1208-21 NY Times Crossword 8 Dec 21, Wednesday

Constructed by: Philip Koski
Edited by: Will Shortz

Today’s Reveal Answer(s) It’s a … Wrap

Themed answers each include the letters “ITSA” WRAPPED around the ends, and shown in circled letters in the grid:

  • 68A With 66-Across, director’s cry … or hint to 20-, 37- and 58-Across : IT’S A …
  • 66A See 68-Across : … WRAP
  • 20A What intellectual rivals engage in : A BATTLE OF WITS
  • 37A “Theodore Roosevelt” or “Robert Louis Stevenson” : SARGENT PORTRAIT
  • 58A Mid-19th-century Russian ruler described as “autocracy personified” : TSAR NICHOLAS I

Bill’s time: 10m 59s

Bill’s errors: 0

Today’s Wiki-est Amazonian Googlies

Across

5 Banjo sound : TWANG

The instrument that we know today as the banjo is a derivative of instruments that were used in Africa.

16 Soprano who ends up trapped in a vault : AIDA

“Aida” is a celebrated opera by Giuseppe Verdi that is based on a scenario written by French Egyptologist Auguste Mariette. Mariette also designed the costumes and stages for the opening performance. The opera was first staged in 1871 in an opera house in Cairo. In the storyline, Aida is an Ethiopian princess brought into Egypt as a slave. Radames is an Egyptian commander who falls in love with her, and then complications arise!

19 Automaker that went bankrupt in 2011 : SAAB

“SAAB” stands for Svenska Aeroplan AB, which translates into English as Swedish Aeroplane Limited. Although we usually think of SAAB as an auto manufacturer, it is mainly an aircraft manufacturer. If you take small hops in Europe you might find yourself on a SAAB passenger plane. The SAAB automotive division was acquired by General Motors in the year 2000, who then sold it to a Dutch concern in 2010. However, SAAB (automotive) finally went bankrupt in 2011. A Chinese consortium purchased the assets of SAAB Automotive in 2012, and so SAAB vehicles are in production again. The new vehicles are using the SAAB name, but cannot use the SAAB griffin logo, the rights to which have been retained by the mother company.

23 Oktoberfest quaff : LAGER

Lager is so called because of the tradition of cold-storing the beer during fermentation. “Lager” is the German word for “storage”.

Oktoberfest is a 16-day beer festival in Munich that actually starts in September. About six million people attend every year, making it the largest fair in the world. I’ve attended twice, and it really is a remarkable party …

“Quaff” is both a verb and a noun. One “quaffs” (takes a hearty drink) of a “quaff” (a hearty drink).

24 Munch Museum locale : OSLO

Edvard Munch was a Norwegian expressionist, and most famous for his painting “The Scream”, painted in 1893. What a wonderful work that is, a true representation of expressionism. The Munch Museum in Oslo is dedicated to his work and life. In 2004, two of Munch’s paintings, “The Scream” and “Madonna”, were stolen from the Munch Museum by armed robbers who subdued the museum guards. The paintings were missing for two years, but recovered in 2006.

25 Election-influencing grp. : PAC

A political action committee (PAC) is a private group that works to influence the outcome of a particular election or group of elections. Any group becomes a PAC by law when it receives or spends more than $1,000 for the purpose of influencing the outcome of an election. In 2010 the Supreme Court ruled that PACS that did not make direct contributions to candidates or parties could accept unlimited contributions. These “independent, expenditure-only committees” are commonly referred to as “super PACs”.

28 Like the Tower of Babel, in two ways : STORIED

We use the word “babel” now to describe a scene of confusion, lifting the term from the biblical story of the Tower of Babel. The Tower was built in the city of Babylon, and the construction was cursed with a confusion of languages due to the varied origins of all the builders.

31 Arrogant : SNOOTY

“Snoot” is a variant of “snout”, and is a word that originated in Scotland. The idea is that someone who is snooty, or “snouty”, tends to look down his or her nose at the rest of the world.

36 God of passion : EROS

As always seems to be the case with Greek gods, Eros and Aphrodite have overlapping spheres of influence. Aphrodite was the goddess of love between a man and a woman, and Eros was the god who stirred the passions of the male. The Roman equivalent of Aphrodite was Venus, and the equivalent of Eros was Cupid.

