February 18, 2022


Constructors: Brooke Husic & Enrique Henestroza Anguiano

Editors: Mollie Cowger & Erik Agard

Theme Answers:
LAST CHRISTMAS (15D: Chart-topping holiday song by Wham!)
CHOSEN FAMILY (19A: Queer friend group, e.g.)
FALSE BINARY (21D: Assumption that there are two genders, e.g.)

Theme synopsis: The last word of each vertical theme answer (the TRUNK, so to speak) is a type of TREE. We have a BINARY TREE, a CHRISTMAS TREE, and a FAMILY TREE.

And now a word from our constructors:
Enrique & Brooke: We’re excited to share this evocatively grid-arty puzzle in the USAT for our second collaboration here! We love the “trunk” of black boxes at the bottom of the grid, the “canopy” in the top-left corner, and BANANA LEAF as an added wink up there too. We’re also happy to have gotten CHOSEN FAMILY into the puzzle, clued in a meaningful way. Other highlights for us are the dashing IDRIS ELBA, and the idea of an eager treat-giver at Halloween encouraging us to TAKE MORE.

Things I learned:
  • MAWLID (8D: The Prophet's birthday) MAWLID is a Muslim observance of the birthday of Muhammad. Many Muslim-majority countries recognize MAWLID as a national holiday. It is celebrated on the 12th day of the third month of the Islamic calendar, which will be October 8 this year. (The observance begins at sundown on the previous day.) 
  • MAC (26D: Brand whose M stands for "makeup") MAC stands for Makeup Art Cosmetics. The company is a subsidiary of Estée Lauder.
  • AJI (36D: "Amarillo" chili pepper) The AJI amarillo is important in Peruvian cuisine, and is also known as the Peruvian yellow chili pepper. "AJI" means "chili pepper" in Spanish, and "amarillo" means "yellow." Although its name means "yellow chili pepper," a fully ripened AJI amarillo is a bright orange color.
  • COLA (49D: Mexican ___ (Jarritos flavor)) Jarritos is a brand of soft drink founded in Mexico in 1950. In addition to Mexican COLA, other flavors of Jarritos include watermelon, guava, mango, and tamarind.
Random thoughts and interesting things:
  • BANANA LEAF (14A: A wedding meal might be served on one) A BANANA LEAF is a traditional serving platter for food served at South Indian weddings.
  • CLUE (19A: This one has five words) As I've said before, I enjoy self-referential CLUEs, and this is a fun one.
  • REEF (20A: Ocean biome damaged by some sunscreens) Some chemicals used in sunscreens, such as oxybenzone, have been shown to damage coral DNA and cause coral bleaching, thus harming coral REEFs. Here's a guide to make sure your sunscreen is protecting you, but not damaging the REEF.
  • MUST (22A: "If We ___ Die") We saw Claude McKay's poem, "If We MUST Die," as a theme answer on December 10, 2020.
  • CLAWS (29A: What cats scratch with) and ASAP (2D: "Right meow!") Willow is delighted to see this puzzle contains two cat-related clues. She definitely has an ASAP meow.

  • IDRIS ELBA (45A: Actor who voiced Chief Logo in "Zootopia") In the 2016 animated movie, Zootopia, IDRIS ELBA voiced the role of Chief Logo, an African buffalo. IDRIS ELBA  has also voiced a spiny anteater, Knuckles the Echidna, in the movie Sonic the Hedgehog 2, which is scheduled to be released in April of this year. We saw IDRIS ELBA as a theme answer last year.
  • SCONES (48A: Treats served with clotted cream) Any mention of SCONES with clotted cream immediately transports me to London and memories of enjoying afternoon tea. I almost made SCONES the other day, and now I don't remember why I didn't. With this reminder, today is SCONES day. 
  • WOMAN (55A: "Man! I Feel Like a ___!") "Man! I Feel Like a WOMAN!" is a 1997 song by Shania Twain.
  • TEACUP (4D: Pu'er holder) If your TEACUP holds pu'er, you are drinking a variety of fermented tea traditionally produced in Yunnan Province, China.
  • BREE (14D: "LITTLE NOKIA" singer ___ Runway) "LITTLE NOKIA" is a 2020 song by BREE Runway. I learned about BREE Runway when she was a theme answer in the June 26, 2021 puzzle
  • LAST CHRISTMAS (15D: Chart-topping holiday song by Wham!) The British pop duo Wham! released "LAST CHRISTMAS" in December 1984. (I was a sophomore in college, oh my!) Thank you very much for this earworm, puzzle. "LAST CHRISTMAS, I gave you my heart / But the very next day, you gave it away..."
  • FALSE BINARY (21D: Assumption that there are two genders, e.g.) A FALSE BINARY, also known as a FALSE dilemma or FALSE dichotomy, presents a situation as if there are only two options, when the reality is more complex. The example given in the clue, the assumption that there are two genders, is one example of a FALSE BINARY. Another example is the "nature vs. nurture" or "biology vs. environment" discussion. The new phrase hinted at by this theme answer, BINARY TREE, is a data structure.
  • SON (37D: Simba to Sarabi) Sarabi is Simba's mother in The Lion King. Sarabi was voiced by Madge Sinclair in the original 1994 animated movie, and by Alfre Woodard in the 2019 remake.
  • EAGLE (47D: Bird on the Mexican flag) The EAGLE on the Mexican flag is sitting on a cactus and holding a snake in its mouth. It appears in the center of the flag on the white vertical stripe that is between bands of green and red.
  • ODIE (52D: "The Princess and the Frog" priestess Mama ___) In the 2009 animated movie, The Princess and the Frog, Mama ODIE is a blind, 197-year-old voodoo priestess who is appealed to for help when Tiana (the movie's protagonist) is turned into a frog. Mama ODIE is voiced by Jenifer Lewis. The Princess and the Frog is my daughter's favorite princess movie, so any reference to the movie reminds me of her.
  • ODE (56D: "___ to my blackness" (Shockley poem)) "ODE to my blackness" by Evie Shockley begins, "you are the shelter from my storm / and the storm / my anchor / and the troubled sea." 

    What a great set of theme answers for this theme set. If I had to choose a favorite, it would be CHOSEN FAMILY (clued wonderfully here), but I'm glad I don't have to choose, because I like them all. I also appreciate the grid art elements Enrique and Brooke mention in their notes. It was a nice touch that all of the vertical theme answers were situated so they touched the bottom of the grid, rooted there, as it were. In glancing at the grid just now I notice this grid tree has a BANANA LEAF and bears PECANS! Lots of enjoyable fill: TAKE MORE, I'M FINE, ENJOY. HERE WE ARE, this puzzle was a delightful way to begin my Friday.


    1. I've been following your blog for a few weeks and have really been enjoying your take on the USA Today Crossword Puzzle. Always my first visit after completing the puzzle myself, your additional information makes the puzzle much richer. I hate to be an internet scold, but I wanted to point out that Princess and the Frog came out in 2009. Thank you.

      1. Not a scold, just helping me edit. Thank you! I've made the change...not sure how 1997 snuck in there. I'm glad you found the blog and are enjoying it!


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