Dickens schemer / SUN 11-25-12 / Quest of astronomer Percival Lowell / Largest moon in solar system / Fictional writer in John Irving best seller / Big Red Machine hustler / Jurassic suffix / Snoop Lion's genre / Four-time role for Patrick Stewart / Excommunicator of Martin Luthor

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Constructor: Jeff Chen

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: "A Little Extra" — "Note: Fourteen symmetrically placed answers in this puzzle are each missing a part ... which can be found elsewhere"; the missing part is an "X"—each missing "X" can be found in an adjacent black square, with each black/X square being a part of the large black "X" in the center of the grid.

Word of the Day: PLANET X (13D: Quest of the astronomer Percival Lowell) —
Following the discovery of the planet Neptune in 1846, there was considerable speculation that another planet might exist beyond its orbit. The search began in the mid-19th century and culminated at the start of the 20th with Percival Lowell's quest for Planet X. Lowell proposed the Planet X hypothesis to explain apparent discrepancies in the orbits of the gas giants, particularly Uranus and Neptune,[1] speculating that the gravity of a large unseen ninth planet could have perturbed Uranus enough to account for the irregularities. [...] Today, the astronomical community widely agrees that Planet X, as originally envisioned, does not exist, but the concept of Planet X has been revived by a number of astronomers to explain other anomalies observed in the outer Solar System. In popular culture, and even among some astronomers,[5] Planet X has become a stand-in term for any undiscovered planet in the outer Solar System, regardless of its relationship to Lowell's hypothesis. Other trans-Neptunian planets have also been suggested, based on different evidence. (wikipedia)
• • •

I remember an "H" puzzle from several years back that followed this same general pattern. That one was *much* harder, largely because the "H"s didn't stand alone the way *all* of the Xs in this puzzle do (much easier to see / find that way). In fact, in today's puzzle, I was able to blow through the whole thing in a well below-average time without even grasping that some of the X answers were theme answers. APOLLO, GAS, MALCOLM, PLANET—with all of these, it honestly didn't occur to me (in the speed-solving moment) that there was an "X" missing. I was dimly aware that I was to be on the lookout for missing "X"s, but when you're flying along and the "X"s aren't really holding you back any, it's easy to forget what you're supposed to be looking for. Anyway, now that I look at it, the theme is cute and clever, and mostly nicely executed. I'm a little distracted about the lack of rhyme or reason to the Xs directionality. I get that all the Downs up top end in "X" and all the Downs in the bottom half start with "X," but the fact that an "X" might work in two directions or ... might not ... that feels arbitrary, and thus not great. Also, having both PROFESSOR X and the X-MEN involved in the theme feels like double-dipping. But overall, I think the theme is nicely done. Further, the grid has an impressive amount of white space, with big blocks of interesting long answers like YOSEMITE SAM (63D: Mustachioed cartoon character) and CALLIGRAPHY, POPEMOBILE (113A: Widely used term declared "undignified" by John Paul II) and PETE ROSE (57A: Big Red Machine hustler), T MINUS ZERO and HITS BOTTOM. Gave the puzzle a level of interest beyond the theme. Enjoyable.

Theme answers:
  • 46A: Je ne sais quoi (X FACTOR) / 13D: Quest of the astronomer Percival Lowell (PLANET X)
  • 15D: Beano competitor (GAS-X)
  • 4D: Excommunicator of Martin Luther (LEO X)
  • 7D: 1992 Denzel Washington title role (MALCOLM X)
  • 58A: Four-timei role for Patrick Stewart (PROFESSOR X) / 60A: Almost every man in the world has one (X CHROMOSOME)
  • 65A: Followers of a boom? (GENERATION X) / 72A: More precise alternative to scissors (X-ACTO KNIFE)
  • 88A: Lunar mission commanded by Thomas P. Stafford (APOLLO X) / 94D: G's opposite (X RATING)
  • 91D: Novelty glasses (X-RAY SPEX)
  • 112D: Comic book mutants (X-MEN)
  • 114D: Wii alternative (XBOX)
I'm surprised at my fast time now that I look over the grid, considering there were a number of answers I just didn't know (or barely knew ... maybe heard of before ... but couldn't dredge up). TIMBALE is new to me; it's got an eerie resemblance to percussion instruments I *do* know, like TIMPANI and TABLA, but it stumped me—needed every cross. I thought OBEISANT was archaic / French, and was shocked to find it correct here (after OBEDIENT didn't work out) (11D: Like a good butler). I was all set for ORIBIS after reading 67D: South African antelopes, but then bam, NYALAS. I'm sure I've seen these antelope in the puzzle before, but they just didn't jump (or leap, or bound, or whatever antelope do) out at me. KEMAL!? Man, that was rough. I don't think I even knew Atatürk *had* a first name. And RENI could've been anyone (94A: "The Labors of Hercules" painter Guido). Never heard of him.

