December 6, 2021


Constructor: Mark Valdez

Editor: Erik Agard

Theme Answers:
POINT TAKEN (17A: "I see what you mean!")
PERRY MASON (64A: Fictional veteran whose name is an anagram of "army person")
PEACE SIGN (10D: Two-finger gesture in the shape of a V)
PIZZA OVEN (33D: Appliance in which calzones are cooked)

Theme synopsis: Each theme answer is WRITTEN IN PEN in the sense that one or two of the letters of the word PEN appear at the beginning of each theme answer, with the remaining letter(s) found at the end of the answer.
And now a word from our constructor:
Mark: I'm thrilled to be making my solo debut as a crossword constructor in today's USA Today. I'm so thankful for the Crossword Puzzle Collaboration Directory which allowed me to connect with Erik Agard who was so generous with his time to introduce me to constructing. Erik then connected me with Brooke Husic, who I have co-constructed every published puzzle with. I've been so lucky to learn under her mentorship since we met virtually in April. So, even though it's my first solo puzzle, it's very much a tribute to Erik's editing and Brooke's mentor-friendship.
Happy Solving!!

Things I learned:
  • TSA (1A: Rod's employer in "Get Out") I learned about the movie Get Out from the June 27, 2020 puzzle. Jordan Peele directed the 2017 horror movie about Black people trapped in a trance-like state when their bodies are taken over by white hosts. I have not seen the movie, (horror movies and my ability to sleep don't get along), therefore, I needed crossing answers to verify this answer. In the movie, Daniel Kaluuya plays the role of Chris Washington, a Black photographer invited to meet the family of his white girlfriend. Lil Rel Howery plays Rod Williams, Chris's best friend, who works for the TSA.
  • ANT-MAN (51A: Superhero film starring Paul Rudd) I only needed the A from PIZZA OVEN to deduce that the Marvel Comics superhero portrayed by Paul Rudd was ANT-MAN. Paul Rudd also helped write the screenplay for the movie.
  • EMOTE (61A: Fortnite dance move) Fortnite is an online video game first released in 2017 by Epic Games. In the game, an EMOTE is a dance move that your character can perform. 
  • NERDS (54D: Black Girl ___ (Jamie Broadnax publication)) Black Girl NERDS is an online publication and multimedia space founded by Jamie Broadnax. The most recent Black Girl NERDS podcast (November 29) discussed the Netflix series Squid Game, and the final episode of HBO's series, Insecure
Random thoughts and interesting things:
  • SEDARIS (41A: "At Home With Amy ___" (truTV series)) The TV series, At Home with Amy SEDARIS, features the host playing various characters: herself, Patty Hogg, Ronnie Vino, Hobo, and Nutmeg. The TV show was created by Amy SEDARIS and Paul Dinello, and focuses on Amy's interests in entertaining, crafts, and cooking.
  • PERRY MASON (64A: Fictional veteran whose name is an anagram of "army person") PERRY MASON is a character in 82 books and 4 short stories written by Erle Stanley Gardner. The criminal defense lawyer and veteran of World War I made his first appearance in the 1933 novel, The Case of the Velvet Claws. The 2020 HBO TV series, PERRY MASON, is based on the character in Gardner's books. I have read PERRY MASON books, and never realized his name anagrams to "army person" - clearly I need to up my anagramming skills!
  • AMINO (3D: With 22-Across, protein building block) and ACID (22A: See 3-Down) and RNA (5D: "Messenger" molecule) I enjoyed this science content. At a cellular level, messenger RNA (mRNA) carries information that determines the AMINO ACID sequence of proteins. 
  • TERI (11D: "Desperate Housewives" star Hatcher) TERI Hatcher won a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy for her depiction of Susan Mayer on the TV series, Desperate Housewives.
  • CAPER (24D: Morsel in chicken piccata) Chicken piccata consists of chicken served with a sauce of lemon juice, butter and CAPERs. A CAPER is the edible flower bud of the CAPER bush.
  • PUMAS (50D: Large cats also known as cougars) If you read the blog two days ago, you had an
    advantage here, as I mentioned that PUMAS are also known as cougars (and mountain lion, panthers, or catamounts). I did not have any PUMAS helping me write the blog today, but I did have their smaller cousin, my daughter's cat, Toby, providing assistance.
  • YES (66D: "___, and ..." (improv principle)) The improvisational comedy rule-of-thumb, "YES, and..." is the idea that a participant accept what someone else has said (YES), and then expand on that line of thinking.

    Geography review: 
    • DES (72A: ___ Moines) DES Moines is the capital of Iowa, and the state's largest city. According to Wikipedia (which is citing this New York Times article), "If you have any desire to witness presidential candidates in the most close-up and intimate of settings, there is arguably no better place to go than Des Moines." I'm glad they said arguably, because I would argue that Iowa City is a better venue for meeting presidential candidates. In particular, I recommend Hamburg Inn No. 2, where many presidential candidates make a stop. Even if you don't see a presidential candidate while you're at Hamburg Inn, you can have an apple pie milkshake! That's my recommendation anyway, my husband prefers the Red Velvet cake shake.
    I solved today's puzzle using the USA Today app, but I felt like I should have printed it out and solved it - using a PEN, of course. A fun theme with four solid theme answers; my favorite was POINT TAKEN, followed closely by PIZZA OVEN. (PIZZA is one of my favorite foods.) My favorite clue today was (44A: Like naming a fish Fluffy) for IRONIC. From a constructing standpoint, with two 10-letter and two 9-letter theme answers, placing two answers Across and two Down is a choice that allows greater flexibility, as each theme answer is essentially in its own corner. We've seen USA Today crosswords by Mark Valdez previously, but this is the first solo construction by Mark, so that was fun to see. This puzzle was an enjoyable way to begin my Monday.