Off the Grid: Sally breaks down USA TODAY's daily crossword, Smack Dab in the Middle

There are spoilers ahead. You might want to solve today's puzzle before reading further! Smack Dab in the Middle

Constructor: Beth Rubin

Editor: Jared Goudsmit

April 13, 2024
April 13, 2024

What I Learned from Today’s Puzzle

  • BEARD (5A: Chin curtain or goatee) "Chin curtain" was a new term to me. I have learned that it refers to a full BEARD grown over the jaw and chin, that meets the sideburns, but without a moustache (that is, the hair above the mouth is shaved). Other names for this type of BEARD are a Shenandoah, an Amish BEARD, a Lincoln, or a whaler. Fortunately, the clue gave two examples, and I was familiar with a goatee, a BEARD grown on one's chin that does not extend to the cheeks.

  • MILLA (18A: "Resident Evil" actress Jovovich) Resident Evil is a series of Japanese horror video games. The video game series has been adapted to movies, a TV series, comic books, and novels. To date, there have been seven Resident Evil movies (2002-2021). In the first six movies, MILLA Jovovich portrays Alice, a former security specialist and covert operative.

  • COSTA (46A: ___ Mesa, California) COSTA Mesa is a city in Orange County, California. COSTA Mesa is located about 40 miles southeast of Los Angeles.

  • ONE (60A: Crystal Langhorne's jersey number) Crystal Langhorne is a retired professional basketball player. She played for WNBA's Washington Mystics from 2008-2013, and WNBA's Seattle Storm from 2014-2020. She is currently the Director of Community Engagement for Force4Change, Seattle Storm's social justice platform. I have said many times that "(almost) everything I know about sports I learned from crossword puzzles. As such, there are only a handful of players whose jersey number I could tell you. That's okay, I simply waited for help from crossing answers here to figure out whether the answer here was ONE, two, six, or ten.

  • CLAMS (51D: Mollusks in coctel de conchas) Coctel de conchas is a Salvadoran shellfish cocktail made with raw black shell CLAMS, tomatoes, onions, cilantro, lime juice, Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, and salt.

  • VEAL (57D: Cachopo meat) In Asturian cuisine (associated with the Asturias region of Spain), cachopo is a dish that consists of ham and cheese sandwiched between two thin VEAL fillets. This "sandwich" of meat and cheese is then breaded and fried.

Random Thoughts & Interesting Things

  • AVE (10A: Melrose, in L.A., e.g.) Melrose Avenue is located in Los Angeles, California. The abbreviation of L.A. in the clue lets us know the answer will be the abbreviation AVE. Paramount Pictures is located on Melrose AVE.

  • ARIAS (13A: Solos for Jessye Norman) Jessye Norman (1945-2019) was a Grammy Award-winning opera singer. 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.

  • ORG (19A: yesmagazine.___) YES! is a magazine published by YES! Media, an independent, nonprofit, and nonpartisan publisher of "solutions journalism." The magazine "analyzes societal problems in terms of their root causes and explores opportunities for systemic, structural change," while spotlighting "the ideas and initiatives of people building a better world." I am a fan of clues for ORG that highlight a specific organization.

  • UTE (22A: Muache people, e.g.) The Muache were a band of the UTE that lived in the eastern part of the Rocky Mountains.

  • TUX (32A: Formal outfit ... or Linux's penguin mascot) Linux is a family of open-source operating systems. Their mascot is TUX, the penguin. I know of Linux, and have seen their mascot, TUX, but I appreciate that the clue is accessible to solvers who might not be familiar with Linux.

  • MOVIES (35A: "Twilight" and "Moonlight") Twilight is a 2008 MOVIE based on the 2005 novel of the same name by Stephenie Meyer. It is the first MOVIE in The Twilight Saga series. Moonlight is a 2016 MOVIE based on an unpublished semi-autobiographical play by Tarell Alvin McCraney titled In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue. Moonlight won an Academy Award for Best Picture.

  • PANDA BEAR (37A: Black-and-white mammal) and BAMBOO (5D: 37-Across food) A PANDA BEAR can eat up to 40 pounds of BAMBOO a day. In fact, a PANDA BEAR's day is pretty much made up of eating BAMBOO and sleeping. One of the reasons PANDA BEARs eat so much BAMBOO is because although they are well-adapted to procure and eat BAMBOO, they are less well-adapted to digest it.

  • NEA (54A: Teachers' union) The National Education Association (NEA) was founded in 1857. It represents public school teachers and support personnel, college and university faculty and staff, and retired teachers, as well as college students preparing to be teachers. With just under 3 million members, the NEA is the largest labor union in the U.S.

  • ADELE (61A: "Rolling in the Deep" singer) "Rolling in the Deep" is a 2010 song by ADELE. It is the lead single on her album, 21. The song won three Grammy Awards: Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best Short Form Music Video.

  • URANIUM (2D: Radioactive element) URANIUM is a naturally occurring radioactive element; it is present in very low concentrations in nearly all soil, rock, and water. First discovered in 1789, URANIUM was named after the planet Uranus. URANIUM is used in the generation of nuclear power.

  • SADE (4D: "Kiss of Life" singer) "Kiss of Life" is a 1993 song by SADE, from the album Love Deluxe.

  • DAD (34D: Maurice to Belle) This is a reference to the Disney movie Beauty and the Beast. Belle is a young woman who loves books. Her DAD is Maurice, an eccentric inventor.

  • IAN (36D: Janis ___ ("Mean Girls" character)) In the 2004 movie, Mean Girls, (written by Tina Fey based on a book by Rosalind Wiseman), Janis IAN is the former best friend of "mean girl" Regina George. Janis befriends the new girl, Cady, and hatches a plot to take down Regina. The Mean Girls character, Janis IAN, is named after singer, Janis IAN, whose song, "At Seventeen," is used in the movie.

  • LIONEL (45D: "All Night Long (All Night)" singer Richie) "All Night Long (All Night)" is a 1983 song by LIONEL Richie, from his album, Can't Slow Down. This puzzle has lots of earworm potential. What will I have stuck in my head today? Will it be "Rolling in the Deep," "Kiss of Life," "At Seventeen," or "All Night Long (All Night)?"

  • ADA (48D: Poet laureate Limon) ADA Limón is the current U.S. Poet Laureate. Her signature project as Poet Laureate is titled "You Are Here." One of the "You Are Here" initiatives involves the installation of poetry on picnic tables in seven national parks. These installations will be unveiled this fall.

  • OBVS (53D: Texter's "Of course!") OBVS is short for obviously. I had "obvi" here at first, but that was incorrect, OBVS!

  • RENO (59D: Nevada casino city) RENO, Nevada, located along the Nevada-California border, is known for its casino and tourism industry. RENO's nickname is "The Biggest Little City in the World."

Crossword Puzzle Theme Synopsis

  • I NEED A BREAK (20A: "This job tires me out!")

  • PANDA BEAR (37A: Black-and-white mammal)

  • LIVED ABROAD (56A: Spent a year in another country, say)

The word DAB is IN THE MIDDLE of each theme answer: I NEED A BREAK, PANDA BEAR, LIVED ABROAD.

Not only does each theme answer contain the word DAB hidden among its letters, but the word DAB is SMACK DAB IN THE MIDDLE of each theme answer, with the same number of letters on each side of it. This is a fun title and theme. Thank you, Beth, for this enjoyable puzzle.

For more on USA TODAY’s Crossword Puzzles

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Crossword Blog & Answers for April 13, 2024 by Sally Hoelscher