37 “Theodore Roosevelt” or “Robert Louis Stevenson” : SARGENT PORTRAIT

John Singer Sargent was an American artist, one best known for his portrait painting. Sargent trained as an artist mainly in Paris, although he found that he had to leave the city after one of his paintings was deemed “scandalous” by French society. The work was “Portrait of Madame X” (1884), a painting of a noted lady in society that was considered too risque and sensual. After the painting was exhibited, his commissions dried up and Sargent moved to London in order to continue his career. Today the “Portrait of Madame X” is considered by many to be Sargent’s best work.

President Theodore Roosevelt was the first American to win a Nobel Prize in any field. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1906 for his role in negotiating an end to the Russo-Japanese War.

Robert Louis Stevenson (RLS) was a Scottish author. He was most famous for his novels “Treasure Island”, “Kidnapped” and “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”.

44 Classic gas brand : AMOCO

“Amoco” is an abbreviation for “American Oil Company”, an oil company that merged with BP in 1998. Amoco was the first oil company to introduce gasoline tanker trucks and drive-through filling stations. I wonder if they know what they were starting …?

48 Percussion instrument that’s also the name of a popular ringtone : MARIMBA

A marimba is a musical instrument that is somewhat like a large xylophone. The marimba originated in Mexico. And, it is the instrument that plays the default ringtone on Apple phones.

53 End of a dean’s address : EDU

The .edu domain was one of the six original generic top-level domains specified. The complete original list is:

  • .com (commercial enterprise)
  • .net (entity involved in network infrastructure e.g. an ISP)
  • .mil (US military)
  • .org (not-for-profit organization)
  • .gov (US federal government entity)
  • .edu (college-level educational institution)

54 Sign of inactivity : RUST

Rust is iron oxide. Rust forms when iron oxidizes, reacts with oxygen.

58 Mid-19th-century Russian ruler described as “autocracy personified” : TSAR NICHOLAS I

There were two tsars of Russia named Nicholas. Nicholas I was Emperor of Russia from 1825 until 1855. Nicholas II was the last Emperor of Russia and ruled from 1894 until he abdicated in 1917, and was executed with his family in 1918.

67 Edmonton athlete : OILER

The National Hockey League’s Edmonton Oilers are so called because they are located in Alberta, Canada … oil country.

68 With 66-Across, director’s cry … or hint to 20-, 37- and 58-Across : IT’S A … 66 See 68-Across : … WRAP

When shooting of a film is concluded the movie is said to wrap, and everyone heads to the wrap party. There is one story that “wrap” is actually an acronym for “wind, reel and print”, a reference to the transition of the filming process into post-production. But, this explanation is disputed.

69 Word after rock, sea or table : … SALT

Halite is the mineral form of sodium chloride, and is also known as “rock salt”. Halite is used to melt ice, as salt water has a lower freezing point than pure water. Adding salt to icy sidewalks can therefore cause any ice to melt (as long as the ambient temperature isn’t too low). A mixture of halite and ice can also be used to cool things below the freezing point of water, perhaps to make ice cream.

The lobbyists have done their job when it comes to the labeling of “sea salt”. In the US, sea salt doesn’t even have to come from the sea. The argument is that all salt came from the sea if you look back far enough. The politics of food; don’t get me started …

An ionic bond is formed between two oppositely-charged ions. A common example is the bond between positively-charged sodium atoms and negatively-charged chlorine atoms to form table salt (NaCl). A covalent bond, on the other hand, is formed when two atoms share electrons. Atoms sharing electrons tend to be stable, so they prefer to stay together rather than apart.

70 Tons and tons : SLEWS

Our usage of “slew” to mean “large number” has nothing to do with the verb “to slew” meaning “to turn, skid”. The noun “slew” came into English in the early 1800s from the Irish word “sluagh” meaning “host, crowd, multitude”.

71 Pointillism features : DOTS

Pointillism is a style of painting that grew out of Impressionism. The pointillist technique calls for the artist to use small, distinct dots of bold color to build up the image. Pointillism was developed in the late 1800s by the great French painter, Georges Seurat. You can go see his magnificent work “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte” at The Art Institute of Chicago the next time you’re in town.

Down

1 Muscle ___, Ala. : SHOALS

Muscle Shoals is a city in Alabama. It is famous as the site where many pop artists recorded hits in the sixties, including Aretha Franklin, Eric Clapton, Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Rolling Stones.

