Rugby scuffle / MON 5-16-11 / Greece/Turkey separator / Kitschy gift with green fur / Skin-transferring operations / Former California NFLer St Louis

Monday, May 16, 2011

Constructor: Ian Livengood

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: HORSE PLAY (63A: Roughhousing ... or a hint to the ends of 17-, 21-, 26-, 33-, 40, 43-, 47- and 56-Across) — HORSE can follow the endings of every theme answer to make familiar phrases

Word of the Day: MARAT Safin (16A: Tennis's ___ Safin) —

Marat Mikhailovich Safin; (Russian: Марат Михайлович Сафин) (born January 27, 1980) is a former Russian tennis player. Safin won two majors and reached the world number 1 ranking during his career. He was also famous for his emotional outbursts and sometimes fiery temper on court. Safin also holds the record for most broken racquets in a year with 87. Safin is the older brother of former World No. 1 WTA player Dinara Safina (Dinara Mikhailovna Safina) (Russian: Динара Михайловна Сафина), born April 27, 1986 in Moscow. They are the first brother-sister tandem in tennis history to both achieve No. 1 rankings. (wikipedia)
• • •

This is pretty close to an ideal Monday puzzle—it's super-easy, with lively theme answers, and the fill is astonishingly smooth, especially consider the theme is Nine Answers Deep. Nine theme answers of 7+ length. That's sick. Now, the theme concept is no great shakes. Typical "words-that-can-follow" theme, at its core. But it hardly matters when the grid looks this great. On a Monday, you can't ask for much more than this. Interesting grid feature: both RATE and TADA cross four theme answers and are made up entirely of letters from those crossing theme answers. I can't recall ever seeing answers that did either of those things.

Of course my feelings about this puzzle may be slightly affected by the fact that it was my fastest solving time of any (15x15) puzzle I've ever done ever in the history of me. Ever.

Theme answers:
  • 17A: Greece/Turkey separator (AEGEAN SEA)
  • 21A: Lumberjack's tool (CHAIN SAW)
  • 26A: Advocating "Bring the troops home now!," say (ANTI-WAR)
  • 33A: In the evening (AFTER DARK)
  • 40A: Daily nine-to-five struggle (RAT RACE)
  • 43A: Really dimwitted (BRAIN DEAD)
  • 47A: Like the best straight in poker (ACE HIGH)
  • 56A: Lift weights (PUMP IRON) — could've been tied to GYM (25A: Place for barbells and treadmills)

I slowed down only once during this solve—trying to get from the AZTEC RAIN GOD down into the middle part of the grid. Couldn't see AFTER DARK on my first approach, so jumped *immediately* to the far west and rode ANTI-WAR down to BRAIN DEAD and then right back to the place that had given me trouble. After that, it seemed like all my first thoughts were the correct ones.

  • 1A: Rugby scuffle (SCRUM) — saw this first and then instead of writing it down I went to Downs and just kept it in my head, dropping the S-word, C-word, R-word, U-word, and M-word, in order.
  • 58A: Skin-transferring operations (GRAFTS) — I realize that this is a basic, literal, medical clue, but it has a creepy, horror-movie vibe to me.

  • 12D: Former California N.F.L.'er now located in St. Louis (L.A. RAM) — old L.A. team is getting a lot of xword action lately. I will be located in St. Louis this September for a certain superstar crossword constructor's wedding.
  • 45D: Kitschy gift with green "fur" (CHIA PET) — only answers I can think of that *might* have slowed folks down are this and MARAT.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Tumblr]


Matthew G. 12:12 AM  

Agreed with Rex. The least resistance I've ever felt from a NYT puzzle. There was one (1) moment when I stopped typing to reconsider, and that was because I had DNA instead of RNA and took an extra three seconds to see RAT RACE. Other than that, nonstop.

And not a single clunky answer in the grid. Kudos, Ian!

