Theme: "Rated XX" — Theme answers all contain two X's.
- 17A: On some roads, it might be several miles after the last one (NEXT EXIT). I totally dig this answer.
- 20A: Like interest on some bonds (TAX-EXEMPT).
- 36A: She may oversee an estate (EXECUTRIX). Can you see this word without thinking of the word dominatrix? What? That's just me?
- 57A: Halo 2 and Project Gotham Racing, notably (XBOX GAMES).
- 63A: Route on which to "get your kicks," in a pop standard (SIXTY-SIX).
- 8D: Fajitas, for one (TEX-MEX DISH).
- 29D: Product of a major 1999 merger (EXXON MOBIL).
As I was solving I was like, "Wow. There are a lot of X's in this puzzle." And the "wow" part of it kept getting more and more intense as I found more and more X's. I finally figured out that it was the theme and "Aha!" That's the "Aha!" moment we love, right? Basically, I'm saying I really enjoyed my solving experience and think the puzzle is awesome. There's just this one little thing. I really, really hate to bring it up. Especially since I like the puzzle so much. But the Crossword Blogger Oath is serious business and if I neglected to raise this issue, I could get slapped with an ethics violation and then I'd have to go before the Committee, possibly lose my license, etc., etc. It would be traumatic is what I'm saying. So here's the thing. The theme answers all have two X's. The words crossing the theme answers at the X's have just the one X. There are no other X's in the grid. ... Except one. One lonely unthematic X at the cross of SOX (27D: Chicago team, briefly) and PAX (35A: Peaceful period). That X could have been any number of letters. Let's see: D, L, N, P, S, T, W, or Y. Any of those would work (unless I'm missing that any of those resulting words already shows up in a clue or answer). So yeah. Awesome puzzle. That one little X was definitely not significantly detract from the puzzle, but it was something I noticed.
A couple things I didn't know, but got easily through crosses:
- 33A: Building toy with an apostrophe in its name (K'NEX). Eerily similar to Legos.
- 61A: "__ & Mrs. Miller": 1971 Beatty/Christie film (MCCABE). I was six in 1971.
- 64D: "Babi __": Shostakovich symphony (YAR). No idea.
- 1A: Words spoken with glass raised (A TOAST). Love this. It has to be said with just the right inflection and it's very ... what's the word? Graceful maybe. Or perhaps, if one is less charitable, snooty.
- 30A: Tic-tac-toe loser (OOX). This is ugly but, really, with so many X's in the grid, I'm sure it was inevitable.
- 40A: Delivery person? (MOM). Why when I see a clue like this do I think of the doctor? I guess because sometimes the answer is the doctor. But it's been the mother in a couple of recent puzzles and it tripped me up both times. Never again!
- 60A: Otto minus cinque (TRE). Italian!
- 65A: Begin successor (SHAMIR). The key to this one is pronunciation. In this case, Begin is not a synonym of start, but rather the Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin. See how the capital letter trick works? They put a proper name at the beginning of the clue to make you think it's just a regular word and capitalized only because it's the first word in the clue. It's very sneaky.
- 68A: In folders, say (SORTED). Is there anything better than having all your papers sorted and in their proper folders? No. No, there is not.
- 2D: Alcatraz, familiarly (THE ROCK). Awesome movie.
- 4D: 49th-state police gp. (AST). Alaska State Troopers. I think that's all I'll say about that.
- 6D: Gas company with a star logo (TEXACO). Crossing NEXT EXIT. Nice!
- 23D: Portly pirate (SMEE). Runner-up for your CW101 lesson of the day. Smee is Captain Hook's sidekick in Peter Pan.
- 38D: Guy with a helpful online list (CRAIG). Anyone know his last name? No? I'll look it up for you. Craig Newmark. You're welcome.
- 40D: Dallas NBAer (MAV). Not to be confused with a Cleveland NBAer, which would be a CAV.