Off the Grid: Sally breaks down USA TODAY's daily crossword puzzle, It Couples

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

Constructor: Taylor Johnson

Editor: Amanda Rafkin

June 7, 2024
June 7, 2024

What I Learned from Today’s Puzzle

  • SHE (52A: "___ left me roses by the stairs..." (Blink-182 lyric)) "SHE left me roses by the stairs..." is a lyric from Blink-182's 1999 song, "All the Small Things." The song was Blink-182's biggest hit to date, topping Billboard's Modern Rock Tracks chart, and reaching number six on Billboard's Hot 100. The song's music video, which parodied boy bands and pop videos, was also popular. "All the Small Things" has been covered by a number of artists, been featured in soundtracks and ad campaigns, and has been streamed over a billion times on Spotify. All of these things are true, and ... it's new to me! As I learned about the song, I felt that surely I've heard it before, but I have not. (In my defense, in 1999 I had a four-year-old and a six-year-old, so I was a bit busy!) Fortunately, the answer here was fairly inferable.

  • ORB (47D: ___ of Confusion (Mermaid Man weapon)) Mermaid Man is a character from the SpongeBob SquarePants TV series. (I am really exposing my ignorance about pop culture today!) Mermaid Man, and his partner, Barnacle Boy, are semi-retired superheroes in the show's underwater city of Bikini Bottom. The ORB of Confusion is one of Mermaid Man's weapons. When turned on, anyone within the ORB's range becomes confused. Mermaid Man was originally voiced by Ernest Borgnine. After Ernest Borgnine's death in 2012, Mermaid Man's appearances have been limited to those with minimal dialogue.

Random Thoughts & Interesting Things

  • CRAB (9A: July zodiac animal) Cancer is the astrological sign for those born between June 20 and July 22. Its symbol is the CRAB.

  • ARIA (16A: Solo for Jessye Norman) Jessye Norman (1945-2019) was an opera singer and recitalist. Her many notable performances include singing at the second inauguration of Ronald Reagan, the second inauguration of Bill Clinton, and Queen Elizabeth II's 60th birthday celebration.

  • TEEN (17A: "Smells Like ___ Spirit" (Nirvana song)) "Smells Like TEEN Spirit" is a song from Nirvana's second album, Nevermind (1991). The song was Nirvana's biggest hit, and in 2017 "Smells Like Teen Spirit" was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

  • KEA (22A: Mauna ___ (Hawaiian volcano)) Mauna KEA is one of five volcanoes that form the island of Hawai'i. Mauna KEA is a dormant volcano, and its peak is the highest point in Hawaii. To the chagrin of crossword solvers everywhere, one of the other five volcanoes is named Mauna LOA. (Of course KEA and Loa are both three letters in length and end in the letter A!) Mauna KEA and Mauna Loa are about 35 miles apart on the island of Hawai'i. Unlike Mauna KEA, Mauna Loa is an active volcano; it has likely been erupting for over 700,000 years.

  • AMES (32A: Iowa college town) AMES, Iowa is the home of Iowa State University. Hello from another [Iowa college town], Iowa City, home of the University of Iowa. My husband and son are alums of Iowa State University, while I am an alum of the University of Iowa.

  • ANITA (34A: R&B singer Baker) ANITA Baker is an R&B, soul, and smooth jazz singer-songwriter. Her 1986 song, "Sweet Love" won a Grammy Award for Best R&B Song, one of eight Grammy Awards ANITA Baker has won to date.

  • REALITY BITES (55A: 1994 rom-com starring Ben Stiller and Winona Ryder) In addition to starring in Reality Bites, Ben Stiller directed the movie, his directorial debut. Winona Ryder stars as Lelaina Pierce, an aspiring videographer producing a documentary about the lives of her friends and roommates. Ben Stiller portrays, Michael Grates, an executive at an MTV-like channel called In Your Face.

  • MAMBA (58A: Venomous African snake) There are four species of MAMBA; three are green in color, and one is black. All four species of MAMBA are native to sub-Saharan Africa. MAMBAs are venomous, with untreated bites often being fatal. The MAMBA, whose average length is 8 to 12 feet, can slither at speeds up to 12 miles per hour. There's a cheery thought: a 10-foot long venomous snake slithering at 12 mph!

  • ANNA (65A: "Pitch Perfect" actress Kendrick) The 2012 musical movie, Pitch Perfect, is loosely adapted from Mickey Rapkin's book, Pitch Perfect: The Quest for Collegiate a Cappella Glory. ANNA Kendrick portrays Beca Mitchell, who joins the a cappella group, the Barden Bellas. She is part of an ensemble cast that also includes Rebel Wilson, Adam Devine, Elizabeth Banks, and Ben Platt. On one of our recent road trips, my husband and I listened to ANNA Kendrick's 2016 memoir, Scrappy Little Nobody. I recommend it for some behind-the-scenes looks at Hollywood, and multiple stories that made me laugh.

