November 18, 2020


Constructor: Zhouqin Burnikel

Editor: Erik Agard

Theme Answers:
HOPE THIS HELPS (20A: Closing remark from someone answering a query)
ROPE TOWS (33A: Ways up ski slopes)
CAPETOWN (39A: South Africa's second-largest city)
GRAPE TOMATOES (52A: Oblong ingredients in a salad)

Theme synopsis: Each theme answer contains the letter string, P-E-T, thus making it a PET CARRIER.

Things I learned:
  • SHEA (9A: Drag queen Coulee) SHEA Couleé competed on season 9 of RuPaul's Drag Race, and was the winner of season 5 of RuPaul's Drag Race All Stars. Also a musician, SHEA released their debut EP, Couleé-D in 2017.
  • OGRE (19A: Aqua-skinned creature in Tamora Pierce's "Wolf-Speaker") Wolf-Speaker is the second book in Tamora Pierce's four-part series, The Immortals. The quartet of books tells the story of Daine, an orphan with the ability to speak with animals.
  • POT (29D: Budae-jjigae holder) Budae-jjigae is a spicy sausage stew made with ham, sausage, spam, baked beans, kimchi, and gochujang. Budae-jjigae was created shortly after the end of the Korean War, using ingredients from U.S. army bases, and its name translates to "army base stew." I like this clue. Although I was previously unfamiliar with budae-jjigae, the three-letter answer was easily inferable from crossing answers and the word "holder" in the clue. As a result, I have now learned something new!
Random thoughts and interesting things:
  • CHEF (44A: Sohla El-Waylly's profession) CHEF Sohla El-Waylly creates a monthly feature for Food 52 called "Off-Script with Sohla," in which she introduces a basic cooking technique and discusses recipe variations using the technique. She also works with Andrew Rea to produce a series of weekly Stump Sohla videos on the Babish Culinary Universe YouTube channel. El-Waylly formerly worked for Bon Appétit, resigning earlier this year citing the company's discriminatory policies. 
  • THEE (60A: Tina Snow aka Megan ___ Stallion) Tina Snow is the alter ego of rapper Megan THEE Stallion. In October, Megan THEE Stallion wrote an Op-ed for The New York Times, "Why I Speak Up for Black Women." This link may be behind a pay wall, but I encourage you to find a way to read it, as it's well-written, thought-provoking, and important. Black Lives Matter. Black Women Matter. 
  • IRENE (47D: Actress Bedard) IRENE Bedard played the role of Suzy Song in Smoke Signals, a 1998 movie which was an all-Indigenous American production. In 2012, Bedard teamed up with Thomas Denomme to create Sleeping Lady Films and Waking Giants Productions, in order to produce positive, inspirational stories from Native North America.
  • TARA (54D: "Educated" memoirist Westover) TARA Westover's memoir, Educated, debuted at number one on The New York Times bestseller list. Westover was chosen as one of Time magazine's 100 most influential people of 2019. Educated describes TARA's journey from growing up isolated from the world in the mountains of Idaho, to completing a PhD program in history at Cambridge University. 

    Geography review:
    • CAPETOWN (39A: South Africa's second-largest city) CAPETOWN is the legislative capital of South Africa. It is second in size to Johannesburg. Today is the second day in a row we've seen a clue about South Africa. (Yesterday we learned about the country's motto.) In 1976, when he was a junior in high school, my husband spent a year in South Africa as an exchange student. I didn't know him at the time, but from his stories, I know it was a world-expanding experience for a boy who had grown up in a small Iowa town. 
    • COTE (62A: ___ d'Ivoire) COTE d'Ivoire is a country on the south coast of West Africa. Its political capital is Yamoussoukro, and the country's economic capital and largest city is Abidjan.
    • IDAHO (1D: The Gem State) This official state nickname of IDAHO is a reference to its natural beauty and the variety of gems found in the state. 
    • O'HARE (31D: America's third-busiest airport) O'HARE International airport (ORD) is in Chicago, Illinois.
    I enjoyed this puzzle with its PET-carrying theme answers. HOPE THIS HELPS was delightful - such a ubiquitous phrase in the world of presentations and question-answering. I am fond of GRAPE TOMATOES, so was able to fill that in easily. HUGS IT OUT is a nice long bonus answer. This puzzle was a delightful start to my Wednesday.
    If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know that one of the many reasons I am a fan of the USA Today puzzle, under Erik Agard's editorial leadership, is its commitment to actively work on inclusivity and representation with regards to both puzzle constructors and answers and clues seen in the puzzle. A recent article on The Pudding, titled "Who's in the Crossword?" takes a look at representation and inclusivity in crossword puzzles. I recommend the article. Here's one quote: "USA Today is the one publication that actually over-represents historically underrepresented groups." Keep it up, Erik and team!