Wagnerian heroine — SATURDAY, Oct. 31 2009 — Escapee who fell to his death in sea / Brilliantly dressed cavalrymen / Pneumatic power producer

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Constructor: Robert H. Wolfe

Relative difficulty: Challenging

THEME: er, none

Word of the Day: GANTRIES (15A: Spanning frameworks) n., pl., -tries.
  1. A mount for a traveling crane consisting of a large archlike or bridgelike frame designed to move along a set of tracks.
  2. A similar spanning frame supporting a group of railway signals over several tracks.
  3. Aerospace. A massive vertical frame structure used in assembling or servicing a rocket, especially at a launch site.
  4. A support for a barrel lying on its side.

[Middle English ganter, gauntre, wooden stand for barrels, from Old North French gantier, wooden frame, from Latincanthērius, from Greek kanthēlios, pack ass, from kanthēlia, panniers at the side of a pack-saddle.]


I appreciated the workout, I did. And I learned something about myself today, which is that TERRENE is a gimme (50A: Earthly). Scary. But all in all there was just too much -ER action for me to enjoy this much. Actually, the problem was bigger than the SERENER MARRER (21A: Less agitated + 38D: Graffitist, e.g.) and the SNEERERS with their ESTERS (48A: Disdainful bunch + 34D: Ingredients in essences). The problem was the DEARTH (26A: Opposite of a surplus) of letters with a Scrabble value higher than one. It's all -ER, -ERS, -IER, -TES, -EST, over and over and over. The NW is my favorite corner by a mile, if only because nothing up there feels made-up, and there are Cs and Ps and even a V! God bless the V! CARAPACE is a lovely word (3D: Shell). But once you get out of the NW, eek.

Started in the NW with the -ER in what turned out to be FISHIER (
1D: Comparatively shady), and then the ET ALIA off of that (22A: Plus other things). The -TED ending of what turned out to be ACCENTED (2D: Spotlit, say) helped me get RECTO (24A: One side of a leaf) and DEARTH, and I built up from there via TRAVOLTA (4D: He played a governor in "Primary Colors"). Never heard of SENTA (14D: Wagnerian heroine), which means I probably have heard of it, in some puzzle, somewhere. Wagner heroines are very big in puzzles. SW came next, and that quadrant took me longer by far than any other, even with SNEERERS and TERRENE going across really early. Wanted POST for MAST (44D: Yard supporter), and wouldn't have gotten MARRER in a trillion years without considerable crosses. Had PERMEATE where MARINATE belonged (44A: Imbue with flavor, in a way). Couldn't think of anything related to "enamel" except teeth, so PRIMER took a while (39D: It may be under enamel). Should be grateful to the Es and Rs down here, since I had most of them. It's the As and Ms that kept hiding.

["Just Like HEAVEN" (18A: Good resting place?)]

Hurray for French class and odd bouts of art appreciation — DANSEUSES (6D: Frequent Degas subjects) let me into the NE, which might have been impenetrable otherwise. ENDICOTT!!? I was stunned to see this in the grid. It's as close as I'll ever come to seeing my place of residence in the puzzle (probably). ENDICOTT (17A: Upstate New York town whre I.B.M. was founded) is literally down the street. Wife and daughter take karate there. David Sedaris lived there for a while as a child. So I lucked out there as well. That corner went down in about a minute, despite my not really knowing HUSSARS (23A: Brilliantly dressed cavalrymen).The SE was my last stand, and like the SW, it took a while. "ED WOOD" was easy (28A: Johnny Depp title role), but I couldn't drop a damn thing down off of it. Tried WISTERIA where WATER OAK (!? 29D: Tree of Southeastern swamplands) was supposed to go. Was eventually saved by the unlikeliest of heroes: "ERES TU" (45A: 1974 pop hit with Spanish lyrics)! That, and OPERETTA (30D: Johann Strauss), a form I didn't know J. Strauss ever wrote. I just ran through the alphabet for that second letter (OA, OB, OC...) and when I hit "P" I knew OPERETTA was right. Wanted SAENS (41D: Saint-_____ (Fauré contemporary)) and SATIRE (49A: Biting writing) pretty early on, but took a while to get good confirmation. Last letter was the "R" at STERNA (41A: Axial skeleton parts) / ORRISOIL (31D: Perfume ingredient) — which I parsed ORRI SOIL. Done and done. Googled ORRI SOIL to see what it is. Got nothing. Wondered how it could possibly be wrong. Then moved the "S" onto the first word, giving me ORRIS OIL. Googled that — bingo!

