There are spoilers ahead. You might want to solve today’s puzzle before reading further! Split Peas

Katja: Shannon reached out to me with an invitation to collaborate on this puzzle – she is an amazing constructor who loves collaborating with others – so of course I said yes. What I love about this puzzle is the simplicity of this clean theme set. Starting with the title SPLIT PEASand deciding to use each variation of splitting peas (P-EAS, PE-AS, and PEA-S) led to a fun brainstorming exercise. We used Spread the Wordlist and Wordlisted to find options that worked for each variation. Shannon had the original spanner of PEPPERONI PIZZAS, and then found PICNIC AREAS to fulfill those first two variations, and then I found PEACH SCHNAPPS to complete the theme set. Who wouldn’t want to hang out at PICNIC AREAS with a stack of PEPPERONI PIZZAS and some PEACH SCHNAPPS?

Shannon: I love this puzzle! Thanks so much to Katja for collaborating with me on it, thanks to Amanda for helping us bring it to life, thanks to Sally for reviewing it today, and thanks to all of you for reading and solving!

  • WEEMS (5A: Artist Carrie Mae known for the “Kitchen Table Series”) Carrie Mae WEEMS is best known for her photography and videos. Her art often highlights issues facing Black Americans. Her “Kitchen Table Series,” created in the 1990s, is a series of photographs in which she is the central character. Carrie Mae WEEMS was one of the artists featured in the 2021 HBO documentary, Black Art: In the Absence of Light. Carrie Mae WEEMS, who I first learned about from the December 3, 2020 puzzle, is currently an artist in residence at Syracuse University.

  • ART (28A: “But is it ___?”) English writer Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936) is perhaps best known for writing The Jungle Book (1894) and the Just So Stories (1902). He also wrote a number of poems. One of his poems, “The Conundrum of the Workshops,” features the repeated question, “But is it ART?”

  • DUE (30A: Expected) and AWAIT (33A: Expect) I enjoyed the near clue echo of these consecutive clues.

  • LEIA (43A: “Star Wars” princess) When Carrie Fisher first portrayed LEIA Organa in the 1977 movie, Star Wars, the character was known as Princess LEIA. The character was also known as Princess LEIA in the movies The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Return of the Jedi (1983). When Carrie Fisher reprised the role in the 2015 movie, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, LEIA had become General LEIA. Carrie Fisher died in 2016 at the age of 60. Before her death, she had completed filming of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, which was released in 2017 and that movie was dedicated to her. The 2019 movie, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker used archival footage of Carrie Fisher as General LEIA.

  • DOC (50A: “What’s up, ___?”) “What’s up, DOC?” pairs nicely with the answer BUGS BUNNY, which we saw in yesterday’s puzzle.

  • PEACH SCHNAPPS (53A: Fuzzy navel ingredient) A fuzzy navel is a cocktail made of PEACH SCHNAPPS and orange juice.

  • EPCOT (61A: Theme park with Spaceship Earth) EPCOT is one of the theme parks at the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida. Spaceship Earth is a geodesic sphere housing an amusement ride in which passengers journey back in time. Here’s a fun fact about the Spaceship Earth structure: The sphere was designed with a special drainage system so that when it rains, no water pours off the sides of Spaceship Earth. Instead, water is collected and channeled into the World Showcase Lagoon.

  • IT’S (67A: “___ alive!”) When you hear the phrase, “IT’S alive!” what comes to mind? Perhaps you think of one of the following movies, which all featured the line: Frankenstein (1931), any of the Frankenstein sequels, or Rosemary’s Baby (1968). Maybe you are reminded of the intro for the stop motion-animated sketch show Robot Chicken, which features the line, “IT’S alive!” There have been a few shows that use the phrase as their title: IT’S Alive! (a 1969 monster TV movie directed by Larry Buchanan), IT’S Alive (a 1974 horror movie directed by Larry Cohen), IT’S Alive (a 2009 remake of the 1974 movie, directed by Josef Rusnak), and IT’S Alive! (a Canadian children’s variety TV show that aired from 1994-1996). The music industry has also utilized the phrase. Several groups have put out albums using the words as a title: The New Cars (IT’S Alive!, 2006), Ozark Mountain Daredevils (IT’S Alive, 1978), the Ramones (IT’S Alive, 1979 live album and IT’S Alive 1974-1996, 2007 live DVD) John 5 (IT’S Alive, 2018), and La Luz (IT’S Alive, 2013 album). But wait, that’s not all! There’s also a board game called IT’S Alive!, in which players are mad scientists competing to bring their creations to life. It appears the phrase “IT’S alive!” has a life of ITS own.

