Elizabeth C. Gorski’s Cr♥ssw♥rd Nation puzzle (Week 342), “Winter Green”—Janie’s take
Winter makes its official entrance on Thursday [hooray—because daylight hours will be getting longer!] and Xmas is right around the corner, so what better way to acknowledge the occasions than with a sly and punny “wearing of the green”—in this case, a 65A. shout out to “O, TANNENBAUM” [Yuletide song about a Christmas tree (three types of holiday trees are hidden in the puzzle!)]. Note that among those three, each question-marked clue has an arboreal tie-in. And what types does the puzzle offer up? Thought you’d never ask! For starters, there’s the
- LENNY SPRUCE at 17A. [Tree grown by a stand-up comic?]. Lenny Bruce. Anyone seen or watching Amazon’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel? It’s a retro-fitted period piece set in the late 1950’s about a young, recently-separated woman who—with her brains, her propensity for being outspoken and honest, and her considerable personal charisma—makes a run at a career in stand-up. Who becomes a mentor? Why none other than LENNY B. Likely scenario? Nah. Watchable anyway? Yep. Then we’re treated to the grid-spanning
- PINE CONNOISSEUR at 28A. [Magazine devoted to a tree aficionado?]. Wine Connoisseur. For about 20 seconds I thought the fill was going in the direction of PINE CONE… Followed by the grid-spanning and appropriately silly
- FIR YOUR EYES ONLY at 49A. [James Bond flick about a secret tree?]. FOR YOUR EYES ONLY. Appropriately silly and high-concept. A “secret tree”?! Hah! The actual flick is now available for free on Amazon Prime through the end of the month. Along with a lotta other films in the Bond canon.
So, a peppy seasonal theme with groan-worthy puns. That’s the kind of combo that gives me something to smile about (especially that LENNY SPRUCE entry). Ditto fill and/or clues like the MEDUSA [She was plagued with “bad hair” days] (serious example of understatement there…), and the nautical “LAND HO!” and not avian “CAW-CAW!” for [Cry from a crow’s nest]. I was WARIER about DOGDOM [Canine’s realm], but did you know that word’s been around since the middle of the 19th century? Thank you, M-W. I saw the clue and thought the fill might be something dental in nature. Not today. PINKIE makes for lively fill—ooh, and so does HOOKS UP. I also like the talking/colloquial “I DUNNO! [“Ya got me!”] and “NEVER!” [“In your dreams!”] pairs.
Most layered clue/fill pair—and one that’s fully in line with the punny themers? I think that’d have to go to the punny [“Rules of Civility” author Towles (you’ll love his first name)] AMOR combo. Pleeease don’t ask me to Jane-splain this one! Oh, but you know what else is interesting about Mr. Towles? His second book is titled A Gentleman in MOSCOW. Now, from what we know of his public persona, I wouldn’t call the current occupant of the White House a “gentleman,” but… he’s been to MOSCOW. And on the world stage, he could sure benefit by abiding by some rules of civility… (You see what I’ve done there… I’m done!)
Most difficult word for me? OUD [Pear-shaped instrument of the Middle East]. Eek. Didn’t help that it took me so long to feel comfortable that [Pélè’s first name] (which crosses OUD at the “O”) is, in fact, EDSON. Apparently, the OUD is very much a cousin to the lute.
In wrapping up, let’s not forget the (kinda dark) holiday bonus material: [Boisterous, like some SantaCon barhoppers] ROWDY and [“This fruitcake tastes awful!”] “YECCH!” Love that the word “YECCH!” always reminds me of MAD Magazine. But alas, that poor, maligned fruitcake! ;-)
If you’re celebrating Christmas, here’s hoping it will be a happy one for you and yours. And… should you be in need of a last minute gift for, oh, someone new to solving or someone who appreciates a shot of entertainment with their solve, no time like the present to put “Crossword Nation subscription” on the list for her/him/them. Have a great week, all. Keep solving, and see you back here on Boxing Day!
Daniel Hamm’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Wrap It Up!” — Jim P’s review
Jim here sitting in for Laura who is traveling. But fret not, she’ll be back to take over for me tomorrow.
Yesterday’s revealer was TOE, today’s is BOW (58d, [What each of the starred answers has]).
- 17a [*Hilary Hahn or Joshua Bell] VIOLINIST
- 28a [*Item in an exchange] CHRISTMAS GIFT
- 43a [*They’ll make you look better] PAIR OF GLASSES. I see what you did there. That’s “look” as in “see with your eyes.”
