January 26, 2024

Title: WING IT (Freestyle)

Constructor: Rebecca Moore

Editor: Jared Goudsmit

Freestyle: This is a themeless puzzle. WING IT is a nod to BIRD WATCHING (54A: Activity for someone who likes larks, loons, linnets, etc.), and THE BEE'S KNEES (20A: Something wonderful), since BIRDS and BEES have WINGs.

Random thoughts and interesting things:
  • THE BEE'S KNEES (20A: Something wonderful) When idioms such as THE BEE'S KNEES appear in the puzzle, it makes me curious about their origins. Often, as is the case here, the origin of the phrase is uncertain. Some sources suggest THE BEE'S KNEES has been around since the 1800s, while others attribute the phrase to a 1920s cartoonist named Tad Dorgan, who was fond of using animal-related superlatives. Some people suggest "THE BEE'S KNEES" is a distortion of "the business." And another theory suggests the phrase was a reference to the superlative KNEES of a dancer name BEE Jackson. Regardless of its origin, this phrase raises the question, "Do BEES have KNEES?" They do. In fact, since BEES, like all insects, have six legs, they have six KNEES.
  • LOST (24A: "___ in the Woods" ("Frozen II" song)) In Disney's 2019 animated movie, Frozen II (the sequel to 2013's Frozen), the song "LOST in the Woods" is sung by the character Kristoff, who is voiced by Jonathan Groff. Not only did Jonathan Groff sing "LOST in the Woods," he also (through the wonders of technology) provided the singing voices of the reindeers and the background vocals.
  • ISP (28A: Co. like Verizon or AOL) ISP here stands for Internet Service Provider.
  • NEIL (34A: "Coraline" author Gaiman) Coraline is a 2002 novella by NEIL Gaiman that was adapted into a 2009 movie of the same name. I have previously written about the dark fantasy horror movie Coraline.
  • GOD (36A: Ra or Zeus) In ancient Egypt, Ra was revered as a sun GOD. Ra was portrayed as having the head of a falcon, with a sun resting on his head. Zeus is the GOD of the sky and thunder in Greek mythology.
  • NORSE (37A: Like the myth of Asgard) In NORSE mythology, Asgard is a fortified home associated with the GODs.
  • ROSETTA (40A: The ___ Stone (artifact) The ROSETTA Stone is a stone slab inscribed with three versions of a decree issued on behalf of King Ptolemy V Epiphanes in 196 BC. Because the same decree is written in different versions, the ROSETTA Stone has played a role in deciphering Egyptian scripts.
  • ALY (49A: Fierce Five gymnast Raisman) ALY Raisman is a retired gymnast. She was the captain of the USA women's gymnastic team in 2012 (known as the "Fierce Five") and 2016 (known as the "Final Five"). Team USA won the gold medal in the women's gymnastics team competition both of those years. ALY Raisman's 2017 memoir is titled Fierce: How Competing for Myself Changed Everything.
  • SADE (51A: "Smooth Operator" singer) Thank you, puzzle, for the earworm of SADE's 1984 song, "Smooth Operator."
  • BIRD WATCHING (54A: Activity for someone who likes larks, loons, linnets, etc.) It's a fun choice to go with alliteration (using BIRD names that all begin with the same letter) in the clue. BIRD WATCHING might also involve longspurs, lyrebirds, and laughing kookaburras.
  • COBRA (59A: "Spitting" snake) A "spitting" COBRA is so named because it is capable of intentionally shooting venom from its fangs. This activity is primarily a self-defense mechanism, and studies have shown that COBRAs take aim, attempting to direct the venom at the eyes and face of an aggressor. Science is cool, and also sometimes terrifying.
  • TIME (68A: The fourth dimension) In physics, TIME is considered the fourth dimension. According to Albert Einstein, in order to accurately describe where you are, you need to not only indicate your location in three-dimensional space (length, width, and height) but also provide the TIME. Want to think more about TIME? Check out this New Scientist article that describes TIME as "what stops everything happening at once."
  • CATERPILLAR (3D: "Very hungry" kid lit creature) This is a reference to the classic children's book by Eric Carle, The Very Hungry CATERPILLAR.
  • ONE (11D: Lowest digit in classic sudoku) and NINE (57D: Highest digit in classic sudoku) I enjoyed this pair of sudoku clues. Sudoku is a number puzzle that uses the digits ONE through NINE. Did you know that USA Today offers a daily Sudoku as well as a crossword?
  • DISTAL (26D: Far from the center of the body) DISTAL is an anatomical term of location, a term used to describe the anatomy of animals, including humans. The opposite of DISTAL is proximal, meaning closer to the center of the body. Two related terms – medial and lateral – describe location in reference to the body's midline. Something described as medial is closer to the midline than something described as lateral.
  • FREAKY (27D: "___ Friday" (comedy movie)) The first FREAKY Friday movie was released in 1976, and starred Barbara Harris and Jodie Foster as a mother and daughter that unexpectedly switch bodies and experience each other's lives. The movie is based on a 1972 novel of the same name by Mary Rogers. Additional movie versions of FREAKY Friday were released in 1995 (starring Shelley Long and Gaby Hoffman), 2003 (starring Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan), and 2018 (starring Cozi Zuehlsdorff and Heidi Blickenstaff).
  • CGI (31D: Visual FX used in "Gravity") The 2013 movie Gravity is a science fiction thriller starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney as astronauts. The astronauts are attempting to return to Earth after their Space Shuttle was destroyed in orbit. About 80% of the movie contains CGI (computer generated imagery), created by the London studio Framestore. Gravity won seven Academy Awards, including Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, and Best Visual Effects.
  • ODE (41D: "___ to a Yellow Onion" (C. Dale Young poem)) You can read C. Dale Young's poem, "ODE to a Yellow Onion," on the Poetry Foundation website.
  • O'HARA (53D: "Home Alone" actress Catherine) Catherine O'HARA portrayed Kate McCallister (Kevin's mother) in the 1990 movie, Home Alone. (Just take a moment to let it sink in that Home Alone was released over 33 years ago.)
  • ATOM (55D: Particle that contains quarks) An ATOM is composed of a nucleus and electrons. The nucleus of an ATOM is composed of protons and neutrons. Protons and neutrons are composed of quarks.
  • Bonus Bird-related content:
    • WRENS (16A: Birds on the backs of South Carolina quarters)
    • IRAS (9D: Nest egg parts)
    • LAID (35D: ___ and egg (failed))
    • CAW (59D: Crow's sound)

    Geography review:

    • RICA (18A: Costa) Costa RICA is a country in the Central American subregion of North America. Costa RICA is located between Nicaragua and Panama, and has coastline on the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean. The capital of Costa RICA is San José.
    This is a delightful freestyle puzzle, with multiple bird references that make it feel cohesive. Congratulations to Rebecca Moore making a USA Today debut! Thank you, Rebecca, for this excellent puzzle.