July 15, 2020

Constructors: Susan Smolinsky & Zhouqin Burnikel
Editor: Erik Agard

Theme Answers:
WATER SIGNS (17A: Scorpio and Pisces, in astrology)
COLOR GUARD (55A: Marching band accompaniment)
FIFTH AVENUE (10D: Candy bar named for a Big Apple thoroughfare)
BIG BOX STORE (24D: Large retailer)

Theme synopsis: The first word of each theme answer can be placed in FRONT of the word WHEEL to form a common phrase: WATER WHEEL, COLOR WHEEL, FIFTH WHEEL, BIG WHEEL.

Things I learned:
  • RUTH (25A: Costume designer ___ E. Carter) RUTH E. Carter won an Academy Award for Best Costume Design for her work on Black Panther, making her the first Black person to win an Academy Award in that category. RUTH has been a costume designer for over thirty years, working with a number of directors and actors on over 45 films, including Selma, What's Love Got to Do With It, and Sparkle.
  • CAIMANS (29A: Alligator relatives) CAIMANS are in the order Crocodilia and the family Alligatoridae, which gives you a good indication of their relatives. CAIMANS inhabit Mexico and Central and South America, living in marshes, swamps, rivers, and lakes.
  • ANNE (61A: Activist Braden) Raised in Anniston, Alabama in the 1920s and 1930s, ANNE Braden didn't question racial segregation until she went to college. She became a civil rights activist and dedicated herself to fighting for racial equality the rest of her life. She said, "Either you find a way to oppose the evil, or the evil becomes part of you and you are part of it, and it winds itself around your soul like the arms of an octopus... If I did not oppose it, I was...responsible for its sins."
  • NOLAN (63A: Hockey star Ted) Ted NOLAN played for the Detroit Red Wings, and Pittsburgh Penguins in the NHL. NOLAN was also a coach for a number of teams including the Buffalo Sabres. Ted NOLAN is a member of the Ojibwe tribe, a First Nations people.
  • BLACK CAT (37D: Pet celebrated on Oct. 27) It's true - October 27 is National BLACK CAT Day! The day aims to celebrate BLACK CATS and raise awareness about their low rates of adoption. BLACK dogs also have a lower rate of adoption than other dogs, so the reasons are not all due to superstition. When I was growing up, we had a BLACK CAT and a BLACK dog. They were such good friends that when our dog died, the CAT died a week later. The vet told us she died of grief. If you are looking for a new pet friend, consider adopting a BLACK CAT, even if it isn't October 27.
Random thoughts and interesting things:
  • LORI (15A: "A League of Their Own" actress Petty) LORI Petty played the role of Kit Keller in A League of Their Own. More recently, she played the recurring role of Lolly Whitehill in Orange is the New Black
  • TAX RATE (42A: Bracket stat) Just a reminder that today is Tax Day!
  • SCURRY (44A: What chicks and ducks and geese better do, in song) "Chicks and ducks and geese better SCURRY/ When I take you out in the surrey,/ When I take you out in the surrey with the fringe on top!" I hope you sang that line from "The Surrey with the Fringe on Top" in your best musical singing voice. The song is from the musical Oklahoma ("Where the wind comes sweeping down the plain...") I admit that I know the song best because it is also sung in the movie When Harry Met Sally.
  • FETE (46A: Lavish party) Like ELUDE/EVADE, FETE and GALA are another pair that are of the same length and often clued similarly. 
  • FLOAT (46D: Root-beer-and-ice-cream treat) At some point it became a tradition in our family to celebrate the first and last days of school with pizza and root beer FLOATs. Our kids even continued this tradition when they went away to college.
Geography review:
  • NIGER (30D: West African river) The NIGER River is the third longest river in Africa. It's path is a crescent shape, beginning in Guinea and running through Mali, Niger, Benin, and Nigeria, before emptying into the Gulf of Guinea in the Atlantic Ocean.
I admit that I struggled a bit more with this puzzle than usual. At first I had WAIL instead of BAWL (1D: Cry loudly) and WOWS instead of AWES (21A: Bowls over), making the northeast corner a challenge. Sometimes you just aren't on the same wavelength as the puzzle. That's okay, if I didn't enjoy being challenged, I wouldn't be working crossword puzzles! I particularly appreciated learning about RUTH E. Carter, ANNE Braden, and National BLACK CAT Day.