- 59a [*Outlaw in green] ROBIN HOOD
That works, assuming you know what a BOW is on a pair of eyeglasses. I did not. Apparently it’s the arm that leads from the frame and loops over your ear. Most websites I looked at called these “temples,” which makes more sense, but I’d never heard that either. I always thought they were called “ear hook thingies.”
Moving on. I like FATHER-TO-BE but the clue [Waiting room pacer] seems old fashioned. I don’t recall spending much time in a waiting room while my wife was having any of our three kids. And I think these days, dad’s role in the birthing room as an advocate and supporter can be incredibly helpful. If you’re a FATHER-TO-BE, here are some tips.
The geek in me really likes ICOSAHEDRA [Solids with 20 faces] even though I’ve never heard the term. Dungeons and Dragons players would know this as a D20. I never played for real, but my brother did, and when I was a kid, he taught me that a dodecahedron is a D12.
Other good stuff: SETS SAIL, MR. BIG, INFRARED, and “IT’S A GO!” Not much gunk to speak of except the odd prepositional phrase IN AIR. Otherwise, this is a beautifully clean grid all around.
Some accidentally timely clues:
- 4d [Location of DuPont’s hdqrs]. DEL. On Monday many people learned about DuPont, WA, the little town just south of where I live now (Lakewood), and where we used to live and still own a home. The Amtrak derailment occurred just south of there. The town was in fact named after the chemical company which, about a hundred years ago, set up a dynamite production facility there.
- 37d [Reacted to a bad call]. BOOED. I hear there was some of this going on on Sunday in the Pats/Steelers game and in the Raiders/Cowboys game.
Finally, you’ve heard “ANNIE’S Song,” you just may not have known that’s what it was called.
Andrew Kingsley’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s write-up
CANDY CANE is the central revealer, clued as [Christmas tree decoration … or a hint to what the circled letters form]. The circled letters spell out different brands of candy, in the shape of a cane. POP ROCKS (which come in candy cane flavor, aka peppermint), AIRHEADS (which can be molded into candy cane shapes), STARBURST (Starburst-branded, fruit-flavored candy canes are available), and … BIT-O-HONEY, which is a trash candy that probably nobody would bother trying to associate with candy canes.
The candy canes in the puzzle are in wide-open grid sections with far too many 6s and 7s to accommodate those triple-checked squares without a lot of ugly fill. Especially in a Tuesday puzzle! ALDO, ESOS, plural EWS, partial OR TO, intersecting OOH and AHA clued really nonspecifically (I wanted OOH to be OHO, and AHA’s clue felt more like it should lead to “AHH!”), BOHO, ATROPOS, STEEN, hardcore crosswordese ANSA, OCA, suffix ETIC, not-familiar IRON LAW, crosswordese LEU, and ART SALE clued as a [Gallery sign]. This is way too much to throw at a newer solver, unless you expect them to curse and swear off crosswords forever.
And can I just say that candy canes are a poorly conceived candy? You cannot eat one without getting sticky. Hard candy should be sized such that you can pop it in your mouth and then nobody has to see it.
Three more things:
- 58a. [“That would stink”], HOPE NOT. Not sure this rises to the level of solid crossword fill. What say you?
- 22d. [Recurring action role for Matt Damon], BOURNE. Ha, Matt Damon. He’s come in for some criticism for saying that we are not paying enough attention to the good guys in Hollywood who aren’t sexual predators. I’m sorry, but we are not giving out cookies for meeting the bare minimum of standards for personal conduct. You have received plenty of attention for all sorts of things throughout your career, sir, and you can sit quietly while someone else has a turn.
- 29d. [Hearing aid?], MIC. This clue reminds me of something I read earlier this fall. Yes, if you are speaking to an audience and there’s a microphone, use it. Don’t pooh-pooh it and say that you speak loudly enough for everyone to hear. Some audience members are likely hard of hearing, or to be stuck in the back of the room and not hearing you well over the background noise. More good advice from that link: “If you’re the speaker, not only should you use the damn mic, you should repeat anything that wasn’t spoken into it. If somebody asks a question, repeat it for all to hear. If another presenter pipes up to add a few words, relay that info too (or hand the mic to them).” Far too few people do this, and I’m one of those audience members who’s paid good money to be there, only to miss some of the spoken content.
2.5 stars from me. The CANDY CANE concept is cute, but there was too much rough fill for me to admire the execution.