  • 49A: His tomb is a pilgrimage site for both Muslims and Jews (EZEKIEL) — news to me. The only potential answer I could think of was ABRAHAM.
  • 80A: Largest moon in the solar system (GANYMEDE) — Zeus's cupbearer. "Cupbearer" both is and is not a euphemism.
  • 93A: Morgan le ___ (Arthurian sorceress) (FAY) — I'm in the middle of Marion Zimmer Bradley's _The Mists of Avalon_ right now (for the class I'm teaching). It's an epic (i.e. enormous) retelling of the Arthurian legend from the perspective of four main female characters (including Morgan—or "Morgaine"). I remember being a bit bored by it the first time I read it, but I'm loving it this time around. Not sure what changed.
  • 24D: Snoop Lion's genre (RAP) — I just love the utterly nonsensical name "Snoop Lion" so much. You may remember him by his erstwhile moniker, Snoop Dogg.
  • 65D: Fictional writer in a John Irving best seller (GARP) — I saw this movie in the theater when it came out. I was 12. I was ... too young. But one of the results of seeing a movie like that when you are "too young" is that it really Really stays in your brain. Also, just to do some random free association, Glenn Close is in that movie, and Glenn Close is in "Damages," which I started watching today, with Ted Danson, and both of them were in the 1984 TV movie "Something About Amelia" with actress Roxana Zal, who was in the 1987 movie "River's Edge," Which I Also Watched Today. P.S. Roxana ZAL's relative lack of fame is crossworld's loss.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


jae 12:10 AM  

Easy fun Sun.  The theme was pretty obvious given the grid and  it was an enjoyable breezy solve.  Only erasure was TRash for TRIPE and the only tough spot for me was the KEMAL/TIMBALE/OVIS/ETES area.  Was looking for ETre and some version of Tabla and did not know KEMAL and was iffy on OVIS.  Plus, I initially thought what turned out to be SABLES might be an X answer.

Nice one Jeff Chen.

The Bard 12:47 AM  

Hamlet , Act I, scene IV

HORATIO: He waxes desperate with imagination.

MARCELLUS: Let's follow; 'tis not fit thus to obey him.

HORATIO: Have after. To what issue will this come?

MARCELLUS: Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.

HORATIO: Heaven will direct it.

MARCELLUS: Nay, let's follow him.

chefwen 12:58 AM  

First clue I saw was 23A Bialys. Made a dozen of them yesterday. Good stuff, enjoyed them with some smoked salmon, cream cheese, capers, sliced onion and tomato. As Rachel would say YUMMO!

Got the theme early on with the "clue" and GENERATION (X) AND (X) ACTO KNIFE Got pretty much through the puzzle but I really bogged down trying to wrap up the loose ends. The NE corner tripped me up with CALLIGRAPHY,OBEISANT, LEGALISTIC, etal. I think my brain was going into rest mode by that time.

PTPP came up with POPE MOBILE and was pretty darn pleased with himself, even demanded a high five. So cute.

syndy 1:07 AM  

Rexie all the X's are the big X.the answers either run into it-MALCOLM (X) or out of it (X) factor . Where the arms of the X cross(ish) you get PROFESSORXCHROMOSOME and GENERATIONXACTO KNIFE! maybe you kinda need to slow down and smell the thing.It's a goddamn work of art!

Jeff Chen 1:30 AM  

I can't help but giggle when I see that crazy Popemobile. It's like it was secretly designed by an atheist.

My clue for 23-across was "some squishy buns" (tee hee) but someone already pointed out that onion rolls are supposed to be crusty. This is a very confusing world we live in.

