January 22, 2024

Title: AEIOU

Constructor: Shannon Rapp

Editor: Amanda Rafkin

Theme Answers:
HALF SERIOUS (16A: Partially joking)
WHAT'S NEW WITH YOU (40A: "How have things been lately?")
WANDERING SOULS (59A: Cecile Pin novel about a Vietnamese refugee family)

Theme synopsis: Each theme answer contains the vowels AEIOU in order.
And now a word from our constructor:
Shannon: So happy for my first USA Today puzzle today!! I hope you love it as much as I do. When I noticed that the title of the book I was reading, WANDERING SOULS, contained one of each vowel and in alphabetical order, I went in search of other entries with the same characteristic. I had also considered the fun HAVE IT OUT but that ended up not making the final cut. I was so happy to find WHATS NEW WITH YOU as a (15) and I really enjoy HALF SERIOUS as a silly phrase.
A cat stretched out with its belly exposed.
I'm so glad I got to get in references to Joy Oladokun, Cake, and Simone Biles. As for 12D PETS, here's an updated pic of Roxie since her last appearance here. Thanks so much to Amanda for shepherding this one through the process. Thank you Sally for your years of kind and thoughtful reviews, and readers, thank you for solving!

Things I learned:
  • ALTO (27A: Joy Oladokun's vocal range) On her website, singer-songwriter Joy Oladokun says, "As a black queer human in my thirties, I'm an anomaly ... I started making music because I wasn't hearing from the 'everyday human being' on the radio." Joy Oladokun's music incorporates folk, R&B, rock, and pop. Her most recent studio album, released last year, is titled Proof of Life. Although I was unfamiliar with Joy Oladokun, it was fairly easy to infer that her 4-letter vocal range is ALTO. I appreciate the naming of a specific artist in this clue, which introduced me to someone new.
  • WANDERING SOULS (59A: Cecile Pin novel about a Vietnamese refugee family) WANDERING SOULS is the 2023 debut novel by Cecile Pin. As the clue informs us, the book tells the story of a Vietnamese refugee family. After the Vietnam War, three Vietnamese siblings set out for Hong Kong, and end up in the United Kingdom.
  • RAO (32D: "Avatar" actor Dileep) Dileep RAO portrays Dr. Max Patel in the Avatar movies. Fun fact: Dileep RAO is also a Jeopardy! champion; he appeared on the game show in 2002.
Random thoughts and interesting things:
  • SHORT (5A: "___ Skirt/Long Jacket" (2001 Cake song)) "SHORT Skirt/Long Jacket" is the 2001 debut single by the alt rock band Cake. The song's music video is really fun (in my opinion). It consists of people listening to the song on headphones and giving their reactions. 
  • AMA (20A: Reddit Q&A session) AMA stands for "ask me anything," a genre of interactive interviews that are especially popular on Reddit.
  • WES (37A: Jazz guitarist Montgomery) I learned about jazz guitarist WES Montgomery (1923-1968) from the September 20, 2023 puzzle.
  • CLAM (39A: ___ bake (seafood feast with Wampanoag origins)) At a traditional CLAM bake, the CLAMs are steamed in a pit oven. The Wampanoag are indigenous people of the northeastern United States. They were the first to use this technique to steam shellfish (not only CLAMs, but also lobsters, mussels, crabs, and scallops). They cooked the shellfish on hot rocks under layers of seaweed. 
  • ACA (48A: "Obamacare" initials) Obamacare is officially known as the Affordable Care Act (ACA). President Obama signed the ACA into law on March 23, 2010, and many of the law's provisions were put into place by 2014.
  • CLE (58A: The Guardians, on MLB scoreboards) The Cleveland Guardians (CLE on scoreboards) are a Major League Baseball (MLB) team based in Cleveland, Ohio. The team was founded in 1896 in Columbus, Ohio as the Columbus Buckeyes. They've been part of MLB since 1901. The team has had nine different names, and has been the Guardians since 2022. My favorite of the team's past names is the Grand Rapids Furniture Makers, a name held during the one year (1899) they were located in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
  • PLUM (65A: Fruit used to make Umeshu) Umeshu is a PLUM liqueur from Japan.
  • HARLEM (6D: "___ Shuffle" (Colson Whitehead novel)) HARLEM Shuffle is a 2021 novel by Colson Whitehead. The book takes place, as the title suggests, in the New York City neighborhood of HARLEM, and is set between 1959 and 1964. A sequel to HARLEM Shuffle, titled Crook Manifesto, was released last year. 
  • OBI (7D: Belt worn with a yukata) A yukata is a type of kimono. It is unlined and worn in casual settings in the summer by both men and women. An OBI is a belt worn with a kimono.
  • ROOT (8D: Orange part of a carrot plant) I really enjoyed this clue! A carrot is a ROOT vegetable, and the part of the carrot we eat – the orange part – is the plant's ROOT. 
  • PETS (12D: House cats, for example) Willow and I are always happy to see cat content in the puzzle! Thanks to Shannon for sending an updated photo of Roxie. One of the "Cats of Sally's Take," Roxie made her first appearance on the blog on July 9, 2022
  • WARP (40D: "Time ___" ("The Rocky Horror Picture Show" song)) "Time WARP" is a song from the 1973 rock musical, The Rocky Horror Picture Show. If you'd like to learn the accompanying Time WARP dance, here's an instructional video for you. 
  • EGGED (57D: Pelted with yolky ammo) Well, sadly, this answer is timely! Saturday night, my husband and I went to see Paula Poundstone at a theater in downtown Iowa City. (The show was great, but that's not the story here, nor is the fire alarm that went off just as we got into the theater...) After the show, we discovered that someone had EGGED the rear windshield of our car. Now, the temperature was around -5 here that night, so the egg had frozen upon impact. It was kind of cool, actually, in a science-y way, so I couldn't even be mad! (Of course, I was not the one that stood out in the cold and cleaned the windshield when we got home...)
  • NERO (60D: "Fiddling" Roman emperor) NERO (37-68) was the Roman emperor from 54 CE until his death in 68 CE. NERO is remembered as a sadistic and cruel emperor, who ignored serious matters, and even "fiddled while Rome burned."
  • A few other clues I especially enjoyed:
    • SNORE (31A: Bother a bedmate)
    • MONOPOLY (10D: Board game with a thimble token)
    • EMU (33D: Bird whose eggs can weigh 2 pounds)
    • USA (Simone Biles' Olympic team)

