Off the Grid: Sally breaks down USA TODAY's daily crossword puzzle, Chow Down

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

Constructor: Madeline Kaplan

Editor: Jared Goudsmit

May 22, 2024
May 22, 2024

What I Learned from Today’s Puzzle

  • ACT (4A: Perform in "Blood at the Root") The play, Blood at the Root, premiered in 2014 at Pennsylvania State University. The title of the play comes from the lyrics of a 1939 song sung by Billie Holiday titled "Strange Fruit." The song concerns the lynching of Black Americans, "Southern trees bear a strange fruit / Blood on the leaves and blood at the root." The play, Blood at the Root, explores the complexities of race and how biases affect justice. The play is based on events that happened in Jena, Louisiana in 2006. You can learn more about the play and the events it was based on in this American Theatre article.

  • RAP (24D: Amil's genre) Amil is a RAP artist whose debut album, All Money Is Legal, was released in 2000. Emil was featured on Jay-Z's 1999 single, "Do It Again (Pu Ya Hands Up)."

Random Thoughts & Interesting Things

  • AM I (16A: "Is it me? ___ the drama?") "Is it me? AM I the drama? I don't think I'm the drama... Maybe I am... AM I the villain?" These words were said by drag queen Scarlet Envy, who was a contestant on season 11 of RuPaul's Drag Race (2019), season 6 of RuPaul's Drag Race All Stars (2021), and the season 2 of RuPaul's Drag Race: UK vs. the World (2024). Subsequently, the sound clip has been used in multiple TikTok videos.

  • OSLO (20A: Norwegian city home to the Holmenkollen Ski Museum) OSLO is the capital of Norway. The Holmenkollen Ski Museum includes an exhibition of 2,500 pairs of skis, some of which are over 1,000 years old.

  • MICE (21A: "House" rodents) At first I thought that since the word house was in quotation marks, it was a reference to the TV series, House. I'm not sure how I thought rodents related to the medical drama... In fact, the word house is a reference to a species of MICE known as house MICE. Looking at the Wikipedia page for house mouse gave me chuckle. A caption on a picture of teeth reads, "The house mouse is best identified by the sharp notch in its upper front teeth." I don't have plans to get close enough to MICE teeth to make this identification!

  • SHAMROCK (23A: Botanical symbol of Ireland) One of Ireland's patron saints, St. Patrick, is said to have used the SHAMROCK as an illustration of Christianity's Holy Trinity. The SHAMROCK has been used as a symbol of Ireland since the 18th century.

  • PRAY (33A: What someone might face Mecca to do) Masjid al-Haram, located in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, is Islam's most important mosque. At the center of the mosque is the Kaaba, a building that is considered Islam's most sacred site. When Muslims PRAY, they face the direction of the Kaaba.

  • SEGA (38A: Publisher of the video game Frogger) The video game Frogger was published by SEGA in 1981. The goal of the arcade game was to direct five frogs safely around obstacles to their homes. A remake of Frogger was released in 1997 by Hasbro Interactive.

  • LORI (56A: Model Harvey) LORI Harvey is a model and the founder and CEO of SKN by LH.

  • FRUIT (57A: Rambutan or guava) A rambutan is the FRUIT of the tree of the same name that is native to Southeast Asia. The FRUIT has leathery reddish skin covered with spines. The inside of the FRUIT is translucent or whitish with a sweet, slightly acidic flavor. Guava is a tropical FRUIT native to Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, and northern South America. The outer skin of guava is green before maturity, and may turn to yellow or maroon when ripe. The color of the inside of the FRUIT ranges from off-white to deep pink.

  • EDIE (62A: Falco who played Carmela Soprano) EDIE Falco is known for her portrayals of Carmela Soprano on the TV series The Sopranos (1999-2007), and the title character on the TV series Nurse Jackie (2009-2015).

  • PAWS (63A: Feet with toe beans) Toe beans is an adorable nickname for the pads on a cat's PAWS. My cat, Willow, helpfully posed such that the toe beans on one of her PAWS are visible.

Willow showing off her toe beans
Willow showing off her toe beans
  • TACOS (1D: ___ de nopales (Mexican dish)) Nopales are the edible pads of prickly pear cacti. The filling for TACOS de nopales is a thick stew made with nopales.

  • AMISH (2D: Some Pennsylvania Dutch speakers) Pennsylvania Dutch is a variation of German that is spoken by the Pennsylvania Dutch (an ethnic group in some regions of the U.S.), as well as some AMISH and Mennonite groups.

  • DARLA (3D: Pigtailed "Finding Nemo" villain) In the 2003 animated movie, Finding Nemo, DARLA (voiced by LuLu Ebeling) is the niece of the dentist whose tank Nemo finds himself in. The dentist plans to give Nemo to DARLA, who killed her previous pet fish.

  • ASU (4D: Tempe school, for short) Arizona State University (ASU) is located in Tempe, Arizona. The Sun Devils are the athletic teams at ASU, and Sparky the Sun Devil is the school's mascot.

  • EAT (25D: Have some injera) Injera is a fermented flatbread in Ethiopian cuisine. It is made using teff flour, and has a slightly spongy texture and a tangy flavor.

  • MIA (28D: "Jane Eyre" actress Wasikowska) MIA Wasikowska portrayed the title character in the 2011 movie, Jane Eyre, which was based on Charlotte Brontë's 1847 novel of the same name.

  • ASIA (30D: Kyrgyzstan's continent) Kyrgyzstan is a landlocked country in Central ASIA. Its neighbors are Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and China. The capital of Kyrgyzstan is Bishkek.

  • RYAN (34D: Meg who starred in many rom-coms) As far as I'm concerned, an alternate clue here could be [Meg who starred in many of my favorite rom-coms]. Those movies include When Harry Met Sally (1989), Sleepless in Seattle (1993), and You've Got Mail (1998). I have yet to see Meg RYAN's most recent rom-com, What Happens Later (2023).

  • STIM (38D: Rock back and forth, for example) STIM, short for stimming, refers to a self-stimulatory behavior characterized by repetitive action, such as tapping a pencil, drumming fingers on a table, playing with a fidget spinner, or rocking back and forth. Although often associated with people on the autism spectrum, stimming behaviors are practiced to some extent by nearly everyone.

  • A few other clues I especially enjoyed:

    • FIVE (7D: "___ stars!" ("I loved it!")

    • DID (42D: "What ___ I miss?")

    • FLO (57D: Aunt ___ (monthly "visitor" for some))

Crossword Puzzle Theme Synopsis

  • PACKING PEANUTS (15D: Foam shipping material)

  • COMPUTER CHIPS (18D: Tiny electronic devices often made of silicon)

  • ACCEPT COOKIES (19D: "Enable online tracking" button)

The last word of each vertical (DOWN) theme answer is a food item, that is, something one might CHOW DOWN: PEANUTS, CHIPS, and COOKIES.

I'm always up for a theme about food, and this is an excellent one. I really appreciate the fact that the words PEANUTS, CHIPS, and COOKIES do not refer to food at all as used in the theme answers. Congratulations to Madeline Kaplan making a USA TODAY debut! Thank you, Madeline, for this delightful puzzle.

For more on USA TODAY’s Crossword Puzzles

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Crossword Blog & Answers for May 22, 2024 by Sally Hoelscher