Have an idea for a crossword but need help working it out? I've enjoyed working with newbies over the past year. Hit me up at jeffchen1972@gmail.com. If it's just a bit of advice here and there, happy to do it gratis. If it's more, i.e. coming up with theme entries, lots of grid work, let's submit it as co-constructors.

El Jefe out.

gmr 3:48 AM  

I had fun with this one. Slight quibble: RAPper Snoop Dogg changed both his name *and* his music. As SNOOP LION he's making a REGGAE album -- that genre would've been a better answer when referencing the new moniker. :)

optionsgeek 5:57 AM  

I'm a bit miffed at the crossing of NYALAS with GANYMEDE and FAY. All three of these words are just unfamiliar enough that a misremembered spelling somewhere among them is a likelihood.

Jim Walker 6:24 AM  

Nice puzzle from Jeff. A little something for evryone. Flew into KEMAL Ataturk airport last year. Hope his great work at building a secular democracy isn't unraveling now.

Loved being reminded of ABSCAM and especially Ron and Rita Jenrette whose dangerous liason on the Capitol Steps led to the satirical group with that name. Myrna LOY still makes my heart flutter.

Bob Kerfuffle 7:28 AM  

Amen, Rex! Agree with almost every one of your points today.

However, on the question of KEMAL Ataturk, as I recall (not bothering to look it up), a few years ago there was a world-wide online poll asking who was the most important person in human history, and someone, Turkish I presume, launched an effort that saw Ataturk receive an overwhelming majority.

Oh, and Damn You, Tina! Reading Rex's remarks, I noticed I had entered Morgan le FEY and not checked the cross!

Anonymous 8:00 AM  

Don't forget the symmetry. Cool!

Glimmerglass 8:24 AM  

Some of the missing Xes are in two intersecting words, but not all (XMEN, XBOX, XRAY SPECS). That seems wrong to me.

David 8:51 AM  

I was caught where ENTICE (allure) crosses ENL. Has anyone heard 'allure' used as a verb? And I don't get ENL as a print option.

Loren Muse Smith 8:53 AM  

With spectacular disregard to the grid’s in-your-face hint, I figured out the trick early on and thought there was going to be some kind of make-up math twist to account for the missing X’s, flirting with T MINUS “nine. . .” Sheesh.

Only eperience kept me from entering “Adam’s apple” before CHROMOSOME for my very first entry.

I like the word GLOM and don’t use it enough.

@chefwen – I’ve never even heard of bialys and here you’ve made some. They sound great!

Three à propos answers: the weather coöperated this fall, and we HAYED a second time on our farm. We always have to deal with POACHers hunting there. And my sister in law on Thanksgiving showed me a youtube clip about the SABLE’s badass cousin, the “honey badger,” which I had never heard of in my life. Apparently it’s the most fearless animal on the PLANET.

I agree with @Syndy – this grid is a work of art! Every theme X falls in the big X! And I really appreciate the two center X’s going both ways: PROFESSOR X CHROMOSOME and GENERATION X ACTOKNIFE. Plus all the etra REGALIA: EAT IT, POPEMOBILE, ENEMY LINES, HITS BOTTOM, END OF AN ERA, ITALIAN ICE. . .to name but a few.

Thanks, Jeff! I look forward to your net treat.

Ken Wurman 9:03 AM  

This was really a fun puzzle. Good job. Very well constructed! Best Sunday. Puzzle in months!

Anonymous 9:14 AM  

I agree with others about a fun puzzle that looks as though it was quite difficult to construct.

But a puzzle with a "hidden X" theme shouldn't have unhidden Xs in a perfect world..

Minor gripe. Otherwise a great, fun Sunday.

jackj 9:17 AM  

Jeff Chen must be creating these complicated, intelligent crossword exercises for the joy of it because, with such an intricate grid, even with computer help, the time to put together an acceptable puzzle of this nature must be such that whatever his compensation, he is likely being paid less than the legal minimum wage.

So, in the interest of fair play, I refuse to gripe about HAYED and I won’t complain that KEMAL was a mystery, (but I will cheer GANYMEDE and applaud the use of TRIPE instead of TRASH).