Tobias Duncan 12:15 AM  

Scary fast puzzle, I was blazing the whole time.I felt like I was just typing as fast as I could.Still took over six min.I am pretty sure if I did the same puzzle again I would not be much faster.The tip Rex gave about not writing in scrum is wonderful!
Does anyone have any more for me?

Never saw the clue for REX until the puzzle was done. I was kinda hoping for a Parker clue.Any chance Will would have let that through?

Tobias Duncan 12:19 AM  

Ok this is weird, I just decided to try and do this puzzle again having done it about 3 hours ago, and the NYT site is trying to give me the Sunday puzzle again! What the WTF??

jesser 12:20 AM  

When I was a kid (a while back), we had a neighbor kid named Randy Mims, and when he was happy with whatever he'd done, he sing, "Tah Long!" instead of "Ta Da!"

I still sing, "Tah Long!"

35D made me smile. Randy one day was outside killing ants with Coke and magnifying glasses and water -- whatever would kill ants. He went into his Dad's workshop and got a rubber hammer. He positioned it over the ants. He struck. The hammer hit the concrete, crushed some ants and then bounced back violently at Randy's head, and TA LONG!, he was out like a light. He recovered, after which I was allowed to be be wildly amused. I still am!


Prona! (bad fish) -- jesser

aztec chiapet michaels 12:23 AM  

9 theme answers? are you f&*(ing kidding me?
NINE? and this nice and this smooth?
I turn in my pen, my tiara, my pride...
Ian is the new queen of Mondays!
good livengood good

antiwara coola meadows 12:30 AM  

oh, and look at those NON theme downs:



I'm so in awe I will forgive starting with SCRUM and ending with ATBAT, you boy you.

Jerry 12:34 AM  

9 is the new 5. Damn!

Anonymous 12:40 AM  

gorgeous monday. what else could a monday do?

rex, what was the time?

conomist 1:27 AM  

Agreed with all the comments, although initially I REALLY wanted the theme answers to be something more spectacularly horse-related (derby winners, maybe?). Still, really impressive puzzle.

Also, to carry on a conversation from yesterday's puzzle: meh is a perfectly good word. Just summed up how I felt about it.

Captcha = sperm. I WISH I was making that up.

chefwen 1:29 AM  

Loved it! Last fill was the M in OMNI/MARAT, do not follow tennis as much as other sports so after the fact I Googled MARAT SAFIN, just to see what he/she? was all about. Whoa Nellie, that guy's a looker! You wouldn't know it from the pic that Rex posted, with the bulging blood vessel and all, but the other ones that came up, PHEW! The anger issue dropped that PHEW down a couple of notches.

Thanks for a great Monday puzzle Mr. Livengood, you are turning out to be one of my favs.

Anonymous 1:31 AM  

Theme is that "horse" follows, not precedes the theme word.

GILL I. 3:50 AM  

Oh boy, I just know I'm going to be pelted but I didn't really like this one. I can appreciate the construction and the bajillion themes but, oh well, just throw the tomatoes.
Poor Pan Am. Seems every airline was its competitor. I remember when USAir purchased my favorite airline here in California - PSA. Oh, then we got into the Trump Shuttle debacle. Thank you Carter (or not) for deregulation. I better go to bed...Thank you for tuning in.

GILL I. 4:07 AM  

OK I haven't gone to bed yet but I don't know a single Brit that says TATA for goodbye. It's cheers or a short Ta.
Hasta manana.

Greene 4:14 AM  

Startlingly good Monday puzzle with impressive theme density and smooth, smooth fill. I too had a record Monday time even though I was lying in bed and typing with one hand some of the time. Nothing slowed me up except SCRUM (which I've seen before). Never even saw MARAT.

I should think @Nanpilla will adore this puzzle.

