Puzzle #20 Solution and Puzzle #21, “In Tip-Top Shape”

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Last week’s puzzle “Stand-Ins” had a pretty obvious 3×3 mega-grid in its regular 17×17 grid. And while there were a bunch of long entries, good luck to you if you tried finding a theme in them. Instead, the idea was to look to the central five-letter across entry in each of the nine squares of the mega-grid:

Each of these was clued referencing a person (most of them reasonably famous, but a few obscure), and the grid didn’t feature any surnames outside of the list below:

19a. Children’s author Marc BROWN (his work is well known, but who?)
20a. Serial killer Ted BUNDY
21a. Multiple Pro Bowl honoree Merlin OLSEN
47a. Comedic actor Brian HOOKS (who??)
48a. Short story writer H. H. MUNRO (a.k.a. Saki)
49a. Hollywood Walk of Fame honoree Chuck LORRE
75a. Longtime New York Post columnist Joey ADAMS (weird way to clue him)
76a. Heavyweight TYSON Fury (this one’s not a surname in the grid, but wait for it …)
77a. U.S. Open winner Steve JONES

These people don’t have anything to do with one another, but it turns out they were “standing in” for others who could also fit the clue:

MARCIA Brown also wrote children’s books
CAROL Bundy was also a serial killer
GREG Olsen also has gone to multiple Pro Bowls
JAN Hooks also was a (much better-known) comedic actor
ALICE Munro also wrote short stories
PETER Lorre also has a Walk of Fame star
CINDY Adams (Joey’s wife) also had (and still has) a longtime Post column
MIKE Tyson was also a heavyweight
BOBBY Jones also won the U.S. Open (and is way more famous)

As you have probably noticed by now, you’ve almost certainly seen a group of people with those names, arranged in the grid’s 3×3 pattern and “standing in” their respective squares:

So the answer was BRADY. (Not Alice’s surname, of course, but she’s family!)

I wanted to use CLARK instead of Brown in the NW, as Marcia Clark is well known to me whereas I had to google for Marcia Brown. But even though Clark is a very common name, I couldn’t find another Clark for whom I could write a straightforward clue fitting both. (Best I could do was Lewis Clark, who like Marcia is associated with a very well-known Simpson – he’s a classmate of Bart – but I just couldn’t find suitable wording. “Simpson associate” doesn’t really work for Marcia …)

Up next is Puzzle #21, “In Tip-Top Shape.” I ran out of time this week to finish any of the various works in progress I’ve got at the moment, so this is one that’s been gathering dust for a while (you’ll see about how long in one of the clues). Some of the fill maybe suffers from my inexperience at the time I constructed it, but I like the meta …

021_tiptopshape.puz

The answer to the metapuzzle is a five-letter attribute a mountain climber needs. Submit your answer using the contact form by Monday, August 5 at 11 p.m. Pacific Time. I’ll post the solution, and a new puzzle, next Tuesday.

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

Puzzle #19 Solution and Puzzle #20, “Stand-Ins”

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Last week’s puzzle, titled “Go With Plan B,” asked for a five-letter category and featured five long across theme entries:

HAND GRENADE
LOUSY CAR
COMPUTER MAKER
FIVE-HOLE
QWERTY PHONE

Some of these evoked a certain category fairly readily: a lousy car is a LEMON, a leading QWERTY phone is a BLACKBERRY, and (going back to the well) a top computer maker is APPLE. With a little extra thought (maybe) you could land on either PINEAPPLE or POMEGRANATE for hand grenade, and NUTMEG for five-hole. (And yes, while it isn’t the first thing that comes to mind, nutmeg is a fruit! Most of us are familiar with consuming the ground-up seed, or [I didn’t know this] the red seed-covering aril, which is what makes the spice mace – but the internet tells me there are those who make jams and candies and whatnot with the fruit itself.)

