January 17, 2022


Constructor: Will Nediger

Editor: Erik Agard

Theme Answers:
WHAT'S TODAY'S DATE (4D: Question from someone writing a check)
MEADOWLARK LEMON (7D: Harlem Globetrotters icon)
BEIJING MANDARIN (9D: Dialect group spoken in China's capital)

Theme synopsis: The bottom (LOW) word of each vertical theme answer is the name of a FRUIT: DATE, LEMON, and MANDARIN.

Things I learned:
  • ASHA (17A: Author bandele) ASHA bandele's debut book was The Prisoner's Wife (1999), a memoir about her relationship with and marriage to a man in prison for murder. She has also written a second memoir, Something Like Beautiful (2009), and a novel titled, Daughter (2003), and two collections of poetry. I enjoyed watching this short interview with ASHA bandele, in which she says, "Any great writer ought to be a great reader." Good advice. (She also says, "I hate Shakespeare..." and talks about the benefits of having a good editor.)
  • INTO (33A: "___ the Thick of It" ("The Backyardigans" song)) The Backyardigans is an animated children's TV series that originally aired on Nickelodeon from 2004 to 2011. The show features five animals imagining themselves on backyard adventures, and each episode features four songs. This article gives a nice overview of the show, as well as discussing how the show's songs have been going viral on social media recently. (It also includes a picture of the show's colorful characters.) "INTO the Thick of It" is from The Backyardigans, and one of the songs that went viral on TikTok, subsequently reaching number 13 on the Spotify viral 50 chart in June 2021. This is a fun clue. I have never heard of this song, or the show, but the answer was easily inferable with help from crossing answers. For those who are familiar with the song and show, what an enjoyable thing to see it in the puzzle.
  • SONS (16D: C.R. Patterson & ___ (early automaker)) I was not familiar with C.R. Patterson & SONS, but again, the answer was inferable. I'm happy to learn about C.R. Patterson & SONS, a small automobile manufacturer that was the first Black-owned car company.
  • UTES (30D: The Uncompahgre band, etc.) The Uncompahgre is a band of the UTES, a tribe in present day Colorado and Utah.
  • YEW (49D: Tree used to make archery bows) I did not know this, but apparently YEW is considered the best wood for making longbows
Random thoughts and interesting things:
  • KEYTAR (20A: Synth with a shoulder strap) A KEYTAR is a hybrid of a keyboard and a guitar. Prince designed a custom KEYTAR, the PurpleAxxe, which I wrote about when we saw KEYTAR in the April 20, 2021 puzzle. 
  • MARY (43A: British baker Berry) It is delightful to see MARY Berry in the puzzle. MARY Berry, also known as MARY, Queen of Cakes, is the author of over 75 cookbooks, including the best-selling Baking Bible (2009). From 2010 to 2016, MARY Berry was one of the hosts of The Great British Bake-Off (known as The Great British Baking Show in the United States).
  • PASTE (68A: Miso or ngapi) Miso is a PASTE made of fermented soybeans. Ngapi is a PASTE made of fermented fish or shrimp. 
  • WHAT'S TODAY'S DATE (4D: Question from someone writing a check) What a fun and perfect way to clue, "WHAT'S TODAY'S DATE?" I write fewer checks than I used to (like many people, I imagine), but I have many memories of posing this question while in the process of writing a check.
  • MEADOWLARK LEMON (7D: Harlem Globetrotters icon) MEADOWLARK LEMON played for the Harlem Globetrotters from 1954 to 1978, appearing in over 16,000 games. 
  • ELM (8D: Tree susceptible to DED) DED, or Dutch ELM disease, is spread by ELM bark beetles, and has devastated many populations of ELM trees.
  • RACE (37D: "___ Matters" (Cornel West book) Cornel West's collection of essays, RACE Matters, was first published in 1994, and republished in 2017. 

    Geography review:

    • ISLA (34A: Ibiza o Mallorca) The "o" here, Spanish for "or," tips us off that we are looking for ISLA, the Spanish word for "island." Appropriately, Ibiza and Mallorca are Spanish islands. Both Ibiza and Mallorca are part of the Balearic Islands, an autonomous community of Spain
    • BEIJING MANDARIN (9D: Dialect group spoken in China's capital) BEIJING is the capital of China, a nice hint to attaining this answer. A branch of MANDARIN Chinese, BEIJING MANDARIN refers to a number of dialects spoken in China's capital.
    • ASIA (31D: Siberia's continent) Siberia is a geographic and historical region in North ASIA. Since Siberia is not a political entity, it does not have clearly defined borders, but traditionally has been defined as the area between the Ural Mountains (as the western border) to the Pacific Ocean. The sparsely populated region is a part of Russia, meaning that although the area is geographically a part of ASIA, it is culturally and politically European.
    The title of the puzzle let me know exactly what to expect as a theme, and it was fun to uncover each LOW-HANGING FRUIT as I filled in the three grid-spanning theme answers. There was so much to enjoy in this puzzle! In addition to the entries I've highlighted above, I liked seeing SOUTHPAW, DRY SPELL, INTREPID, AS NEEDED, and KINDNESS. Today's constructor, Will Nediger, has been a guest blogger on this site, has his own crossword blog, Bewilderingly, where he posts puzzles and a round-up of indie puzzle highlights at the end of each month, and is the editor of the Spyscape crossword. This is Will's debut as a USA Today constructor, and I was happy to see his name in the constructor slot today. This puzzle was a great way to begin my Monday.


    1. Sorry to be pedantic, but a point of correction: Asha Bandele is not saying "I hate Shakespeare!" in that video, she's critiquing her college self's narrow reading preference. She adds: "As you get older and you come full circle, you realize that you can embrace a breadth of voices and visions without subjugating your own"

      Also yes, backyardigans is fun to remember :)

      1. Yes, I realize what asha bandele was saying... I meant it as a teaser to get people to listen. I guess it succeeded. :-) Sorry if you felt misled!

      2. haha it's all good, totally fell for the clickbait. seemed so outrageous for a writer to say


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