Off the Grid: Sally breaks down USA TODAY's daily crossword puzzle, Calm Down (2024)

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

Constructor: Jess Rucks

Editor: Amanda Rafkin

Off the Grid: Sally breaks down USA TODAY's daily crossword puzzle, Calm Down (1)

Comments from Today’s Crossword Constructor

Jess: I originally pitched this theme with the title"Inner Peace" However, we ended up settling on the more straightforward "Calm Down!" The theme set was fun to come up with; I especially like DIACRITICAL MARK (surprise, I'm a word and language nerd!). Additionally, I love being able to have CASSEROLE clued as the [correct] term: hotdish! ;) Hope you enjoyed the puzzle!

What I Learned from Today’s Puzzle

  • EURO (61A: ___ step (basketball move)) In basketball, the EURO step is also called a two-step or a long lateral. To do a EURO step, a player who has the ball stops dribbling, takes a step in one direction, and then quickly takes a step in another direction and shoots a basket. I am fond of saying, "(almost) everything I know about sports I've learned from crosswords." Adding the EURO step to my sports knowledge today.

Random Thoughts & Interesting Things

  • LOB (8A: Soft throw) and TOSS (28A: Soft throw) A couple of soft throws here. These echoed clues are situated close enough to each other that when I encountered the 28-Across clue I thought, "Haven't I already filled in that answer?" Well, yes, in a way...
  • DOULA (11A: Professional who works on labor day) I really like this answer! At first I thought, "Oh, that's clever! And confidently filled in the incorrect (but still applicable) answer "ob/gyn." Crossing answers soon led me toward DOULA. A DOULA is a trained professional that provides guidance and support for a person through childbirth.
  • CASSEROLE (16A: Potluck staple called "hotdish" in Minnesota) Do you call a baked dish that is some combination of protein, vegetables, and a starchy binder a CASSEROLE or a hotdish (also formatted as "hot dish")? Although Merriam Webster defines a "hot dish" as a CASSEROLE, some folks disagree. According to at least one blogger, "All hotdishes are CASSEROLEs, but not all CASSEROLEs are hotdishes."
  • IDA (26A: Civil rights pioneer ___ B. Wells) IDA B. Wells(1862-1931) was an investigative journalist and a co-founder of the NAACP. In 2020, IDA B. Wells was posthumously awarded a Pulitzer Prize for "her outstanding and courageous reporting on the horrific and vicious violence against African Americans during the era of lynching."
  • INCAS (36A: People who gave us the words "llama" and "quinoa") Quechua is a family of indigenous languages, and was the main language family of the INCAS. The English words "llama" and "quinoa" came from the Quechua language.
  • OCEAN (38A: Expanse with "sunlight" and "twilight" zones) The OCEAN is generally divided into three zones based on how much light penetrates to certain depths. These zones are the euphotic zone (sunlight zone), the despotic zone (twilight zone), and the aphotic zone (subdivided into the bathypelagic, abyssopelagic, and hadopelagic zones). Below 1,000 meters (3,280 feet) of the OCEAN surface, no sunlight penetrates, and the only light is that generated by organisms. The amount of sunlight that penetrates the water affects the growth of phytoplankton, which can only grow in the sunlight zone), and therefore has an impact on food availability.
  • MAHI (49A: When doubled, a Hawaiian fish) The MAHI-MAHI is also known as the common dolphinfish, though it is not related to dolphins. In Hawaiian, "MAHI-MAHI" means "very strong."
  • EMPANADAS (55A: Savory pastries that might be served with chimichurri sauce) EMPANADAS are turnovers consisting of pastry and filling, and they may be baked or fried.EMPANADAS are popular in Spanish cuisine, as well as the cuisines of other South European countries, Latin American countries and the Philippines. Chimichurri is a condiment that originated in Argentina, and is made of oregano, parsley, garlic, olive oil, and red wine vinegar.
  • DIACRITICAL MARK (5D: Symbol that helps guide pronunciation) A DIACRITICAL MARK, also called a diacritic, is a MARK added to a letter to change the sound indicated by the letter. An umlaut – two dots over a letter, generally used over an ä, ö, or ü, is an example of a DIACRITICAL MARK. Another example of a DIACRITICAL MARK is a tilde, a curved line over a letter such as an ñ, an ã, or an õ.