Since the reveal is HORSEPLAY I would like to take the opportunity to recommend the Broadway play War Horse now triumphantly galloping through Lincoln Center. This stunning play deploys the most sensitive and artful stagecraft and puppetry I have ever witnessed on a stage. The story is simplistic, but the sentiment is honest in this tale of a boy separated from his beloved horse (who has been sold into a WWI cavalry), and the boy's epic journey to get him back. The resulting stage spectacle is gloriously theatrical and almost unbearably moving. I'm still amazed at how one is made to care so deeply and weep so openly over a horse which was clearly made up of several props held together by visible handlers. This is truly the power and magic of great theatre.

Here's a link to a slide show of images from the play that ran in the New York Times shortly after the opening. Cripes, I'm starting to tear up again just looking at them. Just go, for heaven's sakes.

Kareem 5:33 AM  

What a fun Monday. Since no one else has commented on it, I will say that as a former Ivy Leaguer, "scrum" crossing "crew" was thoroughly entertaining. I guess that's what passes for horseplay in the Ancient 8. Also, speaking of horseplay (along with "antiwar" which is a funny clue for warhorse) here's a great song with toy horses (and real ones).

joho 7:28 AM  

This is the puzzle that goes in the reference book next to the description of The Perfect Monday Puzzle.

Ian Livengood you rule!

fikink 7:45 AM  

Livin' Good with this Monday morning treat, Ian. Particularly liked CHIA PET, BRAIN DEAD, and RAT RACE.

@Gil I Pollas, ever hear a Brit say, "Cheery bye" ?

Kudos, Ian.

brian 8:08 AM  

An enjoyable Monday- my fastest ever I'm sure. I initiall put DNA instead of RNA as well and wrote Maran vs Marat but these didn't slow me down much. Its refreshing when things are going well enough that you finish not understanding the theme yet but not wanting to slow down to think about it. Nice fill: no ghastly or even wan clues.

The LA RAMS have been omnipresent as of late as Rex suggested.

Time for an old Saturday...

John V 8:18 AM  

Like everyone, just adding that the only slow up was the NE/MARAT. Agree that this is an excellent "gateway" puzzle to hook newbies.

I don't time myself, but this had to have come in under 5 mins, not bad for a dead tree solver.

nanpilla 8:40 AM  

@Greene - of course I loved it!
But the DEAD horse was a little disconcerting....

Too bad ACAB couldn't have been ARAB. My arab will never be able to graze in the MEADOW again - he'll need a grazing muzzle to keep him from being able to eat more than just nibbles of that rich spring grass. Just hay for him. Hoping he may soon be able to get out of the barn and out of his orthopedic shoes. Digits still crossed, @two ponies!

SILKS was a nice touch, too.

dk 8:40 AM  

Do you know you can spray glue and spread rye grass seed and create a chia puzzle?

Agree with most of the above.

*** (3Stars)

quilter1 9:05 AM  

Wow, hubby born in Latvia, son played rugby, went to graduate school in OMAHA, like sewing with SILKS. EUREKA! I'm done. I don't time myself but this was fast, only three sips of coffee. On to LAT.

subco: store selling Costco seconds

chefbea 9:21 AM  

Agree with everyone. Great puzzle!! And Rex made it into the puzzle.

Fast for me...didn't get half way through my bowl of cereal!!

imsdave 9:24 AM  

5 star Monday - agree that it's a mediocre theme, but the execution!

@Nanpilla, weak attempt to get you ARAB:


It all works, but no where near as clean as Ian's fill.

efrex 9:26 AM  

Kudos to Mr. Livengood, who is quickly becoming a favorite early-week constructor. Super-speedy solve, minimal junk fill, insane (INSANE! Do you hear me?! INSANE!) theme density without sacrificing fill quality. Couldn't wish for a better Monday puzzle, not NOHOW (a phrase that I will always associate with the Wizard of Oz).

Lindsay 9:26 AM  

Would it be pettifoggery to point out that a scrum is the set piece by which the ball is put into play, not a "scuffle"?

Yet another sport I used to play back (way back) in the day.

