For last week’s puzzle “Look – Behind You” we were looking for a seven-letter plural. Solvers had to notice that seven of the grid’s entries could satisfy the clue if you tacked a letter onto the beginning – and not just any letter, but (in keeping with the puzzle title) the letter preceding it (on the other side of a black square) in the grid:
Those single letters appropriately spelled out HYPHENS, which would typically be used in spelling out these expanded versions of the theme entries as shown above.
The easy version made this a lot easier to see by starring the clues for the seven theme entries, and also lightened up on the cluing in several places. Those who solved the hard version had to notice that in a few cases, the answer felt vaguely like it was missing something – BOMB and AXIS were maybe leading candidates for triggering that realization – or else just have the idea to “look behind” the across entries and start seeing the pattern.
One extra note, which I’ll try to keep brief. If you recall the controversy over Puzzle #10, surely you noticed that this week’s theme contained an echo of that which in retrospect I really should have changed – 68-across ought to have been, say, TUPLE (shifted over to 70-across) rather than WORD. How could I have been so dense as to run a theme with a reference to the same super-offensive concept again, just three weeks later? The truth is I just didn’t think about it; this week’s puzzle was constructed months ago, and was never meant as any kind of call-back to #10. And I am honestly dumb enough that – even after week 10 – it didn’t occur to me that the phrase that supplies the penultimate letter of this week’s meta answer, clued neutrally, might be upsetting to encounter in the process of solving.
The whole thing passed mostly without comment, and lots of people told me they liked this puzzle, but after I realized what I’d done and a couple of folks raised an eyebrow I felt no small amount of angst. I also got into a couple conversations on twitter this week about the extent to which it’s appropriate to fill grids with terrible people and things, a question on which my natural inclinations run toward “it’s fine, the world is full of awfulness so why shouldn’t puzzles be?” But I learned from those conversations – and from the experience in week 10 – that others have a different sensibility about that, and if I’m unwilling to be mindful of the experience of you the solvers, there is really no point in publishing these things. If your reaction to what I’m saying here is “you obviously didn’t learn well enough or fast enough,” I’m hard-pressed to argue. I can’t promise not to screw up again – my personal offense threshold is apparently pretty high – but I do promise to try harder to steer clear of stuff that is likely to touch nerves.
Your comments, either to this post or in private, are welcome. Moving on, 52 solvers submitted the correct answer to this one. I also went back and finally ran the numbers on weeks 11 and 12 – 20 people found the answer to Puzzle #11 (PIG, as in squeal like a); 14 people got #11a (GRAPE, as in grapefruit); and 23 people got #12 (AREA CODES). Next up: Puzzle #14, “Dropping Hints.” PDF, .puz, you know the drill:
The answer to the metapuzzle is a familiar rhyme. Submit your answer using the contact form by Monday, June 17 at 11 p.m. Pacific Time. I’ll post the solution, and a new puzzle, next Tuesday.