March 8, 2021


Constructors: Rasa Guarnaccia & Brooke Husic

Editor: Erik Agard

Theme Answers:
RING FINGERS (15A: Places for some wedding bands)
SHOT IN THE DARK (27A: Wild guess)
WORM ON A STRING (42A: Fuzzy toy also known as a Squirmle)
PIECE OF WORK (58A: Difficult or complicated person, so to speak)

Theme synopsis: If you LEND the word EAR to each theme answer, and place it before the answer's first word, you get a new word. We have EARRING, EARSHOT, EARWORM, and EARPIECE.

And now a word from our constructors:
Rasa: I met Brooke in college when Brooke was my orientation leader. Many (many!) years passed (of quiet and lonely crossword solving) and I saw Brooke’s name on an NYT puzzle that I was solving and decided to take the plunge into the constructing world and ask her about it. Brooke was so enthusiastic and helpful in acquainting me with the constructing world! She encouraged me to sign up for beginner constructing classes and onboarded me with many, many conversations for our first of several collaborations for USA Today!
Brooke: It was super great to reconnect with Rasa when she reached out to me about constructing and it’s been so so fun to make puzzles together! This theme was Rasa’s idea; I really love WORM ON A STRING as a theme answer. I’m beyond happy to have been a part of Rasa’s first grid, and she has more great ones coming in a variety of outlets!! Until then you should definitely check out her midi on Matthew’s site today!

Things I learned:
  • DANAI (63A: Actress Gurira) DANAI Gurira played the role of Okoye in Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War, and Avengers: Endgame. She is also a playwright. Her play, Eclipsed, tells the story of Liberian women near the end of the Second Liberian Civil War. 
  • ZION (9D: Basketball star Williamson) ZION Williamson plays basketball for NBA's New Orleans Pelicans. This clue made me wonder if there would be any clue that began with the words, "basketball star," that I would know without the help of crossing answers. It's a pretty short list.
  • REPO (44D: Directory for a coding project, for short) REPO stands for repository. It's possible I knew this term at one time, but I couldn't bring it to mind. To be fair, my memories of coding involve punch cards, so that tells you how long it's been since I've thought about the subject.
Random thoughts and interesting things:
  • ALI (39A: Boxer Laila) Laila ALI retired undefeated from her professional boxing career in 2007. 
  • WORM ON A STRING (42A: Fuzzy toy also known as a Squirmle) Squirmles are small WORM-like toys with a furry body, eyes, and a hidden string. Squirmles come in a variety of colors, and were first introduced in the 1970s. Now frequently referred to as WORM ON A STRING, Squirmles have been featured in memes, and have been used to make fly fishing lures
  • UPON (45A: "Once ___ a Mattress") Once UPON a Mattress is a musical adaptation of the fairy tale "The Princess and the Pea." There have been three TV adaptations made; the 2005 version starred Carol Burnett, Denis O'Hare, Tom Smothers, Tracey Ullman, Zooey Deschanel, and Matthew Morrison.
  • HINDU (47A: Holi celebrant) Two days ago we saw Holi as an answer; here it's making a reappearance as clue material. Holi is a HINDU festival celebrating the arrival of spring. This year it will be celebrated on March 29. 
  • FREE AT LAST (7D: End of a speech that included the words, "1963 is not an end, but a beginning") The "I Have a Dream" speech was delivered by Martin Luther King, Jr. on August 28, 1963. The speech ended with the lyrics of the traditional spiritual, "FREE AT LAST." I liked that this clue didn't simply refer to the speech, but took the opportunity to give us additional words from the speech.
  • IS IT (16D: "Whose Line ___ Anyway?") Whose Line IS IT Anyway? is an improvisational comedy show. There have been British and American versions of the TV show. The most recent version of the show is hosted by Aisha Tyler. 
  • RAW (36D: How sashimi is served) Sashimi is fresh, RAW fish sliced into thin pieces. It is often eaten dipped in soy sauce.
Geography review:
  • AGRA (13A: Indian city with three World Heritage Sites) The three UNESCO World Heritage Sites located in AGRA, India are the Taj Mahal, AGRA Fort, and Fatehpur Sikri. 
  • MESAS (37A: Hopi Reservation hills) The Hopi Reservation is located in Arizona, and is home to the Hopi and Arizona Tewa people. A system of villages are present on three MESAS in the reservation.
  • ASIA (65A: Himalayas' continent) The Himalayas is a mountain range in South and East ASIA. Mount Everest, Earth's tallest peak, is a part of the Himalayas. This is the fourth appearance this month for our crossword-friend, ASIA.
I really enjoyed the theme of this puzzle, and its solid, enjoyable theme answers. I liked the pairing of the clues for RING FINGERS and I DO. SHOT IN THE DARK is a nice answer, and when it immediately came to my mind it turned out to not be a [Wild guess], but rather, a correct answer. It was fun to be reminded of WORM ON A STRING. And PIECE OF WORK is such a great answer. We can probably all think of someone we know who fits this description. Smooth fill overall today, and I enjoyed the cluing. Congratulations to Rasa on her USA Today puzzle debut today! This puzzle was a delightful way to begin my Monday.