Relative difficulty: Easy (for me ... I think times will be somewhat slower-than-avg. for most)
THEME: A WORK IN PROGRESS (36A: Unfinished project ... or, literally, what the answers to the eight starred clues contain?) — eight starred clues contain the word "ART," which "progresses" one letter to the right in each new theme answer (reading top to bottom), i.e. ART starts in the first letter position with ARTICULATE, second letter position with MARTIN AMIS, and eventually ends in the eighth letter position with MOVED APART
Word of the Day: DOLLAR TREE (45A: *National discount store chain) —
Dollar Tree, Inc. (NASDAQ: DLTR) is an American chain of discount variety stores that sells every item for $1.00 or less. A Fortune 500 company, Dollar Tree is headquartered in Chesapeake, Virginia and operates 4,009 stores throughout the 48 contiguous U.S. states. Its stores are supported by a nationwide logistics network of nine Distribution Centers. The Company operates one dollar stores under the names of Dollar Tree and Dollar Bills. The Company also operates a multiprice-point variety chain under the name Deal$. (wikipedia)
• • •Very impressive theme. Dense, multi-layered, and full of vibrant and original-seeming answers. You had me at MARTIN AMIS over SWARTHMORE. Getting ART to "progress" like that is one thing—getting it to "progress" through answers that are both beautiful and (in several places) stacked on top of one another is amazing. Not often you see a theme this complex on a Monday—and for me, it definitely came in at a Monday time. Sub-Monday, if there were such a category, which there isn't. I blew through this one in near-record time (2:32), then noticed I was nearly a full minute faster than the guys by whose times I usually gauge myself (at the NYT puzzle site). Hence "Easy" for me, probably more "ordinary Monday" for most. Sometimes I'm freakishly fast; sometimes I'm freakishly slow. These things happen.
- 13A: *Eloquent (ARTICULATE)
- 17A: *British novelist who wrote "London Fields" (MARTIN AMIS)
- 20A: *College near Philadelphia (SWARTHMORE)
- 25A: *Having both Republican and Democratic support (BIPARTISAN) — ha ha ha ha ha ha. Timing! [Ugh.]
- 45A: *National discount store chain (DOLLAR TREE)
- 51A: *Container next to a bowl of cereal (MILK CARTON)
- 60A: *Like some checks and vendors (THIRD PARTY)
- 64A: *Gradually separated (MOVED APART)
More on thematic density: every Down answer crosses a theme answer, most cross two, and four Downs actually have to cross *four* theme answers. Density alone doesn't impress me much, but when it's coupled with relative grid smoothness, it's noteworthy. I got several answers today, including one theme answer and both long Downs, without ever looking at the clues. IONO- was a dead giveaway for IONOSPHERE (10D: Where the Northern Lights occur); likewise ICONO- for ICONOCLAST (26D: Antiestablishment figure). RARE EARTH also seemed to fill itself in without my thinking about it (40D: With 43-Across, yttrium or scandium). I screwed up but once during my entire solve—put in TAPE instead of TIVO (which has tripped me up now two days in a row). My favorite clue of the day is a very simple one that no one is likely to have noticed—61D: Congratulate nonverbally (PAT). Spot-on and yet creative. Also, APT. Also, an anagram of APT.
Bartok's Rhapsody for Violin and Orchestra No. 2 really wants me to listen to it now, so goodbye.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld