They say, if you want to get something done, ask some busy people to do it. In the midst of DECEMBER end-of-semester activities at the University of MINNESOTA and/or creating a budget for the good people of Allentown, Pennsylvania, this puzzle's authors got caught up in the excitement of the women's volleyball Golden Gophers march to the FINAL FOUR in Omaha, Nebraska (December 17 and 19, 2015). Joining Minnesota in the tournament are the TEXAS Longhorns, KANSAS Jayhawks, and (host) NEBRASKA Cornhuskers [click here, here and here for relevant news reports].

Our concept for this puzzle was very simple. Create a super-easy puzzle (see diagram below) that might be solvable by folks who don't regularly ACE the Saturday New York Times puzzle. Include the essential facts, like the name/time of the event (turquoise), and the names of the states (green) whose schools are playing, Sprinkle in words associated with the game of volleyball (yellow), but clue them orthogonally. Hope the solver figures it out, and has a blast doing so! (More explanations below the graphics)

How many of you recognized the pictorial hint on this puzzle's main page? If you identified Warren Buffett, also known as the "Oracle of Omaha," you're absolutely right. Which brings us to a bit of our own prognostication: Gopher superstar Daly SANTANA (center of grid, shaded gray) will have an outstanding tournament. Click here for some video clips of Daly in action [compare it to a live performance of Smooth by Carlos Santana]. Also, the tournament venue is pictured above, just beneath the answer grid, which just happens to present the semifinal pairings in the same order as the teams will take the court on December 17!

Adding to the fun, we chose to not clue KILL for the recent Gopher football coach, nor TWIN for the local baseball franchise [which has had its own SANTANA's (no relations), past and present], but were pleased to work libero into the clue for AGILE. Two more answer words that could easily have been tied to the theme were SPIN and SWIRL. Two teams that are not making A_TRIP to Omaha were snuck into the clues for CROCS and OTTER, respectively—those would be the University of Florida Gators and the University of Michigan Wolverines. Moving to a different sport, the clue for YOO is a subtle hint that you should try this puzzle. We got in a little Civil War history with our clue for LEE, and resisted the temptation of working in volleyball, i.e., SPIKE LEE, the movie director.

Note that all of the theme answers that go Across are symmetrically placed, in accord with crossword convention, while the two theme answers that go Down aren't quite symmetrical, but at least they intersect other theme entries.

Our word count (80) and number of blocks (42) are slightly more than usually allowed in top-flight MSM crosswords, but we thought it was a price well worth paying given our objectives with this puzzle. Finally, did anyone notice the Easter egg in the instructions in the first paragraph, on the puzzle's main page? Point U!

Updated December 18, 2015: In the semi-finals, Texas beat Minnesota, in a very close contest, while Nebraska defeated Kansas for the 87th consecutive time (it's fair to say that Nebraska OWNS Kansas). Finals coming up on tomorrow. Minnesota fans are consoled by the fact that Daily Santana was named Big Ten player of the year.

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