Relative difficulty: Medium
Word of the Day: ZYNGA (26D: Company behind the popular social network games FarmVille and CityVille) —
Zynga (/ˈzɪŋɡə/) is a social network game developer located in San Francisco, United States. The company develops browser-based games that work both stand-alone and as application widgets on social networking websites such as Facebook and Myspace. (wikipedia)
• • •Another gorgeous grid from Mr. Quarfoot, though it's so stacked with proper nouns (brands and names and pop culture and what not) that it might prove infuriating for some. STYRO is the only real clunker I see here (29D: Commercial prefix since the 1950s). Well, A CALL's not great, but those are very small prices to pay for such a lively, contemporary, edgy grid. SEX SCENEs! BOOB JOBs! (11D: Growing concern for a surgeon, informally?) Very LATE NITE. I found the puzzle hard to get into, but once I was in, I was able to make steady if slowish progress straight through — strangely, I didn't once have to reboot (i.e. start over in a new section where I had nothing). I just built on crosses, in both directions from my point of origin, until I surrounded that damn NW corner and finished things off in a well-within-normal-range Saturday time. Still, I think this might play slightly harder than average, given the preponderance of names. Initial times at the NYT site seem a little sluggish.
Started with very little (most of it wrong). Had SAT instead of ETS and SSN instead of SGT (that last one was a colossal misread) (38A: E-5: Abbr.). Finally broke through by giving JET LI a shot at 31D: "Romeo Must Die" actor, 2000. I can't remember a thing about "Romeo Must Die"—my memory has it starring Gary Oldman and Lena Olin—but for some reason JET LI was pushing his way to the front of my mind, and I liked where it put that "J"—in position to give me a last name starting with "J" at 30A: Flying Dutchman captain of film (DAVY JONES). Guessed JONES and got A-TRAIN (12D: Transportation to Sugar Hill, in a 1941 song) and ASSETS from there. Rest of the NE was easy. From there I went down and clockwise. Later returned to DAVY JONES and worked counterclockwise until I was done. NW was maddening because I've never heard of GOD'S ARMY (3D: Side in an epic battle), so even when I got ARMY, I was confused. Also, I had ---RANK and could think of only SITE and NAME as possible fill. "PERMIT ME" seemed too polite for the more pushy-sounding clue 1D: "Step aside, I'll help" and I'd never heard of MXS (hmmm ... I guess I've heard the phrase "MX missle" before ...), so there was lots of trouble up there. The "S" in GOD'S ARMY / MXS was the last thing into the grid.
Considered ODETS before ALBEE at 20A: "The Play About the Baby" playwright. Took a while to see LA PAZ (25A: City of the Altiplano). Only got MR. MOTO because I allowed myself to imagine that 1D ("PERMIT ME") ended with ME, thereby supplying the first "M" (32A: Fictional character whose first name is Kentaro). Lots of movies and sports and song and television. Was unaware Danny GLOVER had played Mandela (64A: He played Mandela on TV's "Mandela"). Was unaware (or forgot) that ANKA was Canadian. Took much longer than I should have to come up with the crosswordy movie genre named for a food staple. As with OATERS, I know DENEB only from crosswords (34A: One vertex of the Summer Triangle). I know Senator Dick LUGAR, but had no idea he co-sponsored legislation with President Obama (57A: ___-Obama Proliferation and Threat Reduction Initiative (2007 law)). NAGANO is one of those Olympics sites that I easily forget, but it was referred to on some show I watch recently, so it was fresh in my mind (49D: Olympics site that introduced snowboarding). Weird how puzzles can come together by happenstance. The SW corner felt like that—I mean, didn't believe DEER could possibly be the answer to 56D: Bucks and bucks, but imagining the "D" in place allowed me to guess (tentatively) SCROD, which then (off just the "C") (55A: North Atlantic catch) got me UNCOLA (47D: Beverage nickname, with "the"). That corner was done inside of a minute. Just ... lucky guesses. All that luck was offset in the NW, where I struggled mightily, but the overall experience was just as it should be on a Saturday—a tough and entertaining 10-15 minutes (closer to 15 today).
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld