April 23, 2022

Title: LOW BALL

Constructor: Wendy L. Brandes

Editor: Amanda Rafkin

Theme Answers:
AHEAD OF THE CURVE (3D: Forward-thinking) 
COAT OF PAINT (9D: Room refresher)
PROCESSED CHEESE (11D: Kraft American singles, e.g.)
BURNS RUBBER (26D: Drives away with a squeal)

Theme synopsis: The last (LOW) word of each theme answer can precede the word BALL, giving us a CURVE BALL, a PAINT BALL, a CHEESE BALL, and a RUBBER BALL.

And now a word from our constructor: 
Wendy: This puzzle was a new challenge for me -- it is the first time that I have created a grid using vertical themers.
The middle where BURNS RUBBER and COAT OF PAINT share a horizontal entry, was particularly tricky. I was delighted that NORMA worked to bridge that space, since NORMA was my mom's name :). I gave another hat tip to my mom in this puzzle with the clue for IDIOM ("Hold your horses") -- since that was one of her favorite phrases (which makes very little sense since she was from Brooklyn....). I was also able to use my daughter's favorite emoji (SHRUG), so my family is well-represented in this puzzle.
As always, Erik and Amanda and the rest of the USA Today team helped shape this puzzle. Many thanks to all.

Things I learned:
  • DESI (46D: Lydic of "The Daily Show") Comedian DESI Lydic has been a correspondent on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah since 2015. Following the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, DESI Lyric paid tribute to her in a special, The Daily Show with Trevor Noah Presents: Remembering RBG - A Nation Ugly Cries with DESI Lydic
  • DEBRA (53D: Ballet dancer Austin) DEBRA Austin is currently a ballet master for Carolina Ballet. In 1982 when she was promoted to the rank of principal dancer at Pennsylvania Ballet, she made history for being the first Black woman to be a principal dancer of a major American ballet company.
Random thoughts and interesting things:
  • ENOLA (18A: Sherlock Holmes' sleuthing teen sister) Nancy Springer's series of books, The ENOLA Holmes Mysteries, borrow characters and settings from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's books about Sherlock Holmes, adding a new character, a sister twenty years younger than Sherlock. The 2020 movie, ENOLA Holmes, and the upcoming sequel, are based on the books. Millie Bobby Brown plays the role of ENOLA Holmes in the movies.
  • FITS (34A: "If I ___, I sits" (rhyming cat meme)) The "If I FITS, I sits," (or "If it FITS, I sit") memes feature pictures of cats fitting in tight spaces, something they definitely like to do.
    Willow in a box

    At our house, when we set out an empty box, we call it "setting a cat trap." It works every time. 
  • ALF (35A: Name hidden in "royal flush") Where's ALF? He's got a lucky poker hand.
  • NORMA (42A: Fashion designer Kamali) I have previously written about fashion designer, NORMA Kamali, known for the sleeping bag coat.
  • EDU (58A: SUNY's URL ending) EDU is the domain ending for educational organizations, including SUNY, the State University of New York.
  • REGAN (74A: EPA administrator Michael) Michael S. Regan has been the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) since March 2021. He was previously the head of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality.
  • GENE (75A: 67-Down sequence) and DNA (67D: Double-stranded molecule) A GENE is a segment of DNA that codes for a specific protein. Hooray for science in the crossword!
  • MARLO (4D: "That Girl" actress Thomas) That Girl is a TV show that originally aired from 1966-1971. MARLO Thomas played the role of Ann Marie, a woman who moved to New York City in an attempt to make it as an actress. That Girl was one of the first TV sitcoms an unmarried woman (who was not a domestic or living with her parents) as the main character.
  • ISLAM (8D: Religion with Five Pillars) The Five Pillars of ISLAM are basic acts considered mandatory by believers, and are the foundation of Muslim life. The Five Pillars of Sunni ISLAM are Shahada (Profession of Faith), Salat (Prayer), Zakat (Almsgiving), Shawm (Fasting), and Hajj (Pilgrimage). Shia ISLAM has the same basic acts, but they differ in naming and numbering.
  • PROCESSED CHEESE (11D: Kraft American singles, e.g.) This answer took me back to my high school days when I worked at the restaurant Bonanza. The salad bar, which came with every meal, featured a large block of CHEESE that customers could carve their own slices from. More than once during the two years I worked there, a customer raved to me about how much they liked that CHEESE, and wanted to know what kind of CHEESE it was. Then I would tell them what it said on the box it came in, that it was an "artificial PROCESSED CHEESE product." I've occasionally wondered what exactly was in that PROCESSED CHEESE product...
  • ARIA (23D: Solo for Renee Fleming) Renee Fleming is an operatic soprano, and the winner of four Grammy Awards. Here's a link to a fun interview with Renee Fleming when she appeared on NPR's Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me.
  • TRIO (27D: Powerpuff Girls, for one) The TRIO of Powderpuff Girls appearing as the title characters in the animated TV series are Blossom, Bubbles, and Buttercup.
  • SON (68A: "Mother to ___" (Langston Hughes poem)) "Mother to SON" is a 1922 poem written by Langston Hughes, in which a mother says her life "ain't been no crystal stair."

    Geography review:

    • SFO (30A: Bay Area airport (Abbr.)) The San Francisco International Airport (SFO) is located in San Mateo County in the Bay Area of California.
    • ERIE (36A: Lake home to Middle Bass Island) Located in the western end of Lake ERIE, Middle Bass Island is part of the U.S. state of Ohio. Middle Bass Island is one of a group of Lake ERIE islands purchased in the 1850s for grape production, earning them the historic nickname of the "wine islands." There hasn't been a winery on Middle Bass Island for over 20 years, and the historic Lonz Winery grounds have been turned into a state park.
    • ENID (38D: "Wheat Capital" of Oklahoma) ENID, Oklahoma has earned the nicknames of "Wheat Capital" and "Queen Wheat City," not for the production of wheat, but for its storage. The ENID Terminal Grain Elevators Historic District, placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2009, consists of nine concrete grain elevators built between 1928 and 1954. 
    A fun set of theme answers today leading to fun discoveries. Suddenly I'm craving a CHEESE BALL... I enjoyed reading Wendy's notes about the answers that had particular meaning to her. The joy of solving crosswords made by a variety of constructors is having puzzles with a variety of personalities. This puzzle was a delightful start to my Saturday.

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