  • 13A: Escapee who fell to his death in the sea (Icarus) — first thing I thought of, despite not remembering what in the world he "escaped" from (turns out he was trying to escape Crete, where he was imprisoned, along with his father, by King Minos).
  • 46A: Pneumatic power producer (air motor) — one big key to solving SW was figuring that -TOR could be the ending of MOTOR. Before that, I was assuming the answer would be one word.

That's it.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Looped handles — FRIDAY, Oct. 30 2009 — Bookie's charge for short / Anthropomorphic film villain / One of Steinbeck's twins

Friday, October 30, 2009

Constructor: David Levinson Wilk

Relative difficulty:
THEME: none

Word of the Day:
VIG (30A: Bookie's charge, for short) — from VIGORISH:
n. Slang

    1. A charge taken on bets, as by a bookie or gambling establishment.
    2. The rate or amount of such a charge.
  1. Interest, especially excessive interest, paid to a moneylender.

[Yiddish slang, from Russian vyigrysh, winnings : vy-, out + igrat', to play.]


[38A: Im-ho-_____, Boris Karloff's role in "The Mummy"]

This grid is all about showiness. Its impact is visual. Look at all the different kinds of symmetry. Look at the (count 'em) 12 grid-spanning answers. Pretty cool. Solving the thing isn't as cool. There are NO ANSWERS of any length between 6 and 14 letters. To be more specific: answers are 15 letters long, or they are 5 letters long, or (way way too often) they are 3 letters long. Again, this grid looks good on the page, but it's no joy when filled out. Nothing with that many 3s can be. INA, INE, IND, and INN all live here, and that's not even the worst of it. Plus the 15s aren't very interesting or colloquial or fresh. Just there. Perhaps this is the best anyone could fill a grid like this. It's not terrible. But the shape of the grid here radically compromises the quality of the fill, and I'm against that. Really against it.

If you don't think short fill can be a problem, I give you this heap of words (in addition to the four IN- words, above): ANSAE, OIS, TEP, LER, FIL, CEN, VIG, OOX, SSS, TOONE, EDM, RPS. That's not all of it; that's just the yuck. On the other hand, the Stones are pretty cool.

The 15s:

  • 17A: Whitney Houston hit recorded for the 1988 Summer Olympics ("One Moment in Time")
  • 24A: 1974 Rolling Stones hit ("Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo")
  • 31A: Home for an addax and dorcas gazelle (The Sahara Desert)
  • 41A: Maisonette (duplex apartment)
  • 48A: André Gide novel whose title comes from Matthew 7:14 ("Strait is the Gate") — my big "WTF!" of the day.
  • 58A: Big newsstand seller for some magazines (swimsuit edition) — wasn't aware that anyone but "S.I." had one.
  • 3D: Bailiwick (area of expertise)
  • 5D: Sweet little things with points to them (chocolate Kisses)
  • 6D: Soil water saturation limits (field capacities)
  • 8D: Country music (national anthems)
  • 9D: Taken things a bit too far (gone over the line)
  • 11D: Like grandchildren (third generation)
Lots of German: DER EINES TOD!

Even more French: NON, FIL OIS FRANC TOI!

My favorite line in the grid: EEK! CAN HER!

Least favorite line: FIL CEN VIG!

