Thursday, March 15, 2007

Solving time: who knows?
THEME: Double-X words (I think) - 8 double-X words positioned throughout the grid, including a pair that intersect at the heart of the puzzle

I guess this is a theme. It's cool to see all these X's, but ... and I've said this before ... either give me symmetry or don't give me symmetry, but don't give me something symmetrical in Nearly Every Way, but one. Or in this case, two. Two pairs of theme answers have 180-degree rotational symmetry, and another pair intersects in the heart of the puzzle (its own kind of symmetry). The last pair:

XERXES (3D: 1738 Handel opera set in Persia)
XANAX (52D: Popular anti anxiety drug)

are opposite the grid from one another, but one of them (pick one) is two columns too far east for them to have true symmetry, so ... while this is not really a knock against a complicated little puzzle, the asymmetry stands out and grates a little. So close to symmetry and yet ... no.

The X-WORDS:

XERXES
XANAX
MAXIXE (1A: Brazilian dance ) - WTF!?!?!
TEX MEX (66A: Spicy cuisine)
NEXT EXIT (31D: Informational sign on an Interstate)
LUXURY TAX (20D: Monopoly square) - "Square?" I challenge. It's a rectangle:

And lastly, the greatest and most shocking answer in the puzzle:

EXTRAMARITAL SEX (37A: Private affair?) - This passes the NYT breakfast-table test. So illicit and ... frank. For the Times, I mean. And why is there even a question mark at the end of the clue? It's pretty literal. I know that "private affair" has the meaning of a "party for a select group of people," but still, if you're going to "?" a clue, it should be well and truly misleading. I believe there are situations where EXTRAMARITAL SEX would not be private, but I'm quite certain that those situations are not ones you'd see referenced in the Times puzzle. Yet.

Kwik Kakes

It's Thursday a.m., so I have no time to write a gloriously eloquent entry. So every Thursday will be "Kwik Kakes" day, wherein I fly through the grid making only passing, one-liner-type observations. Why "Kwik Kakes?" Well, "Kwik" because I'm writing this entry Kwikly. And "Kakes," because "Kwik Kakes" alliterates and is also the single greatest store name I've ever actually encountered (downtown Fresno, early 90's - is that right, Andrew? You were there)

• 23A: VW front? (STU) - yesterday a poker player, today a letter sequence. Nice.
• 30A: Fishing hook with a handle (gaff), intersecting...
• 30D: Hootenanny participant (gal) - had to guess at that "G"; not familiar with GAFF (my wife thinks it must be related to the "gaffer," whose name you always see in movie credits), and my hootenanny attendance has been way down lately. Long story.
• 41A: Affirmed's 1978 Triple Crown archrival (Alydar) - for reasons I will explain to you and / or a therapist some day, I do not like being forced to relive any part of 1978. I was, however, super-proud of myself that this name floated up from out of nowhere to the front of my brain, especially considering I was eight years old back then.
• 45A: Missile from a prankster (pie) - nice homonymic throwback to yesterday's puzzle! I think of "missiles" being more, uh, phallic shaped than your average pie, but insofar as the pie hurtles through the air, I guess it's fair. Spent many seconds wondering how the answer here could be KIE because I had the very plausible RETAKE for RETAPE (29D: Shoot over).
• 63A: Moon of Saturn (Telesto) - Add "Moons of Saturn" to categories that make me go blank.
• 65A: "Shifting gears a little" and others (segues) - really loved this one; have I mentioned that I did not know how to spell segue until I was in my thirties. It still looks So Wrong to me.
• 23D: Army NCO (Sgt. Maj.) - ugh, yet Another category (military ranks) that I have not come close to mastering; this answer is way longer and more Scrabbly than most NCO answers. This answer joines EX-MARINES (32D: Some vets) and AIR RAID (16A: Cause for a siren) to form a kind of military subtheme.
• 28D: Vance Air Force Base site (Enid) - woo hoo, another throwback to yesterday's puzzle. The return of ENID, clued as the Oklahoma City, just as I wished for yesterday.
• 39D: Cal-Nev-_____, Nev. (Ari) - weirdest-looking clue! Is this pronounced "Calnevari"?
• 55D: Tennis star Rusedski (Greg) - define "star"....
• 58D: _____ Cross, James Patterson detective (Alex) - ugh, contemporary best-selling detective fiction. No thanks. Thank god this name was easy and not some freak made-up name like ALOX or ELEX. In fact, of all the ALEXes in the world (Trebek!) why go to this guy?
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

