June 9, 2021


Constructor: Hannah Slovut

Editor: Amanda Rafkin
******This puzzle is part of the USA Today Pride Puzzle Series******

Theme Answers:
PINK LEMONADE (18A: Colorful citrus drink)
PURPLE STATE (34A: Electoral battleground)
BLUE MAN GROUP (51A: Performance ensemble whose members paint their heads)

Theme synopsis: The colors in the theme answers are the colors of the stripes on the BIsexual pride flag, in the order they appear on the flag: PINK, PURPLE, and BLUE  

Things I learned:
  • AMONG (36D: ___ Us (game with Impostors)) AMONG Us is a multiplayer online game. During the game, which occurs in a space-themed setting, players are assigned roles - each player is either a Crewmate or an Impostor. The goal of the Crewmates is to complete certain tasks, while identifying and eliminating the Impostors. The goal of the Impostors is to secretly sabotage the Crewmates, and get rid of them before they complete their tasks. Initially released in 2018, Among Us received increased attention in 2020 when popular YouTubers and Twitch streamers played it. As I've mentioned before, I don't play a lot of video games, but because of the deduction involved in this one, I think I would like it.
  • DRAMA (50D: Genre for "Portrait of a Lady on Fire") The 2019 French movie, Portrait of a Lady on Fire, is an historical romantic DRAMA. Set in late 18th century France, the movie focuses on an aristocrat and a painter commissioned to paint her portrait. At the 2019 Cannes Film Festival, Portrait of a Lady on Fire won the Queer Palm, an award for LGBT-relevant films.
Random thoughts and interesting things:
  • CODE (16A: Write in SQL) SQL stands for Structured Query Language.
  • SWARMS (39A: Bunches of locusts) This clue is timely for certain parts of the world where SWARMS of cicadas are currently emerging. 
  • BLUE MAN GROUP (51A: Performance ensemble whose members paint their heads) BLUE MAN GROUP is a performance art company known for its stage productions incorporating many kinds of art and music. We've seen BLUE MAN GROUP mentioned in the puzzle previously, as a clue for "Bald Cap." During shows, performers wear bald caps and have their skin painted BLUE. Performers do not speak during shows, and when they appear on stage, they always appear in groups of three.
  • CLUES (59A: This puzzle has 74) It always tickles me when a crossword puzzle references itself; I liked this CLUE (and the other 73 CLUES, too!)
  • CATS (62A: Musical with the song "Memory") In the musical CATS, the song, "Memory" is sung primarily by Grizabella. In case you were wondering, Grizabella is one of six CATS cats we've seen mentioned in the puzzle over the last year. The other five CATS cats who have made appearances are Skimbleshanks, Mr. Mistoffelees, Macavity, Rum Tum Tugger, and Rumpleteazer
  • GURIRA (1D: "Black Panther" actress Danai) In addition to playing the role of Okoye in the movies, Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War, and Avengers: Endgame, DANAI Gurira played the role of Michonne on the TV series, The Walking Dead. When I learned of DANAI Gurira from the March 8, 2021 puzzle, I learned that she is also a playwright. Her play, Eclipsed, tells the story of Liberian women near the end of the Second Liberian Civil War.
  • BEAKS (3D: Bills you can't pay with) Clever clue. 
  • DODO (6D: Extinct bird) The DODO was a flightless bird that lived on Mauritius, an island in the Indian Ocean east of Madagascar. DODOs have been extinct since the 1600s. Their extinction was a result of being hunted by sailors and invasive species, as well as destruction of habitat.
  • TATER TOTS (8D: Hotdish ingredients, usually) A hotdish is a casserole cooked in a single dish and served hot. The term "hotdish" tends to be regional. In Iowa, we simply call a hotdish a "casserole," but I know our neighbors in Minnesota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin use the term. TATER TOT hotdish (or TATER TOT casserole) is a popular hotdish with a base of ground beef, cream soup, and vegetables (often green beans) covered with a layer of TATER TOTS. After the 2010 U.S. midterm elections, Senator Al Franken invited the members of the Minnesota congressional delegation to participate in a hotdish competition. The winner was Amy Klobuchar, with her "Taconite TATER TOT Hotdish."
  • LEI (10D: Necklace in "Lilo & Stitch") Lilo & Stitch is a 2002 animated Disney movie about a Hawaiian girl named Lilo, and an extraterrestrial she adopts and names Stitch. 
  • MEME (Cold Bernie, e.g.) You likely saw the picture of Bernie Sanders taken by Brendan Smialowski at President Joe Biden's inauguration. The photo quickly went viral and appeared in many MEMEs.
  • ORE (24D: Settlers of Catan resource) Players of the board game Settlers of Catan collect resources that are then used to build roads, houses, and cities. There are five resources in the game, and we've seen three of them mentioned in the puzzle over the last year - ORE (this is ORE's third appearance), WHEAT, and WOOD. We're in need of brick and wool to complete a full set.
  • LEA (38D:Actress DeLaria) LEA DeLaria is a comedian, actress, and jazz singer. DeLaria integrates musical performance into her comedy, and has released several jazz albums. LEA DeLaria played the role of Carrie "Big Boo" Black on the TV series, Orange is the New Black.
  • SEDER (48D: Passover ritual with the Four Questions) During the SEDER, a ritual marking the beginning of the Jewish holiday Passover, the youngest child asks a series of questions. Each of the Four Questions is preceded by the question, "Why is this night different from all the other nights?" The Four Questions involve children in the SEDER, and serve as a means of explaining the ritual's significance.
Geography review:
  • LAS (26A: ___ Vegas) LAS Vegas, whose name is Spanish for "the meadows," is the most populous city in Nevada. 
  • ERIE (60A: Great Lake that's 3/4 vowels) Hello, ERIE, our crossword friend! ERIE and its three vowels is making its first appearance of the month today.
  • ASIA (53D: India's continent) Our other crossword friend, ASIA, is making its second appearance of the month. Fun to see ERIE and ASIA together in the puzzle today. That's only happened five other times in the last year.
Today's puzzle was colorful, wasn't it? I enjoyed today's theme answers, and the use of the title to refer not to two colors in each theme answer, but to the BI-flag. QUEEN BEES was a fun answer to see, along with the above-mentioned TATER TOTS. Smooth fill and enjoyable cluing all around today. This puzzle was a delightful way to begin my Wednesday. I'm in a celebratory mood today. Why you might ask? Read on...

Today is this blog's birthday - SALLY'S TAKE is one year old today! This has me feeling reflective. In addition to enjoying crosswords and writing, I also have an affinity for data. Therefore, I've compiled some thoughts and data to share with you to celebrate a year of blogging about the USA Today Crossword.

The first year of SALLY'S TAKE by the numbers:
  • 3 = Goals. Since the beginning I've had 3 main goals for this blog, that it be Informational, Conversational, and Kind. I consider this blog to be less of a review, and more of a conversation about each day's puzzle. (And yes, I realize my goals for the blog form the acronym, ICK. Well, I try to avoid being ICK by following my ICK goals!)
  • 365 = Puzzles. The 365 USA Today crosswords during the first year of this blog were constructed by 39 different constructors. 73% of the puzzles were constructed by women. An impressive 103 of the 365 puzzles were constructed by the amazing Zhouqin Burnikel. There were 39 puzzles that were collaborations by two constructors - just over 10%.  The "Queen of Collaboration," Brooke Husic, was a collaborator on 28 of the 39 co-constructed puzzles. Shoutout to all 39 of these amazing constructors for making fabulous puzzles that are a joy to write about it!
  • 4721 = Answers highlighted. The 4721 unique answers I've highlighted in the blog during this first year range alphabetically from A FEW GOOD MEN to ZOOLANDER.
  • 38 = ERIE apperances. Our crossword friends, ASIA and ERIE have been the definite leaders in blog/puzzle appearances. In the end, ERIE managed to pull ahead with a total of 38 appearances, to 35 for ASIA. The next closest competitors were IRAN with 17, and OSLO with 16.
  • 49 = CAT mentions. I have joked that my cat, Willow, and I have a deal that requires I highlight the word CAT anytime it's mentioned in the grid. And then other times I simply mention CATS because I like them. This has resulted in CAT being mentioned in some manner in 13% of blog posts.
  • 9 = Posts by guest bloggers. Although it's been a year of blogging, I'm thankful to have had a few days off. I am immensely grateful to guest bloggers Matthew Stock (5), Brooke Husic (3), and Sid Sivakumar for helping me out, and doing a fabulous job, too! 
  • Too many to count = Number of things I have learned this year. What a year of learning it has been, learning from the puzzle as well as learning about blogging. Thanks to those of you who have gently pointed out mistakes I've made or things I've missed so I could correct them. 
  • 356 = Songs on the SALLY'S TAKE Year 1 Playlist. I realized I mention a lot of songs on the blog. Some of the songs are in the puzzle, and others I'm reminded of by entries in the puzzle. I put together a Spotify playlist of all the songs I've mentioned in the past year. It's over 21 hours of an eclectic collection of music. (Etta James, BTS, Shania Twain, BeyoncĂ©, Ethel Merman, Oscar the Grouch, and so much more...) I invite you to check it out. Consider it a birthday present from the blog to you!
Finally, a few additional thanks:
  • I have no official ties to the USA Today Crossword. I’m just some random person who’s decided to write about the puzzle every day. And yet, the editor, Erik Agard, and assistant editors, Amanda Rafkin and Paolo Pasco, have been extremely supportive of my efforts (and generous in overlooking my errors), and I cannot thank them enough for that. 
  • And, of course, huge thanks to you, the readers! Whether you read the blog daily, or just occasionally, I'm grateful. Writing the blog brings me tremendous joy, and I find it amazing and gratifying that people enjoy reading it. I love hearing from you, whether it's in the comments, on Twitter, or by email, so feel free to reach out anytime.
This first year of SALLY'S TAKE has been incredible, and I'm excited to see what the next year brings. I've thought of some things I want to do in the upcoming year, and you'll be hearing more about those soon. My husband asked me yesterday how we were were going to celebrate the blog's birthday. I told him I realized this day was more of a big deal to me than it is to anyone else! We're big on celebrations around here, though, so I made us a cake. It's a B(anana) LOG (roll cake). Happy birthday, SALLY'S TAKE!


  1. happy one year, Sally! i feel very lucky and grateful you decided to blog the puzzle! you're the master of ICK (in only the good way!)

  2. Happy blogoversary to the greatest!!

    1. Thank you, Matthew! I appreciate your help and support so much!!

  3. Huge congrats and thanks for an inaugural year of great recaps, explanations, opinions, analysis, and more!

  4. Happy blog birthday. I really enjoy reading your take on the puzzle and I learn a lot from your insights. It adds a new layer to my daily puzzle solving.

  5. I think you are every bit as valuable as Bill Butler when it comes to giving detailed explanations for hard crossword puzzles. Keep up the great work!

  6. Congrats on your blog anniversary Sally! I've enjoyed reading your take. You're on a roll!


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