The puzzle struck me as a little bland, but other commenters are right about the minimal crosswordese, so OK.

Anonymous 9:32 AM  

The Weather Underground website was showing last Friday's weather this morning from my iPhone in the DC area. Not sure what's going on, but it's not just affecting this blog.

GLR 9:54 AM  

Nice puzzle. Wanted NO WAY instead of NO HOW. I don't know that I've heard anyone say "no how" except as a follow-up to "no way."

Thought BRAIN DEAD was the weakest of the theme answers. "Dead horse" doesn't seem to stand alone as all the others do. Seems like it only comes up in the phrase "beating a ___."

solasoletta 10:07 AM  

Fun! My favorite fill clue was "You ____ handle the truth!" :)

mac 10:24 AM  

Super Monday puzzle! You did it again, Ian Livengood!

nanpilla 10:27 AM  




has the non-monday, ugly AAR in there, however....

GILL I. 10:34 AM  

@fikink yes! my sister-in-law says it -usually after her pint.
When I first heard it I thought she asked me if I wanted a cherry pie.

jackj 10:35 AM  

Acme wrote, in part-

"I turn in my pen, my tiara, my pride...
Ian is the new queen of Mondays!"

Hold on there! Your loyal supporters say, "No way!".

A wonderful Monday puzzle from Ian Livengood but clearly lacking in that certain je ne sais quoi which makes Acme and Lynn Lempel puzzles so special.

Ian may be a prince of puzzledom but he is not yet the sovereign.

Mel Ott 10:36 AM  

About as good as it gets on a Monday.

Two Ponies 10:36 AM  

Ian hit a home run today.
Great fun.
I did not know the tennis player so I was greatly relieved that 12D was a team and not a player.
@ nanpilla, I knew you would like this (I also cringed a bit at dead horse) and so glad to hear your Arab is out and about.
@ Gil.I.Pollas, The Brits I know say Ta for thanks.

Bob Kerfuffle 11:07 AM  

Jumping around the grid while preparing breakfast, rather than working straight NW to SE, I managed one write-over: 20 A, UGANDA before RWANDA.

Did not know the tennis MARAT, much more familiar with the French revolutionary or the Broadway Marat/Sade, but easily gettable from crosses.

Sparky 11:29 AM  

Easy but I am still BRAINDEAD. Thought names of horses and never connected word HORSE to answers. Horses often have such odd names.

Same as @Two Ponies glad 12D not player or else would have been Natick and DNF. Liked CHIAPET and TAZ my next favorite toon after BUGS the trickster.

Enjoy the week.

David 11:42 AM  

more evidence I need glasses, or should print on bigger paper - I read 1 Across as Rough scuffle, didn't feel comfy with BRAWL, so I stared at and then left the NW corner to the end. Still, I managed to crank this wonderful puzzle out in a little less than 6 minutes.

Great comment on the two clues crossing 4 theme answers, these types of insights from Rex and others have become an unintended wonderful benefit from finding this blog.

I've had enough LARAMS for now - I know they were slightly better in '10 than their woeful '09 1-5 campaign, but let's wait until they return to some sort of NFL prominence before including them so often. What is that, 3 times in 2 weeks?

quilter1 11:47 AM  

We call our governor BRAINDEAD. Sorry to anyone who is a fan.

Rube 12:00 PM  

Quick, very enjoyable puzzle with no writeovers.

Watched the 1st season of Eureka while on the lake. Great series... can't understand why it is still going.

syndy 12:40 PM  

And 64d was in reference to REX Stout whom,as we know, fearless leader has recently picked up!6:41 which is as fast as one finger CAN type!had to dip it in water!but will agree DEAD HORSE not playing so much :<.DID not know CHIAPET was avatar of RAINGOD -makes sense though

KarenSampsonHudson 12:46 PM  

Great puzzle, Ian, smooth as...jockey 'silks', and 'cool' jazz. Just the thing to get me 'erect' and into the Monday morning 'ratrace'.