Alex

My path to Alex Cross was "Never read a Patterson book but I know that one because Denzel Washington played him in The Bone Collector." But I just looked and The Bone Collector is not a Patterson book. So I don't know why I know Alex Cross.

There's no reason you should know Telesto as a moon of Saturn, it is one of the dozens of minor moons. It is less than 20 miles in diameter.

Greg Rusedski was the top British tennis player for a while in the 1990s. Of course, "top British player" generally equals "second tier overall" so his name didn't stick with me even though I was a big tennis fan back then. Just looked him up and he only made it as far as the quarterfinals in a Grand Slam event twice in his career.

Also, I don't really consider a taco to be a "snack." Makes me think of admin assistants in Mexico keeping a bowl of tacos on the desk for passers-by.

I really liked that (except maybe for MAXIXE) none of the theme words felt like the constructor was stretching and it didn't seem to have a big negative impact on the rest of the grid. Maybe that is the benefit of not holding symmetry as mandatory. Though I will admit that it did slow me down on MOIRA because I was trying to think of a name with two Xs to symmetrically match XANAX.

I liked ALPO once I finally got it but for quite a while I was sure that -LP- had to be a mistake.

All in all, I'm always happy when I finish a Thursday with a minimum of help. Used Wikipedia to find the first letter of MAXIXE (still don't know what it is, but it is in the first page of results if you search "brazilian dance") but otherwise powered through on my own.

campesite

I can generally shoulder may way through a Thursday puzzle with minor bloodshed, but starting off 1A with MAXIXE? Agreed: WTF?!?! I'm ok with obscure answers, but a minor moon of Saturn? At least give us a moon associated with Greek mythology.

Chris

Alex, you're probably thinking of Morgan Freeman and Kiss the Girls. That's how I got the answer, at least. I'm actually surprised the name stuck with me for so long, seeing as I haven't seen or thought about Kiss the Girls since it first came out 10 years ago.

Thank God I was looking for Xs in the NW, otherwise there's no way in hell I finish that section. It would've been utterly brutal without the quasi-theme.

Orange

Telesto is from Greek mythology, but minor enough to get only a one-sentence write-up in Wikipedia.

campesite

Thanks Orange! Love your blog, too.

Donald

http://donaldsweblog.blogspot.com/

For a nice picture of Telesto, see above -- one of 47 (and counting) moons of Saturn.

13 X's, hmmm...

Norrin2

I don't know if Rex Parker also does the NY Sun crossword puzzle as well as the Times, but you should; it's second only to Shortz's stuff and sometimes superior (blasphemy I know, but I stand behind that statement).
Anyway, their clues are always G and PG rated like the Times, but yesterday they had one more shocking than "EXTRAMARITAL SEX." The clue was "Pussy Galore" (I kid you not) and the answer was ACNED (not a sexual reference but something much more disgusting.) I was still reeling from that when I had EXTRAMARITAL SEX in the Times puzzle today.

Wendy

Other than liking all of the x's, both singlet and doublet, I have nothing interesting to say. But I got a kick out of today's entry on Comics Curmudgeon, which says, "Rex has gone totally insane with his hiring decisions today, but, since his clinic for uninsured children has no obvious source of income, I suppose that an ex-meth-lab employee — excuse me, an incompetent ex-meth-lab employee — is about the best he can hope for."

This pertains to Rex Morgan, M.D., of course, one of your namesakes, and always a crowd pleaser for me, despite its completely whacked-out story lines. I hope the NYT someday has an all-comics theme.

Rex Parker

Yes, I'm a religious reader of my namesake's comic. All that campy and hopelessly dated serial comic fiction makes me indescribably happy. Comics Curmudgeon helps.

