Off the Grid: Sally breaks down USA TODAY's daily crossword puzzle, First Class

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

Constructor: Jasmeet Arora

Editor: Amanda Rafkin

April 5, 2024
April 5, 2024

Comments from Today’s Crossword Constructor

Jasmeet: i had so much fun making this puzzle! i love that i got to highlight the creator of Smarter In Seconds who i absolutely look up to! some of my favorites are 61A, 47D (one of my favorite meals!), 42D, 36D, and 13A. also while cluing 54D i could not stop mentally replaying that wizards of waverly place song that goes “what’s that? a hat? crazy funky junky hat?…” you know the one!

What I Learned from Today’s Puzzle

  • RAVA (15A: Base ingredient in upma) RAVA is a wheat product; it is a form of semolina (coarsely milled durum wheat). In Indian cuisine, RAVA is used to make savory dishes such as upma, a thick porridge that has various seasonings and vegetables added to it during cooking.

  • ART (25A: Augusta Savage's field) Augusta Savage (1892-1962) was a sculptor and an ART teacher. She was one of the leading artists of the Harlem Renaissance, an intellectual, social, and artistic movement in the 1920s and 1930s. Augusta Savage's ART celebrates Black culture, and she is known for being an influential activist.

  • IMANI (43A: "Smarter in Seconds" creator Blair) Blair IMANI is an author, historian, and activist. She is the author of the 2018 book, Modern HERstory: Stories of Women and Nonbinary People Rewriting History, which spotlights important people of color, queer people, trans people, and disabled people that are often overlooked. In 2020, Blair IMANI launched "Smarter in Seconds," a series of short (30-60 seconds) informational and educational videos.

  • TASHA (12D: Olympian Danvers) TASHA Danvers is a former track and field athlete. At the 2008 Summer Olympics, she represented Great Britain and won a bronze medal in the 400 meter hurdles.

  • KEIRA (54D: Actress Knightley) This is something I learned from Jasmeet's constructor's note. Jasmeet says that while cluing KEIRA she couldn't stop thinking about "that wizards of waverly place song that goes 'what’s that? a hat? crazy funky junky hat?…' you know the one!" Well, I did not, in fact, know the one! I do know about the Disney Channel sitcom, Wizards of Waverly Place (2007-2012), in which Selena Gomez plays a teenage wizard named Alex. Jennifer Stone plays Alex's best friend, Harper. Today I learned about the funky hat song. On the fourth episode of the shows first season, Alex and Harper sing a silly song – complete with choreography – any time they see a person wearing a hat: "What's that? A hat? / Crazy, funky, junky hat / Overslept? Hair unsightly? / Tryin' to look like KEIRA Knightley? / We've been there, we've done that / We see right through your funky hat!" Even though the song only appeared in one episode, it was catchy, and has lived on in many social media posts.

Random Thoughts & Interesting Things

  • DAM (1A: Answer to the joke "What did the beaver say after stubbing his toe?") Ha! This is a delightful way to start off a puzzle.

  • LABOR (13A: "I don't dream of ___" (response to "What's your dream job?")) This is another fun clue. "I don't dream of LABOR," is a phrase that has popped up on various social media sites.

  • ACT YOUR AGE (16A: "Don't be immature!") This reminded me of the phrase "ACT your wage" that we saw a couple of days ago.

  • HANOI (23A: Style of pho from northern Vietnam) and SOUP (29D: Ramen or pho) HANOI is the capital of Vietnam. HANOI pho (associated with northern Vietnam) and Saigon pho (associated with southern Vietnam) vary in the width of the noodle used, as well as the sweetness of broth, and the choice of herbs.

  • ANO (34A: Year, in Portuguese) In Portuguese, the word for year is ANO. In Spanish, the word for year is AÑO. You'll notice that in Spanish, the word for year has a tilde over the letter N. Sometimes, you'll see the word ANO in crosswords clued as the Spanish word. The difficulty is that the Spanish word ANO, without the tilde, means "anus." There are no tildes in crossword grids, of course, so clueing this word in reference to Portuguese is much safer.