The twist was that instead of extracting one letter from each theme entry as one might have expected, it turned out that when you put these in grid order their first letters spelled out PLAN B as mentioned in the title. So the answer was just FRUIT, which is five letters by happenstance, and is the unifying category for how to “go with plan B” in terms of what you call the five themers.

39 people submitted the correct answer. Next up, Puzzle #20, called “Stand-Ins.”

020_standins.puz

The answer to the metapuzzle is a common surname. Submit your answer using the contact form by Monday, July 29 at 11 p.m. Pacific Time. I’ll post the solution, and a new puzzle, next Tuesday.

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

Puzzle #18 Solution and Puzzle #19, “Go With Plan B”

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Last week’s puzzle featured kind of a red herring: I asked for a kind of sandwich, and gave you a puzzle titled “Triple Deckers” with nine three-entry stacks in which the middle entry was clued only as “see grid.” Surely the theme must be built around these visual “sandwiches,” right?

Wrong. The bottom bit of each triple decker was irrelevant, actually. Instead, all that was going on was that each entry lacking a clue could be clued by a word formed by adding the prefix “sub” to the entry above it – so, e.g., 14-across BOW could be clued as “submit” – and it sits in the grid under (or SUB) the entry MIT. And so on:

So the meta answer was just SUB, which happens to be a kind of sandwich, but sandwiches didn’t otherwise have anything to do with the meta.

21 solvers submitted (ha!) the correct answer. Now we move on to Puzzle #19, “Go With Plan B.” Will this puzzle yet again be about sandwiches? You’ll have to solve it to find out ….

019_planb.puz

The answer to the metapuzzle is a five-letter category. Submit your answer using the contact form by Monday, July 22 at 11 p.m. Pacific Time. I’ll post the solution, and a new puzzle, next Tuesday.

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

Puzzle #17 Solution and Puzzle #18, “Triple Deckers”

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This cramped grid had three symmetrically-placed, longish food/drink answers with starred clues. With a nudge from the title you might have noticed that each of these types of food/drink has an example of the form “X&Y”:

40-across CANDY PIECES: m&m
15-down ROOT BEER: A&W
36-down SANDWICH: PB&J

A healthy, balanced meal …

Next, you can find entries around the grid that correspond to the letters of the “combos” above:

M = 16-across THOUSAND; M = 60-down MASS
A = 9-down ACE; W = 67-across TUNGSTEN
Pb = 25-across LEAD; J = 51-down JOULE

The last step is to treat the “&” of each combo as an arithmetic operation and add the clue numbers of each pair together, which it turns out gives you the same answer all three times: 16+60 = 9+67 = 25+51 = 76, which confirms itself as the meta answer by being the clue number for the entry SUM.

Next up is puzzle #18, “Triple Deckers.”

018_tripledeckers.puz

The answer to the metapuzzle is a kind of sandwich. Submit your answer using the contact form by Monday, July 15 at 11 p.m. Pacific Time. I’ll post the solution, and a new puzzle, next Tuesday.

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

Puzzle #16 Solution and Puzzle #17, “Combo Platter”

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Three initial things to notice about last week’s puzzle: (1) the prompt asked for a phrase consisting of two eight-letter words; (2) the grid had eight seven-letter entries (and nothing longer); and (3) the title was “Cut Out the Middle, Man.” The middle letters of those seven-letter entries appropriately spelled out S-A-N-D-W-I-C-H. So far so good … but you need another eight-letter word. To get it you had to look to the clues, which contained eight six-letter words/phrases formed from the letters left over from the theme entries after you took out their middle letters. So, for example, the clue for 9-across, FBI, was “U.S. agency concerned with the law,” corresponding to 53-across THE CLAW. The first letters of the entries whose clues contained those six-letter words/phrases, in the order in which they appear in the grid, spell out F-I-L-L-I-N-G-S, so your meta answer was SANDWICH FILLINGS.

Though it was several steps, most of you found this one on the easier side. I don’t have final numbers as I write this – I will be on the road by the time this posts – but at least 47 people solved it.