An "norrin2" - I do the Sun puzzle every day. I often comment about it on another puzzle blog I know of. Everyone should be doing the Sun puzzle, it's true. You can get there through "Puzzle Pointers" (sidebar).

RP

Trish in OP

Was I the only one who thought "Anyday" was a fine name for a race horse?

Ultra Vi

Liked all the X's (though they had nothing to do with the Ides of March theme I was half-expecting), but I had to resort to googling for help with MAXIXE (I'm not really a dancer), GAFF (certainly not a fisher), XANAX (not on it) and ALYDAR (um...not especially a horse person, either).

But I got EXTRAMARITALSEX!!

Oh, and the clue for 43A contains my name. Very nice, that!

Rex Parker

Before ALYDAR came to me, I had tentatively named the horse PAYDAY.

RP

WWPierre

This was a two-cupper for me today. Started with ALPO, (a gimme for me), then all over the map 'til the Xs started emerging from the grid. From there I just kept trying Xs 'til it was all finished except the center, which brings me to my only gripe:

The question mark after "private affair" (37a)

I was so proud of myself when I entered EXTRAMARTIAL SEX (the military sub theme, remember?)

It disappointed me to have to re-transpose the t and the i to finish. No outside help today, although I did try to find Cal-Nev-ARI in the atlas with no success.

Noah

Could someone please explain the Cal-Nev-ARI thing? Still don't get it.

rhonda from kansas

I'm six weeks later, but it doesn't look like you got an answer.

Try -

Kim

Six weeks later also, according to Wikipedia, Cal-Nev-Ari is a very small town at the southern tip of Nevada. It is, of course, very close to California and Arizona!

First time to post, being reading this blog for a while! Thank you Rex! I love reading the blog soon after finishing the puzzle.

jae

Liked the Xs. I also got hung up on retake vs. retape. The only other thing that slowed me down was that the San Diego paper cut off the bottom row of the puzzle so my acrosses stopped at 64A. Managed to fill it in but it was a little tricky not knowing which squares were blacked out.

WWPierre

Kim said,"Cal-Nev-Ari is a very small town at the southern tip of Nevada."
Too small for Rand McNally to notice, apparently.

Jae: Puzzles are always symmetrical around the center.

Looks like I may be the first six week later one to post today. I wonder if anyone else pays any attention to us, or even knows we exist, for that matter:)

I know Rex checks back, 'cause he has commented a few times.

jae

wwpierre: I'm always six weeks later except this coming Saturday (which you will see when you get there). Thanks for the symmetry tip (I'm still on a learning curve.) That means the corners were black, which I did discover.

mmpo

I'm only approximately six weeks later. Not keeping track. Have subscribed on line and am doing the intervening six weeks' worth when I feel like it.
Brit's exclamation. Wanted "Blimy" or "Balls" but neither would fit.
EXTRAMARITAL SEX. As it happens, my cousin, who takes part in trivia contests just sent me this tidbit:
A version of the King James Bible published in 1639 was known as the “wicked” bible because it left out the “not” from the Seventh Commandment (the one about adultery.)
Aka The Wifeswappers' Bible.
But you still shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife...(or ass)...so I guess you can do it, but you can't want to do it.
And "pussy galore." My oh my. Gales of laughter. Reminds me of the time a local poet, telling me where he and his brother were performing, asked me "Do you know where the Pussy Corps is?" ("Um...no.") "It's across the street." Montreal. Where high-brow and low-brow entertainment venues rub shoulders and no one seems to mind.

Anyday is indeed a fine name for a racehorse. As is Payday.
"Though your face is charming it's the wrong face..."

mmpo

Forgot to mention...
Started to pencil in "pea" for 45A (missile from a prankster) after dismissing "wad." Got sidetracked and didn't fill in the last letter, so when I entered EMBLEM, I had PEE. "Wait a minute..." (It didn't quite seem right, but I'd also forgotten about (the inferrable) CAL-NEV-ARI...so for a few seconds, I was thinking maybe the pea in a pea-shooter was actually spelled P-E-E. Why did I take "prankster" to mean "schoolboy?"