  • SETS UP (5D: Gets the board game Ark Nova ready for play) This is an example of what I like to call an "added value clue." This could read [Gets a board game ready for play] and still work as a clue for SETS UP. Naming a specific board game adds interest, particularly for those that recognize the game and may be excited to see it mentioned in the puzzle. In Ark Nova, players "plan and design a modern, scientifically managed zoo."

  • MENU (8D: A "tasting" one has several courses) I noticed there are a number of food-related clues and answers in this puzzle, a tasting MENU of sorts:

    • CITRUS FRUITS (19A: Pomelos and kumquats) Pomelos are native to Southeast Asia. These CITRUS FRUITS are ancestors of the grapefruit. Kumquats are CITRUS FRUITS that resemble tiny oranges.

    • ELOTE (42A: Mexican grilled corn dish) ELOTE, the term used in Central America and Mexico for an ear of corn, is derived from the Nahuatl word for "tender cob." ELOTE  is sold from food carts in some parts of Mexico, and is sometimes referred to as Mexican Street Corn. The corn is charred on the grill, and served in a spicy and creamy cotija cheese sauce.

    • BEET (64A: Borscht vegetable) Borscht is a soup that originated in Ukraine. BEETs are the main ingredient in borscht, which gives the soup a distinctive red color.

    • CRUST (9D: Pizza's bottom layer) I'm here for any and all pizza references. Yum!

    • AM I (11D: "What ___, chopped liver?") Okay, the chopped liver here is metaphorical, but it's still food.

    • BAO (12D: Steamed bun) BAO is a type of filled bun that originated in Chinese cuisine. Yeasted dough is filled with a variety of sweet or savory fillings before the buns are steamed.

    • SIDE (30D: Entree go-with) What SIDEs would you like with your tasting MENU today?

    • IPAS (57D: Some hoppy brews) And to wash down all this delicious food, we have some hoppy IPAS.

  • UMA (20D: "Pulp Fiction" actress Thurman) Pulp Fiction is a 1994 movie directed by Quentin Tarantino, who also wrote the screenplay. The film tells multiple, intertwining stories whose narratives are told out of chronological order. UMA Thurman stars as Mia Wallace, the wife of a Los Angeles mobster. John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, and Bruce Willis also star in Pulp Fiction.

  • THIS INSTANT (25D: "Right now!") and ASAP (32D: "Right away!") I detect a sense of immediacy here.

  • LSU (29D: Baton Rouge sch.) Louisiana State University and Agricultural and Mechanical College (commonly referred to as LSU) is located in Baton Rouge. The abbreviation of the word school in the clue alerts solvers the answer will be an abbreviation.

  • NYT (35D: Connections publisher, for short) Connections is a New York Times (NYT) game that consists of 16 words to be sorted into four categories of four. My husband and I like to play Connections each day and compare our results.

  • ILANA (39D: "Broad City" star Glazer) ILANA Glazer played a fictionalized version of herself in the TV sitcom, Broad City (2014-2019). The show was developed from a web series of the same name and is based on the real-life friendship and New York City adventures of ILANA Glazer and co-star Abbi Jacobson.

  • MTV (58D: Network that aired "Daria") Daria is an animated MTV show aimed at adults that originally aired from 1997 to 2002. The show was a spin-off from Beavis and Butt-Head, on which DARIA was a recurring character. Daria revolves around two teenage girls, the title character and her best friend Jane Lane.

Crossword Puzzle Theme Synopsis

  • CITRUS FRUITS (19A: Pomelos and kumquats)

  • SECURITY DEPOSIT (37A: Money often returned to a tenant at the end of a lease)

  • REALITY BITES (55A: 1994 rom-com starring Ben Stiller and Winona Ryder)

Each theme answer contains a COUPLE occurrences of the letter pattern IT: CITRUS FRUITS, SECURITY DEPOSIT, and REALITY BITES.

This is the second COUPLES theme we've seen this month, the first being "Bi Couples," on June 1. Therefore, after reading the title I had a pretty good idea what to expect of the theme. CITRUS FRUITS confirmed my suspicions (making me feel quite smart). Guessing the theme never distracts from my enjoyment of the solve, however, and this puzzle contains plenty of things to enjoy. Thank you, Taylor, for this excellent puzzle.

For more on USA TODAY’s Crossword Puzzles

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Crossword Blog & Answers for June 7, 2024 by Sally Hoelscher