November 2, 2021


Constructors: Ann Shan & Brooke Husic

Editor: Erik Agard

Theme Answers:
JACK OF ALL TRADES (17A: Opposite of a specialist)
QUEEN OF JAZZ (35A: Nickname for Ella Fitzgerald)
KING OF THE CASTLE (54A: Game played on a hill)

Theme synopsis: The FRONT word of each theme answer is a FACE card: JACK, QUEEN, KING.

And now a word from our constructors:
Brooke: I super admire Ann's work and am so glad we got to make this puzzle together! It was a fun challenge to fill around a central 11-letter phrase — already a tricky feat, and this one has so many "scrabbly" letters! It was definitely due to Ann that we ended up with such a clean and fun grid. Besides the central theme answer my favorite fill is MANDALA and MAZEL, and my favorite clues are 16A, 30D, and 56D, the last of which is from this Maya Angelou poem.
Ann: It was such an honor to collaborate with Brooke on this (right on the heels of Lollapuzzoola 14 as well)! I've been wanting to put JACK OF ALL TRADES in a puzzle for a while now so I'm happy it worked out this way. My favorite clue that Brooke wrote is definitely 50D, but closely followed by the references to two Mayas in 30D and 56D.

Things I learned:
  • WET (46A: ___ n wild (beauty brand)) Although the name was inferable, I am not familiar with WET n wild beauty products. (This will surely not surprise any regular readers of this blog.) Interestingly, Wikipedia has not heard of it either. If you search for "WET n wild," you discover a list of water parks. I found a Wikipedia entry for model Elle Evans, who did a commercial for WET n wild cosmetics, but "WET n wild" in that entry erroneously links to - you guessed it - the list of water parks.
  • EVA (5D: Ballerina Evdokimova) EVA Evdokimova was a Bulgarian-American ballerina who performed with numerous ballet companies worldwide. Later in her life, she became a dance teacher at the Boston Ballet. In this clip you can see EVA Evdokimova and Rudolf Nureyev dance part of Sleeping Beauty. EVA Evdokimova died in 2009 at the age of 60.
  • RUE (19D: Zendaya's "Euphoria" character) Loosely based on an Israeli miniseries of the same name, the TV series, Euphoria, tells the various experiences of a group of high school students. Actress and singer, Zendaya, plays the role of RUE Bennett, a teenager struggling with drug addiction. I learned about Euphoria from the October 11, 2020 and February 5, 2021 puzzles, but did not know the name of Zendaya's character.
Random thoughts and interesting things:
  • JACK OF ALL TRADES (17A: Opposite of a specialist) The original use of JACK OF ALL TRADES, dating back to the 14th century, was as a compliment to mean someone that was competent in many areas. Later, the addition of "master of none" was added to the phrase, turning it into a disparaging comment. "JACK OF ALL TRADES, master of none" was used by Robert Greene in his 1952 booklet, Greene's Groats-Worth of Wit. He used the phrase to refer to William Shakespeare.
  • ATLAS (28A: Book of maps) This puzzle appearance is an encore for ATLAS, as we saw it as an answer yesterday
  • AVOID (33A: Synonym of 15-Across) and EVADE (15A: Get away from) When I first read the clue for AVOID, my mind interpreted the word "synonym" as "homophone." This caused a few moments of confusion as I tried to figure out a word that sounded like EVADE.  (I do know the difference between a synonym and a homophone; I'm chalking it up to my cup of tea not kicking in yet!) 
  • MAZEL (34A: "Congrats!") We often see the word MAZEL in the Yiddish phrase, "MAZEL tov!" meaning "good fortune."
  • QUEEN OF JAZZ (35A: Nickname for Ella Fitzgerald) and SCAT (53D: Improvise like Ella Fitzgerald) In addition to "QUEEN OF JAZZ," Ella Fitzgerald was also known as the "First Lady of Song." In this clip, you can watch Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington perform "It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)." The clue for SCAT was a nice tie-in with the theme answer.
  • FOR (43A: ("___ Once in My Life) "FOR Once in My Life" was a 1967 hit for Stevie Wonder. A different song title "FOR Once in My Life" was a 2013 hit for Mel B.
  • OREOS (51A: Mondelez cookies) Mondel─ôz International is a food processing company based in Chicago, Illinois. OREOS are one of the Mondel─ôz brands. The company has its origins in Kraft Foods, and resulted from a 2012 restructuring.
  • KING OF THE CASTLE (54A: Game played on a hill) My first thought here was KING OF THE Mountain, and that obviously doesn't fit. Whether you call it KING OF THE CASTLE, KING OF THE Mountain, or KING OF THE hill, the object of this childhood game remains the same - to knock the KING from atop the hill.
  • AGATHA (2D: "WandaVision" witch) WandaVision is a TV miniseries set three weeks after the events of the 2019 movie, Avengers: Endgame. Kathryn Hahn plays the role of AGATHA Harkness, a witch that masquerades as nosy neighbor, Agnes.
  • LIN (30D: "Storm King Wavefield" artist Maya) Storm King Wavefield is an earthwork - an environmental art installation. The exhibition consists of waves of grasses sculpted on a site that was formerly gravel. This work of Maya LIN's is part of the Storm King Art Center in New Windsor, New York. You can hear Maya LIN talk about Storm King Wavefield in this short video clip. It was just over a week ago that Maya LIN's art installation, Ghost Forest, was mentioned in the puzzle. 
  • MANDALA (34D: Geometric figure that might be made of sand) A MANDALA is a geometric design. The creation of sand MANDALAs is an art practice in Tibetan Buddhism. Hours are spent creating beautiful intricate designs that are then ceremonially swept away.
  • WISH (50D: Something made at 11:11) In numerology, the number combination of 11:11 is associated with luck. Some people make a WISH if they look at a clock and the time is 11:11. You may remember that November 11, or 11/11 is celebrated as an unofficial commercial holiday in China known as Singles' Day.
  • NOT (56D: "Life doesn't frighten me at all / ___ at all") This line is from a Maya Angelou poem titled, "Life Doesn't Frighten Me." 
No backward glances today, FACE FRONT for this fun puzzle. I enjoyed discovering the FACE cards in the three excellent theme answers. The rest of the puzzle was great, too, with cluing such as WIRE (16A: Bra part that might be removed). To that I say, "YES!" (12D: "Definitely!") Smooth fill all around, with an abundance of enjoyable entries including MANDALA, MOCHAS, FIZZ, and LIT UP. This is Ann Shan's USA Today puzzle debut - congratulations and welcome! To RECAP, I will not REJECT this puzzle; it was a delightful way to begin my Tuesday.