August 23, 2021


Constructor: Malaika Handa

Editor: Erik Agard

Theme Answers:
WILDCAT STRIKE (20A: Unauthorized action by unionized workers)
BANANA SPLIT (35A: Order at an ice cream parlor)
NO TIME TO SPARE (51A: "Hurry!")

Theme synopsis: The last word of each theme answer is a bowling term. Specifically, each word is a term used to describe pins that have been BOWLED OVER. We have a STRIKE (knocking down all of the pins), a SPLIT (knocking down the pins in the middle, leaving pins standing at each side), and a SPARE (knocking down all of the pins remaining after your first BOWL).

And now a word from our constructor:
Malaika: About a year ago, the Bucks refused to play ( in light of the racist police violence in Wisconsin. When a group of employees organizes to stop work without the help or authorization of their / a union, it's called a WILDCAT STRIKE. What a badass phrase with a badass meaning! I wrote that down in my "desperately want to put this in a puzzle" list of words, and here we are!
This is my first solo puzzle for the USA Today! I'm so proud of how this grid turned out, with all the food-related bonuses and interesting shapes. (I love big conglomerates of black squares, but a lot of other publications think they're inelegant.) I hope it was as fun to solve as it was to make!

Things I learned:
  • TOTO (14A: Role for Scooter the Dog in "The Wiz Live!") The Wiz Live! is a performance of the Broadway musical The Wiz that aired as a TV special in 2015. Scooter the Dog was a 10-year-old rescue dog trained by Bill Berloni. Scooter's brother, Ralphie, was the understudy for the role. Bill Berloni is an animal behaviorist, and owner of the company Theatrical Animals. Berloni got into the business of training animals when he was offered a chance to act in return for finding and training a dog to play the role of Sandy in the original production of Annie. The rescue dog he found for that role never missed a performance in the seven years Annie played on Broadway. Although I didn't know about Scooter the Dog, the answer was inferable, and I enjoyed learning about Bill Berloni.
  • CLEAN (21D: "Simple & ___" (Utada Hikaru song)) Born in New York City to Japanese parents, Utada Hikaru is bilingual, fluent in both English and Japanese. In 2002 her pop folk song, "Hikari" was used as the official Japanese theme song for the video game Kingdom Hearts. The next year Utada Hikaru recorded an English version of the song, titled "Simple & Clean," that was used to promote international formats of the video game. Kingdom Hearts is a collaboration between Square, a Japanese video game company, and Disney. The game combines characters from Disney animated films and characters from Square's Final Fantasy series. 
Random thoughts and interesting things:
  • OSSO (17A: ___ buco (Italian dish)) OSSO buco is Italian for "bone with a hole." The dish is made with cross-cut veal shanks that have a narrow hole in the center of the cut. The marrow in the hole is an important feature of the dish. The veal shanks are braised with vegetables, white wine, and broth.
  • BOP IT (18A: Instruction from a Hasbro toy) The Hasbro toy, BOP IT, has buttons, handles that can be pulled, switches, and cranks. As the game is played, the toy gives instructions to the player. The speed of the instructions increases as the game progresses. The original BOP IT was released in 1998, with multiple versions of the toy being released since then. There's even a BOP IT! TETRIS version, so shoutout to the classic (and addicting) TETRIS (9D: Game with falling shapes).
  • WILDCAT STRIKE (20A: Unauthorized action by unionized workers) I found this Britannica article that gives a general overview of WILDCAT STRIKEs. According to the article, the name WILDCAT STRIKE is based on the characteristics of unpredictability and uncontrollability (of the employers, media, and state), characteristics associated with WILDCATs.
  • GAMED (58A: Played some Portal, perhaps) Portal is a video game first released in 2007. It consists of a series of puzzles that must be solved by teleporting the player's character through various portals throughout the game. 
  • NETS (63A: Brooklyn basketball team named after part of the basket) The Brooklyn NETS are an NBA team. The team was founded in 1967 as the New Jersey Americans, a charter team in the American Basketball Association (ABA). In 1968 the team became the New York NETS, which was an ABA team until the ABA was absorbed into the NBA in 1976. A year later, in 1977, the team returned to New Jersey and played as the New Jersey NETS until 2012 when the team moved to Brooklyn. 
  • MAE (12D: Astronaut Jemison) I have previously written about engineer, physician, and former NASA astronaut, MAE Jemison. 
  • IDK (22D: "Not sure," for short) and LOL (25D: Response to a forwarded meme) This puzzle is making sure we're up on our messaging abbreviations. IDK = I don't know; LOL = laughing out loud.
  • SNL (26D: Bowen Yang's show) The last time I wrote about SNL star, Bowen Yang, he was getting ready to appear as a guest on The New York Times Crosswords Live event to help Deb Amlen and Sam Ezersky solve a crossword. If you missed that, you can watch it on YouTube; he was a delightful guest. 
  • PINEAPPLE (34D: Ingredient in tacos al pastor) Tacos al pastor is made with pork marinated with PINEAPPLE, dried chilies, and spices and then skewered on a spit and grilled.
  • RAP (38D: Genre for Saweetie) Saweetie is a RAP artist and songwriter. Her debut EP, released in 2018, was titled High Maintenance
  • AVALON (45D: King Arthur-themed strategy game) AVALON is the name of an island featured in the Arthurian legend, so even if you weren't familiar with the game AVALON, the answer can be inferred (perhaps with the help of a few crossing answers). The video game, AVALON, was released in 1984. Other than the name, and the fact that it is set in the same time frame as the Arthurian legend, the story of the game is not related to King Arthur.
This is a lovely puzzle to start off the week. Three excellent theme answers make a straightforward theme shine. I also enjoyed all of the food mentioned in this puzzle: PINEAPPLE (tacos al pastor), OSSO buco, potatoes (though I'd rather eat them than use them as AMMO), a NOODLE BAR with udon and soba, BEANS in a burrito, gravy with BACON FAT, MR. PEANUT, and, of course, a BANANA SPLIT. No wonder I'm hungry! Interestingly, we also saw BANANA SPLIT as a theme answer less than a month ago.  (Nothing wrong with that - I just like data!) I liked the game content today: BOP IT, TETRIS, Portal, and AVALON. Fun cluing today, with a shoutout to STILL (23A: "Are you ___ watching?" (question from a streaming service)) and CAPS (7D: Feature of the last word in this CLUE). Congrats to Malaika on her solo debut at USA Today. We previously enjoyed her constructing skills in a collaboration with Matthew Stock. Malaika curates the 7xwords project, and she also blogs about the Monday USA Today crosswords over on Diary of a Crossword Fiend. When Malaika sent me her notes about the puzzle, I asked her if she was going to blog her own puzzle, but she's on vacation this week. This puzzle was a delightful way to begin my Monday.


  1. Hello, Malaika. Very nice to make your acquaintance and very nice to do your puzzle. I look forward to more. Thank you also for using Girl Scouts in the clue for badges. Boy Scouts have been used so much in clues for scouting. I like to see the Girl Scouting program get acknowledgement for having just as strong an emphasis on outdoorsmanship as Boy Scouts. In many cases better. I know because I was the leader for my daughter's Troop and also worked with the troops for both my sons.


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