August 8, 2021


Constructor: Zhouqin Burnikel

Editor: Erik Agard

Theme Answers:
SPEED STICK (3D: Deodorant brand)
PAR EXCELLENCE (14D: Quintessential)
DATE COOKIE (28D: Chewy treat made with medjools)

Theme synopsis: The first word of each theme answer can be placed after the words UP TO in order to form a new phrase: UP TO SPEED, UP TO PAR, UP TO DATE. 

Things I learned:
  • EDAMAME (22A: Soybeans at an izakaya) An izakaya is a type of informal Japanese bar. Dining at an izakaya is generally done slowly, with food being ordered in several courses rather than all at once. EDAMAME, soybeans in the pod, is a frequent first course. I was not familiar with the term izakaya, but knew EDAMAME as soybeans, so was able to fill in the answer without that knowledge. (And now I've learned something new.)
  • ISLA (45A: "___ and the Happily Ever After" (Stephanie Perkins book)) ISLA and the Happily Ever After is the final book in a series from Stephane Perkins that includes Anna and the French Kiss, and Lola and the Boy Next Door. 
  • EYEBROW (50A: Target of a spoolie) A spoolie is a a type of brush used to comb and shape your EYEBROWs. The brush is similar in shape to a mascara wand. I found an article explaining what a spoolie is that begins with the sentence, "Chances are you've seen or have even used a makeup spoolie in your everyday makeup routine." My lack of makeup and beauty routine knowledge is showing again! 
  • ADA (7D: "Terra Ignota" author Palmer) ADA Palmer's Terra Ignota series is a quartet of science fiction novels that begins with the 2016 book, Too Like The Lightning. The series is set in the year 2454 and examines a near-Utopian society facing war after centuries of peace. The fourth novel in the series, Perhaps the Stars, is schedule to be released in October of this year. ADA Palmer is a historian, and teaches at the University of Chicago.
  • EDNA (13D: Tracy's mom in "Hairspray") Hairspray is a 2007 movie based on the 2002 musical, Hairspray. The musical was based on a 1988 movie, Hairspray. That's a lot of adaptations. I knew of Hairspray, but have not seen it, so needed the help of crossing answers to reveal EDNA, the agoraphobic mother of Hairspray's main character, Tracy. Since the 1988 movie when the drag queen Divine played the role of EDNA, the tradition has been for the role to be played by a man in drag. Harvey Fierstein played EDNA in the Broadway musical, and John Travolta played EDNA in the 2007 movie.
  • KENT (56D: Mathematician Autumn) Autumn KENT is a mathematician and an Associate Professor at the University of Wisconsin. If you would like to learn more about Autumn Kent, who is a trans woman and an activist for trans rights in addition to being a mathematician, I recommend this interview.
Random thoughts and interesting things:
  • ASL (24A: Language related to LSF) LSF is French Sign Language, and is used in France and in French-speaking parts of Switzerland. LSF stands for "langue des signes française." LSF is related to American Sign Language (ASL).
  • CAT (34A: Pet that might have a "tuxedo") A tuxedo CAT is one with
    a black and white coat; these CATs sometimes appear to be wearing black tie formal wear. It's appropriate that CAT is in the grid today, because today is International CAT Day. I chose my mug this morning with the day in mind. Whether you are currently relating more to the CATs or the mouse on my mug, I hope you have a great day! 
  • SARI (35A: Mehndi party dress) A Mehndi party is a pre-wedding celebration in South Asian culture. The main focus of the party is the application of mehndi (a pigment from the henna plant) in intricate designs on the palms, back of hands, and feet.
  • OTIS (39A: Blues Hall of Fame Clay) OTIS Clay was an R& B singer who was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2013. OTIS Clay died in 2016 at the age of 73.
  • CECE (40A: "Finally" singer Peniston) "Finally" was the title track of CECE Peniston's 1992 album, and the singer's first Billboard hit. 
  • BEE (65A: Insect with a waggle dance) A BEE uses movement known as a waggle dance to communicate with other BEEs. The dance relays information about the location of a flower patch. Isn't science fascinating?!
  • BADU (1D: "Bag Lady" singer Erykah) "Bag Lady" is a 2000 song by Erykah BADU. The lyrics tell of a woman with too much emotional baggage, who is trying to begin a new relationship.
  • URDU (10D: Language of Kishwar Naheed's poems) Kishwar Naheed is a feminist URDU poet. She sometimes refers to herself in her writing as a "bad woman," or a "modern woman whose biggest crime is her intelligence." 
  • DATE COOKIE (28D: Chewy treat made with medjools) Medjool is a variety of DATE.
  • IRIS (29D: "The Wild ___" (Louise Gluck poem)) Louise Glück is the 2020 winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature. "The Wild IRIS" is one poem in her 1993 collection of poetry titled The Wild IRIS.
  • UKES (32D: Manuel Nunes instruments, for short) Manuel Nunes was one of the earliest makers of ukuleles, or UKES.
  • STAIN (33D: Turmeric may leave one) Turmeric, is a yellow-orange spice derived from the rhizomes of the Curcuma longa plant. The yellow-orange powder has been used as a dye, as well as a flavoring agent. 
  • HIS (38D: It's in ___ Kiss") "It's in HIS Kiss" became a hit in 1964 when it was recorded by Betty Everett, and again when it was recorded by Cher in 1990. Cher's version was titled "The Shoop Shoop Song (It's in HIS Kiss)."
  • PITS (48D: Lychee centers) I have previously written about lychees
Geography review:
  • SPAIN (53A: Country that's the world's largest producer of olive oil) Although SPAIN accounts for half of the global olive oil production, per capita consumption of olive oil is highest in Greece.
  • LSU (62D: Pelican State college) Louisiana State University (LSU) is in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The official nickname of Louisiana is "The Pelican State." The nickname is a reference to the abundance of brown pelicans found along the state's coast.
In addition to the first words of the theme answer forming phrases when placed after the words "UP TO," since the theme answers are vertical, these words are UP in the puzzle. Although the theme would have worked with the theme answers placed horizontally, it's a nice touch to place them vertically. Some fun cluing today. I particularly enjoyed EAR (27D: Organ near a temple), TAT (66A: Pic on a pec), and ELMO (51D: Muppet who's always 3.5 years old). A couple of words we don't see often: KNELL and WHETS. This puzzle was an enjoyable way to begin my Sunday.


  1. Minor correction: I saw where you got your info, but a Mehndi party is more of a South Asian thing rather than a Hindu/Sikh thing.

    I know it is quite common for South Asian Muslims to have Mehndi parties before weddings and I'm guessing, but not sure about, that South Asians of other religions also have Mehndi parties.


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