Elizabeth C. Gorski’s Cr♥ssw♥rd Nation puzzle (Week 344), “Low-Key Affair”—Janie’s take
So… How was your New Year’s celebration? Did you pull all the stops out (perhaps with [One who gets smashed at a party?]—a PIÑATA, in this case…), or was it a more, well, low-key affair? Mine was (happily) pretty much the latter, topped off with a New Year’s Day open-house among loooong-time friends and colleagues. On a bitter winter’s day, this was truly a warm way to welcome 2018. Of course, this is not the kind of low-key affair we’re dealing with in the puzzle. In the puzzle, we’re looking at four vertically placed themers whose last—lowest—word also describes a kind of key. Easy kind of theme, skillfully wrought. The theme set is a strong one, with two grid-spanners and two coming in at 12 letters, which means that the last word of three of the four really go as low as they can go in a 15x grid.
- 3D. [Rhyming tabloid description of Will/Kate’s eldest children] “AN HEIR AND A SPARE.“ This is simply great fill. But do you know the origin of the phrase? Seems it was coined by Consuelo Vanderbilt, Duchess of Marlborough, after the birth of her second son in 1898. For more about the phrase as it applies to Great Britain’s royal family, read on. Spare key. Where do you keep yours?
- 5D. [PBS show underwritten by Gorilla Glue] THIS OLD HOUSE. No actual gorillas factor into the product formulas… If the website is correct, Gorilla Glue’s been around for a decade. TOH, otoh? It’s about to turn 39! House key. When did you finally get one of your own?
- 23D. [Delta document with a barcode] BOARDING PASS. Oh, gosh. Remember the days before barcodes and scanning?… Gone, gone, gone. Although… it is mighty convenient to print out one’s BOARDING PASS in advance of travel. Or to use the BOARDING PASS displayed on one’s smartphone or tablet and forego the printout process altogether. “It’s a new world, Golde…” Pass key.
- 11D. [With “a,” what your therapist may have been in college] PSYCHOLOGY MAJOR. Major key. Music! And the only key of the lot that you can’t hold in your hand. Very glad for this entry.
I really enjoyed solving this puzzle–for the variety in the theme fill, for the variety of keys and associations—and also for the meaty non-theme fill, of which there’s quite a bit. For starters, there’s the schoolyard putdown LAME-BRAIN [He’s no Einstein], and the schoolroom challenge, the ESSAY TEST with its memory-jogging clue [Exam that may cause writer’s
cramp]. That peppy FERRARI is a fine addition to the fill; ditto (in an entirely different vein) AGES AGO, which brings to mind the torchy, melancholic Yip Harburg lyric “Last Night When We Were Young,” whose first two “A” sections end with the words “…ages ago, last night”. (Composer was Harold Arlen. And yes, you do know them. They’re the same team who wrote the score for The Wizard of Oz.)
Then, because I contacted Liz, I learned for sure that neither MUDROOM nor IN A FUNK is a themer-by-design. But… (imho…) each is a kind of bonus item. First of all, I love the idea of homes that have (the luxury of) a MUDROOM and I think MUDROOM makes for great fill. And second of all, room key. Then, too, I think IN A FUNK is equally terrific fill. But come on—funk key? Oh, yes, folks: “FUNK KEY.” Who knew?!
Other highlights? For me, that’d also be INDIGO, PIÑATA and the almost audible “BINGO!” [“You are correct!”] combo. Fave clue today would be the punny [Suffix used with care?] for -FUL. Think about it. Oh—also liked the [Worries] FRETS pair, not because it’s “brilliant,” but because it forced me think about parts-of-speech. “Worries” is a verb here and not, as I thought initially, a noun. Makes a difference…
And that’ll do me for today. Hope 1) that if you’re not living in the sunbelt, that you’re warm enough because, man, it’s been nippy in these parts and elsewhere throughout the country and 2) that getting back to “the old routine” in these post-holiday days won’t put anyone IN A FUNK. On the positive side: for so many, it’s a four-day work week, which may help to ease the transition. However you tranzish [sic], keep solving and come on back next week!
Alice Long’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “’18 Begins” — Laura’s write-up
For the Wall Street Journal‘s first published puzzle of the new year, we have four entries, the clues for which all begin with “18”:
- [17a: 18-wheelers]: TRACTOR TRAILERS
- [24a: 18 years]: US VOTING AGE
- [43a: 18 holes]: ROUND OF GOLF
- [55a: “18 Poems”]: DYLAN THOMAS BOOK
It’s a nice parallel set of clues, with many usual suspects in the fill: OGRE ELSA EKED ORES ACRE.
- Two names I didn’t know: EBRO [2d: River of northern Spain], which seems a bit crosswordese-y, and AMELL [30d: Stephen of TV’s “Arrow”]. Apparently Arrow has been on the CW for five seasons and seems to be the DC Universe equivalent of Daredevil, in the sense that it’s a non-major superhero franchise that has garnered reasonable critical acclaim and a few spin-offs.
- Two names I did know: RABIN [58a: Israel’s Yitzhak], of blessed memory, and IONE [19d: Skye of “Say Anything…”], who hasn’t been in much but crossword grids since her 80s heyday (she also used to be married to Ad-Rock, which I didn’t know).
