August 24, 2021


Constructors: Hoang-Kim Vu & Brooke Husic

Editor: Amanda Rafkin

Theme Answers:
SITUATION COMEDY (19A: "Schitt's Creek" or "227," e.g.)
CONTEXT CLUE (34A: Hint for understanding a word's meaning)
BACKGROUND NOISE (50A: Ambient sound)

Theme synopsis: The first words of the theme answers are synonyms of each other and describe WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: the SITUATION, the CONTEXT, the BACKGROUND.

And now a word from our constructors:
Kim: The thing about getting to collab with a brilliant constructor like Brooke is that her mind never turns off. This puzzle is a case in point: purportedly I said something with the phrase "context clues" in it and she spun out this idea in a day or two.
This grid was my baptism into "How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Blocks." Sometimes good fill requires more blocks than you're trained to think is okay. Brooke and I traded this grid back and forth, and the result is a grid with colonnades in the corners that I absolutely love; and clues that are representative of stuff we're each into. Hope to see you on another USAT collab soon!
Brooke: I can't recommend Kim's puzzles enough or Kim himself as a collaborator! I super admire all of the USAT themes he comes up with (I think this one is my fave so far) ... and when he says that I spun the idea out in a day or two what he means is that I proposed him something half-baked about "context clues" and he made it amazing.
I really love these big corners he set up (in spite of the blocks)! I'm in total agreement that I absolutely love this puzzle/grid/clues/everything about it, and I'm 100% sure it's because working with Kim makes me better at doing all of those things. Can't wait to see you for our next one!

Things I learned:
  • LARA (13A: Cricket legend Brian) Brian LARA is a former international cricketeer, and is considered one of the greatest batsmen of all time. He was born in Trinidad and Tobago, and played for the West Indies cricket team (the "Windies") from 1990 until his retirement from international cricket in 2007. Brian LARA holds several cricket records, including being one of only 14 players who have scored 10,000 or more runs in One Day International (ODI) cricket. I recently commented to someone that everything I know about cricket I learned from the Lord Peter Wimsey novels or the game show Only Connect. I have amended that comment to add, "and crossword puzzles."
  • TARTT (20D: "The Goldfinch" author Donna) The Goldfinch by Donna TARTT won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. The novel tells the story of 13 year-old Theodore Decker, who survived a terrorist bombing at an art museum. His mother was killed in the attack. While stumbling through the debris after the bombing and making his escape, he takes a painting from the museum. The painting that lends its title to the book is The Goldfinch, a painting of a goldfinch chained to a perch, by Dutch artist Carel Fabritius. 
  • COLOCATE (34D: Share an office with another company) Although I'd heard of this practice, I wasn't familiar with this term. It was inferable with the help of crossing answers though.
Random thoughts and interesting things:
  • OMAR (18A: Actor Sy of "Lupin") In the Netflix TV series Lupin, OMAR Sy plays the role of Assane Diop, a professional thief who styles himself after the character of Arsène Lupin from the stories and books written in the early 1900s by Maurice Leblanc. This clue reminded me Lupin is on my list of "shows to watch." It comes highly recommended by my son who knows me well and thinks I would like it.
  • SITUATION COMEDY (19A: "Schitt's Creek" or "227," e.g.) A SITUATION COMEDY is a genre of comedy focused on a regular cast of characters who appear in each episode. Often the characters occupy a shared environment, or have been thrown together by circumstance. Schitt's Creek is a TV series about a formerly wealthy family that relocates to a small town they once purchased as a joke. (I've previously written about seeing Dan Levy, one of the actors on Schitt's Creek, at a taping of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.) 227 is a TV series that originally aired from 1985 to 1990. The show focused on the lives of the people living in an apartment building in Washington, D.C., whose address was 227 Lexington Place.
  • TIL (25A: "It Ain't Over ___ It's Over") "It Ain't Over TIL It's Over" is a 1990 song by Lenny Kravitz. The song was Kravitz's most successful single on Billboard's Hot 100 chart, peaking at number two. Kravitz said of writing the song, "I was trying to get my wife back." (His wife at the time was Lisa Bonet.)
  • THAN (54A: Amy Winehouse's "Stronger ___ Me") "Stronger THAN Me" is a 2003 song by Amy Winehouse. The song is from her debut album, Frank. I've written before about clues that use song titles as clues. I like this type of clue; it's a great way to clue common words in an interesting way. We have two great examples of this today.
  • EILISH (2D: Singer-songwriter Billie) At the age of 19, Billie EILISH has already won seven Grammy Awards. She is the youngest person to win awards in the four main Grammy categories in the same year, which she did in 2020: Best New Artist, Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Album of the Year. The only other person to win all four categories in the same year was Christopher Cross in 1981. 
  • ATOM (9D: Quark's place) An ATOM is composed of a nucleus and electrons. The nucleus of an ATOM is composed of protons and neutrons. Protons and neutrons are composed of quarks.
  • ENDING (32D: What spoilers might give away) This clue reminding me of a time when my daughter was younger and reading Little Women for the first time. Upon learning she was reading it, a friend of ours said something to the effect of, "I was so sad when Beth died!" My daughter looked at him with horror on her face. Please don't spoil the ENDING (or the middle) of books people are reading.
  • LOSERS (42D: Jenga tower topplers) This was a delightful way to clue the word LOSERS. It can be a tricky word to clue without being disparaging.
  • FEED ME (43D: What a meow might mean) I am familiar with this meow!
    We had a dog named Ping Pong, who died last December. In her later years, Ping Pong whined a lot. We have noticed that since Ping Pong's death, our cat, Willow, has begun to meow more than she did previously. We wonder if she is trying to fill the void. This picture was taken this weekend when Willow was meowing and I picked her up. As you can see from her expression, I'm not sure that's what she wanted. She may have been saying, "FEED ME!"
  • ARBOR (46D: ___ Day (April tree-planting event)) ARBOR Day is celebrated in many countries around the world. In the United States it is celebrated on the last Friday in April. The first ARBOR Day in the U.S. was celebrated in 1872 in Nebraska City, Nebraska.
  • KNEE (51D: Joint that might be banged on a coffee table) Ouch! My KNEE hurt just from reading this clue!

    Geography review:
    • DELHI (39A: City that's home to the Lotus Temple) The Lotus Temple in DELHI, India is a Bahá'í Temple dedicated in 1986. The building is shaped like a flower, composed of 27 free-standing marble-clad "petals."
    Such delightful theme answers today! Each is great individually, but combined they make the puzzle a MEGA HIT. If I hadn't read Kim and Brooke's notes, I might not have noted that this puzzle has more black squares than we usually see in some other venues. In my opinion, keeping the number of black squares below an arbitrary number is less important than providing great fill and providing a pleasurable solving experience. The USA Today team is great about focusing on the things that make puzzles enjoyable. HERE'S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: This puzzle was a delightful way to begin my Tuesday. Believe it or not, HERE'S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW is not the longest title I've seen on a USA Today puzzle since I've been blogging. That record is currently held by Rachel Fabi's February 9, 2021 puzzle