February 21, 2021


Constructor: Zhouqin Burnikel

Editors: Erik Agard & Amanda Rafkin

Guest Blogger: Brooke Husic

Theme Answers:
CINDERELLA TEAM (7D: Successful underdog)
CLASSICAL LATIN (12D: Roman Republic language)
FULL ATTENTION (13D: Uninterrupted concentration)

Theme synopsis: Each theme answer is vertically oriented and contains the character string LLAT, which is TALL "STANDING" on its head.

Things I learned:
  • ELI (59A: "Clay's Ark" character) ELI, old friend! How many times have I googled you when cluing! ELI is a character in the Butler novel "Clay's Ark." I read the plot synopsis on Wikipedia and it is very dark to me (including physical and presumed sexual violence) so I will not summarize it here. The novel was written in 1984; one of its themes is the containment of an alien microorganism manifesting as an infection.
  • OBOE (8D: Ariana Ghez's instrument) Ariana Ghez was the principal oboeist of the Los Angeles Philharmonic from 2006-2017. Other OBOE players highlighted in the USA Today Crossword have been Jennifer Paull and Katherine Needleman. Maybe we should get them all together!
  • NORA (11D: Dancer Fatehi) NORA Fatehi is a dancer known in Bollywood and Telegu cinema. She is featured belly dancing in a massively popular remake of the song "Dilbar."
  • LAM (20D: "City on Fire" director Ringo) Ringo LAM won his first Hong Kong Film Award for "City on Fire," a crime thriller film.
  • TSAR (25D: "The Kitchen Boy" monarch) "The Kitchen Boy" was written by Robert D. Zimmerman under the pseudonym Robert Alexander. Per Goodreads, the novel covers "the final days of Nicholas and Alexandra as seen through the eyes of the Romanovs' young kitchen boy, Leonka. Now an ancient Russian immigrant, Leonka claims to be the last living witness to the Romanovs' brutal murders and sets down the dark secrets of his past with the imperial family."
  • ELSA (39D: Actress Pataky): ELSA Pataky plays Elena Neves in The Fast and the Furious franchise and was also in "Snakes on a Plane." She was born in Madrid.
  • PODCAST (42D: "Gender Reveal" or "Marscha's Plate," e.g.) The "Gender Reveal" podcast's tagline is "A podcast about what the heck gender is." Per its website, it "explores the vast diversity of trans experiences through interviews with a wide array of trans, nonbinary and two-spirit people." The "Marscha's Plate" podcast also highlights the trans experience, particularly the black trans experience, and features conversations among friends and co-hosts Diamond Stylz, Mia Mix, and Zee. From Diamond Stylz's website: "As poor black trans people, We stand at the intersections of racial oppression, gender inequality, and the consequences of phobias of all of our identities. So our voices is often silenced in just as many intersectional ways."
  • AMC (48D: "Soulmates" channel) "Soulmates" premiered in October, 2020; its premise is that, fifteen years in the future, people can take a test to learn who their soulmate is (and that person may or may not have also taken the test). Each episode is self-contained and asks the question of whether love is destiny or choice; the show's co-creator said that a "soulmate" is the person you will feel the strongest love for, and the show seems to explore whether that also aligns with happiness and compatibility.

Random thoughts and interesting things:
  • STIGMAS (27A: Mental Health Awareness Month fights them) May is Mental Health Awareness Month. It has been observed since 1949. The focus of the 2020 campaign was "Tools 2 Thrive" and many resources can be downloaded here (although the main download link appears to be broken, there are lots of individual links below).
  • ERRS (29A: Texts the wrong person, say) I have definitely done this and the memories are still burned in my head.
  • TATE (33A: Actor Larenz) Larenz TATE has been in the film industry for more than three decades. Here is a 2 minute clip in which he talks about Black actors being undervalued in Hollywood.
  • I CAN (57A: "Let me know if ___ help") I liked this clue for I CAN!
  • PLEA (40D: "Don't go!" e.g.) In my freshman year of college I spontaneously attended a Blink-182 concert with my friend. He asked me if I knew the name of one of the songs that was playing, and I replied with the answer, "Don't Leave Me." My friend said, "I won't! But do you know what this song is called?"
  • OTTO (56D: Anne Frank's father) A few years ago I went to the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam, a museum created from the building and annex in which the Frank family hid. It was a moving experience that has stayed with me. Anne's diaries were one of the only items rescued from the secret annex. Her father was the only member of the annex who survived the Holocaust. He combined her diaries into one book and published them. His editorial voice was heavy (so much that he is considered a co-author by the Anne Frank Foundation) and he omitted "overly" personal content, including Anne's reflections on her sexuality and her period (in fact there were two versions of the diary written by Anne, as before she was found she was rewriting it and editorializing it herself; some of this content was omitted in her own rewrite). The unabridged version was published later and contains these passages. I have read her diary and it is excellent writing and literature in its own right.

Geography review:
  • ASIANA (31A: Seoul-based airline) Korean Air had a monopoly on the South Korean airline industry until Asiana came on the scene in 1985.
  • PELE (42A: Brazilian soccer legend) PELE is one of the greatest soccer players of all time. I think this clue could omit the "Brazilian" qualifier.
  • DRAMAS (66A: "Fargo" and "Nashville," e.g.) Fargo is in North Dakota. "Fargo" is a black comedy crime drama inspired by the 1996 film of the same name. I read a Reddit thread that asked "Why is the movie Fargo named Fargo when only the first scene is in Fargo and the rest is in Minnesota?" The top-ranked reply claims "It's a metaphor for the central character going to a different, unknown, life-changing place." "Nashville" is a musical drama TV series that actually takes place in Nashville, Tennessee.
  • PERU (3D: Country where ceviche originated) Ceviche is a cured raw fish dish. It's often served as an appetizer. The term has been traced back to the Arabic for "meat cooked in vinegar."
  • SAN (4D: ___ Francisco Ballet) The SAN Francisco Ballet was the first professional ballet company in the USA. It is offering a 2021 Digital Season.
  • CLASSICAL LATIN (12D: Roman Republic language) The Roman Republic once comprised much of the land bordering the Mediterranean Sea. Unlike the so-called "Pax Romana," the Republic was war-torn.
  • FILM (54D: Bollywood release) Another term for Bollywood is "Hindi cinema"; the Hindi film industry is only part of Indian cinema. Bollywood is a portmanteau of "Bombay" and "Hollywood." The relevant city has been officially called Mumbai since 1995.
It's me again! I hope you find this fairly long post interesting — I'd love to hear what you think in the comments. I'll be back tomorrow as a constructor with a really fun collaboration.

Elsewhere in the puzzleverse, you can still sign up for the Boswords Spring Themeless League! The tournament consists of a themeless puzzle every week for ten weeks and features USA Today constructor Rachel Fabi, eight other supremely talented puzzlemakers, and myself. You do not have to actually ever attend the in-person broadcast, and can solve the puzzles on your own time. The "smooth" version of the clues should be akin to the USA Today difficulty level. Also, a very happy Sunday to friend-of-the-blog Matthew Stock who's written a banger of a New York Times Sunday puzzle today.

I really enjoyed the USA Today crossword today and clearly learned a lot! I appreciate puzzle titles that hit the trifecta of (1) what to look for, (2) where to find it, and (3) how to find it in terms of the theme content. In this case we have (1) TALL, (2) in the vertical entries, and (3) standing on end, all of which are communicated through "Standing Tall." Burnikel is one of the greats and I'm privileged to blog her work.

xoxo, Brooke