February 14, 2021


Constructor: Zhouqin Burnikel

Editors: Erik Agard & Amanda Rafkin

Guest Blogger: Brooke Husic

Theme Answers:
BABY CARROT (3D: Common veggie tray item)
SWEET ROLL (7D: Glazed breakfast bun)
DOULE DATE (27D: Outing for two couples)
TRASH HEAP (31D: Garbage pile)

Theme synopsis: Each answer begins with a word that can precede TALK: BABY talk, SWEET talk, DOUBLE talk, TRASH talk. The theme answers are vertically oriented; hence "TALK DOWN."

Things I learned:
  • ANCIENT (21A: Like the Zhou dynasty) I knew the Zhou dynasty but I didn't know that it was China's longest dynasty. According to Wikipedia, the Zhou dynasty lasted from 1050 to 771 BCE, is known for its bronzewear, and is when several philosophies, including Taoism, are said to have started.
  • MAYO (58A: Kani salad ingredient) One recipe for Kani salad calls for crab, kelp noodles, cucumber, and carrots (although not BABY CARROTs, I think), and the dressing is made from MAYO, lemon juice, and sriracha. Other recipes don't use noodles or add breadcrumbs.
  • HOSTA (13A: Ornamental plant with broad leaves) HOSTA, also called giboshi, is a plant in the same family as asparagus.
  • SAGE (23D: Herb sacred to many Natives) I read that white SAGE can be used for purification (both the mind/body/spirit and articles or rooms) and desert SAGE has medicinal uses. 

Random thoughts and interesting things:
  • OH WOW (12A: "Incredible!") I liked this entry because, without having any letters from crossing answers, it could have been GREAT or SUPER or several other things. The OH WOW interpretation of "Incredible!" is different than the SUPER interpretation of "Incredible!" and I think that's fun. Similarly, OH WOW could have been clued as "Yikes!"
  • TOY (18A: Elf's creation) I thought this clue was cute. I didn't immediately think of Christmas-lore elves so I was curious about what fantasy-novel-style elves create.
  • ALARM (25A: Anti-theft device) I appreciate this clue because ALARM can be clued in many ways. When I saw this clue, my first thought was a U BOLT bicycle lock.
  • GOOD GAME (38A: "You played well!") This isn't a down answer, but GOOD TALK is also a phrase that you might say to someone after a useful conversation (perhaps a conversation in which OH WOW was also said).
  • OPEN ERA (47A: Tennis since 1968) The OPEN ERA is characterized by tournaments in which amateurs can compete with professionals. Before the OPEN ERA, there were different divisions.
  • EIGHTH (51A: Pizza slice, often) This is a great clue! I have had to clue TENTH a few times in puzzles and I always find it challenging. 
  • SANTA (1D: Target of a NORAD flight tracker) NORAD tracks Santa on December 24 and other flying people/objects the rest of the year (and presumably also on December 24). I thought this was fun to pair with TOY.
  • CRUMB (17D: Part of a fairy tale trail) This clue had a nice ring to it and I liked its thematic and spatial proximity to HAIR (14A: "Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your ___").
  • I LIED (22D: "Alright, that was false") I thought it was fun to clue this as a synonymous statement. I liked the lightheartedness.
  • LEVEE (26D: Chadwick Boseman film role) Boseman's portrayal of the trumpet player LEVEE in 2020's "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" is highly acclaimed.
  • ETS (29D: UFO engineers, perhaps) Maybe they are also tracked by NORAD.
  • ROOKS (44D: Corner chess pieces) I recently read this very entertaining Twitter thread by Elizabeth Sampat about hypothetical chess variants. In one that she calls "Howl's Moving Castle," ROOKS and kings can switch places any turn.
  • POET (48D: Joy Harjo, for one) Joy Harjo is the current U.S. Poet Laureate. She is a member of the Este Mvskokvlke and is the first Native person to be the U.S. Poet Laureate. Both Harjo's poetry and activism concern Native rights and feminism. Here is a link to one of her poems called "An American Sunrise."
  • GELT (53D: Coin-shaped Hanukkah candy) Winter holidays got a lot of real estate in this puzzle! I'm here for it.

Geography review:
  • ARAB (11A: United ___ Emirates) The United ARAB Emirates frequently appear in USA Today puzzles both as the UAE and as clued here. One time when I was cluing UAE I noticed that all the letters of "Dubai" are contained in "Abu Dhabi."
  • MONTE CARLO (16A: Gambling destination on the Riviera) MONTE CARLO is in Monaco about 20 kilometers east of Nice, France. When I was in Nice I thought about cycling to Monaco but I wasn't sure what border crossing by bike would be like. Also, I had cycled 30 km west to Cannes earlier in the week and the path was more difficult to keep track of than I had expected it would be.
  • OMAN (12D: Sultan Qaboos country) Qaboos bin Said Al Said was in office for 50 years (1970-2020) and was the Prime Minister for 48 of those years. In Germany, where I lived for a bit, people joke about how long Angela Merkel has been Chancellor, but she's still 35 years in office short of Sultan Qaboos's time in office.
  • CLE (57D: The Browns, on an NFL scoreboard) The CLEveland Browns are an NFL team in the AFC North with the Steelers, Ravens, and Bengals. 
Hi everyone! You've seen me before as a constructor and for this and the next two Sundays you'll see me on here covering for Sally. I have a blog with pretty hard puzzles and I'm on Twitter. In my "real life" I do biophysics research.

TALKing DOWN to someone is unpleasant, but this puzzle was anything but! I always love Burnikel puzzles and really admire her craft, and as a constructor I'm in awe of her consistently great themes. I was happy to learn about Kani salad and the uses of SAGE, and I really enjoyed the cluing. Speaking of being in awe, I'm super in awe of Sally for doing this every day! It was a really thorough case study of a puzzle for me and I looked up many more topics than I normally do. It took me longer to write this post than it does for me to clue an entire USA Today puzzle! Maybe I'll get faster after doing it two more times this month.

xoxo, Brooke