    Geography review:

    • ERIE (67A: Lake south of Niagara Falls) Niagara Falls is a group of waterfalls located on the border between the U.S. state of New York, and the Canadian province of Ontario. The falls are formed by the Niagara River, which drains Lake ERIE into Lake Ontario. Our crossword-friend ERIE is off to a strong start this year. This is ERIE's fifth appearance this month.
    • SAHARA (1D: Largest hot desert) The SAHARA Desert spans 3.6 million square miles and covers 31% of Africa. Eleven African countries contain portions of the SAHARA Desert: Algeria, Chad, Egypt, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Western Sahara, Sudan, and Tunisia.
    • SEA (17D: Caribbean or Mediterranean) The Caribbean SEA and the Mediterranean SEA are both SEAS of the Atlantic Ocean. The Caribbean SEA is bordered by Mexico, Central America, and the islands of the Greater and Lesser Antilles. The Mediterranean SEA is almost completely surrounded by land, and is bordered by countries in Europe, Asia, and Africa. It connects to the Atlantic Ocean via the Strait of Gibraltar, a narrow body of water that separates Spain and Morocco.
    We're celebrating the vowels today, and in alphabetic order, too. I enjoyed this theme a lot! Congratulations to Shannon Rapp, making her USA Today debut! You may recognize Shannon Rapp's name, as she has done some guest blogging here at Sally's Take. It's great to see her in the constructor role today. Thank you, Shannon, for this excellent puzzle.


    1. told you i was gonna pad the ERIE stats! ;)

      hehehe, as always thank you for a lovely and kind review. :)


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