December 26, 2020


Constructor: Evan Kalish

Editor: Erik Agard

Theme Answers:
GROUND CONTROL (20A: Space flight command center)
BLACK FRIDAY SALE (37A: November promotion)
INSTANT REPLAY (51A: Referee's tool)

Theme synopsis: The first word of each theme answer describes a type of COFFEE. You may choose to HAVE SOME GROUND COFFEE, BLACK COFFEE, or INSTANT COFFEE.

And now a word from our constructor: 
Evan: I was pleased with several clues in this puzzle: 2-Down (inspired by the introduction to her panel appearances on “Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me!”), 10-Across (an occasional earworm for me), 33-D, and the quote for 66-A.
It’s been an honor to construct a whopping 30 USA Today crosswords this year! I’d like to thank Erik for his editing and inspiration. And thank you, Sally, for creating a record of these puzzles! Your thoughtful and uplifting commentary always makes a constructor feel appreciated. It means a lot.

Things I learned:
  • BELUGA (5D: Whale with a melon) BELUGA whales have a distinctive bulge at the top of the head which houses an echolocation organ called the melon. I was not familiar with this term in relation to the BELUGA whales, so that's a fun thing to learn. (I also learned there is a different whale species named the melon-headed whale.) The BELUGA whale is sometimes called the white whale because of its color. The BELUGA's coloring allows it to camouflage itself among polar ice caps in the Arctic.
  • SLED (33D: Qamutiik, e.g.) A qamutiik is a sled built using traditional Inuit design techniques. It is specifically designed to travel on snow and ice in the Arctic regions. A key feature of a qamutiik is that it is built without nails or pins to hold the runners and cross pieces in place. Due to the jolting and pounding sleds receive while traveling over sea ice, if nails are used in sled construction they pop out and the sled falls apart. Qamutiik were traditionally pulled by a team of trained dogs.
Random thoughts and interesting things:
  • MAMA (10A: "___ Said" (Shirelles classic)) "MAMA said there'll be days like this." The 1961 single, "MAMA Said," was a top ten hit for the Shirelles on both the pop and R&B charts. Here's some trivia for you: In the third season of the TV series, Orange is the New Black, "MAMA Said" was featured during the closing of the episode titled, "Fake It Till You Fake It Some More."
  • BRAS (28A: Savage X Fenty offerings) Savage X Fenty is a lingerie line by Rihanna.
  • POPE (45A: Olivia played by Kerry Washington) Kerry Washington plays the role of Olivia POPE in the TV series, Scandal.
  • SEED (66A: "I begin with the ___ of an emotion, a place, and then move from there" (Joy Harjo)) This is a lovely quote from the current United States Poet Laureate, Joy Harjo.
  • HONG (2D: "Go Fact Yourself" co-host Helen) Helen HONG and J. Keith van Straaten co-host the trivia podcast, "Go Fact Yourself." Helen HONG is also a regular panelist on NPR's Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me.
  • AMY (13D: "At Home With ___ Sedaris") At Home With AMY Sedaris is a comedy TV show on which AMY Sedaris plays various characters.
  • RIDE (29D: Astronaut Sally) Sally RIDE is an amazing person, and she has a great first name! She
    was the first female American astronaut in space, as a crew member on Space Shuttle Challenger in 1983. It was nice to see an astronaut in the puzzle to tie in with the theme answer GROUND CONTROL. Sally RIDE wrote children's books about space aimed at encouraging children to study science. Sally Ride Science is a nonprofit organization co-founded by Sally RIDE in 2001 to inspire young people in science, technology, engineering, and math. Last year for Christmas, my daughter gave me a Little Feminists puzzle. Appropriately, and to my delight, my puzzle was Sally RIDE. 
  • ACES (52D: Runners-up in the 2020 WNBA Finals) In the 2020 WNBA Finals, the Las Vegas ACES lost to the Seattle Storm.
Geography review:
  • ASIA (58A: Cambodia's continent) As we were reminded by yesterday's puzzle, Cambodia, in ASIA, is the site of the temple complex Angkor Wat. Today is the fifth appearance of ASIA in the crossword in December. Amazingly, this does not set a record for monthly appearances by ASIA (since I have been blogging the puzzle). That record is held by July, when we saw ASIA six times.
  • OSLO (4D: Norway's capital) OSLO is also Norway's most populous city. 
  • RENO (8D: City north of Carson City) RENO, Nevada is nicknamed, "The Biggest Little City in the World."
  • BOISE (28D: Idaho's largest city) BOISE is also the capital of Idaho.
  • ESPANA (47D: NaciĆ³n de Barcelona y Madrid) Nation of Barcelona and Madrid = Spain.
  • NILE (53D: River through Egypt and Sudan) The NILE River flows through Cairo, Egypt, and Khartoum, Sudan.
Ah, COFFEE! I enjoyed the theme of today's puzzle. Although I only occasionally drink coffee (and usually with lots of sugar and chocolate added), several members of my family are COFFEE lovers. Therefore, COFFEE featured in a few Christmas gifts, and was the topic of discussion in a couple of our Zoom Christmas celebrations. I also liked the answer AT LONG LAST, and seeing Helen HONG and Sally RIDE in the puzzle. This puzzle was a delightful way to start my (checks calendar) Saturday morning! Congrats, Evan, on 30 USA Today puzzles this year.