Title: TOGETHER IN THE END
Constructor: Matthew Stock
Editors: Erik Agard & Paolo Pasco
BARBECUE JOINT (20A: Place that serves brisket)
SAVINGS BOND (35A: Investment option)
INCOME BRACKET (54A: 53-Across grouping)
Theme synopsis: The END word of each theme answer - JOINT, BOND, BRACKET - can be a place where things have come TOGETHER
And now a word from our constructor:
Matthew: So far when making USA Today puzzles, I’ve most often come up with the title first and then found themers that match. This puzzle is a rare outlier — the title came much later, though I think it fits the theme really nicely! My favorite entry in the puzzle is BARBECUE JOINT, which makes this native Dallasite a bit homesick and a lot hungry. I’m grateful to the editing team for keeping my FLOOR is LAVA cross-reference in that top right corner and for encouraging me to add extra black squares like the ones to the left of the O and to the right of the A in TOGAS, which made clean fill much much easier. Thanks for reading, and hope you enjoyed!
Things I learned:
- NENE (18A: TV star Leakes) NENE Leakes was an original cast member on the reality TV series The Real Housewives of Atlanta. She also played the recurring character of Roz Washington on the TV series, Glee.
- EDEN (57D: Actress Riegel) EDEN Riegel played the role of Bianca Montgomery in the TV series All My Children.
Random thoughts and interesting things:
- HEMS (6A: Fabric edges) This clue is fine, but my brain decided to completely overthink it. I wanted it to be selvages (the unfinished edges of fabric) which obviously didn't fit! It took most of the crossings for me to see HEMS.
- LAVA (16A: "(10-Down) is ___" (Netflix show)) and FLOOR (10D: Surface opposite the ceiling) Fun clue pairing! If you remember playing a game as a child where you jumped on the furniture with the objective of avoiding touching the FLOOR because you were pretending it was LAVA, then you understand the Netflix show FLOOR is LAVA. The game show is based on the children's game, the difference being that on the show the FLOOR is covered with 80,000 gallons of goop simulating LAVA. Winners of the game show receive a trophy in the form of a LAVA lamp and $10,000. FLOOR is LAVA was released in the summer of 2020, which USA Today has dubbed "TV's summer of silliness." The show has been popular with people looking for ways to escape the realities of COVID-19 and social and political unrest.
- SAILOR (50A: "___ Moon" (anime series)) The anime series SAILOR Moon is based on a Japanese manga (graphic novel) series of the same name written and illustrated by Naoko Takeuchi. The protagonist of the series is a schoolgirl, Tsukino Usagi, who can transform into the superhero, SAILOR Moon.
- DENS (58A: Hibernation stations) Fun, playful clue!
- ANKLE (68A: Joint above the foot) This clue contains a word that also appears in one of the theme answers. There's no strict crossword rule against such dupes. (Constructors seem to like to spend time discussing this topic though!) My concern with a dupe such as this is that it can be confusing for solvers. When I reached this clue, I had already filled in BARBECUE JOINT, so it didn't pose a problem. If I had encountered this clue first, I might have second guessed whether BARBECUE JOINT could be correct since I'd seen the word JOINT in a clue. So, not a deal breaker, but it would be nice to avoid this when possible.
- ART (2D: "The Earth without ___ is just 'eh") Great clue! I've always liked this saying, so enjoyed seeing it here. If you remove the letters ART from the word Earth, you are left with the letters EH.
- TASTES (13D: Flavors) The placement of TASTES crossing BARBECUE JOINT was delicious.
- HER (24D: "Hard Place" singer) I learned about the singer H.E.R. from the August 9 puzzle, and remembered it when I saw this clue today! H.E.R. is the stage name of Gabriella Wilson, and stands for Having Everything Revealed.
- LOSES (51D: Disobeys Simon, say) This reference to the game "Simon Says" made me smile - a fun way to clue the word LOSES.
- PAWNEE (48A: Nation in Oklahoma) The PAWNEE are an indigenous people who were historically based on the land which is now the states of Nebraska and Kansas. Today they are headquartered in PAWNEE, Oklahoma.
- ERIE (63A: The E in HOMES) HOMES is a mnemonic useful for remembering the names of the Great Lakes: Huron, Ontario, Michigan, ERIE, Superior.
- ANKARA (49D: Turkey's capital) ANKARA has been Turkey's capital since 1923 and is its second-largest city. Turkey's largest city is its former capital, Istanbul.
There's a lot to like in this puzzle. There were a lot of clues that made me say, "Oh, nice!" In addition to the things I highlighted above, I enjoyed the playful answers DON'T TALK and I DARE YOU. As I was solving, I noticed two sub-themes in this puzzle. The first sub-theme was "You're making me hungry," and included the TASTES of BARBECUE JOINT, PHO, TEXMEX, JELLO, SNOW PEA, PANERA, and PICNIC. The second sub-theme was "This is getting expensive," and included TOLL, TAX, and FARES. Good thing there was a SAVINGS BOND included to cover all those fees! This puzzle was a delightful start to my Thursday. (Now I'm going to get a snack!)