MONDAY, March 30, 2009 — Donna S. Levin

THEME: Quality ratings — theme answers begin with words POOR, FAIR, GOOD, and GREAT, respectively.

A very enjoyable little Monday puzzle — one that took me thirteen seconds longer than today's NYT took me. Would have been faster, but when I'd completed the grid, I had one answer I knew wasn't right: LTIR at 58D: Astronomical distance meas. I was thinking the problem was somewhere in the first two letters — what starts "LT"? — but then the "meas." part of the clue reached up and slapped me. An abbrev. in the clue means (almost always) an abbrev. answer. I then realized the final vowel in NICKI might not be an "I" — changed it to a "Y" to get NICKY (67A: Paris Hilton's sister) to get LTYR or LT. YR. or "Light Year." For the record, NICKY (as clued) is not something you'd ever see in an early-week NYT puzzle. Very, very L.A., that clue. For better or worse.

Theme answers:
  • 17A: Franklin's almanac-writing alter ego (POOR Richard)
  • 27A: Young, promising fellow (FAIR-haired boy) — Is this a common or familiar phrase? I see that it is — has its own dictionary entry and everything. Evokes ideas of a master race, Aryan Nation, etc. Definition even states "This term alludes to the preference of blond ('fair') hair over dark hair." This brown-haired boy says "bite me."
  • 48A: Beneficent biblical traveler (GOOD Samaritan) — Learned this term from stickers on the sides of RVs I'd see on family trips during my childhood.
  • 64A: F. Scott Fitzgerald title character, with "the" (GREAT Gatsby) — This novel figures prominently in Alison Bechdel's "Fun Home," which is perhaps the greatest book I've read yet this century, and certainly the greatest comic.
Somehow, of the four qualities on display in this theme, GREAT seems most out of place. We used to get marks in school for behavior and they ranged from P for POOR to E for EXCELLENT. If you're grading books or other collectibles, you'd have FINE at the top. Does this set of four ratings refer to some specific scale, or is it just a general progression from worst to best?

Crosswordese 101: I was tempted to go with ADEN today, but I'm going to go instead with a word that I'd never heard of until I was well into my crossword-solving career: MRE (46D: Desert Storm chow, initially). Stands for "Meal, Ready-to-Eat" — complete, high-energy meals contained entirely inside an extremely durable package (they have to withstand parachute drops and whatnot). Here is a list of typical MRE contents, which I pulled off of Wikipedia:
General contents may include:Many items are fortified with nutrients. In addition, DoD policy requires units to augment MREs with fresh food and A-rations whenever feasible, especially in training environments.

Back to the puzzle: Did you know Laura Branigan died of a brain aneurysm in 2004? Or that her vocal coach was Gian Carlo Menotti (he of "AMAHL and the Night Visitors" fame)? I'm sorry, that has nothing to do with the puzzle — I'm watching the 80s music channel. I'll turn it off now.

I had my most serious hesitations in this puzzle at the aforementioned LTYR / NICKY intersection, as well as the general BARKEEP region. BARKEEP is a fantastic answer, but my brain could do nothing with -----EP, given the clue — 52A: Cocktail maker. Even after the second "E" and the "B" I was puzzled. Did Little BO PEEP make cocktails? No, and she doesn't fit anyway. Anyway, I worked it out.

What else?
  • 39A: Woman's golf garment (skort) — more great fill. Had SKIRT at first. Should've known better.
  • 11D: Church garb (Sunday best) — another wonderful, colorful answer. I have many "Simpsons" toys, and one of them is "SUNDAY BEST Bart," where his hair is slicked down, parted in the middle, and he's got a coat and tie and little shorts on. It's adorable.
  • 31D: Valerie Harper sitcom ("Rhoda") — I think I had a little crush on her when I was a kid. I was a weird kid.
See you Wednesday. PuzzleGirl's got the write-up tomorrow.