I enjoyed "Bull Durham" but had no idea who directed it. RON sounded right, and was (35D: "Bull Durham" director Shelton). VIG was a novelty to me (not a big pony player), though I'm almost positive I've seen it in a grid before. Reminds me of Abe VIGoda (who makes an appearance in another, non-NYT puzzle today). VIGoda = "Godfather" = mob = organized crime = bookies. Makes sense. As I said, never heard of the Gide novel. The biblical part of the clue helped a little. Matthew 7:14 reads: "Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it." Real title of the Gide novel is "La porte étroite," and it sounds horribly depressing. Don't know what "O'ER" has to do with "canto" (26D: Canto contraction). "Canto" = Italian for song. Also a division of Dante's "Divine Comedy." O'ER is a contraction of the *English* word "over." Must confess to having no clue about what Steinbeck novel features twins (21A: One of Steinbeck's twins). I see that it's "East of Eden" (never read or seen it!). Other twin is ARON. Probably good to know that for xwords.


  • 39A: Celtic sea god (Ler) — one of my most hated bits of crosswordese. Did you know that LAR is also an ancient deity? Yeah, I hate that guy too.
  • 47A: "_____ Town Too" (1981 hit) — recalling this song was perhaps my favorite part of the solving experience.

  • 56A: Anthropomorphic film villain (Hal) — "MORPH"ic implies shape to me, but I see how HAL is generally humanlike, so OK.
  • 62A: Looped handles (ansae) — you know who likes ANSAE? LER.
  • 1D: Mil. base until 1994 (Ft. Ord) — a near gimme. Forts you need to know: ORD, DIX.
  • 10D: Diamond figure on a 2006 postage stamp (Ott) — nice-ish new clue for this old standby.
  • 18D: He said "Learn from the masses, and then teach them" (Mao) — I guess "and then starve them" got edited out.
  • 31D: Death, in Deutschland (Tod) — I know TOD from such compositions as "TOD und Verklärung"

  • 50D: Cross character (tau) — Thought maybe Amanda CROSS or some other writer had a famous character I should know. But no. CROSS is the name of the (really really) bad guy in "Chinatown," played by John Huston.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Funny Wilson — THURSDAY, Oct 29 2009 — Goddess of breezes / Tricolor pooch / Doctor Who villainess

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Constructor: Joe Krozel

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: Air? Oh. — Theme answers start with those sounds

Word of the Day: "ARROWSMITH" (18A: Sinclair Lewis novel) Arrowsmith is a novel by American author and playwright Sinclair Lewis that was published in 1925. It won the 1926 Pulitzer Prize for Lewis but he refused to accept it. Lewis was greatly assisted in its preparation by science writer Dr. Paul de Kruif, who received 25% of the royalties on sales, but Lewis is listed as sole author. Arrowsmith is arguably the earliest major novel to deal with the culture of science.

Lewis's letter to the Pulitzer committee:

"I wish to acknowledge your choice of my novel Arrowsmith for the Pulitzer Prize. That prize I must refuse, and my refusal would be meaningless unless I explained the reasons.

All prizes, like all titles, are dangerous. The seekers for prizes tend to labor not for inherent excellence but for alien rewards; they tend to write this, or timorously to avoid writing that, in order to tickle the prejudices of a haphazard committee. And the Pulitzer Prize for Novels is peculiarly objectionable because the terms of it have been constantly and grievously misrepresented.

Those terms are that the prize shall be given "for the American novel published during the year which shall best present the wholesome atmosphere of American life, and the highest standard of American manners and manhood." This phrase, if it means anything whatsoever, would appear to mean that the appraisal of the novels shall be made not according to their actual literary merit but in obedience to whatever code of Good Form may chance to be popular at the moment." (wikipedia)


A Monday or Tuesday-type theme given torturous clues in order to give the puzzle something Thursdayish about it. End result is pretty unpleasant. AIRO is probably the thing I dislike most about this puzzle. Three full words/names and a prefix, fine. AIRO? Ugh. Fitting that it intersects STOP/GO (4D: Like some traffic), which is also ugh. We've all been in STOP *and* GO traffic. I was not aware that people ate the "and." Liked that the puzzle had HOME and AWAY in it, and on opposite sides of the grid; baseball terms are timely, as the World Series got underway last night. I also like SOUP SPOON (20A: Setting piece) though I'd like it better if it weren't one of those long Acrosses that look like theme answers but aren't. I almost like DATES BACK (54A: Has been around since, with "to"), but that clue is convoluted. Problem with the cluing throughout is that it's either bland and vague or too cute for its own good. Take NYET for 65A: Putin input? There's an off-putting I'm-so-witty quality about this clue — "Putin" and "input" are anagrams of one another. Hurray. But "input" relates to NYET how? Very indirectly at best. My "input" can be any damn thing I want to add to a conversation. The only "aha" moment in the whole puzzle came with HOME TEAM (10D: They're out standing in their field), and even that one is undermined by its reliance on a tired play on words: I remember seeing a greeting card in the 80s that had the "someone out standing in his field" gag on it. All in all, way more "Oh" and "ugh" moments than moments of entertainment or revelation.

