November 30, 2020


Constructor: Adesina O. Koiki

Editor: Erik Agard

Theme Answers:
FLOORBOARDS (21A: They might creak when stepped on)
SORBETS (39A: Light frozen desserts)
TRACTOR BEAM (57A: Sci-fi ray) 
FORBIDDING (3D: Unfriendly in appearance)
BOOM OR BUST (30D: Like some risky propositions)

Theme synopsis: Each theme answer contains a HIDDEN BALL - an ORB.

And now a word from our constructor:
Adesina: Initially, I thought about a grid in which a word that describes a type of ball was hidden in a longer word, e.g. DISCO in DISCOGRAPHY. From there, I would have all these entries that had hidden balls and, possibly have the entry "HIDDEN BALL TRICK" (15) as the reveal. (Absolutely shocking that I would have a sports term included as part of the grid, given my background as a sports journalist/junkie, right?) Of course, Erik weaved his magic when running this idea down to him, and he suggested the hidden "orbs" strategy. And bingo, here we go! There were a few more entries that fit the theme that were being considered, like RAZORBACKS or MAJOR BARBARA, but only so many could make the cut. (No Barbara, but there is a BARB in the grid.)
Usually, I like to have entries related to African geography culture and/or Motown-era music and/or animated TV shows in my grid, and I think I almost got all of them in there. Definitely had an ear worm develop at 8D, and I easily could have made the clue to 41D to the band with the timeless "hey hey hey, goodbye" song. But that will be for another time, I guess!
Many solvers love that they end up learning at least one thing that they didn't know prior to solving. Like my "Sports Will Make You Smarter" entries on Diary of a Crossword Fiend, my hope is that I can enlighten someone about an entry by reimagining the entry by looking at it through a sports lens. In this case, I put an actual sports clue for a landmark African American athlete, Debi Thomas, and being the first Black athlete to medal at the Olympics. At least I hope a few people will look her up after this and find out about the Battle of the Carmens, or her becoming a doctor afterwards, or, sadly, becoming homeless and continuing to bounce back from her misfortune in her post athletic days.

Things I learned:
  • TRACTOR BEAM (57A: Sci-fi ray) Apparently, I don't watch or read enough science fiction, as even after I got this answer I wondered, "Is that right?" In looking up TRACTOR BEAM (which is not just the headlight glare from farm equipment...), I discovered I had encountered this technology in sci-fi stories, and just not realized what it is called. A TRACTOR BEAM has the ability to attract an object from a distance. Often depicted in sci-fi movies as a narrow BEAM of light from a spaceship, one might be used to retrieve cargo, or prevent an enemy from escaping. Interestingly, although the concept originates in science fiction, dating to a 1931 novel, Spacehounds of IPC, researchers have attempted to make a TRACTOR BEAM a reality. Don't get too excited - the results so far have been minimal, and are only successful on a microscopic level.
  • DEBI (64A: ___ Thomas, first Black athlete to medal at the Winter Olympics) DEBI Thomas was the 1986 World Champion in figure skating and won a bronze medal at the 1988 Winter Olympics. At those Olympics in Calgary, Thomas and East German skater, Katarina Witt, both independently elected to skate to the music of the opera Carmen in their long programs. As the skaters had placed first (Witt) and second (Thomas) at the 1987 World Figure Skating Championships, it was speculated the two might win the gold and silver Olympic medals. Therefore, the rivalry became informally known as The Battle of the Carmens. Witt did end up winning the Olympic gold medal, but the silver was won by Canadian Elizabeth Manley as Thomas came in third. I remember watching DEBI Thomas and Katarina Witt skate in the Olympics. I am happy to learn more about her. As Adesina mentioned in his notes, DEBI did go on to become a doctor, an orthopedic surgeon. She's also faced some personal struggles, and in 2015 was featured on an episode of the reality TV series, Iyanla: Fix My Life. The episode was titled "Fix My Fall From Olympic Grace."
Random thoughts and interesting things:
  • ALI (38A: "Ramy" actor Mahershala) Mahershala ALI joined the TV series, Ramy, in its second season, portraying the recurring character, Sheikh ALI Malik. During the late 2000s, ALI recorded rap music as Prince ALI. After releasing an album, Curb Side Service, ALI chose to focus on his acting career rather than touring to promote the album. 
  • OGS (42A: Old-school icons, in hip-hop slang) OG stands for Original Gangster.
  • SVELTE (5D: How someone might look in all-black clothing) It's true, black clothing really makes you look thinner, or more SVELTE. It's science. Our eyes tend to exaggerate light colors, making them look bigger. Also, SVELTE is a fun word to say.
  • TEARS (8D: "The ___ of a Clown" (Miracles hit)) As soon as I read this clue, this song embedded itself as today's earworm. That was before I read Ade's note; it's nice to know I have company! "The Tears of a Clown" was a number one hit for Smokey Robinson and the Miracles in 1970. This is my second crossword-puzzle-induced Miracles earworm in less than a week. (The November 26 puzzle featured "I SECOND That Emotion.") I don't mind, really. I always have some earworm, so at least these are songs I enjoy!
  • TUBAS (28D: Heavy instruments) We used to joke that our son's approach to musical instruments was, "if they're not big, they're not worth playing." He played the tuba in band, and the bass in orchestra. 
  • ANNE (59D: Chef Burrell) ANNE Burrell is the host of the Food Network show, Secrets of a Restaurant Chef, and co-host of Worst Cooks in America
Geography review:
  • OSLO (7D: Norwegian capital) OSLO is the capital and most populous city of Norway. 
  • ISRAEL (10D: Tel Aviv's country) Tel Aviv is the economic and technological center of ISRAEL.
  • ENID (12D: Oklahoma city) ENID, Oklahoma is named after a character in Tennyson's Idylls of the King.
ORB is frequently seen as a crossword answer, often clued referring to the shape of planets, moons, crystal balls, baseballs, etc. Fun to see it HIDDEN today in the theme answers. BOOM OR BUST was my favorite of the theme answers, though I also enjoyed SORBETS in the center of the puzzle. The puzzle would have been fine with four theme answers, but it was nice to have SORBETS as a sort of bonus. Also, it's nice to have SORBETS for dessert. Today is Adesina's first USA Today puzzle - welcome! I enjoyed reading his notes on the puzzle, and appreciated how his "puzzle personality" came across in the answers and the clues. It may be true that "Sports Will Make You Smarter," but as regular readers of this blog know, "Everything I know about sports I learned from crossword puzzles." However, I must be getting smarter, because I knew all of the sports-related information in today's puzzle. This puzzle was a delightful way to begin my Monday.