December 7, 2020


Constructors: Quiara Vasquez & Matthew Stock

Editor: Erik Agard

Theme Answers:
VELVET ROPE (16A: Barrier beside the red carpet)
VOLCANIC ROCK (27A: Solidified lava)
VOTING RIGHTS (47A: Target of some suppression)
VOCAL RANGE (60A: Mezzo or tenor, for example)

Theme synopsis: In each theme answer, the first word begins with a V, and the second word begins with an R.

And now a word from one of our constructors:
Quiara: So this puzzle wasn't originally intended for USA Today. Matthew and I had just met and were aiming to collaborate on a puzzle as a mentor/mentee thing, so I did the normal thing you do in this sort of situation and vomited out a dozen or so themes I had galoshing around in my brain. Matthew was tickled enough by the idea of a puzzle with "VR HEADSETS" as the revealer that he ended up pitching it to Erik Agard, who loved it. And that's the story of how I became a published constructor in three months. :P
Matthew deserves credit for the extremely smooth grid here (as well as the genius clue for ONE), although I'd like to think that the scrabbly northeast corner is more in line with how my puzzles usually go. The stealth MVP here though is Erik coming in the clutch with ["Reset" author Pao] - we had a different cluing angle for that back in the October proof which suddenly became extremely problematic last week, which Erik had already swapped out long before Matthew and I sent panicked texts back and forth last Tuesday. Just more proof E.A. is the most thoughtful guy in puzzles.
Finally, just as a bit of "bonus content," this is a pretty fungible theme, and we came up with a bunch of themers that didn't make the cut: [Burger bun option from Austria] (10); [Actor who threatened to "get medieval on your ass"] (10); [It flows into the Caspian sea] (10); [California crag that's appeared in over 100 movies] (12). Matthew didn't think that last one was real when I proposed it to him. What can I say, I've got an ego. :P
(You'll find the answers at the end of the blog post.)

Things I learned:
  • AREPA (54A: Doughy treat in Venezuelan cuisine) AREPA is made of ground maize dough. It is sometimes served with cheese and meats, and can be split to make sandwiches.
  • ELLEN (2D: "Reset" author Pao) The full title of ELLEN Pao's 2017 book is Reset: My Fight for Inclusion and Lasting Change. In 2012, Pao filed an unsuccessful gender discrimination suit against Kleiner Perkins. Pao was interim CEO of Reddit from 2014-2015. During her tenure as CEO, Reddit banned revenge porn, which resulted in other social media sites doing the same. In 2016, ELLEN Pao and seven other women in the tech industry founded Project Include, a consulting company aimed at "accelerating meaningful, enduring diversity and inclusion in the tech industry."
  • MVP (13D: Award for A'ja Wilson and Giannis Antetokounmpo in 2020) A'ja Wilson plays basketball for WNBA's Las Vegas Aces. Giannis Antetokounmpo plays basketball for NBA's Milwaukee Bucks.
  • KOTO (31D: Japanese string instrument) The KOTO is the national instrument of Japan. It consists of a wooden half-tube with strings strung over movable bridges. The strings are plucked with fingerpicks worn on the first three fingers of the right hand. The most common number of strings is 13, but some instruments have many more. At a TEDxKyoto event in 2012, Aya Asakura played a 30-string KOTO
Random thoughts and interesting things:
  • SNARL (23A: Sound from a dog) and HOWL (49D: Sound from a dog) Today's crossword dog is not particularly happy!
  • NAAN (44A: Bread served with ghee) Naan is a leavened, oven-baked flatbread made using atta flour, a wholemeal wheat flour. Ghee is clarified butter made by melting butter and separating the milk solids from the butterfat. 
  • REV (3D: Title for Milton Brunson (Abbr.)) REV. Milton Brunson was a gospel musician and a former pastor of Christ Tabernacle Church in Chicago, Illinois. Ten of Brunson's albums charted on the Billboard Gospel Albums chart, and five of the albums reached number one. Brunson won a Grammy Award in 1995 for Best Gospel Choir or Chorus Album. 
  • JANE (11D: Scientist Goodall) JANE Goodall is a primatologist and anthropologist. She has spent years studying social and family interactions of wild chimpanzees and is considered to be the world's foremost expert on chimpanzees. I had the pleasure of seeing JANE Goodall speak in person several years ago. She is amazing and inspirational.
  • TELL (17D: Show and ___) Remember "Show and TELL" from elementary school? It occurred to me as I filled in this answer that social media is essentially "Show and TELL" for adults.
  • EGOT (34D: Awards acronym) EGOT is an acronym for Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony Awards, and is used as a designation for people who have won all four of these honors. EGOT winners include Helen Hayes, Audrey Hepburn, Mel Brooks, Whoopi Goldberg, Andrew Lloyd Webber, and John Legend.
  • ONE (61A: Number of monosyllabic Teletubbies) The four Teletubbies are Tinky Winky (purple), Dipsy (green), Laa-Laa (yellow), and Po (red). This is a clever, creative, fun way to clue the number ONE.
Geography review:
  • BAJA (9A: ___ California (Mexican state)) BAJA California is the northernmost and westernmost state of Mexico. The U.S. state of California lies across its northern border.
  • SLAV (32D: Person from Belarus, e.g.) Belarus is a country in Eastern Europe. Its capital is Minsk.
  • USA (46D: Forever Stamp letters) This clue had me wondering how long Forever stamps have been around. I remember when they were introduced, but I am a terrible judge of time. The first Forever stamps, on sale April 12, 2007, featured a picture of the Liberty Bell, and cost 41 cents each. My current stash of Forever stamps feature Sesame Street characters and cost 55 cents each.
First of all, just in case you are not familiar with the term referred to in the title, V.R. stands for Virtual Reality. A V.R. HEADSET may be used with video games, simulators, or trainers. This was a fun theme, and I enjoyed the set of theme answers that Quiara and Matthew chose. VOTING RIGHTS is my favorite, partly because I appreciated that it was clued in a way to bring attention to an important issue. I especially enjoyed the non-theme answers of GOT BORED, BIZARRE, and NICE TRY. The thing that struck me as I was solving this puzzle is that there is a nice balance of topics - something for everyone, but no over-reliance on a particular area. We've got clues pertaining to math, sports, currency, entertainment awards, music, science, cars, muscle groups, science, word play, foreign language, and food. I enjoyed the variety of topics. Also, this is Quiara's USA Today crossword puzzle debut, so congratulations! This puzzle was a delightful way to start my Monday morning. 



  1. As a big fan of the manga and anime of Jojo's Bizarre Adventure, I was pleased to see TRES BIEN, BIZARRE and MANGA today, though all of those entries were probably coincidences. Great review !

    1. Oh, a mini-theme! Always fun to spot, intentional or otherwise.

    2. Complete coincidence, although I *am* working on an unrelated puzzle with the working title "Jojo's Bizarre Adventure"

    3. I can't wait to be able to solve it

  2. I wonder if the original clue of "ELLEN" was that of the deadname of actor Elliot Page. That would indicate why they thought the clue was controversial. I'm glad they changed the clue if that was the case.

    1. As there's a lag between construction and publication, I'm guessing the puzzle was constructed prior to Elliot Page's announcement that he is transgender. I applaud (often) Erik's thoughtfulness and awareness in editing. One of many reasons I enjoy blogging about the USA Today puzzle!


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