And then, I must also mention my favorite of all, the entry clued as “Monosyllabic state”, a most devious descriptor for the wonderful state of MAINE and its down to earth down-easters.

Certainly also, praise be to Jeff for the clever theme that was hinted at in the title but delivered with certainty at ACTOKNIFE.

And finally, in addition to the logistical brilliance and a charming theme, we were treated to even more fill that sang, YOSEMITESAM, LEGALISTIC, CALLIGRAPHY, MISSHAPEN, OBEISANT, ITALIANICE, POPEMOBILE, a word lover’s hallelujah chorus.

This was something special we got today.

Thanks, Jeff!

Unknown 9:33 AM  

I agree with Anonymous up there... It's a shame to have those two Xes in the southeast. And I don't think there was any need for the Note about the 14 answers. The title and the appearance of the grid is a big enough hint. But it was a fun puzzle. TRash for TRIPE first, other than that, pretty smooth going.

jberg 9:36 AM  

I thought it was easy, but finished with two errors. Just didn't think NYT would go with HAVE A TIT for 83A (what one twin infant said to the other?), and missed the obvious BENIN, so I was left with what seemed to be Italian at 85D, _ENICETO. (Actually _SNICETa for me, as I misspelled GLOM as GLaM).

Since I failed to solve it, I can't really complain about the theme -- it was beautifully symmetrical, and using every black square in the big X as an X would be too much to ask - but I would have liked it if every X was used either once or twice, rather than some of each, which was confusing. There are also a couple of suplus Xes, I guess that's a matter of taste.

Even so, I enjoyed the puzzle!

Carola 9:44 AM  

A really nice Sunday puzzle! I agree on the "easy" rating, but it was never dull. Besides the very nifty theme layout, I loved the other long answers. YOSEMITE SAM and the POPEMOBILE made me laugh, also liked the time-related stack T MINUS ZERO over END OF AN ERA and the central symmetrical pair DISREPAIR and MISSHAPEN - contradicted by the beauty of this grid. And the mythological and NASA-related duo of APOLLO and GANYMEDE.

Didn't catch on to the theme for a while. Had question marks over my head for the seemingly incomplete LEO and MALCOLM but shrugged them off and continued on down the West coast. Finally saw the light with APOLLO. Then went around the rest of the grid and marked the other spots that would need an X.

Thanks, Jeff Chen - loved it.

Merle 9:51 AM  

Pleasant, interesting, easy puzzle today. With a few challenges.

Again, a frame of reference discussion -- what is each of our cultural frame of reference? I'm sure each of us has our own little eclectic bag of knowledge -- we do puzzles. For me, the easily recognized included bialys, Ganymede, (Pope) Leo, Heep, Morgan Le Fay, Tomei, Benin, Reni -- and I didn't get Malcolm right away, because I didn't see the movie, but part way there I said aha, got it.

Nor did I get planet right away --gee, Pluto was one letter two short, and it took time for me to realize he was looking for a planet when he found Pluto. Didn't know nyalas. New crosswordese. Now I do. Didn't know FDIC. Obeisant was somehow obvious. Thought of it before I considered obedient.
Ezekiel was a surprise -- knew who Ezekiel was, but didn't know his tomb was a pilgrimage site for anyone. For a moment after the answer became clear I was confused, because I thought I remembered that Ezekiel ascended directly to heaven -- but that was Elijah, not Ezekiel. Ezekiel had the vision of the wheel within the wheel, a vision that became the basis for the "folk" song written by African-American composer William Levi Dawson, "Ezekiel saw the wheel, way up in the middle of the air, Ezekiel saw the wheel, way in the middle of the air. Big wheel run by fate, little wheel run by the grace of God, a wheel in a wheel, way in the middle of the air."

Popemobile was a revelation -- as much of a vision as Ezekiel had? Not really -- but still a revelation. Ah, the dignity of popes and such....

Oh, the things we know and don't know. That's what makes puzzling, and living, so involving.

And proving I'm not a robot is the next life event I must encounter....

joho 10:35 AM  

I wonder if LEOX had a POPEMOBILE?

I, too, had TRash before TRIPE making that section of the puzzle the last to fall. I also had TMINUSlift (?) for a bit. HAZERS fixed that and I finally got PROFESSORX who I've never heard of. Obviously Captain Picard didn't fit.

