December 23, 2021


Constructor: Rafael Musa

Editor: Amanda Rafkin

Theme Answers:
MINI COOPER (20A: Car with Union Jack taillights)
TINY DESK CONCERT (40A: Cozy gig hosted by NPR Music)
LITTLE ROCK (60A: Capital of Arkansas)

Theme synopsis: The START of each theme answer is a synonym for SMALL: MINI, TINY, LITTLE.

Things I learned:
  • EAT (31A: Enjoy some banh xeo) Bánh xèo is a crispy, stuffed rice pancake that originated in Vietnam. It is named for the sound the rice batter makes when it is poured into a hot skillet. "Bánh" means "cake" and xèo means "sizzle."
  • HOPI (2D: Like Powamu) The HOPI Festival, Powamû, also known as Bean-Planting Festival, is a midwinter ceremony. The 8-day celebration is observed in late January or early February.
  • O'NEAL (43D: Frederick who founded the American Negro Theatre) In addition to founding the American Negro Theater, which opened in Harlem on June 5, 1940, Frederick O'NEAL was also the  first Black president of the Actor's Equity Association. Actors whose careers began at the American Negro Theater include Sidney Poitier, Ruby Dee, and Harry Belafonte.
  • ARROW (57D: Symbol on Aang's head in "Avatar: The Last Airbender") I have previously written about the animated TV series, Avatar: The Last Airbender, but I needed the help of crossing answers to figure out this answer. Avatar Aang is the main character of Avatar: The Last Airbender. He has a light blue ARROW tattoo on his forehead, denoting that he is an airbender master. At the Tokyo Olympics, Dutch windsurfer Kiran Badlo, emulated Aang by having a bright blue ARROW shaved into his head.
Random thoughts and interesting things:
  • MINI COOPER (20A: Car with Union Jack taillights) The original MINI COOPER was produced by the British Motor Corporation (BMC). Since 2001, the MINI has been made by BMW. As of a few years ago, MINI COOPERs have taillights with plastic molding featuring the Union Jack, the national flag of the United Kingdom.
  • TET (30A: Spring Festival in Vietnam) TET, also known as the Vietnamese New Year, celebrates the arrival of spring based on the Vietnamese calendar.
  • TINY DESK CONCERT (40A: Cozy gig hosted by NPR Music) This answer made me so happy! A TINY DESK CONCERT is exactly what it sounds like - performers give a CONCERT behind a TINY DESK in the NPR offices. The TINY DESK is that of NPR's Bob Boilen, host of All Songs Considered. In 2008, Boilen was complaining about crowd noise at concerts and joked that folk singer Laura Gibson should perform at his desk. A month later he invited her to do just that, recorded the performance, and posted it online. The TINY DESK CONCERT series now includes over 800 concerts that are available on YouTube.
  • SARA (56A: "Waitress" composer Bareilles) This clue also made me happy! Waitress is a 2015 musical written by SARA Bareilles. It is based on a 2007 movie of the same name. Waitress was notable for having an all-women production team
  • AFRO (58A: Prefix for "Latina" or "futurism") The term AFRO-Latina is used by Black people in the United States who speak Spanish or Portuguese as their first language and/or have ancestry in Latin America. AFROfuturism is an artistic movement that explores the African-American experience by combining elements of science-fiction, history, and fantasy. The term AFROfuturism was coined in 1994 by Mark Dery.
  • DRAG (65A: Ball culture performance) Ball culture is a Black and Latin American LGBTQ+ subculture that originated in New York City in the early 20th century. It consists of events that include DRAG performance, dance, lip-syncing, and modeling.
  • EGAN (69A: Pulitzer winner Jennifer) Jennifer EGAN won a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2011 for her novel, A Visit from the Goon Squad
  • SYD (35D: "Right Track" singer) Singer, songwriter SYD released the song, "Right Track" in August of this year. 

    Geography review:

    • LITTLE ROCK (60A: Capital of Arkansas) In addition to being the capital, LITTLE ROCK is the largest city in Arkansas. LITTLE ROCK is located on the Arkansas River, and gets its name from a rock formation along the river that was named "La Petite Roche" (LITTLE ROCK) in the 1720s by French explorer Jean-Baptiste Bénard de la Harpe.
    Although ANTONYMS (6D: In and out, e.g.) is an answer in today's puzzle, it is synonyms that are featured in the theme. These theme answers may START SMALL, but they are all solid and interesting entries. It's interesting to note that we've seen the title of this puzzle, STARTING SMALL, previously, used with a different theme approach. (I just mentioned the other day that it might be interesting to have a set of puzzles with the same title and different approaches to the theme.) In addition to the theme, I enjoyed ALL THE BEST, DEAR ME, and TABOO. The fill today was extremely smooth, just as we've come to expect from USA Today puzzles. This puzzle was an enjoyable way to begin my Thursday.