2 Marsupial with distinctive cube-shaped droppings : WOMBAT

Wombats are marsupials that are native to Australia. Apparently, wombats are often mocked in their native land, as they are viewed as fat, slow, lazy animals. The “unofficial” mascot of the 2000 Sydney Olympics was “Fatso the Fat-A***ed Wombat”.

3 Italian alpine cheese : ASIAGO

Asiago is a cheese that is named for the region in northeastern Italy from where it originates. It comes in varying textures depending on its age. Fresh Asiago is very smooth, while aged Asiago can be very crumbly.

5 Comet feature : TAIL

Comets and asteroids are similar, both being relatively small celestial bodies orbiting the sun. Comets differ from asteroids in that they have a coma or tail, especially when they are close enough to the sun. The coma and tail are temporary fuzzy atmospheres that develop due to the presence of solar radiation. Comets are sometimes referred to as “dirty snowballs”, a reference to their composition: rock, dust, water ice and frozen gases.

6 Rioja, for one : WINE

Rioja wines come from the province of La Rioja in Northern Spain. In my days living back in Europe, Rioja wines were noted for their heavy oaky flavors and it wasn’t uncommon to order a “rough Rioja” when out for dinner of an evening.

7 “Star Wars” droid, familiarly : ARTOO

Artoo’s proper name is R2-D2 (also “Artoo-Detoo”). R2-D2 is the smaller of the two famous droids from the “Star Wars” movies. British actor Kenny Baker, who stood just 3 feet 8 inches tall, was the man inside the R2-D2 droid for the first six of the “Star Wars” movies.

“Droid” is short for “android” and is used to describe a robot that resembles a human. The Latin word “androides” was used in English in the 18th century to mean “like a man”. Science fiction writers introduced us to “android” in the early 1950s.

8 Spongy balls : NERFS

Nerf is a soft material used in a whole series of toys designed for “safe” play indoors. The Nerf product is used to make darts, balls and ammunition for toy guns. “NERF” is an acronym, standing for Non-Expanding Recreational Foam.

9 Speaks brusquely : GROWLS

Someone described as “brusque” is “gruff, abrupt and curt in manner”. The term comes into English from French, in which language it means “lively, fierce”.

11 Population beyond the homeland : DIASPORA

“Diaspora” is a Greek word meaning “a scattering of seeds”. I guess I’m one of the Irish seeds …

12 Journalist Wells or Tarbell : IDA

Ida B. Wells was an African-American journalist and leader of the civil rights movement. She published a pamphlet in 1892 called “Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases”, which publicized the horrors of lynching of African Americans by white mobs in the South.

Ida Tarbell was a teacher and what we would call today an “investigative journalist”, although back in her day she was known as a “muckraker”. Her most famous work is her 1904 book “The History of the Standard Oil Company”. It is an exposé that is credited with hastening the breakup of John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil in 1911. She also wrote several books about President Abraham Lincoln.

13 Coke’s first diet soda : TAB

Tab was the first diet cola introduced by the Coca-Cola company, in 1963. It was produced as a competitor to the very successful Diet Rite cola that was made by RC Cola. The name “Tab” was used as the beverage was aimed at people who wanted “to keep tabs” on their weight.

26 Yours, in Arles : A TOI

“À toi” is the French term for “yours”, when talking to someone with whom one is familiar. “À toi” literally means “to you”.

Quite a few years ago now, I had the privilege of living just a short car-ride from the beautiful city of Arles in the South of France. Although Arles has a long and colorful history, the Romans had a prevailing influence over the city’s design. Arles has a spectacular Roman amphitheater, arch, circus as well as old walls that surround the center of the city. In more modern times, it was a place Vincent van Gogh often visited, and was where he painted many of his most famous works, including “Cafe Terrace at Night” and “Bedroom in Arles”.

29 Long time : EON

Geological time is divided into a number of units of varying lengths. These are, starting from the largest:

  • supereon
  • eon (also “aeon”)
  • era
  • period
  • epoch
  • age

30 “The world’s most valuable resource,” per The Economist : DATA

“The Economist” is a British publication dating back to 1843. It is read by a lot of people on this side of the Atlantic, and North America accounts for half of the magazine’s sales revenue.

34 Record speed, for short : RPM

The first vinyl records designed to play at 33⅓ rpm were introduced by RCA Victor in 1931, but were discontinued due to quality problems. The first long play (LP) 33⅓ rpm disc was introduced by Columbia Records many years later in 1948, with RCA Victor following up with a 45 rpm “single” the following year, in 1949.

