February 22, 2024


Constructor: Adam Simpson

Editor: Anna Gundlach

Theme Answers:
DUKE ELLINGTON (4D: "Mood Indigo" composer)
RICE NOODLES (7D: Pad Thai ingredient)
BROWN SKIN GIRL (10D: Beyonce song featuring Blue Ivy)

Theme synopsis: The top (HIGHest) word of each vertical theme answer is the name of a SCHOOL: DUKE, RICE, and BROWN.

Random thoughts and interesting things:
  • RIPA (16A: Daytime TV's Kelly) Since 2001, Kelly RIPA has been the co-host of the morning talk show Live! with Kelly and Ryan.
  • OASES (28A: Desert refuges) and ARID (26D: Desert dry) OASES are fertile areas in ARID desert environments. OASES may be the result of surface water, such as a river, or the water source may be underground. The water source allows for increased plant growth, and provides a habitat for animals. 
  • MAS (63A: "Live ___" (Taco Bell slogan)) If you read yesterday's blog post, you may remember that "MAS" means "more" in Spanish. The Taco Bell slogan, "Live MAS," therefore, means "Live more." Taco Bell introduced this slogan in 2012.
  • CORI (2D: Congresswoman Bush of "The Squad")  "The Squad" is a group of progressive Democratic members of the U.S. House of Representatives who were all under the age of 50 when they were elected. The original members of "The Squad" were elected in 2018: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC, for short, NY-14), Ilhan Omar (MN-5), Ayanna Pressley (MA-7), and Rashida Tlaib (MI-13). Two additional members of "The Squad" were elected in 2020: Jamaal Bowman (NY-16) and CORI Bush (MO-1). Another two members were elected and joined "The Squad" in 2022: Greg Cesar (TX-35) and Summer Lee (PA-12). AOC coined the term "Squad" in a 2018 Instagram post.
  • DUKE ELLINGTON (4D: "Mood Indigo" composer) DUKE ELLINGTON (1899-1974) was a jazz pianist, composer, and orchestra leader. From 1923 until his death, he was the leader of The DUKE ELLINGTON Orchestra. We have seen DUKE ELLINGTON as a theme answer twice previously, on June 4, 2021 and June 13, 2023.
  • BROWN SKIN GIRL (10D: Beyonce song featuring Blue Ivy) "BROWN SKIN GIRL" is a 2019 song by Beyonc√© and her daughter, Blue Ivy Carter. The song is from the soundtrack The Lion King: The Gift, which features songs inspired by the 2019 photorealistic computer-animated remake of The Lion King. The music video for "BROWN SKIN GIRL" won a Grammy Award for Best Music Video.
  • OPERA (12D: "Carmen" or "Tosca") Carmen is an 1875 OPERA by French composer Georges Bizet. Tosca is a 1900 OPERA by Giacomo Puccini.
  • IMO (33D: lemme give u some thoughts on this) IMO = in my opinion
  • SKI (38D: Compete in the Nordic combined) Nordic combined is a SKI event that includes cross country skiing and SKI jumping. The event originated at the Holmenkollen SKI Festival held in OSLO, Norway in 1892. Nordic combined has been an event at the Winter Olympics since the first Winter Olympics was held in 1924. 
  • BANJO (45D: "___-Kazooie" (video game series)) The BANJO-Kazooie video games feature a bear named BANJO, and a large red bird named Kazoo. Together, BANJO and Kazooie attempt to thwart the evil plans of a witch named Gruntilda. The first BANJO-Kazooie game was released in 1998. 
  • OCEAN (46D: Blobfish's home) I have previously written about the blobfish's non-blobby appearance when it is in its natural habitat deep in the OCEAN. Science is cool! If you want to learn more about the blobfish, I recommend this Smithsonian article
  • EVIAN (51D: Water brand with the French Alps in its logo) EVIAN is a French brand of bottled water. The water is bottled from several sources near √ČVIAN-les-Bains, a French commune on the south shore of Lake Geneva.
  • SHE (59D: "___-Hulk: Attorney at Law") SHE-Hulk: Attorney at Law is a Disney+ TV series that premiered in 2022. The TV show is based on the Marvel comics character SHE-Hulk. On the show, Jennifer Walters, aka SHE-Hulk (portrayed by Tatiana Maslany), is a lawyer specializing in cases involving superhumans.
  • A few other clues I especially enjoyed:
    • CALL ME (25A: "Let's talk on the phone")
    • AUDI (37A: Car brand that sounds like a belly button type)
    • BADLY (13D: How a poorly planned scheme might end)

    Geography review:

    • OSLO (48A: World capital in Scandinavia) The subregion of Northern Europe known as Scandinavia refers (most commonly) to Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. Sometimes Finland, Iceland, and the Faroe Islands are also considered to be part of Scandinavia. OSLO is the capital of Norway.
    It's time for HIGH SCHOOL. It's a fun twist that the HIGH SCHOOLs featured in the puzzle are actually universities, a step beyond HIGH SCHOOL Congratulations to Adam Simpson making a USA Today debut! Thank you, Adam, for this excellent puzzle.