Off the Grid: Sally breaks down USA TODAY's daily crossword puzzle, Cuts in Front

There are spoilers ahead. You might want to solve today's puzzle before reading further! Cuts in Front

Constructor: Wendy L. Brandes

Editor: Amanda Rafkin

April 22, 2024
April 22, 2024

Comments from Today’s Crossword Constructor

Wendy: Congratulations to Sally and USA Today for creating this new, wonderful site!  It is such a great resource for solvers and constructors. CUTS IN FRONT is a throwback to my childhood, when friends would offer "frontsies" and "backsies" when standing on line. In my research for this puzzle, I learned about "bedroom pop" – making music in a small space.  My daughter recently took up the ukulele – I had her in mind when I wrote this clue. After I came up with the clue for KENNEL [Spot for Spot to spend the night], I thought it might be fun to link it to the clue for HOTEL [Spot for a traveler's overnight stay].  Lots of spots! As always Amanda offered brilliant ideas for the puzzle.  She brings so much humor and wit to the editing process.

What I Learned from Today’s Puzzle

  • SHO (16A: "Homeland" network) Homeland is a TV series that originally aired on Showtime (SHO) from 2011-2020. Claire Danes portrays Carrie Mathison, a CIA officer, in this political espionage thriller. She won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series for the role. Although I've never watched it, I have heard of Homeland. However, I will rarely know the network for a specific show. Thank goodness for crossing answers.

  • CAR (66D: Penelope Pitstop's vehicle) Penelope Pitstop is an animated character who is a race CAR driver. She first appeared in the 1968 Hanna-Barbera animated TV series, Wacky Races. Penelope Pitstop was the only female driver on the show. She was the featured character in a spin-off of that series, The Perils of Penelope Pitstop. Penelope Pitstop is also a character in the 2017 reboot of Wacky Races. Penelope Pitstop dresses primarily in pink, and speaks like a Southern belle. Her CAR is pink, and known as the Compact Pussycat; it was essentially a beauty salon on wheels. I was not familiar with Penelope Pitstop, but her name made the answer fairly inferable.

Random Thoughts & Interesting Things

  • ABBA (1A: Group whose songs are featured in "Mamma Mia!") A jukebox musical is a musical featuring the songs of a particular artist or group. For example, Mamma Mia is a jukebox musical featuring the songs of ABBA. Mamma Mia premiered in 1999. Just a couple of months ago, my husband and I saw a production of the 25th Anniversary Tour of Mamma Mia. It was not our first time to see the show, but it never disappoints, and part of the appeal is definitely ABBA's fabulous music. "Mamma Mia, here I go again / My, my, how can I resist you?"

  • AVI (24A: Pic accompanying a username) AVI is a shortened form of the word avatar, used here to mean the image a person chooses as a representation on an app or social media site. The shortened form of the word picture in the clue is a hint that the answer will be a shortened form.

  • ACNE (27A: Tetracycline target) Tetracycline is an antibiotic. One of its uses is in the treatment of severe cases of ACNE.

  • KENNEL (28A: Spot where Spot might stay overnight) and HOTEL (56D: Spot for a traveler's overnight stay) As Wendy mentioned in her notes, this is a fun repetition of the word "spot."

  • CARA (53A: "Fame" actress Irene) Irene CARA (1959-2022) starred in the 1980 musical movie, Fame. She also sang the movie's theme song, which was also used as the theme song for the TV series Fame (1982-1987). "Fame! / I'm gonna live forever / I'm gonna learn how to fly..."

  • POP (62A: Bedroom ___ (music made in one's own home)) I learned about bedroom POP from the February 4, 2023 puzzle. This style of POP music, which emerged in the 2010s, is exactly what it sounds like, music made by musicians in their own homes.

  • ASIA (69A: Cambodia's continent) Cambodia is a country in Southeast ASIA. Its capital is Phnom Penh. This is the third appearance of our crossword-friend ASIA this month.

  • DES (70A: ___ Moines, Iowa) DES Moines is the capital of Iowa. DES Moines is the home of Drake University, one of my alma maters.

  • ALI (8D: "Beef" actress Wong) Beef is a Netflix TV series about two people involved in a road rage incident that leads to them becoming enemies and getting involved in each other's lives. ALI Wong and Steven Yeun co-star in the show, which premiered a year ago. Both ALI Wong and Steven Yeun won Emmy Awards for the portrayal of their characters, and Beef won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Limited or Anthology Series.

  • CHANNEL (12D: English ___ (biggest shipping lane in the world) The English CHANNEL is the part of the Atlantic Ocean between southern England and northern France. It connects the Celtic Sea and the North Sea. The CHANNEL is approximately 350 miles long, and varies in width from 21 miles to 150 miles.

  • LOTTERY (13D: Game you're extremely unlikely to win) The chances of winning a LOTTERY such as the Powerball and Mega Millions, is approximately one in 300 million. Those aren't very good odds! You are more likely to find an elusive four-leaf clover than to win the LOTTERY. The odds of finding a four-leaf clover are one in 5,000. And the odds of finding a five-leaf clover are only one in 24,000, so that's even more likely than winning the LOTTERY.

  • LAP (23D: Drink like a cat) I'm always happy to see cat content in the puzzle. My cat, Willow's, favorite place to LAP up water is from the faucet. She'll drink from a bowl of water if necessary, but she prefers to sit near the sink and meow until my husband or I turn on the faucet to allow her to LAP up water from the tap. (It's a good think she's not spoiled or anything...)

Willow lapping up water
Willow lapping up water
  • NYC (29D: MOMA's city) We just saw MOMA as an answer four days ago. The Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) is located in New York City (NYC). The abbreviation of MOMA in the clue lets solvers know the answer is an abbreviation. Today's constructor, Wendy, is located in NYC; nice to see her get a shoutout to her city in the puzzle.

  • ANI (32D: Tibetan freedom fighter Pachen) The autobiography of ANI Pachen (1933-2002) is titled Sorrow Mountain: the Journey of a Tibetan Warrior Nun (2000). I learned about ANI Pachen from the October 7, 2023 puzzle.

  • ESTONIA (47D: Latvia's neighbor)  ESTONIA is a country in Northern Europe. ESTONIA only shares land borders with two countries, Latvia and Russia. ESTONIA has coastline on the Baltic Sea, the Gulf of Finland, and Lake Peipus. The capital of ESTONIA is Tallinn.

Crossword Puzzle Theme Synopsis

  • SLICE OF LIFE (17A: Realistic representation of the everyday experience)

  • CLIP-ON TIE (36A: Neckwear that a preschooler might wear on picture day)

  • SPLIT SECOND (64A: Hot minute)

The FRONT word of each theme answer is a synonym for CUT: SLICE, CLIP, and SPLIT.

Sometimes the theme answers of a puzzle seem to suggest a story. A SLICE OF LIFE might be helping your preschooler put on a CLIP-ON TIE for picture day. Then in what seems like a SPLIT SECOND (looking back, but not necessarily while living through it), that preschooler is an adult. Three great theme answers for this synonym theme. Thank you, Wendy, for this delightful puzzle.

For more on USA TODAY’s Crossword Puzzles

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