Anonymous 12:49 PM  

LA RAMS - Twice in two weeks, but April 2005 before that, so.....

JenCT 1:25 PM  

Not much to add - great puzzle.

Had YEATS before KEATS, DNA before RNA, didn't know MARAT but got it from crosses.

Two easy puzzles in a row...

Shamik 1:50 PM  

Excellent Monday puzzle, but not a non-ratRACE for me. Definitely came in at a medium time. But delightful and still fast enough that I could squeeze it in before errands and work.

Chia Obama 1:56 PM  

Kitschy - Noun: something of tawdry design, appearance, or content created to appeal to popular or undiscriminating taste.

You say this about me? Seriously?

ahecht 2:15 PM  

"LA RAMS - Twice in two weeks, but April 2005 before that, so....."

More like twice in two days.

CoffeeLvr 2:54 PM  

Yes, if a knife and/or fork isn't sufficient as a UTENSIL, I reach for the ICE PICK. After that, it's the CHAIN SAW.

If you continue in the RAT RACE AFTER DARK, you may end up BRAIN DEAD.

I got started with SCRiM, just a crossed wire in my brain, since I know what it means (scrim, that is). SCRUM, I recognize, but did not recall. Other than that, a very smooth solve. Let the crosses give me MARAT and the US part of US AIR.

@Rex, thanks for pointing out the amazing construction in the center with RATE and TADA.

Anonymous 3:26 PM  

LA RAM, singular - Today, plus once in 2010, then back to 2005.

So, combined, three times in two weeks, but only four times since 2005. Ignorable coincidence. It'll be okay.

sanfranman59 4:23 PM  

Midday report of relative difficulty (see my 7/30/2009 post for an explanation of my method):

All solvers (median solve time, average for day of week, ratio, percentile, rating)

Mon 5:52, 6:52, 0.85, 5%, Easy

Top 100 solvers

Mon 3:17, 3:40, 0.90, 9%, Easy

jberg 5:46 PM  

Hanging my head in shame - not because I had DNA and NO WAY, which cleared themselves up soon enough; not even because I didn't even notice REX; but because I only saw 5 of the 9 theme answers before coming here! Truly impressive.

I don't play rugby, but I thought the SCRUM was not only the opening setup, but the subsequent scuffle as each side tried to get possession of the ball. No?

Sfingi 8:36 PM  

Had a Natick with the 2 sports names. Did Safin's parents hear of Marat-Sade, the only MARAT I know? The other 4 sports clues were easy.

Car wash application - wanted rAg before WAX. The WAX is after the actual wash. Whatever, it was an easy puzzle.

How did the CHIA PET ever get so popular? There are, now, ChiaPet outfits for you and your pet, plush toys that look like ChiaPets, and your car can become an actual ChiaCar.

Before I came up with TAZ, I thought of the Angel-Devil on cartoon shoulders, and wondered if they actually had names.

chefbea 8:49 PM  

@Rex Who is getting married in St. Louis?? Where is the wedding?

sanfranman59 10:06 PM  

This week's relative difficulty ratings. See my 7/30/2009 post for an explanation. In a nutshell, the higher the ratio, the higher this week's median solve time is relative to the average for the corresponding day of the week.

All solvers (this week's median solve time, average for day of week, ratio, percentile, rating)

Mon 5:56, 6:52, 0.86, 5%, Easy (5th lowest median solve time of 99 Mondays)

Top 100 solvers

Mon 3:12, 3:40, 0.87, 5%, Easy (ditto)

Only 3 posts after my midday post? Is everyone out looking for someone building an ark or something?

Octavian Marat 10:33 PM  

Best Monday puzzle of all time -- easy but not boring. Lots of chewy answers.

Was interesting to contemplate all the ways that the horse is used in our language to denote events ranging from sports races to political races to playfulness to trains and carpentry.

