Title: CAKE TOPPERS
Constructors: Rose Sloan & Michael Lieberman
Editor: Erik Agard
FUNNEL CLOUD (3D: Reason for a tornado warning)
POUND SIGN (7D: Start of a hashtag)
COFFEE TABLE (25D: Piece of furniture named for a drink)
SPONGEBOB (34D: TV character who sang "Ripped Pants")
Theme synopsis: The top word of each vertical theme answer is a type of CAKE. We have a FUNNEL CAKE, a POUND CAKE, a COFFEE CAKE, and a SPONGE CAKE.
Things I learned:
- UNCULTURED (17A: "You ___ swine! ("Toy Story" put-down)) In the 1995 animated movie, Toy Story, Mr. Potato Head (voiced by Don Rickles) says "You UNCULTURED swine!" to Hamm (voiced by John Ratzenberger) for not knowing who Picasso is. This answer was easy to figure out with a few letters from crossing answers, even though I am a bit embarrassed to admit I've never seen Toy Story.
- POG (38A: Awesome, on Twitch) According to Wiktionary, in "Twitch-speak," POG means "awesome, excellent, remarkable. I have only used Twitch to watch crossword content, and this use of POG was new to me. Maybe I'll try out POG in the chat of the Boswords Twitch stream tonight!
- SPONGEBOB (34D: TV character who sang "Ripped Pants") "Ripped Pants" is a song SPONGEBOB sings in an episode of the same name during the first season of the animated TV show SPONGEBOG Squarepants. The episode begins with SPONGEBOB receiving lots of laughs when he rips his pants. Repetitive ripping of his pants causes the joke to cease to be funny, and at the end of the episode SPONGEBOB apologizes to his friends through song. Coincidentally, although I haven't seen this episode, I was just talking with someone about SPONGEBOB Squarepants last night.
- HIJABS (35D: VELA Scarves offerings) VELA is a company founded in 2009 by sisters Marwa Atik and Tasneem Atik Sabri. The HIJABS are designed in California by Marwa and her team, and hand-crafted by women-led teams of artisans in southern India.
- USA (59D: Anastasia Pagonis' Paralympic team) Anastasia Pagonis competed for Team USA at the 2020 Summer Paralympics (held in 2021), where she won a gold medal in the women's 400 m freestyle S11, setting a new world record for the event. She also won a bronze medal in the 200 m individual medley SM11.
Random thoughts and interesting things:
- SIS (23A: Willow to Jaden, for short) Willow and Jaden Smith are the children of Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith.
- SMITH (34A: "Empress of the Blues" Bessie) Bessie SMITH is regarded as one of the greatest female blues singers of the 1920s and 1930s. Three recordings by Bessie SMITH have been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame: "Downhearted Blues," "St. Louis Blues," and "Empty Bed Blues." In a tie-in with yesterday's puzzle, Bessie SMITH began her performing career in a group with Ma Rainey.
- FLU (36A: ___ shot) I will take this opportunity to repeat the PSA I made last month, and remind you to get your FLU shot if you haven't done so already.
- CHUB (45A: ___ rub (summer affliction)) "CHUB rub" is the evocative phrase used to refer to thigh chafing that can occur when it's hot and humid. New York magazine has helpful recommendations for avoiding CHUB rub, and their number one recommendation is Megababe, a product I learned about from the July 31, 2021 puzzle.
- HUMBLE BRAG (58A: "Complaint" about how hard it is to be famous, for example) This clue/answer pair gave me a chuckle. HUMBLE BRAG is a great entry, and this was a fun clue for it.
- ESPY (63A The Arthur Ashe Courage Award is one) The most recent winner of the Arthur Ashe Courage Award was Maya Moore. She won the ESPY for walking away from basketball to help free a wrongfully committed man.
- CLAY (65A: Tandoor material) I have previously written about the tandoor, a cylindrical oven made of CLAY or metal.
- ERR (10D: Take a bite of decorative fruit, e.g.) and ATE (11D: Took a bite of real fruit, e.g.) This was a fun pair of clues. Imagining accidentally taking a bite of decorative fruit made me cringe. Some decorative fruit looks extremely realistic though.
- EEL (29D: Fish such as a moray) and AMORE (30D: Love, to da Vinci or Dean Martin) Did you catch the playfulness of these two consecutive clues? The 1953 song, "That's AMORE," became a signature song for Dean Martin. The song has been parodied with lyrics about an EEL - "That's a moray."
- MOCHI (33D: New Year's treat) MOCHI is made of short-grain glutinous rice that is pounded into a paste and molded into cakes. MOCHI is a traditional food for the Japanese New Year.
- B-DAYS (54D: Quinces, etc.) Quinces are 15th B-DAYS. The quinceañera, a celebration of a girl's 15th birthday as celebrated in Mexican and Latin American cultures, is also known as fiesta de quince años, or simply quince.
- NAPA (5A: Wine valley in California) One of my favorite wineries in the NAPA valley is the Castello di Amorosa. The winery building was constructed to resemble a 13th century Tuscan castle, complete with a drawbridge. My daughter and I visited Castello di Amorosa in January, 2020.
- ONE (47A: Number of single-syllable U.S. state names) Did you start listing off the names of states when you read this clue? If you listed the states alphabetically, you would name 18 states before coming to Maine, the only U.S. state with a ONE-syllable name.
- TUNIS (14D: North African capital) TUNIS is the capital and largest city of the North African country, Tunisia. Not only is Tunisia in North Africa, it is the northernmost country in Africa.
- ROUGE (48D: Word after "Baton" or "Moulin") Baton ROUGE is the capital of Louisiana. Moulin ROUGE is a cabaret in Paris, France known for being the birthplace of the can-can.
This is a delightful example of a classic USA Today theme type. CAKE with my puzzle? Yes, please! A great set of theme answers here, with the nice added touch that the first words change meaning from the theme answers to the newly-formed CAKE types. Smooth fill all around, with interesting cluing. Congratulations to Rose Sloan and Michael Lieberman who are making their USA Today debut here. Welcome! This puzzle was a GIFT to begin my day.