December 31, 2020


Constructor: Patrick Jordan

Editor: Erik Agard

Theme Answers:
QUANTUM LEAP (19A: Dramatic advancement)
WEALTH GAP (33A: Marker of economic inequality)
OLD SCHOOL (40A: Not down with the new ways of doing things)
YELLOW LIGHT (50A: Traffic signal component)

Theme synopsis: The END word of each theme answer describes a type of YEAR. We have LEAP YEAR, GAP YEAR, SCHOOL YEAR, and LIGHT YEAR.

Things I learned:
  • AXE (49A: "Small ___" (Steve McQueen anthology)) Small AXE is an anthology film series created and directed by Steve McQueen. Released in November and December of this year, each of the five movies in the series tells a story about West Indian immigrants in London during the 1960s and 1970s. The title of the series references a proverb popularized by the 1973 Bob Marley song, "Small AXE" - "If you are the big tree, we are the small AXE."
  • SALSA (63A: Dip that might be prepared with a molcajete) A molcajete and tejolote are stone tools for grinding food. They are similar to a mortar and pestle. A molcajete is typically round in shape and supported by three legs.
  • RAW (44D: Gugu Mbatha-___) Gugu Mbatha-RAW plays the role of Jennifer Hosten (Miss Grenada) in the 2020 movie, Misbehaviour. The movie is about the 1970 Miss World competition at which Miss Grenada was the first Black woman to be crowned Miss World. Gugu Mbatha-RAW also played the role of Plumette in the 2017 movie, Beauty and the Beast.
Random thoughts and interesting things:
  • QUANTUM LEAP (19A: Dramatic advancement) What a great entry! A fun answer that does not often appear in crossword puzzles. (It might have something to do with that Q...) In subatomic physics, a QUANTUM LEAP is when an atom or molecule abruptly transitions from one energy to another. This concept was first introduced by Niels Bohr, who received a Nobel Prize in Physics in 1922 for his contributions to understanding atomic structure and quantum theory. From 1989 to 1993 there was a TV series titled QUANTUM LEAP. It was about a physicist, Dr. Sam Beckett (played by Scott Bakula), who leapt through time. QUANTUM LEAP is also the title of a sculpture in Shrewsbury, England that was constructed to mark the 200th birthday of Charles Darwin. 
  • ELMO (39A: Host of "The Not-Too-Late Show") The Not-Too-Late Show with ELMO is a series of 15-minute shows centered around bedtime routines. The series premiered in 2020 on HBO Max. Guest stars in the first season included Jimmy Fallon, The Jonas Brothers, Hoda Kotb, and H.E.R. ELMO is making back-to-back puzzle appearances this week, as he appeared in yesterday's puzzle with a clue about wasabi being his favorite food. 
  • KING (57A: Who delivered the speech "When Peace Becomes Obnoxious") "When Peace Becomes Obnoxious" is a sermon delivered by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther KING, Jr. on March 29, 1956 at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky. KING delivered the sermon the day before he went on trial for violating Alabama's anti-boycott law. In the sermon, KING said "Peace is not merely the absence of some negative force - war, tension, confusion, but it is the presence of some positive force - justice goodwill, the power of the kingdom of God."
  • KITSCH (29D: Tasteless art) Merriam Webster defines KITSCH, not as tasteless, exactly, but rather as "something that appeals to popular or lowbrow taste and is often of poor quality." KITSCH is a fun word to say and I enjoyed seeing it in the puzzle.
Geography review:
  • PERU (1D: Neighbor of Chile) PERU is a country on the west coast of South America, bordering the Pacific Ocean. Chile lies south of PERU.
  • LIMA (52D: Largest city in 1-Down) In addition to being the largest city in PERU, LIMA is also its capital.
  • IRAN (53D: Nation on the Caspian) The northern border of IRAN is the Caspian Sea. The world's largest inland body of water, the Caspian Sea lies between Europe and Asia, and is bordered by IRAN, Kazakhstan, Russia, Azerbaijan, and Turkmenistan.
YEAR ENDS - a fitting puzzle for today! The appropriateness of the title brought a smile to my face, and the puzzle itself kept the smile there. My favorite theme answers were QUANTUM LEAP and OLD SCHOOL. Some lovely non-theme answers here, too, especially KITSCH, RED HOT, and DOODLE. It's been quite a year, hasn't it? I'm sure many of us are feeling FED UP and ready for 2020 to be over. Of course, calendars are a human construct and at midnight all things won't magically be better. Still, we can hope for, and work for, better days in 2021. Of course, life is always a mix of good and bad - the both/and of life, and 2020 hasn't been all bad. As I commented to someone yesterday, starting this blog was a good thing to happen to me in 2020. I will remain grateful to 2020 for that gift. This puzzle was an enjoyable way to start the last day of 2020.
On a different note, I wanted to pass along some news I learned of yesterday. One of USA Today's crossword puzzle constructors, Gail Gabrowski, died last week. Gail constructed puzzles for many publications in addition to USA Today. She was a prolific constructor, making over 1700 puzzles in her lifetime. That's an impressive accomplishment! Gail has had 19 puzzles in USA Today just since I began blogging in June, and many more before that. Her most recent USA Today puzzle was December 15. When I saw Gail's byline on a puzzle, I knew the puzzle would be solidly constructed and enjoyable to solve. I am thankful for the enjoyment Gail's puzzles added to my life and send my condolences to her family and friends. 
See you next year!