December 22, 2020


Constructor: Alina Abidi

Editor: Erik Agard

Theme Answers:
CHRISTMAS LIGHTS (17A: Glowing tree decorations)
PINHOLE CAMERA (35A: Safe way to view a solar eclipse)
SWING INTO ACTION (52A: Quickly start doing something)

Theme synopsis: The last words of the theme answers are LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTION, meaning...IT'S SHOWTIME!

Things I learned:
  • NYE (14A: Poet Naomi Shihab ___) Naomi Shihab NYE writes poetry for adults and children, and has also published three novels and several short stories. She is the current Young People's Poet Laureate, a designation from the Poetry Foundation.
  • POET (35A: Ocean Vuong, for example) Earlier this year it was announced that Ocean Vuong would be the seventh writer to contribute to the Future Library Project. The Future Library Project is collecting an original work by a popular writer every year from 2014 to 2114. The works will not be read or published until 2114. Margaret Atwood was the first writer chosen to participate in the project. One thousand trees were planted at the beginning of the project, and the 100 manuscripts will be printed on paper made from those trees. The Future Library Project is an intriguing idea that I am just learning about this morning. I will obviously never get to read any of the finished works, but it's an interesting exercise in investing in the future. 
Random thoughts and interesting things:
  • GAMUT (4A: Full range) What a fun and interesting word GAMUT is! The word derived from musical notation in the 11th century when a monk named Guido of Arezzo developed a musical scale. He called the first line of his bass staff "gamma," and the first note in his scale "ut." "Gamma ut" was the term referring to the first note on the first staff line. Eventually the term was shortened to GAMUT. Over time GAMUT came to refer to the entire musical range, and eventually its meaning expanded outside of music to refer to the full range of anything.
  • AESOP'S (20A: "___ Fables" (collection with "The Tortoise and the Hare")) and LOSER (60A: The hare, to the tortoise) There are several ways to pair clues in a crossword. You can use a cross-reference, requiring the solver to refer to another clue to obtain the answer. You can repeat the same clue for multiple answers. A third way to pair clues is in the manner this puzzle does several times. The clues themselves can stand alone, but they refer to the same topic (as these two clues do), or have a similar structure (which we'll talk about in a moment). I enjoy these types of clues, as they give a sense of tying the non-theme answers in a puzzle together. 
  • SIGH (48A: Sound of boredom) and GASP (4D: Sound of surprise) Here's an example of two clues that are not identical, but have a similar format.
  • SWING INTO ACTION (52A: Quickly start doing something) I did not quickly fill in this answer, as it was the last one I completed in the puzzle. I felt a bit like Goldilocks as I tried "leap into action" - too short, and "spring into action - too long, before finally hitting upon SWING INTO ACTION - just right!
  • NEE (62A: "Doc McStuffins" creator Chris) Doc McStuffins is a children's animated TV series about a girl who practices her dream of becoming a doctor by fixing toys and dolls. 
  • PEEL (31D: Word shouted in Bananagrams) Bananagrams is a word-forming game similar to Scrabble, but played without a board. All working at the same time, each player is trying to form interconnected words from their own letters. When a player shouts, "PEEL!" everyone must draw another tile.
  • CATS (37D: Musical with Rumpleteazer) Regular readers of the blog know that one of the ways I amuse myself is to keep track of the cats of CATS who have appeared in the puzzle. It's been awhile since we've had a CATS cat sighting - the last one was on October 27. Today we add Rumpleteazer to the list! Rumpleteazer joins Rum Tum Tugger, Grizabella, Skimbleshanks, Mr. Mistoffelees, and Macavity on the list of CATS cats mentioned in the USA Today crossword puzzle.
  • ROONEY (42D: "Carol" actress Mara) The 2015 movie, Carol, is based on Patricia Highsmith's semi-autobiographical 1952 novel, The Price of Salt. In the movie, ROONEY Mara played the role of Therese Belivet, and Cate Blanchett played the role of Carol Aird.
  • SET (48D: Movie backdrop) It's nice to have a SET for the show. A nice tie-in with today's theme.
Geography review:
  • TAMIL (39A: Sri Lanka language) TAMIL is an official language of Sri Lanka and Singapore, and the Indian state of TAMIL Nadu. TAMIL is one of the longest-surviving classical languages in the world.
  • TIBETAN (24D: Lhasa language) Lhasa is the administrative capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region in China. 
This was a fun theme with solid theme answers. Good timing to have CHRISTMAS LIGHTS as an answer this week. As I discussed above, I enjoyed the pairing of some of the puzzle's clues, as well as the inclusion of the word SET as a theme bonus. It's a minor detail, but I appreciated the inclusion of the word "may" in the clue for LAST NAME (Siblings may share one). (It's a small thing, but I'm a detail-oriented person.) Solving this puzzle was an enjoyable way to begin my Tuesday.
One more thing: If you are searching for more puzzles - to solve yourself, or as a gift for someone - USA Today crossword constructor and Sally's Take guest blogger, Matthew Stock, has a new set of puzzles out. It's a pay-what-you-want set of eight puzzles titled, "Happy Little Holidays, " and it's available here. Bonus: You get to see a picture of Matthew's cat, Scotch, wearing a sweater!