Horror flick starring Humphrey Bogart as mad scientist / SUN 3-16-14 / Thummim sacred Judaic objects / Type A friend from Friends / Country buggy / Drink with two lizards in its logo / He bested Leonidas at Thermopylae / John Candy's old comedy program
Sunday, March 16, 2014
Constructor: Jeremy Newton
Relative difficulty: Challenging
THEME: "It's Better This Way" — theme answers all have "RX" in them. There are circled letters in the NW and SE that spell out SICK and WELL, respectively. Then there is a revealer: FOLLOWING THE / PRESCRIPTION (16D: With 58-Down, a patient process? … or a hint to two consecutive letters in the answer to each of the seven starred clues).
- 23A: *He bested Leonidas at Thermopylae (XERXES I OF PERSIA)
- 31A: *Off-roader, often (FOUR X FOUR)
- 49A: *Annual draw for snocross fans (THE WINTER X GAMES)
- 65A: *Iconic feature of comedy (GROUCHO MARX MUSTACHE)
- 79A: *Founder of Marvel's School for Gifted Youngsters (PROFESSOR XAVIER)
- 97A: *Frequent problem faced by algebra students (SOLVE FOR X)
- 108A: *Horror flick starring Humphrey Bogart as a mad scientist, with "The" ("RETURN OF DOCTOR X") [Note: the "X" stands for Xavier … but we won't count that as duplication]
Xerxes I of Persia (//; Old Persian: Xšaya-ṛšā IPA: [xʃajaːrʃaː] meaning "ruling over heroes";New Persian: خشایارشا ; Greek: Ξέρξης [ksérksɛːs]; Hebrew: אֲחַשְׁוֵרוֹשׁ, Modern Aẖashverosh Tiberian ʼĂḥašwērôš), also known as Xerxes the Great (519–465 BC), was the fourth king of the kings of Achaemenid Empire. Xerxes I is likely the Persian king identified as Ahasuerus in the biblical book of Esther. (wikipedia)
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FOLLOWING THE / PRESCRIPTION isn't … anything. It's a random verbal phrase. It cannot stand alone. It's not snappy. It's ridiculous. PRESCRIPTION tips off the theme. I have literally No Idea what FOLLOWING THE means in this context. Nothing is "following" anything. "Following" has zero to do with the theme. So it's not a real phrase, and it indicates an action (i.e. "following") that has nothing to do with the theme. Even the phrase in the *clue* for the revealer—"a patient process"—Is Not A Phrase. It's not a thing. "A patient process"—is that a pun on something? I've never heard that phrase in my life. How is following a prescription a "patient process"? The revealer is a train wreck at every level. This is a great shame, as the difficulty level is nice and tough and the non-theme fill elicited almost no groans.
I will say this about a couple of the themers, though: what? When was the last time anyone referred to Xerxes as XERXESIOFPERSIA? I've read Herodotus, I know who this guy is, but that phrase (while defensible) is nuts. Also, ("The"?) "RETURN OF DOCTOR X"?!? That's about the most unfamous movie I've ever seen as a Sunday themer. Also, the NYX is playing pretty loose with that title, as the only other times DOCTOR X has appeared in the puzzle, he has been DRX. Now, officially (or, on the movie posters, anyway), DOCTOR is written out, so today's version got it right. But that inconsistency with prior references to the movie actually threw me a little. The bigger issue, though, is that that movie is not very famous. Also FOURXFOUR is playing fast and loose with symbols. I'd accept the "X" if the fours were numerals. But I'm balking, slightly, at this version. Still, you can't say the themers aren't interesting. They are entertaining and unusual. I just wish there'd been a snappier way to tie this theme together. Even the title is awkward. Revealer, revealer clue, title—all of it is just Off.
Puzzle of the Week now … it's a tough call this week. I got a handful of puzzles sitting here vying for my approbation. Mike Nothnagel's Post Puzzler from last Sunday was pretty killer. Fireball once again brings the heat with Jacob Stulberg's very smart letter-swap theme. Evan Birnholz is out to show that his independent site "Devil Cross" is no flash-in-the-pan—you can get his latest excellent puzzle, "Nonstandard Operating Procedures," here. Brendan Emmett Quigley's "Bottoms Up!" is spectacular and also just … so … Quigley (get it here). The guy really paved the way for the burgeoning indie puzzle movement, and he's still killing it, against all odds, twice a week, every week. His puzzle might've won this week if it hadn't appeared elsewhere before. But this week, I'm going with an easy puzzle again, and giving the nod to Liz Gorski's Crossword Nation puzzle this week: "Side Effects." It's a sweet little twist on the vowel progression theme type. Read about it here and subscribe to Liz's Crossword Nation here (especially great for folks who are beginners or who simply prefer Monday-Wednesday level difficulty).
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld