February 18, 2021


Constructor: Erik Agard

Editor: Erik Agard

Theme Answers:
IF YOU ARE FREE (17A: With 34- and 49-Across, Toni Morrison quote)
YOU NEED TO FREE (34A: See 17-Across)
SOMEBODY ELSE (49A: See 17-Across)

Theme synopsis: In an interview for the November 2003 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine, Toni Morrison talked about mentorship, and encouraging her students to PASS IT ON: "IF YOU ARE FREE, YOU NEED TO FREE SOMEBODY ELSE."

Things I learned:
  • NICOLE (21D: "Miss Juneteenth" star Beharie) In the movie, Miss Juneteenth, Nicole Beharie plays the role of Turquoise Jones, a single mother and former winner of the Miss Juneteenth pageant. Turquoise enters her 15-year-old daughter in the Miss Juneteenth pageant, though her daughter is not enthusiastic about participating. 
Random thoughts and interesting things:
  • TAE (24A: Name that means "have a meal" when spelled backwards) and ENID (53D: Name that means "have a meal" when spelled backwards) A clever pair of clues.
  • ELM (37A: Tree with a "slippery" variety) The slippery ELM is also known as red ELM because it has reddish wood. The tree's mucilaginous (viscous and sticky) inner bark earned it the name slippery ELM. The slippery inner bark of the ELM is edible, and has been used for medicinal purposes. Here's a couple of pieces of trivia for you: 1) Spitball pitchers used to chew slippery ELM tablets to increase the effectiveness of the saliva applied to baseballs, and 2) The yoke of the Liberty Bell is made from slippery ELM wood.
  • ENE (3D: Third letter of 12-Across) EÑE is a letter in the Spanish alphabet formed by placing a tilde on top of the letter n. Although not all letters that use diacritic marks are considered a separate letter, EÑE (ñ) is a distinct letter, coming after n in the Spanish alphabet.
  • ANNE (10D: "The Wall Between" author Braden) ANNE Braden was a civil rights activist, journalist, and educator. The Wall Between, published in 1958, is her account of the sedition case brought against ANNE, her husband Carl, and five other people for helping a black couple buy a house in Kentucky.
  • THE READ (24D: Podcast hosted by Kid Fury and Crissie West) THE READ is a weekly podcast in which co-hosts, Kid Fury and Crissie West, discuss and analyze pop culture and current events. In the last section of the podcast each week, the hosts "read" a person or topic and give their brutally honest opinions.
  • MEG (31D: Thee Stallion, to fans) Megan Thee Stallion, or MEG, is a rapper, singer, and songwriter.
Geography review:
  • UTES (1A: Some Coloradans) UTES are members of the UTE Tribe, an indigenous people who have lived in present-day Utah and Colorado for many centuries. The state of Utah is named after the UTE tribe.
  • TEL (2D: ___ Aviv) One of TEL Aviv, Israel's nicknames is "Nonstop City," a recognition of its nightlife and 24/7 culture
  • SOVIET (4D: The first "S" in USSR) The USSR, or Union of SOVIET Socialist Republics, existed from 1922 to 1991. The word SOVIET is derived from the Russian word for "council" or "assembly." It sometimes amazes me to think about the fact that the USSR has not existed during any part of my children's lives. 
  • OAHU (7D: Third-largest Hawaiian island) About two-thirds of Hawaiians live on the island of OAHU.
  • OHIO (50D: Lorain's state) Lorain, OHIO is approximately 30 miles west of Cleveland, and is the birthplace of Toni Morrison.
  • YUMA (52D: County in the southwest corner of Arizona) The county seat of YUMA County is the city of YUMA.
Writer, professor, and Pulitzer Prize winner Toni Morrison was born February 18, 1931 in Lorain, OHIO, making today her 90th birthday. (Morrison died in 2019 at the age of 88.) Today's puzzle is a lovely tribute to her. It's a quote puzzle! There are many people who do not like quote puzzles. (Actually, "do not like" is a bit of understatement of the feeling of some people towards quote puzzles.) The argument against them is usually along the lines that the quote cannot be filled in (unless you just happen to know it) without the aid of crossing answers. IMO (in my opinion), quotes are a perfectly acceptable theme. I enjoy using crossing answers to deduce the quote, just as I do with any answer in a puzzle that I don't immediately know. From a technical aspect, it's not as easy as you might think to construct a quote puzzle, as the quote has to be able to be broken into symmetrical pieces that fit logically in the grid. Today's quote is a fantastic choice. It's inspirational and challenging. Here's more of the quote: "When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that IF YOU ARE FREE, YOU NEED TO FREE SOMEBODY ELSE. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else. This is not just a grab-bag candy game." In celebration of Toni Morrison's birthday, I challenge you to consider who you are empowering. Who are you working to free? This puzzle was a delightful way to begin my Thursday. Happy 90th birthday, Toni Morrison!


  1. Hi, Sally. Not sure how to let someone at the USA Today puzzle page know that something is very amiss today with the 2/18 puzzle. I always print out the puzzles but today the puzzle will not format properly. Impossible to print from Firefox, MS Edge or Internet Explorer. I went back to try to reprint the 2/17 puzzle which printed perfectly yesterday. Not today. Clearing out all "USA Today" cookies made no difference. I hope some tech folks at USA Today figure out the problem. For now, I can print none of the USA Today puzzles. Frustrating! Thanks, David

    1. Thanks, Sally. I emailed Erik. We'll see if he can contact the correct person to fix this issue. Something must have changed on the puzzle page since yesterday. The current and past puzzles are now all unprintable. The USA Today puzzle is almost as important to me as my morning 16 oz mug of black coffee! ;-)

    2. Updated reply! Here's an email address to contact for tech support: support@amuniversal.com
      I hope this gets fixed - I understand the importance of the daily crossword fix!

  2. The puzzle as printed lacks (1) black squares; and (2) Down clues :(

    1. That would certainly make it more challenging... :-(

    2. If you go for PRINT "With My Entries" option, you'll get both sets of clues and the grid sans black squares, which is workable....

    3. Still frustrating, Anonymous. Firefox and MS Edge allow this partial workaround. IE does not. In fact, IE is working worse than this morning. A message about "TRY OUR CROSSWORD APP" appears in the middle and blocks any further action. I hope Erik and someone at AMUNIVERSAL support is listening. Something needs to be fixed, obviously. So, this is day 1 for me with no USA Today crossword to print and complete. Let's hope this doesn't continue tomorrow.

  3. Something I noticed while solving the online version of the puzzle - When I clicked on a square then all the boxes in that row or column are highlighted. For e.g - If I click on 1A, then 5A and 8A are also highlighted. Didn't really stop me from solving the puzzle though maybe that has something to do with why people can't print it. Who knows


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