Off the Grid: Sally breaks down USA TODAY's daily crossword puzzle, Breaking Free

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

Constructor: Michael Berg

Editor: Anna Gundlach

April 23, 2024
April 23, 2024

Comments from Today’s Crossword Constructor

Michael: This puzzle represents what I love in a themed crossword: three phrases that otherwise have nothing in common, coming together to hopefully give everyone some quality 46-Down.

What I Learned from Today’s Puzzle

  • NAOMI (30D: "Doppelganger" author Klein) NAOMI Klein is a journalist, author, filmmaker, and activist. Her most recent book, published last year, is Doppelganger: A Trip Into the Mirror World. A doppelgänger (derived from the German words for "double" and "goer") is a person that looks like someone else even though the two are not related. NAOMI Klein is often mistaken for NAOMI Wolf (and vice versa), a woman with a quite different worldview than her own. Doppelganger is a memoir and social critique exploring political polarization and conspiracy thinking. I took a few minutes to watch the book trailer for Doppelganger; it sounds like quite an interesting book.

  • DWIGHT (36D: "The Office" character with a beet farm) The Office is a mockumentary TV series that originally aired from 2005-2013. The character of DWIGHT Schrute was portrayed by Rainn Wilson. In addition to being a salesman at Dunder Mifflin (a fictional paper distribution company), DWIGHT was the owner of Schrute Farms, a bed and breakfast and beet farm.

Random Thoughts & Interesting Things

  • ASIA (16A: Sri Lanka's continent) Sri Lanka is an island country in South ASIA; it is located in the Indian Ocean. We've seen back-to-back appearances for ASIA, which appeared in yesterday's puzzle. This is the fourth time we've seen ASIA this month. (A reminder that the only thing this really means is that I like data.)

  • ARGON (18A: Gas in fluorescent lamps) ARGON is a noble gas, and is the third-most abundant gas in the Earth's atmosphere. ARGON is used in fluorescent lights and in incandescent bulbs.

  • FRENCH MANICURE (20A: Nail treatment with a white tip) A FRENCH MANICURE is characterized by a natural color (pink, beige, or rose) on the base of the nail and white tips. Jeff Pink is credited with coming up with the look in the 1970s when he was tasked by a movie director to come up with a nail look that went along with multiple costume changes.

  • SAAG (45A: Spinach dish often served with paneer) SAAG is a South Asian dish made with leafy greens such as spinach. It is often served with paneer, a fresh cheese made from cow or buffalo milk.

  • FRED FLINTSTONE (51A: Caveman on a box of Fruity Pebbles) FRED FLINTSTONE has been the spokestoon of Fruity Pebbles since 1969.

  • REESE (66A: Producer/actress Witherspoon) REESE Witherspoon's acting credits include Legally Blonde (2001) and Legally Blonde 2 (2003). Her production credits include the movies Gone Girl (2014), Wild (2014), and Where the Crawdads Sing (2022).

  • OMAR (2D: Actor Epps or singer Apollo) OMAR Epps played the role of neurologist and Dean of Medicine, Dr. Eric Foreman, on the TV series, House. OMAR Apollo's debut studio album, Ivory, was released in 2022.

  • HYENAS (4D: Doglike scavengers more closely related to cats) Behaviorally, HYENAS are similar to dogs. Like animals in the dog family, HYENAS run after their prey, and catch it with their teeth rather than their claws. However, when it comes to grooming, scent marking, and mating and parental behaviors, HYENAS are similar to felines. My cat, Willow says, "Hmm, I've never thought about HYENAS as being my relatives." (Technically, what she really said was, "Meow.")

  • OMAHA (5D: Nebraska city that's home to the Museum of Shadows) OMAHA is the largest city in Nebraska. Located in OMAHA's Historic Old Market District, the Museum of Shadows - "the most haunted museum in the world" - is home to haunted artifacts and oddities.

  • CAPULETS (9D: Juliet and Tybalt, for two) The CAPULETS and the Montagues are the families involved in the long-standing feud central to William Shakespeare's tragic 1597 play, Romeo and Juliet. Juliet and her cousin Tybalt are CAPULETS. Romeo is a Montague.

  • CAFFE (25D: ___ macchiato) A CAFFÉ macchiato is an espresso with a dash of milk.

  • HORAS (26D: B'nai mitzvah dances) HORAS are circle dances performed at some Jewish celebrations. B'nai mitzvah is the plural of bar or bat mitzvah, the Jewish coming of age ceremony for boys or girls.

  • AMARETTO (38D: Liqueur that's Italian for "a little bitter") AMARETTO is a sweet Italian liqueur. It has an almond-like flavor, and depending on the brand, may be made from apricot kernels, bitter almonds, or peach pits.

  • USHER (50D: 2024 Super Bowl halftime performer) USHER released his self-titled debut album in 1994 when he was 15 years old. In 2024, USHER headlined the halftime show for Super Bowl LVIII. On the same day he performed at the Super Bowl, USHER released his ninth studio album, Coming Home.

  • A few other clues I especially enjoyed:

    • CHECKERED (21D: Like some pasts and picnic blankets)

    • ME TIME (46D: Relaxing moment for oneself)

    • FOIL (51D: Prevent, like an evil genius's plans)

Crossword Puzzle Theme Synopsis

  • FRENCH MANICURE (20A: Nail treatment with a white tip)

  • FREAKING AWESOME (37A: "So stinking amazing!")

  • FRED FLINTSTONE (51A: Caveman on a box of Fruity Pebbles)

Each of today's theme answers is BREAKING the word FREE: FRENCH MANICURE, FREAKING AWESOME, and FRED FLINTSTONE.

This is a classic USA TODAY theme type, BREAKING a word such that some of its letters bookend the theme answer. As Michael noted in his notes, it's fun that the theme answers appear unrelated, and are linked by the theme mechanism. I especially liked the theme answer "FREAKING AWESOME!" Interestingly, we've seen this theme before, back in September 2023. Although the mechanism of the theme is the same, the September puzzle features three completely different theme answers, and all of those answers broke the word F-REE, rather than the FRE-E break we see today. Thank you, Michael, for this FREAKING AWESOME puzzle.

For more on USA TODAY’s Crossword Puzzles

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Crossword Blog & Answers for April 23, 2024 by Sally Hoelscher