February 12, 2021


Constructor: Zhouqin Burnikel

Editors: Erik Agard & Amanda Rafkin

Theme Answers:
GROUCHO MARX (20A: *Comedian with bushy brows and a trademark mustache)
TACO MIX (33A: *Tex-Mex seasoning)
SOPRANO SAX (27D: *Kenny G's instrument)
TOBACCO TAX (29D: *Levy for smokers)
OX TAIL (56A: Animal parts used for stews, or what the answers to the starred clues all have)

Theme synopsis: In each theme answer, the first word ends with an -O, and the second word ends with an -X. Therefore, each theme answer has an OX TAIL.

Things I learned:
  • ELENA (15A: Tennis player Dementieva) ELENA Dementieva is a former Russian professional tennis player. In 2008, she won the singles gold medal at the Olympics in Beijing. Dementieva retired from professional tennis in 2010.
  • SUMAC (48A: Musakhan ingredient) Musakhan is a chicken dish in Palestinian cuisine. The chicken is roasted with onions, SUMAC, allspice, saffron, and pine nuts, and then served over taboon bread, a flatbread baked in a clay oven.
  • CHESS (50D: Judit Polgar's game) Judit Polg├ír achieved the title of Grandmaster (the highest title a CHESS player can attain) at the age of 15. She was the top-rated woman CHESS player from 1989 until she retired from professional CHESS in 2014. The Judit Polgar CHESS Foundation is a non-profit organization that has developed educational programs which incorporate CHESS to improve skills such as problem solving and strategical thinking. The programs have been used in Hungary, as well as in other countries.
Random thoughts and interesting things:
  • OAK (37A: America's national tree) In 2004, after a four-month voting process hosted by the Arbor Day Foundation, Congress designated the OAK as the national tree of the United States.
  • OBOE (41A: Instrument featured in "I Got You Babe") For me, "I Got You Babe" will forever be linked to memories of watching The Sonny & Cher Show, a variety show that aired from 1971 to 1974, and from 1976 to 1977. Sonny and Cher sang the song at the end of each episode of the show. The song was written by Sonny Bono, and features an OBOE accompanied by a bassoon. You might also remember "I Got You Babe" from the movie Groundhog Day. It was the wake-up music that played each morning to wake up Phil Connors (played by Bill Murray).
  • ALEX (22D: Soccer star Morgan) ALEX Morgan plays soccer for the Orlando Pride of the National Women's Soccer League. From 2018 to 2020, she also co-captained the U.S. women's national soccer team, along with Carli Lloyd and Megan Rapinoe.
  • SOPRANO SAX (27D: *Kenny G's instrument) Here's a fun fact about Kenny G: In 1997, he earned a place in the Guinness Book of World Records for playing the longest note ever recorded on a saxophone. He held an E-flat for 45 minutes and 47 seconds! If you're wondering how that's even possible, it involves using a technique called circular breathing, in which one breathes in through the nose while simultaneously pushing air out of the mouth which had been stored in the cheeks. If you need a moment of calm in your day (and who doesn't?) enjoy this video of rainbows accompanied by Kenny G playing "Over the Rainbow" on SOPRANO SAX.
  • ACE (64D: The A of LGBTQIA, for short) ACE is short for asexual. Persons identifying as asexual have a low or absent interest in sexual activity.

Geography review: 

  • OHIO (14A: Its state flag has 17 stars) The flag of OHIO is the only non-rectangular U.S. state flag. The triangular swallowtail flag features 17 stars indicating OHIO was the 17th state admitted to the union.
  • TASMANIA (9D: Home to an Australian "devil") TASMANIA is an island state of Australia, located south of the Australian mainland. The Tasmanian devil is a marsupial which at one point was only found in the wild on TASMANIA. It has since been successfully reintroduced to New South Wales.
  • LAOS (30D: Pha That Luang's country) Pha That Luang is a Buddhist stupa (a mound-like structure used as a place of meditation) in Vientiane, LAOS. 
  • OMAN (41D: The Sultanate of ___) The official name of the country of OMAN is the Sultanate of OMAN. The capital of OMAN is Muscat.
  • AMES (45D: Iowa State University city) AMES, Iowa is home to Iowa State University. (Not to be confused with the University of Iowa located in Iowa City, Iowa.) Notable alumni of Iowa State University include George Washington Carver, Carrie Chapman Catt, Henry A. Wallace, and my husband and son.
  • OAXACA (47D: Zapotecs' home state, often) The Zapotecs are an indigenous people of Mexico. Many Zapotecs live in the state of OAXACA, in southwestern Mexico.
HAPPY SPRING FESTIVAL! Today is the Chinese New Year, also known as Spring Festival, or Lunar New Year. This festival celebrates the beginning of the new year on the lunisolar Chinese calendar. As of today, we are in the Year of the OX. Today's theme celebrates with a nice set of theme answers. The puzzle does a fine job of incorporating all of those Xs. This puzzle has left-right mirror symmetry. It is symmetrical around a line going down the center of the puzzle. We often see themes that relate to the beginning letters of words. I liked how this puzzle changed it up a bit and focused on the ending letters. This puzzle was a delightful way to begin my Friday.