The first is a blatant and, to me, very welcome political commentary in 8 Down:
Again, you don't need to have read the iconic Gordon Korman young adult series to solve this clue, which involves a homophone.
But if you did, it will be a thrill to see the main characters mentioned in an internationally distributed puzzle; to catch a cultural reference so many others will miss. Here in Canada, we are so flooded with cultural references from the U.S., especially given how globalized things have become, that it's rare and lovely to see an authentic provincial cultural reference.
I loved (and still love) the delightfully far-fetched adventures of Bruno and his roommate at their fictional Ontario boarding school of Macdonald Hall so much that I kept all the books. I still have them on my bookshelf, ready to read to my kids once they're old enough.
Culture typically works the same way, though perhaps to our detriment. We make art, we practice culture, here, in our studios, in our homes, but unless we take measures to tune it out, the vast majority of the cultural information we receive is global. My friend and fellow writer Derek once argued that when we are all inundated with the same cultural references, we become homogenous in our creative thinking. I have thought about that for a long time. It's why I think it is so important to not just see the blockbuster movies and read the best-selling books, but to explore local art exhibits, seek out TV shows and films with smaller distributions, discover authors we have never heard of, buy foods from local shops and not just chain grocery stores.
Thank you, Fraser Simpson, for flipping the script, and bringing local Ontario cultural references to the world with today's puzzle.