October 10, 2021

Constructor: Zhouqin Burnikel
Editor: Erik Agard
Guest Blogger: Sid Sivakumar

Theme Answers:
PLATINUM HAIR (20A: Daenerys Targaryen feature)
GOLD KIWIFRUIT (37A: Treat with yellow flesh)
DIAMOND STATE (54A: Nickname for Delaware)

Theme synopsis: The first word of each theme answer can be placed in front of the word RECORD to form a music recording certification: PLATINUM RECORD (1 million copies sold), GOLD RECORD (500,000 copies sold), and DIAMOND RECORD (10 million copies sold). 

Things I learned:
  • ALEC (18A: "Transamerican Love Story" host Mapa) ALEC Mapa is an actor and comedian who started his professional career on Broadway in the play M. Butterfly. In 2008, he hosted Transamerican Love Story, a GLAAD Media Award-winning reality dating show in which contestants courted trans woman Calpernia Addams. 
  • EMTS (62A: Freedom House Ambulance Service workers) Freedom House Ambulance Service was a emergency medical service founded in the Hill District of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, staffed primarily by Black EMTS. It was the first emergency medical service to provide medical treatment beyond basic first aid en route to the hospital. I found this recent article in the New England Journal of Medicine to be an illuminating read. 
  • CELLAR (2D: Place to store root veggies) A root CELLAR is an underground storage room for root vegetables, such as potatoes and carrots. The cellar keeps temperature and humidity at controlled levels throughout the varying weather conditions of the year. Nowadays, refrigeration has made the need for root cellars obsolete in many places, but root cellars are still useful in areas that do not have access to commercial refrigeration, and are popular among organic, DIY, and traditional farmers.
  • DST (27D: Crimson-and-cream sorority, for short) Delta Sigma Theta is a sorority that was founded at Howard University in 1913. Its focus is on programs that assist the Black community. The sorority's official colors are crimson and cream, representing the values of courage and purity. 

Random thoughts and interesting things: 
  • ALTA (17A: Baja's opposite) ALTA means "high" in Spanish, and "baja" means "low." My Spanish vocabulary is limited, but I do recall that the bygone search engine AltaVista translates to "high view" and the Mexican state Baja California translates to "Lower California."
  • SPAMMED (24A: Sent junk email to) Or in my case, "Called by spoofing the recipient's own phone number." Ever pull out your phone and wonder why you're getting a call from ... yourself?
  • TAXI (41A: Hotel-to-airport car) This was fun because the four-letter answer could have been any of TAXI, UBER, or LYFT ... none of which share the same letter in any position! 
  • PANDORA (50A: Music streaming service) I remember making heavy use of PANDORA in high school study period. It was the one streaming service that was free and not blocked by our school's web filter. Pandora is powered by the "Music Genome Project," an effort to categorize songs based on their perceived musical genre(s) — so instead of selecting your own songs, Pandora will recommend you songs that are similar in sound and feel to ones you've enjoyed. I learned of many artists this way. 
  • PETAL and STEM (58A and 7D: Part of a flower) I love when two entries have precisely the same clue and are both perfectly good clues in their own right. This is a great example.
  • TECHS (8D: Nail ___ (salon workers)) and MANI (25D: ___-pedi) Nail art is some of the most intricate artwork I've ever seen. Check out the #nailart hashtag on Instagram if you have some free time and want to be amazed!
  • OXEN (38D: Cart-pulling bovines) I still refer to these animals as "bullocks," as I've seen bullock carts countless times on the streets of Chennai, India. I've had to retrain my brain to call them OXEN since I started doing U.S. crosswords. 
  • A-TEAM (53D: First-string lineup) I mistakenly thought that the origin of the phrase "first-string" had to do with an orchestral section, like "first violin." Instead, it seems that the etymology of "first-string" involves the first (and presumably, best) string an archer would use when preparing their bow. 

Geography review:
  • AETNA (16A: Hartford-based insurer) AETNA is headquartered in Hartford, the capital city of Connecticut. I flew through Hartford's Bradley International Airport many times while my partner was studying at the University of Connecticut; of all the midsize airports I've been to in the United States, Bradley is my favorite. And two years ago I ran into yesterday's guest blogger, Matthew Stock, on a flight from St. Louis to Hartford! 
  • SRI (28A: ___ Lankan) I recently learned that Sri Lanka has distinct wet and dry zones that receive rainfall throughout the year and only during monsoon season, respectively. 
  • DIAMOND STATE (54A: Nickname for Delaware) Delaware is the traditional home to the Lenape and the Nanticoke; both are state-recognized. 
  • ATL (11D: City where Gladys Knight was born (Abbr.)) If you thought of the hit song "Midnight Train to Georgia" when you saw this clue, you might have made the same mental connection I did.
  • ODESSA (49D: Texas city named after a Black Sea port) Double geography clue! ODESSA, Texas is located along Interstate 20 between Midland and Pecos. ODESSA, Ukraine (also spelled Odesa) is a seaport sometimes called the "pearl of the Black Sea."

Sid Sivakumar here, filling in for Sally again! Guest blogging for Sally is such a treat. I really valued thinking about this puzzle through the lens of her writeup outline (things I learned, random thoughts, and a geography review), and I'd like to start doing that each time I finish solving a crossword puzzle. If you enjoy reading the Take each day, please consider donating via the tip jar at the bottom of the page.

Zhouqin Burnikel is an outstanding constructor, and I knew at the outset I'd enjoy her puzzle, but GOLD KIWIFRUIT made this a crossword I won't forget. I'm a superfan of GOLD KIWIFRUIT — at the start of lockdown last year, I snagged several dozen at my local grocery store and devoured them at a rate of five to ten per day. (The best way to eat a kiwifruit, in my opinion? Slice it open along its equator and use a melon baller to scoop out bite-sized pieces.) PLATINUM HAIR and DIAMOND STATE were also fun theme answers to discover. I like that each of these theme answers is exactly two words long; it makes the theme feel elegant and thoughtfully curated. Thank you, Zhouqin and Erik, for a wonderful puzzle!