Off the Grid: Sally breaks down USA TODAY's daily crossword puzzle, Thinking of You

There are spoilers ahead. You might want to solve today's puzzle before reading further! Thinking of You (Freestyle)

Constructor: Amanda Rafkin

Editor: Amanda Rafkin

June 16, 2024
June 16, 2024

What I Learned from Today’s Puzzle

  • PENGUIN PEBBLING (20A: Small exchange between two people to show caring and build connection) Some PENGUINs pick up stones and offer them to their partners (or potential partners) as a gift. The pebble can be used to build a nest, but also serves as a token of affection. This behavior led to the term PENGUIN PEBBLING to describe a similar behavior in humans. In people, the gift isn't necessarily a rock (though it could be); it could be any number of things. PENGUIN PEBBLING may even be demonstrated by sending someone a meme that made you think of them. Some autistic individuals use PENGUIN PEBBLING as a way of showing affection.

  • PANGAEA (4D: "King of ___" (Martin Storrow musical)) Martin Storrow based the King of PANGAEA on his own experience of grief after his mother died. The musical focuses on Christopher Crow, a young man who travels back to the imaginary world of his childhood to cope with the loss of his mother.

  • TENT (52D: Makeshift shelter in Red Dead Redemption 2) Red Dead Redemption II is a Western-themed action-adventure video game. The game is set in 1899 in a fictionalized version of the United States. I'm not familiar with this game, so I was thankful for the "makeshift shelter" hint in the clue.

Random Thoughts & Interesting Things

  • BOCA (14A: ___ Raton (Florida city)) BOCA Raton, Florida is located in Palm Beach County, about 45 miles north of Miami. With coastline along the Atlantic Ocean, BOCA Raton is particularly known for its two mile stretch of lifeguard-protected beaches. BOCA Raton's motto is "A City for All Seasons."

  • BEE (34A: Insect in the board game Apiary) The premise of the board game Apiary, published in 2023, is that hyper-intelligent BEEs are headed to outer space.

  • SPECIAL INTEREST (47A: Topic an autistic person is intensely focused on and passionate about) Many autistic people have certain topics that they become intensely focused on. Encouragement of SPECIAL INTERESTs can help people interact with others and engage with the world. A wide variety of things can become SPECIAL INTERESTs, such as trains, elevators, animals, maps, and music.

  • EVAN (58A: "Dear ___ Hansen") The Broadway musical Dear EVAN Hansen won six Tony Awards in 2017. The musical was adapted into a movie of the same name in 2021. Ben Platt originated the role of EVAN Hansen in the musical, and reprised that role for the movie.

  • MOVIES (11D: The Academy Museum's subject) The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures opened in Los Angeles, California in 2021. The focus of the museum is the history, science and cultural impact of MOVIES. The museum is home to over 13 million objects related to the film industry.

  • BASIE (22D: Jazz bandleader Count) Count BASIE (1904-1984) was a jazz pianist, bandleader, and composer. In 1936 he formed the Count BASIE Orchestra, a band that became one of the most prominent performing groups of the swing era.

  • SMALL TALK (33D: Idle chatter that might use up a lot of someone's spoons) The word "spoons" in this clue is a reference to the spoon theory created by Christine Miserandino as a way to explain what it's like to live with a chronic illness. The metaphor is used in a wide range of situations to represent expenditure of personal energy. In spoon theory, spoons represent energy, and each person has so many spoons a day. Once the spoons have all been used, there's little energy left for anything else. For some people, SMALL TALK is energizing. For others, the effort of making SMALL TALK may use up a lot of spoons.

  • SCI-FI (35D: "The Fifth Element" genre) The Fifth Element is a 1997 SCI-FI movie. It is set in the 23rd century, and its plot involves the survival of planet Earth. (This seems to be a common emphasis in SCI-FI stories.) Bruce Willis. Gary Oldman, Ian Holm, Milla Jovovich, and Chris Tucker starred in The Fifth Element.

  • THEMES (41D: Features of some crosswords (but not this one)) Ha! I appreciate a self-referential clue, and this is a fun one. No THEMES here.

  • A few other answers I especially enjoyed:

    • SOCIAL CUE (5D: Nonverbal signal expressed via the face, body, voice, etc.)

    • I'M ALL IN (10D: "So ready to do this with you forever")

    • THE NERVE (36D: "How dare they!")

Crossword Puzzle Theme Synopsis

No theme today, as this is a freestyle, or themeless puzzle. The title, THINKING OF YOU, is a nod to PENGUIN PEBBLING (20A: Small exchange between two people to show caring and build connection).

Although there are no THEMES to be found in this puzzle, I appreciate that the two grid-spanning answers – PENGUIN PEBBLING and SPECIAL INTEREST – both relate to behaviors often associated with autistic individuals. Thank you, Amanda, for this stellar puzzle.

For more on USA TODAY’s Crossword Puzzles

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Crossword Blog & Answers for June 16, 2024 by Sally Hoelscher