37 “Scarborough Fair” herb : SAGE

“Scarborough Fair” is a delightful ballad that originated in Yorkshire in the North of England. Simon & Garfunkel recorded a famous version of the song in 1966, setting it in counterpoint with one of Simon’s own creations called “Canticle”.

Are you going to Scarborough Fair?
Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme;
Remember me to one who lives there,
She was once a true love of mine.

38 J.Lo’s onetime beau : A-ROD

Apparently, singer and actress Jennifer Lopez started dating retired baseball player Alex Rodriguez in February 2017. The couple became engaged in March 2019, but that relationship ended in 2021.

40 Actress Gadot : GAL

Gal Gadot is an actress and former Miss Israel. She played Gisele Yashar in the “Fast & Furious” film franchise, and then began portraying Wonder Woman in superhero movies.

41 Record label for D’Angelo or Doja Cat : RCA

RCA Records is the second-oldest recording label in the US, after Columbia Records.

42 Midsection : TORSO

“Torso” (plural “torsi”) is an Italian word meaning the “trunk of a statue”, and is a term that we imported into English.

47 Engines with oomph : TURBOS

A turbocharger is a device that is designed to extract more power out of an internal combustion engine. It does so by increasing the pressure of the air entering the intake. The pressure increase comes from the use of a compressor that is powered, cleverly enough, by the engine’s own exhaust gases.

52 Dogs that were once samurai companions : AKITAS

The Akita breed of dog is named for its point of origin, Akita Prefecture in Japan. When Helen Keller visited Japan in 1937, she asked for and was given an Akita breed of dog, with the name of Kamikaze-go. Sadly, the dog died within a year from distemper. The following year the Japanese government officially presented Keller with a replacement dog. Supposedly Keller’s dogs were the first members of the breed to be introduced into the US.

Samurai were noble military officers in medieval and early-modern Japan who served particular clans and lords. Originally known as “bushi” in Japanese, the term “samurai” was introduced in the early part of the 18th century.

55 ___ mail : SNAIL

Snail mail is regular mail delivered by the postal service. The term “snail mail” arose as email gained in popularity, and is a reference to the difference in speed between email and paper mail.

56 Line on a spine : TITLE

In the US, the convention is to write the title on the spine of a book from top-to-bottom. In most of Europe, the convention is to write the title from bottom-to-top. We have a lot of books in the “library” in our house from both sides of the Atlantic, and so there is much movement of the head from left to right as we glance along our bookshelves.

59 Last month in the U.S. government’s fiscal year: Abbr. : SEPT

The month of September is the ninth month in our year, although the name “September” comes from the Latin word “septum” meaning “seventh”. September was the seventh month in the Roman calendar until the year 46 BC when Julius Caesar introduced the Julian calendar. The Julian system moved the start of the year from March 1st to January 1st, and shifted September to the ninth month. The Gregorian calendar that we use today was introduced in 1582.

63 Food industry lobby, in brief : NRA

The National Restaurant Association (NRA) was founded in 1919. Perhaps the most famous name associated with the association is Herman Cain. Cain ran for US president in 2011, with his 9-9-9 tax plan at the center of his platform. He passed away in 2020 after contracting COVID-19.

Complete List of Clues/Answers

Across

1 Sample collector : SWAB
5 Banjo sound : TWANG
10 Computer menu heading : EDIT
14 Hookup that may get kinky? : HOSE
15 Broadcaster : AIRER
16 Soprano who ends up trapped in a vault : AIDA
17 Leave out : OMIT
18 “My name is …,” e.g. : INTRO
19 Automaker that went bankrupt in 2011 : SAAB
20 What intellectual rivals engage in : A BATTLE OF WITS
23 Oktoberfest quaff : LAGER
24 Munch Museum locale : OSLO
25 Election-influencing grp. : PAC
28 Like the Tower of Babel, in two ways : STORIED
31 Arrogant : SNOOTY
33 What chess has that bridge doesn’t : BOARD
36 God of passion : EROS
37 “Theodore Roosevelt” or “Robert Louis Stevenson” : SARGENT PORTRAIT
43 Lot calculation : AREA
44 Classic gas brand : AMOCO
45 Fancy drinking glass : GOBLET
48 Percussion instrument that’s also the name of a popular ringtone : MARIMBA
53 End of a dean’s address : EDU
54 Sign of inactivity : RUST
57 Untrustworthy sort : SNEAK
58 Mid-19th-century Russian ruler described as “autocracy personified” : TSAR NICHOLAS I
62 Initial stake : ANTE
64 Get into some hot water? : BATHE
65 Work without ___ : A NET
66 See 68-Across : … WRAP
67 Edmonton athlete : OILER
68 With 66-Across, director’s cry … or hint to 20-, 37- and 58-Across : IT’S A …
69 Word after rock, sea or table : … SALT
70 Tons and tons : SLEWS
71 Pointillism features : DOTS