Theme answers:

  • 18A: Sinclair Lewis novel (ARROW smith)
  • 26A: Series of sorties (AIRO ffensive)
  • 46A: Gateway Arch designer (EERO Saarinen)
  • 57A: Bomb (AEROsol can) — by far the hardest for me to get (an example of difficulty achieved through terse/vague cluing). Had Walk-INS and couldn't accept that ODD LOT was really the answer at 47D: It doesn't end in 00. There must be some technical, very specific meaning of ODD LOT that I don't know about that deals with quantities by hundreds. Unforgivably, I couldn't come up with TALENTS for what felt like a long time (43D: Biblical money units). They have a parable and everything!

  • 15A: First word of the Lord's Prayer in French (notre) — i.e. "Our..."
  • 30A: Tricolor pooch (beagle) — went looking for a specific, famous pooch. Snoopy has only two colors.
  • 49A: Made a switch in a game (castled) — given trickiness of cluing, though "switch" might be a thin stick or branch ... not sure what game you'd play with that ... !
  • 62A: "Doctor Who" villainess, with "the" (Rani) — Chess ... Doctor Who ... you really only want to inflict your particular nerddom on your audience so much.
  • 59A: Funny Wilson (Owen) — I went with the funnier Wilson (no offense, OWEN) — FLIP!

  • 12D: Not natural, in a way, after "in" (vitro) — tone deaf clue. Saying that something's not "natural" has disparaging connotations.
  • 26D: Goddess of breezes (Aura) — first guess, though I don't think I knew AURA was a goddess of anything. AURORA I know.
  • 37D: Actor Sim who played Ebenezer Scrooge (Alastair) — gave me trouble earlier in my solving career. Not today.
  • 21D: Coin "swallower" (sofa) — went with natural answer SLOT here.
  • 10A: Maintain (have) — if you say so.
  • 27D: Charles and others (Noras) — I'm guessing this is the fictional NORA Charles of "The Thin Man" and not some guy named Charles NORA.
  • 32D: What's barely done in movies? (love scene) — if answer had been NUDE SCENE, I'd have called this clue brilliant. There were LOVE SCENES in movies well before "bare"ness was tolerated.
  • 2D: Refinery products (gasolines) — now there's a word that needed pluralizing.

[he supported McCain...]

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Das Rheingold goddess — WEDNESDAY, Oct 28 2009 — Number of dwarfs with Blanche Neige / Torre Pendente city / Theta preceder / Brit's oath

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Constructor: Mike Torch

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: "KN" puns — "K" is added to beginning of "N" words in familiar phrases, creating wacky phrases, which are clued "?"-style

Word of the Day: OSMIC (50D: Of element #76) — adj.

Of, relating to, or containing osmium, especially in a compound with a valence of 4 or a valence higher than that in a comparable osmous compound. (answers.com)