It shows that our culture, which is otherwise so mechanized today, continues to honor the horse -- an animal that is at the center of our historical identity. It symbolizes the West, freedom, strength, independence.

From a semiotic point of view, the inventiveness with which our language has used the term horse shows how much we still inherently and intuitively have roots in those seemingly bygone eras.

My guess is that other languages have similar words associated with a culture-specific animal, such as perhaps the water buffalo in Hindi, the yak in Tibetan or the polar bear in Inuit.

Ride 'em cowboy.

Princess Kosmonopolis 2:33 AM  

Thx Rex, Thx, Ian. Lovely puzzle!

@Octavian Marat: Do you know if they actually have crossword puzzles in Hindi or Tibetan or Inuit?

Am only posting this to tease you cuz it is so late and I don't think anyone will read this! Plus, I now have the Marat/Sade theme song stuck in my head - you know the one "Marat, we're poor....and the poor stay poor....Yadda yadda yadda.....We want a revolution NOW."

I doubt that tennis-player Marat has ever heard of it. He's way too young.

Octavian Marat 3:48 AM  

Princess, come on now, crosswords are for everyone.

Well, actually, I am not sure if are any Inuits doing xwords in their igloos at night but I do know that there are xwords in Hindi.

See this link:

What is a five-letter word for कामना ... starting with a ह ?

Kareem 5:01 AM  

@Princess Kosmonopolis... I read your comment late and after looking it up on Youtube I now have the song stuck in my head. Funny coincidence, if you type in "Homage to Marat" into Youtube the second video after the song is an actual homage to the tennis player. Funny...

Anonymous 7:45 AM  

Rex- "I, Fido"? Humorous, or did you really not see "Damned if I do, damned (if I don't)?

Anonymous 5:38 PM  

Very lame theme. Hate those puzzles with pop culture personalities

rain forest 1:17 PM  

A gem of a puzzle. Easy, sure, but full of brightness and bounce. Amazingly I solved it by doing virtually all the acrosses: scrum, Marat, grafts were all immediate gimmes. I suppose the speed of solving contributed to the enjoyment, but the lack of crosswordese, the spot-on cluing, and the sheer number of theme answers moved this beauty to a higher echelon.

Anonymous 2:03 PM  

Surprised that nobody was bothered by WSW's opposite. Truly a BRAINDEAD clue in an otherwise enjoyable puzzle.

Dirigonzo 3:09 PM  

From Syndi-town - Is, pluralized isn't "is's" - really? Does Bill Clinton know that? And a small viper isn't an "aspette"? I ain't buying it, no way - NOHOW!

The clue for 26a would be a pretty fair description of my blog.

Anonymous 4:31 PM  

Done in by my Achilles heel: Geography Natick in NW left me with one blank square.

@Sfingi 8:36 PM
"The WAX is after the actual wash."
...Yes, but it's applied AT the car wash.

Ises, probably. No apostrophe's in plural's.

"Former California NFLer now located in St. Louis" would be a RAM or a STL RAM. The LA RAMs have never been located in St Louis.

Watched "A Few Good Men" on TV yesterday. My favorite part of that movie is Tom Cruise's Jack Nicholson impression.

Dirigonzo 4:57 PM  

@anony 4:31pm - I know, I know, but there was a long discussion among the prime-timers some time ago concerning some arcane provision in the NYT rules that allowed apostrophes in some situations - I forget just what they are - so I was just having a little grammatical fun on that point. Besides, I needed the apostrophe to fill one of the squares.

I had the same thoughts as you did about the LARAMS. And my favorite part of the movie is Jack Nicholson's impression of Jack Nicholson: "The TRUTH? You can't HANDLE the truth!" (or something like that) was a great scene (with lots of truth in it.)

Anonymous 1:41 PM  

@Dirigonzo 4:57 PM

The apostrophe, of course, is the crux of the biscuit.

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