March 9, 2024


Constructor: David P. Williams

Editor: Jared Goudsmit

Theme Answers:
ELEPHANT SEAL (20A: Marine mammal that doesn't have big ears)
KANGAROO RAT (36A: Rodent that doesn't have a pouch on its tummy)
MANTIS SHRIMP (55A: Crustacean that doesn't "pray")

Theme synopsis: Each theme answer is an animal whose name contains the name of another animal.

Things I learned:
  • MANTIS SHRIMP (55A: Crustacean that doesn't "pray") I've never heard of MANTIS SHRIMP, and having now learned about them, I'm extremely fascinated by them! MANTIS SHRIMP are crustaceans (as the clue tells us), but they're not actually SHRIMP, though they are related to SHRIMP. There are over 400 different species of MANTIS SHRIMP. They are colorful, solitary creatures that hide in rock formations and crevices in the sea bed. They come out of their homes to hunt, chase, and kill their prey, which they attack with specialized appendages that are either shaped like spears or clubs, depending on the species. They also have a set of appendages that are shaped like the forelimbs of a praying MANTIS, thus their name.
  • BANANA (8D: Yellow fruit in pinaypay) Pinaypay are BANANA fritters. The dish originated from the Philippines, where it is often sold as street food. The word "pinaypay" means "fanned," and refers to its shape. BANANAs are sliced, formed into a fan-like shape, coated in batter, and deep-fried. This sounds delicious!
  • BONSAI (35D: Mini tree by Masahiko Kimura) I wrote about BONSAI – the Japanese art form of cultivating small trees – a few days ago, and I was easily able to fill in the answer here from the "mini tree" part of the clue. The part I learned was about BONSAI artist Masahiko Kimura. Regarded as a BONSAI master, Masahiko Kimura specializes in shimpaku junipers with deadwood. Masahiko Kimura has a BONSAI garden in Saitama, Japan, and offers tours by appointment.
Random thoughts and interesting things:
  • BONO (18A: Actor/activist Chaz) Chaz BONO is the subject of the documentary, Becoming Chaz. He competed on season 13 of Dancing with the Stars, and has been a guest judge on RuPaul's Drag Race. His parents are Sonny BONO and Cher.
  • ELEPHANT SEAL (20A: Marine mammal that doesn't have big ears) In fact, not only does an ELEPHANT SEAL not have big ears, this SEAL doesn't have external ears at all. The ELEPHANT SEAL gets its name from a feature other than its ears, a feature only exhibited by the males of the species. Male ELEPHANT SEALs have a large, trunk-like nose, or proboscis, that develops during puberty. We've seen ELEPHANT SEAL as a theme answer before, on April 25, 2023
  • NEE (26A: Michelle Obama (___ Robinson)) The word NÉE means "originally or formerly called," and is used to denote a name change. In this case, Robinson is Michelle Obama's maiden name.
  • GENA (29A: Actress Rowlands) GENA Rowlands is a retired actress. She's currently 93 years old, and her career spanned seven decades, from the early 1950s to the 2010s! In 2015, GENA Rowlands was awarded an Honorary Academy Award for her contributions to the field of acting. 
  • KANGAROO RAT (36A: Rodent that doesn't have a pouch on its tummy) The KANGAROO RAT is a small nocturnal rodent native to western North America. KANGAROO RATs have hind legs that are relatively large (compared to the rest of their body), and tails that are longer than their body and head combined. The KANGAROO RAT gets its name from the way it hops, which is similar to a KANGAROO. Interestingly, though we have not seen KANGAROO RAT as a theme answer before, we did see RAT KANGAROO as a theme answer on August 21, 2020. The KANGAROO RAT and the RAT KANGAROO are two completely different animals.
  • ARE (50A: "Where ___ You Now" (Lost Frequencies song)) "Where ARE You Now" is a 2021 song by the Belgian DJ and record producer Lost Frequencies, featuring the English singer and songwriter Calum Scott. This is an example of a clue that uses a song title to add interest to a common 3-letter word. The nice thing here is that the answer is inferable even for solvers unfamiliar with the song.
  • NEVE (65A: "Scream" actress Campbell) NEVE Campbell's many TV and movie credits include playing the role of Sidney Prescott in the five Scream movies.
  • TESLA (5D: Car brand named for an engineer) I have written about Nikola TESLA, for whom the car company was named, many times.
  • VET (23D: Cat doc) Willow is happy to see a cat reference in the puzzle.
    A calico cat with its paw on a woman's wrist.
    I didn't tell her what the reference is, as going to the VET is not something she enjoys. Sometimes when Willow is sitting on my lap, she places a paw on my arm, as an extra reminder of her presence.
  • SNUGLI (34D: Baby carrier with a cozy-sounding name) The SNUGLI is a hands-free baby carrier created by Ann Moore. She designed a carrier for her own baby, and then began producing the SNUGLI after so many people commented on it. She got the idea after her time spent in Togo, West Africa with the Peace Corps.
  • TERI (39D: "Planes" actress Hatcher) Planes is a 2013 Disney animated movie that is a spinoff of Disney's Cars franchise. TERI Hatcher voices a forklift named Dottie.
  • GIN (43D: French 75 liquor) The GIN cocktail known as a French 75 contains GIN, lemon juice, simple syrup, and champagne.
  • SAMOAS (45D: Girl Scout cookies with coconut) Some people, such as my husband, would argue that SAMOAS are the best Girl Scout cookie. SAMOAS, also called Caramel deLites, are vanilla cookies coated in caramel, sprinkled with toasted coconut, and iced with chocolate stripes. SAMOAS are the second most popular Girl Scout cookie, after Thin Mints.

    Geography review:

    • EAGLE (14A: Bird on Egypt's coat of arms) The Egyptian coat of arms features a golden EAGLE facing to the viewer's left. A shield on the EAGLE's chest features vertical stripes of red, white, and black, colors that appear horizontally on Egypt's flag. The EAGLE holds a scroll in its talons that bears the words "Arab Republic of Egypt," written in Kufic script. The coat of arms appears in the center of Egypt's flag (without the colored stripes on the shield).
    • UTAH (15A: Kolob Canyons state) The Kolob Canyons are a geological feature that are part of Zion National Park in southwestern UTAH. 
    • ERIE (28A: Great Lake home to Hen Island) Hen Island is a small wooded island located in Lake Erie. It is in Ontario, about five miles north of the United States-Canada border. Hen Island is owned by the Quinnebog Club, a fishing club founded in 1897. Three smaller islands (which are actually reefs) are near Hen Island: Big Chicken Island, Chick Island, and Little Chicken Island.
    • DANE (41A: Person from Copenhagen) Copenhagen is the capital of Denmark, and the country's largest city.
    • ARID (49A: Like the Gobi's climate) The Gobi Desert covers parts of northeastern China, and the southern part of Mongolia. We often imagine deserts as being hot and sandy, but the Gobi is a cold desert. Like hot deserts, the Gobi has an ARID climate and receives little precipitation. The precipitation that does fall in the Gobi is often snow.
    • USA (32D: Hoboken's country) Hoboken is a city in New Jersey, which is, of course, in the USA. Hoboken is across the Hudson river from Manhattan, and is considered part of the New York City metropolitan area.
    This is a delightful theme, and I enjoyed the way that the clues for the theme answers were written to assist solvers in getting at the answer. Congratulations to David P. Williams making a USA TODAY debut! Thank you, David, for this interesting puzzle.