Zhouqin Burnikel’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s write-up
There are assorted familiar phrases of the “___ order” variety. Zhouqin riffs on them by interpreting them as commands involving verbs, and then coming up with another phrase that would be what you do if you disobey one of those “orders.” [Disobey a rush order?] gets you TAKE IT SLOW. Stop order, MOVE AHEAD. Standing order, HAVE A SEAT. And pecking order, STEAL A KISS. My only quibble is that “rush order” is pretty literally the same in real life and in this theme, whereas the others all take a different angle.
Tough for a Tuesday: OLAV, AHL, NEAP.
Sparkle you don’t expect on a Tuesday: Stacked 10s, with ROOKIE YEAR/EMAIL ALERT and I HAD A BLAST/NAPA VALLEY. (Would have preferred that I HAD A BLAST and HAVE A SEAT didn’t cross each other, what with the “have/had a” overlap.)
Three more things:
- 39a. [Genre for 21 Savage and 50 Cent], RAP. I can’t cosign all the lyrics, but 21 Savage’s “Bank Account” is damned catchy. It’s been getting a lot of radio play of late.
- 57a. [Ukraine’s capital], KIEV. The Sporcle quiz site uses the Kyiv spelling, which I haven’t gotten used to (but if you type in Kiev, your answer’s accepted as correct).
- 15a. [Writer Zora ___ Hurston], NEALE. In 1931, Hurston interviewed Cudjo Lewis, the last surviving slave who’d been brought to these shores on the last slave ship to land (many years after the transatlantic slave trade had been banned). HarperCollins is publishing her account, Barracoon, this May. Learn more at The Root.
3.6 stars from me.
Matt Jones’s Jonesin’ Crossword, “The Somethingest of 2017″ – Derek’s write-up
This time of year we are bombarded with lists for the “Best” or “Worst” or whatever for the newly concluded year, but in Matt’s puzzle, they are just things, or “somethings.” I like this concept, since most of these lists are highly subjective, whereas here you can decide for yourself! Here are the “somethings” of 2017 Matt has chosen:
- 19A [St. Vincent album on a lot of “Best of 2017” lists] MASSEDUCATION – I had to Google this, as I have never heard of it. I wonder what makes it so good?
- 33A [2017 movie that could be Daniel Day-Lewis’s last, if he sticks with retirement] PHANTOM THREAD – Never heard of this either. Matt is the king of not-so-popular popular culture references, so I am not surprised. Here is more info. It looks … intriguing. According to the link, this movie comes out on Jan 18, but I am sure it made an appearance in New York or LA already. Movies like this take a while to get to “flyover country!”
- 41A [Toy fad that caught on in 2017] FIDGET SPINNER – This I HAVE heard of! Chase has about two dozen of these crazy things!
- 54A [Major 2017 event that required special glasses] SOLAR ECLIPSE – I had TOTAL instead of SOLAR at first.
Lots of fun stuff, and a welcome change from other lists we have seen. 4.2 stars for this one.
More to talk about:
- 4A [Curvy letters] GEES – It’s not ESSES!
- 22A [Whitman of TV’s “Parenthood”] MAE – I have seen a few episodes of this. I think she plays the daughter. Good clue: she is likely an up and coming star.
- 39A [365 billion days, in astronomy] EON – EXACTLY 365 billion? ;-)
- 67A [Cartoon skunk Le Pew] PEPE – One of my favorites!
- 1D [Kristen of “The Last Man on Earth”] SCHAAL – I don’t watch this show, but I read about her in an issue of Runner’s World. She was the celebrity runner interviewed in the May 2018 issue, I believe. Here is a link!
- 12D [Beats by __] DRE – I have never had a pair of these. Someday soon, but I think there are better options out there that don’t cost so much.
- 42D [6’11”, say] TALL – Boy, I’ll say! People call ME tall and I am only 6’0″!
Hope your new year is going well! See you next week for another Jonesin’!
John Lampkin’s LA Times crossword – Derek’s write-up
Nice and easy! That is what we want for the day after New Year’s! I have a cold and slight headache (not because of a hangover, mind you!), so an easy puzzle was quite welcome. How easy? Here is the theme:
- 16A [Celebrate with abandon] LET OFF STEAM – Did you think the theme had something to do with New Year’s revelries? So did I!
- 27A [Lift a few weights] PUMP SOME IRON
- 46A [Sunday NBC pubile affairs show] MEET THE PRESS
- 60A [Like a shirt condition suggested by the ends of 16-, 27- amd 46-Across] WRINKLE-FREE
I told you it was simple! Can you smell the starch? The fabric softener? Who doesn’t like freshly pressed clothes? For the mental picture this evokes, as well as the simplicity, we give a solid 4.4 stars!
A few more things:
- 1A [More hot under the collar] MADDER – I admit: I thought about IRATER!
- 14A [Commuter vehicle] AUTO – This seems way to vague. AUTOs are used for much more than commuting, and people commute in many different ways, not just AUTOs. Or maybe it’s just me …
- 55A [Soak in the tub] BATHE – This also seems off. If you get in the tub for a good soak, you’re not necessarily in need of bathing. This has more of a connotation of relaxation. Again, is it just me … ?
- 11D [Position the cursor without clicking] MOUSE OVER – This is great! Only one hit on xwordinfo.com.
- 32D [River drainage region that covers 11 African countries] NILE BASIN – I thought about NILE DELTA, but that surely couldn’t cover 11 countries!
- 48D [Gunpowder element] SULFUR – I think I may have known this at some point long ago, but this seemed to surprise me slightly. I am not a gun person at all, and when I have been around them I don’t remember the smell of sulfur. This one is DEFINITELY just me!
See you on Saturday for the next LAT challenger!