January 7, 2021


Constructor: Quiara Vasquez

Editor: Erik Agard

Theme Answers:
HISPANDERING (19A: Electioneering at a taqueria, perhaps)
HERO WORSHIP (36A: Excessive admiration)
THE IRON GIANT (51A: 1999 animated film about a huge robot)

Theme synopsis: At the beginning of each theme answer we find a pronoun. IT'S HIS/HER/THEIR THING.

And now a word from our constructor:
Quiara: The idea for this puzzle came to me a week or two before the 2020 election. I was reading about 45's attempts to woo Cuban expats in Florida, and wondered - has "HISPANDER" been in a crossword puzzle before? A quick Google search suggested it hasn't been - at least, not in any of the major outlets. (I definitely feel like I've seen it in a mini puzzle before - Vox, maybe?) After I honed in on the HIS/HER/THEIR gimmick the rest of the theme fell into place almost immediately - it's a really tight set with three very fun answers.
Any favorite clues here? Hm, well, I love a nice blue-footed BOOBY reference - and who doesn't love "Strawberry Letter 23"? (Uh, I guess the zoomers don't love "Strawberry Letter 23." Get on it, TikTok!)

Things I learned:
  • ZONE (15D: ___ Wars (Fortnite mode)) Fortnite is an online video game released in 2017. As I am not a gamer, I was thankful for crossing answers to help reveal ZONE Wars.
  • MIA (40D: ___ X ("Unlady Like" rapper)) Unlady Like, released in 1997, was MIA X's second album. 
  • OTIS ("Strawberry Letter 23" composer Shuggie) Shuggie OTIS is a singer-songwriter. Although he recorded the song, "Strawberry Letter 23," on his 1971 album, Freedom Flight, it was the 1977 cover version by the Brothers Johnson which reached number 5 on Billboard's Hot 100 chart. In 1992, a version by Tevin Campbell also made it to the Hot 100 chart.
Random thoughts and interesting things:
  • GAY (16A: ___ Liberation Front) The United States GAY Liberation Front formed in 1969 in the aftermath of the Stonewall Riots.
  • HISPANDERING (19A: Electioneering at a taqueria, perhaps) The term HISPANDERING is a combination of the words Hispanic and pandering. It refers to a politician's attempts to win over Latinx voters. 
  • HULA (32A: Dance at Hilo's Merrie Monarch Festival) The Merrie Monarch Festival is a week-long event in Hilo, Hawaii which celebrates ancient and modern HULA. The Festival begins each week on Easter Sunday, although the 2020 festival was canceled due to COVID-19 (as so many things were last year).
  • BOOBY (34A: Blue-footed ___ (bird)) Wouldn't it be nice if all animals were named by their defining characteristic, making them easy to identify? In addition to its distinctive baby-blue feet, the blue-footed BOOBY is known for its flamboyant mating ritual dance. The blue-footed BOOBY is native to subtropical and tropical regions of the Pacific Ocean, with about half of all breeding pairs nesting on the Gal├ípagos Islands.
  • TEETH (41A: Possums have 50) Well, this is an interesting, and slightly frightening, piece of information. I hope to never have a first-hand opportunity to count the TEETH of a possum.
  • MAGPIE (48A: Bird that can recognize itself in a mirror) The mirror test is an attempt to determine whether an animal has the ability of visual self-recognition. MAGPIEs are one of only a few non-mammal species that can recognize themselves in a mirror. The Eurasian MAGPIE is considered to be one of the most intelligent of all non-human animals. MAGPIEs have been observed using tools, hiding and storing food across seasons, and engaging in elaborate social rituals. 
  • THE IRON GIANT (51A: 1999 animated film about a huge robot) THE IRON GIANT was based on a 1968 novel by Ted Hughes, The Iron Man. Set during the Cold War, the movie tells the story of a young boy who befriends a gigantic metallic robot who fell from outer space.
  • TAR (26D: 2020 movie set in La Brea) TAR is a horror movie about a mysterious creature rising from the depths of the La Brea TAR Pits in Los Angeles to wreak havoc.
  • EGYPTIAN (37D: Like the Bibliotecha Alexandrina) The Bibliotecha Alexandrina is a national library and cultural center in Alexandria, Egypt. The library is a commemoration of the Great Library of Alexandria, one of the most significant libraries of the ancient world.
Geography review:
  • RENO (53D: City on the Sierra Nevada) Located in a valley at the foot of the Sierra Nevada mountains, RENO is home to the University of Nevada, the oldest university in Nevada. 
Three solid theme answers making up today's pronoun theme. My favorite theme answer was HERO WORSHIP, though I also enjoyed HISPANDERING making its crossword debut. This puzzle is quietly making itself known with the entries SHH and SAYS NOTHING. I also enjoyed PUPPET MAKER and FENG SHUI. There's a bit on an animal mini-theme going on here with ZEBRA, MAGPIE, ELK, the blue-footed BOOBY, and possum's TEETH. Quiara's first USA Today puzzle was a collaboration with Matthew Stock on December 7, 2020. It was nice to solve her first USA Today solo construction - a lovely distraction from other things, and an enjoyable way to begin my Thursday morning.