October 25, 2021


Constructors: Chandi Deitmer & Brooke Husic

Editor: Erik Agard

Theme Answers:
STRAW POLLS (6D: Unofficial ballots)
COWBOY BEBOP (10D: '90s anime whose opening theme song is "Tank!")
PANAMA CANAL (22D: It connects the Atlantic with the Pacific)
BUCKET LIST (28D: Inventory of life goals)

Theme synopsis: The TOP word of each theme answer is a type of HAT. In today's wardrobe we have a STRAW HAT, a COWBOY HAT, a PANAMA HAT, and a BUCKET HAT.

And now a word from our constructors:
Chandi: Hard to not swoon at sharing a byline with the inimitable Brooke Husic today. Got silly stuck on mirror symmetry for no real reason initially, and she anchored the themers in a new grid layout for much, much smoother fill - as is to be expected in a USAT grid! It's true that a grid that may be lighter for a solver is harder on the constructing end, and I appreciated her thoughtful attention to light proper density, smooth crossings, and fill that (hopefully!) is fun for solvers of all stripes. Watching her thought process soup to nuts was a great learning experience, and of course representative of the USAT energy as a whole. Fond memories of watching COWBOYBEBOP in my friend's basement in high school - shout out to Terry's mom for keeping us all well-snacked. More importantly, big big thanks to Brooke for her collaborative spirit and Erik for his editorial thoughts!
Brooke: It was such a dream to co-create this puzzle with Chandi! I reminisce about her NYT debut at least once a week. Probably more. You can also read about her amazing Summer Boswords puzzle here. For today's puzzle, the theme idea was all hers! Chandi's grid skills are 😍amazing😍. It's definitely thanks to her that we got to have such fun "bonus" answers in the northwest and southeast — PILLOW TALK, I NEED A RIDE, SET IN STONE, and CROSSROADS were all so fun to clue! In general cluing together was a blast and the entire collaboration was seamless and fun! I loved diving into COWBOY BEBOP trivia and writing the clues for TODAY and HERS especially.

Things I learned:
  • ANIL (61A: Movie star Kapoor) ANIL Kapoor played the role of game show host, Prem Kumar, in the 2008 movie, Slumdog Millionaire. In 2016, ANIL Kapoor appeared on the season 14 finale of the TV show, Family Guy, playing himself as the host of Kaun Banega Crorepati (the Hindi adaptation of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?)
  • COWBOY BEBOP (10D: '90s anime whose opening theme song is "Tank!") The anime TV series COWBOY BEBOP has been described as a hybrid of westerns and pulp fiction, and also "space opera meets noir, meets comedy, meets cyberpunk." The series takes place in the year 2071, when humanity has colonized the planets and moons of the Solar System (after Earth became uninhabitable). Registered bounty hunters - referred to as COWBOYs - chase criminals and bring them in for a reward. The protagonists of the series are COWBOYs working from the spaceship BEBOP. Somehow I missed this series, as I don't have a TV, and it came out before streaming services were widespread. However, if you are like me and missed the series the first time around (or watched it and want to revisit it), never fear! Four days ago COWBOY BEBOP began streaming on Netflix - complete with its theme song, "Tank." A live-action adaptation of COWBOY BEBOP will premier on Netflix next month.
Random thoughts and interesting things:
  • ORCA (16A: Dolphin seen near the San Juan Islands) It's true, the ORCA is a toothed whale belonging to the dolphin family. The San Juan Islands are located in the Pacific Northwest, between the state of Washington and Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada. (Sneaking in some geography review as a random thought!) In fact, it was near the San Juan Islands, that I went whale watching in August, and saw a group of ORCAs.
  • TAPAS (42A: Options at a Spanish restaurant) TAPAS are small plates or appetizers. In some restaurants, an entire meal can be made of TAPAS. I have memories of several wonderful TAPAS meals, including an anniversary celebration at which my husband and I accidentally received a TAPA meant for another table, and as a result, ended up eating octopus for the first time. (It was chewy.)
  • TODAY (48A: When you're reading this) My HAT is off to Brooke and Chandi for this fabulous clue! How enjoyable to have a moment of confusion followed by..."Aha! Funny!"
  • GINA (2D: Sofia Wylie's "HSMTMTS" role) HSMTMTS = High School Musical: The Musical: The Series, a Disney+ TV series based on the High School Musical movies. Sofia Wylie plays the role of transfer student, GINA Porter.
  • OREO (11D: Cookie whose bakers went on strike in 2021) Workers who make OREO cookies and other Nabisco products were on strike from August 10 to September 20 of this year as they negotiated a new contract. 
  • ARO (21D: One meaning of the A in LGBTQIA) The A in LGBTQIA can mean ARO, or aromantic. It can also mean asexual or agender.
  • BUCKET LIST (28D: Inventory of life goals) Do you have a BUCKET LIST? If you do, I'd love to hear what's on it. Leave a comment below, or tweet at me. I don't have a formal BUCKET LIST, though my husband and I are on a quest to visit as many U.S. National Parks as we can. So far I've been to 26 of the 63 National Parks. (My husband has been to 21 Parks; we're working at getting him caught up.) The one thing I've consistently referred to as being "on my BUCKET LIST," is seeing the aurora borealis. Someday! Maybe if I make it to the National Parks in Alaska.
  • PAY (43D: Use Cash App, e.g.) I liked this clue, because it is accessible even to solvers who may not be familiar with Cash App, since PAY is inferable from Cash.

    Geography review:
    • CUBA (35A: Havana's country) Havana is the capital and largest city of CUBA. Havana is sometimes referred to as the "City of Columns."
    • PANAMA CANAL (22D: It connects the Atlantic with the Pacific) The PANAMA CANAL is 51 miles long, and divides North and South America, connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Construction on the PANAMA CANAL began in 1904, and the CANAL opened in 1914. An expansion project that was started in 2007 was completed in 2016. 
    • OMAN (49D: Muscat's country) Muscat is the capital and most populous city of OMAN. Muscat is on the Arabian Sea along the Gulf of OMAN.
    • SRI (57D: ___ Lankan) SRI Lanka is an island country in South Asia. Its legislative capital is SRI Jayawardenepura Kotte, and its executive and judicial capital is Colombo.
    My only complaint about this puzzle is that it didn't include the
    RAINBOW-STOCKING-SCARF-COMBO HAT (or whatever this delightfully silly HAT I am modeling is called...) Of course I'm kidding! This puzzle has a delightful array of HATs called to mind by a TOP-notch set of theme answers. This is Chandi Deitmer's USA Today puzzle debut, so congratulations and welcome! I've enjoyed solving Chandi's puzzles elsewhere, and was delighted to see her name today. The lower right corner of this puzzle encapsulates many of my parenting moments: When my kids are at a CROSSROADS, I tell them "IT'S OK," because their decision ISN'T SET IN STONE. Smooth fill and enjoyable cluing all around made this puzzle a stellar way to begin my Monday.


    1. truly amazing hat (and writeup — thank you!)!!! also so cool that cowboy bebop became available so recently, what a coincidence! also love your "parenting moment" take on the southeast


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