Puzzle #35 Solution and Puzzle #36, “History Repeats Itself”













Last week’s grid featured four long across answer, each featuring a two-letter word. The first thing to notice was that each two-letter word could be re-parsed into an initialism that’s shorthand for a certain position of authority:

LEONARDO DA VINCI – DA, short for District Attorney;
IG NOBEL PRIZE – IG, short for Inspector General (a job much in the news of late);
I DON’T THINK SO – SO, short for Superior Officer; and
GUARDIAN AD LITEM – AD, short for … well, some kind of Director …

If some of those weren’t immediately obvious, you might have noticed that each word on its own can be a noun, and the grid is littered with examples of each – or rather, all but one – with the clue for each starting with the theme word:

1a. District of … = COLUMBIA
9a. Attorney whose … = ALLRED
32a. General at … = NAPOLEON
39a. Director of … = STONE
62a. Officer on … = ENSIGN
63a. Inspector played by … = CLOUSEAU
65a. Superior of … = OVERLORD

But what about the A in AD? Like we said – it has to be some kind of Director … Artistic Director? Assistant Director? Activities Director? No, it’s Athletic Director. How do we know? Well, for one thing, the prompt told you the meta answer was a retired ballplayer; but, more specifically, while there’s no corresponding clue/entry pair, the initial letters of the seven secondary-theme entries, in grid order, spell out CANSECO, which is the surname of a retired MLB player who began his career, and is best known, as an [Oakland] Athletic. (Also, bonus unintentional themery – he was an outfielder, or OF for short, which is the two-letter word in the puzzle title. The title also starts with “A,” and of course the Athletics are commonly called the A’s.) So Jose (or if you felt like it, his twin brother Ozzie, who also played outfield for the A’s for a bit) was your meta answer.

I kind of fell backwards into this unusual meta mechanism. I didn’t have a meta answer in mind at the outset – I just started brainstorming two-letter abbreviations that could be split up in this way and gathering a list of possible theme entries and corresponding grid entries. I knew I wanted to use Columbia as the district, Napoleon as the general, and Clouseau as the inspector; and Allred and Overlord were on my list; I wasn’t sure if I was even going to use AD (sure, you could have a clue that said “Athletic with a handlebar mustache” or whatever, but that’s pretty clunky) … but then I saw that I had just about everything I needed to spell out CANSECO, and he could be the Athletic, and I just needed a director and an officer starting with S and E. Necessity being the mother of invention and all that, I thought I had fortuitously stumbled into an interesting twist on an otherwise well-worn meta mechanism of extracting initial letters from secondary theme words hidden in the grid. Yay for me and my solvers, thought I …

Alas, the solving experience does not seem to have gone as planned for many of you. For one thing, I think some people didn’t realize that Ig is a standalone word in the name of the Ig Nobel Prize, so it took prompting, or some not-clearly-motivated research, to see the thing that all four long answers had in common. Many solvers also did not understand, and/or were frustrated by, the “twist” at the end. I got a number of submissions that said something like “not sure what happened to the A …” and at least one person, who did figure it out, felt it crossed the line into unfair territory. (Yes, that was a bad baseball pun.) Anyhow, for the second week in a row I seem to have misjudged how the solving experience would go.

Given the foregoing sentence perhaps it’s fitting that the next puzzle is called “History Repeats Itself.”


The answer to the metapuzzle is a phrase consisting of two grid entries which explains the theme entries’ clue numbers. Submit your answer using the contact form by Monday, November 18 at 11 p.m. Pacific Time. I’ll try to post the solution, and a new puzzle, next Tuesday, though it’s gonna be a busy time so we’ll see …

To keep up with the puzzles: Twitter @pgwcc1; follow the blog for email reminders; rss feed if you’re set up for that.

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