Elizabeth C. Gorski’s Cr♥ssw♥rd Nation puzzle (Week 326), “Birthday Hit List”—Janie’s take
Taking it nice and easy this week, Liz serves up an on-time birthday tribute to the King of Pop (named in the reveal), plus four themers that belong on a list of his hits. Can you say “multiple earworms”? Wisely, none of the hits are clued as song titles—which might account for my missing the theme for almost the entire solve… Working from bottom to top today (so as to feature the reveal first…), here’s how it’s done:
- 63A. [Entertainer born 08/29/1958 whose hit songs appear at 16-, 27-, 38-, and 50-Across] MICHAEL JACKSON. Here’s a discography of his singles. And that doesn’t even include the work he did as a member of The Jackson 5. The man was one hard-working phenom.
- 50A. [King who won the “Battle of the Sexes”] BILLIE JEAN. First of all, great punny clue. Then, great song. And here’s where I started to get and inkling about the theme. But back to the former. King Arthur? King Farouk? Nuh-uh. Coming to a movie theatre near you, this fall, Battle of the Sexes, a “comedic dramatization” (as The New Yorker calls it) of the 1973 Bobby Riggs-initiated tennis match between himself and BILLIE JEAN… King who won the “Battle of the Sexes.” Steve Carell and Emma Stone. This is a great story. Oh, please let the film be any good! ;-)
- 38A. [Good, on the street] BAD. No, the theme didn’t even register here—a song title I did know—because I was completely unfamiliar with its two predecessors as titles belonging to the JACKSON oeuvre. Namely
- 27A. [Bizarre] OFF THE WALL and
- 16A. [“Have no fear, I am here”] “YOU ARE NOT ALONE.” This gap in my pop-culture knowledge led me to take a look and listen on YouTube. Because it was filmed in 1995, when MJ was clearly having issues about his appearance and his identity as a black man, I found the official video of “YANA” quite disturbing. I did, however, recognize the tune. 1979’s “OTW,” on the other hand, showcases what appears to an exuberant, charismatic young man who is beloved by and who loves his audience. But as we all know, appearances can definitely deceive. Regardless, this was a happier viewing experience, but still didn’t know the song. Dang! I leave it to you to do your own YouTube searches, if you’re so inclined (but don’t say I didn’t warn you).
Elsewhere in the puzz, we get two strong, vertical 10s: FIRING LINE [Public affairs TV show from 1966 to 1999]—an intellectual, talking heads “debate”-format show with conservatives and liberals, and everything in-between, all moderated by William F. Buckley; and the more ephemeral SANDCASTLE [Property that’s wiped out by the sea]. Among the sevens, the practical LENS CAP gets an almost poetic clue in [Camera’s eyelid] and NIAGARA gets a punny one in [Falls for a married woman?], where “falls” is a noun and not a verb. Your MEDEVAC may deliver you to SHELTER—but let’s hope you never have occasion to need it. There’s a shoutout, too, to [“Sistine Madonna” painter] RAPHAEL. And these days, what with North Korea’s penchant for missile testing always in the news, the MEGATON [Unit of explosive power] combo certainly makes for a resonant pairing (and given what we’ve now learned vis à vis Japan, I don’t say this lightly).
We also get a lotta snappy sixes, including TEA POT [Chai brewer]—though I first entered TEA BAG… which, of course, didn’t work out so well with OLD PAL; HYENAS, JERKED, GARAGE and the dishy “DO TELL!”
If the theme of today’s puzzle doesn’t break new ground, its execution does create a solid, accessible tribute to a singular artist and icon. Additionally, the very smoothness of the solve makes it particularly newbie-friendly. And for the more experienced solvers, there’s the range of ideas and the associations they trigger to relish. Hope you’ll all relish the week ahead as we slide into September. Holy moly—September already! Keep solving anyway and stop by again next week!
Daniel Hamm’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Climate Change”—Laura’s write-up
- [17a: What wets the Washington Monument?]: CAPITAL RAIN
- [24a: Why spectrum fans visit Niagara Falls?]: FOR THE MIST PART
- [39a: Gets dents in one’s hood, say?]: HAS A BAD HAIL DAY
- [51a: What might beat you to blowing out the candles on the cake?]: DESSERT WIND
- [50dR: Environmental activist, and the letters changed in the theme answers]: GORE
The letters G-O-R-E in the base phrases of the theme entries are replaced, like thus: GAIN -> RAIN, MOST -> MIST, HAIR -> HAIL, and WINE -> WIND. The replacement letters don’t spell anything significant: R-I-L-D, and they’re not all in corresponding places in the words. I was curious as to why a tribute puzzle was running today — is it Al Gore’s birthday? Nope (it’s March 31). I’m also intrigued by the irony that the Wall Street Journal ran this puzzle, given that independent analysis has demonstrated that the paper’s editorial writers do not necessarily embrace the scientific consensus on climate change. Perhaps there’s a firewall between the puzzle and editorial pages. I will note that the theme entry AL GORE RHYTHMS was used in a New York Times puzzle in 1997. Also, is MIST considered part of the spectrum? Just wondering.
Speaking of RAIN, WIND, and climate change, please considering donating to support people affected by Hurricane Harvey. I’ve lived through the aftermath of a hurricane and let me tell you that the need does not stop when the rain does. Some local Houston organizations that do immediate good are the Houston Food Bank, the Texas Diaper Bank (many relief organizations help with food, water, and shelter, but not with other necessities), and the Houston Coalition for the Homeless. Another organization that I’ve just learned about is Portlight, which works during disasters to assist people with disabilities and special needs.
Oh, yeah, the puzzle — nice to see POCAHONTAS, though I’d think she deserves to be known as more than the [3d: Saver of John Smith], and did you know that it’s very easy to grow an AVOCADO PIT [27d: Guacamole-making waste] into a plant? This inexplicably mesmerizing video shows you how.