Lovely puzzle, Mr. Chen, thank you for a most enjoyable Sunday morning.

Z 10:43 AM  

The theme was obvious from a quick peek at the grid then confirmed at LEO (X). A little nervous at that point this might be a paean to RRN X. Thankfully, no.

With the giant X in the middle, this plays a little like 8 mini-puzzles. All but the ABSCAM region played easy for me. A fun, smooth Sunday.

@EllenS from yesterday - Since SanFranMan59 uses the median in his rating system, removing the slowest solvers from the population will impact the rating. Imagine 99 solvers. The 50th fastest solver is the median. Remove the twenty slowest solvers so that now there are 79 solvers. Now the 40th fastest is the median. Since the median is now ten spots faster, the puzzle would appear easier in the rating system.

Rex Parker 10:58 AM  

Every X was in the Big X? You don't say? I really wish I'd said that in my theme description. Oh, wait...

chefbea 11:48 AM  

Good puzzle but had trouble...couldn't find all of the hidden X's. Busy weekend

Anonymous 12:55 PM  

"maybe you kinda need to slow down and smell the thing"

"But a puzzle with a "hidden X" theme shouldn't have unhidden Xs in a perfect world."

But it's not a perfect world and Rexy mostly complains about everything, which gets old, so I skim the front page and mostly just come to the real comments.

"undignified" is not in calling it the POPEMOBILE, but being seen in the thing.

syndy 12:57 PM  

"I'm a little distracted about the lack of rhyme or reason to the X's directionality. I get that all the Downs up top end in x and all the downs on the bottom end in x,but the fact that an x might work in both diections ..or might not feels arebitrary" ... just sayin' NOT arbitrary!

Sandy K 1:14 PM  

Was going along XACTly right, really enjoying the theme and finding all the Xes...

Until I hit same trouble spot as @jae- KEMAL/TIMBALE/ETES- also wanted ETre. And KaMAL and X-FILE. But Xed those out.

Tiny nitpick- all the answers sound like letter X eXcept for LEO X and APOLLO X. We say LEO the tenth, and APOLLO 10. Just noticing...

Still thought it was an eXcellent eXperience and thought I had it all.

@Bob Kerfuffle- til I saw I had FeY, not FAY also! Always thought it was spelled Fey...or maybe I had Tina Fey on the brain instead of Morgan le FAY?

On the I-X scale, I give it an X, Jeff Chen!

Masked and Anonymaas 1:25 PM  

Way back in '11 when Jeff Chen served up that puz with the 5 flying, black-block U's in the grid design, I said he was already one of my fave constructors. This puz did nothing to slow me down in that regard. Keep 'er up, Kemal Sabe.


p.s. This here NYALAS coulda been a themer in a puz earlier this week. Re-parsed as NY ALAS, of course. What goes around comes around, I reckon.

Anonymous 1:37 PM  

Well, the fact that in every reflective pair, one answer ends in x and the other starts with x seems logical enough to me.
It's also kind of cool that the symmetry is along the diagonals.

Joseph B 2:57 PM  

I got thrown by the symmetrical aspect, expecting an X before RETINOL and after REGALIA, due to the locations of MALCOLM(X) and (X)RAYSPEX. Should have known to seek out diagonal pairs.

This may be the one time a theme actually hindered me!

C. Ross Word 3:07 PM  

Great puzzle, fun solve. Hate that my potential perfect week was ruined on day one (counting Sunday through Saturday) by the double Natick NYALAS crossing GANYMEDE and FAY (shout out to @optionsgeek); I had NeALeS crossing GANeMEDE and FeY. Didn't ruin my perfect week last week til Saturday with IvS crossing MEvELAUS instead of INS crossing MENELAUS. Someone commented yesterday that the tipoff to the incorrect IvS was that the clue did not indicate an abbreviation. Ironically, last night I solved puzzle 66 "What Their Teachers Said" in the 2008 "New York Times Sunday at Home Crosswords" where 29A was clued "Hospital lines" and the answer was IVS. Ahhh, such problems!

