Relative difficulty: Medium
THEME: "Figure It Out" — in nine squares, letters share space with numerals (numeral in one answer, letter in the cross). PUT the NINE LETTERS IN ORDER based on the numeral they share space with, and you get NWODTNUOC ... which is to say, if you you take the numerals in reverse order, or count down, you get COUNTDOWN.
Word of the Day: BERU (59A: Aunt ___ ("Star Wars" character)) —
Beru Whitesun Lars, the wife of Owen Lars, was a Tatooinian woman who raised Luke Skywalker after the fall of the Galactic Republic. Coming from a long line of moisture farmers, Beru Whitesun grew up near Mos Eisley on Tatooine. On a trip to Anchorhead, she met Owen Lars, the son of another moisture farmer, Cliegg Lars. Beru and Owen fell in love, and Beru later became part of the Lars family. // Shortly before the outbreak of the Clone Wars, Owen's stepmother, Shmi Skywalker Lars, was kidnapped by Tusken Raiders, an event that brought Shmi's son, Anakin Skywalker, and his soon-to-be-wife, Padmé Amidala, to the Lars homestead. Three years later, when the galactic conflict came to a close, Beru and Owen became the guardians of their new baby nephew, Luke Skywalker, after his father turned to the dark side of the Force and became Darth Vader. // The Larses raised Luke like a son. Beru would often defend Luke's interests against Owen, who was overprotective of him out of fear that he would follow in Anakin's footsteps. Though Owen refused numerous times to let Luke go when he wished to leave home to attend the Imperial Academy with his friend Biggs Darklighter, Beru convinced her husband to let Luke go after staying on for only one more season. After a year had passed, Beru tried to convince Owen that it was time to let Luke move on, but they never had time to reach an agreement. The two were killed by Imperial stormtroopers, by order of Darth Vader, who were searching for a droid carrying the stolen Death Star plans. (Wookieepedia)
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Very clever without being exceedingly difficult or overly fussy. Love the little twist on "IN ORDER" (doesn't say *which* order)—the discovery of COUNTDOWN ends up being a genuine aha moment. Overall, this is a very good puzzle about which I don't have much to say. Please note the relative lack of junk fill and the sparkling, original theme answers. I think REBIDS crossing REMEET at the "RE-" is about the only icky thing here. Except BERU, which is nuts. Hey, you know OOLA, whom you occasionally see in crosswords as ["Return of the Jedi" dancing girl]? Well, I just watched "Return of the Jedi" yesterday, and there she was ... only no one ever calls her by name. Not once. The idea that we're supposed to know the name of a character whose name is never uttered, and who is on screen all of five minutes, is bizarre. And yet, someone put her in a puzzle once. And then again. And now she's crosswordese. BERU, as far as I can tell, has never been in a mainstream crossword, though I feel like her name was probably at least uttered once. By Luke. When he was whining about having to stay on the farm and help his uncle for another season. But I digress.
- 74D: Oscar-nominated sci-fi film of 2009 ("DISTRICT 9") — "C"
- 108A: "My sources say no" source (MAGIC 8 BALL) — "O"
- 14D: Fruit-flavored soft drink (CHERRY 7-UP) — "U"
- 58D: One step up from a four-cylinder (V-6 ENGINE) — "N"
- 35D: Sci-fi series set in the 23rd century ("BABYLON 5") — "T"
- 38D: It was first broken in 1954 (4-MINUTE MILE) — "D" ... this was the answer that really broke open the puzzle for me. Dropped it in with no crosses. It proved invaluable for navigating that tough middle of the grid.
- 23A: Computer animation option (3-D GRAPHICS) — "O"
- 2D: Dinner date request (TABLE FOR 2) — "W" ... love this answer, though one thing about these theme answers is that their use of numerals is not consistent. By which I mean, nobody uses a numeral when writing out this phrase, whereas in every other phrase, use of the numeral is accurate, or at least defensible.
- 79D: Thiamine (VITAMIN B1) — "N"
CABLE ACE is a great retro answer, though a bit awkward, in that I've absolutely never heard the words "CABLE ACE" used without an "AWARD" chaser (83D: TV award discontinued in 1997). OMG I just noticed IRING, which is hilariously terrible (IRE as a verb is never welcome — usu. shows up in IRES or IRED form; I've never seen IRING before in my life, not in the grid, not out of the grid, never) (33A: Teeing off). Aside from BERU, my main "I did not know that" moment came with HOREB (34A: Mountain in Deuteronomy). I sure as hell needed every cross to get that one. I thought maybe GOREN, but that's the bridge column guy. Wife is a black belt, so I got DAN pretty easily (18A: Rank in kendo). I just a couple days ago looked up LEDE to make sure I was spelling it right (19A: Article's start, to a journalist). Only Gleeks are going to know 7D: Will's ex-wife on "Glee" (TERRI). Well, Gleeks and me, a reformed Gleek. I wanted SHERI. The crosses seem fair. I know BARI from crosswords (briefly thought it might be BERI) and I learned that PUCE trivia some time ago ... then forgot it ... until I remembered it (96D: Color whose name is French for "flea").
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld