Marie Kelly’s Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “Sign of the Times”—Dave Sullivan’s write-up
Rarely does this constructor (“Really (editor) Mike (Shenk)”) let a holiday go by without a timely contest puzzle to accompany it, and since this is Mike’s last puzzle before Christmas, I did suspect a holiday-based meta. Let’s see if the plant we’re looking for might be mistletoe?
Theme entries were a bit hard to discover this week, but after I got going, I recognized these crossing pairs of Santa’s reindeers (clued not in their “reindeer” sense):
- 1a. [Taker of romantic shots], CUPID crossing 3d. [Parade horse], PRANCER at the P
- 18a. [Kit’s mother], VIXEN crossing 7d. [Flash, in Frankfurt], BLITZEN at the I
- 58a. [“Lethal Weapon” director Richard], DONNER crossing 50d. [One having a ball?], DANCER at the N
- 67a. [Sky streaker], COMET crossing 52d. [Plunger in a churn], DASHER at the E
So since Rudolph was missing, could he lead us to the plant we are looking for? (Perhaps with his red nose?) But then I started to look at the NE and SW areas of the puzzle without reindeer names and wondered if there were any theme constraints there. Well, 23a. with DEER seemed promising and its mate in the SW was 57a. XING, both clued as [Sign while passing the buck?]. Certainly that must point to something meta-related. And how about 9d. [Christmas centerpiece] for TREE and 12d. [Trio of gift givers] for WISEMAN? Turns out these were just fillips to the holiday-based theme.
Each pair of deers crossed (or should I write “xed”?) at the letters in red above, which spell out our “plant,” the PINE tree, which gives us swags often used in Christmas wreaths. (Firs and spruces are our most typical Christmas tree in our parts.) Very intricate meta discovering the reindeer can pair up like this and point to something also Christmasy. Well done!
The rest of the puzzle was definitely NOT SO BAD either; highlights included [Save soles] for COBBLE (clue seemed worthy of a ‘?’) and interesting entries like SEX TAPES, LIONIZE and FULSOME. Let’s see if Matt Gaffney, up next week, will keep the holiday spirits going strong.