Next up is #17, “Combo Platter.”

017_comboplatter.puz

The answer to the metapuzzle is a two-digit number appearing in the grid. Submit your answer using the contact form by Monday, July 8 at 11 p.m. Pacific Time. I’ll be returning from vacation that day – maybe late – so I can’t guarantee the solution and next puzzle will be up as usual on Tuesday morning. We’ll see what happens.

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



Puzzle #15 Solution and Puzzle #16, “Cut Out the Middle, Man”

After the previous week’s puzzle that required a bit of Spanish, this week I gave you a puzzle in which it was pretty clear from the title (French for “strange exchange”) that there was going to be French involved. The meta instructions asked for a plural that’s five letters in English. Here’s how to get there:

I wanted 50-down to be NO BOAT, a humorous way in which I was once goaded into ordering fries at an In-N-Out (“just write ‘fries no boat’ on the ticket, please” … [fry cook looks at ticket, shrugs, dumps fries into bag on top of burger]) – but whereas other “secret menu” items have hundreds of thousands of google hits, “fries no boat” has … six. So I don’t really think it’s much of a thing.

Depending on whether you solved the hard or easier version, you either got a subtle hint, or explicit instructions, that the CORNERS were important. How that worked was that each corner of the grid began or ended one entry that you could turn into a French word by removing one letter. Scattered throughout the rest of the grid were partners for those entries that, by taking on the discarded letters, could become an English synonym for the French word. So for example, 1-across LYCHEE loses the H to become lycee, which translates to school, which is 52-down ‘SCOOL with an H inserted into it. Similarly:
B(O)ON -> G(O)OD
AMI(N)E -> FRIE(N)D
MAIL (S)LOT -> (S)HIRT

In grid order, those four “exchanged” letters spell out HONS, which is neither a five-letter English plural nor is it a French word (unless you want to translate it as “sounds repeated by stereotypical laughing Frenchmen like Maurice Chevalier“). What next? If you did the easier version you had a hint to go back to 39-across and consider it as another theme entry, and if you did that you saw that if we take the second R out of CORNERS, we are left with cornes, which in French means horns, which of course is HONS with an R inserted into it, so HORNS is the meta answer. If instead you did the hard version, you just had to see that the most natural thing for HONS to take on to make it a five-letter plural is an R, and oh hey, if you take an R out of that central entry that was already important to the meta, that gives you the French word for horns; plus, the “exchanged” letters spell out HORNS in grid order. While a few solvers expressed uncertainty about this step, it seems to me it would have been astoundingly unlikely for all of that to be a coincidence, so while the motivation for trying it might not have felt intuitive, the confirmation once you did try it ought to have been solid. But as always, your mileage may have varied …

I hope the French language knowledge required for this solve wasn’t too high a hurdle for too many people. I felt like most of the French words involved in the solve were pretty accessible. AMIE has appeared in the NYT crossword 134 times in the Will Shortz era; BON, 38 times; and LYCEE, 14 times. MAILLOT only has 2 appearances but it ought to be known to even casual observers of the Tour de France as part of the phrase maillot jaune, the yellow jersey worn by the race’s leader. (Anyway, I was too excited to find MAIL (S)LOT -> (S)HIRT to pass it up.) The most obscure pair was the final one – CORNE has only been in the NYT crossword once, pre-Shortz in 1977. (It was clued as “French horn.”) But at that point, you had H-O-N-S and there aren’t a ton of ways to make that into a 5-letter plural; plus if you know some etymology you may be familiar with the word part “corn” meaning horn as in unicorn, cornucopia, cornet, etc. …

28 solvers submitted the correct answer, and even some of you whose limited French vocabulary made it especially difficult told me you particularly liked this one. Merci beaucoup!

Okay, enough Romance languages! This week’s puzzle, “Cut Out the Middle, Man,” has a few foreign entries (including one pretty obscure Slavic orthography term … sorry for that) but the meta should not be easier or harder depending on what language you studied in high school – promise.

