March 3, 2024


Constructor: Rachel Fabi

Editor: Amanda Rafkin

Theme Answers:
MONK AND ROBOT (20A: Becky Chambers' solarpunk book series)
FIGHTER JETS (28A: "Top Gun" planes)
BARD COLLEGE (44A: School associated with Simon's Rock)
ROGUE PLANETS (52A: Free-floating interstellar objects)

Theme synopsis: The FIRST word of each theme answer is a character CLASS in the role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons: MONK, FIGHTER, BARD, and ROGUE.

Things I learned:
  • TAKEN (15A: Movie in which Liam Neeson's character has "a very particular set of skills") In the 2008 action-thriller movie Taken, Liam Neeson portrays Bryan Mills, a former Green Beret and CIA officer. Bryan's daughter is kidnapped while traveling overseas. One of the iconic scenes from the movie is Liam Neeson's character speaking on the phone to the kidnappers. He says (in part), "If you are looking for ransom I can tell you I don't have money, but what I do have are a very particular set of skills. Skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you..."
  • MONK AND ROBOT (20A: Becky Chambers' solarpunk book series) Solarpunk is a literary movement encompassing works that envision a sustainable future. The MONK AND ROBOT books are two solarpunk novellas written by Becky Chambers. The first book in the series, A Psalm for the Wild-Built was published in 2021. The second book,  A Prayer for the Crown-Shy, was published the following year and won a Hugo Award. The series is set on a habitable moon called Panga, where humans were left by robots several hundred years earlier. I am delighted to learn about the solarpunk subgenre, and about the MONK AND ROBOT series; I will be checking them out.
Random thoughts and interesting things:
  • RAE (42A: "Insecure" actress Issa) Issa RAE plays the role of Issa Dee on Insecure, a TV series for which she is also a co-creator and co-writer. The show takes a look at the experiences of contemporary Black women, and is partially based on ISSA Rae's web series, The Mis-Adventures of Awkward Black Girl.
  • BARD COLLEGE (44A: School associated with Simon's Rock) BARD COLLEGE at Simon's Rock is a private liberal arts college. It is located in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, and is unique in being an "early college." All students at BARD COLLEGE at Simon's Rock enter the program after the tenth or eleventh grade, rather than after graduating from high school. The name Simon's Rock comes from a large boulder, a glacial erratic (a glacially-deposited rock that differs from native types of rock in the area), located in the woods on campus. Alison Bechdel, author of the graphic memoir Fun Home, is an alum of BARD COLLEGE at Simon's Rock.
  • GRAHAM (46A: ___ crackers (s'more ingredients)) GRAHAM crackers are iconic as s'more ingredients. They also have an interesting history. GRAHAM crackers are a sweet cracker made with GRAHAM flour, a coarse-ground whole wheat flour. Sylvester GRAHAM, a 19th-century preacher for whom the flour was named, believed God intended people to live with minimal pleasure and stimulation. GRAHAM encouraged his followers to eat a vegetarian diet that included bread made from wheat ground coarsely at home. GRAHAM crackers were created for his followers. Sylvester GRAHAM believed that adhering to his prescribed diet would prevent people from having impure thoughts (and actions!) Think on these things the next time you eat a s'more!
  • ROGUE PLANETS (52A: Free-floating interstellar objects) This answer led me to imagine a message from a NASA mission, "Houston, we have a problem. The PLANETS have gone ROGUE." ROGUE PLANETS are also referred to as "free-floating PLANETS" or "isolated planetary-mass objects." Whichever term you prefer, ROGUE PLANETS are objects of planetary mass that are not gravitationally bound to a star. ROGUE PLANETS may have been ejected from a planetary system, or have been formed outside of such a system. It's estimated that there are billions to trillions of ROGUE PLANETS in the Milky Way Galaxy. Science is cool.
  • ADAM (56A: "Ferrari" actor Driver) Ferrari is a 2023 movie based on Brock Yates's 1991 biography, Enzo Ferrari: The Man, The Cars, the Races, the Machine. ADAM Driver portrays Enzo Ferrari in the movie.
  • OKRA (7D: "Fighting" veggie mascot of Delta State University) Delta State University is located in Cleveland, Mississippi. While the college's official mascot is the statesmen, it also has an unofficial mascot – the fighting OKRA. The fighting OKRA was thought up by the students in the late 1980s, and has remained popular. If you're imagining an OKRA with a face, and sporting boxing gloves, you have a good idea of what the fighting OKRA looks like.
  • HANOI (10D: Tower of ___ (logic puzzle)) I wrote about the classic math puzzle, the tower of HANOI, when we saw it as a theme answer June 3, 2023
  • OATHS (21D: Sacred promises sworn by paladins) This is a bonus theme answer. In addition to MONK, FIGHTER, BARD, and ROGUE, paladin is also a Dungeons and Dragons character class. A paladin is a holy knight and a divine spell caster. 
  • AFOOT (23D: "The game is ___!") "The game is AFOOT," is an iconic Sherlock Holmes-associated phrase, even though - as I've mentioned previously - Holmes only said this phrase once in the written stories, at the beginning of "The Adventure of the Abbey Grange."
  • HIPPO (24D: "Fantasia" creature in a tutu) Fantasia is a 1940 animated Disney movie that consists of eight animated segments set to pieces of classical music. The classic scene featuring Hyacinth HIPPO, a prima ballerina, is set to Dance of the Hours by Amilcare Ponchielli.
  • LANA (53D: Singer Del Ray) I thought I had written about LANA Del Ray previously, but I had difficulty finding what I'd written. That's because when I have written about the singer-songwriter previously, it was been with the spelling "LANA Del Rey." LANA Del Rey is the professional name of Elizabeth Woolridge Grant. She has also at times used the names LANA Del Ray (with an "a"), LANA Rey Del Mar, and Sparkle Jump Rope Queen. Although she seems to currently use the spelling "LANA Del Rey," her 2010 debut album is titled LANA Del Ray.
  • THE (61D: "Video Killed ___ Radio Star") "Video Killed THE Radio Star" is a 1979 song by the Buggles. I'm a fan of using titles to clue common words as seen in this clue.

    Geography review:

    • ASIA (1A: Kathmandu's continent) Kathmandu is the capital and largest city of Nepal. A landlocked country in ASIA, Nepal is situated mainly in the Himalayas. It is bordered by the Tibet Autonomous Region on China (to the north) and India (to the west, south, and east).
    • ARUBA (11D: The "A" of the ABC islands) ARUBA is an island country in the Caribbean, and the first alphabetically of a trio known as the ABC islands: ARUBA, Bonaire, and CuraƧao. ARUBA is a constituent country in the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The capital of ARUBA is Oranjestad.
    (Almost) everything I know about ___, I've learned from crossword puzzles. There's a list of things that can fill in that blank, and one of those things is the role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons (D&D). Never having played D&D (why have I never played D&D?!), it took me a little bit to catch on to today's theme. It was about the time I figured out BARD COLLEGE, after already having uncovered MONK AND ROBOT and FIGHTER JETS, that I had an "AHA!" (23A: "I've got it!") moment and said to myself, "Is this a D&D CLASS thing? Yes, it is. This is the third Dungeons & Dragons-themed puzzle that Rachel Fabi has treated us to. The first one appeared December 3, 2020, and the second on January 8, 2021. (Hopefully I haven't missed one. Rachel, please let me know if I have!) Thank you, Rachel, for this educational puzzle.


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