August 15, 2021


Constructor: Zhouqin Burnikel

Editor: Erik Agard

Theme Answers:
DEEP V-NECK T-SHIRT (16A: Collarbone-baring top)
DISTRICT COURT (38A: Local trial venue)
DIRE PREDICAMENT (61A: Disastrous situation)

Theme synopsis: The word DIRT is broken by each theme answer, with some letters appearing at the beginning of the answer, and the remaining letters appearing at the end (after the BREAK).

Things I learned:
  • SEA (49A: Where arame live) Arame, also known as SEA oak, is a species of kelp. Arame is one of the varieties of seaweed used in Asian cuisine.
  • NSA (69A: XKeyscore org.) XKeyscore is the computer system used by the NSA (National Security Agency) that collects, searches, and analyzes internet data. In a 2013 interview, Edward Snowden revealed the purpose of XKeyscore, raising questions about its legality. Last year a U.S. Federal Court ruled that the data NSA collected using XKeyscore "violated the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and may well have been unconstitutional."
  • TBS (8D: "The Last O.G." channel) O.G. stands for "original gangster." The Last O.G. is a TV series on TBS created by Jordan Peele and John Carrier. The show centers on a man returning home after 15 years in prison. He returns to Brooklyn to discover many things have changed, including that his ex-girlfriend is raising their children with another man. The Last O.G. was the title of the June 30, 2021 crossword
  • ONION (25D: Nikujaga veggie) Nikujaga is a dish in Japanese cuisine. It is made by stewing meat, potatoes, and ONION in soy sauce and mirin (rice wine).
  • STEMS (35D: Hollow parts of water spinach) Water spinach is a semi-aquatic tropical plant. Other names it may be known by include water morning glory, river spinach, or swamp cabbage. Water spinach grows in water or moist soil, and has hollow stems that are seven to 10 feet long.
Random thoughts and interesting things:
  • TET (28A: Holiday for which li xi is given) Li xi, or "lucky money" is a small amount of money in a red envelope given during the celebration of TET, the Vietnamese Lunar New Year. Li xi is usually given to children, though it may be presented to others as well.
  • SPA (44A: Place for laser hair removal) I laughed when I filled in this answer today. My son has recently started doing the USA Today crossword, and he commented to me, "Some words are in the puzzle a SPA!" We have seen SPA in the puzzle quite a bit this week.
  • OMELET (2D: Tamagoyaki, for example) Tamagoyaki is a type of Japanese OMELET made by rolling together several layers of cooked egg.
  • PEKOE (7D: The P, in OP, in tea leaf grading) OP, or orange PEKOE, is a term used in tea leaf grading to describe a basic, medium grade black tea with whole leaves of a certain size. The term orange PEKOE is sometimes used generically to refer to any black tea.
  • DIP (61D: Hummus or ssamjang) Hummus is a DIP, originating in Middle Eastern cuisine, that consists of mashed chickpeas combined with tahini, lemon juice, garlic, and olive oil. Ssamjang is a spicy DIP in Korean cuisine consisting of soybean paste, chili paste, sesame oil, ONION, and garlic.  I like this kind of clue. It provides two examples, thus increasing a solver's chance of success. You only need to recognize hummus or ssamjang to figure out the answer is DIP.
Geography review:
  • ARID (57A: Like the climate of northern Sudan) Sudan is a country in Northeast Africa. The eastern region of the Sahara Desert, known as the Nubian Desert, covers the northern part of the country, resulting in an ARID climate.
  • GREECE (1D: Country whose capital is Athens) In addition to being its capital, Athens is GREECE's largest  city. Athens is also one of the world's oldest cities; it has been continuously inhabited since 3,000 BCE. 
  • SAN (4D: ___ Antonio River Walk) The SAN Antonio River Walk in SAN Antonio, Texas is a 15-mile pedestrian trail located below street level.
  • EMIR (23D: Qatari head of state) Qatar is a country on the northeastern coast of the Arabian peninsula in Western ASIA. The hereditary EMIR of Qatar is currently Tamim bin Hamad. The Qatari EMIR holds all executive and legislative authority, and controls the judiciary system.
  • ASIA (34D: Tiger Cub Economies' continent) Tiger Cub Economies is a term used to collectively refer to the economies of the five dominant countries in Southeast ASIA: Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam.
Although we frequently see this theme type in the USA Today puzzle, today's theme is ground-breaking. That is, the theme answers break up GROUND, or DIRT. I like how the break of the word DIRT progresses as we move downward in the puzzle, almost as if we are moving the DIRT from one side of the puzzle to the other. DIRE PREDICAMENT was my favorite theme answer, though I was grateful to not find myself in one while solving. DEEP V-NECK T-SHIRT took me a while to completely fill-in. The phrase doesn't exactly roll off the tongue, but it is a term that's used (googling the phrase returns over 62 million results). In non-theme fill, I liked DERISIVE, IRON GRIP, PRICE WAR, and IRRITANT. This puzzle was an enjoyable way to begin my Sunday.
After enjoying a few days off, I'm delighted to be back! I'm writing today's blog in Seattle (the beautiful, but currently smokey Pacific Northwest), where we have been spending a few days with our son. We're headed home today, so I appreciate any vibes you might send my way for smooth travel. Many thanks to Will Nediger, Erica Hsiung Wojcik, and Mollie Cowger for guest blogging! I've enjoyed reading their takes on the puzzles, and hope you have as well.