This theme seems pretty sub-NYT to me. The name of my prom was "A Knight To Remember." At least I think it was, or it could have been — I didn't go because I was a social misfit (shocker!). But we were the Bullard Knights, and my point is "KN" puns are old, cliché, and kinda groan-worthy. Also limitless. The ones here are fine, I guess, as "KN" puns go, but bah and humbug. I like that the central answer puns off a phrase meaning "hooker" (in a puzzle w/ a reference to "American Gigolo" in it!) and KNIT PICK is pretty clever, but in general, no sale. OLD NICK is the devil, is that right? I thought maybe Santa, but that's SAINT NICK, which would have made a good theme answer — again, there's really no restrictive element to the theme. We could invent "N"-to-"KN" puns all day long. As for the rest of the fill, not hot. ERDA!? (19A: "Das Rheingold" goddess)? I would exclaim "GOR blimey!" (20A: Brit's oath) only it's "COR blimey!," dammit (always check your crosses — DINCE is not a word (11D: Griminess => DINGE)). Lots and lots and lots of three-letter crap in this one: LPN, IOS, ANI, COR, CKS, STS, CKS (WHA????), CTA ... and more, probably. 40 black squares (pretty high) should enable clean fill even with five theme answers. NW and SE corners are mostly good, but the rest is ENO KENO, i.e. not a game I'd willingly (re)play (46A: Roxy Music co-founder + 40D: Numbers game).

[Speaking of my prom ... 49D: "_____ Is to Blame" (1986 hit) ("NO ONE!")]

Theme answers:

  • 15A: Retired Big Apple basketball player? (Old Knick)
  • 21A: Was well-versed in a will? (Knew Testament)
  • 38A: Guinevere, to Lancelot? (Lady of the Knight)
  • 48A: Macramé company's goal (Knot for profit)
  • 64A: Select a sweater? (Knit pick)

Started out remarkably quickly in the NW with PITCHY as my first guess for 1A: Slightly sharp or flat, as a voice. Years of watching "American Idol" made that one easy to come up with — it's a standard judge criticism. Didn't write it in right away, because I thought there might be something more technical there, but PISA (1D: Torre Pendente city) seemed right and then INROAD (14A: Encroachment) worked with all the Downs and I was off and running. Got stuck at ERDA, and had to return at the end to conquer the NE, which was the hardest part of the grid for me, though ultimately not that hard. My favorite mistakes (aside from COR for GOR, which I wouldn't call "favorite," grrr) were Jane WYMAN for whatever her name is WYATT (30D: Jane of "Father Knows Best") and HUIT for SEPT (59D: Number of dwarfs with Blanche Neige). I think the "Jane" in the WYATT clue prompted my WYMAN answer, which was the only "WY" name I could come up with on the spot (weird, since I taught Thomas WYATT's poetry yesterday). As for HUIT dwarfs ... absolutely no explanation for why I thought there were eight of them. Maybe there *is* as eighth dwarf who went bad and had to be killed or exiled and someday he'll come back to exact revenge. I would pay to see a slasher film in which all the dwarfs get it, one by one.


  • 53: Less healthy (iller) — the ILLER I am, the less I IDEATE (8D: Think up). Can you tell I hate both words?
  • 47D: Like things said after cutting to a commercial (off air) — great answer. You should have heard the #@!# Jane WYATT said OFF AIR. Notorious for her profanity-laden tirades.
  • 48D: Fun (kicks) — especially good clue/answer pairing. I thought "fun" was an adjective and nearly went for KICKY.
  • 52D: Look through half-closed blinds, e.g. (peek) — Jack Nicholson's character does some window-peeking in "Chinatown," which I just rewatched last night. I'd forgotten how horrrrrrribly abrupt and downbeat and unresolved the ending is. Yikes.
  • 61D: Theta preceder (eta) — How's this for KNITPICKy? — Don't know that I like that ETA is embedded in the clue here, though [Zeta follower] has the same problem...

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Fernando * painter of plump figures — TUESDAY, Oct. 27 2009 — High muck a muck / 1958 sci-fi classic with The / Post W.W. II demographic, informally

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Constructor: Chuck Deodene

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: CHEERLEADER's cheer (57A: Shouter of this puzzle's circled sounds) — circled letters spell out the cheer "RAH RAH SIS BOOM BAH"

Word of the Day: Fernando BOTERO (47D: Fernando _____, painter of plump figures)Fernando Botero Angulo (born April 19,1932) is a Colombian figurative artist, self-titled "the most Colombian of Colombian artists" early on, coming to prominence when he won the first prize at the Salón de Artistas Colombianos in 1959. [...] Botero's work includes still-lifes and landscapes, but Botero tends to primarily focus on situational portraiture. His paintings and sculptures are, on first examination, noted for their exaggerated proportions and the corpulence of the human and animal figures. (wikipedia)


