Off the Grid: Sally breaks down USA TODAY's daily crossword puzzle, Top Dollar

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

Constructor: Shannon Rapp

Editor: Amanda Rafkin

May 28, 2024
May 28, 2024

Comments from Today’s Crossword Constructor

Shannon: I'm relatively new to the USA TODAY puzzle; this is only my third crossword here so far! One of the things I've loved about making (and solving) the USA TODAY puzzles is that the accessibility of the themes and easiness of the clues allow for constructors to include things that might be new or interesting to solvers. Amanda Rafkin, the puzzle editor, suggested using TREE OF CODES where my original submission used TREE OF LIFE. I had never heard of TREE OF CODES before making this puzzle. It's part book, part physical sculpture and I highly recommend checking it out. I'm happy I got to include my hometown of STL, a hint to my favorite sport with LEADOFF, and a reference to the Humboldt penguins which are native to Peru! (Did you know there are penguins that live near the equator!?) And I'm so pleased that my clue for MOO made it through editing. I crack myself up. Thank you for solving!

What I Learned from Today’s Puzzle

  • TREE OF CODES (5D: Jonathan Safran Foer book with die-cut pages) The 2010 book TREE OF CODES is new to me, as it was to Shannon. I am fascinated by the idea of this book. Rather than write this book, Jonathan Safran Foer constructed it from another book. Jonathan Safran Foer took one of his favorite books, The Street of Crocodiles (1934) by Bruno Schulz, and cut words out of each page. The words that are left tell a story different from the original. The title, TREE OF CODES, is even cut from Street of Crocodiles. This reminds me of the blackout poetry that I did in a writing workshop one time, but on a much larger scale. The printing of the book was tricky, as each page is die-cut in a different pattern. After speaking with several printers, Jonathan Safran Foer found a printer in Belgium who was willing to undertake the task.

Random Thoughts & Interesting Things

  • TWO (5A: Number of uteri for most shark species) It's true; many species of sharks have TWO uteri, one on each side. Embryos can develop in both uteruses, and sometimes the unborn sharks swim from one uterus to the other. In some shark species, the embryos display cannibalistic behavior, eating other embryos until only one shark pup is left in each uterus. Nature is interesting!

  • LOTR (18A: Series with Samwise and Bilbo, for short) Samwise and Bilbo are hobbits in J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings (LOTR). Sean Astin and Ian Holm portrayed Samwise and Bilbo, respectively, in the movie adaptation of the series.

  • AED (20A: Device found near first-aid kits) An automated external defibrillator (AED) is a portable device that can diagnose life-threatening cardiac arrhythmias, and treat them through the application of electricity that then allows the heart to re-establish an effective rhythm.

  • ALBUM (21A: "Midnights" or "Harry's House") Midnights is Taylor Swifts tenth studio ALBUM. Harry's House is the third studio ALBUM by Harry Styles. Both ALBUMs were released in 2022.

  • STL (22A: Gateway Arch city (Abbr.)) and LEAD OFF (25A: Bat first) A few weeks ago I took a mid-week road trip to St. Louis (STL), Missouri to meet my mom and sister and go to a St. Louis Cardinals baseball game. We didn't get to see the LEAD OFF batter however, because sadly, the game was rained out. However, while in St. Louis I did enjoy a lovely walk around the Gateway Arch. I have seen it many, many times, but it's a view I never tire of.

Gateway Arch
Gateway Arch
  • FROOT LOOPS (23A: Toucan Sam's cereal) The anthropomorphic bird, Toucan Sam, has been the mascot of FROOT LOOPS since the cereal was first introduced in 1963. Originally, FROOT LOOPS only consisted of red, orange, and yellow LOOPS. The rainbow array was completed in the 1990s, with the addition of green, purple, and eventually blue.

  • OMEGA (34A: Final Greek letter) It was just two days ago that I reviewed the beginning of the Greek alphabet. Here's an opportunity to review the end of the 24-letter alphabet. The last six letters of the Greek alphabet are tau, upsilon, phi, chi, psi, and OMEGA.

  • POKE (35A: Dish of raw fish tossed in sauce) That's "POKE" (rhymes with "okay"), not "POKE" (rhymes with "joke"). POKE is the Hawaiian word for "cut crosswise into pieces," and POKE, as the clue informs us, is a dish of diced raw fish.

