November 16, 2021


Constructor: Erik Agard

Editor: Erik Agard

Theme Answers:
HALLE (1A: ___ Berry, actress with roles found at the starts of three answers in this puzzle)
QUEEN BEES (17A: Hive leaders)
STORM CHASERS (33A: People who pursue severe weather)
JINX BUY ME A COKE (54A: Phrase that might send someone to the vending machine)

Theme synopsis: This puzzle is a STUDY of CHARACTERs played by HALLE Berry: QUEEN, STORM, and JINX.

Things I learned:
  • CALYPSO (39A: Lord Kitchener's music) Lord Kitchener was the professional name of Aldwyn Roberts, who proclaimed himself the "grand master of CALYPSO." Born in Trinidad and Tobago, where CALYPSO music originated, Lord Kitchener moved to England in 1948. During the next 14 years, before he returned to Trinidad, Lord Kitchener played a role in making CALYPSO popular in the United Kingdom. A statue honoring Lord Kitchener is located in Port of Spain, the capital of Trinidad and Tobago.
  • MRS (52A: "___ Death Misses Death" (Salena Godden novel)) Salena Godden has published a number of anthologies of poetry, essays, and short fiction. MRS. Death Misses Death, published in January of this year, is her first novel. The book uses a combination of prose and poetry to tell the story of MRS. Death, a Black, working-class woman exhausted from spending eternity doing her job, and Wolf Willeford, a young writer well acquainted with death.
  • SPOONS (10D: Energy) This clue is a reference to the spoon theory created by Christine Miserandino as a way to explain what it's like to live with a chronic illness. In spoon theory, SPOONS represent energy. The idea is that each person has so many "SPOONS" (energy) a day. A person that is sick has fewer SPOONS to "spend" each day than a healthy person. This was a difficult answer for me to figure out, and even after completing the puzzle, I couldn't figure out how SPOONS were energy. However, after looking up the answer, I realized I had heard this usage before. I just drew a blank on it this morning.
  • MMA (29D: Sport for Jackie Justice in "Bruised") Bonus theme answer! In the 2020 movie, Bruised, HALLE Berry plays the role of mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter, Jackie Justice. Bruised is also HALLE Berry's directorial debut. 
  • SHACKLES (40D: Mary Mary song) "SHACKLES (Praise You)" was the 2000 debut single by the singer-songwriter duo Mary Mary, and is considered their signature song. Sisters Erica Campbell and Tina Atkins-Campbell perform together as the urban contemporary gospel duo Mary Mary. Their name is inspired by two Biblical Marys: Mary, the mother of Jesus, and Mary Magdalene.
Random thoughts and interesting things:
  • HALLE (1A: ___ Berry, actress with roles found at the starts of three answers in this puzzle) HALLE Berry is the star of today's puzzle! Her lengthy film and TV credits include the roles of QUEEN, STORM, and JINX. HALLE Berry has played two characters named QUEEN. In the 1993 TV miniseries QUEEN (an adaptation of Alex Haley's 1993 novel QUEEN: The Story of an American Family), HALLE Berry played the title role. In the 1995 movie, Solomon & Sheba, HALLE Berry played the role of QUEEN Sheba. HALLE Berry has played the role of STORM, in four movies: X-Men (200), X2 (2003), X-Men: The Last Stand (2006), and X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014). In the 2002 James Bond movie, Die Another Day, HALLE Berry played the role of Giacinta "JINX" Johnson.
  • NEO (15A: Prefix for "pronouns") If you need a refresher on NEOpronouns, I have written about them previously
  • NOM (19A: Bit of awards recognition, for short) Not surprisingly, HALLE Berry has received a number of NOMs, or nominations, for a variety of awards. She was the first Black woman to win an Academy Award for Best Actress, which she won in 2001 for the role of Letitia Musgrove in the movie, Monster's Ball. On the other end of the spectrum, in 2005, HALLE Berry won a Golden Raspberry Award ("Razzie") for Worst Actress for her title role in Catwoman. Instead of ignoring the Razzies, HALLE Berry accepted the award in person and gave a memorable acceptance speech. (She took her Oscar with her to accept her Razzie award.)
  • RAIN (25A: Wet forecast) and STORM CHASERS (33A: People who pursue severe weather) I liked that RAIN was above and just out of reach of STORM CHASERS.
  • JINX BUY ME A COKE (54A: Phrase that might send someone to the vending machine) What a fun entry! There are many variations of the informal game played when two people accidentally say the same thing simultaneously. 
  • KNOTS (66A: Bantu ___ (hairstyle)) Bantu KNOTS are a hairstyle that originated with the Zulu people in southern Africa. The style involves sectioning off, twisting, and wrapping the hair into spiraled knots. Here's some bonus theme content of HALLE Berry rocking bantu KNOTS. 
  • EYES (5D: "Their ___ Were Watching God") More bonus theme content! In the 2005 made-for-TV movie, Their EYES Were Watching God (based on Zora Neale Hurston's 1937 book of the same name), HALLE Berry played the role of Janie Crawford. She won a Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Television Movie for the role.
  • CELEBRATED (31D: Very admired) An appropriate answer to appear in this puzzle in which the much admired HALLE Berry is CELEBRATED. 

    Geography review:
    • EAST (51A: Oklahoma-to-Arkansas direction) The states of Oklahoma and Arkansas share a border, with Arkansas to the EAST of Oklahoma. While we're on the topic of these states, a reminder that the capital of Oklahoma is Oklahoma City, and the capital of Arkansas is Little Rock.
    • SAUDI (6D: ___ Arabia) The Kingdom of SAUDI Arabia is a country in Western Asia. It is located on the Arabian Peninsula, and is the largest country in the Middle East. Its capital is Riyadh.
    What a fun puzzle! It's rare for USA Today puzzles to feature revealers, and rare overall for a revealer to be the first answer in a crossword. We see both of those things today, as the first answer in the puzzle reveals that this crossword is a CHARACTER STUDY of HALLE Berry. Some people don't like tribute puzzles. I am not in that group of "some people," particularly when the puzzle is as enjoyable as this one, and the subject is as tribute-worthy as HALLE Berry. I enjoyed finding the bonus theme material that Erik Agard is so skillful at incorporating into the puzzles he constructs. If you discover any bonus theme content I've missed, please let me know. This grid is asymmetrical, to accommodate theme answers of the lengths 9-, 12-, and 14-letters. This puzzle was a delightful way to begin my Tuesday.