If the reveal answer here had been "1920s YALE CHEERLEADER" or "CHEERLEADER WHEN MR. BURNS WAS IN COLLEGE," I might have liked this better. Placement of the circles seems to have a kind of structure, but not a consistent one, and the circles don't do anything fancy like run across two words in an answer or anything. So theme feels dated and technically unimpressive. On the other hand, the first two theme answers — TETRAHEDRON (17A: Solid with four triangular faces) and RAHM EMANUEL (25A: Chief of staff in the Obama White House) — are fabulous (in the sense of feeling fresh and original). Rest of the grid is solidly filled — not as lively as yesterday's, but pretty good nonetheless. LOWBALL (34D: Like an offer that's under actual value) should have been clued as a verb — I've been explaining importance of active verbs in the margins of papers lately so I want to turn everything into an active verb. But LOWBALL in any form is a nice answer, as is DEEP END (29D: Part of a pool for diving), though that could have used a more vivid clue too. BOTERO and SAN MATEO are proper nouns that I don't expect a lot of people to know right off the bat. I knew both, but I a. like modern art and b. grew up in California, so both names are familiar. BOTERO's work is very distinctive. I can't show you a good deal of it (nudity and other allegedly family-unfriendly things), so in lieu of some of his more edgy work, here's some Loretta LYNN (54A: Loretta who sang "Don't Come Home A' Drinkin' (With Lovin' on your Mind)"):

[OMG her hair! Also, watch til the end, when she gets pushed aside for Bill Monroe: "That's fine, sweetie, let's bring your rhythm player out here in front of you and talk to him..."]

Theme answers:

  • 17A: Solid with four triangular faces (tetRAHedron)
  • 25A: Chief of staff in the Obama White House (RAHm Emanuel)
  • 35A: Start of the Bible (GeneSIS)
  • 37A: Post-W.W. II demographic (BOOMers)
  • 49A: High muck-a-muck (Grand PooBAH) — I always knew this expression as "high muckety-muck," but there may be some WB cartoon influence in there...

  • 6A: "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?" has five of these (iambs) — IAMBic pentameter = five IAMBS. Unstressed/stressed x 5. I start teaching Renaissance poetry today (Medieval is done and done!)
  • 47A: 1958 sci-fi classic with "The" ("Blob") — I especially like this crossing BOOB (37D: Idiot). Say BOOB BLOB five times fast. That could be your scary Halloween voice.
  • 66A: Bird of prey's dip (salsa)
  • 18D: First thing usually hit by a bowling ball (head pin) — Could only think ONE PIN. Need to bowl more. I probably don't mean that.
  • 42D: Driver's caution to reduce speed (Slo) — I guess the "driver's" part is supposed to tip us to the abbrev., because nothing else in the clue does. SLO is a horrible abbrev. You shed one letter? You need to shed at least half your weight to be a proper abbrev., I say. "CA" — now that's an abbrev.! "Goodbye, LIFORNIA. Don't need you any more."
  • 58D: Popular music style (emo) / 59D: Popular music style (rap) — EMO is crossword famous all out of proportion to its actual fame. If you asked me to name RAP acts, I could go on and on and on. Ask me to name EMO acts ... I don't really know. Wikipedia tells me Jimmy Eat World, Dashboard Confessional, My Chemical Romance, Fall Out Boy, Panic at the Disco ... all names I recognize, but not well. No matter. EMO is here to stay, relieving Comedian Phillips of his long-held, burdensome cluing duties.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Dana Scully's sci-fi partner — MONDAY, Oct. 26 2009 — John of Colonial Jamestown / Coat named for Irish province

Monday, October 26, 2009

Constructor: Mike Nothnagel

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: X-FACTOR (36A: Mystery quality ... or what 18- and 55-Across and 3- and 32-Down have?) — four theme answers are full names where first name is three letters ending in "X" ... at least I think that's it. If there's some deeper significance to X-FACTOR, please let me know in "Comments" section...