Matt Jones’s Jonesin’ Crossword, “Not That Exciting” – Derek’s write-up
My personal opinion of this puzzle? Meh.
- 17A [Carrie Underwood’s 2005 debut album] SOME HEARTS
- 58A [Dwelling with a skeleton of timbers] FRAME HOUSE
- 11D [Long-standing, like many traditions] TIME-HONORED
- 24D [Health problem on some summer days] EXTREME HEAT – I will take this over snow any day!!
- 39A [Word that I guess is hidden in the theme answers, but whatever] MEH
See why I had that reaction? The letters MEH are hidden in the four long theme answers. But according to the flavor text, this puzzle IS exciting! Lots of good stuff, but with an 80 word count there better be! The usual fun from Matt; 4.4 stars.
A few mentions:
- 1A [Actor Oscar of “Ex Machina”] ISAAC – I just saw this movie; it is on Amazon Prime Video. He kind of plays the bad guy. It’s worth watching.
- 14A [“That Girl” actress __ Thomas] MARLO – Matt usually has obscure music refs, but this is turning into quite an old TV reference. This show is from the 60s, and I don’t think I have ever seen one of the over 130 episodes that were made, according to imdb.com! I do remember she was married to Phil Donahue, and she is often on PSAs to this day.
- 29A [Showtime series about a killer of killers] DEXTER – I am stuck on Season 3 of this. This show is exhausting to watch, but it is also really good. Did I mention it is on Netflix?
- 65A [What turns STEM to STEAM?] ARTS – The STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. I had to have my educator wife help me with this one – I had no idea what this clue was talking about!
- 37D [John Irving’s “A Prayer for Owen __”] MEANY – In searching this on xwordinfo.com, I was surprised to learn that a common clue for this referenced former union leader George Meany, one of the founders of the AFL-CIO. The references to the Irving work were very few.
- 50D [Jason of “Game of Thrones”] MOMOA – He hasn’t been in GOT since the first season! He is now prominently featured as Aquaman in the Justice League movie franchise. Go see it! It is really good.
The snow has melted! We may be in for a mild winter after all! When I blog this puzzle again, it will actually BE winter!
Grant Boroughs’ LA Times crossword – Derek’s write-up
Another byline I am not that familiar with! This seems to have happened several times to me in the last few weeks. This puzzle actually takes me back to my days of piano lessons!
- 17A [Music medium that succeeded the cassette tape] COMPACT DISC – I remember this like it was yesterday. I am old.
- 24A [Music legend known as the First Lady of Song] ELLA FITZGERALD
- 38A [Equipment for rock bands] GUITAR AMPLIFIER
- 48A [Lennon-McCartney collection whose publishing rights were once owned by Michael Jackson] BEATLES CATALOG
- 58A [When strung together, musical sequence represented by the initials of 17-, 24-, 38- and 48-Across] C MAJOR SCALE
Nicely done, and sure to be appreciated by the high number of musically inclined crossword solvers we have out there. The letters in red (the initials referenced in 58A) represent the actual notes in the C major scale, the only major scale with no sharps or flats. Although crossword solvers are an extremely diverse group, the common threads I seem to see are aptitude with music, computer programmers, and anything math related. In other words, people who can quickly take coded information and easily process it. A solid job, and worth a solid 4.5 stars today. Here’s hoping for more puzzles from Grant! (I hope this isn’t somebody’s pseudonym!!)
A few more things:
- 31A [Gelatin dish] ASPIC – One of the few flaws. I like ASPIN/FINA better.
- 8D [ __-Wan Kenobi] OBI – Better than the sash clue. I asked my son if he was in the newest Star Wars flick, but he reminded me that he passed away like four movies ago!
- 13D [Flamboyant Dame] EDNA – Yes, flamboyant is the word!
- 18D [NFL sportscaster Collinsworth] CRIS – Cris Carter on FS1 also uses this spelling, but Collinsworth is on Sunday Night Football, routinely the highest rated show on TV each week in the fall.
- 26D [Pay stub acronym] FICA – I am doing a little more in payroll recently to learn the ropes, and I have become quite familiar with “that FICA guy” that takes money out of everyone’s check!
- 33D [“Divine Comedy” poet] DANTE – I have not seen Inferno, the Dan Brown movie about works by this very poet. I have read all of his books since The Da Vinci Code, and even though they are escapist, I still enjoy them!
Have a great week!