Everything Else — 1A: Olfactory enticement (AROMA); 6A: Fashion show strutter (MODEL); 11A: Chugalug's opposite (SIP); 14A: 65-Down-strengthening exercise (SIT UP); 15A: Online surfers, e.g. (USERS); 16A: Cyberaddress, briefly (URL); 19A: "Right to bear arms" gp. (NRA); 20A: Flower holder (STEM); 21A: Scarlett of Tara (O'HARA); 22A: Port in Yemen (ADEN); 23A: Detroit labor org. (UAW); 25A: Furious (IN A RAGE); 32A: Hosp. staffer (LPN); 33A: 1/12 of a foot (INCH); 34A: Conspiring band (CABAL); 37A: Solemn vow (OATH); 42A: Nevada city (RENO); 43A: Before surg. (PRE-OP); 45A: Consider (DEEM); 47A: Enjoy Aspen (SKI); 54A: Actor Affleck (BEN); 55A: "__ brillig, and the slithy ...": Carroll (TWAS); 56A: Beautiful, in Bologna (BELLA); 59A: Business garb (SUIT); 63A: Dine (EAT); 66A: "You __ here" (ARE); 68A: Nigeria neighbor (BENIN); 69A: Hosp. VIPs (MDS); 70A: Theater employee (USHER); 71A: Garden shovel (SPADE); 1D: Nile snakes (ASPS); 2D: Civil uprising (RIOT); 3D: Nebraska tribe (OTOE); 4D: Cooing sound (MURMUR); 5D: Mo. when 1040s are due (APR); 6D: "__ Ado About Nothing" (MUCH); 7D: Labor Dept. arm (OSHA); 8D: Sweetheart (DEARIE); 9D: Grocery trip, say (ERRAND); 10D: Leary's turn-on (LSD); 12D: Flawed, as sale mdse. (IRREG.); 13D: Hangar occupant (PLANE); 18D: Hawkeyes, statewise (IOWANS); 22D: Clamorous (AROAR); 24D: Sushi tuna (AHI); 26D: "Dancing with the Stars" network (ABC); 27D: Broadway disaster (FLOP); 28D: On __ with: equal to (A PAR); 29D: Blends together into a whole (INTEGRATES); 30D: "Bleah!" (ICK); 35D: "Puppy Love" singer Paul (ANKA); 36D: Pork cut (LOIN); 38D: Fish catchers (HOOKS); 40D: Dream state acronym (REM); 41D: Pekoe packet (TEABAG); 44D: "The Raven" poet (POE); 49D: Rubbish (DEBRIS); 50D: Oration (SPEECH); 51D: Arched foot part (INSTEP); 52D: Second-string squad (BTEAM); 53D: Emmy or Oscar (AWARD); 57D: Tahoe, for one (LAKE); 60D: Annapolis inst. (USNA); 61D: Footnote abbr. (IBID); 62D: Daly of "Cagney & Lacey" (TYNE); 64D: Wildebeest (GNU); 65D: Tummy muscles (ABS).


John said...

Fun Puzzle!

Sunday Best bart looks alittle bit like that kid in Home Alone.

BTY, Rex,INCH and RENO are in BOTH the NYT and LAT today!I think Youd Better A few more Utters onto that concidence!

Rex Parker said...

Surely one of the mathier/statsier solvers out there (they are legion) can explain why there Appears to be a high incidence of shared fill in the NYT and LAT puzzles on any given day. All I know is that crossword editors are way too buried in other kinds of detail work to care about, let alone plan, such things.

addie loggins said...

POORRICHARD and GOODSAMARITAN were my first two theme answers, so I was looking for double OOs in the other two as well. Didn't find them, but got the answers, and never went back to figure out what the theme was.

Loved BARKEEP and BTEAM. Did you know that INARAGE has the same number of letters as ENRAGED, which also means "furious"? That cost me some time.

Good solid Monday puzzle.


Joon said...

since rex asked ...

according to xwordinfo, the top 500 most common words (at least in the NYT) have each appeared at least 88 times in the 5609 puzzles in the database, going up to 336 times for #1 (ERA). that's between roughly 1% and 6% of all puzzles. (by the way, the list includes RENO but not INCH. the weird thing to me is that the exact same clue was used for INCH.)

for the sake of simplicity, we'll assume that the distribution of the most common words is the same in the NYT and LAT, *and* we'll ignore the possibility of a word outside of the top 500 repeating. then for ERA alone, there is a 0.36% chance that it will be in both puzzles (probability that it is in one puzzle = 336/5609, then square it). if you add up these chances for the top 500 words, you get these probabilities:

no overlap: 72%
1 word in common: 20%
2+ words in common: 8%

so it's really not that surprising. and remember, this is just for the top 500 words; the chances of overlap would increase if we counted the top 1000 or 2000 or whatever. (there are 84,000 distinct words in the database, and i'd guess at least 10,000 have some non-trivial chance of overlap.)

the redanman said...
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Rex Parker said...

Yay joon. If I keep getting conspiracy theorists, I'm going to have to make your explanation a permanent feature, accessible via the sidebar. Thx a lot.


Greene said...

Any puzzle that contains Jay Gatsby is ok by me. The Great Gatsby has long been my favorite novel and I never tire of rereading it.

This was an excellent Monday puzzle. Not quite as smooth as Andrea's in the NYT, but certainly spicier. Love the phrase BAR KEEP. Sounds like it belongs in a black and white movie from the 1930s. Could probably do without DEARIE which along with BABY pretty much defined 1920s songwriting. I think Ira Gershwin may have actually invented the word "baby." :)

Orange said...

And if we're doing more than two puzzles a day—I usually do at least four—the odds of overlap between any random two is surely a good deal higher than that 28% figure. Thanks for the statistical number-crunching, Joon!

I thought we all learned about MREs from news stories during the first Gulf War. Wait, is this why newspapers are going out of business? Because so many people haven't been reading the daily paper for years? (I only read 'em online, but I've quit complaining about the ads. I'd pay for online access to the NYT and my local paper if I had to, but they don't ask for my money and I don't want to kill trees, so it's no wonder they're going broke.)

Crosscan said...

It's not an alien conspiracy? Ok, I'm with joon, but I still think Will Shortz is really Elvis.

Laura Branigan is my favorite singer ever. I saw her in concert in Montreal in the mid-1980's. Had all her albums. Incredible voice, very underrated. She died the day before my birthday. Sigh.

Oh the puzzle. I'd put it between GOOD and GREAT. Faster than the NYT for me.


hazel said...

@Rex - favorite novel of the century is quite an accollade! I'm going to have to try Allison Bechdel out. I thought the name looked familiar - in case you missed, she actually did a graphic review of a novel in NYT Book Review yesterday that was incredibly clever/interesting.

I have trouble getting my favorite novels down to the top 5 each year. (My dentist likes me to give him my top 5.) I'd have to think long and hard for that favorite of the century, though. I think it might be Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, but I can't categorially commit to that - need my ink eraser just in case.

Did like the puzzle too.

Sandy said...

How bad is it that I've already forgotten the puzzle? Or is that supposed to happen on a Monday - a little treat to enjoy with breakfast, then move right on with the day.

Karen said...

Thanks for the math, Joon. I've always enjoyed the combinatorics. I missed INTEGRATES on my first pass, as well as MURMUR and DEBRIS. But overall a quick fun puzzle.

*David* said...

I tried the Orange philosopy of only filling in the down clues. Couldn't quite complete the puzzle that way but it sure made me miss a lot of the fill. I completely missed SKORT in there.

Laura Brannigan unfortunately lives among the creatures of the night. She's one of my wife's fav artists, if I hear Gloria one more time,it may be time for a restraining order.

chefbea said...

Not as good as Andrea's but very easy. Never heard of MRE

Gotta watch ABC tonight. Will the Apple guy get kicked off this week?

mac said...

Nice little Monday puzzle, but were there a lot of abbr. and acronyms in it? I don't know the LPN, but I like it above the preop.

That Alison Bechdel review is amazing!

Hope you feel better, Puzzlegirl!

the redanman said...
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ArtLvr said...

Wow, joon -- Is that why random people seem to have the same birthday more often than one might think? Not the same year, just month and day...

Anonymous said...

@Artlvr - If you put a group of 28 people in a room, the odds that two of them will have the same birthday is over 50%.

Joon said...

jim horne, who is The Man when it comes to puzzle data, provided me with a bigger list (all the words, not just the top 500). the results:

no overlap: 41%
1 word in common: 24%
2+ words in common: 35%

the redanman said...
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Karen said...

I believe you need 366 people to be guaranteed a duplicated birthday. (Versus the over 50% likelihood of duplication, which I don't remember.)

Crosscan said...

I'm guessing that you need 367. I have a friend born on Feb 29.

chefbea said...

About 4 years ago I joined an exercise class. There were 15 of us. Two of us have the same birthday.

Rex Parker said...

For 57+ people, the probability of a shared birthday is over 99% - yes, 100% metaphysical certitude isn't achieved 'til 367, but virtual certitude = much, much earlier.

The Birthday Problem

And we're back to the puzzle.

mac said...

I don't care very much about how many people share my birthday, but it is interesting to me that January (my husband's and my month of birth, although 10 years and a day apart) is the fullest page on my birthday calendar. We seem to make more friends with people born in January.

Joon said...

it's long past the point when anybody cares about this, but i messed up my calculation earlier. here are the "right" numbers (i think):

0 words in common: 56%
1: 33%
2+: 12%

that feels about right; the two puzzles will have a word in common about half the time, and 2+ words in common about once a week. (no, the program that does the calculation is not smart enough to realize that it's more likely on sundays.)

mac said...

@joon: this crowd cares.
I did think two of the percentages were reversed, but what do I know....
It still sounds very high to me.
So when is your birthday?