Word of the Day: Max YASGUR (55A: Owner of the farm where Woodstock took place) Max B. Yasgur (December 15, 1919—February 9, 1973) was an American farmer, best known as the owner of the dairy farm in Bethel, New York at which the Woodstock Music and Art Fair was held between August 15 and August 18, 1969. (wikipedia)


I was going to start out by saying "Who the hell is MAX YASGUR?" just to watch Baby Boomers get apoplectic, but I mostly knew who he was. I just thought his last name was JAEGER or JAGGER (as in, say, "Jägermeister"). As I said above, I don't understand what makes this theme a theme. If you say all the names one after the other you get this interesting near-rhyming waltzy kind of vibe going, but ... the "X" isn't added or subtracted or doubled. It's not even that important. All the "X"s are the terminal letters in first names. That's about it. XTERRA has more of an "X-FACTOR" than those names do. Overall this is actually a more interesting and slightly thornier puzzle than we get most Mondays. But the theme feels weak.

Theme answers:

  • 18A: Dana Scully's sci-fi partner (Fox Mulder) — from "The X-Files," so this answer had me thinking the "X" in "X-FACTOR" would mean something completely different.
  • 55A: Owner of the farm where Woodstock took place (Max Yasgur)
  • 3D: "Superman" villain (Lex Luthor)
  • 32D: Cowboy who sang the title song from "High Noon" (Tex Ritter)

Winced at AS FAT (6D: Equally plump) and never ever heard of a SALTBOX house (10D: House style with a long pitched roof in back), but otherwise the grid managed to be fairly solid and interesting and lively without being obscure. Got hung up at 52A: "If I may ..." ("Permit me ...") because "ALLOW ME..." seemed So much more correct. PERMIT ME wants an infinitive verb to follow it, whereas "ALLOW ME..." likes to stand on its own.

My colonial history continues to suck, as ROLFE was not a gimme for me (1A: John of Colonial Jamestown). Could have done without the product placement for Nissan today (esp. after the double-Apple plug yesterday) in XTERRA (35D: Nissan S.U.V.) and ALTIMA (22A: Nissan sedan). But lots of little things made the grid sparkle. PUNK (52D: Play a practical joke on, slangily) and POKE and EAT INTO and MESS UP and HAS-BEEN and EASY-ON (5D: Start of a billboard catchphrase meaning "close to the highway") and FREEBIE and ONE-EYED (40D: Like two jacks in a deck of cards) and MAXES ... well, that last one would have been great if MAX YASGUR weren't in the grid. Still, much to like.


  • 25D: Northern Scandinavian (Lapp) — lots of higher-end crosswordese today. I always forget LAPP. Want LATT or LEPP or LETT, not all of which are real things. Other high-end xwordese includes OSAGE (48D: Missouri river or Indian) and EX-GI (42A: U.S. military vet) and OSIERS (51A: Twigs for baskets), which, as I've said many times before, totally kicks RAFFIA's ass when it comes to basket-making material. Go OSIER!
  • 23A: Letter-shaped, threaded fastener (U-bolt) — aargh, rounding that corner I had the "UB..." and was Sure it would be U-BOAT. But no.
  • 31A: When repeated, bygone newsboy's cry ("Extra!") — though I feel like I've seen it before, I love this clue. I'm pretty sure the "newsboy" himself is "bygone," so there may be some redundancy in this clue. "Bygone newsboy" is a bit like "ugly hag." Is there another kind?
  • 43A: Ancient Greek city with a mythical lion (Nemea) — Hercules had to kill that lion as one of his labors. Not to be confused with the skin cream NIVEA. Which is not be confused with skin CREME (12D: Middle of an Oreo), which is part of Oreo's new line of beauty products.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]

P.S. Here is Peter King reacting to being the centerpiece of the NYT crossword puzzle yesterday.

P.P.S. I get name-dropped (and quoted) in Peter King's "MMQB" ("Monday Morning Quarterback") today — see items 10 c. and 10 d. here. Best part is Wade's hilarious comment from yesterday, which gets reprinted at length.


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