Title: UNITED FRONT
Constructor: Zhouqin Burnikel
Editor: Erik Agard
STATES OF MIND (18A: Moods)
KINGDOM HEARTS (35A: Video game series in which a hooded Mickey Mouse asks, "Say, fellas, did somebody mention the Door to Darkness?")
WAY OUT OF LINE (55A: Totally uncalled for)
Theme synopsis: When the word UNITED is placed in FRONT of the first word of each theme answer, a new phrase is formed: UNITED STATES, UNITED KINGDOM, UNITED WAY.
Things I learned:
- KINGDOM HEARTS (35A: Video game series in which a hooded Mickey Mouse asks, "Say, fellas, did somebody mention the Door to Darkness?") The KINGDOM HEARTS video game series is a collaboration between Square Enix, the game's developer, and Disney. In the game, the main character, Sora, interacts with various Disney, Square Enix, and Pixar characters.
- NOAH (13D: "To All the Boys I've Loved Before" actor Centineo) To All the Boys I've Loved Before is based on Jenny Han's book of the same name. When Han was a teenager, she wrote (undelivered) letters to boys she had a crush on. This habit was the inspiration for the book about a teenager, Lara, who wrote such letters. Unbeknownst to Lara, her sister mails the letters. In the film adaptation, NOAH Centino plays the role of Peter, a recipient of one of the letters.
- WTA (21D: Org. for Simona Halep) Simona Halep was the World Tennis Association's (WTA's) Most Popular Player of the Year in 2014 and 2015. In 2019, Halep defeated Serena Williams in the Wimbledon finals, and became the first Romanian player to win a Wimbledon singles title.
- ODD LOT (32D: Small stock purchase) Stocks are typically traded in 100 share increments. Anything less than 100 shares is considered an ODD LOT.
Random thoughts and interesting things:
- CGI (25A: Tech hidden in "Cosmic Girls") CGI stands for computer-generated imagery. Cosmic Girls is a 13-member South Korean-Chinese girl group. Their eighth mini album, titled Neverland, was released in June of this year. I was hoping Cosmic Girls was a movie that utilized CGI so that the clue had a double meaning. Ah, well - still a fun find.
- TOMEI (26A: "The Big Short" actress Marisa) In The Big Short, Marisa TOMEI played the role of Cynthia Baum, the wife of Mark Baum. Steve Carell played the role of Mark, one of the film's four main characters. Marisa TOMEI also portrays Aunt May in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
- NOEL (31A: Name that's another name in reverse) This is the type of clue that I always skip and just wait until I have a couple of letters from crosses that can help me deduce the answer. Does anyone read these types of clues and immediately have the answer pop into their head?
- GOOFS (64A: Makes a blunder) and ERRS (67A: Makes a blunder) This corner of the puzzle felt like it was full of mistakes... Okay, my joke may be a mistake, but the repetitive clue was nicely done.
- MINT OREO (5D: Dairy Queen Blizzard flavor) and ICEE (6D: Slush Puppie alternative) Anyone else suddenly hungry for a frozen treat?
- OCELOT (50D: Rainforest predator) The OCELOT is a medium-sized wild cat. The OCELOT's length is 21 to 39 inches, not counting its tail which can be 12 to 17 inches long. Ocelots weigh is between 15 to 34 pounds. In comparison, domestic cats average 18 inches in body length (plus a 12 inch tail) and weigh 9 to 11 pounds (although there have been domestic cats that weighed up to 46 pounds!) Essentially, an OCELOT is a bit larger than a house cat. OCELOTs are native to the southwestern United States, Mexico, Central America, and South America.
- BAYLOR (46D: University in Waco) Waco is a city in central Texas. BAYLOR University is a private Baptist university and is the oldest continuously operating university in Texas. BAYLOR was established in 1845.
This puzzle played on the challenging side for me, but that could honestly be more a result of my exhaustion following a long week, rather than a reflection on the puzzle. It took my brain a long time to see WHO'S WHO (21A: Listing of notables). This was in part due to my mind refusing to think of any answer except BEEP for HONK (22D: Sound the horn). I had the K of HONK and my mind still wanted the answer to be BEEP - as I said, I'm a bit tired!
In spite of my self-imposed challenges, this puzzle was an enjoyable solve. When the first two theme answers paired with UNITED to form country names (UNITED STATES and UNITED KINGDOM), I found myself wishing there was another "UNITED" country that would work for the theme. Alas, UNITED Arab Emirates is the only other country whose name begins with the word UNITED.
Overall, an enjoyable solve and good exercise for my tired brain.