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Sally Analyzes USA TODAY’s Daily Crossword Puzzle, Monkey in the Middle

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

Monkey in the Middle

Constructor: Adam Levav

Editor: Anna Gundlach

True Detective: Night Country is the fourth season of the anthology TV series True Detective, which aired on HBO in January and February of this year. As the clue tells us, ISSA López was the showrunner. For a TV series, the showrunner is the top-level executive producer. With TV shows (as opposed to feature films), the showrunner is usually also the head writer, and that is the case here. ISSA López served as producer, director, and writer.

I am a fan of murals, especially outdoor murals, which add interest to a cityscape. I searched for “MURAL” in my photo app and enjoyed a stroll down memory lane remembering murals I’ve seen in many different places. Here’s a photo of a mural painted on a fence in Dublin, Ireland.

The Dick Van Dyke Show originally aired from 1961-1966. The show focused on the life of TV comedy writer Rob PETRIE, portrayed by Dick Van Dyke. LAURA PETRIE, portrayed by Mary Tyler Moore, was Rob’s wife. Mary Tyler Moore won two Emmy Awards for her portrayal of Laura PETRIE.

“Bye Bye Bye” was released by NSYNC in 2000. The song won an MTV Video Music Award for Best Pop Video. Awesome alliteration in this clue.

ASMR stands for autonomous sensory meridian response and refers to a tingling sensation beginning at the scalp and moving down the back of the neck and the spine. ASMR may be triggered by auditory or visual stimuli, such as whispery, crinkly sounds, and some people are more susceptible to the experience. There are millions of YouTube videos designed to induce ASMR.

BANANA PEPPERS have a curved shape and yellowish color, similar to the fruit from which it takes its name. BANANA PEPPERS are mild and generally measure less than 500 on the Scoville scale (used to describe the spiciness of chili peppers). For comparison, jalapeño PEPPERS measure 2,500 – 10,000 Scoville heat units, and habanero chili PEPPERS measure 100,000-350,000.

The winter sport of biathlon combines cross-country skiing and rifle shooting.

In professional wrestling, bouts are scripted to provide drama. This means the outcomes of matches are determined in advance. The emphasis of the wrestling matches is on entertainment and showmanship. In the world of professional wrestling, a hero is known as a “face,” and a villain – or antagonist – is known as a HEEL.

Steve Urkel, played by Jaleel White, is a character from the TV series, Family Matters (1989-1998). Urkel is characterized as a NERD who is kind and well-meaning, but a bungling meddler. Urkel was also known for his high-pitched voice. He wore thick eyeglasses and flood pants held up by suspenders.

In filmmaking and video production, a GRIP is a camera equipment technician. On a movie set, GRIPs are a separate department responsible for building and maintaining all equipment that supports cameras. The lead tech is known as the key GRIP.

Lutefisk is made by drying and salting cod or whitefish and then rehydrating it in a LYE solution. To make bagels, yeasted wheat dough is shaped into a ring, briefly boiled in water (that may contain LYE, baking soda, barley malt syrup, or honey), and then baked.

The 2001 movie, Zoolander, is a satire on the fashion industry. The title character, Derek Zoolander, is a supermodel portrayed by Ben Stiller. Owen Wilson plays the role of Hansel McDonald, a model who is a rising star in the industry and has ousted Derek Zoolander from the top model spot.

But I’m a Cheerleader is a movie about a high school cheerleader named Megan, played by Natasha Lyonne. Megan’s family suspects she is a lesbian and sends her to a conversion therapy camp to “cure” her.

New Orleans, Louisiana, or NOLA, is well-known for its Mardi Gras festival. Technically, Mardi Gras, also known as Shrove Tuesday, is the Tuesday prior to Ash Wednesday. However, NOLA celebrates Mardi Gras with elaborate parades and masquerade balls for approximately two weeks prior to Ash Wednesday.

College Football Scoreboard is an ESPN show that, as the name suggests, provides scores, highlights, and pre- and post-game interviews from college football games. During college football season, the show airs several times throughout the day every Saturday.

A few other clues I especially enjoyed:
– I DIG IT (50A: “Cool, man”)
– ERRED (71A: Made a whoopsie)
– LATE (8D: Like someone who was just stuck in traffic, probably)

The MONKEY IN THE MIDDLE here is the word APE in the center of each theme answer: LAURA PETRIE, CHEAP EATS, and BANANA PEPPERS.

I appreciate the fact that in each theme answer, the MONKEY IN THE MIDDLE appears in the exact center of the answer, with the same number of letters on each side of APE. Additionally, this puzzle features left-right mirror symmetry, meaning the puzzle is symmetrical around an imaginary vertical line down the center of the puzzle. The use of this type of symmetry allows the theme answers to be centered horizontally, which means the APEs are lined up in the center of the grid. Congratulations to Adam Levav, making a USA TODAY debut! Thank you, Adam, for this enjoyable puzzle.