Off the Grid: Sally breaks down USA TODAY's daily crossword puzzle, Letter Openers

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

Constructor: Emily Carroll

Editor: Amanda Rafkin

June 15, 2024
June 15, 2024

What I Learned from Today’s Puzzle

  • HER (20A: "___ Body is Bible" (FLETCHER song)) FLETCHER is a pop artist whose debut studio album, Girl of My Dreams, was released in 2022. "HER Body is Bible" was the first single released from that album.

Random Thoughts & Interesting Things

  • ASIA (18A: Kazakhstan's continent) Kazakhstan, located in Central ASIA, is the world's largest landlocked country. It does have coastline along the Caspian Sea, which is the world's largest inland body of water. Kazakhstan's neighbors are Russia, China, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan. The capital of Kazakhstan is Astana. This is the second appearance this month of our crossword-friend ASIA.

  • SON (23A: Colin Hanks, to Tom) Colin Hanks is an actor and comedian. His work includes playing the role of Officer Gus Grimly in the first two seasons of the TV series Fargo, and voicing the title character in the animated children's TV series Talking Tom & Friends. As the clue informs us, Colin Hanks is the SON of actor Tom Hanks.

  • OMAN (29A: Muscat's country) Muscat is the capital of OMAN, and its most populous city. Located on the Arabian Sea along the Gulf of OMAN, Muscat has been an important trading port since the first century.

  • BRAZIL (33A: Host country for the 2016 Summer Olympics) The 2016 Summer Olympics were held in Rio de Janeiro, BRAZIL. The motto of the games was "Um mundo novo" (Portuguese for "A New World"). The 2016 Summer Olympics were the first Olympic Games to be held in South America.

  • ITALY (44A: Florence's country) The country of ITALY is divided into twenty regions. The region of Tuscany is located in central ITALY, with coastline along the Ligurian Sea and the Tyrrhenian Sea, both of which are part of the Mediterranean Sea. Florence is the capital of Tuscany. We're getting a geography lesson from today's puzzle. I always welcome an opportunity to brush up on my geography, since that's definitely not my strong suit.

  • NAPA (49A: California wine country) Thanks to a combination of favorable climate, geography, and geology, NAPA Valley in California is considered one of the premier wine regions in the world. The last time I visited NAPA Valley was with my daughter in January 2020. Perhaps it's time for a return visit.

My daughter posing with the NAPA Valley sign
My daughter posing with the NAPA Valley sign
  • ETTA (65A: Blues singer James) ETTA James (1938-2012) is a singer and songwriter whose music spanned multiple genres: gospel, blues, jazz, R&B, rock and roll, and soul. She is a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1993), the Grammy Hall of Fame (1999), and the Blues Hall of Fame (2001).

  • ELSA (71A: #Give___AGirlfriend ("Frozen" fan campaign)) When the Disney movie, Frozen, was released in 2013, many in the LGBTQ+ community embraced ELSA as a queer icon, and the song "Let It Go" as a coming out anthem. When news of a sequel came out, some fans, including Alexis Isabel Moncada, the creator of the hashtag #GiveELSAAGirlfriend, launched a campaign on social media. Spoiler Alert ... although the folks at Disney saw and heard the requests, ELSA does not have a girlfriend (yet anyway...). Maybe in Frozen 3 (scheduled to be released in 2026)?

  • Q-TIPS (73A: *Ear-cleaning swabs) Although the most common use of Q-TIPS may be to remove earwax from the ear canal, that use is against manufacturer's recommendations. The fine print on Q-TIPS packages reads: "Warning: Do not insert swab into ear canal." (In other words, "we're not liable if you damage your ear canal.")

  • RAISINETS (10D: Fruity, chocolate-covered movie snack) In 1925, the Blumenthal Brothers Chocolate Company introduced Goobers (chocolate-covered peanuts) to the U.S. Market. Two years later, the company introduced RAISINETS (chocolate-covered raisins). Although now owned by other companies, both Goobers and RAISINETS are still on the market, and are popular movie snacks.

  • ELTON (11D: NBA exec Brand) ELTON Brand is the general manager of the NBA's Philadelphia 76ers. He is a former NBA player. During his playing career he played for the Chicago Bulls, Los Angeles Clippers, Philadelphia 76ers, Dallas Mavericks, and Atlanta Hawks.

  • HAN SOLO (15D: "Star Wars" character dubbed a "stuck-up, half-witted, scruffy-looking nerf herder") and LEIA (42D: "Star Wars" princess) And who was it that referred to HAN SOLO as a "stuck-up, half-witted, scruffy-looking nerf herder?" Why, it was Princess LEIA in Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980).

  • BOBBY PIN (25D: Hair accessory) In addition to holding hair in place, BOBBY PINs come in handy for a number of other uses, including pitting cherries and squeezing the last bit of toothpaste out of a tube.

  • PIANO BARS (32D: Don't Tell Mama and Tramp Stamp Granny's, e.g.) Don't Tell Mama is a PIANO BAR with locations in New York City and Las Vegas. The BAR's name is a reference to the song of the same name in the Broadway musical Cabaret. Tramp Stamp Granny's is a PIANO BAR in Los Angeles. The tagline on its website is "Drinks, Dancing, and Upscale Debauchery."

  • ZHAO (35D: "Nomadland" director Chloe) Nomadland is a 2021 movie based on the 2017 nonfiction book by Jessica Bruder, Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century. Chloe ZHAO won numerous awards, including an Academy Award and a Golden Globe Award, for directing the 2020 movie Nomadland.

  • IOWA STATE (36D: The Cyclones of the NCAA) IOWA STATE, officially IOWA STATE University of Science and Technology, is a public land-grant university in the crossword-friendly city of Ames. IOWA STATE's sports teams are known as the Cyclones, and the school's mascot is Cy the Cardinal. Agricultural scientist George Washington Carver (1864-1943) received his bachelor's and master's degrees from IOWA STATE. Closer to home, my husband and son are also IOWA STATE alums.

Crossword Puzzle Theme Synopsis

  • L-BOMB (1A: *Drop the ___ (say "I love you"))

  • G-STRING (26A: *Skimpy undergarment)

  • B-SCHOOL (41A: *Place to get an MBA)

  • T-MOBILE (53A: *Verizon competitor)

  • Q-TIPS (73A: *Ear-cleaning swabs)

Reading from the top to the bottom of the puzzle, the LETTERs that begin (i.e. OPEN) the asterisked answers are LGBTQ.

Unlike the majority of themed crosswords, the theme answers in this puzzle aren't the longest answers in the grid. Helpfully, the theme answers are marked with asterisks, making them easy to identify. I appreciate that all of the theme letters are hyphenated, setting the LETTER OPENERS apart nicely. After filling in L-BOMB at 1-Across, I wondered if the LETTER OPENERS would spell a word. A nice "Aha!" moment occurred when I realized the LETTERs were spelling out LGBTQ – perfect for Pride month! Thank you, Emily, for this delightful puzzle.

For more on USA TODAY’s Crossword Puzzles

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Crossword Blog & Answers for June 15, 2024 by Sally Hoelscher