  • REUNION TOUR (35A: The Spice Girls had one in 2007) The English girl group known as the Spice Girls was active from 1994-2000. Their 2007 worldwide REUNION TOUR was titled "The Return of the Spice Girls Tour." The Spice Girls had another REUNION TOUR in 2019, though it only featured four of the group's original five members.

  • ANA (39A: Actress de Armas) Just yesterday I talked about the Knives Out movies. ANA de Armas's film credits include the role of Marta Cabrera in the first Knives Out (2019) movie.

  • TRIP SITTER (61A: Supervisor for someone on shrooms) Shrooms are a common name for psilocybin mushrooms, also known as magic mushrooms. These mushrooms can have psychedelic or hallucinogenic effects. A TRIP SITTER is a person who remains sober while another person uses shrooms (or other psychedelic substances). The TRIP SITTER is there not to control a person's experience, but to ensure the person's safety.

  • MEYER (3D: "Veep" protagonist Selena) On the TV series, Veep, Julia Louis-Dreyfus plays Selina MEYER, the (fictional) Vice-President of the United States. Julia Louis-Dreyfus won six Primetime Emmy Awards (and numerous other accolades) for her portrayal of Selena MEYER.

  • AVENUE (10D: "___ Q" (Broadway musical)) AVENUE Q is a Tony Award-winning musical that premiered on Broadway in 2003. With a cast of four puppeteers (working eleven puppet characters) and three human actors, the show is a parody of Sesame Street with adult-oriented themes. The puppeteers are unconcealed as they operate the puppets, but are ignored by the human characters. All of the characters – puppet and human – are young adults attempting to deal with real-world problems. My husband and I saw an off-Broadway production of AVENUE Q several years ago and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

  • PROTEST (42D: Mass mobilization at the 1999 WTO conference, e.g.) In 1999, members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) met in Seattle, Washington for a conference. The focus of the conference was a global agenda for trade negotiations. Anti-globalization activists organized a PROTEST of the conference that involved thousands of protestors and overshadowed the proceedings of the WTO conference. Some of the protestors chained themselves together and blocked intersections in downtown Seattle.

  • PURI (47D: Fried bread served with chole) and ATTA (52D: Flour used to make 47-Down) PURI is a fried bread made from unleavened whole wheat flour such as ATTA. Because of the high gluten content of ATTA flour, dough made with it is strong and elastic, and can be rolled into thin sheets. Chole is a curry dish in Indian cuisine, which (as the clue informs us) may be served with PURI.

Crossword Puzzle Theme Synopsis

  • ACT YOUR AGE (16A: "Don't be immature!")

  • REUNION TOUR (35A: The Spice Girls had one in 2007)

  • TRIP SITTER (61A: Supervisor for someone on shrooms)

The FIRST word of each theme answer can be paired with the word CLASS to form a new phrase. Our FIRST CLASS phrases are CLASS ACT, CLASS REUNION, and CLASS TRIP.

This is a FIRST CLASS puzzle for Friday. Here's a fun thing: We saw a puzzle titled FIRST CLASS last month, but that puzzle had a completely different theme. A couple of clues I especially enjoyed today were (44D: "Hungry Hungry Hippos" piece) for MARBLE, and (45D: Like a clock with hands) for ANALOG. Thank you, Jasmeet, for this excellent, might I say FIRST CLASS, puzzle.

One more thing today: This weekend is the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament (ACPT) in Stamford, Connecticut. If you happen to be at ACPT this weekend, please find me and say hello – I'd love to talk to you! I happen to know that the constructor of today's puzzle will also be at ACPT, so if you are there and see Jasmeet, tell her how much you enjoyed today's puzzle.

For more on USA TODAY’s Crossword Puzzles

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Crossword Blog & Answers for April 5, 2024 by Sally Hoelscher