Adam Perl’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s write-up
The theme is suggested by the revealer, 54a. [Overly inventive … or a hint to the answers to 17-, 26- and 42-Across], TOO CLEVER BY HALF. Three familiar phrases starting with numbers have been changed to increase those numbers by half.
- 17a. [Classic game needing no equipment], THIRTY QUESTIONS. That’s Twenty Questions, plus half of 20, or 10.
- 26a. [You might not want to touch something with this], FIFTEEN-FOOT POLE. 10 + 5.
- 42a. [1965 Beatles hit], TWELVE DAYS A WEEK. 8 + 4.
Didn’t really groove on the rest of the puzzle. HI-HO, ON TOE, A WORD, TRUES, ESS, ROOS? Meh.
Three more things:
- 39a. [“N.Y. State of Mind” rapper], NAS. Odd choice. The song’s in a literature anthology but it was never released as a single. “Empire State of Mind” (Jay-Z feat. Alicia Keys) is a far more famous rap with a title along those lines.
- 63a. [Big name in oil?], OLAY. What the hell? The brand hasn’t been called Oil of Olay in years.
- 19d. [Sweetums], TOOTS. For Pete’s sake, just clue it as the verb. That noun is short for tootsie, which the Oxford folks define as “a young woman, especially one perceived as being sexually available.” Can you just not? Language matters.
So many clues fell in the stale-clever category. Like 1d. [Drilling grp.] for ROTC, and 37a. [High winds?] for OBOES. Seen these plenty of times before.
And 43d. [Many a feline Facebook posting], LOLCAT? I’m not sure I’ve seen the term lolcats in the last couple years. Odd.
2.8 stars from me. I liked the theme all right, but the rest of the puzzle underwhelmed me.
Matt Jones’s Jonesin’ Crossword, “See?” – Derek’s write-up
You “gotta keep on the ball” according to the flavortext here. What ball? The one you “see” with, of course!
- 17A [“How well do you know cartoon sailors” test?] POPEYE QUIZ
- 32A [Comment on the weather to a Supreme Court justice?] BREYER, IT’S COLD!
- 39A [Person who goes around making steaks laugh?] RIBEYE TICKLER
- 58A [Quick sprint for “Late Night” host Seth?] MEYERS DASH
So we have the phrases pop quiz, brr, its cold, rib tickler, and Mrs. Dash with an added EYE somewhere in the middle. Simple enough, but very humorously executed. The ribeye one made me hungry! 4.4 stars.
Just a couple of things:
- 21A [Felipe Alou’s outfielder son] MOISES – Most of us should know this without the “outfielder” hint. Famous for being the player interfered with by Steve Bartman!
- 37A [Jessie __ (“Saved by the Bell” role)] SPANO – Played by Elizabeth Berkley, pre-Showgirls.
- 62A [Cookie that somehow did a Swedish Fish version] OREO -Yuck!!
- 10D [Co. that owns LIfe, Look, and Money] TIME, INC. – Aren’t these all board games, too? My mind went toward HASBRO or something.
- 32D [Hybrid J-Pop group that debuted “Gimme Chocolate!!” in the U.S. in 2016] BABYMETAL – Leave it to Matt, once again, to add in some group I have never heard of! One listen and you’ll see why I haven’t! I am not much of a metalhead.
- 54D [Actress Cannon of “Heaven Can Wait”] DYAN – Crossword famous, since I don’t remember in a recent movie OR a recent Laker game!
That is all for today. Enjoy your week!
Lonnie Burton & Nadine Anderton’s LA Times crossword – Derek’s write-up
This byline is only vaguely familiar to me; I think I may have seen it only once or twice before. I thought last week’s LAT didn’t contain a signature “revealer” theme entry, but I was wrong. This week’s “revealer” is a lot more evident!
- 17A [Microsoft Excel tool] SPREADSHEET
- 24A [Like lutes and mandolins] PEAR-SHAPED
- 36A [Gentle hose setting] FINE SPRAY
- 49A [Stain remover for wrinkle-resistant fabric] PERMA-PRESS
- 58A [Pocket coins, or what can literally be seen in each set of puzzle circles] SPARE CHANGE
Cleanly executed, a nice “a-ha!” moment at the end, and all-in-all a nice puzzle to introduce newbies to. 4.1 stars for this one. Here’s hoping to see more of this byline.
A few more things:
- 15A [Spanish girl] CHICA – Yes, I had an error here, as you can see in the image. I should have known this word, but I had AAH instead of AHH at 7D. Oops!
- 23A [Mount sacred to Judaism] ZION – Nice use of Zs in this puzzle, but still a Q, U, and V away from being pangrammatic.
- 32A [Ex-Yankee Martinez] TINO – Is he still well known outside of the Big Apple? He is in crosswordland, as there is no one else I can think of that goes by this name!
- 42A [Chicken __: itchy malady] POX – I had only a mild case of this when I was younger, but I have already had the shingles! Old age doesn’t look good for me!
- 8D [Mountain chain] SIERRA – This, I believe, refers to the Sierra Nevada mountains, which it seems can be known by just “Sierra.” News to me, though, and this clue seems way too vague, especially for an easier puzzle.
- 22D [Dred Scott decision Chief Justice] TANEY – In light of all the racial tension that has arisen in the recent weeks and months, this nearly 200 year old case still resounds today.
- 40D [FedEx deliveries] PARCELS – No love for Big Brown in this puzzle! The “P” in UPS still STANDS for parcel!
- 43D [Like a bad fake tan] ORANGEY – This clue could have EASILY gotten political!! ;-)
See you on Saturday for another LAT challenger puzzle!