016_cutmiddle.puz

The answer to the metapuzzle is a phrase consisting of two eight-letter words. Submit your answer using the contact form by Monday, July 1 at 11 p.m. Pacific Time. I’ll be traveling next week, so the solution, and a new puzzle, will be auto-posted next Tuesday.

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

Puzzle #14 Solution and Puzzle #15, “Étrange Ă‰change”

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Last week was a visual meta. The 19-letter entry at the top, OFFSITE DATA STORAGES, was clued as “Clouds,” and six lengthy down entries contained the trigram HHO, representing raindrops falling from those clouds. That was easy enough to see, but how did that yield a familar rhyme? It didn’t really – at least, not without some extra theme material running across the bottom of the puzzle:

Those three Spanish-language entries, all clued with fill-in-the-blank geographical names, were no coincidence; instead they represented the terrain on which the raindrops will fall – SIERRA (mountains) to the west; ARROYO (literally “creekbed,” often used to refer to a valley, draw or canyon in placenames) to the east; and in the center, LLANO.

At this point in the solve having some knowledge of Spanish, and/or having lived in the part of the U.S. that was once Mexican territory, was certainly an advantage. LLANO, which literally means “flat,” is used in some placenames to mean “plain.” Most notably, the example used in the clue – the Llano Estacado or “Staked Plain” of Texas. Near me, there is an old Spanish land grant called the Llano Seco – dry plain – which lives on in the name of a ranch known locally for pork, and beans, and now I’m hungry …

Anyhow, the rainfall is toward the center of the grid – only one drop each is going to hit the mountains and the valley, two drops will land on the borders, and two will land squarely on the plain itself. So the answer to this visual puzzle, which called for a familiar rhyme, was THE RAIN IN SPAIN STAYS (or falls) MAINLY IN (on) THE PLAIN, the rhyme made most famous as a pronunciation drill in “My Fair Lady.”

While the use of “llano” to mean plain seems more common in the Americas, I did find a couple of small Spanish towns named, e.g., Llano de Brujas. At any rate I felt that if you noticed “hey all these geographical terms at the bottom are in Spanish” it would be enough to get you thinking in the right direction, and if you looked up Llano Estacado you would see the “plain” translation. Maybe the clues should have used the names of places in Spain itself, though that would have required two clues referencing highly obscure places.

Solvers had varied reactions to this one. Some didn’t notice the Spanish terrain at the bottom, and sent in rhymes relating to rainfall; but even some who did submit the right answer commented that the answer didn’t feel like it fully “clicked” from the visual clues. I’m not sure how to account for this; I had expected that, assuming you noticed the Spanish names for kinds of terrain at the bottom, the picture would be clear enough – the plain is in the middle, and most of the rain is in the middle. Certainly different clues (“the mountains, in Spain”; “the plain, in Spain”; “the riverbed, in Spain”) would have helped, but at that point I feel like I would have been hitting you over the head with it.

Others had some nits to pick – is the rain is this grid really mostly falling onto the plain? isn’t water’s molecular structure more like HOH? do they really use “llano” to mean “plain” in Spain, or is that a Latin American thing? – but most of these folks said those issues didn’t detract from the overall solve.

Finally, several people commented that this puzzle’s fill was just a bit too ugly. I’ve always acknowledged that (a) I’m an inexpert constructor and (b) I am bad-fill-tolerant when it serves the meta – but I do see, looking back at this one, that I settled for obscure entries too many times. Noted.

For this week’s offering I’m once again offering two versions, one harder than the other. I don’t think the easy version will be a gimme, though – but we’ll see how it goes:

Not-as-hard:

015_etrangeechange.puz

Hard:

015_etrangeechange_hard.puz

The answer to the metapuzzle is a plural noun that is five letters in English. Submit your answer using the contact form by Monday, June 24 at 11 p.m. Pacific Time. I’ll post the solution, and a new puzzle, next Tuesday.

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