December 10, 2020


Constructor: Erik Agard

Editor: Erik Agard

Theme Answers:
GIFT BASKETS (17A: Deliveries that might contain chocolate turtles)
GIF WITH A HARD G (35A: Pronunciation of an image file type)
IF WE MUST DIE (58A: 1919 Claude McKay poem)

Theme synopsis: The first word of  first theme answer is GIFT. Each successive theme answer removes a letter from (or UNWRAPS) the word GIFT, giving us the progression GIFT - GIF - IF.

Things I learned:
  • KOREAN (15A: Language of "ajeossi" and "ajumma") "Ajeossi" is the KOREAN term for "middle-aged man" or "married man." "Ajumma" is the KOREAN term for "married woman" or "middle-aged woman."
  • EMO (16A: Music genre with a Midwest offshoot) Midwest EMO (sometimes referred to as "second-wave EMO) developed in the 1990s, with bands such as Chamberlain, Cap'n Jazz, and The Get Up Kids. Midwest EMO bands drew more inspiration from indie rock than from hardcore punk. Although I have lived in the Midwest my entire life, I learned about Midwest EMO today, just going to show there's always something to learn. 
Random thoughts and interesting things:
  • JILL (1A: Singer Scott) JILL Scott is a singer-songwriter, poet, and actress. She made back-to-back appearances in the puzzle last month. In May of this year, over 700,00 viewers tuned in to watch JILL Scott and Erykah Badu perform a Verzuz Live Battle on Instagram that lasted three hours.
  • AMERICA (23A: "Angels in ___") Angels in AMERICA is a 2003 HBO miniseries based on a 1991 play of the same name by Tony Kusner. Telling the story of a gay man living with AIDS, it was the most-watched made-for-cable movie in 2003, and is on The Seattle Times' list of "Best of the filmed AIDS portrayals."
  • GIF WITH A HARD G (35A: Pronunciation of an image file type) Ah, the long-standing debate about how to pronounce GIF! Unlike many people, I don't have a strong opinion about how to pronounce GIF, and usually simple try to avoid saying it aloud. However, I do find the debate amusing. In particular, I enjoyed when JIF peanut butter decided to enter the debate earlier this year, and rebranded as "Gif - Hard g pronunciation." Jif even teamed up with Giphy to provide Jif GIFs "whether you're on our side or the wrong side."
  • IF WE MUST DIE (58A: 1919 Claude McKay poem) Claude McKay's poem, "If We Must Die," was published in the July 1919 issue of The Liberator. The poem was a response to white supremacist terrorism that was occurring in the United States at the time - mob attacks by white Americans upon Black communities. Ava DuVernay included a recitation of the poem in her film, August 28: A Day in the Life of a People (which I wrote about on November 9). I encourage you to read the poem. It's strong and powerful. And if you're white (as I am), it may make you uncomfortable. It's a necessary discomfort. Black Lives Matter. (More on that later.)
  • BRIT (18D: "The Vanishing Half" author Bennett) BRIT Bennett's 2020 novel, The Vanishing Half, tells the story of identical twin sisters who witness the lynching of their father in the 1940s. The twins run away to New Orleans, where they choose different paths. The book explores issues of race and identity.
  • ETHEL (30D: Singer Waters) ETHEL Waters was a singer and actress. Her songs include, "Stormy Weather," "Am I Blue?" and "Cabin in the Sky." I learned about ETHEL Waters from the November 19 puzzle, and was able to remember her name today (not always a given!)
  • SELFIE (43D: Something for which knowing your angles might come in handy) This is a great clue, and it made me laugh! I am notoriously bad at taking SELFIEs, and receive a lot of teasing from my children when I'm trying to take a group SELFIE of us. I usually end up handing my phone/camera off to someone with longer arms and a better understanding of angles!
  • MAE (59D: Actress Nina ___ McKinney) Nina MAE McKinney was one of the first Black film stars in the United States. The Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame awarded McKinney a posthumous award in 1978 for her lifetime achievements. The New York Times included an obituary for Nina MAE McKinney in their "Overlooked" series. 
Geography review:
  • ASIA (14A: Home to Malaysia and Mongolia) Malaysia and Mongolia are two of 48 countries in ASIA. The capital of Malaysia is Kuala Lumpur. Mongolia's capital is Ulaanbaatar.
  • SRI (21A: ___ Lanka) SRI Lanka is also a country in ASIA. It is an island country in the Indian Ocean. Its legislative capital is Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte, and its executive and judicial capital is Colombo.
  • GAMBIA (31A: The ___ (African country)) The GAMBIA, officially the Republic of The GAMBIA is the smallest country within mainland Africa. It is named for the GAMBIA River which runs through the country. The capital of The GAMBIA is Banjul.
At first glance, this puzzle is a basic letter-dropping progression, symbolizing a GIFT being UNWRAPPED. Upon closer inspection, IS IT ME? ["Am I imagining things?], or is Erik Agard, in fact, unwrapping some truth for us. The poem IF WE MUST DIE was written about AMERICA in 1919. (Again, I encourage you to follow the link and read the poem.) And yet, in AMERICA in 2020, Black people EN MASSE are continuing to encounter a reality that FEELS BAD ["Oof"] because it is bad. Is it any wonder that Black people are IN NO MOOD [Not feeling like dealing with something] to sugarcoat reality. This puzzle reminded me of Erik's August 17 puzzle  in which OR DOES IT EXPLODE crossed THE FIRE NEXT TIME. Speaking truth through crossword puzzles. Black Lives Matter. What are you doing to show you believe that? Thank you, Erik, for this puzzle which I enjoyed solving and which also educates and challenges me.
Please note: This post reflects my interpretation of and reaction to the puzzle. I do not intend to suggest I know Erik's intention. 


  1. As regards Ethel Waters, Sally, try to see the 1952 film of THE MEMBER OF THE WEDDING, if you have not already. Ethel is the most wonderful in a terrific cast with Julie Harris and Brandon deWilde. The trailer is here: David

    1. Thanks for the recommendation, David! I will check it out.


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