July 7, 2021


Constructor: Zhouqin Burnikel

Editor: Erik Agard

Theme Answers:
LET'S GET ON WITH IT (17A: "Quit stalling!")
SWEET ONIONS (28A: Ingredients in some rings)
PORTO-NOVO (51A: Benin's capital)

Theme synopsis: The word TON is found in the exact MIDDLE of each theme answer.

Things I learned:
  • HARP (1A: National instrument of Ireland) The HARP has been used as a symbol of Ireland since at least the sixth century. The exact history of how the HARP came to be used as a political symbol is unknown. Some of the kings of Ireland, including Brian Boru, High King of Ireland from 1002-1014, played the HARP. Prior to the 17th century, each Irish clan had a resident HARP player who comprised songs in honor of the clan members. The HARP has appeared on Ireland's coat of arms, and the Seal of the President of Ireland. The Irish euro coins feature a HARP. Some Irish companies feature a HARP in their logos, including Guinness, HARP Lager, the Irish Independent newspaper, and Ryanair. I've been to Ireland (I highly recommend going if you get the chance!) and I've seen the HARPs on logos, and it never occurred to me to wonder why. It was interesting to learn more about this symbolism.
  • AMISH (41A: Like the founder of Auntie Anne's, originally) Anne Beiler was one of eight children born into an Old Order AMISH family in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. When Anne was three years old, her parents joined the AMISH Mennonite church. The AMISH Mennonites allow limited use of modern amenities, including electricity. Anne Beiler began making pretzels for a Farmer's Market stand in Pennsylvania in 1988. The first Auntie Anne's store, and the beginning of the franchise, was in Middletown, Pennsylvania. (So close to the title of today's puzzle!) Like many AMISH children, Anne Beiler never graduated from high school; she left school after the 8th grade. She completed her GED at the age of 50, and has been awarded two honorary doctorates, from Elizabethtown College, and Eastern University. Auntie Anne's is the treat I get when I am spending time in an airport. The freshly baked pretzel bites make layovers and delays bearable. I appreciated learning more about the store's founder.
Random thoughts and interesting things:
  • DAME (32A: Title for Harriet Walter) DAME Harriet Walter is an actress with numerous stage and screen credits that include the 1995 movie Sense and Sensibility (Fanny Dashwood), the TV series Downton Abbey (Lady Prudence Shackleton),  and the TV series The Crown (Clementine Churchill).
  • SLOAN (33A: Memorial ___ Kettering Cancer Center) Memorial SLOAN Kettering Cancer Center is located in New York City, and affiliated with Cornell University's medical school. Founded in 1884 as the New York Cancer Hospital, it is the oldest private cancer hospital in the world.
  • DEM (42A: "___ Bones" (spiritual)) The lyrics of the spiritual, "DEM Bones," written by brothers James Weldon and J. Rosamond Johnson, were inspired by the Biblical story of the prophet Ezekiel visiting the Valley of Dry Bones. First recorded by The Famous Myers Jubilee Singers in 1928, "Dem Bones" has been recorded by several artists since that time, including the Delta Rhythm Boys
  • BASMATI (47A: Rice in biryani) Biryani is a dish that originated in the Indian subcontinent. The mixed rice dish is typically made using BASMATI rice combined with spices and meat.
  • PAPAYA (53A: Tropical fruit rich in digestive enzymes) PAPAYA, also known as pawpaw, contains high amounts of papain, which is a protease, an enzyme involved in breaking down proteins during digestion. Papain can be used to tenderize meat. Due to its high papain content, PAPAYA cannot be used in gelatin desserts, as the papain will prevent the gelatin from setting. 
  • BOARD (61A: Shogi is played on one) Shogi, also known as Japanese chess or Game of Generals, is a two-player strategy BOARD game. Shogi is the most popular chess variant in Japan.
  • JETT (10D: "The Famous ___ Jackson") The Famous JETT Jackson is a Disney TV series. The title character, played by Lee Thompson Young, is a TV star - he plays the role of a teenage secret agent on a show called Silverstone - who is trying to live a normal life.
  • ANA (26D: "Love, Victor" actress Ortiz) ANA Ortiz plays the role of Isabel Salazar, Victor's mother, on the TV series, Love, Victor. If you want to know more about Love, Victor, here's what I've previously written about the show.
  • WARS (29D: Title word after "Star" or "Clone") If you combine the resulting phrases, you get Star WARS: Clone WARS, the title of a comic book series and a 2003 animated TV series. Add the word "the" to create Star WARS: The Clone WARS, and you have the title of a 2008 movie that was the pilot for a second animated TV series.
  • NATO (30D: 30-country military grp.) NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, was founded in 1949 as an intergovernmental military alliance between 12 countries. Its membership has grown to 30 countries. North Macedonia, the most recent country to join NATO, was added in 2020. 
Geography review:
  • PORTO-NOVO (51A: Benin's capital) Benin is a country in West Africa. PORTO-NOVO, the country's capital, is a port on the Gulf of Guinea. Although PORTO-NOVO is the official capital of Benin, many of Benin's government buildings are located in its largest city, Cotonou.
  • PESO (4D: Dominican Republic currency) The Dominican Republic is a country on the island of Hispaniola. It shares the island with the country of Haiti. The capital of the Dominican Republic is Santo Domingo, and its currency is the Dominican PESO. Just yesterday we had the Uruguayan PESO featured in the puzzle. 
  • STL (24D: Mo. city) ST. Louis, Missouri is located on the eastern edge of Missouri, along the Mississippi River.
  • PERU (36D: Country where paleta fronton originated) Paleta frontón is a sport played with a paddle and a rubber ball. The court includes a concrete wall which players bounce the ball off of. Paleta frontón originated in Lima, PERU.
  • ARABIA (48D: Qatar's region) ARABIA is a geopolitical region that includes the countries on the Arabian peninsula - Qatar, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Yemen, parts of Iraq, and parts of Jordan - as well as Bahrain and some nearby islands.
  • ONE (62D: Number of countries bordering South Korea) The ONE country bordering South Korea is North Korea. This was a creative way to clue the number ONE.
This is a three TON puzzle...figuratively, not literally, of course. The use of left-right mirror symmetry allows the placement of those TONs exactly in the center of the puzzle, and provides a nice visual of the TONs falling through the MIDDLE of the puzzle. In addition to the entries I've highlighted above, I liked the clue for ORIOLE (20A: Bird with a Baltimore species). I enjoyed learning about the use of the HARP as a symbol of Ireland, and about the founder of Auntie Anne's today. This puzzle was a great way to begin my Wednesday.


  1. I really enjoyed this puzzle. I prefer the toughness in this type of puzzle because answers can be figured out. I don't have fun with puzzles laden with proper names of people and ethnic culinary that can't be figured out - you either know it or you don't. It's true that USA Today has very fair crosses most of the time, but if every single crossing is needed, it's not fun.

    Please understand that I'm not looking for a puzzle that I know every answer as soon as I read the clue. I like to work for the solution - that's fun and satisfying. This was a perfect level of difficulty for a USA Today Puzzle.
    Thanks, Zhouqin

  2. This is so weird! I just read a review of this puzzle on Crosswordfiend and it was very similar to what I said.

    1. I saw that. (Actually I read Sophia's review before I saw your comment.) You and Sophia must have been on the same wavelength today! :-)

  3. ARO-SPEC (7D) is a new one for me. It's defined as people who are on the "aromantic spectrum", and are often referred to as "aro-spec" for short.


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