Down

1 Muscle ___, Ala. : SHOALS
2 Marsupial with distinctive cube-shaped droppings : WOMBAT
3 Italian alpine cheese : ASIAGO
4 “That’s more like it” : BETTER
5 Comet feature : TAIL
6 Rioja, for one : WINE
7 “Star Wars” droid, familiarly : ARTOO
8 Spongy balls : NERFS
9 Speaks brusquely : GROWLS
10 It’s right on the map : EAST
11 Population beyond the homeland : DIASPORA
12 Journalist Wells or Tarbell : IDA
13 Coke’s first diet soda : TAB
21 What many a U.S. state is named after : TRIBE
22 It comes with a charge : ION
26 Yours, in Arles : A TOI
27 Dermatological sac : CYST
29 Long time : EON
30 “The world’s most valuable resource,” per The Economist : DATA
32 ‘Neath’s opposite : O’ER
34 Record speed, for short : RPM
35 Send to oblivion : DOOM
37 “Scarborough Fair” herb : SAGE
38 J.Lo’s onetime beau : AROD
39 Counterargument : REBUTTAL
40 Actress Gadot : GAL
41 Record label for D’Angelo or Doja Cat : RCA
42 Midsection : TORSO
46 Long time : ERA
47 Engines with oomph : TURBOS
49 Like some decorative wooden floors : INLAID
50 Will, given a chance : MEAN TO
51 Most despicable : BASEST
52 Dogs that were once samurai companions : AKITAS
55 ___ mail : SNAIL
56 Line on a spine : TITLE
59 Last month in the U.S. government’s fiscal year: Abbr. : SEPT
60 Mull, with “on” : CHEW …
61 Gendered pronoun : HERS
62 Reactions to adorableness : AWS
63 Food industry lobby, in brief : NRA

9 thoughts on “1208-21 NY Times Crossword 8 Dec 21, Wednesday”

  1. 16:13. Biggest time issue was the NW where ASIAGO, WOMBAT, and SHOALS all connected. Eventually got a G from LAGER and the rest was history.

    WOMBATS have cubed droppings?? I certainly hope someone gets to the bottom of this….Can anyone give me the straight poop on this? Maybe we could guess by using the process of elimination?

    Nevermind, I looked it up. Apparently they have two linings in their intestines that are more elastic than the rest of the intestinal wall -sort of rubberband-ish. In contrast, ours is more or less uniform all the way around. Researchers showed what that does mathematically when you contract those bands various times as it traverses the colon, and the result is indeed the cube shape.

    Now why would they evolve in such a way? The theory is WOMBATS tend to live on hills and among the rocks. Those droppings mark their territory and the cubed shape helps keep them from falling down the hill….the droppings, not the wombats..

    When asked how this information helps us, the researcher basically said, “I have no idea”.

    Best –

  2. 9:21 I was done in 7:45 but then had to look for my error. I had AHS for 62D and NEA for 63D which I kind of knew was wrong when I did it, but didn’t go back to correct. So I had ITSA HEAP for the theme and had to search to fix it.

    But if we’re talking about all that WOMBAT excrement not rolling down hills – many thanks to @Jeff for all the research – then I guess it really is a HEAP.

  3. 8:24, no errors, and I totally forgot to check out the theme as I needed to get up early this morning and was therefore in a hurry to finish the puzzle last night.

    Totally tubular analysis of the wombat situation, Jeff! … 😜. (Actually, I had seen this discussed … somewhere … else … recently, but I don’t remember where. Most interesting!)

  4. 38:32 no errors but it was almost a DNF until 37A was solved.
    I still disagree with era being a long time…it can be very short as the Trump Era thankfully was
    Stay safe😀

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