January 29, 2023


Constructor: Zhouqin Burnikel

Editor: Erik Agard

Theme Answers:
MAPLE VENEER (17A: Wood finish for some desks)
GILLETTE VENUS (30A: Razor brand)
LITTLE VENICE (58A: What Venezuela's name means)

Theme synopsis: The two words of each theme answer BREAK the word EVEN.

Things I learned:
  • FAST CAR (37A: 1988 Tracy Chapman hit) "FAST CAR" is the lead single from Tracy Chapman's 1988 self-titled debut album. On June 11, 1988, Tracy Chapman played a three-song set at Nelson Mandela's 70th birthday tribute concert. Stevie Wonder was also scheduled to perform at the concert, but some of his computer programs were missing and he couldn't perform. As a result, Tracy Chapman returned to the stage and sang "FAST CAR" and "Across the Lines." The exposure of "FAST CAR" at the concert helped propel the song to number six on Billboard's Hot 100 chart. In addition, Tracy Chapman won a Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance.
  • ARI (53A: The Slits singer ___ Up) The Slits were a punk band based in London. ARI Up (1962-2010) was a vocalist and founding member of The Slits.
  • OIL PAINT (4D: Medium for Amy Sillman) Amy Sillman is a contemporary American painter. Her abstract OIL PAINTings have been displayed at museums across the world, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Tate Modern.
  • ARE (8D: First word sung in "Footsteps in the Dark") "Footsteps in the Dark" is a 1977 song by The Isley Brothers. The song begins with the words, "ARE we really sure / Can a love that lasted for so long still endure?"
  • MINT JULEP (12D: Cocktail in a Clovers song title) "One MINT JULEP" is a 1952 song by the Clovers. Ray Charles covered the song in 1961.
Random thoughts and interesting things:
  • SMH (11A: "I have no words, ugh") SMH = shaking my head
  • WASP (54A: Mud dauber, for example) Mud dauber is a name used for a number of WASPs that build their nests out of mud. It is the female WASPs that build the nest, using their mandibles to mold the mud.
  • ROSIE (67A: "Birds of Prey" actress Perez) Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) is a 2020 movie based on DC Comics superheroes. ROSIE Perez plays the role of Renee Montoya, a detective in the Gotham City Police Department.
  • STAR ANISE (11D: Key ingredient in five-spice powder) Five spice powder is a spice mixture commonly used in Chinese, Hawaiian, and Vietnamese cuisine. Though there are many variations of the mixture (some containing more than five spices), many contain STAR ANISE, cloves, cinnamon, Sichuan pepper, and fennel seeds.
  • ALICE (25D: "The Half of It" director Wu) ALICE Wu wrote and directed the 2020 movie, The Half of It. The film, which is a loose modern retelling of Cyrano de Bergerac (an 1897 play), is about a teenager that agrees to write love letters for a jock, and in the process develops feelings for the letters' recipient.
  • EARTH (31D: Astronaut's home planet) I really enjoyed this clue.
  • EIGHT (52A: Lucky number in Taiwan) In Taiwanese culture, the number EIGHT is associated with wealth (it is similar to the Chinese word for prosperity), and is considered to be lucky. 
  • TARO (59A: Ingredient in some purple mochi) Mochi is pounded sticky rice that has been molded into cakes, and often has a sweet filling inside. TARO is a root vegetable similar to potato, but with a slightly sweet flavor. TARO flesh turns a purple color when cooked. TARO can be used as a filling for mochi.

    Geography review:

    • LITTLE VENICE (58A: What Venezuela's name means) The South American country of Venezuela  is comprised of land on the northern coast of the continent and many islands in the Caribbean Sea. The capital of Venezuela is Caracas. When the Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci visited this area in 1499, the stilt houses in the area reminded him of Venice, so he named the region Veneziola, which is Italian for "LITTLE VENICE." The Spanish version of Veneziola is Venezuela.
    • ELK (68A: Animal on Michigan's flag) The ELK is not the only animal on Michigan's flag. The state's flag also has a moose and an eagle. In addition to three animals, Michigan's flag also contains three mottos in Latin: E Pluribus Unum (Out of many, one), Tuebor (I will defend), and Se Quæris Peninsulam Amœnam Circumspice (If you seek a pleasant peninsula, look about you).
    • AIRES (55D: Buenos ___, Argentina) Buenos AIRES is the capital and largest city in Argentina.
    When I saw the title of today's puzzle, I suspected we might see the word EVEN broken, with part of the word appearing at the beginning of the theme answer, and the rest of the word at the end. It was nice to be surprised with an interior BREAK. Four of the five things I learned from today's puzzle point out that apparently my musical knowledge is pretty weak! I'm always learning. Thank you, Zhouqin, for this puzzle that was an enjoyable way to start my Sunday.
    One more thing: A number of crossword constructors who are parents have worked together to make a pack of puzzles - "Grids for Kids" - that will be used to raise money for child-related charities. The puzzle pack will be available February 4 (I promise to remind you), but a sample puzzle is available now. That puzzle, titled "Growth Chart" was constructed by myself and Matt Forest. Feel free to solve the sample puzzle; I'm pretty happy with how it turned out.