  • I TOO (36A: "___, sing America") Langston Hughes (1901-1967) wrote the poem, "I, TOO," in 1925. The poem begins with the line, "I, TOO, sing America," and ends with "I, TOO, am America. It's always a good day to be reminded of this poem.

  • PERU (37A: South American country home to Humboldt penguins) Humboldt penguins live along the rocky coasts of PERU and Chile in South America. Although the penguins spend most of their time in the ocean, they come ashore to breed and nest. They have sharp claws on their webbed feet that help them navigate the rocky cliffs along the shore. Humboldt penguins make their nests by burrowing holes in guano, or finding a cave along the cliffs.

  • PET SPA (47A: Pampering spot for pups and kitties) Shannon sent me a photo of her cat, Roxie, to accompany this clue. No word on whether Roxie has been to a PET SPA.

  • MLS (57A: Minnesota United FC's org.) Minnesota United FC is a Major League Soccer (MLS) team based in Minneapolis-St. Paul. The abbreviation of the word organization in the clue alerts solvers that the answer will be an abbreviation.

  • MOO (58A: Word in an interrupting cow joke) I adore the silly interrupting cow joke, and seeing it referenced here made me happy.

    • "Knock, knock"

    • "Who's there?"

    • "Interrupting cow"

    • "Interrupting cow wh..."

    • "MOO!"

  • PSY (61A: "Gangnam Style" rapper) Remember "Gangnam Style" by the South Korean artist, PSY? It was in 2012 that the music video for "Gangnam Style" went viral and became the first YouTube video to exceed one billion views. It has now been viewed over five billion times.

  • OWL (7D: Bird in a Tootsie Pop commercial) "How many licks does it take to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie pop?" The 1969 commercial that asked this question featured not only an OWL, but also a cow, a fox, and a turtle. The conclusion: "The world may never know." I have previously written about the attempts of some college students to research the answer to this question.

  • DIA (26D: ___ de los Muertos) DIA de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is celebrated on November 1 and 2. The Mexican holiday is a time to pray for and remember family and friends that have died.

  • APOLLO (42D: Moon landing program) The APOLLO program, which lasted from 1962-1972, was the NASA program that ultimately led to astronauts walking on the Moon. An ongoing NASA program known as Artemis, has a long term goal of establishing a sustainable presence on the Moon.

  • EUROS (45D: Money spent at the Louvre) The Louvre, located in Paris, France, is the world's most-visited museum. Among the artworks on display at the Louvre are Leonardo da Vinci's painting, Mona Lisa, and Alexandros of Antioch's sculpture, Venus de Milo. France is one of the 20 European Union members that use EUROS as their currency.

  • SAMBA (48D: Afro-Brazilian dance) SAMBA is a dance that originated in the Afro-Brazilian communities of Rio de Janeiro. This article provides a history of SAMBA as well as some video showing examples of the dance.

Crossword Puzzle Theme Synopsis

  • SIGN LANGUAGE (4D: Certain interpreter's expertise)

  • TREE OF CODES (5D: Jonathan Safran Foer book with die-cut pages)

  • BILL OF RIGHTS (8D: Document with the first 10 Amendments)

The TOP word of each vertical theme answer can follow the word DOLLAR to form a new phrase: DOLLAR SIGN, DOLLAR TREE, and DOLLAR BILL.

This is a classic USA TODAY crossword theme type. The word TOP in the title is a hint that the theme might be found in the vertical – or Down – answers, and that was true today. This is a solid set of theme answers, and as I mentioned above, I appreciated learning about the TREE OF CODES. Thank you, Shannon, for this enjoyable puzzle.

One more thing today: This seems like a good opportunity to let you know about a new crossword tournament happening later this year. Shannon Rapp is one of the co-organizers of the Midwest Crossword Tournament, which will be held Saturday, October 5, 2024 in Chicago, Illinois. (Shannon's co-organizer is a name that might be familiar to you.) The Midwest Crossword Tournament will feature puzzles written and edited by Midwest constructors. Participation is open to anyone (not just midwesterners!), and solvers may participate in-person or online. I encourage you to check it out and consider registering.

For more on USA TODAY’s Crossword Puzzles

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Crossword Blog & Answers for May 28, 2024 by Sally Hoelscher