Title: DROP THE ACT
Constructor: Zhouqin Burnikel
- LILAC TREE (3D: Source of a wine that's "sweet and heady like my love," in a song) The song, "LILAC Wine" was written by James Shelton in 1950. It has been recorded by multiple artists including Eartha Kitt, Nina Simone, Elkie Brooks, and Jeff Buckley. The song includes the lyric, "I made wine from the LILAC TREE / Put my heart in its recipe." I was not familiar with this song, so uncovering this answer required the help of crossing answers.
- COLA (1A: Future ___ (Chinese soda brand)) Future COLA is sold by the Hangzhou Wahaha Group of China, and is marketed as "Chinese people's own COLA."
- CGI (9A: Film technology) CGI stands for computer-generated imagery. The first feature-length movie to make use of CGI was Westworld in 1973.
- CODA (2021 film starring Troy Kotsur) CODA tells the story of Ruby Rossi, played by Emilia Jones, the hearing child of deaf adults (CODA). Troy Kotsur plays Ruby's father, Frank Rossi. Troy Kotsur won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for this role.
- TET (26A: ___ Nguyen Dan) TET Nguyễn Dán, also simply referred to as TET, is the Vietnamese Lunar New Year, one of the most important celebrations in Vietnamese culture.
- ACID (34A: The "A: in RNA) RNA stands for ribonucleic ACID. This polymeric molecule plays a crucial role in many biological functions, including the coding, regulation, and expression of a GENE (43A: Heredity unit).
- SIS (49A: Tamera, to Tia, for short) Tamera and Tia Mowry are identical twin sisters. On the TV sitcom, Sister, Sister, they played identical twin sisters (named Tamera and Tia) who had been separated at birth.
- IMPALA (55A: Animal often born around midday) The IMPALA is a species of antelope that lives in eastern and southern Africa. IMPALAs are often born around midday, because this is the time their predators - which include lions, leopards, and cheetahs - are resting. I had a funny interaction with this clue. I originally read it as "Animal often bored around midday." Having no idea of the answer, I waited for a few letters from crossing answers, and when it became obvious IMPALA was the answer I was so confused! How would you know if an IMPALA were bored, and why are they bored midday? I actually did some googling about this before rereading the clue and discovering my error. The lesson here is you can actually make crosswords more difficult if you don't read carefully. Interestingly, the google search "bored IMPALA," returns multiple stock photos. The truth, however, is that an IMPALA cannot afford to be bored, and must always be alert for predators. About half of IMPALA newborns are killed by predators within the first few weeks of life.
- ADOBO (4D: Popular street food in Manila) ADOBO, which is sometimes considered to be the national dish of the Philippines, consists of meat, seafood, or vegetables, marinated in a sauce of vinegar, soy sauce, garlic, bay leaves, and peppercorns.
- OMAR (37D: "Lupin" actor Sy) In the Netflix TV series, Lupin, OMAR Sy plays the role of Assane Diop, a professional thief who styles himself after the character of Arsène Lupin from the stories and books written in the early 1900s by Maurice Leblanc.
- ARID (12A: Like the Atacama's climate) Located in Chile, the Atacama Desert is an ARID region in South America, west of the Andes Mountains along the Pacific Coast. The Atacama is the driest nonpolar dessert in the world.
- PALO (16A: ___ Alto) PALO Alto, California is part of the San Francisco Bay Area, and is the home of Stanford University.
- ETNA (53A: Active volcano in Sicily) Italy is home to the only active volcanoes in Europe. That includes Mt. ETNA, on the island of Sicily. Eruptions of Mt. ETNA are classified as summit eruptions (from any of five distinct craters) or flank eruptions (occurring from one of the over 300 vent holes located on the sides of the volcano). ETNA's most recent summit eruption occurred in February 2021.
- STL (68A: Missouri's second-largest city (Abbr.)) The population of St. Louis (STL),
Missouri, which sits on the eastern border of the state along the Mississippi River, is approximately 300,000. Including the metro area increases that number to over 2.8 million. The largest city in Missouri is across the state on the western border. The population of Kansas City is over 490,000. The population of the Kansas City metro area, however, is slightly less than the St. Louis metro area.
St. Louis Gateway Arch and Courthouse
- CROAT (9D: Zagreb resident) Zabreb is the capital of Croatia, and its largest city. Croatia is a European country. It has coastline along the Adriatic Sea, and borders Slovenia, Hungary, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Montenegro.
- ALPS (27D: The Matterhorn's mountain range) The ALPS are a European mountain range. The Matterhorn is one of the highest mountains in the ALPS, and is located along the border between Switzerland and Italy.
- EAST (33D: Kansas-to-Missouri direction) No matter where you are in Kansas, if you head EAST, you will eventually end up in Missouri. If you travel west from Kansas, you'll find yourself in Colorado.
- GUYANA (43D: Cheddi Jagan's country) In Guyana, Cheddi Jagan is regarded as the "Father of the Nation." He was the first Chief Minister (1953) and first Premier (1961-1964) of British Guiana when it was a British colony. He served as the President of GUYANA from 1992 until his death in 1997. GUYANA's primary airport is named the Cheddi Jagan International Airport.
- OSLO (46A: Norway's largest city) In addition to being its largest city, OSLO is the capital of Norway.
When I reviewed my solve, I was surprised there was only one "Thing I Learned" entry, as while I was solving the puzzle felt a bit more challenging than usual. However, my solving time wasn't any longer than usual, so given my interaction with the IMPALA clue, perhaps the reality is I just wasn't quite awake yet! At any rate, a classic theme type today. Some enjoyable non-theme answers: PLAY IT COOL, ALTER EGO, and TOURISTS. This grid is symmetrical. While that is not unusual (in fact, the majority of crosswords are symmetrical), I note it because most of Zhouqin Burnikel's recent USA Today puzzles have been asymmetrical. Thank you, Zhouqin, for this puzzle that was a great way to begin my Wednesday.