January 23, 2024


Constructor: Emma Lawson

Editor: Jared Goudsmit

Theme Answers:
KING COBRA (19A: The world's largest venomous snake)
QUEEN OF THE NIGHT (36A: Whitney Houston hit featured in "The Bodyguard")
PAWN SHOPS (55A: Places to trade jewelry for fast cash)

Theme synopsis: The OPENING word of each theme answer is a CHESS piece. Today's CHESS OPENINGS feature a KING, a QUEEN, and a PAWN.

Things I learned:
  • LONE (62A: "___ Wolf and Cub" (manga series)) LONE Wolf and Cub is a Japanese manga series by Kazuo Koike (writer) and Goseki Kojima (artist). The series was originally published between 1970-1976. It is the story of a master swordsman (the LONE Wolf) who becomes an assassin after being disgraced by false accusations. He is accompanied on his journey by his young child (the Cub). The series has been adapted into several films, plays, and a TV series. LONE Wolf and Cub is considered to be the first example of the "Badass and Child Duo" trope characterized by an adult taking a child on a dangerous journey.
  • MGM (57D: "Saltburn" movie studio) Saltburn is a 2023 movie about an Oxford student (Oliver, portrayed by Barry Keoghan) obsessed with a fellow student (Felix, portrayed by Jacob Elordi). Saltburn is the name of Felix's family's estate. The dark comedy is written and directed by Emerald Fennell. 
Random thoughts and interesting things:
  • CACTI (8A: Prickly pears and saguaros) Prickly pear CACTI have distinctive large, flat, paddle-shaped growths, that are called cladodes. These cladodes grow in clusters. The pads of prickly pear CACTI are edible, and known as nopales. Saguaro CACTI are tall and columnar, growing to heights of over 40 feet. Saguaro branches are referred to as arms. 
  • TRAN (13A: "Raya and the Last Dragon" actress Kelly Marie) Raya and the Last Dragon is a 2021 animated Disney movie. Kelly Marie TRAN voices the character of Raya, a warrior princess training to become a Guardian of the Dragon Gem.
  • ARIA (16A: Solo such as "Donna non vidi mai") "Donna non vidi mai" ("I have never seen a woman") is an ARIA from Manon Lescaut, an opera by Giacomo Puccini. This ARIA is for a tenor. Here's a video of Luciano Pavarotti singing "Donna non vidi mai."
  • HUGS (17A: "Hi, everyone! I'm Olaf, and I like warm ___") In the 2013 movie Frozen (Has it really been over 10 years since this movie was released?!), Olaf is the snowman. He introduces himself to Anna, Kristoff, and Sven (the reindeer) with the line, "Hi, everyone! I'm Olaf, and I like warm HUGS."
  • KING COBRA (19A: The world's largest venomous snake) The KING COBRA, a venomous snake species native to Asia, has an average length of 10 to 13 feet. The world's longest snake, the reticulated python, can be over twice as long as the KING COBRA, but is nonvenomous.
  • EVE (22A: "Killing ___" (Sandra Oh show)) Killing EVE is a British TV series about an investigator, Eve Polastri, who is tracking the psychopathic assassin, Villanelle. Sandra Oh portrays Eve, and Jodie Comer plays the role of Villanelle.
  • AOC (29A: Congresswoman born in the Bronx, for short) Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) represents New York's 14th congressional district (which includes portions of the Bronx, Queens, and Riders Island in New York City) in the U.S. House of Representatives. AOC was 29 years old when she took office, making her the youngest woman to serve in the U.S. Congress.
  • QUEEN OF THE NIGHT (36A: Whitney Houston hit featured in "The Bodyguard") The Bodyguard is a 1992 movie starring Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner. The song "QUEEN OF THE NIGHT" plays during the movie's closing credits. 
  • IGA (42A: Tennis champ Swiatek) IGA Świątek is a professional tennis player from Poland. She won the French Open in 2020, 2022, and 2023, and the U.S. Open in 2022.
  • NOAH (25D: "Black Adam" actor Centineo) Black Adam is a 2022 movie based on the DC comics character of the same name. Dwayne Johnson plays the role of the title character, and NOAH Centineo portrays Atom Smasher, aka Albert "Al" Rothstein, a Justice Society member who can manipulate his size and strength by controlling his molecular structure.
  • THOR (14D: Hammer-wielding Avenger) THOR's magical hammer is named Mjölnir.
  • IRONIC (45D: Like a librarian getting shushed by a visitor) Ha! This is an excellent clue.
  • LUPITA (46D: Actress Nyong'o) Lupita Nyong'o plays the role of Nakia in the 2018 movie Black Panther. She has also written a children's book, Sulwe, which I have previously written about. 

    Geography review:

    • SEINE (18A: River near the Eiffel Tower) The Eiffel Tower is a 1,083-foot tower made out of wrought-iron latticework. It is located in Paris, France, where it was built as the centerpiece of the 1889 World's Fair. The Eiffel Tower is near the SEINE River, which runs through the city of Paris.
    • AMES (28D: Iowa State University city) AMES, Iowa is the home of Iowa State University. Iowa City, Iowa, where I live, is the home to the University of Iowa. As you might imagine, the two universities enjoy a friendly rivalry. I have a degree from the University of Iowa, and my husband and son have degrees from Iowa State, so our household is split in its loyalties.
    • SAMOA (50D: Savai'i's country) The Polynesian island country of SAMOA consists of two main islands – Savai'i and Upolu – and eight smaller islands. Located south of the equator in the Pacific Ocean, SAMOA is about halfway between Hawaii and New Zealand, and about 715 miles southeast of the island country of Tuvalu. Although the island of Savai'i is larger than Upolu, it is less populated. The capital of SAMOA, Apia, is located on Upolu.

    There are many different CHESS OPENINGS – sequences of plays commonly encountered at the beginning of a CHESS game - such as the Sicilian Defense, the Ruy Lopez, or the Four Knights Game. Here, however, are CHESS OPENINGS are much simpler (Thank goodness!), involving phrases that begin with the name of CHESS pieces. I know enough about the game of CHESS to be familiar with the pieces and how they move, and it was enjoyable to uncover each piece in the grid. Thank you, Emma, for this terrific puzzle.