Constructor: Hannah Slovut
Editor: Erik Agard
EYEBROW WAX (16A: Shaping service at a salon)
LINE IN THE SAND (25A: Boundary you won't compromise on)
LONG GRAIN RICE (40A: Basmati, for example)
FOURTH WALL (54A: Something a character might break)
Theme synopsis: The END word of each theme answer can be placed in front of the word PAPER, giving us WAX PAPER, SANDPAPER, RICE PAPER, and WALLPAPER.
Things I learned:
- GRITS (48A: Dish similar to sofkee) Sofkee is a sour corn mixture that can have a consistency ranging from a soup-like drink to a thick porridge. It is made by cooking cracked corn in water to which wood ash has been added to make it alkaline. This process softens the corn. I was not familiar with sofkee, but I am familiar with GRITS, the porridge made from boiled cornmeal. I like GRITS; they are a comfort food for me. I enjoy them either with butter and honey, or with some cheese.
- DASTARS (4D: Turbans) DASTĀRS are associated with Sikhism. Among Sikh men and women, who wear DASTĀRS to cover their long, uncut hair, the headwear represents equality, honor, self-respect, courage, spirituality, and piety.
- NED (24D: Title character with a "Declassified School Survival Guide") NED's Declassified School Survival Guide is a TV sitcom that originally aired on Nickelodeon from 2004 to 2007. I am not familiar with this show, but it is popular enough that fans have created a WIKI (17D: Collaboratively edited reference site) about the show.
- MEL (33D: Golfer Reid) MEL Reid is a professional golfer on the Ladies European Tour and the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) Tour. She won her first LPGA Tour event in October 2020.
- PDFS (46D: JSTOR downloads) JSTOR is a digital library founded in 1995. It provides access to PDFS of back issues of academic journals and some books.
Random thoughts and interesting things:
- SHE'S (21A: First word of "Girl on Fire") Alicia Keys's 2012 song, "Girl on Fire," begins, "SHE'S just a girl and SHE'S on fire..." The song is from a studio album of the same name. Earlier this year it was announced that Alicia Keys is adapting her song, "Girl on Fire," into a graphic novel.
- ADDS (36A: Uses a "+" sign) Unfortunately, in the app and online versions of the puzzle, the + sign did not appear. On the first pass through the puzzle I spent a few moments trying to figure out a four letter word for using " " (quotation marks). Once I had a couple of letters from crossing answers, it was easy enough to figure out what was going on.
- GLEE (44A: TV show with Jenna Ushkowitz as Tina Cohen-Chang) Jenna Ushkowitz is an original cast member of the TV series, GLEE, which premiered in 2009 and aired until 2015. As the clue tells us, she played the role of Tina Cohen-Chang, a shy girl who gains confidence as the show progresses. Jenna Ushkowitz began acting at age three, appearing on Sesame Street.
- FOURTH WALL (54A: Something a character might break) The FOURTH WALL refers to the convention observed in theater, movies, TV, video games, and literature that there is an imaginary barrier between the audience and the actors. While the audience can see through the FOURTH WALL, actors typically ignore the audience, focusing on the action on their side of the imagined barrier. Some performances "break" the FOURTH WALL, having characters address the audience.
- LIONEL (58A: "Hello" singer Richie) Well, Adele didn't fit, so LIONEL it is.
- NNEDI (26D: Africanfuturist author Okorafor) NNEDI Okorafor coined the term Africanfuturism to refer to a subcategory of science fiction "rooted in African culture, history, mythology, and point-of-view." NNEDI Okorafor has written books for children and adults. Her most recent work for adults, Noor, was published three days ago. I first learned about NNEDI Okorafor from the July 31, 2020 puzzle.
- TEA (27D: Beverage in a kettle) As I was solving the puzzle, I immediately filled in this answer. However, in reviewing the puzzle it made me stop and think. The term TEAkettle (or TEA kettle) is most frequently used to refer to an appliance used to boil water to make TEA. Therefore, the beverage in a kettle is water.
- FOMO (30D: The feeling that other people are having fun without you) FOMO = Fear Of Missing Out
- BANE (50D: "It's the ___ of my existence") and WOE (55D: "___ is me!") I chuckled at the puzzle's mini-pity party in the lower right corner with these two answer appearing adjacent to each other. Perhaps the puzzle is suffering from FOMO.
- ROO (32A: Quintana ___, Mexico) Quintana ROO is a Mexican state. There are 32 federal entities in Mexico - 31 states plus Mexico City. Quintana ROO is the easternmost of Mexico's states, and has coastline on the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico.
This is a classic theme type seen in USA Today puzzles, and yet it's been a bit since we've seen a puzzle with this type of theme (since November 8, as a matter of fact). When I caught onto the theme, it felt like an old friend had made an appearance. A nice collection of theme answers here - all seemingly unrelated. My favorite answer in the puzzle was the sassy YOU HEARD ME. I also liked LEMON GLAZE, GLOWED, WAKE UP, and FAZE. I like the appearance of the grid as well, with lots of stair steps, and the black squares seeming to form a barrier around the FOURTH WALL. This puzzle was an enjoyable way to begin my Friday.