April 14, 2022

 Title: MIDDLE C'S

Constructor: Matthew Stock

Editor: Erik Agard

Guest Blogger: Brooke Husic

Theme Answers:
HOCUS POCUS (16A: 1993 witch movie)
BARCODE STICKER (35A: Label scanned at checkout)
HACKY SACKS (58A: Footbags)

Theme synopsis: Each theme answer has two words, both of which have a "C" in the middle

And now a word from our constructors: 
Matthew says: Excited to be back in the USATXW after a little while! I thought this theme was pretty neat for how simple it was, and a theme set of 10/14/10 letters provided a great opportunity for me to return to all-but-one-square-symmetry grids. My favorite entries in this puzzle are the vertical 6s in corners and middle of the grid, particularly HICHAM El Guerrouj, whose world record mile run is worth a watch. My favorite clues are at 20-Across and 14-Down. Hope you enjoyed, and see you again soon!

Things I learned:
  • HULA (14A: Dance performed wearing a pa'u) Pa'u are all-gender hula skirts traditionally made from bark and now often made from fabric. They are stamped or dyed to make patterns, and their designs are chosen so their meanings coordinate with hula songs. A pa'u skirt is put on over the head, as to put it on feet-first (and thus via touching the ground) would be disrespectful. When not being worn, a pa'u should never touch the ground or a floor. A person wearing a pa'u may not eat or drink other than water and ritual beverages. I enjoyed learning all this information about pa'u this morning.
  • ARIA (34A: Davone Tines solo) Davóne Tines is a bass-baritone. Tines co-created "The Black Clown," an adaptation of the Langston Hughes poem, and created and performed "VIGIL," a video dedicated to Breonna Taylor. I strongly encourage you to take four minutes and thirty-five seconds of your day (about 0.3% of it) to watch and experience "VIGIL" here.
  • BARCODE STICKER (35A: Label scanned at checkout) TIL that "barcode" can be one word.
Random thoughts and interesting things:
  • KNEAD (29D: What cats do when "making biscuits") I love this angle on KNEAD, and I expect it was inspired by Matthew's cat, Scotch. Matthew has kindly provided a photo of Scotch relaxing on his lap while Matthew was making this very puzzle.
    Scotch relaxes while Matthew works.
    Scotch relaxes while Matthew works.

Geography review:
  • ZED (23A: Last letter of the alphabet, in Canada) I appreciated the use of Canada here, the closest Commonwealth country to the U.S.
  • TAIPEI (47A: Taiwan's capital) Taipei is known for its azaleas, and has an annual Azalea Festival.
  • APACHE (45D: Oak Flat people) Oak Flat is near Phoenix, Arizona. Western Apache people hold sacred ceremonies there. 
  • SPA (56D: Houston's The Gleaux Factory, for example) I love when clues are super-specific. I have only ever been to the airport in Houston, Texas.
  • SAN (59D: ___ Juan, Puerto Rico) San Juan celebrates its 500th anniversary this year, from September 2021 to June 2022.
I'm always happy to have a cameo at Sally's Take and to have a Matthew puzzle to solve, and today was a delightful combination of both! I really enjoyed this puzzle's theme and found the theme answers fun — it's interesting to me that HOCUS POCUS and HACKY SACKS share vowel sounds but BARCODE STICKER doesn't. I liked the geometry that Matthew describes as "all-but-one-square" symmetric — I wouldn't have noticed the asymmetry if I hadn't read his notes! I loved the cluing all around; some of my favorites were ULTRA HOT (20A: 11/10 on the spiciness scale), HOLD (14D: Wait for the next available representative), and AND I'M OUT (36D: Phrase that might accompany a mic drop). This puzzle was a great way to begin my Thursday.

After you've watched Hicham El Guerrouj clinch a world record and experience Davóne Tines' "VIGIL," consider donating to Sally's Take using the yellow button below!

xoxo, Brooke