September 24, 2021


Constructor: Malaika Handa

Editor: Erik Agard

Theme Answers: 
CHEST BUMP (20A: Colliding celebration)
MANICURE SET (43A: Kit with nail clippers)
RAILROAD SPIKE (61A: Piece of metal for train tracks)

Theme synopsis: The FINAL word of each theme answer is a VOLLEYBALL move, listed in the order they are often made: BUMP, SET, SPIKE.

And now a word from our constructor:
Malaika: Pre-Pandemic, volleyball was my main pastime. When indoor events started getting shut down, that time became filled with crosswords instead. So it feels nice to combine those two interests here. Many thanks to Brooke for coming up with the title for this one, and many thanks to Erik for allowing funky grid patterns that other publications might not-- I know those three blocks in the lower corners are kind of risque. I like how the arc in the center of this puzzle mimics the arc of a volleyball during a match.

Things I learned:
  • DAWN (17A: Basketball great Staley) DAWN Staley is head coach of the University of South Carolina women's basketball team, and the U.S. Women's National Basketball Team. She previously played in the WNBA, for the Charlotte Sting (1999-2005) and the Houston Comets (2005-2006). DAWN Staley is the first person to win the Naismith Award (a basketball honor named after the inventor of basketball, Dr. James Naismith) as a player and as a coach. 
  • KENAN (41A: Thompson with a self-titled NBC sitcom) KENAN Thompson plays the role of KENAN Williams in the TV series KENAN. In the TV show that premiered earlier this year, KENAN is a widowed father of two daughters living in Atlanta, Georgia, and working as a host of a morning TV show. KENAN Thompson has also been a cast member of Saturday Night Live (SNL) since 2003. I've seen KENAN's work on SNL, but wasn't familiar with this TV show. Fun fact: According to the bio on his website, KENAN Thompson is the first cast member of SNL to join the cast that wasn't born yet when the show first aired. 
  • SPANISH (46A: Language in Bad Bunny songs) Bad Bunny is the stage name of Puerto Rican rapper, singer, and songwriter Benito Antonio Martínez Ocasio. In 2020, Bad Bunny became Spotify's first non-English act to be most streamed artist of the year. His second studio album YHLQMLG (Yo hago lo sue me da la gana, SPANISH for "I do whatever I want") won a Grammy Award for Best Latin Pop Album, and his third studio album, El Último Tour Del Mundo (The Last Tour of the World), was the first all-SPANISH album to reach the top of the U.S. Billboard 200 chart.  
  • RAP (11D: Nezi Momodu genre) Nezi Momodu's stated mission is "to pursue eclectic and art and encourage younger generations to 'let their work speak for themselves.'" Her debut album, Seasons, was released in 2017
Random thoughts and interesting things:
  • BAND (1A: Word after "rubber" or "rock") I'm a little bit embarrassed how long it took me to figure out this answer. My first thoughts were "neck" or "ball," neither of which work with "rock," of course.
  • RAYA (16A: "___ and the Last Dragon") We've seen RAYA and the Last Dragon in the puzzle a few times recently, so hopefully you were easily able to fill in this answer.  
  • VENMO (18A: Cash App alternative) VENMO and Cash App are both mobile payment systems that allow users to transfer money to each other using their mobile phones.
  • CHEST BUMP (20A: Colliding celebration) This is a fun clue. When I first read it, I had absolutely no idea what the answer might be - or what a "colliding celebration" even meant - but once I had a few crossing letters, the answer became obvious and the clue made perfect sense. I can imagine this might have been a difficult answer to clue.
  • ONO (35A: Tasty, in Hawaiian) ONO is an alternate name for the wahoo, a fish found in tropical and subtropical areas. In Hawaiian, ONO means "delicious," or "good to eat," or "tasty."
  • LOTR (39A: Fantasy film series shot in New Zealand, for short) The three Lord of the Rings (LOTR) movies were filmed simultaneously from October 1999 to December 2000. The director of LOTR, Peter Jackson, is a native New Zealander.
  • MANICURE SET (43A: Kit with nail clippers) and FOOT MASSAGE (25D: Part of a pedi) We have a mani-pedi-related intersection with these two answers.
  • HASTA (51A: "___ luego") "HASTA luego" is SPANISH for "goodbye," or "see you later!"
  • HIS (53A: "___ Dark Materials" (series starring Dafne Keen)) HIS Dark Materials is a TV series based on a series of novels by Philip Pullman. Dafne Keen plays Lyra Belacqua, a young girl who is an orphan, and is living with the scholars at the fictional Jordan College in Oxford. 
  • EYE (12D: Place for winged liner) I learned about wings from a previous puzzle by Malaika  (that one was a collaboration with Matthew Stock).
  • MRS (22D: "From the Mixed-Up Files of ___ Basil E. Frankweiler") From the Mixed-Up Files of MRS. Basil E. Frankweiler is a 1967 novel by E.L. Konigsburg that details the adventures of siblings who run away from home to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The book won a Newberry Medal for children's literature in 1968, and is often included in lists of best children's books. Film adaptations of the book were made in 1973 (starring Ingrid Bergman) and 1995 (starring Lauren Bacall). This reminded me of the clue we saw for MRS a few days ago; I like this approach for cluing MRS. 
  • NINETIES KID (27D: Person who still knows the Bagel Bites jingle by heart, perhaps) This is a delightful clue for the fun entry NINETIES KID. During the 1990s, Bagel Bites ran TV ads featuring a catchy jingle that begins, "Pizza in the morning..." My children were both NINETIES KIDs, but since they grew up without TV at home, and only watched it at friend's houses and on vacation, I don't know if they know this jingle. I will have to ask them. The equivalent jingle from my era that I still know the words from is the Oscar Mayer Bologna song. (My favorite part of that commercial was always the "How's that?" at the end.)
  • NIALL (44D: (Singer Horen) NIALL Horen was a member of the group One Direction. His debut solo album, Flicker, was released in 2017.
  • SPY (50D: Melissa McCarthy secret agent movie) SPY was a 2015 movie in which Melissa McCarthy plays a CIA employee.
  • IRIS (55D: Flower that might be bearded) Some varieties of IRIS have a tuft of filaments on their petals that is referred to as a "beard." 

    Geography review:
    • RENO (42A: City in Nevada) This clue could just as easily read, "Nevada city most commonly seen in crosswords." RENO is located near the Nevada-California border.
    • USSR (59D: Space Race country) From 1922 to 1991, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, or USSR, was a group of Soviet republics. The USSR and the USA were Space Race rivals in the twentieth century. 
    Although I am not a big sports fan, for several years my husband and I have had season tickets to the University of Iowa women's VOLLEYBALL games. Such an athletic, fun sport to watch. I enjoyed the VOLLEYBALL theme of this puzzle, and especially appreciated that the terms were placed in the puzzle in the order they often occur in a game. This puzzle has left-right mirror symmetry; it is symmetrical along a vertical axis down the center of the puzzle. Mirror symmetry allows for theme answers of different lengths (9-, 11-, and 13- letters here). Malaika mentioned the collection of black squares in the center of the puzzle that resembles the arc of a volleyball. I think the inverted-T of black squares below that somewhat resembles a volleyball court and net. Lots of fun stuff here, in the fill and the cluing. EUREKA! This puzzle was a great way to begin my Friday.