February 23, 2024


Constructors: Dan Schwartz & Rose Sloan

Editor: Jared Goudsmit 

Theme Answers:
AYUMI HAMASAKI (19A: Singer known as the "Empress of J-Pop")
SEMI-HARD CHEESES (38A: Cheddar, colby, edam, etc.)
MIAMI HERALD (51A: South Florida newspaper associated with a puzzle hunt)

Theme synopsis: The word HIM is found reading BACKward in each theme answer:
Things I learned:
  • AYUMI HAMASAKI (19A: Singer known as the "Empress of J-Pop") AYUMI HAMASAKI is a Japanese singer, songwriter, record producer, and entrepreneur. She has earned the nickname "Empress of J-Pop," and has also been called "the voice of the lost generation."
  • SPY (1D: Agent such as Susan Cooper) Susan Cooper, portrayed by Melissa McCarthy, is the title character of the 2015 movie SPY. In the movie, Susan Cooper is a CIA agent who normally works behind a desk, but is sent into the field when a mission goes wrong. 
  • ATE (11D: Enjoyed some pastel de nata) Pastel de nata is a tart that consists of flaky layers of pastry filled with creamy egg custard. The pastry originated in Portugal prior to the 18th century by Catholic monks. Convents and monasteries at the time used egg whites to starch clothing. This resulted in an excess of egg yolks, which were used to make cakes and pastries. One of those pastries was pastel de nata. 
  • BICEP (29D: Waiter curl muscle) The waiter curl is a variation of a BICEP curl in which one grips the flat side of a dumbbell on the palm of the hand, as if you are gripping a plate. 
Random thoughts and interesting things:
  • BOB (27A: Bisexual ___ (short 'do)) I learned about the bisexual BOB when we saw the expression as a theme answer February 7, 2021
  • BAKER (30A: Word that appropriately bookends "bread maker") This is a fun twist on a hidden word clue. 
  • DOME (37A: Rounded feature of the Chicago Cultural Center) The Chicago Cultural Center was originally the main library of the Chicago Public Library. In 1978, the building was converted into an arts and culture center. It's a beautiful building, and I highly recommend a visit if you find yourself in Chicago, Illinois. On the top floor, a large hall features a Tiffany glass DOME.
    A tiffany glass dome is viewed looking up.
    Glass DOME
    I just happen to have a photo looking up at the DOME, from a recent visit my husband and I made to the Chicago Cultural Center. 
  • HRT (44A: Gender clinic prescription (Abbr.)) HRT is an abbreviation for hormone replacement therapy.
  • SITTERS (45A: "The Baby-___ Club") The Baby-SITTERS Club is a TV series that was based on Ann M. Martin's children's book series of the same name. 
  • MIAMI HERALD (51A: South Florida newspaper associated with a puzzle hunt) The MIAMI HERALD is a newspaper headquartered in MIAMI-Dade County, Florida. The HERALD Hunt is a puzzle hunt that was founded in 1984 by MIAMI HERALD columnist Dave Barry and editors Gene Weingarten and Tom Shroder. As far as I can determine, the most recent HERALD Hunt took place in 2019. 
  • ALOO (65A: ___ palak (potato dish)) This is your occasional reminder that ALOO is a South Asian term for potato, so when you see ALOO in the name of a dish, it likely contains potatoes. Conversely, when you notice that a dish described in a crossword clue contains potatoes, the answer may be ALOO.
  • INN (68A: The Stonewall ___) The Stonewall INN is located in Greenwich Village in New York City. The INN was the site of the Stonewall riots of 1969.
  • BEAK (9D: Spoonbill's bill) The spoonbill is a long-legged wading bird named – as you might expect – for the shape of its BEAK, which is long, flat, and shaped like a spatula.
  • SPUMONI (13D: Molded gelato dessert) SPUMONI is a traditional dessert made with gelato (Italian ice cream that contains less air than American ice cream) and whipped cream, with mix-ins such as candied fruit, nuts, and chocolate pieces. 
  • ENOLA (40D: "___ Holmes" (film about Sherlock's sister)) ENOLA Holmes, the younger sister of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes, was introduced in a series of books by Nancy Springer, The ENOLA Holmes Mysteries. Thus far, two movies have been adapted from the books, ENOLA Holmes (2020) and ENOLA Holmes 2 (2022). Millie Bobby Brown plays the role of ENOLA Holmes in the movies.
  • ONO (58D: Fish also known as wahoo) ONO is the Hawaiian name for the wahoo, a fish found in tropical and subtropical areas. In Hawaiian, "ONO" means "delicious," or "good to eat."
  • SON (62D: Pugsley, to Morticia) Pugsley and Morticia Addams, SON and mother, are members of the fictional Addams Family, characters created by cartoonist Charles Addams.

    Geography review:

    • O'HARE (14A: Chicago airport) O'HARE International airport in Chicago, Illinois is one of the world's busiest airports.
    • TULSA (48D: The Gap Band's hometown) The Gap Band was an R&B and funk band that experienced popularity in the 1970s and 1980s. The band's members were three brothers, Charlie, Ronnie, and Robert Wilson, who were from TULSA, Oklahoma. The band was named after three TULA streets: Greenwood, Archer, and Pine.
    • ROSE (56D: New York's state flower) New York is not the only U.S. state with a ROSE as its state flower. Georgia, Iowa, North Dakota, and Oklahoma also have a variety of ROSE as their state flowers. (Also, I’m always delighted when constructors manage to get their name into the grid!)
    "GET HIM BACK!" is a 2023 song by Olivia Rodrigo. Today it serves as a delightful crossword theme. I appreciated the consistency of the letter string -MIH- (HIM BACKwards) occurring across word breaks in each theme answer. Congratulations to Dan Schwartz making a USA Today crossword debut! And welcome back to Rose Sloan, whose last USA Today puzzle was in 2021! Thank you, Dan and Rose, for this excellent puzzle. 
    One more thing today: It's awards season! The crossword community has its own informal awards. They're called the Orca Awards, and this is the 12th year they've been awarded. For the first time this year, solvers can vote for nominees in nine different categories (sadly, there isn't a category for kindest blogger - ha!). Winners will be announced on a live stream on March 6. You can find more details here. The Orca Awards are also recognizing long-time solvers with something called a Streaker Sweepstakes. Your USA Today crossword streak is eligible! More details about this can be found at the above link as well. 


    1. Question on the answer for both 10 down and 19 across What is the correct vowel ending for each of these words? In the solution the vowel is I. In your blog you have used A as the ending for 19 across. MA Pair

      1. It's an I - the solution is correct, and that was simply a (repeated) typo on my part. Thanks for letting me know! I've made the correction.


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