is also the preferred fighting style of BATROC THE LEAPER, nemesis of Captain America and all-around lame French Stereotype (handlebar moustache, heavy accent, the whole works).

Love the Blog, keep up the great work.

Anonymous 7:50 PM  

I have just recently discovered your blog and I really really enjoy reading it, especially after doing (or attempting is probably more accurate after Wednesday) the NYT puzzle. Unfortunately, my university does not provide us with the times on Saturdays :( but I really enjoyed reading your response to it.


C zar 7:50 PM  

Batroc the Leaper? I love it, sounds like a character from the movie "Mystery Men."

"Area under a halter(40d)" brought me up short for a moment. I was thinking "under" in the sense of "under" not "below" and my dirty little mind took over for a moment. And given that I had just solved "Chow fixer (25a)," I was starting to wonder where this one was going.

Thanks RP!

Anonymous 8:54 PM  


I just subscribed online for $5.95 a month. Well worth the cost, since I get the weekend puzzles PLUS archives going back forever, PLUS don't have another paper to recycle.

And I'm with you after Wednesday, although I'm getting better with Thursdays. Hang in there!

Anonymous 6:45 AM  

Finding your blog was particularly demoralizing, becuase while I usually can do a Sat puzzle in 20-30 minutes, for whatever reason this one drove me crazy and I couldn't finish it at all. But oddly, I found the previous Saturday's much easier. Go figure

Rex Parker 8:12 AM  

No no no, if I demoralize you then something is Very wrong. The whole point is that I'm kind of a puzzle stumblebum, and sometimes I just get lucky and hit on a grid that's on my weird wavelength. Times on puzzles are so weird - at the NYT site, I notice my position relative to other solvers fluctuates wildly. Sometimes people I beat consistently will turn around and destroy me on a late-week puzzle. Or vice versa. I like that about puzzles. Within a certain range of solving prowess, on any given day, times are all over the map. Keeps it interesting.


Anonymous 3:12 PM  

This was a four-cup puzzle for me, started on Saturday morning and finished on Sunday morning. 5 googles, (two to check CRENNA and TRAN.) and a trip to my Canadian Atlas for Rae. (Should have known that, having spent much of my youth looking for oil and gas in OUR :) High Arctic.

MIDRIFF was my nemesis; not being a golfer, I thought the sports brand was TOP FLYTE, giving me EYE, and keeping me around the horse's head for a cup and a half.

Rex Parker 3:20 PM  

I can tell you that you will be seeing RAE again in your puzzling future ... but who can say when or where?


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