  • PROP (3D: Object an actor might steal from a set) Technically, actors don’t get to keep wardrobe and PROP items from shows they’ve worked on. However, whether with permission or not, PROPs sometimes end up walking off the set. A few examples: Robert Downey Jr. has the giant letter “A” from Avengers: Age of Ultron, Jennifer Lawrence has Katniss’s leather jacket from The Hunger Games, and Julie Andrews has a pair of shoes from Mary Poppins.

  • WIENER (5D: ___ schnitzel) WIENER schnitzel is one of the national dishes of Austria. WIENER schnitzel is a thin, breaded, pan-fried veal cutlet.

  • MUTANT (8D: Any one of the X-Men) The X-MEN are a team of superheroes appearing in Marvel comic books, TV shows, films, and video games. X-MEN are MUTANTs, as they are humans born with the X-gene, a genetic mutation that confers superhuman abilities.

  • SKY (13A: Chicago’s WNBA team) The WNBA’s Chicago SKY play their home games at Wintrust Arena in Chicago, Illinois. The team was formed in 2006, and they were the 2021 WNBA Champions.

  • TWEEN (26D: Typical middle schooler) The term TWEEN is generally used to refer to those between the ages of nine and twelve.

  • UNAGI (31D: Dragon roll fish) On a sushi menu, UNAGI refers to freshwater eel. A dragon roll often contains UNAGI, cucumber, rice, and avocado.

  • IPA (34D: 4 Hands Brewing Co.’s Divided Sky, for one) 4 Hands Brewing Co. is a microbrewery located in St. Louis, Missouri. Divided Sky is an IPA they make.

  • OHS (39D: Elle King’s “Ex’s & ___”) The song “Ex’s and OH’S” is from Elle King’s debut album, Love Stuff (2015). There were two music videos made for this song. The first music video released (a hybrid of live action and animation) is set in a carnival shooting gallery, and doesn’t feature Elle King. The other music video, which does feature Elle King, is set at a trailer campsite in a desert.

  • AOC (47D: Green New Deal champion’s initials) The Green New Deal refers to a series of proposed public policies designed to address climate change while also creating jobs, stimulating economic growth, and reducing economic inequality. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) sponsored Green New Deal legislation in 2019. It failed to advance to the Senate.

  • POET (53D: Rupi Kaur, for one) POET Rupi Kaur has a large social media following, particularly on Instagram, where she has over 4.5 million followers. She self-published her first poetry collection, milk and honey, which was then re-released by Andrews McMeel Publishing. A 10th anniversary edition of milk and honey is set to be released this fall.

  • EATS (54D: “Serious ___” (J. Kenji Lopez-Alt cooking blog)) Serious EATS is a website and blog created by food critic and author Ed Levine. J. Kenji López-Alt is the Chief Culinary Consultant at Serious EATS, where he wrote a column called “The Food Lab,” which he later adapted into a book. J. Kenji López-Alt has also written a children’s book. It’s called Every Night Is Pizza Night.

  • PICNIC AREAS (20A: Spots to enjoy meals on blankets, maybe)

  • PEPPERONI PIZZAS (37A: Meat pies, in a manner of speaking)

  • PEACH SCHNAPPS (53A: Fuzzy navel ingredient)

  • The word PEAS is SPLIT by each theme answer: PICNIC AREAS, PEPPERONI PIZZAS, and PEACH SCHNAPPS.

    It’s a nice touch that the theme answers encompass each possible SPLIT of the word PEAS: P/EAS, PE/AS, and PEA/S. Today’s grid has left-right mirror symmetry. That means the grid is symmetrical around an invisible vertical line down the center of the puzzle. In a traditional 15×15 grid (which all USA Today puzzles are), this type of symmetry is only possible if all of the theme answers have an odd number of letters. Thank you, Katja and Shannon for this delightful puzzle.

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