Anonymous 4:03 PM  

About Atatürk: He did have a first name, but it was Mustafa. The man's name was Mustafa Kemal. Atatürk was an epithet added to his name, meaning "great Turk". Kind of like Catherine/Peter the Great, Wilhelm der Grosse, Charlemagne.

Milford 5:03 PM  

Fun puzzle, got the theme early on with MALCOLM, although my first thought was, "hmm, now I have to figure out where the X might be..." Duh. I solve on the iPod, and I think I lose a little bit of the grid pattern as a whole.

Pretty easy solve, but I got bogged down figuring out the last 10%. It's been a long weekend, I think.

Liked T-MINUS ZERO and ONION ROLLS, especially since we had the bialys=oniony clue earlier this weekend that helped me remember it!

Like @Rex, I also was exposed to GARP at age 12ish, except it was the book that I read (belonged to my older brother), and later the movie. Even now, my husband will ask, "Is that the movie where the wife...bites...", and I say "Yes, yes it is".

Got our tree today, time to decorate it!

JFC 6:57 PM  

Few comments? Great commentary by Rex. Fun and clever puzzle notwithstanding any quirks....


Anonymous 7:34 PM  

A fun, not too hard puzzle, but I do take issue with 101A "converted into bundles for a loft." That sounds like baling, where the hay is actually bundled (for easier storage). Otherwise haying is just harvesting loose hay to store in the loft.

Bird 7:35 PM  

Decent puzzle, but too many obscure, rarely seen and unknown stuff crossing obscure, rarely seen and unknown stuff left me with errors and blanks. The long downs were great.

Too bad all the black squares forming the giant X in the middle weren't the missing X's.


Anonymous 9:53 PM  

The xactoknife kemal area and the Ganymede Emily area tripped me up with proper nouns I didn't know. Otherwise a pretty good puzzle. Nothing memorable, though I suppose some liked the big X.

Bassman 10:37 AM  

I've sat AT a counter, and IN a booth, but not vice versa. The whole point of a booth is its partial enclosure.fripes

Spacecraft 1:07 PM  

Echoing @Bassman's gripe, I find the clue for SITAT (an ugly partial anyway) wrong and easily fixable.

I agree that doing this puzzle was "easy," even though I had two Naticks. The one at FAY/NYALAS was an either/or; I guessed right on that. The one at NUN/BENIN I missed. Sorry, I am neither Hebrew nor an African geography expert.

Those unfortunates aside, I enjoyed the almost-solve. GANYMEDE is bigger than Titan? Really? I have to go look that one up.

Mr. Chen is one of those "scary-smart" folks to whom I've recently referred. Loved the theme, the X-ecution, and the sprightly fill. As for the Natick, let me quote 63d:

"Ah HATE that rabbit"

Dirigonzo 7:24 PM  

Two hands (mine and WPP's) up for wanting to SITin the booth with @Bassman and @Spacecraft so maybe that clue could use some tweaking, but overall I think Jeff Chen has produced a masterpiece of X-word construction! Unbelievably (to me at least) we didn't see MAINE as the "Monosyllabic state" until all but one letter was in place - talk about overlooking the obvious! That whole corner was complicated for a while by having "bottomsout" instead of HITSBOTTOM.

We guessed right at the NUN/BENIN cross but we didn't know (G)ANYMEDE/(G)OA or N(Y)ALAS so we ended with a few blank squares but that in no way detracts from the fun we had in failing.

Bananfish 9:43 PM  

I probably would have skipped the note at the top, and instead titled the puzzle "MARKS THE SPOT". I think that would have been plenty of clue re: missing Xes.

Timbale gave me some trouble, and Nun, but the only thing I missed was GAS(X). I sent for SAS/ASHAS, thinking of Some Scandinavian company (SAS) and the Cornershop song "Brimful of Asha". Otherwise a pretty easy but very pleasant way to while away a half hour.

Anonymous 1:12 PM  

Being a week + since publishing, don't think many will see this, but I do the syndicated from my local paper so am always a week behind. One nitpick: one of a pair of [timbales] would be a timbal, not a timbale.

Anonymous 11:03 AM  

Rex: your header for this puzzle mentions `` Excommunicator of Martin Luthor`` - it`s Lex Luthor, Martin Luther.

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