July 23, 2020

Constructor: Brooke Husic
Editor: Erik Agard

Theme Answers:
DEFICIENCIES (20A: Shortcomings)
NO PLACE LIKE HOME (36A: "Ah, the comfort of my own bed!)
STUDIO GHIBLI (53A: "Spirited Away" production company)

Theme synopsis: The start of each theme answer is a string of letters that occur consecutively in the alphabet. STUDIO GHIBLI has a consecutive letter string at the start of each word.

And now a word from our constructor:
Brooke: I'm fond of this one! It's definitely a puzzle where the editing really elevated both the theme entries and the clues. Also, the bottom line of the grid ended up being a secret message.

Things I learned:
  • RIRI (33A: Nickname for Fenty Beauty's founder) Fenty Beauty is a cosmetics brand launched by singer Rihanna, whose full name is Robyn Rihanna Fenty. The brand includes extensive shade offerings to be inclusive across a wide range of skin tones. Fenty Beauty was named one of Time magazine's best inventions of 2017.
  • PHAIR (51A: Lilith Fair musician (and homophone of a word in this clue)) Lilith Fair is a concert tour that took place in the summers of 1997, 1998, 1999, and 2010. It consisted solely of female solo artists and female-led bands. Lilith Fair was started in response to musician Sarah McLachlan's frustration with concert promoters and radio stations that refused to feature two female musicians in a row. In its initial three-year run, Lilith Fair raised over $10 million for charity. Liz PHAIR was one of the Lilith Fair performers in 1998 and 1999.
  • STUDIO GHIBLI (53A: "Spirited Away" production company) STUDIO GHIBLI is an animation film STUDIO headquartered in Tokyo, Japan. Spirited Away is the second-highest-grossing anime film made in Japan, and won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature Film in 2003. The STUDIO took its name from the Italian word, GHIBLI, which is based on a Libyan Arabic word referring to a hot desert wind. STUDIO GHIBLI aimed to "blow a new wind through the anime industry."
Random thoughts and interesting things:
  • GRAHAM (7A: ___ crackers) Several years ago, I posted a comment on social media about how my pets (at the time, two cats and a dog) were immediately at my side and begging insistently whenever I ate GRAHAM crackers. It was this social media post that led to a friend bringing my attention to the interesting history of GRAHAM crackers. GRAHAM crackers are a sweet cracker made with GRAHAM flour, a coarse-ground whole wheat flour. Sylvester GRAHAM,  a 19th-century preacher for whom the flour was named, believed God intended people to live with minimal pleasure and stimulation. GRAHAM encouraged his followers to eat a vegetarian diet that included bread made from wheat ground coarsely at home.  GRAHAM crackers were created for his followers. Sylvester GRAHAM believed that adhering to his prescribed diet would prevent people from having impure thoughts (and actions!) Think on these things the next time you eat a s'more!
  • EPHRON (34A: "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants" screenwriter Delia) It's only been two days since we saw the main characters of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants in the puzzle. Delia Ephron also wrote the screenplay for You've Got Mail and has published several novels, including The Girl with the Mermaid Hair.
  • AMY (66A: Character in "Little Women" or "The 39 Clues") The main characters of Little Women are the March sisters - Meg, Jo, Beth, and AMY. The 39 Clues is a series of adventure novels that chronicles the escapades of two siblings - AMY and Dan Cahill.
  • LORDE (1D: "The Master's Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master's House" author Audre) Audre Lorde described herself as "Black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet." LORDE used her creative talent to confront injustices, including racism, sexism, classism, heterosexism, and homophobia.
  • RENEE (8D: Tony winner ___ Elise Goldberry) RENEE Elise Goldberry won a Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical for her portrayal of Angelica Schuyler in Hamilton. Angelica Schuyler sings my favorite number of the musical, "Satisfied." If you've recently watched Hamilton on Disney+, you know why RENEE Elise Goldberry won a Tony Award. (Also, as mentioned previously, I'm partial to the name RENEE.)
  • NOAH (36D: Singer Cyrus) NOAH Cyrus released her debut single, "Make Me (Cry)" in 2016. If your first thought when you read the clue was Miley, Trace, or Brandi, those are NOAH's siblings. If your first thought was Billy Ray, that's NOAH's dad.
  • PAD (44D: DivaCup alternative) DivaCup is a brand of menstrual cup, a feminine hygiene device. Kudos to crossword puzzles that normalize the discussion of menstruation and feminine hygiene. If the mention of DivaCup or PAD in a crossword puzzle makes you uncomfortable (and it might), take a step back and ask yourself if you are equally bothered by the frequent crossword appearance of the word BRA - over 30 appearances in the first half of 2020. (Meanwhile, JOCK STRAP, BRIEFS, and BOXERS have yet to appear this year.) Okay, stepping off of my soap box now.
Geography review:
  • RIO (17A: ___ Grande) The RIO Grande River begins in Colorado and flows to the Gulf of Mexico. The RIO Grande serves as part of the natural border between Texas and Mexico.
  • GUAM (56D: Largest island in Micronesia) Micronesia is a region in the western Pacific ocean composed of thousands of small islands. As we learned two days ago, GUAM is also where many Chamorros live.
I'm guessing STUDIO GHIBLI might be new to many solvers, as it was to me. It's a great find for this theme set. I did a quick search to look for other words beginning with the GHI letter string, and now I'm hungry for GHIrardelli chocolate! This was an enjoyable solve, with an "aha" moment when I discovered the theme. I also appreciated learning about Rihanna's cosmetics line. Brooke will have to let us know if AMY TAN texts her!