Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium
Word of the Day: Max EUWE (2D: Dutch chess grandmaster Max) —
Machgielis (Max) Euwe (last name is pronounced [ˈøːwə]) (May 20, 1901 – November 26, 1981) was a Dutch chess Grandmaster, mathematician, and author. He was the fifth player to become World Chess Champion (1935–37). Euwe also served as President of FIDE, the World Chess Federation, from 1970 to 1978. (wikipedia)
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Fell asleep before the puzzle came out last night and only just finished (7:30am EST), so this will have to be quick.
Of course I love this. It's a *little* heavy on proper nouns, which bothers me not at all (I tend to have significant culural-frame-of-reference overlap with these guys), but which can be a problem for the general population, especially when you put two longish contemporary actors' names on top of each other (AMY ADAMS, SETH ROGEN) and cross them with another actor (ASNER), or put two artists on top of each other (ERNST, DEGAS ... actually, those guys are puzzle standards, so not as big an issue there) (60A: "Pietà or Revolution by Night" artist + 63A: "L'Amateur d'estampes" painter). Clues were tough and clever, answers were fresh and lively, grid was mostly LUSCIOUS (except the far west—what's going on there with all the grunting: UHUH AHAS AHH?).
I need to hand in my English teacher credentials because I dropped in CASE at 1D: Subjunctive, e.g. (MOOD). Between that and the mysterious chess guy, the NW took me longer than I would've liked, but after I got it under control, I then tore through a large chunk of the grid unimpeded. Paused at -NISIA because I could not think of any place that ended like that (25A: "Patton" setting = TUNISIA). My mind was in the Pacific, for some reason, with INDONESIA and MICRONESIA. -ISIA just looked wrong. NE would've proved very difficult had it not been for the big phat gimme of "YO! MTV RAPS" (18A: 1980s-'90s hip-hop show co-hosted by Fab 5 Freddy). That answer made that corner go instantly from rough to easy. SW was pretty easy despite a terrible ONION-for-BACON error (46A: Salad bar offering) that left me wondering where my French went (couldn't think of potential [Billet-doux recipients] starting with "N") (AMIES). Finished in the SE, which I found very hard until yet another '90s pop culture clue saved my life. I watched "When We Were Kings" many years back and remember very well that it concerned the "Rumble in the Jungle" (in ZAIRE) (58A: Setting for the 1996 documentary "When We Were Kings"). That "Z" led instantly to GLAZED and RAGWEED, and then I was done.
Thought [Navajo terrain] would be somewhere specific, not a general landform (MESAS). Very briefly contemplated whether PINTO meant "pounded" (24A: Food whose name means "pounded" = PESTO). Not a big Marx Bros. fan, so didn't get HARPO til I had that -RPO ending (40A: Noted entertainer with a whistle). Got LISTERINE off just the -TE-, not sure why (56A: "Bad for bacteria" brand), as I've never used it in my life and can't remember last time I saw an ad for it. STEVE NASH is like the Delaware of the NBA, in that when the time comes to name the 50 greatest NBA players of all time, he will be the last one remaining and the one I can't turn up, despite the fact that I know very well that he exists (3D: First N.B.A. player to light the Olympic cauldron). I just taught the Aeneid this week, which means talking about the foundation of Rome, so you'd think REMUS would've jumped into my head faster (8D: Fratricide victim of myth). But no. Couldn't get Cain/Abel out of my head. I don't know why THUNDER rolls across "fields" any more than it rolls across anything, but that's an interesting clue. LAWN CARE seems like a *type* of business rather than a business (38D: Business that's always cutting back?). I can't explain why, but the distinction seems important. It's more a filed. You wouldn't use the phrase w/o "business" if you were describing your business. I run a LAWN CARE ... something! As opposed to I run a barber shop or a smeltery or what not. I haven't thought of the name AMIGA in forever and had no idea they had anything to do with CD-ROMs (49D: Computer that pioneered in CD-ROMs). Nice "King" motif with the clue for ZAIRE as well as the clue for REV. (27D: King, e.g.: Abbr.) and the answer ROI (20D: Échecs piece).
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld