October 8, 2021


Constructor: Claire Rimkus

Editor: Erik Agard

Guest Blogger: Enrique Henestroza Anguiano

Theme Answers:

TALK SHOW (16A: Many a late-night program)
TIME MACHINES (28A: Sci-fi devices)
PRINT PREVIEW (48A: Button that gives a sneak peek of a hard copy)
TOWN HALL (64A: Local government building)

Theme synopsis: Each theme answer is a phrase whose first word can follow the word SMALL, which gives us SMALL TALK, SMALL TIME, SMALL PRINT, and SMALL TOWN.

Things I learned:
  • SAGA (20A: The "Dark Star" trilogy, for example) The "Dark Star" trilogy is a fantasy series from Jamaican novelist Marlon James. "Black Leopard, Red Wolf" is the first book and was a finalist for the 2019 National Book Award in fiction. "Moon Witch, Spider King" will be the second in the series, due out in 2022. This has now been added to my reading list!
  • RUM (32A: Coquito liquor) Coquito, which means "little coconut," is a rum-based Christmas cocktail from Puerto Rico that's similar to eggnog (as well as to the Mexican version, rompope).
  • ALEXA (36A: Olympic gymnast Moreno) Alexa Moreno is the first Mexican woman to medal at a gymnastics world championships, winning the bronze medal on vault in 2018.
  • SOUL (45A: Genre for Mumu Fresh) Maimouna Youssef, aka Mumu Fresh, is a Grammy-nominated artist with Native/African American roots. Her music blends gospel, jazz, soul, and hip-hop.
  • ANA (21D: Jewelry designer Khouri) Ana Khouri is known for making ear cuffs and other sculptural pieces, and her jewelry has been exhibited at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris.
Random thoughts and interesting things:
  • TED (22A: Name located within this clue) I love "meta" clues that use this type of self-reference, both because they're fun and because they provide an extra little hint to solvers.
  • OREO (68A: Cookie with a Cherry Cola variety) It's always fun to see how OREO gets clued in current crossword puzzles, since they often seek out new cluing angles. As far as off-the-wall flavors go, Cherry Cola sounds kinda tasty!
  • KNIT (17D: Cable-___ sweater) As the autumn season gets into full swing, even here in the temperate Bay Area, the thought of a cozy cable-knit sweater is very appealing.
  • SUIT (41D: Outfit for a bride) I appreciate that the USA Today crossword is a venue where this clue can be presented in a straightforward way, without qualifiers.
Geography review:
  • ASIA (37A: Red panda's continent) Red pandas live in the temperate forests of the Himalayas, with a geographical range extending from Nepal to China.
  • NOVA (40D: ___ Scotia) Nova Scotia is a Canadian province on its East Coast. It has a wine country and grape-growing tradition dating back to the 1600s, with distinctive varietals like Seyval Blanc and Baco Noir.
Hi, folks! I'm Enrique, a crossword lover who regularly solves the USA Today puzzle (and sometimes contributes to it). I'm honored to have the opportunity to guest blog for Sally today, and what a delightful puzzle to do it with! I enjoyed the wordplay in the "Starting Small" title, and I had fun after my solve thinking about how SMALL might also fit into each theme entry's scenario: a host making SMALL TALK with guests on a TALK SHOW, a SMALL TOWN community gathering to discuss issues at a TOWN HALL meeting, etc. I loved the conversational cluing voice throughout, as well as the multiple Latine references (beyond Coquito in the RUM clue and ALEXA Moreno, there's also the phrase "UNA vez más"), and the overall smoothness of the grid, with the very evocative LETS NOT in one of the longer slots as well. Thanks Claire, and Erik, for the lovely puzzle!