  • DASH (6D: Part of 7-Down's clue) and DOT (27D: Part of 7-Down's clue) and SOS (7D: ...---...) This is a delightful trio of clues. The clue for SOS uses DOTs and DASHes to spell out SOS in Morse code.
  • PRACTICAL MAGIC (14D: 1998 film starring Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman) PRACTICAL MAGIC is a 1998 movie based on Alice Hoffman's novel of the same name. Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman portray Sally and Gillian Owens, sisters who are witches.Last month it was announced that a PRACTICAL MAGIC sequel is in the works, and that Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman will reprise their roles.
  • EVA (17D: "Girls5___" (2021 sitcom)) Girls5EVAis a TV series that premiered in 2021. The musical comedy focuses on four women who were part of a girl group (named Girls5eva) that had a one-hit-wonder. The members of Girls5EVA are: Dawn (Sara Bareilles) – the self-proclaimed "chill one," Summer (Busy Phillips) – the self-proclaimed "hot one," Gloria (Paula Pell) – the self-proclaimed "always working one," and Wickie (Renée Elise Goldsberry) – the self-proclaimed "fierce one."
  • TOOL (35D: Stone, to a sea otter) Sea otters use stones as TOOLs to open clams and mussels. Otters will pound their food against rocks to crack the shells open. Sometimes a sea otter will place a stone on its belly, and crack a mussel or clam against the stone while floating on its back.
  • TAU (40D: Greek T) TAU is the 19th letter of the 24-letter Greek alphabet. TAU follows sigma and precedes upsilon. This has been your crossword-encouraged Greek alphabet review for the day.
  • AHS (46D: "_merican _orror _tory") Here we have a split fill-in-the-blank clue, where each blank represents one missing letter. American Horror Story, or AHS, is an anthology TV series. That means that each season is a self-contained miniseries with a different set of characters and story lines. The show's twelfth season, AHS: Delicate, concluded in April of this year. It's the first AHS season to be based on a book; the book is Delicate Condition, by Danielle Valentine.
  • ACTS (53D: Performs in "Fat Ham") Fat Ham, written by James Ijames, is a modern-day adaptation of William Shakespeare's Hamlet. Fat Ham won the 2022 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
  • EMUS (55D: The only birds with calf muscles) More specifically, EMUS are the only birds with gastrocnemius muscles in the back of their lower legs. The gastrocnemius is one of three muscles (along with the soleus and planteris) that makes up the calf muscle in humans. Always nice to get a fun animal fact with the crossword.
  • NAS (56D: "Illmatic" rapper) Illmatic is the debut studio album of rap artist NAS, released in 1994.
  • TEA (58D: What "chai" means in Urdu and Hindi) This is why saying "chai TEA" is redundant, as that is essentially saying "TEA TEA."
  • A few other clues I especially enjoyed:
    • ODDS (4A: Calculations that might be even, ironically)
    • TOASTS (41A: Speeches that might start by tapping a utensil against a glass)
    • DIAL (31D: Butt ___ (accidentally call))

Crossword Puzzle Theme Synopsis

  • CLASSICAL MUSIC (3D: Philharmonics perform it)
  • DIACRITICAL MARK (5D: Symbol that helps guide pronunciation)
  • PRACTICAL MAGIC (14D: 1998 film starring Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman)

The word CALM is found in each vertical (DOWN) theme answer: CLASSICAL MUSIC, DIACRITICAL MARK, and PRACTICAL MAGIC.

Yesterday we had some DOWN TIME, and today our puzzle is CALM DOWN. I hope these back-to-back puzzles don't get you DOWN! Seriously, though, I enjoyed the repeat of DOWN in the titles of these two puzzles. This is a lovely set of theme answers today; difficult to pick a favorite among them. Thank you, Jess, for this excellent puzzle.

For more on USA TODAY’s Crossword Puzzles

  • USA TODAY’s Daily Crossword Puzzles
Off the Grid: Sally breaks down USA TODAY's daily crossword puzzle, Calm Down (2024)

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